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Authors: Dorothy Garlock

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #FIC027000

Train From Marietta (8 page)

BOOK: Train From Marietta
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“Sell your horses?” Leroy asked.

“Sure did.”
Does everyone in the county know I’ve been to the fort to sell my horses?
With Emily on his arm, he said his good-byes and left the post office.

They were nearly to the truck when a voice from behind them called out, “Hey there, Tate.”

Tate turned at the sound and saw a familiar face. The man coming toward him was short, with bowed legs and long arms. Light blond hair, a smooth baby face, and an easy smile made him look more like a preacher than what he really was. Nothing about him suggested that he was a well-known and feared Texas Ranger.

“Hello, Lyle. What brings you all the way out here?”

“Well,” Lyle started, flashing the easy smile, “I could say we’re meeting accidentally, but the truth of the matter is that I came to see you.”

“Uh-oh. I don’t like the sound of that.”

“Now, is that any way to talk to an old friend?” Lyle said, his smile getting wider and more preacherlike.

“Depends on why you came to see me.”

The Texas Ranger’s smile vanished, and his brow creased in a serious look.

“I need your help, Tate.”

“No, Lyle. The last time you came here for my help I was almost killed. I don’t know what kind of case you’ve got, but I can’t get involved. I may not be a very good parent, but I’m the only one Emily’s got.”

Lyle turned to look at the little girl, his preacher’s smile back on his face. “And a fine hello to you, Miss Emily.”

Glad to have been brought into the conversation, Emily blurted out her important news. “Daddy brought me a doll that closes its eyes. Come out to my house, and I’ll show her to you.”

“You know, I just might do that.”

“You’ll not talk me into anything, Lyle.”

“I wouldn’t think of trying, Tate,” Lyle said. As he turned back toward him, Tate noticed that he’d kept the smile. “Thing is, I’ve got a problem that I think you can help me solve. You know this country better than just about anybody. Just give me a couple of minutes, and I’ll be out of your hair. If Yelena’s planning on making some of her biscuits and milk gravy, I could come out tonight. She does make the best durn biscuits in Texas.”

Tate thought for a moment before he said, “I agree to that.” The least he could do was feed the man.

“You’ll eat with us?” Emily was all smiles. “Yelena will make a cake.”

“She needn’t go to all that trouble.” Lyle laughed heartily. “Well, all right. She can go to a
little
trouble.”

“We’ll see you tonight,” Tate said.

“Tonight, then.”

Lyle turned and walked away, his bowlegs rocking him down the dusty street. Fifteen feet away, he stopped, turned, and fixed an earnest look on his face. “By the way, I heard Hayden’s back in these parts.”

“I thought he was long gone from here,” Tate answered.

“So did I, but something brought him back.”

“Nothing good, I reckon.”

“I’d reckon the same. We’ll talk tonight.”

Tate watched as Lyle walked on, rounded a corner, and was out of sight. He opened the pickup door and set Emily down on the seat. He slid behind the wheel and started the truck but didn’t put it into gear. Lyle had put too many thoughts into his head.

A tug on his arm pulled him back to the present. He looked down to see Emily clutching the peppermint stick. “Can I eat my candy now?” she asked.

“Let’s wait till we get the groceries,” he said. “Then it’s all yours.”

“Yay!” Emily shouted.

The entire way back to the ranch, Tate rolled Lyle’s request around in his head. He thought back to the day, not long before, when Lyle had saved his life. The debt that he owed could never truly be repaid. But his allegiance to Lyle was far more than a debt. The Texas Ranger was a good man; the kind of man that he was proud to call a friend. It would be hard to refuse Lyle, but for Emily’s sake, he would. As the ranch came into sight, one final thought stabbed into Tate’s mind.

Hayden is back.

Chapter 7

Y
ELENA, EXPECTING THE TEXAS RANGER AT THE TABLE,
had out done herself. There was venison from the smokehouse, biscuits and gravy, and a delicious cake for dessert. Emily’s happy voice and laughter filled the ranch house kitchen.

After Yelena had washed the dishes and put Emily to bed, Lyle and Tate went to the front porch. The moon hung low and amber on the horizon. The only sounds came from the horses and a lone coyote howling.

