August, 2017

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Issue #95

All The Tales

A Lawman's Duty
by Dick Derham

A Cochise County Trilogy – Part 2

October 26, 1881

"Feet on the floor, Wyatt. Trouble's a-brewing."

While Wyatt Earp pulled on his trousers, his brother Morgan filled him in on Ike Clanton's bellyaching. "He had a rip-snorter of an argument with Doc last night," Morgan began.

"You woke me up to tell me that!" Wyatt Earp was not a happy man. "One thing you never doubt about Doc Holliday is whether he can handle a loud-mouth drunk like Ike Clanton. After a night in the sack, all he'd be good for is bending his elbow to nurse his hangover."

"Didn't do no sleeping," Morgan declared. "After Doc run him out of the Alhambra, he got his second thirst. He decided he needed to wash out the Holliday taste with another drink."

"Or five," Wyatt said.

"Or ten," Morgan agreed. "He spent the night going from saloon to saloon, The Occidental, Hatch's, Rafferty's, and his anger at Doc growing by the drink. Before long, he was saying he'd kill Doc on sight. By morning he was adding you to his list, and any other Earp who gets in his way. Not easy now to tell who is tops on his target list."

Wyatt stomped into his boots. "That cowdogger's not worth the trouble he causes."

When he had arrived in Tombstone at the end of 1879, the thirty-one-year-old Wyatt Earp was a rootless man on the unsettled frontier, a man who saw in the infant community a future for a man bold enough to carve it out. Born in 1848, too young to join his brothers James and Virgil in the mid-century struggle that created a nation and in which men defined themselves, he had ricocheted around for years, served as a teamster, worked on railroad construction, defeated his half-brother Newton for constable of Lamar, Missouri, left town before taking up his office, worked as a buffalo hunter, then as a police officer in a succession of Kansas cattle towns, before learning from his brother James that the new, but already burgeoning, Tombstone was a place where a man looking for the main chance could make his way. Soon his brothers Virgil and Morgan followed him to Tombstone to secure the family's future.

Tall, broad-shouldered, with a jet-black swept-back mustache, Wyatt Earp bestrode the boardwalk with a vigor that made women sigh and men step aside. A man's experience in carrying the badge, amplified by his own telling and coupled with his imposing physique had made him a natural for the job when Marshal White had looked for a deputy capable of handling off-shift miners and rowdy cowboys in from the range.

The lawman's job gave Wyatt what he needed, stature in the community, freedom to move around, the chance to locate opportunities. Already, he had built a reliable operation dealing faro in the Oriental Saloon and had joined his brothers in speculating on the town's main industry by backing a few of the start-up mines whose prospectors hoped they would find a lode even bigger than the Contention Mine that had started Tombstone on its way in 1878.

December 24, 1880

"Come over to the Crystal Palace," Brocius invited. "I owe you a long night of drinking."

Curly Bill Brocius was Cochise County's most notorious outlaw, or "Cowboy" as they preferred to be called, rustler, robber, smuggler, and now wanting to be a drinking buddy of the man who only days before had arrested him for murder. Perhaps he was a man of honor. Perhaps his word was considered of greater value than many up-right Tombstone citizens. "I've never lost a penny treating Brocius or any of his men," the town physician insisted to any who disparaged the Texan. But he was still an outlaw. He and Wyatt Earp walked on different sides of the street.

Curly Bill's unaccustomed gesture of friendship had begun in an unpromising fashion eight weeks earlier as Tombstone Marshall Fred White and his deputy idled in front of the Oriental Saloon, enjoying the coolness of the night air. White had pointed up to the full moon in the clear sky. "A target like that's hard for a liquored-up cowboy to resist."

A good lawman knows his town and its occupants, so not more than five minutes elapsed before the rowdiest of the men in town for their pleasure, part of Curly Bill Brocius' border-crossing crew out to celebrate the gains of their recent expedition, clustered in the open street beyond the Bird Cage Theater and competed with each other in their efforts to poke holes in the Man in the Moon.

"They're harmless," White said as Earp took a first step down the street. "Give than a few minutes to let off steam." But after ten minutes, the noise-making showed no sign of abating. "Let's go," said White, and the two men strode briskly down Allen Street. When they turned the corner on Sixth, their very presence dampened the enthusiasm of the cowboys. "Your game's done, Bill," White told Brocius. "I'll take your gun."

Brocius was submissive, or so he seemed, as he shoved his revolver forward. White grasped the barrel and seized possession of Brocius' pistol with a quick jerk.

In the life-changing moment that every lawman knows is never more than an instant away, White lay on the ground, bleeding, dying, and Curly Bill, the barrel of his .45 still smoking, looked down at the gut-shot town Marshall. "I didn't . . . I didn't mean . . . "

There had been no doubt that Brocius' revolver had fired the fatal shot. The only issue was whether he should hang. As arresting officer and chief witness, all knew that Wyatt Earp's testimony at the inquest was the principal evidence which would determine the fate of the notorious outlaw. "Didn't seem on purpose to me," Earp testified. "Before he died, Marshall White told me the shot was an accident. He said he'd been careless the way he yanked the gun from Mr. Brocius and put the blame on himself."

When Wyatt left the witness stand, there was only one possible verdict and Brocius now stood on the street, notorious outlaw that he was, a free man.

Wyatt's mentor and employer was dead and except for occasional duties as part-time Deputy US Marshal for Southeastern Arizona, Wyatt Earp's career in law enforcement seemed at an end.

But better opportunities were on the horizon. The legislature had voted to carve Cochise County off from Pima County and that meant a new sheriff and new deputies. With his self-described reputation, Wyatt put in for sheriff, a post that would see him and his brothers set for life. A Republican, so he called himself for such had been the allegiance of all lawmen in Kansas, and with a Republican holding office as Territorial Governor, what could seem more natural?

But Johnny Behan wanted the job, too, a Democrat with partisan connections across a territory that voted Democrat. "Back me, and I'll make you deputy," Behan urged Wyatt. And so Johnny Behan sat behind the Cochise County Sheriff's desk and Wyatt called on the sheriff to get his badge. But other deputies were appointed, men like Frank Stillwell and Pete Spence, and Wyatt was left without a local badge.

"What do you expect, Wyatt," brother Virg jibed at him. "Josie moves her blankets from his place to yours and you go on like nothing happened?"

"That fat tub?" Wyatt snorted. "It's Behan's own lookout if he's not man enough to satisfy his woman. What's that got to do with keeping his word to make me deputy?" Virg's skeptical expression showed he was unconvinced.

"No matter," Wyatt told his brother. "Townfolks will back me when the election comes around. We just got to keep him from stuffing the ballot boxes with Cowboy votes."

Meanwhile, Wyatt dedicated himself to proving he was up to the job.

September, 1881

The seeds for Wyatt's advancement had been sown on that March night when popular, friendly, Bud Philpott drove the Wells Fargo stage on its regular run to Benson with four passengers and twenty-five thousand in silver aboard. Just a routine run, or so it seemed when the dust of the departing stage settled back onto the streets of Tombstone. But in an unsettled frontier, nothing is routine.

Only a few miles north of Contention, three masked robbers made their play. When it was over, Bud Philpott lay bleeding and dying. To Bud Philpott's friends it was a tragedy; to Wells Fargo, it was a crime against the banking system. To Wyatt Earp it became a career opportunity.

When months passed with no arrests, the anger of the citizens, at least those in the town of a Republican persuasion, was expressed by the Tombstone Epitaph. "For Tombstone to prosper, outlawry must be stopped," the editor thundered. "By his incompetence, Sheriff Behan refutes the wisdom of the governor's decision to pass over a proven lawman like Wyatt Earp for an untested man merely on the basis of political connections."

Of course, the Nugget saw it differently. "We have no doubt that our efficient sheriff is even now determining the identity of the killers and soon will have them in jail."

The Epitaph responded in its next issue: "The killers of Bud Philpott are well known outlaws in this county. Is Sheriff Behan too committed to his "Cowboy" friends to bring the killers to justice?"

And so Wyatt Earp made his plans.

On Fourth Street, Wyatt motioned to Ike Clanton and the two stepped into the alley behind Barron's Saloon for a private talk.

"You and me got some business to talk over, Ike."

Ike Clanton was an odd associate for Wyatt Earp in any business, a drunk in town, a hard-scrabble rancher on the range, a man generally believed to be hip deep in the "cross-border trade" of the sort that had got his father ambushed and killed in Guadalupe Canyon only weeks earlier. What business could a man with ambitions for a career in law, a man carrying a Deputy US Marshal's badge have with one of the county's outlaw elements? No greater affinity did Clanton display for Wyatt as he eyed him with the suspicion a dishonest man always has at an unexpected encounter with the law.

"You just a tinpot gambler today, Earp, or are you playing at the Deputy U.S. Marshal badge you like to strut?"

"I'm talking personal business," Wyatt replied. "Bud Philpott was a popular man. His killing riled people up. The man who brings his killers in will ride all the way to the sheriff's office come election."

"Don't you try pinning that on me, Earp. Everyone knows it was—"

"Billy Leonard and his chums Harry Head and Jim Crane." Earp had expected hostility. Even his testimony to save Curly Bill Brocius from hanging for murder had done nothing to make him, a Northerner, a Republican and a lawman, popular with the rustlers of the county. "I won't give you my campaign speech, but I'm going to wear that badge come election day and you're part of my plan."

"Behan's fine for us Cowboys. We got no needs for the likes of you." Clanton started to turn away.

Wyatt grasped Clanton's arm firmly. "I got a reason you'll want to hear, Ike. Thirty-six hundred of them. That's the rewards from Wells Fargo for bringing in Billy Leonard and his pards. I guess you could use the money."

Wyatt knew his man. The hunger glistened in Clanton's eyes. He was listening, but guardedly. "What are you saying?"

"Chasing after them, I'd never catch up to them. But working together we get the job done. You set them up them for me to take. I get the credit, and I turn the reward over to you."

