Sooner Murder

Beau Clayton left behind the job of a lawyer with the family firm to head out west and bring books to the gold miners and their families.

He set up in Eureka Gulch, planning to convince the booming gold-mining town to support a library. Helping expose corruption hadn’t been part of the plan.

Now the new sheriff wants his help solving a murder — when he would rather enjoy a picnic or a good book.

Beau Clayton, first appearing in Two for Death returns for another mystery for lovers of books and westerns.

🔍

The quiet on the hill was very welcome. No shouts of whiskey-drunk miners. No pounding hammers. None of the frenzy of Eureka Gulch as thousands gripped by gold fever filled the region. Here, above it all, one got a sense of the idyllic peacefulness of this region.

Beauregard Clayton’s gaze fell not on the rolling green hills and forests, but on his companion for this picnic. Ms. Emily Collins, sitting smartly in her plain blue dress, her motions as she unpacked the picnic basket, graceful. She carried grace about her, this daughter of the town doctor. And sharp wits. He was, without a doubt, quite besotted over her.

Their horses moved slowly away across the hillside, chomping at the plentiful grass.

“It is really lovely up here, isn’t it?” Ms. Collins unwrapped tins of roasted chicken, potatoes and even a carefully packed mason jar with gravy. There were even fresh golden biscuits.

Easily the most perfect day since he had come in on Mr. Gerlick’s pack train with his books to set up a public library. And get away from a future spent working in his father’s law offices. The population in Eureka Gulch continued to swell with miners and merchants, all anticipating the opening of the south half of the Colville reservation for mineral speculation. New buildings went up daily. Thousands of men, “sooners” spotted claims in the south half in anticipation of the day. The sounds of hammering never stopped and the Prohibition Party was drowned out beneath a sea of spirits that spewed from the numerous drinking establishments in the new town.

With all the commotion, this chance to get away with Ms. Collins above the noise and dirt was most welcome. He had worn his least dusty suit and bowler hat for the occasion and still, he knew, looked a bit of a mess. He was grateful for the company, and the food. As yet the town leaders had not agreed to fund his library. His own funds, mostly spent on his books, were dwindling. If things continued this way he would either have to stake out his own claim or pack up the whole idea of a library. He might try selling the books, but he’d likely have more luck with that in Deer Park or even back in Spokane. If it came to that, he might as well return to practicing law. If his father would even let him return to the practice.

“Mr. Clayton?”

That was the second question that Ms. Collins had asked. Beau took his hat from his head and ran his fingers back through his hair. “Excuse me, Ms. Collins. I’m afraid you’ve caught me drifting away in thought. There will be no more of that! I’m here, and yes, it is lovely. I was just thinking of how nice it is to get away from the town.”

“It is quite busy,” Ms. Collins said. She handed him a tin plate and fork. “Please, dig in. I know how men like to eat.”

“I do appreciate this, Ms. Collins. I haven’t had a decent meal in weeks!” He helped himself to a chicken leg, and a big piece of breast meat, piled on potatoes, poured the thick brown gravy across and added a couple biscuits. More food than he usually ate in a couple days.

Ms. Collins added food to her own plate as well.

The rich aromas added to the perfection of the day. The chicken was favored with rosemary and delicious. A rare treat that even pulled his attention from his companion. He had finished the leg and one of the biscuits before he looked up and caught Ms. Collins’ bright smile. Her eyes sparkled with delight.

She laughed sweetly. “Don’t stop on my account!”

Beau was about to answer when the sound of hooves rapidly approaching caught both of their attentions. Their horses heads came up. Beau’s gelding snorted and snapped his tail.

“Who could that be?” Ms. Collins said.

Beau stood up and faced south, down the slope where a cloud of dust was kicked up by the rider’s horse. Whoever it was, they were riding the horse hard. The rider corrected its path to bring it straight on at Beau. Ms. Collins gathered herself to her feet and stood beside him. She took his arm in her hands. Beau pressed his hand briefly to hers and smiled, what he hoped was a reassuring smile even as his stomach tightened.

