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Authors: Larry D. Sweazy

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BOOK: The Coyote Tracker
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Sergeant Jones was lying facedown in the middle
of the foyer, a pool of blood growing underneath him like a dam had been breached by a heavy spring rain; red rivulets trailed away from the body in all directions on the uneven floor. He'd been shot in the back at least four times and at least once right through the heart. His hand was outstretched, only a few feet from the gun locker. Perhaps he'd died valiantly, or perhaps not, there was no way to know. Either way, there was no question that there had been at least one death, a murder through and through, associated with the jailbreak. There might have been more, for all Josiah knew.

Noonday light pushed inside from the open front door of the jail. The rays stabbed at the dreariness of the foyer, cutting through the dust and dirt that seemed to hang woefully suspended in the air. The room smelled like a mix of gunpowder and blood, an all too familiar assault on the senses for Josiah—he could taste war on the tip of his tongue, and he unconsciously spit it out as he rushed to Jones and pulled the keys off the man's belt. There was no use checking to see if Jones was still alive; his eyes were fixed upward, frozen open for the very last time.

Josiah headed to the gun cabinet, unlocked it, and quickly found his Peacemaker and Bowie knife.

He quickly buckled his gun belt on his waist, slid his knife back in the sheath, then pulled his six-shooter from the holster and made his way to the door. He was reasonably certain that the outlaws were gone, quick on their getaway, but he wasn't taking any chances.

There was still a great deal of riotous noise coming from the cell block, but it was a different sound; the prisoners' hopes of escape and rescue had faded to anger, disappointment, and rage.

Just as he was about to approach the door and exit the foyer to the outside world, Josiah heard a different variety of screams, shouts, and footsteps approaching from the wing behind him, as well as from down the hallway that led to the sheriff's quarters. He stopped and turned around.

“Put your hands up and drop the gun!” a man yelled, pushing through the hallway door, aiming a rifle directly at Josiah's head.

The man was a deputy that Josiah didn't recognize, but he quickly realized the situation he'd put himself in and what it must look like. He was an unknown man, with a gun, heading out the door just after a jailbreak. Luckily, Rory Farnsworth appeared right behind the deputy.

Josiah put his hands up automatically, still holding his Peacemaker.

“It's all right, he's one of us,” Farnsworth shouted at the deputy. “Put your hands down, Wolfe.”

The deputy didn't seem entirely convinced but stepped out of the way as a line of armed deputies pushed by him, rushing into the cell block and out the front door, weapons drawn—their reaction to the jailbreak certain if not swift.

Upon the deputies' entrance into the cell block, the noise elevated to an unbearable level—it almost sounded like another explosion had gone off. Boos and hisses were followed by a string of antagonizing and hateful words.

Josiah knew Scrap was not one of the hecklers, that he was sitting silently in his cell, waiting for Josiah to return—and Josiah also knew that he was glad that there were bars separating the men from the deputies, or there would have been another melee, a riot of unimaginable consequences.

The deputy who'd pointed his gun at Josiah stepped away at the silent behest of a hard nod from Farnsworth, leaving the two men, along with Jones's body, alone in the foyer.

“Damn it, they've killed Jones,” Farnsworth said. He walked over to the man, kneeled down, and felt for a pulse at the side of his neck. “Deader than dead. Now I'm going to have to go tell Matilda. That will be another entirely unpleasant event that I must face today. Can matters get any worse?”

“I suppose they could,” Josiah said.

“How so?”

“Not sure, Rory. But I imagine they could.”

“Jones was the best desk sergeant I ever had.”

“He did his job, stripped me of all my weapons when I came in.”

Farnsworth stood up and faced Josiah. “What are you doing here, Wolfe? I assumed you weren't involved in this mess. I am right, aren't I?”

“You are.”

“Good to hear.” It was hard to tell whether the sheriff believed what Josiah said or not; his face was as expressionless as a possum—and nearly as mean-looking—from a distance. “What were you doing here, anyway?”

