If you are a publisher or an agent interested in
Catherine Holder Spude
Tuesday, September 4, This Year. “Hey, Rory. You’re gonna’ love this,” I said rather cheerfully into my cell phone. I always sound cheerful when I talk to Rory Saint, ‘cuz I always have a mystery that only he can solve, and I know that he can do it for me.
“Why am I not delighted to hear your voice, Cassie?” I heard him grumble over the interference of the wind. And what was that, gunshots in the background? His background, not mine. I didn’t ever go anyplace near guns, at least not the kind that made shooting noises.
“Sounds like you could use a break, buddy. I’ve got a real, dead body here, nice and safe in Arizona. Get yourself out of whatever war zone you’re in and come look at a truly Bad Guy, the kind that got what he deserved. Go back to your Innocent Victims once the shooting’s over.”
What was that, Grumbling? I swear, Rory Saint is my idea of a living hero, but, at the rate he’s going, he’s out to make himself into a dead one.
“I’ll call you back in ten, fifteen minutes, Cass. You got my attention,” he promised.
I knew the words “dead body” would tempt him. If I hadn’t with that little catch phrase, I thought I might threaten to call up his wife, Jeri Crowne, who is also a forensic archaeologist, and ask her to come out and dig up my skeleton for me, but I really wanted Rory. You see, besides being almost as good as Jeri at identifying dead people, and telling me everything I want to know about their lives from their bones, Rory’s also an expert on nineteenth century guns and ammunition. And I had tons of that in association with this bunch of bones.
Me? I’m Cassie Mitchell, who likes to call herself a historical archaeologist. No, that doesn’t mean I’m a really ancient person who digs up the dirt on dead people. It means I do the archaeology of the historical period. Specifically, I like to do research on sites dating from about the Civil War to World War II, mostly in the United States, but I’ve been known to wander as far afield as Antarctica, Canada and Great Britain, places where the natives speak English. Historical archaeologists blend archaeological methods with historical research, so they have be experts in two fields, not just one. Like my pal, Rory, who has to know as much about human bones as a physical anthropologist, as he does about the tools and artifacts of the people he’s digging up.
Ordinarily I work for the National Park Service out of a centralized office we have in Santa Fe, New Mexico. No archaeologist can get luckier than that. Great people work for that office. If they can avoid the higher-ups in Denver, life is wonderful.
For this job, I’d been lent out to our sister government agency, the Bureau of Land Management. They needed to put in a new water system from a good spring in the Whetstone Mountains in south central Arizona. Their regular archaeologist wasn’t available, and furthermore, wasn’t a historical archaeologist. He preferred to study folks from before the Spanish entrance into North America. But he knew me, and asked if I’d fill in on the job.
Just so happens, he also knew my husband, Derek Chavez, a historian who’d written half a dozen books about a little town named Tombstone, which was located nearby. Derek has a bit of a big-shot reputation in the area. If I don’t say so myself, I guess the two of us share that reputation. My buddy, the local BLM archaeologist, thought he didn’t want to come within one mile of this little water project, considering its history. We knew the story behind it, but thought we could handle it. When I found the skeleton, I began to have my doubts.
My cell phone vibrated in my back pocket. I had not turned it to mute, but the wind whistling under my Indiana Jones hat must have overwhelmed the jingle. I dug out the phone as I hot-footed it to the Bronco that the BLM had loaned me as a crew and equipment carrier.
“Okay, Cassie, whatcha’ got?” Rory asked as I slid in behind the steering wheel and closed the door behind me.
“You ever see the movie ‘Tombstone’ with Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer?” I asked.
“I liked ‘Wyatt Earp’ with Kevin Costner, better,” he replied.
“Yeah, so did I,” I agreed. “And despite what the critics say, I prefer Dennis Quaid’s portrayal of Doc Holliday.”
“Is that what you called me about?” Rory asked. “I’m in a third world country, trying to prove the current dictator is slaughtering his citizens, and you want to discuss the various film versions of the Wyatt Earp legend?”
