January, 2019

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Issue #112

All The Tales

Nothing to Lose
by Jesse J Elliot

The skies weren't their vibrant New Mexico blue, but instead were covered with dirty grey clouds. The weather was warm and sticky, totally different from the arid weather one expects in this dry land. Wearing a cotton blouse and a denim split skirt, Iragene Jones, Sheriff of La Madera, was trying her best to remain cool and civil. She loved warm days, but this unusual humidity was unpleasant, and she hoped the skies would open up and rain or just go away. This mugginess reminded her of home in Buda, Texas, and though she had loved every moment of growing up there, she was never fond of the humidity.

"How about some lemonade, Sheriff? Marni sent over a pitcher from the hotel." Her deputy, Cruz, came in with his arms full of beverage and snacks. Cruz was her right hand man and now a part of her family. He had stood by her side when her fiancée was shot down in a barrage of senseless violence by a family of sadistic land grabbers. Cruz then offered to be her deputy if she took the job of sheriff, replacing the older sheriff who had refused to acknowledge that the county was under siege. Now, instead of a wedding ring, Iragene wore a badge.

"Thanks, Cruz, but right now, I think I'd be happier sitting in the horse trough. It sure is sticky today. It always gets this way when the clouds come up from the south. I wonder why?"

"A friend of Dr. Steins says it's because there is a huracán off Mexico."

"Really? How interesting. Why don't we get a lot of rain and wind then?" She got up to stretch. "Whatever is causing this weather, I hope it goes away—soon. Give me some good old hot, sunny weather any day," and she smiled at him.

Cruz noticed her hair which was usually neat was coming out of her pony tail in tight curls. She didn't often sweat, but today even her hair was looking out of sorts.

"Sheriff, I was hoping you'd sip some lemonade and cool off a bit before I tell you the news."

"What news? Is the family all right? Have you heard something?"

"The Powells were at the General Store, and they mentioned they saw a familiar rider heading toward your ranch. They said they think they recognized him. The rider looked like your cousin Bobby."

"Bobby back in town? Oh no, I'm not sure I can handle a visit with cousin Bobby and this heat. The last time he came to town, he had the girls at Mrs. Brown's fighting over him. He stayed just long enough to put the town into a state of chaos. He caused more fights, more damage, and more problems than a dozen drunken cowboys."

"I guess he was trying hard to get over his friend's death. It was just his way of letting off steam, Iragene."

"You're too kind, Cruz. You know it takes days, sometimes weeks to put the town to rights after that man leaves," and she poured herself a large glass of lemonade and drank it down, wishing she could have added something stronger. "Damn, I mean, gosh darn it, just when I was thinking things in town were going smoothly. No more cattle drives expected, the miners have settled down, and the majority of the farmers had enough rain and snow this winter to have a bumper crop of beans. Oh, well . . . I'll let my brother Daniel handle this," and she sighed.

* * *

In the distance, coming down the dusty road leading to the Jones's ranch house, Daniel looked up and saw a large man, riding a black horse. He immediately reached for his rifle. As his dog, Lobo, now began barking, his wife, Pru, stepped out of the house, toting her own rifle. They heard a familiar voice with a strong Texas accent holler out, "Lord, folks, it's jes Cuz Bobby. Put them rifles away."

By now the entire working crew of Ranch Tecolote was out with rifles. Upon recognizing the rider and his voice though, they all set down their rifles and walked to greet the man, their former boss.

No one had over-reacted. The family and their hands had all been through so much in this formerly lawless land. Murderers, rapists, horse stealers, and land grabbers who wouldn't stop at anything to get their way. Bobby knew this, but loved the commotion his unannounced visit would cause. He laughed as he got off his horse and shook the proffered hands of his former team. They had brought the Joneses one hundred specially bred quarter horses over seven hundred miles with only three losses, and seven new foals as well. Breeding horses was in the blood of the Jones family, and those horses were the source of their wealth.

Iragene's gentle brother reached out and shook his cousin's hand. "Welcome home, Bobby. Good to see you, but what brings you out here? It's a helleva way to ride just for a family visit."

"Well, Danny boy, ain't it worth a little ride to see family? Does there have to be a reason?"

Knowing for certain that there was a reason beyond family ties, Daniel let it go. "Come on, Bobby, let's get you a drink and a wholesome meal. Pru will be happy to see you," leaving off the I hope part in his mind.

Doc took Bobby's horse, Diablo, happy to see the magnificent stallion again. "Take good care of him, Doc," Bobby called back unnecessarily, and the two men walked toward the main door of the house. Pru stood waiting with a little red-headed waif with dark brown eyes hiding behind his mother's skirts. The big man bent over and hugged the little one's mother. "Lookin' purty as usual, Pru. When you git tired of ol Danny there, let me know, and I'll show you how a real man treats a woman," and he laughed. He entered the house, seemingly filling up the entire room.

"Welcome, Bobby," Pru managed to say in a soft Texas drawl. "Come in and get settled down now. How about some cool water and a bowl of hot chile for y'all. Ah bet you haven't had a one decent meal in days."

"You got that right, Pru," and he went to sit down.

"Ah know you haven't forgotten where the washbowl is, and here's a clean towel for you. Ah'll have it ready for y'all bah the time you get back."

Bobby came back a few minutes later and sat down. "Where's Cassie? She's usually with you all," and he looked around.

"She's been living in town with Iragene. She's been learning about medicine from the new doctor in town."

"Why hell, oops, sorry ma'am, she's as good a doctor as any doctor I ever met, and probably a whole lot better."

"Are y'all needing a doctor, Bobby?" Pru quietly asked.

"Hell no, I mean, no, Ma'am. I was just wonderin'. She's here so much she's like a comfortable piece of furniture."

"Well now, Bobby, if you see her in town, maybe you should use a different comparison for her."

"Well now, y'all are probably right," and he quietly ate the rest of his green chile stew while the married couple just looked at each other.

* * *

Iragene had just finished making the rounds of the town, checking into the eighteen bars and looking into all the stores. She was about ready to call it a day and go home to her small house down the road when she saw the telegraph operator running toward her.

"Sheriff, we got big trouble. It says here that 'Dirty Dave' Rudabaugh and John 'Little Allen' Llewellyn just shot and killed a jailer while trying to break out their friend, J. J. Webb, in Las Vegas. They then robbed the hardware store and are heading our way."

"Well thank you, Jake, for delivering my telegraph," she responded rather icily. "Anything you missed?"

"No, Sheriff. That's about all," he innocently replied, missing the sarcasm in her voice and handing her the slip of paper, rather pleased with himself, and shuffled back to his office.

Iragene wiped her brow and thought back to the first time she met "Dirty Dave." He was a constable in Las Vegas, NM, where violence and corruption were the order of the day. She remembered upon meeting him that he came by his name honestly. She easily recalled his revolting body smell, rotting teeth, and large disheveled mustache. Apparently the man avoided water of any kind, and the result was his moniker.

Great, I have outlaws coming from the north and Cousin Bobby from the east. Now all I need is a raiding party coming from the other directions. She walked back to the office to say good-night to Allen, a new deputy she had just hired who liked working nightshifts, and warn him about the notorious men headed their way. "They'll probably pick up some buddies on the way, Allen, so be on the look-out."

"Sheriff, how will I recognize the man?"

"We don't have a picture of him, but I can tell you one thing, you'll smell him before you see him."

Incredulous, Allen looked at her to see if she was joking, but saw she was plumb serious. "All right, Sheriff. If I see or smell anything, I'll wake you up."

"Thanks, Allen. Hopefully I'll see you tomorrow and not any sooner." She turned to the door and walked to the end of the street to a small cottage-like home that had once belonged to the previous Sheriff. It was neat and comfortable with a beautiful garden.

She walked into the house, happy to find her adopted sister, Cassie, sitting and reading a medical book. She looked up. "Iragene, you're late. Anything wrong?"

"Yes and no," was her response. "We might have Dirty Dave and some cronies passing through town. On the other hand, they might have gone directly to Silver City. In addition to that news, we've had word that some unexpected relative showed up at El Tecolote."

"Hmmm, let me guess. Cousin Bobby is here."

"Right you are. I wonder why. What do you think?" she queried.

"My guess is as good as yours. After he delivered the horses last year and after his best friend betrayed him, I would have thought he'd had no stomach for New Mexico."

"Me too, oh well. Have you eaten yet? I'm starved," and she headed for the kitchen where the smell of corn bread and posole was enough to set her mouth watering.

"I ate, but there's enough there for you tonight and breakfast for us tomorrow." Without another word, Iragene grabbed a bowl, dished herself a large portion of posole and a large chunk of bread. On it, she slavered butter and could barely wait to sink her teeth into it. A beatific smile graced her face and she lost her problems in the delicious food.

* * *

The next day, there was still no word from Allen about unwanted gangs or a man with a large mustache and a terrible smell. Cruz had come by sometime that morning, telling her that he'd cover for the day and she should spend some time with Cassie.

"So what are you studying now with Dr. Stein?" she inquired curiously. Cassie was a curandera, an herbalist and midwife. While she had continued to use the natural herbs that grew in the mountains and the llano (the plains), she was now studying under Dr. Stein, who had taken a serious liking to her, as well as having a respectful appreciation of her medical skills. They were learning from the other.

"Germs—invisible creatures that cause disease and infection."

"If they're invisible, then they don't exist."

"Actually, Iragene, they're invisible to the naked eye, but under Dr. Stein's microscope, you can see them. They are what cause us to get sick."

"Really! What do they look like? Little devils? Dragons?"

"Actually, they look very benign, but their appearance is deceptive. Some even look like worms without eyes. They're responsible for all the diseases and infections that have ever tormented man. It's hard to believe that something that small causes such damage."

"Are they sure? It's hard to believe."

"Pretty much, Iragene. The book I'm reading is by an English doctor named Lister. It's fascinating."

"Sometimes I think that man has discovered all there is to know, and then something like this comes up. The world is full of surprises."

* * *

Back at the ranch, Bobby had eaten a breakfast large enough for three men and proceeded to saddle up his horse. He had respectfully thanked Pru, smiled at little Alexander, and made his rounds with his former hands. Now he was off to town. He rode up to his cousin. "Thanks, Daniel, for a very hospitable visit. Maybe I'll be riding back through or maybe not," and he shrugged.

