Authors: Larry D. Sweazy
The adjunct general's office was on the second
floor in the state capitol building. William Steele was a Yankee, a New Yorker who had been educated at the United States Military Academy, then come to Texas and served in the Confederate Army because of love. He'd married a Texas girl, put down stakes in the state, and put his life on the line valiantly more times than once wearing a gray uniform, just so he could return whole and alive to the woman he adored.
Steele's appointment to the position of adjunct general by the governor, Richard Coke, had come under some suspicion because of his origins, even with a rank of brigadier general attained in the war. But Steele was known as a hard task manager with little patience for nepotism, fraud, or any misdeeds performed by Texas Rangers or the militia he had been put in charge of. A consummate politician, he quickly won over the naysayers and the editorial pages of the
It had been Steele, in fact, who had ultimately decided Josiah's fate in the incident concerning Pete Feders. The proof had been laid out logically to the general, and in his wisdom, Steele saw that Josiah had had no choice but to defend his own life and kill Feders. Shooting to wound had never been an option.
Josiah could only hope that Scrap would receive the same kind of scrutiny and fair judgment from Steele that he had.
The inside of the office was luxurious. The walls were paneled with walnut, and the floors were covered with thick wool carpets, geometric in design, the colors rich, full of deep burgundies, greens, and golds.
Heavy scarlet draperies were pulled at the window, and bookshelves, full to the brim, lined half of the walls. Heavy furniture was scattered about in the office: a writing desk, bare of anything other than a pen-and-ink set, and several high-backed chairs that did not look the least bit inviting or comfortable. Hurricane lamps blazed brightly, lighting the room like it was late at night, and two fans swirled overhead, distributing the afternoon heat evenly, but still uncomfortably.
Another door stood behind the writing desk, and after being in the office prior to now, to answer for actions about killing Pete Feders, Josiah knew that Steele spent all of his time tucked away in that small office.
He walked to the door and knocked confidently. A little tap or a soft knock was a bad precedent to set when dealing with a man like Steele. A man's attitude had to be all bravado and strength, or the general would stomp his feet on you, then wave you off without a nod or a good-bye.
“Yes, what is it?” came from inside the small office in a deep voice, annoyed and curt.
“Josiah Wolfe to see you, sir,” Josiah said, speaking directly into the door.
“What is it now, Wolfe?” Steele's voice grew closer.
“I am in need of an audience with Captain McNelly, sir, and this is the only place I know to look for him at the moment. I am hoping you know his whereabouts.”
The door was flung open. “Does McNelly suck on my teat, Wolfe? I am not his nanny.”
Steele was a tall, rangy man in his mid-fifties. Thin bits of gray streaked his thick brown hair and full beard. He had a strong Roman nose and carried himself regally: shoulders back, chin forward, always engaged fully in whatever came his way. His eyes were gray and penetrating, offering no sympathy for fools or ill-mannered human beings.
Josiah dared not look away from Steele. He held the man's gaze. “I don't mean to suggest that you are, sir.”
Steele pulled open the door the rest of the way, offering a view into the office. Captain McNelly was seated in a chair in front of Steele's desk. “You are in luck, Wolfe. McNelly is here. Come in then, but make it quick. We have business to attend to.”
Leander McNelly stood up as Josiah entered the room. “It is good to see you, Wolfe.” He stuck his hand out, and they shook hands in a cold, professional way, not like they were old friends who had not seen each other for a long period of time. That was hardly the case.
“You, too, Captain.” Josiah waited for Steele and McNelly to sit down in their chairs before he followed suit.
McNelly was a few years younger than Josiah, but he looked ten years older. His face was drawn in, and his skin was as pale as an onion pulled fresh out of the ground. His beard was not full from the ears like Steele's, but more of a long, bushy goatee; his jaws were freshly shaved. He was dressed in a black business suit, much like the one Rory Farnsworth had been sporting the day before, his riding clothes obviously put away, or getting cleaned for the next excursion, if there was to be one.
Steele settled into his chair. “Now, what brings you here, Wolfe? No more troubles, I hope? We're up to our necks in foibles of one kind or another.”
McNelly eyed Josiah carefully but said nothing.
Josiah waited, then moved uncomfortably to the edge of his own chair. “My status with the Rangers is uncertain, and I aim to clear that up with the captain, General Steele. If I may be so bold as to ask.”
“Your last encounter with Cortina's bounty hunter garnered some undo attention, Wolfe,” McNelly said. “But you have been cleared of any wrongdoing. The larger question is this: Do you still desire to ride with the Rangers?”
Josiah hesitated briefly, then nodded. “I do, sir.”
