Pima by John A. Miller, Jr. by John A. Miller, Jr. - Read Online



Murder, arson, robbery, rape, and kidnapping are alive and well in Tucson, Arizona during the blistering hot summer of 1894. Are they the result of several unrelated acts or the work of one criminal mastermind?
Pima Gallagher, a detective for the Southern Pacific Railroad, must try to keep his landlady’s eleven-year-old daughter, Scout, out of trouble while he follows clue after clue, until he ferrets out the real architect of evil from a mass of false trails and confusion.

Published: John A. Miller, Jr. on
ISBN: 9781465855763
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Pima - John A. Miller, Jr.

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Acknowledgments and Dedication

I originally developed this story in 1991 while working at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. I would like to thank my coworkers at UMass for their encouragement, especially Bob Howland, Mary Beth Evans, and Doug Abbott. At the same time I would like to thank my long-suffering relatives and friends who read the manuscript and were polite enough to say they enjoyed it. My cousin, Scott Walbert, gets a special mention because he was the first member of the family to read Pima and he figured out the name of the killer by the middle of the book. I don’t know whether I’ll ever forgive him.

To Sister Rose Kordick, who read many of my writings, pointed out grammatical errors, and was kind enough not to slap my knuckles with a ruler, and to Sharon Knop, who provided invaluable assistance with the final editing of Pima, goes a special note of appreciation.

This book is dedicated to my father, John A. Miller, Sr., who passed away in April, 1995 after many years of being incapacitated. He was able to read Pima, but in later years his vision became too poor to read all of the sequels.

Desert Sky

Pain—sharp, searing pain. It seemed to be concentrated in his right leg, but he couldn’t be completely sure. His stomach ached, too, but that could have been caused by the force of the fall.

Had he fallen? He must have. He could feel the rough soil pressing into his back; feel something sharp stabbing the back of his head—probably a stone. Funny how he couldn’t seem to move his arms; couldn’t lift a hand to get rid of that damned stone.

Slowly the fact that he was hot and thirsty began to register; very hot and very thirsty. Still he couldn’t see anything.

Oh. His eyes were closed. No wonder he couldn’t see. They flickered open to a view of a bright sky with some branches of desert plants intruding into the pristine blueness.

He forced himself to concentrate—a shrub with small, shiny green leaves—creosote bush—now he could smell its acrid odor; some strange-looking, long, thorny sticks protruding from the ground—ocotillo; a tall, green, pleated spire with two or three large arms branching from it—a giant saguaro. There must be more but he couldn’t move his head to look.

His face seemed to be in shade—that was good—but the remainder of his body was baking in the sun. He had to move; had to get out of that blistering heat. He could die from dehydration if he kept lying here.

Why couldn’t he move? He must have fallen hard. A gentle rustle nearby was followed by the appearance of a horse’s nose sniffing at his face. Good. His horse hadn’t run away. Now, if he just could move enough to get back in his saddle. Given her head the horse surely would go directly home.

The horse must have shied at a rattlesnake—normally she was a placid animal not bothered too much by her surroundings. He must have been thrown from the saddle and landed where he now was lying. Surely he couldn’t have walked at all after he was thrown.

That pain in his leg—it must be broken pretty badly. He had no logical explanation for the ache in his gut; probably just had the wind knocked out of him when he fell. An old childhood memory returned of a playmate throwing a rock that hit him in the stomach. That had hurt like this; he had ached for two days. Funny; he hadn’t thought about that in years. Still, nobody could have thrown a rock at him here, could they?

By moving his eyes he was just able to see towering, cinnamon-colored cliffs looming to his left. He began to remember where he was—Sabino Canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Why was he here? That he couldn’t seem to remember, and thinking seemed to make the pain grow worse. He couldn’t even remember falling.

What were his chances of being found? Not very good at this time of year unless some cowboy looking for strays happened by. There was good water in the canyon and the cows liked to wander in here from the ranches down in the valley. Maybe he had told somebody back in Tucson where he was going, or maybe he was going to meet somebody who would get worried when he didn’t arrive and would come looking for him.

Still, why would he have come to this godforsaken canyon in the heat of an Arizona summer afternoon to meet somebody. The canyon ran back into the mountains for several miles but it led nowhere. Its biggest claim to fame was the creek, which tended to flow for much of the year.

