May, 2024

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Issue #176

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

You Lincoln County Son of a Bitch
by Virgil Cain
When two killers ask you to take a ride, saying no is harder than you might think. Pony Diehl was given the choice between riding the trail with outlaws—or not. One seemed to lead to an early grave, the other to an instant death. He knew which one he preferred.

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by John Blanchard
Frank Ivy hungers to take his revenge on the deputy who killed his younger brother. But Frank is locked up in Yuma Territorial Prison and can't make things right—or can he?

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And Some Will Be Gray
by Chere Taylor
Our young hero simply wants to live in peace with his difficult father and unpredictable brother. When his father orders him to shoot all Confederate Soldiers—will our hero find the strength to murder his own brother?

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Banks of the Rio Grande
by Joe Stout
Abigail journeys across Texas only to find her brother has been murdered. Her only hope is to win a shooting contest run by a former Confederate soldier searching for the Union sniper who put him in a wheelchair. But is this the first time Abigail and the contest sponsor have met?

* * *

Stubble Wind
by Marc Neuffer
Noah and Jeremiah are trapped by bandits. The desperados want the supplies the pair are mule-packing to a wagon stop. Outgunned and low on water, will the pair stay alive in the harsh desert?

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The Cold Heart of War
by James Burke
As the Civil War rages, a vicious blizzard grips New Mexico. Confederate soldiers huddle against the cold, while a corrupt landlord exploits his daughter to curry the invaders' favor. A small band of local militia members brave the bitter cold to dispense their own brand of justice.

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All the Tales

You Lincoln County Son of a Bitch
by Virgil Cain

When John Ringo and Curly Bill showed up at the Patterson ranch down on the Babocomari looking for Pony Diehl, the talented horse thief believed it was the end of his road. He had just helped carry out the Haslett murders, but that was hardly enough to erase all the foolish mistakes he'd made as of late. He'd been looking over his shoulder since he botched that stage robbery in Globe, believing the Old Man would send somebody after him. Seeing that it was Curly and Ringo who came calling, he realized the Old Man had sent his very best killers.

Pony lingered for a moment by his horse before mounting, wondering if this would be the last time he saw Frank's ranch. He was never that fond of the ranch, being that he'd grown to abhor manual labor since his days working for John Chisum. All the sudden, he dreaded the thought of not coming back. He'd outlasted the likes of Jesse Evans, John Kinney, and Dutch Martin, but now he feared that he would not make it through the night.

The three desperados rode through the night, 60 miles east toward Galeyville, due south of San Simon. They stopped off at the Prue Ranch in the morning, had breakfast and caught a nap, then continued through a pass in the Chiricahuas and arrived at Galeyville that evening. It was a ride the Cowboys made often on their cattle drives with Galeyville being a favorite resort for the Cowboys. The Prues were never happy to see them, though they had no choice but to be neighborly, for fear of the rustlers targeting their stock. It was an unspoken agreement that existed between them, though an uneasy one as far as the Prue family was concerned.

Curly Bill still operated largely out of San Simon, though his wrath was felt all throughout Grant and Cochise counties. He had murdered vaqueros in Mexico, ravaged ranches in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, and killed more men than he could remember. He had enemies on both sides of the border, but still they could not take him out. He had thumbed his nose at the authorities across the Southwest and even gunned down Town Marshal Fred White in the streets of Tombstone. It seemed nothing could bring him down. Curly fed off that feeling. He was gregarious, boastful, and fearless.

Pony spent the whole ride to Galeyville afraid that he would be killed by his own compañeros, just like Dave Estes, Jerry Ackerson, and Bud Stiles. He was scared silent, which wasn't a common feeling for a man of his skill. Already at odds with Pony Diehl, John Ringo promptly took notice.

"You're awfully quiet, Pony," he said. The Cowboys were loping casually across the vacant mesa in a row of three, with Pony in the middle. "Something on your mind?"

"I ain't never been accused of being a deep thinker," Pony returned.

"Well, you seem nervous, if I'm being honest," Ringo said.

"Then don't be," Pony grumbled. "Nobody asked your opinion, anyhow."

"I got to disagree with you, Ringo," Curly admitted. "Pony and I rode together in Texas and again in New Mexico. Hell, he just rode with us in Eureka. He don't scare easy. Sides, he's with friends. What's there to be scairt about?"

"I don't claim to know, but I know a shaky hand when I see one," Ringo said.

