June, 2024

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Issue #177

Welcome, Western Fans!

Looking for free, tantalizing Tales of the Old West?
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Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

The Sergeant and the Irish Lass
by W. Wm. Mee
Mary is newly widowed, with two small children, and in the middle of the Great Plains in a Conestoga wagon. The Indians are on the warpath, the local minister is eager to get her married off, and a crude, drunken mountain man wants her. Can the cavalry rescue her in time?

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Tricks of the Trade
by Sharon Frame Gay
A young stranger ambles into town and meets his match at the poker table. His stake gone, all seems lost—or is it? Sometimes the lamb hunts the wolf.

* * *

by Jennifer McMillan
Shiloh Hart arrives at the Platt River Ranch, Wyoming, after surviving a great blizzard, a pack of wolves, and the worst crime of all—being a Yankee in the post-Civil War West. But will he survive Confederate veteran John Stonewall?

* * *

Renegade Sheriff
by Tom Sheehan
The town was young and growing, but the Proulx ranch has taken up robbing and killing with impunity. Blackwater Carrigan is hired on to be the law, but the Proulx crew decide to show the town who is really in control. Will the law prevail against chaos?

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The Truth About the Incident
by J. R. Lindermuth
An old man reveals the truth about a famous gunfight. Will his listener take his word for it?

* * *

More Good Luck and Less Good Faith
by Eric A. L. Axner
Being a recent arrival in Good Faith City isn't easy, as Elwood Erskine finds out the hard way. When a ruthless outlaw threatens to take both his money and his life, it is up to his only friend in town to help him. But will he be in time?

* * *

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All the Tales

The Truth About the Incident
by J. R. Lindermuth

"I heard you were there when it happened."

The old man studied the boy before answering. The lad's wide-eyed gaze and anticipation of a tale reminded him of that other boy, the one at the root of the story this one wanted to hear. He gave a quick nod. "Yep. I was there."

The boy leaned across the table, his eyes bright with eagerness. "So, woncha tell me about it, mister? I mean, I've read the stories and I've heard it from people who weren't there. But you know the truth of it."

The old man heaved a sigh. He'd come in the restaurant to get out of the rain and felt obliged to buy some lunch in compensation for his presence. The boy who served him seemed privy to rumors which put the old man at the scene of what had come to be known as a historic shootout. He frowned at the thought of this; he knew it for what it really was. He sighed again. It didn't seem likely the boy would give up his pestering. He might as well tell the kid what really happened.

"Those dime novels you read haint the truth of it, you know," he began.

The boy waved a hand. "I know that, mister. They color things. That's why I want to hear it from you. You was there."

"Yeah. I was. And I guess you figger Nolan is a right brave hero, doncha?"

"He's the only shootist I ever seen in the flesh. He used to live right here in town."

"Man's a liar."

The boy chuckled. "You better be glad he don't live here no more, mister. Word got out about you callin' him a liar you might be in a heap of trouble."

"I haint worried. I knowed the man back then. He was a liar and a sneak and I expect that haint changed much since." The old man spooned up the last of his soup and wiped his lips with his sleeve. "You want me to tell it like it was or do you wanna keep on believin' those made-up tales?"

"I wanna hear what truly happened."

"All right then. Here you go. It was back nearly 10 years ago. We was up in the hills prospectin'—me, Nolan, a German called Swartz, and the boy, a kid named Abe. The kid was about your age, maybe a little older or younger. Don't know exactly. He was a stray. Claimed to be an orphan, but we suspected he'd run away from home in search of adventure. He begged to join our outfit when we was buyin' provisions. He had cash to pay his share, so we took him on.

"Unlike some other pests I've run across, he was a likable lad." The old man winked at the kid, warming to his audience. "He pulled his own weight, did as he was told, and was willin' to learn. We all took a liking to him." The old man fixed an eye on the boy. "You ever done any prospectin'?"

"No, sir."

"Well, let me tell you, it haint no easy way to make a livin'. It's hard work. You're diggin' and scratchin' in the rocks from sunup till sundown in the hope of findin' color. And when you haint doin' that you're waitin' out storms so you can get back to it. And the whole time we had to keep an eye out for the Apaches who were still runnin' around in those hills and resentin' our presence.

"Some prospectors have struck it lucky and found a bonanza. But they're the exception and not the rule. Most end up like me—old, flat-broke, and plumb worn out whilst still scramblin' up and down the hills, hopin' to strike color."

The old man noted the boy was looking a bit bored. Now he was in a story-telling mood, he didn't want to lose his audience. He leaned back in his chair, scratched at his whiskers, and said, "Tell you what, son. My throat's a bit parched. Why don't you get me another cup of coffee and a soda pop for yourself? Then I'll get onto the part of the story you're itchin' to hear."

The boy scurried off and the old man took a moment to ruminate on his memories and see if he might color things up just a tiny bit.

"We'd just finished our supper and were lazin' around by the fire watchin' the sunset when Ross rode into our camp," he resumed as the lad sucked on his sarsaparilla. Mention of the shootist's name got the boy's attention.

