II. Horse Thieves

by Sevenstars

“Pardon me, sir, but the clerk at the desk pointed you out to me as Ezra Standish, the owner of this establishment. Is that correct?”

Ezra looked up from his customary late-midmorning breakfast, cocking a cautious eye at the speaker. A short man--no taller than young Mr. Dunne off Wells Ranch, the Southerner estimated--with an air of perpetual exuberance that veritably radiated from his face and made him seem much younger than he probably was. He was dressed in the newest height of Eastern fashion, a dark sack coat and loudly-checked trousers, with a double-breasted waistcoat in a light-colored Scotch plaid, cut fairly high. Melon-shaped felt hat, light-colored cloth spats over side-buttoned shoes, and a heavy watch chain of rolled gold, with sliding guards and pendant rings for an assortment of seals and charms.

Ezra took a slow breath, aware of the pressure of his shoulder-rig against the left side of his chest, under his long-tailed plum-colored coat. It had been over six months now since he had fled New Orleans by dark night to escape the assassin set on his track by the Saint-Mémin family, and although there had been to date no hint that they´d been able to unravel the false trails he´d laid, he had never really permitted his vigilance to relax. Of course this fellow didn´t look much like an assassin--but Ezra had worked enough cons in his life to know that what you looked like wasn´t necessarily very closely related to what you were. On the other hand, he had to give some sort of answer, and only if he chose the truth would he have any chance of finding out what the man´s business was. He was suddenly too aware of Inez, who had come out to refill his coffee cup; she´d grown accustomed to the pace at which he ate and could time her appearances accordingly, with an accuracy that still astonished him.

“It is, sir,” he replied. “You appear to have the advantage of me.”

The stranger reached into his coat, and Ezra felt the muscles in his back tense, but all that appeared was a leather billfold, from which was drawn a long white envelope. “My credentials, Mr. Standish.”

That didn´t sound particularly sinister, but Ezra remained on high alert as he took the envelope from the cloth on which the other had lain it, broke the seal and pulled out the contents. Only one sheet of paper, headed with a design and lettering he recognized; he remembered it from the letter he´d gotten from Russell, Majors & Waddell after he´d taken over the building and, by default, the task of feeding and lodging the drivers and messengers on the Denver branch, whose routes ended here, and any of the stage passengers who might want to break their journey.

Dear Mr. Standish,

This will introduce Mr. Jock Steele, an agent of this Company...

Standish put the paper down and looked his questioner over with new eyes. “I had not been aware of your arrival, Mr. Steele, or I would have extended you the courtesy of an earlier welcome. May I presume you came in on last night´s stage?”

“Yes, two A.M. I did ask if you were in town, and the night clerk told me you´d retired, which I expected.”

“Indeed. I had been in the arms of Morpheus for fully three hours at that point. Ordinarily I prefer to remain wakeful until the coach arrives, but I regret to say I have recently been recoverin´ from a rather nasty cold and am not equal to my usual standards of behavior. May I invite you to join me for breakfast?”

Steele glanced at the Southerner´s almost empty plate. “If it´s not too much trouble, I´d prefer to go someplace private. My business isn´t something I care to have broadcast all over the settlement.”

“You need have no concern as to the discretion of Señorita Rosillos,” Ezra assured him, seeing how his eyes flicked toward the Mexican woman, “but if that is your wish--my office?”

“Lead the way,” said Steele.

Once in the private sanctum, Ezra offered a cigar, which was accepted, and a drink, which wasn´t. “I´m sure you have concerns related to your business that you´re anxious to devote your attention to, Mr. Standish,” Steele began, “so I´ll try to be direct. As you know, this community has been a station on the COC&PP since its establishment, and assumed a greater importance with the discovery of the new diggings around Denver, which inspired the Company to establish the branch stage line. Owing to the vagaries of schedules, it´s unavoidable that passengers transferring to or from the main trunk will be obliged to lay over here, and I´m sorry to say the Head Office has received some very...unfavorable reports about the place.”

Ezra touched his tongue to his lower lip. “Are you sayin´ that the Company wishes to terminate its arrangement with me, Mr. Steele?”

“No, Mr. Standish, we don´t. In fact, your little establishment seems to be an island of--shall I say, tranquility in a sea of disorder? The passengers speak highly of the cleanliness of your rooms and the quality of the food your cook places before them. What troubles us is the...general tenor of life in the community. To put it frankly, Jamesburg has garnered the reputation of being the toughest town west of the Missouri, and it´s not an image the Company likes to find itself associated with.”

