by Sevenstars

Four or five of the wool-hats eagerly swarmed over Buck and overwhelmed him, holding him with arms twisted up hard behind his back. "Hey!" he protested, equally as surprised as they had been a moment before. "What do you think you're doin'? I said I was from Missouri--"

"I don't doubt it," the leader agreed. "Indeed, I recall seein' someone who looked very much like you, once, goin' into Mrs. Abigail Morgan's house, down by the river. And Mrs. Abigail Morgan, my friend, is known to be a free-soiler and an opponent of the duly elected legislature of Kansas."

Damn, damn, damn! Buck thought. He must come from somewheres close around town. If I'd just said I was from somewheres else, maybe he wouldn't've matched me up with Miz Abigail. That'll teach me to find out where the other feller's from first, 'fore I open my mouth--

If they leave me alive to do it--

"We gonna hang him, Cap'n?" Seth demanded gleefully.

"We certainly are, Seth," the young man agreed.

Buck began struggling, and his long limbs gave him a lot of leverage against the lighter, less husky backwoods boys, but there were just too many of them. He watched, his eyes walling, as one of them shook out a rope and began fixing a loop in it--

And then all hell broke loose.

With a rush and a roar and a yammering whooping, a second party of men, equally well-armed and -mounted, came charging out of the low sun, their guns blazing. As two or three of his immediate captors reflexively let go of him and turned to defend themselves, Buck, with a presence of mind which surprised even himself, squatted hard and then pushed himself up fast, using his legs like pistons. His sudden downward movement loosed the grip of one of the boys still holding him, and as he came up again the top of his skull took Seth on the point of the chin and slammed his head back, stunning him and tearing his hands free from Buck's arms. Buck whirled, kicked out, heard a scream, and threw himself toward his saddle, rolling. The night-riders and their foes were inextricably mixed, hooves trampling everywhere, horses rearing and whinnying and curvetting, men shouting, guns firing. Buck's hand fell on the butt of his Colt .44 and he brought it around and into line and squeezed the trigger at a man afoot, figuring it had to be one of the Missourians. The man shrieked and went down. Buck fired again and again as fast as he could cock the hammer, and then it clicked on a bad cap and he dropped it, rolled again as someone came at him in a rush, got his fingers on the hilt of his Arkansas toothpick and threw it as Mike had taught him. He saw the flicker of the steel as the knife flew through the air, and then there was no knife, only a leather-wrapped hilt protruding from the man's hollow chest as he clawed at it, coughed, and puddled to the earth.

The young planter was hollering orders, forcing his big mare through the very heart of the fight, a gun in each hand, and then he was bursting free, with maybe half his followers close behind. Buck yanked out his shotgun, threw it to his shoulder and fired. He'd been aiming for the leader, but just as the hammer dropped one of the wool-hats' horses cut in behind him and the rider took the charge full in the spine. Cursing viciously, Buck cocked the other hammer and raised the scattergun again, then hesitated as he realized the Missourians were already forty yards away and moving fast. He heard more orders being shouted and several of his rescuers, if such they were, took off in pursuit.

As the drumming of hoofbeats died off in the distance, something like quiet gradually settled around the glade where Buck had made his camp. He looked first for Roulette; she was wild-eyed and shivering but somehow still picketed. Then he looked around at the remains of the fight. He counted at least twelve of the wool-hats down in the grass, and maybe a score of mounted men milling around, some of them engaged in catching up the horses of the dead, including those which had had others on lead behind them. As for Buck himself, his heart was going like a trip hammer and he could barely breathe, but he felt a wild exultation of triumph too. He clutched the shotgun, which still had one load in it, and waited to see what would happen next.

