The Sky Horse Chapter Twenty

The Sky Horse Chapter Twenty

The Sky Horse Chapter Twenty

About That Gun Shot

Near the end of our last chapter, Nate and Maggie heard a gun shot. They did not rush out to check it out, though. This seems not heroic on the surface. Dig deeper, and you’ll still conclude it was not the stuff of legend.

After Nate said it was dark and stormy, Maggie asked What about that gun shot?”

About that gun shot,” Nate said, “hat might happen if we, who undressed in a bit of a hurry, were to get dressed and find body before we could call Pratt or his deputy and one of them found me standing over a dead body? They’d blame us.”

Nate,” Maggie said, “Del likes us. He wouldn’t blame us.”

After that show at the dance hall? We made the Comstocks, Perrys, McKinnons and three out of four Triplets madder than hell and their taxes pay his salary. Let someone else check it out.”

OK,” Maggie said, “but that shot will be on my mind all night,”

Not if I distract you” Nate said, nibbling her ear. It seemed to work.

Deputy Endicottt Dickerson—he went by Hank since moving from Vermont—was walking his patrol in the rain when he heard the shot when he began knocking on doors, waking people up and interrupting several acts of extreme intimacy, neither action improving his standing in the town. But when he got to Kent Straight’s house, no one answered and he heard a car speeding away. So he forced the door open, turned on the light and saw Straight’s body on the floor, He had been shot in the heart and had already bled a lot. Dickerson had never seen a murder scene before and rushed towards the nearest sink and vomited. Then he called Pratt.

At two o’clock in the morning, Pratt found something in Straight’s wallet and found a receipt. He kept looking at it.

This makes no sense,” Pratt said.

What doesn’t, Del? Dickerson asked.

This receipt is for eight hundred bucks of groceries, Hank.”

Let me see that. Lobster. Alaska crab. All kinds of cheeses. It doesn’t make sense.”

Hank, I just said that. Check the fridge.”

Dickerson did. “Del, he had twelve beers, some baloney and eggs. Now, the freezer is packed with supreme pizza, breakfast pizza and rocky road ice cream.:”

You know who shops for the Longs?” Pratt asked

Rosy Mendoza and Mary Day. Rosy does Tex-Mex and Mary does meat loaf and crap. And they shop here. Dolan does not carry most of that list.”

OK. But this receipt is from Amarillo, anyway. Did he go there? Do you know?”

I think he had a heart doctor there and I think he went to Amarillo every time he was sober enough.”

Heard that too but Lubbock’s closer.”

Lubbock is not Amarillo, though. If he wanted, you know, female company, the selection would be more divers, price-wise, age-wise and so on.”

You think he went for action. He had a heart problem. I think he went to shop for someone. I also think you’re projecting. Here’s a coin; I’ll flip it. Call it.”

“Heads,” Dickerson said.

The quarter hit the cop tails.

Hank, you wait for the CSI crew from Lubbock. I’ll go home to Holly.”

Is she here again?”

If you’re passing for straight, you need to be seen with a woman in your house past midnight on a regular basis. Otherwise, around here you’d be dead.”

Well being Straight, sure didn’t keep him alive.”

Do not repeat that…witticism. I expect better from a damn New England Yale man.”

I went to Harvard.” Pratt went home.

Home was his mother’s house, which she bought after she divorced Silas, his dad, when he, Delbert. Was fourteen. By then, her mother had figured out what Del wouldn’t til he round up in the backseat in Vernon’s car the night before Holly married him. Holly never divorced him because Holly thought a blond ex-cheerleader would eventually best Vernon and Vernon wanted him to stay in the closet for his own good. Toby, Del’s son, had Vern pissed off but Del had no regrets about that. It had happened and the boy, now eight, was his delight. But they lived in Lubbock because it was just toot hard on her after awhile. Any other woman would have ended it for good but she just couldn’t.

Vernon, for his part, was happy Del was still in the closet because when became out to Vernon his hell; had begun but after awhile he realized Del ans Holly had decided to stay married so Vernon quit touching him. Del saw his side and accepted the situation which was he had two people in love with him and neither would bed with him till he cut ties with the other. And Dickerson just thought Holly was just political coveralls just too

Dickerson. Dickerson. The young man had taken one look at Vernon and Del and had divined the truth. Being from Vermont, he hadn’t cared.

Dickerson was a cipher. Del’s last deputy had quit for no known reason, Del had advertised in every paper in the panhandle and Hank had been his only applicant. Dickerson, had one compared him with Cole Petty, would have been bested in a heartbeat. He was lazy, snobbish and lecherous. When asked why he kept Hank on Del always said “he makes damn good coffee.”

Del opened the kitchen door to find the light on and his wife sitting at the table drinking coffee.

Any more of that?” Del asked.

Help yourself. Hell, this brand takes like shit, Dell.”

It was on sale. I know, I know. I can-afford not to be cheap but I’m savings up for college and maybe a vacation.”

With Vernon?”

He decided to ignore her and poured a cup.

He sat down across from her, poured some cream a sugar in his coffee and drank some.

Old Man Straight’s dead,” Del said.

Holly’s jaw dropped opened. “Heart attack?” She asked.

Well,” Del said with a wry look. “yes but I’d call it. He was shot. And yes, I know that’s not funny Holly. I have a guy shot in the heart, no weapon, no signs of robbery and no motive. I thought that lame crack would help. It didn’t It just made feel like a jerk once it came out. Damn, nothing about this makes sense, especially this.” He took out a baggy containing the grocery list. “Herr, look at this but leave it in the baggy.”

She started to say she knew not to remove the paper but read it before she could. “Holy shit, Del. Es cargo? He eats crap like this in this town.”

“I feel stupid but what is es cargo?” Del asked.

Snails, I think.”

Admiral Schipper served that the night I ate at his house with Scarlet and his sisters. It was nasty. But I was polite and arch it. Sparrow didn’t, though. The admiral spoiled her.”

Del,” Holly said, “no one but no one except you thinks those girls are alive. Don’t go there.”

Why not? You got a better explanation. Can you be up by seven? I have to tell Ab and Abby her dad’s dead. You might comfort her.”

Do you mind if I take Toby to the cafe? Lynda Haynes could keep her eye on him.”

OK. I’ll take the couch.”

That goes without saying, honey.”

They both overslept and took Toby to the cafe at eight, where they saw the Laws. Del filled in Nate, who had decided since everyone knew who he was, he’d go back to his tailored suits and fedora. When he got to the grocery list, Del said it proved the Schipper girls were alive.

No, it doesn’t,” Nate said. “It proves you really want them to be alive and will grasp at anything to buttress that hope. I’m willing to stipulate that your dead man couldn’t and wouldn’t buy es cargo for himself, if he bought it, But did Straight buy it? We don’t know. We don’t know he did. The killer might have dropped the list. It needs testing for finger tips and DNA. But you say no one but the Schipper ever ate fancy foods. Hmm.”

Nate fell silent. Del grew agitated.

I tell you, Law,” Del said, “those girls have to be alive for her sake!”

For whose?” Nate asked.

Scarlet’s. They’re alive, I tell you, and I owe it to her to find them!”

Why?” Nate asked, his eyes narrowing.

Del laughed nervously and looking down said, “Hell, Law, it’s a matter of wanting justice. I want justice for her and Starlet and Sparrow.”

/Nate,” Maggie said, “he’s not telling us the whole truth.”

Del was beginning to sweat.

No, Margaret, he isn’t. But I’m not sure he ever told the truth to himself.”