"Bobby, what the hell does that mean and what's going on? Except for your usual appetite, you're rather subdued."

"Now Daniel, quit being the old worrier, there ain't nothing wrong with ol' Bobby," and he reached over and shook his cousin's hand. As he rode away, Daniel just shook his head. Bobby never shook his hand. Slowly he walked back to his house where he found his beautiful red-headed wife and son waiting for him.

* * *

Iragene and Cassie were walking when a large black stallion and an even larger-than-life cowboy whooped his way down the street. In a cloud of dust, the rider spotted the two women and rode his horse up to them. He jumped off Diablo, tied him to the post, and walked in three strides up to the women on the boardwalk.

"Well, howdy do, ladies! Just the two people I love to see most," and he picked up Iragene and twirled her around. Then he set her down and picked up Cassie, doing the same. Both women tolerated this man, having known him all their lives.

"Bobby, what a surprise, seeing you in La Madera." Iragene said curiously. "I didn't think we'd see you in New Mexico again so soon. What brings you here?"

"Hell, quit hammerin' me with questions, gals. Let's find us some food. It's been hours since I ate," and he took an arm of each of the women. "Let's mosie on down to the Hotel. I jes' love that hotel owners daughter, Marnie. Maybe I'll let her make an honest man out of me one day."

"We won't hold our breath, Bobby, but it's good to see you." Cassie's response was sincere, but Iragene still had her misgivings. Something is up.

They made their way to The Hotel—its name, a stately building out of place in this quiet town, but enough wealthy ranchers, mine owners, and lumber men passed through to maintain the business. Its rooms were lovely, the food was memorable, and the father and daughter who owned the place were handsome and gracious.

They were seated in the back, where Bobby and Iragene preferred, and had ordered coffee and red chile apple pie, a favorite at the hotel's restaurant. Iragene was about to ask Bobby about all the family in Buda when her deputy Cruz came walking in at a little quicker pace than usual.

He smiled at Bobby and touched his hat at Cassie. Then he turned toward Iragene. "They'll be here any minute. Just got a telegraph from Mountaineer. Dirty Dave has picked up a dozen cronies and they've been bragging how they were going to pick up some spending money at the La Madera Bank before going on to Silver City."

Iragene stood up. "Sorry Bobby. I have to cut this short. Cassie, how about you going over to Doc Steins and warn him that he might be having some patients soon—hopefully them and not us." As she stood up, she adjusted her holsters and then hurried over to her office to get her rifle. Cruz was just ahead of her. She took her rifle off the rack and pulled out a box of shells that she poured into the overlarge pocket on her riding skirt. She then turned and bumped into a solid wall of a man.

"Bobby, what the hell, I mean, what are you doing here?"

"Why, I'm here to help!"

"Please, no, these men are killers and everything else that's bad. Please, just let us do our job."

"Oh, I will. But I'll be by your side. Don't want ta lose my sweet little cuz. Got my rifle, and I'm ready to go."

Too late to fight with him, she just pushed her way out, joined Cruz, and headed toward the bank. "Cruz, did you have a chance to warn Mr. Benton and have him close up the bank?"

"Yes, but I got another telegram warning us that one of the things Dirty Dave and the gang stole when they broke into the hardware store was dynamite."

"Oh, no, we can't let them get near the bank." Iragene shot a few shots into the street and announced that all shops were to be closed and all people were to be off the street. "We're expecting some serious gun fighting, and we don't want anybody hurt, so get inside, stay down, and be sure to protect your children."

Just at that moment there was a large streak of lightning and a crack of thunder. The thunder startled everyone, and she heard some woman scream. "Damn, just what we need now," and she didn't even bother to apologize for her language.

Bobby, who was standing by her side, merely chortled. He had seen Iragene and Cruz in action, and quite frankly, he pitied the poor bank robbers. They were an army of two. Now, with him there, he felt they were invincible, because he had nothing to lose, and if he went down fighting, even better. That way, death would be swift. But his thoughts were interrupted as a dozen riders turned onto the main street of La Madera, headed directly to the bank.

One of the head riders sported an oversized mustache and a mouth of blackish teeth. Still he smiled as he lifted his arm to throw a burning stick into the bank. Iragene took her rifle and shot his hand, and the burning fuse fell and was lost. The shooting then began in earnest. Cruz took up his usual spot on the roof of the hotel while Iragene stood on one side of the street and Bobby stood on the other.

The gang hadn't anticipated a welcoming party of lawmen and were surprised at this inauspicious greeting. Two of the men in the back reared up, turned their horses around and disappeared from sight. Others welcomed the challenge, assuming they'd win in the end, coming out of it, Dirty Dave said, with thousands in their saddle bags.

By now the heavens had opened and rain was pouring down. Iragene saw Bobby walking directly towards the riders, shooting and yelling, "HEE YA!" The first stick of dynamite had disappeared but a second one came out. Llewellyn now held it in his hand and tried to light it. The heavy rain extinguished his match before it even came close to the dynamite. Desperate now, he looked at Dirty Dave, and like the other two riders earlier, they turned their horses around and rode out through an alley to escape the barrage of bullets now being fired at them, most of those bullets coming from the two Colts in Bobby's hands.

The fight was over. Ten men lay dead or dying in the street. The leaders had fled, and the town was seemingly safe. Allen had arrived at the last minute, and now the four defenders stood together in the rain, relieved that they had vanquished the gang and little or no damage was done to the town.

Iragene looked at the three men who had helped save the town. "Anybody hurt?" She had been winged, and her white shirt sleeve was ripped and bloody. Cruz was not hurt, and neither was Allen. Iragene looked closer at the last hero and saw he was shot in the thigh.

"Bobby, come with me and let's get that wound looked at."

"I'm okay, Iragene, I think I can treat it myself. It don't hurt none," but his expression said otherwise.

"Come, let's let Doc Stein and Cassie decide that. Cruz, can you get the undertaker out and start the paperwork on the dead ones? I think one or two might still be breathing. Let's take them to the jail, and I'll send the doctor over when he's done with me and Bobby." She stopped and looked up, "Ahh, the rain has stopped. At least it cooled things off a bit," and she started walking with a limping Bobby.

Out of nowhere a woman screamed. Now on high alert, Iragene ran to the sound. "What is it?" and she turned to see where the woman was pointing. Her three year old son had picked up the forgotten stick of dynamite under the boardwalk and was gleefully running with it. The woman, who was holding a baby could only stare, terror written all over her face.

Bobby sprang forward, seemingly to have forgotten his wounded leg, and ran to the boy. He scooped the toddler up, smiled, and then grabbed the stick from his chubby little hands. He put him down and ran down the street to the nearest horse trough. He threw the stick into the trough and started to walk away, relief on his face. However, he was about twenty feet away when the trough blew. Pieces of wood hurtled out and he was struck with some large splinters and knocked down. The town stood silent, and then everyone rushed to Bobby. He was a bloody mess, and Cruz and Allen gently lifted him and carried him over to Doc Stein's.

Bobby was in and out of consciousness as his clothes were carefully cut off. While the doctor worked on the larger pieces, Cassie carefully picked out the smaller ones with a tweezer. Bobby started coming around, and the doctor decided to put him out with some chloroform. He was worried since Bobby had a concussion, but they needed to get the wood debris out of him and stitch up the larger wounds. Throughout all of this Iragene sat in the corner, unseen, chastising herself for any ill thoughts she had had of her crazy cousin.

They had worked on Bobby for over an hour now, and they looked over him, finding no more splinters, wood fragments, or other wounds. They were about to cover him up and let him awaken, when Cassie spotted a lump in Bobby's groin area. "Ari, look at this. Is this a tumor?"

Stein came around and looked closer and rubbed it with his index finger. "No, it's a cyst. It's nothing, it would probably dissipate itself, but I might as well aspirate it. He took a sterile scalpel and carefully made a little incision. Immediately, a clear fluid appeared. He squeezed it gently until the fluid stopped seeping out.

They cleaned him up and then covered him with a sheet. Finally Stein looked up and around as if he just awakened from a dream. He was surprised to see Iragene sitting in the corner watching him work on her cousin. As was always, he was taken by her beauty, though his feelings were for Cassie.

"Oh my God, Iragene, I forgot you were there and you're hurt. Please forgive me."

"There is nothing to forgive. Bobby needed the immediate help. I think my bleeding has stopped anyway."

"Maybe so, but we still need to check it and clean it to avoid infection." He walked over to her and cut apart what was left of her sleeve. "Ahh, it has stopped bleeding. I'll just clean it off and bandage it. You may wish to go easy so the wound doesn't open up."

"Thank you, Doctor. Will Bobby be all right? How serious is the concussion?"

"Concussions are always serious, but I think he should be fine. We'll just have to wait until he wakes up though to be sure and then keep him up."

* * *

The next morning Iragene walked over to Doc Stein's office. She was still angry at herself for being so impatient with her cousin. Hadn't he always come through for her? He was always there for her and her brother. It was he who was responsible for bringing in their prize quarter horses. He had been around when they were growing up and when a child, she had a serious case of hero-worship for her cousin. It was Bobby who found their lost dog, got the doll off the roof, helped her learn to shoot. Though he was a rascal, he was a good man, and she felt ashamed of herself.

When she entered the office she found her cousin sitting up and demanding his clothes and teasing Cassie about taking advantage of him while he was unconscious. Having grown up with him, Cassie merely smiled and rolled her eyes.

"Bobby, do you have a change of clothes in your saddlebags?" Iragene asked.

"I shore do. How about you getting them for me, Sheriff," and he winked. "This here little gal can't keep her hands off of me." Cassie hid her smile and continued to check his wounds for infection.

"Bobby, I just came over to tell you how proud I am of you. You helped stop those killers, and you saved that little boy and possibly his mother and other bystanders. But, you were out there in the open. You could have died."

"Hold the applause, Iragene. I ain't that brave. The truth is, I just got nothin to lose. You and Cassie might as well know, I'm dying. The Doc should have let me go."

