It was a simple town, with the simple things you see when you pass through this part of the world—a drug store, a barbershop, two saloons, a brothel, a general store, a post office, a sheriff's office, and a church where everyone in town begrudgingly gathered every Sunday. All these establishments sat along a dirt road that lead to the mayor's office, which itself was not much to look at. The spring sun high and strong overhead, the wind low, and the townsfolk's attitude lethargic, it was not a particularly busy day. There weren't too many folks out and about Eagle's View that violent April day in 1886. In this unassuming town located somewhere where the hills and grasslands of Texas meet, the denizens found law and order an elementary matter; always administered simply and without much pomp or circumstance.
Until the day a U.S. Marshal rode into town from the west.
"Whadya think yer doing with 'im? Let 'im down!" a surly voice standing in the shade of the general store shouted at him as he rode into town. The Lawman didn't dignify the stranger with a response of any kind, not even a simple glance with his azure eyes.
"Careful, I heard he's shot men for less, if that's who I think it is!" the companion of the shouter responded. "It's best jus' to let the sheriff handle this one," he whispered, unaware that the Marshal could hear him.
"And why? Who is he?" responded the surly man. The Lawman had learned to like a degree of anonymity, even here, in Eagle's View, Texas.
"Why, I've heard some things about him. He's said to be the most feared U.S. Marshal from here to the far edge of California," the surly man's friend pointed out. "His name's Cross, I think."
"Cross? Name sounds familiar . . . " the surly man said, followed quickly by a loosening of his lower lip to let slip a bit of chewing tobacco. The oily spittle fell onto the rough, rocky ground with a splat, adding to a black stain at the edge of his toes.
"I think I know why. He was born not too far from here, I heard. Then he disappeared one day, and no one's seen him until . . . until now, I suppose. In these parts, at least. Lot younger than I'd thought he'd be."
He still avoided their gaze as he passed out of earshot. He raised one of his thick eyebrows slightly, surprised that they knew his name. However, he was even more surprised by his own reputation. He didn't bother correct them as it would go nowhere slowly and painfully, usually culminating in someone making an ultimately stupid—yet still illegal—threat. Such a game had no winners either way, so he wouldn't play. His job was always a little rough, but something about this one felt . . . different for some reason. Off, as though he was missing a piece to the puzzle. He knew he had to finish his job, no matter how he felt.
As he passed the barbershop, he rubbed his square jaw and chin, the stubble sitting upon them annoying him mildly. Might stop by and get a shave, he thought. And a haircut too, as he tousled his dirty blond hair
His horse cantered on forward, to the sheriff's office he'd kept his sky-blue eyes focused on. The man tied up behind him grunted and wiggled, a little harder and louder than he had previously, possibly provoked by the gentlemen discussing the two of them when they passed the shop earlier.
"No," he muttered to the man strapped behind him. "I ain't gonna rethink turning you in. I appreciate you wanting to share your hard-earned money with me. Truly, it humbles me to the bottom of my heart." The Lawman smiled dryly as he looked back at the man strapped to the back of his horse.
The man was gagged with a bandanna tied around his mouth, his teeth roughly chewing through the cloth that denied him his words. Hands tied behind his back, feet bound, stomach atop of the horse he was forced upon—he was the sight of misery. His collar-length hair hung sorrowfully along with his hazel eyes, aimed at the ground without much of a choice.
"But I ain't aching for cash at the moment. That, and the whole business of me upholdin' the law. Makes it a little more inappropriate to take a bribe, as you can imagine . . . Or maybe you don't. Either way, it would look mighty bad for a lawman to take some of his quarry's money to let him off the hook. Would give the next the idea to think that it's alright to do so."
The man tried to speak through his gag, looking up at the Lawman with teary eyes.
"Yes, I'm sure. And yes, I do believe the sheriff will give you some water once I drop you off." He patted the man's back amiably. "Eagle's View is known for its hospitality, after all—even to folks they're about to hang."
One of the locals sitting under the porch of the saloon shouted at the pair. "I hope you know what yer doin'. The Sheriff ain't gonna like this!"
The Lawman simply smiled. "Well, they're hospitable so long as you ain't a Marshal with a local of . . . somewhat importance? Yeah, a local of somewhat importance on the back of your horse. I'm only guessing somewhat importance 'cause no one has tried to shoot me yet. 'Yet' being the word of choice, as 'yet' implies it could change. You'll let me know if it does, won't you?"
The man grunted through the bandanna in a most unpleasant tone.
"No need for that kinda language! We all have a job to do, and when we don't, we get into trouble. What's your actual, somewhat important job? Angerin' the Comanche can't be a full-time job," the Lawman said.
