Read Slocum Giant 2013 : Slocum and the Silver City Harlot (9781101601860) Online
Authors: Jake Logan
“For justice,” he said. He saw her accept his promise and that he meant he'd find who killed her fiancÃ© or die trying.
“He was going to be gone for a week,” Marianne said listlessly. “Only a week. It had been more than two, but Jack never was good at knowing what day it was if the passion caught him.”
Slocum had nothing to say. Marianne rode behind him on the horse, arms circling around his waist, as they both rode bareback out to where the house had been burned to the ground.
“I don't know what's going on anymore, John. I don't. How can I tell Randolph about Jack's death?”
“Boys take news better than you think. Randolph will, too. How'd he get on with Jack?”
“Not that well. There was an immediate fire between them, but Randolph is like that with everyone. Always locking horns. Just his age.” She paused, then added, “His age and Billy. Billy's a bad influence, but there aren't many boys in town around Randolph's age.”
“He'll be all right,” Slocum said. “He probably knew before you did that Jack was dead.”
“Or Billy did. I swear, that boy must live with his ear to the ground. He knows everyone and everything that happens in town. He ought to work for the newspaper as a reporter.”
Slocum's nose wrinkled as he approached the house. The stench of burned wood and belongings would take weeks to disappear. A few good rains might erase the smell, but it had been dry so far this year. He drew rein and looked down at the charred frame, the sofa burned down to its springs, the items that had been Marianne's world and history.
“That the front door? Or where it used to be?” He pointed to the far side of the ruins.
“I reckon Carstairs came from the trees and heaved the bottle of kerosene in with the burning rag stuffed into it, then hightailed it back to the woods.”
Marianne slid off the back of the horse and walked around. Slocum remained mounted as she began poking through the debris. He urged his horse toward the stand of trees, studying the ground for tracks. It had been too long for him to get any proof anyone had come this way, much less Carstairs. Just thinking on the man brought back the vivid image of Carstairs holding Marianne pinned to the bed, about to rape her.
He sucked in his breath and stared into the undergrowth, not really seeing anything. He heard Carstairs's words again. He had wanted Marianne to give him somethingâbut had he meant sex? Holding her in such a compromising position had led Slocum to believe Carstairs wanted to rape her, but there might be other explanations.
“âGive it to me,'” Slocum repeated. Why had Carstairs burned her out and run away when he could have raped her as she fled the house?
“John, can you give me a hand with this? It's my cedar chest.”
He rode back slowly, then dismounted and went to where Marianne struggled to pull a blackened box from under a mound of cinders. Fumbling around for a moment, he found the handle and tugged. It came off in his hand, forcing him to burrow down farther and get under the chest. A quick heave brought it out.
“I hope nothing inside is too burned.” Marianne pried open the lid and smiled almost shyly. “It's got most of the things I brought from Calhoun,” she said. She dug through the seared clothing as Slocum began searching the house.
“Tell me what happened the night Carstairs burned you out,” he said, standing by the front door. The fire had destroyed the frame entirely, but the door panels were intact. He used one of the fallen panels as a scoop to find the melted bit of glass from the bottle that had ignited the fire.
“Well, it's a bit embarrassing,” she said, never looking up as she pulled out baby clothing that must have been Randolph's. Marianne carefully laid it aside and continued her hunt. “I was with, well, I was with Clem, who was going to pay me for my favors. The bank had warned me I couldn't miss another payment or the house would be taken away.”
“Clem a miner?”
“A moderately successful one, and a nice man.”
“You ever with Carstairs?”
“No! Jack warned me about Carstairs, not that he had to. I saw how Carstairs acted around women and heard how he treated the soiled doves in town.”
Slocum felt a pang that Marianne had been selling herselfâthat she'd had to.
“Was this the first time he'd barged in? Carstairs?”
“He always circled around like a vulture, but he'd never said more than a dozen words to me. I think he was afraid of what Jack would do if he did.”
“Carstairs is foreman of a big mine. He and Texas Jack have any business dealings?”
“None that I know of. Jack's only partner was Jim Frank. You know about their falling-out.”
