Mail Order Mystery: A Brides of Beckham Book (Chance City Series Book One), page 1
Mail Order Mystery
A Brides of Beckham Book
About the Author
Copyright © 2016 by Robin Deeter
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
“I’m not one of your deputies, Rob,” Cyrus Decker said, surveying the dead body of the young woman who’d been found dumped along Winding River, the large waterway that ran through the community of Chance City, Oklahoma.
“And yet here you are,” Sheriff Rob Anderson responded with a smile.
Cy’s dark eyes speared Rob with an angry glare. “That’s only because you keep badgering me.”
Rob chuckled, his faded blue eyes sparkling. The rail-thin, fifty-five-year-old man’s affable demeanor and dedication to his job made him a popular person in Chance City. He’d been sheriff for twenty-six years and was well-respected for his ability to keep law and order through mainly diplomatic means verses force.
“Seems to be working,” Rob said. “I don’t know why you don’t just join up with us and be done with it. You know you’re not cut out for ranching. That’s why you left in the first place.”
Cy couldn’t deny that, but he was starting his life over, or trying to. “Nope. Not interested. You wouldn’t like the way I do the job. That’s one of the things that got me fired from Pinkerton’s.”
“Look, I told you I’d call you a special investigator or something like that. We’ve got the budget for it thanks to that endowment from Carly Branson,” Rob said. He spoke of their rich mayor. The Bransons were one of the three richest families in the small city.
Cy had to admit that it was tempting, but he just couldn’t do it. That part of his life was over and all he wanted to do was lead a nice quiet life on his family’s ranch. The only problem was that Rob’s dogged determination and ability to guilt Cy into helping him kept intruding on that lifestyle. Which was the reason he was at the crime scene at quarter to six in the morning, looking at a dead girl, trying to determine how she’d been killed. He searched for any clues that would lead to the capture of the murderer.
Wiping sweat from his brow, Cy crouched, noting every detail about the woman. She was young, maybe twenty-years-old or so. Her body and tangled blonde hair were splattered with mud. Her simple calico dress led Cy to believe that she’d been a ranch woman. While her hands were pretty, they also sported callouses, denoting the fact that she’d done manual labor.
“You don’t know her?” Cy asked, as he started looking for shoe prints in the muddy ground around her.
“Nope, but then there’s been a lot of people comin’ in here since the government let everyone in.”
It was May of 1894, eight months after the Cherokee Strip Run of 1893 when 100,000 plus people had rushed to secure property in the Cherokee territory that had been opened by President Grover Cleveland. Although Chance City had been established back in 1877, it hadn’t been officially made part of the territory until September 16, 1893.
Chance City was close to Woodward, Oklahoma, which had sprung up almost overnight, and the name Woodward County had been given to the formerly named County N. Chance City bordered the new city of Woodward, which was constantly growing and would soon supersede Chance City’s population.
However, Chance City was also growing, although at a slower rate since much of Chance City was already owned by cattle and swine ranchers and occupied by sundry other economic endeavors. As a result, there were now many people whom the original residents of the city didn’t know, the poor girl before Cy being one of them.
“Well, get Guthrie down here to take her picture and we’ll have to circulate it in the Current,” Cy said. “The first step is gonna be finding out who she is and if she’s married or whatnot. There’s no wedding ring, but it could have been stolen. No other identifying jewelry, either.
“No footprints around her, which leads me to believe that she was thrown by two people from a wagon or carriage. There aren’t any wagon tracks close to her, so it would take two people to throw her that far from the road. I see some bruising around her knees and lower thighs, so I’m betting that when you take her to Doc Barnes, he’ll find that sexual assault is involved. Hard to tell whether it was before or after death, though.”
Rob listened closely to Cy’s insights. Cy always talked his way through a crime scene, often coming up with new theories as he did so. Rob found it fascinating to watch the man work and he wanted him on his force in the worst way. The sheriff wasn’t going to give up trying to convince Cy to come on board.
Thunder rumbled overhead and Cy looked at the blackening sky. “Dang it. Send someone for Guthrie before it pours again, will you?”
Rob smiled at Cy’s authoritative tone, but humored the younger man. “Sure. Hey! Jeffries, get over here!”
Chance City’s newly hired female deputy, Ellie Jeffries ran over to her superior. “Yes, sir?”
Rob was fond of the twenty-three-year old woman with light brown hair and vibrant blue eyes. People thought that he was insane for hiring a woman, but she had talents that were useful to the department. She was only five-foot-three, but she was strong and quick with her fists, which had earned her the nickname “Jabs”. “Go get Guthrie and get a move on.”
“Yes, sir,” Ellie said, rushing to her horse and galloping away.
Cy saw a pair of women’s everyday boots lying a short distance away. “Definitely a ranch woman,” he muttered. “Pudge!”
