Turn of the Wheel (Part 4)
The Long Road Home
Time & Location: Porch, Chaffee's Livery Stable, Missoula, Montana
Tags & OOCs: Early July, 1875
Cantrell reached out and lightly tugged Jess' sleeve so the two men could back out to the edge of the activity going on while still keep an eye on the area. "It looks like there's more than meets the eye with our new lawyer..." Cantrell cradled the coach gun in his left arm with the barrel pointing up and to the side in a safe direction. He had already decided to keep the weapon...it wasn't like the former owner would object.
Jess nodded, but motion at the entrance to the yards heralded the arrival of the sheriff and two deputies. Harriet moved to stand next to Quentin and Jess, "Say nothing, gentlemen." She turned to the tall man with salt and pepper hair and a badge pinned to the front of his tan leather vest. "Sheriff, I am H.G. Mercer, an attorney. These two men are my clients. Can you take our statements here?"
The sheriff blinked at the woman who had preempted his plan to ask exactly what had happened at the usually quiet stable yard. He gestured at his two deputies, "See what you can find out from any onlookers, check those two men over there." He spared a brief glance at the man and a younger woman who seemed to be attending to an injured man. "He one of the shooters?"
"Mr. Royce would have participated, but I interfered with his plans," Harriet answered. "Mr. Stahl, my driver, has medical training as does my sister, but he will need ongoing care after his arrest. Sheriff...?" She looked expectantly at the man.
"Benjamin Gaines, ma'am," the man replied. "Sorry about that, forgot my manners. As for your request to take the statements here, I..."
Harriet held up a hand, "Sheriff Gaines, I know my request is irregular, but we have a hearing scheduled with Judge Oliver Mandrell in Kalispell, and it is vital we not miss the court date which could result in contempt charges. I will see that my clients return for any subsequent proceedings here, sir." Her tone was reasonable with the barest hint of urgency in it to reinforce the importance of being allowed to continue their journey.
"As you say, ma'am, it is highly irregular," Sheriff Gaines replied, reaching up to run a hand through his thick hair. "Under the circumstances, if you can provide proof of the court appointment, I will allow it as long as I know how to reach you."
"I have the letter requesting my presence and naming these two men as well," Harriet answered, turning to lead the way to the porch area. "I just need to get my attaché case from the carriage."
Gaines watched the woman walk off and gave another shake of his head. Turning to the two men she had indicated were her clients, he pointed toward the porch, "Maybe we can have a seat?" He grinned at the hovering form of the stable's owner, "Could we get some coffee, Charlie?" Chaffee hurried off while Ben walked to the porch with H.G. Mercer's two clients. By the time they were settled at one of the tables, Mrs. Chaffee was delivering a coffee and tea service, and the female attorney was back with a slim, expensive looking brief case.
Harriet took out a sheet of paper and handed it to the Sheriff, watching him as he read the short missive requesting that she along with Mr. Quentin Cantrell and Mr. Jess Harper present themselves for a hearing regarding the custody of two children and their property. The sheriff read through the letter twice, requested paper and a pencil which she provided and wrote down a few notes.
"I'll follow up with a telegram to Judge Mandrell," Ben Gaines said and then took a sip of coffee. He fixed his warm, intelligent brown eyes on the younger of the two men. "I recognize you, Mr. Harper, so that means you must be Mr. Cantrell. I was sorry to hear about Chance, Regina, and the children. Knew them a long time, they were good people." Gaines leaned back in his seat, "I was the deputy that took your and Mrs. Harper's statements when you killed Calvin Steelgrave. Is that what all this was about?"
Jess started to answer but subsided when Harriet shook her head at him. "Sheriff Gaines," she said, "there have been attempts to keep my clients from making the mandated court date. Those two incidents and this one could, of course, be bizarre coincidences, and I have no concrete evidence to indicate otherwise. It seems unlikely, however, since the man who has challenged my clients' wills was fired by them several years ago." Harriet went on to repeat Royce's statement to her and what she had overheard of the challenge from "Blackie" to Jess.
Cantrell saw the byplay between Jess and Harriet and played along. "She's not trying to be evasive, Sheriff. I have the hole in my arm to prove we've been attacked recently. We are both sorry to have had trouble follow us into your town, but we did not really have a choice. Neither one of us will be hard to find if you need us to return. Too many responsibilities to be drifters."
Gaines continued writing for a few moments, occasionally nodding as Harriet Mercer and then Cantrell spoke. "George "Blackie" Calder and Calvin Steelgrave were thick as thieves back in the day," he remarked as he finished writing and laid the pencil down. "In fact, had Calder been in town when Steelgrave attacked Miss Regina, things might have ended very differently. He was always fond of ambush attacks or stacking the odds in his favor, so none of this surprises me in the least." He handed the sheet of paper to Harriet, "Please read for accuracy and if you agree with it, sign it and have your clients sign it. If our prosecutor or the judge thinks we need you back for the trial, I'll send word to you. Good enough?"
