As Jim Laramy turned toward the stable doors, he glimpsed a coiled rope on the nearby empty stall. Jim swung his Winchester under his opposite arm to clench its barrel close to his ribs, then he lifted the coiled rope, and started to feather the rope's thickness between his callused fingers, while he slowly walked in the direction of the barn's door.
"Yea," he voiced lowly, considering this new-feeling rope. Jim shook out a loop—Liked it fine—He tested the rope against the closed door, to see how its loop might lay when thrown. "That's right," he told himself, liking it better. Then Jim lifted his eyes—thought only of retribution—thought only of true hate for rustlers.
Men make their own reputations. Nobody gives it to 'em. They earn it, then they wear it. Horse-thieves, rustlers, robbers, even cowards—Jim's little brother was in these mountains, too, somewhere. Budd Laramy was riding under an alias name, Print Rivers. After he gets back his horses, Jim wanted to then try and find Budd—else, soon, he knew, it was going to be too late to try and save that boy.
Jim was hearing steady gunfire now coming from outside the livery stable. He heard steady laughter by men outside, too. He heard a woman's voice shouting her primal anger at them.
With cold calculation, Jim pushed both doors all the way open, and he headed outside, and he strode up-slope into full sunlight. He tramped across the hardpan of red stone, in chinking spurs, determinedly walking. He headed for the commotion, and directly at the four men whom were shooting off their pistols. He saw the four Pottebaum punchers were drunk and reckless. He saw one gunman shoot at, then kill, one more of Amanda's terrified chickens.
Swinging his rope in one hand, carrying his Winchester rifle in the other, Jim Laramy stalked toward the four riders—and he took wide, deliberate, and angry steps—all the way up the sloped ground of that mountain stagecoach station.
Up-slope from the stable barn, and out on the hardpan in front of the stagecoach station's small cabin, Deke's voice hooted lively. Sitting his horse, drunkenly, Deke shot his pistol at the scurrying chickens until the gun barrel was empty. As Deke then started to re-load, he faintly noticed the other three punchers had gotten quiet, and something seemed wrong to Deke— There was something strange here, he thought drunkenly—But Deke kept his mind on trying to load his six-gun while he sat his saddle.
When Deke glanced up again, at his friends, everyone's eyes were staring straight at him. Or were they looking past him? Deke noticed that both Tony and Ty Sash sat their saddles proper. Tony held the old man at gun point, who was seated on the wagon seat of the buckboard. Yet, Deke saw bemused looks on their faces. Millade, as well, held an odd sort of expression, he saw. The small woman who was station agent, Amanda Grayson, seemed to level out her darkened staring at Deke, and the young, slim girl showed true bafflement on her trim face. Deke could see Amanda was thinking.
Deke knew something had changed . . . something . . . what's the reason?
Then Deke was about to ask Millade his question, but a lasso's whirring grew above Deke's head. Abruptly, Deke found himself beneath a lasso of stiff rope that dropped around his hatted head. The rope landed against his hat's front brim, then it slipped down over Deke's shoulders, and around both his arms. Deke started to snake off the rope's lasso, but the rope tightened suddenly around him. Who was playing? He wondered. The rope soon locked-down both of Deke's arms to his sides, as Deke realized the rope was tugged around his body from behind. Perplexed, he watched his six-gun tumble onto the hardpan below his horse. Deke looked up, quizzically. But his arms were tightly bound. He was in the saddle. "What the hell is this?" he asked.
Standing behind Deke's horse, Jim Laramy had swung the stiff rope in the air into a whirring noise. Then he threw the loop over Deke. The lasso circled Deke's shoulders. When Jim had the loop drawn tight around the gunman, from behind, he quickly snubbed the rope onto the corral's corner-post, which had been built for strength to hold the stage-line's many horses. The corner-post to the corral lay firmly anchored in stones piled from the mountain rock where the Stone's Crossing Stage Station set on the wide floor of Utah's huge red canyon.
