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Lily's Story
About the Author: John M. Floyd's short stories have appeared in AHMM, EQMM, The Saturday Evening Post, three editions of Best American Mystery Stories, and the 2021 Best Mystery Stories of the Year anthology. A former Air Force captain and IBM systems engineer, John is also an Edgar nominee, a 2021 Shamus Award winner, a four-time Derringer Award winner, and the author of seven collections of short mystery fiction.

The blonde woman in the long red dress rose from her seat, looked over the room, patted her hairdo, and walked up to the couple sitting at a table near the back. “Everything taste good, folks?”

The two diners looked up at her. “Why?” the man said. “Did you cook it?”

“My name’s Lily Hendricks. I own the restaurant.”

“Is that so.” He leaned back in his chair, a slim man in a dapper vest with a watch-chain across the front, and pushed his finished plate away. “What if I told you I don’t like the idea of a woman running a business?”

His young female companion looked away, her face reddening. Lily said to him, “I’d tell you to remember this is the 1890s, not the Stone Age. And that you’re free to leave anytime, long as you pay for your meal first.”

The man stood, sneering, and tossed a one-dollar coin on the table. “Katherine,” he said, “I’ll see you at the hotel.”

The two women watched him march through the front door. In the moonlit street beyond the windows, a horse-drawn wagon rumbled past.

“My name’s Kate Tucker,” the younger woman said, “and I enjoyed my dinner. I’m sorry about … that.”

“No apology needed. I hope you’ll come again.”

Kate stayed quiet a moment. “You overheard us,” she said. “Didn’t you.”

Lily shrugged. “ ‘Overheard’ implies I was spying. I wasn’t. Your friend talks too loud.”

“He’s not my friend.” Kate fiddled with her napkin, then put it down. “What did you hear?”

Lily pulled out a chair and sat. “You tell me something, first. You and that man—why are you here?”

This brought a long sigh. “If you mean here in town … His name’s Harry Luckett. We’re journalists, from Philadelphia. At least he is. I just started. We’re supposed to do a newspaper story on life in the American West. Specifically about the Indians. The managing editor wants a so-called ‘human-interest piece.’ ”

Lily frowned, thinking about that. “Where are you staying? The Hilltop?”

“The Emporium.” Kate blushed again. “Separately. He’s Room 4, I’m Room 6.”

“The point is,” Lily said, “I doubt you’ll be here long. I’m afraid you’re in the wrong area for that story, Miss Tucker. This is California. Not many Indians around here anymore.”

“We found that out today. But in the process”—Kate lowered her voice—“we were also told the outlaw Angus Boone is here, right here in town. Got here yesterday.”

“And that’s part of what you were arguing about.” Lily studied her a moment. “Right?”

Kate seemed to hesitate, then said, “Harry and I have … different views on a lot of things.”

“How do you even know for sure Boone’s here?” Lily asked. “Supposedly nobody even knows what he looks like.”

“We don’t either. We only heard the name mentioned. And that he’s staying at our hotel.” Kate looked nervously at the door. “Harry asked around but couldn’t learn anything more. The desk clerk wouldn’t tell him which guests were where. But,” she said, “there’s a row of pegs for the room keys and Harry could see that only five of the hotel’s ten rooms are occupied. Since we’re in two of them, he snuck around outside the other three hoping to get a look at Boone, and heard voices in one of the rooms. So he put his ear to the door.”

“That’s a good way to get shot.”

“I never said he was smart.”

“Go on,” Lily said.

“Well, one of the people in the room—a woman’s voice—addressed the other person as ‘Angus,’ and the gist of the conversation was, the bank here will be robbed, tomorrow morning. They talked all about the plan and the money and such. Harry probably wet his pants, listening.”

Lily paused, thinking that over. “And …?”

“Then he ran back, all excited, and told me about it. He says he’s going to cover the robbery, maybe even try to take a picture from a distance—we brought a camera—and interview everybody afterward. He said an on-the-spot story like that, about a famous criminal, would run in newspapers all over the country.”

“So … you’re saying he doesn’t intend to do anything about it.”

“To prevent the robbery, you mean? No. Harry wants it to happen. In fact I think he’s even hoping there’ll be a shootout, and casualties.”

“There won’t be. I’ve heard Angus Boone’s never killed anybody, in his holdups.”

This story appears in our MAR 2022 Issue
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