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Ruth Ann was running now, moving as fast as she could through thedense forest. The Comanche moon hanging directly above dimly lit herway through thick timber of pine, blackjack, birch, and maple.
There were no shoes on her bloody feet and what was left of her dresswas ripped, soiled, and hanging off her bare shoulders. She was dirty, withleaves and sticks tangled in her auburn hair. She glanced back as she ran.She was terrified, her face tearstained, scratched, and bleeding, and her eyeswere wide with fear and . . . then he awoke. It was not the first time RogerWayne Messenger awoke from this vision, this nightmare of Ruth Ann runningthrough the woods, and he was fairly certain it would not be his last.
Roger sat up a little and worked the ache from his back. His mouth wasdry and his head was pounding. With the exception of the dampness he foundin the corners of his eyes, the rye whiskey he consumed on the journey suckedhis body of all its moisture. His mouth was so parched his lips were stuck together.He sat up and looked around at the dark landscape passing by. All ofthe other passengers were asleep. He wished he, too, was asleep, but sleep wassomething he had not been accustomed to for some time. He dug into his knapsackand found his canteen and drank and drank.
Roger was a big, lean, and strong man with thick, dark hair that wasthree inches long on the top and cropped tight to the sides of his head. He wasnormally clean-shaven around his sweeping thick mustache, but at the momenthe was sporting three days of whiskers. He wore a brown herringbone suit thatwas usually pressed over a starched white shirt, but currently his attire wascrumpled from days of neglect.
When Roger stepped off the morning train in Appaloosa, he snugged hisbrown wide-brim with rolled edges over his square forehead and walked intotown. He stopped at S.Q. Johnson’s Grocery and bought a can of beans. He satunder the shade of the store’s overhang, opened the can with his army knife,and ate the beans using the blade. When he finished he went about the taskhe’d come to Appaloosa to accomplish.
He poked his head in the door of Cheever’s Saddle shop and asked the oldtimertanning a large hide for directions to his destination. Then he walkedseven blocks, turned south on Main Street, and went two more blocks to theconstruction site.
It was an impressive building. Three stories tall and at least seventy-fivefeet wide, with a second-story covered porch that had five sets of glassed doubledoors across the balcony. To Roger’s untrained eye the structure appeared tobe nearly complete, but the building was busy with construction workers.
Roger thought about just walking into the place, but decided he wouldwatch for a while, watch and wait. He was good at watching and waiting;it was part of his job, and now that he was here, he was not in any hurry.Better to be patient. Better to wait.
He stood across the street, watching all the laborers going about their business.There were painters on scaffoldings painting a second coat of white andcarpenters on the boardwalk, assembling wood pieces and going about othervarious tasks of measuring and sawing, remeasuring and resawing.
A team of mules pulling a flatbed stopped in front of the stairs leading upto the entrance with a load of hardwood. Roger rolled and lit a cigarette as hewatched a few of the teamsters unload the flatbed and stack the shiny planksneatly on the boardwalk under a wide leaded-glass window.
He thought about the amount of money it must take for an impressiveundertaking such as this. He had no idea, but then again, this line of businesswas something that Roger was just not all that familiar with.
Roger watched and waited. He moved off the boardwalk and found acomfortable spot in the narrow alley between an upholstery shop and a drygoodsstore, where he had a good view of the goings-on across the street. Hishead was still throbbing and he felt a little dozy, but he remained alert bynipping on the second bottle of rye he had in his knapsack and rolling andsmoking cigarettes. He had plenty of both.
At nearly ten-thirty a slender sorrel pulling a two-seater buggy with acovered backseat rounded the corner and stopped in front of the building. Anolder, portly man with bushy white muttonchops and wearing a flattopbrushed beaver hat sat in the backseat. Next to him was an attractive youngwoman wearing a plum-colored dress with a high collar.
They remained under the shaded cover, looking at the building for a longwhile. Then the man worked his way butt first out of the buggy’s backseat.
Roger smiled to himself as he watched the round man struggle to get hischubby frame out of the backseat. When he was out of the buggy and standing,supporting his stance with the aid of a polished black cane, he removed his hatand wiped sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief. The young womanremained in the buggy. She leaned out and her eyes caught a little sunlightbefore she sat back in the shade of the buggy.
“Come back, pick me up by noon,” he said to the driver, “Noon sharp.”
“Sir,” the driver said with a tip of his brim, and then clucked the sorreland moved off down the street, with the young woman still aboard and leavingthe portly man looking up to the building. He turned, walked a few stepstoward the middle of the wide street, stopped, then turned and looked back upat the building.
It was obvious to Roger the man wanted to have a full view of the building,wanted to take in all its grandness. The way the man moved and heldhis chin high reminded Roger of his own grandfather’s survey after a day ofstacking hay in the barn. But this man was no farmer. Roger thought by theway he stood with his fists on his hips holding back the sides of his coat,watching the workers with an appraising eye, that he must be the man withthe money, the man in charge or the banker that loaned the business the money.
Then Roger saw him, the man that he had traveled two days on the trainto locate. The man known in gambling parlors from New Orleans to SanFrancisco as Boston Bill Black.
Boston Bill came walking out of the building flanked by two smallermen. It’s not that the men by his side were in any way short or even belowaverage in size, it was simply that Boston Bill was unusually tall. Not unlikeRoger—Roger was tall, too—but he was a good hand shorter than BostonBill. His head barely cleared the top of the door as he walked out. He waswearing a fancy suit with a green vest that was adorned with a draping goldwatch fob.