Thursday, April 18, 2013

THE DUDE RANCH MURDERS, vy N.A. Vincent, 12th installment

                                    CHAPTER NINE

   Paul was never too approachable when his sister was present, Vikki thought. Maybe that's why she didn't feel like saying what she saw out the window. Maybe it was nothing, anyway. The mood he was in now, who knew how things would turn out? She was upset, herself--upset and uptight. She'd been trying to tell him for weeks, and somehow couldn't bring herself to. And it wasn't exactly something that Kate would be happy to hear. She knew that about Paul's sister if she'd never know anything else, without even having to think about it twice. Kate was protective of Paul. Anybody who was Paul's enemy was hers. And, she was beginning to think, anybody who was Paul's friend was her enemy, particually if it was anybody female.
  When she again glanced out the window, all she was was the dark ranchyard. Whoever it had been hadn't come back out from the shadows. Maybe she hadn't seen anyone. Maybe it had been her imagination. What with all that was happening, people's wild speculations, fears, even panic, maybe she, too, was falling prey to the unknown. For all any of them knew, the girl had simply fallen into the grain. Anything was possible.
    It didn't help that the Sheriff's office had said no one was to leave the ranch without permission and instruction from them: Her going to town today was logged and noted, as well as her return. They couldn't keep track of everybody, out here in this wild country. There was only one deputy here to keep track of them all, but she'd noticed a Sheriff's car out on the main highway, where the mountain road intersected, miles down. The deputy here at the ranch had trailered in his own horse in case it was necessary.
   She glanced back at Kate, who was pouring more coffee. Paul was regretting that Tully and Dixon would both have to stay on the place when in fact he had told them both to leave.
   "Well, you want them to find the killer, don't you?" Kate reasoned. "They won't let anyone leave until they're sure who it's not."
   "Great! We'll have guests through the winter!" Paul said dryly.
   "Im going out," Vikki said, opening the door.
   "Vikki, wait a minute. I don't want you or Kate traipsing around out there in the dark alone. There's a killer on the loose, for godssake."
   Vikki had a strange look on her face. She said, "Awhile ago you thought I might be the killer! Now I'm a potential victim? Make up your mind, Paul. Either you trust me or you don't."
   Paul was suddenly overcome with compassion for her. She looked so tired, so defeated. He went to her and embraced her tenderly. "Vikki, I don't care what your past has been. I love you."
   But Vikki could be very unforgiving, very cold. She laughed shortly. "And Georgia Long, and Sherri, and all those other women you flirt with!" She released Paul's hold on her and stormed out, almost slamming the door behind her.
   "She's sure acting weird! Double weird!" Kate said.
   Paul stared at his sister. He walked over and picked up the discarded clippings. He looked at them a moment, then back at Kate. "Kate, did  you find these and leave them where I'd find them?"
   "Paul! You know me better than that! Why on earth would I do such a thing?"
   He was thinking that his sister was about the only person he could think of who might possibly do such a thing, but it would be hard to believe. Kate was willful, sure, and stubborn at times, but hardly vindictive. She'd never committed a mean act against anyone that he knew of, Everybody loved her. He felt embarassed that he'd even suspected her.
   "I'm sorry, Kate. I just don't know what to think."
   "Maybe she wanted you to find out. She might have wanted your reaction. Maybe she left it there herself."
   Paul looked thoughtful. "I never thought of it from that angle." He added, after a moment's consideration, "If that's the case, my score is zero." He looked at his sister. "Kate, who do you think killed that girl?"
   Kate shrugged. "We have about two or three weirdos aboard this trip. Tully's definitely high on the list. Dixon's also very strange. And you might not agree, but Jim Rhodes could even be suspect. This is all assuming we eliminate Vikki and her jealousy."
   "Rhodes?" He was genuinely surprised. "I was under the impression you liked him."
   She laughed. "I like you, too, but that doesn't eliminate you as a suspect."
   "Me? For godssake, Kate, that's not even funny. You know I wouldn't kill anybody."
   "Sure I do," she said, then added, "but then, aren't all military men trained to kill if they have to? Maybe it becomes second nature to them, more like an afterthought, than anything intentional if they're put in a situation where it's them ot the other guy, so---suppose---just supposing her death was accidental. Anyone can become an accidental killer. Then they'd get scared and try to hide it. Even you. Or me, for that matter."
   He laughed. "You? Now I know you're pulling my leg. You couldn't hurt a flea!"
   "See what I mean? I feel the same about you, Paul. I just hope Vikki's right for you. I don't want you to get hurt. You're all I have left now that Mom and Pop are gone. We both deserve to be happy. Vikki just doesn't seem make you happy."
   He looked at her oddly. "I guess that's just something I'll have to work out for myself, Kate."
   He grabbed his hat, said goodnight as he shoved it on his head, and went out to make the night rounds.

   Not too much later, undetected by any of the other occupants in the house, another person slipped out quietly and became enmeshed in the black shadows of the night, and in the unfolding murders.

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