Wyoming Territory 1870
“If you will pardon me, miss, you sure are real purty.” The young soldier was smitten and making no bones about it. “Would your pa allow me to come courting?” he asked in a hoarse voice as the stagecoach rolled along at a good clip.
PJ smiled at the young man who had to be several years younger than her, but said politely, “No, sir, Papa wouldn’t permit a soldier to court me. He would be afraid I would fall in love with such a handsome man, then you would get transferred to somewhere remote and he would never see me again. Papa wants me to marry and stay close by.”
“I certainly can’t blame your father for that,” another passenger chimed in, then winced when the coach bounced over a rock in the road. “Perhaps he would accept an older, more settled suitor?” he speculated, trying to appear worldly.
“Papa doesn’t want me to marry for at least five more years,” PJ lied smoothly. It wasn’t much longer before she caught the older passenger holding his handkerchief out the window of the coach to signal someone. It was time for action. In an instant her gun was in her hand. “Mr. Johnson, your gun, please.”
“What is the meaning of this?” he sputtered.
“You know what you did. You signaled to the men who intend to rob this coach. I will take your gun so you can’t help them when they arrive. Private, be ready. We may need to shoot our way out of this.” Without a qualm, she struck her prisoner over the head, then let him slump against the side of the coach. “Ed,” she shouted. “Get ready. They’ll be coming any second.”
“Got it, PJ.” The shotgun messenger on the top of the coach answered. He wanted to catch the thieves as badly as she did. It wasn’t long before some men started chasing the coach, firing on them, and ordering them to stop. Ed and Pedro knew what to do; they gradually slowed the stage so that the outlaws could overtake them.
“Yes, now that was real smart,” the leader told them. “Throw down the cash box,” he ordered loudly.
Ed turned around and shoved it off the top of the coach to the ground.
“Put your gun on them, Johnson,” the leader called out as he approached the stage window. Instead of his inside man, he found guns pointed at his gang by a woman and a soldier. “Now, this isn’t funny,” he said.
“It isn’t intended to be funny,” PJ said firmly. “Drop the guns now, or I’ll deal with you as I did Johnson.”
“Who are you?” the man demanded.
“PJ Candy,” she replied, then fired her gun. The leader’s weapon went flying from his injured hand. The other two men dropped their guns and put their hands in the air. PJ handcuffed them and ordered them into the coach. While she guarded them, the private tied their horses to the back of the stagecoach and Ed retrieved the cash box.
“What did you do to Johnson?” one of the bandits asked. “He ain’t dead, is he?”
“No. I tapped him on the head with my gun barrel. He’ll have a headache when he wakes up, that’s all.” She noted the boy’s youth, and the worried look in his eyes. “Are you related to him?” she asked intuitively.
“He’s my uncle,” the boy answered. “He raised me.”
“He will be fine,” she reassured him.
“I can’t believe we let a female get the drop on us.” The leader looked at the other man in disgust. “A darn girl.”
“Don’t you know who she is, Garth? She’s that there detective who’s in the paper all the time. She would have shot us all if we resisted arrest.”
PJ wanted to smile at the man’s tone, but she kept an impassive look on her face. She never judged the men, or women, she brought in. That wasn’t her job. Her job was to bring in whoever she was sent after, so they could stand trial. As a woman, she could get closer to them than other lawmen. She had the ability to appear young and innocent, or worldly and sophisticated, whatever she thought would work best. However, she preferred the jobs that allowed her to dress in her normal attire of jeans, shirt and jacket, with a gun belt strapped around her middle. She normally kept her thick, red hair in a braid that she shoved under her old floppy black hat.
They finally arrived in Casper Falls, and PJ marched the four men to the town’s jail. The sheriff shook his head in disbelief as he locked the gang behind bars. “I certainly don’t know how you do it, Miss PJ. You gonna sit tight at the hotel while I wire for the reward money?”
“Sure. I need a bath and to get out of these work clothes.”
“Miss PJ, I got me a question. What does the PJ stand for?”
She looked at him, smiled, then turned and walked right out of the jail. She wasn’t in the mood to deal with her father’s sense of humor when he named her. What man in his right mind would name his daughter Penny when his last name was Candy? Penny Candy. The other kids used to taunt her all the time. Finally, when she was in the sixth grade, the teacher started calling her PJ. It suited; the kids started thinking of her as PJ and not “Penny Candy.”