The man glared back at him vehemently with teary eyes.
"I'm imagining that you would make an excellent . . . carpenter. Yes, carpenter. No?" he asked the man. "What about . . . oh sorry, I must halt the conversation for a moment."
The Lawman and the bound man came upon two lavishly dressed women on their way to the sheriff's office. They wore dresses that were considered the peak of fashion back in New York and London, but were near impractical in the heat of Texas. They were fanning themselves swiftly, forgoing any sense of delicacy in their motion in favor a slight reprieve from the heat. The Lawman shot them a friendly look with his powerful blue eyes, tipping his grayish-black hat at the same time.
"Ladies," he said, smiling broadly, looking more like a refined gentleman than a road-weary Lawman—a side of his personality he rarely used. They gave him an awkward smile back, not really wanting to commit to his attention. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough to dissuade him.
"Ladies, if I might take a moment of your time. What is the name of the Sheriff of this here town?" he asked in his most refined voice.
Both looked upon him with inquisitive yet annoyed eyes, seemingly asking, "Why me?" The one on the right—a brunette in a white dress—looked over to her friend, a blonde who was dressed in navy. They quietly debated over which one of them would answer him. The brunette rolled hazel eyes at her friend, which she turned towards the Lawman.
"His name, Marshal, is Jacob Smith. The man tied to your horse is Silas, if you didn't know. The Sheriff won't appreciate you having him tied up like that. You can ask him yourself if you have any other questions," she said, trying to end the conversation.
"Thank you very much, ladies. A bit strange, but a fine day to you nonetheless." He tipped his flat-brimmed grey hat with a pleasant smile. They smiled back awkwardly, trying to further avoid his gaze altogether.
"You see, my friend, chivalry ain't dead, so long as you live by it. That's the problem with people nowadays. Locomotives and the like aren't what's killing morals. Hell, it ain't even whiskey. No, it's simple courtesy that's lacking. And that's why I do what I do. Society doesn't stay afloat without a little bit effort, after all. If you did right by others, you wouldn't be tied to ol' Foxcatcher right now." He patted the chestnut mare beneath him.
"Whoa, easy Foxcatcher," he said as they came upon the sheriff's office. The horse halted nonchalantly, as if only stopping because she didn't want to deal with the mess of not halting.
The Lawman jumped out of his saddle, loosing a grunt with the impact taken to his prematurely aging knees. He was only twenty-seven, but the years on the trail and hours spent marching had taken their toll. He took a moment to shake his knees out, and blew a bit of pain out of his mouth. He then proceeded to unsheathe his Bowie knife, holding the man's feet firmly.
"Now, I don't wanna hurt you, so you're gonna have to hold still. I'm gonna cut the rope bindin' your legs, so sudden movements, such as trying to kick me, aren't in your best interest just now. Understand?" The Lawman used his knife like a pointer, aimed directly at the bridge of his prisoner's nose.
The man let out a compliant grunt, seeing as he had very little in the way of options otherwise.
"Good! I appreciate your makin' this easier." With quick work, the bonds on the man's legs were cut, followed by a powerful pull that brought him off the horse and onto his feet—barely. The Lawman had to hold him all the way down, keeping him up with a hand placed upon his collar.
"Gotcha! The landing always is a little rough." The lawman laughed. The bound man growled again, which only elicited a small chuckle from the Lawman.
"What, it's true! It's nothin' against you personally. You been sitting uncomfortably on the back of my horse for the last hour or so, so of course your legs aren't ready for that kinda fall," the lawman informed him, like he was arguing with an old friend. "Now, come on. Let's get you to the Sheriff."
The captive named Silas did not resist as much as the lawman was expecting as they stepped onto the porch of the sheriff's office. The Lawman's spurs sang after each drumbeat of his boot hit the hollow wood, gently chanting all the way up to the sheriff's door.
He pushed the door open with quiet power; such gestures were always needed whenever walking into another jurisdiction, he found. Open the door too gently, and he would show himself timid, not one to be taken seriously in this line of work. Open the door too fast, and he would've been liable to find out what the sheriff's favorite caliber of bullet was. But, if he opened it with the right amount of authority, then he would show that he belonged without stepping on someone's proverbial toes.
The sheriff was sitting there at his desk, feet up, glass of whiskey in his hand. He was an older man; the peppered grey hair and lines under his eyes were those of a man in his early fifties. His grey eyes were glazed over with the look of one lost in drink—and a tad bit of complacency. He could have, and should have, responded more quickly to the young Lawman walking in. Instead, he just gave a buzzed grin.
