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Hitched and Tied: The Morelville Mysteries - Book 4 ebook

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Opis ebooka Hitched and Tied: The Morelville Mysteries - Book 4 - Anne Hagan

Mel and Dana attempt to bring their growing romantic relationship full circle but family, duty and family duties all conspire to get in the way.A victim with close ties to the Cranes escapes a deadly assault with his life only to die from his injuries minutes later. Mel has few clues to find the fighter turned murderer and the further she goes with her investigation, the more the situation deteriorates. Meanwhile, Dana’s trying to plan their wedding but the family is resisting both her efforts and the wishes of the couple while focusing more on her sister and her traditional relationship.Family angst, violent crime and more than a few Holstein steers abound as Dana and Mel fight against the odds to solve Mel’s case and find their own happily ever after.This book is great together with Books 1 through 3 to get all of the Dana and Mel back story but it can also be read as a stand-alone mystery.

Opinie o ebooku Hitched and Tied: The Morelville Mysteries - Book 4 - Anne Hagan

Fragment ebooka Hitched and Tied: The Morelville Mysteries - Book 4 - Anne Hagan

Hitched & Tied

The Morelville Mysteries – Book 4

––––––––

Anne Hagan

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To the United States Supreme Court

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PUBLISHED BY:

Jug Run Press, USA

Copyright © 2015

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https://annehaganauthor.com/

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All rights reserved:  No part of this publication may be replicated, redistributed or given away in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without prior written consent of the author or the publisher except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages for review.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are actual places used in an entirely fictitious manner and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, organizations, or persons, living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.

Table of Contents

Copyright Page

Prologue

Chapter 1 – Yes

Chapter 2 – Falling

Chapter 3 – Cue it Up

Chapter 4 – It’s all About the Fair

Chapter 5  - Carnival of Animals

Chapter 6 – Heat Wave

Chapter 7 – Sharks

Chapter 8 – When Pigs Fly

Chapter 9 – Show Time

Chapter 10 – Claim Check

Chapter 11 – Sold!

Chapter 12 – Free Day...or Not

Chapter 13 – Last Ride

Chapter 14 – Just Another Fun Day

Chapter 15 – Sterling Moon

Chapter 16 – Sayonara

Chapter 17 – The Best Laid Plans

Chapter 18 – Feeling Low

Chapter 19 – Huntress

Chapter 20 – Stakeout

Chapter 21 – Place your Bets

Chapter 22 – Gossip

Chapter 23 – Meet the Rossi’s

Chapter 24 – Back to Business

Chapter 25 – The Setup

Chapter 26 – The Sting

Chapter 27 – Hitched

Chapter 28 – Tied

Epilogue

Preview of Viva Mama Rossi!

About the Author

Check Anne Out on her blog, on Facebook or on Twitter:

Also Written by the Author

Prologue

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Family Fun Day – Crane Family Farm

“Cole, Grandpa said you need to get that calf in the head chute now! We’re wasting daylight!”

The 15 year old sneered at his younger sister but he hustled to the fence line to get his show calf. He untied the skittish animal and started to walk him toward the chute where his grandfather was waiting, electric trimmer in hand.

“What are they going to do?” Dana looked at me with curiosity.

“They’re just going to buzz off some ear hair and tufts on top of his head and the ridge of his back...make him look handsome for the judges.”

Dana shrugged and started to ask another question but her attention was diverted away when a black Cadillac Escalade skidded to a near stop at the end of the dirt driveway and then turned and started up it. A cloud of dust rose behind the fast moving SUV as it plowed toward the farm house at the top of the drive.

The calf, scared, started to buck and kick. It was all Cole could do to hang on to the lead rope. He yelped in pain as the tightly woven braid of it tore at his hands. I rushed over and took the rope from him and then pulled the calf in close to try and calm it. Beth’s calf, which was tied to the fence rail waiting for its own turn with the shears, strained and pulled at its rope.

“Kris, get over there and try to settle that calf!” I yelled. She started toward it as the Escalade rolled to a stop inches from moms hillside rock garden at the end of the driveway. I didn’t know who the driver was. All I could see from my vantage point out in the pasture was an out of state license plate that appeared to be from Florida. I didn’t know anyone who drove a Cadillac Escalade with Florida plates.

“The calf is fine,” my father yelled. He waved his hand toward the offending SUV, “Find out who the hell that is!”

