Nope, never so much as spoke a single word to 'em.
Do they know me? No, sir, not at all. I can see that you look right perplexed to see me here. Heyes and Curry never gave me so much as a glance before.
What did the gentlemen in question do for me? Lost me my job, that's what.
What job? Well, used to be I worked for the sheriff of Big Butte, Arizona. Was I a deputy? Me? Are you crazy? Excuse me, sir, no, I was the errand boy, and cleaned up the cells, dumped the chamber pots, scrubbed the floors. Brought the prisoners their meals, stuff like that.
It was a cold morning, I remember, the sheriff had just had me fire up the wood stove to take the chill off when the two gentlemen in question walked into the office. They looked like something the cat dragged in, all dusty and beat up. But they walked into that office like they owned the place, heads held high.
"Excuse me, sheriff," said the dark-haired one--Smith, he called himself, I think. "We're here to report a crime." I was mopping out the closet, and as usual pretending not to listen.
"A crime?" said Sheriff Walker, looking them up and down with kind of a sneer at their dirty clothes. "What sort of crime?"
"A murder," said the other one, Jones. "A cold-blooded killing."
"Really?" said the sheriff, yawning a bit. "Well, don't keep me in suspense, who's dead?"
"A man named Joe Sims," said Smith. "Shot in the back, murder plain and simple."
"Sims?" said Sheriff Walker. He snorted. "You mean that bounty hunter fella?" He looked around at me. "Pick up that mop, boy, and get back to work."
"Yes, boss," I said.
"That's right, he was a bounty hunter, Sheriff," said Jones, looking surprised. "You know him?"
"I'm not a friend of his, if that's what you mean. Black fella, ain't he? Don't see much of their kind in this neck of the woods." He pointed at me. "He's the only other one around here." They never gave me so much as a glance, their eyes were steady fixed on the sheriff. He sat down behind his desk, and grinned all over his narrow face. "We don't think much of the coloreds 'round here. Where I come from, don't count as a murder less'n a white man gets killed."
The two of them leaned forward and put their hands on the desk, and the sheriff's grin went away. "Where we come from, it's murder if anyone gets killed," said Smith in a very quiet voice. "Are you going to look into this, sheriff?"
Walker gulped and looked a little fidgety. He glanced at Jones's gun, holster tied down and cut low for a fast draw. "Sure, sure, boys, don't get all upset. Who killed him?"
"A guy named Maxwell," said Smith.
"Mr. Maxwell? Richest rancher in the county? That Maxwell?"
"That's the one."
"All right," Walker said, shrugging. "And how did you get involved in this? You friends of Sims?"
They glanced at each other, and for the first time Smith began to stammer a little. "Well, he was... he was... he thought we were someone else, an honest mistake. We were on our way here to straighten it out. But Maxwell killed him in cold blood, there were other witnesses."
The sheriff gave a slow smile, nasty as an undertaker. "Oh, I'll be sure to look into this, boys. I surely will. Don't you worry."
They both gave him a long, steady look. Then they turned and walked out of the office, heads held high.
As soon as they were out the door, Walker jumped to his feet. He was so excited that he talked to me, something he rarely did. "I remember that Sims fella," he muttered. "He was a pretty smart bounty hunter even if he was a colored. Could even read. If he was bringing those boys in, I bet he was on to something." He peered out the window. "They're headed to the livery stable, good, that means they're gonna hang around for a while."
He trotted over to the desk and pulled out a pile of wanted posters, and began to flip through them, but after a couple minutes he went back to the window. "Damn, they're heading down the street. I'm gonna keep an eye on them." He beckoned to me. "Here, boy, you look through these flyers for me--oh, you can't read, of course. Well, look at the pictures, some of the flyers have pictures. If you find'em there's a hundred bucks in it for you, that's more money than you make in a year."
"Yes, boss," I said, and he ran out of the room.
I put down my mop and went over to the pile of flyers. I leafed though them, reading each one carefully, till I found the two I was looking for. Then I picked up the whole pile of wanted posters and put them in the wood stove. They burned real good.
The flames were just starting to die down when Sheriff Walker came back in. "It's okay," he said, rubbing his hands together. "They're having a drink at the saloon, they'll stay put for a while. Soon as I get the goods on them I'll head back over with a couple of deputies, and they'll be spending the night in a nice cozy cell." He glanced at the stove. "That thing's full of ashes, clean it out, boy."
"No, boss," I said. He looked at me with wide eyes.
"What did you say, boy?" he demanded.
"I said 'No,'" I repeated. And then I turned and walked out of the office. Head high.