"So . . . the 'Marshal' Lancelot Cross walks into my office. I already feel like this is the beginnin' of a bad joke," the sheriff said with a shake of his head. "'Specially when you got him tied up."
"If you know the punch line, I'd be glad to hear it. And my friends call me Lance, if you don't mind," the Marshal said, his shoulders tensing for the argument that he was soon to find himself in.
"I won't. Because," he interrupted himself with a swig of whiskey, "we're not. So, for the sake of the friendship we don't have, tell me why you have this man bound and gagged, because there can't be a serious reason, Marshal." The sheriff pointed at the prisoner with his whiskey glass. The Marshal was surprised at the sheriff's indifference, if not slightly insulted. To keep his composure, the Marshal simply carried on as if he had not just heard the slight, and took a far graver tone.
"I found this man in Comanche territory, alone with a young girl of the tribe. According to her account, and by the account of one of the elders of the tribe who gave her a physical examination after his apprehension, he had unlawful carnal knowledge of her. An offense punishable by hangin', if my understandin' of this jurisdiction's laws are correct. The Comanche, on faith, were willing to let me turn him over to you. Well, after some convincin' they agreed to it. I'm hopin' you'll do the right thing and not turn this into a federal matter."
The sheriff just nodded, staying quiet a moment longer than was comfortable. He ran the tips of fingers from his moustache, along the corners of his mouth, and brought them back together at the tip of his chin, his glazed eyes thinking about . . . something. Hopefully, that something was what the Marshal had just told him.
"Unlawful carnal knowledge?" the sheriff asked after another swig from his whiskey. The Marshal affirmed him with a nod. "You mean rape?"
"That's what I mean."
"Then why didn't you just say 'rape?' Why beat around the bush and use such fancy words like you're better than everyone?" the Sheriff asked, again attacking the Marshal's ego. The Marshal was now sure that the sheriff was going to make this far more difficult than he should.
"Sorry, Sheriff. Next time I will use simpler words. I didn't know that you'd be such a . . . " He paused, as a smile curled on the corner of his mouth. "Simple man."
The color in the sheriff's face disappeared for a moment, his grey eyes taking on a harsher, angrier glint. The Marshal simply continued.
"Legally, per the most recent treaty signed, what, three years ago?" the Marshal asked rhetorically. "Hmm . . . four? It doesn't matter. Either way, the last treaty that this jurisdiction signed with the Comanche effectively put their tribe's lands and people under your protection. So, in simple terms, it is your duty to punish this man for his crimes. If you don't trust my testimony as a fellow officer of the law, I can bring forth witnesses from your jurisdiction who can testify on the young woman's behalf. Simple enough?"
The sheriff continued to glare at the Marshal, once again forcing an awkward silence only broken up by the unintelligible grunts of the prisoner. The sheriff finished his whiskey with a long pull followed by a sigh.
"I'm glad that you know my jurisdiction's laws so well, Cross. So, it should be no surprise to you, then, that you are under arrest and pending trial for obstruction of justice and assault of an officer of the law. And the punishment for this crime is simple as well—death by hangin'."
The Marshal raised an eyebrow, deciding that he needed to be very calculated in the movements that made over the course of the next few minutes. "How do you figure?"
"Because, this man here is one of my deputies. Isn't that right, Silas?"
The prisoner nodded, grunting quickly. The Marshal's eyes narrowed. This was a lot more complicated than he had hoped. No wonder the townsfolk seemed to give him a hard time.
"Then it is definitely in your best interest to hang this man, or at least give him a trial. If you don't at least try him, it will be a violation of the treaty. It will effectively start a war with the Comanche. I ain't kiddin' here, Sheriff," he said gravely.
"And I ain't kiddin' with you either, Cross! You have humiliated one of my deputies in front of the whole town, unlawfully binding and gagging him. Turn yourself in, and you may still have a chance, a small one, but a chance of spendin' life in prison. Do you understand?" The sheriff was now on his feet, his hands placed firmly upon the table. His face had turned into a wrinkly, mustached apple. The Marshal held his expression and demeanor.
"So, what of the Comanche girl? Are you not even—"
"I don't give a damn about those godless Indians!" the sheriff shouted. "Now, hand over your gun now!"
The sheriff pulled his .45 from its fine, barely-used holster. At the same moment, the Marshal pulled his Peacemaker from its weathered, clearly used holster.
The Marshal shot the sheriff's Colt out of his hand. There was a rumble beyond the jail door, and it quickly opened—a deputy bursting out with a Remington lever-action. The Marshal didn't hesitate.
