Western Short Story
The River Maiden
Jim Bryson

Western Short Story

It was one of the largest steamboats on the Mississippi and she shone brightly in the April afternoon, like the queen of the river she was.

Nick Jansen leaned on the balcony of the second deck of the Louisiana Queen and watched the water flow away behind the paddle-wheel. He never tired of the sights and sounds, even after two years aboard as the head of security. Plying the waters of the Mississippi from Vicksburg to New Orleans was an endless adventure for someone from the lower east side of Chicago.

"Another good day," a deep voice behind him said and Nick turned around to see Dawson Paul, the long-time chief purser of the boat. It was Dawson's job to make sure that everything ran properly on the boat, from berths to seating and meals. He was the supervisor of all staff and reported directly and only to the Captain, Stanley Farris.

"Are we running full?" Nick asked. The boat could carry more than three hundred passengers at full capacity.

Paul shook his head. "Not this run, Nick. About two hundred and ten. Oh, and you should know, Tremblay's back on board."

Nick nodded. "I'll watch him." Claude Tremblay was a New Orleans gambler who usually plied his trade in the larger saloons in the big city. But every once in a while, he made a trip on one of the steamboats to gamble with those who might not know him as well. He was thought to cheat but if he did he was good enough that no one had caught him doing so. But he was a rough and domineering man and could be a bully.

"Also, there's a Pinkerton wanting to talk with you."

"Who are they looking for this time?"

Paul shrugged. "Didn't say. He's sitting in the dining room. Tall man, brown derby, moustache. Looks like a Pink, too."

Nick nodded and pushed from the railing. "Best see him." He went in through the second deck, the open area where the gaming took place and then up the stairs to the third deck where the dining room was situated. He spotted the Pinkerton man and went over to his table, pulling out a chair and seating himself. Dora, the head server, saw him and brought over a steaming cup of tea.

"Morning, Nick," she said with her wide smile. "Got some fresh raspberry scones, your favourite. Want one?"

He smiled up at her. "Please, Dora. Thanks for the tea."

He turned to the Pinkerton man. "I'm Nick Jansen, head of security."

The man extended his hand. "I'm Tom Neville, Mr. Jansen." He opened a billfold to show his Pinkerton badge and card.

"Call me Nick. Been with the Pinkertons long?"

Neville nodded. "Ten years, and thanks for using our full name. I hate being called a 'Pink.' Happens all too often."

"What brings you to our boat?"

"I'm after a forger," Neville began. "It's a woman. She's been falsifying banknotes, property deeds, letters of patent and more along the east coast for the past few years. We've known about her but could never catch her. We've a tip she's on board your boat, got on at New Orleans just ahead of a few folks of the criminal persuasion who wanted to see her floating in the water rather than riding on it. Permanently, if you take my meaning."

"So she's on the run."

Neville nodded. "From us and them. The problem is we don't have a good description and those after her hide do. All we have is medium height, medium build and that she changes her makeup, hair style and colour often enough that we've not been able to put together a good likeness for a poster."

"Thanks for letting me know," Nick said. "I'll let my team know."

He got up, finishing the last sip of tea and headed for the morning staff meeting on the top deck, taking the hot scone from Dora on his way out. Captain Stanley Farris met with his senior team each morning. Nick, Dawson Paul, the purser, Claudia Farmer, in charge of rooms and housekeeping, Andre Moreau, the head chef, Debra Harris, the dining room manager and Tinker Barnes, the ship's chief engineer. The meetings were usually brief and always to the point, just to keep everyone up to date on current or potential situations to be addressed. There was nothing unusual this morning, just run-of-the-mill information sharing and Nick was back up the stairs to the third deck a half-hour later. It was midmorning and time for his first bow to stern check on the boat. Most often one of his security crew would do the check but Nick did it himself two or three times each week. It kept him aware of the small things on the boat and gave him a chance to chat with crew members, especially new ones, he might not otherwise see very often. It was a way, he had found, to gain valuable information.

"Tremblay's back aboard tonight," Dan Post, assistant engineer, told Nick as they passed in the narrow lower corridor. "Do me a favour and toss him over the rail, will you Nick?"

Nick grinned at him. "First chance he gives me, Dan."

The trip through the boat took more than an hour. He was back in the dining room in time for brunch with Dawson Paul, their usual meeting. Between the two of them, they knew most of what was going on throughout the boat, crew and guests included, and they could often anticipate and prevent difficulties.

