March, 2019

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Issue #114

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Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

The Buzzard King
by Kenneth Mark Hoover
Amidst the wreckage of a train and violent murder, a U.S. Marshal struggles to solve a decades-old crime. While fighting for his life, and that of a young woman, in a black and tortuous Underworld, the marshal must also face the inevitable death of the West.

* * *

The Hangman's Dance
by R. J. Gahen
Tommy is set to hang but swears he won't. Sheriff Abel is bound and determined to see the sentence carried out. Will justice prevail?

* * *

Coulter
by John Williams
Friends Sam Coulter and Ben Tobey own a ranch together. On his 19th birthday, Tobey's son, Little Samuel, decides he wants his first whore, but a local hardcase wants her too. Little Samuel is nearly killed before his godfather, Coulter, steps in. It's a dark time for the Tobey family as secrets are revealed.

* * *

Rainmaker
by Bill Connor
Tag risks his life to free a beautiful woman's kidnapped baby. Out of water and hope he crosses an endless salt pan with the bandits closing fast and the baby nearly dead.

* * *

The Long Ride
by Jack Hill
Three men planning to rob the bank in Prescott, Arizona, shot and left Dewey Gibson for dead. A woman and her two teenagers find Dewey and nurse him back to health. Dewey reckons the renegades will return by the same trail. Will Ma, her kids, and Dewey be enough to prevail?

* * *

A Special Assignment
by Dick Derham
His skills, reliability, and discretion had been proven over the years, earning hired gun Saunders a Cheyenne lawyer's most challenging assignments. Saunders figures this trip to Montana should produce a hefty bonus.

* * *

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All the Tales

The Long Ride
by Jack Hill

Dewey Gibson, a strapping young buck of twenty, left his hometown of Lawrence, Kansas during the gold rush of 1860 for Prescott Valley, Arizona, seeking his fortune. A few weeks later, he arrived in the gold-rush town, bursting at the seams with fortune seekers. Still full of hope, Dewey set out to find a grubstake and gold. But reality hit him right between his eyes: too many miners and too few grubstakes, or jobs of any worth.

The blistering heat of two summers and the biting cold of a winter were enough for Dewey. His dreams of getting rich faded with each setting of the sun. He heard of jobs—farm and cattle jobs—in Flagstaff, a week's ride north for anyone able to make the journey. So Dewey set out, leaving gold fever as far behind him as he could ride.

Dewey fixed a mess of beans and bacon and put them on the campfire to cook. He went to the steam for some water to make coffee. Walking back, he glanced at his horse. Good. She's found some grass. Dewey checked the beans, set the coffeepot in the coals, and stretched-out before the campfire.

The roaring fire was burning the beans, and the coffee was boiling over. Dewey was sleeping. He had drifted off for a minute or two, but the crack of a dry limb woke him. Rolling to one side, he pulled his Colt .45 and stood, facing the noise. "Who goes there?"

"Easy partner. Just a couple of weary travelers needing a place to bed down for the night," said a voice in the dark.

"Come into the light where's I can see ya."

"Careful with that hog pistol, mister. Don't wants it to go off accidental like, do we?"

Dewey lowered his revolver. "Coffee's boiling over and probably strong enough to grow hair on a toad."

The voice moved into the campfire's light. "Just the way we like it. I'm Hank." The others stayed in the shadows. "This here's my brother, Jamie, and the dumb blonde one, is my cousin, Josh."

"Where ya'll headin'?"

"Prescott."

"Gold mining?"

"Naw. Too hard awork," said Hank.

Josh stepped from the shadows and blurted, "We's gonna rob da bank."

"Can't you keep him shut up for one minute, Jamie?"

Stepping backwards, Dewey lifted his revolver toward the trio.

Jamie rushed forward and cupped his hand over Josh's mouth. "Sorry, Hank, what we do now?"

"Shut up . . . Lemme think."

"Tweren't gonna be any killin' but now, things have changed, Hank. Josh really screwed this up but good."

"Okay, mister, if you drop yer gun, we'll let ya go. This ain't worth gettin' kilt over."

