Sky Ryder
Sky and the Woman With A Past
Fiction by Frank Knebel

Chapter Twelve

Copyright © 2012 by Frank Knebel

Eileen Harvey could feel her wrist bonds loosening. Though she could not see the ropes holding her hands behind her back, she sensed that she would be free very shortly.

"Just a little more work and I'll be free," she thought. "What a relief! It seems as though I've been tied up all day. I guess that's because I have been."

She could see by the cabin windows that the sunlight was waning. She could not guess why it was taking Genie and March so long to tie and gag Julie in the cabin next door, and worried about what it might mean, she knew that she had to take advantage of the time they were leaving her unguarded. If she could free herself and call Sheriff Winchell, the nightmare would end for her, for Julie and anyone else now in danger.

"Just give me a couple more minutes, John," she thought desperately. "Just two or three more minutes!"

John March looked up into Julie's face. He finished the knots on the wraps holding her bound ankles to the right front chair leg.

"It was a real good try, Mrs. Ryder," he said, tugging the ropes binding her legs above the knees to test their tightness. "A very good try, even if it didn't work out for you."

He stood up and regarded his new prisoner, who was bound hand and foot, but not yet gagged, and secured to a chair that matched the one in which Genie sat only a foot or two to her left.

"It's not that I don't appreciate your praise, Mr. March," Julie said dryly, "but I think it might be better for you and your girlfriend to give it up and turn yourselves in. The valuable books from the library have been recovered, most of your gang has been arrested and the two of you can't possibly get away. Things are bad enough now and you'll only make them worse if you continue."

Genie, who was looking at Julie with an expression triumph in her eyes, mumbled something into her gag. March took a handkerchief from his pocket and wadded it into a ball. He leaned over and picked up Genie's shredded blouse from the floor. After examining it for a few moments, he tore off a couple more strips and draped them over his arm. He put the balled handkerchief into the middle of one of the long cloth pieces and rolled it up.

"You know, Mrs. Ryder," March said reflectively, and with some amusement," that gag you did on Genie isn't completely effective, but it's the closest anybody's come to shutting her up in fifteen years."

Genie shook her head and protested emphatically. March shook his head at Genie.

"You really let her get the better of you, didn't you, Honey? I never thought I'd see it, but there's no way around it: she beat you. How'd you do it, Mrs. Ryder?"

Genie glared at Julie and said something more. Julie kept her eyes on March.

"It wasn't too difficult once I knocked the gun out of her hand," said Julie, watching uneasily as March played with pieces of cloth. "I didn't really intend to rip her blouse off. It just happened while we were fighting for the gun."

As he circled around the two bound women, March tore another long strip from the largest remaining piece of Genie's blouse and put the strips on the table.

"I can see that it tears real easy," he said, taking up the gag he had prepared. "It's going to come in very handy right now."

Though Julie guessed his intention, there was nothing she could do. He grabbed her from behind, pressing the balled cloth to her mouth. She kept her mouth firmly shut and tried to twist her head away, but he was able to get the thumb and index finger of his left hand on her nose and press her nostrils shut. With no other way to breathe, Julie had to open her mouth, giving him the chance to force the wadding inside. Once the ball of cloth was firmly packed in her mouth, he let go of her nose then secured it by tying the ends of the wrapping piece at the back of her neck. He tested the effectiveness of the gag by reaching around her, taking a breast in each hand and giving them a good squeeze. Julie could make only a high-pitched whine into the material.

"Yes, sir," said March. "Real handy."

He circled back around the women to face them once again. He looked over the ropes holding Genie, even reaching down to check the tightness of Julie's work.

"You did quite a job on her, Mrs. Ryder, quite a job. I wonder where you learned so much about how to tie up a woman." He stepped around Genie and loosened the knot in her gag. "Let's see what she has to say."

When the gag ties were loose, Genie pushed the cloth out of her mouth. Once more, she glared at Julie.

"I told you that we'd fix you when John got back!" she shrieked. "Well now you're gonna find out how just how sorry you can be!"

March had strolled back in front of them again. He picked up a few pieces of the material on the table with his left hand and took a folding knife from his pocket with his right. When he made no move to free Genie, she turned angrily toward him.

"What're you waiting for, John?" she demanded. "Cut me loose!"

