In the first chapter, Mick and Casey expected to meet a friend, Oren, who works as a "messenger" for a stagecoach company. But Oren has died of a fall from his horse....
Chapter 2 of The Curse of Scattershale Gulch
by Camille LaGuire
I WENT OFF to the saloon, a dark little place with a couple of little rickety tables and a long bar. Casey and Turcotte the lawyer were standing at the bar. In the corner was a couple of guys playing checkers, or maybe taking a nap. I couldn't tell.
I told Casey about Oren's misfortune. She took off her hat and slapped it on the bar and raised her glass. Distracting as it was getting a rare glimpse of her bare forehead, I found myself watching Turcotte, who had turned pale and was now staring at me.
"Died? He...fell?" he stammered, and he turned to the bartender, who appeared to already know about it, since he was nodding. "In Scattershale Gulch?"
"Yeah," said the bartender.
"That's the same as...." Turcotte finished his drink instead of his sentence.
"Same as Bronco Annie," said the bartender, filling Turcotte's glass again. Turcotte leaned over his glass and looked pale, but then tightened his fist around it.
"Damn recklessness," he announced, like it needed a label. "That's what it was." He looked at me, and licked his lips, and then looked at Casey, like it was her fault. "Bronco Annie was reckless, too. Like that one," he said, and he pointed at Casey. "You should have seen this girl jump off the top of that stage. Damn recklessness. That's the trouble."
I picked up my beer and stepped back to be out of the line of fire between Casey and Turcotte, but Casey wasn't sure she should be offended. She put her hat back on and tilted it back and then leaned on the bar, which was a little tricky since she's so short.
"How'd this Bronco Annie die?" she asked.
"You having second thoughts about recklessness?"
Casey took a drink of her whiskey and shook her head.
"Nah. Wondering if it's how we want to go," she said, and she wagged her thumb at me to include me in her plans for a wild demise. I didn't mind. I was willing to go where she went.
"It was nothing to aspire to," Turcotte snapped. "I was here that night. She was drunk, and in a brawling mood, and it was dark, and cold and wet outside. And then somebody brought word that her favorite mare was in foal, and she jumped on that half wild stallion of hers and went tearing back to her place. She took a short cut, down a gulch with a steep trail. The footing was bad and the horse took a misstep, and they both went down and broke their necks."
We paused in silence a moment, and then Casey set down her drink in disgust.
"Well, that's not much," she said. I had to agree. As stories went, it was short and dull. Casey was clearly in the mood for something more embroidered, especially about a woman like herself, and she scowled. "That ain't much at all. Anybody could die that way."
"Sure, and anybody did!"
That came from behind us, a female voice as Irish as my Aunt Fiona. We turned and saw a young woman, maybe my age--early twenties--but she looked as young as Casey. She had hair as pale as sunlight, which rippled back to where it was gathered with a black ribbon, and her skin was flushed with sunburn and scattered with freckles across porcelain. Her eyes were a pale blue, almost silver, like maybe they were washed out by the sun like her hair.
And I thought, she's the gal Oren was coming to see.
She had a plate in each hand, with steak, eggs and potatoes. They were nothing special, but they smelled good. Casey, though, was not as easily distracted as I was.
"You mean Oren?" she asked. "When you say anybody?"
"I mean more than Oren." She went over to the rickety table and set the plates down. Then she held out a pair of forks toward us. "Mr. Smith thought you might be hungry, working as messengers and all."
"Thanks," I said, and I took the fork from her before saying, "but we ain't messengers."
"No?" she said, and she looked pointedly at the guns slung on our hips. "And what are you?"
"Range detectives," said Casey firmly, and she shoveled a big fork of eggs into her mouth.
"And there's a difference?" she asked.
"A messenger's got a steady job," I said.
Casey swallowed her eggs, and narrowed her eyes at the woman.
"Who else died riding wild?"
"Perhaps not riding so wild," she said, "but down that very same trail there were a few. Bronco Annie was the first. Then Mr. Turcotte had his own little accident, didn't he? Scared him so bad, he left town."
Turcotte took a deep breath. "As you can see, I'm alive."
"After that it was a rancher named Ben Lattimer, and a year later it was his brother Luke. And now it's Oren. All down the same trail into Scatter-Shale Gulch."
"A dangerous trail," said Turcotte. "Bad footing."
"Dangerous in the dark for sure," said the lass. She looked toward the window. "And so I had better be going while there's still daylight. Wouldn't want to be on that trail at night."
She drew up her black shawl and headed for the door. I noticed that her dress was patched and, plain. And black. She turned as she got to the door.
"If you're range detectives, perhaps you'd be interested to know," she said. "When they found Annie's horse, he'd been shot. Through the breast."
She laid a hand on her own breast to illustrate, and then she went out. I stared after her for a minute, and then I turned back to Turcotte and the bartender.
"Is that so?" I said.
"I don't know, I didn't see it," said Turcotte. "And I went to Johnson City soon after that."
I looked at the bartender. He nodded.
"Yeah," he said. "Ben Lattimer said he'd shot it. Put it out of its misery."
"Lattimer is the guy died on that same trail later on."
The bartender didn't look too comfortable about that. I didn't blame him.
Tomorrow I'll post some notes on the writing of The Curse of Scattershale Gulch.
The Curse of Scattershale Gulch is an 8500 word novelette, available for just 99 cents at Amazon's Kindle Store, as well as Kindle UK. Smashwords has multiple formats for all kinds of e-readers -- including just reading it right there on their site. (It should be available on Apple's iBookstore, and Barnes and Noble's Nook store within a week or so.)