October, 2021

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Issue #145

Welcome, Western Fans!

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

Trapper Jake and the Lost Canyon
by Holly Seal Kunicki
On a hunting trip Trapper Jake discovers an ancient world filled with great wealth. He now has a decision to make: will he fall prey to greed or heed the taboo warnings of the Indian Spirits who have vowed a terrible retribution to all interlopers?

* * *

Rogue Lawman
by Scott Howey
The polecats and owl hoots of Driftwood have had things their way for way too long—until a stranger comes to town. The stranger is challenged by Todd Griffin and his pardners. The winner will determine the future of Driftwood and its respectable citizens.

* * *

A Westward Adventure
by Robert L. Nelis
Follow the movement westward, with a young man who indentures himself in order to reach America. Can he find a way to reach his goals of starting a family and building a better life for himself and his future children? The Indians have something to say about that.

* * *

Dreaming of Pesach with the Last Bandito
by Peter Ullian
Acting on a tip in Yiddish, Detective Emil Harris, the only Jewish policeman in 1874 frontier Los Angeles, sets out to bring in the infamous bandito Tiburcio Vásquez. But when two more officers show up eyeing the reward money for themselves, things get complicated . . . and deadly.

* * *

The Lone Rider
by Ralph S. Souders
A teenage boy working in a general store meets an unknown rider who is tying his horse to the hitching post outside. This chance encounter will have unexpected ramifications for both the boy and the town.

* * *

by Russell Richardson
The robbery didn't go the way they'd planned. Now they were on foot, in the desert. They'd each started with a canteen of water, but Eduardo had lost his. Juarez was willing to share his water, but only for a price. Who says there's no honor among thieves?

* * *

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All the Tales

Dreaming of Pesach with the Last Bandito
by Peter Ullian

Historical note: Emil Harris was a real person, one of the first policemen in frontier Los Angeles in the 1870s, and the only Jew on the force at that time. Some events depicted in this story really happened. Others could have. Some are purely imaginative. In all three cases, creative liberties have been taken.

We were in the hallway on the third floor outside the recently opened grand hotel Casa de Pico. We were standing on either side of the door to room 31, behind which, we had reason to believe, we would find the bandit Three-Fingered Jack Dunleavy, possibly in the arms of one of our rare pueblo of Los Angeles beauties.

I stood to the right of the door, my Henry repeater rifle in my hands. My partner, George Gard, stood to the left, holding a Whitney twelve-gage. We both stood in the hallway in our stockinged feet, having left our boots in the lobby to minimize the possibility that the sound of our footfalls would alert our three-fingered quarry of our presence.

I pantomimed my instruction that we drop low, as Three-Fingered Jack was known to make often reckless use of a pepperbox pistol, which could often prove quite deadly, not to say wildly painful.

We crouched on either side of the door, and I counted silently on my fingers . . . one . . . two . . . 

Before I got to three, the door exploded and pellets flew across the hall and above our heads and embedded themselves in the painting that hung across the hall, which depicted a vista of Los Angeles from 1859 from the vantage of Fort Hill, overlooking the pueblo that at that time contained just over four thousand people.

Now, in 1874, the city was much bigger— we had recently reached six thousand residents, according to local officials.

I peeked through the hole in the jagged wood of the door, and I could see Jack sitting on his bed in his long-johns, trying to reload his pepperbox. He was indeed accompanied by a rare Angeleno beauty who sat beside him, regarding him with poorly concealed amusement, and wearing considerably less than long-johns, clothed, as she was, in only her natural splendor; I recognized her at once as Sadie "Angel Eyes" Margolis.

I kicked open the door, dived into the room in a rolling somersault, and came up at the foot of the bed, with my Henry pointed inches from Jack's face.

"Damnit!" Three-Fingered Jack cried. "Damnit all to hell and damnation! This ain't fair! This ain't fair at all! You didn't give me no kind of a chance whatsoever!"

