'The Man Who Shot People'
By Phineas Redux
Summary:— Henrietta 'Harry' Knappe and Sally 'Snapshot' Nichols, lovers in the 1870's township of Red Flume, Arizona Territory, USA, are given the job of apprehending an assassin.
Note 01:— Influenced by the 'Wolfville' stories of Alfred Henry Lewis. Note 02:— The character of the villain is based on the real life outlaw and killer, Jim Miller, 1861-1909.
Warning:— There is some swearing in this tale.
Copyright:— All characters are copyright ©2018 to the author, and are wholly fictitious representations: the overall local geography may be questionable, too.
"A downright bona-fide assassin—a man who kills folks, fer money?"
"Y'got the seam o'the thing right there, Sal."
"An' he's in Red Flume as we speaks?"
"Yeah, Harry." Sheriff Donaldson growling like a wildcat denied a tasty morsel for lunch. "He's here, some'ers'. Came in either by the Stage yestern'; by hoss anytime this last two weeks; or along of someone else, who knows when. All we knows fer certain is, he's among us right now."
"An' he's got a victim in his sights, I takes it fer granted?" Henrietta doing just that.
"Yep, probably ol'man Kellermaine, out t'the Double Line spread."
"Jeez." Sally Nichols took time to digest this information. "A killer, is he, then; fer sure an' certin'?"
"Known t'have escaped three trials fer murder an' manslaughter, on technicalities or fer lack o'evidence." Sheriff Donaldson looked as if he wanted to spit on his own clean floor. "Also known t'have committed at least eight other murders, the evidence fer which bein' entirely t'seek, agin, he walks free as a preacher the whiles."
"An' now he's here?" Sally wanting to get the details sorted out properly.
"Def-in-nitely, ladies." Donaldson being as affirmative as the circumstances allowed, which was, sadly, plenty. "He's here, armed, an' jest waitin' his chance t'knock-off ol' man Kellermaine. So, ye both see, that's why—"
Henrietta, knowing her old friend, raised her head and eyed the tall man sharply as he paused.
"Why what, Charlie?"
"Yeah, why – an' what, if'n I may ask?" Sally becoming suspicious as all get-out herself.
"Why ye've both jest this second bin appointed Deputy Sheriff's in yer own rights—or, ha-ha, in the lack of same." Donaldson wrinkling his lips in something that wasn't a friendly smile, whilst delving in a drawer of his desk. "Here's yer stars. Duties—t'apprehend an' bring t'Justice said felon, as soon as y'both find it comf'table ter do so—dead or alive bein' left entire up ter yer own judgement. Y'got weapons, or does ye require the Town's firepower, on the rack over hence?"
"We're fine thataways, Sheriff." Sally suddenly brightening. "Deputy Sheriff's as may be, but I takes it the reward's a'comin' our way, when we delivers said corpse?"
"Hum, lem'me think about it." Donaldson frowned slightly, as he thumbed through a pile of wanted posters lying on his desk, where they all sat in his office. "Anytime ye're ready, go to it, gals."
"Oh yeah?" Henrietta rising from her chair to lean over the desk. "An' what about what the b-st-rd looks like? Y'got a poster fer him among that lot?"
"Nah, he ain't ever bin in the lists as a wanted criminal, has he?" Donaldson shrugged his shoulders grimly. "What I got's a description of the fella, from several sources. Wan'na hear?"
"Yeah, go ahead; better'n nuthin' I suppose." Sally looking mean herself.
Donaldson spread wide a series of letters and other documents of a typewritten nature, clutching the edge of one in his horny fist.
"From various sources, y'understand's, we've figured out as much as this here." He cleared his throat, glanced longingly at the cigar he had placed on an ashtray by his elbow, then proceeded. "Age, some'er's in the late thirties, meb'be early forties. Name, Matt Harringey. Height five foot eleven inches. Stature, long an' lanky. Habitually dresses in a full-length frock-coat, black fer preference. Likes best t'use a sawn-off shotgun at close range, but'll stand fer pistols, if pushed. Temperament, cold an' suspicious o'everybody, everywhere. Known history, killed his first victim before the age o'ten, believe it or not; I got the documents coverin' same t'hand—lack o'evidence lettin' the kid off, at the time. Since then known to have cold-bloodedly killed some eleven persons, includin' women and, dammit, at least one kid, under the age o'twelve. Agin, lack o'evidence that'd stick in court allowin' the f-ckin felon t'walk free as a bird. Opinion of character, by doctors o'worth, almost certainly mentally ill, what's called, er, psychotic; means he likes, really likes, killin' people, an' has no moral restraints t'hold him back in killin' whoever, of whatever sex or age, gets in his way or sights. He's bin known t'kill fer pay from sponsors wantin' some agitatin' opponent removed from the local scene. Not, y'll all agree, a nice person."
After this chilling history there was a lengthy silence in the small office, as the women digested this horrific character study.
"What,—what, er, I mean, what d'we do about apprehendin' the swine, when we runs his carcass t'earth, wherever he be hidin'?" Sally, raising an enquiring eyebrow. "I means, if'n he ain't recently as yet broken any Law outright, thet we knows of?"
"Yeah," Henrietta glowering, labouring under the same apprehension. "what's the point of facing him off, when we ain't got no ground, no legal ground, t'slap his face with? What kin we do?"
Donaldson slowly placed both palms on his desk and raised himself to his feet, in an almost majestical manner. He walked across to the office door, leading out to the sidewalk, clicked the key round to lock it, took a pace sideways to look out the square window then, satisfied, turned to the two women again.
