A Kat Derringer Adventure
By J.R. Francisco
Sheriff Kat Derringer finally conceded that the situation was utterly hopeless. Through a series of desperate grunts and muffled warnings she had succeeded in calming down her sister. Like Kat, Lindy finally realized the futility and danger of struggling and seemed resigned to their fate . . . whatever it might be.
An hour or so had passed since Long had shot and killed his companion and left the two sisters in their current death trap. Lindy and Kat were naked, sitting back to back on the ground in a remote wooded area, and still very tightly bound and gagged with cord and duct tape.
Then there was the burning candle atop the paperback book, which balanced precariously on Kat's head. A sudden jerk or careless jiggle by either Kat or Lindy would send the book and candle tumbling down and ignite the gasoline that covered their bodies. Kat could not even hang her head in defeat, for that would upset the balance of the book on her head.
Tears welled up in Kat's eyes when she realized that she would not even get the chance to say goodbye to her sister before they both met their premature deaths in a most dreadful and painful manner. Before she even knew it, Kat began sobbing. Tears flowed freely as her frustration and despair overtook her mental toughness that had carried her though many a crisis.
Lindy sensed her sister's distress and attempted to comfort Kat by seeking out her hand with hers. She gently squeezed Kat's hand in a reassuring way as if to tell her that everything was okay. But of course everything was not okay. The situation was dire and now it was just a matter of accepting it. Perhaps Lindy had come to that harsh conclusion and was now merely attempting to communicate that to her older sister.
Whatever the reason, Lindy's actions had a soothing effect on Kat. She stopped sobbing and controlled her emotions. This was not like her. Kat Derringer did not simply give up and accept her fate. She had always dictated what happened to her, so why was she giving up now? No matter what, Kat was a fighter to the bitter end. There was still hope, and at the moment that was all she and Lindy had . . . but they had it. Kat took a deep breath and hanged her hat on that hope.
"Why didn't you call the police when you spotted the men?" Detective Rachel Graham asked Larry Mulligan.
Rachel and the Wild Bronco Motel manager stood several meters away as the crime scene team loaded Montoya's body into a van. Along with ambulance and fire department personnel, Deputies Marlon Galindo and Brianna Lockwood were also at the scene. Mulligan's wound was determined to only be a flesh wound. He refused further medical assistance and stood shirtless next to the detective. A bandage over his right shoulder was the only indication of his injury.
Mulligan gave the statuesque detective a look of appraisal. "With all due respect, honey . . ."
"Detective Graham," Rachel corrected sharply.
"Sorry," Mulligan said, not all that sincerely. "With all due respect, Detective Graham, cops and me . . . We don't along so good. If you know what I mean."
Rachel sighed inwardly. "You do have a permit for that shotgun, don't you?"
"You bet your sweet ass I do," Mulligan replied. "Bertha and me go way back. My daddy gave her to me when I was a kid. Don't worry your pretty little head. Everything's perfectly legal."
Rachel gave the smug manager an icy look. "I certainly hope so. Give your name and contact information to Deputy Lockwood. I still may need to ask you some questions."
"My pleasure, detective" Mulligan said, gazing admiringly at Rachel. "But like I told you, it was self defense. That bastard fired first. Ask the girl."
Rachel looked at Jenny Kresser, who sat in the backseat of Galindo's patrol car. "With all due respect, Mr. Mulligan, I'll handle the investigation if you don't mind."
"Whatever you say, sweetheart, and it's Larry," Mulligan said.
"You can call me Larry," Mulligan said, arching his eyebrows at the detective.
"Don't hold your breath," Rachel muttered, walking away.
"Hey, is there a reward or something for my trouble?" Mulligan called after Rachel.
Rachel did not stop walking. "Be thankful you're still alive."
"That's no way to treat a hero, sweet cheeks!" Mulligan shouted, attracting the attention of everyone at the scene.
Rachel sighed and ignored Mulligan. She had more important business to attend to. She used her cell phone to contact Rubi at dispatch. The young woman informed the detective that there was still no word from either Sheriff Derringer or Lindy. Rachel did not like that at all. She was finishing the call when Deputies Galindo and Lockwood met her.
"I already informed the state police and surrounding counties to be on the lookout for a white van driven by Stiles," Deputy Galindo told Rachel.
"What's the word on Stiles?" Rachel asked Brianna.
"Been in and out of jail for burglary, drug possession, and extortion, but nothing as major as kidnapping," the female deputy said.
"Looks like he's moving up," Deputy Galindo added.
"When he's not breaking the law he works as a bouncer or bodyguard," Brianna said.
"Terrific," Rachel said. "Nice to know he's a well-rounded guy."
"What's our next move?" Galindo asked.
"I'll tell Joanna Kresser that her daughter is safe," Rachel said. "I'll take Jenny home and have a conference with the federal agent. She should be at Mrs. Kresser's house right now with Deputy Bayless."
"Any word on Sheriff Derringer or Lindy?" Brianna asked.
Rachel shook her head. "Get out there and start searching the area. I'll join you as soon as I can. Let me know if you find anything."
"How dare you do this to me?" Special Agent Vanessa Mendez asked with indignation as she squirmed. "I demand to be released this instant!"
Of course Agent Mendez was in no position to issue any demands. At the moment the irate federal agent was bound hand and foot, sitting on the carpeted floor of Joanna Kresser's bedroom. Since Deputy Bayless had used his handcuffs in securing Joanna, who still lay bound and gagged on the bed, he had to find something else to truss up the beautiful agent.
Apart from her standard bras and panties, Joanna had an extensive collection of pantyhose and stockings. After disarming the agent, Bayless forced Vanessa to sit on the floor. He then tied the agent's hands behind her back with a pair of pantyhose. The stretchy material proved to be excellent binding material.
That was only the beginning. The crooked sheriff's deputy proceeded to literally wrap Agent Mendez's entire body with either pantyhose or stockings. In addition to her wrists he bound her elbows together. The distressed agent could only curse and offer idle threats as Bayless wrapped several pairs of pantyhose around her entire torso that further immobilized her arms. He finished by securing her legs at the thighs, knees, and ankles with several pairs of stockings.
"Maybe if you said pretty please with sugar on top," Bayless taunted as he stood over the bound agent.
Vanessa glared at the gloating deputy. "You're an officer of the law. I demand an explanation for this."
Bayless frowned. "I've just about had enough of your demands, Agent Mendez."
Vanessa watched anxiously as Bayless stepped toward the dresser and opened another drawer. He removed a pair of black panties and stepped toward the agent. He wadded up the underwear and knelt before Vanessa.
"All right, Agent Mendez," Bayless said, "open up that beautiful mouth."
Vanessa had no intention of allowing Bayless to stuff another woman's underwear in her mouth. She clamped her lips shut and turned away.