“A friend told me Scrap Elliot had been brought in on a murder charge, and I came to see for myself.”

There was no need to tell Farnsworth that the friend was Juan Carlos. The sheriff and Juan Carlos knew each other, but Josiah didn't know the depth of their relationship, and now was not the time to find out if it was a healthy friendship or not. Juan Carlos had many enemies in Austin. For all Josiah knew, Juan Carlos could have acted as a spy for the sheriff, just like he had done for Captain McNelly and the Texas Rangers.

“Your friend told you correctly,” Farnsworth said.

“I haven't had much of a chance to speak to Elliot about the charge. The explosion went off just as I reached his cell.”

“Now, that's a coincidence.”

“What else would it be, Rory?” Josiah asked, with a cocked eyebrow.

The deputies were intent on quieting down the prisoners, yelling back, ordering them all to their bunks. All told there were twelve deputies swarming about, one for each man, trying to restore some kind of order to the Travis County jail.

Farnsworth didn't seem to notice or care; he was completely focused on Josiah. The noise level had been quickly reduced to about half of what it was before the deputies arrived. The smell of death and gunpowder persisted.

“I don't know, Wolfe, your reputation precedes you everywhere you go in this town. You ought to know that by now. I know you better than most folks in Austin, but I don't hardly know you at all. The newspapers have painted you as a renegade, a lawless Ranger harkening back to the State Police days.”

“I'm well aware of what the newspapers have to say about me. They're wrong. And you know that.”

“Do I? I saw you strolling down the street with Pearl Fikes yesterday. Do you know nothing of appearances or social graces?”

“Obviously not. I suspect that sentiment applies to you as well?” Josiah asked, remembering fully the same day Farnsworth spoke of. Only instead of being socially unaware, Blanche Dumont had publicly spit on the sheriff, for reasons unknown. “I came here with no other knowledge or intention than to see my fellow Ranger and to see for myself whether or not the charges are true.”

“And are they?”

“I don't know the details of the crime, but Elliot says he is innocent. I take him at his word, and that's good enough for me.”

“It's not good enough for me. Or the circuit judge who will be presiding over the trial. There has been a rash of killings on that side of town. Most folks would not normally take notice of the death of a single soiled dove at the hands of an unruly cowboy, but there have been too many within a short period of time. People are starting to ask questions. The boy literally had blood on his hands and just cause as far as I understand it.”

“And what cause was that?” Josiah asked.

“Have you ever been rejected by a whore, Wolfe?”

“Can't say that I have.”

“Me, either. I'm sure that'd be reason enough to drive some men to kill.”

“We'll see about that.”

“I'm sure we will.” Farnsworth nodded, then stared harshly at Josiah. “I have a witness, Wolfe. Regardless of your question of motive or the boy's character, which I know you hold in high esteem, someone saw Scrap Elliot plunge a knife into the girl's belly and run away like a coward. A rope will end this story, you mark my words.”

The air escaped Josiah's lungs. He could hardly breathe at the news, much less say anything in Scrap's defense.

“What did you see when the explosion occurred?” Farnsworth asked, changing the subject.

Josiah stared at the sheriff and then replied, not anxious to let go of the discussion about Scrap but sure that he had to for the moment. “Wasn't much to see, everybody was dressed in black, had their faces covered, and seemed well organized, rehearsed, like they knew what to do and when to do it. Only thing that stood out was a gray gelding that gave one of the men trouble for a minute or so.”

“Would you recognize that horse again if you saw it?”

“I think I would.”

“That's it? That's all you saw?”

Josiah scrunched his shoulders, frustrated. “Is there something else I should have seen, Rory, besides the prisoner that got heisted out of here?”

“I'm just asking. A man of your position should have keen powers of observation.”

Before Josiah could say anything else, the first deputy, who'd entered the foyer with Farnsworth and aimed his gun at Josiah, hurried to the sheriff's side. He was a tall, thin-faced man with a thick upside-down V mustache streaked with wiry gray hairs. Sweat beaded on his exposed brow, and his felt Stetson was cocked back on his head. He still held the rifle, but casually, so it didn't look to Josiah like there was an immediate threat to be concerned about.