“Hmmm,” Ezra murmured. He knew from young Mr. Dunne something of the puritanical inclinations of Messrs. Russell, Majors, and Waddell, who expected all their employees to refrain from all the more pleasurable vices, including drink, gaming, and profanity. Nothing was directly said in their oath that forbade congress with easy women, but the phrase that referred to things “incompatible with the conduct of a gentleman” might be taken to cover that more or less unmentionable activity. And the Southerner had noticed early on that there was a good deal of questionable enterprise about the settlement--more even than could be accounted for by the close presence of the troopers at Fort Sedgwick.

“Why come to me with this complaint, Mr. Steele, if your impression of my business is so favorable?” he inquired. “I am hardly authorized to meddle in the affairs of others, unless they happen to be in my employ. I believe I am aware of the problems to which you refer, but should it not rather be your District Superintendent, Mr. Royale, who should be approached on this issue?”

“Ordinarily I might agree,” Steele admitted, “but there´s more to the question than merely what goes on within the limits of this settlement. The owners are beginning to think that Mr. Royale isn´t qualified to deal with the demands of his position. He´s been unable to check the steady vanishment of Express horses from the swing stations, or to lay hands on the persons responsible. There have been an inordinate number of holdups on both the branch and the trunk lines, which is putting the Company in a bad light with Wells Fargo; they pay us a certain amount to transport overland express, but they guarantee delivery a hundred per cent, and they´re the ones who have to make good if it disappears into some road-agent´s saddlebags. In fact, this Division of the line has suffered more such depradation than any other--even more, in proportion to its length, than some of the short lines in the Mother Lode country in California or covering the routes out of Denver.”

“Yes-s-s,” mused Ezra, “I can comprehend how your superiors would find that distressin´. And I have heard somethin´ of the difficulties you refer to, although I will admit I was unaware that the statistics had attained such a notable level. But what precisely has it to do with me?”

“You´ve been on the scene these six months, Mr. Standish,” Steele pointed out. “You own the sole facility for the sale of spirits within fifty miles or more in any direction, and inevitably it´s a center for news and gossip. I´d venture to guess that you know most of the white inhabitants of the district by reputation, if not personally. The owners would like to relieve Mr. Royale of his position, but it´s vital that they have someone at hand to replace him immediately. They sent me here to interview possible candidates for the job, and recommended you as a knowledgeable source who might be able to suggest one or two suited to the task.”

Ezra sat back slowly, his active and fertile mind for once somewhat numbed. Have I become so respectable as all that? he wondered. To be considered a reliable adviser for a corporate entity as large and influential as this? Good Lord, Mother would say I was throwin´ ten years of her trainin´ to the winds. “What qualifications specifically are you seekin´, Mr. Steele?”

“That should be fairly plain once you give it a few minutes´ thought,” Steele observed. “Honesty first and foremost. The ability to cope with a mass of minutinae and the willingness to take on responsibility. Some facility for working with and commanding others, estimating their character, delegating authority where necessary--but a readiness to assume the final culpability for everything that affects Company interests within his district. Courage--physical and moral. Experience, a knowledge of the peculiarities of the people and the features of the country. And, given that his district covers everything from here to Salt Lake, including a stretch of trail noted for the recalcitrance of the Sioux along it, it would certainly be desireable if he had the respect of the Indians.”

That phrase suddenly brought to mind something Ezra had overheard two days before, when he stopped by to check on the progress of Mrs. Travis´s move into the settlement. Her young son had been asking Mr. Jackson´s wife if she--being Brulé Sioux on her mother´s side-- knew of Captain Larabee´s Indian name, and when the woman replied that she didn´t, young Master Travis had proudly proclaimed it to be “Medicine Eyes.” Ezra had been puzzled by the term and by the boy´s obvious delight in knowing someone who went by it, until Sergeant Wilmington and Rain, between them, explained the significance of “medicine” in the red idiom.

The Southerner thought again of that day by the river three months ago, when the Captain and Mr. Tanner, supported by himself, the Sergeant, Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Dunne, had taken on Vern Harper´s score of armed men to save Mr. Jackson from a lynching. Ezra´s profession had made him, of necessity, highly skilled at reading human character, and in addition he had heard something of Larabee´s reputation both before the incident and since. The man had been in the Army for over twenty years, and if he didn´t already have all the attributes Steele had listed before he joined up, he´d have had to cultivate them in order to advance to command of a company.

