Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Part 6

Two Weeks Later, Alhambra Theater, Pueblo, Colorado

Scott was making his way back to the theater. He had a newspaper under one arm and the last of a pile of posters for the troupe's performance of Snow White at the other. Hilary would have his head if he didn't get the rest of them up as soon as possible.

He'd just come from mixing business with more business. He'd asked the people in charge of Pueblo's daily paper for anything they might have had on some of Pruitt's business deals in the area. They weren't exactly forthcoming for information. He was sure Hilary wasn't going to be happy when she found out that he'd offered them four free tickets to tonight's show if they released everything they knew about Pruitt to him and put up a poster for Snow White in their lobby.

It wasn't much. Pruitt had been buying up as much of the land around the Wennton area as possible, including the Town Hall and the Bar S, along with three other prominent ranches. Each and every one of those ranches had accidents befall them before they'd given up their land, from poisoned cattle to ranch buildings and even a main house burning down, always by innocent means. Scott was sure that there was more to the land than scrub for feeding cattle. He just couldn't for the life of him figure out what it was.

The Alhambra was in a slightly shabby part of Pueblo's downtown area. Peddlers pushed their wares in carts or carried them in baskets up and down the streets, imploring people to buy their colorful trinkets or fresh fruit or calico cloth. People came out of the wooden tenements and smoky taverns to buy wares for dinner or their amusement on the way home.

“Handsome gentleman, would you like to buy a comb?” One small, wizened creature, most of her face covered by a knitted shawl that seemed too heavy for August, held a wicker basket of combs under his nose. They came in all shapes and sizes and colors. She pulled out one wooden comb with narrow teeth. “Perhaps the gentleman would like this one for that shining ebony hair?”

Scott shrugged. “Sure, why not? Combs vanish all the time around here. Jeff probably took my last one by mistake when we were at that tiny theater across town two days ago. There was barely room to move around in that little dressing room. How much, lady?”

“For the fine-looking man, a mere penny.”

Scott handed her a nickel. “Here. Use the rest to get yourself a ticket to our show.” He handed her a poster. “Bring the kids. We'll have dwarfs and princesses and a huntsman with well-groomed hair.” He went inside, tucking the comb into his pocket.

The woman smirked under the shawl and studied the poster, noting the name of the actor playing the part of the huntsman. “R.P will be very interested in this.”

Scott went in through the lobby, with it's lovely, if somewhat faded, red and gold wallpaper and dusty chandelier, and into the main auditorium. The rich reds of the chairs matched the heavy old curtains that had been pulled aside. Eugenia and Mr. Foley were working on their music for their next production, a romantic musical about a man who had lost his memory in the Civil War and married another woman, despite already having a devoted wife. He waved to the two and passed them by, heading for the green room.

He stopped by a grimy mirror hung on a wall near the prop room. Through the dirt, he could see the wisps of coal-colored locks that had fallen over his eyes again, not to mention the thick waves that were nearly down to his shoulders. He really needed a trim. He tugged the new comb out of his pocket and started running it through his hair. As he did, he felt a little woozy, his amber eyes barely able to stay open...

The last thing he remembered was crashing to the floor, the comb slipping from his fingers. He had no idea how long it was when he returned to consciousness. Hilary, Eugenia, and Mr. Foley all sat around him. Hilary had a pillow under his head. “Is he going to be all right?” Eugenia asked, her sweet voice full of concern.

“I think so.” A feathery object just passed over his nose. He could hear swishing overhead. “That's enough air, Mr. Foley.” His eyes opened just in time to see Hilary take a feather-trimmed fan from the little musician and prop master. “He seems to be awake now.” Even Hilary, for once, looked worried. “Scott, what happened?”

Scott rubbed his head. “I don't know. One minute, I was combin' my hair...and the next, I'm on the floor, feeling like someone put a lead weight in my brain.” He started to stand, but then groaned. His head was still swimming. Hilary gently pushed him back down.

