by Robert L. Sellers Jr
Table of Contents|
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
|part 2 of 3|
Stepping out of the alleyway, he turned the corner and spotted the equally clean entrance hole in the glass front of the dress shop. Fanciful lace glued to the inside of the window to block the sun’s fading rays had saved it when the bullet had passed through. Although fractured a little around the hole, the window had not suffered much damage.
Filing the information he’d collected away for later, Poe crossed the empty street. Cat stood watching the crowds as he stood near the dead gunmen.
“You suppose this was the lookout?” Poe asked.
Cat shook his head. “My guess is he was using the whore back there to pass the time while he watched the bank and waited.” He crouched down to indicate the faint lipstick marks on the dead man’s trousers.
The crowd that had formed parted as Clementine Blue approached.
The skirts of her black dress flowed behind her while her long dark hair remained straight past her shoulders. Black was the only color the young witch favored. Given her prowess with spell-craft, her choice of wardrobe color wasn’t something that was often questioned. It was the silver pendant with its red ruby nestled between her breasts that always seemed to draw more attention than the color of the fabric around it.
“Is he one of the problems you were waiting for, Sheriff?” Clementine asked pleasantly, her dark amber-green eyes seemed to sparkle as they studied the dead man.
“I was hoping you could take a look at the men in the bank as well. They might have passed through and taken a room at some point.”
A faint smile floated across the slight pout of her lips as Clementine glanced at Cat before stepping through the broken glass of the bank.
“How long do you figure it will take Deer to find the wounded man?” Poe asked, turning to look at the hills above the town.
“You know her and her Indian ways,” Cat mused. “She’ll come get us when she finds something. I’d give her a day, maybe two or three. I got the impression she looked to enjoy the hunt. She even took her long bow.”
Although he knew better, Poe still worried about what his deputy might run into. Wouldn’t be the first time someone had lain in wait to ambush those who hunted them.
“If she’s not back by tomorrow afternoon, we’re gonna go looking for her.” Poe replied evenly. “Round up a few of the wranglers that are good with long guns. Once lunch has been served, see who you can get.”
From what he’d seen in the bank, Poe figured it would be simple felons that they’d be chasing and nothing more. He could only hope Running-Deer returned safely in the morning to tell them what she’d found.
* * *
Unnoticed by the crowd around the bank, the stage disgorged its sole passenger in front of the Long Branch.
John Abraham Danvers stood watching the activities down the street with a wry smile. Dressed in dark pinstripe and bowler, those he passed saw chiseled features beneath the clean cut gray hair as simply another gambler passing through town. The silver chain hanging from his pocket and the natty bow tie above the fanciful silver and black vest he wore completed the image.
While he did enjoy his share of card games, such was not the intent of this trip. As Alpha of the largest North American werewolf clan, he’d been on his way to California to assert new territory when word had come of two mutts drawing unnecessary attention from the law.
As he pushed through the double doors of the Raven’s Claw tavern, he passed between tables thick with card players. Most everyone in the room watched with veiled interest as the newcomer stood alone at the bar.
“Whiskey and beer; if you would be so kind, my good sir” He said casually when the barman approached. Turning his back to the bar, he leaned against the rail and watched the games in progress.
Two lanky cattlemen threw in their hands and moved to stand on either side of the gambler, rough features in stark contrast to the clean-shaven man between them. Following his lead, they also ordered whiskey and beer.
“Gentlemen, it would seem that your simple chore has gone terribly awry. Care to explain how this could have happened?” Danvers inquired evenly. He turned his back to the activities and snapped down his whiskey, before taking a long sip from the cold beer.
“Couldn’t be helped, we got here just after it happened,” Twain Jones, his head agent replied. Worn and drawn from days covering too many miles for their boss, both he and Taylor Brevets easily posed as roving cattlemen. Handpicked by Danvers himself, both enforced pack law in the western territories and had done a fine job of it until the latest mishaps had begun to occur.
“I understand we also have some foreign visitors doing business of the flesh nearby.” Danvers mused, watching the activities behind him in the mirror above the bar.
“Already spoke to them at length; they both seem fit to stay long term.” Jones replied, shaking his head at their insolence. “They aren’t a whole lot like us, being foreigners and all.”
“Well then, perhaps if I were to step in and give my regards they might just change their minds.”
Jones’s smile was wide as he sipped his chilled beer. “I’d assume so. What do we do with Burgess and Bisbee?”
“I’m reminded of an old saying.” Danvers said before he snapped down another shot of whiskey.
“And that would be?”
“If you love something, let it go. If the love is true, it will come back to you in due time.”
Jones laughed. “And if it ain’t?”