He drew the blade from the handle of the knife and leaned forward, taking one of the loops around her arms and torso between his fingers as though about to begin. Instead of cutting any ropes, he relaxed and leaned back.

"What do you figure to do to her?" he asked motioning toward Julie with his head.

She turned to Julie with a cruel smile.

"I don't know yet. Are there any anthills outside? We could leave her tied up on one of them, like the Indians here used to do." She looked at March's pocket knife. "But first we'd have to cut those panties off and spread jelly all over her. And believe me, I know the best places to put it."

March shook his head.

"That's pretty nasty, Genie, even for a witch like you. I think I have a better idea."

He leaned toward her again, knife poised to cut. But instead of using it on any of the ropes holding her, he pulled one of the shoulder straps of her bra, slipped the knife under it and sawed through it.

"Hey!" cried Genie. "What do you think you're doing? This is no time to fool around. Cut me loose!"

He ignored her cries, cutting first the other shoulder strap then between the cups before yanking it off. She howled in fury at him, but he went behind her, grabbed the pieces of blouse from the table and used the same technique he had used on Julie to gag her as well, even testing the gag the same way. Genie could make no more noise than Julie had. After pawing Genie's breasts, he went back and groped Julie's again.

"Sorry, Genie," he said as he faced them again. "Not only is Mrs. Ryder the better fighter, but I'd have to say she has the edge in boobs too. And now, I think I'll go test Eileen's. Even if hers aren't quite up to Mrs. Ryder's, I'm going to take her with me when I blow this place, which won't be too long. She'll be a better hostage and less of a nag than you." He looked out the window. "Maybe a half hour until it gets dark. That ought to be just enough time for me to get acquainted with her again. Enjoy yourselves, ladies; I know I will."

Genie wailed into her gag as he went out the door into the gathering dusk. The two bound women began struggling with their bonds.

On the couch in Eileen's living room, Copper Ryder struggled vainly in the web of duct tape around her wrists, elbows, arms, torso, ankles, knees, and fingers as she watched the kitchen door for Campbell's return.

"Amy was right," the girl thought. "Even if I had a knife or an ax, there's no way I could get out of all this tape. I don't think I've ever been so thoroughly tied up." Through the nylon stocking over her eyes, she looked down at the tapes circling her naked body and at the ropes that ran from the lines around her waist through the thatch of blond hair between her legs. As she squirmed she could feel the cords pressing against her most intimate spot. "Not like this."

She looked at the door to Eileen's bedroom.

"And Amy and that Lee Anne woman are tied up even worse in there!"

There was a thump on the swinging door to the kitchen as Campbell flung it open. He stood there glassy eyed and wavering, a bottle of beer in his right hand. He took a long drink from the bottle and leered at Copper.

"How ya doin', Copper?" he asked. "Are ya ready for ssome fun? Ya sure look like it."

He let the door swing closed behind him and crossed unsteadily to the couch. He drank again and looked down at her. She shook her head defiantly and protested into her gag as he ogled her. When he sat heavily beside her, she tried to scoot away from him, though the movement created more pressure on the ropes through her crotch, causing her to close her eyes and throw her head back. He put one arm around her and pulled her close to him. She tried to turn her face away, only to have him grab her chin and force her to look directly at him.

"Come on, Baby," he whispered. "Ya know how much ya enjoyed neckin' with th' cute deputy out there." He waved in the general direction of the bedroom. "This'll be even better."

He leaned his face close enough to kiss her taped mouth. She squealed in alarm into the gag and tried to turn away again. He held her tightly.

"I wish I could take th' tape off yer mouth, Honey. Ya got great lips for kissin, an' I loved hearin' ya when th' deputy sucked yer boobies."

He raised the stocking enough to kiss and nibble on her neck, though she continued to struggle and protest. He stopped to take another swallow of beer.

"Whaddaya ssay? Mebbe I'll take off th' tape in a while. Then we'll leaf here and fin' a nice quiet spot where I can take th' tape off yer legs too. Whaddaya ssay?"

He began kissing her neck again. Between his enthusiasm for his beautiful prisoner and the beer he had drunk, he did not notice the top of the head of a fair-haired man head at one of the front windows.

