Posts : 244
Join date : 2015-11-29
Age : 60
Location : Norfolk, England
|Subject: Settling Wheat - Part Nine (Flixton Mill) Tue May 30, 2017 12:01 pm|| |
Settling Wheat – Part Nine (Flixton Mill)“Lom surprised to see you here this morning. Thought you’d be looking after ya guests,” the Kid grinned as he met them at the door. John Beecher, Heyes’ liveryman-cum-gardener, with Wheat’s help, collected the three horses and led them away back to the stables.
“Nope, Bart’s doing that. I’ve been investigating our little mystery. Craig and me have something real interesting to tell ya.”
“So do we, Lom. First, let me make some introductions. Lom this is Paul Cowdry. Paul this is Sheriff Lom Trevors, Craig … .”
“ … and Doc Albright.”
The five men greeted each other and shook hands.
“I’m going to go check on Joshua,” said Ben. “If you’ll excuse me gentlemen.”
As Ben made his way upstairs, Lom followed the Kid and Cowdry into the study. After clearing some space so they could all sit down, they swapped the information they had gleaned from their various sources. With one notable exception. Conscious that Craig wasn’t aware of the identity of Thaddeus Jones, the Kid didn’t mention the letter about Pine Lake. He would take Lom aside later. Craig had been taking notes in shorthand and when they had swapped information, he summarised what they now knew. When he had finished, the Kid nodded.
“Sounds ‘bout right to me. So ya reckon that Sam Flixton can tell us more?”
“I should think so. I’m sure Sheriff Trevors can persuade him to tell us just how Jeremiah Curry threatened him. Especially now this is a wider investigation.”
“Mind if I tag along with ya?” the Kid asked.
Lom looked at Craig to answer. He shrugged. “Why not? You can tell me all about Boston on the way,” Craig grinned. For a long time he had suspicions as to who Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones really were and being a newspaperman he was always on the lookout for a story. He was well aware that Jedidiah “Kid” Curry had met and married an heiress and now lived in Boston. Anything Mr Jones told him on the way over to Hardy City would be stored away for possible future use.
As they prepared to leave, Ben was making his way downstairs.
“How’s Josh?” the Kid asked.
“Better. Much better. He’s fever has broken and he’s lot cooler. Not completely out of the woods yet but getting that way.” He smiled at the men’s reaction and then sobered. “It’s Mary I’m worried about now. She needs to rest.”
“I sat with Joshua early this morning so she could get some sleep. I’m guessing she didn’t,” sighed the Kid.
“No I don’t think she did. But she might now I’ve been.” Ben looked expectantly at the men in front of him. “If someone would give her a break.” He inclined his head more forcefully. “So she could get some sleep.”
“I’ll sit with Mr Heyes, sir,” Cowdry volunteered.
“Thanks Paul,” said the Kid, slapping him on the shoulder. “Tell you all about our little trip to Hardy City when we get back.”
When Lom, Craig and the Kid reached the Flixton Paper Mill, Sam’s secretary informed them that he was on the factory floor. She showed them into his office to wait for him. Before they had entered the Mill, Lom had curiously unpinned his sheriff’s badge and as they waited, the Kid asked why.
“Not my jurisdiction,” Lom said with some embarrassment. “Sheriff Wilcox in Hardy City and me have this informal arrangement. We don’t encroach on each other’s turf. I’m strictly an interested citizen here.”
“The how …?”
“Craig’s our front man. He’s investigating a story that the sheriff of Porterville brought to his attention. Perfectly legitimate. I think they call it investigative journalism.”
“Then why am I here?” the Kid asked, faintly amused at Lom’s stretching of the truth.
“You? Oh, as Deputy Jones it’s perfectly alright for you to be here.”
“Guess I forgot to tell ya. When we were bringing in the Bulmer brothers last night, I deputised ya.” Lom sniffed and looked away.
“Ya did?” The Kid widened his eyes. “Don’t I have to take an oath or something?”
Lom nodded. “I distinctly heard you say one. Haven’t rescinded it yet that’s all.”
“Lom!” the Kid grinned, pretending to be shocked. “But don’t the agreement between you and Wilcox extend to deputies?”
Lom pursed his lips and shook his head. “Nope. Deputies were never mentioned.” Mentally he was crossing his fingers.
At that moment, Sam came in and they got to their feet.
“I understand gentlemen you have something urgent you wish to discuss with me? Craig, good to see you again.”
The two men shook hands and Craig made the introductions. Afterwards the four men made themselves comfortable.
