"We're a kind caring town Lord," said Preacher John. "I never thought I'd have to apologize for our town, but here lies the boy we as a town vowed to protect. A good boy, left to us by his wonderful parents when they were taken by the pox. We were negligent in that vow."
Having to take a moment to gather himself he continued.
"Expecting the Sheriff to be the only protection in town was a mistake, one that cost us, dear Billy. Bow your heads and let us pray, Lord we lay to rest Billy O'Donnell to take into your loving arms, please see to it he finds his parents, he missed them so. Lord if you looking for good boys then you have to look no further than Billy, his was the best of boys. We ask you to forgive us our sins and stupidity, in Christ's name we pray . . . amen."
"I should have realized that drifter was no good when he rode up to the bank," said the Sheriff
As they walked from the gravesite the Mayor tried to quell the Sheriff's self-judgments.
"Sheriff, if you rousted everyone that rode into town, no one would ever ride into our town," The Mayor said in a tone that chastised him for sounding absurd.
"I still feel like I let us . . . let him down."
"We all let him down," said the Mayor.
"What do we do now Mayor?" said, Josie the Schoolmarm, trying to keep up with the two men and their determined stride.
"We'll discuss that tomorrow at the town meeting but the first thing we're going to do is get rid of that stupid, no guns in town law."
* * *
The room was filled with furious town folk barking out suggestions as the meeting opens.
"Sheriff, are you going to track down that killer or not?" A resident said.
"I'm not a tracker and neither are any of you, we need someone who's a professional at this sort of thing," said the Sheriff.
"Do you mean a bounty hunter?"
"Let's come to order," shouted the Mayor as he repeatedly pounded the gavel.
The crowd slowly simmered down as the Mayor opened the meeting.
"As Mayor of Black Rock, I move to dissolve that damn gun law and suggest we hire a bounty hunter!"
The townsfolk leaped to their feet shouting their approval.
"That's the first time we all agreed to spend money," said the Mayor as he beat the gavel again.
"Who we gonna get?" Someone said.
Pointing at the door the Mayor said," Him."
The unexpectedly silent meeting hall, startled as the door banged open. In walked a tall man, grizzled and dusty.
"James Kirker," he said with a thinning Scots/Irish accent as he stepped up to the podium spurs clanking against the floorboards.
Kirker was notorious as a hired Indian killer, a scoundrel for sure, but he was well known for tracking and killing men without caring who or where they came from. Kirker was a big man, quick to fight, agile, and skilled with knife and gun. The people of Black Rock rarely associated with the likes of Kirker, but were willing to make an exception in this case.
"We'll bring your child killer to justice," not that he really cared much about justice as long as there was a payday attached to it. Kirker tipped his hat and walked out tall and straight with a wink to an attractive gal standing at the door opening as he pass through.
Once outside the Mayor got face to face with Kirker, "you bring him back dead, I'm not going to have a hanging spectacle in this good town.
"Ok, dead it is," said Kirker. "Spybuck, let's go kill this guy," acknowledging his Shawnee tracker waiting on the stoop.
Spybuck shook his head up and down once and handed Kirker his reins. As the two rode through town they were confronted by a big-chested blacksmith, coal dirty and holding a horseshoe.
"Bounty hunter," He said. "That horse that outlaw is riding is my boy's, he stole it on his way out of town, it has a bar shoe like this (holding up the shoe), might help you some tracking, I'd like to get that horse back if I can, my boy is heartbroken and set afoot."
"Was there any water on that horse?"
"No," said that Blacksmith.
Kirker acknowledged the help with a nod and rode on.
After the meeting adjourned, the cemetery groundskeeper approached the Mayor.
"Mayor, what are we to do with the boy's animal? He's been lying on the boy's grave ever since we buried him, won't budge an inch."
"Poor guy, he sure loved that boy. Leave him alone, he'll get hungry and be looking for some scraps soon, make sure he gets all he can eat when he does."
"Sure thing Mayor."
* * *
"That bar shoe sure stands out Spybuck," said Kirker leaning off his mustang pointing at the tracks.
"He easy to follow Kirker," said, Spybuck.
"I don't think those folks would have hired us if it weren't for that little nipper getting caught in the crossfire, you get me close enough for my Hawkens and we'll make this a quick payday."
After a few days of tracking the outlaw, they began to notice wolf-like tracks following the outlaw.
"Looks like, we're not the only one following this guy. He has to be on the dodge somewhere up ahead," said Kirker.
The tracks lead them over a plateau and down in a valley heading toward an abandoned homestead when a shot rang out hitting the dirt fifty yards in front of them.
"Must be a pistol, it comes up short," said Spybuck.
Kirker showed little concern as he stepped off his mustang.
"Time for a little practice," Kirker said, as pulled his Hawkens from its scabbard, sprinkled some dirt in the air, and said.
"About three hundred yards, I'd say."
"Maybe more," said Spybuck.
Kirker pulled his horse's head around and dropped the reins. His shiny brass butt plate on his Hawkens rifle glistened in the early light as he laid it over his cavalry saddle.
"Shall we knock?" Kirker chuckled.
Spybuck smiled just before the big fifty caliber's boom echoed through the valley, shattering half the door of the homestead into pieces.
"Knock, knock," said Kirker.
* * *
Surprised by the blast from Kirker's rifle the outlaw rolled his shoulder away from the door and pulled the splinters from the gash in the side of his face. In a panic, he jumped out the window at the rear of the cabin and whipped his horse down a ravine and away for the onslaught.
"Who the hell are those guys?" The outlaw yelled as he fled the area. "How the hell did they find me so fast?" He grimaced.