"What ye kin do; what I made ye both Depities fer, is find the rascal; make dam' sure you got the right guy; face him off in a manner duly intended t'rile him somethin' awful then, when he goes fer his shotgun, or other piece, ye both, with malice aforethought, pre-plannin', and a wholesome pre-set determination not t'let the b-st-rd out'ta yer sights alive, shoots the f-ck-r as many times as ye thinks reasonable; not fergettin' re-loadin' and blastin' the corpse agin, jest, ye knows, t'play safe. Then ye brings the remains, if still in more or less one piece, t'me fer formal identification, if same is still possible, an' I gives yer a well-earned reward from the Town's coffers, no questions asked. Got that, both o'ye?"
The thump of the boots of the passers-by out on the sidewalk could be clearly heard as the women considered this proposal; Sally, finally, coming to the fore.
"What you're tellin' us is, as I see's it, legalised murder's on the cards an' placed wholesale in our hands fer the duration; thet what yer tellin' us, Sheriff?"
"I wouldn't go so far as t'say I was tellin' ye both that, no; not in so many words, anyway." Donaldson hedging his bets like a carpetbagger. "But, agin, I wouldn't go so far as ter say the gen'ral natur' o'the sity-atin' wasn't some'er's along those lines, yeah. In short, get out there, kill the crazy son-uva-b-tch, an' come back here an' collect said reward. Can I be plainer?"
"No, suppose yer cain't." Sally admitting the truth of the matter.
"We heerd ye, Sheriff." Henrietta scowling something fierce. "Kind'a believe we both thinks along the same lines as ye, on this pertikler matter. Kills kids, does he? Not after the next few days, he won't. Y'with me, Sal?"
"—'course, gal; silly question." Sally slapping her paramour on the shoulder as they headed for the door. "Come on, let's make tracks fer our hotel room; I got several firearms that'll be the better fer bein' loaded right quick."
"With ya, doll, all the way. See ya, Sheriff." Henrietta nodded in a friendly way as she left the office. "If'n ye hears some mighty extended gunfire, round an' about, sometime t'day, ye'll know what's happenin'; see ya."
"Jeez." Donaldson sat at his desk again, passed a handkerchief over his sweating brow, and looked at the closed door musingly. "If'n anyone can pull it off it's those two gals, an' no mistake. Wonder if I should go about raisin' a posse in the meantime; jest fer back-up, an' ter show willin', an' all?"
The MacDonald Hotel was a high-class representative of its type; clean rooms, clean linen on the beds, good food in the eating-room downstairs; and set in a side-road guaranteeing some level of peace and tranquility. On the second floor, in their shared room, Henrietta and Sally sat on the wide bed regarding their massed firepower, surrounded by boxes of ammunition.
"Wha'cha got, baby?"
"My Smith an' Wesson point thirty-eight's." Sally nodded happily, hoisting one of said pistols in her left hand. "An extree Colt point forty-five, an' my Sharps Rifle. Don't suppose the latter'll be o'much use, considerin' the range, or lack thereof, we means t'place atwixt us an' said reprobate?"
"True," Henrietta glanced lovingly at her own Sharps rifle, lying on a chair in the corner. "reckon I'll have'ta leave my own behind, too. Make do with these here, Colt forty-fives; they gen'rally comin' up trumps by way o'makin' a mess in a gunfight."
"What about this thing Donaldson told us of with this Harringey character; haulin' a sawn-off shotgun aroun'?" Sally obviously being less than impressed by this mark of social depravity. "He, Harringey, seems t'believe in doin' a job thoroughly. What d'we do if he lets fly when we confronts him? How'd you duck out'ta the way of a passel o'buckshot?"
Henrietta had been considering this very problem and, like Donaldson before her, had come up with a less than gentlemanly solution.
"Sal, y'know how it's gen'rally bin our way ter give the objec' of our just anger every opportunity t'do the right thing. We've allus played fair, an' all that crap?"
"Yeah?" Sally, pretty much seeing where this was going.
"Well, y'heerd what Donaldson said about this piece'a dirt?" Henrietta sneered angrily as she considered their prey. "He kills kids, an' defenceless women, fer pay? That ain't nice an', in my view thereby, all restraints is therefore off fer the length o'the play."
"I gets you, an' agrees complete." Sally placed a hand on the shoulder of her amour. "We trawls through this here hick-town till we shies out the piece o'sh-t; we identifies him clear an' sharp; an' we then proceeds t'shoot the sh-t out'ta him, no holds barred, no quarter given, an' especial no warnin' aforehand. What about civilian bystanders? Them as spectates at the show, by happenstance, an' can meb'be call back t'mind exactly what we did?"
"Donaldson, an' Judge Garbie, can be relied on t'deal with them." Henrietta nodded, assured of this minor point. "What we got'ta figure out is, where is the reptile at the moment, an' what's our plan fer dealin' with him, where'ere he be?"
Sally finished playing with the .38 revolver in her right hand, placing it back in its holster lying on the bed, then puckered her lips in deep thought.
"Far's I see's it, doll, one of us engages him in conversation, tryin' t'get t'the bottom o'who he is. Is he actilly Harringey, or not, that's the question. If'n he up's an' agrees t'our identification, then we pulls on him an' sends him t'the great riverboat in the sky as neat as nine cents; only stoppin' t'make sure we don't include any unwary bystanders in our broadsides in the doin' so. How's that grab ye?"
"Works fer me." Henrietta showing her harsh, not to say brutal, side. "If'n someone needs killin', I mean's really killin' an' no mistake, then doin' it quick an' sure an' unexpected's the best way."
The First Suspect.
The Yellow Knife Saloon, on Ricket's Road, had a reputation; well, for being the worst of its kind in the whole of Red Flume. Built in the wild '40's, and still miraculously standing, it catered to the general low-life. Bad whisky, bad card-playing; bad customers, and ladies serving table who were no better than they should be; that kind of establishment. It was Sally's idea to start their safari there, it being a little past ten-thirty in the morning.
