June, 2018

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Issue #105

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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!

Mitchell and the Killing at Safford
by Dick Derham
Can an unfaded circle of flannel give ex-con-turned-Wells-Fargo-agent Dave Mitchell and his partner the clue they need to run the killer to ground?

* * *

The Reverend Had a Few Words To Say
by Grant Guy
The Reverend was a man of God, and he lived the Lord's Word. But when the outlaws came to his cabin and threatened his wife and children, which God would he follow? The kind and loving God or the Hell and damnation God?

* * *

To Marry a Gunfighter: A Western Romance, Part 2 of 2
by Buck Immov
Annawest had found her soul mate—she was sure. But this loving man had been a bounty hunter. She had seen men try to kill him. If she let herself love him, could she stand to watch him die? Did she dare take that risk?

* * *

Golden's Spurs
by Keith 'Doc' Raymond, MD
Tallahassee Tim, a nickname for John Golden, was raised by gaudy women in Montana. In San Fransisco, trouble found him and he ended up with a pistol jammed into the back of his neck. He was sure there was no way out for him—was he right?

* * *

The Raid at Nikninisht-ta Peak
by Tom Sheehan
Greed in any range comes back to find the hungriest of all souls, often at the ultimate meeting of a hero and his antagonists, with an alarming twist of time, treasure or the heart of a mountain.

* * *

The High Line Incident
by Mickey Bellman
The High Line shack was a lonely place on the Montana prairie. Bert was not expecting any company, but a single rider was coming. He reached for his Winchester just in case the stranger wanted to "remind" him of the fatal saloon fight a year ago.

* * *

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All the Tales

Mitchell and the Killing at Safford
by Dick Derham

Three rough men sitting around an unsteady plank table, three pairs of avaricious eyes watching stacks of greenbacks grow higher, the small shack itself, reflecting the industry of its owner, so unkempt that the two visitors had spread their blankets under the stars while they waited for the day appointed for their business in Safford. Finally, Grover Farley's hand held only a single twenty-dollar greenback. He deposited it on the stack in front of his callow-faced host whose spindly arms told the world that here was a farmer who expected the corn to do most of the work.

"I'll give you the last one, Amos. Otherwise, me and Mac might get to fighting over it."

The ruddy-faced man whose blond walrus mustache only partially concealed the harshness of his lips laughed as he knew he was expected to. His hands closed on his share of the take as he got to his feet. "I'll go bring the horses around."

Amos Strander's jaw slackened as he looked at the friendly face of the hearty man across the table. "I hoped you'd stay a couple more days, Grove. It's lonely out here."

Lonely as hell. No other reason could have induced Farley to descend upon his forgettable school mate who no one was likely to go out of his way to visit. Located in small defile two miles back from the county road, the shack had assured the privacy they needed.

"Business, Amos. We got a lead on some good-paying work over by Las Vegas. We got to keep to the schedule our insider gave us."

Strander sighed his disappointment as he got to his feet. "At least you'll drink a whiskey with me to celebrate." He retrieved the bottle and glasses from a rickety shelf nailed into the wall, and reached for a dingy wash cloth to wipe off the accumulated dust. He filled two of the glasses and handed one to his friend, then raised his own in toast.

"Sure was a lucky day for me you cut your old school buddy in on this sweet deal," Strander said. "Crops have been poorly lately. I can use the money." Strander had already forgotten the dead man.

"You always done your part, Amos," Farley said. "You lined up with me every time we figured a way to show folks what we thought of their rules."

Strander sought to extend Farley's visit by reminiscing about the past. "Remember that time you trapped a raccoon and snuck it onto the top shelf of Miss Adams' supply cabinet? Then you had me hide all of the blackboard erasers." He laughed as he began to recount the incident. "Seemed like she'd never stop scribbling 'goes into' problems on the blackboard, and we kept fidgeting at our desks waiting for her to need to wipe the board clean." He leaned his head back and guffawed. "Remember her face when she opened the cabinet and the raccoon jumped on her?"