Lyle sank down in the bentwood chair with a groan. He stretched out his legs and patted his bulging stomach. “If I ate like that every night, there wouldn’t be a horse in Texas that could carry me. That woman makes the best damn biscuits I ever ate. If I thought I could, I’d steal her away from you.”

“Well, get that idea out of your head, because you’d have to take Jorge too. He can be a bit of a handful when he gets his back up.” Tate chuckled.

“It might be worth it for those biscuits.”

As if on cue, Jorge ambled out onto the porch and sat down on the steps. Tate lit a cigarette, took a drag, and blew his smoke into the night air. “You don’t need to worry about holding your tongue, Lyle. You can talk freely in front of Jorge. What I know, Jorge knows. I trust him with my daughter’s life.”

The three men sat in silence for a moment. Lyle shifted his weight in the chair and cleared his throat. “Your word’s good with me, Tate, but what I’ve got to say needs to be kept among the three of us for a while.”

“Done,” Tate answered, and Jorge nodded his head.

“I need your help to find a missing woman,” Lyle continued. “Her father thinks she was taken from the New Orleans-Texas train after it passed through Simon.”

“Anyone I know?” Tate asked.

“No. The woman’s name is Katherine Tyler. Her father’s an old friend of mine who lives in New York City. The last he knew, Katherine was on the train that left Marietta. He knows that she got that far because she sent him a wire. The next wire was to come from Marathon. It didn’t come. Yesterday he got a note asking for money and warning him not to call in the authorities or his daughter would be killed.”

Lyle paused, stretched his legs, and continued. “I did some checking around but didn’t get much information. After talking to the depot agent at Simon, where she got off to check her baggage, she boarded the train from Marietta. I kept heading up the line to see if anyone had seen her, but she hasn’t been seen. I’ve never met her, but she’s the type that most folks around here wouldn’t forget. From what I hear, she’s a beautiful girl. Tall and blond.”

“Did you say she got off the train at Simon?”

“That’s what the depot agent told me. ’Bout the only other thing I got out of the man was that there were a couple of strangers hanging around the Simon station with Katherine. The baggage handler got the best look at them. Said one was a cowboy, but that the other one really stood out. Some dandy in a striped suit who looked like a salesman, but he never tried to sell anything in Simon, never even opened up his case. Something doesn’t quite sit right with me about those two. Could be just a coincidence, but I’ve got a missing woman’s father asking for help, and I’m gonna check out every possibility.”

“Wait a minute,” Tate said. “What day was this?”

“Last Thursday.”

The last piece of the puzzle was filled in, and the realization hit Tate square in the chest. “It was me. I was the cowboy at the station.”

“What?” Lyle practically jumped out of the chair.

“I’d been up at Fort Davis cutting a deal for our horses. I came south to Simon and was waiting to catch the train from Marietta,” Tate explained, his mind searching back to that night. “The depot agent was right. There were two other people on the platform with me. A young woman and a man with a wooden case. I guess he could have been a salesman, but I didn’t get much of a look at him. It was dark, and he stayed to the other side of the platform. The woman wasn’t traveling with him. It didn’t look like they knew each other.”

“What luck!” Lyle said. Even in the near darkness, Tate could see his bright preacher’s smile. “Did she say anything to you?”

“She asked me if the train was on time,” Tate answered, the calamity of the woman’s bag left unspoken. “That’s all.”

“Still, you’ve seen her. Did you see where she got off?”

“No. When we got on the train, I went ahead to the next car. When I arrived at Muddy Creek, I looked into her car, but I didn’t see her. Didn’t see the salesman either.”

“Between Simon and Muddy Creek,” Lyle mumbled.

“You think this is the same woman?” Tate asked.

“It sure looks like it. The big question is where she got off the train. There’s only one stop between Simon and Muddy Creek.”

“No. There’s two,” Tate corrected the Texas Ranger. “The Texas and New Orleans’ scheduled stop is in Los Rios, but it also stops at the midway watering tank. Whoever kidnapped her wouldn’t have tried to take her off at Los Rios; too many people would be on the platform. That leaves the midway watering tank.”

“You’re right.” Lyle lit the cigar he pulled out of his breast pocket and smoked in silence for a few moments. Finally he said, “I guess it’s time for me to ask you that favor, old friend. What I’d like is for you to go down to that watering tank and see if you can pick up anything. If that salesman was involved, I doubt if he’d be the kind of man that was much used to horses. That means they’d have had to take her out by car. Cars leave tracks.”