Kris turned instead toward the gate in the fence and started to walk to it. The driver’s side door to the Escalade opened away from us and, before Kris could even mount the gate to climb over it, Jeremey David Roberts stepped around to the end of the vehicle.

“Dad! It’s dad!” Cole yelled. He forgot all about his calf and the task at hand and, instead, turned to run to the fence.

“Cole!” I called to him as loudly as I dared while hanging onto his still trembling calf, “Get back here!”

He turned to me, “But I want to see my dad.”

“That can wait boy,” his grandfather told him. “You need to take care of your animal first.”

“JD, you know I have a restraining order against you. You can’t be within 500 feet of me.”

“I ain’t here to see you anyway. I heard in town that my kids were out here getting their animals ready for fair. I’m here to see them.”

“Like hell you are,” Kris growled back at him. “Since when have you ever given a damn about those kids?” She pointed back toward Beth and Cole still standing out in the pasture.

“Kinda’ hard to show I care, ain’t it, when I don’t never get to see them, isn’t it?”

“That was your choice JD. If you made a support payment once in a while, maybe the judge would be a little bit more lenient on you.”

Faye Crane came out of the farmhouse, “JD Roberts you get on out of here right now! You can’t be coming around here!”

He looked up the hill at her, “What are you going to do to me you old bat? Are you gonna call the Sheriff on me? Oh wait, she’s standin’ right out there in your damn field with her finger up her ass!”

Kris got in his face, “Don’t you talk to my mother that way JD! You have no right to be here and you’re breaking the law. Not only that, but you’ll get Cole’s hopes up sky high again and then leave him hanging like you always do. Just leave now before you do too much damage!”

“I ain’t going nowhere until I get a look at this guy who thinks he’s going to take my place with my kids and play daddy to them. Now, where is he?”

“So you really aren’t here about your kids after all are you? You’re just being nosy!” Kris was indignant.

“A man has a right to know who’s spending time with his children!”

Mom jumped back in, “You don’t have any rights at all JD; besides, the man Kris is dating isn’t even here, as you can plainly see, so you’re wasting everyone’s time. Now get movin’ and get on out of here.”

“I hear its way more than dating!”

“That’s my business JD, not yours. Now beat it.”

Chapter 1 – Yes

Tuesday Evening, August 5th, 2014

Adornetto’s Italian Restaurant, Zanesville, Ohio

“Yes Mel, I’ll marry you!”

I slipped the ring I’d picked out onto Dana’s finger and then stood and tugged her from her chair and into my arms as Hannah beamed at the two of us. “I love you Dana.”

Her eyes sparkled with excited tears, “I love you too!”

I kissed her softly but quickly and then pulled her in for a long hug. Time just seemed to stand still while I held her.

All too soon, I had to let her go. Once we were settled back at the table, Hannah discreetly disappeared back into the kitchen.

Dana looked down at her dessert plate, “I don’t know what to say or even where to start...”

“You said the most important thing; yes.”

“When...how long have you been planning this?”

I smiled at her and caressed her hand, “Oh, since I walked out of a motel room back in June and I had to leave you there by yourself waiting and wondering what was going on.”

“That long ago huh?” Dana laughed.

“Yeah. Pretty much.” I took a little bite of my dessert and sighed. Our young friend Hannah was going to do great in culinary school. She already exhibited some serious talent.

Dana was eating her dessert too but she had a faraway look in her eyes. After a long minute of silence, I asked her, “Penny for your thoughts?”

She tilted her head and peered at me in the dimmed light, “I’m just wondering how...where...when you would want to...” She paused, obviously not sure exactly what she wanted to ask.

“Hun, I want to do this for real. We can’t legally get married in Ohio right now but there are lots of places where we can. We’ll go somewhere to do it officially and then, when we come back here, I want to have a big party and invite everyone: your family, mine, friends, co-workers...everybody.”

Dana drew in a deep breath and smiled, “Okay then. So, uh, when?”

“Well, let’s talk about it and try and get it all hammered out early the week after next. I have got to help to get Kris’s kids through fair week first!” I hung my head down low.

“Baby, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. We’ll get through that together. I don’t know a lot about showing animals but I’ll do whatever I can to help.”

“Trust me; you’re going to regret saying that.”

“Mel, I don’t regret anything about meeting you or our connection to those kids. I wouldn’t trade a minute of the last few months away...well, not a minute with them anyway,” she laughed ruefully.

