NaNoWriMo Update Six

BAM! A 2483 word update making up for my lack of wordage yesterday. Total now is 10341.

It was almost a different town than Katherine remembered. The place was crawling with people as she and Lonesome rode in. Without the trains running there were a lot of folks sitting around waiting for the tracks to get fixed. Whether they were waiting to leave, load cattle, or just waiting for someone to come in it made little difference. And while they were stuck here they might as well entertain themselves. The hotel was booked, the saloon was crowded, the stables were full, and even the whorehouse was busier than Katherine had ever seen it.

Sheriff Jeb Wilcott met them in the street as they passed the general store. He was an older man, sporting a head of silver hair and a handlebar mustache of the same color. As Katherine recalled he was not averse to violence when it was needed, which was probably why he’d managed to hold the office as long as he had. Of course, the town’s tranquility might have owed something to the fact that it was a rail town. If anything got out of hand Haversham & Black wouldn’t hesitate to send Wilcott backup and most people knew it. Thankfully nothing like that had happened. Yet.

“Arbiter Bishop,” a friendly smile took shape under his mustache. “Am I glad to see you.”

“Well now, things must be bad,” she leaned forward on her saddle. “Usually when I come around you tell me to mind my own ‘cause you’ve got it well in hand.”

“That’s called professional pride,” Wilcott explained as Katherine and Lonesome dismounted. “Besides, it’s usually true.”

“But not this time?”

“I’m man enough to know when a pile of shit’s too big to step in.”

Katherine flipped her horse’s lead around a post. “You sayin’ I got bigger boots?”

“Damn right you do. Who’s this with you?”

“Lonesome Cooper,” the Spirit Talker made his short introduction.

Wilcott adjusted his hat and raised an eyebrow. “Lonesome, eh? That a nickname or a given?”

“That’s right,” Lonsome nodded.

“He’s a Spirit Talker,” Katherine added by way of explanation.

Wilcott crossed his arms and grunted. “Well, I suppose that might explain a few things. Why don’t you two come with me. I’ll buy you a drink and fill you in.”

Being the town lawman seemed to have it’s perks. Despite the saloon being filled to the gills Wilcott was able to find them a corner table. Lonesome made sure to get the chair that faced out into the crowd of guests. He was nervous being around so many people at once in a confined space. Katherine could tell, but didn’t bring it up.

“The telegram I got gave me the basics,” she began once they got settled. “Train got blown off the tracks, someone got shot, something got stolen. What else do I need to know?”

“Haversham & Black are frothing at the mouth, for one thing. I got word they’re planning on sending a train full of their own personal army boys down here as soon as they can. I don’t have to tell you this, Bishop, but there’s a reason I haven’t called them in to help with anything all the years I’ve done this job. They might own this town, but they aren’t our people. They’re coast folk, old world. Last thing we need is a bunch of their kind pushing their well bred noses into everything.”

Katherine knew the feeling. Most people out in the Frontier Territories had gone there to get away from the old world, to help make a new one where they had a stake. “If they really blew the tracks with dynamite it’ll be a while before we have to worry about that.”

“I don’t think you quite understand what I meant by frothing at the mouth,” Wilcott said sourly. “They’re sending the train, hole in the tracks or none. They won’t get all the way to town, but they’ll get as far as they can and come the rest of the way on foot or horse or wagon. Whatever got taken, they want it bad.”

“Alright,” Katherine allowed. “So what was it that got this hornet’s nest stirred up? They take a load of gold? Diamonds?”

Wilcott leaned back in his chair. “That part’s a bit of a mystery, Arbiter. All I’ve been able to piece together is this. About a year ago a group of H&B men came into town. They only stayed long enough to load up on some supplies, then they headed out to spirits know where. A few weeks ago they came back five men short and looking like they’d been living off the land for a good deal of the time. And they brought something back with them. A lockbox big enough they needed two people to carry it when it wasn’t strapped to their pack mule. I tried asking them what was in it and they told me to butt out, so I did. I also know that the train they loaded onto had another half dozen H&B gunhands on it. Like I said, whatever was in that box they wanted to keep ahold of it real bad.”