"Jack, I'm not supposed to give you a chance, I'm supposed to take you into custody," I said, quite reasonably, I thought.

Muttering about how poorly life had treated him, Jack continued to clumsily attempt to reload his pepperbox, an outdated and cumbersome weapon, but the favorite of this notorious bandit, road agent, horse thief, and train robber.

I jacked the lever on my Henry, hoping that most fearsome and intimidating sound would assist in bringing Jack into a more subdued state of compliance.

"Jack," I said. "I have the drop on you. Please put up your hands so I am not forced to shoot you in the face."

That seemed to take some of the wind out of his sails. Jack raised his hands and looked at me with all the bravado of a beaten dog.

He was an unhandsome man, with broken teeth, a crooked nose, and the kind of beard that looked as if it had never quite fully grown in, although he was easily in his late thirties by this time. He looked at me with such pathetic eyes that I felt sorry for him and somewhat kindly disposed. He had piled up an impressive record of robbing stagecoaches in Los Angeles County, which made him primarily Sheriff Rowland's problem, but since he was now hiding out in the City of Los Angeles proper, that made him ours.

"He's got another gun under the sheets, Detective Harris," Sadie said to me in Yiddish, as she pulled a Colt Dragoon from under the covers and handed it to me.

"Don't give him my pistol, you damned silly woman," Jack said.

I gently took the pistol from her. The Colt Dragoon is a cumbersome, heavy weapon, but it packs a wallop when used either as a firearm or a club.

"I'd have shot you when you came through that door, but this damnable pepperbox keeps discharging all its six barrels at once, instead of just one at a time," Jack said, sulkily. "So, that necessitated for me to reload, which cost me precious time."

"Why didn't you use the Dragoon?" I asked. I did not want to encourage better defensive measures on his part when next I came to bring him to justice, but I did not expect there to be a next time, given the crimes he was accused of. He had never killed a man as far as I knew, but he had parted so many of them from their purses and so many coaches from their strongboxes that I saw very little hope for him when he appeared before Judge Widney.

"I prefer the pepperbox to the Dragoon," he said, his forehead furrowed, as if the question mystified him. "The Dragoon is a weighty and incommodious weapon. I'd have killed you right good and proper if my pepperbox hadn't misfired."

"I wouldn't have let him kill you, Detective Harris," said Sadie kindly, again in Yiddish. "You have always been good to me."

Jack glared at her. Although I doubted he understood Yiddish, he did find suspicious the easy manner Sadie and I had with one another. "He your pimp?" he growled at her. "I wish you woulda told me your pimp was a Los Angeles Police Detective."

"I am not her pimp, sir," I said, quietly but firmly, and in English. "That is an offensive suggestion."

"Why, Detective Harris ain't no pimp, you fiddle-headed bottom-feeder," Sadie said, also in English for Jack's benefit.

"I just bet he ain't," said Jack, doubtfully.

I should like to pause this narrative for a moment here to clarify that I am neither a pimp nor a frequenter of the services of prostitutes. I am trusted and well-regarded among the Sporting Ladies of Los Angeles, but that is precisely because I am not a pimp nor a frequenter of their services, unlike several Los Angeles city and county lawmen I could name but choose not to. I endeavor to be a fair and just policeman, and while I am far from perfect, I am not corrupt.

"I never thought you'd come for Jack at Pico House," Sadie said to me, again in Yiddish, as George put our prisoner in shackles. "I thought for certain you'd be in Sonoratown looking for Tiburcio Vásquez."

George and I exchanged a glance. He did not understand or speak Yiddish, as I did, he being a gentile and me a Jew; but he recognized the name: Tiburcio Vásquez was the most-wanted man in California at that time, a price on his head of $6000 dead and $8000 if taken alive. Neither one of us had any idea he was in Los Angeles.

"Well," I replied to Sadie, also in Yiddish. "We can't be everywhere all at once, can we?"