A man wove his way out of the press, throwing orders this way and that, and pulled up in front of him. This one was older than the young planter, maybe twenty-three, a dark-haired fellow with clear gray eyes and a dashing short goatee. He was fully as well armed as Buck, except that he didn't carry a Sharps, and wore a fringed buckskin hunting shirt belted at the waist over black whipcord pants, a broad-brimmed black slouch hat and a dashing blue bandanna of shimmering silk. His horse was a deep-chested roan gelding of the distinctly purple tone occasionally seen. "Well, now," he said, eyeing the youth up and down. "It's been a while since I saw a man handle himself that well. Who might you be?"

Buck's lips tightened and he firmed his grip on the shotgun. "You say first."

The other gave him a second look and chuckled. "Be damned. Now, you don't think we're cut from the same cloth as those others, do you? Still, seeing they were just about to put a rope around your neck, I can see where you might have a right to caution. My name's Bentann, Marcus Bentann." He pronounced his surname with an emphasis on the second syllable. "But most of my boys here call me Captain Jayhawk. We're out of Raysville, chasing those night riders who were just here. Our neighbors refer to us as the Raysville Regulators."

"Don't mean nothin' to me," said Buck, "and if I hear that feller in back of me cock a gun, this shotgun here'll take you down 'fore he can fire." He was confused and not unscared, but resolute. He had made up his mind: nobody was going to hang him. If he died, today or any other day, it would be with his feet on the ground, and he'd take at least one with him, more if he could.

Bentann blinked at him, then let out a full-throated laugh. "I will be damned. You're better than you look. All right, Warren, go help the others." He holstered the big H. Aston .54 cap-lock pistol he was holding. "There, now. I'm unarmed. Suppose you put that scattergun aside and we talk. Got any coffee?"

Buck glanced toward his fire, which had been trampled out by all the horses fighting back and forth over it. "Had. Coffee can ain't much good no more, though."

"Warren!" Bentann yelled. "See if any of those captured horses is carrying anything a man could brew coffee in. They owe this fellow that much, at least."

Warren tossed off a salute and swung out of his saddle. Buck eyed the leader, frowning. He knew that the free-soil militias had, for the last year or so, been calling themselves "jayhawkers," a name first coined by "General" James Lane, supposedly after an Irish bird that worried its prey. But a name, after all, was just a handle; anyone could use it. "Who was them boys?" he asked.

Bentann snorted. "Mostly poor white trash, as I guess you figured. Boss man, I think, was a fellow named Arthur Julian, off a plantation called Julian's Choice, up in Lafayette County. He's smarter than any six of the rest of them, which is what makes him dangerous."

"Yeah, I figured," Buck agreed. "Long way from home, ain't he?"

Bentann shrugged. "Like any scavenger, he has to go where the food is, and right now that means down here. You mind if I get down?"

Buck considered. Virg had said that a man on foot always had the advantage over a mounted man when gunfire was being exchanged, so he liked the idea of the two of them being like they were, but he was also beginning to think Bentann meant him no ill. "I reckon not. I reckon you saved my life, you'n'yours here. I reckon I owe you for that. Go ahead."

The jayhawker swung gracefully to earth and handed his roan's reins to another dismounted man who came up to receive them and lead the animal off for a drink and a rest. "Just what was it they had against you, anyway?" he asked. "You're not from around here, that I'm sure of, and it's pretty clear they happened on you by chance. Come to that, we owe you, a little; if they hadn't delayed to find out who you were and try to hang you, we might not have caught up. We won't know till Lloyd and the others get back whether we've ended their threat for good, but we sure bloodied their noses."

Buck thought that over, nodded. "Name's Bucklin Wilmington, though most call me Buck. I'm out of Kansas City, and I'm a free-soil man. Julian knew who I grew up with, so he knew that. That's why they figured to finish me."

"Thought it might be something like that. You're a damn good man in a fight, Bucklin Wilmington. Mind if I see that handgun you were using?"

"Help yourself, but remember I still got the shotgun," said Buck.

Bentann laughed again. "You're a suspicious young son, aren't you?" He knelt to gather in the dropped Colt. "A Walker. Same kind the Texas Rangers carry. Sure you're a free-soiler?"

