Major Steve Sullivan leaned back in his chair his eyes drifting from the scruffy individual sitting on the edge of his desk to the crestfallen face of the young man seated on a camp stool to the front of them.
“Well, Tim, what an unexpected pleasure,” the unkempt man said, lowering himself from his perch.
“Mister Devlin,” Tim Schendel acknowledged without raising his head.
“You two know each other?” Sullivan asked.
Devlin nodded: “You could say that. Young Tim there has been in and out of trouble that he’s bloody lucky not to see the inside of a prison.”
Kyle Devlin had been an English policeman who had served, on loan from the London force, with the New York Metropolitan Police. Now he had been seconded to the Union Army tasked with upholding the law and dealing with deserters in garrison towns.
“Well, Tim, this time you are in serious trouble,” Devlin pointed out. “You’re listed as a deserter and, by rights, you should be stood in front of a firing squad. However, you just done something that, to my knowledge, no other deserter has – you bloody well surrendered. Why?”
Ever since he had seen the burnt out house Tim had feared the worst. He had chosen not to ride in closer as he did not want to see Sam’s charred corpse amongst the ruins. It was as though his life had ended and guilt flooded through him. The least he could do was to clear her name.
Having rehearsed what he would say in his mind the last person he thought he would be confessing to was Kyle Devlin.
Taking a deep breath he recounted everything that had occurred from the discovery of the broken down wagon to the point where he had encouraged Sam to desert with him. Every so often both Kyle and Sullivan would probe for a little more detail until they had a full picture.
“Right – you’re telling us that Graydon knew that Corporal Darnell was, in fact, a girl?” Kyle pressed, thoughtfully. “Despite that you claim that he was going to declare her as a deserter. For what reason, do you suppose? There are no women serving in this army.”
Tim shook his head: “He asked me if I knew and I said that I didn’t. He just grinned and said that when we caught her we could have some fun with her first. I couldn’t let him do that – so I got Sam out of there.”
After almost an hour of intense interrogation Tim was thoroughly drained. Nervously, he glanced up as Devlin strode by him and summoned the guard detail. First, he ordered the Corporal in charge to take Tim to the infirmary for the old wound to be checked. Then to the Quartermaster to have Trooper Schendel re-equipped.
Only when everyone had gone did Sullivan pour himself a glass of bourbon and light up a cigar. He focused on a streamer of smoke floating ghostlike across the room before expressing his feelings.
“I don’t know what you’re thinking,” Sullivan stated. “But Canada is out. We have no jurisdiction.”
“Well, I can’t let those Darnell boys get away,” Devlin shrugged. “They killed that Government agent and claimed that he was a deserter. It could have been a case of mistaken identity except there’s a matter of a missing money belt and five thousand dollars. Nor is that the only robbery linked to the Darnells.”
“If the girl’s alive,” Sullivan, emphasizing each word with a stab of the cigar, was quick to point out. “She’ll side with her brothers.”
Devlin was well aware that was a possibility just as the skeptic in him felt that the burning of the Maybelle house was just a ruse to throw pursuers off the scent.
“That’s where young Tim comes in,” Devlin explained. “Hopefully, giving Sam the news that she is in the clear the whole family will come back. Even so, Tim will still be a deserter because he did the right thing the wrong way.”
It took a while for all the factors to sink in before Sullivan burst out laughing.
“You’re one devious bastard, Kyle Devlin,” he nodded. “Schendel is bait – except you are about to recruit him and give him legitimism. He’s going to love you when he discovers that he’s a policeman.” Before adding on a serious note. “There’s still the question of Graydon. Have you thought about what could happen if he and Schendel run into each other?”
“Graydon isn’t going after a deserter,” Devlin was quick to point out. “He’s chasing down a woman – ergo he has deserted his post and that makes him fair game.”
Living on the rough streets of New York had taught Tim many things – the most important was knowing who your friends were. Sure Officer Kyle Devlin was his nemesis but the policeman had always been fair. With this in mind he had known that there would come a day when Devlin would not be able to help him so Tim had escaped from New York’s stranglehold. He had to smile at his current predicament and who was there? Devlin. And now they were heading to Canada together.
“You know we’re being watched,” Tim mentioned while fixing his saddle.
Devlin nodded for he had been conscious of the lurker half-hidden in the shadows.
“Doesn’t leave you does it,” Devlin grinned as he mounted up. “The stuff that keeps you alive on the streets just doesn’t go – life depends on those instincts. You either become a criminal or -.”
“I got the message,” Tim shook his head in amusement. “You were going to say policeman.”
Devlin just nodded.
“Just so that you know,” Devlin advised throwing Tim a meaningful look. “You’re off the deserter’s list – for now. But you are under my command and I have to be alive for that to be permanent. In the meantime we’ll need to watch our backs because I’m a bit suspicious about that Sergeant’s interest in us.”