In one episode, Stagecoach 7, the character of Hannibal Heyes is holding a pocket watch in a few scenes. This is the story of how his three sons, Harry, Billy and Loren uncovered the mystery of how he come by that pocket watch, some 60 years later.
In his Will, Heyes left his pocket watch to the Kid. This story takes place in 1937, some 20 years after his death. The Kid has died a few weeks previously and the pocket watch returned to Heyes’ eldest son, Harry.
The Pocket Watch Mystery
“Remember pappy’s watch?” Harry asked, suddenly.
Billy blinked at the complete change of subject. They were having lunch and they had been talking about gardening.
“Yeah. Silver thing. He kept it his pocket,” Billy frowned.
“I don’t suppose you know how he got it do you?”
Billy pursed his lips and shook his head, attending to his lunch. “Why the interest?” he frowned.
“It was among the Kid’s things. Joshua Curry gave it back to me. I took it along to Megson’s, y’know the jewellers? Apparently, its English, silver, hallmark London 1828. Turns out it could be quite valuable.”
“It probably came from one of his robberies. He did quite a few of those I understand,” Billy said, smiling faintly.
Haarry shook his head. “No. He never took valuables or jewellery, just money.”
Billy frowned. “Are you sure?”
“Yep. He told me himself and he wrote it in one of his books. It’s a puzzle.”
“Well perhaps it was a one-off,” Billy shrugged. “Maybe he liked it ‘cos it was shiny!” he added, with a grin.
Harry grinned back. “I’m sure there was more to it than that.”
They went back to their lunch and their former conversation.
“You should look in the library here,” Billy said.
They were lunching in the canteen of the University of California. Known as the imperious Professor William Heyes, a senior member of the Mathematics faculty, he had a reputation for being a strict disciplinarian. Students and junior members of staff alike trod warily around him but to Harry he was just Billy, his younger brother.
“I just want to know how to grow ‘em properly,” Harry sighed, talking about azaleas.
Billy smiled faintly. “I meant about Pappy’s watch. There’s an extensive collection of local papers from all over the western States. You might find a report about one of his robberies or something.”
“Oh, that’ll be like looking for a needle in a haystack! And I haven’t got the time.”
Billy sniffed. “Well I’m teaching undergrads this term,” he grimaced. “Might as well put ‘em to some good use.” He smiled pleasantly.
Harry grinned. “And they said Pappy was devious. How would you sell it to ‘em? Not exactly on the math syllabus I expect.” He raised an eyebrow.
“No but I’m sure I could come up with something. Are you lecturing Thursday afternoon?”
Harry was a free-lance criminologist and assisted on cases across most of the western states. He worked mainly for the FBI. He also lectured on the subject at the University of California and at several other specialist colleges.
“Me neither. You scope the librarian out and I’ll round up 20 or so students. We’ll take a look on Thursday afternoon. See if we can’t find the elusive watch.”
In the end, Billy could only round up 16 students.
“My bribery wasn’t quite good enough,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Think I’m slipping,” he muttered.
“Never mind. I’m sure we’ll manage. What did you tell them?” Harry asked.
“Oh I just…….”, Billy was evasive. “…..said I might look a bit more favourably at their next assignment,” he said, picking up the nearest book, on Chinese porcelain and pretending to find it very interesting.
Harry grinned. “And will you?”
“Hell no!” Billy stuffed the book back with a frown. “But they don’t know that.” He sniffed. “I might write some words of encouragement. Shall we get on?”
Harry explained the brief to the students and for the next hour all that could be heard was the rustle of turning newspaper pages.
“I think I’ve got something.” A hand went up.
Harry and Billy got up and went to stand either side of the student. They read:
“Mr. Lincoln Prescott reported the loss of his silver pocket watch in a robbery of a train just outside Boulder, Colorado, on Thursday last. He said that the leader of the highwaymen, we now know to be the notorious outlaw, Hannibal Heyes, took an unusual interest in it. Contrary to that gang’s usual methods of only taking money, that outlaw had the audacity to try and buy the pocket watch. When Mr. Prescott refused the scoundrel took the watch anyway but ordered his men to give back to Mr. Prescott the money that had been taken from him previously. The outlaw, once mounted up and fighting his nervous beast, said “ You were a fool. I would have paid you three times that amount,” before riding off after his men.” The watch was later described as an English silver pair cased verge fusee.
“Woa!” Harry said, looking at Billy, who was looking incredulous.
