By

Jay Goldammer

With Many Thanks to Pat Goldammer for patient editing and acknowledgement that, without her prodding, Slim would never have known who the Pomeranian was.


 

Mort Corey woke up with the sun playing peek-a-boo over the horizon. One of the nicest things about being a sheriff (unlike farmers and ranchers) was that one could regularly sleep in until dawn. Stretching, he got up and ambled to the kitchen and started making his coffee. “Just the right mix of coffee and chicory to get the blood stirring,” he said to himself. ‘Course not everybody shared his idea of ‘right mixture’. Reverend Linkous claimed that Saint Peter would have successfully walked from the boat if it had been Mort’s coffee he had trod upon.

                Mort continued with his morning routine and considered his dream. It hadn’t visited him in years but Cousin Richie’s imminent arrival had re-triggered it. It was odd rather than a bad dream, and was based upon memories from one of their joint birthday parties. Born only two days (plus five years) apart the boys always had joint birthday parties thrown by Mort’s Aunt Brigetta. Those parties always embarrassed Mort’s mother (being the ’poor relation’). Not that his father, Uncle Caleb, nor the boys had a care for their relational status. The parties were always fun. For Aunt Brigetta (she being a Krieger) they were EVENTS and that woman lived for events!

                Mort mused over the memories. It was his 12th (Richie’s 7th) birthday and where Aunt Brigetta had found an honest-to-life Gypsy fortune teller, in Pre-Jacksonian Saint Louis, only God (or as Ma said “Only the devil where your Aunt Brigetta is concerned”) knows,” but find her she did… and how busy THAT woman was! There were about 70 of Saint Louis’ well to do’ present. None of the ladies, and few of the men, present cared to miss out on an honest to pete, Gypsy fortune telling. Looking back, if all of those predictions came true then Saint Louis must now be the richest and most populous city in the country. Mort couldn’t recall ANYTHING unpleasant being predicted for a guest. The sheriff snorted a laugh. That woman was a pro; beautiful, mysterious, and funny.

                At the end of the party, Aunt Brigetta brought the birthday boys up to have their fortunes read. The woman took their hands and froze. She wasn’t funny. She wasn’t mysterious. She was creepy. Her voice husked out, “One will die an admired hollow failure without legitimate seed. The other will marry late. His wife will be a noble woman descended from the north. She will be a TIC who will bear him sons and daughters and they shall live richly and happily to a very old age.” The gypsy woman had shuddered and dropped their hands as chaos erupted. She couldn’t, or wouldn’t, say which boy got which prediction. Aunt Brigetta pointed out that “it was obvious who was rich and who wasn’t,” giving Ma a conniption. In fact, she and Brigetta weren’t again on speaking terms for several weeks. Mort again snorted in amusement. The ladies not speaking to each other had been no great loss as all they did was fight when they were on speaking terms.

                Though the younger boy, Richie, had been badly frightened by the event, Mort thought the whole thing silly. Now it was just plain stupid to be thinking about it after all of these years. Especially, since neither had been failures. No siree. Here he was, sheriff of Laramie with a house of his own, regular pay, healthy, beholden to nobody and happy to see another sunrise. Of course he got shot at, kinda regular, but whose life was perfect?

                And Richie? What a laugh that was. He was one of the richest men in Chicago. After Uncle Caleb was run over by the street car (fanciest funeral in Saint Louis) Aunt Brigetta had packed Richie off to some eastern school (was that college really called ‘Yell’?) and he had never looked back. As for himself, after ma passed from the yellow fever; pa ‘heard the call of the wild goose’ and took the teenage Mort west. Some letters had passed back and forth between the two cousins but the impending visit would be the first time they had seen each other in 20 some years. Richie would be here any day now.

Mort pulled out and re-read his cousins latest letter. After his typically flowery opening, Richie went on to say that he was joining up with a group going out to visit the new National Park at Yellowstone. They would hunt and explore for a few weeks. Then he would leave them and travel to Laramie in order to offer Mort the opportunity to run a new security company in Chicago. Mort would make a lot of money, live like a prince and they would have an awful lot of fun. Details to follow.

____________________________________________________________________________

The stage merrily bounced along on the road to Laramie. Well, the driver and the shotgun were merry enough given their liberal use of a largish bottle of whiskey. The two women and two men inside the stage bounced around like peas in a drum on this overly warm and dusty day. A huge collection of baggage all but overwhelmed the inside and roof of the coach.

The small, young, and voluptuous blonde wore a gaily flowered and richly embroidered Dolly Varden dress replete with a flower bedecked straw hat. The effect should have been light and charming, but it wasn’t. Lisolette Von Huber was unhappy, and when Lisolette was unhappy ‘light and charming’ stood no chance at all. She sat, or rather bounced sore bottomed, on her seat: a pint sized thunderstorm fit to burst. Long ago, the men present had turned deaf ears to her sulking, rumbling and incessant whining about being: hot, hungry, bounced around, and ignored. It seemed the entire west was just SO unpleasantly uncivilized (especially Wyoming) compared to Chicago or her beloved Pomerania. The second woman, the maid Iwona, had been forced to listen as being at Lisolette’s beck and call was the worst part of her thankless job.

“I shall need a change of clothes when we stop. Then I want you to clean up this dress before it is totally RUINED by this travel,” Iwona nodded to her mistress who went on, “Travis, get my baggage down when we stop. I will need to freshen up.” She paused then, “Travis!” another pause then louder, “Travis!”

The large, less well dressed, man shook himself “Er, Ma’am?”

An exasperated Lisolette continued, “I said, when we stop I will need you to fetch my luggage so that I can freshen up.”

“No,” The man simply said settling back.

“Yes you will. I am a Lady of Pomerania and you WILL do my bidding.”

“No,” he replied simply and he pulled his Bowler hat back down over his eyes. For him, the topic was closed.

“I’ll get it for you my dear,” announced the imperially slim and expensively dressed other male without opening his eyes. “Travis’ duties do not include fetching and hauling. He needs his hands free at all times.”

“Dearest, he is impertinent, “simpered Lisolette.

“Generally, yes,” smiled Richard, eyes still closed. “Sometimes ill mannered too.” This reply drew an amused and muffled snort from the bowler hatted Travis. “In any event, I am fully capable of getting your bag down.” A particularly large bump interrupted the conversation by dumping Lisolette from her seat to the floor and launching Travis onto Iwona’s lap.

“Mind if I ride here miss? It’s a much more pleasant seat.” Travis cheerfully inquired, even while shifting back to the bench. The smiling, embarrassed, and blushing Iwona simply shook her head no.

“One mile to the Sherman ranch; this is the last stop before Laramie. We’ll stop for about 15 minutes. Be a good chance to stretch.” The stage guard called down to his jostled cargo.

 

 Slim Sherman was at the stage door as it came to a stop. Tall, blonde, broad of shoulder and narrow of hip, Slim was every inch the handsome and genial rancher/host. A telegram had informed him of the special stage and everything was ready. “Howdy folks,” he said as he opened the door. “Only be a few minutes ‘for we switch out the horses and you’ll be on your way again. Anybody interested, the outhouse is around back,” he said gesturing. After bouncing down the road people were generally interested. “Coffee is also available and Miss Daisy has some fresh Rhubarb pie. Welcome to the Sherman ranch.”

The big, sleepy eyed, man in the bowler hat stepped to the stage’s doorway. He calmly and quickly looked while giving Slim a nod and an automatic smile. Then he quietly announced, “All clear,” and hopped down with a lightness belying his great bulk.

“Thank you Travis,” answered the other man.

Next off was the elegantly dressed man. He stiffly climbed down and then gallantly assisted the exceptionally beautiful blonde woman with remarkable grace and a practiced flourish. The pair then moved to, and opened, the cargo boot at the rear of the stage.

 After the pair were down Travis spoke again, “Coffee sounds good; pie even better. At the house?” Slim nodded and the man crossed the yard, knocked, and cautiously entered the ranch house.

Slim next helped a tall, simply dressed, and very shapely 30ish brunette to back out of the stage. “Thank you, sir,” She quietly said turning to him with a curtsy, a shy smile and a nose that would have done a predatory bird proud. The shrill call of “Iwona,” saw the woman scuttle quickly to the stage’s cargo boot. Slim ignored the ensuing caterwauling about sluggish servants, luggage, medicine, and Pomerania. “That is one tall woman,” he thought absently. It wasn’t often that a woman stood nearly eye to eye with him. He turned his attention to the dismounted driver as the shot gunner hot footed it towards the outhouse.

The man was glassy eyed and reeked of whiskey. “Howdy,” he nodded at Sherman, almost lurching forward. “Making good time today,” he commented. “Horses are kinda blowed though.” Without comment Slim turned to the bloodied, lathered, and trembling horses.

“Kinda blowed! These horses are ready to drop in their traces,” Slim thought angrily then went on with his inspection. Four bled from where the driver’s whip had been liberally applied and one had thrown a shoe and refused to stand on the injured hoof. Slim moved towards the last, dodged a half hearted nip from the unhappy pony, and examined the injured hoof. It wasn’t too bad, but the animal wouldn’t be pulling for at least a week.

“Somethin’ wrong wit’ him mister?”

Slim coldly turned to the drunken and soon to be ex-driver. “Yeah. You hurt this horse,” something else caught his eye, “and cracked two spokes on that front wheel. Plus, you’re drunk as a skunk. Grab your gear, you’re fired.”

“You can’t fire me. You just run a way station,” retorted the affronted drunk pulling himself up to his full height.

Slim looked down and locked eyes with the man giving him a cold stare while looming over him. “I’ll take in the stage. By the time you walk to Laramie there will be a telegram waiting for you from the head office.”

The drivers gaze broke first, “At least loan me a horse. Ya got no right to fire me OR to make me walk to Laramie,” he slurred.

“After the way you risked those people’s lives AND treated these ponies you’re lucky I don’t WHIP you to Laramie. I certainly won’t trust you with any of my horseflesh. Now git,” Slim said in a hard brook-no-nonsense voice while jerking a thumb toward the road. The driver muttered to himself as he got his gear. Then, still muttering, he stumbled down the road.

Slim moved the stage to flat shaded ground. Then he removed the tired and wounded horses and set them to resting in the barn. He would be exchanging them for a fresh team after replacing the damaged wheel.

The replacements were a good looking bunch, which he was trying out from a potential new supplier, before recommending that the line regularly buy from her. His Aunt Ella had taken to crossing Commanche mustangs with a particular line of Morgans and had been selling them (very profitably) as harness racers in Chicago. These were her ‘rejects’ but they looked awfully good to Slim. This stage was going to Laramie and then back in this direction so it was a fine chance to give them a real test. It would be their first run with a fully loaded stage. Actually, Slim had never seen so much stuff on a stage before.

The big rancher went over and examined the damaged wheel. Like the horse’s injured hoof it could have been worse. Best to just replace it with one from a wrecked stage that he and Jess had salvaged. He’d mend the damaged wheel sometime this winter, when there was less to do. The big rancher got himself a drink of water then settled down to wait for the shot gunner to return to help him pull and replace the heavy stage wheel. Half an hour later he was still waiting for the man, when the really tall brunette showed back up.

“Can I help you Miss Iwona?” he asked, noting that she really was quite attractive despite the nose.

 The woman blushed furiously and, in oddly accepted English, said, “Sir, a man is ….sick in your,” pausing, “wydocek”. Another pause, “Your ……,” and in frustration the blushing woman squatted, made a straining face,”wydocek. He ……sleep.”

Comprehension dawned and Slim, kindly, stifled a laugh at the embarrassed woman’s pantomime. “A man is unconscious in our privy?” He bet that was the missing shot gunner. Iwona nodded several times and fled without more conversation. “Getting to know this lovely woman might prove difficult,” the rancher observed.

Moments later the rancher was dragging the unconscious vomit covered shot gunner across the yard and into the barn. He left him in a hay pile so that the man could sleep off his drunk. No doubt he would be on tomorrow’s stage into Laramie.

Slim returned across the yard and entered the house. There he asked the genial bowler hatted Travis (who had just demolished a second piece of Miss Daisy’s rhubarb pie) for a hand with switching out the broken coach wheel. The man’s, “Glad to help Mr. Sherman,” response seemed to greatly annoy the beautiful busty blonde. The pair exited the ranch house and chatted on their way back to the coach.

“Call me Slim.”

“Howdy Slim, I’m Sam Houston Travis,” he laughed. “Would you care to guess what state I was born in? Call me Hugh,” he said offering Slim a great knuckled paw adorned with an odd black enameled gold ring decorated with a star and inscribed with mason’s tools.

“Wouldn’t be Massachusetts I suppose?” Slim grinned and shook the hand…which possessed a surprisingly gentle grip. Here was a man secure in his own strength with no need to show off. The pair immediately set to work. It turned out that they teamed up well together, laughing quite a lot as they changed the wheel. Hugh proclaimed a great ignorance about wagons and coaches, “Though I can identify one rightly 2 out of 3 times,” he had quipped. “In fact, I really am not very good with anything to do with horses. I have never dealt with them much.” Despite his ignorance, the big Texan proved to be a useful, strong and energetic assistant.