Buck took a slow breath. "I said it, and I don't lie. As for bein' suspicious, I reckon I got some right. As for the gun, the man that taught me to shoot picked it for me. Said somebody with hands the size of mine needed a weapon to fit 'em."

"That's a point," Bentann agreed, looking him over again. "You know, at first look I'd have said you were just an overweaponed kid out looking for a fight to get into, but now I'm not so sure. You said you're free-soil and out of Kansas City. That makes you a little like Julian, a long way from home. If you can use the rest of your arms as well as you do what I saw, I can use you."

"I'm seventeen past," Buck told him, "and I ain't got nobody to care if I live or die. Give me a chance, you'll see how good I am."

"I think maybe I will," said Bentann.

Four Corners, New Mexico Territory: August, 1878

Buck awoke with a violent start, thrashing his way half out of his Log Cabin quilt, breath exploding out of his lungs in a sobbing gasp. The springs of his brass bed squealed a protest at his sudden movement, the sound grounding him, reminding him of where he was. It took him a minute or two to quit shaking, but the awareness that he was safe in his boardinghouse room, if without the comfort of a lady beside him, helped a good deal. Four Corners. Chris. JD. The others. Not Kansas. Not Bentann. It was all right.

The breath sighed out of him and he swung his legs over and stood up, dressed only in his faded long-handled underwear. He shuffled over to the window and pulled up the spring-wind green shade. The residential side-street on which the boardinghouse stood was dark and still. Buck braced his palms on the sill and thrust his upper body out for a look at the stars. Right around five. Sun would be showing in another hour and a half. "Hell," he grumbled morosely. He didn't have these dreams much any more, but he knew that when he did, he could count on getting no more sleep that night. He withdrew and crossed over to the chair to get his pants. Quietly, with a thought to the kid asleep in the room next door, he dressed, except for his boots, and grabbed the bottle of whiskey he kept secreted in the bottom drawer of the wardrobe before cautiously opening the door and padding downstairs. The high, dry New Mexico air didn't allow the heat of day to linger, and he guessed the temperature to be around fifty; he was glad of his short canvas jacket. Once on the wide, deep porch that enclosed the house on three sides, he moved a well-worn rocker into the corner by the morning-glory vine, slacked his long body into it, pulled the bottle's cork with his teeth, and took a hard slug of the whiskey.

"Hell," he said again, and set the bottle on the floor beside him, folding his hands across his middle and glaring out at the inoffensive street. Still couldn't quite believe it. Five months now it was since the fight at the Seminole village (he rubbed his palm thoughtfully across his chest, where the saber cut had left a faded scar). Five months since he'd found Chris again, found the kid, found four other men who were rapidly turning into what he'd thought Bentann's men would--a family.

How long was it, now, since he'd dreamed about the Troubles? God. Must be a couple of years. No. More than that. Before the fire, before Sarah and Adam were lost. Afterward he'd had more than enough new pains and horrors and guilt to occupy his sleeping thoughts.

He frowned. Why should he be dreaming about Bentann and the Troubles again? He'd figured he was past it. Deliberately, he examined the dream. Josiah said that if you looked a thing in the face, it lost a lot of its power to hurt you. Buck wasn't quite sure he put much stock in some of the things Josiah said, but he respected the big man's experience and wisdom, and when Josiah's words made sense, by God, they made sense. It wasn't all so different, after all, from what he'd wished Chris could do, instead of hiding in a bottle-- Back to business, Bucklin. Bentann. The Troubles.

