Dave P. Fisher                        
Author & Western Humorist

Double Diamond Books                      
  
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Monthly Feature
    
 In this scene Virgil Creede has his first encounter with the female assassin, Bella Preist, on a riverboat out of New Orleans.
                                       
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Virgil opened his eyes some time later and listened without moving. The curtained window glowed with daylight. The only sounds were the hum of the below decks boilers and the wheel churning in the water. He glanced at the door to see that the bells still hung as he had set them.

Voices were coming from the deck outside his room. Pulling his watch out of his pocket, he saw that he had been asleep for over three hours. He spun the little wheel at the top of the watch and wound it until it stopped and pushed it back in his pocket. Swinging his feet to the floor he sat up.

His clothes were stuck to him with sweat and he could hardly breathe for the closeness of the humid heat filling the little room. He needed a drink of something cold, and above all to get out of the south and back to the mountain breezes of Montana. He swore he’d never come back down this way again, at least not in summer.

Opening the door, he was met with a breeze coming off the water. It wasn’t a cool breeze, but it was moving air against his sweat-soaked shirt and it offered a bit of cooling. He scanned the deck to his right and left but saw nothing of the bowler hats. Closing the door he put his guns back on, covered them with his suit jacket, and left the room.

Making his way to the salon he entered the room. The lights, turned low, shone against the brass and woodwork of the finely decorated room, yet he could see everything and everyone plainly. Four polished poker tables occupied one end of the room with each of the sixteen chairs occupied. Tables for drinking and conversation were in the space between them and the highly polished bar with an ornately framed mirror reflecting the bar patrons.

Virgil stepped up to the bar, placed his foot on the shining brass rail, and ordered a glass of beer. The barkeep poured the beer from a draught and scraped the foam off with a knife. Virgil dropped a coin on the bar and drank half of it in one gulp.

The barkeep grinned at him, “New to the South?”

Virgil grinned back, “How can you tell? Does my looking like a drowned dog tip you off?”

“You look pretty uncomfortable.”

 “I’m originally from Atlanta, I forgot how awful the heat down here was.”

“It takes a while for it to grow on you. Stick around a while, you’ll readjust.”

“I don’t want to readjust. I just want to be back in Montana.”

“Down here on business?”

Virgil nodded, “It got a little complicated on the way out.”

“I heard.”

Virgil stared hard at the man before he spoke again, “You heard what?”

“I’m a friend of Eugene and Hugon, we’re cousins actually. Name’s Troy. They sent me word about what happened, and to keep an eye on your back.”

Virgil nodded his understanding. “They are good folks.”

“I noticed you already met Bub and Barn. We call them the BB boys.”

“Bowler hats, look like they lost a spelling bee to a pig?”

“That’s them. A pair of thugs who get paid to beat people up in back alleys, or throw them off of riverboats.”

“I already told them to stay away from me or they’d be the ones going overboard.”

“The ones you have to watch out for is a husband and wife team. Axel and Bella Priest. They get paid to kill men. They have a pattern they like to use to set a man up. Bella gets cozy with the mark and eventually seduces him. Axel just happens to catch them together in the mark’s cabin, and in a rage of passion shoots the man. She claims rape, he’s justified in shooting the man, and they walk away having fulfilled their assignment and smelling like a rose. They are slick and they are on board. No doubt for you.

“Will I see them together?”

“Yes, until she breaks off to set you up. They will be dressed to the teeth, he will have on an expensive suit and she will have on a dress that allows enough to show to get attention. She’s got red hair and about normal height for a woman. They will be here this evening. I’ll point them out to you.”

“Thanks for the tip.” Virgil downed the beer and asked for a second.

Troy refilled the glass and set it down in front of Virgil. “Hugon told me what you did to Olivera. I wish I could have seen that. Olivera was the most obnoxious man I have ever met in my life.”

“Mister three names from the court of Spain?”

Troy huffed a cynical laugh, “Truth is he was banished from the court of Spain and deported to New Orleans. Heard he was a Carlist who wanted Queen Isabel off the throne. Guess she didn’t care for him hanging around.”

“Yeah, he was pretty full of himself.” Virgil finished the second beer. “Thanks for filling me in on the Priests. I’ll come back this evening and you can point them out to me.”

Leaving the salon, Virgil took another walk around the decks. In the stern of the boat he spotted the BB boys talking with a well-dressed man. He sat down on a bench against the wall and watched them. He figured the man had to be Axel and he was obviously familiar with Bub and Barn. Four-to-one, he needed to thin the odds down a bit. The boys had to go.

Returning to his room, Virgil dug a book out of his bag and settled down on a bench outside his door. It was too hot to stay in his oven of a room. He spent the afternoon between reading, watching the shoreline go by, and keeping an eye out for the three men. He still had no idea what Bella looked like except she had red hair.