“I’m getting there,” I tell him. “Do you know where I am?”
I could hear him thinking. “Arizona someplace, I think you said. Whetstone Mountains, Jeri told me.”
“Ring a bell?”
“Ummm. Mescal Springs was in the Whetstones.”
“What did Wyatt Earp do at Mescal Springs?”
I heard a grumble. “I am not an Earp buff. How am I supposed to know?”
“You just told me you saw ‘Tombstone.’ Everyone remembers Val Kilmer making a remark about Wyatt walking on water.”
“That was Mescal Springs?”
“Um-hum,” I agreed. It was supposed to be the climax of the movie.
“So you’re going to tell me how wrong the movie was,” Rory remarked, rather dryly.
“Oh, we all know how wrong the movie was. What surprised me was how right they got it. After what I found yesterday, I’m even more surprised.”
“How’s that?” Rory asked, right on cue.
Well, the spring does not now, nor did it then have a big pool of water like the movie portrayed. However, the ground around it was soft and muddy, good for digging, especially something like a grave. Everywhere else, it’s hard rock-pan. I kept that in mind when I began my investigations.”
“Makes sense,” Rory agreed.
“One thing the Kurt Russell movie got right is that Earp shot Curly Bill twice in the chest with his shot gun. Kevin Costner did it only once, by the way, despite getting a whole passel of other details right. In fact, that’s about the only thing that Russell’s movie maker got right. Everything else was wrong.”
“What’s the point, Cassie?” Rory asked. I could tell he was a little irritated by my tangent into Hollywood’s version of Western history.
“Just this. Seeing Curly Bill die at the spring used to make me scoff, until I found a body buried here.” I paused for effect, took a big breath, and then continued. “With its chest cavity full of buckshot.”
Dead silence on the other end of the telephone.
“Do you know how many Wyatt Earp buffs there are in the world, Rory?” I asked.
I heard another grumble coming through the telephone.
“Come on, Rory. You were not afraid to stand up at the trial of Sadam Hussein and tell the world that those civilians at Dujal had been executed, not killed during a battle, based on your forensic investigations. You can’t be afraid to take on the people that believed that Curly Bill Brocius died in Sonora, Mexico?” I knew I was egging him on. I also knew that I had hooked him.
“It might take me a week to disentangle myself from this mess and get out there,” he warned.
I grinned. I had him, the World Famous Rory Saint, Forensic Archaeologist extraordinaire. Between him, the great metal detector specialist Jesse Brewster, whom I had already recruited, my genius historian husband, and my abilities as an archaeologist, we would settle the evidence once and for all. Who could possibly doubt our evidence of the death of Curly Bill Brocius at Mescal Springs, Arizona on March 24, 1882?
Sunday, July 25, 1880. Wyatt Earp squinted at the silhouette in the doorway of Vogan’s Saloon. That six-foot tall, broad-shouldered figure looked all too familiar, and at this time of the morning, could only mean trouble. U.S. Deputy Marshal Virgil Earp should be at home, in bed, not looking for his brothers.
“Don’t look, Morg,” Wyatt hissed to the man sitting to his right. “We’re about to go to work.”
“Ah, damn. I haven’t even finished my coffee,” Morgan Earp grumbled. “Doesn’t he ever sleep?”
Wyatt flicked a quick glance over to the bar, hoping for some providential deliverance from that direction. After all, James was the oldest of the Earp brothers, and had been known, from time to time, to exert some influence on their stubborn-headed next in-line. Maybe, just maybe, this once, he could be counted upon to come to the rescue.
“Coffee, all around,” James piped up cheerfully, bringing over an enameled coffee pot and two more heavy white coffee cups, one for Virg and one for himself. He poured the black, viscous brew before the deputy U.S. marshal could object.
Virgil stopped next to the table, rocking back on the heels of his boots, scowling under his big drooping mustache. Wyatt could tell he was trying to decide whether he had time for some of James’s coffee. After all, it had just been offered free of charge, not only to him, but to both his younger brothers, too. In all fairness, he couldn’t deprive them of the pleasure, considering what he was just about to ask them to do. It wasn’t an entirely successful ploy, Wyatt knew right off the bat, but it had bought them all a little bit of time, and both he and Morg were grateful to James.
