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Thread: TG Lambert, Bounty Hunter: Oklahoma Reckoning

  1. #16
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
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    Jun 2018
    Ann Arbor, MI, USA
    CHAPTER FIFTEEN of 20 or so

    Sheriff Anderson jumped to his feet when Zeeb returned to the parlor. The corner of Zeeb’s mouth was turned up in a nervous grin, his brow was raised an inch or more, and his eyes were as wide as saucers. Lambert slowly stood.

    “What’s the mystery, Zeeb?” the sheriff asked.

    “Can’t say,” he said, relaxing his facial muscles and glancing at the floor. “But Doc wants ta see ya both.” Zeeb licked his dry lips and fixed his eyes on the sheriff. “He’ll tell ya hisself, I reckon.”

    “Did he discover something significant?” Suza asked, sliding to the edge of his seat.

    Zeeb was puzzled. “Don’t know’d ‘bout 'see niffy can’t,' but Doc’s got sumthin’ mighty important ta say just the same.” Then an impish grin formed on his lips. “So never ya mind, Doctor Suza. When the time’s right, ya’ll find out.”

    On hearing that, Suza hopped to his feet.

    “What the hell do you mean by that, sir?” Suza asked. He took a step toward Zeeb, but Sheriff Anderson blocked his way.

    “Sit down!” the sheriff said. “Until Doc tells us what he’s found, remain calm... And don’t leave...” The sheriff waved his hand at all of them. “None of ya. Ya hear?”

    Suza returned to his chair, and the twins nodded. Zeeb led the sheriff and Lambert to the examination room.


    “Whatcha find, Doc?” the sheriff asked as soon as he stepped into the room.

    “Actually, Zeeb found it... A fetus...”

    “Fetus?” the sheriff asked. “What’s a—”

    “An unborn baby,” Winston said.

    “I’ll be...,” Lambert said. “She was pregnant.”

    The wheels in Lambert’s mind were turning, and the puzzle pieces were falling into place. The deceased woman was young. Her long, midnight-black hair and kanzashi sticks suggested she was Japanese. Since the woman was pregnant, that ruled out Mika as the corpse's identity, at least according to Miss Lilly, so that pointed to Sakura, the only other Japanese woman in the picture. But as neatly as the puzzle was fitting together, Lambert had lingering doubts. Mika had the opportunity, but he could not fathom why she would murder Sakura.

    Then the sound of Doctor Winston’s voice redirected Lambert’s attention.

    “...And as near as I can determine—her being a China woman and all—she was about five to six months along.”

    “That throws a new light on the situation,” the sheriff said.

    “How’s that?” Lambert asked.

    “Motive. Now we gotta motive fer her murder.”

    “Don’t drive your herd up a box canyon, Sheriff,” Lambert said, shaking his head.

    “What ya mean?”

    “Opportunity: when he do it?” Lambert asked.

    Winston and Zeeb swapped glances.

    “Miss Lilly and Jeb said Mika and Sakura were together on a buggy ride until about seven-thirty,” he continued. “If the medicine show started at six, and Suza was on stage, hawking his elixir, he couldn’t have done it.”

    “That’s not how I sees it,” the sheriff said, sweeping his hand toward the door. “The prime suspect’s sittin’ right out in that there parlor, Lambert, plain and simple. He got angry ‘cause she missed the show, they fought, and he killed her—on purpose or by accident; it don’t matter a hill of beans, one way or the other. He’s guilty just the same.” The sheriff turned to leave. “And I’ll get ta the truth, with or without yer help.”

    “Sheriff... Wait. Wouldn’t the twins know what—”

    But Lambert’s plea fell on deaf ears. Sheriff Anderson was already through the door.


    “Will you tell us what’s going on?” Susa said, getting to his feet when Sheriff Anderson entered the room. Lambert, Winston, and Zeeb followed close behind him.

    The sheriff leveled his gun on Suza.

    “I’m arrestin’ ya fer the murder of yer China woman, so hand over yer gun.”

    “What?” Suza said, waving his hands. “I—I didn’t kill anyone.”

    “I said ta hand over yer gun.”

    “I don’t have one, Sheriff.”

    “You’re making a big mistake, Sheriff,” Lambert said, stepping toward Suza.

    “Stand aside, Lambert. I’ll handle this.”

    “Before you do something you’ll regret, may I question Doctor Suza?”

    “Don’t sees how it’ll hurt none. He ain’t a-goin’ nowheres.”

    “Why don’t you and Doctor Suza have a seat.”

    “Lambert...” the sheriff said.

    “Humor me, Sheriff.”

    Sheriff Anderson waved his gun toward the sofa, and Suza sat next to Chyou and Daiyu. Anderson holstered his weapon, found a chair, and sat. Winston and Zeeb backed against the wall.

    Lambert moved a chair to face Suza and the twins and sat. He wrung his hands and glanced at Winston.

    “Doc Winston discovered that the woman murdered in Prescott Woods was pregnant—possibly five or six months along. That right, Doc?”

    “That’s right, son,” Winston said, nodding. “As near as I can figure.”

    “Pregnant!” Suza said, jumping to his feet. “Sakura was pregnant?”

    “You’ve got your herd in a stampede, Doctor,” Lambert said. “We don’t know for sure the identity of the woman.”

    When Sheriff Anderson heard that, he started to stand, but Lambert motioned for him to remain sitting with a wave of his hand.

    Suza ignored Lambert and turned to the twins.

    “Did either of you know Sakura was going to have a baby?”

    Chyou and Daiyu chattered in Chinese to each other.

    “Chyou... Did you know?”

    Chyou looked at the floor.


    Daiyu looked at the floor as well.

    “Why didn’t you—she tell me?”

    Neither woman answered.

    “All right. All right, Suza,” the sheriff said, getting to his feet. “This family intrigue don’t change nuthin’. Yer still my—"

    “Unsaddle your horses, Sheriff,” Lambert interrupted. “I’m not done yet.”

    Sheriff Anderson sat and shook his head.

    “There’s more going on than a rancher and hired-hand relationship, more than a business arrangement to sell elixir. Am I right, Doctor?”

    Suza shifted positions in his seat and looked at the twins. He adjusted his tie and licked his lips.

    “Is Sakura your wife?” Lambert asked.

    Suza sat stone-faced.

    “This ain’t gettin’ us nowheres, Lambert,” the sheriff said, standing again. “I’m fer lockin’ him up till we’s can figger the truth of the matter.”

    “Sit down, Sheriff,” Lambert said, “and let me finish.”

    Sheriff Anderson plopped in his chair.

    “Was Sakura Doctor Suza’s wife?” Lambert asked the twins.

    They chattered in Chinese and then nodded.

    “I can only think of one reason for your silence, Doctor Suza. Chyou and Daiyu are your wives as well, aren’t they?”

    Suza looked at the floor.

    “Might as lay your cards on the table, Doctor,” Lambert said. “The truth’s coming out with or without your help.”

    Suza squirmed in his seat and wiped his brow.

    “You won’t understand...”

    “What’s ta understand?” the sheriff shouted, jumping to his feet and unholstering his gun. “Ya got three wives and killed one of them ‘cause she were carryin’ yer baby.”

    “No... No... You got this all wrong, Sheriff. When I bought them from the orphanage, I had no matrimonial intentions, just their freedom, and a business arrangement. But after a year or so, I developed strong feelings for them. When they reached marrying age, I asked them if... Having three wives was legal at the time, and I couldn’t give any of them up when the law was passed.”

    “But that don’t explain the baby,” the sheriff said.

    “I tried... We all tried... But I’d given up hope on being able to father a child,” Suza said with a tear in his eye. “So you see, Sheriff, we wanted a child more than anything, and I couldn’t kill my wife because she was pregnant. On the contrary, I’d be the happiest man on Earth.”

    “Then the twins done it out of jealousy,” the sheriff said, pointing his weapon at them.

    “Sheriff...” Lambert said. “Your herd’s stampeding in circles.”

    “Take no offense, Lambert, but ya Injuns talk in riddles,” the sheriff said. “Spit it out, plain and simple like.”

    “For one thing, how’d they do it? When’d they do it? Sakura and Mrs. Prescott left on their buggy ride between two and three. Jeb said the buggy was returned at sundown or about seven-thirty. The medicine show started before then. So the twins couldn’t have killed Sakura. That leaves Mrs. Prescott...”

    “Ole Reginald ain’ta gonna like yer insinuation, son,” the sheriff said, shaking his head.

    “Would explain her sudden departure on the northbound train, which from all accounts, was unusual even for Mrs. Prescott’s sometimes unpredictable behavior.”

    “Where ya get yer schoolin’, Lambert?” the sheriff asked. “Half the time, I don’t knows what yer sayin’.”

    Lambert ignored him.

    “What time does the train to St. Louis stop tomorrow?” Lambert asked.

    “Don’t know fer sure... Just what ya up ta, Lambert?” the sheriff asked.

    “Looking for answers. Meanwhile, I’d turn them loose but keep them in town until I return.”

    End Chapter Fifteen

  2. #17
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
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    Jun 2018
    Ann Arbor, MI, USA
    CHAPTER SIXTEEN of 20 or so

    Lambert left Doctor Winston’s house and headed to the depot to check the train schedule for St. Louis and buy a ticket. The depot was a one-story building with clapboard siding, cornice brackets painted yellowish-gold; window trim, door trim, fascia painted dark brown; and a roof covered with black shingles. The main double-wide doors opened from the loading platform into the middle of the building.

    The interior was three times as long as its width, and its walls were dark-stained, with vertical tongue and groove planking above light-stained wainscotting. A potbelly stove divided the waiting room on the left, with church-pew-like seating from an open area and ticket sales right side of the building. A framed, walk-up height, arched opening with ornate metal bars in the wall served as the ticket window. To its right was a chalkboard with train schedules, but it had not been updated in several days. To the left was a door to the ticket office.

    The ticket agent was a young man barely out of his teens with curly brown hair, a narrow face, and a pointed jaw, sitting on a stool with an elbow on the counter and his hand cradling his head. He wielded a fly swatter in his other hand, whacking any unfortunate insect landing within arm’s length.

    “...Twelve,” the agent said, whacking another fly. Soon, another landed nearby. “Thirteen... That beats my record, Joey.”

    “Yer plumb loco, Billy,” Joey answered from the office behind the ticket counter.

    Lambert approached the window. Billy raised his lazy eyelids but managed to swat another fly without missing a beat.

    “Fourteen, Joey... What ya want, mister?”

    Lambert suppressed the urge to rip the bar off the ticket window, drag the insolent youngster through the opening, and teach him a few manners. Instead, he took a deep breath and slowly let it out while counting to ten to himself.

    “Didn’t ya hear me, mister? I said—”

    “I heard you the first time, sonny,” Lambert said, glaring at him. “When’s the next train to St. Louis?”

    “Saturday,” Billy said while swatting at another fly and missing. He threw the swatter on the floor. “See what ya done, mister?”

    Lambert did not respond; he just glared at him.

    “Made me miss that there fly. Now, I’m gonna havta start countin’ all over again.”

    “What time does it leave? Lambert said through his clenched jaw.

    “Oh, yeah... The train to St. Louie... The Saturday Limited... I reckon it arrives somewheres ‘round six and leaves ‘bout six-twenty in the morning. Wanna ticket?”

    “Yes. And some information.”

    Billy sat straight on the stool, leaned forward, and took a slow gander at Lambert from toe to head.

    “Uh...” Billy sucked air through the corner of his mouth. “What kinda information, mister?” he asked, cocking his head backward and looking down his long nose at Lambert.

    “Did you sell a ticket to a China woman about two weeks ago? She would’ve been going to St. Louis.”

    “Who wants to know? We don’t up and revel them kinda particulars to every trail bum, waltzin’ in here, thinkin’ he’s somebody. Especially, ta no Injun Chief.”

    “Billy,” Joey yelled. “That mouth of yers is gonna get ya inta trouble sumday.”

    “Seys, you,” Billy said, turning his head toward Joey.

    Lambert’s anger flared. He stepped backward and pushed his coat aside, revealing his sidearms.

    “These want to know, sonny.”

    Billy whipped his head around. He took one look at the Pearl-handled guns strapped to Lambert’s hips and dove under the counter.

    “He’s gotta gun, Joey! Hide!”

    “Yer gonna get us kilt, fer sure, ya idiot.”

    Lambert tried opening the door to the ticket office, but it was locked. Undeterred, he kicked it in and found Billy cowering under the counter. Joey was nowhere to be seen.

    “Don’t shoot, mister,” Billy whimpered, hunched over against the wall and shielding his head with his hands.

    Lambert approached Billy and stopped, hands on his guns. He loomed tall over the trembling young man. Tears trickled down Billy’s cheeks, and his jaw and lips quivered.

    “Ple—Please, mister,” Billy pleaded. “I didn’t mean nothin’.” He shook his head. “Just don’t shoot me.”

    “Lord knows I’d like to,” Lambert said, putting his hands on his hips, “but I’m not gonna waste good lead on the likes of you. Now stand up, you sorry dump of horse muck.”

    “Yes, sir,” Billy said, hopping to his feet. Whatcha wanna know, mister? Anything. Just ask.”

    Billy stood ridged, hands at his side. His brow was raised an inch or more, his eyes were as wide as saucers—focused on Lambert’s guns—his mouth was agape.

    “Did a China woman purchase a ticket to St. Louis about two weeks ago?”

    “Not that I can remember. Honest, mister,” Billy said, shaking his head without moving his body. He cocked his head toward Joey. “You remember a China woman, Joey?”

    “Yeah,” he answered from under his desk. “She bought a ticket and left on the northbound local at eight-thirty.”

    “Is she the same China woman who always purchased a ticket to Vinita?”

    “She got tickets from Billy,” Joey said, getting to his feet. “Sorry, we can’t help ya, mister.”

    “Obliqued, anyway,” Lambert said. He turned to Billy. “Wasn’t that much easier?”

    “Yea—Yeah, I guess so,” Billy stammered, and then he opened the counter’s drawer and offered Lambert a ticket. “Oneway or roundtrip, mister?”


    After purchasing a roundtrip ticket, Lambert started for the saloon to get a bite and some suds to wet his whistle. Before he was halfway there, a horse-drawn coach rolled into town.

    There was no mistaking who the coach belonged to. Only Reginald Prescott could be that audacious. It looked as outlandish as his bank, all painted sage green with hunter-green trim. Gilded scrollwork outlined the coach's top, bottom, and side edges. Its wheels matched the color scheme all the way to the ground. The calligraphy letter RP on the coach’s door was 24-caret gold, and shiny brass edge protectors were freshly polished to mirror-like perfection.

    The horses were a matched team of four of the finest stock Lambert had ever laid eyes on. And they were hitched to the coach with harness leather that looked brand new, never been used before. A driver and “shotgun” wore matching uniforms akin to toy soldiers.