Harriet read the pages that Gaines handed to her, "I would like to change the verbiage in a couple of places." She took a clean pad of paper and quickly rewrote the pages to suit herself and then handed them back to the sheriff. "If you agree to the changes, Sheriff," she said sweetly, "and once my clients have read it and agreed, we will sign it."
Jess watched Harriet Mercer work and had to stop himself from grinning. These types of situations usually found him trying to convince the local law that he had not started the fight and that it had all been straight up and fair. To have someone running interference with the sheriff and actually defending his actions left him feeling a bit bemused. It was evident that Mercer took her duty as their attorney very seriously which, despite the fact that he had not taken a liking to her personally, made him feel better about the situation.
Cantrell was also showing his mettle by reinforcing what Harriet was saying to the sheriff. The man was as cool, calm and logical as the attorney in his statements to the sheriff. Jess knew he would not be handling things as calmly. Even now, as his gaze turned back to the small knot of people by the wall where Stahl and Miss Josephine were dealing with Royce, his blood boiled. There was nothing that made his blood boil like a back-shooter, whether it was his back being targeted or someone else's.
Jess's thoughts were interrupted as Ben Gaines finished reading the changes Harriet had made and handed the pages back to her, "Looks fine to me, ma'am." He tore up the draft he had written to make sure the pages didn't get confused with the new draft.
"Thank you, Sheriff Gaines," Harriet said and quickly set her signature to each page before handing them off to Jess and Quentin to read and sign. While they did that, Harriet rewrote the statements from memory. She then pulled a small leather box out of her case that had an ink-darkened sponge in it. She also took a small tightly stoppered jar of ink out, removed the stopper and poured a little on the sponge. Another tiny case held a rubber notary stamp. She quickly affixed the stamp to each page, wrote the date and her signature again and handed the sheaf of papers back to the sheriff who also initialed each page. "There you are, Sheriff. One copy for you and one for me."
Sheriff Gaines folded the signed statements and tucked them into the inside pocket of his vest just as one of the deputies walked up. "Carl's gone for the wagon so we can move the bodies to the doc's place." His expression was full of suspicion as he looked at the two men seated at the table with the sheriff.
"Good job. Anything else, Jeff?" Gaines raised his eyebrows at the young deputy.
"We didn't find anything other than six-guns on Blackie and the other man and no identification either," Jeff stated, now openly glaring at Cantrell.
Cantrell gave a slow smile and reached, scooping the coach gun from where it had been resting against the edge of the table. He brought it up and broke the breech open, and tipped it, catching the two brass shells as they slid out into his waiting hand. "There...all safe, Sheriff. However, I will be keeping this because I plan to give it back to whoever paid these men to try and kill us..." Cantrell's smile was slow to widen and maddening in its obvious malice at the deputy as he set the shotgun on the tabletop while he handed the shells to the Sheriff. "Run along, Jeff. Adults are talking."
Gaines rose to his feet, shouldering the glaring boy aside, "Go round up the prisoner before you get into more trouble than you can handle, boy," he said affably to the deputy. The sheriff had not missed the fact that Jess's hand had dropped toward his sidearm. "I think that about does it, ma'am, gentlemen. I'll be in touch." He tugged the brim of his hat and ushered the deputy over to take charge of Royce.
Jess lounged back in his chair, watching the two men cross the yard, stopping to take the injured man into custody, before heading out through the side gate. Once they were gone, he turned his eyes toward Quentin and gave the man a long, considering look although he refrained from saying anything. The snapping of the catches on the attaché case brought his attention back to Harriet Mercer. She looked at each man as she smoothed her trousers with one hand, the other closing about the handle of the case, "We should get going. We've lost too much time as it is. Would one of you be so kind as to retrieve my knife? It was a gift." Jess's gaze followed the woman's trim figure as she stepped off the porch and headed for the carriage.
"I'll let you retrieve her knife while I saddle the horses. You shouldn't be trying to sling a saddle around yet," Jess told Quentin, rising easily to his feet. "Wonder what we've gotten ourselves into?" He mused quietly.
Cantrell stood up and handed the shotgun to Jess. "Stick this in my saddle somewhere while I see about our lawyer's knife..." Cantrell watches Harriet walk away. "That woman..." He snorted to himself and headed to the front fence area toward where Josephine and the newcomer were cleaning up their work.
To be continued in part 5...