Bounty Hunter (9781101611975) (2 page)

BOOK: Bounty Hunter (9781101611975)
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Chapter 1

“W
HEN THE RAILROAD REACHES
G
ALLATIN
C
ITY, WE SHALL
all be rich men,” John Blaine said with effusive enthusiasm as Virgil Stocker unrolled the map with a dramatic flourish.

Dawson Phillips, their partner, lifted his considerable bulk from the chair and made his way to the head of a large oak dining table still set with the dinner dishes, rumpled napkins, and Mrs. Blaine's fine Bohemian crystal—imported into Montana Territory from Chicago at great expense.

The wives of the three men had excused themselves to the parlor when Blaine had brought out the cigars and offered the first round of brandy. The ladies were discussing matters more to their interest, gladly leaving the men to their heavily odoriferous tobacco and their “man talk.”

These gentlemen, who now talked their man talk in the atmosphere scented by brandy and cigars, were entrepreneur merchants turned land speculators who had become Gallatin City's leading citizens. They had arrived in Montana Territory by various paths and had settled down to become the biggest fish in a small pond, and to do so by successfully betting that their small pond would become an increasingly larger pond. Blaine was a dry goods merchant, while Phillips was the proprietor of Gallatin City's best hotel and restaurant. Stocker was an attorney, and their fourth associate, not present this evening, was Isham Ransdell, who owned the city's only bank.

“Hmmm,” Blaine said, studying the area that had been outlined in pencil. “Are you certain the Northern Pacific will lay its tracks through Gallatin City by this route?”

“I have it on good authority from a man in the very office of Fred Billings, the president of the road,” Stocker assured his fellow businessman.

Having gone into bankruptcy in 1875 with its intended transcontinental line barely started, the railroad had been recently reorganized under the wily financier Frederick H. Billings, whose golden touch was about to revive the foundering project.

“Are you sure that there is going to
be
a Northern Pacific?” Phillips said skeptically. “I know that there's been a great deal of positive excitement that he'll bring the road out of its three years of bankruptcy, but . . .”

“Billings is the man,” Stocker insisted. “He has raised a great deal of money and has resumed construction.”

“Hmmm,” Phillips said thoughtfully.

“He's laid rails a hundred miles east of Tacoma on one side, and on the other his crews have crossed Minnesota, most of Dakota Territory, and within a year and a half, Billings will build the tracks straight into Gallatin City . . . straight into this wedge of land that we
own
,” Stocker exclaimed, pointing at the areas on the map north and east of Gallatin City.

The arrival of the Northern Pacific, upon which these entrepreneurs had set their hopes and dreams, would transform Gallatin City, as the arrival of railroads was transforming so many towns-turned-cities across the West. New settlers would arrive with more money and a need for the goods and services which these businessmen would provide.

More even than this was the fact that land values would increase, so with this in mind, the gentlemen had pooled their resources to acquire tracts of land that were of marginal value in a region not served by a rail link to the outside world, but which would be radically transformed when the rails at last reached Gallatin City.

“We have done very well for ourselves controlling the land between here and the diggings at Confederate Gulch,” Blaine chortled.

Discovered more than a decade earlier by some expatriate Southern Civil War vets, the “Gulch” had been the richest gold find in Montana history. Though much of the easy pickings had been picked, a railroad would invite further investment.

“At the moment, most of the gold is going out on Missouri River steamers,” Stocker continued, thumping his tobacco-stained finger on the map. “When the railroad reaches Gallatin City,
all
of the gold will go though
here 
. . . through the land which we own. The railroad will
need
our land.”

“If you are correct, sir,” Phillips said, lowering his heft into a chair near the unrolled map. “We
shall indeed
be very rich men. I'd say that at the very least, this calls for another shot of your fine brandy, sir.”

“Gladly,” Blaine said, topping off the three glasses. “We shall drink to the four musketeers.”

“To the four musketeers, then,” Stocker said, touching his crystal goblet to those of his partners. “If California can have its ‘Big Four,' its Huntington, Hopkins, Crocker, and Stanford, then Montana Territory shall have its own Big Four . . . Blaine, Phillips, Stocker, and Ransdell.”

The men chuckled that their toasts were being made not just to the richest men in the city, but to the future richest men in Montana Territory.

“Pity that Ransdell couldn't join us at this table tonight,” the portly Phillips said, patting his ample belly. “That was a fine roast that Mrs. Blaine placed before us.”

“It's his loss,” Blaine said with a smile. He was pleased that his wife's cooking had received a compliment from a man so evidently fond of eating.

As the toasts were echoing around the dinner table, the doorbell chimed.