"Oh, feisty huh?" Bayless taunted. "Okay, we can do it the hard way. It's more fun that way anyway."
Bayless forced the agent to the floor. Once she was flat on her back he straddled her at the waist. Vanessa bucked and kicked but Bayless was too heavy, and she was unable to throw him of her. Her eyes widened with outrage and shock when Bayless pawed one of her breasts. He squeezed and mauled her roughly, forcing Vanessa to cry out with indignation and pain. Before the helpless agent could express her anger Bayless stuffed the panties in her parted mouth.
"How do those taste, Agent Mendez?" Bayless asked, chuckling.
He dismounted from Vanessa and turned the squirming agent on her stomach. He straddled her at the small of her back. He then picked up a stocking and tied it around Vanessa's mouth, forcing the material between her lips to keep the panties in place. He made several turns around her head before tying it off behind her neck. Special Agent Vanessa Mendez was now thoroughly bound and gagged.
Bayless got off Vanessa and stood. "See, I told you it was more fun that way."
The agent seethed and glared up at the deputy. "Mmmmphh! Mmmphhh!" She shouted through her gag as she attempted to kick Bayless. The deputy easily sidestepped her leg sweep.
"Oh, still feisty huh? This calls for a hogtie," Bayless said.
Vanessa kicked, squirmed, and grunted but Bayless finally managed to secure the agent's ankles to her wrists with another stocking, leaving her strictly hogtied and totally helpless.
Bayless got his feet and exhaled. "That should keep you out of trouble for a while." He turned toward Joanna, who was still bound and gagged on the bed. "All right, enough fooling around. Time to get down to business."
Maxwell Long approached the Wild Bronco Motel like a man on a mission. Montoya and Stiles had said they would shack up there with the girl until he and Radford returned from Palm City. Joanna Kresser's daughter was the last card left to play, and he was going to use it all right. He was about to pull into the courtyard when he came upon a scene of activity. Yellow crime tape surrounded the area around a motel room. Two sheriff's patrol cars were also there.
Long slowed down and took in the sight, wondering what the hell had happened? Whatever it was, he knew it had something to do with Stiles and Montoya. At that instant, one of the two deputies standing over a patrol car turned. Long suddenly found himself staring into the face of the female deputy he had bound and gagged at Joanna Kresser's house. Long and the girl locked eyes for a moment as he drove by.
The deputy's eyes widened when she recognized Long. That's all the criminal needed to see. He stepped on the gas and pulled away from the area.
"It's him!" Brianna yelled at deputy Galindo, who stood next to her. "It's Maxwell Long!"
Galindo glanced at the speeding jeep. That was all the confirmation he needed.
"Let's go!" he shouted.
The two deputies raced toward their respective patrol cars.
Though not one to believe in miracles, that was all Kat and Lindy had left. The two sisters were still tightly bound and gagged, sitting back to back in the middle of a wooded area, covered in gasoline, and with a burning candle standing atop the sheriff's head. Though she could not be sure, Kat knew she and Lindy had maybe a few more minutes before the candle waned and ignited the gasoline that coated their bodies.
Then the miracle happened. Or maybe it was all an illusion.
From the corner of her eye Kat spotted someone or something approaching from her left side. Though she desperately wanted to turn her head to confirm it, she sat still and waited. The blur gradually took shape. All the while her heart pounded as her hopes soared. Sure enough someone came into her line of sight.
17-year-old Zack Millsap pulled the reigns on his horse, bringing the animal to a stop. His face filled with shock and awe as he sat atop his horse, gawking at the sight before him. The young man could not believe what he was seeing. It was like a wet dream . . . with a heavy dose of bondage. Zack's eyes literally bugged out as he took in the image of Kat and Lindy. The two young women were thoroughly bound and gagged with duct tape and cords and virtually naked. He noticed that the hot lady sheriff still sported a garter belt and stockings, which only made the scene more erotic and surreal.
His male fantasy was temporarily dashed when he spotted Radford's body nearby. The man was sprawled on his back with a pool of blood around him. That spurred the teenaged boy into action. He dismounted from his horse and--though reluctantly--focused his attention on Radford.
"Holy crap!" the boy exclaimed. "What the hell happened here? That guy's dead."
Of course Kat and Lindy could not answer. They grunted and mewed at the young man. Kat's desperate eye's conveyed the danger and urgency of the situation. Zack pulled his gaze away from Radford and focused on the two sisters. To Kat's dismay, his eyes strayed directly to her naked breasts and private area.
"Mmmmhh hggmphhh!" Kat grunted urgently.
Zack finally noticed the burning candle on Kat's head. He sniffed the air around him. No doubt he had discerned the smell of the gasoline that covered the two helpless women. The boy's eyes widened when he realized the danger.
"All right. Everything is gonna be okay," Zack told Kat. "I'll have you free in just a minute." He approached Kat and Lindy with caution, measuring his steps. He swallowed hard and said, "Don't move. Hold still."
Of course Kat did not need the warning but she sat rigidly and waited. She closed her eyes and held her breath. She and Lindy were almost home free.
Zack knelt next to Kat and Lindy. Ever so gently he reached out and gripped the burning candle perched on top of the paperback book that balanced on the sheriff's head. With a single, quick motion he snatched the candle off the book and ended the danger of igniting the gasoline. The teenager blew out the candle, exhaled with relief, and tossed it aside.
Kat finally relaxed enough to open her eyes. Her heart drummed within her chest and her breathing was hard. She took several deep breaths through her gag and gathered her thoughts. That's when she noticed Zack Millsap staring at her and Lindy. Being a typical hormone induced teenaged-boy, the kid could not help but ogle the pair of young women who were still bound, gagged, and practically (at least in Kat's case) naked before him.
Kat rolled her eyes and grunted impatiently through her gag. Since the candle was no longer a threat she could squirm and "jiggle" with more conviction. She glared and mumbled at her rescuer, urging him to finish freeing them.
But Zack was in no hurry. He raised his hands in a calming gesture. "All right, take it easy. I'll have you free in no time."
Kat calmed down and waited as Zack examined the duct tape that bound the two sisters together. His attention and eyes, however, lingered more on Kat's body than anything else.
"Man, oh, man!" the boy said. A bit too impressed and jovial for Kat. "Whoever did this to you really did a great job."
"Mmmmhhh!" Kat muttered, annoyed at the boy's delay . . . and his gawking.
"Relax, sheriff," Zack said, amused by Kat's display of annoyance. "This calls for a knife. I'll be right back."
Kat exhaled and shot the kid a look of exasperation as he made his way back toward his horse. He dug through his saddle bag and returned with a jackknife. He knelt before Kat and Lindy and paused again, contemplating where and how to go about the task of freeing the two bound women.
