November, 2018

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Issue #110

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!

Cornwallis Surrenders
by A. Elizabeth Herting
Percival Lancelot Cornwallis stands at the very precipice of death, the noose wrapped tightly around his charming neck. He has spent his life traversing the west in search of illicit love and dreams of glory. A consummate performer, will Percy manage to deliver the performance of a lifetime or is this his final act?

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Long Time Coming
by Brenton D. Stewart
The Rustboro Gang didn't think twice about robbing a wagon and killing the owners, but the little girl who watched her parents' murder has thought constantly about that day. After years learning the way of the bow and the tomahawk, now she's back for revenge.

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The Corn Crib
by Sharon Frame Gay
When the Sioux attacked, her mother made Izzy hide in the corn crib. But would that be enough to save her?

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The Preacher Played Poker
by Geno Lawrenzi Jr.
on the frontier was colorful and risky but it could be rewarding for the righteous. Gamblers in the Old West were mostly respectful toward ministers, but cheaters had better beware . . . as this story proves.

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The Runner
by Benjamin Cooper
A British army courier must traverse enemy territory to deliver a letter during the French-Indian War. With the enemy in close pursuit, will the runner be able to deliver the mysterious message?

* * *

Cheyenne River
by Robert Gilbert
Marshal Brothers returns to Cheyenne River with his prisoner Travis Stump. Still to be found is Stump's partner, Quint Burns. After a feud in town, Cheyenne River is peaceful for the night. The next day, Brothers locates Burns in a ghost town.

* * *

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All the Tales

Cheyenne River
by Robert Gilbert

That part of the ride with my prisoner was long, uneventful, and damn scorching hot inside the north edge of Angel Canyon, returning to Cheyenne River. Travis Stump and Quint Burns had a feud with Charlie Weiner near Coles Mesa over a lady friend. Two shots were fired and Weiner lay dead. The lady friend, Blanche Tarr, witnessed the skirmish and rode to Cheyenne River to tell me her story. It didn't take long to find Stump in the shallow north end of the canyon, now arrested and handcuffed to his saddle when we entered through town. I'm not the best of friends with the other side in a skirmish, especially when two of their guns are pointed in my direction. Howard Taft is my deputy and we make sure this high plains town is kept peaceful like.

Billy Squire met me halfway to the Marshal's Office in the middle of Front Street. He was on the Confederate side of the war and blinded from a wound he took at Vicksburg. We've been friends for a number of years and he knew the sound of my horse.

A spray of dust kicked up around our entry.

"You get 'im, Marshal Brothers?" Billy asked, in his Alabama drawl.

"Just one, Billy," I said.

"Which one?"

"Travis Stump."

"What about t'other?"

"Saved for another day, Billy," I said. "At least I found one for now. Quint Burns can't run too far, especially with a fresh bullet in his leg."

"Maybe you'll go out again tomorrow?" Billy said.

"There might be room in my schedule to run through Angel Canyon again," I said, "but I gotta make sure Cheyenne River remains quiet. I have a duty and it is located right here in town. But I think Deputy Taft can take care of things when I'm gone. He's damn trusted."

"Good luck, Marshal," Billy said. He momentarily stood still, breathing another scatter of dust, and then made his way in the direction of Mule Creek Saloon.

At the same time my son, Oliver, came running in our direction from the Marshal's Office. He'll be ten next week, raised by me and the Clauson family. They live at the edge of town in a big white house. Whenever I'm away on lengthy law dealings that takes me from Cheyenne River for a period of time, George and Mary Clauson step in. They already have two young'uns of their own, and make sure Oliver is given his studies, ample time to play, meals that are good and a bunk bed to rest his head. Most important is getting his homework done on time, checking it over several times with the correct answers. The Clausons are real good people, church going, and all around nice folks. Ain't nothing wrong with these God-fearing good souls.

The sun was directly overhead when I eased into Cheyenne River and townspeople had spilled to the street. They knew I was a hard lawman who always got his man, no matter how far I had to chase him.

It was getting to be the warm part of the day with a cloudless sky. Waves of heat danced in the distance. Sweat beaded my brow, and I wiped it away using the length of my shirt sleeve. Sweat in the inner ring of my Stetson had darkened the frontal cloth.