I did not kill Scarlet and I don’t know where her sisters are but they’re alive. Now2, I have to go tell Abby Davis her dad was killed.”

I’ll go with you,” Nate said.

My wife’s helping me. You stay here.”

Nate stood, towering oven Del. “I said I’m going and in my car, OK?”

It was not OK and Nate was probably bluffing but Del couldn’t take the chance.

In the car, Law put in a Sinatra CD and turned it down.

Del said “I always heard he was Mafia but being Italian[eye-talia], that goes without saying, right?”

No, it doesn’t. My mother was Italian. I embrace that heritage and to say we’re all made mobsters is just plank shit-licker. I expected better of you.”

Where’s your sense of humor? Don’t be so politically correct.”

OK, queer.”

Hey!” Del said.

Uh-huh. You can crack about Italians—that’s how you say it—but I can’t about gays? Give me a break. By the way, you like gay sex but you don’t love Vernon, right?”

How is that any of your business?”

“My business is the Schipper case, which you can’t or won’t touch. So I’ve been thinking it over. You say you want justice but you try to pass it of as a commitment to an abstraction. The search for justice is never an abstract, Pratt. People seek it because they see pain caused by crime or fell the pain. You know that. Everyone cop does. Right/”

Del tried to shrug nonchalant.

My first thought was you felt bad for those three girls. I do. But I love my woman and girl myself. My son loves his ow,am. Nd I’ve known a few gays in New York who were in love. You, Del, don’t love Vernon. You just like the sex while he does love you. So does your wife and you;d sleep with her. Maybe you do. Not my business

The point is you did love Scarlet Schipper. You broke up but you never stopped caring about her and her family That must be Straight’s’s house. I see the crime scene boys. Better give them that receipt but give me a picture of it.

Bu you said–”

I said we didn’t know about the receipt, which we don’t. But you may have a gut instinct. I don’t dismiss those.”

Del talked to a couple of Ranges after getting Nate’s photo. He also told Hank Dickerson his theory. Hank rolled his eyes.

Back in the car, Del looked at Nate and asked “Are they dead? Am I wasting my and your time on this>”

I bet you wake up nights asking yourself that, Del. That’s only human. But you’re a cop and I’m a cop and we both became cops because we hate the hurt crime does. It’s not any more than that.

A girl got raped and killed. That ain’t right. Her sisters went missing. That ain’t right. Any cop[ would think that. But it goes beyond that with you. I don’t have a problem with that.

What I have a problem with is you not telling me up front about Scarlet and you. Tell me.”

When I first saw her, I saw his poised, gracious woman. She was tall, had red hair and a soft voice. Vernon and I had dated girls since our first time as a cover. He thought she was just that. But she opened up to me. The admiral was controlling. Scarlet and Starlet had developed ways to cope but they had to protect. He tried to starve her. They kept her alive. Everyone mi Big Foot never bothered to get to know the family. I did.

The old man didn’t like that. So he checked me out.”

And found out about Vernon?”

“Yeah but how did he, Law? No one knew.”

The girls you dated did, women know men but men don’t know them.”

Scarlet didn’t know.”

I’m betting her old man kept her innocent about sex.”

How is that even possible now days?”

You said it yourself. They were isolated. Then you came in her life. So he got pictures of you and Vernon.”

How did you know that?”

Pictures would have destroyed her love for you; they would-have been his best weapon against you.”

Yeah and it worked and didn’t. It broke us up but made her wild. Any guy she could have, she got. Schipper finally lost control ll of her and it killed him.”

You see the body, Schipper’s?”

No. He died in Dallas and is buried in Arlington.”

Nate called Maggie and asked her to track down the Arlington map of grave sites .She told him something that startled him.

That’s a stretch,” Del said.

i know. By the way, several people saw the Sky Horse last nigh Tomas says. It was the color of blood. Now, where do the Davises live?”

To be contained.


The Sky Horse Chapter Nineteen

The Sky Horse Chapter Nineteen

The Sky Horse Chapter Nineteen

Cole Petty’s Quiche

The old woman, Fedora Elvira Cunningham Marsh, hard stormed into the office around two-thirty and had sat in front of the Chief’s desk for about two and half hours. Doing that time Deputy Cole Petty had Google more information about Big Foot and child abuse. He had checked all his social media and was in the processed of downloading a new quiche recipe from his favorite cooking site.

At that moment, the door opened and a very pretty woman in a white dress strolled in followed by Chief Rundle.

At the sight of him, Cole stood at attention and said “Since, the cat incident, I have received no calls or complaints from citizens relating to official business. Mrs. Cunningham Marsh has not explained her presence here but since she is you cousin, it’s probably an unofficial matter. I have sore more intel on Big Foot and that other matter.”

“Child abuse?” Chief Rundle asked.

“Yes, sir. Would you prefer an oral or written report?”

“Dr. Fine and I were planning on eating at the pool hall or Thompson’s. We want you to join us.”

“My,” Mrs. Cunningham Marsh said dryly, “you can’t take such a nice young lady to dumps like that. You can eat at my place.”

Cole saw the old woman and Dr. Fine exchanged looks. Neither was pleasant. The chief noticed too and the usually unflappable man blushed and began to squirm. He needed help.

Cole, who had sat after getting a slight nod from Chief Rundle, stood again, “Chief, Dr. Fine and Mrs. Cunningham Marsh. With all due respect, I took some time off since I had nothing to do. I hope you don’t mind, sir.”

“Son, you know you have my standing permission to surf the web, as you say. Just get to your point, young man.”

“Very good sir,” Cole said, holding up a piece, “have just downloaded a quiche recipe and I can make for you all at my place, the Dustin rental property.”

“You cook quiche, son?”

“You bake quiche, Chief. It’s a form a pie with meat, vegetables and whichever feeling. I also just made some orange sherbet dustiness would make a fine desert.”

“Home made sherbet?” Mrs. Cunningham Marsh asked. “I never knew a bachelor who did that.” That was an implication in her voice he had heard before.

“Yes, ma’am,” Cole said. “You see, I come from a military family. My father was an army major and Mother grew up in Parsons on a farm. She had six girls and then me. We traveled a lot so it wasn’t easy to make friends. So we kids hung around our parents, mostly Mother, foe course. She taught us ball the domestic arts but my sisters never enjoyed this. Ironically, I did, Dad noticed this when I was eleven bad began to trained me as a warrior and when I began to noticed girls my proclivity for cooking, sewing and knitting ceased to concerned him. I served in Iraq, as a cop back east and decided to trust my luck here in Kansas.”

“One question, Cole,” the chief asked. “You’re Tattoo?”

Cole blushed. “My last night in the Army, my buddies got me drunk and introduced me to a buxom tattoo artist with this result. But I wasn’t charged since…Well, never mind. But, anyway, I’d be honored to host you all tonight. Mrs. Cunningham Marsh, please keep any police talk to yourself. Right, sir?”

“My cousin Dory will, son, but perhaps you could let her do a feature on you, leaving out the tattoo artist, naturally.”

“Great idea,” Mrs. Cunningham Marsh said.

“Fine, Dory. Cole, you drive Dory to youth place and Bridget and me will have a couple of drinks at the pool ball and meet you there in forty-five minutes.” Chief Rundle whisked the psychologist out the door before Cole or the old woman could reply.

Ma’am, I never knew the Chief before,” Cole said.

“Cole, the old fart has never wriggled out of my lecture before like that.”

