Killing Whiskey Smith
by Jack Paxton
Drunk and crazy is usually a bad combination; this was especially true for Whiskey Smith. When Whiskey made his way down the wood plank sidewalks of Main Street everyone and everything gave him plenty of room. Dance hall girls, horse thieves, preachers and high society matrons alike peeled away in the opposite direction if they saw Whiskey headed their way. Town Marshal Bob Moody would peer up and down the street before he exited his office, just to make sure Whiskey wasn't close by. Even Old Tom, the orphan calico cat, who freely roamed from one end of the street to the other would be on the lookout. Old Tom knew to steer clear of the big collie dog that slept out front of Major Connell's general store, and to stay out of kicking range of Whiskey Smith. Old Tom usually slinked down an alley way if Whiskey was close by.
Whiskey Smith was not liked but was certainly feared by the townsfolk. Most folks avoided him and the ones who couldn't kowtowed to his whims and tried to stay on his good side. This usually meant that Whiskey rarely bought a drink on his many trips to the saloon. There were three saloons in town and Whiskey was known and feared in all three. There was always an innocent bystander willing to buy a drink to avoid the anger that Whiskey Smith was quick to display.
Whiskey was a large burly man who stood a good 4 inches taller than anyone else in town. Little was known of his past. What was known is that he liked to drink, fight, and generally disrupt any room he walked into. The townsfolk had once watched him fight three cowboys who stopped off at one of the saloons and refused to buy him a drink as he had requested. If the three cowboys had been backed up by another three, they might have had a chance, but Whiskey maimed and defeated the unsuspecting wranglers, even going to the point of biting off part of one man's nose. As the cowboys lay unconscious on the floor Whiskey poured himself a drink and charged it to them.
Whiskey, himself, showed the effects of his rough and tumble lifestyle. Several of his teeth were missing and a part of his left ear had been cut away in a knife fight with a buffalo hunter. He had several scars on various parts of his body which he proudly displayed as medals to honor his many victories.
To say that everyone in town feared him would not be totally accurate. One person would challenge him whenever she saw him. Young Annabelle Lacey didn't tremble with fear when he passed by. She always confronted him, "What you did to me; that weren't right."
He would always push past her or dismiss her with "Get away from me you simpleton!"
Annabelle was a thin, bony girl in her mid-teens. Her long blonde hair was weaved tightly in braids that fell across her shoulders and ended near her waist. She had been a pleasant happy child who was always smiling. That changed at the age of eight when she was helping her Pa round up a pair of mules. A big, rangy, plow mule kicked with full force and caught her square on the left temple. It was touch and go as to whether she would make it. Annabelle proved to be a tough little girl but from then on, she was never the same. Before long she was being called simple or a simpleton by kids and adults alike. She didn't smile as much as she had before, and headaches were as common as the sunrise. What triggered her dislike of Whiskey was a matter of discussion around town. Several people had an idea, but no one said anything.
The sun was near straight overhead as Whiskey ambled down the sidewalk with his boots making a loud clanking sound on the wooded slats of the walkway. Whiskey had slept late after a long night of drinking and was headed to the Brass Eagle Saloon for a bit of the hair-of-the dog. He felt the warmth of the noon time sun as he pushed his sweat-stained hat back on his head. He also saw Annabelle standing in the middle of the sidewalk about ten feet down the way.
Whiskey said a curse under his breath as he saw her standing there. He wished he'd never done what he had done, not because he regretted it but because the girl had been nothing but a nuisance since then. Accosting him everywhere he went. Couldn't even walk down the street in peace.
Annabelle stood her ground and refused to move. "You shouldn't have done what you did to me," she said in a quiet voice. "That weren't right."
"Get out of the way, you stupid simpleton, "the big man raged as he grabbed her by the shoulder and tossed her into a large mudhole located next to the sidewalk.
The Code of the West had not made it to this town. No hero strode forth to defend the young and disabled. No knight errant stepped up to protect young maidens from evil. Whiskey Smith continued unchallenged on his way to the Brass Eagle.
In his usual charging-bull manner Whiskey swept thru the swinging doors of the Brass Eagle and plowed forward to the bar. But he soon realized something was different. A person he had never seen before was seated at a table in a darkened area near the back wall.
A new black hat with a perfect crease, a freshly ironed blue shirt, and twin pearl-handled Colt forty-fives in brown leather holsters strapped low on the hips. It had to be the Abilene Kid. The Abilene Kid had a reputation as a feared shootist. A gun for hire; killing was his passion. Legend had it that he had dispatched more than twenty gunmen throughout the west. Actual eyewitness accounts did little to support his reputation as a feared gunman. His only three confirmed kills were an 83-year-old farmer in Arkansas, a blind Indian on a train station in New Mexico, and a drunken cowboy in Abilene, Kansas.
The Kid made his living and his reputation by being a gun for hire. He generally preferred to go up against men who were at a distinct disadvantage. The Kid had been assured that Whiskey Smith was an over-the-hill drunken saddle bum. The drunken saddle bum description was a good fit, but he certainly wasn't over the hill.
Whiskey sized up the situation in a flash. Another hired gun sent to take him out. It was nothing new to Whiskey. He was not a popular man; as he had offended everyone within a fifty-mile ride. Four other gun hands had been hired to kill him in the last year. They currently resided next to each other in four unkept graves at Boot Hill.
Whiskey sipped a glass of cheap rot gut as he eyed the Kid.
"Well, Fancy Dan," he laughed. "I'm guessing you're here to see me."
The Kid took a long slow drink from a half-empty glass of beer and slowly stood up. "If you're Whiskey Smith; you're the man I'm here to see."
"Well, Sonny, you have found your man." Whiskey stood up straight and stepped away from the bar. "You here to buy me a drink?"
The Kid set the glass of beer on the table and stepped forward. "I'm here to watch you crawl out of town on your hands and knees; or put a bullet in you. Your choice."
Whiskey laughed a long loud belly laugh as he moved closer to the Kid. "I don't believe you got what it takes, Kid." With that he spit a long stream of tobacco juice on the front of the Kid's freshly ironed shirt.
The Kids' eyes flashed with anger. "Make your play!" He stood arms at the ready; hands nervously waiting to grab the Colts.
Whiskey smiled and wiped wayward droplets of tobacco from his beard. "Not in the saloon; too many bystanders. Out in the street."
"Gladly," said the Kid as he turned toward the door. Two shots thundered from Whiskey's Schofield Smith and Wesson pistol. The Kid turned with a look of surprise and grabbed for the Colts as two large red stains streamed down his side. He raised one of the Colts only to be met with another slug to the chest as he staggered toward the door. He fell to the floor as the Colt dropped from his lifeless hand.
Whiskey holstered his gun and turned back to the bar. "Set 'em up, barkeep. Drinks on the house, courtesy of the Abilene Kid."
As the crowd nervously edged to the bar to take advantage of free drinks a soft voice was heard behind them, "Turn around."
Voices quieted as everyone turned to see Annabelle holding the Colt that had been dropped by the Kid. Silence filled the room as everyone stared at the young girl pointing the gun at Whiskey Smith.
She spoke softly, her voice not much more than a whisper, "What you done to me in the barn that day. That wasn't right."
Caught off guard, Whiskey stared at the girl. "What are you doing? Get out of here!"
Fire and smoke erupted from the Colt forty-five and Whiskey staggered back against the bar, clutching his chest as his life ebbed away. A look of surprise was chiseled on his face as he gasped, "The simpleton has killed me."
Without another word Annabelle tossed the gun on the floor next to the Abilene Kid then slowly walked thru the swinging doors and out onto the street.
After Town Marshal Bob Moody felt enough time had elapsed following the shooting to be safe, he entered the saloon. He saw the Abilene Kid sprawled lifeless a few feet from the door. His freshly ironed shirt stained with tobacco and life blood. The work of Whiskey Smith, no doubt. The Marshal's face registered a look of surprise as he stared at the lifeless body of Whiskey Smith lying at the base of the bar.
"What in the world has happened here?" He asked as he quietly surveyed the scene.
Sam, the bartender poured a glass of the best whiskey in stock, "Whiskey Smith shot the Abilene Kid, then committed suicide."
"Committed suicide? Whiskey Smith?"
The bystanders nodded their agreement as they sipped their drinks.
Sam handed the glass of whiskey to the Marshal. "Drink up. Courtesy of the Abilene Kid and Whiskey Smith."
Jack Paxton lives on a miniature donkey ranch in Arkansas. He enjoys writing humor, science fiction and his new interest is in Westerns. He has recently completed two western short stories and a novel that he is currently seeking a publisher for. He has two current humor novels on Amazon; Gone Ape and Lost in the 70s'. He is a member of the Arkansas Writers Group.
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by Hannah Hannan
A man stands before me.
Through the glass partitions, light limps in, but still finds the gun holstered at the man's waist; and like a splinter in my finger, it irritates my eye.
He wants me to see his weapon. He wants me to feel intimidated, because this is a man who has lost it all. What he doesn't know is that I have the experience to resist such sympathies. People like him wear different faces: the crier, the fighter, but they never get their way when dealing with me.
This man is lost, and he's wandered into my domain; the office.
"Good morning," I say. It's best to show him that his intimidation tactics will not work because I have my shield; the contract, and a reputation of iron. Iron does not bend. Iron does not break. Does he really think a silver gun will change that? If so, I pity him.
My desk is made out of varnished Teak. My pen is a feathered quill, and my clothes are fine cotton. I can afford these fine trinkets because my passion is money.
In my hands, the desk is a battering ram; a means to knock all hope out of a person.
"So what can I do for you?"
The man is still standing, refusing to take a seat.
From my sitting position he is large, his shoulders are square, and his Ridge-top hat casts a half moon shadow across his face.
"My debt," he says, "I will not pay it back."
"That's problematic," I say, "because I have another appointment in fifteen minutes and figuring out another means of payment is a laborious task that I do not have time for."
"You people sicken me," he says.
"Bankers are not a 'people'," I say.
He speaks in a way that agitates and antagonises me. He speaks as if he is entitled to my sympathy. Most people think that survival comes in the form of a gun, and a gutted horse carcass under the cold desert night, but all of us under the cloudless sky and blistering sun are surviving. Some of us are just better at it than others.
In this fractious world my intellect and wit has scorned all those who are desperate enough to sign on the dotted line and take my loans. But I never lie to them, every stipulation, every clause is written in that contract. Some just never bother to read it, and those who do . . . well, they're usually desperate for the money.
I am the new form of outlaw, and men like him can't stand it. They think they own everything because they have a gun and a pair of stones hanging between their legs. Never have they been so wrong. This world is changing, and I am the vanguard.
Pulling the chair out from underneath the desk, dragging the wooden legs along the carpet, I wonder why he has now decided to take a seat. Is it because he knows his physicality serves him no favour? Or perhaps his legs are just tired?
