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Published on Tuesday, March 22, 2010

Stage Stop

By D. Kirts Lewis

 

"The stage is comin' in, Sheriff! Don't look good! No driver and they're comin' in wild!" Cyrus Hanes took off his hat and scratched his head then looked toward the jailhouse.

   

"Then get the hell out of the road!"

Hanes looked toward the wild team of horses and back to the Sheriff. "Damn! Wish you'd said somethin' earlier!" He jumped out of the way just in time to let the team pass.

"They'll slow when they get near the livery. I imagine they're wore and thirsty. Come on. Let's see if there's anybody inside that rig that can tell us what's goin' on."

"If'n there is, I doubt they're talkin' and if'n they are, it's most likely to God."

"You sure are an optimistic son-of-a-bitch, Cy."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I'll need you to hit dirt and find out what happened out there."

Cy smiled. "I like gettin' shy of town folk once in a while."

"That's what I mean."

"Whoa! Settle down there." Ridgley calmed the horses then pulled out his watch and chuckled.

"Stage is on time today."

"Let's have a look and see if anybody made the trip." Sheriff Kohl peered into the coach then stepped back and looked down at the red droplets on his boots. "Damn bloody mess." He rubbed each boot on the back of his pants then opened the door.

Cy stepped back. "Lord Almighty."

"Tenley was the driver this round. I suppose you'll be headed out?" Ridgley moved closer to the open door. "He's not in here."

"Cy, go on over and find Horace. Ridgley, go get Charlie and tell him we have three holes for him to dig."

Cy took his hat off and scratched his head. "Are you comin' with us, Sheriff?"

"You get us ready to ride and I'll... hear that? We got a live one." Kohl reached into the stagecoach and put his hand on the woman's neck and she moaned again. "Ridgley, go tell Doc I'm bringing her over then head to Charlie's. Two holes for now. We'll give her the benefit of the doubt."

"You still wanna ride?"

"I'm riding, Cy. It'll be awhile before she's talking." Kohl grabbed the woman by the arm and pulled her to him. "Well go on, Cy."

"You don't need me?"

"I think I got this and I got work to do before we head out. Get now."

 

*         *        *

 

"Nothing life threatening unless she doesn't have the will." Doc Garmen washed the blood from his hands. "She'll come around in a day or two."

"Find a reason to keep her here if we're not back."

"Will do, Sheriff."

 

*         *        *

 

"Whatcha doin', Sheriff?"

"Just looking for clues, Cy. It's call investigatin'."

"If'n they's still out there don't you suppose we oughta get goin'?"

"If I hadn't taken a little effort to investigate that last round of horse thieving, you'd be at the bottom of one of Charlie's holes and I'd still be looking for a deputy."

Cy laughed. "Yeah, I s'pect so. Find anything?"

"I have a whole list of anything, Cy."

"Anything I need to know?"

"Not until I get it worked out a little." Kohl put his notebook in his vest pocket and climbed down from the driver's box. "Horace ready?"

"He's at the saloon."

"Not a bad idea on a hot day. Why don't you wash a little dust down before eating some more."

"You're not gonna join us, Sheriff?"

"I've got a few telegrams to send off. I'll be by directly and we'll head out."

 

*         *        *

 

"Cy said it was pretty damn bloody, Sheriff." Horace spurred his horse to catch up.

"Yeah, Horace, it was."

"Think we'll find anything?"

"I expect we'll find Tenley and his shot gunner if he had one. I suppose if there were more passengers, we'll be digging holes for them too."

"Any idea what they got?"

"They got my curiosity peaked, other than that, I'll have to wait for a list of names and a manifest. Wasn't supposed to be any gold on this run, but people headed out this way seem to have a lose tongue about their finances."

"You think maybe one of 'em was flashin' money?"

"I don't like to speculate, Horace, but it's crossed my mind."

"Cy said she was pretty."

"Did not! I said she was halfways good lookin'!"

"Either way, she won't put up with the likes of you, Cy."

"Damn, Horace! I wasn't tryin' to marry her. I was just commentin' on her appearance."