I knew she was thinking about being shot, kidnapped – not once but twice – framed for murder and about being tied up and left for dead once. Since Dana had come into my life, her own life had become very dangerous. I hoped to change all of that for her but, right now, I needed to get her mind off of it. “There is something else we need to start talking about right away.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

I leaned toward her and whispered conspiratorially, “Getting a place of our own.”

“True,” she smiled back.

“I have a gut feeling Lance is going to propose to my sister real soon. He’s already hinting that he wants to move in with her or have her and the kids move in with him.”

“Well, it’s only logical that you and I move out of there and he move in. There’s no sense in uprooting the kids and your sister really does love living in your grandparent’s family home.”

“Yeah, she does.”

“Where would we go?”

“Well, I’d want to stay pretty close to both the kids and mom and dad for now. I don’t know if you’ve noticed it but my dad seems to be struggling a little lately with things he’s always done and that he still should be able to do. He’s only 57. Stuff shouldn’t be this hard for him...not yet.”

“Has he seen a doctor?”

“Don’t even get me started on that!” I shook my head, “He has an all hate relationship with doctors. Anyway, there are a few houses in and right around Morelville that are up for sale which would keep us close to the kids and to the farm. Would you be willing to take a look at some of those?”

“Of course babe.”

“I was thinking that maybe eventually, we’d put our heads together and buy a piece of property somewhere to build what we really want so this wouldn’t be forever...”

Dana reached across the table and took my hand in hers. “Mel, I just want to settle down and be with you. Wherever that is, is fine.”

Chapter 2 – Falling

Wednesday Evening, August 6th, 2014

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Kris looked up at the clock; 8:50. Ten more minutes and she could lock up.

She checked the list of all of the things she still needed to get packed up and ready to go for county fair camper move in on Friday night and the animal move in on Saturday morning. She jumped, seemingly caught off guard by the black Escalade pulling up to the pumps.

She shook her head and said out loud to the empty station, “I hope JD’s boss is driving his own vehicle this time instead of letting that ass borrow it again.”

Kris watched through the glass front doors from behind the cash register counter as the driver’s side door swung open and someone started to step down. One of the pumps was in her line of vision so she leaned out over the counter to try and see who had been driving. No one was visible.

Looking confused, she stepped out from behind the counter and over to the double doors. The driver was lying face down on the pavement, not moving. The door was still hanging open. All she could see of him was about mid-back, down of a man in dusty Levi’s and steel toed boots. “JD, drunk as usual!”

Kris stepped outside into the humid evening air, “JD?”

The prone man didn’t respond.

She moved forward and stopped at the service island but didn’t step over it. “JD?” she called again. He still didn’t move or respond.

Kris stepped back and walked around the island to his side of it, stopping near his head. She stooped down and put a hand on his shoulder and called, “JD” again as she attempted to turn his face up to her. She fell backwards when she saw his bloody, battered face.

After scrambling back to her feet, she ran into the station, picked up the phone and dialed Mel’s desk phone number at home.

###

Mel

We were looking through the local realtor listings on my computer when the phone rang.

Dana was closer to it. She glanced at the caller ID and said, “It’s Kris calling from the station,” as she picked the handset up.

“Hey Kris, what’s up?” she asked my twin sibling.

Even though the phone wasn’t on speaker, Kris’s voice came through loud and clear, “Tell Mel she needs to get up here right away. I think JD is dead!”

I grabbed the phone from Dana, “It’s me, sis. What’s going on?”

“JD pulled in here in that big SUV he was driving the other day and he literally fell out of it. He’s all bloody and he’s not responding. I think he’s dead.”

“Did you call 911 for an ambulance or for the police?”

“No dummy! I’m calling you!”

“Kris, listen to me. Don’t touch him or his vehicle. Call 911 and get an ambulance and some of my deputies to the scene. I’ll be right up there.”

Kris hung up on me without saying anything else.

“Sorry Dana! Duty calls.”

“Go; I’ll hold down the fort here.”

“Thanks babe.” I kissed her forehead, grabbed my wallet style badge and my go bag from my den closet and then I headed up the street to the gas station in my pick-up.

When I got to the station, all of a quarter mile away, the neighbors and the looky-loos were already starting to gather around the place. News travels fast in a tiny village like this one and a potential dead guy at the gas station is definitely news.

“Hey there Sheriff, it’s about time you showed up!” nosy old man Purcell cackled loud enough for all that were gathered around to hear. The old coot had only had to walk 20 yards across the street to get to the station. I ignored his barb.

