Deserved Death by John A. Miller, Jr. by John A. Miller, Jr. - Read Online

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Summary

What could be more fun than a deer hunting trip to the mountains near Prescott, Arizona in November, 1895? At least it seems that way to Southern Pacific Railroad Detective Pima Gallagher, his 12-year-old stepdaughter, Scout Walker, and several other family members and friends until one of the group ends up with a knife in the back. Complicating matters are a howling blizzard and the sudden appearance of three murdering outlaws. With Pima slogging through the snow chasing outlaws and Scout hot on Pima’s trail things go from bad to worse until Pima and Scout’s survival hangs by a thread.

Back home in Tucson with the original murder unsolved, Scout, afraid she’s going to be accused of the murder, runs away to a nearby mission to hide. Finally, everything is resolved but not until after a confession of murder from a most unexpected source.

Published: John A. Miller, Jr. on
ISBN: 9781466103580
List price: $4.99
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In Sickness and in Health

On a prosperous-looking farm in central Mississippi a young man guided a plow being drawn by two stubborn but hard-working mules. He had not felt particularly good that morning when he cooked his modest breakfast—come to think of it he hadn’t been feeling too good for the past several days—but the plowing had to be done if he wanted to get in an early crop. The early spring sun blazed down from the hazy blue sky. Suddenly the world began to sway before the man. Where once there had only been two mules, now there seemed to be three or four. Then his feet no longer seemed to be under him. As his hands slipped from the plow and he pitched forward onto his face in the rich, black soil the mules, sensing that their master was no longer controlling their movements, stopped and waited patiently for some direction and guidance. Humans were unpredictable creatures but the mules had nothing better to do and could wait as long as necessary until this one once again paid attention to them.

More than an hour passed during which the mules stood quietly in their harness and several curious birds hopped around the prone body of the young man, trying to figure out why he was in such a very unusual position. Only a very careful observer would have been able to detect the shallow breathing that differentiated the man’s inactivity from the total stillness of death. An old, black man, with white hair and a craggy face that apparently had seen all too many of the bad aspects of life and all too few of the good, passed along the roadway, a dirt track that was separated from the field by the split rail fence that the young man had built with his own hands several seasons earlier. First the passerby observed the incongruous sight of two mules hitched to a plow at the end of a furrow with nobody around to guide them. Then he noticed the inert object lying on the ground behind the plow; putting down his bundles he climbed the fence and hurried to provide assistance.

** ** **

More than twelve hundred miles to the west two large decorated wagons along with several tents sat forlornly on a plot of ground near the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot in Tucson, Arizona. Each wagon was painted bright red with gold trim and wheel spokes, and on the side of each, in large, fancy, dark blue letters outlined with gold, was painted Dr. Horace Blenheim’s Traveling Medicine and Wild West Show. The entire area was surrounded by a makeshift barrier made up of ropes and stakes and inside that barrier there was a smaller enclosure off to one side that defined what appeared to be some sort of arena. Nobody was in sight—the traveling medicine and wild west show was closed for the day.

The town of Tucson, with a population of approximately ten thousand souls, some virtuous and a greater number anything but, lies near the northern edge of the vast Sonoran Desert. However, someone unfamiliar with the area would not have been easily convinced that they were in any sort of desert: it was raining hard and there was a definite chill in the air. However, the current deluge, while not unusual for February, would soon cease. Even though it was raining hard now, the total rainfall for the entire year probably would not exceed twelve to fifteen inches.

Inside an office that occupied one corner of the railroad depot sat a man in his early thirties with light-brown hair and a matching mustache. Pima Gallagher, who generally avoided using his real first and middle names, which were Brantley and Edwin, sat at his desk and reviewed a report he had just written for his boss. Pima was a detective for the Southern Pacific and he had to file regular status reports with his supervisor, George Lucas, who was based in El Paso, Texas. It had been a rather slow week for troubles that involved him and Pima was searching for words to make it appear that he had been earning his salary. He only had to worry about his detective duties; the stationmaster, Frank Smith, took care of formally reporting any maintenance or equipment problems in the Tucson district.

In a previous week Pima had reported that the body of a young woman had been discovered lying on the embankment along the right-of-way near the railroad bridge over the Rillito River about seven miles north of town. The woman had been strangled and apparently thrown from a passing train. Although Pima had a positive identification of the body he still had not determined exactly why or by whom she had been murdered. Eventually he would find out—usually one did—but so far he had nothing to report.

Pima stood by the window and watched the rain streak the glass. Normally he didn’t mind this kind of weather because Tucson got it so seldom, but today he had been hoping to make some minor repairs to the adobe walls of his house and in this downpour that was impossible.

