Tarnished Stars : Pagosa Cliffs Book 1

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21

Second chances aren't always what one expects...


Tank and Camille fell into a strangely platonic relationship with no more friends with benefits moments. Time seemed to only be marked by T.J. visiting in the summer and Tank flying to Texas to watch his son play in the state high school football championship. He had gotten to watch one of Willow and Gracie’s youth level diving competition and was so proud of them. It was a weird déjà vu, remembering their mothers diving at that age.

Every night after twelve hours at the office, Tank went home alone. He didn’t even need to check the Rocking M cattle, Lloyd always did that or one of the ranch hands. His pappy's old horse had finally died, just laid down with a mouth full of dandelions like he was going to take a nap. Tank had resigned himself to his loneliness and tended to nurse his need for whiskey with a “one and done” rule, one glass, over ice, no more. Thursday Nights at the Pagosa Grill and Brewery was All-you-could-eat and once a month was Ribeye night and his monthly “fake” date with Camille.

As they laughed and sipped on craft beer, they talked about Camille’s promotion to head swim and dive coach and T.J. getting early acceptance to the Air Force Academy. Tank couldn’t be prouder, but Irene was angry that T.J. was determined to pick a school outside of Texas, to pick a college in Colorado near his father and grandmother.

“I can’t believe she is angry about that,” Camille’s scowl marred her beauty, “Does she not realize what an honor it is for him? For her family?””

“She was madder about my paying for a years-worth of pilot training which was the thing that got him in. T.J. already has his single engine license.” Tank sighed. “And I am going to keep paying for them, he doesn’t want riding time anymore, he wants flight time.” Since Irene’s wedding to Regis, she tried to play the perfect wife and mother, but Tank wondered what was really going on. “Reggie is proud of T.J., but he wants more children and Irene doesn’t, T.J. says they fight about it all the time.”

“Uhhh, Luellen said Irene had a tubal ligation after T.J. was born. I wonder if she regrets it now?” Camille shrugged as she began on her chocolate cake. She glanced at him then set her fork down, “Thomas?”

Tank was shocked. He had never known that, he just thought they were unlucky getting pregnant the second time since Irene never took birth control, that she purposely sabotaged his dreams of a big family was shocking. Suddenly he remembered something and realized when she had the procedure done. “I never knew that. We had always talked about having a big family, we wanted four or five kids but… but after T.J. was born, I thought we were just unlucky. When he was weaned, she said she had to have a cyst removed… She lied to me and had herself sterilized. Why… why would she do that?”

Camille reached over and took his hand, her hazel eyes always telegraphed her emotions, she felt sad and enraged at the same time. “Do we need to go?” She asked in a low voice.

Tank finished the lager he had been nursing in one go. “No… I’m fine… I’m…fine.”

“Freaked out, insecure, neurotic and emotional?” Camille asked.

He stared at her like she’d lost her mind, “What?”

Camille laughed. “It is something Trouble and Angel learned at their last diving meet. One of the other divers told Gracie that if she was fine then that is what she was and Willow being Willow retorted, that f-i-n-e meant fabulous, intelligent, nuclear, and exceptional.”

Snorting Tank responded, “I like Trouble’s version better. She has a quick wit and quicker tongue like you did as a kid.”

Camille gave him a mock frown, “Hey, you’re not that much older than me.”

Tank’s phone went off before he could retort, he glanced at it. It was his night off, but Ruby was calling. “Sheriff Tanner, here.”

“Thomas, it’s Ruby, you need to go to the Dillerson place now. Harvey got drunk and was beating up Clarice again and this time, she called 9-1-1. Dick and Doug went out then Clarice called back and said Harvey… She said he shot them both then turned the gun on himself. Ambulances are on the way.”

Her words came out so fast, Tank almost didn’t catch them all. But he did and from Camille’s expression, she had too. She was already pulling money from her purse and throwing it on the table as Tank headed for the door. Instead of getting in her jeep, she got in his SUV.

“Clarice is from my abuse survivor support group.” She murmured

“We’re on the way. ETA four minutes.” He said in a firm voice to Ruby, before hanging up. “Are you sure?”

“Just drive.”

The people inside stared as Tank ripped out of the parking lot with lights and sirens blaring. He was across town and slamming to a stop in less than three minutes. He and Camille got out, they hurried to where Dick and Doug were laying on either side of a Pagosa County Sheriff vehicle.

