Authors: Larry D. Sweazy
It didn't take long to get to the jail. The hole in
the wall had been boarded up, and the smell of gunpowder had long been whisked away on the strong, persistent spring breeze that continued to sweep through Austin.
Josiah took little notice of the fine weather that continued to visit the city. It was like background noise, a piano in a saloon, there but irrelevant to what was really happening. There was no threat of rain, or of a tornado, or destruction by any nature. The world seemed content with itself, and that was just fine with him. One less thing to deal with.
What concerned Josiah was the harm done by man in the name of greed, or another cause that he could not understand.
The death of four whores might not have been much of a concern to the general public, other than to reinforce their belief that the girls were less deserving of justice than an upstanding woman who might have met the same fate.
And to be honest, the murders, as they were, since Josiah knew little of the details, were only of concern to him because of Scrap's involvement.
Somehow, the incidents had slipped by his notice, making him, in his own mind, no better than those who were unaware, the same general public he had condemned in his mind only seconds before.
The city was large. Crimes, of some sort, were continualâa daily occurrence, but mostly on a small scale. No man could be expected to know of every fallen dove. Still, the pull at Josiah's heart was there, only because he had known whores in his life who were good women, deserving of justice, and by far, more honest and innocent than any highbrow gentleman or gentlewoman could ever imagine.
The discussion with Paul Hoagland had been far more informative than he'd thought it would be.
He pushed through the heavy door of the jail, leaving the perfect day behind him, entering the fortress that seemed slightly weakened but not fatally harmed. There was still a darkness to the building that made even an innocent man reconsider any desire to enter.
Josiah recognized the deputy sitting at the door, Milt something-or-other. He hadn't caught the man's last name when he'd been at the jail the day before. There had been too much chaos for the niceties of a proper introduction at the time. The deputy recognized Josiah, too.
“What're you after, Wolfe?” Milt said, stroking his thick upside-down V mustache, not bothering to sit up straight or act the least bit surprised to see Josiah.
“I'll want to see Elliot before I leave, but I need to speak to the sheriff.”
The foyer of the jail had been cleaned up of the rubble and dust from the explosion, and the gun locker was reinforced with a bar across the front and three different locks added to make it impossible to break into.
“Sheriff's busy,” Milt said. He chewed at the corner of his lip and reset his jaw, like it was some kind of tic or bad habit.
Josiah looked behind Milt and saw that the door to Farnsworth's office was closed. There was no sound coming from behind it. He looked back over his shoulder then, to the hitching post, which was empty of any horses except Clipper.
“I've got some information for him. Something he asked me to do for him,” Josiah said.
Milt sat up straight, staring Josiah directly in the eyes. “Has to do with that note Randalls left in the cell, don't it?”
“There's nothing to say that Randalls left that note; it could've been any man that'd been there before.”
“Sure, whatever you say, Wolfe. It was layin' right on top of the bunk. I think somebody woulda saw it before now. Seems to me that Randalls fella wanted it to be found, don't you think?”
“I suppose you could be right.”
“Ain't no supposin' to it.” The deputy's face was abnormally thin and his mustache extra bushy. When he inhaled and exhaled, the hairs puffed out, then drew deeply in, like he had a hard time breathing, almost like McNelly.
Josiah wondered if Milt had the consumption, too. He took a half step backward.
“What'd the posse find?” he asked.
“Not a lick of nothin'. Once the tracks hit the river, they disappeared. Must've had a barge of some kind ready, 'cause you know them banks are too high to ride any distance. Tried that myself once, chasin' after a loose horse.”
“It seems to me,” Josiah said, “this break was really well thought out.”
“One of the most professional I ever seen. Them fellas had some military trainin'. Probably war vets. Along with the know-how of the explosives, they was precise and organized. They wanted Randalls and nothing else. The fact that they came when they did, when the sheriff and the deputies was all in the courthouse havin' a meetin', well, if'n you ask meÂ .Â .Â .” Milt stopped, then leaned forward on the desk, motioning for Josiah to meet him halfway.
Josiah looked around quickly, then stooped down, steadying himself on the desk and one knee, so he and Milt were face-to-face.
“If'n you ask me,” Milt repeated, lowering his voice almost to a whisper, “I think somebody on the inside gave them some 'portant information. It was all too easy to be dumb luck. Like I said, if'n you ask me. They killed Jones, but that don't look to be a surprise. He was the only one with a weapon and the only one who could stand in the way to stop them or slow them down.”
