Sheriff John Biebe left the station and slid behind the wheel of his Chevy Tahoe. It had been a trying day for him clearing up after a rodeo, avlways was.
The jail was full of drunks and card sharks. He was glad to leave them all behind for the day and was looking forward to a good dinner with Bobbie. He’d checked out the menu on line today and it looked good. He was running out of new places to take her on Friday night, and wondered when the night would come he could take her home with him, because he was about ready to do that. They had been dating for two months and living on kisses that promised so much more but hadn’t delivered. John was getting awfully hungry.
Bobbie dried her hair and pinned it back behind her ears with silver and turquoise clasps. She wore her white sundress with turquoise flowers around the bottom. A dab of perfume and she was out in the hallway, stopping by Billie’s door.
"Well, what do you think, Billie?"
"You look gorgeous as always, Bobbie. I’m sorry about earlier. I hope you have a good evening. Tell John I said hello."
"Have you got any plans for tonight?"
"Oh, I thought I’d just ride on down to Rounders, have a few beers and see what’s goin’on."
"I wish you wouldn’t say things like that, Billie. Gives me a spell."
"I ain’t doin’ nothing as usual, Bobbie, just hangin’ out. Go on now. I hear John’s Tahoe."
Billie grabbed a pillow and rolled over on her bed, sadly looking out her window.
John waited on the porch until Bobbie came to the door. Damn, she looked good tonight. "Hey, sweetie, you’re lookin’ real pretty tonight. Ready?"
"I’m ready, John." A quick kiss and she was off to his vehicle.
They were seated at the restaurant looking over the menu and making selections.
"Busy day, John?"
"Yeah, I don’t even want to think about tomorrow. How about you? Things goin’ all right at the ranch?"
"Goin’ good. Jake hired a new man today. We were one short since Bo left."
"Well, I guess they come and go, don’t they?"
"Some do and come back again. Jake’s got some good boys workin’ this year. He might want to keep a few of them over the winter. I know one in particular he’s taken a shine to, but that might be a problem."
"Billie’s got a king size crush on him, and he’s eight years older and much more worldly, you know."
"How old is Billie now?"
"She’ll be twenty on the 28th of the month. Sometimes she’s older than I am, and sometimes she’s about twelve."
"Want me to check him out?"
"Oh no, John, I wouldn’t want you to have to do that. She’ll go back to school in a couple of months and all this will fade away."
"Who is he? I might know him."
"Cort Wells is his name."
"I’ve met him. He was with East at Rounders one night when I stopped in. Seems like a nice guy. You worry too much, Bobbie. Made up your mind yet?"
Bobbie looked up and widened her eyes. "Sorry?" His soft eyes were so blue.
"The menu, have you decided on anything?" A little half smile reached his eyes.
"Oh, yes." It wasn’t what he said so much as how he’d said it. ‘Made up your mind yet’. She smiled over the table, "Yes, I believe I have."
After dinner they stopped for a drink and John asked if she’d like to go by his place for a cup of coffee before he took her home.
"Oh…well, yes, that would be nice." He’d never asked her to his place before.
John pulled his Tahoe up in the drive of his two bedroom bungalow. "It ain’t much, but it’s home."
Bobbie came through to the kitchen while he filled the drip coffee maker. A neat, tidy, clean house. Photos of his boys adorned the surfaces in his living room, and pictures they’d drawn hung on his fridge. John was divorced and moved here from Alaska two years ago. It had taken him awhile to come to terms with his new life.
"When are your boy’s comin’, John?"
"First of next month. I’ll have them for four weeks. Really looking forward to it, too."
"I want you to bring them out to the ranch. I think they would enjoy it."
"I thank you for that. I was gonna ask if it would be okay."
"You’ve got a cozy place here, very nice."
"Cozy meaning small? It’s okay. I don’t need much."
"Is that really true that you don’t need much?"
"Can I say this…I need you, Bobbie." He laid his hand over hers on the kitchen table.
A smile stretched across Bobbie’s face. "You can say it, but can you show me…just how much?"
John took her on his lap and kissed her, all the longing coming forth. When he broke away, "Will you stay with me for awhile?"
It was after eleven o’clock when he took her home, kissing her goodnight at the door and holding her close.
"Did I say thank you for tonight? It was wonderful, Bobbie."
"You’re wonderful, John." She kissed him again, and pulling her hands slowly down his arms, she turned and opened her door.
John was whistling through his teeth when he pulled out on the highway, feeling pretty good. Bobbie was so, so… he slowed when he came to Rounders, noticing the parking lot as he always did. Many times he had given Bobbie’s guys a ride home after too many beers. The last thing he wanted to do was lock somebody up, so he broke up fights, drove home crying drunks, and generally tried to keep people from hurting themselves. He saw Cort’s truck parked on the side with a trailer behind it. That was a little strange, he thought, and pulled up in the parking lot to check it out. It was empty. Still why would Cort have a horse trailer at Rounders? He opened the door and went into the bar.
