By R.W. Morris


“Watcha got, boy?” Sheriff Bill Clay grunted and heaved himself out of the old Model T, which coughed and died. “Damn! Runs like a railroad watch ‘cept in the damp. Don’t let me forget I need a crank ‘n a kick before you leave.”

“Sure thing, Sheriff,” the young deputy grinned as he shuffled into step beside Bill, and they crunched their way down the gravel access road past a brand new 1928 Model A patrol car with a huge silver star emblazoned on its door.

“Nice car if I do say so myself. Who belongs to that one over there?” Bill said, pointing a cigar he’d pulled out from under his slicker at another black Ford parked off the road beside a corrugated tin shed.

The deputy nodded at a thin, balding man in a tan raincoat who was leaning back against the shed with his head down and his arms folded across his chest. “That’s his. Jeremy Miller is his name. He runs the place. Found her at seven when he came in early to patch up some targets he didn’t get around to last night. He honked me down on his way to phone it in.”

“And what time did he shut down last night?” Bill asked, having to look up at his newest deputy who was at least a half foot taller than Bill’s rotund five feet ten inches.

“Says he was out of here by eight.”

Bill scanned the grumbling sky. “He expectin’ some business today? Don’t see no cover around here ‘cept for that shed.”

“Apparently so. Says he has eight shooters booked for ten this morning and thought he’d better get things ready in case the rain holds off some more.”

Bill scratched a match with his thumbnail and stopped to light up. “And he needs three hours to do that does he?”

The deputy started to answer, realized he didn’t have one, and frowned over at Miller.

“Never mind,” Bill said, giving the match a jerk and flicking it away. “Just make sure he don’t go nowhere before I get a chance to talk to him. Now where’s the body?”

“Beside the shed,” the deputy said and started for Miller while Bill ambled to the shed and stood over the body of a young woman.

She was lying on her stomach with her face turned away. Her arms were flung straight out and her legs spread apart with one sandaled foot twisted inward. The back of her short blonde hair was tangled and matted with blood, and her light blue sundress was soaked from the rain and grabbing at her everywhere.

Bill figured her for early to mid-twenties as he got laboriously to his knees. He pulled at an arm, pushed at a leg, twisted a foot, and squeezed a hand. Then, holding his cigar away with one hand, he whispered, “Forgive me, sugar,” and slid his other hand, palm down, under her belly. Satisfied, he sat back on his heels and blew a large smoke ring skyward.

“Hey, boy!”

The deputy came around the shed with Miller in tow.

“What time did it start rainin’ last night?”

“Around ten,” the deputy answered without hesitation. “It started right after I checked in on old Widow Ingram.”

Bill stretched out a hand. The deputy took it and pulled Bill to his feet facing Miller.

“You been operatin’ this place - what - a couple of months now?”

Miller nodded.

“Anyone using the place after hours, you know, as a lover’s lane and the like?”

Miller shrugged.

“No ‘shine jars, cigarette butts, rubbers layin’ around in the morning?”

Miller shook his head.

“You keep a record of your customers? Talk to me now! I’m gettin’ tired of hearin’ my own voice here.”


“So you can’t even tell us who was here yesterday.”

Miller scowled and yanked his arm out of the deputy’s grip. “I know some of them! The regulars!”

“You usually come in this early?”

“Tomorrow’s Saturday!” Miller shot back. “I have to do some patching and make up some extra targets.”

Bill grunted and turned to his deputy. “We’ll be needing a list of those regulars and where we can find them. Did you check out the shed and the surrounding area?”

“Just the shed,” the deputy said, thrusting a notebook and pencil at Miller. “No sign of a break-in. He had to unlock it for me. Nothing in there but some wood, target frames, paper, nails, a jar of paste; and some tools including a hand axe I had a close look at but didn’t touch.”

They all turned at the sound of a small convoy coming down the road.

Bill told Miller to include everything he knew about the people on the list - every detail, no matter how small - and to hurry it up, while he and the deputy went to meet Doc and his meat wagon, and what looked like the rest of the Sheriff’s Department.

“Girl’s stiffer than a board ‘cept for her feet, boy. What do you make of that?”

The deputy adjusted his gun belt with one hand and his stetson with the other. “Under ideal conditions - er - that’s ideal investigative conditions, Sheriff - not ideal conditions as they pertain to her at the moment....”

“Don’t shift gears in mid sentence! Somebody asks you a question, think it out before you answer.”

“Yessir! She will have been dead for fourteen or fifteen hours.” He looked down and scuffed a boot into the wet gravel. “But I don’t recall anything about how the weather might affect the process, Sheriff.”

Bill shook his head.

“Mornin’, Doc. Body’s over there by that shed. The boy here says she’s been dead for fourteen or fifteen hours ‘cause she’s all stiff ‘cept for her feet.”

Doc rolled his eyes. “Lord save us! How did she die?”

“Back of her head’s caved in, looks like.”

“Then work on six to forty-eight hours until I know more.”

Bill nodded and turned to a short, grizzled man with a thick, gray moustache. “Andy, I’m putting you in charge here. There’s a hand axe in that shed over there. If it or anything else that coulda killed that girl is wiped clean, arrest that citizen in the tan raincoat. If not, get his prints on somethin’ and tell him he can open up once we’ve removed the body ‘n swept the area. You won’t be findin’ much ‘cause she wasn’t killed here, but do it anyhow. Looks good on paper. You got everybody but the new deputy here to help you - he’s with me. Questions?”

“Nope!” said Andy, tapping the brim of his Stetson with a forefinger before turning to the other deputies. “Serves you right - you wouldn’t finish school. Line up!”

