Caught Dead in Wyoming Book 9
More Elizabeth Danniher adventure
In the rough country of Wyoming, some cattle rustlers still get a death sentence.
Official consumer advocate and unofficial investigative reporter Elizabeth Margaret Danniher, her KWMT-TV colleague Mike Paycik, rancher Tom Burrell, and their supporting staff of idiosyncratic sleuths take on another mystery. A ranch foreman is found dead -- and, for most in Cottonwood County, the reaction is ... good riddance. Long considered guilty of a heinous crime, the foreman was represented then by a slick attorney, now owner of Lukasik Ranch -- once Mike's family land. Suspects include the hot-headed Hiram Poppinger, fellow grazing association ranchers -- and Tom. This time, both Tom and Elizabeth are ordered by Tom's daughter to find the truth. The investigation puts Elizabeth in close quarters with Mike and Tom -- sometimes all three together -- and she realizes these evolving relationships also warrant a soul-search for deeper meaning.
In television production, a reaction shot is a that cuts away from one interview subject to show the reaction of another person at the scene. A reaction shot usually implies the display of some sort of emotion on a person's face and is commonly a close-up shot; its main purpose is to show a response to the immediately preceding action or words of another person on the scene, or to an immediately preceding event.
Coming soon: Reaction Shot in paperback. I've also just started to publish the Caught Dead in Wyoming series in large print editions. Sign Off is available now at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and the subsequent mysteries will arrive later this spring.
M Tannor Kopp on June 24, 2019 at 7:03 pm: Love the Dead in Wyoming series. Please write faster! 😉
“Tamantha’s on the phone for you right now. At your desk,” Mike finished.
Tamantha Burrell, the heading toward fourth grade daughter of Tom.
For a frozen second, Mike and I looked at each other.
I shot up and was three strides toward the door, when I spun back. “I’m sorry, Odessa. I’m so sorry. There’s an emergency and— I’m sorry. I’ll be in touch as soon as I know about scheduling the finish of this.” My gaze shifted. “Jerry?”
“Go. I’ll take care of it here.”
I didn’t wait for more.
“What makes you say murder?” I demanded of Mike on the move.
“He was found out on grazing association land, dead. Sounds like they’re not thinking suicide or accident, which doesn’t leave much other than murder.”READ MORE
Mike was behind me as I reached my desk, barely aware of the few staffers in the newsroom. I concentrated on getting the phone in my hand and up to my ear.
“Tamantha? Are you okay?”
“Make them stop, Elizabeth.” No tears, no shake in her voice, vintage Tamantha determination. “Fix this.”
Air streamed out from somewhere that felt far deeper than my lungs at hearing her so like herself. “I need to know more before—”
I broke off because, on the other end, Tom spoke close enough to the phone for me to hear, as long as I didn’t drown him out.
“It’s okay, Tamantha. I told you not to bother Elizabeth.”
“It wasn’t okay last time. Not for months and months and months.”
“This is different.” By the way his voice came closer, I deduced he’d taken the phone from her. “Elizabeth?”
“I’m here. What can I do? Where are you? If Shelton—”
“We’re at the Circle B. There’s nothing for you to do. Not about that. But…” I heard rare hesitation in his voice. “My sister’s out of town. I don’t have time to get Tamantha to Mrs. P—” Mrs. Parens, a retired teacher and principal, didn’t drive, so couldn’t get to his ranch to pick up his daughter. “—and my neighbor, Mrs. George, isn’t home… Would you come get Tamantha?”
“I’m staying here with you,” I heard in the background from that redoubtable child.
“I’m not staying. I’m going with Sergeant Shelton to help in any way I can.” Tom’s words were for his daughter, for me, and for Shelton.
“Then I’m going with you,” his daughter declared.
“You are not.” Tom’s voice reminded where the redoubtable in Tamantha came from.
“I’ll be there as fast as I can,” I said into the mouthpiece. I’d already stood and was dropping things into my bag. “I’m leaving the station right now.”
“I’m stuck here,” Mike grumbled.
“I’m driving,” another voice said from over my shoulder.
It was Diana Stendahl. My friend, another member of our investigating group, and the best cameraperson at KWMT-TV.
