Longarm on the Overland Trail

BOOK: Longarm on the Overland Trail
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LONGARM ON THE OVERLAND TRAIL
By Tabor Evans

Synopsis:

A mad dog killer is shootin' up Denver! He's a half-pint imitation of Black Jack Slade, the desperado of dime novel fame. Thinkin' he's the legendary bad man, the armchair outlaw has savagely gunned down two army officers in his sister's parlor. Now he's out on the overland trail, and judging by the way he's killing, even Marshal Long is inclined to think that maybe black jack slade has come to life. The peewee gunslinger might be crazy, but he ain't stupid... he's deadly. 104th novel in the "Longarm" series, 1987.

CHAPTER 1

It was a Friday night, so the saloon was crowded when Longarm dropped by after collecting his pay at the nearby federal building for a shot of red-eye and another look at the mighty handsome barmaid they'd just hired.

He could see neither notion figured to be easy. So he'd about decided to try his luck at the Black Cat or Pronghorn when he saw an elbow's worth of mahogany between a townee and a stockman and wedged his taller frame into the gap to see if he could catch the barmaid's eye without violating the civic ordinance forbidding a serious discharge of firearms within the Denver city limits.

The boys had the pretty little thing as busy as a one-armed paper hanger in a windstorm. She was pumping suds and filling shot glasses faster than the Constitution could possibly require. So Longarm was content just to admire her for the moment. He felt no urgent need for more cheer than the sight of her dashing about inspired. He'd always admired perky little blue-eyed blondes.

He was reaching for a smoke when someone jabbed him rudely in the ribs from behind and a gruff, albeit high-pitched, voice told him, "You took my place, you sissy-dressed moose!"

Longarm turned to stare thoughtfully down at a wild and wooly apparition far too short to talk so tough. The baby face glaring up at him from the gloom cast by the brim of a black ten-gallon hat looked too young to vote, let alone drink with full-grown men.

The brace of Colt '74s strapped on over a pair of show-off goat-hair chaps had to be taken more seriously than the chaps and black sateen shirt. Nobody that small could be thinking of fighting with his fists, and if the cute little rascal wasn't looking for a fight he was putting on a mighty convincing show.

Longarm smiled and said, "Don't get your bowels in an uproar, pard. I didn't know this space had been claimed by anyone as desperate to drink as you must be."

"You know it now," the cocky little bully snapped. "I told this cowboy bastard to save my place whilst I took a leak. I can see he didn't. But that don't matter. You can move or fill your fist for all I care. I like fighting almost as much as I like to screw, and I'm a fiend for screwing."

Longarm saw the much bigger stockman who'd been called a bastard was already moving away fast. Longarm had thought he looked sober. He sighed. "Hold your fire, pard. Far be it from me to stand between a man and his heart's desire," he said.

Then he stepped away from the bar. The runty ruffian looked triumphant. "I never took you for a hairpin with the grit to stand up to me. You know my rep, right?" he asked.

Longarm didn't even want to know who he was. The baby face was not on his list of federal wants. It was up to the Denver police to notify the poor little critter's kin when the inevitable caught up with him.

Things were more sensible down at the far end of the bar. By some oversight there was space enough between the wall and the last customer down the line for Longarm to belly up again. As he did so a voice in his ear said, "That was close."

It was the stockman who'd crawfished away from the troublesome fool just ahead of him. Longarm shrugged. "I don't know how close it was. But I admire your common sense, too. Us grown men would never get anything done if we stopped to stomp every little fool in our path."

"Didn't you know who he was?" the stockman asked.

Before Longarm could say he really didn't care, they heard a boastful cry for attention and a now-familiar high-pitched voice commenced to sing:

"Gather close around and I'll tell you a tale Of Black Jack Slade on the Overland Trail Some say he's dead, some say he was killed It's a lie, not a drop of my blood was spilled!"

He let go with a wild war whoop that could have burst the hinges of hell, followed it up with a fusilade of.45 lead into the pressed-tin ceiling, and vacated the premises howling like a wolf or perhaps, in fairness to wolves, a mad dog.

As a dead silence descended Longarm nodded soberly. "You was right. That was close. He must be loco."

"That was Black Jack Slade," the stockman told Longarm. "He told me, hisself, when he asked me to hold his place. I'm sorry about that. He was gone so long I didn't think he was coming back."

Longarm snorted in disgust and replied, "Now you're talking loco, too, no offense. In the first place, the one and original Black Jack Slade ain't been with us since the War. He didn't get killed in the War. Vigilantes strung him up near Virginia City, Montana."

"More than one old boy's lived through a casual hanging, you know."

"I was getting to the second place. Black Jack Slade was before my time out here. But I've seen his tombstone in Salt Lake City, and the dates make him a full-grown man of forty when they buried him. That noisy little fool can't be more'n twenty or so. So how could he be a forty-year-old mad killer who died a good fifteen years ago?"

The stockman shrugged. "Mayhaps they're both mad killers. I didn't know that much about the one and original Black Jack Slade. I'd only heard the name in connection with a lot of serious hell-raising up around Julesburg."

The blond barmaid was headed their way with a couple of beer schooners. Longarm managed to catch her eye as she put them down for a couple of gents who'd been there first. She nodded at Longarm but turned away to fill other orders. He sighed. "I can see why that damn fool left. A man could die of thirst in here even if he didn't get shot by kids dressed up in winter chaps in August."

