Chapter 3: Bumps In The Night
Chris stepped out of the saloon, still disturbed by his conversation with the deputy. As a peacekeeper himself, he could understand the deputy's concern, as well as the Sheriff's, but something about the questions he was asking just didn't sit well.
Looking up and down the street, he spotted the sheriff leaning against a post outside the jail. The man's eyes were locked on Larabee and he gave the gunslinger a slow nod of acknowledgement. Narrowing his eyes slightly, Chris returned the acknowledgement. Something was definitely not right in Dry Gulch. Hopefully, whatever it was would hold off until they left.
Glancing at the hotel, his brow furrowed as he realized their rooms were dark. Vin was supposed to be in there. Taking a harder look at the windows, he was unable to make out any forms.
Worry began to tickle at the back of his neck as he started across the street. Had something happened? Did someone know what they were carrying? Had Vin let someone in he shouldn't have?
Entering the hotel, Chris nodded to the clerk as he headed for the stairs. At the landing, he paused to pull his gun. Peering up the second half of the flight, he saw nothing suspicious. Slowly climbing the remaining stairs, he paused on the last one, scanning the hallway. There was no sign of anyone; nothing seemed amiss.
Carefully walking to their door, he leaned close and listened for sounds within. After several moments of hearing nothing, he withdrew his key and inserted it in the lock. Turning it, he winced at the sound of metal on metal and the tumblers falling. Pushing the door open slowly, he scanned the room, looking for anything out of the ordinary. The problem was, without light, he couldn't see much.
Taking a deep breath, he stepped into the room and froze at the feel of cold metal on his temple.
"Plannin' on shootin' me, Cowboy?" Vin asked in his lazy drawl, his smile evident in his voice.
Releasing the breath he'd held, Chris turned to see the gleaming smile and amused twinkle in his friend's eyes. Scowling at the Tracker, he hissed, "Are you trying to get yourself killed?"
Vin stepped back and re-holstered his gun, his smile slightly tempered by Larabee's reaction. With a shrug he said, "Knew it was you. Watched ya from when you stepped out o' the Saloon. You really shouldn't go sneakin' around like that. Someone might get the wrong idea."
Relieved to find out Vin was alright, Chris felt a little embarrassed by his actions. "And you shouldn't sit up here with all the lights out. Someone might have gotten a different wrong idea," he chastised. Chris saw that his words his home and read the apology in the blue eyes.
"Sorry 'bout that," Vin replied contritely. "Just easier to keep my eye on what's going on in the road if the lights are out. That and if there's no light in here no one can see in."
Chris relaxed an nodded his agreement. Vin did have a point. It had probably been the smart thing to do. Turning and retrieving his key, Chris stepped into the room, closing and locking the door behind him. Turning he blinked a few times as the sudden flare of a match startled him.
"You gonna put yer gun away?" Vin asked idly, adjusting the wick of the oil lamp.
Glancing down at his hand, Chris smiled slightly and re-holstered his weapon. He'd forgotten about it there. He paused to wonder what that said about him when he was so used to the feel of his gun in his hand he didn't even notice it anymore. Shaking off those thoughts, he glanced up to see Vin settling in a chair by the window.
"Gonna tell me what the sheriff and deputy are up to?" Vin asked.
"What do you mean?" Chris asked, puzzled. When Vin nodded at the window, Chris wandered over and glanced down toward the jail to see the deputy and sheriff in a deep conversation. The two men then watched as the deputy nodded and headed down the street, turning in at the telegraph office.
Looking up at the man in black, Vin's eyes were serious. "Something happen I should know about?"
Chris thought about his and Ezra's conversation with the deputy in the saloon. It had seemed honest enough on the surface, but the unease he'd felt in the saloon returned. Taking the seat opposite Vin, Chris settled down and related the meeting with the deputy at dinner.
Vin shifted in his chair as he thought about the conversation. It seemed like a normal enough series of events. He even had to admit that if he had seen the three of them riding into town, he would have checked it out as well. Hell, he had checked out similar situations before in Four Corners on several occasions. Still, the attention did seem a little out of proportion to what they had done in town. "He say why he needed to know all that?"
Chris shook his head. "Nope.."
Vin smiled slightly. "Bet you explained there wouldn't be no trouble."
Chris smiled back. "Yep." Then growing more serious, he leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees. "He was persistent about it. Told him we weren't looking for trouble and would be gone in the morning. He stopped asking us, but kept a close eyes on us until Ezra got into one of the games and I left to come here."
Vin nodded. "Then straight back to the sheriff to report in." Vin allowed his gaze to wander out the window and settle on the form of the sheriff who was still outside the jail, leaning against a post and smoking a cigarette. "You know anything about the sheriff here?"
Chris, who had been watching down the other side of the road, looked at Vin, understanding what he was really asking. "Nope. But I bet Ezra's getting an earful."
Vin met Chris' eyes. Neither man was laughing now. Something wasn't right in the town of Dry Gulch. Standing Chris moved to one of the windows overlooking the alley while Vin resumed his perusal of the main street.
The silence in the room had become a living thing between the two men standing guard. Thus it came as a shock to the man in black when he friend announced, "Deputy got some responses."