“They took Randalls, Sheriff,” the deputy said, words rolling off his tongue hurriedly.

Farnsworth didn't flinch. “Who'd you expect they busted out, Milt, the two drunk cowboys we brought in for fighting last night?”

“Didn't expect it to be Randalls, Sheriff, that's all,” the deputy said.

For the first time, Josiah noticed that the deputy, Milt somebody or other, was holding a piece of paper. He thrust the paper toward Farnsworth. “I found this under Randalls's pillow. It don't make no sense though, does it?”

Farnsworth took the paper and stared at it, then shook his head as if he didn't understand it, either. “Doesn't make an ounce of sense to me.”

“What is it?” Josiah asked.

“Looks like a bunch of letters thrown together, but they don't make any sense,” the sheriff said.

“Could I see it?” Josiah asked.

Farnsworth eyed Josiah cautiously, then shrugged. “I guess I don't see why not.”

Josiah took the paper and stared at it for a second, immediately recognizing that it was a cipher of some kind.




There was nothing else but that line of letters on the paper.

“I looks to me like this Randalls fella knew someone was coming for him,” Josiah said. “Now that I think of it, he didn't seem real happy, or helpful, about going. He left you a message, Rory—in code. It's the only explanation I can think of.”

“In code? Are you sure?”

Josiah took a deep breath. “Yes, this kind of message was pretty common in the War Between the States. Most likely, this Randalls fella served with the Confederacy. It looks like a familiar formula to me.”

Farnsworth shrugged his shoulders. “I know nothing of the man's past other than his crimes.”

Josiah knew that the sheriff had not served in the war. He was hardly old enough to wear the badge, and it was only because of his highly connected father, Myron Farnsworth, a banker, and his own education, obtained at a highfalutin college out East, that he held the position at all.

“Who was this man, Randalls, anyway? Why was he in jail?” Josiah asked.

Farnsworth and Milt exchanged a quick set of glances, then each looked away from the other quickly.

“Abram Randalls worked as an accountant for a bank, Wolfe,” the sheriff said. “He's a thief, an embezzler.”

“Why would an embezzler be worried about being broke out of jail?”

“Who said he was worried?”

Josiah shrugged and eyed Milt the deputy at the same time. The man unnerved him. Milt acted like he wasn't paying attention, like he was waiting to be discharged, but neither was hardly the truth. He was listening to every word and watching every move Josiah made.

“I just made an assumption, that's all,” Josiah said.

Farnsworth pointed to the note. “Do you think you can figure out what it says?”

Josiah nodded. “I think I can, but it might take some time. It's been a lot of years since I had to figure something like this out.”

“You were good at it, then, in the war?” the sheriff asked.

“Good enough,” Josiah answered. “I've always had a knack for letters, but it wasn't my main duty.”

“What was?”

“Whatever needed doing.”

Farnsworth nodded. “Well, while you're figuring out what that note says, I guess I better get these men out after whoever took Randalls—and go face Matilda Jones to tell her that her husband has left this world for another one. It'll be a sad dinner for her on this night. The coldhearted bastards shot the man in the back. Not sure I can tell Matilda that.”

The sheriff walked off then, with Milt the deputy following after him like a puppy, hungry for its milk.

Josiah stuffed the note in his pocket and turned back toward the jail block. His most important cause for being at the jail in the first place had not yet been satisfied.

He didn't know how Scrap Elliot had landed there in the first place, and he wasn't leaving until he found out. Cipher or no cipher. Jailbreak or no jailbreak.


Scrap was laying on his cot at the back of the cell,
staring at the ceiling. A veil of silence had come over the jail as two deputies patrolled the hall, their weapons brandished firmly in wait for the slightest reason to use them.

The hole still gaped and would have to be protected until it was closed up. That wasn't Josiah's problem. It was Rory Farnsworth's—along with rounding up the men who had busted Abram Randalls out of jail in the first place.

