The Shoshones and I kept our hands on our weapons until our late night guests were inside the cabin and the bar thrown across the door, but we needn’t have worried. The only non-friend in the group had his hands bound behind him and a flour sack over his head.
A small man, though hardly as miniscule as Philip P. Pomeroy, he was dwarfed between bar owner Wayne–what was his last name?–on one side, Jefferson Cole Panghorn on the other, and Marshal Rusty Johnson himself bringing up the rear.
Quite a mob for our little squatter’s domicile.
“Stoke up the fire, would you, Bluebird? We want to be sure our little trapped weasel is warm enough to sweat without working at it too hard.”
There was plenty of light already, but Wise Owl turned up the wick a bit on the kerosene lantern anyway. Bright lights in the eyes of bad guys, I’d read, were generally conducive to fruitful interrogations.
The Marshal plucked the sack from the captive’s head. Strangely enough, I couldn’t remember ever having laid eyes on this man in my life. You wouldn’t think that could happen in a snowbound community of less than 300 cabin-fevered Souls near the end of a long Colorado winter. He did have an eminently forgettable kind of face, though. Nervous at the moment, of course, eyes wild above the knotted bandana gagging him tight enough to choke a horse.
I had the feeling this one was a talker. Probably jist as well he was gagged fer a bit yet.
“You don’t recognize him, Henry?” Cole Panghorn didn’t look surprised, jist confirming his suspicions. “No?”
I shook my head.
“Well, Tamson,” Wayne put in, taking on the role of educator, “that ain’t really too surprising. This one don’t stand out much, and that’s a fact. But he knows you. Brother, does he know you.
“Name is Braxton Hicks, or at least that’s what he’s going by in Yampa this winter. Worthless as tits on a boar hog, thirty-one years of age if you can believe a word he says, but ain’t done a lick of honest work in his life. Near as we’ve been able to determine, anyway. Instead, he likes to git behind whatever little tin god he can find, do a bit of that fellow’s dirty work, but stay out of sight himself.”
Rusty, Wayne, and Cole, all three busted out laughing. “Not directly,” Rusty explained, he being the first to git control of himself. “Ain’t got the balls fer that. No, this little weasel is your basic behind the scenes weasel courier. Scouts a bit, maybe, though he ain’t much got the talent fer it. Mostly, he runs messages. Pomeroy needs to send word here, there, wherever, and pop goes this little weasel.”
“Courier,” I mused, rubbing my stubbled chin thoughtfully. “Dawson Trask–my future father in law–did his time in the War Between the States. He’s told me many a time, capturing a courier can be better than taking out an entire brigade of artillery. If the courier happens to be packing the right information.”
“Your firend Dawson,” the Marshal grinned, wolflike, “is one smart sumbitch.”
Turned out I’d been right: Braxton Hicks was a talker. At least, surrounded by grim-faced big men who’d clearly cause him great bodily harm if he didn’t spill the beans, he was.
Of course, Wise Owl, the Shoshone warrior, might have had a little something to do with encouraging Hicks to talk. The captured weasel had protested–just once–that he wouldn’t be having anything to say to any of us. Upon which, the “inscrutable savage” over there in the corner, attention fully upon honing his belt knife to razor’s edge sharpness, had commented as if talking to himself,
“Skinned a Ute once. He didn’t talk, neither. Some don’t. The really strong ones.”
Wise Owl never looked up from his work, never even glanced toward our rawhide-bound guest, but Braxton the courier got the message. Which meant, so did we. And what a message it was.
I’d started taking notes almost at the beginning. When we finally figured we’d gotten all we needed from Mr. Diarrhea Mouth and didn’t need to hear him rattle on any longer, he was re-gagged–tighter than before, if that was possible–and disposed of.
Oh. No, sorry. Didn’t mean to say we killed the little weasel in cold blood. We jist put him on ice. Wise Owl had been scouting the country every non-blizzard day fer months, and he’d located a cave jist two ridges over. “Ain’t but one bear hibernating in there,” he assured the weasel, “and we’ll be securing you in a different branch of the thing anyway”.