"You crazy, Hank? He'll ride outta here and warn the bank we're acommin'. They'll be awaitin' fer us."

"Not if we takes his horse, he won't. He can't walk to Prescott in time; it's a four-day ride from here, more than a week on foot."

"What'd ya say, mister? We take yer horse, ride off, and nobody needs to get hurt."

"I guess it's better than dying over other people's money. People I don't even know," said Dewey.

"Okay, it's a deal. Now, ease that shooter of yours back in the holster, we'll have some coffee, and be on our way."

"Help yourself," Dewey said, easing his Colt into its cradle. While the men poured coffee, he moved opposite them and inched toward the stream.

"He's tryin' to get away," yelled Josh. He stood, pulled his revolver, and shot off a round, missing Dewey.

Dewey turned and flat-out ran into the darkness.

"What tha hell?" screamed Jamie, lunging for Josh's gun. But Josh fired again before Jamie could wrestle it out of his hand.

This last bullet pierced Dewey's trousers, below the belt, through his right fleshy cheek. It laid bare a wound, about three inches long and half an inch deep. He howled and fell face-first into the stream.

"Did I get him?"

"Josh, yer . . . a . . . blooming . . . idiot. Now, we're killers," said Hank, fuming with anger and stomping.

"How you know he's dead?" asked Jamie. "I'ma gonna check."

Dewey floated into a calm pool, protected from the main channel's flow, and circled around, and around. He held his breath as long as he could, rolled his head for a gulp of air, and continued floating.

"I see him. He's floatin' face down. If the bullet didn't get him, he drowned for sure."

Jamie returned to the campfire.

"What we do now, Hank?"

"Just as we planned. Take his horse, saddle, and whatever else worth taking; and we ride to Prescott and get us a bank."

"Yeah," said Jamie.

"Where's Prescott?" asked Josh.

"Good Lord, may I never have kids," said Hank.

"Where's his horse?" asked Jamie.

"I dunna know. Musta run off when the shootin' started."

"How we gonna carry his saddle?"

"Oh, crap. Leave it. Let's ride."

"I kilt him, so it's my sadda," said Josh.

"Can you shut that moron up?" said Hank, mounting his horse.

"Whatza moron?" asked Josh, missing the stirrup for the third time.

"Will you just shoot me ifn' I ever pregnate a woman," said Hank, riding into the darkness.

* * *

The clip-clops of horses' hooves faded, and when Dewey was sure they were gone, he swam to the stream's edge, and pulled himself onto dry land. The wound in his right cheek throbbed, but in the darkness, he couldn't tell how bad it was. If the pain was any indication, it must be bad, but he still could move his leg without difficulty. Hopefully, the bullet missed a major blood vessel; otherwise, he could lose a lot of blood. He'd seen bad infections from wounds, and they could kill too.

He once saw an old-timer take small hot coals from a fire and press them into a wound. Hurt the man so that he screamed, but no infection developed. If Dewey was to get out alive, he had to try something: he was midway between Prescott and Flagstaff, several day's hike either way.

Dewey crawled to the campfire, lowered his trousers, took his wet kerchief, and gathered burning coals. Feeling for the right spot, he gritted his teeth and pressed the coals into the wound. His screams echoed through the valley. His horse's ears turned toward the sound. Dewey passed out.

The morning sun's rays peeked over the mountains and fell on the campsite. Dewey awoke with a start, reached for his gun, and looked around for the source of the noise that aroused him. On the stream's bank was his horse, munching on some aquatic grasses. "Why you old nag. You're a sight for sore eyes."

Dewey checked his wound; the bleeding had stopped, but he winced when he touched it. With each tug on his boot, pain shot down his leg. After removing his boots, the pain of taking off his canvas trousers came next. Freed from the heavy garment, Dewey stood and tried to walk. Limping with each step, he walked around the camp. He reached behind and felt for blood. He examined the sticky, dull-red liquid on his fingers. Old blood, no new bleeding.

He checked the bullet holes in his trousers: a single pair, one entered, centered on the right, back pocket; the other exited, two inches to the right. Lucky it didn't hit my hipbone, just flesh. Standing barefooted and naked from the waist down, Dewey pondered his next move: Ride on—assuming he could ride—to Flagstaff, or return to Prescott. It was about the same distance and time, either way.