Clanton's eyes narrowed as the savory taste of money worked its way, but Clanton, even with a load of whiskey in his belly, was too cautious to jump to the bait. "Word gets out and I'm dead."

Clanton had tried to snarl but avarice weakened his rejection. He hadn't said no. That's when Wyatt knew he had the makings of a deal.

"Folks know about our deal and I can kiss the election goodbye," Wyatt said. "We both got good reasons to keep our lips buttoned. That's how we know we can trust each other."

Clanton seemed to think the proposal through. "I could get them to come by my cabin, easy enough," Clanton acknowledged. Then a thought came to him. "Won't work, Wyatt. I know those boys. They'll never let you take them."

"I checked. Wells Fargo will pay the reward dead or alive."

"Dead is always easier," Clanton acknowledged.

And so the plan was hatched, a plan that would lead to gunfire and death, but not in the way either planned.

October 3, 1881

The White Mountain Apache were on the move. Newspapers blared the story of the San Carlos massacre of Colonel Carr and his troops and the ensuing uprising near Fort Apache left citizens across the territory on edge as bands of angry Apache roamed apparently freely stealing and killing.

Geronimo and his band broke out of the San Carlos Reservation, rejecting once again the confinement, the rules, the domination of the Nantans who wore blue suits. Did not this land belong to the Apache, The People? Had it not been given to The People, by Usen, the life giver, when he brought forth First Man from the depths of the earth? Was not ranging free across their own land what gave The People their fullness?

As he moved south, Geronimo raided Henry Clay Hooker's ranch in Sulphur Springs Valley and run off with 135 horses. His band continued south, coming closer to Tombstone, gathering cattle where they found them, ignoring the strange markings the White Eyes had burned into brown hides and driving their acquisitions toward the Mexican border.

And causing alarm wherever they went. "The Army is on their trail," Sheriff Johnny Behan told Tombstone Marshall Virgil Earp, "but people in town are restless that the savages will get here first. I'm raising a posse to head them off. Protecting Tombstone is your job. I want you along as my second in command." It would not escape the attention of the editor of the Epitaph that Johnny Behan had, in the words of the editor "required the assistance of proven professional lawmen in the time of need."

Thirty-five townsmen, some of whom even felt comfortable on horseback, rode out on their errand. For three days they rode, cut trails left by the Indians, lost the trail in a torrential rainstorm that left them soaked and demoralized, continued on as their numbers dwindled. Finally, exhausted, the posse paused near a small ranch, as good a place as any to rest, cook a solid meal, and plan their next move. The Apache band they had been seeking to intercept had, it seemed, escaped.

The McLaury ranch house, if the small adobe shack could be called that, was located in Sulphur Springs Valley, a few miles south of Soldier's Well, and not far from the entrance to the Apache Stronghold. The McLaurys were not present, but in the range custom that made no difference. Behan, Virgil, Wyatt, businessman George Parsons and the rest down-saddled, stretched their back muscles, and pushed into the small cabin.

Curly Bill Brocius greeted Virgil Earp with a Texas-sized "Howdy" and a firm handshake as others followed into the cabin. It was enough to leave George Parsons' mouth agape. Later the businessman challenged the town Marshal. "That man's an outlaw and a rustler. He killed our last Marshal. Yet you greeted him as a friend."

"My job is to keep the peace in Tombstone," Virg replied. "Bill's rowdyism is always good-natured and he makes sure his men know how to enjoy themselves without causing me any trouble." He flashed a glance across the room where Sheriff Behan was conferring with a deputy. "As to rustling, talk to Johnny Behan about doing his job."

While the friendly goodwill between law and lawless surprised some, to the more practical Earps it made good sense. And perhaps the reminder of Johnny Behan's failure to do his job of bringing law to the county would be remembered when the time for the Sheriff's election came around.

October 10, 1881

Wyatt's conspiracy with Ike Clanton ended the day Leonard and Harry Hand were ambushed and shot to death by stockmen defending their range. The surrender of Jim Crane to another lawman followed quickly. Wells Fargo was satisfied, but it did nothing to advance Wyatt Earp's career.

But an even better opportunity presented itself when another robbery occurred, the Bisbee stage this time, and again, Sheriff Behan seemed unable to find and arrest the outlaws. His failure turned into a double advantage for Wyatt's political ambitions when Wyatt ran to earth and arrested the suspected robbers, Frank Stillwell and Pete Spence, for they were two of Johnny Behan's deputies. The Tombstone Epitaph had no difficulty in thundering about the corruption of the sheriff and demanding his resignation and the appointment of a proficient lawman. With those satisfying thoughts in mind, Wyatt turned the corner onto Fifth Street and ran into one of the mouthiest of the Cowboys.

"I'll never speak to Spence again for letting himself be arrested by the likes of you," Frank McLaury declared. "If any of you ever comes after me, I'll kill you."

"We know your business, Frank," Wyatt said. "And we'll be ready when the time comes."

October 25, 1881

For Wyatt Earp, the death of Billy Leonard and his confederates ended his compact with Ike Clanton. It was over and forgotten. For Clanton, forgetfulness was not that easy. Rumors had begun to circulate about the Clanton-Earp deal, and Clanton suspected a double-cross by Wyatt Earp and his talkative friend Doc Holliday. Already suspicions had damaged Clanton's standing among his Cowboy confederates and among Billy Leonard's friends. If the rumors took hold and were not refuted, and forcefully, before they came to be believed, Clanton knew he wore a target on his shirt.

Clanton pushed his face forward until it was not more than three inches from the tubercular dentist. "You coughing polecat. You're trying to get me killed," Clanton said. "You and your high'n mighty card shark are spreading lies about me."

Holliday kept his voice low, in control of his emotions as always. "You call me a liar again, and you'd better have more than air in your holster."

Ike Clanton was drunk. Wyatt could tell that even if he had not heard the slurred voice raised in his confrontation with Doc Holliday. Not for the first time, Wyatt applauded the wisdom that banned the wearing of firearms in town. He watched Ike approach.

"I'll talk to you, Wyatt," the rancher-cowboy-outlaw declared.

"I'll listen, Ike," Wyatt replied and walked part way down Fifth Street with him, stopping by the brewery building.

"You and Doc have been spreading tales, Wyatt," Clanton said. "Trying to get me killed. You know what I'm talking about."

"Use sense Ike. It does me no good to let folks think I'm working with you."

"You say!" Clanton shouted, "I ain't fixed right tonight, or I'd a had it out with Doc right there in the Alhambra." His snarling face competed with his drunken demeanor to make him look a ludicrous threat. "Tomorrow, I'll be ready, iron on my hip and all." Clanton turned and stalked off as well as he could on unsteady feet.

October 26, 1881

As Wyatt left the boardinghouse, Ned Boyle stopped him. "Ike is on the street hunting Earps with a sixgun and a Winchester rifle right here out in the open. He's saying the Tombstone law don't have the cojones to brace him." And so the challenge had moved from personal to professional.

Wyatt found Virgil standing at Fourth and Fremont. The two men walked down Fremont Street until they found Clanton. "I hear you're looking for us," Wyatt said as Clanton threw his Winchester around toward Virgil. Virgil grabbed it with one hand while he fisted his six shooter with the other and swung it at Clanton, knocking him to the ground. Virgil took possession of both weapons and Wyatt shoulder-steered Clanton to Justice of the Peace Wallace.

As he sat against the wall, waiting for Wallace to finish a prior case, Clanton turned to Wyatt, his lips curled in an angry snarl. "I'll get even with all of you for this."

When Wyatt left the courtroom he turned toward Hafford's Saloon where a fresh cigar would burn away the tension of the day.

"I hear you Earps are cold-cocking my friends." The voice belonged to Tom McClaury, the least offensive of the Cowboys, a man who might even mean it when he claimed his only purpose was to build a ranch. But a man was known by his associates.

"Ike's walking around town armed and threatening murder, Tom. You sure you want to claim him as a friend?"

"You know Ike never backs up his bluster, Wyatt," McLaury said. "You Earps are bullies using your badge as an excuse to strut over us hard-working men."

Wyatt Earp, his life threatened, his brothers' lives threatened, his friend Doc Holliday threatened by the loudest bully in Cochise County, just coming from a confrontation with Ike Clanton, had exhausted any patience he ever had. His left hand slapped McLaury across the face and with his right, he bashed his revolver into the Cowboy's head. As McLaury staggered and fell, Earp stalked off.

An hour had passed. Ike Clanton had paid his fine and recovered his weapons. His brother Billy had joined him on the streets, and now Tom and Frank McLaury swelled the number of troublemakers. If Virgil Earp had thought a visit to Justice Wallace and a fine and would reduce tension, he had misread the resentment that had been building. Now Doc Holliday had joined the three brothers at Hafford's Corner at Fourth and Allen where the four men pondered the situation.

Tombstone was a small town. The active area stretched all the way from Third Street to Seventh along Allen and Fremont Streets. Citizens could not be unaware of the events of the afternoon. Already more than one had pointedly asked whether the Town Marshall would like help in dealing with the situation. "They're wondering if I'm up to the job," Virg said.

"We let a group of rowdies think they've treed the town, and there won't be a Cowboy in Cochise County who don't think he can have his fun in Tombstone any time he wants," Holliday said.

"It's like Dodge," Wyatt said. "Got to show folks who's in charge."

Before Virg could answer, Joe Coleman came up the street. "Them outlaws are talking things over in the vacant lot behind the OK Corral," he told the marshal. "Billy Claibourne has joined them. They're all armed, and mean trouble."

"Leaving town, they say," Virg said.

"It don't take but a minute to swing up and ride out of town," Doc Holliday pointed out. "They're getting ready to make their move."

Ike Clanton had become the test on which Wyatt's campaign for sheriff would rise or fall. If the Earp's could not handle a staggering drunk cowboy and his friends, what claim could Wyatt ever make to the sheriff's badge? This was the moment to show that he could preserve he peace of Tombstone, that he had the heft to measure up to a lawman's duty.

