The Copperplate Killer
Two mugs of the saloon's honey-and-creosote scented beer weren't enough to wash away the trail dust in his mouth, but they were a good start. Justification Thyme contemplated the last swallow, a half-inch of dark amber swirling around the bottom of the glass. It was unusual to find beer of this quality in the middle of the Kansas territories, but this was several rungs up from the usual watering hole. Clearly, Hofstaeder's Beirgarten was the gem of this part of the prairie. If the leaded glass windows and the green velvet card tables didn't give it away, the beer would have.
Thyme guessed that people didn't get killed much at Hofstaeder's. Cheated out of their life savings, perhaps, but not killed.
He downed the dregs of his beer and stood, not too quickly, but still quickly enough to make the room tilt a little. A small smile played across his lips before he could quash it. It seemed that Herr Hofstader knew his business when it came to brewing his beer good and strong. That's a German for you, he thought, in the Black Forest or on the Black River, they know their way around a keg.
The room tilted again as he leaned over to lift his hat from the back of the chair opposite. He took a firm hold of himself and walked toward the doorway. Coming in here on an empty stomach wasn't the smartest thing he'd ever done; it was downright foolish to get even a little drunk while on the trail of West Texas Thomson. A low born, half-breed killer like him couldn't afford to stay in a place like this anyway, and he wouldn't have been interested in Hofstaeder's high-class whores, not when regular working girls did basically the same job twice in a row for the same money. No, if he was in this town at all, Thyme's quarry would be holed up in one of the rumpot joints closer to the tracks and stockyards.
Thyme fixed his hat in place against the afternoon sunshine and unhitched his horse. He'd led him away from the rail and was about to mount when a man waved to him from the sidewalk. Tall hat, Colt .45 in a worn holster and a sweat-stained leather vest with a bright brass star. Thyme took his foot off the stirrup and re-tied his mount's lead to the rail.
"Sheriff." Thyme touched his finger to his brim.
"Afternoon." The sheriff nodded, but left his thumbs tucked into his belt, hidden under a good-sized belly. He looked Thyme up and down, from his boots to his beard. "It's a warm day for a ride."
"It's been unseasonable," Thyme said, "but I think there might be some rain before the week's out."
They eyed each other across the space of half a dozen planks of the sidewalk, Thyme in the sunshine and the sheriff in the shade of Hofstaeder's.
"So... you have some business here in town, friend?"
Thyme scratched his chin, as if considering. "I may have, Sheriff. I may have at that."
The sheriff nodded, as though it was the answer he'd expected. A shadow flickered between them. Without stopping to think, Thyme spun to his left, raising his arm in time to block a heavy coil of knotted rope.
Instead of falling around his neck and shoulders, it landed heavily across his forearm. He twisted his wrist around it and pulled, hard. At least one hundred and seventy pounds of deputy stumbled forward, right into Thyme's right fist. The deputy's nose crunched flat and his arms dropped slack. Blood spattered outwards from his face, spraying onto Thyme's chaps as he let the man's unconscious dead weight and momentum carry him down, face first into the dirt. Thyme crouched to get a grip on the man's shoulders.
"Leave him alone, you bastard, or I'll kill you where you stand."
Thyme looked up at the sheriff. Or rather, at the barrel of the sheriff's Colt. Without moving, Thyme said, "Let's all just take it easy. I was just going to turn him over, Sheriff. It don't do a bloody nose much good to have it in the dirt like that."
"I said leave him alone. Stand up and put your hands on the rail."
"Sheriff, all I wanted to do was -"
The flash of the Colt registered in his mind a fraction of a second before the sound hit him, shockingly loud. He felt a sharp tug at his left shoulder that turned into a burning slice of pain. With a yell, he clapped his right hand over it and hopped backwards, swearing. When he pulled his hand away to take a look, he saw that his shirt was torn along the outside, and everything underneath was covered in fast-welling blood.
"Goddamn it, what'd you do that for? All I did was punch him in the nose! For that I get shot across the shoulder?"
... to be continued...