Beneath The Brambles, Chapter 6

The voice was back. Now, remember let's not get emotional and personal about this.  You're a professional.  Just do your job.
"How are you feeling Ms. Cutter?"  She knew the minute she said the words that the tone in her voice and the look on her face had thrown 'professional' right out the window.  Shit. Get a grip here, woman, she thought.

It was bad enough that she spent nearly every moment since she left her, thinking about her.  And that had been a lot of moments.  Lying down on the couch to sleep here last night was a wasted effort.  She just tossed and turned and...thought.  About her smile and her laughter, and how lovely she was, and how things might be different if she were to decide to stay.  Then she realized that she was wandering into the realm of the absurd and finally got up to check on the trace she put out on the young woman's attacker.

One James Bell, from Taos, New Mexico who, it turned out, was a suspect in two rapes and another attempted rape.  That made her mad. Seems the slime was a truck driver and traveled for years with his common law wife as he drove his route from Albuquerque to San Francisco, until a few months ago.  Evidently, the lady had enough of the road and him, met someone else, and took off on him in Barstow.  Shortly after that, he was fired for being drunk on the job and getting in fights. The consensus from the Albuquerque police was that after he started drinking heavily, he began to beat up his lady friend.  She took as much as she could and then escaped, more than ran off.  All the crimes committed, were reported on his old truck route.  Since he owned the rig, seeing it in any of the truck stops never made anyone suspicious.  But the description of him, and Harley's report to them, made it fairly easy to put the puzzle together.  Now she just had to let the blonde know in a way that she could handle.


She was halfway down to the seat of the chair when the words came. It stopped her cold and she saw the look of deep concern and empathy, and something else on the beautiful face before her. Followed instantly by a look of almost shock as the new Sheriff realized what she said.  It made her smile.  It warmed her and she wanted to...give back something for it.  Somehow, she knew this slip wasn't characteristic of the tall woman and felt the need to validate her unguarded moment.

"I'm... I'm doing okay." She smiled and nodded. "Thanks."

"Good to hear."  The smile was returned full bore.

Taking her own seat behind the gray metal desk and stalling while she sipped her coffee, she looked up at the blonde and brought her eyes down to her cast.

"I know that must be hurting.  I've had one of those myself, and the day after it happens it seems to hurt worse than the day of the injury.  You are making sure to take the pain med's Hobie gave you, right?  We don't need you suffering in silence here."  Her smile became a grin and the writer chuckled.

"Not to worry.  The last thing I am in this world is a martyr to suffering.  Besides," she cocked her head and narrowed her eyes a little. "I haven't had the chance.  Seems someone, who shall remain nameless, phoned Twyla and I've had the benefit of a my own nurse/cook/babysitter since I woke up today."

The Sheriff was about to apologize, Shasta could see it by the way the woman's head dropped, and her eyes fell to find the bottom of her mug. "I'm... "

"No, don't.  I'm deeply grateful.  The first thing on my mind when I woke up was that I was hurting and wished like anything that I wasn't alone, and suddenly I wasn't.  She's charming and I had a lovely time getting to know her."  The smile got even bigger and she saw the relief show on the dark haired woman's face as she returned the smile.  "Thanks so much.  I don't know how I would have managed alone."

She cleared her throat.  "No problem. She says being the mother of six and running the restaurant has given her all the qualifications she'll ever need to be a triage nurse in a M.A.S.H unit." Her mouth quirked up on the side as she tried valiantly to keep the nearly ever-present grin off her face.  She was glad nonetheless, to hear the tinkling laughter of the pretty lady in front of her.

"Anyway, this shouldn't take too long."  Her hand moved to a recorder on the side of her desk.  "If you don't mind I'll just record your statement and then I'll have Cole type it up later and you can sign it."

"No, that'll be fine.  Where should I start?"  She took a deep breath and tried to stop the churning in her guts when she remembered last night.

"Just let me get some information down and then you tell me in your own words what happened.  If I need to, I'll ask a few questions and then it's over." She put her finger on the record button and looked into her eyes. "Are you ready?"

Another deep breath. "Yeah, go ahead."

She punched the record button and began by stating today's date and where they were. "Interview with the victim of the incident which occurred on September 30th in the parking lot of the Raven's Nest restaurant."  She looked up at Shasta and placed the microphone a little closer to her on the other side of the desk.  "Please state your name and address, for the record."