"Bit of a dump, t'start with." Henrietta pausing to wipe some dust from the leg of her trouser-jean covered leg as they passed along the roofed sidewalk; they, as usual, wearing what most local critics still referred to, condescendingly, as male attire. "Don't figure Harringey fer the sort'a dude who'd allow ter hang out in a place like this."
"Got'ta start somewhere's." Sally, dressed identically to her companion, shrugged her shoulders casually. "He might think the level o'faro player there'd be about low enough fer him ter make a tidy profit, without extendin' his capabilities, meb'be. Remember the description, gal?"
"Tall, long black frock-coat, makes him look like a Sunday preacher, high forehead, recedin' hair, cold expression." Henrietta had it all to hand. "Reckon, though, the killer-punch'll be the sawn-off shotgun he'll be wavin' with one fist, easy-like."
Entering the swing-doors the ladies paused to allow their eyes to focus in the dim light of the main room. Rectangular, running from left to right from where they stood at the entrance, with the long bar immediately facing them, rows of bottles on shelves behind, and the floor covered with a multitude of round tables with chairs encircling them; and a crowd of customers filling the whole place, hardly visible through the concentrated cigar smoke that wafted like a medium fog through the room, the saloon also rang to the loud talk of a multitude in search of happiness. Just another regular day in the Yellow Knife saloon.
Behind the bar, along with a younger assistant, stood the proprietor, Jake Gibson. Having been suspected of cattle-rustling in his youth he had, for the last twenty years, sold whisky over the counter, and kept his fingers clean; at least mostly. He instantly spotted, as who wouldn't, the arrival of the two women, but gave no sign, allowing as they no doubt had their own reasons for visiting his establishment; but kept a wary eye on them, all the same.
Sally looked around, taking in the range of customers idling their time away all about. Some sat in small party's, playing poker; some sat talking over their working day; some just sat together, chatting and drinking; there were two well-patronised faro tables in full swing; while others sat in solitary splendour, eyeing the goings-on around them from time to time with an imperial gaze, as they drank their rot-gut whisky. Scattered through the room were some half dozen women, mostly in their thirties, in somewhat gaudy short-skirted dresses, industriously taking care of those customers who indicated that female company was not unwanted. To the side of the room a wide, balustraded, stair led up to the higher level, where private rooms, like a hotel, were available by the hour.
"Jeez, a reg'lar whorehouse." Sally being somewhat scrupulous in this regard.
"Easy, gal." Henrietta taking it more calmly. "Don't wan'na rile the inhabitants, does we? See him anywhere's?"
Both women peered through the smoke-filled atmosphere, taking in the whole panorama of unwholesome life going forward, then Sally struck gold.
"Over there, lover." She indicated with a slight motion of her chin. "In the far corner, by the window; sittin' by himself. He's dressed in a long black coat, an' seems t'fit the bill. Wha'd'ya think, doll?"
Trying hard not to seem as if she was doing so, Henrietta observed the man indicated; taking her time.
"Yeah, bears investigatin'. Tell ya what, let's stroll on over, like we was deep in converse an' headin' fer that table two to his right, OK?"
They wended their way through the throng, none of whom took overmuch notice of the two trouser-clad women, having known them for the last two years and respecting their capability with firearms. Passing with an empty table between them and the seated object of their interest, the ladies finally sat facing the man, leaning their heads close as if deep in conversation.
"What about it, darlin'?" Sally fidgeting with impatience.
"Could be; then again, might not be." Henrietta showing all her famous caution in a dangerous situation. "No sign of a sawn-off, y'notice."
"Yeah, I had noticed, thanks." Sally growling scornfully. "Cain't haul a thing like that about in a public place like this, even the Yellow Knife. Looks as if he might be totin' a piece under that long coat, mind you."
"Does he really fit the description Donaldson gave, though?" Henrietta still unconvinced. "I mean, tall, yeah; lanky, I suppose; mean-minded? Well, looks sort'a inconspicuous t'me. More like a dentist than a shootist, if ya asks me. I'm doubtful."
Sally gave her partner a raking glance, raised her eyes a trifle, and returned to the subject of their discourse.
"In which case the next step's t'engage the reptile in conversation, an' try'n wheedle out'ta him who the hell he really is." She paused to consider something that had just occurred to her. "What if we decides t'let rip; here, in the saloon? Dam' lot'ta witnesses, an' folks liable t'take ricochets an' sich. Even Judge Garbie'd have trouble smoothin' over that sort'a outcome."
Henrietta nodded, having come to much the same conclusion separately.
"Maybe, if it turns out t'be him, we can get him out in the street, someways? Anyways, let's go over an' say hallo. Remember, if he shows even the slightest intention o'cuttin' up rough, plug the b-st-rd quick; we'll think some story up, later."
It took only a couple of paces before the women stood facing the seated man. As they approached he turned his head to watch them, grey eyes like pools of lead bubbling in Hell. His elongated face and jaw were pale-skinned and completely expressionless, as if nothing tangible resided behind his eyes. He waited patiently for the women to open the conversation, though his right hand slid somewhat towards the edge of the table, perhaps in preparation for a quick draw, though the length of his coat seemed at first glance to preclude this action.
"Say, mister, me an' my pal here's wonderin' if'n we've met ya before, a whiles back; meb'be in Tucson?" Henrietta giving of her best, lying like a good 'un. "Yer features seem t'remind us o'someone. Kelly Barnett, ain't it?"
There was a long pause, the man considering the women before him, their probable motives, and present purposes.
"Nah," He spoke with a gentle intonation, in a tenor character that was almost pleasant, though his expression remained cold and distant. "You seem to have mixed me up with someone else; haven't been in Tucson in six month."
