Scout's Honor by John A. Miller, Jr. by John A. Miller, Jr. - Read Online



Why is 13-year-old Scout Walker first hiding out in a mountaintop cave and then working in the copper mining town of Bisbee, Arizona disguised as a 16-year-old messenger boy during the autumn of 1896? Her stepfather, Southern Pacific Railroad Detective Pima Gallagher, is up to his ears in problems dealing with inexplicable rail shipments at the same time he’s busy searching for the runaway girl.

Will Scout be able to maintain her disguise while remaining hidden from her family, or will she become just another victim of a mining accident before Pima is able to locate and rescue her?

Published: John A. Miller, Jr. on
ISBN: 9781465706669
List price: $4.99
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Scout's Honor - John A. Miller, Jr.

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A Policeman's Lot

Dick Lester strolled slowly along the boardwalk that bordered the dusty street. Resplendent in his dark blue policeman’s uniform he surreptitiously brushed his shiny badge with the cuff of his sleeve. Although he never seemed to care too much about the appearance of his clothing when in civilian attire or when working as a deputy sheriff, something always seemed to come over him whenever he assumed his role as a Tucson policeman. Then he became the picture of sartorial perfection—a model straight from the pages of a uniform catalog.

Darkness was falling over the town of Tucson, Arizona, bringing welcome relief from the sweltering heat of the day. Dick walked slowly, partially because the heat made fast walking uncomfortable and partially because he never walked fast when he could do otherwise. Although both a policeman and deputy sheriff, he would never be cited for overambition. Climbing through the ranks was not one of his goals in life. He was a reasonably competent and honest officer of the law but not one who would ever set the world on fire.

As he approached the depot belonging to the Southern Pacific Railroad, Dick noticed another pedestrian some yards ahead. The man was clad in an expensive-looking, dark gray suit and sported a matching broad-brimmed hat. At first Dick thought the man might be making for the passenger platform although there were no trains scheduled at this hour, but then the man stepped quickly off toward the freight sidings where he soon disappeared between two parallel strings of parked boxcars and flatcars.

Why would such a well-dressed person be walking through the freight yard? It didn’t make much sense, especially as it was almost dark and this was not necessarily the safest part of town. Hobos occasionally hung out in this area, although their jungle was some distance farther east, and there had been occasional robberies of unwary citizens who had foolishly chosen the freight yard as a nighttime shortcut to their destinations. Dick decided to follow quietly, partially to find out what the man was doing and partially to provide some degree of protection for him, should he be attacked.

Strange. There seemed to be something familiar about the man, maybe in the set of his shoulders or the way he walked. Also, this was a rather odd part of town for such an obviously affluent citizen to be walking. There were few residences in the area and what there were belonged to a much poorer class of society.

The moon was rising over the Rincon Mountains to the east but the sharp shadows cast by the line of boxcars kept the area where Dick was walking in almost total darkness. In some ways he was glad for the lack of illumination; this way nobody could see the dust that he knew was gathering on his shiny black shoes. Somewhere nearby a dog barked. Otherwise silence reigned, curious in a town of several thousand people. It seemed that everyone had paused in what they were doing in order to savor the gathering dusk.

A slight rustle from one side caused Dick to turn swiftly in that direction. Suddenly he felt a hot burning sensation in his back between his ribs, followed almost immediately by a sharp, searing pain. The pain was on his left side; could it be his heart? The glittering stars overhead grew blurry and then faded out as he pitched forward onto his face, scratching his shiny badge on the gravel ballast that covered the ground between the rails.

** ** **

The rising sun was already pumping heat into the dry, desert air when Pima Gallagher, local detective for the Southern Pacific, crawled from his bed and looked out the bedroom window to greet the day. A pleasant breeze wafted through the open window of the sprawling adobe house but Pima knew that the window would have to be closed in about two more hours or the air temperature inside would become unbearable. As long as outside air was kept outside during the hottest part of the day, the thick adobe walls would help keep the inside temperature quite pleasant, especially when coupled with the low humidity.

Pima’s wife, Ellen, opened her eyes and smiled up at her husband. How does the weather look? she asked, stretching and yawning at the same time.

Looks like another hot one today, he replied. A rustling sound from a large crib in one corner of the room followed by the sharp cry of a small baby caused him to turn his attention in that direction. In a few moments the crying of a second child joined that of the first. Ellen rose quickly and hurried to attend to their twins, Maria and Jeff, now more than four months old. It was feeding time and she knew that she would be unable to attend to her own needs or, indeed, have any peace at all until their appetites had been satisfied. She hoped soon to be able to begin giving them some solid food, although for the moment her breasts provided their only source of nourishment.