"Shasta Cutter, 227 W. Santa Monica Boulevard, number 216, Santa Monica, California 92802."

"Is that you're legal name Ms. Cutter?" the sheriff interrupted.

"Hmmn, ah no.  That would be Emily Anne Cutter."  She swallowed again and looked a little sheepishly at the smirking woman across from her.

"I see." She nodded and the smirk got a bit larger as the Sheriff noticed her discomfort. Was it being caught using her pen name or is she really that pretentious.  Nothing wrong with Emily.  It suits her.  She continued, "and is that a house or an apartment?"

"It's a condominium."

"Okay." She knew it had nothing to do with the case and the question was out before she could think about it.  It was purely her own curiosity being fed.  A kind of need to picture the place that held this woman in her own mind.  The place she called her home. Coming back to herself, she continued. "Can you please describe to us the incident that happened last night in the parking lot of the Raven's Nest."

Emily began, and putting her best journalism mindset on, she started with the encounter with the drunk in the bar leaving nothing out that she could remember, up to and including the sight of the deputy standing over them, rescuing her.
Her account of the incident was so clear and concise that the Sheriff found she had no questions for her and simply thanked her for her cooperation and ended the tape.

"End interview." She pushed the stop button and sat back in her chair.

"So, what happens now?"

"Well, the man who attacked you is wanted in several places for," she paused, "rape and attempted rape, as well as assault and kidnapping. I was contacted this morning by the DA's office in Albuquerque and they requested extradition to try him there for the first rape.  If it's all right with you, I think that would be the best way to go.  There is the other assault in Barstow and the last word is that the New Mexico and California DA's would like a chance to work together on this one.  He'll be tried for all of his crimes, but since he actually," she paused again, "succeeded at raping these other women, they were hoping to get him first.  I figure if you have no objection, that is what we would do."  She stopped and watched the face of the writer carefully for any distress, and was glad to see her look almost relieved.

"I'm sure that would be for the best. I mean, I want to see him pay for his crimes, but, thanks to you, I was saved... the final indignity... and those other women weren't.  You do whatever you think is right." she said with finality.  "As long as we can manage to keep this out of the papers and he is kept off the streets, I'm all for it."

"Good.  You can rest assured that no one here will say a word to the press about this. And, I'll make the arrangements for him to be picked up by the proper authorities." She leaned back in her chair and started to relax since the worst part of this was now over.

"Can I get you some more coffee?"
When the blonde nodded, she got up, retrieved both cups, and slid from the room to the outer office almost soundlessly.

Grateful for a moment to compose herself, the writer let her mind wander as her eyes took in the small office.  Behind the desk on the wall was an eight by ten color picture of several people in uniform.  She recognized Harley, Cole. and J.D. standing next to two other men.  The dark haired good looks seemed to be shared by them all, and the one on the end seemed to be older than the rest as his temples showed just the beginning of some gray.  She leaned forward and tried to read the badges, but it was too far away and the picture was too small for clarity of detail.  Besides the wanted posters on a clipboard hanging on the wall next to it and a large calendar with several items penciled onto some dates, the wall was bare.  Under the picture was a long table with a fax machine, a CB radio, a computer printer and scanner, and a sheaf of copy paper.  To her left was a window under which sat a small old couch and a battered coffee table.  Sitting on it was a small TV with... KNOBS!  Gods, when was the last time she saw one of those?  Not a button in sight and to add to that, there was an antenna on top.  'Rabbit ears' she thought they were called.  The wall to her right was filled with three different colored and aged filing cabinets.

The door opened and Cole stepped in with her cup, and the cream and sugar.  Also on the tray was a plate with several scrumptious looking Danish pastries.

"Harley will be back in, in a minute.  She had to see to the prisoner.  I thought you'd be ready for a snack by now and since we're sitting next door to the world's best bakery, I thought Id tempt you with a few of their finest creations." His smile was luminous and she could tell how proud he was of their little town by the tone of his voice.  "You aren't one of those little bits who never eat anything but rabbit food are you?"  He grinned at her.

"Not a chance! And thanks, these look and smell wonderful."

"Your welcome, enjoy."  Then he was gone.