"I suppose his girl must have paid you off, you damn pimp," Jack grumbled. He too recognized the name Tiburcio Vásquez amidst the Yiddish. Tiburcio Vásquez was the name that was on everybody's lips in the Spring of that year. "I guess if la Coneja paid me off, I'd look the other way, too."

La Coneja was a renowned Californio beauty and Sporting Woman who worked out of Sonoratown. She was rumored to be the favorite of Vásquez, who was renowned as much for his amorousness as his outlawry.

George and I exchanged another glance.

George raised an eyebrow.

I thought it over.

Perhaps it was the lack of sleep interfering with my sober judgement; we had staked out the Bell Union Hotel all the last night previous, in the mistaken belief that Three-Fingered Jack was staying there. Then, when we discovered our error, we had spent all the day and into the next evening setting about to correct it, and find our fugitive. So, we had not slept and perhaps should not have made the decision that we did.

But we made it.

I looked at George and nodded my agreement.

George unlocked one of the shackles that bound Jack's wrists, strung the chain through the headboard, and then re-shackled Jack's free wrist. The desperado was now chained to the bed frame.

"What's all this about?" Jack inquired.

"We'll be taking these, Jack," I said, gathering up his weapons. "We hope you've learned your lesson. A life of crime and excess can only lead to ruination."

Jack shrugged. "I already lost two fingers to a life of crime," he said. "I guess you're right at that. I wouldn't like to lose no more."

"We will be back to take you to the jail house," I said. "But first we have some business to attend to in Sonoratown."

Three-Fingered Jack was a worthy arrest, but Tiburcio Vásquez was another thing entirely.

* * *

It was a fine Spring evening as we made our way to Sonoratown, our boots back upon our feet. Sonoratown was only a block North of Pico House, which was in turn on the Plaza de Los Ángeles. The scent of primrose, nightshade, and California buckeye wafted by on a temperate breeze, competing with the brine off the Pacific, and with the stench of horse piss and beer, odors which pervaded much of the city.

Sonoratown was a neighborhood of mostly old adobe houses, many of them from the days before the American conquest when the flag of Mexico still flew above el Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles, or the Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels, as it was then known. The neighborhood got its name from the flood of Mexicans who went North to pan for gold, and who returned South when their claims went bust, or when they were kicked off of them by unscrupulous whites. Many returned to Mexico, but some settled in Los Angeles, in the neighborhood North of the Plaza. Not all of the Mexican 49ers were from Sonora, but many of them were. They joined the Californios, the original California-born Mexican residents, already living there.

The Sonoratown residents were naturally suspicious of whites, and I could not blame them for that. But even here, I had my confidants.

At the intersection of Ord and North Main Street, George waited outside while I stepped into Diego's Cantina, and greeted its proprietor, Diego Salinas, a Mexican Jew, in Ladino, the language of Jews from Spanish-speaking countries.

I speak English, Spanish, German, Yiddish, and Ladino. I am also friendly with the residents of Chinatown, whose persons I attempted to defend, with only partial success, during the horrific Chinatown Massacre in 1871, although I do not speak their languages. These associations, of language and friendship, have assisted me in securing the return of stolen goods and apprehending fugitives, because there is always someone from one of those communities who knows something useful.

Securing information that would lead us to the capture of Vásquez, however would prove unusually elusive.

"I know why you're here, Detective," Diego said.

"Why am I here then, friend?" I replied.

"You are here to find Tiburcio Vásquez."

I frowned. "Does everybody know where Vásquez is hiding except for the Los Angeles police?"

Diego shrugged. "Everyone in Sonoratown does. And not one of them will tell you where he's hiding. Vásquez is a great hero to everyone here. He defends the rights of Sonorans, Mexicans, and Californios against the oppression of the norteamericanos."

This perplexed me. "He's a common highwayman," I said.