“We’ve come to ask you about Jeremiah Curry, Sam and what happened after you turned down his offer to buy the mill,” Craig begun.
Sam looked uneasy and slightly annoyed. He knew that Lom Trevors was the Sheriff of Porterville, even if Craig hadn’t said so.
“Craig, I told you that in confidence,” he said, quietly.
Craig nodded. “Yes I know and I’m sorry. It’s just something has come up, concerning Jeremiah Curry, which Deputy Jones here is investigating. We think Jeremiah’s offer to buy your mill is tied into something bigger.”
Sam still looked uneasy. “Jeremiah Curry may be a competitor and he may have said some things in the heat of the moment which I’m sure he now regrets but I’ve no wish to get him into trouble.”
“Ya won’t. ‘Less he’s already in trouble for something else,” Lom said.
Sam scratched his cheek as he thought. It was obvious he really didn’t want to talk about this.
“Sam, is Jeremiah Curry’s business in trouble?” Craig asked.
Sam sighed. “Ye-ah. He still makes paper from rags. That process is inefficient. It’s just not suitable for the wholesale market the way demand is these days. It’s not viable anymore. There’s a niche market of course but most of that business is taken by the Eastern mills where there is more call for it. Legal documents, some stocks and shares certificates are still printed on rag milled paper. Tradition and all that. The biggest use, of course, is for banknotes but that’s highly controlled and regulated. I should imagine that’s a difficult area to get into.
“The real trade in paper these days is in newsprint, book publishing, wallpaper, wrapping paper.” He shrugged. “There are lots more paper based products than even thirty years ago. Since typewriters became popular, sheet paper is a big user and only set to get bigger. Rag milled paper would never be able to keep up with demand. Wood pulp, which I use, is cheaper, makes a better quality product, production is easier and I can make more batches, which are continuous and longer batches. It’s just so much more efficient all round.”
“So Jeremiah Curry is going out of business because he’s still using an old-fashioned process?” the Kid asked.
Sam nodded. “Yes, that’s about the size of it. No pun intended,” he grinned and then saw the blank looks, sobered. “Sorry paper makers joke. Sizing is part of the process that stops dry paper from absorbing to much liquid.”
“Stops the ink running?” Craig offered.
“Yes exactly.” Sam cleared his throat.
The Kid had been looking thoughtful. “So the only way that Jeremiah Curry can save his business would be to convert his mill into using wood pulp instead?”
Sam nodded. “Yes. I would if I was him and wanted to continue in the paper making business.” He shrugged. “Except he doesn’t know the first thing about working with wood pulp. He doesn’t have the contacts and he hasn’t got the expertise amongst his staff. Using wood pulp is an entirely different process.”
“So he tried to buy your mill so that he would gain the knowledge he needed,” Craig said.
“Yes, I think that’s what he was trying to do. I’m not a big player but I make a decent living for me and my family and my employees. I’m not ambitious and I’m not greedy. He offered me a fair price for it and if I were so inclined, I would have taken it. Said I could stay and run the mill as the Manager. But I’ve no wish to be part of a larger organisation and I like being my own boss.”
“So what exactly did Jeremiah Curry say when ya turned him down?” Lom’s turn to ask a question.
Sam puffed and looked reluctant to say. “Well he got a little abusive. Started making threats.” He shrugged. “I think he’s kinda desperate but I didn’t really take him seriously.”
“What sorta threats, Mr Flixton? Did you tell Sheriff Wilcox?”
Sam shook his head with a frown. “Awh! He threatened to put me outta business. Sabotage the mill. Turn my customers against me. That sorta thing. I don’t rightly know how he could do that. They were just idle threats that he made on the spur of the moment.”
“How d’ya know that?” Lom growled.
“Because that was two months ago and nothing has happened.” Sam licked his lips nervously. “I did increase security for a while just to be sure but I really didn’t expect anything to come of it,” he forced out.
“Did he make any threats against you personally? Or to your family or your employees?”
Sam shook his head. “No nothing like that.”
The three visitors sat in silence, deep in their own thoughts. Then the Kid spoke.
“If Curry is going out of business, how was he getting the money to buy your business?”
Sam pursed his lips thoughtfully. “I wondered about that too so I asked him that very question. He wouldn’t say but I think he’s got a backer.”
“Could it be Nathan Bloodstone?” Craig asked.
“Possibly. They are brothers-in-law I believe.”
“One other thing has come up in all this. Where does fibrous talc come into?” the Kid asked.
