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The Women on Whitehead Street
There was perfect morning sun for reading on the side veranda
of the house on Whitehead Street; and Jason tried to make use
of it everyday, unless other chores became obvious. This warm, but gusty
morning, Kate Asbury came calling with Marshal
Jones in tow. "Mr. Pike, my husband didn't come home last night or this morning.
Do you know where John is?" Kate asked, as
she climbed the steps to the porch.
"No, I don't." Jason did not know what else to say. The marshal was following
right behind Kate. She was worried and Jason
was too. Any spying Asbury did should have brought him home last night.
"John went out for no reason, except that he might be working for you," Kate
Jason glanced at the marshal, thinking Kate had told him everything Asbury had
told her. Jason also concluded that Asbury
was probably dead. If Pool's men just wanted to discourage Asbury, he would have
come home beaten up. He must have been
spotted while following Wade Estes, then shot or stabbed. They would dispose of
Asbury's body at sea; there would be no
corpse for the marshal to start with, and consequently, no serious investigation
from the locals.
"This isn't the proper place to talk. Let's go to my office," Jones said. Jason
told Addie and Harry to stay home and went
off with Jones and a very distraught Kate Asbury. When they got to his office
the marshal asked Kate to wait outside and led
her to a bench shaded by a large evergreen tree. Then Jones motioned for Jason
to follow him.
Inside his hot office, Jones put Jason on a spit and started roasting. "What the
hell are you doing hiring John Asbury to
follow people? Offering to pay him a lot of money. Who did you tell him to
follow, and why?"
"None of that is true. I only know John Asbury from my passage on the Bluebird,
and once Addie Gorten took me to his house
for lunch, or supper. That's it. I didn't even like them. They're typical 'poh
white trash'." Jason said the last bit in an
amateurish Southern accent.
Jones turned red and yelled, "You Yankee son of a bitch! Asbury and his wife are
fine, god-fearing people. What are you
trying to do? I'll put your Yankee ass in jail right now, if you don't give me
some straight answers." Jones was leaning
over so close to Jason's face that he knew Jones had bacon and eggs for
Jason shrugged. "Well, what do you want to know? Just ask me," he said and sat,
though not invited, and crossed his knee in
a relaxed manner.
The marshal grew more frustrated. "How much did you offer to pay John Asbury?"
"Nothing. Asbury works for John Rhinehart. Oh, I tipped him two bits for
delivering my luggage to the Samuels' house on
"Shit! You're not going to deny everything Kate Asbury told me?"
"The whole thing was a complete fabrication. I have no doubt Asbury told her a
story to cover his stepping out," Jason said
calmly. "Have you checked over at Darcy's Place yet? Maybe he's still asleep
there. She's got a new girl from Jamaica that
will knock the wind out of ya."
"Shut up, Pike. You're a conscienceless Yankee pig. Get out of my office. If I
can get confirmation of Kate's story I'm
comin to see you again."
"Of course, marshal. I'm sorry; I didn't mean to offend you."
"The hell you didn't." Jones shook his head back and forth. "You're a soulless
individual," he observed. "Now get out," he
yelled, red, hot, and ripe as a chili pepper. Jason turned to leave and heard
Jones mutter, "I can't believe Addie Gorten
took up with that man."
Jones called Kate inside to speak with her for ten minutes while Jason waited
outside. She was weeping when she left the
marshal's office and Jason followed her home at a discreet distance. Kate saw
him when they were close to her small house
and stopped to wait for Jason. "What do you have to say?"
"Inside," Jason said taking Kate's arm.
She pulled away. "Don't touch me. You're cold, Mr. Pike, like death itself."
Jason followed her into the modest house,
sufficiently humbled. She sat and said simply, "Well."
"I think your husband was murdered last night." Kate started to cry and Jason
felt helpless to comfort her. "I will do a
full investigation; and I'll be very happy, if I find John tied up somewhere
with a bump on his head. But I'm not
optimistic." Jason stared honestly at Kate and shook his head sadly back and
"Why would your enemies kill John?" she asked.
"I'm not exactly sure. Possibly because they realized he saw the connection I
suspected. I do know there is no reason to
There was a knock on the door and Jason instinctively reached for the gun that
was not in his belt. Addie came in, scowled
at Jason, and went to Kate. "I thought I told you to stay at home," Jason said.
"You tell a lot of people to do things they shouldn't do," Addie said, glaring
at him scornfully with tight, unforgiving
Then Miles and Nolan Asbury were there too. They came to stand protectively by
their mother and also right in front of
Jason. "Why wouldn't you talk to Marshal Jones?" Kate asked, tears streaming
down her lined face.
"I don't trust him. Jones could easily be tied in with Carney and whoever is
feeding him intelligence on our plans. We'll
handle this ourselves."
"Who's 'we'," Nolan said, none too friendly.
"Harry Gorten and I. You kids stay out of this," Jason ordered.
Nolan looked at Miles and then to his mother quietly weeping in the corner. "May
we have a word with you outside, Mr. Pike."
Both of them were all tense, muscled sinew with hard, unpleasant faces. "Okay,"
Jason said walking outside, flexing the
muscles in his arms and back.
Nolan tried to sucker punch Jason as soon as they got out the door. Jason dodged
the swing and jabbed him in the jaw with a
right, followed by a heavy left to his stomach. Miles had to help Nolan up off
the ground to sit on an old tree stump.
