Yesterdays lies, p.4
Yesterday's Lies, p.4Lisa Jackson
“I need your help.”
Tory’s heart nearly stopped beating. There was a thread of hopelessness in his voice that touched a precarious part of her mind and she had to remind herself that he was the enemy. He always had been. Though Trask seemed sincere she couldn’t, wouldn’t let herself believe him. “No way.”
“I think you might change your mind.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Tory whispered.
She followed him into the den, her father’s den, and swallowed back her anger and surprise. Trask had placed a hand on the lava rock fireplace and his head was lowered between his shoulders. How familiar it seemed to have him back in the warm den her father had used as an office. Knotty pine walls, worn comfortable furniture, watercolors of the Old West, Indian weavings in orange and brown, and now Trask, leaning dejectedly against the fireplace, looking for all the world as if he truly needed her help, made her throat constrict with fond memories. God, how she had loved this man. Her fist curled into balls of defeat.
“I’m not kidding, Tory.” He glanced up at her and she read the torment in his eyes.
“Just listen to me. That’s all I ask.”
Anger overcame awe. “I can’t help you. I won’t.”
His pleas turned to threats. “You’d better.”
“Why? What can you do to me now? Destroy my reputation? Ruin my family. Kill my father? You’ve already done all that, there’s nothing left. You can damned well threaten until you’re blue in the face and it won’t affect me...or this ranch.”
In the darkness his eyes searched her face, possessively reading the sculpted angle of her jaw, the proud lift of her chin, the tempting mystique of her intelligent gray-green eyes. “Nothing’s left?” he whispered, his voice lowering. One finger reached upward and traced the soft slope of her neck.
Tory’s heart hammered in her chest. “Nothing,” she repeated, clenching her teeth and stepping away from his warm touch and treacherous blue eyes.
He grimaced. “This has to do with your father.”
She whirled around to face him. “My father is dead.” Shaking with rage she pointed an imperious finger at his chest. “Because of you.”
His jaw tightened and he paced the length of the room in an obvious effort to control himself. “You’d like to believe that I was responsible for your father’s death, wouldn’t you?”
All of the anguish of five long years poured out of her. “You were. He could have had the proper medical treatment if he hadn’t been in prison—”
“It makes it easier to think that I was the bad guy and that your father was some kind of a saint.”
“All I know is that my father would never have been a part of anything like murder, Trask.” She was visibly shaking. All the old emotions, love, hate, fear, awe and despair, churned inside her. Tears stung her eyelids and she fought a losing battle with the urge to weep.
“Your father was a desperate man,” he said quietly.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Desperate men make mistakes, do things they wouldn’t normally do.” The look on his face was pensive and worried. She noticed neither revenge nor anger in his eyes. Trask actually believed that her father had been nothing better than a common horse thief.
“You’re grasping at straws. My father was perfectly fine.”
Trask crossed the room, leaned an arm on the mantel and rubbed his chin. All the while his dusky blue eyes held hers. “The Lazy W was losing money hand over fist.” She was about to protest but he continued. “You know it as well as anyone. When you took over, you were forced to go to the bank for additional capital to keep it running.”
“Because of all the bad publicity. People were afraid to buy Quarter Horses from the Lazy W because of the scandal.”
“Right. The scandal. A simple scam to make money by claiming that the purebred Quarter Horses had died and offering as proof bodies of horses who resembled the blue bloods but weren’t worth nearly as much. No one around here questioned Judge Benton’s integrity, especially when his claims were backed up by the local veterinarian, George Henderson. It was a simple plan to dupe and defraud the insurance companies of thousands of dollars and it would never have come off if your father hadn’t provided the perfect hiding spot for the purebreds who hadn’t really met their maker. It all boiled down to one helluva scandal.”
“I can’t believe that Dad was involved in that.”