Sam suddenly grinned. “Well it’s not exactly a secret. It’s used extensively in the papermaking process. In the wood pulp process that is. It’s useful stuff and worth it’s weight in gold. But it’s difficult and expensive to get hold off. Not much of it occurs naturally in these parts. And I … .” He glanced at Craig. “Well I use it slightly differently from other papermakers. It gives me my edge. Keeps me afloat when other mills this size wouldn’t be able to compete against larger competitors.”
“And how is that?” the Kid asked.
Sam laughed. “THAT gentlemen is my trade secret. I can tell you it’s a rather complicated formula I worked out which gives a distinctive finish. It’s known only to me and I keep it locked in the safe over there.” He pointed to a small safe in the corner.
Lom and the Kid swapped glances and smiled as the penny dropped. That would explain why the Bulmer brothers thought Heyes could be of use! With that, the visitors got up.
“Thank you Mr Flixton you’ve been a great help.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, what exactly are you investigating?”
Lom looked at the Kid. “Deputy?”
“We think Jeremiah Curry is mixed up in a crooked land deal. There was mention of fibrous talc. When we looked up what it was, it led us on the papermaking trail.”
Sam nodded. “Well if Jeremiah Curry can buy some land that has a large deposit of fibrous talc on it then yes … .” He sighed. “He could hold me to ransom. Like I said it’s very useful stuff and if I can get it cheaper and be assured of supply … .” He left it hanging but they all caught the implication. Another piece in the puzzle fell into place.
Back at Amnesty, Cowdry was sitting with Heyes as promised. To amuse himself he was reading one of the dime novels he had confessed to having and chuckling at the exploits of the hero, Storm Tempest. He had rolled his eyes at the name but conceded having a hero called Colin Watkins probably wouldn’t sell many copies. So ignoring the name, he read on.
“Something funny?” asked a weak voice from the bed.
Cowdry looked up and over at the bed. “Mr Heyes you’re awake.” He got up and went over.Heyes watched him all the way.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Cowdry sir. Mr Curry’s valet.”
“Oh.” Heyes smiled weakly. “Yeah, I remember now.” He swallowed with difficulty.
“I’ll get you some water sir.” Cowdry reached for the jug and poured a glass. He helped Heyes raise his head and let him drink.
“Thank you. That’s better.”
“Can I get you anything else sir? Your wife sir?”
“No, not yet. I need to be more awake to cope with Mary’s fussing,” he said, ruefully.
“She means well sir.”
“Oh I know. I’m not a man who can tolerate too much fussing Mr Cowdry and er … well she’s done a lot just lately.”
“Yes sir,” Cowdry smiled. He understood and sat down. “How do you feel sir?”
“Um,” Heyes frowned. “Not sure just yet. Better I think.” He licked his lips. “Is the Kid around? Mr Curry?”
“No sir. He’s gone with Sheriff Trevors and Mr Carmichael to Hardy City.”
Heyes raised his eyebrows. “What for?”
“They’ve gone to see Samuel Flixton, the owner of the Flixton Paper Mill. Sheriff Trevor is investigating a matter.”
“Oh.” Heyes frowned. “Paper? I was dreaming ‘bout paper.”
“Yes sir. You’ve been delirious sir.”
“Ye-ah, odd thing to dream ‘bout though.”
Cowdry knew it wasn’t his place to divulge anymore. An awkward silence ensued with Heyes looking at Cowdry.
“How’d you get on with the Kid?” Heyes frowned the question, suddenly.
“Sir?” Cowdry wasn’t expecting the question.
Heyes licked his lips. Although technically Cowdry worked for the Kid, they behaved together more as … partners. Heyes found that unsettling but he didn’t know exactly why. He swallowed hard.
“You get on okay together?” He was sharper than he intended.
“Yes sir,” Cowdry smiled. “Mr Curry is a good man to work for.”
“Yeah,” Heyes sighed.
Cowdry hesitated. “If not a little unusual sir. I think I understand his requirements now sir.”
Heyes grunted. “Ha! His requirements,” he muttered. “Yeah he has a lot of them.” He looked at Cowdry. “Good, I’m glad someone is looking out for him in Boston. Stop him getting himself into trouble.”
Cowdry smiled. “I try my best sir. I don’t always succeed though.”
Heyes smiled. “Okay Mr Cowdry I’m ready to go back to sleep now but I ought to see my wife first. Otherwise I’ll never hear the last of it,” he said, rolling his eyes at the last.
“Yes sir.” Cowdry got up. “I’ll fetch her for you.”
