February, 2018

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Issue #101

All The Tales

A Close Shave, Part 2 of 2
by Brandon Abbott

"Harley!" Where was that boy? Off barkin' at some knot, undoubtedly. "Harley, confound it. Get in here now!"

A calamity exploded from the back room as Harley stumbled in, pulling up his suspenders. Blood from his face ran down onto his undershirt. He had been practicing again. It might have helped if the boy had any facial hair at all. But at this rate, scar tissue was likely to prevent such a reality.

"Sorry, Mr. Graves. I was out in the necessary practicing my angle. Let me get that mop."

"Forget the blasted mop. I got bigger problems. What's today?"

"Why, it's Wednesday."

"No, dadblame it. What day is it?"

"Oh, well, that would be the 31st of July, I believe, Mr. Graves."

"The 31st . . . " Red trailed off. Then, snapping back to action, he said, "Harley, fetch me the Henry."

"The what?" Harley asked, buttoning his shirt.

"The gun, you boot licker. The gun!"

"Oh, right. The gun." Then after a moment of recognition, he gasped. "Is it Spears? Did he come back for me?"

Some apprentice. Like teats on a boar hog. One might have thought taking Tate's hapless nephew onto the payroll would have at least bought Red a little more time. Clearly not. July 31st marked the end of the latest extension on his debt, the last extension, Tate had warned. In sheer desperation, Red asked if there was anything else he could do for the Colonel?

"Well," Tate had suggested, "I do have this nephew."

Honestly, Red could deal with Harley Atwater in the second chair. Everybody had to start somewhere. But now, Harley was asking for more than a seat in the shop. Much more. Was Tate behind that, too? It was another problem altogether, but a problem that would have to wait for later, at least now that the Twitch was in town.

"Spears ain't a-gonna shoot you, you fool. But I might if you don't get outta here this second. Now git!" Harley did, with as much grace as he entered.

Red ran to the window again and surveyed the street. Maynard had disappeared, for now. But Red knew at any second the Twitch could walk up, unholster his gun, and collect Tate's debt in blood as crimson as the witch hazel drying on the floor below.

Blood was all Red had left to offer. The shop was worthless. Tate could have it if he wanted it. There was only one thing in this life that Red truly cared about now. And there was no way Tate or anyone else was taking that away. It was the only thing he had left, and he would protect it at all costs. Compulsively, Red looked out the window once more. Still deserted. He walked back to his chair and picked up his straight razor. As he considered his plight, he worked the blade across the leather strop and listened for the telltale shump, drag, shump that would sound the end for Redmond Graves.

He should have listened to his wife and stayed in Biloxi. His first-floor shop in the luxurious Magnolia Hotel was a relative palace compared to his current sidewalk shanty. Some evenings, after spending all day trimming up the well-tipping tourists, Red would take a walk along the water and watch the oyster schooners drift back inland to Black Bay Harbor. He would listen to the waves lap against the Mississippi shore and stare at the setting sun as it rippled on the Gulf's horizon. Sparkles of light glimmered on the water like gold floating out to sea.

Red was already hearing whispers of waiting wealth in faraway lands. Everyone, it seemed, was talking about California, Nevada, Oregon, and the precious metal that apparently lined the streets for the taking. Time was suddenly short. Red knew he could stare all he wanted. But his own ship would never sail into the Bay of Biloxi. His ship was somewhere out west, and he had to find it.

"It's a sure thing, Lillian," he had told his wife. "I can't lose." But he did. The trip lasted months, as they sailed from Biloxi to Galveston, then up the Rio Grande to El Paso. From there, they continued the arduous journey by stage coach along the Oxbow across the desert. That's when Lillian began to get sick. The fever was first, then the headaches and the vomiting. By the time they'd crossed into New Mexico, rashes had formed on her wrists and ankles, and Red knew something was seriously wrong. They pressed on as far as Arizona before he sent the coach on its way and rented a room in Widow's Rest. With any luck, Lillian could convalesce and recover. Then they could resume their journey. But soon it became apparent the only "sure thing" was that Lillian would die in Widow's Rest, Arizona.

Redmond Graves had wanted more from life than a barbershop in Biloxi could provide. In exchange, life had demanded more from Redmond Graves than he'd been willing to give. He was devastated. Gone was his will to wind westward. He had traveled his last mile. So he buried Lillian and stayed in Widow's Rest.

To earn a living, Red returned to the trade that made him and hung out his barber's shingle. Yet, while his quest for the West had ended, his dream of fortune was still at large. Not even the loss of Lillian could hamper the conviction that he was meant for more. And since he could not mine the great mountains of California, Red started digging for gold in the saloon across the street.

He had to admit he enjoyed the warmth of the whiskey and maybe the company of the sporting women. But even now, a full ten years since his beloved Lillian's death, their company was all he could bring himself to enjoy. What he supposed he truly lusted after was the gamble, the pure chance that on any given night a fortune could change. A man could pan for days or dig his way through a mountain. But all it took was one good hand, and a fellow could instantly be somebody. A sharecropper could turn sole proprietor. A blacksmith might forge a new future. And a barber from Biloxi? Well, who knew what ship might sail into the harbor? But digging for gold leaves a lot of holes, and Red had dug himself so deep that he might as well be standing in his own grave.

Red stopped his stropping and checked the blade. Sharp enough to slice. (He should hide this from Harley.) He walked over to his safe in the corner. He had a small stack of bills in there. How many times had he thought of just grabbing the money and pulling up stakes? But he couldn't. One thing kept him from riding off into the sunset, one thing he had to protect.

Without warning, the door flew open. Red jerked around, ready to fling the razor sight unseen.


Red gripped the back of his chair and exhaled. "Dang it all, girl. You scared me half to death."

"Why, land sakes, Daddy. Looks like you've been killing hogs in the floor. Or bathin' 'em in after shave from the smell of it. Gracious."

Belle Graves, beautiful in her decorative polonaise, took a step back and waved a gloved hand past her nose. Red hardly recognized her anymore. Gone was the little girl who sat in the second chair and brushed her dolly's hair while he tended to his customers. He knew that girl well, had held her and fed her and protected her. She had slept in his lap across a vast eternity of land and sea. She had clung to his leg and cried silent tears as her mother said goodbye.

Now, in her place, stood a grown woman who was foreign to him. She spent her days flitting about town, dressed up like some high-class debutant. The clothes had cost Red money he didn't have. And her socializing (and flirting) was attracting suitors she didn't need. She was still biddable enough, he supposed. But on some things she had become obstinate to a fault. Red, for example, had been suggesting for months that it was finally time to move on from Widow's Rest. But Belle was digging in her heels. With increasing urgency, he had implored her to pack her bags. It wasn't safe for him here, not anymore. But biddable had its limits. And once a girl flirts with her future, she'll be hanked if she'll listen to her daddy about a darn thing, especially about leaving this town. She had found more than a reason to stay. She had found her man.

"I found it, Mr. Graves. I found it." Harley blew into the room with a mop in one hand and a rifle in the other, both of which he held by the barrel. Was the boy begging for a hole in the ceiling? Or in his head? The latter, Red thought, threatened to do the least damage. Harley stopped short, however, when he saw Belle. Without another word, he smiled. Unfortunately, Belle smiled back.

"Well, ain't you a belvedere," she laughed. "In all my born days. Are you going cleaning or going hunting?" She laughed with the ease of someone who didn't know her father was about to get his flint fixed.

Harley leaned close to Red and whispered, "Any sign of Mr. Spears?"

"Give it to me." Red ordered. Harley held out the mop. The boy's brain must have stopped growing somewhere between hay and grass. "Not the mop, dad blame it. The gun. Give me the gun." He jerked it out of Harley's hands.

"Why, Daddy, what has you in such a ruckus?" Belle took the mop from Harley and sat it against the wall. She brushed stray bangs from the boy's forehead and patted his chest. Red checked the rifle's chamber.

"Harley, honey. Your face." She reached out to touch the shredded flesh. Harley winced. "Why, you're getting so much better!" She squealed with delight and kissed him on the forehead. "I'm so proud of you. You'll make a great barber one day." She cut her eyes at Red. "And a great husband, too, if my daddy ever gives you his permission, that is."

Red answered with the click-clack of the rifle's lever.

Belle giggled and handed Harley back his mop. "Daddy, I'm headed over to—"

"Go home, Belle."

"But Daddy, I was just over to—"

"Go. Home. Belle. I'll explain later." (He hoped.) His daughter looked at her suitor for support. But she would get none. Harley just shrugged. The sassy smile turned to pout as Red's daughter, still biddable to a degree, acquiesced, and turned to leave. Red followed her out the door. He looked around for signs of danger. With the streets clear, he grabbed his daughter by the arm.

"Belle, listen. Get the bags ready. We've got to leave. I'm closing up shop early. I'll pick you up in the wagon, and we'll catch a train in Winslow."

Belle pulled her arm away. "Daddy, we've discussed this. I'm not leaving."

"Belle," Red growled. He turned back to catch Harley bobbing his head in the window. Caught in the act, the boy resumed mopping with great abandon. Red turned back to Belle. "Now, you listen here, young lady. There are things afoot. Things you don't know. Now, just do what I say."

"And there are things you don't know, Daddy. I love Harley. And I aim to marry the man. I have dreams for my future."

"And you think I don't?"

"You chased your dreams, Daddy. And look where it got us." Red winced at the implication. "Now I have a chance to start over. With a husband and a home of my own." It was her turn to gaze into the cloudy window. "A home with little Harleys running around."

Red threw up in his mouth a little. "That man's got Tate blood."

"That man's got rich blood," she retorted.

