Wednesday, November 2, 2011


“I’d like to speak to the marshal,” the tall figure stated as he entered the jailhouse. His hat was pulled low, obscuring his face, which was just as well as there was more than likely a bill with that face and a reward printed underneath it hanging somewhere in the building.
“Who’s asking?” the man behind the table asked gruffly.
“A concerned citizen.”
Evan Taylor grunted at hearing this and chewed on his tobacco. He’d had enough of concerned citizens in the two weeks he’d been marshal to last him a lifetime. The job wasn’t proving as enjoyable as he thought it would be. He’d imagined roaming around Baxter Springs, untouchable and unaccountable. The reality was somewhat different. The last thing he wanted that morning, as he nursed a heavy hangover from the night before, was someone coming into his office, asking awkward questions. But, he reasoned to himself, short of shooting this feller dead right there in front of him, he’d have to at the very least listen to what he had to say.
Taylor stood up slowly, giving his head a chance to catch up with his body, hoping that his queasiness eased a little. “Well, citizen,” he asked, “what’re you so concerned about?”
“My name’s Adam Crean,” the stranger said authoritatively as he offered his hand to Taylor. “And I’m a Pinkerton.”
Taylor shook his hand roughly. “A Pinkerton?” he asked, surprised. “What business have you around here?”
“Powers Bank have employed me.”
“Oh,” Taylor muttered. “You’re here about the bank robbery. Well, I don’t know nothing about that.”
This time it was Crean’s turn to show surprise. “What d’you mean, you don’t know nothing about it? You’re the marshal, aren’t you?”
“Sure am.” Taylor paused as he spat out a wedge of chewing tobacco. “But I wasn’t when that happened.”
“But that was only two weeks ago. Did the last feller get shot or something? I hadn’t heard.”
A smile crossed Taylor’s face. “A Pinkerton that don’t know everything? Maybe you’re not such a great detective after all?”
Crean’s face reddened. “My mistake,” he said. “Maybe you’d tell me where I can find someone who does know about the robbery?”
Taylor still wore his stupid grin. “Gee, I’m only a lawman two weeks and already I got a Pinkerton asking for my help,” he said.
There was no one else in the room to hear him. This little performance was purely for his Crean’s benefit.
Crean stared at Taylor. “Afraid so, friend,” he said, seeming to force a smile. “You’ve got the better of me here.”
Taylor chuckled deeply, savoring this small satisfaction. He could feel the pounding in his head returning, however, and decided that it was time to send this feller on his way. “You’re looking for Pete Baker,” he said. “He was marshal when the bank was robbed, killed all the gang except the feller that had the money.” A flash of pain passed through his brain. His hangover was returning fast, and with a vengeance. “You’ll probably find him in the Rancher’s saloon, his wife runs the place.”
“Much obliged,” the detective replied and tipped the brim of his hat, but seemed reluctant to remove it. Taylor never did get a good look at Crean’s face, and then the Pinkerton turned and left him to his hangover.
* * * *
Joe and Pete sat around the kitchen table in the back of the Ranchers’ Saloon, listening to the sound of drunken customers that carried through from the bar
“I thought we’d be able to leave this behind,” Pete said grimly. “Bring Tom up out in the country on a homestead. This isn’t a good place for a child.”
“I don’t know,” Joe said. “Dorothy grew up here and she turned out all right.”
This drew a smile to Pete’s lips. He could always rely on Joe to stay positive, to say something to try and keep his spirits up. But he had had his heart set on a farming life, on leaving the Ranchers’ Saloon behind. Yet that dream seemed to be gradually disappearing. The search for the outlaw wasn’t going well and he’d come to realize that he acted rashly when he pledged to bring him in. In his role as marshal he had spent most of his time locking up drunken cowboys and trying to maintain law and order. Chasing all over the countryside following faint clues wasn’t what he was used to. None of the dead bodies yielded any helpful information, either. They’d been outcasts, known up and down the trails as guns-for-hire; troublemakers who’d do anything for the price of a drink.
