“Well, if it ain’t Lincoln Cain,” she said. “I saw in the paper a few years back you’d bought the old Blackland Ranch, but last I heard, you were stayin’ out of trouble.”
Linc grinned. The old woman was a pistol. “I do my best, Miss Daisy.” He turned. “This is Carly Drake, Joe Drake’s granddaughter.”
“Hello, Daisy,” Carly said. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“You, too. Your granddaddy was a real good man.”
“Thank you. Yes, he was.”
“We need to talk to the sheriff about the Hernandez murder,” Linc said.
Daisy’s face wrinkled into a frown. “Bad business, that. I’ll tell Sheriff Howler you’re here.”
The shuffle of boots drew their attention. “No need, Daisy--I got eyes.” Howler ambled out of his office, tipped up his chin as a signal to Linc. “You want to talk, you and the little lady come on back.”
Linc caught the stiffness that crept into Carly’s shoulders. Looked like Joe’s granddaughter was going to get along with the sheriff about as well as Linc and her grandpa had. If they weren’t there to find a killer, he might have smiled.
They followed Howler into his office and he sat down in the chair behind his desk. “What can I do for you?”
Carly spoke up. “I want to know what you’re doing to find the men who murdered Miguel Hernandez.”
Howler leaned forward across his desk. “Don’t get yourself in a fret. We’re gonna find ‘em. Just takes time. This ain’t San Francisco, little lady.” He flashed Cain a sneer. “It ain’t Dallas, neither. Our deputies have been out there asking questions, following up leads. But nobody saw nothin’ and there ain’t no sign of the truck.”
“What about the crime scene?” Linc asked. “Surely some kind of forensic evidence turned up where the body was found.”
Howler shook his head. “Just because you spent time behind bars, don’t make you an expert on the law.”
Linc ignored a shot of irritation. He and Howler had a history and it wasn’t a good one. His gaze went to Carly. No surprise in those big blue eyes. Clearly, she had done her homework before he’d shown up for yesterday’s meeting. She knew he’d been in prison but instead of disapproval, she was glaring at the sheriff.
“There’s no need for you to be rude, Sheriff Howler. Mr. Cain asked you a question that deserves an answer. I’d like to hear it myself.”
Howler grunted. “Truth is, we didn’t find much of anything. The morning Hernandez’s body was discovered, it had rained off and on during the night. Any DNA evidence was washed away.”
Linc thought of the detective he had hired. He wanted answers. He didn’t figure he’d get them from Howler and so far he was right.
“Who found him?” Carly asked.
“Man and his wife driving back to Dallas from a visit to their folks in Texarkana. They’d pulled off to the side of the road to let their dog out to take a leak. Dog must have scented the body on the other side of the road. Hernandez had been dead a while by then.”
Carly glanced away.
“What’s the coroner give for time of death?” Linc asked.
“Between eleven and one a.m. You can talk to Doc Bradshaw yourself if you’d like.”
“Consuelo said she got a phone call from Miguel about eleven,” Carly said. “He was fueling up at a truck stop a few miles south of Dallas. He told her he’d be home a little after midnight.”
“Seventy miles to Iron Springs from Dallas,” Linc said. “No traffic that time of night. Looks like the coroner got it right.”
The sheriff picked up a pen on his desk and began to click it open and closed. “I know you want those bastards caught and so do I. But standing here jawing about it ain’t gonna help. I need to get back to work.”
Carly ignored him. “From the start, you’ve assumed there was more than one hijacker. Why is that?”
“Found traces of where a vehicle had been parked in front of the body. We think Hernandez pulled over to the side of the road behind the car, someone pretending to have engine trouble. He got out and walked up to the vehicle. Whoever it was, shot him, stole the truck and drove away. Since the car was gone, too, someone else had to have been driving it.”
“I’d like to take a look at the reports,” Linc said. “Coroner’s, deputies’, any statements that were taken, everything you’ve got.”
The sheriff came out of his chair. “That ain’t gonna happen. You got no business in this and that’s the way it’s gonna stay.”
Linc clenched his teeth to keep from saying something he’d regret.
Carly walked up to the desk, leaned over and got right in Howler’s face. “Miguel Hernandez worked for me, Sheriff. That makes his death my business. I want to see those reports.”
The sheriff’s jaw went tight. “Now listen here, little lady--“
“My name is Carly or you can call me Ms. Drake.” Those big blue eyes were spitting fire. Linc could almost see Joe’s blood pumping through her veins.
“If you don’t want more trouble than you’ve already got,” she said, “you’ll let me see those files.”
Howler’s face went beet red. “All right, fine. As a courtesy--and so you’re satisfied there ain’t nothing there--I’ll let you see what’s in the files.”
“I can pick the information up or you can drop it off at my office whenever it’s ready. Just call and let me know.” Carly turned and started walking. “Have a good day, Sheriff.”
They crossed the office together. Linc opened the door, then followed her out of the building, over to her truck.
“I know you want answers,” he said. “So do I. But murder can be a dangerous business. Be better if you didn’t get involved.”
“I don’t trust Howler to do the job.”
“Neither do I. Which is why I’ve hired a private investigator to look into the case. His name’s Ross Townsend. He’s worked for me before so I know he’s good.”
“Has he found anything yet?”
“Not yet, but he’s just getting started. Call me when you get those files. Look them over, then I’ll take a look. Maybe one of us will see something the sheriff missed.”
“All right. But in exchange I expect you to tell me what your investigator finds out.”
Linc shook his head. “Like I said, Carly, you need to stay out of this.”
She cocked a hand on her hip and looked up at him. “By now you must realize that isn’t going to happen.”
Irritation warred with amusement. Amusement won out. “Yeah, I guess I do.” Another of Joe’s traits--she was just as bullheaded. Joe wouldn’t want her involved, but the determined set of her jaw said even Joe wouldn’t have been able to stop her.
Linc jerked open her pickup door and Carly climbed in behind the wheel.
The engine started. He watched the pickup pull onto the road, heading back to Drake Trucking. He checked his watch. Forty-five minutes till his conference call on the tire re-building plant he was trying to open just east of Pleasant Hill. He didn’t have time to think of Carly Drake and he didn’t want to.
He couldn’t deny he was attracted to her, all that sexy blond hair and a body that made a man want to strip her down and take her a dozen different ways.
He knew why Joe had never mentioned him to her over the years. He’d been a hell-raiser even after prison. Nothing illegal by then, but he’d liked to party and he’d liked beautiful women. And he’d had plenty of them. Still did.
Joe had wanted someone special for Carly. He hadn’t wanted an ex-con taking advantage of his granddaughter.
But things were different now. Joe had trusted Linc with Carly’s welfare and that meant keeping her safe.
Even from him.