“The horses were found on his property, Tory.” Trask frowned at her stubborn pride. “You’re finding it hard to believe a lot of things these days, aren’t you?” he accused, silently damning himself for the torture he was putting her through. “Why didn’t your father defend himself when he had the chance, on the witness stand? If he was innocent pleading the fifth amendment made him look more guilty than he was.”
A solitary tear slid down her cheek. “I don’t want to hear any more of this...”
“But you’re going to, lady. You’re going to hear every piece of incriminating evidence I have.”
“Why, Trask?” she demanded. “Why now? Dad’s dead—”
“And so is Jason. My brother was murdered, Tory. Murdered!” He fell into a chair near the desk. “I have reason to believe that one of the persons involved with the horse swindle and Jason’s death was never brought to justice.”
Her eyes widened in horror. “What do you mean?”
“I think there were more than three conspirators. Four, maybe five...who knows? Half the damned county might have been involved.” Trask looked more haggard and defeated than she had ever thought possible. The U.S. senator from Sinclair, Oregon had lost his luster and become jaded in the past few years. Cynical lines bracketed his mouth and his blue eyes seemed suddenly lifeless.
Tory’s breath caught in her throat. “You’re not serious.”
“Dead serious. And I intend to find out who it was.”
“But Judge Benton, he would have taken everyone down with him—no one would have been allowed to go free.”
“Unless he struck a deal, or the other person had something over on our friend the judge. Who knows? Maybe this guy is extremely powerful...”
Tory shook her head, as if in so doing she could deny everything Trask was suggesting. “I don’t believe any of this,” she said, pacing around the room, her thoughts spinning crazily. Why was Trask dredging all this up again. Why now? Just when life at the Lazy W had gotten back to normal... “And I don’t want to. Nothing you can do or say will change the past.” She lifted her hands over her head in a gesture of utter defeat. “For God’s sake, Trask, why are you here?”
“You’re the only one who can help me unravel this, Tory.”
“And I don’t want to.”
“Maybe this will change your mind.” He extracted a piece of paper from his wallet and handed it to her. It was one of the photocopies of the letter he’d received.
Tory read the condemning words and her finely arched brows pulled together in a scowl of concentration. “Who sent you this?” she demanded.
“I don’t know.”
“It came anonymously?”
“Yes. To my office in Washington.”
“It’s probably just a prank.”
“The postmark was Sinclair, Oregon. If it’s a prank, Tory, it’s a malicious one. And one of your neighbors is involved.”
Tory read the condemning words again:
One of your brother’s murderers is still free. He was part of the Quarter Horse swindle involving Linn Benton, Calvin Wilson and George Henderson.
“But who would want to dig it all up again?”
Trask shook his head and pushed his fingers through his hair. “Someone with a guilty conscience? Someone who overheard a conversation and finally feels that it’s time to come clean? A nosy journalist interested in a story? I don’t know. But whoever he is, he wants me involved.”
Tory sank into the nearest chair. “And you couldn’t leave it alone.”
She smiled bitterly and studied the letter in her hand. “I suppose not. Not if there was a chance to prove that my father was innocent.”
“Damn it, Tory!” Trask exclaimed. “Calvin had the opportunity to do that on the witness stand. He chose to hide behind the fifth amendment.”
Tory swallowed as she remembered her father sitting in the crowded courtroom. His thick white hair was neatly in place, his gray eyes stared straight ahead. Each time the district attorney would fire a question at him, Calvin would stoically respond that he refused to answer the question on the basis that it might incriminate him. Calvin’s attorney had been fit to be tied in the stifling courtroom. The other defendants, Linn Benton, a prominent circuit court judge and ringleader of the swindle and George Henderson, a veterinarian and local rancher whose spread bordered the Lazy W to the north, cooperated with the district attorney. They had plea bargained for shorter sentences. But, for reasons he wouldn’t name to his frantic daughter, Calvin Wilson accepted his guilt without a trace of regret.
