Beneath The Brambles, Chapter16
"What do you mean she thought she was helping? Who told her she was allowed to think?" The voice yelling on the phone came close to shrieking next. "God Dammit, if you cant keep a handle on your little protégé, then get rid of her. Just what did she think would happen after she pulled that little stunt, huh? Was she expecting the woman to just run screaming into the night and never return?" Before any answer could be given, the voice dropped to its lowest register and the malice in it was chilling to hear. "You just keep her in line or I will." The tirade ended finally, followed by a deep inhalation. "Ill handle the rest of this mess myself. You concentrate on the other target, and keep your assistant out of it, cause if she thinks again without permission, Ill make sure its the last thing she does. Clear?" With a calmness that belied obvious agitation, the call was ended before any words in rebuttal could be uttered
At the click of the phone disconnecting, the recipient of the call redirected the full force of anger at the verbal abuse and humiliation, uttering only one word.
The woman heard the tone, and though it was quiet and questioning, she wasnt fooled. Shed heard that voice before. She knew she was about to be punished. She gave a momentary thought to running, but realized shed never make it. She stood from her desk in the outer office and slowly made her way into the larger room.
"Shut the door, Nancy."
The woman did as she was bid and tried hard to remember when this voice, saying those same words used to be a thing of anticipation. Back when they used to excite and arouse her, but she couldnt, and despite all of her best efforts, the fear won out. She doubled over and threw up.
"Now you know thats just going to make it worse, dont you?"
The last thing she remembered clearly before the pain began was shaking so hard she couldnt stand up anymore and falling to her knees in her own vomit.
Harley held up her hands in a gesture to indicate she needed a minute, then got up and opened the first aid kit on the wall, removed three pills, and downed them with the last of coffee. She started walking quietly around the room.
"I dont have any answers for you, Emily. I only have more questions and a couple of suppositions, but no proof to back them up."
Suddenly Emily knew exactly what the officer was feeling and without thinking, she blurted it out. "Ill bet you hate that, dont you? I know I would. I cant stand that feeling. The minute I confront a problem or a puzzle all my energy goes into solving it. The need to know becomes my only focus."
"Oh, thats Harley all right. Even as a kid she ruined all of her toys by taking them apart the minute Mom and Dad werent looking, just to see how they worked."
A look of quiet embarrassment crossed the dark haired womans face, but she nodded. "Ill admit to it."
"Oh boy, me too," Emily added with a laugh. "My dad used to call me Riki Tiki Tavi when I was little. I think my folks stopped buying me things that could be dismantled fairly early on. The last toys I remember getting before they stopped altogether and just bought me books and computer programs, were things like balls and jump ropes."
They all laughed at that, then Cole said, "This one, too," pointing to Harley, he continued, "except, Dad called her Mongoose."
"He still does," the sheriff added, shaking her head a little.
"Okay, lets go with that. I know theres very little I can do that you cant or havent already done, but Im, kind of out of a job here, until I can type again and I love a good puzzle. Why not let me help. Just tell me what youve got and what you think and, if nothing else, youll get another perspective out of it. I really am good at this sort of thing. People really seem to be able to talk to me. I bet I could get things out of anyone youre interrogating much easier than they would speak to a lawyer," she said making a face. "Ive got an excellent memory and I can remember long streams of conversations verbatim." She smiled a little and cocked her head. "Youve got nothing to lose, and we do sort of seem to get along all right."
Harley thought it over. On the one hand, anything that kept the young woman interested enough to stick around Bramble was a good thing. Okay, so thats a selfish motive, totally irrelevant to the logic of the question. On the other hand, whoever did this for whatever reason was smart and dangerous. On the other hand again, having the woman with her most of the time while she investigated, would afford the writer a measure of security. She knew she wouldnt let anything happen to Emily while she was with her. Plus, shed get to spend more time with her. That was also a good thing. Irrelevant, immaterial and self-serving. Stop that! Okay, I obviously am not going to think about this logically or impartially here. I know the con to this whole business is putting Emily in harms way, but my gut tells me shes safer with me than on her own. And if she truly is anything like I am, shell go ahead and start her own investigation as soon as shes out of my sight. Sooooo.