As Cowdry left the room, Heyes sighed. That man spent as much time with the Kid as he used to. He understood why that was these days but that didn’t stop the stab of jealousy he felt at the thought. Once they had decided to settle down, with a wife and family, it was inevitable their relationship would change once. Heyes didn’t exactly long for the old days but there were times when he missed having the Kid around to talk with. If the Kid bought the piece of land he was considering, then he might see him more often and that would be nice. Real nice.
Heyes took a deep breath and steeled himself for some serious fussing.
As the three men rode away from the Flixton Paper Mill, there was a number of questions on their minds.
“So there might be valuable mineral rights at Pine Lake,” the Kid started. “That would explain why Jeremiah Curry is so interested in it.”
Craig was mulling over something else. “The Government had a mineral survey* taken all over Wyoming just before it became a state. Perhaps something was discovered then.”
“And Bloodstone would be in a position to know about that wouldn’t he? Being the local agent for the Department of Land Management,” the Kid surmised.
Craig nodded. “He’d have to.”
“Then I’m betting Jeremiah knows it too,” the Kid grinned.
“Yep,” Lom nodded in agreement.
“But if there is valuable mineral rights at Pine Lake, surely the Government wouldn’t want to sell?” the Kid asked with a frown. “Wouldn’t it look to exploit them itself?”
“True but I guess that depends on what it was. As I understand it, the local agent is responsible for scheduling land for release,” Craig shrugged. “If Bloodstone thought he could get away with it … .”
“And if Bloodstone knew there was a significant deposit of fibrous talc at Pine Lake ….” the Kid started.
“And if he also knew that if Jeremiah Curry could secure it … ,” Craig continued.
“Then Pine Lake might just find itself on the next schedule of land for release and a letter might just get written to Jeremiah telling him that. If that letter was mixed in with all the replies to enquires about land, no one would be any the wiser,” the Kid finished, feeling a Heyes-like smugness coming on. “Bloodstone and Curry are conspiring to defraud the government for their own gain.” Then he frowned. He’d mentioned a letter. Would Craig notice?
“Now we don’t know that, er Jones,” Lom intervened, sending the Kid a look. The Kid had told him about the letter and the apparent mix up over the names. He’d noticed and was warning the Kid to be careful. As to the conversation, he could see where this was headed and while he agreed that is what it looked like, as yet, there was no proof.
“So to prove our theory, first off we should find out if there ARE mineral rights at Pine Lake. And if so, are they fibrous talc?” Craig said, seemingly unaware of the Kid’s slip.
“There is no WE Craig. You’re not part of this.” Lom growled.
Craig grinned. “You think?”
“I know,” Lom said, firmly. “This is an official investigation by official officers of the law.”
“And me,” said the Kid innocently and smiled when Lom gave him a look.
“Look back to OUR case. How do we find out about mineral rights?” the Kid asked. “We can’t go and ask Bloodstone straight out. He’s not likely to tell us.” He paused. “Or would he?” He winced.“Awh! I wish Hey.. Joshua was well enough to talk to about all this.”
“Your man, Cowdry is pretty smart. He figured out what fibrous talc was used for,” Lom said.
“Yeah he did.” The Kid frowned thoughtfully. “I like the idea of going to see Bloodstone though. Get the measure of him.”
“They’ll know about mineral rights at the Capitol,” Craig shrugged.
“Ya can’t just waltz in there and ask. Not if it’s secret,” Lom said. “And not without them asking a lot of difficult to answer questions.” He shook his head. “I’d rather keep this under wraps until we’ve got the complete picture. Technically, nothing illegal has actually happened yet. Not anything we can prove definitively anyway.”
“Well there was Cowdry’s kidnap!” the Kid spluttered.
“True but we have the two men responsible for that. The rest is hearsay. Bloodstone and Jeremiah are gonna deny even knowing the Bulmer brothers, let alone admit that they were working for them. The only thing we know for certain that connects Bloodstone and Curry is that they are brothers-in-law and the last time I looked that wasn’t a crime.”
“So what do we do?” the Kid asked. “There’s something wrong here. We can’t just ignore it, Lom.”
“No but this is a way outta my depth, Jones. Thefts, murders and drunken cowboys I can handle but fraud?” Lom shook his head, with a sigh.
“You could bring in Bannerman?” Craig suggested.
“NO!” the Kid and Lom said together.
Craig smiled in amusement. “Okay, just a suggestion.” He paused. “Any reason why you … ?”