    They stopped at the livery, and the “shotgun” hopped down to open the coach’s door for its passenger. Prescott put his hand on the window frame, leaned forward, and surveyed the town. A few townsfolk turned toward the livery to see what the commotion was all about.

    Prescott climbed down and tipped his hat to the onlookers, but they turned and went about their business. When he saw Lambert, he waved his hat above his head to get Lambert’s attention.

    Lambert was not at all pleased to see Prescott. The mystery of two missing Japanese women had too many open-ended questions for anyone to step in and muddy the waters, and having Prescott in town would do just that. But Lambert cordially acknowledged him and walked toward the livery.

    When he was in earshot, Lambert asked, “What brings you to Wyandotte, Mr. Prescott?”

    “Well... Your telegram, for one thing, and my curiosity, for another. It’s been years since my last visit to this fine metropolis, and I’d wanted to—”

    “We both know bull when we see it, so let’s not waste each other’s time.”

    “All right, Lambert... I’ve had my eye on a plot of land for quite a spell, and I got wind it might be for sale, so I—”

    “Then, you’re not one bit concerned about the corpse Doc Winston has in his office and that it just might be your wife, Mika.”

    “Hell, no, Lambert. You read her telegram; besides, Mika never had a broken bone in her body.”

    “Perhaps after you met her, but what about before, in her youth?”

    Prescott leaned against the coach, his face drooped.

    “Was her left arm deformed in any way?” Lambert asked. Near her wrist, maybe?”

    Prescott wagged his head without speaking.

    “Now, hold on to your hat, Mr. Prescott. Are you confident Mika was not pregnant?”

    Prescott stood upright, feet firmly planted on the ground, face fiery red, and jaw tightly clenched. “How dare you, Lambert. You’ve no right to suggest—”

    “Come down off your high horse, Mr. Prescott. For one thing, I’m not suggesting anything we both don’t already know about your wife. For another, this isn’t the place to discuss anything about her. Wouldn’t you agree?”

    Prescott nodded in agreement and turned to Samuel, the “shotgun.”

    “See to the horses, Samuel, while Mr. Lambert and I stop by the saloon. Afterward, you and Hank can get something to eat and drink.”

    “You stayin’ in town for the night, Mr. Prescott?” Samuel asked.

    “We’ll be more welcomed on the farm.”

    Lambert’s mouth curled up into a slight grin. He was not so sure Mary and Henry would be glad to see Prescott’s entourage come a-rollin’ down the road. He doubted Prescott would be as welcome as he thought he would be.

    End Chapter Sixteen

  3. #18
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
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    Jun 2018
    Ann Arbor, MI, USA
    CHAPTER SEVENTEEN of 20 or so

    The Wyandotte House saloon was busier than usual. Besides the townsfolk, who were regular fixtures, a half dozen or more cowpokes on their way to Texas had stopped for food and drink. Deputy Anderson and the other barkeep were behind the bar, setting up drinks, drawing mugs of beer, and taking food orders. Laughter, loud talking, and off-key piano playing filled the room. And the odors were a curious amalgam of beer, whiskey, spicy food, and cowboys who had not bathed in who knew when.

    When Lambert and Prescott entered the saloon, Deputy Anderson immediately noticed them. He slammed the whiskey bottle he was holding on the bar, pitched his apron, and hurried to meet them.

    “Well... As I live and breathe... Reginald ‘Horse’s Butt’ Prescott.”

    “Good to see you, too, Reuben. How’s Andy?”

    “Like ya give a tinker’s dam ‘bout anythin’ other than yerself.”

    “You got me all wrong, Reuben. Always have.”

    “Rattle or no rattle, I know’d a snake when I’s seen one.”

    Lambert put his hands on the men’s shoulders and tried guiding them to an empty table.

    “As much as I’d like to hear you two reminisce about old times, there’s a larger issue at stake: identifying the woman found in the woods.”

    The men stopped bickering, but Reuben declined to join Lambert and Prescott at the table.

    “Too busy ta stop and chew the fat,” he said. “I’ll send Bert over ta take yer orders fer food and drinks—on the house... Andy should be here soon.”

    Lambert nodded, but Prescott was already looking around the room. Reuben walked away, shaking his head and mumbling under his breath.

    “I’ve heard Deputy Anderson’s version of the story. We’ve got time; I’d like to hear your version.”

    “What story?” Prescott asked, turning to face Lambert.

    “Why try, Mr. Prescott? Your games don’t work on me.”

    Prescott rocked back in his chair and put his hat on the table. He glanced right, left, and leaned forward, his elbows on the table. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

    “All right, Lambert,” he began. “Don’t know why I should, but I’ll lay my cards on the table.”

    But before Prescott could start telling his story, Burt interrupted him.

    “Reuben seys you gents are hungry and thirsty—ain’t we all tonight. What’ll ya have?”

    “Beer, steak, beans, and biscuits,” Lambert said without hesitation. “Beer first, if you please.”

    “Steak cooked as usual?”

    “Just so long it’s not bleeding to death on my plate,” Lambert said, chuckling.

    “And you, Mr. Prescott?”

    “The same, but make sure it’s dead before bringing it out.”


    “What’s the beer like, Lambert?” Prescott asked.

    “Wet, warm, and plenty of suds.”

    “Hasn’t changed a bit. Bring me a mug of it.”

    “Beer’s comin’ right up, but the meals will take a while—fresh biscuits are in the oven.”

    “We’re in no hurry, are we, Mr. Prescott?” Lambert said.

    Prescott did not react.

    Burt nodded, left, and returned with two mugs of beer dripping with froth.

    Lambert picked up a mug and took a gulp.

    “At least it’s wet.”

    Prescott sipped his.

    “Your story,” Lambert said. “Anytime you’re ready...”

    Prescott checked again for anyone within earshot and hunched over the table. He took a long drink of beer and set the mug within reach.

    “About twenty years ago, maybe more, maybe less, I was just getting started in banking and building my fortune. The war was thirty years behind us, and the country was expanding. For anyone bold enough, opportunities were limitless.”

    Prescott took a gulp of beer and wiped the suds off his mouth.

    “The country was hungry—hungry for beef. Texas had beef, Kansas had railroads east, and Oklahoma was between them. Cattle need food and water—we had plenty in Vinita and Wyandotte, natural stopovers. And it was a matter of time before the railways extended south.”

    “As much as I’m enlightened by your history lesson,” Lambert said, “it’s not getting us any closer to why the town hates you so much.”

    “I’m coming to that... I started buying land along the main cattle drive stopping points: Vinita and here. I acquired enough land in Vinita to create one of the territory's largest holding pens for cattle. And when the railroads were finally built, I was sitting on a gold mine. But I couldn’t get the last tract of land I needed here—until now. The townsfolk think I’ve abandoned them, but they don’t know that the businesses I purchased were failing. I kept them afloat by writing off their losses until I could turn Wyandotte into the next Vinita.”

    “Why didn’t you say something?”

    “That’s another story I’d rather not tell, Lambert.”

    “I saw a couple of Daguerreotypes of a young woman in her late teens while visiting Miss Lilly the other day.”

    Prescott’s eyes widened.

    “Miss Lilly said the woman was her niece, but she had a striking resemblance to both of you.”

    Prescott slammed back in his chair.

    “What you sayin’, Lambert?”

    “Miss Lilly told me about the incident between you and her at your farm.”

    Prescott leaned forward.

    “Then, you think that might be... Why... Lilly never said anything, never told... Anyone.”

    “I wondered how she could manage such a big house in such a small town. You own the boardinghouse, don’t you?”

    Prescott grabbed the mug of beer and took a gulp.

    “I bought the mortgage when she went back east to care for a sick relative. At least, that was the story she told. Anyway, when she returned, I had the mortgage refinanced so she could afford to live there.”

    “Then, she doesn’t know...”

    “No, and I want to keep it that way.”

    Bert arrived carrying two plates of food.

    “Who’s got the blood-rare steak?”

    “That’d be me,” Lambert said.

    Bert set the plates on the table and fished forks and knives out of his pocket.

    “Refills on the beers, gents?”

    Lambert handed his mug to Bert, but Prescott shook his head and picked up his knife and fork. He had barely cut off a piece of meat when Sheriff Anderson walked into the room.

    The sheriff stopped behind Lambert and glared at Prescott.

    “How long’s it been, Reg?”

    “Good seeing you, too, Andy. How you been?”

    “Twenty years? Well, it’s not long enough in my book.”

    Lambert twisted in his chair.

    “Have a seat, Sheriff, and take a load off your feet.”

    Anderson hesitated, then slammed a chair back and plopped in it.

    “What brings ya ta town, Reg? More land?” Sheriff Anderson asked with a snide smile.

    “As a matter of fact...”

    “Ain’t ya the least bit curious about the woman we found in the woods near yer farm?”

    Prescott shook his head and sat straight in his chair.

    “Should I be?”

    Anderson cocked his thumb toward Lambert.

    “He ain’t convinced, but I’s pretty sure it’s the China woman from the medicine show...Uh... Sakura was her name.”

    “There you have it,” Prescott said. “Mika’s Japanese, not Chinese, so she can’t be that woman.”

    “Chinese, Japanse. I can’t tell ‘em apart no how. All I know is two Asian women of the same age, build, and general description did go missing on the same day. And that there body Doc Winston has in his office may or not be yer wife, Reg—God forbid that it is—and we’s not rock-solid in agreement one way or the other who it is.”

    The blood drained from Prescott’s face, and he turned white as a sheet.

    “Finish yer meals, and we’ll all go over ta Doc’s. He’ll wanna ask ya some questions ‘bout Mrs. Prescott, and ya can see the remains if’n ya have a hankerin’ ta do so.”

    Prescott put his knife and fork in his food and shoved the plate toward the middle of the table. He grabbed the beer mug and chugged the last of the suds. He signaled the barkeep.

    Bert hurried over.

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Whiskey,” Prescott said.

    “Comin’ right up,” Bert said and turned to leave.

    “Bring a whole bottle,” Prescott called to him. “And a big glass.”

    Bert nodded and hurried to the bar.

    End Chapter Seventeen

  4. #19
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
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    Ann Arbor, MI, USA

    Prescott was tipsy when Sheriff Anderson and Lambert took him to Doctor Winston’s house. Lambert steadied him against a porch post while the sheriff knocked.

    When Winston opened the door, he looked surprised.

    “Andy,” Winston said. “What can I—” He glanced over the sheriff’s shoulder. “Uh... Is your friend ailing, Mr. Lambert?”

    Sheriff Anderson laughed, and Lambert shook his head.

    “No, Doc,” Lambert said with a chuckle. “A cup of strong, hot coffee’s what he needs right now.”

    “You’re fortunate. I just brewed a fresh pot.”

    Winston held the door wide open and ushered the men into the parlor. Lambert guided Prescott to the couch and sat next to him. The sheriff chose the chair alongside the couch while Winston went to the kitchen for coffee.

    “Anyone take milk and sugar?” he asked from the kitchen.

    Lambert glanced at the sheriff, and he shook his head. Prescott did not react.

    “Black for us, Doc,” Lambert said.

    “Be ready in a minute.”

    Moments later, Winston returned carrying a tray with four mugs of coffee. He put the one with milk and sugar by his chair and offered one to each man. He sat and sipped his coffee while each man tasted theirs.

    “Good-tasting brew, Doc,” the sheriff said.

    “This one’s different than before,” Lambert said.

    “Yes. An evening blend I prefer after dinner. Like it?”

    “Smooth as silk. Quite good.”

    Prescott held his mug close to his lips and blew on the hot liquid. He slurped a taste and winced.

    “Hot but good,” he said.

    “I reckon you didn’t stop by for a kaffeeklatsch, Andy,” Winston said. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

    “You probably never met Mr. Reginal Prescott, or have you?” Sheriff Anderson asked.

    “No, I haven’t,” Winston said, putting his mug down and standing. “But I’ve heard of him.”

    Sheriff Anderson and Lambert stood, but Prescott could not get to his feet. Lambert grabbed his arm, but Winston said not to bother getting him up.

    “Such as he is at the moment, this here is Prescott,” Sheriff Anderson said, extending his open hand. “And this here’s Doc Winston, Reg.”

    Prescott nodded.

    Winston smiled, retook his seat, and leaned toward Prescott.

    “If you can, I’d like to ask a few questions about your wife, Mr. Prescott.”

    Prescott nodded and gulped the black coffee. Lambert and the sheriff sat again and faced him.

    “What can you tell me about the fracture of your wife's left arm near her wrist?”

    “Never knew she broke her arm,” Prescott said, shaking his head. “Maybe before I met her, but she never mentioned it.”

    “Did you ever notice a mild deformity of the distal end of her forearm?”

    “Distal?” Prescott asked, glancing at Lambert.

    “Near her wrist,” Lambert said.

    Prescott shook his head again.

    “Did she have any other fractures?” Winston asked.

    “No... Not since I’ve known her.”

    Prescott drank the rest of his coffee.

    Lambert grew impatient. These bushes had been picked clean, and he felt the questioning needed to move to a new row of ripe fruit. He did not have to wait long.

    “Anything special about her teeth?”

    Prescott glanced at the sheriff and Lambert; they shrugged. Then he looked puzzled at the doctor.

    “What you mean?”

    “Missing teeth? Cavities? Gold? Things like that.”

    “Oh... No,” he said with a smile. “I wish my teeth were as perfect as Mika’s.”

    “How tall was she?”

    “Don’t know... Never measured her, but she didn’t quite come to my chin, so that’d make her about five-two or five-three.”

    “Anything else you can think of that would help identify her?”

    “She had a small butterfly tattoo on the left side of her neck. Maybe a half-inch or so tall and wide. Just a black outline, no color.”

    “Thank you, Mr. Prescott. You’ve been most helpful.”

    Prescott slid to the edge of the couch.

    “Wait a minute, Doctor. Don’t leave me hanging in mid-air. Tell me plainly: is the woman you found my Mika or the medicine show woman?”

    “It’s too early to tell for sure, Mr. Prescott.”

    “And the baby? What about the baby? I heard the woman was with child. Is that so?”

    “Yes. About six months along.”

    Prescott slid back on the couch. He gave the sheriff and Lambert a quick glance and smiled.

    “Well, Doctor... That can’t be Mika, then. We’ve tried for years to conceive, but it never took, so it can’t be her. It just can’t be. Can it?”

    Winston leaned back in his chair and tented his fingers.

    “I would’ve had to agree with you, Mr. Prescott, until I met you.”

    “What you mean?” Prescott asked, lurching forward.

    “A fetus will start growing hair by the fourth month and gets its color by the sixth.”

    “So?” Prescott said.

    “The fetus we found had reddish-colored hair,” Winston said, folding his hands. “Like yours, Mr. Prescott.”

    The color drained from Prescott’s face, and his eyes and mouth slowly opened wide. He sank into the couch, and his coffee mug slipped from his hand, but Lambert grabbed it before it fell. He tried to speak but could not.

