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Showdown-Ed Gorman.

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one-story building was divided into two parts. The office was large enough to hold four desks, an oil stove, three wooden filing cabinets, and several rifle racks mounted on the wall. There was a NOTICE board with current Wanted posters—current because this was another job Mae did.

      Sheriff Wyn Daly looked up and said, "Coffee any better this morning?"

      Prine shook his head. "I sure wish Peggy hadn't retired."

      "People your age just don't seem to make good coffee," Deputy Bob Carlyle said.

      Prine laughed. "I get the impression you don't think people my age can do much of anything."

      Carlyle surprised him by saying, "Well, you're a pretty fair deputy, Prine. I'd have to say that."

      Wyn, white-haired, beefy in the tan twill uniform they all wore, looked up and said, "I don't believe I've ever heard you hand out a compliment in the eight years you've been here, Bob."

      "Well, it's true. Prine here's good at the job." This was coming from a scrawny man of fifty or so whom too many drunks had underestimated because of his somewhat slumped posture and one glass eye. He had a quick hard right hand that had put down nearly every street tough in town.

      Wyn laughed. "Be sure and write that on a calendar somewhere, Tom. October 4, Bob Carlyle gives somebody a compliment."

      The rest of the morning went pretty much that way. Sort of slow and chatty. There was a fourth deputy, Harry Ryan, but he was the night man. A morning like this gave the day people a chance to talk over open cases, most of which ran to minor rustling, minor arson, minor saloon violence, minor theft, minor burglary.

      The emphasis being on minor.

      In a town of 6,700—in a town that cattle drives bypassed, a town that was essentially one big general store for a lot of smaller surrounding towns—you didn't expect a lot of trouble. There had been three homicides and one bank robbery last year.

      There was a portable gallows stored in the courthouse. Sheriff Daly had had to oversee the hanging of one of the convicted killers. Though the state legislature had made it next to impossible for gapers to attend hangings, many lawmen made a big event of hanging anyway. Hell, you had towns where they advertised their hangings. Turned the damned thing into a carnival—literally, with a horse race, games for the kids, a pie-baking contest, and a barn dance in the evening.

      Wyn allowed as how he was grateful that the legislature was now considering making prisons responsible for all executions.

      Prine and Carlyle brought Daly up to date on what they planned to do the next few days. Prine generally worked the north side of the map and Carlyle the south. This included town and approximately forty miles out.

      When he wasn't talking or listening, Prine kept thinking about the man outside the café these last three days.

      Just after noon, he started looking for the man. The obvious places were the two hotels. Nobody seemed to know who he was talking about. He next tried the main boardinghouses, of which there were four. Same result. Hadn't seen such a man.

      He was just about to start on the houses where only a man or two boarded. There were a lot of them—maybe ten—and it would take some time.

      He had started on the third such house when he happened to look over his shoulder and see something that rattled him.

      The man he was looking for was following him. And he was pretty damned bad at hiding it.

      About all the man could do was start swinging his head from side to side as if he were looking for a particular address. Then, ridiculously, he started whistling in order to give the impression that he was just out for a stroll on this mild autumn day when the scent of burning leaves lent the air a nostalgic aroma.

      Prine was about to approach him when he heard the whistle. The sound emanated from a small steam device that Sheriff Daly used to pull in his deputies for an emergency. The sound was unlike any other in town, so a deputy couldn't say he confused it with something else. Pity the deputy who didn't respond to it.

      Much as Prine wanted to talk to the man, he had to turn in the opposite direction and run back to town.

      The emergency turned out to be a grain wagon that had overturned on a railroad crossing. The wagon was full. Not only was there grain heaped across the tracks, but the driver was pinned beneath. He didn't look good. For sure many bones, including his ribs, were broken, but he was also bleeding from his nose and mouth. Prine was no doctor, but he knew that death was in the air, hovering.

      Took four men to right the wagon. A buckboard stood by to rush the man to the six-bed hospital. Prine rolled himself a cigarette and listened to Daly and Carlyle and nighttime deputy Harry Ryan talk about that poor sonofabitch probably wasn't going to make it. And they were right. He was dead when they lifted him from the bed of the buckboard.

      In the late afternoon, Prine broke up a saloon fight, arresting one of the fighters. He also found a missing puppy and helped an elderly lady who had locked herself out, forcing open a back window and climbing inside to unlock the door.

      Early dusk, a marvel of purple and gold and half-moon in the sky, and the scent of winter on the air—early dusk, and Prine sat in his window seat in The Friendly Café, putting away a good meal of meat loaf, corn, green beans, and apple pie.

      Thinking about the man who'd been watching Cassie Neville three days running.

      What the hell was the man up to, anyway?

      Chapter Three

      Two days later, Prine resumed his canvassing, looking for the man he'd seen noting Cassie Neville's arrival in town each morning.

      The smaller boardinghouses—two-, three-roomers, no more—rarely received the kind of upkeep the large ones did. The large ones were set up like hotels, with meals, washing privileges, mail set aside, and parlors and porches where the boarders could spend their nights in a homelike fashion. These houses generally catered to workingmen, especially unmarried railroad men, who were frequently gone half a month or so and didn't want to spend their money on renting anything bigger or fancier.

      The smaller houses catered more often to transients. Prine remembered reading after Lincoln's assassination that cheap boardinghouses "were dreams for assassins and unholy people of every stripe." You take a big city like Washington, D.C., for instance. You had so many boardinghouses there, searching for one man was damned near impossible. He could keep moving, for one thing, and so the search became a shell game of a kind. Now he's here, now he's there. Impossible.

      Claybank wasn't big enough to have such rabbit-warrens, but it still took Prine most of an afternoon to go to every house that advertised rooms, a list he'd gotten under the ruse of "official business" from the newspaper.

      With three houses left to go, a weary, wiry woman named Wilma Chambers said, "That sounds like Mr. Tolan." She had a goiter on her neck the size of a baseball. It was hairy and tufted-looking. He'd never seen anything like it and didn't want to again.

      "You know his first name, ma'am?"

      "Of course I know his first name." She made a clucking sound that indicated that one of them here was pretty damned dumb, and it wasn't her. "Karl."

      "Karl Tolan. Thank you. You probably know what he does, then."

      "What he does is come and go. And pays his rent on time. That's all I know and all I need to know. The mister, when he was alive, always told me not to answer any questions from the law unless they told me why they were asking. Has Tolan done something?"

      "Not at all. We just check sometimes on people who stay in Claybank for a while."

      "He done something, didn't he? He hurt somebody? Is that it? He hurt somebody?"

      "Ma'am, listen. I'm telling you the truth. We run checks on people passing through just in case something does happen. That's all, and that's a fact."