Heaven and Hail
by Charles David
During the scorching summer of 1885, Blaze Two-Feathers emerged from the hills of the Great American Desert and trekked down the dried-up riverbed of the Rio Concho. He landed smack dab in the middle of Scoville. Most folks figured the incredible heat had forced him out of the blistering caprock, but Blaze Two-Feathers had a much hotter reason for coming to town:
Miss Jolene Paducah.
That Texas gal could make men cry with one taste of her chili pepper pie. When beaus came calling to sample her sweet, spicy dish, tears would gush from their eyeballs, and snot would stream past their lips. And though each fellow felt like a furnace of fire, nothing could quench his burning desire for the flavory, savory concoction and cook. The fact remains that all of Miss Jolene's suitors and flames would sizzle, fizzle, and then skedaddle right out of town, having failed her valid and reliable, true-love test. Hence, she remained cold-hearted, haughty, and tough, 'cause no man was ever good enough.
Blaze Two-Feathers was here to change all that.
Through the drought-stricken town and with its citizens in tow, Blaze smelt his way right to Miss Jolene's door and clanged her dinner bell.
She greeted him with an icy glare and waved her barbed-wired whisk. "You here to give us a go?"
Blaze Two-Feathers grinned.
"Well mister, around here courtships are short—all done in a day. I fill that belly with some nice tasting fire; you fill that riverbed with my fondest desire—cold, flowing water. You fail—you hit the trail. You succeed—it's you and me, indeed. Agreed?"
Blaze Two-Feathers nodded.
She turned to the crowd. "Y'all head on 'round back for this little test, 'cause I've just brewed a batch of my bubbly best."
Blaze Two-Feathers yanked a sheet off the clothesline and tied it around his neck as he took a seat in the heat.
Miss Jolene offered him a plate and spoon, but he grabbed the skillet and ladle.
He eyed the combustible pie, shoveled it up, shoved it in, and swallowed it down—whole.
He made motions for more as he glowed from yellow to orange to firecracker red.
But Miss Jolene poured him some tabasco tea with jalapeño honey instead.
Between slurps and burps, his breath shot out purple, blue, and finally bright white.
His forehead flowed with precipitation, his mouth dripped with condensation, and his ears steamed with evaporation. He was in heaven.
He took a look at the cook. A chill shot up his spine. Blaze Two-Feathers gave Miss Jolene Paducah a smile that she knew was for her and for her alone.
He then jumped up, flapped his arms, tapped his toes, and danced to his heart's content.
Soon up in the hills a raincloud began to form. It grew larger, darker, and nearer the harder Blaze danced.
The people cheered.
Miss Jolene started to shiver and shake. How could this shabby stranger waltz in like a whirlwind and win her hand so easily? Was he truly the one? She had to be sure. She hurried to toss together a fresh and fiery, potent and powerful, searing and scalding, chili pepper pie—deluxe.
She stirred as fast as she could, causing fumes to rise and a swirling wind to begin. The harder she stirred, the stronger the fumes—the stronger the fumes, the gustier the wind— the gustier the wind, the dustier the air—until finally a genuine west Texas storm sprung up and spun straight toward the oncoming cloud.
The crowd gasped as the storm and cloud collided. The sky flashed with sheets and streaks of lightning then exploded into claps and crashes of thunder.
Neither the cloud nor the storm would budge.
The test had turned into a contest.
Blaze Two-Feathers danced feverishly.
Miss Jolene Paducah stirred peevishly.
For two hours hail plummeted the hills.
It became clear it was a standoff, with the storm prevailing by preventing the cloud from coming to town.
Blaze Two-Feathers stopped dancing. The dark cloud disappeared.
Miss Jolene Paducah stopped stirring. The strong wind ceased.
For the next few hours an inferno steeped—with intense heat and crushed hopes.
No one moved, until Blaze Two-Feathers made his way back to the table and dipped in the ladle.
As he munched, crunched, and scrunched, Blaze gazed upon Miss Jolene.
This warmed her heart. Miss Jolene Paducah gave Blaze Two-Feathers a smile that he knew was for him and for him alone.
He tipped his hat.
Their eyes spoke silent words of what-might-have-been, but both knew he was obliged to return to the desert, defeated.
As he strolled out of sight, a shimmer, like a teardrop, rolled out of the hills.
People whispered, "A mirage?" But soon icy water gushed forth, filling the riverbed.
Miss Jolene Paducah bent down, plucked out a fish and then another. She called to the crowd, "This water's freezing, with fish for the taking. It's time for celebrating."
Everyone jumped in to catch fish for a feast—for engagements are even shorter than courtships in west Texas.
Miss Jolene set out to retrieve her groom.
The townspeople prepared for a wing-ding of a wedding.
Since they figured the sweltering heat had melted all that hail in the hills and caused the Rio Concho to flood and spill over to Scoville, they made Blaze Two-Feathers the town hero.
However, he and Miss Jolene were never-again seen.
To this day, Texans tell the torrid tale of the true-love test, and how Miss Jolene Paducah still wanders the wilderness in search of her beloved, Blaze Two-Feathers. Where at sunset, orange, pink, and red fumes can be seen wafting from her chili pepper pies into the west Texas skies.
Facts about this fiction:
The Great American Desert was the inaccurate designation given to this part of West Texas, where the Concho flowed, in 1885.
Scoville is the measurement used for indicating the degree of hotness in peppers. (Scoville scale.)
Scorpions and spiders perform lively dances to win over their mates.
This story is based on an occurrence chronicled by Isaac Monroe Cline in 1885 which told of West Texas' mid-summer temperatures at 160 degrees and a bulging river of icy water produced by a hail storm! (Storms, Floods and Sunshine an Autobiography / Memoirs of the Great Hurricane Weather Forecaster).
Charles David is an Interpreter Trainer, Professor at Lone Star College, Houston, Texas and writer of short stories and poems.
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Gunslinger Clancy Hobbs
by Robert Gilbert
Two hours past noon the Arizona Diablo Saloon had its usual customers of miners and drifters. They draped against the bar and their voices for the moment were clamorous. This round of beer was on the house because Big Johnny Ubanks had uncovered another vein of silver along Ghost Hill Range. He was here to brag and celebrate. Two whores were sparsely clad and waiting for customers, sitting at the middle poker table along with Pick Dryson, watching him deal another hand.
* * *
The smell of hot air in the saloon was equal to that outside. But it was the smell of whiskey and cigarette smoke that made the difference.
"Five cards, ladies?" Pick said. His hands moved around the table and the delivery was clockwise. The remaining deck rested to his left.
Cards fanned open and heads lowered as if to pray. Abigail Morris put the cards face down. Her fingers went inside a tight silk belt to retrieve a tobacco pouch. She rolled a smoke and slid the pouch over to Mary Barton. Their gray smoke slowly drifted above the table. Pick was offered the same pouch and he shook his head no.
"Business is slow, Pick," Abigail said. She glanced at her cards and let the cigarette rest in the corner of her mouth.
"Meaning?" His eyes lifted from his pair of nines.
"Ain't got no money to bet," she said.
"A shot of whiskey then," he said.
"Cheap bet, but I'll agree with that wager."
"And what about you, Mary?" he asked.
Mary took a long drag and released a cloud of drawn-out smoke. "If Abigail and me lose, you get two shots o' whiskey?"
"That's the rules," Pick said.
"And if Abigail or me wins, we each get that whiskey at your expense?"
Abigail laughed, nodding her head. "That's the rules."
Pick took his time to look at both women. His head slowly moved up and down. "Anybody to discard?" he asked.
"Gimme two," Abigail said. The cards were dealt and replaced.
"I'll take three," Mary said, keeping her pair of queens.
"And the dealer wants three." Pick's new cards didn't help his hand.
Jovial ballyhoo at the far end of the bar was coming from Laird Sears. He was the bully in town, a fast talker and even faster with his Smith & Wesson. The holster was tied tight to his right leg. Laird told the same joke again and wanted Darby Fitch and Jud Hart to laugh at his stupidity.
They were old miners who wanted to be left alone. And the joke wasn't funny.
Laird took another sip of warm beer and started to press his weight against the two ragged-looking gents.
The hot afternoon was to the backside of a stranger when he pushed open the saloon door. His face was in shadow beneath a brim hat and his bronze skin was lathered with salty sweat. His spurs barely jingled when he walked forward.
The newcomer created a hush that swept around the room. The hard-set bully continued to smirk after telling the joke again to a silent audience. Mary Barton kept her pair of queens hidden and knew that Pick would pay up on the whiskey bet.
"Laird Sears," the stranger said.
The room's laughter ended and Laird pushed away from the bar.
"I'm Clancy Hobbs. You run some horses away from Carl Spartan that you did not intend to buy. When you returned, you paid him back with a bullet to his gut. Before he died, he mentioned your name."
Laird smiled. "You the law?"
"A good friend," Clancy said. "Related, if that's your business."
"Friend, if I were you, I'd mosey on away from here. Take your ideas further down the trail. I ain't fixin' to fear you or nobody."
Silence filled the Arizona Diablo.
"Mister," Clancy said. "You're heeled and ready to kill me. Ain't gonna happen 'cause fear never crossed my mind."
"I got Pa and twin brothers all around," Laird said. "If I ain't back for evenin' supper, they'll be on your trail, no matter how far you run."
Clancy touched his Colt and showed a faint smile. His lips widened and his teeth were white.
Laird lost his smile and his expression was cold. "Laugh at me, you sonova bitch? You ain't got the guts to lift that Colt. By the time you do, this Smith & Wesson 'ill unload on you, fast as possible."
A hidden voice near the piano introduced the stranger. "Laird, you best back off. That's Clancy Hobbs. I heard tell that he's lightnin' fast, and . . . "
Laird ignored the comment and a swift hand lifted his gun.
Clancy quickly responded and a single shot landed in Laird's chest. Laird momentarily staggered and his muscular body fell with a heavy thud to the floor. Blood formed into a puddle atop the wooden planks.
Gun smoke lifted.
"Mister Sears," Clancy said. "You had your chance to fear me, and now your chance ain't no more."
Clancy returned to the afternoon sun and mounted up. Following him from behind out to the street was Darby Fitch.
"Douglas is the next town over?" Clancy said.
"Yes, Sir. Borders with New Mexico Territory."
"Tell Laird's Pa the truth. He's a damn horse thief and nobody has cause to chase me."
"Yes, Sir. I'll mention your name and what you said."
"If you see the law, you tell 'em the same story," Clancy said.
Fitch gave a faint smile. "You know somethin', Mister," he said. "I was from Hockley, Texas before I started mining here. There's this marshal that you might face sometime, and I reckon that you could whip his ass good in a gunfight."
"They call him Crow," Fitch said. "I never heard a first name, just Crow. He sure is a wicked ol' bastard. You might wanna fear him."
Clancy's laugh was curt and terse. "Fear ain't a part of my life," he said. "I'll run my challenge up against anybody, lawman or not. I got more business ta tend to in Steins."
"You're on the right trail, Mister. Just the other side of Douglas."
Arizona Territory dust kicked up and the stranger disappeared to the east.
The torrid afternoon heat intensified across the old Reb's wrinkled skin. Stains of sweat soaked into what remained of a whitened Confederate uniform. Two decades ago, Charlie Yetter lost a lower leg at Vicksburg. In the same struggle another bullet sliced the right of his face into partial blindness. After the war he drifted west, roaming through various towns, settling in Steins, New Mexico Territory, near the story border with Arizona. He was a loner, sometimes a vagrant, living on odd jobs and begging. The meager amount he collected he spent on cheap whiskey and warm beer. His appearance was disfigured to the extent that only the white of a right eye was visible. Town folk of Steins gave him their insults and slurs, calling him the Mississippi ghost.