Camille looked up from Doug and pulled her bloody fingers from his neck as she spoke to Tank through the open door. “He’s gone, Tank. The bullet went through his jaw, I think.”

Tank looked over a her, but instead of sad, he looked enraged. “Come here and smell his breath.”

Camille walked around and bent down. Dick was unconscious, but the distinctive smell of vodka mixed with breathmint came with every exhale. “Omigawd, is… is he drunk?”

“Yeah, no bullets hit his vest, and he wasn’t shot but he has a lump coming up on the back of his head. I think he just fell over backwards when the shooting started, his gun is still in his holster. Doug was supposed to go home an hour ago, but he was covering for this drunken idiot again.” Tank vibrated with rage then he shook Dick hard. “Wake up, ya damned fool!”

Dick groaned and looked up at Tank’s hard blue eyes. “Sheriff? What happened?”

“You got Doug Stanley killed, ya drunken ass,” Camille snapped, sounding more Texan than Tank had heard her sound in years. “I’m going to find Clarice.” She stalked off toward the house. The sounds of sirens wailed in the distance.

Dick rolled over and groaned, “I hate that bityatch, the fu*ck is she going on about now.”

Tank grabbed him by the back of the neck, and hauled him to his feet, then drug him around the SUV as Dick cursed. He shut up when he saw Doug laying in the mud made by his own blood. The lower half of his face was gone on the right side. “You fell over when Harvey started shooting and knocked yourself out, Doug must have thought you were hit because he returned fire and Harvey killed him, then he killed himself. All because you were too drunk to stay on your feet,” Tank snarled at him.

“Ohgawd.” Dick turned around and started vomiting.

“Thomas, you need to see this.” Camille called him.

As the ambulance stopped, he pointed to Dick and said, “I want a full tox screen and blood alcohol on him, call the coroner, there’s two DBs.”

Going into the house, it reeked of cannabis and meth lab. “Cam.”

Harvey Dillerson was dead in a chair, he had two gunshot wounds to his chest and arm, but he had put the end of his rifle in his mouth rather than return to jail.

“Back here,” She called loudly, then she continued murmuring to someone crying.

Clarice was sitting in a corner of the bathroom, smoking a joint with a shaking hand. “He… he started mixing them, he said it made it better. That he didn’t feel so slow when he smoked his blunts, but… but it just made him meaner… I mean the pots legal, it’s healthy right? They use it for depression and all sorts of stuff. When you mix it with meth… It’s supposed to take all the bad stuff away… b-but it… it didn’t…” Clarice started sobbing between inhales from her joint.

“Clarice, honey, the ambulance is here for you. Remember at the meeting you came to, I said you need to take care of your injuries first. Let’s get you checked out… Okay?” Camille’s voice was soft and calm.

“Hold up a minute,” Tank said softly.

He pulled a blanket off the bed, the bedroom was immaculately clean, most of the house was very tidy and he wondered where the smell was coming from. He covered Harvey with the blanket, but there was nothing he could do to hide the splatter on blood and brain matter on the wall behind the corpse.

“Okay, Camille. Bring her out.”

Camille guided Clarice out and to the ambulance. The woman sobbed as they went through the living room. Tank went out the backdoor through a narrow laundry room and found the source of the smell. In a small green house attached to the house, Harvey had his twelve plants and twelve more for Clarice all labeled with plant tags and to one side, there was a work bench with a small meth cooking setup. A pile of notecards drew Tank’s attention. Harvey had been an industrial chemist and botanist before losing his job to his addiction, it appeared to Tank, he had turned his skills into a more lucrative and illegal business. He went out without touching anything and called the Durango D.E.A. office. Camille was sitting in the back of the ambulance with Clarice.

“Clarice, I am sorry, but this is now a crime scene. Do you have a place to stay for a few days or a week?” Tank asked as gently as he could.

“No but… but Camille…” Clarice started crying again.

“I called Mrs. Vysour who runs the shelter, she said she has a room. Can I pack her some clothes to wear when she gets out of the hospital?” Camille asked. Tank nodded. “I’ll be right back, Clarice.”

“Don’t… Don’t for get Claire’s picture.”

“I won’t, I promise.”