“I wonder who that could be,” Blaine said, setting down his glass without taking a sip.

His wife was already at the front door.

“May I help you?” Leticia Blaine asked as she opened the door.

“Looking for Blaine,” a large man announced, stepping across the threshold without being invited to do so.


Gideon Porter
,” she exclaimed, recognizing the man as he stomped into her parlor ahead of three companions. “What do you want?”

“Where's Blaine?” Porter demanded.

“You are a very rude young man,” Mrs. Blaine said sternly, her hands on her hips. “You always were.”

“I insist that you leave my home at once,” John Blaine said angrily as he entered the parlor. “You are unwelcome in this house. Take your brother Enoch and these other hooligans and get out of here immediately.”

By this time, Phillips and Stocker had entered the room as well.

“My husband has ordered you to go and . . .”

Crack!

The sound of the man's having backhanded Leticia Blaine across the face reverberated through the room.

For a moment, there was no sound but that of her crumpling to the floor. Everyone halted as though in shock. The sight of a man striking a woman so hard as to draw blood with a single blow startled everyone.

There was a pitiful, gurgling sob as Mrs. Blaine put her hand over her bleeding face, and a red-faced John Blaine slugged Gideon Porter with such force that his hat went flying.

All eyes were on Gideon as he staggered backward a step. Though Blaine was an older man, well past his prime, his punch still packed a wallop.

But Blaine's fists were no match for what came next.

K'poom . . . K'poom . . . mmm.

The thunder of two .44-caliber cartridges exploding in the confines of a moderate-sized parlor were as deafening as they were unexpected. Gideon Porter had drawn his gun.

The room filled with a bluish, choking cloud of gunsmoke as John Blaine dropped to his knees with a flabbergasted expression on his face and dark red stains spreading across his starched white shirt.

“Murderer!” Dawson Phillips screamed as he fumbled in his vest for the derringer he kept there.

As Enoch Porter leveled his Model 1860 revolver at Phillips, Mrs. Phillips leaped to her feet and let fly a stream of verbal vitriol unbecoming of a lady.

Enoch shifted his gaze and the direction of his gun to Mary Phillips and squeezed the trigger.

Her husband, who now had his derringer firmly in the grip of his fleshy hand, paused for a split second, watching aghast as his wife was struck down.

His split-second pause was all that it took for the revolver to be redirected at him.

A fourth shot was fired in the once-genteel parlor and then a fifth.

Dawson Phillips's body fell with a crash.

Virgil Stocker stepped forward to aid his fallen partner, but felt the impact of Gideon Porter's gun butt across his face, first once and then again and again.

As Gideon whipped the attorney with the pistol, Enoch turned his gun toward Sarah Stocker, who remained seated on the sofa, frozen in terror at the sight of her husband being beaten.

Seeing this, Gideon deserted Stocker and grabbed his brother's arm.

“Not the women, dammit!” Porter shouted. “We weren't supposed to hurt the
women
.”

“You slugged
that one
, Gideon,” Enoch whined, nodding toward Mrs. Blaine, who was now crouched over her husband's body, blood still streaming from her own wound.

“Let's get the hell out of here,” Gideon ordered, picking up his hat.

Chapter 2

“T
HAT COULD HAVE BEEN
YOU
,”
H
ANNAH
R
ANSDELL TOLD
her father in a tone that was a mix of horror and relief.

“I know,” Isham Ransdell said somberly as he and his daughter watched people urgently coming and going from the two-story, Victorian-style home where John Blaine and his wife lived—and the home where Isham Ransdell had been invited to dine this very night. Had it not been necessary for him to meet with a client on an urgent matter, he
would
have been there.

He stared at the house feeling the shock of knowing this. So too did his daughter.

Only twenty minutes or so had passed since Sarah Stocker had been found running down Elm Street screaming that people had been shot. By now, it seemed as though every one of Gallatin City's two thousand citizens knew of the shootings, and half of them had come out to gawk.

Sheriff John Hollin walked from the house shaking his head.

“What do you know?” Ransdell asked.

“Three dead,” he replied. “Blaine and Phillips . . . Mrs. Phillips, too. Stocker and Mrs. Blaine are both hurt real bad. The doc's in there with them now.”

“That's terrible . . .” Hannah said, putting her hand over her mouth.

“Do you have any idea who did this?” her father asked.

“Mrs. Blaine said the one who hit her was Gideon Porter.”

“He's a cruel man, that Gideon Porter,” Hannah interjected. “Him and his no-account brother, Enoch. Having Biblical names didn't prevent those boys from siding with the devil all their lives.”