As he leans back in his chair, I am gifted a look at his face. The grease on his skin catches the light. The tangle of creases on his forehead is a mess I have seen before. His lips are chapped with milky blisters. I must recognise him from one of the wanted posters dotted around town, but you can't judge a man because of that; everyone's got their own poster this far west.
He keeps one hand on the desk, the other is hidden below it; presumably he is keeping a close grip on his weapon, or something else I hope he doesn't pull out.
"You must forgive my debt," he says.
"I must?" His temerity astonishes me. "Sir, I am a money lender, I arrange loans, you pay me back with interest. These are the rules of the contract and they cannot be broken. If you think that peacocking around here all day with that gun and your hat will make me forget your debt, I'm afraid you're mistaken."
"Have you no advice for me?"
"I do," I say with a smile, "kill yourself. Then I'll forget your debt."
"You treat money as if it is life or death," he says, "but you're just—"
"Stop," I say.
I intervene because his speech is loathsome. It is the one about the importance of life, shelter, family and the American dream. Experience has taught me to cut such a soliloquy short because such a speech just isn't true. Money makes me better. It allows me to give others work. Money allows me to expand and bring civilisation to the masses. Money is the great equaliser, money is philanthropy. Unless you're stupid enough to get on the wrong side of it.
"If it helps, I'll find your account and see if there are any numbers I can move around." If he believes that then he's a bigger fool than I first thought.
"Move around? Fantastic," he says with the kind of faith in man that makes me believe, if only for a second, that I might actually help him.
I swivel on my chair, stand, and pull out my keys. A tall cupboard that kisses the ceiling stands before me, but this is a façade.
I open the cupboard doors, the hinges rattle against the rusted brackets, to reveal my cast-iron safe.
I roll the dial. 59, 7, 31. Spin the handle, and open the heavy door. I am hit by a fragrant wall of money, and I ingest the smell as if I am a drowning man returning to the surface.
I see stacks of green bills, but I pull out a large box, which contains all of my client's details; labelled A through Z.
"Name?" I ask, wanting to find his account.
"Billy," he says.
I hear the faint click of a revolver's hammer.
A warm, unsettling fear fills me and spreads out across my crotch. I can't help but wonder if all this time he was just waiting for me to turn my back.
"Billy the Kid," he says.
Everyone knows that name.
His gun isn't just for show.
A man with his reputation finds it hard to leave a place without dropping a few casings.
I think about ringing the alarm bell that hangs under the desk . . .
"What do you want?" I say with my back turned to him and my hands in the air.
The composure I treasure has vanished.
"Turn around and sit down," he says, "time for a lesson."
I follow his orders.
Billy leans forward, placing a hand on the varnished Teak, and shoves the snub of his gun in my face. His breath smells like the inside of a meat safe, and I can see the white cap of a pimple underneath his rough beard.
"I heard you were made out of metal you sour bastard," he says, "I was told no gun would get you to reveal your safe. You may be tough, but you're dumb. You're real dumb. Thank you for falling for my act. All that spiel about contracts, interest, where's that strength now? I'm in control."
"Sir?" I say.
"Do I look like a fucking knight to you? I have no sword or shield, and I kneel to no one."
"I have guards," I say, "if you fire that gun you won't leave this place. But if you let me live, I'll give you a small share of this bank. I think that's a fair prospect, don't you, a man of your intellect knows that this is a system. It works. But I can't just let you take my money otherwise our fiduciary kingdom comes crumbling down."
"Fiduciary," he says. "Prospect. You use a lot of fancy words for someone so stupid. I've come for all of your money, not just a 'small share.' Goodbye."
As quick as a whip, I dive under the desk and reach for the bell-alarm. I shake it, hoping the guards can hear . . .
A flurry of splinters burst above me, before a whistling bullet passes my ear . . .
I raise my hands, as if they will stop a bullet from crashing into my head.
Taking cover under the desk, I hear the door swing open.
I hear the sound of footsteps, and the clicking of rifles.
No more shots are fired.
I peek above the desk. Five men surround Billy like a sickle round hammer. Each one has a Carbine rifle pointed at him.
"What now?" I say, as a bead of sweat breaks through my forehead.
"The game is rigged," he says, "it always has been."
Before I have time to interpret his riddle, the five men turn their rifles on me.
My eyes close.
I wish money was as tough as iron.
Hannah Hannan is an ex semi-professional footballer who has turned her hand at writing and procrastinating, most commonly at the same time, whilst also maintaining a job at the desk and looking after her dog Alice. Oh yes, she's not a crazy cat lady, but she is a crazy dog lady.
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by Paul Grella
The Tender Biography of a Black Cowboy
There were many black cowboys who joined the great cattle drives during the two decades that droving flourished. One out of three cowboys, in fact, was either black or Mexican and they distinguished themselves well. But they were treated poorly and were mocked and cursed at continually by white drovers. Black men jumped at the job mostly to escape the yoke of slavery that was abolished after the Civil War but still widely practiced. It became the best and most adventuresome way to achieve real freedom. The lonesome trail provided them with a perfect answer.
The Negro, though, had a singular advantage. Almost all of them knew how to cook. In the slave quarters all children were taught at the outset how to do all things and do them well. Cooking was one of them. This culturally ingrained asset stood them in good stead with the trail drive hiring hands when they were brave enough to call themselves cowboys.
The trail cook was able to sit atop the chuckwagon with a great amount of personal pride knowing that he was totally responsible for the well being of a dozen or so tired, hungry drovers. They in turn protected him like he was gold bullion, because he fed and cared for them. He was their conscience and confessor, doctor and doting parent.
One of these dynamos was a slight, bow-legged Mississippian named Simon Sempleman, though everyone who knew him called him Sweetbread. He was the color of a fawn and had an artistically chiseled face like a Michelangelo sculpture.
He migrated west by design, not by accident. When the Civil War ended many slaves continued to work for their former masters mostly because they already had lodging, food, and were treated well. Though there was no upward ladder for them.
But Sweetbread was different. He knew in his bones that there was something better than picking cotton from sun-up until sundown for slave wages. So, one sweltering day in July, he kissed his mother goodbye, threw his full bag of cotton in a furrow and kept walking west until he got to Texas.
All he had was the tattered clothes on his back, a twinkle in his eye and a head full of recipes that his mother taught him when they lived as slaves on a Mississippi cotton plantation.
Sweetbread encountered a big problem when he first applied for a job as a trail cook. His trump card in the kitchen was cooking chicken. Fried, baked, boiled, grilled, or stewed. But at that time chicken was an unknown commodity in the trail drive chuckwagon menu. Drovers ate nothing but beans, sow belly, a little beef and all its vile innards if a calf was slaughtered, predictably foul coffee, predictably foul sourdough biscuits, but not much else.
Somehow Sweetbread decided he had to introduce chicken into the harmony of trail drive cuisine to become a success. And, he did just that. He spent a week in seclusion in the back of a livery that a liberal blacksmith let him use. He began making chicken coops. And with the stipend the smithy gave him for cleaning up his daily mess, Sweetbread bought two dozen laying hens from a money-strapped farmer and promptly housed them in his newly made coops.
The toughest job lay ahead. He had to convince a trail boss, first to hire him as a cook, then to let him spearhead a new wave of trailside entrees, chicken. By promising virtually the world to the trail boss Sweetbread finally got a job as cook on a drive to Sedalia. He packed his precious cargo in the back of the chuckwagon and enough feed to keep them clucking for a thousand miles even though their trip was only four hundred miles long. Together with more recognized fare like bacon, flour and beans his plan worked like a charm.
Sweetbread soon became crown prince of a clucking crusade that he had begun so humbly in the back of a livery in Bandera, Texas. And he took full advantage of the honors that went with his title. In the off season, he raised plump, young pullets and sold them to cooks ready to drive north with a herd of hungry cattle and a bunch of hungrier drovers.
He bought the livery stable from the smithy who had graciously staked him at the beginning of his new venture and began to manufacture chicken coops. In no time he had cleverly converted the stable into a chicken house and raised hearty hens that he sold along with the coops. Plus! there was another exciting benefit to his enterprise: eggs.
Hens laid eggs that Sweetbread sold door-to-door to townspeople who thought he was God reincarnated. But he allowed almost half of his egg inventory to hatch. His hen house was full. So were his pockets. His circle was complete. He was doing so well that he was able to hire young, reliable boys to tend to his clucking dynasty when he went on the trail because he was always in demand with good, fair-minded trail bosses.
Sweetbread made at least 12 trips to the railheads at Dodge City and other important stockyard centers along the railroad line. And the cowboys that he fed so fondly and lavishly always managed to have time to compliment Sweetbread for his culinary ingenuity, friendship and caring parental attitude, a rare commodity among tight-lipped drovers.
Sweetbread himself rarely bragged but knew that he had created a new and rewarding industry and took full advantage of it. He promised to fatten every drover that came up to his chow line by fifteen pounds or more at the end of a drive or he would give them his wages and part ownership in his little corporation. He had no worries because he never lost.
His program was working with clock-like precision much to his delight. But suddenly a small glitch reared its ugly head. A bizarre event occurred on a huge drive during the spring of 1878. It started out smoothly because many of the drovers were trail drive veterans who had been nourished by Sweetbread and were familiar with his style of fare. And the herd that numbered over 5,000 head, was moving northward at an unhurried pace.
Sweetbread had loaded up the chuckwagon with all the necessary stores, including five large coops full of plump, noisy hens. Their constant clucking was music to Sweetbread's ears as the migration north began. He and the drovers had a mutual respect for each other and most drives like this one were no more than routine.
The nightly menu consisted mostly of tender, spit-roasted chicken with a fine, tangy sauce, fresh vegetables that Sweetbread grew in his garden next to the livery. Breakfasts turned out to be heaven on earth for the young, constantly hungry cowboys. It always consisted of bacon and eggs, fried, poached scrambled or baked, hash brown potatoes seasoned with delicate herbs and, of course, grits. Sweetbread said that the human body could not exist without a daily dose of grits. So they got grits. And, of course, coffee. It was not the syrupy kind that the drovers were used to but coffee flavored with eggshells that Sweetbread threw into the kettle.
That was a secret Sweetbread had learned from his old Nanny when he was just a lad living in the slave quarters. She told him that eggshells imparted a special, spiritual flavor to coffee but only if they were fondled by black hands. The drovers agreed because Sweetbread almost ran out of coffee before the drive was completed, they were drinking so much of it. All this thanks to Sweetbread's genius and the generosity of the traveling menagerie of clucking hens in the back of the chuckwagon. It certainly was a cowboy's dream come true.
That was, until about a week and a half into the journey. The herd was acting strangely even though the sun was glowing brightly under a cloudless, crystal clear sky. Large groups of locoed cows shot off into different directions for no reason at all. They would stampede away from the main line and had to be taken under control by the swingmen and forced back into line.