“C’mon, boy,” Bill said over his shoulder as he started for his car. “Gimme a crank, then you can go get that list and bring it back to the shop.”

“I don’t understand, Sheriff,” the deputy said, shuffling into step with Bill. “Doc said six to forty-eight hours. Doesn’t that mean Miller could have done it and done it here, and won’t he run if we don’t take him in?”

“Will you stop tryin’ to make a parade out of us with that shufflin’ of yours? This ain’t the army! If he was gonna run he woulda already. Besides, you didn’t figure him for it in the first place did you?”

“No sir.”

“Why not?”

The deputy stepped to the front of the Model T and reached down for the crank, while Bill reached in to adjust the spark.

“I guess because he was the one who flagged me down and took me straight to the scene.”

The Model T coughed once but refused to start.

“Is that so?” Bill made another adjustment. “Maybe he just run into you by accident and panicked.”

The deputy cranked furiously. “No-o-o-o!”

“Why not?”

“N-not p-panic.”

The T backfired, rocked into life, and stalled again. The deputy pulled off his Stetson and leaned on the radiator for a rest. “Anger. He was angry, Sheriff, like she was a trespasser or something.”

“Not scared? Not shocked? C’mon, get your back into it! We got work to do.”

The deputy pulled his hat back on down to his ears, and gave the T a yank that almost lifted it off the ground. It fired up and whirred like an over-sized sewing machine.

“Listen to that, boy! They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”

The deputy gave him a look that said he was certainly right about that, and stepped around to the driver’s side while Bill heaved himself in behind the high, thick, wooden wheel. “That’s how I see him too, boy. An angry little man. Maybe he could kill in anger, maybe not. But if he did, it wouldn’t take him at least six hours of fussin’ ‘n frettin’ over what to do next. The girl wasn’t killed here. She was done in someplace else and dumped here. The question is why.”

“Why not?” the deputy said, working his hat up off his ears. “Seems as good a place as any.”

“C’mon now, think about it. Miles ‘n miles of scrub desert around here. Coulda drove her into it a ways and nobody’d find her ‘til the Second Comin’. Somebody wanted us to find her, and real quick too.” He leaned out from under the T’s faded canvas top and pointed a stubby finger at Miller. “Somebody wants us to make that list and follow it up. Somebody on it is going to have some kinda connection with that girl and this here shootin’ range. Now get over there, get the list, and meet me back at the shop.”


The call came in at 2:07 P.M. It was from an Elizabeth Rondeau out at the college. Her roommate, a second-year medical student by the name of Veronica Moore, had been missing since three-thirty yesterday afternoon. Elizabeth, who had a French accent, realized it was a little soon to report a person missing, but it was so not like Veronica to be gone all night. Veronica was twenty-two years old, five-foot two, a hundred and ten pounds, wore her blonde hair cut short, and was last seen wearing sandals and a blue sundress.

Bill lifted a pencil out of the checkers trophy on his desk and ran a finger down the names on the list, stopping at a professor. He crossed him off right away. Bill knew him to be seventy if he was a day, and a skinny little citizen who retired out here from Chicago two years ago for his health. He liked to play checkers and tell outrageous stories about blunt instruments, but not the murderous kind.

The next one was a Doctor Stephen Gates. Bill circled the name and rolled the stogie from one side of his mouth to the other. The name was familiar, but he couldn’t pin it down other than it had nothing to do with medicine or teaching.

He checked the rest of the list, found nothing, shoved himself away from his desk, and walked his chair over to his secretary who looked unkindly up from the small mound of typing the investigation had already generated.

“Just had to roll on over and tell you your hair looks real good done up like that, Ida.”

Her eyes went up as if she could see the rubber band snapped around her swept-up hair, making it spill over in all directions like a silver fountain.

“It keeps it out of my face, Bill. I’m too busy to worry about how I look.”

Bill pretended some surprise. “Is that so? Maybe we’ll have to look at hiring you some help once we finish paying for those new cars.”

“What do you want, Bill?” she said, as if he hadn’t said anything at all.

“Stephen Gates. Why is that name familiar to me?”

“Doctor Gates?” she asked without looking up from her typing.

“That’s him.”

She swore and reached for her eraser. “Maybe because he was almost in the 1912 Olympics. Pistol team. Got sick and had to be replaced at the last minute. Came out here from New York three years ago to fill the pre-med chair at the college.”

Bill rolled his cigar back and forth a couple of times. “Nope, that ain’t it.”

She bent over the typo and scrubbed at it. “Well it couldn’t be because he has a little bit of a reputation as a ladies’ man could it? You don’t have time to worry about things like that. At least that’s what you said last year when I told you he’d rented a place in town for him and his wife, and the wife turned out to be a little wisp of a thing young enough to be his daughter - and who only showed up for a few hours now and then. Got no place in the bedrooms of the county I think you said.”

“Go on! I didn’t say that.”

“Yes you did.” Ida blew on the paper.

“That ain’t bad. I oughta write that down for the next election. We got an address on that love nest?”


“Shouldn’t we be interviewing the landlady first?” the deputy yawned from the back seat of the Model T, which Bill had insisted on taking so as not to draw too much attention to themselves at this stage of the investigation. “You know, make sure the victim and the mistress are the same girl?”

“No need to waste time there,” Bill said, rubbing at a spot on the inside of the windshield with a soft, clean rag he always kept under the front seat. “Just another signpost sayin’ this way to killer. You go ahead and interview the roommate while I hunt down this Gates fella. He might be able to do a little pointin’ of his own.”

“You’re that sure he didn’t do it.”

