Yesterdays lies, p.7
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       Yesterday's Lies, p.7

           Lisa Jackson
 
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“I would have taken your suggestion yesterday and met him with a rifle in my hands.”

  “This isn’t 1840, you know.”

  “Doesn’t matter.”

  “You can’t threaten a United States senator, Keith.”

  “Just you watch,” Keith said, reaching for his Stetson on the peg near the back door. “The next time McFadden trespasses, I’ll be ready for him.” With those final chilling words, he was out the back door of the house and heading for the barn. Tory watched him with worried eyes. Keith’s temper had never had much of a fuse and Trask’s presence seemed to have shortened it considerably.

  It was her fault, she supposed. She should never have let Keith see the books. It didn’t take a genius to see that the Lazy W was in pitiful financial shape, and dredging up the old scandal would only make it worse. But Keith had asked to see the balance sheets, and Tory had let him review everything, inwardly pleased that he had grown up enough to care.

  * * *

  DEPUTY WOODWARD ARRIVED shortly after ten. Tory had been in the den writing checks for the month-end bills when she had heard the sound of a vehicle approaching and had looked out the window to see the youngest of Paul Barnett’s deputies getting out of his car. Slim, with a thin mustache, he had been hired in the past year and was one of the few deputies she had never met. Once, while in town, Keith had pointed the young man out to her.

  When the chimes sounded, Tory put the checkbook into the top drawer of the desk and answered the door.

  “Mornin’,” Woodward said with a smile. “I’m looking for Victoria Wilson.”

  “You found her.”

  “Good. I’m Greg Woodward from the sheriff’s office. From what I understand, you think someone’s been taking potshots at your livestock.”

  Tory nodded. “Someone has. I’ve got a dead calf to prove it.”

  “Just one?”

  “So far,” Tory replied. “I thought maybe some of the other ranchers might have experienced some sort of vandalism like this on their ranches.”

  The young deputy shook his head. “Is that what you think it was? Vandalism?”

  Tory thought about the dead calf and the clipped fence. “No, not really. I guess I was just hoping that the Lazy W hadn’t been singled out.”

  Woodward offered an understanding grin. “Let’s take a look at what happened.”

  Tory sat in the passenger seat of the deputy’s car as he drove down the rutted road she had traveled with Trask less than twelve hours earlier. The grooves in the dirt road were muddy and slick from the rain, but Deputy Woodward’s vehicle made it to the site of the clipped fence without any problem.

  Rex was already working on restringing the barbed wire. He looked up when he saw Tory, frowned slightly and then straightened, adjusting the brim of his felt Stetson.

  As Deputy Woodward studied the cut wire and corpse of the calf, he asked Tory to tell him what had happened. She, with Rex’s help, explained about Len Ross’s call and how she and Rex had subsequently discovered the damage to the fence and the calf’s dead body.

  “But no other livestock were affected?” Woodward asked, writing furiously on his report.

  “No,” Rex replied, “at least none that we know about.”

  “You’ve checked already?”

  “I’ve got several men out looking right now,” Rex said.

  “What about other fences, the buildings, or the equipment for the farm?”

  “We have a combine that broke down last week, but it was just a matter of age,” Tory said.

  Woodward seemed satisfied. He took one last look at the calf and scowled. “I’ll file this report and check with some of the neighboring ranchers to see if anything like this has happened to anyone else.” He looked meaningfully at Tory. “And you’ll call, if you find anything else?”

  “Of course,” Tory said.

  “Does anyone else know what happened here?” the young man asked, as he finished his report.

  “Only two people other than the ranch hands,” Tory replied. “Len Ross and Trask McFadden.”

  The young man’s head jerked up. “Senator McFadden?”

  Tory nodded and offered a confident smile she didn’t feel. Greg Woodward was a local man. Though he had probably still been in high school at the time, he would have heard of Jason McFadden’s murder and the conspiracy of horse swindlers who had been convicted. “Trask was visiting last night when Rex got the news from Len and came up to the house to tell me what had happened.”

  “Did he make any comments—being as he was here and all—or did he think it was vandalism?”

