The law is a lady, p.3
The Law is a Lady, p.3Nora Roberts
“The mayor,” Phil said on sudden inspiration. “I want to see the mayor. I have a business proposition,” he added.
“Oh.” Tory mulled this over. “Well, I doubt I can oblige you on a Saturday. The mayor mostly fishes on Saturday. Want to tell me about it?”
“Okay. By the way, your last film should’ve taken the Oscar. It was the most beautiful movie I’ve ever seen.”
Her sudden change of attitude disconcerted him. Cautiously, Phil studied her face but saw nothing but simple sincerity. “Thanks.”
“You don’t look like the type who could make a film with intelligence, integrity, and emotion.”
With a half laugh he dragged a hand through his hair. “Am I supposed to thank you for that too?”
“Not necessarily. It’s just that you really do look like the type who squires all those busty celebrities around. When do you find time to work?”
He shook his head. “I . . . manage,” he said grimly.
“Takes a lot of stamina,” Tory agreed.
He grinned. “Which? The work or the busty celebrities?”
“I guess you know the answer to that. By the way,” she continued before he could formulate a reasonable response, “don’t tell Merle T. you make movies.” Tory gave him the swift, dashing grin. “He’ll start walking like John Wayne and drive us both crazy.”
When he smiled back at her, both of them studied each other in wary silence. There was an attraction on both sides that pleased neither of them.
“Sheriff,” Phil said in a friendly tone, “a phone call. Remember the line about the quality of mercy?”
Her lips curved, but before she could agree, the door to the office burst in.
“Right here, Mr. Hollister,” she said mildly. Tory glanced from the burly, irate man to the skinny, terrified teenager he pulled in with him. “What’s the problem?” Without hurry she crossed back to her desk, stepping over the dog automatically.
“Those punks,” he began, puffing with the exertion of running. “I warned you about them!”
“The Kramer twins?” Tory sat on the corner of her desk. Her eyes flickered down to the beefy hand that gripped a skinny arm. “Why don’t you sit down, Mr. Hollister. You—” She looked directly at the boy. “It’s Tod, isn’t it?”
He swallowed rapidly. “Yes, ma’am—Sheriff. Tod Swanson.”
“Get Mr. Hollister a glass of water, Tod. Right through there.”
“He’ll be out the back door before you can spit,” Hollister began, then took a plaid handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe at his brow.
“No, he won’t,” Tory said calmly. She jerked her head at the boy as she pulled up a chair for Hollister. “Sit down, now, you’ll make yourself sick.”
“Sick!” Hollister dropped into a chair as the boy scrambled off. “I’m already sick. Those—those punks.”
“Yes, the Kramer twins.”
She waited patiently while he completed a lengthy, sometimes incoherent dissertation on the youth of today. Phil had the opportunity to do what he did best: watch and absorb.
Hollister, he noticed, was a hotheaded old bigot with a trace of fear for the younger generation. He was sweating profusely, dabbing at his brow and the back of his neck with the checkered handkerchief. His shirt was wilted and patched with dark splotches. He was flushed, overweight, and tiresome. Tory listened to him with every appearance of respect, but Phil noticed the gentle tap of her forefinger against her knee as she sat on the edge of the desk.
The boy came in with the water, two high spots of color on his cheeks. Phil concluded he’d had a difficult time not slipping out the back door. He judged the boy to be about thirteen and scared right down to the bone. He had a smooth, attractive face, with a mop of dark hair and huge brown eyes that wanted to look everywhere at once. He was too thin; his jeans and grubby shirt were nearly in tatters. He handed Tory the water with a hand that shook. Phil saw that when she took it from him, she gave his hand a quick, reassuring squeeze. Phillip began to like her.
“Here.” Tory handed Hollister the glass. “Drink this, then tell me what happened.”
Hollister drained the glass in two huge gulps. “Those punks, messing around out back of my store. I’ve chased ’em off a dozen times. They come in and steal anything they can get their hands on. I’ve told you.”
“Yes, Mr. Hollister. What happened this time?”
“Heaved a rock through the window.” He reddened alarmingly again. “This one was with ’em. Didn’t run fast enough.”
“I see.” She glanced at Tod, whose eyes were glued to the toes of his sneakers. “Which one threw the rock?”
“Didn’t see which one, but I caught this one.” Hollister rose, stuffing his damp handkerchief back in his pocket. “I’m going to press charges.”
Phil saw the boy blanch. Though Tory continued to look at Hollister, she laid a hand on Tod’s arm. “Go sit down in the back room, Tod.” She waited until he was out of earshot. “You did the right thing to bring him in, Mr. Hollister.” She smiled. “And to scare the pants off him.”
“He should be locked up,” the man began.
