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In a Big Country


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This is the beginning. a few words. This is a game which uses a modern real world setting. It is set in the Town of Shelly Montana which is my fictional version of the real town in Montana called Shelby. In this game I will be using some fictionalized versions of real people that actually live in Shelby Montana and its surroundings. In most cases i will only use names and professions but sometimes i may draw a little deeper on the real life version. I will also of course be using totally fictional persons who will take the place of various real world persons. Two examples are Sheriff Donna Whitt, who is real and Tribal Police Chief Micah Loan who is made up from whole cloth. 

 If you are curious about Shelly and its environs just google Shelby Montana, it is 98% what Shelly is.


Ok  next part is the following. I am looking at this as a semi open world drama. it will have an overarching story but it will also have other threads. these other threads will be interweaved into the story. I also encourage everyone to take firm control of their and add things to their personal story as we go along. this can be in the main story or even in a separate story thread, solo or with some one else character. in other words be active! don't just wait for me to post to react.


Graphic nature of the subject material. this is a drama/mystery story it will feature crime some of the crime may be triggering for some people. I will not be gratuitous in describing things but there may be some graphic descriptions. same thing with sex. if you are writing a post which features graphic sex or violence give folks a warning.


About the following character intros. I left all but one of them openers to ambiguous time setting. each of these little scenes could take place one or two weeks ago, last night or a hour ago. each one ends with a sort of cliff hanger. I did this so you could decide how and what it means. I expect each of you to think hard and ask me a bunch of questions about these scenes. some of them lead to real mysteries and some might be red herrings. or not. any way take them and make them your own.


now that being said the show will up with breakfast at Bunnee's i have put two of the characters in place the rest of you get there on your own  🙂






Coraline Hess looked out of the large window past the heavy curtains at the swollen creek rushing past the front porch of her cabin. Two weeks ago, when she arrived and was shown the house by its owner, Alex Lee, the creek had been a trickle of water at the bottom of the ridge the house was built on, forty feet away and about fifteen feet lower than it was now, the view had been nice but uninspiring to say the least.


Today that was not the case.


The snows in the distant mountains to the west were melting that coupled with a series of somewhat frightening thunderstorms the last week had produced a raging river only ten yards from the porch, that seemed to threaten pouring over into the yard and maybe even the cabin. With the sun peaking up over the horizon of the flat prairie in the east, the light and shadows cast the whole tableau into an ominous and exciting vision of mother nature.


Cora sighed and looked at the porch as she took a sip of coffee. It was still odd to her the house was backwards. When Lee had driven her out here after picking her up at the train station he had explained as the approached up the hard packed dirt drive that had meandered from the paved road a good half mile away, they had driven up on what was obviously the rear of the rustic looking cabin. Alex Lee had chuckled as they had pulled up to the back of the house, “When we put this one up, we turned it around, so the front was facing the ridge. Give ya a more picturesque view.“ He had chucked as he over-pronounced picturesque. “The cabins, they’re sound but kind a boring too, not much you can do with them layout wise, so anything we can do to make em more attractive. You know.”


Cora gave a little laugh, that Lee was really a character. She set her cup on the counter to look over her shopping list one more time before heading to town. It was a half hour drive into Shelly and she wanted to make sure she had everything on her list that she needed. Shelly was ok it was a lot different than New York, but she still felt a sense of unease when she was in town. As if everyone was staring at her. The moment sh had that thought she caught a hint of movement in her peripheral vision and glanced back toward the window and found herself staring into the large yellow eyes of a wolf.


Cora froze. Lee had told her that there were wild animals that might come close to the cabin or that she could encounter if she went hiking warned her to be careful around coyotes and Moose, but aside from some feral cats she hadn’t seen any till now. The wolf was big much larger than she had imagined one would be. Its fur was dark and wet it stood like it had been in the rain, but it wasn’t raining. It must have come from the swollen creek. Suddenly it dashed off the porch and ran off into the bushes on the left. Cora moved to the window, but it was gone, all she could see were the bushes moving where it had passed.




Ackley Heron, Montana Game Warden for District FG412, pulled his truck off the dirt track and let his gaze linger on the torn-up fence and the gently rolling grassland surrounding him. He had gotten the rather angry phone call at a little after midnight from Horace Barker, a sheep rancher with deep pockets and political connections, seems one of his hired hands was coming home from some get together in Kevin when he came across a bunch of sheep on the road. Horace and his boys spent the better part of the night rounding up the herd and had found the torn-up fence and called Ackley.


Ackley stepped down out of the truck and walked over to the fence, sure enough there were moose tracks all over the place. He walked onto the rancher’s land following the tracks to a feed pen and then a little way west toward a small runoff creek then back to the torn-up fence and the tracks meanders across the road and toward the north.


This was very unusual. Moose as a rule don’t bother with fenced in areas. They are not like bears or wolves who will do all sorts of things to get over under or around a fence. A moose that comes up to a fence will usually stop look at it and turn around and go another way. Ackley had never heard of one tearing up a fence before. But all evidence said one did, and moose being game animal meant the torn up fence was his responsibility. With a sigh he walked back to his truck and started pulling tools and wire out. At least the fence post had been pulled up and not broken so he wouldn’t have to dig any new hole.

He took his jacket off and went to work.




The wrench slipped and Shay slammed her hand against the edge of the alternator mount.




The string of curses that followed would have singed ears in a World War II battleships boiler room, Shay stepped back off the step ladder she had to use to get into the engine compartment and looked at her stinging bleeding knuckles.


“Oww, that looks bad.”


The voice from behind startled Shay who spun and glared. Two people she didn’t recognize a man and a woman, both in their early thirties and wearing suits. The woman was attractive with pale blonde short hair wearing an off-white jacket and pants with a light blue shirt opened enough to reveal a generous cleavage. The man was slim, also attractive in a Hollywood way, was wearing a darker suit, blue with a tie and a white shirt. The suit was expensive and traditional. Both wore dark glasses. It was the man who had spoken.