After brunch Nick returned to his quarters and slept for four hours. Promptly at four o'clock, dressed in evening wear, he was on the second deck where the gaming would soon begin. Jayce Turnbull was the floor manager and was arranging cards and chips behind a long counter on one side of the room.

"Tremblay's back," Jayce said sourly.

"I know. I'll be watching."

People started entering the large gaming room about six o'clock and within a half-hour the room was beginning to fill. A three-piece band played quiet jazz near the bow end, just loud enough to fill the spaces between the conversations, but not loud enough to be intrusive. Nick like the music.

"Well, well, Nick Jansen," the smooth voice said from behind him. He turned to see Claude Tremblay standing there, two of his usual hangers-on some few steps behind the gambler.

"Tremblay," Nick said noncommittally.

"I'm not here to cause any trouble, Nick," Tremblay said, that smooth smile of his never fading.

"I know," Nick said. "Remember what I said last time. It still goes."

"That you'd toss me overboard?" Tremblay said, the smile tightening.

"That I'd beat you to a pulp and toss what was left overboard," Nick said, the tone of his voice leaving no doubt that he meant just that.

"My friends might have something to say about that," Tremblay said.

Nick looked at the two men and smiled. "They couldn't scare my baby sister, Claude, and you know it. So play nice or you'll be swimming." He turned and walked away. Tremblay, after staring at Jansen's back a moment, found a seat at a nearby table. His men stood silently against the wall behind him.

Nick made his rounds of the room, constantly on the move, stopping here and there to chat with a familiar face, a regular traveler and occasionally with one of the boat's staff. He completed a check of the rest of the ship and was back in a little more than an hour.

"Nick," Jayce said, waving Jansen over.

"Trouble, Jayce?"

Jayce grinned. "Not for us, but for that Tremblay. He's getting taken to the cleaners. It's a woman, too, which makes it all the worse for him."

Nick wandered over to the table and stood watching. There were five players including Tremblay, a well-known and well-liked gambler named Dice Morrow, two men Nick did not know and a woman. She looked to be in her thirties, shapely and with a nice face. Nick could see the pile of chips in front of her was substantially larger than any of the others, and Tremblay's grim expression suggested even if he were up to any of his reported tricks they were not working.

The woman looked over and caught Nick's eyes and there was a brief smile before her focus returned to the game in front of her. Tremblay was just pushing a small group of chips to the center of the table. "I call," he said.

Two of the other men folded and Dice Morrow joined the call. The woman smiled at each and laid down her cards. A full house, kings and tens. Morrow smiled and folded. Tremblay tossed his cards into the center of the table in disgust, rose from his seat and left the lounge, his two men following along quietly.

"Care to join us?" the woman said to Nick Jansen. It was a quiet voice.

He shook his head. "I never gamble." Then he turned and walked away, moving around the room and keeping an eye on all the tables. Near the bar Chip Hennessy, one of his security team, was also watching the room.

"Anything?" Nick asked.

Chip shook his head. "Quiet evening, boss. Hope it stays that way. One thing, see that man in the burgundy vest at table four?"

Nick looked over that way and nodded.

"He's cheating. Jayce saw it."

At that moment the group at that table and a couple of others took a short break and the man in the burgundy vest wandered out onto the deck for some air. Nick followed him out and stood beside him at the railing.

"Nice evening, but cool," the man said.

Nick nodded. "Nice up here, but the water down there is pretty cold and dark. Bad for anyone falling in."

The man looked at him and Nick met the glance.

"You've been cheating," Nick said, raising a hand. "Don't bother to deny it. Keep it up and I'll toss you over this railing and into that same cold and dark water. There will be no second warning. If you don't believe me, ask around." He turned and went inside, nodding to Chip to let him know the man had been given his one and only warning.

He noticed that Tremblay had returned to the salon but at a different table. Nick wandered to the bar and Clancy, the bartender, poured him his orange juice. Nick never drank when working and insisted no one else did either.

The woman from the table came up beside him. "I don't think Mr. Tremblay likes me very much this evening."

"Claude Tremblay doesn't like anyone very much," Nick replied. "But that's alright, because no one likes him either."

"I've heard that he cheats."

"It's been said."

"I think he tried it once, but I outmaneuvered him and it cost him."


