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Maggie Bishop, Mystery and Romance Author

First Chapters of Murder at Blue Falls...the Horse Found the Body

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The first in the Appalachian Adventures Mysteries series.
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Ingalls Publishing Group

Chapter 1

Who poisoned the dogs?  The words repeated in Jemma Chase's head as wrangler Bo dropped her off at the Watauga County Sheriff’s office, located at the jail on Queen Street in Boone, North Carolina. On this October Monday, errand day, high clouds scuttled across an otherwise clear sky. Cool breezes blew in from the east to the Appalachian mountains.  Why would someone do that to an animal? It's one thing to poison a person -- but a dog?

Jemma walked up the cracked cement steps and into the cement block building. The small waiting room had peel and stick square vinyl tiles on the floor, one vending machine, one pay phone, a tiny table with two plastic chairs, a small bulletin board with three bail bondsmen business cards attached. The flourescent ceiling fixture blinked dim every few seconds. She swallowed hard and spoke through a metal grated window to talk to two armed guards.

One of them led her down a barren hallway, past four jail cells with one man sleeping on a bunk, and into a back office in which two desks and two chairs were crammed. On one desk, papers were stacked in distinct piles, pens at attention in a coffee mug. Citations and Certificates of Achievement were propped up three deep on top of a bookcase mounted on the wall above. A boxy CTR monitor displayed a screen saver of intricate puzzles being filled in, the keyboard was free of the grime present on the other desk’s keyboard. In contrast, the other work space’s paper stacks defied the laws of gravity. The guard brought in a folding chair and indicated that she sit on one of the desk chairs as he left. She sat with her back to the disheveled pile.

Two men walked in carrying cups of coffee.

"Would you like some coffee, Miss Chase?" the younger one asked as he sat at the next desk and swivelled around his chair to face her. He looked to be in good shape, short dark hair, quick smile. Collard shirt, tie, pistol in a holster at his hip.

"No thanks." Jemma sat up straighter with both feet firmly on the floor.

"I’m Detective Tucker and this is Detective Graves." Graves settled into the folding chair, leaned back and crossed his leg, ankle at opposite knee.

Tucker leaned forward. "We appreciate you coming in here and talking to us. I know there’s a ton of things you’d sooner be doing so I’ll get to it. You’ve heard about the dog poisonings out your way. We wondered if you could shed any light on what’s happening."

"Nothing more than what my parents told you." Jemma sat tall to keep from shaking.

"Let me back up a bit. Is the Blue Falls Ranch your official address?"

"Yes." Jemma leaned back into the chair.

"Where did you move from?"

"How is that relevant?" She glanced at the other detective, at the progressive puzzle on the computer screen, then focused on Detective Tucker.

"Now, now Miss Chase," Graves interjected, "no need to be jumpy. We’re fillin’ in a report."

"Colorado Springs five years ago. My parents moved here fifteen years ago. Dad wanted horses, Mom wanted a Bed and Breakfast–and me, I just want peace."

Tucker asked her a few other simple questions for his report. He studied her every move so she willed herself to be calm. This wasn’t new to her.

"What do you do for a living?"

"I work at the ranch, lead trial rides, help in the kitchen. I also do carpentry work."

Tucker’s eyes widened. "Bet that comes in handy. You’ll have lots of work around here with all the new construction going on."

She nodded. "I fix things at the ranch. I rebuilt the old house I stay in."

"I understand you had a run in with your neighbor."

Jemma licked her lips. "Not really. I asked Rhonda Lea to stop her son from driving his four-wheeler on our property. He was tearing up our horse trails."

"Want to tell me about it." Detective Tucker put the report on his desk.

"There’s not much to tell. When she started to deny it, I asked her to meet me at the trail that runs near her property so I could show her. They own a couple of acres next door. She and her twelve year old son came. I showed them where he had worn a trail from her property to meet up with our trail. Twenty or so yards of the trail was rutted so deep that water stood in the dual tire tracks. Our horses now have to avoid those areas. We don’t want their legs to be injured walking in that muck. The son had spooked a group of riders a few days before and I had trouble calming down our guests as well as the horses."

"I understand he’d been on those trails before and no one had said anything."

"That was because he used to walk the trails, not spin wheelies on them. I wanted to put a stop to it even though Dad didn’t want to annoy the neighbors. You know how folks around here can hold a grudge."

