Chapter Eleven—Change of Plans

Friday night, October 25…
          I was planning on turning in early Friday night because I was going to get up way before daybreak Saturday to ride out to the settlers’ camp to help them move their cattle across the North Pass and onto their new land. However, Ben Baker came into town Friday night about dinnertime. And changed the rest of my life.
          I hadn’t seen Ben since…well, I couldn’t exactly recall, a couple of days or so. He caught me at the hotel about suppertime and we headed out for something to eat. I wasn’t too hungry because Gail had fixed up a good spread for lunch and I made sure I ate my fill of it before I ticked her off and got run out of her life. But I didn’t want to go to bed on any empty stomach, so we found a place called Chile’s and decided to have a bowl. I hadn’t eaten Mexican food in ages.
          “I had it a lot when I was down in New Mexico,” Ben said. “It took a while, but it grew on me.”
          “Yeah, I’ve always liked it, but can’t get it much up north.” Yada yada yada, we were making useless small talk
          Chile himself—that’s what he called himself—was a short, round, smiling Mexican with a bushy black mustache. His wife, Carmona, was as big around as she was tall. Too many tortillas, I reckoned. They had a daughter who was probably about 20 or so and an absolute knockout. Big dark eyes with long eyelashes, raven black hair, straight as a string, shiny as a pearl, and halfway down her back, tall, slender, classic beauty. My first thought was, how in the world could two fat slobs like Chile and Carmona sire a daughter like that? Well, I figured the girl would probably look like her mother in 20 years, after she found her mother’s stash of tortillas. Came to find out Maria—the daughter—was the youngest of 10 children. Maria would probably end up with that many, too, which wouldn’t do much for her girlie figure, either.
          Anyway, the conversation between Ben and I naturally turned to the settlers. “Do you really think they got good deals?” he asked me. “They seem to be too happy about it. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. Either they really did well, or are too naïve to know when they got shafted.”
          I laughed. “Hey, I’m the one that negotiated those things so if they got raked, then I did, too.” Then I said, “They paid a little too much, I think, but given the circumstances it was probably the best they could get. In one sense, they arrived at a good time. Not much land selling this time of year, so I’m sure Kragan was happy to get some buyers.”
          “Yeah,” Ben said, looking up at Maria as she placed our food in front of us. She smiled at him, and he almost smiled back. He watched her for a few seconds after she walked away. “That’s the best reason I’ve seen yet to stay around here,” he commented.
          I laughed again. “Watch it, Ben. It won’t be too many more years until she looks like her mama.”
          “You got that right, amigo.”
          “Speaking of your plans,” I said, “what are you going to do?”
          He blew on his steaming bowl of chili to try to cool it off. “I really haven’t decided yet, Rob. I’m not exactly rich, so I’m going to have to settle somewhere fast and get a job.” And then he gave me a stern glance. “And no charity, so don’t even hint at it.”
          I winced as the chili burned my tongue. “No barber openings here?”
          “Town has two.”
          I made a face. “It isn’t that big, is it?”
          “No, but the town is apparently split into Greeks and Trojans, half the town going one place or the other. Whatever, they don’t need three barbers, that’s for sure.”
          “Ranch work?”
          “Nobody’s going to hire this time of year, you know that.”
          “What about the settlers?”
          He nodded. “That’s my best bet—if I stay around here. They’ll need some help putting their houses up, getting the cattle settled, etc. Clem Everett has already hinted that he’d like me to stay around and help.” He looked at me. “He wants you to stay, too.”
          “Figures,” I replied.
          “What are you going to do, Rob? Incidentally, we don’t need you to come out for the drive tomorrow. We can handle it without you.”
          “You sure?”
          Ben shrugged and nodded. “Yeah. All we’re going to do is push ‘em over the pass and dump them on Everett’s and the Pickens boys’ land. They are the nearest to the pass. From that point on, the settlers will have to divide up the cattle themselves. They don’t need you for any of that. Ronnie Pickens told me to tell you to stay in town, if you wanted to. No sense in you riding all the way out there for something you aren’t needed for.”
          That got my mind racing. Well, if they don’t need me to move cattle, there’s really no reason for me to hang around here. I didn’t have anything to do in River Bend; no sense in me sitting in a hotel, wasting money. And I had decided, especially after what had happened that day with Gail, that I wasn’t about to stay in the area any longer than necessary. Even for Maria. She hadn’t smiled at me, anyway, she had eyes for Ben.
          “Any longer than necessary” meant until I got a saddle on Ol’ Paint’s back.
