The Enigmatic Door

Other submissions by MoulinP:
If you want to read their other submissions, please click the links.
The Elusive Key (Mystery & Cozy Mystery, Book Award 2023)
The Embezzlement Ledger (Mystery & Cozy Mystery, Writing Award 2023)
Book Award Sub-Category
Award Category
Golden Writer
Book Cover Image
Logline or Premise
He has a dilemma and as dilemmas go, his is a big one.
First 10 Pages

Chapter One

Bronze Canyon, a small town in the territory of Wyoming, early May 1884

"What do y'mean, busting into my home in the middle of the night?" Fooks said, struggling into his pants and flicking his unruly hair away from his eyes. Really must get that cut when I get time.

They'd prodded him from the deep sleep which had claimed him. Though it was dark, recognizing his two nocturnal visitors was easy. Their builds and hushed voices were distinctive, but the clincher was their smell, a mixture of musty canvas jackets, stale tobacco, and unwashed bodies, not a popular scent yet all too familiar at Guardian Wall. Dismayed at finding them in his bedroom, he urged them into the living room before they woke his wife.

"Well? Why are you here?"

After a hard day, the last thing he wanted was nightly visitors, especially these two. Florian Fooks stood with arms akimbo, fixing the two shadows with a baleful glare. He looked every inch the leader of the notorious Guardian Wall Gang he'd used to be.

The taller of the two struck a match and lit the nearest lamp, illuminating the grinning face of his smaller companion, who raised a full bottle of whiskey. "We brung us a party."

The taller hissed at him, "Hush up, Sid."

Sid's face crumpled, and he bit his bottom lip at the rebuke. His shoulders drooped.

"You were hard to wake, Fooks. Sleeping like that'll get ya killed."

"Been working all day in the hardware store, Brad. Something you wouldn't understand."

What would Brad know about hard work? He'd never done an honest day's work in his life. Sure, both he and Tobe, his partner, had found the honest life hard at first, after all those years of easy money, but they'd stuck at it. Fooks, at least, was much happier being law-abiding. He had a good business, a nice home, and a wife, the ideal life for a young man.

Brad snorted. "No call to take that tone Fooks."

"I've every right." Fooks tossed his head. "What d'you want?"

"Jus' looking up an old friend," Brad said with a nonchalant shrug.

Fooks scowled. Typical of Brad to think breaking into a man's house and waking him wasn't anything out of the ordinary.

"Couldn't ya have done it in daylight?"

"Couldn't take a chance of running into that sheriff." Brad regarded his companion. "Could we, Sid?"

Sid shook his head.

"How did you find me?"

Brad swelled, pleased with himself and cocky. "Well, now, Fooks, I worked it out."

"Yeah, Fooks. Brad was real smart. You'd be proud of him, the way he figgered it." Sid's eyes sparkled.

Fooks faked a smile. "Yeah, I'm real proud."

"See, I told you he would be." Sid nodded to Brad.

Fooks pulled a face at the excitement in Sid's voice and motioned for him to be quiet.

"Keep it down, will you? Mary's asleep." He growled when they snickered. "She's my wife!"

"Your wife? Why, I figgered she was..."

When Brad went no further, Fooks smiled. Seems my glare hasn't lost its touch.

"You's married, Fooks?" Sid's eyes widened.

"Yes, what's wrong with that?" He was offended that they both thought he wouldn't marry, so much so that he'd forgotten his own admonition to be quiet.

"Oh, nothing," Brad said. He shook his head. "Jus' never figgered you for the marrying kind, is all."

"I told you what my plans were."

The bedroom door opened, interrupting him.

"Joseph, what's happening here? Who are these men?"

Mary stood in the doorway, her face kneaded into a frown. How to explain their presence? Mary knew his past, who and what he used to be. Gaining her trust had been difficult, and until now, she'd had no cause to regret her faith in him. The two men here might make her rethink that, something Fooks was keen to avoid.

Sid whooped. "Whoo-ee, Brad! Look at what Fooks has been doing."

Fooks rolled his eyes at the ceiling and smacked his lips.

Mary was late into her third trimester.

Brad grinned and punched Fooks on the arm. "Fooks, you ol' son of a gun."