"As opposed to your blood?"

"Daddy, that's not what I meant."

"I know," Red lied. But she was right. She didn't need him anymore. The Tate name alone would mean her security, perhaps her fortune. And the connection would ensure her safety, even with a price on her father's head. But Red had lost so much. He wasn't prepared to put his own daughter in the middle of the table. He wasn't prepared to lose her to Tate, too.

Belle stood on her toes and knowingly kissed Red's cheek. She did not say the word, but he heard the "goodbye" all the same. Usually, all Red lost was money. This hurt a whole lot worse. As she walked away, Red took a breath and went back inside. He slammed the door and glared at Harley, who pretended not to notice and mopped like a mad man.

* * *

The next hour crawled. Red made mental preparations, listing his options. He still wasn't sold on a single ticket out of town. But what else could he do? He had lost Lillian, and now he had lost Belle. Maybe. As he thought, he listened through the silence for any sign of impending doom. The afternoon sun beat down upon the parched earth and shot heat through the uncovered windows. Even the air decided it was too hot to move. Occasionally, Red pulled out his watch to check the time, which he typically found to be five minutes later than the last time he checked.

Harley was eventually able to clear the mess. But the red stains and antiseptic odor lingered. Harley also lingered, but in the back room for fear of retribution from one Heflin Spears, and maybe from Red, too. This was fine with Red, who needed time to think. He eyed the rifle, the unfired rifle, leaning in the corner. Unlike Tucker Maynard, Red had never killed a thing. Even Harley had more blood on his hands than Red did. (Of course, most of it was his own.) He doubted he'd have what it took to pull the trigger, if it came down to it. Even on Harley Atwater. (Well, perhaps.) And even if he could bring himself to do it, he doubted he could be fast enough to match the speed, intentional or otherwise, of the great djab, the amorphous blackness that was the Twitch.

The Twitch. He was still thinking the man's name when he heard the boots outside. Shump. Drag. Shump. That was not Belle. That was not Spears. That was death at Red's door. He froze with paralytic terror. This was it. This was the end. His mind reached for the gun, but his hands knew he'd waited too long. The door was already swinging open. A gunfight was a losing proposition in any event. He turned to his cash safe. How much was Tate paying? Did he have enough to pay more? That was about as likely as Red surviving to see August 1st.

"You open?" a cold, steely voice said from beneath an oily hat.

Red turned to face the angel of death. "Well, yes, sir. I guess we are. I was thinkin' of closing up, but it's still early yet, as you can see. Still plenty of daylight left. So, maybe not." Red was a panicked idiot. What would he do? Leaving was now off the table. Oh, Heaven help him. He was in a box. Redmond Graves was in a bad box to be sure.

"Well, are you, or ain't you?"

"We, um, are. I mean, yes."

Maynard shook his head and limped to the first chair. As he took off his hat, Red thought he could see the faint indention of a mule's hoofprint on the corner of the man's forehead.

"I need a scrapin'."

"You don't say? Well, we can do that. Yes, sir." Red tossed a cape over his customer, which Maynard immediately threw to the ground. He grunted his displeasure as he caressed the gun at his hip. Red apologized and slowly lowered the back of the chair. Maynard sniffed.

"Smells like a bed house on nickel night in here."

"My apologies," offered Red. "A small mishap. Say, you want a trim, too?" He really did need one, Red thought.

Maynard sat in the chair and leaned back. "No. Just the shave. A real close shave, too. Got a meetin' tomorrow morning."

Red busied himself making lather in a bowl. "A meeting, you say. Anyone important?"

"Colonel Tate. Some fool's in dutch. Colonel wants me to collect." Maynard offered his chin and closed his eyes.

Red dropped the bowl with a clatter and burned himself with steam as he readied the hot towel. "Say, that sounds bad for that feller."

"It ain't good."

"Reckon who that feller is? Why, I sure hope he ain't one of my payin' customers." Red laughed nervously, but Maynard did not reciprocate.

"I'll find out tomorrow. Now shave, dadblame it. I ain't got all day."

Red felt some relief as he started to wrap the hot towel around Maynard's filthy face. There was still time. But time for what? Red was drawing a blank as dust and tobacco juice stained the towel's fabric. That's when it happened.

At once, the outlaw jerked away the towel and glared at Red. This is it! Oh, dear God, Red prayed, I don't want to die. Hail Mary, full of grace. He backed up, closed his eyes, and waited for the worst. But nothing happened. After an eternal second, Red cracked a lid to peek. Tucker Maynard's eyebrows began to seesaw up and down. Then his eyes rolled back in his head. Red stared with morbid curiosity as Maynard's chin began to quiver. The jingle of spurs indicated the man's feet were also involved. Then his knees bent upward and his hips jerked to one side in a convulsion that thrust the outlaw's torso forward and slammed him back into the chair, rocking it on its pedestal. The episode concluded with one massive tremor, followed by a series of short quivers that left the outlaw breathless and silent. Struggling to sit up, Maynard finally spoke.

"Now you listen here," he threatened, still catching his breath. The whole thing was much more violent that Red had imagined. (No wonder he killed that mule.) "I get one nick from that blade of yours, and I'll put a bullet between your . . . " His eyes fluttered as he jerked again. Then he shouted, " . . . between your eyes! You hear me?"

"Of course," Red offered. He was suddenly thankful he didn't own a cat. The Twitch finally settled back into the chair and closed his eyes. Red turned to grab a fresh towel and rewrapped Maynard's face.

Once again, Red calculated his odds. He could just give this man his shave, close the shop, and ride off into the sunset. (This, of course, assumed he didn't cut the man mid-twitch and end up on the floor next to the witch hazel stains.) He'd have a good twelve-hour head start. Enough to hop a train and disappear forever. But what about Belle? Could he fold with her on the table? She was all he had left. Red would rather die (the odds of which were increasing by the minute). Oh, he rued the day he let Atwater into his shop and into his life. The boy had made a mess of both. If it weren't for that nervous bird, the Graves family would already be long gone from Widow's Rest.

Red removed the towel and began to lather Maynard's face and neck. The smell of sweat and horse manure mixed with the aftershock of the witch hazel. Red wiped his hands and took up his razor. He sat the blade against his thumb and admired the edge. (Sharp enough to slice.)

That's when he remembered a story from the Daily Picyaune back in '42. Some man, a baker by the name of Martin something or another, got his throat slashed with a razor. Right across the jugular. They caught the man that did it. Sent him away to St. Louis on the Monmouth steamer boat. Red remembered that man's name just fine. Mr. W. Woodhall, the baker's father-in-law.

He could just kill Maynard right now. One swipe across the throat and call it a night. But Red would likely not be any better at killing than he was at gambling. He'd botch the job and end up shot or hung or both. He lowered the blade to the neck of Tucker Maynard, but jerked it back as his customer suffered yet a third lingering spasm. He's worse than Miller's sow, Red thought.

That's when it came to him, a kind of epileptic epiphany. While Maynard's eyes remained closed, Red's were suddenly wide open. He sat the blade on the counter and turned to the safe. Quietly, he opened it and extracted the small contingency of cash. Then he picked up the gun and stepped in front of Maynard (just in case). With one hand, he raised the barrel toward the chair. With the other, he opened the door and grabbed his coat. Red was going all in, even if he wasn't holding a full house. But currently, he held a pair of jokers, and he meant to discard at least one of them. He shouted toward the back room.

"Harley! You've got a customer!"

The End

Brandon Abbott serves as a minister in Spring Hill, Tennessee, where he resides with his wife and three children. In addition to writing, Brandon spends his spare time playing drums and working toward a Masters of Divinity from Southern Seminary.

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by Taylor Newcomb

Marshal Paul Owen could sense something was wrong the moment they were in sight of the town. It was a cold day. Bitterly cold. Cold enough anyone would be desperately seeking warmth. However, no smoke could be seen rising from the chimneys in town.

As the Marshal approached the town, Owen listened and heard nothing. No sounds of speaking or laughter or anything signaling people out and about. His stomach churned as he considered the possibilities.

Mountain View was a small town with, as the name implied, a view of the mountains to the north and the west. Last time Owen visited, about two dozen residents called the town home with the hopes for a stop on the railroad being built nearby which would bring dozens more. Most of the citizens came from the Northeast, with several families from Pennsylvania. Owen wasn't so sure of the town's survival in the cold, unforgiving landscape when they first settled and he feared that those doubts would be realized. The cold might have finally gotten them. Or a pack of wolves which descended from the mountains every so often to look for food.

Regardless, Owen didn't like what he expected to find.

His Deputy Marshal, a twenty-year-old kid out of Louisiana called Edmund Dealey, was the first to comment.

"Kinda strange how there ain't no one to greet us. Ain't it, Marshal?" Dealey asked, his voice with a trace of the accent common to most Louisianans Owen knew.

The Marshal just nodded, his focus being on the too quiet town.

It snowed nearly a week ago, the old snow already turning hard and losing the whiteness of fresh snow. The sky was a deep blue without a cloud to be seen. A strong wind blew down from the mountains bringing the deep chill with it. It would snow within the next two days, Owen could feel it. He'd been out on the range long enough to detect the slightest changes in the weather.

The first building they passed on the way into town was a small house painted yellow with a gated snow-covered yard. They then passed the livery stable. Usually the owner, an old, fat man named Henry would hobble out and greet the Marshal and offer to hold onto his horse for as long as Owen needed it.

Henry didn't appear. Nor did Owen hear any of the cries or whinnies of the horses inside. Across the street was the general store with two large windows in the front that gave passers-by a glimpse of the stores they carried. One could also always see the owner Donal, an Irishman, standing behind the counter, either speaking with a customer or working on his ledger. Owen spied through the window and failed to see Donal.

