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Thread: TG Lambert, Bounty Hunter: Oklahoma Reckoning

  1. #1
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
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    Jun 2018
    Ann Arbor, MI, USA

    TG Lambert, Bounty Hunter: Oklahoma Reckoning


    Friday, August 5, 1892
    St. Louis, Missouri

    It was an hour before sunset when the locomotive came to a stop, belching smoke and hissing steam. Before the woman stepped on the platform, several passengers got off ahead of her. She hurt from head to toe. The twelve-hour train ride from Vinita, Oklahoma Territory, had been torture: regardless of how she shifted positions, her tall, thin frame would not conform to the contour of her passenger seat. Now, the satchels in each hand seemed heavier and tugged on her aching shoulders and lower back. So she dropped them on the platform and glanced around.

    She had left Vinita in a hurry and was confident no one had followed, but she was wary of everyone. The hustle and bustle of passengers, depot workers, and railroad workmen unnerved her. This was the largest city she had been to since her youth, and she felt apprehensive and alone.

    The woman picked up her bags and scurried to the depot, avoiding the activity around her. She plopped her bags and leaned against the building, weary, hungry, and thirsty. She adjusted the bun that kept her long black hair tightly curled under her upturned-brim straw hat. She patted smooth as many wrinkles as she could off her bead-trimmed skirt, but her white-cotton blouse had not traveled well, and all her efforts could not smooth its frumpled fabric. The toes of her high-heeled laced shoes pinched her feet, and a cramp gripped her right calf. Beads of perspiration trickled down her temples, and she dabbed them with a lace hanky. She sighed deeply and tried to lick her chapped lips, but her tongue was as rough as sandstone, and her mouth was dry as cotton.

    A porter walked nearby.

    "Sir...,” she called out. “Please, sir."

    The porter, a large man with broad shoulders and a broader smile, stopped and approached her. He tipped his hat.

    “Ya all right, ma’am?” he asked, extending his hand.

    The woman nodded and waved him off.

    “Where can I get information about steamboats to New Orleans?” she asked.

    “Is ya sure, ya’s all right, ma’am?”

    “Steamboats, please,” she said, declining his inquiry.

    “They’s right over there, ma’am,” he said, pointing to fliers on a display board on the depot’s wall.

    She nodded a polite thank you and hurried to inspect them.

    The board was plastered with fliers for hotels, eateries, transportation, general notices, and steamboats. The one for the Mississippi Queen Steamboat caught her attention. It was scheduled to leave the day after tomorrow. The aches and pains of the trip melted away in the glow of relief that swept over her.

    The woman gathered her bags, went inside, and found a drink of water. The liquid was as warm as the unseasonably warm temperatures, but she did not care. It was wet and refreshing nonetheless, and she savored every drop. Once invigorated, she headed to the telegraph station.

    The clerk looked up when she stepped to the counter. “You wanna send a telegram, ma’am?”

    “Yes... Yes, I do,” the woman said nervously and dictated a message to Reginal Prescott, care of Vinita, Oklahoma.

    “Now, sir... Could you direct me to the train tickets?”

    He pointed behind her. “It’s just across the depot, ma’am.”


    “When’s the next train to San Francisco?” she asked the ticket clerk.

    “Monday,” he said poker-faced, without emotion or expression.

    A wave of disappointment and anxiety swept over her, and her misery returned with a vengeance. Her right ankle turned when she shifted her weight. She winced and clutched the counter for support. She breathed deeply as a wave of nausea seized her stomach.

    The color drained from her face, yet the clerk paid her no mind.

    “You want a ticket or not?” he asked sourly.

    “Uh... Chicago, then?”

    “One-thirty tomorrow,” the clerk said indifferently.

    Color returned to the woman’s face as a glimmer of hope rebounded.

    The clerk tilted his head back and looked at the woman along his narrow nose with an accusatory glance.

    “One-way or... Ahem, roundtrip?”

    “Oh... I haven’t decided yet. Meanwhile, could you recommend—”

    Planter House Hotel,” he said unsympathetically.

    “Thank you, sir. Kindly direct me to transportation if you please.”

    The clerk pointed to the depot’s front doors and turned away.


    The woman stood on the boardwalk in front of the depot, her satchels lay at her feet, and her purse dangled from her wrist. A warm east breeze drifted from the direction of the waterfront, factories, and downtown. When the woman inhaled the hodgepodge of odors through her nostrils, her mouth curled to a smile: the pungent aroma of cows was gone at last.

    Soon a horse-drawn buggy cab stopped. The driver, a lanky man with unkempt, loose-fitting clothes, tipped his hat. “Need a ride, ma’am?”

    Planter House Hotel.”

    The driver hopped down and put the woman’s satchels behind the passenger’s seat. He helped her into the buggy and climbed into the driver’s seat.

    “Have ya there inna jiff, ma’am.”

    The sun had set, and the city’s lamps added a warm glow to the busy streets where people hurried from shop to shop, a band performed in the square, and children played in the park. The sights and sounds rekindled memories from the woman’s childhood.

    The woman felt restored. This was the first time she could sit in nearly an hour, but the nagging ache in her ankle would not go away. The packet of “herbal powder” she kept in her purse was for such an occasion. She quickly ingested it. The powder tingled her tongue and throat, and soon its alkaloids coursed through her bloodstream.

    “First time to St. Louie, ma’am?” the driver said.

    “Uh... Yes... ”

    The buggy rumbled along the busy street, stopping at intersections for cross traffic. While she rode along, the clip-clop of the horse’s hooves and the herbal potion had a soothing effect on her. Soon she drifted in and out of awareness.

    “Visiting someone or traveling through?” the driver asked.


    “Visiting or just traveling through?”

    “Always ‘ntergate... Interrogate passengers... Yer... Your passengers?” she said, her lips feeling the numbing effects of the powder.

    “Sorry, ma’am. Just makin’ conversation.”

    “Train... Tomorrow.”

    “Didn’t mean ta pry, ma’am.”

    The woman did not respond. The alkaloids had so numbed her senses she slipped into a stupor. She did not notice when the streets became shabbier and darker. She did not stir when the stench of the seedier side of St. Louis seized her throat. She did not respond when the buggy cab left the main street and rolled into a dark alley.

    The driver yanked on the reins, and the horse stopped. He turned to the woman and yelled, “End of the line, lady. Gimme yer purse.”

    “Where’s the Planter?” the woman asked, startled and unable to think clearly.

    “And yer rings, necklace, any jewelry yer wearin’.”

    “I don’t understand.”

    “Ain’t got all night, lady,” the driver said, brandishing a knife. “Hand ‘em over.”


    “Ah... Go back ta China; where’s ya belong!”

    “I’m Japanese, not Chinese!”

    “Ya all look alike ta me, lady,” the driver said as he grabbed her arm and pulled her from the buggy. “And my old lady needs a new hat,” he said with a chuckle.

    When he yanked the hat off her head, the bun unfurled, and her long black hair fell to her back and shoulders.

    “Stop,” she yelled as the driver climbed aboard the buggy and rode into the darkness.

    The woman glanced around, still groggy from the potion. The alley was littered with debris and stinking garbage. She turned and ran to the street, looking for help. Cold fear swept over her as she stood on the street corner and took stock of her predicament: no luggage, no valuables, no money, just the clothes on her back.

    A man approached her out of the shadows. “Lost, girly?” he said with a sinister grin. “I kin help.”

    The woman turned to flee, but the man grabbed a handful of her hair and tugged. She fell backward.

    “Let go,” the woman screamed, standing and kicking at the man and punching with both fists.

    “Feisty... Just the way I like ‘em,” the man said, lunging at her and dragging her into the shadows.

    End Prologue

  2. #2
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
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    Jun 2018
    Ann Arbor, MI, USA

    Monday, August 22, 1892

    TG Lambert and Sheriff William Duggan had become fast friends in the fall of ‘83 when a gang of four robbed the Silver Rock City Bank and Trust, and Lambert tracked them and brought them back, single-handled. After that, Duggan called upon Lambert from time to time to find fugitives and bring them to justice. Before long, he had found a full-time profession: bounty hunter. Anyone with a price on their head, dead or alive, did not matter one way or the other to Lambert as long as there was a bounty.

    The telegram Lambert received from Duggan was “URGENT.” Sheriff Duggan rarely sent telegrams, and he could not remember any as ominous sounding as this one, so he dropped everything and caught the first northbound train out of Fort Worth, Texas, to Vinita, Oklahoma Territory.

    The sun was low in the western sky when the steam locomotive slowed and abruptly stopped alongside Vinita’s depot. The cars jostled each other until they came to rest, jerking the occupants forward and backward a few times.

    “Vinita, Oklahoma, folks,” the conductor said when he entered the passenger car. “Thirty-minute stop. Refreshments available in the depot and rest facilities on its north side.”

    Several passengers stood and collected their belongings.

    “Come back aboard when you hear two long blasts of the engine’s whistle,” the conductor said as he exited to enter the next passenger car.

    Lambert preferred the feel of a leather saddle and a good horse under him, but he could not make the trip on horseback as quickly as by rail. When he first saw the size of the passenger seats, regret was his first reaction; nevertheless, he managed to wedge himself into the cramped accommodations. After ten hours on the train, though, every joint in his body begged for mercy. He had not slept in more than a day and had eaten the last bite of beef jerky hours ago. The salt-laden meat had his throat as dry as the desert, and with only warm water to quench his thirst, he needed a real drink—the sudsier, the better.

    While the passengers made their way to the exits, Lambert unwound himself from his confined seat and stretched his six-foot frame. He grabbed his satchel. When he set foot on the platform, the aroma of cows hung so heavy in the calm air that the taste lingered on his tongue. To the west and north of the depot, stockyards were overflowing with cattle awaiting transportation northward to the packinghouses in Kansas City. Their grunts, snorts, and bellows added to the din of cowboys, the locomotive, depot workers, and passengers.

    Nearby, eager young men waited with buggies, hawking rides into town. Lambert approached three, none out of their teens, and asked if anyone knew where he could get a horse for hire. Without hesitation, the lankiest one of the bunch spoke up.

    “At the livery, mister. We’s got horses fer hire. Good stock and reasonable prices, too.”

    “Then you can ride me to the hotel, boy.”

    “Not fair,” a pudgy, pimple-faced kid said. He blocked Lambert’s way. “I was here first.”

    “Me, too,” the other one said, joining the pimple-faced kid.

    “Maybe, you were, but he’s got the goods; you ain’t,” Lambert said, staring the two square in their eyes. “So step aside, gents.”

    The two young men glanced at each other and then at Lambert’s pearl-handled sidearms. Without hesitation, they turned away, and the lanky young man stepped between them.

    “Are ya an Injun, mister? Ya kinda look like one, and then again, ya don’t dress like any I seen. Maybe, yer a half—”

    “Full-blood Navajo,” Lambert said sternly, cutting him off before the boy could call him a half-breed.

    Lambert had lived with a foot in both worlds: the Navajo and the white man. He was unaccepted by either because his features were more white man than Navajo. And the mention of half-breed was a guaranteed fistfight or gunfight.

    “Uh... I’ll just take yer bag, mister, whiles ya hop aboard.”

    Lambert handed him his satchel and followed him to the buggy.

    “Which hotel, mister?” the young man asked, climbing to the buggy’s seat.

    “Didn’t know there was more than one,” Lambert said as he took the passenger seat. “What’s the difference?”

    The boy giggled.

    “Well, ya see, mister. We’s got us a regular hotel with a dinin’ hall and bar, and we’s got us a special hotel where’s the painted ladies are. Mostly trailhands go there and spend an hour or so, but ya don’t strike me like the kind that’d—”

    Lambert chuckled to himself as memories flooded his mind. For his twelfth birthday, the braves in his village thought it would be a rite of passage into manhood to visit a special hotel. While he relived that encounter, he smiled—it was not all that great, as he remembered. Then his thoughts turned to Dibe, a young woman from his tribe... For a few moments, his weariness faded as the fond memories of her gushed from his sub-conscience.

    “The regular hotel, boy.”

    “Yessiree, mister,” the young man said. He slapped the horse’s rump with the reins and yelled, “Giddy-up.”

    The ride to the hotel did not take more than ten minutes, but Lambert’s driver gave him the lowdown on the town in that short time. Besides the hotels, Vinita had two saloons, a mercantile where townsfolks could buy just about anything they wanted, a newspaper office—The Vinita Leader—and a church. A feed and tack shop and a wheelwright were near the livery, as were few other storefronts that “didn’t amount ta much.” The lone barbershop was at the south end of Main Street, close to the largest stockyards, where trailhands could get a haircut, a shave, and a bath for half a dollar, which was “highway robbery fer the times.”

    “Well...,” the young man said as he yanked on the reins, and the horse stopped at the steps to the hotel. “That’s ‘bout all thar is ta our town, mister.”

    “Much obliged, boy.” Lambert tossed him a coin, got down, and grabbed his bag.

    “Two bits! Jeez, mister. The ride ‘tweren’t more than a dime.”


    “I don’t get yer drift, mister. But thanks, anyhows.” He slapped his horse’s rump with the reins, and it trotted off. “If ya ever need another ride, just stop by the...” His voice faded away.

    Lambert climbed the steps and hesitated. When asking for a room, the reaction could go well but often went the other way. After countless hotels, butterflies still stirred in the pit of his stomach, but there was no way he was sleeping in the livery barn tonight. He entered the Morganza Hotel, sauntered to the registration counter, and tapped the bell.

    “I’m coming,” the hotel clerk said from the backroom. He closed the door and stopped dead in his tracks, sizing up Lambert from head to toe.

    “Ahem... May I help you?” the clerk asked, glancing around the lobby.

    “A room,” Lambert said.

    The clerk’s brow furrowed, and his eyes squinted.

    “Uh... Sorry, mister,” the clerk said with a nervous grin. “We’re all full up.”

    The clerk’s short, bulbous frame quivered as he ran his fingers through the meager hair on his head. Beads of perspiration formed on his temples and upper lip.

    Lambert sighed. He had hoped he would not have any trouble getting a room, but the clerk’s lie was typical; he had experienced it more often than not. He glanced over the clerk’s shoulder, where several keys hung on the wall-mounted key holder and locked eyes with the clerk.

    “I’ll take one of those,” Lambert said, pointing at the keys.

    The clerk teetered and grabbed the counter for support as the color drained from his cheeks. He wiped the sweat off his brow and licked his upper lip.

    “They—They’re all spoken for, mister,” the clerk said with a nervous stutter. “So—So, as you can see, we’re all full up.”

    Lambert’s anger flared. He grabbed the clerk’s lapels and yanked him against the counter.

    “If you’re holding out on me, mister, it’d be your last,” Lambert said through a tight jaw.

    “Help,” yelled the clerk. “Somebody fetch the sheriff.”

    Lambert let loose of the clerk’s lapels, drew his weapon, and stuck the end of its barrel under the clerk’s nose.

    “When the sheriff arrives, we’ll see if you have any vacancies or not. Until then, stand on your toes.”

    “I can’t, mister. Got back pain... Hurts me somethin’ fierce.”