"Pony Diehl with an unsteady hand?" Pony joked. "Now I know you're joshin'."

"Haps he just prefers the night air over yer yapping," Curly hypothesized.

"Perhaps," Ringo said, unconvinced.

It was the only time during the ride into Galeyville that his nervousness was addressed, but it left Pony uneasy. Ringo was interested in pushing the issue, but Curly was being awfully understanding. It was as if he was trying to lure Pony into a false sense of security. Worse, the law at Galeyville was entirely in Curly's corner. If he was of a mind to kill Pony, the Cowboys could bury him in a canyon outside of Galeyville and no one would ask any questions. It made him fearful that he was being led into a trap. Those fears were alleviated when they arrived at Galeyville to be greeted by Deputy Billy Breakenridge. Breck was fast becoming a good friend of the Cowboys, despite his pleasant demeanor and by-the-book mentality. For the first time since leaving the Patterson spread, Pony felt at ease. If he was to be murdered, Breck would not have been there.

The three outlaws settled in at Frank Patterson's saloon and quickly made up for lost time. Cards and whores and whiskey were aplenty, after which they moved outside and continued their hijinks. It was then that Lincoln County veteran Jim Wallace rode up on a chestnut horse with a white-striped face, dismounted, and joined Curly and his friends on the porch of the saloon.

Jim Wallace rode with Curly Bill regularly, but he was also known for blowing all his pay on whores and whiskey. He was perennially broke, and the horse he rode was far too nice for a man of his meager savings. He was an also-ran with the Cowboys, being considered a shell of his former self. He had once ridden with John Kinney and the Rio Grande Posse, but now that he was a barkeep, the Cowboys had gotten comfortable with running him down. He was right tired of it, but they were a dangerous bunch. What other choice did he have? It wasn't like Pony Diehl was jumping through hoops to stick up for him. He just joined in on the laughs when the Cowboys had their turns poking fun at Jim Wallace.

While the Cowboys blew smoke rings into the thin night air, Constable Elias Goodman strolled down the street, noticed the horse and its unlikely rider, and started circling the hitching post. The Cowboys were laughing at the reaction of Jim Wallace, whose eyes were a country mile wide. He was insulted that the constable— who everyone in Galeyville made an open joke of— had the nerve to take exception to his theft of a horse. Every damn Cowboy in that town was riding a stolen horse, but it was his that drew unwanted attention? Now, that just didn't sit well with Jim Wallace. He had to take lip from the likes of Curly Bill and John Ringo, but certainly not from a reprobate posing as a lawman.

"Can I help you, Eli?" Jim Wallace asked, then stood and pulled his pistol.

"Where you get this horse?" Constable Goodman asked.

"If you're so interested in that horse, how's about you take him off my hands?" Jim Wallace said. "Here's my asking price."

Wallace raised his pistol and fired three times at the ground near Goodman's feet. The constable danced around the bullets, cried out in fear, fell back in a panic, and ran off. The Cowboys broke out in uproarious laughter and celebrated Wallace's brazen display of gamesmanship, toasting drinks to his shooting at a lawman and howling with delight.

Deputy Breakenridge wasn't nearly as impressed. He was in town to protect the supply caravan of a store that had gone out of business. When he saw Jim Wallace embarrass the constable and send him fleeing ahead of a hail of bullets, he took umbrage that a dirty drunk like Jim Wallace had made a fool of his fellow lawman.

Breck was just a little feller, but he was hardy and unwilling to flinch even around the Cowboys. He was a freighter and an Indian fighter in his younger days, and he continued to carry that toughness even while surrounded by dangerous killers. It's why Curly liked him so much. He was a walking contradiction. He was calm, polite, and peaceful, and yet, stubborn and aggressive if need be. Breck had every reason to fear the Cowboys, or to look down on them at the very least, but he treated them as kindly as he would the governor. It was a charm that was not lost on the Clanton Gang, who believed they received a raw deal as it pertained to their sullied public profile. When Breck witnessed what Jim Wallace was up to, he stormed down to Frank Patterson's gin palace and made small talk.

"Howdy, boys," Breck politely said.

"You after this horse too?" Jim Wallace asked, his pistol still laid across his lap.

"No," Breck replied, "I'm riding a finer horse than that old nag."