Eileen's wrists slipped out of the circle of cords behind her. She sighed in relief as she brought her hands around in front of her and reached for the cloth strip holding the gag in her mouth. After pushing out the gag wad, she breathed deeply and gratefully as she rubbed the rope marks on her wrists while waiting for full sensation to return to her hands. To get her into the cabin, Genie and Lee Anne had removed the yoke-style hogtie, leaving her bound only at the wrists and ankles. Eileen was glad that the interruption of Julie's capture had caused the two women to forget all about binding her more securely

"When I get my circulation back, I can untie my ankles and get to a phone," she said to herself as she flexed her fingers. "There's probably one down at that office. Then I can get the sheriff out here and this nightmare will be over."

Her triumph at freeing herself was dampened somewhat when she reached down to loosen her ankle bonds and found that Campbell, in tying them while she was lying face down in the back seat of Lee Anne's car, had placed the knots behind her legs. He had also made a seize over the main wraps so she could not simply rotate the loops to get at the knots. It took her some time, reaching and twisting her legs awkwardly to undo the bonds, but finally she was able to slip off the ropes.

"There!" she exclaimed aloud as she stood up. "Now to find a phone!"

She went to the door and was just reaching for the knob when it swung open. John March stood in the doorway. A smile spread slowly across his face as he drew his pistol.

"It looks like I got here just in time," he said.

Deputy Amy Cole worked her tape-encased fingers behind her back, feeling with her not-very-long fingernails for an opening or a seam in the wrappings.

"Even if I could get my fingers unwrapped, I don't know what good it would do," she thought hopelessly. "He's taped my forearms close enough together that I wouldn't be able to work on the tape on my wrists, especially with my arms taped against my back. My knees and ankles are taped together, and I'm tied to my new friend here at the knees and waist besides being hogtied and leashed to the bed at the knees and neck. And to top it all off, I'm blindfolded and gagged. About all I can hope for is that we don't fall off the bed and choke ourselves."

The feeling of the doubled rope around her neck was unnerving to the naked, helpless deputy, but she had one small bit of comfort.

"Tied together the way we are, there's probably no way we could move enough to get close to the edge of the bed, let alone fall off," Amy thought. She wiggled her hips experimentally. "I'd give just about anything to get those ropes out from between my legs!"

She shifted her hips again in an effort to relieve the press of the crotchrope. Her movement drew a muffled reaction from Lee Anne. The girl mewed inquisitively into her gag and pushed her pelvis into Amy's.

"She must think I'm trying to have some fun with my crotchrope," Amy thought. "I'm glad somebody can have some fun when she's tied like this!"

Lee Anne pressed her chest against Amy's. The deputy could feel the hardened nipples of her fellow prisoner against her own breasts. Amy knew that hers were the same.

"Nothing like being in danger to make the human body react in inappropriate ways," she thought. "Not surprising, since this is about as bad a spot as I've ever been in."

Amy thought of Copper.

"It's going to be even worse for Copper if he gets away with her. He'll either wreck his car driving drunk or he'll pull over in some spot where he can have his way with her."

She tried again to free her hands again. It was useless.

"I hope the cavalry is on its way," she thought desperately.

Running in a low crouch, a hatless Harry Tyler scuttled back behind the police car where the others were waiting.

"What did you see, Harry?" asked Sheriff Winchell.

Tyler took a few breaths before answering.

"He's in there all right, Sheriff." He looked directly at Sky. "He's got Copper with him. She's tied up and gagged with tape and…" He hesitated. "…naked."

Winchell waited for a moment. Sky glanced at the house but said nothing.

"You didn't see anyone else?" Winchell asked.

Tyler shook his head.

"Nobody. No other members of the gang, no Eileen, no Amy and no Julie."

Winchell raised himself enough to look over the car trunk.

"Here comes Andy. We'll see what he has to say."

Andy Rivera, also bareheaded and keeping low as he ran, returned to the car.

"There's no one in the kitchen, Sheriff," he said. After a few quick breaths he added: "There weren't any lights on in the bedroom so I couldn't see much. There was something on the bed in there but I couldn't tell if it was a person or piles of clothes."

Winchell nodded and waited for the two deputies to catch their breath. Deputy Sue Kendall handed their hats back to them. Sky Ryder rose slightly and craned his neck to look at the house. A Kermit Sheriff's patrol car and Lee Anne's six-year-old Ford were parked at the curb directly in front of the house.