Both women were shocked. Tears welled up in Cassie's eyes. "Tell us, Bobby. What is it?"

For the first time they could remember, Bobby was choked up. They waited until he could speak and then quietly, he answered without his exaggerated twang. "I have something they call cancer."

"Cancer, what kind of cancer?" asked Stein softly as he entered the office.

"Hell, sorry ladies, you must have seen it. I got a tumor near my well, you know . . . Doc in Buda says it's cancer, and I have just about enough time to sow some wild oats and wrap up my affairs."

"Bobby, are you talking about Doc Black, the drunken quack?" Cassie asked pointedly.

"Yeah, Doc Black. Are you telling me I don't even have that much time?"

"Bobby, was that prognosis based on the lump on your thigh?" asked the doctor.

"Yea, that lump. I see there's a bandage on it. So it's that bad, huh?"

"Actually Bobby, the lump on your leg has been removed. It was a cyst, not a tumor. It shouldn't come back, and you have a lot of years ahead of you."

"What? I do? Oh, Lord, you mean I could have been killed walking toward those killers out in the open? And that dynamite. I figured if it went off, death would be quick. Damn. I'm lucky I wasn't killed."

Cassie and Iragene both approached him and hugged him. At first he allowed them to be demonstrative, then he realized he was naked under a thin sheet. "Enough of this mushy stuff, I need some clothes. I gotta make up for some lost time at Mrs. Browns."

"Bobby, I'd like to recommend that you take it easy for a few days. You've got stitches and some pretty nasty areas that were damaged by the flying wood. How about a laying low a day or two? Your body needs a little time to heal," the doctor suggested.

"Bobby, Mr. MacDonald and Marni were by and said you were a real hero, saving that boy and helping me save the bank. He wants you to stay at The Hotel for a week and recover—free of charge, all expenses paid. Marni says she'll personally oversee your recovery."

"Well, I'll be darned. Marni said that? I do feel a bit woozy, now that y'all mention it. How about someone gittin' me my clothes so that I can git over to that hotel and start my recovery?" He turned to the doctor. "Doc, y'all sure that I ain't dyin?"

"Yes, Bobby, I'm quite sure, but just don't get too physical, if you know what I mean, and rip open some of those stiches. I'll be removing them in about a week."

* * *

A week later, a large shadow passed Iragene's office window. A second later, Bobby came through the door.

"Bobby, it's great to see you up and about. I hope you didn't overstay your recovery at The Hotel. Rumor has it that you exhausted their pantry and drank them dry. Marni says she'll be needing at least a month to recover from nursing you back to health," and Iragene laughed.

"Well now, Iragene, I think I'll be headin' home. Nice being here with you and the family, but I left some things undone back home, thinking I wasn't coming back. Gotta git home and straighten that all out."

"Are you at least going to go by the property and say good-bye to everyone?"

"Naw, I just thought I'd make my presence known at Mrs. Brown's and then git an early start. I heard them gals over there were missing me something fierce, so the least I can do is visit them all. See ya, cuz," and he walked out the door.

Iragene just sat there, shaking her head and smiling, but Bobby was soon forgotten as she looked at the pile of mail before her.

* * *

The next morning at about six, Iragene and Cassie were awakened by the whooping and singing of a familiar voice.

Then a final "Adios!" and the women heard no more. Cousin Bobby was back.

The End

Jesse J Elliot writes about what she has loved to read all her life—the Old West—except her stories always have a strong female protagonist. She has published seven stories in Frontier Tales Magazine, and four of these were voted short story of the month. Another short story, "Timeless" was published in A Mail-Order Bride for Christmas. Her novel about a woman sheriff in New Mexico in the 1880s, Death at Gran Quivera was published in 2017. Her most recent book (04/18) by Outlaw Press is called Lost in Time.

In her previous life, Jesse taught K-6, community college classes, and Educational Methods at the University of New Mexico. In her free time, she reads, travels, C/W dances, and visits her family ranch in New Mexico.

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Day of Reckoning
by Jack Hill

Out of the shimmering heat of the Arizona desert, el Juez appeared on his mount. He crossed a trickle of water where a knee-deep stream once flowed and followed the well-traveled road up the valley, past an abandoned homestead and mine, trailing four men wanted for murder.

When he reached Silver Rock City's outskirts, Juez paused at the windmill. Its broken wheel rotated in the wind, click-clacking a steady rhythm. The dry-scraping sound of its pump echoed the town's plight: no water.

The dangling sign above the vacant Silver Rock Mine office was evidence that hard times had come to stay. Accumulating sand and debris painted a grim epitaph for this once thriving municipality.

Juez rode past sun-bleached sidewalks, boarded-up businesses, and deserted dusty streets. Fading placards for the 1889 territorial elections flapped in the breeze. A stray dog approached and barked, but cowered and scurried down an alley with its tail between its legs.

Juez stopped at the livery stable and watched the blacksmith pound a white-hot horseshoe. His horse reared its head and snorted from the clamor of hammer striking anvil.

The blacksmith, a muscular, graying man of forty-eight, looked up. "Howdy, mister. Can I help you?"

"How much to feed and water my horse?" asked Juez as he dismounted.

The blacksmith sized up his horse. "Don't look so he'd eat much. Want him rubbed down and brushed?"

"Just feed and water."

The blacksmith reinserted the horseshoe deep inside the forge, sending sparks and flames whirling above the hot coals. "How many days?"

Juez loosened the cinch and slid the saddle off. "A few hours."

A wad of tobacco in his mouth, the blacksmith puckered and spit on the hot bed of coals, raising a burst of steam. "Minimum of six bits for the whole day and night. Pay when you ride out."

Juez nodded. "Town got a sheriff?"

"Not anymore."

"What you mean?" Juez slung the saddle over the side of a stall to face the blacksmith.

The blacksmith repositioned the horseshoe in the hot coals, releasing more flames. "Four men rode into town yesterday afternoon, went straight over to the sheriff's office. Called him out, shot him dead in the doorway. Never even drew his gun."

"Where these men, now?"

"After they killed him, they went over to the saloon. Been holed up, drinking and busting up the place ever since. Never seen nothing like it before, mister." The blacksmith shook his head. "Didn't care much for the sheriff, still that's no way to gun a man down."

Juez took a wanted poster from his breast pocket. "These the men?"

"Can't say for sure." The blacksmith rubbed his chin. "Couldn't see them close up. What they do?"

Juez folded the poster to slide it in his pocket. "Murdered a family up north a ways . . . with young ones . . . and a baby too."

The blacksmith pulled a white-hot horseshoe out of the forge. "Hope you get them, mister. Sure hope you do." He pointed at the saloon. "Them horses been tied up with no food, no water since they rode in. Never did come here for me to look after them, neither. Who does that to a horse?"

Juez took a long, slender cigar from a breast pocket, bit the tip off, and leaned down to light it on the yellow-hot horseshoe. After a few puffs, he glanced at the town hall's clock tower. Its hands read five minutes till four.

Juez unholstered his bone-handled Colt .45, checked its rounds, and slid it into its cradle. He nodded to the blacksmith, turned, and walked toward the saloon.

When he was in earshot, the drunken laughter of the men amused Juez. He stepped on the wooden sidewalk, checked the streets, discarded the cigar, and paused. On the fourth clang of the clock tower's bell, he pushed through the doors.

* * *

No one was in the saloon except the four men. John was at the bar with a glass in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other, Ben was watching the player piano's keys plunking out a tune, and Earl and Jake were talking and laughing across from Ben.

John saw Juez's reflection in the mirror. "Looky here, we got us a visitor."

The laughter stopped, and the men pivoted toward Juez.

"Get him, Ben," yelled John, dropping the bottle and going for his gun.

Ben, to Juez's left side, pulled his revolver to fire. Juez drew and dropped him before he was able to shoot. Juez whirled to face the others and let loose another round, killing John. He rolled to the floor and shot at the other two, missing Earl and nicking Jake. Juez took aim for another attempt. It was too late. Earl and Jake returned fire, and while one man's bullet missed and struck the wall, one bullet pierced Juez's chest.

Juez lay motionless on the floor.

"I'm hit," yelled Jake, grabbing his arm and wincing from the burning pain.

"How bad?" asked Earl.

"Just winged me." Jake's shirt, torn above the elbow, was blood-stained where Juez's bullet had grazed his shooting arm. He pressed on the wound to stop the bleeding. "I'll be all right."

"We got him good, didn't we? Sure he's dead?"

Jake knelt next to Juez, ear to his chest. "Nuthing. He's dead. Got him plumb where it counts." He checked Juez's pockets.

"Find anything?"

"Just this here wanted poster of us with bullet holes right through it."

"Lemme see."

Jake grabbed hold of a chair to steady himself and grimaced as he stood.

"Whoa." He staggered as he moved toward Earl.

"You okay, Jake?"

"Stood too fast, I reckon . . . I'm okay. Here, take it. What we gonna do with Ben and John?"

"Put them in the storeroom, I guess. And this here one?"

"Dump him to the street. I don't wanna be looking at him while we wait."

"Who's got the prayer stick we took from the Hopi shaman?" asked Earl.

"The Pahos?"

"Yeah, the Pahos. Who's got it?"

"I don't. If you don't, must be Ben or John."

"Well, find it. If we lose it, none of us is coming back from the dead, now ain't we?"

"Dang it, Earl, you shot the shaman dead 'cause he wouldn't handover the Pahos. Gonna shoot me too? Besides, you're always trying to boss me 'round, and I'm sick of it. I'll find the gawl darn stick."

Jake searched through Ben's saddlebags but couldn't find it. He then rummaged through John's. "Found it!"

"Gimme here, I'll keep it."

"Why you, Earl? I can keep it just as safe. Concentrate on remembering the chant else the Pahos don't work, and I'll keep the prayer stick."

"Shut your yap, Jake. I remember the chant! Do you?"

"Yeah, I remember it."

"Crap then, the stick ain't worth fighting 'n killing over. Keep the damn thing; just don't lose it, you hear?"

"I kin hear real good. Let's cut the wrangling." Standing near Juez's body, Jake said, "Help me with Ben and John. Then we'll git rid of this here one. Besides, my arm hurts something fierce, and I need a drink."

