In the bright morning light it all seemed so . . . silly.
Del spotted the woman across the fence, waving. She waved back and walked over.
"Bev Gardner. So sorry about Sophia." She waved a hand at an oversized dusty hulk. "That's Missy, the last of Al's draft horses."
"Oh, my. I'd forgotten how big they were. How old is she? Umm, I'm Delphi."
"I remember you when you were a little girl, always up on a horse or tagging after Al. The old gal must be pushing twenty."
"Oh dear. That's a bit old to sell. I suppose once we sell the place, I can afford to board her."
"Not to worry, I can keep her for now, or put her back out on your place to graze until it's sold."
"Umm, I live in New York, I'll be coming and going, as needed, for the next few weeks."
"She just needs water, and pellets; I can drop by. Don't step on me, Jimbo." A collection of horses had come over to see what was going on. Bev pushed a fat quarter horse away. "I board the local police horses, Jimbo's one of them. Big pussy cats, every one."
"I guess they have to be. Otherwise they'd be more of a hazard than help."
"Oh yes. And these are the others Buck, Tall Boy and Vivi."
Since Buck was a buckskin, and Tall Boy a lot leggier than the others, Adele figured she'd be able to remember half of their names. Not that she wanted to have much to do with the police, but if they were all as picky as that Barclay person she'd probably wind up meeting them all. With or without horses.
Chapter Four Hugh ride
Saturday, 20 June 2020
Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn 33*
Armand eyed the Other, the shape changer king. "We can use them."
"They both have the blood of the Enemy." The king tossed his head. "Kill them both. Give the witch no allies in your world."
"No. We should use them, as we used their mother. Their blood is filled with magic, a resource we should not squander."
"Bah. Don't play your games now. This alignment will be even stronger than the last two. The Sun is slow and weak, less able to interfere with the actual merge of the worlds." The king broke off, head turning, ears pricking.
Armand listened. Hooves. Trotting. He'd merged so many times that he had picked up a bit of the senses of the Horned Ones. And a bit of their magic as well. I want more! I want to merge as often as I can . . . but perhaps with magical humans, not these uncanny things. Not that they aren't fun, occasionally. When the strain is enough to merge in the Dance. I could entice yet another girl of that damned family, to merge, to dance, to mate. But no matter what I do to them, it gains me nothing! He shrugged his ire aside and stepped out of the circle. The King disappeared, the trotting hooves were closer. He walked between trees to where he could look down the steep hillside, nearly a cliff. The river was a hundred feet below, the trails a dozen feet above the bouldered riverbed. He spotted the rider, and bile burned his throat. The other man I hate. Strong enough to be a wizard, completely ignorant, unbelieving. He has everything I want, and cares nothing for it. He looks at me and sees a man accused of defrauding his clients. Not a wizard, he never sees the magic in me.
If only I could kill him.
Huge Barclay trusted the horse to watch where he was going, so Huge could look at everything else. Or think, and try to get his head back where it belonged. Which was on the job, no matter what. "I worked to get the Chief to see that we needed a Serious Crimes Division."
Buck twitched an ear back at him but didn't otherwise respond. Hugh growled. "I should have ridden Tall Boy. He might have given me a fight and maybe knocked some sense into my head. You're too damned nice. I mean, the Chief finally agreed that we get enough burglaries and muggings and rapes and drug dealing to need a dedicated officer."
He thumped his thigh in frustration. "And then he gave it to Barney!"
Hugh dropped his voice to imitate the Chief's habitual growl. "He's too old to keep running the Traffic Division any more. I won't demote him, so this is where he's going. Traffic is the most important division. All those traffic fines pay our salaries, you know." Hugh slapped his thigh again. "And I had to smile and take it." He lifted his left hand, the one holding the reins and tapped Buck's side with a heel. The sturdy gelding loped down the trail, and Hugh breathed the hot dry air. The California foothills at the end of summer were golden brown with dried grasses, splotched with the dusty green of the local scrub oaks. He slowed the horse and turned him down toward the river.
