“Does it always rain this much around here?” Jack whined.
“Not all the time,” the old-timer said from his rocking chair under the porch. “Usually just when Yankees come to visit. Don’t think God likes Yankees.”
“Well, I don’t like Grey Backs or the Godforsaken State of Missouri.”
“War’s been done a long time, son. You shouldn’t hold grudges.”
“Sounds like you do. Against Yankees.”
“I guess you might be right there. Never did the South no favors. Just come in and took what you wanted, when we didn’t have nothing left to give. But you still took what we had. ’Course, it didn’t help that Missouri couldn’t make up its mind which side to be on.”
He turned to look at the fields, rolling towards St. Joseph ten miles away. The rain misted the view, beat on the porch, ran down Jack’s neck. The old guy was in a reverie.
“So,” Jack said loudly, clapping his hands, trying to find some cover by the chair, “do you have it?”
“Have what, young Yankee?”
Jack softened his voice. “Why, Bob Ford’s gun.”
“You mean the cowardly Robert Newton Ford’s New Model Number 3 Single Action .44 calibre Smith & Wesson revolver that he used to murder Mr. Jesse Woodson James on April 3rd, 1882, right here in St. Joe, at 1318 Lafayette? By shooting him in the back?”
Jack sighed. “Yes.”
“I’d have to think about that.”
“You seem to know a lot about it.”
“Why, everybody does! That gun brought down one of Missouri’s greatest sons. Should’ve been melted down.”
“Do you say that about Booth’s derringer that killed Lincoln?”
“No, sir. That is a Southern artefact.”
“Has Ford’s gun been destroyed since it was stolen?”
The old-timer blinked slowly, smiled. “You know, it could do a lot more good — for certain people — if it was preserved. For history, you understand?”
“And someone paid a lot of dollars for it?”
“Who stole it from the museum?”
“Maybe it just got mislaid. I’m certainly not privy to its provenance since Ford gave it to Sheriff Craig’s son and it found its way to the museum.”
“But you know where it is now?” Jack tried not to sound too wanting, and failed. “Come on. You contacted my employer. Said you knew its whereabouts.”
A long silence while the old-timer gazed at the rain. The wind cut through Jack’s coat. He wished he had anticipated the weather.
“You know how old I am, son?”
“I’m eighty-four. I was born April 6th, 1882, three days after Jesse was killed by that scum. I saw that gun in the museum. Couple years back. Then it vanished.”
He stared at Jack, rain pouring from the bill of his battered forage cap. “How bad you want it, Yankee?”
“I can offer forty thousand dollars. Cash.”
The old man was enjoying his power. “Keep going.” His hand made an upward motion.
“Forty-two five.” Still upward. “Forty-five.”
“Fifty thousand. Top offer.”
“Let me get this straight. You’ll give me fifty thousand dollars for a .44 Smith & Wesson that could be any gun?”
Jack smiled. “It isn’t just any gun,” he said triumphantly. “On the left side of the frame is an inscription. ‘Bob Ford killed Jesse James with this revolver at St. Joseph Missouri 1882’.” His smile broadened. “Missouri is shortened to Mo.”
The old-timer seemed surprised, then nodded respect. “You’re smart, young man, very smart. But that inscription could have been faked. Listen, do you know a Kansas City newspaper had a sworn statement by Bob Ford saying he used a .45 Army Colt?”
“I heard that.”
The old man sighed. “The serial number on the grip frame matches with the gun given to Craig. It’s that damn statement about the Colt that’s a big problem. Yours, not mine.”
“Right! My — my employer’s — problem. He’s a collector, knows about old guns.”
The old man was silent, then: “There’s one other thing could help prove it. I’m guessing you know it…?”
“Charlie Ford recognised the value of that gun straightaway, and he was a lot smarter than his brother. He told Bob to mark it someway special. Bob scratched his initials, R.N.F., one on the extractor rod, one on the cylinder and one on the front sight. You’d have to know how to find ’em. The real trick, to identify the gun for sure, is knowing which letter is on which part. And Charlie made a sworn statement that he helped his brother make the marks and where each one is. That was way before that fancy inscription showed up.”
“That’s what I heard,” Jack lied. “Where’s Charlie’s statement now?”
“With the gun. And a certificate from a handwriting expert that it’s by Charlie Ford.”
Jack tried to look pained. “Fifty grand, then.” Which would give him ten percent of the fifty thousand remaining from his employer’s budget of a hundred thousand dollars. He was happy.
“Give me a contract at fifty thousand and I’ll swear a paper saying I stole the damn thing.”
“I’ll need a couple of days to get everything together. Where’s the gun?”
“You’ll see that when I get your money. Cash dollars.”
“I’ll want to see Charlie Ford’s statement. And the scratch marks.”
“You will, son.”
Jack’s tail lights faded into the rain-mist and dusk. The old-timer chuckled.
They’ll be on there by the time you get back. Stupid Yankee!
Richard Comerford is a retired lawyer. He has published a novel and several short stories on-line, and is working on a second novel.