The U.S. has finally entered the First World War and scheduled the first draft lottery. No one in Boynton, Oklahoma, is unaffected by the clash between rabid pro-war, anti-immigrant "patriots" and anti-conscription socialists who are threatening an uprising rather than submit to the draft.
Alafair Tucker is caught in the middle when her brother, a union organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, pays her a visit. Rob Gunn is fresh out of an internment camp for participants in an Arizona miners' strike. He assures Alafair that he's only come to visit family, but she's not convinced. More unsettling, Alafair's eldest son enlists, and a group calling itself the "Knights of Liberty" vandalizes the farm of Alafair's German-born son-in-law.
Alafair's younger son, 16-year-old Charlie, is wildly patriotic and horrified by his socialist uncle. With his father's permission, Charlie takes a part-time war job at the Francis Vitric Brick Company. Soon several suspicious machine breakdowns delay production, and a couple of shift supervisors are murdered. Everyone in town suspects sabotage, some blaming German spies, others blaming the unionists and socialists. But Charlie Tucker is sure he knows who the culprit is and comes up with a plan to catch him red-handed.
And then there is old Nick - a mysterious guy in a bowler hat who's been hanging around town.
About the Author
Donis Casey is the author of ten Alafair Tucker Mysteries: The Old Buzzard Had It Coming , Hornswoggled , The Drop Edge of Yonder , The Sky Took Him , Crying Blood , The Wrong Hill to Die On , Hell With the Lid Blown Off , All Men Fear Me , The Return of the Raven Mocker , and Forty Dead Men. This award-winning series, featuring the sleuthing mother of ten children, is set in Oklahoma during the booming 1910s. Donis has twice won the Arizona Book Award for her series, and been a finalist for the Willa Award and a seven-time finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award. Her first novel, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming , was named an Oklahoma Centennial Book in 2008. Donis is a former teacher, academic librarian, and entrepreneur. She lives in Tempe, Arizona.
Read an Excerpt
All Men Fear Me
An Alafair Tucker Mystery
By Donis Casey
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2015 Donis Casey
All rights reserved.
"The world must be made safe for democracy."
— President Woodrow Wilson, April 2, 1917
Old Nick had been following the traveler ever since he left the detention camp back in New Mexico. It wasn't that the traveler made a particularly appealing target himself, but everywhere this fellow went, trouble followed in his wake. And trouble was Nick's food and drink.
The minute President Wilson had asked Congress to get the country involved in the endless blood-soaked war going on in Europe, Nick had smelled the ugly stench of hysteria and reached for his tool kit. His blades were sharp and his armaments were oiled and ready. Discord had been sown far and wide, and Nick had had plenty of work to keep him happy.
The miners' strike down in Arizona had drawn old Nick like a fly to manure, and he had been so busy maintaining disorder that at first he hadn't noticed the slender man in the thick of it all. The traveler was of middle height, and lightly built, his appearance unremarkable, except for a russet beard liberally streaked with gray, and sharp dark eyes.
On a morning in early July, Nick joined the armed posse that roused the striking miners from their beds, and helped cram them into twenty-three sweltering cattle cars to deport the troublemakers out of Arizona. Nick enthusiastically arrested anyone who looked like a miner and a couple of men who didn't, and helped himself to some of their property along the way. He volunteered to man the machine gun guarding the deportees and spent the entire trip to New Mexico basking in the miners' fear and fury as they were carried to their unknown fate. By the time they reached the barbed wire camps in New Mexico, the ardor of most of the detainees had flickered and waned. But the bearded traveler's fire of determination burned bright as ever. This one would go his own way until the end, and Nick knew that whenever a man's beliefs rubbed against the grain, sparks were bound to fly.
