Reeling from her recent divorce, Kate Fox is campaigning against her ex to become the next Grand County, Nebraska Sherriff. When a child goes missing in the Sandhills, the whole town organizes a search and rescue mission. But Kate doesn’t think Ethan wandered off—something more nefarious is going on. With a dangerous winter storm fast approaching, Kate must find Ethan before it’s too late.
Close Enough is a thrilling Kate Fox short story from author Shannon Baker that bridges the gap between Stripped Bare and Dark Signal.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
About the Author
SHANNON BAKER lived for twenty years in the Nebraska Sandhills, where cattle outnumber people by more than 50 to 1. Baker was named the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2014 Writer of the Year. She now makes her home in sunny Tucson. She is the author of Tainted Mountain, Tattered Legacy, Broken Trust, among other books.
Read an Excerpt
I had no good reason to be out and about, except in my experience, sitting around on a bad day only made things worse. The cold night air scoured my cheeks and pinched my nose. Icy fingers seeped through my jeans to burn my thighs. My hands tingled in my pockets, but I'd had the good sense to pull a knitted cap over my ears. The forecast — something any decent Sandhiller kept track of, even if they didn't have cows to worry about anymore — predicted snow by midmorning tomorrow.
I could have stayed at home, snuggled under a blanket, propped on pillows, my nose in a paperback. But I couldn't focus on the words. TV held no interest for me, and my feet wouldn't stay still.
Every so often, Mom made some rustling or banging sound in the basement. She'd started a new sculpture and couldn't be disturbed by me needing distraction. Dad was working, halfway on his way to Lincoln as conductor on the BNSF Railroad.
Any brothers or sisters around the county were at the wedding. They didn't want to be there, of course. But this was Grand County, population 1,500. Absence of the whole Fox clan would cause gossip, probably cast me in a bad light as a bitter ex, and not help my election chances. Besides, an event this public provided a great opportunity for my family to quietly, or not so quietly, campaign on my behalf.
I drew the line on my attendance, though. Even with the election only two weeks away, when I'd be better served to dress up, paste on my most accepting smile, and maybe even lift a glass in congratulations, I only had enough grace to not take a shotgun to the wedding party.
I stomped down the road along the railroad, my eyes traveling across the tracks and up to the top of Main Street. The Legion Hall's windows radiated light. Cars and pickups parked in every slot, and ribbons festooned the four streetlights. Guess no one told Roxy that an all-out celebration with the church and dress and attendants, and, lord help me, a three-tiered wedding cake was considered gauche for a second wedding. But then, what did Roxy know about gauche — the concept or the term?
That's just the kind of thinking I needed to avoid. Resentment wouldn't restore the rug that had been jerked out from underneath my life.
I wanted to be the triumphant ex, who weathered betrayal, losing my home, my livelihood, my hopes and dreams, by beating my ex-husband in an election for sheriff.
See? No bitterness.
The smell of greasy goodness wafting into the cold air and the lights spilling from the windows of the Long Branch invited me, like coming home from a long trail. A breeze picked up, and I inched my way down the slope to the railroad right of way, my focus now on the Long Branch sign.
The collection of SUVs and cars parked along the highway outside of the bar and grill surprised me until I remembered that duck and quail season had opened. In another three weeks, one week postelection, deer season would begin. Then Hodgekiss would fill up for real.
I humped up the other side of the tracks, trotted across the highway, and pushed into the Long Branch. A glass door opened into a vestibule about twice the size of an old-fashioned telephone booth. A body could go through a second glass door to the right, into the restaurant, or push through the left door into the bar. The menu and service didn't vary from one side to the other, but the restaurant had brighter lights, where the bar usually had more interesting activity.
Warm air, heavy with deep-fry grease, stale beer, and undertones of bacon, wrapped around me with familiarity. I scanned the crowd, not seeing many locals, and hurried to my favorite bar stool. Halfway there, a gangly boy with more braces than teeth slammed into me. His buddy, an equally awkward preteen in a worn Husker starter jacket, cracked up and ran off.