“Face it, Tory,” Trask was saying. “Your father was involved for all the right reasons. He was dying of cancer, the ranch was in trouble financially, and he wouldn’t be able to take care of either you or your brother. He got involved with the horse swindle for the money...for you. He just didn’t expect that Jason would find out about it and come snooping around.” He walked to the other side of the room and stared out the window at the night. “I never wanted to think that your father was involved in the murder, Tory. I’d like to believe that he had no idea that Jason was onto him and the others. But I was there, I confronted the man and he looked through me as if whatever I said was of no significance.” Trask walked across the room and grabbed Tory’s shoulders. His face was twisted in disbelief. “No significance! My brother’s life, for God’s sake, and Calvin stood there like a goddamn wooden Indian!”
Tory tried to step away. “Not murder, Trask. My father wouldn’t have been involved in Jason’s death. He...” Her voice broke. “...couldn’t.”
“You don’t know how much I want to believe you.”
“I don’t think your father instigated it,” he interjected. “As a matter of fact, it’s my guess that Benton planned Jason’s ‘accident’ and had one of his henchmen tamper with the car.”
“And Dad had to pay.”
“Because he wouldn’t defend himself.”
She shook her head. “Against your lies.” His fingers tightened over the soft fabric of her blouse. Tension charged the hot night air and Tory felt droplets of nervous perspiration break out between her shoulders.
“I only said what I thought was the truth.”
The corners of her mouth turned bitterly downward and her eyes grew glacial cold. “The truth that you got from me.”
His shoulders stiffened under his cotton shirt, and his eyes drilled into hers. “I never meant to hurt you, Tory, you know that.”
For a fleeting moment she was tempted to believe him, but all the pain came rushing back to her in a violent storm of emotion. She felt her body shake with restraint. “I trusted you.”
He winced slightly.
“I trusted you and you used me.” The paper crumpled in her hand. “Take this letter and leave before I say things that I’ll regret later.”
“Tory...” He attempted to draw her close, but she pulled back, away from his lying eyes and familiar touch.
“I don’t want to hear it, Trask. And I don’t want to see you again. Now leave me alone—”
A loud knock resounded in the room and the hinges on the front door groaned as Rex Engels let himself into the house.
“Tory?” the foreman called. His steps slowed in the hallway, as if he was hesitant to intrude.
“In here.” Tory was relieved at the intrusion. She stepped away from Trask and walked toward the door. When Rex entered he stopped and stared for a moment at Trask McFadden. His lips thinned as he took off his dusty Stetson and ran his fingers over the silver stubble on his chin. At five foot eight, he was several inches shorter than Trask, but his body was whip-lean from the physical labor he imposed on himself. Rugged and dependable, Rex Engels had been with the Lazy W for as long as Tory could remember.
The foreman was obviously uncomfortable; he shifted from one foot to the other and his eyes darted from Tory to Trask and back again.
“What happened?” Tory asked, knowing immediately that something was wrong and fearing that Keith was in the hospital or worse...
“I got a call from Len Ross about an hour ago,” Rex stated, his mouth hardening into a frown. Tory nodded, encouraging him to continue. Ross was a neighboring rancher. “One of Ross’s boys was mending fence this afternoon and he noticed a dead calf on the Lazy W.”
Tory’s shoulders slumped a little. It was always difficult losing livestock, especially the young ones. But it wasn’t unexpected; it happened more often than she would like to admit and it certainly didn’t warrant Rex driving over to the main house after dark. There had to be something more. Something he didn’t want to discuss in front of Trask. “And?”
Rex rubbed his hand over his neck. He looked meaningfully at Trask. “The calf was shot.”
“What?” Tory stiffened.
“From the looks of it, I’d guess it was done by a twenty-two.”
“Then you saw the calf?” Trask cut in, his entire body tensing as he leaned one shoulder against the arch between den and entryway.
“And you don’t think it was an accident?” Tory guessed.
“It’s not hunting season,” the foreman pointed out, moving his gaze to Trask in silent accusation. “And there were three bullet holes in the carcass.”
