According to Hoyle
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by Abigail Roux
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: By the close of 1882, the inhabitants of the American West had earned their reputation as untamed and dangerous. The line between heroes and villains is narrow and indistinct. The concept that a man may only kill if backed into a corner is antiquated. Lives are worth less than horses. Treasures are worth killing for. And the law is written in the blood of those who came before. The only men staving off total chaos are the few who take the letter of the law at its word and risk their lives to uphold it. But in the West, the rules aren't always played according to Hoyle. US Marshals Eli Flynn and William Henry Washington are escorting two prisoners to New Orleans for trial when they discover there's more to the infamous shootist Dusty Rose and the enigmatic man known only as Cage than merely being outlaws. When forces beyond the marshals' control converge on the paddlewheeler they have hired to take them downriver, they must choose between two dangers: playing by the rules at any cost or trusting the very men they are meant to bring to justice.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2011 2011
eBookwise Release Date: April 2011
14 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [378 KB]
Reading time: 253-354 min.
Three men sat around a linen-covered table in the expansive dining room of the Windsor Hotel. The great clock on the mantel read well past midnight by the time their meeting commenced, and candlelight was all that lit the room, throwing the faces of the three diners into deep shadow.
Just a month prior to their meeting, John C. Baird had been in New York, watching as the city's elite unveiled the Pearl Street Power Station and the magic of electricity had lit up the city. He missed that civilized place, and he looked on overgrown mining and cow towns like Denver with disdain he could not and did not want to conceal. There were a few buildings in the town that had electricity, but the Windsor Hotel did not yet number among them, no matter how elegantly appointed it was otherwise.
It didn't matter how uncomfortable the trip had been for him, though. He was here on orders, and everything being asked of him hinged on this meeting. It would be worth a trip to this trumped up little silver town to make certain this was done properly.
The dining room was all but empty, save for a sparse number of diners and the hotel's staff lingering to wait on them. One thing Baird found he did like about the western towns was that people knew how to mind their own affairs. They were in no danger of being disturbed.
"You're late," Baird said to the man sitting to his right, who was just settling into his seat.
"This is a fancy place," the large man said in an annoyed, husky voice. His common cowboy clothes were dusty, and his hat had left an impression in his black hair when he'd taken it off. It appeared to Baird that he'd just made the trip to Colorado from Texas on the back of a bison rather than in a rail car. He wore thin leather gloves, but they didn't conceal the fact that one of his fingers was missing on his left hand. "They weren't gonna let me in," the Texan explained, nodding to the grand lobby and the doorman who still stood watching them in distaste.
The man opposite Baird gave that a quiet snort. He was handsome, dressed to the nines, in clear contrast to the large Texan. Wiry and of average height, he carried himself with an insolent ease that Baird found both annoying and striking. He certainly wouldn't have been refused entrance to the Windsor Hotel, or any other hotel on the continent, Baird thought idly. They hadn't let his scruffy little puppy in with him, though, and the beast sat by the window, watching its master devotedly through the speckled glass.
His accent was that of an Englishman, though, and upon hearing him speak Baird had instantly decided he didn't like or trust the man. This was government business. An Englishman had no right to be involved. But Baird's orders were clear, and these were the two men he'd been told to contact. Before coming to his current position, Baird had been a Pinkerton agent, and a good one. He knew how to follow orders.
Baird glanced back at the Texan and looked him over with a critical eye. "Fine," he said finally, not in any mood to deal further with the issue of his tardiness. He casually leaned back in his chair, his hand on the concealed gun under the table.
"I'd prefer it if we expedited this meeting," the dapper Englishman requested drolly.
"If we what?" the Texan asked in a flat, unimpressed voice.
"Expedite. Hurry it along. Make it faster."
"If you mean faster, just say faster."
"Gentlemen," Baird interrupted. Both men quieted and looked at him expectantly. Baird inclined his chin and gave them a smile. "You are the men known respectively as Dusty Rose and Bat Stringer, correct?" he asked them, looking first at the Englishman and then at the Texan.