Spybuck crept around the backside of the cabin as Kirker approached the front.
"Him gone," said Spybuck.
"There's a little blood here inside the door, we must have hurt him some." Kirker smelt his fingertips after touching some blood spots.
"Tracks lead down a ravine in back," Spybuck said as he pointed outback.
"Not very hospitable is he? And we came all this way to invite him to a funeral." Kirker said with a smile.
Kirker and Spybuck dropped down into the ravine behind the homestead as Spybuck pointed to the tracks.
"Spybuck, is that those wolf tracks again following him?"
"Not wolf, big dog," said Spybuck.
"Wolf . . . dog, whatever it is we may have to shoot it if gets in our way.
* * *
Hiding in a stand of trees, the outlaw peers down his escape path, hoping they aren't close enough to make him ride off again, exhausted and breathing hard, his heart beating loud in his ears. Still looking down the path he sees the dog.
"What the hell? Where'd that dog come from?" He said to himself.
The outlaw watched the big dog sniffing his way toward him.
"They must be using that damn dog to find me. I'm gonna shoot him if he gets close enough."
A few moments later the dog abruptly stops, sits down, and looks in the outlaw's direction.
"Come on you fleabag just a little closer . . . "
Seemingly privy to the outlaw's pistol range the dog began to pace back and forth never moving closer but drawing all of the outlaw's attention.
"How does he even know I'm here? I'm downwind, no way he could know, but there he is looking over here, staying just out of range."
Hurriedly traversing a rocky hillside in hopes of throwing off his pursuers the outlaw rode in the general direction of a well-known spring, he hadn't had water in days. When Kirker and Spybuck reached the tree stand, they couldn't help but notice the dog's pacing tracks.
"The dog waits," said, Spybuck.
"It seems like the dog is keeping his distance, smart dog," said Kirker.
"Look, the dog stops on the side of the hill," said, Spybuck
"You're right my friend, that's a big dog, and it seems we have a guide."
Spybuck motioned his pony toward the hill with Kirker in tow, when another shot rings out, this time falling just short of the dog.
"Damn, I missed." Said, the outlaw thoroughly disgusted at his inability to kill the dog.
The outlaw's horse was lathered in sweat and breathing heavily as he reached the crest of his escape route.
Kirker and Spybuck paused halfway up the hill so Kirker could tighten his saddle and talk about their next move.
Kirker flicked his head giving Spybuck direction. "Maybe you could drop down over there along that deer trail and come up the backside. If he's headed to Sanchez spring you'll be behind him and maybe get a shot if he's lying in wait," said, Kirker.
The outlaw was counting on a water source at the homestead but the well was dried up and now the autumn sun beat fiercely on horse and rider. The old pinto he stole during the bank robbery, never had to travel more than a couple of miles to town carrying a young boy, now had to carry a man and was now being whipped into days of drudging over difficult terrain with no water.
"Come on you nag get moving," said, the outlaw as he spurred bloody holes in the old mare's sides.
"I sure picked the wrong getaway horse."
As Kirker reached the top to be joined by Spybuck there was no longer any question, the outlaw was headed for Sanchez spring.
"He's eight days without water, I don't think he'll make it, not at this pace, it's still a three-day ride," said, Kirker
"Look here, the horse went down, must have whipped him back up, he's almost done," said Spybuck.
Kirker and Spybuck picked up the pace hoping to end it sooner than later. As they crossed the next meadow they could see the fallen mare just at the entrance to the badlands, an area of steep canyons and towering spires.
Kirker peeled back the pinto's lip for a look in her mouth when they reached her.
"She's gone, such a shame must have been a good horse to endure all that."
The mare knickered a last gasp before Spybuck put her out of her misery.
"The dog still follows" Said, Spybuck pointing.
"Let's be a little wary in these canyons, it's an easy place for an ambush."
"Off their horses now and watchfully making the way through the canyon, stopping periodically to listen and check tracks.
"He's wandering around in circles." Said Spybuck
"Yup, he's surely away in the mind now.
The outlaw, dizzy and delusional was wandering around aimlessly, incoherently babbling about the dog. He finally decided to tuck himself up under an outcropping to get out of the heat. He could hear the dog panting and circling his position, quickly jerking his pistol from head to toe and back again, hoping to get a shot at the dog.
"Come on you mutt, come and get me," he hollered. A low guttural growl seemingly emanated from every rock as the dog dashed back and forth.
Kirker and Spybuck could hear stones clicking down the canyon walls as they expelled from the dog's paws. An agonizing scream and three or four shots put them on alert. "Stop no!" screamed the outlaw. Slowly they advanced on the source of the scream. Expecting a firefight they approached with guns drawn only to find the outlaw ripped to shreds, even Spybuck seemed taken back at the sheer viciousness of the attack, the body lay in several pieces randomly flung around as if he'd been attacked by a bear.
"Our guide didn't seem to like him much," said, Kirker with a large amount of sarcasm.
"What do we do now?" said, Spybuck.
"Roll up the big pieces in that canvas and lash it to the mule. They said dead, he doesn't get much deader than that."
* * *
The church bell rang as they rode into town near dusk with seemingly everyone surrounding the bounty hunters as they cut the body from the mule.
"Let the party begin," said the Mayor.
Soon the whole town was dancing and drinking in the lantern-lit town square. Having split their bounty and drunk all the free beer and whiskey they could handle, the two relaxed in tilted back chairs when Spybuck pointed at a dog sitting not ten feet away that looked just like the killer dog that guided them.
"Who owns that dog? That's a vicious killer dog," Kirker said to the Mayor with a drunken slur.
"Viscous? That's little Billy's dog, the nicest dog you'd ever want to meet."