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Smoking and Joking (Short Story No. 40)

Updated on December 23, 2017

Author's note

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.

HubPages declined to publish Short Story No. 39 entitled "Mark of the Beast" due to "Adult/Mature content." I am not going to revise it and it will appear in the book as written. It is available upon request.


Jack White, the murdered card player with a bullet hole in his forehead, had been May Ling’s best customer lately and the source of a substantial portion of her income. May Ling had returned to Virginia City also because she found it to be more conducive to profiting reasonably well from prostitution than Helena. Sheriff of Virginia City Hiram Brown had also returned there after wasting a whole lot of effort leading a posse tracking Captain Taz. All he had to show for that effort was two dead deputies. Both Ned Helm and Russ Lane had their throats cut by an unknown assailant. Unknown to him, anyway.

Sheriff Brown immediately arrested Fast Jerry who had shot Jack White. Numerous witnesses pointed the finger at him and the sheriff carted him off to jail without a struggle. Fast Jerry did mutter, “My boys will get me out.” Pinkerton agent Helen James kept a close eye on May Ling. Helen suspected that Fast Jerry’s friends indeed would attempt to free him from jail, but she was more concerned that May Ling might cut his throat, before she had a change to question him. It had been May Ling who had killed Sheriff Brown’s two deputies, and the pimp Ku-Lang.

“We call this the barbecue pit,” Sheriff Brown reported with a smirk as he led Fast Jerry into a cell and locked the door.

“Why is that?” Fast Jerry asked apprehensively.

Brown answered, “It is designed like the jail in Helena. Do you know what happened to Captain Taz’ man who was jailed in Helena?”

“Who is Captain Taz?” Fast Jerry snapped belligerently.

“Right, Fast Jerry,” Helen James muttered. “Taz is your boss.”

Jerry replied, “No, Butch Baker is my boss.”

Sheriff Brown continued, “Seth Morris was captured after robbing the bank in Helena and tossed in jail, where he was burned alive. Taz made some fire bombs with kerosene and grain alcohol and they were thrown through the jail outside window that had bars narrow enough to fit the bottle through.”

“There ain’t no window in this jail,” Fast Jerry observed.

Helen lit a cigarette with a match and tossed the match on the straw bedding on a cot in the corner of the cell. It didn’t catch. She proceeded to interrogate the prisoner. “Why did you kill that poker player, Jack White? What did he do to you?”

“I didn’t kill him,” Fast Jerry insisted.

“Witnesses identify you as the killer,” Sheriff Brown countered.

“No!” Jerry roared. “It was Butch who shot him.”


Helen pulled a packet of Riza papers from her pocket and rolled a handful of smokes. She said, “These are the latest papers manufactured by Lacroix, made from rice. Perfect for what I have in mind.”

“What’s that?” Sheriff Brown snapped. “What do you have in mind?”

“Smoking and joking,” Helen replied.

“Who cares?” Fast Jerry spat. “I want to get the hell outta this place!”

“As soon as you tell us where to find Taz,” Helen responded. “Then we’ll take you out of here. And hang you.”

“I’m not telling you anything,” Fast Jerry shouted. “Especially not about Taz. He don’t suffer stoolies gladly. He’d et my liver.”

Helen began to blow smoke rings and then she quickly stuck the lit end of the cigarillo on Fast Jerry’s earlobe. He shrieked in pain and squirmed free. She ordered Sheriff Brown to hold him down.

“No!” Fast Jerry screamed. “I’ll tell you anything you want to know. But don’t burn me again! Please!”

“You better not be joking,” Helen warned, “or I’ll keep right on smoking. And sharing my smokes with you.”

Butch Baker, Moe Masters, and Rex Hooper continued to drink heavily at the Bale of Hay Saloon. Butch suggested, “If Fast Jerry talks to that Pinkerton agent, Taz will have our hides.”

Rex added, “Yup, he’ll skin us alive.”

Moe put in his two cents. “Yup, he’ll et our livers.”

“Follow me!” Butch commanded. He sauntered out of the saloon and over to the jail. His two goons followed obediently.” Pull your bandanas over your face,” he ordered as they entered the jail with pistols drawn.

Butch pointed his gun at Helen and demanded, “Let him go! Or I’ll kill you. Taz wants you dead anyway.”

“Taz?” Helen blurted. “Now we’re getting somewhere.” She motioned for Sheriff Brown to release Fast Jerry who quickly retrieved his gun belt and ran out of the jail. Moe and Rex followed him.


Man's best friend

Helen lit another cigarillo. She knocked the gun out of Butch’s hand with a kick and a scream. She snarled, “Let’s find out New dogwhat you have to say when this ciggy is pressed up against your balls. Pull his pants down!” she shouted at Sheriff Brown. He quickly complied. Helen reached for his genitals with the cigarillo.

“No, no!” Butch cried. “I’ll talk. Taz is nothing to me but a payday on occasion.”

“So where is Taz?” Helen questioned.

Butch answered, “He’s heading up to the dogfights at Crooked Creek on the Musselshell. He’s got some new animals he has been training, a little one and a big one. Mean as hell and sure winners.”

“Tell me about these animals,” Helen said.

Butch responded, “The little varmint’s name is Devil. Two feet long with a foot-long tail. Black coat with white patches at the throat. It looks like a small bear with a pig-like snout. The big one is named Tiger. Brown with black stripes on its back. And a pouch like a kangaroo.”

“Are you joking?” Helen said skeptically. She lit another cigarillo. Butch looked worried.

“No, I am not joking,” Butch insisted. “There is an outdoor dog fighting pit at Crooked Creek. The place is run by a guy named Buttcrack who used to work for Kit Burns in New York. Burns is proprietor of Sportsmen’s Hall, a haven for bare-knuckle prize fights, rat-baiting, and dogfighting.”

Robert Barnes, editor of the Helena Herald, had been listening to the conversation and taking notes for his dime novel. He offered, “Burns’ son-in-law Richard Toner is known as Dick the Rat and he is known to bite the head of a mouse for 10 cents and a wharf rat for a quarter.”

Helen said to Barnes, “Send a telegram to Hannah in Helena and tell her Taz is headed for Cripple Creek. Ask her to meet us there. And to bring that dog of hers, Shag.”

“Is Shag a dog?” Barnes questioned. “Or a wolf?”

Helen muttered, “Shag’s bite is worse than her bark. That’s all I know. We’ll leave for Cripple Creek soon. Just as soon as I kill Fast Jerry.”


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