Neither man flinched, though Baird had just spoken the names of two notorious gunmen. If either was surprised or concerned at the other's presence, they didn't show it.
"And if we aren't who you say?" the Englishman asked as he kept one hand on the table.
Baird looked at him with barely concealed surprise. "If you aren't who I say, then just who might you be?" he asked as he slowly moved the gun in his own lap until it pointed at the man. It was a misconception that it was easier to kill out West, that no one blinked an eye at murder. The crime was still considered heinous. Baird didn't mind doing it, regardless.
The Englishman known as Dusty Rose returned his look passively.
The other man, the Texan, grunted at them both, still unimpressed. Baird turned an eye on him. He wasn't merely an outlaw and a gunman with a reputation. He was one with something to prove, and that made him even more dangerous.
Baird didn't know much more about Bat Stringer other than he'd been the second choice for this job. Baird's contacts were supposed to have tracked down the man known as Whistling Jack Kale, an outlaw who helped lead a band of men near the border to Old Mexico, raiding and robbing and terrifying the general public. His gang was famous for their cleverness and always managing to avoid capture. Kale had come to the attention of Baird's superiors after he and three other men had disappeared from inside a bank under the noses of the very authorities there to capture them.
Kale wasn't the leader of the gang, but all reliable reports said he was the brains. He would have been perfect for this job. But, to Baird's dismay, his man in Texas found that Jack Kale had disappeared over a year ago, nothing but his name and whispers of fear left behind him. Where he'd gone or why, no one knew. Some thought the leader of his gang had killed him over a disagreement or attempted coup. That was why Bat Stringer was here now. If they'd wanted a man like Kale for the job, they were almost as well served with his boss. He was said to be a smart man and a fast draw.
Dusty Rose sighed softly and looked away. The Englishman had a reputation as well. He too had a penchant for escaping from the hands of the law. He was famous for his skill at card games, but his reputation was more that of a gunman than a gambler. He was clever and charming, and rarely drew the gun he was said to be so adept at handling.
"I'll get right to the point, gentlemen," he told them in a low voice. "You don't need to know who I am or who I'm working for. I won't tolerate any questions about either subject."
Stringer sat watching him much like a housecat would watch a canary in a cage, his dark eyes intelligent and patient. Rose, however, was still looking off to the side, shaking his head as if disgusted with himself simply for being there. Baird's lips twitched into a smile. He'd made the shootist an offer he couldn't easily refuse; the man had enough trouble with the law, he didn't need any more.
Baird waited until it was clear that neither man would respond, and he continued. "At this very moment, there are soldiers working nearby, searching for an Indian artifact."
"Artifact," Stringer repeated with a frown.
Rose sat forward. "It's a trinket, Mr. Stringer," he supplied in a low voice, "with some sort of inherent value to it, be it regarding history or mankind."
"I know what the damn word means," Stringer growled to the man.
Baird rolled his eyes. He cleared his throat pointedly and both men once again looked back at him. "This artifact, if found, could be very important."
"To?" Rose asked.
"What is it?" Stringer asked.
"That is none of your concern, Mr. Stringer," Baird assured him. The man didn't react other than to turn his head as he maintained eye contact. Baird was beginning to be unnerved by the big man. He almost preferred Rose's sarcasm and insolence to being the object of such silent study.
"If the Army's already searching for this trinket, why do you need us?" Rose inquired carelessly.
Baird stared at him, not intending to answer.
"Because you're not Army," Rose concluded with a slow nod. He looked away again and sighed heavily, as if just realizing how much trouble he might be in if he didn't feel like cooperating. Good. That was how Baird wanted him: scared and backed into a corner.
"The Army is a redundant, stupid beast," Baird claimed after a moment. "This item cannot be trusted in their hands. It must be taken from them and safeguarded properly. But as you have probably gathered, we cannot have one government agency blatantly stealing from another, and it's best to keep this away from any official avenues."
