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Title: The Eagle Down Under
Series: The Eagle Chronicles.
Word Count 6532
Summary Steven goes to visit an friend in Austraila and gets mixed up with art theft and murder.
Notes: After I had Steven take off at the end of "Flight of the Eagle", I had to have him go somewhere. For those of you in Austraila, I apologize for any stereotypes. I wrote this around 1985 and well, I didn't know much at the time.

20 The Eagle Down Under

March 1952

The taxi pulled up in front of the old house. Steven Taylor got out and paid his fare. "Don't bother, I'll carry my own bags." The cabby nodded and drove off.

He walked up the porch steps and rang the bell. A man in his late twenties answered the door. "Steven, I'm glad you accepted my invitation."

"I wouldn't pass up such a chance to get away from everything."

"C'mon in."

"Thanks, Joe."

Steven had met Joe Ryan when he was in the MASH in Korea. While he was there, Joe learned that his father had died leaving him their sheep station. He invited Steven to come Down Under to celebrate whenever he wanted to get away.

"Nice place you got here."

"It's pretty comfortable. There's still a lot of work to be done."

In the main hallway Steven saw a painting that caught his eye. "Isn't that a Raphael? I'm not great art historian, but it looks like his style."

"You're right. It's been in the family as long as I can remember. It's one of the few great masterpieces privately owned in Australia. Worth a mint, too."

He led Steven upstairs to his room. "I'm next to you on the right. The bathroom's straight down the hall. Want a beer?"

"Yeah, thanks. I'll start unpacking if you don't mind bringing it up."

"Not at all." Joe went downstairs.

Steven began to unpack his suitcases. There was a large bureau which held all his clothes. There was also a walk-in closet, mirror, and four-poster bed.

Joe returned with the beers. "Here's your brew, mate."

Steven took it gladly. After his first sip, he asked, "Do you keep this yourself?"

"Oh, no, I've a neighbor who comes over a few times a week to clean. If not, this place would be a sty. There are also a few locals who help with the sheep."

"Any close neighbors? You seem so far out of it here."

"Well, there are a few. There isn't too much socializing because we're so far apart."

The two sat in Steven's room talking about their pasts and Korea. Two hours later, they heard the doorbell. "I wonder how long we've been up here?"

They went downstairs and answered the door. " 'Ello, mate. Saw you had company and I wanted to welcome them to Kangaroo Flat."

"Why don't you come in, Mike. Steven, this is my neighbor Mike Harmon; his wife does the cleaning. Mike, this is my friend Steven Taylor. We met in Korea."

"Nice t' meet you. Are you the Steven Taylor? I remember readin' 'bout you in the papers. You were once a jewel thief, right?"

"Yeah, I was. Gave it up. When no one knew me, there was excitement. Now it's no fun."

"Want a brew, Mike?"

"No, thanks, mate. There's a 'roo been givin' trouble down our way. Gotta get goin'. Nice meeting' you, Steven."

"You, too, Mike." Mike mounted his horse and rode off. "Some guy, there."

"He's a great help in running things."

"That's good. It's great to have someone you can depend on."

"How would you like a tour of the place? It's nothin; great, but if you're gonna be here awhile, you should know your way around."

It was a large station. The barn and chicken coop were in good condition but the sheep pen looked as if it had seen better days. "We only use the barn for four horses and we don't have that many sheep. We had to sell most off during World War II and trying to build up the herd again. It'll take a long time to get it the way it once was. I barely had enough to buy some sheep last week."

"Not to get off the subject, but do you have neighbors other than Mike Harmon and his wife?"

"There are the Hays that live on the other side. There's m'girl Jane, her brother Jim, and her dad. Her dad's a kind old man, but her brother's the one that doesn't like me. Don't know why."

"And they're your only real neighbors?"

Joe nodded. "They were all a great help when I came home. Without them, I might have gone crazy."


The next morning when he woke, Steven almost forgot where he was. He dressed and went down to breakfast. Joe was making pancakes. Just as Steven sat down at the table, there was a knock on the back door. "It's probably Mary Harmon come to do the cleaning. She'll want to meet you."

Joe opened the door. "Thanks, luv." Mary Harmon walked into view. She looked much younger than Mike, more like a daughter. Joe said she was in her late forties. She definitely did not look it. "You must be Mr. Taylor. Mike told me you were here. It's nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you, too, Mary. It must be quite a job for you to keep this place clean."

