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We sat in the untidy flat, Sherlock strummed mindlessly at the violin. He needed a case, or cocaine, but I was setermined to break him of that habit.
Our housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson knocked.
"Is this a good time?"
"Couldn't be better."
A young woman strode through the door. She was tall, with waist long red hair. She had fine features. She wore a low cut camoflouge shirt with worn blue jeans. A back cowboy hat perched upon her head.
"My name is Annabella," despite her western dress she spoke with an English accent.
"Dr. John Watson and Sherlock Holmes," I introduced.
Annabella twisted the hem of her shirt and bit her lower lip.
"Have a seat and tell us why you're here," I said.
"I'm from Bibury, where my family breeds horses. Lately all of our neighbors' cattle have disapeared," she hurried to her point.
"I've never seen cattle rustlers before," Sherlock mused.
"If you decide to take the case I can pay for your flight and provide you food and board."
"We can fly out tomorrow."
I showed Annabella out and began packing.
The flight to Bibury was short. A black Ford lorry parked outside the airport. A tan young man, about the same age as Annabella, sat with a cowboy hat tipped over his face in the driver's seat.
He introduced himself as Claude, Annabella's twin. We let them have the front while my companion and I climbed in the back.
The countryside was a welcome change from London's cityscape. Heelers and corgis chase cows and sheep. Friendly farmers tipped their hats as we passed. Horses chased the truck as we passed.
"I'll take you to see Stephan, he was the first one hit. He lost both his cows and sheep in eight days," Annabella explained.
Claude pulled up to a large metal gate. Annabella hopped out to unlock it. Once we pulled through she jumped back in.
We pulled up to the end of the drive. A barn sat across from the house, it opened up to a feild for the horses. A blue heeler ran out and greeted Annabella, he eagerly sniffed Sherlock and myself.
Annabella let us into the house. The walls were wood, not plaster. The furniture was handcrafted out of white ash. A stair case lead up to the bedrooms.
"How soon can we look at the crime scenes?" Sherlock asked.
"Whenever you're ready. Claude needs the truck, so we'll need to take the horses," Annabella let us back outside.
She led us into a dimly lit shed. Halters and lead ropes hung on one wall. Saddles sat on wooden stands in the middle. Fly spray, medications, and totes overflowing with hoof cleaning stuff and brushed were crammed on a shelf.
She handed us each a hatler and grabbed a pail of "Sweet Country Horse Feed."
Behind the shed was another pasture. Four black and white horses stood grazing. They had broad backs and long white fur covered their hooves.
She shook the grain pail, a mare with a white stripe down her forelock looked up and whinnied, delighted to see Annabella. Two more joined the first horse.
Annabella slid the halter on her horse with ease. She called her horse "Momma," Sherlock's Trouble, and mine Gentle-breeze.
We went back in the shed and grabbed saddles and bridles.
"I see you don't use English saddles," Sherlock pointed out.
"I don't like them. If the horse spooks the only thing you have to hold with is your thighs. Don't worry about these guys, though, Gypsy-vanners are really easy going," she said, seeing my distress.
She helped us saddle our horses and demonstrated how to mount.
Sherlock put his foot in the stirrup and bounced before jumping, he slipped and fell, his left foot still in the stirrup. Annabella stiffled a laugh before dismounting and helping Sherlock up.
"How did your parents die?" Sherlock asked.
"I-I'm so sorry. Sherlcok!" I growled.
"It's fine," Annabella laughed. "My father died during open heart surgery, and my mother died in a storm."
"When people say 'I'm sorry' what they really mean to say is 'I don't know what to say,'" she gave a sad smile.
"Where's your older brother?" Sherlock added
"He's in a research lab in Germany, he's a microbiologist. We're here."
A large rusted gate sat in front of us. "Tresspassers will be shot, survivers will be shot again," "Got a shotgun and a shovel, 'nough said," and the traditional "No tresspassing" signs were tied to the gate. A thick chain with a bigger padlock secured the gate showed.
"Did you call Stephan?" I asked nervously.
"Stephan doesn't have a phone, or a tractor for that matter. Don't worry, I used to work for Stephan in the summer," Annabella pulled out a key and unlocked the gate.
A small house sat at the end of the long drive. A rusty barbed wire fence separated a pasture with a few cows from an empty one.
Annabella knocked on the door. A scrawney old man opened it. His sun-worn face was in the shadow of a grey cowboy hat.
"Little Annie?" he asked in a gruff voice.
"Hello Stephan," Annabella replied.
"Who's that with ya?"
"Dr. John Watson and Sherlock Holmes."
"Ya'll want to come in and have something to drink?"
"No thank you," Sherlock spoke up. "I was hoping to see where the cattle rustlers stole your cattle."
Stephan swore, "They stole all my sheep and more than half my cows," he called them several fowl words, most I didn't know.
"Daniel wondered where I got my mouth from," Annabella remarked.
"You keep your mouth shut, your older brother is almost as bad as I am and now he can curse in German."
"My older brother," Annabella laughed.
"Yeah go ahead look around. I wasn't the first to loose my livestock, Little Elizabeth Dowrey lost her horse four days before my cows went missin'. And the Stapords are next," Stephan said.
"How do you know?"
"They're movin' towards town. Now git."
Annabella led us around back. A wooded area bordered the property.
"This is where they're letting the herds out. See how the barbed wire is discolored," Sherlock pointed out. "They're using a car."
"Who owns a car?" I asked.
"Tourists, rich folks that come here to be weekend farmers, and law enforcement," Annabella replied. "But you can't pull a stock trailer with a car."
"They herd the cattle out with the horse they stole."
"I need to swing by the house then we can head over to the Stapord's," Annabella lead us back.
We crouched in the darkness, Riley-Annabella's heeler, at our side.
We were momentaritly blinded by headlights. Someone climbed out with bolt cutters in his hand. A second person on a horse pulled up beside him.
The man on the horse disapeared. A moo echoed in the distance, then several more. Ten cows burst through the opening. Annabella unclipped Riley and whistled. The dog ran at the cows, getting them back in the fence.
A gunshot echoed and a plume of dirt exploded next to the dog.
"Oh no you don't," Annabella ran at the man. Sherlock and I followed.
The gunshot starlted the cows they ran back through the fence.
"Annabella?" the man asked.
"Johnathan?" she asked.
I saw "Bibury Police" scrawled on the side of the car. Lovely, I thought.
"Johnathan I can't let you do this," Annabella said.
Sirens wailed in the distance.
"You called the police?" Johnathan growled.
"No it's not. I'm not going down without a fight."
My hand went to the gun at my waist as he drew his. It was Annabella's gun that fired. Johnathan fell to his knees.
"Dr. Watson aply pressure to his wound," Annabella told me. I did as I was instructed.
A second police car pulled up, a woman climbed out, gund drawn.
"A little late, Jess," Annabella still had her gun pointed at Johnathan.
"I hear aren't I?" the woman drew her gun.
"Go get the partner, he's on horse back."
Jess dashed through the fence while her partner handcuffed Johnathan.
We sat in the kitchen of Annabella's house, waiting for her brother.
"When did you get shot?" Sherlock asked.
"How do you know I was shot?" Annabella inquired with a laugh.
"You don't raide your left arm above your shoulder, and you mounted on the right, while telling us to mount on the left."
"I was sixteen and working with SAR, we were going after a murder suspect. He shot at Riley and I jumped in front of my dog."
"You would risk your life for your dog?"
"I risk my life for my family, so, Claude, Daniel, Riley, the horses."
A horn sounded outside.
"That's your ride," Annabella showed them out.
We sat in the back, and rode into the sunset. Thankfully, not on horseback.