He didn’t carry a gun. He had never fired a gun in his life, so even if he had one it would prove of little use.

“We’ll see what he wants soon enough. Do you recognize him?” Beau said.

“I don’t.”

He didn’t either. At this distance, the man’s features were indistinct and shaded somewhat by the broad brim of his hat. A bushy beard and mustache further shrouded his features. He wore a plain shirt, dark pants with suspenders. Beyond that, there wasn’t much to see at this distance. He could have been any of hundreds of men in the camp working the north half mines, or planning to spot his own in the south half. As far as the man’s horse, it was dark colored with a blaze of white down its forehead.

“Stay here,” Beau said. He patted Emily’s hand again and stepped forward, not content to wait for the rider to reach them. It was clear by this point the rider was coming for them, for whatever purpose there was in it.

Tall grass brushed against Beau’s legs. It didn’t take long before the rider reined in his horse to a stop in front of Beau. Dry dust blew around them in a slow-moving cloud that tickled Beau’s nose.

“You’re the library fellow, right?” The man asked.

Up close the fellow had the rough look of many of the men, hollow-eyed and thin with dirt ground into his pores. His horse was out-fitted for the rough country with bags and a rifle.

Beau touched his hat. “Beauregard Clayton, friend. I run the library.”

The man grunted. “Jack Little. Sheriff Mullins sent me out to find you.”

“The sheriff? What for?”

“What’s this about Mr. Little?” Emily asked.

The man touched his hat. “Ms. Collins. Sorry to interrupt your afternoon. The sheriff wants to see you, Mr. Clayton. He wants you to take a look at something.”

“This whole business sounds odd to me,” Beau objected. “What is this all about?”

“There’s been a murder.”

Emily made a noise. “A murder? Where?”

“In the south half, miss. An Indian has been killed, they’s claiming a sooner did it, and the sheriff wants Mr. Clayton here to look at the body.”

“Me? Why I’d think that Ms. Collins’ father, Dr. Collins, would have more business looking at the body than a librarian.”

Jack Little grinned, which wasn’t a pretty sight given he was missing more than one tooth and those that remained were yellowed and stained. “Ask me, I don’t see the fuss.”

“Over a man dying?”

Little spit into the dirt. “Happens. Men go scratching underground they die too. That sheriff, he doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing out here. He heard that you had something to do with that business with the old marshal, guess he thought you might be useful. You coming or not?”

Sheriff Mullins was a young man. Unmarried. Came up on Gerlick’s pack train a few weeks back. He’d been deputy down in Spokane, if Beau remembered correctly, before coming out to take over as sheriff. New to the job, he probably wanted advice.

Beau turned around to Emily. She was standing, lips pressed together in a bit of a smile. She inclined her head. “A man has died, Mr. Clayton. If the sheriff believes you would be of assistance, than we’d better go, hadn’t we?”

“If you’re coming, let’s get on with it,” Little said. “I get paid the other half when we get there and I want to get on over to the boarding house before dark. Told my brother I’d meet up with him there.”

With that last Little leered at Ms. Collins. She turned away, color riding up in her cheeks. Beau took a step closer to Little’s horse. Little’s head snapped around, his dark eyes as fixed as a hawk.

“Don’t do anything stupid, mister,” Little said. “Get your things and we’ll go.”

Emily was already gathering up their interrupted picnic. Beau clenched and unclenched his fists, then went to help.

🔍

The dead man wasn’t far south of Eureka Gulch, but Beau wouldn’t have found the place on his own. Little led him up into the rocky hills above the Sanpoil river, following the bed of a small stream that trickled down through the rocks. The hill was steep enough that they had to dismount and lead the horses.

Beau’s legs burned with the effort and already ached from the day’s riding. He hadn’t ridden much since coming north. He was thankful, at least, that Emily had agreed to stay in the town rather than follow them on out to the site of the crime. She was strong, but the terrain in the south half was much more rugged than that in the north. It wasn’t hard to see why the reservation was split, leaving the Indians with this challenging land, as unfair as that was to those people. First the north half was opened for settlement and now there were men all throughout this part of the reservation lands spotting claims. What was going to be left for the Indians when they were done digging out the gold?