Then mysteriously, another group, mostly cows chasing vagrant calves, committed the same aggression all to the dismay of the frustrated drovers who had to spend extra time scrambling, tiring out their horses, trying to keep the herd at a steady, normal pace.
This phenomenon went on for days and reached a tragic climax when twenty or thirty stampeding steers headed straight for Sweetbread's chuckwagon that was traveling alongside the herd at a leisurely pace. Quickly the steers had the chuckwagon surrounded and had frightened the mules into a maniacal gallop which they were definitely not accustomed to. Sweetbread tried vainly to steer the chuckwagon clear of danger. But the wild-eyed creatures were just as adamant to keep it in their midst as they galloped crazily away from the bulk of the herd.
As the chuckwagon bounced along the rough, rocky terrain, nearly out of control, one of the mules, an old trail veteran, stumbled in a chuckhole. Then a front wheel snapped off the axle. Sweetbread and everything in the chuckwagon, including the chicken coops, went flying into the air. All five chicken coops splintered when they hit the rock hard ground. Its force scattered the screeching hens all over the barren landscape.
Now the drovers not only had the stampeding cows to contend with, but now they had to corral a barn-full of fear-crazed chickens. Slowly, patiently, each hysterical little clucker was captured and brought back to hastily repaired coops by a distraught Sweetbread.
All but one!
This one, an enormous, barrel-chested, angry looking brute had discovered that it could fly if it flapped its wings hard and long enough. And, in its effort to remain uncaged, it lighted on the crown of the lead steer and refused any attempt to be removed and imprisoned.
A miracle occurred when that huge white bird lit where it did. It seemed to be a preordained divine action and one of great magnitude. The proud bird instantly became the herd's weather vane, its navigator.
The herd became strangely civil. And, if there was so much as the start of an antisocial action on the herd's part, the chicken began jumping up and down on the lead steer's head, trumpeting at the tops of its very large lungs.
Another miracle occurred. Every morning just before sun-up the chicken began to crow. Everyone, including Sweetbread, soon learned that it wasn't a hen after all. It was a bona fide cock. That's why Sweetbread explained later to the drovers why all the hens were in such a good mood. Every few days Sweetbread would put the cock in another cage. The hens were in ecstasy. They were laying eggs at a phenomenal rate. He even gave his pet cock a name: Magellan, named for the famous navigator of old.
Once the herd was brought to the feeding pens waiting their turn to become some Milwaukee beer baron's T-bone, the cock winged itself promptly and without fear to Sweetbread and roosted on his shoulder like a tame parrot. It certainly appeared ready for another drive just as soon as Sweetbread could make it back to Texas to join one. It was well fed by Sweetbread and grew alarmingly fast to proportions resembling a wild tom turkey. But it was loved and tenderly cared for nonetheless by a doting Sweetbread who called it his late-in-life offspring.
Along the trip back to Texas in the chuckwagon, Sweetbread hit as many cantinas as he could find on the way back to Bandera. And he bet every cowhand that rested his foot on a bar rail that Simon Sweetbread Sempleman had the biggest cock in the west. It was a bet, though, that few dared to take because of the supposed genetic legacy that followed the Negro wherever he went was legend. It was only after Sweetbread went out to the chuckwagon to fetch his pet cock that all the patrons got a big laugh. It also got Sweetbread free drinks all the way to Texas.
Sweetbread and his pet cock, now given the dubious title of Commodore, made eleven trips north together, all amazingly routine voyages. As long as the cock stood atop the lead steer the drovers had nothing more to do than follow along leisurely and enjoy the best food along the lonesome trail. And the thousands of steers also making the trip remained docile as lambs all the way to the slaughterhouses fearing reprisal from their appointed coxswain.
Sweetbread finally retired as a drover cook, happy to stay in Bandera together with his big cock to raise hens, eggs, and vegetables for other cooks to toil over.
He passed on to his great reward in 1892 at the tender age of 103 or thereabouts. No one, including himself, knew how old he really was. And he was buried with fit and proper ceremony in a small cemetery under a large, wandering Mesquite tree in the company of deceased drovers he loved and served so well. His was the most well attended funeral ever in Bandera's Southern Baptist Church. It was standing room only. Tall Mike McCall was proud to eulogize his dear and loyal friend, Sweetbread. And he took a long and prayerful time doing it. Chicken, of course, was served following the ceremony, courtesy of Simon Sweetbread Sempleman.
An eloquent epitaph was written and published in the Bandera newspaper about the saga of Sweetbread and his cock, both of whom had achieved superstar status on the drover circuit.
His gravestone testified to his prowess. It read:
SIMON SWEETBREAD SEMPLEMAN. HE HAD
THE BIGGEST COCK
IN THE WEST.
Paul Grella is a graphic designer and writer, now retired. He is proud to have created the 'Fiesta Bowl' logo among his other accomplishments. He lives in Scottsdale and has for the past 60 years, generating interest about the only "real" cowboys, the drovers. There were forty thousand of them.
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by Tom Sheehan
"Nothing's out there, boys, as far as you can see or ride in three days," said the jailkeep of Yuma Territorial Prison as he locked the first iron gate behind Paulson and Newberry, convicted of robbing three banks in the territory, killing one teller, and another robbery, a botched one, in which two customers did not live past sundown.
Their short saga at robbery was known far and wide in the territory, and their trial was meat and potatoes for local papers all the way to St. Louis and Chicago. The two men could not cast more difference in their appearances than what came to the jailkeep's eyes right from the first. Hubie Newberry, meek and mild looking, with an innocence locked into his eyes, was a stark contrast to an up-and-at-'em type of scoundrel everybody saw in Russ Paulson . . . but not harsh or mean or with a killer instinct.
They had loudly protested their innocence before and after their trial, which was completed in short order.
When the jailkeep locked the second iron gate behind the pair, looking as heavy as if it would withstand the charge of a buffalo herd, bars thick as a man's wrist, he said, "This ain't the last one, boys, but it might as well be. Nobody ever got past this gate, not since I've been here, and I've been here forever, believe me. This is the Hell Hole of the west, of the universe, the hottest, driest place you'll ever know. You'll be sorry for every mistake you ever made while you're in here, behind these bars."
The third iron gate, thick as #2, slammed shut with a dull, solid, but resounding clang against the stone wall promising it could hold off the disbanded Army of the Potomac, if necessary.
From the outside of the gate, lighting his first cigar of the day, the jailkeep said, with an ominous tone in his words, "That one does it, boys. That's the end of the booze, the ladies, and the trailside campfires you probably grew up with. No music here. No shivarees. No fun. But lots of work on the rock pile so we can build another wall. This is the end of freedom for you famous bank robbers. But you ain't the only bank robbers worth knowing in here. There's more, believe me."
He walked off without a look back.
The sentence had started, for crimes they had not committed.
"None of it's fair, Russ," Hubie Newberry said to his saddle pard, Russ Paulson. "We didn't rob no bank. We didn't kill no old man and no old lady. We get all the blame for what somebody else did. What am I gonna do now, Russ? I can't stay in here. Already I can't breathe right. I feel like I'm gonna scream."
Paulson, know-it-all with conviction, experimenter in many things, who delved into what makes a man tick like a clock sometimes and gets all out of whack at another time, said, "Haven't I always taken care of you, Hubie? Always thought of you first? So, guess what I'm thinking of now."
"You tell me, Russ. Sometimes I know I'll never catch up to you. But this ain't out on the grass taking our time going anywhere we please, anytime we please, or some canyon where we can light a fire anytime we want. This is jail."
"Now, Hubie," Paulson said, waving his hand back and forth in front of Newberry's eyes like a fan was in it, his fingers open and falling shadow-like one after the other across his vision, "you sit back and think about me swinging my hand and you getting your mind all in one calm place outside of this jail and getting sleepy like you always do. There's no difference for us in here. They don't know it, none of them, and the big shot jailer thinking he scared us. Even he don't know what's coming, what we can do feeling the way we do, sleepy as all get-out, slow and calm and forgetting about jail and thinking all the time about being out on the grass and the horse under us in a slow trot and the stars coming out and a campfire coming up in a new place just over that next little mound of grass or over there in the shade of those cottonwoods sticking up like a bunch of arrows in a quiver, the ones you're seeing just about now, and we can go off to sleep under them thousand stars up there or maybe a chunk of the moon coming over the hill right behind us soft as a woman's shoulder."
Paulson paused, a sincere smile crossing his face, the jail disappearing from his own mind as Hubie Newberry, nodding his head, started into his usual trance.
"Don't you feel it now, Hubie? Like the grass is smooth as a buffalo robe, and warm and easy to sleep on, and those stars up there are winking at us all the time because they know what we know, all this secret stuff that that Shaman taught us in the mountains? Now it's our turn at all the secrets, Hubie, so rest easy. This jail is easy as falling off a log for us, and don't you wake up until I snap my fingers twice."
A wide and happy smile sat on Paulson's face as Newberry went into his hypnotic state; and just at that minute a guard walked to their cell door and said, "I heard a lot of crazy jabbering goin' on here, and now I see your pard's got himself to sleep in a hurry. Takes a crazy man to sleep in this place, so we ought to wake him up," and as he was about to rap a rod against the cell bars, Paulson put his waving hand up and said, "He's only dreaming of being out there on the grass and us having a nice campfire and a few stories and a few drinks and some company coming from town to help us get through the soft darkness and then all those prairie stars finding their way almost down on top of us as we go off to the same kind of prairie sleep that Hubie's having right now. That's an honest sleep that comes to men of good souls and kind hearts, like the heart you have, seeing that campfire and company from town and those stars calling down to us or practically falling in our lap some nights. Don't you agree to that? And you can stay calm and easy and I won't tell anyone, even the top jailer that you rested your eyes for a while, and you can't open them up until I snap my fingers one time."
Paulson nodded at the guard, asleep on his feet, the steel rod he carried down low at his side.
He said to the guard, "I'm going to ask you a few questions and you can tell me the answers if you want, but I won't tell anybody, even the top jailer. Is that okay with you?"
"Yes," the guard said, his eyes closed, his breathing unhurried and peaceful.
"When is the best time to walk right out of here, Mister Guard? When you're having your well-deserved rest after a hard day? And which way should we go when we quietly walk away without any trouble breaking out and no noise at all and nobody knowing we're gone until a whole bunch of hours later? And where would we get a couple of horses if we did decide to walk away and leave this place and leave you having this nice sleep that you need all the time?"
The guard, in a monotone, said, "Around midnight, after all the guards change over for the night, and they start their own on-duty night's sleep anywhere they can while the warden's sleeping and all the prisoners have given it up for the night. If you went northwest, your tracks would be harder to follow. And going that way you'd find the horses are about a half mile off, down in a gully where most of Yuma's mounts are corralled. The warden wants them out of sight as much as possible so the prisoners won't get any wild ideas. No man has ever escaped from Yuma."