Tank watched Camille put clothing and shoes only in a dufflebag. “The shelter had toiletries and such. Can… Can she have the picture of their daughter to take? Marilyn said they could get her into a rehab program. Her arm’s broken. The paramedic said it felt like a greenstick, spiral fracture. Harvey must have twisted it. He also said he could feel where it had happened before and never been properly set.” Camille’s mouth made a thin line. “I know all the reasons, I’ve studied about it, but I will never understand why these women don’t leave. Why they don’t take their children and get out.”

“My mother left and left me behind. We aren’t wired like them, Cam, we can’t understand. Harvey was making Prime.” Tank stated bluntly.

“Prime?”

“Prime…Primo... 3-5-7..."

Camille shrugged, she had never heard of it. Picking up the high school graduation picture of a pretty girl, Cam ached that in a year from this picture she would be dead. She wrapped it in shirts as Tank talked.

"It’s meth-laced cannabis... Or any laced-cannabis. They put LSD, laundry soap, crack powder, ketamine, even cocaine in pot now. People smoke it like pot, mostly can’t smell the difference, but it causes psychotic breaks in half the people who try it. The mix is supposed to counteract the bad side-effect of both drugs, but in most folks, it just makes them worse.” Tank sighed, “I called in the D.E.A. office from Durango. Harvey had a lab in his greenhouse. It looks like he was also growing for potency. High THC mixed with hallucinogenics are a bad combination.”

“Poor Clarice, first her daughter overdosed, now this.” Camille sounded truly regretful.

“People make their own choices, Cam, and sometimes they don’t have cash to cover the tab.” He followed her back out to the ambulance.

Camille gave the distraught woman a small dufflebag, and they watched it drive away. He asked the other ambulance driver, “Where did Deputy Ursick go? I wanted him checked out.”

“Sorry, Sheriff, he refused care then he got in a fancy car that drove up and left. He said to give you these.” The Paramedic held out Dick’s service revolver in its holster and his badge. Tank took them with a scowl.

Camille blew her hair out of her eyes, as she rolled them, “Figures.”

As Tank locked the piece and badge in his SUV, he looked over at her. “You might want to call Beau to come get you, I am going to be here all night.”

“I’ll stay. Tomorrow is a teacher in-service so I don’t have to be there until 10AM. Besides, I don’t want to leave you alone.” He started to say something, but she held up her hand, “We may be fake dating, but I am not your fake friend. I’m here and I’ll stay. I’ll even go with you to tell Veranda.”

Looking over to where the coroner was loading Doug’s body, Tank suddenly wanted for a drink, “I don’t know how to tell her Dick got Doug killed. Excuse me, Cam, I need to make a call.”

Tank only had to wait two rings before Lloyd McConnell answered, “Yes, Sheriff?”

“I need you to start tomorrow, Lloyd. Full time, twelve hour shifts until I can get someone hired to help us,” Tank couldn’t help but watch the coroner going into the house. “Doug Stanley was killed on a domestic violence call.” Tank thought he heard someone in the background but with the noise around him, he wasn’t sure.

“Sure, I’ll work opposite Dick…”

“Dick Ursick no longer works for the Sheriff’s Office, he turned in his badge and gun and he won’t be back. He was drunk on duty and probably the reason Doug is dead.” Tank ground out between gritted teeth.

There was a moment of silence, then Lloyd asked, “Do you need me to go to the station now?”

“No, meet me at the office at six and I’ll swear you in. I have to go the coroner wants to talk to me. Goodbye, Lloyd.”

“See you at 0600, Sheriff Tanner.”

The coroner, Henry Matz, held up three vials for Tank, one was weirdly pink, the others were the usual blue and red of a positive drug test. “What’s that?”

“A new test for drug residuals. Harvey Dillerson had Cannabis, Meth, and detergent, in his system. From the smell on his hands, I’d say it was Lemon Zest Gain his wife used on their clothes. There’s a bottle in the laundry room. The cause of death will be suicide, neither gunshot wound was fatal, but he was higher than a wind turbine. I thought you’d like to know for your report.” The old man shook his head, “I need to retire, I am getting too old for this. Doug was a good man, I knew him when he started chasing poachers for the forest service. He helped me recover Veron Rose’s body after he crashed dumping water on the Railroad Bridge fire. Damn, I hate my job on days like this.”

“You and me both, Doc Matz,” was all Tank could say.