Oh, well, soon his eleven-year-old stepdaughter, Scout Walker, would stop by the office on her way home from school. Scout acted as his part-time secretary. Because her handwriting was so much better than his he would have her copy the report, as brief as it was, and then he would send the copy to George by the evening train. Also, maybe Scout would have some suggestions as to what else he might add. Someday perhaps the railroad would provide him with one of those newfangled typewriters for his office, but so far handwriting was his only option.

** ** **

Deep snow blanketed the mountains southwest of Prescott, Arizona. A young doe, her belly swollen with her soon-to-be-born fawn, stepped daintily through the drifts, nibbling at tender branches and buds on the still-barren trees. Occasionally she would pause to chew on an aromatic evergreen bough from one of the numerous junipers that dotted the area and added a touch of color to the black and white landscape.

Instinctively she knew that she must eat as much as possible to sustain the burgeoning life within her. However, she was incapable of considering the risks that the future might bring: freezing or starving because of the brutal cold and snow at this high elevation, attack by a lion or coyote, thirst because of the coming summer’s dryness, sickness from any number of causes, or death from an Indian’s arrow or a hunter’s bullet.

Survival of the fittest was the law of the forest. Mule deer had been dealing with most of these hazards for millennia. The wild card in the deck was the hunter’s bullet, because humans killed not only for food and clothing but also for trophies and for that activity incomprehensible to most other creatures, sport.

Already these former mountain fastnesses had been visited by hunting parties from the towns who were intent upon securing the finest specimens for their trophy cases. As if that were not enough, loggers had come through several times to remove the forest’s old-growth timber for mine shaft supports and railroad ties and trestles, not to mention lumber for houses and logs for firewood.

The shelter afforded by the dense forest was rapidly being destroyed although in this area, because local growth had slowed somewhat when the territorial capital moved out of Prescott, the wooded area still provided some measure of security.

A Matter of Wills

Jefferson Gallagher, I swear you’re just doing this to make me upset, the weeping young woman said bitterly.

Now, Belle, groaned the pale young man lying in the bed, I would never do a thing like that to you. I really am sick. I don’t know what’s wrong but Dr. Carter says he thinks it might be dangerous. You know I collapsed out there when I was busy plowing my field last week; I got a sudden headache and then just came all over lightheaded and couldn’t stand up. When I woke up I was lying in the mud behind my mules. If it wouldn’t have been for old Ben Marlowe finding me I might still be lying there.

What was that old, black busybody doing hanging around your place, anyway?

Belle Barton, that’s no way to talk. Just because Ben used to be a slave doesn’t mean he isn’t a good neighbor now. He’s been a good friend to me, too. He taught me a lot about farming.

All right, I’m sorry but I’m so worried about you being sick and all that. I wish Brantley had stayed around here instead of running off to that damned Arizona or wherever he is to play at being a detective. His place is here on the family farm. Also, that outrageous nickname he uses—what is it, Pima, or something like that? I ask you, what kind of name is that for a white man? It sounds like a name for a wild Indian.

I don’t know, but you know Brantley. He always was stubborn and would have his own way, just like you. The woman glared at her brother as he broke into a loud fit of coughing; several minutes passed before he recovered sufficiently to continue the conversation.

Belle said, Maybe Dr. Carter is wrong—doctors often are, you know—and you’ll be all right. You’ve probably got just a little touch of something and soon you’ll recover.

Perhaps I will recover. Certainly I don’t plan to die if I don’t have to, but still I want to settle my affairs just in case.

Oh, Jefferson, don’t talk like that. I won’t have it.

What you will or won’t have probably means very little to God or whoever is running my life for me right now. Did you ask Jim to bring his lawyer out here to help me make out my will?

Yes, I did, although I hated doing it. He and the lawyer should be here in a few minutes; Jim just had a bit of business to finish up at the bank before leaving. I wish you wouldn’t talk about making a will, though. It’s bad luck to plan for your own death.

No, Belle, it’s not. If I don’t make a will and I do die, it could be a long time before you and Brantley get my few assets. I wonder what Brantley is doing with himself now?

Lord, I wish I knew, but whatever it is I know I probably wouldn’t approve.

No, I guess you wouldn’t. You never were the most tolerant person. Maybe that’s why Brantley left home; he never did get along with you. You’re a good person, Belle, in your own way but you can be a bit trying at times.

Well, I never! Jefferson, sometimes you can be the most exasperating person…

Oh, don’t make such a fuss, Belle. Ow! There’s that sharp pain in my head again and I’m beginning to feel dizzy. I hope Jim and the lawyer get here soon. Again Jeff broke into a fit of severe coughing. After the coughing subsided he lay his head back against the pillow and closed his eyes.