“Jack never gave you any money, to keep the bank from foreclosing on your house?”
“There wasn't any need. I kept the payments current until Jack went out on business, then he didn't have any more spare cash than I did.”
Slocum stopped and stared at her.
“You mean the bank told you to pay up or get out after missing only one payment?”
“Two,” she said.
Even in a boomtown, the bank wouldn't try to foreclose that fast.
“Did Texas Jack piss off the bank president?”
“He pissed off damned near everyone,” Marianne said, a small smile curling her lips now. “Including me, but I loved him for it. Damn him for leaving me.” She forced back tears and turned from Slocum.
He kept kicking through the debris, not sure what he hunted. After a half hour, he knew he wasn't going to find it, whatever it was.
“You have anything you want to sling in a blanket so you can take it back to town?”
“Some things from the cedar chest. My dowry,” she said softly. “There wasn't much, but it was enough for Jack. We wereâ”
Slocum dug his toes into the burned debris and dived forward, arms outstretched. He grabbed Marianne in a steely grip and carried her backward until her heel caught a burned, curled-up floorboard, sending them both crashing to the ground amid a flurry of soot and black cinders.
“What's got into you, John?”
He stayed atop her long enough for the second bullet to sail past. From the corner of his eye he'd seen movement, then the bright spark of sunlight off the front sight of a rifle. His quick tackle had saved them from getting ventilated.
“Stay down,” he said, scrambling about in the ashes and coming to a kneeling position behind the cedar chest with his six-shooter drawn.
Bracing his hand against the wooden chest, he squeezed off a round. He was rewarded with a string of curses from the underbrush where he'd spotted the rifle barrel. Another quick shot didn't bring any new cursing. From all his time in the army as a sniper, he had learned to trust his instincts. The first shot might have winged their attacker. The second missed.
“They tried to kill you!” Marianne's outrage caused her to stand. Slocum tackled her again.
This time she didn't flop onto her back but sat hard. Her blue eyes flashed angrily, then widened in horror.
“The gunman is still out there. He could have shot me!”
Slocum wanted to find the sniper to learn who had been the target. The slug had passed between them, so either could have been the intended target. Or the rifleman's intent might have been to run them off. Something in the burned remnants might have been the shooter's goal, rather than killing them. Somehow, Slocum had the itchy feeling between his shoulders that he had been the target, not Marianne. That didn't make her any safer if he left her alone, but he had no choice.
“You have a hidey-hole?” He kept his keen eyes fixed on the woods for any sign of movement.
“I, uh, yeah, I guess so.”
“Crawl in there and wait for me.”
“John, no, you can't!”
She reached for him, but he had already dashed halfway to his horse. Slocum threw his arms around the pony's neck, kicked hard, and mounted as the horse ran a few tentative strides. Staying low, his head down near the horse's neck, he galloped for the woods and then burst through the curtain of brush into a cool dimness. He gave the pony its head as he hunted for his attacker.
He saw nothing, but ahead along the game trail the horse instinctively found, he heard pounding hooves. Slocum kept low to prevent the rapidly passing tree limbs from knocking him off or cutting his face. Fear of another ambush evaporated. He was the hunter now, and his quarry ran for his life.
The Indian pony was stronger and slowly closed the distance. The man he chased kept shooting back over his shoulder with the rifle, wasting ammo. Not a single round came close to Slocum, and the noise only spurred on the racing pony. When they were within a half-dozen yards, Slocum lifted his six-gun and fired.
The man's hat went flying. He grabbed for it. As he turned, Slocum got a good look at his face. Lester Carstairs. He fired again, but Carstairs was already off balance and fell from horseback to land with a loud thud.
Slocum lacked stirrups to give more control. All he could do was draw back on the reins and use his knees to convince the running horse to slow. By the time the pony swung about, Carstairs had vanished into the forest on foot.
Without hesitation, Slocum slid from the pony and hit the ground running. Carstairs's rifle lay on the ground where he had dropped it. Slocum didn't bother to check. The magazine was likely empty. That meant all the firepower Carstairs had rode in his six-gun. Slocum slowed when he reached a tangle of brush, then dropped to his knees to get a better look ahead.
