February, 2018

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Issue #101

Looking for free, tantalizing Tales of the Old West?
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Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

A Close Shave, Part 2 of 2
by Brandon Abbott
When hired gun Tucker "the Twitch" Maynard rides into town, barber/gambler Redmond Graves knows it's time to lay his cards on the table. He's already gone all in, but this is one bet that could cost him more than he's willing to pay.

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by Taylor Newcomb
Marshal Paul Owen was only supposed to be passing through town, but discovered a massacre beyond belief. Now he heads off deeper into the mountains to discover who was behind the slaughter and if they could be stopped before killing again.

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Twenty-Third Psalm, Part 1 of 3
by Steve Myers
When his brother is murdered by four low-lifes, eighteen-year-old James is told by his father that it is his duty to hunt them down.

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When the Wise Men Came
by Mark Weinrich
"There's monsters at the spring!" eight-year-old Corrie screamed. There, drinking from the spring trough were three humpy and bumpy creatures. A big bearded one turned his head and stared right at Corrie. It looked like it was smiling. "My Lord," Mother gasped, "It's camels."

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Shoot and Pray
by Tom Sheehan
A judge who likes to tipple while holding court in a saloon shut down for the moment, can find excuses and reasons for the swift completion of justice, providing he sees all the proper openings brought and bought with doubt and drink.

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The Short, Long Life of Tough-Nut McNulty
by L. Glen Enloe
Tough-Nut McNulty was a bully and the meanest man in town. This time, he had gone too far. Only Judge LeBrant had any faith left for Tough-Nut. But now he had come back . . . the town of Guile, Arizona trembled and waited.

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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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