"I cheated just enough to balance his cheating then made sure one of the others won that pot. I think he got the message."

"So you cheat at cards."

She shook her head. "Never. But I know how to cheat and I'll use it to keep the game honest for everyone."

"Honest from your perspective. Don't do it again."

She looked at him a moment and paused. "You have my word." She turned to head back to the tables then stopped and looked back. "By the way, my name is Daisy. Daisy Telford."

"Nick Jansen."

And then she returned to the tables.

The rest of the evening was uneventful and at midnight the lounge closed and participants retired to cabins or out onto the deck where it was cool but tolerable. Nick helped Jayce to close up the lounge and then headed to his room on the main deck. As he went down the stairs he saw Daisy Telford standing at the bottom of the stairs as if waiting for him.

"Would you like to join me for coffee?" she asked.

"Certainly," he said. The kitchen and dining room on the Queen never closed and they climbed back to the third level. He ordered tea for himself and coffee for Daisy. They found chairs out on the deck and sat.

"So you're the local sheriff," she said.

"That would be me," Nick replied. "Almost three years now. I like it."

"Do you carry a gun?"

He nodded and showed her the gun in the shoulder holster under his coat. He did not show her the other pistol at the small of his back nor the one strapped to his ankle. He believed in insurance policies of the weapon type.

"Ever have to use it?"

"Not in the time I've been here. Time to time before that. Enough about me. What brings you onto our boat?"

"Just travelling to Vicksburg," she said. "I plan to head west. I'm not sure of my exact destination. I like to think those things reveal themselves in time."

"Do you have a profession?"

She laughed. "As many as I need to have. I can teach, write, run a store or drive a wagon. My father wanted sons but had four daughters and I have to admit I'm the most tomboyish of the four."

"Then you should be able to do well anywhere you like."

"What about you?" she asked. "Is this to be your profession in the longer term, riding the waves as the riverboat sheriff?"

It was his turn to laugh. "For now, I suppose. The years have flashed by quicker than I imagined. I won't do this too long but right now it serves my needs. I enjoy the diversity of the travelers and the familiarity of the boat and the river. And I've made friends on board, something I rarely do."

"It sounds perfect then, at least for now." She looked at a pendant watch that she wore around her neck. "Time to retire," she said. "Tomorrow's another day." She went down the stairs toward the staterooms.

Nick stayed out on the deck a little while, making a final round of the third and second decks before heading back to his rooms. As Daisy Telford had said, tomorrow would be another day.

Dawson Paul looked troubled when Nick joined him for their usual brunch the next morning. "Something on your mind?"

Paul nodded. "Three men on board that I don't cotton to. They've stayed in their staterooms for the past two days but they were out on deck early this morning and I had a bad feeling about them."

"What rooms are they in?"

"Seven through nine."

"I'll check it out."

Before he went back to his room, Nick found Chip Hennessy and told him what Dawson Paul had said. Chip nodded. "Mike saw them too and had the same feeling." Mike Harper was another of Nick's security team.

"Let's have someone shadow them if they leave their rooms again," Nick said. "Wake me up if you need to."

He was up again at four, dressed and on the second deck as usual. Mike Harper found him there, chatting with Jayce.

"There they are," Mike said, nodding toward the end of the bar. Nick turned and studied the three men carefully. At first glance there was nothing unusual about them but when he watched them there was a tension about them. They kept looking about the room as if they were looking for someone.

Tom Neville came across the room to them, weaving his way among the tables. "Thought you might find those three interesting," he said.

"You know them?"

Neville nodded. "Oh yes. They work for Cyrus Walters. He's a major crime boss in New Orleans. My guess is they're looking for the same woman I am, and I'd better find her first."

"Which is the leader?"

"The taller one, the one with the black beard, top hat and scar above his left eye. His name's Danny Loftus and he likes to cut people."


Nick walked straight down to the end of the bar and stood in front of Loftus. The man looked apprehensive as Nick approached, but not afraid.

"Mr. Loftus, please step out to the deck with me," Nick said.

Loftus hesitated, then nodded and followed Nick out. Mike Harper stepped between the two of them and Loftus' men and kept them inside.

"I'm told you're on board looking for a woman."

Loftus nodded. "A tramp really." There was a cockney accent. "She stole a lot of money from my boss and he wants us to bring her back so they can settle things between them. It's kind of a personal thing with him."

"I tolerate no violence on this boat."