    Lambert applied pressure to the clerk’s nose with the gun’s barrel. The clerk’s face winced as he raised himself on his toes.

    “Drop it, mister,” the sheriff said. “I got ya covered.”

    Lambert holstered his gun and slowly turned to face the sheriff. The clerk’s heels landed on solid ground, and he turned and scurried into the backroom.

    “Who are ya, mister?”

    “I go by Lambert. TG Lambert.”

    “Funny name fer an Injun.”

    “Ezra ain’t the manliness name I’ve ever heard of either.”

    “How’d ya know my name?”

    “Maybe this’ll clear things up, sheriff.” Lambert handed the telegram to the sheriff. He took it and read it.


    “I’ll be damned... How is ole Bill Duggan?”

    “Still kicking.”

    “Married yet?”

    “No... Still holding his own.”

    “What’s this Prescott problem all about?”

    “This is all I know,” Lambert said, taking the telegram and putting it in his coat pocket.”

    “Lambert... Not yer typical Injun name; how’d ya pick that one?”

    Lambert’s thoughts drifted back to when he was beaten and left for dead, but Brother Lambert from the Sacred Heart Abby found him all bloodied and nursed him back to health. The braves of the village found out about him and Dibe. They did not want a half-breed violating their maidens, but that horse was already out of the corral. No matter what he or his parents said, the villagers were never convinced that he was a full-blood Navajo.

    “A monk who befriended me when no one else did.”

    “And what’s the TG stand fer?”

    “It’s my Navajo name. Most can’t pronounce it right, so let’s say it stands for ‘two guns’ and leave it at that.”

    “Oh...” Sheriff Clark said, glancing at Lambert’s sidearms. “So’s long as ya control ‘em, ya won’t push my beholdin’ to Bill too far.”

    “Agreed,” Lambert said, nodding.

    Sheriff Clark glanced around the hotel lobby. “What was all this ruckus about?”

    “Seems they don’t have any rooms for the likes of me, sheriff,” Lambert said with a grin and cocking his head toward the keys hanging on the hooks.

    Sheriff Clark glanced at them.

    “Clifford,” Sheriff Clark yelled.

    When he didn’t get an answer, he pounded the counter bell and bellowed.

    “Get yer sorry backside out here, Clifford, befer I come a-lookin’ fer ya.”

    Clifford, the clerk, peeked through the partly opened backroom door.

    “You want me, sheriff?” Clifford asked sheepishly.

    “Get yer... Clifford, ya try my patience sometimes.”

    Clifford hurriedly stood behind the registration counter, glancing at Lambert and then at the sheriff.

    “Ya tell this fella ya ain’t got no rooms?” Sheriff Clark asked.

    “I sure did, sheriff, and we don’t have any for him.”

    “What ya mean... For him?”

    “It’s as plain as the nose on your face, sheriff,” Clifford said, pointing at Lambert. “Him bein’ a half-breed and all.”

    At the sound of half-breed, Lambert’s anger flared again. He put his hand on his sidearm and stepped toward Clifford, but Sheriff Clark blocked his way.

    “Ya blind or plain stupid, Clifford? Some have gotten killed fer less, especially if the man yer insultin’ is packing.”

    “Only following house rules, sheriff.” Clifford leaned close to the sheriff. “And—And I need this work, Ezra.”

    “Prescott’ll make an exception this time.”

    “I don’t know, Ezra...” Clifford said, shaking his head.

    “Prescott’ll be more put out if ya don’t give him a room.”

    “All right, sheriff, but this is on you.”

    “For Heaven’s sake, Clifford, have a backbone.”

    “Ain’t got one, sheriff... Prescott took it when I mortgaged my farm to him.”

    End Chapter One
    Last edited by DRayVan; 02-06-2023 at 07:56 AM.

  3. #3
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
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    Jun 2018
    Ann Arbor, MI, USA

    Tuesday, August 23

    Two Prescott Cattleman Banks prominently occupied Vinita’s heart at Main and First’s cross streets. One was a typical bank where one could deposit or withdraw funds. The other was a complex, where Mr. Prescott had his office and loans and mortgages were processed.

    It was gaudy by any standard—a huge glass storefront with gilded scrollwork above and flanking the pillared sides. The hunter-green trim and sage-green building didn’t have a mark or chip; it looked freshly painted. The calligraphy lettering on the windows was 24-caret gold, and Prescott's larger-than-life bronze relief sculpture was affixed above the doors. Shiny brass lanterns hung from matching holders, and centrally placed double doors with brass trim and kick plates opened into the main office. Workmen were busily polishing the metal surfaces to mirror perfection.

    Lambert went inside.

    The huge room was deeper than it was wide, and off to the left, a herd of clerks at tall desks and stools pondered over ledgers. On the right side of the room, several half-wall stalls topped with wood-framed window glass had senior clerks meeting with customers. Farther back, a large reception area had a few chairs, a desk, and a secretary.

    A nervous, lanky, wrinkled-faced clerk met Lambert at the door. His pin-striped gray coat and overly-starched shirt hung loosely on his frame while his baggy pants floated freely on his waist, supported by suspenders. His shoes, nearly hidden by the scrunched end of his pantlegs, were dust-covered and scuffed.

    “Ahem,” the clerk said, retracting the corner of his mouth and sucking air through his teeth. “Welcome to the Prescott Cattleman Bank. May I help... Uh... You, sir?”

    “Mr. Prescott,” Lambert said, looking around and spying the reception area in the back of the room.

    “Have an appointment?” the clerk asked, giving Lambert a quick glance from toe to head.

    “I’ll work that out with his secretary,” Lambert said and started for the back.

    The clerk blocked his way. “But sir, I can’t let you—”

    Lambert pulled his coat aside enough to reveal his sidearm. He was in no mood for anyone standing in his way.

    “I guess you didn’t hear me, pardner. Mr. Prescott’s office—direct me there, or I find it myself.”

    The man’s eyes flitted between the weapon and Lambert’s unflinching gaze. He gulped and stepped backward.

    “No—No, sir. I—I mean, yes, sir. No need to... Uh... Just—Just follow me this way.”

    The clerk turned toward the back area at a brisk shuffle, glancing over his shoulder to see that Lambert was still behind him.

    Lambert trailed while the nervous clerk made a beeline for the reception area. A thigh-high railing corralled it off from the main room. He held the railing gate for Lambert, nodded when Lambert stepped through, and then hot-footed it to a nearby stall where he watched through its glass partition. His eyes widened cow-like, and his upper lip curled into a sneering grin as Lambert approached the desk and the woman sitting there.

    The woman’s eyes fluttered as she slowly looked Lambert over. His seven-inch crown and flat-brimmed hat made his six-foot, muscular frame stand taller than he was. His shoulder-length hair was coal black, and his eyes were dark brown. His complexion was a lighter olive than most Navajo. He wore a thigh-length, black town coat, matching trousers, a white shirt, and a black string tie. Two pearl-handled Colt Peacemakers cradled in tooled holsters rested on his hips.

    She sighed.

    Her pursed lips, crinkled nose, and squinted hazel-colored eyes contrasted her otherwise schoolmarm appearance. She was a tall, shapely woman in her late thirties, with dark-brown curly hair rolled high on her head. Her long-sleeved, high-necked blue dress was modest yet elegant. She wore a touch of rouge on her high cheeks. Her eyelids had a hint of coloring, and her lips had a wisp of carmine. According to her shiny brass nameplate, she was Miss Elizabeth Whitaker.

    Lambert removed his hat and put his plain card, the one without the crossed six-shooters in the center, on her desk and asked to see Mr. Prescott. Miss Whitaker picked up his card, glanced at it, and then let it casually slip through her fingers and tumble to her desk.

    “Mr. O’Bryan handles all our Indian affairs. Perhaps, you’d care to see him.”

    Lambert glanced around the room. Dark-stained oak wainscoting on the north and west walls matched the oak flooring. Above the oak, the ivory-white plastered wall extended upward to the pitched ceiling. Two large windows on the west wall bathed the room in natural lighting. Double-hung, raised-panel doors in the middle of the north wall led to Mr. Prescott’s office. To the right of the door was a large brass plaque engraved with Mr. Reginald Prescott, President, in fancy lettering.

    His gaze settled on her.

    “No, ma’am. I’m here to see Mr. Reginald Prescott... Personally.”

    “Mr. Prescott doesn’t see anyone without an appointment,” she said with a furrowed brow. “Do you have one?”

    “You should know,” Lambert said with a steely glare. “You’re his secretary, aren’t you?”

    Miss Whitaker’s eyebrows raised but let that question pass.

    “Mr. Prescott is a very busy man, and it is impossible to see him without an appointment.”

    Lambert looked away, glanced at the big clock on the wall, and returned his gaze to Miss Whitaker.

    “What do you want to see Mr. Prescott about, Mr...” Miss Whitaker picked up his card. “Uh... Mr. Lambert?”

    “It’s a personal matter.” Lambert slid his hat around his hand a couple of turns.

    “That so? Well... Uh... Does Mr. Prescott know you, Mr. Lambert?”

    “Possibly.” Lambert laid his hat on her desk. “My name may have come up in discussions with a mutual friend, Sheriff William Duggan.”

    Miss Whitaker glanced at his hat and frowned. She briskly tapped the edge of Lambert’s card on her desktop, stopped, and leaned back in her chair.

    “And does Mr. Prescott know him?”

    Lambert grinned at her.

    “If he doesn’t, I’ve wasted a trip. So how ‘bout you waltz your pretty little... Little... Face right in there and ask him?”

    Miss Whitaker sat straight in her chair and crossed her arms. “Well... I never,” she said. Blood rushed to her face, turning her cheeks and forehead a rosy red.

    “Never been told you’re pretty or been told to waltz?” Lambert said, smiling.

    “Mr. Lambert, you are by far the most impertinent person I’ve ever had the displeasure to meet.”

    “Just give Mr. Prescott my card, would you please, Miss Whitaker? I wouldn’t wanna be the one who interfered with his personal business, would you?”

    Lambert picked up his hat, chose a hard-backed chair near a window, and lit a cigarillo. He took a long drag and blew a cloud of gray-white smoke toward the ceiling while glancing at the portraits of Mr. Prescott that flanked the door to his office.

    Halfway through his cigarillo, Miss Whitaker’s face regained its natural color. She stood, smoothed the wrinkles of her dress, went to Mr. Prescott’s door, and knocked.

    Prescott’s muffled voice asked, “Yes?”

    Miss Whitaker stepped inside and closed the door behind her. After a couple of minutes, she emerged, went straight to her desk, and sat.

    Lambert pitched his cigarillo in the spittoon and started toward Miss Whitaker’s desk.

    “Don’t bother, Mr. Lambert,” she said with a sneer. “Mr. Prescott says he never heard of you or your sheriff, so it’ll be impossible for you to see him today or any other day.”

    Lambert slid his hat around his hand a couple of turns. He nodded, went back to the chair, and lit another cigarillo.

    “Didn’t you hear me, Mr. Lambert?”

    Lambert blew a cloud of smoke toward the ceiling, waited a few moments, and said, “I heard you all right, miss, but I’ll wait all the same.”

    “Suit yourself, Mr. Lambert.” Miss Whitaker smiled, turned to the Caligraph on a nearby stand, and started typing a letter. The click-clack sound of the keys hitting the paper filled in the area.

    Lambert took another drag and tapped the ash in a nearby spittoon.

    An hour and three cigarillos later, the double doors of Mr. Prescott’s office opened, and his six-foot-two-inch, paunchy body, stood between the doorframes, looking at Lambert. His steel-gray eyes were as sharp as his gray, pin-striped suit was tailored. An empty room would’ve felt his presence. He stepped into the area, hands on his hips, glaring at Lambert.

    “Miss Whitaker says you want to see me on a personal matter. That so?”

    Lambert chucked his cigarillo and stood. “If you’re Prescott, Mr. Reginald Prescott, I do.”

    “My name’s on the door; who the hell else would I be?” Prescott said in a voice that boomed from one end of the office complex to the other.

    Ledger clerks stopped working and looked toward Prescott’s voice. Senior clerks’ heads popped above their partitions at the commotion. Customers turned and stared. And Miss Whitaker snickered.

    Lambert picked up his hat from an adjacent chair and spun it once around his hand. “Have to be sure, mister. Caretakers do well for themselves these days.”

    Prescott curled his hands up into tight fists. “Well... Never have I—”

    “Now you have, Mr. Prescott.”

    Prescott noticed that everyone was looking his way. “Nothing to see here,” he said in a calmer voice, waving his hand and smiling. “Back to work, back to work, everyone.” He forced a smile and continued. “Sorry for the interruption.”

    After the clerks returned to their tasks and the customers settled down, Prescott faced Lambert again. His steely scowl—effective on most—made no impression on Lambert; he simply smiled in return. That sent Prescott’s fury through the roof: his face was flushed, and the veins in his neck throbbed.

    “Who’s this Sheriff Duncan anyway? Never heard of him,” he said through a clenched jaw.

    “A mutual friend, and it’s not Duncan. It’s Duggan, William Duggan.”

    “Oh... William Dugg—”

    Prescott swallowed and cleared his throat.

    “Bill Duggan, is it?”

    He glanced at Miss Whitaker as the corner of his mouth curled into a sheepish grin. Then he fixed his gaze on Lambert as his steely scowl returned.

    “All right, Mr. Lambert, I’ll give you ten minutes.” He looked at the wall clock. “Make that five, and make it quick.”

    Lambert followed Prescott into his private office and closed the doors.

    End Chapter Two
    Last edited by DRayVan; 02-08-2023 at 08:19 AM.

  4. #4
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
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    Ann Arbor, MI, USA

    Prescott’s private office personified the man. It was as wide as lengthy and could corral a sizeable herd of cows. The walls were paneled in stained oak to match the flooring. His massive desk was solid oak with hand-carved scrollwork. On the wall behind his plush leather chair, a larger-than-life portrait of himself hung, dressed in a military—neither Union nor Confederate—uniform, decked out with ribbons and metals, and atop a great white horse. The portrait had an Italian sterling silver repoussé frame, Rococo style, with swirling swags and leaves.

    Lambert stopped for a moment when he saw the unmistakable Navajo-designed rugs that covered much of the dark-stained flooring. He smiled and continued into the room.

    Prescott plopped in his high-back chair, tented his fingers, and looked at Lambert with a penetrating stare in his unyielding eyes.

    “Well,” he said with a tone that dripped with impatience. “I haven’t got all day, Mr. Lambert, and the clock’s ticking.”

    Lambert took a seat facing the desk and sat. But, unlike Prescott’s comfy chair, the ones facing the desk were hard and uncomfortable. When Lambert flipped his Stetson on the desk, Prescott’s eyebrows raised two inches.

    “So Duggan sent you. Got any proof?”

    Lambert took Sheriff Duggan’s telegram from his coat pocket and tossed it across the desk. While Prescott unfolded and read it, Lambert lit a cigarillo and leaned back.

    “All right, Mr. Lambert. If Bill sent you, I’d trust he knows his man.” Prescott leaned forward, pointing his finger at Lambert. “But let’s get one thing straight from the beginning: I don’t fool around and don’t have time for it.”