Billy swallowed. “Well now we know where he got it.”
“Still don’t know why he was so interested in it. There’s obviously a reason. Pappy never did anything without a reason.”
Billy dismissed the students with his thanks. Harry sat down to copy out the report as the librarian started to return the papers to their rightful place. Billy leant against the desk with his arms folded. He sniffed, frowning.
“Let’s look at this logically,” he said, and when Harry looked up added, “My forte remember?” Harry nodded. “Pappy would have only seen it for an instant before deciding that he wanted it, right?” Harry nodded. “Have you got it on you by the way?”
“Yeah.” Harry dug into his pocket and handed it over.
Billy examined it. “Hmm. And if it was on a chain, it would look like that wouldn’t it?” He demonstrated how it would look.
“Yes, but it doesn’t say that it was on a chain.”
“It must have been otherwise Pappy wouldn’t have seen it. Pappy could have lost the chain later. That’s irrelevant really.” He waved his hand, dismissively and Harry sat back, folding his arms. Billy went on, “There must be something about this side of the case that Pappy knew and was able to recognise in an instant.”
They both peered at it. Apart from a very small marking incised into the middle of the case it was plain. The marking was barely noticeable unless looked at closely.
“Nope. Can’t see anything obvious, Harry said.
“That’s ‘cos we don’t know what we’re looking for,” Billy grinned. “Pappy did. Perhaps …,” he started, slowly. “Perhaps he targeted the robbery to get this very watch.”
“Oh now Bill! You’re getting carried away!”
“You said Pappy never did anything without a reason. Hear me out. What do we know about Mr. Lincoln Prescott? Who was he?”
“Then don’t we need to find out? Come on, Harry! You’re the detective! I’m doing your work here!” Billy said, irritably.
Harry grinned. “So what you’re saying is that I should find out a bit more about Lincoln Prescott?”
“Exactly! And that might just tell us why Pappy was so interested in this watch,” Billy said, dropping the watch back into Harry’s hand.
Harry looked at it and widened his eyes. “The mystery deepens.”
“Sure does. You said Megson looked at it?”
“Yeah. Valued it at $150 but only because it was Pappy’s.”
“Perhaps we ought to have a specialist look at it. There must be one here in San Francisco. Let’s go and have a look in the directory downstairs.”
They said their thanks to the librarian, went downstairs and borrowed the business directory for San Francisco Metropolitan.
“There’s your man,” Billy said, tapping the entry.
Harry got out his notepad and wrote down the address.
“I’ll er pop along there tomorrow afternoon. My last lecture is in the morning and then I was going to start home. But under the circumstances, I think I should stay another day.”
“Well come and stay with us tomorrow night.”
”Well if you’re sure?”
“Sure. Anna will be pleased to see you. Round up Loren as well if you can.”
Harry raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
Loren was their much younger half-brother. Billy had not approved of their father’s choice of second wife. She had been a lot younger than Heyes, Billy’s age. Consequently relationships had been strained between him and Loren. However, Billy had recently had a change of heart and they were now on speaking terms. He had even helped Loren with his doctoral thesis, in Physics, the year before.
“Yeah.” Billy sniffed. “Pappy was his father too after all.”
“Are you sure he said that?” Loren asked, doubtfully, when Harry went to see him.
“Yes.” Harry laughed. “You look like I’ve just asked you to walk over hot coals. I thought you two were getting on better these days?”
“Well yeah we are. I guess. But I’ve never had an invite to his house!” Loren rolled his eyes.
“I think Billy’s got the bit between his teeth over this watch business. He cancelled his class this afternoon so he could come with me to see the specialist dealer.”
“Really?” Loren’s eyes widened in shock.
“Yeah,” Harry nodded.
“Wow!” Loren sat back and folded his arms. He frowned slightly and Harry smiled. Loren may not have known their father for very long but he still displayed some of his mannerisms.
Heyes had tragically fallen down stairs and broken his neck. Loren had been four. He barely remembered him.
“Pappy use to check it a lot. I think it became a habit. I remember as kids we would often ask him what the time was just after he’d checked it. He invariably said he didn’t know and have to look again to tell us. I don’t think he realised.” Harry grinned at the memory.
Loren sighed. “I wish I remembered him better.”
Harry bit his lip and put his head down. “Yeah I wish he’d stayed around for longer too,” he said, quietly. He took a deep breath. So, pick you up at seven?”
Loren smiled and nodded. “Sure.”
“Well its silver.”
