Authors: Tabor Evans
Sweeping the Crime Under the RugÂ .Â .Â .
Longarm was about to leave when something on the floor caught his eye. It was the rug, and it was pushed up against a wall so that it was slightly bowed. Normally, such a small thing would not have caught his attention, but the rest of the bedroom was so orderly that it seemed odd.
“Hmmm,” he mused aloud, staring at the round rug, which was roughly six feet in diameter, and then on impulse tugging at it. It seemed to be cemented to the floor, and he had to put the lantern down and really put his back to it to tear the rug up from the floor. He tossed it aside and then picked up the lantern for a closer look.
“Oh, my,” he said, taking in a sharp breath, because under the rug and no doubt causing it to feel pasted to the floor was a very large, crusted, and blackened pool of blood.
“Murder,” he said to himself as he found his pocketknife, unfolded the longest blade, and began to scrape at the blood. “Someone was murdered right here in this roomÂ .Â .Â .”
THE GUNSMITH by J. R. Roberts
Clint Adams was a legend among lawmen, outlaws, and ladies. They called himÂ .Â .Â . the Gunsmith.
LONGARM by Tabor Evans
The popular long-running series about Deputy U.S. Marshal Custis Longâhis life, his loves, his fight for justice.
SLOCUM by Jake Logan
Today's longest-running action Western. John Slocum rides a deadly trail of hot blood and cold steel.
BUSHWHACKERS by B. J. Lanagan
An action-packed series by the creators of Longarm! The rousing adventures of the most brutal gang of cutthroats ever assembledâQuantrill's Raiders.
DIAMONDBACK by Guy Brewer
Dex Yancey is Diamondback, a Southern gentleman turned con man when his brother cheats him out of the family fortune. Ladies love him. Gamblers hate him. But nobody pulls one over on DexÂ .Â .Â .
WILDGUN by Jack Hanson
The blazing adventures of mountain man Will Barlowâfrom the creators of Longarm!
TEXAS TRACKER by Tom Calhoun
J.T. Law: the most relentlessâand dangerousâmanhunter in all Texas. Where sheriffs and posses fail, he's the best man to bring in the most vicious outlawsâfor a price.
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LONGARM AND THE DIME NOVELIST
A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright Â© 2014 by Penguin Group (USA) LLC.
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eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-63493-6
Jove mass-market edition / February 2014
Cover illustration by Milo Sinovcic.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Deputy United States Marshal Custis Long arrived at his office in the Federal Building on a cold, snowy morning on the second day of January. He made his way carefully up the ice-crusted steps and entered the foyer, nodding at a clerk who sat behind a desk checking on the comings and goings of visitors. The man's name was Otis and he was friendly and in his early sixties. Otis had once been a law officer, but he'd caught a bullet in the knee and now he walked with a pronounced limp. Longarm knew that Otis kept a bottle of whiskey in his desk to numb the constant pain he felt from the old wound. To Longarm's way of thinking, Otis had paid his dues and deserved whatever help he needed to get through his often boring workday.
“Morning, Marshal Long. How were your holidays?” Otis asked, glancing over the top of his daily newspaper.
Longarm stomped the snow off his boots and removed his gloves. The temperature outside was bitterly cold and a steady southwesterly wind made it seem even colder. Inside the big Federal Building the temperature was probably only about sixty degrees, but it felt very warm so Longarm removed his heavy coat.
“Otis, my holidays are always pretty quiet,” he told the clerk.
“No family visits?”
“That's right,” Otis said, looking a little embarrassed. “I forgot that you told me you were a confirmed bachelor. You know, Marshal, you ought to find a good woman and make her honest. I was single like you for a lot of years when I was in law enforcement. Then, after I was shot and had to take this desk job, I met my wife, Anna. I've been a far happier man while married than when I was single. You really ought to think about taking a wife.”
“Yeah.” Longarm unbuttoned his coat and slapped some snow off his flat-brimmed, snuff-brown hat. He had heard this same advice from the old lawman at least a hundred times already. “You're probably right.”
“Of course I am! And with your reputation as a ladies' man, you could have your pick of about any woman you set your eyes upon. In fact, I know of two good single women who work in this building that would love to get to know you better.”
“Sure is! You want to know who they are?”
Otis didn't even attempt to hide his disappointment. “Well, like I said, getting shot in the knee changed my whole life for the better.”
“Glad you feel that way, Otis.” Longarm liked and respected the man but sometimes found Otis a little bit pushy when offering his opinions.
