Maestro Vale leaned back, propping his patent leather shoes up on the sheriff’s oak desk, then laced his fingers flat across the small ball of his stomach. He wore a brown corduroy vest and suit coat over a long-sleeved yellow shirt. He smelled of bay rum cologne.
Sheriff Cheyenne Ned wore a short sleeved cotton shirt, didn’t smell half as good, and sweated out a pint just sitting down.
The law office window was open to the clip-clopping of horses and the squeak of dusty wagon wheels. In the distance, the continuous hammering of new construction.
With the railroad coming in less than a year, Darbyville’s star was on the rise.
Vale was cool as a cucumber, and the dude’s stomach reminded Ned of a cantaloupe. Matter of fact, to Ned, Vale seemed a little fresh out of the garden. Couldn’t be more’n nineteen or twenty years old.
Ned figured he was already breaking a wild horse or taming a town of drunken punchers the first night Vale drew breath. Now here was Vale, hired by the founder as some kind of detective consultant.
“Sheriff, what are the biggest problems this town’s got?” Vale spread his hands apart and opened his fingers wide. “I mean the biggest. Give it to me straight.”
Ned scratched his head.
“Well, I got old man Childress selling green meat down at the Exchange. I’ve warned him time and again.”
“Green meat. Check. What else?”
“Mrs. O’Connor’s turned her daughter out for nightly visits at the Café.” Ned shook his head. “Sure is stirring up the pimple faced boys.”
“Green meat. Green men. Check. What else?”
“What else is there?”
“What if I told you I could make this place a paradise on Earth? Quiet nights. Quiet weekends. No crime?”
“Pretty quiet as it is.”
“You call that quiet?” said Vale, swinging his hand back toward the hammering at the future railroad yard.
“I call it progress.”
“You don’t worry that some of those roughnecks on the line down there will come into town tonight and tear things up?”
“Most of them roughnecks grew up around here. Besides, we keep a pretty close eye on ‘em.”
“Close enough to know to know the future?”
“What are you aiming at, Mr. Vale? The Mayor and Justice Smith said I got to listen to your spiel. They didn’t say for how long.”
“I can tell you who’s going to commit a crime, as well as the specifics of that crime before it happens.”
“With this.” Vale put his feet flat on the wooden floor and reached for his valise. Standing, he swung it up under the sheriff’s nose and opened it. Ned peered down at the strange looking piece of pine that had letters and numbers burned into it while Vale produced a narrow champagne glass. He turned the glass upside down and put on the center of the board.
“The Ouija can see the future.”
“I’ll be dogged,” said Ned.
“Put your fingers on the stem of the glass. Please don’t push or otherwise try to influence its movement. Just follow it around the board.”
Vale put his fingers on the foot of the glass opposite Ned.
“Ouija,” said Vale in a commanding tone. “Who is in the room with me.”
Slow and smooth, the glass slid around the board, stopping first at N, then E, then ending up at the letter D.
“That’s darned impressive,” said Ned.
“And to prove its acumen in predicting crime, I took the liberty of asking it two questions before our interview. First, I asked about any shady business deals going on in town.”
“What’d the board tell you?”
Vale produced a slip of paper. On it was written, “Meetings.”
Ned looked up blankly. “Meetings?”
Vale shook his head vigorously. “Meat, meetings. Meetings, meat. You said you were having a problem with green meat.”
Ned stroked his three-day growth of stubble. “That’s kind of a stretch.”
“Good lawmen have to stretch.”
“What about the other one?”
Vale handed over the paper.
“Girl,” said Ned. “That’s it?”
“That’s enough. It gives you the first thing to go on.”
“I see, I see.” Ned slid the Ouija board away and leaned across the desk. “And how much did you say you were charging the town for your consulting services?”
“Why, er…only two hundred.”
“But it’s ultimately up to me to hire you or not?”
“Naturally,” said Vale. “Naturally.”
They sat quietly for a few minutes while the sheriff leaned back and thought about Maestro Vale and his Ouija board.
Finally, the pounding of hooves signaled the arrival of Deputy Jim.
Ned walked to the window and brushed aside one of the curtains.
“Here we are,” he said. “I think now you’ll have your answer.”
“I don’t understand,” said Vale.
The office door opened for Ned’s deputy, shoving ahead of him a bespectacled young man wearing a suit nearly identical to Vale’s. In fact, nearly every feature, from his hair to his nose to his melon round stomach was identical with Vale.
“Jerry Stump,” said Deputy Jim. “Found him just where you figured, camping outside town on the other side of the railbed.”
“Jerry Stump,” said Ned. He looked at Vale. “That would make you Billy Stump then, wouldn’t it? Your name ain’t Vale at all.” The sheriff nodded at Jim. “The Stump Brothers are wanted all across Nebraska for assorted confidence tricks and falsified claims. Good work, Jim.”
Vale shook his head. “That’s fine detective work, Sheriff. But I can’t see how you could’ve known. How’d you know to send out your deputy for my brother?”
Cheyenne Ned smiled a toothy grin. “Mrs. O’Connor?”
At the invitation, a young girl with long black braids dressed in a flowing silk blouse and pantaloons with a blue sash appeared from an adjacent room.
“You’re Mrs. O’Connor?” said Vale.
Ned nodded. “Deputy Jim O’Connor’s wife.”
“But what does she have to do with anything?”
The Sheriff opened a drawer on his desk and pulled out a big, oversized card.
He flipped it across the desk where it landed face up in front of Vale.
“A…a tarot card? Like…like gypsies use?”
“The founders hired Mrs. O’Connor last year,” explained the sheriff. “It’s how she and Jim met.”
Ned chuckled as Jim led the twins toward a corner jail cell.
“Mrs. O’Connor is sort of a…consulting detective.”