Diego raised an eyebrow. "What is the conquest of California by the norteamericanos if not common highway robbery, dressed up in flags and banners?"

When California became American, I was still in Prussia, and barely a decade into my life, so I did not have deeply considered opinions on the subject. Still, I could imagine that what to me, a poor Jewish immigrant from Europe, had seemed like the land of opportunity, could well have seemed like a stolen opportunity to a poor Jewish immigrant from Sonora like Diego.

"I suppose this means you are declining to tell me where he is hiding?" I said.

"I cannot," Diego said, sadly. "I also hope you will take your leave of Sonoratown and refrain from seeking him out. He is an excellent marksman and has escaped many a lawman's best efforts."

"You know I cannot do that, Diego," I said.

"Then I wish you good health, my friend," Diego said. "But I cannot wish you success in this endeavor. Even so, I hope you come through it unscathed."

* * *

"Why, that damn Sonoran swindler," George said, when I reported my conversation with Diego. "Why, we oughta place him under arrest for the obstruction of the execution of our lawful duties."

"Never mind about that," I said. "If we don't know where to find Vásquez, I think I know where we can find la Coneja. Perhaps one will lead to the other."

* * *

We were only a few blocks from Diego's Cantina when we were accosted by both City Marshal William C. Warren, who was not only in charge of the by-now-twelve-man Los Angeles police department, but who also had the dubious distinction of being both a scoundrel and a fool, alongside Special Officer Joseph Franklin Dye, who was among one of the most unscrupulous characters yet to serve as a Los Angeles policeman. Dye had been a member of the murderous Mason-Henry Gang during the War, and as a policeman cared much more for reward money than he did for his civic duty.

They were accompanied by Warren's sycophantic deputy, Jacob F. Jerkins, a small bespectacled man with a talent for taking notes and saying "yes sir" on cue.

"Now see here, Harris and Gard, what are you doing in Sonoratown?" Marshal Warren demanded.

Jerkins looked at us severely, aping his superior's disposition.

"We are patrolling the streets, and keeping the peace," I said. "I believe that is in our job description."

"Well, get the hell out of Sonoratown," Dye said, waving his walking stick at us menacingly. "If you know what's good for you."

I did not relish being threatened by such a poor excuse for a policeman as Joe Dye. I was severely tempted to snatch that walking stick out of his hand and break it over his head. But I let it pass for the sake of expediency.

"Yes, go, and go now . . . unless you know the whereabouts of Tiburcio Vásquez," the Marshal said. "That being the case, I order you to share said information with me, and with dispatch."

I was not certain how Warren had learned of Vásquez's presence in Sonoratown. Warren had never made much effort to garner the kind of trust among Angelenos that would have made him privy to such a secret, even if that secret appeared to be very much an open one. I suppose it was possible he had beaten or intimidated a suspect for the information. Certainly, if Joe Dye had been by his side, such an approach was likelier than not.

Regardless of how he had come about it, here he was.

"I do not know the whereabouts of Tiburcio Vásquez," I said, which was not a lie— I did not know where Vásquez was hiding . . . even if I had a pretty good idea where to find la Coneja. "Do you have reason to believe he is in Sonoratown?" I asked, innocently.

"Of course not!" Marshal Warren exclaimed.

"You'd better not get in our way, Harris," Dye said, waving his walking stick again. "If you know what's good for you!"

At that moment I felt what would have been most good for me was to punch Dye in his bullying face, but I resisted.

"Get in your way?" I asked, tamping down my wroth and playing the innocent. "Get in your way whilst you are doing what, exactly?"

Warren and Dye exchanged glances.

"You just move yourselves on out of Sonoratown," the Marshal said.

"Yes sir," I said.

They began to move down Ord Street together, Dye turning around periodically to glower at me and wave his walking stick threateningly, while Jerkins turned to wag a finger at me menacingly.

We waited until they had turned a corner and disappeared.

"They are going in the wrong direction," I said. "Let's get moving before they figure that out."