Sally batted this troublesome response aside into the long grass with professional ease.
"Might'a not bin Tucson, yer knows." She speaking quietly and with as near a friendly accent as she could dredge up in the circumstances. "Might'a bin Flagstaff, or perhaps Phoenix. Harry an' I gets about a lot, y'know."
"How's about Tombstone?" Henrietta flung this fiery brand into the mix on a sudden impulse, waiting to see what response this would bring. "Meb'be?"
"Meb'be not." The man remained outwardly calm, though a certain glitter in his ice-cold eyes perhaps reflected a growing impatience. "Ain't never bin there; say, what d'you two want?"
"So, ya ain't Kelly Barnett?" Sally keeping the pressure on, trying to rile the fellow into some mistake. "Y'sure? Y'look's jest like him."
The man let this sink in for an appreciable time then slowly rose to his feet. Keeping his hands on the table-top for balance, he stood beside the women, nearly as tall as Henrietta, regarding them with what could only be called distaste; then his eyes slid sideways to another man who pressed through the encroaching crowd in the packed saloon, stepping up to the table, too.
"Mornin', Randolph, sorry I'm late but Bernard would keep me a whiles." The new man glanced at the women, unsure of himself. "Am I interruptin' anythin'? I'll come back later, Randolph, if'n necessary."
"No, no, it's alright, these ladies were jest leavin'; they'd mistook me fer someone else." Randolph eyed the women with little goodwill evident in his gaze. "Sorry to keep you, ladies. Hopes you find, who was it? Kelly Barnett? You ever heerd of a Kelly Barnett in the neighbourhood, Charles?"
"Cain't say as I has." Charles looked respectfully sad, raising a hand to tip his broad-rimmed hat to the ladies. "Sorry I cain't be any more helpful. Come Randolph, my father's awaitin' our arrival; Mr Hertzinger, here, bein' by way of my family's lawyer, by way of explanation, ladies. We havin' come all the way together, on the stage, from Colorado City. We—"
"I'm sure the ladies have, er, much to occupy them, Charles, without their being apprised of your family's affairs, also." Randolph showing his true, legal, colours for the first time. "Shall we be on our way, Charles? Your servant, ladies, goodbye."
This last sentence being uttered, as he turned his back to accompany his companion on their way, with all the coldness of an ice-flow in the Artic Ocean. Then the smoky atmosphere, and packed crowd, of the saloon had swallowed them up, leaving the women at a stand, agog, and ever so slightly flustered. Sally, as usual, was first to voice her feelings.
"F-ck it, we came dam' near t'sendin' a dam' lawyer t'the Happy Huntin' Ground." She sighed with relief. "God, we'd never've heerd the last of it; even Judge Garbie would'a bin at sixes an' sevens t'haul us t'safety. Dam' close shave, darlin'."
"Yeah, dam' it." Henrietta inwardly thanking her personal guardian angel as they made for the door to the street. "Better take more care at the next place we visits; don't seem as if it's quite as easy t'mark a cold-blooded killer as I thought it might be. God, he had eyes like a dead rattler; I'd a'bet aces he was our man."
"Y'never was much good with the cards, doll."
The Second Suspect.
The Clancy Hotel, on Vermaine St., didn't have the standing of the better-class MacDonald Hotel, where the ladies resided when in town, but it was reasonable of its ilk. It being Sally's idea to try their luck there, after ignominiously leaving the Yellow Knife saloon.
As was the case with all the hotels the main entrance served as a public room; much like a saloon except without the hard drink. There were tables, chairs, and sofas where people could come to pass the time of day, read newspapers, or generally snooze quietly out of the hurly-burly of the crowded sidewalks and high hot sun.
Again, on entering the hall no-one took especial notice of the two women dressed in men's attire, they both being well-known characters in the vicinity, and also known to be dangerous with firearms, like nobody's business. Once more the receptionist, behind his counter, merely glanced up then returned his attention to the Red Flume Register, that receptacle of all that was newsworthy in the Territory, and much that wasn't.
Assuming a more cautious approach this time, Henrietta and Sally took a panoramic look about, then chose a long unoccupied sofa on the far side of the room to be the base of their operations; it having an unobstructed view of the stair to the upper floors and of the main entrance.
"No-one here, that fits the description, Harry."
"I sort'a noticed, young 'un." Henrietta smiling grimly as she turned her head from side to side, taking in the vista, as it were. "Not t'say he might appear any moment; an' anyways, my feet needs a rest, these dam' new boots is pinchin' somethin' shockin'."
The following ten minutes passed quietly, and without promise of any result occurring of interest; then things began to take a new turn.
"Jee-sus." This from Sally, overwhelmed with amazement.
"Keep yer hands away from yer guns, let's wait a while." From Henrietta, more circumspect.
What had drawn their astonished attention was the arrival, through the main door from the street, of a man who bore such a close resemblance to the overall description of the wanted man provided by Sheriff Donaldson it was simply amazing. The man who had unhurriedly entered the Hotel was as per in every detail; tall, lanky, thin faced with a cold grim expression; including a high forehead, through a receding hairline; whilst he was enveloped from neck to just above his boot-tops by a long black frock-coat, buttoned all the way up. In his left hand he also carried a sawn-off shotgun. Stopping to glance about the room he calmly crossed to a table and sat down on a chair there, obviously waiting for someone, laying his weapon across his knees, meanwhile.
Some thirty feet to his right the ladies considered their options.
"Jeez, must be him." Sally shook her head, unbelievingly. "Who the hell else can it be, but him?"
"Hold yer hoss's a whiles yet, gal." Henrietta, ever cautious. "Might still be anyone; remember that dam' lawyer. We got'ta make sure, first."
It was Sally who made the next, cautious, reflection.
"Guy over at the reception desk ain't takin' much notice of him." Sally gazed across the room from under her lowered brow. "Must know him, I expects. How else wouldn't he question that ther' sawn-off?"
"Meb'be, let's wait n'see."
For the next few minutes the women pretended to be absorbed in a personal conversation, holding their heads close together and trying not to look interested in the man. For his part he remained where he was, ensconced on his chair, gun across lap, now and again glancing idly around as if not much entertained by the local sideshow. Then, like pea soup, the plot thickened.
From the stairs leading to the first floor a man arrived, walking with lengthy determined strides. He paused for a quick survey of his surroundings, then made straight for the man with the sawn-off shotgun. He was shorter than the man in the black frockcoat, with much more and thicker dark hair, a round ordinary face, and was dressed in grey trousers, darker grey jacket and black shoes. He looked either like a salesman, or a prosperous business-man. Seated at their table the men were far out of earshot of the interested women on the other side of the room; who, perforce, had to rely on speculation to fuel their curiosity.
"What're they talkin' about?"
"Cain't hear, can I." Henrietta stating the obvious, with some tartness.
"Only askin'." Sally replying instantly, as was her custom. "Might help t'tell if'n he's Harringey, or not. Y'know there's only two possibilities here, gal?"
"Yup." Sally in full control of the situation. "One, we takes it in'ta our heads he's our man, an' opens up promis'cus here an' now; layin' waste t'this here hotel salon, an' sendin' Harringey, if it be him, t'hell in a hand-basket, shot t'sh-t. Or, two, we skulks out, tails a'tween our legs, defeated yet agin, an' looks fer a cat t'take our umbrage out on. I'm pretty certin'; it'll be the latter; like last time."
Before any sort of concerted plan could be organised the men stood and casually walked to the stair; disappearing upwards to the first floor, obviously meaning to continue their conversation in the privacy of the second man's room. For a moment the women were at a standstill, then Henrietta recovered.
"Let's pin that reception clerk t'his counter; got yer Bowie handy, gal?" Henrietta loving to be dramatic, when the chance offered. "See if'n he has anythin' of interest t'offer."
It was the clerk himself, however, who took control of the situation as the women hove up beside him.
"Hi'ya ladies." He was in his early forties, and looked as if he had been behind his counter for all of them. "Bin keepin' a low eye on you two, Miss Knappe, Miss Nichols. Y'seem mighty interested in Mr Gorman an' Mr Inglesant?"
"Which is which?" Henrietta coming to the crux of the matter, like an eagle hovering in the sky.
"Waal, Mr Inglesant's the tall dark-clothed clothes-pole, with the artillery." The receptionist seeming only too happy to dish the dirt on his customers. "Mr Gorman's the grey guy, in the dry-goods business; shops in Phoenix, Colorado City, Tucson, an' whatnot."
"An' what's their relation, the one t'the other?" Sally glowering meanly over the counter.
Unfazed by this usually frightening exhibition, the clerk merely shrugged disinterestedly.
"Far as I see's the sity'atin, Inglesant's a kind'a security man fer Gorman." The clerk ran a finger over the stubble on his cheek. "Kind'a rides shotgun, as ye no doubt perceived, fer Gorman in his business operations; here's an' there's, as it might be. Thet's about the sum of it, ladies."
Henrietta gazed at Sally, who returned the compliment, pretty much as flummoxed as her partner.
"How long's this tall dark frock-coated reptile bin assumin' these here duties t'Gorman?" Sally gazing at the clerk like a grizzly wondering if it could make a late dinner as well as a light lunch out of him. "More'n a month or so, or what?"
The clerk paused, examined the women curiously, then laid an open hand on his counter, flexing two fingers together in an obvious manner.
"Most people gets paid fer the work they does, I hear's."
Sally was up for this, grinning widely. She quietly raised her own hand, from its place out of sight below the counter, showing to the clerk for the first time she did indeed have a Bowie knife clasped in her hand. She rested this formidable weapon on the flat surface and looked closely into the eyes of the clerk.
"An' I hear's most workin' people gets t'go home, of an evenin', with all their fingers still in place an' countable. Only sayin'."
The clerk got the message.
"Three months since, I first set eyes on Inglesant." He appeared to have rapidly lost interest in the women, paling visibly. "Since then he's bin a fixture, along'a Gorman; him'n his dam' sawn-off. Thet's all I knows."
"An' jest as much as either of us want's ter hear, laddie." Henrietta smiling, without humour, as the women turned to leave; Sally ostentatiously replacing her Bowie in its waist-sheath. "Don't spread it about; that we've bin askin' after either o'them, get me? Piany-player, are ye? Wan'na keep it up?"
"Yeah, yeah, sure thing;—er, I mean, no, no,—er,—"
"Well, Inglesant seems t'have bin around a mite longer than Donaldson seemed ter think Harringey has been, fer a start." Henrietta musing as they strolled along the wooden sidewalk. "Which ain't ter say Inglesant ain't still Harringey, anyway's."
"Or not, thet bein' the other possibility." Sally looking on the realistic side. "Still gives us those two choices I referred to a whiles since. We either shoots an innocent man, or a guilty one. Trouble is, decidin' which is the dam' which. I got me a curious tinglin' feelin' in my bones about thet ther' Inglesant, doll."
"Me too." Henrietta frowned as they proceeded along the street. "Bears some more investigation, thet's fer sure. Where's next on the itinerary, lady?"
"We could try Morgenthaler's Saloon, over to Pendine Road?" Sally cocking an eyebrow enquiringly. "Bit of a dump, I allows without argument, but popular, all the same; and has rooms upstairs. Could be a meb'be, meb'be?"