Before the tackler could apologize, a grizzled codger, maybe his grandfather, shouted, "Damn it, Tyler. You want to come on a hunting trip with me, straighten up and fly right."
Gramps immediately turned his attention back to the group gathered around three tables shoved together. He raised a glass of what looked like whiskey and joined their roar of drunken laughter.
Tyler mumbled an apology and slunk off to find his not-so-loyal Husker friend.
Ignoring the over-lubricated hunters and keeping an eye out for any more flying bodies, I hoisted myself on my seat. A kid, probably around ten years old, sat a couple of stools down, head bent over his phone. Soft hair, the color of a baby deer, hid his face.
Aunt Twyla drew beer from the Coors Lite tap and plunked the glass on a corklined tray. She slid the tray toward Bridgett Osentowski, who must have dropped out of her first semester of college and come home. "Take the beers to them guys by the pool table. Tell 'em they're on me on account of it taking so long to get their sandwiches."
Without waiting for Bridgett to react, Twyla swung toward the back room, scurrying her scrawny frame, her surprisingly thick hair swinging in the ponytail down her back, and started yelling, "I swear, Bud, if you don't get your butt in gear, I'm gonna give away more than we make" There was more, but it grew increasingly profane as she disappeared into the kitchen.
Bridgett looked harried and scared. I had reservations about her lasting long working for Bud and Twyla. She glanced at me, then the tray, torn between taking my order and doing Twyla's bidding.
I nodded at the tray. "Take that. I'll wait."
Twyla rushed from the kitchen, a towel tucked in the back of her jeans, an unlit cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth, and two thick plates full of burgers and fries. She stomped around the bar and slammed the plates on a table in front of two middle-aged men wearing crisp Carhartt overalls and clean hiking boots, with spanking-new camo parkas hanging on the backs of their chairs.
As soft and pudgy as they looked, I didn't think they showed much wisdom in scowling at Twyla as if they expected cheerful service. They got off lucky when all she did was spin around, grab ketchup from a table where the hunters looked halfway done with their meal, and slap it down between them. "Bon app-etite."
Twyla shot behind the bar. She pulled a rocks glass off the shelf by the cash register. Forget about two fingers; she splashed a whole hand of Jack Daniel's and lifted it to her lips. Her eyes shifted to me. Her eyebrows lifted, not making much impact on the wrinkles of her hard-living face, and she lowered the glass. "What?" "You look busy."
She guffawed and ran a hand over her forehead, pushing back some of those inappropriately young-looking curls. She flicked her chin across the bar toward Bridgett. "She's not gonna work out."
I slid off the stool and slipped around the bar to rummage in the cooler. A hoppy microbrew caught my eye, and I pulled it out. "Hello, beautiful."
Twyla took another gulp of bourbon. "Maybe you'll lose the election, and then you could work here."
I lifted my bottle to her. "That's a happy thought."
She caught Bridgett's eye and pointed her to a table of hunters. "Oh, I didn't mean it." She focused on me. "So, the Jackass and the Bimbo tied the knot. The whole town's at the Legion for the reception — damn lucky or we'd never be able to handle it." She gulped the bourbon. "You feel like killin' something?" The beer felt like a glob of Play-Doh in my gut. "I'm fine."
Twyla studied me. "Yeah. Fine as a duck drowning in a cow pie."
I shrugged. Whining, crying, or throwing myself in a raging river wouldn't change the fact that Ted, my ex-husband for the last four months, husband for the eight years prior to that, had an affair with his high school sweetheart. Even though he'd balked at our divorce and pleaded with me not to go through with it, his heartbreak had lasted just long enough for the spring calves to be turned out to summer pasture. And now, two weeks after weaning those calves, he and Roxy, and everyone I'd known all my life, were dancing and drinking and celebrating their new lives together.
The Long Branch, the only watering hole in a thirty-mile radius, brought in families for a quick burger, dates for steaks and wine (great beef, not particularly good wine), ranch hands in for a cold one, and anyone and everyone else in Hodgekiss or just passing through. Most times, empty tables outnumbered full, but Saturday nights usually brought out a crowd.