"Warren Brothers," Stump said. He looked directly at me, as I helped him from the saddle. His handcuffs jingled and he was eager to jaw. "You ain't as tough as what I hear." He was a big fellow, bigger than most I've reckoned with and Stump grunted when he laughed. He was dressed in rugged mountain garb, with a grungy-looking beard, an equally grungy odd-shaped hat and wearing two-inch aged suspenders.

"I won't lose any sleep tonight, Stump," I said. "Quint Burns is still in the canyon someplace and he'll be caught and dealt with just like I'm now puttin' you away."

"Don't count on it, Brothers," he said. "Quint Burns ain't easy to locate and I'm sure about that."

"Move on, Stump," I said. "You're makin' too much commotion here in the street." My left hand pushed at his shoulder.

The door to the Marshal's Office swung open and Oliver ran inside ahead of us to watch our next move.

"Get away, boy," I said. "Do as you're told."

"Who's this one, Pa?" Oliver said.

"Must be your son," Stump said. He had a moment to look at Oliver. His smile increased showing rows of decayed teeth. "My name is Travis Stump. Glad to meet ya!"

Inside the office I moved Stump to a rear jail cell. When the cell door locked in place, he brought his hands forward through the steel bars and I removed the handcuffs.

Oliver stood at my side in the long hallway entrance that led to the four jail cells. Three were empty and Stump was cozy in the fourth.

"What about the other one, Pa?" Oliver said. He turned and looked up at me.

"I figure he's still out in the canyon," I said. "Maybe as far as Ghost Ridge."

"He ain't no place you say he is, Marshal," Stump said, yelling from his cell to get our attention. A belly laugh rumbled deep from his throat.

"Don't mess with him, Oliver," I said. "You hear me?"

"Yes, Sir."

"It's been a long ride from the canyon," I said. "I'm not in the mood to say things twice, Oliver. Keep your distance."

"He's just a boy, Marshal," Stump said. "He ain't never seen a more friendly person in all o' his life!"

"I've got horses to put away, Oliver," I said. "You stay right here until I get back and don't get interested in that man."

"Marshal," Stump pleaded, "he's a youngster. No harm in my keepin' company with your fine boy."

I pointed a finger at the prisoner. "Shut your mouth, Stump. What you have to say is between you and the judge. He'll be here in a few days after I send a telegram off to Johns Station."

In leaving Oliver behind, I forcibly instructed my son to sit at my office desk, behave and touch nothing. I closed the office door and walked across the boardwalk into a dusty street. After untying the horses from the hitch rail and grasping the reins, I ambled over to the blacksmith at the other end of Cheyenne River.

Piano music and laughter echoed in the street from the Mule Creek Saloon. Suddenly there was increased noise when Seth Briggs stumbled through the batten doors, clinging to a whiskey bottle, heading in my direction.

"Marshal," Seth said. "You only brought in Travis Stump?"

I turned to listen. The shadow from my Stetson covered my eyes.

"I'm here to release that man, Marshal Brothers."

"Seth, you're drunk again. Mind your own business."

"I can't, Marshal. Travis and me go way back, been knowin' each other a long time."

"Leave it be, Seth. Run your ass back into the saloon."

"Can't, Marshal." Seth had the whiskey bottle balanced in his left hand. His right hand was poised to touch the butt of his .45 Colt.

On-lookers kept their distance after pushing out of the saloon doors to the boardwalk and dusty road. Town faces from the various businesses there were looking and listening to the vendetta.

"Marshal, I'm not sure you understand."

"Seth, you know I'm not in the mood to out-gun you."

"No use, Marshal. It's time to set things straight."

"You're stupid drunk," I shouted, releasing the reins to the horses, facing Seth.

Seth's fingers gripped the Colt and he removed it from the holster, unloading one shot.

I answered back, defending myself, lifting my .44 and firing once. Seth staggered back, momentarily holding his stance. He dropped to the street in front of me with a bullet to the gut.

The street began to fill with familiar faces.

I holstered the .44 and hastened over to Seth's body. Blood oozed out from the opening, forming a puddle.

