by Tamar Anolic
U.S. Marshal L.S. Quinn looked around as he closed the door to the Fort Smith, Arkansas, courtroom behind him. He saw United States Senator William Quincy standing part of the way down the courtroom's overheated hallway and went towards him. "I'm done," he said. "The cross-examination is over and everything."
Quincy eyed his son for a long moment. "I'm sorry for all of this," he said.
"Jack Mattherson nearly killed you," Quinn replied. "Why shouldn't I have gone after him?"
Quincy bit his lip. "It's not that, it's the rest of it," he said. "Almost getting killed by your partner as you chased Mattherson, having to testify against Mattherson here in court . . . "
"It's all part of the job," Quinn said.
The court's current docket—August, 1872—was posted on the wall, directly to the right of the door that Quinn had just closed. The barest of breezes floated through the large, open windows of the courthouse, carrying the scents of the Arkansas humidity and horse manure. Then the front door to the courthouse slammed open. U.S. Marshals Jake Granter and Tony Stanza raced down the hall.
Quincy jumped at the intrusion, but Quinn simply turned his head towards his friends and arched his right eyebrow. "Something happen?" he asked.
"Florence Finnegan made it to Arkansas City," Jake said, forcing the words out as he gasped for breath. "There was another gunfight, and she got away!"
Now both of Quinn's eyebrows rose at the mention of the infamous brothel house madam of Sun City, Kansas. "Well, let's go after her, then," he said. He said goodbye to Senator Quincy and followed Jake and Tony outside.
"We heard Finnegan turned around and fled further up into Kansas, rather than try to make it into Oklahoma again," Tony said as they walked.
"I've wanted to catch her ever since she killed four of her own children," Quinn said. "I can't imagine anyone doing that, least of all a woman."
"They were in the way," Jake replied, sarcastically quoting one of Finnegan's responses when questioned after her children's death. "A woman should be able to run a violent brothel, not be stuck taking care of ungrateful children."
Quinn shook his head as he checked his supply of ammunition. Then he untied his gray horse, Gunpowder, from the post outside the courthouse. "All the more reason to shoot straight when we find her. What's her body count up to now, twelve?"
"It was twelve before the Arkansas City gunfight," Tony replied. "I, too, would love to catch her."
The three marshals were on the road before Jake brought up a subject about which Quinn always had trouble speaking. "Everything alright between you and Senator Quincy?" Jake asked.
Quinn swallowed and nodded. "He's always been more accepting of me than I would have expected."
"Why do you say that?" Tony asked.
"He's a prominent public official and I'm his bastard son," Quinn said as he tied his long black hair into a ponytail and wiped sweat off his neck. "He could act like I don't exist. His wife and daughters certainly do."
"Don't worry about his wife and daughters," Jake said. "Quincy has always been able to think for himself. If he treats you like family, don't push him away."
"I won't," Quinn said. "I'm glad he is the way he is."
* * *
Three days later, the marshals set up camp along the Arkansas River. The crackling of their campfire joined the sounds of rushing water as Quinn rolled out his bedspread. All around him, the night air cooled down with each passing minute. Overhead, the cloudless sky changed from a deep midnight blue to a pure black, and the color was perforated by a crescent moon. Quinn kept his eyes on the sky as he unwrapped his tack and opened his canteen. He knew his companions were doing the same when the sounds of contended chewing filled the air. Quinn smiled as he looked at Jake and Tony, and found that Jake was smiling as well.
"My brother has a wheat farm in Kansas," Jake said. "If we get to stay there one night rather than sleeping out, I wouldn't complain."
"I didn't know your brother had a farm," Quinn said. "Tony, did you know that?"
Tony nodded as he took another bite of food. "Jake and I have known each other longer than you've known him," he said, the twinkle in his eye giving away his mirth.
"If you're looking forward to sleeping in soft hay so much, how come you're doing this job rather than helping out on your brother's farm?" Quinn asked.
"Staying put?" Jake asked. "No way."
"Ever try it?"
"For a week. Ain't never doin' it again."
The three marshals laughed as they put their fire out and crawled into their sleeping bags. Far off, an owl hooted. Nearby, the river continued its everlasting journey, gurgling over rocks as it flowed. Quinn smiled again as he closed his eyes and allowed the curtain of sleep to drape over him.
* * *
When Quinn, Tony and Jake crossed the Oklahoma-Kansas border, their first stop was Arkansas City, where they rode past the post office and towards the morgue. The summer sun burned into their backs as a strong wind blew the street's dry dirt into their eyes. Inside the morgue, Sheriff Charles Cahill was releasing one of the bodies from the shootout. When the three marshals arrived, he ordered one of his deputies to continue the work and jerked his head towards the jail, where he kept a small office.
"How did she get away?" Quinn asked when they got to the office.
"She was armed, and had three bodyguards with her," Cahill replied. "They took down most of my men, including the one whose body you just saw."
"What happened to her bodyguards?" Quinn asked.
"Two are in the morgue, the third made it out of here with her."
"Any idea where she went?" Tony asked.
"I saw her flee back in the direction she came from," Cahill said. "I would have chased her, but I was wounded myself."
"Do you think she'd go back to Sun City, though?" Jake asked. "Wouldn't she be worried about being arrested once she got home?"
Cahill shrugged. "Heard yesterday she was spotted along the route that would take her back there. She has a profitable business- that's hard to walk away from."
Quinn looked at Jake and Tony. "I'll bet she's taking the long way, laying low," he said. "If I was her, I'd be licking my wounds and hoping the whole gunfight blew over before I got home."
* * *
The next day, the marshals rode northwest from Arkansas City until they reached the first portion of the state's high plains. Jake smiled as the wheat fields, thick, lush and golden, came into view. "This'll be ready to harvest in the next month or so," he said.
Quinn, too, eyed the ripening wheat as they rode, and the mere sight of it was enough to conjure up the smell of the baker's fresh loaves at home in Fort Smith. "What's your brother's name?" he asked.
"John," Jake said. "He and Anna married when he got out of the Army after the War Between the States was over. Then they moved out west to start a new life. I could never be a farmer, but John's good at it."
It was late at night when the marshals arrived at John's homestead, but a lamp remained lit in one of the windows. Quinn, Jake and Tony had barely dismounted when a man came out onto the front porch. His face split into a wide grin. "Well, if it ain't my baby brother, headed after 'nother dangerous criminal," he said.
Jake grinned too and tossed his arms around John. It was not until John hugged him back that Quinn saw that his left arm was mangled. Must be a war injury,he thought. He hung back as John greeted Tony as enthusiastically as he had greeted Jake. "Good to see you again Tony," John said. "Glad you're still protecting Jake after all these years."
Jake gave John a whack. "Are you joking?" he asked. "I protect him." The three men laughed.
Then John looked at Quinn, and his eyes took in Quinn's juxtaposition of Comanche weapons with his rifle. "So you must be Quinn," he said after a minute. "Your reputation for catching criminals precedes you."
"Thanks," Quinn said. "It's nice to meet you too."
Anna appeared in the doorway behind her husband. "Why don't you all come inside?" she asked, and her eyes remained on Quinn as well.
Quinn stepped over the threshold and the smell of a stew met his nose. His stomach grumbled as Jake said, "Anna's famous beef stew. I knew there was a reason we stopped here."
Quinn smiled. Jake was right,he thought. It is nice to be among family, and a soft bed will certainly be welcome.
* * *
Three days later, it was high noon when Quinn, Tony and Jake neared the outskirts of Sun City. "Let's wait here until nightfall," Quinn said. "Then we'll go in when her business is up and running."
"I know the Sheriff," Jake said. "We should stop there first and get his men to come with us."
Quinn nodded. "There's no way the three of us can take her alive by ourselves if she decimated Sheriff Cahill's men."
"We may not take her alive anyway," Tony said as they dismounted and hid among one of the first copses of trees that they had seen since entering Kansas.
He's probably right,Quinn thought. Much as I hate to admit it. He stood in the trees' shade and stared out across the undulating wheat fields in front of him. Then he glanced up at the sun, a blazing fireball that baked the Earth below it. He settled in to wait, taking a few sips of water from his canteen. The liquid felt good against his parched throat, but still Quinn chafed at being idle.
When the sun slipped below the horizon, the three marshals rode into Sun City, avoiding the main street that ran through the center of town. Instead, they rode quietly through the muddy streets at the back end of town and ended up behind the sheriff's office. Inside, several deputy sheriffs eyed Quinn suspiciously, but their expressions eased when Sheriff William Thacker grinned. "Jake!" Thacker said. "I hope you're here about Florence Finnegan."
"Yes, we are," Jake said.
"That's a relief," Thacker said. "She came back here after that gunfight at the Oklahoma border- laid low for awhile but has been openly running the brothel again for the past week or so."
"How come you haven't arrested her?" Quinn asked.
Thacker looked at him for a moment before answering. "We've gone in a couple of times to try, but she's never there when we go, and she's doubled her security."
"Those security guys are real outlaws," said Deputy Sheriff Louis Westbrook. "It's going to be a gunfight if we go in."
Quinn smiled. "I've never been afraid of a gunfight."
Tony looked around at the lawmen in the room. "We're looking to go in and arrest her, but how can we be sure she's there now? If we go and she's not there, we'll just tip our hand and she'll flee."
There was a silence as each man contemplated how to handle the situation. "I'll go in, posing as a customer," Jake volunteered. "She doesn't know who I am, so it won't raise any alarms."
Quinn eyed him nervously. "I don't like the idea of you going in alone," he said.
"What are you going to do about it, Quinn?" Jake asked. "They'll recognize you faster than me. You're the only half-Comanche among the marshals, and you're better known than I am."
Quinn did not think that was true in the slightest, but the expressions of everyone around him said they agreed with Jake. Even so, Quinn's only concession to defeat was to look away.
A few minutes later, Jake strode down the town's main street and entered one of the largest buildings around. Once he was inside, Quinn, Tony, Thacker, Westbrook and the other deputy sheriffs surrounded the house and watched as he sat at the bar and ordered a drink. Tony frowned as he watched Jake through his looking glass, and Quinn sensed his friend's uneasiness. A few minutes later, Quinn watched through his own looking-glass as a well-dressed woman waltzed down the main staircase from the second floor and made her way through the saloon.
"That's Florence," Thacker said.
Quinn and Tony nodded as Florence talked to various patrons before making her way over to Jake, who smiled and replied to her questions. Soon, Florence was heading back upstairs with Jake in tow.
"That didn't take long," Quinn said. "She must not suspect anything."He waited until Jake and Florence were upstairs before giving the signal to Tony and the sheriffs to move in.
Inside, a haze of cigar smoke gave the room a gray sheen. As soon as the lawmen entered, the patrons' jovial mood shifted, and each of them turned and stared. Every set of eyes penetrated Quinn's skin like daggers, and a silence descended. Suddenly, several men stood and drew weapons. Quinn raised his rifle in return as his heart began to race. Then the shooting started. Bullets flew everywhere as the saloon's patrons dove for cover.
Quinn took down two of Florence's goons, and Tony took down two more before Quinn realized that several of the saloon's customers were firing at them too. We're outnumbered, he realized as he saw several deputy sheriffs fall. He and Tony each took down several of the bar's armed patrons as Sheriff Thacker did the same from the other end of the room.
It was not until all the hostiles were on the ground that Tony raced for the stairs. Quinn ran after him, praying that Jake was unharmed. Upstairs, they threw the doors to several rooms open. They did not find Jake, just the brothel's clients and girls who were racing to get dressed.
At the very end of the hallway, Quinn threw open a door and saw Jake slumped in the corner, bleeding profusely. "Jake!" he yelled as he dove towards his friend. He saw Florence on the bed, unmoving.
Jake's gun was on the floor next to him as he clutched his stomach. "I shot her," he whispered. "She's dead."
"Don't talk," Quinn said as he pulled Florence off the bed and grabbed the bedspread.
Tony raced into the room. "Shit!" he yelped when he saw Jake.
Together, Quinn and Tony turned the bedspread into a gurney and used it to get Jake out of the brothel and down the street to the hospital. Jake's blood dripped onto the street as they ran. At the hospital, a number of nurses leapt into action as Quinn and Tony dragged Jake in. "This is a U.S. Marshal who's been shot!" Quinn yelped desperately. "He needs help!"
One woman, her dark hair in a bun and her long skirts sweeping the floor, took charge. She wheeled over a gurney for Jake. Quinn and Tony placed Jake on it, and the woman rushed him towards the operating room, giving orders for different types of anesthesia and scalpels.
Once the operating room's door closed behind them, it became quiet. Quinn and Tony stared at each other in horrified silence. Then Quinn realized that he was covered in blood, and that Tony was also. Slowly, they made their way out of the hospital and to the water pump out back, where they washed up as best they could. As they were finishing, Sheriff Thacker and his deputies began bringing the other wounded men into the hospital.
"Is there anything we can do?" Quinn asked Thacker as he and Tony got back into the hospital. He struggled to force the words out as he pictured Jake, bleeding.
Thacker's eyes went from the hallway in front of them to Quinn's face, and they contained a mixture of sadness and resignation. "The men that made it here have relatively minor wounds," he said. "The rest are lying back in the saloon, dead." He looked back at the door of the hospital. "I'm going to get the undertaker so that we can clean up over there."
Quinn and Tony were waiting for more than an hour in the bare, silent hallway of the hospital before the woman with dark hair and long skirts came out of the operating room, removing her gloves as she did. When she saw Quinn and Tony, she came over to them.
"How is Jake?" Quinn asked, unable to stop the words from coming out of his mouth.
The woman's grim expression did not change. "It doesn't look good, unfortunately, Marshal," she said. "He was hit twice. One bullet went through his stomach, and one nicked an artery. He lost a lot of blood. I removed the bullets, but the damage is done."
"But he's still alive?" Tony asked.
The woman nodded. "He's sedated, but he is alive." She took a deep breath. "As much as I hate to give this news, gentlemen, I don't know if I expect him to pull through."
"Any chance we could talk to a doctor?" Quinn asked. "I was hoping he wouldn't just be treated by a nurse."
The woman's flashing eyes fixed on him in a glare. "I am the doctor," she said. "I got my medical degree from the University of Omaha."
Quinn's face twisted in confusion and surprise. "I've never heard of a woman going to medical school."
Then Tony spoke. "What's your name?" he asked.
"Is there anything else you can do for Jake?" Tony asked.
"Not at the moment," Dr. Newcomb said.
"Then we'll come back in the morning," Quinn said, keeping an eye on her even as he and Tony left the hospital.
"We have to send Ben a telegram," Tony said once they were outside. "As head of the Marshals, he needs to know that Jake may not make it."
Quinn nodded wordlessly.
"I've met one or two other women doctors," Tony added. "It is unusual- there aren't many of them, and the few I've met practice in the West because there are so few doctors out here."
"And they probably always get confused for nurses," Quinn said, wincing.
Tony clapped his friend on the back. "Let's go find that telegraph machine."