Kat moaned and groaned, urging the boy on with an angry glare. Zack finally went to work on cutting the sisters loose. The sheriff sighed and waited, fuming inwardly. Men! She thought. They were all the same--no matter the age. Still, how could she be angry and annoyed at the boy for saving her and Lindy's life? Enduring a little embarrassment seemed like a small price to pay compared to the alternative of burning to death.
Detective Rachel Graham pulled up in front of Joanna Kresser's house. She was somewhat relieved to finally be here. She glanced at Jenny Kresser, who sat next to her in the front seat of the car. The girl was withdrawn and pensive. Rachel feared she was in shock and would advise her mother to call a doctor.
Rachel exited the car and walked around to the passenger side to open Jenny's door. The detective noticed Deputy Bayless's patrol car and another vehicle, which she guessed belonged to the federal agent. As Jenny stepped out of the car Rachel glanced toward the house. She wondered why it was so quiet? She had contacted Bayless and told him she was coming, but had lost the connection during mid-conversation.
"Come on, Jenny," Rachel told the girl. "Let's go see your mother."
Rachel and Jenny walked toward the house. They climbed the stairs and stood on the porch. Again, Rachel wondered why the door hadn't been thrown open. She fully expected a tearful mother-daughter reunion--but that did not happen. A seed of suspicion began to blossom within the detective's mind. Something did not feel right.
She was about to reach for her holstered gun when her cell phone rang. The sharp chirping initially startled Rachel. She sighed and relaxed before answering the call. It was Ruby at dispatch, and she had urgent news.
"Deputies Galindo and Lockwood are in pursuit of Maxwell Long," Ruby said excitedly. "Last report was down Broadway heading west."
"Be right there as soon as I can," Rachel returned. "Keep me informed.
At that instant, Jenny emerged from her trance. The girl's face filled with emotion as she pushed open the front door of the house. "Mom!" she called out.
Rachel watched as Jenny stormed into the house. The detective could do little but follow the girl inside. Her thoughts were still on what Ruby had told her. She was anxious to join the chase. But first she had to . . .
"Hello, Detective Graham."
Rachel spun toward the voice behind her. What she saw next left the statuesque detective speechless. Bayless stood before her, holding Jenny Kresser against him with his hand clamped firmly over the girl's mouth. The deputy had his gun pressed against Jenny's head. The girl's eyes were wild and desperate as she whimpered.
Rachel finally managed to form words. "Bayless . . . what . . ."
"Shut your mouth and listen carefully, Rachel," Bayless said darkly. "Take your gun out and drop it on the floor, or the school girl here gets it."
"What the hell are you doing, Bayless?" Rachel demanded. "Where's Joanna Kresser and Agent Mendez?"
A sly smile appeared on the deputy's lips. "Funny you should ask." He chuckled and added, "But if it's any comfort, they're both okay . . . for now. Now shut up and drop the gun."
Rachel's gaze shifted to Jenny's face. The girl was scared and pleading with her eyes. Though the detective had no idea what to make of this latest development, she did as ordered and removed her gun. She had a feeling she would soon find out the reason for Bayless's treachery.
Though (for some reason) it took almost ten minutes, Zack finally got around to cutting the duct tape that bound Kat's wrists together. The sheriff notice the occasional smirks and constant attention the teenaged boy gave her breasts as he carefully sliced and cut the bindings that held her and Lindy together.
Kat sighed with relief as her wrists parted behind her back. She immediately went to work on her gag, pulling and clawing at the duct tape plastered over her mouth and wrapped around her head. If there was one thing Kat hated about being tied up was the gag. Apart from being humiliating, it was uncomfortable!
Zack had just finished freeing Lindy's wrists when Kat pulled out the packing that had been stuffed in her mouth. The boy watched, riveted, as the attractive sheriff fished out a single piece of black cloth, which was completely wet. Kat retched slightly and stood on shaky legs.
"Thank you, Zack," Kat said, catching her breath.
The boy nodded as he took in the sight of Kat wearing only her garter belt and stockings. Instinctively, she shielded her breasts and private area with her hands, which only made her feel even more vulnerable and ridiculous. Her attempt at preserving her modesty was strictly symbolic. Zack Millsap had already gotten quite an eyeful of both her and Lindy.
"No problem, sheriff," Zack swallowed, captivated by Kat's taste in underwear.
Kat noticed his longing gaze and frowned. "Would you mind turning around please?"
The request jolted Zack from his ogling. "Oh, sorry."
The boy reluctantly turned. His face was completely flushed, floored, and satisfied.
Lindy spat out the panties stuffed in her mouth. Anger flashed in her eyes as she exhaled with relief. "That bastard is going to pay for this," the naked deputy exclaimed. "Just wait till I get my hands on him!" She punctuated her statement by uttering a growl of feminine fury.
"Why don't we get dressed first," Kat said, examining the underwear she held. Having been in her mouth for well over an hour, the black lace panties were completely soaked with saliva.
"Who did this to you?" Zack asked, fighting the urge to turn around. "And who killed that guy over there?"
"It's a long story," Kat said, tossing aside the wet panties . . . in Zack's direction. She gave the boy and her underwear a knowing look before going to find her discarded clothes. "I'm just glad you showed up here when you did. What were doing here anyway?"
Zack shrugged. "I was hunting for the criminals you mentioned. I know it's dangerous but, hey, aren't you glad I did?"
Kat shook her head as she picked up her skirt. She noticed Lindy slipping into her G-string panties. Her sister was not as discriminating at wearing soaked underwear. Perhaps because there was less material to make them uncomfortable.
"Normally, I'd give you a lecture about that," Kat told Zack as she stepped into her skirt. "But not today. Just be grateful you didn't run into those men yourself."
"Oh, I'm definitely grateful you ran into them first," Zack said sarcastically.
Kat paused and glared at the teenaged boy. "Listen carefully, Zack. Go back home and stay there. You hear me?"
"Anything you say, sheriff," the boy replied.
"Oh, and one more thing: Not a word about this to anyone."
Zack shifted his eyes suspiciously. "Why not?"
Kat slipped into her bra. "This is still an ongoing police investigation," she told the boy. "And because I said so. Are we clear?"
Zack shrugged innocently. "Okay."
"Thanks again for saving us," Kat said as she buttoned her blouse. "You're a great kid, Zack."
Before the boy turned, Kat motioned to Lindy with her head. Now dressed, the two young women walked away from the clearing, leaving Zack alone.
Still unaware of their departure, Zack asked, "Can I turn around now, sheriff?"
Of course there was no response.
Zack turned and found himself standing alone in the wooded area. There was no sign of the sheriff or the deputy. The boy was smart enough to realize the encounter was over and not follow them. He cursed his disappointment. Then he spotted a pair of black panties on the ground before him. A sly smile appeared on the boy's face as he knelt and gathered Kat's still-wet panties. Right then and there Zack Millsap knew what he wanted to do with his life: law enforcement.