Now, it helped her get jobs because most people thought PJ was a man. When she showed up, and they had the inevitable fit over her being a woman, PJ did the usual, telling them they didn’t have to pay her unless she did the job she was hired to do. That normally worked to soothe ruffled feathers, except for one man, and he threatened to use a horsewhip to teach her what her place was in the scheme of God’s Plan. PJ took the whip from him, then rode out. She was positive the man wasn’t in his right mind, and her suspicions were confirmed when a friend of hers did take the job. The old man wanted his son brought home where he belonged. The son had married a girl the old man didn’t approve of, and he was working for wages just to be away from his demanding father. Her friend rode on, after he warned the son his father was looking for him.
PJ walked over to the hotel, asked for a room, and that a bath be prepared right away. The clerk nodded, accepted her money, then handed her a key for room twelve. PJ felt sorry for the people who had to carry the tub and hot water to the third floor, but she didn’t argue. She imagined the clerk was giving her privacy and trying to keep her away from the men staying on the second floor of the hotel. As usual, she locked the door. After her bath was delivered, she would put a chair under the doorknob for extra security. Getting a second key to a hotel room was simple to do. She’d taken a few of them herself when hunting for someone. All she had to do was wait until the clerk was on an errand away from his desk, then help herself. It made arresting someone a lot easier if she waited until they were snoring to unlock their door and confiscate their weapon before waking them.
It didn’t take long for the tub and hot water to arrive. Once she’d thanked the young boys for carrying the water and tub to her room, she wedged a chair tightly under the doorknob before taking off her work clothing then settling into the luscious hot water. Her gun was lying right where she could grab it if she needed to, not that she was expecting trouble, but she’d learned not to take chances.
She was just stepping out of the tub when there was a knock at the door. “Yes, what is it?” she replied, her gun already in her hand.
“I have a telegram for you, Miss Candy.”
PJ recognized the clerk’s voice. “Slip it under the door, please. I am just getting out of the tub.”
“Yes, ma’am. The boy said it sounded urgent or I wouldn’t have brought it up right away,” he explained.
“Thank you, sir. I appreciate your consideration.” PJ knew from experience that it didn’t hurt to be polite.
“You are most welcome, Miss Candy.” The clerk walked away, pleased with himself for being so helpful.
PJ dried off, and then did her best with the towel on her wet red hair. It was thick and heavy, taking a long time to dry naturally. She put on her wrapper, and then walked over to where the telegram lay on the floor. She picked it up, ripped the envelope open, and read:
PJ Candy stop I have need of your services immediately stop Come to Pierson Lake as quickly as possible stop Judge Farley Latimer stop
PJ frowned. She’d hoped to spend a day or two resting before the next job, but that wasn’t going to happen. Some hardened criminal had probably skipped jail and needed to be brought back to stand trial. Why else would a judge be summoning her? She dressed as she normally did, then took the time to run a comb through the tangles in her hair before dividing it into two thick braids. She tucked the braids up and under her black hat before putting on her socks and boots. Her gun belt was the last item she wrapped around her slender waist. The holster had been made especially for her by a grateful client and PJ wore it proudly. She grabbed her jacket, stuffing the rest of her belongings into her saddlebags. PJ traveled as lightly as possible.
She checked out of the hotel, giving the clerk a silver dollar for bringing her the telegram so promptly. He sputtered his thanks, and PJ was sure he would remember her if she was ever in need of a room again in this little town. She also found the boy who had realized that the telegram was important and ran it over to the hotel; she gave him a silver dollar too. The boy tried to give the money back, but PJ told him she appreciated good service and insisted he keep it. She then sent a brief reply to the judge telling him she was on her way.
Next, PJ walked to the sheriff’s office. “I have another job, Sheriff, in Pierson Lake. Could you wire the funds there when they arrive?” she asked politely.
“Sure enough, Miss PJ. I’ll be happy to do that.”
She nodded her appreciation, then went next door to the general store and bought trail supplies. She always made sure to pack something just in case. It was better to be prepared than caught out in the open with nothing to eat. Her final stop was the livery. “I need to collect Beau,” she told the stable boy.
“I owe you some money back,” the young man stated.
“No, just keep it on account. I’ll probably be back someday and I’ll need a good place for Beau.”
“I’ll be happy to do that, Miss Candy.”
It was less than an hour after receiving the telegram that PJ Candy was on her way. She liked helping people.
* * *
Farley was furious. How dare that little imp run away from home? She knew he had a heavy caseload right now and couldn’t chase after her. He needed to keep his wits about him to concentrate on being fair to the defendants being tried. His sister was to blame for April’s behavior; if Lottie were alive, he would give her a good paddling and order her to take April in hand. It certainly hadn’t been easy for either of them since April came to live with him. Farley wasn’t used to kids; April wasn’t used to rules and discipline. Hopefully this PJ Candy was trustworthy and would be free to go after his niece to drag her home.
