Authors: Robert Vaughan
Red River Revenge
(Remington Series Book 1)
© Copyright 2016 Robert Vaughan (as revised)
P.O. Box 620427
Las Vegas, NV 89162
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ed Remington climbed
the steps that led to the second story of the old stone courthouse. He wore no coat on this hot day and his shiny deputy’s badge was pinned to the front of his shirt. He paused in front of Judge Barnstall’s office door and brushed a smudge of trail dust from his trousers before he knocked on the door.
“Come in, Ned,” came the loud, booming voice from behind the closed door.
Remington opened the door and stepped inside the familiar room that smelled of wood and leather and the fine Virginia tobacco of the cigars Judge Barnstall kept in the mahogany cigar box on his desk.
“How’d you know it was me?” he asked, a smile playing on his lips. He closed the
door behind him and walked across the room.
Judge Barnstall glanced up from the sheaf of papers on his cherry wood desk. He was a stocky man, broad-shouldered, thick chested. When he stood, he was not quite five foot eleven, but when he sat on his high wooden bench in the courtroom, he appeared tall enough to tower over anyone else in the room. He wore a dark suit, a white shirt with the top button unbuttoned, his thin silk tie untied but held in place by the collar of his shirt. His black robe hung on the clothes tree in the corner of the room. In another corner of the room stood a mahogany liquor cabinet and next to that, a large globe of the world perched on top of a walnut stand.
Barnstall kept his office neat and orderly, which made the room seem larger than it actually was. The bookshelves behind his desk held his matched set of leather-bound, gold-embossed law books and at least as many odd-sized, dog eared books on the history of the land. The judge referred to the books often, as he did to the two large parchment maps that adorned the wall near the globe. One map showed the fine details of the southwestern United States, and the other map was of the Indian Nations. The judge’s framed law degree from Harvard University hung in the middle of another wall, near the Seth Thomas clock.
“Simple logic and deduction,” Barnstall said in his loud, clear voice. He leaned back in his oversized leather chair and looked up at Remington with piercing blue eyes. “You always knock three times, Ned. Everyone else knocks four times.”
“I didn’t realize that,” Remington said. He scratched his chin and thought about it.
“If you plan to become a good deputy someday, you should learn to be more observant, Ned.”
Remington sensed the teasing reprimand in Bam- stall’s stern voice. Without feeling smug about it, Ned knew that he was the best deputy sheriff around. Judge Barnstall knew it, too. That’s why he gave Ned the most difficult assignments.
“Yes, your honor,” Ned said without cracking a smile. “I’ll take your advice.”
“Sit down, will you?” the judge said in a grumpy voice. “You’re too damned tall and I’m getting a crick in my neck lookin’ up at you.”
“Yes, sir.” Ned grinned at the older man and tapped the brim of his hat in a salute. As he settled down into the comfortable leather-padded chair facing Barnstall, Ned saw that the judge’s desk was more cluttered than usual. Besides the papers that were directly in front of Samuel Barnstall, there were notes scattered across the desk top, all neatly penned on foolscap paper, evidence that the judge had not been idle. A stack of clean foolscap sat off to the side and next to that, a wooden pen rested by the inkwell.
The aromatic cigar box sat on one corner of the desk, nearly hidden from view by the notes that rested on top of it. Remington could see only the corner of the box where the likeness of an elephant had been delicately carved into the fine-grained wood. On the other corner of the cherrywood desk were the two plaques that were familiar to Ned. One of them was inscribed with Barnstall’s full name, Judge Samuel Parkhurst Barnstall. The other plaque, the judge’s favorite, bore the Latin legend:
Ignorantia legis neminen excusat.
Remington knew that the translation meant: Ignorance of the law is no excuse.
Pushed to the side of the desk were the two stacked box frames that held important papers. The brass bell that Barnstall used occasionally to summon his clerk was tucked out of the way behind one of the plaques.
Judge Barnstall thumbed through the papers in front of him, pulled some of them out of the stack.
“Here are the warrants for two men I want you to bring in,” he said as he handed one set of the parchment papers across his desk to Remington. “The top one there is for Paco Gaton, alias
Ned took the papers and glanced at the top one.
The Blade,” he said with a cold edge to his voice. His brow wrinkled to a frown. “The man must be good with a knife to earn a nickname like that.”
“That’d be my guess,” Barnstall said wryly.