Little pointed up the slope. “Just over that ridge there.”

Beau didn’t have breath to comment. The ridge was up a particularly steep portion of hillside covered with loose pine needles and rocks that slipped away beneath his feet. His horse snorted and turned away across the hillside. Beau almost fell, but for his grip on the reins. The horse pulled back with his eyes wide and nostrils flaring.

Beau moved close to the horse and patted its neck. He ran his hand along the strong muscles. “Shh, boy. It’s okay. Okay.”

Meanwhile Little had led his uncomplaining horse around them and tackled the treacherous slope at an angle, working his way across and up to the ridge rather than trying to go straight up. Beau brought the his horse’s head around and followed. Apparently seeing the other horse ahead settled his horse’s nerves and there was no more trouble as they climbed up to the ridge.

Even so, by the time they reached the top, Beau’s legs and lungs burned. The air, clean and fresh with the sun-warmed scent of pines, did nothing to sooth his lungs. He would have liked to rest except Little was continuing on and there were other men visible now, just down the way where the ridge dropped down slightly. Three of them, with horses. Two were sitting on boulders near the horses, until they saw Little and Beau approaching and came to their feet.

Indians. They weren’t dressed that differently than the men in town, in worn clothes, dirty and as unwashed as any other man. Their faces were dark, expressions shrouded. The one on the right was older and wore a battered wide-brim hat. The younger man at his side had a bare head with dark hair that caught the sunlight.

Beau pulled off his hat and took out his handkerchief to mop at the sweat gathered on his brow. The air was growing warmer by the hour with not a single cloud visible in the blue sky above the trees.

The man that came forward to meet them was sheriff Mullins. He was young, with straw-colored hair and deep blue eyes that skipped past Little to fix on Beau. A long mustache covered his top lip, but his chin was beardless and recently shaved. His clothes were in good condition, dusty from the ride out, but well-cut. He wore a wide-brim hat that further shaded those dark, penetrating eyes. Young or not, Mullins gave the impression of a capable man.

Little stopped near Mullins, and said something that Beau couldn’t hear. The sheriff gestured to where the two Indians stood.

“Mr. Clayton?” The sheriff called.

Beau approached, feeling the weight of the other men watching him. He extended his hand. The sheriff shook, his grip tight and palm rough. Clearly the sheriff was accustomed to hard work.

“What can I do for you, Sheriff?”

Little moved off to the side, not near the Indians, standing on his own with his horse.

“We’ve got a dead man, and I’d like to get your opinion on the circumstances.”

“I’m not a doctor. I don’t have any medical training. I’m not clear why you’d like my opinion.”

Mullins looked hard at Beau and spoke in a low voice. “These two say that a white man killed their friend. Maybe a sooner. I don’t see that as likely.”

“That a white man would kill an Indian?”

Mullins ignored the question. “You’re an educated man, Mr. Clayton. You’ve got your library, your books. Mr. Creasor and others have told me about that business with the demon horse. I want a clear mind looking at this.”

It didn’t sound like a good situation, but Beau’s curiosity was piqued. Unlike the sheriff, he didn’t have any trouble imagining that a white man might have killed an Indian. Men like that had rounded up the various tribes and stuffed them onto the reservation, and now were opening up the south half for miners to come in and dig out the gold. It wasn’t that long ago that Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce had been escorted out here by the cavalry. Only last year he had gone to Washington D.C., there were bound to still be problems and tensions between white men and the Indians. And between the twelve tribes thrown together on the reservation. There’d been plenty of words written on that subject.

“I’ll look, although I don’t promise to shed any light on the matter.”

Mullins nodded. “That’s fine. I’m not asking anything more than that.”

“Where’s the body?”

The sheriff turned to the waiting men. “This is Mr. Beau Clayton. He’s going to take a look and give us his opinion.”