Virgil kept the scowl, but he dragged the chair that stood right in front of him around so he could lower himself into it, and took a sip of the hot, bitter brew. Wyatt grinned. Or did what passed for a grin beneath that long, flowing blond mustache, sort of quirked up the corners of his mouth and made the mustache quiver a bit.
“Ending your shift a little late this morning, Virg,” he observed.
“We’re about to be joined by a Lieutenant Hurst of Fort Rucker. Seems six of the Army’s mules have gone missing.” Virgil got right to the point.
“Army’s got a lot of men and guns. Seems to me that they could go fetch their own mules,” Morgan pointed out.
Virgil raised his eyebrows in silent acknowledgment of that sentiment.
“Well, he’s of the opinion that the culprits are some of our local Cowboys, and the Lieutenant would like help tracking ‘em down.”
Morgan barked out two sharp retorts that were meant to indicate that he found the statement humorous. “Find someone else. I hear that feed store owner down the street, Johnny Behan, that man with so many friends and always so eager to help, he’s bound to have one who’s good at tracking.”
Now there was an up-and-coming character. Sure to get someone in trouble sometime, always sticking his nose into everybody’s business for God knows what purpose, always around and in the way, asking what was happening, trying hard to be everyone’s friend. Wyatt didn’t know who disliked the man more, him or Morgan. He found his brother’s statement absolutely hilarious, so he reacted to Morgan’s joke, actually letting out a couple of chuckles slip out.
Virgil simply continued to scowl, adding a glare at Morgan. “Stealing Army mules is a federal crime. For that you need a U.S. Marshal, not whatever’s hanging around town. No, Hurst was right coming to me. And I’m deputizing the two of you to help me track down these mule rustlers.”
Wyatt and Morgan both decided to match Virgil’s scowl. Considering how much the three of them looked like each other, when the blue-uniformed Lieut. Hurst walked through the swinging door of Vogan’s Saloon a couple of moments later, he probably thought he was seeing triplicate. The three men varied not more than a quarter of an inch from six feet tall, and weighed no more than three pounds off a hundred and fifty-eight without their boots. All three sported light sandy hair and flowing blond mustaches, with piercing blue eyes. Both Virgil and Morgan had told Wyatt plenty of times that it was the cold steel in his eyes that stopped the bullets from entering his body. Only Morgan ever managed to show any mirth in his eyes. Wyatt knew his joy had died with a wife and a child in Missouri. He remembered a sparkle in Virgil’s, back before the War, but he’d come back without it. He may have lost it much the same way Wyatt had.
“Marshal Earp,” the lieutenant greeted him as Virgil rose from his chair.
“Lieutenant Hurst,” Virgil replied, reaching across the table and shaking the Army officer’s hand. “Meet my brothers, Wyatt and Morgan. They’ll be going with us to the McLaury Ranch.”
Wyatt glanced over at Morgan, raising his eyebrows briefly. Morgan shrugged in reply. Virgil had said nothing about Tom and Frank McLaury. That explained why their older brother wanted them along. The ranchers were well known for their clandestine cattle rustling activities.
“You think the McLaureys have something to do with this?” Wyatt asked the lieutenant.
“The sentry on guard said he saw Billy Clanton and Tony Deal ride off with those mules the night they disappeared,” the officer replied. “We have it on good authority that Clanton, Deal and two of their associates have been seen herding six mules towards the McLaury Ranch. Deal and the two Cowboys with him are working for Frank McLaury right now.”
Wyatt watched Morgan’s scowl deepen.
“So that’s why you came to Tombstone. Local boys, bad ‘uns at that, and no one with the stomach to go up against ‘em but Virg and us,” Wyatt remarked.