Dewey hobbled over to his saddle and bags. He figured that bunch had stripped him bare of anything valuable, and he was right. His food, rifle, and bedroll were gone. When his horse ran off, she saved his saddle but little else. If an infection didn't get him, he'd die from starvation, at least that's what kept running through his mind. He couldn't see any way out of his predicament.

The beans he left on the fire were dried-out and burnt around the edges, but Dewey managed to chisel a few bites from the middle of the pot. He didn't care what they tasted like, it was food, and his belly was happy to finally get some nourishment. The coffee was thick and cold, but he drank some, anyway, and sputtered when the strong, bitter liquid traversed his palate.

Dewey tried to sit, but the pain from the skin stretching around the wound was too great. Instead, he raised his right leg—bent at the knee—in small increments, stretching the skin a little at a time. He felt for fresh blood: none. Over the course of an hour, he raised his leg parallel with the ground. He tried to sit, again. This time, as long as he kept his weight on his left buttock, he could sit with minimal pain.

The stream that saved his life, yesterday, he hoped would save his life again. Dewey stripped and wadded into the cool waters to soak his wound and exercise his leg.

Dewey didn't hear three sets of hooves approaching. A crusty older woman, maybe fortyish, and her two youngsters—a boy, about twenty-one, and a daughter, about nineteen—stopped, overlooking the stream, and Dewey splashing in the water. "Howdy, mister. Havin' fun?"

"I . . . I'ma soakin' a wound."

"Come closer so we's can get a better look at ya."

"Ma'am, I ain't got no clothes on."

"Don't matter. Ya ain't got anything I ain't already seen. Now, come closer. I can't see far off. Billy, keep a rifle on him."

"Okay, Ma."

"I'ma comin', no need to point that rifle at me," said Dewey as he waded toward the shore. He stopped when he was waist-deep.

"I still can't see ya. Come closer. Billy, help him obey."

"No, ma'am, that ain't necessary. I'ma comin'. What about yer daughter?"

"Time she sees what varmints are made of."

"Varmints? I ain't no varmint. What ya mean?" asked Dewey, standing ankle-deep in the stream and covering his embarrassing parts.

"Is this the man that tried ta rape ya, Jeannie?"

"No, Ma, it ain't him. Too tall, wrong hair and muscles; it ain't him. Never saw the man fully naked. He was drunk and never got his pants all the way down."

"Sorry, mister. You can go back to whatever ya was doin' when we rode up. Come on, children, we's gonna keep lookin' till we find him."

"Wait a minute. I'm in dire straits. Three men came into camp last night and shot me when I tried to escape. They took my food, rifle, and left me for dead, and if don't find food or my wound gets infected, I'll be as good as dead inside a week or so."

"Never heard of anyone starving in a week, but the wound's another matter altogether." Ma dismounted and walked to the water's edge. "Lemme see."

Dewey bent over, exposing his backside. "How's it look?"

"This hurt? How about this spot?" asked Ma, poking him at various places around the wound.

Dewey winced. "That's sore a bit."

"Tell me straight. Do it hurt or not?"

"It hurts."

"Ya got infection in the wound, son. When ya get shot?"

"I reckon it was an hour past sundown, or so."

"Twelve hours, too fast for infection to show, maybe just trauma. It looks as if a gnarly lookin' knife ripped yer backside open. Ya'll know tomorra about infection. Billy, Jeannie, we're makin' camp. What's yer name, fella?"

"Dewey. Dewey Gibson."

"Well, Dewey, don't just stand there all naked in front of God and everybody. Get some clothes on, son. Us women folk seen all we can take fer one day." Laughing, Ma turned to her kids and directed the layout of camp.

Dewey struggled but managed to dress. Billy gathered wood and started a fire. Jeannie took the coffeepot to the stream for fresh water. Ma prepared a meal of cornbread, dried beef, and beans.

"What was the man like that attacked yer daughter?"