“Hugh, how could you have been raised in Texas and not worked with horses?” Slim asked, thinking of his partner Jess and his tales of growing up there.

The big Texan grinned and shook his head. “I can ride, though not expertly. Texas isn’t all lonely windblown ranches like in the dime novels. I was born and raised in Galveston and I love ships and the sea. Not much use for spurs and saddles there unless you are a very odd sort of man.”

Their conversation laughed through many subjects, which is not unusual for genial men who are working together on a project. “Hugh, you are a gunman aren’t you?” Slim eventually asked. It was either that or court jester, he thought to himself.

Hugh looked startled for a moment and then laughed. “You saw me check the area when we got off the stage. Yes, I’m a shootist working as Mr. Corey’s bodyguard. But long as you don’t try to shoot me, him, Iwona or his pet Pomeranian I won’t be a problem.”

Slim made a deprecating motion. “I meant no offense, Pomeranian? I haven’t seen a dog around here today.”

“Oh, he takes the little beast with him on all of his trips. It yips, whines, and yaps something fierce I tell ya.” The visiting shootist said with a gleam in his eye and a totally straight face.

“I have never liked small dogs,” Slim said. “I asked, about your profession, because I just fired the driver for being too drunk to drive and the shot gunner is passed out in my barn. I’ll take the ribbons but I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind riding guard?”

“Be a pleasure. This way I won’t have to listen to the Pomeranian yap,” smiled Hugh. He was a man that smiled a lot.

Hugh returned to the ranch house, as Slim stayed and hitched up the new team. The rancher then went in to collect the passengers and informed everyone how he would be driving with Hugh would be riding up top with him. Out to the stage they trooped with Iwona and the elegantly dressed Mr. Corey talking in the rear. Half way to the stage, Iwona nodded agreement and then approached Slim.

“Sir, mind you if I ride top?”

“Miss, you’ll be more comfortable inside,” answered the big blonde rancher as he made sure his personal horse was securely tethered to the back of the stage. He would be riding Alamo back home in the evening.

“Would like air, sir. Please?”

The buxom and beflowered Lisolette then chimed in, “Why on earth would you want to ride in the sun and dust? I have not given you permission and I don’t!” She didn’t quite stamp her foot.

“I have my dear,” Mr. Corey put in quietly.

Lisolette gave Corey a startled look, he rarely interfered in her dealings with the servants, then she smiled knowingly at him. “Then, of course, my dear.” She entered the stage followed by the Imperially slim Mr. Corey. Moments later the shades on the coach were drawn.

Turning to Iwona Slim answered, “If you like Miss. It will only be an hour and a half to Laramie. You’ll want to hold on tight though.” The buxom hawk beaked maid nodded, smiled, agilely mounted the box and sat down behind Slim and Hugh; securing herself a seat between them and the highly piled rooftop baggage.

Clucking to the team while flicking the ribbons, Slim started them off. Conversation on top of the stage was merry and steady with Iwona listening and exclaiming at what Hugh told of their trip. They were fresh from visiting Coulter’s Hell(1),. other geyser areas, and the Valley of the Yellowstone. They had come west with a group of Englishmen, led by a man named Dunraven(2), who held land in the Colorado territory. The party had visited, camped, and hunted in the newly created Yellowstone National Park before going their separate ways. Mr. Corey had come this way because he wanted to visit his cousin, in Laramie, and offer him work in Chicago.

“Offer Mort Corey a job in Chicago?” asked Slim.

“Yeah, running a security company, and bodyguarding Mr. Corey. Seems his old bodyguard,” the Texan gestured at himself with his thumb, “is retiring from the shootist trade and that is making the master feel a little insecure. “ Then more seriously, “Looks like you’ll need to hire a new sheriff.”

“Mort has never mentioned Chicago. He might turn down the job,” a surprised and unhappy Slim replied.

Hugh shrugged then pulled out and waved his closed wallet at Slim, “Mr. Corey uses traditional and very powerful arguments.”

 Iwona nodded in agreement. “Mr. Corey ist scared I think. Chicago can be dangerous and there are people upsetting workers now,” she added.

Slim gave Hugh a hardened look, “That why you’re leaving him?”

Hugh’s face went blank and then softened with a head shake. “Nope, it’s just time for a change. ‘Tween the monies I saved from before, what Mr. Corey has paid me, and what I’ve made investing I have enough to raise a family while living the rest of my life comfortably.” He paused a moment, shrugged, then went on, “Besides, aside from paying well, there isn’t anything about Corey that inspires loyalty. He’s not a bad sort, really, just not a good sort either. He’s not really much of anything except rich.” The Texan’s thoughtful face suddenly transformed with impishly merry eyes and a pursed smile, “Now, I begged, pleaded and cajoled but Iwona wouldn’t have me.”

The maid went scarlet and speechless. When her words finally came they were rendered in no language that Slim understood. Hugh grinned widely and continued, “Fortunately, an even lovelier girl named Talia wasn’t so picky.”

Recapturing her English Iwona fairly erupted, “You ox! Back end of horse! Never you asked! But if you had never would I agree! I love Talia like sister. Why she put up with lout like you I not know.”

Hugh smilingly replied, “Lucky for me that! See how excitable Polish girls are? Glad I have a calm, sweet, and stable Greek Island girl waiting for me. We were married in January and no married man should be a shootist. It’s not fair to the family. We’ll move to Galveston this or next year. She’ll prefer the warmer ocean climate. Probably have a dozen of her relatives join us there.”

“I NOT Polish! I Ruritainian!” Burst Iwona with great pride. “My family have sense. Flee Poland to Ruritainia when Russians come.” Then she laughed, fumbled for words, and continued, “Now smart Vasa come to United States. They get away from fight between Prince Michael and Prince Rudolph. But must learn awful English. Stupid language not sense make. Maybe better to stay there, so not have learn English.”

 

 

Silas Claussen was pickled, angry and getting angrier as he staggered along the forested road to Laramie. The whiskey he continued to drink wasn’t helping. “It just wasn’t right to kick a man off his stage, fire him, threaten him and then make him walk to town! Curse that Sherman and all snot nosed management types anyway. What got him so all fired burned up? They weren’t HIS horses and the run had made really good time,” he thought to himself. “It just wasn’t right,” he said aloud.

“What’s wrong friend? Need a hand?” a voice behind him inquired.

The drunk whirled and fell over, changing from an unimpressive figure into a contemptible one. “What do you want? Got no call sneakin’ up on a man like that,” he slurred at the man on the paint.

“Sorry, I keep tellin’ this here horse not to sneak up on people but he just has a mind of his own,” said the rider drily. “Now, what’s the problem or should I just ride on?”

Silas took another drink and started to explain about being fired, threatened, and generally ill used. It was a long and semi-coherent tale. Finally the horseman raised his hand, “So what you’re saying is that the Laramie stage is coming through here, unescorted, with a rich guy, his family and his gear.”

“Uh, yeah. But what’s more is that they treated me like dirt and ……”

“Thanks,” Gordon Garvey said politely. Then he shot Silas in the head. Pa always set great store on his sons being polite and Gordon always did what his Pa ordered. It was healthier that way; a whole lot healthier.

Robbing Silas took but a moment and then the hapless drunk’s body was dumped into some bushes. Then Gordon was off to rejoin the rest of his family, the Garvey gang, camped up and away from the road.

George, the youngest at 15, was keeping watch while the other four men rested. The previous day’s travel had been long and hard but they had lost the posse that had pursued them since they robbed the bank in Salt Lake City. They were now in the clear. Last night they had celebrated by eating well, and resupplying, at the Slusher farm. They left none there alive to tell of their brigandage and their long night of being sequentially ‘entertained’ by the unwilling, now deceased, Mrs. Slusher. George wanted to sleep too, but Pa would skin him if he did. When George heard Gordon’s pistol shot he wasn’t the slightest bit curious. Doubtless his gun happy oldest brother was playing around again. Then again, maybe something was happening because it wasn’t very long before Gordon rode into camp.

“Whatya shootin’ at Gordon?” called out George.

“Gotta talk to Pa!” called out Gordon as he dismounted. “Pa!”

Gideon Garvey sighed and got up, “Boy, you just woke me up. Now tell me why, before I punish you for not showing your father proper respect.” Not getting his way always equaled not getting respect to Gideon - an attitude that few found endearing. The bear like Garvey patriarch stood up and stretched then gestured as if to say, ‘Now hurry it up’.

“Sorry Pa. But there’s a stage goin’ through to Laramie…,” started Gordon.

“So?” interrupted the grouchy Gideon.

 “It’s got a rich guy and his family on it and no escort,” Gordon babbled happily at his father. The young man knew how pleased Pa would be happy to have such a prize drop into his lap.

 “How did you find out?” asked Gordon’s twin brother Gilbert.

 Gordon told them his news from Silas. Gideon and Gilbert both nodded and smiled. “Well done Boy! ,” thundered Gideon. “Grab some grub and water your horse. They’ll be the best part of a day fixing that wheel and we‘ll go out in a few hours to set our ambush.”

“Pa, shouldn’t we put somebody on the road to watch? If they fix that wheel fast we might miss’em.” Put in Gunther, the smartest and least brutal (which is much like being the ‘prettiest bat’) of the bunch.

George sucked in his breath. Pa was short on sleep, and a short on sleep Pa was mean, short tempered, and didn’t cotton well to suggestions. Gunther was beggin’ for a cracked head.

George was surprised when all Pa did was and say, “Gunther, since it worries you, head on out to the road and keep watch. We’ll mosey on down in two hours.” Gunther did as he was told and the other men went back to their interrupted naps. The naps didn’t last long.

“Pa! Pa!” shouted Gunther Garvey as he charged back into camp, “That coach rolled by just as I got to the road! There are two men and a woman up on top and they waved to me as they passed.”

Gideon Garvey got up growling. “Saddle up boys. Now! We’ll ambush them on the other side of Laramie after they ride out” He cuffed Gordon on the side of the head, “I thought you said they were stuck fixin’ a busted wheel?”

“Sorry Pa, but they aint comin’ out the other side of Laramie. They’re stoppin’ there,” said Gordon rubbing the right side of his head.

 Gideon Garvey cuffed his son on the other side of his head, “Why didn’t you say so. Hurry it up boys. We’ll have to ride ’em down.”

Slim’s ears had pricked up at the sound of the gunshot. By the sound of it, it was probably a pistol. One shot and one shot only.

Hugh had fallen silent and raised a quieting hand to Iwona who had cocked her head and looked at him curiously. No second shot followed. “Probably nothing,” the urban shootist said as he quietly checked the shortened 10 gauge that came with the coach. “Probably nothing,” he repeated.

“Yup,” answered Slim, checking and reholstering his pistol, “You’re probably right.”

“Course I am,” said Hugh as he checked his belted pistol which was a big weapon. Then a more normal Colt concealed in the small of the big man’s back.

“Tarnation Hugh! What IS that thing on your belt?” asked Slim.

Hugh smiled repulling the oversized revolver. “A good friend gave it to be in Sicily back in ’60. Very accurate, single action,.55 Caliber cartridge, five shots. When I hit something I like it to stay down. Down side is that it is a little heavy and it kicks a mite. Plus the cylinder doesn’t flip out so you reload it one cartridge at a time through the loading gate. That makes it slow to reload so I also carry the Colt.”

“I’d guess so,” Slim answered. “I guess you’re safe against being mugged by a moose. That a big problem in Chicago?” he quipped.

“Not anymore, last moose that tried it, never tried it again, and word does get around.”

Iwona gaily waved as they neared the handsome young horseman, at the side of the road, drawing Slim’s and Hugh’s attention to Gunther. They waved as well. Gunther didn’t wave back. He simply watched them pass before heading off.

“Not too neighborly there Slim,” Hugh opined.

“Not a local. See him take off after we passed? He went back into the woods,” observed the rancher.

“Yup. Think he might have some friends camped back there?”

Slim nodded, twitched the reigns and clucked at the horses. They cheerfully picked up the pace. “By the look of him he had travelled a ways, wasn’t coming up the road, didn’t leave on the road and isn’t from around here. Ten-to-one he’s a road agent.”

“No bet,” grimaced Travis.

Iwona pursed her lips, “Stop coach Mr. Sherman. Let Hugh get rifle. I take shot gun.”

Slim started, “Huh? Stopping maybe, only to put you inside the stage.”

“No,” the hawk nosed brunette replied without heat. “My parents dead of the Pox so I raised by Grandpa. Him Von Tarlenheim family gameskeeper unt armourer. I use rifle and shotgun since baby.” She smiled. It was a pretty smile. “Can clean and fix guns blindfold. I am probably better shot with shotgun than Hugh. Besides, safer up here than in stage right now.” She said archly, “Don’t want be bit by Pomeranian.”