“If he did, he’s one dumb citizen for dumpin’ the body where he did. But you never know. Some people wanna get caught, just like that pamphlet I see you’re tryin’ to read says - a Froodian slip.”

“That would be a Froydian slip, sir.”

“That’s it!” Bill grinned. “Doctor Signpost Freud. I’ll bet he was a lotta fun in his young-buck college days.”

The deputy shifted uneasily and so did the T. “Are you sure about this dorm thing, Sheriff? I mean, I hear they’re kind of fussy about men in those places.”

“Big strappin’ boy like you with a big gun and all? Besides, I already arranged for the roommate to be there. Try to get up in the room ‘n have an eye around. You know what to look for. I’m gonna track down Gates and see what he’s got to say for himself. Then I’ll swing around and get you, and we’ll put our coconuts together and solve this here crime.”

“Just like that?”

“Why not? You’re doin’ real good so far. Doc ain’t finished all his pokin’ ‘n proddin’ yet, but he says it looks like you weren’t far out on the time of death. Nothin’ but Miller’s prints and some wood sap on that axe, so you were right about him too. No sign of rape or a struggle of any kind, so she never knew what hit her, which was something wide with a sharp edge to it that left a horizontal wound deep to shallow high on the back of her head. No fresh tire tracks other than Miller’s and yours, so she was probably carried in from the main road and dumped there after eight but before ten, because the underside of her dress was dry. Alive at four, dead by seven, dumped at the range between eight and ten. Now all we gotta do is find out who she was with between four and seven, who also knows Gates uses that shootin’ range, and who can’t account for their whereabouts between eight and ten.”

“Excluding Gates himself,” the deputy said, rubbing an eye and grabbing at a door as Bill wheeled into the campus without bothering to slow down.

“You got ‘er!” Bill said, heading straight for a young woman standing in front of a two-story, adobe-brick building. She was dressed in a short tennis outfit and stood tall - very tall - six feet at least - with her hands clasped solemnly in front of her.

“That’s gotta be her. Big un ain’t she? Nice figure too!” Bill rolled the stogie merrily around his mouth as he skidded to a halt in front of her. “Looks kinda serious,” he whispered, while the deputy worked his way out of the T and straightened to his full six-and-a-half feet. She looked him up and down, unlocked her hands, and started for him.

“Whoa!” Bill said to himself as he pulled away. “She’ll keep you awake, boy.”


Bill could see how a young woman might be attracted to Stephen Gates. Tall, slim, and broad-shouldered with a full head of sleek, dark hair; he rose from behind his desk looking more like a student himself than a man with the authority to make or break them.

“I’ve been expecting you, Sheriff.”

Bill stopped and pulled the stogie out of his mouth. “Shoot! So much for movin’ fast ‘n catchin’ folks off guard.”

“Nothing travels faster than bad news on a college campus,” Gates went on, brushing at a piece of imaginary lint on the sleeve of an immaculate blue blazer. “We can make ourselves comfortable over there if you like?” He waved a long, tanned hand at two easy chairs set at an angle to each other in front of a wall full of books and trophies.

“Thanks, Doc, but I won’t be here that long. Just need to nail down Miss Moore’s movements between four and seven yesterday. Where she was, who she was with, ” - Bill decided to gamble - “besides you that is.” He pointed the disgustingly mangled end of his cigar at the wall. Gates was going to have to interrupt with a denial if he wanted to make one. “Boy oh boy! Looks like you done some shootin’ in your day. That’s a lotta trophies!”

Gates glanced at the wall, started to put his hands in his pockets, then folded his arms across his chest instead. “I see. Well she is a student of mine. Very talented, highly intelligent, and deserving of special attention which I have given her and would account for my being seen with her often. She suffers from an extreme lack of confidence, however, which is what I try to help her with.” He unlocked an arm and waved it at nothing in particular. “That, and some help with the cost of her tuition.”

“Well good for you, Doc,” Bill said, ambling over to the trophies and lifting one to examine the inscription at its base. “Do you still shoot? Some of my boys couldn’t hit their hat if it was hangin’ on the end of their gun.”

Gates withdrew a gold cigarette case from inside the blazer, and came out from behind the desk. “Not as much as I’d like to. Whenever time permits.”

“Too bad,” Bill said, putting the trophy back and lining it up. “Was thinkin’ you might come out and give them a few pointers. Could be downright embarassin’ if they got in a shootout with some citizen who knew what he was doin’ with a gun.”

Gates removed a cigarette and tapped it lightly on the case. “That might be arranged. Far be it from me to pass up the chance to show off a little.”

“Now that’s the ticket, Doc,” Bill said, reaching into his shirt pocket for a match. “How about I give you a call as soon as we clear up this thing with Miss Moore?”

“Of course,” Gates said, lighting his cigarette from the match Bill scratched up for him. Their eyes locked for a moment, before Bill shook the match out and dropped it in a standing ashtray beside one of the chairs.

“Any idea where she might have gone after seeing you yesterday?”

Gates blew smoke at the ceiling. “No, but she was upset. She may have gone off somewhere to sulk, which she does now and then, but,” he shrugged, and went back to his desk, “never for this long.”

“What was she upset about?”

Gates tapped the cigarette delicately on the edge of an ornate desktop ashtray. “My fault I’m afraid. She’s been putting off a presentation she has to give in order to pass the semester. Keeps saying she isn’t ready when she knows more about her subject than I probably do. I was tired, and I got a little short with her, so she burst into tears and jumped out of the car.”

“Where was that?”

Gates shrugged one shoulder and stubbed the barely-smoked cigarette out. “At the entrance to the campus.”

