Knuckle Ridge, Chapter 9

  • Posted on November 14, 2020 at 3:07 pm

by Purple Les

Early Friday morning, Sheriff Masters was seated under the overhang roof just outside his office on the boardwalk. It had only been light out for a couple of hours, but it was already clear that the day would be a hot one. His pipe was lit, its stem clamped between his jaws as he perused the latest edition of the Knuckle Ridge Clarion. As always, young Freddie had brought him a copy right away. “Best read it careful, sheriff,” the boy said with a grin before turning to run back to the Clarion office. “I think the ink’s still wet!”

“Much obliged, son,” Gus had replied. Now he was on the last page, taking the occasional draw on his pipe, glancing out at the street every now and then.

When he heard the rumble of the morning stage as it came in, Gus immediately folded his newspaper and put it to one side, watching the vehicle approach. It came to a stop before the coach office, and he studied the passengers carefully as they disembarked.

Pausing to relight his pipe, he saw Jack from the coach office point in his direction. A man was following Jack’s finger with his eyes. Gus leaned back in his chair as he took a deep draw, observing the stranger as he drew near.

The man put Gus in mind of a bulldog, wearing a suit and walking upright. Hell, that’s what The Kid said about him, he recalled. Like a bulldog, won’t let nothin’ go.

As the man came closer Gus could see he was maybe five foot and a few inches, almost as wide as he was tall. He wore a charcoal gray suit with a matching vest, bottle-green necktie and a derby hat, with a white shirt and collar that was still impeccably white, despite the dusty stage ride. He carried a black leather valise, and wore black shoes.

Under a large, hooked nose, the man’s ruddy face was adorned by a handlebar mustache, waxed and upturned at the ends. His double chin hung over his shirt collar, covering part of the knot of his tie. The man’s blue eyes were small shiny jewels set beneath bushy eyebrows.

The man halted on the boardwalk in front of Gus’s chair, put down the valise that was in his right hand and extended that pudgy paw to the sheriff.

In a voice that sounded like a bear who had learned to talk, the man said, “I’m Detective Mort Farnum with the Pinkerton Agency. Would you be Sheriff Gus Masters?”

Slowly rising, Gus nearly towered over the man standing before him, and he wasn’t especially tall to begin with. He gripped Farnum’s hand, surprised to find it firm, dry and strong.

“How d’ye do, Detective Farnum. Yes, I’m Sheriff Masters.” Gus replied. “How can I help you?”

A mostly unseen smile appeared beneath Mort’s mustache. “Is there somewhere we could speak privately, Sheriff?”

Turning to open the office door, Gus motioned the detective inside, then followed.

“Care for some coffee, Detective Farnum?” Gus asked. “It’s still hot.”

“Yes, thank you. And call me Mort.”

“And Gus is fine with me,” Sheriff Masters said as he filled a mug with hot coffee, then set it near the far edge of his desk. “Have a seat,” he added, gesturing at the nearby chair.

Carefully seating himself — the chair squeaking as if in protest at the man’s sheer bulk — Mort Farnum reached for the cup and sipped from it. Nodding appreciatively, he began to speak. “A week or so back, I was in Louisiana on assignment, where I got forwarded a telegram from the Tequila Kid about these three certain parties who happened to be in this area. I sent a reply to inform her that all three were wanted criminals, and that she was to arrest them, if she was able. I’m here now to take them into my custody… or apprehend them myself.”

Tilting back slightly in his chair, Gus said, “Well now, Mort, the only prisoner I’ve got in the cells is Jessica Sinclair.”

Mort’s eyes widened in surprise, “Why, that’s amazing! I figured that she’d be the one who was still on the loose. She’s notorious, sheriff, and twisted as a bent corkscrew. It’s a great accomplishment on your part, getting that one behind bars.”

“Well, the Tequila Kid deserves most of the credit for the capture,” Gus said. “You’re right to call the Sinclair woman a bad ‘un, though. Hell, she committed four murders in my jurisdiction. Anyhow, you don’t have to worry about her. This afternoon a U.S. Marshal will be here to collect her. She’ll be goin’ to Austin on the mornin’ train, where she’ll stand trial.” He took out his pipe and tobacco pouch. “Never heard tell of a woman bein’ sentenced to hang in these parts… but I reckon she’ll be the first.”

“I’d say you’re correct about that,” Mort replied with a nod. “We’ve got her down for at least eight murders that we know of, and that’s before your four.”

Packing the bowl of his pipe with tobacco, then tamping it down, Gus said, “Now, about this Yves De Bries fella you’ve come for…”

Mort leaned forward, his eyes riveted on the sheriff.

“He’s one of the four men murdered by Jessica Sinclair. They planted his remains in our cemetery, close to a week ago. If you want him, you can make arrangements to have the body exhumed.” Striking a match on the top of his desk, Gus lit his pipe and took a deep pull.

“I will do just that, Gus.” Mort said, “And what of Maggie McGill? Or maybe you know her as Lady Jane Wyeth-Boton. She travels with what she claims is a servant girl, but it’s actually her daughter.”

Gus blew a large cloud of smoke toward the ceiling, then said, “For that, you’ll need to find The Kid and ask her.”

Draining his coffee mug, Mort set it on the desk, reaching for his valise as he stood. “Fair enough, sheriff. Any idea where I’d find her?”

Gus shook his head. “No. But it ain’t too big a town.” Gus took a drag on his pipe and asked, “You have De Bries, though… why even bother with the mother and daughter? There’s no warrants on ‘em in the States.”

“Normally, I wouldn’t bother,” Mort said, “However, Scotland Yard in Great Britain has provided our agency with extradition papers for Maggie and Gracie McGill, so they’re to be brought in.” He shrugged. “It’s my job.”

After conferring with Gus over lodgings in town, Mort Farnum carried his grip up the street and checked in to the Smith House. After a quiet lunch, he began his search for The Kid.

***

The Tequila Kid spent the main part of her day keeping track of where Mort Farnum was and avoiding him. First she dropped by the stage office to ask a favor of Jack.

“I don’t know, Kid,” Jack muttered, an uneasy expression on his ruddy face. “I take pride in always treatin’ everyone square. Now you’re askin’ me to deceive a representative of the law.”

“You won’t get in trouble, Jack,” The Kid replied. “Besides, you do kinda owe me one. Didn’t I find Bob and Roy’s killer, and bring back them gold certificates?”

“All right, Kid, all right,” Jack sighed, his face turning even redder. “I’ll have a talk with the boys afore they leave in the mornin’.”

“Don’t you worry none, Jack,” The Kid said with a smile. “It’ll all go just fine.”

As Jack watched The Kid walk away, he thought, Lord God, what am I gettin’ myself into?

***

The Kid’s next stop was at the livery stable. After she explained what she needed, Nate looked worried and Mac seemed more confused than usual.

“I dunno, Kid,” Nate said at last.

“Now, Nate, it couldn’t be more simple. You just say that one little thing.”

“I don’t like messin’ with the law none, Kid. Even if he ain’t from these parts,” Nate insisted.

“Well… reckon I understand,” The Kid said with a sigh. “I guess it’s too much to ask, even from a friend.” She turned and started to walk away.

Mac gave Nate a disappointed look. Nate noticed, a deep frown creasing his dark visage. Pursing his lips, he took a deep breath, mumbled, “Hell fire.” Then he called out, “Hold on there, Kid!”

She turned around, gazing expectantly at Nate. He glared at her, then his features softened. “Fine,” he said, shaking his head. “We’ll do it.”

The Kid broke into a big smile that made Nate almost glad he’d changed his mind. “I ‘preciate that, Nate,” she said, returning to join him and Mac.

“Just tell it to me again, what it is you need me to do,” Nate said.

The Kid explained, then gave the large black man a pat on the shoulder. “Don’t you worry one little bit. It’ll go just fine.” With that, she turned to go.

As The Kid left the stable, Mac grinned. “You done good, Nate.”

Nate didn’t smile back, just yanked Mac’s hat off and flung it to the ground. “God damn it all,” he scowled. “Why in hell do I listen to her… or to you?”

“Cause you’re a right fella,” Mac replied, his cheerful visage undimmed.

“More like a damn fool,” Nate grumbled, bending to pick up the battered hat, brushing it off before he placed it back on the old man’s head. “C’mon, Mac… let’s go muck out them stalls.”

***

When the afternoon train roared into the station, Sheriff Masters was there to meet it.

The first passenger to disembark was Marshal Zebadiah Russel, his deputy Frank Tanner, and jail matron Ada Kelly. Gus had to admit that Marshal Russel cut a fine figure, with his height of six foot two and his professional demeanor. He was near Gus’s age of thirty-eight. Deputy Tanner was young but seemed able enough, an affable fellow with bright red hair, closer to Gus’s height and size. Ada Kelly was a hatchet-faced woman of around forty, about five foot tall and a hundred and sixty pounds, dressed completely in black.

Gus escorted the trio to the Ridge Hotel, where they would eat and retire for the day. Around six o’clock the following morning, Deputy Tanner would take up position in the mail car of the morning train, where Jessica Sinclair would be held during the journey back to Austin. Meanwhile, Marshal Russel and Ada Kelly would be at the sheriff’s office, preparing the prisoner for her trip. Sheriff Masters would accompany them to the train.

And that’ll be all she wrote, Gus told himself. Gotta admit, I’ll be glad to see the last of that woman. He’d tangled with more than a few scofflaws since putting on the sheriff’s badge, but that Jess Sinclair unsettled him something fierce.

***

Earlier that same day, Andromeda Purdy had paid a visit to the Ridge Hotel, where she spoke with Ed at the front desk, finally persuading him to go along with The Kid’s plan. Hastening up the stairs to the room where  Maggie and Gracie McGill were waiting, Ann then let them out the back door of the hotel and through back ways and alleys to her house. Though the former Lady Jane had been most reluctant to leave most of their things behind, Ann explained why it was crucial to only bring one suitcase with them.

Finally safe and secure at Ann’s house, Andromeda made tea for them all. Once seated with their cups, Ann spoke. “I know that you’ve already shared your story with The Kid, but she hasn’t told me anything of it. Might I ask the details of your husband’s death… if it’s not too painful?”

Unsure of how to respond, Maggie glanced at her daughter. “She should know, since she’s risking so much for us, Mummy,” Gracie said.

Maggie gave a thoughtful nod. “Very well then, Ann, I’ll tell you… I only hope you won’t think the worst of me.” She took a sip of tea, then replaced the cup in its saucer with a melancholy sigh.

“First, I should say that at first, my husband and I had a… a blissful marriage. When I gave birth to Gracie, our family was complete, and Kenneth and I were the proud parents of a lovely little girl.” She smiled at Gracie, who smiled back, blushing slightly.

Maggie went on to tell of the injustice her husband suffered at his place of employment, and of the hardships that followed. Soon, her story came to the evening of Kenneth’s death, and Maggie fell silent for a moment, staring at a handkerchief she clutched in her trembling hands.

Suddenly Gracie spoke up, “It was all my fault, Miss Purdy.”

“No!” Maggie immediately said, her eyes flashing. “It wasn’t your fault, I’ve told you that!” Hugging the child to her, she resumed the story. “It happened like this. Kenneth was frantic for more gin, but had no money, and there was nothing of ours left to pawn. He was quite out of his mind, shaking as if he had a fever. His plan was to… to force me to lie with another man, to g-get the money he needed.” Now on the verge of tears, Maggie fought to control her emotion, to keep talking. “I refused, and that sent Kenneth into a blind rage. He was beating me, ripping at my clothes. Gracie tried to pull him off me, and he struck her a hard blow, knocking her to the floor.” Her jaw tightened. “Even at his worst, he’d never hit our child before.

“I managed to get to my feet and told Gracie to run away, to fetch help. I suppose that for Kenneth, it was the last straw. He snatched up a knife and came at me. There was murder in his eyes, I saw it plain as day. I would be dead now if Gracie hadn’t hit Kenneth on the head with the tea kettle. But…” There was a tremor in her voice. “He fell… and in the falling, impaled himself on the knife.”

“Oh, dear,” Andromeda whispered.

Maggie looked up, meeting Ann’s gaze. “I’m afraid that I wasn’t completely truthful with The Kid. When I told her this story, I left Gracie out of it, told her that I hit Kenneth with the kettle.” She sighed. “I didn’t want to lie, but I had to protect my daughter.“ Bending down, she kissed the crown of Gracie’s head, then gave Ann a sad smile. “I know now that I can trust you and The Kid, so there need be no more falsehoods between us.”

Drawing little Gracie into her lap, Maggie continued her story, how she went to the police to inform them of the death of her husband and was arrested for his murder. “I did have one piece of luck,” she said. “Before I left, I asked my downstairs neighbors, the Fitzwickers, to look after Gracie while I was out. God bless them, they took my daughter in when I was in custody, kept her safe.”

“They were kind to me,” Gracie said. “Their little girl died when she was five.”

“When the police found the mark from the kettle on Kenneth’s head,” Maggie said, “there was no hope left for me — I was blamed for his death. Of course, I couldn’t tell them that it was Gracie who struck the blow. She had saved my life, and I was determined to save hers.”

“I wanted to tell what really happened,” Gracie declared. “But Mum made me swear on the family Bible that I never would.”

“Soon after that, they put me on trial,” said Maggie. “I tried to explain that Kenneth had the horrors, that he meant to kill me with the knife, but…” She shook her head. “The prosecutor for the Crown told the jury that the worst sin a wife could commit was to raise a hand to her husband, that I’d committed a crime against God. I knew they meant to have me hang… so when the chance arose for me to escape, I seized it.”

Ann nodded. “The Kid told me about how you made your escape from the police.”

“Yes, then I managed to get word to Mrs Fitzwicker, who brought Gracie to me. Two days later, we fled to America.” She fell silent, stroking her daughter’s hair. “On the voyage, I met a woman named Sophie LaForge, who befriended me. Once she learned that I was without much in the way of money, she made a proposal. She’d worked with another woman as a medium, pretending to talk to dead spirits for those who would pay dearly to speak to them. Like us, she was fleeing the law. Sophie’s partner had betrayed her for a man, and shopped her to the police.

“Sophie was looking for a new partner, and suggested that I join her. I was hesitant, as you can imagine, but in the end, she persuaded me. After all, I had no idea how I was to make my way in America. I’d never worked before, you see, and had a child to provide for.”

“This Sophie,” Ann said, stroking her chin thoughtfully, “she showed you how to do seances?”

Maggie nodded. “She taught me all the tricks of the trade. How to get information, to ask the right questions, how to establish the proper atmosphere, how to create a diversion.” She paused, looking away. “That wasn’t all she taught me, though. Sophie saw the… the loneliness that I felt. How long it was since I had been touched by a loving hand.” Her eyes meeting Ann’s, she continued. “She taught me the pleasures that women can share between them. We became lovers. I won’t keep that a secret from you, Ann… or The Kid.”

“Thank you,” Ann replied, her heart beating faster. “What happened to Sophie?”

Parting her lips to speak, Maggie hesitated. Gracie spoke up. “She caught a fever.”

“It happened about halfway through our passage,” Maggie said. “I don’t know what caused it. She suffered terribly, couldn’t hold anything down. After three days, Sophie died.”

“Oh, dear,” Ann said.

“But I had the knowledge that she passed on to me, and decided that we would make use of it,” Maggie continued. “I taught Gracie to partner with me. She had always been a clever child who loved to pretend, and liked to use different voices. I realized that her age could work to our advantage. A medium with a pretty little girl would be more likely to inspire trust.”

“I didn’t want to… it seemed wicked,“ Gracie said. “but Mummy made me see that we had to earn our bread somehow. She was afraid that we might have to take jobs in a factory, or a mill.”

“How did you end up working with Count Cousiourac?” Ann asked.

“Oh, him,” Maggie sighed. She told the story of Yves DeBries, how he had latched onto them, threatening to have Maggie exposed as a murderer on the run unless they cut him in for the lion’s share of their takings.

“My, my!” Ann exclaimed. “I always did feel ill at ease around that man. Now I see why.”

“Mummy,” Gracie said, peering up at her mother. “You didn’t tell the whole story. Not the part about us.” Taking Maggie’s hand, she brought it to her lips.

“No,” Maggie admitted. “I suppose that we ought to. Do you want to tell it?”

Gracie nodded. “Yes, please.” Turning to Ann, she said. “You see, Miss Purdy, I knew my mother was… coupling with Miss LaForge. She tried to hide it from me, that they were lovers, but I figured it out soon enough. Mummy and I always shared a bed; she never made me sleep at night by myself. They would slip away during the day to — to do things together.

“After Miss LaForge died, I could tell that Mummy was sad and lonely. When we were in bed at night, she held me close, sometimes until morning. I loved when she did that… but it hurt me to see her so unhappy. That was when I knew that I really wanted to — to be more to Mummy than just her little girl. I wanted to give her the same good feelings that Miss LaForge did… and for her to love me the same way.” Gracie gazed up at her mother with adoring eyes. “Now you, Mummy. Tell Miss Purdy about that night, when we…” Suddenly shy, the child fell silent.

“It was nearly two weeks before we reached New York,” Maggie began. “Gracie was already in bed, while I was writing in my journal. Then I undressed, got into my nightshirt, and joined my daughter… only to discover, when I took her in my arms, that she was completely naked beneath the blanket.”

“Oh, my,” Ann said. Her pulse was racing, and she felt quite warm underneath her dress.

“As you can imagine, I was astonished — but even more so when Gracie kissed me! I was too taken aback to respond, and that was when my daughter spoke her mind, saying she loved me, and longed for us to… to share the same pleasures that I had enjoyed with Sophie.” Her cheeks had flushed to a darker hue of pink. “I must admit that, when cuddling with Gracie on those previous nights, the feeling of her body against mine left me… somewhat lightheaded. And very aroused.”

“I think I knew that, somehow,” Gracie added.

“Under ordinary circumstances, I would not have given into my desire, I think,” Maggie said, “but Gracie was such a lovely child, and felt so good in my arms…” She gave a blissful sigh. “Then, knowing that she wanted me that same way… well, I succumbed to her charms, as they say, and we kissed again. Then my daughter undressed me, and we made love.”

“It was perfect,” the child said. “Some things I didn’t know how to do, but Mummy showed me. And after it was over, I smiled at her, kissed her hand and said, ‘Now I am yours, forever and ever’.”

Maggie gazed down at her little girl. “Since then, I have shared my bed with other women… so has Gracie, actually. But we always have each other. She is the love of my life.”

“And I never want that to stop.” Gracie added, smiling as she rested her head on Maggie’s knee.

***

As evening came, a few drovers rode into town. Looking to see how much they could drink and whore and gamble before their pay ran out, they were mostly harmless cowpokes letting off steam after weeks on the trail. On occasion they would brawl in the street, or fire their guns into the air.

Gus, Jigs, and Rick kept an occasional eye on them, but Gus was mostly concerned with the prisoner locked in his back cell. Tomorrow mornin’ can’t come too soon for me, he thought. Don’t reckon I can set easy until the Sinclair woman is on that train and gone.

He was sitting at the small table in his office oiling his gun when Mort Farnum entered. Seating himself across from Gus, the stout man announced, “Sheriff, I have been unable to locate The Kid.”

Gus nodded. “Can’t say I’m surprised. She sure can make herself scarce when she puts her mind to it.”

“Nonetheless,” Mort continued, “I have been talking to some of the people of the town.”

Gus took out his pipe and filled it with a generous pinch of Burley from his tobacco pouch. Mort Farnum frowned… then with a small shrug, took a cigar from his coat pocket and lit it up.

As Gus applied a match to the bowl and took a deep draw, Mort continued. “I went to the Ridge Hotel, only to discover that Maggie McGill has already checked out. She had a small mountain of luggage in the lobby. A desk clerk — Ed, I believe his name is — told me the bags would be going to the stage depot.” Pausing to puff at his stogie, he sat back in his chair. “I think Mrs McGill will try to leave on the morning stage.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Gus said. “But what about the train?”

Mort shook his head, saying, “No, I don’t believe she’d risk it. There’ll be too much attention there because of Jessica Sinclair.” Suddenly leaning forward, he added, “I think Mrs McGill and her daughter are with The Kid right now, hiding out at the home of a Miss Andromeda Purdy.”

Gus was silent, the pipe stem held in his strong jaw as he finished loading his gun. Examining it with a nod, he slid the weapon into its holster.

“Sheriff Masters,” Mort said gruffly, “I must ask you to lead me to this Miss Purdy’s home, so I can take the woman and child into my custody tonight.”

Taking the pipe from his mouth, Gus frowned, then tapped out the bowl on the heel of his boot.

“I reckon I’m obliged to do as you ask, but it’s your show, Mort,” Gus said.

They both rose and stepped outside. Gus looked up and down the noisy street. It was dark now, though there were lanterns on the fronts of buildings to provide a bit of illumination, with a few oil lamps spilling light onto the street and boardwalk from inside windows and open doors.

Seeing Jigs, Gus waved him over. “Keep an eye on things here, Jigs. I’ll be with Detective Farnum here for a spell. Have yourself some coffee — I think it’s still hot.”

“Okay, Gus,” the long-limbed deputy replied. Stepping into the office, he turned to watch Gus and that East Coast private eye walk into the darkness.

Ten minutes later, Gus knocked on the front door of Ann Purdy’s house. As they waited for a response, Gus observed the flower bed of yellow, red and orange marigolds that lined the front walk of Ann’s house. They looked lovely in the soft light from the lantern that glowed by the door, beneath the covered porch where Gus and Mort waited.

The front door opened, and The Tequila Kid stood in the doorway, smiling.

“Howdy, Gus.” The Kid said. Noticing who was with him, The Kid enthused, “Well, I’ll be. If it ain’t Mort Farnum! I recollect I still owe you a drink, Mort. How ‘bout I get my hat and we all head over to the Broken Horn, catch up on old times?”

Mort squared his shoulders. “You do owe me a drink, Kid. But right now, I am here on business.”

“What sort of business?” The Kid inquired, wearing a puzzled expression.

“I believe you are harboring a wanted fugitive here in this house. Maggie McGill Hopkins is wanted for murder in England, and I am here to take her and her child into custody to be extradited back to their homeland, so she can face trial,” Mort growled. “Per the telegram I sent you.” He paused, sizing The Kid up. “Could it be that you are holding Mrs Hopkins for me, rather than aiding and abetting a fugitive?”

“Shucks now, Mort,” The Kid said in a honeyed voice. “Her husband died by accident by his own hand, and the little girl sure didn’t have nothin’ to do with it. The way I hear it, that Hopkins feller attacked his wife and daughter with intent to kill. Maggie McGill Hopkins was just defendin’ her little girl.”

“That is for a judge and jury in England to decide, not me,” Mort fired back, “I have my job to do.”

The Kid stood a little straighter and said, “Why don’t you let me buy you that drink, Mort? They ain’t here anyways.”

“Then,” Mort countered, “You won’t mind me coming in to take a look around…?”

“No, I don’t mind,” The Kid said.

As Mort and Gus took a step forward to enter the house, The Kid put the palms of her hands flat against each man’s chest, stopping them in their tracks.

With a slight edge to her voice, The Kid said, “I don’t mind… if you got a search warrant, that is. Do you?”

Gus stepped back, and Mort frowned as he looked up at The Kid. “I can get one.”

“You go ahead and do that, then. I reckon Judge Nels should be back from his fishin’ trip by Monday,” The Kid said smugly.

Mort’s face grew red, and he pointed a stubby but well-manicured finger at The Kid. Just as he was about to speak, a delicious aroma wafted through the door, then Ann Purdy appeared beside The Kid in the doorway. Ann’s jaw was no longer swollen, but four long scabs from Jessica Sinclair’s nails still showed on her face.

Using a dish towel to hold a hot fry pan with cornbread in it, Ann smiled at the sheriff, saying, “Gus! What a pleasant surprise.”

Gus removed his hat, saying, “Good evenin’, Miss Ann. This is Detective Mort Farnum.”

Mort removed his hat, giving a polite nod of his head, and Ann said, “Pleased to meet you, Mr Farnum. I just took this out of the oven. Won’t you both please come in? I’ve got coffee brewing, and I must say that The Kid makes the best cornbread you’ll ever taste.”

The Kid frowned at Ann, saying, “Mort here, he thinks that Lady Jane gal is hidin’ out here with her little girl.”

Ann laughed brightly. “That’s ridiculous. I’m sure they’d be at Mrs Ruggles’ estate if they were anywhere.”

As she spoke those words, The Kid gave Ann a kick to her ankle, suddenly scowling.

Glancing at The Kid, Ann whispered, “Oh, dear,” pressing a hand to her lips.

A barely perceived smile spread under Mort Farnum’s big mustache. Putting his hat back on, he gave a brief bow. “Thank you ever so much, Miss Purdy. It was a pleasure meeting you.” With that, he turned to leave. Gus followed, taking one last longing look at that steaming pan of cornbread.

As the two men walked away, they could hear The Kid’s angry voice, saying, “Damn it all, Andromeda Henrietta Purdy… how in hell could a woman smart as you be such a fool?”

When they reached the edge of town, Gus turned to Farnum and said, “Well, Mort, I reckon you got this matter well in hand, so if it’s the same to you, I’ll be headin’ back to my office. Got that prisoner to keep an eye on.“

The detective extended a hand. “I’m obliged to you, Gus.” They shook.

“Have a pleasant evenin’, Mort,” Sheriff Masters replied.

“The same to you, sir,” Farnum replied, and set off in the direction of the livery stable at a brisk pace.

Gus watched as the pudgy man vanished into the night. Shaking his head, he headed the other way, in the direction of his office.

Once he arrived at the stable, Farnum rented the red hammerhead roan, getting directions to the Ruggles estate from Nate before riding away. Short and stout as he was. Mort was an odd sight on horseback, but he rode with practiced skill.

***

Ann waited several minutes after Gus and the detective stranger had left, then climbed the stairs to her bedroom. She gently tapped on the door, then opened it, smiling at the frightened woman and child. “They’ve gone, ladies,” she said, “Now come down and eat with us.”

A very relieved Maggie and Gracie followed Ann downstairs to the kitchen, where The Kid was pouring the coffee. Looking up, she said, “Sit you down and tuck in — the food’s still warm.”

As they ate the delicious cornbread, The Kid said, “That trick we run on Detective Farnum… that’ll keep him out of our hair for the rest of the night.”

“Thank you for that — both of you,” Maggie said.

“Now, once you two get to San Francisco,” The Kid said, taking out a folded piece of paper, “I want you to look up a Miss Holly Mayflower. I had Ann write up this here letter for you to take to her. Holly runs a specialty house. She’s a mighty good woman, and I feel sure she’d give you a job there.” She handed the paper to Ann. “Read this for us?”

The Kid had dictated the letter to Ann earlier in the day. Ann offered to clean up the grammar, but The Kid refused. “I want her to know for sure that it’s from me.”

“Believe me, she’ll know,” Ann countered, rolling her eyes.

Now she read it out loud to the others. “Hey, Holly. This here is The Kid. Hope you’re well, miss you. I ain’t coming there to work in your fancy house yet, on account of I’m still with the Texas Rangers. The gal with this letter is Maggie McGill and her daughter Gracie. They have a secret, that they are also lovers. I recollect you told me once that a mother and her girl who took pleasure together could make you rich. So here they are. They are good friends of mine, so don’t you cheat them none. Don’t ask Maggie to do the deed with any man unless she wants. Most of all, make sure they keep their hands off of little Gracie. Hope to see you again someday. Your old pal, The Tequila Kid.”

Under her name was The Kid’s outline drawing of a raven.

Slipping the letter into an addressed envelope, Ann handed it to Maggie. The Kid said, “Well, what do you think?”

“How much would we make?” Maggie asked.

The Kid shrugged. “Maybe a thousand or so dollars in a month. I don’t rightly know.”

“Oh, Mummy,” Gracie said as she helped herself to another piece of warm cornbread, “We’d be rich. And we’d be getting paid for doing what we love anyway.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” Maggie said thoughtfully as she looked at her daughter.

“I was thinkin’, though,” The Kid said slowly, “since I’m sayin’ how good a show you’d do, maybe you should give me and Ann a sample.”

Ann blushed. “You shouldn’t ask that of our guests, Kid.”

“Well, now, Ann,” The Kid said, “me, I already seen ‘em together. But I think you should have a look, too. Y’know, to make sure they’re as lovely a sight as I figured.”

Ann’s hands trembled and her voice shook as she stared at the floor. “I’m sure that’s not necessary, Kid.”

“Well, we got a few hours to kill here. Don’t no one seem sleepy yet.” The Kid countered.

Still eating her slice of cornbread, Gracie said, “I think it’s a splendid idea. Don’t you think so, Mummy?”

“Don’t speak with your mouth full, dear.” Maggie said. “And yes, I think it’s a marvelous idea.” She reached out to touch Ann’s chin, forcing her blushing face upward, looking into her eyes. “I think Miss Purdy is rather shy. But tell us truly, Ann… wouldn’t you like to see Gracie and me make love?”

Ann nodded her head, somehow managing to say, “Yes. I — I would like that, very much.”

“Well, it’s settled, then,” The Kid said.

Gracie jumped to her feet, crying, “Yippee!” The adults all stared at the child, who sheepishly added, “I thought… well, that’s how one expresses joy in these parts, is it not?”

Everyone laughed. Rising from her seat, The Kid murmured, “I reckon we’re done with supper.”

No one spoke, but the air seemed to crackle with excitement as they filed up the stairs to Ann’s bedroom. Once inside, The Kid lit the lamp on the nightstand. The drapes were already drawn. There were two chairs in the bedroom, and Maggie silently directed The Kid and Ann to sit in them.

While Maggie slowly undressed, Gracie gave The Kid a long, wet kiss. Ann’s head swiveled back and forth — watching Maggie strip, then her lover and the child kissing, then back to Maggie again. Gracie had unbuttoned The Kid’s shirt and was teasing her nipples, cooing with delight as she watched them stiffen to the touch.

Glancing back at Maggie, Ann saw that the older woman was now nude, a hand moving between her spread thighs while she watched her daughter fondle The Kid’s tits.

Slowly withdrawing two fingers from her vagina, Maggie proffered them to the child. “Gracie, dear, come taste your mummy’s cunt.”

Gracie broke away from The Kid, crossed the room to where her mother sat, and took the glistening fingers into her mouth, making a big show of sucking them clean, then turned to Ann with a smile.

Ann’s eyes widened in wonder as Gracie approached, then drifted shut again as the child kissed her, slipping her tongue between the woman’s parted lips. Ann whimpered as she returned Gracie’s tender kiss, tasting the little girl’s mother on her tongue.

Then she felt Gracie’s hands, touching her breasts through the blouse she wore. Breaking their kiss, Ann moaned, “Oh, sweet child…”

“Do you want to see Mummy undress me?” Gracie whispered, nuzzling Ann’s ear.

“I — I do, yes,” Ann replied. Her heart was racing. The secret fantasy she’d held onto for so long, her dream of making love to a little girl — was it really about to happen?

Leaving a kiss on Ann’s cheek, Gracie returned to her mother. “Mummy,” she said, “I want to be naked, so Miss Purdy can see all of me. Will you take my clothes off?”

“I will, my love,” Maggie said, smiling at her daughter.

The Kid quickly shucked her own clothes as she and Ann watched Maggie unfasten the hooks at the back of Gracie’s dress. Now nude, The Kid padded over to Ann and began to strip her lover. Gracie watched as Ann’s beautiful body was slowly revealed, licking her lips in anticipation of the pleasures they would all soon share.

Ann was beside herself, trembling with helpless desire as she watched Maggie slowly remove her little girl’s clothes, pausing to caress and kiss Gracie’s body as, bit by bit, it was laid bare.

Now all four of them were naked, and the air in the small bedroom was thick with the scent of female lust.

Maggie laid back on the bed with her thighs spread wide, tugging at her nipples. Ann began to touch herself, giving her pussy what it begged for as she stared at the little naked girl standing before her, displaying everything she had.

The sight was even lovelier than she’d expected. The flowing black hair against the soft white skin. Her bright blue eyes, framed by dark eyelashes. Those full red lips,that put Ann in mind of a child from a Dickens novel. The merest hint of breasts, capped by erect, rosy nipples. Those long coltish legs, and that beautiful bare vulva.

But somehow, what thrilled Ann most was the smile on Gracie’s face, a smile that said, You can have me. Right here. Right now. She could practically hear the child speak the words.

“Now… show our friends how you pleasure a woman with your mouth, Gracie,” Maggie instructed her little girl, placing a hand just above her cunt.

Pausing to blow Ann a kiss, turned to join her mother on the bed. Lying between Maggie’s spread legs, the eleven-year-old buried her mouth in the dark blonde curls and began to lick. It was a wondrous sight, this child making love to a woman… but Ann’s attention soon shifted to Gracie’s bottom, which wriggled a bit as  she ground her sex into the bed.

“Turn around, love,” Maggie said. “Mummy wants a taste of you, too.”

Shifting around, Gracie turned her body about so that she was straddling her mother’s chest, then started licking her from the other direction.

“She loves it when I do this to her,” Maggie said, smiling at Ann. Cupping her daughter’s buttocks, she lifted her head from the pillow, gently spread the girl’s cheeks apart and began to ream her bottom hole, bathing the dark cleft with long, slow swipes of her tongue.

Maggie couldn’t keep her head raised like that for very long, though, and had to stop. Lying back down, she began to pleasure Gracie with her fingers, lovingly stroking the little girl’s bare slit.

Lost in the lewd scene playing out before her, Ann actually flinched when The Kid touched her arm. “Oh!” she gasped; then, seeing who it was, her cheeks flushed bright pink. “Oh, my,” she whispered.

“Let’s get closer,” The Kid said, helping Ann up from the chair. “Get us a good look.”

Obediently following her lover, Ann was soon standing beside the bed, gazing wide-eyed at the genuinely moving sight of a mother and daughter, joyfully sharing their bodies. A soft moan escaped her lips as she watched Gracie moving three fingers in and out of Maggie’s hole, the girl’s lips glued to the woman’s swollen clit.

Poor Ann was quivering from head to toe with unspent desire. From her new vantage point, she could reach out and touch the incestuous lovers if she cared to. The sounds of mouths and fingers toying with wet flesh made sweet music, and the thick, intoxicating smell of cunt filled Ann’s head, making her dizzy.

The Kid spoke. “Don’t know about you, Ann, but I kinda feel like joinin’ this here party.” Bending down, she licked Gracie’s butthole, slipping a hand beneath the moaning girl to grope at Maggie’s tits.

Ann had to sit back down before she swooned, overwhelmed by the vision of this wicked tableau. God forgive me, she thought… but if this isn’t heaven, it’s as close as I’ll ever be to seeing it in this life.

The Kid fell to her knees beside the bed, frantically rubbing at her clitoris. “Shit!” she gasped, “I — I’m gonna come.” An instant later, she gave a hoarse cry, her lean frame shaking, teeth bared as she spent. Her drawn-out moan dwindled to a whimper, and The Kid lost her balance, falling onto her ass with a thud. She winced at first — then relaxed, lying down on the oaken floor with a blissful smile on her lips. Gracie giggled, then turned her full attention back to her mother’s pussy. Down below, Maggie continued to love the little girl with slow, lingering strokes of her tongue.

It was all too much for Ann, who suddenly found herself coming without warning, even with both hands resting on her knees. It left her dazed and panting for breath, but she kept watching Maggie and Gracie as they made love, determined to see it all.

Struggling to her feet, The Kid tottered over to the bed and bent to claim Maggie’s mouth in a penetrating kiss, tasting Gracie on her lips. Now they were both masturbating the child.

Seconds later, Gracie gave a muffled cry into her mother’s cunt as the two women brought her off. She paused to take a deep breath, then delved between Maggie’s thighs again, licking at the sodden flesh for all she was worth.

Ann watched in awe as the eleven-year-old girl drove her mother to orgasm, Maggie moaning and writhing while The Kid continued to kiss her. Finally breaking away from The Kid, she twisted away from her daughter’s mouth, panting, “That’s enough, Gracie.” Her voice trailed into a whisper. “My, that was lovely…”

Ann felt certain that little Gracie had to be exhausted from her lovemaking. Instead, the child all but leaped from the bed, hurried over to where Ann sat and claimed the startled woman’s mouth in a heated tongue kiss, all the while toying with her bare breasts.

Suddenly Gracie broke away, gazing deep into Ann’s wide-open eyes. “Miss Purdy,” she said, her voice like sweet music, “May I lick your fanny now? I want to make you come on my face, like Mummy just did.”

The Kid sat on the bed with Maggie, observing the rapt expression on Ann’s face, her body pulsing with excitement. My sweetheart’s dream is finally comin’ true, she thought. And I’m gettin’ to see it happen.

“You want to lick me?” Ann breathed, resting a hand on her upper chest. Even as she spoke, Gracie knelt before her and was gently parting Ann’s legs.

“Yes… yes I do,” Gracie affirmed, “More than anything.”

Ann smiled down at the eager angelic face that was beaming up at her. “I would love that, Gracie.”

With those words, Gracie leaned forward and took a long slow lick, her tongue bathing the length of her new lover’s vulva. “Oh… oh, my,” Ann sighed, sinking back into the chair.

Gracie looked up. “You taste divine, Miss Purdy.” she said, then buried her mouth in Ann’s bush and began to feast on the older woman, just as she had done for Maggie.

Gently placing both hands on Gracie’s head, Ann lifted her feet and placed them on the edges of the chair, giving this exquisite child full access to her hot, wet cunt. No question about it — this little girl knew how to use her mouth, tongue and lips on a woman. Ann shook her head in wild abandon, her long hair coming undone to fall loose around her shoulders.

“Enjoy it, Ann,” Maggie said. “I assure you, my daughter loves nothing better than making a woman spend in her face.”

Rising from the bed, The Kid moved over to where Ann sat. She bent down to cup her lover’s breasts, taking hold of the taut nipples and lightly pinching them, Nuzzling her ear, The Kid whispered, “Go on, Ann. Do it now. Come for us.”

With a loud wail, Ann did just that, bathing the little girl’s face with her fluids. But Grace refused to stop,  keeping up her efforts until Ann reached a second orgasm that was even more frenzied than the first.

Please s-stop!” Ann gasped as she pushed at Gracie’s head. “No more. I can’t bear any more pleasure. Oh, what a dear girl you are.” Clumsily dragging the child into her arms, she began to kiss and lick her own nectar from Gracie’s lips and chin.

Gathering up her clothes, The Kid said, “I had me a fine old time… but shucks, I got to go check up on things in town.” Dipping her head, she kissed Ann and Gracie in turn, then said, “Just one thing I need you to do, Ann.”

Ann looked up at The Kid, confused. “What’s that?”

“You oughta return the favor to Gracie… make her come, too.” She winked at Ann, then exited the room, blowing a kiss to Maggie before she closed the door.

Downstairs, The Kid washed up with the well water in the bucket, then quickly dressed. She put on her gun belt and Bowie knife… then as an afterthought, put on the gadget with the derringer.

She made her way into town, being careful to stay in the shadows and out of sight as much as she could. Nearing the livery stable, she saw a visibly fuming Mort Farnum ride in on one of Nate’s horses. Glancing up at the fading stars, The Kid touched the ring on its chain beneath her shirt.

***

Mac had stayed up that night in the stable, while Nate slept on the pallet he kept in his office. Mac spent the time whittling, taking an occasional pull from his bottle. He’d spent the past few weeks carving the head of an Indian chief, and was putting the final touches on the face.

He was squinting at it, trying to figure out if the nose was even on both sides, when that detective — Farnum, or Barnum, or whatever his handle was — came in leading the hammerhead roan, a grim expression on his face.

Placing his work to the side, Mac struggled to his feet. “Did ye have a good ride, then?” he asked.

Mort frowned as handed over the reins of the horse to Mac. “What’s open this time of night?”

“Well, th’ bars are closin’ soon, if they ain’t already. But if it’s food ye want, the Highland Cafe stays open all th’ time.”

The bulky man turned and stalked away without a word. Mac watched him go, shrugged, then patted the horse’s neck, speaking soothing words as he led her to a stall.

At the Cafe, Farnum ordered breakfast and coffee. Waiting for his meal to arrive, he brooded about the time he’d wasted at the Ruggles estate.

After looking the place over for a while, he’d finally gone to the door and knocked. A pompous butler had admitted him, then guided Farnum to a sitting room where he’d been left to cool his heels for nearly an hour before Mrs Ruggles, a crotchety old woman with a bandaged eye, bothered to put in an appearance.

It hadn’t gone well. He explained the circumstances of the case, and Mrs Ruggles told him in no uncertain terms that he was clearly after the wrong woman, who hadn’t been in her home for more than a week anyhow. Then she called him a blithering idiot, and ordered him to leave. The stiff-necked butler had shown Farnum out, the man’s lip curled in a sneer of disdain.

Mort’s reverie was interrupted by the arrival of his breakfast. With a sigh, he sprinkled his eggs with pepper, then tucked in. That Tequila Kid made a fool of me, he reflected, spearing a sausage with his fork.

In spite of it all, Mort had to grin wryly, shaking his head at how neatly he’d been taken in. That woman always knows how to put a burr in my britches… but damn it all, she’s got more sand than any man I’ve ever known.

***

Back at Andromeda’s house, Gracie was stretched out on the bed, smiling blissfully as Ann kissed, licked and touched every inch of the little girl’s body, savoring her like a good wine. Maggie was seated in the chair, gently stroking her slit as she enjoyed the show.

Soon, though, Gracie was whimpering, her need at fever pitch. “Please, Miss Ann,” she entreated, ”oh, please release me from this — this heavenly agony.”

Moistening her lips, Ann slowly drew toward the child’s smooth sex, breathing in the musky, yet delicate scent. She gazed at its bare beauty, drawn to it like a moth to the flame. Moving closer still, Ann extended her tongue, then trailed the tip of it through the sweet pink cleft, licking from the bottom to the top, ending with a tiny flick of Gracie’s clit.

A sweet shiver raced through the girl’s slender frame. “Oh, yes… oh, yes. That’s wonderful. Please d-don’t stop what you’re doing to me, Miss Purdy.” Gracie begged. “I — I love you!”

Taking another, deeper lick, Ann paused to sample the flavor of Gracie’s nectar. Mmmm, it’s divine. Just the way The Kid told me a little girl would taste. Parting her lips, she pressed her open mouth into the child’s vulva, covering it completely — then began to suck at the rosy flesh, not wanting to lose a drop. Like eating a ripe peach, she thought, but so much better.

Suddenly Andromeda felt two fingers slide into her cunt, then heard Maggie say, “Goodness me, Ann! I’d say that licking my daughter has made you wet all over again.”

I never stopped being wet, not for an instant, Ann thought, but she was too busy to reply. As she probed Gracie’s juicy treasure with her tongue, Ann slipped a finger between the eleven-year-old’s buttocks, seeking the tight little rosebud, then eased the length of it into her young lover’s anus.

Gracie seized up, going stiff for a few heartbeats, then her body shuddered and thrashed while she came, all the while informing every divine power in heaven of the rapture she felt. Her voice rose into a scream, she gave a violent jerk — then the child collapsed, lying limp and spent, bathed in perspiration.

Ann and Maggie stretched on either side of the panting girl, kissing and caressing her as she came down from the throes of ecstasy. Finally the three lovers were still, nestled together. A welcome hint of breeze drifted in through the open window, cooling their bodies.

Andromeda was drifting between wakefulness and sleep when she heard the downstairs clock chime the hour. Reluctantly sitting up, she stretched her achy limbs.

“Come… we can’t sleep,” she murmured to the others. “We have to wash up and get ourselves dressed, so we can get you to your ride out of town.”

***

Laying his knife and fork aside, Mort Farnum took out his pocket watch and examined it. A quarter to six. He paid for his breakfast and left the cafe, slowly making his way toward the depot. The stage left at six, and he intended to take Maggie McGill and her child into custody when they showed up to catch it.

At six sharp, Mort was pacing restlessly, glancing again and again at his watch, wondering where the stage was. Eight minutes later, he burst into the depot office, glaring at the ruddy man seated behind the counter.

“Why is the stage late, sir?” Mort demanded.

Jack’s face was redder than normal as he answered, “Why, it’s not one bit late. In fact, it went out early this mornin’ — left here at five-thirty.”

“Five-thirty!” Mort roared, banging his fist on the desk. “It left early? For what reason?”

Jack scratched his head. “Well, everyone was here. We had all the passengers and their baggage and the mail, so the drivers just figured they’d get an early start. Everyone was in agreement, so they left.”

A growl issued from the stocky man’s throat. “And was there a woman and little girl on board?”

“What, you mean Lady Wyeth-Boton and little Gracie? Yep, they were on board.” Jack answered. “Were you lookin’ for ‘em?”

In response, Mort turned and barrelled through the doorway, moving as fast as his bulk would permit until he reached the livery.

Mac had just taken a shot of whiskey and was putting the pint bottle back into his pocket when Farnum hastened into the stable. “I need a horse right now,” he bellowed, gasping for breath.

“Ye need another horse?” Mac asked, scratching his chin.

“Yes! Yes! Saddle one up for me! Now! Time is of the essence!”

As Mac prepared a horse for Mort, working as slowly as he dared, the seething detective asked, “Did a woman and girl take a horse from here?”

“Sure did.” Mac answered. “It was two horses, though.”

“This morning?”

“Naw, it was last night.”

“Tell me about it!” Mort ordered.

“That Lady Wyeth-Button woman, she rented a couple saddled horses and tied ‘em to the back of a buggy. She come back later with the buggy, but not them two horses,” Mac replied, reciting everything he’d been told to say.

“Didn’t you think that odd?” Mort asked.

Mac simply shrugged. “Naw. I don’t find nothin’ odd in this town.” He offered the reins of the saddled horse to Mort.

Quickly mounting up, Mort jammed his hat down, jerked at the reins, and was off. He rode at full speed, headed out of town in the direction the stage would have gone.

***

A half hour earlier, Marshal Russel and Ada Kelly walked into Sheriff Masters’ office. They exchanged greetings, and Russel said, “Deputy Tanner is waiting in the mail car of the train. The train departs at seven. Miss Kelly and I will get the prisoner ready now.”

Gus handed Russel the cell keys and put on his gun belt as he watched the marshal and Matron Kelly enter, closing the heavy wooden door behind them. Russel came back out moments later and had some coffee with Gus while Ada Kelly got Jessica Sinclair ready to go.

Suddenly they heard Ada call, “Marshal Russel, can you come here for a moment?”

The marshal got up and went through the heavy door, closing it behind him — then stopped cold in his tracks at what he saw. The cell door was open. Jessica Sinclair stood with a sharp object against Ada Kelly’s throat. A thin rivulet of red dripped down the neck of the terrified matron.

“Take off your gun belt, set it there on that stool and then step into the cell.” Jessica said softly, with a hard edge to her voice. “Make one false move, and I’ll cut this woman’s throat.”

With a clenched jaw, Russel did as he was told. Jessica backed out of the cell holding Ada, then shoved the woman into the cell. Drawing Russel’s gun from its holster, she tossed the sharpened spoon aside.

A coiled length of rope hung from a hook on a nearby wall. Brandishing the gun, Jessica took the rope down and tossed it to Ada. “Tie him up,” she said, pointing at Russel. Once she had, Jessica quickly tied up Ada, then locked them both in the cell.

She smiled at her captives. “Not a word,” she said, holding a finger to her lips, then leaned back against the wall to wait.

***

Back in the office, a frowning Gus said, “Hey, Jigs. Go see what’s holdin’ them up in there.”

Jigs opened the heavy door and went inside, then reappeared seconds later. Gus went pale as he saw his deputy stumbling back out, Jessica Sinclair holding a gun on him.

“Take off your gun belt, Sheriff,” Jessie ordered.

Gus removed it and slowly set it down on the table.

“Now open up that safe, or this man dies here and now,” Sinclair said, fixing the sheriff with her icy gaze.

“Don’t do it, Gus!” Jigs bellowed, “I’d rather die than let this bitch walk outta here.”

Jessie brought the gun butt down hard on the top of Jigs’ head, and he crumpled to the floor.

“Just cause he’s knocked out doesn’t mean I won’t shoot him, sheriff,” Jessie said. “Now get that safe open. I believe you’ve got something in there that belongs to me.” She gave a brief, screechy laugh, then her mouth went hard and cold again.

With a defeated sigh, Gus squatted down and began to turn the tumblers of the safe.

***

The Tequila Kid passed by the train station, where she introduced herself to Deputy Tanner. “I’m sure glad to see you, Kid,” Tanner said, pushing his hat back. “Can you go over to the sheriff’s office, see what’s takin’ them so damn long gettin’ the prisoner here?”

“Sure thing, Frank,” The Kid answered, and hurried into the street just in time to see Mort Farnum fly past on one of Nate’s horses, riding as if the hounds of hell were nipping at his heels.

Taking the back way to the sheriff’s office, The Kid cautiously approached, keeping her eyes and ears open for anything out of the ordinary. Sure enough, she heard something odd coming from the barred windows of the jail cells.

Taking a running jump, The Kid seized the bars, then hauled herself up to peer inside, feeling the blood drain from her face as she saw Marshal Russel and the matron lady, tied up and helpless in Jessie Sinclair’s cell.

“Thank God you’re here!” Russel whispered, then quickly filled The Kid in on what had happened.

Hanging on with one hand, The Kid took off her gun belt and slid it between the bars on the window, letting it drop to the floor. Then she tossed down her Bowie knife as well.

Though her wrists were beginning to ache, she managed to pull herself back up once more to look through the window. “Try and cut yourselves free,” she gasped. “If Sinclair comes back in, you’re armed now.” With that, The Kid let go of the bars and dropped to the ground. She paused for a few seconds to massage her wrists, then advanced around the building, headed for the front door.

As she drew closer, her anger steadily mounted, along with her determination to put an end to this, one way of the other. It didn’t matter that Jessie Sinclair was a cold-blooded killer, or that The Kid had just given up her guns. She had to act.

The Kid came in just as Gus laid the bundle of gold certificates on the table, next to his gun belt.

Jessie’s eyes lit up as The Kid crossed the threshold, “Perfect timing, bitch,” she said, in a voice that sounded almost friendly, though the hideous smile she wore belied her calm tone. “Didn’t even come armed, did you? Aw, isn’t that a shame. Now I get to kill you both.”

“You won’t get away,” The Kid said.

Jessie snorted. “Hell, I’ll just grab a horse off the street and be out of town in five minutes. With those drovers firing their guns all night, no one will even notice a few more shots.” She giggled.

Suddenly Gus lunged toward his gun on the table, and the pistol in Jessie’s hand spat out a burst of fire and roared. The sheriff’s head snapped back as the slug smashed into his body, then he collapsed in a heap on the floor. A haze of gunsmoke hung in the air.

Picking up the bundle of gold certificates with her free hand, Jessie hugged them to her chest, briefly closing her eyes. “Mine,” she whispered. “Mine.”

The Kid extended her right arm straight out. The cardsharp’s device flicked the derringer into her hand, the gun’s hammer already pulled back.

Jessie only sneered. “That bluff won’t work again, you stupid cunt.” She began to raise her gun.

Dang, The Kid thought. I can’t remember if I reloaded it or not. It’s a two-shot derringer, but I ain’t sure if there’s one bullet or two or none at all in it.

Pulling the trigger, The Kid felt sick when she heard the gun give an empty click.

Jessie slowly pulled the hammer back — taking her time, savoring the moment. “Time to die,” she said.

The Kid cocked the derringer, squeezing the trigger as Jessie’s gun roared once more.

***

Detective Mort Farnum could see the stage ahead of him. Even in the cloud of dust, he was able to detect the shape of baggage tied to the top. Leaning forward in the saddle, he lashed his horse hard until it pulled in front of the stage, then rode a hundred yards or so ahead before stopping the animal in the middle of the road, raising his hands.

The drivers brought the stage to a stop. One was a young man, not much older than a boy, who was holding the reins, then an older man brandishing a shotgun. “We got no valuables in the strongbox, mister,” the man growled, taking aim. “Now clear this road, or I’ll cut you down where you sit.”

“My name’s Farnum, and I’m a detective with the Pinkertons,” Mort declared, fixing the man with a frosty stare. “I have reason to believe that a wanted fugitive is riding this stage.”

The man and the boy exchanged glances, then laughed. “Do you, now?” the man replied. “Well, take you a look inside.” Without turning his head, he addressed the boy. “Hiram, get you down and open the door for this fella.”

Hiram climbed down, and the man’s eyes narrowed as he studied the stout detective. “No sudden moves from you, mind. My trigger finger’s feelin’ a mite anxious of late.”

Dismounting the horse, Mort folded his arms as he waited for the boy. Hiram shambled over, pausing to spit on the ground before he took hold of the handle and opened the passenger door of the stage.

There was an old man and woman sitting there. No one else. “What we stoppin’ fer?” the woman asked.

“Wasn’t there a woman and girl on board?” Mort bellowed, glaring up at the man with the shotgun.

The man slowly nodded. “Yep, there was.”

Fighting to keep his anger under control, Mort asked, “Well, where are they now?”

“Oh, they got off, ‘bout a mile back,” the man said.

“Got off?” Mort yelled. “What d’you mean, got off?”

The younger man spoke. “They had a couple horses, all saddled up an’ ready. The lady had us stop, then she and the little girl mounted up and rode off west.” He peered up at his companion. “You sure it was a mile back, Charlie? Seems to me it was ‘bout half a mile.”

“Weren’t we near that stand of barrel cactus?” Charlie replied. “That’s more like a mile. An’ I thought they rode due east.”

Yanking his hat off, Mort dashed it to the ground and stood stone still for a long moment, grinding his teeth. Finally he bent to pick up the now battered derby and clapped it on his head, then got back on the horse and rode off, headed back the way he’d come.

Hiram clambered back up top, then he and Charlie watched as the fat man vanished into the distance. They smiled at each other and shook hands. Taking up the reins, Hiram got the horses moving.

Putting his shotgun aside, Charlie said, “Well, that worked just like The Kid figgered it would. Reckon she’ll be pleased… and we just made us ten bucks apiece!” He gave a satisfied chuckle.

On the way back to Knuckle Ridge, Mort studied both sides of the road, but found no evidence of horse tracks. Finally, a mile before reaching town, he gave up.

***

Jigs jerked awake, sputtering from the water that had been thrown in his face. As he slowly hoisted himself up, groaning and holding his head, the dazed deputy spied Gus lying on the floor near the safe in a pool of blood.

“Shit!” he gasped, then turned at the sound of a door opening, the heavy wooden one that led to the cells. Jigs fumbled for his gun, but only found an empty holster. His eyes widened in alarm, then he sighed with relief to see The Kid emerge, Marshal Russel and Ada Kelly close behind. The side of The Kid’s shirt was torn and bloody.

“Jigs!” The Kid snapped, “Since you ain’t dead after all, get up and help us carry Gus over to Doc Johnson’s. I think there’s still some life in him yet.” She looked at the still body on the floor, her eyes filling with tears. “There’s gotta be life in him.”

As Jigs scrambled to his feet, still wincing in pain, he saw Jessica Sinclair, stretched out on the floor. Her eyes were wide open along with her mouth, giving a very surprised expression to the woman’s pale face.

In the center of the woman’s forehead was a small neat hole, a drying trickle of blood beneath it. Under the head was a spreading puddle of crimson.

Jigs moved to join the others, already standing around Gus. Carefully lifting the sheriff’s limp body, they carried him out the door, bound for the doctor’s office.

***

As Doc Johnson washed the blood off his hands, his wife Alice finished bandaging Gus’s wound.

“He lost a lot of blood, but he’ll pull through all right. The bullet missed his vitals,” Doc Johnson said. “Reckon you got him here just in time. Now let me take a gander at that wound in your side, Kid.”

“I just got my ribs creased, Doc,” The Kid replied. “I think you best check Jigs’ skull first.”

Shaking his head, the doctor went over to where Jigs sat, saying, “Alice, take a look at The Kid there for me.”

After Alice bathed the wound in The Kid’s side, she closed it with two stitches, then removed the stitch from the bridge of The Kid’s nose. With a wry smile, Alice said, “One out, two in.”

The Kid was just shrugging back into her shirt when Mort Farnum entered the doctor’s office, having heard what had happened upon his return to town. He was dismayed at the sight of Gus, but Doc Johnson was quick to assure him that Sheriff Masters was going to pull through.

“And how about you, Kid?” Farnum asked, strolling over to where she sat.

“I’ll live, I reckon. You catch that McGill woman?”

“No, I did not,” Mort replied. “She and her daughter got away. Took the stage a few miles out of town, then had horses waiting for them. No idea where they rode to from there, but I’ve chased those two as much as I intend to. I’ll be leaving town on the afternoon stage.”

“Well, don’t feel too bad, Mort,” The Kid said. “At least that dead man Yves De Bries didn’t get away.”

Mort Farnum seemed about to say something sharp, then thought better of it. Instead, he jabbed a pudgy finger in the direction of The Kid and gruffly said, “You still owe me a drink.” Then he turned and left.

***

Gracie McGill watched the scenery as it rolled past the train window. “Mummy? When will we get to San Francisco?”

“A week or so,” Maggie answered her daughter. Right now, we’re almost to Austin. There, we catch another train to Denver, and then we take one that goes straight to California.”

Gracie nodded. “And we don’t have to do seances ever again… do we?”

“No, darling,” Maggie replied, taking Gracie’s small hand in hers. “That awful Sinclair woman took the money we made from Mrs Ruggles when she killed the Count, but The Kid got it all back for us, all two thousand dollars. Along with what we earn at Miss Mayflower’s establishment, We’ll be able to travel to Australia in style, and have plenty left over.”

“Will I like Auntie Grace and my cousins, do you think?”

Maggie smiled, bending to kiss her child’s head. “Oh, I’m certain you will. My little sister Grace is a wonderful woman — that’s why I named you after her. I know she’ll love you to bits. The last time I saw her girls was, oh, seven years ago, but they were adorable.” She paused to think. “Ruth should be thirteen or so, Kate ten, and little Lucy… she must be at least eight by now.” She paused, leaning in close to murmur, “You know, Grace tells me that where they live is very private, and the girls often run around completely naked.”

“My goodness!” a blushing Gracie exclaimed, very much liking the idea of going nude with three other girls. “Um, does Auntie Grace like to be naked, too…?”

“She didn’t mention that in her letter,” Maggie said, “but if not, perhaps I could persuade her to try it. If you and her girls are spending your time in the altogether, I’ll certainly want to join in!”

Gracie sighed happily, nestling against her mother.

***

Two train cars behind the coach that Maggie and Gracie rode in, there rested a pine box that held the mortal remains of Jessica Sinclair, wrapped in canvas. Once the train reached Austin, Marshal Russel and Deputy Tanner would remove the box from the mail car. From there, it would be transferred to Jessica’s final resting place.

***

Andromeda Purdy exited the train platform, having bid a warm farewell to the McGills, watching the old 84 chugging down the tracks until it vanished in the distance.

As she left the station, Ann ran into Jack, who told her about the gunplay at the jail. Alarmed, she hastened to the doctor’s office to check on Gus, and was relieved to find the sheriff awake and able to speak with her. The Kid had already left.

When Ann heard about The Kid’s wound, she immediately set off for home. As she passed the telegraph office, Josh called out, “Miss Purdy?” from behind the counter.

When she entered, he told her, “Got a telegram for The Kid, and it looks important. Will you’ll be seein’ her anytime soon?”

“Oh, I expect I will,” she said, then read the wire’s contents. “Actually, Josh, I want to send a reply to this.”

Josh reached for his pad. “What’ll it be?”

“Just let them know The Kid was wounded in the line of duty, and is unable to travel,” Ann answered.

“I did hear about that. She’s not bad hurt though — right?”

“No, indeed. Just a scratch, I’ve been told.”

Josh’s fingers flew as he tapped out Ann’s reply. “Well, you give her my best. Um, that’ll be a buck twenty-five.”

***

Fifteen minutes later, Ann entered her house to find The Kid sound asleep on the sofa, only wearing her Levi Strauss denim pants. Ann watched her lover’s bare breasts move up and down as she breathed. The gold wedding ring on its chain shone against The Kid’s skin. On the young woman’s right side, a bandage covered her ribs. Two shot glasses had been placed on the coffee table; both had been filled with tequila.

The telegram was still in Ann’s right hand. She glanced at it again.

TO: THE TEQUILA KID, KNUCKLE RIDGE, TEXAS
FROM: CAPTAIN DEEK RICHARDS, AUSTIN, TEXAS
COME TO AUSTIN IMMEDIATELY STOP URGENT MISSION STOP

Folding the paper into quarters, Ann slipped it into the pocket of her skirt. She picked up one of the shot glasses and drained its contents with a swallow. She refilled it, then sat down in her rocking chair, watching The Kid sleep.

I know her all too well, Ann reasoned. If I tell her about this, The Kid will saddle up and ride off to Austin tonight, never mind her wound.

She smiled to herself. I’ll simply forget I have this telegram for a few days. Austin is thick with Texas Rangers… let one of them take that so-called urgent mission. I want my avenging angel all to myself for a little while longer.

The End

 

26 Comments on Knuckle Ridge, Chapter 9

  1. Captain Midnight says:

    Darn if I wasn’t right on all counts! A true masterpiece pulls down the curtain. Purple Les, I’ll find a hat and take it off to you. You are great and steadily getting better. It would be a pleasure to be your friend; it already is one to be your fan.

  2. swan says:

    Great story and an enjoyable finish. Now we will wait as you relax and maybe develop another great story.

  3. hawkbird2 says:

    Please more adventures of The Tequila Kid and her young friends.

  4. sue says:

    Fantastic final chapter. Loved this story all the way along. But this last chapter had everything and kept me guessing all the way to the end. And a sweet end. Just what Ann and the Kid had wanted right from the 1st chapter but never got chance for, to just be alone together for awhile. Well done, and yes would love another Tequila Kid story.

    Kim & Sue

  5. Curtis says:

    Gotta agree with Captain Midnight and others. You may not be Louis L’amor and The Kid may not be a Sackett, but you are right up there with that author.

    THANK YOU for your stories.

  6. Tack says:

    A wonderful ending to this erotic/adventure tale. Reminds me of pulp fiction from the thirties and forties but with extra spice. I imagine a book cover of the Kid’s face featured prominently in the foreground and a smaller image of Gracie in her nightdress with Ann and Maggie by her side. Perhaps one shoulder of her nightdress has slipped a bit. If I had the talent, I would draw it. Purple Les, your writing kept me on edge in the last wonderful chapter. Thanks for sharing with us and “Bravo!”

  7. Erocritique says:

    .
    Ann got to live out her fantasy. Yippee!!!

    Jess Sinclair got what she deserved. Yippee!!’

    Maggie and Gracie got away. Yippee!!!

    Gus is gonna live. Yippee!!!

    Ann and the kid get some quality time. Yippee!!!

    That damn arm gadget finally worked. Yippee!!!

    Purple Les and Jetboy did it again. Yippee!!!

    I’m obviously happy with how things turned out, but I can’t help but wonder how Arabelle has been dealing with her separation from the kid. If the Tequilla kid does ride again, I hope her adventures include her other true love.

    Cheers!!!

    PS. There is one little name mishap when Maggie is recalling her story to Ann. It says Sophie kissed Maggie when Maggie found Gracie naked in bed. I believe it should have been Gracie who kissed Maggie. Minor niggle but I figured JB would want to know.

  8. David says:

    What a great ending Purple Les and JetBoy, it was entertaining and erotic all in one! Loved the love scene with all 4 and also Ann getting her fantasy of being with a young girl. Glad Jessie got what was coming to her and all are safe. I hope maybe there is something in your head for another adventure with the Kid and maybe a spin off with Maggie and Gracie in California or Australia ! Thanks for the great read and some great orgasm.

  9. Euphrosyne, THalia & Aglaia says:

    Hey,Purple Les!

    have to agree with everyone…great, great ending to an even greater story!
    intricate details and super suspense, mixed with a plot that just kept delivering…
    And, the sex! oh wow, sizzling hot! sure wish I could transport back in time to go to San Francisco, to pay me a visit to that there Miss Holly Mayflower’s establishment…

    Favorite scene, besides the mind blowing foursome of lusty lovers, was how Miss Ann and The Kid fooled ol’ Detective Mort Farum at her doorway with the pan full of cornbread and the smooth talking, especially when The Kid kicked Ann to add a little extra convincing to their ploy…brilliant, and so funny!!!

    The ending was really a lovely teaser, as we all now get to wonder and wait and dream about just what do you have in store for The Tequila Kid’s future?….like the uncharted Wild West, so many trails, so many adventures, like the multitude of stars in the desert night sky.

    Thank ye kindly, Purple Les!

    E,T&A

  10. Purple Les says:

    Wow, I’m truly overwhelmed with all of your very kind and thoughtful comments. Thank you so much.

    And thank you again, JetBoy. I should have caught that error.

    There is another Tequila Kid story already waiting in the wings, it’s just up to JetBoy as to when he wants to deal with it.

    Thanks again for the comments, I have to admit I’m crying, they were so nice. Bless you all.

    • David says:

      Bless you too Purple Les, your work is very erotic and we all love it and want more. Your are truly an amazing writer. Please JetBoy, don’t make us wait too long!

    • Captain Midnight says:

      I certainly look forward to any story from you, Purple Les. I still think your masterpiece is the story of Katie and her extended family, and it would be interesting to see Katie a few years later to see if she is still OK (and if she is close to them or has made love with others). But Tequila Kid and the girls/women she loves are wonderful.

      I especially like how Kid and her girlfriends take care of each other outside of bed. Kid is at heart a super-nice woman. Some of the most moving parts of this story involved Ann reading to Kid and sharing her knowledge and education.

      Kid may be illiterate, but she is a strong believer in education for girls/women. She has respect from, and influence with, the (male) power brokers wherever she goes and uses it to benefit her lady/girl friends.

      I really like your characters. If I ever complete stories, I hope mine will live up to your standards.

      • Purple Les says:

        Thanks, David. It won’t be too long.

        Thanks, Captain. I have a skeleton of a story for Katy and her extended family, but it will be awhile before I do it. Thanks for the kind, and lovely comments on the Kid and her friends.

  11. JetBoy says:

    I ask for your indulgence, both from Les and her readers, as to the completion of the next Tequila Kid saga. I’ve got a backlog of stories by various authors to work on at the moment (not to mention the ongoing saga that is “Ripples”), including several that you folks don’t even know about yet, queued up in front of The Kid’s new tale.

    Being the only editor here, there’s a lot currently piled up in the JetBoy IN tray. (Personally, I blame Covid-19… clearly, it gave a lot of people spare time to write dirty fiction!)

    It should be mentioned as well that Purple Les prefers that we get the entire story completed before the first chapter gets posted… as do I. It just works best that way.

    What I’m getting at here is that it’s going to be a few months, at least, before the new Kid story will begin to run. I promise you this, though: Purple Les and I will do everything humanly possible to make it worth the wait. Fair enough?

    • Purple Les says:

      I didn’t mean to put you on the spot, JetBoy. I had meant to mention that you are very overworked.

      And once more I’d like to thank you for your hard work here. Without you we’d all be nowhere.

  12. Navarre says:

    Nothing but an absolutely superb story from start to finish. Eagerly awaiting the next tale.

    • Purple Les says:

      Thank you, Navarre,and thanks again to everyone, E,T,&A ,Erocritique,Tack,Curtis, sue, david,captain Midnight, hawkbird2, for your wonderful comments and the other readers who left a vote, or just read.

      And as always, thanks and hugs to JetBoy.

  13. Luke says:

    The Kid rides into the sunset a job well done and a fun time had by all, Onto the the next adventure.

  14. No One says:

    A nice conclusion to a great tale. All is well that ends well, it seems. Jessie got what was coming to her, and lucky Ann got to fulfill her fantasy in a very sexy scene. And Maggie and Gracie get to live free, though um, the arrangement with that establishment in San Francisco sounds a bit messed up to me… but oh well. Fiction and all.

    Seriously though, The Kid needs to stop getting rid of her guns before the fight is over. 😉

    I’m looking forward to the next Tequila Kid adventure (even if it takes time to edit, which is understandable), and also, I’m super jealous of the speed at which you can write.

    • Euphorsyne, Thalia & Aglaia says:

      Hey,No One!

      Agree with you about The Kid and dropping her guns more often than as it seems.
      But sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, although I don’t know if that always works with a scheming evil femme fatale who might be a bit mad…

      Also, in regards to that San Francisco establishment, at first my mind went to the standard “pay for play” scenario wherein gentlemen paid for the “company” of lovely young women, but then I realized that Maggie and Gracie could just do a kind of Mother/Daughter “peep show” for discriminating gentlemen( or gentlewomen ) who appreciated the finer aspects of “the love known as Tipping the Velvet”…and so as you say, ‘Fiction and all’ allows us to fantasize about such things happening in the 1870’s without really going beyond the bounds of credibility,..hopefully!
      In any case, Purple Les has giving us much food for thought with this exciting and superb conclusion and all kudos to our dear author!!!

      E,T&A

  15. obsessive imaginings says:

    Oh a bittersweet feel as the story ends. Sweet that it was so good, bitter that it ended. I see from your comments there’s going to be a sequel. Good show Purple. May the Tequila Kid ride again. May she and Ann find more loving and may this series continue. I apologize for procrastinating this long before getting to this chapter.

  16. Purple Les says:

    No One,E,T&A,obsessive imaginings, thanks once again.

  17. Curtis says:

    Gotta agree with everyone else. Will look forward to any more adventures of the Tequila Kid.

    Excellent tales, I think even Louis L’Amour would be impressed.

    THANK YOU for posting.

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