Carstairs either underestimated Slocum or had panicked and thought of nothing but a clumsy ambush. Hiding behind a tree, his hand braced against the bole, he waited for Slocum to blunder forward. Slocum slipped his pistol back into its holster and cut off to his left, making a wide circle to come up on Carstairs from the man's rear.
Carstairs nervously shifted his weight from foot to foot. Even if Slocum had popped into view where the miner thought, his aim would have been off. Slocum stepped forward on cat's feet, not making a sound. His shadow betrayed him as it swept across the tree Carstairs used for refuge. The man whipped around, but Slocum leapt like a mountain lion. His left hand closed around Carstairs's wrist and his right drove straight for the man's neck. Grease and dirt made the throat slippery, but Slocum's strong fingers bore in to choke his enemy.
Carstairs made gasping sounds. He squeezed off a round and then dropped his weapon as air was denied his lungs. Slocum bent forward and put his weight behind the choke. Carstairs dropped to his knees. Both hands tried to pry loose the fingers killing him, but his strength had already left him.
Slocum followed the man to the ground, then through force of will stopped choking before he took a life. For what Carstairs had done to Marianne, he deserved to die. She was sure he had burned down her house after barging in on her and a client. Slocum knew this was the man who had tried to rape her the night before. The identifying scar on his cheek stood out, livid and ragged.
He released his strangling fingers and rocked back, gasping from exertion. As Carstairs slowly recovered, rubbing his tortured neck, he found himself staring down the bore of Slocum's Colt Navy.
“Any reason I shouldn't kill you and leave your worthless carcass for the coyotes?”
“I don't know you from Adam. Why'd you chase me? You tryin' to rob me? Take it. Take ever'thing. Iâ” Carstairs blanched when Slocum cocked his pistol.
“You burned out a friend of mine, then you tried to rape her last night. Or did you? Was it rape or was it something else?”
Carstairs's mouth opened and closed like a fish flopping on a riverbank. Then he recovered some of his sand when Slocum didn't pull the trigger.
“She's got something I want. The whore won't give it to me.”
Slocum hit him. The Colt's barrel left a dent on the side of Carstairs's head but didn't knock him out.
“Keep a civil tongue in your head. If you don't, I might cut it out.”
“You ain't gettin' any part of it. You and the whore”âCarstairs cringed when Slocum reared back to pistol-whip him againâ“you don't deserve it.”
“What're you talking about?” Slocum saw the suddenly sly expression and knew he wouldn't learn any more from this man unless he had plenty of time and a sharp knife. There wasn't much the Apaches knew about torturing a man that Slocum didn't know, also. Some of it had come firsthand.
“You don't know what I'm talkin' 'bout, do you?” Carstairs spat blood from a cut lip. “Go to hell.”
“You'll be there to greet me,” Slocum said, drawing a bead between the man's eyes. Carstairs blanched again but didn't say a word. Considering that questions still had to be answered, and Sheriff Whitehill had only let Slocum out for the killing of Texas Jack Bedrich because of his deputy's vouchsafe, it wouldn't do to have another killing over his head.
Somehow, someway it would get back to Silver City that he had plugged this worthless snake. More than this, Slocum found it irresistible that Carstairs was willing to die rather than spill his guts about what he wanted from Marianne. That was the only explanation Slocum could come up with. Marianne had something, some item or tidbit of information, Carstairs was willing to rape and kill for.
“On your feet,” Slocum said, his gun hand never twitching. Carstairs understood he was a goner if he tried anything now.
They walked to where Slocum's pony nibbled at grass. It took the better part of an hour to track down Carstairs's horse and ride back to the burned-out house. As they approached, Slocum looked for Marianne. He had told her to go to ground, and she had. She was nowhere to be found.
He called for her, then started when debris not ten feet from where he sat astride his horse slipped away from a door. She poked her auburn head out, smiled when she saw Slocum, and then hissed like a cat when she saw his prisoner.
“Root cellar?” Slocum asked.
“Give me your gun, and I'll kill him. I swear it!”