"No, it's not that bad. Joe keeps it very clean. You look like the type who keeps a clean house as well."

"What's it like living out here? It must be pretty tough."

"Not really. I grew up on a station like this. That's how I met Mike. He came to work for my father."

Joe served the breakfast and asked Mary if she wanted a cup of tea before she began. "That would be nice."

She went on chatting about her father's station and her early days with Mike. Long after her tea was done--and Joe and Steven's breakfast--she was still talking. Steven excused himself on the premise of taking a shower. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize I had been talking for so long. Next time you should tell me."

Steven smiled. "Don't worry. I will." He went upstairs.

Joe helped Mary with the dishes. "He's a nice man, he is."

"You're right. I met him when I was in hospital in Korea. He helped me come to terms with Dad's death."

"He's not snobbish. I think he's the first Englishman I've takin' a likin' to."

Joe laughed. "And you, the staunch Aussie, who puts down all English."

"I liked him when he was king. He was raised in America and has American ideals. He's not like other Englishmen."

Joe went upstairs to talk to Steven. "Mary told me the Hays are having a party tonight and have invited me. I'm sure they'll want to meet you. It'll probably be the only social event while you're here."

"I guess it couldn't hurt. When tonight?"

"Around 7:00. It depends on when everybody is there. I'm sure you'll enjoy it." he left Steven to mull it over.

That night Steven and Joe went to the Hays' in Joe's car. Since it was just a small social occasion, they were dressed casually; jackets and ties. Steven was a bit nervous because he was going to a party where he knew nothing about anyone else. "Don't worry about it," said Joe.

When they entered the house, they found that the Harmons had already arrived. Joe took Steven over to meet Toby Hay. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Taylor."

"Steven, please. I'm glad to have been invited."

"It's an honor for us to have you here. Besides, you're a friend of Joe's. Have you met my children yet?"

"No, not yet. Joe's told me about them, though."

"They're good kids. Couldn't ask for any better."

Joe returned with the drinks and Jane following him. He introduced her to Steven. "It's great to meet you, Mr. Taylor. I've read so much about you. I hope sometime while you're he we could talk about your adventures. That's if it's okay with you."

"I don't mind. Just pick a time and we'll talk."

"Where's Jim?" asked Toby.

"I don't know. Maybe he's out back somewhere. I heard a noise out there before."

Toby excused himself and went to search for his son. He returned fifteen minutes later with Jim beside him, wiping hay off his pants. "What were you doing in the barn?"

"I heard a noise and went to look."

"There's someone I'd like you to meet. Jim, this is Steven Taylor. He's staying with Joe for a few days."

Steven looked at the young man as he shook his hand. He was maybe a year or two older than Jane and looked like his father; dark eyes, dark hair, and weather-beaten skin. "Nice to meet you." His response was stiff. He had a look in his eyes closely resembling fear or suspicion.

"Did you ever find the source of the noise?"

"No. I didn't have a chance to search thoroughly."

"Too bad. Maybe later you'll find some sort of clue telling you what happened."

"Yeah, maybe."

Around midnight Joe and Steven prepared to leave. Steven thanked the Hays for the invitation. Jane reminded him that she would stop by to listen to his stories in the morning. Toby gave him a strong handshake and Jim gave him a curt nod good-bye. As Steven looked back, he could see the eyes of Joe and Jane meet in a special gaze. Joe broke it off after a few minutes by stating he had to get going.

They arrived back at Joe's close to 12:30. Joe went over to the bar to fix a nightcap. Steven glanced around the main hall and noticed something was missing. "Joe, get out here."

Joe came out and found Steven staring at an empty wall. The Raphael was gone. "Damn!"

Steven began to examine the room for any clues that might help him figure out what exactly happened. He could find nothing certain and waited for Joe to get off the phone with the police. "Do you have some powder I could use?"

"Yeah, sure." He ran upstairs.

Steven examined the wall where the painting had hung. It seemed to have been expertly done. Only a small piece of wallpaper had been torn off, the first and only clue. Joe returned with the powder. "What did the police have to say?"

"They'd send someone over right away. How are the fingerprints coming along?"

"Nothing. Must've been wearing gloves. We'll leave it to the police to see. I've found one clue, though; a piece of wallpaper was ripped off."

"Great. What am I going to do?"