"There won't be none from her. She'll come with us quiet if she knows what's good for her. She nicked the boss back in the city for more than ten thousand and he wants it back, with interest."

"Not good enough. Here's what's going to happen. If you recognize her you're going to tell one of my men or myself. We'll arrest her and turn her over to a Pinkerton man who's on board and who's also looking for her. Your boss can deal with the Pinkertons to recover what he's lost."

Loftus shook his head. "Can't do it. Got my orders."

"Then you're getting off my boat."

Loftus's smile was wicked. He looked around to see if there were any people around. There were none. He smiled. "You can't make me, mate," he said and his hand disappeared into his coat, coming out with knife.

He slashed quickly upward toward Nick's chest but in one smooth move Nick blocked the blow, put an elbow into Loftus's face and then, spinning, tossed the man over his shoulder and over the rail into the dark waters below. There was a sharp yell and a satisfying splash from below as Loftus hit the waves.

Nick picked up the knife and tossed it over the rail then straightened and brushed off his evening coat before he returned to the lounge. Loftus's men looked past him for their leader.

"Mr. Loftus decided to leave the boat," Nick said. "And if either of you cause one bit of trouble you'll be following him. Am I clear?"

They nodded anxiously. "Now get back to your rooms and stay there. You'll be getting off at the next stop. Go." He pointed to the door.

They went.

Tom Neville grinned. "I saw that move of yours. Very nice."

"I sailed on a tramp steamer in the Indian Ocean for a year," Nick said. "The sailors from India were marvels at hand-to-hand combat and they liked to fight after they'd been ashore drinking. It was either learn how to fight in their style or suffer the consequences."

"Now what?"

"We'll be stopping to drop off goods in Ellsberg in the morning and they'll be put ashore by my men, willing or unwilling."

"And the woman?"

Nick pointed to the far table where Daisy Telford was dealing out a hand. "I've studied the women on this trip and I'm guessing that's the woman you're looking for, though without a good description I don't know that there's much you can do about it."

"Can I search her cabin?"

Nick considered then nodded. "I think we can say you have cause."

They found Dawson Paul and he let them into the stateroom. Nick stood by as Tom Neville went through Daisy Telford's things with professional thoroughness that would leave things just as he found them. He hit pay dirt. In a valise he found bank notes, deeds and assorted official looking forms, names and dates left blank. He also found more than ten thousand dollars in cash, ink and pens, blotters and other tools that he identified as the tools of the forger.

Neville packed it all into the leather satchel and they left the stateroom, taking it with them. They locked it in the boat's large safe and then returned to the gambling lounge.

"Now what?" Nick asked.

"I'm going to ask that she be confined to her stateroom under guard until we get to Vicksburg and then I'll take her ashore. They have a jail where she can stay until I make arrangements for her return to New Orleans." He started toward the table but Nick Jansen held his arm and shook his head.

"No need for us to make a fuss in here," he said. "We'll confront her when the lounge closes down at midnight. Until then, we'll just let her play. She's not going anywhere."

Neville nodded. "Fair enough," he said.

And precisely at midnight, when the salon lights were dimmed and the lounge emptying of its patrons, Nick, Chris Hennessey and Tom Neville were waiting at the door. As Daisy Telford approached they could see her become wary, then tense and then she suddenly smiled and relaxed.

She looked at Neville. "I suppose you've been through my room?"

He nodded.

"Silly of me," she said, "But such things are hard to come by and I hated to part with them even though I knew the risk if they were found."

"You're to be confined to your room under guard until Vicksburg and then I'll make arrangements to have you transported to New Orleans for trial."

She laughed. "Mr. Neville, you are naïve. There will be no trial. Cyrus Walters will have me killed within hours of returning to New Orleans, especially since he cannot prove the money you recovered was his. He won't bother about the money. He'll just eliminate me out of revenge and to send a message to others."

She walked past them down the stairs, Mike Harper and Chris Hennessey behind her. One of them would guard the door until Nick found other crew members to take turns at the post. Many of the men on the crew were ex-soldiers and could be counted upon.

"Is she right?" Nick asked Neville. "About Walters?"

Neville nodded. "Oh, he'll try to have her killed alright. He'll have other prisoners, even some of the women, frightened enough that they'll do his bidding. But we can try to keep her safe."

"Are you certain?"

