Thrill of the hunt, p.1
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       Thrill of the Hunt, p.1

          
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Thrill of the Hunt
THRILL OF THE HUNT



By

GiAnna Moratelli



COPYRIGHT 2013 GiAnna Moratelli







One

The gold lettering on the side of the white sheriff’s car, glistened in the bright sun as it pulled off the pavement into a sandy parking lot. The sheriff pulled up as close to the front of an unpainted wood, rustic looking building as he could; to shade the car from the heat.

An old building from the late 1800’s, it had a large overhang to shade a sprawling front porch. Tourist, if the town ever had any, would think they’d stepped back in time. The building front had the appearance of a saloon in a western movie. But instead of the word saloon scrolled across the front, it said Colton’s Place. A flapping, white, red lettered, plastic banner pulled across the front, tied to the support post, read, ‘Welcome Hunters, $4.99 breakfast.’

Sheriff Tom Moratelli stepped out of the car. Taking off his dark, mirrored, sun glasses he stretched his five-foot-eleven as he looked across the highway, his dark brown eyes scanned the desert toward the blue hue mountain range in the far distance. Putting the glasses in his shirt pocket, Tom stepped up on the course wooden porch. Opening the door, a small bell jingled.

A woman in her early sixties with light pink hair piled on top of her head, looked up from wiping down the lunch counter. “Afternoon, Tom.”

“Mildred,” he greeted. He walked between the empty tables to one sitting along the opposite wall.

Mildred looked toward the kitchen. “Sandy, your husband’s here!”

An older man sitting at a table looked across the room at Tom. The only customer in the place, he nursed his cup of coffee on the lap of his faded blue jeans as he sat crossway of the chair, leaning against the wall, his arm propped up on the chair back. “Sheriff Moratelli, how’s it goin’?”

Tom sat with his back slightly to the man. “Kind of slow this morning, Mr. Stoutman. How’s business at the feed store?

“Kind of slow this mornin’. Sold two bags of dog food and one bag of cat food all mornin’.” Hank Stoutman took a drink from his coffee cup. “That waitress, the blue-eyed blonde, you gotta watch her.”

“If you’re talkin’ about the waitress with hazel eyes and light brown hair, I watch her all the time. It’s in my job description.”

“What job description’s that?”

“Husband,” Tom answered. He looked up at the counter, as Sandy walked out of the kitchen carrying two plates.

“She looks like a blue-eyed blonde to me,” Hank said, looking at Sandy’s butt, as she leaned over to get two glasses from a lower shelf.

“You don’t see all of her that I see.”

Hank laughed. “No, I don’t suppose I do. Felt a little cool out there this mornin’. Guess winter’s comin’.”

Tom nodded, “It’s plenty warm out there now.” He noticed Hank watching his wife. “Now you know why I tell her to wear longer skirts.”

“I kind of like the short ones.”

“I know you do.”

Sandy walked up to the table. “What’s that?” she asked, as she put one of the plates in front of Tom and sat the other one in front of the chair beside him.

“Hank’s watchin’ your ass.”

Hank sat his cup on the table. “Hell she knows it.”

Sandy nodded. “Him and every other guy that comes in here.”

As she turned to go back up to the counter Tom pulled her down on his lap. “You don’t have to hurry off.”

Sandy kissed him, running her fingers through the back of his hair. “I have to get you something to drink. You want coffee, ice tea or lemonade?”

“Tea will be all right.”

“I’ll be right back.” Sandy kissed him, then started for the kitchen.

Tom watched as she swayed up to the refrigerator. Yeah, they all looking at his wife. But she was just that, his wife. And they better not forget it.

Hank held up his empty cup. “Get a refill over here?” He looked at Tom. “Any word about Lucy Handling?”

“Not yet.” Tom moved his chair up to the table and looked at his plate, hoping it tasted better than it looked. “You never know, Hank. Maybe no news is good news.”

“Four, five months can’t be good news,” Hank replied, as Mildred brought a coffee pot to his table. He watched as she filled his cup. “It looks darker than the first pot.”