His eyes lit up as he asked, "Was he packin' his usual?"

"Indeed. The famous cross-draw rig he always fancied. I recognized him of course. I'd seen his ugly mug on enough wanted posters. Nolan knew who he was, too.

"'I mean you no harm, gentlemen,' he told us. 'I was passin' by and spotted your fire. Do you think you could spare a bit of food for a hungry stranger?'

"There's stew in the pot and the coffee's hot," I told him. "Alight and help yourself, stranger."

"Nolan glared at me. 'He haint no stranger,' he said. 'You know who he is as well as me. Why are you invitin' the likes of him into our camp?'

"I told Nolan the man said he meant us no harm and I was inclined to take him at his word. I said it wasn't right to turn away a hungry traveler, even if he did have a bad reputation. Now I'll admit, I didn't fancy Nolan much more then than I did later. He grumbled a bit, but finally relented and didn't push the issue."

"Were you all packin', too?" the boy asked, his eyes shining in anticipation.

"We were armed, though Nolan was the only one with a pistol—a poorly cared for piece nearly as old as him. Swartz had a shotgun and I carried a rifle. The only weapon young Abe had was a pocketknife. You got to understand, lad, we carried arms because we had to, not because we liked them or were any good with them. Truth is, if we'd all carried pistols none of us, including Nolan, could have hit a barn standing still."

This acknowledgment seemed to disappoint the boy. "Weren't you afraid Ross planned to rob you? Isn't that why Nolan objected to you inviting him into your camp?"

The old man laughed. "If that was his intent, he was in for a big disappointment. We'd had a discouragin' season. Except for barely enough grain to cover a few more weeks of food, the only one of us who'd found anything worthwhile was the kid. Abe panned a couple of fair-sized nuggets that morning, which gave us hope things might be lookin' up.

"Nolan whispered to me later his suspicion Ross was after Abe's nuggets. I told him that was ridiculous. How would the outlaw even know the kid had them?

"Anyway, I figgered once Ross had his belly full, he'd move on. I was wrong. After he ate, he picketed his horse and came back to the fire with a bottle and a box of store-bought cigarettes. He passed around the bottle and the cigarettes and asked if we'd mind if he spent the night. Said he was too tuckered to ride on in the dark and would be obliged for our hospitality.

"I was annoyed, but not brave enough to object to his plan. Nolan's expression revealed his opinion, though he also held his tongue. Swartz and Abe bid the shootist welcome, shifting to make a place for him close to the fire.

"For some reason I couldn't fathom, that darn kid took a shine to Ross and started asking him questions about his travels, his guns, and such truck. The attention pleased the man and the next thing we knew he'd plucked one of his weapons from its holster and allowed the kid to hold it. This bit of kindness touched Abe. I saw his eyes glowin' in the firelight as he fingered the big hogleg. He returned the favor by plucking out his nuggets and displaying them to Ross. I took this as a sign of trouble down the road.

"Ross's presence made me nervous. Maybe Nolan was right after all. I didn't sleep well once we'd bedded down. I imagined him coveting Abe's gold. He'd spread his bedroll between mine and young Abe's and he seemed as restless as me. He kept turning, tossing, and grunting as he sought a comfortable position on the hard ground. The fire burned down and drifting clouds across the near-full moon cast shadows over our bivouac. Save for the soughing of a breeze in the leaves overhead, the far-off yapping of a couple of coyotes, and the rasping snore I knew to be Swartz's, it was a quiet night.

"Time passed and I must have just drifted off to sleep when I was awakened by a slight noise, the rattle of stones underfoot. I sat up and saw Ross stooping over the form of young Abe. I called out. The crack of the gun that followed was so loud it startled me."

The boy listening to the story clapped his hands together and jumped up, his large eyes catching the gleam of the overhead lights. "Is that when Nolan challenged him to a fair fight?"

The old man spun on him. "Fair fight hell," he snarled. "Ross was still alive when I reached his side. Blood gurgled in his throat and lungs and I knew his time was short. He asked why I'd shot him. I told him I thought he meant the boy harm. Before he died, Ross said Abe had kicked off his blankets. He only intended to cover the boy."

"You shot him?" The old man's audience sank back in his seat, his mouth dropping open in shock. "Is that the truth of it, mister?"

"That's the truth of it."

"So there was no gunfight between him and Nolan?"

The old man didn't answer. He drained the dregs of his coffee and rose. All these years Nolan had been bragging on his mistake. He'd still be doing it, no matter how many times the old man told the truth. Did it matter? The rain had stopped and it was time he moved on.

The End

J. R. Lindermuth is the author of 18 published novels, including four traditional Westerns. His Western short stories have appeared in Frontier Tales, Rope and Wire, The Western Online, Short Barrel Fiction, American Western, Trails West, Wild West, and other magazines. He is a member of International Thriller Writers and a past vice president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

By Strangers Mourned (April 2022), Milford House Press
Fallen From Grace (Jan. 2022), Milford House Press
Sooner Than Gold (Jan. 2022), Milford House Press
Twelve Days in the Territory (May 2021), Sundown Press


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