“Can I help you?” Shay was always wary when strangers showed up on her doorstep.


The man’s eyes had dropped to Shay’s chest, something she was used to. He stood there speechless ogling. Shaking her head, the woman spoke as she removed her glasses and gave Shay an appreciative smile. “My name is Nora Kale This is Bob Drake. Are you Shay Cassidy?”




“I’ll take that as a yes. We’re lawyers,” Nora stepped forward and produced a business card which she handed to Shay. “I know you are aware that there has been a lot of litigation over the cause of the tragic fire that took the lives of your family. Which I am very sorry for the loss you and your sister suffered. What you are not aware of is that there has been a settlement.”


“You never replied to any of the letters you were sent.” Bob had collected himself and was looking at her face now. “That is why we are here.”


Nora glanced at Bob who shrugged. She smiled at Shay when she looked back at her. “We represent the corporation that bought out the oil field company that was found responsible for the fire.” Nora took the handkerchief from her jacket pocket and took Shay’s bleeding hand and dabbed at the blood. “You and your sister are entitled to part of that settlement, which is substantial, but that isn’t the only reason we came all the way out her. Our client would like to make an offer on your land.”




The kids were off to school, the wife had already left for her shift at the medical center, and Andrew Carmody, the sheriff of Toole County was enjoying one last cup of coffee before heading to his station.


Andrew had been sheriff since the beginning of the year. It had been a couple of tumultuous months of change. The previous sheriff had served for over 20 years and while Andrew was her handpicked successor and had won the sheriffs race handedly there was still some who doubted his ability to run the department. Couple that with the state nearly doubling the size of the Toole County jurisdiction due to cutbacks and the fact that several of the departments’ deputies had moved on to greener pastures, had made the transition a bit stressful. His undersheriffs slot was empty, he was down to only ten of the sixteen deputies allotted by the Public Safety commission, and the department was facing discrimination charges leveled by a very vocal local media. But at least crime was down.


Andrew settled into the drivers seat and started the truck up. He let it warm a little before putting it in reverse and starting out of the drive when the radio crackled.


“AJ, you headin in?” the voice belonged to Brenda Nanini the head dispatcher and chief office assistant.


He grabbed the mic from the dashboard and keyed it. “Yep. What you got Bren?”


“Jail called they are holding someone who says he needs to talk to the sheriff. That would be you.”


“Who is it?”


“They didn’t say and Bill took the call and didn’t write any names down and he’s already gone. I figured you might want to stop there before coming in instead of having to drive back over later.”


Andrew looked at the clock in the dash then into the rearview mirror at the reflection of his eyes. “Yeah, I’ll stop there first. Thanks Bren. Oh, talk to Bill, good notes are important.”


“Will do AJ.” The double click followed and was Brenda’s trademark signing off.


Sheriff Carmody entered the jails main office and spoke with the jailer on duty. “We picked him up about 1:30 walking out on the highway. He was obviously drunk, so we brought him in to sleep it off.” The jailer handed the sign in sheet. “No id, had six bucks and some change, some Indian jewelry. When he woke up, we went in to let him out and he said he was here to talk to the sheriff.”


Andrew looked at the CCTV screen showing the cell, “You get a name?”


“Says his name is Joe Spotted Owl.”


“He ever been in here before?”


The jailer shrugged, “I don’t know I didn’t recognize him, and the name didn’t come up in a search, But I have only been on the job for about six months.”


Andrew nodded, “Let me go see what he wants.”


Andrew came up to the holding cell while the jailer stayed in the outer room, the door remained open in case Andrew needed him. Joe Spotted Owl was sitting up straight on the bunk, arms resting on his thighs, head tilted slightly back, straight black hair hanging down to just below the man’s broad shoulders. His eyes were closed and he was breathing slow and evenly. Andrew wasn’t sure if he was awake or not, the Indian didn’t respond in any way to his presence.


“Mr Spotted Owl, you wanted to see me?”


The Indian opened one eye which was startling blue and looked at the sheriff, “You are not sheriff Donna.” His voice was deep and unaccented his words clear even though he spoke softly.


“No I’m not, Sheriff Whitt retired, my names Carmody, I’m the new Sheriff.”


Joe opened his other eye and looked more directly at the sheriff. He was quite for several long seconds. “Okay.” He fell quite again he looked to Andrew like he was thinking real hard.


Andrew took an impatient breath, “You told the officer you needed to see me.”


“Yeah, I guess so.” Joes’ forehead creased and he shook his head slightly. “Usually I talk to sheriff Donna, but I guess if you are the sheriff now, I should talk to you. The spirits just said to come talk to the sheriff. Did you bring breakfast, sheriff Donna usually brings breakfast from Bunee’s. I like those filled crescent rolls Bunee makes they are very good.”




Lili Archer came out of the home she grew up in, angry, sad, frustrated. The house was too small not at all like she remembered it. Her dad was sick, possibly dying. Her mother was in denial, her dad was in denial, and she hadn’t seen her uncle since she got back. For the last two weeks she did what she could to convince her father to go to the medical center in Shelly, but he just kept telling her not to worry the tribal doctors were taking care of him.


Her dad had been a big man not tall but hefty weighing over two hundred pounds. Now he was just over one forty, his skin hung on his frame like and old house coat. And the coughing. It wasn’t covid at least that’s what he claimed.


She heard a car and looked up. A dusty tribal police cruiser was pulling up on the side of the road. It sat there idling for a minute, then the engine shut down and the driver door opened.


The man that stepped out of the car was probably the most American Indian looking man Lili had ever known.. Medium height, lean weathered with long black hair now showing a lot more gray than the last time she had seen him. Chief of Police Micah Loan (pronounce Low – Ann) has been a tribal policeman his whole adult life and chief of police for at least the last ten years. Lili, in her wild rebellious youth had been hauled home drunk on more than one occasion.


Loan sauntered up to the porch and gave Lili an appraising look with made her feel guilty of something. She noticed he was holding a folder in his left hand while his right was hitched in his gun belt.