“Sandy made this one and her hubby likes it stout.”

“He isn’t drinkin’ it. He’s drinkin’ tea.”

Mildred shrugged. “You want tea?”

“No, I don’t want no damn tea.”

“Anything else before I get back to work?”

“This isn’t working?”

“Only if you leave a tip. Other than that, it’s volunteering.”

Hank smiled. “I’m fine. So what do you think, Tom?”

Tom shrugged, “Lucy’s a young girl with a lot of dreams. Maybe she got tired of the desert and decided to go someplace where there’s something goin’ on.”

“Hell too. Lucy’s a cowgirl. She likes it here, ridin’ and breakin’ horses, workin’ cattle, ropin’ and brandin’.”

“Maybe she ran away with the rodeo.”

“With what? You never did find the son-of-a-bitch that stole her horse.”

“Yes I did!” He was tired of hearing about Lucy Handling’s damn horse. “But there wasn’t any proof it belonged to her.”

“Everyone knew that horse was hers.”

“Maybe they did. But it didn’t have any papers and it wasn’t branded.”

Hank took a drink of the coffee. “God that’s stout stuff,” he said and sat the cup on the table. “You really drink it this strong?”

“All the time.”

“She probably took off lookin’ for that guy that has her horse.”

“That’d be stupid.” Tom looked over to see what was keeping Sandy. He was ready to shove his mouth full of food, no matter how it tasted, so he wouldn’t have to talk to Hank about Lucy Handling.

Sandy poured two glasses of iced tea. Picking up two cloth napkins, she put them across her arm then picked up the glasses.

“Glad you’re back,” Tom said as she walked up to the table, “I’m getting hungry.”

“You don’t have to wait for me,” Sandy replied, as she sat the glasses on the table. She handed her husband one of the napkins and sat beside him.

“You don’t wrap it around his neck for him too?” Hank asked. “I think you have him spoiled.”

“I like spoiling him,” Sandy said smiling at Tom.

“Busy morning?” Tom asked, as he put the cloth napkin across his lap.

Sandy nodded. “It was kind of busy,” she said, parroting him. “I think every hunter in New Mexico came in this morning for Colton’s special and everyone of them complained about it.”

Tom took a drink of the tea. “He’s having it every day through the season or just opening day?”

“Every day from what I understand. If they come back.”

“Whether they complained or not, I hope they were good tippers.” Tom took a bite of the lasagna and frowned. “I wish Colton would hire a cook that knows how to cook.”

“Most of them tipped pretty good.” Sandy gently rubbed her knee against his. “Not too loud,” she said lowly, “he has hard enough time finding a cook around here.”

“Well, Pendarvis isn’t much of one,” Tom replied lowly.

“His dad’s a doctor, what do you expect? He could probably dissect it better then he cooks it.”

“Somebody needs to dissect it,” Hank piped up. “If my wife brought home meat like what Colton’s been serving around here, the last few months, I’d tell her to take it back. But the garlic bread ain’t too bad.”

Tom glanced back at him. “Yeah, it comes in a box. All he has to do is heat it up.”

Sandy shook her head. “Don’t you have something to do, Hank?”

“Not really,” Hank said and took a drink of his coffee.

Tom looked behind the counter at the office door, which was closed. “Where is Colton, or do I have to ask?”

“Hunting. It’s all he does these days.” Reaching up to her neck, Sandy checked a diamond, heart-shaped necklace; making sure it was still there. “Colton isn’t about to miss opening day. Although I don’t know what difference it makes; seems like the past few months he’s been hunting most every week.”

“Sandy,” Tom shook his head.

“I know, but he does.” She took a bite of her bread, looking at the door as the bell jingled and two men walked in. “Doesn’t look like Russ Sayles and Mitch Ihnen are out on opening day.” She started to get up from her chair.

Tom took hold of her arm. “Let Mildred get them. You’re on your break.”

Sandy nodded.

Tom pushed his plate back. “I think this has to be the worst Colton’s ever had you serve in here. You have something else back there?”

“I’ll get us something else.” Sandy picked up the plates and went to the kitchen.

