Eye for an Eye
Updated: Mar 26
Knowledge is the knowing that we cannot know. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Who would like to begin?” A plucked matchstick from the corner of Val’s mouth took on the role of a pointer to wag back and forth between his two guests. “Any takers?”
Resting laced fingers across his midsection, Murdoch settled in. “What can we clear up for you sheriff?”
“Well, for starters you can clear up why I had some pompous Aussie snot nose sittin’ here in my office tellin’ me Kinsey Furlong has all the answers t’why a high-falutin teetotalin’ jackass ends up dead on the roof of a train car. What doesn’t need cleared up?” Poking the matchstick back in his mouth, Crawford picked up the paper clipping. “And who in the hell is T. H. Yarra? Why’s he causing such a goddamn stir? Somebody best have an answer right quick.”
“T. H. Yarra is the bragging bastard who raped my little cousin.” Val’s perspective had lost its amusement with Scott. “That answer stated quick enough for you, sir?”
Scott had been the first to learn of the demons plaguing Kinsey’s ongoing nightmares. It had taken gentle prodding and quiet listening, but when the details of her attack finally tumbled from her mouth, his sickening shock was overwhelming. He’d refused to utter the word rape as if saying it would give it permanence.
Only when Murdoch, the second Lancer to gain knowledge of the events which led to Kinsey boarding a steamer sailing for California, called it what it for what it was - rape - did Scott fully accept it. And throughout the telling and retelling of the brutal act, Kinsey’s attacker had remained a nameless, faceless bastard until the day an envelope arrived with a newspaper clipping.
His fingers slid the envelope across the desk’s polished wood. The correspondence with its precise, purposeful lettering traveled past the day’s mail - opened and scattered. The same mail, which now held his father’s intent attention, caused an absent-minded acknowledgment of his oldest son’s presence in the Great Room. Scott leaned forward slightly - his extended arm assisting in the envelope’s journey to the Lancer patriarch.
Due to Murdoch’s fleeting skills of verbal, effective communication, Scott had learned to read his father’s poker tells. The mannerisms of the man behind the desk were noted and gradually replaced the unspoken words. Scott was far from being an expert at second-guessing Murdoch Lancer, but, by God, he’d gotten pretty good at knowing what a mouth twitch or stiffened shoulders meant.
Scott stood back, clasped his hands behind himself and silently observed his father’s reaction. The man simply stared at the post his oldest son had placed on the desk.
He already knows.
Murdoch’s jaw tightened somewhat as his index finger tapped the envelope. “It’s addressed to Kinsey.”
Scott wrestled with a small dose of sarcasm. “In care of Murdoch Lancer. I thought you might care to read its contents.” Sarcasm won. “It may be of some interest to you, sir.”
“I see.” Removing the newspaper clipping from Melbourne, Murdoch’s eyes darted through the words forming sentences that described the unusual death of Thomas Herbert Yarra.
If he rises to pour himself a scotch, he’s buying time. If he pours one for me, he’s willing to talk.
Murdoch rose. His long strides traveled to the liquor cabinet where a hand removed the cut-glass stopper guarding the good stuff. A tip of the decanter, a splash of amber liquid and a healthy two-fingers poured. After a second’s pause, which stretched for days as Scott held an exhale, the process repeated itself. The man and the scotch moved to the Great Room’s sitting area and tacitly settled in. Snagging the news story from the desk, Scott’s paces matched his father’s. Once seated, Thomas Herbert Yarra and his printed fate joined the two drinks on a small low table positioned between the chairs. There was no need to pour the Melbourne bastard a scotch.
Murdoch reached for his glass - eyes glancing at Yarra. “I don't know the man.”
Scott followed suit, took a sip and rested the crystal lowball on his knee. “Personally. You don’t know the man personally.” A pointed index finger at the paper clipping invited T.H. Yarra back from the dead to sit down. “But you know his name. A Pinkerton agent saw to that.”
What’s his name? It was one of the first questions his father had asked when learning of the man who had forced himself on Kinsey. Scott couldn’t answer - his little cousin never shared the detail. This lack of information no doubt set in motion the chain of events which now brought Thomas Yarra to join them for a drink… so to speak.
“Yes. I know the name.”
Scott pushed onward. “It must have been quite the challenge, sir, for a Pinkerton to locate Mr. Yarra. I mean, the man wasn’t socializing with Bostonians or Federales.” The words possessed no edge but were offered for a confirmation.