“She does look fine, ma’am.”

“And he’s fit enough for her.”

“Ma’am, I’d prefer we not discuss the possible romantic situations my superior may find himself inn.”

“Good point. You drive the blue Honda?”

“Yes, ma’am. Let me get the door for you.”

Cole held the office door and when they got to his car. He opened it for her. Then he got in and drove west two blocks to a small house. The porch had a swing he knew she hadn’t seen before.

“Did you make that?”

“Yes. ma’am,” Cole said.”I did with Joel before he went to Texas.”

“Joel? You’re friends with Joel Law? I didn’t know he had any here.” This made Cole laughed so hard he had to sit down.

“He didn’t till we met. That was last Thanksgiving when he discovered I cooked. I cook. He eats. We talk, mostly about women. Man, does that bastard chow down. Sorry, ma’am.”

“You laugh and slouch,” she said teasingly.

“Yes, ma’am. I’m home. Let’s go inside, if you wish.”

He let her in. He showed her a sampler on the wall. It said “Success Is How High You Bounce Once You’ve Hit Bottom.”

“Good quote. Who said it?” Eudora asked.

“General George S. Patton, ma’am. Grandpa was on his staff. I believe another ancestor fought with Patton during the War of Northern Aggression.”

“In Kansas, it’s called the Civil War, young man. My ancestors survived Antiquarian’s sack of Lawrence.”

“Yes, ma’am and not to diminish that unfortunate incident but what Sherman did was far worse but let’s go in my kitchen and get the quiche started.

“Wait a minute! You said you weren’t diminishing the sack but actually did. Next thing, you’ll be telling me the war wasn’t about slavery, Cole.”

“Well, that was a factor, ma’am. Shall we discuss this in the kitchen as I prepare dinner?”

“I ate dinner at noon. We’re making supper!”

“Yes, ma’am,.” Cole said. “I forget I AM in Kansas,” Cole laughed.

“Oz jokes are so clever,” the old woman said, rolling her eyes.

Two things occurred to Cole then: Edora Cunningham Marsh did not like him and he didn’t much cotton to her, as his mom would say. But he was a gentleman so he decided to bake his quiche and uphold to South’s honor by being courtly and not killing the witch.

Once he got busy preparing his quiche, he was in his element and he ignored everything else until he sensed he had caught Edora’s attention. He looked at her and saw her smiling.

“Young man,” she said, “you’re a very methodical chef and I must say it looks good.”

He grinned. “Thank you. Dad emailed this recipe awhile back and I’ve been eager to try it. But I get few chances to cook like this. I’ve tried to interest local girls to try my cooking. That has woked in every other place but not in Orrin,”

“Could be the tattoo. Ever think of that?”

“yes, ma’am, as strange as it seems, it has. But Ty Jackson is full of tattoos and he dose fine I hear. I think the Methodist girls think I’m Catholic and vice versa. For not being Southern, Orrin has its hangups.. No wonder Mr. Law calls it a shit hole so much.”

“Orrin made him rich, you know.” Their detente was crumbling.

“Befriending dying crime boss and writing a book about her-and a very murderous week in this paradise made him and Maggie rich,, Mrs. Marsh.”

“Well, yes, that’s one perspective on things.” Advantage Petty, Cole thought. He put the quiche in. There was a knock at the door. He went to answer it.

Harlan and Dr. Fine looking very happy entered. The Chief looked at him hard for what seemed a week. Cole had known superiors who knew you had screwed up just by looking at you.

“The Civil War came up, sir,” Cole said. It was always better to confess.

“Is that all?”

“I may have called Orrin a shit hole, sir.”

“Orrin IS a shit hole but you’re not native and Dory is the town’s editor. It’s her job to deny reality when it comes to the town, which, by the way, pays our salary. As for the festivities between the North and South, maintain radio silence on your sympathies here. Io ague with Dory.”

“Yes, sir,” Cole said. “I’d better check on my quiche, sir.”

“If you have two beers, we’ll take them, son,” Harlan said.

“Coors o Bud Light? I have both,” Cole said.

“Coors,” Bridgett said.

“Two Coors, Cole,” Harlan said.

“Be right back,” Cole said.

When he got the beers out of the fridge, Cole saw Eudora frown.. By way of explanation he said,”They’re for Chief and Dr. Fine.”

“She drinks beer?” Eudora asked.

“A fair assumption, Mrs Marsh. Excuse me.” He left for the living room where his boss and the young woman were laughing. Harlan thanked him in a tone they told him to get back to the kitchen. He did.

When he did, he said to Eudora in a puzzled voice. “i think the like each other. I mean like each other. I guess I never thought the chief in that way, did you?”

“Nobody did. Mary Del; Grady was quite shocked when she felt the chemistry between them when they met.”

“Well, I know you said something earlier, ma’am, but…Well, never mind. I guess we should just ignore it?”

“Yep. I’ve been mulling this over and I can’t think of any other purse.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Hey got out the dishes and silverware and set the tale. Cole brought out the quiche, two ,ore beers and two coffees for Eudora and him. Cole rarely drank with Harlan. It just felt odd. He had been imbued with military etiquette since birth and in eyes, Harlan was an officer and he a grunt. Harlan liked that.

The conversation during the first part of the mel revolved around the weather, the Pikesville Legion baseball team and the upcoming Knights of Columbus mountain oyster fry.

“What are mountain oysters anyway?’ Bridgett asked. “Every time I asked a man that, he blushes like Cole and Harlan are now, Mrs. Marsh.”

“They’re the testicles of bulls, rams or boars, dear. Now you know.”

“And I’ve eaten them? I’m not the most observant Jew there is but you have to draw the line somewhere.”

“You’re Jewish?” Eudora asked to everyone’s relief.

“Yes. I grew up in a secular home but my maternal grandparents were observant and Nanna taught me a bit of Torah and when my grandfather died, I got his Talmud. I think my grandparents had hopes of me marrying a nice Jewish boy but I had to marry I lapsed Catholic. But that’s enough about me.”

“I don’t know about that,” Eudora said. “i am learning a lot.” Bridgett blushed/

“Dory!” Harlan exclaimed. “Dory, that’s not–”

“The tree house,” Cole said. Everyone looked at hi,/ Unfazed, he continued. “There’s a guy here, moved here last fall, Greg Greene.”

“He’s active in my church teaches Sunday school and does daycare. The kids love him,” Eudora said..

“No wife?” Bridgett asked.

“No,” Eudora sari. “Several us have tried to fix him but,,,Wait, this is about Aggie, isn’t it? Well, you’re cry. It’s probably the prier, Father Benson.”

“Tell me about Benson, can you?” Bridgett asked the ethos.

“Carl Benson,” Cole said, “is fifty-two. He was a Marine chaplain for most of his career, Made colonel. Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq. He is not that good with kids yet.”

“You must be Catholic yourself,” Bridget said.

“No ma’am. Army, Iraq. Carl and talk a lot about Anbar Province a lot. He drinks Bud Light. I’ve tried to talk to Greene several times because we’re both strangers here, you know? He won’t. Me and Carl and Jim Marsh, Mrs. Marsh’s grandson, offered to help build the rte house. Greg was very ungracious about the thing. I had one of those moments when you know the picture you’re looking at is missing something but you can’t say what.”

“Yes,” Eudora said, “you may think that but priests are sexually repressed.”

“Lady,” Cole said, “facts are facts Carl is no more a pervert than your cousin, who is not known as sexually over—” Cole blushed.