"Okay. I suppose it cant hurt." She saw the green eyes before her twinkle with anticipation. "BUT!" Her voice was loud and forceful, causing Emily to flinch just a bit. "Im going to lay down some ground rules. For your own safety, I want you to promise you will abide by them." She closed the distance between them as she began to tick them off on her fingers.
"One." Emily never saw this serious of a look in Harleys eyes before. It was riveting and she couldnt look away from it. She wasnt afraid, as much as fascinated, by the power the woman projected. She knew if she had any sense at all, she ought to be frightened by it, but, oddly, she felt turned on. She suppressed the little smile that wanted to pop out and gave her attention over to those eyes and that voice that held her in thrall.
"You will follow my lead in all things. If I tell you to stay somewhere, thats where you stay. If I tell you not to do something, dont do it. If I say jump, I want you to ask how high on your way up.
Two. You will be assisting the Sheriffs office in this. Thats all. At no time will you be investigating or following up any leads on your own. You will wait for either me or Cole and inform us of any new evidence you may have uncovered or been privy to, or suspicions you may have, or feel may need to be checked out.
Three. If I say, at any time during all of this, that its become too dangerous for you to be involved anymore, you are out of it! No arguments, no pleadings and no rebuttals. Is all that perfectly clear?"
The writer looked her straight in the eyes and said, "Perfectly clear."
Satisfied, the officer turned away and was formulating the best way to lay all the bits of evidence and conjecture out when she had a thought. That was too easy. If it had been me, I would have said the same thing. Then, later if I broke the rules I would have the argument that I only agreed to understanding them, not to complying with them.
She turned back around and kneeled directly in front of the blonde, as she said in even, low tones, "Say it, Emily."
"Say what?" She really hoped her little evasion went unnoticed, but was sure now that it hadnt. This woman couldnt know her as well as Stephanie and she wasnt telling a lie. She knew shed never get away with that, but shed been hopeful that this little non-disclosure might be missed. Still, she pretended ignorance of what the Sheriff wanted. But, Goddess, I love smart women. As peeved as she was to be caught in her little ploy, she was also thunderstruck by the heat of arousal pulled out of her by the brain and the body kneeling before her.
A slow smile and a burgeoning respect for the little writers attempt to evade her could be seen clearly on Harleys face as she answered, "Say the words, or no deal."
Emily allowed her sight to lift only enough to see Coles look of confusion as he watched them. Its a damn shame he wasnt Sheriff this month. Him, I might have been able to snow. Oh, crap! She took in a disgusted breath of air and said very quietly, "I promise. Okay, are you happy now, Sheriff?"
Harley stood and let a delighted grin show and replied, "Itll do. Of course, a promise is only as good as the word of the person who gives it. Are you a woman of integrity Ms. Cutter? Can you be trusted?" The teasing lilt in her voice and her left brow lifting in question skewed the words into an obvious flirtation and before Emily had the time to get mad about it, she caught on.
Emily returned the look to the Sheriff. "Cross my heart, " she said, slowly, as she ran her left index finger above her left breast marking an invisible X there and ending quite deliberately, with her finger directly over her nipple. An instant later it was gone.
Harley had to swallow twice to empty her mouth of the rush of saliva, before she could begin to speak. She prudently turned away and starting talking, trying mightily to keep her voice even and her tone neutral. It wasnt easy.
An hour later they were on their way back to The Village as Emily summed up the information Harley gathered and shared with her at the station. "So, we have a person or persons unknown who snuck into Stephanies and put a knife into the pillow next to my head. Our supposition is that, one, it was meant to either scare me into leaving or, two, warn me in some way, or three, the perpetrator had no idea I would be there, and assumed it would be Stephanie who got the surprise for any of the same reasons or others we havent thought about yet.
"Right. And whoever it was, knew the code for the alarm system."
"Okay. Now, add to that, you think it ties in with The Village and Pariss injury, correct?"
"Yeah. The knife is the same brand and model that they use in their woodcraft classes. Add to that, someone hit Paris over the head last night as she was making her rounds to lock up, not ten feet from the armory room where theyre kept."