“It was them,” the sheriff nodded. “Was Enoch who killed Dawson Phillips and his wife. The women said there were two more. Somebody saw four riders heading out of town in a hurry . . . heading north.”

“So what are you waiting for?” Hannah demanded. “You should being going out after them!”

“Gotta wait for first light,” Hollin explained patiently. “No good tryin' to track 'em in the dark.”

*   *   *

I
T WAS A FEW HOURS AFTER FIRST LIGHT AND A FEW HOURS
after the sheriff's departure, when a lone rider appeared on Gallatin City's main street. He was riding a strawberry roan and had the look of a man who'd been on the trail for all of those hours and more.

He dismounted, looped his reins around a hitch rail near a watering trough, and loosened the cinch on his saddle so that the roan would be more comfortable. As his horse drank thirstily from the trough, the man strolled into the Big Horn Saloon and ordered a beer to satiate his own thirst.

“Seems like a lot of excitement in town today,” Bladen Cole said, making conversation with the bartender.

“'Twas a shooting last night,” the man behind the bar replied.

“Hmmm,” Cole said, taking another welcome sip from his mug. His tone expressed the sentiment that shootings were not sufficiently uncommon to warrant the kind of excitement that was swirling around on the streets of Gallatin City.

“One of the town's leading citizens was gunned down in his parlor,” the bartender added, sensing the need to elaborate. “In fact, there was
two
prominent men killed . . . a third one in bad shape.”

“Hmmm,” Bladen Cole replied. The tone this time said that he now understood why the fuss on Gallatin City's streets was at a heightened level.

“One of 'em's wife was killed too,” the bartender added when Cole's latest “Hmmm” also needed to be underscored, to stress that something
really
serious was going on. It was almost a matter of civic pride to emphasize the seriousness of Gallatin City's excitement.

“That so?” Cole replied.

“Yep,” the bartender replied, happy to have gotten some actual words out of the stranger.

“'Nother beer,” Cole said.

His thirst satisfied by his first, Cole savored his second beer as the bartender went about his work, sorting glassware and topping off the whiskey bottles on the back bar from one of the big oak barrels that had been shipped out here all the way from Kentucky.

The big clock on the wall, flanked by a pair of angry-looking wolf heads, was striking four o'clock when someone rushed into the Big Horn.

“Deputy Johnson just rode back in,” the man shouted to the handful of patrons who were in the saloon. “They done got shot up. Sheriff Hollin got himself
killed
.”

The bartender stopped what he was doing and just stared at the swinging doors as the man ran down the street repeating the bad news.

“What's that all about?” Cole asked, eliciting the sort of elaboration that the bartender seemed to like to provide.

“Sheriff went out this morning,” the bartender explained. “Tracking the Porter boys.”

“Who's the Porter boys?”

“Ones they figure did the killings last night.”

Tossing a couple of coins on the bar, Bladen Cole turned and stepped onto the street.

A crowd was gathered around a man on horseback who was slumped in his saddle, a pained expression on his face. People were shouting for someone to fetch the doctor.

As Cole watched, they carefully removed the man from his horse and carried him into the Big Horn, where they placed him on a table. Judging by his badge, it didn't take long for Cole to ascertain that he was the deputy who had survived the ambush. Judging by the placement of his bullet wounds, it didn't take long for Cole to figure that he would survive. He had applied a tourniquet himself, and although he was in shock, he was able to speak.

The doctor arrived, concurred with Cole's unspoken diagnosis, and prescribed a stiff drink from behind the bar.

Within fifteen minutes, the color had flooded back into Johnson's cheeks, and he was relating the tale of what had happened.

“We trailed 'em up and across the mountains toward Sixteen Mile Creek,” he explained, his narrative punctuated by coughs. “Sheriff was the first hit. Head wound it was. Couldn't really see 'em. Hiding up in the rocks . . . up high. Ben Neff . . . he was riding with us. Got his gun out and got off a couple of shots. Both of us was returning fire. Couldn't really see 'em except for the smoke from the rifles, but the wind was blowing and it was hard to see. Ben got hit too. Then me. Didn't want to run, but I figured I'd have to get back . . . tell what happened.”

“Did you hit any of
them
?” someone asked.

“The sheriff definitely hit one . . . in the arm,” Johnson said with a nod. “Saw him get hit. His gun went flyin'.”

“I've already got a wire off to the county sheriff in Bozeman,” a self-important man announced. “He'll get out a posse and catch 'em.”

That seemed to satisfy the crowd, who began drifting away from the deputy and toward the bar.

BOOK: Bounty Hunter (9781101611975)
5.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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