The Louis L'Amour Lost Treasures Project

Sheriff Hackett
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"“What would a stranger be doing out here in the middle of the night? Where would he be going? How did he even know this road was here?” . . .


(Fragment of a crime story)

     The body of the unknown man lay sprawled on the rocks forty feet below the lip of the canyon.  They scrambled down the steep path some fifty yards up canyon from the body, and then walked back.

     He was or had been a man of fifty or more, slender of build and with almost white hair.  His clothes were neat, but worn.  The butt of a single action Colt showed above his waist band and his coat was thrown wide. 

     “Nobody from around here,” Sheriff Hackett said.  “He must have walked right off that abutment where the bridge used to be.  It was almighty dark last night.”

     Eric Monaghan, the new editor, being young was expected to keep silent, but he said quietly, “This was no accident.  This man was murdered.”

     Hackett was patient but worried.  “Now, now, Eric!  Don’t try to stir something up where there’s nothing to stir.  You can see plain as day how he walked off the bridge abutment.  Anybody might do it in the dark, not knowing the bridge was out.”

     “You said yourself he was a stranger.”

     “What’s that got to do with it?”

     “What would a stranger be doing out here in the middle of the night?  Where would he be going?  How did he even know this road was here?”

     “The boy’s got a point, Sheriff,” Doc said, looking up from the body.  This old road goes only to the Old Shinbone Mine and it’s been out of use for years.  Nor is there any shelter from the rain that a man might be hunting.”

     Hackett was no authority on criminal investigation and he could sense trouble ahead.  “Murder,” he said anxiously, “I wouldn’t know where to start.”

     “My idea,” Monaghan said quietly, “would be to begin by finding out how he arrived in town.  Did he see or talk to anybody?  Does anybody know him?  Did he ask directions from anyone?”

     “I’ll perform an autopsy,” Doc said, “and it could be an accident, but one of these lacerations on the skull looks several hours older than the others.  Of course, that’s open to argument.”

     Monument was a three street town below the towering butte from which it took its name.  It was a supply point for three small mining ventures, several dozen ranches and farms, several jackass prospectors and a few men who worked leases on mining claims.  The permanent population came to two hundred and seventy people and by noon most of the adult population had viewed the body of the unknown man. 

     A few facts appeared.  The dead man had arrived on the bus at ten past five and had gone at once to the Monument Café where he ate ham hock and cabbage, drank three cups of coffee and smoke a pipe.

- End of Fragment -


COMMENTS:  This is not much of a fragment, vastly less than those contained in the Lost Treasures books, but I thought I would include it here just to comment on an interesting sub-genre that Louis contributed to in the 1940s and '50s; Western Noir. Long before he was known as a writer who wrote primarily frontier fiction, Louis penned a fair number of hard boiled mysteries set in the desert Southwest, often they were based around the mining business but not always. The last one was in 1966, The Broken Gun.




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