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Smashwords Edition License Notes: This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you - старонка 22

And that barn. It would be perfect for keeping horses out of sight until they were ready to be shipped to Canada. If he and his buddy on the phone were the horse thieves, I wondered what they were going to do with me and thought I already knew.

A clammy wave of nausea swept over me. It was hot in the kitchen, and I was sweating under my jacket. I rubbed a hand across my forehead, and that simple movement got the dog's attention. His head popped up, and he eyed me suspiciously.

Swallowing, I looked at the door. Light from the porch filtered through old towels that were tacked to the wood frame. I wouldn't be able to see who was at the door until he actually walked into the room, and by then it would be too late.

I cautiously turned my head to the right. There were two doorways. One opened into a dining room, dark and lifeless, giving an impression of disuse. From the other, a narrow hallway led toward the front of the house where a faint light shone. With each passing minute, the silence in the old house deepened--no television, no radio, no voices, not even a ticking clock.

The farmer--what was his name? Randy?--seemed content with guard duty. He had shed his jacket and was leaning against the counter, the shotgun wedged in the crook of his elbow. I looked at the dog. His head once again rested on his paws, eyes closed, but I doubted he was sleeping.

Someone rapped on the kitchen door, and all three of us jumped. The dog hit the linoleum at a dead run. He paws slid out from beneath him as he scrambled toward the door. Randy yelled, "Come in," and every muscle in my body tensed. I could hear my pulse pounding in my ears, even above the dog's frantic barking, and I decided to try and get away. Run through the house, out the front door, and away . . . if I could.

The door was creaking in on its hinges when I jumped to my feet. By the time the chair I'd been sitting in clattered to the floor, I was around the table.

"Hey," Randy yelled, but I was halfway down the hall, praying he wouldn't let loose with his gun inside the house.

Behind me, another voice yelled, "Stop," but I kept running. Where the hallway emptied into the living room, I almost ran into the back of a sofa. I vaulted it and landed on a coffee table. Piles of magazines and a coffee mug scattered across the polished wood, and the whole thing tipped over. Somehow, I landed on my feet. I sprinted for the front door.

Without warning, something jerked my leg backward, and I crashed face first onto the floor. The impact knocked the breath out of my lungs. I gasped, trying to inhale and feeling like I couldn't, when a knee jammed into the small of my back. A strong hand gripped my neck and pressed my face into the carpet. He was yelling at me, screaming, but I barely heard him. Grunting with exertion, he tried to get hold of my right arm with his free hand.

I reached behind my neck, grabbed his wrist, and yanked as hard as I could. It broke his grip, and he overbalanced. He toppled forward. I twisted and jammed my elbow into him and tried to roll him off. He was too quick. He pinned my shoulders to the floor, and the farmer walked over and ground his boot into the back of my neck like he was squashing a bug. I lay there for a second, panting, unable to move, and realized that something was wrong with my leg.

The dog. It was the damn dog.

The guy on top of me shifted his weight and latched his fingers around my wrist. He yanked on my arm and tried to get my hand behind my back, but he was going to have to work for it.

"Come on, kid," he grunted. "Give it up." He pulled harder, but it didn't do him any good. "Randy, put your weight into it."

"I am." Randy increased the pressure on my neck.

"Relax, kid," the guy on my back panted. "You're just making it harder on yourself." He changed his grip, jackknifed my arm around, and pinned my wrist between my shoulder blades.

He shifted, and I realized he was groping for something. A gun, a knife?

Fueled with desperation, I wrenched my arm free, grabbed Randy's ankle, and twisted at the same time. It threw him off balance. His boot scraped across my neck, and he landed heavily on the carpet. I rolled and twisted, trying to get to my feet, when I caught sight of the guy behind me and froze. He was squatting, bringing his arm down in a wide arc, and in his hand, he held a shiny black stick. It cracked into my arm, just below the shoulder. The blow shuddered through my body, and my arm went numb.