"She was luckier than the rest of them, and she had on some pretty fancy clothing for a hard trip."

"So you think she's rich, Sheriff?"

"I don't like to speculate, Cy. I think she has a story and that's about the limit of my thinking for now. I'll wait for a few facts before I come to any conclusions."

Cy whispered to Horace. "He did that when they was fixin' to hang me. Says he only did it 'cause he hates spending money on rope. Let's be quiet for a while and let him ponder."

They rode in silence for almost an hour before Kohl spurred his horse and raced ahead of Cy and Horace.

Cy pointed to the sky. "He seen them buzzards."

"I guess we found Tenley though I doubt that's what's drawin' such a large supper crowd. I bet that man didn't have a pound of meat on him. Just skin and bones is all; and a big smile. He'd bring that stage in and head to the bar lookin' like a pile of dirt with eyeballs. Hell, his teeth even had dust 'em."

"He was a happy son-of-a-bitch."

"Never could figure it neither. All he ever had to his name was a seat on that stage."

Cy smiled. "If'n the sheriff didn't rely on me so heavily, I think I'd see about takin' Tenley's place."

"What the hell for, Cy?"

"Get shed of town a little more often."

Horace laughed. "Hell, Cy, you'd miss me too much."

"I'd miss lookin' at the women folk but I doubt I'd miss lookin' at your ugly face."

Horace laughed again. "Well I'd miss you. Wouldn't have nobody to poke fun at."

"He's yellin' for us. We'd better get a move on."

Sheriff Kohl handed Horace a pencil and a piece of paper. "Don't worry about your spelling. I'm the only one reading it so just write it the way it sounds."

"Everything?"

Everything, Cy. You call it out, Horace will write it down. Put their name on a scrap of paper and put it in their pocket. Everything you find on them goes back with us."

"All five of 'em?"

"All five of them, Cy. Get after it. I want to know what's in their pockets, boots, bill folds and anywhere else they might try to hide something. I want to know who had what. We'll load Tenley up when I get back."

"Can't we do this when we get 'em to town?"

"Don't need anybody else knowing I'm curious. I'll be back."

"Where you goin', Sheriff?"

"I'm going to check out a ways; see if I can come up with anything to add to the mix."

"Sheriff Kohl seems a little suspicious about all this." Horace licked the end of the pencil as Kohl disappeared among the palo verde and prickly pear.

"Says here his name was John F. Dunlop. Sheriff ain't no more suspicious about this than any other killin'."

"Now why did you say his name was? It's still his name and it's the one Charlie's gonna write on his cross."

"Well John F. Dunlop won't be hearin' it anymore hisself so let's just get on with it and stop debatin' the particulars. There's fifty three dollars and his ticket in his bill fold and not a damn thing but a handkerchief in his pockets."

"How 'bout his boots, Cy? Sheriff said to check his boots."

"Dust." Cy stood up and laughed. "Ashes to Ashes. I guess he's already on his way."

"Ol' John F. Dunlop's liable to come back from the dead and clobber you. You ought not to be laughin' when you're strippin' him of his boots. How 'bout that one over there. Let's see what he's got next."

 

*         *        *

 

"You boys finished up yet?" Kohl pushed his hat up a little.

"Almost, Sheriff but I think Horace is gettin' hungry. He's been lickin' that pencil awful hard. Find anything?"

"Just enough to keep me wondering."

"About what, Sheriff?"

"Well, Cy, right now I'm wondering why you two aren't done yet."

"Just gotta check his boots is all."

"Check them and let's get them under rock. We'll take Tenley back and send Charlie out to dig them back up and haul them in come daylight."

 

*         *        *

 

"How many of 'em, Sheriff?"

"There's five of them, Charlie, but keep the count just between us. Just follow the stage trail and you'll see where we left them."

"Sure thing, Sheriff. I'll leave at first light." Charlie turned then hesitated.

Kohl chuckled. "They all had enough in their pockets to pay for a burial."

"Thanks, Sheriff. We got a young bunch around here right now. It's hard to make a livin' when nobody's of a mind to die."