Harlan said “My flings are not that delicate, son. Carry on.”

“Yes, sir,” Cole said. “i am no expert here but that tree house has always felt wrong.”

“It sounds wrong,” Bridget said. “But you need to tie the Law girl to Greene. And so far, you haven’t.”

“April,” Eudora said said.

“April?” Bridget asked.

“Nate took Maggie to both coasts in April. It was some kind of business deal in New Yoek and I think they took in a game in L.A, Anyway they hired Phyllis Bigelow to keep him but she had to go to Pikesville one day for a doctor appointment and the Laws said Greg could watch Aggie and Petey for the day. It worked out that Aggie and Greg hit it off. Later, she said they had a tea party.”

“OK,” Harlan said, “the girl liked him. Did Petey?”

“You know him; anyone or anything his sister likes, he doesn’t. After awhile, Greg said he couldn’t go up in the tree house with them.” Eudora said.

Holy shit!” Cole said. “You mean you didn’t find that odd?’

“Well,” Eudora said, “looking back and telling it, yeah, but Greg always made it sound normal. It went on for maybe six weeks till school was out and the Bakers moved here from Wilson.”

“Bakers?” Harlan asked.

“Lisa Baker got divorced and moved here with her little girl, Betsy. Greg met them at church and he takes Lisa out so he gave up babysitting for Nate and Maggie.”

Harlan pushed himself from the table and began to pace with his hands bi his pockets. Cole watched him as he took his right hand out and ran it through his hair. Then he paced some more. Then he leaned his hands on the table. He lioked at his deputy.

“We ain’t got probable cause to do squat, do we?” Harlan asked Cole.

“I don’t see any, sir,” Cole said. “We could talk to Mrs. Baker, you know.”

“We, who don’t her from Adam, are supposed to sashay up to her and asked her if she thinks her new boyfriend is a pervert?” Harlan asked.

“The kid’s trying, Harley,” Eudora said.

“I know, Dory, I know. But I don’t know how to handle it. I really don’t, cousin.”

“I have a suggestion,” Bridget said. “Want to hear it?”

“Shoot,” Harlan said.

“Mrs Marsh is the editor here. Perhaps she could do a feature on the Bakers. She might learn something.”

“That’s a long shot,” Cole said.

“Yes,” Harlan said, “it is. But you could become a part time photographer and help each other out.”

“But Mrs. Marsh is an amateur here,” Cole said.

“And this kid probably can’t take pictures!” Eudora shot back.

“OK,” Harlan said. “After I take Bridget home, I’ll call Nate and ask what he thinks.”

“i think it’s crazy,” Nate said. “But it’s crazy enough to work!”

“Quit using cliches!” Maggie said.

Then they heard a single shot and Nate looked out the window. He hung up as quick as he could.

“See anything?” Maggie asked.

“I can’t because it’s a dark and stormy night!” He moved before she could hit him.

To be continued.