A few days later, as soon as his union lawyer got him sprung from internment, the traveler had headed straight for the train station at Hermanas and bought a ticket for Muskogee, Oklahoma. The strike was broken, and most of the strikers were broken as well. Nick knew there was little work left for him in the camp. So he scratched the little white scar beside his eye, set his bowler hat upon his head, and boarded the train behind the traveler. He knew the traveler wasn't going to notice him. No one ever noticed old Nick. Especially not a man whose eyes were blinded by the fire of true belief.CHAPTER 2
"If there should be disloyalty, it will be dealt with a firm hand of repression."
— President Woodrow Wilson, April 2, 1917
The traveler stood at the head of the alley and watched the ruckus for a long time, trying to decide whether or not to get involved. He thought not. He had just been passing by on his way from the hotel to the Muskogee train station when he heard the commotion and stopped to take a look. He wished he hadn't.
It was barely light and the sun not even up and he wasn't in the mood for a fight. He didn't much like the idea of two ganging up against one, but the blond-haired youngster seemed to be holding his own all right. Besides, it wasn't any of his business.
He had had enough strife to last him a while, and he expected he'd soon have a passel more before much longer, so he didn't see any reason to borrow trouble if he didn't have to. He had a train to catch. He was just about to move on when the fat brawler got the young man down on the bricks and started pummeling him around the head.
"Damn Red!" the fat man hollered. His skinny companion grabbed up a length of board from the end of the alley and headed over to finish the job.
The traveler sighed. He unslung his rucksack from his shoulder, pulled his little blackjack out of his back pocket, and waded in. It didn't take much to break it up. One good slap with the cosh on the fat man's shoulder and that was that. That was generally the way with bullies. They didn't pause to figure out who had decided to even the odds, or why. One good howl from the fat one and the skinny one dropped his board and was gone before the traveler even got a good look at him. It took a little longer for the fat man to haul himself up and skedaddle. Still, he moved pretty well for a fellow of his size.
The blond youth lay where his attacker left him, facedown on the bricks with his hands clasped over his head. The traveler nudged him in the side with his toe.
"They're gone, hotshot. You can get up now." The traveler's voice bubbled with humor. Or maybe it was relief. It was not often that he managed to get out of a shindy without so much as a bruise.
The kid's head turned just enough to enable him to peer at his rescuer out of one rapidly swelling blue eye.
"Get up, boy," the traveler repeated. "Let's have a look at you."
The young man pulled one leg up, then the other, and raised himself onto his hands and knees. He grabbed the traveler's proffered hand and stood. The traveler sucked air through his teeth. The youngster was much the worse for wear.
"Your face looks like you got yourself caught in a meat grinder, kiddo. It's lucky I come along when I did. You expect you've got any broken bones or busted insides that will require the services of a doctor?"
The young man patted himself down and took stock of his wounds before answering. He was a little hard to understand because of the split lip. "I reckon I got a bruised rib, here, and my eye hurts, but I don't think anything is broke."
"Looks like them fellows had quite a bone to pick with you. What did you do to rile them up so?"
"They took issue with something I said."
One reddish eyebrow lifted. "I reckon. Did you disrespect the fat feller's mama?"
The youth studied the older man out his rapidly purpling eyes, reluctant to answer.
The traveler slipped the blackjack back into his pocket and crossed his arms. "Don't worry, towhead. I got no quarrel with a man's politics or his ancestry neither. You say something against the war? Or do you just have a German name?"
An ironic smile attempted to form on the bloodied lips. "Neither. I'm just plain Henry Blackwood. I met them two at the diner yonder while I was having a bite before my train come. When we left, we were walking the same direction, toward the station, just having a chat about this and that when I said that I kind of wish this war would get over quick because I didn't think the Germans are our natural enemies and I'm sorry we've got into a scrape with them. They took exception and thought to correct my faulty reasoning with their knuckles."
The traveler did not look amused. He fished a white handkerchief out of his vest pocket and handed it to his companion. "That kind of talk can get you killed these days, boyo, or at the least, thrown in jail. Unless you're willing to die for a currently unpopular principle, I'd advise that for the duration you keep your opinions to yourself."