She just took her first bite of what turned out to a blackberry and cream cheese Danish, when the door opened and her gastronomical revelry was interrupted with an, "Oh thank you, I think I will."   The beautiful Sheriff grabbed a pastry and took a large bite.

"Don't thank me. Cole brought them in," she said, smiling at the look of rapture that spread over the face of the officer sitting in front of her.

She finished chewing the overabundant mouthful and said "Oh no, I have to thank you.  If I thank Cole I'll make him think I'm beholden to him.  He'll lord it over me to get something out of me and that will never do."

"Lord it over you?  He seems like such a nice man," she smiled.

"He's not." She took another bite.  "He's Satan."

The blonde nearly spewed the coffee she was sipping all over the desk.  Choking it down she said, "are you talking about that genial, smiling man who just brought me coffee and pastries, and jumped up to kiss his mother when she came in?" She smiled at the determined look on the pretty brunette in front of her.

"The very same." She nodded her head sagely as though imparting some important information to the woman. "You mustn't let his charming persona confuse you.  He's manipulative and sneaky and has a memory like an elephant.  Never let him catch you doing something you wouldn't want anyone to know about.  He is not above blackmail OR extortion." She nodded her head once with great vigor and pronounced. "Satan."

That did it, along with the serious expression on the face of the Sheriff.  She broke into hysterical laughter.  That forced a small smile from the officer and she raised her voice to convince the woman she meant it.

"Now, Ms Cutter, don't you be led astray by that butter-won't-melt-in-my mouth appearance he uses.  He's a bulldog.  He'll get his teeth in you and before you know it you've agreed to help him paint his house just to keep his mouth shut."

Calming only a little, she managed to sputter out, "is that what happened to you?  Did you have to help him paint his house to keep your secret quiet?" She couldn't help the giggle that came out when she imagined that powerful woman who towered over her last night, being cowed into manual labor by the charming man.

"THAT is only one of the things I've had to put up with, Ms. Cutter."

"Please, Shasta."

"If you wish.  Shasta."  Having finished her pastry, she leaned back in her chair with her coffee and smiled with just a hint of seduction.  She knew it was a bad idea, but she was helpless to stop it. She deliberately lowered her voice to a sensuous growl. "But if you wouldn't mind, I much prefer, Emily."

Shasta's response to that tone was immediate and she could feel the snarky little prickle way down in her torso as her hormones reacted to it.  It felt really good.  Lowering her own tone of voice, she replied, "not at all, Sheriff."  Remembering now, she continued, "Speaking of which, just how did you come about this sudden promotion.  Was the collaring of my attacker the one that put you over the point limit?  Did you get it as some kind of prize for the biggest arrest or did J.D. suddenly retire in a fit of pique?"

"Ahhhh," She stretched her arms up over her head and leaned back a little more.  "Well, it's a... kind of complicated story."

The well fitting shirt pulled even tighter across the nicely endowed front of the raven-haired officer and the sight of it nearly knocked the thoughts out of her head as she watched.  She gathered her scattered meanderings and said, "Not to worry.  Fortunately I'm a writer and those are the kind of stories we like the best, Sheriff."

"Harley.  Please."  She smiled brilliantly at the pretty woman and leaned forward to put the cup back on her desk.  She was enjoying this conversation immensely. She also enjoyed the look on the blondes face as she watched her stretching.

Trying her best to assume the same tone she heard from the officer she replied, "If you wish.  Harley."

Lowering her head and peeking out at her from her lashes, the officer made her decision and said, "All right.  I have to make my rounds just now.  Would you care to take a walk with me.  It's only a few blocks.  As you know, our town isn't very big and I can explain it as we walk.  Do you feel up to it?
The tone at the end was at once, both teasing and compassionate.

"I'd love to." She stood up as the officer did.

Harley placed the hand held CB unit on her belt, ejected the tape from the machine, and grabbed her hat from the top of the filing cabinet as she walked past her and opened the door.

Walking through the outer office, she dropped the tape on the deputy's desk and said, "Cole, I'm taking Ms. Cutter on rounds with me.  Gonna show her a bit of Bramble.  Call me if you need me."

He looked up from his computer and said, "Will do." Then he smiled.  "Say, did you like the pastries?"

