“So, that’s the story,” Andi finished. “It’s nothing important.”
“It sure isn’t,” Cory agreed as the four sat around in front of Goodwins the next afternoon. “And I haven’t seen ol’ Zeke around since we got out of school today, either. Everything must have cooled down since yesterday.” He shook his head. “Too bad. And here I thought there might be something exciting going on in this town for a change.”
“How about this for excitement?” Rachel offered. “Let’s play some hide-and-seek. It’ll pass the time and keep us from becoming Fresno’s worst gossips.”
The boys looked doubtful. Hide-and-seek was a sissy game.
“Okay,” Andi agreed, eyeing the boys. Then she grinned. “Or, if you don’t want to do that, we could jump rope or something.”
Jack made a face.
Cory shook his head. “Don’t be ridiculous, Andi. I wish you had your horse in town. We could take turns riding her.”
“Another day,” Andi replied. “Besides, Taffy gets bored riding up and down the streets of Fresno. She’d much prefer to gallop on the range.”
She frowned, thinking of another long afternoon stuck in town because Justin was keeping late hours. Perhaps she could ride Taffy into town tomorrow and thus be able to go home right after school.
She jumped down from the boardwalk. “I’ll be IT first,” she offered generously, “since you boys don’t really want to play, anyway.”
Andi turned around and buried her face against Goodwins’ plate-glass window. She counted to one hundred as quick as she could, hoping to get a glimpse of a leg or an arm when she turned around.
“ONE HUNDRED!” Andi shouted at the now-deserted street.
Not a trace of her friends was in sight. She peeked into the usual spots—the ones nearest home base, just to make sure no one could catch her off-guard and come in “free” in the next ten seconds.
Satisfied that her friends had chosen challenging places to hide, Andi confidently left the boardwalk and headed toward the barrels outside the saloon. Sometimes there was space behind them for a perfect hiding spot, along with a great view of the base. Andi checked it quickly, but there was no one there.
She glanced cautiously down the alley that led to the back of the saloon. It would be just like Cory and Jack to team up and find a perfectly horrid place to hide so they could jump out and scare the living daylights out of her. Never mind that they would be caught—for Andi could out-run both boys back to home base—the pleasure they would get from scaring her would be worth having to be IT for the next round.
Suddenly certain this was exactly what the boys had done, Andi made her way down the alleyway. She called Cory’s name once or twice to show him she had outsmarted him, but when there was no reply she kept going. There weren’t many hiding places right around the saloon, so Andi turned the corner into an alley that led around the backsides of buildings like the livery and blacksmith’s.
She peeked into barrels and behind boxes, hoping to sneak up on Cory or Jack and give them a surprise. It was quiet back here, and Andi decided she’d forget about the boys and go find Rachel. She didn’t like playing hide-and-seek in the alleys.
A low murmur of voices caught Andi’s attention, and she smiled. The boys must be just around the corner. Wouldn’t they be surprised when she found their hiding place! She picked up her pace and was about to barge around the corner and yell “surprise,” when she heard a loud voice. A voice that sounded nothing like Cory.
Andi stopped short.
“He’s drunk as a skunk.” A harsh laugh accompanied the raspy voice. “He doesn’t remember a thing after I bought him that first drink.”
“You’ll never get away with this, Henderson,” a new, strangely familiar voice, broke in. It was tinged with worry, but was trying to sound confident.
“Mr. Henderson gets away with whatever he wants, lawyer,” the raspy voice sneered.
At the word “lawyer,” Andi’s ears pricked up. She sidled closer to the corner of the building and ducked behind a stack of wooden crates. She hunkered down and peeked through the cracks between the crates. To her surprise, Zeke Blazer sat slumped against the wall of an old warehouse. He looked asleep.
So this is where Zeke’s been today. I’ll have lots to tell that nosy Cory. This was much better than playing hide-and-seek. She held her breath and kept watching between the cracks.