What was Josiah's problem was Scrap and the situation at hand. Most importantly, whether or not the story Farnsworth had told him was true: Did Scrap stab a whore, run away, and did somebody see him do it? The sheriff seemed pretty confident that Scrap was as guilty as guilty can be.

“You come back with a key?” Scrap asked, hoisting himself up, spinning his legs over the side of the cot.

Josiah shook his head no. “Looks like you're stuck for the moment.” He faced Scrap and dropped the volume of his voice to just above a soft whisper.

“I gotta get out of here, Wolfe.”


“I got places to go, things to do. You know that. Besides, I ain't no killer, and you know that, too.”

“I've seen you kill more than one man.”

Scrap looked at Josiah like he had been slapped, then looked quickly away to the opposite wall. “Why would you go and say somethin' like that?”

“Because it's true.”

“They said I killed a woman, Wolfe. You know that can't be true.”

Josiah let a moment of silence fall between the two of them. He watched Scrap close, closer than he ever had, searching for a hint of a lie. Thankfully, he didn't see one.

“Sheriff says somebody saw you do it. Said you stabbed the girl in the belly and ran. Did you do that?”

“No.” Scrap's voice quavered. “It was dark. I could hardly see in front of me. Ain't no way anybody saw anything.”

“You're sure?”

“I'm absolutely sure, Wolfe. I was there. I was just tryin' to get a good look at the girl. I had no cause to stab her.”

“She didn't turn you down?”

“Turn me down for what?”

“Spurn you? You know, for the business they're in? Tell you no?”

“I wasn't lookin' for entertainment, Wolfe.”

Josiah breathed in a deep chestful of air. The dust had settled, but his tongue and his insides felt covered with the stuff from the blast.

“I'm not a woman killer,” Scrap insisted. He punched the bed out of frustration.

“I know that,” Josiah said, calmly. “But if you want me to help get you out of here, you're going to have to tell me everything that happened, exactly how it happened.”

Scrap exhaled fully and gritted his teeth. “I don't rightly know what really happened, Wolfe. That's part of the problem.”

“You don't remember?”

“Of course, I remember. It was just . . . I don't know, it's a mess of things, you know?”

Josiah shook his head. No, he didn't know or understand any of what was going on. At the moment, he was fully confused. “Start at the beginning. Why'd the company leave Corpus, and how'd you get to Austin?”

“General Steele and the governor want Captain McNelly to join up with the Frontier Battalion, double-flank Cortina, and put an end to him once and for all. They figured they'd need to do some restin' up and some trainin' in the camp before that happened. Once we got to Austin, we was free to blow off some steam, and that's all I was doin', at least until I saw . . .” Scrap stopped and didn't utter another word. It was like his tongue had locked up against the top of his mouth and he couldn't move it.

Josiah was glad to hear that McNelly was in town—assuming he was, based on Scrap's presence there. He had some business of his own to tend to with the captain—namely whether he was going to continue to ride with the company or not. But Scrap was acting odd. The whole situation, with Scrap behind bars and the jailbreak, which seemed like nothing more than coincidence at this point, was about as strange as strange could be.

“Saw who, Scrap?” Josiah asked.

“Damn it, Wolfe.” Scrap's eyes were red like he was about to cry, and he bit his lip.

“Damn it, what?”

“I thought I saw Myra Lynn.”

“Your sister? She's a nun in Dallas. Why would she be in Austin in a saloon?”

Scrap shook his head no. “She went to the convent but was never no nun.”

“You said she was.”

“I lied.”

“Why? Why in the hell would you lie to me about something like that all this time?”

“Because I didn't want to tell you she was a whore, Wolfe. That's why. I was ashamed to tell you the truth. I still don't want it to be true, but it is, damn it. It's as true as the sky is blue, and my parents, God rest their broken souls, I'm sure they blame me for how she turned out, they surely do, even in heaven. Everything else was always my fault.”