"You got that right," Graves said. "Part of the old mountain ways."

Tucker leaned back in his chair. "And then what happened?"

"Rhonda Lea’s son put his arm around his mom’s shoulder–he’s tall for his age–and tried to get her to leave. Her face got red and she accused me of hating her, screaming like a wild cat. I have no idea where that came from. I barely know her. I went over once for coffee at her invitation but we didn’t hit it off. She’s got a family to take care of and I don’t. We don’t have anything in common. I though she was a nice enough lady but I’m not looking for high-maintenance friends."

"What do you mean by that?" Tucker asked then sipped his coffee.

"Rhonda Lea is one of those ladies that recounts all the moments in her life, no matter how minor the event or small the detail. She’s a drama queen. She likes to know what all the neighbors are doing, she wants regular visits. I know she’s on medication, but her temper is not in control.

"Tell me about the morning you learned about the dogs."

"In detail?

"Tell us everything."

"I came in from greeting the dawn. Nothing stirred–no breeze, no bees–on that foggy morning. Brandy’s whinney floated in the mountain air. The lake of fog in the valley surrounded and concealed all living things it was so thick. It had been an unseasonably warm week.

"That’s when the phone rang. I said no, I hadn’t seen the dog but that I’d take a walk around and look. I walked to the creek and headed toward the neighbor’s place. It made sense that an animal would head for water if it didn’t head home. Eventually I came to my neighbor’s driveway. Rhonda Lea was there, at the culvert. The last time we had met, Rhonda Lea’s voice was in prime full-throttle with me on the receiving end.

"‘We found him,’ Rhonda Lea said and glared at me. Rhonda Lea’s husband rushed the bundled up dog to his truck.

"‘Is he okay?’ I asked and stepped back as if I had been physically accosted.

"‘I don’t think so. We’re heading to the vet,’ Rhonda Lea said as her glare shifted to concern as she followed her husband.

"Rhonda Lea called the next day. He’d been poisoned by an antifreeze-laced hamburger, or it could have been Christmas tree poisons, she managed to get out between sobs. They found the wrapper on the border between Rhonda Lea’s few acres and Blue Falls Ranch. Within days, the dog dead count in the valley was up to twenty-one. Both of the Chase’s dogs were fine.

"Speculation abounded. Everyone had antifreeze. Was it a hunter prepping for deer season? A neighbor tired of driving through packs of dogs? That crazy kid who had had an aneurism years ago?–he hadn’d been the same since.

"Thank goodness horses were vegetarians, I remember thinking. And that the guest ranch horse barn was so far off the public road. A few days later, my parents told me that a detective had stopped by and talked to them about the dog poisonings. He was professional but friendly. Said it was a puzzler. Asked if I’d mind dropping by his office next time I went to Boone. So here I am."

Graves cleared his throat. "That was what we asked for. You and your neighbor are not friends."

" She has problems I don’t need to get involved with."

"I understand you have some problems yourself." Tucker cocked an eyebrow.

"Don’t we all." Jemma shifted in her seat. "I wasn’t guilty that time either."

"Oh?" Tucker’s eyes flickered with interest.

"Picked up for DUI. I only had two drinks. That skunk with me jerked the wheel." Jemma’s heart sank. They hadn’t known. "That’s when I came East and moved in at my parents ranch." Tucker’s body stiffened. What had she said to cause that?

Graves glanced at Tucker. Tucker put down his coffee cup and looked directly into Jemma’s eyes. "Did you poison those dogs?"

"No! Why would I do that? I love animals. I even move spiders from inside the house and not kill them. Did Rhonda Lea accuse me?" Blood drained from her face. "You think I poisoned her dogs and the other in the neighborhood as revenge for her son riding on our land. Doesn’t that sound weak to you?" Jemma willed herself calm. They were trained to read body language and she had nothing to hide.

"Why weren’t your dogs poisoned?" Tucker leaned forward.

"I don’t know. They stay away from the road, spend more time with the horses." Jemma’s hands curled into fists on her lap.

"How come you knew where the dog was?"

"I live and work with horses and dogs. I know how they react. If I were hurt, I’d head for water." Oh, no, it’s happening again. Stampeded into looking guilty.

Tucker leaned back and let the silence drag out. "Would you take a polygraph test?"

"Yes." Jemma leaned forward. "You must be desperate if you think I harmed those dogs. Revenge is not my style. It just makes things worse." Her mouth went dry. She should have asked for water.