"What do you think, Sky?" asked Winchell.

"If I remember, there are three ways into Eileen's house: the front, that side door on the driveway and the kitchen door in the back," said Sky. "If we want to trap him we'd better cover them all and keep a good watch for anything coming out of the bedroom windows."

Winchell looked at the faces of Sky, Tyler, Rivera, Sue and Charlie Barnes.

"Okay," he said. "Sky and I will take the front door, Harry and Andy will take the side and Charlie will cover the back door. Sue, I want you to stay out here in case he somehow gets past us and tries to make a run for his car. Call into the station and get MacKeever and some more men out here to help while we're moving in. Everybody got it?"

They all nodded or quietly replied affirmatives. The Sheriff drew his service revolver, the others following his lead.

"All right," he said. "When you hear us bust the front door open, everybody goes in. Let's move out."

While Sue opened the door of the squad car and took up the radio handset, the men silently and stealthily moved to their positions

Eileen Harvey tossed her brassiere onto the table where her other clothing lay. Instinctively, she started to raise her arms to cover her bare breasts but, when she saw March watching her with a leering grin, managed to overcome her reaction with the determination not to give him the pleasure of seeing her embarrassed.

"Come on, Eileen," he said. "You're not done yet. The panties too."

"Isn't this enough for you John?" she asked. "You really need to see everything?"

She hooked her thumbs into the elastic on both hips and pulled. When she had stretched the waistband beyond her hips, she lowered the panties, then let go, allowing them to fall to the floor. Eileen stepped her bare feet out of them, leaned over, picked them up and laid them neatly with her other clothes. Again she had to struggle with the instinct to cover herself as March ogled her up and down.

"Even after all these years you certainly are a sight, Eileen," he said, licking his lips. "You haven't changed a bit since we robbed that Powell woman, and you were one fine lookin' dish back then. When Genie brought you to the motel in that nightgown and all tied up, I remembered how much I wanted you back then. It started all over for me. "

"I'd say thanks, but having a gun pointed at me while I'm naked usually makes me forget my manners completely."

March laughed.

"You always were good with a line, too," he said. "I always envied Denny for getting a sharp broad like you while I was stuck with Genie."

Eileen glanced in the direction of the cabin next door.

"And since she's not here, I gather you two are now unstuck."

March made a face and shook his head.

"The Ryder woman got the better of her when Genie tried to tie her up. Now they're both tied up and comparing boob sizes and firmness, and Genie's coming out second-best in that, too."

"You really didn't have to make me do a striptease to tell me all this," Eileen said dryly.

March chuckled as he reached for some ropes on the table.

"I just lost about seventy grand. A man has to have some fun. Turn around and put your hands behind your back."

She turned slowly, watching him over her shoulder. He opened the button of his suit jacket and tucked the pistol into his belt.

"Naked and tied up too," she said, as she crossed her wrists just above her buttocks. "You don't take any chances with your women, do you?"

"No tricks now," he warned playfully as he took her hands.

Despite his warning, Eileen tried to spin around quickly and raise her right forearm to strike the side of his head. He grabbed her hands roughly before she was able to get in any position to make an effective blow. He turned her back to face away from him and held both her hands in one of his as he wrapped ropes around her wrists. She took in a sharp breath as the ropes bit into her bruised skin.

"You always were a feisty one, Eileen," he grunted as he tied her. "That's part of the reason I wanted you back then.

He finished knotting the bonds, took her by the shoulders and turned her around to face him again, grabbing her chin in one hand.

"And it's what makes this so much fun!" he whispered savagely.

He pressed his lips over hers as she struggled in his arms.

Campbell stopped kissing Copper's taped lips and leaned back, holding her nylon-covered chin in his hand so she had no choice but to look directly at his face.

"It's no use, Baby," he whispered. "Doin' this is no good. It's gotta be the real thing."

He put an arm behind her, forcing her to sit up straighter. His level of intoxication made his fingers clumsy, causing him to fumble as he tried to find the end of the tape covering her mouth, but he showed remarkable patience as he searched.

"Don' worry, Honey," he said as he turned her head to grope at the other side. "Thiss won' take a minute. Ah! There it iss!"

He dug under tape seam with his fingernails and pulled the last few inches loose. Once he had freed the end, he removed the tape one layer at a time, circling her head as he passed what he had pulled off from one hand to the other.