“Yup, can’t be too careful. Don’t want to catach distemper or rabies. That is one unpleasant little critter,” chimed in Hugh as he handed Iwona the 10 gauge. “Don’t bother stopping Slim. I can get at my guns. Most of them are packed up here.” A few minutes later he had re-armed with a monstrous custom made 8 gauge. “If you’re making time it’ll be too bouncy for a rifle.”

Slim saw the weapon and shook his head. “Do you pack anything of normal size?”

Hugh gave the rancher a mock astonished look. “Why Slim, where I come from this is normal sized. Don’t you know that everything is big in Texas?”

 

Pa Garvey’s ill temper had the gang out of camp in a trice and heading down the road. They pushed their horses and soon saw dust rising ahead. “Get’em boys. Laramie aint far and I can smell money in that there coach!” shouted Gideon spurring his horse.

The five brigands made no pretense of friendly intent. They charged down the road winding through the sun drenched Wyoming pines. The bunch were a scant 300 yards off when Hugh spotted them.

“We’ve got company Slim! Five horsemen are coming up fast. Get us out of here!” he shouted. He moved off the seat taking cover amongst the piled baggage on the roof as he heard Slim shout and urge the horses into a full run. Travis prepared to let fly at a hundred yards with two slugs. They weren’t likely to hit but if they did his target would land in Nebraska. If he missed, the thunder of the shot might give them pause. After that he would be reloading with shot. Something warm touched his side. Hugh looked and found that the fiercely smiling Iwona had joined him amongst the baggage.

 “I’ve been tryin’ to get you to lie down with me since ever we left Chicago; now isn’t the time babe,” shouted the shootist over the rumbling of the stage. She gave him an evil look saying something he couldn’t make out. When he shook his head with incomprehension she simply smacked him on the back of the head and pointed at the approaching bandits. He grinned and nodded seeing her laugh out of the corner of his eye.

“Hang on folks!” boomed out Slim. They hit a straight patch, and if they had been flying before, they rocketed now. “Yah horses, yah,” he cried. Good thing we fixed the cracked wheel. It wouldn’t have taken this, thought Slim. He glanced back at the bandits who, not encumbered by a 2000 pound Concord Coach, had closed to 200 yards. Attention forward again, he encouraged the team with the ribbons while steering them around the worst ruts, pot holes and rocks with fine adjustments. The horses responded with a will. It was as fine a feat of stage handling that ever went unacknowledged.

Hugh’s monstrous shot gun boomed twice. Amazingly, one of the pursuer’s horses went down. It got up on three legs but its rider lay still. Hugh smiled in satisfaction while reloading with buck shot. He wouldn’t get that lucky twice! Heaven alone knows where the second slug went. Iwona gave his arm a squeeze and waited to let fly as the bandits closed. Her shots from the bouncy coach resulted in a widowed marmot. They both reloaded as the angered bandits started shooting. Pistols and shot guns exchanged unpleasantries as the coach and its pursuers hurtled down the road. Most shots harmlessly sang out into the countryside though the coach absorbed its share, Iwona lost her hair ribbon and the odd horse was peppered.

One horseman moved passed the coach to cut off the team. Alarmed at the danger, Hugh rose up from the cover of the baggage, sighted, and double barrel blasted the bandit off his horse and sent him under a rear wheel. Unfortunately, taking that shot had recklessly exposed him to Gideon Garvey’s pistol. The gallant Texan took a.45 to the chest and fell groaning amongst the baggage- personalized shotgun lost off of the roof of the stage. Iwona rolled onto the downed Texan, pinning him securely to the roof of the wildly bouncing stage while she continued to rapidly load and fire.

The stage rounded a curve, going up on its’ two left wheels and coming down with a thump. “Keep it up Iwona,” Slim called out in encouragement. “We’re almost into town.”

 When they started passing buildings on the outskirts of Laramie, the marauders broke off the fight. The largest bandit inherited the edge of the scatter from Iwonas’ final shot and would be picking shot out of his (and his horse’s) backs later.

Slim charged through the town, past the stage stop, and halted abruptly at Doctor McFarland’s office. “Whoa horses! Whoa! ,” he shouted while throwing the brake on the coach. A crowd of men, including Sheriff Corey, pursued the stage. They had heard the shooting and the sight of Slim racing through town with a buxom shot gun wielding stranger had them understandably curious.

Slim turned to his stage top companions. “Is he still alive?” he urgently asked. Iwona had laid aside her empty gun, rolled the injured shootist over and stripped away his shirt using it to staunch the chest wound. “Tahk(3),” She answered. “Doctor, get now. Bullet hit lung.”

Will and Ben Gardner were climbing up “We’ll help her Slim. Get the doc.” Chaos reigned with men shouting out questions and Mort Corey wanting to know what was going on. Ignoring them all, Slim hopped down and went off shouting/running for the doctor. Dr. McFarland heard the rumpus and emerged from three doors down where he had been looking after a boy with the croup.

Iwona and the Gardners quickly and carefully off loaded the badly wounded man and got him into McFarland’s unlocked office. Only then did Slim turn to his old friend the sheriff.

“Mort, we were jumped by road agents coming in from the ranch. The lady and injured man held them off while I drove as fast as I could. I saw five though I think we got two. We definitely got one. Hugh blasted him and I felt the wheels go over him about half a mile back.”

“Glad you’re ok Slim. Hope your man makes it. Those horses aren’t carrying a company mark. What’s up with that?” asked the sheriff.

“Trying out a new bloodline on consignment. The horses are from a new supplier,” Slim replied.

“Why did you bring them in? What happened to the driver?”

“I fired the driver and shot gun guard for being drunk when they rolled into the ranch,” Slim replied. “Hugh, the wounded man, was a passenger. Bodyguard to…..”

“Myself,” the immaculately dressed man finished while making a heroes appearance from the shade drawn coach. “Hello Mortimer. Well fought young man! Truly the wild west!” all said in a booming baritone. Save for the odd wrinkle, the arriving Corey looked as if he had stepped from a storefront window. That was a neat trick since riding in the racing stage must have been akin to riding inside an operating rock tumbler. The woman passenger behind him looked nearly as pristine though a glance inside the coach showed baggage strewn all about. It was quite obvious the two considered personal appearance important as they had taken the five minutes since arrival to spruce up before leaving the stage.

Slim stepped over and helped the delicate blonde down as the visiting Corey addressed his audience. In return, she bestowed upon him a well practiced and reserved smile suitable to thanking a socially inferior male and reminding him of his place. Greatly underwhelmed, the rancher shifted his attention to the jumbled coach interior. There was no sign of the visitor’s dog and a small animal might lay buried and injured under the shifted baggage, forgotten in all of the excitement. He stepped in and started hauling out gear.

“Did you say, my man, Travis was injured?” inquired Corey the urbanite. “I hope not seriously as he is a good man.”

Slim responded as he continued his canine rescue mission. “Afraid he is. Shot in the chest and it looks bad.”

“Hello Richie,” said Mort. “Yes, Doctor McFarland is with him now.” Turning back to Slim the sheriff continued, “You said five horsemen, probably whittled down to three. What else do you know?” Slim told him quickly as he worked. “Right. I’ll get some men and we’ll catch these varmints. You care to come along?”

Slim called back from his rescue efforts, “Yes, I’d like that.”

“Are you joining us Richie?” The sheriff asked though he was sure of the answer.

The other Corey stopped short and shook his head, “No Mortimer. I rather think I will sit this out. I’ve never been a good horseman and would only slow you down.”

“Probably would at that.” Mort turned to the nearest townsman; Jack Hanson the owner of the hardware store. Jack was a decent sort but also was the last person Mort wanted toting a gun. Being being grossly nearsighted was the least of the man’s issues. Sending him elsewhere during posse set up was a priority. “Jack, would you mind showing my cousin Richard and his lady friend to the hotel?”

“Sure Mort,” replied the thrilled shopkeeper who was proud to be singled out.

Turning back to his cousin Mort explained, “My place lacks in, uh, privacy.” He nodded towards the small, blonde and aristocratic woman basking in the attention of numerous femaleless Laramie males. Those same men were slavishly offloading gear at her direction, while openly admiring her abundant female charms. “Something you…and she…might like.”

The urban Corey had the grace to color slightly, “Quite Mortimer. Quite.”

Slim froze in the midst of his rescue efforts, stifling a laugh. He had just remembered the unpleasant blonde’s caterwauling back at his ranch. “As a Lady of Pomerania….” was the quote that had just come to mind. He had been had! She was the Pomeranian; not a dog. Looking over at her, truly not a dog. Physically, she was stunning; a real beauty and easily the finest looking woman in Laramie- probably in all of Wyoming. The name for a female dog suited her too. Slims suppressed laugh abruptly ceased. Hopefully Hugh would live long enough to share the joke with him.

In the midst of her offloading directions, Lisolette Von Huber, Lady of Pomerania, stopped and gave a shout. “Iwona! Where are you girl! Come here now!” Then she paused and shouted again, quite angry at the servile insurrection.

Iwona came out of the Doctor’s office, tight jawed, downcast, and with tears reluctantly flowing down her cheeks. Despite her height, the warrior maid appeared small and very vulnerable. “Where have you been you lazy girl? There is work to be done!”

“Watching a friend die,” the hawk beaked brunette answered tightly while bringing her blood crusted hand up to wipe away tears. She managed to leave a smear of Hugh’s blood across one cheek. Seeing the blood, Lady Lisolette promptly fainted (as was to be expected of a truly genteel lady).

The visiting Corey took Iwona aside as concerned admirors carried Lisolette off to Dr. McFarland (who would later comment upon being utterly unimpressed with her sham faint). Corey took his maid’s arm and said all the proper things while watching his cousin Mortimer organize the posse. Quick, efficient and tough, Mortimer was grayer than expected but still thick with muscle. His cousin was still much like he was when they were kids and he had protected him from bullies. Add in that he was smart and loyal, it made hiring Mortimer an absolute must. Especially with the sudden loss of Travis. Difficult and crass though he was, Travis had been a blessing. The shootist had made him feel secure in this dangerous world and his inconveniently premature departure had left the urban Corey feeling exposed and vulnerable.

Richard grimaced at the unfortunate delay that Mortimer’s haring off after bandits would cause. This would force him to stay in this armpit of a town, with its’ ignorant, illiterate and socially impoverished peasantry, until his cousin’s return. Well he would simply have to put a brave face on things until Mortimer got back. Then again he was especially good at putting a face on things. He brightened up by reminding himself that Lisolette would be with him and she would entertain him like she had on the run from the Sherman ranch. That had truly been a wild ride! Pity he couldn’t find his underwear after they stopped but re-dressing had been rushed.

Richard approached Mort. “Good luck Mortimer. We have things to talk about when you get back. I’ll wait here until then.”

Absently Mort nodded, his mind clearly focused on the upcoming pursuit, “Yeah, thanks Richie.” Then he turned back to his men, “Alright, go home, get your gear and some grub packed. Be back here in an hour. You’ve all been deputized and shouldn’t be gone more than a week. I expect only a day or two but you never know.” The 12 men left and Mort Corey went back to the sheriffs’ office.

Richard and Iwona were left with a mountain of gear to move to the hotel. Undaunted, the industrialist spoke a few hearty words, distributed some pocket change, and the gear was subsequently hauled to their hotel’s rooms. The rooms reminded him that this was not Paris, but at least it wasn’t camping and HOT water was available! His dead employee was immediately forgotten in the cheering prospect of the forth coming hot bath.

 

The remaining Garveys beat it back to their camp fast. Gideon was enraged at the deaths of two of his boys and the buckshot in his back. First, Gunther broke his neck when his horse fell. Then George had been splattered and run over. “Nobody spills Garvey blood and lives to tell about it,” Gideon Garvey vowed. “Absolutely nobody,” he reaffirmed.

“Boys!” He shouted, “We gotta get outta here fast. Then we’re gonna ditch whatever posse they send out, circle back and kill that rich dude slow for peppering me and killing your brothers.”

White faced and scared, his remaining sons bobbed their heads in agreement. They never disagreed with Pa, especially where killing was concerned. Disagreeing with the man was dangerous.

“Now get moving and get it all packed up. We don’t have much time,” their father ordered.

“You’re right there Gideon Garvey. Matter of fact you have no time at all,” said the small thin man stepping out from the shadows of the pines.

“Danites Pa! It’s the posse from Salt Lake City! Pa …,” cried Gilbert reaching for his holstered Colt.

“Thy will be done,” the slight new comer solemnly intoned as hidden lever action rifles spoke the language of death. None of the Garveys cleared leather and nobody mourned.

The Laramie Posse travelled only two miles out of town before coming upon the inbound Salt Lake City posse. The law men shared news and both groups cheerily headed back to Laramie (save for Slim who continued on home). “Shortest chase I’ve ever been on,” announced Mort happily.