“On your way in or out?”

“Out. We were going for a drive which we often do. She enjoys the car and always seems more receptive when we’re in it.”

“And what time did this happen?”

Gates shrugged the other shoulder. “Around three, three-thirty.”

“Did she head back here or on down the road?”

“Back here, to her quarters I presume.”

“You didn’t follow her back then.”

“No. As I said, I was angry, so I drove around for awhile before returning here at around four to finish marking some papers. I worked for an hour or so then went home.”

“Would that be your home out here or your home in town?”

Gates frowned.

“We know about your arrangement with Miss Moore,” Bill said, flicking some ash at the standing ashtray, but missing and spotting a chair instead. “Don’t concern yourself with that though,” he went on, planting the stogie back in his mouth and watching Gates carefully for a reaction. “We got no place in the bedrooms of the county.”

Gates turned red.

Oh well.

“So between three and seven you were drivin’ around, then back her doin’ some work, then at your home in town.”

“I did not go into town,” Gates said lowly. “I don’t know where she is and, quite frankly, I no longer care. With this little episode she has become more trouble than she is worth.” He scanned his desk, picked up a folder and opened it. “Now, if that is all, I have some work to do.”

“Shoot! Don’t we all now. Do yourself a favor here, Doc. The circumstances don’t look good where you’re concerned. A lotta people are gonna put two and two together, come up with five, and call it close enough.”

Gates closed the folder, held it out in both hands, and let it fall back to the desk. “Then find her! That is what we pay you for isn’t it? Find her, give her a kick in the ass, tell her to grow the hell up - and stop calling me Doc!”

“I think you know I can’t do that - Doctor Gates.” Bill blew some ash off his cigar onto the carpet, and strolled across the room to in front of the desk. “I think you know we already found her.”

Gates blanched. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Sure you do. You’re tryin’ a little too hard to sound like you think she’s still just missing when you know darn well I wouldn’t be here if that’s all it was. You shoulda been wonderin’ what happened to her - not been expectin’ me - unless you already know what happened.”

“I don’t know anything of the kind!”

“Is that so?” Bill said, matter-of-factly. “Well let me fill you in then.” He took a deep breath - “SHE’S DEAD!”

Gates jerked back like he’d been poked with a cattle prod.

Bill lifted his hands in a there-you-are gesture.

Gates fumbled around for something to say, but came up wide-eyed empty except for a kind of choking noise before dropping heavily into his chair.

“We found her out at that new pistol range between here and town,” Bill said quickly, quietly.

Gates looked up at him. “The pistol range?” he murmured, a puzzled expression working its way into his face.

Bill looked into the momentarily unguarded eyes of that face, found what he was looking for, and went back across the room to the standing ashtray. He mashed out the butt of his stogie, pulled out another one, and took his sweet time rolling it back and forth under his nose.

Gates got up and came out from behind the desk. “How did she die?” By his tone of voice he could have been inquiring about the weather.

Bill bit the cigar and spat the tip into the ashtray. “Real sudden. Never knew what hit her.” He lit up and glanced at the trophies before turning around to see Gates standing in the center of the room, adjusting one of his shirt cuffs so that just the right amount showed.

“I didn’t kill her.”

“I know you didn’t, but that makes two of us. It’s the rest of the world you gotta worry about.”

Gates was surprised. “You know I didn’t?”


“Well-- what are you doing here then?”

“Tryin’ to get a line on who did.”

Gates gave a perplexed shake of his head. “I see. But if you know I didn’t do it why do I have a problem? You’re the sheriff after all”

“We gotta prove you didn’t, and we do that by findin’ out who did.”

“That’s ridiculous! I know enough about the law to know the burden of proof lies with the state. Innocent until proven guilty!”

“Got a nice ring to it don’t it?” Bill said evenly. “Ain’t how it really works though. Even if they don’t have enough to hang it on you,” he jerked a thumb at the ceiling, “they got enough to bring all this crashin’ down around your ears. Guilty in their minds if not in their courts, and your alibi’s got enough holes in it to take it to court.”

Bill let the silence hang until a nasty little smirk tugged at a corner of Gates’s mouth.

“I think I understand. Then I suppose I should give you my full co-operation, Sheriff Clay.”

“Yes, I suppose you should. What I need is a point in another direction, like the other men in her life. Who was she goin’ with before you?”

“No one.”

The suddenness of the answer nudged Bill off guard. “No one? Shoot! C’mon now, a pretty little thing like that?”

The smirk became a tight grin. “She was a mouse, Sheriff, a pretty little mouse afraid of everything and everyone, especially men.” He strolled over to one of the easy chairs. “You’d have to know her to understand. I suppose I could tell you how she came to be that way, give you the story of her life,” he went on, lowering himself into the chair, “but why waste our time with all of that?” He pinched up the knees of his trousers, crossed his legs, and planted his hands on the chair’s arms. “That’s just the way she was.”

“Don’t sound like the type who’d tackle a career in medicine?”

“She could never have practiced medicine,” Gates said, lifting a hand in dismissal. “She was destined for the periphery: research, pharmaceuticals - something at arm’s length to the public where she could work more or less alone and not scare people half to death with her uncertainties. She was quite gifted you know, had an I.Q. of 132. No telling what she might have accomplished had she graduated, which is what I was trying to make sure she did - on her own merit. Our arrangement, as you put it, was simply a by-product of that attempt. No, Sheriff Clay, there was nothing in her life but her studies, her almost crippling shyness, and me.”

“What about another woman then?”