The Sky Horse Chapter Eighteen

The Sky Horse Chapter Eighteen

The Sky Horse Chapter Eighteen
A Very Clear Mud Puddle
“Sky Horse?” Joel asked “What’s that, Triplet?”
Big John stood and said “I’m leaving, kid. I don’t have time for this. Del, I want you do your job. Get rid of these fools.”
“Can’t do that yet. I’m investigating a potential crime involving a minor.” Del was leaning against the bar.
‘Then lock them up,” Ike McKinnon said.
“Can’t do that, either,” Pratt said. “No charges yet.”
“Then tell them to quit asking questions about the Schipper girls,” Crawford Perry said.
“Reckon I won’t. Reckon im work for Mr. Essex as much as I do you. I heard what he said and I can’t un-hear it. Like Junior and Vern, I bullied him. Hell, we all did. But I never knew how Scarlett felt or he felt or the admiral felt but now I do. So if you don’t mind, I aim to find out who killed that girl and where her sisters are.”
“You’re playing with fire,” Crawford Perry said. “The election’s this year.”
“Yes, it is,” Pratt agreed. “But Big Foot has two hundred fifteen voters and Lone Coyote has three hundred nineteen now and four boys and six girls who I’ll make sure register on their eighteenth birthday. All I have to do is get the Coyote vote and you’ll have toll kiss my ass for once, gentlemen. Now, if you ‘going, get. I’m sure the Longs and my friends from Lone Coyote will stay.” Ted and Juarez nodded.
“You’re betraying our heritage by courtin’ those greasers,” Triplet said as he and others got their guns. Nate moved to give the handgun in his pants back.
“Amigo,” Tomas said, “you better keep that.”
“But it isn’t mine,” Nate said.
“Call it a ‘Welcome to Big Foot’ gift. Pratt said. “Right, Big John?’
“You’re a dead man, Pratt,” Triplet said.
“I hope that’s a metaphor, John. “’Cause if I show up dead, you’ll have to deal the Rangers. I’ll see to that. I’ll tell ‘em today what you just said in front of these folks. The days of you and that son-of-a-bitch Cody running me are over. Understand?”
“You throw in with Coyote and the four families WILL get you somehow, understand?” Triplet said as he got his gun and left. Now all the ranchers and hands were gone. Kent Straight emerged from a back room holding his head and moaning.
“He’s a drunk?” Nate asked Limes.
“One of the best.”
“That explains his muddled information he gave us yesterday,” Maggie said. “Listen, I’m going to put…I’m going to freshen up. Don’t talk about this till I get back.” She went back to the restroom and presently ret6urned with her appearance less provocative. She grabbed her pen and pad and sat down by the Longs. Joel sat by Limes, who had walked from behind the bar, Tomas put his shot gun and again sat with the people from Lone Coyote. Kyle Essex moved towards the door. Pratt, still leaning against the bar with a small straw dangling from his mouth motioned him to stay. Nate began to pace and everyone waited for him to re=start the talking.
He began to mutter “four families” to himself. He then looked at Pratt. “They don’t count the Pratts since ninety-seven, right, Sheriff, when your ranch was sold, right?”
“No,” Pratt drawled. “They never really did consider us to be part of their whatever. We inter-married, of course, but together they owned more land than we did and they wanted to keep fighting the Civil War. Big Foot did not and the Pratts still think they’re nuts. Well, I do. Guess I’ll be the last one.”
“You could still marry,” Mayor Lopez said.
“I could marry Vern and end our careers and probably our lives. Straight, give me a Coors. You don’t mind, Sam?”
“You’re gay?” Jorge Sanchez asked.
“That’s not important now,” Nate snapped. “Big Foot Pratt, Del.”
“Big Foot was a lot like Admiral Schipper. He had fought alongside Grant in Mexico and was at several bloody battles in the East, Seven Days, Cold Harbor. He just wanted to start afresh. But he died in sixty-eight and his sons had not seen any action so the other four families didn’t listen to them. Isaac became the first sheriff after the county was incorporated. And it’s more or less been a hereditary office ever since.”
“Fernando Escobar was sheriff in thirty-five,” Sanchez said. “He was my great-uncle!”
“Yeah,” drawled Pratt, “and he hung hisself with his hands tied, a reverse Houdini. Anyway, that’s what the all-Anglo coroner’s jury said.”
“OK,” Nate said. “I want to ask the Longs something, a few things, actually. First, why come here?”
“I think,” Paul said surprisingly thoughtfully, I think I came here for the same reason Big Foot and the admirals did: to start a new life. The West is so romantic. I brought Ab Davis and the others followed.”
“Bullshit,” Joel said. “I mean the West is romantic in some ways but any place is if you don’t have to worry about feeding yourself and your family. Dad and Maggie love Orrin, Kansas but I don’t think guys like us can come out here and re-invent ourselves these days. The West is no longer where you can re-invent anything, let alone yourself. People won’t let you. I’m not for gay marriage I don’t think but you just heard what the sheriff said. If he were to be himself openly, he’d be dead. That’s not rugged individualism; that’s enforced conformity. And it’ll kill the plains states. The only hope are the Hispanics.”
“I’m surprised and offended, Joel,” Maggie said. “That’s tribal, if not racist,”
“No, it’s not. As long as the states from Texas to Nor6th Dakota and from Louisiana to West Virginia live in a past that never, ever existed, they’re doomed.”
“Hold it there,” Nate said. “We are not here to debate and I don’t need my lady and my at odds. The West is not an either/or place. Take Big Foot. On the surface, everyone appears alike but they’re not. Essex cannot be the only one who feels resentment. Lone Coyote is the same way I bet. So the West is not Utopia but I cannot and will not believe that everyone in Big Foot is an inbred bigot or that everyone in Lone Coyote is a put-upon, long-suffering victim. But I was talking to Paul and t=Ted.”
“You know,” Ted said, I’m trying hard not to but I think I like you.”
“The feeling,” Nate said, “is not mutual. It is hard to get warm and fuzzy about a man who tried to hire me to whack Old Man Triplet.”
“He did?” Lopez asked. “Was his price too low? Perhaps someone could double it? Not me, of purse: I uphold law and order but I have many very bad cousins, if you follow.”
“Nate held his head as if in pain. “I don’t whack people,” he said. “I do not whack people. And were I to whack Triplet, you’d still have Comstock, McKinnon, and the Perrys to worry about. I would not advise anyone to whack any of those guys. They outgun you. It is a stupid, although highly appealing, idea. Anyone who offers to pay me to whack anyone might get whacked instead.
“OK,” he continued, “Joel asked about the Sky Horse. Has anyone here besides me seen it?”
“You saw it? When? You never told me,” Maggie said.
“I saw it coming to Vernon’s, where we both got distracted, right?”
Maggie giggled and blushed. Joel Groaned. The others pretended not to hear.
“Anyway, what I saw was a giant white horse that raced across the sky for a minute or so from north to west. Joel, I saw it.”
“Was its mane blue?” Joel mockingly asked.
Paul Long said “Last night it was red. But it was blue awhile back.”
Maggie dropper her jaw and pen. “You’re telling me the Sky Horse is real?” She asked.
“I believe Abby Davis told us that yesterday,” Nate said. “Pick up your pen. Now, when did the horse first appear?”
“Two weeks after we came,” Ted said. “That time, the mane was orange.”
“Does anyone deny nit appears?”Nate asked.
“Only to outside media,” the third Cote rep said. “I’m Daniel Kinkaid. I’m one-eight Anglo. The horse is not as unnerving as the old Comanche. “
“The old Comanche. OK, who is the old Comanche?” Nate asked.
“We don’t know,” Limes said ‘”but he usually stops a truck or car soon after we see the horse near the Schipper pasture and says ‘thee; there,’ Then he vanishes.”
“Of course, he does,” Nate said, “of course, he does. OK. Let’s recap. Joel, start.”
“Cotton Wood County is mostly owned by four white families. The Longs own a good chunk of it though and the four families and they are eying a piece of prime pasture land.”
“Which was owned by a retired admiral who committed suicide after his daughter was raped and killed by a party or parties unknown,” Maggie said.
“No, a girl was raped and killed, who was unrecognizable and had Scarlett’s ID on her,” Nate said. “I think Kyle thinks Scarlett Schipper is alive.”
“Yes, I do!” Kyle said.
“ID of body in dispute,” Maggie said as she wrote. “But her sisters are missing.”
“Which means that if none of the girls are found within two weeks, the land will be declared vacant and put up for action. Triplet wants it. The Longs want it,” Nate said.
“And the mayor wants it,” Joel said.
“Si,” Lopez said, “but I cannot outbid the other two, to be honest.”
“So the reappearance of any of the Schipper daughter would not in practice affect you at all?” Nate asked.
“No,” Lopez agreed.
“We show up,” Nate said, “Ted offers me a contract on Triplet. I reject it. Joel gets arrest on a bogus charge of molestation. We find out a person or persons unknown did touch Aggie. Pratt release Joel and asks us to find the girls. He gets called here to be ordered to tell us to drop it, I presume/”
“Yes,” Pratt said.
“And that’s where we all,” Nate said.
“Two points you left out,” Maggie said, “are the alleged apparitions and Joel’s friends in Coyote.”
“Gomez and Lewis are not relevant here, Margaret,” Nate said, still pacing. “The ‘alleged’ apparitions I don’t know how to handle counselor. Perhaps you took a course on them in law school” Speaking of spirits, is it four o’clock yet?”
“It’s three-forty-five,” Joel said.
“Today, that’s close enough,” Nate said. “Limes, a single shot of Old Granddad straight, if you pleas. Thank you. A toast to this case, a very clear mud puddle.”
Pratt answered his cell. “Doctor Lucinda McKinnon just got your daughter to talk. Aggie said the man who touched her has a tree house in Orrin.”
“I don’t,” Joel said.
“I know,” Pratt said as he slapped Joel on the back. “You’re cleared She insists it wasn’t you!’
“But the monster who hurt my baby’s still free,” Maggie sazd sadly.
“Don’t worry, babe,” Nate said. “Harlan has the case now and nothing will distract him.”

At the very moment, Harlan Rundle was listening to Cole Petty on his phone. Harlan was sitting in Bridget Fine’s living room when she walked out wearing a very short, sleeveless white dress.
“Tell me that again when we get back, Harlan told his deputy. Someone just distracted me.”s