    “No... No,” he uttered in a harsh whisper, wagging his head from side to side. When his voice returned, he said, “That woman can’t be Mika! I won’t accept your conclusions, Doctor.”

    “But, Mr. Prescott...”

    Prescott sprang to his feet and spun around to face Lambert.

    “I’m paying you a sizable sum to find my wife, Mr. Lambert! I suggest you get on with it and earn your keep!”

    The others followed suit and stood. Prescott put his hat on and adjusted his coat and trousers.

    “Meanwhile, I’ll be at my farm,” he said, tipping his hat. “Good day, gentlemen. I can find my own way out, thank you.”

    He walked briskly to the door and left.

    Lambert had arrived at Doc Winter’s, figuring he knew how all the puzzle pieces fit together. Mrs. Prescott was his prime suspect for the murder of the medicine show woman. She had the opportunity and was at the location within the timeframe. A motive was the last missing piece to the puzzle, but he was confident he would soon find it. At least, that is what he thought until Doctor Winston scrambled all the puzzle pieces with the pronouncement of a redheaded baby. Now he would have to start again and rethink everything from the beginning.

    Adding insult to injury, Prescott’s convicting words stung. Lambert did not like being dressed down, but this time he deserved it and took it. He had solved the mystery before all the evidence was in—a raw recruit’s error, and he knew better.

    “Well, Doc,” Sheriff Anderson said. “Ya could’ve knocked me over with a feather when ya said the baby had red hair just like ole Reg. I couldn’t believe my ears. Why didn’t ya say sumthin’ sooner?”

    “The color wasn’t clearly evident until we dried it a bit. It’s not conclusive, however.”

    “What ya mean, Doc?”

    “Don’t know if you noticed that Doctor Suza fellow has reddish overtones to his hair color, too, but Mr. Prescott... Take one look, and there’s no mistaking.”

    “So yer sayin’ Mrs. Prescott were the one murdered?”

    “The woman’s teeth are intact, with no cavities or gold fillings, and I estimated her height to be about five-three, maybe five-two. All these match the medicine show woman’s description and Mrs. Prescott's. Yes... It’s possible, but I’m not ready to bet the farm on it.”

    “Whatzit gonna take, Doc?”

    “If we knew which woman got on the train...”

    “Ya been mighty quiet, standing over there, Lambert. What’s yer take on this?” the sheriff asked.

    “Already got a ticket to St. Louis.”

    End Chapter Eighteen
    Last edited by DRayVan; 04-05-2023 at 04:33 PM.

  5. #20
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2018
    Ann Arbor, MI, USA

    Saturday, August 27

    Lambert arrived in St. Louis late afternoon and took a buggy cab to the waterfront. Paddle-wheel steamboats were slant-moored to the docks, bows pointing landward with sterns jutting into the river like piglets to a sow’s belly. Barrels, boxes, and bales lined the docks, and roustabouts scurried from dock to boat, carrying cargo onto and off vessels of all sizes. People of all descriptions and ages milled around, some embarking, some disembarking, and others just watching the activity.

    Lambert’s buggy stopped at the Mississippi Queen ticket office. After he paid the driver, he entered the building and approached the ticket counter. No one was manning the counter, but a sign said to ring the bell for service.

    After two taps on the bell, a clerk appeared at the window. His smile changed to a frown when he got a good look at Lambert.

    “Ah... What can I do ya for, Chief?”

    Lambert was not in the mood. If the ten-hour train ride in cramped seats was bad enough, his belly was growling, and his mouth was bone dry. He was on the edge, and pushing him over would not take much.

    When he did not answer quickly enough, the clerk leaned forward and raised his voice.

    “Hard of hearin’, are ya, Chief?”

    That was all Lambert could stand. He drew his weapon and stuck it between the bars. The end of the barrel pressed against the clerk’s nose.

    “My hearing is just fine, sonny, and I’m no chief.”

    The clerk gulped and raised his hands above his head.

    “I—I meant ya no disrespect, mister.”

    “That’s not how I heard it.”

    “Please, mister,” the clerk pleaded. “I got a wife, and we got a little one, barely a year old.”

    “Information then...”

    “Whatever ya want, mister. Just ask.”

    “You keep records of ticket sales?” Lambert asked, holstering his gun.

    “Every passenger is recorded...” the clerk said, pointing to the log. “Well... That ain’t quite the truth, mister. I only write down who buys the ticket and how many. I ask for the passengers’ names, but the buyer don’t always give ‘em. Even then, I can’t trust the names are real. I got more John Smiths than ya can shake a stick at, if’n ya understand what I’m a-sayin’.”

    “Identification not required?”

    “Hell, no, mister,” the clerk said, rapidly shaking his head. “We wouldn’t have any passengers if’n we asked fer positive identification.”

    “Do you remember an Asian woman purchasing a ticket to New Orleans about two weeks ago?”

    “Chinese travel a lot on our steamboats, mister.” The color drained from the clerk’s face. “I—I don’t knows if’n I’d remember—”

    “She would’ve been traveling alone, well dressed, young, and pretty.”

    “No one, mister,” the clerk said, perking up. “And I’d remember someone like that.”

    “Obliged,” Lambert said, tipping his hat.

    He turned to leave and was met by two deputies.

    “That’s him alright,” the clerk yelled. “Ya can’t do that in this town, Geronimo, and get away, Scott free.”

    “Come along peaceful, mister,” the first deputy said, grabbing one of Lambert’s guns.

    Lambert raised his hands—chest-high—and smiled.

    “I don’t want any trouble, deputies. I’m here on business, law business.”

    “Seys, you,” the second deputy said, grabbing the other gun.

    “What kinda law business?” the first deputy asked.

    “Bounty hunter looking for a missing banker’s wife,” Lambert said, dropping his hands. “Maybe a murderess to boot.”

    The deputies glanced at each other.

    “Bounty hunter, huh?” the first deputy said. “Seen all kinds, mister, and I ain’t never seen a half-breed one befer.”

    Lambert’s anger flared, but he suppressed the urge to plant a fistful of knuckles on the deputy’s jaw. Instead, he curled his hands into tight fists and counted to himself.

    “Reckon Chief Hannigan’ll wanna know ‘bout you,” the second deputy said. “And you can tell your story to him.”

    Lambert did not resist as he was ushered to the paddy wagon and locked inside.


    Lambert stood in the reception area of the Chief’s office with a deputy on each side. The Chief’s secretary, Mrs. Mabel Thorpe, sat at a desk in the back of the room next to the door of Laurence Harrigan, Chief, Department of Police.

    “What we got here, boys?” Mabel asked.

    “Some kinda Injun gunfighter that tried ta hold up the Mississippi Queen’s ticket office,” the first deputy said. “Calls hisself a bounty hunter. Ain’t never seen one like ‘im, so we thought Chief Harrigan might wanna talk ta ‘im befer he goes in the hole.”

    “I doubt it; he’s quite busy.”

    The second deputy leaned close to the secretary.

    “Pretty please, Mabel. Me and Coop need a break for Chief Harrigan’s good graces, and this here’s our ticket. So do this favor for me, and I’ll—”

    “And you’ll take me to dinner?”

    “Sure, Mabel. Sure.”

    Mabel knocked and went in. Moments later, she held the door open.

    “Bring him in, boys; Chief Harrigan will see you.”

    One deputy entered with Lambert behind, followed by the other deputy. The deputies stood on either side of Lambert, facing Chief Harrigan’s desk.

    “What we got here, Deputy Cooper?”

    “We caught ‘im tryin’ ta rob the Queen’s ticket office, Chief.”

    “Not many fancy-dressed Indians come our way,” Harrigan said. “Can’t remember that last one, to tell the truth. What’s your name, mister?”

    Lambert glanced around the office.

    “It’ll go a lot easier if you cooperate with us. You can start by telling me your name.”


    “Just Lambert?”

    “TG Lambert.”

    “What does the TG stand for, Mr. Lambert?”

    “It’s my Navajo name. You probably couldn’t pronounce the amalgam of my native vowels and constants correctly anyway, so I go by TG; it’s easier on my ears.”

    “You talk mighty fancy for an Indian, for most men I’ve encountered, for that matter. Where’d you learn—”

    “The Sacred Heart Abby School,” Lambert said, cutting Harrigan off. “Can we skip the routine questions and get to the part where you ask me why I’m in St. Louis? And what I was doing at the Mississippi Queen’s ticket office.”

    “I wouldn’t wanna play cards with you, Mr. Lambert, and expect to leave the game with the shirt still on my back.” He motioned to Deputy Cooper. “Get him a chair. I reckon his story’s gonna take a while.”

    Deputy Cooper frowned but pulled a chair in front of the chief’s desk for Lamber to sit in. Lambert sat and leaned back, relaxed. He reached into his coat and got a cigarillo.

    “Mind if I smoke?”

    “Go right ahead, Mr. Lambert,” Harrigan said, nodding. “You can leave us, deputies.”

    “But Chief...” Deputy Cooper said, stepping forward.

    “I’ll be fine, deputy. Mr. Lambert’s not going to cause us any trouble...” He looked Lambert square in the eyes. “Are you?”

    “No trouble... I’ll just enjoy my smoke and your hospitality, Chief Hannigan. I won’t be any trouble at all.”

    Both deputies glanced at each other and shrugged as they left the office.

    “All right, Mr. Lambert...”

    Chief Hannigan leaned back in his chair and tented his fingers.

    “I’ve grown weary of the mundane, petty crimes that plague our fine city. It’s been some time since I’ve sunk my teeth into a juicy case, and I’ve got a feeling your story may be rather interesting, so don’t prove me wrong. Let’s start with the following: who are you? Not your name, but who you really are.”

    Lambert glanced at the portrait of Harrigan in full military uniform hanging on the wall behind his desk with the crossed swords below it. He did not know what to think of this aging ex-military officer, who obviously craved the excitement of battle but was faced with the placidity of civilian life. He sighed and began his story.

    “By trade, I’m a bounty hunter, but when I received a telegram from Sheriff William Duggan—”

    “Bill Duggan of Silver Rock City?”

    “Yep... He’s the one. I got his wire that a friend of his, Mr. Reginald Presscott of Vinita, Oklahoma—”

    “Cattleman’s Bank Prescott?”

    Lambert nodded and continued.

    “Bill’s urgent message said Prescott needed my help. So I caught the first train out of Fortworth and arrived in Vitia on August 22. The following day I discovered Mika, Prescott’s wife, had traveled here on the fifth of the month and, since then, has been missing. As a rule, I don’t look for wayward wives, but Prescott put a bounty on her, so I took up the challenge.”

    Lambert took a long drag on his cigarillo and let the smoke curl out his nostrils.

    “Oddly, a woman from a traveling medicine show, Sakura, disappeared on the same day. They were both Japanese, about the same age and physique, and could have passed as sisters—twin sisters by some accounts. A couple days ago, a woman's decomposing body was found in a wooded area near the Prescott farm. Nothing much was left of the body except her bones and her pelvic tissues, but her fractured skull indicated she was murdered.”

    “Murdered, you say?”

    “Yes... Doc Winston is a hundred percent sure of that fact, but the facts are confusing from there.”

    “How so?”

    “The body was naked, and her clothes were nowhere to be found.”

    “Don’t see that... Even in this city.”

    “Then there’s the timing: Mika and Sakura went on an afternoon buggy ride, and someone returned the buggy by sundown and when to the boardinghouse where Mika stayed. The medicine show started at six without Sakura, and she’s been missing since then.”

    “Seems simple enough to me, Lambert. Mika... Mrs. Prescott killed the medicine show woman and—”

    “That exactly was my train of thought until Doc Winston discovered a six-month-old fetus in the woman’s remains.”

    “I don’t follow...”

    “The baby had red hair, just like Prescott.”

    “So now your line of thinking has switched tracks,” Harrigan said, sitting upright in his chair, “and Sakura’s the possible murderess.”

    “Not so fast, kemosabe... The other wives of Dr. Suza—”

    “Other wives?”

    Harrigan’s mouth was agape, and his eyes were as big as saucers.

    “That’s a whole new story,” Lambert said, waving his hand. “His wives claimed Sakura was pregnant and hadn’t told Suza yet.”

    “But the hair color?” Harrigan was on the edge of his chair.

    “If it wasn’t complicated enough, Suza’s hair has reddish overtones, and a close friend of Mika’s claims she’s barren—she’d tried to conceive but couldn’t.”

    Harrigan grabbed a pen and paper and hurridly scribbled a few notes. He looked up and asked, “Didn’t anyone see who returned the buggy?”

    “No... And early the following morning, the woman purchased a ticket and caught the northbound train to St. Louis. I can only assume she stayed aboard until she arrived here because Prescott received a telegram from the woman, identifying herself as Mika and saying she was leaving for New Orleans on the Mississippi Queen.”

    “So, that’s why you were at the ticket office... Discover anything?”

    “No one fitting her description purchased a ticket for the Queen around that time.”

    Harrigan rubbed his chin.

    “Maybe I can help.”

    He got up and went to the door.

    “Mabel,” he said to his secretary. “Bring me the file on that assault case three weeks ago where the woman nearly killed her assailant with her feet.”

    “Right away, Chief.”

    After a few moments, Mabel found the file and handed it to Harrigan. He took the file, returned to his desk, and flipped through the pages.

    “Here’s what you may be looking for, Mr. Lambert. A tallish, slim-build woman... Attractive, as I recall... Well dressed... Wouldn’t have expected her feet to be as lethal as they nearly were.”

    “What you mean?”

    “On the evening of Friday, August fifth, a woman arrived by train and was robbed by the cab driver; he took everything: money, jewelry, and even her hat. Then she was accosted by a man who tried to molest her. She managed to get free and broke his jaw with a kick to his face.”

    “One kick?”

    “Witnesses said she whirled around and caught him with the heel of her shoe while he was bent over protecting his privates. Apparently, she’d landed a solid blow to his crotch with the toe of her shoe and was in no shape to defend himself.”

    “Ouch!” Lambert said, scrunching his face.

    “And she wasn’t done with him yet. Before he hit the dirt, she’d twirled around and caught him square on his Adam’s apple, crushing his windpipe. He damn near suffocated. The deputies had to restrain her legs and hands to bring her in.”

    “Then, you still have her?”

    “No,” Harrigan said, shaking his head. “No reason to keep her. According to witnesses, the woman acted in self-defense, and the molester got what was comin’ to him. He’s still sipping his meals and singing soprano if he’s able to sing at all.”

    “You find out her name?”

    “Inari Kumamoto; it’s a fake—Inari is the Japanese rice god, and Kumamoto is a Japanese city. Her story matched the witnesses, so we set her free.”

    “Any idea where she is now?”

    “No. But without money, most young women end up on Olive Street, especially if they’re attractive or exotic. The City Council tried to regulate the brothels, but they gave up.”

    “How many are there?”

    “Nobody knows for sure.”

