"The Death of A Legend"

Disclaimer:CIMARRON STRIP is the sole property of Stuart Whitman, Inc.
Christopher Knopf's original characters have been borrowed strictly for fun and not for fortune.

"The Death of A Legend"
By Ross7

Chapter One

U.S. Marshal James Crown awoke with a start, blinked his blurred vision into focus, and then lay there, in the early morning light, holding his breath...trying to pin-point the exact cause for the sudden disruption of his much needed sleep.

But the gentle rustling of a lacy, white curtain--in a breeze from an open window across the room--and the quiet clattering of a wagon--passing by in the street below--were the only sounds his straining ears could detect. Still, someone--or something--had disturbed his reveries.

His right hand started reaching, instinctively, for the holstered gun slung over the cornerpost at the head of his bed.

Then he heard it--a timid 'tap-tap-tapping' on his door.

The lawman let his arm drop back to his side. In fact, his entire body untensed and he drew one long, deep, relaxed breath--which he released with a grimace and a groan. Every muscle, every joint, every bone in his back and shoulders still ached with fatigue. One thing was certain. If just breathing was gonna cause that much discomfort, he was nowheres near ready to rise and shine.

Maybe if he just ignored it...his drooping eyelids closed. But the timid 'tapping' continued. So he cleared his throat and called out rather wearily, "Yes, Dulcey..."

"Jim?!" a young lady's muffled voice called back from out in the hall, "I have something for you! I think it may be important! Are you decent?!"

'It had better be important,' Crown told himself, 'real important...' As for her questioning his decency...well, it was much too early in the day for him to be making any snap moral judgments. "An' that's debatable..." he muttered to himself.

The Marshal drew another even longer, even deeper, even more relaxed breath--which escaped as an exasperated gasp. "Yeah...hold on," he informed the girl. "I'll get the door."

He stretched and moaned and yawned and groaned, and raised his eyelids, repeatedly, and finally won the battle to keep them raised. Then he rubbed a rough hand over his grimy, unshaven face and reluctantly informed the remaining members of his protesting body that--ready or not--it was time for them, too to rise an' shine. Well, to rise, anyways.

"Sorry to disturb you," the girl continued, as he slowly slid his legs over and off the bed. "I know you just got in a few hours ago."

His boots hit the floor and he very stiffly--and even more painfully--brought his five-foot-eleven-and-a-half inch, fully-clothed frame to its feet. "That's quite all right," he assured her. "If I were ta spend more than three or four hours in a horizontal position, my backside wouldn' know how ta handle it."

"Actually," Dulcey's muffled voice went on, "I wasn't quite sure if I should wake you or not. I mean, what seems important to me, may not seem important at all, to you."

Crown got a few remaining kinks out of his neck and back and then limped over to lift a solid-steel bar from two solid-steel brackets bolted to his doubly-thick door's solid-steel door posts. (A little something MacGregor had had installed to, as the Scotsman put it, "Prevent the Marshal from bein' mer-r-r-r-der-red in his sleep." )

The knob finally turned and the door finally swung open to reveal a young woman in her early twenties with straight, straw-colored, nearly waist-length hair--parted down the middle. The rest of the girl's features, while not stunningly beautiful, were very attractive, and she was definitely considered--by the patrons of the Wayfarer's Inn, and the rest of the male population of Cimarron, Crown included--to be a pretty little thing to look at, indeed!

Her soft-blue, deep-set, darting eyes finished their inspection of the Marshal and her slight smile turned quickly upside-down.

Far from being indecently exposed, she found the man to be completely clothed! The fact that he had obviously been sleeping that way was, to her, an indication of the extreme degree of his exhaustion. "I'm sorry, Jim. You must be terribly tired. I knew I should have let you sleep in. I knew it! It's just that, well, Fort Dawes is such an awfully long ways away and I was sort of counting on you being here tonight--for Francis' welcome home party. So I thought that if you were to get a real early start, you could still make it back in plenty of time for the party tonight."

Crown didn't comment. He just stood there in the doorway, giving the long-winded girl--and the bundle of freshly-laundered clothes in her arms--strange, confused glances. Surely she hadn't just woke him up from a sound sleep to give him his laundry and discuss the distance between them and Fort Dawes...or had she?

