As things have come to pass, the Colonel, David J. Crook (US Army Ret.), agreed to assist me in my ambition in return for...modest compensation, as we shall presently see. In return we've completed two stories, dramatizing the extraordinary exploits of the Colonel's legendary organization. Well, perhaps not yet legendary; it shall certainly be so before we are finished. The Colonel and I have struck up something of a remarkable relationship over his telling of these tales. I shall leave you to formulate your own impression of the Colonel as this story unfolds.
I have come to regard him with admiration and affection, though, I must admit, he can be vexing at times. I find myself indebted to him not only for his stories, but also for an amazing possibility come into my life by his intervention. The Colonel took it upon himself to introduce me to his attendant, Miss Penny O'Malley. He did so out of the irascible conviction he might not live long enough to see me speak for myself. That is quintessentially the Colonel. He is an incorrigible tease who feels perfectly permitted to barge into any private affair without regard to social convention or the least consideration for proper restraint. He did, of course, gain the desired result. My relationship with Penny has grown to the point where, given the contents of the package under my arm, I've come to think of a more permanent state to our relationship. My relationship with Penny that is.
On this particular Saturday, the nurse stationed in a spacious, pleasant reception hall greeted me with her usual conspiratorial smile.
"She is in the refectory. He is on the veranda, I believe. Take your choice."
I smiled. "I'm here to see the Colonel."
She nodded a condescending "of course" toward the veranda. Much as we have endeavored to keep our romance private, clearly we have failed. The Colonel tells me I have only my lovely Penny to thank for that, romance being a favored topic among the gentle sex. If he is right, I fear there is much more here I've yet to understand.
I found him in his usual place, comfortably seated in his wheeled chair at the far end of a sun-splashed veranda looking up to the ragged peaks of the front-range. The Colonel generally sat his chair ramrod straight with an air that denied the ravages of his eighty years. Today I noted he slumped a bit, perhaps having caught him in the act of a nap. Still he preferred the fresh mountain air of a crisp spring day to the stuffy over-warm interior maintained for Shady Grove residents. The only concession he permitted to the cool air—a blanket wrapped around his legs. His thick white hair and bushy mutton chops had yellowed a bit in these past few years, though his watery blue eyes still managed to retain the calm, cool measure of his younger years. He possessed a keen, intuitive wit that distinguished his career as a master investigator and the driving force behind the storied Great Western Detective League. The daring deeds of that distinguished organization and the countless adventures recorded in their case files were etched like a map in the wrinkled features of the man who recalled them all.
I drew up a chair and sat beside him. His breathing was regular deep in his chest. His head bobbed. He blinked. Looked up to the peaks and sensed my presence.
"Robert, is that you?"
"It is, sir."
Of course I wasn't.
He glanced over my shoulder. Satisfied we were alone, he fumbled under his lap robe and produced an empty whiskey bottle. I removed a full bottle from the bulge in my coat pocket and exchanged it for the empty. The matter of his compensation for the week concluded, he hid it in his lap robe. I sometimes wondered if the sole purpose the robe served was the hiding of his contraband whiskey, which I supplied at no small risk to my romantic situation. Strong spirits are strictly forbidden at Shady Grove and chief enforcer of the Colonel's conformance to rules and schedules, none other than my beloved Penny.
"I've something else for you today."
He bunched his moustache under the wrinkled bridge of his nose, curious. "Oh, what might that be?"
I handed him the brown wrapped bundle. He turned it over as if uncertain.
"Go ahead, open it."
He did so, peeling back the butcher paper to reveal a book.
He turned to the spine.
"Wanted: Sam Bass, A Great Western Detective League Case."
He lifted a moistened eye to me. "You did it, Robert. Well done, son."
He'd never called me son before. I must admit, it caught in my throat. A new bit of pride to add to that already accomplished.
"I couldn't have done it without you, Colonel."
"Of course you couldn't, and never forget your indebtedness. Still, I'm damn proud of you. What about our Bogus Bondsman?"
"My publisher is considering it. I hope to hear something soon."
He coughed. "I suppose that means we shall need another story then."
"Indeed. Have you given any thought to one?"
"Not really. Let's see..."