Glances of Eyes. Grasp of Hands.
There is confession in the glances of our eyes; in our smiles; in salutations; and the grasp of hands.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Your name again?” The presence of Murdoch Lancer did little to improve the visitor’s quest to interrogate Kinsey Rose Furlong.
Interrogation. Scott’s mind reeled in the word from the past while studying Mannheim’s face. Lieutenant Lancer’s first few days as a guest of the Confederates had been filled with relentless questions regarding troop strength, movement, signs, countersigns… an endless list of aggressive queries designed to intimidate. One wrong word. One stumbling misstep. That’s all it took for a keen interrogator to eventually twist an exhausted officer into a babbling fool, spouting information he never meant to give.
“Godfrey Mannheim.” The name sounded stiff and unyielding when spoken by its owner.
This man could quickly devour a young lady’s composure, no matter how strong-willed and independent. Yes, Scott’s decision was easy. Mannheim would never be granted an audience with Kinsey.
“And the reason for your visit, Mr. Mannheim?” A hint of curiosity peppered Murdoch’s neutral countenance.
“I’ve already explained to your sons my purpose for being here today.”
“Well,” A subtle smile tickled the corners of the patriarch’s mouth. “Now you can explain it to me.”
“As I have said, the Yarra family has requested I speak with Miss Furlong.”
“I believe I am the one who has been solicited to ask the questions.“
“Consider it cross-examination, a term I’m sure you’re familiar with.”
“I never stated I’m a lawyer.”
“And I never stated Miss Furlong resides at Lancer.”
“You don’t have to. The growing concern reflected in your son's eyes is telling me she does. Isn’t that right, Scott? Your little cousin is here. Or should we say your second cousin? Makes no difference, really. My inquiries remain the same.”
“You, sir, are confusing my look of growing concern with stifling contempt.” Truth be told, concern had jabbed Scott when hearing Mannheim’s hint at the possible extent of the information he carried from Melbourne.
“Perhaps. Either way my employer still desires answers that girl and her past - oh let’s call it - familiarity with the deceased can provide.” Mannheim’s opinion of Kinsey’s virtue began to surface.
Best start barking up a much taller tree for answers, bastard. A clenched jaw held back the words tumbling from Scott’s mouth. Crossed arms lassoed a flying punch by Scott’s fist.
“Mister.” Johnny’s self-control, on the other hand, was coming to an ill-timed end. “I think you and me are about to have a disagreement.”
“Quiet, John.” Murdoch’s raised palm to his youngest son brought temporary silence before addressing the ranch’s latest arrival. “Mr. Mannheim, you’re standing on Lancer land where I call the tune.”
The visitor’s eyes shifted between father and sons as a smirk graced his face. “Yes. I see you do.”
“You lack official authority and, more importantly, my respect to extend your stay any further.”
“Well then, perhaps it’s time we seek out a third party who could provide a melody more to my liking. A town constable would do nicely.”
Murdoch donned his own sly grin. “That can be arranged. Allow us time to saddle horses for the ride to Green River.” Seeing Mannheim unmoving, another tune was called with a pointed finger. “You can wait in your buggy.”
Watching the man walk away and out of earshot, Scott lowered his voice. “A Melbourne detective?”
“If he is” - Murdoch squinted at Mannheim clambering into the buggy’s seat - “he’s a lousy one. No, I think this fella is a special retainer sent to get specific answers.” Directives were given. “Scott, saddle our horses, but not your brother’s.”
Johnny’s protest was immediate. “Now hold up, Murdoch! I need to -”
“What you need to do is stay behind. We don’t know if Mannheim is traveling alone.”
Scott placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Agreed. We ride out and this man’s partner rides in with the same purpose.”
“Yeah.” Johnny’s terse nod followed his glance over a shoulder at the hacienda’s main door. “Yeah. All right. I’ll keep it locked down.”
“Good.” The tune caller’s brow arched with anticipation. “Now let’s introduce Mr. Mannheim to Green River’s constable.”
Sheriff Val Crawford fished the customary matchstick from a vest pocket for consideration. Deemed worthy, the fire splinter found its place in the corner of his mouth while his focused scrutiny traversed to one of the three men seated in front of him. “What’d you say your name was?”
“Godfrey. Mannheim.” The gentleman’s verbal delivery suggested he’d become weary of repeating his handle.
“Uh-huh.” The matchstick danced across Val’s lips. “And who hired you?”
“Hired.” Godfrey’s forced laugh mocked the word. “You make it sound as if I’m one of those pistoleros you chaps so enjoy reading about. A hired gun.”
“Can’t say you’ve shown much to convince me otherwise, Mr. Mannheim.”
“And I feel the same regarding your place of authority, Mr. Crawford.”
Val opened his vest to reveal a badge. “Brings out the silver in my one tooth, don’t ya think?” To back up the claim, a retrieved matchstick allowed a wide smile to show off the coveted incisor before morphing into a serious frown. “Sheriff Crawford if you don’t mind.”
Scott crossed his ankle to knee and struggled to not openly enjoy Val’s sense of humor.
“I represent the Yarra family.”
“Yarra.” A dipped brow pondered the name. “Ran across a man not long ago named Yarra out of Boerne. Know ‘em?”
“No, I suspect you don’t. But I gather you’d like to know Miss Furlong.” Val’s matchstick returned to its vest pocket residence.
“My employer, Mr. Yarra, feels Miss Furlong could shed some light on the untimely death of his son.”
“Well, tell ya what. Why don’t you shed some of that light in my direction and maybe we can move things along to your satisfaction.”