While Nolan recovered his wind Jason took out a cigar and dug a hole in one end
with a match. "Your father was working for
me," he started off and told Nolan and Miles what he hired John Asbury to do,
and why. Jason finished with, "Your mother
will blame me for whatever they did to your father. I can't change that. I'm
promising you two I'll avenge his murder.
That's all I can offer, and I'd like you two to trust me."
Nolan asked, "What do you expect of us?"
"Stay close to your mother and your sisters. Save your anger and the violence
until you know what the hell you're doing.
Your time for action will come. That's a promise," Jason said.
"That sounds fair," Miles said. He was grasping Nolan's shoulder and squeezing.
"All right," Nolan agreed.
Jason went back inside and that was a mistake. First, Addie and Kate made him
put the cigar out.
"Jason, I think you are jumping to a very premature conclusion without any
proof," Addie said, standing straight, arms
folded across her chest. "You don't know John is dead. You go look for him right
now," she ordered, like a proper
sergeant major's daughter.
"I will, Addie. But I don't think I'll find him," Jason said. "Intuition," he
offered as an explanation.
"Maybe they're holding John to put pressure on you and Dad."
"That won't work. Addie, the men who want your father's treasure know who I am
and that blackmail won't pressure Harry or
Jason said to Kate, "Your husband agreed to work for us. We talked about the
risks and he agreed to take them on. I am
sincerely sorry . . ."
"Damn you, Jason Pike." Kate stood and held her head high, forming up her
resolve. "You dazzled John with your wealth and
lured him into this risky enterprise. He didn't understand the dangerous
aspects. John couldn't conceive anyone might kill
because he was spying for, and reporting to you. Key West is a small town. He
thought his actions would be just an extension
of the gossip that is commonplace here. John never considered that he might
actually be murdered. You use people, and you
are evil because of what you do. I'll tell you this, Jason Pike. If there is any
justice in this world, then there is a high
seat in hell waiting for you, right next to the Devil himself!"
Kate started crying again and Jason nervously shuffled his feet. Addie was
leaning against a window sill, her arms still
tight across her chest. Her face was hard as stone and her stare bore right
through Jason, like a drill bit through rotting
wood. He had ordered men to their death before, even knowingly sacrificing them,
if the situation called for it. But, Jason
had never before sent such an unassuming and untried agent as John Asbury into
harm's way. He wondered if the Devil would
make good company.
Then Sarah Dumont showed up and Addie explained what had happened. "John was
sent to follow Wade Estes and he disappeared.
So it's true," Sarah said. "Wade is involved with General Harrington funneling
money to the pirates through the local scum:
Samson Pool and Charley Dardy. My uncle suspects the same. And," she went on,
"that's why Harrington is writing to his old
Civil War buddies all over the South, and Wade is his representative and
runner," Sarah explained like a logical detective.
"Those bastards killed my Bruce." Her voice had turned cold.
Sarah surprised Jason with that insightful exposition. He would not have needed
to hire Asbury if he had known what a savvy
conniver Sarah was.
She walked all around the little room and finally stopped in front of Jason,
hands on hips. "And what are you doing, Jason
Pike? Tall, strong, experienced ex-lawman and soldier that you are. Calmly
standing here in John Asbury's home. You started
all this by coming here. The pirates killed Bruce Jeffers and took a United
States naval sloop. They probably killed John
Asbury, in your employ, and you're not doing anything to catch his murderers.
What the hell good are you?" Jason was struck
dumb, totally stunned by Sarah's dressing down.
"God in Heaven, please damn those villains, since nobody else seems to be doing
anything about them. I'm still a virgin. Now
I'll be a virgin until I die, without Bruce; I might as well sew it up!" Sarah
finally stopped yelling and started to cry.
The floodgate opened wide and she was all tears. Kate and Addie looked at each
other apprehensively and went to comfort the
fire-spitting Sarah, who had doused her own flames.
"What are they up to, Sarah?" Jason asked. "What do the villains plan on doing
with our treasure, which we haven't even
salvaged yet. You seem to have an opinion on everything else that is going on.
Do you know what they want to do with the
"I don't know," she said, drying her cheeks with a handkerchief. "What could
they want with your damn, silly old
water-logged Spanish treasure anyway? What good are gold and gems that are
rusted away by two hundred years of exposure to
seawater which, by the way, most of us doubt even exists."
Jason looked at Addie somewhat perplexed and Addie shrugged. Right here and now,
it wasn't worth explaining to Sarah that
gold and emeralds don't rust. "I'm going to take a walk and talk to a few
people," Jason said and looked at Addie. She
walked outside and Jason followed her. "Sarah and I will keep an eye on Kate and
the children. What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to look for evidence relating to John's disappearance."
"Good," she said, not at all happy.
"Do you need anything?" Jason asked.
"Money. We have to take care of John's family. Don't we?"
"Yes, we do." Jason gave her money and tried to draw her close.
"No, not now. You better be on your way," Addie said.
Jason walked home to make lunch. Harry was there working in the garden and
cleaning up after his animals. Jason went through
Addie's pantry and found bread, a smoked ham, and the makings for a salad.