“I heard you were home. You staying here?” he indicated the house with a nod and a flickering movement of his lips. A gesture that screamed Indian.


“No,” Lili shook her head, “Staying in Shelly at the OYO. Mom is using my old room as storage. Too much trouble to clean out.”


“The OYO, humph.”


“What can I do for you chief?”


“Okay, I hear you been playing detective down south. I figured if your going to be back here now I’d offer you a job. You come to work at the BLE on probation, I can get you in the academy next term no tuition.”


“A cop on the reservation?” Lili laughed, shook her head.


“Yeah, I didn’t think so, but you should think about it. In the meantime,” he hands her the folder, “why don’t you take a look at that while you are sitting at the OYO watching cable.” Without another word Chief Loan turned and walked away.



Breakfast at Bunnee's

Shelly Montana, 7:15 AM Thursday Morning


Bunnee's burgers was the place to hang out in Shelly morning, noon, and night, It was an old fashioned Drive in diner that had originally been called Pat's Diner in the 1950s. When a young man came into town in 1989 and bought the old rundown diner, He renamed it Bunnee's and had it renovated and modernized. Lewis 'Bunnee' Richards was eccentric to say least and even after thirty-four years little was known about him other than he got his nickname of Bunnee due to his uncanny resemblance to the former drummer of the rock band Cheap Trick, Bun E Carlos. Some people believe that they are in fact the same person. Bunnee isn't saying. But one thing is for sure he is a master at making burgers. Bunnee pioneered the gourmet burger craze in northern Montana and has over 2 dozen different burger variations on the menu all which he makes from scratch with fresh locally raised beef and produce. Truly a remarkable restaurant and local hang out. And Bunnee isn’t a bad drummer either.


Lili parked as close to the door at Bunnee’s as she could it wasn’t even 7:30 but the place was busy, just as it had been everyday when she was teenager. She glanced at the folder sitting on the passenger seat where she had dropped it after Chief Loan had given it to her last night. She hadn’t even looked at it. Yet.


She got out of her car leaving the folder right where it was. She was hungry and the smell of hot food was too enticing to worry about whatever it was. She started to close the door but hesitated, with a sigh she bent over into the car and retrieved the mysterious folder. Couldn’t hurt to look at it.


As Lili closed her car door a late model sedan pulled in next to her and a woman got out of it. Lili was surprised. The woman was three things, Tall, very attractive, and black, none of which you saw in Shelly Montana very often much less all three in the same person.



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Once Ackley had managed to get the thick gloves on, and grabbed the barbed wire for the fence. He made his way back to the truck and pulled out a good sized sledgehammer. When that was done he got to work on the fence. After the time consuming work of putting up part of a fence, Ackley looked down at his completed work and sighed. "Stupid Moose. Ruined the start of a perfectly good day. Oh, well. May as well get some good breakfast once I let Mr. Barker know the fence is done."  Ack-ack put all the gear away, climbed back into his beat up official truck and took out a brand new satellite phone. Since coverage could be somewhat spotty with cellular phones, the Department would allow Game Wardens to use satellite phones they owned previously. He placed a call to Mr Barker and left a message simply stating, "The fence is repaired. Looks like a moose got into the area and wandered around your property. It's gone now though." Once the call was done, he started up the truck and headed in to town to grab some breakfast. 




Arriving at Bunnee's, Ackley stepped down from the truck and closed the door. Once down, he walked across the parking lot from his spot to the entrance. On his way, he noted Lili and Coraline. He tapped the rim of his hat as he passed the two ladies and made his way in to the restaurant. Once inside he took off his hat, tucked it under his left arm and watched the hustle and bustle for a second. 

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Shay chewed on an underlip to hold in a hiss as Nora dabbed at her bloody knuckles. To disguise her own interested glance at the pleasant view Nora was unintentional providing her - there were slim pickings for her in Shelly - Shay gave the business card a look. Crisp, understated, embossed with golden ink. Garrety, Hoffmann & Foog. They sounded expensive.

She'd had enough to deal with over the years, dealing with her family's death and raising her sister. She had to sell some land to make ends meet, and hated it. What she'd taken to be even more bills she'd tossed in the garbage to see if they would go away or get more serious. All the advice she'd gotten suggested proving someone at fault would be nearly fruitless and would take lots of time and lots of money with no guarantee of a pay out.

It was funny. Once, she had wanted nothing more than to get out of Shelly. Truth be told, she still did, really. But with the only Cassidys left in Shelly being her and her sister Laurelai, she was more than merely reluctant to relinquish any more land than she had to. Cassidys had worked on the railways before Shelly had been incorporated, and settled down in the area when the railroad station was established there at the junction of the Great Northern Railway and the Great Falls & Canada Railway. Cassidys had always lived in Shelly, been part of Shelly. Just because there were only two of them left didn't end that. Shay wouldn't let it end that way.

"Pretty card," Shay said, flashing Nora a grin. "Who's your client?"

Nora finished her ministrations by tying the handkerchief around Shay's hand and took a step back. Her eyes glittered, the corners of her mouth turning fractionally up. "Our client is Norman Travis."

"Uh-huh." The name didn't mean a thing to her.

Shay held the business card between two fingers, tapping her thigh with it. The land still held fire damage after all this time, dead trees, remnants of the old, rambling farmhouse. It would take work to even make the majority of the land suitable for farming again, farming for anymore more than hay anyway. She had a gentleman's agreement with her neighbor's to harvest the hay for their use. She wasn't sure who would want the land, other than her neighbors to expand their steads. She hadn't heard about anyone buying up land around Shelly. Admittedly, she'd hadn't been particularly listening for any scuttlebutt about it.

"And why does Mr. Travis want the land?"

"Our client didn't disclose the reason to us."

"Riiiight," Shay drawled. "I'll need some time to think it over." She didn't. She had no intention to sell. "How can I contact you?"

