The sun crested the mountain range and climbed higher into the sky, bathing the countryside in a warm golden glow. A crow spread its wings and drifted overhead, riding the thermals in lazy circles above the valley of Hazzard County. A slight breeze generated by the warming air rushed across the fields and ruffled the kudzu, goldenrod, and Queen Anne's lace that dotted the landscape. The rays began to burn off the dew that had collected overnight on the grass. It was a bucolic scene of almost unbearable beauty, and as the mercury climbed, the animals and plant life seemed to come awake and stretch toward the sun, craving the light and heat.
Things were beginning to heat up on the hood of the Miss Kitty Fantastico as well, though her engine had been shut off for a good half-hour. Miss Kitty, a bright orange 2006 Dodge Challenger, was parked by a stand of trees just off Watcher's Lane, one of the many dirt roads that wound around the backwoods of Hazzard. If she had been interested in such things, the crow, circling above, would have looked down to see a strange shape on the hood of the car, intertwined and entangled with itself such that it seemed to be a strange new breed of animal with four legs and four arms, like a giant spider, and that some mean-spirited giant young boy had tied its legs together, and it was struggling to free itself, rocking back and forth, side to side, its moans growing louder with increasing desperation.
But the crow was not interested in any strange new species, however distressed they might appear. Though if it had been, and had spiraled a little lower to get a closer look, it would have seen that it wasn't a giant spider on the hood of that car after all, but two human women, one red-headed and one blonde.
Willow Duke's face was out of sight, buried deeply in Tara Duke's bosom. Tara wore a thin white tank top with a plunging neckline, which was getting lower by the moment, what with the extra cargo of Willow's face urging it downward. Tara's eyes were closed and she was bracing herself on the hood with both hands behind her, her head thrown back in ecstasy. That expression was probably due to Willow's hand, which was thrust down the front of Tara's cutoff jeans shorts. Whatever that hand was doing was causing Tara's breath to come in gasps punctuated by moans and by more gasps.
"Oh, baby, I'm almost there," she said through clenched teeth.
Just then the Citizens Band radio mounted on Miss Kitty's dashboard crackled to life. "Breaker one-nine, Witch and Vixen, this is Sassy Slayer rounding the curve of Watcher's Lane and crossing Summers Creek Road. Come in, Witch and Vixen, come in."
"Yes, come in," Tara repeated, thrusting her hips forward.
Willow, however, did not come in, and instead jerked her hand out of Tara's shorts as if she had encountered a venomous rattlesnake.
"Willow Rosenberg Duke!" Tara protested. "I wasn't...there yet!"
Willow was furiously adjusting the collar of her shirt, buttoning her shorts, and smoothing her hair. "Didn't you hear, on the CB? Buffy's almost here. Button up your britches, sweetheart."
Tara sighed, and grumblingly buttoned up her jeans shorts. "Okay, Will, but this isn't over," she warned, shooting the redhead a look that was half sultry, half annoyed.
Willow didn't catch the look, as she was fumbling for the CB radio, so the only target Tara had for her irritated glare was her rear end that was displayed in an unintentionally pert pose as Willow was bent over reaching inside the driver's side window. "Copy that, Sassy Slayer, Witch here, over."
A reply was unnecessary, though, as a white Jeep skidded to a halt next to the Miss Kitty almost before Willow had stopped talking. The side door opened, and a pair of long, slender legs capped by four-inch heels came into view as the occupant swung her legs around and stepped out of the driver's seat.
Or not so long legs, really. Though she had only been back for two months, Buffy Duke was already well-known all over Hazzard County for her legs, her shorts, and the sharp edge of her tongue when a patron at the Bat's Nest, the bar where she waitressed, got a little too fresh. Buffy was of average height, and her legs were proportional for a girl her size, but the heels she chronically marched around in gave her a good four inches - not to mention her short-shorts.
The shorts had created quite a stir when Buffy had returned to Hazzard, and the county commissioner had introduced a bill to require all garments to reach the tops of the knees. It was voted down, though, when the county council realized that it would also ban miniskirts, and most of the secretaries at the county government offices favored them. A group of secretaries had descended at the public hearing about the bill clad in their most flattering miniskirts (with low-cut blouses for good measure) and had delivered passionate, moving testimony against the ban. The bill had gone on to fail by a landslide, with the only "yes" vote coming from, coincidentally, the only woman on the county council. Since then, people seemed to have accepted Buffy and her attire, and in fact a trend had started of referring to impossibly short shorts as "Buffy Dukes."
Buffy had seemed oblivious to the whole stir that her pants, or her sudden arrival back in Hazzard County had created, and today was no exception. Oblivious seemed to be the watchword as far as Buffy was concerned, although Tara knew that her cousin was more aware than she often seemed. But the ditzy blonde routine worked well enough for her when she needed some information from county law enforcement. And information from county law enforcement that the law enforcement officer wasn't exactly authorized to give out - and certainly not to a member of the Duke family, by golly - was what had brought Buffy in a tearing hurry to find her cousins.
"Y'all best get on back to the farm right away!" Buffy said without preamble. "Xander just told me that Boss Wilkins-Hogg and Sheriff Coltrane are fixin' ta serve us with an eviction notice!"
Alarmed, Tara left off her sulking and looked at Buffy with a shocked expression. "Eviction? What are those two up to now? We haven't done anything to be evicted for...have we?"
Buffy shrugged. "Xander didn't know - he just heard Boss and the Sheriff talking about it at the police station before they noticed he was there. But we've gotta get back - Uncle Giles is liable to tell 'em off and then they might try to haul him into jail. I come down here to find you because you haven't been answering the CB for the last hour. Barn door's open, Will."
"Huh?" Willow said, confused by the seeming non sequitur.
