[EFC Blue Ribbon - Free Speech Online]


Part 3 of 3

Published: Bewildering Stories issue #165

Author’s note: Characters based upon Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series appear with permission.

Anger filled John Abraham Danvers as he left the brothel. Tightly controlled, it now threatened to erupt. He’d had his fill of vampires. He had never enjoyed dealing with those who should be dead but weren’t. He found their collective insolence far more offensive that any his own kind had ever shown him.

A woman casually joined him, wrapping her soft arm through his as they walked. “It’s a shame they couldn’t help such a distinguished looking man.” She purred, rubbing her supple body against his. The scent of jasmine from her long red hair brought promise of pleasure. Her deep cleavage revealed much to for his imagination to appreciate.

“And what makes you believe that I’m in need of such service?” He asked with growing amusement.

“I’ve been told I’m gifted.” She replied. Her voice was whimsical and her lips filled with a smile. “My name is Pandora, and we will know shortly if I was right.”

He allowed himself to be lead through the back of her brothel. Any thought of anger evaporated once she got him behind her bedroom door and locked it.

By the time they found the bed, he had far more interesting things on his mind.

* * *

Augustus Poe slept the night in his office. The lumpy cot mattress was thin, but proved comfortable enough. He wanted to be ready when Running-Deer appeared or sent word that she had found something. It was still dark when he woke to find Orson Dewitt standing in the open doorway of the office.

Thin and gaunt, the undertaker looked pale in the flicker of the lamp light. Narrow chin dark with stubble, his tie was loose and white shirt wrinkled. It did not appear he’d been to bed yet.

Poe turned and sat up, rubbing his hands across his face. “Something I can help you with, Orson?” he finally asked, watching the dark eyes of the undertaker take in the office. From the faint light growing in the window, the sun was on its way up.

Orson hesitantly moved forward to set a small, snubbed piece of lead on the desk near the lamp on Poe’s desk. He retreated to the door and watched Poe pick it up.

“Took us a bit, but we finally found the dang thing, Sheriff.” Orson reported in a Southern drawl filled with pride. “Found it in her lower belly, yes we did. Erwin says it looks like a pistol round of some sort. Busted her insides up good, yes it did. Traveled from her heart through her stomach as if she’d swallowed it herself, Yessir it did.”

Poe turned the small piece of lead in his fingers. It had bulged round from hitting bone. He pulled open the center drawer of his desk and removed a magnifying glass to take a closer look. He retrieved the other rounds found in the walls of the bank and compared them. If there were enough differences, he could show what bullets had come from which gun.

“Erwin and I wondered who’s tending to Daisy’s affairs now that she’s dead. Shame such a pretty girl will be resting like that, even if she whored herself out like she did. Yes, indeed.”

“Nadia and Mikhail would be my guess. They take good care of their girls.”

A look of discomfort passed over the undertaker as he reached into his pocket and pulled out the blue scarf that had been around Daisy May Wells’ throat.

“Leave that on the desk.” Poe offered. “I’ll see to it that LaRouchette gets it back.”

“Thank you, Sheriff. I find him to be unsettling and folks like that just plain make Erwin nervous.”

“Have a good day, Orson, and thanks.” Poe replied, watching the undertaker turn and walk up the street. Poe’s lips turned into a smile at the thought of vampires making undertakers nervous. Having one of your clients get up without warning was probably something they preferred to avoid.

Poe took out the paper that he’d sketched the layout of the bank and the position of the dead men on. It was clear that the round that killed Daisy May had not come from any of the guns that had been collected. Neither had he found the bullet from the gun held by the man found dead in the street.

Tapping the end of his pencil against the desk, Poe decided to go by the bank once more before the street filled with traffic. Carefully folding the paper, he tucked it in his shirt. He set the bullets into their own boxes in the drawer. Each had been marked to show which gun they may have come from. Picking up his hat, he thought of Running-Deer and if she’d be back by nightfall.

The street was quiet as Poe walked down the boardwalk. In front of the Long Branch, he noted the stage was preparing to load. From the empty coach, there wouldn’t be many passengers going west this time around.