    “That’s two things, Mr. Prescott,” Lambert said, yawning.

    “What you say?”

    “You wanted me to get one thing straight, but you said two.”

    “Don’t get flippant with me, young man,” Prescott said, glaring at Lambert. “When I hire a man, he is my man. He does exactly what I tell him and keeps it under his hat. Do we understand each other?”

    “Just so you understand me, Mr. Prescott, my birth name is Tyee Gaagii. I’m a full-blood Navajo, but my features are more Bilagáana—white man to you—than Navajo, so I took the name TG Lambert as a young man. Growing up, I was shunned by both my people and yours. Everyone called me a half-breed.”

    “I don’t know what that has to do with me.”

    “I learned to fight, handle a gun, and use my native abilities to track people. And when I find them, I bring them back, riding or otherwise—it doesn’t matter to me one way or the other.”

    “Now wait one goldarn minute, Lambert,” Prescott said, sitting upright in his chair. “There’ll be no killing, no siree. I just want to—”

    “And one last thing, I’m no man’s man. So tell me who you want me to find and what the bounty is, and if I decide to look for him, I’ll find him. Elsewise, the next train to Fort Worth leaves at noon.”

    Lambert blew a cloud of gray smoke above the desk and waited. Prescott watched the last fingers of smoke waft into nothingness, and then he clasped his hands on the desk, staring at Lambert with a soulful and teary-eyed look.

    “I—I—” Prescott coughed and swallowed. “I want you to find my wife.”

    Lambert sat straight in his chair and reached for his hat.

    “Sorry, Mr. Prescott. I’m a bounty hunter by trade, and finding wayward wives is out of my line—too messy.”

    “Please, Mr. Lambert. Hear me out.”

    Lambert rested against his chair, took a shallow drag on his cigarillo, and let the smoke trickle from his nose.

    “All right, Mr. Prescott,” Lambert said reluctantly. “The train doesn’t leave for a couple of hours.”

    Prescott opened his desk drawer and took out a wrinkled, folded paper. He spread it on the desk and smoothed it the best he could.

    “Two weeks ago, I received this telegram,” he said, handing it to Lambert.

    Lambert opened and read:


    “Sayonara, Mika?”

    “Yes. Mika, my wife, is Japanese.”

    “Reads like she ran off with someone named David. Like I said, Mr. Prescott—” Lambert said, getting to his feet.

    “Wait,” Prescott said, extending his hand. “Please sit, Mr. Lambert.”

    Lambert thought for a moment and then returned to his chair.

    “Uh... David Thompson’s a gambler,” Prescott said, “and lady’s man from over Claremore way.”

    “This just isn’t my line of work, Mr. Prescott.”

    “What if I put a bounty of five thousand on her? Would you be interested then, Mr. Lambert?”

    Lambert’s eyebrows raised, and he looked at Prescott. “What’s your story?” he said, grinning and leaning back in his chair.

    “Mika is twenty years younger than I am, and she has insatiable appetites: clothes, jewelry, and... Well... Men. With my position in the bank, I kept her escapades as quiet as I could, but it all came to a head two months ago, and I put my foot down. A week later, she up and left. Said she was going to our place over by Wyandotte to think things through. That was the last I heard from her until the telegram.”

    “So what you want done, Mr. Prescott?”

    “Find her, of course. What else would I want?”

    “I’ve seen all kinds, mister. Some wish them found and brought back—kicking and screaming if necessary; others just need to know they’re safe but never see them again; a few would rather see them dead for running off. So I’ll ask you again. What you want done once I find her?”

    “I haven’t hired you yet, Mr. Lambert,” Prescott said, leaning back into the folds of his chair.

    “I’ve got time for a drink before the train leaves,” Lambert said, grabbing his hat and standing. “Good day, Mr. Prescott.”

    Before Lambert could turn to leave, Prescott sprang to his feet, extended his hand, and pleaded.

    “You go me all wrong, Mr. Lambert. Please. Sit. I need your help.” Prescott plopped in his chair and cradled his head in his hands. “I must find her. She can go if she wants to leave me, but I must know she’s all right. Safe. That’s all.”

    Lambert sat and put his hat on the desk. “Tracking a woman is difficult, nearly impossible. Nobody wants to help find her; they feel obliged to protect her, shield her, or even hide her. So it’ll take time and money.”

    “What we talking?”

    “Maybe a month or two and a thousand dollars on account.”

    “On account?”

    “On account of we don’t like each other—too much alike, I reckon. And the rest when I find her.”

    “I like a man who lays his cards on the table. Given time, a wart grows on you and don’t bother you unless you rub it the wrong way.”

    Lambert chuckled.

    “Here’s the twist. I occasioned the saloon a week ago, and there sat Thompson, pretty as you please, dealing cards. I confronted him, and he denied running off with Mika. Instead, he claimed he hadn’t seen her in three months or more. A cold chill came over me, and I thought the worst: either he did her in, or she lied and was in trouble of some kind. Either way, I gotta know.”

    “Don’t drive your herd into a box canyon just yet. Too many possibilities would explain this. For one, Thompson’s lying, and they split up after a while; that’s my bet. In that case, she’s all right and enjoying herself in New Orleans.”

    “You do give a man a spark of hope, Mr. Lambert. Will you find her for me?”

    “How far you want me to go? New Orleans or short of that?”

    “If she safely boarded the Mississippi Queen like she said, I’d be satisfied with that.”

    “Did she have much money with her?” Lambert asked.

    “A few hundred,” Prescott said.

    “Is Thompson still in town, or has he drifted on?”

    “Rooms at the Morganza and deals cards most nights in the saloon.”

    Lambert settled back in his chair and lit a cigarillo. After a few puffs, he asked, “You must stash some good whiskey away to seal a deal, I would imagine.”

    “You get right to the heart of the matter, don’t you, Mr. Lambert?”

    “Saves time... About that whiskey.”

    Prescott went to his liquor cabinet.

    “You puzzle me, Mr. Lambert.”

    “How’s that?”

    “I’ve come across many Indians in my time, and not one of them could speak our language as well as you can.”

    “Sacred Heart Abby, Pottawatomie reserve.”

    “I’ve heard of it. Taught by monks, then? But, you a Navajo? How?”

    Lambert ignored his questions.

    “And a bottle for the road if you have extra.”

    Prescott hesitated but got an unopened bottle and held it for Lambert to see.

    Lambert nodded. “Well, Mr. Prescott. Looks like we got us a deal.”

    End of Chapter Three
    Last edited by DRayVan; 02-10-2023 at 07:59 AM.

  5. #5
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
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    Wednesday, August 24

    When the train stopped at Wyandotte, Lambert was the only passenger to get off, and none got on. The sun was high in the cloudless sky while he walked the short distance into town. The street was deserted, except for a lone horse hitched in front of the Wyandotte House, a combination trading post, saloon, hotel, and eatery. He stepped inside and slowly scanned from left to right.

    The bar was at the back wall, with two round tables in the middle of the room. Above a counter on the right, a menu showed a short list of meal choices, and two men sat at a long table and chairs, eating. The trading post’s goods took up more than half of the building on the left, where just about one of everything you would ever need was either hung on racks, folded on tables, or stacked on shelves.

    The barkeep, a lanky, older, balding man with an oversized mustache, looked up when the door opened. His long-sleeve, collarless, striped shirt—pulled tight at his wrists and buttoned to his chin—was a size too big for him. He was wiping the bar clean of spilled beer.

    “What’ll ya have, stranger?”

    “A cool beer and some information,” Lambert said, approaching the bar.

    “Beer’s warm but good tastin’. It’ll wash the dust off yer tongue, all the same.”

    “And information?” Lambert asked, leaning on the bar.

    “Depends, mister.”

    “On what?”

    “Folks ‘round here don’t cotton ta strangers askin’ about their business,” the barkeep said, drawing a tall—mostly head—warm beer and setting it on the bar.

    “This town got a sheriff?” Lambert said, watching the foam dissipate into liquid.

    “Yer lookin’ at ‘im.”

    “Not what I expected,” Lambert said, sizing the barkeep up and smiling.

    “Looky here, son. We got a quiet town. Not much call for the law ‘round these parts and can’t afford much of one, neither, so I’m the sheriff, the mayor, and part owner of this here establishment. And befer ya look down on us ‘cross that half-breed nose of yers, drink up, and catch the two o’clock southbound.”

    Lambert stiffened when he heard “half-breed” but managed to suppress his anger after a few moments. He took a sip of the beer and wiped the foam off his upper lip.

    “Warm but mighty good, like you said.”

    The sheriff cocked his head, squinted, and eyed Ramsay. “Ya didn’t come ta our fine community ta sample our beer, son, so spill it befer I get riled.”

    “Don’t get a bee in your bonnet, sheriff. I just want to know the whereabouts of the Prescott ranch.”

    The sheriff picked up a glass and wiped it clean with a towel. Then he gave Lambert a slow glance over again. He leaned on the bar and asked, “Who ya be, anyhows?”

    “An agent for Mr. Reginald Prescott.”

    “So ya seys,” the sheriff said, stepping back from the bar. “Got any proof?”

    Lambert handed Prescott’s letter of introduction to the sheriff. He took it, read it word for word, and handed it back.

    “Seys yer TG Lambert. Funny name fer a half—”

    Once was forgivable, but twice was too much for him. At lightning speed, Lambert pulled his Colt .45, poked the sheriff’s upper lip with the barrel, and cocked the hammer back.

    “I’m full-blood Navajo, and don’t you forget it,” Lambert said through clenched teeth.

    The sheriff didn’t flinch. Instead, he slowly pushed the barrel of Lambert’s gun aside with his index finger and looked Lambert eye to eye.

    “I won’t ferget, son,” the sheriff said, lifting a sawed-off shotgun off its under-the-bar cradle with his other hand and laying it on the bar. It pointed squarely at Lambert’s belly with his finger wrapped around its trigger.

    Lambert eased off the hammer and holstered his Colt. Then he stepped back and said, “I like a man who doesn’t fold in death’s face. So what do you hail by, sheriff?”

    “Amos Anderson,” the sheriff said, edging his finger off the trigger. “My friends call me Andy—never cared much fer Amos—but call me Sheriff Anderson or just plain sheriff if ya please.” He put the shotgun back in its cradle under the bar.

    Lambert extended his hand. “Hope to earn the right to call you Andy someday, sheriff.”

    They shook hands.

    “So what’s that there letter ‘bout? I ain’t seen Mr. Prescott ‘round the parts near on—” the sheriff closed one eye and scratched his head. “Near as I can recollect, it’d hav’ta be three years or more. But Mrs. Prescott stops by quite often, though.”

    “When was the last time?”

    “Oh,” the sheriff said, rubbing his chin.

    A customer stepped to the bar. “How’s ‘bout another beer, Andy.”

    Sheriff Anderson nodded and drew a mug full of mostly suds.

    “Much obliged,” the customer said, returning to his table.

    “Now, where was I? Oh, yeah. Mrs. Prescott. Well... Must’ve been ‘bout six weeks ago when she got off the train. Jeb give her a ride to the farm.”


    “Jeb White, he’s my livery handyman.”

    Lambert took a gulp of the warm beer. “Jeb stay with her?” He wiped his upper lip.

    “Hell no, mister,” the sheriff said, wagging his head. “He took him a horse to ride home by.”

    “She stayed alone, then?”

    “Mrs. Prescott? Not likely. That there China woman—”

    “Japanese,” Lambert said.

    “Say, what?”

    “Mrs. Prescott is Japanese. She’s from Japan.”

    “Japanese, huh? They all look the same to me... Anyhows... Where was I?”

    “Her staying alone,” Lambert said.

    “Right... She couldn’t no more last the night without help than a newborn—can’t do nuthin’ by herself.”

    “Who helped her, then?”

    “Henry Bronston and his wife, Mary, live on the farm and keep it up. They take on extra hands at planting and harvest time; otherwise, it’s just them two.”

    “Where can I find the Prescott farm?”

    “Ole Jeb’d be glad ta take ya out there fer two bits,” the sheriff said, gesturing toward the door. “My livery’s just across the street. Ya’ll find him there—most likely sleepin’.”

    “Much obliged, sheriff... Can I get a mount there?”

    “Dollar a day, five-day minimum... In advance.”

    “If you throw in a saddle...”

    The sheriff laughed and extended his hand. They shook, and Lambert paid the sheriff five dollars, finished his beer, and left.

    End Chapter Four

  6. #6
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
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    Ann Arbor, MI, USA

    The livery was quiet, with not a person in sight. The blacksmith’s forge was cold, the stalls were empty, and a lone cat met Lambert when he entered its wide-open doors. He walked to the back of the barn and found a bushy-haired young man, barely old enough to shave, sleeping in a stall on the hay.

    Lambert cleared his throat, but the young man snorted and rolled over. He grabbed a nearby muck rake and tapped the young man on his shoe. He stirred and sat up, rubbing his eyes.

    “Uh... What ya want, mister?” he said, yawning.

    “You Jeb?”

    “That’d be me, mister. In the flesh.”

    “Sheriff Andy rented me a horse, but it doesn’t look like you got any.”

    “Sure do, mister,” Jeb said, staggering to his feet. “They’s out back, exercisin’.”

    “And a saddle?”

    “In the tack room,” Jeb said, pointing to a side room. “Got a couple ta choose from.”

    “And he said you were for hire...”

    “What fer?”

    “To guide me to the Prescott farm.”

    “Sure, mister,” Jeb said, rubbing his hands together. “Be glad to... Uh... How’s two-bits sound?”

    “About right. Deal?”

    “Yessiree, mister,” Jeb said, smiling. “Deal.”

    “What you got for saddles?”

    Jeb and Lambert stepped into the tack room, and Jeb started to point out the pros and cons of each of the three saddles.

    “We got us here a short-necked, large-horned stock saddle with wide, double—”

    “Show me the best one, Jeb.”

    “I reckon this here one is yer best bet. It be a slick-forked, high-beveled-cantle—”

    “I’ll take it; now, the riding stock.”

    Jeb led Lambert to the corral behind the barn, where four horses stood in the shade of a tree. They leaned on the railing, and the horses walked toward them. Jeb took carrot stubs from his pocket and offered them on his palm. Each horse—in turn by age, oldest to the youngest—took a stub and walked away.

    “They always do that?”

    “Do what?”

    “Line up by pecking order?”

    “Yeah. That old gray first, then all the ways to the youngest. Elsewise, the old gray bites their ears ta show ‘em who’s boss. What kinda ridin’ ya fixin’ ta do, mister?”

    “Long and hard.”

    Jeb pointed to each horse, one by one.

    “That there gray swayback wouldn’t last a day—ready for the Big Corral in the sky. That stallion’s too ornery; he’d fight ya all the livelong day. That mustang is a gelding, strong, even-tempered but a little long in the tooth—might not hold up. Yer best bet is that there quarter horse. She’s only three and smart, too. She’ll carry ya anywheres ya wanna go, mister. I’d pick her.”

    “Know your horses, Jeb... When can you take me to the Prescott farm?”


    “Saddle her up.”


