Thursday, November 29, 2012

THE DUDE RANCH MURDERS by Sam James, 6th installment


   Sherry stalked up the stairway with mixed feelings of emotion. She was put out with Patty, jealous of Paul McFarland's fiance, yet hopeful that his flirtaceous flattery might lead somewhere.
   Yet she hardly dared hope that it would. Paul McFarland flirted with every woman on the place, except, of course, his sister--even old Mrs. Lightfoot. Her problem was, she knew she was falling for him. It had to be as obvious to everyone else as it was to her. She should just cut her time short and go back home, but what would her mother say? And her friends? She and Mom had worked so hard and scrimped and saved to get up enough money so that Sherri could spend two weeks on a dude ranch, something she'd wanted to do since she was a little girl. She couldn't very well quit and go home, especially for such a dumb reason that she had a crush on the owner. Her crushes came and went and she'd just have to work it out as she always did.
   It would help if she didn't have to cope with Patty's moods. Patty made her so mad sometimes. She would take these spells where she'd get irritable and pick at every little thing Sherri did, like now. Sherri got so she didn't even want to be around her when she acted like that.
   It was dark outside and she decided to go to bed early and read or write letters or something. She had started reading the latest Louis L'Amour novel and was anxious to finish it. There had been a discussion at breakfast this morning over good books to read. Victoria Blaine had this pocket book edition she'd taken out of her book bag, an Austin Ashley thriller, something called, Murder Wears A Smile, about a jealous woman who murders every woman her fiance looks at.
   Spooky! Sherry gave a shudder. How could anyone get their kicks out of books about murder? That Victoria was a little weird, anyway, even if she was on the pages of all the glamour mags and commercials on tv and stuff. She was pretty standoffish, too, just like you'd expect a famous model to be.
   Sherri reached her room and went in. She was a little surprised to find the room dark. She could have sworn they'd left the light on when they went down to dinner. She found the switch and turned on the lights. She puttered around quite awhile before turning down the sheets and getting ready for bed. As she flipped over the pillow and reached for her pajamas she saw the note pinned to her pj's.
   Curious, she unfolded the paper.

                   Meet me in the hayloft of the big barn tonight. I need to see you.
                                      Love, Paul
                      P.S.  Don't let anyone else see this....our secret, right? Bring it with you.

   Sherri felt a peculiar rush of electric emotion, yet a small fear, a hesitation.
   Paul, wanting to see her?
   Honeypot. He'd called her that just about every time he talked to her. How come he'd pinned the note on her pj's, unless it meant he wanted something from her? She had dreamed of his arms around her, kissing her.....Would he want more....going all the way? That idea scared and excited her at the same time. She was a virgin and hadn't even let a guy pet her when the necking got too heavy.
    Something in her conscience warned her, told her this was not only wrong but foolish and reckless, but only for a brief moment did she argue with herself. This was Paul, and he wanted her.
   With the naive faith that is peculiar to teenage girls under the spell of an infatuation, Sherri tucked the note in her jeans pocket, hastily wrote a note to Patty saying she'd gone out and would be back in awhile, and left the room with a sense of excitement she didn't try to suppress.
   Not once did it occur to her that the note might not have been written by Paul McFarland, or that, instead of finding some new exciting part of life, she was going to meet her death.

   Though the bottom half of the barn was lit with night lights, the vast haymow was almost pitch black above. As she climbed the ladder and poked her head through the loft hole, she began to feel recrimination that she'd been foolish enough to come. At that point, peering off into the vast space of the dark loft, she was on the verge of scrambling back down the ladder and forgetting it.
    It was sure spooky here at night!

   "Honeypot! Over here!"
   The loud whisper had come from a section near the middle of the barn.
   "Paul?" Somehow it hadn't sounded like Paul. She couldn't be sure.
   "Over here, baby."
   "It's so dark! I can't see." Sherri had completed her climb into the loft and was now standing just beside the loft hole, almost ready to bolt, it was so spooky, and she couldn't see a thing, it was so dark. She turned to start back down the ladder when the flashlight beam suddenly snapped alive at her feet and the whispered "Just follow my light, honeypot. I'm right over here. We'll have fun, you and me. C'mon."
   And Sherri went.
   Suddenly the light flicked out and plunged her into the total darkness which is experienced just before one's night vision kicks in.
   "Paul?" Now she was scared. Really scared.
   A strong arm snaked out and caught her from behind, closing against her windpipe in a visegrip, cutting off any scream she might have attempted. She felt herself going black, getting lightheaded--
desperate to breathe. She felt herself being strangled, murdered. No! No! Help
   So easy. So gullible. The killer dropped the girl in a heap, stood over her a moment, then flicked on the flashlight, kneeling to search for and retrieve the note....stood up, pocketed it. The beam flicked over the loft to different spots, settled finally on the huge bin that let grain down the big holding tank to be funneled to the stock into individual feeders. The cover had been removed to accomodate the killer's plans, and now, standing over her inert form, the killer spoke softly: "Well, honeypot, if you're not dead now you soon will be!" With some effort the girl was hefted over the shoulder, carried a short distance, and heaved into the bin of seed.
   "Now then, you little hussy--that'll teach you to make eyes at men you don't even know. Serves you right, you little whore!"
    And with a low, insane chuckle of satisfaction, the killer pulled the lever that sent the grain cascading down the chutes just enough so that the body of Sherri Hilliard disappeared and was buried under the churning, broiling mountain of grain.
   The cover was very quietly replaced, and the night again closed into blackness and silence over everything in the loft.      

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