Turning at the sound of the soft voice, Chris quickly made his way to the window overlooking the main street. Sure enough The sheriff stood there with several sheets of paper in his hand reading. Neither man watching could see his face, but after a few minutes, he handed the papers back to the deputy who quickly headed off to put them in a watch-fire.
Chris and Vin then watched as the sheriff resumed his position leaning against the post. This time, however, he was facing toward the hotel and smiling up at the room the three peacekeepers were sharing.
Backing away from the window, Chris and Vin exchanged a look. "I'll go get Ezra," Chris said. He didn't know what was up, but knew he wanted the three of them together.
Vin nodded and moved back toward the window to keep watch as Chris and Ezra moved around town. He waited as Chris left the hotel, nodding politely to the sheriff before crossing over to the saloon. A few minutes later, the gunslinger re-emerged with Ezra. The two men strolled back, making a show of looking relaxed. As Ezra and Chris entered the hotel, Vin witnessed a shadow slide up close to the sheriff. The sheriff nodded and then moved off into the darkness with whomever had approached.
This couldn't be good.
A few moments later a brief knock sounded on the door before a key turned in the lock. Vin kept his mare's leg aimed level until he assured himself Chris and Ezra were alone. Replacing the gun, Vin looked expectantly at the duo. At Chris' unspoken signal, he stepped away from the window and joined the others closer to the center of the room forming a loose circle.
"I understand you gentlemen have some concerns," Ezra said, his face revealing nothing, but his eyes showing his own suspicions.
"Could say that," Chris replied. "Just after I left the saloon the deputy reported to the sheriff who sent out some wires. They got the answers back just before I came to get you."
"Someone came and got the sheriff when you were comin' up," Vin supplied.
"Who?" Larabee demanded.
Vin shook his head. "Too dark. Couldn't see."
Chris felt his lips compress in concern. This wasn't good. Looking at the gambler, he read the concern in those eyes as well. "What did you find out, Ezra?"
Ezra glanced down at his hands as he straightened his cuffs, wishing he had more to share. Finally, taking a deep breath, he looked up into the two sets of expectant eyes. "I have little to report," he admitted softly. He read the disappointment, but continued with what he had. "Apparently Sheriff Johnson has been here for quite a while and is looking forward to retirement. He has been an honest sheriff, but some wonder how he will live after he retires since the job doesn't pay that much. The deputy, it appears, is enamored of a young woman in the saloon. He has recently made promises that they would be 'set up for life' if she would just wait a little longer."
Vin cursed softly. "I don't like it," he said aloud.
"Me neither," Chris added. Then looking up at his young friend, Chris felt his gut clench as the next thought entered his mind. Glancing over at Ezra he saw the Southerner shake his head.
"I thought of that too, Mr. Larabee," he assured. "But the sum under discussion appeared to be far greater."
Vin froze and then looked at his friends accusingly. "Deputy never saw me. Ain't no way he'd o' known who I was." Seeing something else in his friends' eyes he added, "Liveryman didn't recognize me neither and didn't see that clerk fella long enough for him to see me. Y'all act like I ain't been doing this for years."
Looking slightly abashed, Chris allowed a small smile. "Just lookin' out for you Vin," he assured.
Vin looked from one man to the other and allowed a grateful gleam to show in his eyes. "And I 'preciate that," he replied, making sure both men knew he was talking to them. Then, turning serious once more. "I reckon there's only two sources of money large enough to set up a man for life in this town," he observed, "and that sheriff should only know but one."
"The bank," Chris agreed nodding.
"But you mentioned that there were telegrams going out," Ezra interjected. Seeing Vin nod, he leaned forward slightly. "Then is it not possible that someone has revealed the contents of our package to the local constabulary?"
Chris looked down at his fisted hands, his face tense. "I don't like it," he said.
"I say we leave soon as dawn comes," Vin offered.
Larabee nodded and glanced at Ezra, seeing agreement in the man's face. He too felt the urgent need to leave this town behind them, but knew leaving that early might only draw more suspicion and attention to them. Those were things they desperately needed to avoid. Uncomfortable with the decision, but not having anything solid to go on to overturn it, Chris made his decision. "We stay the night. Get an early breakfast and then head out." Looking up he saw the protest on both faces and held up his hand. "I know," he assured. "I'm not real comfortable with it either, but I don't see that we have a choice. We don't have any proof against the deputy and sheriff and we can't afford to draw attention to ourselves by leaving early. Tonight we'll stick with our watches."
"I don't like it," Vin echoed everyone's thoughts, his unease palpable to the others.
"I concur," Ezra agreed, pulling out his deck of cards as he settled at the small table in the room.
Chris sighed and stood. "Get some rest, Vin," he ordered as he headed toward one of the bedrooms. He waited until the Texan stood and headed toward the other. Swinging his eyes over toward the conman, Chris advised, "Stay sharp, Ezra." He then disappeared into his room to get some rest.
Several hours later, in the deepest part of the night, an intermittent orange glow flared by one of the windows. The only other light source came from the silver glow of the night sky. A shadow, slightly deeper than those around it startled and shifted slightly at an unusual sound. If he didn't know better Chris Larabee would have sworn it was the sound of a muffled gunshot.
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