Dulcey noticed the looks--realized what he must be thinking--and brushed quickly past him and into the room.

She set her parcel down to pull a crumpled slip of paper from one of the lacy front pockets of her lacy, white apron. "This came for you late yesterday afternoon," she announced rather glumly and reluctantly handed the terribly-tired-looking man, who had turned around to face her again, his possibly important message. "I wish it hadn't come. I wish I could've let you sleep in."

Crown took the telegram and stood there smiling down at his concerned little mother hen.

But Dulcey didn't see his smile. She was too busy frowning down at the floor and fidgeting with the ivory-colored cameo pinned to the tall, lacy collar of her pretty, pink, gingham dress--all trimmed in delicate white lace.

'Everything about her is lacy', Crown thought to himself. 'She looks about as out a' place in Cimarron as a cactus would in Boston.' He gave the lacy little lady one last smile and then reluctantly turned his attention to the matter in hand.

'Attention: US Marshal, Cimarron.
Just thought you should know. Major Blakesly has determined that
the murder of John Two Rivers is not a military matter, after all.
Advise you come and claim your prisoner before Blakesly decides
to set him free.
Lieutenant Mark Anderson, Fort Dawes.'

"Not a Military matter!" Crown shouted, giving vent to the rage that was seething inside him. "John Two Rivers was a full-blooded Comanche!"

Since the U.S. Government refused to acknowledge Indians as U.S. citizens, Indians had no legal or cival rights. Any--and all--legal issues concerning Indians were strictly military matters! The civil courts held no jurisdiction in such cases. The civil authorities had no jurisdiction in such cases.

But Crown hadn't let that little legal technicality stop him from bringing in John's killer. Especially since the Army hadn't shown any great interest in doing so. Especially since John Two Rivers was an old acquaintance...and good friend.

Now--it wasn't bad enough that the Major had rendered Crown no military assistance with the capture--no, now the jack-ass was about to release the cold-blooded murderer, claiming the Indian's death was not a military matter!

'Damn the Major for sellin' out!' Crown thought bitterly. 'An' damn 'Mister' Roger Mareck for doin' the buyin'!' Roger Mareck--the very thought of the man was enough to cause the Marshal's jaw muscles to tighten, his head to ache, and his stomach to turn.

Mareck--and the horde a' hard cases that traveled with him--had descended upon Cimarron one bleak Tuesday afternoon a couple of weeks back. The affluent Easterner pulled into town--on his own private railroad car--and promptly proceeded to purchase people and property that had--previously--not been for sale.

By the time Crown got back from one of his routine rides around the circuit that evening, Mareck had already turned the top floor of the Cimarron Hotel into his own private residence. The bottom floor was now--of all things--a law office, complete with lawyers.

Thelen's Mercantile was transformed into a gambling hall--complete with black-jack dealers, resident card-sharps and ladies of the evening. Breyer & Son's Bootmakers & Saddlery had become a surveyor's office--complete with civil engineers.

Rumor had it that a ridiculous sum of money had been paid for these properties.

The 'Cimarron Land Development Company' was formed, literally, overnight. The very next day, it attempted to buy out businesses which were not for sale at any price--no matter how ridiculous.

Company employees then tried to convince these property-owner hold-outs to be reasonable, and to reconsider their company's very generous offers.

It was the method these employees employed--extortion and intimidation--that brought about Crown's first encounter with the man who insisted on being called 'Mister' Mareck.

Being a firm believer in the adage that 'A fish stinks from the head down', the Marshal was not looking forward to his meeting with the head of the 'Cimarron Land Development Company'.

Sure enough, true-to-form, Roger Mareck reeked...really reeked.

After reading some of the complaints that had been filed against his employees, Mareck tried to convince Crown that there was no need to investigate these absurb allegations. They were both reasonable men. Certainly they could come to some kind of an understanding.

Crown had everything he could do to keep from flooring Mareck right then and there. It really galled him that this man actually believed that he could just sail into Cimarron and put his brand on anything--or anybody--his greedy little heart desired.

The three over-grown goons that Mareck employed as his personal bodyguards may have been the determining factor as to why the Marshal chose to hit the man with a little cold, harsh reality, rather than his fists.

