Trail to Shasta (9781101622049) (7 page)

BOOK: Trail to Shasta (9781101622049)
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TWENTY

“My name is Sheriff Steve Cargill,” the lawman said. “I got word you were in town, kinda made me curious.”

“So you took a look at my wagon already, right?” Clint asked. Instead of returning his gun to the holster on the bedpost, he tucked it into his belt.

“I did.”

“The man at the livery?”

“Owen is also a part-time deputy.”

“Ah.”

“Were you gonna come and see me?”

“I would have,” Clint said, “if I was going to be in town past tomorrow morning.”

“So you're just passin' through?”

“Literally,” Clint said. “I'm on my way to Council Bluffs.”

“Travelin' alone?”

“No, I've got two young ladies with me.”

“Whores?” Cargill asked with a frown.

“No,” Clint said, without taking offense, “I haven't taken up pimping. They're a couple of sisters from Ireland who want to see the country on their way to Shasta County, California.”

“What are they gonna do there?”

“One of them is getting married,” Clint said. “The other one is her sister.”

“Mail-order bride?”

“Something like that.”

“That's not your usual kind of job, is it?”

“It's not a job,” Clint said, “it's a favor.”

“That's a lot of time to put in for a favor,” the sheriff said. He was still trying to figure out if Clint was lying to him or not.

“Sheriff,” Clint said, “there's nothing here in Saint Joe that interests me. Believe me, we're moving on in the morning.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I don't blame you for being suspicious.”

“That's my job.”

“I know it,” Clint said. “I take no offense that you went through my wagon. You didn't find anything unusual, did you?”

“No,” Cargill said.

“Well, there you go,” Clint said.

“Okay,” Cargill said “I'm gonna take your word for it—for now. But if you don't leave in the mornin', I'm gonna wanna know why.”

“Agreed.”

“Good night, then.”

“Good night, Sheriff.”

The lawman opened the door and stepped out into the hall, leaving the door ajar. As Clint went to close it, the door across the hall opened and Bridget peered out.

“Is everything all right?” she asked.

“Everything's fine,” Clint said. “I just got a visit from the local law.”

“May I . . .” she said, hesitating.

“Come right in,” Clint said.

Bridget left her room, closing the door behind her, and entered Clint's room.

“What did he want?” she asked as Clint shut and locked his door.

“What all lawmen want when I ride into their town,” he said. “They want to know why.”

“What did you tell him?”

“Exactly why we're here,” Clint said. “And that we'll be leaving first thing in the morning.”

“What did he say?”

“What could he say?” Clint asked. “He's still suspicious. He'll watch us in the morning to make sure we go.”

“I see.”

She turned and looked at the door, then glanced at the bed.

“Bride is taking her bath.”

“I know. I'm waiting my turn.”

“Oh?”

“Didn't you say I needed one?”

“I understood that Western men bathed infrequently . . . if at all.”

“I'm well acquainted with bathtubs. I've been known to use one, say, two or maybe three times . . . a year.”

She laughed.

“I had intended to try to seduce you while Bride was bathing,” she said, “but maybe I'll wait until you're clean.”

“That sounds like a plan,” Clint said, “but what will you tell Bride?”

“Perhaps,” she said, moving toward the door, “I'll simply wait until she is asleep. After all those nights in the wagon, she'll probably sleep very soundly.”

She went out, closing the door gently behind her. Clint wondered if she was actually telling him the truth, and if he should expect her during the night.

TWENTY-ONE

Clint heard Bride return from her bath. He cracked his door to make sure, watched her enter the room she was sharing with her sister. He stepped into the hall and went down to the front desk.

“Is anyone using the bath?” he asked.

“No, sir,” the man said, “a young lady has just vacated it. Shall I have it prepared for you?”

“Yes,” Clint said. “Hot.”

“Wait here,” the clerk said. “I'll make the arrangements, and get you some towels.”

“Thank you.”

