Adam Sanchez, now the sheriff (after Nelson Cook, the previous sheriff, had been murdered by bank robbers) returns to town with a patrol of U.S. Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers. They bring two of the outlaws for trial. Adam and Nelson had helped themselves to the stolen loot and to hide their theft, they’d replaced the pilfered money with paper, thinking no one would discover the deception. However, no matter how cleverly Adam “loses” the fake money to hide his tracks, it keeps returning to haunt him.
The following excerpt is from Chapter 17.
The lieutenant dismounted and peeled off his gloves. Adam introduced him and then mentioned the sergeant, who remained on his horse. The sergeant saluted.
Adam climbed onto the sidewalk to better address the crowd. “If it hadn’t been for the providential arrival of these valiant men in uniform, justice might have never prevailed over these two wicked scoundrels.” Listen to yourself, you’re sounding like a politician. He sought out Wald and said, “Gunter, I promised these soldiers dining and quarters in your fine establishment.”
The saloon proprietor eyed the colored troopers with hesitation.
“At the county’s expense of course,” Adam continued. Noting the dismissive glare Wald had given the buffalo soldiers, he added sharply, “I hope that’s not a problem.”
“No, no,” Wald replied with an oily bow. “Our brave custodians of the peace will be treated to hospitality second to none.”
Adam turned to the undertaker. “Mr. Blair, I need you to assemble a party to recover the remains of our unfortunate late sheriff and Miss Francine Mills and return them to Luther for a proper burial. You and I will meet later to negotiate the details and compensation.”
Blair nodded and immediately began counting the expected profit on his fingertips. “I’ll draft a letter of agreement.”
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Adam ordered Carruthers and Red taken off their horses and led into the jail, where they were shackled to the cell bars. The lieutenant commanded his men to guard the prisoners until the locals could take over. After checking to make sure the prisoners were secure, Adam grabbed a change of clothes and headed to the Mountain View to give his grimy body a good scrubbing. Afterwards, when Lucy finished trimming him with her razor and scissors, he entered the saloon as he was accustomed: neatly combed, in crisply pressed shirt and trousers, polished boots, shiny revolvers, his shaved face tingling with cologne. He had hoped for conversation with Gloria, the merchant’s wife, until Jake the saloon keep whispered that she had gone upstairs to help the lieutenant with the accommodations.
Adam sat at a table at the back of the bar and ordered a steak. Ceiling lanterns bathed the interior with a warm glow and overlapping, undulating shadows. The colored soldiers kept to themselves. Some drank coffee and picked at frosted cake, others smoked and played cards. One plucked an out-of-tune fiddle he had spotted and retrieved from behind the bar.
Adam sipped Kentucky bourbon poured from the fresh bottle on his table. The sergeant approached, his gaze flicking across the saloon in circumspect arcs, telegraphing that he had a private matter to discuss. Adam offered him a seat. One of the Indian scouts followed the sergeant but refused a chair, apparently preferring to stand. The scout wasn’t much taller than a teenage white boy and was just as scrawny, but, with his weathered skin, he looked as experienced and mean as an old coyote. A Schofield revolver and a stag-handled knife were tucked into his waist sash.
“I noticed none of your men are drinking,” Adam said.
“We’re prohibited to do so when on patrol.” The sergeant spoke like his throat remained coated with trail dust. The big man arranged his gangly frame in the chair. His dusky, mustached face looked hewn from stained mahogany.
“You’re not on patrol. You’re in my town.”
“While we are away from the fort, we are on patrol.”
“Shame, considering drinks are on the house.”
“Yes, sir, it is a damn shame.”
Adam corked the whiskey and pushed the bottle across the table to the sergeant. “But there is no regulation against you accepting this gift, is there? As long as you don’t drink while on patrol?”
The sergeant palmed the bottle and pulled it closer. “My thirst can wait until I am back at the fort and off duty. Much obliged, Sheriff.”
Jake brought Adam’s steak dinner, still steaming and smelling delicious. He was famished and had held his appetite at bay just to savor this reward. Without prompting, the sergeant mentioned that he’d already eaten.
Adam carved into the succulent meat and forked a chunk between his lips. “Then what’s still eating you, sergeant?”