"But you said they did an inventory after you spoke with her and all the knives were accounted for."
"True." The sheriff made the turn into the driveway of the Village. "The idea of a red herring here did enter my mind. I think someone here wanted to make us believe it had something to do with the Village or its residents. I think whatever we find here we need to look at with that idea at the forefront. Lets assume its a ploy and try to listen around any evidence, until its proven without a doubt that this is a part of it. My instinct says its not one of these people, but Im willing to bet we find something here, probably planted, to make us assume that it is."
She stopped the car and pulled her gun from the holster next to her seat and slipped it under her jacket and into the waistband at the back of her jeans. "Dani and Paris are good at what they do, and they have a real feel for weeding out the women they feel are just a little too mental to learn this stuff. Neither one of them wants to end up in a lawsuit for having taught some psycho how to shoot straight. They interview them and ask some pretty telling questions. If either one of them suspects that the applicant is a little wobbly emotionally, they tell her no."
"Im assuming here that one or both of them really know what to look for. I mean, Ive met some ostensibly totally together people who have turned out to be really nuts."
The blonde suddenly had a brief flash of memory from her sophomore year of college. Tiffany seemed totally together when we met. Calm, logical, quiet and seemingly happy. Who knew on summer break she would go home and shoot both her parents, and herself? It was her complete misreading of her dorm mate that caused Emily to take three advanced psychology courses the following year, and even at that, she never knew why Tiffany did it. No note, no friends or counselors who knew anything about it, no clue at as to why she simply snapped. Not knowing the answer to that puzzle was one of the reasons she finished that first novel. The not knowing was driving her crazy and she had to channel that energy into something. In a way, Tiffany was responsible for her success. Is that the most sick and morbid thought Ive ever had, or what?
"Dani has a Masters in Psychology and Paris spent five years with the LAPD. They know what theyre doing."
Five minutes later found them sharing a couch in the living quarters of the two owners. Harley ran down for Dani all of the evidence, supposition and conjecture they had and told her flatly that she was convinced that the attack on Paris was planned to bring attention to The Village. Then she asked if she and Paris found anything in the casual search of the guests rooms that she asked them to conduct.
"Yeah, we did. But Im inclined to agree with you that it was a pretty weak attempt to incriminate a guest." She brought out a folded piece of paper from her back pocket and handed it to the Sheriff. Emily scooted a little closer to the officer to see it.
"We found this under the mattress of one of our regulars. Beth has come out for two weeks every year for the past four years. She has no problem with anyone and is in a stable relationship with a man shes been living with for the last nine years. Shes easygoing and likeable and Ive never heard her say one nasty word about anyone else here. We found that under her mattress." She just looked at them and rolled her eyes.
The paper was a crudely hand drawn map of the area around the school and a large red X was penciled in over Stephanies house with the words, KILL THE EVIL THAT LIVES WITHIN scrawled dramatically on the side.
"Ah, geez. Even my little sister could write a more believable threat than that, and she has no imagination at all." Emily said, and then tapped her chin. "Wait a minute, that rings a bell. Give me a second to remember where I heard it. Just carry on; itll come to me. " She got up and began pacing the room.
Harley folded the paper back up and then spoke, "Well, this settles one issue. Anyone dumb enough to plant this note and hit Paris on the head, would not be smart enough to figure out how to disarm the alarm panel. Which means, someone gave the code away."
As Dani was about to speak, the door opened and Paris walked in. "Hi all. Sorry I took so long, but I had to get Missy out of her damn office to lead the nature walk." She smiled devilishly, "She just had her nails done for her sisters wedding and didnt want to chip anything."
"Ah Paris, that was mean. You know she hates the nature walks anyway, and those acrylics cost her two hundred dollars. Couldnt you have gotten Mickey to do it?" The sound of reproach Dani was trying for, lost a little of it s impact as she couldnt stop the smile that kept twitching at the edges of her mouth.
