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Country Girl [MultiFormat]
eBook by Richard McMullen

eBook Category: Mystery/Crime/Mainstream
eBook Description: Cherryl Miller wanted to be taken seriously. But she also wanted love and excitement. The boys Cherryl met at college thought country girls were easy prey. But shy, pretty Cherryl skipped the fraternity dances, the bottle parties, the necking in parked cars--and stayed lonesome. What she wanted most was to be respected as a school teacher and be loved by a marrying man. Trapped in a drab prairie town, among rough ranch hands and restless married men, Cherryl escaped her loneliness in secret meetings with the smooth playboy she had met at college, wealthy Dee Thacker. "No passes," he promised. But when he parked by the lake and slid his arms around her, Cherryl knew the time had come for her to begin living. Then one day Sedge McAllister, the School Board Chairman in Pleasant Valley, forced her to go with him to a campground. It was there that desperation and desire betrayed her into an ugly situation from which there seemed to be no escape.

eBook Publisher: Gate Way Publishers
Fictionwise Release Date: April 2011




PART I

THE BEGINNING
* * * *

Chapter 1

A Mexican woman sitting on the cot opposite Cherryl talked loudly in Spanish. Her tone sounded as though she were swearing. The third woman in the cell, apparently another Mexican, was sleeping, undisturbed by the loud talk. The sheriff of Bosque County, fortunately, had not had a very active Saturday night. There were only three cots in the women's cellblock of the Bosque County jail. A fourth arrestee would have had to sit, or lie, on the floor.

Cherryl had stood for an hour after being locked in, fearing the remaining cot might be tenanted with small wild life. But as she had grown more tired, the idea of bugs worried her less. Maybe she had better get accustomed to jail living conditions. It might be a long time before she lived in anything but a cell. She also had to consider the possibility that she might never live in anything else. Murder was a hanging offense.

She had known they wouldn't get away. She had told Cloyd they would, but she had known they wouldn't. They had used her car without changing the license plates. It was surprising they had gotten as far as central Arizona.

Cherryl lay back on the cot and watched the stream of early morning sunlight pour through the barred window high in the adobe wall. The loud-talking woman had run down. She too lay back on her cot. Church bells rang close by. An occasional automobile passed along the street outside. People who had been to early mass were probably on their way home for breakfast, or whatever people ate after mass. The baby in Cherryl's womb kicked faintly. The kicking was becoming more noticeable. She must be getting fairly well along. Maybe the jail had a doctor who would tell her just how far along she was. She had been afraid to go to a doctor before, but now it didn't make any difference. She reached beneath the cot for a package of cigarettes. The jailer had taken her purse, but had left her cigarettes. The woman on the opposite cot raised her head when Cherryl lit a match. "One for me, too?"

Cherryl tossed her the package. The woman didn't toss back the package after taking a cigarette. Cherryl didn't ask for it.

What to do, Cherryl asked herself. Nothing, apparently. There was the slim hope that she and Cloyd had been jailed for something besides the killing of Mr. McAllister. Maybe they could pay a fine and keep going. Maybe they'd be charged with fornication? Cherryl smiled faintly, in spite of her troubles. Cloyd had been anxious enough, but she was getting so pregnant....

She hadn't been surprised when the sheriff's deputies walked into their room just before dawn. Cloyd had wanted to drive to California without stopping, but she had grown so tired that rest had become more important than getting" away. Cloyd had not argued. He did anything she said. She wished he hadn't put up such a fight with the deputies. They had beaten him pretty badly with pistol butts. She hoped the jailer had thought to get a doctor to look after Cloyd. But probably not. This seemed to be a run-down jail.

The jailer came along the corridor, rattling his keys. He stopped before the women's cell and inserted the key in the lock.

"Miller," he said, his English colored with Spanish, "the sheriff wants to "see you."

Cherryl got to her "feet and held out her hand for her cigarettes. The woman on the opposite cot shook her head as though she didn't understand.

"Cigarettes," said Cherryl. The woman continued to shake her head. "She's got my cigarettes," Cherryl explained to the jailer. He ripped out a sentence in Spanish. The woman reached into the bosom of her dress, pulled out the package of cigarettes and handed them to Cherryl.

"I wouldn't be handlin' things them women handles, lady," volunteered the jailer as they went along the corridor toward the sheriff's office. "Most of them in there is ones we catch raisin' too much hell on the streets, see." He looked at her to see whether or not she understood. "Some of them--" them was a word he pronounced very carefully, though slurring others--"got syph."

Cherryl nodded. She had never been in jail before, but she knew what kind you'd likely meet there. The jailer, who was a full two inches shorter than Cherryl and had a narrow black mustache above tobacco-stained teeth, gallantly held the door as they passed into the sheriff's office. Cloyd was already there, sitting in a straight chair, his head in his hands.

