A Tucson Kid Western #7
The Tucson Kid battles the crime bosses and criminals of the Barbary Coast and the Tongs of Chinatown to rescue a young woman.
The Tucson Kid travels to San Francisco to rescue the daughter of an old friend from a Barbary Coast crime boss who is keeping her prisoner. Once in the city, he is approached by a wealthy politician and the Police Commissioner who ask him to look into the Tong wars that are rocking San Francisco. As Tucson begins investigating the Tongs, he also sets into motion a plan to liberate the young woman. He leaves a blood-spattered and corpse littered trail behind him as he moves through the underworld of San Francisco, taking on the bosses and criminals of the Barbary Coast and ending with an epic battle with the vicious Tongs of Chinatown.
Tucson lay on his stomach at the edge of the arroyo with his binoculars pressed to his eyes, using his sombrero to shade them so that there was no reflection from sunlight against the lenses. It was late afternoon, and the slant of the sun gave a good view of the dry wash where three men lounged around a campfire. Two of the men were bearded, while the third man, who appeared to be significantly younger than the others, was clean-shaven. They all wore sweat-stained Stetsons, range clothes and had six-shooters strapped down to their legs.
That’s the Murdock brothers, alright, Tucson thought, but—he took his eyes away from the binoculars and scanned the arroyo from east to west—there was supposed to be a fourth.
Only three horses were picketed nearby, grazing on the sparse grass and mesquite bushes. He rolled over onto his side and studied the terrain behind him. Twenty feet away, the huge black stallion grazed peacefully behind a giant Yucca. Beyond, stretching north to the Rio Grande, was a desolate stretch of sand, rocks and cactus, broken only by the occasional canyon and arroyo such as the one here where the Murdock brothers were camped.
Deciding that no one was sneaking up on him, Tucson rolled back onto his stomach and looked again down into the camp. Nothing had changed—all was as it had been before. Clearly, the Murdocks were not expecting trouble. They were laying around the fire, joking and laughing among themselves. Tucson glanced again at the sun—it was a couple of hours until sundown. He had no intention of bracing three gunmen in broad daylight, and besides, the fourth brother could show up at any time. Deciding that there was nothing for it but to wait until nightfall, he put the binoculars into their case and slid back from the edge of the canyon. When he was a safe distance away, he stood up and walked down to where the stallion was standing ground-hitched.
Hanging the binoculars by their strap from the saddle horn, he reached into a saddlebag, pulled out a dry strip of venison jerky and had supper. As he stood in the shade thrown by the stallion, munching the venison and washing it down with water from his canteen, he thought back about how he had come to be there.
* * * *
It was late in the morning when Tucson rode into the southern Arizona town of Pleasanton. Both he and the stallion were covered with the white alkali dust of the desert. He had come down from the mountains to the north and had been riding across the desert for the last couple of days. Pleasanton was a medium sized town, clean and orderly, with a friendly marshal. There was a railhead on the eastern edge that catered to cattlemen, mine owners and rich tourists, and there was a bank where Tucson had an account and a good hotel where he was known. A stagecoach, with armed guards, came through twice a week shipping out gold and silver from the mines and bringing in funds for the bank. It was a town where Tucson felt at home, and he made it his headquarters when he was in that part of Arizona.
He reined in at Johnson's Livery Stable at the edge of town and climbed stiffly down from the saddle. The stable owner, a big, burly man, dressed in a leather apron and about as tall as Tucson, came out of the double doors to greet him.
“Howdy, Kid,” he called out cheerfully. “I ain’t seen you in a coon’s age.” He stopped, looked Tucson over, then grunted, “Jeez, Kid, you and yer hoss look like you’ve been doin’ some hard ridin’.”
Tucson took off his sombrero and beat it against his black leather jacket and dark serge trousers, throwing up a cloud of dust. “I came in through the desert,” he said with a grimace. “It's hot and dry out there.”
“Well,” the stableman turned and gestured with his thumb to the interior of the stable, “there’s a stall in there for yer hoss, an’ plenty o’ water in the trough to wash it down with.”
“Thanks, Jack,” Tucson said, and clapped the man on the shoulder. “I'll take care of my horse first, then I’m going over to the Pleasanton Hotel and take a long, hot bath.”
Two hours later, after washing all the dirt and dust off the stallion, combing all the burrs out of its long mane and tail, and making sure it had plenty of hay and oats, Tucson sauntered down the sidewalk toward the hotel with his saddlebags slung over his shoulder and carrying his Winchester in his left hand. Even though he was in what he considered a friendly town, Tucson stayed on the alert, assessing the men who came toward him, moving cautiously around groups, and keeping an eye on the other side of the street and the second-story windows. Being aware of his surroundings was an inflexible habit with Tucson, wherever he was, and it had saved his life more than once.