Gates reacted. It was slight, but it was there, a split-second’s hesitation before he shook his head. “Regardless of what you may think, I do not make a practice of seducing students. The opportunity is always there of course, what with a young woman’s attraction to authority and the power it represents. That, and the fact that I look more their age than my own, makes it difficult to resist at times; but it would be bad career planning, as my present circumstances would seem to confirm.”

“Wasn’t thinking about another student necessarily,” Bill said, pursing his lips so the stogie pointed right between Gates’s eyes, “but thanks for clearing that up anyway. No one outside the college then - either - I mean?”

Gates flushed. “Not at present.”



“What about your wife?”

“My wife couldn’t care less about another woman. She’s far too busy with her own affairs.”

“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that,” Bill said, puffing hard on the cigar. “Well - Doc, this is how I see it. Somebody sure as hell killed her ‘cause it weren’t no suicide and it weren’t no accident - which is a couple of other things you forgot to ask me about. She was killed, and her body was moved. Whether it was done in cold blood or in the heat of the moment we don’t’ know, but it was sure enough done. And I figure whoever did it made sure we’d make a connection with you by leavin’ her body at that shootin’ range. Somebody’s tryin’ to set you up here, and doin’ a pretty good job of it considerin’ what you’ve told me - or haven’t told me - so far.”

There it was again. The moment’s break in eye contact, an almost imperceptible lowering of the head, before Gates said, “Sounds like you have your work cut out for you.”


Bill was leaning back against the wall with his feet crossed and his thumbs hooked in his gun belt, idly contemplating the words Pre-Med A stenciled on the frosted glass of the door across from him. A young woman came clip-clipping down the hall on low heels with some files cradled in her arm. He straightened and touched the brim of his stetson. “Afternoon, Miss.”

She stopped and smiled at him. “Good afternoon, Sheriff Clay.”

“Shoot! Have we met? I hardly ever forget a face, ‘n surely not one as pretty as yours.”

Her laugh was low and warm, and the twinkle in her eye said she recognized harmless flirting when she saw it.

“Well - gosh - thank you, but no, we haven’t met. Everyone knows who drives that old Model T whirring away outside.” She extended her free hand. “Can I help you with anything? I’m Jesse Gordon.”

Bill took her hand and held it gently in both of his. “Well now that’s mighty kind of you, Jesse. I’m just waitin’ for Mister Newman to finish up so I can ask him a few questions. You don’t happen to know how much longer he’s gonna be do you?”

She turned the arm holding the files so she could see her wristwatch. “He should be done by now.” A burst of collective laughter exploded behind the door. “Oh Oh! He must be entertaining them with another one of his medicine-can-be-a-hoot stories.” She turned serious. “You’re here about Veronica aren’t you?”

“Yes I am.” Bill released her hand. “Did you know her?”

“No, not really. I’m not sure anyone did except...” she trailed off. “You said did. Has something happened?”

Bill considered the pretty brunette’s expression of concern. The big green eyes were wide open, steady, and strong. She was closer to thirty than most young women her age would care to admit, but that wouldn’t bother this one in the least. He touched one of her arms, watched her carefully. “I’m afraid so, Jesse. We found her early this morning a couple of miles from here.”

Her eyes bored into Bill’s then dropped to his badge. “That son-of-a-bitch!” she whispered.

“Who’d that be?” Bill asked right away, hoping it might be someone other than Gates she was referring to, but deciding to keep her talking as long as possible even if it was.

The green eyes came up again. “You’d have to know about her and Stephen Gates.”

“Yup,” Bill said, keeping the disappointment out of his voice. “But I don’t figure him for it, not the deed itself anyhow.”

Her mouth slowly opened. “She didn’t kill herself?”

“Nope. She was murdered, Jesse.”

Jesse straightened, grew an inch or two, in a way that made Bill feel like she was about to haul off and smack him one across the face.

He converted the instinctive lifting of his hand into what he hoped was a convincing chin-rub, and leaned back against the wall with his arms folded across his chest. She glared at him for a few more seconds before stepping around to lean against the wall beside him.

Bill struggled to keep an admiring but inappropriate grin off his face. He wanted a smoke real bad but decided against it. Jesse might not like it.

They did nothing but hold up the wall for a full thirty seconds, before she said, “You’re right about Gates. He wouldn’t have the berries for it. Excuse my French.”

The grin exploded into Bill’s face. “Shoot, girl! What ‘n awful thing to say, even if it is true. You know him pretty good then?”

“No more than I have to, being an employee here. No woman in her right mind would want to as far as I’m concerned. He’s a user. He used Veronica, took advantage of her, and everybody could see it but her.”

Bill thought to hell with it and fished out a cigar. “He didn’t kill her though. We’re together on that one, Jesse. I got him with his guard down long enough to take a peek through the windows to his soul - all the way down to those berries of his - and he ain’t got it in him. Not even in passion. Likes himself way too much.” He held up the cigar and a match. “You mind if I smoke?”


Bill watched her out of the corner of his eye as he lit up. Her eyes were locked on the line where the floor met the wall across from her. She looked like she was thinking hard about something. What? Something she knew? Something she suspected? He decided it would be the latter, and by the time he shook the match out he’d decided how he was going to ease her through any misgivings she might have about speaking up. Or try to. He’d have to watch his step with this one.

“Funny thing is,” Bill sighed, pretending to look around for a place to put the spent match, “he knows somethin’ and he won’t tell me what it is even when I - uh - suggested he might end up taking the fall for it, guilty or not.”

“Gee, that would be too bad,” she said, her voice heavy.