“So you think they knew ahead of time the perfect moment to break Randalls out?” Josiah asked.
“That's what I said, ain't it?”
“I guess the bigger question is, who would want to bust Randalls out of jail in the first place? Who would be willing to take that risk? And why?”
“Can't answer that, Wolfe. But I'm tellin' you, there's a rat in the nest, that's for sure.”
Josiah nodded, then stood up. “I still need to see the sheriff.”
“Well, you're gonna have to wait, he's got some business to tend to, and he said he didn't want to be disturbed.”
“All right, I guess I can go talk to Elliot.”
“Nope, you can't do that, either. Sheriff said he didn't want you talkin' to the boy until after you talked to him.”
“Hell if I know. I'm just the new desk sergeant since Jones got kilt, and Farnsworth don't tell me crap.”
“What's so important that I have to wait is all I want to know?”
Milt waved Josiah back down to him and whispered, “He's in there with his father. They're arguin' about somethin'. I ain't seen Myron Farnsworth step foot in this place but once, and that was a long time ago, right after the sheriff won the election. It was a short celebration then, and this ain't one now, I can tell you that.”
“Kind of odd, don't you think?”
“That his father shows up here a day after one of his accountants has been busted out of the jail, Myron being one of the wealthiest bankers in the city.”
“Ain't my place to know what's odd or not, but I can tell you this, things ain't been right around here for a couple of weeks, and they just keep gettin' more worrisome, if'n you ask me.”
Josiah took a deep breath and stepped away from the desk, resigned to waiting for the sheriff and slightly confused, trying to sort out everything he'd learned from Milt and Paul Hoagland.
The door to the sheriff's office pushed open harshly, slamming off the wall and bouncing back with a loud thud as it crashed into place.
Myron Farnsworth walked out of the office. He was a tall man, with a full head of white hair, along with a short white beard that didn't fall too far over his chin. His clothes were impeccable, exactly what Josiah would expect a banker to wear. He guessed the man's tailored clothes cost more than a couple of months of his Ranger's salary.
“Like I said, take care of it, Rory,” Myron Farnsworth bellowed. He marched forward to the door, staring right through Josiah like he didn't exist.
Sheriff Rory Farnsworth had stopped at the door to his office, his face red, either from embarrassment or anger, it was hard to tell which. He didn't say anything until his father was out of the building and his shadow gone from the walk leading up to the fortress. “And a good day to you, too, sir,” he said.
Josiah stood back, unsure of what to do next.
“What do you want, Wolfe? Can't you see that I have enough problems?” Farnsworth snapped, like he was talking to an annoying four-year-old boy.
Josiah nodded. “I have some information for you.”
“You deciphered the note?”
“I did, but I'm not certain that the information will do you any good.”
Rory Farnsworth stared past Josiah at Milt, then jerked his head. “Well, get in here then. I haven't got all day.”
The inside of Rory Farnsworth's office was much
smaller than Josiah remembered it.
A gun rack sat on the wall behind the desk, full of shotguns and rifles of various makes and vintages, as well as a gun cabinet below it that most likely held six-shooters and other sidearms. Between the locker out in the foyer and the guns in the office, it was obvious that the jail was well armed, not that all of the weapons in the world would have done much good during the jailbreak, with no one around to fire them. Josiah still found the timing of the incident more than curious.
“Have a seat,” Farnsworth commanded, pointing to the spindly chair in front of the desk.
Josiah pulled the note out of his pocket, along with the solution to the cipher on a separate piece of paper, and placed them on the desk gently, then did as he was told. The seat was still warm from the previous occupant, Myron FarnsworthÂ .Â .Â . or, at least, Josiah assumed it was Myron who had occupied the visitor's chair; for all he knew Rory might have been subservient and given up his normal position to his father. Surely, a man like Myron Farnsworth was more accustomed to sitting behind a desk rather than in front of it.
The sheriff plopped down in his chair, the effects of his father's visit still very much visible on his face and in his demeanor. “That man infuriates me,” Farnsworth said, twisting his lip.
“I'm sorry?” Josiah said.
“Oh, never mind.” Farnsworth picked up the solution that Josiah had worked out, and read it out loud. “âThey will kill me under the oak tree.' What the hell is that supposed to mean to me, Wolfe?”
“I was hoping you knew which oak tree Randalls was talking about.”
“Well, how in the hell would I know that? Everybody thinks I'm the answer man today for some reason. Just because I have a star on my chest doesn't mean I know everything.”