* * *
The next morning, Quinn and Tony arrived at the hospital just as a familiar figure arrived in front of them. "Colonel Graypool," Quinn said. His eyebrows came together in surprise at the presence of the commanding officer of the Sixth Cavalry, who oversaw the Comanche reservation in Oklahoma. "You're a long way from Fort Sill."
"It's not that far," Graypool replied. "Besides, I was on my way back from Topeka, where I was visiting the Seventh Cavalry. I may get a change of command and be stationed over there." He took a breath. "When I heard what happened to Jake, I thought I'd come here. I've known him for awhile now. He's a good man. I hope he pulls through."
"News travels fast," Quinn said tersely.
"A shootout between U.S. Marshals and one of the West's most notorious criminals?" Graypool said. "The news spread like wildfire. Did you apprehend Miss Finnegan?"
"No, Jake killed her," Tony said.
"Not the worst loss in the world," Graypool said with a shrug.
Quinn looked up the hall, wondering if Dr. Newcomb was nearby. I need to know how Jake is doing, he thought.
Then Dr. Newcomb appeared. She was about to say something when she caught sight of Graypool. Her stare turned icy cold.
"Oh come on, Mary," Graypool said. "I know Jake too. A gravely injured lawman is never good news." Dr. Newcomb continued to glare at him, and Graypool looked away. Then he looked back at Dr. Newcomb and ducked his head. "I'll be outside," he said.
It was only when he was completely gone, and the sounds of the closed hospital door were echoing behind him, that Dr. Newcomb looked back at Quinn and Tony and her angry expression lessened. "Jake is still alive, but his breathing is more labored," she reported. "I'm trying to keep him comfortable."
"Can we see him?" Tony asked.
"One at a time," Dr. Newcomb replied.
Quinn and Tony looked at each other. "Why don't you go first?" Quinn said. "I'll be outside with Graypool."
Quinn found Graypool sitting on the steps of the hospital, glumly staring straight ahead. His horse was tied to a post nearby, and the letters "U.S." were stenciled on its front left shoulder. Quinn sat next to him. The summer heat had not abated, and sweat rolled down Quinn's face. "What happened inside?" he asked.
Graypool heaved a sigh. "I was married to Mary's sister, Rose," he said.
I never heard about that, Quinn thought. "Was?" he asked. "What happened?"
"Rose died giving birth to our first child a few years back," Graypool said, still staring forward. "Mary never forgave me."
"Oh, Lord," Quinn said. He paused for a moment. "Is she really a doctor?"
"Yes," Graypool said. "She went to medical school in Omaha. She was the only woman on the school's grounds, and no one wanted her there. The students and professors were all hostile." He shook his head. "It was so bad that a local constable often had to escort her to class and exams. I wouldn't have been able to graduate under those circumstances, but Mary has always been a firecracker." He smiled, and his bright blue eyes twinkled. "Rose was the same way."
Then a string of curses emanated from the hospital. Quinn, recognizing Tony's voice, leapt up and dashed inside. Graypool followed without hesitating. Together, the two men raced towards Jake's room just as Tony stumbled out of it. "He's gone, Quinn," Tony said.
Quinn's stomach sank as the hospital staff covered Jake's body with a white sheet.
"I'm sorry," Graypool said as Quinn's eyes started to burn.
Tony was already rushing down the hallway, desperate to get outside. Quinn followed him. His legs felt as if they were made of lead, and an aching despair settled in his chest. When he got outside, Tony was already across the street, leaning up against the side of a building. His back was to Quinn.
Quinn sat down outside the hospital. His chest felt tight and his hands ached. He took a couple of deep breaths, willing air into his lungs until his chest loosened up. Then he stood and took a few steps towards Tony, hesitantly at first until he was certain that his legs would carry him. When he was across the street, he put a hand on Tony's shoulder. Tony stared forward for a minute, and a single tear fell down his face. Then he looked at Quinn.
"I'm going back to the sheriff's telegraph machine," Quinn said. "Perhaps we've heard back from Ben, and even if not, he needs to know what happened."
"Maybe he also knows what Jake's last wishes were- where he wanted to be buried or anything else," Tony added.
The two marshals made their way to the sheriff's office. Silence hung in the air. A telegram from Ben Case, the marshals' top deputy, awaited them. "Keep me informed," it said.
"He's not going to like this news," Tony said as Quinn typed out a message.
When Quinn was finished typing and sending his message, he and Tony stood silently for a minute, staring at the machine. Then Quinn turned to leave. "Come on," he said. "I don't think Ben's standing at the machine waiting for our response. We may have to wait awhile to hear back."
Tony nodded. Back at the hospital, the undertaker, George Beaudry, had already arrived. He and Dr. Newcomb looked over at Quinn and Tony as they entered. Neither said anything, but their eyes were questioning.
"Jake wanted a simple coffin," Quinn said, even as he wondered where he was getting his information. Simplest is best, he thought. I don't know how much money Jake had put away to pay for anything like this.
Dr. Newcomb nodded. "We can arrange that," she said.
When Ben's next telegram came two hours later, his pain seemed to emanate from every word on the paper. Yet, his instructions were precise. "Jake wanted to be buried near his family in Kansas," the telegram read. "I have informed his family. Proceed there for the funeral."
* * *
When Quinn and Tony arrived back at John Granter's farm in Kansas, casket in tow, Ben and many other marshals were waiting for them. John's face was twisted, and Anna and their children were crying. High above them, a storm began brewing as the funeral started, and black clouds raced across the sky. A sudden gust of wind whistled through the cemetery, and it took Quinn a minute to realize that his face was wet from tears rather than raindrops.
When the funeral was over, the marshals gathered around inside the Granters' farmhouse, glad to be out of the rain that had started cascading down. The black storm clouds that had been bearing down on them now blanketed the sky.
Ben grimaced. "If I didn't know any better, I'd think it was night already," he said.
Quinn and Tony barely nodded in reply.
Ben sighed as he looked at their stony faces. "I'm sorry for all of this," he said as Colonel Graypool joined them.
"I'm sorry too," Graypool said. "I was hoping he'd pull through."
"He was badly wounded," Tony replied. "I didn't have much hope."
Quinn looked at his friend. "You sounded like you had hope, even when I didn't."
"It was an act," Tony said. His sadness seemed to deepen the lines on his face.
Quinn was just beginning to picture his home in Fort Smith when the house's front door opened and Dr. Newcomb came in. Quinn's eyebrows jumped in surprise. After giving her condolences to Jake's family, Dr. Newcomb joined the group of marshals. Graypool, seeing her approach, made a motion to leave, but she stopped him. "You don't have to make a dash for the door every time you see me, Bobby," she said. Then she looked at Quinn and Tony. "I had another patient in the area, so I thought I'd come by."
"You have a wide distance to travel to treat people," Quinn observed.
"That's always been true," Dr. Newcomb said. "There aren't nearly enough physicians out here." She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry about Jake. I wish I could have saved him."
"You did the best you could," Quinn said.
There was a silence, and Quinn again began to picture his home, and his bed, in Fort Smith.
Tony looked at him. "You thinking of heading home?" he asked.
Quinn nodded, even if he could already feel the emptiness that he knew would greet him in Fort Smith without Jake being there.
"Don't rush the grieving process," Dr. Newcomb said.
"I won't," Quinn replied. Even if I have been through that process too many times already.
Dr. Newcomb eyed him for a moment. "I didn't mean to drive you away," she said.
"You didn't," Quinn promised her. "Don't worry, Dr. Newcomb, we will be seeing more of each other."
Tamar's previous stories featuring Quinn and the other characters of "Fallen Stars" have been published or
are forthcoming in Foliate Oak, Pen in Hand, and Evening Street Review. His short stories have
also appeared in The Copperfield Review, The Sandy River Review, and The Helix. His books
include The Russian Riddle, a nonfiction biography, and the novels Through the Fire: An Alternate
Life of Prince Konstantin of Russia, Triumph of a Tsar,The Last Battle, and The Fourth Branch. He
is also a member of The Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
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The Lone Comanche
by Gary Ives
Captured by Comanches at eight years old, Fritz Vogel came of age more Comanche than White. At sixteen, he is returned to the remnants of his White family.
Fritz Vogel had been "rescued" by a treaty provision that required the return of all captives to the US Army. General Sherman had been insistent that all captives be handed over. There were, however, those few captives who wished not to be returned. His old Comanche father, Two Rabbits, had a tremble in his hands when he explained to Fritz that he had to be returned to the Whites, that without the promised treaty rations, his people would starve.
"I am a warrior, father."
"Still you must go, my son."
Upon his return to the Whites, Fritz spent two months at Fort Spall in Kansas awaiting transport to Texas, eventually being delivered by an Army freight wagon to Wasserplatz, the tiny German settlement in Texas near where Fritz had been captured. His father's cousin Matias accepted the boy into his household. The family lived in the rooms behind the trading post that Matias ran. For the first two weeks farmers and ranchers for miles around came to gawk at the returned youth, aggravating his natural shyness. Naturally taciturn, Fritz seldom spoke and then only few words. His original family, as many settlers in Texas, had spoken German. His language now was Comanche and what remained of the German he had mostly forgotten and, there was a smattering of English. Matias's family viewed him as a foreigner, a savage, and with fear and disgust. He was spoken to and treated much as a bad dog would have been. How he hated living in the stinking house. He disliked shoes. He disliked the clothes. He disliked the food. He disliked the bed that reeked of sweat and piss. He hated the loss of his long hair by the haircut they had forced. At the table they laughed when he used his hands to eat. He was scorned for sleeping on the floor. This disquiet he kept to himself. He was a Comanche warrior, now a captive of the Whites. The Army had allowed him to keep the beautiful pink blanket that Sunflower, his Indian mother, had tenderly with tears presented him on the day he departed; within this he kept his moccasins, breech cloth, buckskin leggings and his bow with 17 arrows. His years with the Comanche had erased the greater part of his earlier memory. His white skin belied the Comanche beneath it. Early on he resolved to escape the Whites to find and to rejoin his people. There were warrior bands that refused the lure of the reservation; he'd find them and regain his proper place as a warrior with his people.
One night during the third week with Matias' family, Fritz tied his pink blanket bundle onto Matias' pinto filly, then rode north for Kansas. By noon the following day a posse of farmers and ranchers had tracked him and brought him back. Matias explained that to him that if he filed a charge of horse theft, Fritz would be hanged, and if he were to try to escape again that's exactly what Matias would do. Not clearly understanding this he believed Matias intended to hang him. This fear of hanging had burdened him since his return. He well knew that if the Whites ever learned that as a young warrior he had ridden on war parties that had burned cabins and stolen horses and guns, he would be hanged. Now old Matias closely watched Fritz, assigning him chores nearby within the trading post during the day and making him sleep with a chamber pot in a windowless corner at night. He was forbidden to get near the horses. After a month Matias softened a little and put Fritz to work plowing a corn field behind the post. The mule that pulled the plow would never serve for an escape. It happened that Matias had to travel to the county seat one day; the trip required an overnight away from the post. That night Fritz once again stole the pinto. Again, he planned to ride to the plains of Kansas to find his people. However, this time he spent a night and a day laying tracks for Mexico, then doubling back behind a cattle drive to Dodge which obscured his tracks. Days later he'd hired on with this drive as a rider, telling the trail boss his name was Frank and that he was from Kansas. He knew horses well. The trail boss McClain hired the quiet boy because he liked the way he sat his pinto, like an Indian. He kept an eye on the boy who was quiet as a mute and who kept his distance from the other hands.
Fritz knew the routine of a cattle drive. Three times on hunting parties they'd encountered drives and had studied them secretly, stealing calves when night riders were sleepy or distracted. On occasion they had even begged a calf, sugar and coffee.
McClain, two years earlier, had delivered 2000 head, treaty cattle, to the Hunkpapa Sioux Reservation in Dakota Territory. An early blizzard had stranded him there for three weeks during which he lived in the warm and accepting teepee of a Sioux family. With the advent of spring he decided to stay another month. During his stay, McClain gained great admiration for Indians and the simplicity of their daily lives. He had fallen in love, and when he left for Texas, he took with him a young Sioux wife. He had been moved by the Sioux's generosity to a stranger, especially a White stranger. Against strict Army regulations, upon leaving McClain presented the group's patriarch with his rifle and a promise to return one day with a son. Perhaps this experience enabled him to sense something Indian about the strange wrangler. On Fritz's second night he rode alongside him and asked him point blank, "Son, are you Indian?"
The question took Fritz aback, but he affected not to show it.
"You one of them returned captives from Fort Spall last winter, ain't you?"
He nodded yes.
"Well, let's keep that our secret, you savvy?"
While Fritz was on a night riding shift, a cowhand named Clapp remarked to his pal Carlos that the dumb kid's pink injun blanket was prettier than a pair of titties. "What you reckon he got in that bundle? Let's me and you have us a look see." Unwrapping Fritz's bed roll they saw his moccasins, leggings and bow and arrows. "By Jesus, Carlos, this is pure injun shit. He shore don't look Injun.
"He is maybe a breed," the Mexican replied.
"Yeah, you're probably right, a red-bellied damned breed."
From then on, his time in camp became a hell of Clapp's constant baiting to which Fritz refused to rise, although within he seethed, quietly deciding to kill the big-mouth White. Despite McClain's warning to Clapp to lay off the kid, Clapp continued throwing slurs at the boy whenever near. "Whassamatter breed, them Comanches cut out your tongue? Tell you what, dummy, when I was ridin' for Phil Sheridan we cut off more than tongues ever when we rode down your heathen brothers. Ha."
McClain sensed that the boy was near the boiling point and opted to defuse the situation by getting the boy out of camp for a spell to let things cool. That night McClain told Fritz to fix a bedroll and to draw rations from cook, then leave before dawn and ride two days ahead to scout for water. He knew the boy had taken his limit of abuse from Clapp and was ready to explode. McClain wanted him out of camp before Clapp awoke. He felt protective of the 16 year-old who, at the age of eight, had been through the hell of watching his family slaughtered, and then years of capture by Comanche.
Clapp had stayed drunk for the two days as the herd grazed at Turkey Creek watering and resting, and McClain reckoned the cowboy would wake up mean and was likely to ride hard on Fritz. McClain had wanted to sack the loud mouth bully, but he needed every hand. Although a top-notch cowboy, a hot-tempered demon would surface at the least provocation making Clapp dangerous. McClain had told him that if he ever caught him beating his horse again, he was to pick up his pay and clear out. He knew that Clapp hated Indians and Negroes, but that he particularly hated Fritz. Quiet Fritz who seldom spoke.
Two hours before dawn he woke. He cinched his bed roll onto the pinto in the moonless night, then crept to where Clapp snored through his open mouth in his drunken stupor. The man reeked of sour whiskey sweat. Fritz crammed a clod of horseshit into Clapp's mouth, then plunged his knife through Clapp's back into his kidney as the waking, writhing man tried to scream. His struggle was brief, and when he was dead Fritz relieved the dead man of his hat, a .44 revolver and his rifle. Had Clapp not been totally bald he would have scalped him. Mounting the pinto, he trotted south, avoiding the herd's night rider.