After tying-off—from behind Deke—Jim Laramy swiftly yanked a hold of his nearby Winchester rifle. Almost at once, Jim fired off several bullets that ricocheted off the hardpan under Deke's horse's feet. Jim felt grudging pleasure then, as he watched Deke's horse bolt out across the hardpan. Like a shot from a Yankee cannon. Deke rode helplessly in the saddle until the rope's coiled line drew its tight breath, then Deke's body was yanked violently backwards off the back of the fleeing horse. As the gunman's legs kicked out from the stirrups, his bound body spun in mid-air, a full-twisted turn.
After, Deke's tightly bound body landed violently, and his prone figure splatted smartly on the stone's hardpan. Deke hit so awkwardly, and hard, on his right side, his shoulder broke on impact. One side of his drunken, bearded face, too, cracked against the stone ground. While Deke's frightened horse continued on its run, Deke writhed on the ground in scorching, new pains.
At the sound of bullets ricocheting, Deke's horse had shot out across the hardpan. The frightened animal darted past Amanda's staring down from her station porch. The boogered horse turned the corner and promptly slipped its iron shoes on the scrabble of loose rock there, however, it soon found its footing again, righted itself, then the rider-less horse, dragging reins, abruptly ran off in the direction of sunlight and the scrub junipers growing on the canyon floor.
His mind unruly, his clothes still filthy, Jim Laramy's fierce hands gripped his Winchester's gun stock. He firmly pointed his angry rifle at the three remaining Pottebaum riders who were still upright: two were sitting horseback, with surprised expressions in their eyes, while one shorter fella stood alongside a pinto horse by the rein. Jim Laramy's dirty face and beard looked grave, his legs spread wide apart. It got his back up to meet them all again. He liked this moment. He liked it a lot now.
Jim met their staring with a lot behind him for a range man. He had been stolen from. His ponies had been rustled away from him, thereby cheating him out of what was rightfully his property. The stolen ponies he'd broke last spring in his round corral, which he'd built into the mountain meadows alongside the headwaters of the Green River, in Wyoming Territory. There the Green River meanders away from the heavens, and out of a great stone mountain, called Square Top. Nestled way back inside such country, there flowed a snow-white waterfall, higher above the meadows. Many springs flow out of that ground in that mountain country. Rich in water, a sizeable creek flowed nearby at the base of that waterfall, called Cascade Creek, and there is a long box-canyon, named Cascade Canyon, where the water rushes swift and white, pure water which was sure of its own strong flow, because the land there drops so quickly in elevation. A man can't hardly not catch trout when he dangled a line. Up there, up in that scenic mountain country, at the headwaters of the Green River, at the north end of the Wind River Mountains, a man lives free from liars, and cheats, and ornery bastards. This way, any man who lives his life solemn—who gives his word for his bond, and who takes extra-special care to mind other people's rights, and other people's property, and other people's respect—will take might exception to any human being who tries to lie and cheat for the sole purpose of trying to put the fool somebody. To get away with something! To steal! Such familiarity against corruption, and against these notions, was a firm belief in Jim Laramy. He knows which way the wind blows.
Seated on the buckboard wagon, Gil Grayson's furled brows were firmly questioning what his old eyes were seeing transpiring in front of him. Gil stared hard at the four Pottebaum riders. Then, in full-blown curiosity, old Gil Grayson swung his bearded face to take in the lean stranger, Laramy.
Gil wondered: Who in thunder is this man? Then Gil realized the grubby stranger came walking out of his station's stable barn below, and that the lean man now held an angry rifle on the four Pottebaum riders— Damned if he ain't! Gil thought, feeling pleased to see it. Gil eyed his daughter, Amanda. She, too, held her staring at the stranger.
Gil Grayson was ruddy-faced. He wore a grey beard and a slouch hat. With crinkled eyes slanted at the corners, Gil started to appraise the stranger holding an angry rifle under two hands. Gil saw enough anger in this lean, grubby stranger that Gil thought the lean stranger was almost reckless. It looked to him like the stranger was about to shoot every one of these Pottebaum men. Gil tried to understand it now, but couldn't yet.
All the Pottebaum riders stared steadily at the lean stranger holding his angry rifle in his hands. Each saw the stranger's body was tense enough to start shooting at them.
Jim Laramy lashed out, "The lady said you're scaring her chickens! Did ya hear me? Or, ain't it plain enough yet?"