Coming to the Pleasanton Hotel, he turned in then immediately stepped to the side with his back against the wall, letting his eyes adjust to the dark, cool interior while he checked things out. The Pleasanton wasn’t fancy, but it was clean—no fleas in the beds—and it had a good saloon attached where there was always a high-stakes poker game in progress.
With a sigh of satisfaction, he moved on to the check-in desk.
“Howdy, Clyde,” he said to the middle-aged clerk standing behind the desk, as he lowered his saddlebags and rifle onto the counter.
Clyde looked up, and his homely face split in a pleased grin. “Well, Mr. Tucson,” he said. “What a pleasant surprise.” He glanced at Tucson’s dusty clothes. “What brings you to this part of the world?”
“Rest and recreation, Clyde,” Tucson replied with a grin. “Rest and recreation...”
“Certainly, Mr. Tucson,” Clyde responded, as he spun the register around. “We just happen to have your favorite room, with a good view of Main Street, available. The previous occupant left town yesterday.”
“That's good news,” Tucson said, as he signed his name. He glanced up at Clyde. “I want a bath as soon as you can get the hot water up to my room, and I need to get these clothes laundered.”
“Of course, of course...” The clerk struck the bell sitting on the counter and immediately a young Mexican boy came running around the corner. Clyde gave him his orders and the boy ran off. Turning back to Tucson, he said, “Your bath should be ready just about the time you get up to your room, sir.”
Reaching into an inside pocket of his jacket, Tucson pulled out his wallet and laid some bills on the counter. “Here’s a week in advance,” he said, pushing the money across. “If I decide to stay longer, I’ll give you plenty of warning.” As Clyde picked up the bills, recounted them and deposited them in a drawer, Tucson slid a twenty-dollar gold piece across the counter. “Buy something special for your wife,” he murmured. Then he picked up his saddlebags and rifle and started for the stairs.
“Thank you, Mr. Tucson,” Clyde called after him.
* * * *
It was late afternoon when Tucson stepped outside the hotel and paused on the sidewalk. Freshly shaved and bathed with clean clothes, his jacket and boots brushed, he felt like a new man. Reaching inside his jacket, he pulled out his leather cigar case, snapped it open and selected a long black cheroot. Striking a match on a support post, he touched the flame to the tip and drew the aromatic smoke deep into his lungs.
What he needed now, he thought, as he blew a long stream of blue smoke into the sky, was a thick steak with plenty of potatoes and onions.
On his way to his favorite restaurant, he paused as he passed the telegraph office. A thought occurred to him and he stepped inside. A young man wearing a green eye-shade looked up as he entered.
“Yes, sir,” he said cheerfully. “How can we help you today?”
Tucson moved to the counter, took a slip of paper and a pen lying there and began to write. “I want this message sent to the Palace Hotel in Denver, Colorado,” he said, as he wrote. “I get mail delivered there.” He slid the paper across the counter. “Ask them to forward any mail I may have down here to the Pleasanton Hotel.”
“Certainly, sir,” the clerk answered, taking the note and the gold piece Tucson pushed across to him. “Mail comes in on the train,” he added, “so whatever mail you have in Denver should be here within a few days.”
“Good enough...” Tucson responded, then spun on his heel and left the office.
As he stepped out the door, he almost collided with a portly man in a brown business suit and vest. With the speed and grace of a big cat, Tucson instinctively glided to the side as his right hand dropped to the Colt .45 belted around his lean waist.
The man jumped back and hastily lifted his hands. “Hold it there, Kid,” he cried. “I’m unarmed and I come in peace.”
Tucson straightened up from his crouch and looked the man over.
Of medium height, he had brown hair that was thinning at the temples and a handlebar mustache. The skin of his face was pink and taut, and his pudgy hands were soft—he had the look of a man who spent most of his time in-doors.
“What do you mean, you come in peace?” Tucson asked suspiciously.
“I apologize for this awkward introduction,” the man answered. “But the truth of the matter is that I was looking for you. I heard you were in Pleasanton. The clerk at your hotel told me that you headed in this direction, and I came along in hopes of finding you.” He smiled pleasantly and held out his hand. “My name is Charles E. Franklin, and I am the President of the United Bankers Association of Arizona.”
Tucson glanced quickly up and down the street to make sure no one was skulking about then he took the banker’s hand. “What do you want with me?” he asked, releasing the hand as quickly as he could. “Am I over-drawn at the bank, or something?”
“Not at all, not at all...” Franklin laughed—it was a heavy sound. He gestured down the street. “I have a private car at the train station. I wonder if you would care to come with me where we can talk privately.” He pulled a gold watch out of his vest pocket, snapped it open and looked at the time. “I believe we will be just in time for supper,” he said, with a smile. “I would appreciate it if you would be my guest. I have a business proposition to put before you, and we can discuss it over dinner.”