“I’ve heard of this Paco Gaton,” Remington said as he jabbed a finger at the name on the paper. “From what I remember, he’s very quick with a .45 Colt.”
“Let’s hope you’re quicker,” Barnstall said as he pulled another paper from his stack. “The second warrant is for one Norville Haskins. You know him?” He glanced over at Remington.
“No. Never heard of him.”
The judge nodded for Ned to read the warrants as he looked down at his own copies of the documents. “Both men are wanted for murder and cattle rustling,” he said in a clear, crisp voice as he began to read aloud from one of the warrants. ‘To wit: the wilful shooting and killing of one Woodrow Miller, a rancher, and one Frank Twokill, a Cherokee drover who worked for Miller. And the stealing of a herd of cattle in excess of three hundred head of beeves from the Mirror M Ranch near Osage, Arkansas.”
“The Mirror M. That would be Woodrow Miller’s ranch, I assume,” Remington said as he glanced over at the judge.
“Yes. Take note of the sketch of the brand my clerk has drawn on the next page.” Barnstall flipped the page with his stubby fingers and nodded to Remington to do the same.
Remington studied the drawing. “It looks like two diamonds, side by side.” He picked up the paper and held it at a distance. “I can see it now. An M with an upside down M right under it. The Mirror M.”
“That’s right. You’ll be looking for cattle with that brand as proof of the rustling.”
“The brand is so plain, it’d be easy to alter it with a running iron,” Remington commented as he stared down at the drawing and imagined other configurations of the mirrored M.
“And I trust, you’re smart enough to recognize the original brand when you see it.” Barnstall looked over at Ned, a questioning look on his face.
Remington chuckled. He liked Judge Barnstall. The old codger had a dry sense of humor, but he was tough as a boot in the courtroom. Barnstall always gave a man a fair trial, but he also had no qualms about dishing out the harshest of punishments to those who were found guilty. Ned had been a deputy long before Governor Benjamin Gratz Brown had appointed Sam Barnstall judge of Stone County, Missouri, and Ned hadn’t liked working under Barnstall’s predecessor, Judge Binder. Too many times Ned had brought in criminals who never saw the inside of the courtroom. The prisoners were released without going to trial because of the money that lined Judge Binder’s pockets, and Ned got to the point where he thought his own efforts were a waste of time. Sam Barnstall was different. He wanted his territory to be a safe place for decent folks to live and in the short time he’d been judge, Barnstall had earned the reputation of the hanging judge.
Ned glanced up at one of the maps on the wall. “Osage, Arkansas. That’s not too far from here. A three-day ride if I push it. I could be back in a week.”
“It’s not going to be that easy, Ned. You haven’t heard the rest of it. Turn back to the first page.” The sound of riffling papers was the only sound in the quiet room. “These two unsavory sonsofbitches,” Barnstall said, and then he quoted directly from the warrant, “did then take said herd into the Nations and drive them over into Texas where they did sell said illegally obtained stock to a rancher named Peter Van Hook.” He glanced at Ned. “You’ll find that bastard’s name on a warrant as well, as soon as my clerk finishes the paperwork.”
Ned leaned back in the chair and let the papers rest on his leg. “So, you’re sending me down into Texas and I’m looking for three men, not two.”
“Yes, Ned. You’ll have to take provisions to last you at least two or three weeks. Take a couple of the other deputies with you. I’ll leave it up to you to decide on which men you want to accompany you.”
“The best we’ve got,” Ned sighed. “I’ll probably take Jim Early, for one.”
“Early’s up in Springfield on another case,” Barnstall said. “I don’t figure he’ll be back for a few days and we can’t wait on this one.”
“Damn,” Ned muttered.
“What makes Paco Gaton and Norville Haskins so damned bad is that this isn’t the first time they’ve killed or rustled cattle.”
“Cattle rustling is common in this territory,” Ned said. “So is murder.”
“But, this case is unprecedented on two other counts,” said the judge. “One, this is the first time, that we know of, that they’ve gone into the Nations with contraband. And two, there was an eyewitness to the killing of Woody Miller. She can identify both Gaton and Haskins.”
“She?” asked Remington. His brow wrinkled to a puzzled frown.
“Yes,” said Judge Barnstall in a matter-of-fact tone. “She’s hiding out and you’ll have to find her and bring her back, too, once you catch these culprits. We need her to testify in court as to what she saw and heard. She’ll be our star witness.”
