Chapter Three

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Mr. Rutherford took his time. Each step a snake pit. Sharp pains struck at his legs, starting with his weedy ankles and working their way up his thighs. Eyes watched as he progressed toward the sheriff's office. Each wondering if it would be his last trek from the old Victorian tucked into the woods behind Turlough.

He sucked his breath in sharp as he pulled open the station door. Neil rushed over to help.

"Off!" said Mr. Rutherford, slapping at Neil's hand. "Off! I can manage a silly door." The way he used it for leverage, he appeared to be heaving himself onto a ledge. "Where's the sheriff? I'm tired of waiting for her to return my calls," he said, puffing himself up. "Elizabeth!"

"The sheriff's in a meeting right now. You can wait if you like," said Neil waving toward Elle's office and the row of chairs outside her door.

"I do like." Mr. Rutherford hobbled over to the chairs, peering inside to see who Elle was speaking with. If his hearing was any better he would have liked to eavesdrop. But even up close, you needed to shout to be heard.

"Can I get you something while you wait?"

Mr. Rutherford waved him off with a furious hand gesture.

Inside her office, Elle held up a hand for Robin to stop talking distracted by the sight of Mr. Rutherford wobbling past her door.

She rounded her desk toward Mr. Rutherford and sat down beside him. "I'm sorry I haven't had a chance to return your calls, Mr. Rutherford."

He squeezed her arm. "Gives me a chance to get some much needed exercise." He smiled for what was probably the first time all day. His teeth hadn't fared better than the rest of him. Many of the back molars were missing and a few bicuspids. The ones he did have were the colour of old ivory. "And this gives me a chance to flirt with you."

"What was it you needed?" Her face relaxed and some of the tension she'd felt earlier eased out of her shoulders.

"I wanted to tell you about Mrs. Collard and her hedges. I checked the by-law. She has an obligation to cut them if they're too high. She says they're not too high." He took a big gulp of air. "I had my nephew measure them last time he was here and that was several weeks ago. They're too high." He nudged her arm. "You remember him? He's single again you know."

Robin watched from the door, a small smile curving her lips.

"Mr. Rutherford, you know I'm far too busy to worry about dating." She tried to brush his comment off with a smile, but the colour creeping from her ears gave her away.

"It's nice to see you smile." Mr. Rutherford patted her cheek. "You're far too serious these days, Elizabeth." He began the long process of standing. "And far too pretty to let yourself go to waste." Elle helped him to his feet. She hooked his elbow with a strong grip.

"I promise to talk with Mrs. Collard about her hedges. As long as you promise me to stay put. I'm sure your family doesn't want you using up all your strength for by-law complaints."

He turned grave eyes on her. "And what else do I have to occupy my time with? I don't have much of it left. I would think my prize for making it this long would be a free pass on unlimited complaining."

Elle sighed, but smiled despite herself. This argument was old. "I'll come by when I have a free moment and you can beat me at cribagge, how's that?" She let go of his arm in increments, allowing him to take possession of his own gravity.

"Okay. As long as you bring your own money, I'm not spotting you this time."

Elle waited until he was through the door before she turned back to Robin.

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