Charlie stood in the sunlight facing the stage depot with a ring of perspiration under his left armpit, pressing hard against an awkward wooden crutch. Droplets of sweat formed beneath his faded hat, trickling over an unshaven and scarred face. Circles of body moisture dampened the front and back of his ragged gray uniform.
Those boarding the Butterfield had been warned of the impending danger and were impatient, wanting to leave Steins before the arrival of the wandering stranger. Gossip increased and voices around the stage spoke their owners' frightened opinions.
"Harvey Werner says he saw 'im ride from Douglas, 'bout a' hour ago."
"That means he should be here, pert soon."
"What was he doing in Douglas? And why's he coming this direction?"
"I heard tell that he was letting his horse cool. At the same time buying some ammunition at Red Meyes' mercantile."
"Who is he? He ain't no lawman. Maybe a bounty hunter?"
"I think he's a gunslinger for hire."
"How do you know?"
"I was near enough to see his Pearl Handle Colt. One-of-a-kind that's made special."
"That still don't answer the question of why he's riding here. What's his business in Steins?"
"Maybe he had a run-in with the Bishop kin. They're in the saloon right now."
"But there's four o' them, an' one o' him."
"He ain't gonna live too long if he goes up against those brothers."
"We all 'member Elliot Stewart. He tried to do the same thing. They cut him to shreds."
"And when Elliot was face-up on the ground and full of bullets, they thought he looked to be damn funny. Those brothers didn't let up with laughing and carrying on afterwards. Elliot was barely alive and Matthew Bishop slowly come up, standin' over him, and shot him straight into his face. That was a real shameful sight. I 'member the undertaker had to pick Elliot up in pieces."
"So who's this driftin' stranger?"
"I have a hunch, but I ain't for sure. You said he was armed with a special lookin' Colt, havin' a pearl handle?"
"Yes, Sir. That's what I was hearing. I ain't to be guessin', but I'll wager it's the same man who wasn't afraid to take care of business over in Tidemore."
"Your story is straight fact. I hear he rode through that town like he owned the whole damn place."
"Yep. That'd be Clancy Hobbs."
Caleb Fenske looked to Tiny Joe Bushig, and both men agreed. Others in the crowd were tense, and talk was minimal. The stage began to quickly fill with apprehensive customers. The remaining town folk rapidly departed in various directions.
After hearing the name Clancy Hobbs, Charlie Yetter pushed hard against his wooden crutch. He crossed the dusty main street in front of the Butterfield and hobbled to the opposite boardwalk.
The stage was already behind schedule and the road east suddenly cleared of people and wagons. Tiny Joe climbed to the wood bench seat, released the brake and slapped hard on the reins. Four horses jerked the Butterfield from the depot, leaving a cloud of scattered pebbles and debris.
Charlie limped past the saloon, listening to a chorus of sots and whores bellow a familiar tune at the piano. Both doors to the Royal Queen remained open and the aroma of whiskey and smoke lingered beyond the entryway.
The Mississippi ghost hobbled forward, across the boardwalk in front of the charred remains of the old land office. Sidewalk wood was split apart into deteriorated planks. The fire happened nearly five months earlier after a quarrel between Reese Underwood and Virgil Roberts. Reese ran the office and Virgil argued that his claim to the Shaker Mine shaft had first dibs, and didn't belong to Frank Roth. The argument persisted and Virgil wheeled a Bowie knife. Reese defended himself and killed Virgil in one shot. Virgil's brother had an earlier run-in with Reese, and the next evening Tred Roberts and two other miners showed up in town. Later that night Reese was found with a knife in his gut, alongside his burned-out building. Tred disappeared and nothing more was said of the issue.
Charlie hobbled again, his boot shuffling across new boardwalk, stopping in front of the barbershop. Shade from the tin roof overhang somewhat cooled the business front. He balanced his stance near the checker game between the two old-timers there.
"Don't bother us, you one-eyed drunk," Dawson Keys said. His tone was sarcastic, trying to ignore the single-leg veteran. "I got red kings all over the board, so it don't look good for you, Johnny Days. Ain't that right, Johnny Days?" Dawson pushed back in his chair, glanced across the makeshift table and his laugh was curt and insulting.
"You know who . . . who's g . . . gonna be h . . . here real so . . . soon?" When he was anxious, Charlie stuttered severely in a noticeable Southern drawl. "Clan . . . Clancy Hobbs, that's wh . . . who. You ain't to be pla . . . playing much long . . . longer, once Clan . . . Clancy Hobbs gets to tow . . . town. You bet . . . better listen up."
Both players turned a deaf ear to Charlie's broken talk. Dawson only shook his head and moved another king into a stalemate.
"Di . . . didja hear wha . . . what I was say . . . saying? I hear . . . heard he's gun . . . gunning for the Bish . . . Bishop broth . . . brothers."
After the game had ended the wooden red and black pieces returned to their beginning squares. Dawson retrieved a silver dollar and tossed it at Charlie. "Here, Reb," he said, watching the old soldier make a fist around the coin. "Don't tell me stories that ain't true. You tend to do that a lot. I've heard that Clancy Hobbs likes to hang around near the border, south of Tombstone. And that's miles from here."
"Them Bish . . . Bishop brothers bes . . . best be wah . . . watching out for tha . . . that gu . . . gunslinger."
Dawson made his first move of the next game and didn't look up as he spoke. "I gave you a silver dollar," he said. "Buy yourself a drink. When you see Matthew Bishop, you can tell him your crazy-soundin' story. Besides, what's the fast gun of Clancy Hobbs doing in this section of territory?"
"I ain't tell . . . telling no crazy soun . . . sounding story. May . . . maybe Mister Red . . . Redding might print a stor . . . story."
"You ain't too far from the newspaper office next door. I'm right sure that Grover Redding will make room on the front page."
Charlie slowly shuffled away, his weight heavy on the crutch. At the end of the barbershop the last board was slightly warped and gave out a creaking sound. Continual drops of sweat fell across his scarred face, his dirty hair was a tangle of perspiration, and his body odor reeked through the tattered and almost-white military shirt.
Reaching for the door handle to the newspaper office, Charlie had the entryway ajar and used his crutch to ease open the door. He hobbled far enough to stand halfway inside and saw Grover busy at his desk. "Mister Red . . . Redding. Tha . . . they was talking at the dep . . . depot, and don't prin . . . print noth . . . nothing 'till he get . . . gets here. You heard the new . . . news of—"
A sudden and forceful surge of wind entered from the west end of town. It swirled and danced in a vicious pattern, lifting and tossing dust and debris across the main road. This was a blinding storm that immediately swirled through Steins, and pelted the face of every building with endless fragments of desert powder. The savage wind increased and the town swelled with a blanket of soot and sage. Sounds of the twirling and forceful wind pounded against clapboard siding and tin roofs, hard-hitting and destructive, and both sides of Steins momentarily disappeared.
As thunderous as the storm was as it raged across the landscape, it suddenly vanished, fading away in a southeasterly direction, continuing to whirl and gyrate. At the opposite end of town, where the storm began, a serene blue sky filled the horizon.
Charlie and Grover stood in the doorway, gazing at the calm to the west, and listened to the faint approach of a single horseman. Where the incoming trail widened to form the main road through Steins, the sound of clopping hoofs came forward in a gradual and steady pace. The lone rider continued to coax the bay. His advance moved through the center of town. A brim hat kept his face in shadow, and his dark eyes were watchful on the exterior of every building.
Town folk hid behind windows and doors. From those panes of glass, terrified faces peered out to the street and with hushed tones, whispered that the stranger had arrived. Charlie and Grover stood silent on the boardwalk and both sides of Steins were vacant and still. The once-set checkerboard tipped over and the wind scattered the red and black pieces beyond the barbershop.
The Reb jabbed at Grover, keeping his one eye fixed on the newcomer. "If tha . . . that be Clan . . . Clancy Hobbs, he . . . he sure don . . . don't loo . . . look that mea . . . mean to me. They sa . . . say he's com . . . coming from Doug . . . las and rid . . . riding through thi . . . this bad heat. I rec . . . ken that his mouth is aw . . . awful dr . . . dry of trail dus . . . dust. If he . . . he come thr . . . through that sto . . . storm, I'm sure tha . . . that he's nee . . . needing a beer to fe . . . el more bet . . . better. Dawson, gim . . . gimme a silver dol . . . dollar, and may . . . maybe him and meeee can ha . . . have a drink to . . . gether. What you thin . . . think of that, Grov . . . Grover?"
"Charlie," Grover said. "Stay your distance from that man. He's gunnin' for somebody, and if you ain't too careful, his business might include you."
"But I ain . . . ain't got no gun to shoo . . . shoot nobody. Ol' Char . . . Charlie ain . . . ain't afraid to as . . . ask."
"Don't be a damn fool. He ain't concerned with you. If you get in his way, there's no telling if you'll end up dead."
Charlie ignored the warning. He continued to hold the coin inside his curled fingers and slowly moved across sections of boardwalk.
Clancy pushed forward, vigilant and cautious, pulling right on the reins and bringing the bay to a stop in front of the Royal Queen. Dismounting from a hard saddle, he remained observant of the ghostly town as he threw the reins around the hitch rail. His duster was noticeably wrinkled and the shirt inside the open front hosted a layer of dust over stains of sweat.
The only sound of activity was the piano player inside the saloon, busy at the keyboard, joined by a festive crowd of miners and barroom prostitutes. Clancy started to cross the boardwalk and his spurs pinged against the weathered wood. Out of the corner of his eye he spied Charlie, hobbling forward toward his location.
Charlie stopped and gazed at the stranger. An increasing smile revealed a black hole of missing teeth. He held out an open hand to show his financial gift. "D . . . Dawson gimme a dol . . . dollar to ha . . . have me a shot a whis . . . whiskey. I'd sur . . . sure enjoy your com . . . company to shar . . . share my whis . . . whiskey money, 'cause I bel . . . believe you to be Mister Hob . . . Hobbs. Sir."
Clancy's eyes remained in shade, looking at the old Reb, glancing at the coin that had lost its shine. He slowly opened the long duster, and with his left hand proceeded to remove an identical dollar from inside a waist tight gun-belt. "You wanna make another piece of silver equal to what you're holding?"
Charlie continued to smile as he eased his crutch ahead and felt the second coin drop atop the first. "Yes, S . . . Sir, Mister Hob . . . Hobbs! You got a cho . . . chore for Char . . . Charlie to be don . . . done? Most fol . . . folks just call me Ol' . . . Ol' Reb."
"Ol' Reb, take my bay to the livery. Tell whoever's in charge there to feed and water him. He's lathered and needs shade to cool a spell. I won't be in town very long. Right now I got business ta tend to, and from what I've been hearing, pert soon I'll be heading east again."
"Yes, S . . . Sir! Right away f . . . for you, S . . . Sir!" Charlie closed his fingers around the two coins. His limp was noticeable as he hobbled to the hitch rail, where he untied the reins and the bay followed in tow.
Clancy pushed open the swinging door and entered the Royal Queen. Those around the piano suddenly ended their entertainment, as did the keyboard player. The stale air heavy with smoke filled the room and the odor of whiskey was ever present. A handful of customers lined the bar and one man was too drunk to lift his head. A single table of four poker players abruptly lowered their cards face down.
"I'm looking for three people." Clancy's voice was loud and demanding. "Two of them have the name of Bishop. The other fella is Joshua Riddle."