When the Shoshone and Wayne the bar owner eased out the door with Hicks in tow (once again with the flour sack over his head), there weren’t but maybe two hours left till daylight.
I stared at the notes in my hand. “Well, that’s sure enough settled. I’m the target fer an assassination attempt, with you, Cole, to serve as the fall guy when they either gun you down or string you up without benefit of trial.”
Panghorn shrugged. “I’m actually honored, kind of. Don’t usually git this close to the powers that be in any community. It’s gratifying to be recognized.”
“Enough chit-chat.” This from the Marshal. “Pompous Piss-ant Pomeroy don ‘t let nobody bother his beauty sleep, but by ten o’clock, him and his bunch are gonna realize Hicks ain’t where he’s supposed to be.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Bluebird put in, her first words of the long night. “I think snugged down in a chilly dark cave with a stinky hibernating boar grizzly next door is exactly where he’s supposed to be.”
The laughter was genuine, but died quickly. We had work to do.
Later, Johnson showed me a log he kept of that morning’s events. Turned out the Marshal was, among other things, something of a compulsive journalist, and he had an old railroad pocket watch that let him chronicle things. The guy was maybe a frustrated newspaperman?
7:03 a.m. Clear morning, first light. Vann Proctor and Denny Tines deputized, placed on guard duty at the new Yampa Jail. Which happens to be old man Garden’s root cellar. Their post is the little shack out front. Duties: Keep the door barred from the outside except when we bring ’em new customers, and keep anybody but the Marshal himself (and those with him) from getting close enough to that door to even think about unbarring it.
Paid ’em one silver dollar each up front. They’re good boys; they’ll do their job.
7:17 a.m. Shooting light. Henry, Wayne, and Cole (all deputized fer the day) accompany me. We hit The Eatery first. Sure enough, weasel Hicks had it right: Herden, Planck, and Wurth are all there. We draw down, disarm, arrest ’em right at the counter on the charge of conspiracy with attempt to do murder. That prob’ly ain’t the right wording, but we’ll sort out the niceties later.
These three rounders are the assassins. Planned to catch Henry in a crossfire at the narrow crossing jist outside of town when he come in fer the announced Town Meeting.
More dismissive than truly worried, they look downright insulted at being incarcerated in a root cellar. Which is fine with me; them doors are heavy plank and strong-hinged. Aside from the doors…let ’em dry digging out through the mountainside if they like. Dang thing is almost pure granite.
7: 59 a.m. Sun’s up. We come in the back way at Largel Wice’s cabin. Largel’s the secretary weasel fer this entire weasel operation. At least according to Braxton Hicks, whom the movers and shakers in this bunch had ignored as being unimportant. Which he was…except fer the fact that he’d ended up knowing more than any other single man about the planned operation. Maybe even more than Piss-ant Pomery his own self.
Wice is absolutely apoplectic at being shoved in there with the putative wannabe assassins and a few old bags of rotting, withered produce.
8: 48 a.m. Word’s gotten around town fer sure. Nobody’s noticed Wice being gone, that we know of anyway, but the arrests of the three assassins is now public knowledge.
Only thing is, Yampa’s not putting it together. They don’t know Pomeroy put them particular weasels up to it. Which is jist the way we want it fer now.
We four (Henry, Cole, Wayne, me) put our heads together. Decide not to try snagging Jess and Barney ahead of the meeting. It wold be nice to have Pomeroy completely isolated, yes, but J&B are jist too boneheaded not to try resisting arrest or something else equally stupid.
So, Panghorn & Tamson will be responsible for taking the boneheads out of the picture when the time comes. Pomeroy is mine. Well, with Wayne to back me up. You don’t want to underestimate a weasel, ever. Especially a self-appointed head weasel.
I didn’t see Rusty’s meticulous Marshal’s Log (as he dubbed it) till much later, of course. He done good having it, though. When the federal marshal came through later on, after the passes opened, he did one read-through of the entire Log (not jist these few excerpts here) and cleared the bunch of us from any wrongdoing on the spot.
