“You lynched the wrong man, Huck!” Stenson stood behind his desk, rigidly straight and eyes glaring. He was a sandy-haired man, with squinting blue eyes. There was something of the soldier about his bearing. He wore his suit like a uniform, a means to identify his status in regards to any he might have to deal with.
“Quit your bellyaching, Stenson,” Huck growled. He was a leathery man, dressed in the garb of a cowhand. A badge pinned to his jacket indicated his position as a deputy sheriff in Tonto County, Arizona Territory. “If you didn’t have the grit to see the business through, you hadn’t oughta got into it.” Placidly, Huck cut himself a chaw of tobacco and wedged it in his mouth. “I took my posse to the dude’s cabin, found him with those rustler friends of his from the CU ranch, and strung ‘em all up. That’s four men off the Stock Association’s list.”
“For God’s sake, Huck! It’s one thing to lynch some rustling cowboys, but that dude you strung up has people back east who are going to want answers. That cock-and-bull story of yours about how you just wanted to talk to the man and then three dozen masked riders overpowered your posse and lynched the men has to be one of the stupidest fictions outside of a damn Ned Buntline dime novel!” Stenson pounded on his desk. A paper bearing the CU ranch’s brand fell to the floor.
Huck shrugged “So what. The Stock Association owns the law in this territory. And don’t lecture me about rustling. If every rustler in the territory dropped dead, wouldn’t be a stockman alive in Tonto County. That includes you, Stenson. You registered the Teacup brand a month after the CU moved in.” Huck scooped the paper from the floor. With a few strokes of a pen he transformed the CU into a teacup.
“That ain’t the same!” Stenson bristled. “Those CU bastards meant to loot me off the range. I had to steal just to get my own back. I am talking about unprovoked rustling!” Stenson ran his fingers through his hair. “I wrote a letter to the dude’s father, George Endicott Senior. He’s some investor back east[DH1] . Has investments in mining. I tried to hint that George Junior had it coming, in a polite and sorrowful way.
“Anyway, the father hasn’t replied, but I got a telegram from the dude’s brother, John Endicott. He’s coming in on the noon stage from Phoenix. He’ll be here to collect the dude’s things. I need to convince him not to make a fuss about his brother getting lynched. You just sit there and don’t say a thing until I tell you to. The story is George Endicott Junior was a cow thief and friend of cow thieves, it’s sad to relate but too late to do anything about it. Then it’s a manly shoulder for brother John to cry on and then he can pull freight for wherever.”
Stenson and Huck had only a brief wait before John Endicott arrived, travelling grip in hand. Endicott was a sturdily built man, with dark, curly hair, and a broad face where cold, gray eyes peered over a thick mustache. After greetings and expressions of sorrow, Endicott explained his errand. “I came as soon as I could. I’m an engineer in one of the mines my father has a part ownership in, and rather than subject my father to the rigors of cross-country travel, I came down from the mining country in Montana.” He spoke with a marked Yankee accent.
“I understand,” Stenson said. “Perhaps it were better for you to hear this than your father.” Stenson began pulling out bills of sale, brand registries, and livestock reports relating to George Endicott Jr.’s ranch. With artful exaggeration, deliberate misrepresentation, and considerable suppression of truth, Stenson began to impeach Endicott as a willing buyer of stolen cattle and an ally of range bandits. John Endicott sat silent through it all, saying nothing until Stenson finished
“I see,” he said at last. “What of the cattle bearing his brand?”
Stenson only shrugged. “They are scattered. You could hire no honest man to round up stock with such a dubious title.”
John Endicott nodded. “And my brother’s land?”
Stenson winced. “He didn’t actually own it. He had filed a claim, which has lapsed with his death. As it happens… I mean…”
“I filed on it,” Huck said, his voice unnaturally loud. “I own the adjoining claim. Your brother’s land is mine now.” Huck’s eyes bored into Endicott, cold as a rattlesnake’s. “I must say you don’t favor your brother George much in looks. You had best differ from him in this too. I reckon you need better sense than he did.” Huck shifted in his seat, exposing the revolver at his hip.
Endicott sighed deeply. “Of course. There is no more to be said. I have made arrangements for George’s body to be shipped east.” He reached for his grip and paused, eyes on Huck. Gingerly, Endicott opened his grip and produced a wooden case. “I suspected much about my brother’s dealings. He was indiscreet and unwilling to listen to advice.” Very gently he set the case on Stenson’s desk. “This case contains a sum of money to distribute to the victims of my brother’s avarice. It is perhaps inadequate, but the best I can do to repay those he stole from.”
Stenson reached for a tablet with receipts, but Endicott waved his hand. “No, that is unnecessary. You are a respected stockman, Mr. Stenson, and you are an officer of the law, Deputy Huck. I will leave the key with you and you can count the money and make appropriate arrangements.” Endicott rose to leave.
“I’ll see you at the stage tomorrow,” Stenson said. “Again please accept my deepest sympathy at your dreadful loss.”
“Actually I’m leaving tonight,” Endicott replied. “I’ve hired a horse. I’d like to survey the ground. Perhaps I’ll be back to stake a mining claim some day.” He placed a key on the case.
“A capital idea!” Stenson beamed. “Arizona means progress. A man like you is welcome any time.”
Endicott shook hands with Stenson and Huck and departed, grip in hand. “Come back any time,” Huck said when Endicott was gone. “I’ll be happy to plant a slug in your belly, you damn greenhorn.”
“Money, eh?” Stenson said. “Don’t think you’re gonna take it all, Huck.”
“Damned if I ain’t getting my share you ol’ cow-thief,” Huck replied. He looked down as Stenson unlocked the case. Huck had just a moment to glimpse the contents of the case. It was not money, but dynamite, packed tightly in sawdust and two-penny nails. As the spring hit the blasting cap, Huck had a fleeting thought that perhaps he had indeed lynched the wrong man. Then Huck and Stenson were blown to atoms.
Despite a diligent search, John Endicott was not located, though a man answering his description was seen boarding a train in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Even stranger to report, it came to light that George Endicott Jr. had no brother John, nor any other brother. George Endicott Sr. had but one son, he who bore his name and came to a sorry end on a cottonwood limb. George Endicott Sr. vehemently denied any connection to the imposter, and further inquiries proved fruitless.
However, a certain foreman at a mine in Montana whose work principally consisted of blasting rock with dynamite, a man with dark curly hair, a thick mustache, and a broad face, retired suddenly and moved back home to Vermont. He had won the lottery, he said. He was seen no more in the mining country, nor ever again in Arizona.
(I think Dave Hardy is one of the best young writers in the business. If you enjoyed this story of his, check out more of his work below.)