“Oh, that won’t get your window fixed,” she said reasonably. “And it would only make the boy look like a hero to the twins.”
“In my day—”
“I guess you and my father never broke a window,” she mused, smiling at him with wide eyes. Hollister blustered, then snorted.
“Now, look here, Tory . . .”
“Let me handle it, Mr. Hollister. This kid must be three years younger than the Kramer twins.” She lowered her voice so that Phil strained to hear. “He could have gotten away.”
Hollister shifted from foot to foot. “He didn’t try,” he mumbled. “Just stood there. But my window—”
“How much to replace it?”
He lowered his brows and puffed for a minute. “Twenty-five dollars should cover it.”
Tory walked around the desk and opened a drawer. After counting out bills, she handed them over. “You have my word, I’ll deal with him—and with the twins.”
“Just like your old man,” he muttered, then awkwardly patted her head. “I don’t want those Kramers hanging around my store.”
“I’ll see to it.”
With a nod he left.
Tory sat on her desk again and frowned at her left boot. She wasn’t just like her old man, she thought. He’d always been sure and she was guessing. Phil heard her quiet, troubled sigh and wondered at it.
“Tod,” she called then waited for him to come to her. As he walked in his eyes darted in search of Hollister before they focused, terrified, on Tory. When he stood in front of her, she studied his white, strained face. Her heart melted, but her voice was brisk.
“I won’t ask you who threw the rock.” Tod opened his mouth, closed it resolutely, and shook his head. “Why didn’t you run?”
“I didn’t—I couldn’t. . . .” He bit his lip. “I guess I was too scared.”
“How old are you, Tod?” She wanted to brush at the hair that tumbled over his forehead. Instead she kept her hands loosely folded in her lap.
“Fourteen, Sheriff. Honest.” His eyes darted up to hers, then flew away like a small, frightened bird. “Just last month.”
“The Kramer twins are sixteen,” she pointed out gently. “Don’t you have friends your own age?”
He gave a shrug of his shoulders that could have meant anything.
“I’ll have to take you home and talk to your father, Tod.”
He’d been frightened before, but now he looked up at her with naked terror in his eyes. It wiped the lecture she had intended to give him out of her mind. “Please.” It came out in a whisper, as though he could say nothing more. Even the whisper was hopeless.
“Tod, are you afraid of your father?” He swallowed and said nothing. “Does he hurt you?” He moistened his lips as his breath began to shake. “Tod.” Tory’s voice bec
“He . . .” Tod choked, then shook his head swiftly. “No, ma’am.”
Frustrated, Tory looked at the plea in his eyes. “Well, then, perhaps since this is a first offense, we can keep it between us.”
“Tod Swanson, you were detained for malicious mischief. Do you understand the charge?”
“Yes, Sheriff.” His Adam’s apple began to tremble.
“You owe the court twenty-five dollars in damages, which you’ll work off after school and on weekends at a rate of two dollars an hour. You’re sentenced to six months probation, during which time you’re to keep away from loose women, hard liquor, and the Kramer twins. Once a week you’re to file a report with me, as I’ll be serving as your probation officer.”
Tod stared at her as he tried to take it in. “You’re not . . . you’re not going to tell my father?”
Slowly, Tory rose. He was a few inches shorter, so that he looked up at her with his eyes full of confused hope. “No.” She placed her hands on his shoulders. “Don’t let me down.”
His eyes brimmed with tears, which he blinked back furiously. Tory wanted badly to hold him, but knew better. “Be here tomorrow morning. I’ll have some work for you.”
“Yes, yes, ma’am—Sheriff.” He backed away warily, waiting for her to change her mind. “I’ll be here, Sheriff.” He was fumbling for the doorknob, still watching her. “Thank you.” Like a shot, he was out of the office, leaving Tory staring at the closed door.
“Well, Sheriff,” Phil said quietly, “you’re quite a lady.”
Tory whirled to see Phil eyeing her oddly. For the first time she felt the full impact of the clear blue gaze. Disconcerted, she went back to her desk. “Did you enjoy seeing the wheels of justice turn, Kincaid?” she asked.
“As a matter of fact, I did.” His tone was grave enough to cause her to look back at him. “You did the right thing by that boy.”
Tory studied him a moment, then let out a long sigh. “Did I? We’ll see, won’t we? Ever seen an abused kid, Kincaid? I’d bet that fifteen-hundred-dollar watch you’re wearing one just walked out of here. There isn’t a damn thing I can do about it.”
“There are laws,” he said, fretting against the bars. Quite suddenly he wanted to touch her.
“And laws,” she murmured. When the door swung open, she glanced up. “Merle. Good. Take over here. I have to run out to the Kramer place.”
“Who else?” Tory shot back as she plucked a black flat-brimmed hat from a peg. “I’ll grab dinner while I’m out and pick up something for our guest. How do you feel about stew, Kincaid?”