          “Well, if I’m not needed, I’m not going to waste the energy,” I said, almost to myself.
          “So, answer my question. What are you going to do?”
          I held up my glass to Maria, indicating I wanted another glass of milk. This would be my fourth, that chili was hot. Heat hot and spicy hot. “There’s a town about 70 miles northeast of here called Red Canyon. I think I’ll head that way. Been thinking about it for awhile.” Oh, maybe two seconds… “You want to come with me?”
          Ben shook his head. “No, no offense, but I like this area and think I want to hang around here for awhile and see what I can do. I think I’ll even talk to the doctor and see if he needs a second hand. The farmers have accepted me fairly well, and I’ve even had a few nods from the folks here. Seems like a nice place.”
          “Yes, I think it is. If things were different, I might stay, too.”
          Ben narrowed his eyes at me. “You keep hinting about something like that, but have never said what it is. Why don’t you stay in Clearwater? I don’t understand.”
          I considered telling Ben about Kelly and Gail—and tying it all in with Julie and Robin. But then, I didn’t really understand it all myself. I thought I was still too close in time to what happened with me and Robin, so I didn’t want to get tied down with anybody again this soon. Yet, I cared enough about Kelly and Gail that I couldn’t stay around here and watch them…schmoozing up to other men. It didn’t make a lot of sense, but I reckon my mind was sort of mixed up at the moment.
          I just shook my head. “I’m sorry, it’s kinda personal and I just really don’t want to go into it.”
          “That’s fine, I don’t want to pry. I just want you to know that you can talk about it if you need to.”
          I smiled at him. “Thanks, bud.” I considered Ben a good friend now and would miss him when I left.
          We chatted on a little while longer, nothing terribly relevant to the story. In fact, much of what I just related wasn’t necessarily important, either, but there was one thing that was.
          And that’s what changed the rest of my life.

Saturday morning, October 26…
          A stranger came riding into River Bend late Friday night—actually early Saturday morning--and took a room at the hotel. The town, except for the saloons and brothels, had been in bed a long time. The clerk was fast asleep, sitting in his chair behind the counter, his head back, mouth wide open, with a snore that would have drowned out a sawmill. The stranger banged on the bell, and got some attention. The clerk mumbled an apology.
          “Sorry, it’s late and I guess I dozed.”
         The stranger gave him a wry smile. “Yeah, I guess you did. You got a room?”
          “Got several. How long you want to stay?”
          The tall visitor considered. “I don’t know for sure, but probably for a few days. Let me pay for three, and if I need more, I’ll let you know.”
          “You get a discount if you register for at least five days. Instead of $10--$2 per night—we only charge $9.50.”
          “Three days will be sufficient for the moment, thank you.”
          The clerk looked at the tall outsider. Older, but tough. Sharp eyes, mustache, nobody to mess with. “All right, just wanted to let you know. Please sign the register.”
          And the man did. He signed it “W. T. McConnell.”
          Reinforcements had arrived—on the very night Allie made her escape with Nicholas Backstrom’s papers.

          McConnell arose early the next morning. He intended to see the sheriff first thing. Well, second thing. First order of business was breakfast.
          It was another pretty dreary day, cold, damp, windy, and floating clouds that added to the gloom. The Ranger boss crossed the street to the Gold Dust Café, head down, hands in his pockets. It was a little too young in the day—and cold—for the large crowd to be out yet, but there were a few people in the restaurant. Space was available, however.
          Yet, McConnell saw a man sitting alone at a table and stared at him a moment, thoughtful, trying to remember the face. It came to him, and he nodded to himself. Thinking quickly, an idea came to him. He walked over and said to the man, “You’re Rob Conners, aren’t you.”

          I looked up. I didn’t know the man who had addressed me. “Depends on whether you’re one of my creditors or not.”
          He gave a half laugh, and held out his hand. “W. T. McConnell. Captain of the territorial Rangers.”
          I stood up and took his hand. I liked him immediately. Open, honest face, firm handshake, looked me in the eyes. I’d heard of him, everybody who had had any dealings with the law knew McConnell. “I hope this handshake doesn’t mean you’re about to slap some cuffs on me,” I said to him, and motioned at a chair, inviting him to sit down.
          He sat down. “No, as far as I know, you aren’t in any trouble with the law. At least, not with the Rangers. Kinda surprised to see you up here. I heard you were down in the Whitewater area.”
          I nodded slowly, still working on my breakfast. “How do you know me?”