Neville shrugged. "As certain as I can be. But she did the crime and now comes the punishment, from our system of justice or Walters. One or the other." He went down the stairs toward the staterooms.

Nick Jansen leaned on the railing of the upper deck studying the stars above and the waters below, deliberating on the evening's events.

At their mid-morning stop in Ellsberg Walters' two men were escorted off the boat and onto the dock. They stared gloomily at the boat as it maneuvered back into the river, then turned and headed up the street to the town.

Nick brought lunch to Daisy Telford and sent Mike for lunch.

"A personal visit from the sheriff," she said, smiling. "I'm privileged."

He smiled. "Well, you never know what the food will be like in jail."

"I won't be there long enough to care," she said. "Cyrus Walters controls the jail. He has most of the staff in his pocket and most of the prisoners afraid of him. I won't last a day before one of them kills me."

"Neville seems to think they can protect you."

She laughed. "Let me tell you a little bit about our Mr. Neville. He's a very successful Pinkerton agent because he operates with a narrow focus. He believes all criminals should be locked up and the keys thrown away and that it's a waste of money to incarcerate those who he feels should be hung instead. He's a harsh man behind that smile of his, Nick. Make no mistake, he's an honest agent and if he says he can protect me, he believes it. But in that he's mistaken, I assure you."

"I wish there were something I could do to help."

"You could leave that door unlocked so I could escape."

He shook his head. "That I cannot do."

She smiled. "I didn't think so."

"And I imagine that if you did escape you'd go on doing what you've been doing, breaking the law and robbing from others, and that's wrong."

"I know," she said. "I make no excuses for what I've done. But in truth I was leaving all of that behind me and heading west to start anew. I know that's difficult for you to believe, and you probably don't, but it's true. I don't mind accepting the consequences for what I've done but I don't want to be knifed in a New Orleans jail for it ether. That's more than I deserve."

"Cheyenne, Wyoming," Nick said.

"What?" She was surprised at the change of subject.

"Will you promise me that you'll go to Cheyenne, Wyoming, no other town, no other territory, and once there that you'll go to the local sheriff, tell him what you've done and how you intend to make up for it?"

She looked puzzled. "I don't understand."

"Wyoming has no established extradition arrangements with eastern states and as a territory it handles its own lawbreakers. You might be jailed there but you won't be sent back to Louisiana and they won't be notified of your location if you don't tell the sheriff where you committed your crimes."

She didn't hesitate. "You have my word, for what that is worth. But how will you know that I've kept it?"

He smiled down at her. "Because the sheriff of Cheyenne Wyoming and the district is my cousin, Ed Jansen. I'll be checking with him in a couple of months to make certain you've kept your word."

"And if I don't?"

"I'll take a leave from this job, find you and make sure you do."

"While that's an attractive option, I'll keep my word. I swear."

"Be ready precisely at eleven o'clock. I hope that you can swim. Pack very light. You'll have to swim about fifteen yards before you can stand." He turned and left the stateroom.

"I'll take the late-night shift," he told Mike Harper, "I'll relieve you at eleven."

He was back at eleven and Mike went off to his room.

"You ready?" he asked as she opened the door.

Daisy Telford nodded. "I've packed lightly," she said. She had one large packsack and he handed her a watertight sack from stores to put it in.

"Do you have money?" He reached for his wallet but she stopped him.

"You found the money I took from Cyrus Walters," she said. "But Neville stopped there. I've more than enough to get me to Cheyenne and start over once I relieve myself of past mistakes. Thanks all the same."

He led the way to the lower deck to make certain that they were not seen. The big boat was taking a long slow turn in the river and was less than twenty yards from the shore.

She turned to look at him. "Ask your cousin about Angela Masters," she said. "That's my real name." She took the three steps to the water's edge, turned and smiled up at him and then slipped quietly into the water and was quickly left behind as the boat moved away. She would come ashore less than a half-mile from Ashton and there she could arrange passage westward.

Tom Neville was an unhappy man. "You were responsible!" he said angrily. "It was your job to keep her secure until Vicksburg!"

"I know," Nick Jansen said calmly. "And I've apologized, Neville. It was my error, thinking she was asleep. I was tired and I went to the dining room for a cup of tea to wake me up. She must have been waiting for just such a chance to leave. I'm not sure what time she left the ship but I was only gone for fifteen minutes about midnight. That had to be when she left the room."