“You need to rest.” The chestnut-haired woman frowned. “How did it happen?” She crossed her arms. “Were you out drinking before the show? You know I don't approve of drinking on show evenings.”

“I swear, Hilary, I didn't touch anything stronger than a bottle of root beer today.”

Mr. Foley was sniffing at the comb. He ran a finger along it, then hurried out, holding it between his fingertips. Hilary raised an eyebrow. “I wonder what that was all about?”

Eugenia frowned. “I'm going to see what he's doing. I don't know why he'd hold a comb that way. I didn't think it looked that sharp, but one never knows, does one?” She hurried after him.

“Wait...” Scott closed his eyes. “The comb. I was usin' it when I passed out. There's somethin' wrong with that comb.”

Hilary shrugged. “Looked like an ordinary comb to me.”

“I bought it off an old lady selling trinkets in the street.” Scott tugged at his still-wayward black tresses. “Why would an old lady want to bump me off? Does my hair look that bad?”

Eugenia rushed back in, her guileless blue eyes wide with horror. “Oh dear! Mr. White, you shouldn't have bought that comb. Someone soaked the tips of the teeth in poison. If it had been on your head even a few minutes longer, it could have killed you! Mr. Foley is disposing of it now.”

Hilary shook her head. “Tell him not to get rid of it. We'll need it to give to the police.”

Scott winced as Hilary helped him to his feet. “No, Hildy. No police.”

“First of all, I've asked you a hundred times to call me Hilary.” She and Eugenia put their arms around him to steady his quaking legs. “Scott, the ambush can be written off as robbers. But this...this was attempted murder. Someone tried to kill you in cold blood. I can't have people killing off our actors. We need you for tonight's show!”

“I'm all right, Hild...Hilary.”

“No, you're not.” She looked right into his eyes. “From now on, one of us is to stay with you at all times. I don't want you being left alone again.” She made a face. “And for the love of heaven, don't buy any cheap trinkets from old women off the street!”

“Hild...Hilary...” But Scott nearly sagged the moment he took a step.

“Come on.” Hilary and Eugenia grasped him tighter. “Let's get you to the green room and see if they have a tonic for your head.”

Office at the Bar S Ranch, The Next Day

“And you handed it to him?”

Miss Cosgrave nodded at her boss. “Oh yes, R.P. He took the bait. I wouldn't be surprised if they were burying him now.”

“Good.” He made a face. “We still have two other pressing problems to take care of. I want to have a talk with Miss LaMarsh. I don't like people who trick me. That Miss Betty Prince is beginning to make a nuisance of herself, too. I know she's been going to every rancher and farm hand in this area, asking about my boys and the 'accidents.' If she gets any closer to the truth, she may join that meddlesome Comstock in the big round-up in the sky.”

A Few Days Later, Law Office in Downtown Pueblo, Colorado

Betty Prince was just coming out of the office, a stack of papers under her arm. “Thanks for doing this for me, Doug,” she said to the gentle young lawyer next to her. “It was so sweet of you to pull all those strings and get these soil reports.”

Doug Thompson blushed. He was a sweet-faced fellow with short dark-gold hair and a glowing smile. “You're welcome, Betty.” He took her arm. “Thanks for agreeing to go out to dinner and a show with me.”

“You're welcome.” She smiled. “You did something for me. I'm returning the favor.” She sighed. “How did you get them so quickly?”

“My office here is next-door to a surveyor. When you showed me all those interviews, I talked him into going down to Wennton for soil samples. I had to get them their lunch from Stanley's Delicatessen every day for a month, but it was worth it.”

He helped her onto a carriage. “What show are we going to see?”

He chuckled as he paid the driver. “There's a small troupe who are in residence at the Alhambra that I've heard do an excellent version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

“Oh, I like fairy tales. Mother used to read me that one almost every night when I was little.”

They got off at the theater, joining the small crowd lining up for the show. Betty frowned, seeing the woman behind them with the frowsy red hair. “Is that Miss Cosgrave?”