The specialist put in his eyepiece.
“English, hallmarked 1828. It’s pair cased. That means that there is an inner case that holds the actual movement of the watch and an outer case, which protects the inner case. The movement is fairly typical of a watch of that age. It’s called a verge fusee. See the main wheel all the way around the edge? That’s called the verge. If we look at the movement sideways. See that cone shape? That’s called a fusee. This type of movement originated in France. I don’t know the maker but I could probably look it up. I’d say oh…….” The specialist put it down on the counter and looked at it. “……oh between 130 and 150 dollars, something like that.”
Harry nodded and looked at Billy. “Is there anything special about the case?”
The specialist raised his eyebrows. “Well apart from the fact that its seen better days, no I don’t think so.” He put his eyepiece in again and looked at the case more carefully. Then he switched on the desk lamp and looked at it again. He let out a low whistle. “Oh my!” He put the watch on the counter again and looked at it, hands either side of it, frowning.
Harry glanced at Billy again. “What?”
The specialist took a deep breath. “How did you come by this?” he asked, slowly.
“It belonged to our father.”
“And did he have it long?”
Billy nodded to Harry, who reached into his pocket for his notepad. “Since May 6, 1878, we believe.” Harry found the page where he’d written the report from the newspaper. “That is a report that appeared in the Boulder Chronicle in May 1878.” He laid the notepad on the counter.
The specialist read it and nodded. “That’s very interesting. I’ve reason to believe gentlemen that this watch must have once belonged to Mark Hopkins Junior.”
Harry looked at Billy who frowned. “Wasn’t he one of the founding shareholders of the Central Pacific Railroad?” he asked.
The specialist nodded. “That’s right. He was one of the Big 4.” He hesitated. “Mark Hopkins Junior died in 1878.”
Harry and Billy gasped. “Oh this is starting to look very dodgy,” Harry said, slowly. “How did he die?”
The specialist shook his head. “I’ve no idea.”
“But why do you think it belonged to Mark Hopkins Junior? Harry asked.
“Because there’s a mystery about what happened to his watch after he died. I said this was fairly typical of its time but by 1828 this type of movement was going out of fashion. And because I’m not familiar with the maker that suggests to me this was made by a watchmaker who wasn’t at the cutting edge of technology. But it keeps good time so why change it for something newer just for the sake of it? But the main thing is …” He switched on the desk lamp again and put his eyepiece in again. “Yes. Do you see how the light refracts around that centre marking?”
“Yes,” Billy and Harry chorused, peering closely. They grinned at each other.
“That’s Hopkins mark. He had it put on all his things so he could recognise them. The mystery about his watch is well known in the trade”
“Okay,” Harry said, slowly. “So if you knew what you were looking for and say the sun was shining on it just so and you were say 10 feet away, would you be able to recognise it?”
The specialist laughed. “Well that’s a lot of what ifs and I wouldn’t like to say for sure but I suppose it’s possible.”
Harry and Billy looked at each other.
“Can I ask how you came by this?”
Harry shifted uncomfortably and hesitated. “In that newspaper report it says that Hannibal Heyes “bought” the watch.” He looked at Billy, who nodded. “Hannibal Heyes was our father.”
“Oh. I see.” The specialist swallowed. “What do you want to do gentlemen?”
“We have two pieces of evidence here. I think we need to go away and see if can join ‘em up,” Harry said, with his detective head on. He put his notepad away.
“This might be stolen property,” the specialist said, hesitantly.
“Yes,” Harry grinned. “But we don’t know that yet. If it turns out that it is, then we’ll make the proper inquires,” Harry said, pleasantly. At the same time he produced his wallet and opened it. Inside were his FBI credentials.
The specialist glanced at them and nodded. “Good luck with your investigations, gentlemen.”
“Thank you for the information.” Harry picked up the watch and motioned for Billy that they should leave.
Outside on the sidewalk, Billy frowned. “Okay. What do we do now?”
Harry took out his notepad. “We round Loren up and pay another visit to the University library. Loren can check the metrological records for Boulder, Colorado, on May 6, 1878. If the sun wasn’t shining that day my theory falls apart.”
“You have a theory?”
“Oh yes. And you and I will check out how and where Mark Hopkins Junior died. And if there’s any reference to a Lincoln Prescott in his life.”
“So we’re going to be detectives,” Billy grinned.
“I already am. You’re going to get to see me in action!”
Billy chuckled. “Right.”
Loren slid into a seat opposite his two older brothers. He grinned as they looked up. “It was sunny!”
