In the Service of the Wolf: Part X

06Sep18

Part I here

By the time Stacy spotted Alice coming into the diner the whole town was up and about. As she entered the lawyer scanned the room and saw Stacy in the corner and gave her a nod as she ambled over.

“Coffee ma’am?” Nancy asked as she passed.

Alice nodded, somewhat uncomfortable that she was already getting recognised. She was only too happy to reach the relative anonymity of the corner seat opposite the journalist who was fast becoming her friend.

“Well yesterday was a waste of time,” Alice confided once Nancy was out of earshot.

“So I saw,” Stacy shrugged.

“Did you see much after I was driven away?” Alice asked.

Stacy pursed her lips and dropped her gaze to her coffee cup in front of her. She was blushing and shrugged again. For some reason she felt self-conscious about explaining the woman’s punishment.

“I saw Garrick Stone, your little visit certainly set the cat amongst the pigeons,” Stacy told her friend.

“What is that all about? It makes no sense; I only need a signature and five minutes of Stone’s time. What have they got to hide?” Alice sighed.

“Town was a bit jittery too, last night I mean,” Stacy shot Alice a look to see if the lawyer was holding back as much as she was.

“I didn’t notice, I went straight to bed and a TV movie when I got in. How do you mean anyway?” Alice asked suddenly realised she was missing something. She cast her gaze carefully over the flaky little writer and tried to read her eyes behind the specs.

Stacy made her trademark frog pout and sucked in her lips before releasing them with an audible pop.

“Let’s just say I think the people around here also know more than they are saying.

Just then Nancy returned with Alice’s coffee and both women fell silent.

Stacy cast her gaze to the street and saw John Stone heading towards the diner. For once he was without his twin brother. She nodded for Alice’s benefit.

The lawyer turned and saw him too. Her heart did a small skip and she felt a slight heat rise to her face.

“Like him eh?” Stacy smirked.

Alice coloured up some more and shrugged. “He’s okay, better than that arrogant brother of his.” The thought of the elder Stone twin caused a surge of anger.

As they watched John Stone strode through the door, drawing the usually glances. He was a good-looking man, both women agreed, but the whole long-haired biker bad boy look was better suited to his brother. It certainly didn’t suit the younger brother’s easy going manners. They were both still watching him when he caught Alice’s eye and nodded.

“Good morning ladies,” he said as he ambled over.

“Mr Stone,” Stacy grinned as she sat back.

John nodded politely but gave most of his attention to Alice.

“Sorry about yesterday, it is an awkward time at the ranch. Some of the hands get a bit…”

“Rude,” Alice finished for him.

John through wide his arms and gave her a lopsided grin. “Sorry again,” he said.

“Look, I only want five minutes with your father. Then I will be out of your hair forever,” the lawyer sighed.

“That would be a shame. Maybe I’ll persuade Dad not to talk to you at all.” He looked serious as he spoke but after a beat his face cracked a smile.

For once Alice smiled too.

“Look, give it a few days and I will see what I can do, really I will. Meantime can I show the sights?” John dropped onto the neighbouring table as if it were his throne and despite the warmth in his eyes his face was suddenly hard edged in a way that reminder Alice of his brother.

Alice felt the heat rise in her face again and her face did some quick gymnastics before she could recompose her cool. “Oh does it have any sights?” she said easily.

“Not really, but there is no place around here that couldn’t be improved with you there,” he grinned boyishly.

Alice laughed. She suddenly looked younger and for once completely off her guard.

“Too much?” he winced.

“Just a touch maybe,” Alice said, still laughing.

“I am just a clumsy bumpkin, not used to sophisticated city types, but I really would like to buy you dinner,” John said seriously.

Alice’s eyes continued to smile as she said, “Well maybe…” She wondered if he was asking her to the Stone Ranch, but somehow the opportunist thought felt unworthy.

“Yeah… I think I’ll just check out the ladies room,” Stacy said drily, “I think I’m gonna puke.”

Alice shot her a scowl and then turning back to John she smiled. “Why not, thank you.”

*

Like a gentleman, John was waiting for Alice outside the Shack, a wide grin filling the space between his ears as she approached. He was less shabby than usual and had put on a shirt with a collar. His freshly washed and combed hair too had been cut to a manageable length, making him look more like his brother Adam. This unsettled her somewhat and she frowned.

“Something wrong,” he asked, his smile faltering slightly.

“No,” she said brightly, shaking off her doubts, or trying to.

“Shall we go in?” John suggested, his broad grin not quite returning. He nodded at the bar.

“Let’s,” Alice said with an easy smile and took his arm.

The Shack was half old-style tavern and half community hall. On one side there were booths around the walls, which surrounded tables with leather padded chairs that had seen better days. On the other side was an open space with a few restaurant style tables at the edge and a stage at one end. Not Alice’s kind of place at all.

“Not much, I know,” John said screwing up his face. For the first time he was seeing it through Alice’s eyes.

“It’s… very rustic,” Alice said gracefully.

He caught her eye and she fixed him with her best courtroom smile. Then he laughed. It was a pure warm sound that said more about him than anything he had chosen to wear or say to her since she had met him.

“Rustic, that’s… one way to describe it,” he said still laughing.

Her smile matched his and after a moment she too was laughing. They were both still chuckling away when they reached a hastily vacated booth near the bar.

Alice cast a look at the retreating drinkers as they took up a new position at one of the central tables. However, she remembered to smile before he followed her gaze.

“A drink?” John asked with an ostentatious bow as he gestured for her to sit.

As she did so she looked down and he stole a look at the men who had scurried away and silently cursed. What did they think he would do?

