Monday, May 7, 2012

Now Playing: Hellfire
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Episode Ten of Hellfire

Episode Nine concluded with:

Dehner heard a scampering sound on the floor and caught sight of a rat running along a baseboard. He wondered, casually, if rats attacked spiders. The detective turned his attention back to his companions and repeated his question. “Why are you in Hellfire, Stacey?”
Hooper held his chin high, “I am here on an assignment for the Texas Rangers!”

Episode Ten

Dehner’s chin dropped. “What?!”
“The Rangers want to close down Hellfire. They’ve tried, but Rawlins has men all over town who can spot the law. Word gets out and the big fish quickly swim south, leaving only the riff-raff. Would either of you gentlemen care for a cigar?”
Both of his companions responded with a quick, “No, thank you.”
Stacey bit off the end of the cigar and spit it onto the floor. The rat Dehner had spotted earlier heard the noise and disappeared into his hole in the floorboard.
“The Rangers want me to keep an eye on the big fish: men like Lars Olsen,” the gambler continued as he set a flame to his stogie. “I need to know their location and be able to identify them when Captain Britt Hatfield and his men ride into town.”
Dehner remained incredulous. “Just when might that be?”
Stacey looked dreamily at the cloud he blew from his mouth. “There is a special beauty to cigar smoke in the moonlight, don’t you think?”
“No!” Dehner didn’t give Hosea a chance to respond. “When are the Rangers riding into Hellfire?”
“Reasonably soon, I hope.” Stacey nodded at Hosea. “Our prophet was kind enough to ride out to Collins last week and send a telegram to Hatfield about Lars Olsen. He received a reply saying the Rangers would head for Hellfire as soon as they completed their current assignment.”
“How many men will there be in all?” Dehner asked.
Stacey shrugged his shoulders. “Captain Hatfield was skimpy on details.”
The odor from Hooper’s cigar began to compete with other odors in the house. Dehner admitted to himself that the stogie’s smell was an improvement. “Stacey, you’re not giving us the whole story. Why are you doing all this for the Rangers?” 
The gambler faked a surprised look.“Why, it’s my civic responsibility!” He turned to Hosea. “You’ll have to forgive Rance. A hard life of sin in a fallen world has left him calloused and cynical.”
Dehner stared at the gambler. “Stacey, —the truth—or something reasonably close to it.”
Hooper waved his cigar about. Dehner mused that, in the darkness, the stogie’s red tip gave it the appearance of a magic wand. “Well...” the gambler’s tone turned light, as if he was reviewing facts of little importance. “I was a very minor partner in a business venture that went awry.”
“What happened to the major partners?” Dehner persisted.
“They’re all in jail,” Stacey replied.
“But Captain Britt Hatfield of the Texas Rangers has an extensive knowledge of your… ah… activities.” Dehner felt relieved to be getting at the truth. “Hatfield knew that you and Beau Rawlins were chums, so he offered a deal: you help the Rangers close down Hellfire, or you go to prison.”
            Hooper flicked an ash from his cigar. “Crudely stated, but you have the gist of it.”
            “From what Rawlins threatened tonight, I gather that he is suspicious of your presence in Hellfire,” Dehner said.
            “He’s suspicious all right,” Hosea spoke up. “But for the wrong reasons. Beau thinks Stacey is trying to take over Hellfire and run the town hisself. I’ll bet he’s got you spotted as a gunman Stacey brought in to help with the dirty work.”
            “Hosea is right,” Stacey declared, his voice once again buoyant. “And we must make sure that Beau keeps that misperception. He knows about my legal entanglements and his suspicious nature could lead him to the truth. That must not happen!”
            “Why?” Dehner asked.
            “If Beau figures out the real reason I’m in Hellfire, he’ll warn his…shall we say, customers…and they will flee.”
            Hosea Rimstead scratched his head. “But wouldn’t that be self-defeatin’? I mean, with everone leavin’, Hellfire would go out of business anyhow.”
            “Only temporarily,” Hooper replied. “And Beau realizes that his clientele would eventually kill him if he allowed the law to make arrests in Hellfire. That’s why he has a gang to keep an eye on things. Lars Olsen was brought in to head up that gang.”
            “How many of them are there?” Dehner asked.
            The gambler fiddled with his cigar before answering. “The actual number seems to vary,--about a dozen. Still, I think we should be able to carry out a plan I have concocted. I’m sure there will be no serious problems, though we may have to send a few very hardened souls to a well-deserved perdition.”

Tomorrow: Episode Eleven of Hellfire