Authors: Tabor Evans
Tags: #Longarm (Fictitious Character), #Westerns, #Fiction
LONGARM AND THE
Deputy Custis Long
stared past his manacled prisoner through the Union Pacific
train's window and saw a pair of elk hurrying down from the
western slopes of the Laramie Mountains to escape an advancing
snowstorm. He looked up at the lead-gray underbelly of an ocean
of deep, rumbling clouds, and could feel their Union Pacific
railroad car being buffeted by the icy northern winds.
"We're going to
get a real sonofabitch of a storm," Eli Wheat said, fogging up
the window with his hot, fetid breath. "I'd guess that we might
not even make it over the Laramie Mountains. Be a damned shame,
wouldn't it, Deputy?"
said drily. "A real shame. Might mean that we'd have to delay
your necktie party a few extra days."
"I sure wouldn't
bitch about that," Eli said, his dark features shaping into a
twisted grin. "Might be that I could even find a way to delay
things a bit longer than expected."
"You try it,"
Longarm said, "and all you'll get for your trouble is another
"You like to use
that gun barrel of yours to part a man's hair, don't you?" Eli
challenged, his voice turning nasty.
"Just shut up,"
But Eli wouldn't
shut up. He could see the snowstorm moving down from the Laramie
Mountains, and that their train was charging right into its face.
He could feel the train losing speed as it began the steep ascent
into the rugged mountains, and every second that the mountains
and the storm delayed the train was to his advantage.
"Could be," Eli
said, voice growing loud so that all the passengers could hear,
"that this is a real blizzard that we're facing. Could be that
we might derail or something up there and all of us freeze to
several of the other passengers pale. A pretty, auburn-haired
young woman in her twenties just a few seats up shot a glance
back over her shoulder, and Longarm could see that she was
upset. It was growing colder in their car, and Longarm made a
mental note to upbraid their conductor for not keeping the
coach's wood-burning stove hot.
"Yes, sir!" Eli
Wheat crowed. "I guess if I got to die, I'd sure rather it be by
freezin' than having to dance at the end of a rope while a crowd
across his body with his left hand and clamped it on Eli's
throat, cutting off the man's words. His powerful fingers bit
into Eli's windpipe, and he held his grip like a steel trap while
Eli tried to smile and show that he was tough. A full minute
passed and the killer's face grew bright red. His eyes bugged
and he began to make gagging sounds.
"Let him go!" the
young woman demanded, jumping from her seat. "You can't choke
him to death like that!"
his grip. Eli began to choke and suck for air. He was trembling
and gagging and having an awful time. Other passengers, no
longer able to ignore the disturbing sounds, turned, and their
eyes said that they too did not approve of Longarm's method of
silencing his prisoner.
"You ought to be
ashamed of yourself!" the pretty young woman scolded, coming to
stand beside Longarm. She was shaking with fury. "What kind of
a monster are you anyway? That man must be
Longarm took a moment to curb his own anger.
Noble," Longarm said, "I can see that you are a sympathetic young
woman. One possessing high-minded purpose and
"I wouldn't choke
another human being just to prove how big and strong I am," Miss
Noble said. "I wouldn't do what you just did to that poor man
any more than I'd choke a kitten or a puppy."
several of the other passengers muttering in agreement. Eli was
still choking and coughing, but it sounded forced to
"This man is no
kitten or puppy, Miss Noble," Longarm said, trying to explain,
although he thought no explanation was due or even deserved.
"Eli Wheat is a cold-blooded killer of men, women, and even
Miss Noble took a
step back. She blinked and looked at Eli in disbelief. He made
an attempt to smile. There were tears in his eyes and he looked
beaten and submissive.
Miss Noble said,
"I... I doubt that."
asked. "Because he looks harmless? Of course he does! He's
handcuffed and wearing leg manacles. But the man is a notorious
stage and train robber. Eli, how many trains have you and your
"Not a single
with derision. "That's a bald-faced lie. Eli and his friends
have robbed at least four that we know of, and probably many
more. They've derailed trains and ambushed dozens of
stagecoaches. Their favorite method is just to shoot the driver,
the guard, and a lead horse all in one volley. Needless to say,
the safety of passengers concerns them not a whit."
Miss Noble started
to say something, but Longarm wasn't finished educating her.
"Less than a week ago, Eli broke into a sod house and murdered an
entire family. A good wife, a fine husband, and their two
"I find that
impossible to believe!"
"I didn't do it!"
Eli choked. "The deputy is just sayin' that so's he can mistreat
Longarm ached to
drive his right elbow into Eli's solar plexus hard enough to shut
him up for a good long time. The memory of finding that family
of murdered sodbusters was going to haunt him for a good long
"How long has it
been since your prisoner has had anything to eat?" Miss Noble
the question. His eyes took in the other accusing faces.
"Listen," he said, "I know Eli isn't particularly mean-looking,
but neither is a wolf if you happen to catch sight of one playing
with its pups."
Eli started to say
something, but Longarm cut him off with a withering
Miss Noble went
back to her seat, and on the way said loudly, "We wouldn't stand
to watch an animal chained and mistreated that way, and yet we
allow one human being to do it to another."
Longarm ground his
teeth in anger and frustration. He'd met too damn many women
like Miss Noble. They were well-intentioned but incredibly
naive. He'd bet Miss Noble would also be opposed to demon whiskey
and up to her pretty eyebrows in religion. Undoubtedly, she
could quote the Bible for hours and was the product of a very
sheltered existence. She'd never have seen another human being
murdered, and she would find it in her heart to forgive any sin
believing that was what God expected.