Jim quickly shot off five more harsh rounds from his loud gun. Each bullet he deposited at the feet of the horses that the Pottebaum men rode. Two horses went to pitching and bucking. One horse humped its back and stomped, snorting and kicking, its hind legs breaking the mountain air. The riders immediately went to sawing on tightened reins to the bucking broncs. Millade's pinto got skittish itself, and Millade, while on foot, hurriedly ran his horse out by trying to keep its short legs running in a tight circle. Then, feeling angry, a scolding Millade threw an I-don't-know-what-the-hell-you're-doinglook at Jim Laramy.
Jim asked roughly, "How's it feel to be scared? Do you like it any?" Jim kept a firm hold of his pointing rifle at the Pottebaum men. Jim wanted to know, "Do you aim to quit now? Or, what'll be?"
Confused, Millade tried to sort Jim out. He stood beside the station's porch steps, and in front of Amanda Grayson, who stood small, attractive on the raised porch floor behind the short gunman. Millade demanded, "Just who hell are you, mister? Coming in here like you are G-o-d-Almighty!"
Jim blasted at Millade, "Name's Laramy!"
"That don't mean no nothing to me!" shouted Millade, unfriendly.
Jim blasted again. "I come from Wyoming!" Jim pointed the rifle at Millade so the shorter man could feel its cold threat. Jim meant his threat. "I'm about ready to kill you, mister. I'm ready to kill all of ya. You hear me now?"
All three upright Pottebaum riders showed this stranger their questioning stares. Amanda and Gil did the same. Confused, puzzled, both Gil and Amanda acted unsure of the lean and bearded stranger. For a moment, Amanda felt even a little more scared. She regarded Jim warily now, and her eyes grew narrow on her trim face. Amanda stared out at Jim. Hot winds lifted auburn curls from her small, square shoulders. Her eyes blinked, and she was a minute more in thinking. Amanda wore a solemn expression. Her face, modeled in her mother's beauty, was trim. She lifted her chin.
Finally, Ty Sash recognized Jim, because Ty saw through the grisly, dark beard. Ty said sourly, "So, it's you. You again! I thought you would have left this territory by now. Laramy, you should have. Hell, a lot of men would have." Ty wondered something.
"You know who I am, huh?" Jim considered the damn rustler now. He kept his staring rigid, not blinking. Jim coldly answered, "Naw, there is still a little matter of finding those rustlers who are responsible for stealing my horses." Jim waited. A hard, unforgiving look in his mountain eyes.
Ty asked him. "Your horses, huh, Laramy? Do you think you'll find them?"
"I'll find my horses." Jim's voice dropped. "You can count on that."
Ty said, his voice sounding sure. "You might live long enough. But you won't find your horses any."
Jim sensed something. "Oh?"
"I say those horses are a long ways from here, Laramy."
Jim answered, confident. "Well, it sounds like you might be the man who knows something about it."
Ty answered, "Call it a hunch. Laramy, the horses you say you lost—Were they wearing any brands?"
Jim's anger felt a notion to want to wring Ty Sash's crooked neck. He glared, angrily said, "Not a one. They were Army horses. I was taking them horses to sell to the Army. And, I didn't lose 'em!"
"But you ain't got 'em now."
"No. they were stolen from me after I met you, and your friends, and Pottebaum, over on the pass. Maybe you people don't understand what stealing means to a man," said Jim, barely keeping himself under control.
"Why don't you tell me."
Ty Sash and Millade only smiled. This told Jim what he wanted to know. It was all the proof he needed.
Millade raised his voice, put in, "Why don't you come out to Mr. Pottebaum's ranch? Have a look-see for yourself?"
"Now, I just might have to do that," said Jim, coolly.
Millade let in, "We're headed to the ranch now, mister. Why not ride along with us?"
"It'll wait," replied Jim. "But you tell old man Pottebaum this for me—That if he seen any of my stolen horses—That I aim to get 'em back! Every one of 'em."
Ty Sash questioned, "What makes you think Pottebaum took your horses, Laramy?"
Jim stared, just said, "It wasn't Indians. Now, was it?"
Millade smiled. "E.Y. mentioned a man might come out to the ranch. I guess he meant it was you now."