In response to his call, a black Japanese Pug emerged from some bushes a few yards away and raced to Cy’s side, prancing as he eagerly awaited Cy’s orders. He was one of three dogs that Cy had trained for various forms of work. He’d used them during his time as a Pinkerton detective and had, of course, brought them with him when he’d come home in disgrace.
Cy pointed at the shoes and had Pudge sniff. “Find,” he told the dog.
Pudge sniffed all around the body, but came back and looked at the deceased woman and then at Cy, his curly little tail wagging.
Smiling, Cy said, “Good boy. Yep. Someone threw her over here. They dumped her in a good place, too. Not many houses here on the outskirts of town.” He stood up and carefully made one last circle around the body.
Rob had already come to some of the same conclusions that Cy had drawn, but he hadn’t thought about the woman being tossed from a vehicle of some sort. “Why do you think they didn’t bury her somewhere?”
“Have there been any other women found lately?” Cy asked.
“I hope there aren’t, but it’s something to keep in the back of your mind. Maybe they wanted her to be found,” Cy said.
Rob sighed and bent to scratch Pudge’s ears. The pug grunted happily. Ellie returned with Brock Guthrie, another one of Rob’s four deputies. Brock couldn’t stand Cy and too
Because Cy was one-quarter Comanche, the deputy barely tolerated him. Brock’s grandfather had been killed during a skirmish between a small Comanche group and some of Brock’s family. Brock had been little at the time and had witnessed the fight. He’d dearly loved his grandfather, and seeing him struck down by a Comanche brave had instilled hatred in Brock for Indians in general, but especially the Comanche.
Brock brought his cameras over to the scene and Cy moved well out of the way. Brock petted Pudge for a moment before getting to work. He might not like Cy, but he loved dogs, and Cy’s dogs were no exception.
Brock worked with two different Kodak cameras; a little pocket model and a larger one on a tripod. Cy jotted down some notes, politely asking Brock to photograph certain things. Brock complied without complaint, knowing that giving Cy a hard time would bring Rob’s wrath down on him. Rob was fiercely protective of Cy, but no one knew why. It irked Brock to no end that Rob sometimes put more stock in Cy’s investigative skills than in those of his staff.
Finished, Brock put his equipment away and rode off to the Current’s office, where he would use their darkroom to develop the pictures. Cy watched Brock ride off with dismay and felt the old frustration rise up again. Brock was a great deputy with solid investigative skills and he was well-liked around town. A little showy sometimes, but in a beguiling, amusing way. It was only Brock’s hatred of Cy’s heritage and resentment of Rob’s involving him in investigations that stood in the way of them being friends.
Sighing, Cy said, “Let me know when they’re developed. I’m going home. If anything comes up after you interview any witnesses, let me know.”
Rob asked, “Aren’t you gonna interview any witnesses? You know, do your own investigation?”
“I told you, I’m not one of your deputies. I gave you a starting point. If you get stuck let me know, but otherwise, I have things to do,” Cy said, mounting up. He whistled for Pudge, who jumped high in the air. Cy caught his harness and sat him on the saddle in front of him. “Take care, Ellie, Rob.” He put his heels to his horse, Duke, and set him off for home.
Ellie smiled. “He sure is one gorgeous man.”
Rob hid his smile. She wasn’t the only female in Chance City who thought so. Cy might keep his deep brown hair cut short, but there was no denying his Comanche lineage. His light tan skin turned darker in the summer and his dark eyes were set below eyebrows that resembled the wings of a raven. He rarely smiled, but when he did, his high cheekbones became even more defined, giving his face a chiseled look.
Gruffly, Rob said, “Don’t you got something better to do than stand around gawking at men?”
Blushing, Ellie said, “Yes, sir. I’ll start talking to the people who live around here.”
“Good thinking,” Rob said.
* * *
The previous night, strong storms had rolled over the community. The powerful winds had left behind downed trees and other debris. Riding down the lane to the Sundance Ranch, Cy surveyed the damage to his property, sighing as he looked at the large oak tree that had fallen on the barn, caving in a portion of one of the walls and roof.
He uttered not one word, but he didn’t have to for his sister, Daphne, to know that her brother was angry as he rode up to where she stood by the barn. It shone in Cyrus’ dark eyes, his most expressive feature.
“It’ll be ok, Cy. We’ll get that tree out of there and fix the barn.”
Cy flicked a glance at Daphne before saying, “That’s the least of our worries. I just hope it didn’t damage too much stuff inside the barn. The tree will come in handy for firewood come fall since it’ll have all summer to dry out good.” He handed Pudge to Daphne.
Daphne petted the dog and smiled. “That’s right. Gotta keep positive.”
One corner of his mouth quirked up as he dismounted. “Did anyone ever tell you that you’re as annoying as heck when you’re so cheerful?”
She patted his arm, her brown eyes shining up at him. “You do all the time.”