“Everyone needs to move back please. A squad and other officers have been called and they’ll be arriving soon.”

“Don’t need no squad Sheriff. You need the Coroner for that one!” Purcell piped up, yet again. “He’s dead as a door nail!”

I stared at the old man hard. “You didn’t touch him did you?”

Purcell shrank under my gaze. He shook his head no and then stepped back into the gathering crowd.

I bent down and felt for the pulse point on JD’s neck. There was nothing. He wasn’t moving and there was no indication he was breathing.

Turning to Kris, I handed her the keys to my truck. “Park it across here so nobody can gape at him from the front.” I motioned for her to park the vehicle sideways blocking entry to the pump island and the view of the most likely deceased Jeremy David Roberts.

Once Kris had started to move my vehicle, I bent back to JD, took hold of his shoulder and gently tried to turn him over. I wasn’t prepared for the amount of damage I saw to his face.

JD had been beaten to a bloody pulp by someone. His fall from the SUV probably only heightened injuries he already had when he tumbled. His neon green road construction crew tee shirt was also marked with either his own blood or someone else’s but it appeared to be mostly dry now. Bending low over his face, I tried to feel for inhaled or exhaled air while I watched his chest for rise and fall. There was nothing but, even with the matted and congealing blood, I could detect the faint odor of alcohol.

I looked at his hands. His visible knuckles were scraped up pretty bad. They were all the proof I needed that he really had been in a hell of a brawl.

Standing, I stepped over him to the SUV. The door was still open. It was obvious JD had hit it on his way down. There was smeared blood on the window, the upper door just below the window and on the arm rest. Poor JD was as good as dead when he pulled in but his fall finished the job.

Once the ambulance and a couple of my deputies arrived, we cordoned off the area temporarily and started talking to the gathered crowd. We tried, in vain, to find a witness that had seen or knew anything more than the direction JD came from when he pulled in. Kris had been able to supply that information herself. No one else knew a thing but everyone sure seemed to have an opinion.

The squad guys did what they could for JD which primarily consisted of covering his body with a sheet and calling the County Coroner to come and do the actual pick up since the cause of death was more than a little indeterminate. I called for a tow truck and had the big SUV he’d been driving hauled to the impound lot. Trying to figure out who owned it and if it should be searched or not could wait until morning.

Chapter 3 – Cue it Up

Thursday Morning, August 7th, 2014

While I waited for the Coroner’s initial report, I ran the tags on the SUV JD was driving. He’s a local boy that grew up in Morelville and never strayed far from it. Kris had said she thought the SUV belonged to his boss, the guy who owned the road construction company he’d been working for, Oscar Stiers.

The Escalade had Florida plates on it. I didn’t know much about Stiers other than to know  he’d grown up in the Zanesville area too and that he liked to give back by hiring mostly locals to work on the jobs he got. Right now, he was doing some freeway construction work nearby as a sub on another company’s big state supported contract. JD Roberts was a drunk and a small time criminal. He’d been lucky to get hired on to a legitimate outfit to do real work.

When the plates came back as registered to Stiers at a Florida address but with an Ohio contact number I figured the vehicle was probably his snowbird transport south for the winter months. I called the number the system kicked out and got dumped into voicemail on what was likely Stiers’ personal cell phone.

I buzzed my assistant, “Holly, can you get me the name and number of the road construction company that Oscar Stiers owns? It should be Zanesville based.”

“On it Sheriff. It should only take a minute.”

“Thanks.” Holly and I had come up through the ranks together. She’s a Sergeant in her own right and often pulls double duty by manning the intake desk on weekends when she isn’t playing the role of my right hand. She’s a good cop and a good friend.

Only a few minutes had passed when Holly buzzed me back. “Sheriff the company is Stiers Asphalt Paving.” She gave me the number. “Oscar Stiers works out of a home office in Zanesville some of the time but his garage and shop are near Columbus since he does a lot of sub work, it appears, for Koko Construction.”

“I see. Good to know.” And out of my jurisdiction...

“One more thing Mel; the preliminary findings are in on Roberts. The Coroner’s initial report shows a blood alcohol level of .10.”

“Anything else?”

“Just that so far. I’ll let you know when he’s done with the autopsy.”

“Okay, thanks Holly.” I hung up. So, JD was legally drunk when he died. Frankly, given his long history of alcohol abuse, I wasn’t surprised.