  Tory’s mind strayed to her conversation with Trask and his insistence that the animal’s death was somehow related to the anonymous letter he had received. “I don’t know,” she hedged. “I suppose you’ll have to ask him—”

  “No reason to bother the senator,” Rex interjected, his eyes traveling to Tory with an unspoken message. “He doesn’t know any more than either of us.”

  Deputy Woodward caught the meaningful glance between rancher and foreman but didn’t comment. He had enough sense to know that something wasn’t right at the Lazy W and that Senator McFadden was more than a casual friend. On the drive back with Tory, Woodward silently speculated on the past scandal and what this recently divulged information could mean.

  When the deputy deposited Tory back at the house, she felt uneasy. Something in the young man’s attitude had changed when she had mentioned that Trask had been on the ranch. It’s starting all over again, she thought to herself. Trask has only been in town two days and the trouble’s starting all over again. As if she and everyone connected with the Lazy W hadn’t suffered enough from the scandal of five years past.

  * * *

  TORY PARKED THE pickup on the street in front of the feed store in Sinclair. So far the entire day had been a waste. Deputy Woodward hadn’t been able to ease her mind about the dead calf; in fact, if anything, the young man’s reaction to the news that Trask knew of the incident only added to Tory’s unease.

  After Deputy Woodward had gone, Tory had attempted to do something, anything to keep her mind off Trask. But try as she might, she hadn’t been able to concentrate on anything other than Trask and his ridiculous idea—no, make that conviction—that another person was involved in the Quarter Horse swindle as well as his brother’s death.

  He’s jumping at shadows, she told herself as she stepped out of the pickup and into the dusty street, but she couldn’t shake the image of Trask, his shoulders erect in controlled, but deadly determination as he had stood in her father’s den the night before. She had witnessed the outrage in his blue eyes. “He won’t let up on this until he has an answer,” she told herself with a frown.

  She pushed her way into the feed store and made short work of ordering supplies for the Lazy W. The clerk, Alma Ray, had lived in Sinclair all her life and had worked at Rasmussen Feed for as long as Tory could remember. She was a woman in her middle to late fifties and wore her soft red hair piled on her head. She had always offered Tory a pleasant smile and thoughtful advice in the past, but this afternoon Alma’s brown eyes were cold, her smile forced.

  “Don’t get paranoid,” Tory cautioned herself in a whisper as she stepped out of the feed store and onto the sidewalk. “It’s not as if this town is against you, for God’s sake. Alma’s just having a bad day—”

  “Tory.”

  At the sound of her name, Tory turned to face Neva McFadden, Jason’s widow. Neva was hurrying up the sidewalk in Tory’s direction and Tory’s heart sank. She saw the strain in Neva’s even features, the worry in her doe-brown eyes. Images of the courtroom and Neva’s proud face twisted in agony filled Tory’s mind.

  “Do you have a minute?” Neva asked, clutching a bag of groceries to her chest.

  It was the first time Neva McFadden had spoken to Tory since the trial.

  “Sure,” Tory replied. She forced a smile, though the first traces of dread began to crawl up her spine. It couldn’t be a
coincidence that Neva wanted to talk to her the day after Trask had returned to the Lazy W. “Why don’t we sit down?” She nodded in the direction of the local café, which was just across the street from the feed store.

  “Great,” Neva said with a faltering smile.

  Once they were seated in a booth and had been served identical glasses of iced tea, Tory decided to take the offensive. “So, what’s up?”

  Neva stopped twirling the lemon in her glass. “I wanted to talk to you about Trask.”

  “I thought so. What about him?”

  “I know that he went to see you last night and I have a good idea of what it was about,” Neva stated. She hesitated slightly and frowned into her glass as if struggling with a weighty decision. “I don’t see any reason to beat around the bush, Tory. I know about the letter Trask received. He showed me a copy of it.”

  “He showed it to me, too,” Tory admitted, hiding her surprise. She had assumed that Trask hadn’t spoken to anyone but her. It wouldn’t take long for the gossip to start all over again.

