From the Diary of Garret John McEwan
October 5, 1879
In the Vicinity of Scully, California. Weather bright, with wind.
If I needed any further fuel for my suspicion of Mr. LeFeau, I got ample of it today. We rode out early on the trail of the man who sent the telegram, heading for the area known as Three Mesas. With a little effort, Ben and I were able to discern signs that a wounded man had passed this way on horseback. There were blood drops here and there, and bruised plants where plants existed.
Coming up on the Three Mesas themselves — aptly named, they stand like pillars in a tight cluster with nothing much around them — we found a spot perfect for an ambush, and indeed it looked to have been used as such. Based on what Doc Knuckles said about his travels to Scully, it was clear this was the place he had his near-fatal encounter with the outlaws who stole his horse and gear.
The main part of the trail continued past that point, but the blood-trail we were following split off to the right, going around the side of the mesas. Ben uttered some words in Navajo and did something with his hands, and suddenly where he had stood a red-tailed hawk fluttered. He soared up, then came back, assuming his natural form and reported that there was nobody in sight, but there was a cave, the entrance of which was on the right-hand mesa towards the center of the circle made by the three.
Since the mesas together comprised a small enough area, we split up, leaving our horses ground-tethered and out of sight. Marcus and Ben took the path to the left, going behind the farthest mesa, and Carter and LeFeau went right, while I pressed my back against the nearest of the three.
I was for a cautious approach, but LeFeau went straight for the cave, with Carter close behind. Carter gave out a shout, drawing Marcus, Ben and myself in. There we found our quarry, a pale-faced and unkempt man, and a prodigious smell of blood and putrefaction. The man was gut-shot, sweating and groaning, and begged for our help.
It took much persuading to get the story of what had happened to the stage out of him, for he spun several tales before he finally relented and gave up the truth. LeFeau leant upon the man’s injuries, a cruelty, but I supposed a necessary one, since the outlaw was otherwise not inclined to veracity. What we learned was that those hired to guard the stage had conspired instead to rob it, and he had been one of them.
Since there was a threat his allies might come back, I went to stand guard at the cave mouth. The rest I heard, but did not see.
Once the deed was done, he said, they had planned to take the gold to Boonesville, which they believed to be a ghost town. When they learned it was inhabited, the leader of the outlaws decided instead to take the treasure to a place known as the Valley of the Bones. Ben seemed to know this place, for he made a sound of horror at its name.
The injured man said he tried then to back out of the pact, fearing his lawless comrades less than the Valley of the Bones, a cursed place where none who enter may take anything but their naked selves out again. His fellows turned on him and shot him, but he managed to flee before they could finish him off.
He could give no clear accounting for why he had sent the telegram, nor why he had fled to the Three Mesas cave, and he allowed, when questioned, that though he had not participated in the killing of the stage drivers, he had intended to before the plan to enter the Valley of the Bones was concocted. He begged Ben again to heal him, and I believe Ben was going to do so, when the report of a small pistol rang out.
I spun around to find LeFeau holding a smoking derringer, the prisoner’s brains splattered behind him. Marcus stood mute, but he had his shooter in hand as well, and wasn’t aiming it at the man who’d just committed cold murder. It took me more time than I would like to admit to even adjust my mind to what I was seeing, but when I had, I pressed Marcus hard for an explanation. The first words out of his mouth chilled me to the core: if LeFeau hadn’t put the prisoner out of his misery, Marcus had been prepared to do it himself.
If you’d asked me beforehand, I’d have never in a thousand years told you that I would find myself explaining to my friend, the Sheriff of Alder Creek, that we were the Law, and it was our job to bring the criminal to Justice and see him hanged if the judging fell that way, or lock him up, or, if the will of the judiciary be so, set him free. To take the power of judging into our own hands was the worst kind of vigilantism, and to shoot an incapacitated prisoner in cold blood…
I’d seen the Yankees do it, and I’m sure a Reb or two went down that dishonorable path in the exigencies of war, but it is not our place or our way.
Marcus, to his credit, rode up to me later, as we headed back to town, and confessed to the burden of guilt he carried as a result of his act. He’d lost his head when his blood was up, thinking about the stage-robber’s treachery. Ben told us the land out this way was cursed, with spiritual emanations rising up to turn a man’s heart cold, so maybe that explains Marcus’s actions. But it doesn’t excuse them.
It’s a hard day when the Deputy has to contemplate arresting the Sheriff, but in the end, I decided against it. LeFeau is another matter, but as I wasn’t eyewitness to the shooting, and Marcus seemed more than disinclined to press the matter, I suppose the Foreign-born Easterner will get away with murder this day, carried out right under the Sheriff’s nose.
In truth, I found myself in the peculiar position of lying to the undertaker when I went to find decent burial for the criminal. The man demanded seventy-five dollars, which I have not even a half of to my name, and wanted to know how the man had died. Some strange trick of unearned loyalty had me holding back my opinion of LeFeau’s culpability and telling him the criminal had died while fleeing the law—a half-truth the undertaker saw straight through, though he could not guess the reality.
In the end, it took Marcus’ persuasion to get the dead man a Christian burial, and I slept that night with a feeling I was as guilty as my fellows. I wasn’t the only one who took the turn of events amiss, for in the morning, we woke to find a note from Carter: He couldn’t hold with such contemptible men as would summarily execute an untried prisoner, and had left before dawn to return to Alder Creek.
I can’t say that I blame him.
Addendum to October 5, 1879
I forgot to mention the other queer finding we made at the Three Mesas. While I was standing watch, I spied at the peak of one of the mesas, a glint of something metal. Ben, in his hawk form, flew up to investigate, and returned with a compass needle. When I balanced it on my knife, it spun, but pointed more to the North East than true North. It seemed to have been placed on that Mesa for some purpose, but none that I could divine. I wrapped it in a bit of doeskin and tucked it into my kit, and intend to get a good compass at the store tomorrow, to affix this unusual needle into. It’s a curiosity.