Slocum Giant 2013 : Slocum and the Silver City Harlot (9781101601860) (7 page)

BOOK: Slocum Giant 2013 : Slocum and the Silver City Harlot (9781101601860)
9.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“Hell, Marianne,” he said. “It has been a while.”

“You want some whiskey? You always had a fondness for Kentucky bourbon.”

“Beer's all I can afford.”

“I don't own the Lonely Cuss,” Marianne said, brushing back her auburn hair and never looking away from him, “but Tom doesn't watch over my shoulder much after the first night or two I worked here.” She rummaged about, found a shot glass that sparkled in the dim light of the coal oil lamp over the bar, and poured two fingers. “Not Billy Taylor's Finest but good enough.”

He sipped, then let the bourbon wet his lips and roll across his tongue. His mouth watered at the unfamiliar taste of good whiskey. With a quick motion, he downed it. The fire seared its way down to his belly, where it pooled. After a few seconds the warmth spread and eased some of the aches he'd accumulated from working the mule team on a wobbly wheeled wagon.

“That's the second best thing that's happened to me today.”

“Only the second?” Marianne asked.

“Seeing you again. That has to be the best.”

She snorted and snatched the shot glass from in front of him, running her rag over it to give it a good cleaning.

“That's a fine thing to say when you didn't even have the decency to bid me farewell.”

“You know the reason why. After I killed the judge and his henchman, I couldn't stay in Calhoun.”

“They did search for you, that I'll grant. Had a squad of soldiers from the Yankee garrison hunting for you nigh on a week. By then they decided you'd hightailed it where they'd never find you.”

“Never knew that. I rode due west.”

“I tore down all the wanted posters I could. They must have nailed a hundred to trees and posts in town. Most of the folks were too timid to defy the blue bellies.”

“You wouldn't have been. You were never timid in anything you did.”

“Not with you, John.”

“Nope,” he said. His mouth still tingled from the whiskey, but asking for another, even if he paid, didn't seem right.

“What brings you to Silver City?”

He hesitated. Telling Marianne the entire story would take forever. Instead he said, “I'm working as a teamster hauling from Santa Fe to Tombstone. Got robbed out on the trail, came to town, and the sheriff rode back with me to salvage the wagon.”

“Sheriff Whitehill's a fine man,” she said. “Sometimes, though, he seems to love his job more than he does the people. Glad you got the wagon back. Did you recover any of the cargo?”

Again he hesitated, then shook his head.

“I've got to close up. You want to roust those two and get them outside? They're both harmless. Lum and Abel.”

“Long as it's not Cain and Abel,” he said. This caused Marianne to smile just a little bit. It was real and not forced.

“You always could make me smile, John, when you weren't breaking my damnfool heart.”

“I didn't want to lead the law to you. That's why I left so quick.”

“Get them out. I'm about finished here.” She pulled out a tin box and snapped the lid shut.

Slocum wondered how much money was in that box. Then he had his hands full getting first one, then the other man to his feet and wobbling out the door.

“Come on back tomorrow,” he told them.

“Shure thin,” slurred one. “Love watchin' that purty li'l filly 'hind the bar. Love watchin' her hiney. Love . . .” He wandered into the night, telling the stars alone why he came to the Lonely Cuss. Slocum didn't doubt Marianne drew in more than this fellow because of her beauty and good humor.

“Gimme the box,” said a rough voice.

Slocum turned and had his six-shooter out, cocked, and aimed in a smooth motion.

“Wait, John, no, it's all right. He's not robbing me. This is Tom Gallifrey, the owner.”

“You got yourself a bodyguard?” Gallifrey snatched the box and opened it a crack, peering inside to assure himself it contained the night's money. He was short and looked like a weasel, his thin gray-skinned face, deep-set pale eyes, and curled lip giving him a sly look.

“Sorry about that, Mr. Gallifrey,” Slocum said. “You came up unexpected and—”

“Good to know you're not gonna get yourself robbed of my money,” the cantina owner said, clutching the box to his chest. He grunted and headed off into the night, disappearing around a building. In seconds Slocum couldn't even hear his shoes against the gravel on the ground.