“I am not convinced that your personal situation allows you to leave town without worry.”
Josiah locked eyes with the captain. “I have seen to my situation, and I am able to come and go as I have in the past without worry or constraints, sir. There is nothing in my life that will stand in the way of performing my duty to the fullness of my capabilities.”
“You're sure of that?”
“I wish to ride with the Rangers, sir. It is all I know how to do.” Josiah hesitated and stared McNelly in the eye. “Are you still riding that gray gelding, Captain?”
“That's an odd question, Wolfe,” McNelly said, drawing back, then scrutinizing Josiah head to toe.
“I thought I saw the horse.”
“Without me? That's hardly likely.”
Josiah was almost certain the captain's horse and the horse he saw at the jailbreak were one and the same. Still, he wasn't entirely positive. “Do you stable the horse at Allred's Livery?”
“Where I stable my horse is none of your concern, Wolfe. I assure you whatever you think you might have seen, you didn't.”
“I beg your pardon, then,” Josiah said. “I must have been mistaken.”
McNelly nodded. “Very well then. As for your living situation in Austin, I am in no position to question a man of your character and skills on his personal life and restraints. Consider the matter behind us.” He stood up, glancing quickly over to Steele, who dropped his chin, signaling approval.
Josiah followed suit and stood up, understanding clearly that he was being dismissed. “There's one more thing, sir.”
“And what is that?” McNelly asked, breathing deeply.
Josiah wasn't sure if the captain was exasperated with him or if the difficulty he had catching a breath was caused by his ongoing battle with consumption. “I'm sure you're aware that Ranger Elliot has been arrested on the count of murder?” Josiah said.
“I am,” McNelly said. “What do you know of this?”
“Very little actually. But I have spoken to Elliot, and he claims innocence of the crime.”
“That is for the judge to decide and is out of our hands. The last thing the general public needs to be concerned about is a trial being meddled with by the Rangers or any other official of high office. Do you understand me on that, Wolfe? Do I make myself clear? We are not to interfere.”
“I do understand, sir. But I believe Elliot's claim that he is innocent, and since we have ridden together, been partners so to speak, I'd like to help the boy. It's the least I can do. He has no one else to see him clear of this trouble that has found him.”
McNelly coughed and shifted his weight. “The company leaves Austin in two days, Wolfe. If it is your plan to continue riding with the Rangers, then you will be there with us. If not, then we have no contract. Your service will be ended.”
“Scrap needs our help, sir,” Josiah insisted. “There is no way he killed one whore, much less four, if I understand correctly the magnitude of the current situation in Austin.”
“The killings are a local matter, Wolfe. You know the law. We can't get involved until the sheriff asks for our assistance,” McNelly said.
“Are you willing to let an innocent man hang?” Josiah asked.
William Steele stood up from behind the desk, pushing his chair out from behind him with a little extra effort to let Josiah know he was truly finished with the conversation.
“These are difficult times, Wolfe, as you know,” Steele said. “Governor Coke is under pressure to dissolve the Rangers, and the public trust for the organization is shallow the way it is. The actions of this young Ranger have only made these matters worse. I would suggest that you leave the business of innocence and guilt to the courts. Return home and prepare for your next journey. Prove your value to the Rangers by serving the captain and his next assignment. Leave the law to those of us who know it best.”
Josiah started to protest but took both men's hard gazes to mean that there would be no changing their decisions. He nodded, defeated, sad for Scrap, and started to back slowly out of the room, still facing both men.
“Two days, Wolfe,” McNelly said. “Noon, in front of the old courthouse, packed and ready to go. I expect to see you there.”
Josiah stood on the steps of the capitol building,
staring down Congress Avenue, certain of where he was going next.
The meeting had not gone quite as Josiah had hoped. He was glad to face McNelly and know what his place was within the Ranger organization, but he just couldn't shake the odd feeling he'd left Steele's office with.
There was no explanation for the horse being two places at once, and as Josiah looked out over the bustling city, he had to consider that maybe he was wrong, maybe it hadn't been McNelly's horse he saw during the jailbreak. Maybe he was making something out of nothing. That idea just didn't sit right with him, though. The horse looked exactly the same. But why would McNelly, of all people, be involved in busting an accountant and embezzler out of jail, especially considering the tenuous environment in Austin when it came to the Rangers? It made no sense.
Neither did the hands-off reaction of both men to Scrap's situation: leave the boy to his own fate, lost in the judicial system with no advocate, no one to help to see him to the right side of justice. Surely, if Josiah did as McNelly and Steele demanded of him, did nothing and went on with his life, then Scrap would be hanged. And Josiah would be on the trail, out with the company of Rangers, none the wiser but left with a guilty feeling eating away at his stomach for the rest of his life because he didn't do enough to save Scrap.