Bill leaned closer to her. “It wouldn’t bother me all that much either, if it didn’t mean the real killer was runnin’ around laughin’ at us.” He stood away from the wall and gave his gun belt a heft that made the handcuffs and keys hanging off it clank against themselves. “Thing is he sure don’t strike me as the type who would sacrifice himself out of loyalty to a friend, or anything like that.”

“Unless he’s afraid,” Jesse said as if thinking out loud.

“There you go now! I was wonderin’ about that myself. But until I find out what it is he might be scared of, I’m gonna have to start pullin’ straws outta the haystack one by one, starting with Mister Newman in there who taught her last class.” He sensed her looking over at him. “Yes sir! Straw by straw. And the longer it takes,” he paused to examine the matchstick, “the deeper the needle sinks. You gotta move fast with this sorta thing, Jesse. The first twenty-four hours is everything.”

He felt another analogy coming on, the one about walking barefoot through the desert, so he jammed the cigar back into his mouth and bit down on it to shut himself up. She came away from the wall, took the matchstick from him, and let it drop to the floor.

She was the type who could look a person square in the eye while she did her thinking. Bill liked that, even if it did make him a little uncomfortable, so he let her do it. She would take it from here, or she wouldn’t, and that would be that.

She gave him a tentative look. “I don’t like gossip, but it’s impossible to work here without hearing it.”

“Jesse, it’s impossible to work anywhere without hearing it, including the Sheriff’s Department. Thing is, it sometimes steers us in the right direction. Gotta be real discreet about it though, wouldn’t wanna hurt somebody who don’t deserve it. That’s for sure.”

Her eyes held his until a grin started tugging at his face, threatening to pull apart the expression of fatherly concern he’d pasted there.

Ordinarily, when confronted by someone he knew he couldn’t push, he used that old trick of picturing them in their underwear while he waited for an opening that would give him the edge. Dismissing that one as counterproductive, he’d opted for picturing his stetson on her pretty head - right down to her nose and over her ears. “Hell! The way this is going,” he told himself, “she might as well be wearing it anyway.”

“Last year,” she decided, “about the same time Veronica enrolled here, Gates came back from France with her roommate Elizabeth Rondeau and got her into the arts program.”


“Yes. He went over there, he said, to compete in a shooting competition, which I guess he did because he came back with a trophy which he made a point of showing off to just about everyone.”

“Where in France?”


“So he dumped the Mamselle for Miss Moore,” Bill said, rolling the cigar thoughtfully between thumb and forefinger.

“No,” she said with a shake of her pretty head, Bill now picturing her in a Stetson that fit her. “That’s just the thing. It was quite clear there was nothing between him and Rondeau, not even friendship. She obviously didn’t like him very much, which put her in the majority as far as most of the adult women around here are concerned, but she didn’t feel the need to hide her dislike. It was - is - like she has no reason to fear his authority which is considerable.”

“Why do you figure that is?”

“I can’t be sure, but here’s where the gossip comes in. Right after he brought her back with him he started living way above his means, which is something I know about, being in Administration.” She tapped a neatly-trimmed, unpolished fingernail against her files. “A new car, a place in town, expensive clothes; and when those few with enough power to question him about such things asked him about it, he said he’d run into an old friend he’d met during the war who’d set him up with some stocks paying excellent dividends.”

She stopped there, looking at Bill like he should understand and say something. He chewed on his cigar and looked pensive. “Nope! Sorry, Jesse. Gotta help me out some more here.”

She smiled. “He was too smart to play the market before he left. We have some very knowledgeable people around here who tell us it’s become a house of cards, ready to tumble any day now. And when it happens, it will happen everywhere - France included.”

“So he explained it away by sayin’ he did somethin’ he was too smart to do.”

“And not only that, Rondeau is apparently this mysterious friend’s daughter.” She stopped again and waited.

“I getcha, Jesse,” Bill said, seeing her in full uniform with a gun belt hanging from her trim hips. “Anything else?”

“Just that Gates tried to stop Rondeau and Veronica rooming together. That place he has in town was meant for Veronica, but Rondeau talked her out of moving into it.”

Bill’s eyebrows went up. Jesse laughed and shook her head. “No, nothing like that. Rondeau likes men. She goes through them like I go through paperclips. She took to Veronica, I guess, because they were as different as night and day, sort of a big sister thing. That, and I suspect Rondeau wouldn’t miss a chance to make life difficult for Gates any way she could.”

The sound of chairs being moved came through the door across the hall. Bill gestured that Jesse should walk down the hall with him. “What about those men of Rondeau’s? Some of them must have had an eye for Miss Moore.”

“Yes, and Rondeau even encouraged it in some cases. But Veronica wouldn’t have anything to do with them. And if Veronica said no, Rondeau would back her up, and that was the end of it.”

“Even so, I’d have to take a look at any of them who showed an aggressive nature. You know the type I mean.”

She frowned over at him. “The ones whose brains dropped along with their testicles?”

Bill’s laugh roared down the hall to the students spilling out of the classroom, making them all stop and stare.

Jesse lowered her voice and took Bill’s arm, leading him farther down the hallway. “One guy tried that. Hot-shot tennis player, money, nice car, wouldn’t leave Veronica alone.” She dropped to a whisper. “Rondeau showed up at the tennis court one day wearing army boots. She started needling the guy about being able to take him with a handicap. She got right up in his face until he got mad and shoved her. Next thing anyone knew, he was on the ground, and Rondeau was stomping him. He was in the hospital for a week.”

“Shoot! I remember that,” Bill said, wiping his eyes. “It was the talk around the shop for a long time. But I heard they both got expelled for that.”

“He did - she didn’t. Gates saw to that.”