He'd ridden with the Raysville Regulators for over a year, honing his skills as he'd sworn to do, following them on their raids and pursuits into Missouri. And, to his growing shame, on other raids too. Bentann's was one of the few sizeable and organized free-state marauder gangs that remained on the Kansas side of the line after Governor Geary's peace initiative, and they took full advantage of the lack of competition. When no Missouri night-riders appeared to challenge them, they turned their attention to the pro-slave settlers who'd filtered down into the Fort Scott country after the Lawrence area was pacified. They raided the pro-slavers' towns, ravaged their farms, intimidated partisan homesteaders and burned their homes, shot them from ambush or at the doors of their cabins, and then began branching out into robbery, horse theft, and the plunder of stagecoaches. And Buck's early bitterness began to give way to confusion and disillusionment. He could almost pinpoint the time: the referendum of December 21, seven months after he joined up, which was held to decide whether the "Lecompton constitution," framed by the pro-slave convention, would be approved by the electorate. At this point the Missourians returned to put into effect their familiar tactics of false registration, intimidation, and ballot-box stuffing. Buck had expected Bentann to take some stand against them, to appoint his company deputies ex officio and at least keep things honest in Bourbon County; Raysville, after all, lay less than ten miles from the line and would be a tempting target. Bentann didn't. Looking back now, understanding just what a clever and well-informed man his captain had been, Buck knew it had been deliberate, knew Bentann had realized that this might well be the last election the outsiders would attempt to rig (as indeed it turned out to be), that it wouldn't be much longer before the Regulators would lose what official sanction they had--and that was dwindling, for even in those areas where they legitimately dominated the population, pro-slavery settlers were finding it wiser to leave their new homes and return to Missouri, while in the latter itself, the cross-border raids were giving way to a hodgepodge of harsh contentions, unexpected split-ups, bitter divisions and violences, and revivals of old feuds, until the night-riders were actually becoming more of a threat to their own fellow-statesmen (pro-slave and Unionist alike) than they were to their neighbors in Kansas.

Buck's Unionist sympathies had actually strengthened since coming to Kansas, and his resolve to one day find and kill his father had cooled hardly at all, but he found himself growing gradually more disgusted with the tactics of his chief and companions. He could see fighting other armed men, especially when they were marauders from outside, but terrorizing women and children, depriving them of breadwinners who'd never made a belligerent move toward their neighbors, and reiving folks of their property regardless of their politics--no. That wasn't war. That was banditry or worse. Buck realized he didn't like to think of himself as a bandit.

He'd gained a good deal of respect in Bentann's company since that first day, as he proved on many occasions that his actions against Julian's wool-hats hadn't been a fluke, and being still, after all, a kid, he at first had some hope that he could swing some of them, at least, around to the point of standing up against the leader. But he talked too much to the wrong people, and one night he found himself seized and put "under arrest," as Bentann called it. He was given a drumhead trial and condemned to hang at sunup, and in the meantime was locked up in a vacant shack the Regulators had taken over. But he managed to break out, with the help of a board he ripped out of a bunk, and recover Roulette and his weapons, then stampede the others' horses and make a run. He headed west, figuring he'd go till he hit the Front Ranges and then turn south for Santa Fe. Instead he fell in with a party of veterans of other mining frontiers who thought the countryside perfect for gold, and began following some of the canyons up into the rugged mass of the Rockies. Before the spring of '59 was half over they and other groups like them were finding colors in promising quantity. The "Pike's Peak" rush was on.

Buck made his way southward to the beautiful South Park region, where thriving diggings were found, and there, over the next year or so, he made his name as a legitimate pistoleer, wearing a badge in several camps in between serving as a stage-line detective and shotgun guard; he wasn't an altogether willing gunfighter, but he'd learned enough about himself, in his time in Kansas, to know it was something he was good at, and a man had to eat, after all: the better you were at the thing you did for your bread, the better you were likely to get paid for it. He chose his jobs carefully, hoping to make up for some of the things he'd done with Bentann, and gradually a measure of peace returned to his troubled spirit, though he still suffered whenever it was necessary for him to kill, and tried, when he could, to stack the deck so he wouldn't have to. He kept using the big Walker Colt as his primary gun for years, in part because, though too heavy for most men, it would shoot pretty accurately at well over a hundred yards, and it only added to his reputation: as Bentann had known, the first Colt guns to reach Texas had been .36-caliber, and when, in the early '40's, the first .44's appeared, they were a lot of gun, too much for some folks. The Rangers got those first .44's, and they were picked men, so they quickly came to be called ".44-caliber men"--something special. As more of the new guns became available, the name came to mean someone who was all man and could be relied on in any situation. Any man called that, then or later, had earned the name. Buck was one of the few outside Texas who earned it, chiefly from the Texans who came up to Colorado driving beef herds for the miners and sometimes stayed to try their luck in the diggings.