"Never wait for a rattler to get his coils set," Wyatt declared. "We move in on them before they're ready and disarm them."

"Or something," Doc muttered lowly.

Virgil Earp traded his shotgun for Holliday's cane and the four men spread out abreast as they began their deliberate walk west along Fremont Street.

As the four men strode along, Johnny Behan intercepted them. "I've disarmed them, Virg," he declared. "They're leaving town."

Virgil Earp shouldered past Behan without pausing. In a moment the four men reached the vacant lot where the Cowboys stood conferring on their next move and came to a halt with less than ten feet separating the opposing parties. At once, Wyatt saw the six-shooter riding securely on the hip of Frank McLaury. "That stinking politician Behan," he said lowly. "He set us up."

"I've come for your guns" Virgil Earp told the cluster of men,

A hammer clicked to full-cock. "Hold," Virgil declared, "I don't mean that."

But already guns were roaring.

Wyatt Earp looked down at the carnage with a singular regret. Frank McLaury dead. Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton dying in agony, secondary men who had resisted his brother's command to turn over their guns. His regret focused on the biggest troublemaker in Cochise County, Ike Clanton, who had abandoned his friends to make good his escape. More trouble would come of that.

Wyatt turned from the dying outlaws to attend to his wounded brothers.

The End

Look for the third installment of A Cochise County Trilogy, "Cochise County Justice," in an upcoming issue of Frontier Tales.

Dick Derham, a native of Seattle, has been reading Western history and fiction since his teenage years. He seeks to combine historical accuracy with an understanding of how real people dealt with the challenges of frontier life.

His first story, The Pride of the Apache, dealt with Geronimo's interaction with the US Army was published in April, 2015. The Cochise County Trilogy stories are the ninth, tenth and eleventh stories published in Frontier Tales.

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A Letter to Quinn
by Jesse J Elliot

Part 1 of 3

The day was warm and sunny, a typical New Mexico June day where the hope of rain was still a month away. Instead of being in her office, cleaning and loading the new arrival of Winchester's Browning '86 that the Territorial Governor had purchased for her office, Iragene was standing in the church cemetery, reading the engraved headstone, Alejandro Ortiz Gallegos, 1860-1885. The beautiful young woman with long curling brown hair and striking blue eyes was oblivious to anyone or anything around her as she stood and looked down at the grave.

If someone had told Iragene a year ago that she would be alone without Alejandro, and he would be in the churchyard grave, she would have scoffed at the idea. Their relationship had been perfect, and the time they spent together had been so precious. She had lost that unique man during a gunfight to a sadistic family of rapacious land thieves, and now instead of a wedding ring, she wore a sheriff's badge.

After a year of mourning, Iragene realized that for the first time she was standing before the gravesite without crying and feeling the gut wrenching pain she had experienced at other visits. Instead of relief, however, she felt guilt. She became saddened at the loss of her betrothed and sadder still that his memory did not move her as it did. Time does have its way of healing.

Upon returning to the Sheriff's office, her deputy looked up. "You've been to the cemetery?" Cruz had been working for Alejandro when the land grab was attempted. Iragene killed one of them while Cruz killed the other. One of the last requests Alejandro had made to Cruz was to look out for Iragene should anything happen to him. Cruz remained faithful to Alejandro's request, and his own feelings toward Iragene kept him by her side.

"He's lying in the cold ground, and we're continuing to live. Doesn't that seem strange?"

"No, Senorita, that seems like life, and life has a way of coming to terms with death."

"I suppose you're right, Cruz, before Alejandro's death stabbed me like a knife. Today was different. I didn't cry, and the physical pain of his death was gone, but I felt a sense of great sadness replacing it."

Their thoughts were interrupted as one of the clerks for The Hotel slammed open the door to the sheriff office and hollered out, "Sheriff, I think you need to come, there's been a man murdered in the hotel. We got the man and the woman who done it, and the hotel's bartender is holding a gun on them."

"Do you know who the victim is?" she asked.

The clerk shook his head. "No, this is all I know."

"Cruz," Iragene said while putting on her holster and grabbing the two pairs of handcuffs they had just received along with the rifles, "why don't you stay here? The man is already subdued, so it should be easy to bring him in. Miller's cattle crew should be arriving in town soon, so we'd better have someone in the office in case there're some problems."

"You mean when, don't you, Sheriff?" and she smiled at him as she walked out the door.

Iragene walked up the elegant stairway of the town's hotel. In spite of its location in an out of the way New Mexico town, the hotel was quite luxurious because of its proximity to mines, timber, and cattle in the area. She followed the clerk, only to be joined by the hotel owner, Mr. McDonald. They exchanged greetings and then got down to business.

"Do you know anything about the victim or shooters?" Iragene inquired.

"Not really. The victim is a stranger who walked into the hotel room of a Clara McCarthy, and we don't know much about her except that she kept mostly to her room."

"And the man who allegedly murdered the stranger? Do you know anything about him?" McDonald looked at her. "What do you mean, allegedly? We found him standing over the body. When we asked who he was when he registered, he said he was the woman's brother, but no one believes that."

"Oh," she asked, "why do you say that?"

"Well, they don't look alike."

"Okay, we'll just see what this is all about, and the man isn't guilty until tried," she stated firmly, and they turned into the room.

Iragene and McDonald walked into the hotel room. A young brunette woman sat on the bed crying, not even looking up when they entered her room. Standing by the young woman was her supposed brother. The man had a gun pointed directly at his head by one of the hotel's bartender.

Whereas the young woman was dressed in expensive, fashionable clothes, the brother was dressed in dusty, ranching clothes, better suited for hard riding. But it wasn't the clothes that caught Iragene's eye, it was the man wearing them.

The man was everything Alejandro wasn't. Alejandro had had black hair and an air of aristocracy. His clothes, even when riding the range, were tailored and impeccable. He had had a soft brown skin like light caramel, and his face was miraculously clean-shaven, even during the most tumultuous times.

This man, on the other hand, had light brown hair and a complexion that was weathered by sun and wind. Though he was about the same age as Alejandro, this man's skin reflected many days and nights spent in the open with no hacienda to come home to at night. The stranger was ruggedly handsome and his body frame suggested not an ounce of fat but solid muscle. The stranger was so different from the man she had loved and yet she was drawn to him. The man was just under six feet tall and was built as solid as an oak. In contrast to his tanned skin, he had piercing blue eyes. He was everything a cowboy should be, right out of a dime novel. She had to make a conscious effort to pull her eyes away from him and examine the hotel room where the shooting had taken place.

When he looked at her, his blue eyes also lingered a few moments and unwittingly roamed up and down her body, and then he seemed to recall his situation. "So you're the sheriff?" he said gently, though uttered as a question it sounded like a statement. He had obviously been told that the sheriff of La Madera was a woman. "I want you to know, I killed the bastard in self defense. He was about to kill my sister, and when he recognized me, he decided to kill the both of us—he even said so."

"He's right, Sheriff, the young woman answered, "Brook's henchman came here to kill me, and when he saw Quinn, he said he might as well wipe out the entire family."

Iragene wanted to look at the man more. When she finally pulled her eyes away from him she tried to resume her professional stance. "First of all, who is the dead man and who is Brooks? Obviously you both seem to know both of them, and then you can tell me everything that led up to this scene."

The woman wiped her eyes with her handkerchief and replied, "I am Clara McCarthy, and Robert Fenton, that man," and she pointed, "is or was Brook Blackhurst's hired man. Brook was my fiancée until a month ago," she paused and a combination of fear and anger colored her young face. "I guess I better explain everything. I was engaged to be married to Brook Blackhurst. One day Brook sent me out to choose materials for new curtains and divans for our future home. I finished much earlier than Brook thought I would, but since his carriage was waiting for me, I came back to his home—though obviously he wasn't aware I was there.

"When I entered the house, I didn't see him, so I went into the library where I often went when Brook was busy. I was about to dose off while reading when I heard some yelling. The noise was coming from the rear of the house where Brook often conducted business. I entered his office, but he was too involved in arguing with his partner, Arthur Jury, to see me. I was too frightened by the menacing tone of Brook's voice to leave and hoped my presence would mollify the level of his anger, but Brook didn't seem to see me. He continued to yell at his partner, calling him an imbecilic fool who had to go or else he—Brook, would lose his chance at everything he had worked for. Arthur tried to defend himself, but Brook didn't seem to want to listen. Brook then signaled something to Fenton who took a gun out of his vest and shot Arthur three times." The young woman stopped briefly and realized she had been making fists since Iragene had entered the hotel room, and her hands were probably asleep. She tried to relax and continue.

"I screamed, and he turned and noticed me for the first time. His anger disappeared and his expression turned to shock. He got control of himself quickly and then bade me to come to him and let him hold me while he explained the necessity of having to kill Arthur. He said I needed to understand that he did it for me and for our future. Arthur had embezzled money from the company, our company he claimed.

"I guess he thought I would be in accord with his actions, but when he saw that I wasn't, he turned on me. He pushed me and threatened me about not going to the police. Fearful now of my own life, I promised him I wouldn't. I just needed time to myself. He then grabbed me and hit me in the stomach. I doubled over . . ." and here she stopped and cried out, "I couldn't believe the pain or the fact that the man I thought I knew and loved would do something like that to me. For some reason he let me go, but he said he would be by in the morning, and that I better be ready as he was moving our wedding date up to the very next day. I nodded, and he walked me to the carriage, saying again he would pick me up tomorrow early. I just looked at him and headed home. When I got back to my room, I knew I had to flee. I wrote Quinn a letter telling him what had happened and telling him where I would be. I knew he'd join me and help me work this out. I just hadn't expected Brook to find me so soon."

Iragene looked at the young woman who sounded sincere and truly traumatized, but one thing gnawed at her. "But why did you choose La Madera? How did you even hear about this place?"

The young woman smiled for the first time. "In the El Paso Daily Star newspaper, there was a story about your being the town's sheriff. The story focused on you and your arrest and killing of the horrible Titus brothers. Not knowing where to go, I just decided to come to La Madera."