"Kinda stocky, curly blonde hair, scraggly mustache, and acted dumb-like," said Ma.

"Dumb-like."

"Yeah," said Jeannie. "He talked funny, like a child at times, and for a growed man, didn't know what he was doin', I mean, he didn't know how to be with a girl."

"How'd ya know?"

"Been raised on a farm, mister. I know what's for what, and what goes where. Seen the animals doin' lots of times, and I seen Billy's different from me, so I'ma knowin' without doin'."

"What ya insinuatin' about my youngin, mister?"

"Nothin', ma'am, just gatherin' facts about her attacker. So tell me what happened."

"Near sundown, Ma and Billy were awaitin' with the wagon at the general store, and I was acomin' ta meet them, when a man—the curly blonde man—grabbed my arm and pulled me between two buildings. He put a gun ta my throat and told me ta be quiet like while he had his way with me. He pushed me ta the ground, and tried ta unbuckle. His gun belt slipped around his ankles. When he unbuttoned his pants and stepped atowards me, he got all tangled and fell. Cursing, he crawled on top of me but never lifted my dress. He couldn't do nothing thata way. I knowed then, he didn't know how ta do what he was tryin' ta do. We heared voices comin' our way. So he jumped up, tried ta untangle his gun belt and pull up his pants all at once. He stumbled and fell again. Last I saw of him, he was hopping on one foot, his gun belt dangling from the other, makin' for the shadows. If I weren't so fearful, I woulda laughed myself silly."

"He sounds like the one who shot me. Name's Josh. He's the cousin of two brothers, Hank and Jamie, riding to Prescott to rob the bank. Chances are they'll come back this way, afterwards."

"Don't say. So if we wait fer them here, we'll get that no-good, low-life that attacked Jeannie."

"Yep, I reckon so."

* * *

Dewey awoke with first light, feverish and his wound was throbbing. "Ma . . . Ma," he whispered, after crawling to her bedroll.

She woke with a start. "What's the matter, Dewey?"

"I don't feel so good, and my wound's mighty sore."

"Probably got's infection but can't see in this light. Have ta wait till sunrise."

"Okay, Ma." Dewey crawled back to his bedroll, sweat dripping from his forehead. He drifted off the sleep.

At sunrise, Ma woke Dewey and told him to lower his trousers. She examined the wound. "It's infected. Puss draining in a couple of places. Gotta remove the scab, and it's gonna hurt a bit. Billy, get up and build a fire. Jeannie, get some water a boilin'."

Pulling down his trousers, Dewey gritted his teeth in anticipation. "Calm down, son. I haven't started yet. Billy, bring him some of the medicinal whiskey."

"Okay, Ma," said Billy, returning with a full bottle of Kentucky's finest.

"Where'd you get this, Ma," asked Dewey. "Ain't seen this since comin' west."

"Husband was a drunkard, but he liked the best and left a few bottles when he passed. Keep them for medicine's sake."

"I could sure use a good slug." Dewey chugged a couple of gulps, and on an empty stomach, the alcohol put him a stupor in short order. "Okay, Ma, dig . . . a . . . way."

"Jeannie, bring a boilin' hot cloth."

"Here it is."

"This'll burn a little, but it's what ya need."

"Yeeowl! Gimme another swig."

"We'll let that set a spell ta soften the scab . . . no too hot now, ain't it? Little longer . . . that's enough. Let's see what we got. Ummm . . . not as bad as I figured it'd be but gotta take off the scab. Billy, stick the knifepoint in the fire, get it white-hot, and bring it to me. Son, ya better take another swig."

Ma took the knife a poured some whisky on the hot tip to cool it. She slid the point under the scab's edge and lifted. Pus and blood gushed out, and Dewey let out a yelp that echoed through the valley. As she lifted more scabs. More pus and blood drained from the wound, and Dewey's screams sent the wildlife scurrying for cover. With the last of the scab removed, Ma could see where the infection sites were.

"You better bite on this," Ma said, handing Dewey his belt.

Ma poured whisky on the wound, and scraped all the pus that was visible. The wound was bleeding, and fresh blood pooled where Dewey lay. "Bring the salt, Jeannie."