Eventually he drifted south to New Mexico, and was in Taos in the early summer of '61, when news of the outbreak of the Civil War reached the old pueblo; sentiment was largely Confederate, for the Territory lay next door to Texas, which had claimed a large chunk of it from the outset, and had been American property for only thirteen years, and many of its citizens still viewed the conquering bluecoats with less than total admiration. One day, Southern sympathizers ripped down the Stars and Stripes in the plaza. The next, fifty-year-old Kit Carson, the famous retired trapper and guide of Fremont, who had a ranch nearby, nailed the fallen flag to a cottonwood pole and quietly suggested--cocked rifle in hand--that nobody dare lay his treasonous hands on it again. Nobody did. Not long after this, Buck signed up with the First New Mexico--a unit so heavily Hispanic that it was called Martinez' Militia--and, perhaps because he could speak both Spanish and English, was ranked first lieutenant. The First missed most of the fighting of 1861, but it served with honor through the rest of the war, and Buck did his share, collecting two wounds in the process, one of which was bad enough to earn him a stay in hospital. It was during the war that he met Captain Chris Larabee, and after the Surrender the two of them headed back to the West where both had made their reputations.

From time to time, in those half-dozen years, and more often after war was formally declared, Buck heard of Bentann. Like the better-known Jim Lane, he had stayed behind in Kansas rather than enlist, and somehow reinvented himself as a captain of "home guards," much indeed as Lane had done, though Bentann's bore little resemblance to Lane's half-armed, mutinous rabble of whites, Indians, and Negroes, who took votes on whether they wanted to obey unpleasant orders. Buck wasn't surprised: from the perspective of his growing experience he could see that Bentann was a natural leader with a forceful personality, not unlike Chris, but a much better talker than the laconic gunfighter would ever be. He refocused his attention on the "enemy," raiding south into the Indian Territory (where the Five Civilized Tribes had seceded from the Union and sent some 7500 of their men to war on the side of the Confederacy) and east into Missouri (whence rode various guerrilla leaders, nominally Confederate, who waged relentless war on the Kansas border communities, shooting down scores of unarmed civilians, plundering, destroying property, terrifying the populace and frustrating thousands of regular Union troops). Apparently this kind of activity not only satisfied the desire of his followers for blood and loot, but went a long way toward convincing a lot of people to forget his work before. Then, after the Battle of Westport, on October 23, 1864, the war east of the Mississippi settled down to a struggle between Grant's and Lee's armies in Virginia, and the Border War, save for occasional sniping and halfhearted harassment, seemed to wind down to a whimpering end rather than closing with the bang most people had probably anticipated. And Buck, at Chris's side, made himself a new life and did his best to forget the errors of his youth. He developed the unexpressed, but inwardly held, philosophy that, while his mother had been right about life not being fair, humans had a choice--they could choose to be fair, or not--and a decent man should stand on the side of fairness and try to see that it was imposed in all human dealings, whether before or after the fact. The example of the ladies among whom he'd grown up had given him an outgoing manner, and his own inborn nature was such that he found life exciting and fun and had an uninhibited zest for living and enjoying it; as time softened the horrors of his mother's death, both returned and became a defining part of his character. Even his desire to kill his father slowly faded away.

"Hey, pard," said a quiet voice behind him, and Buck nearly choked on the drink he'd been taking.

"Hey, yourself," he retorted when he'd finished coughing. "Damnit, Chris, you oughtta know better'n to sneak up behind a man, and most of all when he's got a mouthful of whiskey. What you doin' up?"

"What're you?" Chris, like his old friend, was fully dressed except for boots and hat; the August moon touched his blond hair, paling it to silver.

