November 11th, 1869
Denver Livery, CO
This evening friends and family of Daniel Helm and Davion Murphy would gather in the First Chance Saloon to celebrate the twenty-seventh birthday of the highly esteemed rancher, and the forty-second for the district marshal who had just welcomed his second born into the world three days prior. But one expected guest would never show up. He promised his daughter Elizabeth before he left for work that morning, that he would bring her home a treat from her favorite bakery, cookies she would never get. The sun would sink into the western horizon and still no one would see nor hear from Henry Scarborough, nor the next day, next week either. He would simply vanish, without a trace.
It was early when he left for the train station this Sunday morning, no going to see Daniel Helm today as he had told him he would be seeing him this evening instead, an oddball day for the banker. Everything was closed but he was still working despite the fact it was his day off. He had come into the bedroom and knelt by his bed, promising the wife he would be home for the birthday celebration of his two friends at the saloon and that he would meet her there at about six o’clock. He was always on time, never late for a damn thing so she could expect him at six on the dot. Just as he had promised the little girl, he woke her up this morning just before dawn so she could see him before he left for Denver. He promised to bring her home some chocolate chip cookies from Mimi’s Bakery, kissed her good bye and tucked her back in. It was chilly this morning, Henry tightened a scarf around his neck and rode Wabash to the station, boarding him into a train car and they both headed for the big city. Scarborough hadn’t a care in the world, but he needed to write a speech because at this point it was a given that he had the election in the bag with the latest polls showing he had an eighty-one percent approval from the voters.
He stayed at the courthouse for hours, working from multiple rooms, familiarizing himself with everything that his new job would require. He was happy, Isabella was not the happiest person in the world and Henry felt that having him around would soothe the sting she felt from not having conceived a child yet. To compensate for his wife’s depression Henry felt he had to be twice as happy, going home every day to hold her close and talk to her in an effort to cheer her up. Nothing seemed to help but he hoped eventually, with time she would feel a little bit better. He was trying to be a good husband and he was supportive and he was there for her. Not just some physical entity either he was there emotionally as well.
At four in the afternoon, like clockwork Henry gathered his things and departed the courthouse with a brown paper bag of cookies for Ellie, walking just a quarter mile to the winter training track where the Thoroughbreds were housed. Sometimes one could hear the excited whinnies of the stallions in the breeding shed, ‘twas the season. Weaving through shed rows Henry picked his way toward the rear of the property to stable D where Wabash stood in his stall at the very end of the shed. Tossing his black and white head over the door the tulip shaped ears were pinned back tight against his skull until he realized it was Henry coming to get him and he perked right up. From demon to angel in just a second. Come winter the horse would be nine years old, he was also scheduled to cover two mares next week, he would be a happy fella then. The banker’s smiling eyes drifted away from the stud and caught sight of a derelict looking wagon just outside the doors. A look of suspicious curiosity came over him as the tattered tarp thrown over the wagon gently fluttered in the cold breeze and a puff of steam wisped from the man in the doorway as he let out a shuttered breath. Movement of a dark shadow cascading over the floor turned him quickly on his heel, and Henry let out a bark of startled laughter, “Corey!”
the beaming banker greeted the stable boy and an exchange of smiles and handshakes was in order. He had always liked Corey Blaylock, he was a young fella maybe twenty-one, as tall as Henry’s buddy Danny and even had the same hair and eyes and maybe that was what made the lad so amiable to him, he looked like Daniel Helm. Henry had to get home and see Mister Hellfire here in a few hours, call the man old because until December twenty-first they would just be one year apart when Henry turned twenty-f***in-nine. That was a good moniker though, he should use that and see if Danny liked it, Mister Hellfire, “Mister Scarborough, s’good t’see ya.”
Corey gave him that warm smile as Wabash watched, switching his tail but also flaring his nostrils at the smell of warm chocolate from that bag in his rider’s hand, the paper mottled with spots of cooking oil. “You too Corey, what brings ya, shouldn’ you be trainin the horses?”
it was odd seeing his buddy in here so late.“Yeah, but it’s Wabby here, I was muckin the stalls earlier an’ I heard ‘im kick his stall when somebody led another stallion through here.”
concern came over Henry for a moment, “Is he alright?”
a bit of a dumb question because Corey immediately cracked another grin, “Well that’s just it man, I can’t really get in there, I also wanted t’congratulate you.”