He paused in his hypnotic state, and said, "Oh, there was one, but the warden says he died out on the desert, without a doubt. The warden's talked about it a hundred times. How Crackbak Mellon-Mellon's bones are out there getting real bleached in Arizona's sun. Been dead alone out there for a long while now. Was kind of a funny guy, singing all the time. Bet he sung himself to death."
Paulson snapped his fingers once and the guard said, "Is your pard still sleeping there?" He raised the rod, intending to make some noise.
Paulson, waving his hand, said, "He's not really sleeping, he's just napping," and he snapped his fingers twice, behind his back, and Hubie Newberry yawned and said, "What did you say, Russ?"
During the next week, both men on work details, Paulson watching how things began to pile up on his pard so he had to straighten him out. In the meantime he finally realized which guard he'd set up for their escape. He decided that the route through the kitchen and off the back storage wall was the best way and gave them an added start northwest, the jailer's horses with them, the wild, unknown region ahead of them.
"The right time would point itself out," he said to himself. He laughed at that, easy with his own humor, Newberry wondering what his pal was at again, carrying on with the kind of stuff he could not figure out, laughing half the time, even in jail.
That same evening, after chow made itself known, foul as ever, the top jailer came by their cell, sauntering in his manner.
"I see your friend is sleeping again," the jailer said. "I hear all he does at night is sleep, but they also tell me he works hard as anybody during the day, after a poor start on prison life. Looks like he's consigned himself to life behind bars. Keeps a man on his back all night, too, the hard work. Nobody gets away from here. They're too damned tired and I'll keep them that way. Don't you get any crazy dreams about going on any trip. It just doesn't happen here at Yuma."
Paulson wanted to have a go at the top jailer, but decided he didn't need the risk of the man being smarter than he appeared to be. Anyway, the joy would come once he and Hubie were out on the trail with the jailer's horses. That'd give the jailer something to talk about and try to go to sleep with every night from then on.
So he kept his hands clasped, his eyes down, in a show the top jailer would think about before he went off to sleep, and his mind echoing "another tough hombre taken in hand." Paulson remembered the old Indian shaman who told him he learned a lot from the wolf pack and their ways in the world, how a whole pack of them would almost bow to the leader of the pack.
Dawn came over Yuma the next morning like a gunshot, sunlight pouring in on the prisoners as they got ready for a day of work, some on the rock pile, some on yard clean-up, some at the small garden near the kitchen where a few hardy plants kept their heads above ground and their roots in place.
Paulson and Newberry were with the rock gang again, the top jailer moving them around, finding something odd with the two and not wanting them to get too familiar with certain details of the prison. Newberry, he noted, worked feverishly but didn't accomplish what Paulson did, with the same tools in the same time frame. That difference sat working in his mind, but he couldn't fathom any reason behind his observation except the handling of tools looked easier in the hands of some men. Perhaps part of it was actually an art. Some men, he noticed, had a swing and a rhythm in them that came out in their work. Now and then he remembered Crackbak Mellon-Mellon and how work was easy in his hands, tools had a grace with him, and the song was always on his lips regardless of how much it irked him, the top jailer.
So, after a hard day in the sun, after a meal as poor as usual, all the prisoners went back to their cells, letting sleep call on them. Night crawled into and through all the bars of the prison, making its statement to all the prisoners. The calm settled on many of the prisoners, sleep being the only answer to the problems beating at them.
Hubie Newberry slept as calm as always after a hard day's work. Paulson, alert, always on the watch for any edge, any useful information, waited for the right hour to come, for the right day was at hand. He could feel it in his bones, in the very air of his cell, in the slow breath of night advancing on Yuma its ultimate closure.
He woke Newberry up to tell him that they were leaving that night.
"Where are we going, Russ, if we get away from here?"
"We're going to see that Jed Hammond who told those lies about us. He will write an admission of his guilt, telling who put him up to it. We'll give that to Lloyd Wagner at the newspaper and let him use it. He's one honest man, at least."
"We won't have to come back here, Russ? Not ever again?"
"Never again, Hubie, if I can help it. So you have to do exactly as I tell you, right down to the minute, to the last detail."
"Are you sure I can do it, Russ? I don't have any idea of what's going on."
"It's a snap, Hubie. The skids are greased, have been for weeks and weeks. Don't worry about it."
At five minutes past one o'clock in the morning, at the cell of the two innocent men, Paulson hypnotized the guard, who gave them his keys and side arms and laid down in their cell to continue his sleep.
"You won't wake up, Tory," Paulson said to the guard, "even when the sun hits the high windows in the morning. And we'll be going southwest with all the speed we can instead of the way you think we'll be going." He patted the guard on the shoulder and left him on a bunk, closing the door behind him.
It was a cakewalk, he would say, as they used the guard's keys to get past two doors, slipped into the kitchen where not a soul was yet at work, and slipped over the wall at the back of the kitchen. The final wall, beyond the slop bins and sump dump, was managed in total darkness and near silence. Like sparse shadows, they slipped down the road and into the gulley where the horses were. They had their pick of the mounts, including saddles and full canteens, and two rifles scrounged from a tool room. They rode off as silently as ghosts, with two extra horses on lead lines.
No names were called out. Nobody got hurt. Not a shot was fired. At dawn that day, as the sun rose behind them, they were more than 40 miles away. They unsaddled their tired mounts and saddled the spare horses for the next stretch of the ride, and all four horses set out. They covered 200 miles in a circuitous route, and were northeast of San Diego, in a canyon, a fire lit, a meal in the offing, when they were attacked by a sheriff and two deputies.
Paulson shot two of the men right off their horses and Newberry got the other man.
"What'll we do now, Russ?" Newberry said, his face as sad as ever.
"We hightail it northeast tomorrow. If they catch us and send us back there, we'll know now that we belong there. We'd just do it all over again. Nobody but the injuns knows how we did it. That's our secret every time out."
And he gave off a little laugh that Hubie Newberry never caught up to.
Sheehan, in 91st year, has published 36 books and multiple works in many magazines, etc. He's received 34 Pushcart nominations, 6 Best of Net nominations with one winner, He served in the 31st Infantry in Korea 1951-52, graduated from Boston College 1956
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Wade Troop, Texas Ranger
by Glenn Boudreau
It was a hot August day when Wade Troop rode into town on a pure black mare. She pranced about as though she owned the town. The townspeople noticed the stranger's presence immediately—like a sudden wind, swept up on a cool desert night. The tall cowboy stood straight in the saddle, his trained eyes scanning both sides of the dusty street leading up to the town saloon. His black, pressed suit and wide brimmed hat stood out in the gleaming August sunlight, though it was the polished badge that pressed against his chest that caught the inquisitive eyes of the townspeople. Lawmen in this town called "Lazy Ace" were hardly heard of, and it was evident that this lawman was none other than a Texas Ranger.
Questions filled the eyes of the small group of elderly gentlemen sitting on the porch adjacent to the saloon.
"What would a Texas Ranger be doing in our little corner of the Wyoming Territory?"
"Could it have any connection with the recent bank robbery in town that occurred only three days earlier?"
These questions and more would soon be answered, but right now Wade Troop would just study the faces of those he set his eyes on, especially the ones that seemed to look away from his deep, piercing eyes.
The tall Texas Ranger slowly dismounted his horse to stretch his tired back. A day and a half in the saddle were no friend to a Ranger's back, and the experience was one that this Ranger was all too familiar with.
Wade cautiously scanned the tired buildings that seemed as though the calmest of desert winds could blow away. Not much got past this Ranger, his eyes trained to detect even the minutest details.
The lawman breathed a sigh of relief as he focused on the sign on the old building that said "Town Blacksmith." Tired and thirsty from his long ride across a scorching desert full of uninviting critters of all types and sizes, Wade figured he would put up his horse and head for the "Last Chance", the only saloon in the small town of Lazy Ace. Years ago it was a booming town that was home to many prominent citizens of the era, but since falling on hard times it became somewhat of a ghost town, just one of many in Wyoming Territory.
"How much to feed and board my horse, mister?" he politely asked the blacksmith.
"Oh, two bits oughtta do it" replied the short and stocky man. "You be here on official business?"
"Maybe . . . maybe" was the only reply that came from the tall dark lawman.
Wade slowly entered the front doors of the saloon; everyone could hear the loud creak of the doors as the cowboy approached the bar. All eyes looked up in the direction of the tall, lanky man. It seemed very quiet in the room now, just as though time had stood still in the old saloon that had definitely seen better days. Only the quiet, steady ticking of the old dusty bar clock could be heard. Wade ordered a whiskey while at the same time scanning the crowded room with his eyes- eyes trained to spot the least sign of trouble.
"Where's the sheriff's office in this town" he asked the bartender, expressing himself with a clear manner of authority.
"Lucas Spade is the man you're looking for, although he's not much of what you would call a sheriff any more. He's getting too old for the job, way too old and much too tired. He should have given up his star five years ago, but his pride got in the way."
Wade, nodding his head in appreciation, tossed two coins on the dusty bar and headed for the set of swinging doors. As he crossed the room the squeaking floorboards could be heard, along with the faint whispers of the bar patrons who all seemed to be focusing their eyes on the stranger in town.
As Wade made his way out he noticed two dusty, gritty looking cowpokes staring at him, noticing his every move. The Ranger would remember these two men, as part of his job was to observe his surroundings wherever he went, especially in unfamiliar territory such as this.
Outside the sheriff's office lay a small, scraggly-looking mutt resting just outside the door. Wade gave him a gentle kick and the dog sheepishly darted away, whimpering as he ran. The tall Texas Ranger walked into the old run down office, the demeanor of his muscular body expressing an air of confidence with every step he took. Upon reaching the dusty and disorganized desk he focused his eyes on an old man slouched in a chair in a corner of the small room. The man was snoring rather loudly and close to falling off the broken chair.
"Hey, you, wake up," Wade said in a soft, friendly manner.
The old man jumped up in astonishment at the tall cowboy standing in front of him. He started to rub his red, saggy eyes when he suddenly noticed the shiny badge on the tall man's chest.
"Who are you?" said the sheriff, while trying to stifle a deep, persistent cough. While attempting to straighten his wrinkled clothes and tuck his greasy shirt in his pants he once again asked the cowboy who he was.
"I'm Wade Troop, Texas Ranger. I take it you are the sheriff in this here town?"
At this the old sheriff tried to straighten up as best he could, while hoping that the Ranger in front of him did not notice the bottle of whiskey half sticking out of one of his pockets.
"I'm Lucas Spade, the law in this town, or that is, what's left of me. What can I do for you, son?"
Wade then proceeded to take out a brown, soiled piece of paper from his vest pocket and handed it to the sheriff. With both hands shaking nervously the sheriff took the piece of paper.