"Nope. It was Missys turn. Ever since she got that new computer program in, all she does is work out new combat scenarios. Its good for her to get a little dirt under her nails for a change." The satisfied smirk on her face had only the barest hint of evil as she sat on the arm of the chair next to her partner. "Besides, if you want to go on that cruise you booked, she better get used to doing some of your jobs, or were never gonna get away."
She turned her attention to Harley. " So, whats up? Anything new on who I get to kill for knocking me out last night?" Absent-mindedly she rubbed the knuckles of one hand in the palm of the other.
"VAMPYRIANA. DAUGHTER OF THE DEAD." Emily shouted.
Three sets of eyes looked at her as though shed just yelled FIRE in a crowded theatre.
Harley was the first to recover. She opened her mouth, formed a perfect O, closed her mouth, shook her head as though to clear it and said, finally, "Wh what?"
Emily looked at her as if the sheriff had sustained a head injury. "KILL THE EVIL THAT LIVES WITHIN," she said, in her best, deep voiced, horror picture narrator impersonation. Seeing the still vacant expression on the three faces in front of her, she took her seat again next to Harley, and let out a little sigh of disgust. "Thats where it came from. The movie was called, "Vampyriana. Daughter of The Dead." I knew I remembered that line from somewhere. Not only is the person who wrote this stupid, they have terrible taste in movies."
Harley let a small grin appear, "If the movie was so awful, how is it that you remember it so well?"
"Easy." Emily answered lightly and a full blown smile crossed her face, "That movie got me twenty-five points in the club and the prequel to it allowed me to clinch the national championships."
The seriously confused look was back on the faces of all the women listening to her so Emily decided a brief explanation was in order. "When I was in college, I joined an internet club. The object of the club was to ferret out the worst movies of all times. A board was selected from the oldest members and you could submit your nomination for worst movie of the month. The board would watch it and determine its point value. Twenty-five points was the most you could get. The month I submitted it, the board found it to be worse than any of the other contenders and I won. I also used the prequel in the sorority charades national championship. I won, because no one could name the movie I was acting out."
Once again, Harley found herself charmed and fascinated by the small woman. She sat enraptured by this out of the way explanation and the way the writer was telling it. She had to ask. "Okay, Ill bite. What was the name of the prequel that a nation of sorority house charade champions couldnt guess?"
"The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies," she said and waited for the reaction. Surprisingly, she didnt get one from Harley.
"You made that up." Paris said quickly. Her partner mirrored the look of disbelief on her face.
"No, she didnt." Harley answered before Emily could open her mouth. "Its a real movie." She turned to the writer. "Ive won myself with it at Charades, although I didnt know it had a sequel." They smiled at each other. This obscure piece of trivia adding a new dimension to the attraction they shared for one another.
Pulling herself back to the discussion, Harley asked Paris, "Did you check on that thing for me?"
"Yep. Never happened, or if it did, no one saw anything."
"Okay, thanks." Noticing the look of confusion on Emilys face she knew she had to get them out of here before she explained. She rose abruptly and told her friends to keep them advised if anything else should happen around here, and taking the writer by the arm, they left as quickly as Harley could manage.
They were almost to Bender Road before Emily asked. "Something you want to share with me, Sheriff?"
"I tried to consider who might have wanted to hurt you. You havent been here long enough to have gotten on anyones bad side so it had to be either where you were or who you were with." She cleared her throat. Gods, I really dont want to say this.
As though the smaller woman could read her mind, Emily gave her a brief reprieve when she offered lightly, "I dunno. Maybe it was a literary critic. Did you read my last book? Not good, Harley. Not good at all." She shook her head slowly and scowled.
Harley was glad they had the little tension breaker before she had to talk about Valerie and her suspicions. She was however, not going to let this issue go without responding. "Yes, I did read it," Without turning her head, she could see the writer whip her head around in shock.
Quite suddenly and for the first time, Emily was embarrassed. Up to now, when thinking about her bad reviews or the criticism Stephanie gave her about her last book, shed been universally unaffected. Almost as though she thought it was a minor problem and with a good re-write she could fix it. When she first read the reviews she was defensive, acting as though the reviewers just didnt understand her properly, but she was never embarrassed or ashamed of her work. Not until now, and she had no idea how to handle it.