"We have some eggs and can fry that ham up," Harry suggested, but the stove was
"No time for that, Harry. You know John Asbury is missing. I'm afraid he was
killed last night, while following Wade Estes.
And the situation has turned into a real mess. Kate Asbury went to Marshal
Harry sat at the kitchen table and Jason put a bowl of salad in front of him and
also sat. "I guess hiring Asbury to watch
Estes was not such a good idea," Harry said.
"Nobody's perfect, Harry," Jason said.
"Yeah, you're just having a bad day."
Jason threw a forkful of lettuce back in the bowl and stood up to pace around
the kitchen. "All right, Harry. I made a
mistake and John's dead. Kate Asbury already roasted me well and proper. That
woman has a sharp and articulate tongue. Addie
looked at me like I was a snake on the ground. So, who do you want me to make a
"Sounds like you are doin' fine right now." Harry stayed seated and started
eating, which just made it worse. "Once, a long
time ago, you told me that we learn from our mistakes, but only if, and when we
admit them." He smiled and sopped a crust of
bread around the lettuce to get to the oil in the bottom of his salad bowl.
Jason went looking for either Asbury or his corpse that afternoon. All Kate had
told him was that John was wearing a red and
white striped shirt and a sailor's white ducks, not exactly the most unobtrusive
outfit for skulking about Key West at
The first place Jason went to was the Atlantic Gulf Hotel where Wade Estes was
staying. Wade was sitting in the lobby
reading the Key West Register and puffing away on a new Havana. He pretended not
to see Jason approaching until Jason stood
right over Wade.
"Hello. Would you like a cigar?"
"No. I have my own, thank you. I'm looking for John Asbury. Did you see him last
"Me, I don't recall seeing him last night. Why? I know who he is, from the
Bluebird, but I don't know him at all. After I
went to the General's house for dinner, I strolled back here for a brandy and
went to bed."
Too neat, too rehearsed, Jason thought. "Strolled!" Lawyers pick their words
carefully. But men seldom talk about themselves
as 'strolling' unless in the company of a lady. If Wade was walking slowly, it
might be because he suspected he was being
watched or even setting up Asbury for someone else to ambush with a silent blade
or hard club.
"I would imagine you stopped to talk to someone along the way?" Jason asked. All
the houses on Duval or Whitehead had front
porches and people usually sat out after dinner. There were a good number of
eligible women that would have walked off the
porch and down to the front fence for a chance to chat with the widower, Wade
Estes, as he slowly `strolled' back to his
"No, it was too late. There was no one outside," Wade said smoothly.
"What time did you leave Harrington's house?"
"Jason, you sound like a policeman," he said.
"I've had some practice. What time?"
"Nine o'clock," Wade said, starting to show a little irritation of his own.
"And you didn't stop to talk to anyone along the way?"
"No, damn it. What the hell are you talking about?" Wade raised his voice. The
desk clerk looked up from his paperwork. A
gentleman coming down the staircase paused to listen to Wade's heated question.
"Well, you just sound like a harmless little angel. I hope that's the case, but
I doubt it." Wade was too damned smug. If
Asbury was dead, either Wade didn't know about it or was one of the coldest
bastards the Devil ever planted on this poor
little planet. Wade was the white-collar part of the conspiracy. Jason guessed
they might not tell him if they decided to
kill Asbury when they spotted him tailing Estes.
Wade looked incredulously up at Jason, "What are you talking about? I don't
think I understand."
"I'm talking about murder, Wade." Jason turned and left.
He went to General Harrington's house and traced a path down South Street to
Duval and north to the hotel. Then Jason tried
a different route, using Simonton for the northern leg. Again there seemed no
place where Wade could have stopped to meet a
contact without being seen. He tried the journey again, this time using
Jason walked slowly, wanting someone to notice him and come out and tell what
they saw last night. Jason saw faces in
windows watching as he walked along Whitehead Street. And there, on Front
Street, was the workingman's bar, The Lucky Spot
Eatery & Drinking Establishment. Jason stood across the street for ten minutes,
leaning against a tree, while smoking a
cigar and watching the saloon.
Then he retraced his steps along Whitehead Street, and Lillie Watlington crossed
his path. Lillie, short and chubby, and
wearing a disheveled dress, came to stand right in front of Jason. "Good
morning, Mr. Pike. We haven't been introduced but I
presume you know who I am."
"Hello, Miss Watlington."
"I'd like to chat with you; you're such an interesting man; but right now, you
need to seek out Marion Drake. She spoke to
Wade Estes last night," Lillie said. "Isn't that what you are looking for?"
"Yes." Jason wasn't at all surprised this nosey little busybody and gossip knew
what he was doing. "Where does she live?" he
asked and Lillie quickly told him. "I hope you have a productive day," and then
she walked away.
Just down the street, Jason found the white house with the green trim Lillie
directed him to, and knocked on the front door.
After half a minute, a slender woman with black hair tied in a bun at the back
of her neck opened the door. "Marion Drake,
please," Jason requested.
"I'm Marion Drake." She was a strikingly attractive woman. Marion had a very
pale complexion; large and sensitive, darting
brown eyes, a thin delicate nose, and pouty full lips. Her neck was tapering and
swanlike; her arms were long and tenuous.
She looked quite frail and vulnerable, but very lovely. Jason was staring like
an infatuated fourteen-year-old.
"May I help you?"