Ty Sash harshly stared over at Millade, and groused, "Shut up, Millade. You talk too much."
But the smiling Millade then asked, "What do you aim to do to the rustlers when ya catch up to them? If you catch them, that is?"
Jim asked Millade, at the point of his rifle. "What would you do?" Then, "You're a new fella. Ain't seen you before."
Millade smiled, replied, "I ain't seen you before neither." Millade was a short man with a smart-aleck grin, and lighter hair, and a sharp nose. He wore a gun belt, slung low, an unbuttoned vest, denims, boots, no spurs. He stood holding the rein to the black and white pinto. Amanda Grayson stood on the porch over Millade's right shoulder. She kept a firm hold of her rifle in her small hands.
Jim squared, asked the shorter Millade. "Now I'll ask you. Did you have anything to do with stealing my horses? No answer, huh? Fella, if I ever ask you again, you'll know why."
Millade said, in a smart-aleck voice, "Maybe it is I don't like that kind of talk, mister."
"Oh, ya don't? Well, maybe it is I don't care." Jim's eyes didn't waver as he spoke his harsh answer at the shorter Millade. By it, Millade then knew he had no choice but to weigh and take notice.
Millade shouted. "Damn, yer a sight! You must be living in a hole in the ground!"
Jim only nodded, gruffly said, "Yea, sure."
Jim scraped his boot sole on the hardpan when he turned. He faced Ty Sash now, still mounted. Jim considered carefully when he looked over each outlaw face. "Say, you're missin' a couple more fellas. Where's that man who rode that fancy bay mare? The one with the long tail. He wore two guns strapped to him. Had a beard, low-crowned hat, no mustache. Quiet fella."
Ty answered, "Rooster quit."
Jim questioned, "Rooster? Is that his name? He quit, did he? Quit working for Pottebaum? Or, quit rustling? Or, maybe there's no difference between the two at all?"
Ty groaned. "You're a persistent cuss."
"So I am." Jim spoke it lowly.
Jim became aware how mad he felt. His stomach clenched. He stood gripping his rifle in his right hand. Then he walked several more steps toward the four men. Only two of the four riders remained on horseback. Deke lay writhing in pain on his back, his left hand holding his shoulder. Jim walked all the way up to Deke and put his spurred boot on Deke's broken shoulder. Jim stepped on the man then, and he ground his heel down hard on the writhing man beneath his boot's sole. Deke cried out so hard in his sharp pain that he had to spit out his chaw of tobacco so that he could cry out even more from excruciating pain. His face was twisting red, but his skin began turning white now. His voice loud. "Yea, good," Jim crowed, grimacing anger. "Good! Good! Feels right! Don't it! Don't it feel right! You damn crooked!"
Ty Sash shot a hot glance at their hurt comrade. Deke was lying on the ground and holding a badly broken right shoulder. Jim Laramy's boot sole was still mashed against Deke's shoulder, holding him down, grinding his heel into the crying gunman. Deke was yelping and kicking like a damn lamed dog. Deke stomped his own foot against the hardpan. Jim backed off a few steps. Then Ty's stare fired across at an Jim Laramy.
Ty cursed. "Might be you find yerself a bullet soon, Laramy, if you stay around here much longer. I heard you killed a lot of good men at that stagecoach holdup. You made a lot of graves that day, boy. Friends of theirs might be after you."
Amanda heard such news for the first time, and her awakened staring shot towards Jim Laramy now. For a moment, Amanda's trim woman's face went suddenly bland. Then, becoming more puzzled over the news, she frowned her eyes hard.
Amanda quickly wondered about that last stagecoach holdup. She had circled the date on her calendar for the stage line so that she could report it in the paperwork. That holdup was almost three weeks in the past now. Amanda tried recollecting that terrible news-day:
A lone rider, they said . . . From Wyoming . . . They said a man had helped the passengers when he intervened on their behalf . . . They said he shot and killed several of the would-be robbers . . . Bob Dutton and Wil Wilson, the stage driver and the guard of the coach, were wounded in the robbery-attempt . . . It had all occurred at Rustler's Gap . . . Amanda remembered her father, Gil, treated the wounded guard at their station cabin.