Buffy motioned towards Willow's jeans, the zipper of which was wide open.
"Oh!" Willow said, turning bright red. "When you CB'd, I was just about to...uh...go to the bathroom. I'll just go do that and be right with ya." She hurried off to a stand of bushes several yards away, the blush reaching the tips of her ears before she had reached her destination.
Buffy looked at Tara with an amused expression. "Why don't you two just be open about it?" she asked.
Tara's nonchalant reply conveyed that not only did she know that Buffy knew about her and Willow's relationship, but that she was also totally comfortable about it.
"It's what Willow wants," she shrugged, checking her own fly to make sure it was zipped. "She says it's a small town, rural area, and people are sensitive about that kind of thing."
Buffy cocked her head at Tara. "Sheeyit, Tare, nobody cares that you're both girls. Boss Wilkins-Hogg had two moms, and he'll lock up anybody who says anything bad about either one of 'em. It was him that passed that county-wide non-discrimination ordinance back in '97 - only one Georgia has to this day! Only good thing he ever done since he was in office, mind you."
Tara nodded. "I know that, and so does Will. It's not so much the gay thing, as the other thing."
Buffy quirked an eyebrow. "Tara Maclay Duke, do I have to remind you that this is Hazzard County? Don't nobody care none that you two are cousins, neither."
Tara winced. "I think that one too many double negatives. Around here, you just need one."
Buffy frowned. "Damn. One day I'll get it right."
"Why do you do that, anyway?"
"I spent four years at Stanford, are you kidding? If I went around with prepositions not hanging off the ends of my sentences, or didn't split my infinitives, or for heaven's sake, left the 'g' on the end of the words, nobody in Hazzard would accept me. We gotta live here, you know."
"Well, I think you should be open about it," Tara smirked back at her.
"Touche," replied Buffy, as Willow returned from the shrubbery, yanking her zipper up as far as it would go.
"You two sword fightin'?" Willow asked.
"Naw," Buffy replied, climbing back into her Jeep. "That only happens in the back room of the Bat's Nest on Friday nights when William has that Liam feller in town visitin' him."
Tara rolled her eyes. "All right, let's just get back to the farm and figure this eviction thing out with Uncle Giles." She walked around to the passenger side of the Miss Kitty and sinuously slipped in through the open window.
"And no detours, y'hear, Will?" Buffy called out as she gunned her Jeep's engine and did a 180 on Watcher's Lane, kicking up a cloud of dust as she went.
Willow coughed and waved away the dust irritably. "Sometimes she is so juvenile," she said, climbing into the driver's seat next to Tara and turning the key in the ignition. The Miss Kitty roared to life, and the engine settled down into a deep purr as Willow gave it some gas before putting the car into gear.
"Here's the real question," Tara said, ignoring Willow's comment. "Do you think I'll forgive you if you don't finish what you started on the drive back to the farm?"
Willow looked over at Tara, not comprehending, but realization quickly flickered into her eyes as she saw Tara reclined slightly in the passenger seat, her jeans shorts once again unbuttoned and unzipped, her eyes half lidded and looking at Willow with unmistakable intent.
"Oh, I think maybe," she replied, as she reached over slipped her hand under the hem of Tara's panties. "If you can shift the gears for me."
"No problem," Tara replied, her hand closing around the gearshift as Willow's hand found its way back to where it had been before Buffy's arrival.
The Miss Kitty lurched off down Watcher's Lane, shuddering a little when it came time to shift gears. If the crow had followed their progress down Watcher's Lane and their turnoff at Summers Creek Road, it might have wondered if the driver of the car had had a little too much moonshine, because the car was weaving a little as it sped merrily down the road, a bumper sticker on its rear end reading "My Other Car Is A Broom."
The Miss Kitty pulled up outside the farm next to Buffy's Jeep, a funny knock emanating from her engine. She shuddered as Willow shut her down and climbed out of the car. Tara followed. Willow immediately opened up Miss Kitty's hood and looked at the engine.
"Looks like the float valve is on its way to being broke, Tare," she called out from under the hood. "Must've been that accidental down shift from fourth to second back on Spike Hill Road at that crucial moment," she smirked. Keeping the Miss Kitty in top running condition was a hobby of Willow's that took up a lot of her time, and manuals on engine repair crowded the room she shared with Tara in the farmhouse. Whenever she wasn't under Tara's hood, she was under Miss Kitty's.
Tara waved away Willow's comments, looking with concern at the small group of people in front of the farm.
"Never mind that now," she said. "We've got trouble."
Willow shifted her attention from the engine to the crowd, for the first time noticing the police car and the white Cadillac parked in front of the farmhouse. She stood up, wiped her hands on her pants, and strode off with Tara to join Uncle Giles and Buffy, who were facing off against Boss Wilkins-Hogg and the Sheriff.
Uncle Giles was the patriarch of their family. The Duke siblings - Giles, Ira, Joyce, and Donald - had all grown up on the farm, and most of them had stayed even into adulthood. Willow's father, Ira Duke, had married Sheila Rosenberg and they had raised their daughter on the farm until Ira and Sheila's untimely death in a tractor-trailer accident when Willow was seven. Giles had raised Willow and Buffy after that, and she had grown especially close to her uncle, who was a combination father figure, uncle, and friend.
Buffy had lived at the farm her entire life, until she left for college just over four years ago. Joyce Duke, her mother, had caught pregnant in high school, and though she never regretted her decision to have the baby, it was her dying wish that Buffy would attend college. Buffy had honored that wish, and upon graduation, she returned to Hazzard and moved back into the farmhouse. While she had been away at college, her and Willow's other cousin by marriage, Tara Maclay Duke, had moved in.