Camille left and came back with coffees for everyone. Then she followed Tank back to the station as Tank drove Doug’s Patrol SUV. By 2AM, Camille held Tank’s hand as they drove to the Stanley’s house. Ruby was at the office forwarding any difficult calls to the highway patrol.

Veranda met them at the door, her eyes were red and puffy, but dry. “Is it true? That no good drunk Dick Ursick, got my Doug killed?”

“Yes, Ma’am. They went to Harvey Dillerson’s…”

“I know where they went,” Veranda snapped. “Doug called and said he was going over with Dick because he and Harvey had a bad history, and that they were just going to pick up Clarice and take her to the hospital. That damn pothead shot him, and Dick was too drunk to help him. Did you at least fire him? Rich can’t make you keep h-him after th-this.” She stammered the last two words and shook all over. Looking away, her eyes landed on Camille. “I’m sorry about your date night, Coach Wally.”

Camille held out her hand to the distraught woman, “I wish it had been any other reason. I’m so sorry, Veranda. If there is anything, I can do…”

“You can make sure the gossips know the truth, that Doug was always trying to help Dick and that rich no-account just used him, like the Ursicks use everyone who owe them a mortgage payment,” Veranda snapped.

“You won’t have to worry about a mortgage. We carry the best insurance, and you and the kids will be covered on the medical and dental for a whole year on the department after you get his life insurance.” Tank promised.

“Don’t worry about us, Sheriff. Doug and I always kept our affairs in order, and I have his Forest Service pension. When… when can I have him collected? My niece is flying in already from Washington. Millicent is taking care of the family while I take care of the arrangements.”

“Veranda, do you want me to stay with you tonight?” Camille offered, “Or I can call my Gramma?”

Veranda shook her head, blinking back tears. “Thank you, Coach Wally, you’re very sweet, but Millicent is coming over in the morning when I tell Vick and Cassie.”

“If you need anything, Veranda, you call me.” Tank said emphatically.

“I will, Tank. Thank you. And Camille, thank you for coming.”

As he drove, he told Camille his gratitude that she was with him. "Cam, I don't think I could have done this without you tonight. Doug... Doug was a good man. I... I don't know if I can keep doing this."

"Tank, you aren't to blame for this. Dick was drunk on duty. Clarice said he was yelling at Harvey and Harvey took a shot over the car, then Doug shot and hit Harvey. Harvey started shooting back. She couldn't see Dick, only Doug and Harvey. She said Harvey went over and looked at them, then came inside and started crying that he was sorry before he shot himself. Harvey and Doug grew up together. At the meeting she attended, Clarice said Harvey never would have hurt anyone before, but he started doing drugs and it all changed" Camille rubbed her head. "Tank, it was the drugs. You couldn't have stopped it. Two troubled men met in the same place and the third who always tried to play peacemaker between them paid the price and now, you have to have to pick up the pieces."

"I am tired to trying to hold things together. I didn't even want to be sheriff," Tank growled.

"Thomas, what do you want?" Camille looked at him with so much sympathy and concern, he told her.

"I don't know any more... I just... I am tired of living this way. I loved a woman who loved herself more. I wanted a family that my wife never wanted. My Pappy's ranch is being grazed someone else's cattle because I need to keep a roof over my son's head. I don't even have a horse since Rusty died. Honestly, spending time with you and the girls, going to T.J.'s games... Those are the only times, I'm happy. I just wanted more than this and I feel like I'll never get a second chance."

"Thomas, Grandpa Ben has always told me that second chances aren't always what we expect. You are an amazing sheriff, and a good man who has the loyalty of every honest person in the county. If you had your perfect life with Irene... Pappy's ranch would be gone, T.J. wouldn't have gone to the Air Force Academy, and I wouldn't have the best friend I could ever have. I know it sounds selfish, but I'm glad your exactly where you are right now, because I couldn't have made it to where I am without you." She leaned over and kissed his cheek. "Thank you. You're my white hat with a tarnished star."

He chuckled, "More tarnished than anyone knows." Her eyebrow shot up. "Okay, you know... I'll keep trying, Camille."

Tank dropped Camille off at her Jeep, he watched her drive away then headed to the station, by the time Retired Marine MP Lloyd McConnell arrived to be sworn in as the newest deputy sheriff of Pagosa County, Tank had finished the report on the death in the line of duty of his predecessor, Doug Stanley. As he watched the young man who wanted his job someday promising to serve, Tank decided Camille was right, he was exactly where he needed to be.

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