  “And what do you think about it?” Neva asked.

  Tory lifted her shoulders. “I honestly don’t know.”

  Neva let out a sigh and ignored her untouched drink. “Well, I do. It was a prank,” Neva said firmly. “Just someone who wants to stir up the trouble all over again.”

  “Why would anyone want to do that?”

  “I wish I knew,” Neva admitted, shaking her head. The rays of the afternoon sun streamed through the window and reflected in the golden strands of her hair. Except for the lines of worry surrounding her eyes, Neva McFadden was an extremely attractive woman. “I wish to God I knew what was going on.”

  “So do I.”

  Neva’s fingers touched Tory’s forearm. She bit at her lower lip, as if the next words were awkward. “I know that you cared for Trask, Tory, and I know that you think he...”

  “Used me?”

  “Yes.”

  “It was more than that, Neva,” Tory said, suddenly wanting this woman who had borne so much pain to understand. “Trask betrayed me and my family.”

  Neva stiffened and she withdrew her hand. “By taking care of his own.”

  “He lied, Neva.”

  Neva shook her head. “That’s not the way it was. He just wanted justice for Jason’s death.”

  “Justice or revenge?” Tory asked and could have kicked herself when she saw the anger flare in Neva’s eyes.

  “Does it matter?”

  Tory shrugged and frowned. “I suppose not. It was a horrible thing that happened to Jason and you. And...and I’m sorry for...everything...I know it’s been hard for you; harder than it’s been for me.” Her mouth suddenly dry, Tory took a long drink of the cold tea and still felt parched.

  “It’s over,” Neva said. “Or it was until Trask came back with some wild ideas about another person being involved in Jason’s death.”

  “So you think the letter was a prank.”

  “Of course it was.”

  “How can you be sure?”

  Neva avoided Tory’s direct gaze. “It’s been five years, Tory. Five years without a husband or father to my son.”

  All the feelings of remorse Tory had felt during the trial overcame her as she watched the young woman battle against tears. “Neva, I’m sorry if my family had any part in the pain you and Nicholas have felt.”

  “Your father was involved with Linn Benton and George Henderson. I know you never believed that he was guilty, Tory, but the man didn’t even stand up for himself at the trial.”

  Tory felt as if a knife, five years old and dull, had been thrust into her heart. “I don’t see any reason to talk about this, Neva. I’ve already apologized.” Tory pushed herself up from the table. “I think I should go.”

  “Don’t! Sit down, Tory,” Neva pleaded. “Look, I didn’t mean to start trouble. God knows that’s the last thing I want. The reason I wanted to talk to you is because of Trask.”

  Tory felt her heart begin to pound. She took a seat on the edge of the booth, her back stiff. “So you said.”

  “Don’t get involved with him again, Tory. Don’t start believing that there was more to what happened than came out in the trial.”

  “I know there was more,” Tory stated, feeling a need to defend her father.

  “I don’t think so. And even if there was, what would be the point of dredging it all up again? It won’t bring Jason back to life, or your father. All it will do is bring the whole sordid scandal back into the public eye.”

  Tory leaned back and studied the blond woman. There was more to what Neva was suggesting than the woman had admitted. Tory could feel it. “But what if the letter Trask received contains part of the truth? Don’t you want to find out?”

  “No.” Neva shook her head vehemently.

  “I don’t understand—”

  “That’s because you don’t have a child, Tory. You don’t have a six-year-old son who needs all the protection I can give him. It’s bad enough that he doesn’t have a father, but does he have to be reminded, taunted, teased about the fact that his dad was murdered by men in this town that he trusted?”

  “Oh, Neva—”

  “Think about it. Think long and hard about who is going to win if Trask continues his wild-goose chase; no one. Not you, Tory. Not me. And especially not Nicholas. He’s the loser!”

  Tory chose her words carefully. “Don’t you think your son deserves the truth?”