"Come by the jailhouse after you finish up and we'll settle."

 

*         *        *

 

"Any news?"

"Just this one Sheriff. Seven paid passage and no shotgunner." The telegrapher handed him the message.

"Thanks, Bill. I'll be back by come morning. Just hold any more till then."

"Got any ideas?"

"None that suit me just yet."

"I'm sure you'll come across somethin' soon."

 

*         *        *

 

"How's she doing, Doc?"

"She'll be awake and ready for questions by suppertime tomorrow. What did you find out there?"

"She just had the one bullet to the shoulder?"

"Just the one."

"Caliber?"

"Went clean through. Had to be a close shot judging by the powder burn on her clothing. I'd guess a small caliber.

".22?"

"Most likely. Give you any ideas?"

"One. . . and I'm not liking it."

Kohl went back to the livery and took another look at the coach. After careful inspection he stuck his pinky finger in then out of a hole in the side of the carriage. Damn. I shouldn't have missed that. He thought about this new piece of information then headed back to the jailhouse.

Kohl sat at his desk and tried to decipher the list that Horace and Cy had made. It was cryptic at best but he worked his way down to the departed that had twelve .22 bullets in his pocket and made a mental note of the man's name. Gram Wesler. Where have I heard that name before? Damn. He got up from his chair and grabbed the sack of evidence and poured it out onto one of the bunks. No .22. Kohl put everything back into the sack, except for one small item, and left it on the bunk locking the cell door when he left.

 

*         *        *

 

"Was I right, Charlie? Were they all .44's?"

"All seven of 'em, Sheriff. One each. You saw 'em. Precision: All through the heart or close enough to argue with it."

"How about Tenley?"

"I'd say the .22 to the gut slowed him down but the .44 to the head was what stopped him altogether."

"All the same brand?"

"Two brands. I kept 'em for you and wrote down who had what flavor in case it makes a difference."

"Thanks, Charlie. I'll make sure you're paid for your trouble."

"Any more news, Bill?"

"Two messages. One's personal the other is business."

"Let me see them."

"Says you got a card shark headed your way by the name of..."

"Gram Wesler."

"Yeah, how'd you know that?"

"Charlie's digging him a hole right about now. He was on that stage."

"And the other one..."

Kohl chuckled. "Do you mind if I read it myself, Bill?"

"I guess not, but I don't tell anybody your business, Sheriff."

"I know that but if it's from Darla, I'd like the pleasure of reading it myself."

"It's from her all right, but I was the one that wrote it down."

"I don't think you want me kissing you at night, now do you, Bill?"

"Not in particular."

"Then don't be telling me you had anything to do with it at all. I get a little amorous where Darla is concerned."

Bill laughed. "Is she ever comin' out here or are you keepin' her away from me?"

"She's got another six months of schooling and if I'm lucky she won't have learned enough to know better than to have dealings with the likes of me."

"I don't want you kissin' me or nothin' but she'd be hard up to find her a better man. Anybody that could turn this town around like you done and not only keep Cy from the gallows but make him deputy, is a good man. She's lucky to have you."

"I'll have her come see you if she ever has any questions about my abilities."

Bill laughed. "Now your abilities I can't vouch for but your dignity I can."

Kohl chuckled. "We'll keep it as such. I'll be at the jailhouse should anything else come in."

 

*         *        *

 

"Sheriff?"

"Yeah, Doc, come on in."

"She's awake, says she wants her bag."

"You didn't tell her anything, did you?"

"No, Sheriff. Didn't say a word and nobody else has either. Do you think maybe she was travelin' with one of the men?"

"Possible, I guess. Did she say which bag was hers?"

"She said the old leather duffle with the pink ribbon on the handle is hers."

"I figured as much." Kohl went to the cell and retrieved the bag. "I had Cy put it all in here until we got to the bottom of this."

"You think there's evidence in here somewhere?" Doc took the duffle from Kohl.