“Yes!” Harry whooped and then cleared his throat, raising a hand in apology at the glare from the library assistant.
“Any luck?” Loren asked, eagerly.
“No not yet. Billy is looking for Lincoln Prescott amongst Hopkin’s employees. I’m trying to find out when he died. And……..” He held up a finger. “I think I just have.” He read for a moment. “Well that’s interesting. It would appear that Mark Hopkins Junior died on a company train, just outside Yuma, Arizona, on March 29, 1878. Died in his sleep apparently.”
“He didn’t leave a will,” Billy said, frowning at the document in front of him. “But I can’t find any reference to a Lincoln Prescott.”
Harry signed, crossed his arms over the document he had been looking at and tapped his fingers.
“Okay, here’s what we’ve got. We’re pretty sure that at some time this watch belonged to Mark Hopkins Junior, founding shareholder of the Central Pacific Railroad. We’re also sure that our father came by it on May 6, 1878, less than 2 months after Hopkins died. And we know at that time it was in the possession of one Lincoln Prescott. We need to find out who this man was.”
“Do you think he may have been a crook?” Loren asked.
Harry twitched his nose. “Possibly, but if he was, only a petty criminal.”
Billy put a hand on Harry’s arm. He had his head down, reading. “He wasn’t. Found him. He didn’t work for Hopkins directly. He worked for the railroad and he was the dining car assistant on the company train.” He looked up, grinning.
“So he must have taken it in the confusion after Hopkins died. So it is stolen property,” Harry said.
“Not positively,” Billy and Loren said together and then grinned at each other.
“It’s circumstantial at best,” Harry said, doubtfully.
“Lincoln Prescott had it, right?” Billy said. “And Pappy “bought” it from him, right?”
Harry wrinkled his nose. “I guess you could say that but its stretching the point.”
Billy waved his hand, dismissively. “Even if it was stolen, Pappy didn’t know that.”
“Yes he did,” Loren said and swallowed nervously when they both looked at him. “He must have been looking for it. Why else would he have shown so much interest in it? You said yourself he usually only ever took money.”
“Loren’s right. Pappy must have known,” Harry said.
“Or he just liked it ‘cos it was shiny!” Billy smirked, and waved his hand for them to ignore him.
“Okay so we’ve got lots of pieces to a puzzle,” Harry smiling indulgently at Billy. “But is there a way to connect them?” he mused. Then he clicked his fingers. “We need to firm up on a few things first. Loren, you’re the physicist, is there any way you can prove that Pappy would have recognised this watch if the sun was shining on it at a particular angle? If he knew what he was looking for that is?”
Loren nodded. “Yeah, I can run a quick experiment. They’ve got all the equipment I need in the departmental lab.”
“Okay.” Harry rubbed his temples. “Let’s think how this would have worked. They’d of stopped the train and got all the passengers off and lined ‘em up. One of the gang would have gone along the line with a hat collecting money. If there was no safe on board, or if he wasn’t interested, Pappy would have watched. And especially if he was looking for somebody. If he was looking for a man but didn’t know who.”
Billy nodded, accepting that assessment. He looked across at Loren who agreed.
“We need to back track a bit more,” Harry said, tidying up the documents he had been looking at earlier. “We know where Pappy was on May 6, but where was he on March 29, when Hopkins died? And where was he the time in between? Does the library hold Pappy’s books?”
“I doubt it but I’ve got ‘em at home,” Billy said.
Harry went to check his wristwatch, then grinned and opened the case on his father’s watch instead. It lay on the table in front of him. It said 4.30 pm. “What time does the library shut ?”
“Six tonight,” Loren told him.
Harry growled in frustration. “Okay we need to do what we can here before it shuts. Plan of action then. Billy go and see if there are any other eyewitness accounts of May 6. We stopped when we found Lincoln Prescott. There may have been others.”
“Right.” Billy got up.
“Loren, we’ll assume for now that Pappy did recognise the watch. Go along with Billy and pull the local papers for Yuma, March 29 and for a few days later. See if you can find any accounts of Hopkins’ death. It was sudden remember and he was a big name. It would of made the news for several days I reckon.”
Loren nodded and got up.
“Oh will your experiment take very long?” Harry grinned.
“No. I’ll just have to set up a light and then test the refraction of the marking at different heights and distances. Half hour tops.”
Harry slid the watch in Loren’s direction. “Then if you have time, do it. I’ll meet you at Billy’s later. Alright?”