Josiah let the words fall away, just like his gaze to the sheriff. He stared at his boots for a long moment, not wanting to give credence to anything the sheriff had just said. Things were tense enough between them.
“I was just hoping you might know,” Josiah finally said. “There seems to be a man's life at stake here. Why would Randalls be afraid of dying at the hands of his rescuers? Doesn't that seem odd to you? Especially considering he didn't protest when the cell door was torn off? The man showed no fear. Just resignation.”
“You're concerned about a man who was busted out of jail? A criminal? What's become of you, Wolfe?” Farnsworth sneered.
“Why shouldn't I be concerned, Rory?”
“I don't know. I just don't know. Maybe because he's a criminal?” Farnsworth said, tossing the note on the desk. “This is no help. No help at all, Wolfe. If somebody hangs Randalls, it will only save me the time and money of doing it myself. So be it, I say. So be it.”
“I did what you asked,” Josiah said, surprised by Farnsworth's reaction. “I can't make it say anything different than what it does.”
Farnsworth's eyes were cold and hard, his lips twisted up like those of a spoiled child who had just been denied his favorite toy. “How can I be sure what you say is true, Wolfe? It's like asking a Mexican to translate what another one says.”
Josiah shrugged. “Have someone else solve the cipher then. They'll come up with the same answer. I guarantee it.”
The glare in the sheriff's eye was disconcerting. “I'll do that, Wolfe. I'll just damn well do that.”
Josiah was growing extremely uncomfortable in Rory Farnsworth's presence, considering his attitude and agitation. There seemed to be a lot going on in both men's lives, though there was not a whole lot connecting them. The sheriff seemed to be overwhelmed by his job and by the expectations that came along with the privileges and title, but there was no way Josiah was going to show him any sympathy, or any other emotion, for that matter.
Instead, Josiah started to push himself forward, readying to leave. “I'd like to speak with Elliot, but Milt said I needed to see you first. What's the problem with Elliot?”
“He's caused us some trouble, getting the other prisoners all riled up and such. I had him put in the hole.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I said Elliot's in the hole, in the dungeon. Do I need to repeat myself again, Wolfe? What is the matter with you, this sudden soft spot for prisoners and wrongdoers? Have you lost your way as a Ranger?”
“Hardly, Rory. I think Elliot is falsely accused, and you know it.”
“Perhaps you should become a lawyer.”
“Perhaps I should get Elliot the best lawyer in Austin,” Josiah snapped back.
“Is that a threat?”
Josiah shook his head no. “Just a consideration,” he said, as he felt the tips of his fingers go numb. “Elliot is no outlaw, Rory. He's a Texas Ranger and nothing but a boy to boot. He doesn't deserve to be treated like the scum of the earth, and you know it.”
“I had never met Ranger Elliot until the night he was brought to the jail, bloody and blabbering like a fool I might add. So I am unaware of his character, morals, or values. That he is a Ranger does not speak as highly of him as you think it does, Wolfe. Most of the populationâthe upstanding population, that isâthink little of the organization, as nothing more than a troop of miscreants and thugs.”
“I don't think that's a fair assessment.”
“Doesn't matter what you think.” Farnsworth leaned forward. “My jail, my rules, Wolfe. Elliot's down there for twenty-four hours. No visitors allowed. Not even you.” There was a coldness to the sheriff's voice that Josiah found even more distant than the moment before, and the man's fingers were stiff on the desk, unyielding. The sheriff obviously meant what he said.
“That's not right, Rory, and you know it. Elliot is not that kind of boy.” The thought of wasting twenty-four hours dawned on Josiah right away. McNelly had given him forty-eight hours to get ready to leave with the company of Rangers. It had been Josiah's plan to go along with McNelly, but he wanted to make sure that Scrap was with him when he joined up with the company, and at the moment that was looking impossible.
Farnsworth stood up so quickly and forcefully that he knocked his chair back into the gun cabinet.
The collision rattled the guns in the rack above it. “Don't test me, Wolfe. I'm in no mood to justify my rules or actions to you or to anybody else today. If you want to see Elliot, then you'll just have to come back tomorrowâunless you'd like to gather up some fellas and try to break him out, too.”
Josiah took a couple of deep breaths. He held his teeth together, restraining his tongue so he couldn't speak, and say something he'd regret later.
He knew when he was up against a brick wall, and when to push and when not to. The last thing he wanted was to make an enemy out of the sheriff or do anything stupid that would get him thrown in the dungeon alongside Elliot. For his own sake, and for Scrap's, he needed to keep his head about him and his mouth shut.