“Then you’ll get here faster,” Tom said, with a faint smile in his voice, clearly having recognized the volunteer’s voice.
Diana’s driving speed is undeterred by pesky items like the Rocky Mountains, which would come in handy, because Tom’s Circle B Ranch had more than a passing acquaintance with their eastern edge.
“We’re leaving now. Tell Tamantha. We’ll be there. I’ll be there.”
* * * *
“It’s not like before,” Diana said into a silence in her truck.
I didn’t ask that buying-time question because my thoughts had been in some distant arena, but because they had been on the same track as hers … going the opposite direction. Fearing it could be exactly like before.
“They’re talking to Tom,” Diana said. “That’s what he said. Not questioning him at the sheriff’s department or… anything else. Besides—”
“Do you know anything about this guy who’s dead? Furman York?”
“—it’s not like it was with Sheriff Widcuff not knowing his head from a hole in the ground. It’s Shelton talking to him. And Russ is sheriff now.”
Russell Conrad became sheriff of Cottonwood County last fall. Not long after his arrival, he and Diana became … an item. Russ Conrad made her happy. She seemed to do the same for him. The second point didn’t weigh heavily with me.
About the only thing Conrad and I agreed on was Diana.
“It’s not like before. It’s totally different,” she said again.
I sure hoped so. But that’s not what had been in Tamantha’s voice.
Tamantha Burrell is not a child you scoop up and wrap your arms around. Unless, perhaps, you are her father.
I felt more like saluting her after a deputy opened the front door, admitting us to the Burrell ranch house and Tamantha’s presence.
Especially you did not scoop up Tamantha Burrell and wrap her in one’s arms when she is dagger-eyeing the world.
Most of the daggers were for Sergeant Wayne Shelton of the Cottonwood County Sheriff’s Department. Under other circumstances, I might have enjoyed his discomfort. Right now? No.
“I came out here because I know your daddy and it’s important he comes with us and talks to us about what he knows,” Shelton was saying to her.
Yeah, like that would cut it.
“Why?” I asked, stepping beside Tamantha.
I also wanted to ask who and what and when, since I already knew where.
She gave me a quick look of acknowledgement, perhaps even approval, then fiercely repeated, “Yeah, why?”
Neither Tom nor Shelton blessed me with approval, though their frowns certainly acknowledged my arrival.
“You know I’m chairman of the grazing association, Tamantha. Something’s happened there—”
“That guy got shot. Doesn’t have anything to do with you.”
Shelton glowered. Automatic reflex. He’d been around far too long to have expected the news not to be all over the county. And he knew Tamantha well enough to be unsurprised she knew and didn’t sugarcoat what she knew.
“—and I need to go help in any way I can,” Tom finished.
Tamantha did not falter before Shelton’s glower. If anything, her glower back one-upped his. “This is like before. You were wrong. All wrong. Elizabeth had to figure it out and make you admit it.” She faced me, the daggers not quite sheathed. “You do it again. This time faster.”
Without the muscles or bones of his face moving, Tom’s gravity lightened, revealed by a glimmer in his eyes.
Fine for him to laugh. I’d been handed an edict and a deadline from the ruler of the universe.
“Tamantha.” Her father waited until she turned to him. “This isn’t like before. I can’t guarantee it won’t ever be, because sometimes things go … wrong. But right now, it’s important I go with Sergeant Shelton and the others and tell them anything I know that might help figure this out. That’s my duty as a citizen. You know about that. And it’s my responsibility as chairman of the grazing association.”
“Just because that man got himself shot there—”
It was the redoubtable standoff at the Circle B. Not the first between father and daughter Burrell.
She blinked first, though a small blink. “I’ll wait here for you.”
“You will not.”
This standoff wouldn’t end up in a shootout, but it might end up enduring as long as, say, Mount Rushmore. Which was what their profiles reminded me of.
I was wrong.
It ended relatively quickly, though they still resembled Mount Rushmore.
Tamantha didn’t actually relent. More like she graciously acknowledged he held higher cards for this particular hand, what with being several feet taller and her father and all.
