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Authors: D. J. Butler

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BOOK: Timpanogos
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“Not to mention the little boy,” Clemens added.

“Of course.”
 
Absalom pretended that he understood.
 
A good face could get you through a lot, he knew.

“The thing is,” the dwarf said, “it’s you and me, pal.
 
Everybody else around here is famous,
but you and me are unknowns.
 
So
you and me gotta go up to the house to scout it out, make sure there ain’t none
of them Danites hanging around the place.”

“Oh of course,” Absalom smiled stoically.
 
“Shall we take guns?”

“You’re going to knock on the door in the middle of the
night and ask if you can sleep in the barn,” Clemens said in his condescending
Yankee way.
 
“Folks around here
seem to expect that you’ll be armed, but it might be best not to show up on the
doorstep with an actual full hand.”

“I got knives,” the midget grunted.
 
“Besides, the whole point of us two
going is won’t nobody know who we are, anyway.”

It all seemed safe enough.
 
Safe as anything could be, in this land of crazed fanatical
assassins and constant gunfighting.
 
“Understood.”
 
Absalom
decided not to mention the little four-shot gun he had tucked into his
waistband.
 
He took some comfort
from its presence, even if there was no chance of him using it, and didn’t want
the others to take it away from him.
 
“Of course, I did meet John Lee, in Chief Pocatello’s stockade.”

Sam Clemens tapped at his own temple with the butt of his
cigar.
 
“The encounter has not
escaped me, Mr. Fearnley-Standish,” he said gruffly.
 
“The logic is that Lee is unlikely himself to be at this particular
farm.
 
His minions are likely to
able to recognize President Young, the Ambassador, Rockwell, and the rest of
us—”

“But not me.
 
Quite.”
 
Absalom
straightened his coat and adjusted his hat to a jauntier angle.
 

“This is a good friend of mine,” Brigham Young said.
 
“A very good friend.
 
He’s a good man, and he’ll take in
strangers in need.
 
Just make sure
that there aren’t any Danites lurking around the place, and then one of you can
come get the rest of us.”

“And if there are Danites,” Clemens added, “run like the
devil.
 
Discreetly as you can, of
course.”

Absalom nodded.
 
“Shall we go, Mr. Coltrane?”

“Thank you,” Young said, and then Absalom and the dwarf
turned their horses up the side of an irrigation ditch dividing two fields and
headed for the lights.

“So you are Mr. Poe’s associate,” Absalom said.

“I’m the barker,” Coltrane grunted.
 
“Poe is the show.”

“Barker?” Absalom asked.
 
“Is a…?
 
Do you
mean that you’re a
madman
?”

“I’m the guy that works the midway,” Coltrane explained
without explaining.
 
“I’m also the
roustabout.”

“Understood,” Absalom lied, and then they trotted into the
farmyard.

The yard was hard-packed dirt surrounded by a tidy house, a
stable, a chicken coop, and a shed and corral that Absalom guessed, from its
smell, must be home to a herd of goats.
 
The buildings looked sturdy but simple, and the light from the window
was the yellow light of oil or kerosene or wood-fire, not the blue of
electricks.
 
The farm might have
been a hundred years old, except that Absalom knew that a hundred years earlier
the valley had been occupied by Indians who lived in holes in the ground and
ate pine nuts and lizards.

“Maybe it’s best if
you
knock,” Coltrane suggested.

“Yes, agreed.”
 
Absalom handed his reins to the dwarf, dropped to the ground and
approached the door.
 
In the
shadows of the yard he checked his small pistol and was reassured to feel it in
place.

He rapped hard on the door and listened as feet crossed
floorboards.
 
The man who opened
the door and filled its frame was solid in the shoulders and belly, like a
boxer.
 
His head was completely
bald, and he had a curly beard under his jaw and chin.
 
He looked like any yeoman farmer from
Dorset or Kent.

“Good evening,” Absalom said.