Four men surrounded Zeke. One of the men looked like Justin’s lawyer-friend, Philip Barnes, but Andi didn’t recognize the others. They were dressed like cowhands or drifters . . . except for the tall, distinguished-looking, silver-haired man in the middle. He was dressed immaculately in a gray suit—every inch a prosperous-looking fellow.
That must be Mr. Henderson, Andi decided, and wondered where she’d heard that name before. Her heart skipped when she remembered. Last night at supper!
“Poor, drunk Zeke Blazer.” Henderson sighed, “How could he do a thing like this? To murder the D.A. is a terrible crime.” His lips curled into a cruel smile as he stared at Phil. “You do realize, Mr. Barnes, that I cannot allow you to prosecute my case. You have too much evidence against me. How convenient that Mr. Blazer has such a grudge against you.”
“I’m sure you must have had something to do with that,” Mr. Barnes said weakly. He looked sick.
Henderson chuckled. “I’m sorry to say that you will never know.” He nodded to one of his companions.
Instantly, the cowhand caught Phil Barnes by the arms, while the others searched him.
“Got it, boss.” The man grinned and tossed a small Derringer pistol to Henderson, who examined it and tossed it back.
“Okay.” Henderson nodded again.
When the gun went off, Andi fell backward, shocked. She collapsed to the ground and caught her breath. Surely the whole town had heard that shot. Yet, Andi knew the busy streets of Fresno would pay no attention to a single shot among the other noises. Even if they did care to investigate, the culprits would scuttle into the shadows like rats.
Andi crawled away from the barrels and pressed herself against the side of the building. She held her breath to keep from crying out. All thoughts of the game she’d been playing with her friends vanished. All thoughts of having something to tell Cory vanished also.
One thought dominated everything: I have to get away from here!
Her stomach lurched when she heard a thump, and she knew with dreadful certainty who had fallen—Mr. Barnes. She bit her lip to keep her scream inside and cautiously rose to her feet. She backed away from the crates as quickly as she could.
The sudden shock of backing into something soft and warm brought Andi around with a start.
A tall, scruffy-looking stranger gazed down at her. “Say, what’s the matter, little lady?” He looked sincerely concerned. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Oh, mister,” Andi choked out in a hoarse whisper. “We’ve got to get out of here and find the sheriff. Hurry!” She moved away from the stranger, but he grasped her arm.
“It’s all right. No need to panic. Tell me what happened. What did you see?” The stranger kept his voice just above a whisper.
“Philip Barnes got shot, and—”
“Now, ain’t that too bad,” the man growled, changing his demeanor as quick as a clap of thunder. He caught Andi around the waist and heaved her up, covering her mouth with his huge, dirty hand.
Realizing her mistake, Andi tried to yell and wriggle free, but the stranger was too powerful. He half-dragged, half-carried her around the corner and into the small circle of killers hovering over Phil Barnes’s bleeding body.
One man whirled, and his mouth dropped open. “What’s this?”
Henderson turned also but didn’t react. His eyes narrowed, and he waved the man and Andi closer. “Explain yourself, Gordon,” he demanded.
“Caught her snooping, Mr. Henderson.” Gordon held Andi in his vice-like grip. He had one hand over her mouth and another firmly around her waist, suspending her above ground.
Andi wasn’t going anywhere.
Mr. Henderson eyed Andi with disgust. “Too bad we have this unwelcome complication in an otherwise foul-proof plan.”
“Shall I get rid of her, boss?” Gordon grinned and watched Andi struggle helplessly in his arms.
“Are you crazy?” Henderson replied.
“Aagh!” Gordon yelled when Andi sank her teeth into his palm.
The man cursed and let go, sucking on his hand.
Andi leaped into action and sprinted away. She’d taken no more than three steps before a terrible jerk on her arm yanked her back. Mr. Henderson pulled her around to face him.
Andi opened her mouth to scream.
“Don’t scream, little lady.” Henderson jabbed a small, pearl-handled gun against Andi’s cheek. “Or it will be the last sound you ever make.”
Read CHAPTER 6
Read CHAPTER 6