In her own room Ellen’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Scout Walker, heard the crying and tried to blot out the sound by burying her head under the pillow. It was bad enough that she had to get up early, or what she considered early, for school, but to be awakened most mornings even earlier than absolutely necessary was maddening. She really tried to tolerate the little brats but there were times, especially on a morning for which she had made big plans about changing her life, when she wanted to use them for target practice. Anyway, it was time to get out of bed and get dressed. She would leave for school as usual but hide nearby and watch the house. Scout planned to sneak home as soon as Pima departed for his office at the railroad depot and her mother put the twins into their double carriage and pushed them to her dress shop. There Ellen would help her business partner, Maria Gonzales, open for the day. At that time Scout planned to change out of her hated school dress into her jeans and boots, load supplies on her little pinto, Apache, and put the remainder of her plan into execution.

** ** **

It was nearly eight o’clock when Pima finally walked out his front door and headed for the depot. He was in no particular rush because, for a change, there was no backlog of work waiting for him on his desk. As he approached the depot he decided to take a stroll around the freight yard, something he did as frequently as possible since there had been several recent incidents with troublesome hobos causing damage to parked freight cars.

Walking along between two strings of mixed boxcars and flatcars Pima noticed a dark object lying on the ground about fifty yards ahead. It appeared to be a large sack. As he drew closer he realized that it was a human body. Breaking into a run he was soon kneeling beside the prone body of Dick Lester. A dark patch stained the back of Dick’s uniform around the jutting handle of a knife. At first the man seemed to be dead but Pima was relieved to feel a feeble pulse in his wrist. Leaping to his feet he ran back toward the depot to summon assistance.

** ** **

He’ll live, Doc Reilly said in his naturally caustic way while rolling down his shirt sleeves after attending to Dick Lester’s wound.

When will we be able to question him about what happened? Pima asked. Standing next to him were Pima County Sheriff Henry Blystone and Carter Ford, town marshal of Tucson.

Oh, you can ask him all the questions you want right now, Doc Reilly replied. Of course, he probably won’t answer, considering that he’s still unconscious.

Well, when will he be conscious? Henry interjected.

How the hell should I know? I only patch them up. I’m not God.

When can he go back to work? Ford asked.

Christ! Can’t you let a man recover before you try to put him back out on patrol? All right, I’d say at least a month. He’s lost a lot of blood although it seems that the knife missed any vital organs. It’s good that knife stayed in the wound. The blade kept most of the blood from leaking out. If the man who stabbed him had taken his knife you’d probably be out looking for a new employee.

Doc Reilly pulled on his old, black coat. The garment, worn shiny with age, was as much a part of the doctor as his grizzled, salt-and-pepper mustache and his black derby hat. If I were you I’d move him out of here—the doctor looked around him at the bordering freight cars—as soon as I could. That sun ain’t getting any cooler and it’ll soon be high enough that those box cars ain’t going to cast much of a shadow.

All right, Henry said. We’ll get him to the hospital as soon as we can bring in a wagon to carry him.

Just be careful that you don’t disturb that bandage and you move him carefully. He could still die from internal bleeding if you jostle him too much.

We’ll be careful. We wouldn’t like to lose him.

Good. I doubt he’d like that, either. Doc Reilly picked up his black bag and walked jauntily away.

Well, this happened in your territory so I guess it’s as much your case as it is ours, Henry said to Pima.

Yep, and I was just thinkin’ this mornin’ how lucky I was because I didn’t have any paperwork clutterin’ my desk.

Ford said, You’ll have plenty now, especially if the railroad is as big a pain in the ass about that stuff as the town fathers of Tucson.

They do their best. I guess I’d better go get a wagon. Pima turned to leave and then stopped suddenly. What’s that? he muttered. Then he bent to examine something glittering on the ground in an area that the sunlight had just reached.

What did you find? Ford asked.

Looks like a twenty-dollar gold piece. Pima picked up the object and examined it closely. It seems to have a tiny hole near the edge. Could have been attached to a chain or somethin’. I got a magnifyin’ glass back in my desk. Maybe it’ll show some scratches.

I doubt whether Dick had anything like that. Do you think it belonged to the man that attacked him?

Hard to tell. I sure wish it was possible to tell who was the last person to touch somethin’. It would be a big help to law enforcement.

Leaving Home

Tall, cinnamon-stick spires stabbed the skyline ahead. Rose-colored rocks rimmed the canyon walls on either side. Mica flakes embedded in the stony surfaces glittered golden, reflecting the blinding sunshine. The sandy streambed snaked its way through the narrow defile like the track of a giant sidewinder rattlesnake, gouged into the barren boulders of the canyon floor.