Farley let his laughter humor the little runt that no one had liked in their school days, a hanger-on nuisance, a fellow easy to manipulate into the mischief they could use him for, and today, a fellow who didn't have his picture on the wall in the Post Office, who could visit town without causing notice, and who could handle the simple task assigned to him. Let him feel part of the planning like in the old days, let him swell his chest as the partner of two tough men and he had eagerly done their bidding.

"It was worth the hiding she gave us," Farley agreed.

"Horses are ready." Desmond's large form filled in the doorway.

Strander refilled his own and Farley's glasses and poured a third for Desmond. He looked hopefully at Farley. "You know, I might could saddle up and ride with you Grove— give you another hand when you need it. Like today."

Farley's quick reply forestalled Desmond's objection. "Sorry, Amos, can't have you go missing right after our work in town." A lie always came easy to Farley. "Maybe we'll swing back after our Las Vegas job."

Strander's head bobbed eagerly as he envisioned himself riding tall, a full partner of two sturdy men of the saddle. "We'll be a good team, you and me, just like the old days." The three men raised their glasses to toast their success in Safford.

The empty glasses clinked on the table. Farley got to his feet. Strander picked up the bottle and turned to place it back on the shelf.

"Goodbye, Amos," Farley said, with the chuckle that always went with some new deviltry.

When Strander turned, arm outstretched for the shake, Farley's filled hand was in its upswing. Two shots echoed loudly in the confined quarters of the small shack, hurtling Strander's body backward, crashing into the stove, staggering sideways, knocking dishware off the sideboard, and finally sprawling to the floor. Desmond was grinning as he stepped around the table and fired an insurance shot into the back of the dying man's skull.

Farley handed half of Strander's share to Desmond. "In the schoolyard, he was always the first to snitch."

* * *

"I knew you'd want to see it the way we found it," Sheriff Emerson told his two companions, one a short, stocky man with a face accustomed to authority, the other of average height, but with the power in his arms and chest of a man who had earned his living, such as it was, swinging a sledgehammer at defenseless rocks. If the sheriff suspected where those rocks yielded their dignity, his thoughts remained unspoken.

"Don't see how looking at bloodstains on the floor will tell you who done it," the sheriff continued. "But you're the hotshots from the big city. Far as I can tell, it happened just at closing time, but no one knew until Corbett—he's your local man—didn't open up in the morning."

The two agents followed the sheriff into the small storefront on Bowie Street where Wells Fargo accepted items for shipment and received deliveries from the afternoon stage. The standard efficient layout included a side table just inside the door with forms to be completed, a counter across most of the fifteen-foot store width, and behind the counter, aside from a narrow hallway that led to the back door, a small desk with a few unfinished papers spread out, and the vault, its door now standing open.

"The killer did his work quiet," the sheriff continued, "a quick blade across the throat. You can see where Corbett's blood pooled." Emerson shook his head. "Young fellow, Sam Corbett was. Getting married to Annie over at the diner next month."

While Chet Collins, the senior agent of the team, pushed past the sheriff into the rear of the office, Dave Mitchell leaned on the counter, trying to see what he could learn. Collins paused briefly to look down at the rusty-brown stain, before stepping into the vault "Some boxes stacked in the vault not even touched," Collins said. "They knew what they were after."

"Likely the Freeport Copper Mine payroll," the sheriff reported. "The mine manager and two guards rode in this morning to pick it up."

Collins stepped down the narrow hallway and tried the door. "The door to the street was closed and locked from the inside, the blinds drawn, like always," the sheriff told them. "Back door was unlocked. So that's how they left."

"They?" Collins prompted.

"I figure a single man came in the front just before closing, just one, and not a threatening man or Corbett would have had his guard up. A gun in his face and he'd have considered his bride-to-be before he thought about playing the hero. There's fresh sign in the alley of three horsemen."

"Anyone see his last customer come in?"

"No one," the sheriff said. "Could be anyone. No telling who they were."

Mitchell challenged that conclusion. "Who's Amos?" Emerson's grunt was as good as a question and Mitchell swung around the transaction ledger that lay spread open on the countertop. "Corbett had started signing in a shipment, but only got as far as the first name."