Danvers turned unsmiling. “Then you hunt it down and kill it without mercy or second thought.” Draining the last of his beer, Danvers set it down and pulled out his pocket watch. “It’s time to see someone about the company of a woman for the night. Enjoy yourselves as you see fit in the matter of the troublesome Burgess and Bisbee. It may be best if the local law never comes across them again, if you catch my drift.”
Neither man responded as Danvers walked back through the tables and out through the door. His direction had been clear: they had work to do.
* * *
Clementine Blue did not have far to go before she found the dead bodies. They sat quiet and alone, waiting.
The Pinkerton man — Jacob Davies — sat slumped just inside the door. His blue eyes were dim now beneath the scattered wave of blond hair that had accented otherwise handsome features. A bullet had taken him through the throat. Blood thick on the wall told of his quick death. The fancy silver pistol she’d seen in his holster lay clutched in his hand at his side.
When she turned away, she found the dark features of the roughneck slumped against the teller windows. Blood from his open mouth covered his chin. The bloody patch across his shirt told of what had killed him. Wide dark eyes stared at the floor. Perhaps he’d caught sight of the unexpected spiritual path ahead. His one hand wrapped around the stalk of a shotgun as it lay against his leg while a large black pistol lay clenched in the other.
Apparently, the fool had tried to fire the shotgun one-handed while blasting away with his pistol. “Stupidity, thy name is man...” she muttered under her breath. The bank remained eerily quiet around her.
She wondered if the dead men were the ones Jacob had come looking for. Although friendly, he’d proven reticent when she’d asked about the nature of his business in casual passing. He’d mused that although a Pinkerton never slept while in search of their quarry, they were allowed a soft bed to rest their bones in now and then.
Her mystical third eye told her there was nothing out of the ordinary about any of the dead men that had been involved. Unfortunately, that left the two who’d escaped the gunfight. With regret, she turned and walked back out into the open street. Sheriff Poe turned as she approached. “Jacob Davies had his room for a week while the others are strangers.”
“Dammit.” Poe responded, aggravation clear in his voice. His hand rested on his gun belt while he massaged the back of his neck with the other. “I better get a note off to Pinkerton and find out more about those men he was chasing.”
As she scanned the crowd, Clementine realized the dark haired Indian was not amongst them. “Has Deer gone after the men?”
“She started tracking before Cat found the dead whore.” Poe turned to gesture toward the alleyway between the two buildings. “If you don’t mind, take a look and see if there’s something there we didn’t find.”
She waited until Poe was out of earshot as she followed Cat to the opening of the alley. “I don’t get a sense that this was anything but mortal doings, do you?”
Cat’s friendly brown eyes met hers as they stood at the entrance. “Even mortals can do evil without help, or so it would appear.”
The dead woman revealed little. Clementine stepped out of the alley and turned toward the Long Branch. “I’d better go make sure things are set for the lunch crowd. From the way everyone is out watching us, they’ll be ready to eat and gossip in no time.”
“Nothing brings up a hunger like death and heat,” Cat mused.
As Clementine made her way toward the Long Branch, she considered that her abilities with glamour might find more answers once the alcohol set in tonight. What had proven fun to play with amongst the unsuspecting locals would now prove useful in other ways.
* * *
Leviticus LaRouchette turned from the spectacle on the street. The flat-cropped, blond-haired master vampire stood tall amongst the town people. His ice-blue eyes noticed the well-dressed stranger that had just stepped out from the Raven’s Claw. Even from the distance that separated them, LaRouchette sensed something odd — yet familiar — about the stranger. The man turned and casually made his way toward a nearby brothel. LaRouchette moved to follow.
The locals had not been as difficult as his companion Natalia had predicted. Once they’d purchased the mine, they had gained many more holdings rather easily. Among their holdings was partnership in the brothel that the man was approaching.
LaRouchette paused near the end of the boardwalk. He smiled as the soft scent of jasmine caressed his senses. Slender arms encircled his waist as a soft chin rested upon his shoulder and a woman pressed her supple body against his from behind.
“Leviticus LaRouchette, you’ve been away for far too long.” Her soft voice purred. Moist lips brushed along the side of his neck.
“Pandora, you know the rules as well as I. Others will be unhappy if we take too much too often.”
The whore had become their favorite. Her wild mane of red hair fell seductively over strong shoulders. She also proved unique; preferring both vampires feed at the same time. Not many mortals enjoyed the touch of a double bite and lived to tell about it.
“He certainly looks... interesting.” She whispered seductively. Her soft lips caused his spine to stiffen as her tongue flirted around the lobe of his ear. “I’ve yet to meet a man who won’t share his desires when properly asked.”
LaRouchette smiled, watching the man step through the doors of the brothel. “You may want to wait here while I find out what he really wants. If I know his type, you should see him shortly and in desperate need for your services.”