leaning over the stall door just a bit Henry looked over his animal’s legs but stepped away at Corey’s well wishes, “I appreciate that but I-”
all he saw was the blur of a white cloth and the widening of Blaylock’s eyes as a crushing arm tightened around his throat and the suffocating bitter odor of chloroform burned his throat and chest. Henry dropped the bag of cookies and reached up with both hands in an attempt to pry the arms of his assailant loose but to no avail as the infuriated scream of his horse resounded in the barn, the banker’s own cries for help muffled by the stifling white rag. Corey protested, reaching out to assist the man he had known for about a year now but Cullen stepped around the pair struggling in the breezeway and shoved a gun in the stable boy’s face. In one last attempt to help someone Henry leaned back against his attacker and curled himself upward, lashing out at the bald Irishman with his Italian boots, sending him crashing against the door of Wabash’s stall. The stallion sank his teeth into Cullen’s shoulder as Quin fought to hold onto Henry who was getting weaker and weaker by the second. The sounds of the scuffle were too loud for Quinlan’s liking and he dropped the gagging banker to the floor of the barn, took up a shovel and struck the paint horse so hard he released Callaghan and staggered against the back wall, splaying his legs in an effort to stay upright, reeling from the blow to the head. The son of the Massachusetts State Senator nursed his wounded shoulder, watching Henry crawl almost drunkenly toward Blaylock before Gallagher flattened him with another lick from the shovel. “Fooken Christ man.”
the winded Quinlan groaned, “E’s a hell of a fighter, fer a little guy.”
nervous laughter and he turned to Corey, “T’anks fer yer help Boyo, come wit us, we’ll pay ye like we promised.”
Cullen was still as silent as the stunned stable boy. The two Irish fellas had approached him thirty minutes ago, saying they wanted to surprise Henry in the barn and congratulate him on all his success, assuring him they were friends. They would even pay the lad for his troubles since he would be missing work, they would pay him twice as much in fact. Wabash stood wide eyed at the rear of his stall, trembling all over in a fear Blaylock had never seen from the stoic horse, the black coat was darkened all the more behind his left ear as blood ran down his neck and shoulder, matting his mane and lengthening winter pelt.
Corey didn’t respond to Gallagher’s appreciation, just felt hot bile crawling up his throat, sick to his stomach not knowing what the hell was happening other than Scarborough was laid out on the ground. The sound he had made when the metallic clang of that shovel hit him kept replaying in Blaylock’s mind, “Look alive Boyo.”
the dark headed man addressed him and snapped out of his morbid ponderings as Cullen too came to and helped his accomplice roll Scarborough over and they lifted him from the ground, “Where’re y’all takin him?”
no answer from either henchman as they carried the unconscious man out to the wagon, unlocked the cage and roughly tossed him in, “Yer comin wit us.”
Cullen finally spoke up to the boy who wanted to say no, but he couldn’t when this same man had just pulled a gun on him. If it hadn’t been for the man he had just helped to kidnap, he may be dead anyways. So he didn’t complain and climbed aboard, “Ye hafta take the wagon back, we gotta go wit him,”
Callaghan thumbed back to the rear of the wagon as Gallagher mounted and took up the reins, slapping them across the back of a greying gelding, taking the wagon up the alley to join the traffic on Cherry Street. Leaving the scene of the crime with nothing but a frightened horse, bloody shovel and a torn bag of cookies in the straw, their contents littering the floor of the breezeway. They passed by posters and fliers of the candidates for next week’s election, a few them Henry’s, “Ye take it to de burnt out livery on third, keep it covered, leave it there, I gotta man comin t’get it, say not’in t’nobody ye hear, or you’re a dead man.”
Corey nodded as the grey plodded along with his sad load, no one looked, in a way he felt no one cared what happened to Henry, but they didn’t look because they didn’t know. All he had to do was stand up and yell it, tell everyone but the nudge of cold steel in his side hindered him as Cullen reminded him he had a gun on him, “No funneh business, aye?”
The wagon continued on its way, to the edge of the city and beyond, entering the virgin prairie on an old cattle road with the distant water tower dead in their sights. In the late fall season the sun was already well on its way to a decent to the horizon that would bathe the landscape in darkness. The wagon rumbled on, not a sound coming from the back as Gallagher and Callaghan rode on with the silent stable boy between them. Corey was quiet but his mind was running a million miles a minute. For whatever reason he was worried about the man’s horse, fearing they would kill Henry anyways Corey now felt the injured stallion was his priority. He couldn’t say a word to anyone either, death threats from an Irishman were meant to be taken as seriously as a heart attack, he had always known that since he was boy.
The travelers came to rest in the shadow of the water tower an hour later and the wait began. The train Henry normally boarded on the way home would stop here and they would load him into the prisoner car, from there it was a long ride to Massachusetts. By the time Henry was missed in Buffalo Creek he would be in Nebraska, a long way from home.
Corey focused all his attention on the swishing tail of the grey gelding hitched in front of him as Quin lit up a rollup and sat in silence. About a quarter mile across the dry prairie a group of horsemen were riding past, slowly after a day’s work on a nearby ranch they were ready to head back to the city for a little fun. Just as the distant whistle of the approaching train drifted on the westerly wind, there came a stirring from the back of the wagon. A good dose of chloroform could knock a man out for hours, but Gallagher had walloped the banker over the head instead and now he was coming to. Blaylock shifted his eyes over his shoulder a time or two, hoping Henry would stay quiet and not give these men a reason to hurt him, or worse. Corey didn’t know how much more abuse he could witness without rebelling and getting the both of them killed.