"Issn't that better, Copper?" he whispered lewdly. "Now you can really enjoy the experience."

He finished removing the tape, balled it up and tossed it to the floor. He grabbed the edges of the stocking that covered her head, lifted it off and flung it away as well. Copper tried to push the wadded scarf from her mouth, but he pressed a hand over it to stop her. He leaned closer again.

"Before I take th' rest of that nassty gag outta your mouth," he warned, "you gotta promise t' be a good girl. No screaming and no biting, or it'll go right back in." His bleary eyes narrowed. "And I'll be sure to do it th' hard way."

Copper's eyes were wide with alarm and fear. She nodded. He took the ball of fabric in his fingertips and pulled it carefully from her mouth.

"Now, let's get started," Campbell said. "I've been----"

He was interrupted by the front door being thrown open. Sky Ryder and Sheriff Winchell lunged into the room with pistols drawn. For a moment, Campbell gaped at them in disbelief, then reached for the gun in his belt. He had barely pulled it clear of his jacket when Copper threw herself against his arm. The revolver flew from his unsteady fingers and landed at Winchell's feet. Sky pushed Copper aside, grabbed Campbell by his lapels, dragged him to his feet and landed a short, efficient left to the right side of Campbell's face. The blow sent him staggering a few feet back and into the arms of Harry Tyler who, with Andy Rivera, had broken through the side door. Tyler turned Campbell around and punched him on the jaw with his right. Campbell bounced back to Sky, who finished him with another right to the head. The young hoodlum collapsed back on the couch.

Sky knelt next to Copper.

"Are you all right, Honey?" he asked.

"I'm all right," the girl said with a nod. "But I'm really glad to see you."

"Where are Amy and Eileen?" Tyler asked urgently.

Copper motioned with her head toward the bedroom.

"Amy's in there all tied up with a woman who was part of the gang. They took Eileen away a couple hours ago to some other hideout."

"And what about Julie?" asked Sky.

"Gosh, I don't know, Sky," Copper said. "I haven't seen her since Amy and I left the Sheriff's Office."

Deputy Barnes came through the kitchen door. Sue Kendall appeared at the front.

"No one came out the back way, Sheriff," reported Barnes.

"And an ambulance and some more men are on their way," added Sue.

Winchell holstered his own weapon, picked up Campbell's and tucked it into his belt.

"Good work everybody," he said. "Charlie, Andy, take charge of this hombre. Harry, you and Sue go help Amy and that other gal."

"Her name's Lee Anne, Sheriff," said Copper. "And I think she knows where the rest of the gang took Eileen. Maybe they've got Julie too."

Barnes took the handcuffs from his belt and dragged Campbell from the couch. He and Rivera had to support their wobbly prisoner on each side to get him out the front door.

Sky stood up to return his pistol to its holster. He crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head, an exasperated expression on his face as he looked down at his niece.

"And you, young lady!" he said sternly. "How many times have we told you not to go off trying to solve mysteries on your own?"

Copper looked down for a moment, then back at Sky.

"Please, Sky," she said. "I know that I'm going to get another lecture, but can you get all this tape and rope off and let me get some clothes on before you start?"


Tyler rushed to Amy's side of the bed. He drew out his pocket knife and cut the double line leash from the loop around her neck to the headboard. The helpless woman hummed thankfully into her gag as he loosened the noose and slipped it over her head.

"Are you all right, Honey?" he asked as he began unwinding the tape covering her eyes.

She hummed affirmatively and nodded as best she could as he worked. When he had unwrapped the blindfolding tape, he started on the tape around her mouth. On the other side of the bed, Sue was following Harry's lead in freeing Lee Anne. Once the tape was off Amy's mouth, Harry pulled the stocking off. She spat the gag wad from her mouth, took a large gulp of air and turned to look at him.

"Thank God you're finally here!" she exclaimed in mock annoyance. "It took you long enough! Now get me out of this!"

He looked her up and down, unable to suppress a smile.

"Well, this is another fine mess you've gotten yourself into," he said dryly, as he used his knife to cut the yoke hogtie and the line connecting her bound knees to the footboard. He looked over at Sue, who was removing the stocking from Lee Anne's head. "Maybe we should stop and take some photos of the crime scene and the victims."

