Authors: Tabor Evans
Caught in the act of rising, the Webley in hand, McGuire was slammed back into his chair by the impact of Longarm's .45 slugs. The first took him in the belly. A second bullet tore his throat out.
“Oh, shit,” Longarm mumbled, glancing quickly around. There was no other door, and at least three of McGuire's men were in that outer office.
He snatched out from behind his belt the revolver he had taken from the bodyguard, and looked at it. The snub-nose was small and compact, but it was a mean little thing, .38 caliber and fully loaded with six rounds.
Longarm stepped around behind McGuire's desk and appropriated his .455 caliber to go with the other two guns. If all three of them charged the office he wanted all the firepower he could manage.
And if he had to shoot his way out of this office, he wanted firepower more than ever. A shotgun loaded with buckshot would have been nice.
He just hoped those men out there did not have any shotguns close to hand themselves.
Longarm pushed his own Colt into its leather and knelt beside Big Tim McGuire's lifeless corpse. He did not have long to wait. The door was flung open and the bodyguard came rushing in.
Longarm drilled the man in the chest with the .455. The bodyguard stopped, looked down at the hole in his shirtÂ .Â .Â . and toppled face forward onto the floor. Longarm only then noticed that the man's hands were empty. He had been coming to his boss's assistance, but with his fists rather than a gun.
One down andÂ .Â .Â .
No one else charged the smoke-filled room. Longarm waited a minute or so, then carefullyâ
carefullyâapproached the doorway.
The outer office was empty. The two shakedown boys had gone.
He was halfway down the stairs when a herd of local cops wearing their blue and brass came rushing in. The two goons were close behind them.
“That's him, Bobby. That's the son of a bitch. Him and Big Tim was in the office alone. We heard shooting. Now he's standing here and TimÂ .Â .Â . where is Big Tim, eh? I ask you that. Where is the boss if he's here not even hurt a little bit?”
“Put your hands high, mister. Don't even think about reaching for one of those guns you're carrying,” the cop in the lead shouted. “Touch a gun and we'll all drill you.”
Which would have been a spectacular feat, Longarm thought, since the cops were carrying batons, but not a one of them had a firearm in his hands.
Still, he did the sensible thing. He raised his hands. After all, he did not have any desire to shoot down half the local police population. More importantly, he did not want to be shot down by them if or when they got around to dragging iron.
“Go easy, boys. I was just defending myself,” he shouted. “There's no need for anybody to get testy here.”
The cops came swarming up the stairs. The one in the lead snatched the pistols from him, his own Colt plus the .455 and the .38 that he still had stuffed behind his belt.
“Turn around, damn you,” the cop shouted.
Longarm turned around.
“Hands behind you, mister.”
He felt the steel of the handcuffs that the policeman snapped around his wrists. And none too gently either.
“Can I tell youÂ .Â .Â . ,” Longarm began, only to be cut short by a curt “Shut the fuck up” and a jerk on the handcuffs. So he shut the fuck up.
The lead cop shoved him over to the side of the staircase while the rest of the herd thundered past on their way up to the landing and into Big Tim McGuire's offices.
That inspection took only a moment before one of them rushed back with the news. “They're dead, Bobby. Everybody in there is dead. There's blood all over the damn place. That son of a bitch murdered them.”
“You bastard!” Bobby snarled. The cop tried to smash his nightstick into the small of Longarm's back, aiming for the kidneys, but Longarm's chained wrists got in the way.
Even so, the pain drove Longarm to his knees, and he worried that perhaps his right wrist had been broken.
“Son of a bitch,” the cop barked and struck with the nightstick again.
Longarm considered turning around and knocking the dumb bastard down the flight of stairs. With luck he would break his miserable neck.
But that would only make matters worse, dammit. Very reluctantly he held his tongue. But it was not easy.
More of the cops came down the stairs. They grabbed Longarm by the arms, turned him around, and hustled him down to the ground floor. They were not very gentle about it, but at least they did not push him down the stairs. He supposed he should be grateful for that.
“Outside,” one of them ordered. Not that he had any choice about complying. The bunch of them duckwalked him out the door.
A Black Maria was just pulling up to the front of the building with more cops in it. They must have the entire police force on hand, Longarm thought.
The driver's helper jumped down and opened wide the doors at the back of the prisoner wagon.
“Get in,” a voice behind him snapped.
