Howdy, folks. My name’s William Bonney. Most of you prob’ly know me as Billy the Kid. ’Course, that was back in the days when I was alive, over a hunnert years ago. Now I’m dead, shot down in my prime by that snake-in-the-grass Pat Garrett. But that’s a whole ’nother story.
Now, you might be wondering how a dead man can be telling you this story at all. I don’t reckon I can explain it neither, but the long ’n’ short of it is this—I’m a ghost. Sorta stuck between two worlds.
I spend most of my time in the ghostly realm, listenin’ to all that hootin’ and wailin’, but ever’ so often I get called back here to the world o’ the livin’. Don’t know ’zackly how it happens, but when I get here, there’s usually some sort of job for me to do, some livin’ person who needs my help. I guess I got some atonin’ to do, on account o’ the men I shot while my boots was still walking on solid ground.
Anyhow, near’s I can tell, this time I been called to help solve a mystery. A murder mystery. Now, how’d I know that? Well, when I got yanked from the ghostly world, I found myself floatin’ in this here hotel room. Then I seen him, that feller on the floor. Looks like he’s sleepin’, only, he ain’t. He’s dead.
And I believe the person I’m here to help is about to walk through that door. He’ll be the one wearin’ the badge.
Sheriff Benjamin Martine waited outside Room 314 of the Sagebrush Hotel while Elsie Doaks, the manager, fumbled with a huge cluster of jangling room keys. Ben shifted his weight from one foot to the other, anxious to get inside and see the crime scene. This was his first murder since becoming sheriff three years ago. Silver City, New Mexico was tiny and off the beaten path, so there wasn’t much crime, at least not of the serious variety. Most of his time was spent on minor traffic violations and domestic squabbles and the like.
Elsie finally swung the door open, and Ben stepped inside. The first thing he saw was the body, a large man, probably in his sixties, sprawled on the hardwood floor in his pajamas. The second thing he noticed was a steam iron, lying ominously a foot or so from the dead man’s head.
Ben took off his Stetson, revealing a full head of black hair, worn long, the traditional Apache way.
Well, whaddaya know? I can’t b’lieve it. The sheriff’s an injun. My how times has changed in my ol’ home town.
Ben was a full-blooded Chiricahua Apache, quietly proud of his heritage, and equally proud to be the first Native American sheriff of Grant County. He smoothed his hair back and replaced the hat.
“The maid found him just like this,” Elsie declared. “She screamed like a banshee and ran downstairs lickety split. Didn’t touch a thing.”
“Good,” the sheriff answered. “Perfect.”
He squatted and looked carefully at the man’s head. There was a large dent in it, triangular in shape, obviously the cause of the man’s death. It roughly matched the pointed end of the steam iron on the floor. The wound was ugly, swollen and purple.
“His name is Hollis Bellweather, Sheriff,” Elsie offered. “Come in a couple days ago. Said he’s a college professor.”
Ben nodded. He’d already met Professor Bellweather. On the day he’d arrived in Silver City, Bellweather had walked into Ben’s office and announced that he was researching some old land grants in the area. He’d be doing some snooping around and wanted to make sure the sheriff knew he was on the up-and-up.
Ben glanced around the room. He spotted a wallet and an empty water glass on the nightstand. He took a look in the closet. Nothing remarkable. “Okay, I guess that’ll do for now, Elsie. Let’s seal off the room ’til the state police get here. They’ll be handling most of the investigation. I’m just the point man.”
He started toward the door when a sudden gust blew the window open. The wind rushing under the bed churned up a small cloud of dust, and a cigarette butt skittered across the floor, landing at Ben’s feet.
That was me who done that, folks. Billy.
“B-r-r-r-r,” Elsie shivered. “That’s a mighty chill wind for July.” She closed the window.
Ben used a handkerchief to pick up the cigarette butt. He studied it for a moment, then put it in his pocket.