“Ours wasn’t,” replied Sheriff Dance of Salt Lake City, causing both posses to laugh. Members of the church of the Latter Day Saints sometimes passed through Laramie to or from Salt Lake City and Mort Corey was on good terms with them. He always made them welcome and had, long ago, considered becoming one. They were good folk, even if you couldn’t share a beer or a cup of coffee with them.

Back in Laramie, Mort discharged his posse who trooped as a body to the saloon for celebratory beers. Mort guided Sheriff Dance and his four men to the bank, to temporarily secure the stolen money they had recovered, and then to the hotel. They were a happy bunch, eager and tickled to be headed homeward to their wives after a successful pursuit. After bidding them good night and good bye, he was about to head up to Richie’s rooms when he spotted his cousin’s maid carrying two large buckets of steaming hot water up the stairs She was being bothered by two motley cowpokes. Mort stole up behind the girl and addressed the two men blocking her way.

“Evenin’ boys. Mind making way for the lady and myself?” he said in his friendliest voice.

One looked up and closed his mouth with a snap. The other didn’t look up and answered, “You just wait while we talk to this nice lady,” then grunted when his more observant companion elbowed him in the ribs. Looking up, the rude tone immediately disappeared, “Oh, sorry sheriff. Sure.” Both men stepped aside and let the maid and sheriff pass.

Mort followed her up and then turned at the top of the stairs, “Thanks. I’ll be wanting to talk with you boys a minute, if you are still here, when I come back down.”

“Sure sheriff. We’ll be at the bar.”

Mort nodded, smiled and turned away. He’d give odds that the two yahoos were out the door before he got to Richie’s room. That was fine by him. “Here miss, let me take one of those. We’re heading the same way.”

“Dzienkuje(4),” she said. Then paused, “Thank you sheriff but they are not heavy.” Truth to tell she was a big girl, the same height as the six foot plus sheriff, and she didn’t seem to be slowed down by the buckets. “Thank you more for clearing way. Those two were…….not helpful.” They turned up the hallway and talked as they walked. She gave him a smile. It was a sad smile because it had been a sad day.

Mort was taken aback. He really hadn’t appreciated how pretty the woman was. Quite lovely actually (though some might be put off by the nose) well endowed with a large pair of… well very pretty. “Any time miss. Glad to help. Sorry about your friend. My name is Mort. Mort Corey. Richie is my cousin. What is your name?”

“Iwona Vassa. I immigrant and now Mr. Corey’s maid. You are sheriff? Why you not after bandits?” It was a question not a challenge.

“Turns out another posse caught them before we even set out from town. That bunch had killed four people while robbing a bank in Utah. They won’t be bothering anyone else again,” he finished as they reached the door.

“Good that is.” Iwona opened the door gesturing for Mort to wait. “Mr. Corey? Mr. Corey here see you,” she trilled entering and walking out of Mort’s field of vision. Mort found her contralto voice quite musical despite the accent and flawed grammar. He heard her set the buckets down with a quiet thud.

Ignoring his maid, the entubbed urbanite called out “Mortimer, I’m in the tub. Have a drink downstairs and I’ll be right down. I thought you were off chasing bandits!”

“Richie, much as you like to wallow I’d be down there for hours. Let’s talk in the morning.” Mort heard a repressed feminine giggle.

“Suits me. Night Mortimer.”

“Night Richie.” He said as another feminine giggle reached his ears from the tub area. “Hope that’s a big tub Richie,” he called back as Iwona exited the room, blushing, and shut the door. He turned to her.

“Eaten dinner yet miss?” She shook her head. “How about joining me downstairs then? I think Cousin Richie will be busy for a while.”

Iwona wrinkled her extensive nose in the direction of the tub. Mort had never noticed just how expressive big noses can be. “I done for night. Tahk, I hungry. Thank you.”

“My pleasure. I eat alone a lot. It’s nice to have some company. I warn you though, the food here isn’t special.”

But Mort was wrong. That night the food was especially good. Best dinner he had eaten in ages. Of course that might have been due to the company. They talked of his work, Laramie, Ruritainia (which was located between Saxony and Bohemia wherever they were), of nothing, everything and they laughed (though she less than he as she had just lost a good friend).

Eventually the bartender chased them out. “Mort, when is the last time you closed us down? I don’t remember it. Least ways I don’t have to carry you out. Now git!” he said shooing him out with a smile.

Iwona smiled “Thank you for dinner Sheriff Mort. I like it much.” Mort escorted her to her room, said good night, and left… whistling off key. He was still whistling when he got home and realized he hadn’t whistled since his wife Sarah had passed. “Guess I like this girl. Yeah, what’s not to like?”

Iwona Vasa was up with the dawn, dressed, outside and walking as was her want before starting her day of catering to the Pomeranian’s childish whims. Or Master Richards wants or needs. Praise heaven for the Pomeranian’s jealous guarding of his ‘desires’! Neither soul would be active for hours.

 But today there would be no jesting with Hugh over breakfast. Her friend was gone. Like so many others who had passed through disease, accident or civil disturbance (Ruritainia was rarely a peaceable kingdom). She would mourn him…like so many others…but life would continue and be joyous. Too much was new, good, and marvelous. Like that scalding water shooting high in the air! Or the waterfalls in that great white, yellow and forested Valley(5). Even those great smelly hairy cows, called buffalo, were marvels in their own way. This had been a fantastic trip marred only by some of the company she had been forced to endure along the way.

The maid passed the sheriffs’ office, and the businesses of Laramie, stopping at the Catholic church- a sight which brought a smile to her face. She was Catholic (like most Ruritainians) and pleased to enter and say a prayer for her newly departed friend. Truth to tell, a self admitted gunman and pirate, High would need all of the spiritual help he could get. The young woman made her round of the stations, made confession, did her very brief penance, prayed for Hugh and left feeling better. She always felt better after making confession (though she rarely had much to confess).

Returning towards the hotel, Iwona encountered the sheriff unlocking his office. She silently stole up behind him and said, in her deepest voice, “This town isn’t big enough for the two of us! Draw!”

Mort jumped saying “Gah! Oh hi Iwona. What did you say? You might want to try English.”

Iwona felt herself blushing. Polish! She tried translating into English and ended up getting flustered. Finally, she settled on saying, “Good morning sheriff Mort,” and feeling very foolish.

“And good morning to you as well,” the sheriff returned. “I’m about to get some breakfast. Join me?” he jovially inquired. He got a nod and smile in return. Then, to his delight, she offered him her arm and up Laramie’s main street they happily strolled.

Breakfast was as merry as dinner and time flew by. To his astonishment, Mort found himself asking Iwona to a barn dance, he had previously decided to skip, three nights hence. He was greatly disappointed at her initial obvious annoyance and irritation but soon realized that the problem was one of language. After he explained what a barn dance was (she had mistakenly classed ‘dancing barns’ with ‘snipe hunting’) she had eagerly accepted warning him that she probably would need him to teach her the dances. “Who would teach him?” Mort mused silently, deciding he’d sort that out later.

Iwona was sorry when breakfast came to an end. It had been so merry. Without thinking she kissed the startled sheriff on the cheek as he departed for the jail. The discomfited Mort hastily withdrew towards the jail blushing nearly as hard as she did on a regular basis. But the semi-shy smile on his face, and newly acquired spring in his step, reassured her on how he truly felt about her bold action. That was greatly pleasing as the attraction wasn’t one sided! And why should it be? So sheriff Mort was older than she. That mattered nothing. In his heavy set and balding way the man was quite handsome! A man of action! A man of position! A good man with a sense of humor and responsibility a man… oh well. She liked him and having a man in her life would be a good thing. Grandpa would have approved.

Iwonas’ smile, unknowingly mirroring that of Mort’s, was short lived. Her next stop was the undertakers. Master Corey had tasked her with Hugh’s funeral arrangements. He didn’t handle such things but was willing to pay for (and take public credit for) them. The visit was finished in a trice as all was in order and a simple TIV (her initials Terez Iwona Vasa) on the bill had sufficed.

 Her next stop was at the office of Cyrus Livsey, Laramie’s finest (and only) lawyer. Hugh had made a verbal will before he died and she wasn’t wasting any time before putting it into effect. The three men present had signed a document that Dr. McFarland had been good enough to write out at the shootists’ direction. It had been simple enough. “Everything I have, save Howie the Howitzer and rig, ammo and reload kit, goes to Talia Zoolakis Travis, who lives in Chicago. The gun and related gear goes to Terez Iwona Vasa , who fought at my side in my last fight.” A key to a safety deposit box at the First National Bank of Chicago went with the will as did his Masonic ring.

“Why do men name guns,” mused Iwona shaking her head at the monstrous pistol her friend had regularly worn at his side. Iwona was familiar with long arms but had less experience with pistols. Practice was definitely in order, if only to honor her friend. She smiled thinking, of course, who better to instruct her than the local sheriff? It was perfectly natural. “Oh, Behave yourself!” the cautious part of her mind chided. “No!” replied the other part. The ‘nos’ won the debate.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Mort Corey was alone, happily drinking some of his suitable-for-paint-peeling morning coffee at the jail. He had already booted out a pair of (mostly sober) cowboys and was reading a few telegrams from other lawmen that Mattie Bradford (the telegraph operators’ wife) had dropped off. None of the telegrams were of concern and that suited him fine.

Mattie and Ed Bradford were Mort’s good friends. He had thrown himself upon Mattie’s endless mercy for a few quick dance lessons. “Land Sakes a Goshen Mort Corey! YOU are courting? It’s the second coming! And like the second coming long overdue and a shock when it happens!” the amply sized, and endowed, matron had gushed.

“Now Mattie, a man wanting to practice a little before a dance doesn’t mean he’s courting.”

She had laughed outright, “True Mort. True. Unless that man is you.” She caught herself, before saying that he hadn’t danced since before Sarah had passed, instead saying, “You haven’t danced since Johnson was impeached. Why else the sudden, and I do mean sudden interest?”

“I have too danced! Used to dance with Sarah every chance we had,” Mort had replied, trying to divert her attention…but not successfully. In the end, he had admitted to the object of his attentions and it was quickly arranged that Mort would join the Bradfords, plus another couple, probably the Livseys who were new to town, that evening at the Bradford’s home for some emergency dance practice. Ed would fiddle and call. Then away went Mattie to organize things.

The jail door opened and in came Iwona carrying the biggest revolver Mort had ever seen. “Hello sheriff Mort. Just finished filing will with lawyer Livsey. Hugh left me this,” she said holding up the enormous hog leg.

“Probably a little big for you Iwona,” said Mort while thinking it was probably a little big for Paul Bunyan unless he was thinking about putting down Babe the Blue Ox.

“Maybe Mort, but I want learn to use. Am good with rifle and shot gun but not used to pistol. You help please?” she asked demurely.

Mort took and inspected the gun before he answered. “I’ll be glad to teach you.” Eager!” he thought. “Very eager!” What he said was, “Let me have a look at this thing. It is in good condition, a very heavy gun but with excellent balance. Looks very well made. It must be around.50 caliber. I bet it kicks like a mule.” He unloaded a round, looked at it and put it back in. “I can’t read the inscription on the butt.”

“It is in Italian and says, ‘Howie the Howitzer, a gift to my friend Lieutenant Travis from Giuseppe Garibaldi, 1860’.”

Mort snorted amused at the appropriateness of the name. “We’ll start with something a little smaller and then try out your heavy artillery,” he began while handing the ridiculously large pistol back to Iwona. He was stopped by her soft brown eyes; they were huge above the ginormous nose, and sweet smile.

“What?” he asked.

“Thank you Mort,” she said just before kissing him. Mort went very red, gangly, and reverted back to about age 17. To say he was very much surprised would be a ridiculous understatement. Years later he would recall it as one of the least smooth moments in a life chock full of bumps.

A long pause resulted. Mort partly collected himself, fumblingly acquired the necessary ammo along with a pair of.45s from the armoury, and headed out behind the jail for some target practice. Iwona followed looking very much like the cat that ate the canary.

_________________________________________________________________________

                Lisolette Von Huber, blue blooded, blood shot eyed Lady of Pomerania, was awake, angry, and hurting. The wrong dress had been laid out and she had no help in dressing in it! There was no tea or juice waiting and her medicine was nowhere to be found. She needed her medicine right now! Where was that stupid girl? This was not to be suffered! the woman mentally ranted.

The shrill cry of “Richard!” died in her throat as she caught a glance of herself in the mirror. Hair disheveled, utterly untidy and unable to meet the day. Richard MUST NOT see her like this! He had yet to propose and her hold on him was due to three things; lineage, beauty, and skill in bed. She daren’t weaken the second as a host of lesser beauties, from other financially broken European noble families, were actively stalking rich Americans. Any of these women would eagerly leap into Richard’s bed and supplant her. Admittedly, none of these rivals were in this peasant village but, God willing, this horrible wilderness excursion would end soon and she would be returning to Chicago; she knew that some very dangerous rivals were there.