A slow grin of delight reached back to the gambler´s gold tooth. Even if it didn´t work out, it would be worth making the suggestion just to see how Larabee would react. “I believe, Mr. Steele, that I may be acquainted with a man who would suit your needs exactly. The only difficulty you may encounter will be connected to the question of his...shall I say, availability.”

“If it´s a matter of money,” said Steele, “I´m authorized to offer five hundred dollars a month.”

Ezra snorted softly. “The man I am thinkin´ of has no dependents and has been functioning adequately on approximately one hundred and seven for several years. The problem is rather connected to a...prior commitment. He is a captain of cavalry at our nearby military facility, Fort Sedgwick. His name is Larabee--Chris Larabee.”

Steele took a moment to absorb this. “Of all the men you know in this district,” he said at length, “would this Captain Larabee be the first man you would suggest, given the qualifications I´m seeking?”

Ezra didn´t even have to think about his answer. “Indeed, sir. Indubitably.”

“Then can you get me an introduction to him, and his commanding officer?”

“I am...reasonably well acquainted with both,” Ezra admitted. “You understand I can promise nothin´, but an introduction--yes, I can furnish that.”

Steele stood up. “Then how do we get to the fort?”

“I would suggest a rented buggy,” Standish told him. “We can procure one at the stable next door.”

“Let´s not waste time,” said Steele.

+ + + + + + +

Fort Sedgwick had been built to protect the “home stretch” of trail into the diggings around Denver, and because it on the Oregon Trail, which was a favorite hunting ground of Sioux war parties, it was well stockaded: horse Indians, unlike their woodland brethren of fifty or a hundred years earlier, might only rarely attack a fort, but that didn´t mean that lone glory-hunters, or small parties of them, might not take it into their heads to still-hunt a sentry or two by night and fill him with arrows, or break into a storehouse--or sneak out a few of the coveted Cavalry horses, big grain-fed animals prized for buffalo hunting and warfare. A stout palisade of perpendicular twelve-inch-thick, twenty-foot-long pine logs, sunk four feet into the earth, defined an oblong compound measuring four thousand feet north to south and half that east to west, with a boardwalk running around the entire inside perimeter, four feet below the sharpened tips of the logs, and a firing space between every fourth and fifth post. The parapets of the lookout tower beside the gate and the blockhouses at the four corners stood eighteen full feet above ground level. The parade ground was a square fifteen hundred feet in each direction, surrounded by buildings of log and adobe construction, mostly calcimined, with a few frame and stone ones. As on any wisely laid out post, the stables, 200x150-foot corral, hay yards, breaking pens, warehouses and feed barns were set on the south, so the prevailing westerly winds would blow the odor and flies away from the living quarters. Apart from these there were the Administration building where the C.O. and adjutant had their offices, the four barnlike, two-storey enlisted men´s barracks (one for each company quartered on post), Sudsville where the married EM´s dwelt, a small BOQ, an Officers´ Row with a barbershop at the end, and a long barracks building for the quartermaster, signal, and ordnance sections; a stone commissary storehouse, quartermaster and ordnance, grain storage, arsenal, and powder magazine; mess hall in two parts, enlisted men´s and officers´, with the kitchen set between; bakehouse, icehouse, slaughterhouse, root cellars, dispensary, shops for the blacksmith, saddler, carpenter, and gunsmith, chapel, post school, and library; bandstand, wagon yard, and twelve-by-twelve foot “bull ring” where amateur boxing bouts were held as part of the entertainment program and private grudges could be battled out. Vegetable gardens and cornfields lent variety to the diet of common soldiers, officers, and families alike: each company had its own, and there was keen competition to see who could raise the best crops. Several of the officers´ wives had amassed considerable flocks of chickens, though the stockade wasn´t proof against weasels, skunks, and similar marauding vermin. A tall white flagpole stood in the center of the parade ground, surrounded by whitewashed rocks, and flanked on either side by a much- polished artillery piece. Walks of whitewashed gravel connected the blocks of buildings to one another, while shaded galleries ran along the frontage of each. Two wells and a rain-filled underground cistern with a charcoal filter supplied abundant drinking water for people and animals alike, a big storage tank held an emergency supply to be quickly and easily tapped in the event of fire, and the South Platte flowed only a pistol shot beyond the back gate, so that even a buck private got his bath on Saturday night, and the officers´ wives could usually manage a daily tub before the fire if they wished. As on even the most ordinary Army post, comfortable homes were provided for the officers and their families: set back fifty feet from the edge of the parade ground, with lawns enclosed by whitewashed three-foot-high picket fences and cut in two by stone-bordered walks, even the smallest of them provided three large rooms and two small ones, plus kitchen, pantry, and dining room connected to the main block by a gallery. Though a directive of the late ´50´s had ordered all future Army construction to be “of the plainest kind,” they boasted full-length front porches, French windows and bays, and upstairs gables. Horses and mules, in separate herds, grazed off post under a light guard a mile or two past the stockade.

