The Archive is proud to present the debut of a new short story by Edward A. Grainger and featuring Cash Laramie, a character who has become a favourite amongst western readers since he made his debut in the story Cash Laramie and the Masked Devil which is still available in the highly recommended anthology, A Fistful of Legends.
by Edward A. Grainger
Lenora Wilkes looped her hand around Marshal Cash Laramie’s arm as they exited the Spaulding restaurant and into Cheyenne’s bustling Friday night. It was a rare night off for the painted lady and Cash thought she sparkled as he led her past the colorful store displays. They stepped around a lanky city worker lighting the gas lamps along the main thoroughfare when Lenora tightened her grip.
“Cash! Look—” Her words died in her throat as she pointed across the street.
But he was already on the move, sprinting toward a young girl who had absent-mindedly stepped right in front of the oncoming evening stage. Cash charged before the team of horses, whisked the girl up in his arms, and tumbled over, ramming his left side into the earth. The girl remained protected in his arms as he landed with a thud at the foot of the general store steps.
“Whoa!” The driver snapped the reins back, skidding the stage to a halt.
The dark-haired girl popped from Cash’s hold. “Oh no, my flowers.” She raced to the center of the street where a bouquet of yellow and purple daisies was mashed into the ground. A crowd of townsfolk milled about murmuring.
Lenora hurried to Cash’s side. “Are you hurt?”
“Fine,” Cash grumbled as he stretched his six-foot frame up and brushed the dust from his corduroy trousers with the back of his rumpled black Stetson. His eyes narrowed as the stagecoach driver ran to them. “You almost killed her.”
The short, thickset man wiped sweat from his brow looking at Cash’s badge. “Sorry, marshal. I didn’t see her until the very last second.” Unlike the girl, the man’s voice betrayed his near miss at a killing.
He walked over to the girl who cradled the sad-looking, crushed daisies in her hands. Gently, he touched her shoulder. “Miss, I’m very sorry.”
The girl dropped the flowers on the dirt staring wistfully after. “Uncle Clem is going to be mad.”
Confusion passed over the driver’s face, followed quickly by a resolution. “Why, miss, how much for the whole lot?” He reached into his pocket for some change.
The girl wiped a solitary tear from her ashen cheek. “Two bits.”
Cash cleared his throat. The driver scrunched up his face and brought out double the amount. “Here you go, miss.”
He patted the girl on the head and tilted his hat at Lenora and Cash. “Ma’am. Sorry, marshal.” With a step that seemed just a bit too quick to Cash, the driver scrambled onto the coach. He put reins to the horses and the crowd dispersed, already losing interest.
Gaping at the ruts in the street and how the tracks careened around where she had stood not a minute before, the weight of what just happened leveled on the girl. Her shoulders sagged as she lowered her head. “That would have been bad,” she said in a small whisper. “My uncle sure would have—”
She looked into the lawman’s blue eyes. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure, little lady,” he said, tipping his hat. “What’s your name?”
Lenora knelt, wiping the matted hair from the child’s eyes. “Where do you live, Melanie?”
She pointed east out of town. “That way.” Cash bent down beside Melanie and caught Lenora looking at the back of the girl’s neck. Frowning, he craned his head to get a better view. In the glow of the gas lamps, black-and-blue bruises were clearly outlined with another series of marks visible above the front collar of her sullied dress.
Cash’s jaw flinched, a fire blazed within him. He forced a smile on his face. “Well lucky for us, we’re headed that way. How old are you, anyway?”
“I’m seven.” The girl reached for the Arapaho arrowhead around Cash’s neck and turned it over in her hand. “You Indian or something?”
Cash grinned. “No, ma’am.” He picked up the girl holding her in the fold of his shoulder.
“Then why do you wear it?”
“It was given to me by my stepfather.”
“I wish I had an arrowhead.”
Cash set her in the middle of the buggy he had readied for an evening ride with his girlfriend. Lenora gathered her dress and climbed in beside the girl. Melanie looked the woman up and down. “You sure are pretty.”
Lenora brushed the side of the child’s face, tucking a lock of hair behind the girl’s ear, covering in the process a particularly long bruise. “And you are, too.”
Melanie sized up Lenora’s bountiful blonde tresses, bright red dress with a plunging neckline, and cameo pendant on a black satin choker that Cash had bought for her birthday. “Not like you.”
The marshal laughed as he released the break and guided the horse and buggy out of town.
Melanie lived along Buzzard Creek, an area known for its shotgun houses and hardscrabble inhabitants. Melanie’s home was better than most but still looked broken down with peeling shingles and a second thing—an outhouse stationed within yards of the house reeking of its foul odor. Cash parked the buggy downwind.