Iragene blushed and stood there with her mouth open in surprise. She didn't even know about the story—oh, no, she was a celebrity. Finally she realized how unprofessional she probably looked to Quinn McCarthy and closed her mouth. Before gaining her composure and asking more questions, she briefly asked herself why she should even care what he thought about her.

"And you, Mr. McCarthy. How did you know your sister was here? Are you from El Paso too?" she turned to him, trying to sound cold and professional.

"No, Ma'am. I'm from the Texas panhandle area, one of the ranch managers for Charles Goodnight on the JA Ranch. I received a letter from my sister explaining what took place and where she would be. I showed the letter to the boss, Mr. Goodnight, and he said to get my bag packed and meet her here. I took the first stage out. I arrived and took the room next door. Somehow Blackhurst's man got wind of where she was and followed her here. He came to the room and knocked as if he were bringing dinner. I foolishly opened the door. He pulled out his gun and threatened to kill us both if we didn't leave the room with him and follow him out of town, promising not to hurt either of us. Hell, I mean, heck, sorry, ladies, we knew he was going to kill us as sure as he killed Jury. I guess he was a bit overconfident. I caught him off-guard and pushed the dinner tray into him.

"I then pulled my Colt and shot him, not even realizing that Clara had pulled her derringer and had shot him as well." He stopped and almost smiled. "I guess we think alike."

Iragene took out her handcuffs then put them away. "Let's go down to my office so that I can sort this out. I'd like that letter, Mr. McCarthy, if you still have it. I also want to send a telegram to El Paso, verifying the information you gave me, Miss McCarthy, as well as send a telegram to Mr. Goodnight, verifying you are who you say you are, Mr. McCarthy.

Iragene looked at both the siblings. They were not armed, and she felt she could handle the situation without the need of the bartender and McDonald. In addition, Dr. Stein would be there any minute to examine the body which now lay under a blanket on the floor.

She looked up, "Mr. McDonald, I think I can handle this. Please leave the guns you took from the suspects for the doctor," she looked toward the door, "and here comes Dr. Stein. Please send up some men to assist the doctor in carrying the body away in about fifteen minutes." The two men exited as the doctor entered. The brother and sister remained silent as the doctor came in and set down his bag. He ignored them and turned toward Iragene.

"Sheriff, what do we have here?" he asked, meeting her gaze.

She looked at the doctor, "Apparently we have a murder," she was able to respond and heard the young woman gasp, "possibly justifiable homicide. I need to know what you think may have happened here," and she continued to retell the story of the killing.

The room remained silent as the doctor examined the body. A few moments went by, and then the doctor looked up. "Two shots in the man. One from a high caliber gun like that Colt over there, and the other a shot from a small gun, possibly the derringer next to it. The larger caliber looks like it went right into the heart while the smaller bullet went into his eye. He probably died immediately from either shot, but I'll verify this later. Right now I need to get the body and those guns into my office."

Almost immediately there was a knock on the door and two hotel workers came in carrying a makeshift stretcher. They lifted the body and put it on it and headed for the door, leaving the dead man's gun on the floor by his body. Iragene and the brother and sister looked on soberly as the men took away the lifeless man.

"Thank you, Doctor. Let me know what you find out." She now turned her attention to the brother and sister. "Now, what am I to do with you two?" she replied rhetorically.

"Sheriff," Quinn asked pleadingly, "lock me up, but please don't put Clara into the jail. She doesn't deserve that treatment, especially after what she's been through this past month."

Clara cried out, "Please, Sheriff, don't put Quinn in jail. He's not guilty of murder—he was only defending me. I couldn't bear having him in jail on my account."

Iragene thought a moment. They sure seemed like loving siblings, but they could easily be lovers. Better to error on the side of caution. "Let's go next door, Miss McCarthy, I'll have your things moved later. You can stay in your brother's room, but right now, let's see if we can find that letter, the first admissible piece of evidence."

Quinn and Clara headed toward the door, Iragene safely behind them with her hand on her gun. Quinn noticed her caution and kept a short distance so as not to suggest fleeing or danger. They walked out the door, and Quinn asked if he could take the key out of his pocket. Iragene looked to his pocket to verify that he had only a key there, but her gaze drifted slightly over, and she saw how nicely he fit into his blue jeans. Embarrassed she looked up quickly and saw the slightest corner of his mouth curve up.

The rooms resembled each other, but here the similarities stopped. Whereas Clara's room smelled faintly of lavender, Quinn's room smelled of leather. Though he had been there only a short time, his boots and saddlebags dominated the room. Iragene liked the smell. He was neat yet comfortable in his room. He walked directly over to the saddlebags and looked to Iragene for permission. She nodded, and the man put his hand into the bag.

"Wait a minute," he said, exasperation showing in his voice. He looked again into the pocket of his saddlebag. "Damn it! he exclaimed—this time with no apologies, "It's empty!"

Clara ran to the bag and gasped, "Surely you must have it somewhere," she cried out, but saw the expression on his face. Iragene saw it too, but she couldn't free someone merely because his expression looked sincere. She had unfortunately met a lot of con men and grifters in her short term as sheriff--enough to know that deceit for some was an art that could be mastered.

"Let's go to the next step. I'll need to send out some telegrams regarding Mr. Jury's death, your boss's accord with the letter from Clara, and his granting you permission to go. I just wish you had some type of identification that stated that you are who you say you are. Clara, what do you have that can confirm your identification and possible your story about Jury's murder?"

Clara had brought her reticule with her. She now emptied it out on the bed. In it was the order form/bill for the drapes and furniture. It was made out to Clara McCarthy but to be paid by the office of Brook Blackhurst. Iragene read the receipt and then said, "Clara, you could have stolen this reticule. What else do you have?"

By now Quinn was looking at the pile on his bed and laughed, "Clara, what don't you have in your bag?" The humor and banter were familiar to siblings, but also young lovers. "I have a receipt for my rent from Mrs. Cindy Brown, a receipt for the hotel, a piece of the ticket from the stage from El Paso to La Madera, a notebook with my appointments, a book of poesy, and my handkerchiefs."

Iragene reached over to the notebook that had the initials CMM. She picked it up and then looked at Clara, "May I?" Clara nodded, and Iragene opened the notebook. In it were appointments and reminders that dated back to January of that year. The last entry was the time schedule of the stagecoach leaving El Paso and arriving in La Madera. The handwriting was consistent.

"Clara, will you please copy the last line of the notebook onto the page across from it?" Clara picked up a pencil and rewrote the information. The handwriting matched. Relief covered all three of their faces. Looking down, Iragene spotted a slight bulge in the bag. "Hmmm, I think there's one last piece of something in the reticule. Will you pull it out, please?" Clara pulled out the clipping from a newspaper. The article was about Iragene and her killing of the Titus brothers. The article failed to mention that Cruz played a major role in the execution of the deadly gang of monstrous brothers who went around taking great joy terrorizing communities. She was about to explain what really happened then figured this wasn't about her but about these two.

"Well, you seem to be who you say you are, Clara, now we need to see if Quinn is really your brother. Are your parents still around?"

"No," they said simultaneously, and then the brother answered, "no living relatives in the country. Our parents are dead, and the rest of the family is back in Ireland—and not many at that."

"Quinn," she said, this time not calling him Mr. McCarthy, "please go through your things and see if you have anything at all that could verify who you say you are." She looked at the alleged siblings, "You know you look nothing alike."

"Different fathers," they answered almost together and then laughed. Iragene almost did too, but caught herself. She was getting too familiar and comfortable with these two who had allegedly just committed a murder.

"Clara, I'll be sending up some maids to pack up your things and move you in here. Quinn, I want you to pack a small bag of essentials. I'm sorry, but I'm taking you in to the jail." Clara gasped.

"Please, please, Sheriff. Don't take him in. He doesn't deserve that treatment. He was only defending me," Clara cried out.

"Clara," and he looked firmly at Clara, "this isn't a medieval torture cell, I'm sure I'll be just fine. In fact I'll get some reading done." He pulled out a clean shirt, some personals, and a book, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches. Iragene looked at the title and smiled, "I might have to arrest you again for disturbing the peace with your laughter, Mr. McCarthy." She caught herself, but she felt so relaxed around him, she had difficulty not teasing him.

"May I walk Quinn to the jail, Sheriff?" Clara asked.

"No, I think you should stay here. I'll have my second deputy posted at your door for safety. You can come and go within the hotel, but I do not want you to step foot out of it. I'll have the name on your room deleted. How about Daniel Green?"

Clara looked at her, unable to hold back the tears and then turned to Quinn. "I'm so sorry I got you into this," she sobbed, "Quinn, forgive me."

The tall man looked gently at his sibling and touched her cheek. "There's nothing to forgive, Clara. I'm sure we'll be able to work this out with the help of the sheriff," and he turned away to walk down the stairs into the lobby and then onto the street with Iragene.

When they arrived at the jail, Iragene gave Cruz a list of things to do. I need to get back to the scene of the murder one more time. She looked around and saw her second deputy, Finn Cunningham, wasn't there.

"He should be back in a short time. He's out with the Miller crew. Apparently the payroll didn't come in yet, and they're stomping mad. They're finishing up some last minute chores with the cattle, but we should have a large party here tonight."

"Oh, great," Iragene said sarcastically. When he returns, send him over to Daniel Green's room at the hotel. Let him know that Daniel Green is a woman. I want him to know that he is to shadow the woman everywhere—for her safety--and expect anything. In the meantime, please lock up our prisoner—he is to get the royal suite privileges. I also have a list of telegrams to send," and she gracefully walked out the door, not looking back at the two men watching her until she was out of sight.

"So, what does the sheriff mean by royal suite privileges?" Quinn asked Cruz.

"You get to use the private privy in the back and not the pot in your cell." Cruz answered trying to keep a straight face. He knew prisoners were always a bit put out having to do their job in a cell exposed to a woman sheriff. This man must be special.

