“Yes, Walks-by-Night,” Major Allshard pulled his eyes away from Faith and looked directly at Albert. “He arrived on the reservation about six months ago and has been a thorn in out side ever since. He’s been stirring up the local Indians with tales of a holy war against the white-man. He’s told the tribesmen that if they follow him things can be like they were before the white-man came, that he’ll bring back the buffalo.”
“How many of the local tribesmen are following him?” Albert asked.
“Usual story,” Major Allshard sighed, “at first it was just a few hotheads, now it’s almost all of the young men of fighting age. Walks-by-Night seems to have some sort of hold over the warriors; even old chiefs like Pony-that-Walks have fallen under his spell.”
Turning to Faith, Albert raised a quizzical eyebrow.
“Got any idea where these Injuns are hold up?” Faith wanted to know, really getting into her part of the western lawman, or in her case law-woman.
“No I’m afraid not,” Major Allshard replied, “about a month ago Walks-by-Night and his lieutenant Red-Shirt led the warriors out of the reservation villages and up into the hills.”
“Didn’t you try to stop them?” Albert wanted to know.
“We didn’t know they were gone until after the event,” Major Allshard shrugged helplessly. “You have to understand Major Cardwell; there’s not been any major trouble with the local tribes for more than twenty years. Yes there’s been a few bucks go out and raise a little hell but they’ve always been caught quickly and either been sent back to the reservation or put in jail.” Allshard turned in his chair and gestured to the map on the wall behind his desk, “I have one under strength troop to police the entire reservation. I’m also responsible for stopping poachers shooting the buffalo in the National Park. This entire situation blew up out of nowhere. I’ve asked for more men but all I get are excuses and demands for action against the few natives left on the reservation.”
“Yes I understand completely,” Albert replied sympathetically, he’d spent most of his military career chasing tribesmen in hostile terrain with not enough soldiers. “Hopefully we’ll be able to help, our orders are to find Walks-by-Night and bring him in one way or another.”
“I hope you have more luck than we have,” Major Allshard tuned back to face Faith and Albert, “this man and his warriors appear to have just vanished into thin air.”
“Are there any places with a lot of caves?” Faith asked.
“The hills are riddled with them, Miss…” Allshard hesitated not sure how he should address Faith, after a moment he made up his mind, “…Marshal, he could be anywhere, I send out patrols of course but we can only cover so much ground.”
“Of course,” Albert replied soothingly, “our arrival should not be taken as a reflection on the work you’re doing here, Major. Now, have they raided anywhere, that might give us a clue as to where they’re hiding?”
“About a dozen small scale raids so far,” Allshard spread his hands helplessly, “it’s like they spring out of the ground. The raids have been all around the reservation which makes me think they’re still somewhere actually on the reservation. They raid a small ranch mainly for food, horses and weapons. There’s been about half a dozen deaths so far, luckily we think the Indians are short of weapons and ammunition. I’ve had patrols out looking for gunrunners to prevent them getting more.”
Taking off his glasses, Major Allshard rubbed his eyes and looked wearily at his two visitors.
“I really don’t know what you hope to achieve,” he looked from Albert to Faith, “how can two people hope to do any good when we can’t even discover were the enemy is hiding.”
“Don’t you worry about that, Major,” Albert smiled confidently, “Marshal Lehane and I have dealt with these sorts of situations before. Besides, we’re only after Walks-by-Night himself. Once we’ve caught him I think you’ll find all your problems will just fade away in the sun.”
“I hope you’re right,” Allshard sighed, “I’m sending out the troop tomorrow morning to pick up the outposts and evacuate some of the more isolated farms. You’re welcome to join them if you so desire.”
“That’ll be excellent,” Albert nodded.
“Good,” nodded Allshard he glanced over Albert’s shoulder at the sergeant who’d been keeping very quiet and no doubt listening to every word that had been said. “Sergeant Hochbauer will arrange quarters for you.”0=0=0=0
Walking out of the major’s snug office and on to the veranda, Faith found herself once more in the cold crisp desert air. While the Major and Albert exchanged pleasantries a commotion by the gate caught her eye. A stage coach, pulled by six steaming, exhausted horses, was slowly being driven in through the gate by an equally exhausted looking detachment of cavalry.
“That’s Tyree and the Paradise River Patrol,” called a trooper from over by the blacksmith’s forge.
Turning to Albert, Faith silently nodded to the scene, she walked down the steps and headed towards the stage as it came to a stop in front of the headquarters block. A tall older officer walked up to the coach followed by a heavy set senior NCO; they were joined by what Faith took to be the patrol’s leader. The officer opened the door and looked into the stage’s interior, after a moment he waved to another older man in a long white coat who was running towards the scene.
