The River Runs Deep – Episode 37

William strode from the Uttley place and climbed into the cart alongside Laura.

“Mr Uttley and his sons will move the prairie schooner,” he said, taking up the reins.

“Billy-Bob,” Laura began as they drove towards town. “What you said about it not being an accident . . .”

“Somebody was waiting for that old man to drive through Snake Pass last evening,” William stated. “We keep this between ourselves, Laura. You don’t tell anybody the truth.”

“I can’t do that!” Laura stared at him. “We have to tell the law –”

“There is no law in Deep River!” William retorted. “Never has been since Leasowe pinned that tin star on Wes Pearce!”

“Mr Pearce is our town sheriff –”

“No!” William cut in. “Wes Pearce stays out of it.”

Laura pressed a hand to her mouth.

“Say nothing and do as I ask,” William repeated. “I’ll explain when I can. You’ll have to trust me.”

Expelling an uneasy breath, Laura nodded, her gaze fixed upon the long road ahead.

“Before I take the old man to the undertaker, I want Gideon to have a look at him,” William said as they drew up alongside Bea and Gideon’s home. “I’ll drive you home.”

“I’d rather walk. I’d like to be by myself a while.”

“If you’re sure.” William gently handed her down from the cart. “I’ll see you tonight at home.”

William was watching Laura move out of sight when Gideon answered the door.

“Who is he?” the young physician enquired after they’d carried the elderly man’s body inside.

William shrugged.

“He showed up in town yesterday. I’d be obliged if you’d note his wounds and how you reckon he got them.”

Gideon looked across the table, raising an eyebrow.

“Do I get to enquire why you want a detailed report upon how this unfortunate met his death?”

“Best not,” William returned. “Since I don’t have a name, I’ll make a drawing of him. Have you any paper and a pencil?”

“On my desk.”

At sight of the marks across the man’s neck, Gideon turned to his companion and the two Army veterans exchanged a shrewd glance.

“I take it you saw these?”

“Yes.” William was endeavouring to sketch the bewhiskered old man. “We found him in Snake Pass.

“It was rigged to look like the wagon overturned and he hit his head when he fell.”

“There’s not a speck of grit or grass, like there should be if he’d struck his head,” Gideon remarked. “Do you see the regular shape of the injury?”

William leaned over the table.

“Rifle butt?”

“That’s what killed him, and I’ll say so in this report.” Gideon paused. “I’ve no idea why you’re involved, William, but whoever did this has likely killed before.

“He’s probably still here in Deep River. Tread cautiously, my friend.”

William nodded.

“I will. I’m pretty certain I know who the murderer is.

“What I need to figure out is the motive,” he admitted. “Who was this old timer, and why did he have to be silenced?”

Leaving Gideon writing his report, William headed through town to Chippy Callard’s carpentry shop.

The Callard family had been Deep River’s carpenters for generations, doubling as undertakers whenever the need arose.

“I heard a prairie schooner had turned over down Snake Pass. You got no name for the deceased?” Chippy remarked. “I don’t know who he is, but I’ve seen him before.

“Yesterday, I was here in the yard when he rattled by in a beat-up old wagon looking like he didn’t have two cents to rub together.

“Later, he comes back with a grin a mile wide and makes straight for the Silver Dollar. Didn’t come out in no hurry, neither!”

After assuring Callard the dead man had had enough money so that his wouldn’t be a pauper’s burial, William drove away.

Mulling over what Chippy had told him, he pieced it together with what he already knew from Laura.

Turning into the centre of town, he wondered if it was sheer chance that Miss Adelaide happened to be out front of her store, sweeping the walkway.

To be continued…

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