"I'll wire the local towns up and down the river," Neville said. "But my guess is she's headed east to one of the big cities where she can change her name and appearance and take up her trade safe from us and Cyrus Walters. It might be a long time before we get another chance to catch her, if we do."

"It might be," Nick Jansen said.

The first letter came a month later. It was from Ed Jansen in Cheyenne. 'Nick, just wanted to let you know that Angela Masters arrived. She explained what she had been up to and what you told her. I told her to settle in and keep her nose clean and she has been doing that. She bought a ladies-wear shop from Tamara Winters and she seems to be doing fine and all on the straight and narrow. I really like her, Nick. I guess that is my thanks for sending her along. She will write you soon. Drop me a line when you can and let me know when you are going to get off that boat and onto land again. Cecil Thomas is putting that little ranch on the market in the spring, the one that you always had your eye on. What do you think? Regards as always, your cousin Ed.'

The second letter was from Angela Masters. 'Dear Nick. I just want to thank you for the opportunity you gave me. I reported in to your cousin Ed, a dear man who has been very kind and supportive, and I have grown to like him over the short time here. I bought a ladies-wear store and things are going very well. Somewhat surprisingly, I do not miss the old life at all. Ed tells me there is a ranch near here that you have had your eye on and that might be put up for sale soon. Is there a chance that you might come to Cheyenne? If so, let me know. We would enjoy seeing you again. Angela.'

Now that was something he never expected. Ed and Angela together. He smiled and shook his head.

The big boat was pulling into the New Orleans wharf when Dawson found him. "Trouble coming at you, Nick," he said.

"What kind?"

"The Cyrus Walters kind. He's on the dock waiting to come aboard and he wants to talk to you. Seems a bit perturbed." Dawson smiled.

Nick smiled back. "Bring him to the salon."

Nick was leaning casually against the bar when Cyrus Walters, following Dawson, stalked imperiously into the room, followed by three of his men. The three of them stayed back.

"You Nick Jansen?" Walters asked in a gruff voice.

"You know I am. What do you want?"

"You cost me money, mate, when you let that woman escape. And you roughed up one of my boys. I want to warn you away from New Orleans. You might not be safe here if you leave the boat. I might make an example of you."

His laugh was cut short as Nick pulled his pistol and stuck it under Walters' chin. The man suddenly stood very still. His men began to move but Nick stopped them with a raised hand.

"One more step and I'll shoot him!"

They stopped.

"Now, Walters, you listen to me." Nick Jansen's voice was low and menacing. "You're nothing to me but a second-rate punk and I'd not hesitate a moment to shoot you and toss your worthless carcass overboard for the alligators to feast on, though you might give even them indigestion. Any time you want to try to make an example of me, you go right ahead, or send some of your goons to try. But they better get it right, because if they come after me I'll kill them. Then I'll find you and I'll kill you. Make no mistake. All your money and power won't do you any good when you're dead and rotting in the ground. Do you understand?"

He put the gun away and pushed Walters toward the door. Walters stumbled, his face bright red with anger, anger beyond words.

"Now get out! You're stinking up the place."

Chip Hennessey and Mike Harper escorted the men out of the salon, down the steps and down the gangway onto the wharf. None of them looked back as they walked away from the boat, anger in each movement.

"You've made a nasty enemy there, my friend," Dawson Paul said to Nick. "And you embarrassed him in front of his men. He'll have to do something about that and he'll not likely be long in planning it."

Nick nodded in agreement. "You're right, Dawson. But done is done, I always say. I'd best bring the captain up to date."

He found Captain Stanley Farris in the wheelhouse and brought him up to date on what had happened with Cyrus Walters.

"Will this man make trouble for us?" Farris asked, his first concern being the boat and its crew and passengers.

"He might," Nick admitted. "I was thinking perhaps it's time I moved on, Captain. With me gone he's no grudge against you, the boat or anyone else. It might be best. Chip and Mike can handle any security issues and it seems time for a change for me as well. Might be best all around."

Farris considered. "I'd hate to lose you, Nick, and you know that, but I'd also hate to see anything bad happen to you or to any who tried to defend you. If you think that's the best thing, then I'll regrettably understand and accept it. We leave for Vicksburg in two hours. What do you plan?"

"I'll travel to Vicksburg and then I'll head out from there."

The boat headed from the wharf on time. Mike Harper and Chris Hennessey, who had been guarding the gangway, came up to Nick.