“Lordy!” Bill whispered as he finished wiping his eyes with a blue bandana he’d pulled from a hip pocket. “I’d better get on over to the women’s dorm. I left a brand new, innocent, young deputy over there to see what he could get out of the Mamselle, in the way of evidence that is.”

It was Jesse’s turn to laugh. “If he’s over six feet, good looking, and polite, then you’d better hurry all right.”


A pair of second-story shutters flew open in response to Bill’s hooga! on the T’s horn. The deputy’s tousled head popped out, nodded, and banged itself on the way back in; followed by Rondeau’s head wearing a Sheriff’s Department stetson which moved out and in without touching anything. A minute later the deputy came out the door with his notebook clutched in one hand, his stetson crushed in the other, and dove into the back of the T. Bill eased into gear and started, slowly for a change, for the campus exit.

“Watcha get, boy?”

“There are numerous photographs of men and Miss Moore,” the deputy said too quickly, his voice a little on the high side, “but none at all of Miss Rondeau. There are none of Miss Moore and any of the men together. Some of the men are in pairs but most are individual pictures.” He cleared his throat, took a deep breath, and brought his voice down to normal. “I have all of their names here.” He thumbed the rumpled pages of his notebook.

“No pictures of the Mamselle at all?”

“No sir. When I asked her why, she said she was part Gypsy and a little superstitious about things like that.”

“Do you go along with that?”

“No I don’t, Sheriff.”

Bill turned onto the main road and sped up a little. “She tell you any more about herself?”

“Not much. She’s very adept at changing the subject. Says she came over here from France last year to see the Wild West. She’s working on an arts degree and is quite active in sports, particularly tennis. She has three trophies for tennis.”

Bill pulled over and stopped. He made sure the T was idling properly before he hooked an arm over the seat and shifted around. “Trophies?”

“Yes. Funny thing too. Two of those trophies are a little dusty, like they’ve been sitting in the same place for a while without being handled or moved. The third one is all clean and shiny.”

“Whatcha drivin’ at?”

The deputy scratched the tip of his nose. “I’ve been thinking that if the murder weapon was an axe or something like that, it should have left a vertical wound unless it was swung sideways or Miss Moore was prone at the time. The base of that trophy is beveled and has a sharp edge to it. It would leave a high, horizontal wound if swung from behind by a tall assailant.”

“Tall like Rondeau.”


“She notice you eyein’ that trophy?”



Bill shifted back around and looked over at the college. “I’ll bet that’s her brand new yellow Dodge sittin’ over there beside the dorm.”

The deputy leaned over to look out between the struts that supported the T’s frayed canvas top. “Yes, that’s hers.”

Bill flicked the stub of his stogie away and reached for a fresh one. He didn’t light it, just sat there rolling in back and forth under his nose while he watched the dorm and drummed the fingers of his other hand on the steering wheel.

After about two minutes of nothing but the whir of the T and the tapping of Bill’s fingers on the wheel, the deputy said, “Can I ask you something, Sheriff?”


“Did you already know all of this?”

Bill shrugged. “I found out some things about the Mamselle including her playin’ tennis, but I didn’t consider her havin’ trophies for it. You did real good there. What I’m havin’ a problem with is the why of it. On the one hand, it looks like the Mamselle might be out here in the Great American Southwest against her will, with Doc Gates gettin’ paid handsomely for keepin’ an eye on her. On the other hand, it looks like she had a genuine liking for Moore - Whoa! There she goes now!”

Because of her height and bearing there was no mistaking Rondeau, even from a distance. She was wearing a brightly-colored poncho as she strode to her car and threw something in on the seat before getting in. Bill stuffed the unlit cigar back in his shirt pocket and eased the T into gear. “She account for her whereabouts during the times in question?”

“Yes, and no,” the deputy said, grabbing a strut as Bill revved the T a little. “She said she studied after Miss Moore left, until falling asleep at around five. Says she didn’t wake up until eight-thirty, at which time she decided to go into town for something to eat.”

“She say anything about Moore coming back right after Gates picked her up?”

The deputy was trying to thumb the pages of his notebook without letting go of the strut while Bill watched Rondeau drive to the road leading out of the campus where, instead of turning left, she turned right.

“She’s headin’ for the desert, boy! Hang on!”

“No!” the deputy blurted, as the U-turn tried to fling him from one side of the T to the other. “Sh-she said the last she saw of Miss Moore was when Doctor Gates picked her up. I did notice, however, that Miss Rondeau does not think very highly of Doctor Gates.”

Bill careened onto the campus road and scattered some students, who would no doubt think twice about using it as a sidewalk in the future. “Her daddy set it up. Don’t know why yet, but I’ll bet two nickels and a prize hen she’s wanted by the French law for somethin’.”

Bill caught a glimpse of Rondeau turning left behind the last building ahead of them, and eased up a bit. “Looky here! All we got so far is that she’s got a lame alibi and some suspicious behavior with that trophy, which might have a drop or two of blood soaked into its bottom. Might be a felt material like some I’ve seen. If so, that’s two outta three and we got enough for an arrest. But if not, then we need to nail down the motive, and that’ll take too much time ‘cause we’ll have to contact the French police ‘n wait for them to get back to us. And even then we’ll be lookin’ at a whole lotta testimony that’ll say Rondeau loved Moore like a sister.”

“She doesn’t like Doctor Gates,” the deputy mused carefully from the back seat. “Maybe she only got close to Miss Moore to be a bother to him.”

“I’m bettin’ Veronica Moore found out somethin’ she shouldn’t have. We don’t have time for all that anyhow, so this is what we’re gonna do.” Bill rounded the corner, rather sedately, considering that all four wheels stayed on the ground.