The man stepped across the threshold and grabbed Absalom by
the hand.
 
His grip wasn’t an
ordinary handshake, but something odd, with his thumb squeezing insistently
down over Absalom’s first knuckle.
 
“Brother Boaz,” the man said urgently, and he stared into Absalom’s
eyes.

“Er, no,” Absalom smiled.
 
“My name is Fearnley-Standish.
 
My friend and I are traveling through the valley, and
looking for a place to stay.
 
We
hoped we might share your fire tonight.”

“Invite your friend inside, Heber,” Absalom heard a voice
from inside the farmhouse.

The man called Heber trembled, his head quivering slightly,
almost imperceptibly.
 
He kept
staring Absalom in the face, and Absalom wondered if he was walking into a
house of sick people, or insane, but decided the fellow was probably just old.

“It would be a great kindness,” Absalom said cheerfully and
smiled.

Heber sighed and stepped back inside, making room for Absalom
to pass.
 
Absalom walked inside the
low house, enjoying the smoky warmth and the smell of a meaty stew that came
from a large pot hanging over the fire.

“Thank you,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” Heber answered.
 
He stared at the heavy boots on his feet.

Then Absalom saw John D. Lee.
 
He stood behind the door, smiling a smile that might have
been handsome on another face.
 
Between his jug ears, and over the two cocked pistols he held pointed at
Absalom, his smile looked vicious.

Three more men in black coats stood in the corners of the
room, all pointing guns at Absalom.
 
He swallowed uncomfortably.

“Come now, Brother Heber,” Lee kept his voice low and he
grinned.
 
“You should never
apologize for hospitality.
 
Besides,” Lee’s grin vanished into a stony glare, “I saw you try to warn
the little limey off.”

“I say,” Absalom gulped.

“Isn’t it time you invited your friend into the house, too?”
Lee suggested in a catlike purr.
 
“It will be a lot easier that way.”

Absalom turned and looked out the open doorway.
 
The dwarf Coltrane still sat on his
horse in the yard.
 
Absalom
couldn’t see his face in the shadow, but if the midget was holding back, he
must suspect something was wrong.
 
Absalom didn’t want to invite Coltrane in.
 
They weren’t friends, but they were allies, and Absalom
didn’t want to be the kind of man that betrayed an ally into a trap, even when
he was in a hard position, himself.

“Go on,” Lee said.

Absalom wanted to be Richard Burton.
 
Damn the man, he was infuriating and
Absalom hated him, but Captain Richard Burton was no coward.
 
Besides, would Lee really shoot
him?
 
He must guess that Young and
the others were outside, and gunshots would warn them off.

Lee raised his pistols and pointed them at Absalom’s head.

“Run!” Absalom shouted, and tackled John D. Lee.

He knocked the Danite chieftain back against the wall with a
shoulder and then jabbed him several times in the jaw with his fists.
 
Lee didn’t shoot, as Absalom had
expected, and the man called Heber joined the fray, grabbing Lee and throwing
him against the wall.

Then something heavy crashed into the back of Absalom’s
skull.
 
He saw stars and planets
and then the wooden planks of the floor, filthy and stinking of sweet pine,
rushed up to whack his head.

The room spun around him for a minute and he heard more
sounds of scuffle.

“Goddamn midgets!”

A drop of blood hit the floor right in front of Absalom’s
eye, then another, then a dwarf.
 
Coltrane struggled, but ropes were thrown around him as the farmhouse
door slammed shut.
 
“Dirty yellow
cowards!” he snapped, and then his captors banged his head against the
planks.
 
“Rotten sons of bitches
were waiting in the corral and the coop, too,” he muttered to Absalom.

Absalom tried to say something reassuring and full of
bravado to the dwarf, but the effort almost made him throw up and no words
would come out.

“Don’t do anything foolish, Heber,” he heard John D. Lee
say.
 
“Think of your family.”
 
Lee’s boots paced slowly across the
planks to Absalom’s face, their heavy
thuds
reverberating like the relentless beats of a drum.
 