“Well, I mean it. Okay. I’ll get Johnny and we’ll get after that tree,” Cyrus said.
With an inward groan, he turned away from the damaged barn and walked to the lone bunkhouse on the property. He pounded on the door.
“Johnny! Get your rear up and help me!”
Inside the bunkhouse, Johnny Duncan, jerked awake and began scrambling out of his bed. “Sure, boss! Be right there!”
Cyrus frowned and said, “Come over to the house.”
“Okay!” Johnny shouted back.
Cy took Duke to the barn to rub him down and then turned him out into the pasture. Then he made his way to the large farmhouse and entered the kitchen where Daphne was making pancakes.
“Is he coming?”
“Yeah. I know he’s our cousin, but he’s about as worthless as teats on a bull,” Cyrus said.
“Be nice,” Daphne reprimanded him.
Cyrus said, “Yes, ma’am,” but the gleam in his eyes said that he wasn’t really sorry.
Daphne might be two years younger than his twenty-seven years, but she ruled the roost in some respects. They’d decided when they’d been given the reins to the ranch by their father that she would run the inside and he’d take care of the outside. Most of the time they stayed out of each other’s way.
She set a plate filled with flapjacks and bacon in front of him. Next she gave him a cup of coffee. “That’ll improve your mood,” she said.
Johnny came hurrying into the kitchen, still tucking his shirt into his trousers. “Were you out on an investigation again? Is that what’s going on?” Curiosity lit his blue eyes that sat under a shock of messy wheat-blonde hair.
“Yeah. Another murder. None of us knows her. Pretty young blonde. Looks like a ranch girl. Her picture will be in the paper tomorrow,” Cy said.
“Pretty, young, and blonde; just how I like my women,” Johnny said, grinning.
Daphne laughed as she put a plate in front of Johnny.
Cy smiled. “Well, unless you like your women dead, too, you’re out of luck.”
This earned him a smack on the shoulder from Daphne. “Shame on you!” Her brother’s gallows humor bothered her sometimes.
“Sorry. Force of habit,” Cy said.
Not everyone understood that it was a defense mechanism against the strong emotions that horrible crimes could cause an investigator. It kept his judgement clear so that he could bring criminals to justice.
“Johnny, we’re gonna get that tree out of the barn and see how much of it needs repaired,” he said.
“There’s a tree in the barn?”
Johnny ran outside to look while Cy and Daphne chuckled and shook their heads.
“Jesus, Joseph, and don’t forget Mary!” Johnny said before coming back inside. “Did it storm last night?”
Daphne said, “Did it storm? You might say that. Didn’t you hear it?”
“Nope. Of course, I’m a sound sleeper, but I did dream about drums, so maybe I thought the thunder was drums,” Johnny said, flooding his pancakes with syrup. “Oh, that reminds me. Daniel wants to see you. I saw him last night, but you were already in bed. We were playing cards.”
Cy scowled. “Which explains why you weren’t up this morning. He’s a bad influence on you. All right. I’ll go up there after breakfast, but you get started on that tree, ok?”
“Sure, Cy.” Johnny then stuffed his mouth with pancakes.
Cy shook his head and ate his own breakfast.
After eating, Cy caught one of their other horses and whistled for his other two dogs, Slink, a black and white Greyhound, and Burt, a big Husky-German shepherd mix. They came from the vicinity of the barn, where they had most likely been hunting mice or rabbits. Pudge rode in his place of prestige in front of Cy, adept at balancing himself as the horse moved.
Their horses were of the finest quality, which was the main reason the family was tolerated around the region. They’d been providing excellent horses to the military and anyone else looking for good horses for decades. Cy’s cousin, Daniel, had taken over the breeding and training side of the operation, while David concentrated on the financial aspect of it.
At a signal from Cy, the dogs stayed close to him. He didn’t trust them not to chase the horses if he let them roam free. Tying the horse to the hitching post outside the large, two-story stone house, Cy had barely taken three steps from his horse until Daniel came out of the house, raising his hands high in the air.
Whereas Cy had cut his hair short when he’d left Chance City at the age of eighteen, Daniel had fully embraced his Comanche heritage, letting his black hair grow long. It reached almost to his waist and he had no intention of cutting it. He didn’t color the center part as their ancestors had, but he did wear a scalp lock, a small, braided section of hair that fell on the right side of his head.
While the Comanche for the most part were a shorter statured people, Cy and Daniel’s white heritages had included some taller people along the line and both men stood over six feet tall. While Cy’s eyes were dark, Daniel’s were a clear, sky-blue in hue. When he was at home during the warmer months, Daniel wore a traditional breechcloth and nothing else, even if people came over. He didn’t care if they liked it or not.
“Marúawe, cousin!” he said. “I see Johnny gave you my message.”
“Marúawe, cousin. Yeah.” Cy jogged up the porch steps and grasped arms with Daniel. “So what have I been summoned for?”