"I think we'll know shortly. You keep yourself loaded and ready, Doc, and don't question her. Leave that to me. Give her that bag then head to the hotel and get yourself some dinner. I'll sit outside the door so she doesn't think about leaving too soon."

"It's got a lock on it. Maybe this is what they were after." Doc shook the duffle.

"Just do as I ask, Doc. I'll be over in just a minute."

 

*         *        *

 

"I see Doc got your bag to you. Is there anybody you want us to notify about your whereabouts, Ma'am?"

She smiled. "No thank you, Sheriff. I'll take care of that myself. I'll be leaving on the next stage."

"I'd think you'd want to shy away from that form of travel for a while: Make sure we catch the gang that did this first."

"My luck's never been too good but I don't think it's so bad that I'd encounter the same thief twice on one journey."

"And where is that journey taking you, Ma'am?"

"To Tombstone. I own a mine down there. Right profitable if I do say so myself."

"I need your name for my report, Ma'am."

"June Harris, but if you come looking for me ask for June Bug. I have more than one business in Tombstone, Sheriff, and I promise to keep you entertained should you feel the need." She complimented her smile with a wink.

"Did you know any of the men that were on the stage with you, Ma'am?"

"Never laid eyes on them before, Sheriff."

"Did all of you board in Phoenix, Ma'am?"

"I was the first one seated."

"Do you know what happened out there, Ma'am?"

"They shot me and I must have passed out. What did happen?"

"I'm still piecing it together, Ma'am and until I have a few answers, you'll be spending time in Tucson."

"I guess if all the men are as handsome as you, I won't get bored very easily."

"No Ma'am; I doubt you will." Kohl tipped his hat to leave. "One more question, Ma'am."

"Yes, Sheriff?"

"Did you ever hear of a man by the name of Gram Wesler?"

"No, Sheriff, I don't believe I have."

"He was on the stage with you. I think he may be able to fill me in on a few more details."

"I thought they were all dead, Sheriff."

"Doc thinks he'll pull through and I'd say by the .22 rounds he had in his pocket, he may have been the one that shot you. When Doc releases you, head on over to the hotel. The jail will pay for the room."

"Thanks, Sheriff. Will you be coming by to check on me?"

Kohl smiled. "I just might do that, Ma'am."

 

*         *        *

 

"Put her in a room she can't climb out of, Hank."

"Will do, Sheriff."

"You send somebody to get me if she has any visitors."

"You got it."

 

*         *        *

 

"You get it done last night, Charlie?"

"Sure did Sheriff. Six holes, six crosses. We're havin' a service for Tenley today, then the count will be seven new ones on the hill."

"We'll fix the count after I get a few more answers."

 

*         *        *

 

"Nice to see you again, Sheriff."

"Are you ready to head to the hotel, Ma'am?"

"Are you planning on keeping me company for a spell?"

"No, Ma'am." Kohl smiled. "Just thought I'd walk you over."

"I guess a man of your position needs to be careful about the company he keeps."

"I don't let my position interfere with my needs, Ma'am. I'll carry that bag for you."

"So did this Gram person survive the night?"

"Yes, Ma'am. Should be able to talk by suppertime."

"I'd like a chance to speak with him if I may. I'd like to meet the man that shot me and find out why."

"I'll get those answers for you, Ma'am. No need putting you in any more danger."

"Is he being guarded?"

"No, Ma'am, but except for the Doc and me, nobody knows where he is and he can't go anywhere on his own for a while yet. I don't need an angry relative showing up and sending him the rest of the way to dead before I get a few answers."

June sat on the bed. "Are you sure you won't come in and make sure I'm comfortable, Sheriff?"

"I can already see that you are. I'll let Doc know where you are so he can check those bandages. I wouldn't want you to lose that arm." Kohl smiled and tipped his hat as he left her alone in the hotel room.

"You let me know what she has for supper and count your silverware when you clear her table. Let me know if anything is missing. Send word to me if she starts to wander. I need to know where she's going and what she's up to. And Hank..."

"Yeah, Sheriff."

Kohl patted his sidearm. "Don't hesitate."