A little while later, Iragene was in the telegraph office sending out telegrams to Goodnight, Clara's landlady, and the El Paso sheriff—anyone who could support their story. In Goodnight's telegram, she also asked for a brief description of McCarthy and some background information. The telegrams cost a small fortune, but a man and woman's life hung on their return information.

She then walked over to Dr. Stein's office. She knocked and then entered. Stein had studied medicine and forensics in Europe. America was just opening its eyes to the possibilities of solving crime, using science. How La Madera ever lucked out in hiring this brilliant doctor, Iragene could not imagine, but the doctor was closed lipped about his past, and one thing Iragene learned was if the door to someone's past was closed, it wasn't to be opened without permission.

When Iragene opened the door, she saw a body laid out on the table with strange cuts and bowls holding stranger still body parts. "Ugh," she said, "I'm glad this is your job rather than mine." She looked closer at one bowl and saw a brain.

"Doctor, why do you need to cut him up so much? You saw the two holes, why the extensive excavation on the rest of his body parts?"

The handsome doctor looked up. He had blood on his hands. "Iragene, I have to be honest. When I complete an autopsy, I learn how this man lived and what afflictions he had. In addition, I learn about the human body in general. Do you know that some people have survived being shot in the head? I have to ask myself why."

"I suppose you're gathering clues to solve a mystery just as I do," she surmised.

"Yes," he responded enthusiastically, "good analogy. Look at his liver. The man was a heavy drinker. His liver was badly damaged, perhaps by alcohol. Look at the scar tissue throughout his liver. And his eyes were yellowed where they should be white. This man had cirrhosis of the liver. He probably had a limited time to live."

"Interesting information, but that doesn't help solve murders."

"No, not this time," he replied patiently, "but it will help me save lives in the future."

Iragene stood around for another fifteen minutes, just looking at the body parts that had been inside the man. Finally she asked if any new light had been shed on the murder.

"The bullet through his eye was fatal, but even if it hadn't been, the Colt would have killed him instantly. It literally blew his heart apart. Luckily for this man, he probably felt little pain. As for the guns that you confiscated, they were indeed the guns that killed this man." He turned toward Iragene, and said in an animated tone, "Once again the autopsy allows one 'to see for oneself.' A fascinating experience of learning," and he turned toward her. "Iragene, there's something I want to ask you." She looked at the young man, concern clouding her face. Damn, this sounded too serious!

End - Part 1 of 3

Jesse J Elliot now writes about what she has loved so much to read about—the Old West—except her stories always have a strong female protagonist. She's published four short stories in Frontier Tales Magazine, and three of these will be published in The Best of Frontier Tales, Volumes 5, 6 & 7. Another short story, "Lost in Time," appeared in the A Mail-Order Christmas Bride anthology, December 2015, published by Prairie Rose Publications. In her previous life she taught K-6, community college, and Educational methods at the University of New Mexico. In her free time, she reads, travels, C/W dances, and visits her family ranch in New Mexico.

Iragene Jones Published Short Stories in Frontier Tales:

"New Beginnings"


"Roberts Rules of Order"

"Stolen Lives"

Prairie Rose Publications

"Lost in Time" in A Mail-Order Christmas Bride anthology


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A Two-Piano Town
by River Hollins

With the new railroad had come painted whores and a fancy piano, and Brother Jed was not going to waste his opportunities.

So far, the town of Canaan had not been the land of promise he'd hoped for when he left Gettysburg with nothing but a carpetbag and his Bible. The town was little more than a single street, and even that trailed to brush at one end. The new station at the intersection of two railroads, the cattle yards, the saloon, the general store, the marshall's office and the church. A few houses. Not much to go on, but soon, there would be more, with attendant souls to save.

Jed reminded himself, daily, that the harvest was plentiful, and the workers were few, and fewer still now Preacher Jack—God rest his soul—was gone. He had moved in on his predecessor's flock as soon as they'd planted the old man in God's forlorn acre next to the half-finished chapel.

Having spent a few months in the town, and Brother Jed had decided that the Rev. Jack Thurston had been soft on the flock.

The new preacher came from a different theological school of thought. A harder one. Jed didn't intend to be gentle, not when their mortal souls were in peril. It was business, therefore, not pleasure, which saw Brother Jed sitting somewhat uncomfortably in Jezebel's parlor at ten o'clock in the morning.

This was his first opportunity to evangelize a harlot, and he opened his negotiations with quotes from the book of Jeremiah. His stern admonishment for being a purveyor of sin had not brought the response he'd quite expected. Madame DuPont neither wept for forgiveness nor raged in anger. She sat in rapt, polite attention, sipping her tea. She looked nothing like he'd expected either. Oh, she had braided hair and costly apparel, no doubt, her crow-black intricate ringlets piled high. Her clothing reflected the height of modest fashion. If he were not sitting in her private parlour at the Saloon, he would never have guessed her profession. She seemed lady of means like any other. The woman wasn't painted, but only the finest of lines showed around her lips and the corners of her dark eyes. A treacherous little thought—a whisper of Satan, surely—muttered in his left-hand ear that she looked remarkably fresh for a woman who hardly slept none. Or so he heard.

"You're one of my flock, Mrs. DuPont, and therefore, it is my duty to chastise you and lead you back to the—"

"Please call me Chantal. We need not be so formal in private, Father."

"Mrs. DuPont—"

"I'm so glad you are here, and we shall be good friends as I was with poor Father Jaques, who is now gone to the Holy Virgin. Tell me, when do you hear confessions?"

"That is a popish custom, ma'am. I'm a good Wesleyan." It was true Jed had never been to seminary as his predecessor had, but he could read better than most, and the Good Book had been his only reading matter since he was thirteen. Jed had heard, though, that confession was one of those godless Roman rites.

"Forgive me, Father, I was always so ignorant, on the matters of religion. I have so few opportunities to converse on intellectual subjects here in Canaan. The company is so, shall we say, rustic?"

"Ma'am I—"

"Theological discussion is always fascinating, I think. But I sense, Father (forgive me if I am wrong,) that this is more than a mere social call."

The preacher swallowed. "I hear you got a new piano. I was wondering if you had a mind to tithe the old one to the Lord."

He caught a spark in her eye, which he hoped was divine inspiration. He sent a silent prayer that the Holy Ghost might be at work in her soul, and move her to part with it for nothing.

"It met with an unfortunate accident, perhaps one year before I bought the salon." She didn't say the word right, but Brother Jed considered it wouldn't be Christian to correct her English. Weren't the poor harlot's fault she didn't know better, coming as she did from a heathen land.

"What happened?"

"A cowboy was offended by the music, apparently, and shot at the piano player. Or perhaps it was over a woman. Who can say? The piano player dived behind the instrument—you understand that this is a second-hand account, I could be wrong on the details—and returned the cowboy's musical criticism. The piano was caught in the crossfire, and a bullet went right through the wood into the musician's shoulder. He lost his arm, and with it, his profession. And, of course, the piano was ruined. So tragic, non?"

It was. But the ruined piano could be washed in the blood of the Lamb.

"Like our Lord and Saviour, I'm the son of a carpenter. If you let me have it, I can redeem the piano as I would your soul."

"Ah, but surely it is God, Father, who will redeem this piano, and your hands  . . . " her fine, dark gaze trailed in a slow meander to where he twisted his hat in his lap, "shall be merely the means by which the Lord shall heal."

"I can't fault your reasoning," responded the preacher, mollified that at least some of his earlier witnessing had gotten through.

"Bien. I shall sell it to you for a modest sum. All the keys are more or less intact. Do you play?"

He hadn't thought of that.

"No ma'am, I confess I don't."

Another genteel sip. "Ah. Perhaps your lovely wife plays? She must be such a comfort and a helpmeet to you in your missionary work in these wild lands."

"The  . . . the Lord has not seen fit to bless me in the institution of marriage." He wished now he'd waited a little longer in Pensylvania for that particular blessing before responding to the Call. There weren't a lot of women who'd make suitable missionary's wives out here. There weren't a lot of women out here at all.

"Alors, what a pity. A musical instrument, Father, is like a woman. She needs to be to be played, to be touched, to be loved, to retain her sweetness of tone." Her voice had dropped to almost a murmur. Brother Jed pulled at his collar. Outside, the sun was climbing.

"I  . . . I  . . . "

"Now. I have a pianist. My Keziah. And she also knows the proper care of such instruments, the tuning, the pulling of the little hammers and how to keep strings in the correct tension. She's very skilled. I'll send her to you—"

"Mrs. DuPont!"

The lady waved her hand dismissively. "Non, non. Think nothing of it. No need to thank me. She can play in your little church on Sunday, as well. It is her day off, after all. It is a kindness that will cost me nothing."

"Ma'am, I really must pro—"

There was a discrete knock on the door. A sleepy-looking Mexican girl, not wearing much over her night corset, entered and murmured low in the madam's ear. Jed averted his eyes. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. At that moment, the gospel's righteous sentence seemed a trifle harsh.

"I'm afraid I must bid you adieu, Father Jed. Another appointment. My little dove, she will show you out. I'll send my man around with the instrument. The side door, Maria." This last, confusing comment was directed at the young lady, who smiled and nodded.

With that dismissal, Brother Jed was led down the hall to a different door to the one he'd used to enter the building. He ran right into Gideon Holbrooke, looking almost relaxed chatting to another of Mrs. DuPont's charges, his shotgun angled down and away from his companion. "I apologize for callin' so early, can you let Madame DuPont know I'm here? I just need a few minutes of her time—oh hey Brother Jed."

There was something off about that marshall, and the vicious scar down one side of his face spoke of a violent past. Another soul to save, as like as not, though they said he was a praying man. Nevertheless, Holbrooke looked very much at home in this pit of iniquity. The marshall's gaze ran to the young woman by Brother Jed's side. A sudden thought struck Jed that a midmorning call for a good Christian might be an unreasonably early hour for those who labored all night. Heat rose to the missionary's face as he realised how the situation looked.

"Marshall, I can expl—"

Holbrook held up his free hand in a placating gesture.