The room began to clear of customers. Three men remained standing at the bar and each continued to enjoy their glass of beer. They gave no credence to the stranger's statement.
Clancy rapidly scanned the room and saw faces pale with fright. Again he focused on the backside of those who didn't move away from the bar. His right hand slowly pushed back the duster to expose a pearl handle Colt. The stranger's statement was hard-set and cutting. "I'm looking for—"
"I heard you the first time." The response came from the middle man facing the bar. "You said the name was Bishop? Which one are you calling out? I do believe that three are here. One more across the street in the barbershop. That other name you mentioned was Joshua Riddle. I ain't for certain that I recall him mentioned before. Maybe you best ride on out because there ain't nobody here with that name." Their laughter was in unison and each glass they lifted was in tandem as they finished their separate drinks.
"I'm lookin' for Stratton an' Russell." Clancy's tone was snarling and nasty. "Those Bishop kin done a vicious killing in Arizona Territory. I reckon that two of you sonsa bitches are who I'm after. Turn around and each of you speak your name."
The middleman slowly turned first, and the other two gradually moved in separate directions, only a short distant apart. All three had tough features. They were range riders with grungy outfits, collar-length dirty hair, and sun-baked faces that remained in shade beneath soiled hats. Their grimy hands edged away from their now-empty beer glasses, sliding down hard to leather holsters. Their palms began to touch separate gun butts.
"We're all Bishop-related, you bastard! I'm Matthew, the oldest. Over here is Kendall. And to this side is Stratton. 'Cross the street is Russell. Like I told you before, Mister, none of us here ain't knowin' that fella Riddle. Perhaps you ain't hearing so good to get what I said. You look like you been on the trail a while, and I'm suspecting that desert dust has filled your damn ears. We ain't to be rememberin' that other name."
"Killin' o' who?" Stratton said. He had squared around to face Clancy.
"Remember passin' through Coyote Ridge?" Clancy said. "It was well into darkness and you two were running hard with Riddle. Your horses were wet and you wanted shelter for the night. On the far outskirts of town is a farmhouse. They're a nice family and she happened to be real pretty."
Each brother shook his head.
Clancy's voice turned wicked. "You were thinking that they had some money to steal, so you shot the man and took a Bowie knife to cut up the woman. That was after you ripped off her clothes off to enjoy a free fuck. You bastards! By the time I got there, she was dead. James lived, but can't walk anymore. Your bullet dug into his back so bad that he's bedridden forever. James is my brother."
"You ain't nothin' but a damn liar," Stratton said. "I never been that far into Arizona Territory."
"James said that you and Russell talk too much. You told him who you were in the beginning. Riddle was there with you. You three had it planned to shoot him dead and knife her from screaming. But James didn't die like you planned. He lived to tell me who you were. The woman you knifed, her name was Kate, and she's my sister-in-law. Now do you remember? How 'bout Joshua Riddle? Do you finally remember who he is? Don't lie because you three were right there together."
In front of the Royal Queen the sound of a swishing boot and crutch crossed the boardwalk, returning from livery chores. The movement outside the saloon ended and Charlie angled his head around the corner of the left door.
"You're accusing my brothers?" Matthew said. "If Stratton can't remember, then I reckon he's tellin' the truth. If you wanna push this argument, there's four of us. You'd be damn good to get one shot off before we come back to kill you. Somebody was passin' the word that a stranger comin' to Steins was Clancy Hobbs. He's the known gunfighter from Arizona. Is what I'm sayin' to be true?"
Clancy tossed glances at each man and his lips barely moved as he spoke. "True is what you heard, and true is who I am."
All three stepped away from the bar. Hands were already nudging Colt stock and their eyes never wavered from their hold on Clancy.
Instantly Matthew lifted his gun. This was the cue for Stratton and Kendall. Hardware was almost out of each holster when they were met by immediate revenge.
Clancy retaliated with a fast-action response. The Pearl Handle Colt he held chest level and fanned the hammer with rapid accuracy. Each brother was struck once and instantly fell dead to the floor. There was no movement between them and blood began to flow across the saloon floor.
After hearing the repeated gunfire fill the room, Russell yanked away the barber apron and left the shop, running to the batten doors of the saloon. He pushed opened the left half and entered the saloon with his sidearm already drawn. He took several steps forward, glancing a moment at the remains of his brothers. His finger had curled around the trigger of a .45 as he stood ready to retaliate.
Clancy didn't hesitate to retort. He spun around to face the fourth brother. His reaction was straightaway, empting three slugs into Russell's upper body. Each shot had on-target effectiveness. Red stains spread across Russell's shirt and his weight went limp. He collapsed backwards and his eyes were hollow in their fixed vision turned toward the ceiling.
After the smoke had cleared, one of the poker players at a far table was anxious to resume the game with those playing the same hand. He lifted and shaded his cards that revealed a full house.
Charlie disappeared momentarily from the doorway, hobbling the short distance across the street. "Mister Red . . . Redding," he said. "I see . . . seen what hap . . . happened. You ain' . . . ain't gonna bel . . . believe this stor . . . story."
Clancy slowly shifted his eyes around the saloon. In the same span of time, without looking down, his fingers opened the Colt and the sound of empty shells fell to the floor. Six more bullets those fingers shoved inside the cylinder and the Pearl Handle he lowered into the fancy-designed holster. He came full circle in commanding the attention of everyone in the room. "I'm still looking for Joshua Riddle," he said. "Anybody here claim ta seein' that bastard? One of you better speak up and say something. If he was ridin' with the Bishop brothers, I reckon that his name was mentioned when passin' in this direction. Who's ta knowin' of this sonova bitch?"
The room remained Sunday church service quiet.
"All o' you hard o' hearin'?" Clancy said. "You ain't got nothin' to say?"
Adam Voss, the bartender, remained at the end of the long counter. "We ain't seen no stranger with that name, Mister. Them Bishop brothers kept quiet about their doin's. Sure sorry for what you say was done to your kin. If they were guilty, they got what they deserved. They had their chance to come straight with you. Ya best ride on 'cause that Riddle fella ain't here."
Those around the room mumbled in agreement and returned to their separate entertainment.
Clancy turned, walked into the sunlight and headed toward his bay in front of the livery. He untied the reins at the hitch rail and was ready to foot the stirrup. Coming in his direction was the limping Reb. Not afraid of his new friend, Charlie made sure the horse was cared for and allowed to cool down.
"Mis . . . Mister Hobbs, you ain't leav . . . leaving already? I ain . . . ain't nev . . . never seen a fas . . . faster gun . . . gunslinger in all my lif . . . life! You sur . . . sure do kno . . . know how to han . . . handle that Colt fas . . . faster than an . . . anybody I kno . . . know'd. I told Mister Red . . . Redding at the new . . . newspaper to wha . . . what I see . . . seen, and he sai . . . said you . . . you's to be . . . being on the fron . . . front page. Them fol . . . folks around thi . . . this territory ain't gon . . . gonna be . . . believe that you . . . you went up . . . up agains . . . against the Bish . . . Bishop brothers, and they . . . they're all dead. Fair and squa . . . square, I see . . . seen it."
Clancy was saddled and ready to ride east. "I'm looking for Joshua Riddle. He's out there somewhere and eventually I'll find him. He ain't gonna run too far."
Charlie moved to face Clancy, with his back toward the saloon. "I'm guess . . . guessin' that them . . . them fol . . . folks in the sal . . . saloon were scar . . . scared and said noth . . . nothing to you."
"The bartender claims he doesn't know Joshua Riddle," Clancy replied. "When I looked around, ever'body took sides with the bartender."
"Wha . . . what about Col . . . Colin Bor . . . Borrens?"
"I never heard that name mentioned."
"He . . . he was in the . . . the sal . . . saloon. Up near . . . near the bar. I see . . . seen him and he did . . . didn't turn arou . . . around to fa . . . face you."
"Him an . . . and Rid . . . Riddle, they . . . they run toge . . . together."
"So the bartender was lying to me."
"I rec . . . reckon so, Mis . . . Mister Hobbs."
"Where's Riddle right now?"
"I ain . . . ain't for cer . . . certain 'cause I kno . . . knowd I'm being wat . . . watched. If I . . . I say any mor . . . more, they . . . they'll be af . . . after me for squaw . . . squawking."
Clancy lifted into the saddle to throw a glance at the saloon. Several faces appeared, peering out from a far window. "My guess is they'll be at Shakespeare, the next town over from here."
Charlie nodded and said nothing more.
The gunman removed another silver dollar from his belt and gave it a twirling toss. Charlie was off balance when he caught the coin and a wide smile of missing teeth indicated his thanks.
The Reb turned, watching Clancy ease through town. In front of the barbershop the checkerboard tipped over in the players' scramble to watch the stranger's exit. Faded wood game pieces scattered onto the road. When the slow-moving bay passed ahead, dust in the wind spread across remnant colors of red and black.
Robert Gilbert, author of Westerns, romance and children's stories, lives near Chicago. Hooked on Westerns began
when Gilbert lived in Hollywood, California as a entertainment writer. He spent numerous occasions on the Western
back lot of Warner Bros. movie studio. His action packed Western heroes come to life on his computer and have been
enjoyed worldwide. "Too Much of a Kid" was published in the December 2014 issue of Frontier Tales. "Pointed Gun"
appears in the March 2016 issue of Frontier Tales. "Chase for Uber Mix" appeared in the April 2016 issue of Frontier Tales.
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Cross on the Hill, Hawk in the Sky
by Tom Sheehan
Bang! And the masked bandit fired from the saddle just as Harry Bantry reached down on the stagecoach boot to grab his rifle. The driver, Jim Foster, tasted Harry Bantry's blood as it spurted on his face; blood brothers forever was the first thought that hit him. A better brother he could not have chosen, but cold before he knew it. The only other memory of that sad day was the cry of the hawk as it rolled over on a thermal edge high above them, marking the place forever, that limitless and phantom space in the western sky. The sound stayed with Foster as if it was a monument of sorts, the cry as mournful as a late evening bugle call brought back from his 7th Cavalry days. He imagined the quivering lips of the bugler playing "Retreat."
If he ever did anything, it was to listen to himself think, which, even in hurry-up, was part of his long day, and much of his long nights.
Whenever he rode by the lone grave on top of Gladden Hill, the cross sitting pale in the morning light, he could see old Harry Bantry sitting beside him on the front seat of the stagecoach on the day it happened, his face full of the life that once bubbled in him. Three times now he had set a new cross in place, each time remembering with stark clarity how Bantry had taken the bullet that he believed was meant for him, the driver of the coach, the captain of the prairie schooner. The three years had fled like driven tumbleweed, bouncing along in jumps and spurts as if time could not be measured; him driving the stagecoach, Harry lingering around Gladden Hill until Kingdom come.
Not without all the echoes
Each time it all came back with the sound of the shot, and then the faint, mysterious echo on the wind or the slightest breath of wind, half-heard, half-hidden, half understood:, Bantry saying, "Get 'im, Jim."
Leaving the station at Fairmont on this new morning, the temperature exactly like that memorable day, the shadows leaving the valley with the same speed as the sun crested every hilltop, he knew that other dawn as the station master said, "Three years ago this month, wornt it, Jimbo? Feels just like it, don't it, Jimbo?" like always answering his own questions. "If you was to remember, it was a day like this, wornt it? Can't you 'member that smiley face old Harry kept agrinnin' with, can't you? Like yesterday, wornt it, if you was to 'member it, eh, Jimbo?"
