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Authors: Larry D. Sweazy

The Coyote Tracker (17 page)

BOOK: The Coyote Tracker
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Night had fallen while Josiah was inside Blanche
Dumont's house. The air was cooler, drier, the humidity sucked out of it somehow. There was no wind, and it was good to be outside, away from the intoxicating aromas that had followed him everywhere inside the house. His senses, and virtue, were still intact—not that he had ever really feared losing either, but it could have happened, under the right circumstances. He knew that better than anyone. It had happened before. But Blanche Dumont was all business; her own survival, and the survival of her girls, was her main concern. There didn't look to be one drop of grief to overcome, one hint that she had any desire other than making sure she maintained the only business she knew.

Josiah unhitched Clipper, his mind a jumble of information. Freeing Scrap still seemed like a remote possibility at best, and most likely next to impossible, if he was being honest with himself. All he had collected so far was a string of people who believed Scrap was innocent and a scapegoat for a series of larger crimes that Josiah knew very little about. He didn't know whether the killings could even have been perpetrated by one man, and what the motive was, if any. Four dead whores was just as much a pattern as learning in the same day of three men from Massachusetts who may have traveled in familiar circles. But none of that information mattered if it couldn't be connected or proven significant in a court of law—which was set to start considering Scrap's case in hours, instead of days.

Time was running out.

And as far as Josiah knew, Scrap Elliot was still deep in the confines of the Black Hole of Calcutta, trapped, scared, unsure of what tomorrow might bring—or if tomorrow would come for him at all.

Josiah shuddered at the thought as he climbed up on the saddle and angled Clipper away from the white three-storey house. A lamp lit every window, and the house seemed to glow in the dark, even though there was no moon to be seen. He could see how Blanche Dumont and her house could be a beacon to cowboys and men lonely for the company of women, but he didn't exactly see how it was possible that every room was vacant on this night. Maybe it was only his imagination, but it seemed like the word had been put out that Blanche's girls were diseased, or worse. Even a whisper of syphilis could destroy a house. Josiah knew enough about whoring to know that was the truth. If that were the case, if someone had put the word out on Blanche Dumont, then her concerns about her impending failure were well founded. Somebody was trying to destroy her, and that destruction couldn't come soon enough for whoever it was.

What Josiah needed, he decided, was a dose of reality. Not only did he feel the pressure to find something that would help Scrap, but he also knew that if he wanted to stay a Texas Ranger, he had two nights and one whole day to prepare to leave on another journey. He was sacrificing his time with Lyle, and with Pearl, who didn't know of the recent development and his impending departure.

He flinched at the notion of this sacrifice being undue, and immediately realized that Scrap would have made the same sacrifice for him. He was sure of it.

Still, he had no idea how long McNelly's company of Rangers would be away from Austin. The last time out, when he was in Corpus Christi, had been for over four months. An eternity when you're courting a woman like Pearl Fikes and your son is growing like a weed—without your presence and influence. The boy would be lucky to know he had a father. Truth was, Lyle was more Ofelia's son than Josiah's own. Things could be worse. More than once recently, Josiah had faced death and come out on the lucky side. Lyle could have been an orphan, more than he already was. Still, regret found its way into Josiah's heart, especially when the minutes ticked away. Instead of going home, he turned his trusted Appaloosa and headed in the opposite direction.

He needed to see Pearl, needed to tell her he was leaving . . . again. He hoped she understood his need to stay on as a Ranger, to continue what he had started.

Pearl's father had been a Ranger, been away more than he was home, though that might have been more by design than duty. Pearl's mother was intolerable to Josiah, and he could hardly imagine what being married to the woman had been like for Hiram Fikes. Josiah stopped short of thinking too ill of the woman. She was currently in a sanatorium, her health, physical and mental, in rapid decline. Caring for herself was no longer possible from what he understood. Still, Josiah had little pity for the woman. She had caused him a great amount of grief, pushing the papers, the
Austin Statesman
in particular, to run a campaign that nearly destroyed his reputation and ended his service with the Rangers after he'd killed Pete Feders. Not that he held a grudge, but he wouldn't exactly be sad the day that woman left this world. Until then, no matter her state, he was sure she would thoroughly disapprove of the courting that was now in progress.