He got no further as Lom and the Kid talked over each other to shut him down. The two non-newshounds swapped frustrated glances at their not so subtle dismissal of the Bannerman Detective Agency. Lom knew Craig had sniffed a story here. He doubted he had heard the last of it.
“No, if we’re gonna investigate this, and I think someone should, then we need to find all the pieces of the puzzle first,” Lom said, with a frown.
“And how do we go about doing that?” the Kid asked.
“Well Deputy Jones, ya’re a wealthy man these days, perhaps you oughta make an offer to buy Pine Lake and see what the reaction is.” He shrugged. “If Bloodstone sells it to ya without a murmur then we’re on the wrong track. And I guess we take it no further.” The last he directed at the Kid, in warning.
The Kid nodded. He got it. Don’t do anything rash.
Beside them, Craig frowned. He’d never considered that a man like Kid Curry would listen to anyone else other than perhaps Hannibal Heyes. Apparently he did. Interesting!
If you have ever tried to shout quietly, then you know it doesn’t quite work but that’s what the Kid tried as he walked into the hall of Amnesty. He stood stripping off his gloves.
“Here, sir,” Cowdry said behind him, making the Kid jump.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that!” the Kid said, crossly, then seeing Cowdry had come from the study. “What were you doing in there?”
Cowdry looked guilty. “I’m sorry sir. I thought I’d look to see if I could find anymore references to papermaking or fibrous talc.”
“And did ya?”
Cowdry shook his head. “No sir … but then I’ve only been downstairs ten minutes or so. Mr Heyes is awake, sir.”
The Kid grinned. “Ah, that’s good news.” He glanced upstairs. “Is Mary …?”
“I’ll leave ‘em then. Let’s get some coffee and I’ll tell ya all about my trip to Sam Flixton’s Mill.”
Cowdry grinned and followed the Kid into the kitchen.
When they were both sitting at the kitchen table, mugs of hot coffee in front of them … well tea in Cowdry’s case, the Kid related what had happened.
“You and me Paul are gonna pay a visit to Mr Bloodstone and see what he has to say about Pine Lake.”
Cowdry looked doubtful. “Yes sir.” He hesitated. “Is that wise sir?”
Over the years, the Kid had learnt to pick up on Cowdry’s diplomatic words of warning. Having disregarded them to his cost in their early acquaintance, he now treated them with respect. The Kid considered what to say before he answered.
“Bloodstone wrote to me about Pine Lake. If the Bulmer brothers hadn’t kidnapped you, I wouldn’t know about any of this and I would be going into see him anyway. Now that I know there’s something strange going on here, I’m even more of a mind to go see him BUT as far as Bloodstone is concerned I’m just a perfectly innocent prospective purchaser of a piece of land. I’ve just been part of a mix up over the names that’s all. If he explains and is prepared to consider selling me Pine Lake then … .” He shrugged. “If he says anything else then I’ll know I have a problem and I’ll take it from there.”
Cowdry swallowed. “Will you … .” He looked down at his mug of tea and swallowed. Mr Curry allowed him a lot of slack in their relationship but Cowdry never presumed. Or at least he hoped he don’t.
“Will I what?”
“Take your gun sir? The one you’re … wearing I mean.”
The Kid grinned. “No Paul I won’t be wearing this gun. I’ll almost certainly have that itsy bitsy derringer on me though.”
Cowdry smiled in relief. “How long will we be away sir?” he asked, a perfectly natural question when told Mr Curry was making a trip.
“Couple of days I should think. So pack a day suit and some changes. Did we bring the grey Fisk and Cushing*?” The Kid referred to a favourite suit made by a renowned tailor in Boston.
“No sir, I didn’t think you would be requiring the use of it here. I did bring the grey David Quilley though sir. Just in case.” Cowdry referred to a suit made by a tailor of less distinction.
“Oh well that’ll have to do,” the Kid sighed. He looked disgruntled. He liked his Fisk and Cushing suit and he felt confident wearing it. “Hey! Of course it will do! Don’t want to waste the Fisk on a crook like Bloodstone do we?”
Cowdry grinned. “No sir.”
*I discovered a mineral survey and that gave me the whole idea for this part of the story was published in 1911. However, it is plausible that the Government might have conducted an earlier mineral survey of Wyoming prior to it becoming a State in 1890, just before this story is set.
*I plucked the name from the Boston Business directory of 1890. No idea whether they were tailors of repute but the name sounds good! David Quilley is made up.
Kid Curry and that other fella; Hannibal Heyes and whatsname