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Sunday, December 13, 2009

How about another little slice of "Murder Under the Cliffs"

This is from Chapter Seventeen. [Jimmy Snyder pays a visit to the Oliver Smith place occupied by Smith, his wife Bright Star (a Navajo), and her brother Billy Pine Mountain]:

I took a good look at the squaw. She was a pretty woman, her hair in a single braid hanging down her back over the same dress she had on earlier, a gingham thing that reached to the ground bunching out below the waist like a white woman's get-up. Her eyes were dark under slim eyebrows, a short Indian nose, light brown skin, and a smile on her face. I could see why Smith would be jealous, but not overtly so.

"Bright Star, how long have you and Mr. Smith been married?" I asked to help her relax, if she was stressed talking to a white man.

"Maybe ten years, maybe more, why?" she said, still smiling, but moving her eyes this way and that.

"Did you and your husband know those outlaws, Grumpy and Wally?" I asked. "And how well did you know Grady?"

"We see Grady about every trip into town," she replied, "but Grumpy and Wally not so much, maybe a few times. Ollie didn't kill Grady, Mr. Snyder, if that's what you're getting at."

"I've seen you both at the cafe every time I go in there," I said. Billy was listening closely, but trying not to show it. "Does he have some business with Mr. Jesperson?"

"It's none of your damn business, Snyder!" yelled Smith, who had come out of the house with pistol drawn. "Get out of the way, Star, and you, too, Billy. I'm going to teach Snyder a lesson about bothering my wife when I'm not around. Move, Star!"

Well, I thought, Billy was right about that. He's a jealous man, all right. I looked at him standing near the open door with a dirty serious expresssion on his face, his black mustache twitching every time he opened his mouth, his eyes in a squint in his bare, partially bald head. He was wearing suspenders to hold up his black wool trousers, one of the tails unbuttoned on one side at the waist and hanging over the top of his pants, his blue shirt partially out of his pants on that side. He held his gun steady, pointed at me.

"Mr. Smith," I said staring into his eyes from a distance of about ten feet, "I was just talking to Billy and Mrs. Smith about Grady's killing. Do you..." is as far as I got, as Smith put a bullet through my hat, sending it flying and landing on the ground maybe six feet behind me.

"The next one will be a little lower, Snyder," said Ollie, still with mustache twitching and that serious expression. "Mount up and get going, before I let you have it."

He was so sure that he had me covered that he glanced quickly at his wife, giving me a quick instant to step aside, draw Colt, and plug him in the gun-handling arm. A big mistake, Smith. He dropped his pistol after firing off a shot that was caused by my lead giving him a muscle twitch and pulling his forefinger back on the trigger. The lead nugget went whistling off into the hills to the west, wing-a-dinging off a rock or tree or something. Smith emitted a loud groan.

Billy slipped his knife out and took a step toward me, but stopped when he saw my .45 pointing at his gut.

"Better help your husband, Mrs. Smith, and you can help her, Billy, just put your scalper away first," I suggested, watching closely.

"I'll get you for this, Snyder," Smith groaned. "I'll turn you in to the sheriff for trying to kill me. Star and Billy will be my witnesses."

 "I don't think you'll have to, Smith," I said, putting Colt away and picking up Smith's gun. "I'll leave this at Fullenwider's office, and these holes in my hat will show him who shot first."

I retrieved my hat, stuck a finger through a hole, and pulled it over my brown hair, keeping my eye on Billy and his pig-sticker.

Smith groaned again and sat down on the porch steps. He told Star to get the iodine and a clean rang and tie up his bloody arm. He unbuttoned his shirt and pulled his arm out of the sleeve after slipping off a suspender. He stared at the blood and the crease in his arm, not a bad injury.

"It looks like you'll live," I said. "Who owns this property? Where do you keep your animals? Is that your crop of grain out there?"

He just gave ame a dirty look and said, "None of your business."

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