This is the second of the Saint Clair series, after Soldier Girl, so you should probably read that one first. I had no idea this one would turn out like it did, so in the interest of fair warning, I will mention that this turned into a sort of rural Crime Noir tale. I typically don’t write graphic sex into this story line and that remains true here. I originally uploaded Soldier Girl for Romance, but it ended up placed in Lesbian, to keep the series together as much as possible, that is where I am placing this one. Special thanks to Sbrooks and Crkcppr for extensive editing and beta reading it for me. Any remaining errors are entirely mine -- probably added after their assistance. And thanks to everyone for the encouragement and support.
WITCH The silently screaming man stared up at her glassy eyed, unblinking. She stared down at him, idly wondering if he’d really believed that she would stop, or if he believed that someone would magically arrive to stop her.
People could be so naïve.
She held her full hands up to the cloudy sky and felt his hot blood running down her arms, cooling to only warm, turning tacky and slow as it ran down her shoulders, her collar bone and between her breasts.
She shivered in that warmth, in the anticipation. This, this feeling of power, was the best part of the ritual. She lowered her hands ever so slowly. Breathing evenly, breathing almost glacially.
Stretch this feeling out as long as possible. Her eyes flicked down to the jagged dark hole in his breast as she gently laid the oddly fragile knife on his chest then brought his still-warm heart to her mouth with both hands...
“I want to take TJ with me to pick up Elvis.”
Sheriff Shannon looked over at the big blonde deputy. Who tried desperately not to make eye contact while trying to hide the fact that he was shaking with suppressed laughter.
TJ watched the exchange from her desk. Already knowing where this was going.
“Swede, why do ya have to do that to Elvis?”
“Cause the little weasel is gonna run. I hate chasing his skinny ass. She blocks the back door, he can’t run.” He tried to suppress a snicker. “And it’s funny. She scares the living shit outta him.”
The snicker broke through. Shannon covered his eyes as he tried not to laugh. And failed.
TJ started to tighten her gear down. She knew Elvis, a skinny, doped out, paranoid small-time thief who brought a new meaning to the word “petty.”
Who the fuck steals post it notes?
The damn things cost fifty-nine cents a pack. Hell, judging by her time in the Army, post-it notes spawned spontaneously at times. Something, she noted suspiciously, that seemed to happen in the Sheriff’s department too.
The first time she’d met Elvis, he’d been running from Ray, the oldest deputy on the force. She’d responded to a call for assistance. Elvis had – as usual – ducked out the back door of his ratty dump of a trailer and bolted into the woods. He’d figured if he could dodge them long enough, they’d lose interest.
No matter how dedicated you are, there’s a time limit on how long you’ll chase someone in the tick-and-chigger infested woods of the Ozarks over a pack of post-it notes.
But TJ had spent her early years running in those same woods, playing, then hunting and fishing with her dad. And besides, there are a lot of different colors in the autumn woods, but chartreuse, the color of his t-shirt wasn’t normally one of them. So Elvis wasn’t hiding as well as he thought. Hell, he was visible from the trailer.
His ratcheting meth-hyped nerves had him jumping at every squirrel induced leaf rustle. So when TJ walked up the rocky, leaf-free dry creek bed behind him, he was too distracted to notice her until she addressed him.
“That’s enough, let’s just head back up now.”
And that should have been enough. Except that Elvis had shared a cell with Tammi’s ex-boyfriend Andy before he pled to assault and battery and possession with intent and headed up state.
Andy had looked like he had been hit by a car, and in classic jailhouse bullshit style, he’d described TJ as a man-hating psychopath whose sole purpose in life was to extinguish the life of every real man on earth.
Real men, like him and Elvis.
And that was before some kind of horrible Army laboratory experiment that had gone wrong, producing a crazed, unstoppable, half-human, half-machine hybrid. He claimed he’d just barely survived her maniacal onslaught before she was finally pinned down by the entire force of deputies. After she was tasered over and over. Tasered so often, Andy whispered, that he could smell her burning flesh. The sheriff was obviously being forced by the Army to cover for her so she could continue her evil mission.
And Elvis had bought the whole story.