Henry dabbed at the worst of the cuts on his face. "Yessir, I expect I've learned my lesson."
"You look pretty well grown. How old are you? Twenty-three, twenty-four? How come you ain't in the Army? You waiting to see if your number comes up in the draft next week?"
"I tried to join up back in April. They wouldn't let me. I got the asthma. I went ahead and registered last month, though. If I get rejected again, I may try the Navy come spring. I have no desire to get killed in a war, but better to do my duty than to go to prison for draft-dodging. Especially if them two represent present public opinion." He handed the bloody handkerchief back to the man. "Thank you for saving me. I reckon if I hustle I can still make my train."
"Well, you'd better make a detour to the station washroom and clean yourself up before you present yourself to the stationmaster. They're like to not let you on the train looking like you just got trampled by an elephant." The traveler picked up his backpack and the two men headed back out to the street. Henry limped for half a block, but his gait had straightened out by the time they approached the railway station.
"I appreciate your help, Mister, but you don't need to walk me all the way in."
"I ain't, sport. I'm heading out on the six a.m. eastbound myself. Where are you off to?"
"I'm just going up the way a bit. I came up from Texas yesterday. I'm going to live with my uncle for a spell. He's got me a job at the brick plant in Boynton."
This time both the man's russet eyebrows shot upward. "Well, I'll be go to hell. Boynton is my destination as well."CHAPTER 3
"Oh, once upon a time in
Arkansas An old man sat in his little
cabin door And fiddled a tune that I
like to hear A jolly old tune that he
played by ear"
— "The Arkansas Traveler" an American folk tune
Henry and the traveler didn't have a lot of time to chat once the train pulled out of the Muskogee station. Boynton was only fifteen miles down the track, and the stop at Wainright was so brief that the train barely slowed down long enough for the stationmaster to fling a bag of mail into the open door of the postal boxcar.
Henry did most of the talking. He wasn't usually such a chatty fellow, but the traveler kept asking him questions, and in such a solicitous manner that Henry found himself relating as much of his life story as he could cram into the half-hour trip.
Yes, he had just come up from Brownsville, Texas. Oh, yes, there was a lot of trouble going on down there. The border clashes hadn't slowed down because of the war. In fact, they were getting worse. That's why he was coming up to Boynton. His mother had convinced his father that it was safer up here. The traveler and Henry got off the train at Boynton just as the sun cleared the horizon. Neither noticed the nondescript man in the bowler hat who disembarked behind them and moved into the overhanging shadow of the station roof.
The traveler hoisted his backpack and shook the young man's hand. "I wish you luck, slick. And by luck I mean I hope your number don't come up."
Henry smiled at that. He took a furtive glance around the platform for eavesdroppers before he replied. "I admit I don't want to go to war, Mister, but I expect it's my duty to give it a try. There's a lot I could do for my country if I was in the Army."
"Sorry to hear that. Good luck just the same, whether you get in or not. I reckon we'll see each other around."
"I hope so. Thanks again for keeping me from getting my head stove in. Which way you headed?"
"West of town."
"My uncle's place is to the east, just yonder, so I'll take my leave."
The man in the bowler hat watched the two men part and tapped his lip with his finger while he figured out his next move. The traveler was sure trouble, but something was not right with the blond-haired youth. He sensed it, and his senses were never wrong. He picked up his kit and took a leisurely stroll down the street that led east.
* * *
It didn't take the traveler long to walk the three blocks from the Boynton train station, through the still-shuttered downtown, and turn onto the dirt road that led out into the country.
The summer morning was already warm, and promised to be uncomfortable once the sun was high. It made for a beautiful sunrise, though, the dusty sky tinted faintly pink by the light of dawn. There was no wind to stir the leaves on the few scrubby trees that grew between the road and the endless miles of barbed-wire fence enclosing the checkerboard of pasture and cropland. The traveler had noted that the leaves of the trees had turned bottom-side-up. It was going to rain soon. Judging by the state of the crops, he figured that a shower would be most welcome around here.
