Authors: Bill Yenne
OLE AWOKE TO THE YAMMERING OF BIRDS OUTSIDE
the window and to the unfamiliarity of waking up on a mattress and between sheets for the first time in weeks. He had treated himself to a hotel room, spending part of his reward money on unaccustomed luxury. If he continued with his plan for an extended hunting trip up into the Beartooth Mountains, he wouldn't be within a hundred miles of a mattress for the next month.
Snapping open his pocket watch, the sturdy brass mechanism which he still thought of as
pocket watch, he was stunned to realize how badly he had overslept. It was not that he was on any kind of schedule, but being asleep when it was almost seven o'clock in the morning struck him as an egregious waste of daylight hours.
Having allowed himself the luxury of a hotel mattress, he allowed himself the luxury of a “store-bought” breakfast in the hotel dining room. He was just marveling at the extravagance of drinking coffee from a porcelain cup when a well-dressed man came into the dining room and started staring at him. Cole straightened his right leg a little, so that hisÂ .45 would be easy to reach, and returned the stare. At last, the well-dressed man approached.
“You Bladen Cole?”
“My name's OlsonÂ .Â .Â . Edward J. Olson. I work for Mr. Ransdell.”
The man's tone made it sound like everyone knew who “Mr. Ransdell” was, and those who did not
“Who's Mr. Ransdell?” Cole replied, in a tone intended to make it clear that he didn't know and really didn't care.
“He owns the Gallatin City Bank and Trust yonder,” Olson said, nodding in the general direction of across the street.
“Bladen ColeÂ .Â .Â . the
“Mr. Ransdell would like a word with you.”
“I won't ask why, because the way y'all said âbounty hunter' makes it sound more like business than pleasure. If you'd excuse me while I finish this cup of coffee, I'd be pleased to make the acquaintance of Mr. Ransdell.”
Ten minutes later, Olson was rapping on the front window of the bank with Bladen Cole in tow. It may have seemed to Cole like the day was half-gone, but by banker's hours, it was not even opening time.
Isham Ransdell heard the tapping and hurried to get the door himself.
Stepping inside, Cole scoured the room with his eyes. Ransdell was a wiry man with a narrow string tie and white sideburns that looked like they hadn't decided whether to get really bushy like Burnside's or allow themselves to be trimmed away entirely.
What caught Cole's eye, and would not let go, was the sight of a young woman in a gingham dress. It was conservatively high in the collar, but cut right in all the right places, and the places were very right, indeed. Her long, chestnut-colored hair was tied up, though loosely, in a blue ribbon which matched the color of her dress. Her eyes were big and gray, and she wore a confident, assured expression.
“Mr. Ransdell, this is Mr. Cole,” Olson said. “Mr. Cole, Mr. Ransdell.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” Cole said, gripping the man's hand and forcing his eyes away from the young woman.
“The pleasure is mine, Mr. Cole,” Ransdell said, in the smooth voice of a banker. “May I introduce my daughter, Hannah.”
“Ma'am,” Cole said respectfully, touching the brim of his hat.
“Mr. Cole,” she replied with an almost smile.
Ransdell invited the two men to sit down at a table in the lobby which Cole guessed was normally used for signing financial paperwork. He guessed that financial talk would be taking place there now.
Hannah, who apparently worked at the bank, sat down at a desk apart from the men, though clearly within earshot of the “men's business” that was about to be discussed.
“Mr. Cole, I'm sure that you are aware of the shooting that took place here in Gallatin City two nights past?” Ransdell began.
“You may not be aware that the three men who were present at the shootingÂ .Â .Â . including two who died in cold bloodÂ .Â .Â . were business associates of mineÂ .Â .Â . partners in some important business ventures.”
“I'm sorry for your loss, sir,” Cole nodded politely.
“I know that you are also aware that Sheriff John Hollin and another man were murdered by the same men who did thisÂ .Â .Â . and that Deputy Marcus Johnson was injured.”
“I watched him taken from his horse yesterday,” Cole said, nodding toward the place where the sheriff's last ride into town had come so dramatically to its end.
“I know,” Olson interjected. “I saw you there. Thought I recognized you from the papers. We heard about what you did down in Green River.”
“Your reputation precedes you, Mr. Cole,” Ransdell said, smiling.
“WellÂ .Â .Â . that's a good thing or a bad thing, depending,” Cole said thoughtfully. He knew that they were getting around to the place where the business talk was about to start. “What can I do for you?”
“There are four men at large who must be brought to justice,” Ransdell said.
“I know,” Cole agreed, “but from what I heard yesterday, the Gallatin County sheriff from down in Bozeman was being sent for. It would seem to be his job.”
“Well, there's a little bit of a problem in that,” Olson responded.
“Yeah. The Porter boys are headed up north. They'd be clear into Meagher County by now. That would put them out of Gallatin County jurisdiction.”
“Why doncha send a wire to the Meagher County sheriff?” Cole said, asking a question that seemed to him an obvious one.
“Well, that would be up in Diamond City,” Olson said, referring to the boomtown which had grown up in the heart of the Confederate Gulch diggings.
“Let me put it this way,” Ransdell interjected. “The law hasn't really taken root in Diamond City. Meagher County isn't quite as lawless, literally, as Choteau County, but it's not exactly as refined in its ways as places like Bozeman or Denver.”
“I understand,” Cole nodded. Nineteenth-century civilization had reached the West, but it had done so in narrow swaths.
“You sure it was the Porter boys?” Cole asked.
“Three witnesses recognized them.”
“There were fourÂ .Â .Â . Did the witnesses know the other two?”