    Lambert and Jeb strolled out of the barn, leading their horses, and met two cowpokes, one standing alongside his mount, the other atop his.

    “Shod my horse, will ya?” the standing cowpoke said.

    “Gotta take this here, fella outta town,” Jeb said.

    “Ain’t no half-breed more important than my horse.”

    In one swift action, Lambert drew his gun and whacked the cowpoke broadside his head, knocking him to the ground. Then Lambert aimed at the mounted cowpoke when he reached for his weapon.

    “Don’t do it, mister,” Lambert said through a clenched jaw.

    “Easy with that hog pistol, mister. Jamie didn’t mean no disrespect.”

    “That’s not how I heard it,” Lambert said.

    The downed cowpoke, Jamie, raised up on his hands and knees. “Ya dirty, thievin’ red-skin. Why don’t ya go back ta the reservation where’s ya belong?”

    “Shut up, ya fool,” the mounted cowpoke said. “Don’t ya know one foot’s in the grave and how close yer other foot is too. Mount up, so we’s can get outta here.”

    Jamie put his hat on and stood. He felt the sticky blood on his left temple and cheek. “Ya’ll pay fer this, mister.”

    “Drop it, Jamie,” the mounted cowpoke said. “Let’s ride.”

    Jamie mounted, and the two cowpokes rode out of town.


    Lambert and Jeb were about a mile from the Prescott farm when the wind shifted, and the odor of decaying flesh wafted in the air.

    “What the hell...” Jeb said, holding his nose.

    “Probably a kill of some kind left to the weather.”

    “Stinks terrible.”

    “Usually does.”

    “Should we?” Jeb asked, turning his mount into the wind.

    “No time,” Lambert said. “Mrs. Prescott’s missing. That’s our focus, Jeb.”

    “Ain’t ya curious?”

    “I’ve seen enough of death to last a lifetime...”

    Jeb frowned. He turned his mount toward the farm again, and Lambert followed.


    When Lambert and Jeb rounded the bend in the road, and the farm was no more than a hundred yards ahead, Henry Bronston stepped from behind a massive oak and pointed his rifle at Lambert.

    “Hold it right there, stranger.”

    The two horsemen pulled up the reins, and their horses stopped dead.

    Henry had a harsh face, deep-tanned, unshaven, and leathery. He was stalky, short, and walked with a slight limp. His beard was white, and his tattered hat sat atop a tangled mess of graying hair. He wore faded blue-denim-trouser overalls and a plaid shirt opened at the neck.

    He spat a wad of tobacco-tinged saliva on the ground. His deep voice was slow but deliberate.

    “Jeb, I know. But you, I don’t, mister.”

    Jeb leaned forward in his saddle. “He’s Mr. Pres—”

    “No offense, Jeb, but let him tell it,” Henry said.

    Lambert reached for the letter in his breast pocket.

    “Easy there, stranger. This here rifle’s got a hair trigger.”

    “Point that rifle somewhere else, Mr. Bronston, or you’ll not see the setting sun tonight.”

    “Tall talk for someone staring down a loaded barrel.”

    “Please, Henry,” Jeb said, fidgeting in his saddle. “He don’t want no trouble.”

    Henry glanced at Jeb, which was the edge Lambert was looking for. Then, in one swift action, he dove off his saddle, rolled on the ground, and crouched, aiming his Colt square at Henry.

    “Drop it, or I’ll drop you, Mr. Bronston.”

    Henry spun around toward Lambert.

    “Don’t do it, Henry,” Jeb said.

    “Jeb’s talking sense, Mr. Bronston. Lower your rifle, and we’ll talk this through.”

    Henry lowered his gun and let it hang over his arm, pointing at the ground.

    “What you want here, mister?”

    Lambert holstered his gun and handed Prescott’s letter to Henry. Henry put on his glasses and read it.

    “So you’re TG Lambert. Funny name for a—”

    “Don’t say it, Henry,” Jeb said.

    Henry spat on the ground. “Prescott says we’re to extend all courtesies and answer all questions pertaining to Mrs. Prescott,” Henry said, handing the letter back. “That don’t include a welcome wagon to anyone sneakin’ up on us.”

    “We wasn’t sneakin’, Henry,” Jeb said. “We was ridin’ down the middle—”

    “And you’ll honor Prescott’s requests, I expect,” Lambert said.

    “Well, it seems we started off on the wrong footin’, Mr. Lambert. But so ya know wheres we stand, Mary and me have private lives, and we aims ta keep it thatta way. So ask yer questions ‘bout Mrs. Prescott, and leave us out.”

    “Fair enough, Mr. Bronston.”

    “Henry... Can’t we get out of this heat? I’m near butt-glued ta my saddle and could use a drink.”

    Henry stood firm for a few moments, spat an over-chewed plug of tobacco on the ground, and turned toward the farm.

    “I can find my way from here, Jeb.”

    “But Mr. Lambert, I should—”

    “Here’s a dollar for your trouble,” Lambert said, flipping a coin toward Jeb.

    “Thank ya, kindly, Mr. Lambert,” Jeb said, catching the shiny coin mid-air and turning his horse toward town.

    “Thought ya was thirsty, Jeb,” Henry said.

    “Not no more,” Jeb said, digging his heels in his horse’s flanks. It took off in a gallop.

    “Youngins,” Henry said, shaking his head. “Come this way, Mr. Lambert.”

    End Chapter Five

  7. #7
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
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    Ann Arbor, MI, USA

    Henry moseyed down the road toward the barn, and Lambert followed close behind. When they reached the barn, Lambert dismounted and led his horse to a nearby water trough. He hitched the reins to a post and took the bottle of whiskey from his saddlebag. Lambert held it up so Henry could see the amber liquid glisten in the sun. Henry’s eyes opened wide when he saw the sparkling fluid.

    “You a drinking man, Mr. Bronston?” Lambert asked with a sly grin.

    Henry licked his lips and looked toward the farmhouse and back at the bottle. He leaned his rifle against the barn and wiped his hands on his overalls. He ran his tongue across his lips again and smiled from ear to ear.

    “Do a bear do his business in the woods?” he said with a cackling chuckle.

    “I reckon so, Mr. Bronston,” Lambert said, handing the bottle to him. “I reckon so.”

    “Then we best get in the barn, if you know what I mean, and call me Henry, Mr. Lambert.” He looked at the label and popped the cork. “Never heard of this kind.”

    “From Prescott’s private stock.”

    Henry took a long swig and sputtered. His face scrunched up, and his eyes teared.

    “Went-went down the wrong way...”

    He wiped his mouth and grinned.

    “But man... Oh, man, was that smooth or what?”

    He took another gulp.

    “Smooth as a baby’s hiney. I ain’t never tasted nuthin’ like— Ya want one?” Henry said, offering the bottle to Lambert.

    Lambert took a small sip and handed the bottle back.

    “Go ahead. Have another.”

    “Don’t mind if I do,” Henry said. “Mary don’t like me to take a whiskey, even now and then. She says it’s the devil’s drink. Well... The devil be damned is what I always say. She might even change her mind if she took a taste of this.”

    “Drink up while you can, Henry.”

    Henry brought the bottle to his lips and hesitated. He glanced at a bale of hay next to a stall and shuffled toward it. He spun around and plopped down.

    “Reckon, I’d better sit before I fall down,” Henry said with a chuckle.

    Lambert sat on a bale nearby.

    “About Mrs. Prescott.”

    “Figured you’d be getting around to that once you got me primed with liquor. Don’t matter. I’d told you everything without the whiskey. Didn’t like her”. Henry swayed his head from side to side. “No siree, Bob. Not one bit. She treated us like servants—especially Mary like dirt—and it was all I could do to restrain myself at times.”

    “Maybe this time, she went too far, and you—”

    “Stop right there, mister,” Henry said, putting out his hand in protest. “I felt the urge to pick up a club and defend Mary when she mistreated her, but life’s precious to the Almighty, so I didn’t touch so much a hair on her head. Lord knows I wanted to often enough.”

    Henry took another swig.

    “Every man’s got his breaking point, Henry.”

    “Not me,” Henry said, trying to stand but giving up. “Not like that, I don’t. Anyhows, ya got no call ta accusin’ me of sumthin’ I didn’t do.”

    “Don’t get so riled up, Henry. I’m not laying any blame on you or on Mary; I’m just tryin’ to find out what happened, that’s all.”

    Henry cocked his head, scrunched his nose, and squinted his right eye. “God’s honest truth?”

    “Yep. She was seen in town, so the two of you were never under suspicion in my book.”

    “Thank ya, mister. Wanna slug?” Henry asked, holding the bottle toward Lambert.

    Lambert shook his head.

    “What about visitors?”

    Henry leaned back and looked upward. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

    “Visitors, you say?”

    “Yes, Henry. Did Mrs. Prescott receive any visitors while she was here? Gentlemen visitors, especially.”

    “Yeah.” Henry nodded. “A few, only men, though.” He shook his head. “But it’d be a stretch to call any of them gentlemen.”

    “What you mean?”

    “Most were younger, strapping, and... Well, the qualities you look for in a stud horse. And the whole bunch together couldn’t outsmart a rooster—the stupidest herd I’ve ever laid eyes on. Couldn’t find water if they was standing in it, and no manners whatsoever. Never did thank me or Mary for what we had ta put up with, clean up after.”

    Henry took another sip. “And she thought too highly of herself.”

    “What you mean?” Lambert said.

    “Help me up,” Henry said, holding a hand to Lambert.

    Lambert pulled Henry to his feet and steadied him as they walked to the back of the barn.

    “See that pond over there?”

    Lambert nodded.

    “Well, she’d wash herself in it... In her altogether, no less, and... And she didn’t have much,” Henry said, cupping his hands in front of himself. “If yer a-knowin’ what I mean. No shape to her at all, ‘tweren’t nuthin’ but skin and bones. I like ‘em with some meat and a womanly figure; sumthin’ ya can cozy up ta on cold nights. She couldn’t keep a bed warm in summer, but she was proud of what she had and didn’t seem ta care who seen her or who were watchin’ her.” Henry shook his head. “I do declare she could pass fer a young man with the right clothes and shorter hair.”

    “Who was her last visitor?”

    “Don’t know his full name. Heard her call him darlin’ Dan... Or sumthin’ like that... Maybe it was Dave... Yes, darlin’ Dave or David.”

    “When did he leave?”

    “Lemme think,” Henry said, rubbing his chin. “Musta been near onto a month ago... Could be longer.”

    “Maybe your wife could remember more.”

    Henry clutched the whiskey bottle to his chest and put his index finger to his lips.

    “Shhh... We don’t wanna do that. She’s... Uh... She’s a-sleepin’. That’s it; she’d be asleep fer sure.”

    “All right, Henry. I may be back, so save anything you remember till then.”

    “And the bottle, Mr. Lambert?”

    “Keep it, Henry. You earned it.”

    “You’re a mighty fine gentleman. Yessiree. Mighty fine.”

    Lambert mounted his horse.

    “Oh, one last thing, Henry. When did Mrs. Prescott leave?”

    “The day after, darling Dave.”

    Henry waddled to the side of the barn and pointed toward the master house.

    “She had me load all her belongings on the buggy—nearly bowed the axle ta the ground; ‘Twas like she ‘tweren’t never comin’ back.”

    Henry staggered in a circle, nearly losing his balance, but managed to wave his hand toward the road.

    “Then she rid off toward town without so much as a thankya or a goodbye.”

    “You’ve been a great help, Henry. Enjoy the Whiskey.” Lambert tipped his hat, yanked on the reins, and rode toward town.

    End Chapter Six

  8. #8
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
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    Jun 2018
    Ann Arbor, MI, USA
    CHAPTER SEVEN of 20 or so

    The sun was setting when Lambert rode into Wyandotte. He went straight to the livery. Jeb saw him coming and met him in front of the barn.

    “See ya found yer way back with no help,” Jeb said with a chuckle.

    “Could’ve followed your trail, blindfolded, Jeb. It was as wide and straight as the railroad.”

    The blood rushed to Jeb’s cheeks. “Uh... My horse was thirsty, and he always—”

    “Not criticizing, just stating facts,” Lambert said while dismounting.


    “See that she gets plenty of feed and water, would you, Jeb?” Lambert said, handing the reins to Jeb. “I may need her tomorrow.”

    Jeb took the reins. “Yes, sir, Mr. Lambert.”

    Lambert turned toward the Wyandotte House as Jeb led the horse into the livery barn. The sounds of laughter and piano music coming from the saloon were louder and more boisterous the closer he got to its open door. He climbed the steps to the boardwalk and looked in. The usual assortment of characters—cowpokes, drifters, husbands, bachelors, businessmen, and a single saloon girl—milled around. Some stood at the bar; others sat at tables.

    He hesitated before entering. Lambert had experienced all kinds of reactions—some bad, most worse—so he never knew exactly what to expect, especially from a wild crowd. He took a deep breath and walked through the opening.

    The music stopped, and a hush came over the room when he strode to the bar. Before Lambert could get the barkeep’s attention, a trail bum yelled, “I don’t much take ta drinkin’ with yer kind.”

    “And what kind would that be?” Lambert asked, turning and facing the blurry-eyed, unshaven, stringy-haired cowpoke who could barely stand without support.

    “Ha—Half-bree... Breeds,” the cowpoke said, barely getting the words past his whiskey-numbed tongue and lips. “Th—That’s what’s kind.” His eyes fluttered, and his knees buckled a bit, but he braced himself against the bar.

    “I’m full-blood Navajo if it’s any business of yours.” Lambert felt for the cold bone-carved grip of the Colt under his right hand. If the trail bum pushed the issue, he was ready. “You got any objections to that, mister?”

    The cowpoke’s eyes fluttered again as if he was about to pass out. Then, at the last moment, he revived and struggled to keep his balance but stood erect. His hand moved toward his gun.

    The muscles in Lambert’s forearm tensed as he gripped and loosened his gun in its cradle.

    The cowpoke’s two sidekicks came forward. Lambert stepped back and prepared for the worst. But they each extended an arm, catching the cowpoke before he crumpled to the floor. His body went limp, and he passed out cold.

    “He don’t mean nuthin’,” the first friend said.

    “‘Tis just the whiskey talkin’, mister. He’s a gentle soul when he ain’t all liquored up,” the other friend said. “We’ll take him and be on our way, if’n ya’d be so kind ta rest yer hand easy on that there shooter of yers.”

    “Don’t be causin’ no trouble, mister,” a man at the bar said. “Sheriff Anderson will lock ya up fer sure, ya bein’ an Injun and all... Won’t matter none, who started it.”

    The barkeep moseyed over to Lambert. “No gun-fightin’ tolerated in here, mister. Take it outside, or I’ll take ya in.”

    “If I’m left alone, there’ll be no trouble.” Lambert glanced around the room. “Gimme a whiskey and a beer.”

    “That’s what I like ta hear, mister: no harm, no foul... Whiskey and beer comin’ right up.”

    Lambert leaned against the bar and downed the whiskey in one gulp. While he sipped the warm beer chaser, he signaled for another shot.

    Meanwhile, people started talking and laughing again, and an older man hammered out familiar tunes on an upright piano.