"What I don't have to do is pass it on to people driving through town. Especially not Sophia Jeffries' niece, eh?"
Buck swished his tail at a fly, and walked on.
The Pioneer Trail was roughly on the same track as the old pony express route, running for miles along the American River. Technically speaking, the federal land along the river was out of his jurisdiction, but with four women raped along this twelve mile stretch this year, it felt like his responsibility. It was all well and good for the Park Police to blame visitors, and the one homicide had been way north, and probably the boy friend . . . But it seemed like the Park Police spent more time ousting the Howler clan from one campground or another than they spent trying to catch the rapist. So Hugh rode the trails at least once a week, as did several other officers. If nothing else, it might keep the perp away from his citizens. Of course, if all the rapes were the action of a single man, he was most likely living in Reilly Creek. And sooner or later, he'd change his pattern enough to commit a crime in the town's jurisdiction.
And then Barney could investigate it.
Hugh shrugged his shoulders irritably and cut sharply uphill. From the crest of the ridge, he studied the new houses that had gone up along southern part of Little Valley road. The new people—defined as living here less than two years, the town wasn't all that clannish—mostly worked elsewhere and just slept here. Most of the houses were built toward the back of the properties, to gain elevation and view. Great huge things. His biggest worry was the rapist deciding to start breaking into houses, instead of molesting campers.
Well, not true. His biggest worry was persuading the youngest Howler kids to stop stealing candy before they started stealing things that would get them into serious trouble. Old Man Howler had given Davy and Sue the evil eye, and they’d been on their best behavior since. Pity the parents of the new teenagers in town wouldn’t do the same. Those kids had a nasty edge that the local's lacked. A spoiled, privileged bunch, with, as the Chief had said, an average of one point two lawyers per family to make his job a nightmare. The only good thing about the whole building boom was that his Traffic Division was happily pulling in fines at a rate that practically guaranteed they could hire a couple of new people. Maybe they could get enough people to start a night patrol out here.
He fought down a grin. A bunch of the new people claimed to be Witches. To have an organized coven. The rumors about them dancing naked at the full moon out here somewhere should make getting volunteers for night patrols easy.
He rode out to the end of Coyote Bar. The sand bar stuck out into the river at a bend, and was a favorite hangout of the local teens. Fortunately the 'park' didn't have any of the amenities that would have brought in hordes of outsiders. The bend in the river gave him no satisfaction. "Barney. Investigating serious crimes. Damn it. I'd better find some professionalism, though, or I can just hang it up and, and . . . " He came up blank on what he could be, besides a police officer.
He rode back up Coyote Bar Road to the first cross street. He had too much personal history on this street. The C Bar Creamery, a small dairy where he'd worked until he went away to the Police Academy, looked decrepit and forlorn. It had closed shortly after he'd left, Al Hyde's daughters and sons-in-law having no interest in taking it over. He turned north on Little Valley. Sophia's house was looking a bit run down, almost flattened, with all these crisp new mansions around with their high ceilings and steeply pitched roofs. The police horses, all four of them, were boarded at the Gardner's next door. He rode on, past the remains of the Zapata place, badly overgrown. It had burned down three years ago, Miguel too drunk to cope with what had started as a small kitchen fire. The property beyond had sold, a fancy show stable for the lawyers' snobby kids was under construction. It was fenced now, in safe plastic rails over taunt cables. A huge arena was gaining a cover. It looked like they were going to install portable stalls under metal roofs, high so they got a cooling draft during the summer. Empty, so far. A cleared space with stakes and strings, where a house would no doubt be under construction shortly. He turned away without going further. The north end of the road had too many memories, too many responsibilities for him to bear. His parents’ ranch. He'd sold the house, kept most of the land. Leased it to a rancher to graze cattle. He could ignore it, forget it.
He rode back to the Gardner's, and their old barn.
"Pretty place down there, isn't it?" Beverly was shoveling out a stall on her own.
"I wonder how those high roofs are going to do in the winter. It's nice in the summer, but that won't cut the winter wind." He hauled the saddle to the tack room.