"She's a woman."

"That's how it appears but don't let that smile get to you, Hank."

 

*         *        *

 

"Stage is comin', Sheriff!"

"Damn, Cy! Do I always have to tell you?"

"I'm gettin' clear of the road! Looks like it's a live one this time!"

"Let's welcome them to town."

"You think we got more trouble?"

"I think we've got more luggage."

"Now why's that?"

"Now I know if you were to board that stage you wouldn't take anything but the clothes on your back, but I can't see a woman, dressed as fine as Miss June Bug, traveling even a hundred miles without a trunk or case of some kind."

"So you think she sent for stuff?"

"I think she'll have a bag on that stage. I'm just curious to see if it's delivered here or marked for delivery in Tombstone."

"I guess since she's here she wants it here."

Kohl chuckled. "I think you're right, Cy."

Cy smiled. "I think I'm gettin' the hang of this investigatin'."

"Let's not have a party too soon." Kohl patted him on the back.

 

*         *        *

 

"May I have a look at the manifest?"

"Sure thing, Sheriff. I heard about Tenley. Damn shame. Don't find many that like the work as much as he did."

"We're having a service for him in about an hour. I'll need a little time to go over this so if you'd like to pay your respects."

"Sure would, Sheriff. Tenley liked havin' dirt all around him. I doubt he'll mind havin' six foot of it on top of him. I'm Daniels, Mark Daniels. I'll be coverin' Tenley's runs now."

"Only unload the bags that have somebody waiting on them then pull this rig on over to the livery."

"Sheriff, looks like we got two bags left." Daniels turned to his shotgunner. "Did you hear that Tommy?"

"Shur'nuff. Afternoon, Sheriff."

"Afternoon. I'll make sure everything left on board stays that way unless I notify you different."

"You heard him Tommy. Let's get this rig to the livery then we'll go have a whiskey for Tenley."

"Whaddya got, Sheriff?" Cy asked.

"Miss June's bag. I expect she's waiting on it so I think I'll take it on over."

"I can do that if'n you got other things t'do."

  

"This is first on my list. You head on over to Doc's and tell him I'm pulling up the curtain. Then head to the saloon and tell Daniels I need that rig in front of the hotel right away then have Ridgley put a saddle on Spinner and tie him out front beside the stage coach."

"But nobody's ever rid Spinner past the limits."

"Duly noted. Get a move on Cy."

"Afternoon, Hank. How was supper?"

"I'm missin' a knife."

"Butter knife?"

"Steak knife, Sheriff. One of my good ones."

 

*         *        *

 

"Afternoon, Ma'am. This came in on the stage. Thought you might be needing some clean clothes to get the vision of blood and killing out of you head."

"Come on in, Sheriff."

"I would, Ma'am but Tenley's service is about to start. Whole town is turning out. If you'd like to come..."

June glanced down the hallway. Doc came out of one of the other rooms with his black bag in his hand. "I think I'll stay in. I would like to wash up and put on some clean clothes."

"Yes, Ma'am. I can imagine that you would. I'll check back in a couple of hours. Hank should be back at the desk in about an hour or so should you need anything."

June changed her clothes, shut her bag and walked to the door. Opening the door, she peered out. With no one in the hallway, she walked to the top of the steps and listened. Silence. Not being mindful of her footsteps, she walked back to her room the whole time being watched by Kohl from a carefully opened door. He shut it when she exited her room again, this time with her bags in hand. When she passed, he went to the window and waited. June surveyed the street, and seeing no one, she opened the rear boot on the stage, placed her bags inside and came back into the hotel. Kohl waited. Footsteps sounded in the hall way; the knob turned and the door groaned as it slowly opened. June walked to the bed and held a knife high above the figure that lay covered in bed. Kohl stood behind the door and watched in the mirror. Surprised when she hit nothing but feathers, she pulled the blanket back and saw nothing but pillows.

"Gram, you son-of-a-bitch! What the hell are you tryin' to pull here! You'd better be lying dead someplace because I'm getting damn tired of trying to kill you!" June threw the knife against the wall and ran out of the room.