One of the deputies that was keeping watch on the prisoners walked within ten feet of Josiah, his boot crunching on the rubble that had yet to be cleaned up. The deputy, another one of Farnsworth's men that Josiah didn't know, stared at him and Scrap with disdain. He was a portly man, half again as round as he was tall, and his clothes, which couldn't hardly be called a uniform, were unkempt and dusty—and had most likely been that way before the blast occurred in the jail, judging from the looks of the shaggy man.

Outside, a team of horses clopped by pulling a wagon, and the first sounds of a gathering posse made its way just outside the jail.

Shouts and commands, along with the collection of guns, horses, and information, were all taking place about ten feet from the hole in the jailhouse wall. A crowd was growing on San Antonio Street, curious, scared, everyone wondering what was going to happen next. There was still a lingering aroma of gunpowder, but the everyday stink of the jail had returned as quickly as it had disappeared. No hole in the wall was big enough to clear out that smell.

“She was never a nun?” Josiah asked, his voice way down now. He didn't break eye contact with Scrap, who let a single tear escape his eye. It trailed down his cheek unattended to, ignored, just like the truth about his sister.

“No, sir,” Scrap said, the quaver gone from his voice, replaced by a calm tone, sure and resigned to getting a secret off his chest. “She never was. Aunt Callie has been beside herself in her letters to me from Fort Worth. Worried about the girl's welfare and all, but she can't go on a hunt for her. Besides, Myra Lynn is old enough to decide to live her life the way she wants to, I suppose. What good would it do to catch her and take her home? She'd just run away again. She's been doin' it all of her life. At least since Ma and Pa was killed, and I was supposed to look after her. It's my fault.”

“What else did you lie to me about, Scrap?” Josiah's teeth were clenched. He was disappointed.

“Nothin', I swear.”

Josiah let the answer settle to the ground just like the dust had, slowly and surely. As far as he knew, since everything about Scrap was starting to come into question, even the fact that the boy's parents had been killed in a Comanche raid was under suspicion. According to Scrap in previous conversations, he and Myra Lynn had been spared only by the boy's quick thinking, to hide under the house, hugging up next to the fireplace in the center.

Myra Lynn was a year younger than Scrap, fifteen when the raid occurred, and Scrap, with nothing left to do, along with his aunt in Fort Worth, thought the convent for the Ursuline nuns would be the best place for the girl to finish growing up. Obviously they were wrong—or there was more to the story. Either way, Josiah was more than a little steamed about being lied to.

He stiffened and tried to ignore the noise beyond the wall of the jail. He was accustomed to being in on a posse, and it was his inclination to offer his help, and gun, to find the men who'd busted out Abram Randalls. But he was sticking it out with Scrap, even though, at the moment, he wasn't exactly sure why.

“Tell me what happened as soon as you got to Austin,” Josiah said.

Scrap stood up from the bunk and walked over to Josiah, so only the bars separated them. “I got a room, and . . .”


“Mrs. Bailey's. Same place as always when I'm in town. I ain't got a house like you to go to, Wolfe.” There was almost a sneer on Scrap's face when he said it.

“All right, what then?” Josiah asked, ignoring Scrap's attitude. He was used to the sneers and anger that erupted from Scrap's mouth on occasion. It was just the way he was—young and impetuous.

“I went over to the Easy Nickel.”

“By yourself?”

“Yes, by myself. Why?”

“Just wondering why you didn't wait to go with the other boys.”

Scrap exhaled deeply and looked away. “I was thinkin' Myra Lynn might be there, or at least in town, that's what Callie said in her last letter, that she thought maybe Myra Lynn was heading to Austin. I didn't want anybody to know that I was related to her, so I went alone.”

“Related to a whore?”

Scrap nodded, then began to walk in a small circle inside the cell. He looked trapped, as if he was ready to go off in a rage but couldn't. “You gotta get me out of here, Wolfe.”

“I think you're stuck here for a while.” Josiah let a second of silence pass between them, as he heard a man, Milt he was pretty sure, call for the posse to move out. It was a muffled command but unmistakable, regardless.