Nora's faint smile widened, as though she new what Shay was thinking as she pointed at the card between her fingers. "We're staying at the Best Western. We'll be in town for the next few days. The number you can reach us at is on the back of the card."

Shay flipped over the card, arching a dark brow. There were two numbers. A business one, and a personal one. "Hmm. Okay. And there was something about a settlement, you said?"

"Of course," Bob said, stepping forward to hand Shay a thick envelop. "You really should read you mail," he told her breasts. By the time he found her face again, he missed her rolling her eyes. "It's in your best interest."

"I'm sure it is," she replied wryly, looking pass him at Nora. "I'll call in a few days with an answer about if this will go anyway or end right here."

"I'll be waiting," Nora said, her eyes almost laughing as she and Bob turned around and started back towards the rental parked up the drive.


Shay sat at a high top at the back of Bunnee's, near the employee entrance where she had a view of part of the kitchen, and could chat with Bunnee and the servers and cooks she was friendly with. Sunlight streamed in through the tall windows, picking out the red in her mahogany hair piled up in a messy bun as she nursed a coffee and picked at a breakfast she hadn't made herself. She'd driven Laurie to school for an early volleyball practice, then stopped by Bunnee's for breakfast and to go over settlement Nora Kale (and Bob whoever) had left her.

The table was scattered with paper. Shay couldn't help but stare agape as she kept reading, and rereading the notes. They hadn't been kidding about the settlement. She kept looking for a catch, some sort of fine print that would screw her in the definitely not fun way. But so far, it looked completely legit. Which didn't mean she still wasn't going to get a lawyer to look it over too, even if she would begrudge even dollar it would cost.

This was a big year. Laurie would be graduating soon. Shay hadn't had much time or opportunity to save up for college for her sister. Her own college fund had been meager - she'd been planning on going to Berkeley on scholarship - and she'd spent that in the aftermath of the fire. She had enough for Laurie's first year at UM, and was still figuring out the rest. 

And Laurie had been begging for her own car since she was fifteen. Shay had managed to acquire one and was going to gift it to Laurie as a graduation present. It wasn't new. It wasn't high end. But it was in good condition - she'd fixed it up herself - and it had enough space for Laurie's ungodly long legs.

The settlement would solve so many problems. It was for just over three-fucking-million dollars. And all it cost, as far as she could tell, was waiving any further litigation. Since she had thought there were no chance of winning any sort of suit in the first place, that seemed more than fair. The suit on behalf of the survivors and other damaged parties had been brought, and won - somehow - by the Deem Corporation.

Thinking back, throughout it all, she'd never heard of the Deem Corporation. Shay finished her coffee, letting the mug hit the table with the thump as she continued to stare at the paperwork before her.

"Refill?" Bunnee drawled.

What Shay really wanted something way stronger to drink, but it was still too early, even for her. "Sure, Bunnee."

Shay held up her mug towards the coffee pot Bunnee had claimed from behind the bar. Shay stretched and twisted, her worn 'The Dead South' band shirt under a knotted flannel straining from the bountiful contents as she worked some kinks out of her back, and looked over the busy diner. Outside, she caught a partial view of woman, tall, black, athletic. She couldn't quite catch a look at her face, but there wasn't anyone else like that in Shelly, so it had to be Ms. Coraline Hess. Attractive woman. There was another woman out there, but Shay could see even less of her. Dark hair, dusky skin, Indian, but that was hardly rare in Shelly. 

Shay turned back to Bunnee. "Y'know a lawyer? I need someone too look over some paperwork."


Bunnee quirked a smile at the buxom sometime employee, "I know all the same lawyers you do Shay," He glanced at the papers, "But i know a couple of good business lawyers in Great Falls. I'll get you their number before you leave."

Edited by Asarasa
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AJ sighed.   "Alright, I'll get you out of here, and get you breakfast, and then we can talk."

He went to the jailer, "Is he being charged with anything?"   

He shook his head seeming almost bored.  "No sir, he seemed to be under the influence, but not so much as we'd charge him with anything."  

"Alright, let's get him released, and I'll take him back home,  since there's been no trouble. "  Perhaps not fully protocol, but it wasn't worth any sort of issues with the reservation, and since he'd commit no crime, there really wasn't an issue.

Quickly the arrangements needed for Joe Spotted Owl's discharge and release were made, and soon enough he was walking out with Andrew to his cruiser.   "Have you had many meetings with Sheriff Whitt in the past?"  ANdrew asked quietly as the two rode from the Jail to Bunnee's.   

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As Lili closed her car door a late model sedan pulled in next to her and a woman got out of it. Lili was surprised. The woman was three things, Tall, very attractive, and black, none of which you saw in Shelly Montana very often much less all three in the same person.


Lily gave the woman a nod and a little smile. Passer-by, she figured. Someone on the interstate stopping for a meal, maybe a place to stay for the night. The on/off ramps were lousy with shitty motels. Maybe she'd even seen Bunnee's on Yelp or something, wanted to give it a try. It had a kind of cult following even out of state.


She went into the restaurant, and even gallantly let the other woman in ahead of her; holding the door open with an impish glint in her eye. By the time she went in, Lily was already opening the folder. She took the closest empty booth and promptly turned the pages of the file until the waitress got around to her.


"Oh, hey. Uh...you guys still doing the BunBun Double special?" Lily asked. The waitress smiled and asked what she'd like her side to be. "Uh, just one of those little salads in the tub," was Lily's answer. "Oh, and like...diet pop."


As the waitress retreated, Lily saw deeper into the restaurant...and spotted a very distinctive head of hair. Well shit...was that Shay? Was she still hanging around Shelly?


She looked back into the file folder. Maybe Shay wouldn't recognize her. That was a little broken fragment of her life she'd deal with...later.

