The Case of the Copper King
A McKenzie Sisters Mystery Novel
Colorado Springs, Colorado 1899
As one of five women making the rounds in the Lone Dog Saloon, the proprietor expected her to be in high demand. The silky blond hair was pulled up to frame her face while the rest flowed around her shoulders. She drew the attention of every man she passed at the tables, offering a wink, smile, or small wave to each of them.
None of them held her interest.
She sidled up to one man and held a half-full bottle close to her chest.
“Care for a drink, cowboy?”
“I like a little sugar with my whiskey.”
“Sugar is extra, sweetheart.”
“How much extra?”
Amber liquid fell from the bottle into the shot glass on the scarred bar. “Ten dollars.”
“That’s mighty steep for a place like this, darlin’.”
Her fingers trailed up his dusty vest. “I’m worth it, darlin’.”
His boisterous laugh startled a few of the patrons. “Where’s your room?”
“Not so fast. I like to know the names of the men I take to my bed.”
“Name’s Fletcher. I ain’t gonna take you to bed, darlin’. I’m gonna take you to heaven.”
Casey palmed the Deringer and pressed it against her quarry’s belly. “Fletcher Jones. You’ve been a hard man to find.”
Fletcher’s smile vanished as he looked at her with cold, hard eyes. “You got me mixed up with someone else.”
“I don’t think so.”
“You ain’t got what it takes to pull the trigger.”
“I’ve heard a lot of things about you, Fletcher. Not all accounts agree on what you look like, who you ride with, or how many innocent people you’ve killed, but they agree on one thing.”
He smirked. “What’s that?”
“You’re a very stupid man.” She pressed the pistol harder against his gut. “No, no, stay right there. Don’t make this worse for yourself. I want an audience, but I’m guessing you don’t. Where is your partner?”
Fletcher leaned close, the whiskey on his breath pungent and unpleasant. “Who are you?”
Casey smiled. “The person tired of hunting you.”
“Bounty hunter.” Fletcher spat the words.
“You’re not that lucky, Fletcher. Any time now, Sheriff.”
Fletcher whirled around too fast, and Casey was standing too close. He pushed away from the bar only to be met by Sheriff Crankshaw’s fist in his face. Fletcher reeled back and knocked into Casey.
Strong arms and a firm grip caught her mid-stumble, saving her from an undignified landing on her backside. Grateful she did not have to climb up from the floor with the corset strangling what was left of her oxygen, Casey set herself aright. “Sheriff—”
Fletcher yanked her close. “Ain’t no whore is takin’ me down.”
“Oh, I’m much worse than a whore.” Casey pulled out of his grasp. “You have five seconds to tell me where to find your partner.”
Sheriff Crankshaw wrestled Fletcher’s arms behind his back and secured them with shackles.
“Time is up, Fletcher.” Casey leaned on the bar, then immediately stood straight. The corset dug into her flesh every time she tried to defy ramrod-straight posture. “I will find your partner, just like I found you. Now you can spend the rest of your miserable life cutting big rocks down to little ones.” She said to the sheriff, “He’s all yours.”
A hush had fallen over the saloon. Even the entertainer with the mousy brown hair and voice like a lark stood quietly beside the piano, waiting to see what would happen next.
“Do you have something to say, Fletcher?” Casey dared to move a little closer. “I know all about how you threaten folks in the towns you pass through to pay you for protection. You forget to tell them the only person they need protection from is you. These folks will not be sorry to see you go. The sheriff might be able to keep you safe long enough to be transferred . . . or maybe not. I suppose it depends on how liquored up these fine people get.”
Fletcher looked over the room. “Who are you, lady?”
“Someone, who, with any luck, will never have to see you again.” Casey rolled her shoulders against the stiffness in her back. She needed to get out of the dress. “Your partner, Fletcher. Who is he?”
“What’s in it for me?”
“I might be convinced to talk Sheriff Crankshaw here into loading you on the train bound for Denver or St. Louis. You can stand trial where no one knows you,” Casey pointed to the room, “or take your chances here.”
Fletcher grumbled, swore a few times, and said, “Deke’s gone to El Paso.”
“That wasn’t so hard, now, was it?”
Sheriff Crankshaw jerked Fletcher into moving toward the door. He dug his boots into the wooden floorboards as the voices and music picked up again. He turned to Casey and said, “Ain’t no one’s come close in three years. Who are you?”
Casey crossed the short distance, sensing everyone watching her. She stopped a foot away, and in a voice too low to carry, said, “No one you’ll ever see again.”
Excerpt © MK McClintock