The stockman was still interested in the diminutive desperado, for some reason. He asked, "Wasn't it Julesburg where Black Jack Slade carved so many notches on his gun grips?"

Longarm grimaced, reached for a smoke, and said, "Ned Buntline made that up for his Wild West Magazine. The first thing you do after you gun a man is to deny it was you as gunned him. You don't keep a record for the law to use against you. They do say the real Black Jack Slade kept the ear of one man he gunned as a watch fob. But, like I say, it was before my time."

"He must have been mean as hell," the stockman opined.

"Well, sure he was mean as hell," said Longarm, lighting his three-for-a-nickel cheroot. "That's how come they lynched him. He was a mean drunk who'd tortured men to death. Would you want a cuss like that for a neighbor?"

The barmaid at last stopped in front of Longarm, smiled wearily, and asked what she could do for him. He was too polite to ask for more than shots and chasers for him and his thirsty pal. As she spun around to dash off again, the stockman said he took his red-eye neat and Longarm said, "That's all right. I'll nurse both the beers. Lord knows when that poor little gal will ever get time to serve drinks one at a time. You wouldn't know her name, would you?"

The stockman didn't. So it took Longarm the better Part of an hour to find out her name was Grace. But he was still sober because of the slow service. The place was just beginning to thin out and she was just starting to spend more time at his end of the bar, batting her eyelashes friendly, when a blue-uniformed copper badge came up beside Longarm. "They said you might be here, Longarm. Sergeant Nolan told me to fetch you if I could find you."

Longarm sighed and said, "You found me. What's UP?"

"Two federal agents down. The federal building is closed at this hour and the sarge thinks someone working for Uncle Sam may have something to say about the shooting."

"Nolan thought right. You say a couple of deputy marshals lost a shootout? That's odd. I don't recall Billy Vail mentioning anything about us picking anyone up tonight."

The copper badge shook his head. "It wasn't any of you boys. Couple of gents from the provost marshal's office. Went to pick up an army deserter at the address he'd given on his enlistment papers and got lucky about the address and unlucky about him. Right now they're spread out on the rug over there. It ain't all that far. Are You coming?"

Longarm shot a wistful glance at the blonde down the bar and said, "Let's go get it over with. As the nearest federal officer still sober enough to function, it looks like it could be my case for now."

As they elbowed their way toward the batwing doors, Longarm asked if they'd made any arrests yet, The cOpper badge told him, "No. The kid they was after threw down on them, right in his front parlor, and drilled 'em both through their hearts like a real pro. Time the roundsman on the beat responded to the sound of gunfire on a normally quiet street, the moody cuss was long gone. He might not get far, though. Witnesses gave us a mighty good description to go on."

As they got outside, the copper badge added, "He's a little runt dressed cow, even if he was a townee boy raised right here in the city. Worse yet, he was last seen running in wooly chaps and a hat big enough for a family of Arapaho to move into."

Longarm looked incredulous. "That can't be right! Do we have a name to go with this pint-sized pistoleer?"

The copper badge nodded. "Sure. His name is Joseph, but he makes everyone call him Jack. Jack Slade. What's so funny?"

Longarm said, "It ain't funny. It's just awful. I figured he had to be crazy, but not that crazy!"

Copper badges got to walk more than Longarm had to, so their notion of not far was over a quarter-mile, across Broadway and up the lower slopes of Capitol Hill as far as Lincoln Avenue. Longarm had the house figured before they got to it. There was a considerable crowd out front and Sergeant Nolan was standing on the front porch of the modest but neatly painted two-story frame structure.

As they joined him on the porch, Nolan told Longarm, "We got a statement from the only other person in the house, the killer's older sister. Some neighbor women are comforting her in her sewing room. Poor thing's hysterical."

As he followed Nolan in, Longarm asked, "Did his kin see the killing?"

"No," Nolan replied. "She didn't even know he'd deserted, riding his commanding officer's horse with the saddlebags full of stuff the army never issued him. When they showed up to ask if he might possibly be home she went to fetch him from his quarters over the carriage house out back. She didn't find him there. As she was coming back she heard two shots, ran into her parlor where she'd left the army agents, and I'm about to show you what she found."

They stepped into the well kept, if cheaply furnished parlor. It was occupied by a handful of other lawmen on their feet and two more stretched side by side on the floor. Both were dressed in civilian riding duds. Longarm saw no need to comment on this. In a peacetime army no soldier off-post was required to wear a uniform, and a man who got gigged for every stain or missing button seldom did. Getting close to deserters was tough enough.

Nolan said, "We've already patted them down for I.D. The older one would be Staff Sergeant Flint. The younger one with the big moustache was Sergeant Hughes."

Longarm didn't answer. He stared soberly down at the dead men, feeling embarrassed for them as he noted how dumb and helpless they looked, staring up through him. They were both wearing gun rigs under their coats. He bent to draw Flint's and sniff it.

Nolan said, "Neither gun's been fired, or drawed, for that matter. As we put it together, they were just standing there like big-ass birds when the kid stepped through that doorway, yonder, and simply blowed them away. He must have had his gun out already, don't you reckon?"

"He had two, Longarm said. "He fired both at once. In the time it takes to drill one man and recock a single-action '74 the one left would have at least tried. And you're right, neither made a move to defend him self. Look at how their boot heels line up so neat. They went down together, dead before they hit the rug."

Nolan nodded. "A slug that size through the heart can blow your lights out sudden indeed. But who says they had to be shot with single-action?" he asked.

BOOK: Longarm on the Overland Trail
6.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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