"I'm sorry. I'm looking for a friend, John Asbury. I know he walked along
Whitehead Street last night. I need to know if you
"You're Jason Pike." She looked around, distressed. "You had better come in. I
have something to tell you."
Marion Drake showed Jason into a front-room parlor and they sat opposite each
other on puffy, comfortable settees. She
dabbed at perspiration on her high forehead.
Jason found himself captivated by her; she was unique in appearance, completely
feminine, and enchantingly fragile. She wore
an unpretentious pink, light cotton house dress which accented her long legs and
small waist. She was tense, sitting there
very straight. Her slender arms were bare to her shoulders, and the buttons at
her throat were open to the top of her modest
Marion Drake took a deep breath. "This is hard for me to do, but I have
scruples. I witnessed a crime last night. You are
the first person to come and ask what I saw."
"Society expects people of good conscience to come forward and volunteer such
observances. I don't mean to preach, Miss
Drake, but we all have to live together," Jason said, like a simple civil
servant would have.
"Yes, I agree, but I have to live together with my neighbors my whole life. How
long are you going to remain on Key West,
Mr. Pike?" Then she sat up straight. "Are you lecturing me? That's no way to
start off questioning me. I might become
indignant, clam up, and throw you out."
"No," Jason said. "You just said you have scruples. You're intent on doing the
"And the right thing is helping you?"
"I'm trying to solve a probable murder. What did you see, Miss Drake?"
She walked to the large bay window holding her arms to her chest and stared down
at her garden. "Yes, I did see . . . or
rather, hear a murder," Marion Drake said and paced across the room. Like most
perpetually slender women, Jason observed,
she had a lot of nervous energy.
"I've known Wade Estes for twenty-five years, since before the war. He married
my best friend, Lorena Harrington. I was
talking to Wade at my front gate when we heard a scream. First, I heard a blow .
. ah . . ah . . a sound like wood striking
bone, and then the scream." She paused, looking right at Jason. "I've heard the
sound before," she said disgustedly. "Down
at the docks, occasionally they bring in sharks, swordfish, and marlin, still
alive. They beat them to death so they don't
squirm while they're being gutted. The scream I heard was uniquely human."
"Go on," Jason urged her.
"The disturbance came from down the street. I looked in that direction and could
just make out several men scuffling in the
dark. Wade said to pay no attention, that they were drunken sailors from the
Lucky Spot. But, I knew something was wrong.
Wade was tense, but he tried to hide it by acting cavalier about the incident.
I've known Wade too long for him to fool me."
Then she started crying. Jason expected as much. Marion didn't look at all
strong. Jason led her to a chair and got Marion a
glass of water from a pitcher on the coffee table.
Jason asked Marion to tell him again what she had seen and heard, and her story
stayed exactly the same. She was quite
distraught, and her voice cracked as she talked. But Marion was very sure of her
remembrance of the facts, as she had
witnessed the event.
"I won't testify in court or to any official from the town or federal
government, or Rob Stevens from the Register either."
Jason guessed she had been emotionally involved with Wade at one time and it had
ended in a one-way affair: unrequited love.
"Yes, I suspected as much. I understand your position, and what you have told me
will go no further than my ears."
"What are you going to do? Without a body, and I doubt if you will find one, the
authorities will not investigate or act,"
"You told me what I needed to know. Retribution for murder does not necessarily
have to be acted on by law enforcement
officers. The local officials are somewhat lax. I'll handle this affair myself."
"Are you going to shoot Wade?" she asked.
"No, I won't kill Wade, and I can't tell you what I will do. I'm sorry, but I
cannot confide in you, even though you were
very honest with me."
"I understand. I don't think I want to know what you're going to do," Marion
"You had very mixed emotions about telling me what you saw and heard last night.
I guess you don't want to tell me about the
past. If you and . . ."
"That's exactly correct," she cut him off. "I don't wish to discuss the matter
further. Our business is finished," Marion
Drake said forcefully, and directed Jason to the front door. "Goodbye, Mr. Pike.
And good luck to you."
"By the way, how do you know about me?" Jason asked, while standing in the
"Sarah Dumont is a friend. She says you are an honorable, but violent man."
Marion Drake was sad; like Addie, Jason decided,
she was another woman disappointed in her menfolk, or the times in which they
lived. "I trust you will do the right thing."
"I'll do what we both know needs to be done," Jason said and walked away.
He went to the Lucky Spot and around back to the inevitable trash pile. Bending
down, Jason dug through the smelly garbage
until he found the ground. It was moist, and not from water. Jason knew earth
that was soaked with blood; it had a different
feel and color. Even the scent was odd, metallic. Then he found the bloodied,
small bit of striped, red and white cloth.
"Hey, you looking for something?" A voice came from behind Jason, who turned
just in time to see Holly, the bartender,
picking up a two-by-four and coming at him. Jason was squatting on his shins and
dived to the side twisting through the
garbage. Holly came closer and Jason viciously kicked him in the knee and Holly
fell down. Jason grabbed the first thing he
could lay his hands on. It was a rusted-out metal beer pail. Jason hit Holly on
the head and opened a long slash across his
temple and forehead. It wasn't a serious wound; but like all head wounds, the
blood immediately cascaded down his face and
covered Holly's eyes. Jason jumped up and ran away.
