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Showdown-Ed Gorman.

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want to live on this continent, they're going to find you. One New York millionaire sent a pair of killers to France to find the murderers of his small daughter. The avengers did as they were told. They castrated the murderers, poured oil on the open wounds, and then set them on fire.

      All the same rules would apply to twenty-two-year-old young women, too. Keep her safe. Return her in good fettle. And, in this case, resist the temptation to rape her. They won't come after you quite as hard for rape as they will for murder. But they'll still come after you.

      Karl Tolan didn't necessarily look bright enough to know all these things—subtle wasn't a word that came to mind when you looked upon the angry, busted visage of Karl Tolan—but his partner Rooney gave the impression of being bright and competent.

      Prine had three beers in all. He went home and slept well, feeling rested and ready when the rooster announced the day.

      Karl Tolan said, "I just want to get it over with."

      Rooney said, "That's your trouble, Karl, you always just want to get it over with." He smiled. "I sure hope you're not like that with the ladies. They appreciate a man who takes his time."

      The Skillet was a café next to the railroad roundhouse. They usually met there a couple times a day.

      Tolan frowned. Always with the little digs, Rooney. If Rooney wasn't insulting him about his looks, his clothes, his body odor, his lack of education, he was reminding him that Tolan wouldn't ever make a dime without Rooney to guide him.

      "I take my time, my women got no complaints," Tolan said.

      "That one you gave a black eye had a few complaints, as I recall," Rooney said with a wink in his voice. "What'd you use on her, a club?"

      "She called me a name."

      "What name?"

      "You know. A dumb bastard. Bitch."

      "You went a little overboard, my friend. She could've preferred charges. And if she'd done that, Sheriff Daly would've taken a real serious interest in you. And then he might have been able to figure out what we were doing here."

      "You would've hit her, too, Mac."

      "No, I wouldn't've, Karl. I know how to control myself. Like that time near Cheyenne when you went all crazy on me. If I hadn't kept myself under control, you would've gotten us both hanged." Rooney had paid the woman two hundred dollars not to turn Karl in. Karl had never even said thank you.

      Six kidnappings in three years. Each successful. But the fourth one, the nine-year-old boy in the closet of the tiny house they were renting, a deputy came to the door and Karl grabbed his rifle and was about to start pumping bullets through the wood.

      Thank God Rooney had been smart enough and fast enough to prevent their undoing. He grabbed the barrel of the gun and yanked the rifle from Karl. Then he whispered for Karl to go over and sit down and shut up. Karl could see how pissed Rooney was. He decided he'd better do exactly as Mac said. He went over and sat down. Mac answered the door. The boyish deputies had some questions about their next door neighbors' son. A couple people on the block said the kid was a regular hellion. Had Rooney found that to be the case? No, sir, I haven't. Few times I've seen him, he's been very polite and well-behaved. Well, thank you, sir, appreciate your time.

      Nice little palaver with a hayseed deputy. Harmless as all hell.

      Where dumb frantic Karl would've been blasting the shit out of the deputy through the door for no good reason at all.

      "I'd like to get out of this town. Place spooks me. Why can't we do it tomorrow?" Tolan said.

      "We can do it tomorrow. We can do it anytime we want. But there's one problem."

      "What's that?"

      Rooney gave him his best arrogant smile. "Think real hard, Karl. I think you can figure it out for yourself."

      Prine counted six cockroaches and numerous rat droppings, and found evidence of lice. This was when he'd been in Tolan's room for less than two minutes.

      The room was less than the size of a jail cell. The bedclothes on the cot had so many different colors of stains on them, it resembled a Navajo rug. The air was rancid with the perpetual odors of chamber pot, cigarettes, vomit, assorted illnesses, and terrible food. But how could you gag down food in a room that smelled like this? Eating next to a latrine would be easier.

      There was no bureau, no closet. Tolan's earthly goods were all packed into a grimy carpetbag, which Prine dumped out on the cot.

      Two shirts, one pair of trousers, three pairs of gray socks that had once been white, long johns that not even bleach could help, a comb, a jacket, a cap, a hand mirror, a Bowie knife, and six photographs of buxom naked ladies flaunting their privates.

      Not a whole hell of a lot of help.

      Prine was in the room for less than four minutes. He went down the same back-end fire escape he'd used to come up.

      Cassie Neville said, "It's very nice to meet you, Deputy."

      She gave a little curtsy that was cute as all hell. She was cute as all hell. Refined yet not formal at all. A girly girl who'd nonetheless probably been something of a tomboy when she'd been growing up. Today she wore a white blouse, a dark riding skirt, and a smile that could break a thousand hearts from half a mile away.

      The church basement where the poor and the unemployed came for food and medicine had been painted white to give it a clean, open feeling. The doors were left open to let sunshine beam down the steps. And the other women who helped Cassie were as resolutely cheerful as she was.

      Prine wanted her to remember him when she got herself kidnapped. After all, he was going to be her savior. Her hero. There would be a sizable reward offered for her return. And that sizable reward would be plenty for a man to head to California and find a place for himself in the sun and the ocean.

      Prine said, "This is sure a nice thing you do. This setup for poor people, I mean."

      She smiled. "They're poor in money, perhaps, Mr. Prine. But not poor in spirit. Some of the nicest, most decent people I've ever met I met right here in this church basement. Isn't that right, Effie?"

      Her assistant, another daughter of wealth, nodded enthusiastic agreement. "I just wish some of my rich friends had the spirit of these people. You never hear them complain about anything."

      The portrait she painted was sentimental and untrue, of course. Poor people complained all the time. As did everybody else, no matter where they stood on the social ladder. Though he was generally optimistic about things, his years as a lawman had taught Prine that when you came right down to it, life wasn't easy for anybody. There was always dire surprise, unexpected illness, family or friends in some kind of trouble, and fear that whatever you possessed—whether it was a lot or a little—would be snatched from you by the dark and comic gods who sometimes seemed in control of this vale of tears. Money solved many problems, but not all of them.

      Prine scanned the basement. Against one wall were racks of clothes. Against another, stacks and stacks of canned food. Against a third wall were things for the home, everything from washboards to butter churns. Everything but the canned goods were used, but some of it looked as if it had been used only slightly.

      There was a collection box. FOR THE POOR, it read. Prine took several greenbacks from his pocket and dropped them in the box.

      "That's very generous of you," she said. "We really appreciate it."

      "I'll try and give you a little something on a regular basis."

      She reached across the front counter and touched his arm. The gesture was as intimate as a kiss. Just something about it. Just something about her warm brown eyes as she did it. "Do you enjoy piano music, Mr. Prine?"

      "Very much."

      "I should say classical piano music."

      "The times I've heard it, I've enjoyed it very much.