"Was it insured?"

"Ever since it was first bought. It's updated every few years."

"At least you have that. Some people don't even have insurance. How long will it take the police to get here?"

"About another fifteen minutes."

"Good. Once they realize you have a houseguest, and who that houseguest is, I'll automatically fall under suspicion. You'll have to tell them where I was, they won't believe me."

"Even with your position, they'll still suspect you?"

"Especially because of the position. I've also done a few 'jobs' while I was in Europe last year."

A car pulled into the driveway. Joe answered the door. The police followed him to the wall where the painting had hung. Steven was there sitting on a chair. He got up and moved when the police entered. "I didn't realize you had company, sir," said the detective.

"It's quite all right. He's a friend visiting from England. He came down on my--"

"You came to examine the painting's theft, so why don't you?" interrupted Steven.

The detective looked at him. "Don't I know you from somewhere?"


"That's it. You're the duke of Edinburgh. How nice of you to honor us with your presence."

"I didn't come here for sarcasm. I came to visit a friend who has now been robbed, and you're not doing a damn bloody thing about it!"

The detective looked at Steven coldly. "You'll have to explain your movements tonight."

While two constables searched for clues, a third took notes as the detective questioned Steven and Joe. "When you both left for the party, all the doors and windows were locked. Then what?"

"We arrived at the Hays' twenty minutes later and were introduced to everyone. Jim Hay was out in the barn when we arrived, but came in not long after. We left around midnight and got back close to 12:30."

"You were never by yourself the whole night? People will swear they were with you?"


A constable came up to him. "Excuse me, sir. There are no fingerprints other than theirs."

"Was anyone else here today?"

"Just my neighbor's wife to clean."

"We'll need to talk to your closest neighbors. Do you mind if we hold the preliminary questioning here? All follow-ups will be done in their own homes."

"No, not at all. Would you like me to phone 'em?"

"That won't be necessary. We'll send a car to pick them up. How many are there in each house?"

"Husband and wife Mike and Mary Harmon, and Toby Hay and his children, Jane and Jim. You can get the guest list from Jane."

The detective told one of the constables to go pick up the neighbors for questioning. He turned back to Joe. "Do you think you could make some coffee? We may be here a long time."

Joe went into the kitchen. Steven was on his way to join him when the detective called. "I don't want you in the way. I've a feeling you've got something to do with this and I'm gonna prove it."

Steven looked back at him and said coolly, "Then you'll just die tryin'."

He walked into the kitchen mumbling under his breath. He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a beer. "This detective is gonna drive me crazy."

"What's the matter?"

"Lestrade out there is sure that I'm the one that ripped off the Raphael."

"He's crazy! You were with me most of the time and you never left the Hays'. Just because you were once a thief..."

"How will they feel when the police pull up and ask them to come here?"

"They'll be concerned, of course. I wouldn't be surprised if they begin to suspect you themselves. I don't think Jane will, though. She's followed everything you've done."

"Well, at least I have another ally besides you. No offense."

"None taken. Can you help me with the mugs? Thanks."

Steven held the door open for Joe as he carried the tray into the living room. The detective looked up from examining the room himself. "The neighbors are on their way now. I want the two of you to let me do the talking unless you are asked a direct question." He looked directly at Steven. "Especially you."

Steven smiled sweetly back at him. "I would dare do anything to upset you, detective." Joe looked at Steven's face and nearly burst out laughing. The detective frowned at the two of them and went outside to greet the Hays and Harmons.

"I think you are definitely on tha man's wrong side."

"I won't argue with you there. I just don't think he's the type that doesn't like anything English and is trying to use me as a scapegoat for that hate."

The Hays were the first to arrive. Toby and Jane seemed genuinely concerned while Jim looked very irritated. "What's going on, Joe?" asked Toby.

"When the police asked us to come here, I was worried that something had happened to you," said Jane.

Jim came right to the point. "I hope this doesn't take too long."

"We have to wait for the Harmons before I can tell you what happened."

The Harmons entered a few minutes later with the detective following them. "I'm glad you're all here. Mr. Ryan has experienced a theft while he was at the party. A priceless, original Raphael was stolen. We just have to ask each of you some questions. It shouldn't take too long." He asked Joe and Steven to leave the room.

They all seemed to have the same answers; they were all there when Steven and Joe arrived, and the Harmons left after they did. At one point or another, Steven and Joe were always in sight of at least one of the witnesses.