The Sky Horse Chapter Seventeen

The Sky Horse Chapter Seventeen

The Sky Horse Chapter Seventeen
Admiral of the Sea of Grass
The Laws were at the far left side of the bar. Neither Joel nor Maggie were eating their burgers while Nate had eaten his and was now devouring a piece of cherry pie a la mode.
“You sick, son?” Nate asked Joel. He figure Joel had to be not be eating like a pregnant sow
“He’s probably too nervous to eat,” Maggie said, “I know I am.”
“Yeah, I am,” Joel admitted. “I keep looking in the mirror abd seeing all the dirty look we’re getting.”
Nate snorted. “Looks don’t kill people; people kill people. Shoot, alluding to bumper stickers isn’t very literary is it, Limes?”
“Huh?” Limes asked.
“Mr. Limes,” Nate said in earnest, “seated before you are the co-authors of a major work of true crime, my bride and me. So, being a man of letters—“ He was interrupted by Maggie interrupted.
“You are, you vain oaf, d-u-m-b.”
“Are you people always like this?” Limes asked Joel, who laughed hard and snarfed down his burger. “Two more,” he said with his mouth full.
“You’re kidding,”Limes said.
“Joel Law never Jokes about food,” Maggie deadpanned.
When they were all finished, Nate told the other Laws to resume their previous positions. He saw Tomas Garcia cradling his shotgun as he stood against the wall. Nate stood slightly in front of him. When he saw Maggie was ready to talk more notes, Nate cleared his voice loudly.
When the locals were again looking at him, he spoke.
“Let’s talk about the Schipper land and girls,” he said, “and why nobody wants them found.”
“What makes you say that?” Maggie asked, perplexed.
“Before we kicked in the door, I didn’t. I expected a meeting about why an alleged sex offender had been sprung. I figured that’s why Lone Coyote and Big Foot came together. They wanted to figured why Pratt did what he did. As a parent, I could understand how the first response would be anger and if they were angry enough, they might form a lynch mob and come after us. Didn’t you?”
‘”Kind of,” Maggie said. “But, again, at the café I did hear the name Schipper a lot. I should have told you.”
“How about ‘pervert,’ ‘danger.’ or anything about children or liberal judges?”
“No,” Maggie said. “What’s your point?”
Joel said “it’s the dog that didn’t bark, Conan Doyle, ‘Silver Blaze.’ You’d expect outrage here over my release after it came out that Aggie was in fact molested. Instead, after we told everyone to hand in their weapons, Mayor Lopez hands me a copy the land grant.”
“The alleged land grant,” a man Nate took for John Triplet, Jr. said. “Every Texas court ruled it fraudulent.”
“Every Anglo judge did,” Jorge Sanchez retorted.
“At present,” Nate said exasperated, “the grant is moot. The Pratt family held the parcels now owned by the Longs and the pasture that the Schipper girls own or owned, depending on if they’re dead or not. Am I right?”
“Si, hermano,” Tomas said. “You knew that.”
“Yes, I did but you always want to be sure. Let’s go back to our time line. Big Foot staked his claim in 1865. Del, you said your old man lost it. When was that?”
“Nineteen ninety-seven,” Pratt said. Aubrey, my brother, could have paid the taxes on it but he is in New York and didn’t want to, damn him. He’s the older of us two boys and is a banker on Wall Street. He’s left Texas behind him.”
7“7Any sisters?”
“My wife, Myra. I’m Josh Comstock, Jim’s son.”
“Er,” said Maggie hesitantly.
“What?” Nate asked.
“Never mind, I think?”
“You think? Think what?”
“It’s delicate, Nathaniel”
“This is not an Eastern Star tea party and quilting bee, Margaret. If you have a question, ask it. I doubt if anyone here is going to faint.”

“OK, dear. If the four families have held most of the land al, this time, who do they marry? I ask this because holding the land seems important.”
“Hmm,” Nate said. “I see your point about delicacy. But it’s out there now. Anyone want you want to reply. If not—“
“We keep careful records,” Mayor McKinnon said. “I’m chair of the Eugenics Society and we make sure bloodlines don’t get too tangled.”
Nate roared with laughter. He approached the mayor and “put his hand on his shoulder. “Thank you for that lat laugh. We needed that.” McKinnon coldly removed Nate’s hand.
“Amigo,” Tomas said, “the Eugenics Society meets every Tuesday at my place. He is not joking. Do not think he is.”
“Oh,” Nate said. “Maggie?”
“Joel?” She asked.
Joel scratched his head. “You have a Eugenics Society. That’s…unusual. Why don’t you explain it to us and how it relates to the land.” Nate nodded.
“In 1912, a McKinnon got worried about our intermarrying so much and began researching the issue. He discovered eugenics, scientific and selective reproduction of the human race to improve it,” Vernon said. “The four families found it made sense. The Society helps us find suitable matches for our young to insure the ethnic vitality of the four families. That’s gist of it. It traces genealogies to make sure only fourth cousins and further tromped marry as well. It’s hard work.”
“How does it insure this ethnic vitality, though?” Joel asked. “You can’t legally keep people from…you know, loving whomever he or she wants.”
“No,” Vernon agreed. “But if someone does, say, serve in Asia and brings back a non-white wife, they’re shunned. Most end up leaving the county but some move to Lone Coyote out of spite.”
“Si.” Juarez said, “That’s one way we get new citizens. Some of us also travel to places like Dallas and El Paso and meet future spouses. My brother Manny worked in Houston four years and came back with my nephew Pedro Leroy’s mother, a lovely woman and a strong convert.”
“So who were the Schippers related to?”Maggie asked.
“Nobody,” Pratt said, “nobody here, I mean. Aubrey and I agreed our old man could not hold his booze or control the ranch so Aubrey got guardianship of Daddy. But instead of paying the taxes and letting me run the ranch, he decides to sell t. Big John knew about that before I did. As soon as I heard what was afoot, I took Aubrey to court but lost. Triplet there thought he’d get a sweetheart deal since he assumed Aubrey subscribed to the Big Four code. Aubrey, instead, put ads in several East Coast papers for the ranch, including The Washington Post. That’s where Admirals Dale and Schipper saw the ad.