“You can see what I have to put up with,” she said. Marianne linked her arm with Slocum's. “Walk me home. To the hotel.”

They started down the boardwalk, the clicking of their steps loud in the still night.

“It's good to see you again,” she said. “I never thought I would.”

“Not out in New Mexico, this far from home.”

Marianne laughed and said, “So you still think of Georgia as home? I do, as well.”

“Why'd you leave?”

“I—” Marianne tensed and pulled away from him. He felt the tension in her grip on his arm and could almost hear her brain grinding to a halt. She finally said, “There were reasons. Like you, I had reasons.”

“You killed a judge?”

“Nothing like that, but as serious. I don't think I can ever go back any more than you can, John. When I left right after you did, I drifted about for a while, then stayed in New Orleans for a year or more. The Crescent City didn't suit me then, and I moved on to Houston.”

“You drift up here from Texas?”

“Something like that. I lived in Eagle Pass, then decided the constant raids from across the border and by the Indians made life too dangerous for me and . . .”

“And?” Slocum heard her hesitation to speak what she thought. Her reasons for moving or not were her own. If he had to give her a list of reasons he had become a drifter, it would been difficult. Why had he left Colorado to go to Santa Fe? Because he had left Denver City to go to Durango? And before that he had gotten tired of working on a Wyoming ranch? The winters in Wyoming were fierce. But he had gone there from Kansas because those summers were humid and crushing hot.

Were any of those reasons? Along with such superficial reasons came more important ones. In Kansas the cavalry hunted him down for a robbery gone wrong outside Salinas. The work in Wyoming had been good, but he had left Denver after an altercation with a gambler who had mistakenly thought he had a better hand and a faster draw. He'd been wrong on both counts, but he had powerful friends. Moving on had been an easy decision for Slocum since it kept him a mile ahead of a lynch mob.

He could hardly expect Marianne to have worse reasons for her slow migration from Calhoun. He only hoped her reasons were better.

“I like new scenery in my life from time to time. This is lovely country. Mountains but with a touch of desert. Not much snow in the winter and folks say the summers are mild.”

“You have a fellow?” Again he felt her tense and drift away from him even more. She barely had her hand in the crook of his arm, which was all the answer he needed. “He's a lucky man.”

“You ever marry, John?”

His silence provided all the answer she needed.

“I didn't think so. You were always the wild wind. A woman who made you settle down would have to know how to lasso a prairie tornado.”

“You came close.”

“I would have gone with you, if you'd asked.”

“The carpetbaggers would have burned down your family's house if they so much as thought you were with me.”

“I suppose. I would have risked it. Then.”

“Then,” Slocum said, a touch of sadness in his voice. “Twelve years is a long time.”

“Nigh on thirteen,” she corrected. “But who's counting?”

She had been. And so had Slocum. Marianne Lomax was a hard woman to get out of his head—and his life. She had been his first love, and like so much else, the war and its aftermath had ruined his plans. He knew, even if Marianne denied it just a little, that retribution would have been great against her family if she had left with him. More than this, Marianne riding with him would have slowed his escape just enough to get caught. As it was, federal troops and more than one marshal had come close to snaring Slocum as he rode through Georgia and into Tennessee. From there he had barely made his way to the Ohio River and down to Saint Louis. Two bounty hunters had left him shot up, but he had ridden west from there and their bodies had drifted down the Big Muddy.

The peace following the war had been as brutal as the war itself. He snorted at this idea. The war had been as cruel as any human could imagine. It just never got better afterward.

“Here we are, John. Thank you for walking me home.” Marianne looked up at the hotel. “It's not much, but I got burned out of my house.”


“It would be understandable if it had been redskins. No, it was a white man with difficulty taking no for an answer.”

She looked hard at him, making him wonder what he should say—or do. For a moment he thought to kiss her, then a crash from inside the hotel broke the spell.

“Good night, John.” She gave him a chaste hug and spun away from the circle of his arms. At the door she hesitated, looked back at him, then slipped inside.