The clerk was back in a few minutes, said, “It's all ready. Just walk straight back to the last door on the right.”

“Thanks.”

Clint took the towels and went down the hall.

* * * 

Refreshed from his bath, Clint left the hotel to go and check on the wagon. He had told the lawman he didn't mind having the wagon searched, but he did want to make sure that everything that was supposed to be there was still there. He also wanted to check on the horses, especially Eclipse.

The streets were still busy, as darkness had not yet fallen. When he reached the stable, the doors were open and he walked right in. The man the sheriff had called Owen saw him and stood up straight, dropped the leg of the horse he'd been inspecting.

“Mr. Adams,” he said, “I—I didn't—”

“Relax, Owen,” Clint said. “I know you spoke to the sheriff. It's fine.”

“It is?”

“You're a part-time deputy, right?”

“Yessir.”

“Then you were just doing your job.”

“Yessir.”

“We don't have a problem,” Clint said. “I just wanted to check on my animals, and get something out of my wagon.”

“Go right ahead, sir.”

Of course, there was nothing he needed from the wagon; he just wanted to make sure everything was there.

He took a look at the team first, found them to be standing easily, feeding. Then he looked in on Eclipse, who was also feeding. Next, he went to the wagon and climbed in back. Out of sight he made a complete search, found that everything was there, although it was obvious that some of the girls' bags had been opened. He had no idea what the sheriff might have found—or might have expected to find—that would have caused him concern. Of course, there had been nothing.

He came out of the wagon, unmindful of the fact that he wasn't carrying anything. He didn't care if Owen noticed.

“Everything okay, sir?” the man asked.

“Everything is fine, Owen,” Clint said. “Just fine. Make sure you tell the sheriff I was here.”

“Oh, uh, yes, well, okay, sir.”

“Good night.”

“Night, Mr. Adams.”

Clint left the livery stable and walked back to the hotel.

* * * 

Owen Brown let out the breath he was holding, briefly thought of going to the sheriff's office, then decided nothing had really happened that he needed to report on.

But he sure could use a drink.

TWENTY-TWO

Owen went to the Red Garter Saloon and started drinking whiskey. After a few shots he began talking about the Gunsmith being in Saint Joseph. This caught the attention of three men sitting at a table, sharing a bottle of whiskey. They decided to invite Owen to their table to buy him a few more drinks.

Owen's head was on the table half an hour later.

“He's out,” Fred Doolin said, leaning over to check.

“You think he's tellin' the truth?” Ames Connor asked.

“Why would he lie?” Denny Scott asked. “If the Gunsmith is in town, he's in town.”

“Jesus,” Fred said, “you know what it means to the man who kills Clint Adams?”

“A rep,” Ames said.

“A big rep,” Denny said.

The three men exchanged an anxious glance.

“How do we do it without gettin' killed?” Ames asked.

“We plan it,” Denny said, “very carefully.”

* * * 

Clint got back to his room as it was getting dark. He went to the window and looked down at the street. The sheriff was still the only person in town who had taken any interest in him.

He was still staring out the window when there was a light knock on his door. He doubted that Bride had fallen fast asleep yet. His own stomach was growling, so the girls must have been hungry by now.

He answered the door and Bridget said, “Can we go and eat?”

“You girls eat a lot,” Clint said.

“Traveling with you builds up an appetite,” Bridget said. Across the hall, Bride was standing in the open doorway and she nodded her agreement.

“We'll just go down to the hotel dining room,” he said. “I'm sure the sheriff would like me to stay out of trouble.”

“That's fine,” Bridget said. “We've been eating your bacon and beans for days.”

“Let me guess,” he said, pulling his door closed. “Time for a steak?”

* * * 

Fred, Ames, and Denny left Owen Brown with his head on the table as they went outside for some air.

“What do we do?” Ames asked. “We know what hotel he's in. Do we wanna surprise him? Or wait until he comes out?”

“You wanna face him fair and square in the street?” Denny asked.