    “She’s the key to solving my murder mystery.”

    “I’d try Madam Lee’s House of Seven Pleasures. But don’t let the name fool you; she’s no more Chinese than we are. Her actual name’s Maribelle Lee, a freed Virginia slave who employs only Asian women to entertain her customers. And they are among the most powerful and influential.”

    “Why would the woman go there?”

    “Word travels around this town faster than the telegraph,” Chief Harrigan said with a chuckle. “If I know Maribelle, she had our mystery woman under her wing as soon as we released her.”

    “Oh... One last question. Did she have a butterfly tattoo on her neck?”

    “Sorry,” Harrigan said, shaking his head. “Her collar covered most of her neck, so I didn’t notice. But speaking of tattoos, Maribelle insists her girls all get tattooed. It’s a throwback to her slave days—she was tattoed like you’d brand cattle as proof of ownership.”

    “One sick woman...”

    “Regardless, she insists, and the women comply without question.”

    “Where do I find the House of Seven Pleasures?”

    End Chapter Nineteen

  6. #21
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2018
    Ann Arbor, MI, USA

    Monday, August 29, 1892

    A day and a half of thunderstorms and torrential downpours broke the back of the oppressive heat, and a northeasterly wind brought cooler temperatures and lower humidity. The rainfall transformed the city. It cleansed its streets, washing away the accumulated dust and grime. Once heavy and stifling, its air became crisp and clear, filled with the earthy scent of wet pavement. The downpour quenched the thirst of its trees, bushes, and lawns; revived drooping leaves and wilting flowers were already stiffer and greener.

    The residents of the city, relieved from the stifling heat, emerged from their homes. People were eager to engage in outdoor activities. Sidewalks became lively with conversation and laughter as friends gathered to catch up and enjoy the pleasant weather. Cafés provided more outdoor seating as people relished the opportunity to savor their meals outside, taking advantage of the enjoyable temperatures.

    As Lambert’s taxi buggy approached the bustling intersection of Sixth Street and Poplar Avenue, he was fascinated by the vibrant scene unfolding before him. The setting sun cast a stunning display of colors—splashes of yellow, orange, and red—painting the buildings with a delicate glow. His eyes darted from one sight to another, taking in his surroundings. The brightly lit buildings stood tall and proud, their facades embellished with colorful signs and decorations, adding to the festive mood. The streets were alive with activity, teeming with people.

    The scene felt almost carnival-like to Lambert. Street vendors lined the sidewalks, their stalls brimming with mouthwatering delicacies, enticing passersby with the tantalizing aroma of freshly cooked food. The air was filled with the sizzling odors from grills, the tempting fragrance of spices, and the delightful chatter of customers.

    Musicians stationed at strategic points along the street shared their musical talents with anyone who would stop and listen, hoping to attract the attention of onlookers and perhaps earn a few tips.

    Amidst the vibrant tapestry of sights, sounds, and scents, people moved about, their faces illuminated with joy and excitement. Lambert marveled at the diversity of individuals: young to old, poor to rich, and ethnicities galore. Some strolled leisurely, taking in the atmosphere and reveling in the moment, while others urgently hurried to heaven knew where.

    For Lambert, this vivid panorama was a stark contrast to a vivid memory, and he could not help but smile—the night of his twelfth birthday that now felt like a distant echo. That night, he had embarked on a rite-of-passage journey into manhood spurred on by the older braves of his village, visiting a house. But it was done in the shadows of the night, in the secret of darkness, a quiet and introspective experience that had left a profound mark on his young soul. Not like this, a carnival-like atmosphere of flamboyant energy and laughter.

    When Lambert approached the House of Seven Pleasures, he was struck by the elegance and grandeur of the Second Empire-style building. Its pristine whitewashed brick exterior stood tall and imposing on the northwest corner, commanding attention from passersby. The architectural details, characteristic of the style, painted a picture of opulence and refinement.

    The defining feature of the structure was its mansard roof, which showcased the dual-pitched design. The lower slope was steep, giving the building a sense of height and grandeur, while the upper slope had a nearly flat, low pitch. Dormer windows punctuated the roofline, facing south and allowing natural light to flood the full-height third floor.

    Along the cornice, decorative brackets added an intricate touch, emphasizing the building's craftsmanship. Tall and narrow, the arching windows exuded elegance and sophistication. Towers rose from the structure, providing an additional touch of architectural splendor.

    Lambert ascended the wide steps flanked by wrought iron railings, adding a touch of decorative flourish. He noticed the front yard was meticulously maintained, with carefully arranged flowerbeds, neatly manicured grass, and trimmed bushes enhancing the building’s overall appeal.

    When Lambert reached the landing, a doorman opened the tall dark-stained, nine-panel oak door to the House. Stepping into the main greeting room, he was immediately enveloped in an atmosphere of opulence and extravagance. His eyes widened as he marveled at the luxurious decor that adorned the space.

    The room was a testament to refined taste and wealth. The finest Persian rugs sprawled across the floor, their intricate patterns adding a touch of exoticism to the surroundings. Elaborate tapestries adorned the walls, depicting scenes of myth and legend, their vibrant colors and detailed craftsmanship capturing the eye.

    Multiple gas-lit crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, casting a sparkling glow across the room. Their shimmering light danced upon European-style furniture, exquisitely crafted and upholstered with plush fabrics. The air was filled with the delicate tinkling of Italian-cut glassware, adding a touch of elegance to the ambiance.

    In the far back of the room, an older woman sat at an upright piano, her fingers gliding effortlessly across the keys. She was of slave ancestry, evidence of the complicated history of the time. Her skillful playing filled the room with charming melodies, each note reverberating with emotion and depth. However, Lambert couldn’t help but notice that the lyrics she sang, although memorable, carried a vulgarity that seemed to amuse the patrons—both men and women—who gathered around.

    Lambert’s attention was then drawn to the dual staircases flanking the sides of the room. On the right side, the stairs ascended, where patrons were led to the secrets and delights of the upper floors, and on the left side, the staircase descended, where satisfied patrons rejoined the first-floor entertainment.

    As Lambert stood there, taking in the room’s grandeur, Madam Lee, the proprietor, approached him with a warm and welcoming smile. Maribelle Lee, a woman of mixed heritage and a freed slave, commanded attention with her presence.

    Maribelle stood at a statuesque height of five-foot-seven, her bronzed skin accentuated by the soft glow of the gas-lit chandeliers. Her plump figure exuded confidence and a zest for life. Her mid-thirties had graced her with a maturity that only enhanced her charm.

    Dressed in an elegant gown of brightly colored brocade, Maribelle embraced her figure with a low-cut neckline, proudly displaying her ample bosom. Feathers adorned her attire, adding an air of flamboyance to her ensemble. Her choice of jewelry was no less extravagant; diamond earrings, necklaces, and bracelets sparkled and shimmered with every movement.

    Approaching Lambert with a graceful stride, Maribelle’s voice was thick with Southern charm as she greeted him. “Oooo... My, my, my... Where does y’all comes from, handsome?” Her words flowed with a musical quality.

    Flustered yet captivated by Maribelle’s magnetic presence, Lambert struggled to find his voice. He tipped his hat respectfully, his mouth as dry as the desert sand.

    “Uh... Okla... Oklahoma, ma’am,” he managed to stammer, his cheeks reddening.

    Maribelle’s playful nature surfaced as she circled behind Lambert, lightly swatting his rump with her open hand. “Mmm... Mighty fine hams!” she remarked, her tone laced with flirtatiousness.

    Lambert felt his face grow hotter with embarrassment as her words rang in his ears. The room seemed to spin, and he struggled to find his footing. He stood there, hat in hand, feeling both exhilarated and overwhelmed by Maribelle’s unabashed forwardness.

    Sensing his discomfort, Maribelle circled back to face him, a mischievous grin spreading from ear to ear. She playfully squeezed his upper arm, her eyes roaming from his head to his crotch.

    “Ooo... Strong like bull,” she remarked, her voice dripping with innuendo. “Y’all hung like one, too, I bet.”

    Lambert’s face burned with embarrassment, realizing several patrons were now watching, and he had unwittingly become the center of their attention. Perspiration trickled down his forehead while his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. He stood there, momentarily frozen, like a fresh-cut tree stump.

    Maribelle, undeterred by his reaction, continued to exude confidence and boldness.

    “How ‘bout the two of us—on the house, of course—take a tumble. I’ve never done a turn with a half-breed, especially with such a fine specimen of a man,” she suggested, playfully fanning herself with her open hand.

    Lambert’s initial embarrassment turned to anger as her words struck a nerve. “I’m a full-blood Navajo, not a half-breed like you octoroons!” he snapped, his words laced with frustration and regret as they tumbled off his tongue. He heard several people gasp.

    Maribelle, seemingly unfazed by his outburst, maintained her composure. She regarded him with a calm yet knowing gaze, her voice conveying understanding.

    “Ooo... Touchy one, ain’t ya, honey child?” she remarked, her tone tinged with wisdom born of experience. “One look at ya would tell a stray hound was a-sniffin’ at yo family tree sometime in yo past... But it don’t make no difference to me, handsome. So, my offer still stands... What ya say, cowboy?”

    By now, the gathered crowd had lost interest in Lambert and Maribelle and had moved on to other, more exciting entertainment.

    But Lambert stood there, the weight of her words settling heavily upon him. He realized he had let his anger get the best of him and regretted his hasty response. At that moment, Lambert understood that Maribelle saw beyond appearances, uninterested in societal labels or prejudices, and she had unveiled a dark family secret that he had unknowingly pistol-whipped countless men and killed too many to keep hidden.

    After taking a deep breath, Lambert gathered himself, his voice more composed this time. “I appreciate your offer, ma’am,” he began, his tone sincere. “But I’m looking for a woman—”

    Maribelle laughed.

    “Well, ya sure done comes to the right place, handsome. We got all kinds: white, black, brown, yellow, and all shades in between, but no reds. And if women ain’t yo fancy—”

    “No. I’m searching for a particular woman... Japanese... Arrived in St. Louis on Friday, August fifth. Arrested for nearly killing her attacker with her feet but released. Goes by Inari, Sakura, or maybe Mika.”

    Maribelle’s expression tempered, and she regarded Lambert with mixed curiosity and caution. “Well now, ain’t that somethin’?” she mused, her Southern drawl nearly gone but heavy with suspicion. “A man on a mission to find a special woman, and he comes here. I reckon we’re each on our own quest. Now, ya take care of yourself, handsome. And if ya ever find yourself needing a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on, ya know where to find me.”

    She turned and walked away to greet other patrons.

    Lambert knew she was withholding information about the Asian woman, but he could do little about it. He could not imagine drawing his Colt revolver would phase Maribelle one iota; besides, he would not survive ten seconds if he so much as put his hand on his gun. So he strolled to the door to leave.

    He tried shaking his frustration and helplessness but could not. Lambert knew there was more to the story, more to the Asian woman that Maribelle was revealing. It gnawed at him, but he realized that confronting her with aggression or force would only escalate the situation and potentially danger his and others' lives. He took one last glance at Maribelle. She stood calmly, her eyes fixed on him, a faint smile playing on her lips. It was clear to Lambert that she was a woman of immense confidence and cunning. Whatever secrets she held, she was determined to keep them hidden.

    Lambert had learned over the years that there were other ways to get information, sometimes through patience, persuasion, or even a slight bending of the law. When he reached for the doorknob, he paused, considering his options. He knew he couldn't force Maribelle to talk, but perhaps he could find another way to uncover the truth.

    The butler, an older, white-haired man as black as coal, opened the door for Lambert, but in passing, he whispered, “Try’s da boardin’ house on Ninth and Chestnut. Ask’s fo Tamiko.”

    Lambert's ears perked up when he caught the butler's whispered words. He turned toward the elderly man, surprise evident on his face. The mention of a boarding house and the name Tamiko intrigued him.

    Lowering his voice to match the butler's tone, Lambert leaned closer and asked, "What's the connection? Why should I look for Tamiko?"

    The butler glanced around, ensuring no one was within earshot, before responding, "Tamiko... She know’d somethin' 'bout the Asian woman ya lookin' fo. She's been wit her if ya catch my drift."

    Lambert nodded, appreciative of the information. He had an address and a potential link to the mysterious Asian woman. It was a promising lead, and he needed to act swiftly.

    "Thank you," Lambert whispered gratefully. "I owe you one."

    The butler gave a curt nod, acknowledging Lambert's gratitude, before stepping back inside and closing the door.

    Lambert took a deep breath, feeling renewed urgency and purpose. Without wasting another moment, he descended the steps, hailed a passing buggy cab, and quickly relayed the address to the driver. As they sped toward Ninth and Chestnut, Lambert's mind raced with thoughts of Tamiko and what she might know about the Asian woman's whereabouts.

    End Chapter Twenty

  7. #22
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    The horse-drawn buggy cab rumbled along Sixth Street, “What a miserable place,” the driver muttered as he turned the cab onto Seventh Street and headed north toward the river, docks, and waterfront. “Mississippi dock’s up ahead,” he said, continuing the journey through the changing neighborhood.

    “Look at this area,” the driver said, shaking his head in disbelief. “It used to be a great place to live. Now look at it.”

    Peeling paint, broken windows, and crumbling facades hinted at better days long gone. Poor to no building maintenance was widespread, giving the area a forlorn appearance.

    The cab turned and traveled along Poplar Avenue. The closely-built, multi-family structures seemed to huddle together, and the occasional gas-lit lamppost cast long shadows on the street, making the driver anxious. “Only the bravest walk these streets after sundown,” he said. “Or the foolish... Then only once.” He chuckled.

    The rains had done little to wash away the signs of decay. The air was heavy with the pungent stench of rotting garbage and animal waste, lingering regardless of the wind’s direction or intensity. As the cab continued, the surroundings served as a reminder of the stark disparity within the city. The carnival-like atmosphere of Sixth and Chestnut versus the hopelessness-like cloud hanging over Ninth and Poplar.

    “If this is big-city living,” Lambert muttered, shaking his head, “count me out.”

    The three-story, brown-brick building on the corner of Ninth and Poplar had patches of crumbling mortar. Its small windows were weather-beaten and stripped of paint; many were broken or so grunge-covered that the view from the inside and out was obscured.

    Above the entrance, a ramshackle sign read, “Lee’s Boarding House.”

    The cab stopped; Lambert stepped down and told the driver to return in an hour. The driver balked.

    “Not me, mister. An hour from now, it won’t be safe for man or beast on these streets!”

    “For twenty dollars?”

    “For twenty dollars, mister, I’d ride through the gates of Hell.” The driver rubbed his chin. “But how’d I know’d yer gonna pay up?”

    Lambert took a twenty-dollar bill from his pocket, tore it in half, and gave one half to the driver. “You’ll get the other half when you come back for me.”

    “All right, mister, but I’ll tell ya straight. If yo ain’t waitin’ on them there steps when I come gallopin’ by, I ain’t stoppin’. We clear on that point?”

