The Copperplate Killer
At 11:00 they switched from brandy to black coffee. Long before they'd finished the bottle, blood had seeped through Thyme's bandages, a marked stripe of red across the cloth. With a needle and thread borrowed from the dinette's owner, he'd repaired his torn shirtsleeve, covering it all up. He flexed his left hand and arm, let the throbbing ache kindle into a burning pain.
Jesus Christ on a sidesaddle, that's one way to sober up quick, he thought. If it came to a fistfight with Thomson or one of his gang, he wanted to be ready for it. However, as he played out the scene in his mind, he only saw this capture going one of two ways: fast or not at all. Thomson was too smart to stand around throwing punches when he could take it on the lam. He might, and probably would, use one of his boys as a distraction to cover his escape.
But only if I let him.
Besides, that's what the sheriff and his deputies were for, to handle the distractions while he went straight for the main prize.
They rode around the long way to the stockyard office and tied their horses up under the copse of slippery elm alongside the water tower. Back at the dinette, Charlie had suggested walking across town to be more stealthy in their approach, but Thyme had rejected it. A walk that long on public streets would give spotters and snitches a chance to run ahead and give warning. After all, there were other lawbreakers among the rowdies at the Silver Dollar Saloon. Thyme didn't want Thomson blown because some two-bit grifter got his feathers ruffled.
Across the side of the stock pens, and along the railroad's right-of-way, by the light of the three-quarter moon they approached the saloon from the back. As they drew closer, the stink from the fenced-in yard began to overwhelm all else, even the stockyard smells of manure and animal sweat. The Silver Dollar was a busy place every night of the week, and tonight was no exception. The clay pipes that ran from the convenience troughs by the back door dumped their load of urine and beer vomit onto open ground about a hundred yards from the building. The reek from the outhouses suggested they were overdue to be moved onto fresh ground. Charlie stepped onto an especially soft spot in the spongy ground and cursed. Jeremiah put a hand to his mouth and gagged, breathing through his nose.
Thyme called for silence with a chopping motion of his gun hand. He pointed to the cluster of men around the trough. They came and went, but there were always at least a couple of men relieving themselves. However, they were all more intent on taking care of business and getting back to their drinking than they were at paying any attention to the four figures out in the shadows of the storage sheds.
As they'd planned, the sheriff took his deputies around the east side of the building while Thyme circled around the west side. Much of the clientele came and went, but the regulars and the staff would certainly know Roxborough and his men by sight. The plan was for them to stay off in the shadows of one of the storehouses and come in fast once Thyme gave them the signal. As soon as they came in, there would be an exodus, and Thyme didn't want Thomson to slip away in the crowd.
He gave them an extra moment or two, then stepped to the side of the Silver Dollar, unbuttoned and watered the ground near a convenient tree. For this, he got a string of curses cast down from an upper window. One of the whores, taking a break between customers, used a lot of short words to tell him, not only that all pissing was to be done out back, but that her opinion of his parentage, upbringing and general demeanor was a low one. He let her go on, then shouted something unintelligible back as he rebuttoned and went in the front door.
It was like any other saloon that catered to cowboys, railroad rowdies and farm laborers. The air was thick with cigar smoke and cheap cologne, the girls wore more paint than clothing and the noise was like standing under a waterfall. A piano and a violin were working away somewhere in the room, but it was impossible to tell where. Men drank, laughed, swore and drank some more. Thyme staggered forward, bumping his way toward the bar, gaining himself more curses. With every encounter, he gave a half-bow of apology, sweeping the place through slitted eyes as he turned and turned again. The bar and bar rail, the stage, the long drinking tables, the round gaming tables, the stairs leading to the rooms... Thomson wasn't here. Not on the floor, anyway. That meant he was upstairs, either with a girl or holed up alone, or he was in one of the private gambling rooms.
He tried to favor his gunshot wound during his way across the room, but at least twice, his assumed staggering brought him bumping against a patron who took exception and responded with a shove to his shoulder. The involuntary intakes of breath he covered with a rheumatic cough. His arm was throbbing by the time he made it to the bar. It took a minute or two before he got the attention of one of the barmen.
"Hey," he shouted, "gimme a whiskey. And when did you get rid of the back rooms?"
"What? What do you mean?"
"The back rooms, the gambling rooms. When did you get rid of them?"
The barman took his money and poured him a tumblerful. "You're misinformed, friend. We didn't get rid of the private rooms."
"You most certainly did!" Thyme gestured with his glass, sloshing a third of it onto the bar. "Them boys are playin' their cards out here, not in the room. Stands to reason you closed them up. Am I right?"
"You're drunk. Both of the rooms are where they always have been. Roulette over there," - the first door on the east wall - "faro and poker over there," - the second door - "and both of them for a high-toned class of gambler." He looked Thyme up and down, wrinkling his nose at his patched clothes and the smells that clung to him. "If you're looking for a game, I'd suggest you try one of the floor tables." He stepped away to take care of another customer, leaving Thyme to nod and mumble thanks.
So, he thought, not in the gambling rooms.
In truth, he hadn't really expected Thomson to be in them, but knowing that they catered to more serious gamblers ruled them out completely. The girls and the hootch would be a cut above the usual in those rooms, but the table stakes would be commensurately higher. Thomson was a low-born snake, and wouldn't know how to act among the satin-vest-and-silver-buckle set. That left the rooms upstairs.
Was he with a girl or was he alone? Did he have his boys with him? By Thyme's calculations, Thomson would have been holed up here since yesterday. It was the kind of place he favored, by temperament and by occupation, but this was a saloon, not a hotel. The bedrooms upstairs were meant to be used frequently and in rotation, not reserved for a guest to occupy for hours on end, let alone a day or more. When Thyme had arrived in town this morning, he'd checked with the hotels and had eliminated all of them. Therefore, Thomson had to be here. But where? Which room?
... to be continued...