Ma poured a generous helping on the wound. She took a boiled cloth, folded it, and pressed it on the wound. Dewey squirmed from the pain. "Need another swig, son?"

"Yeeeeeah, might say I do."

"Come here, girl. Press this tight. Yer ma's knees done give out."

"Yes, Ma."

Jeannie knelt next to Dewey and pressed against the bandage. She took a wet cloth in her other hand and wiped the blood from this right hip and upper leg. When she put the sopping wet cloth on his cheeks, water trickled between them and his legs. Dewey muscles tightened. "Relax, Mr. Gibson, I'm not gonna hurt you."

"I think I'm clean enough, missy."

"No hanky panky, the two of ya," said Ma. "Jeannie savin' herself for the right man."

"No worry, Ma. I'm waitin' for the right woman too."

Dewey thought he saw a twinkle in Ma's eyes when he said that, but he shrugged off the thought.

"Lemme see the wound, Jeannie . . . Looks good fer now. Bleedin's stopped. Ya can leave the bandage off. Let it air dry. I think it's breakfast time. Are ya hungry, son?"

"What about me? I'm hungry too," said Billy.

Jeannie smiled and went to get food from the supplies.

* * *

"Your wound looks good after two days of healin' . . . I don't see any infection, neither. You'll be good as new soon," said Ma. "Should try ridin' a bit."

"Okay, if ya think it's healed enough."

"I'll help saddle yer horse," said Jeannie, "if ya need any help."

"I can always use some help."

Jeannie handed him the blanket, and Dewey's hand touched hers. He put the blanket on the horse's back. Heaving the saddle into place, he reached under the horse's belly for the flank cinch. Jeannie handed it to him. He tightened it and the back cinch too.

Dewey turned, and Jeannie handed him the bridle. He laid the reins over the horse's neck, slipped the bit into its mouth, slid the crownpiece over its ears, and tightened the strap. Grasping the reins, he asked, "Do you wanna go for a ride?"

"Never thought you'd ask," said Jeannie.

Dewey lifted her onto the saddle and climb up behind her. The saddle's cantle jabbed his wound, and he suppressed a yelp. They started with a walk, followed by a trot, but with each bounce, pain shot through his buttock. He stopped. "Let's trade positions. I'll sit in front, and ya can sit behind the saddle."

"Okay."

Dewey dismounted and rubbed his behind. He helped Jeannie down, and he remounted. Reaching for her arm, he pulled Jeannie onto the horse's croup. This time, the horse could slow gallop without causing Dewey pain. All the while, Jeannie held tight to Dewey's chest.

"Whoa, easy girl," said Dewy, patting his horse on its neck. "That was fun, wasn't it?"

"I enjoyed ridin' with ya, holdin' tight ta ya, bein' so close ta ya."

"Me too, Jeannie. You're kinda special, different than any girl I ever met before."

"How was the ride?" asked Ma. "Oooh, did I interrupt somethin'?"

"No, Ma. Dewey and me was just talkin', nothin' more." Jeanie walked the horse to the stream.

"She's a right pretty young woman, don't ya think, Dewey? Gonna make the right man a perfect wife someday."

"Ma, yer as subtle as a mule kick, ya know?"

Ma walked away humming a tune.

Dewey glanced toward Jeanie. She does look right pretty at that. A man could do a lot worst and no better.

* * *

"It's been seven days since Hank and his kin left here ta rob the Prescott Bank. I figure four days ridin' ta Prescott, maybe spend a day in town, and three days back. So we got a day or more before they come up the trail."

"What ifn' they ride strait through?" asked Billy.

"Gotta give the horses time ta rest and feed, else they'll ride them into the ground and be on foot."

"They took my rifle, but I have my revolver with about twenty rounds. What else we got?"

"I got a rifle," said Billy, "And twenty-five bullets."

"This old single-shot relic won't be much good, but it has twelve shots," said Ma.

"I keep Pa's old handgun, but it only has six rounds," said Jeannie.

"I'ma fair marksman, not great, but can hold my own. How about you, Billy?" Dewey asked.