He knew their search for him would be brief as the herd must be kept moving north. Riding swiftly and backtracking over the herd's trail to cover his tracks he continued until mid- afternoon then took shelter in a copse of willows by a tiny spring, resting the horse and filling the canteens. At dark he resumed riding hard westward the rest of the night. An hour before dawn he climbed a rocky hill where in a thicket of pines he hobbled the mare and then slept for a few hours. In the afternoon he climbed to the top of the hill from where he could see a lone house and corral in the distance. Late that night he rode close to the little house and inspected the three horses in the little corral, choosing a chestnut gelding which he mounted bareback. With the pinto in tow he rode west for hours then stopped to rest, transferring the saddle and bed roll from the pinto to the gelding then setting the worn-out pinto free. He knew that the stolen pinto could easily mark him if the Whites had riders out looking for him. They would hang him sure and if they could, they would hang him multiple times, as a Comanche warrior, as a murderer, and as a horse thief three times over-he laughed to himself.
In Abilene, McClain reported Clapp's murder and the theft of his guns to the U.S. Marshal who questioned him for details. The Marshal then issued a circular offering $100 reward dead or alive for the "Pink Blanket Desperado," a 5'8" brown-hair youth of 16 riding a pinto mare or a chestnut gelding, and he put this information on the telegraph wires. He soon received information from Texas of the theft of a horse there by the same Pink Blanket Desperado who he further learned was a returned Comanche captive, a wild and dangerous renegade. The reward was upped to $500 and circulars spread in a thousand-mile radius.
Fritz confined his riding to the night necessarily to avoid Whites. He swung northward eventually entering the grass plains as the last of his food gave out. With the rifle he took down an antelope in the twilight, then gorged himself while he smoked the thin cut strips in chipped oak and sage by the soft glow of embers. Into his second week of flight he recognized the Kansas prairie as familiar ground.
Once he had his bearings, he rode northwest for a meeting place his people called Second Grass. He knew only the distance of this place from the river they called Dead Fish. But the description was fixed in his mind, a copse of sycamores in the shade of a tall hill of red rock. Searching, he encountered wagons loaded with buffalo bones being driven east. He met a lone old Cheyenne heading to a reservation. The Cheyenne told him that he knew that the Whites sent the bones of the buffalo to the Great Father in Washington who used them for magic. The old man did not know of Second Grass. Was it not enough that the Whites had slaughtered our buffalo? Now they must steal even their bones. Did they also steal the spirits of the Tonka? This greatly puzzled Fritz. He knew the Whites to have so much of everything, food, guns, horses, wagons, many implements of iron. Was it not enough that they must even possess the bones and spirits of the buffalo they had so completely conquered? Two Rabbits was right, Whites were devils, and even worse, there were so many of them. On they came like grasshoppers. An old medicine man had said that they were limitless, and that far to the east they came out of the ground like ants. It was known, yet not fully realized, that the Indians' day was over, and a belief commonly feared was that his people would go the way of the buffalo. At Second Grass he knew he would find signs indicating where those not on the reservation could be found.
The next day he spotted wagons in the distance with a crew of five men just out of Abilene who were scouring the prairie for bones. His heart quickened as beyond the wagons Fritz spotted a promising stand of sycamores and a tall hill. He would have to cross the path of the wagons.
The wagon boss, an ex-cavalryman named Daniel Denmark trained his binoculars on the lone rider, quickly discerning the pink bedroll. "Whoa, there, whoa, damnit!" he commanded the mule team. "Turner, gimme that Sharps, quick now." The shooter got down from the wagon, steadied the rifle barrel on the wagon's edge and with a single shot downed the last Comanche warrior to be killed in Kansas.
Gary Ives lives in the Ozarks where he grows apples and writes. He has published scores of short stories
and one anthology of coming of age stories. garyives.wordpress.com
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by Charlotte Smith
Out of the shimmering heat of the Texan desert, Alonso appeared on his buckskin horse. He crossed a dried up riverbed where knee-deep water once flowed and followed the empty road up the valley, past an abandoned homestead and mine, trailing four men wanted for murder.
When he reached Gold Canyon's outskirts, Alonzo pulled at his horse's reins stopping outside a broken-down windmill. Nothing to be heard but its creaking wheel spinning in the wind, squicking to a steady rhythm. The dry-raspy sound of its pump echoed the town's troubles: no water. As they trotted on the swaying sign above the vacant Gold Canyon Mine company was evidence that hard times had come to stay. Accumulating sand and rubble on its decaying doorsteps painted a grim history of this once thriving town. Alonso rode past sun-bleached sidewalks, boarded-up businesses, and deserted dusty streets. Fading posters for the 1867 territorial elections flapped limply in the wind. A small dog with wiry white and russet fur approached at the foot of his horse and let out a small bark, but as his horse shuffled its hooves away from the little dog it cowered and scurried down an alley, tail between its legs.
Alonso followed to the road until reaching the livery stable to find a blacksmith beating a molton red horseshoe. Alonso's horse reared its head and snorted from the clamor of his hammer striking the rusted anvil. The blacksmith, a large, graying man looked up from his work.
"Hey there, can I help you?"
"I need feed and water for my horse, how much?" asked Alonso as he dismounted.
The blacksmith walked over sizing up his horse.
"Don't look so he'd eat much. Want him washed and brushed?"
"Just feed and water."
The blacksmith inserted the horseshoe deep inside the forge, sending sparks and flames flying above the amber coals. "How many days?"
Alonso loosened the cinch and slid the saddle off. "Just for a few hours."
A thick black wad of tobacco in his mouth, the blacksmith, puckered and spit on the hot bed of coals, releasing a burst of steam. "I can do minimum six bits for the whole day and night. Pay up when you ride out."
Alonso nodded. "This town got a sheriff?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Alonso slung his saddle over the side of the fence to turned to the blacksmith.
The man repositioned the glowing horseshoe onto the hot coals. "Four men done rode into town yesterday morning, went straight over to the sheriff's office. Called him out of his office, and shot him dead in the doorway. Never even had a chance to draw his gun." He spat another wad of tobacco into the coals. "Didn't care much for the fella. Still, that's no way to gun a man down."
"You happen to know where these men went?"
"After they killed him, they went right on over to the saloon. Been posted up, drinking and busting up the place all night. Never seen nothin' like it before."
Alonso reached into his jacket pocket and held out a WANTED poster "Any chance it was these men?"
He pulled up his breached and walked over to take a closer look. "Can't say for sure." The blacksmith rubbed his chin. "Never seen them close up. What they do?"
Alonso folded the poster and slid it back inside his pocket. "Broke into a ranch a little down south, when the owner walked in on them, and they shot him dead in his ownhome . . . didn't stop there and murdered the whole family, young ones too."
"What are you up here looking for 'em?"
Alonso took a long, slender cigar out of a small engraved case, bit the tip off, and leaned down to light it on the almost-molten horseshoe. "Bounty hunter" he replied before taking a long drag.
The blacksmith pulled the white-hot horseshoe out of the forge. "Well hope you find them sick bastards" He pointed over at the saloon. "Them here horses been tied up with no food and no water since they done rode in. Who does that to a horse?"
After a few puffs, Alonso glanced at the town hall's clock tower. Its worn out hands read three minutes till five. He unholstered his bone-handled Colt .45, checked its rounds, and slid it into its cradle. He tipped his hat to the blacksmith, turned, and headed towards the saloons front door. When he was finally in earshot, the drunken laughter of the amused Alonso. He stepped on the wooden sidewalk, discarded his cigar. On the fourth chime of the clock tower's bell, he pushed through the doors.
The dark wooden saloon was stark empty except for the four men. John was at the bar with an empty glass in one hand and a half an empty bottle of whiskey in the other, Butch was leaned over the piano's tapping keys and actually managing to plunk out a half decent tune. Earl and Wesley were sat around a small table talking and laughing at Butch's piano skills, or lack thereof.
John saw Alonso's reflection in the mirror. "Look here boys, we got us a visitor."
The laughter stopped, and the men turned toward Alonso.
"Get him, Butch," yelled John, dropping the bottle and reaching for his gun. Butch, to Alonso's left side, pulled out his revolver to fire. Alonso drew his gun and killed him before he was even able to shoot. Alonso whirled to face the others and let loose another round, killing John square in the chest. He fell to the floor and shot at the other two, missing Earl and just nicking Wesley. Alonso tried to shoot him once again, but it was too late. Earl and Wesley returned fire, and while one bullet missed and struck the mirror, another pierced Alonso's right in the neck. Alonso lay motionless on the floor.
"I'm hit," yelled Wesley, grabbing his right shoulder, wincing from the burning pain.
"How bad?" asked Earl.
"He just winged me I think" Wesley's ragged shirt, torn above the elbow, had a puncture from the bullet but no blood seeped on his shirt. "We got him good, didn't we?
Earl knelt next to Alonso, his ear pressed to his chest. "Nothing. Yep, he's dead as a doorknob."
"Doornail, yuh idiot" Wesley said. "Hey, check his pockets see what's he got on 'im."
"Just this here wanted poster of us, look it got bullet holes runnin' right through it. HA."
"Lemme see." Wesley grabbed hold of a chair to steady himself and grimaced as he stood up.
"Whoa." He staggered as he moved toward Earl.
"You alright, Wesley?"
"Yeah just stood up too fast, I reckon . . . I'm okay. So, what we gon' do with Butch and John?"
"Put them in the backroom, I guess? And this here one?" pointing at Alonso.
"Dump his ass on the street. I don't wanna' be looking at him."
They lugged Alonso's lifeless body out of the salon and down the beaten hardwood steps onto the dusty road. They walked back through the saloon door wiping their blood-stained hands.
"Wait, who has the talisman?"
"The talisman? Not me." Wesley said.
"Yeah, who's got it?" Earl asked while frantically looking through his pockets. "Wes I don't get it, check the others." Both men grabbed the men's dead bodies and began rifling through their jackets.
"Found it! John had it," Wesley cried. Both men sighed with relief.
"Look if we lose that little rock we ain't coming back from the dead, now are we?" Earl said while grabbing the rock from Wesley's hand.
"Why you, Earl? I can keep it just as safe. We just gotta' concentrate on remembering that damn chant else the talisman won't work."
"I shot the shaman, I'm holdin' onto it ya hear?"
"Just don't lose it, you hear?" Earl snapped.
"Let's cut the wrangling. Help me with Butch and John besides my shoulder hurts somethin' fierce, and I need a drink."
The two men dragged Butch and John's bodies into the storeroom in the back and hauled them behind the beer barrels and dusty crates of bourbon. They returned to the bar and resumed drinking and laughing. Outside the saloon, Alonso's body lay motionless in the dirt, the sounds of their cackling laughter from inside were loud enough that fear kept everyone in the desolate town away, and no one dared move him. The old clock continued to tick as the red sun began to fall in the hazy Texan sky.
Leaning back in his chair his mud-caked boots resting on the bar, Earl's drunken eyes moved from the saloon's battered wooden doors to the bullet holes in the wanted poster. "You know they keep coming for us, must be the fifth time now. Each one's better with a gun too, he musta' been the damn best yet." He looked at Wesley. "They used to come in twos. Kinda strange, though, this one coming alone."
Wesley leaned against the bar with a whiskey bottle raised for a swig. "We ain't got nothing to worry 'bout. We finished this one off good, maybe he's the last of 'em." Wesley turned and looked at his distorted image of something that resembled his former self. Sunken cheekbones pushed from beneath his gray skin, his withering dull hair peeked from under his worn black hat. He continued to stare into the bar's cracked mirror and threw the bottle onto the floor, smashing it to pieces.
"The hell you do that for," said Earl.
"I can't take much more decay on this here purty face o' mine . . . its robbing ten damn years off me each week. Just look at my face! It's all haggard, and I look near like an old man, and I don't think I'm even 30 yet."
Earl and Wesley met as children and after leaving home became some of the most dangerous outlaws in the west, stealing and slaughtering everything in sight. Hearing rumors about an old shaman belonging to the Tonkawa tribe who was said to possess powers that could bring wealth love, luck, and some said he could even bring a man back to life, so they headed down to Texas. When they got there the shaman welcomed the men into his tent, they watched as he healed the near death back to life using the stone placed around his neck. He allowed the men to stay refuge in his home for a few nights and they watched his incredible powers. The shaman warned Wesley and Earl that the talisman could only do so much, and while it would bring a man back to life, their bodies could continue decaying as if dead until he would complete his spiritual journey in the deserts of southern Arizona under the light of a full moon. The men didn't believe the shaman as they believed all the powers were held within the stone. The shaman was insulted they questioned his wisdom as he had given them refuge for the past few nights and asked the men to leave. A fight broke out, and the shaman called for his chief and their warriors. Almost everybody there that night was killed. Earl, laying almost dead on the blood covered ground managed to crawl over to the shaman's body and retrieve the talisman that hung from his neck. Moaning in pain he managed to put the necklace over his head and whisper the chant he had heard the old man say. As his eyes closed and he finally accepted his death he felt a warm rush of energy flow through his body. He reached for his chest and found the stab wound had gone. He sat up in astonishment and went over to Wesley's body. Later that night both men sat silently around the fire, beside the piles of lifeless bodies trying to comprehend what happened. They took what they could and headed north, eager to start their lives as the men who could never die.
"He was right you know? 'Bout the full moon," Wesley said.
"Yeah I know damn well he was, we need to head there before we start lookin' like bag o' bones on top our horses.
"We leave at daylight then." Wesley said as we took the last swig from the bottle of whiskey.
Charlotte is currently completing her final year at the University of Colorado Boulder where she is receiving a
BS in Media Design and minoring in Creative Writing. Charlotte was challenged by her professor to write a short
story from a genre she was unfamiliar with, which eventually led her to writing her first Western. After she
completed her final project she wanted to submit her stories to resources like FrontierTales that facilitated
her research and promote Western stories and writers.
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by B. Craig Grafton
Danny Shepherd was about to ride to the Killing ranch. That was their name, their last name, Killing. The were farmers of German descent having settled here in the Hill Country of south central Texas too just like a lot of the other Germans had done. Danny was out looking for his dog Shep. Yah that was his dog's name, Shep. A shortened version of his own last name since the dog was practically family. Shep was a mutt a neighbor had given them as a puppy a few months back shortly after the dog had been weaned, the owner glad to be rid of it. Danny had fallen in love with that cute little adorable puppy from the start and now since Shep was missing was desperate to find him. He hadn't seen his dog since early this morning and now the sun was about to set. This was his last stop after a day of riding to all his neighbors asking them if they'd seen Shep. None had. Now he dreaded coming to the Killing place for they too had a dog, a big mean German shepherd that would always growl and snap at his feet and his horse's hooves whenever he would ride by. That dog's name was Dolf, short for Adolf, and named by the German man, a Mr. Koenig who the Killings had gotten the dog from. The dog belonged to Walt Killing the son of old man Killing and Danny didn't care that much for Walt either as he was as mean as his dog, was sixteen, four years older than Danny, twice as big and a head taller than him, and a bully to boot.