    The barkeep nodded and refilled his glass.

    Lambert downed the whiskey and signaled the barkeep again.

    “Another, mister?”

    “Not this time. I’m looking for Sheriff Anderson?”

    “What ya want Andy fer?”

    “None of your goldarned business,” Lambert said through clenched teeth. “Best you be telling me where to find him.”

    The barkeep reached under the bar, uncradled the sawed-off, and laid it on top, pointing at Lambert.

    “In case ya ain’t heard, I’m Deputy Sheriff Reuben Anderson, so I’m makin’ it my business.”

    “Whoa there, deputy,” Lambert said, backing away from the bar and extending his hands in plain sight. “Andy and I are old friends.”

    “Not likely, mister,” the deputy said, pointing the scattergun at Lambert. “Who are ya, and what ya want with Andy?”

    “Could you ease your finger off the trigger—nice and easy like—and I’ll show you a letter of introduction from Mr. Prescott?”

    “Would that be Reginald Prescott?”

    “One in the same.”

    “Should’ve pulled the trigger straight up.”

    Lambert stared at him, puzzled.

    “Ain’t got no love fer Mr. Prescott or anythin’ Prescott... Including you, mister,” the deputy said, putting the shotgun back in its cradle. “He killed this town with his high and mighty ideas.”

    The deputy picked up a glass and wiped it brutally with a towel—any more brutal, it would’ve broken in his hand.

    “Bought up everythin’ he could, turned his back, and left it ta go ta hell inna handbasket three years ago.” He waved his arm from one side of the saloon to the other.

    “Everyone. Yeah, everyone but me and Amos sold out until this here Wyandotte House, and the livery was the only thing Prescott don’t own.”

    “Interesting history lesson, deputy, but I still need to see Sheriff Anderson, Andy. Where is he?”

    “Yer a Prescott man, all right. Should’ve pulled that trigger.”

    “You got me all wrong, deputy,” Lambert said, returning to the bar. “I ain’t got no dog in this fight, so it doesn’t matter to me, one way or the other, who wins.”

    The deputy frowned, and his steely eyes fixed on Lambert. “Mayor’s office. Over the livery. Will be there later this evening.”

    “Meanwhile... Where can I get a juicy steak?”

    “How thick?” the deputy asked.

    “An inch or so,” Lambert said, holding up his thumb and forefinger in a C, tips about two inches apart.

    “Baked beans and biscuits, too.?”

    “Beggars can’t be—”

    “Don’t say it, mister. If I got a penny every time... Oh, never ya mind. Go, find yerself a seat. Want another beer?”

    Lambert nodded, and the deputy drew him a beer. He grabbed it and made a beeline for the last empty chair at the table.

    End of Chapter Seven
    Last edited by DRayVan; 02-20-2023 at 06:42 PM.

  9. #9
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
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    Jun 2018
    Ann Arbor, MI, USA
    CHAPTER EIGHT of 20 or so

    The sun had set, and the moon was high in the sky when Lambert stepped out of the saloon and headed across the street toward the livery. A light in a second-story window on the right side of the barn shone brightly in the otherwise darkened street.

    Lambert tried the barn doors, but they were closed tight. He went to the alley and found stairs leading to a landing on the top floor. Each step creaked and moaned as he climbed. He reached the landing and was about to knock, but a voice stopped him.

    “Might as well come on in, mister,” Sheriff Anderson said. “I heard ya a-comin’ a mile off.”

    Lambert opened the door and stepped inside a room not much bigger than two horse stalls. Sheriff Anderson sat at a small desk covered with papers and a ledger. When he saw Lambert, he put the pen in the ink bottle and pushed it aside. He blotted the last entries and closed the log.

    “Jeb said ya might find yer way back on yer own,” Sheriff Anderson said with a chuckle and a shake of his head. “Had my doubts, though, but then again, that horse knows the way by herself—ya did choose the smart one. That, ya did.”

    Lambert took off his hat and wiped the sweatband while moving closer to the desk.

    “You didn’t tell me that Mrs. Prescott came to town a month ago, loaded down with all her belongings.”

    “No, I didn’t, but like I said, son. We don’t cotton to strangers askin’—”

    “Don’t bother saying it, sheriff. Heard that one already, and it doesn’t help me one bit.”

    “Looky here, son. I’m the law in what’s left of this town, and knowin’ Reuben, he filled ya in on the doins ‘round here. So if I decide ta tell ya sumthin’ or not ta tell ya sumthin’, well, that’s the way it is.”

    “Listen, sheriff. Mrs. Prescott is missing, and I’m trying to follow her last trail. I’m gonna do that with or without your help.”

    “Missing, ya say?” Sheriff Anderson said, eyebrows raised.

    “About a month.”

    “Jeez, Lambert,” Sheriff Anderson said, sitting upright in his chair. “Why didn’t ya say so?”

    Lambert looked at the sheriff in disbelief.

    “For one thing, it hasn’t been a month, more like two weeks or so.”

    “How’s that?”

    “Have a seat, son.”

    Lambert put his hat on the desk, dragged a nearby chair closer, and sat.

    “Want a drink?” Sheriff Anderson asked.

    Lambert nodded.

    Anderson took a bottle from the bottom desk drawer, poured two glasses worth, handed one to Lambert, and kept the other for himself. They toasted and sipped their whiskeys.

    Anderson leaned back in his chair.

    “Well... About a month ago, Mrs. Prescott came in ta town, her buggy loaded ta overflowin’, and rode straight over ta Miss Lilly’s Boardin’ House—like she always did when waitin’ fer the next southbound train.”

    The sheriff took another sip and continued.

    “The train came and went, but she never got on it, stayed in town. I thought that bein’ a bit unusual fer her, seein’ she didn’t cotton much for the townsfolks, and they didn’t much cotton ta her, neither.”

    “Any idea why?”

    “Why she stayed, or why the town and her never hit it off?”

    “Why she stayed this time?”

    Sheriff Anderson took another sip of whiskey.

    “A traveling medicine show had come and pitched their tent on a vacant lot southwest of town. A man, Dr. Suza, callin’ hisself a doctor of far east herbal medicines—more likely, a horse doctor—was sellin’ elixirs to cure just ‘bout everythin’ from toenail fungus to baldness. ‘Twas ‘bout ta run the bunch out of town, but Mrs. Prescott latched onta one of them show women—a China woman like herself.”



    “Mrs. Prescott is Japanese, not Chinese. She is from Japan, not China.”

    “Can’t go by me,” Sheriff Anderson said. “They all look ‘bout the same.”

    “Was the show woman Japanese, too?”

    “Like I said, son. I can’t tell one from the other, but when them two got tagether, they’d gibber-jabber in that there foreign tongue of theirs. No one but them know’d what they was talkin’ about.”

    “Then she was Japanese.”

    “If ya say so, son. Anyhow... A week later... First week of August, as near as I can remember, Mrs. Prescott caught the first northbound train there was—‘bout sunrise it was—she never done that before, take a northbound train, that is. And that same day, the China woman from the medicine show turned up missing, and we searched fer her fer two whole days. But by then, everyone stupid enough to believe the malarky that so-called doctor was a-peddlin’ had bought two or more bottles of elixir, so they packed up and moved on when nobody was buyin’ no more.”

    “Where were they heading?”

    “Don’t know,” Sheriff Anderson said, shaking his head. “Southwest, I reckon. Leastways, that’s the road they took.”

    “Much obliged, sheriff. You’ve been a great help.”

    “Don’t see how, but yer welcome just the same.”

    Lambert downed his whiskey, stood, shook hands with Sheriff Anderson, and returned to the saloon. Nobody paid any attention when he walked in and headed for the bar.

    “Find Andy, all right, mister?” the deputy asked.


    “Uh... What’ll it be, mister? Beer and whiskey like last time?”

    “Nope. Some information.”

    “Information don’t pay the bills, mister.”

    “A beer, then.”

    The deputy drew a tall one—mostly head—and set it in front of Lambert. He paid and leaned on the bar.

    “About that information.”

    “Sure, mister. Ask away. Won’t guarantee ya’ll get an answer, though. People ‘round these parts don’t—”

    “I’ve heard about enough cotton to weave a dozen shirts, deputy. What I’d like is a straight answer to a straight question and save the dancin’ for Saturday night.”

    “Don’t get on yer high horse, mister. Just keepin’ in mind the privacy of our good townsfolk. That’s all.”

    Lambert took a sip of the warm beer and wiped the foam off his upper lip.

    “Sheriff Andy said a woman from the medicine show turned up missing.”

    “Yep. That’d be the truth.”

    “What particulars can you tell me about her disappearance?”

    The deputy thought for a moment and scratched his head.

    “Well... Mrs. Prescott and that there medicine show a woman like herself struck up an acquaintance right off—two peas in a pod, they was. Sipped tea right over there on occasion,” the deputy said, pointing to the table by the eatery.

    “Another beer, Reuben,” a man said, leaning on the bar.

    The deputy drew a tall one and slid it to him. He grabbed it and walked away.

    “Where was I?”

    “Drinking tea over there, Lambert said, nodding toward the tables.

    “Right... And I seen ‘em walkin’ the town, snoopin’ the store windows. We only got two stores besides this here place, so ‘ tweren’t much ta see, but they didn’t seem ta mind, talkin’ mostly.”

    “What about her disappearance?”

    “I’m a-gettin’ ta that part, mister, so hold yer horses. Anyhows... Where was I? Oh, yeah... ‘Twas the day before... And Jeb got the buggy fer them ta go picknickin’. Next mornin’, Mrs. Prescott loaded up a bag or two and took the early northbound. ‘Twas ‘bout noontime, the medicine-show doctor said the China woman were missing.”

    “Anyone chase after Mrs. Prescott?”

    “Why’d we do that?”

    “Maybe she could shed some light on the missing woman’s whereabouts.”

    “She’s a Prescott, mister,” the deputy said, pointing his finger in Lambert’s face.

    “And besides,” he said, waging his head, “‘round these parts, no one with any common sense would go chasin’ after a China woman. It’d make no difference if’n she left on her own accord or otherwise.”

    Lambert shook his head in disbelief, finished his beer, and went to his room for the night.

    End Chapter Eight

  10. #10
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
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    Jun 2018
    Ann Arbor, MI, USA
    CHAPTER NINE of 20 or so

    Thursday, August 25

    Lambert got up early and went to the livery. He found Jeb mucking out the stalls.

    “Howdy, Jeb. Got time for a few questions?”

    “Sure, Mr. Lambert,” Jeb said, leaning against the muck rake. “Ask away.”

    “The day before Mrs. Prescott left town, did she have you fetch her buggy?”

    “Darn tootin’ she did.” Jeb waved his hand toward the barn door. “She sent Sammy with word that I’d better be damn quick ‘bout it, too—she ‘twas always demandin’ like that.”

    “What time was that?”

    “Oh... Musta been ‘bout one or two,” Jeb said, scrunching the left side of his face and squinting while he thought. He looked straight at Lambert. “Nope... ‘Twas just after one, ‘cause Mr. Jenkins stopped by fer a one o’clock meetin’ with Sheriff Andy, uh... Mayor Andy, and he was runnin’ late. So, it ‘twere nearer ta one than two.”

    “Where was she going?”

    “Sammy said I was ta hitch up the quarter horse,” Jeb said, pointing to the mare. “‘Cause she was takin’ a friend ta see her farm. So, I did what I were told and dropped the buggy by the boardin’ house at two or there ‘bouts.”

    Lambert thought for a few moments. “When she return?”

    “Can’t rightly say fer sure,” Jeb said, shaking his head. He cocked his thumb over his shoulder. “‘Twas workin’ on the corral’s fence till sundown. When I come out ta close up the livery, the mare stood frothin’ at the mouth fer a drink of water, and the buggy still hitched up. She never done that befer.”

    “Mistreat her horse?”

    “Naw,” Jeb said, shaking his head vigorously. “She done that all the time, but no matter what I was doin’, I had ta drop it and give her a ride ta the boardin’ house. I doubt she’d walk there unless someone put a gun ta her head.”

    “What was her temperament when you dropped off the buggy for the trip to the farm?”

    Jeb’s face was blank, then he frowned and leaned the muck rake against the stall.

    “Gee, Mr. Lambert.” Jeb rubbed his chin. “I don’t rightly know what ya mean by that. I’m a-learnin’ ‘bout a horse’s temperament but didn’t know a woman had one, too.”

    Lambert bit his tongue to keep from laughing.

    “Her mood then,” he said with a smile.

    Jeb turned red when blood rushed up his neck and filled his cheeks. He cleared his throat.

    “Uh... Well... I don’t rightly know nuthin’ ‘bout a woman’s moods, Mr. Lambert. Can’t say I even know much ‘bout my own.”

    “All right, Jeb. Let’s try this: did she act out of the ordinary?”

    “Nope.” Jeb shook his head again. “Can’t say she did. Always looked down on me, and ‘twas no different that time.”

    Lambert thanked Jeb for the information and strolled by the corral to digest what he had heard. He lit a cigarillo and leaned on the fence while he smoked. A few things didn’t add up.

    A complicated portrait of Mrs. Prescott was painted by the people Lambert had met so far. Mr. Prescott’s brush strokes showed an attractive, wanton, young wife with insatiable appetites. Jeb, Henry, and Sheriff Anderson’s brush strokes showed a demanding, demeaning, and sometimes vile person. She chose to be helpless and wanted people to wait on her and jump at her beck and call. Lambert could not fathom whether it was cultural upbringing or that she was plainly despicable.

    He took a long drag on the cigarillo while the gray wandered over to him.

    “Hey, big fella. Maybe, you have some answers to questions bothering me.”

    The gray tossed its head up and down as if it understood. Lambert smiled and took another drag on the cigarillo.

    The gray whinnied and tossed its head again.

    “Ya do?”

    The gray shook its mane.

    “All right then... Why did Mrs. Prescott walk to the boarding house this time? What ya think, big fella?” Lambert asked the animal.

    The gray looked at him with its large brown eyes.

    “No idea, eh? Answer this: if she loaded up all her belongings at the farm, why did she board the train with only two bags?”

    The animal nudged Lambert’s hand, wanting a carrot.

    “Sorry, fella. Plumb out of carrots today.”

    The gray shook its mane and walked away.

    But Lambert leaned on the fence and kept talking to it. “Why did the woman from the medicine show go missing at the same time? She was Japanese, too. Coincidence? I don’t believe in coincidences.”

    Lambert tossed the cigarillo butt on the ground and returned to the barn. Jeb was still mucking the stalls.

    “Could you saddle up the saddle the quarter horse?”

    “Sure thing, Mr. Lambert. Goin’ anywheres special?”


    “Fairland? Ain’t nuthin’ worth seein’ there, Mr. Lambert. Now, if ya’d ask me, I’d recommend—”

    “While the sun’s still up, Jeb.”

    “Yes, sir, Mr. Lambert.” Jeb dropped the muck rake and hot-footed it to the corral.


    It was still early when Lambert rode into Fairland, a small town with a saloon, mercantile, livery, and sundry stores and buildings lining its main street.

    Lambert stopped at the livery, and a boy ran out to meet him.

