Â Colorado Sam
Goldminds Publishing, LLC
1050 Glenbrook Way, Suite 480
Hendersonville, TN 37075
Copyright Â© Jim R. Woolard, 2010.
Cover art Copyright Â© Trisha Boehme
Author photograph Copyright Â© Richard Pound,
Pound Studios, Newark, OH.
PUBLISHER'S NOTE:Â This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are a product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.Â Printed in the United States of America. Without limiting the rights under the copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
For the Very Reverend Father Michael Gribble:
a ship in stormy seas;
Trisha Boehmer: for sharing my vision of Colorado Sam;
and Bryan Woolard, my father, who taught me that dogs
are frequently the equal of their masters and more.
Â Â The zing of a bullet past his ear and the trailing blast of the gunshot jerked the rider's head about. Nothing could be seen in the dark except buildings crowded one upon the other and the wet sheen of the moonlit Mississippi.
Â Â Twenty-two-year-old Nathan Tanner had never before been Â shot at. But he realized instantly that he and the gelding were as visible in the center of the cobbled street as the moonlit river. Desperate for cover of any kind, he scrunched down in the saddle and booted the gelding onto the porch of the nearest warehouse.Â
Â Â He reined right and left through black shadows and tiers of barrels and stacked freight, risking the gelding's legs for his own safety. A roof post exploded at his shoulder. Splinters sent flying by the errant bullet lanced his cheek. Heedless of the resulting pain, he clung tight with his knees as the gelding, hoofs thudding on the wide planks, lunged up the ramp of an open freight platform.
Â Â For a few long seconds, Nathan, his heart a mad hammer, rode fully exposed in the moonlight. He cringed, expecting the next bullet to drive him from the saddle or knock his mount from beneath him. Grain flew instead of blood as the expected bullet ruptured canvas bags piled at the edge of the freight platform. Untouched like his rider, the gelding plunged down the opposite ramp of the platform.
Â Â True protection from the unseen shooter awaited horse and rider at the first cross street. It seemed forever in time, then the cross street was there and Nathan reined the gelding into it, placing the solid bulk of the warehouses between him and his assailant.Â
Â Â Two blocks down the cross street, Nathan peered over his shoulder and saw no one in pursuit afoot or on horseback. It was then that the enormity of what had happened and the narrowness of his escape struck home. His hands shook so violently he nearly dropped the gelding's reins. Though he would never admit it to anyone, tears of relief stained his cheeks. It suddenly felt so good to be alive he shouted aloud.Â
Â Â He took no chances and kept the gelding at a gallop. Another two long blocks of hard riding and he was at Chouteau Avenue. Nathan reined the gelding down to a walk and plucked the wood splinters from his cheek. He wiped the wound with his sleeve, saw blood, wiped again with the other sleeve, and saw only a trace of red. Â Â Luckily, the wound was more painful than serious.Â
Â Â The warehouses of the riverfront fell away and mercantile establishments appeared on either side of the street. Lamps glowed in the upper windows of buildings housing merchant families. In the distance, bells clanged, steam whooshed, and freight cars thumped together as they coupled in the Missouri Pacific rail yard.
Â Â Â No police wagon or mounted officer was in sight. But the farther west the gelding walked beneath the streetlights of Chouteau Avenue, the less Nathan strained to look in all directions at once.Â
Â Â Nothing, though, not even guaranteed safety from harm, could completely calm his heart. While his father would be happy he had survived the armed assault, he wouldn't be pleased Nathan had ignored his orders to never travel the riverfront at night unless accompanied by Ira Westfall or another company guard. His father had undoubtedly already heard of shots being fired near the warehouse from Jesse Wiggins, chief clerk of the Tanner Hardware, Machinery, and Tool Company. Though sixty years of age, old Jesse bunked at the company's riverfront storage site and his ears were as keen as a young hound's. He would promptly crank up the telephone and report to his superior that he'd heard gunfire just as Nathan rode off. That telephone call, Nathan knew, would have his father fretting and stewing, not knowing whether Nathan was unharmed or lying dead in the street. Â
Â Â Given his father's habit of lighting the fuse rather quickly of late, Nathan didn't dare tell the truth as to why he'd departed the warehouse. How could he confess that he'd grown bored with dawn-to-dusk days of counting inventory beside old Jesse? How could he confess that he'd tired of beating the old clerk at checkers? Worst of all, how could he confess that he'd lost all patience when Jesse's snoring kept him awake for the seventh straight night, saddled the gelding, and set off for home, guard or no guard?Â
Â Â The last would rub Lucius Tanner's wheel the hardest. His father might forgive Nathan other transgressions, but never willful disobedience. And young Nathan dreaded nothing more in the world than the sight of his father's gray eyes when they were ablaze with anger. Those fierce eyes nailed a lad's shoes to the floor and knotted his tongue. Not even a hawk could stare down an irate Lucius Tanner.