Outside the front door, a tall burly man chopping wood stopped mid swing. A beanpole of a woman walked out and stood next to him. Her gray bagged eyes, that carried a faint resemblance to Melanie, slitted at the prostitute but seemed to warm to Cash’s wide grin. When her gaze locked on the star pinned to his chest, her eyes turned rapidly cold again.
“Evening, folks,” Cash said, nodding to the couple. “The name’s Cash Laramie and this is Miss Lenora—”
Melanie interjected, “This is my Uncle Clem and Aunt Flossy.”
The man who towered a good foot over Cash, planted the ax into the wood and wiped his brow with a blue handkerchief. “Clem Stewart.” He gave his niece a sidelong look. “What has Melanie done?”
“Nothing,” Cash said. “She had a close call in town with the stagecoach and we wanted to make sure she got home safely.”
“Well, she’s home,” Clem stated matter-of-factly.
Cash turned to Melanie. “Little lady, do you mind going inside for a minute, I’d like to talk to your uncle and aunt.” He stepped down, walked around the horse, and swung the girl to the ground.
“It sure was nice to meet you, Miss Lenora,” Melanie said.
“You too, sweetie.”
The girl rushed past her aunt into the house.
Cash strolled over to Clem, pushing his Stetson up on his forehead. “Where did the girl get the marks?”
“The bruises around her neck.” He paused, adding emphasis, “I’m betting a thorough examination would reveal a lot more.”
“Exammination,” Clem mispronounced as his eyes slashed like whips. “Look gov’ment man, I pay my goddamn taxes for this sad strip of land, minding my own business. I just—”
“Where’d did she get the marks?” Cash interrupted, a darker inflection in his voice.
“She’s been learning to ride side saddle and Billy over there bucked her a few times,” Flossy said, pointing to a sickly brown mare tied to an oak tree along the creek.
“Cash,” Lenora whispered from behind. The lawman turned to see his girlfriend nodding her head toward Melanie who was peaking out and listening from the lone open window.
Cash wheeled back to the tense lines in Clem’s face. “We’re not done here, Mr. Stewart.”
“Cash,” Lenora said, “the girl’s aunt and uncle were lying.”
“I know.” Cash guided the horse and buggy along the main stretch leading back into Cheyenne.
“What are you going to do? Talk to Chief Penn?”
“Maybe.” Cash thumbed a lucifer afire and lit his cheroot. “I’ve seen cases like this before. Unless there’s proof, nothing will happen. Sometimes even with proof, nothing happens. A child is considered the property of the parent, or in this case, guardian. Stewart is right, a judge or jury ‘round here would take a huge disliking to the government sticking in their nose.”
Cash angled the buggy to the side of the road as another carriage passed. “But don’t worry, I will go back out there to check on Melanie.”
Lenora crossed her hand over Cash’s stomach and leaned her head against his shoulder. The lights of the city came into view. “Why would anybody hurt a little girl like that?”
Cash’s face hardened as he rolled his cheroot to the corner of his mouth. “Because some people just ain’t no damn good.”
Cash spent the next day on the second floor balcony of the Beckett Hotel and Saloon where he lived, filling out reports from a recent case the locals had dubbed The Masked Devil. He continued to watch the street when around noon, Melanie appeared with a bucket of flowers. She then began to canvass the street, honing in on lone older women or young couples where the man had a hard time saying no with his young lady present. It was still a hard sell, and, as afternoon gave away to dusk, she still had half a bucket of wilting flowers left.
He figured she couldn’t have made much. She dumped the rest of the flowers and water on the ground and began singing as she twirled the bucket and sauntered off toward home.
Cash collected his pinto at the livery and followed Melanie from a distance. The girl seemed in no particular hurry, skipping stones along the creek and chasing fireflies before finally arriving after dark.
Cash had inquired around town about Clem and Flossy Stewart. They had traveled from Northern California where he had worked as a lumberjack and Flossy cooked for a construction company. The man still listed his profession as a lumberjack but seemed to spend most of his time gambling in town.
Cash tied his pinto alongside the Stewart’s horse and made his way to the house. By the time he was outside the window, he heard Clem’s booming voice.
“THIS IS IT.”
“Uncle Clem, there was hardly anybody in town.”
“Don’t give me that, you probably bought candy.”
“No, Uncle Clem!”
Flesh smacking flesh pounded in Cash’s ears. He bolted for the front door and barged in, finding Melanie backed in a corner with her uncle’s hand preparing another strike. Aunt Flossy jumped from her chair, startled, as Cash caught Clem’s arm, spinning him around and delivering knuckles to the man’s face.