    “Clear.” Lambert pocketed the other half of the bill and checked his pocket watch. “Ten-fifteen sharp. I’ll be here. If you aren’t, I’ll come looking for you, and believe me, you don’t want that nightmare.”

    The driver gulped, nodded nervously, and rode away.

    After giving the building a once-over, top to bottom, Lambert glanced up and down the nearly deserted streets. Two drunks stumbled and laughed midway down Poplar, their raucous voices puncturing the night. Further down, an argument unfolded under the feeble glow of a lamppost. The woman’s voice rose above two other men, her gestures conveying frustration and anger. In the background, a baby’s crying, a woman’s screaming, a man’s angry shouting, and the continuous barking of nearby dogs added to the neighborhood din.

    Lambert stepped into the boarding house. The diffuse light from the single oil lamp cast long shadows across a sitting room just beyond the foyer. Its furniture was worn and stained, and its carpet was threadbare and dirty. A strong, musty smell gripped Lambert’s throat.

    Sections of faded wallpaper peeled away from the plastered walls. Dust floated in the air, catching the faint light and adding to the overall misery of the place.

    To the side, a narrow hallway stretched towards the back of the boarding house, leading to more rooms. The flickering light from the oil lamp barely reached the hallway.

    As Lambert’s gaze turned upward, he noticed the stairs ascending to the upper floors. The banister was dull and chipped, with years of grime collecting in its ornately carved newels and balusters.

    The reception desk stood at the corner of the sitting room, covered in a thin layer of dust. It seemed abandoned, with no sign of anyone in attendance. A small, tarnished, barely recognizable bell sat beside a dog-eared ledger, suggesting a time when guests checked in and out regularly.

    Lambert dinged the bell. When no one responded, he pounded it three more times. A grumpy, grizzly voice answered.

    “Hit that bell again, and I’ll shove it where the sun don’t shine!”

    The man bumped against the wall, the floor creaked, the doorknob squeaked, and the door flew open. A frumpled giant of a man in sullied clothes filled the doorframe.

    “No vacancies! Go away!”

    “Not looking for a room.”

    “So whatcha ya want, mister?”

    “A woman named Tamiko.”

    “Never heard of her. Now go away,” the man giant said while starting to turn.

    Lambert unholstered and cocked his weapon. The man stopped dead when he heard the click of the Colt’s hammer and slowly raised his hands.

    “Don’t got no money, mister.”

    “Tamiko... Room number?”

    The man faced Lambert and asked, “Who ya be, anyhow?”

    “Uh...” Lambert hesitated. “Marshal Bill Duggan.”

    “Don’t see no badge, Marshal... Where’s yer warrant?”

    Lambert leveled his weapon at the man and held his coat back, revealing his other one.

    “Here’s my warrant. So what’s it going to be, partner?” Lambert said through a clenched jaw.

    “Easy, Marshal, easy. Put that hog pistol away, gentle-like.”

    Lambert holstered his gun, and the man sighed in relief.

    “Room number...”

    “Twenty-two... Second—”

    “No need... I got it.”

    “Whatever ya say, mister,” the man said, turning and disappearing into his back room.

    Lambert nodded and made his way up the stairs to the second floor. The foot-worn wooden steps creaked beneath his weight as he ascended. The hallway was shadowy, with only reflected light from the first-floor oil lamp. The air was thick with the scent of human waste.

    He felt his way along the corridor, passing several closed doors until he reached Room Twenty-Two. The door stood slightly ajar. Lambert gently pushed it open and stepped into a small room. An oil lamp’s wick burned brightly on a nearby table but was turned too high, sending a column of sooty smoke toward the ceiling.

    Lambert recognized the ammonia-like odor of opium. The young woman slumped beside a sagging couch, her head hanging and her long, dark hair obscuring her face, confirming his initial suspicions.

    The woman looked up when Lambert entered, her glazed-over eyes filled with fear.

    “Tamiko?” Lambert asked softly, his tone attempting to convey reassurance.

    The woman nodded, her voice barely above a whisper. “Who are you?”

    Lambert approached her slowly, making sure not to startle her further. “TG Lambert. I’m looking for the other woman.”

    Tamiko’s eyes widened. “Other...? Woman...? Inari...?”

    Lambert hesitated for a moment. “Yes, Inari. Where is she?”

    “Who... Who are you?” Tamiko asked.

    Before Lambert could answer, a woman coughed in the adjoining room. He left Tamiko and found Inari in a stupor, sprawled on a bed, wearing scruffy, soiled clothes and reeking of filthiness. He gathered her in his arms and retraced his steps, returning down the staircase and out of the building.

    While Lambert waited outside with Inari in his arms, he quickly glanced up and down the street and noticed the approaching sound of horse hooves. He checked his pocket watch: five minutes past ten o'clock.

    “The bastard’s early!” he whispered, grinning excitedly, satisfied with a good day’s work.

    End Chapter 21

  8. #23
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    “You’re early,” Lambert said, helping Inari into the horse-drawn buggy cab.

    “Didn’t reckon ya’d be there at all, so what’d five or ten minutes make one way or the other?” the driver said.

    “Need a place where she can get cleaned up.”

    “No respectable hotel’d take her as bad as she looks and smells, but I know’d just da place... Quiet... Clean... Well, almost clean, anyhows... And no questions asked fer the right price.”

    “Food, too?”

    “Fillin’ and plenty of it.”

    Lambert nodded appreciatively at the driver’s offer. “Lead the way.”

    The driver flicked the reins, and the cab began its slow journey through the city streets. The rhythmic clip-clop of the horse’s hooves echoed in the evening while Lambert and Inari settled into the backseat.

    Inari’s face was expressionless and pale, eyes sunken and distant. She moaned when the cab hit a rut and bounced.

    “Don’t ya worry, miss,” the driver said, glancing back at them. “We’ll have ya like a new person inna jiff.”

    After a short ride, the cab pulled up in front of a small, unassuming building tucked away in a quiet alley. The sign above the door read, “Inn.” The driver led the way inside. The interior was modest but tidy. The driver walked up to the front desk, where a full-bodied, middle-aged woman sat, her tired eyes lighting up at the sight of him.

    “This here woman’s needin’ a room and a good scrubbin’, Sadie,” the driver said, thumbing over his shoulder.

    Sadie’s gaze shifted to Inari’s disheveled appearance, and she nodded sympathetically.

    “Don’t ya worry, miss. Gots plenty of hot water ready all the time.”

    Inari’s face remained blank, eyes staring into emptiness. Lambert held her tightly around her waist.

    “That be one room... Er... Two?”

    “Two,” Lambert said without hesitation. “You have anyone that could help her?”

    “Sure do, mister, but it’ll cost extra.”

    Lambert nodded, and Sadie took Inari by the hand, but when Lambert loosened his grip on her, Inari’s knee’s buckled.

    “I gots her,” Sadie said, taking hold of Inari. “Mary’ll help wash her and gets her somethin’ clean to wear. She’ll look all proper inna jiff and smell better, too.” She led her to the bath at the back of the inn.

    Lambert pulled the other half of the twenty-dollar bill from his pocket and gave it to the driver. “As agreed.”

    “Much obliged, mister,” the driver said, tipping his hat. “Hope yer lady friend feels better.”

    Lambert nodded and watched the driver exit.

    He got a chair from a nearby table, sat, and lit a cigarillo. He tried to fit all his puzzling pieces together, but at times they were as elusive as the smoke rings he blew toward the ceiling.

    Lambert was sure of specific facts: A woman boarded the early-morning train at the Wyandotte, Oklahoma depot—in the same timeframe as the reported disappearances of Mika Prescott and Sakura Suza. The woman arrived in St. Louis on the evening of August fifth. Later, she was robbed, assaulted, and arrested for nearly killing her assailant. She identified herself to the police as Inari Kumamoto but was subsequently released when witnesses confirmed her claim of self-defense. The trail led to the House of Seven Pleasures, Lee’s Boarding House, and here.

    He blew another smoke ring toward the ceiling.

    Who was Inari Kumamoto? Mika Prescott, Sakura Suza, or someone else? Her facial features were Asian, probably Japanese, but like most, Lambert struggled to differentiate people from Far East Cultures. He discarded the idea of taking her to see Chief Harrigan since Harrigan had provided the woman’s name and pointed him on her trail.

    But Lambert still had many unanswered questions gnawing at him. What was Inari doing in that rathole, drugged, malnourished, and living in squalor? And who was Tamiko? What connection did Madam Lee have to Lee's Boarding House? It was pretty evident Madam Lee knew Inari, but what was the link? Thoughts flitted through his mind, here for a fleeting moment, dissipating and gone like the smoke rings he blew.

    Lambert was tired and hungry, but most of all, he needed a stiff drink.

    Sadie returned, her face flustered and reddened.

    “How could ya do that to a woman in her condition,” she snarled.

    “I didn’t do... What condition you talking about?”

    “A baby, mister. She hid it under that frumpled dress she were a-wearin’, but when naked, ‘twas no mistakin’. She’s six or more months along.”

    “You certain?” he asked, his voice tinged with surprise and concern.

    “I’ve seen enough pregnancies in my time, mister,” Sadie said, nodding firmly. “That woman’s definitely expecting.”

    Lambert’s eyes widened as he processed the woman’s words. A baby? This revelation deepened the mystery surrounding Inari. He had been confident but wrong when mentally identifying the deceased woman in Prescott Woods as Mika Prescott and the woman on the run as Sakura from Dr. Suza’s traveling medicine show. Then he had been just as sure when Sakura, Dr. Suza’s missing wife, and the deceased woman were one and the same, pregnant and Japanese, and that Mika Prescott had fled to St. Louis after murdering Sakura. Now he was not certain of anything anymore. Could Mika and Sakura both have been about six months pregnant? If so, he was back to square one. Then who the heck was Inari?

    “Do you have anything to drink?” Lambert asked. “Stronger, the better.”

    “Don’t knows if I cater to the likes of you, mister.”

    “Listen,” Lambert said, shaking his head. “You’ve got this all wrong, ma’am. I’ve been searching for the missing wife of a banker down Oklahoma way. I tracked her to a stinking, rundown boarding house, rescued her from the drugs and filth she lived in, and brought her here for a bath, food, and rest. My intentions are to return her to Oklahoma as soon as she can travel... Now, about that whiskey.”

    Sadie eyed Lambert suspiciously, her arms crossed over her chest, considering his words. She seemed to be weighing the sincerity in his voice against her initial impression of him. After a moment, she sighed and reached under the counter.

    “Suppose I can spare a drink for a man claimin’ good intentions,” she conceded, retrieving a bottle of whiskey and two glasses. She poured a generous amount of the amber liquid into each glass and slid one toward Lambert.

    “But mark my words, mister,” Sadie warned, her tone firm. “If I thought fer one moment...” Her voice trailed off, and she took a swig of whiskey.

    Lambert nodded appreciatively and took a sip of whiskey, relishing its warmth in his throat. He leaned back, collecting his thoughts before speaking again.

    “I assure you, ma’am, my intentions are genuine. This woman identified herself to the police as Inari Kumamoto, but it’s a fake name. She’s either of two missing women: Mika Prescott or Sakura Suza. One’s dead, and the other’s a murderess. The only way to straighten this out is to escort her back to Oklahoma, where several witnesses are ready to determine her true identity,” he said earnestly.

    Sadie regarded Lambert for a moment longer. Her searching eyes surveyed his face for any sign of deception. After a while, she seemed to moderate slightly. The tenseness in her face relaxed, the skepticism in her voice gave way to the softness of sympathy, and she smiled.

    “Well, I reckon ya gots yer hands full without me jumpin’ on ya with both feet,” Sadie said, sighing. “But don’t ya start thinkin’ for a second that I won’t be keepin’ a close eye on things.”

    She winked.

    Lambert nodded gratefully and smiled.

    Sadie nodded in response and took a sip of her own whiskey. Lambert felt a glimmer of relief, knowing that he had secured at least temporary assistance. However, the mystery surrounding Inari and her true identity still loomed large in his mind.

    “Oh, by the way... Does Inari have any tattoos?” Lambert asked.

    “Sure does. Charming little butterfly on her neck.”

    End Chapter Twenty-Two

  9. #24
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    Wednesday, August 31, 1892

    Lambert was enjoying breakfast and coffee when Sadie arrived, beaming and grinning from ear to ear.

    “Yer woman’s up and about this mornin’. It’s been two whole days since ya bringed her here, sleepin’ most of it.”

    “I couldn’t hold my water for two days,” Lambert said, shaking his head.

    “Ya don’t nuthin’ ‘bout nuthin’ when it comes to women,” Sadie snapped. “Mary helped her up when she needed relievin’, and Mary fed her and made sure she had plenty to drink, too. We look after our own, I’ll have ya know.”

    “Unruffled your feathers, Sadie. Just making conversation.”

    “Well... Anyhows thought ya’d like to knows, yer woman will be ready fer travelin’ today. Mary’s helpin’ her get a refreshin’ bath. Like I always seys, hot water and a good sudsin’ and scrubbin’ will wash yer troubles right down the drain.” Sadie said with a chuckle. “And believe you me, Mary’ll go over every inch of her, too, making sure she’s thoroughly cleaned.”

    “Wonderful. Several in Wyandotte are anxious for our return.”

    “Mary found clothes for her and helped her dress,” Sadie said. “And I ain’t never seen such beautiful, long, coal-black hair. Mary’s goin’ to help braid it once it’s dry.”

    “Money is a small token of my appreciation for your help, Sadie.”

    “Ah... Go on, now. Yer gonna make me blush,” Sadie said as blood rushed to her cheeks.

    Lambert smiled warmly at Sadie’s response. “Well, you deserve every penny. Don’t know what I’d done without you and Mary.”

    Sadie waved off Lambert’s gratitude.

    “When can I see her?”

    “Mary’ll bring her down for breakfast after she’s all gussied up,” Sadie said, turning to leave.

    Lambert pondered what he would say when he saw Inari. What question he would ask. His mind ran through ideas faster than a stampeding herd but settled on nothing specific. He drank the rest of his coffee and lit a cigarillo. He took a deep drag, savoring its bitter taste and the brief distraction it offered from his scattered thoughts.

    He leaned back in his chair, its timeworn frame creaking under his weight, and stared at the smoke rings dissipating in the air. Their gentle swirls seemed to mirror the jumble of his mind, and he realized he needed to regain his focus before seeing Inari. Soon, the air in the room was filled with layers of haze, like the layered fogginess of his mind.

    Sighing, he stubbed out the cigarillo.

    Lambert could not let his thoughts aimlessly wander. When he saw Inari again, he needed a clear head. He glanced around the room and noticed a portrait of a cowboy riding a horse in the desert. It had a familiarity that helped him focus. He stood and paced the room, thinking and occasionally glimpsing at the scene in the painting, wishing he were that cowboy, but he shook off that thought and refocused.

