Jo Harper looked forward to the Willowby, Wyoming fall festival all year, but will an explosive bank robbery blow up her career as a law woman? Going it alone under the harvest moon, the twelve-year old deputy constable will question everything she stands for and push her skills to the limit to save her friends from enemies old and new.
A fiery explosion! A jail break! A ghost town! Jo Harper's most dangerous adventure is here in this exciting sequel to ROPING A PLANET.
By four o'clock on Friday afternoon, Willowby, Wyoming's Fall Festival was well underway with a jillion people filling the town square. Twelve-year-old Jo Harper had looked forward to the yearly mix of farmer's market, circus carnival, and musical variety show for eleven months, 29 days and three hours. She just naturally kept track of the time. It wasn't like she was counting or anything!
For a block in every direction, the brick-laid streets of Broadway and Main were closed off to automobile and horse traffic, and decorations were everywhere. Cornhusks tied in tall shocks with colorful ribbons, pumpkins piled high, and clean straw bedding made the streets come alive. Tables stocked with scores of winter goodies led the way to and from a central pine-board bandstand where The Sleepy Settlers would pick up their fiddles and rosin up their bowstrings for a dance on Saturday night. Acres of cozy quilts and thick blankets hung next to jars of fruits, vegetables, and canned meats. The moms traded coats, hats, and mittens. Dads traded jack-knives and know-it-all opinions.
The sky was as blue as Jo could remember, and though Willowby had recently seen a dusting of snow, it wasn't winter quite yet. There were still a few leaves on the trees and most of the people at the festival had on light flannel jackets or simple yarn sweaters. Jo brushed a speck of dust off her leather jacket, walnut brown with fringes. Normally, she pulled her long black hair into a sturdy braid, but today she let it fly every which way in the autumn wind. She wore a green plaid shirt, tan corduroy trousers, and high lace-up boots. On her jacket, she'd pinned a polished deputy constable's star, but nobody noticed it.
Probably they just pretended not to notice it.
Perched on a bench beside the Congregational Church ice-cream stand, directly in front of the brick bank building, Frog Carpenter was dressed in his usual red flannel shirt, overalls and cap. Jo figured she wouldn't see him wear a coat until mid-winter. Not because his adopted parents, the Beemers, couldn't afford one. There were few families in Willowby as wealthy as the Beemers. It's just that Frog rarely slowed down long enough for the cold to touch him.
"I've already et my supper and dessert," he said, cheeks full of chocolate cake. "And my noon-time dinner was hours ago. What do I call it when we sit down to eat tonight? I can't call it lunch. And I can't have two suppers. Can I?"
"It's eaten, not et, and I'd call it a vulgar display of over-indulgence," said Jo, practicing her best high-falootin' vocabulary.
"A booger's play of what?"
"A vulgar display," said Jo.
"Whatever that means," said Frog, washing down the cake with a fast swallow of bottled lemon-lime soda. "You're just sore because I got the last hunk of cake." Frog held his plate close to his chest, protective of the small bite that remained.
Jo sniffed loudly. "Am not," she said, real snooty-like. Well, really. Her, angry with him? Over a piece of cake? The very idea.
Frog was eleven years old; but next month, Jo would turn thirteen. She was certainly above being envious of Mrs. Beemer's German Chocolate Cake.
Good as it was. And, it was rrrreeeeeaaally good.
"Heard your dad was walking around on his stilts?" said Frog.
Every year, Cecil Harper dressed up and strapped the stilts to his feet for the festival. Usually, Jo was embarrassed by the clown act. But this time, it might be a nice distraction.
"He's right over there," said Jo, pointing straight into the crowd.
When Frog turned his head, Jo scooped up the remains of his cake and stuffed it into her mouth.
Frog stared at his empty plate with surprise. "Did you just steal my cake?"
"Who's stealing what?" said a familiar voice, and Jo jumped up with a smile.
"Hi, Abby," she said.
"Jo stole my cake," said Frog. "Arrest her."
Willowby's tough lady constable stepped past a pair of bearded homesteaders and stopped beside Frog's bench. She was dressed in her official best, a tan colored buckskin outfit, black string tie, and white Stetson hat. Around her waist, she buckled the weathered leather gunbelt she'd had since her days in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, and she carried an old-fashioned black-powder Colt Paterson five-shooter in her holster.
"Hope you two are enjoying yourselves," said Abby, with a wide smile that emphasized the deep grooves time had whittled around her eyes and cheeks. Happy grooves when she smiled, but grooves laid in by anger and sadness too. With more than sixty years living and working in the West, Abigail Drake had seen it all. She'd been a trick-shot and a tracker, a bounty-hunter and a judge. Once, when she’d been careless with a firearm, she’d paid for it by losing an eye. She taught Jo that one serious mistake was all it took to change your outlook on everything.
"Hope you two are being careful," said Abby.
Jo thought Abby's glass eye was a good reminder to always be careful. But why had she mentioned it today of all days?
"Is something wrong, Abby?"
"Maybe." She put an arm around each of them and led Jo and Frog into the intersection. "Somebody I saw in the crowd. A man I thought I'd never see again. Seeing this owlhoot here, today of all days, got me to thinking.” Abby pointed at the Willowby Savings and Loan building. "Do me a favor and keep watch on the bank."
Jo's heart skipped a beat.