###

Stiers Residence, Zanesville, Ohio

Oscar Stiers was actually relaxing at home and not working in his home office when I got a hold of him. I’d forgotten what it felt like to take a day off in the middle of the work week. Must be nice!

I decided to pay him a personal visit. Minutes later, when I pulled up in my county SUV and started to dismount, he walked out of the house and right up to me. He was dressed simply in shorts, a tee shirt and basic leather sandals. Even in the August heat, He looked rested and relaxed.

“Sheriff.” He nodded his head to me. “That was fast.”

“I was right downtown and, frankly, until JD died, it was a quiet week for me. Nobody gets up to much of anything when it’s this hot.”

Oscar smiled, “I know I prefer to be here than in the shop or out overseeing road projects this time of year if I can help it!” He looked me up and down in my full uniform. “You’re probably roasting because I know you have a vest on. Come on inside.”

“Thank you. It’s all part of the job but the dog days make it a little tougher.”

We headed into his nice but modest home. I knew he was a millionaire several times over but he didn’t live like one here. Maybe his home in Florida was different. Somehow, I doubted it.

He led me right into the kitchen and indicated that I should take a seat at the island.

“Sweet tea Sheriff? It’s a weakness of mine.”

I nodded. “Thank you. That sounds great.”

He filled two glasses with ice and took a pitcher from the refrigerator. While he poured, I started my quest for information. “So, can you tell me, how long has JD Roberts worked for you?”

“As far as I know,” he slid a glass to me and took a quick sip of his own, “he started this summer and he hasn’t been with me previous to this.”

“Did you know him before you hired him?”

He shook his head no. “I don’t believe so. Road crew guys come and go. It pays well but it’s hot dirty work and it’s only seasonal here. If they find something full time in the off season, I usually don’t see them the next summer.”

“Do you also do paving work in Florida?”

“Not if I can help it!” he laughed. “Sometimes a contract is too good to pass up but the bulk of my equipment is up here and so is my only maintenance shop. It’s a pain to move everything down there – or anywhere – so the money has to be right.”

I switched topics, “We have your SUV impounded right now. We’ve done a cursory search of it but we didn’t turn up anything. We won’t do a deeper search of it unless we have probable cause.”

Oscar, still standing across the counter from me, flipped his hand back quickly. “It’s no big deal. Do what you need to do with it. I bought it down there in a bank repo sale to use up here for those times when I have to be here in the dead of winter.”

“Why did you lend it to JD?”

“Well, that’s just it. I didn’t lend it to him...not directly.” At my raised eyebrow, he continued, “He didn’t steal it or anything like that, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“My daughter Olivia actually called me a week or so ago whining that her car was in the shop again. She drives some overpriced foreign job; an A5. The only place around here that can fix it is the Toyota dealership but they always have to wait for Audi to send them parts. Anyway, she wanted me to pay for a high end rental. I lent her the Escalade instead.”

He drummed his fingers on the island, “I figured it would slow her down some by not having that sports car she usually drives to the breaking point and by having to keep the SUV in fuel. Olivia must have lent it to him.”

“Is there anything you can tell me about where he might have been or where he may have been headed while he was driving your vehicle? It would be really helpful.”

He shook his head again, “I’m sorry but I just didn’t know him that well. I didn’t even know she knew him but then, she’s pretty hard to keep tabs on now that she’s back in town with her mother gone and all. She just flits from guy to guy and spends her future inheritance like it’s endless. She’s been in and out of school and she works at this or that, only when the spirit moves her.”

“How would I get in touch with Olivia?”

“I’ll give you her number but I wish you luck. I texted her right after you called me but she hasn’t responded. She doesn’t usually talk to me unless she needs something.”

“JD was in work clothes last night when he showed up at the gas station where he died. Was he on a local job site?”

“I assume but I wasn’t out there. He’s assigned to a repaving project on I-70 with at least a dozen other guys. The foreman on the job would know for sure.” Stiers checked the time on his cell phone. “If we leave now, we can catch them as they break for lunch and talk to the lead and probably most of the crew. Someone may know something.”

###

I-70 Road Repaving Site, East of Zanesville

Oscar Stiers introduced me to his site foreman who could only confirm that JD had, in fact, been at work with him the day before. He’d been assigned to hang off the back of a truck and set traffic cones in the morning, a solitary job, and then he’d done jobs alone and with one or two others the rest of the day.

He pointed out a few men from the Stiers crew who were sitting on a hillside eating their packed lunches under what little shade was available in the area. I approached them hoping that at least one of them had, had a conversation with JD the day before.

