Yesterdays lies, p.22
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       Yesterday's Lies, p.22

           Lisa Jackson
 
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  “So you were in over your head,” Trask said without emotion.

  Keith nodded and Tory’s eyes locked with her brother’s dull gaze before he looked ashamedly away from her.

  “But you could have come to me or to Dad,” Tory said, feeling dead inside. First her father and now Keith! Her chest felt so tight she had to fight to stand on her feet. Closing her eyes, she leaned against the wall for support.

  “No way could I have come to Dad or you. How could I let you know how bad I got suckered, or that I had let someone use our property to conduct illegal business? I was already a failure as far as Dad was concerned; you were the responsible one, Sis.”

  “We were a family, Keith,” she moaned. “We could have helped you—”

  “What about the horses? The ones from the Lazy W?” Trask cut in, knowing that he had to get this inquisition over fast before Keith could think twice about it. And Tory. God, he wished there was a way to protect and comfort her.

  “I switched the horses,” Keith admitted. “I figured that I was in too far to back out. If I didn’t agree, Benton promised to tell Dad.”

  Trask’s fingers rubbed together and a muscle in the back of his jaw clenched and unclenched in his barely concealed rage. “So what about my brother?” he asked, his voice low and cold.

  “I had no idea that Jason was on to us,” Keith said, his gray eyes filled with honesty. “I knew that Benton and Henderson were worried about being discovered but I didn’t know anything about the insurance company investigation or your brother’s role as an investigator.”

  “He’s telling the truth,” Rex admitted, wearily sliding into a chair and running his hands through his thinning hair.

  “But what about the conversation that Tory overheard?”

  Tory’s disbelieving eyes focused on Rex.

  “It was part of the ruse. Staged for your benefit,” Rex said, returning Tory’s discouraged stare. “Once Linn Benton approached your father and told him about Keith, Calvin was determined as hell to sacrifice himself instead of his boy. He had to make everyone, including you, Tory, believe that he had been a part of the swindle. He didn’t know anything about the plot to kill Jason McFadden. That was Linn Benton’s idea.”

  Tears had begun to stream down Tory’s face. She swiped at them with the back of her hand, but couldn’t stem the uneven flow from her eyes. She shuddered from an inner cold. “So Dad wouldn’t testify on the stand because he wanted to protect Keith?”

  “That’s right,” Keith said, tears clouding his vision. Angrily he sniffed them back.

  “Your dad knew he was dying of cancer; it was an easy decision to sacrifice himself in order that his son go free,” Rex explained.

  “And you went along with it,” Tory accused, feeling betrayed by every person she had ever loved.

  “I owed your dad a favor—a big one.”

  Tory took in a shuddering breath. “I don’t want to hear any more of this,” she said with finality. “And I don’t want to believe a word of it.”

  “We can’t hide behind lies any longer,” Keith said, squaring his shoulders. “I’ll call Sheriff Barnett tonight.”

  “Wait!” Tory held up her hand. “Think about what you’re doing, Keith. At least consider calling a lawyer before you do anything else!”

  Keith came over to her and touched her shoulders. “I’ve thought about this too long as it is. It’s time to do something—”

  “Please...” she begged, clinging to her brother as if by holding on to him she could convince him of the folly of his actions.

  Keith smiled sadly and patted her back. “If it makes you feel any better I’ll call a lawyer, just as soon as I talk Barnett into coming out here and taking my statement.”

  “I wish you wouldn’t—” Rex said.

  “You’re off the hook,” Keith said, releasing his sister and walking from the kitchen and into the den. Tory sat in a chair near the doorway and refused to meet Trask’s concerned gaze.

  “So you were the one who shot the calves, right?” Trask asked the foreman once Keith had left the room.

  Rex frowned and lifted his shoulders. He couldn’t meet Tory’s incredulous gaze. “I thought you would stop the damned investigation if you discovered any threats to Tory.”

  “So you sent the note?” Tory asked.