Owen sighed.

"Is it usually like this, Marshal?" asked Dealey. "Maybe they ain't too friendly."

It was Dealey's first trip to Mountain View. He'd only been with the Marshal's Service for six months. It was decided last month Dealey should accompany Owen on his patrol through the various towns and settlements to gain some experience about what to expect. Owen didn't mind the kid, but he did have a tendency to talk instead of learn.

"They're friendly," Owen replied. "I don't like this."

The Republic was the center of the town. It was home to the only hotel, the only brothel and the biggest of the two bars. The other being a small shack on the edge of town called 'Mountain Waters.' The Republic towered over the other buildings, standing three stories tall with a wraparound porch on the first level and wraparound balconies on the second and third floors. The Republic was painted red with white columns holding up the balconies.

Owen stopped his horse and wrapped its reins around the hitching rail set in front of the Republic. Dealey followed Owen's lead.

The Marshal stood in front of the hotel and felt the sinking feeling in his gut grow. He stepped onto the porch and took a breath before opening the door.

The smell, which had been percolating inside the room, hit him first. It was like a mixture of rotting meat and an outhouse sitting in the hot desert sun.

"Oh Jesus," said Dealey. He turned back and took a step before vomiting on the porch.

The bodies were everywhere. On the ground. Flung across tables. Collapsed in the stairs. At first count, it looked like thirteen dead. The floors and the walls were covered in dried blood which had turned brown, making it look like a poor attempt at painting the room. The Marshal walked to the first body and knelt down over it.

It was Henry from the livery stable. His neck had been nearly hacked through. The only thing keeping the head attached to the body was a stretch of skin and muscle. Henry's face was forever contorted into the look of someone who died in fear. Fear of not knowing what was next and being forced to confront it before he was ready.

Dealey recovered himself enough to follow Owen into the barroom.

"God almighty. I . . . I ain't never seen nothing this bad. It's like a nightmare," he said.

Owen looked back and could see the green in Dealey's face. "Why don't you stand guard outside?"

The relief crossing Dealey's face at the suggestion was palpable. He quickly retraced his steps and stood outside with his back to the door.

The Marshal crossed to the next closest body. Irma James, one of the prostitutes who worked the brothel. There was a long gash in her breast. About four inches in length. It looked deep. Owen worked his way from body to body. Most had deep cuts in either their heads or necks. A few had wounds to their chests. One with a wound in the back. Owen recognized them all. Everyone was a resident of the town. Someone who came west to start a new life and escape some trouble back home. They never realized greater danger was awaiting them in the small town near the Rockies.

Owen stepped over the bodies on the ascent up the stairs. He found three more bodies on the other two floors. Two of them Republic hookers and the third being Calvin Aldridge who was elected mayor the previous fall. His pants were still around his ankles and his pecker stuck out of his long johns. His head was nearly severed in two.

Back outside, Dealey was keeping his eyes on the buildings across the street when Owen emerged.

"How bad was it inside, Marshal?"


"Damned injuns, I knew we should've wiped them out," Dealey exclaimed.

"The closest Indian settlement to here is nearly a week's ride. These people died within the last two days. We would have seen them if they were the ones responsible."

"Then who was it?"

"Not sure," Owen replied.

"What next then?"

"I only counted sixteen bodies in there. I need to find the other seven. You stay here and shout if you see anyone," the Marshal said.

Dealey nodded.

It didn't take long to find the other bodies. Three were in a small house down the street from the Republic. It was a family with a six-year-old child. The child's head was found under his bed. The final four bodies were spread out. Donal was found sitting in an outhouse with his pants down and a hole where his nose used to be. Two were found in the bank. The owner and his clerk. They were both shot in the back. The final body was of a young teenage girl who Owen knew as Alice. She lay on the floor in the church, cowering behind the pulpit. The hiding spot didn't help her avoid the blows ending her life.

As Owen exited through the side of the church, he found foot tracks. They were made by one person wearing large boots. They led away around the back of the buildings to another hitching rail located behind the bank. The horse tracks started from there and looked to head southwest.

The Marshal returned Dealey. "Tracks lead from behind the bank. I'm going to follow them."

"What about me?"

"I need you to head to the nearest town. It's about a three-day ride from here. A place called Homestead Creek. Get up a group of townsfolk to come back with you and bury these people. They deserve proper funerals."

"Don't you need help?"

"I'm fine."

"But Marshal—"

"Follow my command, Dealey."

"Yessir. Good luck."

Owen nodded. He hoisted himself up on his horse and trotted around the Republic to the back of the bank and picked up the trail. He didn't know where it would lead, but he could sense it was a place even the Devil avoided.

The tracks led southwest for nearly half a day, slowly merging with the mountains until they were in the shade of the peaks. At a small river, the tracks turned west, but not before stopping. Owen found the remains of a campsite. It didn't look more than two days old. A few bones of rabbit sat in the ashes of the campfire.

The campsite proved Owen was dealing with only one person. One person who massacred an entire town single handed. In his twenty-plus years serving justice, he had never come across anything similar. It was both awe-inspiring and frightening. More than once the thought crossed Owen's head to forget following the tracks and catch up to Dealey, but he couldn't do that. He would never forgive himself for such an outward act of cowardice.

Darkness was rapidly falling. Owen decided it would be best to stay at the creek and wait out the night before he continued. He hobbled his horse and set about restarting the campfire. Unlike the person who stayed there the previous time, Owen had no food except for some jerky he bought several days ago. He wasn't expecting to find a slaughtered town when he was next hungry.

It was a long night as Owen couldn't find a good rest in the fierce cold and with a growling stomach. At first light, he gave up trying and continued following the horse tracks. They headed into the mountains.

Nearly a day passed following the tracks. He didn't spy much except for the occasional hawk flying overhead looking for animal remains to scavenge. The tracks kept their steady westerly pace. Though instead of ascending into the mountains, they led into a valley with the Rockies on all sides. Owen had never seen this valley before despite spending a majority of his adult life in their shadows.

As dusk turned into night, Owen came across another campground. It was the same as those by the creek. A small campfire with rabbit bones resting in the ashes. Again, Owen revived the fire and spent a long night shivering and hungry.

At dawn, Owen noticed the horse tracks turned northwest. He followed. After half a day, Owen spied a cabin in the far distance. Even from where he was, Owen could tell the framing was crooked. Smoke was coming from the chimney which leaned with the cabin.

Someone was home.

As Owen approached, he saw a figure standing in the front door. A man. He looked to be six and a half feet tall with a wide body. A mountain of a man. Someone who could easily massacre an entire town.

The Marshal slowed his horse and cautiously approach the cabin. The man stepped out from the house, giving Owen his first clear look. He looked to be about fifteen years older than the Marshal with hair long and straight and an equally long and straight beard, both a bright hue of red. It was a contrast to Owen's own beard which was bushy and his hair which was also bushy and streaked with gray.

The man raised his hand in greeting and Owen returned the motion.

"Howdy," the man said. "Not often a stranger passes by my cabin."

"I was just passing through and saw this cabin," Owen replied. He stopped his horse and slipped off. "Didn't think anyone lived out this far."

"I'm the only one. Been out here for nearly ten years. You just might be the only other person I've seen in my little valley. Name's Montclair." He stretched his hand out.

"Marshal Paul Owen," Owen replied, grasping Montclair's hand. The man had a strong handshake. Could even crush the Marshal's hand if he felt like it.

"Marshal Paul Owen . . . I heard of you. I've heard you were a fast draw. You still?"

"Not as fast as I used to be, but I can still pull quick if I need to."

Montclair smiled, "That so . . . Would you care to come in? I just grilled up a pair of steaks."

"Be a pleasure," Owen replied.

He followed Montclair into the cabin. It was sparsely decorated. The lean appeared even more prominent inside. A bed sat in the corner with a straw mattress and a single blanket. A pair of hay sacks sat next to the bed, containing clothes. In the middle of the room sat a small square table with two places set. One on each side of the table. The range and furnace were against the opposite wall from the bed. A small table set next to the range. On it sat several knives, plates and an axe with a four-inch blade. On the range in a pan sat two thick pieces of meat. They smelled good. Owen's stomach let loose an audible growl.

Montclair faced the range and worked the steaks.

"What brought you to my valley?" he asked after a minute of silence.

"Following some tracks."

"What kind of tracks?"


Montclair nodded. "I haven't seen many horses other than my own and yours. What's so special about these tracks?"

"They led away from a town about two days' ride. Mountain View. You heard of it?"

"I have. I've spent some time there, visiting the brothel and bar when I get lonely every couple of years. Something happen there?"

"Something did. The whole town was massacred. All twenty-three of them. Never seen anything like that. It looked like a madman tore through town like a mountain lion."

"You don't say . . . " Montclair replied. He turned back and brought to plates to the table. He placed one in front of Owen and the other at his place before sitting. "I hope the steak is to your liking."

Owen took up a knife and fork and cut off a piece. It was a juicy, well-cooked steak. May have even been the best steak he ever had. "I applaud you. This is a fine piece of meat."

"Thank you. I don't often get to grill for others so I appreciate the compliment," Montclair said before tearing into his own steak.

"This buffalo?"

Owen had to wait for Montclair to swallow before the reply came.

"It is. Shot it myself a day back. A straggler."

"That right? I haven't seen bison much these days. Not as much as I used to about twenty years back."

"I remember those days. The hunters have nearly wiped them out. It's a shame."