So when he was confronted by the black-clad, eye-patch-wearing deputy, he did what Elvis usually did best. He sprinted, picking up amazing speed in just a couple steps. Making it all of five feet before slamming into the unyielding trunk of 150 year old white oak and knocking himself out cold.
TJ checked his vitals, and dragged him from the woods to where Ray was standing.
“Found something of yours.”
Ray stared down at Elvis.
“What’s that smell?”
TJ sniffed. A foul stench was starting to build, and the stains on Elvis’ pants were obviously expanding.
Ray looked at her. “The Beast has the full vinyl seat covers and floor lining.”
TJ stared at him. “Seriously? You’re gonna do this to me?”
“Hey, the seats in my cruiser are vinyl, but the floorboard is cloth. That smell will never come out.”
It was a very long 25 minutes back to the station. With the front windows of the crew cab F250 all the way down.
And as they were putting Elvis into the holding cell, he threw up all over TJ and Ray. TJ wasn’t sure what he’d eaten; she actually decided she really never wanted to know. Whatever it was, it was bad enough that a laughing Tammi wouldn’t let her into the cabin until she’d stripped down on the porch and rinsed off.
She almost burned the uniform and, after months, there were times when she was still sure she could detect a whiff.
The whole incident convinced Elvis that Andy had spoken God’s Truth about TJ. Before “They” shipped the poor benighted Andy off to torture him for revealing Secret Government Plans, of course.
Still. It was really funny and even before a chuckling Shannon waved her over to help Swede, TJ was on her feet, shaking her head with a rueful smile.
“I can’t believe you’re dragging me into this.”
Swede grinned “Well, TJ. You know what they say.”
His smile broadened even further.
¬TJ stood easily at the bottom of the aluminum trailer stairs. If Elvis came out the back, he’d have to either go over the handrail or on down the stairs. Either way, he’d pass within arm’s reach of her.
The remains of a wind chime hung off the torn, faded green awning making soft but discordant chimes, while she listened to Swede trying to talk Elvis into coming along peacefully.
“Elvis, just come along, we have your usual cell set up. Just like home. And it’s Salisbury steak night, you love that, so if we get you processed early, it’ll be great. All the guys miss you anyway.”
“Swede, they got you buffaloed. There’s things that look human but ain’t. They in-fil-trated a monster and one of them cyber-kinetic orgasms on you guys.”
“TJ isn’t a robot, Elvis. She’s just a soldier who got injured.”
“Yeah, a cyborg feministic soldier to further that Lebanese agenda. Like Andy said.”
Despite herself, TJ couldn’t stop an amused smile. Lord knew, she should have been offended, but damn it was funny.
Elvis was almost too stupid to live. How the hell did he even remember to breathe in AND out?
“Come on Elvis, you really don’t want to do that. You know I hate to run.”
“I’m ... I’m...”
“RABBIT! RABBIT!” Swede shouted the informal warning.
The back door slammed open and Elvis flashed out. He had one leg over the railing before he saw her.
TJ almost got whiplash just watching his amazing sixty to zero stop. He stood wide-eyed as the wind chime drummed against his head.
She slowly shook her head at him, stifling her smile. “Elvis. I’m disappointed in you. Telling all my secrets like that.”
Elvis slowly pulled his leg back over the railing and turned slowly, woodenly, around to face Swede.
“I like Salisbury steak.”
TJ stayed clear as Swede walked the handcuffed little man to his cruiser, one huge gentle hand on his shoulder, guiding him.
Elvis tried to keep a least one wary – near panicky - eye on TJ as they went.
Swede put him in the back of his cruiser and looked over at her. “You want a lift back to the Beast?”
She’d parked down the road a ways so as not to panic Elvis.
“Really think that’d be a good idea? You’d have to sanitize your cruiser.”
“I suppose not. But I had to ask.”
“No problem – I’ll walk back to the Beast. Shannon asked me to loop back along Route W and check the bridge over Big Bramble. Somebody was supposedly screwing around down there. Water is really low for some reason, so he didn’t think anyone would be fishing.”
Swede looked up to the east where W crossed the creek-riddled lowland.