  “I’m not proud of it,” Rex admitted, “but it was all I could think of doing.” His chin quivered before he raised his eyes to meet Tory’s wretched stare. “I promised your old man, Tory. You have to believe I never meant to hurt you or the ranch...I...I just wanted to do right by your dad.” His voice cracked and he had to clear his throat. “Your father hired me when no one else in this town would talk to me.” He turned back to Trask. “I just wish it would’ve worked and you would’ve gone back to Washington where you belong instead of stirring up the lives of good decent people and making trouble.”

  Tory’s head was swimming in confusion. So Keith had been involved in the Quarter Horse swindle and her father had only tried to protect his young son. And Rex, feeling some misguided loyalty to a dying man, had kept the secret of Keith’s involvement. Even the foreman’s fumbling attempts to deter Trask were in response to a debt that had been paid long ago.

  “I reckon I’d better talk to the sheriff as well,” Rex said, forcing his hat back on his head and walking down the hall to the den where the soft sound of Keith’s voice could be heard.

  Trask got out of the chair and walked over to Tory. He reached for her but she recoiled from him. Not only had Trask put her father in jail five years earlier, but now he was about to do the same to her brother.

  “Tory—”

  “Don’t!” She squared her shoulders, stood, shook her head and looked away from him while her stomach twisted into painful knots. How could this be happening? “I don’t want to hear reasons or excuses or anything!” Cringing away from him she backed into the kitchen counter.

  “This had to come out, y’know.”

  “But you didn’t have to do it, did you? You didn’t have to drag it all out into the open and destroy everything that’s mattered to me. First my father and now my brother. God, Trask, when you get your pound of flesh, you just don’t stop, do you? You want blood and tears and more blood.” Tears ran freely down her cheeks. “I hope to God you’re satisfied!”

  Trask flinched and the rugged lines of his face seemed more pronounced. He ran his fingers raggedly through his windblown hair and released a tired sigh. “I wish you’d believe that I only wanted to love you,” he whispered.

  “And I wish you’d go to hell,” she replied. “I’d ask you if you intend to testify against my brother, but I already know the answer to that one, don’t I?”

  His lips tightened and the pain in his eyes was overcome by anger. “I had a brother once, too. Remember? And he was more than a brother. He was a husband and a father. And he was murdered. Murdered, Tory. Keith knew all about it. He just didn’t have the guts to come clean.”

  “That’s all changed now, hasn’t it? Thanks to you.”

  “I didn’t want it to end this way,” he said, stepping closer to her, but she threw up her hands as if to protect herself. He stopped short.

  “Then you should never have started it again. Face it, senator, if there was ever anything between us, you’ve destroyed it. Forever!”

  “There are still a lot of unanswered questions,” he reminded her.

  “Well, just don’t come around here asking for my help in answering them,” she retorted. “I’m not a glutton for punishment. I’ve had enough to last me a lifetime, thanks to you.”

  Trask stood and stared at her. His blue eyes delved into her soul. “I won’t come back, Tory,” he warned. “The next move is yours.”

  “Just don’t hold your breath, senator,” she whispered through clenched teeth before turning away from him. For a moment there was silence and Tory could feel that he wanted to say something more to her. Then she heard the sound of his retreating footst
eps. They echoed hollowly down the hallway. In a few moments she heard the front door slam shut and then the sound of Trask’s Blazer roaring down the lane.

  “Oh, God,” she cried, before clamping a trembling hand over her mouth. Tears began streaming down her face. “I love you, Trask. Damn it all to hell, but I still love you.” The sobs broke free of her body and she braced herself with the counter.

  “Get hold of yourself,” she said, but the tears continued to flow and her shoulders racked with the sobs she tried to still. “I never want to see him again,” she whispered, thinking of Trask and knowing that despite her brave words she would always love him. “You’re a fool,” she chastised herself, lowering her head to the sink and splashing water over her face, “a blind lovesick fool!”