“This country has a reputation not even the Army likes,” Hurst admitted. “It’s our job to take on the Apache when they’re causing trouble. The cattle rustlers are the responsibility of the U.S. Marshal. You boys are used to dealing with them, know where they operate, and where to find them. I’m not wasting my time roaming these hills looking for crooked cowboys when your brother Virgil knows right where to go and just how to handle them.”
Billy Clanton and Tony Deal? Chances are that Curly Bill Brocius was one of the other two as well. Wyatt suppressed an urge to caress the handle of his Colt .45. Good thing he couldn’t. For one thing, he’d checked it in with James behind the bar, not being a deputy at the moment, and it being a town ordinance that no one could carry arms within the town limits. Secondly, he didn’t make a habit of touching his revolver, even when not threatened. You never knew when someone would take that as an unfriendly gesture.
But the urge lingered. Wyatt knew what his job would be. Catch the thieves and bring them to jail for the courts to handle. For the most part, that served for justice in this part of the west. But here in Tombstone, it seemed more and more, too many men were making the word “cowboy” into a nasty name that stood for cheat, liar and scoundrel, not to mention outright thief and murderer.
If Wyatt could have it his way, how would he handle Billy Clanton, Tony Deal and Curly Bill? There’d be a good chance the three Cowboys wouldn’t live to make it back to Virgil’s jail. All in all, it was probably a good thing for them that Virg was the marshal, not Wyatt.
* * *
As Wyatt let his horse trail after Morgan’s and Virgil’s through the narrow track leading into Frank Paterson’s Ranch, he thought once again how right he was to stick by his brother’s side when it came to doing these kinds of jobs. U.S. Marshal Crawley Dake did not ask Virgil Earp to be a deputy U.S. marshal thinking the older Earp brother ever made any mistakes. Dake knew what kind of men all of the Earps were when they headed out of Prescott almost a year ago, and he knew when he gave Virgil his commission that he was signing up the entire family every time trouble like this reared its ugly head. No Earp was stupid enough to go one on one against the likes of these cowards and scoundrels. None of the varmints that operated in the southern Arizona desert ever traveled by himself or had the courage to face a real man alone. They traveled in packs, like so many rats. And so the only way to dig them out was to do the same, work together, bring only men you could trust. Brothers, or friends as good as.
Thinking of that, Wyatt dropped back behind the four soldiers that accompanied Lieutenant Hurst and Marshall Williams, the detective for Wells-Fargo and Company, who had volunteered to come along at the last minute. Numbers helped, but he didn’t know most of these men, and it wouldn’t do to have his back and those of his brothers to six strange men when talking to Clantons, McLaureys and their hired help. So it was that Wyatt Earp rode at the tail end of the column when the posse caught sight of the mule-branding.
A small herd of mules clustered on the far end of the crude corral next to the weathered barn. Half a dozen men loitered around the corral, some sitting on the top rail of the split fork fence, others jawing or gambling in the shade of the squat mesquite bushes that tried to pass for trees in that part of the country. Four cowhands wrestled with a mule in the center of the corral, three with ropes attached to neck and legs, pulling in three different directions while the fourth applied a hot branding iron on top of one that pre-existed. The smell of scorched hair and flesh announced that the branding had already started. One mule sported a vivid red and black D8 on his flank. The five remaining in the corral wore old, US brands.
“I guess a smokin’ brand’s as good as a smokin’ gun,” Morgan quipped to the posse in general.
While Wyatt generally appreciated his younger brother’s sense of humor, he wished that this time Morg had kept his thought to himself. The Cowboys took the comment as the cue to make themselves scarce, everyone of them diving for the nearest bush. Virgil and Lieutenant Hurst called out simultaneous “Halt!”s, and soldiers scattered into the mesquite chasing after shadows that flit into shadows. Wyatt and Morgan both looked to Virgil, who shook his head and glared back.
“Damn it, Morg,” he snarled. “When you gonna’ learn to keep your trap shut?”
Morgan merely shrugged.
“Mr. Williams.” He looked over at the Wells-Fargo agent. “If you will be so kind as to go find Lieutenant Hurst, and ask him to round up his men, we can take this where it will do some good.”
