Rubicon Ranch: Secrets ~ Chapter 24: Seth Bryan — by Lazarus Barnhill

Sunday, December 23, 6:30pm

Normally the drive from Seth’s house to the sheriff’s department took ten minutes, but today, racing through yellow lights and squealing around corners, it took only eight minutes. He never did get Nic to open up, but he didn’t think arresting her would help their marriage, though it remained an option. What was she hiding? Could she have had something to do with Nancy’s death?

“Hey, sheriff!” The deputy on duty waved a manila envelope. “This just came for you. And there’s a Celeste Boudreau waiting to see you. She’s been by several times before. Says she’ll only talk to you. Says it’s important.”

Seth took the envelope. It had no address or return address, just his name neatly printed in big letters. “Bring Ms. Boudreau to my office.”

Seth dropped into the chair behind his desk. He held out his hand toward the small, heavy-set woman standing before him. The excitement in her eyes belied the reluctance with which she placed the zipped plastic bag on his palm. He set the bag, glancing briefly at the outline of the book inside it, on the polished surface before him. Sighing, he produced the sealed manila envelope with his other hand and dropped it beside the book.

“Must be Christmas,” he said, nodding at Celeste. “Just look at all the surprise packages I’m getting.”

“I think the book in that bag is the one you’re looking for, Sheriff.”

“Really? How’d you know I was looking for a book?” When a flash of confusion crossed her face, he laughed and said, “Well obviously, dear. You’re psychic.”

“I—I am psychic.”

“So what does it say?”

“I don’t know.”

“. . . Hmm, maybe you ain’t much of a psychic. Oh, please, don’t bother denying you opened and read it.”

“I tried, Sheriff. It’s in some kind of code.”

“Oh? Did she write in cursive?” He pushed back in the chair. “What else do you want to tell me about this book?”

“Uh. You mean, you want to hear how I sensed where it was?”

He frowned. “Celeste, just for a minute suspend your intuition and use your head. Two people are dead—murdered—here in this little place in the past few hours. This mysterious book you brought me, ‘Nancy’s Book of Secrets’, may be part of why one or both of these people died. Clearly you understand that or you wouldn’t have brought me the book. So I don’t really care how you ended up with this. I want to know who had it before you got it. Do know why?”

“Why?”

“So, if you turn up as a third Christmas corpse, I’ll know who to investigate for your murder.”

“Moody!” she said quickly.

He sighed, looking down at the book. “Shit. . . . Celeste, thank you for bringing this to me. Do you think Moody knows you stole it?”

“I—I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

He nodded. “Well, if you don’t tell her, I won’t.”

“Okay.” She turned, as if intuitively aware it was time for her to leave.

“Say.”

She glanced back at him.

“In your best opinion as a psychic, will I ever find happiness with a woman?”

It was her turn to smile, coyly, confidently. She shook her head. “Happiness is fleeting. You will have happy moments here and there, but no real contentment. You’ve ruined your chances for that.”

“Yeah, that sounds about right. Well, Merry Christmas to you too. On your way out, would you please ask Deputy Midget to step back in here?”

Celeste left the door open as she departed. Seconds later the doorway was filled with the massive form of the peace officer.

“So what’s the story on this dead fellow?”

Midget eased into one of the chairs opposite the desk. “Clark Bailey, a new resident of Rubicon Ranch. Death by blunt force to the cranium. The traditional ‘baseball bat’ wound.”

“I see. And this homerun was administered by whom?”

“Well, boss, this may be the easiest murder we’ve had to solve since our homicide epidemic began.”

“Spouse?”

“I’m guessing.”

“What makes you think she did it?”

“Well, first of all, the guy received probably half a dozen blows to the head. If you or I or another man did it, we’d have completely opened his skull up with one or two. But, even with all the strikes, the killer barely got the job done.”

“So a woman is the killer. I got that. Only, you have no idea how many malicious women we have celebrating the holidays with us this Christmas, Deputy. You’d think it was Halloween.”

He chuckled. “His wife, Victoria, is one sketchy woman. She has a story she ain’t telling. Frio and I both noticed, just standing and talking to her, that she has numerous recent injuries—I mean real recent.”

“Hmm. This is sounding like self-defense. We might luck out with this one. Where are we in the investigation?”

“Looking for the bat. The body was reported almost immediately after the attack. We notified the wife at her home within half an hour.”

“So wherever she hid the weapon, it can’t be far.”

“Yeah. If we find it, we’ll arrest her. If we don’t, Frio is going to bring her in for questioning and we’re asking for a warrant to examine her body for trauma.”

Seth shook his head. “Judge Madison is going to hate us. You better let me call him. . . . I want another warrant for the house. You don’t have to be psychic to know some shady stuff was going on there. We need to figure out why the Baileys would come here, he would abuse his wife and then she would kill him.”

“Right.”

“Kelvin . . . who found Bailey’s body?”

A deep chuckle came from the deputy. “Well, Moody Sinclair was the one who called it in. Ms. Gray, however, was at Moody’s house standing on her porch when the body was discovered. I have it on authority that Melanie high-tailed it when they realized it was another corpse.”

“I’ll be damned.” Seth reached out for the manila envelope and held it up. “So who left me this?”

“Don’t know.” Midget shook his head. “What is it?”

The sheriff pulled open the top desk drawer and took out a pewter letter opener. He sliced through the sealed edge of the envelope.

“I envy you, Deputy.”

“Why’s that, boss?”

“Well . . .” He blew open the envelope and gazed into it, his expression unchanged. “I guess I’ve had three or four dozen women in my life. Every kind of male-female relationship. Been married. Had flings. Had full-fledged affairs. Fornicated wantonly.” He pulled the photo out and gazed at it. “Right here and now in this subdivision are . . . more women I’ve had sex with than I care to name. And every single one of those relationships is over. And unhappy.

“Now you on the other hand. You were married once and you were happy. You got it right. It was good. It was beautiful and truly intimate.” He gazed at Midget with a look of complete sincerity. “I’m so sorry you lost her, Kelvin. . . . Me, on the other hand. In this town full of women I’ve slept with, I can’t get any peace of mind. I can’t even get a piece of tail.”

The deputy shrugged. “Well, Sheriff, maybe if you’d quit thinking that a woman is a ‘piece of tail’, things might turn around for you.”

“You’re probably right, son. Look at this.”

Midget walked behind the desk and looked over Seth’s shoulder. Together they studied the 8 x 10 photo in silence.

“Looks as if Nancy liked women as well as men,” the deputy said. “Sort of surprised to see Moody naked like that. Not that I care who she’s attracted to. What I mean is, I can’t image her letting folks take pictures of her having sex. . . . Do you suppose her daddy secretly took this?”

“Nope. This ain’t kinky enough to be the work of Morris Sinclair. Not to mention this photo has been doctored.”

Midget cut his eyes toward Seth. “How can you tell?”

“Well . . .” He ran his finger along the edge of the photo. “That’s Nancy all right. That’s how she looked naked.” He shook his head. “But that’s not how Moody looks without her clothes.”

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About Lazarus Barnhill

Lazarus Barnhill is a native of Oklahoma who has lived all over the south. He holds three degrees, including a Doctorate in Spiritual Development. He has been obsessed with writing since he was a boy. A father of three and grandfather of three, he resides in North Carolina with his wife of 34 years and an irritating cat, Jessie, who is for sale cheap. Lazarus Barnhill at Second Wind Publishing, LLC: http://secondwindpublishing.com/LazarusBarnhill.html
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