Lee Anne cried out in alarm into the wad of cloth in her mouth. Sue smiled for a moment, but tried to keep a straight face when she saw Amy glaring at them.

"All right, you two, that's enough!" snapped Amy. "It's bad enough that in the line of duty I'm drugged, have my clothes taken off and get tied up, first with Copper and then with this woman, but now you two have to have a big laugh over it!"

Harry leaned over to cut the ropes holding the two women together at the knees and waists. When he finished, he stopped a moment to examine Amy's breasts.

"Drugged, huh?" he said as he started to work on the tape wrapping Amy's hands and fingers. "That might explain how you got tied up, but it doesn't explain the lipstick on your boobs, unless you and this woman occasionally get together to have fun like this."

Lee Anne looked at him with an expression of shock and outrage.

"Why I've never seen this woman in my life before today, Deputy!" she declared primly.

Sue leaned over and looked at the smears on Amy's breasts, then at Lee Anne's face.

"I'd say she's telling the truth, Harry," Sue drawled. "It's not her shade."

"I should hope not!" Lee Anne said indignantly.

Harry and Sue laughed. Amy shook her head resignedly and looked at Lee Anne.

"Well, I'm glad your reputation is still intact," she said.

With a grunt of effort into her gag, Eileen Harvey pulled several times at the rope that led from her right ankle to the footboard leg on that side of the bed, then tried the same with her left ankle. There was no give in either of the lines that kept her bare legs spread wide and stretched as much as possible. She tried to raise her head to look toward the door of the cabin. She could only imagine how she appeared to March, who stood with his back to the door, admiring her.

She twisted her bound hands behind her. It was only possible to do so because March had put pillows from the bed and couch under her hips and her shoulders.

"I probably ought t' spread your arms like your legs, Eileen," he said as he unbuttoned the cuffs of his shirt. "But ever since we tied up your old boss, Mrs. Powell, I've had a thing for a woman with her hands tied behind her. A dame never looks better than when she's like that."

She tried to wiggle sideways but was held fast by ropes he had added from the loops around her upper body to the legs supporting the headboard. Stretched out fully as she was, she could not slide toward the foot of the bed to loosen her leg bonds. He strolled over and laid his right hand on her upper thigh, grinning as he stroked her leg.

"Those pillows'll make it easier on you, since you won't have to lie on your hands." He leaned down and added softly. "And they'll make other things real easy for me."

She shook her head and protested into the gag.

"Yeah. Sorry about the gag. Those other cabins are a good way off, but I can't take the chance you'll attract any attention and we'll be interrupted." He stroked slowly down, then back up her inner thigh. "I wouldn't like that, 'cause I'm really looking forward to this."

He winked lewdly at her.

"I really ought to check on Genie and Mrs. Ryder again, but there'll be time for that later. I don't like to keep a lady waiting."

March laughed as he unbuttoned his shirt front.

Though the skin of her bruised wrists and ankles and the aching muscles of her arms and legs told her there was little hope of freeing herself, Eileen continued to struggle as March removed his shirt.

Julie Ryder stopped struggling in her bonds to catch her breath. She looked around the unlit room. Beside her, Genie Williams continued to fight the ropes holding her.

"There's just nothing in here I can use to cut these ropes," Julie thought hopelessly.

She glanced at the tiny kitchen area of the cabin with its hotplate, sink and counter with drawers. It was possible that there could be sharp knives in one of them. She tried to push against the floor with her bound feet, but they were too closely tied to the right front leg of her chair for her to get enough leverage to move it.

"Nothing I can get to anyway."

She glanced at the still wriggling Genie.

"With my hands between my back and the back of the chair, I can't try to untie my friend here," she thought. "Though even if I could, I wouldn't trust her to untie me once she was loose. Maybe if I could ----"

She worked at her wrists bonds for another minute to no avail.

"It's no use."

She stopped struggling. Genie was now resting from her efforts. The brassy blonde looked at Julie and grunted something uncomplimentary into her gag. When Genie turned away, Julie could look past her fellow prisoner through the window on the side wall to cabin next door.

"I've just got to keep trying though," Julie thought desperately. "March is over there doing God-knows-what to Eileen. Maybe I can ----"

Both women stopped and sat bolt upright as the front door slowly opened. The two bound women froze as they waited to see who was there. Sky Ryder's head appeared at the door. He peered into the darkened room. Julie hummed urgently into her gag.