With Clem Stewart caught off guard, Cash slammed him with another belt to the mouth, folding a tooth over and propelling the man a few steps back. Clem regained his footing, muttering obscenities, as Cash lunged forward with his next round. The lumberjack, ready this time, stepped sideways simultaneously delivering his right fist against the lawman’s square jaw, knocking Cash off balance.
Melanie and Flossy hid behind the wooden dinner table. The little girl’s already damp cheeks began to streak in a rain of tears.
Flossy shouted to her husband as he let a series of jabs fly, “Clem, for God sakes, he’s a marshal!”
Cash threw another punch, but the overpowering giant absorbed the hit to his abdomen and lashed back with several powerhouse blows to Cash’s face and upper chest driving the marshal to the floor. The lumberjack stomped his boot into the lawman’s stomach, and Cash rolled to his side, letting out a chest-full of air.
“Clem, stop!” Flossy pleaded.
Clem grasped the fireplace poker and readied it but Cash had yanked his Colt free, his iron aimed at his opponent.
“One swing,” Cash said as blood trickled from his mouth. “One more reason is all I need.”
Clem stepped back tossing the metal rod aside, cautiously passed in front of Cash Laramie, and sat at the table. He stared at his rival, rubbing his jaw. “Gov’ment man, I suggest you get the hell out of here if you know what’s good for you.
Keeping the Peacemaker trained on Clem, Cash stood and then holstered his gun. He spat blood sideways on the floor, looking to Melanie and her aunt. “If you want to leave, I can assure your safety in Cheyenne.”
“Marshal, please, listen to my husband.”
“How about you, little lady?” Cash asked Melanie, big tears in her eyes.
The sadness hung heavy. She tried to speak but mumbled, “Why is everybody hurting everybody?”
Cash reached out and offered his hand. “Wouldn’t you like to visit with Miss Lenora again?”
She went to take it, and then spotted her uncle’s glare. “I best stay put.”
Cash lowered his arm and turned, knees buckling. He reached for the corner of the table to steady himself. He looked past Clem, who was jingling a loose tooth, and saw his Stetson lying near the door. He lumbered over and picked it up.
“Stewart, I don’t want to see another mark on that child,” Cash said adjusting the hat brim.
Clem yanked the tooth from his mouth and flung it toward the fire. “Or what? You coming back for more?” he snarled as Cash turned and stormed out of the house.
|Edward A. Grainger|
The next afternoon, Cash Laramie watched as Chief Deputy US Marshal Devon Penn signed his name to a series of legal documents on his desk. Penn’s sausage fingers danced like a ballerina from a lifetime of paperwork. Cash sat across the desk in the Windsor armchair and knew Penn was upset or he would have been yelling already. To some, that may have seemed contradictory but Cash had worked for Penn long enough and knew the man’s moods.
Penn straightened the papers into a neat pile. “So, we now enter the homes of local citizens and interfere with law-abiding folks?”
“That little girl has been abused.”
“Maybe you don’t understand what a rhetorical question is.”
“I know perfectly well what it means.”
“Then shut your goddamn mouth and listen. Judge Hickey will let matters slide if you take a few weeks off. He likes your record and figures a suspension will appease the sheriff whose jurisdiction you shit all over when you entered that house.” Penn leaned forward, clasping his hands together. “You understand me, Marshal Laramie?”
“Then you are excused.”
Cash stood and walked to the door. “When the town’s people don’t protect their children, then they’re not fit to govern.”
Penn sprung out of his chair, standing, but held his tongue as Cash closed the door with a bang.
“So that’s it,” Lenora said taking a sip of bourbon. She sat next to Cash on his balcony overlooking Cheyenne’s Main Street.
Cash poured himself another glass and freshened up Lenora’s drink.
“Yeah, it seems like a house is a man’s castle, and short of murder, he can do whatever the hell he wants even if that means battering a child to a cinder.”
“How much of this do you think goes on?”
“A lot more than I care to think about.” Cash grasped Lenora’s hand in his.
“I saw her earlier today with a black eye,” Lenora said. “It’s amazing she can still smile and hold on to some innocence.”
“But it’s fading fast, and I probably only made matters worse for her.”
She squeezed his hand. “You did what you thought was right—you did all you could.”
“I know you mean well, Nora, but whenever I hear that phrase, ‘You did all you could,’ it rubs me the wrong way. Did I do all I could? That little girl is still out there being beaten, and Lord knows what worse things are happening to her. So, did I really do all I can?”
