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Cavalry Man: Powder Keg LP
By Ed Gorman
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Ed Gorman
All right reserved.
Never bothered me much to pull a gun on a man, but a woman was a different matter. Even if it was 1883, despite a lot of new contraptions like electric lights and telephones, women still needed a whole lot of protection.
The place was Kansas City, the Elite Hotel, room 227, six minutes after midnight. I was sitting in my dark room listening to the giddy Friday night noise from the casino one floor below me and the whorehouse one floor above me.
I had been planning on visiting the latter but I'd had so much bad luck with the former that night that I wasn't much in the mood, not even for the kind of soft and perfumed young flesh a man could find in a good-sized city like that one.
I was trying to think about my job there so I wouldn't have to think about how much I'd lost at the casino. Faro had never been kind to me. But then neither had poker or blackjack. Gambling was one of my curses.
The knock came at nine minutes after midnight, which I knew because the moon was cordial enough to shine on the railroad watch that sat ticking away on the arm of my chair.
Frantic. One knock followed almost instantly by another.
I'd been warned that a man named Fred Cartel was going to try and kill me that night and the way my luck was running, he might just have been able to pull it off.
"Please, please, Mr. Ford.Please open the door." It was a woman's voice.
Fred had a lot of imagination, which was how he'd managed to embezzle so much money from the veterans' hospital there. Because it was a federal institution and because I was a federal agent, I'd been sent there to arrest him, even though it wasn't my area. I specialized in weapons threats -- new technology, better explosives, more modern delivery systems, things like that. I was in the area, though. I'd been working a job in Wichita so Washington had wired me to take a train and make the nab. Fred must have consulted a crystal ball because right after I'd checked in that afternoon, I received a large envelope containing $5,000 in fresh new American currency. The letter that went along with the money said that Mrs. Fred had a cousin who worked for our office in Wichita and he had tipped her that I was coming to arrest Fred. She said that Fred would come to see me that night and that I should treat him politely because he suffered from what some folks considered a pretty bad temper. And, in fact, had said that if I didn't take his money he might just kill me. I guess that qualified as a bad temper.
But Fred was clever.
He was going to trap me.
What better way to get me to open my door so he could shoot me than to have a woman pretend that she was in some kind of dire emergency? And when I opened the door --
Fred would show me just how bad his temper really was.
I decided to make the surprise on her.
"Just a minute," I said, sounding calm.
I was almost glad for this. A good shootout is a way to keep a man from thinking about his gambling losses.
The surprise was simple enough.
I crossed to the door on tiptoe and then yanked the door inward without warning, shoving my .44 in her face as I did so. I didn't give her time to scream. I yanked her inside with my hand and kicked the door shut with my heel.
Before I got the lamp turned up, I shoved her on the bed. Then I got the lamp going.
And then she said: "You're going to feel very stupid, Noah."
And she sure wasn't kidding about that.
"Oh, God, Susan, I didn't have any idea it was you."
"I figured as much -- unless you'd changed a lot."
Tom Daly was one of my best friends in the agency. We'd worked a couple dozen assignments together since the war. And once he ran into a burning building on the suicide mission of hauling me out. He saved my life when not even the volunteer firemen would give it a try. Tom was a fine husband, father, friend. I would add worker to that except he had a bottle problem. He disappeared on benders, and bosses, for some reason, frown on that.
A year earlier, Tom had come under suspicion of stealing and selling the location of a secret government munitions laboratory. He still worked for the agency but he was angry that he'd even been suspected. And he had a fixed idea about who had stolen and sold the information. The boss tired of Tom's anger so he moved him to a different office.
I'd known they'd settled in Kansas City so I'd wired ahead to let them know that I was coming. But when I got to their house that day, nobody was home.
That night, after midnight, Tom's wife Susan, an appealingly slight, dark-haired woman, was lying across the bed where I'd just shoved her.
"I'm really sorry, Susan. I thought you were dodging for some embezzler who threatened to kill me."
She sat up, smiled.
"Same old dull life, huh?"
"Yeah. But why so late, and where's Tom? I stopped by but nobody was home."
She shook her head.
"He doesn't want to see you."
"He thinks you'll talk him out of it. You know the kind of influence you have on him. He always jokes that when he grows up he wants to be just like you. Big, strong, handsome. But he's only half-joking."
I had to laugh.
"You don't think I'm any of those things, do you? And be honest. In fact, you never cared for me much."
"You're really putting me on the spot. Thanks."
Excerpted from Cavalry Man: Powder Keg LP by Ed Gorman Copyright © 2007 by Ed Gorman. Excerpted by permission.
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