Â Â Nathan urged the gelding into a trot the final mile of his ride. The front entryway of the Tanner residence was on Grand Avenue. Nathan's father kept the street gates of the mansion locked after dark, making the stable accessible only by the rear alley. Nathan dismounted in the alley behind the stable, fumbled a key from his pants pocket, unlocked the stable door, and led the gelding inside.Â
Â Â He sensed something was amiss soon as he spied the open door at the opposite end of the stable, which should have been closed and locked. When he looked beyond that open door, his eyes widened. Two vehicles with boxed beds were parked beneath the north portico of the Tanner Mansion. Nathan was able to read the gold letters painted on the metal side panels of each horse-drawn vehicle by the light of the carriage lamps hanging from the ceiling of the portico. They spelled out the words “St. Louis Police.” Â
Â Â Had his father reported the gunshots at the riverfront, or had Jesse Wiggins? Nathan discounted the first possibility in a flash. Lucius Tanner handled his own affairs, whether business or personal in nature. It was unlikely he would seek the assistance of the police department even if his own son had been murdered. Jesse Wiggins, then, had made the telephone call in question.
Â Â Nathan groaned. If the situation with his father wasn't bad enough already, his childish behavior had brought the police to the door of the Tanner mansion. He rightfully feared he might be disowned before the night ended.
Â Â No one in the mansion had seen Nathan enter the barn, so he delayed the inevitable as long as he could. He unsaddled the gelding, wiped him down with an old croaker sack, and led the horse into an empty stall.Â
Â Â He hung the gelding's bridle on a nail outside the tack room. As he sought the hayfork, he glanced toward the portico. Another vehicle was drawing up beside the two police wagons. Lamplight reflected this time from glass, not metal side panels, and the driver at the reins wore black from boots to hat.Â
Nathan was staring at a hearse, and if a hearse was visiting the Tanner Mansion in the middle of the night, it could mean but one thing: something terrible and tragic had occurred within.Â
Â Â His own troubles forgotten, Nathan bolted for the stable door. He didn't hear the slight rustling of hay in the stall next to the gelding. Fingers with the crushing grip of a vise seized his right shoulder from behind and a smothering palm blanketed his mouth, snapping his head back. In the little time he had to struggle, Nathan found himself helpless as meat roasting upon a spit.Â
Â Â He knew from Ira Westfall's police stories what would happen next, and with a choking sob, he tensed for the slash of the knife that would cut his throat.Â
Â Â Warm breath touched Nathan's ear and soft voice said, “Easy now, easy. It's Ira, Ira Westfall. You hear me, Nathan?”Â
Â Â Delighted that his throat hadn't been cut, Nathan nodded the best he could.Â
Â Â “Alright, when I uncover your mouth I don't want to hear anything loud from you,” Ira Westfall ordered. “Nod if you hear me.”
Â Â The palm covering Nathan's mouth relaxed and he bobbed his head. Ira Westfall, however, did not free him. He retained his grip on Nathan's shoulders and slowly turned him about. All Nathan could make out in the dim stable was the brim of Ira's derby hat, his walrus moustache, and his barrel-like body.Â
Â Â Nathan swallowed hard and pleaded in a whisper, “What's happened, Mr. Westfall? Why is that hearse here?”Â
Â Â The burly ex-policeman hated what he had to tell his captive. “I've got terrible newsâ”Â
Â Â “What's happened?” Nathan interrupted. “What's happened?”
Â Â Ira Westfall's grip tightened. “I've got terrible news for you, lad, the worst news you'll ever hear in your whole life, and there ain't anything I can do to spare you the grief of it. Your father's dead...and your mother, too.”Â
Â Â Nathan's mouth gaped and he nearly collapsed. Only the strong grip and braced feet of the ex-policeman kept him upright. In the faint light of the open stable door, his expression resembled that of a gutted fish, a sight that wrenched Ira Westfall's innards. The old copper hadn't realized how much he'd grown to like young Nathan Tanner.Â
Â Â Ira shook Nathan's shoulder. “I know you're hurting, lad. Nonetheless, you must be out of the city before morning.”Â
Â Â Fighting tears, Nathan protested vehemently. “What do you mean? I can't leave now. Who will bury my parents?”Â
Â Â “I will see to it,” Ira Westfall said. “St. Louis is too dangerous for you right now.”
Â Â Nathan was thoroughly confused. “What are talking about, Mr. Westfall?”Â
Â Â “Your parents were murdered, lad,” Ira Westfall stated bluntly. “Shot to death by at least one man, maybe more. I believe whoever did it meant to kill you, too. You were fired upon at the waterfront tonight, were you not?”Â
Â Â In the throes of shock and grief, Nathan had forgotten the earlier attempt on his own life. “How do you know that?” he inquired.