In the middle of the afternoon Wade Estes left his hotel and walked northwest
along Duval to the harbor. He found Charley
Dardy on his schooner, and they went below where Samson Pool was waiting. A few
minutes later a buggy pulled up and General
Clinton Avery Harrington got out, looked around, and stepped onto the schooner.
Key West's waterfront was the common
denominator for this meeting. People of all classes went to the harbor.
"What the hell went wrong last night?" the old man seethed with anger as the
four men sat in the tiny cabin. "You were
supposed to just rough up Asbury, to send a message to everybody on Key West to
stay away from Jason Pike."
Estes looked around at Pool and Dardy, hoping one of them would answer. "I'm
talking to you, Wade," Harrington said.
"Pool's man used a truncheon. He must have hit Asbury too hard," Wade admitted.
"Or Asbury's head was too soft," Pool said, and he and Dardy laughed.
"I don't think you two understand," The General said quietly, deadly serious.
"All of Key West is going to feel sympathy for
a new widow with four children. And you've also confirmed Pike's suspicions
"Kate's sons are both old enough to work; that family is not destitute," Dardy
"If Pike want's to come knockin' on my door," Pool said, turned his head, and
spit tobacco juice out a port hole. "He know's
where to find me."
"Wade, what is Jason Pike doing right now?" the General asked.
"He's looking for Asbury or evidence concerning Asbury's disappearance, or
murder," Wade said.
"No one will talk to him," Pool guessed.
"None of our people will help the Yankee," Dardy agreed.
"Our people! So there are some people-if they're not ours, witnesses, who could
have something to tell him, if they wanted
to," the General concluded. "Wade, what will Pike do when he finds evidence, go
to Marshal Jones?"
"No," Wade shook his head. "Jason will buckle on a gunbelt. The man doesn't know
how to walk away from a fight."
"You two better be very careful, tonight," Harrington warned Dardy and Pool, and
"What about Estes here?" Pool said. "Asbury was following him."
Estes held open the left side of his jacket, so they could see the revolver he
carried in a shoulder holster. "I'm already
Laura Gentry knocked on the door, and walked into the white house with the green
trim. Marion Drake was sitting on the couch
sobbing quietly and staring out the bay window.
"You're always so sad, Marion," Laura said, sitting next to her and putting an
arm around the older woman.
"You are a comfort, Laura. But this time I have good reason to be melancholy."
Marion explained what she had witnessed last
night and described her recent interview with Jason Pike.
Laura nodded. "I better stay and make you dinner."
The women walked into Marion's small kitchen. "Fish?" Laura asked. She walked to
the table and unwrapped the newspaper
around a very nice, fresh red snapper. "Caught this morning," Laura said,
impressed. Marion sat down while Laura took a
long, thin knife from a rack on the wall and started to clean and fillet the
Laura had to ask, "I thought Jason Pike was a very interesting man. What did you
think of him?"
"I think he's attractive. Isn't that what you meant to say?" Marion smiled, for
the first time this day.
Laura blushed. Her already reddish complexion turned bright pink. "Yes," she
"I agree," Marion added. "But, he is also powerful, and the war almost certainly
taught him it was all right to be cruel."
Laura ran the sharp knife through the fish and cut the flesh away from the skin.
"Marion, sometimes we all have to be a
little more pragmatic than we wish to be. They're all hard men. They fought a
terrible war. Did you think they would come
home innocent idealists?"
Marion stood and walked to the back porch. She went outside and turned back to
face Laura. "I never met a Yankee until after
the war, but I will tell you that before the war, all the men I met were already
selfish, brutish, and disloyal."
Laura stared at Marion, not sure what to say. "Marion, I don't want to become as
cynical as you. I want to marry a man and
have two or three children and raise them well." Laura knew Marion's kitchen and
filled a pan with flour for the fish
"I hope you can find one worthy of you, sweet, red Laura," Marion said, came to
stand behind Laura, squeezed her shoulders,
and kissed her lightly on the cheek.
Jason went to Darcy's Place. He could get a drink there, and maybe a kind word.
"John Asbury has been murdered," he told
Darcy when they were alone in her kitchen.
Darcy nodded. "No doubt, in your employ." Darcy sipped tea delicately. She was
seated at the small table and looked at Jason
with a blank expression on her already serene face.
"What else do you know?" he asked.
"Only what you confide in me, Jason," Darcy said in a blase tone.
"I'm not having a good day, and the way things are adding up I think it is only
going to get worse. Do you have any
information about Asbury's movements last night?" Jason asked. "Oh! I just
remembered, a shot of rye whiskey would be nice
too. Can you put that on my tab?"
"You don't have an account with us." Darcy got up and walked into the empty
front room and Jason followed. She went behind
the bar and brought up a bottle of Canadian whiskey. "And who else?" Darcy
asked, still with that disinterested air she
projected so well.
"Uh?" Jason inquired intelligently.
"Who was John Asbury to follow?" Darcy said slowly, being patient.
"I told him to follow Wade Estes." Darcy poured a neat whiskey and a chaser of
water, as they stood at the bar.
"Who do you suspect Estes met with last night?" she asked.
"What did you, or one of yours, see last night?" Jason shot back.
Darcy stood up straight. "We won't get anywhere this way. You came to me first,
Jason. Do you want me to help you or not?"