Lisolette commenced brushing and tidying up her highly prized golden hair. She immediately found and pounced upon her missing medicine. Taking some, her cravings and pain immediately started to subside. Her eyes dilated and the peacefully stoned woman laid back down upon her bed and fell back to sleep blessing Dr. Victorini’s patented tincture of opium.

Not long afterward, Richard grudgingly opened up a blood shot eye and groaned. Bath tub celebrating with Lisolette had been vigorous, exhausting, brandy filled and long. The spirit of retribution gleefully had him by the head and guts, and was exacting payment for last night’s cavorting. Staggering up he made the infinite trek to the wash basin and looked pityingly at himself in the mirror. Street sounds informed him that the rest of the world had been long at its business. Quietly, so as to not awake the lightly snoring Lisolette, nor cause his own head to explode, the sorely hung over industrialist performed his morning routine. Not long later, presenting a handsome and self-reliant image to the world (though still inwardly feeling like death was nigh) he left the room in search of breakfast. A very light breakfast….. which helped quite a lot. He soon found out it wasn’t as early as he thought, barely 9 am, and properly fortified with food (plus a small amount of brandy) he was off to the jail to recruit Mortimer to his employ. Tipping his hat to ladies and greeting all and sundry with hearty “Good mornings” (an exercise in noblesse oblige that hurt his throbbing head) he walked through the town.

Finally reaching the jail, Richard stepped in to find the sole occupant to be a hot pot of coffee. Helping himself to the coffee he tsked, “So this is Mortimers life.” He mused that he probably wouldn’t have to pay much to hire him away. Moments later he heard slow regular gunfire from behind the building. Ah, Mortimer must be taking target practice. What else would there be for him to do here? So outside, bearing his nicely brewed cup of coffee in hand, he ventured. He heard an unmistakable ‘boom’ as he rounded the corner. Only Travis’ pistol sounded like that! What on earth was Mortimer doing with his defunct employee’s absurdly large pistol?

Ah! Seducing my maid! That’s what cousin Mortimer is up to! “Bully for him! he thought. For there was Mortimer, arms wrapped around Iwona (ostensibly helping her set and maintain a two handed firing stance with Travis’ gun) facing a target that had recently acquired a very large hole. Corey set his coffee down and applauded.

“Bravo! Nice shooting my dear! Now what are you doing here this morning instead of being at your duties?” He inquired causing both Mort and Iwona to jump and Iwona to blush furiously.

“My apologies, sir. Both you and mistress Von Huber were sleeping so I went out to take care of Hugh’s funeral and got…. distracted. His will left me this pistol and sheriff Mort offered to show me how to use it. I shall return now. Is Mistress Von Huber awake?”

“By all means girl, head on back as I have business to conduct with Mortimer and thank you for attending to the burial. I fear I had forgotten that detail,” said the industrialist genially, “and no, Lisolette has not yet stirred.”

“Yes sir. Sir, she will be quite angry today. The dress she wanted to wear got shot up yesterday.”

“Very well Iwona. You may go.” The girl fled (much to Mort’s disappointment as he was thoroughly enjoying teaching her) towards the hotel.

“Morning Richie,” Mort said after firing the last rounds from Howie (Iwona had forgotten it in her haste to leave). That pistol kicked like a mule but was very accurate- more so than some target guns he had used.

“Morning Mortimer. Watch out with that one.” The visitor said nodding in the direction of the departed girl. “If you have your way with her she’ll probably never leave you alone,” the remark caused Mort to color.

“I’ll remember that. I take it she is a girl Mom would approve of.”

“Yours, not mine. No status there. She’s a maid from nowhere. You can do better, especially in Chicago.” Without further adieu the Urban Corey made his pitch to Lawman Corey while they both sat on a fence behind the jail enjoying the warm morning sun. The monologue went on for nearly an hour with Mort listening intently before he made a non-answer.

“Richie, let me sum up your offer.You’re offering me $1000/year to be your personal bodyguard. You’re adding another $400/year plus 30% for me to run a security company you will start up and bankroll. That company would provide security to financial and manufacturing companies, in and around Chicago, who are currently having trouble with labor organizers. Plus, I can stay with you for as long as I like without charge.”

“This will put you conveniently close to Iwona I might add.”

“Please don’t add. I’ve never cottoned to your math,” the obviously embarrassed sheriff sourly replied.

Richard laughed, “Heavens Mortimer! Don’t be embarrassed! She’s a very well built lady and you seem to have caught her……eye. Have your fun! Chicago is full of women like her! Good times await! Very good times! And I must say it will be good to have you there. WE will have fun! We’re the last of the family and should stay together …….”

With that the two launched into a laughter filled discussion of what each had seen and done over the previous 20 years. It was past sundown before they made it back into the jail. After which they headed to Mort’s house; a house at which Richie simply shook his head.

“Mortimer, staying with me you’ll have more space in your room than in half this house. Not to mention servants; you won’t be forced to live like….this,” said Richard theatrically waving his arm at the mess that is/was and always will be typical of a bachelor male.

“Richie, I like this house. I built this house.”

“I can tell that last Mortimer. I don’t see a square corner,” the last comment was a mistake.

“You couldn’t due half so well!” retorted the affronted cousin.

“Probably right Mortimer, but the point is I don’t have to. I hire professionals. And you will be able to as well. Think about my offer Mortimer, “said the industrialist. “You’ll never see another like it.”
                “No, I probably won’t. Give me a few days will you?”

Richard was slightly taken aback. He had expected Mortimer to jump at the chance. However, he knew Mort well enough to know that if he pressed he would get a ‘no’ from his vain cousin. So with a fake (but very realistic) smile he backed off replying, “Of course Mortimer. It WILL be a big change. Now I must return to the hotel to see what havoc sweet Lisolette has created today. She is not in her element.” Richard added in a good humored tone mixed with condescension and annoyance.

Mort half frowned and, before he could stop himself, asked, “Why do you put up with her Richie? She seems really annoying and generally useless.”

“There are a couple of reasons Mortimer. Women are only here to gratify our needs and provide for the next generation. I don’t worry about certain things that more, shall we say romantically inclined, people seem to find important. Lisolette is beautiful, pleasurable, comes from excellent noble stock and goes to great lengths NOT to annoy me. In fact, she does her very best to please me in all things; so I don’t much care how much she annoys others. It’s not my problem.” The rich man hesitated and then went on speaking very quietly, “Besides, the prophecy said I will marry a tic. A woman who will live off me and be generally useless. So if that is the case I might as well get the most attractive tic available.”

“Prophecy? That gol durned gypsy reading from when we were kids? That’s stupid! That woman was conning us all. Neither of us are failures! We have both done quite well for ourselves,” answered the astounded sheriff.

The urban Corey pointedly looked around the house and then at his cousin, “No Mortimer, both of US haven’t. Though your taking my offer will fix that.” Then he departed leaving only the sound of the door shutting to break the thick silence following his last statement.

Mort Corey sat in his darkening house thinking of the job offer and the day. Talking with Richie had been hilarious and made for a fun day. Richie was great fun, and terribly amusing, but Mort knew him to be a ‘hollow man’; a man who was utterly empty. As Pa had said of Uncle Caleb (his brother and Richies’ father), “If you hit him in the head with a hammer he’d ring like a bell.”

The job offer was…. a tremendous opportunity. The pay was huge and Iwona lived in Chicago. Both were great incentives, but the work was troubling. Body guarding Richie would be a fun grown up version of what he did as a child. Richie had been very prone to getting beaten up by other kids when Mort wasn’t around. Running the security company was far less appealing. The company would likely be like the Pinkertons; dedicated to keeping people in their ‘proper places.’ That was not appealing at all.

Mort was startled out of his reverie by the sound of a fiddle up the street. The dance practice! That was Ed tuning up! He was off in a shot, determined not to make a fool of himself at the barn dance in front of Iwona. It proved to be a long evening as Mattie was a hard taskmaster. Fortunately, in the end Mort was comfortable dancing and only occasionally evidenced two left feet.

Corey the urbanite made quick time getting back to the hotel. It was dark and the dark was frightening. He was greatly relieved when he was inside the lit hotel. Straightening his truly tasteful clothing he went upstairs to his rooms. Letting himself in, he saw that the room was dimly lit and he was awaited by a lovely blonde vision in the sheerest of clothing……it was the reception he expected as leaving Lisolette alone all day always made her feel a little insecure. This was her way of feeling powerful and in control. She was so predictable and so pleasant! All concerns about hiring his cousin were forgotten until the following day.

It was 10 a.m. and Iwona Vasa walked alone to Laramie’s public cemetery. It was a grim, gray, damp, and dismal morning. The weather perfectly matched Iwona’s mood. The master and his konkubinet(6) (Iwona did not know the English word) were not interested enough to rise from their bed and come. She had no doubt that, had they been in Chicago, the pair would have come with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. The maid had her fill of Mistress Von Huber yesterday. It was a pleasure to be away from her, though the reason for it left Iwona very sad. Farewells to friends were bad things. Final farewells were the most miserable of all.

It was with great surprise that Iwona discovered that she wasn’t the only mourner present. A tall and broad shouldered man had preceded her to the gravesite. Approaching the open grave, she recognized the rancher from the relay station. She gave Slim a sad nod. He returned the nod with a small sad smile and they both turned to Father Enrique as the good padre said the brief service. The casket was subsequently lowered and two soggy, and overly ripe, grave diggers commenced filling in the hole. The good father departed as the two mourners turned to leave.

The silence weighed heavily on Iwona, “Thank you for coming Mr. Sherman.”

“Can’t say ‘my pleasure’. I don’t much like funerals, but I thought seeing Hugh off would be a good thing. I liked him as soon as I met him. He seemed a good man,” replied the formally dressed rancher.

Iwona involuntarily let out a small laugh and covered her mouth. “Mr. Sherman, Hugh was a rascal and a rogue. He was a man who was fully irreverent, utterly self confident, and a teller of outrageous tales. Hugh went straight at problems without thought for consequence and he was the most infuriating man ever I met. But mostly, he was my very good friend and I shall miss him.”

Slim nodded, “Like I said he seemed a good man. Do you need to be anywhere?”

“No, Master Richard gave me the morning off.” Slim was a little surprised to see her head lower a mite and jaw tighten. Apparently there was more to it than that as the lady was very angry and trying not to show it.

“Why don’t we get out of this drizzle, get something to eat, and you tell me about our departed friend?”

She looked at Slim curiously, anger momentarily forgotten, “Why? You barely met him.”

Slim smiled engagingly,”Because I like you and like talking with you. Besides, I missed breakfast tending to horses this morning.”

A small smile flashed under the over sized nose. “Well I asked!” she thought. “By all means then. I won’t be the cause of you wasting away. I also missed breakfast,” she replied.

They talked as they walked up the mud street. On the way, they passed the sheriff with Slim cheerfully calling out, “Morning Mort,” and getting a sour nod in return. “Mort’s ‘rhoids must be acting up again,” he thought and returned his attention to the woman beside him. She had fallen momentarily silent, but soon returned to her tales of the life of Sam Houston Travis. Tales, mixed with quiet tears and laughter from Iwona, continued throughout their breakfast.

 “So Hugh was stranded in Italy after resigning his U.S. Naval Lieutenancy (to avoid fighting against Texas). He went from being an Italian revolutionary to being a Confederate privateer (technically a pirate) to Turkish smuggler/outlaw/revolutionary. He wound up joining up with Corey after rescuing him from trouble in a place called Izmir,” Iwona related to Slim.

“It sounds like Hugh had an eventful life,” he commented.

“Yes he did. Hugh returned to America with Mr. Corey, bringing along Talia, who is now my best friend. Talia and Hugh were married last January after she got him to agree to retire from being a hired gun,” Iwona clouded up again. “Oh how I hated to send word to Talia!” Slim shook his head as she finished.

“It sounds like Hugh was rarely bored,” Slim commented.

“Oh yes! He was frequently bored! But Hugh never stayed bored long. Ever,” Iwona laughed quietly and sadly.

They were interrupted by a civil, “Good morning Iwona. Good morning Mr. Sherman. May I join you a moment?” It was the visiting Corey.

Iwona was impassive as Slim Sherman gestured at an empty chair. “Certainly,” he said while silently wishing the man would go away. His time alone with this astonishing young woman was limited and he had hoped to make good use of it.

“Thank you,” replied the industrialist as he pulled up a chair. “Mr. Sherman, I just wanted to extend my personal thanks for your driving us into Laramie. That was nice work with the team. I didn’t mention it earlier, but I sit upon the stage line’s board of directors. I was asked to set up a line of credit, with a bank in Laramie, to eliminate some of the cash flow issues we have had here. On the strength of that credit your back pay, 3 months I believe, is waiting for you at the bank. I suspect it will be quite welcome.”