The newest shotgun rider, Josh Logan, only three rides under his belt, shook his head and said, "Man mutters a lot, don't he?" He looked back over his shoulder as they left the station proper, the thin curl of smoke rising from the little house on the flat meadow snuggled into the valley of Grogan Pass, Idaho's morning sitting flat on his face. "Mutterin's the least part of talk, I allus said."
Foster, for the three years since Harry had died, kept looking for something he had forgotten, something from that day; something besides the blood on his face, Harry getting cold in a hurry, the hawk turning over in the sky, how the wind touched his face that other morning when they set out.
All this time he knew there was a piece of information that he had known, had sensed, and had forgotten. No matter how many times he had tried, he could not bring it back. He could not see it, or smell it, or hear it. But it was there; of that he was sure. And Harry kept poking at him in one way or another to find it. "Get 'im, Jim," he had said. "Get 'im, Jim." It was like the day he was sworn into the army; duty was on him, all swift and powerful, enveloping him, to do whatever it was that it wanted him to do.
Oh, how he struggled again this morning, reaching, searching, hoping to find the elusive.
And he never knew it would be the insensitive new shotgun rider who would spring it up out of him, but it was all wondrous, how he sat mute at the reins, not hearing the shotgun talk or the horses' hooves beating their swift and staccato tattoo on the hard, dry ground of the road running for hours beside the half-green and half-stone mountain, and the coyote yelping out his wily dominion in a yet-shadowed valley where the sun hesitated in its visit and the darkness of night had not completely let go its hold, for peccaries ran apace and the wolves watched with practiced eyes, and deeper in the valley, in among the scattered upheaval and toss of rocks and trees bent over by the ages, an old Indian, almost old as time he believed, watched back down the trail for some white man to catch up to him and learn what he had learned long before they had come here, where the mountains rose to the moon and the prairie grass ran off to the mountains and the great waters and the tepee of Mahwahtopa himself, for he was to pass on the lessons of the hawk and the wolf and the coyote and the peccary, if only they would listen to him as they sat the proud mounts that leveled mountains and breasted formidable rivers and forced great herds to go where they wanted them to go into such deep maze-like defiles and wadis and gross canyons that they never came out again, not on this side and not on the other side, wherever that was where the growths came and taught you their names from the sides of the half-green mountains, like yucca and manzanita and agave and mesquite and pinon pine and juniper and arrow weed and bear grass and ocotillo and Douglas fir and ponderosa pine, all in such a music of names and uses and needs to be satisfied because the whole good Earth itself becomes the ultimate kettle and pot and pan and oven for sustenance, if they would stop to not only hear him but listen to him with a tuned ear, for their lives would so depend on what had already been learned by other men, up the wide paths from the Yucatan and down from the ice bridges in the north before the huge ships came from afar, from the places where thunder and lightning were issued and the very winds themselves.
Survival is knowledge, it all said to him, and bringing what you have known all the way along with you in journeys and travels wherever, as even he went now on this hard, dry road in view of those very same mountains, with the knowledge that was always his even though he now struggled to bring it all back from whence it had gone.
Something left over from that day he became Harry Bantry's blood brother.
The road came back to him, and the horses' hooves and the quiet sky spread like a camp blanket, and just as comfortable as he looked for a hawk, a crow, and then changed his squint to seek a dot in the sky, a verdin, a wren, something so insignificant he could forget it in a hurry, something that would take his mind onto another ride. He squeezed his eyes to a slit, and Logan was staring at him.
"What you looking at, Josh?"
"I'm lookin' tryin' to see what you're lookin' for. Must be hard to see nothin'. I don't see nothin' out there." He swung his traversing his hand across the quiet sky, and slumped his shoulders to show he was perplexed. "Beats me to some kind of hollerin' if I let it."
He was a good looking kid and Foster liked him in spite of some shortcomings, which we all have he would have said if asked. The youngster's body language was straightforward and Foster acknowledged the fact by nodding his head at an angle, then he said, "I always have something on my mind besides the reins in my hands. Keeps the body in place, like riding and shooting at the same time, and you don't even realize one is different from the other."
In a second Foster was back looking at the road, listening to the hooves in their steady music as if drums were beating behind the horses or in the backs of their heads, the dust almost catching up to the coach moving swiftly on the dry bed of the road, the tension in the reins reading like a constant signal in his hands, knowing that the slightest yank might be understood by the lead horse shining in new sunlight that sat on his rump the way a chunk of broken glass catches sunrays in random fits, knowing all the time he had heard something from young Logan that had not yet registered its meaning in his mind and he knew he was again at that point of departure when either his mind takes over his body fully or his body tells his mind to shut up and pay attention to the business at hand, which for that moment and that hour and that day was getting this coach to that point down the road and into one sweet valley where sweetness came in a big mug as clear as a spring waterfall off the face of a cliff, and the knowledge of that sweetness came recovered in his throat the way he'd know a slice of peach at the end of a long day on the saddle and under the sun.
But young Logan was talking again. What had he said that had penetrated his mind, only to get lost in the mud he was sure at that moment was packed in there? He didn't think he had shut down his mind and had only let it slip by as unrecognized at the moment it was said. He thought about memory again, which brought him back to the smell of blood and the sound of the shot that Harry had caught in the worst place. He let a bit of slack slip onto the reins, let the lead black have a bit of temporary freedom, as if he could run away from the sound, the weight at his leathers no more than feathers in the driver's hands
"Until you was to catch one in the belly, or in your shootin' arm. Saw a gent once, high in his saddle, catch a stray round and he fell like a rock off'n a porch roof." He looked at the sky again. Twisting his head, shielding his eyes with one hand even if he believed there was nothing out there, and continued. "You sure mix me up sometimes, Jim. I thought you was lookin' to see if you could see a hawk. I gotta tell you, I love to see them the way they roll over in the sky sometimes, free and easy as eatin' cooked beans at nightfall, like there's nothin' at all to it, just ride the wind like we ride them horses put in front of us, us leanin' on the whip or twistin' the reins on 'em."
"I like to see the hawks, too," Foster replied, "but they can be awful mean when they want to. Saw one grab a jack rabbit once and couldn't lift him up off the ground so he just about tore him in half so he could get a good portion back to the nest and the young ones. I stayed while he was gone about 15 minutes and he came back and took the rest in one more big chunk. One good hunter, that bird."
The hoof beats continued under them, the road continued ahead of them, the sky continued above them, and the mountain beside them, peaked with white wonder, taller than all that other silence in the world, continued alongside them as they rode along. Foster swore softly to himself, shaking his body in a rough manner, realizing that he could fall asleep in a second, could be hypnotized by his surroundings, the scene rolling by, the sound of the music filling the air, the hoof beats relentlessly synchronized, and him trying to beat up the dust in his mind where something was hidden from him.
Finally, as if he had snapped out of some memory complex, he heard Logan, his voice reverting almost back to his adolescent voice, say, "We was at a picnic once, tail end of a shivaree, and we were at the river, a whole bunch of us, and Linus Schroeber, a real joker kind of a guy, always good for a laugh, wore always a mustache stiffer than a brush and hair over his ears like it was a pelt, put a rabbit skin on his head and started dancin' around. Wham, a hawk came out of nowhere, sky or tree or cloud I don't know where, and ripped those meat-hook talons at that skin and almost got old Linus in the neck area where the real blood is. Scared the hell out of all us." He shook his head, laughed a bit, and said, "Old Linus carries that scar right now, at least last time I saw him down river at Chatsville a few years back when they had the turkey shoot, and that scar runs clear across his ear and plumb onto his neck and lucky it didn't kill him one doc told him."
In one mad rush it all came back to Foster, that day the single shot spurted Harry Bantry's blood all over him, and the masked bandit, the killer shooter, turning sideways in the saddle and the scar on his neck becoming visible for that one second again, as it had before. And it spoke to him; knew he had seen that scar some place, on some man he had seen in a saloon, perhaps drinking right at the bar with him, tossing one down at the end of a dusty day and a dusty ride, the grit of sand in his clothes and on his hair stronger than dust, at a card table in a forgotten saloon trying to thumb the ace of spades just one countable time, at some way station on his coach route saddling a horse or leathering a mule, moving past him in the twilight coming down like mist outside the livery or, finally perhaps, stepping up on the fender into the darkness of the coach, into the dim part of his mind. The scar would be a good 8 or 9 inches long and might have killed another man, it looked so red and vicious. Foster remembered looking away so the man would not think he was staring at him, picking him for spectacle. Where was that? In what place he might have been a hundred times, or once, the day unknown, the season, the year? When Foster turned around the man had disappeared. He must have because he had never seen him again, but he was darn sure now that the scar on the killer was the same scar on the man who seemed to have moved out of his life. There could not be two of them, lest there were two stories of two men who had lived past two serious events. He'd not sum up the odds of that happening.
Young Logan, looking at the sky, searching out a hawk, really oblivious of what was happening around him, was talking a streak again, but Foster did not hear him, for now, at last, with an image fixed in his head, he could begin to look, could study every face he'd come across, at every stop and way station of his route along the Mogollons, beside the river, across the endless prairie with its endless trail, as the words kept riding on the air, "Get 'im, Jim. Get 'im, Jim."
The exacted promise, he knew, was fervent, was an oath.
And there'd be a new cross for Harry on the hill, next trip around.
Tom Sheehan has published 24 books, 2 in publishers' cycles and one on proposal. He has multiple work in following
publications: Ocean Magazine, Rosebud, Linnet's Wings, Serving House Journal, Eclectica, Copperfield Review, La Joie
Magazine, Soundings East, Vermont Literary Review, Literary Orphans, Indiana Voices Journal, Frontier Tales, Western
Online Magazine, Provo Canyon Review, Vine Leaves Journal, Nazar Look, Eastlit, Rope & Wire Magazine, The Literary
Yard, Green Silk Journal, Fiction on the Web, The Path, Faith-Hope and Fiction, The Cenacle, etc. He has 30 Pushcart
nominations, and five Best of the Net nominations (and one winner) and short story awards from Nazar Look for 2012- 2015.
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A Letter to Quinn
by Jesse J Elliot
Part 3 of 3
Iragene and Cassie ran up to the third floor. Cassie looked at Iragene, "What was that all about? I feel like a schoolgirl listening in on another person's conversation. Do you know those people? Is that the brother and sister Cruz talked about?"
"Yes, did you get a chance to see him?" and she grabbed Cassie's arm.
"No, but I think you wrenched my arm. Maybe I need to see Dr. Stein?" she giggled and Iragene joined her. They walked into the room, and Iragene gasped as she saw the three dresses, each one beautiful. Next to each dress was a light, lacy shawl—perfect for the weather in June.
"We will be the belles of the ball, tonight, Cassie, but I need to get back to work now. I need to relieve Finn so he has a couple of hours to eat and rest. Oh yes, where are our baskets for tomorrow's picnic?"
"In a chest on the wagon. Daniel went up the mountain this morning to get some ice. Hopefully our lunches will remain fresh for tomorrow. Daniel and Prudence aren't leaving until about two this afternoon. Alex always takes a good nap in the wagon. They don't plan on participating in any event until tomorrow morning so they're taking their time."
"See you tonight," and they gave each other a quick hug.
Iragene was hoping to catch a view of Quinn, but the street was too busy, and she ended up trying to avoid the construction. She got back to the office. Looking in she saw Cruz. "Anything new since I left?"
"No, nothing new, Sheriff. I sent Finn to get dinner and get a good rest. I walked by the hotel just to see if all was quiet, and so far all is well. People are arriving in town. It should be a bit crowded tonight and tomorrow. Is Cassie sleeping at your house or at the hotel with Daniel and his family?"