"So, you do know something?"
"One of my girls saw Wade walk by on Whitehead Street last night. She was bored,
no business, just staring out the back
window of her room."
"Which girl, who?" Jason asked.
"Where was Wade coming from?" Darcy asked.
"Mercy Christiansen saw Wade Estes out her window." Darcy finally decided to
"Call her. I need to interview her."
"The girls are sleeping; they were up late. You've gotten very authoritative
over the last ten years," Darcy observed.
"All right, what did she tell you she saw?"
"She saw Wade Estes walking with two men following, skulking in the shadows, and
carrying a third unconscious individual,
whose crimson and white striped shirt was apparent, even in the dark."
"I still don't believe he wore that silly shirt last night," Jason said. She
looked at him disapprovingly, but said nothing.
"Darcy, I hired John Asbury and got him killed. He was an
innocent, and more naive than I thought."
"Did Asbury have any experience? Why did you select him?"
"Well, no experience, but he knew everyone, could use some money, and his wife
was on good terms with Addie," Jason
explained. Darcy shook her head back and forth: more disapproval. "I just hired
Asbury to follow Wade Estes. He wasn't
supposed to kill anyone, or get himself murdered. All I hoped to accomplish was
to harass Estes into being obvious, if he
was working between General Harrington and Samson Pool or Charley Dardy." Jason
paced across the room and back to the bar.
"Damn, Darcy I expected these local hoods might get violent, but I didn't think
they would kill another Conch. I thought, at
worst, they would just work Asbury over to teach him a lesson."
"John Asbury was your creature. That's why they did away with him," Darcy
explained, "for being a spy and to send you a
"They picked the wrong man to correspond with this time. Some philosophers
speculate that revenge, like wine, gets better
with the passage of time." Jason shook his head back and forth. "But not this
"Are you going to go to the Lucky Spot to confront Samson Pool?"
"This vintage needs no aging; we'll serve it up fresh," Jason said, his voice
harsh. Darcy shrugged fatalistic acceptance.
Jason finished his drink, said goodbye to Darcy, and cut through the backyard to
Whitehead Street, and found Addie and Kate
Asbury sitting in the front yard. They were watching Kate's little girls playing
with Addie's doll collection. Emily and
Elizabeth were arguing over whose doll hit whose first; a childish affair, Jason
Kate Asbury was still very upset, her face was pale-despite the years of sun-and
her cheeks tear-streaked. "Did you find
"Come inside," Jason said, and the ladies went to sit in the living room. Harry
was standing in the doorway from the
kitchen. Jason frowned, so they would know the news was bad. He took the
blood-soaked cloth from his pocket and handed it to
She took it, looked at the small, bloody cloth, grasped the significance, and
fainted. When Kate slumped over on the couch
Addie and Harry jumped to pick her up, and Addie supported her.
"Where did you find that?" Harry asked. Addie slid in behind Kate and held her
limp shoulders and head.
"Behind the Lucky Spot." Jason saw no reason to mention Marion Drake's
testimony. He felt she was better left out of this
"Samson Pool. I should have known. What do we do now?" Harry asked.
"We wait until tonight, and then we go calling." Harry nodded.
"What are you talking about?" Addie asked. "Go calling on who?"
"Men's work, lassie. Your job's to mind the house," Harry said.
"We're going to Pool's saloon to look for Asbury's killers," Jason told Addie.
She looked back and forth between Jason and her father. "How are you going to
know who killed John? Or does that matter at
all? You're going to start a gunfight."
"At this point we have only two choices: do nothing or seek retribution against
whoever we find there. They'll start the
gunfight, and we'll finish it," Jason said.
"But you might shoot the wrong person; you might not even get the real
murderer," Addie argued.
When Kate Asbury started to wake up, she shook her head and rubbed her eyes.
"I'm okay now," Kate said weakly.
"Do you want me to take you upstairs? We'll get you a dinner tray," Addie
offered. She was still sitting behind Kate with
her arms around Kate's shoulders.
"No, but thank you, Addie. In all honesty, I had already accepted John's death.
I would like to pay attention to this
conversation, and then I have to go and talk to my children."
"I was telling Addie why Harry and I are going to the Lucky Spot tonight," Jason
"They want to go in guns blazing, shoot whoever's there," Addie said accusingly.
"No, not at all. But we can't very well expect them to turn over a murderer from
within their own circle. John was not
killed by one individual, even if only one person actually did it," Jason
explained. "Samson Pool has a gang of toughs to do
his bidding, and we'll act against the whole group and do as much damage as we
Kate Asbury was staring at Jason. "I won't feel any better about you, after you
kill the men that murdered my husband." She
wiped a handkerchief across her puffy eyes and turned to say to Addie, "But, I
won't feel any the worse if Jason gets rid of
Samson Pool. Aside from John, twenty-five years ago, Pool and his men killed my
father and raped my mother."
"What?" Addie said, leaving her mouth hanging open.
"My parents were salvaging a wreck in the fall of 1850," she started off, after
Addie prodded her to tell the story. "My
father, his name was Keith Lindstrom, got to the wreck first and flagged it, but
Pool showed up with his men. They argued
over salvage rights, but Pool was willing to use force. He shot my father, and
they threw him in the sea, same as they must
have done with John. Then Pool and three of his crew had their way with my
mother. They cast her overboard too and expected
her to drown, but she was in excellent health and a strong swimmer. My mom swam
ashore, three miles. The authorities didn't
believe her story and she had no proof."