* * *

John Abraham Danvers smiled as he neared the Long Branch. He took in the mining town under the growing light of a new day. It had been a long time since a woman had properly paced him. Pandora’s skillful pleasures had been refreshing to say the least.

The musky scent of her jasmine turned his thoughts to her soft lips and supple body. Her tongue was surely that of the devil himself, he mused. She’d used it to twiddle over his body in ways that he’d not soon forget. With a knowing smile, she’d worn his coat the last time around. It would certainly give him something to think about while he traveled. Promise of more lust tempted him to turn back and spend time he did not have to waste.

The address of the brothel in San Francisco she’d mentioned lay folded in his pocket. Several names of the women she’d suggested were there as well. The soft whisper of how he might enjoy what they had to offer made him look forward to California.

He ordered a full breakfast to replace the energy lost during the night. Several patrons watched him eat beyond what they might have expected. He had just smiled and nodded, before he ordered more.

Once settled in the comfort of the stage, his thoughts returned to Pandora. Perhaps when he returned east he would take her back with him. It was time the pack had more females around and he was sure others would enjoy her as he had.

The snap of the driver’s whip caused the coach to lurch beneath him as it began to move. Resting his arm in the open window, he eased back and rested his feet on the empty seat across from him. Not long after his eyes fell closed, his snores began to fill the coach.

* * *

Augustus Poe stood with his back to the dress shop. He looked at the bank across from him as he tried to picture the scene. The dead man had left Daisy to clean herself up, perhaps in reaction to something he’d seen or heard from the bank. The witnesses had reported the gunfire was short and quick when it happened.

By now, he’d come to the conclusion that the round from Daisy May had come from a rifle, not a pistol. The Sharps forty-four seventy used the same ammunition that many pistols could. From that conclusion, it was not difficult to figure out where the shot had come from.

The question then became one of why.

The small narrow porch two buildings down would have given someone a good angle to cover the entire front of the bank and much of the road around it. If that person was part of the robbery, why had the dress shop become a target? It appeared that Daisy had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Had the shot been wide to either side, she would have walked out of the alley once it was over.

That left only one reason for such a strange shot: it had been a warning to someone about the others in the bank. Turned toward the window, he realized the lace that had kept the bullet from shattering would not have been visible from across the street.

Although he heard the sound of approaching horses, he ignored them as he looked at the distant porch. “That was probably where Thomas Bisbee watched the bank. Wouldn’t have been the first window he shattered with a wide shot.” A voice suggested as the horses stopped. Poe turned to find five riders leading an empty horse.

One of the men rode forward. Hint of short red hair appeared beneath his hat. Ice blue eyes sharp with experience marked smooth features of a city man. He smiled as he tipped his hat. “Captain Horatio T. Crane, Sheriff. My men and I were traveling through the area when we found something that might have been stolen.” He gestured to the horse with its empty saddle. “Found her about a half day from here and figured she came from this direction.”

Poe walked between two of the riders to get a better look at the horse. “Much obliged, Captain. We had someone rob the bank yesterday and from what I’ve heard this might have been one of their horses.” Poe looked up to find hard experience etched in the men as they watched the town around them.

The man who led the horse closed his eyes and frowned. “I hate to be the one to break it to you, Sheriff...” He looked down with dark brown eyes. ”But the horse was abandoned when we found her. Your bank robbers are long gone. End of the line. Sorry.”

Captain Crane dismounted and walked up to gently pat the horse. “Mister Devrow may not be the most eloquent, but he’s right. We didn’t find sign of a rider nearby. There was a burr under the saddle that might have caused her to be a runaway.”

“Or she’s a decoy to throw off pursuit.” Poe suggested with a knowing smile.

Crane returned the smile as he looked over the town. “Sheriff, I understand you’re familiar with a special group of men that ride from Fort Danna. Our group rode out three days ago on other matters when we came across that horse on the way back. Perhaps you and I should find your office and talk a bit about the men that robbed your bank.”

The significance of Crane’s comments was not lost on Poe. He took the reigns of the horse from Devrow, and nodded. “Follow me. I’ll stop by the Long Branch and have a pot of black coffee sent over.”