Katherine nodded slowly as the sheriff spoke. “Makes sense now why they’d want to dynamite the tracks. Derail the train and see how many you can kill, then walk in and put bullets in any survivors while they’re still getting their heads on straight. Lockbox probably got beat up but made it through in one piece. I’m just about impressed. Still wish I knew what was in it. Might help us figure out where they’re gonna go with it.”

“Well then I hope you have better luck than I did getting it out of Hawkins. He might be laid up but he’s a company man through and through, shut up tighter than bark on a tree.”

“Back up a second,” Katherine told him. “Who’s Hawkins?”

“Oh,” the sheriff looked genuinely surprised. “Didn’t I tell you? One of the H&B boys lived through the whole mess. Walked all the way back to town busted up and bleeding. Collapsed right on my office doorstep in the middle of the night. Gave my deputy a shock. We thought he was dead, but Doc Roberts brought him around. He’s still laid up recovering. I figure you’ll want to talk to him.”

“You figure right. And the sooner the better, if those H&B men are on their way like you say they are. Nothing would make me happier than to turn them right back around as soon as they get here.”

Katherine had imagined a man who lived through a train derailment involving dynamite would look far worse than Walter Hawkins did. For all the bandages on him he was still a clean cut, dapper young man. Wilcott had put him up at a room in the hotel while he healed. One of the sheriff’s deputies stood guard in case somebody involved in the robbery came to silence the only living witness.

“Hello again sheriff,” Hawkins greeted Wilcott as they all piled into the room. He pushed himself up into more of a sitting position on the bed and made obvious note of Katherine and Lonesome. “Do I have visitors?”

“Walter, this here is Arbiter Katherine Bishop and her deputy, Lonesome Cooper. They’ve got some questions for you if you’re up to it.”

“I keep telling you I’m not nearly as dead as I look,” Hawkins said with a wry smile. “Yeah, I’ll answer some questions. It’s not like I’m going anywhere just now.”

“I’ll leave you to it, then.”

Once Wilcott was gone Lonesome found a corner to lean against, and.Katherine pulled a chair up beside the bed. She sat with it reversed, her arms resting on the back.  “Walter Hawkins, was it?” she asked. “That was a hell of a thing you lived through.”

Hawkins’ mouth twitched just a little. “No need to remind me of that fact, Arbiter Bishop.”

“I’ll likely ask you a lot of the same questions as Wilcott, but humor me. It’s always easier to hear it first hand than have someone repeat it to you.”

“Don’t worry about that, ma’am, I don’t mind.”

“Right then. You were on the train with the rest of you men, all in one car? And you had the lockbox there with you?”

“That’s right.”

“Did you see anything before the train derailed?”

“No ma’am, I was looking in the wrong direction. First thing I knew we were in trouble was when the brakes kicked in. Then there was a thunderous roar… that would’ve been the dynamite, I expect. Then the train car was flying through the air. I blacked out somewhere in there. When I came to it was all over the place.”

“I hear you weren’t the only one to make it through that alive.”

“Yeah, that’s right. One of Clemens’ men… I don’t even know his name.”

“Clemens?” Katherine interrupted curiously.

“Clemens and his boys were the ones that loaded the box onto the train. Me and mine were supposed to provide security.” Katherine made a mental note of that, then nodded for Hawkins to continue. “So we woke up and found each other. Checked the rest to see if they were alive, but it was just us. So we both grabbed the lockbox and started dragging it away. Figured they’d be looking for it.”

“And what happened to Clemens’ man?”

“He decided he wanted to be a big damn hero. We knew we weren’t going to get far, so he told me to hide. Good thing I did, ‘cause one of the bandits caught up with him pretty quick after that. I don’t mind saying I feel ashamed for hiding while he died.”

“No need to feel guilty just for living,” Katherine told him sternly. “With you alive we’ve got a better chance of seeing justice done. Now this bandit – was there just one?”

“I saw three altogether. The one who did the shooting and two others who showed up to carry the lockbox.”

“Did they say anything you could hear? Anything that might help us track them down?”