For answer Henrietta merely grunted as the women continued walking along the street. Coming to a turning on their left they took this, diverging into a narrower street which seemed lined by the back-areas of buildings with their frontages on other streets; it being almost a lane rather than a road. Kicking up the dirt as they moved on down the thoroughfare the women ambled side by side, looking as mean as two sidewinders out for an afternoon stroll; which probably accounted for the few passers-by keeping their distance. Finally another corner brought them out on a wider busier street some way along which, to their right, could be seen the entrance to another saloon; several men in small groups idling their time outside it.
Once more Henrietta's and Sally's reputations had preceded them, the men standing aside, without arch comment, to give the women free way. Inside this particular example of the saloon race things seemed of a par with the last one visited, except this was darker, untidier, far dirtier, and seemed to harbour customers of a vastly lower social rank. There were also more women sitting around here, than in the other specimens lately visited, though these women appeared mostly to be customers in their own right, rather than working girls. The bar, only about twenty feet long, lay over to the left side of the main squarish room; with one barman behind the counter. The women stepped up to this together, resting their booted heels on the low brass bar running along nearly at foot level provided so for the comfort of the customer.
"Two whiskies, an' try'n not make it rot-gut, will ya." Henrietta taking control effortlessly.
"—'Blue Sorghum' grain, do ya?" The bartender reaching behind him to a bottle on the shelf under the vast mirror backing the bar.
"Yeah, that'll do."
The women were standing to one end of the bar; the nearest drinker being some ten or twelve feet distant, so some privacy was available.
"Here ya are, twenty cents."
Sally shelled out the coins, waiting till the man had retreated along the bar, leaving them in peace.
"So, here we is, agin." She gazed from side to side, taking in the whole of the saloon room, with all its occupants. "Callin' it a dump's givin' it airs, mind yer. I seen better kept pig-sties. Any sign o'you know who?"
"Not so far, but keep yer hat on, doll, we might be here fer hours, an' him not turn up." Henrietta taking the stoic, not to say Spartan, attitude.
"Sh-t, I ain't stayin' here any longer than needs be, darlin'." Sally mutinying as to the manor born. "I'll give it an hour, from, from—now."
Saying this she consulted the face of the silver full-hunter she had slipped from her jacket pocket; snapping the cover to with a click and returning the timepiece to its place with a smooth turn of her hand. Faced with this outrageous behavior Henrietta sighed, shook her head, and returned to sampling her whisky.
"God, cain't get the service these days, not a whit."
"What was that, darlin', didn't ketch it?"
"Nuthin', lover, nuthin'; how's yer whisky?"
"Pretty awful—how's your'n?"
The Third Suspect.
The time hung heavy on the shoulders of the women as they propped up the bar at Morgenthaler's. So much so Sally, indifferent to the house whisky, finally looked for something more exciting as a change, waving a resolute hand at the bartender for service.
"Hey, gim'me a shot o'the Green Fairy, an' make the water fresh from the well, get me?"
On its arrival Sally watched carefully as the bartender filled her tumbler-glass a third full with the pale translucent, somehow frightening, green liqueur; topping up the glass with fresh cold water from a jug till the tumbler was nearly full of the now cloudy, delicately eau-de-Nil tinted, liquid.
"Steppin' out a bit, ain't we?"
"Hell, Harry," Sally sipping her drink with gusto, though with all due care. "got'ta step the light fantastic sometime, ain't I. Mmm, nice, but takes gettin' used to, I admits. Want a glass?"
"Hiirph, I'll stick ter whisky, thanks." Henrietta knowing which side her bread was buttered. "Hallo, look over there."
Over on the opposite side of the bar the last few steps of the stair leading to the higher floor could be seen and now, standing on the lower couple of steps, overseeing the public room like an Emperor in Ancient Rome, was a tall thin dark-coated man wearing a cold expression, with a high forehead above a long pale face. The third contender for the title had arrived.
"Here we go agin." Sally taking another sip of her dangerous tipple, peering over the lip of the glass at her distant prey. "Got'ta say, gal, he looks mighty more like Hoyle, than the others—don't-cher think, baby?"
Henrietta reserved judgement, eyeing the man across the room warily.
"He's up there with the best, sure enough." She allowed this supposition, but kept her stance at the bar. "Let's not do anythin' too jumpy now, gal. Time t'let the c'yote settle in an' make himself known, yet. See if'n he's got a partner in the offing, awaitin'."
However, before either woman could react, he took the initiative, strolling across the room to stand at the bar within five feet of them; turning to Henrietta, who was nearest him with a bow and a touch to his felt hat.
"Ladies, hopes I kin take a drink here, without any annoyance given?"
"We're easy. Kind'a busy place, this." Henrietta trying not to look him in the eye for fear of giving herself away. "Plenty o'customers layin' waste t'the whisky around an' about. Take no heed of us, mister."
The bartender furnished the man with the whisky he ordered; 'Tavern' brand, almost but not quite rot-gut, and of a peculiarly yellowish colour. He stood, like his companions, with one boot poised on the brass bar near the floor hunched over his glass as if concentrating on it alone. He made no further attempt to push himself forward, leaving the women to their own devices. Not being able to consult together Sally and Henrietta instead tried to study the man to the best of their ability, considering the peculiar position they found themselves in. Standing right beside a man they might at any moment decide needed taking out of the equation of life without warning or other allowance did indeed, they found, make the mind reel.
Sally, running out of patience and perhaps emboldened by the subtle caress of the Green Fairy, took the next step.
"Harry, here, an' I—by the way, this's Harry Knappe, an' I'm Sal Nichols, p'raps ye've heerd o'us?" Sally leaning forward over the bar past her companion to gain a clear view of her proposed victim. "We was jest awaitin' the arrival of a friend of ours. Said he'd meet us here, around this time, but he ain't showed up yet. Matt Harringey's his name. Don't suppose ye knows the varmint?"