Her pale lips twisted in a wry grin as he stepped away. “In exchange, you’ll give me what I want?” Dark brown eyes lingered as they speculated. “It’s time I was more than just a meal for two.”
“Once we leave. Then and only then, my dear, will your request be fully considered. If necessary, you could always approach the sheriff to get his opinion on the matter.”
Her deep sigh was telling as she settled in to wait.
* * *
Natalia De Lascanti sat back, annoyed by the creak of the wooden chair beneath her. The lycans who’d become their partners in the brothel had taken a few days off to unwind, allowing her the opportunity to update their books. When they returned in the morning, she would have everything cleaned up and ready for them.
Although relations between lycans and vampires had long been complicated and often strained, Nadia and Mikhail had been willing to share the business. The more people they could trust to manage things while they were away, meant more time that they could enjoy unwinding. Given their ability to cover large areas once changed, unwinding was probably not a bad choice of words.
Absentmindedly, her narrow fingers moved through the long strands of her raven-black hair. Perhaps bringing new girls in more often might improve their profit margin. As the men became familiar enough, interest seemed to taper off. Once they continued on their journey toward San Francisco, she decided she would inquire about new women to send east. Perhaps shuffled like a deck of cards between brothels along the way, they would appear new and refreshed to the locals.
Her dark green eyes looked up to find a stranger wearing a bowler and dark suit standing in the doorway. Chiseled features beneath gray hair showed age while dark eyes and a tight smile revealed his true nature. She could feel a faint tingle of energy flash across her pale skin that left goose bumps in its wake.
A lycan alpha was standing in her doorway.
As she sat forward, her elbows settled upon the open books. She raised a brow as she studied her visitor. “This is a private office. There will be no pleasure found here.”
The man casually looked around the room. “I was told the owners would be here, but I can stop back if they’re out.” With subtle ease, he raised a hand to tip the brim of his bowler.
“I represent the owners.” Natalia started, wondering what business the lycan had where he clearly would not be welcome. “Perhaps I can answer any questions that you may have.”
As he moved into the room, the stranger removed his bowler and held it in one hand. His smile grew only to stop just short of his eyes. “It’s been a long time. Tell me, how do the dead enjoy working for our kind?”
Slowly rising to her feet as explicit images of painful disembowelment floated through her mind, Natalia’s gaze stayed with the stranger. “If I recall properly, masters do not work for their pets. Perhaps if you would return at another time...” Her fangs eased into place as she stared down the stranger.
Looking at the floor, he simply shook his head. “My name is John Abraham Danvers.” His eyes rose to match her glare with grim determination as his smile faded. “Although you may not be aware of whom I represent, your partners undoubtedly will be.” He paused, as hunter studied hunter. “Inform them that the charity I’ve used to tolerate their presence in our territory has expired. It would be in their, and perhaps your best interests for them to return home. I would also appreciate it if your kind vacated the area as well. My time is of the essence and I tolerate no delay.”
“It would be most unfortunate if that were actually true.” The smooth voice from the hall caused Danvers to turn as Leviticus LaRouchette brushed past. “If this territory were under your control as you claim it is, we would know of it — and we don’t. Perhaps as you board the stage tomorrow, you will reflect on that as you leave us.”
Taller than the lycan, LaRouchette casually looked down with unveiled amusement. “Now if you will excuse us we have business to attend to. Perhaps you can fancy yourself further down the street with what pleasures they have to offer. Word has it that they allow anything the proper rut if they are paid well enough.”
Natalia felt her fangs retract as she watched Danvers. The anger that filled him suddenly fled, replaced by cool calm and knowing smile. “I will address that misunderstanding at a later time. Perhaps when you’ve had a chance to think about what you’ve just said.”
“Oh, I doubt it. In fact, please leave us like a good pet. Good day, sir.”
Natalia looked from Danver’s retreating figure to the smile on LaRouchette’s face. “We may need to take his threat somewhat seriously.” She warned.
“Pandora will attend to that little problem in her own unique way.”
“Ah, yes. I almost feel bad for our Mister Danvers. Pandora can be ruthless when she wants something.”
LaRouchette’s smile faded. “She asked to be turned when we leave. I find her to be a suitable addition.” He paused as if in thought. ”I would prefer you have the honor. If there is going to be trouble from our furry friends, perhaps sooner may be better, in her case.”
Gently closing the books on the desk, Natalia turned to the open doorway. “I doubt our sheriff would have much issue with that. Even he can understand politics. With more shepherds it will be easier to watch the wolves amongst our sheep.”
“Indeed.” LaRouchette mused as he followed her out of the room.
Copyright © 2005 by Robert L. Sellers Jr