At any rate--and for whatever reason--the lawman rounded up the men directly responsible for all the threats and violence and threw them in his jail. Then he loaded them all onto the train and hauled them all over to Hardesty, where they--and their lawyers--appeared before the Territorial Judge.

Crown had more than enough eyewitnesses, sworn depositions and physical evidence to get a conviction. But--before he could present any of it--the Dishonorable' Theodore S. Rutgers dismissed all the charges against the defendants. They--and their lawyers--beat Crown back to Cimarron.

That brought about Crown's second encounter with Mareck. At which time, Mareck made a condescending little 'I tried to warn you' speech and appologized for stepping on the Marshal's toes. Mareck said that he realized that Crown was probably used to running things pretty much his own way. But that--because the Marshal seemed like a such a reasonable man--he shouldn't have too much trouble 'adjusting' to the coming 'changes'. In fact, Mareck was still quite confident that the two of them could come to 'some kind of an understanding'.

Crown overcame his absolute amazement at the man's galling arrogance and assured Mareck that there were going to have to be some 'adjustments' made all right. Then--bodyguards or no bodyguards--his right fist came to 'some kind of an understanding' with Mareck's left jaw.

The Marshal backed out of the ensuing scuffle behind the smoking barrel of his Colt, leaving at least two of Mareck's right-hand men temporarily left-handed, and the third in a daze...like his boss.

Crown tried to notify Washington about the situation which was rapidly developing in the Strip. But none of his wires or other forms of correspondence seemed to be reaching their destinations.

Either Mareck had bought off all the U.S. Mail handlers--and telegraph operators--in the entire Territory...or someone in Washington was running interference for him.

The lawman suspected a little of the first two--and a lot of the latter.

Cut off from Washington--and any hope of outside help--it appeared the peace officer would have to cope with Mareck and company on his own.

That was, up until a week and a half ago, when the editor of 'The Boston Globe' suddenly entered the picture and allowed the lone lawman to make another adjustment.

By summoning Francis Wilde--full-time Deputy U.S. Marshal and part-time free-lance reporter--to an important business meeting with him in Boston, the man provided Crown with a safe, alternate means of getting a message through to his superiors. His deputy would deliver his report in person, stopping off at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. on his way back from his meeting in Boston, Mass..

The chance for yet another adjustment came the day after Francis' departure, when Crown discovered that some of Mareck's civil engineers had strayed across the Cimarron River and were surveying choice property sites in the still 'off limits to whites' Indian Territory.

Normally, the Marshal would simply have rounded up the surveying party and brought them before Judge Rutgers. Normally, Rutgers would have dealt harshly with them--issuing stiff fines or jail sentences, or both--normally.

Crown adjusted to the change by taking the trespassers deeper into Indian Territory, stashing them all in an abandoned mine shaft in Adrian's Canyon, and leaving them there--under special guard--for safe-keeping.

The 'Cimarron Land Development Company', however, had a seemingly endless supply of civil engineers and surveying equipment. It wasn't long before they were back in business on the wrong side of the riverbank.

While half of Mareck's horde was off surveying--the other half went back to slapping the citizens of Cimarron around again--for their continued refusals to sell out.

It was clear to all concerned that 'Mister' Mareck's latest strategy was to DIVIDE the Marshal's attention AND--thereby--CONQUER the Strip.

When the homesteaders from the Settlement just south of town heard about Mareck's surveying parties, they went on the war path! Why was the Marshal shirking his responsibilities by allowing such unlawful activity?

When the Territory finally was thrown open to settlement by whites, the information these surveyors were busy gathering would allow Mareck's horde to make a beeline for the Government's Claims Office.

While Mareck's men were busy registering all the choice property sites, honest homesteaders--like themselves--would still be running around staking claims--claims that would be useless with 'Mister' Mareck already holding the deeds!

Crown then brought it to the homesteaders' attention that he was being kept plenty busy protecting the citizens of Cimarron from unlawful activity, and that it was the Army's responsibility to keep sooners--and surveyors--out of the Territory.

'Then, why was the Army shirking its responsibilities?!' they demanded.