"You suspect Joe of stealing his own painting," said Jane.

"It's been known to happen. They do it for the insurance."

Jim spoke up. "I think it was that Taylor. He's a shifty-looking bruce."

"Just because he once did that type of thing--stealing, I mean--doesn't mean he still does," said Jane, defending him.

"Once a thief, always a thief."

"Do you have proof of it? Do you?"

"Just because you like Joe and Taylor's his friend doesn't mean he's incapable of doing anything wrong."

"Break it up, the two of you," said Toby. "This isn't some trivial little thing, it's important. Continue, Detective Gibson."

"Thank you, Mr. Hay. I'm not accusing either his Grace or Mr. Ryan. I just have to explore all the facts. You will all be suspects until proven otherwise. Don't plan to leave town. That's all for now. Thank you for coming at this late hour."

He ushered them outside and Joe and Steven watched them leave from another room. "I wonder what went on in there. I feel like I should know."

"He'll let you know. Police are always like that."

"You're used to this type of stuff, but I'm not! We're talking about a famous, priceless painting. I was entrusted with it in my father's will."

"Calm down. I didn't mean to upset you. It's just that they have to figure out an angle before they tell you anything. He'll be back. C'mon, sit down and have a drink."

Joe sat down in an armchair. "I'm sorry, Steven. I didn't mean to yell. I know you're right."

"It's okay. I've seen other people like you are. I'll start a little investigation of my own, if you want. I'm sure I could find out a lot more than the police could."

"Do you think so? I don't want you to it if you don't want to."

"No trouble. Think of it as payment for the invitation." Joe began to protest. "I want to."

"When do you plan to start?" Joe looked more relaxed now.

Detective Gibson knocked on the open door. "My men and I will be leaving now. We've done all we can for tonight. I'll call you if I need to."

"Good night, detective. Thank you."

Steven stood and stretched. "We'll get some sleep now and I'll start tomorrow."

They turned off the lights, made sure all the doors and windows were locked, then went upstairs. Steven mused over the different reactions of everyone when they learned of the theft. His first suspicions leaned towards Jim, but the criminal was not always the obvious one. This was not going to be easy.


Steven woke at midday and made himself a cup of coffee. Joe was still sleeping so Steven made a list of what he planned to do that day. He figured that he should talk to the Harmons first and find out their backgrounds. Mary would probably not be coming in to clean.

The Hays might be a bit more difficult. Jane would be willing to talk. Toby might start off reluctantly, but would warm-up to his subject. The hardest would definitely be Jim. He didn't know why Jim was so harsh towards him, or any "outsider". He would have to get the truth out of him somehow.

He went upstairs to change and prepare to start his investigation. Joe was still sleeping so he left him a small note telling him where he was going.

Mary Harmon let Steven in. "Mike's down at the barn. He should be back soon. Would you like some tea?"

"Yes, thank you, Mary." Steven sat at the kitchen table and waited for the tea.

"How is Joe handling the theft?"

"He's upset as anyone would be, but he's handling it okay." She handed him his tea. "How long have you known Joe? I don't know him that well and he seems to hide things from me."

"I've known him since he was five. A cute child, he was. His mother was very beautiful, from a fine family in Sydney. People wondered why she gave up her glamorous life to live out here on a sheep station. His father was a handsome man, so I can understand why.

"His station became bigger and more profitable as the sheep became famous for their wool. That was when Mike and I came to work for them. They were very kind employees and good friends. Joe was doted on and everyone loved him.

"From the beginning, he and Jane played together. Jim was always fighting. Mostly, just pushes and shoves, but it soon turned to fists. When the war came, Jim was turned down because of asthma and Joe went on the be the only soldier from Kangaroo Flat."

"When did you meet Mike?"

"I knew him when he worked on my dad's station, but never really knew him until one night at a dance. I was 19 at the time and he was 24. We danced and talked all night. We married and Joe wanted to move on. While at another station, he met Joe's dad. When he got enough money to buy his own place, he asked Mike to come work for him. Of course, when he started selling less wool, he had to lay people off. He helped Mike and me buy this place so we could make a living.

"We were terribly upset when he died. Mike cared for the animals until Joe came back. We offered to help him anytime he needed it." She stopped when she heard footsteps on the porch. "Mike's back."