To say Henrietta froze in place is to under-estimate her reaction; she in fact became as still as a statue, tense with strain that something awful would follow on her lover's words—though, again, she could see the man didn't have the fabled sawn-off shotgun, and the tightness of his long frockcoat allied with his lanky frame seemed to militate against his having any firearm at all; unless a Derringer.
The man, after the swiftest of glances at Sally, returned his gaze to his drink, the fingers of one hand gently curling round the glass. His voice, as before, was a perfectly controlled low tenor.
"Cain't say as I do, I'm afraid, ladies." He looked across at Henrietta. "Your reputation proceeds you, ma'am. I having heerd many tales of your expertise with a Sharps. Miss Nichols I am less knowledgeable of, sadly. I'm David Walker, by name; I does, oh, this'n that."
"That's a pity." Sally valiantly carrying on with her escalating series of lies. "Ol' Harringey owes Harry an' me some fifty dollars, an' we means ter exact said debt, come what may. Jest ter warn ye, if'n things proceeds ter get out'ta hand, y'realise. Any good with a pistol, or gun, Mr Walker? Or, even, a sawn-off shotgun? They bein' fine pieces t'bring t'an assassination, I believes?"
Henrietta, by this time, had imagined she had stopped breathing some time before; her whole attention being focused on the man, and especially his hands, waiting for the first move to go for a concealed weapon; but he remained outwardly calm.
"Sounds like a pretty wild conjunction of opposin' views is gon'na be on show, when your friend makes his appearance?" Walker, if that was who he truly was, abandoning his drink in favour of examining his two companions. "Ain't there rules an' regulations about totin' firearms around the vicinity of the town, by the by? You both, I observe, bein' armed mighty handsome, each t'the other. Wouldn't it be a better ploy t'make yer play out in the street, away from all these spectators? Assumin' you really mean to go the whole hog, an' all."
First Sally then Henrietta, the latter having no other option but to back up her confederate, opened their jackets to show the deputy stars pinned on the breasts of their shirts. Walker eyed these intimations of authority with a stony gaze and a raised eyebrow, then pushed himself off the bar to stand straight in front of the women.
"Well, it seem—"
Before he could continue he was interrupted by the arrival of another man through the crowded tables of the saloon. This interloper was slightly taller than Sally, heavy-set, dressed in jeans, a striped blue and yellow shirt, dusty well-worn boots, wearing a broken-rimmed stetson and wearing a gunbelt with what appeared to be a Smith and Wesson revolver in the holster.
"Hi, ah,—Walker." He spoke hesitantly, looking at the women suspiciously, then back to Walker. "Sorry I'm late; Bart's outside with—, er, outside,—comin'?"
"Excuse me, ladies, duty calls." Walker turned from the women, touching his hat in a gentlemanly way. "Sorry to break our converse up so inopportunely, but I have, umm, things attending my presence. Goodbye."
Before either woman could react he had disappeared towards the swing-doors of the saloon; but even his exit to the street was accompanied by a final drama.
"Jee-sus, did ya see that?"
"Yeah, sure as hellfire I dam' saw it." Henrietta striding forward, pushing through those in her way with a steely gaze that made them part ways even quicker. "Come on, gal, don't wan'na lose the rat."
But on reaching the doors and going through to the street they found their prey had already disappeared in the moving throng.
"Jeez, there's several side-streets, on both sides, close at hand." Sally clarifying the obvious even more clearly. "Did ya see? Jest as he went through those dam' swing doors, I distinctly saw another man, outside, put a sawn-off shotgun in the rat's hand—I did."
"So did I, doll." Henrietta was still looking up and down the street, to no avail. "Must'a bin that Bart chap the other guy mentioned. So Mr David Walker's totin' a sawn-off around the precincts o'Red Flume, is he? One wonders why?"
"Sh-t. Where'd ya think he's gone, lover?"
"From here? Could be anywhere, by now." Henrietta shook her head, nearly spitting with restrained fury. "God, must'a bin him, surely? Surely, this time? I means?"
"Well, meb'be." Sally, strangely, being the more hesitant this time. "Remember, if'n it is him, we're engaged t'terminate the rat without due cause or allowance; if'n it is him. But we still doesn't know which of these three men we've encountered t'day actilly is the specimen under discussion, do we? Not fer certin' sure, I mean."
"I repeats same, only with more feelin', lover."
The Gunfight in Candlemas St.
A few minutes further walk brought the distrait women to the corner of Cable St. and Candlemas St. Here they stood for a minute, considering whatever options were still available to them.
"We got three suspects, so far." Sally ticking them off on her hand, as they leaned against the wooden balustrade of the sidewalk. "First, that suspicious as hell lawyer, Randolph, er, er,—"
"Thanks, lady." Sally nodded, no whit put out. "Second, at the Clancy Hotel, Inglesant by name. Pretends ter be associated with some businessman or rancher, or somebody, workin' as security. Bad point aginst him, he carries a sawn-off—mighty dubious, an' some suggestive, don't yer think, darlin'?—"
"—third, Morgenthaler's Saloon, an' Dave Walker." Sally carrying her thought forward, against all opposition. "He actin' all doubtful t'the top o'his hat, whiles bein provided with said sawn-off on leavin' the premises; at time o'speakin' wanderin' the streets with said armament, intentions unknown. Which gets us where, lover?"
Henrietta stared glumly at her loved partner, at the passing crowds, then back to the middle of the dust covered street.
"OK, OK, I get yer point." She shrugged, turning to face down the street. "Let's go this way. I know, we got three fine suspects, an' that's all they is, so far. No point in haulin' them all in one by one ter face Sheriff Donaldson; he not wantin' that outcome, anyways, not without evidence, that is. What's wanted is a definite recognition o'who the real Harringey is followed, instanter, by final retribution fer his sins, no quarter given nor prior warnin' provided of our intentions thetaways."