Graves asked, "Can you tell me something about the other neighbors?"

Jemma shook her head. "Look. I keep busy at the ranch. This is our high season. Rhonda Lea had a guy living with them for a while, it was rumored that he sold drugs. Maybe he was mad when he moved out. He lives further up the valley, comes in to the ranch for breakfast sometimes. I’m sure she mentioned him. Be careful of her temper. She’s the type of clanish woman who brings out the worst in people. Picture yourself yelling at the top of your lungs and finding out she can yell louder. She’s practiced in the loud-mouth department. There’s a rage burning in that woman. I feel sorry for her son. "

"If you think of anything, you’ll let us know?" Graves asked.

"Sure. This has to be a hard one to investigate." Jemma accepted his card.

"Thank you for talking with us." Tucker stood and held out his hand. Jemma stood and shook it. He was her height, six-feet. Firm handshake. That much registered as she was escorted back to the front door.

Tucker stared at the door after she left. "She’s guilty, has to be."

"What makes you say that?" Graves stood and rearranged the chairs so he could belly up to his desk. "The odds of solving this one are about as good as clearing all the copperheads out of the valley of Triplett."

Tucker half-smiled and sat in his well-worn desk chair. "She handled the whole thing too well, as if she’d rehearsed it. Why, she barely reacted to my direct question about doin’ in the dogs. She didn’t even cry. Half the women we bring in here tear-up, before we even get started."

"You want to build a case because you didn’t shake her?" Graves shook his head. "I saw your eyes blaze when your old enemy DUI came up. Don’t deny it."

Tucker stretched to work out a kink in his shoulders. "We’ve been working together too long."

Graves shrugged. "When do you want to talk to her again? We need to cruise down that way, the petty thieves are back in business."

"You don’t suppose she’s involved with in that?"

"Dog killings, stealing in broad daylight–she could be a one woman crime wave."

Tucker saw the smile Graves tried to hide. "Cut it out. You have to admit, it would be convenient." Tucker leaned back in his chair. "She was hiding something even though she didn’t cross her arms or legs. Her eye movements didn’t indicate any answers she had to make up." Carpenter, huh? She’s used to working around men and has access to lots of homes and businesses. She’s already made an enemy out of her neighbor. She’s definitely not from around here. Need to check deeper into her record.

Graves pulled out his log book. "We’ve interviewed most everyone in the valley that are full time residence. The contractor, real estate millionaire, newlyweds, gay couple, hippies, former roommates, dude ranch owners, retired couple, friendly neighbors, and now Jemma–hated neighbor. Sheriff’s already grumbling that we’re spending too many man-hours on this."

"We still have the brothers and the hunter to interview." Tucker slapped his hand on his desk. "It’s such a vicious crime. Poor defenseless dogs. It’s heartbreaking to the dog owners. Sheriff’s right, though, we’ll have to move on soon." Tucker wrote out his report but left out that Jemma was tall and lanky. She had to be strong from carpentry work and riding horses every day. When was the last time he had ridden a horse? He needed to visit the farm more often. His dad always had a horse or two around. He said they reminded him of his father’s days in the cavalry in Panama in the 30s.

She wore her brown hair in one long braid down her back. No frills. Jeans loose enough to bend down in but not baggy. Shirt with a pocket, probably usually had a marking pencil in it. Scuffed work boots. Short nails, no jewelry. No makeup. She was not out to impress anyone.

Calm, walking tall on the outside, Jemma expelled and drooped as soon as the door closed behind her and she was again in the free air.

The shakes set in. She glanced to her left toward the library, her meeting point with her ride, Wrangler Bo. When she reached the bottom of the chipped cement jail steps, her feet went ahead one block to King Street where some of the college town bars were. Without a thought, she stopped in front of Murpheys–not for their barbeque, even though it was good. She stared at the glass door, feet rooted on the sidewalk.

A number of characters who spent their days around old town Boone barely registered in her mind as theywalked by her. Seventies college students who never left, never moved beyond their hippie days. Whites with dreadlocks and bare feet said "excuse me" as they sauntered around her. Those earth biscuits had kids, and got food stamps and free medicine, courtesy of Jemma’s taxes. They home schooled where the kids learn more about working the system, and lying blandly when confronted with stealing than about geography and science. They were American gypsies without the charm. Jemma had worked on a rental house where the owner had to evict the original three people plus the other six they had invited to live with them. All in all, it was four kids, five adults, three big dogs and a rabbit that had the run of the house. Jemma’s job was to rebuild doorways, install new windows and replace counter tops. The house stank for days, even after the carpet was ripped out.