“I caught some names, yeah. Clayton, Slim, and… Morgan, I think. From the way they talked I gather there were more, but I never saw them. Didn’t say where they were going, either, just that they were taking the box back to their boss.”

“And you’d know ‘em if you saw ‘em again?”


“Good,” Katherine stood up and looked down at Hawkins. “Just one more question, then. What was in the box?”

“Damned if I know, ma’am, and I wish I knew.”

Katherine had practice with looking men in the eyes and knowing if they were lying. It helped quite a bit in poker games, too. What she saw in Hawkins’ eyes was nothing short of the truth. “Thank you, Walter. If we think of anything else before we go we’ll come asking.”

“Hold on,” Hawkins groaned as she turned to leave. “You’re going after them, aren’t you?”

“Of course we are,” she assured him. “It’s why I’m here.”

“Then I’m coming with you.” He stood from the bed and swayed a little, his expression trying hard to mask a grimace of pain.

“Son,” Katherine said with a hint of exasperation, “that’s an admirable notion. But you can hardly stand. No way you can ride a horse.”

“I’ve got to come with you,” he insisted. “That lockbox is my responsibility. Those bandits killed men I was honored to call friends to get it. They damn near killed me to get it. Make no mistake, I’m going after it. Going after them. You can leave me here, but I’ll come looking anyway. So you may as well just take me along.”

Katherine folder her arms stubbornly. “I’m not going to drag you out spirits know where so you can keel over and die on me.”

“I won’t be the last Haversham & Black employee to come looking,” he warned. “They’ve probably already sent more out this way.”

“Yeah,” Katherine allowed. “So?”

“So they’re going to tear this prairie apart until they find it, Arbiters be damned,” Hawkins insisted. “If they know one of their own is already chasing it down they’ll be more willing to take it slow. You want to save your territory some chaos you’ll bring me with you.”

“As convincing as that might be,” she said slowly, “It doesn’t change the fact that you’d fall over if I so much as blew you a kiss, Mister Hawkins. I can’t take you.”

From his comfortable corner, Lonesome cleared his throat noisily. “As much as I’d like for you to do just that, out of academic curiosity, I think we can avoid that particular demonstration.”

“Hmm,” Katherine mused. “I didn’t want to volunteer your services, but if you think you’re up for it I suppose I wouldn’t be against you giving it a try.”

“I think he’s got a point,” Lonesome told her. “He can identify three of the bandits, and he might calm H&B’s fire. I’ll give it a go.”

“I’m sorry,” Hawkins interrupted, “I think I’ve missed something.”

“Lonesome here is a Spirit Talker,” Katherine explained. “So if the spirits like you and he says the right things he just might get them to fix you up a bit ahead of schedule. But I’ll warn you right now. Healing like that hurts so much you’d think think there were a million righteously pissed off fire ants crawling all around inside of you. Up to you, though. Have Lonesome work his painful magic, or stay here.”

“A Spirit Talker?” Hawkins looked at Lonesome anew. He knew a few of the Spirit Talkers that worked for Haversham & Black back on the coast. “Which school?”

“No school.”

“Oh,” that made him a little more nervous. “You’re a Free Tongue, then. Self taught?”

“If that’s what they’re calling us these days,” Lonesome smiled a little. “And it doesn’t quite count as self taught if the spirits are the ones doing the teaching, now does it?”

“Either way,” Katherine told Hawkins, “You’ve got a choice to make. Yes or no?”

Hawkins pressed his lips together in thought. “Yes,” he said. “Yes. Do it.”

“Alright then,” Lonesome told him. “You just lie back down then. And just so you know, once I start I can’t stop until it’s done. So no matter how much you yell and shout, it ain’t gonna stop. Kat? You might want to poke your head out and let the fellas know we’re not murdering him in here.”

“You weren’t kidding then, were you?” Hawkins asked as he lay back down.


“Shit. I was really hoping that was just a scare tactic.”

“Change your mind any?”

“No. Let’s just… get it done.”

Lonesome chuckled and took hold of one of his charms. “I think I like you, Mister Hawkins.”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *