“Fifty unicorns stolen!” Don Fenska’s high-pitched whining filled the air.
“Heard you the first time, Don.” I was washing goblin vomit off my coat, but the effort was wasted. The discharge had hardened and now brown leather was spotted with a sickly yellow. I laid it in the sun to dry. “Why don’t we go inside?”
The Sparta town fathers didn’t give me much of a budget, and the jail, which doubled as my office, was sparsely decorated. The rancher parked himself on the only choice: an unpainted bench.
“It’s my whole herd. And I know who did it.” His dark eyes darted in rhythm with his flailing arms. “That Jenny Carpenter. She’s the one responsible.”
Jenny Carpenter. Curly blonde hair and the scent of fresh strawberries. We danced too close at the town social and endured plenty of angry stares. She got the message. Been cool to me since.
“That’s a pretty serious accusation. Do you have any proof?”
“Don’t need any. She’s the only one who could.” His voice grew smaller, arms dropped to his side. “She’s, uh, never been, you know, with a…” His face turned bright red.
“She’s a virgin?” That explained plenty.
“Sheriff, please.” Fenska grimaced. “We’re both gentlemen. No need to use that kind of language. But yes, because of her— condition. It must be her.”
“Virgins,” I deliberately emphasized the word, “are rare. But she’s the only one?”
“The only one we could find. Stephen Slater, Hector Ramirez and I partnered to hire her for roundups. The arrangement worked fine, until two months ago when she demanded more money. We told her ‘No.’ And now she’s getting revenge on me.” His voice had returned to that irritating tone.
“What’s a teacher going to do with fifty unicorns? I don’t think she can hide them behind the schoolhouse.”
“She probably teamed up with Slater. He made a lowball offer on the herd last month.” Don harrumphed. “Told him they weren’t for sale, and to go perform an anatomical impossibility.”
“A moment ago you were partners with him.”
“As a matter of convenience only. I wouldn’t trust him. Or Ramirez, either.” He narrowed his eyes. “Maybe they’re both involved.”
“Anyone else you want to accuse? How about Father James?”
“Start with the school teacher. Make her reveal her accomplices.”
“Before I do that, how about I take a look at the scene of the crime?”
“Waste of time. The unicorns are already gone. And I told you who did it.”
I rose to my feet and stared down at him. “Don, I don’t tell you how to be a rancher.” Lord knows you could use the advice. “And you don’t tell me how to be a sheriff. Let me get Charly and we’ll head out to the Red Rock.”
“But you’ll talk to the teacher?”
“Yes. Later I’ll talk to Miss Carpenter.” I wanted to speak with Jenny again, but not about missing unicorns.
Red Rock Ranch earned its colorful name. In every direction brick-colored stones dotted the land. More of a homestead, than a ranch. Just a few acres of fields surrounding the house and a small, unpainted barn.
“Yesterday at sunset this pasture was filled with unicorns.” Don pointed at the scrubby grassland. “When I got up this morning, nothing.”
“When was that?” I asked.
“Sunup. Maybe a little after six.”
“I thought the whole deal was a myth. You know, unicorns and virgins,” said Charly, also enjoying Don’s discomfort at mention of the word.
“Oh, no. Only they can deal with unicorns. It’s a scientific fact,” said Don, frowning. “Around regular folks, unicorns make mules seem reasonable. If you want them to hold still for branding, they gallop off. Try and bring them into the barn and they stay in the field. It’s almost like they know what you’re thinking and do the opposite. Plus they’re impossible to spook and stampede.”
“Guess that eliminates me from your suspect list, huh Boss?” Her blue eyes twinkled in the morning sun.
Charly never told me her age, but couldn’t be much older than twenty-four or twenty-five. Showed up outside the jail one autumn day driving a wagon. In the back under a blanket I found both Berkheimer brothers struggling against their bonds.