Good; the pain in his leg seemed to be fading a bit. Maybe it wasn’t broken after all. He really didn’t know how a broken leg felt; until now he’d never had one. Now that his leg felt a little bit better, that ache in his stomach seemed to be growing worse. Could his horse have kicked him or stepped on him after he fell?

Funny how the sky seemed to be growing darker. It had been brilliant blue a few minutes ago, and surely it still was mid-afternoon. Could he have blacked out for a while from the pain? He did feel a bit dizzy. Was the desert night approaching?

Night seemed to be falling very quickly. He knew that the light didn’t tend to linger too long in a clear sky, but this seemed extreme. He could hear his horse moving around nearby, probably searching for edible foliage among the sparse desert vegetation. At least she hadn’t abandoned him.

It was growing darker. He strained his eyes to see the first stars but none appeared. He always had enjoyed the brilliant display of stars in the desert night sky. If only the pain in his stomach weren’t so bad. The leg barely hurt anymore, and he had become so used to the pricking of that sharp stone at the back of his head that he hardly noticed it.

Now it was totally dark. Strange that he couldn’t see any stars. The sky had been completely clear, and clouds in this part of the desert in the middle of June were very rare.

At least the pain in his gut was beginning to fade.

** ** **

A nondescript brown mare, fully saddled and bridled, cropped what nourishment she could find from the desert vegetation. Nearby lay a thin man of medium height dressed somewhat better than the average; an expensive-looking straw broad-brimmed hat was lying a few feet away as if tossed there carelessly. The man’s eyes were open and he was staring at the desert sky without blinking. Otherwise, he appeared to be asleep in the afternoon sunshine, except for the ominous-looking red stains on his right trouser leg and the front of his tan shirt just above his belt.


Brantley Edwin Gallagher, known as Pima to his friends and all too many of his enemies, pushed open the swinging doors of the Parker House Saloon and stepped into the cool gloom of the barroom. He was carrying a battered suitcase, which he parked under a table before walking to the bar. A shirt-sleeved piano player banged out a honky-tonk tune on an old upright at the back of the room, while a small group of men gathered around a table in the center intent upon a serious-looking poker game. A huge mirror, framed in dark-stained wood to match the rest of the woodwork in the saloon, covered the wall behind the bar and reflected the action of the game. Two cowboys, dusty from the trail, leaned against the bar, occasionally taking pulls from mugs of beer and watching the action reflected in the mirror.

This wasn’t the fanciest saloon in Tucson but it served good beer, and, once in a while, the management even managed to get in a supply of decent whiskey from back east. Pima always felt comfortable here—a place where usually a man could get a good drink, some good food, and some pleasant entertainment. Saturday nights did tend to get a bit rough sometimes, especially if some new group of cowboys had hit town after a roundup, but that all was part of the entertainment.

A very young, thin woman with blond hair, who had been leaning on the piano when he walked into the room, sauntered over to him.

Hi, handsome, she said, when did you get back to town?

Pima feasted his eyes on the huge bosom that, apparently defying all the laws of gravity, pushed out the top of her strapless green dress from her skinny shoulders.

Goldie, you surely are a feast for tired eyes. I just got off the train a few minutes ago; had to take Erwin Younger up to Yuma to the Territorial Prison. He’s the one convicted of tryin’ to steal that silver shipment from the Southern Pacific a few months ago.

You railroad detectives are a brave bunch. She moved closer and pressed a huge breast against his arm.

Now Goldie, it’s the middle of the afternoon and I’m hungry and thirsty. Besides, it’s too hot for that kind of thing right now. Maybe later after the sun goes down.

I’ll be waiting, assuming of course that I don’t get any paying customers.

Well, if you do, I’ll just hang around until they leave.

Pima walked to the bar and ordered a beer and a ham sandwich. Then he sat at the table where he had put his suitcase and watched the group gathered around the poker table. Goldie walked back to talk with the piano player again, and the two cowboys at the bar, after a glance or two in Pima’s direction, resumed their concentration on their beers.

This was the way Pima liked things: a quiet afternoon, a good glass of beer, and nobody bothering him. He pushed back his chair a bit and stretched his legs out under the table as he took a long pull from his mug. The poker players and their audience all seemed intent on the game and paid no attention to him.