"I've got to get going. I hope I haven't taken up too much of your time."

"Please stay. I've never had such a chance to talk about the past like this. Mike won't mind."

"Mind what?" Mike stood in the doorway taking off his coat.

"Mr. Taylor was just about to leave and I said you wouldn't mind if he stayed."

"Not at all. Stay and have lunch with me. Would you mind fixing us some sandwiches, Mary? So what's on your mind?" he asked as he sat down.

"I was just wondering of your relationship with Joe. You seem so close-knit."

"I worked with his father. When his mother died, Mary helped raise him and clean house. I was heartbroken when his father died. He was a good man and I hope to carry on that friendship with Joe."

"What do you have to say about Toby?"

"Toby Hay's a nice bloke, definitely a good father. He raised the two kids himself after his wife died. Kind employer, too. Pays a fair amount. The Ryan place was originally part of Hay's property. It became so prosperous, it almost began to rival Hay's. Then strange things began to happen. Some sheep dies and no one could figure out why. Then cattle began to disappear without a trace. The station began to lose money and he had to lay people off. No matter what happened, he refused to sell that painting. 'A thing of beauty,' he used to say. 'It brightens my day everytime I look at it.' That's why Joe's so upset.

"His father would be so proud of him now for trying to pick up the profits again. He's planning to get some sheep today and asked me to go along. While we're there, we're gonna look at cattle and possible new crops. Joe's got common sense, not to mention business logic."

"I've got to head back now. I'm glad we had this chat. I feel like I know what's going on now--sort of."

"I'm glad I could be of help. Maybe you can come with us. It just might be your only chance to get a good look at the real Sydney."

Steven laughed and left. He thought over the things that Mike and Mary had told him. He knew that there was something significant amid all the rumors and gossip. Something. He had insights to a few possible suspects, but only one could have stolen the painting, right? Maybe not. It needed more thought.


When Steven walked up the porch steps still wondering, he almost walked into Joe. "Steve, I was just going over to Mike's to get you. Do you want to come to Sydney with us? I meant to mention it to you before, but I forgot with all the commotion. I have to pick up some sheep and look at cattle. You don't have to come if you don't want to." He stood there waiting for Steven's response.

"Sure. Mike and I were having a chat on the relations between England and Australia. Sheep came up and he mentioned the trip. It may be my only chance to see the 'real Sydney', as Mike put it."

Joe laughed. "Okay. I'll bring the truck around."

Steven waited until Joe came back. On the way over, he asked Joe about Mike and Mary. "They're a real nice couple. I've known them ever since I was a kid. He helped m'dad make the station prosper and I hope he'll do the same with me. They say that Mary was a good-lookin' sheila in her heyday. She helped raise me after Mum died. Did I ever show you a picture of her? I've got one in my wallet. Remind me before we go inside to get Mike."

When they arrived at the Harmons', Joe stopped, pulled out his wallet, opened it and thrust it into Steven's hand. "I'll go get Mike." He walked off.

Steven was left looking at a faded photograph of a young woman, probably in her late twenties or early thirties. He could see Joe's face reflected in hers. He heard the porch door slam. He looked up from the picture and saw Mike and Joe coming down the steps. He closed the wallet and placed it on the dashboard in front of him.

Joe got in the truck and apologized for being so rough. "It's just that talking about my mother upsets me."

"It's okay. I understand." Joe caught the underlying meaning of the words and the subject was dropped.

Mike wasn't sure what they were talking about and waited until they were done. "I'm glad to see that you came."

"No way would I let Joe leave me behind. I came here to visit and I'm gonna see as much of Australia as I can."

An hour later they arrived in Sydney. They parked the truck near the stockyard. Steven was surprised to learn that there were so many different types of sheep. When Mike and Joe had finished examining the sheep and were preparing to sign the papers, Steven told them he was going to go for a walk through the city. "When and where do you want to meet?"

"How about the truck in two hours?"

"Fine. See you then." Steven knew where he wanted to go--the insurance company that had the policy on the Raphael. He knew the name from overhearing Joe tell the police. It was on the main thoroughfare and easily reached.

The underwriter was upset to hear about the robbery of the Ryan Raphael. "That's what we call it around here. It's probably the most famous privately-owned original masterpiece in Australia. It's insured for quite a pretty penny. I can't tell you the exact amount, but it's somewhere near $2 million."

