“Fran, this is the third case of poaching this month. Do you have any ideas on how to capture them?” Game Warden Lee Garrison stood with folded arms in front of Sheriff Fran Buckner’s desk. “I’ve double checked the deer tags bagged at the end of the season.” He waved a stack of crisp papers. “They’re all accounted for.”
Fran swiveled in her chair. Tapping her letter opener against her full lips, she gazed out the window at the passing traffic.
“When was the last one found?”
“Mitchell Harvey said he heard whooping and hollering from a truck swerving across his property last night. He’s allowed hunters, but he doesn’t know which one it was. I found the remains of another deer.”
“Did you find any shells?”
“No. They’re using bows.”
Fran stretched her long legs. She walked over to the window, noticing two Jimmy pickups parked in front of Millie’s Dinner. One license read, “Dun Bros.” Both vehicles sported buck antlers on the cab.
“When did Zeke bag a six pointer?” After five years in public office, Fran knew all the locals. “Zeke hates hunting. Ken and Frank Duncan have tried for years to get him to join them, but he hates guns.” Fran turned to Lee. “Do you have a tag for Zeke Elder?”
Lee flipped through the papers without success.
Fran spun and headed for the door.
“Let’s get some breakfast.” A confused Lee marched behind him.
The door jingled as the two officials entered the diner. Fran picked out Zeke sitting between Ken and Frank at a round table.
“Morning, boys. Mind if we join you?” Without waiting for an answer, Fran lowered herself into a chair.
“This here is Game Warden Lee Garrison.” Fran inclined her head towards Lee who stood at attention. “He’s got a little problem with some poachers. You boys wouldn’t have any idea who might be doing it would you?” She reached for Ken’s freshly poured coffee, added some cream and took a sip.
Ken leaned back, grinning boyishly.
“Now, sheriff, what would give you the idea we’d know anything about illegal deer hunting?”
Fran selected a slice of bacon off Ken’s plate. She chewed for moment and asked, “Who said it was deer poaching?”
Worried looks between Zeke and Frank did not go unnoticed. Ken’s smile faded, but he didn’t comment.
“Lee, you got any tags for Ken or Frank Duncan?” Fran picked up Ken’s fork, cutting into his buttered waffle.
The Game Warden shuffled through his stack.
“Yes, they each bought two.”
“Where did you get your antlers, Zeke? We didn’t find a tag for you.” Fran reached across the table and took a couple of stabs of Zeke’s untouched scrambled eggs.
“Uhhh…” Zeke looked wide eyed at Ken.
“I gave him one that I bagged last fall.” Ken’s smile was barely above a grimace. “Never could talk Zeke into hunting even with bows, but he wanted some antlers on his truck to impress Millie.”
Fran cut out a huge wedge of Frank’s golden pancakes, swirling it in a pool of maple syrup.
“You boys weren’t out by old man Harvey’s last night were you?”
“No, sheriff,” his lips tight. “We were at Zeke’s playing cards.” Ken pushed his plate across to Fran. “I hope you don’t have any more questions for us cause we’re out of answers and food.”
Smiling, Fran wiped her mouth with a napkin.
“Thanks for the information boys.” She rose and placed a hand on Ken’s tensed arm. Leaning closely into his ear, her hair draped across one of his broad shoulders. “You will let me know if you see any poachers.”
Fran flipped back her long hair as she strode to the counter. Picking up a toothpick, she waved at the owner.
“Good food as always, Millie. See you at lunch time.”
Outside, Lee caught up with Fran, blocking her path.
“Fran, I appreciate your help so far, but I don’t see what this conversation has accomplished.”
The sheriff removed the toothpick from her mouth and smiled.
“Lee, trust me. We’ll have the poachers in jail before the weeks out. I know Ken. I insulted him. He’ll hunt illegally just to gall me. Those men will never accept a female sheriff. I’ve been calling the Duncan brothers ‘Dumb’ and ‘Dumber’ for years. They’ve both spent time in my jail before.” She shook her head, replacing the toothpick in her mouth. “I just can’t believe Zeke’s gotten mixed up with those two.”
Fran steered Lee back to her office.
“I’ll grab my deputy and the three of us will stake out Harvey’s property for a few nights. The poachers are bound to slip up.”
Two days later, without any new developments, Fran stopped by Millie’s for lunch. She spied Zeke sitting alone.
“Hello, Zeke.” Fran stood by his side, draping her arm on his shoulder. “Care for some company?”
She slipped into the chair next to a stunned Zeke.
“Yum. Steak.” She reached for a spare fork, spearing a cut piece. She rolled it around her mouth, smiling sweetly. “Tell me, Zeke. Have you and the Duncan brothers been out deer hunting on old man Harvey’s property lately?”
Zeke remained mute.
“It’s okay to tell me, Zeke.” She layed down the fork, reaching for his corn-on-the-cob and took a few bites.
“Uhhh…we…uh…we were out there a few nights ago.”
Wiping her mouth with a napkin, she asked, “Did you catch any deer?”
“Good afternoon, sheriff.” Ken and Frank stood over her, their faces grim. “You don’t have to tell her nothin’, Zeke. She’s just a woman playing in a man’s game.”
Fran speared another piece of steak, chewing slowly. After swallowing, she took a long drag of ice tea.
“Thanks for the meal, Zeke.” She rose and stood toe to toe with Ken. “We’ll see who’s playing at a man’s game.” Turning on her heels, she left.
Two days later, Lee paced Fran’s office floor.
“Another poached deer, Fran. We’ve staked out for three nights and haven’t found a thing. And we couldn’t watch last night since we got two feet of snow. Maybe we should call for more backup.”
“I’m sure something will turn up soon, Lee. We can handle this. I don’t think even “Dumb” and “Dumber” were that stupid to hunt last night.” Fran chewed on her letter opener while watching the traffic move slowly over the covered roads. The shrill ring of the phone stopped Lee in his tracks.
“Sheriff’s office. Yeah, Harvey? All right. We’ll be right up and thanks.” Fran reached for her gun belt. “Harvey says he found another gutted deer. He followed the tire tracks to a fresh blood trail, but he didn’t want to disturb anything. If we hurry, we might be able to wrap this up.”
Twenty minutes later they arrived at Harvey’s. He pointed out the tire tracks for the officers to follow. Parking the truck, they proceeded on foot to the bloody remains.
“What do we do now?” Lee asked, looking around. “All I see is snow.”
Fran stood motionless with her hands on her slim hips, her lips turned up in a victory smile.
“I see ‘Dumb’ and ‘Dumber.’”
“Where?” Lee asked, whipping around.
Fran pointed to a snow bank. The poacher’s truck bumper had backed into it, leaving a perfect imprint of their license plate, “Dun Bros.”
Fran slapped Lee on the back.
“I hope they’re at Millie’s. I’m ready for breakfast.”