Two of the three men eyed my approach. One was busy, filthy hands and all, digging in his lunch bucket. I took my hat off and mopped my brow as I stepped to the edge of their semi-circle on the hill.

“I’m Sheriff Crane.” I looked at each of them. “JD Roberts, who worked with you all day yesterday, died yesterday evening. I’m trying to get a fix on where he was between leaving work with you all and the time that he died.”

None of the three men said a word.

“I know that JD was in some kind of fight before he ended up where he did. No one is under suspicion here. I’m just trying to piece together when he left here and where he went.”

I felt, rather than heard Stiers come up behind me.

“Men, help the Sheriff out. Robert’s was driving my Escalade, unknown to me, last night. We need to figure out where he went and what he got himself into.”

The man digging in his pail jerked his head up. “That was your ride? That lyin’ mofo!” The other two men laughed uneasily. “JD said the wheels were his, man. He acted all big shit and all about it!”

One of the other men chimed in, “Man, I’m sorry that he died and all but I didn’t believe half the stuff that fucker said. He was always runnin’ his damn mouth.”

“What time did you guys knock off yesterday?” I looked at each of them.

The second man to speak shrugged, “About 5:00 or so, like normal.”

“Did JD say anything to any of you about where he was going after work?” Both men who had spoken looked to the third man who hadn’t had any input into the conversation so far. The guy, knees drawn up, looked at the ground between his feet.

I addressed him directly, “Did he tell you anything?”

The man only glanced at me and then looked back down at the ground. “He didn’t tell me nothin’ but I saw him.”

“Where did you see him?”

“He was at a bar I go to. I see him in there sometimes.”

“What bar?”

“Ray’s place up near the steel mill.”

“I know it. About what time did you see him there?”

He shrugged and looked away again. “I dunno. I live near there. I went home and got a little cleaned up first. Musta’ been after 6:00.”

The other two men laughed at that. He shot them both a look. “I wasn’t keepin’ tabs on him like Sheriff. He was there, I was there. We wasn’t there together.”

It’s like pulling teeth with this guy. “Was he with anyone else?”

“He was playing pool with some other guys...three of them. I don’t know them.”

“Were they friendly to each other?”

He was quiet for a beat and obviously agitated. Finally he spat, “Look lady, I don’t know what to tell you! They may have been arguing about something from the looks of it but I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout that. I stayed out of it.”

“Let me have your name, address and contact information please.”

“What for?”

“In case I have any follow-up questions.”

“I told you everything I know.”

Oscar Stiers had remained present but quiet throughout my conversation with the three men. Now, tipping his head toward the man, he spoke up again, “This is Sterling Moon.” He stepped toward Moon and glared down at him, “You need to give the Sheriff the information she needs. If you have a problem with that then you have a problem with staying employed with me.”

I gritted my teeth. I didn’t need anyone fighting my battles for me. Battles...wait a minute... I looked at Moon’s hands. They were dirty but otherwise unremarkable. If he’d been in a fight recently, it wasn’t evident.

###

Ray’s Bar, 6:00 PM, Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Ray’s bar is a dive in the Northeast part of Zanesville. It isn’t far from the AK Steel mill and its usual clientele is reflective of that. I walked in there in full uniform just about the time Sterling Moon said he was in there the day before. I was hoping to catch the same staff working the same hours. I was also prepared to catch a little flak from the bar patrons. My history there wasn’t a good one.

The place smelled so badly of spilt beer and old, stale cigarettes that my nose started to twitch as soon as I walked in. Surprisingly, it was all but deserted. One guy sat at a grimy table eating fries while another quaffed beer at the end of the bar. The pool tables were empty. I guess the summer heat was even getting to the mill guys used to working in a place where molten hot metal was their constant companion.

Kevin was behind the bar. He’d been the usual bartender at Ray’s for as long as I could remember and probably a dozen years before that. I nodded at him and headed his way.

“Evening, Mel.”

“Kevin,” I nodded again in greeting.

“What brings you in this time?”

“Had a death last night in Morelville. Guy looked like hamburger. He’d been in a hell of a fight somewhere. I have a witness that says he was here last night and saw the victim here.”

“Long way between here and Morelville.”

“I know but I’m trying to figure out who he tangled with between the time he left work and the time he died.”

“Who’s the victim?”

“JD Roberts.”

“Got a picture? You know I remember faces better than names. There’s just too many what come in and out of here to remember all the names.”