Rose laughed out loud. He looked at Stringer and shook his head, but Stringer wasn't laughing. Upon seeing that, Rose cleared his throat and schooled his features into a more serious expression. Baird wasn't amused by his antics.
"You want us to steal this artifact from the Army for you," Stringer said in a soft voice. "So your hands stay clean."
"That's precisely right," Baird told him with a pleased smile.
"You want the two of us to attack a battalion of soldiers in the middle of Nebraska, steal an Indian artifact from them, and ride off into the sunset without anyone the wiser?" Rose said in a flat, sarcastic voice as he leaned forward and put a finger on the table. "Are you insane, or are you just as stupid as you look?"
"I assure you I am neither," Baird replied with a stiffening of his shoulders. He realized belatedly, as Rose's lips curved into a smile, the trap in the words. His cheeks flushed with annoyance and embarrassment. "The plan is more complex than that," he gritted out.
"I certainly hope so," Rose grunted.
"What is the plan?" Stringer asked. He did not appear amused by Rose or impressed with what Baird was saying.
"You will be informed of the details when we come to an agreement on your services," Baird assured him.
"On that note, why are my services even required here?" Rose asked. "I am no thief."
"So you say. But you have spent time with the natives."
"I believe you have specific information from them about this artifact, whether you are aware of it or not."
"Is that so?" Rose asked, completely unperturbed by the extent of Baird's knowledge.
"That is so. And you have a reputation," Baird told him.
"For playing cards," Rose supplied.
"Playing cards," Stringer repeated, incredulous. He was looking at Rose speculatively, and Rose returned the look with a wary one, as if trying to gauge the threat from the big man. "If you're a gambler, then I'm a seamstress."
Rose scratched at his chin idly as he looked at Stringer, then he pointed one elegant finger at the man and narrowed his eyes. "Do you darn socks?"
Baird rubbed at the spot between his eyes, feeling an ache in his head coming on. "Gentlemen," he said before the conversation could digress further.
Rose looked back at him sharply, all trace of sarcasm or humor gone. "I believe I made it quite clear in my initial answer to you that I am not for hire," he reminded Baird in a low, smooth voice. His black eyes seemed to glint in the candlelight as he leaned back in his chair casually and looked at Baird, mirroring his stance. "You can threaten me all you please, Mr. Baird. It won't change the fact that this is not my area of expertise."
Baird was no fool. He knew what sort of men he was dealing with. He had every confidence in himself to handle them, however, and so he sat unflinching, returning the look. "We plan to pay you in solid gold, Mr. Rose. Surely that must pique your interest?" he inquired politely.
"No," Dusty Rose answered blithely. "I have enough trouble on my own. I don't need to go begging it from the Army, the natives, or whatever agency of the government you may be representing. My curiosity into such manners can only lead me so far before my better instincts prevail." He sat forward and put a finger to the tip of his nose. "You smell of trouble I neither want nor need, Mr. Baird."
Baird raised one eyebrow and turned his head to look at Stringer, who sat watching them silently. "And you?" he asked the big man.
"I'll need to hear your plans before I give my answer," Stringer told him without hesitation.
"Fair enough," Baird agreed readily. He had expected no less. "You and I will discuss the finer points of the plan and the vast sums of money you'll be receiving over dinner, right after we've taken care of the Desert Flower here," he ordered with a gesture of his hand at Rose.
Rose pushed his chair back and stood in alarm. Stringer did the same, reaching for the gun that was concealed under his arm. China crashed at a table on the far side of the room as the diners there dove for cover. Several of the other patrons screamed or shouted.
"Gun!" one of the waiters called out.
Baird sat back calmly, a small smile on his face. There were people all over the country who would have paid good money to see a showdown like this; Dusty Rose and Bat Stringer toe to toe. And he had a front row seat.