"Then we're not leaving Sonoratown?" George asked.

"Certainly not," I said. "Law must be enforced and justice upheld. We can't rely on that trio to do it, can we?"

* * *

We reached our destination and walked quietly down a dimly-lantern-lit alleyway towards one of the few two-storied adobes in the neighborhood, in which I believed la Coneja to reside. Despite our stealth, however, a second-floor window opened, a pistol that appeared to be a Navy Colt manifested itself, and two shots were fired in quick succession, blowing out clods of dirt at our feet, leaving billowing dust clouds in the street before us.

George and I drew our weapons and returned fire clumsily as we charged towards the elevated wooden sidewalk to our right, taking cover behind some formidable wooden barrels, filled with what we knew not, but which we hoped would prove adequate to our purpose.

"Emil Harris?" called a voice from the second floor.

George looked at me in perplexity. "Vásquez knows you by name?" he said.

"I've never met the man," I said.

"Emil Harris?" the voice repeated. "My name is Tiburcio Vásquez." He spoke with elegant diction and an upper-class Californio accent.

"I know your name," I said. "We wouldn't be here if we didn't know who you are. How do you know me?"

"La Coneja has only kind things to say about you," he called. "She says unlike your partner, George Gard, you are neither corrupt nor stupid."

"Hey!" George cried. "I ain't corrupt at all! You tell him that, Emil! Tell him I ain't never took no dime I wasn't owed proper!"

I bade George to maintain his silence.

"I appreciate la Coneja's compliments," I said, "but how does that bear upon our present circumstances?"

"I would like to appeal to you on a more elevated level than that with which banditos and lawmen normally converse," he said. "You are a Jew, I am told?"

"You are correct," I confirmed.

"Then surely, you must see the parallels between the story of your Judah Maccabeus and my own struggle?" he said.

I was surprised and somewhat flattered that Vásquez knew anything at all of the traditions of my people. I wondered for a moment why he attempted to appeal to me through the story of Hanukkah, which was still far off in the coming Fall, instead of Pesach, or Passover, which was just around the corner, as we were already well into the Spring. Perhaps he was not familiar with the Jewish calendar; or perhaps he simply found the story of Judah Maccabeus a closer parallel.

Either way, flattered as I was, I found such a parallel to be a bit of a stretch, and I told him so.

"But Emil," he said, using my given name in a show of familiarity, "Judah Maccabeus fought against the oppressive Hellenistic Seleucid Imperial Hegemony that sought to crush not only the political independence of your Hebraic ancestral nation, but also to destroy your very culture. The story of this rebellion against the oppressor forms the basis for your festival of Hanukkah, does it not?"

I confessed to him that it does.

"Do you not see the parallels to the norteamericanos efforts to crush not only Californio political power," Vásquez said, "but our very identity?"

"What in tarnation is he on about?" George whispered to me.

I confess I thought Vásquez had a point, and I told him so. "How do you know so much about the stories of my tribe?" I asked.

"I am an educated man, Emil," said Vásquez. "I am not the ignorant desperado you imagine me to be, although I am friend to the ignorant and the educated both, to both the patrician and the peasant, and very generous with my dinero towards those in need."

"I don't imagine you to be an ignorant desperado, and I commend you on your generosity, even if you are being generous with ill-gotten gains," I said.

"But Emil," Vásquez said. "What is California to the norteamericanos but an ill-gotten gain?"

I thought Vásquez again had another point, and again I told him so. "But Tiburcio," I said. "Men have been killed in your efforts."

"But not by me," Vásquez said. "Never once by me. I have never killed even one man, although I have known many that were deserving."

"But men have been killed by your men in your unlawful endeavors, Tiburcio," I said. "Which makes their deaths every bit as much on your head as on those of the men who pulled the trigger. So, even if I could overlook your theft of property and cash— which, as a lawman, I cannot— how can I overlook the taking of human life in the exercise of criminal activity?"