"What was your mother's name?" Jason asked.
"Inger Lindstrom," Kate answered. "She died just a few years ago."
Jason nodded and glanced at Addie. She looked unhappily left and right with a
touch of desperation, but there was no safe
harbor for her pacifism to anchor in and fight from. "I guess you better go do
what you have to do," Addie finally said and
came to stand by Jason.
"I wish there was another way," Jason said stroking her chin. Addie tried for a
meager smile, glancing up at Jason with her
big, sad eyes, but it didn't work. She went and hugged her father before going
back to sit with Kate.
Harry and Jason went into the library to check their weapons. Harry was grim,
but eager. "I never knew about Kate's parents.
If she had told me about that, I would have provoked Pool to a gunfight myself a
long time ago. No one can fault us for what
we're going to do tonight. Those bastards are destined for hell, and the sooner
the better," Harry said.
It was just after dark when word reached them of the fire. Addie, Harry, and
Jason ran headlong from their house, down
Whitehead Street toward the harbor. They could see the blaze where the Bluebird
was burning at her anchorage.
"There's no hope for her. She's too far gone," Harry said.
"Do something! Do something! Can't you tow her into shore with your tug boat?"
Captain Rhinehart was yelling at Charley
Dardy. They were right on the edge of the quay.
The ship's whole deck was on fire. The furled sail on the boom was burning
brightly, and flames licked at the mast. The
Bluebird would burn to the waterline in just a few minutes.
Dardy spit tobacco juice in the water. "Take me an hour to get up steam. Sorry,
Rhinehart. Imagine I'll be sendin' you a
bill. We'll have to tow the hull outta' the harbor in the morning." Dardy was a
short, thick man with an ugly face on a
large head, and almost no neck Jason could see. From the way he scratched at
himself, Jason suspected Dardy carried vermin.
Rhinehart started cursing in English and German. He stormed all around the dock,
mad as hell. After the sloop sunk, the
crowd of onlookers dispersed. The show was over; Rhinehart sat on the ground,
and cried. He was a weak man, Jason thought,
especially for a German.
Jason figured Rhinehart would be looking for work, now that his ship was gone,
but Rhinehart was too upset to talk about the
future. So Jason decided to approach him again in a few days, and went home with
Harry and Addie.
Dardy laughed to himself as he walked home. Talking to Rhinehart about charging
him for towing the hull, after having his
darky had set fire to the Bluebird, just tickled him from head to toe. He kept
grinning and bursting out laughing, when he
thought of it.
When Dardy arrived home, he locked all the doors and sat in the center of the
dark house, his shotgun resting on his lap. It
was quiet except for the mice. Let that Yankee come if he wants, Dardy thought.
Dardy had noticed Pike's scrutiny of him,
while Rhinehart was blubbering away. Let him come; Dardy rubbed the
double-barreled twelve-gauge affectionately.
Meanwhile, Harry and Jason put on their going-out clothes. "Black suits, but no
tie, Harry. It's too hot," Jason said. They
were heading over to the Lucky Spot for a drink, some light conversation, and a
gunfight. Jason had promised Kate and her
tall sons that he would send John's killers to hell. It was a promise he was
going to keep right now.
Addie clung to Jason before they left. "I'm not going to marry you, if you're
always going to be doing things like this,"
she said plain and calm. Addie had absorbed the tragedies of Asbury's murder,
Kate's reluctant approval of vengeance, and
the burning of the Bluebird.
"You get to do as you choose, same as me, Addie."
"I know," she said and wept for just a few seconds before getting her composure
Jason ripped the piece of John's shirt he had found in two and gave one piece to
Addie. "If anything happens to us, we don't
come back, you make sure this and Kate get to the marshal and that nosy reporter
from the Key West Register. Tell them I
found it behind the Lucky Spot."
Despite the dry spring weather Harry wore his full-length rain coat to hide the
double-barreled twelve-gauge. Harry also had
a .45 Colt pistol and his Bowie knife. Jason placed his faith in two Colt
Peacemakers, one holstered on his left hip and the
other in his belt.
They walked down Whitehead Street, and it was too long a walk to keep silent.
"You sure you want to do this, Harry?" Jason
Harry chuckled nervously. "Jason, just enjoy the tropics." Whitehead Street was
lined with palms, and the sky was clear with
a three-quarter moon. The salty winds off the straits were cool tonight, and
Jason relaxed somewhat.
"I'll try. Just no poetry, Harry," Jason set a condition. "Mr. Gorten, Mr.
Pike." They both froze almost drawing guns, but
it was a woman's voice. Harry and Jason were next to Marion Drake's house and
Jason saw her watching them from the front
"Laura?" Harry asked, and the slender woman walked out from behind a tree almost
next to the white picket fence. "Lassie,
you're too smart to do that to armed men," Harry lectured.
"I wanted to wish you luck," she said, and came up to grasp the tops of the
fence posts. "Please be careful, both of you,
for Addie's sake."
Harry smiled. "Give me a kiss for luck, ya young filly." Harry grabbed up Laura
Gentry and planted a wide lip smacker on
Laura stood back. "Well, thank you, dear Harry," her tone sarcastic. She found a
small cloth to wipe her mouth. Then Laura
said to Jason, "Do you want to slobber all over me too?"