    “Howdy, mister,” he said. “What can I do ya fer?”

    Lambert leaned on the saddle’s horn and slid his hat back.

    “Did a medicine show swing by in the last two or three weeks?”

    “Sure did, mister. Left town a week ago,” the boy said, nodding. Then he laughed. “More like they was run out of town.”

    “Did a Japanese woman travel with them?”

    “Japanese?” the boy said, shrugging. “Don’t reckon I’d know what one’d look like, mister.”

    “Chinese, then?”

    “Oh... Yessiree... I seen two of them.”

    “Any others with the show?”

    “No, sir. Just them two and that doctor fella. That’d be all there was, and I slipped over and seen the show every night.”

    “What direction they go?”

    “Probably ta Afton,” the boy said, pointing southwest. “Hour’s ride. Maybe, less. Just folla the rail tracks.”

    “Obliged,” Lambert said, sitting straight in the saddle and adjusting his hat.

    He dug his heels in his mount’s flanks, and the horse took off in a gallop. And true to the boy’s description, the trail followed alongside the railroad. The ride was easygoing over mostly flat terrain, and trees lined much of the way nearby a meandering stream. He stopped, dismounted, and let his horse drink.

    Lambert spun around toward the sound of a rifle being cocked. He faced two cowpokes, one holding the gun, the other holding a bottle of whiskey. They both were weather-beaten, unshaven, and dirty. Neither was steady on his feet.

    “Looky here, Earle. We’s got us a thieving redskin.”

    “Ain’t he the same one at that there livery?”

    “Whatcha talkin’ ‘bout? What livery?”

    “He done pistol-whipped ya there, Jamie. Don’t ya remember?”

    “Yeah... I remember, “Jamie said, rubbing the side of his head. “Reckon he’s the one, all right. Ain’t too many uppity Injuns ‘round these parts, so it’s gotta be him.”

    “Where ya figger he stole that there horse from, Jamie?”

    “Don’t matter none. It’ll be ours soon’s I kill ‘im.”

    “Aim high, Jamie,” Earle said with a laugh. “I want’s that there coat he’s a-wearin’.”

    Lambert remembered them from the livery in Wyandotte. He had gotten the best of them there, but now, they held an ace-high flush to his measly pair. So he eased his right hand close to his sidearm while distracting them.

    “Take the horse if you want it,” Lambert said, waving his hand toward the animal. “I’ll steal another one.”

    The men burst out laughing.

    “See, I’s told ya, Earle. He’s a thievin’ redskin,” Jamie said, looking at Earle and lowering his rifle.

    That was the edge Lambert needed. He drew, crouched, and fired two rounds before the men knew what was happening. The first bullet hit Jamie’s hand, sending his rifle to the ground, while the second hit Earle’s hand. The half-empty bottle shattered. Both men grabbed their injured hands.

    “Ya had no call ta do that, mister,” Earle said, looking at the broken pieces of the whiskey bottle. “No call at all... And... And ya done gone and broke our last bottle ta boot.”

    “Looky what ya done ta my rifle, mister,” Jamie said. “‘Twon’t be good fer nuthin’.”

    Lambert mounted and glanced at the hapless pair sitting on the ground. “Take my advice, gentlemen: choose another line of work. You aren’t any good at trailway robbery.”

    “But, mister, this be all we’s knows,” Jamie said.

    Lambert rode off, shaking his head.

    End Chapter Nine

  11. #11
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
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    Ann Arbor, MI, USA
    CHAPTER TEN of 20 or so

    It was late afternoon when Lambert rode into Afton and stopped at the livery. His horse reared its head and snorted from the clamor of the blacksmith’s hammer, striking the hot metal and anvil.

    “Easy, gal. Easy,” Lambert said, patting the horse’s neck.

    The blacksmith, a sweaty and soiled, muscular, graying man in his early fifties, looked up. He eyed Lambert over a couple of times and then spat on the forge. A hiss of steam rose when the spittle landed on the hot coals.

    “How do, mister,” the blacksmith said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Uh... Can I help ya?”

    “Feed and water for my horse,” Lambert said while he dismounted.

    The blacksmith sized up Lambert’s horse. “Don’t look so she’d eat much. Want her brushed?”

    “No. Just feed and water.”

    The blacksmith reinserted the horseshoe deep inside the forge. It sent sparks and flames whirling above the hot coals.

    “Fer how long?” he asked, cocking his head toward Lambert.

    Lambert loosened the cinch and slid the saddle off.

    “Don’t know yet.”

    “Six-bit minimum fer the whole day and night.” The blacksmith puckered and spat on the hotbed of coals again, raising a burst of steam. “Pay when ya ride out.”

    Lambert nodded.

    “Town got a sheriff?”

    “Not anymore,” the blacksmith said, wagging his muscular head. He wiped the sweat off his brow with a filthy rag and stretched his back and shoulders.

    “What you mean?”

    Lambert slung the saddle over the side of a stall and faced him. The blacksmith repositioned the horseshoe in the hot coals, releasing more flames.

    “Retired last year. Ain’t found a new one yet...” The blacksmith gave Lamber the once-over again. “Ya wouldn’t be interested, would ya, mister?”

    “No, not my favorite pastime,” Lambert said with a chuckle. “Just passing through looking for a traveling medicine show... Seen one of late?”

    The blacksmith pulled the white-hot horseshoe out of the forge, positioned it on the anvil, and whacked it with the hammer. Lambert flinched.

    “Yep, and they’s still here.”


    “Southwest edge of town,” The blacksmith said, pointing the hammer toward the southward road. “Can almost see their tent from here.”


    “Sure ya won’t reconsider that sheriff openin’? Most townsfolks won’t care much that yer a—”

    “Let that thought perish before it tumbles off your lips.”

    Lambert’s anger had flared again. His fingers wrapped around the grip of his weapon, ready to draw.

    “Sorry, mister. I was just gonna say ‘gunslinger,’ that’s all,” the blacksmith said, stepping backward. “Hell... Our last sheriff was an Apache, so ya bein’ an Injun ‘twouldn’t make no difference ta us.”

    Lambert relaxed and smiled.

    “Where can a man get a good meal in your town?”

    The blacksmith chuckled nervously.

    “Wouldn’t call anything they offer good, but it’ll fill ya up,” he said, cocking his head toward the saloon across the street. “But don’t order the beef; it’s been hangin’ too long in this heat. It’s buzzard bait by now.”

    Lambert nodded and turned toward the saloon but stopped. He turned to face the blacksmith.

    “One more thing,” Lambert said. “Any of that medicine-show bunch frequent the saloon?”

    “Seen that there doctor fella go in not more than an hour ago. Ain’t come out that I seen.”

    Lambert tipped his hat and crossed the street to the saloon.


    Lambert entered the Wilted Rose Saloon, and his eyes swept the room. For a lazy afternoon, the saloon was nearly empty. Besides the barkeep, two men stood at the bar drinking, four more played cards at a table, and a fancy-dressed man sat alone at a corner table, playing solitaire and sipping whiskey.

    “What’s your pleasure, mister?” the barkeep asked.

    “Beer.” Lambert strolled to the bar.

    “Ain’t the best, but it tastes better than the water ‘round these parts.”

    Lambert paid, took a swig, and winced.

    “How bad’s the water?”

    The barkeep laughed. “Can’t say I didn’t warn ya.”

    Lambert leaned on the bar and nodded toward the fancy-dressed man.

    “That the medicine-show doctor?”

    “Yep. Comes in nearly every day at this time. He orders a bottle and sits alone for a couple hours, playing cards and sipping. Been doing that ever since they come inta town.”

    Lambert picked up his beer and strolled over to the man’s table. The man had a deck of cards in his left hand. With his right, one by one, he turned over a card from the Stock and played it on a Tableau or a Foundation or discarded it in the Talon.

    “Care for some company, Dr. Suza?”

    Suza looked up and sized Lambert from head to toe.

    “Show starts at six, mister. Until then, I value my solitude.”

    Lambert pushed his hat high on his head. “Didn’t trail you all the way from Wyandotte for a show.”

    “Wyandotte?” Suza said, cocking his head. “Who are you, mister?”

    “Name’s TG Lambert.”

    “Odd name for an Apache.”


    “What you want with me?”

    “Understand a member of your troupe is missing.”

    “What’s your game, Mr. Lambert?”

    “No games, Dr. Suza. Your woman’s disappearance may have something to do with the disappearance of a woman I’m trying to find.”

    “Whoa, there, Mr. Lambert. You left me standing in your dust.”

    “I’m trying to determine the whereabouts of Mrs. Prescott. She turned up missing the same day your woman when missing.”

    “I don’t see a connection.”

    “Both women are Japanese. Aren’t that many of them around these parts, so doesn’t it strike you odd that they’d both disappear on the same day?”

    “Another Japanese? Well, I’ll be...” Suza sat upright in his chair and laid the cards on the table. “Take a load off your feet, Mr. Lambert.”

    “Don’t mind if I do, doctor.” Lambert laid his hat and beer mug on the table, pulled up a chair, and sat.

    “Heard Sakura had befriended some local woman—”


    “Sakura Nakamori’s her name... I didn’t take notice or care about her friend, though. ‘Twas too busy making snake oil and selling it.”

    “Snake oil? Didn’t expect that...”

    Suza reached for the bottle and poured a shot of whiskey. He tipped the bottle toward Lambert.

    “Care for a nip?”

    “Got a beer, but thanks.”

    Suza downed the whiskey in one gulp.

    “You don’t strike me as a man to trifle with, so I reckoned I’d lay my cards on the table—metaphorically speaking.”

    “Let’s have the whole story, then, Dr. Suza.”

    Lambert took a cigarillo from his coat pocket and lit it. Suza poured another shot of whiskey and sipped it.

    “For one thing, Suza is my stage name, not my God-given name. That would be Ernest von Stubenbaum. Yep. You heard me right... von Stubenbaum. A real tongue twister, so I changed it to sell my elixir.”

    “Why’d you call it snake oil?”

    Lambert took a draft on the cigarillo and blew the smoke above the table. Suza leaned forward on his elbow so only Lambert could hear him.

    “Because it doesn’t cure anything,” Suza said softly. “The alcohol makes you feel warm, but that’s about it.”

    “Then why do you—”

    “There’s precious little hope to be found in these dark and dangerous days,” Suza said, leaning back in his chair. “From our birth, we’re plagued with incurable diseases and infections. I’m fifty-two years old, mister, and gave up doctoring ten years ago when I realized the medical profession offered little beyond what the good Lord willed and what the sick or injured mustered from within. Despite all the doctoring, those with hope often survived, and those without usually didn’t. It was then I decided to offer a bottle of hope wherever I could.”


    “But, what, Mr. Lambert?” Suza said, leaning forward and sweeping his right hand toward the four men playing cards. “Most folks aren’t sick; they just think they are.”

    “And for those who are, their local doctor can’t help but a few,” Susa continued, shaking his head and leaning back in his chair. “But with an ounce of hope, maybe... Just maybe, some will pull through, or at least go to their grave peaceably.”

    “Too blinded to see what you’re doing is wrong, are you?” Lambert said, pointing the cigarillo toward Suza. He felt his anger rising as he debated with Suza.

    “Not a topic I’m willing to debate, but that’s not why you sought me out, is it, Mr. Lambert?”

    “You are right, sir,” Lambert said, deciding it would only sideline the hunt for Mrs. Prescott if he pressed the debate further, so he asked, “What happened the day Sakura went missing?”

    “Sakura said she was going on a buggy ride—I assumed it was with her townsfolk friend—and she promised to return in time for the show, but she didn’t. So after the show, I went to find the sheriff, but his deputy said to come back in the morning. I did, and the sheriff organized search parties, but they found nothing and gave up after two days. We packed up and left town.”


    “Chyou and Daiyu. The Chinese twins.”

    “Weren’t you curious about Sakura’s friend and her connection with Sakura’s last buggy ride?”

    “Yes, but I couldn’t raise any concern with the sheriff or his deputy. They knew something but weren’t about to tell me what it was. We’d reached the saturation point for the town, and that’s when we reckoned it was best to leave.”

    “Saturation? More likely, your customers discovered the elixir was nothing more than herb-infused liquor.” Lambert stood and grabbed his hat.

    “Whatever... Staying for the show?”

    Lambert shook his head. “If I hustle, I can make Wyandotte by sundown.”

    End Chapter Ten

  12. #12
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
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    Jun 2018
    Ann Arbor, MI, USA
    CHAPTER ELEVEN of 20 or so

    The sun’s last rays painted the horizon with hues of red and purple when Lambert rode into Wyandotte. He went directly to the livery, dismounted, and led his horse to a nearby watering trough. The day’s ride had him in the saddle for too many hours, and his backside sorely needed a rest, but his legs felt good to stretch and stand on solid ground.

    Lambert stepped through the wide-open doors of the livery and into the barn. The last of the day’s light blended the outlines of stalls, beams, and hay. He found a lantern hanging on a post and lit it.

    The barn cat approached Lambert and circled his feet, meowing. The gray swayback snorted and reared its head when he came close to its stall. He patted the animal’s head.

    “Where’s Jeb, old fella? Sleeping, I reckon, but where?”

    A cough and gurgle gave away Jeb’s location. Lambert found him curled on a bed of hay in the stall between the gray and mustang. He tapped Jeb’s shoe with the toe of his boot. Jeb retracted his leg and curled into a tighter ball.

    “Jeb,” Lambert yelled.

    “Go away, mister,” Jeb said, rolling over. “Can ya see I’s busy?”

    “Busy sawing logs,” Lambert said with a chuckle.

    Jeb opened an eye. “Who are ya, mister? I can’t see nuthin’ but that there lantern and shadows.”


    “Jeez, Mr. Lambert, why didn’t ya say so?” Jeb said, jumping to his feet. “What can I do ya fer?”

    “The mare needs fed, watered, and a rubdown.”

    “Likety-split,” Jeb said, rushing past Lambert.


    Jeb stopped and spun toward Lambert. “Likety-split. Ya know, quick as I can... Get with the times, Mr. Lambert.”

    “Where’d you hear—”

    “Well, ya see. There were this here girl at the train depot, and she—”

    “Never mind, Jeb,” Lambert said, shaking his head. “A beer is what I need right now.”

    “I suppose ya can get one, likety-split at the saloon,” Jab said with a chuckle.

    “The mare, Jeb,” Lambert said, shaking his head.

    “Uh... Yessiree, Mr. Lambert.”

    Jeb hustled to get the mare while Lambert hung the lantern on a hook and headed for the saloon.


    “Why’ll ya have, mister?” the barkeep asked.

    “A tall one,” Lambert said. “The tallest you got.”

    Deputy Anderson looked up at the sound of Lambert’s voice.

    “I got this,” the deputy said and started drawing a mug of beer. “Andy’s been lookin’ fer ya.”

    “What about?” Lambert pushed his hat back on his head.

    “Probably ‘bout that there woman’s body ‘twas found in the woods near the Prescott farm,” the deputy said, setting the mug on the bar.

    “What woman?”