Maxwell Long had been a criminal most of his life. He knew when a situation was hopeless . . . like now. At the moment two sheriff's department patrol cars were hot on his tail. Police sirens filled the air behind him, announcing the urgency of the chase. There was no way he was going to get away . . . unless he came up with another plan, and quickly.
He had to make a stand somewhere. That was his only chance at getting out of here. Long suddenly came upon a familiar sight: The Shop N' Save convenience store! That's where it all had started. Like a moth drawn to the light, Long veered off the main road and pulled into the Shop N' Save parking lot. He skidded to a halt and sideswiped a parked car outside the store.
Long threw the door open and darted out of the jeep. He glanced back at the two patrol cars closing in on the convenience store. The criminal drew his gun and raced toward the entrance of the store. A startled woman swung open the convenience store door. She spotted Long, gun in hand, approaching as police sirens wailed. She had to nowhere to turn but back inside. The fleeing criminal darted inside the store just as the patrol cars pulled into the parking lot.
Kat and Lindy arrived at the road where their respective vehicles were still parked. Much to Kat's relief, Zack Millsap had not followed them. She hoped the boy would listen to her and go back home . . . along with his very intimate trophy; not to mention plenty of fond memories.
Upon reaching her TrailBlazer Kat immediately contacted Ruby at dispatch. After the sheriff informed Ruby that she and Lindy were okay, Ruby filled in Kat about the events at the Wild Bronco Motel, and that deputies Galindo and Lockwood were in pursuit of Maxwell Long.
After her conversation with Ruby, Kat contacted Deputy Galindo.
"Glad you and Lindy are okay, sheriff," Galindo told Kat. "We have Maxwell Long trapped inside the Shop N' Save convenience store. He's got hostages. The clerk and a woman."
All sorts of unpleasant memories surfaced in Kat's mind upon hearing the location of the standoff. At the moment, however, there were more pressing matters at hand, like the safety of two innocent bystanders.
"What about Detective Graham?" Kat asked.
"She went to take Jenny Kresser home and meet that FBI agent," Galindo replied. "Haven't heard from her since though."
"And Deputy Bayless?"
"No word from him either, sheriff," Galindo said.
Kat sighed. Typical, she thought. Apart from his rescue at the Shop N' Save convenience store, Bayless was not exactly known for his dependability.
"All right, keep the situation under control," Kat said. "Don't try anything until I get there. Over and out."
Kat and Lindy shared a brief look.
"Looks like this thing is finally coming to a head," Lindy said.
"So much for quiet small-town life," Kat muttered as she made her way toward the rear of the Trail Blazer.
"What are you doing?" Lindy asked her sister.
"Getting ready to settle old scores," Kat said ominously.
Kat popped open the back door of the Blazer. Her eyes and expression were hard and determined. She was a woman on a mission, and nobody was going to get in her way. Kat opened a large tool box in the luggage area of the vehicle. The sheriff removed an old-style gun belt with a Colt six-shooter revolver tucked into the holster. She had bought it at a property seizure police auction during her stint as a Palm City detective.
The sheriff wrapped the gun belt around her waist. She secured it around her middle with a shiny silver buckle. The holstered revolver dipped slightly at her hip and hung at mid-thigh. Apart from being dressed in a skirt and heels, Kat resembled an old west gunslinger. Whatever her resemblance, Sheriff Katherine Derringer was ready to kick some ass.
Though not exactly a mastermind when it came to planning, Deputy Bayless was extremely resourceful when it came to tying up women. His resourcefulness was put to the test with the arrival of Detective Rachel Graham and Jenny Kresser. Bayless realized that finding binding material besides rope or tape was relatively easy. All it took was a little ingenuity.
"That's a good girl, Rachel," Bayless said. "Make it nice and tight now."
The crooked sheriff's deputy stood a few feet from Rachel and Jenny. He had his gun trained on the detective as she went about the task of tying up the teenaged girl. Jenny lay on her stomach with her wrists tied behind her back as Rachel lashed more of the thin cord around the girl's ankles. Though not very thick, the window shades cord made excellent bondage material.
Rachel finished securing the girl's ankles together and turned toward Bayless. The contempt in her eyes was more than obvious as she glared at the deputy. "Whatever your reason for doing this, you're not going to get away with this, Bayless."
"Blah, blah, blah," Bayless taunted. "You broads are all the same. All talk and no action. Like that dopey sheriff. Now finish tying up the girl with a nice hogtie."
Though Rachel would never admit it to anyone, she was all too familiar with hogties. She had her boyfriend to thank for that. Rachel gathered another piece of cord and turned toward Jenny. She felt sorry for the girl, who had been through so much already . . . and now this. She tied one end of the cord to Jenny's ankles and pulled her legs back toward her backside. The detective then secured the other end of the cord to her wrists, leaving the girl in a strict hogtie. From personal experience, Rachel could almost feel the girl's discomfort.
"Nice job, detective," Bayless said. "Now it's your turn. Lie down on the floor on your stomach, and no funny business."
Rachel did as ordered and waited for Bayless to make the next move. The detective, however, was not about to go down without a fight. She had not become a detective by simply taking things "lying" down.
Bayless tucked the gun in his waistband and stood over Rachel. The detective suddenly rolled onto her back and lashed out with her right leg, delivering a blow to the deputy's knee. Bayless lost his balance and went reeling. Rachel bounced to her feet. She was smart enough to realize she would not stand a chance against Bayless in hand-to-hand combat. Her only chance was to reach her gun, which lay on the floor across the room.
As Bayless recovered, Rachel dove toward her gun. Unfortunately, she misjudged her leap and hit the floor a few feet from the weapon. She desperately belly-crawled toward the gun but Bayless read her intentions. The deputy kicked the gun away before Rachel could grab it.
Bayless chuckled with triumph as he stood over Rachel. He had his gun trained on the detective. "Nice try, Rachel, but not good enough." Rachel said nothing and remained lying on the floor. "Get up," Bayless ordered.
Rachel got to her feet. Though she had failed in her attempt to subdue Bayless, her expression remained hard and defiant. Her cool demeanor was slightly rattled by what Bayless said next.
"Okay, detective, take off your clothes."
"No," Rachel replied sharply.
"It's not a request." Bayless walked to where Jenny Kresser was bound. "Strip or the girl gets it. Simple as that, Rachel."
Rachel sighed. Bayless was obviously out of his mind and capable of anything. "You hurt her and I'll kill you, Bayless," she warned.
"That's up to you, Rachel," Bayless said. A sly smile appeared on his face as his eyes swept over the tall detective. "I've always wondered what a tough no-sense detective like you wears under her clothes. Looks like I'm about to find out. Off with the clothes."