"I see you're settlin' into Canaan good, Brother," he said. The lawman's face split into a grin wider than the River Jordan. "You'll find it to be a land flowin' with milk and honey."

The End

River Hollins is a writer of alternative historical fiction with an unfortunate sense of humor. She lives with her family, two woodpeckers and eight alpacas on nine acres of red clay.

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by Bill Wilbur

The preacher knew he was in trouble when he saw the first buzzard circling lazily overhead. It was late in the morning on the third day of his trek across the harsh barren land of southeastern New Mexico and the heat already pressed down on him with an oppressive weight that sapped his energy. The scavenger flew straight for him out of the eastern sky with the blinding, early morning sun behind it like a fireball exploded up from the pits of hell.

Jedediah McNeel squinted against the glare, studying the uneven terrain. Scrub Oak and Yucca dotted the land as far as he could see. The sandy brown clay of the desert was too hostile to sustain more than that. Twice yesterday he'd stumbled toward a shimmering oasis to find it not there, an illusion brought on by the heat and his own delirium.

Removing his frock coat, which he'd worn against the freezing cold desert night, he realized he no longer had complete control over his mind. A single thought repeated on an endless loop. "I'm going to die today." A dry wind called out his name as it whispered across the wasteland. Jedediah's head snapped up and he spun in every direction. The wind came from the East, rolling over a small rise, picking up a thin cloud of loose dust. The fine silt congealed in the corners of his eyes and tasted coppery in his mouth as if blood had been spilled here.

He stumbled forward from sheer will of spirit. The pressure in his skull made thinking difficult and his eyes were overly sensitive to the blinding harshness of the sun. His blistered feet swelled within his boots and what little sweat there was dried instantly in the unrelenting heat. At the base of a small, sandy hill, he wiped the salt from his forehead and, leaning forward, scrambled up. Digging his hands into the hot clay, he sunk his fingers deep and pulled himself slowly toward the summit, lunging forward with his feet but dropping to his knees over and over as he climbed.

From the sun-bleached sand to the west, a pair of yellow eyes followed the preacher's progress. Unblinking and intently focused, they followed the man's stumbling, fitful ascent up the small incline. When finally the man topped the rise and disappeared down the far side, the sand shifted, became flesh and followed.

"Test yer faith, Padre." The man with the split lip and lazy eye smiled, showing random teeth yellowed by neglect. He shoved a pistol into Jedediah's face. "Now's yer chance. How much do you believe?" The man cocked the gun and placed it against the preacher's temple. "You choose. Die quick with a bullet and meet God right now, or suffer for days in the desert and trust God to save you."

He had chosen the desert. Moses and the Israelites survived 40 years in the desert on faith alone. Perhaps God was testing him as he had Moses. Or perhaps he had forsaken him.

At the top of the hill, Jedediah spied a small cropping of yucca, bunched together in an otherwise barren landscape. They would offer scant relief from the heat, but it was better than the alternative. He started carefully down the slope of the hill, but gravity and momentum got the better of him and he tumbled headlong down the side. A jagged rock halted his progress and knocked the breath out of him. Dark spots floated before his eyes. His lungs screamed for oxygen. For a moment the world grayed and he closed his eyes against it. And it felt good.

'Take me now, Lord,' he thought. He felt himself slipping, surrendering to heat sickness. Relief washed over him. Death was coming to claim him and he was ready. His heart began to slow as his body succumbed. Images of blood flashed in his mind. Memories of distant towns and past deeds flowed like a river through him. He hadn't always been a preacher, and God was reminding him of that here, in his final moments.

At the top of the rise, the sand shifted and settled without a sound. The yellow eyes glowed golden, reflecting the intense rays of the sun as they stared down at the preacher and waited.

"Tularosa's three days ride that way." The outlaw used the barrel of his pistol to point the direction. "Probably a week on foot." He tossed a nearly empty mule skin of water on the ground at the preacher's feet and swung the gun around toward Jedediah's face. "Unless you changed yer mind. It'll be quicker my way. Some of the boys are scared about killin a man of the cloth. They're afraid for their souls." He glanced at his men and then back to Jedediah. "Just so you know, I ain't scared of nothin'. My soul's already been sullied. Now git if you're goin'."

Jedediah looked the man square in the eyes and with seething calm said quietly, "The righteous man is rescued from trouble, and it comes on the wicked instead."

As the heat of the sun assaulted him, he dreamt of an enormous beast rising up from the earth to blot out the sun. The creature's body was made of the earth from which it was born. A screech filled the air as its eyes glowed with some inner fire. It rose to an impossible height and raised one earthen arm. With a great, bellowing howl it brought one huge paw crashing toward him, its great talon-like claws extended to shred him to doll ribbons.

In the darkness another screech broke the vision and Jedediah opened his eyes. The light had shifted to the west and taken on an orange glow. While still oppressive, the heat had lessened and the earth cooled begrudgingly. Jedediah was suddenly aware of movement beside him and he bolted upright.

Perched on the rock against which he rested was a vulture, its feathers in a constant state of molting, one eye dangling from the socket by tendons. It seemed to regard him for a moment and then screeched again so loud and long that Jedediah was forced to cup his hands over his ears. Beneath his palms, he could feel heat blisters that had bubbled on his cheeks while he was unconscious.

Satisfied, the bird hopped down and skittered over to the fresh carcass of a rabbit. Dipping its beak to the animal, the bird tore free a strip of bloody flesh and gobbled it down. Screeching again, it swung a bloody beak toward Jedediah and, with a short hop, took flight.

"Thank you, Lord." Jedediah scrambled over to the rabbit. Salivating heavily, he found a sharp edged rock and used it to strip the meat away from fur and bone. The work was slow and exhausting and the muscles in his arms ached for nourishment. By the time he finished, his hands were bloody to the wrist. Too hungry to try and start a fire, Jed tore off a chunk of raw meat with his teeth and closed his eyes while he chewed, like a man in the throes of ecstasy. Warm blood trickled off his chin as he chewed the meat into manageable bites. He felt his body react instantly to the fuel, which only made him dip his head for more. For the moment he was more animal than man.

In his frenzied eating, he became slowly, dully aware of a dark presence. He felt the weight of a constant stare bearing down on him. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as a sudden stench permeated the desert air, a putrescence that overpowered even the smell of the dead rabbit in his hands.

A low rumble came from every direction at once. Nearly imperceptible, the sound was broken by a series of short chuffing sounds, like the sound of a scythe whipping through wheat. Slowly, Jedediah turned his head, glancing up over his shoulder to the top of the rise behind him. The low position of the sun turned the land blood red as it relinquished its hold on the earth while the new moon peeked like a lover over the top of the dune. In that moment of twilight, between day and night when spirits roamed the land, Jedediah thought he saw a shape in the heat vapors. At the top of the hill, he could just make out the faint outline of the creature from his nightmare, the long talons silhouetted against the dying light. There was a sudden flash of golden glowing eyes and then the creature was gone, back to the sand and clay from whence it came.

He walked away from certain death at the hands of the gunmen into the unforgiving terrain. Their laughter followed him, rising on the heat waves dancing all around, like demons taunting him further. He knew his chances of survival were slim indeed, but there was a chance nonetheless. The first day on foot as the full intensity of the sun bore down on him, he'd conjured gruesome punishments for the outlaws, injuries and tortures unbefitting a man of the cloth. But he hadn't always been a preacher, and the old ways sometimes reared their heads in times of crisis. He'd stopped carrying a gun years ago, but if he'd had one when they rode down on him things would be different now. His hands still held the memory of a pistol, his fingers the trigger. If only he'd had a gun.

Far overhead, the moon hung lazy in the desert sky bathing everything in cool, blue light and casting elongated shadows across the land. Scrub brush and sage dotted the earth and rustled in the constant chill wind. Jedediah stumbled onward at a quick, unsteady pace, choosing his direction at random. He threw worried glances over his shoulder every few seconds and mumbled constantly to himself, reciting bible passages amidst a running conversation with his long dead father. His fingers picked absentmindedly at his blistered face, creating slow streaming rivulets of pus and blood.

For the last hour, something large stalked him through the underbrush. If he listened closely, Jedediah could hear the soft, shuffling footfalls of a large beast moving quietly in the night. Always keeping pace with him, shadowing him, no faster and no slower. Half blind with the desert sickness, he stumbled into an outcropping of Devil's Grass, which wrapped itself tightly around his ankles and pulled him hard to the ground. Rolling onto his back, he lay breathing heavy and listening to the shuffling footsteps which drew closer before stopping. A faint, high-pitched growl emanated from the dark.

Jedediah closed his eyes in desperate prayer. His heart raced, ratcheted up by fear and fever. "Lord," he pleaded. "Deliver me from evil. Show me a sign that you have not forsaken me in this time of tribulation." From somewhere close by came the familiar soft chuffing sound of his dream. Untangling his feet, he stood. His weak legs threatened to buckle under the weight but somehow he remained upright. "The Lord helps those who help themselves." Leaning forward, he broke into a headlong, stumbling run.

For a mile or more, the land sloped upward at a gradual angle, steep enough for his leg muscles to burn as he climbed. From high above him came a long, sustained screech. Silhouetted against the moon, awash in that soft halo of light, the vulture floated, nearly motionless on some unseen draft. Squinting, Jedediah could make out the molted feather tips, and dangling eyeball of his old friend. "He is my shepherd,' the preacher thought. With an intense rim lighting etched around edges of the outstretched wings, the bird soared like an arrow pointing the way. "And God divided the light from the darkness," he said. Moving faster, his eyes skyward, Jedediah followed his savior.

The incline grew sharper as he neared the top. His fingertips were bloody from scraping the dirt and rock as he pulled himself up the slope. His shadowy companion still paced his movements, moving closer each time Jedediah stumbled. If he could only gain the summit, he was sure salvation waited on the other side.

