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The Footprint (Short Story No. 23)
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.
Slim Porter and his outlaw gang quickly tired of the circus sideshows. Captain Taz had told Slim to just chill and wait for him to arrive in Helena before killing anyone or otherwise engaging in criminal behavior.
“Don’t wind up in jail,” Taz had warned. “You remember what happened to Seth?”
“Yup,” Slim said. “He got burned alive while in jail. I liked that cowboy.”
“I liked him too,” Taz said, “but he was careless and talked too much. Let that be a lesson to you.”
“Where’s Buster?” Slim asked. “You know, your right-hand man who followed you everywhere.”
Taz responded, “He was dumb enough to challenge that Pinkerton agent who wears a dress, and he got hisself gunned down in the street. Fortunately, he was able to eliminate two hostile witnesses before he took a dirt nap. I miss Buster too. That’s why I need you and your gang, Slim. My gang lost too many members to rob more banks.”
The circus sideshow with the lady snake charmer did get Slim’s attention, but she spurned his advances. She said to him, “It’s not you; it’s your facial hair. And your shirt. And your personality.” He then decided to turn his attention to a young Chinese woman whom he believed to be a prostitute. She was dressed in silk, powdered and perfumed, and young and beautiful. She told him her name was May Ling. He offered her a dollar, but she told him of pleasures she could provide him with but it would cost him far more than a dollar. Slim, becoming infatuated with the girl, offered her an ounce of gold, or $16, which she took and then led him away.
# # #
The murder weapon
Pinkerton agent Helen James investigated the recent death of Ned Helm, Virginia City Sheriff Hiram Brown’s deputy. She reported to Marshall Neil Howie, fellow Pinkerton agent Bob Wells, and the others that Helm’s throat had been cut likely with a large sharp knife.
“Like a Bowie knife?” Wells asked.
“Yes,” Helen said. “Exactly like a Bowie knife.”
“And Helm was killed exactly the same way as my other deputy, Russ Lane?” Sheriff Brown questioned.”
“That is correct,” Helen concurred. “Likely by the same person, although I have no evidence of that. Both victims had their carotid arteries cut, probably while they were distracted by something. I say that because there was no sign of a struggle.”
Robert Barnes, editor of the Helena Herald, offered, “Six months ago our former sheriff Bud Noble was killed in the same manner. Nobody was ever charged with the crime.”
“And nobody has been appointed or elected sheriff of Helena since then,” Marshal Howie added.
“That’s right,” Barnes admitted.
“We need to rectify that,” Howie asserted. “The sheriff of Helena should be in charge of this investigation.”
“Wrong,” Helen James objected. “If you want to catch the killer, then I should be in charge.”
Bob Wells disagreed. “Helen, your number one priority is to solve the sinking of the steamboat Victoria and find out what happened to the gold on board. That is the mission Allan Pinkerton assigned to you when you left Chicago. Also, you are to determine what happened to the paleontologist Hannah Monroe and those fossils.”
“This Captain Taz did it,” Helen muttered. “And he is also responsible for bank robberies and murders since. We are close to apprehending him.”
Shorty interjected, “Those dinosaur and other bones are at the bottom of the Missouri River. It will be tougher to find them in that water than it was to dig them out of rocks.”
“Right,” Robert Barnes agreed. “Those bones have probably been scattered all over the place.”
“Yup, maybe they’ll drift all the way down to St. Looie,” Shorty suggested.
# # #
There's a new sheriff in town
Marshal Howie called an emergency meeting of the powers that be in Helena. The meeting was held at the Last Chance Saloon and the purpose was to name a sheriff who would serve until such time as an election could be held. Several names were offered for consideration and the few individuals who expressed interest in the job were briefly interviewed. Shorty, whose real name was Leslie Baxter, was one of those.
“So Leslie, why are you qualified for the job of sheriff?” Marshal Howie asked.
“Please call me Shorty. I hate the name Leslie. It sounds like a girl’s name. To answer your question, when I was in Bozeman, I served as a deputy sheriff for Jack Mendenhall, who was elected in 1865 as Gallatin County’s first sheriff.” What Shorty did not reveal is that Mendenhall also was Bozeman’s first saloon owner, opening an establishment at 27 East Main Street. Shorty’s main deputy duty was bartender at that saloon, and that was where he became addicted to gambling.
Suddenly a messenger from the hotel came running into the saloon shouting, “There has been another killing!” Most of the group gathered to select a sheriff hurried over to the hotel. There they found Slim Perkins on the floor, obviously dead. He had bled out due to his throat being cut. His body was lying in an incredible amount of blood.
Helen James said to Robert Barnes, “We need your photographer, Jimbo Walters, that guy who took photographs of Judah Johnson, the dead bank robber. We need to document the crime scene before somebody steps in all that blood.” Barnes immediately left to go find Walters.
“It looks like somebody already stepped in the blood,” Shorty observed. “That looks like a footprint.”
“Mighty small to be a footprint,” Marshal Howie said, “unless it belongs to a child. It doesn’t even look like a foot to me, at least not a normal foot.”
Jimbo Walters quickly arrived at the scene, set up his equipment, and took several photographs. While he was doing that, Shorty went on a diatribe about feet. He said that he dumped his fiancée Penelope mostly because she had gigantic feet, bigger than the late Angus, also known as the Scottish Bigfoot. Shorty said he lusted after a three-inch foot, known as a golden lotus.
“A three-inch foot?” Bob Wells exclaimed. “I met a painted lady in San Francisco with a four-inch foot that she called a sliver lotus. She told me that it took two years to get her feet that way.” Wells explained the process that the young lady had described. Her feet were plunged into hot water and her toenails were clipped short. Her feet were then massaged and oiled, and then all her toes except the big toes were broken and bound flat against the sole, making a triangle shape. Then, her arch was strained as the feet were bent double. The feet were bound in place using a silk strip ten feet long and two inches wide. The wrappings were removed every few days to prevent pus and blood from causing infection. Excess flesh was cut away or allowed to rot. The girl was forced to walk long distances in order to facilitate the breaking of her arches. Eventually, the wrappings became tighter and the feet smaller as the heel and sole were crushed together.
Shorty, who had been silently contemplating something as Wells spoke, said, “So, it would appear that the killer of Slim Porter and Ned Helm and Russ Lane has a small foot. And a big knife. Let’s start smellin’ some feet.”
Marshall Howie spoke up, “I recommend we appoint Leslie Baxter as Sheriff of Helena.” Others nodded in agreement.