“We’re gonna pull her over. I’ll come up on her left; you come up on her right. I’ll keep her talkin’ while you reach in and get the trophy. Bring it around to where she can see what you’re doin’ and look at the base real careful. Then you nod at me like you found what you were lookin’ for.”

“Whether I found anything or not?”

“You got it! Then just follow my lead, and we’ll wrap this thing up here and now.”

“Just like that, Sheriff?”

“Just like that, boy,” Bill said, closing on Rondeau. He pulled off his stetson and started waving it up and down out the side of the T. “Nothin’s hard in this business unless you make it that way, and you can do that by being too careful. You gotta move fast and trust to your instincts. Remember that!”

“Yes sir!” the deputy said, sliding over to the right, getting ready to jump out as soon as Rondeau stopped. Rondeau didn’t stop. She stepped on it. “Looks like she’s making a run for it, Sheriff!”

“First reaction. She’ll stop.”

The T was up and humming pretty good before Rondeau rolled to a halt in the middle of the desert track. Bill stopped two car lengths behind her, swung himself around and out, and started for the driver’s side of the yellow Dodge while the deputy kept pace on the right.

Rondeau hadn’t stuck her head out to look back at them, or even looked out the back window as far as Bill could tell. All he could see was her brightly colored left shoulder growing larger as he got closer, and it was still.

Too still.

“Damn!” he muttered, flicking the restraining strap off his .44, and stepping quickly out to the left, trying to put some distance between himself and the driver’s door.

“Watch yourself, boy!” he shouted, at the same instant Rondeau kicked the door open and fired from her lap.

The first round clipped Bill’s left earlobe, the second went wild as Bill drew and put one in her left shoulder. She slammed back onto the seat, and the deputy was on her in a flash, snatching the gun away, but taking a shapely knee in the face before subduing her completely.


“We don’t have it all yet,” Bill said, dabbing at his ear with his bandana, “but we got enough to make sure you don’t go nowhere until we check things out with the French authorities.”

“Actually, my lawyer thinks otherwise,” Gates said, nodding at the telephone on his desk. “All I did was sponsor the daughter of a friend to an education. I had no way of knowing she was a fugitive.”

“Shoot! You are a sharp one, Doc,” Bill grinned, examining his bandana for a clean spot. “Okay, let’s try this then. I was over in France myself during the war and made a friend or two of my own, friends in law enforcement like myself. We’ve kept in touch, so I know I can find out all about Rondeau’s daddy. Who he is, what he does, and - more to the point - how long an arm he’s got.”

Gates shrugged. “He knows his daughter. She brought this on herself.”

“I don’t think so. I think this only happened because you couldn’t keep your pecker in your pants, and those friends of mine are gonna make sure he knows that. That, and maybe where you are at all times in the U.S. of A, but I haven’t made up my mind about that part yet.”

Gates was baleful. “You wouldn’t dare!”

“Now why wouldn’t I?” Bill said quietly. “You had as much in the killing of that little girl as Rondeau did.”

“I’ll have your job!”

“I don’t think so. The citizens know the road to justice can be a little twisty sometimes, but you know, sometimes they like it that way.”


“Had to do it, boy,” Bill said in response to the silence from the back seat after he’d explained the deal he’d made with Gates. “A smart lawyer coulda made a case out of her not knowin’ we was the law comin’ up behind her in an unmarked car ‘n all. That, and she’d already removed the cover on the bottom of that trophy.”

“Bud he could ged away wid it, Sheriff,” the deputy responded through the gigantic lump of gauze some students had taped to his broken nose.

“Not for long. All he’s got is how far he can run before the Mamselle gives him up instead of me. I figure in three days at the most she’ll be well enough for us to go in and tell her all about herself, compliments of what Gates told us.”

“Bud you said you wouldn’t dell her who dold you”

“Whazzat? Oh - right! I won’t have to tell her who told me. She’ll know. In the meantime what we got is an international fugitive wanted for the murder of her cheatin’ lover in France, which wouldn’t have been that big a deal over there ‘cept he was a judge. I’m sure the Frenchies would like her back, but she’s gonna be tried here for the murder of a U.S. citizen who found out too much, through no fault of her own.

“Nod surprising considering dey were roommates,” the deputy offered.

Bill nodded. “Rondeau went a little too far in tryin’ to make Moore see Gates for what he really was. Told her how he was earning all that extra money he was throwing around. Moore started in on Gates about it as soon as he picked her up yesterday. Gates got panicky and told her she’d better shut up about it, so Moore jumped outta the car and ran back to the dorm, probably to get her stuff ‘n get the hell outta there. Rondeau, realizing the mistake she’d made, decided to rectify it right then and there, but had to wait until dark before she could bundle Moore into the car and dispose of her.”

“Bud why ad de shooting range, Sheriff? She must have known dat if we made a connection wid Gates id would lead us do her? Ow!”

“If it hurts to talk, boy, just listen. While she was waitin’ for dark she had too much time to think. She figured to implicate Gates just enough to put us on him, which would ruin him once it made the papers. She knew Gates wouldn’t have the nerve to give her up and try to explain why to her daddy, who sounds like the kinda guy who’d have someone knocked off for wearin’ brown shoes with a blue suit, never mind failing him. At least that’s the impression I got when I finally traded Gates his chance to run for the whole story.”

The deputy fought to stifle a yawn that was going to hurt, while Bill pulled out a stogie and scratched up a light. He puffed thoughtfully for a minute or so, then he said, “You ever wonder what kinda deputy a woman would make?”


Copyright © 2000 R.W. Morris