Pete and Joe quickly reached a dead end. The bitter truth was that there wasn’t much appetite for helping the law in and around Baxter Springs, particularly when no reward was offered. And since it was known that Pete’s days as a lawman in town were numbered it, it soon became obvious that his authority amongst the townsfolk diminished, making his job that much more difficult, if not almost impossible.
“Maybe working in the saloon won’t be so bad,” Pete mumbled. “I’m sure I’d get used to it, eventually.”
“Sure,” Joe replied.
Pete slipped into a listless silence, absentmindedly listening to the singing and shouting from the saloon. There was nothing more to be said. Even Joe couldn’t fill the void. They both raised their coffees to their lips and the sound of them slurping the drinks drifted into the air.
“Pete,” Dorothy said as she entered the room, “there’s someone here to see you.”
A tall man with his hat low, obscuring his face, came in. He kept his long coat on as he sat in the chair Pete offered. All in all, Pete thought he was a strange looking feller.
“Name’s Pete Baker, and this here’s Joe Flaherty. What can I do for you, stranger?”
“Adam Crean,” the man said. “I’m here to ask you a few questions about the bank robbery.”
Pete and Joe looked at him, hard. “What’s your interest in the matter?” Pete asked.
“I’m a Pinkerton.”
“You employed by the bank?”
“Sure am.”
“Well then, let’s all have some more coffee and then you can ask your questions.”
About an hour later, after much questioning and almost as much coffee, Adam Crean said he’d gotten all the information he sought and left the Ranchers’ Saloon.
* * * *
Pete waited until Crean left and then grabbed his hat from the back of the chair. “Come on, Joe,” he said urgently.
Joe jumped to his feet, clearly surprised by this sudden call to action. “Why?”
“We’ve got to follow him.”
“The Pinkerton?”
“That ain’t no Pinkerton, Joe. That’s Dan Bogue, and if he’s interested in our robbery, then he might know something that could help us.”
They left the building as quickly as possible and from a safe distance followed Dan Bogue down the street.
* * * *
Bogue was preoccupied as he walked. He kept to the wooden boardwalk as much as possible, sticking to the shadows where possible. Baxter Springs was busy, the stores and saloons all doing brisk business. Horses snickered as they stood tied to hitching rails all along the street. He wasn’t sure what to make of his meeting with Pete Baker. He’d learned all the details about the robbery, some of which McGraw had already provided. What Bogue discovered was that Weston escaped somewhere on the plain and almost certainly killed one of his own men in the process. That wasn’t good news. He knew that it meant Weston meant to disappear, maybe even retire and hadn’t intended sharing the money. But then something happened, some event provoked his furious killing spree in the saloon in Lawrence, a piece of information the marshal didn’t mention. Something that led to a price being put on his head and drawn Dan Bogue into his story. A story that must end with Weston’s death.
He’d come across Weston before but it was untrue to say that there was a sense of brotherhood or even empathy between the gunmen. They weren’t soldiers. They weren’t fighting for a greater cause. They were working for their own selfish needs. For material gain, and for power. And, no matter what concerns Bat Maxwell might have about Bogue’s willingness to carry out his task, killing Charlie Weston carried no more significance for him than he might attach to squashing a bug underfoot. He slipped into a saloon; he needed a drink to help him think.
As always, he sat at a corner table to ensure that he held the whole saloon in his field of vision. He ordered a beer and when it arrived he took a thirsty mouthful.
He relaxed a little and began to run through the course of events involving Charlie Weston.
Weston had robbed a bank here in Baxter Springs and gotten away, but then turned up just down the road in Lawrence two weeks later, where he killed two men. There, the trail grew cold. As he considered what to do next, Bogue ordered a whisky.
He felt the liquid easing his aching bones after the long ride to get there. He sat, taking stock, debating what to do next.