Once the noise calmed down and the horses had ridden out, heading south, Josiah turned his attention back to Scrap. “What happened once you got to the saloon?”

“I got me a beer and started watchin' the doors. They got a line of little shacks out back, as well as rooms upstairs, for the pleasure business. It was pretty busy. The drives are heavy on the trail now . . .”

Josiah agreed silently. Spring was a busy time, getting cattle from the ranches in South Texas up to Abilene.

“Anyways,” Scrap continued, “it was pretty dark, and there was this fella givin' one of the girls a hard time. A little blond thing that looked like a fawn tryin' to outrun a wolf—no offense to you, Wolfe. About the time I thought I'd help out, the bartender went after the fella with a three-foot-long club. More like a big oak branch with the bark whittled off, heavy. So I sat back down, and this fella, a cowboy, got chased out of the saloon. I thought that was it. The girl looked pretty shaken up. The fella was gettin' rough with her, and she looked new to her duty, you know? Not sure what to make of all the noise and people in the saloon, and the gropin' hands comin' her way. She disappeared in the crowd then, not comforted by the other girls, but looked down on, mocked. She ran toward the back door, cryin'.

“It was about that time I thought I saw Myra Lynn. That girl was headin' out the door, too, like maybe she's followin' after the first one. So, of course, I go after her,” Scrap said, looking down at the ground. “I guess that was my mistake. Always has been. Goin' after Myra Lynn, fightin' her battles. It's a bad habit that I would be glad to be rid of if the truth be told.”

“Did anybody follow you or pay attention to you?”

“No. I just got a beer and was sittin' there all quiet-like, until I thought about helpin' the girl. But I didn't do anything. Why are you askin' if somebody followed after me?”

“Sheriff says somebody saw you kill the girl.”

“I didn't kill nobody.”

“I'm just saying there's a witness, Scrap. If there's a trial, you'll need to know who that person was. Think about it. Are you sure there wasn't anybody around?”

“I don't know, I swear, Wolfe.” Scrap stopped pacing the circle he was wearing down and stared straight at Josiah. “They're gonna hang me, aren't they?”

“Not if I have anything to say about it, you can trust that, Scrap. I guess I got reason not to believe a word you say, since you lied to me. But I can see your way of thinking, wanting to hide the truth about Myra Lynn. I know you're prideful. It's a curse you carry, but I can understand that, too. I've ridden with you long enough to know you're no woman killer. At least, not on purpose,” Josiah said.

“Thanks, Wolfe, that means a lot. It surely does. I couldn't hurt no girl, ever.”

“What happened next?”

“Well,” Scrap said, “I got outside, and that cowboy fella jumped the blond girl. I never got much of a look at him. He could be right in the next cell and I wouldn't know it. Anyways, she screamed and fell to the ground almost right away. I yelled at the fella and started to pull my gun, but I flinched, lost my focus 'cause I saw Myra Lynn rush to the left, just out of the shadows. She saw me, too, about the same time I saw her. We ain't seen each other since I took her to the convent, so it's been some years, but I swear it was her. She didn't say anything, just looked at me like I was the worst thing on the bottom of her shoe, then she ran off into the darkness. I wanted to go after her, more than anything I did. But I couldn't.”

“The girl needed your help.”

Scrap nodded. “When I turned back to her, she had a knife stuck in her chest, and the cowboy ran off in between the shacks. Before I could pull my gun the rest of the way, he was gone. I thought the girl was still alive, so I went over to help her. I pulled the knife out, and she took her last gasp.”

“You're sure you didn't get a good look at him?” Josiah asked.

Scrap shook his head. “I told you, Wolfe, no. It was dark, and he was wearin' dark clothes. I wasn't real worried about what he looked like, but I guess I should've been.”

“Probably so. But you did have blood on your hands, like they say?”

Scrap nodded. “And a knife in my grip. The back door of the saloon busted open and the bartender rushed at me with that big stick. I ran, Wolfe. I knew how it looked. But I was running after Myra Lynn, too.”

BOOK: The Coyote Tracker
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