The sun had dropped toward the west casting the boat’s shadow across the river in front of Virgil. He pulled his watch and checked the time. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast and was feeling the need to eat. Standing, he stretched his stiff muscles and reentered his room putting the book back in his bag. In the several hours he had sat in place numerous people passed him, but not the three men he now knew. He wasn’t hard to find so they were deliberately avoiding him, no doubt so as not to give away the plot before starting act one of the Axel and Bella play.

He left his room and headed for the dining room, after that Troy’s bar.

An hour later Virgil strolled casually into the salon. Stepping up to the bar he took a beer from Troy. “They show up yet?” Virgil asked.

“Not yet. I’ll let you know.” Troy moved back and forth along the bar filling glasses.

Leaning on the bar Virgil watched in the mirror that provided a full view of the room behind him. Several minutes passed before he saw a well-dressed man and woman enter through the salon door. He recognized the man as the one he had seen talking to Bub and Barn. The woman with him had to be Bella. She was indeed an attractive woman who knew how to use her feminine charms to lure a man right into his grave. They took a table in the corner of the room where they could see in all directions.

When Troy passed Virgil asked, “Is that them, back corner table?”

Troy casually looked the room over and then picked up Virgil’s glass. “That’s them,” he whispered. “How do you want to play this?”

Virgil grinned, “By throwing a skunk right in the middle of their stage.”

Troy grinned in return, “I want to see this.”

Virgil leaned his right elbow on the bar and looked directly at Bella. “She’s a looker alright,” he remarked to Troy.

“I won’t argue that point,” Troy replied.

Virgil watched the pair as Axel ordered from the waiter. Bella was visually scanning the room, then her search passed over Virgil. Here her head stopped moving and she briefly met his eyes. Bella flicked her eyes away, her lips moved in speech, and then her eyes went back to Virgil. She then gave him a sensuous smile. She was setting the stage already.

Pushing off the bar Virgil walked directly toward the two. Bella made a quick remark to Axel and then returned her gaze to Virgil, losing none of the expression meant to lure him in. Axel pretended not to see him.

Virgil stopped at their table. Bella continued to look at him with a coy tip of her head. Axel acted a bit startled as he turned his attention to Virgil. “Yes? May I help you?”

Virgil pulled out a chair opposite the pair, with Bella to his right, and sat down.

Axel showed indignation, “Excuse me sir, this table is taken and you have not been invited.”

Virgil rested his forearms on the table and leaned forward. “Let’s cut right past the theatrics and get to the point, Axel and Bella.” He couldn’t help but smile at their shocked expressions. “You are looking for me so I’m going to make it easy on you and save a little time here.”

They were not accustomed to having their mark come to them and call their hand. It was supposed to be a carefully orchestrated play ending in the usual manner. He was not playing by their rules. Axel began to stammer out something in regards to having no idea what he was talking about.

“Don’t even say it,” Virgil advised Axel, “it makes you sound like the BB idiots. I can see you’re both upset by me ruining the plan. You have the same expressions Olivera had when he found out I wasn’t playing by his royal court rules,” he locked eyes with Axel, “or those of the conniving southern gentleman.”

Bella broke in, “Sir, you . . .”

“I’m talking,” Virgil cut her off and then smiled at her, “ma’am.”

“That was rude!” Axel snapped.

Virgil gave Axel an incredulous look, “It’s too late for the act, Axel. I know all about the offended southern gentleman. I came from a prominent southern family filled with slimy people wearing false slimy smiles just like you two, so I recognize it, okay?” He turned his attention to Bella, “You have the face and the charms that could make a man cut his own throat. I’m not that man. I’m not interested in being seduced. You were hired to kill me and I’m not going to play nice about it.”

If Bella’s eyes were hot pokers she would have burned a pair of holes clean through him. She was furious to the core that what she was had been called to her face. Her emotions were something she wore too close to the surface and they could be easily ignited. Axel ground his teeth in rage.

Virgil turned his eyes toward Axel, “Why don’t you and I head to the back of the boat and get this out of the way now?”

Axel held his fury in check. He shook his head, “You are deranged, sir. Perhaps, a vacation in the country, or a sanitarium for the insane, would do you some good.”

It was the reaction Virgil had expected. They certainly weren’t going to jump up and confess like a sinner at a revival meeting. He knew his directness had the intended impact though, the woman’s eyes said it, as did Axel’s locked jaw. They would have to change their plan now, and people set in their ways didn’t like to change horses in mid-stream. They would have to come up with something new, and quickly. Such hastily laid plans seldom have the desired outcome.

Virgil stood up. “There, my cards are on the table. Last man not overboard wins.”

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