The younger Indian scowled. Beau resisted the urge to take a step back from that gaze. “Another white man?”

Mullins stepped forward. “Mr. Clayton is a librarian, an educated man. He’ll give us his honest opinion and then we’ll decide what to do next.”

The older of the two nodded and gestured off to the side.

Beau’s gaze slid across the rock and grasses to a small crease in the ridge, the start of a gully, where reddish rocks lay exposed. One in particular gleamed white in the sunlight and looked wet.

He blinked and it wasn’t rock that he was looking at, but a skull. What he’d taken as a pile of rocks in the crease was in fact a body. The victim lay tumbled, half-covered almost in pine needles and dirt so that his dirty gray clothes almost looked like rock. Had looked like rock a moment ago, but now that Beau had seen the body he couldn’t miss it. All this time that they were talking he hadn’t realized that they were so close to the body. Fat black flies twisted in the air, and when he inhaled he picked up the faint slaughter-house smell of the corpse.

How observant was he, that he had missed it?

No one commented on the fact. Beau took off his hat and mopped his face again with the sweaty handkerchief. Everyone was watching him. He walked forward, watching the dusty ground. There were boot prints and other signs of people, many of them on top of each other. Scuff marks in the pine needles. A clump of grass smashed and bent as if someone had stepped on it.

A big black and yellow wasp buzzed around Beau’s face. He brushed it away with his hat.

There were more long scuff marks and blood splashed and soaked into the ground near the body. A struggle, obviously. Bright shards of broken glass lay on the ground. Beau crouched and picked up a piece with a torn label. Whiskey. The ground beneath the pieces was mostly dry, apparently the bottle wasn’t full when broken. It would evaporate, of course, but maybe not so fast. He couldn’t be sure but if they had some more whiskey he could pour it out on the ground and observe how fast it evaporated. If that was even relevant. If he was a brilliant man, like Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, he’d already know the answer. Even the blood, splashed on the pine needles where it sparkled like rubies, or soaked into the sandy ground, must speak volumes about what had happened here.

Beau rubbed his chin. The illiterates must feel this way when studying a page in a book! There was information here, unfortunately it didn’t tell him much. He lacked the education to read this properly. And the sheriff had called him an educated man?

He considered begging off, and quitting. Yet there were four pairs of eyes watching him and pride forced him back to the task. Whatever he could make of this, he’d share, let the sheriff do with it as he wanted.

The body, which he had avoided since seeing it for what it was, lay tumbled in the small ditch, a gully of the sort where snow melt had cut into the ridge to expose rocks. The gully was dry at this time of the year. A whole swath of ground was disturbed down to the gully, the pine needles and dirt scattered, and dark splotches of blood marked the ground in a line to the body.

Like a wheel that has rolled through a puddle, leaving wet spots behind it.

The man had rolled down the gully. His wounds bleeding and depositing the blood with each turn in the dirt. That also accounted for the fact that the body was liberally covered with pine needles and dirty, stuck to his clothes and skin because of the blood as he rolled into the gully.

Dead, then, or at least senseless as he rolled down the slope.

Reluctantly, Beau studied the man himself. An Indian, like the other two. His braided hair flung back, a whole patch of skin torn up on his scalp to expose the wet bone beneath. That was the bright patch that had caught Beau’s eye when he first saw the body. Up along the right side of the man’s head the scalp was torn up. A nasty wound that would have likely bled a considerable amount. His dark lined face was slack, the tongue protruding slightly, red with blood. His eyes stared vacantly at ants gathering in the dirt around the body. The slaughter house smell was stronger here close to the body.

Beau’s stomach heaved and he turned his head away, closed his eyes and hastily pulled out his handkerchief to press over his nose. His stomach heaved again, reminding him of the time he had gotten sick after eating at a questionable establishment on his way to Spokane. This time, fortunately, he didn’t vomit the remains of the picnic Emily Collins had prepared. One of the men chuckled. He didn’t need to look to recognize Little’s voice.

As Beau’s stomach settled he turned back to the body. Clearly the wound to the Indian’s scalp was obvious, but the bone was solid and intact, not crushed. He leaned closer.