Just then a door slammed and footsteps could be heard in an outer room of the house. A few moments later the door to the simply furnished bedroom opened and a tall, blond man entered followed immediately by a much shorter, dark-haired man with a pinched face and a black, waxed mustache. The first man spoke to the woman, Hello, darling, I’m sorry we couldn’t get here sooner but Harley was in the middle of a meeting with an important client and he couldn’t leave until he finished.

The woman stood and embraced the man who had spoken. Then she said, Hello, Mr. Johnson. I’m sorry we had to rush you out here like this but Jefferson is worried that he’s going to die soon and he wants to make his will.

When Belle had finished, the man on the bed opened his eyes and said, Mr. Johnson, I’m afraid that my problem may be worse than my sister thinks. Dr. Carter is very concerned about my condition and I want to get all my affairs in order just in case something does happen to me.

The attorney glanced furtively around the small, plain room as if looking for someplace to hide. Then he said in a quiet voice that almost could not be heard even in the still surroundings, A very good thing to get your affairs in order, Mr. Gallagher, even if your health is excellent and, of course, yours apparently is not. One never knows when he or she will be called home to a better place. Unfortunately the law doesn’t always recognize the will of the Lord so it is always better to have a will of your own. Harley Johnson chuckled at his own little legal joke and then stopped abruptly when he observed that nobody else was laughing. I’m sorry, Mr. Gallagher. Just attempting to lighten the mood. Now what distribution of your assets did you have in mind?

I don’t have a lot but I’d like to split everything equally between my sister, Belle, here and my brother, Brantley Edwin Gallagher, who’s living somewhere in Arizona, I believe in Tucson. He’s a detective for the Southern Pacific Railroad, or at least he was the last time we heard, and goes by the nickname of Pima. I guess he thought Brantley was too highfalutin for those Arizona cowboys.

Is there anyone else?

Well, I would like to leave a hundred dollars to old Ben Marlowe. He always was a good neighbor and he taught me a lot about farming. Other than that Belle and Brantley are the only relatives I’ve got left in the world.

How about this farm?

The farm was left to the three of us by our father when he died. If I pass on, it will be up to Belle and Brantley to decide whether they want to continue running it or whether they want to sell out. Of course at that point my share would be divided between them.

Very well, Mr. Gallagher. I’ll draw up the document as quickly as I can and I’ll bring it to you for your signature. Now let me see; today is Friday. Will Monday be all right?

Monday will be fine. As you can see I’m not particularly expecting to be doing much of anything else except lying here. I wouldn’t make it any later than that, though. I might not be around for too much longer.

Oh, I shouldn’t worry, Mr. Gallagher. I expect that you’ll be with us for many years to come.

After some discussion about Jeff’s condition and a further clarification of his assets, Jim Barton and Harley Johnson took their leave and rode back toward town. Belle remained behind to care for her invalid brother.

** ** **

Belle, I wish you’d stop fussing so. You’re driving me crazy. Jeff Gallagher reprimanded his sister for what seemed to him the thousandth time as she once again straightened his pillow.

Now, Jefferson, I only want you to be comfortable.

I am comfortable. If I were any more comfortable I’d never want to get well, but this constant obsession of yours with moving things and adjusting things and generally being a pain is just too much for me to handle right now. Please sit and talk to me or read a book or do something, but let me alone.

Belle Barton wiped a tear from her cheek and sniffed, You don’t appreciate what I’m trying to do for you. You and Brantley always were that way. I’d work my fingers to the bone trying to please the two of you and what would happen? You’d complain that I was bothering you. I swear that I don’t know what to do with either one of you.

Well, at least you can’t drive Brantley crazy right now because he had the good sense to move to Arizona. I’ll never understand how Jim manages to put up with you.

He’s a good husband; that’s how. He understands me and my needs.

Sometimes I think the man must be some kind of saint.

Oh, he is in his own special way.

That’s good. He needs to be to deal with your fussing. Did he say what time he and Harley Johnson will be here with my will?

Jefferson, I wish you wouldn’t go on so about that will. You’re not going to die.

All right, Belle, maybe I’m not. I do feel much better today but I still want to sign that thing even if I’m around for another hundred years.

I expect that they’ll be arriving any time now. Oh, I think I hear somebody at the door. The squeak of the hinges on the front door of the small house carried through into the bedroom. A few moments later Jim Barton and his attorney entered the room.

In his very soft voice Harley Johnson began to speak almost immediately. Mr. Gallagher, you look much improved today. I’m glad to see that in one of my clients. After all, your good health means that you’ll be around to do business with me for a longer time. He chuckled at his own attempt at levity but stopped abruptly when he saw the black look that Belle cast in his direction.

Ahem! Well, anyway, Mr. Gallagher, I have here a copy of your last will and testament for you to sign. Also, I have brought along two witnesses, a member of my office staff and his wife, who aren’t named as beneficiaries. They are waiting outside but I’ll call them in when you are ready.