Jemma felt like one of those bronze people statues set in public squares. The shaking had stopped but her mind had been elsewhere, nowhere. What was she doing here? How had she arrived?

An elderly couple walked by and avoided looking at her. The bar wasn’t what she needed.

She turned east but jerked her head at the honk of a horn. Wrangler Bo pulled over and she stepped up into the pickup.

"Man, I would have joined you in Murphy’s. I could use a beer about now. I hit three hardware stores before I found what your dad needed. Sure miss Farmer’s Hardware."

"I’ve put most of that behind me."

Wrangler Bo glanced at her before turning into a break in traffic. "No skin off my nose. A little drinkin’ never hurt anybody."

"Shows how much you know. Look at you. Closin’ in on fifty, drink every night. Broke every bone in your body in your rodeo days. Bet you’re a collection of pain jabs on rainy days."

"Hey, don’t take it out on me. I didn’t make you talk to the cops."

Jemma reached over and tugged his seat belt. "Sorry ‘bout that. Guess I didn’t fair as well as I’d hoped."

"What do you mean?" Bo stopped at a red light.

"They think I killed those dogs."

"No way. They must be desperate. No wonder you headed for a bar."

"But I didn’t go in the door." October town traffic was heavy with leaf-looking tourists and fall semester college students.

"Yeah? Well, I’ll drink one for you." Wrangler Bo grinned and crept along in the slow line of traffic.

Jemma snorted. "Like that’ll help. What am I gonna do if the real bad guy isn’t caught?"

"You’ll have to figure out who did it." He stopped and let an ASU student jay-walk across the street.

"Right. I’ll ask Rhonda Lea if she did it just to blame me for it. Then she’d burn my cabin down for spite." Jemma couldn’t believe she’d uttered those words.

"She’s not that bad. You two are like two bears and one trash can–each complaining about the other." Wrangler Bo stopped again to let a car with Florida tags pull out from a parallel parking space.

"That’s not true. I avoid any contact with her. She called me."

"Correction–she called the ranch and you answered." Bo had a self-satisfied smile when Jemma dropped her head. "I could ask around to see if anyone knows anything. Not much though. Don’t want them to haul me in."

Jemma nodded. "Thanks."

Chapter 2

Tucker leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms over his head. An hour of phone calls was his limit before he became antsy to do leg work. He was one of four investigators for Watauga County handling everything from break ins to fraud to even murder, although that was rare. They had two other detectives that did strictly narcotics work plus the three devoted to methamphetamine labs. It was terrible stuff that migrated from California. Tennessee had a worse problem than western North Carolina. At least now the penalty was ten to fifteen years instead of the revolving arrest door that existed a few years ago. Back then, they would bust offenders who would be out on the street almost before the SBI crime team finished their investigation.

Case files usually came from the uniform officers in the field. Occasionally, people walked in off the street to make a complaint. Most of his investigations were by phone and by internet. The call to Colorado Springs was interesting. Jemma Chase was arrested with a suspected drug dealer in her car. She claimed she wasn’t involved with that. She had merely given the guy a ride home after a party. Her blood alcohol level was barely over the limit. She moved here and what–changed her spots? Stopped drinking? Joined AA? No one changes that fast.

Tucker walked to the coffee station down the hall. He’d have to cut back on this stuff but not today.

Graves joined him. "Got a call about someone suspicious hanging around a mobile home owned by seasonal people. Want to take a ride?"

Tucker glanced at his empty cup. Guess he would cut back on coffee today. "Let me grab my jacket."

Jemma and Wrangler Bo ordered a burger at Hardee’s at New Market and ate it on their way down the mountain to the ranch. Wrangler Bo downshifted for the third and final switchback curve. "I hear Miss Dottie’s fixin’ fried chicken, greens and cornbread tonight. ‘Nanna pudding for dessert."

"She’s giving the guests the southern treatment. I’ve gained five pounds from her cooking since I’ve been here."

"That so? I figured with all the riding you’re doing, you’d bounce it off."

"I’m enjoying the food too much." Jemma sat up straighter to take the pressure off her waistband.