When Kat and Lindy arrived at the Shop N' Save convenience store Maxwell Long had already made his demands. Kat was careful not to reveal their presence to Long. The surprise element could come in handy. The cornered criminal wanted a car with a full tank of gas. He was going to take a hostage to make sure he was not being followed. Once he decided he was safe he would release the hostage, unharmed.
Kat, Lindy, and deputies Galindo and Lockwood crouched behind the pair of sheriff's patrol cars that were parked parallel to the store. About thirty meters separated them from the store, which made it easy for Long to shout his demands and instructions. Of course Kat had no intention of allowing the criminal to escape.
"What now?" Galindo asked. "Do we give him what he wants?"
"No," Kat said quickly. Even as she answered she began to hatch a plan. "Get in touch with the owner of the store and get him down here," Kat told Lindy. "Tell him to bring his store keys and to meet me behind the store at the corner of Bryant and Woodrow. And don't let Long see you here."
"What are you going do?" Lindy asked.
"Take this bastard down." Kat said. The sheriff turned toward Galindo and Brianna. "Stall him as long as you can. Keep him occupied at the front of the store."
Before the deputies could reply, Kat slipped away.
"What the hell is she going to do?" Brianna asked.
Galindo watched as Kat disappeared from view. "She's going take this bastard down."
"Well, now, isn't this a pleasant surprise," Bayless taunted as Detective Rachel Graham stepped out of her bunched up jeans.
The stunning detective had the body of a well-toned Olympic athlete. Perhaps because she had played volleyball during her college days. At the moment Rachel was standing completely naked before the dishonest deputy. The mystery of what type of underwear Detective Rachel Graham preferred was now solved: she didn't prefer any . . . at least not today.
Despite the situation, Detective Graham displayed no apprehension whatsoever. She possessed an unshakable poise that had helped her in any crisis.
"Very nice," Bayless said as he walked toward Rachel. "Your boyfriend is a lucky man, Rachel. Unless you play for the blue team, which would be a shame."
"Screw you, Bayless," Rachel said flatly. "I don't know what this is about but you're a poor excuse for a cop . . . and a man."
Bayless smiled bitterly. "Is that so? I can think of a better use for that big mouth of yours. Get on your knees, detective," Bayless ordered.
Rachel glared at Bayless. The first crack in her stoic demeanor flashed in her eyes. "No way," she shot back. "Go ahead and shoot, asshole."
Bayless sighed and shook his head. "Such language from such a beautiful woman." The deputy lowered his gun toward Jenny, who lay bound at his feet. Bayless did not take his eyes off Rachel as he repeated his order. "This is your last warning. Get on your knees."
Rachel shifted her eyes to the frightened girl. She had no choice in the matter, not when innocent lives were at stake. Reluctantly, Detective Rachel Graham got on her knees. Her breathing and heartbeat had increased but she displayed no fear.
Bayless walked toward the naked detective. "Isn't this something," he chuckled. "The tough and mighty Detective Rachel Graham butt naked and down on her knees before a lowly deputy."
"Go screw yourself, Bayless."
Bayless sighed. "Again with that mouth of yours. Time to teach you a lesson." After a short, tense pause Bayless said, "Lick my boots . . . clean."
Rachel glared at Bayless. "Go to hell, bastard!"
Bayless raised his gun toward Jenny Kresser and fired. The girl squealed as the bullet struck the floor inches from her terrified face.
Bayless uttered a short, crazy laugh. "Damn. Missed."
He adjusted his aim but Rachel stopped him. "All right," the detective said.
"What?" Bayless asked.
"You son of a bitch!" Rachel seethed. "You're gonna pay for this."
"Maybe. Maybe not," Bayless said. "Now get to work."
With that, Rachel Graham got on her hands and knees, bowed her head, stuck out her tongue, and began licking the deputy's boots.
Bayless watched with twisted pleasure. "That's a good girl. Do a good job or you're going to be licking something else too."
Rachel fought back her disgust. She almost gagged and heaved as she tasted the bitter leather with her tongue, which she swept up and down along the tip of the boot. Though her eyes were closed, her face was flushed with humiliation and outrage. She had just hit rock bottom in her law-enforcement career.
"Lick it all," Bayless ordered. "Not just the tip. Then do the other one."
With the sound of Bayless's sadistic chuckling echoing in her head, a butt-naked Detective Rachel Graham ravished the deputy's boot with her tongue like a delicious piece of candy.
Kat had waited only a few minutes at the corner of Bryant and Woodrow when the Shop N' Save convenience store middle-aged manager met her there. His name was Roger Wilkins and it was not the first time he and Kat had met . . . though under different circumstances. Wilkins had been present at the scene when Deputy Bayless had come to her rescue after she and the cashier had been left bound and gagged by Long and Montoya in the backroom of the store.
"Howdy, sheriff," Wilkins greeted Kat. Though he had been made of aware of the situation at the store, he had a grin on his face. "Nice . . . uh . . . seeing you again. And all dressed up this time."
Kat flinched as she noticed the quick eye sweep of her body on the part of Wilkins. "Did you bring the keys, Mr. Wilkins?"
Wilkins dangled a ring of keys before Kat, gripping the correct key with two fingers. "Here you are, sheriff."
Kat took the keys. "Thank you." She turned and walked away.
"Need anything else?" Wilkins called out. "I'm here to help."
"No thank you," Kat returned as she got into the Blazer. She started the car and pulled away.
Inside the Shop N' Save convenience store Maxwell Long was starting to loose his patience. It had been almost thirty minutes since he had made his demands for a car with a full tank of gas, and it had yet to be delivered. He took a swill from the beer he held and tossed the empty can aside. Though he knew better than to be drinking right now, alcohol always relaxed him and gave him insight he might not otherwise have had. Besides, what better way to go out--if it came to that--than with a good buzz?
The cornered criminal eyed his two hostages. The two frightened women sat in a corner of the store. One, the cashier, was a young and pretty brunette, barely out of high school. Her name was Tina and she had taken this part-time job as a way of earning extra money before she went off to college. The other woman--a blonde--was older, perhaps in her late thirties and quite attractive. She had been on her way home from work and had decided to stop by the store to buy a soda. Now she wished she had not.
Long pointed at the girl. "You, get up!"
The sound of his harsh voice, and the fact that he held a gun sent the girl into action. Tina stifled a sob and got to her feet. Long grabbed the frightened girl and wrapped his arm around her neck. He turned and raised his gun toward the blonde, who whimpered and squealed in terror as she cowered in the corner.
"You move from that spot and I'll shoot you."
The criminal then used the teenaged girl as a shield and made his way toward the front door of the convenience store. Long pulled the door open and placed his gun to the girl's head. Since he was considerably taller than Tina he crouched behind her.