“Schipper and Dale went way back to Viet Nam together and were nearing retirement as Pentagon paper pushers. Dale was a follower, I think; he lived where the Longs do but he was content to let his foreman run things. Let me back up. Aubrey split the ranch in two, just like the map I showed Nate and Joel says. Schipper and Dale wanted to be neighbors, not partners. They spent most of their time in the Alamo, drinking coffee and trying to fit in.”
Limes spoke. “Aubrey sold the ranch on behalf of Silas in ’97, a year before the school wars flared again. Ninety-eight was also when I bought the Alamo. It sounded like a good idea but I always had to hire managers and it never made me a cent. I sold it to Tomas in ’11. Sorry for interrupting.”
“Don’t be, Nate said. “That fills in a few gaps in my knowledge.” Maggie said “A few? That won’t help.” Nate caught her eye and winked.
“This fellow Dale,” Joel said, “what was he like?”
“Bookish,” Limes said. “The few nights he came in here, we discussed poetry and art. Well, he did. I just poured the Scotch. He had never married, wasn’t gay or anything but awfully shy around women. Anyway, he had a couple of minor strokes and his neice or someone moved him back east, where he died in ’09. His heirs sold his land to the Lomgs.”
“That true, Ted?” Nate asked.
“Yes, we bought our land from one Allison Grant of Washington, D.C. Her precise relationship to Dale I never knew but she said he died and left her his ranch.”
“Did you know Schipper, Long?”
“No. Whatever happened there happened before we came here,”
“Was Admiral Dale still here when the rape and murder of Scarlett happened?”
Jim Comstock stood up. “How is this any of your business? The Schippers are dead, all of ‘em. The way we see it here, them girls probably ask for whatever they got and the old man was a weakling to kill hisself ‘cause his slut daughter got herself killed.”
Maggie’s jaw dropped and her face turned bright red. She was about to speak when a young man arose from a back table and made his way close to Nate. He was nervously clutching a blue ball cap in his hand. He looked around the room and swallowed hard.
“Sir,” he said to Nate respectfully, “I’d like to say something.”
Joel said “I don’t have your weapon.”
“No, sir,” the man said, “you don’t ‘cause I ain’t got none. I come here before all the others ‘cept that trucker feller. If I knowed the ranchers was coming and the folks from Coyote, I’d stayed away. The land ain’t none of my business.”
“So why talk>” Nate asked.
“Well, sir,” the man said, “I ain’t nobody but a store clerk at the hardware in town but I knowed Scarlett real well. Fact is, I knowed all her folks and what Mr. Comstock said…wasn’t right. I can tell you what I think if you like, sirs and ma’am.”
Triplet said “”Just leave. You said it. It ain’t your affair!”
“You knew the Schippers?” Nate asked.
“Yes, sir, I did.”
“Then begin with your name and tell your story.”
“I forgot to introduce myself, sirs and ma’am,” the man said. “Beg pardon. I’m Kyle Essex, folks. My people was ranch hands did my great-grandday bought the store in the forties or sometime. Mom only had but me. I was OK till I was in school. You see, when I try to read I mix up the letters. Dyslexia they call it, you know, sir?”
“I know,” Nate said quietly. “Go on, son.”
“Well, you see, when kids found out about me, they always made fun of me. Always. They called me ‘retard’ and ‘dummy’ for years. Daddy told once all I had to do was fight back and they’d stop. So when we was ten, I hit Little John there, Mr. Triplet, and he beat the shit out of me.” The crowd laughed.
“I sure taught you,” John Triplet, Jr. guffawed
“It wasn’t funny to me,” Kyle said.
“No,” Nate said, “it wasn’t. Triplet, shut up. Kyle, go on.”
“Well.” Kyle said, “ After that, I just gave up. I just never thought nobody my age would ever be kind to me. But our senior year, Scarlett Triplet came her.
“Scarlett’s sister, Sparrow, had cerebral palsy. So when the kids in Sparrow’s class done to her what my class was doing’ to me, she got on ‘em, put the fear of God in ‘em. Then she saw how it was with me and was kind to me, offered to tutor me. So I let her. People thought she was wasting her time but she helped me quite a bit.
“Admiral Schipper had lost his wife years before so Scarlett looked after him and her sisters, ‘specially Sparrow. Sparrow walked funny and talked funny and most folks here didn’t think she knowed anything but after awhile, I could make out most of what she said and she was as smart as Scarlett. It was Starlet who was the flighty one. She was as pretty as Scarlett but all she cared about was boys. She gave the admiral fits. But she knew how far to go before he would get mad, which he hardly never did.
“Admiral Isaac Bradshaw Schipper, that was is his name. Like Mr. Limes said, he had served in Nam, right after graduating from the naval academy, just like his daddy. The admiral went further up the ranks than his old man, though. I know all this ‘cause we used to ride together when he asked me to. My cousin was his foreman and the three of used to ride together on his ranch. He’d talked then.
“He talked about western history, geology and all kinds of stuff. And I told him about the county. The girls and him visited Coyote a lot. He just liked people. Someone there started to call him the Admiral of the Sea of Grass and he had a sign saying that hung on his den wall. We laughed a lot about that.
“Scarlett took college classes online and became a teacher and she got a job In Coyote, She got prettier and prettier.
“So I begun to wonder why she never dated. I knowed her eight years and she never had a boyfriend. I sort of thought I wasn’t good enough for her. So I never asked her. When I finally talked ot her daddy about her being alone, he said it was my fault, that the whole damn family was tired of waiting on me to make my play.
“So I was the next Saturday but they found the body or a body on the road that Thursday. It had her ID on it but it was mangled up. They should have ran a DNA test on it but the prosecutor told Pratt to say it was her but a bum did it, which broke the admiral. He hung hisself. Then the other two girls vanished. I raised holy hell trying to fix things but I ain’t a rancher. So after awhile, I gave up, just like I done before I met Scarlett. Well, sir, if you’re on the case, I got your back.”
Nate put his hand on Kyle’s shoulder, looked him in the eye and nodded.
Then Limes spoke up. “I never knew all that, Kyle.”
“Till today no one did…except maybe the Sky Horse.”
To be continued.