"Ow!" Fooks rubbed his arm and glowered at Brad.

Mary stepped further into the room. "Joseph, aren't you going to make the introductions?" She raised an eyebrow at him.

Fooks didn't want to do anything of the sort. With a sour expression on his face, he opened his mouth to reply. Before he could say anything, Brad doffed his hat. "Brad Coleman, ma'am. That there's Sid Murphy."

Sid snatched off his hat, held it to his chest, and nodded. "How do, ma'am."

"We're old friends of Fooks and Swan."

Brad grinned, but his expression sobered when Fooks gave him a withering look. "Not exactly friends. And they are just leaving." Fooks narrowed his eyes at Brad.

"We're in trouble, Fooks," Sid said with a gulp. "Real big trouble." His grip tightened on his hat.

"We came 'cause we need your thinking," Brad said.

Fooks cocked an eyebrow in his direction. Of all the gang members, Brad was the one who'd always questioned his plans.

For a moment, Fooks and Brad locked eyes. Running his fingers through his hair, Fooks glanced at his wife. "Mary, please go back to bed. I don't want you involved in this."

Mary sniffed and ignored him. She turned to their two unexpected guests. "Have you two gentlemen eaten recently?"

"No, ma'am," both said in a rush.

"Well, then─"


Mary continued to ignore him, and he shook his head. Her own woman, that's what she was, the reason he loved her.

"I'll fix you something while you talk." With a slight smile on her face, she added, "With Fooks."

She disappeared into the kitchen.

Fooks turned to Brad and said, "How did you find me, and what d'you want?"

"Well, now, Fooks, those are two questions with answers long in the telling. Best we make ourselves comfortable while the little woman—"

Fooks gave Brad's shoulder a hard prod, and Brad yelped in pain. "Ow!"

"She isn't a little woman. She's my wife. Have some respect."

"So? She's..." Just as Fooks hoped, Brad's bravado crumbled again under the intense stare Fooks hadn't used for over three years.

Brad glanced around. "As I was saying, thems two long stories."

Fooks moved to his desk and picked up yesterday's newspaper. He pulled out several pages and placed them on the chair Brad threatened to sit in and then a few more on the sofa behind Sid. He growled at both to take the places he'd prepared.

"Well, now, no need to─"


Brad and Sid sat in smart unison.

His lips tight, Fooks remained standing until he was sure they wouldn't dirty the furniture. Then he sat on the other sofa and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. "Okay, how did you find me?" Best to go with this now. Wrap things up as fast as possible.

"In the newspaper, Fooks." Sid's eyes glowed.

"What?" Fooks stared, open-mouthed. His whereabouts being widely known was the last thing he wanted.

"Yeah, a few months ago. A story 'bout how we done got that old pocket watch of yours back for yous. Course, I realize it was only a made-up story, but I knowed straight off. Didn't I, Sid?"

"Yeah, he knowed straight off." Sid's features creased into a frown. "What did you know, Brad?"

Brad clenched his jaw.

Fooks rubbed his eyes and shook his head, smiling. Sid never changed.

"That although it said Florian Fooks wrote it. Y'know, to add to the drama of the piece an' all, but I reckoned old Fooks hisself wrote it." Brad chortled. "Fooks, you sure got the details right." He reached over and slapped Fooks on the back.

"What details?"

"'Bout you pacing about outside the cabin and Swan rocking in the chair." Brad snorted. "Nobody else but you would a remembered. Why, I'd forgotten it myself till that piece reminded me."

Fooks groaned and put his head in his hands.

He shook his head. How could he have been so stupid? Writing a story for the newspaper. Sheesh. Hadn't reckoned members of the gang would remember the details and track him down, had he?

"So?" Fooks shrugged. "It's a story in a newspaper. Why come here?"

"Go on, Brad. You tell him how you figgered out the rest," Sid squealed. "Brad was real smart." A moment later, Sid's expression sobered under the stares his current and former bosses gave him.

Fooks pulled his gaze from Sid and returned it to Brad for an explanation.

"Well, story was in the Bronze Canyon Bugle, and I knows Wash Turner is here."