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Lili's greeting snapped Coraline out of her introspective mood, having spent most of the winding drive to town in her head humming fragments of showtunes. What passed for civilization in Shelly wasn't all that impressive in her eyes, but maybe, just maybe, it might have what she needed to get her groove back. The alternative, this being just another bad 3 AM idea that she'd succumbed over the course of the last year, another bead on the necklace of poor judgements she'd crafted since getting that phone call from her parents 11 months ago, wasn't something she wanted to think about. The very small rational part of her brain that wasn't blighted by grief still stung at the sheer cost of setting up this Bohemian exile, her finances far from flush enough to absorb that kind of hit without her blood money inheritance.


She'd have paid it all back tenfold if she lived in a world where that could have helped.


But she didn't so she couldn't and she ended up watching him wither away, waiting on Sundays for phone calls from her parents for word on the latest treatment, the latest outrageous bill, the latest diagnosis from sympathetic and utterly unhelpful doctors. Helpless and dancing between the stages of grief. Food and drink like ashes in her mouth. Words from friends that grated like mosquitoes. Works aborted 9/10ths of the way through after her muse turned to anger. Being taken aside by her self-defense instructor more than once when adrenaline turned 'I'm fine I'm fine I'm fine.' into a lie as spars turned way too intense. It couldn't continue, especially with him dead and finally no-longer hurting, his last words to her in that damned hospital room urging her to live and love and laugh.


So here she was, a Hess out of New York City, a world away from the light-drowned night skies she was used to, about to continue her wiki walk through the Bunnee menu, seeing if it measured up to the friendly neighborhood bodegas of home. The statuesque painter closed the door of her car with a sigh, did a quick check of her essential items, and walked toward the main entrance. Despite the hair-on-the-back-of-neck raising sense of being watched, she forced herself to outwardly relax. People her complexion may have been thin on the ground in the area, but that was no reason to treat the town like Long Wood at 2 am. 


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Bunnee's was busy, as it usually was, even at 8:30 in the morning. The main breakfast rush was over but there was still enough business to have a couple of waitresses working inside and a couple of more handling the drive-in slots. Bunnee himself was there but not on the line, the morning kitchen was run by Dave Ross, a kid who had started out as a local troublemaker until Bunnee gave him a chance and hired him for part time work a couple of years ago. Dave had proven a gem in the rough. Treated right the kid worked hard and found that not only was he good in the kitchen but that he enjoyed it and his work made him proud. Bunnee liked Dave and had given him more and more responsibility and Dave had risen to every occasion.


And that left Bunnee to play host. The big man moved from table to booth visiting folks. After twenty something years he knew just about everyone that came into his establishment, knew them, their kids, their parents, even grand parents and grand kids in some cases. But the tall attractive black woman who came in was an exception. She had been in the restaurant a couple of times but that had been when Bunnee had been tied up in the kitchen and he had only caught glimpses of the woman.


This morning he had been visiting with Cap Benson, an retired rancher who usually spent his morning drinking coffee and waxing philosophical about the state of the union when Coraline Hess entered his establishment. “S'cus me Cap,” he said and moved to intercept the woman as a second woman, a Blackfeet by the looks of her, and one Bunnee didn't immediately recognize. The Indian didn't pause but seated herself at an empty booth and opened a manila folder.


Bunnee grabbed a menu and sauntered over to Coraline who was still in the entrance looking like she was considering turning around and heading back out, and really Bunnee couldn't blame her if she did. Everyone in the place had stopped and was looking at her, everyone but the indian.


“Good morning miss, welcome to Bunneee's Burgers and Shakes. Don't let the name fool you, we are a full service restaurant as well as a Drive-in. I'm Bunnee and am pleased to meet you. Would you like a table or a booth or maybe a seat at the Lunch bar.” He smiled his most reassuring grin as he waited her response.



bear with me on getting everyone in the restaurant, if you are there and feel you have something add go ahead if not wait until I drag you in. Thanks


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On 1/25/2023 at 12:38 PM, Asarasa said:

"I know all the same lawyers you do Shay," He glanced at the papers, "But i know a couple of good business lawyers in Great Falls. I'll get you their number before you leave."

"Thanks, Bunnee," Shay said, flashing him a quick, grateful grin. She nodded towards the rest of the Diner as Bunnee started to head off to tend to his customers. "If you guys get backed up, give me a shout. I can help out for a bit, I only have a job I have to get to after noon."

Bunnee nodded as he sauntered off. Shay turned back to give the black woman another covertly appreciative glance when she caught sight of someone quickly looking down into a file folder. It was only the briefest of looks, but Shay would recognize the woman almost anywhere, by her posture if nothing else. Her heart skipped a beat before a panoply of emotions flooded in at the sight of her ex.

Focusing intently on the file in her hands, Lili heard the chair across from her scrape across the linoleum. There was a clunk of a coffee cup hitting the table. The slap of manila folder not unlike the one on her hands followed it. Some papers slid out, revealing letterhead belong to some fancy legal firm. Lili let her attention linger there as someone settled down in the seat across from her.

Lili didn't need to look up to know who it was. Even with her eyes down, part of a well distended band t-shirt entered her peripheral vision. The coffee cup was taken up by a small, strong hand, fresh scabs on the knuckles. There was the sound of her tablemate taking a sip.

"So...." A husky, feminine drawl Lili well remembered remarked with too much casualness as the coffee cup was set back down on the table, "when did you get back into into town, Lili?"

Lili let her eyes wander back up to find Shay Cassidy sitting across from her. It had been a few years, but the gorgeous woman didn't look a day older than the last time Lili had seen her. Her rich, mahogany hair was bound up in a messy bun with a white, grey, and blacked checkered kerchief, some loose tendrils falling free to frame her face.

The last time she'd met Shay's stormy blue-grey eyes, they had been flat with hurt and a protective anger when Lili had revealed she was leaving Shelly. Those eyes were more tempestuous now.

Lili considered that a good thing. Shay had always been easier to deal with when she was running hot rather than cold.

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"Shay." Lily lowered the file and closed it, then gave Shay a smile rather wider than her usual reserved expression. "Not too long actually. Dad's sick, so I've been on the reservation mostly. This is the first time I managed to get into town."