“I don't,” Fred said before Ames could reply.

“No,” Ames said, “I don't either.”

“Okay,” Denny said, “then we're better off takin' him in his room. We'll wait 'til it's late, so he's asleep.”

“We gonna kill 'im while he's asleep?” Fred asked. “How's that gonna give us a big reputation?”

“Nobody's gonna care how he got killed,” Denny said. “The headline's just gonna say ‘Gunsmith Killed.'”

“Denny's right,” Ames said, “this is our best chance.”

Fred looked worried.

“What is it?” Denny asked.

“I ain't never killed nobody before.”

“Don't worry about it,” Denny said. “The first one's the hardest.”

TWENTY-THREE

They finished eating and returned to their rooms.

“Are you girls satisfied now?” Clint asked in the hall.

“Well . . .” Bride said.

“What is it?” Clint asked.

“Tomorrow we go back to bacon and beans,” she lamented.

“I tell you what,” Clint said. “When we get to Council Bluffs, I'll buy some cans of fruit, and the makings for some biscuits for the trip west.”

The two girls didn't look thrilled.

“Hey,” Clint said, “at least that'll give us a little more variety.”

“Good night, Clint,” Bride said, entering her room.

“Night, Bride.”

Bridget gave him a look and said, “Yes, good night, Clint.”

The look in her eyes wasn't saying good night, though.

* * * 

“Hey, can you help me?” the man asked.

The clerk looked up from what he was doing at the man who had just entered the hotel lobby.

“What?”

“I need some help out here,” Ames said. Of the three compadres, Ames was the one who was unknown to this particular desk clerk.

“What's the matter?”

“There's somethin' happenin' in the alley out here, next to your hotel,” Ames said. “You're gonna wanna know about it.”

The clerk came around the desk and approached Ames, frowning.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, come out here and I'll show ya,” Ames said.

“I'm not supposed to leave the lobby.”

“It'll take a minute,” Ames said. “Two, at the most.”

“Well . . . okay,” the clerk said. “Show me.”

“Come on.”

Ames led the way and the clerk left the lobby.

As soon as they were gone, Fred and Denny entered.

“Stay by the door,” Denny said. “Lemme know if anybody's comin'.”

Denny ran behind the desk, opened the register, and ran his finger over the names until he came to the one he wanted.

“Got it?” Fred asked.

“I got it,” Denny said. “The Gunsmith is in Room 15.”

“Let's get out of here!” Fred said.

Denny joined Fred at the door and the two men left. Moments later the clerk came in, shaking his head and talking to himself.

“Crazy sonofabitch,” he said, getting back behind the desk. “Callin' me outside for no reason. Damn it.”

Nothing was amiss in the lobby or behind the desk, so he went back to work.

* * * 

The door to the sheriff's office slammed open and two men entered, dragging a third man between them.

“What happened?” Sheriff Cargill asked.

“Owen got a snoutful, that's what happened,” one of the men said. Cargill knew his name was Paul. He didn't know the other man. “The barkeep said we should bring him here so he could sleep it off.”

“Damn it,” Cargill said. “He's not wearin' his badge, is he?”

“Don't think so,” the other man said. “Coulda fell off, though.”

“That's all I need,” Cargill said. “Put him on a cot in one of the cells.”

They dragged him into the cell block, dropped him in one of the cells, and came out.

“What was he doin' there?” Cargill asked.

“He came in and started drinkin', then started tellin' wild tales.”

“What kind of tales?”

“Oh, somethin' about the Gunsmith bein' in Saint Joe,” Paul said.

“Crazy talk,” the other man said.

“Yeah,” Cargill said, “crazy.”

“We gotta go,” Paul said.

“Thanks for bringin' him in.”

“Sure, Sheriff.”

After the two men left, Cargill went into the cell block and looked down at his snoring deputy. He wondered if anyone in the saloon had believed Owen about Clint Adams being in town.

That would definitely be trouble.

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