Doug frowned. “Isn't that your boss' secretary?”

Betty nodded. “I wonder what she's doing here?”

“Seeing the show, I imagine.” He took Betty's arm. “Shall we?”

She smiled at him. She met him at Wennton, where he had a second office. He was a good friend, but she wasn't sure if she was ready to go further with the relationship yet. She did have her work, and he had his. Not to mention, she kept thinking about Scott, the ranch hand she'd met several months before. The one who wanted to find out what happened to his mother. She hadn't heard from him since then. She hoped he'd found what he was looking for. Her mind kept straying to the sad, dark eyes, the thick black hair and determined jaw. She sighed. She'd probably never see him again.

Miss Cosgrave's eyes nearly bulged out of the glasses when she saw the poster on the front of the Alhambra. It clearly stated that the role of the huntsman and the third dwarf would be played by Scott White...who looked very much like Scott Sherwood, her boss' seemingly indestructible stepson. “No!” she hissed softly. “He should be dead!” She gulped and fingered her purse. “R.P is not going to like this at all!”

Office at the Bar S, A Few Days Later

Her boss did NOT like it. “Cosgrave, when I give an order, I expect it to be followed to the letter. There is no room in my organization for grievous mistakes.”

Miss Cosgrave was now clutching her desk. “It won't happen again, R.P!”

“No, it won't. This time, I'll do what I should have done in the first place and eliminate the wretched brat myself.”

“How are you going to do that? The rest of the troupe will be doubly on their guard now.”

He pulled out large, heavy box of stationary. “I'm going to invite them to appear at the rodeo and county fair that's taking place in town next week. They'll be all kinds of people here, showing off livestock and jams and jellies. What's one death, more or less?”

“Do you really think they'll come? Sherwood will probably warn them about your intentions.”

Pruitt signed the letter, then folded it and slid it into an envelope. “That acting troupe is desperate for money. They'll take any opportunity offered to them.”

The two looked up as Maple LaMarsh came in the office. “You wanted to see me, Pruitt?”

“Oh, yes.” He held out the box. “Whose heart is in this box, Miss LaMarsh?”

“I told you.” She wrinkled her nose. “I did what you wanted me to.”

“I don't think you did.” Frank and his associates came up behind her. “Ahh, good. My ranch hands here would like to ask you a few questions.”

She glared at them. “Whatever they are, I ain't answerin'. I know my rights.”

“Where did my stepson flee to when you let him go?”

“How do you know I let him go? Maybe I just shot him in the back.”

Cosgrave smirked as nastily as she could. “Oh, he's alive, Miss LaMarsh. He joined an acting troupe. We've seen him twice since then.”

“Maybe it's a different Scott Sherwood?”

“No, Miss LaMarsh.” Miss Cosgrave shook her head. “I watched him myself. He went under the name of Scott White, but it was him.”

“Hey!” The two men grabbed Maple's arms. “Watch the rough handlin', boys!”

Pruitt glared at the red-headed bounty hunter. “Miss LaMarsh, you lied to me. I don't like liars. Boys, take her to the storage shed and see if you can loosen her tongue.”

“Don't even try it!” The two men carried her off before she could protest further.

Miss Cosgrave watched them, then turned to her boss. “R.P, do you know how you'll take care of Sherwood? Will it be the same way you...eliminated...his mother?”

He went to a shelf of heavy books. He pulled down one recent volume. “Miss Cosgrave, did you know that the seeds of the apple can be toxic if enough are ingested?” He took an apple from a fruit bowl. “We have several fine apple trees right here on the Bar S. Fiona told me Scott used to climb them when he was a child. They even distill some of them into cider and liquor.” He fingered the apple. “I think it's time he tasted just how bitter a sweet, juicy apple can be.”

Scott White and the Seven Actors

Go to Part 7!
Go Back to Part 5!
Go Back to the Main Page!