Amanda then realized brightly, as she studied the lean, bearded stranger whom she knew only as—a Mr. Laramy: So! He's the man from Wyoming!
Surprise touched Amanda Grayson's parted lips. Mr. Laramy acted sure of himself, she thought. He was booted and spurred, and wearing those dark leather leggings. Gloves had been folded behind his thick gun belt and shoved down inside his dirty trousers. Dark-skinned from mountain sun, Mr. Laramy now wore his brown Stetson low like he meant his business. He had led two jack mules into her station this morning, and now here he stood strongly, aiming his rifle like he knew how to use it on a man.
While Amanda stood on the cabin porch, she briefly nodded her chin, understanding him now. Yes, he was sure of himself, and he was still angry! Not three hours ago, the man was angry when she drank coffee with him. And, he was still showing his worth. He was the man from Wyoming whom they had all heard stories about. For weeks, all the ranchers and the homesteaders wondered about this man—They heard of the news regarding that stagecoach holdup, and of the shooting during the robbery-attempt. Selmont Gint himself had asked Amanda whether she had seen that Wyoming man at her station. No, she hadn't. Now, however, Amanda can tell Selmont that she saw Mr. Laramy: that he slept in her barn, and that she trusted him. She shall tell Selmont Gint the man from Wyoming rode a beautiful grey horse, named Bear. And he was an angry, angry man . . .
Amanda blinked her eyes now as she wondered something. Her interests watched him carefully, and she kept listening. She had been watching the confrontation between these men at her stagecoach station. Now she understood about the rustled horses that Mr. Laramy told her he had been hoping to find.
Gil Grayson studied the situation, and he watched the four gunmen. Gil was seated in the buckboard's bench-seat. Then Gil's own callused hands abruptly reached into the floorboards of the buckboard, and he quickly brought up the twin-barreled shotgun. He pulled back both hammers on the twin barrels. Then Gil braced the shooting-iron in his lap, from the buckboard wagon, feeling sort of happy about it. He planted both barrels directly at Tony's back. Gil's finger curled around the first trigger on the shotgun. Gil told Tony, "Hold her dirty soap, son. Stay right where you breathe."
Tony heard the old man behind him, and heard the twin hammers on the shotgun barrels as they were being cocked-back. Tony caught his breath. He slowly raised his gun-hand. His other hand held the horse rein.
Ty Sash spoke to Jim Laramy harshly. "There's some riders yet that you ain't killed from that stagecoach holdup, Laramy. I'd say they must be feeling pretty low-down mad at you now. Ain't you afraid of that gang? They might come muss your hair some." Ty almost laughed by it, a gleam in his outlaw's eye.
Jim angrily said, "Afraid? Of what? Crooked scum that won't work for their pay so they have to steal at the point of a gun? That's what is so good about having guns in this territory. We can all carry one." Jim's eyes held Ty's gaze, which was filled with fury for the Wyoming man.
Then Jim gave a short nod. "There's something I learned a hun'red years ago."
"What's that now?" Ty asked, his voice mean.
"That right and wrong are the only two sides of the law," Jim told him, frankly.
"So? What of it, Laramy?"
"So, don't ever cross my law." Jim said it now like he meant it—And there fell a moment of uneasy quiet that went through the Pottebaum men.
"So, you're stayin'?" Ty asked, savagely.
"Yea, I'm stayin', mister." Jim raised his head, aware.
"And you're going to keep lookin' for them horses?" Ty asked.
Jim assured him he would, nodding. "Just as sure as I'm standin' here. You can count on it."
Ty caught the warning in Jim Laramy's eyes and he knew he couldn't put the run on the bearded stranger. Ty told him, "Pottebaum offered to buy those damn horses from you, Laramy, but you wouldn't meet his price. Now what do you got? You got no horses and no money out of the deal, because you're too damn stubborn! But you don't belong here, either. You're lurking around these mountains like some dern fool on a wild hunch about finding someone else's gold. No-o-o! You don't belong here at all, Laramy."
Jim agreed, nodded. "You know, I think you're right. But those stolen horses were my gold, mister, and I aim to find them, and I aim to find the men that stole them from me. I come a long ways."