He had a spry, almost jaunty gait. The big rucksack he had slung over his right shoulder didn't slow him down any. He was dressed for travel in a waistcoat and trousers, a collarless white shirt, faded red bandanna around his neck, leggings, and sturdy walking shoes. A utility knife in its sheath was suspended from his belt. His hair hung almost to his collar — not gray like his beard, or as red either, but the dark reddish brown of a chestnut horse. The wide-brimmed U.S. Army hat on his head, creased front and back in the old Rough Rider style, had seen better days.
It felt good to walk. After the prison camp, the traveler was enjoying the fresh air and the stretch of his limbs as he strode down the rutted road. His practiced eye assessed the crops in the fields as he passed. A lot of cotton had been planted. Not surprising, considering that the price per bale had shot up in the spring, when the country joined the European war.
The traveler heaved a sigh, as he did whenever he thought of the war, and firmly directed his mind to other topics. The countryside looked different from the last time he had come this way, ten years earlier. The land was more settled and cultivated, and there were many more farmhouses than there had been in 1907, just before Oklahoma had joined the Union.
He waved greetings to the farmworkers heading out to the fields as the sun rose, and began to whistle "The Arkansas Traveler" as he rounded the bend of the road at the section line.
On his right, in the distance, a young man was sitting on the top rail of a long wooden gate in the barbed-wire fence that stretched endlessly along the road. A large yellow dog lolled in the dirt at the youngster's feet, which gave the traveler a moment's pause. The dog perked up when he noticed the stranger, mildly interested rather than aggressive, and the traveler relaxed. The young man's head turned, but he didn't move from his place as the walker approached. The youth shifted his seat on the top rail of the gate, hooked the heels of his boots over the second rail, and set himself to study the approaching stranger.
The traveler guessed that the big youth was in his early twenties, maybe, until he grew near enough to get a good look at him. The boy's hands were spread out on either side of himself along the top of the rail, the sleeves of his tan shirt rolled up above his elbows. His cowboy hat was pushed back on his head, revealing a flop of straight fair hair on his forehead, and curious, lively, blue eyes. He was long of limb, but as yet unused to his considerable length, judging by the awkward way his knees and elbows stuck out all over the place as he perched on the gate.
The youngster kept his peace until the traveler stopped five feet from the fence, shrugged the rucksack off his shoulder and lowered it into the dust at his feet. For a moment, the two eyed each other, taking friendly stock. The dog finally stood up and wagged his tail lazily, nosing the stranger's thigh in hopes of an ear rub. The man complied.
The traveler reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and withdrew a tobacco pouch and a pack of cigarette papers. He looked back up at the boy, startled to see that he was even younger than the traveler had reckoned. Those still-rounded cheeks had not yet had use for a razor.
The man looped the drawstring of his tobacco pouch over his index finger and let it dangle as he slid a cigarette paper out of the package. "Howdy, sport. What d'you got to say for yourself?"
The boy flashed him a strong white grin and slid off the fence. He topped the stranger's height by half a head. "Not much, Mister."
The man creased his cigarette paper and tamped a line of tobacco out of the bag and down the center. He pulled the drawstring closed with his teeth before he ran the tip of his tongue down the edge of the paper, deftly rolled it into a tight little cylinder with one hand, and twisted the ends, neat as you please.
"Mind if I bum one of them off you?"
The traveler cocked an eyebrow, pulled a box of matches out of his pocket, fired up his cigarette and handed it to his companion.
"Thanks, Mister." The youngster took a drag and let the smoke dribble out between his teeth as he watched the stranger roll a second for himself.
"Where you bound, Mister? We don't see too many passers-by out here. This road ain't hardly on the way to anywhere."
The man drew a contented lungful of smoke before he answered. "I expect I'm headed right here, slick, if my memory holds true and this is the Tucker farm."
Excerpted from All Men Fear Me by Donis Casey. Copyright © 2015 Donis Casey. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
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