Wallace stood from his chair and approached Breck in a menacing manner, his gun still drawn. Before Jim Wallace could raise his gun, Breck pulled his own pistol and shoved it into Wallace's stomach. With his other hand, he grabbed the wrist of Wallace, overpowering him in a manner that made him drop his gun. Rather than arrest Jim Wallace, Breck released his hand and shoved him away. Wallace felt manhandled.

"Quit making a damn fool of yourself before you force me to lock you up," Breck advised, then turned and walked away.

Jim Wallace raised his gun and pointed it at the back of Breck's head, but he couldn't bring himself to pull the trigger. Leaving Jim Wallace behind, Breck entered Patterson's joint and purchased a round of drinks for the Cowboys, hoping to smooth things over. With the conflict settled and the Cowboys once more singing his praises, Breck left to finish his inventory at the store.

Curly Bill was across the street drinking in a whorehouse when he heard about the showdown between Jim Wallace and Billy Breakenridge. Though it was explained to him that Jim Wallace had been humiliated by the young lawman, Curly was adamant that his good friend Billy had been mistreated; that there would be recompense. He staggered drunkenly across the street and entered Patterson's saloon with a nasty demeanor.

"Somebody fetch Breck from down the dry goods store," Curly demanded, entering the saloon and firing off six rounds into the ceiling. He reloaded his gun as a handful of patrons rushed out and Tex Arnett moved to retrieve the deputy.

"We was just messing about," Jim Wallace reasoned, leaning drunkenly against the bar as Curly slowly walked toward him. Curly hadn't mentioned what he was upset about, but Jim feared he already knew.

"That's why you'll tell Breck all about it," Curly said. "You'll apologize to the deputy and we'll all go about our business."

"I ain't apologizing to that cur," Jim Wallace boasted. "He should know better than to question me, being the poor fuckin' excuse for a lawdog that he is."

Curly stepped forward and slapped Jim Wallace across the face with such force that the whole saloon fell silent. "Say that again," he tempted.

"I ain't got nothing to apologize fer, Bill," Jim Wallace claimed, his lip trembling with fear. Curly cocked his hand back and Jim Wallace flinched, causing an uncomfortable laughter to fill the saloon. Just then, Breck entered the saloon alongside Tex Arnett.

"What's all this about, Bill?" Breck said, his eyebrow cocked inquisitively.

"I heard what Jim done to you, Billy," Curly said.

"It's already been settled, Bill," Breck explained.

"Like hell it has," Curly slurred. "You're a good boy, Billy. You don't deserve to be treated like that."

"It's water under the bridge," Breck insisted.

"But on the plus side," Curly drunkenly continued, waving his loaded pistol about as carelessly as a drunk pisses in an alley, "he's ready to apologize for his actions."

"Why, Bill, I'm nonplussed," Breck said. "I didn't ask for this."

"I'm offering you a gift, Breck. You won't accept my gift?"

"I can see you're in a foul mood, Bill."

"I ain't in no kind of mood!"

"I ain't looking to anger you, Bill," Breck claimed. "I ain't that foolish."

"Then you'll accept the man's apology?" Bill asked.

"If it'll set your heart at ease, let's have it," Breck said.

"You heard the man," Bill said to Jim Wallace, slapping him hard on the back. "Get over there and pay your penance."

The saloon was quiet. Jim Wallace had ridden into town on a stolen horse, high on life. He was dern pleased with that horse and ready to show it off. He was already drunk when he stole the horse from the San Simon station, having been playing poker out at Joe Hill's place. He just happened to wander across the mare when leaving San Simon, so he left his ragged old horse in place of the mare, not even taking the time to switch the saddles. He was drunk when he entered town, pleased knowing he could sell the horse to one of the Cowboys in town and buy another nag. It was likely to net him about 30 dollars. If done often enough, it could support his vices while he lived off the wages he made tending bar.

Jim Wallace suddenly regretted taking umbrage with the constable and playing it tough with Breck. He didn't even dislike Breck. He was just an ornery drunk. Now, the whole saloon was watching him. There were coldblooded killers in there like John Ringo and Pony Diehl, but they were quiet, afraid to tempt the anger of Curly Bill. Even killers like Ringo and Pony held their tongue when Curly got riled. He was feeling right bloody on this night.

Pony realized in that moment that he wasn't safe neither. All them calculations he made prior to arriving were made in folly. Curly Bill was getting up the courage for a shooting when he drank so heavily in the saloon across the street. He suddenly had a feeling that it wasn't Jim Wallace who was the target of his malice. What had gotten Curly so ornery before he learned about the altercation between Wallace and Breck? That's what made Pony nervous.