In the six months since he´d come to Jamesburg, Ezra Standish had become a familiar face to most of the men on post, who naturally gravitated toward his saloon whenever they got a pass to go into the settlement. The sentries at the gate greeted him cheerfully, and one offered to see to the buggy horse; as he and Steele made their way across the parade ground, passing troopers saluted the elegant Southerner with casual waves and bright jests. “You seem to be quite popular here, Mr. Standish,” Steele observed.

Ezra shrugged. “I dare say it is merely a matter of the men knowin´ on which side their bread is buttered--or, perhaps more accurately, their whiskey is available. I am a businessman, and they are among my most dependable customers; it is to my interest to see that they are treated fairly while on my premises, as it is to theirs to maintain my good opinion and avoid bein´ barred from the establishment, which they know I have the authority to do.”

There was a brief wait at Headquarters; Ezra had anticipated it, and pulled a pocket edition of Byron out of his jacket to pass the time. Presently they were shown into Travis´s office by an orderly, and Ezra performed introductions. Travis was clearly intrigued at being called upon by an agent of the stage line; he invited both men to seat themselves, provided cigars from a silver box on his desk, and asked what service he could render the Company. Steele glanced at the gambler, who responded for him. “In order to spare Mr. Steele the necessity of repeatin´ himself, Colonel, might I suggest that you summon Captain Larabee to this office? What is to be said concerns him more than anyone else.”

Travis sent his orderly in search of the man, and passed the next fifteen minutes or so asking Steele for news of the river towns and of Eastern politics. The agent told him that it had become clear that not one of the four Presidential candidates would be able to command a national following, and that with some six weeks to go until the election, the campaign had resolved into a choice between Lincoln and Douglas, respectively Republican and conventional Democrat, in the North, the Constitutional Democrats´ Breckinridge and Constitutional Union Party´s Bell in the South. The Republicans, he said, were obviously aware of Southern fears regarding them: they were playing up the planks in their platform that focused on free homesteads and Federal aid to railroads, and trying to mute somewhat the dangerous issue of slavery, insisting that their candidate was not an abolitionist. Lincoln himself, however, stubbornly refused to offer the South assurances or to amplify his position, claiming that it was a matter of public record. The Douglas Democrats for their part were attempting to tar the Republicans with prohibitionism and Know-Nothing nativism, finding some success among German and Irish voters, and presenting their man as the only true national figure, the only one of the quartet whose triumph wouldn´t mean the disruption of the Union. Breckinridge, a Kentuckian and the current Vice-President, with Senator Joseph Lane of Oregon as his running mate in a bid to attract the Western vote, stood for the annexation of Cuba, the legal extension of slavery into the Territories, and the adoption of the Federal slave code that had been suggested by Senator Jefferson Davis shortly after the execution of John Brown. Bell was a former Speaker of the House, a native of Tennessee, teamed with the famous orator Edward Everett, once Governor and Senator from Massachusetts, as a sop to the Northern vote; their party was made up of the conservative Southerners, most of the men of property, including the largest slaveholders in the South. The prospect of secession frightened these men, who represented the calmest and best-educated elements in their states and had split off from the dominant radicals who had splintered away from the main Democrats in Charleston five months before. Theirs was the least parochial view, and they declared that the property-holders of the South must fight encroaching industrialism and abolition within the framework of the Constitution. Their sole platform was “the Constitution of the Country, the Union of the States, and the Enforcement of the Laws;” their apparent hope, to avoid the forces and issues that threatened to cause a division of the nation by turning the clock back and starting all over again.

When Larabee arrived, Travis asked his orderly to shut the office door and invited his senior captain to take a chair. “Of course you know Ezra Standish,” he said, “and this gentleman is Jock Steele, from the Head Office of Russell, Majors, & Waddell. Mr. Steele, Captain Chris Larabee.”