"What did you think of it?" Christ, why did I ask that? That was the last thing I wanted to say. Now shes gonna tell me and I dont known what to say to her.
Harley cleared her throat and said gently, "It wasnt your best work. I liked the others better." She really hoped she didnt hurt the writer with that. It was the most diplomatic thing she could say and still tell the truth. Ah damn, look at that face. Shes really embarrassed now. Change the subject. Better me than her.
"So anyway, what I asked Paris to do for me, was to check with everyone at
The Village to see if Valerie was in town yesterday. She might have been the one who broke in to Stephanies."
Emily was torn between gratitude for the subject change and annoyance. She felt the annoyance clearly, but couldnt figure out its cause. "Why Valerie? I dont even know her."
"I know, but you did spend the day with me yesterday and Valerie seems to have some issues with my spending time with any other woman but her." She kept her eyes on the road and didnt give in to that part of her that wanted to see the writers expression. She realized she was afraid of it.
"Isnt that just a little tiny bit arrogant? I mean I dont know you very well, and I dont know this Valerie at all, but to think she would break into someone elses house and plant a knife in the bed of a total stranger just because she saw me with you, is a little extreme dont you think?"
"As a matter of fact, I did. Thats why I asked for another opinion. I spoke to both Dani and Paris. They know Valerie better than I do and they both agreed it was something shed do. Dani said shes totally irrational where Im concerned. Since I broke up with her, they found out that no one ever did that to her before. She was always the one in control of the relationship. She had all the power. I dont think its because of any deep and abiding love she feels for me. Paris told me shes a real control freak." Yeah. Like I didnt find that out for myself. Crazy bitch! "She says that her whole problem with me is that I was the one to end the thing between us. I cant even call it a relationship; it was too shallow for that. Shed been playing a role for weeks with me and it took time to find out what she was really like. When I did, I ended it and shes never forgiven that." She ran her hand over her forehead and blew out a breath. "Anyway, it looks like she was nowhere around last night and this morning. At least not where anyone at The Village saw her. Im still not convinced she wasnt the one who did this. Shes plenty smart enough to have gotten that code some how, and shes more than mean enough to have thought this was good idea."
"I see." Emily said quietly. She was trying very hard not to show the anger she was feeling. Thinking of the misery that this woman subjected Harley to and realizing that it still wasnt over made her more than mad. She was fighting mad.
On the other side of the seat, the Sheriff was flipping a mental coin. Heads she would turn and look at Emilys face and if she saw the fear she expected, she would end any and all thoughts of a future with the woman, instantly, or tails, she would just keep her eyes straight ahead and wait for Emily to tell her she was frightened and didnt want to have anything to do with her and this lunatic who was capable of this kind of terror. Stop it right now! Daddy would be so ashamed of you. You do whats right this minute and give this woman an out. Its not her fault and you cant expect her to deal with your mess.
She pulled the car into the parking lot of the high school and put it in park. Steeling herself, she turned to look at the writer and spoke. "Emily, I understand if you "
Unfortunately, at that precise moment, Emily lost the hold on her anger and started to speak herself, "How dare she treat you like this "
"What?" They said in unison.
"You first," Harley said, confused at finding anger in the blonde, instead of the expected fear.
"What I said was, how dare she treat you this way. Youre a lawyer: cant you get an injunction against her or something? Shes obviously threatening you and making you go out of your way to avoid her in your own hometown. What about Dani and Paris, cant they buy her share of the business out or something, so she has no reason to be here at all?" She ran her hand through her hair and shook her head. "There has to be something someone can do to get the bitch out of your life once and for all."
Harley couldnt help the smile that grew as the woman spoke. It just got bigger and bigger as the woman talked. Finally, Emily wound down enough to notice it and asked, "What? Why are you smiling?"
Without any conscious permission the words just slipped out. "You are just wonderful."
Their eyes locked and the silence was absolute. As the writer tried to find her tongue to respond, they heard the bell ring and class loads of teenagers began to bear down on them.
The moment was over.
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