Episode 2 - Herding Cats
Case and I scrambled forward and looked up at the balcony. Somebody ran along the back, but we were too close to see him.
It didn't matter, I knew who it was. Ring-Neck Rufus was a scrawny outlaw who could be paid to do anything, but wasn't much good at anything he was paid to do. And I had just seen him counting money out front.
Casey jumped the railing and charged on up the stairs, drawing as she went -- which wasn't wise, because Casey's forté is not her draw, and she has a tendency to pull the trigger before she is ready.
I drew and stepped back further to cover her, and then I could see him.
"Rufus!" I shouted.
He had the gun in his hand and he was looking wild, but he had just enough brain to not shoot Casey. He probably saw that if he shot her, he'd have me after him for the rest of his life. And if he didn't kill her, she'd be after him. He went for the window at the end of the balcony.
Casey followed, and I ran out front.
As I cleared the doors, I could see the sheriff coming out of his office. He must have heard the shot, because he had his gun drawn. I whistled to him, and ran to the corner of the building. Rufus wasn't in the lane beside the opera house. I looked up and saw Casey was struggling to pull herself through the window. The sash was stuck and didn't open high enough. She ain't that big, but she's got hips, and guns on each of them.
She was swearing and pointing down to the alley behind the opera house, so I kept going.
There was no Rufus in the alley, but plenty of places to hide. Piles of boxes and barrels behind the stores, and an open carriage house and a corral further on.
"What happened?" said the Sheriff, as he and Case caught up with me.
"Rufus Tillet took a shot at the opera singers."
The sheriff pointed at the back door of the opera house.
"See that he didn't double-back," he said. Casey had already stalked off to the right, so he headed left.
I went in the back door and threw the bolt to make sure Rufus didn't come back in behind me. I was in a narrow corridor that ran up to another little corridor behind the stage. There were curtains and a fake wall, and I could hear the folks on stage talking on the other side of it.
"I am dead!" called one of the ladies. I peeked through the curtain and saw the younger one -- the one who fell down -- gesturing and moving around. It was pretty clear she was not dead or anything close to it.
They were all facing each other, talking, so I figured Rufus hadn't gone back out there. I checked around backstage. There were three or four little closets, but only two were unlocked. He wasn't in there.
I headed toward the front, just as the younger lady yanked back the curtain and came charging off the stage. She turned around before she saw me, and made a last declaration to the others.
"I am to be murdered!" she cried. "I cannot sing, ever!"
"All for the better!" called out the other woman.
The fellow with the moustache appeared. He was holding out a glass of water to the young lady, and she refused it with a wave of the hand and turned around again.
Which is when she ran almost flat into me.
She screamed and back-pedaled into the man with the mustache. Then he saw me and he screamed too. They both went scrambling back to the stage.
"Hold on!" I said. "I'm with the law!"
They didn't hold on. As I came out on the stage, holding my hands up to show I wasn't there to shoot at them, they went running in all directions. The only one who stood her ground was the older woman, who took the glass from the mustache man's hand and threw it in my face.
"I'm here to protect you!" I yelled, shaking the water off.
The mustache man and the young woman stopped and glanced at each other. They started sidling back, but the piano man had slipped over to the curtains and was gone. If he meant to run out the back, he'd unlock the door as he went.
"We ain't caught him yet, sir!" I called and I chased after. I caught him at the door, just as he threw the latch. I threw it back into place. "You want to stay right here."
I hauled him back to the stage, only to see the older lady sailing off toward the front of the house like she was going to leave that way. I ran to cut her off. She turned on me and snapped her fan like she she might take my head off with it.
"Ain't safe," I said real quick. I stepped over and latched that front door too.
She turned around and sailed back toward the stage. And I looked up to see the stage was empty except for the piano player.
"Where'd they go?" I asked.
"Dressing rooms," said the piano player pointing backstage. "She says she can't sing in a place like this--"
"Or in any other place," said the older lady, who kept sailing on across the stage and behind the curtain.
I caught up with her just as she went into one of the little closets and slammed the door behind her. I heard her throw the latch, and I figured at least she was safe. I could hear the other two talking behind one of the other doors.
I went back and faced the piano player.
"I suppose this means they ain't going to sing tonight," I said.
"You can bet the ranch on that, cowboy," he replied.
Stay Tuned For Episode 3 - "Deep Trouble"
Available after 8am EST, on Monday
If you're enjoying this Mick and Casey Mystery, check out their other stories, such as the first novel in the series: Have Gun, Will Play.
Available in paper or as ebook at: Amazon.com, Barnes and Nobel, as well as these ebook dealers: Kobo, Deisel, Apple iBookstore, Sony eReader, or get it in all formats without DRM at Smashwords.