The two men put Ben and John in the storeroom, next to the beer barrels and whiskey crates. They carried Juez's body to the sidewalk, heaved it into the street, and returned to the bar and resumed drinking and laughing. In the street, the sounds of player piano and laughter were loud enough that fear kept everyone away, and no one dared move him.

The clock in the tower ticked on. Meanwhile, the piano played the same tune over, and over.

"I'm beginning to hate that thar song. Musta heard it a hundred times," said Jake. He pulled out his revolver and shot three rounds into the piano. "Thar. That's better."

Leaning in a chair, Earl's eyes moved from the saloon's doors to the bullet holes in the wanted poster. He tossed it on the table. "They keep coming for us, must be the third time. Each new one's better with a gun; he 'twas the best, yet." He looked at Jake. "They used to come in twos. If one died, the other could revive him. Kinda strange, though, this one coming alone. Wonder what it means? It has me real spooked."

Jake rested against the bar with a whiskey bottle raised for a swig. "No worry. We finished this one good. Maybe he's the last." He looked at his distorted image, ragged contours, and gray hair in the bar's mirror and slammed the bottle on the bar. "Besides, I can't take much more dying . . . robs near ten years off me each time I die and am brought back." The rough stubble and deep creases were unmistakable. "Look at ma face! It's all haggard and wrinkled like an old man's, and I ain't 30 yet."

Earl laughed. "You still look beautiful."

"Earl, you're a real jackass, you know? You look like an old graybeard yourself. How many times you been killed?"

"Lost count."

"Well, it's been too many times for me. Soon, I'll be too old, and I might as well stay dead."

"Stop talking thata ways. You're talking nonsense."

"Yeah, maybe I am at that. When can we bring Ben and John back?"

"After five. We gotta wait a full hour or more. You know that! Ben tried reviving me too soon, once. 'Twas the most pain I can remember ever having. Now, shut up and have a drink to pass the time."

* * *

On the fifth clang of the clock tower's bell, the saloon doors swung open, and Juez stepped inside. Jake dropped the whiskey bottle and went for his gun, but Juez nailed him before Jake lifted it out of his holster. Jake fell to the floor, dead.

Juez turned to face Earl and fired twice, planting a slug deep in his belly and one in his leg. Earl shot too, sending a bullet to its target. Reeling backward, Juez fell into the street. Earl zig-zagged to the window. Juez was lying in the hot sunshine. Earl held his belly wound, stumbled out the door, stood over Juez, and put two more rounds into his body.

"You the last one, mister? Will there be more?"

Earl's hands shook yet managed to holster his gun. Limping into the saloon, he knelt over Jake's saddlebags, searching for the Pahos. After his trembling fingers retrieved it, he stood and staggered into the storeroom. Kneeling and waving the prayer stick over each body, he recited the Hopi shaman's chant.

John was the first to awaken, push himself to a sitting position, and rub his forehead. He felt the wrinkles in his face. "If I keep dying, before long, 'twill be too old to bother."

Ben took a deep breath and coughed. "Yeah, and it don't get any easier, either," said Ben, spitting on the floor.

Earl struggled to his feet and wobbled to the bar. "Come on boys, we gotta ride outta town."

"Why the hurry?" said John, hobbling after Earl. "Need to steady my legs a bit. Feeling ain't in my toes, yet."

"Thought you were never gonna revive us. Something keep you?" Ben asked, following close behind.

"Yeah, what kept you?" echoed John. He turned to see Jake's crumpled body on the floor. "Guess you were kinda busy."

"Before, they came in twos. If one was killed, the other could help him come back. This one's different: he don't need no help." Earl slumped in a chair, holding his belly wound. "He got both of you, then Jake, and was near close to getting me too. If he kills all four of us at once, 'tweren't be no one to restore us, and we stay dead. I fear our days are numbered. Let's git outta town before the clock strikes six, and he comes gunning for us again."

"What 'bout Jake?" asked Ben.

"Strap him to his horse," said John. "Ain't yet the time."

"He got me pretty good," Earl said. "Die, soon, for sure. When I do, wait the set time. Here's the Pahos for safe keeping. Until then, let's ride."

* * *

As the bell in the clock tower clanged six times, Juez stood, stretched his arms, checked his Colt, and reloaded. Four lead slugs marked the spot where he lay in the street.

The blacksmith watched him get up and turn toward the livery stable. Trembling, he grabbed the saddle, blanket, and bridle, and readied Juez's horse for travel as fast as he could.

Juez walked to the forge and paused. He reached into his breast pocket, took out a cigar, and bit off the tip. The blacksmith took a couple of steps backward. Juez retrieved the tongs, lit the cigar on the hot metal, and took a few puffs. The smoke billowed above his head.

"Your horse's been watered and fed, mister. He's saddled and ready to ride. No need to pay; this here's on me." The blacksmith's hands were shaking as he handed him the reins.

Juez nodded, mounted his horse, looked up and down the deserted street, and rode to the outskirts of town. When he reached the windmill, he stopped. A trickle, then a gush of water flowed from its pump. His horse bent to the trough for a drink. His mount satisfied, he continued west, following the four men's trail to the next town and the next shootout. Juez and his mount disappeared into the last rays of the setting sun.

* * *

The men stopped for the night and waited for the set time to revive Earl. They were drinking, talking, and laughing around a campfire.

Earl, there will be no others. There is no need for others for I am Pavoroso Juez, the first and the last. The Day of Reckoning is coming soon. Until then, enjoy the time you have left.

"Whoa, look at Earl," said Ben. "His body is jerking and shaking. None of us ever did that after we died!"

"Should we revive him early?" asked John.

"Tried it once, and it was mighty painful for him," said Ben.

"Told me 'bout the time," said Jake. "We better wait."

The men returned to drinking and laughing, unaware of Earl's encounter with Juez in the Skeleton House.

The End

Pahos - Hopi Indian prayer stick

Pavoroso Juez - Spanish for terrifying judge

Skeleton House - Hopi Indian spirit world

Jack Hill retired and started writing a couple years ago. He has tried writing a variety of genres, trying to find his "voice." This is the first Western he's written.

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Laughing Babies
by Benson Parker

In the mountains of southern Arizona, a rope is tied between two pine trees about 8 feet apart and 5 feet above the ground. It's late afternoon in the Summer of 1869 and hanging on the rope are 5 cradleboards with 5 little papooses in them. The cradleboards have fancy leather and colorful bead work on them. Sometimes, when the wind blows, two of the cradleboards turn toward one another and the papooses see each other and laugh. It's like a living clothes line with laughing babies playing peekaboo on it.

Tom Gore did not think that States Rights were an issue he was willing to die for so, when the Civil War started, he like many other young men headed out for the western territories.

Nine years later, he has a ranch and vegetable farm a few miles east of Tucson, but he has to fight the Apache to keep it all going. Tom has learned the hard way to keep a hired hand, usually a Mexican, on the roof of his hacienda with a rifle and binoculars. The roof-mounted guard walks around or sits in a chair under an umbrella keeping watch. The men who work his fields are always armed and still the Apache are a constant threat. In their raids down into Mexico they often pause long enough to take a few shots at Tom's workers, or to run off a few head of cattle.

The Apache don't think of Tom's land as belonging to them or to anyone else. They don't attack people for trespassing on their land, they attack anyone and everyone they come into contact with. They attacked Cortez, and Franciscan Missionaries, and they continue to attack and kill Mexicans, Americans, other Indians, and anyone they come across. That's what they do, that is their way of life, to attack anyone who is not of their tribe and steal their horses, weapons, food, women, whatever they have, and they have lived like this for hundreds of years.

Tom Gore's seven-year-old son, Tommy, has constructed a fort made of rocks behind the hacienda where he plays at fighting off the Apache; he calls it Fort Tommy. There was no shortage of rocks for him to pile up and create an irregular circle of rocks 3 to 4 feet high with a diameter of about 8 feet, and an opening facing the hacienda. He can often be found crouched behind the rock walls taking aim at imagined savages. Tommy is the youngest of Tom's three children, his sisters usually play and work in the home with their mother, Consuela.

One reason thousands of white people were killed by Indians in the American West is because the government did not implement a plan to develop the West in an orderly way by establishing outposts, colonies, that could protect the westering pioneers. The government could have established forts and then opened the area around the forts for settlement. People who claimed parcels of land around the forts would have gotten protection from the Army, and from other people who were establishing adjoining farms and ranches.

Tom is well-respected around Tucson, he sells peaches, vegetables, beef and pork in town, and is also known as a rough and ready Indian fighter who comes to the aid of his neighbors whenever needed. He's the kind of man who goes out alone at night and patrols the perimeter of his property, especially around the time of the new moon when it's darkest out and the Apache are most likely to steal livestock. He goes out alone at night looking for Indians to kill.

While defending his ranch and in other skirmishes, he is known to have killed over 40 Apache, a feat for which he is often praised; "If we had a few more like Tom Gore we wouldn't have an Indian problem in Arizona."

If someone back east heard about Tom's record for killing Indians, they would be appalled. Most Easteners are full of misimpressions and misguided love for what they call the "Noble Savage," and they don't want to hear the truth because then their illusions will be shattered. Most white people living in the West, where most of the Indians live, are quoted in newspapers, military records, and diaries as saying the Indians should be exterminated. That's the term they use, exterminated.

The Apache have a growing hatred for Tom because they can't run him off. They have killed a few of his workers and stolen some of his animals, but he has killed more of them, and he demonstrates that white men are here to stay.

Tommy pops up from the rock wall of his fort with his stick rifle and fires "bang bang" at imaginary heathens. Suddenly he hears a real rifle shot and looks up just as the guard on the roof falls to the ground. Tommy looks in shock toward where the shot came from and sees an Apache behind a boulder 30 yards away taking aim at him. On hearing the shot Consuela looks out the back door just as Tommy ducks behind the rock wall. Tom is already running from a nearby ramada toward Fort Tommy while firing his Spencer in the direction of the Apache. Tom is thinking that an attack like this in the middle of the day probably means that the hired hand who is watching the cattle has been quietly killed and the herd is at this moment being driven off.