“How’s it goin, Hank?” Russ greeted, patting Hank on the back as he sat at the table next to him. “You’re not out hunting, Moratelli?”

“Some of us have to work. So why aren’t you?”

“Opening day, all the nuts are out there.” Russ answered, looking up at the counter at Mildred. He picked up a coffee cup, and raised it. “So when are ya ever going to find out what happened to Garrett Handling’s daughter?”

“We’ve been working on it.” Tom said, watching Mitch sit beside Russ. He acted like he’d been tipping a few.

“She’s not the only one that’s disappeared from what I hear at Zinggs,” Russ said.

“Only one I know of,” Tom said, as Sandy sat a plate of mashed potatoes and roast beef in front of him. “This looks a lot better.” He picked up his fork and took a bite, nodding. “Much better.”

“Ya aren’t workin’ very hard at it or you wouldn’t be in here, would ya?” Mitch snapped, slurring his words.

Tom put his fork down on his plate.

Sandy put her hand on his. “Tom.”

Tom looked at her then turned toward the men. “I’ve been all over this damn desert looking for that Handling girl. If you have any information, spit it out. If you don’t, then shut up.”

“What about Zingg’s girls that are missin’?” Mitch asked.

“They probably got tired of this hell-hole, packed it up and left town,” Tom said and took a drink of tea.

“What makes you think that?” Russ asked.

“What the hell is there around here, except for a bunch of cheap-asses that go into that flea-bit whore house that won’t give them five bucks to look at them?”

“That’s because most of them aren’t worth looking at,” Mitch blurted out, laughing. He slapped Russ hard on the back. “Can’t believe you, Moratelli! Calling our fine establishment here in town a whore house.”

“It wouldn’t be here in town, if I’d got here first,” Tom said. Looking at Sandy, he took a bite of the bread. “Ought to close the damn place down, then there wouldn’t be any more problems with it.”

“It’s just a tiny titty bar.” Mitch snorted through his nose as he laughed, slapping Russ hard on the shoulder.

“You hit me one more time like that and I’m gonna knock you on your ass,” Russ warned.

“With the sheriff sittin’ there?” Mitch asked, and laughed.

Mildred sat two glasses of water down hard on the table.

“If you’d ever go in there, Moratelli you’d know what I’m talking about. Hell my dog has tits big as most them girls,” Mitch continued.

“That’s ‘cause you won’t get the bitch spayed,” Hank spouted.

Tom looked at Sandy, who slightly shook her head that he shouldn’t engage in the conversation or comment any more about the strip club.

“You know,” Mildred said, putting her hand on Mitch’s shoulder as she stepped over beside him. “I may not be Colton, but I can still throw your drunk ass out of this place.”

Mitch looked up at her and smiled. “Mildred, I ain’t that drunk and you ain’t that big.”

“You may not think you’re that drunk, but it smells to me that you’ve been tippin’ a few this mornin’,” she said. “I think there’s a law against public intoxication, isn’t there, Tom?”

“Last I knew,” Tom answered taking a bite of his roast beef.

“Must be your air freshener you’re smellin’.” Mitch said. “I don’t smell nothin’.”

Mildred walked back behind the counter. I may not be bigger than you,” Mildred said reaching under the counter, “but this is.” She pulled out an over-under shotgun laying it across the counter, pointed in his direction. “Get out of here, Mitch. Go find someplace else to sober up.”

Mitch swallowed as he looked down the barrel of the shotgun. “Moratelli, you’re the law. Ain’t you gonna to do somethin’?”

Tom looked at Mildred with the shotgun then took a drink of his tea. “Nope.” He put his hand on Sandy’s. “If she pulls that trigger, I’m gonna shit.”

“Well I hope not, because I don’t want to have to clean up the mess.”

“Me or him?”

“Either one.”

The bell jingled and the door slammed. Glancing over at the table, Tom saw that both Mitch Ihnen and Russ Sayles were gone. “You should have had the roast beef sandwich, Hank. It wasn’t too bad,” Tom said and finished his tea.