Long stood at the entrance of the store and surveyed the scene. Two patrol cars were still there but no other vehicles. "Where's the car?" the criminal shouted at Galindo and Brianna. Lindy remained crouched behind the car, out of sight, just like Kat had told her. "You want this pretty girl to die! Is that it?"
Tina sobbed and closed her eyes.
"Shut up!" Long told the girl. He addressed Galindo and Brianna again. The two deputies were behind a patrol with their weapons drawn. "What the hell is wrong with you people?" he shouted. "If that car isn't here in five minutes this girl is dead. No bullshit!"
"It's on its way!" Deputy Galindo shouted. "Just don't do anything stupid!"
"Five minutes!" Long repeated. With that, he dragged the girl back inside the store.
Brianna turned to Galindo. The apprehension in the female deputy's eyes was clearly obvious. "Whatever she sheriff's going to do she better do it now."
Galindo frowned and peered over the hood of the patrol car. "Come on, sheriff," he muttered.
Kat approached the back door of the Shop N' Save convenience store with confidence. From personal experience as a police detective, she knew the key to a hostage situation was to exude authority and decisiveness. Criminals were like dogs, they could smell fear and uncertainty and were all too willing to exploit it.
She inserted the key into the keyhole of the metal door and pushed it open. She tensed and paused as the door squealed softly. Kat thought about drawing her gun from its holster but changed her mind. Though a thug and a killer, Long was not an impulsive criminal. He had shot his partner after a confrontation, not out of blind rage. If he spotted Kat with a gun in her hand he might do something drastic. Besides, she had a personal score to settle with Long.
Kat entered the store and made her way along a short hallway that led into the interior of the convenience store. The familiar smell of the place brought back unpleasant memories but she forged ahead. She paused at the end of the hallway and peered around the corner. Long was standing next to the front door of the store, looking outside. She could not see any of the two hostages. Kat took a deep breath and walked toward the criminal. She was taking a big gamble but there was no turning back now.
Long suddenly spun toward the voice. Shock and disbelief filled his face when he spotted Kat standing a few meters from him. "Holy shit!" he muttered.
The sheriff froze in place. She was the perfect picture of calm. Kat had been right about Long. Instead of pulling out his gun and opening fire, he too froze. For a moment he looked dazed and confused. Kat expressed total confidence while Long was still in shock . . . until he started chuckling.
Kat stole a quick glance toward two women. They were crouched in a corner of the store within Long's sight and quite terrified.
Long finally got over his initial shock. The criminal and sheriff stood facing each other between the narrow pathway of the store isles. "Wow!" Long said, staring appraisingly at Kat. "Looks like Harry Houdini has some competition."
"You're under arrest, Long," Kat said flatly, noticing the gun sticking out of the waistband of the criminal's pants. "Drop the gun, put your hands on your head, and walk out of the store. Nice and slow."
Long flashed a taunting smile. "Come on, sheriff, I thought we were friends. Tell me, how did you and your hot sister get out of the little jam I left you in?"
Kat's stoic demeanor did not change. "I guess you'll never know."
Long's face hardened.
A tense silence followed.
The criminal reached for this gun . . .
Kat reacted and drew her weapon.
The two women in the corner screamed as the sound of the booming gunshot filled the entire store.
Long jerked to the side and staggered back. He regained his balance and turned toward Kat. His expression was blank as he glanced down at the bullet hole in his chest. He had his gun out but did not aim it Kat . . . because he could not. His hand trembled before the weapon slipped from his grasp and hit the floor with a thud.
Kat and Long locked eyes again. The sheriff remained calm and expressionless. She still had the six-shooter trained at the criminal.
"Nice shot, sheriff," Long gasped.
Long wavered on shaky legs, which gradually gave out. He closed his eyes and fell back, knocking over a display of cheap beer.
"Thank you," Kat muttered.
The sheriff spun the six-shooter on her finger with the skill of trained gunslinger and tucked the weapon into the holster strapped around her shapely hip.
Detective Rachel Graham moaned with pain as her eyes fluttered open. It took a few seconds longer for her brain to catch up. What had happened? Why did her neck hurt so much? Her mind finally kicked into gear and the entire incident with Bayless came back to her. The last thing she remembered was . . . She could not bring herself to think about what she had been forced to do to his boots. That sick bastard! Rachel thought angrily. After she had finished, Bayless had ordered her back on her knees and stepped behind her. That was immediately followed by a sharp, sudden pain in the back of her head. Then everything went black.
Rachel tried to move but could not. At least not in any meaningful way. The reason for that was because the still naked detective was securely bound and gagged. Rachel found herself laying face down on the living floor, thoroughly trussed up with several neck ties, and tightly gagged with a knotted white cloth that had been forced into her mouth and tied behind her head.
With a muffled grunt she rolled onto her back. She was surprised to find that she could stretch out her legs. Though her ankles, knees, and thighs were secured with neck ties, she had not been hogtied. Rachel gratefully accepted that fact and contemplated her next move. The uncomfortable pressure from lying on her bound arms helped her with that.
She drew her legs toward her stomach and kicked out. At the same time she executed a "sit-up." She exhaled through her gag as she sat up and took in her surroundings. For a moment Rachel simply sat there with her still-throbbing head down, recovering and gathering her wits. Muffled grunting drew her attention toward Jenny Kresser. The girl was still hogtied and gagged with a thick strap of cloth cinched between her teeth. She was lying on her stomach a few feet from Rachel but even more helpless than the detective.
Rachel shared a reassuring look with the girl. Jenny squirmed but seemed to realize that there was no way out of her bindings until someone released her. Rachel turned her attention to her own predicament. A more thorough inspection of her bindings revealed that in addition to her wrists, her elbows had also been tied together with more neck ties. A quick bout of tugging and pulling confirmed that she would not able to slip her wrists from the bindings.
Bayless had really . . . Rachel froze and listened. Was Bayless still in the house? She had no idea how long she had been unconscious or where Bayless was at the moment. The only sound that greeted her was muffled grunting and moaning coming from somewhere in the house. The detective deduced that it was most likely Joanna Kresser and that FBI agent. They were probably in the same predicament, if not worse, as Rachel herself.
Whatever the case, Rachel was not about to simply sit here and wait. Though she was thoroughly trussed up, she could still move about. She had to get to her feet . . . then maybe find something to free herself or cut loose one of her fellow captives. Rachel took a deep breath through her gag and scooted along the living floor toward the recliner that complimented the living room set.
She groaned as her limbs, especially her arms, ached as a result of her movement. The carpeted floor scraped her naked backside but the determined detective was not about to some pain and discomfort discourage her intentions. With some effort she reached the recliner. That was the easy part. Rachel then spent the next five minutes attempting to get to her feet. Using the edge of the recliner as leverage, she pulled herself up until she was sitting in the soft chair.