Rose hesitated, not drawing his weapon for some reason Baird couldn't fathom. Stringer held no such compunctions and his gun slid from its holster with practiced ease.
Suddenly, the floor beneath them seemed to roll and shudder. The candles shook and some of them blew out as a terrible rattling and creaking began to shake the very foundations of the hotel.
Baird gripped the table in front of him, looking up at the chandeliers and the plaster molds on the ceiling as they began to flake and fall around them.
"Earthquake!" someone shouted, this newer, more unusual threat overriding that of the guns.
Baird looked back at the two combatants and stood when he saw that Rose had disappeared. He had to duck again when a large piece of plaster landed in the middle of their table. Stringer had hit his knees and was covering his head, oblivious to anything but the danger of the falling debris. They both moved for the cover of the table and huddled there.
Several minutes later, the trembling finally stopped. Baird gripped the edge of the table and rose to his feet. He looked around the dining room and gritted his teeth, knowing Rose would be long gone.
"Damn the man," he muttered.
"You want to go after him?" Stringer asked unenthusiastically as he holstered his gun.
Baird shook his head. "He knows nothing. He can't hurt us."
"You mean he can't hurt you," Stringer corrected, voice calm.
Baird looked at him sharply. "If you want to go running through the rubble of Denver to find him, then be my guest," he snapped. "Just be aware he's expecting you now. He won't be quite so easy to kill."
Stringer's full lips curved into a wicked, frightening smile. "Another time, then," he finally said in a low, anticipatory voice.
Baird shivered despite himself. At least he knew he had the right man for the job.
* * * *
Deputy US Marshal Eli Flynn's boots echoed on the wooden sidewalk as he trudged the last few steps of his trip. He hardly recognized this section of the town; most of the structures had been rebuilt after a fire burnt them all to the ground. When he'd left town, most were merely foundations and frames.
Lincoln, Nebraska had grown in leaps and bounds the last several years, trying to become what the residents expected of the capitol of the newly formed state. The buildings rose two and sometimes three stories, making the streets feel closed in and dark. Flynn didn't like it.
But the Marshal Office remained on the outskirts of town, where the breeze could still reach him and the sun still shone down to warm the cold morning.
He stopped at the shining new window to the dry goods store, intending to straighten up a little, to at least look respectable when he went into the Marshal Office. But one look told him it was no use. He turned away and headed for the Marshal Office, muttering to himself as his boots echoed on the wooden walkway.
He was dirty and haggard, and he felt every bit as old as he looked today. His lanky frame had lost some meat over the last few weeks, what with hard travel and short rations. The almost gaunt appearance was nothing a good meal or three and a night's sleep wouldn't fix, though. The dust highlighted the crow's feet around his eyes and the frown lines on his forehead. His hair, normally blond from days spent in the sun, was practically brown from the sweat and grime it had gathered along the road, and his normally well-manicured goatee was bordering on the wrong side of woolly. But an hour at the bathhouse would fix all that right up too.
Flynn had to check in before he could even think about trying to remedy any of it. It wasn't as if being dirty and tired was unusual west of the Mississippi. Nor was it unexpected after a trip like the one he had taken.
He stopped at the door to the new Marshal Office and gave in to the impulse to at least wipe his face with his kerchief. He took his hat off and swiped at his forehead and eyes, then stuffed the bit of red material back into the pocket beneath his frockcoat. He squared his sore shoulders and took a deep breath before strolling into the building that still smelled of fresh pine.
A bell hanging above the door dinged as he walked in. He glanced up at it curiously. The tiny brass bell was just as new as the rest of the construction. He supposed it made sense, though. The General Store next door had one to alert them to the arrival and departure of customers. A marshal should have some way of knowing when someone walked in.
The sounds of the bustling street outside reached through the newly built walls of the Marshal Office; horses' hooves clopping along the packed dirt street, ladies' boots clacking against the raised wooden walkways, men calling greetings to one another in the early morning cold. It was a comfortable, familiar scene; one that Flynn had missed.