The Marshal told them that he was more than a little interested in getting the answer to that question, himself.

When Crown brought it to Major Blakesly's attention that it was the Army's responsibility to keep sooners and surveyors out of the Territory, the Major brought it to the Marshal's attention that, if such unlawful surveying were, in fact, being carried out, his patrols would have reported it.

Lieutenant Anderson had then brought it to both his C.O.'s and Crown's attention that, just that morning, John Two Rivers--and several other Indians residing in the Territory--had rode in and reported finding surveyor's stakes. Also—by the Major's own orders—no patrols had been allowed to leave the Fort for the past week.

After dismissing the Lieutenant, the Major dismissed the Marshal with the assurance that the matter would be checked into. It was no secret that the Major didn't care much for Crown.

It was also no secret that Crown held the same high regard for the Major...and his assurances. So the Marshal decided maybe he'd better check into the matter himself--on his way back to Cimarron.

When the Marshal rode out to John Two Rivers' place, he found plenty of surveyor's stakes all right. But they were no longer precisely staked in the ground. Someone had pulled them all up, broken them in two and placed them in neat little piles--to burn.

He found that someone lying face down in a shallow ravine not far from his home. John Two Rivers had been dragged to death behind a horse--a horse with a twisted left front shoe.

The Marshal tracked that horse back to Cimarron and found it tied out front of the former Cimarron Hotel...which brought about his third encounter with Mareck.

Crown barged in on Mareck, his bodyguards--and the horse's rider--unannounced, and another scuffle ensued...which brought about a three inch long crease in the lawman's left forearm.

While the Marshal was busy holding Mareck's bodyguards at bay, his fugitive escaped--out the back way.

Which brought about a five day manhunt. During which, Crown tracked his quarry--Clifford Earl Tanner--through some of the roughest terrain in the entire Territory.

The Marshal eventually caught up with the cold-blooded killer--and was in the process of spiriting him off to Adrian's Canyon--when an Army patrol intercepted them and relieved him of his prisoner. That was yesterday morning.

This morning, he was being greeted with the alarming news that the Army--or at least Mareck's branch of it--might be releasing his prisoner, period!

Hopefully, he would get to the Fort in time to prevent that miscarriage of justice from occurring.

Speakin' a' time...

Crown crossed back over to the chair beside his bed, to where he'd tossed the one article of clothing he'd somehow managed to shed--before his pillow hit his head. He dug a watch out of his vest pocket and flipped it open. It was too early in the day to be noon and too light out to be midnight, he quickly concluded, and realized he hadn't remembered to wind the thing in days.

He turned his attention from the non-ticking timepiece back to the bringer of such important, but bad, news and unclenched his gritted teeth just long enough to fire off a quick question, "What time is it?"

Dulcey seemed both relieved and worried by the Marshal's reaction to the telegram. She had obviously done the right thing by waking him...or had she? She noticed his dark-green eyes were narrowed into angry slits and his jaw was tightly clenched. He now appeared to be more infuriated than fatigued. "U-uh...it's barely six. Why?"

But Crown's only reply to her inquiry was another quick question of his own. "Is Mac awake yet?"

"Uh...no. Do you want me to wake him for you?"

"No-o!" Crown stated emphatically. He'd left MacGregor in charge of things during his absence, and the town was still standing. Also, he hadn't found any reports of any deaths or serious injuries on his desk when he returned. Which meant that the Scotsman had been working hard--around the clock--for the past five days...which meant that his deputy was probably every bit as tired as--if not more tired than--he was...if that was at all humanly possible.

He finished winding and setting his watch and slipped it back in his vest pocket. "No," he repeated, pulling on his vest and strapping on his gunbelt. "Let him sleep."

He took his hat, his tie--and the fresh change of clothes she'd just brought him--from the top of his dresser and then quickly stepped out the door. "But you could wake Mr. Winsom," he informed her, his words and his boot heels echoing off down the hall, "an' have 'im send a reply off ta Fort Dawes for me," he added as the girl caught up with him at the head of the stairway.

"No-ow?" Dulcey wondered uncertainly, and skipped down the stairs two steps at a time in an attempt to keep up with the once again in motion Marshal.