Donald Duke was the only Duke sibling who had left home. At eighteen he had moved to Alabama and married Elizabeth Maclay, who had a daughter - Tara - from an earlier marriage. He adopted Tara, but upon Elizabeth's death from cancer a year ago, Donald had brought Tara to the family farm, stating that he wasn't really the "daughter-raising type." Giles had agreed to take her in, and from that point on Tara and Willow had been inseparable, buying a car together and helping Uncle Giles out around the farm.
Uncle Giles stood with his jaw set as he listened to Boss Wilkins-Hogg. His dirty red cap kept his nest of unruly white hair tamed, and his arms were crossed over the bib of his overalls.
"Come come, Giles, there's no need to be uncivil about this," Boss was saying, flashing a blinding smile to match his blinding white suit and hat. "Everyone knows that you grow some unorthodox crops on your land. And up till now, the fact that they aren't entirely legal is something that law enforcement may have overlooked. But it's a new day in Hazzard County, with it being an election year and all, and we just simply can't stand for any of the - how do you kids say it? - 'wacky weed' being sold here. Soft on crime doesn't look good to voters." He spread his hands in a wide gesture.
Buffy spoke up hotly. "Dammit, Boss, we don't grow marijuana on this farm, and you darn well know it."
Giles shushed her with a wave of his hand. "Regardless of your baseless allegations, I know my rights. You cannot come onto my property without a warrant."
Boss sighed. "Well, I had hoped we could settle this amicably, without getting the state involved, but you leave me no choice." He sighed again. "Regrettably, we'll be forced to evict you from this farm, which is situated on 40 acres of prime land with excellent southern exposure, the perfect place for a 30-foot statue of me as the centerpiece of the new Hazzard County Wal-Mart complex." He said this last as an aside, almost to himself.
Tara glared at them both. "This is just harassment. You've got no right to be here and intimidate us this way."
The sheriff chose this moment to speak up. "Now girlie, you just leave the legalese to us. And if you take my advice, you'll start packing up this dilapidated farmhouse pronto and clear the heck out of here unless you want to go to jail with your uncle. With all the back taxes the specialist from the auditor's office is going to find you owe, you'll be out of here quicker than Deputy Xander Strate from a whorehouse or my name isn't Snyder P. Coltrane, gg-gg-gg!"
"Tax specialist?" Willow said. "What are you talking about? We don't owe no taxes."
Boss Wilkins-Hogg turned to the sheriff. "Snyder, I think it's time we were going. We don't need to take up any more of the Dukes' time today." He gave the sheriff a glare as he said this last. "Gentleman...ladies," he said with a genteel bow.
Snyder seemed to sense that he had said too much. "Sure thing, Boss." He walked to his police cruiser and got in, favoring the Dukes with one last sneer.
Willow watched them drive off, and then whirled towards Uncle Giles. "What was that all about?" she asked.
Giles sighed and reached for his glasses, cleaning them on a bandana that he produced from the back pocket of his overalls. "Boss Wilkins-Hogg has wanted to own this farm for years. This is just his most recent scheme."
Buffy sighed. "Giles, I think that this is more serious. Snyder mentioned a tax specialist. Who knows what kind of mischief they're up to now? I think we need to take some action."
Giles nodded. "Agreed. Buffy, why don't you try to dig up some information at your work, and from your...sources. Willow, Tara - I need you to take the latest shipment to Atlanta."
Willow nodded. "We'll just need to stop by Cooter's to get a new float valve for Miss Kitty. Her engine's knocking a bit."
"Fine, but don't dilly-dally," Giles replied. He walked over to the porch and hoisted up a garbage bag full of fragrant plant matter. "We need to get this to the city before it dries out too much."
Tara popped the trunk and Giles loaded the bag into Miss Kitty's cargo space. A familiar aroma wafted out of the trunk, testifying to the fact that this wasn't the first time Miss Kitty had served as a carrier for this particular crop. She climbed back into the passenger side of the car, and Willow slid into the driver's seat.
"What on earth?" Giles said, noticing for the first time the number '69' painted in bold black letters on the side of the car.
"Do you like it?" Tara said. "We painted it yesterday in honor of the original 1969 Dodge Challenger."
"What a car that was! Ah, what a year," Willow added as she shifted the car into 'Drive.' "Do you think they bought it?" she whispered to Tara.
"Keep your CB radio on this time!" Buffy yelled after them as they sped away.
Buffy strode into the Bat's Nest and walked behind the bar. Tying on her apron, she cast her glance around at the lunchtime denizens of the bar. The Bat's Nest was a fixture in Hazzard County, having been around for as long as anyone could remember. When the area that came to be known as Hazzard had been originally settled, the pioneers had distilled their own whiskey and had distributed it at the site where the Bat's Nest stood now. The original bar had been a simple plank of wood set on top of two stumps. During Prohibition it had masqueraded as a sandwich shop with bootleg moonshine sold in the back room. Its current incarnation was a rambling wooden structure with a main room and several additions
When Buffy had returned to Hazzard County two months ago from Stanford, she had immediately started working at the Bat's Nest as a waitress. It allowed her to contribute to the family farm's income, a welcome addition when the family's cash crop produced lower yields due to the vagaries of the market. She also found it helpful in staying plugged into local happenings - sooner or later everyone passed through the Bat's Nest. It served as an unofficial community center in the area.
There seemed to be slim pickings this afternoon, though. The lunchtime crowd was spare and sparse, and none of the patrons Buffy served seemed to know anything about new folks in town. Discouraged, she walked behind the bar and rested her forearms on the surface, sighing in frustration.
"What's up, hon?" the bartender Cecile asked. "You look like someone ran over your dog."
She gave Cecile a smile. "Aw, it's nothin', sweetheart."
Cecile gave her a considering glance. "Is it the new gal in town who's all over your boyfriend?"
Buffy gave Cecile a sidelong glance. Buffy didn't have a boyfriend - but Cecile was probably referring to Deputy Xander Strate, with whom she had occasionally been seen. Xander was widely known as the biggest virgin in three counties, and Buffy had often found it easy to flash her legs at him and get some crucial information that the family needed. So if there was a new gal in town who had been seen with local law enforcement, it was probably the mysterious tax assessor that Boss Wilkins-Hogg had mentioned.
She thought fast and made a sad face. "Yeah, I guess I should have tried to land him when I had the chance. When did this new gal get into town?"
Cecile adopted a commiserating expression. "Just a day ago, from what I hear - she's doing some kind of temporary work for Boss and Snyder in the back room at Rhuebottom's General Store. But don't you worry none, sugar plum. You've got beautiful natural blonde hair, and I think she dyes hers."
Buffy touched her hair and grinned. "Cecile, you're a peach." She leaned over and planted a peck on the bartender's cheek. "Will you cover the rest of my shift for me?"
Cecile nodded. "No problem. It's slow today anyway. You go get him, girl!"
Buffy ran out the door and jumped into her Jeep, turning on the CB radio as she fired up the engine.
"Witch and Vixen, Witch and Vixen, this is Sassy Slayer. Our interloper is holed up in the back room at Rhuebottom's. Come in, Witch and Vixen."
The response came almost immediately. "Ten-four, Sassy Slayer. We're almost to Crazy Cooter's, so we'll do some recon when we get there. If you can flush out the pigeon, that would help."
"Already on it, Witch and Vixen. I'll buzz you back when the bird has flown the coop. Over and out."
Buffy stepped on the gas and gunned it all the way into town, pulling her Jeep into a parking space near the police station. She entered the front office and slowed down her walk, swinging her hips a little as she made her way to Deputy Xander Strate's desk.
"Hey darlin'," she said. "How's protectin' and servin' treatin' ya?"
Xander looked up, his gaze traveling from the sandal straps wrapped around her ankle up to her knees and thighs, to the bottom hem of her cutoff shorts, and finally up to her face.
"Buh-buh-Buffy!" he said, his face deepening to a rosy pink. "Fine! Fine!"
She seated herself on the edge of his desk and helped herself to his police hat. Running her finger along the wide brim, she said offhandedly, "I hear there's a new girl in town taking up some of your time, Mr. Deputy."
Xander stammered out a yes. "But she's working for Boss, Buff. This is strictly professional."
She gave him a pout. "Xander Strate, do you mean to tell me that you brought a new girl to town and you have her holed up in some office working? Is anyone even taking this girl out to lunch? It's almost noon."
"What kind of place is she going to think Hazzard County is? We've got a reputation for southern hospitality, Xander, and you're single-handedly destroying it!" Buffy's expression was of abject horror. She dropped his hat as if it had suddenly turned red-hot.
Xander leapt to his feet, alarmed. "No! I mean, I'm just about to go over and take her out to lunch!" He picked up his hat, jammed it down on top of his head, and almost tripped over his desk as he made for the front door. Buffy watched him cross the street, narrowly avoiding getting hit by a combine, and then tripping over the curb on the other side of the street. He barreled into the front door of Rhuebottom's General Store.
Buffy swung her legs off the side of the desk and left the police station, sauntering toward her Jeep with a satisfied expression. She picked up the CB radio and raised her cousins as she watched Xander leave Rhuebottom's, a perky bottle blonde clinging to his arm.
"Breaker one-nine, Witch and Vixen, the pigeon has left the building. Repeat, the pigeon has left the building."
"Ten-four, Sassy Slayer," came the crackly reply. "Operation Infiltrate Rhue's Bottom commencing." She heard Willow giggle before the CB transmission shut off.
Faith "Cooter" Davenport, the owner and operator of Cooter's Garage, gave Tara and Willow an odd look as Willow signed off the CB and turned off Miss Kitty's engine. They had just pulled into the garage, which was located in the town square and conveniently shared a wall with Rhuebottom's General Store. Willow had shut down the car and then had stayed in the driver's seat to reply to Buffy, while Tara had extricated herself from the car and had walked over to greet Faith.
"Why does she call herself the Slayer?" Faith asked, as Willow climbed out. "Does she slay anything?"
Willow laughed. "Not hardly. She likes the band Slayer. Claims she was a real headbanger when she lived out in California."
Faith snorted. "Her, a headbanger? As if. She's way too prissy."
"You should give her a chance, Cooter," Willow replied. "She's a nice person. And I'm not just saying that because she's family."
Faith snorted. "Anyone who spent four years in California is a little weird in my book. Why would anyone want to leave Hazzard in the first place? But anyway, that's not why you're here. Tara told me about the problems you two are having with your ballcock."
"TARA!" Willow cried, blushing.
Faith cocked an eyebrow at Willow. "You know, your float valve? It's not like it's a secret, Will. That thing was on its last legs anyway. I can have it replaced for you in a jif. How do you two like driving stick, anyway?"
"It seems to come more naturally to Willow," Tara replied. "It just feels awkward for me."
"Well, give it time, T - and lots of practice. And keep the gears lubed, that helps," Faith said with a wink.
Willow cringed, not sure what Faith was implying, but catching the connotation. "Go ahead and replace the float valve, Cooter. I'll just go clear the junk off the wall so we can get into Rhuebottom's." She walked to the far end of the garage and began moving aside a large sign that said 'Drink RC Cola' and other scraps of plywood that covered up a secret trapdoor in the wall.
Tara gave Faith a wry look. "Why do you tease her like that?"