"I can shoot out the eye of a gnat, buzzing at fifty yards."

"Ma?"

"Not quite as good as Billy, but don't challenge me to a rifle fight as long as we's up close."

"Jeannie?"

"Close up, only."

"We've the makin's of a small but formidable army. Standin' watch and no fires will be our edge against these men. If we get the drop on them before they know what hit them, we can capture or kill them before they kill us. Billy, you stand the day watch, and I'll stand the night watch. That ledge and those boulders on either side of the campsite should be our best defensive positions."

* * *

"What ya doin' here? Ya should be sleepin'," Dewey said.

"I couldn't sleep thinkin' about ya and what could happen ta ya ifn' they sneeked up on ya during the night, so I comes ta watch with ya. Besides, I like bein' near ya."

"Okay, but be quiet."

"Dewey, whatcha gonna do when this is over?" whispered Jeannie.

"Whatcha mean?"

"I mean . . . yer a young man . . . and I'ma young woman . . . never been kissed nor done nothin' . . . well . . . I was wonderin' . . . if ya ever . . . I mean . . .  ever gave me as much as a thought. There I said it!"

"Jeannie, ya like me . . . don't ya?"

"Of course I do, ya dumb old ox."

"I like ya too, but this ain't the time ta do any courtin'."

"Dewey Gibson, yer just the—

Dewey kissed her. "Now will ya keep quiet and go back ta yer bedroll?"

"Sure, Dewey, anythin' ya say."

* * *

"Hank. Hey, Hank, we been riding these nags real hard," said Jamie. "They's about to drop under us if we don't give them a rest."

"We'll stop where Josh shot that feller. There's water and feed for the horses."

"Ya thinks his sadda still there?" asked Josh. "I kilt him, so his sadda's mine."

"Yer a perfect reaon against incest, Josh."

"What's this here incest?"

"It's when our brother and sister, yer ma and pa, gave life to ya. The seed don't grow right when the fertilizer's too much like the seed."

"Huh?"

"Forget it, Hank. It's above him."

"My point is, Josh, yer different and difficult to deal with. Ya do things ya shouldn't, like killin' that stranger. Twas no need for it. That's what I mean. And ya shot up the bank. Twasn't necessary, neither. Yer plumb dangerous at times."

"I like shootin'. Makes people take notice. They don't call me dumb when hot lead is flying around them. I like shootin' a lot."

"We better get movin'. Close to sunup, we should be near to the clearin' where we met the stranger. We'll rest there for the day before headin' to Flagstaff."

* * *

Dewey's eyes hung heavy as the hours dragged on. His thoughts drifted back to what Jeannie said and the kiss. But horseshoes pawing against hard ground and rocks, echoed in the twilight. He slipped over and awakened Ma, Billy, and Jeannie. "They're acomin'. I reckon about a hundred yards up the trail. Take yer positions."

Each gathered their bedroll and stashed them behind a bush. Taking positions overlooking the campsite, they waited for the approaching men.

* * *

"Can we finally rest?" asked Jamie, dismounting. "My arse's near glued to my saddle." His horse strolled over to the stream for a drink. Jamie stretched and rubbed his backside.

Josh dismounted and looked around. "Where's my sadda? We left it here, but it's gone."

"Shut up about yer 'sadda'," shouted Hank. "Yer horse is more important than an old saddle. It needs water and feed."

"But I want my sadda," mumbled Josh while he unsaddled his horse. His horse walked over to the stream.

"Jamie, ya didn't take yer saddle off. Yer horse needs a rest too," yelled Hank.

"Okay. Okay, I'll get it." Jamie waded into the stream, uncinched the saddle, and plopped it on the bank.

Hank dismounted, took the saddlebags of money, and pitched them near the burnt-out campfire. He loosened the cinch and let the saddle drop to the ground. His horse wandered to the stream and took a long drink.

Josh said,"Lemme see the money, Hank."

"Yeah, I wanna see it too. How much you think we got?"

"I guess it's safe to count it. Doubt the posse's on our trail."

Jamie and Josh stood over Hank while he emptied the saddlebags on the ground.

