Read B.J. Daniels the Cardwell Ranch Collection Online

Authors: B. J. Daniels

Tags: #Fiction, #Retail, #Romance

B.J. Daniels the Cardwell Ranch Collection (10 page)

“Her roommate?”

“A bunch of girls bunked in one of those cheap cabins near the café but you know how it is, some last a day on the job, some a week. Very few last a summer. I barely remember the one roommate that Ginger used to hang with. A kind of plain girl, not a bad waitress though.”

“This friend never heard from her again?” Hud asked as he ate. The food was excellent.

Leroy shrugged. “None of us did, but we didn’t think anything of it. Girls like Ginger
come and go. The only thing they leave behind is broken hearts.”

“Ginger have any family?” Hud asked.

“Doubt it or wouldn’t someone have come looking for her? I got the feeling she might not have left home under the most congenial circumstances.”

Hud had the same feeling. “Try to remember something more about this girl who befriended Ginger.”

“She didn’t work at the café long.” He slapped his forehead. “I can almost think of her name. It was something odd.”

“If you remember it, call me,” Hud said, throwing down enough money to cover his meal and cola. “I wish you wouldn’t mention this to anyone.”

Leroy shook his head, but Hud could tell that the moment he left, Leroy would be spreading the word.

“Wait a minute,” Leroy said. “There might be someone you could ask about Ginger.” He seemed to hesitate. “Ginger used to flirt with him all the time when he came in.” The cook’s eyes narrowed. “You’re probably not going to want to hear this…”

Hud let out a snort. “Let me guess. Marshal Brick Savage.”

“Yeah, how’d you know?” Leroy asked, sounding surprised.

Hud smiled. “Because I know my father.” He had another flash of memory of a woman in red. Only this time, he heard her laughter dying off down the street.

As Hud climbed into his patrol SUV, he turned south onto the highway and headed toward West Yellowstone and the lake house
his father had bought on Hebgen Lake.

He couldn’t put off talking to his father any longer.

Chapter Nine

“I wondered when I’d be seeing you,” Brick Savage said when he
answered the door. The former marshal shoved the door open wider and without another word, turned and walked back into the house.

Hud stepped in, closed the door, then followed his father to the back part of the house to the kitchen and small dining nook in front of a bank of windows.

He studied his father under the unkind glare of the fluorescent lights, surprised how much the elder Savage had aged. Hud remembered him as being much more imposing. Brick seemed shrunken, half the man he’d once been. Age hadn’t been kind to him.

Brick opened the refrigerator door and took out two root beers. Hud watched him take down two tall glasses and fill each with ice cubes.

“You still drink root beer,” Brick said. Not really a question. Root beer was about the only thing Hud had in common with his father, he thought as he took the filled glass.

“Sit down,” Brick said.

Hud pulled up one of the chairs at
the table, his gaze going to the window. Beyond it was a huge, flat, white expanse that Hud knew was the frozen snow-covered surface of Hebgen Lake. Not far to the southeast was Yellowstone Park.

He wondered why Brick had moved up here. For the solitude? For the fishing? Or had his father just wanted out of the canyon for some reason? Bad memories maybe.

“So what can I do for you?” Brick asked, and took a long swig of his root beer.

Hud doubted his father was so out of touch that he hadn’t heard about the woman’s body that was found in the Cardwell Ranch well. In fact, Hud suspected the coroner had filled him in on every facet of the case.

“I’m investigating the murder of Ginger Adams,” Hud said, watching his father’s expression.

Nothing. Brick seemed to be waiting for more.

“Ginger Adams, a pretty redheaded waitress who worked at the Roadside Café seventeen years ago?” Hud said.

“What does that have to do with me?” Brick asked, sounding baffled.

“You knew her.”

Brick shrugged. “I’m sorry, but I don’t remember her. I don’t remember most of them.”

Hud cursed under his breath. “Well, I remember. I keep seeing Ginger in a slinky red dress and red high heels. And for some reason, I keep seeing you with her.”

“Could have been me,” he admitted
congenially. “That was how many years ago?”

“Seventeen according to Leroy at the café.”

Brick nodded. “The year your mother died. Oh yeah, it could have been me.” Brick looked down at his half-empty glass of root beer.

Hud rubbed a hand over his face, feeling the old anger toward his father. “You broke her heart, you know.”

“I broke your mother’s heart long before she got sick,” his father said. “I was your mother’s number one disappointment.” He looked up at Hud. “Isn’t that what she always told you?”

“She loved you.”

Brick laughed. “Maybe. At one time. You won’t believe this, but your mother was the only woman I ever loved.”

“You had an odd way of showing it.”