Loren grinned and then looked at Billy and sobered. “Sir?”
Billy smiled faintly and nodded. “Yeah,” he said, drily. “And what are you going to do?” he enquired of Harry.
“Me? I’m going to make a few phone calls. See if I can’t find out a bit more about Lincoln Prescott. I’ll meet you at your house later.”
Billy nodded and nudged Loren. “Come on let’s go. Leave Mr. Detective to do some detecting.”
Harry watched them go chuckling to himself. He tidied up and went in search of a private telephone.
When Billy and Loren arrived home, Harry was already there. Billy made the introductions after he’d kissed Anna, his wife.
“Darling, you remember Loren?”
“Yes of course. Hallo Loren.” She kissed him politely.
“Well come on in and have a seat,” Anna said, immediately playing the hostess. “Harry tells me that you’ve made great progress in this mystery that Joshua has inadvertently left you with.”
“Yes,” said Billy, leading the way into the dining room. “I’ve a feeling we’re just about there.”
Harry glanced at Loren, who nodded. Rolling his eyes Harry followed Billy. “Okay!”
When they were all assembled round the dining room table and Anna had provided refreshments, Loren began.
“It’s a pity we don’t know what the exact time the hold-up occurred but …….,” he started.
“Er yes we do actually,” Billy interrupted, taking out his notepad. “Well we can narrow it down anyway.” He flicked though the pages. “I found another eyewitness who was on the train. A Mrs Ada Garcia, of Denver, Colorado. She says, “they were all ordered off the train on the south side”. She remembers it was the south side because the sun was hot and she had the wrong bonnet on.” Billy rolled his eyes and licked his lips. He returned to his notepad and read, “it was a little after 2 in the afternoon.”
“So they all got off the train on the south side, facing the sun,” Harry grinned.
“Exactly!” Billy said. “And I did some calculations to work out at what angle the pocket watch would need to be at so Pappy would have seen the refraction. Obviously not knowing how tall Lincoln Prescott was I had to guess but I tried some likely heights. I estimate Pappy would of needed to be standing 12 feet away for the refraction to be seen the way we think it did.”
“Standing? Not on horseback?” Harry queried.
“No definitely standing,” Billy said. “Because……”, he continued, holding up a finger to still Harry’s subsequent question. “…….Mrs Ada Garcia goes on to say that “the men were separated from the women. But then the leader of the “scurrilous” band rode up and insisted the men were lined up in a different place.”
“He was manoeuvring them into position!” Harry grinned.
“Yep,” Billy grinned back. “And Mrs Ada Garcia, who I’m beginning to like a lot by the way, says “the villain dismounted and walked the line of the men until he stopped at a certain “nervous looking gentleman”, whereupon he deprived said gentleman of his pocket watch.”
They all gasped.
“Not bad, ay? For an amateur detective,” Billy grinned, tapping Harry on the arm.
“No not bad at all,” Harry grinned back.
“Loren, you were looking at Hopkins death. Did you discover anything?” Harry asked.
Loren removed several pieces of paper from his pocket. Harry and Billy swopped smiles and watched as Loren shuffled them into the right order.
He began. “Hopkins suffered from rheumatism. He didn’t like the cold so he was in Arizona for the warmth. His wife wasn’t with him. He was alone.” Loren grinned. “Nothing remarkable there. Except I discovered a little known fact about Mark Hopkins Junior. He liked to play high stakes poker. And where better for security than on a travelling train?”
Harry and Billy looked at each other as Loren swopped pieces of paper. He went on. “Apparently, on the evening before Mark Hopkins Junior died, he hosted a poker game where the minimum ante was $100 dollars.”
Harry and Billy looked at each other again.
“Poker?” Harry queried. He rested his cheek on a fist. “Hmm.”
“Yes,” Loren confirmed. “And apparently he wasn’t any good at it because at one point he offered his pocket watch as collateral.”
“Woa!” Harry exclaimed.
“Who was at this poker game?” Billy asked, cautiously, glancing at Harry, who swallowed nervously.
Loren flicked through his pieces of paper, frowning. He found the one.
“Ah! A Mr Lindon Cosby; a Mr Gayford Prendergast; a Mr Carleton Balfour and brothers Sidney and Reginald Graves.” He looked up and seeing the looks his two older brothers were sharing. “What?”
“Do you have it here?” Harry asked Billy, quietly.
“Yep.” Billy got up, grinning. He paused on the way to the door. “Hard to go Straight, Volume?”