* * * *
Pete watched as Bogue emerged from the saloon. Evening was creeping in and twilight was descending on the town. After exiting the building, Bogue turned left and made his way along the busy street. Pete set off after him at a brisk pace, Joe just behind.
Bogue walked determinedly, rarely breaking his stride. He kept to the sides of the street and occasionally looked from left to right, surveying the passers-by.
Pete stayed well back, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible. After about five minutes, Bogue took a sharp turn to his right, leaving the street abruptly. He entered the Hakluyt Hotel. Pete paused, unsure what to do now. Follow him inside or stay? He lingered outside the hotel, trying to see if Bogue lurked inside the doorway, waiting for him to blunder in. He couldn’t see anything but the dull interior of the entrance hallway, however, so he stepped in off the street.
Bogue was nowhere to be seen.
Pete immediately crossed the lobby.
“What can I do for you?” asked the man behind the reception desk. He paused before adding, “Marshal.”
“I need a little help, Benjamin,” Pete said as Joe now joined him.
“Anything you ask, Pete.”
Benjamin Hakluyt had been running his hotel since before Pete came to town, and Pete had few dealings with him. Any time they met, Hakluyt seemed polite and courteous. He valued peace and quiet, but he also valued his guests’ privacy. That meant that he had always complied with Pete, but he was aware of where the law ended and his rights began. This could be difficult, Pete mused. But he needed Benjamin’s help and he was going to have to get it, one way or another.
“That man who just came in. Is he a guest of yours?”
Benjamin paused before answering, obviously thinking over the implications of anything he would say. “Yes, he is. Why do you ask, Pete? Last I heard, you weren’t doing any more law work around the town. Heard you were trying to catch the bandidos that robbed the bank.”
“That’s right.” He could see where this was going. His authority had been eroded and the uncertainty of his position meant that the local townsfolk no longer felt compelled to cooperate with him, not that they ever really welcomed the law into their lives, anyway. Pete took a deep breath before continuing. “It’s like this, Ben. That feller who just walked up your stairs is a murderer. A gun for hire. His picture’s hanging in the jailhouse.”
The color drained from the hotelier’s face.
“Now, either you’re going to keep an eye on him for me, and tell me personally when he’s about to leave, or I’m going to tell Evan Taylor that Dan Bogue’s hiding out in your hotel. And I can only imagine the kind of damage Evan would do to these fine premises of yours if he should come in here to arrest this man.”
Ben nodded and then spoke very softly: “Yes, Marshal.”
“So, I want to know if he looks like he’s going to leave town. Is that clear?” He didn’t wait for a reply. “You’re a good man Benjamin; I know you’ll do the right thing.”
He gestured to Joe and they exited the premises and returned to the street, leaving a troubled Ben Hakluyt behind.
“Gee, Pete. Weren’t you a bit harsh with him?” Joe asked.
“I didn’t enjoy that. He’s a good man; too good. He’d think the best of all his customers and wouldn’t tell us a thing without a little persuasion. Evan Taylor certainly helped us out there, even if he don’t know it.”
“It’s the only way he’d ever help us,” Joe replied, laughter in his voice.
They headed down the street, back toward the Ranchers’ Saloon with a spring in their steps. Progress, at last, Pete thought. He wasn’t sure what kind of progress, but at least things were moving forward.
* * * *
As the two lawmen walked past an alleyway, they didn’t take any notice of the cowboy lighting a match off of the sole of his boot. But the cowboy noticed them; he’d been waiting for them, and kept a safe distance from them until they had entered the saloon.
Confident that they were more than likely in there for the night, he returned to the alleyway near the Hakluyt Hotel and watched the doorway, waiting for any sign of Dan Bogue.
* * * *
Joe and Pete sat heavily at the kitchen table once more. Dorothy was with them, holding baby Tom in her arms. Pete gestured to her and she passed the baby across and watched as her husband stared lovingly into the eyes of his son. Something was amiss, she could tell. Pete wasn’t much of a one for deception and he could never keep his true feelings from her. She held her tongue, however, and allowed father and son time together. He’d tell her when the time was right.