“You disappoint a woman enough times and you quit trying not to. But you didn’t drive all this way to talk about this, did you?”

Hud cleared his throat. There was no point getting into the past. He couldn’t change it. He couldn’t change his father and his mother was dead. He dropped the case file on the table between them. “I need to ask you some questions about Judge Raymond Randolph’s killing.”

Something showed in Brick’s face. “Is there something new in that case?”

Hud thought he heard a slight waver in his father’s voice, but then he might have imagined it.

“If you read my
report, you know as much as I do about the case,” Brick said, glancing down at the file but not reaching for it.

“I’ve read the file,” Hud said.

“Then you know what happened that night,” Brick said. “I took the call from a neighbor who heard gunshots at the judge’s house. I tried to reach you and couldn’t, so I went instead.”

Hud knew Brick would remind him of that.

“According to your report, you saw the Kirk brothers coming out of the judge’s house and gave chase.”

His father eyed him, no doubt bristling at the use of his exact words. “That’s exactly what happened.”

“The vehicle, an older model car, was being driven by one of the Kirk brothers, Ty. Mason was with him in the passenger seat.”

“That’s right,” Brick said. “I chased them down the canyon almost to Gallatin Gateway.”

“Almost. According to your report, Ty lost control of the car at the 35-miles-per-hour curve just before the bridge. Both men were killed. Later you reported that several items from the judge’s house were found in the car. The conclusion was that the judge had come home early, caught the Kirk brothers in the act of burglarizing the house and was fatally injured when one of the brothers panicked and shot him with a .38-caliber pistol. The judge’s wife, Kitty, was out of town. The boys ran, you chased them, they both died in the car wreck.”

“You have a problem with my report?”

Hud rubbed his bruised jaw, never taking his eyes off his father. “It’s just a little
too cut-and-dried, because now, something stolen from the judge’s house that night has turned up in the Cardwell Ranch well—along with the remains of Ginger Adams.”

The older man’s shock was real. Rupert couldn’t have told him about the owner of the ring because the coroner hadn’t known.

“If Ginger was killed the night she allegedly left town seventeen years ago and the robbery was only five years ago, then how did Kitty Randolph’s ring end up in the well?”

Brick shook his head. “I’m supposed to know?”

“You know what bothers me about this case?” Hud said. “Nowhere in the original report does it say that there was any item found on the brothers that connected them to the robbery and murder of the judge.”

“Doesn’t it say that a pair of gold cuff links and a pocket watch were found in the glove box of the car?” Brick said.

Hud nodded. “That information was added later.” Both items were small and could easily have been put in the car—after the accident. “You know what else is missing? The .38. What happened to the gun? And where did they get a gun that had been used in a murder years before—back when both brothers were barely out of diapers?”

“They could have found the gun. Then after using it, threw it in the river during the chase,” Brick said with a shrug.

“Maybe…” Hud agreed “…but I’m sure you had deputies looking
for the gun, right?” His father nodded, a muscle bunching in his jaw. “Never found, right?” Again his father nodded. “Leaves a lot of questions since both Kirk boys are dead and the gun is missing.”

“Life is like that sometimes,” Brick said. “You don’t always find the answers.”

“Weren’t drugs found in their car after the accident?”

His father nodded slowly and picked up his glass to take a drink.

“If the Kirks had gotten caught with drugs again wouldn’t they both have been sent to Deer Lodge? It would have been the third offense for both of them. They would have been looking at some hard time.”

“Rather a moot point since they were both killed,” Brick said.

“My point exactly. Isn’t it possible that the drugs were the reason why they ran that night and not because they’d just burglarized Judge Randolph’s house and murdered him?”

Brick put down his glass a little too hard. “Son, what exactly are you accusing me of?”

What was he accusing his father of? “I’m not sure justice was done that night.”

“Justice?” His father let out a laugh. “For years I chased down the bad guys and did my best to get them taken off the street. The Kirk brothers are just one example. Those boys should have been locked up. Instead, because of overcrowding in corrections, they got probation for the first offense and saw very little jail time for the second. The law put them back on the street and they ended up killing
Judge Randolph. I saw them come running out of his house, no matter what you believe.”

“You sure you didn’t see a chance to get Ty and Mason Kirk off the streets for good?”

Brick shook his head sadly. “You’re wrong, but let me ask you this. This murder you got on your hands, what if you find out who killed her but you can’t prove it? You think you’ll be able to pass that killer on the street every day knowing he did it and him thinking he got away with it?”

“We aren’t talking about the Kirk brothers now, are we.”

Brick took a drink of his root beer. “Just hypothetical, son.”

“Right before he was killed five years ago, Judge Randolph was threatening to have you fired from your job,” Hud said. “He seemed to think you’d been playing fast and loose with your position of power.”

