Authors: Lyle Brandt
Tags: #Fiction, #Westerns, #General
A shot rang out behind Ryder, loud as thunder in the alley's narrow confines, and he heard the bullet ricochet off brickwork to his right. He ducked, a stupid reflex since the slug was already long gone, and quickly found that running in a crouch accomplished nothing but to slow him down.
He could return fire, but the muzzle flash would show his adversary where to aim unless he hit his mark by pure dumb luck, and Ryder thought the risk outweighed the possible reward. Killing the shooter, even if he managed it, would solve one problem while the otherâfinding out who'd sent himâstill remained.
The alley's western mouth was twenty feet ahead of him, a slightly lighter patch of darkness to his straining eyes. He tried to hug the nearest wall while moving forward, fearful that the gunman on his heels would catch a glimpse of him in silhouette and hit him on the run.
One final dash and he was clear, ducked to his left and stopped some ten feet from the alley's entrance. Dropping to one knee, raising his Colt Army, Ryder braced it with both hands, since his right was trembling from the frantic sprint, pulse hammering against his ribs and in his ears. It nearly deafened him, but he could still hear someone drawing closerÂ .Â .Â .
Titles by Lyle Brandt
The Gideon Ryder Series
The John Slade Lawman Series
The Matt Price Gun Series
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eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-62372-5
Berkley mass-market edition / December 2013
Cover illustration by Bruce Emmett.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For Agent William Craig
End of Watch: September 3, 1902
APRIL 14, 1865
he nation's capital had come undone. The news from Appomattox Court House, in VirginiaâGeneral Lee's surrender, after four long, bloody years of civil warâhad pitched the city into raucous celebration that was still ongoing, five days after the announcement. Schools and offices had closed, along with many shops, spilling most of Washington's eighty-odd thousand residents into the streets. Taverns were open, going strongâat least, the ones that still had beer and whiskey left to sellâthough some apparently had been drunk dry.
Gideon Ryder, sober at the moment, moved amidst the crush of bodies thronging Pennsylvania Avenue. One of the city's steam-powered fire engines passed him, draped in flags and bunting, its whistle hooting to clear the road of buggies and horsemen. Behind it marched a motley choir of some two dozen workmen, black and white together, tipsy voices grappling with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
No one seemed concerned that celebration of the war's end might be premature. They either didn't know or didn't care that Joe Johnston's Army of Tennessee was still leading General Sherman on a merry chase through North Carolina; that Rebel forces in Alabama and Mississippi were fighting on as if Lee had never surrendered; that Quantrill's Raiders were still raising hell in Missouri; or that Jefferson Davis had given Ulysses Grant the slip in Richmond, vanishing to who knew where. In every part of Washington, from the White House to the Potomac, it seemed to be an article of faith that peace was guaranteed.
Gideon Ryder, short on faith, wasn't prepared to count his chickens yet.
More to the point, he had been summoned to report before his boss, Ward Hill Lamon, United States marshal for the District of Columbia. Despite the celebration going on around himâor because of itâRyder could not suppress a feeling that there might be trouble in the wind.
Lamon had known President Lincoln since they partnered up as lawyers back in Illinois, during the 1850s, then had gone his own way as a federal prosecutor in the Eighth Judicial District, operating out of Bloomington. In 1860, despite his abhorrence of abolitionism, Lamon had joined the Republican Party to campaign for Lincoln's election based on their friendship alone. That May, at the party's convention in Chicago, he'd outwitted rival William Seward by printing extra tickets and packing the hall with Lincoln supporters. Rumor had it that he hoped for an appointment overseas, as an ambassador to France or England, but Honest Abe wanted his right-hand man closer to home.
In February 1861, serving as Lincoln's bodyguard, Lamon had traveled with the president-elect from Illinois to Washington, with whistle stops in seventy-odd towns and cities along the way. The railroad had commissioned Allan Pinkerton to take charge of security on their account, and he'd announced discovery of a conspiracy to kill Lincoln in Baltimore, before he reached the capital for his inauguration on the fourth of March. Pinkerton wanted Lincoln's stop in Baltimore cut from the schedule. Lamon countered with the offer of a pistol and a Bowie knifeâwhich Lincoln had declinedâwhile Pinkerton lambasted Lamon as a “brainless, egotistical fool.” Lincoln agreed to pass through Baltimore without delivering his scheduled speech, and Pinkerton had cut the city's telegraph lines to frustrate would-be assassins. Lamon told the press that Pinkerton had fabricated the conspiracy to reap publicity for his detective agency.
