"Your Pa sure does get around these parts a lot," I said, pushing my hat back and scratching the back of my head. "Do you think maybe he's just heard of the excellent hospitality that the Broken Bow has to offer and is here with his sweetheart for a weekend of romance?"
"My Ma?" said Jimmy, struggling just a little to follow me as he recovered from the shock of seeing his dad's horse in the stable.
"Could be," I said diplomatically. Light dawned on Jimmy's face.
"No Red," he said. "I do not think that it's a coincidence, or that my Pa's here for a constitutional, or even to oversee the rebuilding of the hospital lest dangerous brigands attempt to stable burning livestock there. I think there's plans with plots within machinations going on here, and I'm starting to wonder how I got involved with you two in the first place."
"Have you been reading Ben's dictionary?"
"Never mind, grab two horses and let's get going. So your Pa's here as well, and last time we thought we got him drunk we were nowhere near right, and too close to dead wrong for comfort." Jimmy's hand went to shoulder, though I don't think he realised it. "So despite our generosity with things of a spirituous nature, we're now going to have to assume that no-one's drunk, and that we've probably tipped them off by trying the same trick again. Dagnammit Jimmy, what's the world coming to when people start learning from their mistakes?"
"You and Ben don't," he said, and for a moment I could have punched him. Then the anger passed.
"We do, we're just optimistic we can make them again while the rest of you are trying to learn from them." It wasn't a good comeback, and it showed how rattled I was. We had a good plan, and it was going to be spoiled by the same old Sheriff once again. I opened two of the stalls and eyed the horses in there. Both looked spavined.
"Where's your Pa's horse again?" I said.
Jimmy showed me, and I checked the rest out. They were as big a bunch of broken down old knackers as any I've seen, and Ben and I have ridden a few and eaten a few more. There wasn't even good eating on these horses.
"Someone's playing us, Jimmy," I said. "These aren't the right horses, and your Pa's is right out front there where we'd see it."
"Should I go and warn Ben that we've been set up?" I smiled, it was actually good to hear Jimmy thinking of Ben before the others.
"Not yet, we need to look further. And Ben's on the door, he'll slide away as soon as he realises there's a problem. No-one's got a beef with Suzie or Nate here, and Suzie's talented at turning her coat. Let's have a poke around in this here straw."
One quick pitchforking later and we'd uncovered a second stable-boy half-smothered in the straw with a hessian sack tied over his head and rather tightly round his neck. Jimmy untied the sack and checked if the kid was still alive, and I put the pitchfork where I could get at it if I needed it.
"You sure that's your Pa's horse, Jimmy?" I looked the beast up and down, it was definitely the only one in the stable worth anything.
"Sure as sure, he responds to his name and recognizes me."
"What is his name then?" When Jimmy told me, I laughed. "Your father has a horse called Man? Maybe there's a redeeming feature about him after all!"
"So what now?" Jimmy sounded a bit annoyed, but then I had just been bad-mouthing his Pa again.
"There's no horses to hide here, so where else could they be stabled? We knew Jenkins has got your Pa on side, but pretty much only to keep you safe, and we know how good Jenkins's word is too." Jimmy shrugged, but in his shoes I'd have been angry. "Looks like your Pa's here, so maybe he doesn't trust Jenkins either. His horse is here and the other aren't, so looks like he's not in on all the plans. I think we still need to find those horses."
"You know Greenwood, where would you put the horses?"
"In the fountain. But failing that, me and Ben'd probably just tie them up round the back of the hotel when the manager started drinking."