Tom did not rub it in. He said, “If it’s all right with Elizabeth, she’ll take you to her house. If this runs long—” He clearly expected it to. “—you can sleep over there tonight, and when I’ve finished with the deputies and—”
A nice touch of verbally establishing roles. Not when the deputies were done with him, instead, when he was done with them.
“—helped all I can, I will come there.” His gaze flickered to me. “If that’s all right with Elizabeth.”
Tamantha’s hand slid into mine. So unexpected a touch, I almost jumped. Her thumb rubbed against my skin.
Redoubtable was still a child.
“It is.” I squeezed.
“We’ll all be there,” Diana added.
He declined his head, acknowledging both of us. “Now, get your things, Tamantha. I’ll see you on your way before I go with Sergeant Shelton.”
And if Shelton thought he’d reverse the order of those events, he didn’t know Tom Burrell.
Mount Rushmore man was not about to have his daughter see him escorted away by the Cottonwood County Sheriff’s Department.
“Who was shot?” I asked Tom quietly.
“Furman York, foreman of the Lukasik Ranch. Big place. East of town.”
“Do they know when?”
“This morning. Sheriff’s department caught a break. It couldn’t have been much before he was found, around nine-thirty.”
“Enough,” Shelton ordered. “Be quiet or I’ll take you all in.”
Before I could respond, Tom said, “I’ll go help Tamantha.”
Shelton sent a deputy along.
Diana and I exchanged a look. Hers mirrored my concern that this was more than Shelton simply wanting information from Tom as grazing association chairman.
After several minutes of silence in the living room, Tamantha emerged first from the hall to the bedrooms, rolling a miniature suitcase that made me blink.
Its surface was like an explosion of multicolored confetti that dared any airline to even consider losing it. It was beyond neon. It was irradiated.
And completely unlike the practical clothes she wore. Practical in colors that wouldn’t show the dirt and wear of ranch life. And practical in wearing them well past their prime of fit and form.
Tom picked up this resplendent bag with one hand, his other arm around her. Through the living room, out the door, across the porch. The two of them in sync every step of the way despite the difference in their strides.
At Diana’s vehicle, he buckled Tamantha into the back seat.
She didn’t even complain about being treated like a baby. On the other hand, she didn’t deign to reply when he told her to be good. They didn’t hug, but exchanged a long, level look.
To Diana and me he said in a low voice, “I’ll call.” The unspoken rider was When I can.
As we drove out, Tamantha looked back to where her father stood, watching the vehicle, with one hand raised, until trees and a curve around a low hill cut off the view.
Unspoken thoughts filled the passenger compartment like a heavy gas.
To change the subject that hadn’t been mentioned aloud, I said, “That’s a great suitcase, Tamantha.”
“I saw that.”
“Not much good on the ranch, but it’s good when I stay with friends in town.”
“That makes sense. Was it a present?”
“My Grandma Burrell gave it to me.”
A prickling at the bridge of my nose provided an early warning of tears. I’d learned to pay attention to it to ward off crying on air, during interviews, or other inopportune moments. Like in front of this child.
Tears. Because her father’s mother gave her a present expressing joy and color, when I hadn’t believed there was any relationship there at all.
Certainly, I’d heard almost nothing of Tom’s relationship with his parents, nor theirs with Tamantha. Though both Tom and Tamantha were close with his married sister, who lived not far over the border into Montana.
“What a great gift to get from your grandmother.”
“Yes. She said to select what I wanted and then she got it for me and had it delivered in a big box. Not wrapped, but plenty of paper around it inside the box.”
Her tone was far too matter-of-fact to allow for wistfulness. Another attack of prickling at the bridge of my nose acknowledged the collapse of my dreams of a grandmother who nurtured this girl’s wild, colorful side, perhaps even in the guise of exotic wrapping paper. Instead, going with the practicality of direct shipping.
Except, the reality was better, because it turned out it was Tamantha who nurtured that wild, colorful side.
She chose the confetti explosion and she used it, apparently with pleasure, when it didn’t involve her father being interviewed by the sheriff’s department.
“Great choice. I love it.” I cleared my throat, catching a glance from Diana. “It suits you.”
“Of course. I picked it.”
* * * *
My thoughts went to the situation with Tom, Mike, and me.