He pushed me back onto my stomach and clamped something on my wrist. The ratchetting sound was unmistakable, and I had probably just gotten myself into a whole lot of trouble. He pulled my left arm into position, slapped on the other cuff, and pushed to his feet. I twisted around.

They stared down at me, both of them out of breath, and sure enough, the glimpse I'd caught of a uniform hadn't been a mistake. He was a cop. A sheriff's deputy, at least from the waist up. From the looks of it, he had thrown on his jacket and gun belt in a hurry. Otherwise, he was wearing jeans and sneakers. I closed my eyes and groaned.

"Randy, call off your dog."

Randy motioned to his dog, and I looked toward my feet. The dog had his huge jaws clamped around my right ankle. His legs were braced, and he was pulling against me, his nails digging into the carpet. He turned his head to the side, struggled to open his mouth wider, and let go of my leg. He shook his head as if disgusted, then walked behind Randy and sat dutifully beside his master. I flexed my ankle. It burned, but I was pretty sure I had escaped any damage. His teeth had sunk into my boot, not my skin.

I moved to get up, and the cop put his foot between my shoulder blades and pushed me back down. "Don't move." He was still panting. "You're already in enough trouble." After a minute or two, he squatted beside me and checked my jacket pockets.

"What's your name?"

"Stephen Cline."

"Why'd you run, Steve?"

"I didn't think you were a cop."

He rolled me onto my side and began to empty my jeans pockets. "Who'd you think I was? Santa Claus?"


"You know you could of got yourself shot?" He checked my waistline, then felt between my legs.

I tensed.

"What? You never been frisked before?"

"No." I unclenched my teeth. "What in the hell are you checking for."

"Guns, knives, hand grenades . . . suspicious bulges." He chuckled at his stupid joke and rolled me back onto my stomach. "Ever been arrested?"


When he finished his search, he grunted to his feet, then snatched his hat off the carpet. He stood in a wide-legged stance, his gut protruding over his belt. It had been a long time since his police academy days. A long time since he'd done anything more vigorous than drive around in his cruiser. He brushed off the hat's brim and adjusted it on his balding head. That done, he hooked his hand under my arm and pulled me to my feet.

"Settle down, Steve. Gettin' angry ain't gonna help you any." He tugged on his belt. "Now, what were you doing on Mr. Drake's property?"

I told him. I told him about the horse theft and about being beaten up and abducted and about Detectives Linquist and Ralston. I told him about James Peters and everything else I could think of because I had to. By the time I ran out of things to say, Randy no longer looked pissed off, and Deputy Thompson had been on the phone several times, running a check on me and verifying my story.

Randy chuckled. "No wonder you looked so scared." He was leaning against the kitchen counter, chewing on a toothpick, and I was back in the chair I'd started out in.

Thompson shook his head as he fitted his key into one cuff, then the other. "You could of got yourself killed. What if you'd stumbled into the murderer. Next time, leave it to the professionals." He jerked his head at the farmer, and they walked over to the hallway. The deputy crossed his arms over his broad stomach and talked quietly to Randy, all the while keeping his gaze on me.

I rubbed my wrists and listened to their low, indistinct voices. The dog was back in his box, asleep this time. I glanced at my watch. Ten after ten.

Damn. Karen would be wondering where I was, and I hoped to God, Jet was all right. I looked up as Thompson strode across the worn floor and stopped in front of me.

"Mr. Drake isn't gonna press charges for trespassing, son. You'd better go on home."

Press charges? I wondered what charges I could get Mr. Drake in trouble with. "Mind if I look at the trailer on my way out?"

Thompson's eyebrows rose. "Don't see why not." He turned to Randy. "Got any objections?"

Randy shook his head. I made a quick call to Foxdale and told Karen to go home, then the three of us trudged outside.

At the corral gate, I paused and looked Randy in the eye. "You had no right to hold me at gun point."

His back tensed under his jacket. "I got signs posted up and down my fence line, and you kids just keep doing what you please."