She'll be with me, but we'll be getting dressed at the hotel. Pru's mother gave each of us a new dress! Did you see them?"
"No, but I heard about them. The three of you will be the prettiest women in town."
"And," Iragene reached into her side drawer, "you will be one of the handsomest men in your new shirts," as she pulled out two dress shirts—one was traditional Mexicano, and the other was from the March's General Store.
"Sheriff, you didn't have to do this!" Cruz said with embarrassment in his voice.
"Of course, I did since I know how little a deputy earns. Go out and have a good time. I think I saw Maria's father's buggy. See if you can find her—after you freshen up and change."
"Yes, Sheriff, I will," he said laughing, "adios," and he walked out the door.
Iragene put on her holster and started making the rounds. With all the celebrations and the eighteen bars in La Madera, she had a few hours of work ahead of her before she would be able to change into her dancing clothes. She walked down the street making sure no one was carrying a gun in the no gun zone where the food and the dance floor were. Tomorrow in this same area, there would be food contests and the auction for the lunch baskets. The extra money would go into the town's building fund to rebuild the old schoolhouse.
Iragene finally finished her rounds and headed back to the hotel to change clothes. She found her brother, nephew, and sister-in-law in the lobby. She hadn't seen her nephew in weeks so she sat down and began to play with the redheaded imp. The family had decided to stay put in the hotel that night after their long buggy ride and have a quiet dinner. She joined them briefly and then walked back up the stairs to get dressed.
Iragene rejoiced at the new dress. No sign of a bustle, and the skirts flowed beautifully onto another. Though she wasn't fond of white, she loved the cranberry trimmings and underskirt. She put the dress on and twirled in front of the mirror. She hadn't allowed herself to think about Quinn and the possibility of dancing with him, but now she couldn't think of anything else but him. She put on her lace shawl, put her handgun in her reticule, and headed out the door.
The music had just begun. The players, a piano player from one of the bars, a fiddler, a washboard player, and a tambourine player were starting out with a reel. About half a dozen couples were out dancing. Cowboys were cleaned up. Farmers had their hair slicked back. Housewives had on clean dresses, some the same they wore to church, and the townspeople were in their finest. The head of the Town Council was the caller of the dance, and he was doing a better job at calling than he was at handling the town's finances.
Lanterns were set up around the dance area and the food area. There were plenty of tables to sit and eat or sit and sip a punch. No hard liquor was being sold in this area. Iragene looked around and saw many familiar faces. Many of her neighbors; the bank president and his family; the new mine owner and some of his men were there, all looking nice after a good bath; and lots of cowboys were there, looking mighty fine as well. There was always a paucity of women, and Iragene hoped that Clara would come down from her room and finally allow herself some forgiveness. Though she had killed a man, she too was the victim of a brutal, selfish man who didn't feel he had to live within the laws of the society.
Iragene was walking around, checking on the people as well as saying hello. So far, no one had a gun or glass of whiskey. She spotted Cassie and Dr. Stein. They were sitting at a table sipping punch and laughing. Cassie looked wonderful in her dress, and Iragene wanted to share the moment in her own dress. They spotted her and enthusiastically asked her to join them. She did, and the good doctor left to get her a punch.
"Has he said anything to you about courting?" Iragene whispered.
Cassie looked at her with amusement. "Iragene, you are my dearest friend and sister, and I want you to be the first to know that we are officially courting. Now stop worrying about me and start looking for that handsome stranger you're so interested in."
Iragene leaned over and hugged Cassie just as Quinn and Clara entered the area where the punch was. Clara looked relaxed, but he just looked around trying to find something or someone. Finally he stopped when he saw Iragene. He assertively clasped Clara's elbow and led her toward Iragene. When he arrived, Iragene took the liberty of introducing Cassie and the doctor. After fetching his sister a glass of punch, Quinn settled in and made small talk with the couple. Cassie asked about his family.
"Our parents came to America to get away from anyone who might have ugly feelings toward the Irish. They had had enough of that in Ireland what with the British occupation and then the potato famine. T'was a hard time." Iragene was surprised to hear this Irish lilt come into his voice, but it certainly enhanced the story of his parents escaping Ireland and then coming to America. She felt his need to tell his story was for her benefit. "My father was a furniture maker and did well in America where he didn't have to work under a British land owner and give his money over to him annually. Our parents just died a few years back, and luckily for us, they left us each a little something to start our lives. I met Goodnight one night at a dinner party of some of my father's old friends. I had fallen in love with the open range and cattle, and Goodnight was willing to take me on. It was at that dinner party that Clara met Brook Blackhurst, the man you're all familiar with now. Well, that's enough about me, Doctor, do you have a story to tell?"
"I do indeed, but it will have to keep, because I am going to dance for the first time with the woman I am courting," and he smiled and led Cassie away. Charles, the young clerk from the hotel approached Clara. He turned and asked Quinn for permission to dance with his sister. Quinn looked him up and down and then remained silent for a moment.
"You may dance with my sister if you remember to take no liberties, young man." The young men gulped and then with a shaking voice promised to take no liberties. Clara rolled her eyes, and the two young people walked away.
"Well, Sheriff, I guess that leaves us two oldies. Care to dance?"
"Why Mr. McCarthy, I thought you'd never ask."
He offered her his arm, and they walked off to the dance floor where the musicians were playing a lively waltz. Iragene loved to dance, and Quinn obviously did so as well. He and she danced around the dance floor, not realizing that several partners cleared the floor in order to watch them dance. The other notable couple was Cassie and her doctor. They too were excellent dancers. Iragene and Quinn were representative of the new western waltz, while Cassie and the doctor were elegant in their old world refined waltz.
Iragene closed her eyes and allowed herself to be led around the dance floor with a slight breeze blowing the wisps of hair that had escaped. She pictured herself looking like a grand lady in a Viennese court, wearing long white gloves and gliding across the ballrooms marbled floor. Realizing she was probably looking foolish with her eyes closed, she opened them and turned to look at Quinn, and saw he was looking back at her. He gave her an elegant twirl, and then the music stopped. Time stopped and for a moment, Iragene lost track of where she was and who was holding her in his arms. She looked at her dance partner and it was Alejandro. Then she saw his beautiful face smile at her, and she thought she heard, "Adios, my love," in his gentle voice. She blinked and when she looked again, she saw Quinn. He was looking at her strangely.
"Iragene, are you all right? Something very strange just happened," he said concern written on his face.
"No, you're probably a little light-headed from that wonderful dance. In fact, I am too—but in a good way," she said, hiding her misting eyes. She took his arm and they walked back to where they were sitting. Her lace shawl and her reticule were there.
"Shall I get us both some punch?" he asked and when she nodded, he started to walk away and then looked back, "You know you are an amazing dancer, don't you? Dancing with you is magical, Iragene." She smiled and then sat down to think about had just happened.
She was about to relax when Finn came up to her. "The man in the picture that we have posted all over town, well he just left the stable and he's wearing a holster with two pistols."
"Damn!" and she looked guiltily around, but no one seemed to hear. "Finn, please give me your rifle and you go back to the office and get another one. Also see if you can find Cruz. Good work, Deputy."
She was just getting up to leave when Quinn came back. He looked at her and saw the rifle. "Nothing to get concerned about, just some drunks causing some trouble. I'll be right back, please watch my shawl."
"Like hell I will, Lady! You're not going anywhere without me," and he moved to her side. "Besides, I don't think you need a rifle with some drunks. I heard you can outshoot, outrun, and outkick any male in town—so why the rifle?"
"My deputy thinks he spotted Blackhurst. Do you have any idea where your sister might be? She went off to dance with Charles, but I didn't see them come back."
"I just ran into them at the punch bowl, and they asked permission to go for a walk to the hotel where McDonald is throwing a small party for his staff. The Hotel lies between the stables and the dance. Let's go! Since I'm one of the people that brought this monster to town, the least I can do is be there when you confront him. I promise I'll stay out of the way."
They almost ran down the street. They found Cruz and Maria. With a gesture from Iragene, he took Maria over to a chair and whispered something in her ear. She nodded and he quickly joined Iragene and Quinn.
"Finn said he saw someone like Blackhurst leave the stable, and he's armed with two pistols. Clara is in the hotel where MacDonald is throwing a private party for his staff. Since we haven't seen him walk past the hotel, we're assuming that Blackhurst stopped to see if Clara is staying there or that he saw her entering the hotel with Charles. Quinn and I will take the front entrance, and you can take the back. Are you carrying?"
"Yes, got my pistol in the back of my pants under the vest." She smiled at her deputy, knowing that he, like she, was always ready for the unexpected. They walked together until Cruz separated to cover the rear exit.
Iragene didn't know exactly where the party would be, but she assumed it was in the small banquet room on the first floor. She could access it from the front entrance, and Cruz could back her up in the rear of the building.
Iragene and Quinn slowly entered the hotel. At the desk was a clerk Iragene hadn't seen before now. She approached him to verify that the party was in the ballroom. The party was there, and now as Iragene turned toward the foyer that led to the ballroom, she saw some furtive movement ahead. She signaled to Quinn to stay still, and he stopped immediately. Iragene give Quinn the rifle and started walking toward the hall.
"Clara," Iragene said gaily, "is that you? Come out. I can't wait to show you the new dress I told you about." Iragene said in a soft, feminine voice. She waited and heard some whispering.
"I'll be out a bit later, I have an old friend visiting, and I want to spend some time catching up," Clara said in a shaky voice.
"Oh, enjoy your friend, I'll see you later at the party."
"Yes, see you then." Now that they were sure that Clara was there with Blackhurst, Iragene walked back to Quinn, "Don't shoot unless I tell you. We've got this covered," she mouthed to Quinn.
Quinn started arguing, but stopped when he saw her look. "All right, I'll do it your way but . . ." He felt Iragene's hand on his thigh. That shut him up as Blackhurst and Clara appeared out of the shadows.
Iragene stepped out with her gun in her hand. "Blackhurst! Stop there, drop your gun, and let her go!"
"What? Who are the hell are you? And why should I listen to you, bitch?"
"Because I'm the sheriff. Now let that woman go."
"The hell I will. This bitch is the reason why I'm on the run. I lost everything because of her. She could have lived like a queen, but no, she wouldn't stop screaming. Now, I have nothing to lose. Just let me through, and I won't hurt you, lady," and he confidently started walking. He had Clara in front of him, and he turned her around to keep himself shielded. "Don't worry, you'll find her when I'm done with her."
"I'm warning you Blackhurst, drop your gun and let her go!"
"No women is going to tell me what to do," he sneered and started pulling Clara toward the door laughing in an ugly tone. He continued to laugh even when the bullet from Iragene's rifle went through his neck, hitting his jugular. In a bloody mess, he and his gun fell on the floor.
Covered in Blackhurst's blood, Clara screamed hysterically and ran first toward Iragene but then saw Quinn behind her. He ran to her and put his arms around her. Cruz was already in the hotel. He had run in, kicked away the gun, and was kneeling by the man on the floor. "He's dead, Sheriff."
The clerk stood there with his mouth open. "Do you have anything to cover him up with?" Cruz asked him. The clerk went into the office to locate a sheet or cover.
Iragene walked past the body and went down the hall into the ballroom. Everyone there stood together silently. They had been warned not to move or Clara would be killed immediately. After they heard the shot they remained standing, not knowing what to do.
"It's all clear now. Clara is just fine, and the man who took her is dead. I know you're not exactly in a party mood, now, but if possible, please try to enjoy yourselves," she said, knowing the party was over.