Now up ahead was the open gateway to the Killing ranch. The ranch with its home, barns, and barnyard was about fifty yards further down a lane from the gate. Danny would have to ride down that lane. But first he would have to pass under a sign that hung high on a cross beam between two tall cedar poles, a sign that read, "Ein bisschen Holle." The Killings, ever so proud of their German heritage, refused to tell the non Germans, like the Shepherds, what that meant, like it was their little secret or something. But most of the non German neighbors had figured it out anyway. Danny only hoped he could get there to the house without that damn dog of Walt's attacking him. As he approached the gateway, and still no dog, he noticed something hanging there, dangling on each side of the sign. Something which looked like two bodies, two animal bodies that is. He rode closer. They were two dogs. Then he knew why that damn dog of Walt's hadn't come after him for there hanging and swaying in the breeze was Dolf, a rope around his neck, the dog having been strung up and hung like a common condemned criminal. Somebody finally got sick and tired of that damn dog chasing after them every time they rode by here thought Danny. That's why they strung him up to put an end to all that nonsense, good riddance to bad rubbish. Walt'll be mad as hell when he sees his dog hanging there and if he finds out who did it, there'd be hell to pay. Oh well not my problem thought Danny.
Danny then turned his attention to the other dog. His mouth dropped open and his hand immediately instinctively went up to his mouth in shock. It was Shep.
"Hold on there Danny boy," came a voice from behind him. Danny froze in place. "Hold it right there if you know what's good for you."
Danny recognized the voice. It was Walt's. Walt Killing had snuck up behind him. Got the drop on him so to speak. Danny turned around to face his foe. The look of fire in Walt's eyes was the first thing Danny noticed and it sent a shock wave of fear throughout his trembling body.
Danny wanted to turn tail and run and get his father to handle this but on the other hand he had to know why Shep, and Dolf for that matter too, were strung up there like a couple of common horse thieves. He stayed in place. Held his ground. He could tell Walt was unarmed, no gun that is, but if Walt came at him in any way, he'd hightail it out of there but quick. He had always been scared of Walt and Walt knew it.
Walt got in front of him and grabbed his horse's halter holding the animal in place.
"What's going on here Walt?" Danny asked as politely as he could hoping no fear showed in his voice.
"What's going on here?," shrieked Walt. "I'll tell ya what's going on here. That damn dog of yours killed some of our sheep that's what going on here."
Danny knew the Killings had a few head of sheep.
"Not Shep," was his automatic reply in defense of his dog.
"Ya Shep goddamn it."
"Why'd you have to kill him by hanging him. Why didn't you come say something to us first?"
"First of all I didn't kill him by hanging him. I shot him first. Then I hung him. And second of all I don't have to come to you first and tell you anything. If a dog is killing your stock, you got the right to shoot him on the spot. That's the law."
"But why hang him? What's the point of that? That's just plain sick Walt." Danny regretted that comment the second it left his mouth but Walt took no offense and had an answer for that.
"I hung him so you'd see him when you rode by. I wasn't gonna waste my time riding miles to your place to bring you the good news. That's why."
"But why's Dolf hanging there if my dog was doing the killing. And I don't believe he was." Then he added for safety reasons, "Not that I'm calling you a liar you understand."
"I had to shoot my own dog because he was running with your dog killing the sheep too. Once an animal gets its blood lust up like that he's ruined forever. He'll kill whenever he gets a chance. Luckily those sheep made enough noise so that I was able to kill them both before they did any more damage."
"Half a dozen."
"But why hang Dolf?"
"Because he was just as guilty as your dog. Your dog corrupted him. Dolf had been around these sheep all his life and never bothered them. Your damn dog comes over here and starts chasing and killing them. My dog sees that and decides to join in the fun. If you hang with criminals, you're hung with criminals. That's why."
That reasoning made no sense to Danny but then again Danny knew that Walt had his own perverted way of thinking. Danny sat there on his horse ready to make his move as Walt released his grip on his horse's halter. Then Walt immediately slipped his hand in his pocket, pulled out a knife, and flipped open a six inch switchblade. But he didn't come at Danny with it. Instead he went and shimmied up the cedar pole next to his dog and cut the rope. Dolf fell to the ground with a sickening thud.
"Now get your damn dog and get the hell out of here," he shouted at Danny as he turned his back on him and started dragging Dolf down the lane. After a few feet he stopped, turned around, glared at Danny and said, "Tell your old man, that my old man is going to talk to him about him paying us for all these dead sheep. You got that?"
Danny sat there, said nothing, kind of in shock.
"Well do ya?" shouted Walt reaching into his pocket again, the pocket where his switchblade was.
"Yes I got," replied Danny as meekly as he could not wanting the situation to escalate.
Walt brought out the switchblade anyway, flipped it open again, admiring its blade in a weird kind of demented sort of way.
"And one other thing Danny Boy. There will be payback for me having to kill Dolf."
Walt brandished his knife swishing it in the air. Then just as quickly snapped it shut and put it back in his pocket, reached down and picked up the rope to Dolf, and started dragging him home again.
Danny waited until Walt was almost at his house, then he shimmied up the pole and sawed down Shep with his inch and a half pocket knife, straddled the dog on his horse, he'd be damned if he'd drag his dog all the way home, and proceeded homeward bound.
When he got home he told his father what had happened and he was surprised to learn that his father agreed with Walt. His father said that he would ride over tomorrow and speak to Mr. Killing about the loss of his sheep and that he would have to pay him their fair market value. That was the law his father said. You are responsible for what damages your animals do his father told him and here there was no doubt about it that Shep's conduct led to the death of those sheep.
Danny wanted his father to back him and make the Killings pay for the loss of his beloved Shep but instead he got a lecture on pet ownership and responsibility. And when Danny told him Walt threatened him with a knife his father pooh poohed it and said Walt was upset and was only trying to scare him and meant him no harm. That Walt was basically a good boy.
The next day he and his father rode to the Killings. His father and Mr. Killing agreed on a fair price and settled up. His father promised Mr. Killing that he wouldn't let this happen again with the next dog they got. That he'd see to it that his son kept that dog penned up or on a leash at all times and that the dog was well trained. Mr. Killing promised likewise stating that his Walter too hadn't done all that good of job training Dolf and that he would make sure his son's next dog was trained properly too. And so the fathers parted on good terms.
But Danny and Walt didn't. Just as they were about to leave Walt went up to Danny, grabbed him by the shoulder, spun him around, bent down over him, and whispered into his ear. "Maybe our folks settled up here but we haven't. You still gotta pay me for Dolf. There will be payback. Believe you me. Just you wait and see."
Walt let go of Danny's shirt, smiled at his father as he did so, and said, "I heard that Mr. Koenig's dog Wilhelmina had another litter of pups. Maybe we can get a pup from him again Pa."
"Good idea son," Walt's father responded. "We'll go over there and check it out first thing tomorrow morning. We want to get the pick of the litter now don't we."
On the way home Danny asked his father if they could get a puppy from Mr. Koenig too. To which his father answered, "We'll see."
A few days later Danny and his father were at the Koenig residence looking at the last puppy available, a pure bred German Shepherd male dog.
"The Killings were here the other day and got the pick of the litter, a giant of a dog," volunteered Mr. Koenig. "This here dog's the runt of the litter so I can come down on the price a little bit."
The Shepherds needed a dog. One couldn't live out in the Hill Country of Texas without a dog, everyone had one, or two, or more. So Danny's father and Mr.Koenig came to an agreement. Mr. Koenig handed the puppy with one hand to Danny while he took the money from Danny's father with the other and said, "There's only one condition though."
"What's that?" asked Danny.
"You gotta name the dog King. That's what my last name means in English, king. The last dog the Killings got from me the time before I had named Adolf after my father. This one I'm naming King. Okay?"
"Okay," echoed Danny willing to agree to anything to get the puppy. "What did you name the dog the Killings got from you the other day Mr. Koenig?"
"Kaiser? Is that a family name too?"
"No but that's a good German name for that dog because that dog was definitely the ruler or boss of all the others. That was obvious from the way he acted. He's gonna grow up to be the Alpha dog, the leader of the pack so to speak, that's for sure."
Oh no thought Danny the Killings got another mean dog. But he kept that thought to himself.
His father graciously thanked Mr. Koenig and they left. On the way home his father made it clear to Danny that this dog was his responsibility. He was twelve now and it was time he started acting it and took on some responsibility especially for training his own dog. Last time his father trained Shep but this time training King was to be his job not his father's. He'd help him his father told him but it would be his and his alone's responsibility.
The training of King did not go all that well. Danny couldn't seem to house break him and the dog was soon banned from the house. Then King dug up their vegetable garden and he was confined to his dog house quarters with a rope twenty feet long attached to his neck. Well soon enough, somehow, King got free of it and tore down the laundry on the line. Danny's mother wasn't all that happy about having to rewash it. But what really fried her fritters was that King chewed up her new store bought blouse to shreds. Danny offered to pay for it from his allowance and the case was settled. Danny never did get King to obey any commands and his father could see this. Time after time he told Danny what to do to discipline the dog. But Danny was too soft hearted to yell at or strike his new puppy and all went for naught.
Then the inevitable happened. Either Danny forgot to or did a poor job of tying up King that morning before he left for school and King got loose. His father noticed that when he heard all the comotion, the chickens running all over the place literally like chickens with their heads cut off a squawking and a clucking to beat the band. And when Danny's father spotted King with a chicken in his mouth he went and got his gun and shot King dead on the spot. Shot him twice in fact and was about to shoot King for a third time when he realized he was out of bullets. He went back in the house to reload and discovered that he had only two left in his desk drawer. How in the hell did he let that happen he wondered. One can't be without bullets in the Hill Country of Texas since varmints were always on the prowl, human as well as animal. So he told his wife he'd better to go town now and get some in order to get back home before it got dark. Besides he also needed some more barb wire he told her to further justify the trip.
When his wife heard that she said okay but that she was going with too since she needed a few things. He knew after years of marriage rather than offer to get them for her it was better to just to let her go with and let her get her stuff herself. Anything other suggestion would only lead to an argument. So they hitched up the buckboard and got ready to leave. They knew Danny would be home from school soon before they got back from town, town being about eight miles east of here, the school five miles to the west. So his father wrote him a note and left it on the kitchen table. It read, "Went to town to lay in supplies. Will explain about King when we get back," signed Dad. His father left King in front of the front porch steps so that Danny would be sure to see him when he got home. Then off they went.
On their way in the Shepherds ran into Walt Killing coming back from town with his dog Kaiser running along beside him. They stopped, exchanged pleasantries, and the Walt showed them some tricks that he had taught Kaiser. Kaiser was quite well trained. Did as told and obeyed every command without hesitation. Walt then asked them how the training of King was going. Mr. Shepherd coughed up the truth for that was his style, straight forward honest, and told Walt that he had shot and killed King that morning and why. He even volunteered that he shot King twice just for good measure he was so mad at that damn dog. In fact he volunteered too much information in that he told Walt that he had left a note for Danny on the kitchen table about King. Walt took all that under advisement. The parties then parted and went their separate ways.
Now Walt knew that Danny was at school and would be home soon. He hadn't forgotten about getting some payback. He saw this as his chance now and he took it. He picked up his pace and got to the Shepherd farm. He looked around first and knew Danny wasn't home yet since his horse wasn't in the coral. Quickly he found some rope, tied a piece around King's neck, strung the dog up, and left it hanging from the Shepherd's front porch right in front of the front door. He knew Danny would be back before his folks and would see the dog hanging there. To make sure Danny would think he was responsible for King's death, not Danny's father, Walt went in the house, got the note, read it, crumbled it up, stuck it in his pocket.
Then he went back out, got on his horse, and headed for home. As he got to his place he saw Danny up ahead coming home from school. He stopped and waited for him and ordered Kaiser to sit. Kaiser sat off to the left side of the horse in the middle of the road, cocked his head at the stranger coming at him, but didn't make a sound. Kaiser was a good dog.
Danny saw Walt, knew there was no way to avoid him, and kept going. He got up to Walt, stopped, and looked down at Kaiser blocking the road.
"Howdy," greeted Walt a devilish smile upon his face.
"Where you been?" was Danny's somewhat smart aleck answer, countering the smile on Walt's face with a smirk of forced defiance of his own. Danny didn't trust him and especially this new dog of his.
"Well wouldn't you like know," Walt threw back at him as he reached into his pocket, took out his switchblade and began fondling it.
"Get your dog out of the way so I can get home," said Danny.
"That an order or a request?" asked Walt flipping his knife open.
"A request please."
"That's more like it now." Walt folded his knife back up putting it back in his pocket.
"Kaiser,' commanded Walt and he snapped his fingers, "Here boy," and he pointed to a spot to the right of his horse. "Sit."
Kaiser moved and sat where ordered. The road was clear now. Danny started to move on but before he could advance Walt hollered out, "Hold on there just a minute Danny boy." Walt couldn't resist taunting Danny. "You wanted to know where I've been. Well I'll tell ya where I've been. Been out hunting that's where."
It was Danny now who couldn't resist, "That ain't true. You ain't got no game you shot with you from what I can tell. Don't see any in your saddle bags or any strapped on the back of your horse." But Danny did see that Walt had a rifle with him strapped to the side of his saddle.
"Didn't say what kind of game I was hunting now did I? Would you like to know what I shot today? Shot twice. Just for good measure that is."
Danny now knew what Walt was talking about but wasn't going to give Walt the satisfaction of letting him know. Instead he kept his poker face on as he rode by.
Walt let him know anyway. He just couldn't keep his mouth shut. "Pay back Danny Boy, payback."
Danny spurred his horse and rode on.
The first thing Danny saw when he got home of course was King strung up, hanging over the front door. He cut King down. He looked King over. King had been shot twice alright. Why Walt was so mean spirited that he shot the dog twice was because he wanted the dog to suffer first reasoned Danny. That's why.
Danny started crying. It was personal now just between the two of them and Danny knew he would have to settle this score himself once and for all. He wiped away his tears. He let his rage take control. But being ever a good boy, he wrote his folks a note first simply saying that he was at the Killing place. He then went and got his father's rifle, opened the desk drawer where his father kept the ammunition, fumbled through it, and found the two remaining bullets. Oh well don't need two bullets to kill that dog anyway thought Danny. One will do and I'll use the other one on Walt defending myself if he comes at me with that his switchblade of his. It'll be justifiable self defense homicide. No jury would ever convict me. He loaded the rifle, went outside, got on his horse and took off for the Killings.
It was dark early now that cold December evening and there was no moon out. The clouds blocked out the stars too and a cold chilling wintery wind hurried him along. He made it in record time to the Killing place and when he got there he stopped under their sign, got off, tied up his horse to one of the cedar poles, and started down the lane on foot to the Killing place, his rifle locked and loaded, at the ready. He was going to sneak up on the place and shoot Walt's dog. Then he heard it. The barking of Kaiser in the distance. But he couldn't turn back for now it was do or die. So he continued forward, the rifle at his shoulder, que sera sera. The barking got louder and closer. Walt must have ordered the dog to attack him he thought.