“Seems like we’re hearing more of those recently.”
“That’s what he said. Maybe a meth lab.”
“We’ll probably have to get out on foot and sweep that area one of these days. That’ll be a pain in the butt. If you see anything, be careful, you know how those meth labs are.”
TJ smiled wryly. “Yeah. They blow up. Got my merit badge for that already. I’ll be careful.”
She couldn’t imagine joking about that BT – Before Tammi.
“Imagine how Elvis would be if you were walking around with two “robot-legs” and two eye patches? Give the poor guy a nervous breakdown.”
TJ snorted. “Ass.”
Swede pulled out, heading toward the station, leaving TJ crunching along the gravel toward the Beast.
At least this time she wouldn’t be hosing out the back of the truck and buying a new nose-numbing air freshener every day. For a week.
“Get your loser ass out here you fucking coward!”
Jenny staggered sideways a step and took another swig. She paused to shake the bottle at the dark windows of the house.
“You gon’ be sorry you done took up with that Skank! You think that be finer than this?”
She spread her arms out to display her bare body. Her dress was lying in a heap next to Tony’s damn near unrecognizable truck. She’d spent some time on that.
It was a work of destructive art.
Fucker. Taking up with a girl just out of school, practically a damn kid.
“You gon’ be sorry!”
She slipped back a step, wincing at her own voice. She didn’t talk like that no more ... any more. Unless she was drunk, and she couldn’t be drunk. She’d only had ... she squinted at the almost-empty bottle.
She shook her head, trying to focus. No boyfriend ... no rum. And still no reaction from the house.
No point really.
She flipped a middle finger at the house and lurched sideways. She was pretty sure this road led back to the apartment.
Just as TJ hit the fork to route B, Dispatch came on the radio.
“253 253 this is Dispatch”
“This is 253 go Dispatch”
“D&D on W North of 15”
“Roger D&D on W North of 15”
As TJ turned the Beast, Dispatch – Melanie - continued.
“TJ this is a Jenny call. And Swede won’t stop laughing.”
“Slap him for me.”
Twelve minutes later TJ found a naked woman walking jaggedly down the shoulder of the road. Trying hard to stay on the three foot gravel shoulder between the blacktop and the grass. And not succeeding particularly well.
A slender black woman with short hair. Sure fit the description she’d been given. Add in one empty bottle of rum and no clothes and it was pretty much a lock that she’d found her quarry.
She pulled off about 30 feet in front of her and slid out, walking back to intercept the woman.
“You must be Jenny.”
“M ... must I? ‘Cause I ... I’d rather be someone else right now.” She gave a crooked smile.
The stench of rum made TJ’s eyes water. “I think you’ll really wish you were someone else in the morning.”
“Who would I wanna be?”
“Anybody without a hangover, probably.”
Jenny’s eyes narrowed. “You the cop that took up with Tammi? I heard ‘bout that.”
TJ nodded slowly.
Jenny rambled on. “If I liked girls that way, I’d do that. Not with Tammi, ‘cause she with someone, but someone. ‘Cause guys are all assholes.”
She waivered back and forth for a second, closing her eyes briefly, before continuing.
“Is that why you do it? Get with Tammi, I mean.”
TJ shook her head. “Nope, always been this way. Just being me.”
Jenny blinked. “Huh.”
She started to lean forward, then further, until it was obvious she was falling in slow motion.
TJ caught her by her arms and walked her over to the Beast, gently taking the bottle from her hands.
“Let’s get you in the truck, Jenny.”
Jenny looked doubtfully at the seat. “Tha’s pretty high Deputy.” She paused. “Deputy, deputy, deputy ... that’s a neat word ‘deputy.’ Hey, what is your name anyway?”
“Deputy James, and if we become friends, you can call me TJ.”
For a minute, Jenny seemed at a loss for words, and TJ was able to get her up in the truck and wrapped in a blanket.
Getting her buckled in was like skinning a live eel, but TJ finally managed it. By the time she climbed in the driver’s seat, Jenny was out cold, so she swung past the bridge.