“It took time.” With Pinkerton involvement established, Murdoch sampled his drink. “Yarra had acquired a reputation and bragged about it when encouraged. He eventually mentioned Kinsey’s name to the wrong person.”
Scott cast a downward gaze at the piece of paper representing Thomas Herbert Yarra. “Was it a difficult decision, sir?” Setting aside the scotch, he picked up the clipping.
“Requesting the elimination of a predator can be quite easy, son, when given indefensible circumstances.”
Crawford wore the face of a man punched so hard he couldn’t speak. Rising, he walked to the office window and silently stared at the dusty street outside until words came as from a tent-preaching Bible banger. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” Val turned to aim the next question over his shoulder. “Is that what we’re talkin’ about here, Murdoch?”
“Tell me you wouldn’t have done the same if it had been your daughter?”
“No, I would have not.” Returning to his desk, the sheriff slumped back in his chair. “I would’ve swam down to dingo country and shot that sonofabitch myself. To hell with making it look like an accident. Who in God’s name has got the time and patience for that? And I don’t need an answer, thank you.” The sheriff ran his fingers through his hair and landed a hand on the back of his neck for a rub. “The little gal know this Melbourne fella’s in town?”
“No.” Scott’s somber tone lowered his brow. “We haven’t told her.”
“Well one of you gents sure as hell are gonna tell her.” Val studied the printed fate of T. H. Yarra once more. “What about this piece of dog shit? She know he’s burnin’ in hell?”
“My cousin’s aware of Yarra’s accident.”
“Uh-huh.” Crawford tossed the paper aside. “She knows about the unfortunate fall” - Crawford’s gaze shifted to Murdoch - “but not the possible push.”
Locking eyes, Lancer’s patriarch put to rest further rethinking his decision. “She knows her nightmares have stopped.”
The sheriff’s hand returned to his desk drawer and plucked out an embossed invitation, placing it front and center. “This fella understand why the little gal was having nightmares?” A finger tapped Seth Westcott’s name on the wedding announcement which had raised Scott’s eyebrow with its appearance. “What? Just ‘cause I bounced her bustle in jail for kicking my leg keeps me off the invite list? Now, does Westcott know or not?”
“Yes. Kinsey told him.” Scott halted any doubts regarding Seth. “He’s a good man - proof being the wedding announcement you’re tapping.”
“And what about this newspaper clipping? Who else figures there’s a difference between fell and pushed.”
“Johnny.” Murdoch’s thrumming delivery of his youngest son’s name hoped to tame Val’s response.
“Sweet Jesus. You tell that boy to keep his know-it-all-big-man wisecracks to himself when around Mannheim. The man’s already got a burr in his asscrack. I don’t need Johnny shoving it up there any further.” Attention turned to Lancer’s oldest son. “Same goes for this one here and his temper. Damn thing can fall out of the sky like a brick.”
“Consider it done, Val.” The patriarch’s matter-of-fact inflection left no room for dispute.
Scott could never be certain how his father felt about Val Crawford. In the past, Murdoch’s views seemed to waffle between the extremes of exasperation and enjoyment. However, today there was no question. His father displayed deserved respect for the man.
“All right. Here’s the way I’m seein’ it.” A new matchstick was selected to dance across Crawford’s lips. “Only a matter of time before that Melbourne ankle-biter hands me a paper sportin’ a signature I can’t ignore. Then our hands will be tied gentlemen, but I promise Mannheim’s meeting with Miss Furlong will take place right here with all of us breathing down his neck. Understood?”
Murdoch rose with a nod. “We appreciate any help you can offer, sheriff.”
Moving to join his father, Val’s request put Scott back in his seat. “I’d like to have a minute with your son here. Personal matter.”
With their privacy granted, Crawford got to the point. “I’m going to ask you a question and I want an honest answer - plain and simple. Did you or your brother know what Murdoch had planned for this Yarra fella?”
“It wouldn’t have changed the outcome, Val.”
“Not what I’m askin’, son. Plain and simple. Yes or no. That’s all I need.”
Satisfied, the sheriff crossed his arms and sat back. “Now… we can’t have you lyin’ to your pappy so let me ask you this.”
They had ridden a mile or two from town before Murdoch halted their journey and posed Val’s anticipated query. “Personal matter? What was Crawford talking about?”
Scott adjusted his hat, looked his father in the eye and forced a casual smile. “Val needs to borrow a shirt for Kinsey’s wedding.”