Private Lessons by Hugh MacNair Kahler
Professional Sleuth

Private Lessons

by Hugh MacNair Kahler

(Author of “Local Talente”)

Mammoth Mystery | Jan. 1946 | Vol. 2, No. 1 THE RED FILE | Feb. 26, 2017 | Vol. 1 No. 5 Casefile No: 55ccf75fb3901011515aef68

Rufus Tench, Sparta’s private banker, was thrilled at the prospect of teaching Sheriff Mackrimmon and the rest of the drawling natives a hard financial lesson but then Layton’s scheme flops and Tench finds himself learning a lesson from the old Sheriff.

SATURDAY NIGHT SPECIAL Premium Short Stories are available for download — FREE — as ePub & Kindle ebooks, as part of your subscription to the free CaseFiles email list.

Subscribe to download, or scroll down to read a sample.

Download coming soon!

NOTE: After entering your email address, you'll get redirected to the download page. You'll also receive an email with links to redownload the story to a different device. Both ePub & Kindle formats are included in a .zip file.

 Your email will never be sold & only used to communicate directly with you.

Table of Contents
  1. The Situation
  2. The Scheme
  3. The Deal
  4. The Payoff

Back to Top

Chapter 1

The Situation

From the window of the little brick bank Rufus Tench could see most of Sparta; his glance included the dingy courthouse in the delta of the road on one side, and the frame station between the two warehouses for cotton and tobacco on the other—a somnolent, threadbare little county seat, already beginning to drowse through the blazing day, although the sun barely had lifted above the roof the Mackrimmon House, and a broad belt of shadow lay along the farther side of the highway.

Mr. Tench frowned as he inspected the familiar setting; Sparta perpetually offended his sense of fitness, and the offense deepened as his attitude became more and more proprietary. He resented the deep dust of the road, the paintless buildings, the languor of the few inhabitants who were visible, the air of apathetic shiftlessness which lay over the village as perceptibly as the film of summer dust which grayed the sod and shrubs about the courthouse.

Properly managed, Sparta might have been busy, prosperous, alive, like the faraway towns Mr. Tench remembered. There was plenty of money to be made here; the surrounding country had proved fertile, and no rival settlement was within a radius of fifteen miles. Rufus Tench had chosen it with an eye to these conditions; he had made a good thing of his little private bank, very largely because his brisk energy set him apart among the drawling, shambling natives. In one of those bustling communities he thought of, it would have been harder to start a bank, harder to make it pay, harder to retain a monopoly of the business. Rufus Tench was perfectly aware of this, but, because he had come to feel that Sparta belonged to him, he was ashamed of the characteristics which had mainly contributed to that result.

He scowled as he watched two slouching darkies shuffle across the road from the jail in the basement of the courthouse, carrying a huge basket between them. If Mr. Tench had held the contract for feeding the prisoners there would be money in that empty basket; he was irritated by the reminder that Sheriff Dan Mackrimmon pampered the jail inmates on regular hotel fare, instead of giving them their bare legal allowance.

His eye followed the pair to the corner of the rambling wooden building which housed the hotel, and rested speculatively on the two-story porch which masked its streetward face. It could be a little gold mine, that hotel, if a businessman owned it. When the court was in session every bed was in demand; even during the dullest months there were a few daily visitors, marooned in town between the morning train from the main line and the afternoon “mixed” back. And the jail contract alone would pay expenses.

He would not have regarded the double galleries so bitterly if Sheriff Mackrimmon had been enjoying the revenue which Mr. Tench had estimated a hundred times. It was the knowledge that Mackrimmon barely made ends meet, which exasperated him. The sheriff just about supported himself on the proceeds of his several activities: the meager fees of his office, the slender margin of profit on the jail contract and the hotel itself, the occasional windfall from the livery he operated in connection with it. Mr. Tench would have made every one of those sources more productive, and the daily contemplation of a potential gain going placidly to waste had come to seem almost an affront.

Mackrimmon wouldn’t sell, even at a figure well above the presumptive value of his property. He would not consider incorporating himself and permitting Mr. Tench to secure an interest. He was contemptibly content to drift along, earning a bare living from a business which ought to have made him rich.

The shoofly train groaned to a halt at the station. Mr. Tench watched a little group descend from the single coach, his eye sifting out the aliens from the homing native traveler. He scowled more acidly than ever as he saw the five salesmen march along the strip of shade to the hotel, instead of scattering at once to their work. It was after eight, and these men had been riding nearly an hour, but they had waited for breakfast, nevertheless. Mr. Tench knew why: at the Mickrimmon House they could buy a dollar meal for fifty cents. Mackrimmon couldn’t seem to realize that prices had gone up!

He stood in the window, thinking wistfully of what he could do with such an opportunity, hugging his contempt for the sheriff and the community which tolerated him. His lips tightened and drew down as he saw Mackrimmon leave the courthouse and come toward him, a great, swollen figure in faded blue serge, a rusty, wide-brimmed black hat casting a shadow like a mask across the upper part of his red, plump face. The man’s very walk was shiftless, he thought. But the frown faded when he realized that the sheriff was headed for the bank, and guessed his errand. There was a solace in the thought of the coming interview.

Mackrimmon nodded gravely and said good morning in a slow, thin drawl. The banker answered briskly.

“Well, sheriff, what can we do for you? Decided to sell me that hotel, after all?”

~ End of Sample ~

To read the rest of Private Lessonssubscribe below & download your copy today!

Download coming soon!

NOTE: After entering your email address, you'll get redirected to the download page. You'll also receive an email with links to redownload the story to a different device. Both ePub & Kindle formats are included in a .zip file.

 Your email will never be sold & only used to communicate directly with you.