Tom dives into the Fort beside Tommy and asks if he is okay while he starts reloading his Spencer. He can see that Tommy is shaken but fine and he looks at the door of the hacienda where Consuela stands, then he tells Tommy to run to his mother as fast as he can. Tommy runs, and Tom stands up and fires at the Apache as fast as he can crank rounds into the chamber.

When the rifle is empty Tom ducks below the rock wall and looks back while drawing his revolver. He sees little Tommy lying on the ground with half his head blown away, and Consuela running to the boy screaming. Tom steps over the rock wall and walks toward the Indian. The Indian fires and the bullet nips Toms upper left arm, knocking him off balance for a second but he continues walking toward the Indian with his revolver hanging at his side. The Indian fires again and the bullet grazes the outside of Tom's right thigh. Tom continues his grim march toward the Indian. The Indian fires again and misses, then stands up in wide-eyed panic and turns to run. Tom stops, aims, and shoots him in the back. Then he walks up beside the Indian who is trying to crawl away and puts five more bullets in him.

Two of Tom's workers from the fields come running up to him. Diego doesn't speak any English, he takes Tom's revolver from his hand, reloads it and puts it in Tom's holster. Rodrigo speaks a border patois with a little English, Spanish, and Apache mixed, he says, "Oh Dios Mio, Senior Tom, what can we do?"

Diego takes the bandana from around his neck and ties it around Tom's wounded arm.

Tom looks at Diego, then looks at Consuela, looks back at Diego and nods his head toward Consuela. Diego runs toward Consuela who is kneeling beside Tommy.

Rodrigo asks, "Senior, do you want me to go after them?"

"Yeah, but just get a count and their direction, then come back."

The next morning in Tucson, Tom and Rodrigo go in Wheat's Saloon where Rodrigo relates what has happened while Tom stands at the bar drinking beer. Tom still has bloody rags tied around his arm and leg. A young man runs over to the Pioneer Brewery and spreads the word. Within minutes there is a rowdy crowd of men ready to go after the Apaches, and just waiting for Tom to give them the word.

Finally, Tom speaks up, "Rodrigo followed them a ways and saw that there are 16 braves and about half that many squaws heading south, driving about 20 head of my cattle, so we only need a few men to join us. Me and Rodrigo were gonna go after them by ourselves, but Consuelo made me promise to get some help so here we are. But whoever goes with us needs to know that we won't be bringing back any prisoners. They killed my only boy and they're gonna pay for it."

This is met with cheers, and a few, "Hell yeahs." Tom chooses six tough hombres that he knows and trusts to go with them, then says, "Eight of us against sixteen of them, that sounds about right."

Everyone follows the eight men outside where they find that a pack horse has been loaded and is waiting.

"Go get 'em, Tom."

"Give 'em hell."

"Watch your backs, boys."

"Bring back some scalps."

The trail is easy to follow, the Indians are driving the cattle too hard, and there are a few strays that have gotten away and are seen up side canyons. Tom tells two of the men to stay back and search for stray cows and hold them on the main trail until they get back. That leaves Tom, Rodrigo, and four other men to continue closing in on the Indians.

Rodrigo has been scouting ahead since they left. The afternoon of the second day he comes back and tells Tom that the Indians are setting up camp and butchering one of the cows. He points out where two braves are hanging back and keeping watch. Tom tells his men to take a quiet break and to picket the horses while he and Rodrigo go take care of the two guards.

The Indians have stopped in a beautiful tight little canyon with tall pines and big boulders. When Tom and Rodrigo return a few minutes later, Tom cleans his knife and sends two men up each flank of the canyon with instructions not to fire until they hear him start shooting. All six men move with stealth and caution taking up positions behind boulders and trees above the Indian camp.

Tom waits until he is sure all the men have had enough time to position themselves then he opens fire and an Indian falls every time he pulls the trigger. It is over in less than a minute. One of the braves and the squaws make a run for it and get away. Tom and his men work their way cautiously down into the camp. Rodrigo sends two of the men to start rounding up the cattle, and the Indian ponies, while Tom walks around and finishes off the wounded braves with a bullet to the head, and a bullet to the head for some who are already dead.

The squaws, in their panic to flee, leave behind five papooses on cradle boards. One of the men gathers them up and suspends them from a rope tied between two trees. Later, Tom, Rodrigo, and the other two men stand looking at the babies, then one of the men says, "Well, we could draw straws."

Tom got the shortest straw, "Who says life's not fair? Did you guys fix it so I'd get the short straw?"

They laugh and say, "No. Just your lucky day."

Tom says, "If you did fix it  . . . thank you. If anybody deserves the honor of blowing these little savages away it's me."

One of the men walks off a few steps, turns his back, and pretends to load his revolver. The other man steps away, turns, but looks back at Tom from the corner of his eye. Rodrigo stands beside Tom, toeing the dirt.

Tom draws his revolver and aims at one of the babies. He cocks his piece, and when he does the baby looks at him and smiles. Tom lets his gun hand fall to his side. It's a pretty little baby, although Tom can't tell if it's a boy or a girl. Then he takes aim again and the baby looks at Tom and laughs.

Tom uncocks his piece, looks helplessly at Rodrigo, then slams the gun into his holster, and says, "Y'all can do what you want to, I guess I've had enough killing for one day."

He starts toward where they left the horses while mumbling in a choked-up voice to himself, "Damn Indians anyway, killing my only boy, stealing my beeves  . . . "

Rodrigo looks at the two men standing there, one of them looks relieved, and the other has a slight smile on his face.

Rodrigo says, "Let's vamoose, the squaws will come back after we leave."

There is a beautiful red and gold sunset when the squaws come back and get their babies. The sky emits a soft glow that illuminates the blood-red slaughter field. The squaws step quietly and carefully around the dead, mangled, bloody bodies of their husbands, brothers, uncles, and friends. The squaws are heartbroken over the loss of their loved ones, and at the same time relieved that their babies are okay.

After that day the Apache cut a wide path around Tom Gore's place.

The End

Benson Parker lives in Ahwatukee, Arizona, where he goes into the desert at night during the summer with a UV flashlight and hunts scorpions. He has killed as many as 6 in one night. He drives a 4x4 Jeep that has over 300,000 miles on it, many of them are off-road miles. His book web site is where there are short stories listed under Blog, and pictures listed under Photos, and extracts from the book listed under Excerpts, and other cool stuff to look at. He can be reached at bparker1880.com.

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Rusty Kobbs
by Grant Guy

Special Marshal Rusty Kobbs was a fixture around Tombstone and Cochise County after its glory days had fallen into the ruins of myth. And he was the only lawman who had a foot in the past and present. So it was when Arizona Kid held up the Pima County Bank in Cochise County and killed Mrs. Furrows during his getaway. The bank robbery may have been overlooked if money were all that was stolen, but it was the murder of the 80 year-old Mrs. Furrows that called out for quick vengeance. But Law and Order were in disarray following the gunfight between the Clantons and the Earps. Rusty Kobbs was the man Senator Howell reluctantly turned to as the man to hunt down the cold-blooded killer. Kobbs was a good lawman but quirky. It was the quirkiness that gave birth to the senator's reluctance.

And when Kobbs set off in the direction of Yuma the senator's apprehension was as alert as a coyote. The senator poured his third whiskey.

The shortest route to Mexico was due south. But Kobbs knew the Kid: that he was not an orthodox thinker. Crooked thinking always outsmarted straight thinking, opined Kobbs. And more than any other outlaw, the Kid knew lawmen thought as straight as a flagpole.

Kobbs could have no other conclusion but Yuma was where the Arizona Kid would head out to, and Yuma was where Rosy Crampton waited to embrace him into her body. Kobbs and the Kid shared Rosy in 1881.

Yet, as clever as the Kid, who had a hard ass, harder than George Custer, for long distant riding, he still needed to rest and water his horse. Kobbs was well acquainted with the Apache trails that led to Yuma and on into Mexico, and knew every waterhole between Tombstone and Yuma. Kobbs once scouted Arizona during the campaign against the Apache.

Kobbs calculated the route to cut the Kid off at a waterhole where he would be his final rest before reaching Yuma. When Cody Brown joined Kobbs, the Kid's fate would be definitely sealed.

Cody Brown, Pinkerton man from Prescott, was to link up with Kobbs, but Brown was arrested for the murder of two Pinkerton colleagues. An unpaid gambling debt and the affections of a woman were the motives, mostly the gambling debt.

Without Brown, Kobbs was confident the Kid was his.

Kobbs waited and waited at the waterhole, but no Kid. He believed he understood the unorthodox mind of the Kid better than any man alive, better than he knew himself. The Kid would show up soon, Kobbs stroked his moustache.

As he waited behind a rock, under the burning rays of the Arizona sun, daydreams bounced around inside his Kobbs's head. To take the Kid alive would elevate his esteem with the citizens of Tombstone, hell, all of Cochise County— maybe even all of Arizona. Major government appointments would come his way. The Governor's mansion was not out of the question. He thought how proud his father would be.

The men in Kobbs's family had always been lawmen. Kobbs were sheriffs in several shires in England from the eleventh century to the eighteenth until his family emigrated to the New World in 1752. Rumors had it that the Kobbs were Vicomte Sheriffs of William the Conqueror. There was something almost atavistic about Kobbs being a lawman. Those were the daydreams that danced around in Kobbs's lawman brain.

Kobbs stroked his moustache.

Kobbs waited all day, and well into the next when deputy Mulejack Peters rode up. Rusty's heart jumped like a jitter cat, thinking the Kid had snuck up on him. When Kobbs saw who it was he relaxed the grip on his Colt.

When Mukejack dismounted his horse, he kicked at the ground with hesitation. He knew Kobbs would not want to hear what he had to say. Looking like a rag flapping in the wind on a barbwire fence, Kobbs knew he did not want to hear what Mulejack had to say. He felt it in his gut. Mulejack removed his hat and wiped the sweat off his brow. The last strands of hair were pasted on his balding head. Kobbs approached his deputy. He was steeled.

"What's up?" he asked with horrid anticipation.

"Uh, uh," hemmed Mulejack.

"What is it, man?"