"It really is. Back when I was a Ranger in Texas, I'd see the plains filled with them for as far as the eye could see."

"You were a Texas Ranger?"

"I was."

"What made you become a Marshal?"

"I needed a change."

"Don't we all. How was being a Ranger?"

"Tough work. The weather could change any minute and you constantly had to deal with bandits coming over the Rio Grande as well as the scum that came with the land. And there were some bad ones."

"That so?"

"It is. Back during my early days, one of the worst was a Scot named Stuart. He was half legend and half truth from what I could tell."

"Sounds like a character."

"If half of what they said was true. It's said he killed dozens of folk, both guilty and innocent, along with two Marshals. That he could fling an axe a hundred yards and hit a fly on a post. Not sure how much of that I believe, but they said it anyway."

"I'm not so sure. A hundred yards is a long throw. Now, if it was say twenty yards or so, he could hit a fly."

Owen nodded. "Even at twenty yards, that's impressive. I'm not sure I could hit a fly with my Colt at twenty yards."

"Oh, from what I heard, you could."

"Most of that is legend too."

"Really? I heard you gunned down two outlaws up in Wyoming in a split second, before they even had a chance to draw their guns."

"They drew their guns. But they hesitated and so . . . " Owen shrugged.

Montclair nodded. "Every tale is exaggerated. One way or another. Tell me, did you actually gun down The Kid? They said he was the fastest ever and you outdrew him."

"That is true. But I got lucky. I can't explain, but I should've been the one gunned down. He was faster than anyone I ever came across by far. Though not as fast as I heard Stuart was with an axe."

"He was fast with an axe they said?"

"Could beat many a man who drew on him."

"Impressive, if true. What else you heard about the man named Stuart? He still around?"

"I've heard conflicting reports. Some say he died in a brawl in a little shit hole of tavern down in Mexico. Others say he got tired of the violence and headed out west where the law wouldn't touch him and he could live out the rest of his days in peace."

"I like the sound of that second one. A man needs peace after a lifetime of violence."

"That is true. I'm getting mighty tired of violence too. Though I wonder . . . "


Owen swallowed another piece of the steak before finishing his thought. "I wonder what could make a man return to violence after, what, fifteen years."

"I wonder too. Could be many things. Maybe he just got bloodthirsty again. Or it was self-defense. Could also be that he was pushed into it by people constantly insulting him and his horse."

"That last one is a mighty weak reason for violence."

"Is it? One can only take insults for so long before they push a man too far. I've seen it before and will see it again."

"Maybe so. Still, I wonder if he could have just avoided falling into violence if he had ridden away."

"He could have. Sure. But then those who did the insulting would know they could do it again without recourse. And people need to be taught a lesson."

"Even if that means slaughtering an entire town?"

"Even then," Montclair replied.

Both men stayed silent as they finished off the last bites of their steaks. Owen felt full, as though he couldn't eat again for days. He drank water out of the cup set for him.

"Tell me, Marshal, were you named after the Saint?"

"I was not. I was named after my pa who was named after the Saint."

Montclair nodded. "I just wondered. I haven't read the Good Book in years, but what I remember of it is that Paul was a good man."

"He was."

"Are you a good man, Marshal?"

"I hope so. I try to be."

"I tried to be too. Didn't always go well, but I tried to be good for the last few years. But I learned one thing about this world."

"What's that?"

"Whether you're good or bad, the world punishes you anyway."

"Can't help but agree with that."

Montclair sighed. "It is a shame. A man comes out here to escape the past, but the past is always dormant. Waiting to come out in a moment of madness."

"Maybe, but a man can control himself. If he doesn't think he can, then he's only fooling himself."

"You think?"

"I do. If a man doesn't think he can control his bloodlust, it's because he wants that bloodlust. He needs that bloodlust. I've seen it in men all throughout my life. Some just need violence to feel alive, even if they fool themselves into thinking otherwise and don't commit violence for years."

"I admit, you could be right. Do you have that bloodlust, Marshal?"

"I do. You can't do what I do and not have it. If you don't, you won't last long because you'll hesitate. Those with the bloodlust don't hesitate. They never do."

"Tell me, do you have family?"

Owen raised his eyebrows. "That's quite a question out of nowhere. Why you ask?"

"Because I'd hate to think of what would happen if you hesitated one day."

The Marshal nodded. "Same. In that case, I do. Ruth. She lives back in Denver. We only got married a year back. But I haven't seen her in three months."

"Only a year. Congratulations to you."

"Thank you. She's a mighty fine woman and I love her more than I've ever loved anyone else."

"Well, I hope you get to return to her."

"I do too."

"Can I take that plate?" Montclair reached over.

"Please do."

Montclair took both plates to the table by the range and placed them there. He then rested his hand close to the axe. Owen slowly lowered his hand and placed his palm on the butt of his Colt.

"Tell me, do you know anything else about this Stuart?" Montclair asked.

"Only that he had the brightest red hair anyone ever did see."

"Much like mine?"

"Yep, much like yours."

Montclair smiled.

What happened next took only a second, but it felt like a minute to Owen. Montclair grabbed the axe by the handle and wound his arm up to throw it. Owen pulled his Colt and fired. The axe clattered to the ground and Montclair stood still. He looked at the hole in his chest and the blood quickly spreading across his shirt, then at Owen.

"You're still fast," Montclair said. He took a half step forward and collapsed onto the table, flattening it.

Owen rose and stood over the body. He unloaded another round into the back of Montclair's head just to make sure Montclair wouldn't stand again before holstering his Colt.

Before the Marshal left, he walked around the back of the crooked cabin and found the remains of Montclair's horse in a fire pit. Still recognizable pieces had clean cut axe marks on them.

Owen returned to his horse. A light snow began to fall. It would turn into a blizzard before the day was out, Owen could feel it. He wanted to get out of the valley before the pass was blocked. He wanted to go home to Ruth. Owen was exhausted and ready to try some of that peace that others get to experience. It was time.

He pointed his horse toward home and spurred it to move.

The End

Taylor Newcomb is a freelance writer living in Dallas who enjoys writing westerns and crime stories.

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The Twenty-Third Psalm
Part 1 of 3

by Steve Myers

After breakfast he took the axe from the shed and began splitting firewood. The sun was coming up and shot warm rays through the trees still rich with red and yellow. He worked slow and easy, not rushing through. He enjoyed the fresh morning, the handle smooth and warming in his hands, and the sound of the wood splitting. The chickens stayed over by the coop, away from that flying axe.

His brother Luke came out of the cabin. Limping, he crossed to the lean-to by the chicken coop, waved, and went in for the mule. He led the mule up to James and said, "I'm going to Atherton's, you need anything? Tobacco? Anything at all?"


"You know you just have to ask. We're not so poor that you have to smoke corn silk." He paused and looked away as he said, "I appreciate all you're doing for me."

"It's nothin', nothin' to speak of."

Marilou opened the cabin door and called, "Luke, Luke, hang on a minute. Willie wants to go too."

Little Willie ran out, carrying his dad's beaver hat, and with a face full of hopeful smile.

Luke said, "All right, but you got to walk back. The mule's for the goods." He put the boy on the mule and his hat on his head before mounting. He nodded to James and started along the path to the road that led to Atherton's General Store `N` Tavern.

James watched them ride slowly between the trees, the slanted shafts of light flickering as they passed through. When he turned he saw Marilou in the doorway watching. She waved to him and shut the door. He raised the axe and went back to work.

In that October, he was a month away from eighteen. For the last three years, he'd spent the fall living in the woods and hunting. But early that spring the axe had glanced off a hickory log and Luke was left with a badly busted shin. It never healed right and left his leg a little crooked. Ma told James, "You go now and work for your brother. He needs all the help he can git and his wife's more a burden than anything worthwhile." Pap told him Ma was right.

He had three sisters, all older and married, and two brothers—Luke, the eldest at forty and childless and a widower, and Will, twenty-five, but who'd been kicked in the head by a mule near six years ago. Before that Will had got Marilou, not even fifteen, with child. Since Will was mostly useless now, except for simple chores, Luke married her so the child wouldn't be a bastard. He said, "Keep it in the family." It helped that Marilou was pretty.

James split wood until the sun shone down at a high angle through the trees. Twice he stopped long enough to drink from a dipper in the bucket by the shed. Once Marilou had looked out, paused there in the doorway as if about to call, then shut the door. Finished now, he hung up the axe and piled the wood against the side of the shed. He thought he might get his rifle—really a Hart carbine given to him by his Uncle Silas—and hunt by the creek. Last night and at dawn he'd heard the hogs down there. Some of them had had last fall, spring, and summer to fatten on acorns and such.

As he started toward the cabin, he heard a cry. He turned to see little Willie running through the slants of sunlight between the trees. He rushed to the boy. Willie's face was red and wet with tears, his body trembling when James picked him up.

"Easy, easy, Willie," he said as he hugged the boy.

"Mama," the boy said, "Mama."

Willie dug his face into James' shoulder. James patted the boy and carried him to the cabin. He kicked at the door and Marilou opened it.

"Willie, Willie," she said and reached for the boy. "What's wrong? Where's Daddy?"

The boy sobbed, wrapped his arms around her neck, and mumbled something.

"Willie, calm down, honey. Tell Mama what's wrong."

He pulled back and said, "They kilt Daddy."

* * *

While James put on his old coat—one that Pap had near worn out—and put a handful of cartridges and caps in the one patch pocket, Marilou sat in a corner holding Willie. The boy couldn't stop trembling.

James said, "I'm goin' to see what happened." He grabbed the carbine and left. He took a shortcut through the woods, bypassing the road, and shortened the trip to three miles.