“Back in a mo.” Billy disappeared.
“What?” Loren asked again.
Harry laughed and rubbed his forehead. He shook his head and pursed his lips. “A Mr. Carleton Balfour? Of Baltimore?”
Loren looked down at his notes. “I don’t think it said. Why?” He was insistent now.
Billy rushed back and presented a book to Harry.
“I take it you haven’t ready any of our father’s books?” Harry glanced at Loren as he leafed through the book.
Loren looked shamefaced. “No. Keep meaning to.”
“Well if you had you’d of known that Pappy sometimes called himself Mr Carleton Balfour, of Baltimore. Especially when he was playing big money games.” Harry found the story he was looking for. “Hard to Go Straight, Volume 2, the story is called “The Men who “Corrupted Hadleyburg” I quote: “The Kid and me went with Harry Briscoe to the Silver Palace Hotel in Colorado Springs, where using the name of Mr Carleton Balfour, of Baltimore, I played a little blackjack” unquote. I believe he won $32,000 that night helping Harry to expose a crooked gambling joint.”
Harry shut the book with a snap. Anna and Loren had both gasped.
“So we’ve established there was a high stakes poker game that involved Pappy,” Harry said, having let that sink in. “Is there anything else we know about this game?”
Loren grinning and looked at his notes. “Yes. The pot containing the watch was won by Mr Carleton Balfour!”
Harry and Billy grinned at each other. This was making a whole lot more sense now.
Loren continued. “But that was the last game of the evening because no sooner had the pot been won then the train came to a shuddering halt. Everyone was thrown to the floor. They made sure everybody was alright and then went to find out what had happened.”
“And just left the table as it was? With hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars lying around?” Billy was incredulous.
“They were only gone for a few minutes and they were the only people on the train apart from the train crew,” Loren shrugged. ”But anyway when they came back all the money appeared to be there. Except the pocket watch was missing.”
“Oh! We’re so nearly there!” Billy cried in frustration. “What did you find out?” he glared at Harry.
Harry got out his notepad. “Not much I’m afraid. As I suspected, Lincoln Prescott was a small time thief. He’d done a bit of jail time and odd jobbed his way around the West, mainly stewarding, catering etc. So working as a dining car assistant fits. He only signed on for a few journeys and this was the last. Hopkins wasn’t a suspicious death so there was no reason to follow up the crew. Nobody looked for him at Yuma.”
They all looked at each other, frustrated yet tantalised by the missing piece of the puzzle.
“I hate mysteries”, Harry groaned. He leaning back and rubbing his hands over his face. “Anything in Tales of an Outlaw?” he asked, finally.
“I’ll go get it.” Billy got up again. He came back and gave the book to Harry, with a sign. This was their last chance to put all the pieces together.
Harry puffed in frustration as he leafed through the book. “He didn’t do this is any sensible order, I don’t think,” he sighed.
“Well we know that 1878 is towards the end of his career,” Billy smiled. “Wouldn’t it make sense for it to be more towards the end? Pappy liked order remember? I don’t think he would have written it in any other order than chronological.”
Harry glared at him but conceded he might be right. Sighing he turned to the last few chapters. He was soon smiling. “It’s a short one. It’s called Boulder, Colorado.” He began to read:
“I played a game of poker. Doesn’t matter where or who the players were. Needless to say it was an intense game for high stakes. One of the players (I shall call X) offered his pocket watch as collateral. Given who he was we all agreed that he was good for it and accepted it. I was last to call but I wasn’t sure. These were good players and didn’t give much away. I had a full house but I wasn’t sure it would be enough. Awful big pot to lose on a feeling you’re not sure of. I almost folded. Almost. At the last moment I called. One by one the hands were laid down. Somebody else had a full house and my heart skipped a beat. I laid my hand slowly, card by card. The other player with a full house looked at me, chewing his lip nervously. We had identical pairs. But he had 3 queens. I had 3 kings; I had won! But before I could collect the pot the train shuddered to a halt, violently throwing us all to the floor. When we’d picked ourselves up, we immediately went to see what had happened. None of us wondered if the saloon would be secure. We just assumed it would be as we were the only passengers.”
Harry frowned. “I don’t remember reading any of this before. What edition is this?” He turned to the front.
He looked up and saw the anguished faces around the table.
“Puzzle that mystery out later,” Billy said, impatiently. “Get on with it.”
Harry nodded and returned to the book.
