I pondered what the old bartender had told me as the whiskey settled in my stomach. Clearly he had no idea who he was talking to, or he wouldn’t have divulged his dilemma.
I’m a reporter for the Los Angeles Observer, and I was in Dry Gulp investigating a crime. All right, I’m a cub reporter and I was there on vacation at my employer’s suggestion. O.K.! He chased me out of town after I got fresh with his daughter, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.
Anyway, a couple weeks prior, my resource at the telegraph office had tipped me off. Two gentlemen, both sporting black eyes and numerous bruises, and one with his arm in a sling, sent a telegram addressed to a renowned franchiser back east. Said they’d been assaulted by the cowboys at that Cornerstone Ranch of his, and what did he want them to do now.
I made the acquaintance once of some cowboys from that Ranch at a certain establishment down by the docks. They seemed to have plenty of money to throw around. And they relieved me of my wad. I’m no great shakes at poker, but I think they cheated. I’d sure like to see them get their comeuppance.
My banishment resulting from my little escapade with Matilda, had maybe put me where using my expert investigative skills, I could get back into her daddy’s good graces. I envisioned the headlines.
Cub Reporter Uncovers Plot to Take Over Back East Franchiser’s Ranch; Murder and Mayhem Averted Just in Time!
Great care must be taken. No accusations of yellow journalism for me. It might boost newspaper circulation but let Hearst and Pulitzer settle that score without my help. As a professional, I intend to always proceed with ethics. My stories will have pathos, human interest, and be sympathetic to the underdog, whenever I find one and it doesn’t bite me first. And my stories will always be entirely verifiable.
I started the process immediately by interviewing the bartender.
“Sir,” I said, in my best professional manner, “those two gentlemen you mentioned, why were they here and why did they get manhandled?”
“I guess they wuz here ta c’llect the income fer the ranch’s real boss. But Clay’s set on keepin’ it fer hisself.”
“Clay, the ranch foreman? What’s he got against his boss?”
“I dunno, young feller,” the barkeep replied. “But I shore hope the boss don’t send ‘is son out here like I heard he wuz. I jest know they’re gonna kill ‘im.”
“Will you inform the local law enforcement agency?”
The old man’s eyebrows cinched, “The who?”
“Uh, the sheriff, sir,” I said, arching my own.
“Well, now, I jest don’t rightly know. Granted, my life ain’t that important, but ‘tis mine an’ I’d like ta keep it fer a spell. My wife an’ little girl prob’ly be happy ‘bout that too. Clay made it crystal clear he’d come a-gunnin’ fer me if I messed with his business.”
Like cotton on a spindle, my brain was already busily spinning words together.
The sound of boots pounding on the boardwalk interrupted my thoughts and a man burst through the doors.
“Hangin’,” he gasped. “Weepin’ willa’ tree—the gully—Clay and his men! Hurry, mebbe we can stop ‘em!”
I grabbed my pencil and my composition book and rushed out with the rest of the crowd.
But we were too late.
A grotesque shadow down the gully matched the figure suspended on a rope. The lynch mob was nowhere to be seen. The whiskey I’d so recently enjoyed threatened to unman me but I had a job to do.
“Sheriff, what’s next?” I somberly asked the lawman as he turned his horse towards town.
“I figger they’ve skedaddled back to the ranch,” he said. “I shore ain’t goin’ after ‘em alone. Reckon I’ll round up a posse. Gotta send someone down to Los Angeles too.” He shook his head, “We need us a telegraph office up here.”
While some men took the body down, I sketched a picture of the scene. I felt sure it would have a prominent spot on the front page of the Observer when I got back to Los Angeles. I was confident my boss would assign me the follow up on this story. Would the murderers be brought to justice? Would the owner of the Cornerstone Ranch come to avenge his son’s death? I hoped I’d get to interview this influential man. It’d be this journalist’s highest achievement.
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