"Australian?" The man nodded. Steven whistled. "That is quite a bundle. I appreciate your help. If you get anymore information, contact me at the Ryan station."

He still had time to wander through Sydney before he had to meet with Joe and Mike. He walked down the main street, glancing in shop windows along the way. In one store he saw a beautiful sweater that he knew Sarah would like. He went in, bought in, and arranged to have it mailed to London. The woman took great pride in sending a sweater to the Queen of England.

When that was done, Steven continued walking towards where they had parked the truck. When he reached it, he could see them walking up from the opposite direction. "Hey, guys! How are the sheep?"

"Ready to be loaded. Glad you showed up to help."

"I just remembered something..." He couldn't continue and began to laugh. "Okay, lead me to 'em."

When they were done, Steven could not believe how exhausted he was. "Now I know why I didn't go into sheep farming! I could go for a brew right now."

"I think you hit the nail on the head. I could murder a pint myself."

The three of them went into the nearest pub and ordered a pint each. "What did you do while we were checking out cattle?"

"Nothing much. Just wandered around. I bought a sweater for my sister. The store manager couldn't believe that the queen was actually going to wear something from her store."

They passed the rest of the time chattering about Korea and World War II. Mike mentioned some of his experiences during the North Africa campaign. "You were one of the most talked-about people in the troops. We were all angry when we heard that you turned traitor. A lot of the blokes were ready to kill you. We had a party when the truth came out." Steven laughed.

Joe looked at his watch. "We'd better get going. It'll be dark before we're halfway home."

They paid for the beer and headed back to the truck and the sheep. The ride was uneventful. Mike invited them in for dinner. A light was on in the kitchen and the front door unlocked. "You can leave your coats here," said Mike. "I'll tell her you're here." He left, calling her name. They followed him to the kitchen.

The first thing Steven saw when he walked in was Mary's body lying face-down in the middle of the floor. Mike was sitting in a chair, just staring at her. Steven walked over and knelt beside her and picked up her wrist. There was no pulse, but the body was still warm. "She hasn't been dead very long." He looked at her throat from the side, not wanting to disturb the body. "Looks as if she's been strangled. Joe, call the police." Joe went to the phone and Steven went into the laundry room and took a sheet and covered the body. He then poured a glass of brandy and put it into Mike's hand. "I know it's a hard thing to take, seeing someone you love dead like this," he said softly.

"Oh, do you now? And how do you know? She was my wife!"

"I know! My wife died in my arms, shot by someone trying to kill me! Don't think you're the only person who's lost anyone! Joe's lost both his parents! So stop wallowing in self-pity and help us figure out who killed her!"

Mike stared at him. Joe had hung up the phone and was also staring. Steven apologized and walked out of the house. He couldn't face Mike, not after what he said. He had also brought forth emotions he though he had under control. He walked out towards a large oak and sat down. He stared at the sky and thought of Victoria. He relaxed and let the tears flow.

After he had let out his feelings, he went back into the house. The police had arrived and were examining the body. Joe saw Steven walk in and moved towards him. Steven held up his hand, motioning Joe to stay where he was. He walked towards the body. "May I?"

It was Detective Gibson. "Sure." He stood. "We've already questioned the others. What do you have to say?"

"Not much. I talked to both her and Mike earlier, before we left for Sydney. When we came back, we found her. The body was still warm." He had been examining the body as he was talking. "It looks as if she's been killed by a man she knew."

"How do you come up with that?"

"It's a man because a woman would have left marks from fingernails. As for being someone she knew, from what I gather, Mary was not the type to let some stranger into her house. Plus there's no sign of a struggle."

"Anything else, Sherlock?" asked Gibson sarcastically.

"No, nothing, Lestrade. Come along, Watson," he said to Joe as he left.

Joe said some encouraging words to Mike, then followed. "Why did you leave?"

"That detective is going to drive me crazy. I had to get out of there. This is so unnerving. Mary was so talkative this morning. Poor Mike. He must be going through hell right now."

"How are you feeling?"

"Fine. Why do you ask?"

"Just your outburst earlier. I don't think I've ever heard you raise your voice like that."

"I didn't like Mike sitting there wallowing. He has to get out and do something about it--like I did. I thought I had gotten over it."

"You never totally get over it. You may think you have, but you've just buried them. It's good to let them out every once and awhile."

"Guess you're right."