Mildred picked up a large plastic tub and walked over to Tom and Sandy’s table, sitting it on a table next to them. “I was just kidding around with Mitch, you knew that, didn’t you, Tom?”

Tom looked at her as he sat his glass on the table. “I was hoping. I don’t really think it’s necessary to have that thing in here. All you had to do was ask.”

“You were havin’ your dinner,” Mildred said, gathering their glasses, putting them in the tub.

“I wouldn’t have been if you’d squeezed that trigger.”

“Mildred, I can clean up,” Sandy said.

“I’m getting’ it.” Mildred picked up the plates.”

Tom noticed she wasn’t leaving, lingering at their table. “What is it?”

“Lucy Handling. You don’t really think she left do you?”

Tom shrugged. No, he didn’t really think so, but what could he say, he hadn’t been able to find her. “I don’t know,” he finally said. “I haven’t found anything to suggest anything different, unless you remember something she said that you haven’t told me?”

“I told you everything I know, Tom. But damn it! She wouldn’t just leave. Lucy loves this land and living out there on that ranch. She wouldn’t just take off.”

“And join the rodeo?”

“Rodeo, hell! She didn’t join no damn rodeo. And she wouldn’t go somewhere without saying something to her parents. She and Nancy are real close, they’re more like friends than mother and daughter. Lucy’s a responsible kid, you know her, she always has been.”

Tom shrugged. He didn’t know her. How was it that everyone in town expected him to know everyone? “Maybe she is. But I haven’t been able to find her, her body, her truck, or anyone who’s seen her.”

“She’ll show up. I’m tellin’ ya. She’ll show up,” Mildred said confidently. Picking up the tub, she looked at Sandy. “You goin’ home?”

“Kind of early isn’t it?” Sandy asked looking at the small, gold watch she wore.

“You might as well. It’s dead around here.” Mildred walked up to the counter, putting the tub on a cart. “I can handle it, go on home.” She threw a handful of silverware into the tub. “Katie ought a be coming in before too long. Her, along with that new gal.”

“I didn’t think she was starting until tomorrow evening?”

“Colton said she was starting this evening,” Mildred said. “He told me he went over everything yesterday afternoon with her. I’m only going to say one thing about her; she better show up dressed for the job.”

“What new gal’s that?” Tom asked.

“One of Nicole Zingg’s girls,” Sandy answered putting her hand under the table, which was covered by a red table cloth. “Colton hired her so that one of us doesn’t have to work a double shift.” She rubbed Tom’s leg under the table.

“A stripper’s going to wait tables.” Tom raised his eyebrows at the thought and shook his head. “That’ll last about thirty minutes. She gets a load of what real work’s like and she’ll be running back to Zingg’s.” Tom put his hand on Sandy’s under the table, looking at her, as he stopped her rubbing and she smiled.

Mildred, watching them, shook her head. “Yeah well, Colton’s the one who hired her. So I guess he thinks she’s going to work out.” She looked at Hank. “You need more coffee?”

“I’m fine,” Hank answered.

Standing, Tom took his wife’s hand. “I’ll give you a ride home.”

Two

Tom walked into the police station. He glanced at the wall where a picture of the missing seventeen year old, blue eyed girl with long, blonde hair, wearing a white western hat, was pinned on a cork board. She had been missing four months and one week.

“Missed you at mayor’s meeting this morning,” the deputy said with a New York accent. He looked up at Tom from where he sat as his desk reading the morning paper.

“Really?” Tom picked up the morning mail lying on his desk. Leaning against the desk, he looked through it. “You know, Glen… I forgot.”

“You don’t seem too upset about missing it.”

“Upset. Why the hell would I be upset about missing that two-bit speech he gives every week?” Tom said not looking at him. “I figured you had it memorized by now, Glen. It’s always the same speech, every week. We need to write more tickets to help generate money.” He tossed an envelope in the trash. “We need new business in town and more people so the town will grow?” He tossed another envelope in the trash. “There’s never enough money, and it’s always our fault, because we don’t write enough damn tickets.” He tossed another envelope in the trash.
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