It was loud with country western music, and by this time of night everybody in the place was trying to talk at the top of their lungs. The dance floor was full of boot scoot boogies. He made his way to the bar and saw East with a couple of women on his arms and smiled, tipping his head back. He finally spotted Cort and a few of the guys from the ranch. One fellow in particular he didn’t know, and walked over to find out who he was.
"Evening, Cort, you all right?"
"Heyyy, Sheriff, don’t see you in here much."
"I try to keep a low profile in here, Cort. Who’s your buddy?"
"Oh, John, this is Ben Wade, just hired on today." Cort stepped back. "Ben, this is Sheriff John Biebe."
John extended his hand. "Ben, nice to meet you."
Ben smiled a little smile and shook the man’s hand. "Sheriff."
"Just call me John. I’m not sheriffin’ tonight."
"Hey, Joyce, give the sheriff a drink!" called out Ben. Ben looked him over. Um hm, honest, not so straight he wouldn’t bend, trustworthy, a good man. Too bad he was the law.
"What brings you out here tonight, John?" Cort asked.
"I was on my way home and I saw your truck out here with a horse trailer. Thought it odd you’d be drinking with Pearly."
Court grinned, "Nah, John, things ain’t that bad yet."
"You live out this way…John?" asked Ben
"No, I just took Bobbie home." He took a drink of his beer.
"Bobbie huh?" said Ben, drawing out her name.
Who the fuck was this guy. "Yeah, you from around here?"
"Nope, just passin’ through and found me a job out at the Triple J." He met John’s eyes.
He’d for sure look this guy up. "So, about the horse trailer, Cort?"
"Oh,,uh, it was on East’s truck and we just transferred it over. Looks like he ain’t comin’ back to the ranch anytime soon."
John smiled, "All right, you boys, be careful tonight. Go straight home and, Ben…thanks for the drink."
"Sure thing, John," Ben drawled and lit a cigarette.
John made his way out the door, broke up a fight out in the parking lot, got in his vehicle and drove home. He kept thinking about Ben. The guy hadn’t really said anything out of the way, but there was something he didn’t like there. Almost like he’d thrown up a challenge over what?...Bobbie? Hell the guy didn’t even know her, did he? Did he?
"So that’s the law?" Ben remarked, taking a drag off his cigarette.
"Yeah, John’s all right. It ain’t like he’s all gung ho and all, kinda quiet, but gets the job done." Cort looked at Ben. "Well, when we gonna do the deed?"
"Soon as I finish this drink. How’s your buddy holdin’, out? Reckon he’s still with us?"
"East, hell, I ain’t never seen him drunk, and he could drink this bar dry."
"I was thinkin’ more about his lady friends. Boy must be broke all the time takin’ ‘em two at a time."
"Shit, you don’t think he pays for it ,do ya?" Cort laughed.
Ben leaned on the bar watching East in action and smiled. The young man had it goin’ on. He almost envied him his youth and obvious sexual prowess. He made a decision on the spot not to put the boy in danger tonight. Not that he expected a problem. Cort, on the other hand, would be a good right hand man. He’d have your back. He slid right by that lawman about the trailer, and didn’t blink an eye. He turned his head, watching Cort laughing with one of the ranch hands. Likeable man, he still didn’t have him completely figured out. Cort, however, was not all sweetness and light, else he wouldn’t be about to steal a horse. He downed the rest of his drink and called for his tab.
Cort called his tab too and looked across the bar, catching East’s eye. East excused himself from his women and came over beside Cort and Ben.
"Right, mates, are we ready?"
"Yeah, East, all I want you to do is point the place out. Reckon you can do that?" Ben patted his shoulder.
East turned, looking back at the two pretty girls waiting for him. "How about I get a room at the motel?" He pulled out his cell and made the call walking around the end of the bar. Thumbs up and he walked back to his girls and paid his tab. He jerked his head to the side, indicating they should follow him.
Cort drove, following East down the highway, and turned off toward the hills. The only light around being the tail lights of East’s truck, which swerved a couple of times and straightened up.
"I thought you said he didn’t get drunk."
"He ain’t drunk. I imagine there’s somethin’ else goin’ on in the cab of that truck."
Ben sat back and smiled. "More power to ‘im then."
About five miles up the road lights appeared, a gas station cum convenience store, and just a little further on an old 1950’s style mote the L being burnt out on the sign. Cort slowed and pulled off the road, just outside the light cast by the parking lot.
"What a dump," observed Ben.
"East don’t give a shit as long as it’s got a bed."
They watched him go in and then come back out with a key, moving his truck down to the end of the row. The girls got out and went in, and he came running across the road.
"They ain’t got a corral, but there’s a shed out back with some horses in it. You’re sure you don’t need me to help?"