"Jack Slaughter spotted the Arizona Kid crossing into Mexico due south of Tombstone."

"I'm a steer's castrated balls."

Straight thinking became the unorthodox thinking, outwitting Kobbs's rigid heretic logic.

Upon returning to Tombstone Senator Howell telegraphed the Governor to terminate Kobbs's appointment as Special Marshal, and replace him as quickly as possible, and, until then, Mulejack Peters would be the interim Special Marshal.

Kobbs packed up little that he had owned and rode west to California. His whereabouts after that are not known.

The Arizona Kid pulled off several cross border robberies before retiring from outlawing, and bought a ranch near Parral. He married Teresa García Ramírez. Died at the age of 84.

The End

Grant Guy is a Winnipeg, Canada, poet, writer and playwright. Former artistic director of Adhere + Deny. His poems, short stories, essays and art criticism have been published in Canada, the United States, Nigeria, Wales, India and England. He has three books published: Open Fragments (Lives of Dogs), Blues for a Mustang, The Life and Lies of Calamity Jane, On the Bright Side of Down and Bus Stop Bus Stop (Red Dashboard). His plays include A.J. Loves B.B., Song for Simone and an adaptation of Paradise Lost and the Grand Inquisitor. He was the 2004 recipient of the MAC's 2004 Award of Distinction and the 2017 recipient of the WAC's Making A Difference Award.

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Unread Mail
by Al Nash

Shadows raced across the barren landscape and faded into blackness in the distant hills to the east. The days were ending early and the temperature was approaching freezing even though Autumn had just commenced. No lights save one betrayed the location of the small army encampment. The dark silhouette of a sentry walked slowly in front of penned horses breathing steam into the near frozen night air.

The single light came from the tent at the center of the bivouac. A man sat at a small table writing by the light of a lantern. After writing several lines, he paused and lowered his head for a moment. After a brief time, he took an envelope out of a canvas bag at the foot of the table. He folded and inserted the paper into the envelope then affixed his personal seal in red wax. Without rising, he called out to a man standing outside his tent.

"Sergeant Alexander!" He shouted. "Come in here, please."

A man, who had been waiting outside the tent entered and saluted. The seated officer returned the salute.

"Go and get Lieutenant Norman for me."

"Yes sir," the sergeant said and he turned and exited the tent.

* * *

Some ten minutes after he was summoned, Lieutenant Henry Norman reported to the general's tent. He entered the tent and positioned himself in front of the general's table. Lieutenant Norman saluted and then stood at attention.

"Stand easy, son," the general said.

"Yes, sir." He relaxed his stance.

"Henry, you've been my aide for what  . . . six months?"

"Yes, sir  . . . ten, actually."

"Ten? Where does the time go?" The general paused for a moment. He looked out into the darkness. "You came recommended to me by Al Terry. He said you were a fighter."

"Yes, sir. I hope I've met your expectations . . . and General Terry's."

"I assure you that you have. Fighting is not what you've been called on to do, but you have been an exemplary aide-de-camp."

"Thank you, sir," Henry said, wondering where this was leading.

"You are a young man I know I can trust. A young man of great courage," the general said. "I have an important task . . . maybe a dangerous task. I have a message I need delivered . . . from my hand, through yours, to the recipient . . . to the named recipient only."

"Yes, sir. I am at your service and I await your orders."

The general picked up the envelope he had sealed minutes before. He did not hand it to the lieutenant but held it in his hand . . . an unfulfilled promise.

"Troop C is out in the Bear Paw Mountains. They are my longest arm. I think they have extended themselves beyond my reach . . . beyond the Army's reach." The general stood and picked up a large rolled paper bound with a simple string. He untied the string and unfurled a map which he laid on the table. "I believe they are . . . here! Yes, here," he said as he pointed to a spot on the map.

Henry leaned over to get a better look.

"There have been some skirmishes in the Bear Paw. We have taken casualties . . . as they have. This could be a dangerous mission but it is vital that I send this to Captain Williams, the commander of Troop C." He handed the envelope to Henry, though for the briefest of moments he held it tight and did not relinquish his hold.

"I shall leave forthwith."

"You shall leave at first light. Take Walks Alone with you. He knows the land. I don't think the Niimíipuu will bother a single soldier and a scout. They grow weaker by the day, but make no mistake, it may still be very dangerous. Be careful!"

Henry was always amused that the old man called the Indians by the term they preferred, not by the name the French had given them . . . Nez Perce. General Howard respected all men . . . until he was given reason not to. He was a kind man with a gentle voice, but he had an otherwise stern demeanor. There was no nonsense about him.

"One more thing, Henry . . . "

"Yes, sir?"

"It is imperative that Captain Williams receive this message as soon as possible . . . tomorrow, if at all possible."

"Yes, sir. I understand." Henry felt the conversation was at an end. He saluted and waited to be formally dismissed. The general saluted and Henry turned to leave the tent.

"Lieutenant," the general said. Henry paused. "Go with God!"

* * *

Before sunrise, Lieutenant Henry Norman and the scout, Walks Alone, met to prepare for their journey north into the mountains. Henry showed the scout where they would be going on the map the general had provided. He wasn't sure the scout could even read a map, but he showed him anyway. Walks Alone nodded quietly and obediently accepted the mission and turned to get his carbine and to saddle his mount. He never asked questions.

"Wait," Henry said. "How long will it take us?"

Without hesitation, Walks Alone said, "Two day."

Not understanding, Henry asked for clarification. "Today?" We'll be there today? That's good. We have to get there today."

"No," he said. "Two day." He held up his fist and unfurled one finger, then two. "One day . . . two day."

"No! We must get there today! Can we do it?"

Walks Alone cocked his head to the side as if he were trying to comprehend the urgency.

"We do anything. Ride faster. We can get there today."

"Good. We'll leave in ten minutes. We'll need some supplies," Henry told the scout.

Walks Alone said nothing. He just turned and went off by himself to help with gathering the supplies. Henry gathered a bag of jerky, one of cornmeal, and a little coffee. Presently, Walks Alone returned with six canteens of water . . . three for each of them. Where and how he got them, was something Henry decided did not want to know. He also brought a bag of parched corn and a box of cartridges for their carbines. Walks Alone was a Yakima. He was every bit as good as the Crow scouts that Henry had worked with the year before at the Greasy Grass. He was also resourceful.

As the first hint of sunlight peeked above the distant mountains, they were already well on their way. Neither sought to lead . . . they just rode north. Henry knew that he would not lead as the scout knew the area better.

Ahead of them, there were the barren high plains. Trees were a rarity and could be found mostly along creeks and rivers, of which there were few. It was early October and there was still the possibility of occasional snow flurries. The extreme northern venue as well as the elevation made that a possibility. In any case, it was starting to get cold . . . very cold. They rode together in silence, seeing no sign of Indians or soldiers. There was an eerie quiet that seemed to emanate from ground itself.

The sun came up, a vague smear of muted orange vainly seeking to break out of a gray sky. The wind was high and the air moist, making it seem even colder. Dark clouds hung low over the horizon. Now the scout had instinctively taken the lead. After three hours, as they were in the foothills, the scout stopped some ten to fifteen paces in front of Henry and raised his right hand, indicating that Henry should stop as well.

He sat very still. Then he sniffed at the air, much like a dog would do. He looked around then fixed his eyes on the few trees off to the right . . . to the east. There was no hurried movement. He sniffed again and remained fixed on the spot. Henry sniffed the air as well, but could smell nothing.

"Come," he finally said. Walks Alone turned his horse toward the spot in the trees where he had been staring. He kicked his leather-clad feet into the horses' flanks. He wasn't rough. The horse, he might have said, was his brother. It was as if the horse was an extension of him.

"Wait!" Henry said. "Shouldn't we go down more and circle back through the ravine . . . just to be safe?"

"No, come," was his reply.

"We cannot take much time here. I must deliver this message to Captain Williams today. General Howard was very clear about that. Should we be diverting our attention from our mission . . . from our route?" Henry asked. "General Howard wants us to deliver the message immediately."

Walks Alone remained silent but turned and looked at Henry through sad eyes. Henry followed as the scout turned and continued towards the trees. He was cautious and confident at the same time. There was no choice but to trust him. Henry did reach down and touched his Colt, just to be sure it was there, in the holster. It was and he was reassured.

As they neared the trees, Henry, too, could smell something. Some twenty to thirty feet from the trees, Walks Alone stopped and dismounted. He held up his right hand in a gesture meaning "Stay there". Henry complied but only for a few moments. Walks Alone stopped where the trees were and Henry rushed to catch up.

In an area of perhaps a quarter of an acre lay seven or eight bodies. Henry, not be to shocked by such a scene was, nevertheless, saddened. He quickly counted. It seemed there were eight bodies. One or two might have been warriors, though it was difficult to tell, they having been stripped of their weapons and their bodies had been mutilated. One had been scalped. Besides the two adult males, Henry noted a woman of about sixty years who had been shot in the back of her head. It was the back alright because her forehead had exploded out. Two children . . . a boy and a girl both between eight and ten years old lay together as if they had been embracing. Siblings, Henry thought. Both had been shot in the upper torso. Of the other three, two were children and one was a man who had to have been between sixty-five and seventy years of age. Besides the fatal wounds to his upper body, his left hand had been severed. Perhaps the work of a cavalry saber. Henry wondered if this was the husband of the elderly woman who lay a few feet away. This was the evidence that skirmishes had been taking place over the past few days in the Bear Paw Mountains. Henry wondered how much of this had been a skirmish and how much had been murder.

"Why do you suppose the Nez Perce left them here?" Henry asked.

"I think Nez Perce big hurry. Try to get away."

Something caught Henry's eye and he walked over to inspect. There was, in the open, a lone blue kepi with crossed sabers of the cavalry on its top. Above the cross of the sabers was the numeral "7" and below the cross was the letter "C". Henry picked the kepi up. Slowly shaking his head, he could not find the words to say as he remembered another such scene at the Washita River in '68.

Henry took out the map the general had given him. He opened it and spread it on the ground before him. Next, he retrieved a pencil from his inside his tunic. Identifying where they were, he drew a circle around the spot. This he would show to the general to indicate where these bodies could be found.