At first glance the land appeared barren and lifeless, but closer observation revealed tiny creatures scurrying from dark place to dark place, trying to minimize their exposure to the fierce heat. A lizard paused on a sunbaked sheet of stone to look back over its shoulder, then hurried away into the relative coolness of a nearby shadow. Ocotillos and palo verdes had shed their leaves to conserve moisture; cacti hoarded precious liquid beneath their waxy skins; all warm-blooded creatures, except for a few slowly circling hawks and vultures, hid from the fiery furnace of noon in deeply dug burrows. Nature was observing its midday siesta.

Scout had put her plan into motion, loaded supplies onto her horse, and ridden away from home completely unobserved. Now she led Apache along a barely noticeable trail that bordered the soft gravel and sand. She tried her best to keep to hard surfaces, sunbaked soil and rock, in order not to leave tracks, although she knew that a good tracker would be able to spot the little unavoidable signs of her passage: the misplaced stones, the broken twigs, and the scuffed earth. Would Pima and, possibly, Henry be able to follow? She hoped not.

It was an unusually hot day for the Sonoran Desert in mid-autumn. The blistering heat seared her exposed skin. The girl sipped sparingly from her canteen, which was growing alarmingly light in weight. The water had to last at least until nightfall when the cool air would reduce the rate of perspiration from her pores. She hoped fervently that Apache would be able to tolerate the heat and not falter along the lonely pathway to the mountain highlands. If they were lucky there would be water in the stream once they had worked their way deeper into the canyon.

Under normal circumstances she would have avoided travel during the worst heat of the day, but these were not normal circumstances. She had to get as far as possible from her family in a short time; maybe in that way they would be discouraged from trying to follow her.

Did she dislike them? Certainly not. She loved both her mother and her stepfather to distraction. Scout wasn’t trained in the relatively new science of psychology and, even had she been, probably would not have realized that her reactions were based upon simple jealousy. She had been the only child for so long; now a tiny boy and girl had usurped her place as the dominant person in her parents’ lives. She adored her brother and sister when she wasn’t annoyed by their early morning crying, but she felt she could no longer live in a house where she constantly seemed to be ignored and unwanted.

If she could only reach the high forests unobserved. There would be water and abundant game; she could survive there indefinitely or at least until she could think of an alternate plan.

She lifted her wide-brimmed hat and ran her hand through her short, blond hair. Her hair was damp with perspiration and, even though it had been sheltered from the sun by the woven straw, the skin of her forehead was hot to the touch. Her lips felt as dry as leather, her tongue seemed to be swelling to fill her mouth, and her throat resisted all attempts to swallow. She glanced again at the canteen that bounced against Apache’s saddle but she decided to wait as long as she could before taking her next sip of life-sustaining water.

** ** **

Dick Lester’s eyelids fluttered open to a view of a young woman in a white dress and a white starched cap. Observing the woman’s beauty he muttered, God, I must have died and gone to Heaven. However, a sudden pain from the wound in his back caused him to wince noticeably and to reconsider where he might be at the moment.

The nurse saw his movement. Good afternoon, Mr. Lester. How are we feeling today?

Well, I don’t know how you’re feeling but I feel pretty rotten. Where am I?

You’re in the hospital.

What am I doing in the hospital? A pause while he thought. I remember a sharp pain on my left side. Did my heart give out?

No, you were found in the railroad yard this morning with a knife sticking in your back.

A knife. But how…?

Now, Mr. Lester, you just relax for a moment. The doctor says you’ll be just fine.

The marshal; the sheriff; Pima. I’ve got to talk to them.

Please relax. They’re all waiting outside. I’ll call them for you. However, you must promise to take it easy or I’ll have to send them away.

All right, nurse, I’ll behave. Just send them in.

Howdy, Dick, Pima said as he approached the bed. How are you feelin’?

Damned poorly, Pima. My back hurts like all get out.

Maybe you shouldn’t use your back for testing knives, Henry Blystone said, coming up on the other side of the bed.

Yes, it’s hard on the uniform, too, Carter Ford added as he walked to Henry’s side.

Damn! I suppose you’ll take it out of my pay, Dick said.

No. I’ll let you get away with it this time, Ford chuckled. Just don’t let it happen again. The department budget is pretty strained this time of year.

What happened? Henry asked. Pima found you this morning lying between two strings of freight cars.

