Classical Villainy 

Excerpts


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That evening, back in Durango at the Narrow Gauge Saloon, on College Drive by the tracks, Leadfoot and Ernie enjoyed minor celebrity status. By tradition, they had to stand their conductor and brakemen to a round, for having jostled all the passengers so much, but they were the recipients of many more rounds than they paid for because everyone was interested in hearing the story. They both had agreed to Annette's request to keep to the basics and to leave out many of the details of what they'd seen, and, as their rapt audience asked more and more questions, they became increasingly adept at mumbling noncommital answers into their beers.


Despite its location just across the street from the General Palmer Hotel, the Narrow Gauge was too traditional a saloon to appeal to the tourist crowd, and the locals preferred it that way, dark and smoky, with only country music on the juke box. Its proximity to the depot made it a favorite with the railroad workers, and the usuals were a tight-knit bunch. Strangers, however, were not unheard of, this being an area of town crawling with tourists at all hours, and the locals had learned to tolerate their eccentricities and to ignore them.


At the far end of the bar, sitting with his face in the shadow of the four-inch brim of a new-looking, hand-made O'Farrell Roper with an expensive concha band, one such individual had just put away a cellular phone and was ordering another iced tea. Smitty the bartender hadn't asked questions when the previous such orders had been specified to arrive in an old-fashioned glass; he really didn't care and it increased his margin anyway. He'd been at the other end of the bar, listening to Leadfoot and Ernie, so he hadn't been aware of the phone conversation. Even though he was adept at deciphering telephone conversations from the single side he eavesdropped on, this one would have seemed unusually difficult. Mostly, the guy in the hat had spent his time listening. But then, there was the comment that "they're saying that she was lying there dead on the tracks."


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Lance Riggins always managed to be near the front of the pack at press conferences, so he had, in fact, been in one of the TV shots on the News at Ten. That had all happened earlier in the afternoon, and he was now nursing a third margarita, rocks, at the Narrow Gauge Saloon, taking stock of the situation and trying to think of a way to get the proverbial scoop. That his little ruse hadn't worked on the police investigator bothered him not in the least. In contrast to his colleagues, he had only a single story per week to write, and his next deadline was still three days away, so he wasn't too worried. Moreover, he had a research staff to do the background work on the dead violinist's biography and other information. He hoped that they would come up with something juicy, so that whatever he managed to write could be cast into appropriately lurid headlines.


His single idea so far had been to call back to the Gazette's office in Atlantic City to request that they send out, as soon as they could manage it, a model who resembled the victim as closely as possible (except, he'd instructed, find one who'd look way voluptuous in bra and panties), so he could stage a photograph. It could be run without a caption, and readers would automatically assume that it was real, even though there would be a subtle and indirect disclaimer buried in the text of the story. It should be easy to get a model willing to be made up appropriately and to lie down on the tracks in underwear, dirt and splinters or no. The persuasiveness of money, and all.


But ideas based on fact were harder, because the facts were so few. That police department spokeswoman, Amy what's-her-name, hadn't responded to his leading questions, so all he had�all anybody had, really�was a dead body found on the tourist train tracks. And he'd not been able actually to take the train ride to see the location, because the Silverton was booked all summer well in advance and he'd arrived in town only a few days ago.


He noticed a familiar figure entering the bar and tried to hide under his big hat.


"Well, if it isn't the Lanster. Sitting all alone in the haze. How come you're not hard at work on the Big Story?" The voice of Eddie Walker informed Lance that his attempt at hiding had failed, and he knew there would be no graceful escape. "Come on over here to a table. And I'll buy you another drink. I hate sitting on bar stools. What's that in front of you, a marg?"


Walker's personal aspect ratio was about as close to 1:1 as a person could be and still walk, and he had enough bad experiences with under-designed bar stools to make him prefer a chair. Or two, if they were available. He worked for one of the networks�Lance could never remember which one�as an investigator and sometime cameraman, being too unphotogenic to appear on camera. But he was good at investigating, and Lance knew he could profit by buddying up to Walker, as unpleasant as it might be. At the very least, he knew that his chances of picking up any of the local single women would be nil with Eddie around, so he might as well pump him for information.


"So, Eddie, what have you guys found out lately? Any new news?" Walker and several other broadcast news investigators were kept busy feeding the bottomless appetite of the television audience, and they occasionally came up with something of interest to Lance's readers. And because the Gazette was published only weekly, the TV people didn't consider it competition.


"Naw. Just a dead French woman. Who plays violin. Lying on the railroad tracks in her underwear. Died of a broken neck. Maybe sustained during a fall from the rocks above the tracks, maybe not. Just arrived in town the day before. Was supposed to play a concert on Saturday. How she got to the location is up for grabs. But you know all this too, huh?" As out of shape as Walker was, it would be several days, if ever, before he would adapt to Durango's altitude and be able to speak in complete sentences. Despite deep breaths between clauses in this small speech, he was panting for air. "What I don't know is why we're all here. Talk about the sticks. Jesus!"


"You know what we need, Eddie, is to get a train ride up to the location, somehow. Have you looked into a charter, or anything? I know you got helicopter footage, but we really need to stop and walk around. And it didn't look like anyone was going to land a chopper anywhere near there."


"That damned train is all booked up for weeks. We tried, but we can't get them to add cars. Or extra trains or anything. Cops must have them under their thumb, or something. Say, I've been meaning to ask you. Where'd you get that hat, anyway? Makes you like John Wayne or somebody."


Lance grinned. "Local coloring, figured it'd help me blend in. There's a custom shop just around the corner. It cost a bundle, but that's the beauty of expense accounts. And it keeps the sun off." Lance was sensitive about getting any more freckles on his bald spot. "Maybe we can figure out another way to get up there. I checked out the train, too, and it looks like it runs only during the daytime. So the tracks are just sitting there all night, with no traffic. I've seen pickups with train wheels on them�maybe we could borrow one."


"Right. And be sitting ducks for getting arrested. When they find it missing. But maybe you're onto something, there. Maybe we could just rent a jeep and drive up the tracks. Not on the rails but on the ties. Of course, we need to know where the body was found pretty closely if we're to find it in the dark." The last, longer, sentence had Eddie gasping.


"Now there's an idea. You leave finding the body to me. See if you can rent something big and comfortable, like one of those Grand Cherokees, or something. It'll ride better and there will be plenty of room for you and for your camera, or whatever you want to bring."


Neither of them had reason to pay attention to the figure at the next table under the O'Farrell Roper--a black version of Lance's new hat--with the concha band, doing a lot of listening to the cellular phone he held to his ear.


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