"Aw, shucks, T," Faith said, turning her yellow baseball cap around and popping Miss Kitty's hood. "Will's way too high-strung. She needs a little shaking up every now and then. Besides, you two should just be open about it."
"If it were up to me, we would be," Tara said. "But I don't want to push her. She's lived here longer than I have."
Faith reached for a large monkey wrench in the pocket of her coveralls. "I always say, don't live a lie if you can help it."
Tara shrugged. "I don't disagree. But everyone needs to go at their own pace."
"True enough. Go on, now - join your cousin in Rhue's Bottom." Faith gave Tara a wicked grin.
Tara rolled her eyes and gave Cooter a mock salute as she walked to join Willow, who was tugging at the trap door handle.
"Darn thing sticks," Willow said.
"Let me give you a hand with that," Tara said, stepping up next to her and grabbing onto the pull ring. Together they heaved, and the door slid grudgingly open.
"We need to use this trap door more often," Willow said, wiping her brow.
"Or to invest in some WD-40," Tara agreed, stepping through the trapdoor after Willow and pulling it halfway shut.
The back room at Rhuebottom's was cluttered with all kinds of junk, overstock, empty boxes, and supplies. There was always enough debris around that the owner never seemed to notice the trapdoor at the back of the wall. Rumor had it that Rhuebottom's had been an early stop on the Underground Railroad, with escaped slaves going through the secret passage to slip away in covered wagons that had occupied what used to be Cooter's Livery and Stables in the 1860's. Currently a stack of boxes hid the door, which Willow and Tara slipped around easily.
Some of the junk had been moved away from the center of the room, and a small desk had been set up in the cleared space. A single lamp sat atop the table and illuminated stacks of neatly clipped-together receipts and forms. A larger box full of more paper and file folders that didn't look like it was in any particular order sat atop a chair near the desk. A second empty chair completed the arrangement.
Tara walked up to the desk and looked at the stack of forms, riffling through them with practiced ease. "This is worse than we thought."
"What is it?" Willow asked, looking up from the box she was poking around in.
"These are copies of our tax forms and receipts showing that we owe back taxes on the farm, and that Uncle Giles didn't file taxes for a few of the years."
"But that's crazy - we don't owe any taxes. And Giles would never forget to file. 'Death and taxes, Willow, they're both inevitable' - that's what he'd always say every year in April. And he was always going on about the business in Atlanta and how it would be a great tax shelter if only the state recognized our crop as medicinal."
"I know, Will. But these forms say we owe. They must be forgeries."
Willow took the tax forms Tara was proffering and studied them. "They're good," she finally said. "If I didn't know better, I'd say they were authentic. But here's a hint - they have Giles' first name written here as Jesse."
Tara gave her a confused look. "That's his first name, isn't it? Jesse Giles Duke?"
Willow nodded wisely. "That's what he WANTS everyone to think. He's been going by that for years now, but never bothered to have it changed legally."
"So what's his real first name?"
"He'll kill me if I tell."
Tara narrowed her eyes and walked toward Willow until she was very much in the redhead's personal space. "Willow Rosenberg Duke, what makes you think you can keep anything from me?"
Willow gulped. "I'm not trying to keep anything from you, Tare, honest. It's just that-"
Whatever explanation she had been about to offer was cut off, however, as Tara leaned forward and captured Willow's lips in her own in a long, lingering, deep, intimate kiss.
Some time later they finally came up for air. "Rupert," Willow said dazedly.
"It's Tara, Will. Don't you know my name yet? Do I have to remind you again?" Tara leaned forward again.
"No!" Willow said, turning her head. "Well...maybe. But not now! We need to get going. Rupert is Giles' legal first name. His parents had just been to London on a vacation and thought the name would be quaint, but he spent most of his childhood fighting kids who made fun of him. He started saying his first name was Jesse instead of Rupert, and it's been that way as long as anyone around here can remember. So that's how I know these documents are fake - I helped him file his taxes electronically last year and he swore me to secrecy."
Tara grinned. "So much for secrecy."
"Well, you can't tell anyone!" Willow said, gathering up the papers, which had become somewhat strewn around and disheveled, like her blouse, during their kissing session. "We need to get back to the farm with these documents to prove they're fakes."
"Unhand those documents, lesbians!"
Willow and Tara both whirled at the unexpected woman's voice.
"Who's a lesbian?" Willow said, gathering herself with a glare at the bottle blonde standing in the doorway that led to the main part of the store, having slipped in quietly while the girls were otherwise occupied.
"Oh, please," said the woman, stepping toward them. "It's as plain as the lesbian noses on your faces. But never mind that. Put down those documents!"
"Listen," said Tara, interrupting what looked to be a stinging retort from Willow. "We don't want any trouble. I'm Tara Duke, and this is Willow Duke. You're making a mistake."
"Anya Jenkins," the blonde replied. "At least someone in this backwater has some manners. So you two are...cousins, right? You have quite the reputations, let me tell you. Right. I've been auditing your family's records all day. You owe a lot of back taxes."
"Anya," said Tara, putting a warning hand on Willow's arm. "These documents are forgeries, and we can prove it."
Anya gave them a considering look. "You can? Because tampering with federal documents is a federal offense. Obviously."
"Yes," said Tara. "Listen, you were hired by Boss Wilkins-Hogg, right? He has a grudge against our family."
Anya's gaze softened and became understanding. "What is it? He doesn't like lesbians?"
"What? No," Tara said, shaking her head. "I mean, he likes lesbians fine. He grew up with two moms."
"Not that we're lesbians," Willow interjected.
"Put a sock in it, hon," Tara snapped. "Anyway, he's had a grudge against our family for a long time. He wants our farm."