"Must be Amos Carmack, he's the town barber," Emerson said. "Been here since the town was formed back in the '70s. Keeps to himself, him and his wife and his passel of kids. Bishop at the Mormon Church."

Collins and Mitchell exchanged glances, and shook their heads. "Anyone can go wrong, but . . . "

"See Lou Peters, over at the general store," Emerson said. "He's our postmaster. Maybe he knows someone out on the range."

* * *

Collins and Mitchell waited impatiently while the merchant and a housewife discussed the quality of material on the yardage counter, exchanged gossip about the new schoolteacher, and concluded their business. Finally, they had his attention.

Peters scratched his beard as he considered their question. "Only Amos who gets any mail is Mr. Carmack," he told them. He thought a moment and waved a dismissive hand. "Of course, there's Amos Strander out in the country, but no one writes to him. Anyway, he don't have the gumption. I went to school with him. Wimpy little kid back then—nothing more now."

But it was all the agents had to go on. "Tell us about him," Collins prompted.

"Only time he ever got in trouble was when one of the bigger boys talked him into it." Peters laughed at the memory. "Once Grove got Amos to put two chickens down the hole in the girls' outhouse. When Mary Wilson squatted, they started cackling. She screamed so loud we thought she'd fallen in. The teacher broke off her yakking and flew out to see what happened. Don't know where Farley went to, but he sure—"

"Farley?" Mitchell challenged. "Grover Farley, round, smiley-faced fellow that always looks like he's up to mischief?"

"That's the fellow. You know him?"

Mitchell turned to Collins. "I bunked under him my last year in Yuma." Mitchell ignored the sharp stare that statement drew from the postmaster. He didn't have to explain his early career as a stage robber to Peters, or the circumstances that led him to partnering the last three years with Chet Collins. He knew, and Wells Fargo knew, and most important to him, Collins knew that he had found a trail for his life far more satisfying than the one that had landed him in Yuma for five years.

"He's the kind of man made me glad I always worked alone," Mitchell said. "Surprised he's out this quick."

"A killer?"

Mitchell pondered the question. "Hard to tell. They don't let a man do much talking on the rock pile and the mess hall could be a Benedictine Monastery." He paused. "But behind his smiley face, you could see a hardness in his eyes. I'd keep my back facing away from him if I could."

* * *

Two hours later, the agents met back at the sheriff's office to share the results of their separate investigations. "Not much to report," Mitchell told Collins and Sheriff Emerson. "The Strander farm was easy to find. So was the farmer. Two shots to the chest and one to the back of his head."

"So that's our Amos." Collins said.

"Much good it will do us. Three whiskey glasses on the table, which fits what Peters told us about him being a trusting pawn of a man like Farley."

"Farley and one other," Collins said. "I've sent a wire to Yuma asking if someone else got out when he did."

"Two horsemen laid down a trail traveling toward New Mexico," Mitchell continued. "I followed it a mile or so before reporting back. If they stick to that, they got to skirt round the Peloncillo Mountains. Always assuming we're going to turn man-chasers, I figure we can close some distance on them."

For his part, Collins had ridden out to the Freeport Copper Mine. "They expected money for payroll and expenses, a total of $20,000."

"That's too much money," Mitchell declared.

"They had the proof, receipts for $20,000 in money packets, countersigned by the Wells Fargo agent in Tucson."

Mitchell shook his head decisively. "That's why I liked to work alone." He grinned at Collins. "Hope this don't disillusion you about human nature, Chet, but outlaws ain't always the most upright of people." His face turned grim as he continued.

"Never knew a man who'd think my life was worth more than an extra share of a big haul like that."

* * *

The two agents reached Strander's cabin shortly before dark, spread their blankets under the stars, and were on the trail at first light. Shortly after splashing across San Simon Creek, they found the charred remains of the fire circle where Farley and Desmond had cooked their meal. Upwind of the fire, the robbers had smoothed the rocks and spread their blankets.