She glanced back at her loudly snoring passenger. Probably better to check it out in daylight, but what the hell, she was here anyway.
Nothing on the surface of the bridge so she heaved a sigh and began her long clamber down the embankment to the nearly dry riverbed, the bright moon giving her more than enough light.
Damn, it was really low – the Bramble was usually at least four feet here, and just a few weeks ago, the bridge had been completely submerged by the floods. Now it was just a bare trickle, only a couple inches at best.
Just as she stepped out onto the stream bed with that odd crunching sound that only river rock makes, she heard something overhead.
TJ strained to look up, barely making out Jenny’s head profiled against the moon. “Jenny, get back in the truck, I’ll be right back up.”
How the hell did she get the door open anyway? The back doors didn’t open from the inside.
“We gonna be here all night, Deputy ... We’re friends right? So I can call you ... TJ?”
TJ shook her head ruefully. “Sure, call me TJ. I’ll just be a minute.”
“Nope. Gon’ be here all night.”
TJ sighed. “Why is that Jenny?”
“Look ... look to your left in the water, Deputy.”
A clump of grass stuck up ... a crest of rocks ... some trash.
TJ flicked her maglight on, the beam of brilliant light tore away shadows and darkness. Turning the trash into something else. Something all black and pale, with staring sockets, slack, torn lips.
Something ... Someone. Dark and dead.
Unbearably bright work lights washed the landscape completely white; TJ tried to keep herself turned so she wasn’t constantly blinded. The coroner and his assistant watched over the county’s lone crime scene tech as he marked evidence, snapped pictures and, finally began placing things in bags.
TJ was glad the fumes of rum from Jenny had killed her sense of smell.
Swede strained to see the body without stepping too close. No point in provoking the irritable coroner, his pale assistant or the obviously sleep deprived tech.
“Yep. I think it’s him.”
Shannon nodded. “That looks like his old army jacket.”
“And those stupid boots that always hurt his feet.”
Shannon turned to TJ.
“Cody Macintyre. Disappeared a few months before you moved here. Low level perp, about a rung up the ladder from Elvis. Hell, they hung out together. Shake and bake meth, railroad weed, that sort of stuff. His Mom reported him missing, but we never really turned up anything. We found out he’d been talking about heading out to try his luck in the city, and that seemed to be it. Since he was 20 we didn’t pursue it anymore.”
Swede rubbed the bridge of his nose. “We’re gonna pure catch hell from his mom.”
Shannon nodded slowly. “Let me take care of that. Goes with the job. Besides you have your 72 hours off coming up starting in the morning.” He looked up. “TJ, you’d better go ahead and take Jenny back to the tank and let her dry out.”
As if on cue, Jenny’s voice drifted down from the back seat of the Beast, where TJ had finally convinced her to rest. “Deputy TJ? I feel kind of...”
A violent, wet, retching sound exploded from above.
By the time TJ reached the station, she’d nearly added to the stench in the Beast. Even with the training jumps she’d made from vomit-spattered aircraft while she was with the 82nd Airborne, she wasn’t fully capable of blocking out the stench of half-digested rum.
And how the hell did she manage to coat the ceiling?
Ray barely looked up as she walked Jenny wretchedly through the station. The blanket TJ’d wrapped Jenny in was outside; it was literally dripping. How could Jenny even have that much liquid in her?
“You’ll have to clean her up and process her; Kathy had to go get the mail and Melanie says she is indisposed.”
Melanie had shut the door to the radio dispatch room and TJ could see at least three scented candles already lit in the office to ward off the smell.
She continued to herd Jenny back toward the cells.
“Tell Melanie, the next time she locks herself out of her car, I’ll be ‘indisposed.’ And jailers normally don’t do mail runs at this hour.”
Ray grunted. “I already did the paperwork for you. It’s practically a form letter for her, just fill in the date, times, and arresting officer name. Any reason to actually charge her?”
“Nope, she wasn’t driving. I can tell she trashed the guy’s truck, but Shannon said the guy probably won’t press charges.”
“Yeah, she always pays for the damage when she sobers up. Everybody knows that. Hell, the body shop gives her a huge discount. Repeat business.”