"Fine with me," he said to himself. "Let the dog come to me. That way I don't have to find him." Danny stopped advancing. He'd shoot it, run back to his horse, and make his getaway before Walt got here. Only problem was it was pitch black and he couldn't see where exactly the damn dog was but it certainly sounded as if he was right in front of him now. So that's where he fired, right in front of him. But he didn't exactly shoot straight in front of him. He missed the dog. He didn't hear the dog whimper or fall over dead. He only heard its continual barking, snapping, and growling as if it was anchored in place somehow. Then he heard an expletive from Walt taking Danny's name in vain repeatedly.
"God damn it Danny Boy you shot me in the knee. Hurts like hell. Now go and get my folks. I got Kaiser on a leash. I'll hold him here. Go now. Go!"
"I ain't falling for that trick," Danny laughed. "The minute I take off you'll sic your dog on me."
"If I was going to sic Kaiser on you I'd have already done so. I've had him on a leash the whole time you little jerk," and again with the expletives. It was true Kaiser had practically drug Walt down the lane going after Danny, Walt having trouble maintaining the dog's pace, and holding him back the whole time. He knew it was Danny the minute Kaiser started barking. After all he had baited him into coming hadn't he. Though Walt could be somewhat of a bully at times, he meant only to scare Danny with Kaiser, certainly not to let Kaiser tear him to shreds. But Walt never expected Danny to come gunning for him and consequently Walt had brought no shooting iron with him. He was going to have to bluff his way through this. His life depended on it.
"Danny boy I don't want to have to shoot ya now ya hear. But I will if I have to. I got me a double barrel shotgun here and I'll blow you away if I have too. It would be self defense. No jury would ever convict me of anything. You shooting me first and all."
The bluff worked. Danny turned tail and lit out for the territory, the territory here being home.
The Shepherds paid Walt's doctor bill for patching up his wounded knee. The knee cap was shattered to pieces and later gangrene set in. It had to come off. They paid for his leg amputation too, the doctor cutting off Walt's left leg just above the knee.
Walt went the rest of his life with a peg leg. He never did get married. None of those German frauleins there wanted a gimp with a limp for a husband. Instead he always had a German shepherd for a life companion outliving three of them.
As to the Shepherds, well Danny being a juvenile wasn't charged with attempted murder or anything like that just some kind of misdemeanor. His father quickly paid the fine, sold their place, and moved his family to somewhere unknown so the Killings couldn't find them and sue them.
The people that bought the Shepherd ranch had a dog too and they made damn sure it never ever got out and ended up at the Killing place, 'Ein bisschen Holle.'
B. Craig Grafton has been published by Frontier Tales before and had seven books published by Outlaws Publishing.
Three of which are about a West Attorney Texas. The latest two are 'Cowhide' about a female trail drive
boss and 'Yet He Knew' about an outlaw's encounter with a wild beast.
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Duel with a Cousin
by Robert Chase
The time was December 1872, and Jason had a comfortable two-room suite at a hotel in Saint Louis, Missouri. Christmas went on all around him. Soft snowflakes swirled down outside in the cold, dark night, but inside it was warm and pleasant. He should have been lonely, with no family, but Jason was not; Fiona McEwen was there taking stock of herself in front of the full-length mirror. She was fretting over uncooperative bloomers and a bodice that exposed one-eighth of an inch too much cleavage. Fiona scowled at the problem in that petulant way she had.
Jason was ready, being careful of his black, wool trousers and white, ruffled linen shirt. He was slowly nursing a short whiskey and a cigar, resting on the night table. They were going out to dinner when Fiona was finally content with her appearance.
A timid knock on the door interrupted Jason's watching Fiona struggling with her undergarments. He went to the sitting room, closing the door to the bedroom, and opened the outer door to face a short, thin man, dressed in a wrinkled suit and overcoat. A gloved hand with a handkerchief was retreating from his nose, just as his head tilted back to let go another massive sneeze. Jason stepped back quickly and saved his shirt and trousers. It was a close call for his only proper, dinner clothes.
Jason got the stranger seated with a large brandy and stood a safe distance away. His cold was terrible, and he looked miserable. "I'm Lawrence Keene, an attorney from New York."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Jason said. "I hope you get better soon; perhaps you should move west."
After Jason had convinced Keene he was Jason Pike, past commander of the 6th Ohio Cavalry during the late war and currently working as a United States Deputy Marshal, Keene told Jason why he had come.
"I'm representing Sir James Kenyon, a London barrister. He's in New York, bedridden after a rough November crossing of the Atlantic. He came to America to discuss the details of your inheritance," Keene said, pausing to wipe his nose, and looking up, Jason knew, for a reaction to what he said.
Jason showed him no reaction, mainly because he didn't know what Keene was talking about, and decided to keep his ignorance to himself. "Continue, sir."
"Sir James is elderly; in fact, he's ancient. He requests you come to New York. Sir James was a very close friend and confidant of your grandfather, Sir Alfred Pike. The Estate he left you after his passing is quite substantial."
A grandfather, an Estate, what nonsense was this. Jason's father had emigrated from Liverpool during 1838 to take up farming in the Ohio Valley. He had told his wife and young Jason that he had been an orphan. There had been no mention of or communication with a family left behind in England. Yet Jason's father had been well-spoken as if he had had a privileged education, usually reserved for the wealthy. Now Jason knew why; live and learn.
Fiona appeared in the room. Her dress was pale blue, and it narrowed from several petticoats wide at the floor, to her slender waist, then up to envelop and accentuate her breasts. Fiona's knowing smile told Jason she had heard all the pneumonia-bound lawyer had to say.
"Oh, sweet Jesus, Pike, you're already an insufferable and unscrupulous bastard. Even worse you'll be, now that you're rich through no endeavor of your own," she said in a Scottish brogue she had inherited from her father. "A gift from providence, I very much doubt, will improve you."
Jason took Fiona to New York, and that helped. They went shopping and saw a popular play on Broadway. Fiona had never been east before and was impressed with the sophistication the cities offered, while at the same time despising the crowded and unhealthy conditions.
On the second morning after their arrival, Jason went to see Sir James in his suite at a posh Fifth Avenue hotel. Sir James Kenyon was a tall, old fellow stooped over with age, sporting a grandiose mustache, and thick, bushy sideburns that covered most of his veiny, red cheeks. The room was overly plush and too warm for Jason, but he guessed it suited Sir James.
After introductions, Sir James offered cognac in a delicately cut crystal glass. "Your grandfather and I were particularly fond of this batch. It lasted a lifetime. This is the last bottle. I brought it for you to sample." he said, sitting on a couch, and tossing a plaid blanket over his lap. Jason stood by the window, glancing down at the busy street.
"In the English Channel, 1825, your grandfather and I were lieutenants on HMS Windfire. In a storm, we came upon a French cargo brig that was floundering on a sand bar off Cherbourg, and we pulled their crew to safety aboard Windfire. Afterward, the French Captain sent us a dozen cases of this cognac."
"Very generous," Jason commented. Sir James must be as old as he looked, Jason decided.
"The Frenchman was from a wealthy family. His parents probably sent it," the Englishman said.
Jason sipped the strong, old beverage and found it exceptional. "This is wonderful.
"I'm curious about the falling out that must have occurred between Sir Alfred and my father, George Pike. Dad never mentioned his background, yet we all sensed he had seen more of what a privileged life offered than most other men."
"Your father, George, was a nonconformist," Sir James' voice took on a vile, disgusted tone. "A bloody dissenter, a liberal—how did one of those sneak into your family—he was more concerned about the laboring class than his own family and heritage. For God's sake, he ran with Lord Byron's disciples and that crowd of poets and writers! Never have I seen someone reject such a birthright, a legacy most men can only hope to dream about. And yet the 1830s was an era when it was quite fashionable to be intense about political convictions. They finally had a great, noisy fight and your father went off to America to till the soil like a commoner.
"You're certainly more a fitting example of your family line."
"I don't understand," Jason asked innocently, "How so?
"Dear boy, you're a soldier. Your ancestors were all warriors, always willing and damned, bloody competent at defending the Crown. Your great-grandfather commanded one of Wellington's Brigades at Waterloo. His brother commanded a ship of the line in Nelson's squadron at Trafalgar. Your Uncle John, your Father's younger brother, was a captain in the Light Brigade; he died at Balaclava charging the Russian Artillery. John Pike was the finest horseman your family ever produced, except, possibly for you," the patronizing old British lion paused. "I haven't seen you sit a horse."
"I haven't fallen off one recently," Jason offered.
"Sir Alfred traced your lineage and family name to a common Saxon pikeman in Henry the V's army at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415." He raised his glass with the last of the French Cognac in toast of old victories. "God save Queen Victoria." Jason stood for the toast, feeling quite self-conscious. He sipped the cognac, and Sir James kept talking.
Jason thought back to a day during the political rumblings when his own country was preparing to go to war, the American Civil War. Early in the conflict his Father had walked up to twenty-year-old Jason, working in the wheat-field, and said, "John Sherman has urged me to raise a company of volunteer infantry. I have to do it. I left England a long time ago because of the way the rich treated the laboring classes. I felt guilty about my place in society, and I won't run away again from the conflict that always plagues humanity. Men of good conscience need to strive to achieve a society that values freedom over property." That was all George Pike ever told a young Jason, leaving him thoroughly confused about his Father's past and the legacy he was leaving his son. For Jason, it was an absurd shock to find out now his Father had deserted a family, holdings in England, and a distinguished military tradition.
George Pike led his company of Ohio Infantry off to war and died with most of them at Bull Run, attacking Tom Jackson's Virginia Brigade. Jason tried not to admit to himself this conflict which killed his Father would soon also be his war to fight.
"Excuse me, what did you say," Jason asked Sir James.
"After your father's death, Sir Alfred commissioned a firm in New York to keep track of your movements, send him clippings of your exploits. He was pleased with your quick rise to command—sometimes family traits skip a generation—and the brilliance of your regiment's combat record."
"Why all the covert surveillance," Jason asked? "Why didn't the old gentleman just come out and say 'hello,' if he was so proud of what I did? The bad feelings should have ended at Bull Run when my father died, still dedicated to the laboring class, by the way."
Sir James ignored the taunt. "Sir Alfred had a tragic flaw common to some well-bred Englishmen." He pointed a bony, white finger at Jason, as if it was his fault, "your grandfather had too much pride; he feared you would reject him just as your father did."
"What's all this leading to, Sir James?" Jason asked, having lost some patience.
"Your inheritance, of course; your grandfather changed his will from your Cousin Rudolph's favor to yours this summer, when he learned he was terminally ill."
"Your grandparents had three children: George, your father, John, and Jessica. John died in the Crimean War. Jessica, your Aunt, married Heinrich von Deisten. He was a Prussian Industrialist. They are both gone now. Rudolph Von Deisten, their only child, and your cousin is a colonel in the army and ardently supports Count Bismarck. There normally would not be so much concern in Her Majesty's Government, except most of Sir Alfred's Estate consists of ownership of munitions factories and naval armaments foundries. Do you know of Bismarck and understand the global implications?" the old walrus asked.
Now it began to make sense to Jason. All the propaganda about the glories of soldiering and sailing for Great Britain had to be leading somewhere. With the unification of Germany complete and the emphasis on imperialism, easily supported by German militarism, it was apparent the German Hegemony would grow and presumably come to challenge Britain's far-flung colonial empire, in perhaps less than a generation. "Excuse me for being blunt and, I suppose, also rude. What is the monetary value of this inheritance?" Jason asked.
"A very rough estimate might be in the neighborhood of one million pounds sterling."
"And my cousin is contesting the will," Jason guessed.
"Yes, Rudolph has filed the papers. The case could be locked up in the courts for years, and the factories shut down, idle."
"You need me to press my claim to keep this inheritance, consisting of armaments manufacturing facilities, from falling to a growing and ambitious rival, right Sir James? You're not working for Alfred's Estate. You're working for the British Government."
Sir James stood straight and tall, as best he could, and said, "The Crown doesn't want Pike Ltd. to pass to the Prussians," his voice cracked, and tears welled up in his wrinkled, old eyes. "We can't have our lads ever have to advance on the fields of battle against cannon forged from machinery or expertise developed in Manchester and Leeds."
Jason nodded. "Alright, I suppose this matter deserves further investigation and is worth a trip to Great Britain," Jason found himself saying as he sipped the last of the cognac.
Jason sent Fiona McEwen home to Saint Louis with the promise of expensive presents upon his return. Then Jason and Sir James took passage on a steamship to Bristol, England, and from there a train to London. Along the way, Jason studied Alfred's journal and a breakdown of his fiscal holdings. His great grandfather, another George Pike, had built an industrial empire, starting with the family's blast furnace business in Liverpool, during the 1780s. This George Pike developed new techniques for mounting both naval guns, and later, horse drawn artillery. The patents alone made him a fortune, and he used the money to open foundries in other cities, and his holdings multiplied. The industrial revolution, the beginning of the modern age—for better or worse—had begun because of the need for larger and stronger guns.
Sir James set Jason up at the Dorchester Hotel. His first guest was all business.
"I work in procurement for the Royal Navy, Mr. Pike, and I do a great deal of trade with Pike Ltd.," Captain Clane said. "I'll be brief, sir. Sir James indicated to me you'll fight, participate in a duel if necessary, to secure your inheritance. Is this true?"
"I never said that to Sir James. That's his evaluation of my past and his take on my character. Captain, I'm not able to answer questions about what I intend to do. But if you have something to tell me about Pike Ltd., please proceed. The navy is my company's best customer, and I hope we can continue to supply you and the army with quality ordnance."
Clane smiled. "Right now, you have a stable of brilliant, innovative engineers and metallurgists. They are on the verge of new designs that could be extraordinary in the scope of this era's naval gunnery.
"If the Germans get Pike Ltd., we lose dies, molds, and patents. But what's worse is that this team of engineers will be dispersed as they all go to seek new jobs. They're on the brink of a first generation of recoilless naval guns that will change our era's history. I came here to tell you Pike Ltd. will become far more valuable, and her importance to Great Britain in the future, than the firm's present value." They continued to talk for a half hour and then Clane left.
Jason shrugged and smiled. What could he say, in this affair, Jason knew he was merely a knight, expecting to be well-paid.
* * *
The next morning Jason paced across Sir James' office on Trafalgar Square. He stared out the bay window at the cold rain falling on Admiral Nelson's statue. Jason distinctly remembered the trend of the conversation that morning, because it was when Dear Cousin's Rudy's letter arrived. He wanted Jason to meet him in Belgium to discuss the estate. "Why Belgium?" he asked.
"Because of Belgium's dueling laws, if both participants are foreign nationals the local authorities turn a blind eye, even if a fatality results," Sir James explained.
"Do they do that to encourage tourism?" Jason asked and saw disapproval in Sir James' ancient eyes.
The American walked right up to the old British lawyer. "I'm not afraid to meet him. I just don't know a damn thing about those skinny blades Europeans duel with," Jason confessed.