"With yer all the way, dear." Sally stepped along, taking station on the left hand of her lover. "Say, let's go out in the street; mighty constricted here on the sidewalk with all these cit's milling about, all-ways."
It was a dirt street, only a few horse-riders ambling along in the mid-distance and no other wheeled traffic.
"Where is we, right where we's standin', by the by's?" Henrietta not quite sure of her bearings.
"Candlemas St." Sally knowing the town like an almanac. "Jest left Cable St. behind us. Where we tendin' t'go, then? Thinkin' of—"
At this point what may well be described as the climax to the whole affair set itself in motion, unbeknownst to the women. From behind them came the dull thump of horse hooves and the jangling noise of a wagon. Within seconds this passed the women, by a wide berth, its destination plainly on the other side of the wide street, some buildings further along; where it came to a halt outside one with a shopfront. Two men sat on the springboard, one of whom now commenced to swing himself lithely to the ground preparatory to entering the establishment.
"Jeez, look'ee there." Sally covering the scene with her sharp eagle eyes. "That there's Jeff Benson's Dry Goods Emporium, an' thet there's ol' man Kellermaine hisself."
"Jee-sus, why didn't Donaldson tell us he was comin' t'town?" Henrietta glancing up and down the street, filled with foreboding. "Keep yer eyes open, lassie, anythin' may happen. Come on, let's get over there, an' lend a savin' hand afore it's too late."
But it was too late—at least to prevent the opening scene in the ensuing drama. As Kellermaine paused on the sidewalk to address his wagon-driver from round the side of Benson's shop, out of a narrow alleyway, appeared one of the tall dark-coated men earlier studied by the women. From their angle of approach, they still being some distance off across the street, they could not see if he carried anything in his left hand, which was hidden from view. Sally and Henrietta, dreading the worst, broke into a run but, as they shortened the intervening distance, their attention was diverted by the appearance, from the other direction, of two riders coming at a gallop. They both reined in as they came to the stopped wagon and the still unsuspecting Kellermaine; one of the riders clearly recognisable as another of the men interrogated by the women earlier that morning. This second man, however, certainly being armed with said, now near-fabled, sawn-off shotgun; which, as he rode his mount right up to the sidewalk balustrade as close to his intended victim as the stationary wagon allowed, he presented towards his target—his intentions obvious to all.
Still running, Sally got off the first shot in what came to be known as the Gunfight in Candlemas St. Where the bullet actually went no-one ever found out. Henrietta's first shot hit the saddle of the tall black-coated man, sending up a cloud of dust and leather fragments. His partner, quick on the uptake, dragged his mount's head round to face this unexpected opposition and began to return fire with his own revolver. Sally now opened up with both her firearms, having come to a skidding halt to aim properly. For a few seconds both women were hidden by the clouds of grey smoke from their weapons; then it could be seen the second, unknown, man had slumped in his saddle. Harringey, for it must have been him, turning from his primary victim again levelled his vicious firearm, this time aiming straight for Henrietta.
In the ensuing furore, the gunshots echoing like a thunderstorm from building to building, Sally caught a glimpse of the first suspect on the sidewalk, now standing in the shadows under the roof; obviously protecting, with a raised defensive arm, a lady who had walked unsuspecting into the ongoing fray.
Meanwhile Henrietta, perfectly aware of her danger, let out a warning cry to her lover and raised her weapons. Sally, returning to the business in hand, found one of her revolvers was now empty and useless. Throwing it to the ground she raised and aimed her second, just as Henrietta started letting loose too. The noise was fantastic, three revolvers firing at close quarters sounding like the Knell of Doom magnified a thousandfold. Again the women were enveloped in the clouds of smoke caused by the black powder in their ammunition then, this swirling away in the slight breeze, the scene uncovered itself once more.
Harringey's horse had fled the scene, while what remained of the man himself lay sprawled in the dust, motionless, a black heap. As they watched the second man, Harringey's accomplice, clearly badly wounded, gave a groan, twisted in his saddle, and fell slowly to the ground; where he too made no further move. The Gunfight in Candlemas St. was over; Harringey apparently, as far as anyone could surmise, never having gotten off one single shot.
Gasping somewhat for breath the women cautiously approached the motionless victims of their swathe of flying bullets, both knowing how dangerous an apparently dead prey might still be; but their fears proved, on closer examination, groundless—both men were wholly dead; each having taken their last breaths in this life.
Sally gazed musingly at the remains of the tall dark-coated lanky man lying in the dust.
"So, he was the guy, in the end. Who'd have guessed?"
"Yeah, took me by surprise, too, leddy." Henrietta nodded, sighing in relief the while. "You hurt, darlin'?"
"Nary a bullet hit me, thank the Lord." Sally shrugging her shoulders and taking a deep breath. "You?"
"Never felt better, doll." Henrietta smiled as they stood over the late outlaw and killer. "Seems Harringey never got t'get the benefit o'that sawn-off o'his—never got time t'fire a single shot, thank God. Well, that's the end o'him. That other lanky frockcoat over on the sidewalk there OK, too?"
"Yeah, he's lookin' after a lady." Sally glanced across to the sidewalk, with a raised eyebrow. "Looks like they're gettin' along jest dandy. Well, suppose we ought'ta inform Donaldson his worries is over, an' ol' man Kellermaine's still in the land o'the livin, jest like the two o'us, lover. An' we didn't have'ta, in the event, resort t'cold murder after all; the which is mighty calmin' t'the soul."
"Yeah, wonder what the reward'll be,—jest sayin'?"
Another 'Red Flume' story will arrive shortly.