"Did your Judah Maccabeus not take human life?" Tiburcio said. "Did he not kill Hellenistic Jews as well as Seleucids?"

"Well, yes," I admitted. "But that probably was not the most prudent tactic. It led to years more conflict before independence was achieved."

"But independence was achieved," Vásquez pointed out.

"But only after the death of Judah Maccabeus," I countered.

"Are you saying my people will only be free after my death?" Vásquez said. He sounded for the first time uncertain.

"I cannot speak to that," I said. "But I think we both know that the age of banditos such as yourself is coming to an end."

This point was met with silence.

"Why don't we just blast our way in there, for the love of God?" George said, impatiently.

"Vásquez is said to be extraordinarily good with a pistol," I said. "Do you really want to abandon our cover?"

"Well, how do you propose we bring him in, then?" George asked.

"I am in the process of working that out," I said.

"Emil," Vásquez called. "La Coneja says you are an honorable man."

"I do my best," I confessed.

"If she comes out to you do you promise me she will come to no harm, and you will allow her to walk away from here? This conflict does not involve her."

"You have my word," I said.

George whispered in my ear. "He obviously cares about the woman," he said. "We should hold her with a gun to her head until he surrenders."

"Absolutely not, George," I said.

"You are a damn stubborn man, Emil," George grumbled.

"I know it," I said. "It is in my nature."

La Coneja emerged from the door to the adobe. She wore a colorful dress in the Mexican style, red with printed yellow and light blue flowers embroidered around the shoulders and at the hem. Her hair, long and lustrous and black, cascaded down her shoulders. She was tall and long-limbed, and with a high forehead and a thin, elegant nose.

"My gosh," George said. "She is quite the rare beauty, ain't she? Why do they call her la Coneja? Don't that mean "rabbit?"

I confessed to George that I did not know how she had obtained that particular moniker. Then I handed him my pistol and my Henry and Three-Finger Jack's Dragoon and pepperbox and walked out into the street with my hands raised.

"I am unarmed, Tiburcio," I said. "I am at your mercy."

"I have no desire to do you harm, Emil," Tiburcio said. "Only to ensure that no harm comes to la Coneja."

As la Coneja came towards me, I got my first good look at Tiburcio Vásquez as he stood in the open second-floor window, shirtless and handsomely proportioned, dark hair swept back on his head, a trim mustache above a strong and pleasant mouth. I could well see why his reputation as an outlaw was rivaled only by his reputation as a lover.

When la Coneja, this rare Californio beauty, reached me, she said, "Emil, you must not harm Tiburcio."

"I hope not to," I said. "But the matter is not entirely in my hands. Tiburcio will have to surrender if no harm is to come to him."

"Tiburcio will never surrender," she said. "He is not that kind of man."

"As much as I admire his courage," I said, "I have a duty to apprehend him."

"But he means so much to the Californios," la Coneja said. "He is a hero."

No sooner had she said this than I heard the unwelcome blustering voice of City Marshal William C. Warren, who came barreling down the alley towards us, Jerkins struggling to keep up, Dye conspicuously absent.

"Now, what the hell is going on here, Harris?" Warren demanded. "Who is that woman?"

"I have granted her safe passage from the scene," I explained.

"The scene of what? Is that Vásquez up there?" he said, looking at the open window. "I ordered you to tell me if you knew where he was hiding!"

"Hello, Marshal Warren," said Vásquez. "I have my gun sights trained on you as we speak."

"Vásquez!" Warren growled. "Surrender yourself!"

"Thank you for the suggestion," said Vásquez, "But I don't think I will, even so."

Warren took hold of la Coneja by the arm. "Is this your woman?" he shouted. "You come out here now with your hand raised if you don't wish to see any harm come to her."

"Emil!" Vásquez shouted. "You gave me your word!"

"I have guaranteed this woman safe passage, sir," I told the Marshal.