"Fair fight, Warren," Lamar Hoyt said. He and his wife owned the mercantile and he was the first to stand next to me.

Others began to approach the dead man, murmuring in agreement.

"Ain't fair to you, Marshal," remarked a face in the crowd. "You just got back from the canyon and Seth comes after you."

"Damn drunk," I shouted to them all. "He was square on killing me."

"Somebody go after the undertaker." It was another voice.

"No," I said, glancing to those near me. "Somebody take my horses to the blacksmith and I'll find Doc Shelton. He'll get the body ready for burial."

A townsman took the horses to the blacksmith and at the same time a faint breeze drifted through Cheyenne River. Seth's body was removed from the street and taken to Doc Shelton's office two buildings beyond the saloon.

In the evening, after supper in Lubin's Cafe with my son, I was tired from the long day's journey into the canyon. As darkness painted the town, Deputy Howard Taft and I walked the streets one more time to secure the town's safety. Ending our walk at the office and entering, I said goodnight to him, making my way to my small home at the edge of town. Within the Marshal's Office is a side room where a bed is located for Howard to spend the night. Not much of a fancy room to sleep in, but it served its purpose and we never complained.

At home I made sure Oliver was in bed. After prayers, I extinguished the candle on an end table. Darkness filled his room after I closed his door. Stepping to my room, I sat at the edge of the double bed and pulled off my worn boots. I tossed them in the corner with the sound of a thud. Socks that were filthy and dirty I removed next. My muscular hands eased around each foot to give myself a generous massage. The pleasure of my fingers squeezing and rubbing my toes felt wonderful. A few nasty words escaped from my lips as I continued to massage, feeling gratified. It felt good to finally relax. Thereafter I climbed into bed, sunk my head deep into the pillow and quickly fell asleep.

Light of day came early as I rolled out of bed, still weary from the ride back through Angel Canyon. I checked on Oliver, letting him sleep a little longer, time enough for me to check on Howard and the prisoner. With boots on and walking to the Marshal's Office, Howard was just getting out of bed and Stump was flat on his back, snoring heavy, mumbling something from a happy dream. Stump's lips curled upward, the outlaw seemingly content with his fantasy.

I walked back to the house to get Oliver and together we crossed the boardwalk to Lubin's Cafe. It was the best eatery in Cheyenne River, and their menu was even better than what's served in the hotel. Lubin's was just plain simple and ordinary, but damn good. Mildred, the co-owner, was already busy with customers, but noticing us walk in, pointed to an empty table. Frank, her husband, was cooking in the back room.

"Can't stay long," I said. "Just me and the boy."

She was standing next to me and her face was a perfect oval.

"You're leaving town again?"

"Gotta feed my prisoner first and then get into the canyon. Deputy Taft will be watchin' the town when I'm gone. Howard's a good man."

"At least have a cup of coffee. And some fixin's for both of you."

"And some eggs along with biscuit gravy," I added.

She returned shortly with a hot cup of coffee, setting it in front of me.

"How long will you be gone?" she asked.

"'Til I find 'im." I said. "Shouldn't take more than a day, two at most. Already put a bullet in his leg and I'm guessin' he ain't goin' too far."

Mildred turned to wait on other customers who had just arrived.

Breakfast was served quickly. She knew I was leaving town thereafter.

I could hear the conversation throughout the café directed at me as I ate, as if I wasn't paying attention. I had some townsfolk worried, not knowing if I'd return alive.

The last sip of coffee washed down my breakfast and Oliver looked like his gut was filled again. Nice folks run this café and what's on the menu is always damn good with no complaints.

Crossing Front Street, Oliver and I had our hands full of food and coffee for the prisoner. I relieved Howard long enough for him to eat before I saddled up.

Travis Stump didn't say a word at first when I pushed the wood food tray through the tiny cell bar opening. Like he was testing me, ready to start an argument. I knew he was hungry as a chilly black silence surrounded us. He took a sip of coffee, knowing my distance from him was close, and he spit the mouthful of brew in my direction. Some splattered on the cell bars but the remainder caught part of my face and a ring of stain formed on my shirt. His laughter was intended to let me know he was thoroughly amused. He stared blankly at me with an open mouth of yellowed teeth.