"Yes! Right now! You were right. This is very important. The reply should read: Attention Major Blakesly Fort Dawes. Clifford Earl Tanner is wanted by the civil authorities in this Territory an' three other states. Will be arrivin' ta take custody of my prisoner this afternoon. Request military escort from Fort Dawes ta the depot in Hardesty. U.S. Marshal Cimarron.' You got that?" he stopped to inquire of the young lady tagging along at his heels.

Dulcey was following so closely that she nearly collided with the suddenly stationery figure standing before her. "Uh...yes. And where will you be?...in case there's a reply."

"I'm goin' ta go get cleaned up. If Mac wakes up, tell 'im I'll meet 'im back here for breakfast aroun' seven." Crown tossed his hat on his head, tipped it politely to the girl and turned to leave. "Oh, an'," he suddenly remembered something else and swung back around to face her again, "could you send someone over ta the livery an' have 'em ask Charley ta saddle me a fresh horse?"

But that wasn't the something else Dulcey had hoped he'd remembered. "Don't worry, Jim. I'll see to it personally. Your horse will be tied right outside by the time you get back," she assured him, trying hard to hide her extreme disappointment.

But Crown caught the disappointment in her voice and saw it on her rather forlorn-looking face. "Look, Dulcey, I'm sorry. You prob'ly have a lot a' other things ta take care a'. I kin--"

"--No!" Dulcey interrupted, sounding a bit horrified that he'd completely misread the reason for her disappointment. "No, I want to help out. Honestly! I don't mind. It's just that, well..."she hesitated. "It's like I said before. What seems important to me may not seem important at all to you..." She hesitated again--as though she were expecting him to make some sort of a reply.

" Excuse me, but..." the Marshal's face scrunched up a might and he squinted down at the glum-looking girl in complete confusion, "...did I miss a part a' this conversation?"

Dulcey's disappointment gave way to exasperation. "The party tonight! Remember? I told you how much I was counting on you being here tonight..." she paused again--as though she again expected him to make some sort of a reply.

So he forced himself to make one. "Well, then I'll jes' have ta see what I kin do ta oblige you," he stated diplomatically.

But the girl remained glum and he realized it was obviously not the reply she was looking for. So he forced himself to make another one. "I do think yore party is important. Believe me, no one is gonna be happier ta see Francis back here--safe an' sound--than me. An', if his trip back East was as successful as I hope it was, well...we're all gonna have a real cause for celebratin'. All except Mareck an' his crowd, that is..." he added icily, his voice trailing off.

Dulcey noticed the Marshal's eyes flashed with anger and his jaw was tightly-clenched again. "Then you are planning to be here tonight?" she inquired hopefully. "I have your word on it?" she added, giving him a rather pleading, desperate look.

Crown's angry expression softened some. 'So that's what this is all about!' She didn't just want a reply, she wanted a promise.

Well, the girl was right about one thing. It was an awfully long ways to Fort Dawes all right, and he had no idea what little surprises Mareck might have waiting in store for him along that long ways.

Dulcey knew he didn't give his word lightly. She knew he only made promises that he was sure--or, at least, pretty sure--that he could keep, and he wasn't the least bit sure about tonight.

He saw that his hesitating was causing her to look glummer than ever and quickly came up with a promise that he was one hundred percent sure he could keep. "I give you my word that I will do everything within my power ta make it back here in time for yore party tanight."

The girl looked thoughtful and then just a tad bit less glum.

"I'm sorry, Dulcey," the lawman apologized, "but that's the best I kin do...under the circumstances."

Dulcey looked even more thoughtful and then flashed the Marshal a smile. "Well, we'd better get a move on then," she stated almost cheerily. "It sounds like we both have a very busy day ahead of us," she added and handed Crown her apron.

Then she stepped out the front door of her Inn and headed off down the boardwalk in the direction of Mr. Winsom's--and the livery.

No doubt about it! She was going to have to have one of her little 'talks' with the Marshal's horse.

Crown stared after her, looking both amazed and amused. Why, the girl could change moods almost faster than he could draw. 'Was there anything more mystifyin' than a female?' He thought not.

He gave his mystified mind a quick shake, then tossed the apron onto a table and disappeared out the door himself--in the opposite direction.