          McConnell smiled wryly. “The guy who drew your picture on the wanted poster did a good job. Saw you once before down in Whitewater, though. Somebody pointed you out to me. Thought I’d be impressed, I suppose.”
          I grunted. “I don’t impress very many people.”
          “Don’t sell yourself short, Mr. Conners.”
          The waitress came over to take McConnell’s order. “Flapjacks any good here?” he asked me.
          “If you’re a dog and like to gnaw on rubber. Try the eggs. They’re fresh.”
          “Sounds good,” and the Ranger ordered a pile of them.
          I had finished eating, but was still drinking my coffee and thought it would be rude to just get up and leave. Not that I minded being rude to a lawman—I still didn’t like them very much—but…I was still drinking my coffee. So, to make conversation, I said, “Well, if you aren’t after my hide, who are you looking for? Or is it none of my business?”
          “No, I don’t mind you asking.” Then he glanced around the room. “But I don’t especially want to talk about it here. Do you mind waiting until I finish eating? I’d like to discuss it with you.”
          Yes, I did mind, but I wasn’t going to be that blunt. “Well, actually, I was planning on leaving town as soon as I finished breakfast. I’m headed up to Red Canyon, wanted to get started fairly early.”
          “All right, I don’t want to hold you up.” And he looked away like he’d lost interest.
          The guy was playing with my mind and I knew it. What would the head of the Rangers want to discuss with me? So, weak soul that I am, I thought I’d go fishing. “I’m not looking for a job with the Rangers, if that’s what you wanted to talk about.”
          He shook his head. “Wasn’t going to offer you one, though from what I hear about you, I could do worse.” His food came and I think he dumped the entire shaker of pepper on those eggs. So much that it wafted over to me and I sneezed.
         He gave a small smile. “Sorry about that. I like pepper.”
          “I never would have guessed.” I had finished my coffee and was about to say my good-byes; I wasn’t that interested in finding out what McConnell wanted to discuss with me. I was 99.99% sure it was something I wouldn’t want to hear; I’d been in that kind of cynical mood for a long time. But before I could leave, Fred and Kelly Atkins walked into the restaurant. She looked around, as people will do when they enter a restaurant; it didn’t appear she was searching for anybody in particular. But she saw me, smiled big, and waved. Then she spoke to her dad and pointed. He nodded, made a motion of greeting, but, to Kelly, pointed at another table where a rather sizeable group of men had recently gathered. Apparently he wanted to eat there, but Kelly wanted to join me. She came walking over.
         She must not have seen McConnell when she noticed me, because when she approached the table, she hesitated and said, “Oh, I didn’t know you had company. I’ll just say hi and go join my dad.”
          I stood up for her and McConnell did, too. “Hi, Kelly,” I said. “It’s good to see you. This is W. T. McConnell, head of the territorial Rangers.” Kelly offered her hand and McConnell shook it and they agreed that it was nice to meet the other, though I had no idea how they knew that.
          “Do you mind if she joins us, Captain?” I asked McConnell. “She’s an old friend.” I smiled. “Not necessarily old….”
          McConnell was gracious. “No, I don’t mind. Please join us, if you wish.”
          “Well, if it’s ok…, “ Kelly said.
          I sat down and waved her to a chair. McConnell regained his seat and resumed his meal and the waitress came over to take Kelly’s order. I decided to have another cup of coffee, figuring at this rate I’d probably get out of River Bend by the middle of next week. I wasn’t born a cynic…honest.
          “What brings you to town?” I asked her, making conversation.
          “Well, dad and I come in every Saturday morning. He likes to talk to some of the other ranchers who come here on weekends”—she motioned with her hand to the table where her father had gone. “They lie about beef prices, the weather, their wives, and anything else they can think about. I usually eat with him then go shopping or out to Evan’s house or something. Depends.”
          When she said the name “Evan,” McConnell looked at her sharply, then did a quick glance at me. “Do you know Evan Dryer?” I asked him. “He’s a local attorney. Kelly’s engaged to him.”
          “I see,” he said, and I could tell something wasn’t quite right. “I’ve…heard of him, but I’ve never met him.” The Ranger then spoke to Kelly. “You’re engaged to him?” Sometimes lawmen don’t hear too good…
          “Yes,” she said, and her lovely face beamed again. If she had seen something peculiar in McConnell’s reaction, it didn’t register with her. Or she wasn’t showing it. “He’s wonderful. So kind and thoughtful. He has a lovely house about five miles from here. I go sometimes on Saturday and spend the day with him. If he’s not in his office on Saturday, he’ll leave me a note on the door, either saying to come on out or that he’ll be too busy. I’ll check after I eat and see if he has time for me today.” She gave a somewhat shy smile. “I hope so, but he is busy.” She looked at me. “He told me that he met you the other day, about how you were helping those new settlers buy some land.” She smiled. “Said you were a shrewd negotiator.”