They stopped with the toes pointing right into his eyes.

“Mmmrrrrroolpff,” Absalom protested.
 
He felt vaguely cheated—the
Foreign Office had never prepared him for this—but also proud, for not
surrendering.

“I told you,” he heard Lee say, “that if you invited your
friend in, it would be easier.”

One of Lee’s boots swung away, slowly—

then kicked Absalom in the face, smashing him into darkness.

*
  
*
  
*

Burton scrambled stiffly out of the scrub oak and onto the
gravel, pressing himself against the plascrete wall of the Dream Mine.
 
The knife wounds in his leg and his arm
agonized him, and he kept careful control over the fencing saber he carried in
a scabbard on his belt, so it didn’t scrape the plascrete.

The building rose above him like a staircase in several
tiers, with windows overlooking the valley.
 
At Burton’s level were a wide veranda, a front door and
windows as for an office building, but only if the office in question belonged
to a bank or a police station—the windows were all covered with long iron
bars.
 
Oiled paper blinds behind
the glass kept Burton from seeing any detail, but he heard the voices and
footfalls of several men inside.

Below Burton was the lowest tier, which had a large bay
door.
 
According to Roxie, it
opened and closed to permit vehicles entry.
 
Now Roxie and Poe emerged from the trees on the other side
of the veranda.
 
Poe coughed, as
gently as a man dying of consumption could, and spat into the bushes, carefully
not emptying his lungs into the white cloth he held.
 
There was something mysterious about that cloth—Poe
had warned Burton not to look directly at it during the fray.
 
Roxie came behind Poe, carrying the
canister of scarabs.
 
Burton hadn’t
seen them in action, but Poe seemed to think they were deadly.

Burton had encouraged Roxie to join him on his side of the
fracas; after all, he was armed, and an experienced fighter, and Edgar Allan
Poe seemed to be more of a spy than a warrior.
 
Burton drew his Colt 1851 Navy revolver and checked the
cylinder to be sure each chamber was loaded and capped.
 
Oh, well.
 
The woman was in love with another man.
 
It was her choice, even if the man in
question was doomed.

And besides, he told himself, Burton was in love with
another woman.
 
Or at least, he was
committed to her.
 
He was committed
to going home and marrying Isabel and settling down.
 
He was committed, and he was starting to think that he even
almost wanted to.
 
His bandaged arm
and leg both twinged at the thought of more action.

All he had to do now was survive the Kingdom of Deseret.

He cocked the pistol as Tamerlane O’Shaughnessy came
lurching up the steps onto the veranda.
 
The man held a crumpled sheet of paper in one hand and a whisky bottle
in the other.
 
Burton would have
sworn he’d seen that bottle full when he’d taken the wheel of the steam-truck
and left the Hot Springs Hotel & Brewery, but it was empty now.

The Irishman was tipsy, and he was singing.
 
Burton thought he recognized the tune
as an old war-ballad.
 
“If the song
should come, we’ll follow the drum, and cross that river once more…”

Burton could still hear the men inside talking, and he
thought he could make out one of the voices say, “did you hear something?”
 
He grinned, preparing himself for the
moment of decision.

As he stumbled onto the top of the stairs, O’Shaughnessy
dropped the bottle.
 

Crash!
 
It shattered instantly on the plascrete.

The talking inside stopped, and O’Shaughnessy dragged
himself to the front door.
 
“That
tomorrow’s Irishmen may wear the sash my father wore!” he finished with
flourish, rapped hard on the door, then took two steps back.

He flattened the paper, smoothing it out against his own
chest, and grinned.

The door opened and two men stepped out.
 
Two was the perfect number, with two
men the plan would go without a hitch, even if they were tall, strong-looking
gents, with serious, square jaws like Burton’s.
 
One held a rifle in his hands, a Henry, and the other a
double-barreled scattergun.

BOOK: Timpanogos
8.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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