The sheriff, behind a desk, got to his feet. It was seldom Bosque County had a non-Mexican female prisoner. And this was the first non-Mexican woman, as far back as the sheriff could remember, who'd been picked up for anything but vagrancy.

"My name is Chavez, Miss Miller," he said, indicating a chair. "I'd like to ask you some questions."

Cherryl said nothing. They were caught. She had known it when the jailer had called her "Miller." She and Cloyd had registered at the hotel as "Mr. and Mrs. John Portner of New York." Portner was Cloyd's middle name. Cloyd Portner Pritchett, his full name was. Important-sounding name for a ranch hand.

"Your name is Cherryl Miller?" asked the sheriff, his pen above a card. Cherryl nodded affirmatively. "And this is Cloyd Pritchett?"

Cherryl nodded again. The questioning continued. Age, weight, height, color of eyes, names of parents and so on down the list. Cherryl wondered why she didn't cry. She'd cried plenty in her time. She didn't even feel as though the end of the world had come. Maybe the sound of the sheriff's liquid voice kept her on an even keel. Yes, that was it. The sheriff's voice. Rolling smoothly and tilting just slightly at the end where the question mark came. The answers came automatically. Cloyd didn't say a word, didn't even look up. She answered for both of them. She would have to look out for Cloyd. He wasn't very smart. The sheriff reached the end of the card and put the cap on his pen. He leaned back in his swivel chair, pursed his lips and was silent for a moment. Cherryl didn't look at him.

"You are maybe pregnant?" the sheriff asked softly. Cherryl looked around slowly.

"Yes," she said. "Does it make any difference?"

"It might," answered the sheriff, "if it has anything to do with the death of Mr.--" he leaned forward to look at a telegram--"McAllister."

"It might have had something to do with his death," said Cherryl, quietly.

"You're goddam right it did," Cloyd burst out, raising his head. Cherryl noticed that his hair was matted with blood and that there was a lump on his left cheekbone. "I shoulda killed the bastard long ago."

Cherryl got to her feet, moved near Cloyd and, putting her arm around his head, rested his cheek on her beginning-to-be-obvious stomach.

"Don't get excited, Cloyd," she said gently. "Just take it easy."

The sheriff watched this tender scene with interest. So did the jailer who was sitting on a desk at the back of the room.

"Then you did murder Mr. McAllister?" Cherryl put her hand over Cloyd's mouth before he could answer.

"I don't think we have to answer questions like that," said Cherryl.

"Of course you don't," admitted the sheriff, shrugging his shoulders. "It's not my case, but I was interested anyway. Most of the murders in Bosque County are over women or whiskey. People in Bosque County don't murder for money. Since most of my experience is with love murders, I am regarded as an authority on the subject in this end of the country. I am interested in your case merely for professional reasons."

"How much longer do we have to stay here?" Cherryl had come forward to rest her hands on the sheriff's desk. The sheriff pulled himself forward, placing his elbows on the desk and his chin in his hands.

"Polk County says it will have a man here some time tonight. You will probably be on your way back tomorrow, if you don't fight extradition."

"Would it do any good to fight extradition?"

"Probably not, unless you can think of some reason why the State of Arizona should want to keep you."

Cherryl nodded in the negative. The accused had waived extradition, the papers always said. Now she knew what that meant. Cloyd raised his head again.

"Ain't no chance of gettin' no doc to look at my head is there, sheriff?"

The sheriff shook his head.

"Bosque County can't afford to have doctors for prisoners who aren't in bad shape."

Cloyd put his head back in his hands. Sheriff Chavez beckoned to the jailer, who moved forward.

"Take 'em back," he ordered. "Good luck, Miss Miller," the sheriff added to Cherryl's retreating back. Cherryl didn't look around.

The jailer had nothing to say during the walk back down the corridor. Cherryl was glad. She didn't feel like talking. It was a relief to rest on the cot again, even though the cell smelled terrible, and the snores of her cellmates rasped on her nerves. She lighted a cigarette and blew smoke rings at the ceiling. Watching the smoke float twisting upward she found herself imagining how things would look at home....

The folks would be getting out of bed about now, looking forward to a breakfast of pancakes and good syrup after Dan had milked the cows. Cherryl could see her mother mixing up the batter. The folks would take this hard. They had thought it would be good to have a schoolteacher in the family. With that thought in mind they had worked to get together the money to send Cherryl to college. Good to have a schoolteacher in the family. They could be proud. Proud. Neither Martha nor Dan had finished high school. How nice that their girl could be a schoolteacher.

The cigarette burned Cherryl's fingers and she tossed it to the cement floor. Hardly realizing that she was doing it, she lit another.

Yes, she had qualified as a schoolteacher and had done what every prospective schoolteacher did. She had looked for a job. Maybe, she mused, the whole thing had started at the Atlas Teachers Agency.

* * * *

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