"Dear boy, you are being challenged. Choose bullwhips or crossbows, sabers, rapiers, or pistols. You two can bloody-well wheel out twelve-pound field pieces and take potshots at each other over a valley. Jason, you choose the weapon."
Jason nodded. "All right," he said slowly. "That's better: a gunfight." Sir James set it up for two weeks hence in a grove south of Dinant, a small village halfway between Waterloo and the crossroads at Bastogne.
Four days later Jason found himself in a field south of Ramsgate, a couple hundred meters from the White Cliffs of Dover. Sergeant Major Connors of the Royal Lancaster Rifles was going to give him some brushing up in the discipline of hand-held firearms. He was said to be someone with expert knowledge and skill. "This is a British Army Revolver," he began, holding up a John Adams Mark II, .455 caliber, double-action handgun. "This is the cylinder. This is the barrel."
It was 10 minutes before he let Jason shoot the damn thing and Jason shook his head. "Don't like it at all; the balance is off," Jason criticized. "You let your officers carry this lump of iron?"
Connors, cool as a cucumber, asked, "What did you bring with you?"
Jason produced his own new Colt Single Action Army .45 caliber pistol with a 7½ inch barrel. He gave the sergeant major a competent demonstration of American marksmanship until Connors seemed satisfied, possibly even impressed, but said nothing. Jason wondered what Her Majesty's Government would have done if the sergeant major had judged his abilities were not up to this contest.
All too soon Jason found himself in a grove of sparse, leafless Elms on a Sunday morning late in February 1873, just south of the pleasant hamlet of Dinant. Jason was in a coach with Sir James. Deisten was late, and it was cold. "Punctual bloody Prussians, late for their own damn duel," Sir James said vehemently, shuffling miserably about in his seat. Jason knew he was hoping for friction from local movement to create some heat. Jason got out, walking around, which seemed better than shivering in the coach.
Finally, the Germans arrived; their coach stopped, and the Prussian stepped out. Rudolph Von Deisten looked like Jason; tall and lean, cruel around the corners of the mouth, and his dark, intense eyes pricked Jason like cold, sleeting rain.
Jason was wearing a sheepskin coat and tan, denim trousers. The Prussian was attired in an immaculate, sky-blue tunic, with two ornamental, vertical rows of brass buttons, a blood-red sash over fine white trousers, and polished black, leather boots. Rudolph also wore a peaked, military cap.
"No points for looking dashing, my boy," Sir James whispered in Jason's ear as he waved at Cousin Rudy. How the hell did he know Jason wondered.
The cousins walked toward each other, and Rudolph bowed, clicking his heels in that pretentious Prussian habit that irritated most Englishmen and all Americans. "I wish to thank you for coming, Captain Pike. I am sorry the circumstances are not more congenial," Rudolph ventured slowly in heavily accented English.
"Yes, I agree," Jason said, feeling very uncomfortable with this conversation.
"You must be a brave man," Rudolph complimented.
"And, one of considerable skill," Jason added. "We are both warriors, colonel. There can be no other way for men such as we choose to be."
"We could have been comrades under different circumstances," Rudolph said. "But the Gods chose to make us mortal enemies; there is no changing that. I am sorry."
"I agree." And they shook hands.
"I have here Captain Pike and Colonel Deisten's procedures for the duel," said the Dutchman, a neutral retained by Sir James and Deisten's counsel. "As agreed to previously by both parties; the weapons are to be modern revolvers of individual choice. The procedure is straight-forward. Both combatants will face off at one hundred meters and commence walking toward each other. You both fire at your own personal choice of distance. The duel ends when one of you is not willing, or able, to continue. This will be signaled by dropping your pistol," the Dutchman finished.
Two portable tables were set up a few feet apart. Sir James had his assistant layout Jason's Colt on one table, and Deisten's companion used the other table. The new Colt SAA revolver—also nicknamed the Peacemaker—was less than three months old and its performance was flawless. The newly-designed pistol was a promotional gift from Colt Industries to Jason, because of his status as a celebrated United States Deputy Marshal, and would be offered to the public later this year. The gun was made by Colt to be as perfect as they were capable of, and a factory gunsmith had worked the trigger assembly to react to a feather's touch. The longish, rifled-barrel was what Jason needed for this confrontation.
Jason glanced at Deisten's Steinmetz .48 caliber, double-action revolver with an even longer barrel than Jason's Colt. The sharp, crooked lines, not at all flowing like a Colt or Remington, were damned businesslike. It was such an ugly gun; it must be very precise. Deisten was. Cousin Rudolph had won the pistol championship for the German Army for the last three years. Sir James found that out the day after Jason's terms for the duel left London for Berlin.
Jason lost his temper at the time and stormed around Sir James' office. The old man comforted, "Why doubt your abilities? I don't. Sergeant Major Connors said you handle a pistol like Robin Hood with a bow."
"That is an absurd comparison. No one knows how talented Robin Hood was with a bow and arrows, or even if he actually existed," Jason pointed out.
"Yes, precisely," Sir James said, staring at Jason. "You're exactly the right man for the job, son."
"Don't call me, 'Son,' Sir James," Jason said. He walked out of the office thinking that, at worst; Sir James expected the duel to end in a tie.
Jason watched as Deisten vigorously examined the cylinder chambers, then the barrel. He was meticulous and exact. Deisten raised the barrel, then the cylinder to the rising sun and rotated it slowly examining the inside surface, searching for any stray speck of dust or burnt powder that might dare remain. Jason knew Sergeant Major Connors would have exhibited a bright smile at the detailed ceremony.
Then Jason decided to pay his cousin a compliment. When Jason had been in Europe selling artillery after the American Civil War, he had witnessed a battle. "I saw your brigade in action at Koniggrat. It was a proper and well-timed movement; impressive," Jason said, speaking about the Austro-Prussian War, while dismantling the Colt for a hasty last-minute inspection.
"That was a magnificent day," Rudolph smiled. "We won the war that day!" And they both laughed. What more could a soldier possibly ask for?
Sir James walked over, a grave countenance up front. "Jason, Rudolph," he said, sounding stern, fatherly, and mildly sad. "I trust you gentlemen will carry this procedure through with a certain amount of decorum."
"Of course," Rudolph said, with another bow and boot-clicking. "Tell me, Sir James; are you still active with the British Foreign Service?" Rudolph queried.
A bit late for that type of comment to unsettle Jason, he thought; a hint of desperation caused the Prussian to say that, a chink in his armor, a show of nerves. "We all have conflicting interests, Rudolph. That is why we have this serene setting to let God choose the victor, rather this, especially for you two soldiers," the old lion parried dryly, "than a stuffy courtroom and verbose, powdery-wigged barristers dictating your fates, and more importantly your fortune."
Jason worked through his pistol and tried to finish at the same time as Rudolph. He did not want to stand around waiting for the Prussian. Finally, they were both done cleaning their weapons, and both combatants loaded their pistols. Deisten turned around smartly holding the Steinmetz at his side. Jason took off his overcoat, and the cold wind immediately cut right through the white linen shirt he wore. No matter, this would not take long.
Jason buckled on his tan, leather belt with a narrow cut holster on the left side. It was a worn and comfortable fit. The rawhide thong tied just above the knee held the holster low on his hip. The leather was still moist from last night's oil, as Jason dropped Colt's new revolver into the holster. He was ready.
"Cousin Jason," Rudolph said. Damn, Jason thought, knowing Rudolph's intension. "I am sorry for this affair. You do not have to do this for the British," Rudolph said carefully, and none too quietly.
Sir James looked down at the ground, rubbing his eyebrows, while he was groaning quietly. Then he rubbed his chin whiskers, muffling—what Jason decided was—a stream of curses.
"Don't think me a misguided patriot, Rudolph. I'm not here for someone else's queen or country. This is for the money," Jason said in a loud and deadly voice. Jason had decided if he lost this contest, he wouldn't want his relation feeling guilty for his death since Rudolph was a real patriot to his country. And Jason just felt himself an American ambitious to be wealthy much more than someone eager to do a favor for the British.
Then Jason told his cousin, "Drop that revolver right now. Go home, or I'll kill you. Make this mistake and it will be your last, cousin."
"No, it will be yours, cousin." The Prussian shook his head, and they both respectfully nodded to each other.
Jason walked to the south end of the clearing, and they faced off at a previously marked one hundred meters. Deisten held his pistol straight up, arm bent at the elbow in the classic dueling pose. There were no hints of a lack of confidence now from either combatant, just two professionals, facing off.
Jason knew he would have to be in top form today. A self-inflicted pep talk was in order. If his first round went off center, drop down and count on that swift, steady aim as the front sight moved about the target. Those reflexes got Jason through the war and the confrontations with criminals afterward.
The strategy of this gunfight was simple: just get close enough to shoot effectively. But, of course, matters of life and death grew infinitely more intricate. Since Jason and Rudolph were both excellent marksmen with their handguns, this would be a long-range duel Jason decided, probably firing between seventy down to fifty yards, such as the confrontation when Wild Bill Hickok killed Davis Tutt in Springfield, Missouri just after the war.
The Dutchman signaled the start of the duel with a drop of his pudgy arm and a hasty retreat behind his coach. Jason began walking evenly and slowly, left-hand dangling at the pistol's grip. No more posturing banter: only shootists—deadly serious—closing on each other. Jason quickly calculated how fast he was walking. How quickly did the ground go by? He wanted to shoot at sixty yards. That distance should have been just a little longer than what Rudolph was used to, Jason hoped, but still within his abilities. Jason did not want to get within fifty yards of that devil of Prussian efficiency—the man or the pistol.
Five seconds had passed, and another five or seven seconds would bring the combatants sixty yards apart. No more time to contemplate strategy. Watch the Prussian as they closed, watch his eyes; Jason focused.
They were closer, and Jason could see his cousin's eye distinctly now. The American glanced about one last time—breaking his own cardinal rule—the Elms, the sun, and the pleasant glade. Then it was sixty yards, . . . fifty-nine, . . . fifty-seven, . . . fifty-five. The German's arm holding the Steinmetz dropped. The Prussian turned to give Jason his narrow right side, as the black muzzle of his pistol's barrel lusted toward the American.
Jason's right knee buckled, left leg thrusting out as his torso dropped down. He saw the smoke from the discharge and felt the chill of whistling death close by his ear, even as he heard the German pistol boom. Now, it was just instinct, reflex, and instantaneous. As his left foot stamped down on the soft, rotting winter leaves, the Colt was drawn, cocked, his left arm leveling as his right knee hit the ground. With swift and practiced alignment of eye, rear sight, front blade sight, and the target—a patch of blue cloth just under a man's armpit, inches from brass buttons on his chest—the Colt sent forth its deadly charge. The cylinder rotated; the heavy pistol ready to speak again.
Deisten's correct uniform was splotched with a messy, crimson hole in his right side. He stepped back faltering but turned to face Jason, raising the Steinmetz again. Jason knew it never could have occurred to him to drop the pistol. His motions were sluggish, and Jason guessed his brain was stunned, a dying man's vain gesture to duty. Jason put the next bullet dead center, smashing Rudolph's breastbone to sharp splinters through his lungs and heart. Deisten fell back and twisted over on the ground.
Jason slowly rose and looked with disgust at the gun in his hand. He holstered the Colt pistol without ceremony—no twirling the weapon like the shootists in the wild west shows—and walked toward his cousin. The Belgium Doctor they had retained took only seconds to confirm Rudolph von Deisten's death. Jason kneeled by his cousin's body and picked up Rudolph's left hand. The small indentation of white skin on his fourth finger said something painfully obvious.
"You moved, dropped down," Rudolph's second said. "That wasn't honorable."
Jason shrugged. "Where I come from it is, and with Rudolph it was necessary.
"Where's his wedding band?" Jason said.
"He took it off. Rudolph did not want you to know. You just made a soldier's wife a widow with two small sons," the second Prussian said. He handed Jason a gold ring and the American pushed it onto Rudolph's finger before they carried the colonel and placed him in the coach.
Rudolph's young family was just another inconsequential fact Sir James had not wanted to muddle up Jason's simple, little colonial head with, and Jason had not thought to ask.
Comments are welcome. Bobchas1492@yahoo.com. Thank You. Robert Chase is semi-retired and lives in Boone, NC.
His website is THEDOGGYTALES.COM and he is searching
for a Labrador retriever.
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We'll Bury Him Then
by Daniel Hague
New Mexico Territory
Harrison walked back inside the ranch house, he had Ramos's saddle bags slung over his shoulder. A single lantern lit the darkening insides. The wife had finished bandaging Ramos's thigh. She was pregnant and wearing her gun belt across her chest. She was standing at the wood stove and putting on pot of coffee. The brother was seated in a corner and pulling on the finger lever of his Model 1876 lever action rifle; the lever was not moving. The old man had his muzzle loader slung across his back. He was using a hammer and chisel to cut shooting loops into the outside walls.
Ramos was on top of the large dinner table with his legs out stretched. Harrison and the old man had drug the table over to a beam so he could rest his back. A Spencer rifle lay on the table to his right along with a half-smoked cigar. Harrison walked over to Ramos and laid the saddle bags in his lap. Ramos took out a canteen, small flask and a box of bullets.
Harrison studied Ramos's thigh.
"You did good work, knew to boil the horse hair."
Harrison looked down at the drying blood on the floor. He picked up a small piece of bloodied cloth. "Found that bit of pants."
The wife looked up from the coffee pot, "Helped the bullet went straight through."
"Sorry if my friend's cigar smoke bothered you much."
"I was surprised how steady he kept his hand."
"Not as steady as your needle."
The wife gave a weak smile then went back to staring at the coffee pot.
Harrison patted Ramos on the back.
"We're heading out."
Ramos smiled at Harrison with his yellow teeth and nodded towards the brother.
"Really?" Harrison asked.
Ramos nodded his head, "Sí."
"Hell, you're right."
Broken glass crunched under Harrison's boots as he walked over to the brother.
The brother looked up.
"Here," Harrison said as he snatched the rifle from the brother's hands.
Harrison looked into the rifle's action, "Got two going the same way."
Harrison moved the right flap of his duster to the side and unsheathed a knife. Using the blunt top of the blade's point he slowly pushed one of the rounds back into the rifle's magazine tube. This freed up the finger lever allowing him to fully open the action. Shaking out the other round Harrison worked the rifle's action reloading the chamber. He ran his fingers along the rim of the other cartridge before reinserting it into the rifle's magazine.
"Still getten use to her," the brother said reaching out with his hands.
Harrison turned his back to the brother and looked at the wife. "You ever shoot a forty five-seventy five?"
"Me?" the wife asked pointing at herself.
"Here," Harrison held out the rifle. "Take it."
The steady rhythm of the old man's hammer and chisel stopped.
The wife's eyes drifted over to her brother then back to Harrison.
"Take it, you handled yourself fine with the colt." Harrison said.
The wife held out her hands. Harrison lowered the rifle down into her open palms.
"So, you can work it?"
The wife nodded as she hugged the rifle to her breast.
"Get a glove for your lever hand."
Harrison turned back to the brother.
"Give me your ammo belt."
Harrison gestured with his hand, "Come on, ain't got time."