The police very helpfully assisted him in climbing into the Maria. They were so very helpful that he hit the floor hard and skidded all the way to the front of the wagon, the breath knocked out of him and perhaps some bruises added to the others he'd recently collected.
The doors slammed shut. He heard the rattle of locks and then felt the wagon box sway as the helper climbed back onto the driving seat. He heard the driver call to his team. Felt the outfit lurch into motion.
Longarm did not know where they were going, but he hoped it was someplace reasonably within the public view and not to some convenient killing ground. Such things were not entirely unheard of. He could handle a beating if he had to. After all, he was no virgin when it came to such. But a bullet in the back of the head would be a little harder to deal with.
“Whoa,” he heard the driver call after a very short journey on the streets of Fort Collins.
Then the doors were flung open and Custis Long was dragged bodily out of the Maria.
Longarm woke up. He wished he hadn't.
If there was a place on his body that did not hurt, he could not identify it.
He had been kicked and pummeled and thoroughly beaten. He had been hit with nightsticks, fists, and boots. His balls ached, and his eyes were swollen closed to mere slits. Hell, his hair hurt! It had been, he had to admit, a first-class beating.
The good thing was that he had not been there for much of it. Repeated blows to the head had put his lights out fairly early in the game.
Now he wished he could fall unconscious again until, say, next Thursday or so. Jesus, he hurt.
He heard a grinding of metal on metal and the clang of a cell door being opened.
“All right, you. Out,” a voice growled.
Longarm lay still. Actually he was not sure he
move, was not sure if important parts had been broken by the beating.
He tried to open his eyes, but the best he could manage was a hazy image of light and dark.
“Out, I said.”
He felt the toe of a boot in his ribs. Better there than his balls, he reasoned with himself. One of them had been fond of kicking the balls, and a man who is handcuffed and thrown on the floor can do little to protect those important parts.
“Up, damn you.”
He tried. This time he did try to get up. He got as far as his knees, but that was the best he could manage. And that pissed him off. The thought that the son of a bitch jailer might think Custis Long was kneeling to him was too much.
That galvanized him into motion and brought him the rest of the way onto his feet.
He was swaying and unsteady but at least he was upright. The bastards were not going to see him on his knees, damn them.
“All right. This way. Chief wants to see you, God knows why.” The jailer smirked and said, “We'll give you a quick trial, mister, and you'll hang before the end of the week.”
Longarm's tongue felt thickâsurely they hadn't beaten on that too, he thoughtâand his jaw ached abominably, but on the third try he got some words out. “Fuck you.”
He felt a nightstick thud into his lower back. The impact nearly knocked him down again, but he managed to stay upright. He did not want to give these people any satisfaction.
But, oh, unconsciousness had been pleasant. It would be good to go back there again, he was thinking. Just to sort ofÂ .Â .Â . fade away and feel nothing.
“Go along now. The chief is waiting.”
It took some effort, but he put one foot in front of the other. And then again. And again. Right. Walking. That was how you do it, he remembered.
Longarm could not see where he was walking. He could see light and shadow, not much more.
“In there. No, asshole, to your right. Your right, damn you.”
Right. Which way wasÂ .Â .Â . oh, yeah. The right. He remembered now. He turned to his right, saw brighter light, which suggested an open door, and headed toward it.
He stopped when he bumped up against something that turned out to be the police chief's desk.
He heard the sounds of someone speaking, but at the moment he was concentrating on getting his eyes open a little so that he could see whatâand whoâwas there.
Ah. A man. Civilian suit and tie. Iron-gray hair and mustache. Must be the chief, Longarm assumed.
“.Â .Â . wanton murder of two of our finest,” the chief was saying. “The charges will be first degreeÂ .Â .Â . What is it, Charles? Don't you know better than to interrupt when I am interrogating a prisoner?”
Interrogating, the man had said, although Longarm did not recall having been asked anything.
Another man, this one wearing a blue uniform, came around behind the desk and whispered into the chief's ear.
“Jesus!” the boss blurted. “I didn't know that. This could be trouble. Big trouble. Get out. Give me a minute to think about this, please.”
The policeman hurried away, and Longarm was left standing alone in front of the chief's big desk.
Surely, he thought, this could not get any worse.