The office, however, was anything but familiar. Flynn looked around at the bright, whitewashed walls and the pristine pine floors. The old office had been sparse and dreary, with scuffed floors, no windows and very little light. Someone had obviously seen fit to fix that when they'd rebuilt. The new construction was bigger, with a desk on one wall and a place for four or five people to sit near a potbelly stove along the other wall. There was also a cot in the corner for the rare night when someone needed to keep watch. The cells, rather than being all in one room like before, were out of sight in the back of the structure.
Flynn was impressed with what he saw.
He removed his hat and held it at his side, not wanting to knock the dust off his clothing in the clean room.
"Flynn?" The voice boomed from the rear of the building where the brand new brick and iron cells had been constructed.
Flynn peered into the dim, his eyesight still ruined from the bright morning sun outside.
Deputy US Marshal William Henry Washington, or Wash to friends and strangers alike, emerged from the back of the office and surveyed Flynn with sharp, clear green eyes. His sandy hair was shorter than it had been the last time Flynn had seen him. His beard and mustache were gone, with only the sideburns near his ears, as people had taken to calling them ever since Ambrose Burnside made them popular, still present. And for the first time in Flynn couldn't remember how long, Wash wasn't wearing his guns.
"You look like hell," the marshal observed with amusement as he came striding out into the main office.
"Stillwater to Lincoln is a long trip," Flynn drawled as he shook the hand Wash offered.
"But it's easier on the return," Wash responded with a grin.
Flynn smiled weakly and nodded. Transporting prisoners was never an easy task. Stillwater was one of the better transits because nearly every stop offered a decent place to lock someone up or otherwise restrain them with a minimum of fuss. Other ventures weren't so successful, like when you had to tie your prisoner to a telegraph pole just to get a decent hour or two of sleep. The return alone, of course, was always easier and less stressing.
"Sense of humor is still top notch, I notice," Wash muttered as he turned away and headed for the desk against the far wall.
Flynn cleared his throat and watched him silently.
"I've got another one for you," Wash told him as he picked up a small yellow piece of paper and waved it in the air.
Flynn narrowed his eyes at the telegram with a sinking sensation in his gut.
"They're waiting to be picked up in Junction City," Wash continued as he glanced up at Flynn. "You ready for another one? I might can give this to someone else," he offered, looking over Flynn's tired face and slumping shoulders. His eyes drifted over the dusty clothing, then back up to meet Flynn's eyes. "Actually, I can't give it to no one else 'cause no one else is around, but I can offer and pretend I care that you're about to yell," he corrected with a hint of amusement.
Flynn merely glared at him balefully.
"It's an easy one," Wash offered in a voice that was probably meant to be enticing as he waved the telegram.
"The last 'easy' one you gave me tried to kill me," Flynn reminded humorlessly. "Twice."
"They're outlaws, Flynn," Wash laughed. "By and large, that's what they do," he crooned as he walked around the desk and handed him the telegraphed message.
"Is this one going to the gallows?" Flynn asked with a sigh as he reached for the paper. Prisoners going to their execution always gave the US marshals escorting them one hell of a hard time. They were fighting for their lives, after all. More lawmen were killed while transporting prisoners than any other activity they performed. Neither Flynn nor Wash had ever had a prisoner escape on them, though. Not one that they hadn't recovered almost immediately, anyway. Or shot dead during the attempt.
Wash shook his head. "There are three in the group you're picking up," he told Flynn. "Two are heading to Fort Smith, some sort of military to-do, but you're only taking them as far as St. Louis to meet up with the Army escort. The last is going to trial in New Orleans. You'll have to--"
"Three?" Flynn interrupted incredulously. "This is an easy one? Goddamn, Wash!"
"Taking the Lord's name in vain, Eli," Wash censured with a smirk. "I'm shocked. What would the lady folk say?"
"You ain't no damn lady. And I can't escort three men by myself. Who's going with me to ride herd?" Flynn demanded.