Wade spoke as the sheriff slowly unfolded the piece of paper. "This here is a wanted poster for Jake Smith, alias 'Bad Jake,' wanted in the State of Texas for bank robbery and murder. He's just about as nasty a varmint as you'd ever want to set your eyes on. He would slit his own mother's throat if given half a reason. Jake has about a dozen men who ride with him, men who are just as crazy as he is. I've been hot on their trail for almost a month now. I almost caught up with them a short while back but they gave me the slip at Yellow Canyon, about twenty miles south of here. This being the only town around these parts I figured they may try to hold up here to get some grub and fresh mounts."
Lucas, while briskly rubbing his small, misty eyes, stared at the wanted poster while filling his pipe with tobacco. "Can't say as I recognize this here man, but he sure does look like a mean one all right. I sure will keep an eye out for him and his gang. If he shows up in my town I'll spot him for sure—not many strangers ride through my town without my knowing it, I can guarantee you that!"
With a nod of thanks Wade made his way out of the sheriff's office, feeling sorry for this man who he believed at one time might have been a good lawman. Wade was anxious to get to the town's boarding house for a little grub and some much-needed sleep.
* * *
Meanwhile, five miles outside of town, at a closely guarded campfire, a small group of men lie in wait. They were all tired and dusty from a long, hard ride. As they sat by the campfire munching on the rabbit that they had just killed, they wondered what their next move would be.
A distant trotting of hooves rang out through the dark and gloomy night. A rider could be seen entering the small clearing from a clump of thorny bushes. With guns drawn the restless men saw who it was and let him enter the campsite. They did not holster their guns until they recognized this man as one of their own. They anxiously greeted the man who excitedly jumped off his tired horse. The scraggly looking man at the front of the group of cowboys suddenly approached the rider with a look of concern.
"Well—what did you find out? Does the town have any law? Does it have a bank?"
The exhausted rider walked toward the leader of the gang, shivering from the cold, biting wind that had so fiercely battered him on the ride back from town.
"Jake, the town's got a sheriff all right, but looks like all he cares about is drinking and sleeping. I doubt that he will give us any trouble. The old town's got a bank all right, but I heard a couple of cowpokes in the saloon saying that it got robbed a few days ago. It may have gotten hit by Jake Spooner and his gang, but that is only my guess. I've heard that they have been spotted recently not far from here. There's probably no money left for us to take. There's one problem though, Jake."
Jake looked at him and angrily blurted out, "What's that?"
"That smart Texas Ranger who's been trailing us has been snooping around town with questions. Looks like he's not gonna give up until he finds us."
"You let me worry about the Ranger," Jake said. "I've handled the likes of him before and he'll be one dead lawman soon enough, you can count on that."
"But boss, that Ranger makes me feel real uneasy. He's like none we ever run into before. He's picked up our trail when no one else ever could. It's almost like he has a personal grudge against us, boss. A man like that can be mighty dangerous."
"Don't be silly," said Jake. "He's just one Ranger against all of us, he hasn't got a chance. And stop your silly whimpering Jed, don't tell me you're turning yellow on me. I never met the man who could outsmart me yet, and I never will. He'll make a mistake sooner or later, and we'll be right there to fill his belly with lead when he does. This so-called Ranger may have a reputation with those fancy pearl white six shooters of his, but he hasn't met Jake Smith. I'll welcome the opportunity when it comes, and the sooner the better." At this the leader of the gang headed toward his blanket. "Now let's all get some shuteye—I got a feelin' we're in for a big day come tomorrow." The tired men bundled under their blankets, under the dark skies of a cold, desert night.
* * *
"Sir, can I get you another cup of coffee?" asked the thin girl with the red and white checkered apron.
"No thanks ma'am," Wade politely responded. "This coffee sure is mighty good though, and the girl who served it is mighty pretty. And the food is a sight better than this Ranger has ate in a long, long time. I'm much obliged to you ma'am." Wade Troop winked one eye at the girl as he clumsily took his hat off the rack, suddenly realizing what a fine figure the young girl had. She had such a young, innocent face.
The young woman shyly looked away from the tall Ranger, trying to hide the girlish grin she had on her now-reddened face. She then turned and gave the Ranger a timid half smile while she cleared off the old table.
There was something about this mysterious man that she admired. "Maybe he likes me," she thought to herself as she gazed at Wade as he headed for the door.
"By the way, what do they call you," asked Wade in a soft, gentle voice.
"Amanda" the girl said, while unsuccessfully attempting to hide a sudden blush.
"Well, hope to see you again soon, Amanda. And keep the coffee hot. Thanks again for the hospitality."
With that, Wade left with a stomach that was more content than it had been for a long time.
Although she knew that this handsome cowboy must be ten years her senior, she felt love struck for the first time in her eighteen years, and she liked the feeling very much.
* * *
The Ranger slowly walked town the old dirt street which led to the "Shady Rest Hotel." Being the only hotel in town, he didn't have much choice in where to bed down for the night.
Except for the usual drunks from the saloon that loitered around the streets in town, things seemed pretty quiet to the Ranger. Quiet was something that he relished very much. And yet, there seemed to be a feeling of uneasiness in the night air of this desert town.
The clerk behind the counter gave Wade Troop a friendly smile, although the trained Ranger sensed an untrusting nature about the small, frail, and balding man. "How are you doing on this fine night sir?" asked the clerk. "Only the best for Texas's best, sir. If you don't mind my askin', are you really as good with those guns as people say you are?"
"Well, sir," Wade replied back with sort of a half smile," I only use them when I absolutely have to, and when given no other choice. I guess you could say I am fairly good with them," the Ranger said very innocently, "but violence should only be used as a last resort." Wade Troop then scribbled his name in the old crusty hotel register as the clerk shakily handed him the key to his room.
"Room nine, up the stairs and first door to your left."
The Ranger wearily walked up the creaky staircase, anxious to get some much-needed shuteye. "Four bits, a steep price for a dusty, old room," he thought to himself as he entered. But rest was the only thing on the lawman's mind right now. And it sure beat camping out on a cold, desert night with only the howls of the coyotes and the dark, hazy Western sky as your closest companions.
Wade took off his hat and gently tossed it on top of the old, dusty bureau. The musty smell of the room made him wince, but in a town like this he thought that he could not expect much else. He locked the door behind him, placing the key beside his Stetson. "A rather small, unkempt room" he thought to himself as he plopped down on the squeaky old mattress. But for this cowboy, on this night, sleeping in any bed would be a luxury in itself. The exhausted Ranger took off his boots and unbuckled his gunbelt, being careful to place his pistols well within range of his reach. He knew that in his line of work you were not always afforded the luxury of a second chance. This was a habit he had acquired from years of rangering experience.
A lone coyote could be heard crying in the distant night, followed by the noise of the wind slipping through the cracks of the thin walls of the old hotel. With these comforting noises of the night it did not take the Ranger very long to drift into a deep slumber.
After what seemed to be a very long time, Wade was suddenly alerted to a faint rustling noise that appeared to come from outside his window. With the cunning sense of a fox the lawman quickly and quietly arose from the bed. "How long have I been sleeping?", he thought to himself as he wiped a bead of sweat from his brow. "Was it three hours, or four?" Years of instinct that went along with the job told the lawman that trouble could be expected at any time. He quickly but ever so gently lifted one of his pistols from its holster, conscious of his own sudden, heavy breathing. He sensed that there was danger in the night. A faint glimmer from the steel barrel of the polished Colt .45 shone through the still night. With a steady hand Wade slowly cocked the weapon, being careful not to make a sound. Cautiously creeping up toward the dusty and peeling windowsill, he peered out into the night, being careful not to give away his location. Realizing it to be a full moon, Wade knew that he had the advantage. He could see outside clearly but whoever or whatever may be lurking outside in the bushes could not possibly see in the darkened room.
A quick thought suddenly raced through his mind. "Take off the badge before its glare gives away my position." With a swift motion the ranger unpinned the heavy silver badge and gently placed it on the floor beside him. "Is it just the howling night wind playing tricks on my mind, or could it be something else," thought the Ranger to himself. From the bureau mirror facing the moonlit night Wade could now make out the shadow of a human figure positioned just a few yards outside his window. He then noticed what appeared to be the shining barrel of a pistol when suddenly, without warning, two shots rang out, both bullets embedding themselves in the pillow on the bed. Wade, with the cool accuracy which only a trained Ranger like himself could possess, fired a single round at the silhouette which stood in the night. The bullet found its target. The man clenched at his burning chest while firing a third round which landed harmlessly on the limb of a nearby oak tree. His limp body fell to the ground.
Wade carefully searched around to make sure the gunman was alone, while wiping another bead of sweat from his brow. Satisfied that the man had acted alone, he approached the dead man with caution, turning him over with his boot. He met the pair of cold, misty eyes of a would-be killer. Wade recognized the dead man as one of the men in the saloon who had nervously watched him leave, on his first day in town.
At that first glimpse of the man Wade had sensed danger and knew that he was one he would not want to turn his back on.
* * *
The next morning the sun shone bright in the Western sky with the promise of a new day. Sheriff Spade heard a tap on his office door. He opened the door and in walked Wade Troop, closing the door behind him. The Ranger was in need of a shave and appeared to be somewhat fatigued.
"What's wrong, son?" asked the sheriff with a look of genuine concern on his face. He knew that the look on the Ranger's face said that there was trouble.
Wade then filled the sheriff in on what had happened the night before at the hotel.
"You'd better stay here in my office tonight," the sheriff said to Wade as he placed his hand on the Ranger's shoulder, like a father would a son. "You'll be safer here. You're not . . . well . . . .not liked by everyone in this town and this old jail is probably the safest place for you right now. Looks to me like the man who tried to kill you may be one of Jake Smith's boys—no tellin' what they might do next."
"Thanks, sheriff, but I'm not going to hide out just yet—I may have a trick or two up my sleeve as well. Jake probably sent one of his men to do his dirty work for him. I've dealt with the likes of his kind before. When his man doesn't return Jake will have to think of another plan, and I'll be ready for him when he does. Jake would like nothing better than to put a bullet in my gut, but I don't aim to accommodate him. I'm bringing him back with me to Texas and if found guilty he'll hang. He's as sly and dangerous as any man I've ever known, but no man is above the law, including Jake Smith."
"Sheriff, I think I've got a plan. I believe I know how I can get Jake to come to me instead of me tracking him down. If he takes the bait it'll sure make my job a lot easier. After this is all over maybe I can go back to Texas and take a much deserved siesta."
* * *
Jake Smith and his gang were sitting by their camp, cleaning their guns when the youngest member of the gang rode in hard, his horse gasping for breath. "Jake, Jake!" he shouted as he nervously jumped off his horse. "Tiny's been shot, that Ranger got him clean through the heart. Tiny never had a chance. All the townsfolk are talkin' about what happened, the Ranger's a real hero to them."
