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.
“Let me explain it to
you.” The rider drew nearer to the wagon. Rance Dehner pulled back one of the
blankets, sprang up from the bed of the wagon and jumped onto the rider. Both
men hit the ground and scrambled to their feet. Dehner delivered a roundhouse
punch to the side of his opponent’s head. The man went down and Rance grabbed
his beard, which came off.
The man lying on the ground was Buck Torveen.
Rebecca Torveen stood in her living
room beside Forrest Connors, who had an arm around her. She looked shaken. “Mr.
Lowrie, I know you tried to explain to me about Buck yesterday, but I was very
upset and in no mood to listen. Why did Buck try to convince people that he was
Bertram Lowrie smiled graciously. He
and Rance Dehner had just returned to the house after readying their horses for
the ride into town. “Buck was not impersonating Wes, Miss Torveen; he actually
thought he was Wes.”
Everyone in the room, including
Dehner, looked confused. Lowrie continued. “When your mother died, Buck was
placed in a difficult position. He had to be an excellent big brother to both
you and Wes. That task was made more difficult by Wes’ affliction. But Buck’s
responsibilities went even beyond that. He had to take on some of his father’s
“Father was a drunkard.” Rebecca’s voice
Lowrie continued. “Remember, Buck
was still a boy, with a boy’s need for acceptance and friendship. He found a
friend in Pete Franklin, or thought he had.”
The young woman’s eyebrows moved
downward. “What do you mean, ‘thought’?”
“Pete Franklin had a streak of
cruelty in him, larger than that of most boys. He concocted a scheme to get Wes
alone and chase after him with a gun. Whether he planned to actually shoot Wes
or not we will never know.”
Rebecca Torveen’s face contorted. She
pressed her lips together for a moment before speaking. “I remember that time
“What you did not know, Miss Torveen,
is that Buck cooperated with Pete Franklin in this terrible act of cruelty.”
“That can’t be true!”
“I am afraid it is quite true, Miss
Torveen. Please remember, according to Buck’s account, he went to get Pete
Franklin’s father when he saw the trick being played.”
Rebecca nodded her head in
“But according to Pete Franklin’s
mother, that is not what happened. Mrs. Franklin is positive that her husband
came upon the scene by sheer good fortune, or as she puts it, “the mercy of
“She could be wrong.” Rebecca’s
voice sounded weak.
“I’m convinced she is right,” Lowrie
spoke firmly. “The incident caused both Mrs. Franklin and her husband a great
deal of anguish. Her memory of it
remains quite vivid.”
“After that, Buck’s so-called
friendship with Pete Franklin ended.” Dehner spoke slowly. He was thinking out
loud. “Buck went back to being the good big brother. But he must have felt very
guilty about setting Wes up like that.”
“The guilt remained suppressed,”
Lowrie explained, “but it came to the surface when Buck took part in his
brother’s ambush. He actually killed Wes by releasing the brake on the wagon,
allowing the horses to pull the wagon over Wes Torveen.”
Bertram Lowrie paused and then
continued. “Miss Torveen, I’m afraid that killing Wes pushed your brother into
becoming a dual personality. The study of this phenomenon is just beginning.
There is a great deal of important work being done in England.”
Dehner suppressed a smile. His boss
could never pass up an opportunity to extol the land of his birth.
Lowrie continued his explanation.
“Buck dealt with his guilt by, in a sense, becoming Wes Torveen and trying to
complete Wes’ goal of killing the boys from his school who had once tormented
him. As Wes, Buck apparently goaded Stanley Wiggins, the bartender, into a
gunfight. He also pushed Rob Laverty into insanity.”
Forrest Connors shook his head in
bewilderment. “And he also murdered Blake Oliver.”
“Not exactly,” Lowrie replied.
“What do you mean?” Connors was
again confused, as was everyone else except Lowrie.
“The arrival on the scene of two
detectives pushed Buck in a different direction,” Lowrie said. “He again became
the protector. First, as himself, Buck tried to stop me from seeing Mrs.
Franklin. He knew that Mrs. Franklin might recall what happened on that fateful
day years ago. He probably hoped that by now, she was too frail to remember,
but of course, he couldn’t be sure.”
Dehner spoke softly, “If Buck’s
cruelty were exposed, that could have led us to identify him as a suspect. If
Buck were arrested, Wes Torveen would lose his protector.”
And then, still acting as himself, Buck killed Blake Oliver and set out to
frame you, Mr. Connors, for that murder.”
Connors sighed and glanced upwards.
“I did tell Buck I was goin’ to see Oliver on business that night. Guess he had
no trouble figurin’ out what the business was all about.”
nodded his head and continued. “Buck was convinced that Rob Laverty would do
the rest,--frame you for the killing of Stanley Wiggins. Wes Torveen would be
Dehner continued to think out loud.
“Forrest owed Oliver money. Laverty claimed that Forrest killed the bar tender
to make the murder of Blake Oliver appear to have been done by a ghost. Wes
Torveen was dead but still on a murderous rampage.”
“Precisely,” Lowrie replied in a
“The personality of Wes may have
become permanently latent,” Rance said. “No one would ever have known who was
responsible for all of the killings.”
Rebecca Torveen gave Lowrie an
admiring look. “That’s why you had me play out that little drama. You told me
to keep accusing Buck of not being a good protector. You forced the Wes
personality out into the open.”
“Indeed, Wes was going to urge you
to return home. He would have told you Buck is a fine protector.”
Several minutes of silence followed,
as everyone in the room pondered the complexity of the terrible crimes that had
been committed. Rebecca broke the silence. “Mr. Lowrie, I want Buck to have the
finest lawyer possible.”
“I knew you would say that, Miss
Torveen,” Bertram Lowrie handed her a card. “This is the name of a barrister
who has an office in Dallas. He has had experience with cases like that of your
There were courteous good-byes as
Lowrie and Dehner left the house, mounted their horses and headed for town and
the stage that would return them to Dallas. They had just ridden off the
Torveen ranch when Dehner spoke to his boss.
“There is one interesting fact you
didn’t mention back there.”
“And what is that?”
Dehner gave a quick look to the
country around him, then looked back to his boss. “All of the men who bullied
Wes Torveen are now dead. One Arm Lightning accomplished his goal.”
“Indeed. I have thought of that.”
They made the rest of the trip in
Tomorrow: A new Rance Dehner western
adventure, Ultimatum. Don’t Miss It!