A pair of long legs stretched out from chair to porch railing at the Lazy M ranch outside of Sunny Acres, California. The feet were shod in cowboy boots. Well broken in, scuffed and dusty but very comfortable and, most importantly, proper footgear for what the young woman wearing them did for a living. The long legs were encased in faded jeans. She wore a dark green, long sleeved shirt with snaps and a denim jacket as it was getting cool.
Cayce Jillian McKenna was a rancher. She was the sole owner of the Lazy M ranch located just a few miles outside of Sunny Acres. She had inherited the ranch from her grandfather when she was twenty. When she turned twenty-five, and had proved herself capable of upholding the family's reputation as good businessmen and horse trainers, she had become sole owner - her uncle, Colonel Brian McKenna having been her partner until that point. Brian was in the US Army and didn't have time to run the ranch. He enjoyed his career as an army MP but visited his former ward as often as he could.
Cayce was enjoying a quiet interlude at the end of a long day of chasing cattle, giving riding lessons and working with young folks who were training in rodeo events such as barrel racing. She had recently retired her champion barrel racer, Blackfoot Medicine Man, aka Doc, out to stud. Currently she had three mares in foal that were carrying his foals and several of her neighbors did as well. In the quiet of the outdoors she could faintly hear her ranch hands as they got ready for a card game or some other form of recreation they indulged in at the end of the day. In the background she could hear three male voices and smiled to herself. Cody and Nick were taking jibes at each other about their prospects for getting a date with one of Cayce's cousins while they were here. Murray Bozinsky was trying to get their advice on something or other but the two older men were too caught up in their nonsense to notice.
Eventually Murray came out with a camera. The other two were still arguing and didn't notice.
"Hi Boz," Cayce said as the computer whiz came out onto the porch. "Looking to get some pictures of the sky tonight?"
"Yes," he replied. "It looks to be a nice night. I'm hoping to get some pictures like those you've shown me in some of your magazines. A nice sunset and some pictures of the moon coming up behind the hills."
"Take a walk down the driveway and look off toward the Flying A," she told him with a smile. "The moon ought to be coming up behind the hills pretty soon. In the meantime you can get some nice sunset pictures in the other direction."
Cody Allen, Nick Ryder and Murray Bozinsky had decided to fly up to Sunny Acres during a lull in business. It was a second home to them as Cayce was like a little sister. They had an open invitation any time they wanted to get away from the city and see something different. True the boat they called home, from which their agency got its name, could take them on fishing trips but sometimes it was nice to go to the mountains - especially when the weather got hot. It was usually a good thirty degrees cooler at the Lazy M and there was the added bonus of getting away from their nemesis in the King Harbor Police Department - Lieutenant Ted Quinlan. Sergeant Ellsbury, of the Sunny Acres Police Department, liked the detectives and they liked him.
It was twilight on a late summer evening in September. The sun was going down and the air was cooling off. Temperatures were expected to be in the forties that night. Frost warnings had been issued so the four of them had been busy harvesting Josefina's garden - under the supervision of the matronly Mexican housekeeper. Nick and Cody had taken turns chopping wood and stacking it. Murray had been allowed to help with the stacking but there was no way his partners were going to let him near the axe.
Relaxed and content Cayce sat in her chair enjoying the quiet. Crickets chirped. Birds twittered as they bedded down for the night. Fireflies were seen winking in the darkness making Cayce smile as she remembered childhood visits and racing around the yard with canning jars whose lids had holes punched in them. Squeals of laughter from herself and her cousins echoed in her head.
The moon had come up and proved to be a bright, white sphere in the sky. Inspired by the sight, Murray was taking a few pictures as it rose up over the mountains. He hoped he got some good ones of the sunset as well. Eventually he quit and wandered up the driveway toward the house where he sat in one of the empty chairs next to Cayce and put his own long legs out and feet up on the railing. Only difference was he was wearing sneakers, not boots.
"Sure is a pretty night," he said as he settled down.
"Sure is," his hostess agreed. "I love nights like this. It'll be pretty chilly later on - that's why we harvested the produce that grows above ground today. You know - the tomatoes and beans and the last of the corn. The root vegetables will be okay for now. When the first hard frost threatens though I'll have to help Josefina bring them in as well."
"Cayce? Boz?" Cody called from inside the house. "Where are you two?"
Somewhere a night bird screamed as it spotted a possible dinner entree - a mouse or a rabbit that was careless or was late getting back to its burrow.
"What was that?" Murray asked.
"Probably an eagle - or just a hawk," Cayce told him. "I imagine it spotted its dinner and is swooping in to get it."