Funny, thought Pima as he scratched his mustache pensively, Preston Powers usually is over runnin’ his feed store and bein’ a pain in the ass to his employees. So damned high and mighty most of the time you’d think he was the town’s best businessman and its best rancher to boot. Wonder who those two hombres are playin’ poker with him?

He wasn’t to find out immediately because the door of the saloon banged open and a short, lean man wearing a brown, broad-brimmed straw hat on his head, a Colt Peacemaker strapped to his hip, a copper-colored star pinned to his black vest, and a scowl on his face swaggered into the room and took up a stance next to Pima’s table.

Damn it, Gallagher, what the hell are you doing back in my territory? Sheriff Henry Blystone definitely was not one of Pima’s admirers.

I work here, Sheriff, replied Pima in mock amazement at this interruption.

Bullshit! This is my town. We don’t need any of you damned railroad dicks hanging around here causing trouble for every decent lawman.

Well, maybe if you did a better job, Henry?…

If I could think of any charge—any little charge at all—I’d have you tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. Too bad I can’t convince the good citizens of Tucson to pass a law making insulting the sheriff a hanging offense.

On two previous occasions Pima had managed to apprehend lawbreakers for whom Henry had been searching for months. Each time the sheriff had become a laughingstock and he had never forgiven the tall, muscular, railroad detective for his interference. Added to that was his resentment that Pima towered nearly ten inches above his five-foot-four-inch frame and made him, to his way of thinking, look like a little kid by comparison.

You snot-nosed kid, continued Henry, I ought to lock you up just for being too young to hang out in saloons but we don’t have a law making it illegal for children to drink beer.

Pima laughed—he was all of 32 years old—and offered to buy the sheriff a drink.

I’d sooner die of thirst, was Henry’s acid reply as he headed for the swinging door to the street.

Why do I get the feeling that he don’t like you too much? asked the bartender with a chuckle as he delivered Pima’s ham sandwich to the table.

I can’t imagine what ever could make you think that, Pete? Pima responded with a grin. Why Henry and I go back a long way.

Yep, and he’s hated you the whole time.

Oh, he’s just a sore loser. Just because I stumbled on Erwin Younger holed up in Ventana Canyon when he had checked everywhere else but there. I mean, any man can forget to check a whole big canyon, can’t he?

Don’t forget Billy Schmidt? He’s still sore about that, too; especially since Schmidt was one of his hand-picked deputies.

Well, he’s just got to learn to pick his people better. Deputies who work nights stealin’ cattle off freight cars ain’t necessarily the best of employees. Pima took a big bite out of his sandwich. I declare, Pete, you still make the best ham sandwich in town.

Thanks, Pima. Just be sure to tell that to everybody else you meet. I can use the business. The bartender returned to his post and began to wash glasses.

At that moment the poker game broke up and the audience began to disperse. The man Pima knew as Preston Powers gathered up a small pile of money from the table and said, Better luck next time, boys. Now I’ve got to get back to my store. I can’t let those employees of mine out of my sight for more than a few minutes or business will fall apart. He stood and walked out of the saloon, followed closely by the two other poker players.

One of the men who had been watching the game stopped by Pima’s table. Welcome back to town, Pima. I heard old Blystone giving you a pile of horseshit a few minutes ago. I’ll tell you, if it came to a choice between him or you looking for outlaws, it’d be you every time as far as I’m concerned.

Thanks, Marcus, Pima said, I appreciate the compliment. However, my main job with the railroad is to guard valuable cargo and make sure it gets where it’s supposed to. Catchin’ outlaws is just somethin’ I have to do once in a while.

Why don’t you run for sheriff yourself and replace that idiot?

Well, I might win and then I’d be tied down doin’ paperwork. Never did cotton to that as a way of life. By the way, who were those two hombres playin’ poker with old Powers? Don’t think I ever saw them around here before. Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever saw Powers in here in the afternoon playin’ poker before.

I’m not sure. I think they’re up from Tombstone. You’re right about Powers, though. I’m surprised he’d leave his store unsupervised for that long. He’s always afraid his employees will go to sleep on the job or rob him blind if he’s not there to watch them all the time. I know a couple of them pretty well and they say he’s a pain in the ass.

A lot of money in that game? Pima motioned toward the now-empty table.