I didn't mind the noisy bar filled with strangers. No one here knew I'd been kicked off the ranch I'd loved and now lived upstairs in my parents' house. They weren't spying on me when I wasn't looking, trying to figure out how I was holding up. No drunk cowboy tried to convince me the cure for my broken heart was naked rodeo with him.
I settled onto my stool and sipped the bitter beer, letting the jovial voices of the hunters rise and fall around me. Twyla hightailed it to the kitchen, berating Uncle Bud about the orders backing up.
Twyla returned with a plate and placed it in front of the kid. He set his phone down, smiled up at her, and said thank you. That earned him a smile in response. Twyla picked up her glass and walked to me, twirling the amber liquid. "That danged Dahlia had the nerve to come in here the other day, passin' out Vote for Ted buttons."
I choked on the beer. That was audacious, even for Dahlia. "And she's still standing?" Twyla's voice sounded like a shovelful of sand. "She ain't stupid. She come in here like she was having rolls and coffee with the other Flower Sisters."
Dahlia, my not-so-loving ex-mother-in-law, wore the queen's crown and ruled her sisters, Rose and Violet.
"She waited until Bud left for his morning break and I was back in the kitchen, then she struck. Like a fox, that one is." Twyla picked up her unlit cigarette and stuffed it back in the corner of her mouth. She cackled. "I come around the corner with a trayful of clean coffee cups and there she is, bold as paint, tellin' Aileen and Jack Carson what a stand-up guy her scum-bucket son is. I pitched one of them cups like Eric Crouch when the Huskers won the national championship."
I shouldn't have laughed. But I'm no saint.
"I missed and broke a perfectly good mug, but it was worth it to see her skedaddle out of the place."
I started in with the same lecture I'd given to my friends and all my brothers and sisters. "Don't hate the Conners on my behalf. The sooner —" Twyla waved her hand. "Yeah, yeah. I ain't holdin' no grudge. Dahlia and Sid, hell, even Ted and Roxy can come in here for a beer and burger any time they want. But I draw the line on campaigning for that louse."
She threw her arm out and highlighted the red-, white-, and blue-bedecked poster attached to the cash register at the end of the bar. "I got my own candidate, and she's a humdinger." She high-fived me. "Even if I'd druther she be bartending for me."
I sipped my beer. "Yeah, that's not going to happen."
Most of the hunters merged together in an indistinguishable muddle. Camo, days' old beards, hair spiked and greasy from wearing hats and caps all day. The whole bunch had a tipsy, vacation vibe like a men's soccer team after a victory. For a lot of them, I suspect the men's time away from work and home, a soldiery brothers-in-arms, was the draw of hunting as much as the guns and stalking.
A group of four or five teens, the two involved in my hit-and-run included, slipped in and out of the side door. Maybe they procured their own bottle or a pack of smokes. The kid next to me seemed content with his burger and phone for company.
Twyla spun away without warning, hollering to Uncle Bud, and shot into the kitchen.
The door opened, and I glanced up at the mirror above the bar. It was as if someone struck a match to kindling of feel-good inside me, and I grinned. Not so alone after all.
Sarah, my best friend and the woman married to my favorite brother, wound her way around the hunters, giving a couple of them sour looks. Her scowls didn't seem to bother them, though, as more than a few of them let their eyes trail her across the room. A red dress clung to her curves, and thick brown hair swathed her back. I wasn't beautiful and mysterious like Sarah. When we were young and single — I mean single the first time — Sarah always drew guys to our circle.
Bridgett stood paralyzed behind the bar, maybe terrified of Twyla swooping in again.
Sarah hoisted herself to the stool next to mine and addressed Bridgett. "Two Jacks on the rocks."
I grinned at her. "You're supposed to be eating wedding cake and toasting the bride and groom."
Sarah accepted the shots Bridgett slid in front of us and lifted hers. "We stayed long enough to be neighborly. But when Roxy brought out her guitar to sing 'God Bless the Broken Road,' I thought leaving would be nicer than puking on the bride."