"No one aboard who shouldn't be, Nick. We made sure," Harper said. "But there's going to be trouble with that Walters."

"Not if I'm not here," Nick replied. He explained he would be leaving the boat in Vicksburg and heading to Chicago, as he planned to tell no one where he would really be going. They were disappointed he was leaving, but pleased when he told them they'd be getting promotions and raises and be sharing the role of head of security between them.

He packed his things and continued his daily routine for the next few days until they nudged the boat into the wharf in Vicksburg. He kept the goodbyes to a minimum. Dawson Paul would ensure Cyrus Walters learned of Nick's departure and would be told he was returning to his home in Chicago. Let Walters do what he wanted with that, Nick thought, for he would be far away.

He arranged to have Dawson store his things and would wire for them later. He boarded a train the next morning heading west, under an assumed name. The trip was uneventful, though tedious, and he felt himself relaxing, realizing that you never know how fast you are going until you stop.

He rode the train to Colorado, then bought a couple of sturdy horses and headed north toward Cheyenne, looking forward to the trip.

It was on the fourth day north that trouble came to him. He was riding along a narrow divide between two hills when he began to get that itchy feeling that he was being watched. He stopped, and under the guise of getting a drink out of his canteen, he scanned the area. Nothing seemed amiss but he was still wary. There were Indian groups in the area. The Utes, Shoshone and Arapaho were for the most part friendly but there were nomadic Apaches that might find him an appealing target. So he would ride carefully.

The he saw slight movement high and to his left and slid from the saddle, grabbing his rifle as a volley of shots flew through the air where he had been seated. Had he not moved, he would be dead.

He scrambled a few yards away to a clump of rocks and settled comfortably. The horses had wandered off the trail a bit but toward him. They were safe, for if it were Apaches, they would want the horses.

It was dry and dusty and he wished he had grabbed a canteen too, but such was life, he reasoned. The rifle had been more important. He checked that it was loaded and added cartridges. He also took out his pistol and his shoulder gun, made sure they were fully loaded and set them on a rock within easy reach. He had ample firepower if he were faced with an all-out attack but he did not expect one. It would be a much stealthier approach.

Well, he thought, time to get the ball rolling.

He knew the Apache method of working their way toward him one small hiding place at a time and watched likely places. He was rewarded a few minutes later when there was a puff of dust where none should be, behind a mound of soft sand. He aimed the rifle at the base of the mound of sand and fired three times, knowing his bullets would go right through the sand. There was a scream and an Apache raised up and fell over on his side, blood all over his face.

One down. How many more?

Shots came at him, bouncing off the rocks, a couple ricocheting dangerously close but doing no damage. Focusing, he thought he counted three separate sounds. So, most likely three more out there.

It was quiet for another half-hour and he knew they would be working their way close. Perhaps one would be working his way around behind and above. From time to time he studied the slope above him. And then there was a shadow and he got ready. The man would have to stand to fire down at him and Nick was ready with a pistol in each hand. The brave appeared, rifle ready, and Nick shot him once with each of the colts. The man tumbled down the slope to lie dead between Nick and the horses. The horses shied and whinnied but did not run.

He turned in time to meet the rush of the other two, firing with both hands and dropping the two of them to the ground where they lay still. Nick Jansen did not doubt where each of the bullets had gone.

Still, he reloaded the colts and from his position put a bullet into the head of each of the Indians, wanting to be sure none was playing possum. He cautiously stepped out from the rocks, half expecting a shot, but none came.

He found their horses in a small ravine to the west and brought them back. He stripped the Indians of their weapons, put them in sacks and tied the sacks to their horses. He scooped a large grave and tumbled the bodies into it before covering it. That done, he mounted and, now leading five horses, continued north taking care to leave little trail, though that was difficult with five horses leaving tracks. Still, he did his best.

Twelve days after stepping from the train in Colorado he rode down the main street of Cheyenne and dismounted in front of the sheriff's office.

Ed's greeting was warm. "Been too long, cousin," he said lifting Nick nearly off the ground in a big bear hug. "I told Cecil Thomas you'd be coming along and he's anxious to talk turkey with you about the ranch. I told Angela too and she was all excited. Made me smile, just seeing that."

Nick unloaded his gear at the livery stable, arranged for the horses to be cared for and booked a room at the hotel. Then he brushed himself off and headed across the street to Lady Belle's to say hello.