Ringo wasn't too nervous. He was clever enough to know that Newman Clanton favored him. He had proven to be a willing and adept killer, confirmed by the notion that Newman had not even been questioned in the killings Ringo had committed. He was a hired hand for the Clanton Gang, and not even Curly Bill could touch him without running afoul with the Old Man. Besides, Curly Bill was tough as iron but John Ringo was faster than the blazes. Push come to shove, Ringo liked his odds, especially with Curly being so drunk. He wasn't looking to poke the bear, though. Only a fool would do that.

Frightened and humiliated in front of a saloon full of Cowboys who were too afraid of the Lobo to stand against him, Jim Wallace did as he was told. He walked over to Billy Breakenridge, looked him solemnly in the eyes, and muttered, "Sorry, Breck."

"Deputy Breakenridge, you mean?" Curly Bill insisted.

"I'm sorry, Deputy Breakenridge," Jim repeated, a hollow look in his eyes.

"Get down on your knees and say it," Curly demanded.

"That's a bit much, ain't it, Bill?" Breck asked.

"You think so?" Curly asked, venom on his tongue and a murderous look in his eyes.

"Don't matter," Jim Wallace rescued, "'cause I ain't doing it."

"Oh, you ain't, is you?" Bill asked, pulling his pistol and spinning the chamber, holding it to his ear and grinning as he listened to it rotate.

"A man gots limits, Bill," Jim said. "I might be a fool, but I ain't a coward. I won't be made to kneel."

Curly marched right past Jim Wallace and Billy Breakenridge, but he didn't act. Both men thought he would strike Jim, but he walked right past him. He parked his husky frame in the doorway and pointed the gun at Jim Wallace's horse, which remained tethered outside.

"You get down on your knees or I'll shoot your horse" Bill said. "You say you won't kneel out of fear, but I bet you'll kneel for the 50 dollars you'll ask for that horse."

"Reckon I will," Jim Wallace said, with shame in his eyes.

"It's unnecessary," Breck pleaded.

"It's all right," Jim Wallace whispered to him, as he knelt to the ground. "I ain't bothered."

"Deputy William Breakenridge" Jim Wallace announced from his knees, "I'm sorry for the disrespect that I showed you. As God is my witness, I won't never do it again, neither."

"Apology accepted," Breck said, then turned and marched from the saloon, staring angrily at Curly Bill as he did.

"Guess there's just no pleasing some folks," Curly said, eliciting a nervous laughter from the room.

"Now, you get the hell outta here, you Lincoln County son of a bitch" he continued, gesturing at the door with his pistol. Jim Wallace wasted no time rushing out of the saloon, pleased that he was leaving with his life.

"I just hate them Lincoln County bastards" Curly Bill announced, making eyes at Pony Diehl as he returned to the bar and ordered a bottle of rye.

Jim Wallace was a bit shaken by what happened, so he marched across the street and ordered a glass of whiskey in Babcock's Saloon. Curly Bill continued to drink and gamble. After a few hours, he was an even saltier drunk. Pony Diehl tried his best to act nonchalant. He believed that he was going to be murdered by Curly Bill and John Ringo and he was running the scenario over in his head. Over and over, he played it out. He wasn't so afraid of Bill in a duel. Curly was a handful, but he wasn't a pistoleer. Ringo was the fastest around, meaning that Pony would have to pull against Ringo and kill him with the first shot. That would leave Curly Bill, who was slow but deadly accurate. If he pulled and shot Bill first, Ringo would ace him. Either way, he ended up dead.

"Walk with me, Ponyboy" Curly Bill demanded, after losing his latest hand.

Curly had been a killer in the El Paso Salt War, but he had also been a good cowpoke and a good friend. Now, he was neither. He was a thief, a murderer, and a bully. He had only been riding with the Clanton Gang for a year, but he acted as if he was running the whole damn gang. Men like Pony Diehl and John Ringo weren't used to taking orders from him, like he thought he was John Kinney. Problem was, he did think that. As of late, he would bark. If you didn't come calling, he would resent you for it. He was brutish and vengeful. When he told Pony to take a walk, Pony knew he had no choice but to follow.

