Authors: Jake Logan
“Settle down,” Slocum cautioned. “We're going to turn him over to the sheriff. Whitehill might get some answers from him.”
“I don't want answers, I want to get even.”
“I ought to let her claw your eyes out after what you did last night,” Slocum said.
“I didn't do a damn thing to her. Nuthin' she don't collect money for from any poxy miner out in the silver fields anyway.”
“Off your horse,” Slocum said. “Get down, or I'll plug you where you sit.”
Grumbling, Carstairs dismounted.
“Climb aboard, Marianne,” Slocum said. “It's a ways back to town, and one of us is going to be on foot.”
“That's my horse. You can't steal it!”
“Might be we can lasso him around the neck and drag him some,” Marianne said.
When Slocum looked favorably on that, Carstairs started hoofing it toward distant Silver City. It took until sundown for them to return and get their prisoner to the jailhouse.
“Go on in. You're going to spend a considerable amount of time here,” Slocum said, his six-shooter waving around to point out the entire jailhouse.
Carstairs cursed under his breath, lifted the latch, and went in, Slocum and Marianne close behind. Sheriff Whitehill looked up from a newspaper spread on the desk in front of him. His eyes darted from Carstairs to Slocum and then back before he let out a gusty sigh, made a big production of folding the paper and then tipping back in his chair. He eyed them, covered in dirt and soot, and shook his head sadly.
“Spit it out. What's goin' on?”
“They tried to gun me down, Whitehill. Theyâ”
Slocum jammed his six-shooter into Carstairs's spine to shut him up.
“He tried to bushwhack us out at Miss Lomax's house,” Slocum said.
“Then he ran off, John chased him down, and we brought him back. And last night heâ”
Slocum reached over and caught Marianne's arm to quiet her. Even a whore could be raped, but adding this charge to trying to kill them both only muddied the waters. Slocum doubted Whitehill would take kindly to locking up Carstairs on a rape charge, and the jury would be even less inclined to convict. The trial would be a circus, not a way to achieve justice.
Whitehill had them go over the story several times, then let Carstairs speak his piece.
“I was out there, all right, Sheriff, but I never tried to shoot them. Slocum came chargin' after me while I was out in the woods. I heard a shot, sure, but it wasn't me who fired on them. And he charged like a wild Injun. I ran.”
“And he caught you,” finished Whitehill. He gusted another sigh. “You brung his rifle in, Slocum?”
“Wouldn't prove a thing, Whitehill. I fired it at him tryin' to escape his evil clutches,” Carstairs said. “After he started chasin' me.”
“Slocum, did you actually see Les here shoot at you?”
“No, but he was the only one in the woods.”
“The only one you found, you mean!” cried Carstairs. “There was someone else who tried to gun them down.”
“Marianne, you see Carstairs doin' any shootin' at you?”
“No, Sheriff, but heâ”
“So neither of you can swear on a Bible that Carstairs shot at you. But you ran him down in the woods when there might have been somebody else out there you didn't see. That sum it all up?”
Slocum said nothing. He gripped Marianne's arm harder when she tried to add to the charges by describing what had happened the night before in her hotel room. The time for such incrimination was past, Slocum saw, as the sheriff listened to her. Whitehill would think they had tried to kill Carstairs as retribution, or at least frame him for attempted murder. The lawman would never throw any Silver City citizen into the lockup simply for soliciting a soiled dove, and Marianne had the reputation.
On the other hand, the sheriff seemed to have hidden feelings for her, and Slocum sensed that Whitehill was itching to show off and even protect her in some way.
“You see anybody else out there in them woods, Les?” The sheriff's eyes bored into Carstairs.
“Well, no, but Iâ”
“And what were you doing over by Miz Marianne's place?”
Carstairs glared at him. “Mindin' my own business.”
The sheriff chewed his bottom lip as if thinking things over. “Well, it's been right quiet in town so far, and I don't want anything complicatin' my evening. Les, I'm gonna hold you 'til I can get to the bottom of this.”
“You can't do that!”
“You've been accused of some serious things. I can hold you till I look at all the evidence.”