Iragene stayed at The Hotel until Clara answered all her questions. Apparently Blackhurst saw her just as she left the dance and followed her into the hotel party. It was there that he took out a gun and pointed it at her and demanded that everyone remain where they were. What seemed like hours to Clara was only minutes.
After Clara had been taken to her room, Iragene then stepped out to where the body lay and pulled back the cover and examined the dead man. She needed to see the person that she had had to shoot. She didn't want to become a killing machine, she needed to remind herself that this was a living being, and whether or not the killing was necessary and justified, she had still taken a life.
She looked up to see the doctor coming through the door. "Really, Iragene, couldn't you have waited till the dance was over?" Behind him she could see Cassie.
"Are you all right?" and she came to Iragene and gave her a hug.
"I'm fine. Just relieved to have it all over. That bastard could have just let it be, but he had to go after that poor girl. The level of malevolency in some people sickens me."
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a masculine figure approaching. She waited. He walked up to her and took her into his arms. He put his face into her hair and whispered into her ear, "Thank you, thank you so much for saving my sister." They stood like that for a while. When they separated, he held her shoulders and asked, "Will I see you tomorrow? I took all my money out of the bank to bid on a special lady's picnic basket," he said lightly, "Will she be there?"
"I think so, but now I think she'd better get home and get some sleep." She smiled and turned, "Doctor, is your patient ready to go?"
"Yes, I'll have Mr. MacDonald get some of his boys out here to get the body out of the main foyer. I'm afraid they'll have some serious clean-up to do. The blood is everywhere. Ahhh, here they come already. I would imagine McDonald will want all memory of him out of here," the doctor said.
"Amen to that, Dr. Stein," said MacDonald, and he signaled to his men to get the body out now, while a cleanup crew followed.
"Can we go, now, Sheriff?" Quinn asked as he pulled his sister safely into his arms.
"Of course, and may I suggest a glass of sherry for Clara?" Iragene turned toward the clerk, "Please deliver that to Miss McCarthy, and put it on my personal account. Thank you."
The next day, the news of the killing was all over town. Once again Iragene was a celebrity after the story of her precision shooting got around. By the time Iragene got the paperwork done for the doctor's and mortician's services, it was time to go to the auction for the lunch baskets. As she left her office, the town cheered for her. She was shocked and embarrassed as she walked to where the other women stood. They made a space for her as she stepped next to Cassie. When the cheering finally stopped, the auction got underway.
Since there were few women and lots of men, the bidding was rather intense at times. Cassie's basket of chicken and her pies were renown, but the doctor easily outbid the crowd.
Clara wished she had been able to take part in the bidding, especially after she saw Marnie MacDonald, the hotel owner's daughter, receive the highest bid. Eventually Iragene's basket came up for bidding. Though beautiful, Iragene's skills as a sheriff were daunting to most men. They didn't mind looking at her, but they were too intimidated to bid. Quinn was the first to bid, then one of the oldest men in the county, Hiram Jackson, also bid on her basket. Whispers went around that Cassie had baked the food, and Iragene got another bid, but finally Quinn out-bid them all and walked up triumphantly to claim his prize.
After the final bid was over, the couples walked to the edge of town where there was some relief from the heat under some cottonwoods. The stream that usually ran by the town was pretty low, but there was enough water for kids to play in and get wet. Iragene and her family were amongst the group.
Alexander, with the help of his Auntie Iragene, took baby steps until the water was up to his knees. He laughed and kicked, making joyous sounds at the new experience. When his aunt brought him back, he was thoroughly wet but happy. Thirty minutes in the arid New Mexico weather would dry out his shirt but not his pants as Iragene discovered, and she handed him over to his father.
Iragene relaxed next to the family she loved. With them were Quinn and Clara. They discussed the quarter horses that Daniel was breeding, the completion of the barn and the new addition to the Joneses' house. The family asked Quinn about Mr. Goodnight and how it was to work with such a renowned man. Quinn and Daniel then discussed saddles and cattle and other things that were so much a part of their world. In addition, both men loved to build furniture.
Cassie and Dr. Stein discussed some local herbs to ease horse colic, and again the conversation got off to a lively discussion of European cures versus New Mexico cures. As the afternoon continued the clouds continued to build up. In the not so distant Manzano Mountains, lightening could be seen and thunder could be heard.
Prudence, Daniel's wife and Iragene's sister-in-law, and Clara were discussing the latest fashions until a lightening flash and the ensuring thunder was heard. "Oh mah," Prudence replied in her thick east Texas drawl, "Ah declare, our summer monsoons are starting early." Since it had already been several hours since they had eaten, and they were pretty much the last group to clean up and leave, they decided to move their party to The Hotel and have some coffee. The baby was asleep in his mother's arms, and the rest helped carry the remnants of their lunch back to town.
Quinn held Iragene's hand, and they walked to town. They began to quicken their pace as they felt large rain drops begin to fall. They just made it back to the hotel's veranda when the sky opened and a river of rain fell. "Made it," Iragene said and turned and smiled.
Quinn looked down at her and smiled back. "I don't know how this happened, Sheriff, but I think I've fallen in love with the town's lawman, ah law woman, and I don't know what to do. Clara and I wired El Paso for the remainder of our inheritance, so we'll be comfortable for a while, but honestly, I don't know what's going to come next, Iragene. I only know that if I don't hold you and kiss you at least once before the day is over, I'm going to burst."
Iragene remained silent for a while—she enjoyed the closeness and hardness of his body, and knew she was content for the moment, but she knew she wanted more than just a friendly relationship; she wanted all of him as much as he wanted her. "
"Iragene, I want to be someone special in your life. You saved us from one of the ugliest chapters in our lives."
"Quinn, maybe it's gratitude that you're feeling."
He looked down at her, lifted her chin and pressed his lips against hers. Their lips melted together, and she could feel the heat of his body next to hers. She had never kissed or been kissed in public, but she didn't care. They stood like that, not wanting to end this moment. When Iragene finally broke away, she smiled and said, "You're right, it's not just gratitude."
While it was still raining and no one was outside on the sheltered Veranda except the two of them, he once again lifted her chin and kissed her, again the gentle kiss became more demanding. Finally he opened his eyes and pulled back.
"Oh, I forgot to give you something," he said.
"Really? What?" she asked curiously.
"Your lace shawl. You left it near the punch. I thought about it in the middle of the night. I got up, went outside, and lo and behold, there it was—just a sittin' as lonely as could be. I folded it up to give it to you." He pulled the delicate shawl out from under his shirt.
She looked at him and pictured him prowling the streets, hunting for her lace shawl. "I had completely forgotten about it. How can I ever thank you, Quinn?"
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:
"Roberts Rules of Order"
Prairie Rose Publications
"Lost in Time" in A Mail-Order Christmas Bride anthology
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Failure at Montello
by Johnny Gunn
Hunched by the fire, Terrell (OK) O'Kane poured some weak coffee into his tin cup, growling and snarling like an un-caged lion about to attack the great white hunter. "We hit a sheep camp and got nothin'," he spat. "We hit a ranch and got nothin'. Doesn't anyone in this country drink coffee or keep money in their pockets?" OK, Silas O'Malley, and Sonny Jameson had busted out of Green River, Wyoming's pitiful little jail more than a week ago, and managed to work their way toward the Nevada border, right through Mormon Utah.
* * *
Before jail-time in Wyoming, the three had not known each other, but each knew the others were outlaws and were willing to ride together. There had been friction from the first, each determined to be the boss.
"They don't drink coffee," is all Jameson said, spitting the last of his tobacco juice into the fire. "That train stop is about three hours from here. The trains stop and fill their water tanks and load up with wood if it's needed. There's a regular cabin there for the watchman. Surely he'll have coffee, and there's more. Many of the trains carry a Wells Fargo car, and that's more important than your coffee."
"You been pushin' me ever since Green River, Jameson," O'Kane snarled. "Keep it up and this here forty five will put you down, hard and long."
"Anytime you're fool enough to try, OK," Jameson smiled, tipped his hat, and simply walked away from the skinny Irishman. "Those Wells Fargo train cars carry gold, silver, and paper money as well as rich people's jewelry. I know this cuz I worked for the Central Pacific for two years." He sat down on his saddle blanket and leaned back on his upturned saddle, lit his last cheroot, and looked around the rough camp. "We pull out of here at sunrise, ride to the Montello water stop, raid the cabin, and wait where it's warm for a train."
"You just assume the train will stop? I've seen them trains whip right through those water stops." Silas (Slim) O'Malley was the largest of the three, weighing well over two hundred pounds. He carried his side arm low on his left hip and never used his left hand for anything other than grabbing iron.
"Naw, Slim, they be a red lantern that the watchman would use if he wanted the train to stop. It hangs right there on the water tower. Engineers look for it."
OK spoke up, quickly, wanting to take some of the steam away from Sonny Jameson. "How will we know if there's a Wells Fargo car on the train? They look different, do they, Mr. Central Pacific?"
"Won't matter none, O'Kane. We'll stop every train that comes through, going either direction, rob the crews and force them to head on down the tracks. If a train has the Wells Fargo loot, that's a special prize." Jameson had a nasty grin on his face, dared OK to go for his piece, taunted him with his eyes and easy manner, that left hand hovering close to a heavy hog-leg, strapped low for a quick draw.
Sunrise found the three in their saddles moving across the desert toward the water stop. The January winds were howling, scattering ice and snow with every step the horses took, forcing the men to keep their coats wrapped tight. "We been in this storm ever since we left Wyoming," Slim O'Malley cussed.
"This is a new storm, I think," OK said. "Coming out of the west this time." He remembered he would have been warm, would have had coffee, even food of a sort, if he had remained in that jail in Green River. "I hate winter," he snarled.
The water tower stood tall in the distance, the three could see cottonwood trees surrounding a small cabin as they neared the stop, and Sonny Jameson explained the layout of the water stop. "The cabin door is on the track side of the building, so we should be able to ride right up to it without being seen, and with this wind, we won't be heard either. If we tie off in those cottonwoods, we can walk right in, guns pulled, and take over.
"Since when you give the orders?" OK asked.
"Since I'm the one what knows what's goin' on, mister. You don't want to be in on this, then just ride off, Irishman." He snickered, and said, "Or make a play." There was silence as the three rode up to the trees, stepped out of their saddles and tied off the horses.
"Don't see no horses," Slim said. "Maybe ain't nobody here."
"There's smoke comin' out of the chimney. Someone's here," Jameson said, and led the three around to the trackside of the small building. He pulled his hefty Colt, made sure the others had as well, and slammed his body through the door of the cabin. Four Chinese road workers, startled and frightened, jumped to their feet and made a dash for the open door.
OK shot the last one out the door, the others fleeing faster than any had ever run before. "What kind of fool move you makin'? Why'd you do that?" Jameson growled. "Now we got a murder rap hangin' over our heads. One thing to rob a train, another to kill somebody. You're a fool, O'Kane." It wasn't just the small cabin that made things feel mighty close.
Both men still held their weapons, glaring at each other, and it was Slim O'Malley that stopped a second killing. "Looks like there's coffee and food, boys, and a warm stove to stand next to. You two, go ahead and shoot each other, I'm gonna make a pot of coffee."
"Looks like they're making for Nevada, Sheriff," Stony Welles said as the three walked their horses into a cold camp not too far from the banks of the Great Salt Lake. Green River Sheriff Emory Smith settled back into his saddle, after running his fingers through the cold fire pit.
* * *
"'Fraid you're right, Stony, that fire's cold. They're about a day ahead of us now, so let's put these pretty ponies into a nice long trot and catch up some." Sheriff Smith, his deputies Stony Welles and Warren Culbertson moved out fast, easily following the trail the three escapees left.
