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The Unfortunate Incident at Cottonwood Falls

by J. R. Holland

About the Author: J. R. Holland's unpublished manuscript, Alice Roosevelt and the White House Gunfighters, is a finalist for the 2023 Killer Nashville Claymore Award.


The Aitchison, Topeka and Santa Fe lurched into the Cottonwood Falls station, clanking and hissing, belching a cloud of coal dust. Virgil prowled closer to the depot, puffing on a hand-rolled cigarette and watching the train grind to a halt. 

A stout lady of about seventy years stepped gingerly onto the platform, waving away particles of grit and unfurling an umbrella. Virgil sighed with relief—the only one getting off the train was Old Lady Barnaby. Once, Virgil hated the boredom of Cottonwood Falls; now, he welcomed it—in fact, his life depended on it.

Virgil sauntered by the doddering old bag, who frowned at him. Virgil smirked and flicked his smoldering butt at her swirling petticoat.

Virgil’s heart fluttered, and he took a deep breath and hesitated. He rambled down main street, still on the alert for strangers, and then stopped at the five-and-dime and grabbed a newspaper from the counter. Teddy Roosevelt grinned on the front page, his mustache bristling. Virgil stared at the headline, slowly mouthing the words: “President Smashes Railroad Trust.” 

The store manager chortled and pointed. “I got picture books over there.”

Virgil flushed and reached into his coat pocket. The manager ducked behind the counter and clutched an oak plank. Virgil hesitated—now was not the time to get thrown in the hoosegow. He tossed the paper on the counter, gave the manager his best dead-eye look and ambled away. 

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