I produced a copy of JD’s recent driver’s license photo and an old booking shot from a DUI arrest. Neither were flattering to the man but they were all I could come up with quickly that had been taken in the last couple of years.

Kevin barely glanced at them. “Yep. He was in here last night. He sat right there,” he pointed a couple of bar stools down from me, “from about 5:30 to just after 7:00 or so drinking beer, then he left.”

“He left? He didn’t play pool or anything?”

“Naw, not last night. It was real slow until later when it cooled off some, like tonight.”

“Did you see him talk to anybody at all?” I was puzzled.

“No. He kept looking around like he was waiting for someone but no one showed that he had any interest in. He left out of here like an angry freight train, when he left.”

So Moon lied, but why? “Do you remember another guy – I don’t have pictures – but my guess is he’d be about six feet tall, construction worker tan, crew cut brown hair, seems to know the victim...” I let my words trail off because I didn’t know how else to describe Moon.

“Are you talking about Sterling Moon?”

“I thought you weren’t any good with names?” I grinned.

“A name like that, how could I forget it? Reminds me of that racer, Sterling Marlin.”

“Was Moon here last night?”

“No. Not last night.”

“Does he come in here pretty often?”

Kevin nodded. “A couple times a week, maybe. Lotta’ the time it’s on or right after mill paydays.”

“Why is that?”

He leaned toward me and whispered even though the place was nearly empty, “Those two have been known to hustle a little pool from time to time.”

“Moon and my vic?”

Kevin nodded.

Chapter 4 – It’s all About the Fair

Friday Morning, August 8th, 2014

I woke up at 5:30 AM to a house on the brink of complete chaos. The kids were home and, for the time being, nestled in their beds upstairs. Soon, they’d be flitting about packing this and that and loading it all in my camper as Kris cracked a figurative whip over them and did more than a little yelling. Fair move in day is upon us!

I poked my head into my den to look in on Dana. She’d finally been given the okay by her orthopedic doctor to start bearing weight on her injured left leg but stairs were still out for her. Given our current living arrangements, with my sister and her kids, it was probably best that she had a room of her own, downstairs, anyway.

Touching her shoulder as she lay half reclined on a pile of pillows on her bed produced an instant eye opening effect. I jumped back, startled. “You were playing possum!”

“Naw. Just relaxing.” She smiled, “You and Kris told me today would be a busy day.”

“It’s going to be a busy week, period.”

“It’s a shame that you have to work and run back and forth all week.”

“I’d have to work anyway. The Sheriff always works the fair. Just about everyone in the county comes through at some point. It just stinks that I also have a case to work besides.”

Dana raised an eyebrow in question.

“The coroner reported late yesterday afternoon that JD took several blows to the head that contributed to his death. Someone out there is guilty of manslaughter, at a minimum.”

“Are you going to tell the kids?”

“Not yet; probably not till after the fair. I haven’t told Kris either.”

“Someday you’re going to have to fill me in on the whole Kris/JD story.”

“It’s a long one so it will have to wait.”

“That’s okay.” She sat up and ran a hand through her long hair. “For now, what can I do to help out...to help them get ready today?”

“Seriously? Dana, right now, while you’re still healing, your best bet is to stay out of the way. Let Kris and the kids handle it. Mom and dad have their camper loaded and all of the barn stuff and show stuff got loaded Saturday. Mom will come down and help Kris with this camper today and I’ll be back here to head up the haul to the fairgrounds before you know it. 

“Aye, aye boss!”

“Very cute...not!” I looked behind me to the door I’d left standing open. No one was around and there wasn’t a sound to be heard in the house yet. I leaned over my fiancé and hovered face to face there, our lips not quite touching. Her eyes sparkled. “I love you Dana Marie Rossi!” I dipped my head and claimed her lips in a semi-searing kiss before she could respond.

When her eyes fluttered closed, I pulled back quickly, exited the room and, laughing as she yelled “Hey!” and tossed a pillow at the den door, I hightailed it out of the house.

###

I-70 Road Repaving Site, 8:05 AM

I proceeded down the right berm of I-70, lights flashing, alongside the single lane of slow moving eastbound traffic. The Stiers crew was working in the same area as yesterday but on the left lane today instead of the right.

I was in search of Sterling Moon. He and I were going to have a ‘come to Jesus’ meeting as soon as I ran him down.