At least they had Juan Carlos's good blessings.

With Pearl on his mind, Josiah pushed Clipper to run at a gallop as he headed for Miss Amelia Angle's Home for Girls. Beyond anything else that was going on, he felt a deep need to see Pearl, to smell the sweetness of her skin, to touch her, if that was possible.

* * *

It didn't take Josiah long to get to the house on
Second Street. There was little horse traffic to contend with on the streets of Austin, and the streetcars didn't run after dark.

The house was similar to Blanche Dumont's but not as glowing white, bright, or freshly painted. Miss Angle's rules were clear: No suitors were allowed to call after the fall of night. One break of the rule, and the girl was out on the street, left to find other accommodations, regardless of her financial or family situation. Nobody knew this better than Josiah, but he had pinged Pearl's window with pebbles before, and it was his plan to do so again.

There was an alley that ran behind the house, and Josiah slowed Clipper, then walked the horse quietly to a stop, tying the Appaloosa's lead to a tree in an open yard across from the house, next to the carriage house.

The house was dark, all of the lights out. Pearl's window was on the third floor, and it took a couple of tries to tap the window gently with a small rock. The trick was to throw the rock as softly as possible so it didn't shatter the fragile window. That would be the end to everything, but both the risk and Josiah's need to see Pearl were great, worth it as far as he was concerned.

Josiah stood there waiting for a lamp to grow to life, to see Pearl's shadow. Darkness enveloped him, and even in the middle of the city, night sounds began to bubble around him. Frogs peeped. Bats chattered overhead. A dog barked in the distance. Wildlife existed in the city, and the notion of spring was evident to every creature that walked the earth, not just those that lived out and away.

Normally, music could be heard since Miss Angle's wasn't that far from a row of saloons. Perhaps it was too early in the night, or the wind was blowing in the opposite direction, because Josiah couldn't hear anything that sounded remotely like the tinkling of happy keys being plunked on a piano. The absence of music seemed odd, but not worthy of too much concern.

Still no light in the window.

Josiah tossed up another pebble, pinging the window perfectly. He waited a long minute before he began to entertain the idea that Pearl might not be in her room, that she might have other, unknown, engagements. She was fully entrenched now in her new life, studying diligently at the local normal school, her objective to become a schoolteacher quickly becoming a reality.

Josiah thought Pearl would make a good teacher and supported the idea that she have a pursuit of her own. If they were going to have a life together, Pearl would need something to do while he was away, riding with the Rangers. That was the thought at the moment, anyway. So she could have been anywhere. They didn't bind each other up with their comings and goings. They weren't at that place in their courting yet—and they might never have that much account of each other. Josiah didn't live like that.

He was about to turn and leave when he saw her familiar silhouette ease around the corner of the house.

Pearl rushed to Josiah, meeting him in an embrace, first burying her face over his heart, then angling her face up to greet him with a smile.

Josiah could not resist. He kissed her. Gently at first, waiting for a hint of welcome. He didn't have to wait too long, a second if that. Pearl responded passionately, pressing into Josiah as hard as she could, from her lips to her toes. Their bodies melded together in a familiar way, but there was still restraint there. At least on Josiah's part.

The last time they had seen each other was when he'd seen her home, distraught from her trip into the mercantile where she had been declined an account of her own.

Josiah hadn't really known what to expect, but he was more than happy at the reception he received.

He pulled away, restraining his hands from going places they shouldn't in open view of anyone who might stumble by. His heart was beating fast, his breathing ramped up like he was starting a run, his physical desire growing, making his pants tighter, uncomfortable, and that only promised to get worse if he held on to Pearl for a second longer.