Atherton's was the only building at the crossroads of a country lane and a road a few miles from the new Maysville Road. It was log with a shake roof and a shed attached to the back. The sign hanging above the entrance read "General Store N Tavern."

James went inside. As his eyes adjusted to the dark—the place barely lit by two lanterns hanging from a crossbeam—he saw a counter of a thick plank set on three upright barrels to his left, to the back were shelves and stacks of goods, and to the right were two tables and five or six chairs. Against the right wall were several barrels of whiskey, one with a tap set up on a thick block of wood. In the far corner was a cast iron stove, and on a bench, with a wet rag to his head, was Ezra Atherton. His wife, holding a mug, sat next to him. A thick-set man with his arm in a sling leaned against the counter. He drank from a mug too. An old black man mopped the floor over by the whiskey barrels. The sour smell of spilled whiskey filled the place.

"I come about my brother."

Atherton looked at James and then at his wife.

The wife asked, "You one of them Macklins from Sweet Creek?"

"I think my uncles are from there or there abouts. I don't know. All I know is my brother Luke come here and his son said he was killed."

"He's killed all right," said the man by the counter. "They killed him right good."

"They? Who?"

"The Vances, Tom and Charlie, and Coleman Hayer, and some young fella. They come in late last night in a wagon, all drunk as skunks. Dad let them sleep on the floor. This mornin' they helped themselves to the whiskey and got rowdy. When your brother come in with his boy, Charlie said somethin' about the boy comin' off a strange vine. Your brother took it wrong and grabbed Charlie and threw him against a barrel. Your brother picked up an axe handle but the others grabbed him and in the fight Tom Vance pulled a knife. He stabbed your brother twice."

The wife said, "Ezra yelled at them to stop, but they paid no mind. They grabbed a jug and took off. They had a wagon but they took your brother's mule too."

Atherton stood up and crossed to James. "They took off without paying for the whiskey."

"Where's Luke? Where's my brother?"

"I had the nigger drag him outback. There was blood pouring out of him like water from a spigot. Besides, he was dead. Couldn't do nothin' for him."

The wife said, "The boy was cryin', screechin' and callin' Daddy, but it was no use. He hung on as the nigger drug the body out. Blood everywhere. The nigger said once they was outside the boy run off."

Atherton said, "Those Vances are a bad lot, true, but your brother started the fight."

"I want to see him, my brother."

"The nigger'll take you to him."

The black man leaned the mop against the counter and James followed him out the door. They went around to the back where Luke lay on his back on the ground. His face was pale and sharp as if cut out of stone. His mouth was open slightly and his jaw jut out. The lower half of the shirt was black with dried blood, and there were streaks of black along the trouser legs.

The black man said, "I closed his eyes so he'd look right, like asleep."

"Thanks." James said, paused, then asked, "Did you see it? The fight?"

"Yes, sir."

"Was it like they said?"



"Yes, sir. But it was one of them, that Charlie Vance, not your brother, grabbed the axe handle. And he took your brother's hat too. Plopped it on his head as they left. And they didn't run neither. They walked out calm as you please . . . like they was goin' for a stroll."

James bent down to lift the body and the black man helped hoist it on the right shoulder. Then he went around the building, staggered some, and started along the road, the dead weight of his brother on his shoulder and his carbine in his left hand. He thought that if the boy, heart ripped open, could run those five miles he should be able to carry Luke home.

* * *

By the time he saw the cabin through the trees, the body was getting stiff. He dropped the carbine and when he set the body on the ground by the wood pile the eyes were open, but dull with no inner light. He got a canvas sheet from the shed and lay the body on it. He stood there looking at his dead brother for a long time.

He went to the cabin and opened the door slowly. Marilou sat on the bed with the boy on her lap. She held him close as she rocked back and forth. She coughed, then asked, "Is he?"

"Yes. You want to see him? Want me to bring him in here?"

"Not now. No, not now." She looked down and said, "You'll have to tell his folks. You goin' to tell them . . . I mean, now?"

He nodded and went out.

He walked the mile or so along the creek, then through a line of trees to the clearing where his parents lived. Will was carrying a bucket of water from the well and Ma stood waiting on the porch.

Will turned and called, "Ma, it's James come to visit."

When he got to the porch James said, "I come about Luke."

Ma asked, "What about Luke?"

James waited, swallowed, and looked up to see Pap in the doorway. "Luke's been killed."

* * *

James and Will dug the grave and Luke was buried at the edge of the woods, next to Pap's mother and his two sisters who died only a week after they arrived all those years ago. Ma read the twenty-third psalm while the family stood there with bowed heads. Willie held his mother's hand and stared at the grave. The sisters and their husbands were quietly solemn, and their children were able to stand still for a few minutes.

After, when the others were sitting around the kitchen table, Pap motioned to James to follow him outside. They walked back to the grave and Pap said, "James, now it's up to you. I'm too old and Will can't. By rights, it should be little Willie, but he's too young. Your sisters' men don't amount to much, if the truth be told. Not for something like this. I know it's a heavy thing to carry, but you have no choice. You don't think it's right what they did, do you?"

"No, sir."

"You got to do something about it." The old man looked off, then said, "I reckon they took off for somewheres. They'd know somebody be after them, I suppose. I don't expect the Vances would go to their folks, not right off. My guess would be to Maysville, to the river."

James nodded.

"When you find them, don't give them a chance. They didn't give your brother one."

Suddenly James felt light, as if he could simply float away.

"Ruth Ann's husband knows both Vances. He'll tell you what they look like. Best you start tomorrow at daylight . . . before they get too far. Here, this poke's near half all the coin we have. You bring back what you can."

End Part 1 of 3

Steve Myers grew up in small coal mining towns in Pennsylvania and Ohio, where his father and great-grandfather were miners. He served in the US Air Force during the Vietnam war. These experiences and others acquainted him intimately with the brutality that all types of people are capable of, as well as the tenderness that surfaces in unexpected places.

After his military service, Steve graduated summa cum laude in mathematics from Kent State University. He has worked as an electrician and in data acquisition and analysis, and is retired from Procter & Gamble. Steve has published short fiction, poetry, and novels. Find Steve at www.stevenjmyersstories.com

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When the Wise Men Came
by Mark Weinrich

Dad returned from Albuquerque late Christmas Eve. He said there'd been only a dusting of snow and it looked like Christmas was going to be as dry as the rest of the year 1905.

He'd traded his pistol for fifty pounds of beans, twenty-five pounds of flour, a side of bacon, and a box of rifle shells. He said we'd survive.

I was afraid to get up Christmas morning, because surprises and Christmas went together for an eight-year-old girl. And surprises were going to be as dry as the rest of the year unless I made them.

I already had one hidden in the woodshed. With a nail I'd scratched on a wood scrap: To The Best Mom And Dad, Mery Crismus 1905, Love Corrie. Then I'd rubbed ash in the letters to make them stand out. But I hadn't wrapped it yet.

I stayed in bed, because Dad left to go hunting just before dawn. I didn't want him catching me getting my surprise.

I thought about the best Christmas I remembered. When I was five we'd had good crops of corn, cotton, pigs, and chickens. And even though winter started rough we had more than we needed.

That same winter a terrible blizzard raged for two days and smothered everything white by Christmas Eve. Early Christmas day we heard a thud on the front door. Dad opened the door and found an old man almost frozen in the snow. Dad helped the fellow struggle to the wood stove and pulled out a chair.

His beard and mustache were frosted and his hair coated with snow. Ice crystals hung all over his coat and pants. They soaked the rag rug on the kitchen floor as he thawed. A damp smell kept me a good distance away. Mom got him some of Dad's old clothes and he changed in my room.

"You can call me Hard Times," he said with a gravelly voice.

By his face you could tell that he had been through lots of hard times; wherever there wasn't hair there were wrinkles, more wrinkles than crevices on a mountain.

He had a loud laugh and funny half-star wrinkles that beamed next to his eyes when he smiled. I think he enjoyed watching me unwrap my first real doll as much as I did. "I'll name her Molly," I said in a hushed voice.

Hard times left us the next day with memories of old mines, Indians, and buffalo. He said we'd saved his life. Mom said, "That's what Christmas is all about."

I snuggled deeper into the covers, enjoying my memories. The slam of the front door told me dad had returned from his hunt. In the kitchen he whispered that he hadn't bagged a thing, and wanted to kill the old rooster for Christmas dinner. But Mom insisted we needed him. We only had two hens left.

The mixed smell of beans and tortillas hung in the air. My stomach growled. Then I remembered my surprise. Hopefully Dad hadn't discovered it in the woodshed.

I slipped out of my nightgown into my dress and coat. I stopped only to pick up Molly doll from the floor. Now three years old, her porcelain face was cracked and creased from being glued and reglued. I set her carefully on the corner shelf above my bed and rushed past Mom and Dad toward the front door.

"Where are you going, girl?" Mom said, "You haven't got your shoes on and breakfast is almost ready."

"But  . . . "

"You haven't even looked under the tree, either," Dad said.

Two brown-wrapped packages lay under the pinon tree that Mom had said was too big. In the tree's shadow the presents looked like a little pile of dried leaves.

"You can open them after breakfast," Dad said.

"But I haven't put your present under the tree."

"It'll wait," Mom said. "Get your shoes and come eat."

We ate breakfast and I took the leftovers to Rowdy our dog. I hurried into the woodshed, found my present, and held it behind my back when I entered the house.

"What are you doing, Corrie?" Mom asked.

"It's time to read the Christmas story and open the presents," Dad said.

"Just a minute." I wrapped my present in the wet dishcloth and put it under the tree.