“Much obliged, Sheriff.” Crane climbed back up into his saddle and led his men back up the street.

As Poe moved to follow, he wondered what new troubles had come to his town.

* * *

The three men were alone in Poe’s office. Poe sat while Devrow leaned on the other desk. Crane sipped his coffee and leaned against the windowsill. Outside the town was coming alive as Crane watched through the window. Poe had filled them in on the bank robbery and the wounded man Running-Deer had gone off to track.

“Sheriff, there is a growing problem amongst our special friends. They’ve decided to organize much like the vampires have.”

Poe took a slow sip from his cup. “Nothing wrong with a little organization, or am I missing something, Captain?”

Crane smiled as he turned and rested against sill. “The problem, Sheriff, comes when there are those who don’t agree to the new organization. They’re left out in the cold and become a problem unto themselves. Like the two who own the brothel up the street.”

“I’ve not had any problems with Nadia or Mikhail. They run a clean business. Even with vampires as partners. That kind of partnership seems like a good thing to me.”

Devrow smirked and shook his head. “You don’t get it, sheriff. They’re the ones out in the cold, nothing more than targets.”

Crane moved forward set his empty cup on the desk. “Vampires are used to this kind of thing. They have rules. Lycans don’t. As strange as it may sound, they act like what they change into. They call their groups packs.” Crane paced the floor as he spoke. “They offer protection to those in their group and remove those who aren’t.” He stopped at the gun rack as if looking at the long guns.

“Magic users have cabals, witches form covens. Each watching out for their own, although in their case the men don’t much care for their womenfolk of the craft.”

Poe waited. His arms rested on his chair while his coffee cooled on the desk.

“The two men hunted by the Pinkerton agent are lycans. They are among the problems that the packs out east are dealing with as they expand west.” Crane pulled a Sharps rifle from the rack and looked it over. He walked over and handed it to Poe. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a single bullet. “They are not the kind of lycan that the couple down the street are.” He held out the bullet.

Poe took the round and looked it over. He could see faint lines along the nose of the bullet.

“Mercury mixed with silver nitrate.” Devrow informed him. “One hit seems like nothing until it mixes in their blood. Floats through their body and, when it hits their heart, one ugly boom and down they go. Human or not they won’t survive long.”

Poe looked from Devrow to Crane. “I was under the impression they don’t heal like vampires; why the special ammunition?”

Crane reached into his coat and pulled out a narrow box that appeared to hold more bullets. “Take these and go find your deputy while we chase the other one. These men are directly responsible for a half dozen deaths while they’ve been on this bank spree. We have our orders and now so do you.”

Poe looked at the box that rested on his desk. “How many have chased them so far?”

“Not enough, Sheriff; it’s imperative that you find your deputy before her blood adds to list that they’ve already spilled. I can send some men with you if it would help.”

Poe shook his head. “We can handle our end, you handle yours.”

Devrow stood and moved toward the door. “Suit yourself. Just choose your men wisely, Sheriff. If they hesitate they will be lost.”

Crane waited until Devrow was outside. “Your Indian woman, how’d she learn to track?”

“She grew up Sioux and lived with a healer who trained her.”

“Good. She might make it. If she goes for her bow, they won’t see that coming. Good luck sheriff.” Crane extended his hand and shook Poe’s before he left the office to rejoin his men.

Poe sat quietly looking at the slender box before he rose to his feet and dropped it in his pocket.

After he spoke with Cat, they’d go find Deer. He wasn’t going to lose another posse. This time they’d be properly prepared and ready. They had a blood trail to follow that would lead them right to the bad guys and the bullets that would put them down. The only thing bad about this particular blood trail was that the animal on the other end would know they were coming.

Unfortunately, by the time Poe and his posse left town the next morning events had already begun to unfold that would leave him without either of his deputies and the town without its witch.

However, that would prove to be another story.

* * *

The End

Copyright © 2004, 2005 by Robert L. Sellers Jr. All rights reserved.
Please do not use without permission of the author.

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