"Got a man's soogans left behind, Chet," Mitchell said as he approached the lumpy blankets. Looking down at the bullet hole in the dead man's forehead, one thing was clear. "That walrus mustache don't belong to Grover Farley."

While Collins began scraping out a narrow hole for the body, Mitchell got his arms under the corpse and yanked it out of the blankets. The man had stripped to his union suit for sleep, but his trousers and shirt were rolled up inside the bedding. Mitchell spread them out and examined them.

"Find anything in his pockets to tell who he is?" Collins asked when Mitchell had finished his search.

"Not in his pockets, Chet. But take a gander at his shirt." The well-worn workshirt, a sun-faded blue flannel, had nothing unique about it, nothing except for a two-inch circle over his left chest pocket.

"You figure a badge?" Collins asked.

"Looks like it, and the material hasn't even started to fade. We're looking for someone who tossed in his badge not long ago."

* * *

Fighting crime in the West fell largely upon the network of sheriffs, marshals, and Rangers throughout the frontier. With a deep knowledge of their localities, for most offenses local law was effective and responsive.

But the more ambitious outlaws, men who relied upon their mobility, who seldom stayed in the jurisdiction of their major crimes longer than a horse ride to the county line, such men posed a challenge for which local law lacked the tools.

One of the principal resources available to Wells Fargo, and not to sheriffs was the "RI" telegram. And so, in the early morning hours, Wells Fargo stage stations and express offices across New Mexico and Arizona received a message from headquarters at San Francisco.

"RI stop Identify man stop 28-30 years old, 5'10", blond, bushy mustache stop Believed present or recently resigned lawman stop."

"Response Immediate" did not mean "when convenient" or "if it's not too much trouble." And so, at 8:24, the telegraph wires began clicking in Safford and by 8:30 Collins and Mitchell were on the trail to Tucson.

* * *

The Pima County Sheriff greeted Collins and Mitchell with the usual reserve that lawmen always bestow on interlopers on their turf. When he learned that any disparagement for failure to solve the Safford robbery would fall on the Graham County Sheriff, he unlimbered a bit.

"Desmond? He wore the badge for three years. Couldn't really complain about the way he handled his shifts, but ambitious, always looking for a big chance. He got plans to get hitched to Josie Allen, up at the Freeport Copper and Gold Company, but I couldn't give him the raise he wanted. Truth is, I never really trusted him, so I didn't waste my breath when he tossed in the badge ten days back. Don't know where he went to."

The agents knew, of course, but as long as people thought he was still alive, Desmond might be useful. "Guess we know how the robbers learned there would be a good haul waiting for them in Safford," Collins said.

At the mining company headquarters, they learned that Josie Allen had given her notice a week ago and quit the prior day. "Always figured her to be the loyal spinster type, but she's off to join her beau," the mine Treasurer told them. "Efficient bookkeeper. She handled all our money movements."

After the men left the mining headquarters. Dave Mitchell changed into his shabbiest of his range garb, grimy, shiny-seated pants, and a blue flannel shirt still showing brown stains which would never fully wash out from the bullet he had taken outside Willcox; but his riding boots and gun belt, which she would recognize as important tools of the trade, showed careful attention, as did the Stetson hat that even a back-hills outlaw wore with Texan pride.

Walking up Alvarado Street, his bedroll under his arm, Mitchell forced himself back into the habits of a man who "rode free" as he once would have said; first his jaw, not relaxed in the manner of a someone who found cities a friendly environment, but clenched in a hard, intimidating visage against the unknown dangers a man on the unfriendly side of the law found around himself, then his eyes, flitting nervously from side to side, intentionally assessing each person he neared as a possible threat. Finally, his gait, a jerky pace driven by tensed leg muscles ready for action. Soon, Dave Mitchell had become the old Dave Mitchell, the outlaw, the ex-convict, cautious around people; his actions would come natural to him and seem true to her.