  Knowing that she had another investigation to face this night, for surely Sheriff Barnett and his deputy would arrive shortly, she tried to pull herself together and failed miserably. She leaned heavily against the counter and stared into the dark night. Far in the distance she saw the flashing lights of an approaching police car.

  “This is it,” she said softly to herself. “The beginning of the end...”

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  THE COURTROOM WAS small and packed to capacity. An overworked air-conditioning system did little to stir the warm air within the room.

  Tory sat behind Keith. She tried to console herself with the fact that Keith was doing what he wanted, but her heart went out to her brother. He hadn’t been interested in hiring an attorney, in fact, he had petitioned the court to allow him to represent himself. Even the district attorney was unhappy with the situation, but Keith had been adamant.

  He looks so young, Tory thought as she studied the square set of her slim brother’s shoulders and the proud lift of his jaw. Just the way Dad had faced his trial. Tory had to look away from Keith and swallow against the thick lump that had formed in the back of her throat.

  The district attorney had already called several witnesses to the stand, the most prominent being George Henderson, who had been accompanied by a guard, when he testified. Not only did George tell the court that Keith, not his father, Calvin, had been in on the Quarter Horse swindle, but he also explained that Linn Benton had blackmailed Calvin into admitting to be a part of the scam.

  According to Henderson, Linn Benton had been interested in recruiting Keith as a naive partner in order to have some leverage over Calvin Wilson and the Lazy W. Linn Benton knew that Calvin would never let his son go to prison and a deal was made. Calvin would accept most of the guilt in order to keep Keith’s name out of the scam.

  “Then what you’re suggesting, Mr. Henderson,” the soft-spoken D.A. deduced, “is that Calvin Wilson’s only crime was that of protecting his son.”

  “Yes, sir,” an aged Henderson replied from the stand. He had thinned considerably in prison and looked haggard. While he continuously rubbed his hands together, a nervous twitch near his eyes worked noticeably.

  “And that Linn Benton was blackmailing Calvin Wilson with his son’s life.”

  “That’s about the size of it.”

  “Then Keith Wilson knew about the horse swindle.”

  “Yes.”

  Tory cringed, but Keith didn’t flinch. A murmur of disapproving whispers filtered through the hot room.

  “And he was aware of the deal struck between his father and Judge Linn Benton?”

  Henderson nodded.

  “You’ll have to speak up, Mr. Henderson. The court reporter must be able to hear you. She can’t record head movements,” the elderly judge announced.

  Henderson cleared his throat. “Yes, Keith Wilson knew about the blackmail and the deal,” he rasped.

  The district attorney paused and the courtroom became silent. “And did he know about the plan to kill Jason McFadden?”

  George Henderson’s wrinkled brow pulled into a scowl. “No.”

  “You’re sure?”

  “Yes,” George answered firmly. He met Keith’s stony gaze before looking away from him. “Benton did it all on his own. He only told me a few minutes before Jason McFadden’s car exploded. By then it was too late to do anything about it.” The old vet’s shoulders slumped from the weight of five years of deceit.

  “And why didn’t you go to the police?”

  “Because I was afraid,” George admitted.

  “Of being apprehended?”

  “No.” George shook his head and the twitch near his left eye became more pronounced. “I was afraid of crossing Linn Benton.”

  “I see,” the district attorney said, sending a meaningful look to the jury. “No further questions.”

  Keith refused to cross-examine Henderson, as he had with all of the prosecution’s witnesses. Tory felt sick inside. It was as if Keith had given up and was willing to accept his fate. For the past week, she had tried to get him to change his mind, hire an attorney and fight for his freedom, but her brother had been adamant, insisting that he was finally doing the “right” thing by his father.

  “Don’t worry about me,” he had said just before the trial. “I’ll be fine.”

  “I can’t help but worry. You’re acting like some sacrificial lamb—”

  “That was Dad,” Keith answered severely. “I’m just paying for what I did. It’s my time.”

  “But I need you—”

  “What you need is to run the ranch yourself, or better yet, make up with McFadden. Marry the guy.”