    Lambert had few basic emotions left. Since his youth, he had learned to suppress fear and had found little in life to enjoy. Sadness toward any situation had been beaten out of him by twelve, and he had become indifferent; thus, little disgusted him anymore. The one emotion he had plenty of was anger. He was angry at everyone and everything, and he struggled to keep his anger under control. But when he heard the news of the woman’s body in the woods, he knew the odor that he and Jeb had gotten a whiff of yesterday must have been that woman’s decomposing body, and he was disgusted with himself, which fueled his pent-up anger even more.

    “Don’t know who or much else, but this mornin’ Andy, Doc, and Zeb went out ta the Prescott Farm... A dead body were found in the woods near the trail. And from what I heared, it were in mighty bad shape, too.”

    “What you mean?” Lambert asked sharply.

    “Doc says it’d been there a long while. A week or two, maybe. So ya can guess what it—”

    “Where’s the sheriff now?” Lambert asked, cutting the deputy off.

    “Most likely the mayor’s office,” the deputy said. “Ya knows where that is, do ya?”

    “Been there, once.”

    “He’ll wanna see ya right away, I reckon.”

    Lambert gulped the beer as quickly as he could and fished for a coin to pay.

    “On the house.”

    “Obliged,” Lambert said with a nod. His anger was waning as he wiped his upper lip and left.


    Lambert hurried up the stairs to the mayor’s office.

    “Come on in,” Sheriff Anderson said before Lambert knocked.

    He opened the door. The sheriff sat at the desk, holding an ink pen in one hand and papers in the other.

    “Sit a spell while’s I put these away. Got sumthin’ that might just pique yer curiosity.”

    Lambert pulled up a chair. Sheriff Anderson put the pen down and closed the papers in the ledger.


    “Just had a beer but thank you all the same.”

    “Yer gonna need one after I tell ya what was found taday.”

    “I heard about the woman.”



    “He don’t know the half of it, so ya’ll need that drink, son when ya hear the whole tale.”

    Lambert nodded.

    Sheriff Anderson got two glasses and poured three fingers’ worth into each. He handed one to Lambert, took the other for himself, and knocked back a slug.

    “Moe Fletcher, a neighbor of the Prescott’s, were squirrel huntin’ this mornin’... And his dog started a-barkin’ sumthin’ fierce. So when Moe went ta see what his dog were so fired up about, he found a woman's body on the ridge overlookin’ the river ‘bout where their properties adjoin... A mile from the farm. The sight and smell were so terrible Moe said he nearly fainted dead away. After he regained his senses, he hightailed it to town, found me, and I got Doc Winston and Zeb to follow him to the body.”

    The sheriff gulped another whiskey.

    “Ya could smell the stench of rotting flesh long befer ya were close enough ta see it. And it were the worst sight I ever did see. A putrid mass of maggots, it were. And add insult ta injury, wild animals had found and torn some of it apart. Bones, gnawed and stripped bare, was scattered about.”

    Lambert took a gulp as well.

    “That’s what Jeb and I got a whiff of on our way to the farm.”

    “Didn’t ya stop ta see what were the cause?”

    “Nope,” Lambert said, shaking his head. “Reckoned it was a kill some animal left for later. Besides, I was single-focused on finding Mrs. Prescott and didn’t want anything to sidetrack me.”

    He took a swig.

    “And uh...” Lambert cleared his throat. “Clothes. What was she wearing?”

    “Thought it mighty odd, but she weren’t wearing nuthin’. Must’ve been as naked as a Jaybird when she died, or her killer took her clothes afterward. We searched yet didn’t find a stitch anywheres.”

    “How you know it was a woman's body, let alone the missing Japanese woman?”

    “Doc said her pelvic bones were broad as a woman’s, and she had long black hair in a single braid like them China women wore theirs.”

    “And Japanese?”

    “We found three chopstick things like those China women wore still stuck in her hair.

    “How’d she die?”

    “Back of her skull, all caved in. Doc said that’s what killed her. Probably struck from behind with a rock or the like. She went quick—dead before her knees hit the ground.”

    “So the body is a woman, likely Japanese, but whose body is still the question. And why was she naked?”

    “She’s that missing woman from that medicine show, plain and simple. Clothes is an easy one: delaying us identifying her.”

    “Got your herd all corralled, do you, sheriff?”

    “When the facts smack ya in the face, son... Ya find that show on yer travels?”

    “Yep. Afton.”

    “I’ll telegraph ‘em in the mornin’. Meanwhile, I’ll try ta ferget what I seen taday.” Sheriff Anderson finished off his glass and refilled it to the brim. “Care ta join me?”

    “Thank you but no. I’ve got some serious thinking ahead of me and need a clear head.”

    “Not me. Don’t want my head clear fer nuthin’. Maybe tamarra but not tanight.”

    Lambert left the sheriff, guzzling his whiskey.

    End Chapter Eleven
    Last edited by DRayVan; 03-06-2023 at 07:47 AM.

  13. #13
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2018
    Ann Arbor, MI, USA
    CHAPTER TWELVE of 20 or so

    Friday, August 26

    Lambert arose early and, after breakfast, headed to see Doctor Winston, the town physician. Winston's combination office and residence was a two-story structure on the corner of Main and Second. It was a gray clapboard building with white-trimmed windows and doors, long overdue for painting. A porch with weathered white balusters and chipped gray railings wrapped around the structure facing Main and partway around facing Second on the right. A white picket fence separated the small, neglected lawn from both streets.

    When he knocked, Doctor Winston opened the door. The doctor was a white-haired, older man pushing seventy, paunch and shorter than average. The collar and sleeves of his white shirt were frayed, his dark coat and trousers were wrinkled, and his tie was poorly tied and crooked.

    “Mr. Lambert, I presume.”

    Lambert removed his hat and nodded.

    “Come in, my boy. Sheriff Andy said to be expecting you.”

    Lambert entered, and Winston led him to the parlor.

    “Have a seat, son. Care for a coffee? It’s freshly brewed.”

    The aroma of coffee filled the air, and Lambert could not help but lick his lips. He nodded and smiled.

    “If it’d be no trouble.”

    “Not at all,” Winston said, shaking his head. “It’ll take just a minute.”

    Lambert sat on the couch and put his hat beside him. Winston shuffled out of the room.

    “I don’t get too many visitors to enjoy coffee with,” he said from the kitchen. “They’re usually injured or sick, and coffee’s the furthest thing from their minds.”

    Lambert glanced around the room. Its furnishings and decorations showed a woman’s touch: an ornate, floral-patterned, gold-gilded couch and two matching chairs, papered walls, and delicate curtains, all having a feminine flair. Yet, the signs of neglect were everywhere: dust on surfaces, occasional debris on the floor, and curtains askew.

    Daguerreotypes of a young man and woman on their wedding day, the same couple standing in front of this house, and individual portraits at various stages of growing older sat on a table, collecting dust.

    Winston returned, carrying a tray with two mugs of coffee, a creamer, and sugar. He handed a mug to Lambert and took the other for himself.

    “Milk? Sugar?”

    “Black,” Lambert said, sipping the coffee.

    “Have the beans shipped in from New Orleans—special blend. But you didn’t stop by to discuss my coffee, did you, Mr. Lambert?”

    “No, but still, this is mighty good coffee.”

    “You can come to the point anytime you’re ready, Mr. Lambert.”

    Winston added half a teaspoon of sugar and a dribble of milk to his coffee. He stirred while he listened to Lambert.

    “Sheriff Anderson told me about the body of a woman you found near the Prescott Farm.”

    “Yes... Well...” Winston took a sip of coffee. “Truth be told, it was Moe Fletcher who found her, and then Andy, Zeeb, and I followed him to the corpse.”

    Lambert took a gulp of coffee and set his mug on the table.

    “Did you bring any of the remains back here for closer examination?”

    “Some of it.”

    “Some?” Lambert asked, brow raised.

    “Yes... The long bones were flesh-bare, detached, and gnawed—an animal got after her arms and legs. Her head was hanging by a thread, so I also brought that. However, the torso and pelvic cavities were so maggot-infested I doused the body with lime. I’ll check back in a day or two.”

    “Find anything that’d help identify her?” Lambert asked.

    “Nothing except the left radius and ulna showed callus formations...”

    Lambert’s face was blank.

    “Uh... You might say it’s a healing suture.”

    “Then she broke her arm?

    “Years ago, as a youngin,” Winston said, nodding. “And whoever set the bones misaligned them. So she had a mild deformity, not too noticeable unless you looked closely.”

    “So what killed her?”

    “A fracture of her skull.”

    “Skull fracture? She was murdered.”

    “Yep... Someone walloped her good from behind,” Winston said, patting the back of his head, “most likely with a large pointed stone. Hit her right at the suture of the right and left parietals and the occipital bones. She was knocked out cold and was dead before her knees hit the ground.”

    “Find the weapon?”

    “Too many stones lying around to be sure, but I gathered up a few candidates. But none exactly fit the fracture and had no blood on them.”

    “Any sign of defensive wounds?”

    “What you mean, son?”

    “If you saw an attacker coming, wouldn’t you try to escape? Or, at least, defend yourself? And in the process, what are the chances other injuries might occur?”

    “Superficial wounds wouldn’t show, considering the body's condition.”

    “All right... I can buy that, but what’s your best judgment: was she surprised by the attack, or was she executed?”

    “I don’t see a difference, Lambert. Dead’s dead.”

    “Here’s my problem. This whole mystery—the disappearance of two Japanese women on the same day from the same town—doesn’t fit together like a puzzle should. One piece that doesn’t work is why was she naked?”

    “Who told you that?”

    “Sheriff Anderson.”

    “He wasn’t to tell anyone.”

    “Why, Doctor? Seems to me it’s a valuable piece of information.”

    “You know how people talk... And if the woman turns out to be Mrs. Prescott, well...”

    “It’ll be safe with me, Doctor. Now, back to my original question. Surprised or executed?”

    “I still don’t—”

    “I’ll draw you a picture, Doctor. As I see it, the clothes tell a tale. If the woman was surprised, most likely, her attacker approached from behind, struck her with a rock, and disrobed her after she died—only heaven knows why. On the other hand, if she was executed, the attacker had her remove her clothing first, did whatever he did to her, and killed her to cover up his deed. I’ve seen it too often to mention.”

    “To say one way or the other would be speculation on my part, son.”

    “Of course, there’s the question of where she was killed.”

    “In Prescott Woods.”

    “That’s where the body was found. But how and when did the woman get to Prescott Woods if she was alive and killed there. How and when was her body transported there if she was killed elsewhere? Did she know her attacker? Where are her clothes?”

    “You have a lot of questions, son. Any answers yet?”

    “Not enough, but I’m a trash-heap bulldog that don’t give up bones easily.”

    “Sorry I couldn’t tell you more.”

    “Well... You’ve been a great help anyway, Doctor Winston,” Lambert said, getting to his feet.

    “Stay and finish your coffee. Please.”


    “Comin’ right up.”

    “Married, Doc?”

    “Was. Widower these past five years.”

    “Sorry for your loss, Doc.”

    “Emily was a fine woman, and I miss her dearly.”


    “Lord knows we tried, yet we were never blessed that way; many other ways, though, but not with children. Yet, when I stop and think about my years here... Most of the people around these parts thirty or younger were delivered by me, so you might say the whole town were our children.”

    “Most people are never that fortunate or blessed, Doctor.”


    After coffee with Doctor Winston, Lambert stopped by the telegraph office and sent a message to Mr. Prescott asking for information about Mika’s broken arm. Then he went to the saloon, looking for the sheriff. He found him sitting alone, head in his hands, elbows on the table. His face drooped, and his eyes were bloodshot and puffy.

    “Howdy, Sheriff.”

    Sheriff Anderson winced. “Don’t shout, son. Can’t ya see I’m a-hurtin’?”

    “Sorry. Just came from Doc Winston’s.”

    Sheriff Anderson groaned.

    “There might be a break in the—”

    Sheriff Anderson waved Lambert off.

    “Give me a break, son, till I—”

    “Here’s yer medicine, Andy,” the barkeep said, handing him a concoction. “This should ease your hangover.”

    The sheriff grabbed it and guzzled every drop. He scrunched his face, and a shudder went from his head to his toes.

    “Aargh! The cure’s worse than the ailment,” the sheriff said, slamming the mug on the table. He cocked his head toward Lambert. “What light’s Doc Winston throwing on our mystery woman?”

    “Doc Winston showed me where the woman had a fractured arm years ago. If either Prescott or Suza knows anything about that, we’ll know who the woman is.”

    “If’n ya say so, son,” the sheriff said, rocking his head from side to side. “Miss Lilly knew Mrs. Prescott better than anyone. More likely, better than her husband.”

    “Where would I find her, Sheriff?”

    “Go down Main till ya see a big yella house. That’d be Miss Lilly’s... Now, will ya just let me die in peace, son? And when ya leave, walk away quietly... Please.”

    Lambert tipped his hat and stifled a chuckle.

    End Chapter Twelve

  14. #14
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2018
    Ann Arbor, MI, USA
    CHAPTER THIRTEEN of 20 or so

    Miss Lilly’s boardinghouse was on the corner of Main and Creek at the eastern edge of town. It was a spacious, two-story building with bright-yellow clapboard siding, a black roof, white-trimmed windows, and white gingerbread-trimmed roofs. Its porch wrapped around its front and extended halfway along its right and left sides. A freshly-painted, white picket fence enclosed the front lawn.

    Lambert strolled up to the gate, but Miss Lilly flung open the screen door before he could step foot in her yard.

    “Hold it right there, mister. I got no rooms for trail bums, cattle thieves, or half—”

    “Don’t finish that thought, ma’am, ‘cause I’m none of them. But if you give me a minute of your time...”

    “I don’t have time for riff-raff the likes of you. And I’ll put Sheriff Andy on you if you don’t skedaddle this very minute.”

    “But Sheriff Anderson sent me.”

    “Likely story, mister,” she said, backing into the house and closing the screen door.

    “This will explain everything.” Lambert unfolded and waved Prescott’s letter at arm’s length so Miss Lilly could see. “It’s from Mr. Prescott.”

    “You work for Reginald Prescott?”

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    “Another reason to keep you off my property.”

    “How’s that?” Lambert asked, folding the letter and putting it back in his pocket.

    “Got no love for him or anyone who works for him.”

    Lambert took off his hat and held it loosely. “Could I at least come closer?” he asked, slightly cocking his head and rotating his hat on his left fingers with his right hand. “I can explain what I’m looking for.”

    “Right there is close enough, mister. Just state your business and leave.”

    “Mrs. Prescott... Mika has turned up missing, and I’m trying to find her. Now, are you willing to help me locate her or not?”

    “Mika’s missing?” The screen door flew open, and Miss Lilly hurried to the edge of the porch. “How? She was just here a couple weeks ago.”

    “She never returned home. A telegram said she was going to New Orleans. Know anything about that?”

    “Why would she be going there?”

    “That’s what I’m trying to find out, Miss Lilly, so if you don’t mind—”

    “Well, don’t stand there in front of God and everyone, mister... Uh, I didn’t catch your name.”

    “TG Lambert, but just plain Lambert will do.”

    “Come on in and sit a spell, Mr. Lambert,” Miss Lilly said, holding the screen door open.