The two shook hands, Larabee cautious and alert as he usually was around anyone he didn´t know. Ezra settled himself comfortably and listened as Steele explained his mission and made his pitch. The agent was apparently perceptive enough to understand that, if Larabee did accept his offer, he would of necessity be associating regularly with the gambler, and that it wouldn´t do to make him feel either beholden or resentful toward the younger man; instead he spoke in general terms. “From what I´ve heard of you, Captain, you´re a man who possesses all the character traits the Company is seeking. Your years of experience in the military would definitely be a plus. And I´m assured that you´re known and respected by the Indians, who remain a matter of great concern to the owners. With regard to white depradations, our chief care is the horse thieves, and the occasional stage holdup; the Pony Express riders don´t carry anything that would be of much interest to them--mainly urgent business letters, commercial news, some press dispatches, and all Pacific-coastbound military messages. If you accept the position, we can offer you five hundred dollars a month salary, and complete authority over every Company employee within your district, including power to hire and fire as you see fit. And although we don´t have any jurisdiction over civilian establishments like Mr. Standish´s, our understanding is that, once past the hundred-mile mark out from the Missouri, there´s very little non-military authority of any kind along the Oregon Trail, short of whatever exists around Denver and Salt Lake. Being unrestricted by state or county lines as it is, the Company can provide you with backing for almost anything you might find it necessary to do; you wouldn´t be accountable to any officialdom or restrained by jurisdictional boundaries.”

With well-concealed amusement, Ezra observed that Larabee actually seemed to be on the verge of losing the cool self-possession for which he was locally known. “I understand the honor your Company is doing me, Mr. Steele. But I have a commitment to the military.”

“You could resign,” Steele pointed out. “You´ve certainly been in uniform long enough to have repaid any obligation you incurred for your initial training. Or perhaps Colonel Travis might be persuaded to grant you several months´ leave of absence?” He turned his attention to the older officer, who had been listening without comment.

Travis sat back thoughtfully in his swivel chair, meeting the questioning eyes of his captain. “Mr. Steele makes a valid point, Chris. The fact is that the existence of these horse thieves is a threat to Army property as well as Company. And in the absence of duly authorized civilian law officers, we represent almost the only alternative that prevails. With the Indians becoming more and more restless, we don´t really need the added responsibility. Some sort of civilian police power is definitely needed, and a District Superintendent for the Company could make a great difference.” He glanced at Ezra. “As you know, Mr. Standish, I have no quarrel with the way in which you run your business, but you can´t, and don´t, control the entire settlement. There´s definitely an undesireable element there which tends to attract the bad sort; they find Jamesburg a perfect place for recreation and resupply, being well aware that even if any of them are known by any of the inhabitants to be wanted by civil authorities, there´s no one on site, except possibly Royale, who has the power to do anything about it. If the settlement could be cleaned up, it might become less appealing to them, and that would force at least some of them to relocate.”

“I have entertained the same thought on several occasions, Colonel,” Ezra agreed. “And if I might be so bold as to venture the assertion...your daughter-in-law and grandson have relocated to it only two days ago. You have a certain personal interest in their safety which is undiminished by the fact of their havin´ ceased to dwell within your direct bailiwick.” He eyed Larabee slyly, remembering Buck Wilmington´s report that he and Mrs. Travis had been “striking off sparks” from their first meeting.

“Very true,” said Travis. “I´ve considered more than once the possibility of declaring martial law. Technically that possibility is only supposed to be resorted to when the civilian government of an area can´t function--in peacetime, when the police are unable to control an emergency situation. But apart from the mining districts around Denver, there is no civilian government in the Nebraska Territory once you get past the hundred- mile settlement frontier. The Territorial authorities are so remote from the scene of our current difficulty that they hardly even know what´s going on out here, much less have any way to cope with it. The only thing that´s kept me from doing it has been the reluctance to tie up my limited personnel.” His steel-gray eyes shifted from Chris to the agent. “I´ve had you under my command for two years, Chris, and I´ve seen something of your record before you came here. I think Mr. Steele is right when he says you´re the kind of man he needs for the job.”

Larabee was silent a moment. “Are you ordering me to take it, sir?”