"The fool", said Jake. "I told Tiny not to try and take out the lawman by himself, he just would not listen to me. He should have taken a couple of the boys along with him. The hothead probably got himself all liquored up then set out to make a hero of himself. Didn't he know that I'm the only one who can handle this Ranger? I'm better than he is and I'll prove it real soon. Well, we're goin' to town boys, we're gonna have ourselves a little party. When I meet up with this Ranger fellow he's all mine. I'm gonna plug him between the eyes and then I'm gonna take those fancy pearl whites off of him. Then we'll see who's the better man. Maybe I'll have me a nice shiny lawman's badge too!"
* * *
Meanwhile, back in Lazy Ace, Wade Troop and Sheriff Spade had all the plans worked out. Wade knew that Jake would know by now that he had killed one of his gang members, and would probably come gunning for the man who killed him. This is what the Ranger was counting on. A man bent on revenge and glory almost always makes a mistake—usually a deadly one.
With their men in position, all the sheriff and the Ranger had to do now was to wait for Jake to make his move. And they thought that it was sure to be soon. Sheriff Spade took his Winchester '76 and loaded his pistol, his hands trembling and covered with sweat. He knew that his eyes and his nerves would soon be tested, and he hoped that he was ready. The ten or so carefully selected townspeople took their assigned positions on top of the bank, the hotel, the side of the old saloon, and the sheriff's office. Wade had his ever faithful Colts strapped to his sides, plus his trusty sawed-off shotgun.
After what seemed like an eternity the lookout positioned on the edge of town noticed a sudden stirring of dust in the desert, coming from the North side of town. A few seconds later he could make out the blurred images of riders headed towards town. "Here they come!" he screamed, while nervously attempting to double-check his weapon. Wade also checked his guns and gave a half smile to the sheriff, who nervously fingered the buttons on his vest. The sheriff thought to himself that this was his chance to once again gain the respect of the townspeople who had depended on him for so many years.
"Everyone make sure their weapons are in order and don't anybody make a move until I give the signal," shouted Wade. "We don't want any of our own hurt so do as I say."
After what seemed like hours Jake Smith and his men rode into the outskirts of town, their eyes slowly scanning the quiet town from one end to the other. Jake had an uneasy feeling deep down in his gut, he knew that things were not supposed to be that quiet. He knew something was terribly wrong. Not a single person could be seen on the streets, and he did not like this at all.
They rode in on their tired and dusty horses ever so slowly, while nervously looking at every corner of town. It seemed as though even their horses could sense a lurking danger.
Jake, realizing that the odds were not in their favor, ordered his men to turn their horses around and head out of town. But it was too late. The ambush that Jake and his men had feared had started. A loud gunshot was heard, and the doomed riders could see two men with rifles on the building next to them, three more on the building in front of them, and more to their right.
Jake, with a cocky smile protruding from his face, swiftly lifted his gun from its holster and started to fire at the men closest to him. One of the townsmen fell, a bullet wound to the leg.
"Every man for himself!" Jake yelled, while turning his horse around to try and find another target. The full fury of a deadly gunfight broke out. Wade took careful aim and shot a rider on a mustard-colored horse, the bullet finding its way to the left temple of the man. The man was dead before he hit the ground. He shot another through the chest and was ready to fire again when suddenly a bullet pierced through the Ranger's shirt, leaving a stinging sensation in his arm. Realizing it to be only a flesh wound, Wade swung around and fired his sawed-off shotgun, practically blowing off the face of one of the riders.
Another shot rang out through the desert air and a man positioned on the roof of the saloon fell to his death, shot in the chest. More shots were fired and another rider fell, his horse shot from beneath him. The man started to fire his gun blindly, when Sheriff Spade got off a shot from his revolver that struck the man in the head, killing him instantly. A constant barrage of gunfire was aimed at the remaining riders who now fired back frantically.
Jake Smith got off a clean shot that found its target. Sheriff Spade slumped forward onto the ground, a bullet wound to his left shoulder. Another round of gunfire sent two more riders off their mounts, both wounded seriously. One of the two men raised his hands up as in a motion to give himself up. Jake then shouted at him saying "you coward," while shooting him two more times.
The bullets finally stopped, and all was very quiet. There were bodies lying everywhere.
Now there was only Jake and one of his men left, all the others either dead or lie wounded in the street. Both men suddenly broke away and headed for the saloon on their frightened horses. They rode through the saloon, past the bar, and through the huge window, glass flying everywhere. The two terrified men made a desperate attempt to leave through an opening they saw, when two shots rang out, now realizing that they were completely surrounded, with no hope of escape.
After a silence of about two minutes the two men heard a voice yelling out to them saying " Jake, Jake Smith—this is Wade Troop, Texas Ranger. I order you and the man with you to give yourselves up. You are completely surrounded and do not have a chance of escaping. If you refuse to surrender then I will be forced to come in after you. Toss out your weapons and come out with your hands up and I promise no harm will come to you. I promise you both will get a fair trial, you have my word."
"Ranger", Jake Smith replied, "what kind of fools do you take us for? If we give ourselves up we're sure to end up swinging from the end of a rope. I'd rather take my chances here than to give myself up just to get my neck stretched. If I die then at least I'll have the satisfaction of taking you with me, Ranger."
"Don't be a fool, Smith," said the Ranger. "You don't have a chance. You've killed some of the townspeople and wounded their sheriff, haven't you had enough bloodshed?"
"The fun's just begun," yelled Jake while suddenly running toward a nearby water trough after firing a shot that barely missed the Ranger by inches.
"Okay, Smith," said Wade, "you've apparently made your decision." The water trough was then hit by a barrage of bullets, wood from the trough flying everywhere.
"Jake, help me, I'm shot!" cried out his partner. "Please don't let me die. I'll bleed to death."
"Hang in there, Gus," said Jake. "I'll get us out of this mess." Then Gus took one last breath and fell, dead from a bullet to the gut. Jake suddenly realized that he was all alone now. He yelled out to the crowd who anxiously awaited his next move, "Hey, Ranger, how about you and me going at it, one on one. Or are you chicken like I figure you to be?"
Although most of the men, including the sheriff, tried to persuade the Ranger not to listen to Jake, Wade knew that he had no choice except to face the man. And he liked nothing better. Scum like Jake Smith had to be shown that no one was above the law.
Wade holstered his gun and slowly walked toward Jake Smith. Jake came out from behind the trough and onto the street. The two men faced each other. All eyes were trained on the two men, you could hear a pin drop.
All of the townspeople knew of Wade Troop's reputation with a gun, but they also knew that Jake Smith was the meanest, craziest outlaw ever to set foot in Wyoming Territory.
"You really surprised me, Troop," Jake said with a wide grin on his face. "I thought you were a yellow-bellied lawman like all the rest, but I guess I was wrong. Either that or you are crazier than I thought. Well, it doesn't matter anyway—you'll soon be one dead Ranger."
The two men stood facing one another as if time had suddenly come to a standstill. Neither man took his eyes off the other. Wade's hands hung low at the sides of his guns. He stared firmly into Jake Smith's eyes, not flinching. He noticed that Jake's hands were trembling uncontrollably.
"Make your move," the Ranger said calmly.
Jake reached for his gun with great speed, but he was no match for the lightning speed of the Ranger. A single shot rang out. Jake Smith was dead before he hit the ground, shot between the eyes.
Wade holstered his gun and slowly walked up to the dead man. "My job here is finished," said the Ranger to himself, and walked toward his horse. Dozens of townspeople now gathered around the body of Jake Smith, sprawled on the ground in the center of town. One old man with torn, untidy clothes took his gun and holster, while another took his boots.
Wade Troop got on his horse and looked around at the crowd. His eyes focused on the young woman with a pretty smile, the waitress who had treated him so kindly a few days back. Wade waved at her and thought to himself, "Oh . . . if I were only ten years younger," and rode off into the sunset.
Glenn Boudreau is an author and songwriter living in Rockwall, TX, with his wife Cookie. He has been interested in Cowboy culture from when he was a young boy. He moved to Texas in 2004, after retiring from the US Postal Service in his home State of R.I. He continues to be fascinated with tales of the Old West.
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Lobo, The Three-Eyed Sheriff
by Harry Steven Lazerus
The wind at Sheriff Lobo's back brought the stench of the decaying body that followed him. The dead man was wrapped in rough canvas on the back of a sorrel mule tethered to the charcoal gray horse on which Sheriff Lobo rode. The dark, dry cliffs, its edges projecting out like war hatchets, hemmed in the valley, whose dusty ground held the bones of horses and mules, as well as the skeletons of men who had died, their clothing, equipment, and weapons stripped from them by the victors.
"The Valley of Death", they called it, even before the slaughter of the "Battle of the Clans". The Melunjun clan won, but their victory was short-lived. They defeated an alliance of Zonas and Tipshees, as well as an assortment of miners and sheep herders, but that victory stunned the other clans and regular folk into raising a large army of volunteers to challenge them. In addition to being outmanned the Melunjuns were now out-gunned; they faced a mule-drawn artillery of cannon and crank-operated machine guns.
The Melunjun leader, Juju, decided discretion was the better part of valor and agreed to sign a peace treaty. And he kept the terms of the treaty. Juju was a good man, honest and forthright. Plus, Sheriff Lobo was secretly in love with Juju's sister.
And there was peace in Wickhall County. At least, until now.
The body on the mule had belonged to Juju.
"Glad we found him first," Deputy Billy, riding alongside the sheriff, said.
"You found him. That was good work, Billy," Lobo said.
"Thank you, Sheriff."
"And it is a good thing you found him first. If we don't get to the bottom of who killed him before the Melunjuns find out he was murdered, we'll have another war on our hands."
Just as puzzling as who killed Juju was the question of how he was able to do it. Though Juju's body was starting to rot, there was still enough left to see the ligature marks around his neck. Juju was clearly strangled to death. The footprints scattered around the site where the body was found showed there were only two people on the scene; Juju and his killer. Juju was a big man and very powerful; there was no one else like him in the county.
Compared to the rest of us, Lobo thought, he was a giant. No one around here is strong enough to strangle him without help. Even if he were caught sleeping. There was no report of strangers in the county, so who would have been able to do it? But if he had been drugged, or poisoned? Ah, in the Olden Times there were ways to examine a body and see what was in it. And back then, men didn't need horses or mules to get around, either.
Death, violent death, was no stranger to Wickhall County, or to Arizona Territory. Nevertheless, Lobo mourned the Melunjun leader's death. He doubted that whoever followed would have Juju's powerful presence and iron integrity to keep the Melunjuns peaceful the way Juju had.
"Sheriff, look!" Billy exclaimed, pointing at riders in the distance coming toward them.
Damn! Lobo thought. I should have been paying attention, should have seen them first.
