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Chapter X

as he a serial murderer?  Could there be a logical explanation for the skulls?  Could the sounds of water dripping or splashing be real?  Could a person 'hear' a mirage . . . you know, somewhat like they can see a mirage?  And what about Deputy Lance?

Marshal Gale was talking and she had not heard the opening comments of this last piece of conversation.  " . . . . about six feet one, brown hair, brown eyes, slim . . . out of Texas . . ."

She came alive and said "That sounds like Wayland Lance!  He saved my life when I was with my sister in the desert.  She had been bitten by a rattlesnake and had died.  That was after my Pas' horses had somehow gotten away when he got killed on the trail to Kansas."

She was telling too much and realized Elmer was hanging on to every word.  She also realized he knew she had lied about "the rest of her party would be coming along right away."  She caught the glint in Elmers' eye.

Marshal Gale then asked "what was your Pas' name?"

"James Paul Landley.  Everybody called him JP.  He had his own brand registered and we were headed to California to begin his ranch.  He called it the Rocking PL" she finished as she drew it in the sand.

Marshal Gale was in deep thought and rubbed his chin as he considered the matter.  "You say he was headed to California to start a cattle ranch?  What kind of cattle was he bringing?"

"Charlois.  He had twelve cows and two young bull calves.  Plus he had some eatin stock, some mules, eight oxen for pulling or eatin' if needed and several head of horses, all with the Rockin' PL brand."

"When Pa got kilt, Ma just went to pieces.  The hired hands made off with the livestock and pretty much left us stranded with the disabled wagon."

"Miss Landley, I've seen that brand but it had been modified with a hot cinch ring.  It was on a cow hide a man brought in to sell, but reported it first.  That's how we knew the brand had been modified and was quite bloched as well.  You can always tell.  Where's your Ma now?"

"She's dead.  And both sisters are dead as well."

Crystal didn't want Elmer knowing much about her so she kept the details to a minimum, but now he already knew too much.  Then an idea came to her.  "I have a couple of other crimes and some information on a deputy Sheriff I'd like to report on.  But it's kind of private."

Her glance at Elmer was caught by the Marshal, and then she said "I have a crime to confess to - my own self . . ."

"And what would that be Miss Landley?"  The Marshal had gotten a cold look on his face and there was an edge to his voice.  "Again, this is private . . . "  Then she added "murder."

"Miss Landley, I'm placing you under authoritative restriction until we can clear this matter up.  You'll have to come back to Smile with me.  Elmer, how far is it back to your place?"

"Not so far that I can't walk and git my mule.  I still need to make the report on that horse I'm ridin."

"Ok, that's fine.  When can I depend on you coming in to report it?"

"Why I reckon it'll be this afternoon Marshal.  Since I'm feeling poorly, why don't you let me ride the horse back to my place and you foller me.  That horse will carry me and missy here and a lot more a fer piece!"

Whether or not the Marshal realized it, but he, Crystal and Elmer were in a deadly game of chess in which several lives could be lost, or, if played right, all would live - even so, at lease one would hang.  But the danger was taking its toll on Crystal while the Marshal and Elmer seemed to be enjoying it.  At times the Marshal seemed to know a whole lot more than he was letting on.

At the same time, Elmer was intent on finding out as much as he could so he could 'play' this game by ear - so to speak.  The casting about of each man as they conversed about how to get three people back to Elmer's camp was something to observe.

The problem was, Elmer owned the only horse that could carry double.  So that meant Crystal had to ride with him.  Or, Elmer or Crystal had to walk.

Tobias was not going to let a lady walk, and he was not going to walk, and, he couldn't force Elmer to walk.  All these options proved of no avail and at the same time proved Elmer was in control.

Elmer needed to know what Marshal Gale was investigating in this neck of the woods, and, Marshal Gale needed to know a little more about Elmer and his operation, where it was, why no one had ever reported its exact location, and, why Elmer had raised suspicion several times over the years but always had a logical explanation.

Also, Elmer knew the country like that back of his hand.  All the hiding places, where a man could ditch a partner or fellow equestrian.

Marshal Gale also needed to find out about a couple of men who'd been tracking outlaws in this area, and the outlaws would get clean away while the pursuers were never heard from again.

Some rumor had gone about that a robbers roost was working in the area, and that even some outlaws had disappeared in the area.  Marshal Gale himself had chased a man into the general area Elmer had told of just an hour earlier and the man had disappeared.  Tracks and all.  On that excursion Marshal Gale had not seen any indication of someone working a claim.

Recently he had gotten a telegram from Dallas County Sheriff William Jenkens* concerning a deputy who had failed to report in on schedule.  That was a portion of the reason the Marshal was in the area today.  If he did not locate the mine and/or the claim, he had already put a tracker on it.

Only he knew about US Marshal Silver Knife Barloc and his commision to ferret out the mine of one Pyotr Nikifor.  Tobias was confused as to who Elmer Applegate was.  On top of all this was someone by the name of Eaton Appleby.  Tobias had a hunch Eaton and Elmer were the same man.

Also, only Tobias knew about the man who had volunteered to be taken in by Elmer Applegate at peril to his life.  Wayland Lance was a plant!  He'd met Wayland and had quickly gained confidence in him.  He also thought Wayland could take care of himself in the situation he'd been placed in.

Crystal had no idea how much she'd helped in the investigation of her own future but how little she had helped in the location in which she had been kept.  But her life was still in peril, and even US Marshal Tobias Gale couldn't prevent it.  After they'd put the fire out Marshal Gale scoured his cast iron skillet with some sand, emptied his granite coffee pot on and kicked sand over the embers.  He then lifted Crystal into the saddle of the huge horse.

Elmer was given a hand up as well, him being an old man and the horse being above 25 hands.  As soon as he was planted on the skirt of the saddle behind the cantil, he kicked the horse in the sides yelling "haya!!  Giddyup!"  The horse lunged away knocking Marshal Gale to the ground.  Before he could pick himself up, gather his reins, mount and get his horse turned around Elmer and Crystal were gone in the brush.

There was no doubting Marshal Gales' tracking abilities.  But there was no doubting that he knew Elmer was at a point where he'd shoot a man, or, a young woman.  He wasn't about to go blundering headlong through the brush after a deliberate and desperate escapee.  Elmer was no dummy!  He knew Marshal Gale would not risk a shot at him for fear of hitting Crystal.

That she was now considered abducted, her life with her captor was in deep jeopardy.  Whether she lived or died depended on how cool of a head she kept, if Wayland could help, or, if Marshal Silver Knife Barloc was around to help.  But he had no way of knowing if any of these positive factors could be relied upon.

But the confidence Tobias had in Crystal was growing.  True, it would make it much better for her had she been physically at the top of her game.  She was not.  She was weak from malnutrition, and Tobias figured that was deliberate.  At any rate, she sure showed herself game so far!

Tobias was appreciative of the information, and, he was sure glad for the list of brands, both registered and unregistered Rowletta Register had researched for him.  She even ran a short list of them in the Smile Chronicle.


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Chapter X