“Steak, medium rare,” he tossed back. “Chef’s salad, oil and vinegar and a good Bordeaux.”
“Don’t let him intimidate you, Merle,” Tory warned as she headed for the door. “He’s a cream puff.”
“Sheriff, the phone call!” Phil shouted after her as she started to close the door.
With a heavy sigh Tory stuck her head back in. “Merle T., let the poor guy use the phone. Once,” she added firmly, then shut the door.
Ninety minutes later Tory sauntered back in with a wicker hamper over her arm. Phil was sitting on his bunk, smoking quietly. Merle sat at the desk, his feet propped up, his hat over his face. He was snoring gently.
“Is the party over?” Tory asked. Phil shot her a silent glare. Chuckling, she went to Merle and gave him a jab in the shoulder. He scrambled up like a shot, scraping his boot heels over the desk surface.
“Aw, Tory,” he muttered, bending to retrieve his hat from the floor.
“Any trouble with the desperate character?” she wanted to know.
Merle gave her a blank look, then grinned sheepishly. “Come on, Tory.”
“Go get something to eat. You can wander down to Hernandez’s Bar and the pool hall before you go off duty.”
Merle placed his hat back on his head. “Want me to check Bestler’s Garage?”
“No,” she said, remembering the poker game. Merle would figure it his bound duty to break it up if he happened in on it. “I checked in earlier.”
“Well, okay . . .” He shuffled his feet and cast a sidelong glance at Phil. “One of us should stay here tonight.”
“I’m staying.” Plucking up the keys, she headed for the cell. “I’ve got some extra clothes in the back room.”
“Yeah, but, Tory . . .” He wanted to point out that she was a woman, after all, and the prisoner had given her a couple of long looks.
“Yes?” Tory paused in front of Phil’s cell.
“Nothin’,” he muttered, reminded that Tory could handle herself and always had. He blushed before he headed for the door.
“Wasn’t that sweet?” she murmured. “He was worried about my virtue.” At Phil’s snort of laughter she lifted a wry brow.
“Doesn’t he know about the large gun in the desk drawer?”
“Of course he does.” Tory unlocked the cell. “I told him if he played with it, I’d break all his fingers. Hungry?”
Phil gave the hamper a dubious smile. “Maybe.”
“Oh, come on, cheer up,” Tory ordered. “Didn’t you get to make your phone call?”
She spoke, as though appeasing a little boy. It drew a reluctant grin from Phil. “Yes, I made my phone call.” Because the discussion with his producer had gone well, Phil was willing to be marginally friendly. Besides, he was starving. “What’s in there?”
“T-bone, medium rare, salad, roasted potato—”
“You’re kidding!” He was up and dipping into the basket himself.
“I don’t kid a man about food, Kincaid, I’m a humanitarian.”
“I’ll tell you exactly what I think you are—after I’ve eaten.” Phil pulled foil off a plate and uncovered the steak. The scent went straight to his stomach. Dragging over a shaky wooden chair, he settled down to devour his free meal.
“You didn’t specify dessert, so I went for apple pie.” Tory drew a thick slice out of the hamper.
“I might just modify my opinion of you,” Phil told her over a mouthful of steak.
“Don’t do anything hasty,” she suggested.
“Tell me something, Sheriff.” He swallowed, then indicated the still-sleeping dog with his fork. “Doesn’t that thing ever move?”
“Not if he can help it.”
“Is it alive?”
“The last time I looked,” she muttered. “Sorry about the Bordeaux,” she continued. “Against regulations. I got you a Dr Pepper.”
Tory pulled out a bottle of soda. “Take it or leave it.”
After a moment’s consideration Phil held out his hand. “What about the mayor?”
“I left him a message. He’ll probably see you tomorrow.”
Phil unscrewed the top off the bottle, frowning at her. “You’re not actually going to make me sleep in this place.”
Cocking her head, Tory met his glance. “You have a strange view of the law, Kincaid. Do you think I should book you a room at the hotel?”
He washed down the steak with the soda, then grimaced. “You’re a tough guy, Sheriff.”
“Yeah.” Grinning, she perched on the edge of the bunk. “How’s your dinner?”
“It’s good. Want some?”
“No. I’ve eaten.” They studied each other with the same wary speculation. Tory spoke first. “What is Phillip C. Kincaid, boy wonder, doing in Friendly, New Mexico?”
“I was passing through,” he said warily. He wasn’t going to discuss his plans with her. Something warned him he would meet solid opposition.
“At seventy-two miles per hour,” she reminded him.
With a laugh she leaned back against the brick wall. He watched
The Law is a Lady by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love have rating 5.4 out of 5 / Based on43 votes