Anya narrowed her eyes and put her hands on her hips. "Well, I'm nobody's patsy. He hired me to go through this paperwork - said they needed help collecting back taxes from residents of Hazzard County. Taxes are my specialty - I can sniff money out no matter how hard someone tries to hide it. But I'm going to go and give him a piece of my mind right now. No one crosses Anya Jenkins."
"Wait!" said Willow. Anya turned toward her, annoyed. Tara shot her a warning look, her eyes conveying a very clear 'don't start with the denying our relationship again' look.
"There might be another way," Willow said. "If you go confront Boss Wilkins-Hogg now, he'll just cover up how he tried to frame us. But if we do this another way, we can save the farm, catch Boss at his own game AND avoid defrauding the federal government."
Anya perked up at this last statement, and the three women put their heads together to discuss a plan.
A short time later, Willow and Tara re-emerged from the trapdoor into Cooter's garage. They shoved the trapdoor into place and re-covered it with the plywood and the RC Cola sign. They walked back to the Miss Kitty, her hood back down, and looked around the empty garage.
"Cooter?" Willow called out.
A sudden flurry of activity and a crashing sound came from around the corner. Faith emerged from behind the hydraulic lift, her cap askew and a smear of grease on her cheek. Buffy followed, tucking her blouse back into her jeans shorts.
Willow gave them a strange look but didn't comment. "Did you get that float valve replaced, Cooter?"
Faith nodded, taking a shop towel out of her back pocket and wiping off her forehead with it. Instead of cleaning her skin, though, it left a new trail of fresh grease in its wake. "All done. Miss Kitty will purr like...a kitten."
"What were you two doing back there?" Tara asked.
"Oh, nothing," Faith said breezily, though her usual equanimity seemed a bit ruffled. "Buffy was helping me move a new case of lubricant I got in this morning."
"Really," said Tara dryly.
"Yep!" said Buffy with a bright smile. "And speaking of which, we had better get back to the farm. Something tells me you two found something. You look like the cats that ate the canary."
Willow frowned as she tried to work that one out. "Nothing like that is going on, Buffy, how many times do I have to tell you that? Wait, never mind. We did find something - and we do need to get back to the farm as soon as possible. There are forged documents on the loose!" With that, she slid into the Miss Kitty, started her engine, and reversed out of the garage, beeping the horn impatiently for Tara. The Miss Kitty's horn played its usual rendition of 'Closer to Fine', a modification Willow had made shortly after she and Tara bought the car.
Tara gave Faith a pointed look. "Something tells me you shouldn't be throwing stones at somebody else's glass house, Cooter. Walk me out?" she said to Buffy.
"Sure," Buffy said, with a subtle wave to Faith.
"You and Cooter, huh? Why don't you two just be open about it?" Tara said to Buffy as they walked toward the Miss Kitty and an impatient Willow.
"Aw, Tara, don't be like that. You know my feminine wiles wouldn't work as well on Xander if he knew for sure that I didn't swing his way. It's better to keep him guessing. This family needs all the information and connections it can get."
Tara sighed. She gave Buffy a quick hug, which was interrupted by another chorus of 'Closer to Fine.' "I'll see you back at the farm - and this discussion isn't over, Missy."
Buffy acknowledged this with a nod and a wave as she walked toward her own car. Tara hopped into the passenger seat and Willow floored it.
Voice of Narrator: Now what do you think Tara meant about someone else's glass house?
Anya walked out of the back room clutching an envelope. Through the double doors at the front of the store, she could see Boss Wilkins-Hogg and Snyder standing together outside on the sidewalk. She walked briskly out the doors to join them.
"I think you two should see this right away," she said. "Proof positive that the Dukes owe back taxes on their farm. This is enough ammunition to seize their farm in the name of the law, if you ask me." She smiled.
Boss' eyes took on a faraway gaze. "Once we seize the farm, we can prove once and for all that they're growing illegal drugs on their land and evict them for good. And develop the land for other uses."
Snyder's face contorted into an expression of manic glee. "I can't wait to bust those Dukes."
At that moment the Miss Kitty reversed out of Cooter's Garage next door. Its horn played a tune that grated on Snyder's ears. It had taunted him on many a back-roads chase in Hazzard over the years, usually as the Miss Kitty was outrunning his police cruiser.
"It's the Dukes!" He drew his gun and ran toward the Miss Kitty. "Halt in the name of the law!"
The redheaded Duke at the wheel saw him approaching and her eyes widened. She beeped the horn again, and the blonde Duke emerged from Cooter's and jumped into the car through the open window. Snyder gritted his teeth; he hated it when the Dukes did that. They liked to pretend the doors were welded shut, as so many racing cars had done in the sixties and seventies to improve structural integrity, and so tried to open them as rarely as possible. For safety reasons, it was illegal these days to weld a street car's doors shut, but the Dukes seemed to have a hard time letting go of the past.
"FREEZE, DUKES!" he shouted again as he neared the car. The redhead floored the accelerator, and the car leaped forward, nearly running him down in the process as it screeched away. As it was, he fell backwards heavily on the sidewalk.
"Get up, Snyder!" cried Boss. "They're getting away!"
Hearing the commotion, Xander emerged from the police station, looking around with bewilderment.
Snyder hoisted himself to his feet, ran for his police cruiser, and slammed the door shut. "Xander, you dipstick!" he shouted out of the open window. "Get on out to the Duke farm. I'm going to chase them!" He floored the accelerator and took off in hot pursuit, leaving a trail of burned rubber on the pavement.
Boss Wilkins-Hogg rushed to his gleaming white Cadillac, his hat nearly blowing off in the process. "Deputy Strate, take the auditor with you, will you? She has important documents that we'll need. I'll meet you both there just as soon as I drop by my office to call that sculptor who did such a wonderful job with the statue in City Hall."