Anyway, ten a.m. did finally roll around. I weren’t inside the building yet, but Pomeroy’s pomposity rolled out through the one open window clear enough fer a deaf man to’ve made out the words.
“This meeting of the Town Council will come to order!”
There was a good bit of shuffling and seat-taking going on. Marshal Johnson would be right up front and center, with Wayne covering his back. Along the right wall, Cole Panghorn would be getting himself situated.
I waited, listening.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I have horrible and sorrowful news,” the little self-appointed master of Yampa began his planned address. “Henry Tamson has been murdered. Shot down like a dog on his way into town to attend this very meeting.”
I damn near fell down in the snow outside the log structure. Holding it in, managing not to split a gut, was one of the hardest things–well, okay, it didn’t compare much to fighting grizzlies or wrestling guys who’d jist knifed me in the ribs, but, still, I could barely believe it.
When his courier did not show up at the appointed hour to verify that yes, indeed, the Flywheel Ranch heir had met his untimely end–Pomeroy had simply bulled on ahead, made the planned announcement blind!
Oh, this was good. This was rich. This was–what was he saying now?
There was plenty of audible shock rippling through the room. As well there should have been; at least half the town had to have gotten the word, heard about the arrests in which Deputy Tamson had taken a part, earlier that very morning.
But rumor on the fly can end up distorted beyond recognition. Who knew what most of the folks had really received in the way of information; there’d only been three or four witnesses in The Eatery when we’d done the deed.
One thing was crystal clear: Nobody had gotten around to telling Pomeroy!
That’s what you get fer being a little two-bit autocrat, Philip, I thought with considerable glee. Everybody knows you don’t want to be talked to unless you invite the conversation, so they done left you–of all people–out of the loop!
Pomeroy was hitting his stride now, though. Calling fer a posse to “help” Marshal Johnson hunt down the dastardly criminals who’d done this awful deed, “wherever the trail may lead”.
When I strode through the door, the picture of vibrant health and abundant good cheer, nobody made a sound. Well, except fer old man Carrington’s wheezing breath. He had the consumption, that one. Otherwise, though, all you could hear were my moccasined footfalls, thrown down heavy enough to make an impact. I marched up the left aisle, between the rows of log benches and the wall. Philip Pomeroy’s eyes were actually bugging out. His jaw was hanging open. His eyes looked like he was having trouble focusing.
Time to trot out my performance. I was on. Grandson of Tam the tall tale teller his own self, do your stuff.
“I have solved!” I bellowed, a stage voice meant to bounce back from every wall in the place, “The mystery! Of my murder!” To emphasize this point, my right hand–the one holding the Winchester–was raised straight over my head. Which, combined with my recently measured six feet, three inches of height and a somewhat bouncing stride, put my bare knuckles a bit close to the ceiling fer comfort. I’d sprouted up another inch since leaving Flywheel.
But the effect was impressive. Well worth it.
“You!” I thundered, lowering the Winchester and raising my left hand to point accusingly at Pomeroy, “Sir! Are a weasel of the lowest order! Weasels always make mistakes. Your mistake was hiring a truly most excellent lawman as your Marshal. First time I ever saw a weasel bite himself in his own butt, but there it is.”
Pomeroy was starting to stutter, but he couldn’t cut off the flow of my words. Too much power there. For the first time, I began to truly understand the great tool and weapon my grandfather had wielded for decades.
Right here, right now, I controlled this room.
But that wasn’t why I was there. Not really. According to plan, all I needed to do was throw the place into shock long enough to get into position to flank the bully boys–Jess and Barney–on the left. I was there now.
Time to wrap this up.
“Marshal Johnson! Do your duty!”
Into the stunned silence that followed, Rusty dropped his own quiet words like so many pebbles in a pond. They rippled out, touching every person in the place gently but with everlasting effect.
“Philip P. Pomeroy,” he intoned, “you are under arrest as the ringleader in a conspiracy to commit murder for political profit.” And he moved swiftly toward the little man standing on the raised dais.