  “Not if it costs him his peace of mind.” Neva lifted her chin and her brown eyes grew cold. “I know that you don’t want another scandal any more than I do. And as for Trask, well—” she lifted her palms upward and then dropped her hands “—I hope that, for both your sakes, you don’t get involved with him again. Not just because of the letter. I don’t think he could handle another love affair with you, Tory. The last time almost killed him.” With her final remarks, Neva reached for her purse and sack of groceries and left the small café.

  “So much for mending fences,” Tory muttered as she paid the small tab and walked out of the restaurant. After crossing the street, she climbed into her pickup and headed back to the Lazy W. Though she had never been close to Neva, not even before Jason’s death, Tory had hoped that someday the old wounds would heal and the scars become less visible. Now, with the threat of Trask opening up another investigation into his brother’s death, that seemed impossible.

  As Tory drove down the straight highway toward the ranch, her thoughts turned to the past. Maybe Neva was right. Maybe listening to Trask would only prove disastrous.

  Five years before, after her father’s conviction, Tory had been forced to give up her dream of graduate school to stay at the Lazy W and hold the ranch together. Not only had the ranch suffered financially, but her brother, Keith, who was only sixteen at the time, needed her support and supervision. Her goal of becoming a veterinarian as well as her hopes of becoming Trask McFadden’s wife had been shattered as easily as crystal against stone.

  When Calvin had been sent to prison, Tory had stayed at the ranch and tried to raise a strong-willed younger brother as well as bring the Lazy W out of the pool of red ink. In the following five years Keith had grown up and become responsible, but the ranch was still losing money, though a little less each year.

  Keith, at twenty-one, could, perhaps, run the ranch on his own. But it was too late for Tory. She could no more go back to school and become a veterinarian than she could become Trask McFadden’s wife.

  CHAPTER FIVE

  THE BUILDINGS OF the Lazy W, made mostly of rough-hewn cedar and fir, stood proudly on the flat land comprising the ranch and were visible from the main highway. Tory wheeled the pickup onto the gravel lane that was lined with stately pines and aspen and led up to the house.

  Purebred horses grazed in the fields surrounding the stables, whole spindly legged foals romped in the afternoon sunlight.

  Tory’s heart swelled with pride for the Lazy W. Three hundred acres of high
plateau held together by barbed wire and red metal posts had been Tory’s home for all of her twenty-seven years and suddenly it seemed that everyone wanted to take it away from her. Trask, with his damned investigation of the horse swindle of five years ago, was about to ruin her credibility as a Quarter Horse breeder by reminding the public of the shady dealings associated with the Lazy W.

  Tall grass in the meadow ruffled in the summer breeze that blew across the mountains. White clouds clung to the jagged peaks of the Cascades, shadowing the grassland. This was the land she loved and Tory would fight tooth and nail to save it—even if it meant fighting Trask every step of the way. He couldn’t just come marching back into her life and destroy everything she had worked for in the past five years!

  Tory squinted against the late-afternoon sun as she drove the pickup into the parking lot near the barn and killed the engine. The warm westerly wind had removed any trace of the rainstorm that had occurred the night before and waves of summer heat shimmered in the distance, distorting the view of the craggy snow-covered mountains.

  She pushed her keys into the pocket of her jeans and walked to the paddock where Governor was still separated from the rest of the horses. Eldon, one of the ranch hands, was dutifully walking the bay stallion.

  “How’s our patient?” Tory asked as she patted Governor on the withers and lifted his hoof. Governor snorted and flattened his ears against his head. “Steady, boy,” Tory murmured softly.

  “Still sore, I’d guess,” the fortyish man said with a frown. His weathered face was knotted in concern.

  “I’d say so,” Tory agreed. “Has he been favoring it?”

  “Some.”

  “What about his temperature?” Tory asked as she looked at the sensitive tissue within the hoof.

  “Up a little.”

  She looked up and watched Governor’s ribs, to determine if his breathing was accelerated, but it wasn’t.

  “I’ll call the vet. Maybe Anna should have a look at it.”

  “Wouldn’t hurt.”

  She released Governor’s hoof and dusted her hands on her jeans. “I’ll see if she can come by tomorrow; until then we’ll just keep doing what we have been for the past two days.”

 
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