"No, man, you go on in…call us if you need some help, okay?" Cort said, his teeth showing in the dark.
"Yeah, wait on it. See ya, mates." East was back across the road.
"All right, Cort, go on up the road and turn around somewhere and come back. Park down the road a piece out of sight if you can. I’m gonna go see what’s what." Ben eased out of the truck and crossed the road, disappearing in the dark in his black outfit.
He pulled his hat down low on his forehead as he passed around the back of the motel. There were windows open and light shining here and there. He skirted around the pools of light until he spotted a couple of horse trailers. Crouching down, he moved behind them and saw the shed a way down the hill. There was a light in front of the shed, and he tried to stay out of it as he made his way down the hill. Squatting down, he let out a low whistle and heard the responding sound from Ribbon.
Anger built up in his chest that he would have to go through this to get his own horse. He was in the shed moving quietly, retrieving his horse after he’d silenced it with a touch. He had him out, leading him up the hill when the back door of the motel opened and a loud, "What the fuck!" Ben jumped up on Ribbon’s back, grabbed the reins, and they took off toward the dark end of the motel.
"What’s goin’ on?"
"Somebody stealin’ a horse. Call the law."
Ben was on the road now, riding fast. There would be no time to put the horse in a trailer. He kept a sharp eye out for Cort. Seeing tail lights on a layby, he rode close to the truck, motioning for Cort to go on ahead.
Cort pulled out and moved on past Ben, wondering what the hell had happened. He must have been seen. It would not be a good idea for him to be found on this road tonight with a horse trailer, and he started looking for somewhere he could turn off. He came upon a narrow dirt road and turned. Probably somebody’s drive he thought, and slowly drove down through the trees. He didn’t want to get too far off the road with the horse trailer, making a tricky situation to back it out. He cut his lights, hoping Ben had seen him pull off.
Ben had been following the taillights and saw Cort pull off the road. He wasn’t far behind him. Cort got out of the truck and walked back to the horse trailer, waiting on Ben.
"Open the fuckin’ door," Ben called, breathless. They got Ribbon in the trailer and secured the door.
"What the hell happened?" Cort asked.
"Some asshole seen me. They’re callin’ the law."
Cort thought a moment. "It’ll take them a little while to get up here. Let's get this trailer out of here. You stay back here and help guide me out. My mirrors don’t go out far enough to see behind me." Damnation, he thought, slamming the door. It took a few starts and stops, but he got the truck and trailer back on the road. Ben jumped in the cab and they sped away.
Ben lit a cigarette and offered one to Cort. "I don’t smoke, but I’ll have one anyway. What the fuck are we gonna do with this horse now? You can’t take it back to the ranch."
"Why not? Best place in the world to hide him with his own kind." Ben took a deep drag on his smoke, "I don’t reckon the feller that had him stashed up there is gonna report him missin’ anyway."
"Well, somebody saw you so somethin’s gonna be reported."
"I doubt anybody could identify me outta that rat hole. They don’t wanna talk to the law anyway. Half of ‘em prob’ly wanted for somethin’, don’t ya think?"
"I don’t know what to think right now except East is up there."
"East is busy. He’s got two good witnesses if anybody wants to question him."
Cort slowed down and turned onto the highway then picked up speed. "I don’t wanna be seen anywhere around here tonight. Hope your horse likes to ride fast."
"What you worried about, Cort? We’re just out for a drive."
"At one a fuckin’ clock in the mornin?"
Ben took another drag on his cigarette and threw the butt out the window. "Was you up for horse stealin?"
Cort turned and looked at him and then back to the road. "Yeah, and I don’t fancy it again."
"Well now, I didn’t think you was that old. That packs a pretty good sentence."
"I got out after servin’ five years thanks to my daddy and his lawyers."
"Hmm, Daddy must have some pull somewhere. You gonna tell me who Daddy is?"
"Ever hear of Senator Wells?"
"Well, I’ll be damned, Cort. What happened to you, boy?"
"I reckon I took stupid a long time ago, Ben."
Ben chuckled, "Welcome to the world, Cort."
They pulled into the ranch and up to the corral.
"He ought to be cleaned up, but I ain’t gonna mess with it tonight."
"Good lookin’ horse, Ben. You wanna help me with this trailer?"
"What time you reckon East will get back?"
"Before daylight. That’s his usual."
"I reckon there’s a pasture somewhere, right?"
"Yeah, follow that trail yonder."
"Cort, thank you for helpin’ me out. I’ll do the same for you. I owe you one."
"Just keep me outta jail when they come for you."
Ben chuckled as he led Ribbon up to the pasture.
Cort undressed and lay down on his bed, wondering why the fuck he’d ever got mixed up in this tonight. He blinked and knew, pretty much the same story he had seven years ago. Why was it wrong to steal from a thief? He turned over, beat his pillow into submission and closed his eyes. He was asleep when Ben quietly closed the door and went to his room.