Slim smiled and nodded as finances had started to get a little tight. “Yes, it is. Thanks for setting that up, Mr. Corey, and for taking the time to tell me.”

Corey nodded and shrugged, “I’d also like to discuss with you the team of horses you drove yesterday. They struck me as a little unusual. Mind if we head over to the stage stable? I’d like to look them over and ask you some questions.”

There was no help for it. “Certainly. Excuse me Iwona. My condolences and thanks for the company.” Slim got up, and he and the industrialist headed towards the door. Following Slim, Corey gestured behind his back for Iwona to head to the jail; then he left.

Iwona muttered, “That arrogant szarpnicie(7)! First he has the nerve to offer me a reward if I lead Mort on, with a bonus if he goes with them to Chicago.” While Iwona found Mort compelling, the concept of being paid to flirt turned her stomach, it being too much like prostitution. “Now, the man is trying to divert other men from talking to me. Boss or no Boss, Master Corey is riding for trouble,” Iwona fumed savoring the western phrase.

Iwona took a minute to calm her temper. She WANTED to go visit Mort at the jail to continue pistol practice, and to flirt truth be told, but she would do it despite her boss rather than because of him. Gah. The man thought anything could be bought. Gathering herself, she was off to pistol practice. The weather had been changing fast and it had become a fine, warmish day. The sun was bright and, by the time she reached the jail, her annoyance with Master Corey was almost forgotten.

Mort was mad at himself for being upset by seeing Slim with Iwona. She could walk with whom-so-ever she chose to. “Gol darn it though! I want her to choose me!” cried the unhappy teenage type voice in his mind. As competition Slim was nearly unbeatable. The man was young, successful, and handsome. He didn’t carry a pot belly, Mort eyed his own portliness with grave dissatisfaction, still possessed a full head of hair and, to boot, had an aggravatingly good nature. Mort snorted in self mockery, being a man honest enough to admit that Slim’s good nature had never been aggravating until they both showed interest in the same gal.

There was a quick knock on the front door, it opened, and in came Simon Dance – the visiting Salt Lake City sheriff. “Mornin’ Mort. The boys and I are about to head out. Just thought I’d stop in for a moment.”

“Mornin’ Simon. “ Mort poured himself some coffee. “Care for some?” The visiting sheriff shut the door and hustled across the room.

“I would LOVE some. But we’ll have to make it quick. The boys won’t approve ‘cause the church opposes it. I love the brethren, and being of the brethren, but I DO miss my coffee,” he said while greedily taking the steaming mug and drinking half of it at a gulp.

“Gah! Mort, ya might warn a man! It’s a might strong,” he finished the mug and filled it again. “I also wanted to give you a heads up. The Garveys planned on meeting up with ‘friends’ here in Laramie. The ‘friends’ had telegraphed them about a ‘job’ that would suit them. That’s how we knew to head here after we lost their trail.” He filled his mug for the third time.

“Easy there Simon, or you’ll be carrying your horse to Salt Lake not the other way around,” said Mort nodding at the other sheriff’s mug. “Who are these friends and what are they like?”

Sheriff Dance made an effort of will and put down the mug. Still looking longingly at the coffee he responded, “One is named Collin or Collins. That’s all I know, but any friend of the Garvey’s is almost certainly trouble.” He shook his head, “Yeah, I know it isn’t much. That’s why I didn’t mention it last night. Still, I thought you might find it helpful.”

“Ok, I’m warned. Thanks.” Mort turned towards the window. “We have a lot of people passing through here headed west. Without the Garveys here, hopefully your ‘Collin’ does the same.” Mort turned as the now empty coffee mug clinked on the table. “Better stand clear of that there coffee pot Simon. Another mug an’ you’ll be running around on the ceiling.”

Dance laughed, hands twitching lightly and head quickly bobbing in agreement, “Probably so Mort, probably so. Sorry to hog it, but I haven’t had any since we hit the trail. The boys don’t approve.”

It was Morts turn to laugh, “Not a problem Simon. Coffee is a social drink. I’m just glad you enjoyed it.”

“That I have. Well, time for me to head home to Clara.”

“I thought your wife was named Martha.”

“It is,” said Dance, bursting out in laughter at Mort’ look of disapproval. “So is Clara,” he said winking at Mort. “There ARE advantages to being one of the Brethren.”

“But how many mother-in-laws do you have?” Mort fired back.

Simon grimaced as he headed out the door. “That and no coffee almost outweigh the advantages. Come on over to Salt Lake and visit us some time. It’ll be fun. I’ll introduce you to Beulah.”

“Who is ….?” Mort sighed, guessing the answer

“Why my wife, of course!” laughed Simon all but skipping out the door.

Mort heard him heading to the livery stable. He then burst out laughing when he heard two male voices, walking quickly past the jail, pursuing the departed Dance. “Dad burn it Josh, will you look at that? Reverend Simon’s been in the coffee again.”

“It’s gonna be a fast trip back to Salt Lake….”

Still laughing, Mort went back to his desk and sat down. He’d barely hit the chair when Iwona came breezing through the front door. The statuesque 6’ tall hawk nosed brunette made a very favorable contrast to the recently departed slight and coffee wound 5’ sheriff.

“Hello Sheriff Mort! Let us go shoot more! I have day off! Maybe we go hunt after pistol practice?” the woman positively glowed.

Mort was out of his chair and heading for the gun rack before he even realized he had moved. “Too eager boy! You’ll scare her off,” he thought to himself.

Likewise, Iwona was silently chiding herself as Mort got the pistols. “Slowly, quit chattering girl. Are you 15? He will think you a foolish slattern,” she continued her internal admonishments pledging to be more sedate as she silently vowed to let HIM woo her. She would provide any necessary encouragement, of course.

Soon they were hard at it, demolishing targets with.45s and then with ‘Howie the Howitzer.’ Mort was quietly impressed with how quickly she picked up the use of the oversized pistol. When he said so he was rewarded with a happy blush that set his heart to pounding. He was even more surprised that the guns’ enormous recoil didn’t seem to bother her at all. This was one strong lady. Also a sweet smelling and pleasantly constructed one with a delightful habit of leaning back against him as he stood behind her ‘helping her adjust her stance.’ Her pistol stance required an inordinate number of such adjustments………………….and he was most diligent.

They became far too busy to make it out hunting that day. Especially once they had run through all of the shells they had taken outside with them.

______________________________________________________________________________

Lisolette Von Huber was bored. Richard was talking business with a man named Tom, Iwona was not around to tyrannize, and there was nothing to do in this hovel of a village. Then she had an idea: she would go down stairs and bless the local peasantry with her noble presence.

So out the door and down the steps she pranced, parasol in hand, to the lobby and hotel dining room. She noted that her noble figure was much admired. “The male pigs,” she inwardly gloated, “I am with a man above you all!” It wasn’t long before she was thoroughly enjoying the delightful pastime of putting lower born men into their rightful places, when they dared to introduce themselves to her. That changed when Tom, the man who had been talking to Richard, made his appearance.

“Miss Von Huber? I am Tom Collins,” he was a darkly handsome immaculately dressed man in his mid 30’s.

She offered him her hand and he gallantly kissed it. “Mr. Corey and I have concluded for now. Would you be kind enough to join me for lunch?” all said with just the right mix of subservience and gallantry.

It pleased Lisolette to be escorted by the handsome newcomer to an expensively and extravagantly set table, in a different room. A few glasses of wine later and she was deeply enthralled with her own rendition of the glories of Pomerania, her wonderful self, and all of the short comings of America. It wasn’t surprising that she completely overlooked the prodigious effort her table mate was making to keep his eyes from glazing over at the tedious and painfully self obsessed monologue.

Tom Collin’s perseverance was rewarded when she touched upon her dancing abilities. “Ah, mademoiselle, but you are in luck! The locals are having a public dance on the morrow evening! If you grace them with your presence you would dazzle them with your grace and beauty……” and on he went shamelessly heaping flattery upon the tipsy and half stoned woman until she was convinced it was her idea that she simply must go to the barn dance. Off she went to wheedle Richard into escorting her to the dance.

Tom Collins shook his head and chuckled as he watched the vain and tedious witch stagger away. She would wear every piece of jewelry she had, Corey would dress to match AND be carrying his $10,000 stake for the mythical secret high stakes poker game he had come to Laramie for. It was all coming together nicely. The jewelry and Corey’s money were pure gravy, of course, but Tom was a comfortable man who liked his gravy. The real pay would come from some prim and proper upper crusts from Chicago once they heard of Corey’s tragic demise in the wild and woolly west. Now, if only the Garveys would get here his plan would be fully in place. They would provide backup and he would subsequently frame them. He toasted himself with his glass of wine. He’d have poured himself a second but Lisolette had already drained the bottle.

Corey smiled at the wall of his hotel room after Collins had departed. What a trip this had been. Though travel in the chartered coach was truly miserable, the weeks with Lord Dunraven would bring him much additional wealth and tremendous notoriety in Chicago. Not that camping, hot springs, wild quadrupeds nor geysers held any fascination for himself. In truth, the wilderness held neither charm nor allure. But it did for others who were safely ensconced in their homes, and becoming known as the ‘Earls Close Confidante’ would be of immense social value. Add to that his marrying into old European stock and he would be catapulting himself into the world’s social elite! Mother would be so proud!

Now for the final victory, attending the secretive Western Star Poker tournament. Meeting Tom Collins, at that tedious Armour family event, had been a great stroke of luck. Without him, he would never have heard of the tournament, much less been able to participate in it. He held no illusions that he would win. No, he would be going against top grade professionals. The great and infamous Wild Bill Hickock along with several as yet unnamed but equally famous others were competing. However, the money lost would be more than compensated by the social prestige he would generate with his tales of the contest. He vowed to lose with grace, style, humor, and class. It was all very exciting.

Losing Travis was annoying. Granted the man was quitting soon so he wasn’t a great loss. Surprisingly, Mortimer was being more reluctant than expected. Siccing the maid upon him should remedy that as Mortimer had always had an eye for the well stacked woman and seemed oblivious to her honker. Between them they would get him to Chicago and that would be that. Of course he would have to see to the romance’s demise once they were back in civilization. It just wouldn’t do to have the Corey name so ill matched to a peasant girl. In Chicago, it would be quite easy to find Mortimer a vastly more suitable match. Perhaps the Savelli girl, as she was quite adept and pleasing.

His thoughts were interrupted by the room’s door opening and Lisolette making an entrance.

“Richard dearest, I have just found out that tomorrow night there will be a dance. Let us go.” she slurred out.

“Of course, my dear. Though I will have to make an early evening of it; business you know,” he answered while joyfully sweeping her up. She giggled inanely at him, which was fine. It wasn’t his mind Richard wanted her to stimulate. That wasn’t what women were for.

______________________________________________________________________________

“Hi Slim. Got a message you need sent?” Ed Bradford cheerfully greeted his rancher friend as he entered Ed’s telegraph office.

“Sure do Ed. This one is for Jess, who is visiting Ella Kilpatrick up in Virginia Dale,” he handed the telegrapher a note. “This one is to company headquarters in Cheyenne,” he handed over a second note. “And this last one is for Andy in Saint Louis,” he said handing over the third.  Andy was Slim’s younger brother.

Ed Bradford read them back to the rancher who nodded his final approval and paid for sending them. “Looks like Jess is gonna be busy bringing back more horses from your aunt,” Ed commented.

“Yeah, it turns out Mort’s cousin is part owner of the stage line, and he authorized their purchase. He kinda liked rolling into town alive rather than bein’ shot up by bandits. Those are some fast and strong horses. Ella said some of her best have been successful harness racers up by Chicago.”

Ed nodded, “I can understand that. Mind my adding two to your wire? My pair are about done and I can buy ‘em off of you when Jess gets here.”

They dickered amicably over the price and Slim altered his wire.

Mattie Bradford entered from the storeroom caroling, “Hello Slim. Coming to the barn dance tomorrow evening?”

“Yes Mattie. I aim to.”

“Bringing somebody?” Laramie’s chief matchmaker and ring leader for all things female related archly asked.

Slim back pedaled, “I haven’t asked anybody yet.”

“But you intend to, who is she? Lorna Muldoon?”

Slim was startled, “Lorna got married last year and moved to Boulder. You know that.”

She smiled angelically at him, “Yes Slim, I do. I was just wondering if you did. You have a bad habit of waiting until it’s too late to ask a girl.”

Slim blushed beat red, “No not Lorna. Heavens Mattie. If you must know her name is Iwona Vasa and she is visiting Laramie.”

Mattie shook her head. “Late again Slim. She’s going with Mort.”

Slim thought, “No wonder he gave me that look earlier! Boy, he sure moved fast enough. Out loud he exclaimed, “Mort?” Then with a deep friendly laugh he added, “Well, I’ll still dance with her a bit. She is one mighty fine woman. Night Ed; Mattie! See you at the dance,” and turning on his heel he headed out.”