Doing nothing was unacceptable, regardless of the consequences.
Two days seemed like an impossible amount of time to offer Scrap any optimism, or to be able to keep him from dangling in the gallows, but Josiah knew he had no choice but to try.
He pushed his way down the steep collection of limestone steps at the capitol, lost in his thoughts, trying to figure out what he could do to make the situation better, barely paying attention to where he was walking. He was headed in the general direction of Clipper, who was tied to the long hitching post beyond the apron where the steps ended.
A hard bump to the shoulder brought his attention to the moment.
“Oh, pardon me,” Josiah said, coming to a stop. He blinked, the sun catching his eyes, nearly blinding him, but he knew at once who he'd bumped into.
It was Paul Hoagland, the reporter from the
“Are you following me?” Josiah demanded, anger rising from his toes upon full recognition of the man.
“Don't flatter yourself, Wolfe. You're interesting, but you're not that interesting.”
It didn't appear that Hoagland had changed clothes from the last time Josiah had encountered him. The same cigar dangled from the corner of his mouth, unlit, and the pungent smell of ever-present burned and wet tobacco quickly reached Josiah's nose, causing him to recoil.
“Sorry, then,” Josiah said, pushing on toward Clipper. Paul Hoagland was the last man he wanted to have a conversation with at the moment. At least, that's what he thought, trying to get downwind of the repulsive smell of the cigar. But he got about three steps past Hoagland, then came to an abrupt stop. “Hoagland,” he called out. “Do you have a minute, now that I think about it?”
It had been the annoying reporter who gave Josiah the information about the four murders, broadening his knowledge of the crime Scrap was accused of. Maybe this was a fortuitous encounter after all. Maybe Hoagland could be an asset instead of an enemy. Time was short, and any opportunity that presented itself to help Scrap couldn't be overlooked, even if it meant dealing with a man like Hoagland to free him.
Hoagland had not moved up the steps but was staring at Josiah warily. “I have a minute. I'm not sure why, but I do.”
Josiah stopped a few feet in front of Hoagland. The city moved on around them. A streetcar inched up Congress Avenue, the teamster hollering and snapping a whip, cracking along the strong back of a Springfield mule. A train was departing in the distance, steam rising over the rooftops to the west, dissipating into the cloudless blue sky, as the thump of its movement shook the ground, echoing off the buildings like a series of explosions in a canyon.
No one paid the pair much attention. People came and went from the statehouse on business of their own. The boardwalks were crowded with people strolling up and down the avenue, popping in and out of the shops and stores, solving the problems of their own daily needs and struggles. There was a rhythm of movement, almost like a heartbeat, around them, pronounced with each step of a passing horse or wagon, that was less than comforting to Josiah, but also growing less noticeable to him the more time he spent in the city.
“I need to know more about those killings,” Josiah said.
Hoagland nodded. “Everything you need to know is written down in the paper. You don't need me for that information. You
read, can't you, Wolfe?”
It was a snide remark, and Josiah was tempted to not let it pass, but he did. He didn't have anything to prove to Paul Hoagland by arguing with the man out of the gate. “I'm short on time,” he said.
“Why are the murders of four lowly whores suddenly a concern to you, Wolfe? It wouldn't have anything to do with the arrest of Ranger Elliot, would it?”
“I figured as much.”
“He's just a boy, and for whatever the reason, he's found himself in a bad situation. Besides that, he's my friend, and I aim to help him, if I can. There's no way he killed that girl, or the other three before her, and you, and everyone else that matters, know that to be true.”
“Are you accusing me of scapegoating a Ranger, Wolfe? He literally had blood on his hands. He was running away from the saloon, like he was guilty and in fear of being caught. You can't protest the facts.”
“I'm not accusing you of anything at the moment. But I am asking for your help. You know better than anyone that the facts are not always what they appear. Ask four different people what I just said, and you'll get four different answers.”
Hoagland studied Josiah's face, eyeing him suspiciously. “It wasn't that long ago that you threatened me and demanded I stay out of your sight, and now you want my help?”
“I'm sure this isn't the first time that's happened.”
“You're probably right.” Hoagland relaxed a bit and chewed on the cigar, bobbing it up and down as he looked around him. He stepped in closer to Josiah. “I agree, there's no way that Elliot could have been involved in those murders. But I do think they were committed by the same person. I'd almost bet on it, and I, sir, am not a betting man. These are not simple murders. There are some high-level people trying to keep them on the q.t.”