    Lambert stepped inside.

    The first floor of Miss Lilly’s boardinghouse had a large dining room to the left with a rectangle-shaped oak table and eight chairs. Straight ahead, stairs rose to the second floor while the hallway led to the kitchen and back rooms. Stirring, banging, clanking, and the help’s muffled voices came from the kitchen direction. And the aroma of baking bread and muffins filled the air.

    A parlor to the right had two green-on-green striped couches with gilded edges, four matching chairs—two side chairs and two armchairs—tables, bookcases, lamps, and freshly-painted beige-colored walls. The floors were hardwood stained dark but showed the wear of countless boarders, as did the furniture.

    Lambert waited for Miss Lilly, and when she sat on one couch, he sat on the other, facing her. He put his hat alongside him.

    “Something to drink, Mr. Lambert?”

    “No, but thank you kindly... Now, about Mika... Uh, Mrs. Prescott. Why did she stay so long this time? I’ve been told that was unusual.”

    “Yes, sir, it was,” she said, nodding. “Mika ordinarily stayed overnight to catch the southbound train to Vinita, but not this time. You see... A medicine show was in town, and one of the showwomen was from her homeland. So they hit it right off and became fast friends; inseparable they were. And from a distance, you’d be hard-fixed to tell them apart, two peas in a pod for sure. But one morning, she got up and took the early train without notice, without so much as a goodbye. Only one that early was the northbound to St. Louis, which struck me odd.”


    “Reginald is twenty years older than Mika and is more of a father than a husband to her, except... Well... I don’t have to spell it out. She felt penned in, corralled, smothered by him. And truth be told, he loved his cattleman’s bank more than anything, including Mika.”

    Miss Lilly poked her finger directly in Lambert’s face. “Lord knows I’d never put up with that from no man, but God bless her; Mika endured him, even loved him, and after some time away from home and the occasional diversion, she couldn’t wait to get back to him.”

    “Hear tell, she stayed a week with you.”

    “Like I said... She usually stayed overnight—arriving or leaving—but she settled in for eight days as I remember, maybe it was nine, all told.”

    “How close were Mika and the showwoman?”

    “Best way to describe them: thick as thieves. Mika spied her the first night she was in town; after that, they took to one another, and you couldn’t separate them with a whip if you tried.”

    “Understand she packed up and brought all her belongings from the farm.”

    “That she did, and I asked her about it. Suppose you know about her gentlemen visitors at the farm.”

    “Henry was quite open about his disdain for them.”

    “And for her, knowing Henry and Mary... Anyway, if you wanna call him her friend, David Thompson stopped by for a visit.”

    “The gambler.”

    “And a no-gooder to boot... Anyhow, they had words that ended in a full-blown argument. Mika sent him packing. She told him not to see her anymore; they were through. She finally realized what a fool she’d been all these years and decided to return to Reginald and never leave again.”

    “Why the change of heart?”

    “Don’t know. Mika never said, but I sensed something wasn’t the same. She seemed different in a way, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. She often told me her most private thoughts, so I thought she'd tell me, but she held back this time.”

    “Then why’d she go north?”

    “Got me, Mr. Lambert. But if you knew Mika as long as I have, you’d expect her to do the unexpected.”

    “Tell me about the last time you saw or spoke to her.”

    “You know about the buggy ride...”

    “When Mika took Sakura to see the Prescott farm?”

    “That’s right... Mika left in the afternoon and returned before sundown. She went straight to her room without so much as a word; never did that before. Mika was a chatterbox; we could talk for hours, but not that evening. The next morning, she got up and left for the depot without breakfast or saying goodbye. That was not like her at all. And she left most of her belongings behind; only took one bag, maybe two, near as I can figure.”

    Lambert read Mika’s telegram to her.

    “What’s your opinion that Mika and David were going to New Orleans together?”

    “It has to be a fake, Mr. Lambert. Mika planned to go home, not run off with that David character of all people. He’d be the last person she’d hightail it with, not after the row they had.”

    Lambert reached for his hat. “I thank you kindly. Oh, another question, if you please.”

    Miss Lilly nodded. “Why, sure, Mr. Lambert. If I can help...”

    “Did you notice if Mrs. Prescott had a broken arm?”

    “Did he—”

    “No, Miss Lilly, nothing like that. She broke it as a child, and her arm would have been slightly malformed. Did you notice?”

    “No, I didn’t.”

    “You’ve been a great help, Miss Lilly.” Lambert started to stand.

    “Sure, you wouldn’t care for some refreshment, Mr. Lambert?”

    “Since you twisted my arm...” Lambert relaxed on the couch.

    Miss Lilly got up and returned with a whiskey bottle and two glasses on a tray.

    “Why, Miss Lilly, I’d never figure you for a whiskey drinker.”

    Miss Lilly smiled, poured, and handed Lambert a glass. She took the other and returned to the couch.

    “Would you answer one more question?”

    “Depends, Mr. Lambert,” Miss Lilly said and sipped her whiskey.

    “Why do you dislike Reginal Prescott the way you do? I sense a motherly love for Mika and understand your contempt for him for the way he treats her, but it goes beyond that, doesn’t it?”

    Miss Lilly took another sip of her whiskey and looked at the ceiling. Then she held the glass in her lap with both hands and looked at Lambert.

    “Before Reginald made his banking fortune, he’d room here while the land was cleared for a house, barn, and corral at his new farm. He invited me to take a buggy ride to see them when they were finished.”

    She took another sip and continued.

    “He showed me the barn, corral, and then the house. He was proud as punch of the farmhouse with the latest T Goshen stove and new table and chairs. And... And the bedroom. Then when he—”

    “Didn’t you tell the sheriff?”

    “Tell him what? Who’d believe me?”

    “I’m sorry...”

    “Don’t feel sorry for me. Direct your regrets to Mika.”

    “What you mean?”

    “Mika wanted children but couldn’t conceive. She always thought Reginald was why she couldn’t, but he wasn’t the reason.”

    “How do you know?”

    “Just never you mind, Mr. Lambert.”

    Lambert glanced at the framed Daguerreotypes of a young woman on the table behind Miss Lilly. He smiled.

    “That’s a mighty fine-looking young woman,” he said.

    Miss Lilly jerked her head around at the images. She looked at Lambert and nodded, her lips pursed. “My niece,” she said guardedly.

    “She has her father’s chin and nose...”

    Miss Lilly’s eyes widened.

    “And her mother’s beautiful eyes and smile...”

    Miss Lilly’s jaw dropped.

    “Steel-gray eye color, maybe?”

    End Chapter Thirteen

  15. #15
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2018
    Ann Arbor, MI, USA
    CHAPTER FOURTEEN of 20 or so

    Mid-afternoon, Dr. Suza’s medicine-show bow-top wagon rolled into town and stopped by the livery. Lambert and Jeb heard the team of horses and came out of the barn to investigate.

    “Lambert,” Suza said, tipping his hat back on his head. “Expected you’d still be out looking for your lost woman.”

    “What brings you here?” Lambert asked.

    “Got the sheriff’s telegram and had to come and see for myself.”

    Lambert glanced at Jeb and back at Suza, shaking his head. “Not a pretty sight.”

    “I could tell you about ugly, Mr. Lambert. I’ve seen it all.”

    “This you haven’t. I’d bet on that.” Lambert turned and said to Jeb, “Better get Sheriff Anderson and meet us at Doc Winston’s.”

    “And, sonny,” Suza said to Jeb, “would you care for my team? Feed and water and a little shade will do.”

    “Yes, sir, Dr. Suza,” Jeb said, leaving to get the sheriff. “Soon as I get back.”

    Suza got down from the wagon and went to its rear. He knocked on the door. Two young Chinese women stepped down when it opened, wearing plain-brown traditional clothing and sandals. Their hair was long, black, and braided. When they saw Lambert, they bowed.

    “Howdy, miss,” he said, greeting each woman with a smile and a tip of his hat.

    “Lead the way, Lambert,” Suza said.

    “Not with them. It’ll take a strong man to see what we’re about to see—not fit for a woman’s delicate nature.”

    “They can wait outside in case we have any questions.”

    “All right... Have it your way.”

    While they walked to Doctor Winston’s home, Lambert didn't say much, and Suza walked alongside quietly. The woman trailed several steps behind the men chattering between themselves in Chinese.

    Before they’d reached Winston’s, Sheriff Anderson yelled, “Wait up.”

    They turned to see the sheriff scurrying behind them.

    “Wait fer me. I might wanna ask ya’ll a couple of questions.”

    They walked together after the sheriff caught up. As they approached the doctor’s home, a team pulling an open flatbed wagon stopped behind the house next to the barn. Winston and a helper were on the seat, and a canvas tarp-covered object lay in the back.

    Winston saw them and, after giving his helper instructions, climbed down and met them.

    “Come in,” Winston said, opening the front door. “Come in and have a seat.”

    Winston ushered them into the sitting room. The women sat together on a floral-print sofa, Suza sat in the matching chair, and the sheriff and Lambert stood.

    “Coffee? Tea, anyone?” Winston asked with a nervous smile.

    The men shook their heads, and the women sat stone-faced.

    “Doc,” the sheriff said, “this here’s Suza, the medicine-show doctor, who reported his China woman had turned up missing.”

    Lambert refrained from correcting the sheriff about the woman’s nationality; he’d done it several times already, but it didn’t seem to register, so he let it slide on by.

    “Doctor Suza,” Winston said. “Pleasure making your acquaintance. Sorry, it wasn’t under better circumstances.”

    Suza stood and nodded.

    “I take no pleasure being here, but thank you just the same, Doctor.”

    “Well, then... I suppose you want to see the remains of your missing woman,” Winston said.

    “That’s why I came,” Suza said.

    “Uh... Come this way, gentlemen,” Winston said, bowing slightly and extending his hand toward the back room. “Zeeb and I brought the rest of her remains just now, so you won’t be able to see them yet.”

    “Why not?” Suza asked.

    “Well, sir... Uh... The state of decomposition is quite extensive, and the organs, what’s left of them, are putrefied beyond belief.”

    “I am a physician, sir, and have experienced the horrors of the war. There’s little I haven’t seen.”

    “As you wish, Doctor.”

    Winston led them to the back room and then to the prep area, where Zeeb was scrubbing the skeletal bones of the torso and pelvis. Sheriff Anderson gagged, went outside, and vomited alongside a tree. Lambert and Suza stood stoically, watching Zeeb work.

    “How much longer, Zeeb,” Winston asked.

    “Twenty or thirty minutes should do it.”

    “Meanwhile, gentlemen, we could examine the long bones and skull.”

    Winston led them to the examining room. While Suza and Lambert watched, he displayed the arm and leg bones in their natural alignment on the table and put the skull at the far end, lying on its left side. Some of the finger and toe bones were missing.

    “What we have are the skeletal remains of a woman. I reckon some animal chewed a few fingers and toes and carried them off somewhere; otherwise, it’s complete. You’ll notice, Doctor Suza, that there are callus formations of the left ulna and radius, indicating a fracture several years ago. The bones weren’t aligned perfectly, so this woman would have had a mild deformity of her left arm just above her wrist. The long bones’ gnaw marks indicate wild animals feasting on the corpse; however, I assume the creatures were a smaller variety since none were cracked open.”

    “How did she die?” Suza asked.

    “I’m coming to that, Doctor...” Winston picked up the skull.

    Sheriff Anderson entered the room, shaking his head. “Sorry, but I don’t know what came over me back there.”

    “As I was saying... The cause of her death was a sharp blow to the back of her head, fracturing the suture of the right and left parietals and the occipital bones. Most likely from a pointy rock since the fracture is relatively small and localized. Her death occurred quickly, probably knocked cold with the blow, and she died before falling to the ground.”

    “How do you know these bones are of a woman?” Suza asked.

    “When we examine the pelvis, you’ll see its overall structure is thin, broad, and shallow, and the superior pelvic aperture is wide, oval, and rounded; clearly, a female’s skeleton.”

    “And Japanese?”

    Winston opened a drawer and laid the hair across the leg bones.

    “You tell me, Doctor,” Winston said.

    Suza picked up the hair and examined it closely.

    “And we found these chopsticks nearby.”

    Winston laid three two-pronged brass hairpins about eight inches long on the table. Each had a one-inch round filigree-style carved design at one end.

    “They’re kanzashi sticks,” Suza said. “They keep Japanese women’s hair in place.”

    “Then ya recognize them,” the sheriff said.

    “No... Not exactly.”

    “What’s that mean? Either ya do, or ya don’t.”

    “Chyou, Daiyu, and Sakura had so many different ones, and they shared them. I never paid much attention... That’s what I’m saying. You should ask the twins; they should know.”

    “I will, but fer now...” The sheriff hesitated, glancing at Lambert. “What ya know ‘bout this here broken left arm, Doctor Suza?”

    “Nothing. I wasn’t aware if Sakura ever broke her arm or not.”

    “Didn’t you notice any deformity?” Lambert asked.

    “Can’t say that I did. She usually wore long-sleeved garments, even on the hottest days. Rarely saw her arm uncovered and didn’t pay much attention—”

    “Ya don’t seem ta pay much attention ta anythin’, Doctor. Why’s that?” the sheriff asked.

    “Don’t read more into what I’ve said than face value: these women help me sell my elixir, nothing more. I give them no more thought than a rancher gives his hired hands. I’ve never had any personal designs on any of them beyond our business arrangement. You are correct, sir if you call that not paying much attention.”

    “Why don’t we ask the women?” Lambert said, picking up the hair sticks.

    Winston led the way to the parlor. The twins smiled and nodded when the men entered.

    “These men have some questions of you,” Suza said.

    They looked at each other and shook their heads. Suza knelt and took their hands in his.

    “You must answer them,” he said. “You’ll be all right. Understand?”

    They nodded. Suza stood.

    “You may ask now.”

    “Have you seen these before?” Lambert asked, handing the hair sticks to them.

    They looked at the sticks but didn’t touch them. They turned to each other and said something in Chinese.

    “In English,” Suza said.

    “Sakura had some like these,” Chyou said.

    “Yes. I saw them,” Daiyu said.

    “Did she ever break her arm?” the sheriff asked.

    They spoke to each other in Chinese, and then Chyou said, “Sakura never said, but she fell from a tree while in the orphanage with us.”

    “But she no break her arm,” Daiyu said.

    “Did she have all her teeth?” Winston asked. “Cavities? Gold fillings?”

    “No... Same as she was born with,” Susa said.

    “Not likely.”

    “You know what I mean, Doctor. She had excellent teeth.”

    “How tall was she?” Winston asked.

    The twins and Suza shrugged.

    “About their height,” Suza said, referring to the twins.

    “And they are...?” Winston asked.

    “About five-two or three, I suppose.”

    The twins glanced at each other, puzzled.

    Please come with me, ladies, and I’ll measure you.”

    The twins shook their heads.

    “It’s all right,” Suza said. “The doctor needs to know.”

    They nodded and stood. But before Winston could take them to the patient examination room, Zeeb burst in.

    “Doc! Ya won’t believe what I just found!”

    End Chapter Fourteen

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