(Excerpt from Capricorn Cravings)
Powell waved as he passed Riley on the highway. She didn’t see him, which wasn’t surprising considering she had probably never seen his pick-up. He was pretty sure she was going to visit her father. She had mentioned it to him, and Jim Branken had told him he would be taking care of her animals while she was gone for the weekend. She had the dog on the passenger seat with her, so she probably wasn’t on a work related mission.
He had to take this opportunity to go home while she was out of Shady Valley. He couldn’t leave her alone there. Not after looking at the pictures of the other dead girls. It annoyed him that she didn’t seem to believe she could be in such great danger, and he didn’t like the way she rode into those remote areas all alone. She had told him she had a gun, but it wouldn’t be much use to her if it was in her saddlebags.
The drive to Boulder took three and half hours, and he had stopped to buy a burger and fries at Burger King before pulling into the parking space in front of his condo.
He eased himself out of the truck and stretched his cramped limbs. Pulling his bag out of the back of the truck, he headed for the front entrance. Lucy had been collecting his mail, so he headed straight for the stairs, which he always took in preference to the elevator.
He dropped the bag outside his door, unlocked it, and pushed it open. The air smelled stale. He picked up the bag and went through to his bedroom, where he threw it on the bed. He crossed to the window and threw it open, and took a few deep breaths.
He pulled off his boots and socks, and slipped on a pair of flip flops, replaced his denim jeans with a pair of shorts, and headed back down to his truck to retrieve his lunch. He stopped outside Lucy’s door and knocked.
“Just a minute,” she cried. He could hear Sylvester mewing.
She threw the door open and greeted him with open arms. He picked her up and swung her around, before setting her down and kissing her on her cheek. “I knew it,” she said. “Sylvester’s been restless all morning. I don’t know how he knows but he always does.” He stared down at her, taking in the newly permed short gray hair and shrewd brown eyes.
Powell bent and stroked his cat’s soft fur. “Good to see you, buddy.”
“I put your mail on your desk, as usual and paid a couple of bills. You’ll see them there. How long are you here for this time?”
“I can only stay a couple of nights. Have to leave on Sunday again. You had your hair done different.”
She patted her head. “Powell Stewart, if you aren’t the love of my life. I miss you.” She hugged him around his waist and looked down at the cat, which was threading itself through Powell’s legs, purring like a freight train. “He does too.”
The top of her head reached almost to his shoulders. Powell bent and pecked her on the cheek again. “Well, you know I love you too, and I appreciate everything. Come on Sylvester.” He held up the fast food bag. “Burger King fries.”
Lucy clucked her tongue. “You’re feeding him junk food again. I don’t know why he eats it.”
“I bought these fries especially for him. Won’t eat them from Mickey D’s or Wendy’s or anyone else. Only Burger King.” He opened the door. “I’m going up to my condo but I’ll be back later.”
The cat followed him eagerly up the stairs.
They sat together on his blue leather couch and he ate the burger while he fed the cat fries, one at a time.
After they had finished, he threw the wrapper into the trash and saw that Lucy had put fresh litter in the litter box. Next, he tackled the mail. He threw away most of it, added up the amounts of the bills Lucy had paid, and wrote a check to reimburse her.
“Okay, boy,” he said to the cat, “Let’s go back and see what Lucy can tell me.” He looked at his watch. “Four thirty five. She should be awake and decent.”
He tapped on her door.
“Come on in.”
Powell pushed the door open and Sylvester rushed through ahead of him.
“I knew it was you,” Lucy said, stroking the cat, which jumped up beside her on the easy chair.
“So, what do you have for me? Any maintenance work that needs doing?” He dropped into the sofa across from her.
Powell filled in as Lucy’s handyman for the condo block in exchange for her taking care of Sylvester and his condo while he was away. “I’ll get started first thing tomorrow,” he said after scanning the list Lucy handed him. “It shouldn’t take me long. I want to go on a climb at Eldorado Canyon on Sunday morning.”
She shook her head. “You and that rock climbing. I wish you’d use ropes and things. I don’t want to hear you’ve fallen to death. It would give me a heart attack.”
“Never happen. Free climbing’s the only way to go. The adrenalin rush is much better. I’m always careful though.”
“Well, I think it’s time for a drink.” She looked at her watch. “I bought Heineken especially for you.”
Powell got up and pulled a beer out of the refrigerator. He poured a glass of white wine for her from the open bottle and handed it to her. “Cheers,” he said. They clinked glasses and he went back to his seat on the sofa.
Lucy raised her eyebrows. “So what can you tell me? Anything exciting happen while you were away?”
“Actually, I met someone.” He stared into her eyes.
“Oh oh. You look very intense.”
“I am. I mean, she’s amazing. I think I’m in love with her.”
“Woah there. Love at first sight? Or is it just lust, perhaps?” She smirked and rubbed her neck.
“I still love you the best. You know that. You’ll always come first. I have to admit I do lust after her, but it’s more than lust. She’s gorgeous. She has long blonde hair and green eyes, and the first words I heard her saying was that she wanted to get laid.”