An explosive shout rang out behind him. Beau twisted around and saw the younger of the Indians glaring at him, the other holding his arm. Sheriff Mullins’ hand was on his pistol. Little was holding the stock of the rifle in his horse’s saddle bags.

“Mr. Clayton,” Mullins said easily, “I don’t think he wants you to touch the body.”

Beau lifted his hands. “I’m simply looking for clues about his killer.” He didn’t want to touch the body, but if he couldn’t it would limit what he learned. “I don’t mean any disrespect.”

The older Indian spoke. “Okay.”

The younger moved and the other turned, snapping out words in their native tongue. Beau’s curiosity flared. Had their language been written down? What would it look like? He knew French, Latin, of course, and German, but those were all related. How would it be to study a language that wasn’t connected to those?

The younger man settled back. The sheriff took his hand from his pistol. “Go ahead, Mr. Clayton.”

“I’ll be careful,” Beau said. “I want to help find out what happened.”

“We know what happened!” The younger Indian snapped.

Little spit in the dust, his hand still on the rifle stock.

Mullins’ hand touched the pistol as he lifted his other hand. “Whoa there, now! Mr. Clayton will be respectful, but he needs to look at the body.”

The elder gestured. “Okay.”

Beau turned back to the body. His pulse throbbed in his neck. He swallowed and tried not to think about the four pairs of eyes drilling into his back as he studied the body. Other than the head wound, there wasn’t any obvious wound he could see. As gruesome as that wound was, could it have caused the man’s death? How was he to know? He wasn’t a doctor, not even a drunken doctor like Emily’s father. He studied the wound.

There was a sharp line of blood across the lower part of the skull and it nicked across the man’s ear. A small piece was missing. The edges there were clean, the line in the bone narrow. Whatever had made that mark had a sharp edge.

Beau rocked back on his heels. Another wasp circled his head. More would come, and flies, the longer the body lay here. A blow to the side of the head, with a knife, maybe? Then in the struggle the man’s braid was pulled, tearing up the flap of skin that exposed the bone? Maybe. Possibly.

Gently, not looking back but feeling the others watch him, Beau rolled the man’s body as best he could as the man was already stiffened in death. The arms clutched at his mid-section and there was considerable blood and dirt stuck to the front of the shirt. Some ants dropped away from the mess, slow and sticky with blood.

Grimacing, Beau picked at the cloth and found several slices, about two inches long in the shirt. Even to his eye it was clear the man was stabbed, repeatedly, as if the killer had gone into a frenzy. He counted the wounds. Seven, in all, slicing through the shirt and into the man’s chest and abdomen. Three alone in the vicinity of the man’s heart.

Carefully Beau let the man down.

He stood up, brushing his hands with his handkerchief and walked back to Mullins. He pulled his hat off to mop the sweat from his forehead.

“I believe they are telling the truth,” Beau said, his voice pitched low. “The attacker was most likely a white man.”

Little spit again into the dirt.

Mullins eyed him. “What makes you think that?”

“The wounds are clean and sharp. He was stabbed repeatedly. Neither of them has blood on them, or a knife that I see. Even if they did, would they have a knife of that quality?”

“What about the scalping?”

Beau shrugged and twisted the hat in his hands, running his fingers along the brim. “I don’t know if any of these tribes scalped people, but if they did I expect they’d be better at it. Though the cut is sharp, it’s along the side of the head, and the edges of the flap are torn up. I’ve never seen anyone scalped, but in reading accounts of the process I believe they usually start at the front cut around all the edges peeling back the skin as they go. This looks like a single cut and then the scalp was torn upwards, suggesting the man was already dead or dying on the ground at the time.”

“Is that all?”

Beau shook his head. “No. The smashed whiskey bottle.” He pointed at the broken glass. “That was probably used first, striking the man to render him senseless. Then he was stabbed seven times, at least three of those near his heart. I expect he fell and in his death spasms, rolled into the gully. When he came to rest there, I expect his killer decided to try a hasty scalping, perhaps to take a trophy or to deflect suspicion on to the Indians.”

