Jim focused his hearing. The voice on the other side sounded muffled. "Mr. Hamilton? We got your lady and the little fag." He could feel his jaw muscles tighten at that word.
"Who is this? What do you want?"
"You give us what we want, Mr. Hamilton, and no one'll get hurt. Not even the homo."
"What do you want?"
"We want...we want one hundred grand *and* we want to do our business without no interference from that fruit cop you got visiting you."
"Who is this?"
"That don't matter none. You just get us the money and let us make our other deal and you'll get your pretty bride back as pretty as she ever was. And the pretty boy, too."
"I want to talk to Marian."
"No can do, Mr. Hamilton. She's not in any state to talk right now."
Blair. How was Blair? He caught Scotty's eye and mimed long curly hair.
Scott nodded at him. "What about Mr. Sandburg? Can he come to the phone?"
For a few minutes, only noises too faint even for Jim to identify came from the receiver. Then the muffled voice came on again. "Mr. Sandburg ain't as pretty as he was, cause he wouldn't stay put. So he's resting right now. Get us the money by tomorrow morning and we'll let you have them back. But no cops, and Sandburg's *boyfriend* stays out of our way."
"Where and when?"
"That cave - Ellison knows where. At 9 AM. And you come without him." *click*
Scott slammed the receiver down. "They have my Marian and your...Blair. And they want money."
"Did you recognize the voice?" Damn, he needed Blair. He'd know how to do this so he didn't give his senses away.
"It sounded...I don't really know. He was disguising it, I think. But he's one of mine."
"How do you know?"
Scott turned his head. "He kept calling Blair and you 'fruit' and 'fag.' Someone using my ranch as a drop point would probably know my name, and everyone locally knows who I'm marrying, but no one off the ranch knows who you are, and that you are gay. Heck, I didn't even suspect until your 'date' showed up needing a shave." He gave a sharp, bitter laugh. "Now, that was a shock."
"I told you his name when I called. *You* assumed he was a woman." Jim rubbed his head. "We have to figure this out, and now. I don't trust them."
"I gotta round up the money. He wants 100K and he wants it tomorrow."
"Can you get it that fast?"
"Yeah, but it'll be a heavy loss. I'll have to liquidate some holdings out of cycle."
"You do that. I'm going to scout around. There are things I need to know."
"Jim? She'll be all right? She's my life." Scott looked him straight in the eyes.
"They both will be. They've got my life, too." Scott nodded and picked up his phone. Jim left the office and wandered back to the horse barn, where he went to Dancer's stall to check on how she was treated. She was his responsibility while he was here. That same groom was giving her a rubdown as he walked in.
"I'll take over now. Thank you." The groom nodded and walked away. Jim finished the rubdown and picked up the curry combs. He grinned as she leaned into them. "You like this, don't you, pretty lady?"
As he brushed her, he focused his hearing on the other people in the barn. A group in a corner mending tack caught his attention.
"....such a waste, too. Both of them." Female voice.
"Ah, Jenny, you think all men should be after you. But, yeah. Look at him with Dancer. He's the only one who's ever ridden her." Male voice.