          “Well, I’ve argued over land more than once in my life, so I have some experience.”
          McConnell was looking at me. “Is that what you are doing up here? Helping some people get settled?”
          “Yes, I was headed in this direction anyway, and ran into these folks down near Windy. About 10 families or so. They were moving up from Colorado with about 500 head of cattle. They’d heard this was a growing valley with good land. They weren’t too experienced driving cattle so they asked me if I’d help. So I did. Mr. Dryer sold them some land, acting as agent for the local banker who owns it. I helped finagle the deal for them.”
          McConnell’s eyes were dark and foreboding. There was definitely something on his mind, but he just nodded. “I see. Good land up here, I know. Hard to hang on to, though, or so I hear.”
          Kelly took over. “Yes, Mr. Kragan, the banker, he’s pretty hard-nosed, but I think he’s fair. People borrow money, they don’t pay it back, they lose their land. Evan tries to help them some, but, well, they signed a contract and a deal’s a deal. Not much he can do.”
          “No, I’m sure there’s not,” McConnell agreed, sipping his coffee. “Well,” he said, “I need to go talk to the local sheriff, so I’ll be moseying along.” He looked at me. “When are you heading out, Mr. Conners?”
          I threw a quick glance at Kelly, and was a little embarrassed. I was going to leave and not even tell her. “Um, pretty soon. I wanted to say good-bye to Kelly and her dad.” Kelly looked a little skeptical.
          “Ok,” McConnell said. “I’d still like to talk to you. More than ever, in fact,” and he shifted his eyes briefly to Kelly. It had something to do with Evan Dryer and that meant it had something to do with Kelly Atkins. Which meant I couldn’t leave River Bend that day. Wonderful….
          “All right,” I said. “Are you going to be with the sheriff awhile?”
          “I’ll come over when I finish here.”
          “All right. Thanks.” He dropped some coins on the table, said good-bye to Kelly, and left.
          Kelly still had that look of accusation on her face. “You were going to leave without coming by and saying good-bye, weren’t you.”
          “Well, let’s just say, I’m glad you and your dad came here this morning.”
          She looked a little hurt. And angry. “I thought I meant more to you than that.”
          “Kelly…” Then I sighed. I didn’t know what to say.
          “Rob, what are you going to do? I’m so sorry about what happened to you and your wife, but you can’t drift all your life. You’re better than that. Please buy some land and stay around here. Evan likes you, he’d be happy to help you.”
          I was confident the latter statement was true, especially if he made some money out of it. The “likes” me part of it I was problematic at best, but I’m sure that’s what he told Kelly. “Kelly, I’m not going to stay around here. I…went out and had lunch with Gail Sanders…uh, Kragan…yesterday. We had a big fight.”
          “What about?”
          “Her marrying Homer Kragan.”
          Kelly looked a little annoyed. “I suppose you didn’t think it was a very good idea.”
          I hesitated and responded, “That was the general gist of what I told her, yes.”
          “It’s really none of your business, you know.”
          I looked at her for a few seconds. “It’s not?”
          That stopped her for a moment, but she caught herself. “No, it’s not,” her voice sharp. “And I supposed you’re going to tell me I shouldn’t marry Evan Dryer.”
          I held up my hands as a sign of peace. “No. I have absolutely no intention of telling you that. If you love the man, and he loves you, then, by all means, marry him. And I wish you nothing but eternal happiness.”
          “Well, thank you,” she replied, somewhat mollified. Then she gave me a soft smile, but there was still some aggravation on her face. “You can’t stay out of trouble anywhere you go, can you.”
          “Seems that way.”
          “What does that Ranger want to talk to you about?”
          “I haven’t the foggiest. And that’s the absolute truth.”
          “I’ll bet he wants to offer you a job.”
          “If he does, he’s wasting his time.”
         “What are you going to do, Rob?”
          I stood up. “We’ve come full circle, Kelly. I don’t know the answer to that question.” I looked down at her. “But I’m not staying in Clearwater. And that’s final.”