The screen door opened with its usual squeak. Cayce liked it that way. It let her know when people were coming in or going out of the house. This time it portended the arrival of Cody and Nick as they joined their friends on the porch. Cody handed Cayce a mug of hot chocolate with whipped cream, just the way she liked it, while Nick handed Murray a cup of coffee. Each of them took a seat in one of the still unoccupied seats and put their feet up on the railing as well. The sight of four pairs of long legs stretched out with the feet resting on the railing would have brought a big smile to Cayce's grandfather, Kevin McKenna, who had seen this with his sons, and eventually some of his grandsons. His wife, Roisin, or Rosaleen in English, would have enjoyed it as well.
For about fifteen minutes they sat there in companionable silence, enjoying the peace and quiet of the late summer night. Then Cayce, hearing toenails clicking on wood, started chuckling.
"Rusty's ready for his nightly brushing, Boz," she told the bespectacled computer whiz as her Australian sheepdog approached them carrying his brush. "He's even brought you his brush so you won't have to go looking for it."
It had become a nightly ritual. Rusty adored Murray and the Boz adored Rusty. Every night, when the Riptide detectives visited, Rusty would rout out his brush and go to Murray to be brushed, disdaining even his beloved mistress.
The slender scientist took the brush and began grooming the reddish brown canine who had a blissful look on his face as the brush went through his coat smoothing out tangles, removing burrs and loose hair. Rusty loved to be brushed, but, as the computer whiz had found out during a visit this past summer, he hated baths. It had taken the three men to hold the dog in the old fashioned washtub set up in the yard while Cayce shampooed him. She could have sent him to the dog groomer's in the area but she preferred taking care of her animals herself whenever possible.
Rusty settled on the floor by his mistress when Murray was through. He lay next to her chair with his nose on his paws and his ears perked up. A cool breeze came up making Cayce glad that she had had the foresight to put her jacket on. She noticed that the men were also wearing jackets, though Boz had his gray, front zip sweater on. She smiled as she put her head back and closed her eyes to listen to the crickets and the peepers. It wouldn't be long before they would be gone for the winter.
For a long time the quartet sat there listening to the breeze whispering in the trees. Off in the distance they heard what might have been the same hawk, or eagle, screaming as it soared after its prey and the squeal which was cut off when the bird was apparently successful in nabbing a rabbit.
In the small corral, adjacent to the large red barn, a horse snorted. Another one squealed and there was the thud of hooves as several of them started what seemed to be a game of tag. It ended quickly as there wasn't enough room and it was getting too dark to see.
A few of the steers that were in the home pasture could be heard settling down for the night. No coyotes or mountain lions were around to disturb them or Rusty would have alerted his mistress. The peaceful twilight deepened into a peace night as the group sat on the porch enjoying the night sounds and the fresh air.
After sitting quietly for fifteen minutes, Cody glanced up and saw the bright moon as it rose in the sky and the stars scattered through a black velvet sky.
"Nice night," he said quietly. "It's definitely peaceful up here at night."
"Yeah," Nick agreed drowsily. "Very peaceful."
From the bunkhhouse came the strains of a guitar and the voice of Smokey Jim Kennelly singing a Marty Robbins song from his Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs - Little Green Valley. It didn't take long for Cayce to be singing along as it was a particular favorite of hers.
"I see a candlelight down in the little green valley
Where Morning Glory vines are twining 'round my door
Oh, how I wish I were there again
Down in the little green valley
That's where my homesick heart will trouble me no more.
There's only one thing ever gives me consolation
And that's the thought that I'll be going back someday
And ev'ry night down upon my knees
I pray the Lord to please take me
Back to that little old green valley far away.
I hear a mockingbird down in the little green valley
He's singing out a song of welcome just for me
And someone waits by the garden gate
Down in the little green valley
When I get back again, how happy she will be.
And by a little babbling brook, once more we'll wander
And in a shady nook, we'll dream the hours away
And I will leave all my cares behind
Go where I know I'll find sunshine
Back to that little old green valley far away."
"That's nice, Cayce," Boz said.
"It's one of my favorites," she replied. Getting up and stretching she started down the steps. "Come on, Rusty, time to make our last round and hit the sack fella."
"Want some company?" Cody asked.
"Sure, if you want to come."
Cody got up from his seat and joined Cayce and Rusty as they made one last round of the area around the house, barn and other buildings. The Lazy M's foreman, Alex McGregor, would do the same before he turned in as well.
Returning to the house, the siblings parted company as she hugged the others and gave them a kiss on the cheek.
"Night Cayce." Boz hugged her in return.
"See you in the morning," Nick said.
"Night sweetie," Cody said. "We probably won't be far behind."
The young woman, and the dog, made one last round of the home grounds before retiring for the night before retiring to her bedroom. The peaceful twilight had deepend into a peaceful night and, after a long day of physical acitivity, she was more than ready for bed. It didn't take long for the detectives to follow suit, each thinking , as they slid between the covers, how nicely the day had ended with the cool breeze, the smell of pine and juniper, pleasant music and no sirens or other city noises to spoil the peaceful twilight.