We sat around the table as Dad read the Christmas story from our old family Bible.

Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus hadn't had much that first Christmas, I thought, at least not until the Wise Men came.

"Father," I prayed silently, "Send us some Wise Men. But we don't need any gold, frankincense or myrrh. You know what we need."

After Dad finished the story, he prayed and thanked God for helping us through the drought.

I was puzzled how Dad could thank the Lord so much when we had so little.

Suddenly Rowdy started barking and howling outside like I never heard. Rowdy was a tail-wagger and a licker, not a barker.

I rushed out the front door before Dad had time to say "amen." I hadn't gone two steps before I screamed "There's monsters at the spring!"

There, drinking from the spring trough were three humpy and bumpy creatures. A big bearded one turned his head and stared right at me. It looked like it was smiling.

"My Lord," Mother gasped, "It's camels."

"One has a pack on," Dad said, "I've heard stories about wild camels still being around these parts. But why would that one be carrying a pack?"

"I prayed for the Wise Men to come," I said. "I'll go look for them."

Mother grabbed me and shoved me toward the door. "You're going in the house with me, young lady."

We watched from the window as Dad tied Rowdy. Then he took a bundle of grass hay and spread it around near the corral corner post.

Mom frowned. "We need that for the horse. What does he think he's doing?"

Dad took two more hay bundles and spread it around two other corral posts. The camels kept drinking.

Finally the smallest one moved toward the corner post and started eating. Dad didn't look pleased. He was waiting on the inside of the corral with a coiled rope.

When the camel put its head up he threw a loop. The loop bounced off the camel's ears and scared it back to the spring.

Dad hunched down in the corral waiting for another chance. The bearded camel with the pack edged toward the corner post munching his way along. The camel raised its head and this time Dad didn't miss. The camel didn't jump or start, but grunted when Dad pulled and tied the rope around the post.

Each time the camel relaxed Dad snugged the rope tighter, until the camel's chin was almost touching the top rail. With a stick he tapped gently on the camel's back shin. The camel lowered itself to the ground obeying Dad's stick command.

Mom and I looked at each other in astonishment. Where had Dad learned that?

Reaching between the rails Dad untied and unloaded the pack. He pulled out bag after bag and dropped them inside the corral. He carried a load toward the house walking slowly with his eyes on the other camels.

Mother opened the door and he dumped the bags on the kitchen floor. The bags smelled almost as bad as Hard Times had.

Mom and I began unpacking the cloth bags on the kitchen table. Dad kept bringing bags in. It must have taken him five or six trips. By the time he finished we already had coffee, salt, sugar and various canned goods on the table.

Dad stood at the window. "They're all eating now." He walked to the table shaking his head. "I can't believe it."

Mom unpacked three different colors of fabric and crockery dishes. When she pulled out a new doll with a porcelain face I let out a yell. I grabbed the doll and the bag thunked to the floor.

Dad reached down and picked it up.

Mother and I were busy admiring the doll, when we heard Dad whoop. He pushed the canned goods aside and cleared space on the table. The coins clicked on the smooth, worn surface; four twenty-dollar gold pieces, more money than I had ever seen.

Mom was dazed. "We can't keep all this."

"But I prayed for it," I said.

Mom and Dad whispered while I played with the doll. I was shocked when they started putting things back in the bags. They even put in some of our beans and flour.

"We'll need that," Dad protested as Mom took two gold coins and put them in with canned goods.

"We have more than we need," Mom said.

I went to the window. "Two of the Wise Men are gone," I said. Only the tied camel remained. I held the doll tight. I'd decided to call her Polly.

"At least I don't have to worry about them when I repack," Dad said.

Mom puzzled over the fabric, caressing each roll.

Dad repacked half of everything, plus our beans and flour. He hadn't said anything about the doll, the dishes, or the fabric.

We watched from the window as Dad loosened the rope to let the camel go. The camel grunted when it stood.

"Hey, hey!" someone shouted from the ridge behind the house. The voice echoed down the valley.

Dad looked up. Mom and I walked out into the yard.

A man was scrambling down the slope almost running between the pinon and juniper trees. Rocks clinked like broken glass as he slipped and almost fell.

"Hey," he called again. "Don't turn him loose."

"It's Hard Times!" I yelled.

Dad tied the rope and joined us as we walked toward the slope.

Hard Times puffed and tried to catch his breath. "Where'd you find my camel?"

Dad shook his hand. "He wandered in with two others."

"He must have smelled 'em," Hard Times said, "'cause he went crazy night before last and broke loose."

"I'm sure it was a female and her half-grown calf," Dad said.

"See you got the doll." Hard Times tussled my hair. "I figured Molly would be wore out by now."

"You mean all of that was for us!" Mom said.

"Yes, it was to pay back for saving my life. I know farming's been bad this year, but prospectin's been good."

"But it's too much," Mom said.

"No, it's not. You helped me before and, see, you helped me again. How'd you get him unpacked?"

We all looked at Dad.

"I saw a man handle a camel in a circus when I was a boy."

"You probably know as much about handlin' them as I do." Hard Times scratched his beard. "What I can't figure is why it wandered here."

"The Wise Men brought it," I said.

Mom and Dad laughed. Hard Times looked at me sideways.

"I'll tell you over Christmas Dinner," Dad said. He put one hand on Hard Times' shoulder and the other on mine. "But first we've got some presents to unwrap."

Mom, Dad, and Hard Times turned toward the house. I ran to the woodshed. I knew where there was another board and I was going to make another surprise. But I wondered, how do you spell Hard Times?

The End


My great-grandmother lived and died in New Mexico. I'd like to think that she could have told me this story, because camels actually lived in New Mexico for a time.

In 1856, Lt. Edward F. Beal led a successful expedition from San Antonio, Texas to California. The Civil War disrupted the camel experiment and the camels were auctioned off in 1866. Many were sold to circuses. Miners, ranchers, and mail carriers purchased others. Many escaped to roam as "phantoms of the desert." The last confirmed sighting of a wild camel in the Southwest was in 1941

Mark Weinrich has been in remission from Leukemia for almost five years. He is a gardener, hiker, musician, and pastor (for over 38 years). He has had over 360 poems, articles, and short stories published in 104 different publications, some include THE UPPER ROOM, BIRDS AND BLOOMS, NEW MEXICO MAGAZINE, IDEALS, THE SECRET PLACE, and LIVE. He has also sold eight children's books and currently has two fantasy novels on Kindle.

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Shoot and Pray
by Tom Sheehan

In a night of sporadic shooting and civil madness, it was apparent, a most innocent person, Lon Ashbury, was killed by a stray bullet, and his family wanted revenge on the shooter, supposedly a local young man by the name of Ambling Porter. The arrest had been made, witnesses named and summoned, and the judge had been sat before the principles, in the Red Eye Saloon. One of the Ashburys had said, "It sure looked like Ambling Porter who shot Lon, and he was standing there between the bank and the barber shop with a gun in his hand."

Defendant Ambling Porter sat on a bench in front of the judge. He was a young man, perhaps 30 years old, sporting a grand mustache with pointed ends and waiting to see who was going to be the next witness. His Stetson sat on one knee and he wore a gun belt with an empty holster, and a nicely pressed pale blue shirt his wife had brought to the jail that morning.

Porter was married to the prettiest girl in town, had three children less than five years of age, and owned, with his wife Lisa, a decent spread out of town and along the river that was once owned by Lisa's father. Some people said Porter hadn't earned it as other men had earned their spreads, with years of work on a place, that he had put his eyes on Lisa when she was real young just to get on the inside of her favors.

Porter knew some men would lie to gain any edge in romance and property.

Ridley Grange in high Iowa was caught up in a new court case, with Judge Abner Hurdle hearing the case, again in the Red Eye Saloon.

Suddenly, in the midst of a minor testimony, one of the townsfolk, yelling as loud as he could, came rushing into the Red Eye Saloon in the middle of the court session, roughly pushing a man ahead of him. It was the town drunk he pushed, a bedraggled, grungy-looking 40 year older who slept where he fell down at night. The noise from the pair was tumultuous, one yelling and one blubbering about innocence and awful red dogs, big as horses, chasing him and having big mustaches that hung to the ground.

"What's goin on there?" said Judge Hurdle, hitting the table top with the butt of his pistol. His straw hat sat on his round face like the pale blossom on a withering prairie flower, his cheeks showed themselves puffy and red obviously from "the drink," and an empty glass lie closer to his hand than his carry-on gavel. The ivory-looking gavel, made from pieces of a big horn sheep's horn, hardly carried any of the original "bang" in it.

The townsman yelled out again, "This old floater Harry was goin' through the saddlebag on a horse outside, and he's never owned a horse in his livin' days and he's about as drunk as he's gonna get today."

The pusher looked around at those in the crowded courtroom/saloon, the drinking service for them halted for the time being at the judge's direction, and rolled his eyeballs asserting that the drunk was really, really drunk this time. A newcomer could rightfully assume that the man had been seen drunk before, might likely be a stick-out, a "knowner" as they might call it in Ridley Grange.

The judge said, "Whose horse was he trying to steal?" and the pusher said, "It was that pinto Jed Corcoran rides. Calls him Patchy." He pointed to a table in the other far corner of the Red Eye Saloon.

Hurdle looked into the corner where Corcoran was sitting and said, "Want me to give him 10 days for trying to steal your horse, Jed?"

"Nah," he answered," let him be, harmless old drunk just blowin' off too much liquor."

The judge nodded and asked, "You see any of the shooting, Jed?"