“Not if I have my way Slim Sherman.” Mattie said quietly after he left.

“Mattie, stay out of it.” Ed warned. He always warned her and she never listened.

Mattie Bradford laughed and lightly caressed the back of Ed’s neck as she walked past the busy telegrapher. “Don’t worry Ed, Slim won’t suffer. He won’t even notice. I’m going to call in some help and Slim will be way too busy to interfere with Mort’s courting. Let’s see, Anna Ridgeway and Katey Philpott have always been sweet on Slim. Alice Crown owes me a favor. Lillian Spencer loves to dance, and Lucretia Blum can be talked into anything. Between them I think I can keep him busy all dance long,” she paused, “but this Iwona must be something interesting if she has so quickly attracted the active interest of two of the most desirable, and least romantically active, men in Laramie. I should go look her over. Hopefully, she’s not just trouble in a pretty package.”

Ed sighed thinking, “Mama Mattie is at it again.” There was no point in arguing, they had been married long enough for him to know that. Praise God that his interfering wife was as benevolent as she was nosey. Otherwise there would be no living in Laramie.

_____________________________________________________________________

Slim whistled as he headed over to the jail. He wanted to have a word with Mort before heading home. He had run into a couple of strangers, at the livery, while tending to the horses and he didn’t like the looks of them. It would have to be quick though if he was going to make it back to the ranch before dark.

Opening the door, Slim called out “Hey Mort, you here?” There was no response and the jail was empty. He walked around the building but stopped just before rounding the corner to the back of the jail. That was a familiar sound he had heard. He cautiously looked around the corner and wryly smiled while taking a step back. Yup. He was too late alright. The lovely Iwona was kissing the unlovely Mort Corey. “Lucky dog,” Slim thought. He quietly walked halfway back to the front of the building, turned, and whistling loudly while kicking pebbles ahead of him, Slim returned to the back of the jail. It was a horrible performance.

“Mort, are you back here?” he called out innocently.

Just as innocently, the man and woman, now a full 6 feet apart, called back their greetings. “Hello Mr. Sherman,” from Iwona and “Hi Slim. What do you need?” from Mort, “Back here teaching Iwona how to use that monster pistol Travis left her.”

“’I’m about to head back to the ranch. I thought I would ask Iwona to the dance and tell you about a couple of strangers in town.”

“Thank you Slim, no, Mort already ask. I go with him,” Iwona replied blushing and embarrassed but not at all displeased. To Iwona, Slim Sherman was almost as attractive a man as Mort but she had a preference for older men.

“Yeah, seems I’m always too late about askin’ ladies stuff, or so I have recently been reminded,” he replied wry facedly.

Mort bit down lightly on the side of his mouth to suppress a laugh, “What about the two strangers?”

“Two men were taking care of three horses. They work for a third who was at the hotel. One is named Toby the other named Henry Pearman. Both looked to be gunmen, successful and well dressed gunmen at that. I don’t like the look or feel of either. Both are staying at the hotel. “

“Did you hear the name of the third or why they’re here?”

“Nope. That’s it.”

“I bet it’s Collin. Thanks Slim. Is Jess back yet?” asked the sheriff inquiring about Slim’s partner and Mort’s best sometime part time deputy.

“No. He should be leaving Ella’s tomorrow or the next day. Do you need help?” Slim replied making a half offer as he also had an abundance of deputy experience.

“Probably not. Just askin’”

“Ok. See you at the dance.” Turning then to Iwona, he added, “And you as well.” He then added with a quick smile and a wink, “Save a dance for me too.” Off he went being long gone before Iwona had formed a proper response in English.

It was all Mort could do not to laugh. He had heard Slim’s first approach and was pleased with his friend’s consideration. Little did he know that Iwona had heard the approach as well and flat out didn’t care if they were caught kissing.

The couple went back to courting until sunset when a strutting Mort escorted a dreamy Iwona back to the hotel. It was a beautiful sunset though only they appreciated it. Mostly because of the company as the sun was completely hidden behind the rain clouds that had rolled in with the waning of the day.

__________________________________________________________________________

Sheriff Mort opened a bleary eye and drug himself out of bed. He was in dire need of breakfast and wake up juice. Needs he attended to after the even more imperative trip to the necessary. Grumbling all the while how small town life could be a pain. Everybody knew everybody else’s business and just had to help or at least butt in.

It all started when he was making his evening rounds after taking Iwona back to the hotel. First, Sidney Coltrane (Laramies best tailor – the other was a drunk) had called him into his shop and (after polite small talk) asked if he shouldn’t have a quick look at Mort’s Sunday clothes. ‘To make sure they were in order for the barn dance.’ It was a good idea. So Mort had hustled home and brought them in. Sure enough there were a few ‘rough spots’ that Sidney would fix up by the morrow.

He hadn’t gotten the clothing taken care of without interruption though. Tab the Barber had flagged Mort down and suggested a shave and a haircut, “As it had been a coons age since the sheriff had a proper trim,” were Sam’s exact words.

Continuing on his rounds, Maggie Muldoon had called him into her Ladies Sundries Shoppe. It was a place that was downright embarrassing for a man to be seen in. When she started asking about any needs Iwona might have, he got out of there fast.

Jock Benson, down at the general store, caught him next. Weren’t Mort’s shoes about worn through? Boots were fine for day wear but for dancing, well, good shoes looked better and moved much easier helping a man to not look like a fool. It so happened that some fine new shoes had just come in. Mort allowed that the new shoes looked awfully nice, though they were currently tight, he figured they would be fine once they broke in.

Passing the Catholic church (new shoes in hand), Father Enrique had come out and boldly demanded to know his intentions towards ‘One of his flock.’ Mort kept that short by telling the holy padre that ‘He was going to carry Iwona off to Salt Lake City and they’d become Mormons.’ That response had not gone over well.

Departing the thoroughly perturbed padre, Mort knew that the Reverend Linkous would soon appear to remind him about ‘the Papist threat’. He was not disappointed. The Reverend appeared at the jail about 30 minutes later. Mort dealt with the good Pastor just as he had dealt with the padre. After all, fair is fair.

Over the course of the evening, other townsfolk had wandered over to the jail. Each and everyone of them asked about the dance, the girl or both. Even old lady Swenson, near sighted and 74, had hobbled over and brought him a bunch of flowers (picked from her garden - the finest in town) for him to give to ‘somebody special.’ “Did a man laugh, shout or simply pull out what little hair he has left?” he mused.

Fortunately, the late night rounds were quieter (mostly because he walked in the shadows and practiced not being seen). When he finally went home, the last visitor of the day was on his porch rocker waiting for him.

“Evenin’ Mort.”

“Evenin’ doc. Yes I’m taking Iwona Vasa to the dance tomorrow. Yes, I know she is Catholic. Yes she works …..”

“I know Mort.” The good doctor laughed silently. He had lived long in Laramie and knew how annoying the good folk could be when they cared about someone. “You have a choice. We can share this bottle,” he said producing a bottle of very fine Kentucky Bourbon, “or I can do my medical and neighborly duty and warn you of the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases being acquired from new acquaintances. Your choice.”

Mort lunged quickly and snatched away the bottle, took a drink, and handed it back.

“Wise choice,” the doctor took one too. The evening progressed from there, which was why the sheriff was a little bleary. Having drunk the lions share of the bourbon, McFarland wouldn’t be making an appearance for some hours.

Mort fixed himself a simple breakfast, drank his arguably toxic coffee with it, and by the meal’s end was feeling his normal self. To the point of feeling cheerful and charitable towards the bulk of yesterdays ‘well wishers.’ The exceptions were the towns religious leaders who seemed bent upon including him in their rivalry. He even washed his dishes (something that usually waited for him to get home in the evening).

The last of the dishes had just been shelved when the front door opened with a cheerful, “Good morning Mortimer!” from Richie.

The sheriff took his hand off his pistol butt. “Mornin’ Richie. What in tarnation has YOU up this early? Can’t be 8 o’clock yet.” In truth, it wasn’t even 7 o’clock yet.

“Up, fed, washed and safely out of the room,” he gave the sheriff a leering look. “But talking about fast, you’re a fast worker! Given how Iwona is acting I figured you’d need help walkin’ or at least be wobbling around bowlegged.”

Mort gave him a confused look, “What?” his cheery voice suddenly turned into a low growl, “And what might that mean?”

“Given how Iwona is acting this morning. Normally she’s as quiet as a wild thing in the forest- letting us sleep while tending her morning chores. Today she’s clomping around like a dancing buffalo while humming and half singing. All with her mind so befuddled that she miss-set the table, scalded me with coffee, got the food wrong, and so thoroughly angered Lisolette that my bosomy blonde beauty has only spoken in High German all morning,” he said with a voice warm with laughter. “And, though thoroughly polite, the girl just doesn’t care. Yup she’s got it bad.”

“Richie, Miss Iwona has been a lady. So kindly stop with the ‘bow legged’ comments; before I flatten your nose,” Mort said with a hard smile.

Richard fumbled, a little taken aback. Mortimer had never seriously threatened him before. “You are taking her to that dance aren’t you? She’s been checking and double checking her best dress since before daylight. So I assumed you were taking her, or did Sherman ask first?”

“He asked but I asked first. So she’s going with me,” Mort said with great pride.

“Well and good. I’ll release her from her duties until tomorrow, then, so not to interfere with your …..activities.” The leer was back but was just as quickly gone.

“On another subject, Mortimer are any strangers in town?”

“We always have a few Richie, we’re not far from the Mormon trail. So yes. “

“I’m looking for a poker game later,” Richie said archly.

“’Spect you’ll find one,” Mort replied shaking his head in a ‘so what?’ gesture. Poker games weren’t hard to come by.

Richard took that as confirmation that the tournament he and Tom Collins were attending was on and that Mort knew all about it. He nodded at Mort with a secretive smile. “Of course, that will be after the dance. I shall be taking Lisolette to it. Would you care to join us for dinner?”

“Richie, no offence, but I’d rather be snake bit. Your lady wouldn’t like doubling with her maid. I’ll pick up Iwona a little early and take her to dinner. Besides, you always run a little late anyway.”

“Fashionably late Mortimer. Fashionably late. And you’re right, I hadn’t considered Lisolette’s reaction.”

The pair left Mort’s house talking about other things. The industrialist feeling greatly reassured that his cousin would be coming to Chicago and taking the proffered positions. He really must remember to give Iwona a generous bonus, for such fast work, before seeing to her being dumped.

Mort, on the other hand, had been profoundly reminded that Richie could be a complete jerk.

“Gott en himmel!” fumed Lisolette Von Huber. She had never seen the maid like this. “Get out! Get out! I will tend to myself. Master Richard will be hearing of this! Mein Gott!!”

“Sorry madam.” Iwona Vasa absently responded as she left the room. Once the door was closed she giggled maniacally. She was free! She could finish preparing her dress and be ready for Mort. It was such a glorious day! She went to work on her clothes with a vengeance humming, and then singing, quietly. The sun blazed through her window and was a wonderful change from the evening’s rain. Birds were singing, squirrels played, and all was well. By noon she was ready and had even lengthened the hidden slit access in the dress that allowed ‘Howie the Howitzer’ to be drawn when it was strapped to the inside of her leg. Hugh had convinced her to carry a concealed pistol throughout their trip as there was a shortage of women in the west. But Howie was a lot bigger than what she normally packed. Normal clothing couldn’t hide Howie but the flowing formal dress could quite easily. Mort wouldn’t approve but he didn’t need to know. Then she laughed musing that if Mort found out he would probably be too busy to really care. “Evil girl behave!” she chided herself good naturedly.

Elsewhere Tom Collins exploded, “You’ve got to be kidding me! A posse from Salt Lake City chased down and killed the Garveys this week?”

“Yeah boss. Those meat heads got your wire then decided to rob a bank on the way out of town. The law from Salt Lake caught ’em just outside of Laramie and planted ’em in boot hill,” reported Toby Durham.

“Yeah, Toby and I was told that last night by one of the locals that chased after them for tryin’ to rob the stage. Them Garveys warn’t too bright,” added Henry Pearman.

“Well that puts a kink in things. I was looking to rob and kill Corey at the dance, as well as rob everybody else there, and pin it on the Garveys. We’ll have to do something simpler. Boys, rest up this afternoon. We’ll saddle up this evening then Toby and I will go over to Corey’s room and off him as he leaves for the dance. Henry, you will wait outside and kill the sheriff when he comes runnin’ to the gun shots. That will slow down their getting’ a posse together. Then we run for the Dakota Territory and then to civilization,” Collins said.

“Sounds good boss. Corey lost that bodyguard of his to the Garveys so this should go off easy enough,” Toby put in.

“Yeah, at least the Garveys managed that for us. I didn’t much like goin’ up against Travis. Glad he’s gone,” nodded Pearman.