As he approached the boardinghouse, a young woman stepped onto the street, suitcase in hand. In her mid-20s, getting long in the tooth for a woman looking to snag a man, her brown cheeks came out of Arizona sunshine, not a modern cosmetic box; her brunette hair had been cropped short and barely emerged from her pillbox hat; her lips taut and firm, not overly attractive he reflected, but maybe the kind of woman a man like Desmond would take a shine to, not a simpering hothouse plant that a man needed to gentle, but a woman with a strength—no, he decided, a hardness—that would willingly sell out her employer without a thought to get the man she wanted.

"Miss Allen," he began as he stood astride her path, "got us a mutual friend asked me to make sure you had a hand if you needed it." Without waiting, he reached for her grip.

Her eyes flashed with hostility at the abrupt assertion of male dominance by an unknown ruffian. "You're from—"

"No names," Mitchell interrupted gruffly, as his eyes swiveled to spot any interloper within range. "Not in the trade. Sometimes there's big ears trying to listen in. Business like me and him are in don't need a lot of public palaver, savvy?"

She seemed chastened, or at least silenced. As she let him take her grip, he could sense uncertainty war with her need to rely upon a strong man. "I've never been out of Tucson," she began. "He told me he'd meet me at—"

Mitchell's cough interrupted her before she could speak of their destination. Would she be crafty enough to give a false meeting spot to trap him? Doubtful, but . . . As they walked slowly toward the train station, Mitchell remained the taciturn man of Yuma, asking no questions, not with the likelihood a question would show his ignorance of Desmond, his habits, his personality, things one of his associates should know.

In the five-minute walk to the station, she had seemed to find reassurance in his presence. He put down the bag. "You'll not want to call attention to yourself by traveling with a plug-ugly like me."


Mitchell hastened to reinforce her growing dependence on his strength. "We'll go in separate, but I'll sit not far behind you, keeping an eye out so no one can bother you." With that reassurance, she relaxed and let him open the door for her, so it was natural that he stood in line behind her at the ticket window and where he could hear her say "Las Vegas."

As he turned away from the window with his own ticket, he saw Chet Collins enter. It took Mitchell just a moment to turn back to the ticket clerk. "When's the train get into Las Vegas?" he asked, his voice loud enough so that Collins would hear.

* * *

When the train pulled to the depot at Las Vegas, N. M. T., it was Chet Collins who stood up and helped Josie Allen retrieve her bag from the overhead rack. And it was Collins who escorted her up the street to the Anderson House, an unfashionable three-story building that asked no more questions of any traveler seeking lodging than their business required. Mitchell ambled inconspicuously behind and once inside the small lobby, sought refuge in a dark corner, as any man used to life in the shadows naturally would, while Josie Allen and Collins stepped to the registration desk.

A gray-haired man in his shirt-sleeves responded to the summons of the door's tinkle bell and pushed the registration book across to Josie. When she had signed in, she asked, "are there any messages for me? Has Mr. Desmond checked in yet?"

"Not likely," Collins standing by her side, snorted. He ignored her questioning glance as he flashed his Wells Fargo badge to the clerk. "What about a man fitting this description." He proceeded to describe Grover Farley.

"No, ma'am," the clerk replied to Josie, studiously ignoring questions from a man packing a badge, questions which some guests might not welcome.

Josie's eyes pierced Collins angrily. "What do you mean, 'not likely,'" she demanded. "Do you know him? He promised to meet me here."

"I work for Wells Fargo, ma'am. I'm tracking a vicious robber. He used the name Grover Farley during his spell in Yuma. No telling what name he's using now. Killed three men in the last week, a good man who worked for Wells Fargo over in Safford being the only one to care about. The other two just being the kind of trash he partnered with. That man Desmond was got rid of easy, one shot to the head while he slept."

Collins touched his hat as he turned away. "Have a good day, Miss Allen."

Collins' deliberate brutality left her shaken, uncertain, alone. Mitchell stepped forward. "Help you with your bag, ma'am?"

Upstairs, once Mitchell closed the door to her room behind them, she sank to the bed, her shoulders sagged and she lost all the rigidness that had sustained her since hearing Collins' shocking news. She was vulnerable. She was alone in a strange town. She needed someone to trust, someone to talk to. Mitchell waited.