Though already panting and sweating, Rachel rose from the chair. She teetered slightly but regained her balance. She looked about the house and located the kitchen. It was across the living room and separated by a dinning room. She had to reach the kitchen and find a knife. That was her best chance.
Since her ankles and knees were tied, it would take too long to scoot or shuffle toward her destination. A better alternative was to hop. Of course she would have to be careful. If she toppled over it would be almost next to impossible to get up again. Rachel exhaled, gathered her resolve, and began hopping across the living room toward the kitchen. She was grateful no one besides Jenny Kresser could see her. The bouncing motion made the detective's breasts bounce and jiggle invitingly. It was the only part of her perfect body that jiggled.
Through a series of careful and measured hops, Rachel advanced across the living room and into the dinning room. She paused momentarily to rest. The last thing she wanted was to be discovered in such a humiliating situation. That urged her on and she resumed hopping toward her possible salvation.
Kat and the two female hostages exited the Shop N' Save convenience store through the front door. They were immediately met by Deputies Galindo, Lockwood, and Lindy Derringer.
"Are you all right?" Lindy asked her sister. "What happened?"
"Long is dead," Kat replied. "He wouldn't give himself up."
"Better him than you," Galindo added.
Kat secretly agreed. "What about Detective Graham or Bayless?" the sheriff asked. "Any word from them?"
"Not yet," Brianna said. "Something's not right."
"Better get out there and check it out," Kat told Galindo. "Lindy and I will take care of this."
Galindo nodded and started to walk away. He paused and turned. "Hey, sheriff?"
"Yeah?" Kat replied.
'Thanks," Kat returned. "But this isn't over yet."
A still tightly bound and gagged Detective Rachel Graham uttered a muffled curse through her gag. She had successfully navigated the journey into the kitchen in search of a knife only to find a note from Bayless on the kitchen counter above the utensil drawer. The following message was written on a sheet of paper:
I knew you would try it, so I took all the knives with me. Have fun, Detective Graham--Deputy Bayless. P.S. Tell the hot sheriff I resign.
Rachel seethed at her apparent defeat. Right then and there she vowed to never let anyone tie her up again--even her soon to be ex-boyfriend. Dejected and angry, she leaned against the kitchen counter to contemplate her other options. She looked about the kitchen, hoping to find some other sharp object. Perhaps she could break a glass or plate and use a sharp piece as a cutting tool. A quick inspection of the kitchen confirmed that all dishes were in closed cabinets and out of her reach, at least in her current status.
Rachel's anger suddenly flared. She squirmed and struggled gamely, hoping to loosen or work some slack into her bindings. The neck ties bit into her flesh and seemed to tighten even more. She shook her head and thrashed violently. Had it not been for the fact that she was bound and gagged, she might have been doing some kind of innovative modern dace.
Her desperate struggling only resulted in one thing . . . Rachel finally lost her balance and toppled over. She broke her fall with her knees before falling forward. "Mufffff!" she moaned as she hit the kitchen floor. Only a quick turn of her head prevented her from falling face-first, which really would have hurt. Apart from a quick flash of pain, she was not injured.
The frustrated detective was now officially out of options and ideas. She rolled onto her side and lay there, fuming and cursing Bayless. She remained in that position until she heard the front door of the house burst open. Rachel listened carefully. Footsteps followed.
"Over here!" Rachel heard a familiar voice call out.
It was Deputy Lockwood. But she was not alone. Though relieved, Rachel braced herself to endure some embarrassment.
An hour later, all parties gathered in the briefing room of the sheriff's department building. Deputies Lockwood, Derringer, and Galindo sat around the table of the briefing room while Kat and Special Agent Vanessa Mendez sat on opposite ends of the table. Detective Rachel Graham, Joanna Kresser and her daughter, Jenny, sat in portable chairs that had been squeezed in around the table. It was there that all the pieces of the previous events came together.
Though Kat told about what had happened to her and Lindy in the woods, she did not go into too much detail. She hoped the slight blush on her face was not too obvious as she recanted how Long left her and Lindy bound and gagged, covered in gasoline, and with a burning candle balanced on her head. Of course Kat made no mention of how she and Lindy had been forced to strip by the criminal. Other than Zack Millsap, no one knew about that . . . and Kat wanted to keep it that way.
Detective Rachel Graham was also not too thrilled about revealing her ordeal at the hands of Bayless. She barely made eye contact with her audience as she described her encounter with Bayless. The detective did not say anything about being forced to lick the deputy's boots. Had she not being found naked, bound, and gagged by Brianna and Galindo, she would not have revealed that either. Rachel vowed and get even with Bayless . . . some day.
Ironically, Kat was not really surprised by Bayless's treachery. He was now a hunted criminal, just like Jack Stiles, who was the last survivor of the Palm City diamond heist. The state police and all law enforcement departments from surrounding counties were alerted to be on the look out for the two men. If Bayless was smart--something which he had never been--he would head for the border. Kat was fully confident that it would only be a matter of time before both men were captured.
There was, of course, one final thing which had yet to be resolved.
"There's still four million dollars worth of diamonds that's unaccounted for," Deputy Galindo said, giving Joanna Kresser a side glance.
All eyes were suddenly on Joanna.
"Bayless tried to make me talk," Joanna said, her voice cracking "He thought I knew something so he put a single bullet in a revolver and put it to my head." Joanna stopped and swallowed the lump in her throat. "He pulled the trigger twice before he convinced himself that I really knew nothing at all. After that he left."
Sick bastard! Kat thought angrily.
"We might never know what happened to the diamonds . . . or money," Lindy said. "It could be anywhere in Durango County."
"If and when it's found," Agent Mendez said, "it's federal evidence. Contact me at once."
"Of course," Kat said, eyeing the FBI agent with subtle annoyance. Though a fellow law enforcement officer, Kat found Agent Mendez to be pushy and arrogant.
Kat's cell phone suddenly rang, interrupting the meeting. It was Ruby from dispatch. The young woman had news for the sheriff. Everyone listened as Kat and Ruby had a brief conversation before the sheriff thanked the dispatcher and ended the call.
Kat addressed the expectant audience. "State troopers just caught Jack Stiles in Seminole County."
"The FBI has jurisdiction," Agent Mendez said quickly. "Kidnapping is a federal crime."
Kat shot the agent another annoyed--though subtle--look. "Of course, Agent Mendez," the sheriff said. She could not resist and added, "I don't think you came all the way to Dorado City just to get tied up and gagged."
This time it was Agent Mendez's turn to glare at Kat. "From what I've heard you and your department seem to have plenty of experience in getting tied up. Perhaps you should provide better training for your female deputies."
A tense silence descended upon the room until Brianna spoke up.
"If it wasn't for this female deputy," Brianna said in a phony good-natured tone, "you would probably still be tied up in that bedroom. I hope you remember to put that in your report, Agent Mendez."