"Well, I was over by the livery and all I can say is it looked like Amblin', only like some folks have said, looked like but not sure, but looked like. You know, the mustache and the hat he wears. Simple stuff like that." He looked off as if he was totally uninterested in any of the court's proceedings, shrugging his shoulders, sticking his tongue out to say he'd rather be drinking.

Other onlookers nodded in agreement; of course, this was really a saloon and had only been taken over temporarily for a civil need.

The judge looked away and said to the sheriff who was pressing the charges against Porter, "Don't leave this session, Sheriff. You can lock up Harry boy later. For now, give him another drink and let him stew."

There was expectant laughter in the room at the judge's poke at Harry the drunk, for the judge had leveled one of his comic looks at the gathering. He was not considered a joke in the courtroom, though he was appreciated as a joker. The difference with him could be a thin line or a mighty wide line depending on all kinds of circumstances, like who was dead, who was alive, who was male and who was female, who was young and who was so old his last breath would be quickly forgotten. Such circumstances became building blocks in cases coming in front of the judge, whether they were in presentation or connived by him for such use.

The judge had enemies and advocates on each side of the line of difference.

And ensuing quickly thereafter, as expected by many in the room, the judge added his first qualification of orders of the day; "But that's the only drink to be poured, you hear me, Charlie." And then he added for the bartender, after a pause of measurement of a dry-throat, his second qualification, "But you might as well pour one for me, Charlie, and me alone as presiding officer here, while you're at it."

The courtroom tittered with laughter, and the sheriff took two drinks from the bartender, sat one in front of the drunk at a table in one corner and one in front of Judge Abner Hurdle, no newcomer to court in Ridley Grange in the Red Eye Saloon, and surely no newcomer to "the drink," as one might say of him.

Harry the drunk hollered again about other wild images and darkness deep as Hell and then a few unintelligible words, and the sheriff said, "Drink up and shut up or I'll see you don't get another drink for 30 days. How'll that sit with you, Harry, when your tongue is burning with the fire of sobriety?"

The judge banged the gun butt again and ordered the sheriff to bring up his next witness, saying, "Gus, best bring him up now and get this thing goin' again 'cause I ain't about to spend all day on what might be a sure thing verdict. "

All around the saloon interested parties observing the court proceedings nodded at each other, saying they had expected nothing different from Judge Hurdle, and one among them was heard to whisper, "Man'd jump three tables or a dozen kegs just to get to the bar on time. Too bad he knows so much about lawyering and judging." And anyone would accept a reply that would have said, "Too bad he knows anythin' at all about courts and its doin's."

Sheriff Gus Almond pointed at one man in the front row and said, "Get up here, Asa, and swear the truth is all that comes out of your mouth."

Asa Worthly, 65 if a day, said, "I ain't sayin' anythin' ain't the truth all the way now that I spent some time thinkin' all thin's over again."

Leaning over, the judge said, "Asa, are you saying you're changing what you said earlier, that it was Ambling Porter who did the shooting?"

"What I'm sayin', Judge, is the truth of the matter an' what Gus asked me to say just now. I can't say it was Amblin' for sure, but this I can say, the shooter who looked like Amblin' didn't do no prayin' at the time an' we all know Amblin' never shoots without prayin' a little after hopin' he didn't kill nobody. All folks I know know that about him."

After Worthly expressed qualifications about what he'd said earlier, Porter realized it was the first mark in his favor.

The town drunk made some more noise and the judge said, "Make him keep quiet, Gus, or stick your bandana in his mouth."

"He waren't there at the livery," Harry the drunk said, the first intelligible words he had uttered since he had been pushed into the saloon. Then he lapsed into additional histrionics and talk of new wild images tossed up from his mind.

No one in the saloon/courtroom was paying any attention to the drunk at this point, tired of a man who had already embarrassed himself beyond hope.

But lawyering and judging had come with other graces to Judge Hurdle, the drink not discounted, and he never discarded what involuntary information came to him about a case he was hearing, regardless of the source.

The "shoot and pray" bit sat with him like an aftertaste, and the curiosity it carried made him scan the room, spot a likely and innocent but curious court watcher and say, "You, the gent on the end of the row with the gray Stetson and the red band on it, stand up so I can ask you some questions."

The man stood up and said, "I don't know nothin' about this shootin', Judge 'cause I wasn't no ways near it."

"No, don't worry about that part. Do you know anything about this shoot and pray thing with Mr. Porter here."

The judge pointed to Porter who twisted his head in a questioning motion, as if he was curious and anxious at the same time to hear the response.

"Oh, yes, sir, Judge. I seen some of it before where Amblin' scared Hell out of someone he shoots at and misses like it's on purpose and then blesses himself like them do that believes in that, only he does it with his left hand while his right hand I still holdin' onto his gun, kinda just in case."

"You really stand there and tell me you seen that?" the judge said.

"Not once, Judge, but twice, and both times I was workin' a herd for him and the Rochester gang once and the Pinto Busters another time tried to rustle our cattle an' Amblin' plumb scared the bejeebers outta a couple of them and blessed himself or his shots with his left hand like them do as I said, and he run them off 'cause one of them was mostly the boss rustler. Yep, both times, like he knowed who the boss was."

"You'd work for him again, on another drive, with Porter?"

"Oh, sure, Judge. You can bet your last drink on that."

The entire Red Eye Saloon/courtroom suddenly blossomed into one great big but silent smile, and Judge Abner Hurdle was part of that smile when he excused the cowpoke speaker, saying, "You made a good point there. You can sit down."

He stared a while at Porter and said, "You hold with what the last witness said, Ambling?"

Porter did not mince any words and did not think long on the question, and answered straight off, "I am as bounden to it as I am to my family." He said no more.

"Who else you got, Gus," the judge said as he looked over his shoulder at the barkeep. In all the noise the glass at his elbow had been emptied. The barkeep nodded.

The sheriff, looking around the saloon, said, "Well, we had two witnesses that said it looked like Porter there, but with some doubts. We might not get a conviction with what we heard, but we still got a dead man, and we don't know who did it or why."

Harry the town drunk was at it again, yelling both intelligible and unintelligible words as he struggled to stand up at his table. "He waren't at the livery, no mustache on them either."

"Damned you, Harry," the sheriff said as he whipped his bandana from his back pocket, "I'm goin' to stuff your mouth." He started after the drunk when the judge halted him in his tracks.

"Hold on there, Gus. Let's see what he was talking about. See if we can make sense of any of it."

The sheriff held the drunk up at the side of the table. "The judge wants to ask you some questions, Harry. If you got something to say, get ready or get locked up for 30 days."

Those words came like the Sword of Doom down on the drunk, and the judge, feeling a sense of true justice about to break out in the saloon, said, ""Who wasn't at the livery, Harry? Can you remember who wasn't at the livery? Can you tell us that? It's important."

Harry the drunk pointed into the other corner of the saloon, "It was him who waren't at the livery." He was pointing at Jed Corcoran.

"When was he not at the livery?" the judge asked.

"When he said he was, afore. When he said it afore."

Judge Abner Hurdle could remember all he heard so far in the case and he looked at Corcoran and said, "You said before you were near the livery when the shot was fired. Here's a man says you weren't. What do we do with this now, Jed?"

Corcoran was up on his feet, waving and pointing his hand at the drunk, and yelling, "He's a damned drunk, that's all he is. You mean to tell me you're gonna believe anythin' he says all the time he's been talkin' about dogs and horses and Hell itself. Man's into his liquor deep as he can get. He don't deserve no answerin', least of all from me."

"Every man gets his chance in my court," the judge said. "He's having his right now. Man knows he's probably going to get locked up for disturbing the due process here all the time, but he gets his chance in my court."

"He's nothin' but a damned drunk," Corcoran yelled, and turned as if he was going to walk out of the saloon.

The judge said, slow and easy so he wouldn't have any further problems, "Please make sure, Gus, that nobody leaves this court until I'm through."

He turned back to Corcoran and said, "Sit back down, Jed, and tell the court why you lied about where you were when the shooting took place." It was a judicial order that everybody in the saloon fully understood, even from a known tippler like the judge. The understanding brought with it a profound silence, and the judge measured that silence, sensing something in it, awareness, a shift of a sort.

Corcoran said, "I'm damned sorry, Judge, but it can't be that you'd believe a drunk and what he says he saw and me standing here as cold sober as waitin' can make a man who's thirstin' for the first drink of the day."

It was a slippery edge at an opening and the judge recognized its intent.

"I ain't begrudging you anything, Jed, and surely not your chance to speak in your behalf, but I'm finding it troublesome to swallow a chunk of it right now."

The drunk put in his last bit when he yelled out, "'At's why I was at the pinto. Look in the saddlebag." He sprawled across the table and two men leaped up to sit him in his chair.

Corcoran made an attempt to leave the room and two other men grabbed him as the sheriff said, "Hold him there. Take his gun. Sit him down," He looked at the judge and said, "I'll be right back."

Ambling Porter was sensing a new aura in the room, and a swing of odds into his favor. His prayers were always said in good faith, in true intent, in the hope that he'd never kill a man in exchange for something not really worth it. He saw the sheriff coming back into the Red Eye Saloon holding unidentified objects under his arm.

The sheriff went straight to the judge and laid the objects down in front of him. One was a hat just like the one that had sat on Porter's knee for the whole trial so far, and the other was a fake mustache, with tapered ends like the spikes on a longhorn bull, like the mustache Ambling Porter still had in place across the width of his face.

Judge Abner Hurdle, still with his soft voice, said, "All charges against Ambling Porter are dismissed at this time and if there's any more killing in this town, I'll shut down the Red Eye Saloon for a whole month of Sundays and I'll be holding court not just for killing but for broken laws of littering the road or swearing in front of ladies or not going to church of a Sunday, you can bet your last drink on that."

