Cougar spoke quietly out of the side of his mouth so’s only I could hear. “Interesting reception commmittee.”
True that. We’d come at Deadwood, South Dakota, from the southwest, riding up the main street jist at sunset. There were plenty of obvious whores already in evidence at this hour, the smallpox epidemic that hit the town on August 12 was purty much over…and as my partner had noted, we were getting more than our share of attention.
“Your fame as a shootist, the one and only Cougar Two Gun Tamson, precedes you?”
“Maybe,” he mused. “Some of it. There are obviously a few shootists in the mix, and no doubt one or three of ’em will have to try me on fer size before we’re done with this town. But it’s more’n jist that. I’d say Missy Clarissy has been running her lips. Some of these folks look way too hostile unless she’s convinced ’em we’re the bad guys.”
About that time, one of the wannabe shootists stepped out in the street, blocking our path. Two guns worn crossdraw fashion. Jist a kid, twenty at most, but then again, Crazy Rifle himself had been an accomplished killer at age thirteen.
“Cougar Tamson!” the youngster yelled, his voice cracking some. “I’m calling you out!” I revised my age estimate downward. Considerably.
We pulled up. Crossed our forearms over our saddle horns, two cowboys entirely at ease, or giving the appearance of it. “Friend of yours?” I asked Coug, watching the boy facing us in the street with some interest. If this young whippersnapper starting tossing lead around careless-like, we could lose a horse. I wouldn’t like that much.
The flashy palomino, Sunny, was the last horse I’d had shot out from under me. Never have learned to appreciate that sort of thing.
“Friend?” Tamson stuck two fingers up under the brim of his hat, shoved it back on his head some. “Not as I recall. Though he seems right interested in making my acquaintance.”
“Hunh. I got this,” I murmured. More loudly, I addressed the crowd. Oh, I was looking at the boy, but my message was meant fer the wider audience as well.
“Son,” I said, knowing he’d hate that, “you can’t jist up and brace the unchained lightning known as Cougar Tamson without following protocol.”
Confused fer a second, the challenger recovered quick enough, demanding to know, “No? And why the Hell not?”
“Because,” I pointed out with impeccable logic, “from what I know of Sheriff Seth Bullock, the law don’t take kindly to gunplay on the streets of Deadwood. In the past, maybe, but the good Sheriff’s been working hard to turn this lawless and highly illegal town into something respectable. So there–”
“So what? We can go outside of town somewhere.”
“–you have it. Plus, and this is highly important, young man, this is key: You gotta prove yourself before the Great One here is going to deign to sully his sterling reputation with the likes of you.”
“What’s a Dane got to do with it?”
“Now, see,” I nodded at him, serious-like, “Danes are important here.” Never mind that this kid didn’t know deign from Dane. “I’m the Dane. You can call me Dawson the Dane. And where I fit into this puzzle is simply that I handle Cougar’s light work. You gotta git past me before you can schedule a gunfight with him.”
“You gotta be kidding.”
Kinda sorta, but I wasn’t about to clue in this baby tinhorn any time soon.
Well, to make a long story short, my presentation confused the hostile crowd some and rattled Cougar’s challenger a lot. In the end, he decided what the Hell, if he had to shoot me first, then he’d shoot me first. He’d never heard ot no Dawson the Dane, so I must not amount to much.
We’d stayed mounted, so I could see who was moving where along the sidewalks, but it was still close. I’d gone so far as to turn Joker sideways so I could extend my arm to the side fer my best one-handed aim, and the loudmouth kid had his hands clawed, working himself up to make his play, when the Sheriff finally broke through the crowd.
“There’ll be none of that, Timmons!” he barked. The kid tensed jist that little bit more, to the point I thought he was actually gonna go for it, but then he let off. Unclawed his hands. Let his shoulders slump.
“Sheriff, these two–”
“Shut it,” Bullock told him, and danged if the boy didn’t zip his lip.
The crowd, we noted with some interest, seemed to be melting away like mountain snowpack in mid-August. Hostile to us outlanders or not, the locals clearly didn’t care to be seen crossing the lawman openly.
Good to know.
“Mr. Trask,” he looked up at the two of us. “Mr. Tamson. The livery is down that way,” he pointed, “and fer a decent bed and bath, I’d recommend Harney’s. If you’d be kind enough to join me fer supper, I take my evening meals at Callie’s, generally about eight o’clock. I’d appreciate it if you’d join me this evening.”
I didn’t have to look at Coug to know what he was thinking. Sheriff Seth Bullock’s invitation was not exactly an invitation.
“Thank you, Sheriff,” I nodded. “We’ll see you at eight.”
“Your nod to the niceties of civilization is appreciated, gentlemen.”
“Glad to hear it, Sheriff.” Cougar grinned at him
We pulled up chairs and sat, realizing Bullock was referring to our attire. We didn’t look to be carrying any weaponry, now that we’d shucked our sixguns and–along with the other ordnance we’d brought along, which was considerable–stashed everything in a hopefully safe place.