"I thought I told that sorry son of a bitch to get out of town" Curly grumbled, exiting the saloon and witnessing Jim Wallace come stumbling out of Babcock's Saloon.

Pony knew that Curly had only told Jim Wallace to "get the hell outta here", but he didn't speak up. He believed he was going to be walked out and murdered by Curly Bill unless he found the courage to pull first and kill the Lobo. In truth, he was thankful to be given the chance to draw without Ringo present. Under the circumstances, it was the best-case scenario. Then, everything changed. Jim Wallace had caught Curly's attention again. It was a welcome distraction, far as Pony Diehl was concerned. He trailed behind Curly Bill as he hid in the shadow of the porch, waiting for Jim Wallace to cross the street. When Jim approached his stolen horse, tethered outside Patterson's joint, Curly Bill emerged to snatch the lead before Jim Wallace could find his mount.

"I thought I told you to get out of town, you Lincoln County son of a bitch," Curly said, as he confronted Jim Wallace.

"I thought you said to get out of Patterson's," Jim explained. He was plumb roostered and struggling just to speak. "You know I wouldn't offend you on purpose."

"I guess I oughta take this horse off you to make up for the offense," Curly said, mounting the horse right in front of Jim Wallace.

"You know what, Bill?" Jim Wallace slurred, looking up at Curly with a twisted look in his eyes.

"What's that?" Curly grinned, sitting proudly atop his new mount.

"I'm right tired of you," Jim said, pulling his pistol, shoving it point blank into the face of Curly Bill Brocius, and pulling the trigger.

Curly was so drunk that he was hardly paying attention. The bullet hit him in the neck and passed through his cheek, taking out a few molars as it exited his jaw. He listed to the side, looking at Jim Wallace in shock. He wanted to pull his pistol, but his brain was misfiring. He couldn't manage to get his hands to do what he was telling them to do. His body fell from his horse and clapped hard off the ground.

Jim Wallace realized what he had done and immediately mounted his horse and turned to flee. Pony Diehl didn't hesitate. He pulled his pistol and shot the stolen horse out from under Jim Wallace, sending him crashing into the dirt next to the bloody remains of the New Mexico Lobo. He really couldn't say why he chose loyalty to Curly Bill over Jim Wallace, a man who had ridden under him in New Mexico, and loyally so. The former intended to murder him, while the latter had always been good to him. Yet, Pony chose fear over friendship. He couldn't explain it. It was instinct. Pony had no choice but to trust it.

Hearing the gunshot, the Cowboys quickly rushed outside and disarmed Jim Wallace, who swayed drunkenly, as if shocked by what he'd done. He looked as if he couldn't believe that Curly Bill had been shot, despite it being his gun which fired the shot and his finger that pulled the trigger. Perhaps it was the impact of biting the dirt after Pony shot his mare from under him. Perhaps he was finally realizing what he did, but there was no light on in the attic.

As some men called for Jim Wallace to be lynched, others rushed to Curly's side. Pony and Ringo stood back and watched, studying the reactions of everyone around them. Bill was a bully. They figured half the Cowboys would just as soon see him die than survive. It surprised them when the Cowboys rallied to Bill's side like he was the Savior. The boys were stunned to see him gunned down, believing he was too tough to be shot up by the likes of Jim Wallace. They shouldn't have needed a reminder that a lesser man can topple a giant if given half a chance. Then again, the sort who drank at Frank Patterson's place weren't exactly the sort to regularly consult their Bible. Once they saw that Curly Bill was still footed firmly among the living, they turned their attention to apprehending the shooter. They were loyal to him because they feared him, even while he was shot through the jaw.

Being an expert on shootings, Pony and Ringo both seen it wasn't a fatal wound. Least, not straightaway. Jim Wallace was a sloppy shot on a good day. On the night in question, he was drunk on rotgut whiskey and seeing double. He shot Curly Bill at point blank range, but it looked to have missed everything vital. Curly fell from the saddle and clapped off the ground, then turned onto his hands and knees and spit bloody fragments of his teeth into the dirt. He started grunting in pain, as if aggression was his answer to danger even after being shot through the face. He could breathe and he wasn't spilling blood from the inside. By his measure, that was better than he expected.