“Well. That would get any man’s hormones going. So I hope she appreciated it when you obliged her.”
He shook his head and chuckled. “That’s what I love about you, Lucy. You never judge anyone. I actually haven’t been able to oblige her in that way. I’ve kissed her, though, and danced with her half naked.”
“Sounds like fun to me. I can’t imagine how that would not have ended in sex, though. Why if I had danced half naked with any one of my three ex-husbands we would definitely ended up with some passionate love-making.” She smiled. “In fact I can remember a couple of times we did.”
“I want you to meet her. I know you’ll like her. She’s… respectable. A veterinarian.”
“Respectable women don’t go around telling strange men they want to get laid.”
“Yeah. She was talking to herself. She didn’t know I was listening.”
“So what are you going to do about her? Why didn’t you bring her with you?”
“The problem is, she thinks I’m the serial killer who murdered her employee. I don’t know how to convince her I’m not.”
“Well that’s simple. You just have to find out who the serial killer is, and turn him in.” It was typical of Lucy, he thought, that she didn’t get all upset and tell him to be careful.
“Easier said than done,” he said. “She also has a boyfriend.”
“You say you’ve kissed her?”
“Oh yeah. And it was good.”
“She kissed you back?”
“I wouldn’t worry about the boyfriend then. She’s not that serious about him.”
“There’s one more problem. She killed her former husband.”
Lucy put her hand in front of her mouth. “Now that could be dangerous for you. Women who kill their husbands and get away with it tend to do it again. Are you sure you know what you’re getting into?”
“She’s not like that.”
Later that evening Powell picked up his cell phone and punched in a number. “I’m in town. You up for a drink, and maybe play some pool?”
“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming back?”
“Last minute decision. I got sick of living in a tent, and I wanted to see Sylvester. You coming?”
“Okay. At the Brewery?”
“Sure. See you soon.”
Powell showered and changed into khaki cargo pants and a long sleeve blue cotton shirt. He rolled up the sleeves, patted on aftershave and stared at himself in the mirror. “I don’t know how she can think that’s the face of a serial killer.”
Frank Sulista was already in the bar when he got there, sitting at the counter with a beer and a pitcher in front of him. They slapped hands and the bartender handed Powell a mug. He filled it from the pitcher.
“Thanks, Bill.” Powell said to the bartender.
“So what’s up?” Sulista said.
“Looks like we’re gonna be involved with the serial killer investigation. I’m gonna keep a low profile. Why don’t you come up and show the flag.”
“I guess I could. I’m staying the motel, though. I’m done with camping in those fucking woods. How long you here for?”
“I’m going back up there on Sunday night.”
“Better make that Monday or Tuesday. The boss wants to see you in the office.”
Powell groaned. “Why did you tell him I was here?” Sulista just stared at him. “Okay. You’re right. He has to go over the new assignment with me and debrief me about the other gig. That’s gonna take more than a couple of days. Fuck. You’ll have to get your ass over there on Sunday, then.”
“Why? What’s so urgent?”
“I’ll tell you later.” Powell took a long drink of beer.
“Ooh lookie there.” Sulista leveled his gaze on two young women who had just entered and seated themselves a little way down the bar. “Looks like we’re gonna get lucky tonight. I’ll take the blonde. You can have the redhead. They’re too feisty for me.” He picked up the pitcher and his mug.
Powell put a hand on his arm. “Wait. Let me get a good look first.” He studied the two. They were probably only just of legal drinking age, he thought. Both of them were pretty, there was no denying that. The girls had seen the two men staring at them. The redhead met Powell’s gaze and winked. They would be easy pickings. His breathing quickened at the thought of her young body under his.
“That was a come on if ever I saw one. This is gonna be easy. Are you coming or not?” Sulista slid off his stool.
He stared at Powell, his mouth open. “What?”
“Can’t do it. My heart’s just not in it.”
“Who said anything about heart? My dick’s in it, big time. I can’t believe yours isn’t. I mean, look at them. They’re hot and they want it.”
“You go. You might get really lucky and get both of them.” Powell drained his mug and filled it again.
Frank perched on the edge of the bar stool. “What the fuck is wrong with you? You’ve never backed down before.”
“I met someone.”
“You met someone in Shady Valley? There’s only one hot chick in that town and she don’t like men. That animal doctor with the blond hair and big cans.”
“That’s the one I met.”
Sulista’s eyebrows lifted. “You been doing that chick? You old dog. I couldn’t get anything out of her.”
“That’s why I can’t do that redhead.” He chin-cocked her. “She’s also the reason you have to get up there by Sunday night, and keep track of her movements.”
“You must be smitten bad.” They turned to look at the two young women again and saw they had been joined by two younger men.
“Sonofabitch. Now look what you did. We lost out.” Sulista banged his fist on the counter.
“Come on, there’s a table free. Let’s play some pool.” Powell couldn’t resist one more glance at the redhead. She stared at him, winked and licked her lips. He knew he could still have her if he wanted.
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