"I, uh, would have come over when I saw you, but I wasn't sure if you were here with anyone. Didn't want to make things awkward. So...how have you been? You look good."

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Coraline let the pressure of the room wash over her and squared her shoulders. This wasn't the toughest room she'd ever dealt with and, she wasn't even trying to sell them anything. She tilted her head and gave the nearest gawker her best teasing 'come on if you think you're 'ard enough' smile. The athletic artist wouldn't have gotten as far as she had in her chosen city and profession if she let her herself be flustered by a little curious attention, much as it made her curious to look just *how* thin on the ground people of her complexion were in the area.


Bunnee's introduction shifted Coraline's focus and bled any hint of hardness from the expression, prompting her to chuckle, "Pleasure to meet you, Bunnee. You can call me Cora. Lunch bar is fine. It's just me, and I have a busy morning ahead of me."

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Bunnee nodded and gestured toward the bar, "Right this way Cora," and led her to the long counter that looked like it was still in the fifties with napkin holders, salt, pepper,and sugar shakers and bottles of Mustard Catsup, and various sauces on neat trays set where ever two stools could reach. While she took a seat he handed her a menu. "We serve the whole menu from open to close and if you want anything that's not on the menu I will try to accommodate." He grinned at her again and pushed his glasses up of the end of his nose as he glanced around the room and out into the parking lot. "Don't pay any mind to the stares," he said lowering his voice and leaning a bit closer to her, " folks around her ain't used to seeing someone as tall and beautiful and looking like they just stepped off a models runway."


Back behind Cora the little bell at the door rang and a big booming voice called out. "Hey Bunnee, you got anyof those stuffed scones?"


Looking at the door everyone could see a large Indian waving at Bunnee and a slightly embarrassed sheriff entering the diner.


224385801_joespottedowl.jpg.74fe8c528a8cd7af22147c5795cb53b0.jpg Joe Spotted Owl

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As AJ entered the diner behind  Joe, he sighed slightly.  He'd not expected him to greet Bunnee so loudly, but it was done now.   He looked around at who was there, seeing Cora, who he knew to be new in town, and Shay was over talking to Lily, someone he knew had some issues with Shelly Law enforcement.   He'd not been involved with the incident, but he knew it was a black mark on the department for how things had gone down.  

Finally he smiled, and nodded at Bunnee.  "Morning Bunnee.  I see you're pretty busy today."   This was of course a good thing in his eyes, Bunnee was sorta like a focal point for Shelly, He was a constant that even after his time away, AJ knew he could count on Bunnee being the same as he always was.   It was refreshing, in its own way.

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Coraline half-turned in her seat. She took in the Sheriff for a heartbeat. Having seen the logo of the Shelly Sheriff Department emblazoned on its vehicles one or twice during her short stay, the athletic artist held them in the wary politeness she held most Police in, to be left to her business if she left them to theirs. She nodded her head respectfully once, smile holding politely, "Sir."


She shifted her focus back to Bunnee, deciding to just roll with his compliment despite spotting at least one or two people in the dinner she'd easily consider far more runway material than herself, laughing lightly with a trace of her New York accent, "Yes, he is. I'll just go with the scrambled eggs and pancakes, Sir. That and a coffee."

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Shay bit back a viperish retort. In a town the size of Shelly, who exactly did Lili think she'd be with? There hadn't been many people for her to pick from in the first place, and even fewer after Lili left. She was lucky if she got away to Billings or Missoula for a Tinder Date - read: Hookup - nowadays. But she knew Lili didn't really mean it that way. 

Shay let out a long breath, tucking a loose lock of luxuriant hair behind her ear. Then she arched her back and flashed a slow, lazy smirk that had guys chasing her since she was barely out of her tweens, despite coming out as gay more than a year before the Wildfire. "Thanks, Lilz." Shay gave Lili a blatant once-over, her grin widening teasing salaciousness. "You don't look so bad, yourself."

The tinkling of the front door bell drew Shay's attention. Seeing the Sheriff - her older sister Teagan's boyfriend in high school - Shay gave him a nod, and a small salute with two fingers extended, before turning back to Lili. She took a sip of coffee, then played with the cup, spinning it around by the handle with her forefinger.

"I've been getting by. Laurie's graduating this year. She got a partial scholarship to UM. I got the rest of her first year covered. Was still figuring out the rest, when the answer might have just dropped into my lap the other day."

Shay nodded towards the folder she had left on the table, tapped it with a finger. "Seems like there was a settlement after all. The Wildfire, right? I didn't even know about it." She pursed her lips, but didn't elaborate. It still seemed unbelievable. "Will have to get down to Great Falls in a few days to get it checked out. Lawyer shit. Should probably look into what the Deem Corporation is too."

Shay finished off her coffee, then stared down into the empty cup for a long moment, contemplating. After a while, eyes intent and mouth tight, she looked up again and reached across the table to give Lili's hand a squeeze.

"Look, Lilz, you didn't say how bad it is, with your dad. But if you need anything, call me, 'kay?"

Shay sounded awkward, almost grudging, but genuine. She had appreciated it, really she had, but in the aftermath of the Wildfire, she had hated how everyone had offered their help, with anything. That and the apologies, like they had something to do with her entire family dying in the Fire. Especially how most people hadn't actually meant it, it had just been the polite thing to say.

But she more than most knew what it felt like to lose family. She wouldn't have made the offer to just anyone, but she would to Lili, despite still holding on to some hurt feelings on how they separated.

Edited by Asarasa
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For a second Lily almost felt that Shay was squeezing her heart instead of her hand. She'd expected some anger, maybe bitterness, after how things had gone before. And maybe it was still there, but Shay was leaving that to the side for a moment and Lily appreciated that...well...a lot. She squeezed back.


"Thanks," she said. "Right now it's just...trying to get him to go to a hospital. We don't even know for sure what it is, or how bad it is yet. But...it's not great."


Lily cleared her throat then put her hand on the folder.