Agent Mendez stared at Brianna. The tension rose until the agent flashed a phony smile and said, "I better be going. I have a criminal to pick up."
"Have a nice day," Lindy said as Agent Mendez walked past her. "Come back and see us any time."
Agent Mendez remained silent and aloof as she walked out of the meeting room.
Deputy Galindo exhaled when the door closed behind her. "What's with her?"
"I don't think she's too thrilled about getting bound and gagged," Detective Graham said flatly. "But if anyone deserved it . . ."
Kat gave the detective a side glance. The sheriff's lips curved upward in a half smile.
"Want another beer?" Lindy called from the kitchen.
"No thanks," Kat replied from the living room couch. "Even though it's my day off, I'm still on call. Can't take the chance of showing up lightheaded at a crime scene."
It was two days later and the two sisters were enjoying a quiet evening at home. Even though that scoundrel Bayless had yet to be captured, Kat felt relaxed and at ease. She had passed her first major test as Durango County sheriff. Sure she had endured some (okay, plenty of) embarrassment along the way, but she had come through at the end. Apart from three dead criminals, no else had been seriously hurt.
At the moment they were watching a Clint Eastwood classic movie. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly played out on the 32-inch television screen located in the living room. A half eaten pizza and several beer bottles littered the coffee table in front of the couch. It was well-known around the sheriff's department that Kat was a big Clint Eastwood fan. Deputy Marlon Galindo had given her a boxed set of Clint Eastwood films on her birthday three months ago. Once again, Kat felt a hint of disappointment that Galindo was a married man. No that anything could happen . . .
As Kat watched the TV screen something that Joanna Kresser had said entered her mind. After the meeting had ended at the sheriff's department building, Kat and Joanna had a lengthy conversation about her late husband. Joanna had told Kat that her husband, Jack Kresser, was a big Clint Eastwood fan as well. She had mentioned, off hand, that his favorite Clint Eastwood movie was The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Something suddenly clicked in Kat's head. She sat up on the couch. The sudden action almost toppled the bowl of popcorn next to her. "Of course!" Kat said, thinking aloud.
"What was that?" Lindy asked, coming back into the living room.
Kat turned to her sister. "Joanna Kresser mentioned that her husband was buried in the family private cemetery just outside of Dorado City. Right?"
Lindy had no idea what her sister was talking about. "So what?"
"I think I may know where Jack Kresser buried the diamonds or money," Kat said excitedly.
"Where?" Lindy asked, still confused.
Kat stood up. "Come on," she said, walking toward the front door.
Lindy looked down at her body. "What, like this?"
Lindy sported a pair of denim short-shorts and tight pink tee-shirt. She was also barefoot. Kat was not better off. The sheriff wore a pair of thin pajama pants with a Durango County Sheriff's department yellow T-shirt.
"Don't worry about it," Kat told her sister. "This is an unofficial call."
Thirty minutes later Kat, Lindy, and Joanna Kresser stood outside the gates of the private cemetery where most--if not all--of the Kresser's ancestors and relatives were buried. It stood just north of Dorado City in a scenic location, surrounded by graceful trees and shrubs. The scenery, however, was still not enough to offset the eeriness associated with grave yards. At least in Kat's mind. Though Kat had explained to Joanna that the diamonds or money were probably buried somewhere in the cemetery, she had not told her how she arrived at that conclusion . . . until now.
"Just like in your husband's favorite Clint Eastwood movie," Kat said, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Look for an unmarked grave."
Joanna looked at Kat as if she was crazy. "You're basing this on some movie? There are no unmarked graves."
"Unless your husband himself dug the hole," Lindy offered. "Secretly."
A truck pulled up to the gate. The three women turned to see Deputy Marlon Galindo exit the vehicle.
"What's up, sheriff?" the male deputy asked, eyeing Kat and Lindy. It was not often that he saw them dressed so casually.
"Did you bring the shovels?" Kat asked the deputy.
"Yeah," Galindo replied, "but I'm not sure I like where this is going."
"Oh," Kat said, "I think you're gonna feel differently . . . if I'm right." The sheriff turned toward the cemetery. "All right, let's split up and look for the unmarked grave."
Kat, Lindy, Joanna, and Galindo entered the cemetery and fanned out among the various graves adorned with stone tombstones, crosses, or statues of angels. Some were quite elaborate with epitaphs while others were simple, indicating only the name, birth, and death of the deceased. Kat noticed that some of the graves dated back at least a hundred years.
"Over here, sheriff!" Galindo called out near the edge of the cemetery.
Everyone gathered where Galindo stood. A faded grave marked with a simple wooden cross but baring no name or inscription was all that could be seen. It looked slightly out of place among the more elaborate grave sites.
"I must have been too preoccupied to notice it during Jack's funeral," Joanna said solemnly.
"I'll start digging," Galindo said.
"I'll give you a hand," Kat added.
It took almost an hour for Galindo and Kat to finally dig deep enough to come upon a wooden box. It was not a coffin but rather more of a crate. That only encouraged Kat further. By that time dusk had fallen and they had to use flashlights to see in the fading light. Kat and Galindo were both dirty and exhausted but the excitement of the discovery urged them on to finish digging.
It took the combined effort of Kat, Lindy, and Galindo to lift the crate out of the ground and onto the edge of the mock grave. They pulled themselves out of the hole and gathered around the wooden crate. It was nailed shut and, not having a crowbar, Galindo used his shovel to pry it open. It took some work and patience but the lid of the crate finally gave way and parted.
Kat literally held her breath as Galindo pulled off the top of the wooden crate. She exhaled with relief when she saw the contents of the crate. Inside where several black duffel bags, all lined up neatly. Kat's heart began beating rapidly as Galindo pulled out one of the bags. He placed it at her feet.
"Wanna do the honors, sheriff?" Galindo asked Kat. "It was your call."
Kat knelt before the bag. She found the zipper and slid it open. For a moment the sheriff could only gaze in amazement at the bundles of money inside the bag. This had been the reason for the deaths of three men and all sorts of chaos in her otherwise peaceful small town. Kat shook her head as she picked up a bundle of cash.
"Case solved," Galindo said flatly. "Good work, sheriff."
Kat tossed the bundle of money back into the bag and stood. "This is over, but Bayless it still out there somewhere."
Though Kat did not say so, she had a feeling she would be seeing the treacherous former deputy again someday. She sighed and gazed up at the night sky. Devoid of artificial lights, the dark sky glittered with an array of stars, some brighter than others. As if on cue, a shooting star streaked across the sky. The natural beauty soothed Kat, and for a moment her faith in life was restored.
"Let's go home," Kat finally said.
"What about the money?" Galindo asked.
"Load it up in your truck and take it home," the sheriff said. "We'll worry about it tomorrow. I have a Clint Eastwood movie to finish watching."
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