Thank you, Mr. Johnson. May I read over the document before I sign it?

Of course. In fact, I wouldn’t want you to sign without doing so.

Jeff took the will from the attorney’s hand and began to read it carefully. Let’s see. You’ve provided a bequest of one hundred dollars for Benjamin Marlowe. That’s good. Then you’ve split everything else equally between Belle and Brantley. Yes, that’s what I wanted. Very good, Mr. Johnson. If you bring in your assistants I’m ready to sign.

Harley left the room for a moment and then returned followed closely by a young man, obviously a clerk, and an equally young woman. He introduced the pair as Martin and Jessamine Baker. After Jeff signed three copies of the will Harley covered the text of each copy with a blank sheet of paper and passed it first to Martin and then to Jessamine, both of whom affixed their signatures immediately below Jeff’s. Then the young couple stepped back against the wall while Jeff thanked them for their assistance.

Now, Mr. Gallagher, Harley asked, what are your plans?

"I’m not exactly sure. Dr. Carter was here earlier and said that I’m recovering much better than he thought I would. He thinks I may be able to get out of this bed by tomorrow. However, he has forbidden me to work the farm any longer. He says my heart is too weak to stand up to the strain.

I have been thinking that maybe I’d sell the farm unless, Belle, you and Jim want to run it yourselves. Belle grimaced. Being a farmer or a farmer’s wife definitely didn’t fit in with her social position.

Jeff continued, If I do sell, though, the money will be split evenly three ways. I had Jim make some inquiries for me,—Jim nodded and Belle gave him a look as if to say that she didn’t approve of his doing such a thing without consulting her—"and he has found that Mr. L’Hereaux, the man who recently purchased the old Marlowe plantation next door, is interested in buying the land. Also, the railroad wants to buy a right-of-way along the river bank for a large sum.

The offers are excellent; we’d all make a healthy amount of money. I wouldn’t have to worry about working for a long time. Maybe I’d even do some traveling.

Oh, Jefferson, Belle interrupted, who would take care of you, especially if you have a weak heart?

Now Belle, I don’t need anybody to take care of me. Apparently I’m just not able to work the farm anymore.

Well, then, why don’t you move in with Jim and me? I’ll look after you.

That’s what I’m afraid of. If you didn’t kill me with kindness I’d be crazy in a week.

Harley Johnson chuckled again and suffered another of Belle’s black looks.

At any rate, Jeff continued, I talked with Mr. L’Hereaux yesterday. He’s willing to pay what Jim and I think is a fair price.

Jim Barton said, Jeff, you certainly are welcome to stay with us in town,—he cast a quick glance at his wife—but I can understand that it might be difficult for you to adjust. If you travel have you thought about where you might go?

Yes, I’m considering writing to Brantley in Arizona and visiting him for a while if he’ll have me.

Jefferson, there are wild Indians out there. You’ll come back home without a scalp, Belle said, shocked at the idea.

Oh, come now, Belle, the Apaches have been subdued and besides, I don’t think they scalped people. Anyway, if I’m scalped I doubt that I’ll be coming back home.

Belle gave a little shriek while the others in the room smiled at her discomfort. Her face turned red when she realized that she had been the butt of a joke, but she decided that she had better not comment or she would be victimized again.

Belle, Jeff apologized, I’m sorry but you did rather ask for it. Would you be so kind as to get me my pen and some paper? I’d like to write to Brantley, or I guess I should start calling him Pima, right now.

Oh, all right, Jefferson Gallagher, but I still don’t know why you want to go to that godforsaken place and be around all those uncivilized gunslingers. I certainly would not. Belle left the room in search of writing paper.

As he turned to leave, Harley Johnson said to Jeff, Mr. Gallagher, if you are planning to sell your property to Mr. L’Hereaux would you like me to draw up the papers?

Yes, Mr. Johnson. I would like that. Perhaps you could drop by with them tomorrow? You’d better draw up papers for that railroad right-of-way also.

Certainly. It will be a simple process. I’ll fill in the purchase amounts when they are decided.

Thank you, Mr. Johnson. Now if you don’t mind I think I’ll write that letter and then get some rest.

Belle returned, placed a small bed table in front of her invalid brother, handed him pen, ink, and paper, and then followed the others out of the room.

News from the South

March arrived and the Tucson weather improved considerably. Scout Walker was hobbling around her house on crutches, her wounded leg heavily bandaged and splinted. She had sustained the wound helping Pima clear up the murder of the young woman whose body had been found along the railroad right-of-way the previous month.

Although she still had some pain, especially when her mother changed the bandages and bathed her leg, Scout was enjoying