Brad and Sid's visit sure was a complication, and Wash had better not find out, him being the sheriff an' all. Fooks rubbed his forehead, unsettled at Wash finding out. Oh, this night was just getting better and better.

Fooks rolled his eyes. "So?" He motioned for Brad to carry on.

"Put two an' two together, didn't I? Figgered here'd be the right place to seek you out. We'd only been watching the town for a day. Ain't we, Sid? Afore we spotted you coming out of that hardware store. Followed you back here, and we figgered we'd wait till nightfall afore we come talk to you."

"You still Joseph Crane, Fooks?" Sid asked.

Fooks glowered. "To the town, yeah."

Sid's eyes widened and he pointed over his shoulder at the kitchen. "Does she know?"

"Yes. What d'you take me for?"

"But she called you Joseph."

"Yes. It's my middle name, if you recall. She can't call me Fooks, can she? I'm living under an assumed name, and only Ma ever called me Florian." His voice rose an octave at the same time his head jerked up.

"Swan called you Flo," Sid said.

"Only occasionally." Fooks gritted his teeth. Swan called him Flo to get a rise out of him. He much preferred Fooks.

He took a breath and calmed. "You aren't here to discuss my domestic arrangements. You've told me how you found me, so why are you here?"

"Fooks, we're in a powerful lot of trouble."

"I know." Fooks’ eyes widened. "I led you for most of it."

"You're the smartest man we know, Fooks." Sid swallowed hard. "Folks are saying you're some kinda criminal genius."

"Yeah, Fooks, so time to stand up and prove it," Brad said.

"Fellas, I can't get involved with anything you're up to. I'm making a new law-abiding life for myself here right now."

Fooks rubbed his thumbs, undecided. He opened his mouth to tell them to be on their way, but their concerned faces took the fight right out of him. He rubbed his forehead and then his eyes. Oh, boy, was he tired.

"What's happened?" he asked. He'd regret this.

"Murder," Brad said, clenching his jaw.

"Huh?" Fooks’ head snapped up in surprise. Definitely not the kind of trouble he'd expected.

"They done accused us of murder, Fooks," Sid said with an audible gulp.

Chapter Two

Fooks’ eyes grew wide. "What have you done?"

"Nothin', Fooks. Honest." Sid gave his head a vigorous shake.

"Then why've they accused you of murder? And who's they?"

Brad squirmed. "Angelworth," he mumbled.

"Excuse me?" Fooks said. He'd heard right, hadn't he? Brad had said murder.

Brad cleared his throat and said in a louder voice, "Angelworth."

Fooks spluttered and rubbed his forehead. "Angelworth? They know you in Angelworth. Why would you go there?"

"Well, it's like this, Fooks..." Brad cleared his throat, glancing at his companion for help. "Y'see, Sid─"

Sid's head snapped up in alarm.

"Brad wanted to visit his..."

Sid grinned, but then, unable to carry on, his face fell.

"Sick aunt," Brad said. He smirked. "We's went to visit m' sick aunt." He chewed his lips, holding Fooks' incredulous gaze.

"What. Sick. Aunt?" Fooks asked through gritted teeth. "This sick aunt wouldn't just so happen to go by the name of Lively Layla, would she?"

With a snort, Brad dropped his head low so he wouldn't meet Fooks' eye.

Fooks rocked back. "How can you be so..." An appropriate word escaped him, and he gave up with a groan. He held his head in his hands and shook it.

Brad and Sid sat in uncomfortable silence, waiting for Fooks to compose himself.

"All right," Fooks said finally. "You went to Angelworth. You went to visit your sick aunt. What happened?"

"Well, while I's was with m' aunt, y'know, taking care of her, Sid was in the saloon. He gets word Sheriff Bennett is on his way round town an' he's looking for two dangerous owl hoots. Sid figgers it's time we oughta go, so he comes and gets me. We's sneak round the edge of town and skedaddle so nobody sees us getting to the livery. We's gets our horses an' rides out."

Brad shrugged and pulled a face. "Didn't think nothin' of it until a few days later when we're back at the Wall. Lucas went into Burton Wells for supplies, usual like, but he comes tearing back. Left the horses and buckboard right in the middle of the street. Hope Clara and Rosie are okay." His concern for the two horses did him credit, but not right now.