    He was positive on four facts: firstly, two Japanese women of similar age and physical description disappeared within twenty-four hours of each other. Secondly, the day before their disappearance, they were seen together leaving town on a buggy ride for a picnic, but no one saw who returned the horse and buggy. Thirdly, one of the two women boarded a train to St. Louis the following morning, August fifth. Fourthly, three weeks later, a badly decomposed body of a Japanese woman was found in the woods near Prescott Farm.

    Coincidentally, Inari was arrested for nearly killing the man who tried to assault her after she had been robbed and her belongings stolen. She claimed to arrive by train on the evening of August fifth. The only train arriving then was northbound from Vinita. Later, she was released when witnesses confirmed she acted in self-defense, and the police had no other reason to hold her.

    Lambert never put much stock in coincidences. He reckoned Inari was either Mika Prescott or Sakura Suza and a murderess.

    Finally, his thoughts congealed, and Lambert was ready to meet and question the woman who claimed to be Inari Kumamoto. He did not have to wait long. Mary entered, and Inari followed close behind.

    He greeted them politely and gestured for them to take a seat.

    “Thank ya, kindly, but I’ve work to do,” Mary said, helping Inari into a chair. “Tea and biscuit, missy?”

    Inari nodded and looked around the room, avoiding Lambert’s direct gaze.

    Lambert took a moment to study Inari's facial expression and body language. Her chin was jutted, her eyes were bright, sharp, yet defiant and observant as she assessed her surroundings, and a smile dangled from the corner of her lips. She tossed her head, the braid came undone, and her long, flowing hair cascaded across her shoulder and face. Unphased, Inari cradled a lock of hair with her thumb and pushed it behind her ear. She exuded confidence and caution.

    Lambert was impressed by the calm demeanor of the woman sitting across from him. Few men had that resolve; he would not mistakenly underrate her.

    "So you’re Inari Kumamoto?" he began, studying her reaction closely. "I understand you were the victim of a robbery on the evening of August fifth and an attempted assault. Tell me about that."

    Inari looked at Lambert but did not answer.

    “Chief Harrigan told me you arrived on the train from Vinita, Oklahoma, that evening. Is that true, ma’am?”

    Still no response from Inari.

    Before Lambert could question her further, Mary arrived, carrying a tray with a teapot, coffeepot, biscuits, cream, and sugar.

    “Breakfast’s ready, missy,” Mary said, eying Lambert as she put the tray on the table. “Bung ya fresh coffee, Mr. Lambert, and another biscuit if yer still hungry.”

    While Mary poured Inari’s tea, they exchanged smiles. Inari cocked her head, her face softened, and her eyelids slowly fluttered. Mary’s unspoken response was loud and clear but as unintelligible to Lambert as Navajo smoke signals were to the early pioneers.

    “Just coffee,” Lambert said, breaking into their communication. “Much obliged, Mary.”

    Mary shot him a quick look, forehead puckered, but she nodded a polite thank you and took his breakfast plates with her as she left.

    Inari gripped her cup of tea while Lambert poured a mug of coffee. Both ignored the cream and sugar. While waiting for their beverages to cool, they stared at each, locked in a battle of wills.

    Inari was the first to yield and taste her tea warm, but Lambert kept his steel-eyed gaze locked on her while his coffee cooled. When she had finished her tea and reached for a biscuit, the opening he had waited for to resume his questions presented itself.

    Lambert began by addressing Inari directly. "Miss Kumamoto, I must admit, when Chief Harrigan told me about your fighting skills and fancy footwork, my ears perked up. In my youth, I was trained in ancient Navajo hand-to-hand fighting, but I was never taught to use my feet as a weapon as skillfully as you use them.”

    He paused for a sip of coffee.

    “But some details of the evening are concerning; they don’t add up." He paused again, sipping more coffee and letting his words sink in.

    Inari did not seem phased. Her expression remained unchanged while she sipped her tea.

    Lambert continued, his voice steady and authoritative, repeating the questions.

    "You claim to have arrived on the northbound train from Vinita on August fifth, the evening you were robbed. Is that the truth, ma’am?”

    Inari sipped more tea.

    “The same one that carried a murderess from Vinita to St. Louis. A Japanese woman like yourself, ma’am. In my book, that makes you Mika Prescott or Sakura Suza. Both went missing on the fifth, and all the evidence points to one murdering the other and then fleeing to St. Louis by train.”

    Lambert paused, allowing his words to find footing in Inari’s mind.

    “The same train you arrived on,” he continued. “And later, that woman sent a telegram from the depot to Reginald Prescott, care of Vinita, Oklahoma, claiming to be his wife.”

    He waited for any signs that Inari was reacting to his questioning.

    “And then... You appeared... Arrived out of nowhere,” Lambert continued. “You were robbed... Assaulted... The same night... A coincidence?"

    Lambert drank the last of his coffee. Inari remained calm, aloof, and reserved.

    "I’ve trailed all kinds—men, women, and a couple of kids once—and there’s one thing I’ve learned: don’t trust coincidences. They’re so rare; most times, they can be discounted."

    Inari casually set her teacup on the table and stared at Lambert, eye to eye.

    “I would commend you on your logic, Mr. Lambert, if it weren’t so flawed. Did anyone confirm I was the only Japanese woman aboard that train? Has anyone searched for the woman who sent the telegram? I think not.”

    Inari picked up the teapot and put it back on the table.

    “Pity... It’s as empty as your reasoning, Mr. Lambert.”

    He was stunned. Lambert had never met a woman as clever, educated, polished, confident, and, he had to admit, correct as she.

    What a woman! If only...

    Lambert's thoughts trailed off, captivated by Inari, but he soon regained his senses and focused on the task at hand.

    “Uh,” he said, clearing his throat and his thoughts. “Let’s settle this, one way or the other. Accompany me to Vinita. No less than five witnesses can identify you as either Mika Prescott or Sakura Suza.”

    “And...,” Inari said, cocking her head and smiling. “What do I receive for my efforts? “

    Lambert leaned back in his chair and searched his coat packet for a cigarillo.

    “Mind if I smoke, ma’am?”

    “Suit yourself.”

    He bit off its tip, lit the other, and took a deep drag. Lambert slowly let the smoke escape his nostrils while thoughts raced from one part of his mind to another. He leaned forward, the cigarillo hanging from the corner of his mouth.

    “All right, ma’am. I’ll guarantee all expenses to and from Vinita, plus twenty dollars for your trouble.”

    “Fifty, now, and another fifty when we arrive in Vinita.”

    “Twenty and twenty,” Lambert countered.

    “Twenty, fifty,” Inari said, arms across her chest.

    “Deal,” Lambert said, sensing the bargaining was over.

    “Deal,” Inari said, holding her hand for a shake.

    They shook.

    “Southbound leaves in the morning,” Lambert said.

    “Yes,” Inari said. “Mary told me.”

    He handed her a twenty-dollar bill. Inari took it, stood, and left.

    Lambert poured another mug of coffee. It was cold, but he drank it anyway.

    End Chapter Twenty-Three

  10. #25
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    Thursday, September 1, 1892

    It was late afternoon when the train rumbled to a stop at the Wyandotte, Oklahoma depot. Sheriff Anderson and Jeb were there to greet Lambert and Inari when they stepped off the passenger car. As soon as Jeb saw her, he rushed to help Inari with her satchel.

    “Welcome back,” the sheriff said, shaking Lambert’s hand. “Reckon this here’s yer lady friend.”

    “Inari, meet Sheriff Anderson; Sheriff, this is Inari Kumamoto.”

    Sheriff Anderson tipped his hat and smiled.

    “Glad ta meet ya, ma’am.”

    Lambert glanced around, puzzled.

    “I expected to see Prescott with you and halfway expected Miss Lilly, too.”

    Sheriff Anderson took off his hat and rubbed his forehead.

    “When I got yer telly, I know’d ya’d be disappointed they ‘twasn’t here, but things done gone south since ya left. Prescott got to his farm, and ‘twasn’t two hours later when Henry comes rip-roarin’ inta town with ole Reggie sprawled in the back of his wagon. He took him right over ta Doc. Well... Doc said it was apoplexy and needed rest and some lookin’ after.”

    Lambert's face furrowed with concern as he listened to Sheriff Anderson's story. He glanced over at Jeb and Inari, standing nearby, listening. Inari’s face showed no emotion or reaction to the sheriff’s tragic news.

    “Miss Lilly put him up?”

    “Nope. Miss Lilly’s was the best place fer him, but her eye infection got so bad Doc sent her to doctors he know’d in Chicago. She left the day after ya did.”

    “Where is he?”

    “I got him a-restin’ at the Wyandotte. Doc checks on him every day.”

    Lambert put his hands on his hips.

    “Don’t that beat all,” he said, shaking his head. “Miss Lilly’s gonna be all right, isn’t she?”

    The sheriff put his hand on Lambert’s shoulder.

    “Don’t ya worry none, my boy. Doc seys she’s in the best hands in the country,” the sheriff said, trying to convey confidence, but his voice was quivering on every word.

    “And Suza? The twins?” Lambert asked, glancing at Inari again.

    While she looked around, Inari’s face showed wonderment, as if the area was all new to her, like she had never seen it before.

    “They’s camped outside of town,” the sheriff said.

    Lambert puckered his brow and squinted his eyes. Irritation was etched on his face. "Why? Did you show them my telegram?"

    “Soon as I showed him it, he packed up and made camp with his wives just northeast of town alongside Bull Creek.”

    “What the...?” Lambert started to question Dr. Suza’s hasty departure but dropped that thought. “Got any room at the Wyandotte for two weary travelers?”

    “Always find a room fer ya, but fer the lady there... Ya might hav’ta double up,” the sheriff said, followed by a belly laugh.

    Inari’s head jerked around so fast toward the sheriff her hat nearly spun off. Her eyes were as big as saucers, and her jaw dropped a full inch or more, mouth wide open. Her shock at the sheriff's remark was evident for all to see, but she quickly regained her composure and shot Lambert a questioning look, unsure how to respond.

    On the other hand, Lambert was delighted to see Inari’s mask finally come off, and a grin stretched across his face, ear to ear. He suspected Inari was hiding something beneath her composed demeanor, and now it seemed her true self had surfaced.

    Lambert refocused and, turning to Sheriff Anderson, asked, "Sheriff, do you know why Suza left town?"

    Sheriff Anderson's expression turned serious. "Don’t rightly know, but he seemed mighty riled up after readin' yer telly. He didn't say much, though."

    With a nod, Lambert’s attention returned to Inari. But by now, she had put her deadpan face back on again.

    Lambert’s frustration mounted: two primary witnesses who could have identified Mika were unavailable—Miss Lilly was in Chicago, and Prescott was laid up, recovering from apoplexy. Three witnesses who could have identified Sakura left but were still close by—Dr. Suza and his two wives were camped just northeast of town. Lambert did not trust Suza. The doctor's callous attitude toward the pain and suffering of others and his questionable philosophies on life had raised red flags in his mind. He had encountered others like Suza before, and experience had taught him to tread cautiously.

    "We'll figure this out,” Lambert said, squinting at the sun. “Plenty of daylight left. After settling in at the Wyandotte House—two rooms, Sheriff, if you please—we can plan our next move."

    The sheriff broke out in laughter again.

    Jeb grabbed Lambert and Inari’s bags and gestured toward the buggy.

    “Care ta ride, ma’am?” Jeb asked, tipping his hat.

    Without a word or acknowledgment, Inari got into the buggy. Jeb climbed into the driver’s seat.

    “Anybody ridin’ with us?” he asked.

    Lambert and the sheriff waved him on, Jeb slapped the reins, and the horse took off, trotting down the road into town.

    “So, you didn’t recognize her?” Lambert asked the sheriff. “Never saw her before?”

    “A wee bit... Maybe... Trouble is, Lambert. They’s all look the same ta me. She could be the medicine-show woman or someone else altogether. I’s pretty sure she ain’t Mrs. Prescott, but ya couldn’t prove it by me, one way or another.”

    “Is Prescott in any shape to—”

    “Doc would know, Lambert,” the sheriff said, shaking his head. “Only Doc would know.”

    As Lambert and the sheriff approached the Wyandotte House, Lambert's mind was consumed with a sense of defeat and unease. Unlike other bounties, this one proved to be exceptionally draining. Usually, he would track down a known guilty individual with a bounty on their head, but this time was different. The person he was after had not yet been identified, and Lambert's confidence in his pursuit was starting to waver.

    Lambert couldn't help but question himself. Had he been tracking the right person? Doubts began to creep in, but he forcefully pushed them aside. Doubt was not a luxury he could afford in his line of work. He knew he had to stay focused and determined. Unfortunately, the prime witnesses were ill, and the secondary witnesses were untrustworthy.

    His shoulders slumped, head drooped, and forehead puckered. Lambert kicked a stone and sent it flying.

    “What’s the matter, my friend?” Sheriff Anderson asked. “Not yer usual self. What’s eatin’ at ya?”

    Lambert stopped. It was the first time the grizzly ole sheriff had called him a friend. For a fleeting moment, he felt good, and the corner of his mouth curled up in a smile, but it was short-lived.

    “I’m getting too old for this, Sheriff,” Lambert said, stretching his arms and back.

    The sheriff turned to Lambert, astonished, jaw-dropping.

    “Ya can’t be serious, son,” the sheriff said, cocking his head and rubbing his stubbled chin. “Yer still a youngster from where’s I’s a-standin’.”

    “Yep. I am,” Lambert said, nodding. “This’ll be my last bounty.”

    “Why the change of heart, son?”

    Lambert started walking again, and the sheriff followed.

    “I never doubted myself before, but... But this time, I made several hasty and costly mistakes in judgment. I was certain Mika murdered Sakara, then I was just as certain Sakara murdered Mika and fled to St. Louis. And that led me to Inari, who I was sure was either Mika or Sakara, but now I’m doubting myself.”

    “Ya make things so complicated, Lambert.”

    “I’m forty-one, got few friends, no place to call my own, and... And when I die, no one to carry on my name. Precious little to show after four decades of walking this earth...,” Lambert said, head hanging low. “Precious little...”

    “What ya need is a stiff drink,” the sheriff said, “and things will look better. Besides, Doc should be checking on Reggie ‘bout now, and ya can get an idea how he’s a-doin’.”

    The men walked silently until they reached the steps to the Wyandotte House. Lambert stopped and looked at the sign above the entrance for a few moments.

    “Dangit. We’re taking Inari straight to Susa right now,” Lambert said, turning toward the livery. “I have to know if she’s Sakara or not!”

    Sheriff Anderson grabbed Lambert’s arm.

    “Go inside and ‘round up the woman, and I’ll tell Jeb to get the buggy ready and saddle two horses.”

    Lambert thought for a moment and went inside.