“You name it, from the sheriff on up. Proper society dictates that the affairs of soiled doves not be mentioned. But when I put a piece in the paper, the sales go up exponentially.”
Josiah exhaled deeply. Hoagland's cigar made his eyes burn. “Steele and McNelly basically told me that Elliot was on his own.”
“And you accused me of scapegoating? The boy is a pariah. Proof, thanks in part to you, to the public that the government does not pull strings in favor of the Rangers. They will hang him as an example and nothing more.”
It felt like there was no air in Josiah's lungs. In his mind's eye, he saw a glimpse of the future: Scrap screaming and kicking as they put the rope around his neck, pleading that the judge believe in his innocenceâand then the deed, the trapdoor falling open, Scrap falling through, the rope snapping his neck, and the crowd rousing to a deafening cheer.
“I can't let that happen,” Josiah said.
“I am not prone to interfering with justice, but I am opposed to the abuse of power. If one innocent man dies, then we're all in danger of the same thing happening to any one of us.”
“So you think Farnsworth is involved in this manipulation of justice somehow?” Josiah asked.
Hoagland rolled his shoulders, then looked quickly about him, making sure, it seemed, that there was no one near enough to hear him speak. “I don't know. But the sheriff is under a lot of scrutiny at the moment. He's always been a loose fit in the job, elected as he was and supported by a group of men headed up by his father.”
“Myron Farnsworth, the banker.”
Hoagland nodded. “You know him?”
“No. Just of him. Saw him once at a dinner at the Fikes house.”
“Oh yes, the coming out, so to speak, of the engagement that never happened because you killed the man.”
“That's not what happened, and you know it.”
“I wasn't there.”
Josiah stared at Hoagland, instantly reminded of why he did not like, or trust, the man. Still, Scrap's neck was at stake. “Why is Farnsworth under scrutiny?”
“Surely you're aware of the blast that occurred at the jail?”
“I was there.”
“I was visiting Scrap.”
“Interesting. So you know they boosted an accountant and embezzler named Abram Randalls.”
“I am. Farnsworth said he worked for a bank. I'm assuming his father's.”
“You would be correct in that assumption, Wolfe. But Randalls worked for Blanche Dumont, too. He kept her books.”
“Did he embezzle from her?”
Hoagland shrugged. “Can't say, you'll have to ask Blanche Dumont about that. I seriously doubt she'd go to the law with her problems.” He watched Josiah closely, not taking his eyes off of him. “And you don't think that's odd?”
“I do.” Josiah took a deep breath, trying to piece the information together. “Wait, what about the whores? Did any of them come from her house?”
“Ah, now you're on the right trail, Wolfe. The funny thing is, the answer is no. I can't find any connection between the girls that were killed and Blanche Dumont. Nothing. But I find the jailbreak too much of a coincidence not to be related somehow. What do you know about it?”
Josiah looked off in the distance, over Hoagland's shoulder. He had the cipher, and the solution to it, in his pocket. He still wasn't sure he could trust the reporter, so he chose to say nothing, at the moment. Instead, he recounted the entire jailbreak episode, including the assumed sighting of McNelly's horse.
“So did you accuse McNelly of being at the incident?” Hoagland asked.
“No. I didn't want to show my hand, if he was involved. I've had enough experience with men in command positions who turned out to be bad instead of good. I just asked where he stabled the horse. He took offense to the question, so I let it go.”
“Probably best to be cautious.”
“I think so.”
Hoagland stepped back and switched the cigar from one side of his mouth to the other. “I would have never come to you for information, Wolfe, but I'm glad I ran into you.”
“Why do you care about this so much?”
“It's my job.”
Josiah shook his head no. “There's more to it than that.”
“Let's just say, I have my reasons.”
“I'll buy that.”
“Doesn't matter. What does matter is that we don't let an innocent man hang.”
“I have two days,” Josiah said, abruptly.
“Two days for what?”
“Before I leave town with the Rangers on my next assignment.”
“That complicates things.”
Hoagland dug into the front pocket of his jacket, pulled out a business card, and handed it to Josiah. “It's a lawyer. Woodrell Cranston. Go see him. Tell him I sent you, and tell him everything you know about Elliot and this entire episode. He may be the only man that can help you.”
“I can't afford a lawyer, and I know Scrap can't, either.”
“Go see him.”
Before Josiah could say anything else, Hoagland bobbed his cigar, spun around, and hustled up the stairs. “I'll be in touch,” he said, hollering over his shoulder, just before he disappeared inside the capitol building.