Buck shrugged. "Couldn't sleep."

"One of them dreams again?" Chris asked mildly. He put one shoulder against a porch post, took a cheroot out of his vest, scratched a match on the wood and lit the cigar, and stood there puffing thoughtfully.

Buck eyed him dubiously. "Wasn't sure you'd remember."

"Ain't that bad off, Buck," the other man observed, with a faint tightness running under the words. "It's a funny thing, you know? More'n three years in the War and you never once had nightmares about that. Just Bentann. That's how I knew."

The mustached gunslinger sighed and nodded. "Yeah, it was Bentann. First time in...well, years. Been sittin' here tryin' to think what could've brought him to mind again."

"Josiah said somethin' about crows, what was it, day 'fore yesterday?" Chris remembered. "From what you said of Bentann, he was as much of a scavenger as ever they was."

Buck snorted. "Hell, I don't put no stock in Josiah's crotchets, Chris, you know that. A crow's just a big black bird." Again he sighed. "I dunno. Maybe it's guilt. I look at this town, at how much progress we've made in just five months, I look at JD in that damn hat with that spark in his eyes, and I think of how I used to be and how I never was. Even I ain't never been as young as he is, you know? And it just brings it all back, Ma dyin', me almost gettin' hung before I was even old enough to vote, Bentann savin' my life, and then the way I found out he wasn't what I thought--"

"Ain't ever easy, losin' your illusions," mused Chris quietly. "And we all of us have, one way or another. Except maybe the kid." He cocked one pale eye at his old friend. "Still sometimes think you ought to send him home."

"I can't send that boy noplace, Chris," Buck retorted mildly; it was an old argument between them. "First off, he ain't got no home to go to--unless it's here with us. Second, he's old enough to make his own choices--hell, he's older'n I was when I joined Bentann. Third, I got a notion we all need him around, just to remind us of what we're workin' for. And fourth, if he goes, I go. He's proved himself, Chris, more'n once, and he's mine to look after. You got no right to say otherwise." He let out his breath in a ragged sigh. "God, he was so lucky he fell in with us. There ain't a day goes by I don't give thanks it was us he dropped off that stage in front of, and not somebody like Bentann. When I think of a kid like JD gettin' into Bentann's hands--"

"He won't," said Chris flatly. "Hell, I'm not even sure the man's alive any more. When was the last time we heard of him, '64?" He stared out at the street, the redness at the tip of his cheroot swelling and fading in a rapid rhythm that told Buck he was puffing at it more quickly than before. Buck watched his old friend quietly. Chris might have changed a lot from the way he'd been before, but Buck still knew him well enough to know that, even after five months, he was still fighting this whole seven-men-together deal like a young scared bronc fighting a saddle. There was a part of him--the classic sober, quiet, unquarrelsome gunfighter of a dozen years ago, the tender, loving family man and faithful friend, the man who'd led a company of volunteers bravely and intelligently, with dash and creativity, and taken deep pride in their loyalty--that wanted it, longed for it in fact, knew he needed it to ground him in reality, and knew too the value of friends to guard your back and family to make you whole. And there was another part that resisted with all its might, terrified of the responsibility, of being forced to make decisions that would send good men to their deaths, of having them used as weapons against him and perhaps slain in his stead as he believed Sarah and Adam to have been, and above all of the guilt and desolation and pain that would inevitably come if he lost any of them. Buck could understand that, a little, since he'd met JD, but he still hoped with everything that was in him that Chris would give in. He wanted his old partner back (even if he did have to share him with Vin), not the cold, sealed-off shell of a man Chris had become, the black-dressed specter with the icy eyes whose passage was like a chill norther to the soul.

