Each weekday on this blog you will find an episode of a western short story featuring Rance Dehner, a detective who operates in the old West. When the story concludes, it will be archived for those readers who prefer to read a story from start to finish.
lit another cigar and began to pace the room. He didn’t know where the girl was
staying. That letter to Will that he had found just had the address of Colter’s
post office station. He puffed on the cigar and remembered what his hired gun
had told him. “Folks love to gossip. In a place like Colter, there will be
people who know where she’s keepin’ the kid. Won’t be hard to find out. A few
hours in a saloon should do it.”
Bradford Maltin laughed as he left
his room. His associates back in Denver didn’t think of him as a generous man.
But on this day, he’d be the one setting up the drinks.
“Look mister, I take care of horses
here. You wanna jaw ‘bout people, go somewheres else.” The hostler was an
elderly man who appeared strong for his years and equally as stubborn. “I don’t
cotton to spendin’ time with a man who makes a livin’ by his gun. And don’t try
tellin’ me different. I know your kind.”
inhaled and looked around the large building that housed the livery. He had, as
matter of habit, been withholding information from the owner of Riley’s Stables
detective decided on a more forthright approach. “You’re right, Mr. Riley. Last
night I killed a hardcase named Curt Tatum. Tatum was trying to get to a shack
where a girl named Leona is staying with a baby. She asked me to look up Del
Burgess; said he worked here.”
expression on Horatio Riley’s face changed from suspicion to admiration. “So,
you’re the man that brought down Curt Tatum.”
gettin’ any of the money they’ll be makin’ tonight showin’ the body and all?”
seem right. You might make a livin’ with your gun, but you seem to be callin’
it right ‘bout who you plug. I say you deserve a cut of the profits.”
side issue. Can you take me to Del Burgess?”
so.” Riley began to amble across the
stable, passing three rows of stalls. “The boy will be pleasured to meet the
man who killed Curt Tatum.” Horace turned at the fourth row and opened the
second stall. “Del, you got company.”
fit the description Leona had given of him, only both of his green eyes were
swollen and cradled by purple cheeks. He was lying on a bed of hay and appeared
to have been awake for only a few minutes. “Heard you jawin’ with Horace.
Pleased to meet the man who shot Tatum.” Del began to stand up. “That jasper
got me good, but it weren’t fair.”
exactly happened, Del?” Rance asked.
Now on his
feet, the young man placed a hand against the side of the stall, to help
maintain balance. “Last night, I was workin’ here by myself.”
paused and inhaled. He dropped his arm, though he still looked a bit unsure on
his feet. “That hardcase Tatum came in
to fetch his horse. Of course, at the time I didn’t know who he was.”
like some water, Del?” Horatio asked.
hurried off. Del Burgess continued to speak. “Tatum came for his horse. He was
nice enough at first. Started asking directions. As he jawed on, I caught on to
the fact that he was lookin’ for the fastest way to get to that shack where
Leona is holed up.”
of a pump could be heard coming from behind the livery. “What did you do, Del?”
him what business he had out there at the shack. He tole me to just never mind.
Can’t remember exactly what happened next. But he pistol whipped me before I
saw him draw his iron.”
askance at Dehner. “How’s that?”
thought he only needed to take you out of the action for a few hours. He tried
to take me out for longer than that when we crossed paths in Denver. Would have
shot me in the back if we hadn’t been close by the local law.”
Riley returned with a cup of water for Del. The young man drank it slowly and
did seem to be feeling better. Rance
decided to move his questions into a difficult territory.
have you known Leona, Del?”
was kids.” The young man stared into his tin cup, and continued, “We were
gettin’ serious for a while, then this guy shows up…” Del Burgess took another
sip of water, then looked at Rance and Horace. “This Will guy started showin’
off how rich he was. Talked about takin’ her to Denver. Got her all confused.”
no discreet way to ask the question. Dehner spoke in a monotone. “Did Leona
have the baby with Will?”
know Will’s last name?”
Will Maltin.” Del made the name sound like a profanity.
Rance’s scowl. “You know this Maltin fellow, Mr. Dehner?”
there is a very wealthy Maltin family in Denver,” Rance answered. “The Lowrie
agency did some work for them a year back or so, I wasn’t involved in it. The
Maltins could certainly afford to hire a top gunhand like Tatum, but why would
they do it?”
filled Del Burgess’ eyes. “All I know is Leona is out there in that shack with
just her baby. I’m going to her.”
rest more, boy,” Horace said.
with you,” Rance spoke hurriedly. “First we have to pick up some food and
supplies for her.”
it quick,” Del snapped. “It ain’t right her being out there by herself. I’m
afraid somethin’ bad will happen.
“So am I,”
Rance Dehner said.
Del had bought the supplies and ridden out of town when Horace Riley began to
reflect on the events of earlier that day. A very well dressed gent had come in
and rented a buckboard from him. Later on, a boy around Del’s age, also well
dressed, had rented a horse. The boy looked familiar. Horace thought he had
seen the kid in town, but not recently.
liveryman wished he had told the detective and Del about all this, it could be
important. “That’s the trouble with gettin’ old,” Horace said to a strawberry
roan, “you’re always thinkin’ of stuff too late.”