Friday, November 18, 2011

Another kind of woman in the west -- Road to Rimrock

In fact, Tom Hall, as requested by Catherine de Merode, found Melanie Powers and escorted her to Bob Brow’s Palace, where there were private rooms for . . . whatever private rooms are used for.

Catherine sat in the restaurant with Alice, who was enjoying her first dish of ice cream since she left San Francisco, and Shotgun Lou Grimes, who looked uncomfortable without his coach gun.

Tom held Melanie Powers by the arm in an iron grip as he steered her into the dining room. “You stay gentle, girl, and it’ll hurt a lot less,” he said. “Just you listen to what Miss de Merode has to say.”

“Good evening, Miss Powers,” Catherine said. “I’ve been wishing to have a word with you. I’ve reserved a private room upstairs. Perhaps you would care to join me?”

Melanie fairly hissed. “I spit in the face of any friend of Matt Stryker. I’ll see him dead, I truly will. He murdered my brother.”

“And your brother would be Clayton Powers, correct?”


“Then, may we repair to the second floor. What I have to say includes your brother.” Catherine shifted her gaze to Tom Hall. “Mr. Hall, would you be kind enough to stay here with April and Mr. Grimes? April would be gratified with your company.”

The brilliance of Catherine de Merode’s smile made Tom Hall do anything she asked. “Be glad to,” he said, and meant every word.

Catherine lead the way. Melanie followed, sure Tom Hall would catch her again if she bolted. A round table sat in the center of the private room with six chairs carefully placed evenly around it, ready for the high-rollers who ordinarily used it. Catherine waved at the chair on the far side. “If you would be so kind,” she said. She took the near chair.

Melanie plonked herself on the seat of the far chair. “What?” Anger flushed her face and she tapped her fingers on the table in frustration. Then she shouted. “WHAT!”

“I understand you wish to see Matthew Stryker killed,” Catherine said.

“He murdered my brother,” Melanie said.


Melanie pouted. “Shot him dead.”

Catherine speared Melanie with a sharp look. She let the silence build. The scent of Melanie’s rose water wafted across the table. At least she keeps a proper toilet.

“I took the privilege of looking into your dead brother’s affairs,” Catherine said. “He was not only a robber and a thief, he also killed without compunction.”

“He. Was. My. Brother.”

“Clayton Powers killed at least eleven fellow human beings. Beginning with a clerk at the National Bank of Denver and going on to include a drummer, two railway guards, a stagecoach shotgun rider, a jailer and a deputy, a working girl, and a U.S. Marshal.”

Catherine fell silent again. Melanie stared at her tapping fingertips. Faint voices came from the next room. Melanie opened her mouth, then closed it.

“His last killings were innocents, not saying the other victims were not innocent, but Clayton Powers became involved in a gunfight in Bisbee, and shot a nine-year-old boy and his mother.”

“The kid was an accident,” Melanie said.

“So you know what kind of man your brother was, then?”

“They expelled him from West Point. Everybody there had it in for him.”

Catherine’s eyebrows rose. “West Point?”

In a small voice, Melanie said, “The oldest son in our family has always gone to West Point. Ever since the beginning.”

“Cashiered, then?”

“Picked on. Harassed. Hazed, I think they call it. Just because Papa fought for the South. He was just paying them back.”

Catherine looked astounded. “My God. You can’t really believe that.”

Melanie jumped to her feet and charged around the table, her fist cocked.

Catherine stood calmly to meet Melanie’s rush. She caught Melanie’s fist in the palm of her right hand and turned her momentum aside. As Melanie passed, Catherine shoved her with both hands and sent her staggering. Melanie crashed into the wall and fell to her knees. Catherine unbuckled her belt and her skirt fell away. She wore dancer’s tights, with soft leather shoes on her feet.

When Melanie rose, she clutched a small knife. “Bitch,” she hissed. “I’ll carve your gizzard into little pieces for that.”

Catherine smiled. “I think not,” she said. Slowly, she backed away from the table and into an open area that gave her more room.

Melanie stalked her, knife held low and to the side.

Catherine stopped and faced Melanie, her arms hanging naturally her fingers slightly curled, her feet shoulder-width apart. She still wore the little smile.

“You laughing at me, bitch?” Melanie’s voice dripped venom. “We’ll see how much you laugh with your belly slit and your guts dragging on the ground.” But Melanie made no move to rush Catherine. Instead, she moved in a circle around the woman, staying some distance away at first, and then slowly narrowing the gap.

As Melanie circled, Catherine turned. The little smile never left her face, but it came nowhere near her eyes. She kept her gaze fastened on Melanie, the knife always in her field of view.

Melanie telegraphed her rush by dropping her eyes and lifting the knife. She took a big breath and lunged, but Catherine was not there. She’d spun aside and now stood a good ten feet away, smiling. “Surely you can do better than that,” she said, sounding as if she were having a chat with an old friend.

Melanie’s face contorted. She growled like a wild beast. Her face flushed. Spittle formed little patches of cotton in the corners of her mouth. She crouched, knife held low with its cutting edge up. Again she lunged at Catherine, this time leading with her left shoulder. The blade of the knife was horizontal to the floor, waist high, and ready to slash across Catherine’s abdomen.

Catherine whirled in time with Melanie’s rush, lifting her left leg as she spun and smashing her foot into the side of Melanie’s face in a classic savate kick. Melanie went down on all fours, dazed. The little knife skittered across the floor to fetch up against the floorboard. Catherine scooped the knife up, then delivered a kick to Melanie’s ribcage that knocked her breathless and lifted her up, over, and onto her back. Catherine dropped onto the prone woman, her knees pinning Melanie’s arms to the floor. Melanie mewled in fear.

Carefully, Catherine placed the tip of the little knife at the corner of Melanie’s left eye. Her voice kept its conversational tone. “Miss Powers, I hear you have a vendetta against Matthew Stryker. Let me warn you. If he is injured or killed by anyone even remotely connected to you, no matter how nebulous that connection, I will personally hunt you down and cut your eyes out. Do I make myself clear?”

The whites of Melanie’s eyes showed like a frightened calf’s. She gulped and opened her mouth as if to speak, but no sound came out. Tears escaped the corner of her eyes and trickled into her ears.

Catherine pricked at the skin next to Melanie’s eye. “Do I make myself clear?”

Melanie couldn’t move without pushing the point of the knife into her own eye. Again she opened her mouth. She panted. She swallowed. Catherine raised an eyebrow.

“Yes,” Melanie managed to say.

“I’m sorry. I’m afraid I couldn’t quite hear you,” Catherine said.

“Yes,” Melanie said, louder.

“Yes what?”

“Yes you will cut my eyes out.”

“Why would I do a thing like that?”

“If Stryker is harmed.”

“By whom?”

“By anyone connected with me.”

“Good.” Catherine stood and offered Melanie a hand up.

Melanie sobbed and ignored Catherine’s hand. She rolled over onto her stomach and struggled to all fours. Then, clutching a chair, she pulled herself upright.

“You’ll want to take this. It’s yours, after all.” Catherine held the little knife out, handle first.

Melanie’s hand went to her mouth. She stifled a cry, then fled the room, leaving the knife in Catherine’s hand.