When they were almost at Joe's, Steven spoke. "This is really annoying me. I have a feeling that this ties in with the Raphael; whoever stole it killed Mary."

"It's narrowed down to a man that she knew. You, Mike, and I were in Sydney, so that only leaves Jim and Toby."

"I'm sure she knew more men than that. Maybe someone she hasn't associated with lately." He looked at Joe who shook his head. "No? Well, I guess I have to talk to the Hays then. I'll hold off for awhile, though, and not rush into it."

They went into the kitchen and Joe put on the kettle for tea. Steven sat at the table and brooded over the case. Joe knew not to disturb him. Steven barely acknowledged the tea when it was placed before him. They sat there quietly drinking their tea, forgetting they had not eaten. The doorbell rang and wakened them from their thoughts. Joe answered the door and Steven heard a girl's voice and remembered that Jane was coming to talk to him. She came into the kitchen and sat while Joe poured her some tea. Steven could see she had been crying. "You found out about Mary?" She nodded. "Don't worry. We're trying to figure out who killed her and why. There's a chance it's tied in with the theft."

"How do you mean?"

"She could have heard or seen something. Why else would someone kill her?"

"That means that any one of us could be the murderer. Oh, my God!"

"Joe, Mike, and I were in Sydney. We know it was a man who killed her, so you're off the hook."

"I can't believe a real murder took place."

"Could you tell us what your father and Jim were doing today?"

"You can't--!"

"I'm sorry, but I can't think otherwise until I have proof. Will you tell me?"

She nodded. "When I woke close to 9:00, Dad and Jim were still sleeping. I made some toast and coffee and did some reading. They both came down at about 10:00 to eat then went out to work the station an hour later. I stayed in and cleaned house. I didn't see either of them until 4:00 when they came in for tea. Afterwards, they worked until sunset. Jim came in first and said that Dad was checking on a cow. He came in twenty minutes later saying the cow was fine. I found out later about Mary and that she was killed near sunset. I didn't know what else to do, so I came here."

Steven and Joe looked at each other, each knowing what the other thought. "It seems that your father is the only one without an alibi near the time of death--unless the cow can talk."

"Jim said Dad was checking on the cow." Jane refused to believe her father was a possible murderer.

"He could have gone to the Harmons' across the fields. He definitely had enough time. I'm not out to nail your dad, but considering all the suspects, he's the only one that could have done it. I'll walk back with you and explain everything as I see it. I also don't think you should be alone with a murder around. Do you mind?"

"If Joe doesn't mind."

They both looked at Joe who nodded his assent. "Just don't do anything more than explain."

Steven smiled. "Would I do that to you?"

"Yes, you would."

On their way across the fields, Steven explained what had happened and his ideas on the subject. "Do you think your father has any reason to want the Ryan station to fail?"

"Why do you ask about the station failing? What about the murder?"

"Mary's murder was done out of necessity, it wasn't part of the plan. The true crime was the theft of the painting. Mary was murdered because she had seen something--or the murderer thought she saw something. Joe told me that if the insurance doesn't cover enough expenses, the station'll probably go under."

"I think Joe's father once rented the land from my father until he could buy it. The Ryan station seemed to be doing better than ours for quite awhile until strange things started happening. During that time, my father seemed very happy. It all became too much for Mr. Ryan and he died. Now when Joe's trying to build it up again, strange things happen and my father is suspect."

"Maybe it's not your dad. Maybe it's a frame. That's what we have to find out." They had reached the border of the Hays' station. "I think I'd better stop here. They'd be suspicious if they saw you with me. Keep in touch if anything out of the ordinary happens. I appreciate you telling me about your dad. What will you say if they ask where you've been?"

"I'll say I was taking a walk in the fields. Don't worry. Just take care of yourself and Joe."

Steven watched her until she was out of sight then turned and headed back to Joe's. He was thinking about what Jane had said when two gunshots rang out. Steven ducked into some high grass and waited. No more shots. He crept through the grass until he came to the end of the field. He had to make a run for it. His track days were well behind him and it showed. He was almost out of range when he felt pain shoot through his leg. He collapsed and lay still. He waited to make sure the unknown gunman was gone. He tried to get up, but his leg was too painful. He crawled along the path until he felt faint. He lay there, hoping Joe would come looking for him. That was the last thing on his mind when he blacked out.

Part 2.


SPN Dean Writing

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