"Julie?" he whispered.

The helpless brunette nodded and exclaimed into the ball of cloth in her mouth. Sky took a couple quick steps into the room followed by Sheriff Winchell and Deputy Amy Cole. While Amy closed the cabin door, Sky hurried to his wife, pulled down the gag tie and helped her remove the wadded cloth from her mouth.

"Oh, Sky!" she whispered. "Am I glad to see you!"

"No more glad than I am to see you," he answered. He unfolded his pocketknife and began sawing at the ropes holding her to the chair. "Haven't I warned you about playing detective without keeping in touch?"

"Sorry about that, Sky." Julie looked up at the Sheriff. "I was just calling in to tell you I had found March's new hideout when he caught me."

"Don't feel too bad, Julie," Amy said softly as she worked at cutting Genie free from her chair. "I know how that one goes. So does Copper."

"Is she all right?" asked Julie.

"She's fine," said Sky. "The rest of the gang's been caught and everybody's safe except Eileen. Do you know where she is?"

"March has her in the cabin next door!" Julie answered. "And we've got to hurry. He said he was going to 'get acquainted' with her. You know what that means."

Sky nodded.

"He's armed, isn't he?" asked Winchell.

"He has at least two pistols, maybe more," said Julie.

"If we try to rush him, somebody may get hurt," Winchell said soberly. "Maybe Eileen."

Sky was silent for a moment. He looked up into his wife's eyes.

"I've got an idea how to get him out of there, Julie. But we'll need your help."

Julie smiled.

"You can count on me." She looked from Sky to Winchell to Amy. "You all can."

"Here's what we'll do…." Sky began.

John March unbuckled his belt and worked at the waist button of his trousers.

"This has been a long time coming, Eileen," he said. "I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I know I will."

A wide-eyed Eileen shook her head and whimpered into her gag.

"Yes, sir," he continued. "A real pleasure. Let's start with----"

"Help! Help!" came a woman's cry from outside. "Somebody help me!"

March turned and went to the front window. Peering outside he saw Julie Ryder, still clad in just her panties, bound hand and foot and with the cloth gag tie hanging loose around her neck, hopping toward the porch steps of the next cabin.

"How did she get loose?" March snarled at no one. He rebuttoned his trousers and grabbed one of the pistols lying on the table. "It musta been Genie! I'll fix those two!"

He threw the cabin door open and took a step outside.

"You'd better shut up if you know----" he began.

Before March could raise his weapon, Sky Ryder grabbed his right arm and slammed his hand against the wall. March howled in pain and dropped the gun. Deputy Harry Tyler seized March by the left arm, but the big man elbowed the stocky deputy in the midsection, knocking him back. March raised his left arm, intending to hit Sky, but the tall rancher was too fast. Sky landed a right fist to March's jaw, then a left to the side of his head. The man collapsed heavily onto the porch. Deputy Andy Rivera joined Tyler, and the two men dragged March to his feet again. Sheriff Winchell and Deputy Barnes appeared with drawn pistols. Deputy Sue Kendall and Copper Ryder were behind them.

"Thanks, Sky," Winchell said calmly. "I think he's had enough."

Sky bent down to pick up March's gun.

"The pleasure was all mine, Winch," said Sky.

"I'll bet it was," Winchell said with a wry smile. "Sue, I want you to go help Amy get Julie loose and take charge of that bad gal in the other cabin. Copper, would you go help Eileen?"

"Sure, Sheriff," said Copper as she hopped up onto the porch.

Tyler and Rivera handcuffed March and escorted him down the steps.

Sky stepped toward the open cabin door.

"Maybe I'd better give Copper a hand," he said.

"Sky Ryder!" Julie called imperiously. "You stay right where you are!"

Even though Amy had barely started cutting the ropes that held Julie, the bound woman tried to hop toward her husband.

"Wait a second, Julie!" said Amy. "You're not untied yet, and we have to get you dressed!"

Copper stuck her head out of the door.

"Julie's right. This is no place for you right now, young man," she warned impishly, shutting the door behind her.

Sky looked sheepishly at Winchell.

"On second thought, maybe it'd be better if I helped Amy."

Winchell nodded.

"A much better idea, Sky," the Sheriff said.