There were seven riders. Lobo focused his middle eye and saw they were Melunjuns. One of the horses brandished a Melunjun war banner, dripping crimson around a black war hatchet.
"Melunjuns. War party," Lobo said quickly to Billy.
"You could take out three or four," Billy said, pulling out his rifle, "and I could get one or two."
"Put it back, Billy. That'll still leave one to three of them left."
"Hell, they'll turn tail and run as soon as you bring down the first one," Billy insisted.
"It's a war party, Billy. They never run. Now put it back."
"OK," Billy said reluctantly, returning his rifle to its saddle scabbard. "Do we run?"
"No. I'll talk our way out of it."
"Sure hope you do, Sheriff."
"Just stay calm, Billy, and keep your pace forward."
The lead rider was Dink, a small, wiry fellow with a scarred face and mouth that was perpetually held in a sneer hinting at cruelty.
The very opposite of Juju, Lobo thought.
Dink and his men were carrying various weapons: Rifles, bows and arrows, spears, and large hunting knives. Dink, in addition to the rifle slung over his saddle, had a large war hatchet in his belt. He rode right up to the sheriff.
"Sheriff Cyclops," he said, grinning and showing mottled, crooked teeth.
"The cyclops had one eye. I have three," Sheriff Lobo responded.
"If you say so," Dink chuckled.
Ignorant fool, Lobo thought, but he held his tongue.
"Have you seen Chief Juju?" Dink snapped.
Lobo shook his head.
"He's hard to miss," Lobo replied. "Biggest man in the county."
"He's been gone a week."
"Where'd he go?" Lobo asked, not missing a beat. Billy sat on his mount, silent, his face a blank mask.
"We don't know. That's why we're looking for him," Dink said, glaring angrily at Lobo.
"Well I sure hope you find him," Lobo drawled, "because I'd hate to see you head of the Melunjuns."
"You can bet your three eyes on that, Sheriff Cyclops," Dink sneered. He raised his arm and his six companions rode around Sheriff Lobo and Constable Billy, casting contemptuous looks at them as they passed.
"I'm glad that's over," Billy sighed, as they resumed their journey.
"I'm glad Dink doesn't know Juju is dead," Lobo said. "Juju's wrath if Dink broke the treaty was the only thing stopping Dink from slaughtering us."
The two men rode on in silence through The Valley of Death.
* * *
Doc York chuckled at his own joke.
"It's Juju alright, and he's dead for sure."
Sheriff Lobo grimaced.
"Thanks for telling me what I already knew," he said with annoyance.
Doc York frowned.
"And you're right, Sheriff," York said, his voice serious. "he was strangled."
"How can that be, Doc? Juju? He was the strongest man in the county. Wouldn't it take someone bigger and stronger?"
"Not necessarily," Doc York replied. "Whoever strangled him had one foot between Juju's shoulders blades to get leverage. I could feel cracks in his spine when I examined the body. I can't prove this, but my guess is that the man who did it was shorter than Juju."
"I can't see him being overpowered if he was awake, even if his assailant surprised him," Lobo said. "And if he was sleeping, wouldn't he have woken up?"
Doc York nodded.
"Unless he was drugged or poisoned," Lobo added.
Doc York snorted.
"Or unless someone put a spell on him," he said, "though I don't believe in spells."
"I do!" chimed in Billy, who had stood silently in the corner of Doc York's examination room. "That's how he got his name. His mother couldn't get pregnant. His father sent word to relatives in Texas and they contacted a medicine man further east. He came out, for a lot of gold, and put a spell on the woman. Nine months later she gave birth to a huge baby, just like the medicine man said she would. They called him Juju for the medicine man's magic."
"I know the story," Lobo said dryly. "That wasn't magic, that was luck. They had another child later on."
"Think what you want, Sheriff. But you're wrong on this one," retorted Billy.
Lobo patted the table on which the corpse lay.
"Any way we can find out if he was drugged or poisoned?" he asked.
Doc York shrugged.
"I could open him up, take out the liver and some other organs, pack up as best I could, ship them to Washington and hope they don't rot before they get there. But you know damn well that the government doesn't give a hoot about some murder out here. They don't give a hoot about anything out here. We send them nothing and they send us nothing. All they got is that garrison in Fort Huachuca to protect the border." He snorted again. "Hell, the bandidos down south are more afraid of us then we are of them; those soldiers don't do a damn thing."
Doc York took a deep breath.
"Besides," he went on, "cutting him up would violate Melunjun rituals. What do you want me to do with the body? I don't suppose you want me to turn it over to them yet."
"No, I don't. So far, we three are the only ones who know Juju is dead. I want to keep it that way for a while. That son of a bitch Dink is acting chief of the Melunjuns now, and I know for a fact that he never agreed with Juju signing the treaty with us. Soon as he finds out Juju is gone, he'll go on the warpath."
"What are you gonna do, Lobo?" Doc York asked.
Sheriff Lobo gave Doc York a hard stare.
"I'm gonna try to find out who killed Juju. And in case I can't, I'm gonna raise an army to go after Dink."
* * *
The town of Clary had two main streets that intersected at right angles. At the center of that intersection was a town square with a scraggly tree and a flagpole with no flag. On the southeast corner was a one-story wooden structure in dire need of a new paint job, its flakes of blue hanging off the exterior like autumn leaves ready to drop. That was the mayor's office. The hinges creaked as Sheriff Lobo opened its door and stepped inside.
Mayor Landrum rose from behind his massive wooden desk with the figure of a silver eagle on it. The silver was so tarnished it barely shone in the light that streamed through the window behind the desk.
"What can I do for you, Sheriff?" Mayor Landrum asked.
Mayor Landrum was short and portly, with a round face, balding head, and eyes that seemed about to pop out of his head like those of a frog.
A decent enough fellow, Sheriff Lobo thought, but there is no way I can trust him to keep Juju's death to himself. Telling would be like going to the town square and shouting out the news.
"Mayor, Chief Juju of the Melunjuns is missing."
The mayor nodded gravely.
"A war party led by Dink is out searching for him."
"A war party? Dink?" Mayor Landrum stuttered. "Where is Juju?"
Good, Lobo, I don't have to explain the threat.
The sheriff shook his head.
"I don't know," he said. "Neither does Dink, it seems."
"What if something happened to Juju?" The alarm darkened Landrum's face and strained his voice.
"You know what happens, Mayor. Dink becomes chief of the Melunjuns."
"Juju kept the peace," Mayor Landrum gulped.
"And Dink will start a war," finished Lobo.
Mayor Landrum fell back into his chair.
"What shall we do?" wailed Mayor Landrum plaintively.
"I want permission to raise an army to oppose Dink if Juju does not return."
Mayor Landrum's frog eyes grew wide. He stared at Sheriff Lobo, his mouth gaping. Sheriff Lobo stared sternly back at Mayor Landrum.
The mayor's eyes fell back to his desk. He fiddled with the eagle for several moments. Finally, he raised his eyes, and said firmly:
"You have my permission, Sheriff Lobo."
* * *
Neither street in Clary had a name. One ran north-south, the other east-west. At the very south end was the Happy Time Saloon whose doors were on hinges that could swing in and out, so any patron entering, or exiting, would merely have to push with his hands, or his body, if some other force propelled him outward. It was not unheard of for the bouncer, an ex-miner, to have to send an unruly customer flying into the street. Sometimes, if that lesson were not harsh enough, Sheriff Lobo would have to arrest the miscreant and place him in a jail cell until he sobered up. Tonight, Lobo did not want to put anyone in jail. He just wanted a relaxing evening before, as they said in faraway New Phoenix, where they had electricity, the cow dung hit the ventilator.
The chanteuse, Salome, a beautiful Melunjun with straight coal-black hair, olive skin, and eyes the color of the sky, sang like a bird. As Lobo entered and walked to an empty table, she winked at him without missing a note. He winked back at her, with his middle eye, and for the briefest moment she lost the beat, and Lobo saw the beginning of laughter quickly suppressed as she resumed singing in time with the pianist. Lobo smiled with satisfaction as he sat down.
The pianist was another Anomalous, with large arms out of proportion with his thin body, arms that ended with six fingers on each hand. Lobo had heard pianists all over the East; he had never heard anyone play like Whizzy.
The waiter, without Lobo having to order, brought a double-shot of rye whiskey. Lobo took a quarter gulp, and as the warmth flooded his body and he began to relax he knew this would be the last drink he would have for a very long time.
Salome started a passionate song with erotic overtones. She made her way around the room as she sang, deftly dodging the swipes of lusting hands. At Lobo's table she stopped longer than necessary, staring deep into his eyes as she sang of desire. Lobo sighed with contentment.
Salome returned to the slightly raised stage and went into an upbeat number about a woman gambler who gets away with cheating because the men she plays against are so taken with her they are unaware of her unsporting shenanigans.
Salome could be famous anywhere, Lobo thought, along with her virtuoso pianist.
When Salome finished her set she thanked the audience and announced that was all for the night. That audience, to a man except for Lobo, complained and groaned with displeasure. Undeterred, Salome left the stage and made her way to the stairway at the back of the room that led to the second and third floors that served as a hotel and boarding house. Whizzy, the pianist, began playing solo. Lobo waited briefly and then made his way to the stairs.
It would not do to have no information about what was going on in the Melunjun settlement. It was necessary to have at least one spy, and Sheriff Lobo had more than one. It did not take many silver coins to convince two clan members to report on the inner doings of the clan. As for Salome, Sheriff Lobo was able to give her something else: the guaranty of an initial exposure on the stage of the Happy Time Saloon. That initial exposure was all she needed, but Lobo could still rely on her for information. And Salome could be a good source. She was Juju's sister.
And Salome was good for something else. He hoped it was because she wanted it, too. But you never knew with women.
On the third floor Lobo stopped at the door marked 302. He knocked. Hesitantly.
* * *
Sheriff Lobo lay on the bed in Salome's room, staring up at the ceiling. Salome lay next to him, propped up on her elbows, looking down at his face.
"You're the only man who hasn't just used me," she said. "The only man who cared about my happiness, who does things no other man does, who cares about my pleasure, who cares about me."
"It's because I love you," Lobo said.
"Of course you do," Salome said, smiling. "You can't help it."
Lobo laughed. Salome shifted her body, raised her right arm, and with her index finger traced a circle around Lobo's middle eye.
"My freak," she said affectionately.
"We're called Anomalous."
"My freak," she repeated.
Lobo took her hand in his and kissed it.
"When I lived back East I used to wear my hat down low to cover that eye," he said. "Hide it. Said it was so as not to scare people, but the real reason was I was ashamed." He sighed. "Never saw another person with three eyes, though I'm sure there must be others. Have no idea why I'm like this. Parents? Lab experiment? Outer space?" He laughed again. "At least the orphanage was filled with other Anomalous kids. Didn't feel like a freak when I was growing up there." He sighed.