The sheriff was silent. The Indians watched them both. Beau had kept his voice low, they may not have heard everything that he was saying. Little had produced a flask from somewhere and was sipping at its contents.

“Whiskey.” The sheriff rubbed his jaw and pushed past Beau. He walked over to the broken glass and fished among the pieces for those with bits of the torn label. He spaced them out in his hand and showed them to the Indians.

“Do you know any white men who sell this whiskey?”

The elder said something to the younger man, who scowled but nodded. “We know him.”

“Then that’s the man I want to talk to.” Mullins looked down at the body. “You’ll take care of him?”

“Yes.” The elder’s voice was firm.

“What’s the man’s name?”

Expression and color drained from the younger man’s face. Only then did Beau hear the crack of the gunshot. A red spot bloomed in the front of the younger Indian’s chest. He sank to the ground, the elder kneeling with him, holding him.

Little held his rifle steady. He shook his head and spit into the dirt.

“I can’t have you going after my brother, sheriff. It’s nothing personal, just the way it is. Toss your piece onto the ground.”

Beau stood very still, and very aware of the sun shining on Little’s gun. “This the same brother you were meeting at the boarding house?”

The sheriff snapped a look at Beau, but said nothing.

Little grinned, showing his disgusting teeth. “That’s right. You’re a smart one, all right. Figured out pretty much what happened, except the part where that buck tried to stiff my brother what he owed him.”

“It’s against the law to sell whiskey to the Indians,” the sheriff said. “That’s why you were on the road. You weren’t down here spotting claims, you were selling to the Indians!”

Little laughed. “Me and my brother, we think any man has a right to drink, savages too. Not our problem if they can’t handle it. My brother said that one of ‘em had got away. He never does anything right. I was coming back to fix things up, when you came along. Figured I’d play along, for a time.”

It was in Little’s voice. He meant to kill them all. Beau hadn’t made it this far in life without running into men like him, who would kill to get what they wanted. His own father defended men like this. That was a part of the job Beau hadn’t cared for at all. It wasn’t the future he wanted. Until now he had thought that setting up the library, maybe even courting Emily Collins, was going to be his future.

“I couldn’t be sure what you’d do about it, just damn savages. Hell! Some men, they’d buy us a drink! But not you and this librarian. Toss the piece, sheriff.”

The humor had drained from Little’s voice. As soon as Mullins tossed the gun, it was obvious that Little was going to shoot him. Beau and the elder Indian would be next, but the elder was focused on his slain companion.

Beau’s hat was still in his hands. If he was going to die anyway? He flicked the bowler at Little and rolled forward. There was a shout, and the loud crack of the rifle but nothing hit him. He came out of the roll right in front of Little and lunged up to grab at the rifle.

Little cursed.

They struggled over the gun. Beau held on. He loved books, but crates of books were heavy. He wasn’t a weakling. He wrenched the rifle around and caught Little across the jaw with the stock.

Stunned, the man fell back a couple steps.

Beau stumbled, trying to catch his balance.

Little yanked a long knife from his belt. The wicked edge caught the light.

“Don’t do it!” Sheriff Mullins shouted. His pistol was out and pointed right at Little. “I’ll put you in the Earth, God help me. Drop the knife!”

Beau brought the rifle up to his shoulder and steadied it, aiming at Little’s chest. The dirty fabric was wet at Little’s arms from sweat. The man swore and tossed the knife into the dirt. He sagged.

Mullins kicked the knife back. The elder looked up at them all, watching.

Mullins said, “You got him?”

“Yes,” Beau answered, holding the rifle steady despite the pounding in his chest.

The sheriff approached Little, still with the pistol ready. “Show me your hands!”

Little extended his hands. “Hell, sheriff. It isn’t like they didn’t deserve it! That Indian, he tried to steal from us. My brother was justified.”

“Not in my book,” Mullins said as he fastened handcuffs on the man. “Now you’re both going before the judge on charges of murder as well as illegally selling whiskey to Indians.”