There was a tap on his chamber door, then his secretary walked in with a telegram. Farley thanked the younger man, opening the telegram to read that PJ Candy was on his way. It wouldn’t take long for him to arrive from Casper Falls. His little niece would soon be home, and Farley was going to take a firm hand with her. The girl couldn’t just agree to sign on to take care of other people’s little children to get away from the rules he set for her. His rules were to keep her safe and not one bit unreasonable. No, the problem was the earlier lack of rules set by his sister for the child. Lottie always was flighty and unreasonable. Their father had hoped that marriage to an older husband would keep her in line. It did, until Jake died at an early age, leaving Lottie and April on their own. Lottie had died from influenza a scant three years later, and Farley was the girl’s only living relative. Of course, he agreed to be her guardian, never suspecting that his niece was even more wild than her mama used to be. He knew she was grieving, so he tried to be nice and give her the opportunity to settle in. It hadn’t worked. The girl needed a good spanking.
As he made his way into the courtroom, Farley prayed that PJ Candy would quickly arrive. If he weren’t so damned busy with cases, Farley would go after April himself. The little brat had waited until she knew he was busy to pull this stunt of hers.
Once court started, Farley was all business. One thing he hated more than anything was a divorce hearing and he had one of them to endure later in the afternoon. He wasn’t looking forward to it. In the meantime, it was more of the usual stuff: two drunk and disorderly charges, a gunfight, a boy accused of theft, a property line dispute. He hoped to get them done early so he could clear the divorce hearing today. He didn’t hear many such cases, but even once a year was too much in his opinion. People shouldn’t get married unless they intended to honor their vows. Sometimes, however, there were circumstances that warranted a divorce.
“Sheriff, let’s get started.”
Bob Travers nodded, then called a man’s name and told him to approach the bench. He read the charges, the asked, “How do you plead?”
“You know I done it, Bob. You was right there,” the man answered, then looked at Farley. “I got stupid, Judge. I can handle one or even two beers, but I bought me a bottle, and that stuff riles me up something awful. I wanted to celebrate, but I should have gone on home and celebrated with my wife and kids. I’m real sorry.”
“I’m happy to hear you realize that, Mr. Jones. I’ll fine you two dollars, and release you to go home to your family.”
“Thank you kindly, Judge Latimer.” The man paid the fine and hurried out of the building.
The sheriff called the next man forward. He did nothing but make excuses, blaming everyone but himself for drinking and fighting. Farley fined him ten dollars and sentenced him to a week in jail.
“That ain’t fair! You only give that other guy a two dollar fine and no jail time!” The cowboy was furious.
“Mr. Jones was remorseful, and he accepted responsibility for his actions. You aren’t sorry, and you have blamed everyone but yourself for your actions. I hope this punishment will give you something to think about. Deputy, take this man back to the jail.”
“Yes, Your Honor.” The deputy moved forward, only to have the cowboy give him a big shove.
“I’m gonna to make you pay for this, Judge!” he snarled at Farley.
“Your jail time is now thirty days. Another outburst in this courtroom will make it ninety days.”
This time the deputy escorted the prisoner back to jail, muttering and cursing under his breath. Farley ignored him. “Who is next, Sheriff?”
Two young men were called forward, and the charge against them was gun fighting. “Who wants to tell me what happened?” The two men looked at each other, then one of them stepped forward to speak first.
“We got messed up over a girl. We didn’t know it at the time, but she was leading us both on. She was telling me she loved me, and that Ric was bothering her. She told Ric the same thing about me. We each thought we were protecting her, but we were behaving like damn lovesick fools. We apologize to everyone we put in danger by proving neither of us could hit a target if we tried.”
“Was anyone harmed, Sheriff?” Farley asked. He was relieved to learn the two young men didn’t shoot anyone. “How long have they been in jail awaiting trial?” The answer pleased him. “Have you both learned a valuable lesson?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” they answered in unison.
“Very well. You are both going to walk out of here today since you’ve served two weeks in jail and had plenty of time to sort this out. I do want each of you to pick an elderly widow in town and find some way to help her out. Understand?”
“Yes, sir. We can do that.”
“These men are released, Sheriff. I will want a report of what they did to help.”
“Sure, Judge.” Bob didn’t really have time for what he considered nonsense, but the judge was being fair to the two hotheads. “The next case is Kevin King. He swiped some items from the General Store. Come up here, Kevin, and face Judge Latimer.”
The boy was too darn young to be standing trial. Farley knew the store’s owner, however, and the man was eagerly watching to see how the child would be punished. The judge didn’t like the man. “Kevin, do you know why you are here?”
The boy nodded. “I broke a Commandment.”
“How old are you?”
“What did you steal, Kevin?”