The first rays of the sun lit the sky as they stretched across the desert. Jedediah hardly noticed. Just short of the top of the rise he fell, face forward and there he lay. Every fiber of his being cried mercy. His addled mind whispered that now was the time to give up. Now was the time to lay still. Now was the time to die.

Overhead, the vulture screeched and made a spiraling nosedive for the ground and Jedediah pushed himself up once again. He was ready to die, but not here just short of his goal. At the summit he would rest. A steady, thunderous rumbling built until it resonated in his skull. Behind him the footfalls of the devil who'd chased him through the night picked up speed.

Jedediah lunged forward, feeling the warmth of the sun's rays—and yet not feeling the warmth of the sun's rays. The end was near and drawing closer with every breath. But the summit was nearer. The footfalls came on. Thunder drowned them out. Behind him the vulture screeched and Jedediah whipped around.

The beast, born of the earth, stood on massive legs, swatted the air with sinewy arms while the vulture darted and weaved and attacked. Letting out a piercing bellow, the creature dropped low to the ground, avoiding the outstretched talons and gnashing beak of the vulture. Two powerful forces locked in battle, at war for Jedediah's soul.

With a mighty clawed paw, the beast lunged from the ground, swatting the bird from the air. The steady rolling thunder grew to a fever pitch. Jedediah threw himself backward up the hill. To reach the summit was all that mattered. The earth began to shake. As he watched, the nightmare vision pounced on the vulture. With one final, terrifying screech the fight was over.

Jedediah topped the rise. He could feel the beast closing in. Careening down the other side, Jedediah was deafened by the unrelenting roar of thunder. Above the sound, the beast's cries found him as it too came over the hill and moved like a locomotive toward him. Jedediah bent and picked up a sun-beaten long dead yucca staff and turned to face the demon.

Backing away slowly, Jedediah crossed a bare rocky path. His body vibrated with the rumbling earth. Still fifteen feet away the beast leapt. Jedediah planted his feet, wielding the staff before him like a sword. The beast slammed into him and his foot found a deep rut. They tumbled together as a louder clap of thunder sounded. The sound reverberated off the surrounding landscape. And everything stopped.

* * *

He came to with thunder still rumbling in his ears. His body was being jostled about and he slowly opened his eyes on the interior of a stagecoach. An angel was dabbing his forehead lightly with a cool cloth. With all his effort, he pushed himself up, but her soft hand on his shoulder was enough to hold him.

"There now," she said. Her voice soft and lilting was pure heaven to his ears. "You just lie still. We'll be in Tularosa in a few minutes. Everything will be alright."

Jedediah lay back and closed his eyes. "I have fought the good fight," he said in a low, raspy whisper. "I have finished the race. I have kept the faith."

The angel leaned in closer. "The stage driver said that was the biggest mountain lion he's ever seen." Her smile lit the dark interior. "Lucky for you he's a good shot."

* * *

It took nearly eight months but he had tracked them here to this small border town in southern New Mexico. He rode with the stiffness of an injured man though there was not a scratch on him. There were four saloons in this town, and he started with the closest. He entered the murky saloon and saw the man he'd been tracking as soon as his eyes adjusted. Adjusting the weight of his gunbelt, he walked right up to the man. "You Rafe Carrington?"

The man at the bar turned slowly toward him. Even in the darkness of the saloon, his lazy eye and split lip were recognizeable.

"Well, I'll be damned." His words were slurred from too much whiskey. "Preacher?"

Jedediah's expression didn't changed.

Carrington laughed, a phlegmy, deep sound. "I guess you had the faith after all." He turned back to his bottle.

Jedediah spun him back around and wih his free hand, moved the lapel of his coat revealing the star pinned to his chest. "Care to test your own faith?"

Carrington clawed for his gun but Jedediah's came up first. He pushed the barrel into the big man's stomach and squeezed the trigger twice. Carrington stumbled drunkedly before pitching forward on the floor.

Un-pinning the badge, he placed it on the bar and then pulled a folded parchment from his coat pocket. "Sorry about the mess. That should cover it." He tossed the wanted poster down next to the star.

He hadn't always been a preacher.

The End

Bill Wilbur's first western came out in 2005 and has recently been picked up by a production company to be turned into a feature film. Bill was born, as many of us were, a very small child. He has lived his entire adult life in the west and has lectured on Billy The Kid. You can reach Bill at

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Gunpowder and Perfume
by Edward W. L. Smith

The night was cold and rainy, the kind of Utah night that makes you want to stay inside. And that is just what the boys did, stay inside. To pass the long evening, they sat around the big pot-bellied stove and listened to the old-timer as he offered up one of his many tales. He was known for spinning a good yarn, the sort of yarn that helps you forget the weather outside.

"Sam Bankton was one ornery son-of-a-bitch, he was. You didn't want to cross him. Cross him and you just might end up dead. I seen him back down many a man."

At this, one of the members of the old-timer's wide-eyed audience jumped in, most likely speaking for every one of them. "Did he ever shoot anybody here in Dry Springs?"

"Don't really know. Let's say he was never caught. But some say he was a hired gun slinger, all right. He never worked while he hung around here. So we always wondered where he got his money. Always seemed to have money."

A grizzled old man sitting a way off from the rest proffered his opinion. "Maybe he was good at gambling and got it at the saloon playin' poker or black jack."

Regaining the floor with haste and an emphatic tone the old-timer deftly put his story back on course. "Couldn't be it. Oh, he might play a few hands now and then, but Sam was never a big winner. No, more likely he did some shooting for hire someplace and got paid a lot for it. Any way, he was sort of a saddle tramp, you know, never stayed any one place too long. Probably had to keep moving. He'd never said where he was from and nobody dared ask him outright."

The grizzled man spoke again as he pulled his chair closer to the small semicircle of eager listeners who were now looking back at the storyteller. "Well how do you know he moved around if nobody ever asked this man Sam?"

"Well you could tell by his outfit and his saddle that he had been in a lot of places." The old-timer sounded annoyed by the interruption of his story, but took up the challenge, nonetheless. "He wore a hat that was Colorado style. You know, medium wide brim, not too high, flat on top, with a braided leather cord around it. Sometimes he had on chaps made out of sheepskin. That says north, you know, Wyoming, Montana. Then his boots; they were Texas style."

Without elaboration about the boots, he paused and slowly scanned his audience, looking each man in the eye for a second or two. Then, as if making a big revelation, he narrowed his eyes and spoke slowly. "His spurs, they were pure Mexican. You know, with those big spiked rowels. And that big, wide saddle horn. Oh, he'd been in Mexico all right. And the gun he carried? It was cavalry issue! Now tell me that doesn't say a man who's been around."

No one there was conversant with such technical details, or if he was, he decided not to bother to debate either their accuracy or their force in establishing the conclusion that the old-timer had drawn from them.

So, looking pleased with himself, the story teller continued. "Some say he was on the run because of the shooting he'd done. Maybe this is why everybody sort of kept their distance—everybody but Lorrie, that is."

Now came the pregnant pause. Another slow look around the semi-circle of his small but eager audience. Sitting back on two legs of his well-worn ladder-back chair, and pausing with a look to the ceiling, he resumed.

"Lorrie was a new singer over at the White Horse saloon. She came from someplace in Kentucky according to 'Knuckles,' the piano player. She was a pretty little thing. Most of them Eastern women are, you know. And could she ever sing!"

As if he thought he had diminished his statement about her being pretty by making pulchritude too common, he went on in the previous vein. "She was just a little thing. Petite, you could say. And I mean no disrespect by sayin' she had curves, curves where God meant women to have curves. Her hair was long, most down to her waist, and the color of fresh straw. It had some wave to it so it bounced when she walked. Smelled good, too. When she walked by it was like fresh spring flowers. And what a face! I can't even describe it. I'd say it's the kind of face an artist would want to paint  . . . or the kind of face a man would die for."

Such an image must have been almost too much for the old-timer to ponder, for he stopped, placed the other two legs of his chair firmly on the floor and for the first time since he started his story, took a long drink from the jug that had been patiently sitting next to him.

He winced. Putting a serious look on his face, and with a tone that would have done a history professor proud while delivering a lecture, the old-timer explained. "Sam met Lorrie in the saloon about her first night in Dry Springs. For the next couple a weeks he came there every night to see her. They'd laugh and talk, and Sam would buy her a drink. Then she would sing some and Sam would just sit and listen. You could see a little smile on his face. Now, beautiful women ain't too plentiful in these parts, but even so, no one wanted to throw any competition at Sam, what with his being so free with a gun.

"The folks in Dry Springs got used to seeing Sam and Lorrie together at the White Horse. But this stranger that drifted into town was another story. Name was Red, according to Knuckles. Red had his eye on Lorrie from the start. He stood at the bar, kind of leaning, and just stared at her. No one said a thing, but folks started watching Sam. He was play'n cards. Then it happened. Red, he called out to Lorrie. He said, 'Hey there, little lady.' The saloon got real quiet. Then Red, he said, 'Why don't cha come come over here and sing me a little song? I ain't been sung to for a long time.' Then he sort a chuckled and looked around at everybody. Lorrie stood quiet at the end of the bar and just looked down at the floor."

The old-timer now had his audience in rapt attention. He took his time in catching another swig from his jug. Wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his flannel shirt, he continued his story. "Sam stood up  . . . real slow. Walked over toward Red, then paused. Then he gave an order, 'Stranger, finish your drink and be on your way. The lady doesn't want anything to do with you.'

"We'll never know whether he would have shot or not, but Red went for his gun. He was slow. That don't take anything from Sam, cause Sam was truly fast. Sam pulled that army shootin' iron off his hip and laid it square cross Red's face! Blood come out of Red's mouth and he hit the floor. He just lay there for a while, while everybody just stood quiet and watched. Then he sat up, face all red with blood. Sam walked out the door and we never seen him again.