TJ knew Indecent Exposure charges in Missouri were actually Sexual Misconduct – which required “knowingly” intending to alarm someone. Nobody was going to press charges on Jenny for that.
Besides, Tammi would give TJ hell if Jenny was in jail too long. And she’d be about 50th in line to do it – Jenny was the only good hairdresser in the county. TJ’d already been dialed in on Jenny’s critical role in maintaining the appearance of damn near every woman within a day’s drive.
Thank God, Jenny was coordinated enough - and experienced enough at being drunk – to shower herself, brush her teeth, and crawl into her orange jumpsuit. Somebody had even lettered it “Jenny” in ornate letters.
Once she was safely ensconced in the holding cell, TJ headed back to her desk to finish up the paperwork Ray had started.
Genevieve LeFleur? New Orleans? That explained the accent at least.
She looked further down the form.
AKA Jenny Leffler.
He finished sorting some paperwork and looked at her over the glasses perched well down his nose.
“How do we identify her? She wasn’t carrying any ID.”
He smiled. “Personally identified by Deputy. Hell, she’s the only black girl in the county.”
Which wasn’t exactly true, but she was sure as hell the only black girl prone to walking around naked with a bottle of rum.
“No, I mean for warrant checks.”
“Genevieve LeFleur. But don’t tell anyone – she asked if we can keep it to ourselves. Some kind of family thing. I ran them anyway. Nothing there.” He sorted a page out and flipped it over to her desk. “Thought I put that over there.”
She looked the paperwork over and, as usual with Ray’s paperwork, it was flawless.
“TJ, Shannon have any ideas about that body?”
“Said he thought it might be a Cody Macintyre.”
“His mamma’s gonna lose it. Still, we looked. Body couldn’t have been there too long, must have washed down with that flooding – the next bend down Big Bramble is prime catfish territory, somebody would have seen it a long time ago.”
TJ made a mental note not to have any local-caught catfish at the diner for a while.
“Shannon and Swede are staying on scene til daylight.”
Ray set his glasses on the desk. “I’d better head out and relieve Swede, he’s been running for days. And you need to get some sleep too. After you wash out the Beast.”
TJ couldn’t agree more - two deputies had gone off for training, then three more had promptly caught the flu, leaving the remainder working double shifts for two weeks. Already exhausted from dealing with the floods a month ago, she’d been operating in a daze for a while. Four of the five were due back on shift in the morning, and TJ could hear the clarion call of real rest already.
She grimaced as she stood up to head out to the wash rack where she’d parked the truck. Then paused. “I need to get the Beast checked, Jenny got out of the back somehow.”
“Don’t worry about it. If you stop anywhere, she’ll get out. Last time I picked her up, she was passed out so I came in to get another blanket. She walked right in, threw up all over my desk. And she’d thrown up in the cruiser too. She’s done it to everyone. No idea how.”
Out of the corner of her eye, TJ saw Kathy sneaking in through the side door, trying desperately not to laugh out loud.
Heavy snoring sounds were echoing from the holding cell as TJ walked out to the vehicle bay.
By the time she reached the cabin, TJ was fighting to stay awake. Tammi met her at the door.
“Give me your belt and go get cleaned up in the shower. Melanie called, said you had to pick up Jenny today.”
“She didn’t get any on me.”
Tammi sniffed cautiously.
“Need to clean up after a double shift anyways.”
TJ was too exhausted to even put up a weak resistance; she just handed her the heavy gun belt and watched Tammi hook it over her shoulder, dragging her robe partly open. In normal circumstances, TJ would have happily taken the sudden appearance of bare skin as a promise, but tonight, she could barely get to the shower on her own. The stump of her leg was aching as she pulled the artificial leg off. Wearing her “peg” for more than 18 hours was usually a bad idea, and she’d gone way over that.
Tammi stepped into the bathroom shortly after she turned the water on.
“Brought you some pajamas.”
Tammi chuckled. “This time, I’m not making any promises for later.”
A few weeks before, she’d told TJ she’d left her pajamas on the sink and TJ’d found nothing but a tub of coconut oil. It had worked out rather well, since Tammi was wearing the same thing.