In fact, as Ryder knew, one man
been detained for questioning in Baltimoreâa Corsican barber by the name of Cipriano Ferrandini, who worked in the basement of Barnum's Hotel, on Calvert Street. He'd been grilled and then released, no charges filed, no evidence produced that he had harbored any wish to harm the president-elect.
The episode might well have damaged Lamon's reputation, but his old friend didn't seem to mind. Immediately after his inauguration, Lincoln had appointed Lamon as the capital's top U.S. marshal, then sent him to Fort Sumter in South Carolina, on the eve of its bombardment by Rebel artillery. Throughout the war, Lamon had personally prowled the White House grounds at night, once accosting a prowler armed with two pistols and two daggers, knocking him dead on the spot with a blow between the eyes.
Ryder would not be meeting Lamon at the White House, but rather at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad's depot, north of the Capitol building, at the corner of New Jersey Avenue and C Street. Lamon had been ordered down to Richmond by the president but wanted words with Ryder prior to leaving town.
The reason would be anybody's guess.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
yder found Lamon pacing outside the Italian-style depot, with its four-sided clock tower looming a hundred feet overhead. Even without the air of agitation that surrounded him, Lamon was an imposing figure, three inches taller than Ryder's own six feet and heavyset, dark hair worn long over his collar, and a bristling Van Dyke beard. A bulge beneath the left side of his long coat signaled he was armed.
Lamon saw Ryder coming, and his scowl relaxed into its normal frown. “I had begun to think I'd miss you, Deputy,” he said.
“The crowds, sir. By the time I got your messageâ”
“Never mind. I have a train to catch, although I have to say it goes against my better judgment. Leaving Washington just nowÂ .Â .Â . I fear the threat is greater than the president allows.”
“Sir, if you want me to patrol around the White Houseâ”
“I'm afraid that task must fall to someone else,” Lamon cut Ryder short. “We need to talk about the work you did in Maryland, last week.”
“The counterfeiting ring.”
A nest of Rebel sympathizers had been flooding Washington with phony Union greenbacks for the past year and a half, turning a tidy profit from their bid to undermine the government of the United States. They weren't the only operators in the field, by any meansâsome estimates proposed that fully half the paper currency in circulation had been printed up by counterfeitersâbut they'd made a slip at last, sold some of their pernicious paper to an undercover deputy of Lamon's, and a raid was organized, with Ryder on the team.
“You shot one of the suspects,” Lamon said.
“Yes, sir. After he fired at me.”
“Apparently, his weapon was a single-shot Palmetto pistol?”
“Sir, I didn't stop to ask. He missed me by an inch or two, and I returned fire.”
“With the end result, I'm led to understand, that he may never walk again.”
“He's lucky to be breathing. They can wheel him into court for trial, sir.”
“I am more concerned about the subject's father than his health,” said Lamon.
“As luck would have it, he's the junior senator from Maryland.”
“A copperhead,” Ryder replied, using the common name for Democrats who favored the Confederacy, though their states had lacked the gumption to secede.
“No doubt,” Lamon acknowledged. “But the president still hopes for his support in reuniting Dixie with the Union.”
Ryder could feel his stomach churning, apprehension sliding into something more like dread.
“So, what am I supposed to do?” he asked. “Apologize because the little bastard missed his chance to kill me?”
Lamon's scowl came back, full force. “There's nothing you
do,” he said. “And nothing further I can do for you.”
“Sir, I don't follow you.”
“You're terminated as a deputy, effective from this moment. Prosecution for assault with the intent to kill may thereby be averted.”
“Prosecution! When I fired in self-defense?”
“It's Washington,” Lamon reminded him. “Nothing is ever quite the way it seems.”
“Sir, this isâ”
“I require your badge.”
Fuming and speechless, Ryder reached inside his jacket and removed the tin star from his vest. He handed it to Lamon, felt a tremor in his hand, and hoped it wasn't visible.
“If you require a referenceâ”
“I'll ask someone I trust,” said Ryder. “You don't want to miss your train.”
He turned and left Ward Lamon on the depot's platform, and moved off in search of a saloon.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
yder picked the Yankee Doodle, known for watering its liquor less than certain other dives in Washingtonâand for the sporting ladies who were housed upstairs. The place was packed, like every other tavern in the capital that still had liquid stock on hand. He shouldered through the press of bodies, made it to the bar, and ordered whiskey from the harried bartender. It cost a dime, which seemed excessive, but he didn't feel like quibbling.