He said to the sheriff, "Gus, you lock up that scoundrel Corcoran pronto. Court will sit again tomorrow to hear charges against him."

Then he looked around, saw all the men in the saloon leaning forward, and said, again slowly and with reserve, "The bar is now open."

He saw Ambling Porter meet his pretty wife at the door of the saloon, and thought at the moment that all was right with the career he had chosen. He wondered how far he could carry this tale of shoot and pray, and if any listeners would believe him.

The End

Sheehan has published 30 books and multiple works in Literally Stories, Rosebud, Linnet's Wings, Serving House Journal, Copperfield Review, Literary Orphans, Eastlit, Frontier Tales, In Other Words-Merida, Literary Yard, Rope & Wire Western Magazine, Green Silk Journal, etc. Has received 32 Pushcart nominations and 5 Best of Net nominations with one winner, and other awards. Newer books are Swan River Daisy, Jehrico, The Cowboys, and Vigilantes East, with 3 books being considered, and one in production cycle at Pocol Press, Beside the Broken Trail.

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The Short, Long Life of Tough-Nut McNulty
by L. Glen Enloe

"You ain't tellin' nobody!" Tough-Nut said as he shot Doc Morrow point-blank in the face. The beloved long-time doctor of Guile, Arizona, fell dead in a heap at McNulty's feet. "Now I got one more score to even . . . "

Big Tough-nut McNulty reloaded and left the office. Several people had gathered at the foot of the steps that lead up to Doc Morrow's office and residence. Morrow's wife could be heard screaming as McNulty slammed the door and glared down at the townspeople. They quickly backed away from the foot of stairs and disappeared into the shadows as the crazed man slowly descended the steps and headed for the Blue Goose Saloon.

Tough-Nut slammed open the battered batwings of the saloon and marched across the floor to a far table. Chester McClure, the saloon owner and only man in town who had ever licked Tough-Nut in a fight, sat calmly at the table shuffling his cards. He smiled.

"What brings you here—" But Ches McClure never finished his sentence. Amid a sudden swirl of gunsmoke and thunder, Chester keeled over dead as his hand belatedly reached for the derringer in his vest. A single, full red moon bloomed from McNulty's bullet and rose quickly on Chester's pale forehead.

Two of the other men at the table grabbed McNulty's arm but he tossed them aside like children. Then the barrel of Marshal Pat Gruber's .45 Colt cracked loudly against the back of Tough-Nut's skull and blackness descended.

When Tough-Nut awoke, he was in jail. It looked like the end of McNulty's short life was at hand.

As the next few days went by, there was talk around town of a lynching. McNulty, said to be the meanest man in Guile, was almost universally hated by everyone. Only Judge LeBrant, a former close friend of his parents, seemed to have any compassion for the man. So, to many, it came as no surprise that the judge sentenced Tough-Nut to life in the state penitentiary instead of death. But even that did not please Tough-Nut.

"I'll kill you!" McNulty screamed after hearing the verdict. "And the Marshal, too! I'll burn this damn town down!"

"I say we hang his sorry hide!" Toby Thompson yelled.

"Yeah! He killed the only doc in this town! And Chester, too!" Wiles Smith chimed in. "We all liked Ches!"

A hostile murmur rippled throughout the courtroom. Judge LeBrant banged the gavel, then leaned over and whispered something into Marshal Gruber's ear. McNulty was quickly ushered out, surrounded by the marshal and two of his deputies.

That night, as Toby and Wiles lit torches outside the Marshal's office, they didn't realize that Tough-Nut was already miles away. A lone deputy opened the office door as ten men with lit torches and a rope pushed their way in.

"He's already gone!" the wide-eyed deputy announced as the mob surrounded him. The men, angry with themselves, searched the building. Cursing and screaming, the mob filed out, throwing their torches into the dusty street as they dispersed and went home.

In the days and months that followed, the town forgot about Tough-Nut as normal life resumed. A new, younger doctor had just opened a practice in Guile, and Chester McClure's saloon was sold to an out-of-town buyer and had its name changed. Although many of the townspeople protested, the old Blue Goose Saloon had reopened as the Tough-Nut Saloon.

McNulty was otherwise erased from the collective memory of Guile, Arizona. His twenty-some years as the town bully, the murders, and even the suspicions that he had burned his parents alive in a mysterious fire were slowly forgotten.

Only Judge LeBrant had any compassion left for McNulty. He recalled how much he had respected Tough-Nut's parents—how Jerome (later nicknamed Tough-Nut), had survived the pox that had killed his little brother and sister. It was then that Jerome had changed. His father, William J. McNulty, had called Jerome a "tough nut" for surviving the disease that had killed so many. While left with the permanent marks of the smallpox on his face, it had been the inner scarring of the child that had more concerned his parents and the judge.

As the boy's childhood years had gone by, no one dared to address Jerome as Jerome—and no one also dared to call him Tough-Nut to his face. The skinny, smiling and once friendly boy slowly had turned into a hulking, moody, mean man—a man that seemed to only have pleasure in hurting others. He had become the terror of Guile—a lumbering, humorless thing that passed for a man.

Only his one-time best friend, the handsome Chester McClure had been able to hold his own and better Tough-Nut. And he had paid for that indiscretion with his life.

But now there was only relief in town. Tough-Nut McNulty had come to the end that most of them had expected. Yet, even so, many of them would have preferred him lying in an unmarked grave in potter's field.

Still, it came as a shock on that warm day in early October when word of Tough-Nut's release from prison came. It spread like a raging fire throughout town. The old fear was rekindled.

"Did you hear!?" Wiles Smith nearly shouted as he stepped in front of the Lone Drover Hotel where Judge LeBrant had his feet propped up on the porch rail.

"Tough-Nut is out!" Wiles continued. "They said he was 'released' but I reckon he must have escaped! They don't let no murderers out for nothin'!"

The judge quickly pulled his feet down off the rail. A cloud of concern spread across his wrinkled forehead. How could that be? It had only been ten years.

A quick panic was spreading over the town. Chester McClure's widow pulled her child close to her breast and wept. They had had a rough time of it. She had been pregnant when Chester was killed, and they had been forced to sell the saloon for nearly nothing to the creditors. Ches had been a wonderful man and husband, as well as an outstanding citizen, but he had left them in bad shape. His only fault had been being too generous. He had left the world owing half of it money, and it had plunged his family into near poverty.

Doc Morrow's widow had not fared much better. Doc had been lax on collecting his bills from his many patients. His sudden death had left his widow with barely enough to get by on. Luckily, they had no children. Even so, she had been forced to take in laundry to survive.

But then a week went by, and then two. Folks around town were beginning to feel better. Many speculated that Tough-Nut would not have the gall to show up there again—threat or no threat.

The next day, Jerome Tough-Nut McNulty rode into town. At least, they thought it was him. The streets quickly cleared. The Marshal peered out the window in wonder, but remained where he was.

The man that now rode slowly into town seemed different. The man they now saw was aged beyond his years. He was gaunt and thin. The once heavily-muscled bully was now nothing much more than a skeleton. But the face, the pox scars and the hard, gray eyes were McNulty.

The man stopped in front of the Lost Drover Hotel as he eyed the judge. He slowly got down from his horse as if it were an effort, and tied his horse to the hitching rail. The judge noticed the gun strapped to his leg, and then felt for his own weapon. McNulty, once the meanest and toughest man in town, bent over in a coughing fit as his whole body shook. Judge LeBrant was standing on the porch of the hotel now. He quickly walked down the wooden steps toward McNulty.

"It's been a long time," Tough-Nut finally said as his coughing subsided. The judge saw a large crimson splattering in his handkerchief as he quickly put it into a pocket of his vest.

In the same motion, McNulty pulled out an envelope as the judge flinched, and handed it to him. It was bulky and over-stuffed.

"I've never been worth a damn . . . " Tough-Nut began. "There's $400,000 there, in cash—and no, I didn't rob a bank."

"I don't understand . . . " the judge stammered.

"Give half to Doc Morrow's widow, and the other half to McClure's wife and kid," McNulty said as he was suddenly overcome by another fit of coughing. "It ain't much for what they've lost or for what I've done  . . . but I had to do something . . . "

"The money . . . " Judge LeBrant began.

"The money is legal. I inherited it from my one and only wealthy uncle," McNulty sniffed. "Don't know why I got it. Didn't deserve it. Guess I was the only livin' relative."

The judge just stood there as coughing once again racked the frail frame of the man known as Tough-Nut.

"Funny how life works," McNulty finally said as he pulled the handkerchief from his thin blue lips. The once white cloth was now nearly all red. "And by the way, they don't call me Tough-Nut no more. They call me Lunger."

The once-feared bully of Guile pulled himself up weakly onto his black horse. He made a motion, as if tipping his hat, and headed out of town.

The judge stood there for several minutes as the man everyone hated disappeared. He then returned to the porch, sat down and pulled an old pipe from his coat. As he smoked, he smiled to himself as he thought about the looks of joy he'd see on Mrs. Morrow's and Mrs. McClure's faces. Of course, they would never know where the money really came from. As smoke curled from the judge's pipe into the darkening night, he heard a lone gunshot in the distance.

The End

L. Glen Enloe is a former rural real estate advertising writer. He's authored three western novels, five books of cowboy poetry and an Old West non-fiction book. He's a member of the Western Writers of America and the Missouri Cowboy Poet's Association, and has received nominations from the Academy of Western Artists and for a Pushcart Prize.

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