Tonight, though, TJ just didn’t have the energy to do Tammi justice.
When she got out, she found her plain grey pajamas and the crutch she used to move around without her “peg.”
Tammi welcomed her to bed with a soft kiss and a hug.
“You okay? Melanie told me what you found.”
“She’s not supposed to do that.”
“Yeah, well, she doesn’t want me to hunt her down and kick her ass for not warning me. And she didn’t tell me who it was.”
“We’re not sure of that anyway. Not yet.”
As they talked for a few more minutes, TJ could feel Tammi’s fingers trace along her neck and jaw line in a slow and hypnotic pattern.
The soft fog of sleep seemed to pour from Tammi’s fingers, wrapping itself around her as she drifted off to dreamless sleep, the kind of sleep she could have with Tammi near.
It was noon before she woke. Tammi had left sometime earlier – she’d been doing volunteer work at the State Park so she could qualify for a Natural Resources position, like the one she’d just applied for. She’d already taken the course for the Peace Officer commission required by the state for Naturalists and Park Rangers. TJ had worked with Tammi on handguns, but she asked Don, one of the other deputies, to help her learn how to handle a shotgun; he shot competitively and was damn good at it. Tammi seemed a little leery at first, but gained a lot of confidence quickly.
TJ hoped Tammi got the position. There wasn’t likely to be a lot of competition; after all the pay wasn’t much better than the diner, probably not even that good if you included tips. She actually enjoyed working at the diner, but she wanted to work at the ecology she’d studied in college.
Tammi seemed to glow when she thought about actually working in the State Park.
She crutched her way to kitchen and fumbled the coffee pot on. She sat on one of the bar stools at the counter while the coffee pot sputtered through its paces. A note from Tammi said she’d promised they’d meet Swede and Angie at the VFW for a couple beers and some burgers later. This was third time in a couple months Tammi had dragged her out.
Her first inclination was to grumble, but she knew Tammi was usually right about things like this. She’d been entirely too solitary for a long time, and Tammi was ever so gently integrating her back into civilization.
And that was pretty brave of Tammi. She’d been pretty cowed when she’d been under Andy’s thumb, though she seemed to be exploding out of her shell now.
She also got the feeling Tammi wanted everyone to know they were a couple and TJ wasn’t even sure how she felt, or should feel, about that. Tammi had been straight up front with everyone about it – even a little aggressive about it.
It was a relief in some ways – nobody seemed particularly upset, and TJ had more than her share of short ‘surreptitious’ relationships over the years. They never lasted very long, and this... “thing” with Tammi felt more permanent. TJ was a little more of a private person, though, so she felt a little exposed, a little more vulnerable than she was comfortable with.
Still, she probably needed to get out; besides, Swede was great and Angie was pretty good company anyway. TJ had met her a while ago at a Sheriff Department Barbeque that Shannon had held. Angie had a wry sense of humor and hilarious stories of life among the clueless artists and would-be actors in California. And her tales of working with the Doc at the veterinary clinic were howlingly funny.
Of course any time a story started with “I had my arm in that cow near all the way to the shoulder...” it was hard put not to be damned entertaining.
Whatever she had with Swede didn’t look too serious but they both looked they were having some laughs.
Angie was also a bit of a practical joker – at the barbeque she’d convinced a half dozen of the younger kids that the reason TJ had an eye patch and mechanical leg was that she was actually a visiting space pirate. TJ, Tammi and her had ended up spending most of the picnic horsing around with the screaming mass of eager volunteers to join her space pirate crew. TJ made up a story about how she lost her leg to an alien space-shark and frankly she’d had a blast. Angie had even snatched a bunch of cupcakes for them to share with the kids as ‘‘space pirate treasure.” The only thing that cut Angie’s creative mayhem short was a sudden migraine that forced her to regretfully go lay down in a guest bedroom.
TJ set up her stationary handbike. First time in weeks. She could, and did, go running, even with one leg amputated as high up as hers was, but she only did it when Tammi was home, in case something went wrong and she ended up needing picked up. It’d happened a couple times. The running blade was great, but it was really designed for a nice clean track, not the red rock roads or the trails near the cabin. Sometimes Tammi even went with her. On a trail bike, of course; Tammi really wasn’t designed for running.