"I've never been here before," I said, and even I could hear the anger in my voice.

"Now, son. It's over." Thompson stepped closer. "Go on home. Mr. Drake was just protecting his property."

Wordlessly, I turned away from them and walked around to the trailer's back bumper. I pushed a clump of tall weeds out of the way. The license plate had been issued in Pennsylvania, which explained why Drake hadn't been on Ralston's list. As I straightened, I noticed my cap lying in the grass. I picked it up and dusted off the brim.

Deputy Thompson stood with his arms crossed over his broad belly and his chin tucked against his neck, waiting for me to leave, while Randy dug around his teeth with his toothpick. By all accounts, he looked bored. And I didn't understand it. If I wasn't mistaken, I had just found the trailer; yet the owner was clueless.

"You have any repairs made to your trailer in the past two months?" I said.

Randy shook his head. "I hardly ever use it."

I jerked my head toward his house. "I got turned around in the woods. What road do you live on?"

"Mink Hollow."

I told him I was sorry I'd bothered him, then crossed the corral and vaulted the fence.

I found Jet where I'd left her and turned her for home. She didn't need any encouragement. It wasn't until I pulled her up between the barns that I realized what I felt was no longer anger, but confusion and an overwhelming feeling of futility.

After I untacked Jet and brushed her off, I checked the barns. I was on my way out when I paused at the bulletin board outside barn A's tack room. I tore down the class schedule from the past weekend and crumpled it into a ball. Underneath was a crinkled copy of the announcement I'd tacked up weeks before, the one that described the rig used in the horse theft.

The paper was discolored from being in the barn so long, and someone had scribbled across the lower right-hand corner in red ink. As the words registered, I felt as if I'd been drenched with ice water.

"A cat has nine lives. You don't" was scrawled across my name.

An image of Boris swinging from the rafters with his throat cut crowded my mind.

No one knew about him except the cops.

And the killer.

Chapter 15

"Brian, jiggle the chain to distract him," I said over my shoulder and hoped he'd understood what I meant. Whether he would oblige was anyone's guess.

I had the end flap of a roll of Vetrap between my teeth, a wad of sterile gauze coated with Betadine in my right hand, and the gelding's hind leg wedged between my forearm and thigh. The bandage I'd wrapped around his hoof yesterday lay on the ground beneath his tail.

Monday afternoon, he'd clipped the bulb of his heel, and he hadn't cared for my ministrations ever since. I hiked his leg higher up my thigh and placed the gauze over the gash. I felt the horse's head come up and realized that someone must have walked into the aisle and spooked him.

I anchored the end of the Vetrap in place with my thumb and got in four good wraps before the gelding tried to snatch his hoof out of my hands.

"Whoa," I said to the horse and, with irritation, to Brian, "Don't let him move forward." Like you did yesterday, I wanted to add but knew better.

I unwound the last of the Vetrap, then clamped my hands over the sole of his hoof to mold the bandage to itself. When I let go of his leg, he kicked out before placing his hoof on the ground where it belonged.

I straightened. Detective Ralston was standing just inside the doorway, and he was watching Brian.

"Couple more minutes," I said, "and I'll be done."

I had waited to hear from Ralston all day yesterday, but he hadn't returned my call until ten when he'd arranged to meet me at the farm in the morning. I had slept poorly and had come in early to get a head start on the day's work.

I reinforced the Vetrap with duct tape and snipped through the top margin of the bandage to alleviate pressure over the coronary band. The horse didn't like that, either.

"Okay, Brian. Put him back in his stall." I slapped the gelding on his rump as he moved off, and he flattened his ears.

After I'd washed up in the men's room, I found Ralston standing on the grassy strip that borders the outdoor arena. Beyond the fence, a handful of riders were working their horses. As I joined Ralston, Anne pointed Chase down the outside line. The gelding flew the jumps, covering the six-stride line in a ground-eating five, clearing the fan jump with a foot and a half to spare.

I whistled under my breath.

2014-07-19 18:44
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