"You want someone to go with you?" Wash asked in feigned surprise.
Flynn smacked his hat against his jeans in frustration and sent a puff of dust swirling into the clean office.
Wash just laughed and held up his hand in surrender. "I'm going with you as far as St. Louis," he answered, still laughing. "Then I'm to head to New Madrid to meet with the Governor, and I'll meet up with you again in New Orleans for the return home."
"You?" Flynn asked in surprise.
Wash shrugged and nodded. Flynn's eyes strayed to the crisp linen sling that hung over Wash's shoulder, supporting his left arm, and then back to the man's eyes in question.
"I can draw a gun with one hand," Wash assured him quietly, suddenly serious as he sat on the edge of the newly made desk.
"You can't restrain a prisoner with one hand," Flynn argued. "You can't chain and unchain them with one hand. You can't expect them to see you as a serious authority figure or anything of a threat with one hand." He waved his hat at Wash's shoulder. "They'll be trying to escape left and right."
"Then I'll be sure to let them know," Wash responded with his customary polite calm, "that since I can't chain them or restrain them peaceably, I'll just have to shoot them if they cause problems. Will that satisfy you?"
Flynn pursed his lips and blew air heavily through his nose. He didn't want to insult Wash or hurt him, but he also didn't want to be stampeded by a herd of escaping prisoners. "Can you use it at all yet?" he asked, already regretting his criticism. It was bad enough being injured. It was worse knowing people didn't have much confidence in you, especially for a man like Wash, who had always been so capable.
Wash flexed his fingers as his hand lay against his chest. His fingers tapped the silver badge on his vest as he smiled crookedly. That was more movement than he had been capable of when Flynn had left for Stillwater Prison three weeks ago. Flynn watched him, unable to keep the hint of sadness out of his expression and silently wondering if his friend would ever get the full use of the arm back.
Wash grinned impishly at him, obviously reading him like an open book, and he flicked his wrist, producing a derringer attached to a gambler's gauntlet out of the end of the sling.
Flynn blinked in surprise at the appearance of the gun, his body instinctively twitching to reach for his own Colt. He laughed suddenly, giving Wash a fond shake his head.
"You crazy bastard," he commented. "You're going to get yourself shot."
"Hell, I already done that," Wash responded with a grin. "And you might find me taking exception to such talk." He turned away, going to the potbelly stove in the far corner and retrieving a tin tray of food that had been warming nearby.
Flynn watched him, contemplating the idea of working with Wash once more. They'd spent plenty of years together, battled Confederates and Indians together, and become US marshals together when they'd run out of wars to fight. But since Wash had been forced to take over the Lincoln Marshal Office a year ago due to the untimely death of their superior, Flynn had seen little of him other than the occasional drink or dinner at the saloon, and that just wasn't the same. It would be welcome, actually, to be able to travel with Wash again and spend some time with his friend.
"When do we leave?" he asked as Wash retreated into the row of jail cells with the tin plate of food.
"After supper. Best you get a bath and some rest," Wash answered over his shoulder.
Flynn hummed and gave the office a critical look around. He had slept on the train from Stillwater, and though the thought of a nice soak was highly appealing, he didn't feel like leaving just yet. Escorting prisoners was a lonely task. They weren't much for conversation, and neither was Flynn when criminals and horses were the only things around to talk to.
"When'd they get this finished?" he asked as he followed Wash back into the darker recesses of the office.
"Last week," Wash answered in a lower voice.
Flynn was surprised to find one of the newly minted cells already occupied. "Who's this?" he asked with a wave of his hat at the man who lay curled on the hard cot within the cell.
"What, you don't recognize Larry Fitz?" Wash asked as he looked between the bars at the man.
Flynn looked again and his lips parted in shock. The man's clothes were thin and tattered and he was covered in caked mud and blood. His hair was stringy and his face was sunken. Flynn had seen a man dragged by a horse who had looked something like Larry now did.