Nope. Sorry. Not saying jist where.
Anyway, we now came across as a couple of genteel businessmen, more or less. We weren’t wearing our hats, which made my bald head quite a sight in itself, and we’d dug out our city duds from one of the packs.
In truth, of course, we were packing more heat now than we normally did. Back home, Manuel Garza had finally located another barrel cluster with which to assemble our fourth Garza Surprise. Fancy duds made covering our shoulder rigs workable–no groin rig fer me this time around, thank you–and we could unlimber twenty-four rounds in .44 caliber right sudden-like, should the need arise.
The food was decent and plenty of it; the coffee was…adequate.
Once the plates had been cleared from the table and our second cups of adequate coffee squared away, Bullock got down to business.
“We have a problem, gentlemen.”
What? Oh. Yeah, he’s that Bullock. Supposedly able to stare down jist about any miscreant. Never did have to kill a man to enforce the law in his town, though he had half a dozen deputies on tap to help him out.
“A problem?” I asked. I knew the answer, of course, or thought I did.
“Yes. First of all, you need to know I’ll tolerate no gunplay in Deadwood.”
“You don’t believe we’d start anything, do you?” Coug’s question was mild, but there was steel underneath his tone. Law enforcement types, with the notable exception of our own Sheriff Robert Olsen back in Walsenburg, tended to irritate the half-Cheyenne shootist.
“No. Cougar, I have to say, that I do not believe you would start anything. Unfortunately,” he admitted, “when somebody else starts something, you do have a reputation of finishing it.”
“Unfortunately?” I raised an eyebrow.
“You know what I mean.”
I decided it was time to git seriously involved. Cougar Tamson is not a man to lose his temper, but I could feel it rising in him. Fer whatever reason, my partner and this Deadwood lawdog with the sterling reputation purely and simply struck sparks off one another.
We had a witch to wangle outa here…I remembered something.
“Before we git into all that, Sheriff, we need to tell you we really appreciate your work in helping git Yellowstone Park put together. That is about the finest service any man coulda done fer this country, I’m thinking.”
Lucky hit. Bullock lightened right up. “You’ve been to Yellowstone?”
“And then some,” I grinned in sincere appreciation. “Took our families through there in ’73, on the way from Montana down to found Flywheel Ranch in Colorado. Camped below the Falls one night. Had myself a bear encounter. Like to lost Coug’s Dad crossing the river jist below Yellowstone Lake. It’s amazing what you done, being a part of preserving that fer all time.”
“Well,” Cougar remarked as we were settling in fer the night, “you derailed him right enough, talking about the Park. But he was right. We got a problem.”
We did indeed. Clarisse Moore Morgan had beaten us to Deadwood by ten days and change, and she’d used them days to good advantage. According to the Sheriff, she’d spread the word far and wide that the hunters pursuing her were evil men. “Flywheel Ranch” in Colorado was a cover name fer a gang of cutthroats who abducted beautiful women and farmed their bodies out at so much a pop.
Yep. We’d turned her into an unpaid prostitute, she claimed, telling stories of being ravished by hordes of wild Indians and the lowest sort of white trash, all of whom congregated at this Colorado mountain hideout.
“Save me from these evil beings,” she’d told the locals. “Oh, save me!”
Bullock himself had the straight of it; Sheriff Olsen had sent him an entire series of telegrams explaining the true situation. Including the fact that we Flywheel types were upstanding citizens and pillars of the community in Walsenburg.
Okay, so where’s the problem, you ask?
Jist this: Clarisse the Piece was being purty free with her favors, it seemed, and she was good looking enough to make that count fer quite a bit. If the black widow were arrested, she’d need to be moved out of Lawrence County post haste…or the Sheriff might have a riot on his hands.
Plus, in order to legally remove her back to Colorado, we’d have to take our case before a judge and argue fer extradition. Which could take a short time, or might take a few weeks beyond forever.
Cougar did finally explain his dislike of Sheriff Bullock. “I never have been able to stomach them hotshot law enforcement types that think they can control a man by staring holes through him. It’s always seemed to me like a few .45 caliber holes git the job done with a heap more clarity.”
“I don’t much care fer this bugger, either,” I admitted. “Let’s jist give up and go home.”
He stared at me by the light of our one lantern, startled. Then he seen I was grinning.
“You look part timber wolf right now,” he noted with admiration. “Fill me in.”
You gotta realize, Clarisse come awful close to being right on the money: Our Flyweel bunch is a mighty scofflaw crew.
No, no, we never pimped out no joy girls or nothing like that. But we never had much respect fer the law jist ’cause it was the law, neither. If it was right, that was one thing. But like Chet Barnes was fond of saying when he was alive, if you love either sausage or the law, don’t ever watch either one of ’em being made. Take the law into our own hands? Hell, when it come to taking care of business, we were the law.
