The Maverick

By: Diana Palmer

He stared at her as if he doubted his hearing. Cash Grier had to turn away. His face was going purple.

The hardware-store door opened and a tall, black-haired, taciturn man came out it. He frowned. “Jones? What the hell are you doing down here? They asked for Longfellow!”

She glared back. “Longfellow hid in the women’s restroom and refused to come out,” she said haughtily. “So they sent me. And why are you interested in Sheriff Carson’s case? You’re a fed.”

Kilraven put his finger to his lips and looked around hastily to make sure nobody was listening. “I’m a policeman, working on the city force,” he said curtly.

Alice held up both hands defensively. “Sorry! It’s so hard to keep up with all these secrets!”

Kilraven glanced at his boss and back at Alice. “What secrets?”

“Well, there’s the horseless cowboy there—” she pointed at Harley “—and the DB over on the Little Carmichael River…”

Kilraven’s silver eyes widened. “On the river? I thought it was in town. Nobody told me!”

“I just did,” Alice said. “But it’s really a secret. I’m not supposed to tell anybody.”

“I’m local law enforcement,” Kilraven insisted. “You can tell me. Who is he?”

Alice gave him a bland look and propped a hand on her hip. “I only looked at him for two minutes before I realized I needed to get more investigative supplies. He’s male and dead. He’s got no ID, he’s naked, and even his mother wouldn’t recognize his face.”

“Dental records…” Kilraven began.

“For those, you need identifiable teeth,” Alice replied sweetly.

Harley was turning white.

She glanced at him. “Are you squeamish?” she asked hopefully. “Listen, I once examined this dead guy whose girlfriend caught him with a hooker. After she offed him, she cut off his… Where are you going?”

Harley was making a beeline for the interior of the hardware store.

“Bathroom, I imagine.” Grier grinned at Kilraven, who chuckled.

“He works around cattle and he’s squeamish?” Alice asked, delighted. “I’ll bet he’s a lot of fun when they round up the calves!”

“Not nice,” Kilraven chided. “Everybody’s got a weak spot, Jones. Even you.”

“I have no weak spots,” she assured him.

“No social life, either,” Grier murmured. “I heard you tried to conduct a postmortem on a turkey in North Carolina during a murder investigation there.”

“It met with fowl play,” she said, straight-faced.

Both men chuckled.

“I have to get to work,” she said, becoming serious. “This is a strange case. Nobody knows who this guy is or where he came from, and there was a serious attempt to make him unidentifiable. Even with DNA, when I can get a profile back from state—and don’t hold your breath on the timetable—I don’t know if we can identify him. If he has no criminal record, he won’t be on file anywhere.”

“At least we don’t get many of these,” Kilraven said quietly.

Jones smiled at him. “When are you coming back up to San Antonio?” she asked. “You solved the Pendleton kidnapping and helped wrap up the perps.”

“Just a few loose ends to tie up,” he said. He nodded at her and his boss. “I’ll get back on patrol.”

“Brady’s wife made potato soup and real corn bread for lunch. Don’t miss it.”

“Not me, boss.”

Alice stared after the handsome officer. “He’s a dish. But isn’t he overstaying his purpose down here?” she asked Cash.

He leaned down. “Winnie Sinclair works for the 911 center. Local gossip has it that he’s sweet on her. That’s why he’s finding excuses not to leave.”

Alice looked worried. “And he’s dragging around a whole past that hardly anybody knows about. He’s pretending it never happened.”

“Maybe he has to.”

She nodded. “It was bad. One of the worst cases I ever worked. Poor guy.” She frowned. “They never solved it, you know. The perp is still out there, running around loose. It must have driven Kilraven and his brother, Jon Blackhawk, nuts, wondering if it was somebody they arrested, somebody with a grudge.”

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