“Milton Waller and Jimmy Goode. They are known to ride with the PortersÂ .Â .Â . do whatever Gideon Porter tells 'em to do. He has a way of mesmerizing others less long on mental acuityÂ .Â .Â . of manipulating them.”
“Hmmm,” Cole said thoughtfully, in his typical manner, intentionally evoking a sense of thoughtfulness.
“Soon as the state judge down in Bozeman wires through a warrant, I'd like to employ you to go get the Porter boys and bring them in to face the music,” Ransdell said emphatically, getting down to business.
“What sort of money are we talking?” Cole asked, also getting down to business.
“We are prepared to offer you a sum of three thousand dollars,” the banker said.
To Cole, this was a great deal of money. It was more than most laboring men could expect to earn in a year. However, the sum said a lot about Ransdell, and one of the things that it whispered in Cole's ear was how important this affair was to the man. The other thing it whispered was that there was more money on the banker's table.
“Well,” Cole said reticently. “I had a number a little north of four in mind.”
“I suppose we could split the difference at thirty-five hundred,” the banker said after a long pause to scratch some numbers on a piece of paper.
Cole smiled to himself. The man was used to dickering and anxious to cut a deal.
“WellÂ .Â .Â .” Cole drawled thoughtfully. “I did say that I was thinking of a number
of four. There
four of them and one of me.”
“Okay, I'll make it
,” Ransdell said. “And I'll pick up your tab at the hotel, and for your horse last night at the livery stableÂ .Â .Â . and stake you to whatever provisions you'll need for this manhunt.”
This time, the voice in Cole's head told him that they had reached the end of the dickering phase and it was time to extend his hand.
As Ransdell was writing out an agreement for them to sign, the boy arrived from the telegraph office with the warrant from the judge in Bozeman.
“Well, that makes it official,” Olson observed.
Ransdell read the paper and handed it Cole.
“Longest telegram I've seen,” he observed.
“Written by lawyers,” Ransdell said wryly.
“HmmmÂ .Â .Â .” Cole said, half reading the document out loud. “HmmmÂ .Â .Â . âarmed and dangerous,' it says. Would have thought that this goes without saying.”
“That's a way of saying they're wanted âdead or alive.' It's a way of saying they're to be brought back by any means necessary, and in any condition necessary for them to be brought back.”
“Most folks here in Gallatin City would rather see them
than alive,” Olson interjected.
Ransdell just nodded his head to confirm the assertion.
When they had finished signing an agreement and shaking hands a second time, Cole explained that he would be starting out first thing in the morning.
“Don't you want to get started right away?” Ransdell asked urgently. “You've got your warrant and they've already got almost a two-day head start.”
“That's right, Mr. Ransdell,” Cole agreed. “And at this point there's no way that hard riding will ever catch up to them. The only way that they're gonna get caught is if they can see that there's nobody coming after them. If they think they got away, they'll relax. They'll slow down. They'll get themselves caught. In the meantime, I'd like to spend what's left of this day taking a look at where the shooting happened and talking to them who was there.”
“That sounds reasonable, I suppose,” Ransdell admitted. “I guess you need to know who you're dealing withÂ .Â .Â . Hannah, could you take Mr. Cole over and see if Mrs. Blaine is up to receiving a caller?”
“Yes, Father,” Hannah said with a nod of agreement.
Bladen Cole smiled, but Hannah scowled slightly. She found the tall stranger easy on the eye and a bit captivating in a dangerous sort of way, but she didn't want him to know that such was the case.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
HAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THESE
Ransdell?” Cole asked as they walked.
“They're no good,” she said emphatically. “I knew them in school. A lot of the boys had a bit of the nick to them, but those two were just plain cruelÂ .Â .Â . cruel to animalsÂ .Â .Â . cruel to people. Enoch was the worst. He had a taste for bloodÂ .Â .Â . torturing and killing cats and dogsÂ .Â .Â . in ways I'd rather not describeÂ .Â .Â . or
“They ever kill any
“Not that I know ofÂ .Â .Â . Of course, I have never made it my place to know all of what the Porter boys were up to.”
“Why do you suppose they did it this time?”
“I dunnoÂ .Â .Â . some kind of grudge, I reckon.” Hannah shrugged. “Gideon used to work for Mr. Blaine but got himself fired.”
“What about the others?”
“Like my father said, they'll do anything Gideon Porter says to do. Milton Waller is dumb as a postÂ .Â .Â . quit school in the second gradeÂ .Â .Â . Jimmy Goode is known all over Gallatin County as âgood for nothing.'”
“What do they do for work, these boys?”
“They cowboy around. There's a lot of need for extra hands on the ranches at branding timeÂ .Â .Â . roundup time. Man who's good with a horse and rope, you don't care if he's dumb as a post or that he used to kick puppy dogs around.”
As they turned the corner onto Elm Street, the wind shifted and Cole caught a whiff of her perfume. It was just a trace, just barely there, not like the dolls in Denver who liked to really slather it on. She was naturally, and almost perfectly, beautiful, but the little threesome of freckles on her nose added a humanizing touch, softening the classical perfection of that beauty. This and the easy way that she smiledânow that she had relaxed and stopped forcing her jaw into a perfunctory scowlâmade her quite attractive.
The Blaine home was guarded by a man with a rifle whom Hannah knew. It was not so much that anyone expected the Porter gang to return to finish her off, rather he was there to give Mrs. Blaine the assurance of security. Hannah instructed Cole to wait outside while she went in to inquire as to whether Mrs. Blaine was up to a visit from the bounty hunter hired to avenge her husband's death.