We — Mike and I, then Tom and I — had become friends and part of this group of friends, while mutual attractions brewed underneath. Bringing the attractions out in the open — testing them, so to speak — had been the idea behind starting to date recently.
Maybe it would have helped if the dates happened frequently and close together. Maybe then the compare and contrast hypothesis would work.
That didn’t happen.
Duties at KWMT-TV kept Mike busy, with the wrap-up of local spring sports seasons, the beginning of rodeo season, full-throttle pro basketball, hockey, and baseball seasons, and football off-season. “I’m a well-seasoned guy,” as he said.
Duties at the Circle B Ranch kept Tom busy, with the end of calving, the beginning of branding, the ever ongoing fence-repairing. Plus his road construction business and his rampant civic activities.
Add in my settling into my new-to-me house and the fact that when our calendars’ open spots meshed, we often applied them to getting together as a group with Diana, Jennifer Lawton, other friends, plus now and then Diana’s honey Sheriff Russ Conrad, her kids, and Tamantha … and you have a sprinkling of dates each over the past month-plus.
“Elizabeth,” Tamantha said from the back seat.
For our return, Diana dropped her speed a notch. Still, I braced against the dashboard as I turned toward the back. Diana’s truck had seat belts and airbags, of course, but I wasn’t above helping them out.
“This man was shot at the grazing association.” Tamantha did not make it a question. “That’s where the clues are.”
“Maybe. All we know for sure is Sergeant Shelton needs your dad’s help figuring some things out about what happened.”
Not bad. I’d avoided shot, killed, murder, suspect, and questioning.
Unimpressed, she humph’d. “That’s where we should be, at the grazing association. To figure this out fast.”
“No way, Tamantha.”
I thought I heard a Good from Diana under her breath.
“You always want information. That’s what you say all the time. That’s where the information is.”
Tamantha had a point…
“No. We’re going to my house, where we’ll wait for your father to finish, uh, his business with the sheriff’s department.”
“There isn’t any information at your house.”
Not yet. But I could work the phones while she was there. Heck, she’d probably help me dial if she thought that would speed things up.
“And,” she continued, “I know how to get there. We go there a lot. I pick the flowers, but only after Mike said I could. We could go right now.”
Sidetracked by flowers at the grazing association and why Mike had the say-so over them, I replied a bit slowly. “I promised your father to take—”
“Care of me. The best way is to get this figured out fast. So Daddy is home.”
“Tamantha, I am not taking you to the grazing association, that’s final.”
“Then you go. You go and get the information you need like you always do. I’ll stay at your house. I’m old enough to stay by myself and—”
“You’re not staying by yourself.” Now I heard Uh-oh from under Diana’s breath. I hurriedly added, “That’s final.” It sounded weak.
“Or with my dog.”
“That’s silly. But if you go to the grazing association to find out things and get my daddy home, I’ll stay with Mr. and Mrs. Undlin.”
“You know them?” This time I’d swear my words were followed by Goner from Diana’s sotto-voce commentary.
“Of course. They’ll be happy to help.”
* * * *
Tamantha was right, of course.
My next-door neighbors, Iris and Zeb, did know Tamantha — no surprise. First, almost everyone in Cottonwood County knew everyone else. Second, I already knew her father thought highly of the Undlins.
Also, she was right about their willingness to look after her. They were delighted to have Tamantha stay at their house until I returned.
“Are you sure? I can’t tell you exactly when I’ll be back.”
“Not necessary. Not necessary at all. Let us know if you’ll be past her bedtime and we’ll tuck her up in your guest room and stay there until you come,” Iris said.
Tamantha punctuated that with a look that clearly said the arrangement left no excuse for slacking and I better not come back until I had a lot of information or, preferably, the whole thing figured out and her father in the clear.
Iris softened Tamantha’s look by adding, “I was thinking of making doughnuts. Would you like to do that, Tamantha?”
“Yes, I would. I’ve never made doughnuts before.”
She sounded as if her sole desire was to add doughnut-making to her resume. However, I’ve seen her eat doughnuts and she was no slouch.
As we left, I heard Tamantha casually mention to Zeb that Shadow was alone at my house and it seemed a shame to wait until she was ready for bed to see him.
I suspected doughnuts were also in Shadow’s future.COLLAPSE