“Now you’re speaking my language,” Tucson smiled in turn. “Lead the way.”
* * * *
The main room of Charles Franklin’s private car was paneled in walnut, covered with plush blue carpeting, and had silken curtains at the windows. As Tucson entered behind the banker, he could smell the wealth that oozed out of the very atmosphere. Franklin moved to the side where a bar was set up against the wall, and Tucson got a look at who was sitting straight ahead on a satin couch against the wall beneath a window.
Ash-blonde hair was piled atop a perfectly shaped head, and deep blue eyes stared at him from above a straight, upturned nose, while full red lips smiled at him in welcome. Her green silken dress was cut square across the bodice, giving just a hint of cleavage between two of the biggest and best-shaped breasts Tucson had ever seen. Her aura of feminine sexuality was so powerful and all-pervasive that Tucson felt himself respond in spite of the situation.
About to pick up a decanter, Charles Franklin turned his head in the woman’s direction. “Oh, yes,” he said pleasantly, “this is Anne Sheldon, my...assistant.”
Tucson took off his sombrero as he stepped forward. “My name’s Tucson,” he said, bowing over the hand she held out to him. “I’m very pleased to meet you.”
“And I, you,” she replied, squeezing his hand and holding his eyes with hers. “Charles and I have heard so much about you.” She glanced at the banker. “It’s not often that we get to meet a legend, is it Charles?”
Franklin turned again, with a decanter in his hand. “No, it isn’t,” he replied. “And the pleasure is all ours.” Glancing at Tucson, he added, “I have in my hand a two hundred year old Brandy that has to be experienced to be believed...can I pour you a snifter?” He gestured to a chair in the corner. “Please, Kid, take a seat and make yourself comfortable.”
Tucson dropped into the chair, crossed a shin over his knee and perched his sombrero on top. “Sure,” he replied. “Brandy would be fine.”
Franklin crossed the room and first gave Anne her Brandy then came to Tucson and handed him his. The three of them paused for a moment to swirl the liquor in the bottom of their snifters and inhale the bouquet; then they sipped it appreciatively.
The Brandy was unbelievably smooth on Tucson’s tongue, and he felt its warmth slide all the way down to his stomach. He glanced up at Franklin with a smile. “You’re right,” he said. “This did have to be experienced to be believed.”
The banker, who had been watching him expectantly, smiled with pleasure. Just then, a black man in a white jacket opened an inside door, stuck his head in and addressed the banker. “Mr. Franklin, suh, supper’s on the table.”
“Thank you, Jules,” Franklin replied; then he offered his hand to Anne. “Come, my dear, I am positively starving!”
They passed into the next room where a table covered with a white tablecloth and set with three places sat in the middle of the floor. A black woman in a black dress and a white apron stood beside a cart on wheels where various savory smelling covered pans and dishes had been placed. As Franklin, Anne and Tucson took their places around the table, the man and woman began serving them.
As the servants moved silently around the table, placing food before each of them on gilded China plates, Tucson had to admit that he was impressed. He noticed that the silverware was indeed silver, and each piece was engraved with the monogram, CF. There was roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, freshly baked bread and biscuits and three types of vegetables.
The black man stopped beside Franklin’s chair and held out a bottle of wine for his inspection. “The vintage you requested, suh,” he said softly.
Franklin glanced at the label and nodded, then he leaned across to Tucson. “Dig in, Kid. Let’s don’t stand on ceremony. I imagine after that ride across the desert, you’re famished.”
“I have to admit,” Tucson grunted, as he heaped his plate with roast beef, “that this beats dried jerky and a cold can of beans.”
As the three of them settled down to eating, Tucson digested his impressions. Charles Franklin was clearly a wealthy man, and he liked to take his comforts with him when he traveled. Speaking of comforts, Tucson glanced sideways at Anne. Franklin had introduced her as his assistant but it was clear that she had a more intimate purpose for being there. He couldn’t blame Franklin on either count—if a man could afford it, why not live the way he wanted to?
But the question still remained—what did the banker want with Tucson?
He noticed that Anne handled her knife and fork with grace and precision, took small bites and used her napkin. It would seem that she had an upper class upbringing and education—she was obviously not a common whore. At the same time, she and Franklin weren’t married. Tucson could only suppose that the trade-off was that the banker could offer her the kind of life she preferred—a life of ease.
As she lifted her glass of wine to her lips, Anne suddenly fixed her blue eyes on him. “Is it possible that all the stories we’ve heard about you are true?” she asked.
Embarrassed, Tucson laughed and shrugged. “Maybe about a third of them. People have a habit of tagging stories onto me that fit their picture of who they think I should be.”
Her eyes held his over the rim of her glass. “I wonder...” she murmured.