"I, uh...this sort of landed on my lap before I headed into town today. Just giving it a look. It's about some missing kids from the rez. Probably nothing you'd have heard anything about."


"But you're getting a settlement for the fire? About fucking time." Lily let go of Shay's hand so she could take a drink. "What are they offering?"

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Shay shook her head and shrugged a shoulder. "Ain't heard anything 'bout missing kids." Unless it was happening to kids in Shelly and parents at one of Laurie's games were gossiping, it wasn't likely she'd have heard anything. She nodded towards the Sheriff. "You might ask AJ. Sheriff Carmody, I mean. As for the settlement..."

Shay pursed her lips, expression neutral, as she collected her manila folder. She opened it up and squared up the papers inside. The papers rustled as she flipped them over, looking for the right one. When she found it, she cocked her head, contemplating the numbers. Then she spun the folder around and slid it towards Lili. When Lili glanced down at it, Shay took up her coffee mug in both hands, savouring the fading warmth, tempestuous blue-grey eyes enigmatic as she watched the other woman.

The sheet of crisp, creamy paper Lili was looking at was a breakdown of the total punitive and compensatory damages assigned in the class action suit, and the amount awarded to each plaintiff. One number was circled in red ink, in a hand much neater than Shay's handwriting, the crimson oval almost mechanical in its precision.


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Lily felt the bottom of her stomach roll over a pit and drop for a second before hitting a new ground. That was...she was no financial expert, but even after fees and taxes and everything... It was a lot.


"Well shit," she said softly. "That...is a number." Her eyes rose from the letter to Shay's eyes. "You gonna take it? I mean, you know me...usually I'd be all 'if they're offering this much it's because they're afraid you can get five times that in court,' but...I mean, that's a life changing sum right there."


"So...what are you going to do?"

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On 2/12/2023 at 10:12 AM, Exile_Jeane said:

She shifted her focus back to Bunnee, deciding to just roll with his compliment despite spotting at least one or two people in the dinner she'd easily consider far more runway material than herself, laughing lightly with a trace of her New York accent, "Yes, he is. I'll just go with the scrambled eggs and pancakes, Sir. That and a coffee."


Bunnee smiled again,  "Coming right up." The diners owner tore off the ticket put it on the order board and head off toward the sheriff and Joe Spotted Owl. As he approached,  Joe, who had been looking around curiously at everyone, suddenly stepped off rapidly toward where the game warden was seated.


Ackley sipped at his coffee while waiting for his food, he had pretty much been minding his own business though he had noted the arrival of the Sheriff and the big Indian, and now that big Indian was heading right up to his table.


"Hello game warden, the spirits tell me to tell you that what you think is not what is and that you should talk to that dark woman over there." Joe turns halfway and points at Cora sitting at the counter fixing her newly arrived cup of coffee.

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"Do? Do?! 'Course I'm gonna take the money," Shay exclaimed, practically chuckling in disbelief. "Me and Laurie get by, but from what I read, taking the settlement just means I can't sue later. Since I never thought there'd be any money in the first place.... " Shay gave a dismissive shrug. "Just wanna get down to Great Falls to get someone who specializes in stuff like this to take a look at it. Y'know, to make sure I'm not signing away my soul or whatever. As for what I'm gonna do with it...."

Shay glanced to the side, staring out the window but not really seeing anything. Lili saw the lines of her throat twitch as Shay's jaw tightened, her eyes narrowing. Shay had cried at the funeral for her family. Lili had been woken by Shay caught in a nightmare with silent tears on her cheeks more than once. Shay wasn't what anyone would call reserved, but she was damned stubborn and did everything she could to look strong for her sister and give her as normal as life as was possible.

Shay never cried in public.

She looked close now. Her slender, strong fingers drummed a rapid staccato on the table.

"Set up a trust for Laurie. Don't have to worry 'bout how to pay for college now, I guess. And when she graduates, well, she'll be able to do whatever she wants. Me..." Shay's throat danced as she swallowed, her low voice almost tremulous. "... I dunno. With Laurie at college, I can - I'll be able travel, finally. Maybe go to Berkeley after all."

Shay gave a bark of laughter and shook her head, turning back to Lili. "'Kay, probably not that, not after hustling and working my ass off the last ten years, not sure I'd be able to sit in a classroom again. But a nice, long vacation someplace that never sees snow is totally gonna happen."


Shay gave a deep sigh then rolled her shoulders to collect herself, interesting motions happening under her shirt. "It hardly seems real, saying it out loud." She finished her coffee then set the mug at the side of the table to make it easy to collect. "If it works out, cool. If not... well, my luck runs bad but we won't be any worse off. Enough about me. What've you been up to the last few years? What's it like out there beyond the borders of Montana?"

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Lily sat back, thinking as she tore herself free of the urge to reach out and hug Shay across the table. She was expressive, and it was so easy to get swept up in her emotion, her drama, her life. Sometimes to the point of neglecting your own.


"Well...it smells worse," she says, and cracks a little smile. "And it takes time getting used to having so many people around. Day and night, people to the left and right and up and down...and most of them seem to feel like because they're near you, they get to have an opinion about you. And...noisy. A lot of noise, all the time. It's just kind of a lot. Sensory overload. Everything's bright light, loud noise, sharp smells. I think I get why so many people feel so exhausted all the time."


She takes a breath and holds it, keeping the scent of cooking beef and melting cheese and hot bread in her nose for a moment before letting it run free again.


"No one cuts you breaks. You have to fight to take every step. Which is...again...exhausting, but I will say this much." Lily nods to herself. "...when you take that step, you feel it. Feel it in your bones. Every win. And even though people are tired and cranky and hard to deal with, underneath the thick skin they had to grow to stay sane, they're still people. Like you, like me. They've all got stories too, and sometimes...in a world where everyone feels like they have to talk all the time...just listening to someone's story is all it takes to make a friend."


Lily smiles that easygoing smile of hers. "Also, people hire investigators for the stupidest shit, kisomma," she chuckled, accidentally dropping one of her old pet names for Shay.

