I've had so much craziness the last couple of weeks, so I am very sorry that I'm behind on the video readings. Now that school's out here, I should be able to get those up faster! Hopefully by the end of next week I'll be all caught up. Comment below to let me know what kind of bonus video you'd be most interested in watching. I can do an art talk, book talk, just about me talk, I'm pretty open. Also, don't forget to stop by Facebook Monday morning for a chance to chat with Nerissa! She'll be giving some insider views at what's going on in Sanalbereth and she's put together some fun little prizes for those who attend.
Mom met me at the police station after I’d finished writing up my report for Sheriff Henley. “I’m so sorry, Blizzard, I should have been there to pick you up.” Tears filled her eyes and I hated the guilt I saw furrowing her brow.
“Mom, I’ll be fine,” I said, trying to smile but failing. With a split lip and my eye swollen, it must have looked pretty bad.
She wrapped her arms around me, holding me like she’d never let go. “I’m so, so sorry. It’s always been safe. I should have been there.”
“Really, Mom, I’m going to be okay. The doctor says everything will heal fine. It looks worse than it is, really.”
“Miss Jannsen, I am going to need you to come back to testify should they go to court,” Sheriff Henley said, his face grim. “I would guess they’re going to try for a plea deal, using the information they have about Mr. McFinney to lessen their charges. In that case, there might not be much for you to do. But, if it goes to court are you willing to come in and testify?”
“Absolutely,” I said, my chin high. “I’m not scared of them.”
“You’re sure a ball of spitfire, Blizzard. I think that’s all I’ll need. You ladies have a nice evening.”
“Sheriff, those men, they’re going to be in jail for a long time, right?” Mom asked.
He sighed, “I don’t have a good answer for you, Mrs. Jannsen. All it would take is someone posting bail for them to be out. But, they won’t be allowed anywhere near your place and I personally will be monitoring your road for any threats. Go home, try to rest and get your girl feelin’ better. You should be proud of her. She knocked them just about as good as they did her. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go finish up with the other two witnesses.”
“They’re not going to be in trouble, are they?” I asked. “I mean, Josiah and Franky were trying to help me.”
“Sometimes, honey, the law is a complicated thing. Beatin’ people up, deserved or not, tends to be on the illegal side of things. They should be just fine though, seeing as they were defending you. In any case, they won’t be spending the night in jail if that’s what you’re worried about. Now you go on home and get some rest.” He tipped his hat and then walked away.
Mom walked with me out to the car, noticing every limp and wince. “Do you need any help?”
“Nope, I got it.”
The way Mom looked at me reminded me of the movie I’d seen in eighth grade about a woman giving birth. I’d always thought it was a myth that people counted all the fingers and toes on new babies. But it’s true. She sat there and counted those little fingers and toes, kissing them and cooing at her baby. Mom was looking like she wanted to count my fingers and toes just to make sure they were all still there. I wished there was something I could say to reassure her that I was going to be fine, but nothing came to mind. As we came up our driveway, I could see Scarlett pacing in front of the window. She saw the car and disappeared from sight, soon throwing the front door open and coming to help Mom get me inside.
“I’m not dying, for Heaven’s sakes!” I complained as the pair of them fussed over me.
“But you might have,” Mom cried and I suddenly wished I’d kept my mouth shut. “Blizzard, I don’t know what I’d do without you here.”
“Mom, I don’t know how to help you realize this, but I really am okay. I hurt everywhere, I’m tired and I feel half-starved. But I’m okay.” I took Mom’s hand. “Really.”
She wiped at her tears and nodded. “I know, baby girl. But, I don’t think I’ve been so scared in my life as when we got the call.”
My stomach growled loudly and Scarlett chuckled. “Well, that’s something we can take care of right away. I kept dinner warm waiting for you. Potato soup and fresh salad. I’m afraid the pumpkin pie ended up a little burnt though. Mom rushed away just as the timer went off and I was in such a daze I didn’t take it out until it was far darker than it’s supposed to be.”
“I’m sure it will taste fine anyway,” I smiled.
That night, once Mom and Scarlett were finally convinced I was okay, I crawled into bed. The details of the attack played over and over in my head. I was supposed to be a message for Josiah, but it didn’t really make sense. If they’d wanted to deliver a message of that sort to him, why me? Why not corner Scarlett? Not that it was easy to do and maybe that was the real reason. Maybe Scarlett had been the one they wanted but since she so rarely leaves the ranch, I became an easy target. The other question nagging me was why not just beat up one of Josiah’s hands? Someone at the ranch would be missed if they couldn’t work due to injuries. It would create more work on the others, making it more likely that Josiah and his father would be forced to sell. If they were trying to destroy Josiah’s business, that would be the best tactic. Unless they weren’t interested in the ranch and were just trying to inflict as much pain as possible. Which brought me back to Scarlett.
My thoughts continued to jumble themselves into a confusing mess. I finally succumbed to sleep as a dimpled smile and brilliant green eyes rose in my memory.