Cuffed the fight had gone out of Little. The sheriff bound his hands together with rope too, doubly making sure the man wouldn’t escape and tied the other end of the rope to his saddle.

“You’re going to make me walk?” Little protested.

The sheriff’s gaze was cold. “No problem for me if you want to be dragged.”

Beau lowered the rifle. His arms burned he passed it over to the sheriff.

“Thank you, Mr. Clayton. They were right about you, you’ve got a sharp mind for this kind of thing. I may call on you again.”

“I rather hope we don’t have more of this happening.”

Mullins shook his head. “If that was true, I’d be out of a job.”

“I guess so.”

The sheriff walked over to the elder Indian, who laid down his dead companion and rose, facing the sheriff.

“Do you need help with them? I can dispatch some men when I get back to town.”

“No.”

“He’ll get justice for this, and his brother.”

The Indian gazed past Mullins at Little. His gaze was as hard and hot as the sun pounding on Beau’s neck. Despite the heat, Beau shivered. That was a look that he never wanted directed at him.

Mullins tethered Little’s horse to Beau’s and then led the way down the mountain. Beau followed, leading the two horses, until they were back down on the valley floor. Then they switched, the sheriff tied Little’s horse to his own and made the man mount up, hands still bound.

“Try anything, and I’ll shoot you dead,” Mullins said.

“I don’t doubt it,” Little replied dryly.

So arranged, they rode back to Eureka Gulch.

🔍

The next morning Beau sat on his split log chair at the opening to his library tent feeling every ache in every muscle of his body. A cup of black tea and H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds sat on the stump beside his chair. He was unaccustomed to so much riding. The library wasn’t much, yet, a tent building with a low wood frame and rough wooden shelves for his books. A small cot at the back provided him a place to sleep. His new sign, still oozing sap, hung from a post in front of the library.

“Library.” The sign’s letters rough and chiseled into the wood.

Around the library Eureka Gulch rang with the noises of humanity. Of horses and hammers, men laughing and a shrill giggle from the boarding house down the street. When he had purchased this spot it was near the outskirts of the new town, and already there were more buildings past the library as the town swept out like a wave.

Turning, he saw the slim form of Emily Collins making her way down the street in her practical gray dress. A few curls had escaped her hat, and she smiled warmly on her approach. In her hands, she held a book clasped tightly.

“Mr. Clayton, I’m relieved to see that you returned to us intact from apprehending that man.”

“I believe it was the sheriff that apprehended him.”

“That’s not what I hear from the sheriff.” Her lips curled in a wide smile. “Something about a hat, I believe?”

Beau’s neck burned. “I simply offered some observations, that led to conclusions. Little gave himself away in the cowardly murder of an unarmed man.”

“And the sheriff arrested his brother in the boarding house, I’m told. Apparently the man was so drunk that he didn’t realize what was happening until the sheriff had him in jail, absent the bloody clothes he had left on the floor.”

“I heard that as well. Good for the sheriff. About time Eureka Gulch had an effective lawman.”

“And about time that Eureka Gulch had an effective librarian.” Ms. Collins extended the book. “I finished this one, what do you recommend next?”

Beau took the book. “I have just the thing.”

And he did.

🔍

5,504 WORDS

Author’s Note

This story is the 65th weekly short story release, written in June 2013. I meant to get it posted last week and couldn’t get to it. Eventually I’ll do a new standalone e-book and print release when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the stories. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases. Stories will remain until I get up the new  e-book and print versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.

If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Check back next Monday for another story. Next up is my story Your Eyes.

Author: Ryan M. Williams

Writer and artist, Ryan M. Williams, author of more than twenty novels, writes across a range of genres including fantasy, science fiction, romance, paranormal, and mystery. He holds a Master of Arts from Seton Hill University in writing popular fiction. His short fiction has appeared in anthologies from Pocket Books, WMG Publishing, and in On Spec Magazine. He currently attends San Jose State University, pursuing a Master of Information and Library Science degree.