"Is it really true that with it you can see a half mile as clear as another man can at 10 feet?"
"How come it's white and not blue like your other two?"
"That's its color when I'm not using it. Turns dark brown when I am. So I've been told; never seen it brown in the mirror."
"Ever get confused between it and your regular eyes?"
"No. I've been this way as long as I can remember."
"They say," she began, "that not only can you see clearly half a mile away, but you can put a bullet right between a man's eyes at that distance."
"I don't believe it. There's no rifle accurate that far."
"That Garfield of mine is special made," Lobo explained. "Got it from back East. Same rifle the army uses, although they put small telescopes on it, called scopes. I don't need a scope. That eye in the center of my forehead is better than any scope."
Salome sat up in the bed.
"Lobo," she asked, her voice thoughtful, "do you believe what they say about the Olden Times?"
"Yes, Salome, I do," Lobo replied, sitting up also and facing her. "I've read all about it in books, even seen some artifacts. Salome, men had wagons that could fly through the air, even up into space. They didn't need no wires for the telegraph, hell, they didn't need the telegraph, they could talk to each other through the air. They could even change the basic stuff humans are made of, that maybe explains how there are people like me. And they were starting to make machines that could think and do the things humans do, and then it all fell apart. Went back a couple of centuries."
"Why?" Salome asked.
"Maybe we just got too smart for ourselves," he offered. "They say those machines that could think and do the same things people did started putting people out of work. Things began falling apart, folks went hungry, got bored, rioted, fought; the whole fabric got ripped to shreds. Lucky we didn't go back to living in caves."
"Gives me the shivers to think about it," Salome said. She was silent for several moments.
"Lobo, I'm worried. Juju's gone missing. I'm afraid he's dead."
"He is dead!" Lobo blurted out, regretting it as soon as the words had left his mouth.
"Oh no, oh no!" Salome began to cry. "You didn't kill him, did you, Lobo?"
"Of course not, Salome! Why would I do that? Your brother kept the peace. When Juju's death is known, Dink will become your leader and there will be war for sure."
"Juju was murdered?"
"Strangled? Who's strong enough to strangle Juju?"
"That's what I'm asking myself, Salome. Unless he was drugged or poisoned."
Salome clutched at Lobo's arm. Her eyes turning pleading.
"Let's get away from here, Lobo. Let's run away together and escape from this forsaken place."
Lobo put his hands gently on Salome's cheeks.
"Where we gonna go, Salome? Where we gonna go?"
* * *
Dink's sneer held lust and cruelty as he backed Salome against the wall. His right hand had already removed some of her clothes, his left held her throat in a tight grip.
She was in her own hut. Her brother's larger hut was next door, but even if he had been there and she had screamed for help, Juju went not have interfered; he had given her to Dink. She loved her brother, but hated him for that.
"Get it over with," she said to Dink, her body stiff, a look of disgust on her face.
"I will, I will, soon enough. First, answer my question. What did Lobo say about your brother?"
Dink tightened his grip. Salome began to gasp for air.
"Don't lie to me! I know he talks to you. Probably tells you everything."
"I can't talk. You're choking me."
Dink relaxed his grip.
"He don't talk about his work much, Dink. I asked him about Juju and all he said was he hopes he turns up. Doesn't want you as head of the clan."
"Well, Sheriff Cyclops won't be able to do a thing about that. And as for you, once I become leader no more singing at that saloon and no more Sheriff Cyclops for you."
"You're not clan leader. My brother is."
"Your brother's dead."
"How do you know that?" she hissed.
"I know, I know," he said.
There was such certainty in Dink's voice that Salome was sure Dink was not simply guessing.
"How do you know, Dink?" she demanded.
He gave her a sly look, and then surprise showed on his face.
"And you knew, too," he said. "That's why you're not wailing and weeping." He released her neck and removed his right hand from her body. "Lobo must have told you. Yeah, I thought there was something strange about that pack on his mule. It was the size of a big man and it stunk like hell. And he was coming from the direction—" Dink stopped himself.
"Coming from what direction, Dink?"
"I'll be back for you later. Don't go anywhere. I'm not finished with you."
Dink stepped outside, slamming the door as he went. Salome went limp from fear and slid to the floor, her body trembling.
"One, two, three," she counted, stopping at 100. Then she stood, her face resolute.
"There is no time for this," she said to herself, her voice firm. "I have work to do."
* * *
The loud knocking on the door of Lobo's cabin woke him from a dreamless sleep. He grunted, grabbed his seven-shot Peacemaker revolver, and cautiously made his way to the door. As he opened it, pistol at the ready, he saw, bathed in the cold light of the moon, the agitated figure of Salome.
"To what do I owe the pleasure—"
"Let me in!" Salome gasped, pushing Lobo aside.
Lobo turned up the light of the oil lamp so that the whole room was illuminated.
Salome spoke quickly, intakes of air punctuating her narrative.
"I know who killed Juju, and I know how he did it. I remembered what you said about Juju being drugged. I went to Mekel, the medicine man, and asked if anyone had requested a potion that would render a man incapable of defending himself. No. Anything to make a man sleepy, then, or put him in a hallucinogenic state? He didn't want to answer but I pressed him. At last he owned to making something for Dink from the Devil's Trumpet plant. I asked why Dink wanted it. Mekel looked at me funny then laughed. Said Dink told him he was gonna use it on me."
"What? What have you got to do with Dink?" Lobo demanded.
"Not now, Lobo, not now. That's not all. Dink knows Juju is dead. He told me so. How would he know if he didn't have something to do with Juju's killing? Not only that. He told me he saw you with a mule with a pack the size of a big man and that it stunk like hell. He said you were coming from the direction . . . and Dink stopped talking."
"It was in the Valley of Death," he said. "And I was coming from the place where Juju was killed."
"Dink did it, clear as day," said Salome.
"Yeah, yeah, it all makes sense now. He killed Juju to take over the leadership. But what have you got to do with Dink?"
Salome did not answer; her eyes turned away from Lobo's steady gaze.
"What goes on between you two?" Lobo demanded. "Tell me!" he shouted.
"Juju gave me to Dink."
"You're his wife?" Lobo's voice rose in amazement.
"His pilgesh," she answered.
"So I've been sharing you with Dink?" Lobo shivered. Salome didn't answer.
"And you've been telling him stuff about me?"
Again Salome did not answer.
Lobo grimaced and rubbed his forehead. He took several deep breaths before saying anything.
"There's something I want you to do for me, Salome. I'm going to tell Doc York to spread the word that Juju's body was found. He was strangled. Doc will say he did a test on Juju and found residues of Devil's Trumpet. Juju was not able to defend himself. And Mayor Landrum will formally question Mekel and everyone will know Dink asked for a Devil's Trumpet potion. We'll have everything we need for a trial. But we can't try Dink in a courtroom because I can't ask Doc to lie on the witness stand. We'll have to convict Dink in the court of public opinion, and the only way to do that is to make Dink disappear."
"And you're going to make him disappear," Salome said in a hushed voice.
A half-smile appeared fleetingly on Lobo's lips.
"There's a cabin in Johnson's Gulch. I'm sure Dink knows exactly where it is. You're going to tell Dink that I've gone there to wait for the head of the Red Blasters clan. You tell him you think I'm planning an alliance to attack the Melunjun."
Salome shook her head.
"I don't want to go back to Dink. I don't want him touching me ever again, especially not after I know he killed my brother. You have to find some other way, Lobo."
"There is no other way, Salome," Lobo said coldly.
Now it was Salome's turn to shiver. Her blue eyes narrowed and her face turned hard. She left Lobo's presence without saying a word.
* * *
From the ridge above Johnson's Gulch Sheriff Lobo had a commanding view of the cabin. He had arrived several hours before dawn and was prepared to wait all day if necessary.
Had Salome given Dink the message as he had directed? Lobo's Garfield was cradled in his arms, his third eye constantly scanning the trail that led to the cabin. If Dink showed, would he be alone? No matter, from this position Lobo could take out as many men as necessary.
Had Salome delivered the message but warned Dink that a trap had been set for him? In that case, Dink would not be coming up the trail; Dink would be sneaking up the ridge behind him, taking him by surprise.
Lobo didn't care, one way or the other. If Salome had betrayed him worse than she already had by carrying on a relationship with him and Dink, it mattered not to Lobo greatly if today were to be his last.
And then there was the possibility that Salome had told Dink nothing at all and he would wait all day for nothing.
Lobo waited and waited. Then, when the first pink streaks of dawn gave way to the blue of early morning, Lobo saw seven riders coming down the trail, Dink in the lead. Lobo waited longer, until he was certain that once he started firing none of Dink's crew would be able to flee out of range.
It had taken years of practice for Lobo to develop the precise coordination of eye, hand, and Garfield that would, indeed, allow him to strike a man between the eyes from half a mile. He had even studied old artillery texts. Lobo's eye gave him distance, his brain gave him projectile drop. He could see the effect of the wind on the grass and the bushes, and was also able to take that into account.
Was this to be his most important test?
Dink and his men came closer to the cabin.
Now! Lobo thought.
His third eye saw Dink's face as clearly as his two the eyes would have seen him at five paces. Lobo held his breath and squeezed the trigger. Dink fell from his horse before the others knew what had happened. As they began to react in hurried confusion they fell one after the other, until all that was left was seven riderless horses and seven dead men on the ground.
Lobo breathed a sigh of relief. He and Billy would have a lot of burying to do. That would come later.
* * *
The peace in Wickhall County looked likely to stick. The Melunjun accepted Dink's guilt in the death of Juju. His disappearance was chalked up to fleeing to avoid justice. The Melunjun council of elders chose a replacement for Juju, if not of the same stature, at least of the same temperament and outlook.
But there was no peace in Sheriff Lobo. Salome had refused to see him again. He heard she was leaving, with Whizzy, for the East, to try her luck as a singer and pianist in less stressful locales.
Lobo went to see her off when the stagecoach came to pick them up. Salome barely acknowledged his presence. As she got on the stagecoach he said to her:
"We will meet again, Salome. I will win you back,"
She paused on the steps for only a moment.
"It is over, Lobo. It is very sad."
Then she got inside without looking back at him.
Tears welled in Lobo's eyes as the stagecoach pulled away.
Even the eye that never cried.
Born in Brooklyn in the last century, Harry's lived in New York, Israel, Texas, Chicago, Thailand, and a work
cubicle in California. He has degrees in physics and taught physics and astronomy at CCNY, worked as a software
engineer in the space program, and picked apples in Kibbutz Tsuba. His story "Becky" won Anotherealm's Higney
Award for 2009. His op-ed column, "The Contrarian", along with his short stories, appeared in Houston's Change
Magazine from 2011 to 2015. His collection of short stories,
Thirteen Tales from the Hippocampus, was published by Spuyten Duyvil Publishing in 2017.
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