“Report sergeant,” the officer stepped away to allow the man in white to look into the coach.
“Gun-shoot wound, Sir,” replied the sergeant, a hint of the south in his voice, “dead when I found him.”
“Where?” asked the officer crisply.
“Near Red Butte, Sir,” replied the sergeant just as crisply; the officer moved to examine the horses. “Horses are about give in, Sir,” the officer turned to look into the drivers foot well; “Strong box is gone too, Sir,” added the NCO.
As she walked with Major Allshard towards the stage, Faith noticed a young woman come out of a nearby house to see what was going on. An older woman rapidly appeared from the house behind her and pulled the younger woman back inside, Faith quickly dismissed them from her mind.
“Cheadle?” Major Allshard asked after exchanging perfunctory salutes with the taller officer, “What do you make of the wound Doctor?”
Faith moved to where she could see the body, in doing so the sergeant in command of the patrol noticed her and did a double take when he realised she was a woman.
“I’ll need an hour Major,” replied the man in white who was obviously the post’s doctor, he waved over a couple of troopers who were standing near, “fetch him to the hospital.”
“Why?” Faith wanted to know, “Looks like he’s been shot to me.”
Everyone looked at Faith, the tall officer did a double take as did the big NCO. The tall officer looked at Major Allshard quizzically.
“Major Cardwell and Marshal Lehane,” announced Allshard with an off hand gesture at his two guests.
“Who? What?” Demanded the tall officer.
“They’re here to help find Walks-by-Night,” Allshard explained quickly.
“They’re what?” The tall officer looked at Faith, “But she’s…”
At this point Sergeant Tyree distracted everyone from looking at Faith by handing Major Allshard a broken arrow.
“It’s not Kiowa,” Allshard turned the arrow over in his hands as he examined the blood red flight feathers.
“No,” the tall officer shook his head, “nor is it Comanche or Arapaho…I’ve not seen anything like it.”
”I have,” Albert stepped forward and nodded at the tall officer, “Major Cardwell, at your service, Captain…?”
“Sorry,” Allshard turned to look at Cardwell, “Major Cardwell this is my second in command, Captain Brittles.” Brittles and Albert shook hands, “What can you tell me about this,” Allshard waved the arrow under Albert’s nose.
“I’ve seen this sort of thing before,” explained Albert.
“Where?” Brittles wanted to know.
“Oh,” sighed Albert, “India, Africa, and South America. Not always arrows you understand but similar,” he pointed to some markings on the shaft of the arrow. “See this,” the two American officers studied the markings under Albert’s pointing finger. “It’s the symbol of a cult that stirs up trouble in the uncivilised tribes on the borders of civilisation.”
“That’s ridiculous,” observed Brittles, “are you suggesting this is some sort of worldwide conspiracy?”
“I agree entirely,” Albert replied calmly, “it does sound preposterous, but the evidence says otherwise.”
“Why didn’t you say something earlier?” Allshard wanted to know.
“I wasn’t sure earlier,” Albert looked from one officer to the other, “now I am.”
“Alert the post,” Allshard ordered the big sergeant.
“Yes Sur!” replied the big man in a strong Irish accent.
“Get some rest Tyree,” Brittles told the patrol leader, the man saluted and went off to check on his men and horses.0=0=0=0
The rooms that Faith and Albert were eventually shown to were on the second floor of the headquarters block. Looking around the bare dusty room, Faith sighed before admitting to herself she’d slept in worse places. The room had a bed, desk, a couple of chairs and a closet, plus a potbellied stove like the one in the Major’s office. There was a smaller room off the larger that appeared to be a bathroom, it held a commode and a washstand but no bath.
A knock on the door proved to be a couple of troopers with buckets of steaming water.
“Sergeant Hochbauer thought you’d want to wash-up, Ma’am,” said the older of the two men.
Standing back to let the men in, Faith watched as they delivered the water, neither man could keep his eyes off her. No doubt a full and overheated description of what had happened when they’d delivered the water would be common knowledge around the fort by night fall. Watching as the men left, Faith closed and bolted the door firmly before shutting the threadbare curtains.
Walking wearily across the room, Faith took off her jacket and hung it up on a peg by the door to her bathroom. Unbuckling her gun belt she threw it on the bed before slumping down on it herself. She groaned with despair, the mattress was lumpy and hard and for a moment she actually missed all the ratty motels she’d slept in over her short life.