Ty Sash snarled, "Good luck with that." Turning to look, Ty saw Tony was collecting Deke off the hardpan. Deke wore a grimace on his face, and they were preparing to ride-double out of there. Then Millade and Ty began to gather their own mounts.
"Come on, dammit," Ty told his comrades, before he started to rein a way. "He's just buckin' and kickin'."
The four Potttebaum riders heard enough from Laramy, and the gang started to pull out of Stone's Crossing Station. Yet, Jim knew they'd all be back some day, too.
Amanda called out, harshly, from her cabin porch, "Don't ever come back here! All of ya! You ain't welcomed here."
Jim ordered, "Hold it!" He glanced across at Amanda, as he now strode over to the two men riding double, Tony and Deke. His spurs jangled loudly over the hardpan because he walked angrily and firmly. At the side of their horse, Jim pulled out the two men's pistols from their leather holsters. He tossed them to the stony ground where they clattered.
Backing away a few steps, Jim told them, "There's the simple matter of having to pay something for these chickens you men kilt." Then he made Ty Sash and Millade drop their guns, too.
Jim directed them to lose the belts. "And the cartridge belts."
Millade became livid. "You mean for us to pay for a bunch of damn ole chickens with our guns?" Millade, being a shorter man, he liked having his gun with him at all times.
Jim answered, "That's right. Sounds fair, don't it? You was shootin' them chickens like sport. Well, in sport, rules have a way of changing."
During this moment, Gil Grayson walked up-slope, using a cane and a limp. He carried the double-barreled shotgun at waist-high. Gil pointing his attack at Tony and Deke, the nearest gunmen sitting double on the saddle horse. Gil said, in angry tone, "You fellas wronged us, didn't ya? You set out to hurt people here."
"Good people," muttered Jim quietly.
Gil caught his ragged breath, getting himself worked-up. He gave a hostile staring. "If you boys ever want to settle this score again, then all either of yous will have to do is let me know. Do you understand me?"
Both gunmen—although sore and mad—nodded anyway. Tony didn't like having to leave his gun belt behind, and he was glancing down at its laying quietly on the hardpan under his horse.
Gil saw this contemplation. He added, "That's right, son. If yer gonna dance, ya gotta pay the fiddle-player. Now git out of my sight." Gil eased the twin hammers to his shotgun back down. Yet, Gil's fiery, old eyes kept staring from full-blown hate.
Jim ordered, "Now you four punchers do as the lady says. Ride out of here and don't come back to Stone's Crossing Station. Now go on!" He yanked his head, waved them along with his rifle barrel.
Millade, the shorter fella that did so much of the talking to Amanda at first, only stared at Amanda Grayson now. Her eyes glowered back at him. Amanda defiantly held the rifle in both her hands. She raised her chin at his staring. Millade observed the scold in her pretty face. Still, even then, she was young and pretty, for a small woman. Hot wind danced through her auburn curls.
Jim asked Millade, "You, fella? Have you got somethin' more to say? Or, what'll it be?"
Millade turned his eyes down. "Naw, I haven't at this time."
Jim nodded, ordered, "Then ride out of here. On your horse."
Millade mounted the black and white pinto and hastily reined its head around. He eyed Jim Laramy. "I want my gun belt, dammit!"
Jim laid back his head, said nothing for a moment. "How much ya willin' to pay for it?"
Millade winced. "Damn you! You're a damn cuss!"
Jim agreed. "I am, now ain't I? I will be the next time I see ya, too. Just you think about that."
Millade clamped his mouth shut.
The four rode up the curvy stone road. But there were two more Pottebaum riders waiting for them on the rim above the canyon station, and they were surveying the fracas from horseback. Gil sidled in and stood next to Jim Laramy, and together they both took a critical staring at those two additional riders up on top. The two riders were far from the station, sitting horseback at the top of the rim.
One man's name up there was Alva, from Kansas. From the canyon rim, Alva saw it all happen down below at the station. Alva, and Rooster, who sat a fancy bay mare. Jim eyed both men now, too. Since they were watching him, he had to figure them. And he wondered about their future-actions now.
Uh-huh, Jim thought. His eyes hardened a bit. He took satisfaction from this little fracas today, now that he'd found the miserable scum he'd been searching for all along. Uh-huh.