Neither Henry nor Walks Alone said anything as they returned to their horses. They silently mounted and continued their trek into the mountains.

* * *

Two hours later Henry called out to the scout who was riding ahead, "Stop! I think we're near."

Walks Alone pulled back on his horse's reins and waited for Henry to ride along side.


"That woods off to the left," Henry waved his hand in that direction. That is where the general thinks they are and it seems like a logical place."

Walks Alone stared straight ahead, not following Henry's wave.

"What is it?"

"Loo-Ten-Nut, we are watched," he said.

"Where?" Henry asked.

"There," He pointed at a low butte to their front left. A single rider sat astride his horse. He was immobile but obviously attentive to their movements. Henry watched for a moment, then he turned his horse toward the trees they had considered before.

With the scout leading, they turned and entered the trees off to the west. As they rode through the woods, he slowed and seemed to proceed very cautiously. Something was up ahead and the scout knew it. Again, Henry was less aware. Presently, a voice from the trees up ahead shattered the quiet and caused them to stop.

"Halt!" Came the voice from the trees. "Identify yourselves," the voice said. A young cavalry trooper, probably around seventeen or eighteen years old, emerged from his hiding place with his carbine aimed up at Henry's chest. "Who are you?"

"Lieutenant Norman. I have a message from General Howard to Captain Williams."

The young trooper bade Henry to come closer. He looked at Walks Alone clad in the blue tunic of a cavalryman and the buckskin leggings of an Indian.

" . . . and him? Who is he?" The young trooper gestured toward the scout with the muzzle of his carbine.

"He is a scout. I can vouch for him," Henry answered.

"Let me see the message," he said.

"No," I said. "It is for Captain Williams only. Can you take me to him?"

He didn't respond but he whistled and a mounted trooper emerged from the trees leading another horse. The second trooper aimed his carbine at them as well and the first trooper mounted his horse.

"Follow us."

As Henry and Walks Alone obeyed the young sentry, Henry noticed that the second trooper was bareheaded. He reached down to his saddle horn and removed the kepi.

"Did you lose your cap, soldier?" Henry extended his reach offering the kepi to the trooper.

"Yes, sir . . . thank you," the trooper said as he retrieved the kepi.

* * *

Henry and Walks Alone followed the two young troopers through the trees for about two hundred yards. They broke into a clearing where about thirty cavalrymen sat astride their mounts. This was not a unit at rest. They were prepared to do something and to do it soon.

The young trooper they had encountered first turned to Henry and said, "Wait here. I'll tell the captain you have something for him." He rode over to a man who wore the epaulets of an officer sat mounted. The captain was about Henry's age. He sat mounted on a bay slightly forward of his men. He peered through field glasses at something Henry could not see. The sentry spoke to the captain who seemed to ignore him as he continued looking through the glasses. For a brief moment the captain turned to the trooper. Henry could not tell what was being said. The young trooper rode back to where Henry was.

"He says he doesn't have time to see you right now."

"That is unacceptable!" Henry said, his voice louder than he had wished. "I represent General Howard and I must see the captain now!"

The young trooper started to say something, but Henry ignored him and walked his mount over to where the captain was.

"Captain Williams?"

The captain ignored Henry. He just kept staring straight ahead and occasionally looking up and down his line of mounted cavalrymen.

"Captain, I have an urgent message from General Howard for you."

The captain turned toward Henry. "Weren't you told, lieutenant, that I don't have time right now?" He made "lieutenant" sound like it tasted bad in his mouth and he couldn't wait to spit it out.

"Yes, sir, but this is urgent and I do represent General Howard."

"I don't care if you represent President Grant! I don't have time! Do you understand that?"

"Yes, sir, but I must insist," Henry said as he withdrew the envelope from his breast pocket.

"What? What did you say? You must insist?"

"Yes, sir, I must."

"Why you insubordinate little ass . . . I'll have you put under guard and brought up on charges."

Henry had been in the cavalry for more than ten years. This man was not going to intimidate him. "Do as you must, sir." He thrust his right hand with the envelope forward.

"Give me that damned thing!" He snatched the envelope out of Henry's hand and put it in his breast pocket. "Lieutenant, we've got work to do here . . . real work. Would you understand that? We are going into that small Indian village just ahead by the creek."

"Sir?" Henry did not comprehend. How could he be so unfortunate as to arrive just as the troop was being ordered to attack. This brought back memories of the Washita . . . of the dead . . . the women . . . the children. It also caused him to reflect on the site of the massacre he and Walks Alone had inspected just several hours ago.

"We are going to attack the village. Now, if you don't have the stomach for it, you can stay here, or you can return to headquarters, or . . . or . . . or you can just go to hell!"

"Captain, they know you are here."

"What? Who knows?"

"The Nez Perce. They have a watchman posted on a butte to the east of here. He was watching us and I am sure he has been watching you."

"We are a superior fighting force. We will prevail!" He turned his attention away from Henry and back to his men.

"That may not be enough."

"Oh, I think it is." He turned away from Henry and again looked up and down his line of cavalry troopers. "Forwaaaard . . . at a walk," he commanded. The troopers and their mounts stepped out and they proceeded out of a thin line of trees into an open area.

After he and Walks Alone had ridden clear of the trees, Henry noticed a small encampment of three teepees about two hundred yards to the front. There didn't seem to be any movement among the teepees.

"Forward at a trot," the captain commanded, intensifying the pace. The entire troop of three dozen mounted soldiers complied.

Not feeling particularly welcome, Henry and Walks Alone hung back twenty yards or more from the advancing cavalry troop. Henry hoped that he would not be witnessing what he thought he might. He had seen it before . . . several times and once was enough.

The small encampment was down a slight fold in the landscape. The horses could negotiate it easily, even at full speed.

The cavalry trotted to within a hundred yards when the captain gave his final order.

"Charge!" he shouted above the sound of the wind and the thundering of more than a hundred horses' hooves. The men kicked their mounts into a full run. Implicit in the command to charge was the permission to fire at will. There was no movement from the small village, so the troopers shot into the teepees. Still there was no movement nor did anyone return fire. After a brief but violent run, the soldiers instinctively ceased firing and brought their mounts to a halt.

Henry and the scout sat astride their mounts at the top of the rise, perhaps fifty yards away. They watched half a dozen soldiers dismount and go from teepee to teepee opening the flaps and finding, it appeared, absolutely no one. Henry was relieved that this had not been the massacre he had anticipated. He started down the decline to where the others were.

He had not gone very far when he watched as a trooper fell off his mount and immediately thereafter there was a "CRACK" of a rifle shot. It was impossible to tell where it had come from until other shots were fired. Henry dismounted and took to ground noting that the firing appeared to be coming from a small stand of trees on the other side of the creek.

After about a minute-long volley, the firing stopped. The troopers never had a chance to return fire. Henry slowly began to get up. Still no firing. Looking into the Indian encampment, Henry saw that several other soldiers were down. For the Indians, it had been like shooting fish in a barrel. It had been a very well planned out ambush. Swift, deadly, and then nothing. They were gone. No wonder so few had been so successful against so many over the past three months.

Henry did not mount but, with his revolver drawn, he walked down and into the encampment. Upon arriving there, he noted that four troopers were down. One had a wound to the arm and three were dead. Among the dead was Captain Williams.

Turning to a sergeant who stood dismayed at what he saw, Henry asked, "Sergeant who's in command here, now?"

"I think you are, sir," he said.

"I am? Where are your officers?"

"There was only Captain Williams and now . . . "

Henry quickly surveyed the scene and thought about his next move. He had been, as General Terry had said, a fighter. He may have been a new officer, but he was otherwise very experienced with the Indians. He immediately knew what he must do. There was no official commander now. Absent their leader, they did not seem to know what their mission was. General Howard would be expecting his return and report. This troop of cavalry must be returned, with their dead, to headquarters more than twenty miles south.

Take command he did. Henry ordered that the dead be tied to their mounts and that all were to follow him as they rode south. The soldiers, eager for direction and a leader, offered no resistance. The bodies of the fallen cavalrymen were hoisted onto their mounts and, as Captain Williams' remains were likewise mounted, the envelope that Henry had given to him fell out of his tunic. Henry picked it up and tucked it into his own pocket.

Then it occurred to Henry that the message he had carried would probably answer many questions as it probably carried specific orders. He reached in his tunic and retrieved the message. The wax seal was broken and the paper had blood on it. He supposed it was time to read the message that had been for the now-dead Captain Williams only. The message read:

Captain Williams,

You are to return with your cavalry contingent immediately. Do not make contact or engage in any combat with the Nez Perce. I have received word that Chief Joseph wants to talk with me.

O. O. Howard

Though the results of the little skirmish at the Indian camp had a different ending than the one Henry had witnessed years before at the Washita, it showed that Captain Williams had been arrogant and ambitious without the application of common sense and sound tactics. Three men killed and peace talks might have been forthcoming. Henry took the note and put it in his leather pouch.

* * *

It was in the early morning hours when Henry lead Troop C of the Seventh Cavalry into camp and General Howard's headquarters. Henry was surprised that the general was still up. General Howard came to greet them and then, seeing the bodies of the dead troopers, he dropped to one knee. He seemed to be alternating between praying and simply shaking his head. When he stood again Henry noticed that his eyes were moist.

The End

Al Nash has been a soldier, a teacher, and an artist. Lately he has become more interested in writing and the genre with which he feels most comfortable is historical fiction. So far he has self-published four books . . . three novels and a family history. The great great grandson of a confederate cavalryman, Al himself served as a lieutenant in armored cavalry. There were no horses, of course, but the spirit was still there.

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Things Got Bad in Potter
by Ben Fine

I'm out here riding on the deserted prairie heading to Texas and a new beginning. Things were moving along smoothly. I was living in Fort Smith, riding with the McGlinn brothers, piling up some cash, until things went bad in Potter, Kansas. Alone on the trail with these vast stretches of prairie land all around me, I have a lot of time to think how I got here,

I was only eight years old when my daddy dragged us from Remington, Ohio, all the way to Missouri. In Ohio he worked for a wealthy farmer near Remington and as I remember we managed to live fairly comfortably. Before the war, a land agent came to our church in Remington and convinced my daddy that there was cheap land near St. Louis. My daddy then uprooted my mom, my little sister, and me and moved us to Missouri where he managed to buy a small spread and tried to grow corn and soybeans. It turned out to be harder than he thought to own his own place and we struggled to get by.