Â Â “I answered the telephone when Jesse Wiggins called your father to report he'd heard shots right after you rode off,” Ira explained, releasing his hold on Nathan.Â
Â Â “Your father and I were to meet here tonight. I found him and your mother dead well before Jesse made his call. Old Jesse's call smelled foul to my cop's nose. Â The shooters came here solely to kill your parents. Not a thing of value seems to be missing from the mansion, so it had nothing to do with robbery. It was deliberate murder, pure and simple, and they intended the same for you. They use the knife and club on the waterfront, lad. Gunshots attract too much attention.”Â
Â Â “I can't just run away like a rabbit,” Nathan said. “Can't you protect me?” Â
Â Â Ira shook his head. “No, I can't. I don't know who the killers are or who sent them. Your father was rougher than oak bark and acquired a number of enemies. I need time to ferret out the murderers with the police. Chief Berry agrees with me that they were paid assassins. They didn't finish the job they were hired to do, and they likely won't quit until they kill you, too.”
Â Â Â Nathan understood what Ira Westfall was saying. Yet he couldn't quite bring himself to accept the idea he must flee before doing something for his parents. “Can't I at least say a prayer over Mother and Father?”
Â Â The ex-policeman studied his young charge. He knew from experience that viewing the savage results of gunshot wounds often sent close relatives of the victim into a stupor for days, and he needed Nathan alert and properly scared until he was ensconced in another locale far from the scene of the crimes. “No, lad,” Ira said with a shake of the head. “You remember them as you last saw them. No matter how strong the man, some things are best left to others.”
Â Â Ira's advice gave Nathan pause. He had to admit he dreaded what he might find inside the mansion. While he didn't want to be disloyal to his parents, he wasn't sure he could stomach the sight of their bloody remains without breaking down completely.Â
Â Â “I'll do what you want,” Nathan conceded. “But who'll protect me while you hunt for the murderers.”
Â Â Ira Westfall snorted and said, “God's bones, you're Lucius Tanner's son alright. He never left anything to chance either, and you being his only heir, he had a plan in case anything unexpected befell him. I was to watch after you and your mother until your Uncle Seth arrived from Colorado.”
Â Â “Uncle Seth was killed in an accident two months ago,” Nathan pointed out. “He can't be of any help.”
Â Â “That's true,” Ira agreed. “He can't. But if I can get you to his ranch your aunt could watch over you for a while. That's why I'm squirreling you away on a train to Kansas City tonight. Before you arrive there, I'll have arrangements in place that will take you safely through to Alamosa, the town closest to your uncle's ranch.”
Â Â The shock of the evening's events had tired Nathan to the bone, and initiating a thousand mile journey by rail in the middle of the night to board with an aunt he'd never met wasn't particularly appealing. Yet, if he believed as Ira Westfall did that his parent's murderers would scour St. Louis round the clock until they found him, what else could he do?Â
Â Â That inevitable decision behind him, Nathan pressed ahead. “I'm without money, Mr. Westfall.”
Â Â Overly large fingers extracted a leather purse from the pocket of Ira Westfall's sack coat. “No, you're not. Your father planned for that, too. This purse contains twenty double eagles, enough to pay your way through to Alamosa, outfit you properly once you're there, and still leave you with a sizable sum.”Â
Â Â Handing Nathan the purse, Ira stepped into an empty stall and retrieved a much-abused carpetbag. “I took the liberty of filching a canvas jacket and hat from your room along with a shell belt and revolver from the cabinet in the den. Your father taught you how to shoot and you can't afford to trust anybody. If you have need of a weapon don't hesitate to use it fast and quick. No man on this earth can withstand a bullet in the gut. That bothers you any, just remember you ain't no good to anybody including yourself decked out in a coffin.”
Â Â Ira led Nathan to the rear door of the stable. “I'll look after the gelding and the rest of your father's horses. Devlin Kellerman's law office will handle your father's affairs until you return.”Â
Â Â In the alley, the ex-policeman whistled softly. How he expected anyone to hear such a low sound fascinated Nathan, but sure enough a two-wheeled, one-horse cart came clopping from the Chouteau Avenue end of the alley. The darkness of the alley and a pulled down cap hid the lanky driver's features. The cart halted and Nathan swore the driver and his skin-and-bones horse smelled equally of dung, urine, and ancient sweat.Â
Â Â “Climb into the cart and hide in the straw, lad,” Ira ordered, tossing the carpetbag to the lanky driver. “Stay out of sight until Dawkins tells you otherwise. I don't want a soul to know you're gone from St. Louis. When the killers come sniffing about, I'll be waiting for them.”
Â Â Once Nathan was hidden under the straw, Ira Westfall said, “The MP-903 to Kansas City, track eight, Dawkins, and hurry. You miss the 903 and come morning you'll be tasting mud at the bottom of the river.”
Â Â “I won't fail you, Westfall,” Dawkins growled. “Who's to pay me?”
Â Â “The lad will have a double eagle for you when he's safely in the hands of Sam Darling. Get moving!”
Â Â Reins snapped and the cart lurched down the alley at surprising speed. Nathan couldn't resist a last peek at the lighted windows of the Tanner Mansion, and it was then the tears he'd held in check since learning of his parents' fate flowed with a vengeance.Â
Â Â He quickly stuffed his mouth with straw. It wouldn't do for the son of Lucius Tanner to cry aloud before a total stranger.