A .45 round hit the deputy's carbine, knocking it out of his hand.
"Now, Sheriff," the Marshal said, aiming his Peacemaker at him. "You and your deputy were both very, very lucky that my hand aimed true and hit its intended target." He moved his Peacemaker's aim to the deputy in the doorway. "If another one of you runs in, it may not work out that way again. So, for the sake of brevity and setting proper expectations, here's what's gonna happen. I'm lockin' up this man for his crime. Then, I'm lockin' you and your deputy up for attempted murder of a federal officer."
He looked at the deputy, who gave him a childlike nod, the kind that could only belong to an eight-year old that had set something to fire that they shouldn't have. The Marshal then turned to Silas as he shook his head in disbelief at the situation he now found himself in. The Marshal's eyes then darted to the sheriff, who gave him a similar nod, albeit a more contentious one.
"Good. I'm glad that we're all in agreement."
He threw Silas to the deputy, and started motioning with his Peacemaker for them to get up. He then heard the familiar sound of spurs and boots on wood—and the telltale click of a .45 cocking. He stopped commanding them, and reached for the door handle but thought better of opening it, and instead moved to its right side, Peacemaker at the ready.
"You boys may want to get down," he advised the sheriff, Silas, and the deputy. They shot him a confused look, which he shrugged off. "Or not." The Marshal then pulled the door open quickly.
BAM! BAM! BAM! POW! BAM! POW! POW! BAM! POW! BAM! POW! POW! BAM! POW! POW!
"Stop it! Stop shooting! Stop! Stop" the sheriff shouted from under his desk.
"Jumpy as a bunny in snake pit, aren't they? Do your boys know that they are more likely to hit a target that they actually get their eyes on?"
The sheriff nodded to someone through the doorway, which was promptly followed by the sound of another pull of a .45's hammer.
"Oh, Sheriff, why can't you just call your deputies off?" the Marshal asked as he holstered his Peacemaker and drew his bowie knife from its sheath as the two sets of footsteps upon the porch got closer to the doorway.
He slowed his breathing as they neared the doorway, closing his eyes to focus and get an accurate assessment of where they were in relation to him.
Thump. Thump. THUMP. THUMP.
He breathed out calmly as he lifted his foot, and then threw all his force into shutting the door. It slammed on the arm of the deputy who was hapless enough to be in the doorway, causing him to drop his revolver. The Marshal then instantly reopened the door, and with both hands pushed the deputy forward. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the second deputy to his left holding a Remington mid-cock. He let go of the deputy that he was holding onto, and grabbed the barrel of the Remington, pushing it away from his face.
The rifle shot into the porch as the Marshal sank his blade into the left shoulder of its owner. The deputy let out a howl of pain as he fell to the floor. The Marshal didn't stop to look back. He ran to Foxcatcher, mounting quickly to head back the way he came.
He saw the deputy that he tackled getting up slowly, and considered shooting him. The deputy did not appear to be much of a threat, so the Marshal left him. There was shouting in the office, which was accompanied by the howls of the stabbed deputy. He knew that this was the best opportunity he had to run and took advantage of it. His only hope now was to make it back to Comanche territory and hope he could talk them out of further conflict—a task with more gravity than he'd ever hoped to deal with.
He galloped past the shops and stores and people who had given him the cold stares when he first came to town. This time, he wasn't near them long enough to hear their comments. He could only guess what level of excited they were, now fully understanding their earlier taunts. Why didn't Silas or one of the townsfolk tell him he was a deputy? Were they stupid or trying to get him killed? Or, more frighteningly, both? No matter at this time, he had to flee and that's all there was to it. He was nearing the town entrance, almost out of town.
A sharp pain shot through the Marshal's left shoulder, and he jolted into Foxcatcher's mane. He quickly grabbed his saddle with his good arm, keeping him planted on the horse and out of the dirt.
Sonofabitch, he thought to himself as the sharpness spread throughout his body. Shoulda shot the deputy after all.
BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!
Thankfully, none of the other shots hit him, though a couple did sing over his head; his slouching posture after the initial bullet strike saved his life. The slug had pierced his shoulder, so at least none of his guts were hurt—or so he hoped. Now, bleeding to death was a different matter entirely. He was in no place to stop and patch it up, for he knew that he was about to be followed by the sheriff and his deputies very, very soon.
Idiot, he thought to himself. I was merciful to them and now I'm gonna pay.
The two men who watched him into town looked upon his flight with piqued curiosity. "Figured there'd be trouble," the surly man said.