The sergeant glanced back at the Indian scout, who gestured and explained in his native tongue. The sergeant translated. “Talons of the Eagle says he found the saddlebags you lost.”
Adam felt his heart recoil as though he’d been kicked by a mule. Despite the morsel of moist beef on his tongue, his mouth instantly parched.
The money. The fake money. He was so certain his ruse had worked that he hadn’t once thought of the missing “cash” since last night. Now it was back, like a rash that refused a cure. He forced himself to keep chewing and downed the meat with a dry, painful swallow. The sergeant allowed him a pull of the whiskey. Adam cut the steak again so he wouldn’t have to meet the sergeant’s eyes. “And you bring me this information why?”
Talons of the Eagle spoke and paused, then spoke and paused some more as the sergeant translated in a steady, muffled voice. “I’m not a learned man, but I am schooled in the ways of the world and the white man, the ones who you serve, comanchero. The men you arrested had robbed a bank and carried the money in the saddlebags of the pony tied to your horse. Someone entrusted with such a sum surely would have panicked at its loss. You seemed almost relieved.”
Adam wiped his mouth and dropped the napkin beside his plate. His dinner was getting cold, but, no matter, he had lost his appetite. “What is your scout’s point, sergeant?”
Talons of the Eagle noticed Adam’s distress and smiled wryly. He spoke again, and the sergeant translated. “We did find money. And paper cut to look like money. Some of it remained in the saddlebags. Some of it was scattered along the river banks and along the rocks.”
The sergeant explained. “Talons of the Eagle and He Who Whistles, the other scout.”
Adam kept his face rock rigid. “That’s what you think was in the bags? Money and paper?”
Adam wanted to clear his throat but had to hide any clue that betrayed his guilt. “Then I suppose that’s the case. I never looked in the bags.”
The sergeant and the Indian scout began a spirited exchange. Eventually the sergeant relented to the scout’s argument and faced Adam. “We collected two hundred and fifteen dollars in government notes. Who does that money belong to?”
Adam met the scout’s eyes, lustrous and piercing inside their leathery slits. “I’m going to report the stolen bank money was lost. If anyone finds random cash, I would say it belongs to them.”
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“It is a large amount.”
“Then I’d be careful about how I spent it. You don’t want the wrong people asking questions and you giving them answers they don’t want to believe.”
Talons of the Eagle glowered at Adam for a long moment, hardened his jaw, and flexed his sinewy arms. Who knew what crossed his scheming mind? The sergeant shifted in his chair to get out of the way. Adam’s smile flattened into a narrow, suspicious line, and his right hand twitched for his holster.
The scout’s swarthy, wrinkled face bunched around a ragged, toothy grin as he spoke. The sergeant translated his words with a relieved sigh. “I learn yet another lesson at the knee of you devils, white or Mexican. Your forked tongues never get tied into knots.”
Talons of the Eagle patted the sergeant’s shoulder and uttered some final words, which the soldier translated: “Many Yellow Stripes and I will keep this secret. Of money lost and other money found and put to good use, no questions asked.”
Adam let himself relax. “Just be smart about it.”
The sergeant stood, whiskey bottle in hand, and dismissed himself and the scout. The thirst for alcohol returned, and Adam ordered another bottle. He nibbled at his cooled steak and potatoes and green beans and sipped a hearty slug of eighty proof. Realizing that he had no bed of his own—other than the bench in the sheriff’s office—raised the thought that he needed to celebrate dodging yet another near miss with catastrophe by enjoying the attentions of a woman. But if there was any shameless celebrating going on tonight, it was Mrs. Daryl Anderson and her guest, the army lieutenant. Adam raised his glass and offered a toast to them and her cuckolded husband.
He finished one short glass of whiskey, cleaned his plate, and treated himself to coffee and a slice of cake. Tipsy and suddenly weary, he trudged upstairs to a room and a solitary bed, compliments of the Mountain View.
Mario Acevedo, right, is the author of the national bestselling Felix Gomez detective-vampire series. His work has won an International Latino Book Award, a Colorado Book Award, and has appeared in numerous anthologies. Mario taught in the Regis University Mile High MFA program and Lighthouse Writers Workshops. Tomas Alamilla is a Mexican entrepreneur with a lifelong love of stories featuring Western adventure.