The Cowboys mobbed onto Jim Wallace, pulling him off the ground and kicking and punching at him. They even mobbed each other in their rush to strike him, until they heard a rifle fire over their heads, nearly skinning their hats. Billy Breakenridge had stepped into the fray once more, firing off his rifle and demanding the Cowboys stand down. The bark of his iron convinced them to fall back. Their respect for the deputy kept them from lashing out. After all, the mistreatment of Deputy Breakenridge was what started this whole mess.

"I'm taking this man in, lawful too," Breck demanded. "I suggest you boys see to Curly's health. If he pulls through this and finds that y'all ain't come to his aid, he'll shoot you sure."

"No need arresting Jim Wallace; he'll just claim it was self-defense," Pony Diehl said.

"Why, that's what it was" Jim claimed, rushing his cadence like the idea had just come to him.

"We'll let the judge see to that," Breck said.

"What if I say we got a hangman's noose on standby?" Ringo said. He was making eyes at Pony Diehl even while talking to Breck, suspecting the talented horse thief was up to something.

"I'd say we're in for a long night," Breck said.

"I only see short work," Ringo disagreed.

"Reckon that's true," Breck gulped, reassessing the situation.

"Curly won't like you challenging Breck this way," Constable Goodman warned, bursting onto the scene with the familiar flare of a coward who waited until the shooting stopped before finding his courage.

"Curly don't look like he'll pay too much mind," Ringo said.

"You're fixing to kill a lawman over Jim Wallace?" Breck asked.

"I suppose not," Ringo relented, thinking better of his misplaced aggression. He stepped away after that, letting Deputy Breakenridge and Constable Goodman take Jim Wallace to jail.

"I'll kill you yet, you Lincoln County son of a bitch!" Curly Bill howled, laying wounded in the dirt as Jim Wallace was led away.

The hanging of Jim Wallace averted, the Cowboys carried Curly Bill to the nearest doctor. Along the way, Curly Bill spoke to Pony Diehl, disbelieving and confused.

"You ain't dead yet?" Curly asked, before passing out.

Curly fell in and out of consciousness from then on. He couldn't stay awake, but he was fighting like hell. Pony Diehl wished the black-hearted son of a bitch would just die already. He knew now that he was marked for death that night. Only by a miracle had he survived.

Curly Bill and John Ringo had collected him from Frank Patterson's ranch and escorted him out to Patterson's saloon, leaving Pony questioning whether Frank Patterson had served him up to the Old Man. Pony was so crafty that he had navigated his way through the debauchery and emerged unscathed, but it gave him no great confidence that he would survive if Curly Bill pulled through. He was pulling for him to pass away. His hopes were unfulfilled.

Upon hearing the doctor pronounce his chance of survival as 50/50, Curly replied, "Whenever I get an even chance, I always come out ahead." Pony knew right then the son of a bitch was too mean to die.

So it was that Jim Wallace was arrested by Deputy Breakenridge and taken before the Galeyville justice of the peace, a corrupt hillbilly rancher called George Ellenwood. Judge Ellenwood consulted the only law book he owned and decided that it was self-defense, based on the fact that Jim Wallace was scared to death when he pulled his pistol. He was set free and sent walking, but he couldn't quit looking over his shoulder. He was in such a hurry to get out of town that he didn't even go by the livery for his horse or wait around the jail long enough for the constable to retrieve his gun. He believed the Cowboys were out to get him, waiting for him to walk out of the jail before they pounced. Instead of hanging around for a second longer than was necessary, he took his release and left Galeyville for good, heading north, 25 miles to the train station at San Simon.

Along the way, Jim was passed by the coach of Billy Breakenridge, who was finally headed back to Tombstone via a coach from Galeyville to San Simon, the rail from San Simon to Benson, and another coach from Benson to Tombstone. This was how the well-to-do made the trip. Wasted sots like Jim Wallace hoofed it or rode a dirty old nag. Breck felt bad for Jim Wallace, being that he'd started it all by taking up for the inept constable in Galeyville. Had he let Jim Wallace have his fun, nobody would have upset Curly Bill and Jim Wallace would not have shot him. He knew Curly Bill would kill Jim Wallace if he didn't leave town, and he was of a mind to see that Jim Wallace got on the next train out of the territory. He stopped off along the road from Galeyville to San Simon and offered him a ride to the rail depot. Wallace was eager to accept.