Boss screeched away, leaving Xander and Anya standing on the sidewalk. He looked at her and offered his arm. "May I escort you to the Duke's farm?" he asked, leading her to his cruiser.
"Certainly," she replied. "I have a very interesting story to tell you on the way there about what your bosses have been up to."
The street finally fell quiet, and Buffy peeked her head out of Cooter's. "I think they're all gone," she said to Faith. "Want to come with me to the farm?"
"Sure thing," said Faith. "I wouldn't miss this for the world."
Willow screeched around the corner of Main Street with Snyder hot on her tail. She gunned the engine as they approached the intersection of Main and Triangle Drive. The light was yellow, and she zoomed through it just as it turned red.
"He's still behind us, Will!" Tara said, turning around to see Snyder run the light and narrowly avoid getting hit by a pickup truck.
"Got it," Willow said, giving the Miss Kitty a little more gas. As annoying as Faith could be, she was a crack mechanic - all of the hitching and shuddering the car had been doing before was gone, and Miss Kitty leapt forward almost joyously, eating up the pavement.
Snyder, however, wasn't giving up so easily and had his siren wailing. Cars were pulling over to let him go by, and he was managing to keep even with the Dukes.
"Hang on, Tare," Willow said. "I'm going to head out on Stevenson and try to lose him on those dirt roads." She made a hard left onto Stevenson and the asphalt gradually gave way to a dirt track as they left the city limits, Snyder dogging their every twist and turn.
Miss Kitty was made for this sort of driving. She was perfectly weighted and balanced for maximum traction on the dirt roads of Hazzard County - neither gravel nor mud nor potholes could slow her down. Willow had spent many a Saturday afternoon customizing her shocks and brakes so that the Miss Kitty was capable of jumps, turns, and 180s that wouldn't be possible in any other car.
They sped around the winding curve of Stevenson Road and took a right on Glory Hole Lane, hoping to shake Snyder. He had chased the Dukes one too many times to not be anticipating their sudden move onto Glory Hole, though. Willow took the right fork in the road, accelerated up Razorback Way, and kicked up a plume of gravel and dirt as she quickly turned onto Bronze Road, a sharp turn that she normally wouldn't have tried at these speeds.
She risked a quick glance in the rearview mirror, dismayed to see Snyder's flashing blue and red lights still there. "Darn it! I can't seem to shake him."
"Why don't you take Potential Way?" Tara suggested.
Willow shot her a look. "Honey, it's called Potential Way because it hasn't been built yet. There's no bridge across that creek."
"I know," said Tara. "But Miss Kitty can take that jump."
Willow gave her a sidelong glance. Usually Tara was the more cautionary voice of the two, wincing when Willow would push Miss Kitty to the limits or take dangerous curves. Her suggestion spoke volumes to Willow, not only about the level of trust Tara put in her driving skills, but in her as a person. Willow felt her heart swell with love for this wonderful woman beside her, and a little self-dismay at how secretive she insisted they be about their relationship. She made a mental note to return to that thought after they had shaken Snyder.
She gave Tara a smile, and reached over to grasp her hand. "Hang on."
She floored the accelerator, and Miss Kitty roared ahead. There was a pile of dirt on the edge of the bank of the creek and Willow aimed for it to give Miss Kitty some added lift. They hit the pile at top speed and were launched into the air, soaring above the creek. It seemed like time slowed down, and that they made the jump in slow-motion. Willow felt a scream of joy tear its way from her throat.
Snyder followed, aiming for the same pile of dirt, but didn't hit it squarely. His cruiser also was launched over the creek bed, but it landed on the left tires with a sharp BANG.
Tara looked back in triumph. "Looks like Snyder blew a tire."
"Naughty naughty," Willow said. "Talking about the Sheriff's personal life."
Tara laughed. "He'll be at least ten minutes changing that tire."
Willow drove the Miss Kitty at a more sedate pace along the roads that eventually connected to Revello Drive, the road on which the Duke farm was located.
She pulled into the driveway up next to Giles' truck, noting Xander's police cruiser on the other side. They jumped out of the car and sprinted up to the porch, where Giles, Xander, and Anya were seated on rocking chairs sipping lemonade.
"Did you make the calls?" Willow asked Anya, breathless.
"Yep," said Anya. "It should all be settled soon."
As she spoke, Boss Wilkins-Hogg pulled up in his white Cadillac and stepped out, chomping on his cigar. "Deputy Strate, will the State Police be here soon?"
"Yes sir, Boss," Xander replied.
"Get your butt off that porch and quit consorting with the enemy."
"Yessir, Boss," Xander replied, scrambling out of his chair. "Thank you kindly for the lemonade," he said to Giles as he climbed down the porch steps to join Boss.
"Yes, you're quite welcome," replied Giles.
Snyder's police cruiser pulled up then, looking worse for the wear. The spare tire seemed hastily put on and the front fender had sustained a nasty dent. Snyder clambered out of his car, glaring at Willow and Tara, who stood on the porch defiantly.
"Your car looks a little rough, Snyder," said Willow.
Snyder was about to retort, but a wailing police cruiser cut him off. The car said 'Georgia State Police' on its side, and out of it emerged a state trooper in uniform accompanied by a burly man with clean-cut hair in a dark suit and sunglasses.
"Never mind, Snyder," Boss said. "Here are the state police, come to take the Dukes away for tax evasion."
"Officer Bob Flutie, State Police" said the uniformed officer. "I hear there's a crime been committed here. Tax fraud?"
"That's right, officer!" replied Snyder. "Sheriff Snyder P. Coltrane, Hazzard County." He extended a hand, which the officer shook.