"What happened to him?" Flynn asked in disbelief.
"He got caught," Wash answered grimly.
Flynn glanced at him and saw the familiar hard set of his jaw and the glint in his green eyes. The look told Flynn that the man inside the cell was lucky to be alive. Larry Fitz, who lay bruised and battered and barely recognizable, was essentially a harmless drunkard. Or he had been, until the night two months ago when he had gone on a bender and decided to set fire to the Feed and Seed, the building that had shared a wall with the old Marshal Office.
Wash had been inside the jail that night, and he had nearly lost his life trying to release the prisoners from their cells as the building burned down around them. His hands still bore scars from the burns he'd received from the heated metal of the bars as he'd opened them. The fire had leaped from the building that housed the General Store and Feed and Seed and the jail beside it, to the buildings on either side of them; the stables and the saloon.
The horses had all been saved, which was a stroke of luck considering their value in a town like Lincoln, but the buildings had burned down like the dry kindling they were, and with them went the livelihood of some of the town's most prominent citizens. The biggest tragedy had been the deaths of three guests renting the rooms above the saloon who hadn't been able to get out of the upper level in time. The damage to the town and to its reputation hadn't made anyone particularly happy.
The prisoners Wash had risked his life to save had promptly tried to escape as the townsfolk dealt with the spreading fire. That was how Wash's arm wound up in the sling. A bullet from a stolen gun had taken him cleanly through the shoulder as he'd tried to retake the prisoners without violence. Of course, after being shot, violence had not been one of Wash's concerns and the escaped prisoners hadn't made it very far.
The Doc was certain he would make a nearly full recovery. Flynn, though, was certain that the Doc spent too much time in the saloon, and so he worried for Wash and his arm.
The town was rebuilding, bigger, better, and more organized. The pristine facades of the new edifices made Flynn feel like he had wandered into the wrong place. The two prisoners who had attempted to escape that night now occupied permanent spots up in the shady little grove of headstones the local residents had naively named God's Acre, thinking an acre would be enough to hold the dead in a town west of the Mississippi.
Larry Fitz, the man who'd caused the whole damn mess, had gone to ground as soon as he had sobered up and realized what he'd done, and he'd been in hiding ever since. Until now, apparently.
"Who found him?" Flynn asked softly.
"Cyrus Beeson, over on the flats," Wash answered, his normally friendly and easygoing tone suddenly hard and grim. "It's a damn miracle they didn't kill him 'fore I got to him. Just happenstance I was anywhere near when they dragged him in. They were heading for a hanging tree, making a damn mess of it."
"Shame you got to him at all," Flynn muttered inhospitably.
"Law don't work that way, Eli," Wash murmured.
"It does out here."
"It ain't supposed to." Wash slid his key into the lock and turned it slowly. The man inside didn't move as the new hinges groaned. Wash knelt and placed the tray of food on the floor of the cell.
"Maybe it should," Flynn argued quietly. "It'd make our lives a lot easier."
Wash eased his way back out of the cell and retrieved his key, locking the cell and watching to see if Larry would move. When it didn't appear that he would, Wash pursed his lips and turned to Flynn.
"Life's not easy to come by," he said in a tired voice. "I don't mind mine being hard, and I don't take it lightly when I'm forced to take one. You shouldn't neither."
"I ain't the one deciding to waste my life by stepping outside the law," Flynn argued.
Wash brushed by him and headed back out into the front office. Flynn turned and followed him.
Wash just shook his head. "Even outlaws got their stories, Eli," he said, his voice gruff.
"And they can tell 'em to the Devil when they see him," Flynn argued stubbornly.
Wash sighed as he sat himself in front of the stove and propped his booted feet on the bench in front of him. It was an argument they'd had plenty of times, and one they'd have again. "Go get yourself a bath, Marshal Flynn," he suggested with a resigned smile, obviously recognizing the argument as just as hopeless as it had been the last time. "I've ridden horses that smelled better'n you."