©2017 Robert Lee Murphy
Paddy stumbled as he made his way down the slope toward the Weber River, away from the Casements’ warehouse tent, which was located on the outskirts of Echo City. He paid careful attention to where he stepped. He didn’t want to slip on the icy bank. The bullet wounds Will Braddock had inflicted on him last year in his left leg caused him to limp, making it awkward to balance on the slippery surface. He paused to look back up the slope and saw that Braddock had stopped to talk with Dan Casement.
“Humph,” he grunted. “Sure, and I’d be better off without either of ye two!”
Will stopping at the warehouse gave Paddy the needed time to increase the distance between himself and the strapping youth who continued to interfere with his plans. What a time for his revolver to misfire. All three of his enemies had been right in front of him in the Chinaman’s café. He knew he’d put a slug into Corcoran. He’d seen him slump over from the impact. If the percussion cap hadn’t been missing from the next cylinder, he could’ve killed all three of them before they would’ve been able to raise a gun in response. Paddy didn’t really care for guns, and he seldom drew his Colt .32-caliber revolver. Because of his dislike of firearms, he’d failed to check the piece to ensure it was in proper working order. He needed to be more careful about that in the future.
The angle of the bank steepened. Paddy turned sideways to reach down with the strength of his right leg to take the force of his weight. He used his gimpy left leg on the upper side to steady himself. He stomped down hard with the instep of his right boot, breaking through the icy covering to ensure a solid footing before he took the next step. Even taking these extra precautions, he moved downward rapidly.
With the increased angle of descent, he’d dropped out of sight of the Hell on Wheels town. That meant Will couldn’t see him, either. That was a good thing.
Paddy sidestepped down twenty or thirty yards until the ground leveled out close to the water’s edge. He paused to take a deeper breath. The exertion from maintaining his balance caused his thigh muscles to tremble. He took another breath, then struck off downstream toward where he could see the glow from a bonfire and hear drunken singing at the Irish wake.
One of these days he’d finish what he’d sworn to do five years ago when he’d held his dying father in his arms on that dock in New York City. Sean Corcoran, who’d been a major in the Army then, had stabbed his father to death with a saber. Paddy reached up and rubbed his left cheek, massaging the scar running from his ear to his lip. Corcoran’s saber had sliced across Paddy’s face on its journey into his father’s chest when Paddy had stepped in to intervene. The trouble had happened because his father and his Irish crew of dockworkers had tried to hang that no-account former slave, Homer Garcon. The free blacks had been taking the jobs the Irish wanted to keep for themselves, and the Irish immigrants were determined to do whatever it took to frighten any competition away from their waterfront employment.
The singing grew louder as Paddy approached the wake. He spotted a wagon and team parked not far from the circle of mourners clustered around the bonfire. In the bed of the wagon a swath of canvas covered a hump that was undoubtedly the body of the man they planned to bury.
It was two years ago, when Paddy had tried to steal General Dodge’s prized Morgan horse from a stable in Omaha, that he’d made his first contact with Will Braddock. Braddock had managed to thwart that attempt, and had also foiled a second attempt when Paddy later arranged an Indian raid on Dodge’s train. Twice Braddock had caused Paddy to fail to steal the horse, and that had not set well with Paddy’s boss and godfather, Mort Kavanagh. Kavanagh had wanted to give the horse as a bribe to a Cheyenne chief to entice the Indians to raid the railroad and slow down construction so he could sell the tracklayers more whiskey.
He smiled to himself when he recalled the third, successful attempt at taking the Morgan away from Braddock. Paddy and Black Wolf’s band of Cheyenne Indians had waylaid Braddock during a horse race a year ago celebrating the founding of the new town of Cheyenne. Paddy wanted to kill Braddock then, but that half-breed Lone Eagle, a member of Black Wolf’s band at the time, had stepped in and prevented it. At least, Paddy had finally been successful in stealing the black horse.
Paddy wasn’t worried about eventually fulfilling his vendetta. Sooner or later the odds would turn in his favor, and he would kill all three of his enemies. For now he had to get away from Braddock. He knew he wouldn’t do well in a fair fight against Braddock, who’d earned a spot on the railroad as a hunter because of his marksmanship. Paddy preferred knife fighting—a preference that extended to approaching his opponent stealthily from the back. He could feel the rub of his Bowie knife sheath against his right ankle, where he kept it tucked inside his boot.
He needed to find Collin Sullivan, the gang leader who’d organized this wake. Paddy had worked for Sullivan two years ago, before General Jack had fired him. Stepping into the light reflected from the roaring bonfire, Paddy searched the faces of the dozen Irishmen seated on railroad ties around the blaze. Directly opposite, he spotted Sullivan. Paddy eased around the back of the encircled tracklayers, who sounded more like carousers than mourners.
“Collin,” Paddy said. “Sure, and I be needing yer help.”
The burly, redheaded Sullivan looked back over his shoulder at Paddy. “And just what do ye mean by that, laddie?” He raised his bottle of Irish whiskey and chugged a swig.
“Well, now, sure, and ye know ye would’ve paid twice the price for that case of whiskey if I hadn’t arranged a deal for ye and the boys.” Paddy had convinced Kavanagh to let the Irishmen buy a case of poor quality whiskey at half-price, pointing out to his boss that after the wake the drunks would stagger back to the Lucky Dollar and spend more at the saloon’s inflated prices.
“Aye, and we thank ye for that. What is it ye be wanting?”
“Sure, and there be a young lad following me who wants to kill me. He’ll be showing himself here in a few minutes. All I’m asking ye to do is to delay him a mite, so’s I can get away.”
“That’s all. Don’t kill him. I plan to do that meself by and by.”