______________________________________________________________________________

“Boy Mort, don’t you look pretty!” Slim Sherman called out as he entered the jail. “Nice Flowers too. Every jail should have some. You should probably get Maggie Muldoon to design some lace curtains for the cells too.”

Freshly scrubbed, shaved, shorn, and shod Mort sat fidgeting at his desk waiting for time to pass until it was time for the dance. He was putting off getting into his Sunday go to Meetings. He smiled at Slims entrance. The rancher was more duded up than he was though that would even up once Mort dressed. “Just lookin’ respectable Slim. What’s your excuse?”

Slim laughed. “Lily Spencer about chased me down yesterday and made it plain she wanted me to take her to the dance. She’s a good woman and a lot of fun,” a short pause, “Fact is Kate Philpott about did the same but I was already taking Lily. Thankfully.”

“Thankfully? You courted her once Slim.” Mort turned his face and bit his upper lip to not smile. The expected outburst was loud and immediate.

“I did not! She chased me all over! Only Jess’ arrival ended that!”

“Yeah, she became his problem.” Mort laughed and Slim joined him. Neither man thought well of Kate Phillpott.

“Anyway, I just stopped in to talk for a second,” he paused then, “So are you going to Chicago?”

“Why would I be goin’ to Chicago, Slim?” Mort dodged as he had expected Slim to ask about Iwona….like everybody else.

“Because your cousin offered you a bodyguard job with big pay,” Slim pursued.

Mort was very surprised. Only Richie, Iwona and he, and maybe Richie’s tart, knew about the offer. “Where did you hear that?” he asked.

“Man up on boot hill told me before the Garveys shot him. We were passing the time on the ride in from the ranch.”

Mort nodded. “I haven’t decided. I’ve gotten a little sided track with Iwona. Richie was over earlier or I might have completely forgotten. It’s a pile of money and that’s a fact.”

“We’d hate to lose you Mort.”

“I’d hate to lose me too. It’s not just bodyguarding Richie. It would also be strong arm work at the company level. I don’t much like that.”

“Sounds like a ‘no’ to me then Mort.”

“Does to me too Slim, except for Iwona. “ Both men were quiet at that.

“Kinda sudden Mort.”

“No kinda about it. It’s sudden for both of us. We’re just like a coupla kids.”

“There’s plenty of room here in Laramie,” Slim pointed out, “and that’s no frail flower you’ve tumbled over.”

“She’s sure taken to that pistol of her friends, “ Most noted.

“It’s more than that. When Travis went down she flung herself over him and kept right at it with her 10 gauge. She didn’t even pause after the Garveys broke off but was working on Travis’ wound in an instant. Blood, dirt, racing and bouncing stage didn’t faze her at all. Plus, just talking to her it’s obvious that she’s smart. Don’t be fooled by her trouble with English. She’s got a good head, a strong heart, and is hugely attractive; a man could do a lot worse. Heck, you don’t even have to bend over to kiss her and THAT has to be a nice change!” the tall rancher went on.

Mort smiled, “I thought you were after her. Now you’re trying to sell me on her.”

Slim shook his head. “I was, and if you don’t win her I’ll be back after her in a heartbeat. But I saw you two yesterday, so did half the town, and you two looked good together.”

Mort got up and squeaked across the room in his new shoes. He poured two cups of coffee and then squeaked his way back and handed one to Slim, “Yeah, we weren’t very discrete.”

“Bout time to go get Lily,” Slim said.

“Give me a minute to change and we’ll walk up together.” The Spencer’s home was just past the hotel. “I can protect you from Old Silas.” Silas Spencer was Lily’s stupid, cranky, elderly and loud mouthed father. She took care of the ungrateful old coot while supporting them both by sewing and selling the odd oil painting.

Slim made a face and nodded. Minutes later they were on their way. Mort, with flowers in hand, was walking to a squeaky rhythm. “I may burn these shoes after the dance,” he said halfway to the hotel.

“Oh, I like’em. You can use them to keep time tonight,” Slim laughed.

“I hadn’t thought of that. It is a musical squeak isn’t it?” Mort bantered.

“Not really.”

Slim noticed one of the strange gunmen, crossing the street in front of them and heading towards the hotel. The man was just a little bit “too casual about being casual.” He was watching both Mort and himself and didn’t want to be seen doing it. A fact Slim didn’t like. So, when the man stopped in front of the hotel door, bending to adjust his boot while letting Mort pass in front of him, Slim stopped next to him saying, “Got a problem mister?”

The man paniced, slapped leather, and fired his pistol. However, Slim had been watching for it and was faster – the shot went harmlessly into the boardwalk with Slims left hand on the barrel forcing it down. Simultaneously, the big rancher sent home a haymaking right to the gunman’s jaw following that with an immediate right backhand to a now blood spurting broken nose. The would be assassin collapsed to the ground, out cold, leaving the smoking pistol a trophy in Slim’s left hand.

“Thanks Slim, I take it I just missed out on bein’ backshot,” a grim Mort said.

“Yeah, I think so. This guy has a partner, and a boss, somewhere in town.”

“Kinda makes you wonder what they’re up to since I never saw, nor talked to, any of them.”

By now a few curious townsfolk had gathered to find out what the ruckus was about. It took only a moment to strip the unconscious man of weapons and get two townsfolk to lug him off to jail.

“Mort, I think we’re gonna be late for the dance,” Slim said as the gunman was lugged away.

“Yeah. Iwona won’t be pleased. I don’t think Lily will be either. I’d appreciate your watching my back while I look around a mite to figure out what in tarnation is going on.”

“Glad to Mort.”

“Let’s start here,” said the sheriff as he entered the hotel.

The hotel owner, a weasely little drip of a man, was only too eager to tell them that the gun man’s boss was named ‘Tom Collins’, that he had an upstairs room three doors down from Mort’s cousin and that he was upstairs now. He also warned, the vastly unimpressed sheriff, that he wouldn’t tolerate any gun play in his hotel.

“Let’s go talk with Mr. Collins,” was all Mort said, getting a nod from Slim by way of reply.

One walked, while the other squeaked, up the stairs. They made their way down the hall, exchanging friendly nods with a couple who were obviously heading out to the dance. “That guy didn’t look half as good as you or I,” Mort observed.

“No, he didn’t,” Slim chuckled back, “he’s married so he doesn’t have to.”

Mort’s cousin’s door banged open as they passed it, and the pair found two men leveling pistols at them. “Hands up and join us in here you two,” an unfamiliar voice said from behind his.45.

Pulling on a man who’s staring at you, with a cocked and leveled pistol, was a form of suicide Mort and Slim were familiar with and found unappealing. Instead, they raised their hands and entered. Mort asked the traditional question, “What’s going on here?”

In the room were two well dressed gunmen, undoubtedly Collins and his remaining gunny. Mort’s cousin Richard (pale faced, immaculately dressed, and trussed up like a chicken) was in a chair by the window. A finely dressed Iwona was sitting on the far edge of a bed looking tense and twitchy. While propped up against the head board of the other bed was the beautifully drooling and completely stoned out-of-her-mind Lisolette Von Huber.

It was Richard that answered, “Collins here is robbing me of my poker stake and our jewelry.”

Ignoring him, Collins spoke, “Marshal, you and your friend ease your guns out. Do it left handed using only your thumb and fore-finger and drop them on the floor. We’re gonna tie and gag you and then leave. Nobody needs to get hurt.”

Mort figured this for a lie since they had tried to kill him once already today. Tied up they would be dead men but he saw no alternative to disarming. Mort and Slim began easing their guns out. The pistols were almost clear of their holsters when Iwona let out an “eep” and fell off the side of the bed away from the five men.

Both gunmen tensed and everybody froze. “Eep?” whirled through Slim’s mind. The woman who doesn’t turn a hair while holding off five bandits from a wildly bouncing stage with a ten gauge while simultaneously keeping a dying man on board, falls off an unmoving bed while saying ”Eep?” In a flash he knew the answer. She must have that enormous pistol of hers hidden under the mattress. He had to keep the robbers attention away from her or they’d kill her as she brought it up.

“Girl, come out from there now,” Tom Collins called out, pistol never moving from Slim, just as the other pistol didn’t waver from Mort.

“You no shoot me I come out?” Iwona called out to the sound of her dress rustling behind the bed.

“No I won’t but I’ll shoot you if you don’t come out now,” he replied.

“I no come out. You shoot me I come out.”

With a wordless and exasperated growl Collins started edging around the bed and Slim made a small move away from the bed. As expected, Collins saw it immediately and locked his eyes on Slim. “Freeze there mister, or you’re dead where you stand. Just keep easing out that pistol…,” he threatened as he continued edging around the bed

He never finished the sentence. Howie spoke loudly and lethally. A clean head shot laid him out on the floor. The final gunman whirled at the shot, letting both Slim and Mort leap upon and buffalo him left handed. In the end, Collins was dead and Toby Durham was badly concussed.

Iwona stood up, cocking the massive revolver, but seeing that Slim and Mort were easily accounting for the last robber, she uncocked ‘Howie’ and set it down on the table. She would have to holster it later since there being no graceful way to do so with men present.

 She turned to her employer noting, with disdain, that when she had fired he had become needful of a change in pants. “Mort are you alright?” she called to her beau as she started untying Richards’ ropes. “How handsome Mort was fully dressed for the dance!” she observed silently.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said turning his attention from the battered and comatose robber. “Mind tying this rascal up, Slim? I have woman to kiss.” Without waiting for an answer he trod (squeaking) across the room, wrapped his arms around Iwona and bussed her right properly. It was a long kiss and by the end of it Cousin Richie was fussing at being forgotten.

Twelve Years Later

It was a bright summer day. Mattie Bradshaw brought a telegram to the Corey house. Dodging through the friendly, and rambunctious, Corey brood of six, she handed it to Iwona who read it and nodded. “Thank you Mattie,” she said all trace of Polish accent long since vanished. She initialed Matties book, TIC, as she rarely used her full signature of Terez Iwona Corey and called to the twins, her eldest children, “Mathew! Jessica! You two watch over your brothers and your sister. I have to take this to your father.”

“Ah, Ma! I was gonna…” her son started.

“This won’t take long.” She cut him off, brooking no argument, and went down the street where Mort was helping to repaint the Catholic Church. Mort still wasn’t allowed to forget his threat of making her a Mormon. She called out to him when she arrived, “Telegram Mort.”

Paint spattered, the sheriff climbed down from a ladder, caught up his big nosed and buxom wife and kissed her heartily. He did that a lot. After a dozen years of marriage it still pleased them both greatly and she still blushed when he did it publically, just like today. “What is it?” he asked curiosity prodded by her still serious expression. She handed it to him.

“Sir Stop Richard Corey dead by suicide Stop Mortimer Corey named sole heir Stop. Contact Marcus Simmons First National Bank Chicago Executor with instructions. Stop”

Mort gave a small sigh as he read the telegram then took Iwona’s hand “I guess Richie got over his anger at your marrying me and our staying in Laramie,” he said sadly.

The end

They say that Richard Cory owns one half of this whole town,
With political connections to spread his wealth around.
Born into society, a banker's only child,
He had everything a man could want: power, grace, and style.

But I work in his factory
And I curse the life I'm living
And I curse my poverty
And I wish that I could be,
Oh, I wish that I could be,
Oh, I wish that I could be
Richard Cory.

The papers print his picture almost everywhere he goes:
Richard Cory at the opera, Richard Cory at a show.
And the rumor of his parties and the orgies on his yacht!
Oh, he surely must be happy with everything he's got.

But I work in his factory
And I curse the life I'm living
And I curse my poverty
And I wish that I could be,
Oh, I wish that I could be,
Oh, I wish that I could be
Richard Cory.

He freely gave to charity, he had the common touch,
And they were grateful for his patronage and thanked him very much,
So my mind was filled with wonder when the evening headlines read:
"Richard Cory went home last night and put a bullet through his head."

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel “Richard Cory” adapted from the late 19th century poem “Richard Cory” by Edwin Arlington Robinson (1897).

Tom Collins hoax of 1874 – A hoax, predominately in the east, where a speaker would tell a listener that a person they didn’t know, named Tom Collins, was defaming them in an effort to get them to rush off and confront the mythical person at or near a bar/tavern. It was notably common in New York and Philadelphia. In Nobility, the man trying to kill and rob Richard Cory came from the east and took the hoax name as his alias.

[1] A geothermal area near modern day Cody Wyoming.

2 Thomas Wyndham-Quin, Fourth Earl of Dunraven, Viscount of Mount Earl and Adare, Lord Dunraven acquired most of the area around Estes Park, Colorado in the mid-1870s. He wanted to set it aside as a private hunting preserve for himself and his guests.

3 Yes in Polish.

4 Thank you in Polish.

5 The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River

6 Mistress in Polish.

7 Jerk in Polish.