As it was, he and Farnsworth weren't close friends, and it didn't look like a genial relationship was going to bloom any time soon.
“I'll be back tomorrow, Rory,” Josiah said sternly, staring the sheriff hard in the eyes. “Bright and early.”
“That's fine, Wolfe. Just fine. You come back then. I'll be right here.” Rory Farnsworth cocked his head at the door, and without the sheriff saying another word, Josiah knew he'd been dismissed.
*Â *Â *
Clipper trotted away from the jail at an easy gait.
Josiah sat stiffly in the saddle, looking over his shoulder at regular intervals, watching the Travis County jail disappear slowly behind him.
A low-hanging cloud passed between the sun and the ground, covering the building with a long, gray shadow, making the jail seem drearier and more foreboding than it normally did.
Josiah thought about going home; it was near time to grab a bite for lunch, but he couldn't get Scrap out of his mind.
The boy was alone, in the dark, fighting off who knew what kind of verminârats, snakes, or scorpionsâand accused of a crime he didn't commit. Elliot would've been better off if he'd stayed in South Texas. But he hadn't.
It took little to imagine the terror of being stuffed in a dark hole with nothing but earth walls and a locked gate overhead. Josiah wasn't sure he could take the punishment himself without going mad.
He pushed away the thought, only to replace it with worry over the quick passage of time. Forty-eight hours began to tick away as he thought about Scrap. It felt like there was a brick sitting securely on the back of his neck.
How in the heck
, he wondered to himself,
am I going to get everything done I need to get done before I have to leave?
The list was long: See and say good-bye to Pearl, with great hopes that she would understand his departure and his need to continue to ride with the Rangers. Then make sure that Lyle and Ofelia had everything they needed for his extended absence. And now see to it that Scrap had every possible chance of proving his innocence and avoiding a quick trip to the gallows. All before he left on an assignment to face Juan Cortina and put an end to that trouble, once and for all.
Instead of heading toward Sixth Street, Josiah guided Clipper toward the scene of the crime, the Easy Nickel Saloon. Pearl would have to wait.
If he couldn't see Elliot, then he could poke around, find out what he could, and see for himself if Scrap's sister, Myra Lynn, was really there or not. Scrap thought he had seen the girl. It was the only way Josiah could think of helping Scrap at the moment. That and go see the lawyer that Hoagland suggested, but he wasn't about to do that on an empty stomach.
The Easy Nickel was a short ride from the jail, and Josiah was glad for the Black Hole of Calcutta to be completely out of his sight. If he never had to go back to the jail, it would be too soon.
There were a few horses tied to the hitching post in front of the saloon, and since it wasn't quite noon, there was no piano music banging out of the open windows and doors, no rousing noise at all.
The street and the saloon were quiet, no obvious sign of cowboys just in off the trail looking for a good time regardless of the time of day.
Josiah knew little of the saloon's owner, Brogdon Caine, or how he treated the girls that worked for him, but regardless, having one of his moneymakers murdered must have been troubling. As it was, there didn't look to be any sign of concern about trouble, or mourning, as Josiah pushed through the batwing doors and stepped inside the Easy Nickel.
It was nearly as dark and dreary as the inside of the jail, except the smells were different. There was bacon frying in the kitchen, and it mixed with the yeasty smell of beer, making the interior of the saloon feel familiar, if not exactly welcoming. Lamps burned low overhead and sconces on the walls were at half light, the smell of burning coal oil slight but noticeable. Most of the light inside came from the open windows that faced out to the street.
The saloon was typical: floor dotted with tables and chairs, a couple of faro tables in the back, an upright piano that looked like it had been shipped from the East with less than gentle hands, and one entire wall fronted by a long, hand-carved bar.
A couple of men sitting with their backs to the door checked out Josiah in the mirror that hung over the bar.
As Josiah walked up to the bar, the barkeep, a broad-shouldered man who looked to be of German descent and demeanor, with light-colored hair, square jaw, and constant anger set deep in his chin, glanced up at him, then went back to sweeping the floor.
There was no sign of any whores, or of the violence that had recently occurred. It was like the murder had never happened, like the memory of it had been completely rejected, an unseen event that had happened somewhere else.
But it had happened at the Easy Nickel, and Scrap Elliot was doing time in the darkness, bound in a hole, for something he didn't do, as far as Josiah was concerned. Regardless of the time he had left before leaving Austin, he had to see to it that the real murderer was found and Scrap set free.
He had no other choice. Scrap Elliot was his friend.