Just about the time she finished, she heard Tammi pull up in front of the cabin. She walked in and dropped her purse on the counter, and strode directly over to TJ to kiss her.
“I see you’re finally back in the land of the living.”
“Almost. I think another cup of coffee should do it. Anything interesting out there?”
“Had a massive beaver dam pop up along the Big Bramble in the last week, a couple uprooted trees wedged in the gulch-pass through and partly blocked it and a couple lodges of beaver moved in. State has to decide what to do about it, got the whole upper end of the Bramble blocked. Hard to believe how fast that backed everything up, must be 40 acres flooded back there.”
“I guess that’s why the Bramble’s so damn low at W. They’re not going to do anything about it today are they?”
“It’ll be a few weeks. They’ll have to put in a leveler to let the water flow through – if they trap them or kill them, more will just move in. The leveler is basically a big pipe that lets water drain. The beaver moved in because of the flooding a few weeks ago. That flooding displaced a lot of beaver; better they stay back there than get forced out where they’ll cause real damage.”
“When we go into town, I’ll drop a note at the office, Shannon needs to know. I’m sure they finished the scene, but if it goes back to normal or floods suddenly, there won’t be any chance to go back.”
“It may not be the State that screws everything up. That beaver dam will only hold so long. With 40 acres of catch water already, the pressure could build really fast if we get more heavy rains.”
TJ glanced out the window toward the river – their cabin was plenty high to avoid the water, but the floods had done massive damage all along the river.
Swede had lost his house, more or less, to the flooding, and it’d carved out a pretty good chunk of the Carter land along the Bramble. Swede seemed to be doing alright though; she figured Angie was a big part of that.
“That’d be a flash flood, could do even more damage. Maybe Shannon could get someone out earlier to relieve the pressure somehow.”
Tammi nodded. “It’d be a good idea. I have the Natural Resources number in my purse. Hope you don’t mind hitting the VFW for burgers, I should have asked, but you were out cold when Angie called. They do have catfish if you want that instead.”
“Let’s just stay away from the catfish for a while Tammi.”
Tammi whispered quietly as they pulled up in front of the Sheriff’s Department.
“There’s Jenny. She’s looking a little ragged.”
TJ eyed the pristinely dressed woman critically. Other than a slightly grey undertone to her complexion, she was perfectly dressed and put together. Before she could say anything, Tammi popped her door open.
“Hey Jenny. Heard you broke up with Tony. Good for you.”
Jenny nodded to Tammi then gave a sheepish smile as she saw TJ walk around from her side of the truck.
“I thought we established you could call me TJ.”
“Did we? I don’t remember much of what happened. I never really do remember what happens after I get to ... drinking.” She seemed stiff and cautious. And the accent was completely gone.
Tammi cut in with a smile. “Don’t worry, nothing weird happened. I got TJ to tell me about it.”
Jenny suddenly turned ashen. “Except the body. There was a dead body, wasn’t there?”
TJ nodded somberly. “There was.”
“Do you have any idea who it...”
Jenny stopped as Angie all but skipped up to them, stopping with one arm over Jenny’s shoulders and a sly grin on her face.
“Lord, Jenny. You look like ass, girl. And not in good way.”
Tammi suppressed a laugh. “She just broke up with Tony.”
“Awww, I was hoping to watch that.” Angie made a mock sad-face then grinned over at TJ. “Actually, Swede told me. Said you got to wrassle Nature Girl here into your truck and got hurled on.”
Jenny looked appalled.
TJ shook her head slowly. “Swede’s exaggerating. She didn’t fight and she threw up in the truck, not on me.”
Angie scrunched her nose. “Eeewww.” Then turned her smile on Jenny. “Since you’re a shade of green not usually seen on living people, I’m guessing you’d rather not go with TJ, Tammi, Swede and me to the VFW and then Bert’s for Karaoke?”
Jenny paled further at the thought. “I don’t think that would be wise.”