"No, not tonight, Red. But, I'd like to thank you for your loyalty when Cousin
Mel came to visit."
"I did what I had to do. You know all about that kind of thing, much more than
me. Goodnight and good luck." Laura walked
back to Marion's house.
Harry and Jason continued on their short journey and turned onto Front Street.
They stopped, instinctively felt for their
firearms, and approached the Lucky Spot Eatery & Drinking Establishment. When
they walked into the rectangular room the
first thing Jason noticed was that Holly, the bartender, was back at work. He
was wearing a hat to hold a bandage in place
around his head. Jason nodded to Holly, as they walked to the near end of the
bar. Jason and Harry were close to the
entrance, and in a corner. On the right were a half-dozen empty tables. There
were only two other men in the whole saloon,
which suited their purpose.
"Bring us two beers and ask your boss to step out here," Jason said to Holly.
Samson Pool appeared at the kitchen door in the middle of the rear wall. Like
Jason, Pool was wearing a black suit and the
sharp bulge at his waist told Jason he had a gun in the same place Jason kept
one. Pool walked over and slowly unbuttoned
"Evening, Pike. Did you want to see me?"
"I thought you might want to explain how this piece of cloth from John Asbury's
shirt got in the alley behind your seedy
saloon," Jason said, and placed the cloth on the bar.
Pool took the cloth and put it in his pocket. "I don't know what you're talking
Jason picked up his beer, with his left hand, and sipped it while looking into a
dead man's eyes. "Who did Wade Estes meet
here last night? I know it wasn't you, Pool. You're too much of a slimy sack of
shit for highborn Estes to have any direct
"The only men in this room either work for me or owe me money. That's something
to consider if you're trying to provoke a
fight," Samson Pool said confidently. He was looking at the two men sitting at
the first table in the opposite corner. They
were on Harry's right and he turned to face them.
"Anyone that owes you money won't mind being rid of you."
Samson Pool laughed and snorted at Jason. Jason leaned forward, so only Pool
could hear him. "Actually, after I kill you,
I'm gonna burn this cheap, vermin-infested saloon to the ground. It's a favor
for Keith and Inger Lindstrom. You remember
them? Kate Asbury's parents," Jason growled. Pool's beady, bloodshot eyes went
wide. "Sometimes old ghosts have a long
reach," Jason finished.
Pool snarled, like a bad-tempered bull terrier, and grabbed for his gun. Jason
dropped his beer, drew the Colt on his left
hip, and shot Pool twice in the chest. The glass mug hit the floor and broke,
splattering beer on Jason's trousers. Pool was
blown off his feet and hit the floor five feet from where he had been standing.
At the same instant, the two men Harry was facing made their move. They went for
their guns and were trying to stand up.
Harry's coat flew open, the shotgun came up, and blasted away at them. Harry's
.30 caliber buckshot opened a dozen holes in
each man and slammed their bloody bodies back against the wall.
Jason turned back just as Holly came up from behind the bar with half an oar,
swinging it at Jason and Harry. Jason just had
time to duck and Holly caught Harry on the shoulder, sending him sprawling to
the floor. Jason came up with the Colt and
shot Holly in the forehead so he instantly dropped dead. Instinctively, Jason
swung back around away from the bar.
Somehow, that dying bastard, Samson Pool, was trying to get up on one elbow and
shoot at Jason. Blood was gushing from the
two holes Jason had already put in him. Aside from broken breast bones and
arteries, his lungs must have been pierced. Jason
knew Pool should be dead in seconds.
And Jason noticed another man in the kitchen doorway with a gun starting to take
aim at him. Jason fanned off three shots at
the man in the doorway, as he dived sideways to the floor. Mortally wounded,
Samson Pool still got off a shot that creased
Jason's left thigh; Pool was a persistent corpse. The man in the doorway had
caught Jason's second shot through the chest,
fell back against the wall, sat down, and slumped over on his side.
Jason twisted on the floor and got the second pistol out. Samson Pool, a crazed
but resolute grimace on his bloody face, was
up on an elbow, and trying to take aim at Jason again. While lying on the floor,
Jason shot Pool twice more; first in the
throat, and then through the forehead, and was finally done with the murderous
"You would think he was trying to fill up the boat for company on the voyage to
hell," Jason said and sat up. He tied a
handkerchief around the flesh wound in his thigh and looked over at Harry. "You
"No, my arm hurts, thanks to you," Harry said indignantly because Jason didn't
take out the bartender sooner, or at least
warn him. "I'm lucky it's not broken."
"Sorry, Harry. No time. And we still don't have any. Break open the kerosene
lamps on the wall. We're leaving through the
Harry and Jason went into the kitchen and Jason struck a match to set aflame the
kerosene that they'd splashed everywhere.
They exited through the rear and Jason, limping, put his arm over Harry's good
shoulder for support, as they headed home.
The brisk breeze from the south quickly helped the fire destroy the bar; and
because the wood structure was right on the
waterfront the fire didn't spread. Some citizens made a slight effort at
firefighting, but most Key Westers were happy to be
done with the Lucky Spot Eatery & Drinking Establishment.
U.S. Federal Copyright 'TXU 603-893
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