“My rifle's still out in the woods. I gotta go get it.”
“I'll send Dan out to find it. For now, you stay put.”
When the sheriff turned to get his key ring, Carstairs sneered and whispered to Marianne, “This ain't the end of it. I'm gonna find out where it is.”
“You take Marianne on back to the hotel, Slocum,” the sheriff said. “I'd run you out of town, but there's still the question of how Texas Jack died.”
Slocum took Marianne by the elbow and steered her out of the jail. She sagged against him, exhausted after the day's events.
“He didn't believe me,” Marianne Lomax said, her lip quivering from emotion. She wrapped her arms around herself as if she could keep out the night cold that way, but Slocum knew it wasn't the mountain air that caused her to shake.
It was barely suppressed anger.
“The sheriff's afraid,” Slocum said. “He doesn't want to have Carstairs's entire crew hurrahing the town.”
“They'd lie to get their boss out of jail,” Marianne said. “I should have lied. Then it would have been my word against theirs!”
Slocum walked beside her as they made their way to the hotel. It was late, and the day had been a long one. At least the sheriff had agreed to consider the possibility that Carstairs had taken a shot at them. Slocum didn't doubt that the mine foreman had done that very thing. But who had he been aiming at?
As much as he hated to admit it, he was the likelier target. Carstairs wanted something from Marianne, and anyone who got in the way was a problem to be solved, a man to be ambushed. The more he thought about what he had seen the night before, the less he thought Carstairs had tried to rape Marianne. He had been demanding that she tell him where something was. But what?
“That's no good,” she said, breaking his train of thought.
“What do you mean?”
“Even if I lied, no one would believe me. They think I'm a harlot, a Cyprian who has a grudge against Carstairs.” Marianne laughed harshly. “The Silver City harlot. That's me. I sell my body and that's all a jury would remember. Evidence against Carstairsâmy testimony!âwouldn't be credible.”
“You're too hard on yourself,” Slocum said. They stood on the front steps of the hotel. Slocum saw the curtains in the sitting room flutter. Someone was watching them.
It might be her son or his friend. More likely the hotel owner was spying on them.
“John, you can't imagine how hard I am on myself for all I've done, for all I
done. Raising a boy like Randolph is a full-time chore, and I just can't spend the time with him I should.”
“It's not easy earning a living, no matter how you do it.”
“Why don't you come up, John?” Marianne looked up at him, her eyes bright with tears. Her lip still quivered. “I don't think I can sleep. I'm too wound up, and I want to talk. I need to.”
Slocum glanced at the curtains, but they hung still now.
“What about Mrs. Gruhlkey? She wouldn't take kindly to me going to your room, especially after shooting out the window last night.”
“You're right. She warned me about that and how she'd throw Randolph and me into the street if I tried to sneak any man into my room,” Marianne said. She reached out and ran her fingers up and down the lapels of his coat. A light tap sent up a tiny cloud of soot and left her fingers greasy black. She kept running her fingers over his chest, then said, “I owe you a bath.”
“It's late,” he said.
“Old man Higgins never locks up his barber shop. If you can heat the water, I'llÂ .Â .Â . wash your back.”
He hesitated, but then his resolve faded as memories of Georgia and the time he and Marianne had spent there rushed back. He tried to brush off his coat and only produced a new dust storm. He smiled ruefully before saying, “Reckon you have a point about me needing a bath.”
“Just like we did before,” she said, nudging still other memories.
The first time he and Marianne had gone off together in the piney woods had seemed innocent enough, but she had fallen off a log crossing a stream and drenched herself. She had sputtered and then shaken all over like a wet dog. He had laughed so hard he had fallen into the stream, too.
From there, assuring each other they were only going to dry their clothes, the inevitable attraction of youth had brought them together in the cottony warm summer sun on a patch of grass.
“The grass probably never recovered,” Marianne said.
Slocum's eyes widened in surprise. She might have read his mind.
“It's not that hard, John,” she said. “We got to know each other pretty well, and even got to the point of finishing each other's sentences.”
“We did,” he said, “but you're wrong on one thing.”