No, just penny-ante stuff as far as I could tell. We were just watching to pass the time of day. Nothing exciting.

Pima made a mental note to keep an eye on Preston Powers when he had the chance. One thing a detective learned early was that a sudden change in somebody’s habits could indicate something a bit unsavory going on.

Well, he said, I guess I’d better get back to the boardin’ house and get my bag unpacked. I surely am glad to be back in town, though. Too damned hot on that train and even worse in Yuma. He picked up his suitcase and walked out into the bright afternoon.

** ** **

Pima rented a room in a sprawling adobe house about three blocks from the Parker House Saloon. It was convenient for him, both for access to his favorite bar and to his office, which was in the railroad depot just across the street from the Parker House. His landlady, Ellen Walker, was a widow just a year younger than he. Ever since her husband, who had worked in a bank, had been shot to death during a holdup three years before, she had been taking in boarders and also working at home as a seamstress for a local dress shop to make ends meet.

As Pima opened the gate into the dusty yard outside the house a slender child clad in shirt, jeans, boots, and broad-brimmed hat raced up, threw a pair of thin arms around him, and shouted, Pima’s back! Pima’s back!

A tall, good-looking, blond woman came out of the house, wiping her hands on her apron, and said, Now Betsy, you leave poor Mr. Gallagher get inside before you start beating him up. Young ladies are supposed to act dignified in public, not like little hooligans.

Turning to Pima, she added, I declare, that child will drive me crazy someday.

The young girl unwrapped her arms from around Pima, grabbed his suitcase, and lugged it into the house.

Now don’t you worry, Ellen, Pima said. She’s a happy child. I’d rather see her actin’ like a cowboy sometimes than walkin’ around in a long, lacy dress bein’ all stuffy and girl-like.

What’s the matter? Don’t you think girls should act like girls?

Oh, there’ll be plenty of time when she’s grown up for that. Let her have her fun now while she can.

The child came out of the house and walked beside Pima, trying to imitate his long stride.

Now Scout, he asked, have you been protectin’ your ma and takin’ care of the homestead while I’ve been gone? Pima always called Betsy Scout, and she loved the nickname. When he had first met her he told her that his horse was named Betsy, and it was easier for a person to handle a new name than it was for a horse.

Yes, Scout replied, no Apaches or robbers attacked the whole time. But I’m mad at you.

Why’s that?

You were away over my eleventh birthday.

Well honey, Pima said ruffling her short, blond hair with his hand, I really couldn’t help that. I had to take a bad man away to Yuma to prison. Then I had some other railroad business to take care of there before I could come home. Still, I didn’t forget your birthday. Let’s go inside. I think there’s somethin’ in my suitcase for you.

You didn’t get me something silly like a doll or anything, did you?

No, I promise that it ain’t somethin’ silly like a doll. I think it’ll be just right for a cowgirl like you.

** ** **

Inside the house Pima opened his suitcase and brought out a small package wrapped in brightly colored cloth. He turned to Scout and said, Now you’ve got to try to guess what this is before you unwrap it.

Can I hold it first?

Yep, I reckon you can.

Scout took the package, felt it, and shook it. The shaking produced a small jingle.

Well, I guess it ain’t a doll, anyway. Dolls don’t make noises like that. I can’t guess what it is, though.

Then open it and see.

Quickly stripping off the cloth Scout stared in wide-eyed wonder at a pair of silver spurs just the right size for the heels of her boots.

Oh, Pima, she gasped, they’re beautiful. Can I put them on?

You surely can, child, but remember, you don’t dig them into Apache’s sides or I’ll take them back. You only have to touch him with them to remind him that you want to go faster. Apache was Scout’s beloved small pinto, a gift from her father shortly before he was killed.

I promise. You know I’d never hurt Apache. Scout ran to her room to remove her boots and try to attach the spurs.

Throughout this exchange Ellen had stood to one side smiling. You know, she really loves you, she said.

Yep. I do know that. A little gal like that needs a pa in her life. Too bad that coyote shot Frank just when she was beginnin’ to need him most.

Their eyes met briefly and then both of them looked quickly at the floor. They were good friends—some nights much more than friends—but whenever the subject of the future came up they always tiptoed carefully around it.

Well, said Pima, "I think I’m goin’ to take