"Understood." I picked up my glass and we tapped them together, then downed the acid, letting it burn away thoughts of the wedding.
Sarah nodded to Bridgett and held up two fingers, but Bridgett scuttled from the bar, probably sensing Twyla's return. Guess Sarah was determined to get me drunk. It also meant something else. "You're not pregnant."
She looked away from me and stiffened her neck. "Nope." In the way of us, that was all that needed to be said. She didn't have to tell me of her disappointment. I knew, just as she knew how wrecked I felt, try as I might to hide it.
"So." She turned back to me. "I talked to lots of people tonight, and I think you've got the votes all sewed up."
The election loomed like the grim reaper, ready to slice off my head. I would probably lose. "Who would vote for me against Ted? He's been sheriff for two terms and did a fine job."
Sarah hmphed. "Unless you count last April." When he'd been shot, a local rancher had been murdered, and I'd solved it all to keep Ted from jail.
"There were plenty at the wedding disgusted that Ted and Roxy treated you poorly and were getting married so quick."
"Some folks might take offense to Ted having an affair with Roxy and betraying me, but enough to throw their vote my way?" I shook my head in doubt.
If I didn't get elected, it left me with a sticky problem of finding a job. I could keep living with Mom and Dad; they had the room for me since they'd raised nine kids in their house. All of them were grown and on their own. Except me, of course.
Since April, I'd earned enough from day labor to make my slight ends meet and pay rent to Mom and Dad. Fencing, cattle work, haying, wherever and whenever an extra hand was needed. Not satisfying and not particularly well-paying if you count the lack of anything resembling benefits.
Sarah tried to get Bridgett's attention and failed. "You're going to win, no doubt, but are you sure that's what you want?" "Why not? Ted might have been the one driving around, throwing candy at parades, issuing traffic tickets, but you and I know that if it came to real detective work, it was me who did it."
She agreed readily. "But there is all that other stuff he did. Like paperwork or reports and going to meetings, and being diplomatic and who knows what all."
Bridgett hurried from table to table, serving drinks, getting orders. The Jack I'd downed, along with the beer, was doing me fine. But Sarah seemed determined for shot number two.
I played with my empty glass. "If Ted could do it, it can't be too tough."
She agreed, and when the door opened, we both glanced at the mirror. My brother Robert gave me a salute. Sarah pushed herself from the stool. "Sorry about not getting another shot. But you should probably go home now, anyway. Think of a campaign strategy to beat that pencil-dick. And come out tomorrow to help us move cattle closer to home. It's supposed to snow."
I knew I should follow Sarah's advice and head home. Let Ted and Roxy launch into their new life and wish them well. I wished them lots of things — chicken pox in August, electricity outages in January, years of discontent — but well would take some time and effort on my part.
Two stools down the bar, working on one of Bud's triple-decker burgers and a haystack of fries, the kid sat with his head propped on his hand. He looked bored or tired, maybe both. His father probably brought him on this male bonding trip and left the kid to his own devices while he yukked it up with his cronies.
The kid double-fisted the burger and chomped it, eyes wandering over to me. I greeted him and waited for him to swallow. "How's the hunting?" A slice of brown hair slipped down his forehead, and he tossed his head to swish it out of big brown eyes. Windburned pink brushed his soft cheeks. "Our group bagged a bunch of geese and ducks. They got some quail, too."
"What about you?"
He glanced behind him again. "I don't like hunting."
I nodded. "Me, either."
He accepted that. "But you're a girl. You're not supposed to."
Not sure I could change his attitude in one casual conversation, I didn't bristle. "I'd rather hike or ride my horse, or do something else outside than sit in a blind and wait for birds."
He smiled that kind of kid smile that made me want to ruffle his hair and hug him. "You ride horses? Man, I'd love to do that."
Excerpted from "Close Enough"
Copyright © 2017 Shannon Baker.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Preview of Dark Signal,
Kate Fox Novels by Shannon Baker from Forge Books,
About the Author,