Emily noticed he didn't address this question to either one of them, however he did seem to be looking at Harley.  As she was preparing to answer him, the Sheriff's voice cut in.

"Ms. Cutter seemed to enjoy them very much."

 When she didn't add anything to that, she thought she could see his face fall just a tad.  Yep there was definite disappointment there. Deciding to jump in and make the save, she replied.  "Oh yes Deputy, they were wonderful, thank you very much."

He swallowed and mumbled "Eh, your welcome."  Then as if he just remembered he ought to, he smiled.

As the front door closed behind them, she turned to the Sheriff.  "You know you could have at least told him thank you for his efforts on my behalf.

Shaking her head.  "Oh no.  That would have been incriminating myself.  He might have inferred from that, that I enjoyed them too.  And that would have been the beginning."  She leaned into the smaller woman conspiratorially and said in a near whisper. "He's been making noises about needing to re-finish his driveway."  She shuddered theatrically and the small woman laughed again.

As if a string was attached to her in some way, the small woman's laugh brought a huge smile to the Sheriff's face. She knew it was showing and made a great effort to turn her face forward as they made their way down the street, passing the bakery.

Emily noted that the Sheriff placed herself between the street and her companion. 'Hmn," she wondered.  Is that chivalry or just the protectiveness that came from the job?  She also noted that the woman changed clothes from last night.  Now she wore beige jeans and a long sleeved pale blue turtleneck under her short-sleeved beige shirt.  The badge, which read Sheriff, was still the lone adornment to the front of her shirt and there was no nametag. As yesterday, her hair was pulled up in back and clipped in so that its length was still indeterminable under her hat, the Ray Bans back, covering those amazing azure eyes. Her posture as she walked was impeccable and Shasta was pleasantly surprised by it.  It had been her experience that very tall women tended to slouch.  It always bothered her, because she always wanted to be tall.  She knew if she were, she wouldn't be caught dead slumping her shoulders.  This woman walked with pride in her height and power in her step.  She was one of the few people the writer had ever seen who seemed to fit the so often overused French phrase of 'formidable'.

Realizing that she was starting to stare at the beauty beside her, she cleared her throat and asked. "Okay, so now that we're here, tell me the story of your astonishing promotion to chief lawman of these parts."

Taking in a deep breath and puffing her cheeks out as she released it, the officer turned to her shorter companion and decided on the best way to launch into it.  She figured that if she didn't slip, she could get away with telling her almost all of the truth, without spilling everything.

"I guess the best way to do this is to start by introducing myself. "  She stopped and offered her left hand to the woman. "I'm Harley Ravensdown.  It's nice to meet you Ms. Cutter."  Taking the hand offered back and shaking it, she was surprised at the strength she felt from the small woman's left hand.

"How do you do.  Please call me Emily." She smiled up at the woman.

"Now, the significance of that introduction will have escaped you due to the fact that you have only met a few people here and since we all seem to be on a first name basis.  However, to clarify.  The Sheriff you met last night?"  She looked at the woman to see if she remembered.  When she shook her head in understanding, she continued.  "To make his proper acquaintance you would have met John D. Ravensdown." She looked at the blonde and saw her eyebrow rise.  She nearly continued with what she planned to say when she caught the briefest glance from the smaller woman at her left hand. Oh, I see. She smiled at the interest she was being given.  It made her...hopeful. "My brother." She said in clarification. The small smile she got from that tidbit made her own a little brighter. "The strident but youthful bedtime manner you experienced belongs to my brother, Hobie.  Dr. Ravensdown. The charming nurse and brilliant cook who cared for you this morning would be introduced as Twyla Ravensdown, my mother." Now the writer had a grin on her face and her eyebrow rose again. "Which makes the ever charming, but highly slippery deputy you met, my brother, Coleman Ravensdown."