"Now the funny thing was, Lorrie didn't show up to sing the next night. Or, the night after. When Sam and Lorrie didn't show up for over a week, we all knew Sam was a goner. Some of the boys went out to the shack where Sam was stayin', but it was empty. Ransacked, all broke up inside. They searched for a new grave, but nothing. Prob'ly never know where they buried Sam. We figured that Lorrie and Red must have gone in cahoots. Red got his revenge and Lorrie got a ticket out of Dry Springs. That conniving little Easterner and her new boyfriend knew Sam had money. We all knew that. We formed a posse and looked for her and her friend, but we had no luck. We rode miles and miles that next couple a weeks. Every road, every direction for miles. Not a sign of Lorrie or Red.

"That just goes to show you, you can't trust a woman, and least of all Easter women. We thought Lorrie and Sam were sweet on each other, but it seems we were wrong."

So ended the tale by the proprietor of the Dry Springs general store. He was quite adept at telling his version of the history of Dry Springs, but his powers of observation were, it seems, rather limited. On a barrel near the door, not twenty feet from where he sat, was a label that read:

Louisville, Kentucky
Owned and Managed by
Sam Bankton & Sons

The End

Answering multiple muses, Edward W. L. Smith has published nine non-fiction books, essays, magazine articles, short stories, and poetry. His work has appeared in Energy and Character, The Haunted Traveler, Parabola, Pilgrimage, Poetry Haiku, The Stray Branch, Vagabonds, and Voices. Most recent books: The Psychology of Artists and the Arts and Embodied Gestalt Practice. An emeritus professor of psychology, he lives part time on a small barrier island off the coast of Georgia.

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The Seeress
by Willy Whiskers, Constable of Calliope Nv.

No one remembered when she arrived in town. They could remember when she was not there and when she was there, but not when she came.

To say she was disheveled was giving her a piece. Her green mutton sleeved dress was threadbare with several open seams. The once bright red paisley shawl stained with random spots set off her face along with her bird's nest black matted hair. She could have been a fright, but most folks just looked upon her with a tisk tisk on their lips.

Then there was the stone. In a black velvet bag, she kept a smooth round granite river coble which she produced when it was time to tell someone's future. Extracting the stone from its pocket, she would balance it in her left hand while she pushing the bag around forming it into a kind of nest. After gently placing the rock among the folds she would put both hands on it and closed her eyes.

Having no place of her own, she walked a circuit of the town during the day. At night she took her place at a tiny table in the far corner of the Peachtree Saloon. When she grew tired she would roll her eyes, hang her head and fall asleep. The saloon staff had orders from Savanna Sal to leave her alone and just button up the shop around her. In the morning she wondered a few streets away from the town center where the banker's wife Lilian Teasdale lived. Lilian liked to sit on her porch and have tea with biscuits. Once she invited our dirty friend up on the porch and since then there was a cup of tea and a pastry waiting for her every morning. Even if Mrs. Teasdale was away the housekeeper made sure the breakfast was provided.

She found a soft spot at the livery for a few more hours sleep then visited saloons and stores up and down the main street offering fortunes for drinks and gratuities. By the evening she enthroned herself back at the Peachtree where for a few cents she would read her rock for you.

The townsfolk looked askance at a fortuneteller in their midst until Mrs. Teasdale started getting her own future read which made it chic among the other ladies of note. Once the best people of the town approved, it became fine for anyone to spend a few minutes with the Seeress. Ladies asked about love and men. Men asked about money, unless it was a young man who also wanted to know about love.

One night at the Peachtree, Muley Sam was panhandling the patrons trying to gather enough money for a small grub stake so he could make another foray into the hills looking for the gold vein that would make him rich. Finding himself at the Seeress' table he sat down.

"Madam," it was cute of him to be so formal. "I don't got enough to pay you, but when I strike it rich I'll pay you ten times over. Please point me in the right direction."

Recognizing a kindred spirit, she had Sam put his hand on top of the stone as she held it from both sides, she closed her eyes and looked deep into her mind. "Oh Sam, you have already found your gold mine, you just don't know it. Go where you have gone before, but do not look at the ground. Look up towards the sky. It is above from where your treasure will come." With that she removed her hands from the stone and leaned back in her chair. She never went back on her fortunes and never explained them.

By then a crowd had gathered around the table. Sam looked up and pled to the men, "There you see! I'm going to find it this time. She said so." Holding up his hat he continued, "Now who of you will take a chance on me? You want to be rich don't you?" With a few more contributed so Sam came away with enough for a few weeks of prospecting.

In a dark corner of the saloon skulked a trio of ne'er-do-wells. Joe Lynch, Pet Pough and Lark Morley. Collectively they had failed at most jobs one can do in town. Presently they were reduced to shoveling stalls, slopping hogs and cleaning chamber pots. In their depravity they were envious of just about anyone else, but especially the Seeress. They saw her as a fraud and could not understand why she was so well thought of even though she seemed just as downtrodden as they. Just as the poor will prey on the poor instead of the rich, these villains hatched a mean plan to humiliate the woman and make a buck in the process.

Near the end of one night a few days after Muley Sam's reading, the Seeress nodded off in the chair with the stone sitting in its nest on the table in front of her. The trio then put their plan into action. Joe stepped up to the table as the other two men stood in front of him shielding his actions. Silently, with a quick snatch he removed the stone and hid it under his hat. The three walked out of the bar without anyone paying attention. It was not until well past midnight when the Seeress awoke from her nap that the theft was discovered.

She found the key to the back door and bolted out into the street calling out that she was destroyed. There were not many out at that hour, but she made such a ruckus the sheriff, Billy Blowbag, was awakened, and even Mrs. Teasdale came out on her porch in her nightgown.

In the morning a folded piece of paper was found nailed to the saloon's front door. How it got there no one knew. It read:

We have the rock. If she wants it back it will cost $5000. Put the money in a strong box on the stage to Carson City. Leave it among the willows by Windy Gulch and drive away. We will return it in the box.

The stage made two runs a week and would be pulling out in two days. Spurred on by his wife, the town banker Thomas Teasdale took the lead in fund-raising. The saloons and stores all put jars up for contributions. A few adhoc raffles were organized as well.

Interestingly, no one thought to ask if the Seeress know who took her stone. If they had she would have told them that her gift of second sight only works for others and not for herself.

Amidst the hubbub she kept her rounds during these dark days, but refused all fortunes for she did not have her crystal ball. She was a vision of pity seated alone in her corner of the saloon. On the night before the stage was to leave she got up and in a circuitous route made her way to where the trio were seated. Looking down at them with her piercing eyes she said quietly, "I think you should settle for 1200, the town can do that."

They said not a word, but wore looks of wonder, fear and query. She went ahead and answered the question they were thinking. "I wouldn't be much of a seeress if I didn't know what happened to my stone or maybe I just wasn't as asleep as you thought."

Later when she met with the recovery committee and they told her they were having trouble getting the full five thousand, she closed her eyes and looked deeply into her mind. "They will take $1200 if you offer it. Just leave a note that I said it was enough."

No one questioned her vision and the next day they placed the sum in the strongbox and sent it off on the stage. Many of them sat in vigil in from of the Sheriff's office, pensive about the outcome. It was rare to have such an exciting event in our small town.

The driver dropped the box among the willows and on his return he picked it up. Noticing it had moved from where he left it, he could not help himself and lifted the lid. Sure enough, there was the fabled rock none the worse for wear.

Joy filled the town and the Seeress was very busy telling fortunes to any and all who came to see her. She accepted food and drink from her patrons but refused any money, saying they had contributed more than enough getting her beloved back for her.

Late that night she appeared at the door of the rented room over the general store that the trio shared. They opened the door and in the dim light of their oil lamp they saw her. Not with her usual gentile countenance, but with the look of pure hated. Stepping boldly into the room she addressed them right off. "So, you made some money at my expense and I want some of it."

"We earned it fair and square. You got your rock back." Joe was trying to be brave as a little water dribbled down his leg.

"I'll split it with you," she replied as a slight lessening of tension swept over the men. "I'll take a thousand."

"That only leaves us two hundred," Joe squawked.

"Yes it does and what's more you will be free to spend it. The way this town feels right now if I tell them that I had a vision and knew who took my stone there isn't a jury in this territory who'd let you get away with it. The banker will damn sure want his money back. He put up $500 of his own money. So it will be a thousand."

Being the consummate charlatan, she went on as nothing had happened, telling her fortunes and making her rounds for the next few weeks. She did notice that the novelty of having a town seer was starting to wear off.

During this whole affair Muley Sam was about his prospecting until one day in a box canyon he was picking through rocks, splitting a few with his hammer when the memory of his fortune came back to him. Taking her advice, he looked up and to his amazement there on the underside of an outcropping fifteen feet or so above was what looked like a wide vein of white quartz, perhaps containing some gold.

It took him another day to make a ladder to reach it, but when he did it took only a few swings of his hammer and he knocked off a fist size chunk of rock laden with gold. Waiting until he was back on the ground before he started jumping up and down, he quickly packed his mule, marked the location of his find and headed back to town for a positive assay and the start of his new life.

A gold strike, any gold strike is big news. There was a crowd outside the assay office all waiting for the report. The agent opened his door and read the report from the door way as the sidewalk was impassable. "It's gold all right," he announced. "Should bring about $2000 a ton."

The townsfolk lifted Muley Sam on their shoulders and paraded him around the town until they got to the Peachtree Saloon. Going inside they went up to the Seeress' table, but she was not there. As a matter of fact, she was not anywhere. Everyone searched over the next few days, but to no effect. She was gone.

No one remembered when she arrived in town. They could remember when she was not there and when she was there, but not when she came. Over time no one remembered when she left the town. They could remember when she was there and when she was not there, but not when she left.

The End

Willy Whiskers, Constable of Calliope Nevada is an active Cowboy Action Shooter from Florida and a retired Physics teacher, but that's not who Willy really is . . .

Born in 1854 in Missouri, he found the answer to life in 1923 in Carson City Nevada. Starting out with the railroad, he becoming an engineer at the age of 21. Holding many jobs, like station agent in Fallon NV and railroad detective, he ended up as Constable of Calliope, Nevada, This is where we meet him through his stories in Frontier Tales.

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