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.