"She'll have her passage," Marshal Warren said. "When I have Vásquez."

The Marshal drew his pistol.

"Emil!" Vásquez shouted.

I knew I had to act quickly before Vásquez shot us both down, leaving only George Gard hiding behind a wooden barrel and Jacob F. Jerkins standing helpless in the middle of the alley, while la Coneja made her escape.

I punched Warren in the face.

He dropped his pistol and let go of la Coneja's arm.

"Run," I told her.

And she ran to the mouth of the alley, turned the corner, and was gone.

Warren sat in the dirt, his hand to his nose.

"Goddamn you, Harris!" he shouted. "I will bring you up on administrative charges for that!" He turned to Jerkins. "Write him up on administrative charges!"

Jerkins scribbled angrily in his notepad.

I shrugged. "I did what I had to do," I said. "You do what you must."

"Thank you, Emil," Vásquez shouted.

Warren picked up his pistol and got to his feet. "Are you in league with this desperado?" he said, pointing to the window.

"Certainly not," I replied. "I resent the suggestion."

"You're a haughty one, Harris," Warren said, holstering his six-shooter. "We'll see if the Common Council's committee on police will take you down a notch or two when you go before them to answer charges of having assaulted your City Marshal!"

"What in hell is going on here, Warren?" shouted a voice from the mouth of the alley.

I turned and saw Special Officer Joseph Dye marching towards us, waving his walking stick in the air.

"Warren!" Dye shouted as he approached. "Are you attempting to take in the bandito without me and claim all the reward for yourself? Is that why you gave me the slip on Ord Street? What do you intend to do in regard to this matter? I want my money!"

"I don't want anything to do with you!" Warren replied.

"But you have defrauded me!" Dye said.

"You're a damned dirty liar!" Warren said.

Dye had reached us and raised his walking stick as if to bring it down upon Warren's head.

Although Warren had holstered his six-shooter, he raised his arm and fired a derringer pistol he had evidently concealed in his hand.

The shot struck Dye in the forehead but seemed to glance off his skull. Dye, stunned, put his hand to his forehead and stared in amazement at the blood on his palm when he took his hand away.

The two men looked at each other, murderously, teeth bared.

Seeing what was coming, I dove out of the way.

The two men drew and emptied their pistols at one another. Neither man was a very good marksman, and bullets flew in all directions, all over the alley. I saw one smash a lantern. I saw another explode into the dirt right near my own head. I heard the sound of another smash into the barrel behind which George cowered. I heard a tinkle of glass from the window where Vásquez looked down upon us, and wondered if he had been hit. I saw the hat on Jerkins' head fly off with a hole in its brim.

"I am killed!" Warren shouted, suddenly.

I got to my feet and found Warren on the ground, one hand holding his groin, the other dry firing at Dye, who stood above him, dry firing back at Warren.

Jerkins stood to one side, aghast but uninjured.

I strode to Dye and punched him in his jaw, knocking him to the ground.

George stood beside me then, pointing his Whitney at Dye.

"Hell and damnation," George said. "The two of them have made a bloody mess of things."

Warren was moaning, holding his wound, which was bleeding quite freely.

Dye looked up at me, enraged. "I'll teach you to hit me, you damn dirty Jew," he said.

"You don't have to teach me," I said. "I already know how."

Then I picked up Dye's walking stick and broke it across his crown, thereby subduing him so we could take him into custody for shooting the Marshal and also so I would no longer have to listen to him shout oaths and epitaphs and insults at our persons.

I instructed George to shackle Dye to a post so he could not flee, and commanded Jerkins to find a surgeon for Warren with the most urgent dispatch, for he would surely die of his wounds if they were not attended to with all possible alacrity.

Then I retrieved my pistol and my Henry and started towards the adobe.

"Where are you going?" George asked.

"I'm going to take Vásquez into custody," I said.