They watched Williams trot off into the brush, and then Virgil turned slowly back to his younger brothers.
“Who did you see in the corral?” he asked.
“Pony Deal, Billy Clanton, A. T. Hanbrough and Mac Demasters branding the mule,” Wyatt replied. “Curly Bill Brocius was standing by the mules.”
“You?” Virg asked Morgan.
“I saw Deal, Clanton and Demasters with the mule. That’s all.”
“Okay. Let’s go talk to Paterson.” He turned his horse and urged it up toward the ranch house not a hundred yards away, huddled under some stunted palo verde trees.
Frank Paterson sat in a ladder back chair on his broad front porch, apparently reluctant to come out into the hot sun and greet his visitors.
“Afternoon Paterson,” Virgil touched his hat as the three of them rode into the yard.
“’Noon, Marshal,” Frank replied, deigning to stand up. “How can I help you?”
“Those your mules down there?” Virgil nodded his head towards the corral.
Paterson gave a lopsided grin, like he’d been caught with his hand in the candy jar. “Well, now, Marshal, you know those mules ain’t mine, so why’d you ask?”
“Who put ‘em in your corral, then? Mind telling me that?”
Frank kept up the silly grin. Wyatt imagined it must be hurting his face and bending his mind some coming up with something quick that didn’t incriminate either himself or those he was trying to hide.
“Don’t know if I know all their names. They mostly work for Frank McLaury. Frank, now, I’m not sure he’d be real happy about his boys helping themselves to Army mules. I sent word yesterday to the Babacomosa, asking Frank to get himself down here and return those mules. You wait until tomorrow, you’ll get all the animals returned – and the thieves, without a fight. You stay here, someone’s gonna’ get killed. Chances are, it could be you or one of your posse.”
Wyatt watched Virgil narrow his eyes at the threat. Virg never did take much to that kind of talk. It usually just made him more likely to want to take on the bully that had issued the fighting words. But in this particular case, none of them knew what the odds might be. There had been at least a dozen men at that corral, and the Earps didn’t know how many more might be here at the house besides Paterson, two or three, maybe. Even with the soldiers, there was just the nine of them, nine to fifteen, even enough considering what good shots the Earps were. But Curly Bill, well, he was awful good, too.
Just then, Lieutenant Hurst rode up with Marshall Williams and the four soldiers, betraying the full strength of Earp’s posse to Paterson, if he hadn’t been able to count before. The rancher repeated his offer to the Army officer.
“I don’t like it. I say we fight,” Morgan argued.
“You’ve said too much today,” Virgil retorted.
Wyatt urged his horse up alongside his older brother’s. “I have to agree with Morgan. We’ll never see those mules again. At least take them with us.”
Virgil nodded towards the Army officer. Wyatt knew that, as a man of few words, the deputy U.S. marshal agreed with his brothers, and simply indicated so with a nod of his head. The lieutenant apparently took the gesture as an indication that Virgil was leaving the decision up to him.
“The thieves are gone. If Mr. Paterson thinks he can bring them in for us, as well as the mules, let’s give him a chance. You have until tomorrow to bring us the mules and the culprits. We’ll wait for you in Charleston.”
Then, without a word, he turned the head of his horse and spurred it out of the rancher’s yard. The four soldiers followed, promptly.
Virgil Earp swung his astounded gaze from Lieutenant Hurst’s retreating back to Frank Paterson’s gloating countenance.
“Tell Frank McLaury that if he thinks he’s won this round, he is very sadly mistaken,” Virgil growled.
As his older brother swung his horse off to follow the U.S. Army, Wyatt gave himself the pleasure of watching the grin fade from Paterson’s face.
* * *
Tuesday, July 27, 1880. “We’ll stay until sunup tomorrow, Lieutenant,” Virgil agreed with the Army officer’s proposal. Wyatt knew he didn’t want to wait that long, because he didn’t know what was happening back in Tombstone. With the Cowboys on the loose, and the local deputy U.S. marshal for the district stuck up in what passed as a stage stop, no telling what problems sort of mayhem could be spreading in town.