“I tell you this,” Otis said as Longarm headed across the marble foyer toward the stairwell leading up to his second floor office, “the holidays can be mighty lonesome and sad without a wife and family. I got two lovely daughters and they're the reason that me and Anna put up a Christmas tree and make such a big deal of the holidays. Without a wife and kids, a man is bound to be miserable this time of the year.”
“I'll survive,” Longarm called over his shoulder as he entered the stairwell. “But thanks for your concern.”
“You really ought to let me tell you about those two women that are after your body!” Otis shouted. “They're awful good-lookin'!”
Longarm grinned and took the stairs two at a time. When he entered the office where he and his fellow workers spent their workday, he waved at a few of the other deputy marshals, tossed his coat, hat, and gloves on his desk, and headed for the little room where there was always hot coffee brewing.
“Hey,” a marshal named Pete Schilling said, raising his own cup of coffee. “How was your holiday?”
“Well, that's because you insist on remaining a bachelor and playing the field instead of finding a good woman to marry like my Clara.”
“Yeah,” Longarm said, trying to curb his mounting irritation, “we all reap what we sow, eh?”
“You could put it that way, I suppose.”
Longarm wasn't going to hurt the man's feelings by pointing out that Pete's wife was as fat as a sow and about as pretty as the butt end of a boar hog. No sir, he was just going to endure everyone telling him he ought to put himself in bondage and become a henpecked husband. Why the hell was it that married men seemed so determined that all their single friends follow their lead into marital bondage?
“Say,” the deputy said, turning around in the doorway. “The boss has a visitor who is asking about you. He's been pacing around waiting for you to finally come in this morning.”
“Billy needs to see me about a visitor?”
“That's right. And she's a beauty. You didn't go and leave her in a bad fix, did you?”
Longarm scowled even though he was almost legendary as a ladies' man and much more than commonly promiscuous. “Look, Pete, I haven't even had my first cup of coffee and you know I'm not one to talk about the ladies I date, so why don't you just put a cork in your ass before I start to put this coffee cup in it instead?”
Pete was about as thick-skinned and intelligent as an alligator. He wasn't listening and laughed. “You call taking your women to bed having a âdate'?”
“Pete, I'm warning you to lay off. I'm not in a mood to be trifled with this morning.”
“Yeah, you look wrung out all right. You know what? I've always been amazed that you haven't been taken to court by a dozen or so women you got pregnant. Why, I'll bet you have at least four or five bastards running around loose in Denver.”
Longarm had heard more than enough and he wasn't one to warn a man twice. Pete was obnoxious and he liked to goad people into getting angry before he backed off and tried to make a joke of his behavior. But not this morning. Pete needed to be taught a lesson, so Longarm slapped Pete's steamy cup of coffee splashing it across his shirt and face.
“Owww!” Pete howled, almost tripping as he backed up fast, wiping the coffee from his face. “Damnit, Custis, you had no call to do that!”
“Sure I did,” Longarm growled. “And the next time you try to put a burr under my saddle blanket I'm going to rearrange your face so that you'll be even uglier than your fat wife. How does that sound?”
Pete shook his head and reached for his handkerchief. “The thing I don't understand is how you have lived as long as you have given your shitty attitude and quick temper.”
Longarm moved toward Pete with his fist balled, but the man was smart enough to backpedal around a desk, then turn and scurry off.
“Asshole,” Longarm muttered, going back into the coffee room and taking his cup off a hook then filling it. He didn't use sugar or cream because, to his way of thinking, if a fella had to doctor up the taste of his coffee, then he might just as well not have any.
“Happy holidays,” a voice said behind him. “I see that you're in your usual sour postholiday mood.”
Longarm turned to see his boss, Marshal Billy Vail. Vail was of average height compared to Longarm's six feet four inches and physically unimposing, but he was one of the best lawmen in the building and a fine boss to work forÂ .Â .Â . if you had to work for anyone at all.
“Aw,” Longarm said, “it was Pete trying to get my goat. I just lost my patience with him and then he accidentally splashed coffee all over himself.”
“Yeah,” Billy said, “I'm sure it was an accident. Custis, you shouldn't let jerks like that get under your skin.”
“And you need to fire him,” Longarm countered. “But until you do I'll try to take that advice to heart. Otis said that someone was asking for me first thing this morning.”
“That's right. Did Otis also happen to mention that it is a woman and a very pretty one at that?”
“He did. Otis is always trying to get me paired up with some woman who is looking for a husband. Is that what this is about?”
“No,” Billy said. “This woman is definitely not looking for a husband unless maybe he's rich, which you definitely are not.”
“Glad to hear that.” Longarm took a sip of coffee and as usual found it to be weak. “You need to spend a little more money on the coffee fund, Billy. This stuff is as weak as tea.”
“It's paid for with taxpayer money so you shouldn't be bitching. Go ahead, swill it down and let's go see what this woman wants with you. She claims to be Governor Grover Wilson's daughter andÂ .Â .Â . if that's trueÂ .Â .Â . you need to be polite and respectful.”
Longarm mentally ran through some pretty faces that he'd dated and bedded, but he was sure that none of them had claimed to be the governor's daughter. “I'm always respectful to a lady, Billy. Southern upbringing. But in all honesty, I can't imagine why such a woman would want to see me.”
“I can't, either,” Billy agreed. “But she did ask me an odd question.”
“And that was?”
“Her name is Delia and she asked me if you were literate.”
Longarm almost choked on his coffee. “What!”
“You heard me.” Billy was trying his best not to smile. “And while I assured her that you were not a man to be found in a library, I told her that you were indeed literate and considerably smarter than you looked.”
“Thanks a million.”
“You're welcome,” Billy said, ignoring the sarcasm. “But here's the interesting thing. Delia then asked me if you liked to read dime novels.”
“That's what she asked.”
Longarm scowled. “What kind of a silly question is
“Beats me. I tried to press her for some answers regarding her interest in meeting you, but she deftly sidestepped everything and mentioned that she'd heard a lot about you and wanted to make your acquaintance.”
“Fine,” Longarm said, starting to get real curious. “Is she
a lookerÂ .Â .Â . or are you just setting me up for a fright? I wouldn't put it past any of you.”
“Delia is gorgeous,” Billy said, throwing up his hands. “Long blond hair, blue eyes, a figure that would make any man drool over, and lips thatÂ .Â .Â . well, let's just say that she ought to be outlawed around a bachelor as randy as yourself.”
“If she's that attractive and the daughter of our governor, then I'm sure she is completely out of my class and knows how to handle far more successful men very well.”
“We'll see.” Billy gestured toward the cup of coffee in Longarm's hand. “Why don't you leave that here for later and come meet Miss Delia Wilson? I'm as curious as you are as to why she wants to know if you read dime novels.”
“Just for your information, I never read them. They're pretty much bullshit.”
“I know, but extremely popular.”
Longarm shrugged his broad shoulders. “They're still bullshit.”
“Custis, please refrain from saying that to the young lady. Just be the southern gentleman that you were taught to be where you learned your manners back in West Virginia. And I know that you can layer the charm on with the best of them, Custis. Wouldn't hurt to do that this morning because I don't want Delia to go back to her father with bad things to say about the treatment she received at our office.”
“The last time I checked you didn't work for or take your orders from Governor Wilson.”
“That's true,” Billy agreed, “I don't. But you never know what will come down the pike, and in my job it always pays to make friends and avoid making enemiesÂ .Â .Â . especially among the politically powerful.” Billy clapped Longarm on the shoulder. “Just be your most charming self and let's find out what is on the young woman's mind.”
“Fair enough,” Longarm agreed. “But I don't care how important or pretty she is, I'm not kissing her butt or doing something unbecoming to my office.”
“Oh, horseshit,” Billy muttered as he turned to leave with a smile of amusement. “I got a feeling that kissing her lovely butt wouldn't be that unpleasant.”
Longarm burst out laughing. “Wait until the next time you have me over for supper and I tell your sweet wife what you just said!”
“Do that and I'll poison your damned coffee and after you are buried I'll piss all over your grave,” Billy called back.
Longarm gulped down the rest of his coffee. First Otis downstairs had badgered him about marriage, then Pete about maybe having some illegitimate children running around town, and now his boss and best friend Billy Vail threatening him with poisoned coffee.
This first day after the holidays was quickly going to hell in a handbasket, and he had a feeling things weren't going to get any better after he found out why in the world the governor's daughter wanted to know if he ever read those wildly popular but incredibly ridiculous dime novels with titles like
Bloody Day at Black Rock
Guts and Six-guns
The Badmen and the Even Worse Bad Women
Once, his barber had told him the plot of a popular dime novel and it had concerned a gunfighter who had gotten three of his fingers shot off so he had learned to throw hatchets with amazing speed and accuracy. And so this two-fingered ex-gunfighter had gone around throwing hatchets left and right and sometimes, just to warn his opponent, he'd throw the hatchets so accurately he sliced off ears!
Longarm was shaking his head when he turned a corner in the office and saw Delia sitting in front of Billy's desk. She was so good-looking he stopped in his tracks and let out a low whistle before he smoothed down his long, curly hair. Well, well, he thought, swallowing hard, maybe this first day back after the holidays was going to be more enjoyable than he'd expected!