“No, I´m not. I don´t feel I have the right to do that. What I´m saying is that as your direct superior, I do have the right--in fact, the obligation--to consider in what capacity you can best utilize your natural talents. Being the senior officer between Kearny and Laramie, it´s my duty to foresee what tasks may fall to the men under my command. And as I have the authority to grant you leave, I can also sanction a leave of absence for you--without pay, of course, but Mr. Steele´s Company would more than take up the slack. As long as your military duties aren´t interfered with--and as your commanding officer, I´m the one who decides what those duties are, on a specific, day-to-day basis--I´m allowed a good deal of latitude in defining when and for how long you can leave them to others.”

Again the captain hesitated. “May I speak frankly, sir?”

Travis smiled tightly. “I´ve seldom known you to speak any other way, Chris.”

Larabee took a slow breath. “I´ve been in the Army since I was nineteen years old, Colonel. That´s better than half my life. I´m not sure I´d know how to deal with civilians any more--not for any extensive length of time. You know yourself that maintaining good relations with the civilian community is one of the less pleasant duties of any commanding officer. If I go into Jamesburg in the capacity Mr. Steele suggests, even out of uniform, there´s bound to be resentment, which can only make the job harder.”

“Based upon our association heretofore, Captain,” Ezra drawled lazily, “my impression of you is that you are not a man inclined to shrink from a task merely because it promises to be difficult--or dangerous.” His bright emerald eyes held Larabee´s sharp pale ones a moment, and even without the words being spoken Larabee knew he was thinking of the battle with Vern Harper´s gang.

“Mr. Standish is correct,” Travis agreed. “And, to turn your own argument back on you, Chris, there are other things a commanding officer must be able to do: inspire respect from whites and Indians alike, act quickly and intelligently when the peace is threatened, and function as a leader, a judge, a diplomat, and a keen student of human nature. To stretch a point, any officer can become a commander under certain circumstances, such as when leading a patrol-- something you do regularly. If you didn´t possess the abilities I just listed, I wouldn´t order you into the field as often I do.”

The younger officer went quiet, his face still, eyes revealing nothing except the furious activity of the mind behind them, and Ezra suddenly realized what a good poker player he´d make if he cared enough about money to bother staking it at the tables. “If I take the job,” he said slowly, after a while, “I´ll want Buck with me.”

“Buck?” Steele repeated.

“Sergeant Buck Wilmington,” Travis explained. “He and Chris have served together these last twelve years.”

“You did say I´d have power to hire and fire,” Chris reminded the agent. “With an area of responsibility as large as the one you want to place in my charge, I need to have a man or two under me that I know I can trust, that I´ve worked with and am used to. A deputy of sorts, or an assistant, if you like.”

Steele considered it a moment. “Yes, I can see your point. All right. I think I can persuade the Company to part with an extra $260 a month for a qualified man.”

“And a tracker,” Chris added. “If your main concern is horse thieves and road agents, we´ll be needing someone who can follow a trail. I know a man who´d be perfectly qualified for the job--he was reared by Comanches. He´s making two dollars a day as a hunter at one of your home stations now.”

The agent nodded. “That makes sense. Colonel Travis, what does the Army pay a civilian placed on the payroll as a scout?”

“Anywhere from eighty dollars a month and found to $135 flat if he furnishes his own horse,” was the reply.

“Oh, this one has a horse, unless it´s the Devil in disguise,” said Larabee, a faint smirk flickering briefly across his stern face.

“Then I´ll authorize the higher figure,” Steele decided. “Even if he helps you recover only a dozen Pony mounts in a year, he´ll have saved us more than he costs.”

“Buck and I will need an advance on our pay,” Chris continued. “We own our horses, but we´ll need to purchase civilian clothes, saddles, maybe weapons.”

“Two weeks in advance,” Steele offered. “I´ll assume you´ll want to do your shopping before you take up your duties. I don´t have that kind of money on me, but if Mr. Standish will agree, I can write out a draft on the Company for the amount in question and he can provide the actual cash. If the amount is available in the Jamesburg safe after you get control of the office, you can take it out of there and pass it on to him.”

Three pairs of eyes turned to Ezra, who let them hang for a moment before he nodded. “That would be three hundred and eighty dollars by my calculations. I believe I can spare it.”

“Very good,” said Steele. “Then it´s up to you, Captain. I´ve met all your preconditions, and the Colonel is clearly willing to authorize your leave of absence and that of your sergeant. Will you accept the position?”

Larabee seemed to think it over one last time. “Yes.”


Comments to: sevenstars39@hotmail.com