Read an Excerpt
Armed with a carving knife, Amber Montgomery took cover as a metal folding chair hurtled her way. The chair crashed against the edge of a white-draped carving table, taking out the end of the serving station where she'd been carving beef at the Wayside Revelers' Annual Dinner Dance.
She watched in horror as eight pounds of beets splattered to the floor sending deep red beet juice splashing up and out like a demented geyser.
She'd known, of course, that taking this catering job carried a certain amount of risk. The Wayside Revelers tended to revel a bit too much at their functions. But after their last fiasco at the VFW hall, Amber thought they'd mellowed and would be on their best behavior tonight.
That, obviously, wasn't the case.
She didn't know how this melée started, but she needed to --
"Watch out!" someone yelled.
Amber ducked just, a moment before another chair came within inches of taking her out.
This was getting personal!
She jumped up. "Hey, I'm the caterer. Why are you attacking me?"
But no one heard her or paid any attention. They were too busy destroying the hall and themselves -- and having a great time doing so. The scene in front of her looked like a barroom brawl in the wild wild West. Except, this wasn't the eighteen-hundreds frontier. It was peaceful little Wayside, Oregon, population 17,800, in the twenty-first century.
Over the commotion, Amber heard what sounded like police sirens. Help was on the way!
Maybe she could salvage the trays of lemon meringue tarts -- six hours of work. Amber inched toward the desserts, but someone else spied them at the same time. An elderly man grabbed one in each hand and smiled.
"Don't you have any respect for food?" she demanded.
Unmindful of the scene playing out behind him, the man shook his head, grinned a toothless smile and aimed.
"Don't you dare!" Amber said, holding a hand up in front of her face.
"Lighten up, honey," he said. "It's just a pastry."
And then her own lemon meringue hit her in the face. Amber shrieked and whirled around --
"Hold it right there."
With one hand Amber wiped pie from her face. She cleared her vision enough to see the pie thrower scuttle off to the side and disappear into the crowd. She wiped away more meringue and the shadow in front of her came into focus, the details registering. Tall, with broad shoulders, a slim waist and feet planted apart, he scowled at her. A very big, very threatening cop stood not three feet away.
"You're under arrest, lady."
"Me? What did I do? I'm the one being attacked. Arrest one of them," she demanded, waving the carving knife toward the Revelers now merrily flinging the rest of her lemon tarts at each other.
The cop didn't spare a glance at the havoc being wrought behind him. "Drop the knife now."
Amber tensed at the tone. Then she looked up at the cop. His eyes glinted and she realized that his hand hovered near his revolver.
He took a menacing step forward, and Amber whimpered. The carving knife she'd forgotten she clutched in her hand clattered to the floor. In the next moment, the cop was all over her. He grabbed her arm, yanking it around her back.
"You're hurting me."
He didn't answer. Instead, she felt the cold steel of handcuffs clamp on her wrist.
Something snapped in her then, and Amber fought. A fragment of the self-defense she'd been taught flickered through her. She kicked out at him. "No! You can't do this. I won't let you do this . . ."
One of her kicks connected and she heard his intake of breath. Her small victory, however, was short-lived. He held her tightly and secured the other wrist.
"Lady, if you don't settle down," he said, his voice a deceptively calm growl, "I'm going to add resisting arrest to your charges."
It wasn't so much what he said as the way the words sounded that got to her. They held a rumbled warning of coming pain. She knew that tone, knew what would happen to her if she defied him again. She'd tried to fight. She'd tried to remember she didn't have to be a victim. She'd also tried to remember how to defend herself.
But he had the physical advantage of height and weight and strength. Resistance was futile, she realized. Why did it always have to be this way?
Amber closed her eyes and surrendered to the inevitable.
The handcuffed woman went limp, and Paul had to move fast to catch her before she hit the floor.
Police Chief Paul Evans commanded a force of forty sworn officers and a full complement of dispatchers, secretaries and other civilians whose job it was to maintain the peace in Wayside. He'd been warned that the Wayside Revelers had a tendency to get out of hand at their events. So he'd been on patrol in the vicinity of the community center.
When he heard first a shout and then breaking glass, he'd called for backup and rushed in, just in time to have a small, blond beauty threaten him with a wicked-looking blade.
Even now, with the hellion subdued at his side, his officers swarmed the building rounding up rabble-rousers.
He turned to call one of the officers --
A mound of potatoes au gratin hit his forehead. Paul spotted the culprit, a little old man who quickly ditched the serving spoon he'd used as a missile launcher. The man then snatched up a serving tray lid and used it as a shield against the lemon tarts hurled his way.
"Jones!" Paul bellowed.
The cop sprinted forward.
"You there," Paul ordered the old man. "Stop it."
The devilish gleam in the elderly man's eyes was replaced by an expression of innocence and fake senility. "Me?"
Dragging along a remarkably subdued knife wielder, Paul unlocked a second pair of cuffs.
"You're arresting me?"
"That's right, sir."
"Hot diggity!" The little man stepped quickly to don the cuffs, showing pretty amazing dexterity for someone his age. Paul put him at close to eighty.
"Take these two out to my squad car," he said to the young officer. "I'll go round up some more of them." He wiped his brow, shook potato goo from his hand and le glared at the old man who was still grinning at him.
"Assaulting an officer could earn you some jail time, sir."
"As long as you have cable, that's fine by me. I like to watch wrestling."