"I think that everything turned out pretty well," Copper said brightly, as the large group she led reached the bottom of the courthouse steps.

"Do you mean it's another triumph for law and order in Kermit?" asked Sheriff Winchell.

Everyone, including Sky and Julie, Eileen Harvey, the detectives Faulkner and Gilbert, and Deputies Amy Cole, Harry Tyler Sue Kendall and Andy Rivera, laughed.

"It's even better than that, Sheriff," the girl replied. "Not only was nobody hurt, but the rare books and manuscripts were recovered and returned to the State Historical Society, Eileen's been cleared and March and all of his gang are in jail."

Eileen's smile faded and she cast her eyes to the ground, stopping Copper short.

"I'm sorry, Eileen," the blonde said. "But even though Mr. Denny… I mean your husband is in jail too, I can't believe that they'll go very hard on him."

"She's right, Eileen," added Sky. "Copper and I and all the girls from the library are going to testify that he kept things from being a lot worse than they were."

"I'll speak up for him, too," said Amy.

"And I will, too," added Winchell.

Eileen looked up at all of them with grateful eyes.

"Thank you all," she said. "Especially since some of the things I did put so many of my good friends in danger." She reached out and touched Copper, Julie and Amy. "When I think of what might have happened to you if we hadn't been so lucky… Well, I'm going to have to answer for what I've done, and hope that the people of Kermit can forgive me one day."

"I think the people of Kermit won't forget what a good friend and neighbor you've been for the past ten years," said Julie. "We've all forgiven you already."

"Of course," declared Copper. "There's no way you could have known what March and that man Campbell would try to do."

"After all," added Amy, "it turned out that you were in as much danger as we were."

"And as far as that jewel robbery," said Winchell, "the statute of limitations is up, so there won't be any prosecution for it."

Faulkner cleared his throat.

"And your return of Mrs. Powell's bracelet, the last stolen piece to be recovered, will put you in good standing with the police in Los Angeles," he said

"To say nothing of how good it makes us look to the head of our agency," added Gilbert.

"He was so impressed, that he's driving out here today," said Faulkner. "And if you or your husband need a good lawyer, we do a lot of work for one of the best in L. A. I'm sure he'd help you if you need it."

Eileen looked from face to face with tears of gratitude starting in her eyes. She started to speak but could get no words out.

"All right, deputies," announced Winchell. "Let's get back to work."

Amy Cole put her arms around Harry Tyler.

"Take care of yourself rookie," she said.

She pulled him down slightly, just enough to give him a long, lingering kiss, holding it for several seconds. The others were silent. The women were all smiling at the sight of the attractive couple. Sue turned to Andy Rivera and stuck out a hand.

"And you take care too, Handsome," she said.

He took her hand and shook it.

"You too, Gorgeous," he said with a chuckle.

The others laughed. As the group began to break up, a small white sports car driven by a man with graying hair pulled up to the curb not far away. Gilbert nudged Faulkner with an elbow.

"Hey," he said. "There's Paul now."

"Come on, Mrs. Harvey," said Faulkner. "We'll introduce you."

He took Eileen by the arm, and the three of them walked briskly toward the new arrival. The man, who was tall, good-looking and well-built, stepped out of the car to shake hands with them. Winchell and the deputies strolled to their cars, leaving Julie and Copper standing on either side of Sky at the bottom of the courthouse steps.

"Well, once again" said Copper, "we've had a great adventure, solved a mystery and made Kermit a better place to live."

"And," added Sky, "we're pretty lucky that you two have come out of it in one piece."

He took both women by the elbows as if to lead them away only to have both wince in pain and pull their arms away.

"Oooh, take it easy there, Sky!" said Copper. The girl rubbed her elbow, then continued down her arm to her wrist. "I'm still a little sore."

Julie rubbed her arm as well. She forced a smile at Sky.

"Sorry, Sky, but even after a couple days we're not over being tied up so tightly."

He wagged a finger at the women in turn.

"I hope that you both remember that next time you go off trying to catch criminals on your own."

Copper giggled then put on an exaggeratedly serious expression.

"Oh, we will, Uncle Sky. We promise."

Julie smiled ruefully.

"Especially if we ever have a case involving a woman from your past who has a past of her own."


Copyright © 2012 by Frank Knebel

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