The Sky Horse Chapter Sixteen

The Sky Horse Chapter Sixteen

The Sky Horse Chapter Sixteen
Local History (Histories)
Nate whispered something in Joel’s ear first and then Maggie’s and strode into the bar whistling an old Irish song. As he looked around him, he saw several groups of men, some standing, some suiting, some standing and some leaning against the wall. He spotted Vernon with a man about his, Vernon’s, age, an older man and a pimply youth. Behind them stood four or five men. He also recognized Tomas Garcia with three other Hispanic men, the Lone Coyote delegation. Tomas had a shot gun. Pratt was looking like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Behind the bar was a short, balding man who looked as nervous as Nate felt. Nate caught his eye and winked. The man nodded very slightly.
Nate said in his best Irish brogue “Good man would you be willing to let a poor traveler be singing some songs for these fine gentleman now? ‘Tis awhile I’ve had such a fine audience to hear me poor voice and I do love to sing, don’t you know?”
“Sam—“ an old man began to protest.
“Never you mind, Hayden Perry,” Sam Limes said. “New talent is scarce. I might hire this guy.”
“Aw now, ‘twould be just what I was after, me man.”
“Bullshit,” a fat man in a cowboy hat (Actually, most wore a cowboy hat, Limes and the Latinos excepted.) said. “You’re that hit man, ain’t you?’
Nate said “Aw, now, ‘twould be a poor soul indeed who knew but one trade, as me Ma used to say. Shall I begin, me lads?”
Nobody said a word. Nate looked at his son in the doorway and scratched his hair. That was a signal. Nate then sang an Irish song in Gaelic. He next did some Italian arias. Then he began the Great American Songbook, Gershwin, Berlin and other Sinatra had done. He had a rich, deep voice. Every eye was on him.
No one noticed Joel creeping up on Paul Long. Nate then looked at Maggie and coughed. That was her cue. She shot him a dirty look but found the woman’s bathroom. When she came out, her bra was off and T-shirt soaking. She swayed her hips as she walked towards Nate from the opposite side Joel was creeping up on his target, which allowed him to pick up his pace. Absolutely no one was watching him except Vernon, who was aroused like everyone else, almost everyone. Nate saw the old dance hall owner pointing to Tomas, who had absent-mindedly laid his shot gun on the floor. Nate winked at Limes.
He faced the crowd again. “Well, me lads,” Nate said, “me dear wife must have had a mishap in the loo. I hope you’ll forgive her appearance.” The cat calls that answered him made him boil him was more determined than ever to get the upper hand here.
So he kept his poker face and said “Well, me lads, we appreciate your understanding, don’t we, Maggie?
She giggled. More lewd remarks. “Would you mind if I sang you old boys some good old songs, boys?” Maggie asked. Nobody did. She began belting out “San Antonio Rose.” Nate exited slowly stage right. Nate got his to his man as Joel got right behind his. Joel happened to see Nate, who nodded to Maggie. As she began “Here You Come Again,” Joel hit Paul’s gun arm causing him to drop it. Joel kicked it away and drove for it as if it were a loose basketball and grasped it and then jumped on top of the bar before the stunned Paul. Their roles temporarily reversed, Joel commanded the crowd’s attention. This allowed Nate to easily seize the shot gun, which he fired into the ceiling. It had been one hell of a gamble but they, all three of them, had pulled it off. He felt a band on his shoulderand heard his dead brother Pete’s voice.
“Now you’re tough, kid,” it said. “Now you’re tough.”
Damn straight, I am, he thought. He said aloud “We do hope you all liked our show. Now, what the hell is going on?”
“How in the hell did you get the best of us? I can’t figure that one,” another old fat guy said. “Del told us all about you. You weren’t armed, he said.”
“Interesting. Del asks me an hour or two to investigate the Schipper case. Next thing I know you all having a sit-down with him. Interesting for sure. Tell us your name,” Nate said.
“Wait, dear,” Maggie said. “Let me get pen and paper. I wish I had my laptop. Thank you, Mr.—“
“Limes,” Limes said, “Sam Limes.”
“Sean Connery?” Joel asked Maggie
“Ian Fleming first wrote ‘Bond, James,’” she said.
“My bad,” he said.
“What are they talking about?”
“I ask the questions, Nate said. “Maggie?”
“Too generic a cliché. Get on with it!”
“Name?” Nate asked the old man again.
“Dwight McKinnon,” The man said. “This guy to my right is my boy, Ike and behind him are Paul Whittaker, Stubs Crenshaw, Lines Petersen and my other son Greg.”
“OK,” Nate said, “if any of you have guns, place them on the bar. Every do that. As you go by, the boss of each group will give me your name. Give your men’s names to Maggie. Tomas, Pratt and Vernon over here. Deputies, stay put.”
Garcia, Pratt, and Vernon faced Nate.
“What kind of bullshit is this, Pratt? We had a deal and an hour later you’re here?”
“It was my idea,” Vernon said. “I knew if Dad found out, he’ll kill Del.”
”I see,” Nate said, “you never married, did you, Pratt?”
“Was Scarlett Schipper your cover then?”
“No. Vern and his folks went to Dallas one time. He had a fling, got drunk one night and told me. Wanted to make him jealous so I dated Scarlett briefly.”
“Which lets him off the hook,” Vernon said.
“Maybe. But it sure as hell puts you on it,” Nate said.
“But we’re both gay.”
“Rape is not but sexual preference, Vernon. Rape is about power and anger. You wanted to assert dominance over Del and the girl and you were angry and jealous.”
“That’s shit!” The couple said almost together.
“Again, maybe. So you wanted to protect your lover so you called your old man and?”
“And the three of us were supposed to meet here and thrash it out. But he called the other local ranchers and they were here.”
“OK. Tomas?”
“Yo soy hermano en espirito, Nate but whenever the four families do something big, I worry for my compadres in Coyote.”
“He did speak up for you and we didn’t,” Pratt admitted.
“Don’t worry, amigo,” Nate said to Tomas. “We’re cool still. Here’s your gun. Stand by me.”
“Let me go look at the guns on the bar. I might pick up one by mistake.”
“Good idea. Hurry; they’re back”
Tomas came back with a modern hand gun and two extra clips. He held his gun pointing the floor. Nate stuck his gun inside his jeans after checking its safety. ?he put the clips inside his shirt pocket.
“Be seated class,” he said as he and Tomas braced themselves against the wall.
“The committee being settled and the secretary being ready, the meeting will resume. Any objections?” Tomas raised his shot gun slightly. No one objected.
“Ok,” Nate said, “this morning, I agreed to find out what happened to Starlet and Sparrow Schipper after their sister was killed and their dad committed suicide. What year was hat??
“Two thousand six,” said a man Nate now knew was Jim Comstock, “eight years after the bean-eaters in Coyote started bitching about the about their school again,”
“We had to,” Mayor Juan Pedro Jorge Lopez of Lone Coyote said. “The Anglos have never lived up to the 1965 settlement.”
“Yes, we have but you won’t till all the rabbits you breed sit behind golfed desks!” Hayden Perry shot back.
“Damn right!” Crawford Perry said. “Forced sterilization would bring peace real fast here.”
The three Latinos from Lone Coyote got up with faces ablaze with fury. Nate nudged Tomas, who shot another round into the ceiling. That restored a very tense silence.
“Mr. Limes,” Nate said, “I’m good for the ceiling. I’d rather damage your property than some of these fools. But if you all can be civil and calm, maybe I won’t have to. Now, you’re talking about stuff my wife, son and me know nothing about. So, because this may be important, let’s calmly and civilly review your history without using slurs or name-calling. Now, Where to begin?”
“Maybe here, Dad said,” Joel said, waving a paper, as he sat on the bar dangling his head.
“Bring that here,” Nate said. Joel jumped down and walked to Nate he handed Nate an old photocopy. Nate looked at it and said “This looks like Spanish.”
“It is. Mayor Lopez there gave it to me when I spoke Spanish to him.”
“Are you still; carrying that?” John Triplet, Sr. asked the mayor.
“It is sacred to me and my family,” Lopez said defiantly.
Nate looked hard at the elder Triplet to keep him silent. “What is it?” Nate asked his son
“Well, it’s a land grant issued by the Mexican government to a Colonel Juan Miguel Francisco Lopez Garza in 1826 for unspecified services.”
“Where was the grant located, son?’
“We’d need an 1826 map of Mexico and a hell of a more knowledge of their geography than I have to figure that out, Dad. But I guess it must be more or less here.”
“Si,” Jorge Sanchez from Lone Coyote said. “The Lopez grant overlaps several counties in these parts. But he never came here, the colonel. His grandson, Julio Pablo Mario Lopez Mendoza had to in 1875.”
“Had to?” Nate asked.
”They chased the cur north of the Rio Bravo,” Hayden Perry said. “That was ten years after Bigfoot Part and homesteaded here after the damn yanks had chased him out f Alabama. He later invited my ancestor and the ancestors of the McKinons and Comtocks here. They helped the Texas Rangers git rid of the Commanches and founded the county. Bigfoot was incorporated in 1868. Lopez showed up with the phony document and tried to takeover.”
“Mayor,” Maggie asked, “care to rebut any of that? I did not write ‘cry,’ by the way.”
“Yes,” Lopez said. “Lopez was a political refuge and the grant should have been respected in accord the treaty ending the Mexican-American war. Lopez Garza took it to court.”
“What happened?” Maggie asked.
“Beaners lost,” Crawford smirked.
Nate walked over to where the Perry contingent sat. He slapped Crawford. “I said no slurs, you two, “he hissed.
“Your turn,” Maggie said. to Lopez.
“We never got justice,” Lopez said. “Every Judge that heard the case was a gr—Anglo. We settled in 1891. They let us keep Lone Coyote. They promised a school. It was a glorified shack and they banned us from their high school. We had none for our kids.”
“We gave your people the best education they could handle.”
“Holy shit, Nate!”Maggie exclaimed. “Did I hear that right? Who said that?”
“Michael McKinnon,” Joel said. “He’s the son of Ike McKinnon and the mayor of Big Foot. He’s the mayor! Kind of renews your faith, don’t it?”
“You’re pretty smart-ass for a pervert.”
“He hasn’t been charged,” Nate said. He slapped McKinnon.
It developed that an uneasy status quo took hold of the county from 1891, when the land claim was settled and the 1950s, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against school segregation. In ’57, Dennis Lopez, a cousin somehow of the mayor’s, sued the local school board.
“I come here two years later,” Limes said.
“You’re not from here?” Joel asked.
“No, son; I’m from northern Florida. But I knew Ike in the army, Korea, and I needed to start over, he helped but lending me the land we’re on.”

Nate looked at Limes closely. He excused himself and walked over to Maggie, whispering in her ear, “Limes has something on Ike,”
“Yeah, I heard something in his voice and made a note.” He nodded and went back.
“OK,” Nate said to the group, “if I understand this, Lone Coyote’s school case was settled in 1965. How did that go down?’
“Big Foot integrated the high school and promised Lone Coyote younger children could either attend their elementary school or they’d give us more money for ours. The county road was never kept up so we chose the latter but the funds never came.”
“They came,” Comstock said.
“Let’s cut to the chase,” Nate said. “Lone Coyote was frustrated for nearly fifty years and sued again. Is that case settled?”
“No,” several men said.
“Anybody hungry?” Nate asked.
“No, “more said.
“Well,” Nate said, “Joel has to be fed and I am hungry so we’ll take a break and then talk about the Schipper land.”
Ted Long, Triplet and Mayor all said something like “That land is mine!”
Joel whispered “nobody wants us here, I don’t think.”
“Your powers of analysis are boundless, Nate replied

To be continued