    “Howdy, Lambert,” Deputy Anderson said, standing behind the bar, drawing a mug of beer for a customer. “What’s yer pleasure?”

    What room is the woman in?”

    “Woman? Which woman?”

    “The one that just arrived by train.”

    “Oh... She’s in room five... At the end of—”

    Before the deputy finished, Lambert hustled to room five and knocked.

    “Who is it?” Inari asked.

    “Lambert... Get dressed. We’re going to Dr. Suza’s camp while there’s still light.”


    “Come peaceful, or I’ll come in and get—”

    “No need. I’m coming. Just give me a minute.”

    Five minutes later, the door opened, and Inari stepped into the hallway.

    “Lead the way, Mr. Lambert,” she said, smirking.

    At times, Lambert felt sorry for Inari; at other times, like this one, he felt anger and disdain. Something was wrong with this scene, but he could not put his finger on it. He shook his head and directed her down the hall to the main room. Once there, they met Sheriff Anderson.

    “Jeb’ll have the buggy and horses ready soon. Anyone besides me want a beer?”

    Lambert shook his head. Inari ignored the question and stared outside.

    “Ya ain’t no fun, ya know’d that?” the sheriff said, licking his dry lips.

    Jeb stepped inside. “Ready ta ride?”


    The sun was two hands high on the horizon, brightly shining in a cloudless sky when Lambert, the sheriff, Inari, and Jeb rode into Dr. Suza’s camp. Suza and his two Chinese wives, Chyou and Daiyu, stood when they heard the horses approach.

    Lambert dismounted and met Suza with a handshake near the campfire. Suza glanced at the sheriff, Jeb, and Inari. The twins were chattering back and forth in Chinese.

    “What do we owe this pleasure, Mr. Lambert?” Suza asked.

    “Thought it strange you didn’t want to meet the train arriving with the woman who murdered your wife.”

    “The twins couldn’t... You know, face Sakara’s killer,” Suza said. “So we left town and camped here.”

    Lambert motioned to Inari. Jeb helped her get down from the buggy, and she joined them.

    “Do you recognize this woman?” Lambert asked.

    “Never laid eyes on her before,” Suza said with hesitation.

    “What about your wives?” Lambert asked, turning to Chyou and Daiyu.

    “Have either of you ever seen this woman?” Suza asked them.

    Chyou and Daiyu chattered Chinese between themselves and then shook their heads.

    “They don’t recognize her either, Mr. Lambert.”

    “Ya positive?” the sheriff asked, leaning forward in the saddle and pushing his hat back on his head. “We can put this off till morning when the light’s better.”

    “Won’t make any difference, Sheriff,” Suza said, squinting at the sun still hand-high on the horizon. “She’s not Sakara, and the twins say she’s not Mika Prescott. All the light in the world isn’t changing the fact that we have no idea who this woman is. So if it’s all right with you, Sheriff, we’ll break camp, head northeast, stop at Racine, Missouri, and go west.”

    “Kinda late in the day, ain’t it?”

    “No, Sheriff... Wanna put some miles between us and the horrific memories around here.”

    “Then, I’ve no reason ta keep ya,” the sheriff said.

    Suza barked instructions in Chinese, and the twins began gathering the camping gear and putting it in the wagon. Inari’s facial expression had not changed during the entire conversation with Dr. Suza, but Lambert noticed the corner of her mouth turn up when the twins broke camp. Her face went deadpan again as Jeb helped her into the buggy.

    “Hope you find Sakara’s murderer, Lambert,” Suza said, “but I’ve got these two to look after. Life moves on. You understand, don’t you?”

    Suza turned to hitch the horses to the wagon.

    Lambert walked back to his horse and mounted. He did not understand! The man’s wife was murdered, and he acted indifferent about it. What kind of man does that? His scorn for Suza grew by the minute.

    He took one long, last look at Susa and the twins, turned his horse, and the group started for town as the sun slowly kissed the horizon. Lambert was spent. He was tired from a long train ride, hungry, thirsty, and... Frustrated.

    He was no closer to knowing who Inari was, but it was becoming abundantly clear she was neither Mika nor Sakara. But who was she? And if she had nothing to do with the murder and disappearance of Mika and Sakara, why should he care? But Lambert’s gut kept gnawing at him—something was not right; he could sense it, yet it remained just out of his reach.

    End of Chapter
    Last edited by DRayVan; 06-10-2023 at 02:46 PM. Reason: Fix errors

  11. #26
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2018
    Ann Arbor, MI, USA

    Friday, September 2, 1892

    Lambert sat slumped in his chair, an empty coffee mug cradled in his hands. He glanced up briefly when Sheriff Anderson pulled out a chair and sat across from him. He put his Stetson on the table next to Lambert’s.

    The barkeep yelled from behind the bar, “Coffee, Sheriff?” The sheriff waved and nodded.

    “Change yer mind, son?” he asked Lambert.

    Lambert shook his drooped head and mumbled, “Nope. I’m done with bounty hunting. This one did me in, Sheriff.”

    The barkeep brought over a pot of steaming hot coffee, poured a mug for the sheriff, and topped off Lambert’s. Lambert took a sip and then put it back on the table, a sour expression on his face.

    “Breakfast, anyone?” the barkeep asked, but neither man responded.

    In the distance, its whistle blowing, the northbound train to St. Louis chugged out of the station. Lambert slammed his fist on the table and swore under his breath.

    The sheriff leaned forward in his chair, eyes filled with understanding; “Don’t take it so personal, son. Ya can’t win ‘em all.”

    Lambert straightened himself in his seat and looked into the sheriff's eyes; “I’ve always known there’d come a day when I’d face someone faster on the draw than I am. When that comes, I’ll decide whether to hang up my guns or risk getting shot or possibly getting killed. But when your mind goes, when you’re outfoxed at every turn... It’s not the way I want it to end... Not for me, anyway. I’d rather you’d put one right between my eyes.”

    “Listen, son. We’s all gotta face the passage of time, but it ain’t no reason ta crawl inna gopher hole, cover yerself over, and give up. Yer still a young man. And an upstandin’ one, at that.”

    Frown lines etched deeper by the sheriff’s words of encouragement ran across Lambert’s long face like dry riverbeds through a desert plain. His dejected state of mind had already found a gopher hole, and he had mentally retreated from neck to waist deep into it.

    “Ya gents want anything fer breakfast or not?” the barkeep asked again irritably. “Biscuits hot and fresh from the oven...”

    Lambert shook his head without bothering to look up from the table, staring sullenly at nothing in particular.

    “Mouth’s a-waterin’ already, Slim,” the sheriff said. “I’ll have three eggs, bacon, and, of course, hot biscuits.”

    “How many?”

    “Keep ‘em comin’ till I’s burst,” the sheriff said, laughing. “The same fer Lambert.”

    “Not hungry,” Lambert mumbled.

    “Is he eatin’ or ain’t he?” the barkeep asked grumpily.

    The sheriff tried to think of another tactic as the barkeep looked on with growing impatience.

    “Come on, son, ya gotta eat, else...,” the sheriff said.

    Seeing Lambert was not listening, he knew it would take drastic action to get through to him. “Just bring him what I's havin'. He can't go around like this... Eatin' less 'n a jackrabbit... Can't even think straight without food."

    The barkeep nodded and left.

    Lambert leaned back in his chair and lit a cigarillo. A cloud of smoke drifted up, melding with the shadows created by the rising sun, and continued to dangle there like a dark halo above his head when he blew out a trail of bluish smoke rings toward the ceiling. The scent of tobacco and a rush of nicotine bit deeply into his brain, but instead of usually putting things into proper order—as he had hoped—the tobacco made Lambert feel worse than before.

    Fifteen minutes later, the barkeep arrived with two plates, heaping with food.

    “Nice and hot! Butter? Jam, anyone?” he asked, setting the plates on the table.

    “Bring it on,” The sheriff said. “Gots any honey?”

    “I’ll bring it, too, if’n we’s do.” The barkeep left toward the kitchen.

    The sheriff took a bite of a hot biscuit.

    “Man, these are good... Even plain,” the sheriff said, holding a half-eaten biscuit toward Lambert. “Ya otta try one while they’s hot, son.”

    Lambert ignored him, still wallowing in self-pity.

    “Suit yerself. I ain’t gonna let not good food go ta waste. No siree bob!”

    Jeb walked in and joined the men at the table.

    “Whatcha doin’?” Jeb asked, pushing his hat back on his head.

    “What's it look like?” the sheriff said, shaking his head. “Eatin’ breakfast, that’s what! Sometimes, Jeb, I wonder how yer head’s put tagether.”

    “Ain’t no call fer... Hey, ain’t Mr. Lambert eatin’ his?” Jeb asked. “It’ll get cold.”

    “Help yourself, Jeb,” Lambert said without looking toward him.

    “Where ya been, anyhows?” the sheriff asked. “Ya was ta muck out the stalls, and ya smell too good, so I reckon ya didn’t do it yet.”

    The barkeep returned with a bowl of butter, a jar of jam, and a jar of honey.

    “Much obliged,” the sheriff said, reaching for another biscuit and his knife.

    “I was helpin’ that there China woman catch the St. Louis train. I gave her a buggy ride to the depot,” Jeb said, grabbing a biscuit.

    He took a bite, chewed, and swallowed. “Holy smokes, these are good.”

    “And I carried her bag and waited while’s she bought a ticket to Racine... Pass the jam, Sheriff, if’n ya please.”

    Sheriff Anderson handed the jam jar to Jeb. While Jeb scooped a glob of jam on his knife, he continued, “Then helped her get aboard the train, and... And I came here.”

    “Ya’ve been a busy bee this morning,” the sheriff said, dunking a biscuit in an egg yolk.

    A split second later, Lambert spun around in his chair.

    “What did you say, Jeb?”

    “Uh... The biscuits was—"

    “To hell with the biscuits!” Lambert shouted, leaning toward Jeb. “What about the train ticket? Inari bought a train ticket... A ticket to where?”

    “Don’t what all the fuss ‘tis ‘bout, Mr. Lambert. Racine’s just up the tracks a piece, second stop after Wyandotte.”

    Lambert jumped up, bent over, and kissed Jeb’s head. Then he broke into a Navajo victory dance.

    Jeb leaned back and rubbed his head. “Hope nobody seen ya do that, Mr. Lambert. We’s don’t cotton ta that ‘round these parts.”

    “Hush up, Jeb!” the sheriff said, watching Lambert’s dancing. “I ain’t seen nobody this animated since Reuben squatted ta do his business onna hornets’ nest.”

    “I’m not over the hill yet, Sheriff,” Lambert said. “All the puzzle pieces have fallen into place.”

    “Don’t keep me in the dark, son.”

    “No time. Mount up, and let’s ride like the wind if we’re going to arrest them,” Lambert said, grabbing his hat and spinning toward the door.

    Sheriff Anderson grabbed a last bite of food and his hat, following Lambert outside.


    Lambert's body tensed with anticipation as he and Sheriff Anderson, at full gallop, followed the tracks. When they pulled up to the Racine, Missouri, train depot, Lambert leaped off his horse and ran inside, his heart racing while the sheriff hurriedly tried to catch up.

    “Hold on, son! Lemme handle this,” the sheriff said. “If’n ya get too rowed up, who know’d what’ll happen.”

    Lambert gritted his teeth, slowed his pace, and let the sheriff take the lead.

    The sheriff stepped up to the ticket window and banged his fist on the counter. A few seconds later, a greasy-haired young man stood at the opening, looking bored and indifferent.

    “What ya’ll want?” he asked, barely lifting his head to look at them.

    “Did the St. Louie bound train stop here this morning?” the sheriff demanded.

    “Yeah... Always do, mister. Why?”

    “Anyone, in particular, get off? Maybe an Asian woman?”

    The young man hesitated briefly before responding dismissively. “Now, mister, ya can't expect me ta remember every passenger comin' and goin' on all the trains stoppin' here, do ya?"

    Lambert was becoming increasingly agitated, pacing back and forth behind the sheriff aggressively as he tried to contain his impatience.

    "Looky here, sonny," rumbled the sheriff. "This here's lawman's business, and I'm Sheriff Anderson—"

    The young man cut him off sourly. "Ya don't look like no sheriff ta me, mister," sneering at Sheriff Anderson’s disheveled clothes with undisguised disdain. "Sheriff Tilman's our sheriff—a smart dresser he is too—so if'n ya wanna know'd sumthin 'bout private railroad business, you take it up with—"

    But before he could finish his sentence, the sheriff produced his weathered star with a flourish of defiance. "Don't this badge mean nuthin' ta ya, sonny?" he growled menacingly.

    Lambert's nostrils flared as he pushed the sheriff aside. His face contorted into a mask of rage, his eyes seething with anger, his jaw clenched so tight it could have been carved from stone. He aimed his gun directly at the young man's face, between his lips and nose, and snarled.

    “If you want to see the sunset today, answer quickly and politely. Understood?”

    The young man was visibly shaken, his eyes bulging in terror, eyebrows raised in fear, mouth agape, and jaw slack. The crotch of his trousers had become soaked with urine as he lost control of his bladder in fright.

    Lambert maintained his icy stare, waiting for an answer until every breath seemed to echo in the air. Time seemed frozen in place as the seconds dragged on.

    The young man blinked twice in quick succession.

    “I'll take that as a yes," Lambert said before lowering his gun. “That’s better... Did a Chinese woman get off the St Louis-bound train?"

    The young man blinked again.

    "Did anyone meet her?" he asked.

    "A—A man and two women in a wagon," the young man stammered. "About two hours ago... Near as I can recall."

    Lambert kept the gun trained on him as he asked one last question. "Which way did they go?"

    The young man pointed southwards and said there was only a trading post at Jacob Hart's crossroads leading north and south to Oklahoma. “Only a couple three hours by wagon from here… I reckon,” he added hastily.

    “Now, wasn’t that easy?” Lambert said, holstering his gun.

    The young man nodded feverously. When Lambert and the sheriff turned to leave, the young man dashed out the back door and ran toward town.


    The men raced down the road toward Hart Trading Post, chasing after Suza’s wagon. Its wheels left clear impressions on the road and were easily followed. They stopped to give their horses a much-needed drink when they reached Lost Creek, south of Racine.

    “All right, son,” Sheriff Anderson said, watching his horse siphon water. “What made ya so fired up this morning? ‘Twas it sumthin’ Jeb said?”

    “He mentioned Inari bought a ticket to Racine... Not St. Louis.”

    “I’s heard that, too, but not—"

    “Don’t you see?” Lambert said, face all fired up. “Inari has to be Sakara!”

    Lambert waved his arm excitedly.

    “And Suza lied when he denied knowing her; his wives lied to back his play.” He shook his head. “I watched their faces closely for any flicker of recognition or surprise and saw none. I have to hand it to them; they are the best troupe of actors I’ve ever crossed paths with—had me fooled.”

    “I'm with ya so far, Lambert," said the sheriff. "But how we’s gonna prove it in court?”