"They don't seem to care that we might be following," Stony said. "Course, listenin' to that fool OK for three days, they might be following a snake or something." They got a good laugh out of that. "Probably figure you wouldn't go outside your jurisdiction to find them."
"When we catch up to them," Sheriff Emory Smith said, "we want to be very careful of Sonny Jameson. He's a wanted killer, escaped from Leavenworth, and has two lawmen notched on the handle of his Colt. O'Kane is a loud-mouth idiot, and Slim O'Malley could pick you up and crush you with his bare arms."
It was late in the day when they found another fire pit and the Sheriff had a slight smile on his face. "They're not moving as fast as they were. They left here this morning. Let's ride well into the night, and we'll have their outlaw butts tomorrow."
"I don't know why, but it looks like they're headin' deep into the Nevada area. They tried to rob those ranches, and got nothing, and now they look to be headin' where they ain't any people."
"You're right, Stony," the sheriff said, "but there are railroad tracks. Ain't never been in this country, but I know the railroad that runs through Green River comes through here. Let's just stay hard on their tracks, boys."
"You got that lantern lit, Slim?"
* * *
"Yeah, and hangin' on the hook. You sure this will actually stop the train?"
Sonny Jameson just chuckled and walked back into the shack for another cup of hot, boiling, fresh coffee. "Engineer sees that red lantern and the brakes are set. All we have to do is walk out of the shack, guns cocked, and take their money. I don't much trust OK, so I want you to check for a Wells Fargo railcar."
"You keep pushin' him, and he'll shoot you sure as I'm standin' here. Let me have some of that coffee."
Sonny and Slim O'Malley seemed to get along fine, probably because Slim could crush Sonny before he could pull his big iron, and neither one got along with the sniveling O'Kane. OK was in the outhouse after wolfing down half a loaf of stale bread he found in a cupboard, and felt lucky that he got there in time.
"That dead Chinese ain't gonna go over well with the railroad, Slim. Help me toss the body in that gulch." They lugged the dead man to the edge and threw him into a seldom-running drainage ditch.
"Train comin'," OK hollered as he left the outhouse, still buckling his pants and gunbelt. The three dashed into the cabin and watched as the train with three boxcars and a caboose slowly puffed its way into the station, stopping exactly where the water tank could fill their boilers. As soon as the heavy steamer was fully stopped the three walked from the shack, guns drawn, bandannas pulled up over their noses, hiding well-known faces.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Engineer," Sonny Jameson said, swaggering up to the big iron monster. "Come on down here, bring the fireman, and let's have all your money. Is the conductor in the caboose? Good, we'll get his money too.
"Check those boxcars, Slim, and bring the conductor up here."
The engineer and his fireman climbed down from the slowly pulsing engine, hands held high in the air. "We don't carry no money," the engineer said, and OK slapped him across the side of the head with his revolver.
"Damn you, O'Kane," Jameson snarled, helping the man to his feet. "Just empty your pockets, old man. You, too," he said, pointing his pistol at the fireman. Slim O'Malley came back up the tracks leading the conductor, pushing him along with the end of his gun.
"One boxcar with heavy walls and door is marked Wells Fargo, Sonny. Conductor says it's empty, which means of course that it's filled with gold and silver." Laughter rang about and Sonny jerked the conductor over with the engineer and fireman. "Let's have your money, please," he said.
They herded the train crew into the shack and tied them up before trudging down the tracks to the strongbox on wheels. OK walked right up to the railcar and tried to open the sliding doors, which opened about three inches, just enough for a shotgun barrel to be jammed out. The shot blew half the Irishman's head off and the door slammed shut again.
"Open that door and give us your strongbox and you'll live to see another day," Sonny Jameson yelled. That was answered by two shots from a revolver, through the walls of the railcar. Sonny and Slim fired several shot in return through the walls and heard a muffled scream from inside.
"Open the doors, fool, or we'll just keep shooting." That was answered by two more rounds from inside the boxcar, one of them nicking Jameson. "Damn," he said, ripping the bandanna from his face and using it to stop the blood flowing from his right forearm.
"Shoot where the lock should be on the inside, and we'll get that door opened," Slim said, putting six quick rounds through the door. He reloaded while Jameson fired his cylinder full as well. The door seemed to move slightly, and Slim put his weight and strength into it, nudging it open some.
"Come out of there with empty hands," Jameson said, and helping Slim, got the door opened about two feet. "Right now," he bellowed. His command was answered by a shotgun blast that knocked him back about five feet, and left him with no throat and blank, staring eyes.
Slim ducked down and slid to the left of the boxcar so any gunfire from inside could not hit him. "You've had your fun, mister, and now it's time for you to die. You have five seconds to come out of the boxcar, hands empty, or I burn you out." He slipped down the tracks and into the sagebrush, ripping branches off and bringing them back to the Wells Fargo car.
He lit one of the branches, which tend to go up in flames fast, and tossed it through the boxcar's open door. He waited a moment, lit another branch and tossed it in. Acrid smoke filled the car and the Wells Fargo agent inside was coughing loudly. "Come out of there you idiot. With your empty hands where I can see them."
It took one more lighted branch of sagebrush before the man clambered out of the smoking inferno. Slim waited until he was all the way out and shot him dead. Climbing inside the boxcar, he tossed the smoking branches out and started looking for the money boxes and anything else of value.
"See those trees and the tank? That's the watering station, Sheriff," Stony Welles said, pointing at the Montello Station, several miles distant. "Looks like there's a train getting water now."
"If these tracks we're following mean anything, whoever's on that train might be in serious danger," Sheriff Smith said, kicking his horse into a strong lope. "We better get there before it's too late.
As they neared the station, they spotted three horses tied off near some cottonwood trees, and then heard a single shot fired, near one of the boxcars. "Let's go," Emory Smith shouted, giving his horse a goodly kick in the ribs, racing toward the stalled train. They spotted Slim O'Malley climbing into the boxcar, and it appeared that he did not see or hear them approaching.
The sheriff and his two deputies dismounted in a flurry of snow and ice alongside the Wells Fargo boxcar, all with guns drawn. Sheriff Smith spotted the bodies of O'Kane and Jameson, and called out, "It's over, O'Malley. Leave your weapons and climb down out of there." He also motioned his deputies to stand to the side of the boxcar. The gunfire from inside the car splintered a lot of wood, and that's about all it did.
"One last chance, Slim," the sheriff hollered. "Much easier for us if we just bury your sorry butt out here in the desert. Come on out of there." He glanced around, indicated that all should shoot when he did, and gave the huge man inside another few seconds to make up his mind.
"Time's up, Slim," and he emptied his pistol into the boxcar. Culbertson and Stony Welles did the same thing, and after the smoke cleared, Smith stuck his head inside, then climbed in. "Looks like we got some burying to do, boys," he said, dragging O'Malley's body toward the door.
They freed the train crew, buried the outlaws and the Wells Fargo agent, and went through the moneybox and train car. "All those dead bodies, and less than one hundred dollars in cash and some silver dinner-ware destined for a big old hotel in Chicago." Emory Smith was sitting at the table in the train station shack sipping on some hot coffee.
"These are the times I really don't like my job," he said. "Let's load all these horses on the train and take a ride back to Green River, boys. Not one of those fools was worth the life of the Wells Fargo agent or the Chinaman."
Other works by Johnny Gunn:
Jacob Chance, U.S. Marshal (Solstice Publishing, 2015)
The Quest (Solstice Publishing, 2015)
Paradise Challenged (Solstice Publishing, 2015)
So Young . . . So Dead (Solstice Publishing, 2015)
A Good Life Cut Short (Solstice Publishing, 2016)
Red Light Raven (Solstice Publishing, 2016)
Blood of Many Nations (New Pulp Press, 2016)
To Serve and Deceive (Solstice Publishing, TBA)
Out of the West . . . Tales of the American Frontier (Bottom of the Hill Publishing, November 2010).
Johnny Gunn short fiction has won awards from New Century Writers Awards (2002, 2003, and 2004) and ByLine Magazine.
Most recently, he had fiction published in Shotgun Honey, Yellow Mama, Rope and Wire, The Storyteller, The McGuffin, Epiphany
(EpiphMag.com), The Western Online, and Frontier Tales, among others.
Johnny Gunn retired from a fifty-year journalism career during which he published and edited The Nevada Observer.com an
internet news magazine; The Virginia City Legend, a weekly newspaper; and The Rhythm of Reno, a monthly entertainment
magazine. For several years he was senior editor at the regional monthly magazine AdNews, serving the advertising gurus,
marketing mavens, and other creative souls in Nevada.
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Hell and High Water
Part 2 of 2
by William S. Hubbartt
Douglas had dismounted and left his horse in the dry creek bed. He climbed out of the gully and looked into the blowing wind to check the progress of the storm and the line of flames. The wind gusted harder full of sparks, skies darkened as the cloud line passed directly overhead, and the wall of flames bore down, only a hundred yards away. Suddenly, large drops of water splashed in his face; rain began falling, blowing really, stinging his exposed face and hands. The flames continued, closer, their heat searing. Now he was soaked by the cold rain; the flames sizzled like bacon, the moisture now dueling with the blowing firebrands. He was choked by the thick smoke.
* * *
Suddenly, Douglas felt a tremendous dread, fearing for the safety of Anna. Her sweet face flashed in his memory. Did she escape the hell that was the fire? Was she in this storm, drenched and cold? Was she still a captive? Or was she lost in the fire and wind storm somewhere on the prairie?
The flames were nearly upon him, persisting in spite of the rain. Douglas turned to step down into the gully and hide in the sandstone cavity created by flowing waters turning to find lower ground. His feet slid in the slippery mud, and he fell tumbling in to more wet mud and a puddle down below where moments before had been dry sandy soil.
Douglas coughed and spat mud and water; he raised his face from the puddle he lay in. Had he been unconscious? He didn't know, but now he was cold and wet; water rushed beneath as he rose to his hands and knees. Rain gushed down, freezing cold, like the time he had stood under a water fall. Suddenly, there was a low rumble, not from the sky overhead, but seeming to come from up the hill where a stream of water rushed past his feet, and flowed in the swale down to a lower portion of the prairie.
The rumble was suddenly louder, like boat ride entering the rapids on a river. Douglas looked up, as a wall of water crashed down upon him sweeping him off his feet, and pulling him along like a leaf in a stream. Banged and bumped by hidden rocks and tree branches, he struggled to keep his head above water, to breath. A mile or two later, exhausted, he was able to grab onto a branch of willow tree that lay across the fast flowing stream. Spent, he pulled his body onto the trunk of the fallen tree, gasping to catch his breath, and then he slowly shimmied along the tree back towards solid ground, and lay there, exhausted.
Douglas awoke wet, cold and shivering, still draped over the fallen tree. In the dim light from the graying sky, he saw a trickle of water flowing down the creek bed along with a scattering of branches and debris deposited by the flash flood . A distant burnt smell lingered, but the prairie grass here was matted and bent from wind and water, yet unburned. He heard a plaintive cry and the sound of struggle and splashing water. Instinctively, he rolled off the fallen tree and hid. In a few moments the cry and struggle were heard again, downstream in the willow thicket. Cautiously, Douglas crawled over the wet ground towards the sound. There he saw a horse, apparently stuck amid downed and broken tree branches, unable to free itself.