          And Kelly was annoyed again. “You stubborn….” Unrepeatable. But then I saw something else, something that for all the world looked like tears in her eyes. “You’re just a stubborn….” unrepeatable. And she got up and ran out of the restaurant.
          I thought that was kind of rude of her to leave me to pay her bill. And didn’t even tell me good-bye.
          Fred Atkins gave me a quizzical look after watching her leave. I made a face, shrugged, and said, “Women.”
          He got a chuckle out of that. “Don’t let it bother you. I think she’s anxious to go see her beau, and afraid she won’t be able to.”
          I just waved it off. “She’ll be fine,” but my mind was working overtime in more than one direction. I couldn’t really figure out why Kelly would come to tears over my not staying in Clearwater. She wanted me to, and didn’t get her way, I guess. I hated that the last word that I might ever hear from her lips, though, was…unrepeatable.
          But my thoughts headed mostly in the direction of W. T. McConnell. He knew something about Evan Dryer that wasn’t good. Or at least he didn’t like the man. Well, I didn’t, either, but I thought it was more than that. But I hoped, for Kelly’s sake, that it was nothing big or important. Or illegal. She really seemed to dote on the guy.
          Hopefully, McConnell wouldn’t want anything important. I’d angered and/or upset the only two people in this burg that I really cared about, so why stay?

          McConnell walked into the sheriff’s office and looked around. The room was actually fairly big, perhaps 20 feet wide, with the sheriff’s desk to the right, a rifle case behind him, and a bunk against the left wall. An open doorway led to the cells in back. A round-faced, middle-aged man with a little too much paunch and a little too much suspicion in his eyes looked up from the desk when the Ranger Captain walked in.
          “Can I help ye?” the sheriff said, looking McConnell up and down.
          The Ranger wasn’t terribly impressed with the looks of the sheriff, but would hold off on any final judgment until he had talked to the man. Some of the oafish-looking lawmen had the shrewdest brains inside them. McConnell walked over to the desk and held out his hand.
          “I’m W. T. McConnell of the territorial Rangers. I was just passing through and thought I’d drop by and meet the local law.”
          The sheriff stood up and shook McConnell’s hand. “Fagan Doolittle,” he replied. “Nice to meet you. Have a seat. Would you like a cup of coffee?”
          “Yes, that would be nice, thank you. I just finished breakfast, but it’s a cold walk across the street from the café.”
          The sheriff’s office was a little farther away from the café than that, but the sheriff chuckled. “Yeah, gonna get worse before it gets better, I fear.” There was a coffee pot on a stove behind the desk and Doolittle poured two cups and handed McConnell one of them. He continued the conversation, “Just passin’ through, you say?”
          The locals didn’t especially like the Rangers interfering with their business, so McConnell took the question as it was probably meant—“stay off my turf.” And the Rangers had enough to do without butting into parochial affairs—unless, as in this case, the locals weren’t doing a whole lot. But McConnell intended to be coy as to why he was there. “Yeah. Headin’ to the mountains west of here. Thought I’d try to get me an elk before winter set in too hard.”
          Doolittle nodded, seemingly buying the explanation. “Best time of year to go. Startin’ to snow up in the high passes, so the herds are gravitating down towards the valley some. First time to Clearwater Valley?”
          “Yes, it is, actually.” He smiled. “I guess you’ve done such a good job keeping order around here that you haven’t needed our help.”
          “Well, we do the best we can,” Doolittle said, with obvious false modesty. “We’ve got a nice community here, growing, not many problems. Oh, the occasional saloon fight and the drunk who needs to sleep it off in jail, but other than that, it’s pretty peaceful.”
          McConnell took a sip of his coffee.  Lousy stuff…”Lots of new people moving in? I heard there’s some good land available here.”
          “Yeah, there is, and it’s getting’ sold, bit by bit.” Doolittle shrugged. “Some can’t make it, of course, and have to move out, but those that stick are the kind of people we want anyway.”
          “Doubtless. No rustling problems?”
          “We get complaints, but I’ve never had any reason to believe any of them.”
          McConnell nodded. “Seems like I’ve heard of a couple of fellows in River Bend. Kreuger? Kroger? Something like that. Banker, I think.”
          “Kragan, Homer Kragan.”
          “Yeah, that’s it,” McConnell nodded. “Good man?”
          “One of the best. He’s prolly done more to help settle this valley than anybody. Very generous with his money and lenient on terms. He can be hard-nosed; if you don’t make the payments, he’ll foreclose on you, but I think that’s only right. You borrow the money, you ought to pay it back. We don’t want folks around here who don’t.”