Longarm braced himself for what he feared was about to come. Instead the police chief barked, “Wilson, get the man out of those handcuffs. Barney, bring him a chair. That's right. Set him down easy. Somebody get him some water. Or coffee. Would you like a cup of coffee, Marshal?”
That explained it, Longarm thought. They had taken away his wallet. It seemed someone had bothered to look inside. Probably the son of a bitch opened the wallet thinking to steal whatever money was in it. Instead he'd found the badge.
“Here, Marshal. Here's a cup of water for you. Steady. Don't spillÂ .Â .Â . Help the man, Barney. Help him get a drink there. A drink. Yes. Uh, would you like a little whiskey to, um, brace you up?”
Longarm nodded. He did not feel up to speaking yet, but a nod would do. So would a jolt of whiskey.
The chief fumbled inside his desk drawer and brought out a pint bottle. He pulled the cork and poured a generous measure into the tin cup of water that one of the coppers was holding for him.
The cop held it to Longarm's mouth and tipped some of the watered down whiskey past his lips.
It burned like fire when it hit some previously unsuspected cuts inside his mouthâobviously caused by his own damn teeth when one of the policemen hit him in the mouthâbut the warmth spread in his belly once it got down that far.
He nodded his thanks and took a deep breath. The whiskey helped.
“We, umÂ .Â .Â . I apologize for my men, Marshal. They may have gotten a little carried away when they thoughtÂ .Â .Â . uh, you know what they thought.”
Longarm nodded again.
“After all, two upstanding citizens of this communityÂ .Â .Â . leading citizensÂ .Â .Â . I might even say.” The chief stammered.
“An' you,” Longarm managed to get out, “were in that asshole McGuire's pocket.”
“No, IÂ .Â .Â . Certainly not. Absolutely not,” the police chief swore.
The man was a liar, of course. Longarm understood that. He also understood that the chief was not likely to admit that to someone else, especially not to a sworn officer of the law. Well, not unless that other someone was also on the take.
“They were just being zealous. No one in this department would doÂ .Â .Â . um, would do anything outside the, uh, outside the law.” The police chief was sweating. He acted like his collar was two sizes too small and choking him. He kept running a finger inside it and swallowing.
“You're a fucking liar.”
Longarm was not exactly sure if he had said those words out loud or if he'd merely thought them.
Things seemed to go dark. His eyes dimmed, and all the sounds around him faded away until there was nothing left.
He felt himself begin to topple over to the side.
He did not feel himself hit the floor.
“Where am I?” His voice came out as a hoarse croak, but at least he was able to speak. Well, able to whisper anyway.
He felt something stir beside him, and then a woman's voice said, “You passed out. They brought you here.”
“WhereÂ .Â .Â . ,” he paused to swallow, which was something not easily done, “.Â .Â . is here?”
“Belina's CafÃ©,” the voice returned. “We're in the back room. That's where I sleep.”
“An' whoÂ .Â .Â . ,” he had to swallow again,”Â .Â .Â . are you?”
“I'm Belina Jenkins. This is my place.”
“Ah. Thanks. How'd I get here?”
“They carried you here.”
“The police. They said you fell down. That's what they always say.”
Longarm grunted. He tried to get up, but that was not going to happen. He tried to roll over onto his side. That did not work either. “How'd they know?”
“To bring you here? They knew this was where Tim McGuire's people ran into you. The police always stand watch when McGuire's men are up to something rotten.”
“Nice arrangement,” Longarm said.
“Convenient,” Belina Jenkins agreed. “Can I get you something? You look like you are in pain. I don't have any laudanum, but I do have some powders for,” she giggled, “for ladies' disorders.”
That brought a smile to his lips. The distortion of his mouth caused some of the little cuts to pull and crack, and it hurt like hell. Even so, it was nice to be able to smile again. “Reckon I'll pass on your powders for ladies then,” he said.
“Come morning I can run get you some laudanum,” she offered.
“We'll see 'bout that in the morning.”
“Close your eyes now. Go back to sleep. It is the best thing for you.” She hesitated, then added, “I hope you don't mind if I lie here beside you. This is the only bed I have, andÂ .Â .Â .”
“You don't have t' explain nothing. I'm the guest here, not you. I just thank you for helpin' like you are.”
“Fine. Hush now. Sleep.”
Longarm was not sure, but he thought he felt the light brush of a hand over his sweaty forehead.
He closed his eyes and was almost instantly asleep.