I’m not sure. I was following some well-dressed gent toward the depot when he turned and walked up between those cars. I guess he was trying to take a shortcut somewhere, although I can’t for the life of me figure out what a gent like him was doing in the freight yard.

Why in the name of all that’s holy did you follow him?

It was almost dark and I was afraid some hobos might see him and jump him for his money. He looked like he might be carrying some.

So instead, they jumped you.

I guess that’s what must have happened. Maybe they got us confused in the dark. Did you find anything of the well-dressed gent?

Nothin’ except a twenty-dollar gold piece that he probably dropped durin’ the attack. It seems to be pierced for a watch chain or somethin’, Pima said. Was he carryin’ somethin’ like that?

I don’t know. I never saw him from the front.

So you don’t have any idea who he was, Ford added.

No. Funny thing, though. Something about him seemed familiar but I can’t put my finger on what it was. The last I saw him he was about a hundred feet in front of me. Then when he turned between those cars it was too dark to make out his face. Anyway, it sounds like he got away, even if he is at least twenty dollars poorer.

** ** **

Manzanita branches whispered to each other above Scout’s head, their small, oval, gray-green leaves rubbing noses in the light breeze. The air was cool, cooler than the girl would have expected considering how hot yesterday had been, but then she probably was higher in the mountains than she thought, and she knew that it got cooler as one went up. Fortunately, the bedding she had brought was warm and, of course, she was fully clothed except for her boots and hat.

Scout opened her eyes to a pale glimmer of light just forming above the high peaks in the east. The sky was slowly brightening from black to navy blue, and the tiny pinpricks of light that were stars were winking out one by one. This spot was surprisingly comfortable. She remembered other occasions when she had slept in a bedroll on the ground where every rock in Arizona had sneaked under her during the night and conspired to puncture her spine.

Soon she would have to crawl out of her blankets—she would have to get on her way if she wanted to keep ahead of anyone who might be following her—but for the moment she was enjoying the comfortable warmth, the softness of the blanket against her cheek, and the early morning peace. Birds sang from countless perches all around her, challenging their neighbors for ownership of tiny territorial claims. A hawk glided across her field of vision in search of breakfast, its screeching cry striking terror into the hearts of a myriad of tiny creatures that seemed to spend much of their existence running for cover.

The sky continued to brighten. Shades varying from deep rose to pale persimmon stained the eastern horizon. The smooth manzanita branches that intertwined above her were reclaiming their mahogany coloring. Suddenly, a slender, golden thread outlined the peak just in front of the girl. The thread thickened, a blinding gleam dazzled her vision, and the flaming circle of the sun swept majestically into the crystal sky, dragging increasingly lighter shades of blue in its wake.

A rustling and tearing sound just behind her caught Scout’s attention. She bent her head back to an upside-down image of her beloved little pinto grazing contentedly on something that was out of her field of view. Yawning, and stretching her arms above her head, the girl sat up and pushed the blankets to one side. Another yawn while she rubbed her eyes with the backs of her hands. Then she staggered to her feet and scratched herself in a number of private places before searching out a spot to relieve herself.

Now, what to do about breakfast? She didn’t want to light a fire; she feared that the smoke would be visible to anyone following her. Searching in her pack she found some jerky and began to chew on it thoughtfully. It would have to suffice until she was able to locate a more secure campsite. A few sips of water from the tiny streamlet that gurgled a few yards away rounded out the minuscule meal. Now it was time to be moving on.

She saddled Apache with practiced hands, made sure that the saddle bags and her bedroll were securely tied to the back, shouldered her heavy pack, and swung into the saddle. Pulling on the left rein to direct the pinto along the canyon floor toward the northwest, Scout let the animal have his head and begin his slow walk upward into the mountains.

Fortunately, Scout had chosen this route up Sabino Canyon. There was water from the small stream that would suffice for herself and the horse, there were enough trees in the canyon to make it difficult for pursuers to see her, and, although she didn’t know it yet, it was possible to reach the very summit of the mountains via the rough trail that stretched out in front of her.

As the sun rose higher in the sky behind her, the temperature began to rise perceptibly. Even in the dry air Scout could begin to feel perspiration dampening the fabric of her shirt under her pack. After two hours of non-stop riding the terrain began to change again. In the lowest part of the canyon, which Scout had traversed the previous afternoon, tall, many-armed saguaros marched in disordered ranks up the hillsides, while huge, spreading cottonwoods, white-barked sycamores, and smaller, all-green palo verde trees and thorny mesquites clustered along the creek bed. Eventually, the stands of saguaro thinned and then disappeared except on southward-facing slopes, and the soil became rockier. Manzanita, juniper, and an occasional oak bordered the creek