When I saw the foreman standing next to a pavement stripping truck up ahead in the median I signaled, hit my siren a couple of times and then crossed the traffic in the right lane and weaved through the cones into the not yet touched left lane. I pulled off onto the left berm and then backed up about 80 yards to be even with the stripping truck.

Recognition lit the foreman’s face and he stepped right over to me. “Something wrong Sheriff?”

“I talked to one of your men, Sterling Moon yesterday. I need to speak with him again.”

“I’m afraid I can’t help you there. He’s a no call, no show today. I don’t know where he is.”

My stomach dropped and a feeling of foreboding overcame me. I knew I should have gone after him last night!

I nodded at the foreman and thanked him then drove on until I could turn and head back toward Zanesville on the westbound side. After pulling my notebook out of my shirt pocket, I flipped to the page I’d written Moon’s address and contact info on. If he’d given me the correct address, then he really did live in an apartment near Ray’s bar but that was a good half hour or more from where I was.

I radioed dispatch to run the address for me. It came back as Moon’s. I had them send a unit his way to roust him and hold him there until I got there.

Less than 30 minutes later I joined two of my deputies at Moon’s residence in a single story apartment complex but there was no Moon. My men had arrived to find his door ajar and, on inspection, most of his clothing and personal items missing. He was on the run.

––––––––

Friday Afternoon, August 8th, 2014

The thing that I dread most about the annual county fair is the effort to get everyone, every animal and everything that everyone and every animal requires for the week there in one piece. That’s typically coupled with a very hot August sun that makes everything that much more of a strain.

I led our little parade in my pick-up, towing my camper behind me. It would be home to me, Dana and the kids – when they didn’t choose to stay in the barns with their animals – for the next week. Dad was behind me in his truck pulling his camper. My mom and Kris would stay in that camper for the week. Dad had the farm to run so he rarely stayed overnight on the grounds. He’d appear early, after finishing his own morning chores most days, and leave before lunch. He’d only stay or come back to the fair if Beth and Cole had afternoon or evening competitions. Dana followed us in her car and Kris in hers. It was nice to have the cars when we needed to run about quickly since parking on the fairgrounds was always tight. It’s also nice to have them when we just wanted to get off the fairgrounds for a couple of hours...

I’d convinced dad to bring his John Deere Gator two-seater this year by telling him it was for Dana. The fairgrounds are flat and easy to walk but I’m concerned about his health. On show day and sale day he’ll be back and forth on the grounds all day, if my observations over multiple years of Kris and I showing animals and now her kids showing them hold true.

The Gator was loaded in the bed of dad’s truck. He grumbled a little bit about the room it took up but I let Dana in on my little act of deception and she exaggerated her pain a little bit to appease him even though she’s been doing much better since taking a bullet in her left leg on her last major assignment with the Customs Service.

Getting onto the grounds, getting campers in place and setting up camp took up the better part of two hours. Dana sank into a bag chair, clearly exhausted from what little she was able to help with. I’d assigned her mostly outside tasks like helping to set up canopies because I’d completely forgotten that she’d have to navigate stairs each time she wanted in and out of the camper. It was only two but I didn’t want her to do any at all. My plan was to rig her up a little ramp to take care of that problem.

She looked at me and smiled. “I’m glad we’re done. I’m whipped. I thought I was doing great but this heat...”

“Done? Who says we’re done,” my mother Faye inquired as she stepped out of her camper.

Dana tilted her head and looked up at me, “We’re not done?”

Before mom could answer herself, I shook my head no. “We have to set up the barns. Animal move in is tomorrow morning. We can’t move them into a stall with no straw, no feed, no nothing now, can we?”

“I suppose not. I guess I assumed that the animal stuff got done by the people who run the fair.”

Mom guffawed loudly and proclaimed, “That’s what you get for assuming!”

I shot a hard look at her and then turned to Dana, “It’s all part of the learning experience for the kids who participate. The problem is, our kids are a little young yet to do it all on their own.” Or, what I can’t say out loud in front of my mother, a little immature to, in Cole’s case.

We spent another hour and a half moving stuff into the barn assigned to the 4H club Beth and Cole were in and then setting up stall walls to separate their steers from those of other kids in their 4H club, hanging fans to cool their animals, getting all of their bedding and feed in place for them and in reserve where they couldn’t get in it and then finally dragging the heavier than it needed to be show box in with all of the kids other supplies.

About a half hour into all of that, Dana again fell into a chair.

“Tired?”

“Very!”

“We’re done now