"I'll just bet you do," Paul muttered, walking away and stepping around a huge puddle of beets. The whole place was a wreck.
In the police car, Amber stared out the window, her face an expressionless mask.
"Isn't this fun?" the little man asked.
It took a moment for the question to sink in and for Amber to comprehend that the pain hadn't kicked in yet. She turned toward the voice, expecting to see her tormentor. Instead, she came eye-to-eye with an elf. Her eyes widened and her mouth, a thin line, began to tremble.
The man looked alarmed. "Aw, please don't be mad. It was just a little pastry. It didn't hurt, did it?"
Amber opened her mouth but no words came forth. Her tongue felt like sandpaper. She blinked once. Then again. And then the tears she'd hoped to hold back started to fall.
The man moved as if to comfort her, then, too late, remembered his hands were cuffed. He almost toppled into her lap. Amber squealed and pressed her back to the door. The little man righted himself.
"Oh, honey. It's not that bad. Really. They'll just take us down, do some fingerprints and then give us a good lecture. I missed last year's dinner-dance, but that's what I'm told happened."
Amber just moaned.
To the casual observer, the Main Street district of Wayside, Oregon, might look a whole lot like Mayberry, R.F.D., but the police bureau was a reminder that crime happened in the town just like it did in every other American locality.
Once inside the large oak and cherry doors of the police bureau, it was apparent to any visitor that despite Wayside's size, it had a state-of-the-art police department, fully equipped to handle any twenty-first century criminal activity and to protect the town's citizens from such.
A long line of Revelers was herded past the intake desk and into lockup.
Amber stood in the midst of about thirty-five food-stained wretches, most of them incredibly self-satisfied over this bonus extension of their night's festivities.
"My name's Silas," someone said.
Amber looked beside her. There stood her pie thrower, the little man from the police car. Having recovered enough to speak, Amber opened her mouth to give him what-for. But a voice boomed out over the general hub-bub, drowning out her first words.
"Listen up, people."
Amber's skin prickled at the voice. She turned toward the voice and got another jolt when she looked at the man who'd cuffed and arrested her.
"My name's Paul Evans and I'm the police chief here."
"Hi, Chief Evans." A couple of the Revelers called out the cheery greeting.
"Welcome to Wayside," the little man at Amber's side hollered.
Amber watched the big cop shake his head in bemusement. She rubbed her wrists. Though the handcuffs had been removed -- she still felt the eight of the shackles on her spirit. Taking a much-needed deep breath, Amber fought for the calm she knew she could find if she just took it slow. Keep it light, she coached herself. One breath at a time.
"We'll be processing each one of you. After that, you're free to go until your court date."
"What about the lecture about being responsible citizens?" one of the Revelers asked.
The cop folded his arms across his chest. Amber watched muscles bunch and constrict, the blue fabric of his uniform pulled taut. Her study of the man missed no detail. From the black hiking boots at his feet, to the gleaming hardware on his gun belt.
His face matched the rest of him. Clean-shaven, angular. She paused at his eyes. Something wasn't right about his eyes. A deep, almost piercing blue, they fit his face, but . . . Amber tilted her head a fraction, getting another view. At just that second, his gaze connected with hers.
She caught her breath.
He watched her for a moment, then turned his attention back to the group. "You want a lecture about acting like six-year-olds? The community center is completely trashed thanks to your food fight. Who's in charge of you people?"
The crowd in lockup parted. Amber edged forward so she was near the front.
"I don't belong in here," she said. "You've made a mistake."
Paul's eyes narrowed in on her.
"About you, lady, there was no mistake."
"I'm the grand marshal," a man said, stepping forward and poking his chest out.
If it hadn't been for the meringue in his hair, the potatoes on his tie and a missing shoe, he might have passed for "grand."
Chuckling at the assembly, a couple of cops walked up behind the police chief, surveying the mass in lockup.
"What are you doing here, Amber?" Sergeant Caleb Jenkins asked.
"Caleb. Thank God." Relief poured through Amber. "That's the same thing I've been trying to find out. That lug head you call a police chief hauled me in here."
People behind her snickered.
A muscle flickered angrily in Paul's jaw. Though locked bars separated them, Amber stepped back.
"Uh," Caleb started. "I, uh . . . He's not a . . ." The sergeant didn't meet her gaze, focusing instead on something on his boots.
"There's been some kind of mix-up, Chief," the sergeant said, marshaling his vocabulary and coming to her defense. "This is Amber Montgomery. She's not a Reveler. She's a caterer."
Paul didn't look convinced of her innocence. "You threatened me with a knife."
Amber glared up at him, not letting the physical disparity of their heights dissuade her. "I am a caterer. If you'd done any kind of police work, you'd know that that was a carving knife. But how could you do any real police work -- you were too busy shoving me around."
Amber thrust her wrists in front of him. "Look." Two bruises marred her pale skin.
Paul looked horrified, "What happened to you? Did somebody in the cage do that to you?"
"No, Chief Evans. You did. And you better believe that I'm filing a formal complaint."
She whirled back toward Caleb. "Who hires the police chief?"
"Uh." He looked from Amber to Paul. "Uh..."
"The mayor," Paul supplied.
Just then a commotion in the hallway interrupted them. The main doors burst open. Wayside's mayor strode in, followed by a reporter and a photographer from the Wayside Gazette and a frantic-looking Haley Brandon-Dumaine.
Copyright © 2004 Felicia l. Mason