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For his part, when Bunnee finally turned to Andrew, the young sheriff shrugged.    He'd watched Joe leave him to go speak to the local Game Warden, and nodded.   "We'll take an order of the scones if you don't mind, and I'll have hashbrowns and bacon with 2 cups of coffee."   Bunnee nodded, and then Andrew went over to Joe and Ackley.   "Morning Warden."  he said pleasantly.   The two of them were the law, such as it was.  Andrew for the roads and cities, and Ackley for everywhere else.  Andrew looked to Joe and smiled. "I ordered for us, so if you've said what you need to, I'd like to hear what you have to say while we wait."

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Chin cupped in her hand, Shay listened to Lily with rapt attention, sometimes her lips twitching with amusement, a brow occasionally quirking with doubt. Once, she had wanted nothing more than to leave Shelly behind. But after the Fire, with no family left to keep that tie to Shelly, Shay felt a different bond to her home town. She wouldn't let the Fire chase her away, nor would she leave it behind, not when she had a home for her and her sister that she had built with her own hands.

But that didn't mean she didn't want to see what was out there beyond Montana. Vegas. Sandy, West Coast beaches. Road Trip through the South. New Orleans and Mardi Gras. The great East Coast cities. European castles. Old Scottish Highland distilleries and the Guinness Brewery. More. And it looked like she'd really get opportunity...

On 2/16/2023 at 9:42 AM, SalmonMax said:

"Also, people hire investigators for the stupidest shit, kisomma," she chuckled, accidentally dropping one of her old pet names for Shay.


When Lily said 'kisomma' and smiled that smile, Shay's grin deepened, she couldn't help it. "I want to hear 'bout that stupid shit. I'll trade you the stupid shit people keep in or do to their homes." Shay shuddered. "Hoarders are the worse."

She folded her arms below her breasts and pursed her lips.  "Look, Lilz. I'm still pissed with how you left. But it's really good seeing you again." Her eyes danced, her grin teased, and her tone was way too casual. "While you're in town, you should come over for dinner sometime and we can catch up."

Keen investigator she was, Lily could tell Shay wasn't just asking about dinner. It was a circumspect way to ask if Lily was seeing anyone without coming right out and saying it. And if she wasn't - or even if she was - they could see how the evening with. On the other hand, Shay was a more than decent cook.

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Absorbed in the sacred task of preparing a proper cup of coffee, Coraline missed Joe's announcement and gesture, giving the invigorating bean juice an experimental sip before nodding in satisfaction to herself. It'd do.


She reached into a pocket in her jacket, producing a much-abused notebook. Such books had short and violent lives, filling with to-do items from the front and sketches of unborn paintings from the back until they met at the middle and were replaced by the next condemned construct of paper, glue, and cardboard. This one had more of the former than the latter, a grim tally of the bureaucratic nightmare that was putting her father to legal rest months after his remains had been interred. Her mother was *still* getting bills and documents he needed to sign. The sheer remorseless, soulless grinding and pecking of that paperwork was yet another spur driving her to this tiny city in search of a new spark to reignite the flow of images pushing back against the To-Dos with Can-Dos just waiting for a canvas and pigment and a steady hand to be something great in the eyes of at least one other human being.


The wolf, intense and fearless and huge and nakedly present as it had been this morning, found itself rapidly scratched out onto the left-handed side of one such back page. A pause to take a sip of her coffee brought another older memory into play, brought into play on the opposing right-handed page. Not a Shelly landscape but an alley with overflowing dumpsters lit by a flickering lightbulb. Not a looming lupine hunter, but America's only marsupial and contender for most-urbanized mammal, a possum caught dragging something reeking but still edible into the shadows by a 22-year-old Coraline Hess. It had frozen in sight of her, fur fluffing out to try and make it look bigger than it was in the face of her intrusion without abandoning its prize, matching dark eyes on her. She, sleep deprived and just wanting to throw out her garbage, had taken another step forward that late summer evening so many years ago and it had fled with a hiss and a whip of its tail. Checkmate.


But today, here, she couldn't help but imagine the same confrontation with something big enough to ask itself the question 'Could I take her? Is she food?' without a plate of glass between herself and it. 


The athletic artist laughed to herself loud enough to draw the curious attention of one of her fellow lunch bar patrons before sighing and turning back to the contemplation of her coffee.  

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"While you're in town, you should come over for dinner sometime and we can catch up."


Lily nodded, her smile evening out a bit, but staying around her eyes and the corners of her lips. "I'd like that," she said. "I'm...me being here is probably mid-to-long term, if I'm honest. Even after he finally gets off his ass into a hospital, he's not going to be able to work anymore...and we'll have bills to pay, so..." She shrugged, then tapped her folder.


"Plus, already got a case. Missing persons so...that could take awhile by itself."


She cleared her throat and looked down at the case file for a moment. It felt awkward as hell, but...something had to be said. Lily wasn't sure if Shay wanted to try again, or just pick up where they'd left off, or cool it and be friends, or what...but right now everything they'd shared was haunted in her head. She needed to clear that.


"Look, uh...I know we have things to talk about," Lily said. "Doesn't have to be now...but I just want you to know that I know, and that I'm not trying to put it off or distract you or anything. I'm just..." She finally looked up at Shay again. "...it's just really good to see you again. I...thought maybe you wouldn't want me to."

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Ackley smiled at Joe's advice, and nodded to the man before he walked away. Looking down the counter, he saw the young lady sitting alone, not particularly paying attention to anything except for her drink and the notebook she seemed to contemplate occasionally. He stood up from his seat, and made his way down the counter, finally stopped next to Coraline, taking a seat next to her.  Glancing over, he noticed the nature of her drawings in what he figured out now was a sketchbook. "Sorry to bother you, but are you new to town? I'm Game Warden Ackley Heron. I help protect the wildlife and natural beauty of the area around Shelly, as well as a few other towns."  

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