  “Are you out of your mind?” she had asked. “After everything he’s done? I can’t believe you, of all people, are suggesting this.”

  Keith just shook his head. “I did hate him, Tory, but that was because of fear and guilt. I knew, despite what I said, that Trask wasn’t responsible for Dad being sent to prison and dying. It was my fault. All McFadden ever wanted was the truth about his brother and you can’t really blame him for that.”

  “How can you feel this way?” she asked incredulously.

  “It’s easy. I’ve seen how you are when you’re around him. Tory, face it, you were happier than you’d been in years when he came back to Sinclair.” His gray eyes held those of his sister. “You deserve that happiness.”

  Tears had formed in her eyes. “What about you?”

  “Me, are you kiddin’?” he had joked, then his voice cracked. “I’ll be having the time of my life.”

  “Seriously—”

  “Tory, this is something I’ve got to do and you won’t change my mind. So take my advice and be happy...with McFadden.”

  “He’s responsible—”

  Keith lifted a finger to her lips. “I’m responsible and it’s time to pay up. Believe me, it’s a relief that it’s all nearly over.”

  Several other witnesses came to the stand, all painting the same picture that Keith was an ingrate of a son who had used his martyred father to protect himself.

  When Trask was called to the stand, Tory felt her hands begin to shake. Until this point he had sat in the back of the courtroom and though Tory could feel his eyes upon her, she had never looked in his direction, preferring to stare straight ahead and watch the proceedings without having to face him or her conflicting emotions.

  Trask seemed to have aged, Tory thought, her heart twisting painfully at the sight of him. He looked uncomfortable in his suit and tie. His rugged features seemed more pronounced, his cheeks slightly hollow, but the intensity of his vibrant blue eyes was still as bright as ever. When he sat behind the varnished rail of the witness stand, he looked past the district attorney and his eyes met Tory’s to hold her transfixed. For several seconds their gazes locked and Tory felt as if Trask could see into her soul. Her throat tightened and her breath seemed trapped in her lungs.

  “Senator McFadden,” the D.A. was saying. “Would you describe in your own words why you came back to Sinclair and what you discovered?”

  Trask tore his gaze away from Tory’s and his voice was without inflection as he told the court about the series of events that had started with
the anonymous letter he had received in Washington and had finally led to the arrest of Keith Wilson, as part of the Quarter Horse swindle that Trask’s brother, Jason, was investigating when he was killed five years earlier.

  Reporters were busy scribbling notes or drawing likenesses of the participants in the trial. The room was filled with faces of curious townspeople, many of whom Tory recognized. Anna Hutton sat with Tory, silently offering her support to her friend. Neva sat across the courtroom, her face white with strain. Several of the ranch hands were in the room, including Rex, who had already given his testimony. At Rex’s side was his young wife, Belinda.

  As Trask told his story, Tory sat transfixed. Though it was stifling hot in the old courtroom with the high ceilings, Tory shuddered and experienced the icy cold sensation of dejà vu. Trask’s shoulders slumped slightly and the smile and self-assurance that had always been with him had vanished.

  This has been hard on him, Tory thought, realizing for the first time since Keith had confessed that Trask did care what happened to her. He was a man driven by principle and was forced to stalk anyone involved in the murder of his brother. And if the situation were reversed, and Keith had been the man murdered, wouldn’t she, too, leave no stone unturned in the apprehension of the guilty parties?

  She twisted her handkerchief in her lap and avoided Trask’s stare.

  “So tell me, senator, how you found out that the defendant was part of the horse swindle.”

  “I had a private investigator, a man by the name of John Davis, look into it.”

  “And what did Mr. Davis find out?”

  “That Keith Wilson, and not his father Calvin, was a partner to Linn Benton and George Henderson.”

  Tory felt sick inside as the questioning continued. The D.A. opened his jacket and rocked back on his heels. “Did Mr. Davis find out who sent you the first anonymous letter to Washington?”

 
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