The main room of the Clackamas County Jail was crowded. Wheeler counted seven deputies, plus the sheriff. The sight of all those shiny silver badges almost made him break out in a cold sweat."You need all these men to guard my client, Ed?"
"Got to," Eberly said. "We don't want civilians like you and Mike Ahern involved in gunplay. I'm setting up men inside the building and outside the main entrance, around the clock. We'll keep your client safe until he's either sent back to Wyoming or hung."
"Wouldn't hurt if you posted somebody on the roof, here and across the street, Ed. Set up a defensive perimeter. Better sight lines, and gives your men more room to maneuver. The last thing you want is a fight in this here room. It's not defensible."
"Not bad, Jake. I thought I was the only military man here. Where'd you learn to think like a soldier?"
"Oh, that's easy" Wheeler grinned." I specialize in criminal law. It's all about defense."
"Is Curry calmed down?"
Wheeler became serious. "He's not agitated anymore, but I think he'll be okay for now. Did Sol Cohen examine him today?"
"Yes, sir, he did," Deputy Bennett said. "He was here, oh, most of an hour."
"Good," Wheeler said. "I'll check in with him myself tomorrow, but did he say anything new?"
"Not much, Mr. Wheeler," Bennett said. "He said, make sure Curry don't have any whiskey, because he's de-toxing, and that's hard on his heart. Guess his ticker ain't what it should be."
"No reason to look so worried, Jake," Eberly said. "Nobody's allowed to bring alcohol into the cell block anyway, for any prisoner, without my say-so. He's safe from that, and my men here will make sure no lynch mob gets anywhere near him. He'll have a quiet night."
"Oh, good," said Wheeler. "I know I can rely on you and your team, Ed. Wouldn't want Curry to get his hands on whiskey. Yeah, always best to do what Sol says."
"I think so, too," Eberly agreed. "Last thing any of us want to do is go in there to check on him and find his body."
"One more thing, Ed," Wheeler said. "Make sure your boys don't forget, if he's really Curry, he knows how to use a gun. Make sure they're cautious around him."
That comment got the attention of the deputies. Some snickered; others just looked incredulous.
"Mr. Wheeler," Deputy Bennett asked, "Do you really think he's in any state to be dangerous?"
Eberly glared at his team. "That's enough, boys. Bennett, you're not thinking. That's Kid Curry we got back there. Even at his worst, he's more dangerous with a six-gun in his hand than any of you are at your best. The minute I see any of you treating him like he's just some drunk shaking through the d.t.'s, that's the minute you're out of here. Am I clear?" Eberly's determined look dared anyone to disagree with him.
"I'm not so worried about him pointing a gun at some deputy, Ed," Wheeler said. "I'm more concerned about him pointing it at himself."
Jaws dropped. Ferris recovered first.
"Mr. Wheeler, are you saying you think he might take his own life?"
There was no trace of his habitual good humor on Wheeler's face. "Curry's not in his right mind. He's saying crazy things, seeing people who aren't there. He even thinks I'm Hannibal Heyes sometimes, and that I'm here to break him out of jail. He was pretty upset when I told him jail's the best place for him, and that he had to go to court whether he liked it or not." He saw Ed Eberly was listening closely. "That's when you heard him yelling at me, Ed. He was mad because I refused to break him out."
Eberly thought for a moment before he spoke.
"Jake, I owe you an apology."
Wheeler was surprised. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm sorry I brought you into this mess."
"My choice to take the case, Ed. Besides," Wheeler said, flashing a good imitation of the old wolfish grin. "You don't see me resigning, do you?"
Eberly laughed. "No, I sure don't. Why don't you go on home and take it easy, and leave us servants of law and order to handle everything."
"Best idea I've heard all day. I'll just collect my coat and my little toy from Deputy Ferris and be on my way." Both Eberly and Ferris looked confused. "I took your advice, Ed, and I wore a gun. "
Ferris made a soundless "oh" of understanding and moved to a locked cabinet to retrieve the gun. Eberly's eyebrows rose almost to the ceiling.
"I thought you were more dangerous with a gun than without. Isn't that why you told me you didn't carry one?"
Wheeler accepted the holster from Ferris. He was too tired and too preoccupied to see Eberly noticing how he checked the gun almost absent-mindedly, and the quickness and ease with which he buckled the holster around his shoulder.
"Yes. I'm no gunman. But you and Mike and Sam over at the saloon, and anyone else I see, keeps telling me I need to be more careful. I like to save my arguing for court, so I gave in, and now I'm carrying this peashooter in my armpit. Makes me feel like a damn fool, but I'm doing it."
"Uh huh. Well, it's good to know you listen to expert advice. Remember, your experience is practicing the law, not tangling with it." Eberly was feeling that itch of curiosity again. Something didn't fit here, but he'd be damned if he knew what it was.
"Don't I know it," Wheeler said. "Thanks, boys, for everything. Can you have Curry ready to go to court at 9:30am? He's not due till 10:00am, but it'll probably be a circus around here tomorrow."
"He'll be ready. I'm planning to camp out in my office until this whole thing is done. I don't intend to underestimate Curry, or any of the old Devil's Hole boys who might still be around."
If Eberly wasn't watching his old friend so carefully, he might have missed the shadow that passed quickly over his face. "All the Devil's Hole boys are dead and gone, Ed. The Army made sure of that."
Eberly was shaking his head. "All except one, Jake. Nobody ever caught Hannibal Heyes. He's still out there somewhere. And everybody knows Heyes and Curry were as close as brothers. Even with Curry being like he is, I don't think Heyes will let him hang."
Wheeler adjusted his overcoat and buttoned it up. "That's one thing I've always admired about you as a lawman, Ed. You leave nothing to chance."
"Get some rest, Jake. We'll have Curry ready and waiting for you at 9:30am. You'll have an armed escort to and from the courthouse."
"Just make sure the back door to this place is locked, and that the rooftops are clear. It won't matter how many lawmen surround us, if a single gunman can get off a clear shot."
"Don't worry, Jake," Eberly said. "I'll take care of it. Go home. Tomorrow's going to be a busy day."
"Thanks again, Ed. Gentlemen."
Wheeler stepped out onto the street and took a deep breath. He leaned back against the door and closed his eyes. God, he was tired. All he wanted to do was crawl back in his bed and sleep for a week. He couldn't do that, though, as good as it sounded. Unless Hwei-Jean was there, that is. The thought about crawling into bed with her brought a small smile to his face.
Voices from across the street brought him alert. The crowd had grown, but seemed to be ignoring him. He pulled his coat higher around his neck and tucked his cold hands into the deep pockets for warmth. Time to go home. He had a lot to think about.