Mulling over the request, Tate was silent for quite a while. Finally he gave his answer. “Well, I guess I can do that much for you, Lyle. I just don’t want to find myself tangled up with any more rustlers or outlaws. I have to think about Emily.”

“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” Lyle said with his reassuring smile. Some folks might think that the smile wasn’t real, but Tate knew better. “You’re not that much different than John Tyler. He’s a fine man who’s worried sick about his own daughter.”

“Sounds like Hayden,” Jorge said from the steps. He’d been silent up until now, but Tate knew that his foreman had a keen mind and had been listening to every word. “If he around, may be a part of it.”

“You’re right, Jorge,” Lyle said gravely. “This is just the type of thing that would draw Hayden. Just like a fly to shit. If that salesman fella is the type of man I think he is, he’d need help finding his way out of a cardboard box, let alone Big Bend country. If he took Miss Tyler, he’d need help from someone who knows the land.”

Tate nodded in agreement. “If there’s any easy money to be made, Hayden would know about it. Speaking of money, is your friend going to pay the ransom?”

“He’ll pay. He’d do anything to get his daughter back.” Lyle stared at Tate for a moment to let the weight of his words sink in. “There was one strange thing about the ransom note, though.”

“What?”

“According to John, it was mailed from right there in New York City. That means that somebody back there is the ramrod. Probably the brains of it all, more than likely. How would Hayden get involved with someone in New York?”

“Possibly through that lawyer over in Alpine, the one that represented him when I filed the charges against him last time for rustling.”

“That’s a thought.”

“Either way, if Hayden’s involved, that woman’s life is in danger.” Tate flicked his cigarette out into the yard. “Jorge and I need to get the horses ready that I sold to the army. The commander of the fort is sending a detail for them. But I can take a couple of days and see what I can find out.”

“Thanks, Tate. If anyone can trace that girl, it’s you. You’re the best tracker in the area.”

“I’ll send you a wire if I find anything.”

“No need. As soon as I hear back from John, I plan on coming back this way. You can tell me then.”

“If there’s anything there, it won’t take me long to find it.”

“Fair enough.” Lyle puffed on his cigar and patted his stomach. “Well, I guess I’d better head on back to Alpine. I’ve got some business there before I can go back to Waco. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another. Hard times bring out the worst in some folks.”

“You’re welcome to spend the night, Lyle,” Tate offered.

“Thanks, but I better head on out. Good to see you, Jorge.” Lyle extended his hand as Jorge stood and took it.

Tate walked with Lyle toward the man’s automobile. The night had become cooler and was made even more so by a light breeze from the northeast. Old Bob lay in the yard gnawing on a deer bone.

“If this Tyler woman is the same woman I saw on the train, I’m not sure how safe she’ll be out in this country. She didn’t look the type that could blow her own nose, much less defend herself with someone like Hayden.” In his mind, Tate could still see her standing on the platform in her city clothes. Pretty and helpless.

“Then I think we’d better find her as quick as we can,” Lyle said as he got into his automobile. “John Tyler’s a friend, and even if he wasn’t, I’d still want to find the woman. I hate to think of her out there in the wilds with Hayden.”

“I’ll do what I can.”

“I know you will, Tate,” Lyle said as he put the vehicle into gear. “I know you will.”

Tate watched the car go down the road until he could no longer see the taillights. He went back and sat on the porch beside Jorge. His foreman passed him a cigarette, and the two men smoked in silence for a couple of moments. Tate looked off into the Texas night.

“What do you think of all this, Jorge?” he finally asked.

“You do what you must do, señor.”

“What about the horses?”

“A couple of days not matter. The horses ready for delivery. Patrol not get here until next week.”

“I want to be here when they come for them. This sale’s important. But before I go we’ll talk about it, just in case I don’t get back in time.”

The two men parted for the evening. Tate went into the house, stopped in his daughter’s room, and placed a kiss on her forehead, then went into his own bedroom. He undressed quickly and slid between the cool fresh sheets.

There’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed in your own house on your own land. The older I get, the more I appreciate it.

BOOK: Train From Marietta
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