“I suggest you come into Tombstone with me and file a complaint against Clanton, Brocius, Demaesters and Hanbrough,” Virgil continued. “I can make up warrants for their arrest, and we can then go out looking for them.”
“I’d like you to bring charges against Paterson and McLaury as accomplices, as well,” Wyatt heard the lieutenant grumble. He glanced at Morgan and let the right corner of his mouth twitch under his mustache. He knew his brother would catch the irony. The Army learning a day too late not to trust the cattlemen of the desert.
Morgan did. He grinned back from under the shade of the big porch out in front of Charleston’s one and only hotel, where they’d spent the last two nights. Too bad. It looked like Virgil would be making them stay one more.
Wyatt looked down the single, dusty street that separated the two rows of adobe shacks from one another. Not much traffic on this hot afternoon. He caught sight of three men on horseback, seeming to dance on the hot air above the desert a mile west of town.
“Riders,” he announced to Virg and Lieutenant Hurst, sitting inside the only slightly cooler hotel.
By the time the three horsemen drew abreast of the hotel, the cavalry had mounted and blocked the street, Marshall Williams stood by a second-story window with his sawed-off Wells-Fargo shotgun, and the three Earp brothers had arrayed themselves across the front of Charleston’s hotel.
“’Morning, Frank,” Virgil greeted the lead rider, a man with a narrow face, lengthened somewhat by a sharp goatee and accentuated with trim, well-groomed mustache.
“If it ain’t the Earp brothers,” Frank McLaury drawled. “I thought Paterson, here, had run you three off his land.”
“I don’t see any mules,” Lieut. Hurst stated, without preamble.
“Mules,” Frank Paterson noted, “are tricky animals. There one hour, gone the next. Imagine my surprise when I got my boys to go round them up, and they had just disappeared.”
“Just like that, huh?” Virgil asked.
Paterson nodded in a rather matter-of-fact way. “So McLaury shows up, here, and we go looking for his men, sure we’ll find the mules when we find the boys.”
Wyatt appraised the nattily-dressed McLaury, in his hound’s-tooth-checked trousers, fine leather jacket, and silk kerchief above an immaculate white shirt. He hardly looked like he’d been beating the bush looking for errant Cowboys.
McLaury, with a false-looking grin on his face, chuckled. “All we could find was Billy, here. Got left behind when the others ran off on a drunk somewhere. I think you’ll probably find them all in Tombstone.”
Virgil stepped off the porch and into the bright sun. He made sure the three men on horseback could see the cold steel in his eyes. “Where are the mules, McLaury?”
“Mules?” He shrugged. “You know where any mules are, Billy?”
Billy Clanton had dressed for both the desert and his role as a Cowboy, wearing dust-stained canvas trousers of some indescribable dark color, an equally dark shirt, a leather vest and a black silk bandana. Wyatt could barely see his eyes in the shade of his wide-brimmed hat under the bright morning sun. He didn’t need to see the youngster’s bright yellow hair or florid complexion to recognize the kid who had been holding the left hind foot of the mule off the ground.
Clanton grinned. “No, sir. Don’t know about no mules.”
“That’s nonsense,” Lieutenant Hurst scoffed. “Both Morgan and Wyatt Earp saw Billy Clanton helping change the brand on an Army mule two days ago at Frank Paterson’s ranch. I was there with them.”
Frank McLaury lost his grin as his face drained of all color. “You’re all damn, crazy liars. Billy’s been herdin’ cattle with me for the last week. I got nothin’ more to say to any of you.”
He whipped his horse around so fast that it protested, rearing back onto its haunches and grunting in guttural equine fashion. Paterson and Clanton started off for the west, but McLaury further abused his mount by reining in and turning back to Virgil.
“If you ever again try to follow me and my boys, you’re gonna’ have a fight on your hands.” Then he jabbed his spurs in the animal’s side and took off after his partners. Wyatt felt a tremor run down his spine, not of fear, but of premonition, almost as if he knew that the fight had only just begun.