The brother stood and grabbed the buckle of his leather ammunition belt.
"You tryen to say somethen Mr. Harrison?"
"No, I ain't saying anything."
"Then why you snatch my rifle and hand it to my sister?"
"You really want to discuss all that?"
The brother looked away from Harrison.
"Was gonna give it to her anyway."
The brother undid his belt and tossed it to Harrison. Harrison adjusted its length and rebuckled it. He helped the wife put it on. Her gun belt and ammunition belt formed an "X" across her chest.
"Know it's heavy but best to leave it on," Harrison told her.
The wife turned back towards the wood stove as the sound of the hammer and chisel again filled the room.
The front door opened. A tall man with a long red beard stepped in. He grinned at Ramos then looked at Harrison.
"Boys are all saddled up Harry."
"You put the shotgun with my kit?"
"Spare shells in your right bag."
The bearded man looked at Ramos, "How's our Mexican?"
Ramos waved at the bearded man, "¿Cómo es tu madre?"
"He's improving," Harrison answered.
"Seems like it."
"Alright, have Douglas ride ahead."
"You got it."
"And remind him he ain't a one-man army."
"Will do Harry."
"Good, I'll be right out."
The bearded man tipped his hat towards Ramos before going back outside.
"That wasn't my scattergun was it?" the brother asked.
"Just borrowing it," Harrison answered.
"Leaven me with just my pistol?"
Harrison scratched his stubbled chin, "We're fixing for some close work, ain't gonna have time to reload mine."
The brother put his hand on the butt of his Colt Army Revolver and stepped towards Harrison.
"You saying I'm lily-livered?"
"Do you want me to?"
"What is it you want then?"
"I want to ride with ya all."
"Mr. Harrison, you are an employee of this ranch."
"Well you ain't the owner and I ain't got time for this."
"Mr. Harrison, I insist."
"Be nice having five guns." Harrison looked around the dark room, "But only got four that are able to saddle up."
"See, that's callen me lily-livered."
With two long steps Harrison covered the distance between himself and the brother. He jabbed the brother in the chest with his pointer finger.
"I will say that during the dust up all you managed to do was muck up your rifle."
"But . . . "
"Just sat crossed legged staring at the dirt."
"I was startled is all, I ain't scared."
"Maybe, I've seen men pull it together the second time around and Lord knows in these parts you'll get another try. But tonight, we can't afford to have you figuring out where your balls are."
The brother's hand fell away from the butt of his revolver. His head sunk low into his chest as he looked down at his boots. He stepped backwards until his back pressed against the far wall.
Harrison walked over to Ramos and whispered into his ear. Ramos looked at the brother and smiled.
"Alright, we're heading out." Harrison took out a pair of gloves from his back pocket.
"Don't forget," he shook his gloves at Ramos as he walked towards the door. "Want to live you'll listen to him."
Still clutching the rifle to her breast, the wife followed Harrison to the door.
"My husband?" she asked.
"Had the boys put him up in the barn."
"But we need to . . . "
Harrison held up his hands.
"Should be back by mid-day. We'll bury him then. We ain't back, you'll have other problems."
"They just shot him down."
"I know it's hard, but we can't change any of this."
"His gun was in the house."
"That don't matter to this sort."
The wife nodded her head as she lowered the forearm of the rifle into her left hand and wrapped her right hand around the serrated grip of the rifle's wood stock.
Harrison opened the ranch's door.
"All right then, don't forget to sleep in shifts, and keep that coffee going."
Harrison walked out of the ranch house. Moments later there was the sound of galloping horses which quickly faded from ear shot. The four were left with only the steady rhythm of the old man and his chisel.
Ramos unscrewed the top of his flask. He raised the flask high towards the ceiling before bringing it down to his lips. He took a drink, rubbed his belly and then took another. He held the flask out to the brother.
The brother raised his head.
"No, thank you."
"Aquí, bebe ahora."
The brother stared at the dented flask. Smacking the heel of his revolver he walked over to Ramos. He took the flask, tipped it towards Ramos then drank. His body tensed as the whiskey burned down his throat before warming his stomach.
The brother handed the flask back to Ramos and walked over to the old man.
"Sis, pour me some coffee, won't you?"
The brother patted the old man on the shoulder.
"Here," the brother said holding out his hands.
"Thank you," the old man said as he handed his hammer and chisel to the brother.
Ramos held out his flask to the old man. The old man took the flask and drank long from it.
"Thank you," the old man handed back the flask and unslung his muzzle loader. He walked over to a chair, sat and shut his eyes.
The brother held the chisel in his left and the hammer in his right. He resumed the old man's work, only pausing to sip at his coffee.
Ramos watched this and smiled.
Upon graduating high school Daniel Hague served four years in the United States Marine Corps as an
Infantry Marine. After that adventure he took up writing as a way to express the layered emotions
one experiences in combat.
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Mixed Blood, Part 4 of 6
by Abe Dancer
Melvin Cody forded Dog Creek for the first time, took a short rest, and resumed his way. The Buckskin Mountains broke into long slopes where lush grassy meadows lay alternately with finger-shaped washes. An hour later, below the pine and spruce, he found the creek again, as Doc McLane told him he would. He put his gray on picket in a small flat of grass and made a meal of two doughgod biscuits and creek water. A small, chill wind moved against him and he drew his blanket in, sat and watched the sun break.
At this hour, the air was thin and clear. When Mel rose the strike of his spur on a creek side rock ran a sharp echo along the edge of timber. Shielding his eyes with his hat, Mel wondered if he was anywhere near where his father had once stood, wondered if it was the picture he'd had in mind when he'd said 'look to the country about, son.'
Twenty minutes later, using a broken wheel spoke, Mel kicked away two aggressive geese while he levered open the back door of Selwyn Church's house. He went into the low-ceilinged building with his stomach churning at the smell, reached for the first window and pushed it open. Then he opened all the windows in the other rooms and the front door.
As fresh air cleared the rooms, he had time to notice the old Hawken rifle in its rack above the lintel. Selwyn's soiled work-clothes were piled in a heap on the floor. An assortment of dirty pans and plates were stacked high on a table. There was a basin of murky water standing in a bowl and an iron pot that contained something that smelled bad. A side of bacon was hanging from a rafter, shiny and beginning to sour. None of it was that unusual: just everyday chores that Selwyn would have eventually gotten 'round to taking care of.
Mel cut down the flitch, gathered the obvious unwanted rubbish and took it all out back. He got some dry leaves and sticks and made a fire of the waste heap. He watched it burn before going back to get the dead man's clothes and other flammable bits and pieces. He drew some water from the well and tipped away the foul, standing juices. Then he went across a small clearing to Selwyn's barn.
The barn was about in the same mess as the house and reeked of soiled straw and horse piss. A few sacks of grain had been roughly split, the contents scattered along the fronts of the two horse stalls. Two saddles hung on wall hooks but it looked like only one was useable. The spread had been running down and, like a lot of settler folk, Selwyn Church had been chary of discarding anything that had some mileage left in it.
One of the horse corrals had a broken rail, another, fallen poles, but generally they were solid enough. Mel unsaddled his gray and turned it into the yard after fixing a low sapling bar. Then he hefted his possessions up into the barn loft. He worked for half an hour before he had a bagged-straw mattress, his spartan belongings piled into an empty fruit box. When he was satisfied that he'd gotten himself sorted out, he saddled up an inquisitive cow pony that came to greet him and went to inspect the rest of the Church property.
He got an impression of the land and its boundaries, made mental notes of the damaged fences, how the creek was silting up downstream. A long hour later back at the ranch house, he took an early pull of his whiskey and contemplated the work ahead.
Mel figured it would take him five, maybe six days to get the house and its immediate surroundings fixed and tidied. After an unhurried smoke he took off his shirt and grabbed an axe he'd found in a lean-to tool-shed. He went on to the slopes and, in the hot afternoon sun, he swung at timber. It was a task which he knew about and was skilful at. He soon had cut enough to make fence posts and repair the barn and corrals.
That night he slept a weary sleep, and was up at first light. He started work on the north wall of the barn, remaining at the job until the noon heat drove him upstream into the icy creek water. He rested for an hour and ate some more of his biscuit. This time though, he had them with wild onions and a goose egg. He found an unopened tin of condensed milk and some sugar and he made strong, sweet coffee. After his accustomed smoke, he started work again. Then at sundown, with his muscles jingling with the work of sawing and hammering, he stretched out on the porch to survey his labor. He watched the geese go for a lone heron probing the rushes for frogs. He was tired, but alert and more content than he'd been the night before.
He was sipping his whiskey from a tin mug when two riders came up from the creek. He sat in the dark shadows, only the intermittent glow from the tip of his cigarette marking his presence. He silently placed the mug at his feet and pinched out the tip of his smoke, then sat unmoving.
The riders came straight for the house. The geese hissed an alarm, but knew enough to stay away from the horses' hooves.
"Ol' Selwyn liked his grog. We might get ourselves lucky this night," one of the men said, as they pulled their horses up.
They were swinging from their saddles when Mel walked slowly to the doorway. Mel was light-footed, but his footfall made an ominous noise in the night silence. The two men stopped suddenly as they approached the porch steps and dropped hands to their side arms.
"Don't touch them guns," Mel demanded, remembering that he'd wound his waistband around his Colt and left it in the melon box. He stretched an arm up until he felt the breech of the Hawken above the door.
Alarmed and surprised, the men did as they were told. They looked hard at each other and backed off a pace.
"Who the hell's speaking, mister? This is Selwyn Church's place," the same man said. "We're neighbors, an' we know he ain't here."
"But you think his grog might be," Mel said." You were about to steal a dead man's bottle. Now the two of you move real slow while I get myself a little lamp going here. I wouldn't want to put a hole in someone's belly's when I meant to take their legs out, now would I?"
"Who the hell are you?" the other man growled.
"I'm the hired hand," Mel told him.
"Selwyn lived here alone. He never took on no hired hand."
"I'm working for his niece," Mel said flatly. "You staying on for that drink?"
The two men looked at each other again. In the shadows they could see Mel's raised arm or guess where he had his hand. After a few moments' thought, they backed toward their horses.
Mel remained very still. He could just see them climb aboard their mounts. "If you two ever come back, make sure it's daylight. I got an aversion to night riders . . . might just turn real unneighborly."
The man who'd spoke first sniffed and hawked. "We'll be back, daylight or not. I'm going to get you checked out, mister."
Mel drew back the hammer of the big-bored rifle, flinched as the deadly, metallic snap splintered the night. "I've changed my mind," he said. "Get off this land, an' don't ever come back."
The riders turned their horses. Mel watched until the ribbon of light broke as they crossed the creek downstream. They must have headed east, in the general direction of Casper Spool's land.
* * *
Casper Spool looked hard at his two hired hands. "So, the old coot has himself a niece, does he?"
"That's what he said, Mr. Spool. Said that was who he was working for."
"And who exactly was he?"
"Hired hand, he said. It weren't that friendly a meeting."
Spool frowned. "Well, what did he look like?"
"It was dark, Mr. Spool. You can't—"
"So you let him sweet-talk you? You never thought to bust him, just got your asses safely back here. Is that it?"
One of the two men showed surprise. "Hell, Mr. Spool, if you've ever heard the sound of a big rifle being cocked a few feet from your face in the dark, you don't stay around arguing."
Spool sighed wearily. In the last few days he'd realized just what a seedy and disorderly outfit he'd got on the payroll. Not so long ago he'd had good reliable men: rawhiders who knew their place, the way of things. But now he reckoned he was employing treacherous men who were getting the nod from Budge Miner rather than himself.
He looked up. In the light from his house lamps he saw Miles Beckman and Miner walking toward him. "These boys say there's a gun staked out on the Church place, Budge. Do you know anything about it?"
Miner shook his head. "Nope. I was in town most of yesterday. Today I been working the bottom country with Felix and Miles." He turned to the two men. "A gun, you say? Who the hell was he?"
"They didn't see him because of the dark, and they didn't get his name because he didn't tell," Spool mocked. "All they did was ride away and come straight back here." Spool looked out at the two men, but he didn't know them well, didn't even know their names. He was wearying of the task, of even giving Miner the responsibility of hiring new hands for the herding season.
"Tomorrow, we'll ride over and take a look at this feller," he told Budge firmly. "It's no secret I want that land. I suppose I'll have to go through Selwyn's niece to get it. We'll leave at sun-up, might even go on into town if the deal means me seeing her personal."
Spool turned back into the house. Miner followed, but the ranch owner was expecting it and closed his front door quickly. Miner pulled up short and his beaten face took on a heavier color. For a short moment, his eyes bored into the solid timber. Then he turned, and strode from the porch. He hurried across the yard with Miles Beckman close on his heels.
"Looks like you got the ticket away from Mr. Spool's gang, Budge," he said.
"Shut it," Miner snarled.
Outside the bunkhouse he turned sourly to Beckman. "Tomorrow, you an' Felix get that section cleared out. Drive the cattle down the wash. I'll go with Spool, try an' keep him busy 'til we get them beeves on the run for Yuma. I want no mistakes, Miles. Anybody gets wind of what's going on, tell 'em to see me. You're just carrying out ramrod's orders."
"We already got nigh on three hundred head, Budge," Beckman contended.
"So? We want another hundred, maybe two if we can get 'em. I'm not pulling out short if I can help it. Spool can afford it."
Beckman said nothing more, but stood watching in the looming darkness as Miner turned back toward the cookhouse.
Miner spent a quarter-hour tenderly bathing his face with brine water before he returned to the bunkhouse. His whole body hurt, and his mind turned to murderous thoughts. First, he was going to relieve his boss of four to five hundred head of good cattle. Then he'd drift, search out Melvin Cody, maybe even kill him.
Reba rose early. For two days, she'd ventured no further than the outskirts of Polvo Gris. Doc McLane had introduced her to many of the townspeople. Now, walking with the doctor to the livery stable, she was taking a different view on the town.
Her first reaction to it had been one of abject horror. From the window of the stage coach, she'd seen no redeeming features to the stark frontier town—nothing that could possibly appeal to her. Things seemed a little different now that she'd spent a few days here. The people who claimed friendship with her uncle she'd found kindly and sympathetic to her predicament. Perhaps the town was, after all, a likely place for her to settle.
Eager nervousness gripped her as she climbed into the rig that McLane had hired to go and visit the Church spread. Spending time with the doctor and Willow Legge had given her something to think about. Now that she owned something, she could consider things other than the fripperies of the drapery.
A more optimistic Reba Church drove out that morning with George McLane. As they waved to Willow and left the northern end of town, the sun burst through, lifted itself high across the distant Cactus Plain.
McLane waved an arm at the land ahead of them. "I keep thinking of this as Selwyn's place, but I guess it's yours now, Reba. Yeah, it's your place. It's set up high on the lush slopes, with Dog Creek running through it, and plenty of timber. Was a while back that I spent some time out there . . . doctor's rounds, you know. When that big sun hits the trees . . . " McLane stopped for a moment. "Oh yeah, it was pretty all right. Makes me wonder why I spend so much time in town."