“What's the matter?” Pearl whispered, a rejected look crossing her face as Josiah stepped back.

“I might be a little too happy to see you.”

“There's nothing the matter with that.” Her blond hair flowed over her shoulders, and she wore a simple day dress. She was barefoot. The look of rejection faded from her face and was replaced by an odd look, a cock of the head, like she was trying to smell something close, or far away, Josiah couldn't tell which.

“Not standing out here in the middle of the world,” he said.

“Oh, Josiah, relax. Everybody's asleep or too busy to pay attention to us.”

“I don't want you to get in trouble with Miss Angle.” The tone of his voice changed. Desire to concern.

Pearl scrunched her forehead. “What's the matter?”

They were standing about a foot apart now, and Pearl held on to Josiah's fingers with hers. Her touch was warm, and he could smell the hint of her flowery toilet water, worn down from the day, but still there, subtly, not like the strong aromas at Blanche Dumont's house.

“I have to leave,” Josiah said. “The company is heading out.”


“Day after tomorrow.”

Pearl exhaled and then catapulted herself back into Josiah's arms. He didn't resist her, but his desire had calmed, changed instantly to comfort.

“How long will you be gone?” Pearl asked after a long minute of embracing him.

“I don't know. I don't know where we're going, what the assignment is. I just know if I don't show up when we muster, my days as a Ranger are over.” He could feel the hint of moisture from her tears melting through his shirt into his chest.

“Would that be so bad?”

“I don't know. It's all I know. What would I do?”

“Anything you wanted. The sheriff could use a good man like you.”

“I don't think that would work for me. Besides, it's not just that I'm leaving. I have some things to take care of before I go.”

“What's the matter, Josiah?”

“Scrap's in trouble. He's been accused of killing a girl. He's innocent, and I need to help him prove it. I need to get him out of jail so he can leave with me.”

Pearl recoiled. “That's awful. Can't the Rangers help him?”

“They've washed their hands of it. The press is bad enough for them right now.”

Pearl nodded. There was no need to explain the power of the
Austin Statesman
to her. She knew full well the power the paper held over people's lives. “Scrap's your friend. I understand.”

“It may take more time than I have.”

“Are you telling me good-bye now?”

“No. I don't know. Maybe. I just needed to see you.” He stepped forward, pulled her to him, and kissed her again, more passionately and more deeply than the first time. “I want you,” he whispered. “But I don't know when or how that can happen . . .”

It was almost like he had said something disturbing again, because Pearl pushed off from him, breaking away from his embrace, a flash of anger crossing her face that seemed to come out of nowhere.

“Where have you been?”

“What do you mean where have I been? I've been trying to help Scrap. I told you.”

“You smell like you bathed in flowers, cheap toilet water. Where have you been?” Pearl demanded again. “Don't you think one woman can smell another?”

Josiah sighed. Lying to her was not an option. “I was at Blanche Dumont's. I had to get some answers.” Before he could finish explaining, Pearl reared back and slapped him hard across the right cheek. The slap crackled and echoed in the alley like a crack of thunder.

“How dare you!” Pearl said, spinning and hurrying away.

Stunned and surprised, Josiah was momentarily frozen, until he realized that Pearl was almost out of range, and close to turning the corner, as she rushed away from him.

He quickly caught up with her, grabbing her, halting her escape.

“Pearl, wait, please, it's not what you think.”

“Let me go,” she said, through clenched teeth. “I will not tolerate a man who visits those kind of places. I saw what that did to my mother. Don't think that I don't know about my father's womanizing ways. I will not make the same mistakes as my mother, do you understand, Josiah Wolfe, I won't. I won't end up like her.”

It seemed like all of the air had been sucked out of the world. Any words that had formed on the tip of Josiah's tongue fell back into his throat. He let his grasp fall away from Pearl's arm, and then he stepped back. He knew he had done nothing wrong, that he could explain himself to a rational human being who was willing to listen, but she was not right now.

BOOK: The Coyote Tracker
9.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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