She bustled about and poured coffee for herself and the two men. They looked weary, she thought. Inwardly, she’d reconciled herself to the fact that Pete would lose his job when the two months were up. He didn’t seem to have made any inroads into the solving of the case, despite an enthusiastic start, and both he and Joe now seemed to spend their whole time sitting at her kitchen table, drinking coffee and staring into space.
But something was different today. A light had returned to Pete’s eyes. Something had happened, but what? She couldn’t hold back any longer, it wasn’t in her nature. She was a woman who called a spade a spade and said things as they were. Time to get everything out in the open. Pete often thought that he was protecting her, she knew, by sparing her details of his work but she always got them out of him. And, she was sure, he was always glad she did.
“Spit it out, you two,” she whispered, trying not to wake the sleeping baby. “Something’s after happening and I won’t be left out.”
Pete looked up at her with a wry smile, while Joe just concentrated on his coffee.
“I was just about to tell you, darling,” he said. His voice was lighter, as if some of the lethargy that smothered him in the previous weeks had dissipated.
“Well then, get on with the telling.”
Pete explained to her about Dan Bogue, a hired gun, not a Pinkerton detective, and told her of their conversation with Benjamin Hakluyt.
“I hope you didn’t scare Ben too bad,” she scolded. “I hear Jane talking about his heart all the time.”
“He knows the right thing to do. That’s all that matters.”
“Well, what are you fixing to do?” She couldn’t keep the worry from her voice. On the one hand, she was happy to see her husband regaining his sense of purpose while, on the other, she was worried where it might lead him. She could already feel that it might take him away from her for a time; she could only pray that it would allow him to return.
* * * *
Pete took a deep breath. He looked down on the sleeping figure of Tom, all swaddled up in his blanket, just his soft face uncovered. Dorothy beckoned for him to pass the baby over but he shook his head and held his son even closer, feeling the warmth of his body. Everything was here in Baxter Springs: Dorothy, Tom, even Cal, his father-in-law, and of course Joe, his friend. All the family he had in the world. Was he foolish, was he being stupid or rash or reckless in what he planned to do?
Then he thought about the man Dorothy married. Thought of what life had been like when he’d been marshal, doing something he loved until the politics of the position interfered. In truth, the last few weeks were a blur of depression, indolence and general dissatisfaction. He hadn’t been himself, something he hadn’t even really realized or acknowledged until Dan Bogue walked into their kitchen and energized him like a bolt of lightning. He must continue; he had to see it through. It wasn’t just for him, it was for all of them. If he was successful, he was sure he could make a better life for his family. He must find the bank robber.
“When Bogue leaves town, Joe and I will be going after him,” Pete said eventually. His voice was steady as he desperately fought back the emotions that welled inside. “He knows something about the robbery and I intend finding out what it is. He might lead us right to the culprit.”
“Or he might kill you,” Dorothy said quickly.
“I’ll be careful. You know that. I can look after myself.”
“I know,” she said softly. “I know.” Tears brimmed her eyes and slid slowly down her cheeks.
Joe pushed his chair back from the table. “I better go home and get my things. I might not have time later.” He left, hurriedly.
After they placed Tom in his crib, Dorothy and Pete headed for their bedroom. When they got there, Dorothy clasped her arms around Pete and kissed him hard on the lips. “I’m sure Dan Bogue won’t leave town tonight,” she whispered softly.
* * * *
The knock on the door came early the next morning. Joe and Pete were ready and waiting.
“He’s checking out,” Benjamin’s son, Amos, said breathlessly.
Pete kissed baby Tom and Dorothy goodbye, his hand lingering on her shoulder as he pulled her to him. “See you soon,” he said and let go of her.
The pair left the saloon.
Dorothy couldn’t muster any words. Tears ran down her face.

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