Kohl came out from behind the door and walked to the bed. "She sure does hate you an awful lot for never hearing of you before. I'd say the two of you have a history, and if I were to guess, I'd say you bet the same hand, and I don't see either one of you coming out the winner."

Kohl walked to the window and looked down into the street below and laughed. He watched as Spinner took June full speed as far as the town limits then turn around and ambled right back to the front of the hotel then tried to get shed of her.

Kohl walked down off the boardwalk and into the street as June fought to stay aboard the nervous horse. "I don't believe he's broke yet, Ma'am. I'd jump if I was you."

June hit dirt and the horse walked to the trough and started drinking. "Why the hell is he saddled if he isn't broke?"

Kohl didn't offer her a hand out of the dirt. "Were you wanting to go for a ride, Ma'am. You know you can rent a horse at the livery, and that way you don't get hung for thieving."

"I was just borrowing him for a while. I wasn't stealing him." June stood up and brushed away some of the dirt.

"Did you just borrow these, or are they yours?" Kohl reached to his back and pulled two pistols from his belt and threw them on the ground at her feet.

"I've never seen those guns before."

"Now, I know by fitting them to his holster that these belonged to Gram Wesler, but how they got fifty yards from his body without his holster attached is what has me curious. Now, I walked that scene, and the only tracks leading from the dead men to those pistols were made by a woman in a hurry. Aside from that, you must be pretty damn intuitive to know that all those men were killed after you had already passed out. The other thing that has me curious is why you'd try to kill a perfectly good feather pillow... unless it has something to do with the money and papers in that bag with the pink ribbon on the handle. And speaking of luggage, why have your bag sent on a different stage and delivered in Tucson when you were headed to Tombstone. On top of all of that there's another point I can't quite figure. Now I know it's a damn dusty trail, but that one bag appeared to have been wiped clean at one point of the journey so I'm guessing you didn't like it all dirty, and you cleaned it up a bit when you tied that pink ribbon on there sometime after helping Gram at the stage-and between shooting him and then shooting yourself. Am I getting any of this right, June Bug?"

"I don't know what you're talking about, Sheriff!" June fluffed her petticoats and started for the hotel.

"I'm talking about this." Kohl held up a key. "Now I know it fits the lock on that bag, and I know whose pocket it came out of and it wasn't yours and it wasn't Gram Wesler's. This key and the bag it unlocks belonged to Floyd Sanders, a well known, big time silver mine operator from up around Jerome. That bag holds deeds and a large sum of cash. Seems he bought out a few big producers down in Tombstone in hopes of increasing his little kingdom but before he got a chance, you and Wesler sent him to Kingdom Come. There were eight good men on that stage, June Bug, and while I'm not quite sure which ones you pulled the trigger on, I can be certain of this. The .22 Gram kept up his sleeve in case he had a bad run at the table, put the first slug in Tenley. I'm thinking you never paid passage, but you sweet talked Tenley into letting you aboard - and when that smile of yours got you a seat in the box - that little bit of generosity cost him his life."

"I don't have to listen to you surmise all day! You don't have any evidence to hold me!"

"But I do, June Bug." Kohl grabbed her arm as she tried to walk away. "It's a hard sell you were working on. One would be hard pressed to believe that stage was robbed since there wasn't a damn thing missing but that .22 so I'll putting you on trial for horse thievery. Much simpler case. Now if you're found guilty, you'll hang -- but maybe, just maybe we can work out a deal."

"What kind of deal."

"You tell the Judge what happened on that coach and maybe, just maybe, at the least, serve time for conspiracy to commit murder."

"And what are you getting out of this, Sheriff?"

Kohl pushed his hat up and smiled. "I don't have to buy rope."

THE END

 

Debora fell in love with westerns when she was little. She watched them on television with her father and while he read only one book in his lifetime, she has read many. She grew up on a dairy farm in Maryland but Arizona is her home. She has four novels in edit and at least thirty short stories completed. She is currently living in a storage shed turned guest house with two cats for company.

 

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