Jim was of the same mind as Breck. He was firm in the belief that he was only still among the living because Breck had taken him to jail and held off the lynch mob throughout the night. Had Curly Bill died, there would have been no saving him. The Cowboys would have strung him up that very night. To his benefit, Curly survived and Jim Wallace was spared. Problem was, Jim wished Curly would have died. He would have rather faced a murder charge or a lynch mob than to be hunted by Bill Brocius. He was right scared, being of a mind to leave the territory on the first train he could catch. He accepted the ride because he trusted that Breck could get him to San Simon. He was less certain that the train could get him to California.

At San Simon, Jim Wallace bid adieu to Deputy Breakenridge and purchased a ticket for Los Angeles, before waiting patiently for the train. He was nervous, but being at San Simon calmed his nerves. He could see Joe Hill's ranch in the distance. He wished he was still yonder, playing cards. Had he not stolen that horse after losing his money to Joe Hill, he wouldn't have been in this whole mess. Then again, his time in Arizona was a wash. He was relegated to a henchman for the Old Man and there was a dangerous sort that often mistreated him. That he was abused over insulting a lawman told the whole story. Jim Wallace had outlived his welcome. Joe Hill had settled into a good life out there, but Jim couldn't find such fortune. Now, he was taking his leave.

He heard the train in the distance. He stood near the tracks and stared down the line to observe how distant the iron horse remained. He could not remove the fear from his heart, even as the train neared.

"If it ain't Jim Wallace," Pony Diehl said, stepping out from behind the depot.

"Pony," Jim said, nervous and reeling. "What're the odds?"

"Got bi'ness in Tucson?" Pony said.

"Looks to me like you got bi'ness in San Simon?" Jim Wallace feared.

"I was always square with you, Jim," Pony promised, still approaching.

"I know you was, Pony," Jim stammered. "I'm just nervous, is all."

"For good reason."

"Why you say that?"

"They's plenty mad at you in Galeyville."

"What bi'ness you got in Tucson?" Jim Wallace doubted.

"Wells Fargo folk is asking questions about a botched coach robbery at Dripping Springs," Pony said. "They got it in their heads that I got something to do with it."

"Shoot," Jim said, finally relaxing his guard, "I was in such a hurry to leave Galeyville that I ain't even got my gun and had to abandon my horse."

"I got an extra," Pony said, pulling one of his pistols and tossing it to Jim Wallace without thinking.

"You always was a good egg," Jim said, catching the gun and admiring it. "That's why I hate to do this," he added, pointing the gun at Pony Diehl and pulling the trigger.

Jim Wallace had always admired Pony Diehl, but he could not be certain that Pony was there by coincidence. He believed it was an assassination, payback for his shooting of Curly Bill. He knew he couldn't get the drop on a top gun like Pony Diehl; he was too fast for a rustler like Jim Wallace to keep up with. He needed a hope and a prayer, and he got them both when Pony tossed him that pistol. He had to take his chance, so he pointed and fired. When he heard the hammer click, his heart sank. Pony always was a clever sort.

"I was hoping you would do that," Pony said, then slowly pulled his other pistol and took aim. He always was a two-gun man. "It makes this a whole lot easier."

Jim Wallace moved to beg. Pony emptied his revolver, shooting Jim six times in the heart. The Lincoln County son of a bitch stumbled back in shock and fell onto the path of the train, still a half-mile in the distance. His body would be dragged half-way to Tucson before it was dislodged. By then, it was no longer identifiable. Pony was long gone when that came to pass. He had a horse hobbled behind the train depot. He took it over to Joe Hill's ranch to hide out for a few days, until he could be certain that no one had fingered him in the murder of Jim Wallace.

Pony Diehl had murdered a man in cold blood, but that was no big deal to a veteran killer like Charles Ray. Rather, it was who he murdered that haunted him. Jim Wallace was no threat to him, and now he was dead for standing up to a bully who harbored designs of murdering Pony in cold blood. He knew Curly Bill was a problem, but rather than stand up to him like Jim Wallace had done, Pony killed poor Jim Wallace to erase any doubts as to his reliability among the other members of the Clanton Gang. He killed Jim Wallace so they would let him back in the gang, not knowing why he wanted to stay with the Cowboys to begin with. Now that they had plotted to kill him, the luster had worn off. Hard as it was to figure, Pony Diehl was looking for a way out. He had no intention of ending up like Jim Wallace.

The End

Virgil Cain is an American author of historical fiction, with works including The Ghost of Rome saga and The Four Corners of Death series. Born in Ohio, Virgil currently resides in Southern Arizona with his family.

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