"But he will surely kill you, Emil," George said.

"Well, let's hope for the best, then," I said.

I jacked the lever on my Henry and marched to the front door of the adobe. I kicked it open and entered the first floor, sweeping first right and then left. Satisfied Vásquez was not on the first floor, I climbed the stairs to the second.

The glass in the window from which Vásquez had called to us was indeed smashed, but Vásquez was not in the room.

I rushed to a door at the back of the room. It led out onto a small, wooden landing, and a set of stairs that led to another alley behind the house.

At the end of the alley, I saw Vásquez, running. He had thrown on a shirt, but it hung loose and open and billowed about him as he ran.

I took aim with the Henry.

Vásquez, at the mouth of the alley, stopped, turned to me, and tipped his sombrero.

The gesture was so unexpected that I hesitated.

And then he was around the corner and gone.

Tiburcio Vásquez had escaped.

* * *

George helped carry Warren to the surgeon's and then dragged a shackled Dye to the city jail, while I returned to contend with Three-Fingered Jack.

Back at Pico House, Jack was snoring, still beside Sadie Margolis, also sleeping. Jack was still shackled to the bed.

I felt suddenly very tired. I sat down heavily on the mattress beside Sadie, taking a deep breath.

Sadie stirred.

"Hello, Emil," she said, again in Yiddish. "Did you capture Vásquez?"

I told her I had not.

I was still perplexed by my failure to pull the trigger when I had him dead-to-rights. I supposed while I would happily have taken him in, killing him, while it may have been within my rights as a lawman . . . it simply did not feel right.

However, I said none of this to Sadie.

"Are you here for Jack, then?" she asked.

I told her I was.

She regarded him sadly as he lay there snoring. "Do you suppose they will hang him?"

I shrugged and confessed my ignorance. "It depends on how Judge Widney is feeling that day, I suppose," I said.

"He's not a bad sort, Jack," Sadie said. "His breath is sweet for a desperado, and he bathes whenever he gets into town."

"Perhaps the judge will have mercy on account of his good hygiene," I said, and yawned.

"Here, lie down," she said, patting the mattress beside her. "Jack's not going anywhere."

I was tempted, but attempted resistance. "I think that would be compromising, Sadie," I said.

"I promise I won't compromise you in any way," Sadie said. "I won't even touch you. I'll just lie here beside you."

The invitation seemed too good to pass up. I removed my boots and stretched out on the bed beside Sadie, who stretched out beside Jack, who snored.

"You just catch some winks and dream sweet dreams and when you awake, Jack will be right here, waiting for you to take him to jail," said Sadie.

* * *

I was asleep before I knew it and I did dream, but I don't know if my dreams were sweet.

I dreamed it was Pesach, or Passover, and I was just opening the door to symbolically invite inside the prophet Elijah.

And standing at my doorstep was Tiburcio Vásquez.

I told him he made a surprising manifestation of the prophet Elijah.

He agreed, and then asked me if it were not true that on Passover, every Jew had an obligation to feed those in want who came to their doors.

I admitted that it was true.

He asked me if I was going to invite him inside, then.

I did, and we sat down at my dining table with Sadie, Diego, la Coneja, George, and Three-Fingered Jack.

And together we ate the Pesach meal, and promised to meet next year in Jerusalem.

The End

Peter Ullian's post-apocalypse, post-pandemic, near future neo-Western, The Last Electric House, is published by Swamp Angel Press. He is the author of short stories that have appeared in Cemetery Dance Magazine, Hardboiled Magazine, Frontier Tales Magazine, and the DAW Books Anthology Star Colonies. He was the 2019-2020 Poet Laureate of Beacon, New York. His poetry has been published in anthologies and periodicals and nominated for the hysling Award and the Pushcart Prize. "Dreaming of Pesach with the Last Bandito" is the first story in his projected historical fiction series inspired by real-life Jewish lawman of the 19th century Western Frontier.

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