Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Now Playing: The Songbird of the West 
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Episode Four of The Songbird of the West

Episode Three concluded with:

            Dehner didn’t bother with comforting words about getting a doctor. “Holt, who hired you to kill me?”
            “…I only saw her in pictures…you know…the kind that come in the cigar boxes…was gonna see her in person…”
            “The name, Holt, I need the name of the man who wants me dead.”
            Conley lifted a fragment of the red curtain which was still in his hand. “Is this from the room?”
            “The best…” He giggled for a moment then all of the amusement departed from his face and there was nothing there at all.
            Dehner looked around him. Groups of people were now scattered about watching him. No one came near.
            That odd sense of depression returned. He felt very alone.  

Episode Four


            Rance Dehner mused that he had spent a lot of time in sheriff’s offices, but this particular visit was more than a little different. Outside, a band was playing a tune that, the detective supposed, was intended to be rousing and upbeat. The band seemed to be heavy on horns and drums and light on practicing. Their rehearsal sounded a bit like a dirge for someone that no one was very sorry to see dead.
            Sheriff Tal Streeter stood behind his desk instructing a group of four volunteer deputies on the finer points of crowd control. The lawman could brag about having the neatest, most well dressed deputies in the west. And the happiest. If smiling was a key component of law enforcement, this bunch couldn’t be topped.
            The sheriff moved to the conclusion of his talk. “Miss Carrie Whiting will be arriving on the stage in a little over an hour. Go to the depot, and if you spot anyone who is drunk and disorderly, inform Deputy Curt Weldon. He is there now. I will be along shortly.” He nodded at Rance. “I need to conduct some business with this gentleman first.”
            “What about?!” The question came from one of the volunteers, who sounded incredulous that any event could be as important as the arrival of Carrie Whiting.
            “Well, a hired gun tried to kill this man last night and ended up dead for his efforts. Call me old fashioned, but I believe that is something the local law should take an interest in. Now, get to the depot, all of you!”
            The four volunteers were far too excited about their duties to be worried about the sheriff’s anger. They laughed and patted each other on the back as they scrambled out of the office.
            Tal Streeter shook his head. “I tell ya, Rance, this whole town has gone loco. Know I wasn’t much help to you last night but all the saloons were packed. The reason the hotel seemed empty is that everyone was out celebrating. I didn’t hear about the trouble there until--”
            “Don’t worry about it, Tal. I understand.” Dehner moved away from the side wall where he had been leaning but remained on his feet. He was too restless to sit down. “You’re only one man, and you only have one full time deputy.”
            Streeter nodded his head. He was a man of medium height, in his early thirties. He had dark hair and a reddish scar which ran down the side of his face: a memento of the night a drunk had swung a broken whiskey bottle at him.
            The lawman pointed at the piles of paper on his desk. “Looked through all the circulars. Can’t find no one that matches the description of the man sent to kill you.” The sheriff scrunched up his face and continued, “How many people knew you were coming to Dry River, Rance?” 
            “Just you, I guess. I sent you that letter explaining---”
            Tal let out a loud curse. “And I left that letter lying right here on my desk! This office can get pretty crowded and hectic some times. Anybody could have given it a quick read. Sorry Rance,--”
            “Forget it.”
            “As I recall, you are here to protect Carrie Whiting.”
            Rance began to pace the office. “This is one of the strangest assignments I have ever had. Miss Whiting is based in Dallas--”
            “Like the Lowrie Detective Agency,” Tal added.
            Dehner nodded his head and continued. “Carrie Whiting’s agent, a man named George McLeod, came to the agency with a problem. Miss Whiting had accepted an invitation to perform in Dry River. McLeod usually accompanies his client wherever she goes. But Miss Whiting has insisted on coming to Dry River by herself.”
            “She won’t say, but McLeod is worried. He wants me to keep an eye on his client without her knowing that he hired a detective to watch out for her.”
            The sheriff scratched his head and frowned. “Carrie Whiting, the Songbird of the West. She usually tours the big Eastern cities or maybe some place like Denver. Why is she coming to Dry River?”
            Dehner shrugged his shoulders. “According to McLeod she owes a favor to Bruce Patten, a man who owns a lot of saloons in this town. Patten is involved in some big celebration--”
            Tal sighed loudly and for a moment his eyes moved to the ceiling. “Yeah. We’re renaming the town. But that don’t explain why Carrie Whiting won’t let her agent come along.”
            “Another thing we have to keep in mind. Holt Conley trying to kill me last night may not be connected to the whole Carrie Whiting matter. I’ve made a lot of enemies. Still, I think there is a connection. Like I told you last night, Conley’s dying words were about the singer--”
            The door to the office banged open and Deputy Curt Weldon ran inside. He was in his mid-twenties, lean, muscular, and very worried.
            Tal Streeter read the concern on his deputy’s face. “What is it?”
            “Matt Roberts just rode in from his farm. Says he spotted the stagecoach, the one bringin’ Carrie Whiting.”
            “Outlaws stopped the coach. They have it surrounded.”

Tomorrow: Episode Five of The Songbird of the West