"Officer Flutie," Boss said, "These people, the Dukes, have evaded payment of county and state taxes on their property for the last several years. Our auditor has conducted a thorough review, and these are her findings. He looked up at Anya, who was still seated on the porch.
"I have all the evidence here," she said, brandishing her envelope. She stood up and primly made her way down the porch steps.
"Just give it to Agent Finn," Officer Flutie said.
"Agent Finn?" Boss said, confused.
"Riley Finn, FBI," said the man in the suit. He extended his hand and accepted the proffered envelope from Anya, flipping through the papers inside and nodding.
"Tax fraud is a federal crime," said Finn.
"Oh, of course," Boss said. "Indeed it is."
"That's why, Richard Wilkins-Hogg, and Snyder P. Coltrane, you both have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read you?"
"But this is all wrong!" protested Boss, as Agent Finn moved forward to cuff him and Snyder. "It's these Dukes who committed tax evasion, not me!"
"Not according to these documents that Miss Jenkins gave us."
"But, but..." sputtered Boss as Finn led him and the sheriff to the state policeman's car.
"Drugs!" he finally said. "The Dukes grow marijuana on their farm, and THOSE two drive it to Atlanta in their car. My sheriff, Snyder, has nearly nabbed them numerous times."
"Drugs? Is this true?" Finn said.
"No, it's not," Tara said.
"Check their car!" Snyder piped up. "I'll bet they have drugs in the trunk right now."
"I'm going to have to ask you to open your trunk, ladies," Finn said.
"It's been a long time since a man has asked me that," Willow muttered. She walked over to Miss Kitty's trunk and unlocked it. The plastic bag Giles had loaded in was still there.
Finn picked up the bag and looked inside. "Some kind of plant matter."
"The wacky weed!" shouted Boss triumphantly.
"Hardly," said Uncle Giles. "It's sage, yarrow, mugwort, and pennyroyal."
"Witchy herbs," Tara clarified. "We run them to Atlanta, where a friend of Giles', Jenny Calendar, sells them in her new age shop."
"Witchy herbs?" Boss echoed in disbelief. "My two mothers used to buy smudge sticks from a new age shop in Atlanta."
"Probably the same one," Tara said. "Miss Calendar has cornered the market."
"All right, all right," said Finn. "We have some tax fraud perpetrators to book. Good day to you all," he said, and the two law enforcement officers drove away.
As their car pulled away, Buffy's Jeep passed it in the driveway and came to a halt. Faith was beside her in the front seat.
"Looks like Operation Infiltrate Rhue's Bottom really paid off!" Buffy said brightly as she shut off the car and climbed out, Faith following. "We saw Boss and Snyder in cuffs in the backseat of that car."
Uncle Giles rolled his eyes. "You girls think of the most unearthly names for your escapades."
Willow grinned at him. "Well, at least the farm is saved. Is Boss going away for good?"
"I doubt it," Giles replied. "He always manages to squeak out of these sticky situations. But hopefully he'll stay out of our hair for a while." He scratched his white beard as he said this.
"Here's what I'm wondering," said Xander. "Why all the secrecy around the witchy herbs? Half of Hazzard thinks you're running drugs, you know."
Giles looked askance. "Oh, reputation, I suppose," he replied. "Our family have always been moonshiners, and I'm not sure what the good citizens of Hazzard County would think if they knew we had given that up in favor of more legitimate enterprises."
"Well, I think we've all learned a valuable lesson about honesty and being yourself," said Willow. "Which is why I want to tell you all something. It may shock you, but I hope that you can understand. Tara and I...we're more than good friends and cousins. We're girlfriends, actually. Lovers. Lesbian gay-type lovers." She put her arm around Tara's waist.
"Oh, that was a secret?" Xander said. "Everyone I know just assumed."
Willow looked slightly chagrined, but snuggled closer to Tara, who planted a kiss on the top of her head.
"I'm proud of you," she whispered.
"Well, I have something to say, too," Buffy announced. "Cooter and I are girlfriends, too."
"Didn't see that one coming," Xander said.
"I have something to say also," announced Anya. "Xander is no longer the biggest virgin in Hazzard County. We had sex during lunch today."
"Thanks for that, Anya," Xander said, blushing.
"What? We've seen where secrets can get us," she replied flippantly.
Tara looked at Giles. "And what about you, Uncle Giles?"
"What about me?" he said.
"Don't you have someone to tell us about?"
Giles harrumphed and removed his glasses.
"Well, yes," he said.
"It's Miss Calendar, isn't it?" Willow said. "She always asks how you're doing."
Giles cleaned the lenses of his glasses with his bandana. "If you must know, I am not seeing Miss Calendar."
"Then who is it?" Buffy asked. "Lou Lou Hogg? Mrs. Rhuebottom? Snyder?"
Giles rolled his eyes. "None of the above."
"It's Aunt Bea."
"Yes, Aunt Bea. From Mayberry County."
"Huh," said the entire group, nonplussed.
"Oh, for goodness' sake," Giles said, and walked inside.
Buffy giggled as he left.
"Well," Willow said, "we still have to get these herbs to the Magic Box."
"Now that we're all out of the closet," Faith said, "We should all go out together sometime."
"There's a great club in Atlanta," Tara said. "The PussyKat club. Or Meow Mix? We could go dancing."
"Sounds like a plan," Buffy said. "And the Strates are welcome to come too," she said, grinning at Xander and Anya. They groaned at the truly terrible pun.
Tara and Willow climbed into the Miss Kitty and started her engine. They reversed down the drive, turned around, and headed out down the road. A chorus of 'Closer to Fine' bid goodbye to the crowd at the Duke farm, and a lingering "Yeeee-haaaaaaaaaaaw!" floated out of the open window.
Voice of Narrator: Yeeeeee-haaaaaaaaaawwwwwwww!