We’d been right about Jess and Barney. They were jist too dumb to go with the flow. Barney went fer his gun, a sizeable hogleg that was probably older than he was. It’d blow a hole in a man big enough to see through, though. Close quarters fer shooting, what with more’n a hundred folks packed into the building.
Not my job. Barney was closer to Cole’s side, and his responsibility. Besides, Wayne was on it as well
Jess was another matter. He was my responsibilty…and danged if he didn’t come out with a knife, an oversized Bowie style thing.
“Crap!” I muttered. “What is it about me and guys with fricking knives?”
Federal Marshal Thad Teofro finished the last of the Marshal’s Log, looked up at us, and sighed. “That’s it?”
“Pretty much,” Rusty shrugged. “It did git a little western there at the end, what with Piss-ant Pomeroy trying to scuttle out between my legs, Wayne butt-stroking Barney in the face with his rifle, and Henry wrapping Jesse’s knife up in his coat before kicking him between the legs. Never seen a man kick like that. A mule, maybe.”
Teofro waved a hand. “Okay, but what I’m getting at is, you only got the three prisoners for me to take back to trial in Lead?”
“Yeah. Jist the three. One little, two little, three little murderers. Murdering idiots. If they hadn’t of stomped Philip P. to death in that root cellar, every one of the scum might well have gotten out of it. It wasn’t like we had any real hard evidence on anybody, if they’d jist picked a story and stuck with it.”
“Nobody said your average poliitician or your average killer was smart. But what about the record-keeper…Wice? Wice. And your informer, Braxton HIcks? And the bodyguards, Jess and Barney?”
“Jess and Barney we let go. Figured they knew nothing. Barney had a busted nose from Wayne’s rifle butt, and Henry confiscated Jesse’s knife. Wice dreamed up a great story. Stuck to it, and we could see he’d have more’n a fair chance of getting off scot free. Didn’t figure you needed to be dragging one like that around, wasting your time and all. So we cut him loose yesterday, once the north pass was open. He’s scooting his way up toward Shoshone country, most likely.”
“As fer Hicks, he turned out to be even sneakier than we’d thought. Slipped his bonds in that cave, slipped past the sleeping bear, stole a few things fer the trail from various places around town, and headed out. He’s out there somewhere, probably planning his next move.”
“So..” the big Marshal thought fer a minute. “You figure that one will hit again?”
“Probably,” Rusty admitted. “A weasel like Philip Pomeroy is a pretty straightforward critter, at least once you can unmask him to reveal his true nature. But Braxton Hicks…you jist never know when or where a Braxton Hicks will hit. Them things jist come and go as they please, a regular force of nature.”
My darling Sadie,
I apologize for the various notes not being in the form of a real letter. Promise to git one of those back to you soon. The passes are open, we’re heading out in the morning–me and the Shoshones, and for a ways at least, Jefferson Cole Panghorn.
We truly never did figure out which way Braxton Hicks went. Hopefully not toward Walsenburg. One thing for sure, you don’t need no Braxton HIcks in your life.
My darling Henry,
Your ten-pound Winter Letter arrived today! Ya-a-ay!
Okay, so ten pounds is a little overstated. I’m not exaggerating when I say the mail from my honey took a hundred pounds of worry off my back, though, and I’m not the only one. Your Mom cried in relief, made no bones about it, and your Dad & Grandpa had shiny eyes when they thought nobody was looking.
Even your brother Reggie gave me a big grin and said, “See? Tamsons may be trouble magnets, but they’re also trouble thumpers.”
I’m starting to actually like Reggie. And I think it’s because he’s changed, not me.
Braxton Hicks. That’s a funny name. But from what you have to say about the fellow, he really must be very sneaky indeed. Informational, though. I mean, he did give you guys all the inside scoop you needed to come out ahead in the Weasel Game. So yeah, Braxton Hicks tells you what you need to know…but a real pain all the same.
Love and lust (hey, lots of lust–it’s springtime!),