"I think they must be planning on some sort of barrier, to block off the north side at least." She straightened and worked her shoulders to loosen them. "Have you met them? It's a brother and sister operation. The sister's good looking, you should go introduce yourself."
Hugh snorted. "I think I've done the family thing, thank you."
"Oh, and have you met Sophia's niece? Seems a nice girl, she looks so young!"
"Beverly, you're a horrible matchmaker. Find those nice young women someone a bit less . . . " Likely to take out bad moods on the handiest target.
"Less worn out from raising his two unruly brothers? Hugh, it's been three years since the ungrateful whelps left. And good riddance. You are not to blame for how they turned out—near replicas of your father. But you've got your mother's temper, and picked up some money sense from who knows where. You should lighten up and realize that you are quite a catch. Your life is too empty. At least meet these women, make some friends.”
“I don’t think I know how.” I’ve surely messed up royally. "Anyway, there are two nieces, aged twenty-eight and eighteen. One way too young and the other doesn't seem terribly interested in men. She even resisted Navarr's charm."
"He's a good looking man, makes good money. Of course women notice him, he's worse than that pretty Sheriff's deputy I meet occasionally on the trails. If you'd stop glowering, they'd notice you, too."
Bev snorted and threatened him with a forkful of manure. "Speaking of cleaning stalls, have you seen Ed Howler lately? He hasn't shown up for two days now."
Hugh thankfully concentrated on the last sentence. "Haven't noticed him in town. Do you think there's a problem? Above the usual?" He finished brushing the horse and led him into the stall.
"Ah, you know how superstitious they are. The old man was saying something about bad omens, Sophia dying and the stars lining up and he was going to have to move the kids again. Ed's been looking nervy ever since. I swear that family . . . Amy's the only one with a college education, and a real job. And you never know which one will—or won't—show up to work."
Huge nodded. The old man, Grant, was the patriarch of a clan of siblings and cousins and nieces and nephews . . . the school district thought they had everyone straightened out, and knew who belonged to whom, but Huge had his doubts about it. Doc MacGee examined mothers and babies and issued birth certificates, but even he admitted that every single one of the babies was born at home and he didn't see them until the mothers felt like bringing them around. The father's names were apparently just guesses.
"If I see any of them, I'll remind them that there's a job out here for someone. One of the teenagers might be happy to earn a bit of extra cash."
Hugh sat down in his pickup and sighed. "Did I really do that? I know Alistair's been dead for a decade, but still, why didn't I catch on when I saw her name?" He looked at the old house as he drove past, but didn't see the overly ticketed Miss Hyde.
Chapter Five Bikers
Sunday, 21 June 2020
Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn 32*
The Sunday morning quiet was broken by the sounds of motorcycles. The deep rumble of large ones, not the whine of dirt bikes.
"Beats the hell out of dancing satyrs." Del pried herself out of the backseat of the car and stretched. "And I am not getting used to the garage. It is very much not home."
The roar of motorcycles swelled, rolling in through the open window to fill the garage. She stood on her toes to peer out . . . A dozen bikers. Their black leather and helmets looked slick and reptilian . . . Damn it, was Aunt Sophia a druggie? I swear I'm half hallucinating the oddest things. They were headed east on Coyote Bar Road; the last passed and the rumble faded.
The door from the garage to the house was now clear of trash. There was a bathroom at this end of the house, right next to a laundry room. The washer and dryer had had a clear trail to them, so presumably they still worked. The bathroom . . . was still stuffed full.
"Maybe that should be today's project. Clear the room and see if anything in there works." But for now she wound through the remaining piles to Aunt Sophia's bathroom for her morning routine.
She paused briefly at the return of the roar. The Bikers hadn't stayed long at the river. They turned down Little Valley and cruised past the house . . . the road dead ended half a mile further on, so she wasn't surprised when they came back. She eyed them carefully. Leather jackets. Helmets. Perfectly ordinary. They roared out of sight and hearing, and she turned to eye the remaining work to be done.A granola bar for breakfast, then she loaded