“Nothing untoward had happened. Certainly not some outlaw gang holding us up! A steer had crossed the line in front of the train and the driver had braked hard. Once the remains of the dead animal was cleared from the track we were on our way again. Our party returned to the saloon, where upon I collected up the pot. A cool $40,000! And one pocket watch. Except said pocket watch was missing. We looked everywhere. It had disappeared. The player who had offered it said he hadn’t taken it. I had no reason to disbelieve him. He was our host and a man of honour. He was particularly disturbed. He had been fond of it. Had every intention of redeeming, it when we got to the next town.
“What did I care? I was $40,000 up and I had a watch already. We were nearly at Yuma anyway so I readily agreed to call the proceedings to a halt. However, before I took my leave X showed me something. There was a marking on his silver cigarette case, that when held in a certain way in the light, a pattern formed. His watch had been marked in a similar way. I smiled, thanked him for his hospitality and hoped he got his watch back.
“Me and the boys hurrahed the town for two days. Two days of being drunk. Two days of gorgeous and willing girls. Two days of spending money like no tomorrow. Followed unfortunately in my case by two days of blinding headaches! It was while I was lying abed with a cold towel on my forehead that I got to thinking about that game. Where had that pocket watch gone? The Kid suggest it had fallen on the floor in the stop and got kicked under something. Perhaps X had taken it after all? Both reasonable assumptions. But there was a third of course. And that was probably the most unbelievable. That it had been stolen. But who would walk off with just a pocket watch and leave thousands of dollars just lying there?
“When I came to my senses, I picked up the newspaper. To my horror X had died that night. I went cold. I couldn’t afford for the authorities to look too closely at Mr Carleton Balfour! But as I read further X had died in his sleep of natural causes. My heart stopped pounding. I was in the clear. But time to go just in case.
“The boys wanted to stay. We still had some money left. I summoned Heyes up*, scared them witless and we were saddling up within half an hour. Once back in the Hole, the Pocket Watch Mystery returned to nag me. Why? And who? And more importantly I’d won it fair and square. I wanted it back!
Harry looked up and rolled his eyes. “I think he’s quite determined. Here.” He slid the book over to Billy. “You carry on reading. I’m losing my voice. From there.”
Billy now took up the story. “Sent word to Sticky,” he frowned. “Who’s Sticky?”
“I have no idea, “Harry said, taking a big slug of his drink.
Billy raised his eyebrows and carried on.
“Sticky ferreted around for me and came up with the name of Lindon Presley.” Billy grinned. “What do we think?”
“Pappy didn’t use real names a lot of the time. Could Lindon Presley be Lincoln Prescott?” Harry said, and looked round the table. One by one they all nodded. “Agreed.”
“Lindon Presley was a small time thief, mainly fencing small items of jewellery, etc. Pocket watches, mebbe? Oh, I think so! He’d of certainly have taken my watch if he’d seen it lying around – money was too risky for him. Sticky said he’d gone north east. Into Colorado? Oh, yes, picked him up again in Ashwood. Preacher owed me a favour. I promised him two bottles of good malt if he’d watch Lindon Presley for a bit. Sure thing, Heyes, he’d said and what d’you know? Ho! Ho! Not long after Lindon Presley bought a train ticket to Boulder. Two days hence.
“I put my plan to the boys. “But why Heyes? Kyle wanted to know. “What’s so important about this train? Nothing of course, ‘cepting the man who had my watch would be on it! Hell! I really wanted that watch back now!”
Billy looked up. “This is getting really good. Not sure I can stand the suspense.”
“Get on with it. You can lie down later,” Harry said, irritably.
Billy licked his lips and continued.
“But we don’t need to do another job yet Heyes. Save me from Kyle Murtry and his wining! I paced up and down outside the cabin. The Kid was rocking in the chair on the porch. He stopped rocking and pushed his hat up. “Er, boys I think you’d better get out here,” he called. Wheat came first. “What’s up, Kid?” he asked. “That’s what’s up,” the Kid said, pointing in my direction. I can’t swear to it but I think Wheat went a little pale. “Oh, hell! He’s pacing!” “Yep,” I heard the Kid agree. “The rest of the gang had now gathered on the porch. I had an audience. “Well y’know,” I heard Wheat start. “If he wants us to do this job I reckon we oughta. He’s our leader, right?” “S’right,” I heard them all chorus. “I like Colorado,” I heard Kyle say, before somebody hit him with their hat. I stopped pacing and folded my arms, looking at them. “Are we on then?” I ask, frowning hard. “Sure thing” they say to a man. I grinned. “Knew you’d see it my way.”
