Detective Sergeant Justin Cooper ambled toward the bar, stopping to chat to the many patrons; those he'd known since childhood, others he'd recently met and some he was yet to meet.
He hitched a booted foot on the timber edge of the glossed red gum bar and sighed as he eased onto a bar stool.'That's a big sigh. The usual, Sergeant?'
'Yeah, thanks Jules. And it’s not Sergeant.'
Julie chuckled and turned to pour his beer, while he did a quick intake of the surrounding crowd.
'Here you go.' She sat a schooner in front of him. 'Big day?'
'Thanks. I've had better.'
'It's Friday night. Relax.'
'I never relax.' He chuckled. 'Who's the blonde?' He tilted his head sideways, indicating her direction.
'She moved here a little less than a year ago. She's renting Shylah. I heard the other tenants left after their six-month lease expired.’
‘Give her the full year and I bet she’ll be running back to wherever she came from. The trustee is getting a little tired of the whole ordeal.’
‘I don’t think this one will be in a hurry to move. She's taken out a lease on the land as well. I can’t remember for how long, but I’m sure it was for a few years. I thought you would have known.'
'I don’t have anything to do with renting it out, but leasing the land, that’s impossible.’
'I thought so too, especially as you and Ellie Summers own the combined properties.'
Justin stilled, studied Julie and turned to give the blonde another once-over through the dimly lit room.
'What does her husband do?'
Justin huffed. 'So how does she expect to survive out this way?'
'She said that when the time was right she’s going to run cattle at Shylah.'
'Cattle. Over my dead body. She can't do that.' He picked up his glass, and gulped down two mouthfuls of beer.
'Apparently, she can, if she's leasing the place.'
Justin shook his head, his guts twisted with concern. 'She doesn't look like the type to muster in this heat. She’s stamped with city. Mustering.' He grated out a chuckle. 'You've got to be joking.'
'You know I've been trying to contact Ellie for years. Don't you think it's odd that this stranger who's been here for less than a year can get a hold of the other so-called owner and I haven't been able to?'
'Perhaps you should ask her.'
'It's obvious she doesn't know my intentions concerning Shylah.'
'Or she doesn't know the properties are combined.'
'It's about time someone let her know that what she intends to do is illegal.'
'Justin, ease up. She only mentioned it, that's all. The woman is struggling.'
'According to the will. You know my intentions. I'm the one who'll be running cattle at Pepper Creek Station. It was my parents’ jointly owned business. It isn't up to a stranger to drop in and call the shots.'
'Why don't you leave it for a while? It was talk, and as you said, she doesn't look the type to be riding a horse or mustering cattle, especially in this heat.'
'Yeah. With virtually no muscle tone, she'd probably last a few hours and pass out.'
Julie laughed. 'Come on, go easy on her. She's a nice person.'
'Nice won't cut it and it doesn't take away the fact that she hasn't any right to run cattle. I don't care who she’s leasing the place from, it's in the Cooper and Summers name. It’s still Pepper Creek Station. Nothing will change that.'