“RANGER SULLIVAN!”

Jake started, jerking his chin out of his palm and focusing on the desk in front of him. Otto Luther, the last remaining Ranger rookie for the time being after the promotion or expulsion of the rest, was standing at the desk with a pile of receipts for reimbursement.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Jake said. “My mind was elsewhere.”

“That’s okay, mine was too,” said Otto. “Back to that Orleans madam and her wiles, and the man I had to kill in cold blood in front of her…”

“That never happened,” snapped Jake.

“Well, it could have! Play along, we’ll get people talking at least.”

Jake sighed. “Just give me your receipts. The excitement of being a deputy marshal under virtual house arrest begins.”

Otto dropped a pile of paper scrips, and Jake wearily began to go through them with his good hand, copying each into a ledger in ink.

“Box of 20 rounds, .45 Colt cartridges, Scroggins’ General Store…one breakfast platter, with eggs, Portia’s Saloon…one iron horseshoe, Strasser & Niece Smithy…one-” Jake paused and flipped through the remainder of Otto’s receipt stack. “…make that seventeen receipts for ‘ladies of the evening’ and ‘services rendered’ at the Fantastic Filly in Dunn’s Crossing.”

“And you know what goes in there, don’t you?” said Otto, waggling his eyebrows suggestively. “It’d be a ‘shame’ if that got out, wouldn’t it? Poor, sweet, safe Otto is really a stallion in disg~//122.31.822

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~//122.31.822ver the desk. “Otto,” he said. “Whorehouses do not give receipts.”

“They might if they’re a classy establishment!” Otto cried.

“Otto,” Jake continued. “Even if whorehouses did give receipts, they would not be reimbursed by the Rangers as they do not constitute Ranger-related expenses.”

“Sure they would,” countered Otto. “Says so right in the by-laws that we are to be reimbursed for the ‘riding of mounts’ and the ‘exhaustion and keeping of mares, mustangs, colts, fillies, and geldings.’ The Fantastic Filly is a good, hard ride if you catch my drift.” More suggestive eyebrow action; Jake half expected them to leap off Otto’s face and frolic about on his desktop like hairy caterpillars.

“Otto,” Jake added, “even if whorehouses gave receipts and we decided to reimburse said receipts as ‘riding expenses,’ you have already used your allotment of ‘riding expenses’ for this month. You will have to pay for your escapades out of your own pocket…”

“Aha!” crowed Otto triumphantly. “So you agree I did have them! So you may let it slip out that I had them!”

“…if in fact you had them at all, which I doubt,” Jake continued with a deep, rattling sigh that made his mostly-healed wound ache from inside. “Or, considering that these receipts spell ‘Dunn’s Crossing’ with a 5, you’ll be responsible for paying whoever forged them out of your own pocket.”

Otto turned away from the desk, disconsolate. “You don’t know what it’s like,” he sobbed, “people always thinking you’re boring and harmless and weak.”

Jake gritted his teeth. At least Virginia’s idiocy had been in the saddle, about real things, instead of trumped-up notions of what it meant to be a Ranger influenced by bad newspaper articles and worse books.

“I just need some rumors, some innuendo, to get my reputation started. I’ve tried everything I can think of, and a few things other people thought of, but even with all the Ranger duties I’ve been discharging—I brought the dismissals to Prissy and Virginia!—people still think me a milquetoast babyface and a plain fool.”

When no response was forthcoming, Otto turned around. Jake’s desk was vacant, and the cotton drapes around his open ground-floor window were fluttering in the breeze. In the distance, he heard a rider spurring a horse out of the Ranger stables.

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