The River Runs Deep – Episode 47

The deep wail of Missouri Belle’s steam-whistle jolted Laura from sleep.

Immediately awake, she heard voices drifting up from the garden and scrambled out of bed, leaning from the window in time to watch Pa and Billy-Bob disappear.

There were hours before daybreak, and rather than lie wondering what was going on at the waterfront, she dressed and tiptoed downstairs.

Charlie and Barty were coming over to play in the treehouse that afternoon, so Laura occupied herself by putting up a batch of cookie dough, setting it to rest in the pantry.

She rummaged through the closet for the Snakes and Ladders she and Billy-Bob had played with, and the dominoes his grandpa had made for Walter when he was little.

Laura was sitting out on the porch steps, topping and tailing a trug of gooseberries, when she heard the click of the wicket.

She looked up to see Billy-Bob walking through the dim dawn light.

“Your pa’s got Leasowe under lock and key,” was all he said. “It’s over, Laura. All of it.”

He sat beside her on the porch steps, elbows on his knees, and closed his eyes.

He looked exhausted; Laura guessed he hadn’t slept much these past days.

“Was Captain Leasowe responsible for Fred Brunning’s death?”

“Responsible, for sure.” William framed his answer carefully. “But it was Wes Pearce that killed him.”

“You knew!” she cried, vividly recalling that dreadful day. “You knew it was him, didn’t you?”

“Pearce was careless or over-confident or both.” William shrugged. “He left a half-smoked cheroot and his boot print under the tree where he’d stood waiting for the old timer.

“I’d no idea why Pearce killed him, or who the victim was.

“The only lead was you telling me he’d called on Leasowe the same day he died.

“It was Timothy at the waterfront that put me on the right track.

“He gave me the name Fred Brunning and said how the old feller had been drunk and talked a lot.

“He’d fallen on hard times and come here to get a hand-out from his old pal.

“Brunning’s name rang a bell. I’d heard it at Pinkerton’s. The agency has a huge archive about crimes recent and past.

“I wired Mr Pinkerton and he came up with a bunch of old newspaper reports about the murder and the hunt for Oswald and Brunning.”

Laura frowned, striving to unravel everything.

“But none of it has anything to do with Pearce, does it?”

“Wes Pearce does whatever Leasowe tells him to do – and gets paid for doing it,” William replied. “Leasowe wanted rid of his old partner in crime, Laura.

“Brunning drank too much, talked too much and knew too much. He was a risk Leasowe couldn’t afford to take.

“When the old timer headed through Snake Pass on his way west to California, Pearce was waiting for him.”

They sat in silence, watching the sky get light and listening to the birds start singing.

“What will you do now, Billy-Bob?” Laura enquired. “Now this is finally over.”

“Hit the hay,” William returned. “I’m beat.”

“Then I’ll ask Allan Pinkerton for two weeks off.” He grinned. “Edith’s going to New Prospect for a while – and I intend to go with her.”

To be continued…

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