His eyes felt gritty when he woke to the sound of the triangle reverberating off the walls. He sat up on the side of his bed and held his head. He had a hell of a headache this morning. He listened, and heard no sound from the room next door, wondering if Ben was up already. He walked out and knocked on his door. It opened but Ben was not in the bed. He noticed he’d slept there, though.
Taking care of his morning ablutions, he dressed and walked down to the chuck wagon for breakfast. He was surprised to find Ben leaning on the porch with a cup of coffee.
"What the hell time did you get up?"
"Daylight. You like sleepin’ in, I see."
Cort went in for coffee and some breakfast. He wasn’t in the mood for pleasantries this morning. Jake came around and sat down beside him.
"Mornin’, Cort. I thought I’d let Ben ride with you today. You can show him the ropes. I reckon you can cull him out a horse for the day."
Cort looked at him. "Yeah, I reckon I can do that, cull him a horse and all."
"Good man, Cort." He slapped him on the back. You have any problems with him or anything comes up, I need to know…"
"Thanks, Jake." Cort stared straight ahead and drank his coffee.
He finished his breakfast and found Ben outside talking to Jake.
"Okay, boys, do a good turn today." Jake waved them off.
"You eat?" asked Cort.
"Oh, yes, I had mine before you got your panties on. Good food here."
"Yeah, good food, decent place to live, and money at the end of the month. I don’t wanna mess that up, Ben."
"I ain’t gonna mess nothin’ up for you, Cort. That’s a promise, and I don’t make ‘em lightly."
They stopped by the stables for Cort to pick up Pearly and walked up to the pasture. "I’m supposed to cull you a horse. Any one in particular you want?" Cort asked with a smirk.
"I’ll make it easy on you, Cort." He whistled and Ribbon ran over to the fence. "There you are, boy. Ready to ride?" He saddled up and followed Cort out to the range.
Towards noon, Jake rode out to watch the boys work. They were culling calves. He found a place he could watch from, and lit a cigarette he’d bummed off one of the boys. Marie would kill him if she knew he still occasionally smoked. He sat in the saddle, feeling his muscles ebb and flow with the work. He wanted to be out there with them, but his heart condition prevented it. He caught sight of the new man and watched him for a while. Man and horse as one, he liked to see that. Yes, he was satisfied with him, make a good cowman. Squinting his eyes, he looked at the horse. Now that was a new one, and well trained. He would ask East about him. Speaking of East, he hadn’t seen him at breakfast. He hoped the boy wasn’t in any trouble.
Billie rolled over in her bed knowing she had to get up. Cort had come in late last night and that bothered her. She always lay awake listening for his truck to come up the road before she went to sleep, and he was usually home by eleven. The thought he might have been with a woman made her insides tie up in knots. Whether he knew it or not, he was hers.
She plaited her hair in a long, thick dark blonde braid and bounded down the stairs for some breakfast. She saw Bobbie out in the back yard talking to East and wandered out with a piece of toast.
"Mornin’, Billie." He turned back to Bobbie to finish their conversation then walked off toward the corral.
"What’s up with East?"
"Well, somebody stole a horse up at the Silver Moon motel last night and they held everybody over for questioning. He’s just getting’ home."
"What’s that got to do with East?"
"Well, evidently he was there…you know him." Bobbie came up the steps
"Yeah," grinned Billie, "I do. So why was he at the house?"
"Jake’s out with the boys. He wanted somebody to know where he was. What are you doing today?"
"I thought I’d go help Tomy at the chuck wagon."
"I’m sure she’d appreciate that."
"So how was your dinner last night?"
"Yeah, where did you go?"
"Travinas, it’s a new place that opened up in Amarillo." Bobbie poured a cup of coffee
"Then where did you go? I know you didn’t eat until eleven o’clock."
"How do you know what time I got home? Waiting up on me?"
"Um, yeah, you know I can’t go to sleep when you’re out, Bobbie. Have to stay up and make sure you get in at a reasonable hour, you know, flash the porch lights and all. Are you and John…you know…are ya?"
"That’s none of your beeswax, girl," she smiled
"Ah Hah, you are! Written all over your face…good for you, Bobbie. Is he good?"
"Billie. I’m sure Tomy is waiting on you. Go find something to do." Bobbie walked down the hall to her office.
Bobbie sat down at her desk, resting her chin on her hands. She recognized a crack in that closet door that held her feelings for John. Could she be falling in love with him? What would it mean for her if she was? She had seen a different side of him last night, a father who loved his sons and a lover. She sat back in her chair. A lover and he wasn’t a cowboy.
Billie finished her breakfast and decided to go look for East. Maybe he might shed some light on Cort’s late night.
ON TO CHAPTER 7
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