Yet even with the unpleasantness of the subject, it was good to sit here in the pre-dawn dark, talking or simply taking comfort in each other's presence and long familiarity. It was what Buck had hoped they would have when Chris first invited him in, and it gave him some sense that the rest of his desires would come too, in time. Just don't push him, Bucklin, he thought. You better'n any man should know how much he has to be hurtin'; you were the one saw him with Sarah and Adam all them years. They were his whole world, them and the ranch and you, but mostly them. When they died, it was like the ground went out from under his feet. He still ain't quite found his balance yet.

But we'll help him, won't we? You, and JD, and Vin, and Josiah and Nathan, and even Ezra. Each in his own way, we'll turn him back into a human being yet, by God, or give up our own right to call ourselves that.

The two of them remained like that, not speaking further, and watched the morning in.

Wichita, Kansas: Two Nights Earlier

Marcus Bentann looked up from his book as a knock came at his study door and his secretary put his head in. "Mr. Bentann? A Mr. Waxley from the Pinkerton Agency to see you. It's rather late; should I tell him to come back tomorrow?"

"No." Bentann closed the book on a woven silk marker that featured the American flag and laid it on the neat little enamelled table alongside his black biscuit-tufted leather armchair. "No, Jeremy, send him in, and ask Warren to join us, please."

"Yes, sir." Jeremy Butterwick was a slight, almost frail-looking young man with brick-red hair that never seemed to stay neat, and silver-rimmed Ben Franklin-style spectacles. In his black alpaca coat, standing collar, and conservative blue four-in-hand tie, he had the air of a banker in training. He looked about nineteen, though Bentann knew him to be twenty-four and a graduate of Dartmouth. He had been a delicate child, and a late case of measles had gone inward, settled in his lungs, and caused lung fever, which wasn't quite consumption but might almost as well have been, and after struggling with ill health all through his teens and his college years, he had resolved to seek the dry air of the high Western prairies. Bentann had hired him almost straight off the train two years ago. He was quiet, unassuming, smart, and efficient, and Bentann had come to rely on him for just about everything his cousin and long-time second-in-command Warren Freely couldn't or wouldn't do.

He was standing by the flat-topped, glass-doored liquor cabinet when Jeremy showed the detective in. Waxley proved to be a husky, dark-complected man with a handlebar mustache, who, like most "agency men," had a hard face and alert eyes and wore a derby and city clothes. The two shook hands and Bentann offered Waxley's choice from the square cut-glass decanters on the cabinet's top; the guest opted for the good Kentucky Blend whiskey. Bentann indicated one of the big brown leather chairs set to face his heavy black-walnut desk, opened an inlaid wooden humidor and waited while Waxley made his choice from the hand-rolled Havana cigars inside it, packed Duke's Mixture into the deep porcelain bowl of his pipe, tonged a burning taper out of the jar of wax in which it floated and lit both smokes. They were still in the process of getting pipe and cigar going to their satisfaction when Warren came in. Bentann introduced him and he got his own whiskey, took the other chair and picked out a cigar.

At forty-four Marcus Bentann was still trim, neat, erect, with just enough gray beginning to show at his temples to make him look impressive. He still wore the imperial and small mustache of his youth. He rode ten miles horseback every morning of his life, hunted enthusiastically in season, played billiards, handball, and cards, and was a mainstay of Wichita's literary society and debating club. He ate and drank well but always in moderation. His clothes were never bought off the rack, but tailored personally for him, some even in St. Louis. He was dressed informally, in light cassimere trousers, a striped cotton shirt and bright red ascot, cool dove-gray vest, dark plaid smoking jacket, and deep purple slippers, made for him by his niece and adorned each with a cluster of pansies.

"Well, Mr. Waxley," he said at length, "I've received some encouraging reports from your superiors the last month or so. Do you finally have definite word for me?"

"Yes, sir. I've found him."

"You're certain."

"A Pinkerton man is always certain, Mr. Bentann. He makes sure before he reports. Bucklin Wilmington, age about thirty-eight, tall, lean, long-limbed, thick black hair, dark eyes, infectious smile, outgoing manner, scar on the left upper arm just below the shoulder, scar on the right hip. There's no doubt in my mind, sir. I've found him."


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