"You’ve got nothing to worry about." Wrangler Bo took a left following the tumbling waters of Elk Creek.

Jemma rolled down the window. "I–what was that? Look, there’s smoke coming from the other side of that trailer! Give me the cell phone. I’ll call it in if we can get a signal down here."

"You’ll get one with this old bag phone." Wrangler Bo parked on the side of the road and yanked open the pickup door while Jemma made the call.

"Wait, stop," she called to Wrangler Bo as he jogged up the driveway. "They’ll be here shortly. Fire stations’ only two miles from here."

"What if someone’s inside?" Wrangler Bo called back but slowed to a walk.

"It’s a vacation place. There aren’t any vehicles around." Jemma looked at the black smoke now billowing from under the trailer. Movement in the woods to the left caught her attention. "Is that someone running–over there?" Jemma scrambled out of the truck and pointed. "Hey, are you hurt?" Jemma headed toward the trees but the person melted into the autumn leaves.

Wrangler Bo looked where she pointed. "I don’t see anything. Do you want me to try to find him?"

"Never mind. He’s long gone by now. Maybe I imagined it."

By now, the trailer glowed orange. Wrangler Bo turned around and headed back to the pickup. Sirens grew louder. A red truck the size of a big pickup arrived and pulled into the yard. Stainless steel cabinets were stacked on both sides of the bed behind the passenger cab. It halted some 50 feet from the burning trailer. Two men in jeans and work shirts stepped out of the truck. They both wore red helmets with the letters SSVFD in white painted on the backs of their headpieces.

"Bo, that's such a small fire truck. Don't they have big fire trucks here?"

"It’s a Quick Response truck. It’s faster and more agile than the big trucks. They use it to get quickly to a fire or a medical emergency, size up the situation and report it. Then they use the equipment they carry to begin to deal with the situation until the rest of the responders arrive.

One of the men stepped to the back of the truck to a vertical metal panel. He flipped a silvery switch on the panel and pushed a black button. She heard the purr of a motor. The other man stood by the driver's side of the cab. He held a black thing in his hand. A curl of black wire ran into the cab.

Jemma heard him say, "30-23 to Stewart Simmons firefighters en route. It’s the old Trivette trailer. It is fully engulfed. We'll need the pumper and tanker."

The man at the back of the truck pulled a red hose from a reel mounted on the truck bed. The hose looked like a garden hose on steroids. He pulled the hose around to the front of the truck and pulled back on a handle on the nozzle. A stream of water shot from the nozzle. He aimed the gush of water at the brush covered bank at the right of the burning the structure.The dry leaves under the brush showed flames.

"Bo, the water is white."

"That’s foam. It comes from a chemical mixed into the water. It makes the water sticky and smothers the fire."

A white pickup truck arrived and pulled up next to Bo's truck. The driver stepped out. He wore a heavy tan coat, bulky tan trousers and black rubber boots. The front of his helmet bore the number 30-21. The letters stenciled on the back of his coat said "CHIEF." The back of his helmet was stenciled BERRY.

Jemma saw a blue flame. "Watch out!"

Boom!

The ground shook; hot air blasted her face. She blinked her eyes from the heat. "Oh my God." Jemma knew it was too late to save the structure and watched as the firemen drug out the hoses but didn’t try to put out the flames. They turned the hoses on the trees nearby and the woods behind the trailer.

Two big fire trucks came up the driveway. The chief halted the lead truck some 100 feet from the burning building. Three firefighters in the heavy tan outfits tumbled out of the cab. One of the men opened a door at the side of the truck and pulled a triangle-shaped metal from the cabinet and jammed it under one of the rear tires. The other two firefighters ran to the rear of the truck and lifted down a 10 ft. hose section that looked like it had a one foot diameter. The outside of the hose was wrinkled like an accordion. They carried it to the driver side of the truck and began attaching one end of it to a pipe that stuck out from a big vertical panel just behind the truck cab.

The second fire truck turned around at the main road and backed down to the first truck. It stopped some 12 ft. from the side of the front truck. Three firefighter exited the second truck and pulled down a rack on the side of the truck that held a large yellow rubberized tarpaulin that was folded into a frame of pipes. They placed it between the two trucks and pulled on the frame that unfolded. In moments there was a big yellow empty pool sitting on the ground.