The next few days were challenging. My wrist had been broken and while it was a relatively minor break, all things considered, it made doing my chores difficult. Josiah started coming back to Starwood regularly to help out. I knew no one had asked him to and his visits were fairly short. He would check on me and say hi to Cogburn, then walk out to the barn to take care of the horses. I saw him with Scarlett a few times. While part of me wanted to listen in when they sat out on the patio together, the other part decided maybe they needed a little space to work out their feelings. Mom caught me watching them from the window and she smiled. “Looks like things are going well for them, doesn’t it?”
“Do you think maybe Scarlett will stay, if they decide to get married or something?”
Mom frowned. “I don’t know, Blizz. I suppose she might. Then again, I don’t think I’d want her to.”
“Well, Scarlett has dreams of her own. It took a lot of gumption for her to decide to chase them. I don’t want her to give that up. And from the last time I talked to Teddy, the Double Rocking B isn’t going to be theirs for much longer anyway.”
“They did decide to sell it then?” I asked as I watched Josiah and Scarlett walk towards the barn.
She nodded. “It was a hard decision, but with Teddy’s health the way it is I think it’s for the best. Josiah talked to me yesterday about working for us full-time.”
I couldn’t stop the giggle that bubbled up.
“What’s so funny?”
“I just think it’s a little ironic that after all the help they gave us so we could keep Starwood, now he’s going to be working for us. I wish it didn’t have to be that way. I can’t imagine life without the B.”
“Oh it will still be there. I guess a bunch of Josiah’s hands are coming together to purchase the ranch. Franky was at the front of the pack, from what I’ve heard.” Mom glanced over at me. “He’s a good young man, isn’t he?”
“Don’t you start too,” I said, my expression sour. “Aren’t you supposed to remind me that I’m still too young to be worried about boys?”
She laughed. “I suppose I could, but it wouldn’t be very fair of me. I fell in love with your dad at a young age. Not that you should start making any plans, but don’t cut yourself off from him either. He’s a good friend to have.”
Scarlett interrupted us by bursting through the door. “You’re not going to believe this,” she said, her face white.
“What is it?”
“I think I found something in the barn that will help Sheriff Henley with his investigation.”
“Wait, in our barn?” Mom asked, horror on her face.
“Yes, back by the shower stalls I found a gas can. It struck me as odd since we never store gas in the barn and I went to take a closer look. Guess whose name was on it?”
“John McFinney?” I asked.
“Bingo. I asked Shorty if he recognized it at all and he told me he’d never seen it before. I’m going to call Sheriff Henley and have him come get it.”
“Why would that have been in our barn?” Mom said slowly, voicing the question screaming in my mind.
“I’m not sure. I can only think that he must have brought it here to keep it out of sight after he set the B on fire. I told Shorty not to touch it though, because it is definitely evidence that something was going on and will give them reason to question McFinney, right?”
“It’s certainly suspicious as he doesn’t work for us, but it’s still rather unusual. I can’t imagine why it would be here and I’m not sure Sheriff Henley will be able to pin anything on him based on a gas can in our barn. Think of the other implication.”
“What?” Scarlett asked.
“It being here could lead to suspicion here,” I said. “Think about it. Everyone knows McFinney isn’t on our staff. It would be easy to argue that someone wrote his name on it in order to throw blame off the real culprit.”
“You think one of our men could be responsible for this?” Scarlett snapped.
“No,” Mom replied, “but Blizzard is right. It looks suspicious. Especially since this is just now showing up. Why wouldn't it have been seen sooner? I realize we don't use the shower stall often during the winter, but I've been in that area of the barn and never seen anything. Call Sheriff Henley, but don’t tell him exactly what is going on. I’d rather be able to discuss this with him face-to-face.”
When he arrived, Mom and Scarlett took him out to the barn. I followed behind, taking the puppies with me since they needed a potty break anyway. Then I heard Scarlett’s shrill voice. “I don’t understand, I swear I left it right here.”
I walked in, the puppies playing in front of the stalls. “Scarlett, are you sure it was here?” Mom asked.
“I’m positive. Ask Shorty, he’ll tell you.”
“Where is he?” Sheriff asked.
As though he’d heard us talking about him, Shorty came in holding the back of his neck. “I’m sorry, Miss Scarlett, I don’t know who done it, but I left that can there like you said. I heard someone messing around and I came to see what was going on. Then someone clobbered me from behind. I didn’t see no one.”
Sheriff Henley frowned. “I’m going to need you to come to the station to make an official report, Shorty. Can you manage?”
“I can be there this evening, it that’s all right. I got chores to finish up and my head aches somethin’ awful.”
“We’ll take care of it, Shorty,” Mom said. “You go on down and make that report. We don’t need anyone else getting hurt. Sheriff, before you go, can I speak with you a minute?”
“Certainly, Mrs. Jannsen.”
I followed around silently and listened to them speak. “Sheriff, you guaranteed me no one would come near the ranch.”
“I did and I can tell you right now, Tabitha, somethin’ doesn’t add up. There hasn’t been a soul on the road today except me.”
“Does that mean what I think it does?”
“I’m afraid so, darlin’. If someone attacked Shorty, it was someone already on the ranch.”
I felt the blood drain from my face as the words sank into my mind. Someone already on the ranch. Starwood wasn’t as safe as we’d thought it was.
Jessica L. Elliott
Author, artist, mom and super-genius