Slocum sat on the steps and looked around Silver City without seeing the town at all. His gaze was fixed on a time long past, back in Georgia when he and Marianne had been lovers. He tried not to regret much in his life. Living day to day helped, but a few things still gnawed away at him. The death of his brother, Robert, during Pickett's Charge. How the judge had tried to steal property that had been deeded to the Slocum family by King George II. And leaving Marianne behind.

Other than that, Slocum had evened the score as he rode through life. Some men had died; others had been rewarded for their friendship. He carried damned few grudges, but he discovered he still carried one big torch. She had just gone into the hotel.

And she was taken by another man. Whatever chance he once had with Marianne Lomax was passed. They had been young and reckless and in love, but the love was as real as the dirt under his feet or the clean, crisp air he breathed.

Slocum began his slow walk to the stables. As much as he would have preferred to share Marianne's bed after all these years, he had to be satisfied that he had clean straw—and that he wasn't locked up in the town jail.

As he started to turn down a cross street on his way to the stables, movement caught his eye. He stopped and looked over his shoulder. A shadow moved fast, back toward the hotel. He shrugged it off. The saloons were closed now, and the hotel probably filled every night with all the new prospectors on their way to find fortune in the silver fields.

But something caused him to reverse his path and return to the hotel in time to see the dark figure dart behind the hotel. Slocum slipped the leather thong off the hammer of his six-shooter and went to the back of the hotel. A quick look around failed to reveal whoever had just come here. Then he looked up. Like a fly, a man worked up a drainpipe to the second floor where a window blossomed with pale yellow light.

Any number of people could be trimming the wick and lighting their lamps, but the only one Slocum could be certain had just entered the hotel was Marianne. He started to call out to the man clinging to the drainpipe, then whipped out his Colt Navy when the window opened and he caught sight of Marianne letting in night air.

The man jumped from the drainpipe to the windowsill and shoved Marianne back into her room. Slocum started to fire, but his target had disappeared into the room. Sounds of a ruckus came down to him.

If the intruder could make it up the pipe, Slocum reckoned he was agile enough to, also. He slid his six-shooter back into his holster, tested the drainpipe, and wondered if it might not be better to go around front and rouse the night clerk. But the muffled sounds from the room started him up the pipe, no matter how rickety it was under his weight.

Ignoring the sound of nails pulling free from the wooden walls, he kept climbing until he could peer into the room. He might have misjudged the situation. This could be Marianne's beau and their way of spending the night together.

A single glance saw that the dark figure held her wrists in one hand and had stretched her facedown across the bed so her screams were muffled by the comforter. From the way she kicked and tried to get free, she wasn't enjoying this. Slocum had seen enough rape in his day to know what was sex play and what was violence.

“Show me where it is,” the man gritted out between clenched teeth. “Give it to me. Now! Do it or you're gonna regret it!”

As the drainpipe tore free of the wall, Slocum jumped, caught the window ledge, and shinnied up so he was halfway into the room. The noise of the pipe falling to the alley below and his scrabbling to pull himself in distracted the rapist.

The man twisted about. Slocum didn't get a good look at his face but caught enough in the lamplight to identify a scar on his cheek. The diversion of Slocum pulling himself into the room gave Marianne the chance to kick back like a mule, jerk hard, and roll off the bed, half pinned between the wall and the mattress.

Like a striking snake, the intruder drew his pistol and fired. The window glass about Slocum's head shattered. Most of the glass fell against his hat brim, but one shard cut his cheek, about where the other man sported that permanent scar. The gunman would have fired again and ended Slocum's life if it hadn't been for Marianne grabbing up the comforter and spinning it out like a fisherman's net. It descended to block the man's view and ruin his aim.

This slug went through the blanket and into the wall beside the window. By this time, Slocum had kicked hard enough against the outer wall to find purchase so he could shove himself into the room. He landed with a thud on the bare floor. Rolling, he got out his pistol and fired from beneath the bed. Although flat on his back when he fired, his aim was better than the still-draped intruder.

BOOK: Slocum Giant 2013 : Slocum and the Silver City Harlot (9781101601860)
9.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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