* * *
Upon closer look, it was a Palouse, a spotted Indian pony. He stayed hidden, fearful of a trap. After some time, he edged closer, and saw that the animal's hind leg was pinned between two loose branches that had wedged together in the water flow. As he approached, the pony snorted and shied away, fearful of white man's scent. He spoke softly, and gently stroked the animal's wet fur on the shoulder and slowly towards the hind quarters and thigh, checking for injury. The pony settled and stopped its struggle. Douglas carefully lifted and separated the branches that pinned the leg, he then took the rawhide war bridle and guided the pony back slowly until it was freed.
As he led the Palouse out of the water, Douglas saw an Indian lying unconscious near the water's edge about 50 yards downstream. As he tied the pony's bridle to a tree branch, he realized that he had no weapons; all had been lost in the storm. Quietly, he circled around to get closer, and found a thick branch to use as a club. As he snuck closer, he observed that the Indian appeared to have drowned in the flood. He was a short stocky Indian, and next to him lay a flintlock rifle. It was his Kentucky Rifle! This must be the Indian who took Anna!
Douglas searched the stream bed looking desperately for Anna. Then he remembered, he had been following two sets to tracks, two Indian ponies, one riding double. Anna must still be out there, somewhere. He found the Indian's knife, took his rifle, and wiped it free of debris and mud, and then led the Indian pony back upstream, looking for tracks left by the Indian and his pony. The Palouse seemed to want to pull away from the stream and head northwest; so, Douglas mounted the pony and let the animal follow its instinct for going home.
When the storm had passed, Running horse walked in a circle near the cave opening, and in a few moments, he returned with a handful of small red berries. He ate a hand full and a few dropped near Anna. Running Horse then led his pony to some nearby grass and let the animal nibble on the plants and drink from a puddle. Anna was starved, but said nothing. As her captor stepped out with the pony, she quickly grabbed the berries left by her feet and stuffed them in her mouth.
* * *
"Eww. These are awful!" Her words surprised her.
"Eat. Now ride," said Running Horse in his guttural English. He then put Anna onto his pony and mounted behind her. They set off onto the prairies again. By dusk, they had reached the Comanche camp. Dogs barked in excitement; mothers and children collected in small groups to watch as Running Horse rode through the camp proudly, displaying his captive. A few old men appeared, and nodded approvingly. Running Horse stopped briefly at the lodge of elder, Great Elk, to display his prize from the scout.
He then circled the village and made his way back to his own lodge where wife Little Flower stood at the entrance holding his infant son as the baby nursed at her breast.
"What is this?" Little Flower barked in her native tongue. "You go to bring us meat, yet you return with this scrawny yellow haired dog."
"I bring you a slave," he replied firmly, as he pushed Anna from the horse, causing her to fall to the ground between them. "to carry wood, fetch water, and skin meat, while you care for our little one."
Other squaws had gathered around and began taunting Anna, as she fearfully hunched on her hands and knees.
The Palouse stepped carefully at its own pace, wending its way in a northwesterly direction. The land was charred, and it smelled of dampness mixed with the smoky odor of burnt remains. Suddenly, they crossed the fire line, into unblemished prairie grass. Douglas let the horse take its own lead, figuring it knew the way to its homeland. Anna's smiling face drifted into his consciousness, with memories of her soft touch, her warmth, and intimate closeness from their bed, providing a brief reprieve from the urgency of his purpose. The momentary glow of warmth was followed quickly with an immense sense of loss, a fear that he was too late, that deathly harm had already befallen his dear wife.
The Palouse maintained an even pace throughout the day, passing signs of wildlife on this seemingly barren plain. A large bird, looked to be an eagle, circled overhead and then floated away in the upper air currents. The Palouse carefully stepped through a prairie dog village, with burrowed holes and small dirt mounds, spread over several acres. Later, trampled ground showed that a buffalo heard had moved north recently. Twice the Palouse had found a small stream where they paused to drink and rest. In spite of his anger for the capture of his wife, Douglas felt a respect for the Comanche's ability to live and survive on the open plains.
A dog barked, and a woman's voice called out; Douglas warmly recalled his visit to have dinner with Anna's family at their Tennessee mountain cabin when they began courting. The Palouse broke stride and lurched as it stepped over a small ravine. Douglas shook his head, he had been dozing, dreaming while on the pony. Was it really a dream? Another dog bark, women's voices, and the sounds of horses alerted Douglas that he was near a village. Could it be the Comanche village? He tugged at the bridle and pulled the pony into cover behind some sage brush. The pony resisted, showing its desire to join the herd. This must be the Comanches.
The sun's orange glow faded in the west as he tied the Palouse and snuck closer on all fours to observe, anxiously hoping to see wife Anna somewhere in the village. He saw about twenty lodges, and a herd of ponies were gathered on the north edge of the camp. The lodges were cone shaped tent-like shelters of buffalo hide wrapped around tall poles, with an entry opening on one side. There were three or four camp fires, where women were preparing food and watching children.
Near one lodge, men congregated, talking and laughing, their actions sometimes punctuated with wild gestures demonstrating their actions. A dog barked, and a second chimed in. Douglas put his finger in his mouth, and held it up to test the wind direction. Keeping crouched and low, he rotated around the camp to remain downwind, so that the animals would not be spooked by his presence. He could hear voices in the 200 yard distance; while he did not understand the words, the tone and inflection of voices revealed emotions of the speakers. They seemed to be a happy people in spite of their hard nomadic life.
Suddenly, there was a piercing scream, a girl's scream, and all stopped to look and listen. Was that Anna? There was movement and a group of women congregated near a campfire in the corner by the ponies. Douglas heard more screaming, and then laughter. There was a flash of movement between two lodges, yelling and taunting, and then a flurry of movement of yellow hair, in the midst of others with dark hair. Anna! It had to be Anna, screaming and fighting! Instinctively he started to run towards her, but stumbled on a rock and fell. Douglas lay there, coming to his senses. "I can't run into that village now, it would be suicide. I have to think, I have to rescue her tonight, when they are sleeping," he thought.
It took forever for Comanches to go to sleep. Even though he shivered in the cool night air, Douglas struggled to stay awake. Finally, fires faded, the squaws and children slept, and the warriors drifted back to their lodges. Quiet settled on the village, interrupted briefly by a distant coyote. Walking cautiously, leading the Palouse, he made his way towards the village, circling around to the area where he had last seen the squaws tormenting Anna. He left the pony to join the herd, and slowly edged towards the lodges, listening, looking for some sign.
He froze when he saw an animal curled in a ball outside the pointed shelter tethered to a stake. The furry ball stirred, and made a soft crying sound. There was more movement, revealing a bloodied foot, and a moan, and then light colored hair emerged. Anna! It had to be Anna, tied up outside like an dog, covered in a small animal skin.
"Anna," he whispered, touching her shoulder.
"Aaahh!" Anna gasped in fear, trembling at the surprise touch.
"Shh, it's me, Douglas, I'm getting you out of here."
Her hands covered her face and she shivered in fear. Then her eyes blinked open. "Dougie . . . I knew you would come." Weakly, her hands opened up to him.
There was a sound of a cough and mumbled grunt from inside the Indian lodge. Douglas quickly produced a knife and cut the rawhide that bound Anna's leg to the stake. Whispering in her ear, he picked her up and carried her towards the herd of ponies, looking for the Palouse that had led him to the camp. The ponies snorted and stomped, backing away from the two strange smelling white people who stumbled into their midst. Nearby, a dog barked, sounding an alarm mirrored by the ponies.
Now he heard voices, men's voices, calling out an alarm. Douglas found the Plouse, placed Anna on the pony and leapt up behind her, turning the animal and kicking its sides to break away. The pony was fleet, a good runner and now responsive to his leads. In the darkness, he sensed a gully and tugged on the pony's mane to head down into the trough to better hide their retreat. Behind, he heard the yells and excitement as the village came alive and went to the horses in pursuit. The darkness helped to cover their escape, but it offered little advantage. Riding double would slow their escape. Douglas knew that the Comanches were excellent horsemen, able to track and read sign like a preacher reads the Bible.
They rode hard trying to gain some distance from the village. After a bit, the Palouse tugged to the left, and slowed as the prairie gave way to a gully. Douglas now smelled the dampness of a pond or stream. He let the pony lead to water. When the animal's hooves splashed into the stream, he dismounted, and helped his wife; they all rested and drank thirstily. Douglas listened, and for the moment at least, he did not hear the Comanches. Then he scanned the starry sky, and recognized the three stars of Orion's belt in the southern sky. When they resumed, he pointed the Palouse just left of that direction. Knowing that there were miles to cover, he nudged the Palouse to an easy canter. Soon, with the rocking motion of the pony, Anna seemed to nod off with her head on his shoulder.
The Palouse had slowed to a walk, tired from the night's journey. A touch of gray peeked from the eastern horizon. There was a whistle from a nearby ridge ahead, a two toned trill Douglas recognized as a bob white quail. Then, he heard a second trill to his right, and the Palouse's ears flicked, in each direction. The bay turned to the right, seemingly pulled towards the sound. Douglas felt a tingle in the hair on his neck; he pulled at the rein, and kicked the Palouse's sides to urge it forward. The bay hesitated for just a second, and an arrow found its mark in Douglas's right arm.
Douglas groaned in pain and Anna squealed in fear, as the pony lunged forward. Another arrow flew just inches from their faces. Two shots boomed from just ahead. Douglas feared that they were heading further into a trap and he turned the Palouse, seeking an escape route. His eyes caught movement to the rear where he saw a Comanche warrior limping away to the cover of a ravine. From the left, there came the sound of galloping hooves, then a gun shot.
Douglas turned his head quickly, fearing death by a Comanche warrior. To his surprise, he saw Ranger Jake, riding hard, colt in hand, flushing one last Comanche from hiding. Moments later, Jake returned.
"You're a sight for sore eyes," said Douglas. "I feel like we've been through hell and high water. How did you know where to find us?"
"Had a report of Comanches in the area, and stopped by your place to check on ya," replied Jake. "Saw the tracks in your yard. Told the story, Miss Anna been taken and you went after her. Then the storm hit, washed away the trail. But, I knew they'd head back to the Comancheria; I've tracked them up this way before."
"We're mighty appreciative," said Anna. As she turned to look at her husband, she saw the arrow through the muscle of her husband's arm. "Oh my! Douglas, you're hurt. We've got to take care of that!"
Douglas grimaced, and nudged the Palouse. "Enough of this palaver, we gotta get some miles between us and those Comanches before they regroup for another try."
Holding a steady pace and watching their back trail, the trio covered ground most of the day. Late afternoon, they stopped briefly to rest the horses, remove the arrow from Douglas' arm and to bandage the wound. They made it back to the Austin area by noon, the following day.
"You saved our lives, Ranger Jake," said Anna, after they arrived back at the ranch. "Now I insist that you accept our thanks by staying for dinner."
"Yes'm. I'd be mighty obliged." Jake smiled sheepishly, removing his hat as he stepped into their mud log home. "I hear tell you're a mighty fine cook, ma'am."
William S. Hubbartt is the author of non-fiction and fiction materials. his latest short story fiction placement is "Tara's Torment" in Heater fiction magazine.
Another recent placement is "Warehouse of Wisdom" in Wilderness House Literary Review. Other recent submissions include Western stories: "Redemption," "Selling Out,"
"Donovan's Dream," "Death Sentence," and others appearing in ropeandwire.com; and "Caleb's Courage," "The Spirit of Sonora," "The Hunted," "Fools Gold," and
others placed at www.frontiertales.com, and "Soldier's Heart" placed at thebigadios.com. He has earned a MS from Loyola University of Chicago. He is currently
employed with a government agency in Chicago.
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