    Lambert did not answer. He was uncertain of that yet, but first, he had to catch them before he worried about proof.

    The men stood silently while their horses drank. They quickly mounted once the horses had drunk their fill. Lambert dug his heels into his horse's sides, urging it into a wild sprint away from Lost Creek. The sheriff followed close behind.

    After another mile, a man riding in a horse-drawn wagon of fresh-hewn lumber was coming toward them. When they met, Lambert asked, “Did you pass a bow-top, medicine-show wagon heading south?”

    “When?” the driver asked.

    “Within the last hour or so,” the sheriff said.

    The driver scratched his stubbled chin. “Naw... Ain’t seen nobody since leavin’ the mill.”

    “Been on this here main road all the time, have ya?”

    “Yep. Since Hart’s Tradin’ Post.”

    “This road branch off anywhere?” Lambert asked.

    “Nope. Straight inta Hart’s. Except for trails and roads inta farms and such.”

    “That don’t make no sense, mister,” the sheriff said. “A wagon can’t ups and vanish like that!”

    “Don’t hav’ta... Yer vanishin’ wagon most likey’s stopped at Hart Springs. Folks stop by there all the time. Freshwater spring, campground alongside Buffalo Creek, grass fer the horses, and some apple trees loaded down with ripe fruit. Yep... They’s most likely there.”

    “Much obliged,” Lambert said.

    “Follow the weathered sign... It ain’t but a hundred yards off this here road.”

    The sheriff tipped his hat and took off after Lambert, who was already several links ahead. Before long and faithful to the driver’s word, the imprints of Suza’s wagon wheels turned off the road onto the trail to Hart’s Spring. The men dismounted and led their mounts to the campground.


    True to the driver’s word, in about a mile, a weatherworn sign nailed to a gnarled oak pointed the way towards Hart Springs. Suza’s wagon-wheel tracks turned onto the trail leading to the spring. Lambert and the sheriff slowed and gingerly made their way to the campground. As they rounded the bend, the wagon came into view with its horses grazing on the banks of Buffalo Creek.

    Suza and Inari sat close together on a log in front of a blazing fire. His arm was around her shoulders, his lips softly pressing against her forehead as she gently rested her head against his chest. She tilted her head back, and he captured her mouth, kissing her deeply while the twins busied themselves, making tea and picking apples from the nearby trees.

    “Tea’s ready,” Chyou yelled to Daiyu.

    Daiyu picked another apple and started for the campsite. Chyou had gotten four tea cups and a tray and was pouring hot tea when Lambert stepped into the clearing.

    “Got enough for two more weary travelers?” Lambert said, standing tall, hands on his hips.

    Sheriff Anderson stood beside him, face shadowed by a cowboy hat.

    Chyou screamed and dropped the tea kettle, tipping over the tray and scattering teacups on the ground. Diayu dropped her apples as she ran to help Chyou gather the mess of teacups in the dirt.

    “What the hell?” Suza yelled, jumping to his feet and sending Inari sprawling on the ground. His face turned pale at the sight of Lambert and the sheriff as they sauntered closer.

    “I’ll take that as a no,” Lambert said.

    Lambert removed his hat and bowed to the woman sprawled on the ground. “Mrs. Sakara Suza, I presume,” he said in a low voice. He turned to Suza. “Aren’t you going to help your wife off the ground like a good husband should, Dr. Suza?”

    Suza advanced slowly and extended his hand to the woman. She took it reluctantly and got to her feet.

    “She’s... She’s not Sakara!” Suza said defiantly.

    The woman stood, shaking her head while clutching Suza’s arm.

    Lambert regarded Suza skeptically. “You do know her, though… Don’t you, Dr. Suza?”

    Lambert moved closer until he was standing almost in front of him.

    Suza opened his mouth, then shut it again, stammering incoherently, “Uh... Uh...”

    The sheriff's eyes narrowed as he scrutinized the threesome. He took a step toward Suza, pointing an accusatory finger at him.

    “From what’s I seen, ya was bein’ mighty cozy with a woman ya don’t know,” the sheriff said, squinting his eye and scratching his salt and pepper stubbled chin. “And in front of yer other wives, no less. Ya does take the cake, Dr. Suza... The whole cake at that.”

    Lambert closed the gap between them, never taking his eyes off Suza or the woman.

    “Claimed you never saw her before, but I’m having doubts regarding your veracity, sir.”

    “What’s this here, ver rat city, ya talkin’ ‘bout, Lambert?”

    “Later, Sheriff. Later.”

    Susa pushed the woman aside and faced Lambert.

    “You calling me a liar, mister?”

    “He’s callin’ ya out, Lambert, and he ain’t even packin’,” the sheriff said with a chuckle. “Damnest thin’ I’s ever seen.”

    Before anyone could react, the woman spun on her heel and lashed out with her foot, aimed at Lambert's head. But Lambert had anticipated her move; he ducked and drew his gun from its holster. He fired just as she lost her balance and swirled wildly—weeks of malnutrition and the growing fetus had taken their toll.

    Suza tried to catch Sakara before she hit the ground. “Sakara! Our baby!” he yelled, cradling her in his arms. “Are you all right?”

    “Yes... Shaken, but all right,” Sakara said, standing and dusting off her dress.

    Suza turned to Lambert with rage in his eyes. “Bastard! Why’d you shoot at her?”

    “I’m not wounded, dearest,” Sakara said, clutching Susa’s arm.

    “Her feet are as deadly as any weapon,” Lambert said, standing. “I would’ve killed a man but chose mercy—she would’ve healed, so she can hang for the cold-blooded murder of Mika Prescott.”

    “Ain’t sure they’s hangin’ women yet, Lambert,” the sheriff said, holding the twins at gunpoint. “But she should be the first.”

    “Then, the whole bunch can enjoy the comforts of prison together.”

    “Comforts? Ya ain’t never seen... Oh, I gets it, Lambert,” the sheriff said with a laugh. “That be a good one.”

    “We’re in Missouri!” Suza said, straightening his shoulders in outrage. “You got no authority to arrest us here, Sheriff.”

    “He’s right, Sheriff,” Lambert said, smiling. “But I’m a bounty hunter, and I’m taking you all back to Oklahoma so I can collect.”

    “There’s no bounty on us!” Suza said.

    Lambert's smile widened as he reached into his pocket and retrieved a crumpled paper. He unfolded it slowly and waved it in front of Suza.

    "Prescott put a bounty on his wife's head. Since you deny knowing this woman, I'll assume she's Mika Prescott, and we'll all take a trip back to Wyandotte to unweave the true identity of this woman."

    “She’s Sakara, my wife,” Suza protested, and the women nodded in agreement.

    The sheriff sighed heavily. "Sorry, folks, but a court of law's gonna hav'ta figger this one out..." He waved his gun toward Suza and then pointed toward the wagon. "So pack up yer belongings and yer wives and get in the wagon—we can make Wyandotte while the sun's still shinnin'."


    Lambert and the sheriff followed Suza’s wagon on the road to Wyandotte and back into Oklahoma Territory.

    “Well, son. Ya back in the saddle again?” the sheriff asked, a hint of admiration in his voice. “Never thought ya’d hang up yer six guns over the likes of them.”

    Lambert shook his head. “Who? Me? Retiring? Whatever gave you such a crazy idea?”

    The sheriff blinked, opened his mouth to say something but didn’t, and shook his head. Then he yelled, “Pick up the pace, Dr. Suza. Wanna get ta town befer I’s die of old age!”

    End Chapter Twenty-five
    Last edited by DRayVan; 06-20-2023 at 06:55 AM.

  12. #27
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2018
    Ann Arbor, MI, USA
    ***** Last Chapter *****

    On his way out of town, Lambert stopped by Miss Lilly’s Boarding House. Before he could dismount, a robust voice from the front porch yelled, “Lambert! Is that you!”

    Lambert turned to see Prescott hobbling the front porch stairs and coming toward him. Prescott’s face was aglow, and he was grinning from ear to ear. He dragged his left foot slightly but, with the help of a cane, moved remarkedly well for a man recovering from a stroke.

    Prescott stopped halfway to the gate and waited for Lambert. When the men met, they shook hands like long-lost friends meeting for the first time in years.

    “Come, my boy, I’ve so much to tell you,” Prescott said, putting his hand on Lambert’s shoulder and guiding him to the porch.

    “You and Miss Lilly? Never thought I’d ever see the day,” Lambert said, helping Prescott up the stairs.

    “She told you the story, then?”

    Lambert nodded and eased Prescott into a chair. He took one for himself.

    “Saying I didn’t know about her... Our child would be a lie. I was a coward, plain and simple, and I wanted a financial empire more than anything. What a fool I was... I am. Mika’s death and my apoplexy have gotten my attention, Lambert. What’s this all been for? Soloman had it right: pure vanity and worthless in light of eternity.”

    Lambert nodded.


    “So, the first thing I’m going to do is rebuild Wyandotte, give back what I’ve taken, ten times... No, twenty times over. When I’m through, it’ll be as prosperous as Vinita... No, more prosperous! Then, I’m going to publically admit that Isabelle is my... Our daughter, and after a respectable period of mourning, Lilly and I will wed.”

    “I don’t know what to say, Mr. Prescott.”

    “And I owe it all to you. Not many would’ve pursued this mystery to its bitter end,” Prescott said, shaking his head.

    “You give me too much credit, Mr.—”

    “You’re selling yourself short, Mr. Lambert. And to show my appreciation, my bank in Vinita will have a sizable bonus waiting for you. I didn’t expect to see you here otherwise I—”

    Lambert blushed, feeling surprise and gratitude. He had never expected such generosity from Mr. Prescott. Stammering slightly, he replied, "Mr. Prescott, I... I'm truly humbled..."

    He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts. "Rebuilding Wyandotte and making amends is decent of you."

    Lambert looked at Mr. Prescott earnestly.

    "But as for myself... I appreciate your thoughtfulness, but I didn't intend to profit beyond the bounty we agreed."

    Mr. Prescott's eyes softened, and he reached out to shake Lambert's hand. "You're a good man, Lambert. But stop by the Vinita Bank as a last favor to me."

    Lambert nodded.

    “All right, Mr. Prescott. I’ll swing by on my way south next week. Got a bounty to—”

    “You work too hard, Lambert.”

    “It’s what I am; it’s what I do, Mr. Prescott.”

    Prescott laughed.

    “Sorry, you missed the womenfolk. They’re at the farm. I did want you to meet Isabelle—a fine young woman, she is. And Lilly will be sad she wasn’t here to say hi and express her thanks as well.”

    Lambert stood, and Prescott started to rise.

    “Stay put, Mr. Prescott. I’ll find my way out.”

    Prescott relaxed in his chair.

    “Take care, Mr. Lambert.”

    “Plan to,” Lambert said, nodding. “Give my regards to Miss Lilly and Isabelle.”

    Lambert strolled to this horse, mounted, and waved goodbye one last time. He dug his heels into the horse’s flanks, and it responded, galloping out of town.

    November 22, 1892, Vinita, Oklahoma

    A Week Later.

    Lambert rode into town and found the townsfolk in an uproar. A crowd of angry people numbering nearly a hundred gathered at the Prescott Cattleman Bank. They completely blocked the intersection of Main and First. Sheriff Ezra Clark and his deputies stood between the crowd and the bank but were being squeezed closer and closer to the building.

    “We want our money!” the crowd chanted. “Give us our money!”

    A bank official tried to calm the crowd.

    “You’ll get your money. Every last penny.”

    “When?” someone shouted.

    “As soon as we complete—”

    He was pelted with a rotted tomato, and he ducked inside.

    Lambert stopped at the livery.

    “Can I help ya, mister?” a young lad asked.

    “Feed and water,” Lambert said, dismounting.

    “Six bits.”

    “She won’t be bedding overnight.”

    “Still, six bits.”

    Lambert handed the lad the reins.


    “You drive a hard bargain for such a youngster.”

    “Haven’t ya heard, mister?”

    “No. Just rode in. Got anything to do with that crowd at the bank?”

    “And how! I heard the bank’s closin’, and all them people’s gonna lose every nickel they’s got.”

    “Where’s you hear that?”

    “Everybody’s sayin’ it, seein’ ole man Prescott’s dead.”


    “Yeah. Ole man Prescott up and died near on ta a week ago.”


    “Don’t know fer sure... Sumthin’ ‘bout his apples—”


    “That’s it... He died of that. Didn’t think apples could kill a man—”


    “Like I said... A week ago. Story is, he were found in a chair on the porch of a boardinghouse... Deader than a doornail.”

    Lambert paid the lad six bits and headed to the Morganza Hotel’s saloon. He could not accept what his ears had heard as truth: Prescott was dead.

    I may have been the last one to see him alive.

    He stumbled across the dusty street, shaking his head in disbelief and not looking where he was going. Before Lambert was aware, he had walked between two men crouched, ready to draw and settle the score. The men stood, cursed at Lambert for disrupting, and resumed when he had continued on. Lambert paid them no mind and climbed the steps to the hotel. He entered the saloon.

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

    Lambert glanced around the nearly empty saloon. He slid his hat to the back of his head.


    “One tall beer comin’ right up,” the barkeep said, drawing mostly foam. He scooped the subs off and topped off the mug.

    “Warm but tasty,” he said, sliding the mug to Lambert.

    Lambert took a gulp.

    “Yep. Tasty, all right.” He turned to look out the windows. “What’s the story at the bank?”

    “Ain’t ya heard, mister? Mr. Prescott’s—”

    “He’s dead. I know that, but that doesn’t explain the crowd at the bank.”

    “Well... Soon as word got here about his demise, the bank officers closed its doors, pending an audit and settling his estate.”

    “That’s unusual.”

    “Smells ta high Heaven, if ya ask me, but a week ago, the bank closed, and nobody knows when it’ll open again.”

    “What about Wyandotte?”

    “What ya mean?”

    “Prescott was rebuilding the town.”

    “Reckon all work’s stopped since ain’t nobody’s gettin’ paid nuthin’ from the bunch over there.”

    Lambert finished his beer and returned to the livery.

    “She’s all fed and watered, mister. Just like ya wanted.”

    “Obliged,” Lambert said, tipping his hat.

    He mounted, and the horse slowly walked by the bank and the crowd to the edge of town, where the road forked north and south. Lambert took one last look a Vinita, the Prescott Cattleman Bank, and the angry townsfolk. He wondered what bonus was that Mr. Prescott left for him. It would be a month of Sundays before he would see what it was, if ever.

    During a moment of indecision, he looked at the road north to Wyandotte and then at the road south to Texas. Friends and chaos awaited northbound, but a sense of normality awaited southbound.

    Decision made, Lambert yanked left on the reins, and his horse responded, trotting southbound to Texas. Maybe he would get to Wyandotte again someday, but for now, he made a mental note to himself: in addition to divorce, never take a bounty on a wayward wife.

    End Chapter 26

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