"Yep, that's what I figured, too," the other said. "Hand me that pack o' tobacco. I gotta feeling that things are gonna get mighty interestin' real quick. Mise well start workin'. Looks like I gotta start makin' some coffins."
The Marshal got off the main road and headed east for a mile or two, until he came into a valley that was populated with few trees and several sharp rocks. The pain was starting to spread badly, and the world began to fall away into a wavy blur. He saw, through hazy, pain-drunk eyes, a hawk flying overhead, and smiled deliriously. He let out three sharp whistles; sharp cracks in the air that continued to echo across the valley. He stopped Foxcatcher, and waited for the echoing to cease. He was tired, all his strength draining out of his shoulder.
"Things did not go well, I take it," said a dark man on a painted warhorse. He had long, black hair, a feather hanging from it. His thin, brown eyes studied the wound in the Marshal's shoulder; the red and white war paint on his high cheekbones making his gaze of concentration frighteningly fierce.
"You could say that, Speaks with Hawks," the Marshal answered through a grunt of pain. "I've definitely come out of situations like this better. Now, I would love to chat about how I got this bullet lodged in me, or how lovely the weather is, but I would prefer that it gets removed before I expire and fall dead from my horse," the Marshal quipped, doing his best to aim his blue eyes at his new companion when all he wanted to do was roll them back into his head.
"What does the weather have to do with this?" Speaks with Hawks asked in the same tone.
"I forget that you don't understand my sense of humor," the Marshal said as Speaks with Hawks grabbed the reins of Foxcatcher and began to lead them through the valley.
"I understand it well, Lance. I just don't like it. I do find it odd that you can keep such humor while dealing with a bullet that calls your shoulder home now, though."
The Marshal chuckled. "You know, it's the only way you can welcome an unexpected visitor."
Speaks with Hawks grinned. "Here we are." He jumped off his horse in front of a clump of tress, immediately helping the Marshal dismount.
"Thanks," said the Marshal as he arrived on his feet.
There was a group of nine Comanche under the trees, all dressed for war, their paint and scowls intimating bare restraint of violent disdain. The arrival of the Marshal in such a state did nothing to ease their aggressive countenances. All looked at the pair with a hint of coldness in their dark eyes—even their hair flowed violently in the gentle breeze. One amongst them looked more bitter than the rest. He was the oldest, and his eyes were narrow in angry anticipation.
They started asking questions of Speaks with Hawks in their native tongue as he carried the Marshal towards them, but one rode off to the north. He shooed them away with a wave of his hand, at which point they gathered around him at a distance, only standing far enough away as to still claim they were obeying.
Speaks with Hawks rested the Marshal at the base of a tree, and he began barking orders to someone the Marshal couldn't see. He didn't understand their language fully, even after all the time he had spent among them as a teenager. But, if their tone was any indication, the conversation was one he would probably be glad not to be privy to.
"Speaks with Hawks," he said to his friend, pain clouding his eyes. "Get me some goddamn whiskey, please. For the pain."
Speaks with Hawks looked at him inquisitively, an eyebrow raised slightly.
"I do not have any of your poison on me. We . . . "
"Figured as much. There's some in my saddle bag, silver flask." The Marshal pointed to Foxcatcher. One of the Comanche moved quickly after a wave and a bark from Speaks with Hawks. A moment later, the man returned with the flask.
Speaks with Hawks opened it, giving it a sniff before handing it to the Marshal, his head jumping back in revolt.
"How do you drink this shit?" he asked with a slight smile, his tone mocking the Marshal for his willingness to consume it.
"Bleeding to death has its advantages . . . " the Marshal said as he took a swig. "Whoo! Alright, pour some of that on the bullet hole."
He handed his flask back to Speaks with Hawks, who responded to the request with a nod. The Marshal leaned onto his right side, the discomfort of the bullet wound causing every muscle in his body to tighten.
"Ahhh!" he shouted as the hard liquor ran into his wound, the blood and whiskey getting further absorbed by his shirt and jacket. "Uhh . . . uhh. Where's your healer at?"
"She should be here in a moment, be patient," Speaks with Hawks replied with a hint of sympathy.
"She?" the Marshal asked, shaking his head in protest. "Dammit, no! I shoulda clarified. If it's . . . "
"Ah, Running Dove, it is good that you've finally made it," Speaks with Hawks said to a figure who'd appeared near the tree.
"Aww . . . shit." the Marshal mumbled to himself as he felt the eyes of an irritated angel gaze upon him with the shake of her raven head. He knew that if she were to help him, she would definitely not pass on the opportunity to hurt him as well. "Hi, Dove . . . "