Angie stifled a giggle. “I’ll drink your shots then. Rum, right?”
TJ wasn’t sure if Jenny was going to respond or vomit. Before she could do either, a keening whine of fear erupted from the door of the Sheriff’s Department.
Don, one of the deputies who’d just returned from training was leading a handcuffed Elvis out the door toward his waiting cruiser, no doubt on his way to another bond hearing.
White-faced and terrified, Elvis was struggling to get back into the Department.
“Stay away, stay away! It’ll kill us all! It’s a monster, it just pretends to be a person! She’ll eat your heart!”
TJ jolted. Enough was enough. She set her jaw and started toward Elvis.
Then froze. He wasn’t looking at her. He was looking past her, straight at Jenny, who shrunk back in Angie’s arms.
“Run! It’s wearing her skin, but it isn’t her! It’s using that black magic stuff - voodoo! I’ve seen it, the thing that hides in her!”
Tammi stepped in front of Jenny. “Elvis! Get a goddamned grip, it’s Jenny.”
“NO. It’s not ... IT”S NOT!”
Elvis tore free of Don and made two crazy, panic-driven steps before tripping and slamming head-first into the door of the cruiser.
TJ knelt down beside him and watched his eyes roll back into his head.
“Elvis has left the building.”
Don stared at his own hands in disbelief – a heavyset man, he was no bodybuilder like Swede, but he was actually stronger – his forearms were bigger around than TJ’s thighs. The idea of Elvis managing to pull free from him seemed ludicrous.
“Shit. Now I have to take him to the infirmary, Shannon will have my ass if he hurt himself.”
TJ checked Elvis over a little more.
“He’ll probably be okay; he managed to hit his head. Seems to do that a lot. How would you even know if he had a concussion?”
Don shook his head ruefully. “He’d probably start making sense.”
Angie glared down at Elvis. “Just keep that whack-job away from Jenny. I don’t have enough friends as it is. Besides we only have one decent hairdresser in the damn county.”
TJ helped Don put the now-snoring Elvis into the cruiser.
Then froze as Angie’s earlier words finally registered. “Did you say karaoke at Bert’s?”
Angie giggled wickedly. “Already reserved a table.”
TJ grimaced while Tammi grinned. “Hey, I didn’t know. But since it’s already set up...”
Swede managed to open one eye and look at the night table clock radio. It said 1:00 ... AM? PM?
Hell, it had to be PM, they hadn’t even left Bert’s until 2AM, and couldn’t have fallen asleep until at least 4. Angie’s thin tattoo-covered back and long dark hair were all he could see other than the clock; no light leaked into the room through the windows. The curtains were probably the only thing in the “Ponderosa Verde Hotel” that had been given any real thought; when you rent out rooms by the hour on the edge of town, you really don’t want your reputation sullied by wives and husbands being able to peek in and see the activities of their spouses. He couldn’t bitch about it too much though; he was pretty much staying here free since his house had been flooded out. A cousin owned the place and was letting him stay until he could get the old Holloway place fixed up. His own place was too undercut to salvage and the Insurance money more than covered the new place – it needed a lot of work, but it had good bones. With all the manpower shortages at work, it was taking longer than he’d expected to get started on the house, especially after some teenager had nearly burned it down.
Angie – Angie - sat for a second on the edge of the bed, then unsteadily stood up and crossed the room to the bathroom, stopping to grab her purse off the flimsy table. Strands of multi-colored tattoos scattered down her left arm and right leg from the flower-wrapped sugar skull - calavera - on her back. The flowery chains of tattoos wrapped around smaller sugar skulls. Angie had always loved the decorative little skulls; her mom had been Mexican and had come from a town in the south where the Day of the Dead celebrations were a big deal. Angie and her mom had always decorated their house for it, and she’d brought little candies to school for everyone. Until her mom died of cancer and her then-boyfriend, Buck, had run off. Angie had headed to California.
He turned on table lamp and the clock radio - no point in listening to her pee through the cardboard-thin bathroom door. Got to maintain some illusions. He pulled himself to sitting and grabbed the bottle of Jack off the side table, but it was sadly, tragically, empty.