“She?” Remington repeated. He grabbed the loose papers from his knee and sat up straight.
“Yes. Woody’s daughter,” Barnstall said as he leaned forward. “Woodrow Miller was murdered in cold blood. Shot in the back. His daughter was off picking berries along Osage Creek when it happened. She hid when the shooting started, but she saw the whole bloody thing. Hell, she’s the one who swore out a complaint against Paco Gaton and Norville Haskins in the first place. We need her to testify.”
“Then, why isn’t she right here, right now, to tell us about it?” Remington jabbed his finger at the desk to emphasize his point.
“She’s hiding out,” the judge said calmly. “She’s scared, Ned. She doesn’t want to come up here to Missouri and testify in court.”
“How’d you get her to swear out a complaint if she’s so damned shy?” Remington asked.
“She saw her father killed, Ned. Naturally she wants to see the guilty parties brought to justice for their crimes.”
“But not enough to come to Galena to testify against them. Is that what you’re saying?” Ned didn’t know why he felt so irritable. Maybe it was because his own daughter Katy had seen her mother murdered and Katy had been left so helpless that she couldn’t do anything about it if she had the opportunity. And now, Judge Barnstall was telling him about a girl who apparently wouldn’t lift a finger to see her father’s murderers hang.
“I told you, she’s scared, Ned.” Judge Barnstall’s voice was firm, but no louder than usual. He shifted position and as he sat up straighter in the chair, his thick chest seemed to swell against the fabric of his white shirt. “You’re a damned good deputy, Ned, the best I’ve got, but you can’t always pick and choose the circumstances of your assignments. If you don’t want to take this job, I’ll give it to someone else.” Remington glanced at the warrants again, then tossed them on the edge of the judge’s desk and leaned back into the chair. He propped an elbow on each arm of the chair, folded his hands, and let them rest against his chest.
“So, if I understand you right, your honor,” he said, “not only am I to round up the two cattle-rustling murderers and the man they sold the illegal beeves to, but I’m also to drag a girl in here who doesn’t want to be dragged.”
“You understand me right, Chief Deputy Marshal Remington,” Barnstall said with a smile. “You want the assignment?”
“You know that I’ll be risking my neck if some jittery little pea-brained lawman decides to string me up for kidnapping a young girl against her will, don’t you?”
Barnstall laughed, shook his head. “There’s a certain amount of risk involved in any of the cases you take on as Chief Deputy Marshal. I think you can certainly handle one fragile young woman, Ned. She’ll come with you if you talk to her, if you explain how important her testimony is to this case.”
“If I can find her,” Ned said with a hint of sarcasm.
“She’s hiding out in the Nations,” Barnstall said.
“That’s a mighty big territory, your honor. Got any idea what she looks like?”
The stocky judge settled back in his chair and began to relax. “The girl’s a half-breed,” he said. “Her ma was a Cherokee. This Frank Twokill, the Cherokee drover who was killed,” he said as he pointed to the name on the warrant, “Twokill was her uncle, on her mother’s side. After her father and uncle were killed, the girl got word to us and I had Tom Beck ride down and take her statement. You might want to talk to him.”
“That’s rather unusual procedure, isn’t it, sir?” asked Remington.
Judge Barnstall sat up tall, his broad shoulders thrown back so that again, his chest seemed to puff out against the front of his shirt. His pudgy cheeks flushed crimson as he banged his clenched fist on his desk.
“Ned,” he boomed in the loud voice he usually reserved for the courtroom, “I don’t give a damn how we get the information, whether it be in Indian sign language or smoke signals. This gal’s statement is the best deposition I’ve ever seen on paper, in or out of a court of law. I signed these warrants on the strength of her testimony and I want these miserable sonsofbitches brought in and hanged right outside that window over there.” His arm shot straight out as he pointed to the window that was covered by a closed curtain:
“I understand, your honor,” Remington said. “Is that all, then?”
“That’s enough, isn’t it?” the judge said as he settled back down after his emotional outburst.
“Yes. Where do I find this Miller girl?”
“She’s not just a girl,” Barnstall smiled. “She’s all of nineteen and eligible. Beck said she’s as pretty as a prairie flower and she’s educated, too.”
“Oh, I see,” said Remington. “So you sent Tom down to talk to her and now he’s sweet on her. Why in the hell didn’t he bring her back?”