"Why did Lucas come back in such a hurry?" Fooks asked, mastering his patience.

"He ran into Sticky, hoping someone from the Wall would come into town." Brad went to his inside jacket pocket. "He gave Lucas this." He held out a folded newspaper page.

Fooks unfolded the newspaper with care, wondering what he was about to read. The headline was uncompromising:


We regret to inform our readers of the closure of Mersham's livery until further notice. This is because of the conflagration last Tuesday night. Two men, alleged to be Brad Coleman and Sid Murphy, rode away in some hurry moments before the blaze started. A quick-thinking passer-by raised the alarm. All livestock was safety led away, and the damage was limited.

Amongst the debris, the clean-up crew discovered the body of Stephen Mercer, a distinguished lawyer in the territory who made many enemies during his career, none more so than in his judicious pursuit of the Guardian Wall Gang and their undertakings. Coleman and Murphy are members of this gang.

Reliable witnesses have put the two men in Angelworth that night. All local and federal authorities are on high alert for their apprehension, dead or alive. Information that leads to their capture may result in a reward of $10,000.

Fooks opened his hands and let the newspaper drop. He raised his eyes first to Brad and then to Sid.

"What did you do?" he asked with a hard overtone.

Sid shook his head. "Nothin', Fooks, honest."

"No one but us in the livery," Brad said.

"How can you be so certain? Liveries are dark places, and there's lots of corners to hide in."

Sid and Brad swapped glances.

"Why should there be? It was two o'clock in the morning. Most decent folks like Mercer woulda been in bed," Brad said.

"Obviously not."

"'Sides." Brad continued. "We's had to break in."

Fooks continued to stare hard at Brad. The uncomfortable silence broke when Mary pushed open the kitchen door.

"Would someone help me with this heavy tray, please?"

Fooks stood.

"I'll help ya, ma'am," said Sid, jumping up.

Fooks shot Brad a warning glance. Brad gave him a brief nod, and Fooks returned to the sofa.

Mary smiled at Sid. "Thank you."

In the kitchen, Mary smiled at the strange, diminutive man. He'd unwittingly prevented her from having a private word with Joseph. She pointed at the tray piled high with sandwiches and cups. A coffee pot stood waiting next to it.

"It's Sid, isn't it?" she asked when Sid went to pick up the tray. Perfect time to find out who they were.

"Yes, ma'am."

Sid picked up the tray, intending to make his way back with it. Instead, he found his way blocked.

"I take it you've known my husband for some while."

"Yes, ma'am," Sid said and swallowed hard.

Yes, that's what she'd thought. "How long, exactly?"

"Waal, I can't exactly tell ya how long, ma'am. All I remember is Fooks came to Guardian Wall in high summer. I don't recollect the year."

Mary was satisfied. He'd told her what she wanted to know. The two men were members of the outlaw gang Joseph had led until three years ago, when he and his partner had given up that life. But what did they want? Were they going to entice Joseph back into the Gang?

"Joseph left the gang. Why do you need him now?"

"Waal, ma'am, we's kinda in trouble, Brad and me. An', waal, I don't think I cen say no more, ma'am. Begging ya pardon, I mean no offense."

Mary inclined her head. "Very well." She stepped aside.

Sid glanced at the coffeepot and began to let go of the tray, intent on grabbing the pot. Mary realized some inexpert juggling was about to take place, no doubt resulting in her china in pieces on the floor.

"I'll bring this, Sid," she said. She snatched up the coffeepot.

Sid gave her a grateful grin. "Thank you, ma'am."

In the living room, Fooks reread the newspaper, this time taking in every word.

"Still say the same?" Brad asked with a smirk.

Fooks gnawed at his thumbnail. "I remember Stephen Mercer. He was a good guy."

"He made a lotta enemies amongst the outlaw fraternity."

"He did." Fooks studied the newspaper again. "Still no reason for him to die like he did. Horrible way to go." His eyebrows squashed together into a curious frown. "It says there was enough time to get all the animals out and damage to the building was minimal." He raised his head. "Don't that strike you as odd?"