“What's that?” She looked up at him, blue eyes shining in the dark.
“Umm, so it is,” she said, her hand moving down his chest, past his belt buckle to his crotch. Her fingers squeezed lightly and traced the outline of his growing erection. He squirmed as she gripped more firmly. “We do need to get you out of those filthy duds.”
Pressed together hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder, and her hand never leaving his crotch, they walked slowly toward the barber shop in the middle of a long row of buildings fetched up against one another like sheep in a flock. Marianne proved she knew the people of Silver City well. The front door opened on well-oiled hinges. Slocum guided her in ahead of him, his hand pressing into the roundness at the rear of her dress.
He kicked the door shut with his heel so he didn't have to turn. He spun her about. She came into his arms easily. Slocum experienced an instant of giddiness. It was as if the past thirteen years had never happened, and they were youngsters exploring the mysteries of sex for the first time.
Their kiss started out passionately and grew in intensity until both were gasping. He pulled her close, hard enough to crush her breasts against his chest. As his hands began roving up and down her back, he found laces and hooks that came undone. When she pushed away from him, her upper garments fell to her waist, leaving her clothed only in a thin shift that hid nothing from his lusting gaze.
Her firm breasts pressed insistently against that gossamer fabric so her nipples were outlined clearly. As he watched, they grew along with her arousal.
“I want you, John. I want you now!”
She came against him again, kissing his lips and stubbled chin and dirty cheeks. This gave him the chance to return the lavish kiss on her slender neck and nibble at her earlobes, moving from one to the other, leaving a trail of kisses across her forehead, on her closed eyes, against her cheeks and lips, as he went.
Marianne sagged a little.
“You still have the power over me,” she said, “to turn me into a damp dishrag.”
He supported her, one arm around her waist. With a scooping move, he swept her up into his arms. This way they kissed more as he went to the back room, where a galvanized bathtub stood to one side and a stove with a water pump beside it in a shallow pit filled with rocks on the other.
“Get the water. I'll start the fire,” she said.
“No fair. You've already started my fire.”
“And you've started a forest fire in me,” she said. They kissed a little longer, then Slocum lowered her to the planked floor.
He watched as she dropped to her knees in front of the stove and bent over, her rear end presenting such a delectable sight as she added wood to the iron belly. Slocum heaved a sigh, turned his attention to the pump, and began working the handle furiously. From deep in the guts of the earth came a choking sound followed by a deep gurgle and a rush of water. A nearby pail caught the flood.
He swung the bucket around and saw Marianne stripping off her shift. The flames cast pale light against her breasts, creating deep shadows between the snowy globes and turning the penny-sized aureolas and nipples a ruddy red. His erection strained a bit more at the sight.
“In the pan on top,” she said, grinning when she saw how he stared at her. “You like what you see?”
“Every bit of it,” he said. His lips met her right tit and sucked in the tip.
She moaned softly and thrust her chest forward so he took more of the pliant flesh into his mouth. He nibbled, gently at first and then greedily gobbled. His tongue swirled about the rubbery, hard bud and pressed it deep into the marshmallowy underpinnings. This caused Marianne to lose her balance and sit back heavily so that her skirts rode up, giving him a new view that made him even harder.
“Darned skirts,” she said. She flopped back on the floor, lifted her behind, and wiggled sinuously to get free of the skirt. Another couple sensuous movements left her entirely naked save for her shoes.
“You're overdressed,” he said, kneeling in front of her. His hand moved along her bare calf and worked upward to the auburn thatch nestled at the juncture of her thighs.
“I remember you as a man of action. You never let anything stand in your way before.”
Slocum began unfastening the shoes. As he did so, he bent forward and kissed every inch of skin as it appeared from the high-top shoes. Her ankles received his attention and then the arch of her foot. She began moaning loudly as he worked to the toes. He sucked on them until they curled under, and she began bucking about on the floor.
“That's driving me plumb crazy,” she gasped out. “Do it some more.”