"That man," she began, still dazed at Collins' news, "he said—"

"I heard."

"Do you believe  . . . "

"Me, I got to know Farley in Yuma. Killing a man in his sleep is safer than back-shooting him."

"But you are  . . . "

"A man works with all kinds in this business, Miss Allen. The work he lined up paid good enough for the risks. He told me he'd give me my split of the Willcox bank job we did a week ago and we'd link up for the next robbery he had planned. Then I figured to split off on my own, maybe with Desmond if I trusted him."

"But that man killed Mac." She began to tear up. Mitchell almost believed she was thinking about something other than herself. "After this week, Mac told me we'd go to Denver. It was my chance to live a good life. But now, I don't know what I'll do. I have no money, no job, no place to go."

But she had information that Mitchell needed. "As to money, seems like you should have Desmond's share. I'll collect it for you when I catch up to Farley."

"Will he let you have my money?" Mitchell noticed how easily she accepted the stolen loot that cost three men their lives as hers by right.

"I don't figure to give the son-of-a-skunk no choice. He crossed me. Me and Desmond." Mitchell had no difficulty sounding like the callous Yuma convict she expected. "I'm an honest man, Miss Allen. I won't take no more off his carcass than he owes me. But I don't see no problem collecting for you, too."

Mitchell scratched his jaw as he made a show of thinking ahead. She wasn't ready to hear a direct question. He needed to prompt her to speak. "Trouble is, him and Mac and me was to meet here for the next job. Now that he's done for Mac, it don't seem likely he'll swing by to drop off my pay. And he didn't say what kind of job he had lined up."

Josie probed him with her eyes, as her greed gradually overcame her doubts about trusting a man she had only met. But the conclusion she reached was clear. Here was her chance to be rich with Desmond's half of the $20,000.

"Something about Wells Fargo," she began, still cautious, but starting to talk. "I think that's what Mac mentioned."

"Lots of stages. Not much to go on."

"A silver shipment, I think," she added hesitantly, not yet ready to trust him as far as confessing her complicity. Mitchell waited until she continued. "A mine somewhere  . . .  Somewhere near a town called Mora, I think."

"Then that's where I'll find the sidewinder."

* * *

At the diner down the street, he and Josie ordered supper. She understood him enough by now to know that there would be no conversation in a public place.

As Mitchell spooned in his beef stew, he saw Collins and a man wearing a badge enter. A brief nod confirmed that he had learned all he needed. It was the sheriff who crossed the room. "Miss Allen, you're under arrest as accessory to robbery and murder."

If she expected support from Mitchell, she found the man who had never so much as winged a shotgun rider during his outlaw years held uncompromising views of killing. "There's a sad woman back in Safford who was looking to share her life with Sam Corbitt."

* * *

Mora's fame had come and gone with the Battles of Mora in 1847, when US dragoons quelled the final resistance of the Taos Revolt and destroyed the village. Rebuilt, numbering perhaps 300 souls, it survived to serve the needs of small farms, to provision the mines scattered throughout the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and as county seat of the thinly-populated Mora County.

At the Wells Fargo remount station, the two agents swapped horses shortly after eight and conferred with Phil Yardley, the stationmaster.

"We think one of your wagons will be hit today," Collins began. "There is a man—"

"Two," Mitchell interrupted.

"Two, then," Collins continued.

"Several mines up in the hills use us for shipment," the station agent said, and began to list them.

"All of them locally owned?"

"Most are. Freeport Copper and Gold Company bought out Three Aces a couple of years back. We got a shipment inbound this morning. Should be here by early afternoon."

Mitchell had been studying the map tacked to the wall. He pointed to a black square on the map. "That it?" he asked. "Tell us about the route your wagon takes."

"About thirty miles north along the Mora River, out past Mackley's farm, the Three Aces chopped down enough trees to make a road." His finger traced an unmarked line into the mountains. "It's a long trek like all of them, but that's what Wells Fargo gets paid for."

"No chance for us to get there in time to stop the robbery," Collins said. "Any way out except down the wagon road?"