Longarm hoped that
Miss Noble never saw the real savagery that a man like Eli Wheat
was capable of exhibiting. One minute Eli could be whining and
slightly patheticlooking; the next he could turn more vicious and
deadlier than a cornered Apache.
Longarm stared out
the window. The first flakes of snow were beginning to swirl in
the air. The train was rapidly slowing, and Longarm could see
that the wall of flying snow was less than a thousand yards up
"It looks bad,"
Eli said, his voice a tortured whisper. "Real bad."
"It's nothing for
this train. Hell, the tracks are clear and even if it is snowing
hard up on the summit, the storm is just arriving so the snow
can't be very deep. We'll get through without much delay, you
can bet on that."
Eli loudly cleared
his bruised throat. "If I had any money, I'd bet against us
reaching Cheyenne in time to catch that southbound train into
Denver. That's what I'd bet."
Longarm stood up
and stepped into the aisle. Although he had stretched and walked
up and down the aisle several times when they had been taking on
coal and water in Laramie, he already felt stiff and restless.
He was a big man who wore a brown tweed suit, a blue-gray shirt
with a shoestring tie, and comfortably low-heeled army boots of
cordovan leather. His brown Stetson was flat-crowned and
somewhat the worse for wear, but his clothes were clean. A gold
chain connected an Ingersoll watch in one vest pocket to a
twin-barreled, .44-caliber derringer in the other.
"Excuse me," he
said as another passenger squeezed past him in the aisle and they
bumped because of the rolling motion of the coach. "It's a
little cramped in those seats."
"Maybe you should
also let your prisoner stretch," Miss Noble snipped.
the woman's suggestion. Always suspicious that a prisoner might
have friends waiting for an unguarded moment to act, he surveyed
the coach, eyes skipping over every single passenger. None
seemed to be the type that would pose a danger. Unfortunately,
this train was packed, every seat filled. And although the wind
was finding cracks to seep into the car and cause it to become
decidedly chilly, there were so many bodies crammed into the
coach that the air was stuffy.
starting to climb now," Eli said. "I don't think this old train
is going to make it over the summit in this storm."
"It'll make it,"
Longarm said, knowing that it would be a slow and difficult pull
over the 8,600-foot Laramie Summit. If the snow was really
heavy, they might even be forced to attack it with snow shovels
"Even if we do,
it'll still be the longest sixty miles you ever rode," Eli
predicted. "Sixty miles doesn't seem like much, but a lot can
"Shut up," Longarm
growled, dropping back into his seat, "or I'll part your hair
Eli smiled, but
there was no warmth in it. He was a hatchet-faced man, lean and
muscular. Dressed in a heavy woolen jacket and baggy pants, and
slumped down next to the window, he looked deceptively mild and
better. Eli was a dead-eye shot. He probably stood about five
feet ten and weighed less than 170 pounds, but every pound was
bone and muscle, and he was as quick with a gun as any man that
Longarm had ever crossed. Facing a gallows in Denver made him
capable of any act of murder and desperation.
Miss Noble climbed
to her feet. Shooting a look of pure venom at Longarm, she
squared her shoulders and rummaged around in a brown paper sack.
After a moment, she extracted an apple and a sandwich wrapped in
crisp brown paper. Longarm knew at once that it was not a peace
Noble said, "perhaps I was a little harsh in my criticism of
you. That doesn't mean that, for even a minute, I believe this
man is capable of the heinous acts you say he committed,
"He shot the
sodbuster in the face with his own scattergun," Longarm said in a
clipped, uncompromising voice. "Then my prisoner used that same
scattergun to brain the oldest son, who was about
"Stop it!" Miss
Noble cried, shrinking away in horror.
But Longarm was
angry. This woman hadn't been invited to interfere, and she
needed to have a lesson in reality so that the next time she saw
a lawman and his prisoner, she might be a fairer judge of who
deserved her acid tongue.
"After he killed
the father and oldest son," Longarm continued, "my prisoner went
into the house and when the fifteen-year-old son attacked him, my
prisoner used his knife. It wasn't much of a fight because Mr.
Wheat is very, very good with a bowie. The boy had no chance at
Miss Noble paled.
The sandwich tumbled from her grip, and Eli reached out and
snatched it up. He stuffed it whole into his mouth and began to
engulf it like a snake swallowing a big gopher.
"I'm not going to
tell you the details about how this prisoner killed the wife and
mother," Longarm said, taking pity on Miss Noble. "But I will
tell you this much, it wasn't pretty and it wasn't a quick,
merciful death. And so you see, I don't care if this man hangs
or I have the pleasure of killing him before we reach
Miss Noble swayed
as a sudden and powerful gust of wind rocked their coach. She
appeared faint, and could not seem to tear her eyes off Eli as he
licked his thin lips.
"Miss Noble, you
look unwell. Why don't you take a seat?" Longarm said, feeling a
little guilty because he had been so forthright in his account of
who had also been glaring at Longarm now turned his icy gaze on
Eli, who seemed oblivious to everything.
"Deputy, how did
you ever manage to capture that... that monster?"
"He made the
mistake of stealing the sodbuster's horses and cutting southwest
toward Utah. Eli didn't realize that country is damned rocky and
neither of the sodbuster's horses were shod. They went lame up
in the Unita Mountains, and I was able to overtake Eli and catch
him asleep right at dawn."