"Put yer hands up. We gots ya covered," yelled Dewey.

Josh and Jamie hunkered down and searched for the direction of the voice. Hank gathered the money into the saddlebags and said, "Wait a minute, partner. We can talk this out."

"No talking to it. Drop yer guns."

"How many ya think there is?" whispered Jamie.

"At least two," said Hank, nodding toward Billy's position. "See the rifle on that boulder?"

"Got thirty seconds then we start shootin'," shouted Dewey.

"I like shootin'," said Josh, standing and firing toward the sound of Dewey's voice.

"Josh, ya crazy idiot. Yer pa shoulda buried ya with the afterbirth," screamed Hank.

Billy took aim on Jamie and fired. Jamie fell backward, dead, blood streaming from a hole in his forehead. Josh kept shooting wildly, missing his target. Hank shot two rounds toward Billy's position, but he had already ducked behind a boulder.

"Looky here," yelled Ma.

Hank pivoted and fired just as Ma's rifle sent a bullet screaming towards its target. Grabbing his shoulder where Ma's projectile shredded flesh and bone, the impact knocked Hank backward. He managed another shot at Ma's exposed left arm and shoulder. It found its mark, and Ma winced in pain as the bullet passed through the fleshy part of her upper arm.

"Hank, over here," shouted Dewey, standing and firing three shots of his revolver.

Hank didn't have time to turn before the slugs hit square in his chest. He paused, his revolver tumbled forward on his index finger, and he fell facedown with a thud.

Josh scrambled for cover, toward Jeannie's location. She backed against a boulder when she saw him coming. Holding the pistol with both hands, she pointed it at Josh. Her hands were shaking. She recognized him as the man who tried to molest her, and he was approaching, fast. He dove behind the boulder and looked straight into the barrel of a Colt Dragoon .44.

"Hi ya, missy. Ya ain't gonna hurt me, are ya?" Josh crawled closer.

"Yer the man who tried ta hurt me."

"Sorry, missy, I don't know ya." Josh inched forward.

"Ya grabbed me in Sedona, dragged me between two buildings, and tried to have yer way with me, but couldn't."

"I could've ifn' I wanted to." Josh raised up and extended his hand.

"Not from what I seen. Ya too dumb to knowed what ta do."

"I ain't dumb. I'll show ya I ain't," yelled Josh, lunging at Jeannie.

She squeezed the trigger, and the hammer struck the cartridge, propelling a ball of lead down the barrel. The shocked look on Josh's face froze in place when the bullet punched a hole between his eyes, and gunpowder residue splattered on his face. The exiting round exploded the back of his skull, and he slumped at Jeannie's feet.

Dewey ran toward her. "Are ya alright?" he shouted. "Are ya hurt?"

"Ma's been hit," yelled Billy, "Tain't bad though."

"Is Jeannie alright?" hollered Ma, getting to her feet. "Help me, Billy, gotta see my baby."

"She's safe and unharmed. The varmint never touched her. She got him right between the eyes, stopped him dead on the spot. She's quite a woman, Ma. She sure is."

"Stop it, Dewey," Jeannie said. "Stop talkin'. Can't ya see I'ma hurtin' inside? Never kilt anyone or anything before, and it don't feel good, like I did wrong, or somethin'."

"It was him or you. He hadda kilt ya for sure ifn' givin' the chance. Ya did right," Dewey told her.

"He be the one who attacked me in Sedona, so he deserved it, I guess."

"Yer right. So don't delve on it . . . How's yer wound, Ma?"

"I'll be okay, son. After we bury this bunch, what we gonna do with the bank's money?"

"Return it, of course. No use bein' robbers ourselves."

"That's what I wanted to hear. You take Jeannie along. She'll keep ya company ta Prescott, and you'll get ta know her better."

"What ya sayin', Ma?"

"Nothin', son, just lettin' nature take its course on the long ride ta Prescott and back."

The End


Jack Hill is a retired medical database researcher and adjunct professor. Since retiring, he's tried his hand at writing poems and short stories of different genres. He's posted many of them on: www.storywrite.com/D_Ray_Van.

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