"Because that's where the people are . . . who need looking after, I guess," Reba offered. "It must be good to have so many close friends. To have won their respect."
"Hmmm. There's times when I think I'd rather have won something else. An argument maybe? A seat on the State Legislature?"
"You're unhappy in Polvo Gris?"
McLane shrugged and flicked the reins. "Weary. Bored to tears, more like it. And that winning their respect's not quite what it seems. I know so many secrets and been told so much in confidence, it's difficult for most folk to be anything but respectful."
"What did you know about my uncle?" Reba asked, before McLane got to be too sentimental or personal.
"You're not going to like it, girl," McLane started uncertainly. "But then again it's only an accusation."
McLane watched the track ahead of them as they took a long shallow bend. He let the horse settle into an even gait. He pulled one of his cigaritos, thought about it and put it back. "Selwyn was accused of being a rustler . . . a cattle thief."
"I do know what a rustler is, Doc. Who accused him of being one?"
"A neighbor of his. Yours now."
As if by instinct, Reba's mind went back to her arrival in town, the fighting in the street. "You can tell me, Doc. I'm not for swooning . . . not anymore."
"Budge Miner was one of them. They claimed Selwyn stole some of your neighbor's cattle . . . had 'em corralled on his land."
"What neighbor?" Reba asked curtly.
"Casper Spool. Selwyn called them all liars. Miner tore into him. That was when our young Geronimo came along . . . stopped him being beaten up bad."
"What Geronimo? What do you mean?"
"I mean, Melvin Cody," he said sourly. "Sorry, the tag's not funny and it's nowhere near accurate either. He's just got some Indian blood in him," The doc took a deep breath, "And I really have got to tell you about him . . . very soon. Anyway, old Selwyn went for his gun. The shame of it was, he was killed before he could do any damage. Even the sheriff agreed."
The color drained from Reba's face and she held her hands tight as McLane continued.
"The upshot was your poor uncle lying dead in the street, and Mel Cody keeping the curs at bay until the sheriff arrived to jail him."
"He was the man in the street wasn't he?"
"That was him—the last one left standing," McLane grinned, almost chuckled.
"And he was jailed for helping my uncle? An old man who was bullied and outnumbered?" Reba asked.
"Yeah, that's the cruel irony. But that's not the fault of Brett Vaughn, Reba . . . not totally. Miner accused Cody of being in cahoots with Selwyn, so he reckoned he had to do something."
Reba screwed up her face. "What?" she said, dumbfounded. "The sheriff just 'reckoned he had to do something?' Didn't he know Selwyn?"
"I was getting to that, Reba. I'd seen this stranger riding into town earlier—about an hour later than Selwyn came by. I wanted the boy let out. Of course he weren't in cahoots with Selwyn. They'd never even seen each other before."
"How did he get out then . . . Melvin Cody?"
"Well that's the curious thing. Miner must have come up with something. It doesn't make much sense for what happened next."
Reba's concern showed, but she kept her silence.
"After he was let out, Mel came down the street, headed for Marcella's," the doctor went on, "and one of Miner's men dropped a rope around his shoulders. He got dragged off the boardwalk, near pulled under the stage you were on."
"Yes, I saw that part of the story and what happened next."
"Yeah, well then Rourke came along. He was gunning for Mel. There was no other way."
"Why doesn't that surprise me?" Reba said scathingly.
"What Mel Cody did lets him fight another day. And that's what will happen."
McLane stared into the distance as he answered. "Because it's him that's out at the ranch. Your ranch."
"I should have guessed. The good doctor's got me a gunman to chop firewood and mend fences."
"He's the man that sided with your uncle, Reba. He could have walked away. He didn't believe he had a choice. He's a good man."
"Yes, I know. I'm sorry, Doc. I didn't mean he wasn't."
"Do you think there'll be more fighting on my land?"
"Out here Reba, you've got to be ready for most things. I guess gun fights are just the worst of them." As he spoke, McLane drew rein and pointed ahead. "Just down there. Along the slope and we cut the creek again, then it's your land, Reba Church. Why don't you sit quiet now . . . take it in and just see if this isn't God's own country." McLane smiled warmly. "It's worth fighting for. Selwyn knew it . . . wouldn't be pushed off."
But Reba couldn't see much of the country that stretched out before her. She was fighting it well, keeping her emotions in check. From what the doctor had said, she was employing the man who'd shot someone dead in the middle of Polvo Gris's main street. It was true that Mel Cody had gone to the aid of her uncle. But if Cody stayed on her ranch, she too would be involved in neighbor trouble. She didn't know how to resolve the problem with the well-meaning doctor.
The rig worked its way across the shallow bed of the creek crossing, went rolling easily up the long slope. Through the noises of harness and rig Reba heard the carried sound of a hammer smacking into clout nails. Then, all of a sudden the house was before them. The mid-morning sun touched the grass and beamed into the pine and spruce that edged the slopes around the compact building. In spite of her troubled thoughts, Reba couldn't hold back a short intake of breath when she saw the color and richness of the land.
"Shame it's all got to be spoiled by ugly brutes of cows," she said.
"Not just the cows," McLane agreed.
Reba nodded, afraid to look at anything else lest Mel Cody appear. In her imagination, the man who'd tried to save her uncle had now reverted to the war-painted savages she'd encountered in dime novels.
"There's our man," McLane said and pointed off to the left.
Reba tried not to look but found her head coming about anyway. Mel Cody was striding across the long eastern slope, the long heft of an axe in his right hand, his cambric shirt tied loosely around his waist.
Reba tensed. McLane reached across and gripped her arm. "Cut him some slack," he said quietly. "It might not all go as badly as you think."
Reba shrugged from his touch. "It already is. I saw his eyes. The memory's come back. I didn't think it would."
"I told you, he's a good man, Reba. I know it," McLane said defensively.
"How can you know that? He didn't carry recommendations on him, did he?"
"Not all of us arrive with that, Reba. This is still a frontier, and there's other ways of reading a man. If you'll let me be blunt, ma'am, if you're aimin' to stay, maybe you should look at things as they actually are." Mel was close now, so he dropped the axe head to the ground and leaned on the heft. As the rig approached, he looked up at Reba and saw her blush of embarrassment
For Reba Church it was a curiously troubled moment. She was almost instantly moved by the contradiction of what she'd thought and what she saw.
"Hello there Mel. Miss Church has come to look at the house. You've been working off some aches, I see."
"Yeah, a few," Mel agreed, his eyes still on Reba. "But there's still a heap of work to do."
"Thank you for what you've done. What there's still to do . . . if you're interested . . . " Reba found herself saying, albeit haltingly. She tried again. "If you want the job for longer, I need the help."
Mel nodded in response. "I'll thank you for giving me the chance to stay, ma'am. Not for the work, though. I aim to earn my pay," he said.
* * *
McLane grinned indulgently. "You done good, Mel. But now we got things to talk about."
"It's going to get real hot out here. Why don't you get Miss Church's luggage, take her into the house, out of the sun an' away from them goddamn geese," Mel said. "I had some time an' made me a nest in the barn."
McLane considered Mel's choice of words, thought there might be another problem. He climbed down from the rig and offered a hand to Reba. Despite her obvious reluctance, he led her into the house. He could see she was uneasy and there were bits and pieces for her to look at. He left her there looking at what could be family mementos, then he returned to catch up with Mel who was lifting a pail of water onto a table outside the barn.
"You don't need to get close to sense the temperature she's blowing, Doc. So what exactly is it you've been telling her about me?" Mel asked.
"She's a draper's daughter, Mel. Young and impressionable too. She's not looked too long into this world. Give her time."
Mel shook his head. "She wants no part of this place, an' I reckon you knew it. But you want rid of Budge Miner so much, you ain't going to see it. That's what I think."
"Yeah, well that's as may be. But if that weren't enough, she lost her pa a few months back. There's no family left."
Mel held up and stared confusedly at McLane. "What the hell are you trying to do then? I thought doctors were supposed to help."
"They do. And that's exactly what I'm doing. Not just because somebody has to."
Using both hands, Mel rinsed his face. He rubbed his chest and shoulders, took a deep breath. "You better tell me then," he said, sputtering water.
"Casper Spool has always wanted the tail section of this spread, but Selwyn wasn't interested in selling.. So, accepting that Selwyn wasn't a cattle thief . . . which he wasn't, I reckon they killed him for it."
Mel untied his shirt. "How would they have got it?" he asked.
"A land sale . . . a settlement of property? I don't suppose there would have been any claim or opposition. But like most of us, Spool never reckoned on a niece turning up."
"Seems to me you're sending us out along a cracked branch on that reckoning Doc. What else you got on your mind?"
"Right now? those two riders," he said, nodding out at the green pasture.
Mel turned. A rider who was obviously running to fat was nearing the farm, sided by a grim-faced Budge Miner. Mel eyed them for a moment more, then stepped quickly into the barn. When he returned, he'd donned a long skin shirt. The Colt, which he placed on the table behind the water pail, was ready if needed.
"You going to throw pills, or do you prefer that I handle this?" Mel asked.
"I'm plum out of ammo, kid. You're on your own," McLane said with a friendly grin. "Let's move to the house to do our talking. That's Casper Spool riding with Miner and he knows better than to harm me. As for you Mel . . . ?" McLane let the words hang before continuing." Let me do the talking though. Maybe I can work my way round 'em."
They set off across the yard. Mel swore under his breath in aggravation. Miner and Spool were well out of the timber now and approaching the back of the house. McLane went on, but Mel held his ground. He stared hard at the two riders and saw the angry twitch of Miner's wounded jaw.
Spool gave a sharp signal with his right hand and Miner pulled his horse in behind his boss. Doc McLane stepped out from the front of the house with Reba alongside. She looked straight at Mel, and her eyes blazed when she saw he was now holding the gun down at his side.
Spool and his ramrod reined in, and the rancher removed his hat. He glanced speculatively at Mel before nodding at Reba.
"Ma'am. I guess you'll be Selwyn Church's niece," he said.
Spool gave a fleeting smile. "I'm Casper Spool," he said. "I'm known to the doc here, and vice versa, so we can get settled straightaway. Mine's the land that borders your lower slopes . . . the south boundary beyond the creek. It's regrettable what happened to your uncle, but—"
"Regrettable!" snapped McLane. "What in the name of God are you talking about? You sent those sons of bitches into town to gun down Selwyn. Four of 'em against one old man. Those always the sort of odds you go for, Spool?"
The muscles tightened in Spool's face and Budge Miner shifted in his saddle.
Mel leaned against the low veranda fence, placed his Colt on top of the hand rail. He deftly built himself a cigarette, but his casual stance suggested a man who'd just as soon hold a gun in his hand.
Spool prodded his horse a little closer to McLane. "This is between me and the girl. Butt out."
"That's where you're wrong, friend. You see, I'm advising and prescribing for Miss Church. And I will, until she says otherwise," McLane retorted. "She doesn't know you, and Selwyn was a friend of long standing. So I'm not going to stand by and let you cheat her out of this ranch or anything else."
Spool ground his teeth. "A thousand dollars isn't cheating. That's the deal I had with Selwyn . . . the deal he accepted. Now I'm offering fifteen hundred." Spool looked at Reba and smiled archly. "If you want to go on living here, that can be arranged. If you want to carry yourself with crops, play around with a horns-an'-bone herd, that can be arranged, too. But there's no percentage in being hasty about a thing like this. You can have until this evening."
"You're wasting your time, Spool. Yours, mine and hers. So why don't you take that bag of buffalo guts that rode in with you and go home."
Spool backed up his horse a few paces, and Miner came forward to join him.
"Don't push your luck, ol' feller," he threatened while taking a quick, sideways glance at Mel.
"Habit from most of a lifetime. It was something I learned at Chickamauga," McLane told him. "There was no other way then and no other way now. And talking of those who push their luck, why don't you clear off this land? There's some of us got work to do."
Mel flicked away his cigarette butt and flexed the fingers of his right hand. He was ready to move. Both Miner and Spool saw the slight movement.
"We taking ultimatums from these two, boss? An ol' quack an' a 'breed drifter?" Miner questioned sourly. "Why don't we teach 'em a lesson right here . . . deal with the girl after? She looks to me like a filly that don't like heat an' flies bothering her. Reckon she'd prefer town, with its comforts."
"If the lady wants you to stay, she'll invite you to get down. If not, she won't." Mel turned to Reba and asked, "You want 'em to stay, ma'am?"
Reba shook her head slowly. "No. I would prefer it if they left," she said.
Mel tensed like a mountain lion and his eyes gleamed. "You heard," he said with fearsome menace. "The lady's given her orders. Now why don't you an' manure mouth do as the doc suggests, an' ride off?"
"Yeah, why not? It's over, Spool. There's nothing more for you here." McLane said, and took Reba's arm, guiding her back along the short veranda. But Reba had begun to tremble at the ultimatums and she stopped when they got to the doorway.
"No," she protested. "I want to see what sort of neighbors they really are." Miner cursed and kicked a heel into the belly of his horse, grabbing for the revolver at his waist.
He'd hardly cleared the leather of his holster before Mel flashed his hand to his own Colt. In an instant, he had the blue steel barrel pointing up into Miner's startled, overwhelmed face.
The blur of movement brought a gasp then a low oath from Spool. "You're real adept with that gun, Mister Cody. Not your everyday plough chaser."
Mel smiled grimly at Miner, "Yeah I know. Must come as a real surprise. My pa once told me never to pull a gun unless I aimed to use it. He never told me about exceptions, though. I guess I'll have to learn as I go along. You want to risk it, you big, ugly son-of-a-bitch?"
Miner snorted loudly and shifted in his saddle. He was fighting down an urge to rush Mel, but it was a doomed challenge and his shoulders slumped. "There'll be another time, Cody," he muttered, drawing his hand away from the holster. "You ain't finished with me."
"Clear off," Mel said. "If there is a next time, I'll set the geese on you." He crooked his arm and, against his thumb, opened and closed the forefinger of his right hand, hissed between his teeth in goosey derision.
* * *
Mel stood watching as the Spool pair moved off. Not until they disappeared into the first stand of pine did he move away from the house. Without another word from Reba or Doc McLane, he'd heard the front door close. On his way to the barn, his forehead was creased. He knew there was going to be trouble with Miner, but it didn't overly concern him. He was bothered by the opinion Reba Church had formed of him. He was put out because she'd seemed to take it for granted that he'd fight for her. Perhaps he'd have to reconsider his position. He wasn't the only one who could close a door on something he didn't like the look of.
He went into the barn, was muttering as he climbed the ladder to his lofty lair.
Continued next month
After 25 years work in London's higher education sector, Carl Bernard was familiar with the customs of saloon
keepers, sodbusters, dudes and ranch hands who were up against institutional carpetbaggers, bank robbers,
tinhorns and crooked sheriffs. It didn't take much to transpose the setting and era, put everyone on a horse
and give 'em guns. When the end of the century approached and with a full cylinder of ready-made stories,
Carl took an early retirement. Under the names of Abe Dancer and Caleb Rand he started to write the first of
his fifty published titles.
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