Deadwood, South Dakota–including the esteemed Sheriff Seth Bullock, the witch Clarisse Morgan, and all the rest of ’em–would hopefully find that out soon enough. The entire plan was Dawson’s, naturally, with a few tweaks added by yours truly. Our campsite up in the hills outside of Deadwood was my choice, since we both knew I was maxiumum sneaky about such things. On the eighth day after our “departure in defeat” from Clarisse’s sanctuary town, we made our move.
The black widow had taken up with one Glenn Chargill, a successful gambler who owned his own place of business, and turned the upstairs rooms into a thriving brothel. Fast mover, the new Madame Clarisse.
Roughly one hour before first light, we slipped down off the ridge–no, I ain’t saying which ridge. Deadwood is surrounded by ridges, all close in to the town and all steep. Take your pick. We slipped down off the ridge. Chargill’s Card House, which the local wags had renamed Cards and Tarts, was accessible via a prowler friendly alley. I picked the lock on the back door, that being another of my little known skills, and we slipped inside.
Wearing moccasins, of course. Surely you don’t think we’d be dumb enough to do this sort of thing in loud leather cowboy boots and jingle-jangling spurs, do you?
Chargill was asleep at one of the card tables. Rather, he was passed out at one of the card tables. The man drank a lot.
We left him snoring and slipped upstairs.
The working girls had rooms lining the long hallway; Clarisse the Beast had claimed the master bedroom at the end of the hall. I say she claimed it, simply due to the fact that Chargill himself was seldom there.
Did I mention he drank a lot?
The door wasn’t even locked.
When she woke up, Dawson was stuffing a rag gag in the woman’s mouth and I was slapping on the handcuffs. Which we’d borrowed from Sheriff Olsen back home, along with the badges in our pockets that identified us as Heurfano County deputies. Not that a Colorado badge had any jurisdiction in South Dakota. Jist saying.
I seen her death in Dawson’s eyes by the moonlight coming in her bedroom window. It took a bit of doing to remind him: Robert Olsen had deputized us fer this mission “on one condition”, that condition being that we bring the witch back alive to stand trial.
Which kind of sucked, but there it was.
Clarisse didn’t bother to struggle. Not from terror, though there was plenty of that in her fer sure, but because she knew not to waste her energy fighting a battle she couldn’t win.
Dawson whispered in her ear, soft like a lover, but the message he was imparting weren’t no pillow talk between sweethearts. He was explaining her options: She could write down what he told her to write–if I took off the handcuffs, she could–or she could drink a cup of her own special tea, some of which we’d brought along fer that special purpose.
She wrote the note.
We made it all the way back to Cheyenne before we heard the news. Not that we were traveling by daylight; we just “happened” to know where we could pick up a paper on the way through. Come daylight, with our camp well hidden and the prospect of a bit of sleep more than welcome, it was time to see what it said.
ACCUSED BLACK WIDOW TO STAND TRIAL IN COLORADO
Deadwood, South Dakota: The accused murderess Clarisse (Moore) Morgan had beaten the two special deputies sent from Walsenburg, Colorado, to drag her back to Colorado to stand trial for the murder of one good man and the attempted murder of four more people. Yet she will indeed stand trial…of her own volition.
“I stand accused of murders I did not commit,” Mrs. Morgan wrote in a note found by her Deadwood employer, one Glenn Chargill, owner of Chargill’s Card House, “and I must return to Colorado to clear my name. They say I brewed a deadly concoction and served it as tea, a charge I categorically deny. Hold my place for me; I shall return to Deadwood once the matter is settled.”
Tam tapped his chin in thought. “Kind of amazing when you think about it.”
“What is?” I asked.
“Dawson’s plans. Here he tricked the woman into writing that note–”
“Forced her, you mean.”
“No, I mean tricked. She thought from the wording of it that she was swearing to her own innocence. Because of that, she was willing to write it out as dictated rather than drink her own tea right there in Deadwood.”
“We wouldn’t really have killed her. ”
“Maybe not. Or maybe yes; you still don’t know Dawson the way I do. But that’s neither here nor there; she thought the threat was real, and that’s all that mattered.
“The point is, Trask tricked her into sealing her own conviction in stone with that note. She wrote down she’d been accused of brewing a deadly concoction…but she had no way of knowing that information had never been released to the public. She could only know how Daniel died if she’d done the deed.”
I thought about that fer a bit. “Okay, but I still say the most ironic thing was Glenn Chargill asking fer the body after she hung herself in her cell. The woman really did have a way with words, even when Dawson put ’em in her mouth.”
“What do you mean, son?”
“Tha last line in that note. She wrote, Hold my place for me; I shall return to Deadwood once the matter is settled.”
We looked at the clock. 2:38 p.m. The train carrying the coffin-encased corpse should be pulling into Deadwood right about now. The matter was well and truly settled, and the Flywheel Poisoner had, fer once in her life, been as good as her word.