“So I knew where, when but not who. Sticky had been a little vague with a description of Lindon Presley. I knew I was looking for a man obviously. That narrowed it down to 50% of the population! A youngish, thinish man, with brown hair. Boy! Talk about a lot to go on but it was all I had.
“Stopping the train was routine. I had the passengers line up on the south side and the men separated from the women. Easier that way. Men seem to be more forthcoming with their donations if the womenfolk aren’t near. I sat my horse and watched as nonchalantly as I could. In fact inside I was churning. Most of the men were openly wearing a watch and chain. Could I be that lucky? I glanced at the sun. I had an idea. I rode over. “Bring ‘em over here, Wheat,” I ordered. “And line ‘em up,” I said, indicating a line where they would be facing the sun. “And then collect their donations to our very good cause,” I smiled, pleasantly. “What cause is that, Heyes?” said a voice behind me. Who else but Kyle? “Our drinking and whoring fund of course,” I grinned at him. “Oh yeah,” Kyle grinned back. “Do we have one of those?” he frowned. I just shake my head and motioned with my gun for Kyle to get on with it. I got down off my horse for a closer look, glancing at the sun. It was at the right angle. Nothing happened as I went down the line. Perhaps Preacher was mistaken. Perhaps the sun wasn’t quite at the right angle. Perhaps Presley wasn’t wearing it. I was beginning to feel disappointed but then… Ho! Ho! What’s this? The sun caught something. I glanced up at the sun with a grin and then back at the line. Yep. The fella matched Sticky’s description all right. The light refracted off that watch just like X had said it would. It was found! My watch! I almost did a jig right there and then. But no, Heyes, you have a reputation to live up to and jigging isn’t part of it!”
Billy chuckled. “This is getting really good!”
“Get on with it!” they all chorused.
“I stepped forward and smiled pleasantly. “Might I see your watch there sir?” I asked, politely. “My watch?” He was nervous. Guilty or scared? “Yes. May I see it, please?” I held out my hand. He trembled as he unfastened it and dropped it into my waiting hand. I examined it closely. Yep this was it. ”How much do you want for this sir?” I ask. “It’s not for sale,” he replied. Bravely I thought. I looked at him hard with my best Hannibal Heyes face and he swallowed. “How much did you donate sir?” “Twenty dollars.” “Okay,” I said, “give this gentleman back his twenty dollars.” I paused. “In exchange for his watch,” I grinned. Kyle of course looked confused but eyeing me warily gave him twenty dollars back. “Thank you,” I said, pleasantly. When I had mounted up, I looked at the watch in my hand. “You were a fool, sir. I would have paid you three times that amount for this.” I rode away grinning to myself. It was back!
“I still have that watch y’know. Even after all the trial and tribulations I went through later, I kept hold of it. Lost the chain someplace though. But do you know, the watch keeps pretty good time. Why change it for something else if it does that? I wish my wife would understand that though. She brought me one of those new-fangled wrist watches for my last birthday. Never worn it.”
Billy sat back and closed the book. “Mystery solved I think.”
Harry pulled the book towards him. He peered at the front pages. “Oh! This is a 4th edition,” he said, in surprise, then smiled and read. “This is a special edition that contains previously unpublished material. That’s it. I’ve got an advance copy. That’s why I hadn’t read that story before.”
“Glad we solved THAT mystery,” Billy said, rolling his eyes.
*During his outlaw years Heyes had a black temper which he used to control the gang. In later life it would come unbidden but fortunately rarely.
Mark Hopkins Junior was a real person. He was one of the four founding shareholders of the Central Pacific Railroad, known as the Big 4. He was married, but had no children. He did not leave a Will. He did suffer from rheumatism and was in Arizona for the warmth. He died in his sleep on a company train, March 29, 1878. However, it is highly unlikely that he liked to play high stakes poker as he had a reputation for being rather frugal. As far as the author knows there is no mystery surrounding his pocket watch after he died. But a gentleman of his stature would have undoubtedly worn a chain and pocket watch. The famous English watchmaker, John Harrison, used the verge fusee technology. Working in the late 18th century/early 19th century, 1828 was at the later end of the period. His watches have been recorded as being accurate to within a fifth of a second per day. Given his frugality it is quite likely Mark Hopkins Junior would have held on to a watch that kept good time, despite its out of date technology.