Authors: William W. Johnstone
“First my sleep was interrupted and then my morning coffee. May I join you gentleman and share another pot?” Steele saw the surprise in Shamus's face and added, “I believe we may have a friend in common, Colonel.”
“Sit here.” The sheriff stood and offered his chair. “I'm going back to my office. Colonel, Luther, I'll see you later.” He turned and left the restaurant.
Steele waited to sit down until the sheriff left.
Shamus offered his hand to the young man. “I don't think I've had the pleasure.”
“Oh, we haven't met before,” Steele said, shaking the colonel's hand. “But I overheard you addressed as Colonel, and you called this gentleman Luther, therefore I assume you are Colonel Shamus O'Brien of Dromore.”
Ironside frowned. “Here, have we had gun trouble with you afore?”
Steele smiled. “No, my friend Jacob O'Brien has told me all about you.”
Surprised, Ironside asked, “You're a friend of Jake's?”
“Indeed I am. I have him play the piano for me whenever we meet. He's a fine classical musician. And a very complex man.”
“It seems that just about everybody knows Jacob,” Shamus noted. “He's my son.”
“That was my impression, Colonel.”
It came grudgingly, but Ironside managed, “Any friend of Jake's is a friend of mine.”
“Did you teach Jacob to play the piano, Luther?” Steele asked.
“My sainted wife Saraid taught him how to play,” Shamus answered before Ironside could speak. “Luther taught Jacob and my three other sons riding, gun fighting, profanity, whoring, and whiskey drinking. You will notice a notable lack of instruction on Holy Scripture and nothing at all about attendance at church and the partaking of the holy sacraments.”
“Damned popery,” Ironside growled.
Shamus gave Ironside a sharp look. “What did you say?”
“Nothing, Colonel. I didn't say nothing.”
“I should hope not.” Shamus peered hard at his segundo. “Are you sure you didn't mutter something derogatory about the Holy Mother Church?”
Ironside shook his head. “Not a word, Colonel.”
Steele saved Ironside from further embarrassment. “Colonel O'Brien, what do you make of this night rider business?”
Before Shamus could answer, the waitress laid a pot of coffee on the table. She looked at Steele. “I know what they are, those night riders.”
“Really? Can you enlighten us?”
The girl's brown eyes widened as she leaned forward and whispered, “They're skeleton riders, the living dead come from hell to punish us for our sins.”
Shamus crossed himself. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph and all the saints in heaven preserve and protect us.”
“And how do you know this?” Steele asked the waitress.
“I'm walking out with the son of preacher Hall and he says that's what his pa says.”
Steele smiled. “Maybe he's right.”
The girl glanced over her shoulders, then leaned down closer to Steele. “The night riders carry torches that Preacher Hall says were lit from the very fires of hell.”
“Well, we'll be careful we don't get burned.” Steele smiled.
“Oh, sir, please don't make a joke, or the demons will ride into town and kill you like they did poor Mr. Rawlings.” As though scared by her own talk, the waitress hurried away, leaving behind a scent of lye soap and lavender water.
“People are scared,” Shamus said. “But in answer to the question you asked, I don't know what to make of the whole sorry business.”
“By my count, the night riders have killed close to a dozen people,” Steele said. “It's getting serious.”
“What could be their motive?” Shamus wondered again.
“I don't know,” Steele said. “But I intend to find out.”
“You're staying around?” Ironside questioned the Pinkerton man.
Steele nodded. “I believe I will. And you?”
“We're here to help Sheriff Clitherow any way we can. He saved my life in the late war and I owe him,” Ironside declared.
Shamus gave his reason for being in Recoil. “Luther is my friend. So we both owe Jim Clithe-row.”
“Any chance of Jacob coming here?” Steele asked.
“No. I asked him to stay at Dromore for the spring gather,” Shamus answered.
Steele took a drink of his coffee. “Pity. We could sure use his gun.”
“Dallas, from what I saw this morning, you don't need anybody's gun but your own.” Luther smiled. “Who gave you the handle
“My parents are both physicians,” Steele said. “They were in Dallas to attend a medical conference when Mother gave birth prematurely.”
Shamus nodded. “And she called you after the city.”
“Exactly. I've never been real fond of the name, but it's the one my folks gave me so I've kept it.”
“They still alive?” Shamus asked, making conversation.
“Yes, but they're both retired. They moved to England and bought a corner of an estate from Lord somebody or other. Father grows roses and mother volunteers at a local hospital for the poor. They seem to be happy enough, especially since father is invited onto the estate for the grouse shooting season.”
“Did your pa teach you to shoot?” Luther asked, the subject dear to him.
Steele thought about that for a few moments. “Luther, what I do with a gun can't be taught. It's a skill a man is born with, like Jacob's gift for music.” He drained his cup and stood. “I'll see you gentlemen later. I have to talk with the undertaker and honor my dead.”
Shamus watched the young man leave the restaurant, then poured himself another cup of coffee. “Well, Luther, where do we go and what do we do?”
“I say we wait and hear what Jim's deputy has to say. He might have something we can go on.”
Shamus looked at Ironside over the rim of his cup. “Why are the night riders doing this? I can't wrap my mind around it.”
“For money, Colonel. Isn't that the usual reason for such things?”
Shamus frowned. “What is there of value in this wilderness?”
“A gold mine, maybe?”
Shamus shook his head. “You don't ride all over the country killing and burning to get a gold mine. If they want a mine, why not just take it and be done?”
“It beats me, Colonel,” Ironside said.
“There's something else, something I just can't figure.” Shamus sat in thought for a few moments, then shook his head and sighed. “No, I can come up with nothing.”
Ironside stared out the restaurant window. “Riders comin' in. Looks like it's Jim's posse and them boys look pretty beat.”
Shamus stood up. “Then let's go and hear what they have to say.”
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Following the death of William W. Johnstone, the Johnstone family is working with a carefully selected writer to organize and complete Mr. Johnstone's outlines and many unfinished manuscripts to create additional novels in all of his series like The Last Gunfighter, Mountain Man, and Eagles, among others. This novel was inspired by Mr. Johnstone's superb storytelling.
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