I berated myself for weeks thereafter for not having given more thought to what had bothered me about what happened in the lounge at Jacob's ranch. Later my lieutenant, Burton Kahn, repeatedly told me that it worked out for the best that I'd let it slip my mind--and I hadn't even told him what the trying circumstances were that made it fall out of my thinking--that I was being brutally double fucked by two goons. But by the time I did give it a thought, it was too late.

It was seeing the rope that Jason Jenks pulled down from the wall at the horse stable when we were walking the grounds earlier in the afternoon and when he asked me if I liked being bound when I was being fucked--that he'd be happy to do that if I liked it--and we were in a quiet spot then and there and he was feeling horny. Seeing him standing there, holding that length of rope, and the image of the serial killer's methodology brought back my encounter with Arcardi and his goons the previous afternoon. In my imagination I exchanged Arcardi for Jenks standing there swinging that short length of rope and the truth--or at least part of it--began to chink into place in my mind. I'd been such a fool. But then I hadn't been the only one.

I started to flesh out the true scenario in my mind but the real world was, I am afraid, several steps ahead of me.

Hank appeared in the sunlight beyond the door to the stable and called out, almost frantically, "There you are, Clint. Come with me please. Right now."

I looked at Jenks with what I hoped was a look of disappointment, which was returned by a look of slight irritation, and headed for the door.

"There's been another killing," Hank said in hushed, but choppy tones as I joined him out in the central yard of the ranch compound. "The police are on the way. But you need to ride out immediately."

"Another killing?" I asked dumbly. "Who? And so you want the guests taken to Jacob's ranch again today."

"No, you need to take out after Chuck. He's got a head start, but he didn't know which of the horses was faster. I can give you a better mount. I've got to stay here for the police to arrive."

"Chuck? I don't understand. Who's been murdered?"

"Giacomo Arcardi. One of his bodyguards is dead too--and the other one is pretty well cut up."

"I don't understand. Like Jesse and Sam? And what's this about Chuck?"

"No. Straight knifings. He got them out in the parking area as they were getting in their vehicle. It was Chuck."

"Chuck?" I was stunned. Chuck was my contact with the special unit down in Denver. Had he been identified and attacked? Was he defending himself?

"Yes, Chuck's killed them. He was seen. This isn't unfolding at all like we thought it would go down. We were concentrating on Jenks. Someone else was concentrating on the serial murderer. I think we can guess who, since Mario Rapino and some of his thugs are up here."

"We? Unfolding?"

"Yes. It's time you knew. I'm your inside contact here," Hank said. "I've been trying to watch over you as you've been trying to keep Arcardi from Jenks. Here," he said then in exasperation, as he pulled a badge out of his pocket. "I'm with the Denver police. The special unit. I'm your inside contact."

"You? Oh, god. I thought it was Chuck."

"Apparently not. Chuck must be an assassin. The Rapinos must have brought him in to avenge Lorenzo's death."

"I don't think Giacomo Arcardi is our killer either," I said as we started moving swiftly toward a horse barn, where one of the grizzled cowpokes was preparing a horse for me.

"Why?" Hank said, almost in shock.

"You saw his goons fucking me. Arcardi was a watcher; he wasn't hands on himself. I don't think it was his method at all. The fetish is in watching. And he wanted his goons around to do the fucking. And they didn't bind me. All of the others have been bound."

"Oh, god. I'll try to sort that out here. You try to track Chuck down. There's a rifle and a handgun in the saddle holsters--and a badge for you, in case you run into any civilians who might get in the way."

Chuck wasn't hard to follow--or to catch up to, for that matter. His horse had thrown a shoe soon after he'd ridden out of the ranch compound and that had both made the trail easy to track and the horse slower than molasses--which must have vexed Chuck to no end. Not exactly your classic TV Western escape scene.

I saw him from a distance, and then I moved in real slow, watching and gauging what was what. The trail traced right up to where Chuck was laying on the ground, his horse standing docilely beside him, a hundred feet or so from the fence separating the ranch property from the road to Granby. The two camouflaged Hummers were pulling away toward Granby as I approached. I made sure they were at a respectable distance before I came in close, got off my horse, and nudged the body with my foot.

Chuck had been killed with a clean through-and-through shot to the chest. Pretty close to a perfect heart shot. I didn't think I'd want to stand up in a fire fight against whatever of Mario Rapino's thugs had done that.

I probably should have felt outraged for Chuck. I didn't bear a grudge against him even if he'd duped me. He was a good fuck and a loose and easy guy to be around. I certainly hadn't pegged him for an assassin. It was tough what Rapino had done to him as a reward for a job successfully concluded, but I didn't really have much sympathy to give to any of these guys in the underworld--certainly not ones from my own city who had come out here to carry out their vendetta--other than it was nice they did it here rather than on the city streets.

Very clever of Mario, though, I thought, to have managed to lure Giacomo out here to his doom--and then making sure they were seen together where he could have offed Giacomo and didn't. Of course, it might not have been possible to lure Giacomo here if he had been the real killer of Lorenzo Rapino. Since he wasn't, he probably had a blind spot about what the Rapinos were really planning for him out here. He probably thought they were just having one of their regular meetings on neutral ground in an effort to stay out of each other's hair in the city.

I manhandled the body up onto his horse, belly over the saddle, mounted my own horse, and slowly trotted back to the main ranch compound.

They were all--well, most of them--standing on the porch of the main house, lined up along the railing and watching me bring Chuck's body back in--the Sheriff, a couple of deputies, Slade, and Butch.

"See you got him," the Sheriff said, as I guided Chuck's horse up to the railing.

"Shot 'em?" one deputy said.

"He's been shot," I said. I saw no reason to get further into that now. Ballistics would eventually catch up with the truth of that, but there was no reason for this lot to know the whole story here--at least not yet. It wasn't over yet.

"Saves a trial," chimed in the other deputy. "Witnesses saw him do it, so you should be clear on that. Still, might be a little trouble for you."

"I doubt that," I said, and I then flashed the badge Hank had given me before I rode out. Conveniently, it was issued by the Colorado State Police and had a good enough photo of me on it. Hank had come through on that.

Butch turned all red and scared looking when I flashed the badge, but Slade stayed cool as a cucumber, which I took as a sign of who knew what about me from the outset here. Suddenly, though, I noticed who wasn't there.

"Where's Hank?" I asked.

"Haven't seen him in a while," Butch said.

"And Jason Jenks--I mean Jay--where's he?"

"Haven't seen him in a while either," Butch answered. No one else gave even that much of an answer--at least until one of the deputies spoke up.

"I saw two men goin' into a horse barn over there. An older guy and one of the wranglers."

"Oh, god," I said, the possibility of my stupidity zinging through me, and I turned my horse and spurred it toward the horse barn.

I found them near the back of the barn, Hank on his back on a hay bale, his wrists tied together by rope, a big bruise on his temple, dead to the world--but not yet dead, I hoped. Jenks was hunched between Hank's spread legs, flailing at him with a riding crop and fucking him furiously. His free hand was knotted in a length of rope pulled tightly around Hank's neck.

I shot him dead with the handgun Hank had given me.

 

Habu

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