I had thought Ezekiel Jameson was going to be easy money. He was wanted for a series of bank robberies from Salt Lake to Sacramento, and I had heard a rumor that he was hiding out in Carson City, planning his next job. Luckily for me, Jameson wasn't a careful man, he was a drinker who liked to talk when he drank. So it was almost trivial to figure out that he was currently sleeping it off in a boarding house on Curry Street. Until I got there, my biggest worry was that finding him was so easy that some other bounty hunter might beat me to him.
More the fool, I.
I got to the boarding house and flashed my badge at the proprietress. I then crept up the stairs and, with my pistol on my right hand ready to put a large hole in Jameson if he got rowdy, I opened the door shouting "EZEKIEL JAMESON, YOU ARE UNDER ARREST!"
I saw him lying face down on the bed, and he didn't move or respond, at all. Keeping my shooting iron at the ready, I walked over and checked on him, hoping that he was merely too blackout drunk to respond to my command. I knew he was dead as soon as I went to shake him. Jameson was cold to the touch, and I could see that he was not lying on a red blanket, but a white one that was soaked through with blood.
Well goddam. Good thing the bounty was just as payable dead as alive. As cold and stiff as the body was, I guessed Jameson had been killed the night before, probably fairly early in the evening. I flipped him over and saw that his throat had been cut.
I will admit that I was beginning to suspect that it might be one of "those" jobs, but like a damned fool, I put those thoughts out of my mind. A man in Jameson's line of work made a lot of enemies, I told myself/. Live by the sword, die by the sword as the good book says. I asked a few perfunctory questions of the proprietress, mostly to assuage my curiosity, and she told me that he had stumbled in rather late, that he was alone when he did and that she didn't hear anything. But really, this was the sheriff's problem now, not mine. I had money to make and from some of the stories I had heard, a man more deserving of having his throat cut would be hard to find.
It was when I walked outside after a little chat with the sheriff that I realized I should have trusted my instincts. Who should I bump into but Eibon, dressed in a nice suit and a bowler hat?
"Son of a bitch!" was the first thing that came out of my mouth. "Are you involved in this?"
"Ah, Henry. I was hoping we could talk." He pointed to a saloon across the street, "And yes, but only peripherally. Let me buy you a drink, and we can discuss matters," he said as he pointed to a saloon across the street.
Once we were comfortable and had drinks in our hands (Beer for me, wine for him) I asked him "Okay, want to tell me what an immortal wizard..."
Eibon interrupted "Not immortal, just very long-lived. I will probably be dead in a thousand years or so, barring anything unforeseen."
I smiled "Okay, want to tell me why a very long-lived wizard cares about vermin like Ezekiel Jameson? And more importantly why I should share in that wizard's concern?"
"The first question is somewhat complicated. For now, I will just say that it has to do with my missing spell book. The latter is easy though. You should care because you hunt people for money and I am willing to pay. This should be plenty, I think," he said as he plopped down a sack full of coins onto the table. I looked inside, and it was full of ancient looking silver coins. Not sure what nation they were from or who was depicted on them, looked Roman but I was never much of a historian. Figured they'd spend though, even if I had to melt them down.
"Alright, I care. tell me more"
He sipped his wine, while the saloon's piano player tinkled out a tune in the background. "Okay, you remember that when last we met, I was searching for an old grimoire of mine that had gone missing. correct?"
I nodded, and he continued "Mr. Jameson, it seems, had possession of it recently. The book was being stored in a bank vault in Elko, and somebody hired Jameson to rob that bank and grab the book. I presume that Jameson's death was just tying up a loose end. I want to know who killed him or had him killed because I think that is the same person who has my book."
"And why can't you just wiggle your fingers and do whatever it is wizards do to find him? What do you need me for?"
"Because whoever has my book has, in a sense, a piece of my magic. They would know what I was doing. They could counter it. I need this done via mundane means, and that means you. Is the money sufficient?"
I looked at the pouch again, I could have said "no," but I had seen what Eibon could do and figured cheating him wasn't the smart thing to do. "It's fine. I'll see what I can do." I finished my beer and headed out into the dusty streets of Carson City. My first stop was the Sherrif's office.
"Mornin' Henry" Sherrif Uckils said as I walked into this office. There was a pot of coffee brewing on a pot-bellied stove, and as I helped myself he asked "With Jameson out of the way, looking for something new? Afraid I don't have anything new."
"No. Still looking into the Jameson affair, actually." I said
"Seems like someone wrapped that up for you already."
"And I want to know who," I said, taking a sip of his awful coffee.
"Probably one of his gang in a dispute over money. Or someone he robbed getting a spot of revenge. I would be lying if I said we planned to spend a helluva lot of manpower and effort to figure it out. Why do you care?"
Telling him that an immortal...I mean long-lived...wizard had hired me because Jameson had information about his missing book of spells seemed like a right quick way to end up in the local sanitarium, so I just said "Some bastard made me look incompetent and I want to know who. That's all. No new bounties recently anyway, might as well make myself useful for a few days until something paying comes up."
Uckils nodded "Well, we don't have a lot. Landlady said she thought he came in alone, but couldn't be sure since she only heard him, didn't see him. There was an open window. My guess is the killer entered that way, probably before Jameson came home for the night. I say that because Jameson was face down on the bed and clothed, so our killer didn't catch him after Jameson retired for the night. The fact that he was face down makes me think he hid, probably behind the door and grabbed him unawares, cut his throat, let him fall face down onto the bed. Left via the window.
Who it was, though? No idea. Nor why. Everything else is just speculation."
I thought his logic was sound except for one thing. The open window in question was on the second story and faced the street. If someone had climbed up there or used a ladder, it would have been easy to notice. Still, the rest of it panned out. Having him lying in wait made a lot of sense. Jameson was a big man, and it would have been both risky to go up against him face to face, and even if one came out on top of such a confrontation, it would have made noise. The window was out, but the rest of Sherriff Uckils' theory seemed quite likely.
Of course, that left the question of how someone had gotten into the room. I guess it was back to the boarding house to have another talk with the landlady and to look around for anything the Sherriff and his boys may have missed.
The landlady's name was Ms. Billingsly. The room where Jameson had met his end was one of two that she rented. The other belonged to a fellow named Calhoun, a dry goods salesman who was recently arrived from Missouri.
Talking to them was spectacularly unenlightening. Billingsly gave me the exact same story as she had told the sheriff. Calhoun said he was a heavy sleeper and had heard even less.
But words aren't the only way to get information from someone. After Calhoun gave me his story, such as it was, of being sound asleep all night I noticed something as he walked back to his room, a slight limp. He did not walk with a cane, and his gait attested more to recent injury than to some sort of longterm defect. So as he left, I said "Mr. Calhoun. Did you recently hurt your leg?"
He stopped and stammered "Y...yes. Yesterday I had a horse step on my foot. Still hurts a bit. Why?"
A horse could have done that, sure. But so could 200 lbs of Ezekiel Jameson, stomping on the instep of the man who had grabbed him from behind.
And there it was. No need for anyone to climb up to any windows if they were already in the house. No need for a bloody man to somehow magically evade detection walking through town at night when he only had to go across the hall to change.
"Mr. Calhoun. Could I look around your room? You wouldn't mind, right?"
Calhoun's eyes went wide, and for a second I expected him to bolt. Instead, he produced a derringer from a pocket and pointed it at Ms. Billinglsy and me.
"I would mind that very much, Mr. Jessup."
And to my surprise, he fired. I felt a sharp pain in my gut. Things went black
(To be continued)