Beat the Devil Around the Stump (Short Story No. 37)
These short stories will be part of the sequel to my novel The Lady Who Loved Bones. Any suggestions for improvement or for future stories are welcome.
The new guy
The posse jointly commanded by Marshall Neil Howie and Sheriff of Virginia City Hiram Brown arrived at the camp embarrassed that they had to report no success in locating the outlaw and serial killer Captain Taz. This was the camp of Sheriff Leslie Baxter of Helena, known affectionately as Sheriff Shorty the circus clown. Bounty hunter Thomas Tate Tobin rode in with them and he also said he had no luck in finding Taz, although Tobin did find a rather unusual fellow who also had also been searching for Taz.
Thomas Tate Tobin introduced his companion to the group. “This is Ming Ling. He was summoned by someone important to find this Captain Taz.”
“Summoned by who?” Shorty asked belligerently. “He doesn’t look like somebody you would send out after a killer to me. Maybe I can get him a job as a circus clown. I think I’ll call him Ding Ling.”
Shorty and some of the others snickered at and made jokes about the Chinaman’s attire. He wore a scarlet garment on which dragons had been embroidered in gold. Ming Ling reached inside his garment and pulled out a curved, double-edged sword that Hannah referred to as a scimitar.
“That sword is excellent for horse warfare,” Hannah advised, “due to the curved design that allows the rider to slash the enemy and keep on riding. Straight swords get stuck in bodies.”
“I’d like to stick my pork sword into you,” Shorty murmured as he leered at Hannah. She slapped him and he started to cry.
Then Ming Ling revealed another weapon, a three-foot chain with spherical heads on each end. He swung it around his body to build up considerable speed and then released it. It wrapped around Shorty’s rifle and pulled it from his grasp. Then he demonstrated techniques to the awed bystanders that he referred to as the throw, grab, whip, slam, and swing.
“That weapon is known as the dragon’s fist,” Hannah informed them.
“I sent for Ming Ling,” May Ling whispered to Pinkerton agent Helen James. “He is famous in my country, and I want him to kill Taz before Taz kills me. He’s looking for me, because not only did I kill that member of his outlaw gang, Slim, but I witnessed Taz murder his lover Velma Kleinschmidt.”
“Why don’t you just kill Taz yourself?” Helen whispered back. “I mean, you dispatched those two deputies quite easily by cutting their throats.”
“Yes,” May Ling agreed, “and Ku-Lang also. But how does one catch up with this Taz? Nobody seems to be able to find him.”
Shorty overheard the last part of May Ling’s comments and blurted, “How difficult can it be to follow camel toes? Talk about beatin’ the devil around the stump.”
# # #
The next victim
Asmodeus Taz paid the old man on the porch with gold dust for a week’s lodging at the most popular rooming house in Helena. He was confident no one would recognize him. The cracked mirror over the delapidated dresser confirmed that conclusion. Taz had foregone his usual snakeskin hat, vest, and boots and dressed in more conventional garb. He had murdered a miner and stolen his shabby and worn clothes, and he wore a false beard and spectacles. He had ridden the miner’s horse into town rather than his own camel. Taz vowed to kidnap that white snake, and he didn’t mean that Crow guide for the Lady Monroe expedition they called White Snake. And he thirsted for blood. He missed his favorite snake of all time, an albino reticulated python named Fagin. He recalled who had cut off his snake’s head – that squaw, the Arapaho princess. If he couldn’t kill her, he would kill somebody close to her.
The miner had died badly, Taz reminisced fondly. He didn’t take well to being burned alive and screamed pitifully. Finally, Taz put a bullet in his head to provide some silence, but the smell of burning flesh was almost as disturbing. But he had become used to it.
Reverend Issac Nelson had returned to Helena along with Doc Eberlin. The preacher had become frustrated with life in the Badlands amongst a posse searching for some elusive desperado. In Helena, the preacher befriended Princess Takuhatahime, the beautiful snake charmer with the Great Wester Circus and trainer and master of the albino reticulated python, Beezelbub. The princess had forgiven Reverend Nelson for shouting and spouting Exodus 22:18 at her: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” She proved to him she did not have a supernumerary nipple, and thus he apologized for calling her a witch. Soon he became infatuated with her and her nipples that were not supernumerary and somewhat friendly with the snake. The reverend anticipated many verses about serpents and snakes he could whip into a sermon.
# # #
Wee Willie Wilson, the dwarf and clown for the Great Western Circus ran down the main street shouting, “She’s dead! The wicked witch is dead!” He pointed at Reverend Nelson and accused, “You killed her!”
“What are you babbling on about?” the reverend inquired belligerently.
Wee Willie responded, “The princess is dead! All the blood ran out of her body, it looks like.”
“Show us,” Reverend Nelson ordered.
The dwarf dragged the preacher and Doc Eberlin over to the rooming house to find Princess Takuhatahime lying on her bed dead. Her left severed left carotid artery had been severed, which appeared to be the immediate cause of death. Her face had been mutilated and her abdomen had been ripped open, and her right kidney and much of her uterus had been removed.
Reverend Nelson began to pray fervently and when he finished he asked, “Where’s that snake?” It was nowhere to be found. But he did find a bloody scimitar style sword next to the bed.
The doctor asked the reverend to help him turn the body over. “What’s that supposed to be?” Doc Eberlin asked as he inspected the carving on the victim’s back.
“That is an inverted pentagram,” Reverend Nelson advised. “It is a symbol of Satan and his minions.”
As he rode out of Helena with Beezelbub around his neck, Taz reminisced fondly about murders he had committed in the Whitechapel district of London’s East End before he had been transported to the penal colonies in Australia. He wondered if those idiots at Scotland Yard had any suspects for those crimes yet. He laughed out loud and said out loud, “I always wanted a snake named Beezelbub. Thank you, my lord.”