“Vodka tonic,” Alice purred, trying to recover her previous mood.

John glanced around for a server and then at the bar. Table service was haphazard to non-existent at the Shack and most people fetched their own drinks from the bar.

“I’ll be right back,” he said and gave her a friendly wink. He suddenly felt self-conscious and was reluctant to leave her even for a second.

She watched his broad shoulders as he strode casually to the bar and took a moment of appreciation. John Stone walked here like he did everywhere, like he owned the world. Then she looked back at the men who had fled, even though they appeared to have long since forgotten about John and her. Why was everyone so afraid?

She also pondered why when she thought of the twins, it was Adam that moved her most. Adam who had been nothing but rude, arrogant and… she blushed as remembered that twice now he had threatened to spank her.

John returned with a beer and her vodka almost as soon as he had left. No doubt the barkeeper had reacted much as everyone else.

“Thanks,” she said without smiling.

“Anything wrong?” he asked as he swung into the seat opposite and put down the drinks.

Alice mouth became a line and she picked up her glass without sipping it.

“Not really,” she answered not meeting her eyes.

“No?” he sat back and studied her hard.

Alice tilted her head to one side and put down her glass. For some reason she couldn’t meet his eyes, but something told her she had to. Almost as if the whole rest of her life depended on it.

“Why is everyone so afraid of you?” she said, now lifting her eyes to meet his.

“Are they?” he replied and shrugged.

She shot a look around the bar at the people so studiously ignoring the two of them. Her gaze fell on the two men who had given up the booth.

“I think you know that they are,” she challenged him.

He glanced at the men and nodded.

“We don’t really mix with the townsfolk and we have a lot of outsiders out at the ranch…” he threw out before taking a deep swig of beer.

“I mean, you are a big guy and your brother… well I understand that he could make people nervous, but there is more to it than that isn’t there?” she continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “Adam is the kind of man that people notice, the kind you don’t want to cross, but…” she added as if willing herself to believe… what?

“Adam is… Adam, he thinks of others but doesn’t care what people think of him.” John said with conviction.

Alice smiled and pictured Adam with a faraway look.

“You prefer him, don’t you?” John said glumly. “I guess I knew that.”

Alice frowned and went to deny it. “He… he said he would…” she gulped and lowered her voice. “He said he was going to spank me. I mean… who does he think he is? Jesus Christ almighty. The guy thinks he is John freaking Wayne.”

“Hey, don’t curse like that,” John scolded, reminding Alice of her father or someone’s big brother. Then he softened and shrugged. “He would have too.”

“I know,” she whispered shyly and blushed furiously.

“And you like him despite that?” John sighed in resignation and sat back.

“Maybe,” Alice pouted and stared into her drink. “Maybe…” she swallowed hard and risking all she met John’s eyes and as gently as a breath said, “…because of that.” Damn, why did I say that? Alice was blushing so hard now that her face glowed.

John snorted. “Figures,” he said and swallowed down a gulp of beer. “You want me to go?”

“No,” Alice said quickly, “No please stay.” She reached over and punched him on the arm. “Ignore me, I am just a freak. Besides, unless you help, how am I going to get to see your father?”

John laughed, the same soul soothing laugh he had before and Alice wished she… she liked him better than his brother.

“Well at least you need me for something,” he chuckled.

“Sorry,” she said sympathetically, offering him a wince.

“I should worry,” John laughed again. “I could use another drink.”

“Sure,” she smiled warmly and leaned in, “Then you can tell me what growing up in Pulver was really like.”

*

They hit Main Street just as Pulver was waking up. A few turned their heads at the roar of engines, or stopped and stared as they passed.

There were five vehicles in all. The truck at the rear could have been making deliveries except that it was obviously part of the convoy. The lead set of wheels was a battered old jeep in army green with the canvas canopy up. In between were three black SUVs with tinted screens and windows.

Hauling to a stop along the side of the car lot by the diner, a big man with red hair and police mirror sunglasses jumped from the shotgun side of the jeep before the engines were cut.

Out of the driver side another large man unfolded himself from the car. This one was black and broad like a football player wearing camouflage battle fatigues. “So this is Pulver,” he said in a gravel voice.

“Yah,” agreed the first man, taking a cigar from his pocket.

“Okay, up and at ‘em,” the black man yelled with a rolling wave of his arm.

At this a dozen men and two or three women emerged from the SUVs and the truck and began dragging duffle bags and boxes from the back. Some of them had cameras and laptops; others had tripods and other gear that might be for surveying.

Dr Anderson had been about to head over to the diner for breakfast, but he didn’t like the looks of the strangers at all and dawdled to watch.

“You there,” the red headed cigar smoker yelled.

“Can I help you son?” Dr Anderson asked politely.

“You got a sheriff’s office around here?” the man forced a smile, but from behind his shades the good doctor was put in mind of a crocodile.

“Not in Pulver,” the doctor shrugged, “County sheriff is in Bixby.”

The man seemed pleased at this news. “You know where I can get a hunting license?” he asked as he lit his cigar.

“Hunters are you?” Dr Anderson said, looking the man up and down and then at his crew. “There isn’t much to hunt around here; deer maybe, no bear.” Then he frowned as if pondering a heavy point.

“What about wolves?” Patrick Coleridge grinned.

Dr Anderson gave him a very hard look and then spat. “I can’t help you friend.”

As the doctor walked away the red head laughed dismissively and cast his gaze up and down Main Street. “Danny, start getting set up and then see what you can find out? I’m heading over to the diner, come get me when you’re ready.”

“Sure thing Pat,” the gravel-voiced black man acknowledged before turning back to shout at the crew.

To be continued



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