The amber liquid scorched his throat and settled in his stomach, mingling with the acid that his curt dismissal had released there. Ryder thought of half a dozen things he might have said, ranging from furious retorts to pleading, but he knew that nothing would have saved his job. He'd run afoul of politics, and that meant everything in Washington.
Ryder was on his third shot, feeling it a little in that swimmy way, the tight fist of his anger loosening, when someone edged up to the bar beside him. Ryder felt the new arrival watching him and turned to meet his level gaze. The man was average in every way, clean-shaven, graying hair combed neatly, wearing a gray suit and black string tie. Ryder put him somewhere in his middle forties, fairly trim and fit.
One corner of the stranger's mouth ticked upward for a heartbeat, in what could have been a smile cut short. “Gideon Ryder?”
“Until this afternoon, a member of the U.S. Marshals Service?”
“Who in hell are you?” Ryder demanded.
“William Patrick Wood.”
“I never heard of you.”
“No reason why you should have, unless you'd done time at the Old Capitol Prison. I was its warden, during the war.”
“War's still going on, from what I hear,” Ryder replied.
“It's down to mopping up now. You know that as well as I do, Mr. Ryder.”
“So, I've been chosen for a new position,” Wood informed him. “Unofficial at the moment, but it's soon to be confirmed.”
Ryder raised his empty glass to get the bartender's attention, just as half a dozen drunks nearby burst into a discordant song. Wood grimaced at the racket, leaning closer to be heard, and asked him, “Can we talk outside? I'd hate to shout our private business in the midst of fools.”
“We don't have any private business,” Ryder said.
“But there's a chance we might,” Wood said. “And to our mutual advantage, I believe.”
The bartender was coming back, but Ryder waved him off. “All right,” he said, “but make it quick. I plan on being drunk within the hour.”
“An admirable sentiment, I'm sure. This way?”
Ryder followed Wood outside and stopped a dozen paces from the Yankee Doodle's bat-wing doors.
“All right,” said Ryder. “What's this private business?”
Wood responded with a question of his own. “Have you heard anything from Marshal Lamon about coming changes at the Treasury Department?”
“No. Last information that I got from him involved my walking papers.”
“Ah. Well, the department is establishing a new division called the Secret Service. Starting in a few weeks' timeâright after Independence Day, in factâthe unit will be activated. I have been selected as its chief.”
“The Secret Service,” Ryder echoed. “What is that, a bunch of spies?”
“No, sir. Our brief is to investigate and halt all forms of fraud against the U.S. government wherever they occur. One part of that is counterfeiting, which I understand you've dealt with in the past.”
“Not very well, apparently,” said Ryder.
“Some would disagree. Other responsibilities extend to tax evasion, smuggling, theft of mail, election fraud, financial crimes that have an impact on the governmentâwho knows what we'll be called on to examine, over time.”
“I wish you luck,” Ryder replied.
“I'd rather have your service than your wishes,” Wood informed him.
“Because you're capable and have experience.”
“You know I lost one badge today, because I shot a man in self-defense.”
“I am familiar with your caseâfrom Marshal Lamon, as it happens.”
“How's that?” Ryder flashed on Lamon's offer of a reference, his cutting answer.
“He regrets dismissing you. The matter was beyond his personal control.”
“And now you're throwing me a bone?”
“Much more than that, I hope. A golden opportunity.”
“To do the same job for the same folks, more or less.”
“I'm not Ward Lamon,” Wood assured him.
“But your boss isâwho, again?”
“That would be Mr. Hugh McCulloch, secretary of the Treasury. Who answers, in his turn, to Mr. Lincoln at the White House.”
“So, more politics,” said Ryder.
“Were you expecting independence, working for the government?”
“You must've missed the part where I
working for the government.”
“I understand your anger, Mr. Ryder. You believe you were betrayed, and I can't argue that you're wrong.”
“Or guarantee the same thing won't happen again.”
“No, sir. You're absolutely right. I plan on building up an agency to serve this government and serve it well. No man is indispensable, and that includes myself. I
say this: if I believe one of my men is in the right, I will use every means at my disposal to defend him. If I find the agency to be corrupted by the whims of politics beyond its ordinary usage, I'll resign as chief.”
“Sounds good,” Ryder admitted. “But you're wasting time on me.”
“And why is that?”