Tory swallowed against the sickening feeling overtaking her. First Trask with his anonymous letter and the threat of dredging up the past again and now evidence that someone was deliberately threatening her livestock. “Why?” she wondered aloud.
“Maybe kids...” Rex offered, shifting his gaze uneasily between Tory and Trask. “It’s happened before.”
“Hardly seems like a prank,” Trask interjected. There were too many unfortunate coincidences to suit him. Trask wasn’t a man who believed in coincidence or luck.
Rex shrugged, unwilling to discuss the situation with the man who had sent Calvin Wilson to prison. He didn’t trust Trask McFadden and his brown eyes made it clear.
Once the initial shock had worn off, Tory became furious that someone would deliberately kill the livestock. “I’ll call Paul Barnett’s office when we get back,” she said.
“I want to see the calf.” Her gray-green eyes gleamed in determination; she knew that Rex would try to protect her from the ugly sight.
“There’s not much to see,” Rex protested. “It’s dark.”
“And this is my ranch. If someone has been deliberately molesting the livestock, I want to know what I’m up against. Let’s go.”
Rex knew there was no deterring her once she had set her mind on a plan of action. In more ways than one, Victoria was Calvin’s daughter. He looked inquiringly at Trask and without words asked, what about him?
“Trask was just leaving.”
“Not yet,” Trask argued. “I’ll come with you.”
“Listen to me. I think that this might have something to do with what we were discussing.”
The anonymous letter? Her father’s imprisonment? The horse swindle of five years ago? “I don’t see how—” she protested.
“It won’t hurt for me to take a look.”
He was so damned logical. Seeing no reasonable argument, and not wanting to make a scene in front of Rex, Tory reluctantly agreed. “I don’t like this,” she mumbled, reaching for her jacket that hung on a wooden peg near the door and bracing herself for the unpleasant scene in the fields near the Ross property.
“Neither do I.”
Rex cast her a worried glance, forced his gray Stetson onto his head and started for the door. As Tory grabbed the keys to her pickup she wondered what was happening to her life. Everything seemed to be turning upside down. All because of Trask McFadden.
TRASK SAT ON the passenger side of the pickup, his eyes looking steadily forward, his pensive gaze was following the disappearing taillights of Rex’s truck.
Tory’s eyebrows were drawn together in concentration as she attempted to follow Rex. Her fingers curled around the steering wheel as she tried to maneuver the bouncing pickup down the rutted dirt road that ran the length of the Lazy W toward the mountains.
The tension within the darkened interior of the pickup was thick enough to cut with a knife. Silence stretched tautly between Tory and Trask and she had to bite her tongue to keep from screaming at him that she didn’t want him forcing himself back into her life.
She downshifted and slowed to a stop near the property line separating the Lazy W from Len Ross’s spread.
“Over here,” Rex announced when she shut off the engine, grabbed a flashlight out of the glove box and jumped from the cab of the truck. Trask held apart the strands of barbed wire, which surrounded the pastures, as she wrapped her skirt around her thighs, climbed through the fence and followed the beam of Rex’s flashlight. Trask slid through the fence after her. Though he said nothing, she was conscious of his presence, his long legs taking one stride to every two of her smaller steps.
The first large drops of rain began to fall just as Tory approached the crumpled heap near a solitary pine tree. The beam of Rex’s flashlight was trained on the lifeless white face of the calf. Dull eyes looked unseeingly skyward and a large pink tongue lolled out of the side of the heifer’s mouth.
“Dear God,” Tory whispered, bending over and touching the inert form. Her stomach lurched uncomfortably as she brushed the flies from the curly red coat of the lifeless animal. Living on the ranch as she had for most of her twenty-seven years, Tory was used to death. But she had never been able to accept the unnecessary wanton destruction of life that had taken the small Hereford. It was all so pointless. Her throat tightened as she patted the rough hide and then let her hands fall to her sides.
Yesterday's Lies by Lisa Jackson / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes