Adam Sanchez, now the sheriff (after Nelson Cook, the former sheriff, was murdered by bank robbers) returns to town with a patrol of American Buffalo Troopers. They bring two of the outlaws for trial. Adam and Nelson had made use of the stolen loot and to hide their theft, they had replaced the stolen money with paper, thinking that no one would discover the deception. However, no matter how well Adam “loses” the fake money to cover his tracks, it keeps coming back to haunt him.
The following excerpt is from Chapter 17.
The lieutenant dismounted and took off his gloves. Adam introduced him then mentioned the sergeant who remained on his horse. The sergeant saluted.
Adam stepped onto the sidewalk to better address the crowd. “If it had not been for the providential arrival of these valiant men in uniform, justice might never have prevailed against these two wicked scoundrels.” Listen to yourself, you sound like a politician. He went to Wald and said, “Gunter, I promised those soldiers to eat and stay at your fine establishment.
The saloon owner looked at the colored soldiers hesitantly.
“At county expense of course,” Adam continued. Noting the disdainful look Wald had given the buffalo soldiers, he added abruptly, “I hope that’s not a problem.”
“No, no,” Wald replied with an oily bow. “Our brave peacekeepers will enjoy unparalleled hospitality.”
Adam turned to the undertaker. “Mr. Blair, I need you to assemble a team to recover the remains of our unfortunate late Sheriff and Miss Francine Mills and return them to Luther for a proper burial. You and I will meet later to negotiate the details and compensation.
Blair nodded and immediately began counting the expected profit on his fingertips. “I will write a letter of agreement.”
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Adam ordered Carruthers and Red to get off their horses and lead them to the jail, where they were chained to the bars of the cell. The lieutenant ordered his men to guard the prisoners until the locals could take over. After checking that the prisoners were safe, Adam grabbed a change of clothes and headed to Mountain View to give his filthy body a good scrub. Then, when Lucy had finished trimming him with her razor and scissors, he walked into the living room as he always did: neatly combed, in neatly pressed shirt and trousers, polished boots, shiny guns, his clean-shaven face tingling with ‘cologne. He had hoped to have a conversation with Gloria, the merchant’s wife, until Jake, the saloon dungeon, whispered that she had gone upstairs to help the lieutenant with the accommodation.
Adam sat down at a table at the back of the bar and ordered a steak. Lanterns on the ceiling bathed the interior in a warm glow and rolling, overlapping shadows. The colored soldiers remained alone. Some drank coffee and pecked at ice cream cake, others smoked and played cards. One of them pinched an out of tune violin he had spotted and retrieved from behind the bar.
Adam sipped Kentucky bourbon poured from the chilled bottle onto his table. The sergeant approached, his gaze scanning the living room in circumspect arcs, telegraphing that he had a private matter to discuss. Adam offered him a seat. One of the Indian scouts followed the sergeant but refused a chair, apparently preferring to stand. The scout wasn’t much taller than a white teenager and was just as skinny, but with his tanned skin he looked as experienced and mean as an old coyote. A Schofield revolver and a deer-handled knife were tucked into his belt.
“I noticed none of your men were drinking,” Adam said.
“We are forbidden to do so when we are on patrol.” The sergeant spoke as if his throat remained coated with trail dust. The tall man arranged his lanky frame in the armchair. His dark, mustachioed face seemed carved out of stained mahogany.
“You are not on patrol. You are in my city.
“While we are away from the fort, we are on patrol.”
“Too bad, considering the drinks are on the house.”
“Yes, sir, it’s a real shame.”
Adam corked the whiskey and pushed the bottle across the table toward the sergeant. “But there’s no rule stopping you from accepting this gift, is there? As long as you’re not drinking on patrol?
The sergeant grabbed the bottle and pulled it closer. “My thirst can wait until I am back at the fort and off duty. Much obliged, sheriff.
Jake brought Adam’s steak, still smoking and smelling good. He was hungry and had suppressed his appetite just to savor this reward. Uninvited, the sergeant mentioned that he had already eaten.
Adam cut into the succulent meat and forked a piece between his lips. “So what else is eating you, sergeant?”
The sergeant glanced at the Indian scout, who gestured and explained in his native language. The sergeant translated. “Eagle Talons say he found the saddlebags you lost.”
Adam felt his heart recoil as if he had been kicked by a mule. Despite the moist piece of beef on his tongue, his mouth instantly went dry.
Money. Fake cash. He was so certain that his ruse had worked that he hadn’t once thought about the missing “cash” since last night. Now it was back, like a rash that refused to heal. He forced himself to continue chewing and swallowed the meat in a dry, painful gulp. The sergeant allowed him a sip of whisky. Adam cut the steak again so he wouldn’t have to meet the sergeant’s eyes. “And you bring me this information why?”
The Eagle Claws spoke and paused, then spoke and paused again as the sergeant translated in a firm, muffled voice. “I am not a learned man, but I am educated in the ways of the world and the white man, those whom you serve, comanchero. The men you arrested robbed a bank and took the money in the saddlebags of the pony attached to your horse. Someone entrusted with such a sum would surely have panicked at his loss. You almost looked relieved.
Adam wiped his mouth and dropped the napkin beside his plate. His dinner was getting cold, but regardless, he had lost his appetite. “What’s the point of your scout, Sergeant?”
Eagle Talons noticed Adam’s distress and smiled wryly. He spoke again and the sergeant translated. “We found money. And paper cut to look like money. A part remained in the saddlebags. Some of it was scattered along the banks and along the rocks.
The sergeant explained. “The eagle’s talons and the whistling one, the other scout.”
Adam kept his face stiff. “Is that what you think was in the bags?” Money and paper?
Adam wanted to clear his throat but had to hide any clue that betrayed his guilt. “So I guess it is. I never looked in the bags.
The sergeant and the Indian scout began a heated exchange. Eventually, the sergeant gave in to the scout’s argument and faced Adam. “We collected two hundred and fifteen dollars in government notes. Who owns this money?
Adam met the scout’s eyes, bright and piercing inside their leathery slits. “I will report that the stolen money has been lost. If someone finds some random money, I’d say it’s theirs.
“It’s a big sum.”
“So I would be careful how I spend it. You don’t want the wrong people asking questions and you giving them answers they don’t want to believe.
Eagle Talons glared at Adam for a long moment, hardening his jaw and flexing his muscular arms. Who knew what was going through his intriguing mind? The sergeant shifted in his chair to step aside. Adam’s smile flattened into a narrow, suspicious line, and his right hand reached for its holster.
The swarthy, lined face of the scout curled into a toothy ragged smile as he spoke. The sergeant translated his words with a relieved sigh. “I’m learning yet another knee-deep lesson from you demons, white or Mexican. Your forked tongues never tie in knots.
The Eagle Claws patted the sergeant on the shoulder and said a few last words, which the soldier translated: “Many Yellow Banders and I will keep this a secret.” Money lost and other money found and put to good use, no questions asked.
Adam relaxed. “Just be smart about it.”
The sergeant rose, bottle of whiskey in hand, and dismissed himself and the scout. The thirst for alcohol returned and Adam ordered another bottle. He nibbled on his cooled steak, potatoes and green beans and sipped a hearty eighty-degree sip. Realizing that he didn’t have a bed of his own, other than the bench in the sheriff’s office, made him think he should celebrate avoiding another near miss with a disaster by taking advantage of the attentions of a woman. But if there was a shameless celebration tonight, it was Mrs. Daryl Anderson and her guest, the army lieutenant. Adam raised his glass and toasted them and his cuckold husband.
He finished a small glass of whiskey, cleaned his plate and treated himself to coffee and a slice of cake. Drunk and suddenly weary, he trudged upstairs to a lonely bedroom and bed, compliments of Mountain View.
Mario Acevedo, right, is the author of the national bestselling vampire sleuth series Felix Gomez. His work has won an International Latino Book Award, a Colorado Book Award, and has appeared in numerous anthologies. Mario has taught in the Regis University Mile High MFA program and Lighthouse Writers Workshops. Tomas Alamilla is a Mexican entrepreneur who has always loved stories about western adventure.