"I saw your son leave the office," Stump said, "and good for him that he did."

"What ya be meanin'?" I said.

"You're an old marshal," he said, "and all but washed up in the law business."

"Been happy with it over the last twenty years."

"You're gettin' too old to go up against anybody. Especially Quint Burns. He might have a slug in his leg, but you'd better listen up. You're full o' shit if you think for one moment that he'll be found."

Curses fell from my mouth, but then I was never one to hold back my temper.

"Don't turn your back," Stump said. "Quint has eyes ever'where, like a eagle, and he's got the scent of a dog. I'd suggest that you don't go huntin'. Stay here and mind the town like you've been doin'. Am I makin' sense to you or am I just blowin' damn hot air?"

"One thing for sure, Stump," I said. "You'll still be here when I ride back, sittin' up in the saddle. I'll give Quint his choice of belly over the saddle or sittin' straight up."

"Yer all wrong, Marshal," Stump said with a throaty laugh. "I got two bits that says you'll be belly down and Quint will be long gone. Somethin' ta seriously thank about, especially with that boy of yours not havin' a pa around to raise him like you wanted."

Stump showed no signs of relenting.

"Hug that boy real good before you leave," Stump said. "Might be your last kin reunion."

"Stump, just shut the fuck up. I'll be back with no worries. Why? Because I want to see you hang, just like Quint, unless I get him first. That's for him to decide."

I walked away from the prisoner, listening to his belly laugh, pointing a finger at me, replying in nonsense to whatever I said. He was the man with all the answers.

In the front office I reloaded my .44 and pushed fresh ammo into the Winchester. Oliver and Howard were already there. I hugged my son goodbye, shook hands with Howard, and cut across the boardwalk as my spurs jingled, now standing at my bay. I mounted and made a quiet exit into the arid plains that eventually became desert.

Five miles east was Canary Creek, flowing in a southeast direction until reaching the Saw-Tooth Stream. It had a ragged bend at one point, leveling off into the open desert. At that location were two divided spiraling mountain tops separating Sexton Pass. Beyond the Pass was another mountain range, lengthy in distance, disappearing into the horizon.

Sexton Pass was the only way in and out of Church Rock, once a religious community, now the biggest saloon town in the territory. I remember when the Denver-Durango Railroad decided to put a station and freight office there years back, bringing in some good-size revenue to this town. It also brought in trouble that my deputy and I would deal with until everything calmed down and returned back to normal. The town finally got a decent sheriff who could handle the misfits, ruffians and scum bags.

On the other side of Church Rock was the remains of the Hagger Shap mine, once deep with silver, keeping this town vibrant with employment and panhandlers passing through. The shaft ran deep into Brazos Cliffs and was carved out until it went dry. Its front office remained empty and ghostly, beckoning for a new day that would never arrive.

In another direction was the shallow Elephant Butte Stream, curling north into Indian land. Sometimes the water turned bad when sizeable trail herds came through. Livestock were known to piss heavily, turning the stream into absolute filth. Before the drovers arrived in Church Rock, since I was then City Marshal, it was my responsibility to ensure the people of this town boiled the water to keep their drinking supply decent.

I had a distinct feeling that Quint Burns was to be found in this direction. He and Travis Stump were chased into canyon country where they were met by me. Why would Quint remain there in hiding, knowing of my possible return? He was shot in the leg all right, but my hunch told me that he high-tailed it from the mountain region into this area of mostly flatland.

With the clear blue sky overhead and the sun beaming down, sweat was beginning to build up under my Stetson and eventually trickled down my face. This was open country, empty of shade, and all I could do was ease up on the reins and take a swig from my canteen. The water was still cool as it bathed a thirsty throat. With another long swig, the canteen was near empty.

If memory served me right, what remained of the town of Graystone wasn't that far away. It was once a thriving community that the railroad wanted to add as one of their stops before heading farther west to Meredosia. The rail route changed because of political reasons and over time Graystone dwindled to a ghost town.