The look on the blonde's face was nothing less than precious.  As she opened her mouth with the obvious questions Harley knew were coming, she hurriedly continued. "About four years ago our Sheriff, Bob Croft and his deputy, Frank Seltzer were killed in a car crash a few miles up the mountain." She gestured up towards the right. "As you can see," sweeping her hand around in front of her, "this is a very small town. We had the option of having our law enforcement needs met by an occasional drive through by the Santa Barbara Sheriff department or holding an election for the new Sheriff and deputy.  No one wanted to run for the job.  Everyone who lives here already has one.  Either they work down below in Santa Barbara or they own their own business here, or work in one of the businesses.  As a result, there was only one name on the ballot and for reasons you don't need to know, that candidate was unacceptable to the people who live here.
However there were a number of write in votes and the upshot of that was that there was a five-way tie for the office. To get it all settled out, a town meeting was called and like the good folks that they are, the voters of the town made it known that no one else would do, but the people the vote duly elected.  The upshot of that was that we had five people with equal votes tied to be the Sheriff.  Now, the down side to that could have been a very divisive thing for a small town such as this. If another vote was taken, it would have been identical to the first one, and nothing would have been resolved.  Add to that, none of the elected really wanted the job.  Now the upside to that was that all five of the elected, were members of the same family. Mine.  My four brothers and myself.  Now each of us has lived here for nearly our whole lives and we all had our own jobs to think about as well.  My father and mother got us together and, as is usual when Mom and Dad decide to find a solution, they did.  The solution they came up with was offered to the town at a town meeting and was passed unanimously. It's been working for four years now and so far everything has gone without a hitch."

By this time they were down the street and passed several small businesses, and the tall woman pointed toward the diner they were approaching.  She crossed in front of her and opened the door.  "Let's get something to drink."  She led the writer to the counter and the waitress came over immediately.  "Hi, Cindy, I'll have coffee.  What about you, Emily?"

The blonde sat on the stool to her right and said she'd have the same. The waitress smiled and turned to the pot behind her.  She set down two mugs and poured them full.

"I just want you to know, Ben and I are both so very sorry you were hurt last night.  Is there anything we can do for you?"

Shasta was stunned.  She just shook her head.  The waitress patted her on the hand and said  "Well, if you think of anything, you be sure and let us know, okay?" Then, before the blonde could reply, she answered her bell as the chef placed her order up behind her.

Once again, before the little blonde could open her mouth to say anything, the Sheriff said, " It's a really small town."  Then, "Second door on the left, at the end of the counter."

The writer blushed and muttered a thank you as she got up and went to the restroom. How the officer knew that was what she was going to ask her, startled and embarrassed her, but she was grateful anyway.

When she returned to the counter, the Sheriff handed her the coffee in a Styrofoam cup and walked her to the door.  As they exited, she finished her explanation, completely dismissing the subject of having noticed her pretty friend's fidgeting.

"The solution was that we all take the position. Well, not all of us.  Hobie, as the only doctor in town turned down the nomination and the rest of us worked out a schedule whereby we serve one month on as deputy followed by one month on as Sheriff.  Yesterday, September thirtieth. I was the Deputy, but today, October first, I'm the Sheriff.  This way, we can all manage our businesses with only a little assistance required and we can still protect the town.  Usually the most illegal thing that happens around here is the occasional..." She suddenly remembered something and looked decidedly uncomfortable.

"What?" the blonde inquired.

"Uhm, the occasional belligerent speeder we run in for trying to take a punch at one of us when they get that ticket on the east end of Bender Road by the school."

The writer crinkled her nose at that and put a hand up to cover her mouth lightly as she cast her gaze to her feet. " "Uh, yeah.  I can see that."  Clearing her throat, she changed the subject back to their earlier topic.

"So, is that all, you know, legal? I mean you guys sharing the position and all?"

"Sure. We had it entered into the town charter and we've all had a certain amount of training in law enforcement.  Some more than others, but enough to know what we're doing and protect the people here."

They continued to walk, crossing another street and ambling down the sidewalk.  It was only then that Emily began to notice how often the name Ravensdown was listed on the buildings and businesses she passed.  As they turned a corner, a charming old brick building with a beautiful mahogany door disclosed a brass nameplate with the name H. Ravensdown, Attorney At Law.

"That wouldn't by any chance be another brother would it?" she asked.

"Nope." Was the single word answer.

Still pondering her new friend's reticence, she was suddenly reminded of the information she received earlier.  She stopped dead in her tracks and said, "Oh my Gods.  She was talking about you!"  Then, she once again burst into laughter.  Her chest heaved so hard that she had to lean on the brick wall next to her to keep from falling down.

"What?" the bewildered Sheriff asked.  And then, as it had happened before, she too began to laugh.

Chapter 7

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