“Five years ago, I was getting ready to retire, you know that. What would I care if the judge got me fired?”

“If you’d gotten fired, you would have lost your pension,” Hud said.

Brick laughed. “And you think I’d kill someone for that measly amount of money?” He shook his head still smiling as if he thought this was a joke.

“Maybe the judge had something on you that would have sent you to jail.”

He laughed again. “Hell, you would have gotten the marshal job if I had gone to jail.”

Hud knew now
that he’d only taken the deputy job to show his father. Brick had been dead set against it and done everything he could to keep Hud out of the department. But his father was right about one thing, Hud would have been up for marshal in the canyon.

“Tell me something,” Hud said. “Why were you so dead set against me being a deputy?”

“I knew what kind of life it was. I didn’t want that for you. Maybe I especially didn’t want it for Dana. I know how much your mama hated me being in law enforcement. Isn’t it possible that I was trying to protect you?”

It was Hud’s turn to laugh. “I think you were protecting yourself. You knew I’d be watching you like a hawk. I think you were worried I’d find out what the judge had on you.”

“I hate to burst your bubble, but the judge had nothing on me. In fact, he was about to be removed from the bench,” Brick said. “He had Alzheimer’s. He was losing his mind. His allegations against me were just part of his irrational behavior.”

Hud stared at his father. Could that possibly be true?

Brick picked up their empty glasses and took them to the sink. “I’ll admit I’ve made my share of mistakes,” he said, his back to Hud. “I thought you only took the deputy job to prove something to me. I didn’t want you following in my footsteps for the wrong reasons.”

Hud
had
taken the job for all the wrong reasons. But law enforcement must have been in his blood. It had turned out to be the right career for him.

His father turned to
look back at him. “Did you know your mother wanted me to go into business with her father? She married beneath her. We both knew it. Everyone told her she could do better than me. She just wouldn’t listen. She thought I’d change my mind once you were born.” He turned back to the sink.

Hud stared at his father’s back, thinking about the things his mother used to say about Brick. She’d been angry at her husband as far back as Hud could remember. Now he wondered if a lot of that anger and resentment hadn’t stemmed from Brick not going to work for her father. Had she been embarrassed being married to a small-town marshal?

Brick shut off the water and dried his hands. “I know you think I killed your mother, not cancer. Maybe I did. Maybe her disappointment in me caused the cancer.” He stood against the sink, looking small and insubstantial. “I was sorry to hear about you and Dana. I always thought you made a nice couple.”

Hud picked up the Judge Randolph case file from the kitchen table. He’d thought coming up here to see his father would be an end to all his questions. Now he had even more questions. “I’m going to solve these murders.”

“I don’t doubt you will,” Brick said. “You were always a damned good deputy. I thought after what happened five years ago, you’d be soured on the profession. You know I had to suspend you the night the judge was killed just like I would have had to any deputy who blew his shift. I couldn’t protect you because you were my son.”

He studied his
father. “It must have been a shock to you then to hear that I’m the temporary marshal until they can advertise the job.”

Brick smiled but said nothing.

Hud started toward the door, stopped and turned. “You didn’t seem surprised.”

“About what?”

“About the ring that was found in the well with Ginger’s remains.” He studied his father. “Because you already knew, didn’t you?”

“Good luck with your investigation, son.”

D
ANA RETURNED
to the shop to find it packed with customers. She met Hilde’s eye as she came in the door and saw her friend wink mischievously. They hadn’t even had this much business during the rush before Christmas—and January was when most businesses felt a slump.

But here it was January and the shop was full of women. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what was up.

Hilde cut fabric while Dana rang up purchases and answered questions relating to the bones found in the ranch well and a rumor that was circulating that the bones belonged to Ginger Adams.

Dana fudged a little. “Ginger Adams?
Really?

The afternoon whizzed by. Dana tried not to watch the door, afraid Hud would pay her another visit. But by closing, he hadn’t shown and she breathed a sigh of relief when Hilde offered to take the deposit to the bank and let Dana finish closing up.

“Can you believe this?” Hilde said, hefting the
deposit bag. She grimaced. “Sorry. I do feel bad making money at your expense. And Ginger’s.”

“S’all right,” Dana said, laughing. “It’s a windfall for the store. At least something good is coming out of it.”

Hilde left and Dana straightened the counter before going to lock up. As she put the Closed sign up on the front door, she was surprised how dark it was outside. It got dark early this time of year. Plus it had snowed off and on most of the day, the clouds low, the day gloomy. There was no traffic on the street and only a few lights glowed at some of the businesses still open this time of the afternoon.

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