"Even a crow would get tired winging it over the mountains."

* * *

"Two?" Collins prompted as the agents left the clapboard buildings of the town behind them.

"Farley wouldn't have gotten rid of Desmond so quick unless he had a confederate already working this job with him. Likely someone who went ahead to do a ride of the road and pick some likely holdup spots."

"You're the expert, Dave. How do you figure it?"

"Farley's a savvy operator. He'll hit the wagon at least an hour out of the mine, but no more than a third of the way to Mora, so the natural thing will be for the driver to go back to the mine to give the alarm. He'll figure to get clean away before word of the robbery reaches Mora."

"Or he could just kill, like in Safford."

Mitchell rejected the thought with a resolute shake of his head. "Killing is for amateurs. In Safford, they likely figured with no one to identify Amos Strander, the law wouldn't even have a start looking for them. For a remote stage stop, Farley knows better. No need to kill unless the shotgunner makes a fuss, and a killing likely raises a bounty price that will dog his heels across state lines."

"So, he makes his escape down the wagon road and gets away free."

"Unless he finds a surprise waiting for him on the trail."

They rode steadily through the building heat of the morning, following the road along the Mora River. Shortly after they passed a farm that met the description of the Macklin homestead, they turned west when a wagon road cut into the mountains. They wet their horses' fetlocks as they crossed the Mora River and continued into the cooling shade of the stately forest of white pine, and through a narrow gap into the foothills. After riding half an hour: they rounded a rocky outthrust and entered a clearing where a forest fire in the recent past had left an open expanse of charred trunks and waist-high seedlings.

"We're far enough in that they've got to come past us." Collins pointed to a clump of brush a hundred yards ahead. "From there, I'll have them under my gun once they come around the bend." He gestured back down the trail. "You hide your horse behind those rocks."

A well-planned stake-out, one that brackets the object of the ambush, should go successfully. When the outlaws ride into the trap, the senior man calls on them to surrender. And if the outlaws resist, they find themselves cross-fired to the ground. But an experienced outlaw like Grover Farley has more fight in him. He had ridden ten yards ahead of his partner when Collins ordered the two men to raise their hands.

Farley kicked his horse to a gallop and left his partner to face the hidden danger, slowing his horse to a walk only when a rifle slug fanned the air in front of him.

"Grover," Mitchell called. "Those silver ingots weigh too much for a horse race. Give it up."

"Who's that calling my name?" Farley demanded as he probed the distance for the man behind the voice.

"Dave Mitchell, I bunked under you a spell."

Farley's rifle rested securely in the sheath under his thigh; Mitchell was still too far for effective handgun use. "Remember you from Yuma, Mitchell," Farley said as he let his horse amble unhurriedly down the trail toward Mitchell, his voice and face feigning his pleasure at meeting an old acquaintance. "You and your sidekick caught us by surprise. But you and me, we partner together, we'll run Wells Fargo out of business before we're done." He needed another ten yards to reach hand gun range, so he sweetened his offer. "I'll even split this take with you, even if I earned it all myself."

Farley had just dangled an enticing offer before Mitchell, more money than he would make drawing wages for five years. But the modern Dave Mitchell had no hesitation. "Last chance, Grover. Gun in the dirt, or you in the dirt. Take your choice."

Farley did what he had to, he rammed in the spurs and charged toward Mitchell, slapping his holster as he rode. But as his gun swung up, Mitchell's rifle barked and Farley slumped from the saddle.

Moments later, Mitchell looked up from bandaging his handcuffed prisoner to see Collins leading a second horse with a dead outlaw tied over its saddle.

"How is he?" Collins asked.

"He'll live to hang."

The End

Note: Dave Mitchell's earlier cases appear in Frontier Tales, for July-Nov 2015. Watch for Mitchell and the Rawlins Gang in an upcoming issue.

Dick Derham, a native of Seattle, has been reading Western history and fiction since his teenage years. A member of the Wild West Historical Association, he seeks to bring to life the experiences of real people as they dealt with frontier challenges.

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