A square metal funnel was attached to the back of the second truck. The front of the funnel stuck over the edge of the empty pool. A firefighter pulled a lever on the back of the truck and a rush of water spilled out filling the pool. The end of big, accordion hose attached to the front truck was dipped into the water pool.

More pickup trucks, station wagons and cars arrived. Men got out with big red canvas bags. Opening the bags they pulled out tan jackets, trousers, boots and helmets. Quickly donning the apparel the men surrounded the fire chief.

"Run two and a half inch lines from both sides of the pumper. Attach "wyes" and run two inch and a half lines from each hose. Set the nozzles on full spray. Attack all four sides. Hold back at least 30 feet from the building. Radio when you're ready to have the lines charged."

The fire chief turned to speak with one of the firefighters. The back of his jacket was stenciled with SAFETY OFFICER. The back of his helmet was stenciled KAISER. He came over to Bo and Jemma.

"Hello Jemma, Bo. You were on the scene when our first truck arrived. Did you call it in?"

"Yes We were driving by when we saw the smoke and came up the driveway to check on it."

"Were there any other people when you arrived?

"No. I don't think so. I'm not sure." Jemma decided to keep to herself the phantom in the woods.

"When the tanker leaves to refill you’ll need to move your vehicle out to the road. I know where your can be reached."

Wrangler Bo approached the fire engine and spoke to one of the firemen before returning to Jemma. "You okay?"

She nodded. "How do those firemen stand wearing all that gear? It must weigh thirty pounds."

"I don’t know. Maybe they want to save their skin and lungs. At least they won’t need the air packs until it has burned itself out." Wrangler Bo glanced behind Jemma.

Jemma didn’t pay him no mind as she watched the water gush out of the hoses.

While Bo and Jemma waited they watched the actions of the firefighters. The men in the Quick Response truck put on their fire apparel then reel in the red hose. Bo pointed to the men "They're probably out of water, but they did their job keeping the fire from spreading into the woods."

Crash!

Jemma and Bo flinched as the roof of the trailer collapse into the building. It showered a fountain of glowing embers that shot up 10 feet or so then faded to black soot that drifted out over the area, At an order from the fire chief, the firefighters manning the hoses turned the spray in solid streams of water and foam. Four firefighters gathered at the side of the pumper truck, opened a big sliding door. They lifted two foot long cylinders held in a framework of straps and swung them over their heads an on to their backs. Two other firefighters and the Safety Officer helped the men adjust and test the cylinder packs and face masks.

"Those are air tanks," Bo whispered to Jemma. "They're probably getting ready to move in close to the fire to directly attack the fire."

A red Hum Vee with a flashing red light bar on the roof pulled up next to the Quick Response truck. A man and a woman in firefighter dress blue uniforms exited the vehicle and walked over to the fire chief.

"That's the County Fire Marshall and her aide," Bo explained.

"A woman is Fire marshal. That's nice." Jemma smiled. "What happens now?"

"Most likely the chief suspects arson and radioed for a fire inspection." Bo nudged Jemma. "Here comes another woman. She's wearing a blue vest with the letters ‘MEDICAL’ Her name is Chris something. She's the director of the Medical First Responder group here in the valley. Her volunteers mostly likely are bringing drinking water and refreshments for the firefighters and will check them for any injuries and heat exhaustion. They also handle the traffic control out on the main road."

"Its nice to see the fire department is an equal opportunity organization." Jemma saw that the tanker truck had pulled out. A County Sheriff's car pulled into an area on the side of the driveway near Elk Creek Road. "Oh, oh," Jemma said seeing Detectives Tucker and Graves.

"We’ve done all we can here. If we wait much longer, we’ll be blocked in and won’t get back to the ranch for hours."

Jemma looked around. A dozen vehicles had piled up on either side of the road. A first responder, directed traffic for the one lane still open. More cars turned down the road. "Uh, oh," Jemma said, seeing the detectives get out of a car. "Let’s get out of here. I talked to those two all I wanted to earlier."

Wrangler Bo glanced at the two men then opened the truck door for Jemma. "Whatever you say. The fire marshal will know where to find us if he has any questions." He climbed in the truck, cranked the engine, and finished the drive to the ranch.

Tucker got out of the car and watched the truck drive off. Jemma Chase turned her face away but he’d seen enough to recognize her. "Just happened to be in the neighborhood."

"Could be." Graves walked around the car. "Keeps turning up like a mole in my yard."

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