It was also tough for us in Missouri before the big war. Mizzou was a slave state and most of our neighbors were reb sympathizers but my daddy was a Yankee to the core; third generation Ohio. He couldn't see keeping a slave and he couldn't keep his mouth shut about it. It wasn't easy for a small boy like me being the only Yankee in a one room schoolhouse. I quickly learned how to fight.

When the war started Daddy enlisted right away for the blues with no thought to us or to how we would survive without him. Six months later he was killed at Wilson's Creek, his first and only battle.

Mama couldn't keep the farm going by herself so she sold out to the bank and moved us to St. Louis where she found a job as a hotel maid. We lived in a shack in Shanty Town. Every city back east that I'd ever been in had a Shanty Town, a bunch of shacks for the folks just getting by. St. Lou was no different but it was a bigger town so its Shanty Town was bigger. Mama made enough so that we had food to eat, but my sister and I were left pretty much to ourselves. I got to be tough but shrewd. I would fight if necessary but I knew with all the rebs around to keep my mouth shut. Shanty Town in St. Lou gave me quite an education in how to take care of myself.

We stayed in St. Lou for two years and then drifted further west, first to Kansas City for a few years and then on to Fort Smith, Arkansas. While the war was being fought, Fort Smith was a boom town filled with soldiers and outlaws When the war ended it was the last stop before heading onto the prairie and out to the open west. Back then it was last semblance of real civilization. Most everyone in Fort Smith was also a reb and didn't believe that the war was over and they lost. I learned to keep my mouth shut, although I never understood the war. For the folks around me in Fort Smith, the Confederacy was everything, and the Union was the devil. Jessie James had started his raids and I grew up listening to all of the stories about him. By that time I was also an outlaw so to me he was just another bad guy taking what he could. To the locals though, he was a true patriot, the Robin Hood of Mizzou. His being an outlaw was a way to keep fighting the war; make the blue devils, running Arkansas under Reconstruction, unhappy and uneasy.

In those years, Fort Smith was a tough place. While Mama worked, I was on the streets and got in with the wrong crowd; drifted into being an outlaw. The Spencer Street boys was the first gang that I ran with. A bunch of street kids from Fort Smith's Shanty Town, we came together and pictured ourselves as younger versions of Jessie James. We would roll the drunks that came out of the saloons and steal whatever we could. I picked up a big old Bowie knife off of one of the drunks we rolled and I became a terror with that thing. I was mean and had learned to fight and I wasn't afraid to use that knife. I killed the first time with it in a fight in a saloon on Lee Street. The Lee Street boys were a rival gang that worked out of the Happy Slipper, a tough saloon. I didn't think much of it when I walked into that place to get a brew. I had the Bowie knife strapped to my side. I was known as one of the Spencer Street crowd and they circled around me by the bar. "Hey, you got a lot of nerve wandering in here, Dog" one of them said. I was trapped so I sipped my beer and said nothing. They were younger and one of them pushed me and I pushed my glass into his face. He fell backwards and one of the others pulled a small knife on me. He thrust the blade forward but I had unsheathed my bowie knife and it quickly found his gut. He fell to the floor bleeding and his friends scattered. None of the other bar patrons did anything; these fights were common, so the death of one of the kid criminals meant nothing.

As an outlaw I grew up fast and I grew up mean but I always had one advantage over most of the guys I ran with. I had my wits about me and always thought out what I was doing. Whatever I stole I kept. Most of my bandit pals would drink or gamble away all they made. If they had any left they'd spend it on a girl. Broke all the time, they were always looking for the next score. Me, on the other hand, I'd play cards and drink, take a whore or two but never out of control.

It was sometime after I killed that Lee Street kid that I met up with Roddie Grant. He was a bit older and had been in and out of jails since he was fourteen. Roddie knew his way around. At twenty-one he already had a hardened face that scared most people off. He had a fierce look with a big jagged scar that ran all the way down his cheek. He carried a real nice Colt .45 and also a big Bowie knife like mine that he wasn't afraid to use. Roddie bought me a gun, not as good as his, but he taught me to shoot and I became quite a gunman. I was steady and calm and not afraid to die. The two of us earned quite a reputation in Fort Smith as tough guys and some outlaw gangs hired us. We rode with Mac Strasser up to Missouri and Kansas to the farms. The prairie up there was like an empty ocean with the farms placed like little isolated islands. The farmers always kept a little bit of cash on hand so we'd come down on them and clean them out. Occasionally we took advantage of their wives or their daughters if they were old enough. Most times that didn't set right with me so I didn't join in but Roddy enjoyed a good hefty farm wife, especially with the farmer held down outside screaming. One of the farmers described Roddy to the law. Roddy was easy to remember with that big ugly scar on his face and his face wound up on a wanted poster. He didn't seem too worried about it and wouldn't think of hiding out or keeping out of sight.

The McGlinn brothers, Bobby and Tommy, were a tough local pair who put together a gang. Tommy told us that the banks along the railway line in Kansas were easy pickings and he convinced Roddy to join. I fell in line along with Willie Crowther and Zeb Jackson. We'd drink at Irish Jack's Saloon in Fort Smith and Tommy McGlinn would lay out a map and point out the places that he planned to take down. Anyone could hear us and see the map but McGlinn wasn't concerned. Fort Smith was open like that.

Roddie wasn't afraid to die but he was a hothead. One night at Irish Jack's Saloon in Fort Smith he got in an argument at a poker table. He accused a well-dressed thin fellow with a deep Georgia drawl of cheating. "Get up you fucking cheat," Roddie scowled at the fellow. When the fellow wouldn't stand up, Roddie pulled out his Bowie knife. As fast as lightning, the fellow whipped out some sort of small saber and sliced Roddie's neck from ear to ear before Roddie could even jab at him. He fell bleeding and dying onto Irish Jack's floor. The McGlinn brothers were there and they were friends of Roddie's but no one moved. The thin fellow just shook his head at the people standing over Roddie's body and said in a slow drawl, "might sorry about your friend here" and tipped his hat. He then put the saber away and sat down as if nothing had happened. I was told that the fellow might have been the famous gunman Doc Holiday, but I don't know. Roddie was dead and I was alive so I took that good Colt of his and paid to have him buried.

After Roddie was killed, Tommy McGlinn convinced me to stay with his bunch. I rode with them through Kansas and we knocked off a bunch of banks in the eastern part of the state. Most of the time, it was easy pickings. The towns were nothing special; tiny little hamlets near the farms. They all had a bank, a hotel, a feed and grain store and the sheriff's office. Most of the sheriff's were locals who were worthless with either a gun or protection. We'd ride into town, and Willie and I would watch the horses while Tommy, Bobby and Zeb would go inside. They'd draw their guns announce very calmly "This is a robbery, fill some bags with cash". The tellers and the bank officers always complied—the McGlinn's were known as killers and from six or seven of these small towns we walked away with nice piles of money. In between jobs we'd ride back to Fort Smith and they would play cards, drink and enjoy the fancy girls. By the time we were set for another job the four of them were usually broke. I held onto my cash and spent it sparingly. I knew in my mind I wasn't going to wind up dead at twenty-three years old like Roddie.

We heard that there were wanted posters for the McGlinn gang all over eastern Kansas but that didn't seem to faze any of the gang but me. None of them talked about being careful about being spotted and Bobby and Tommy McGlinn were busy plotting our next bank job. This was to be in Potter, a little bigger town further north in Kansas. Potter had a railroad depot that hooked it up with both Wichita further west and Kansas City to the south so Bobby and Tommy assumed that it would hold more cash than the others. With the wanted posters out and everyone in Fort Smith knowing what we were doing, Potter didn't sit right with me. Our good luck had to run out sooner or later. Still, I was with the bunch when we set out for Potter.

We rode into Potter just like every other town we'd been to but it seemed bigger. Same buildings were along the main street but the Potter Hotel was bigger than most and the bank had a stone façade. Still there was no presence of the law and it looked as easy as every other bank job. As before, Willie and I had the horses outside ready for the getaway and Zeb, Bobby and Tommy walked inside. They announced it was a robbery but before any teller could hand over cash an older bank guard pulled out a gun and tried to shoot it out. He fired three times and winged Zeb in the arm. Bobby McGlinn was never one to use his head. He shot and killed the old man. Tommy and Zeb then cleaned out the bank cash. Like before, we took what we got and started first to ride back to Fort Smith.

Bobby killing that guard set us up to hang if we were caught, so I thought it was a good idea to part ways with the McGlinns. This time Tommy and Bobby thought it would be wiser if we didn't go back right away to Fort Smith so we changed direction and the gang headed west towards Dodge City. We heard that Dodge was an open city and that there was good gambling and good girls. However I was nervous about hanging so I made up my mind on that ride, to leave the gang. As we got close to Dodge, without telling any of the others, I left them and headed south. My plan was to go to Texas where my name wasn't on a wanted poster. I figured that I find something in Texas. There were always opportunities for a man who could handle a gun and knew his way around. Besides, I had a good pile of cash to live on for a while and you didn't need much to survive in these small prairie towns. San Antonio became my new destination.

The End

Dr. Ben Fine is a mathematician and professor at Fairfield University in Connecticut in the United States. He is a graduate of the MFA program at Fairfield University and is the author of thirteen books (eleven in mathematics, one on chess, one a political thriller) as well over 130 research articles, twelve short stories and a novella about Pirates. His story August 18,1969 published in the Green Silk Journal was nominated for a Pushcart prize. He has completed a memoir told in interwoven stories called Tales from Brighton Beach: A Boy Grows in Brooklyn. The stories detail his growing up in Brighton Beach, a seaside neighborhood on the southern tip of Brooklyn, during the 1950s and 1960s. Brighton Beach was unique and set apart from the rest of New York City both in character and in time. His latest novel Out of Granada came out in July of 2017. His author website is BenFineAuthor.com.

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