Making my way through Indian Pass, moving gradually downhill, I noted the sagebrush that had replaced Ute Creek on this side of Graystone. Suddenly and without warning a swirling windstorm from the west kicked up, blowing through town in my direction. The vicious gusts curled around me, spitting desert debris at my slow movement forward. With a storm violent as this, no telling if Quint had made refuge in this empty setting. I eased my bay through town.

Trying to glance at both sides of a vacant street, I saw the building that was partially named Hardware. It was nothing but a hollow shell. Next door was what looked to be a ladies apparel shop, empty except for a bullet-riddled cloth female manikin still standing. Across the street was the remains of Dexter Hotel, burned to the ground with only the front exterior standing. Alongside the hotel stood the Eagle Nest Saloon. The wind caused the batten doors to inch back and forth. Inside I could see the long, teak bar. In back of that was my partial reflection from what remained of a broken mirror.

About to scan what were the next few buildings, I heard a sudden shot ring out, grazing my left shoulder. I ducked low in the saddle, put spurs into the bay and paced a quick gait to the open livery door at the other end of town. Dismounting inside, I checked myself to see if there was any bleeding from this scrape wound. At the same time my free hand was quick to remove my .44 Colt from holster leather. I peeked around the left entry door and a second slug toward me bored into the hard wood.

The wind had subsided somewhat yet I could hear the sound of spurs approaching the side of the livery. Then silence, telling me someone was on the outer wall. Suddenly I heard boot steps come even closer.

"Quint Burns," I yelled from my secluded location. "Took time to find ya."

"Yeah, Marshal," Quint said, "you best ride on out o' here, peaceful like, and let me be."

"You and Travis Stump had a feud recently and somebody got killed."

"Don't remember nothin' o' that. Bunch o' bull shit!"

"I found Travis and he's locked up in Cheyenne River."

"Sutpid sonsa-bitch for gettin' caught. Too bad about that."

"Travis says it was you that pulled the trigger twice, killin' that person."

"Bull shit!" Quint yelled. "He's a lyin' bastard and he knows it. We done it together."

"Then you're under arrest for murder, Quint. Show your face easy like."

"Ain't gonna happen, Marshal. I done what I done and it's time to move on south into Mexico."

"Not gonna happen that way," I said. "Give yourself up before I find ya."

"Fat chance that's gonna happen," Quint said. His determination didn't falter.

"I'm in the livery, Quint. Plenty o' room in here for me ta hide until you find me."

Quint moved forward, even closer to the front door, taking aim and firing in my direction.

It was a good shot, knocking my .44 from my good hand, leaving me now without a weapon. Right now his advantage was better than mine. At the same time I heard the soft sound of spurs entering the livery. I backed away into a shaded area near the front, completely hidden from view.

I quickly looked around in the dim light for anything to defend myself. There were tools of all sorts, but this specific one instantly caught my attention.

"I'll tell you again, Quint," I said, "Give up. Make it easy on yourself and me."

"When I find ya, Marshal, I ain't gonna fear you one bit."

"You're wounded in the leg, Quint," I mentioned. "No doctor around here ta fix ya."

"Ain't too far from the next town. Couple miles away and they have a doctor."

"If you get that far before bleedin' to death."

"You worry too much, Marshal. You best tend to your business in Cheyenne River."

From his shadow on the floor, I could tell Quint was nearing my location. Just a few more steps and I was ready to move in on him. I had my livery tool ready and waiting.

The closer he got, the better it was for me to surprise him. I was still hidden in darkness, my hand tool ready, ready for his surprise.

Immediately, I picked up another heavy tool, threw it near him, letting my location be known. He slowly walked my direction as the interior darkness began to spill over his tough look. I was holding a three-prong pitchfork, hidden in shadow, awaiting his next move. Quint took one more step toward me and instantly I turned facing him, jabbing the steel prongs deep into his mid-section. Screaming, he fell back, grasping the pitchfork handle. Trickles of blood oozed over his lifeless body. It would be a long ride to Cheyenne River with his remains in tow.

The End

Robert Gilbert is an entertainment writer and author. His interest in writing cowboy stories developed when working in Hollywood, California, often visiting the Western back lot of Warner Bros. studio. He has had nine stories published in Frontier Tales and is the author of "Run with the Outlaws," Epic Western Tales. Gilbert lives northwest of Chicago.

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