Finding Hope
Chapter 15 - Entrapment

By the time the stranger had finished the third shot that Bonnie'd snuck him, he was convinced that the only thing Bonnie needed protection from, like everyone else in the saloon, was Bonnie. She draped herself over every hapless fool that walked in the place, and heavens above if the man looked like he had even half a rusty copper coin to spare, because she did her best to charm a fella out of it.

Once he realized he was on his way to starting up a second bottle (and that the bartender was on to both him and Bonnie), the stranger knew he had to get some distance between himself and the pretty saloon girl. He went outside, hoping for a bit of fresh air, and saw that the law was out in force. Just what he needed. He hid his eyes as best he could below the brim of his hat, and watched quietly as several badged men walked up and down the street. One of them looked at him, looked right at him, but he made no particular moves towards him either way.

The stranger'd had enough, though. He returned to the safety of the bustling saloon, and settled himself in for a couple of rounds of blackjack. When he'd managed to win himself a couple of dollars, he paid for his drinks, right in front of a pouting Bonnie, and then asked her, "Key?"

"I was gonna take care of your drinks for you, Jimmy. That's part of our arrangement, remember? No harm comes to me, and you get a safe haven with whatever you need."

"Does the barkeep know that?" She kept silent, and the barkeeper snorted loudly before moving away to deal with another customer at the far end of the bar. "Thought not," the stranger said. "You can still buy me dinner. Just make sure it's paid for before I get it, huh? Now, about that key?"

"Oh, fine. You're no fun, sugar." She fished a gold chain out of her ample bosom, and held it out for the stranger to deal with. "Come get it." From the chain hung several odds and ends, and he recognized one of them as a hotel key. He sighed and settled the trinkets back in the nest of bust, while he struggled to free the key from its little golden prison. He managed to get the thing free from the chain without sending all her other charms sliding to the floor, and he gripped it tightly while struggling to relatch the chain. It was warm from its cozy resting place in her breast. She smiled wolfishly at him the whole time. "Wait up for me, Jimmy?"

"How else are you gonna get in?" He didn't bother to listen to her giggly answer, but turned and stalked out of the saloon and up to the room number etched on her key.

Bonnie's room was just like the one he'd rented the previous night, except hers was littered with the ridiculous trappings of a vain and messy woman-child. The stranger kicked aside last night's dress and picked his way through an alarming number of undergarments to get to the chair by the window. There was a cigarette case on the window sill, and the morning news paper in the chair, and a near empty bottle of bourbon with a clean shot glass at the foot of the chair. The setup was almost charming, like it had been waiting there just for him. He grimaced, and wondered how many plastered men Bonnie'd had protecting her all day and night, and scooted the booze away with the point of his boot.

The cigarettes were too good to resist, though. He had no memory of ever enjoying a cigarette, but he must have done so before... before, because he lit up and sighed in near the ecstasy that only comes to a man whose been separated too long from an expensive and unnecessary habit. He settled into the chair and smoked the whole thing down, before lighting another and finally turning his attention to the paper.

Though he read the paper slowly, he finished while the sun was still high enough in the sky to bathe the room in a warm, firey glow. He had an awful lot of time left to kill before he could start looking forward to dinner. He supposed he could go back and check on Bonnie, but he was tired of drinking, and her idea of free meals seemed to consist mostly of riling up the bartender while she ordered too many free drinks. He looked around the room for something else to to pass the time, but all he found was Bonnie's junk tossed all over the room. With nothing better to do, he began stacking her junk in neat little piles, putting like with like, until the furniture was visible and the bed looked like a place someone might sleep, rather than a giant sideways wardrobe. Still, the room looked bizarre, not really cleaned up. Might be better to get some of the undergarments into one of the chests of drawers, out of sight.

He opened one of the drawers, and was shocked by its contents. He found no fewer than five gold watches, a handful of silver rings topped with what looked like real diamonds, and loads of cash. He opened another drawer, and found several gold chains, a number of strung pearls, and three or four purses stuffed to the gills with more cash. Undergarments forgotten, the stranger began going through the rest of the bureau, where he found more of the same. One particular gold piece caught his eye - it looked an awful lot like one of the pieces some fancy dressed fella at the tables had been wearing as a tie pin.

Bonnie didn't need protection. It was Bonnie's stash that needed protecting - either by a big tough guy to keep any other thieves away, or a foolish patsy to take the fall if the law started sniffing her out. Maybe both.

Whatever the case, the stranger had no intention of working anybody over for stolen goods, and he damn well didn't intend to get throw on a chain gang for some saloon girl's slight of hand. He slipped out of the room, and headed towards the back, looking for a set of back stairs. Hang the hotel. He could find another blacksmith, or maybe he could find some rancher passing through the heart of town who was short a ranch hand. Hell, that blackjack game had put a little cash in his hand. He could buy a horse, and hit the trail before anyone even noticed he was gone.

He got as far as the street. When he emerged from the alley between the saloon and the building next door, he was unpleasantly surprised to see the beautiful spotted horse in front of the Town Hall again. A man with a badge stood talking to a thin man, who was petting the horse absently. The stranger stared, enraptured, as the horse snuffled and made a move as if to cross the street to greet him. The lawman and the fellow petting the horse turned to look at him, and the stranger gasped: it was the father of the child who'd fallen from the tree. And here the stranger stood, in full sun, so everyone on the street could get a good, clear look at him.

The stranger turned and walked back to the front door, hoping he didn't look particularly nervous, but it didn't matter. There was already another lawman at the hotel desk, talking to the clerk who'd checked him in last night. Off to one side, a third lawman spoke to both the morning desk clerk, and Bonnie, whose face was tight with fear and anger.

Bonnie suddenly cried, "There he is!"

The stranger froze, and the lawmen whipped around, drawing on him. The stranger's hand twitched, but the badge closest to Bonnie drawled, "Don't wanna kill you, son." He was a wizened old man who looked like he'd been around to watch Moses part the Red Sea, but his stance was firm and his gun hand was steady.

The stranger's gaze slid over to where Bonnie stood behind the oh-so-concerned deputy. She no longer looked fearful. Maybe a little smug, maybe a little naughty. Oops her face seemed to say.

The stranger's face held a foul message all it's own, just for her.

"Turn around," the other badge toter said. The stranger obeyed, and he held himself still while unfamiliar hands searched for hidden weaponry. "Alright," the deputy said. "What's your name, friend?"

The stranger hesitated. They'd shoot him dead if he told them what the Wards were calling him. "I... I don't know."

"Now, listen, boy, lying won't help," the old deputy said. "We all know you was in the girl's room, we all know you was trying to get a job close to the rich folks that pass through town, and we all know you showed up same time as that spotted horse, who was run near to the ground. So how about you just go on and come clean and tell us your name, son?"

Because I don't know it! But what good would it do to say that? Even if he could explain what he was doing in the girl's room, even if he said he had nothing to do with the things they were going to find (if they hadn't already) in her room, there was still the horse. Horse theft could get a man's neck broke. And none of it would wipe away the suspicion of robbery.

The stranger hung his head. "Take me to jail," he said quietly. The lawmen sighed, but there was nothing they could do about his silence, not out in town. They cinched him up in iron bracelets, and ushered him out at gunpoint.

Chapter 14
Chapter 16

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