Scuffles of boots turned to a slight rocking of the wagon as Henry rolled over, taking in his surroundings from what he could see of the cage from the light coming in from the holes in the tarp. A soft keening moan and it was clear Henry was awake, Quin reached into the pocket of his old jacket and pulled out the dark bottle of chloroform and rag again. A groggy but indiscernible string of words slurred from the dazed banker and the stable boy tensed, “I’ll take care of ‘im.”
Gallagher assured and stepped down off the wagon.“Help me . . . somebody help me please!”
the banker had caught sight of the passersby and called out to them in a raspy voice, roughened by the scalding chloroform. Quinlan told him to be quiet and Cullen watched the group of riders as Henry unleashed another cry for help before Quinlan could get the door open, “Christ ol’ mighteh Quin, shut ‘im up!”
he hissed and the wagon rocked on its axels as Gallagher snatched the door ajar.
The banker surprised his adversary when he came barreling out the door at him, hands closing on the Irishman’s coat lapels fully prepared to grapple with him, “Goddammit!”
Corey gipped the bench with both hands as the carriage pitched back and forth and nothing but expletives were uttered from the back as Quinlan fought with Henry. Something crashed hard into the steel cage, spooking the horse who jerked the paddy wagon forward a few feet, “Dammit Quin, da fook are ye doin?”
Corey couldn’t take it anymore as the sickening sound of Quin beating the shit out of the banker got harder and harder to listen to. Cullen leapt from the bench as well, shoving the much taller stable boy against the wagon before rounding the corner as Gallagher was slamming Henry’s head into the floorboards, “Quin! Stop et, yer gonna kill ‘im, Christ!”
“It’d be better if e’ was dead’n ye know et, Cullen!”
“Me fat’er wants ‘im alive! Ye leave ‘im be!”
the wagon grew still, everything got too quiet as the two men looked at the battered campaigner in the rear of the wagon, “Well, don’ matter now anyways do et?”
Quin commented softly as he stepped back from the covered cart, his hands and face spattered with blood, “Oye, Quin ye realleh done et this time.”
“Agh, we’ll jus’ bury ‘im out here, nobody’ll ever find ‘im.”
Corey listened to the conversation, his heart pounding in his throat, not believing he had just witnessed and even been an accessory to murder. Gingerly lifting the tarp he peeked inside at a man he had considered more than an acquaintance, his head lolled to the side, one eye swollen shut and the other open and unblinking. Corey watched for more than long enough to see Henry draw a breath, and he saw nothing stir the man’s chest, “Oh god.”
he whimpered just loud enough to alert Cullen and Quinlan he was still there. Before they could drag him away Blaylock reached through the bars and attempted to show the banker one last shred of compassion in taking his hand in his. Stars were speckling the darkening skies as the train stopped in Denver, preparing to pull up another half mile or so and fill the boiler with water, and take on three more passengers. Cullen couldn’t break the grasp of the distraught stable boy so Gallagher jerked him away, “Aye! Listen Boyo, listen good, yer gonna take this,”
Callaghan stuffed a hundred dollar bank note into the lad’s shirt pocket, “then yer gonna take this wagon, park et where I tol’ ye, an’ ye won’t say a word . . . ye was a part o’dis . . . ye say anythin’ they’ll hang ye, oh aye?”
Blaylock stood by for the next twenty-minutes, watching the black steamer as it drew closer in the waning hours of Sunday, November eleventh, 1869. His hands were in his pockets, one with the fingers drawn around a gold band he had accidently pulled from Henry’s hand when Quin yanked him off. He would have to find a way to send it to Henry’s wife, Bella. He didn’t know what she looked like, didn’t know where she lived but Henry talked about her all the time. He was still in too much shock to do anything other than stand there on numbed legs, wondering how in the hell he was still upright, “Me fat’er’ll wanna see the bodeh . . .”
Cullen informed Quin, “As fer you. Well e’ won’t be too happeh wit you . . .ye weren’t s’pposed t’touch ‘im.”
By the time festivities were underway at the saloon back in Buffalo Creek, Blaylock was parking the covered wagon where he had been told to, trying to erase the image of Henry’s limp body being loaded into the train car. Mickey McCarthy opened the sliding door and immediately looked quite stunned at the man’s condition, “Jesus . . . I t’ought ya was bringin ‘im back alive.”
Corey tried to coax Wabash to the front of the stall when he got back to the barn but the stallion was terrified and the lad gave up and went to stand outside in the cold air, praying to god he had just dreamt the whole thing.