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The Sporting House Killing

A Gilded Age Legal Thriller


G. Reading Powell

Copyright © 2021, Gerald R. Powell

All rights reserved.


ISBN: 978-0-578-84642-2 (paperback)

ISBN: 978-0-578-84643-9 (ebook)

No part of this book may be used, reproduced, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, internet transmission, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without the express written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law, or in the case of brief quotations in critical articles and reviews.

This book is dedicated to the trial lawyer, that stalwart defender of the rule of law.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Author’s Notes

Chapter 1

Jasper wasn’t so sure this was a good idea, but Cicero was already squeezing out the first-floor window.

“Let’s go,” Cicero said quiet-like after he hopped on down.

“Somebody’s fixing to catch us,” Jasper whispered out the window, then glanced back at the door. No light coming under the door from the hall.

“No, they’re not.” Cicero crossed his arms. “Everybody’s in bed. Now come on.”

Jasper heaved hisself up on the windowsill and listened. Still quiet. So he jumped out. Even with a crescent moon, it was dark as pitch. He waited for his eyes to get accustomed to the dark and followed Cicero up to the street corner.

This late on a Sunday night, Webster Street was deserted. On Fifth Street toward downtown, two lights bounced around, getting bigger and bigger—a hackney carriage with its sidelights burning.

Cicero stepped into the street. “Here comes one.”

Jasper glanced back at Maggie Houston Hall, where they’d lived since starting college last fall. Cicero always complained it didn’t have indoor plumbing like most newer buildings did. It’s 1894, he’d say, you’d think Baylor could do better, like Waco was in ancient Babylon or something. Truth was, their outhouse was downright fancy. It was painted and even had paper sheets instead of corn cobs.

Professor Charlton and his wife lived in the dorm, but they always went to bed early. Jasper checked their window one more time. Sure enough, the lights was still out.

The hack horse trotted up, and Cicero hailed the driver. “We need a ride, mister.”

“Aren’t you boys out kinda late?” the hack driver said. “I’m headed home.”

“No, sir. The matron told us it was just fine.”

Jasper looked at his shoes, his hands in his pockets. She’d said no such thing. What was he getting them into?

“Would you take just one more fare for the day?” Cicero asked.

“All right, get in.”

They settled in behind him.

“Where to?”

“Corner of Washington and First Street.”

The hack driver twisted around and eyed them both. “How old you boys?”

“Twenty-one,” Cicero said.

They ain’t twenty-one.

The driver shook his head and turned the carriage around, and the horse trotted back up Fifth Street for downtown. They rattled across the railroad tracks on Jackson, then Mary Street.

Jasper leaned close to Cicero. “I ain’t so sure we oughta do this.”

Cicero poked him in the arm. “You said you were thirsty.”

“I did, but I don’t know where we can get no sody water this late on a Sunday night.”

“We’re not drinking soda water, you numbskull. We’re drinking beer.”

He wiped his palms on the legs of his pants. They should just get on back. “Well, we can’t get no beer neither. You heard the preacher. All them saloons is closed today.”

Cicero looked at him like he was about to let loose some important secret. “I know where we can get some.”

“How you know that?”

“A senior told me.”


“Pat Neff.”

“I don’t believe it,” Jasper said, crossing his arms. “He don’t drink beer.”

Before long, the hack turned right on Washington Avenue and after several blocks passed a place with a beat-up ol’ sign: the Red Front Saloon. A crowd of fellas tarried out front. Whether Preacher Jones said so or not, this saloon sure was open. Jasper hoped they wasn’t going there. The hack kept on but slowed when the street went from gravel to dirt near the end of Washington, almost to the river.

The driver pulled over to the curb on the right. “That’s two bits.”

“Here, mister.” Cicero handed him a quarter.

“Watch yourselves, boys.”

“Yes, sir,” Cicero said.

The hack rolled off and turned right onto First Street.

Jasper swallowed hard. “Why’d he say that?”

“He’s just being sociable.”

There was just enough moon to make out a steam barge chugging down the Brazos River toward the suspension bridge. The only folks out on the streets was them fellas back at the Red Front. Another hack clattered over the gravel toward the bridge over the creek.

Cicero took off lickety-split across Washington, heading for a two-story red-brick building. The windows on the first floor all had curtains, but they was cinched back, and bright light was pouring out from inside. The upstairs windows was dark. A man and a lady hunched close on the curb across the alley to the left of the building. They was likely smoking, judging by the two small orange lights flickering around them.

Jasper rushed ahead to catch up. “We ain’t going inside, is we?”

“Of course we are.”

Cicero stopped at the door. Piano music blared out through the door but then stopped. Wasn’t nobody in sight through the front door window into the entrance hall.

“Why don’t it

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