Godfrey's hesitation stretched through a tick-tock or two of the wall clock. “Very well.” A latch sprung on the man’s valise and a newspaper article appeared.
If asked to describe it, Scott would compare Mannheim’s expression as he began reading to that of a poker player forced to show favorable cards before a bet. “Dead body on a train.”
“Wait. I have an idea.” Val’s hand reached into his desk drawer. “Why don’t you and I make a trade.” A tossed dime novel landed in front of Godfrey. The sheriff’s wink and wagging finger encouraged the newspaper article’s eventual surrender. A pair of snagged spectacles destined for Crawford’s nose were called to duty.
Mannheim sported his recurring cynical smile. “A sheriff requiring glasses?”
“Only need ‘em to read.” Val matched the man’s grin. “As long as those pistoleros kindly stand back a good distance my aim is fairly accurate.”
Scott shifted in the seat and shot a side glance at his father. Spying Murdoch avoiding eye contact implied he too wrestled with Crawford’s unique perspectives.
“Now, let’s see what we have here.” The reading of T.H. Yarra’s demise commenced. “Dead body on a train. Found on roof of a railway carriage.” Val paused to ponder the spoken visual.
Mannheim leaned forward and finger-tapped the dime novel. “Not a title for your penny dreadful, Sheriff Crawford, I can assure you.”
“Sure as hell would make a good one, though.” Val’s throat cleared for the tale. “A message from Sydney in these columns yesterday stated that when the Melbourne express reached… Jerr-A-waaa… on Saturday, the dead body of a man was found on the roof of a carriage. Documents found on the body bore the name of T. H. Yarra.” The orator’s eyes drifted up from the article. “The deceased son?”
“Yes.” Godfrey sat back. “Please continue, sheriff. Your audience is spellbound.”
Scott pushed away a heavy sigh. Difficult to be spellbound with a story he’d already heard.
“Mr. M.F. Yarra, a spokesman for the Yarra family, informed plain clothes Constable Birch yesterday that his brother, Thomas Herbert Yarra, had left Melbourne to attend a social event in Sydney. He identified the body as that of his brother. Mr. and Mrs. Lancelot Yarra, a PROM-inet family in the Melbourne social class” - The printed status of the Yarra family tugged at Crawford’s crows feet - “have requested an investigation into their son’s death. Constable Birch reported the d-comp-po-SI-shun of the dead body was minimal, and e-knee-bree-A-shun may have played a role in Mr. Yarra’s untimely passing. Additional details are forthcoming.” Val removed his spectacles and stuck them in his vest pocket to keep the matchstick company. “So Mr. Lancelot Yarra wants answers why his son can’t hold his liquor.”
“His son didn’t drink.”
“Always a first time.”
Godfrey held out his hand for the return of his paper. “Thomas Yarra did not drink. And this was no accident.”
“Says you.” Crawford set the article aside. “Think I’ll hold onto this for now. Might need it later to poke my memory.”
A denied grasp scooped up air. “Of course.” Mannheim’s displeasure weighed down his shoulders.
“Well sir…” Val absentmindedly rubbed his chin. “I’m still not seein’ how Miss Furlong steps into Yarra’s howdy to St. Peter.”
“A few months before this unfortunate incident, Miss Furlong’s inappropriate social climbing resulted in the girl’s less-than-desirable reputation due to her intimate relationship with Thomas Yarra.”
“Sonofabitch.” Scott couldn’t get out of his chair fast enough as Murdoch rose, blocking the path to Mannheim.
Val pointed to the door. “Need to stretch those legs, Scott? Maybe step outside for some fresh air? What about you, Murdoch? I know that knee of yours can stiffen up from time to time.”
“Scott, keep your temper in check or leave.” Murdoch’s low rumbling voice held firm and guided his son back to a chair.
“I apologize.” Godfrey’s sincerity fell flat. “It appears I’ve kicked a bee’s nest.”
The sheriff’s concern for his guests’ well-being broadened. “Mr. Mannheim, if you don’t start choosin’ your words more wisely the only thing gettin’ kicked around here will be your ass.”
“Very well. The Yarras believe Miss Furlong’s abrupt departure from Melbourne under questionable circumstances raises some suspicion, considering her acquaintance with Thomas. They seek answers to their son’s murder the girl may provide.”
“Uh-huh.” The sheriff’s fingers ticked off a tally. “Believe. Some. May. That’s what I’m hearin’ but what I need to see is an official paper authorizing you to question Miss Kinsey Furlong.”
“I don’t care.” Val picked up the newspaper clipping. “Maybe Constable Britches here can help you out. All I know until that go-ahead lands on my desk is you step foot on Lancer land it’ll be trespassin’.”
“Do you have any idea how long a wire and return will take?” Mannheim’s pompous attitude spit out the words.
In contrast, Crawford’s high ground oozed understanding assistance. “I do. The telegraph office is across the street. Hotel’s down a ways with a real nice dinin’ room. I’d advise to keep clear of the apple pie. And then there’s the boardin’ house on the edge of town. A bit quieter accommodations if you lean towards retirin’ early.” With a smile, one silver incisor bid Godfrey Mannheim adieu. As the man stood to leave, Green River’s public servant picked up the dime novel. “Don’t forget your readin’ to pass the time.”
A slammed door turned down the final gesture of hospitality.
Sheriff Val Crawford fished the customary matchstick from a vest pocket for consideration. Deemed worthy, the fire splinter found its place in the corner of his mouth while his focused scrutiny journeyed to the two Lancer men still seated in front of him. “All right, gents. Let’s shovel out some of the bullshit stinkin’ up my office and have us a meaningful conversation.”