          “No, of course not. Another name I’ve heard”—and here McConnell smiled disarmingly—“some of your fine citizens are beginning to get known outside the valley.” Doolittle beamed at that. The Ranger continued. “Evan Dryer, I think is his name.”
          “Yes, lawyer. I’m not surprised you’ve heard of Kragan and Dryer. Some of what you’ve heard about Kragan might not be so good; again, he can be pretty strict when it comes to land payments, but like I said, he’s fair. Dryer is top of the line. Smart at a whip, knows the law, but as nice as guy as you’ll meet and as helpful as he can be. Not your typical lawyer who seems to be out to rip somebody off. He charges a fair price for his services, and I think even works for free sometimes, just to help folks out. People around here want him to run for mayor—he’d win easy—but says he’s not interested in politics. Yet.” Doolittle smiled. “And them’s his words. He’s only been here a couple o’ years, so he’s still feeling his way around some. But he’s young, mid-30s maybe.”
          “Good rep here in town, huh.”
          “The best. Gonna marry one of the local girls and everybody thinks it’s a match made in heaven. Kelly Atkins. What a doll. And her old man’s solid as a rock.”
          “Yes,” McConnell said, finishing his coffee. “I met her over at the café a little while ago. She came in with her father. Talked with Rob Conners for awhile, I think.”
          Doolittle pulled a face. “Is he still here?”
          “Yes, but I think he’s getting ready to pull out.”
          “Good. Don’t need his kind around here.”
          “What kind is that?”
          “Gunslinger. It seems that everywhere he goes, somebody gets in front of one of his bullets.”
          “Ah. Well, from what I heard, you won’t have to worry about him being in River Bend much longer.” McConnell set his cup down on the sheriff’s desk and stood up. “I best be going. I’ve been riding awhile, kind of tired, so I may stay a night or two, give my horse a blow, pick up some supplies. If I get a chance, I’ll stop by again.”
          Doolittle stood up, too, and held out his hand again. “You’re always welcome here, Captain McConnell. Heard of you, of course, and all of it good. You guys are doing a fine job.”
          McConnell smiled, but he knew horse manure when he smelled it. “Thanks. Sounds like you’re doing a good job here, too.” He turned to leave, then hesitated and turned back. “Incidentally, I had a Ranger in this area recently. Nothing to do with River Bend,” he added hastily. “Allie Summer. Didn’t stop by and talk to you, by any chance, did she?”
          “No, no Ranger stopped here. You say Summer is a she?”
          “Yeah. One of the best men…uh, people I’ve got. Haven’t heard from her in a while, I was just wondering if she had checked in with you.” He shook it off. “No big deal, she’s probably tying up some loose ends on a case I gave her. I’ll hear from her soon, I’m sure.”
          Doolittle looked amusingly perplexed. “Allie Summer a woman. If that don’t beat all. I’ve heard of Allie Summer, of course, got a wider rep than you do, McConnell.” He chuckled. “Never knew she was a woman, though. How did you manage to get away with hiring her?”
          “Sheriff Doolittle, don’t ever get downwind of her with a gun in her hand, and don’t get within six feet of her if she’s holding a knife. You won’t stand a chance, she’s that good.”
          “Wow. That’s somethin’. And a woman to boot.”
          “Yeah. Well, thanks for your hospitality.”
          “Come back any time.”
          McConnell left the building and saw Rob Conners walking across the street. He motioned for Conners to join him as he walked away from the sheriff’s office. Conners met up with him and asked, “How did your chat with the local law go?”
          The Ranger captain grunted. “The man is a complete and utter fool. Do you mind going for a ride? I’d like to talk someplace where they might not be any ears to listen….”

          I was intrigued by McConnell’s desire to talk with me, though not necessarily pleased with it. I wanted to get out of River Bend. “Ok, I’ll ride with you, provided you’ll let me take all my gear and head northeast with me. That’s the direction I’m going.”
          “Fair enough.”
          “Let me get my stuff from the hotel and I’ll meet you at the stable.”
          “I’ll have them saddle our horses for us,” McConnell said.
          “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
          I walked towards the hotel and looked up at the sky. It was still overcast and windy, but I didn’t think we’d get any weather. It wasn’t quite cold enough to snow. But it wasn’t a very pleasant day.
          And made more unpleasant by the cup Gail threw at me yesterday, the unrepeatable Kelly had called me that morning, and an upcoming talk with a lawman that I didn’t especially want to have.
          Sometimes life just isn’t fair….