By the time he had pulled off her shoes so she lay entirely naked before him, the water had come to a boil. He dumped this into the tub, added another bucket of cold water, then started a second bucket to boiling. As he finished pouring the water into the bowl on the stove, he felt her bare body moving against his back. Her hands reached around and unfastened his gun belt before working on the buttons at his fly. He almost came as he had that very first time in the Georgia woods when her long, slender fingers circled his freed manhood and began stroking up and down.
“Get me out of my jeans,” he said, kicking off his boots.
As Marianne worked to peel off his filthy pants, he dropped his coat, vest, and shirt to the floor. By the time she had skinned him of his pants, the water boiled. Rather awkwardly, he took the water while she kept her arms around his waist, hands slipping up and down on his fleshy shaft. He dumped the water in, then added more cold.
“This will do us,” Marianne said insistently.
“With you holding on to me like that, you can get me to follow you anywhere.” He yelped as she jerked hard on him, turning him around so he fell backward into the water.
She swarmed after him, her knees slipping to either side of his thighs so she poised directly over his throbbing spire, wantonly spread for him. Both gasped when she lowered herself down, letting him slip fully within the tight, wet cavity.
“Time for a good scrubbing,” she whispered in his ear. “MoveÂ .Â .Â . vigorously.”
Slocum was pinned under her weight, but surrounded by her clinging tight sheath of female flesh, he found the strength to lift up and ram even farther into her. Her tightness about him massaged and squeezed and aroused. She lifted enough so he slipped out, only to thrust back in. The hot water sloshed all around, tickling and teasing their most sensitive flesh, but Slocum concentrated on the heat mounting in his loins. No water could heat him like her willing, wet core.
Clinging to one another, thrusting the best he could, twisting their hips, and him driving ever deeper into her pushed them both closer to the brink of ultimate desire.
Slocum reached around, cupped her bare wet ass cheeks, and began lifting and dropping her in a smoother rhythm that set them both to crying out. Faster, deeper, harder they strove together until Slocum no longer held back. He felt as if the ache in his cock would drive him crazy if he didn't get off. With a loud cry, he arched his back, clamped down firmly on her slippery ass, and drove upward like a Fourth of July rocketâwith the same results.
He exploded, then she did.
More water sloshed out onto the wood planks and drained quickly between the slats. But Slocum was more aware of Marianne pressing hotly against him. He held her. Too many memories came rushing back. That first day in the woods, yes, but the other times. He had been recuperating from his war wounds, and she had nursed him to full health. Her parents would have shot him for what he and Marianne did in their bed, but Slocum didn't care. And Marianne certainly didn't. She had sought him out as eagerly as he had found her for their frequent trysts.
“I wish we could stay this way forever, John.”
“We can. We should.”
“No, we can't.” Marianne put her hands on his shoulders and pushed back until her elbows locked. She stared down at him. “The water's too cold, what little there is left of it.”
“You shouldn't have sloshed it all out,” he said.
“Me? You were the one whoâOh, you!” She kissed him, then lithely stood, her feet still on either side of his legs.
He looked up at about the most delightful view he'd ever seen. If he rode the West for another thirteen years, he doubted anything would compare with this instant. Then she stepped out and began working to refill the bathtub. Reluctantly, he joined in the work, heated more water, and then they spent the next hour washing each other. It took longer than necessary but neither complained.
After they had dried themselves off on the single towel in the bathroom, Slocum said, “Suppose I ought to leave some money. What's this Higgins charge?”
“Two bits for fresh water, a nickel for used,” she said.
He fished around in his vest pocket and found a dime.
“This'll have to do. We did most of the work.”
“Is that what you call it?” she teased.
He swatted her rump.
“Don't get sassy.”
“You liked it before.”
“Yeah, I did,” Slocum said. His thoughts jumbled up, unable to separate the idyllic days in Georgia with this moment. Silver City was anything but peaceable, and folks here weren't taking too kindly to Marianne.
For all that, her luck was awful. Getting burned out was the start of a bad stretch. Finding that Texas Jack Bedrich had been murdered had been about as bad as it got. This tore Slocum up inside. He hadn't known Bedrich, but the man's death opened a door into the past Slocum had thought forever closed.
“Walk me back to the hotel. I wish you could come up butâ”