They sat in silence, finishing their drinks, while heavy gray clouds rolled in over the foothills.
“Go see what’s taking your uncle so long,” Aunt Flossy said. The little girl obediently rose from the wooden floor leaving her dolly to manage on her own. She opened the door to pitch blackness and raced back to retrieve her toy.
“Hurry up, girl! Tell him I need that water and dinner is waiting.”
Melanie brushed past her frowning aunt and into the night. There’s nothing in the dark that isn’t there in the light, she tried to assure herself, but she figured it was just a lie told by her uncle.
Normally it was her job to pump water, but, this evening, Uncle Clem decided to do it himself while going out for a smoke.
Or so he said. He liked talking to that neighbor, Miss Emma, who Aunt Flossy hated and had spoken some very unflattering words about her.
Melanie darted to the big oak between the house and the pump, making it before the door slammed shut. She waited for her eyes to adjust as far-off foul language poured out from her aunt about letting bugs in. Melanie knew that would elicit a lecture when she returned but that was better than the monsters she suspected lurking ahead of her.
“Uncle Clem?” she whispered.
“Uncle Clem?” she repeated a little louder. This situation had happened before with Miss Emma and Uncle Clem. The noise of her calling had brought out Aunt Flossy and the two women took to name calling. Later that night, Uncle Clem had beat Melanie hard, told her not to scream. She had muffled her cries into her pillow as he wailed on her.
She shuddered at the memory and now, in the dark, brooded over what to do.
A rustling shook her thoughts, and she cowered against the tree. It sounded like something being dragged.
“Clem?” Another voice in the darkness. A woman’s. Miss Emma’s—or “that whore” as Aunt Flossy called her.
Melanie could make out Miss Emma’s slinky figure creeping along the old barn separating their properties. Then, another stirring caught her eyes. A shift in the darkness as something moved away. Melanie wondered if Uncle Clem was circling around to play a trick on Miss Emma.
Apparently, Miss Emma thought so too as she scolded, “Clem, stop joking around.”
Maybe she should warn them that Aunt Flossy was looking for Uncle Clem. Or maybe just wander back to Aunt Flossy and tell her she hadn’t found him. But that would make her aunt mad.
“I see you, Clem.” Miss Emma dashed to the pump, stopping short. “What are you doing laying on the ground?” She edged forward. “C’mon we don’t have time. I just wanted to tell you to meet me later. Clem?” She tapped the bottom of his boot with her toe of her shoe.
Melanie jumped at Miss Emma’s screams that seemed to bring the night to life. Even neighbors from across the creek responded. Aunt Flossy bounded past Melanie, who had crept forward to get a better look at Clem’s prone figure. His tongue hung to the side and a thick rope scored his neck. Flossy screeched and hurtled herself at Emma, both tumbled backward in a clump of hair, arms, and scratching fingers.
Melanie began to weep. She slumped to the ground, clutching her doll in one hand and gripping at the dirt with the other when her finger sliced on something sharp. She peered at the bloody object, and, as she tightened her grasp on it, she cried more.
Melanie and Aunt Flossy sat a few rows back from the judge’s table when Marshal Laramie strode in with Miss Lenora at his side. Lenora took a seat in the front while Cash approached the judge, and then raised his right hand to be sworn in.
Not a muscle twitched as he testified about the run-in he’d had with Clem.
When the marshal finished his statement, the judge thanked him for shedding light on Clem Stewart’s character and dismissed him.
As Cash and Lenora walked passed Melanie on their way out, he tipped his hat at the little girl and Lenora leaned in, giving Melanie a hug. Flossy rolled her eyes but remained silent.
* * *
Melanie sat on the floor playing with her doll as Aunt Flossy griped to a couple of neighbors about how the judge had found “insufficient evidence” for a trial. When the conversation turned to idle gossip, the girl’s ears perked up.
“I know it was that fiancé of Emma’s who did it after he caught her with Clem.” Anger seared her words. She glared over at Melanie, realizing the girl had been listening in. “You little wretch, it’s past your bedtime. Go … now!”
Melanie picked up her doll and trudged off to her broom-closet of a room. Though the beatings and other violations at the hand of Uncle Clem were no more, the verbal abuse from Aunt Flossy continued, and Melanie didn’t want to raise her aunt’s ire this night.
In the quiet of her room, she took out her red Bible from the bottom dresser drawer, and then reached behind her clothes for the object she found on the evening her uncle was killed.
As Melanie finished the Lord’s Prayer, she squeezed the Indian arrowhead tighter and thanked her savior.
Edward A. Grainger is the pen name of David Cranmer -find out more about David HERE
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