“Some food. My little sister’s tummy was making her cry. Ma didn’t have no money, so I waited until Mr. Cyrus’ back was turned, and I grabbed the fixin’s for a stew. Ma said that was really wrong and very bad.”
“It is wrong to steal, Kevin. Is your ma here with you?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. I am here,” a woman said as she stood up. She was crying and it nearly broke Farley’s heart.
“Ma’am, I don’t like to ask rude questions, but what is your situation?”
“I don’t understand, Judge,” she answered, looking at him pleadingly.
“Where is your husband?” he gently asked.
“He was killed when the freight wagon he was driving went off the road and turned over with him underneath. I can’t get a job anywhere decent. Reverend Foster has helped us some, but Kevin didn’t like hearing Molly cry for food we didn’t have.”
“I understand, ma’am. We’ll see if we can find some honest work for you. In the meantime, Mr. Cyrus, you will put whatever Mrs. King needs on my account.”
“Aren’t you going to punish this boy, Judge?”
“Have you ever been well and truly hungry, Mr. Cyrus?” he demanded. When the storeowner looked away, Farley said, “I didn’t think so.” He motioned for Kevin to come closer. “It is wrong to steal, Kevin. When you need help, you need to ask. Some people might say no, but have a good reason. You just keep asking until someone hears you. Promise me?”
“Yes, sir. I was wrong. Ma told me so.”
“You have a good ma, don’t you?”
“She’s the best,” Kevin said with a big smile. “Thank you for being so nice to me.”
“You’re welcome.” Farley didn’t hear that too often.
“Thank you, sir. You are most kind.” Kevin’s mother was nearly in tears.
“You will get on your feet.” He watched as she wrapped her arm around her son to lead him from the courtroom.
The sheriff nodded to two men. “It’s your turn, Angus and Dooley. Judge, these two both claim the water that is smack between their farms.”
“Do you each have copies of your deeds for me to look at?”
The men handed them to the sheriff, who in turn handed them to Farley. “How long have you lived on your farms?” He got the same answer from both men. “Give me a few minutes to go into chambers and study these. Court is in recess.” He banged his gavel, then went through the door into his office. He poured a glass of water and sipped it as he studied the land description on the first deed. It clearly included the water. So did the second deed. Someone had made a huge mistake. He walked back into the courtroom and called for order. “Gentlemen, we aren’t going to resolve this matter today. Your deeds both include the water in the property description. Someone made a huge mistake, and what amazes me is that it hasn’t been discovered until now.”
“You mean to tell me that Angus’ deed claims the water too?” Dooley asked. “I thought he was lying to me. I’m right sorry for calling you a liar, Angus.”
“I called you a liar too. We were both telling the truth.” Angus actually slapped the other man on the back. “I’ll be darned, Dooley. Ain’t this a joke on us both?”
“What should we do, Judge? We sure don’t want this to be a problem for our boys down the line. Why, neither of them could sell because we don’t know whose deed is right.”
“The way I see it, we both own rights to the water. Maybe we should just leave it like that. We’ve always shared.”
“Yes, we have. Our boys are good friends. We’ll let them know about this, and if either of them needs to sell for some reason, they’ll have to figure out how to make it legal. Sorry we wasted your time, Judge.”
“Just to prove we’s both right.” The men left the court, laughing. Farley looked at the sheriff and smiled. “Let’s take a break for lunch and come back here at one to hear the Jenkins’ case.”
The sheriff made a face of distaste and Farley could see the man wasn’t happy with that part of the day either. Farley went to his chambers and removed his robe. It was a warm day, and it felt good to remove the garment for a while. He walked home to quickly make a ham sandwich and pour a tall glass of milk to go with it. He was hungry.
Farley took his sweet time enjoying his simple meal. He wasn’t looking forward to dealing with the Jenkins couple. The last time he granted a divorce, he’d felt perfectly justified. The husband was the one demanding a divorce, but it was the wife who truly needed the protection of a divorce. He ended up sending the man to prison for hiring four men to commit perjury, to try and convince him that his wife was unfaithful. The husband’s mistress took the witness stand and told the truth. Farley saw to it that the wife was granted plenty of money to live on. He sincerely hoped the case he was hearing today was nothing like that one. Maybe the couple genuinely hated each other. Or maybe they were forced at shotgun to get married.
When he could no longer put it off and still be on time, Farley headed back to work. The noise coming from the courtroom was much louder than normal. He opened the door and walked through, stopping to stare at the people jammed into the room to watch the proceedings. “Sheriff, this hearing is not to be made a public spectacle. If a person is not directly concerned with this case, then please ask them to leave.”
“That is not fair, Your Honor. Our ladies group is quite concerned over this hearing. We feel it is a terrible precedent and should be stopped immediately.”