Pulling her Remington .44 revolver from its holster, she examined the pistol blowing a few grains of sand from around the cylinder. Deciding she could wait until later to clean the weapon, Faith started to heave off her boots. After her usual struggle to get the footwear off, she started to divest herself of her travel stained clothes. Quickly getting down to her underwear Faith found herself shivering.
“Crap!” she muttered as she looked at the unlit stove in the corner of the room, she’d forgotten to light it when she’d come in.
Quickly taking matches from her waistcoat she went over to the stove. By the time she’d managed to light it her teeth were chattering and her hands were going numb. Sitting on the edge of her hard little bed, huddled up in a scratchy wool blanket, Faith felt like crying; but she didn’t, it wouldn’t do any good even if she did. She cursed herself for still taking things for granted; like expecting there to be central heating and that bathrooms would have showers or even proper toilets.
Miserably she looked down at the clothes she’d just taken off, they smelt bad and they were dirty and damp, but she’d still have to wear them if they left the fort tomorrow. Sighing she got off her bed and hung her clothes up near the stove so they’d at least be dry for tomorrow. Then she took out her clean clothes from her saddle bags and hung them up to warm by the fire too. As she did so her eyes fell on the buckets of hot water that still steamed in the cold air. Resignedly, Faith heaved the buckets into the bathroom and poured some into the big basin on the wash stand.
Stripping off her underwear, Faith did her best to clean herself up with soap and flannel. Several bowls of by now tepid water later, she felt almost human again. She’d love to have a shower or be able to lie in a tub, but at least she didn’t stink anymore. Dressing in her cleanest set of underwear, trousers and shirt, Faith sat on her bed and started to brush her hair dry. She’d often thought of having it cut shorter but just couldn’t bring herself to actually do it.
Looking at herself in the mirror on the wall by her bed, she saw her face look back at her, she smiled at herself, she was still ‘hot’, but what was the point of being ‘hot’ when she daren’t get a guy into the sack for fear of getting pregnant? Just as these black thoughts where going through her mind a knock sounded from the direction of the door.
“Are you descent, Faith?” it was Albert.
“Yeah,” Faith called as she made her way to the door, “hold on.”
Pulling the bolt, Faith opened the door and stood back to let Albert in. The Englishman walked into her room and looked around.
“Looks a bit like a Chinese laundry in here,” Albert smiled as he gestured to all the clothes hanging around the stove.
“Whatever,” Faith shrugged, she was still feeling a little down, “come in an’ close the door will ya?”
“Sorry,” Albert closed the door behind him and went to stand by the window; he watched as Faith sat down on her bed and brushed her hair, “so, what do you think?”
“The place is a dump,” Faith brushed her hair more vigourously.
“No I meant about Walks-by-Night,” Albert could tell Faith was feeling a little miserable, there was nothing to be done about that until she cheered up of her own accord. “Vampire don’t-cha-think?”
“Yeah, sure, vamp,” if anything Faith brushed her hair harder.
“Steady on old thing,” Albert said quietly, “you don’t want to pull your hair out.
Faith stopped brushing and looked up at Albert, it wasn’t his fault so it was pointless yelling at him.
“Sorry,” the word came reluctantly to Faith’s lips, “it’s just sometimes…” she paused for a long moment, “y’know?”
“I think I do,” Albert smiled down at his charge in a fatherly way, he smiled trying to lighten her mood a little, “what will you do tonight?”
“I saw a saloon, I thought I’d have a beer,” Faith put down her brush and smiled up at Albert, “see, all better now. What about y’self?”
“Got an invitation to dine with Major Allshard and his wife,” Albert smoothed down his moustache, “you were invited but I refused on your behalf.”
“Thanks,” Faith replied relieved.
“Don’t get drunk or cause any fights,” Albert warned half jokingly, “we’ll be heading out early tomorrow morning with Captain Brittles and his patrol.”
“Don’t worry,” Faith grinned, “I’ll be good.”
“Mind you are my girl,” Albert admonished; he turned towards the door, he stopped one hand on the door handle. “Look Faith,” he turned once again to look at Faith, “I know this is all difficult for you; when we’ve finished here what say we catch the train to California, have a bit of a holiday, eh?”
“Yeah, sounds good,” if it was possible for Faith to sound less enthusiastic, Albert hadn’t heard it yet; Faith paused as visions on Mayor Wilkins swam before her eyes, the guy would be alive in Sunnydale about now. “Anywhere but Sunnydale, okay?”
“Right,” Albert smiled, “that’s settled then.” He opened the door, “I’ll see you in the morning my dear.”0=0=0=0