Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
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Gon Fer Gud Banthar
* * *
by Gerald DiPego
Boyd Timms calls out from his boney horse and narrowly escapes being shot by a spirited young
woman alone in her cabin on the prairie. When he reveals he's an artist and sets about painting her
portrait, her mean-hearted husband comes home. Who will be left when the gunsmoke clears?
by Stan Dryer
When the Taggart brothers burn down the Turgis ranch house, they don't figure on Nancy Turgis,
the Coyote Woman, coming after them. The Dustville Sheriff and Injun Yano follow along behind
picking up the dead bodies and seeing that justice finally triumphs.
* * *
Plumbeck the Fiddler
* * *
by Tom Sheehan
They had taken Plumbeck's daughter hostage, forcing him to get information on a large payoff,
thus setting up their robbery. The fiddler himself must find his daughter and get her back, against
all the odds thrown against a mere strummer of sweet notes.
The Sins of Our Brothers
* * *
by Issac Withrow
A professional thief and his straight-laced, war-hero brother find themselves trapped in a shack
after a bank robbery in the Dakota territory goes horribly wrong. As a posse closes in, the
brothers desperately seek an escape while coming to terms with their own knotty relationship.
* * *
by Peter D. McQuade
In 1875, Idaho telegrapher Timothy Gladstone is riding the Silver City-to-Boise line at night, on
horseback, searching for the source of a strange electrical gibberish that's making the telegraph
line unusable. When he stops to tap the line, the gibberish brings him face-to-face with the ghosts
of his own past.
To Live and Die in Bannack
* * *
by James A. Tweedie
In the Montana gold rush town of Bannack, the law was what either Tom Badoin or a mob of
vigilantes said it was. And whether guilty or innocent, justice was served at the end of a rope.
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All the Tales
Gon Fer Gud Banthar
by Gerald DiPego
1. The Meeting
The creaking, rough-scarred door was opening slowly as a young woman leaned her face into the coolish morning, slowly bringing an old rifle to her shoulder. Even squinting, she was pretty-faced, and her body, covered to the ankles in a tattered garment that may have been a dress or a cut-and-sewn tablecloth, was slim. She was squinting because the coming rider was far off, like a lonely period on a large golden page. As she studied him, youth and experience were jostling for command of her face. She was called Pash.
The rider was a man, mounted on a smallish pinto and leading a mule burdened with packs. He was in the middle of his thirties and wore a blanket-like coat, a wide hat, cavalry trousers, dusty boots. The leather strap that belted his coat held a holster for his pistol, ammunition, and a knife in a fringed and decorated scabbard in the style of the tribes.
He had a beard as blond as the hair that poked from his hat, but it was close-cropped and tidy. He was sunburned and lightly freckled, and he was doing a queer thing for a person who was nearing a prairie home where a woman stood in its doorway aiming a rifle his way. He was smiling—big and bright as the early day, and he sent a shout ahead to the young woman, still 40 yards away, as he walked his mount closer. His name was Boyd Timms.
"Ho, the house! Greetings! I think I must be rocking in the arms of a dream, dear lady, instead of rocking on this boney, mis-jointed animal. Oh, my Lord, look at you! Are you real—in your tiny home out here, adrift like a ship on a windy ocean . . . What? What is that you are saying?"
The girl shouted back, "I said shut up! And come no farther or I will shoot you just to stop your talkin'! Jesusmary! Who are you and what in hell do you want?"
Boyd stopped his horse and lost his smile, looking affronted and massively disappointed.
"Why, Miss, I mean you no kind of harm, and if my tongue runs on, it is because I have spoken only to this horse and mule for three days, and they stubbornly refuse any discourse. Might you lower your weapon? I am saying please."
"Come on real slow," Pash said, "and tell me what you want, and keep in your mind that I can shoot the shell off a turtle."
Boyd's smile returned as he nudged his mount, and his ramshackle caravan slowly approached the home. "I have never done battle with a turtle, Miss, but I am no stranger to the firearm and once shot the eye out of a hurricane."
Pash giggled at that, unguarded laughter that somehow turned her prettiness into three seconds of aching beauty. She moved the barrel of her gun off the man, but did not ground the weapon. The sound of her laughter had skated over the distance to Boyd, causing a grin nearly as wide as the cloudless sky. He stopped his horse a dozen feet from her and slowly dismounted, stiff in every joint. As he smacked the dust from his clothes, his manner grew serious.
"I have a problem, Miss. I am afraid I need to make my water. It is urgent, and I see your outhouse is beyond my walking range at this moment."
Pash answered, "Just turn around and get to business."
Boyd recovered his grin and turned, saying, "I will do that, but do not think you can shoot me in the back while I am occupied, dear woman, because this horse will let me know your every move."
But the girl countered, "No she won't. She's on my side."
During the next ten minutes Boyd walked his animals into the wobbly corral, watered them, unsaddled the horse and unburdened the mule. He put aside his long rifle held in its leather, opened one mule pack and carried from there a wooden case as he came toward the house where Pash waited, her rifle hanging loosely, but still in her hand. While he had been unloading his mule, she had run a hand through her hair and corrected her posture. He approached her, a smile in his eyes that seemed warm and true.
"My name is Boyd Timms, Miss, and I wonder if I could sleep a few hours on your porch as long as your parents do not object. Might your father be at home?"
"My father's dead, may he rest in pieces, and I'm a missus. My name's Pash Banthar and my husband ain't here, and you won't be layin' about on any porch. You'll come inside and split a breakfast with me and sleep on a pallet tonight if you're stayin' over to rest. I ain't worried and can take good care of myself. You step in first. I don't trust you behind me yet."
Inside, they shared biscuits, churned butter, strong coffee and a wandering conversation.
"Your name . . . 'Pash'?"
"Short for Passion."
"Really. What a fine, no a beautiful name. Did your mother . . . "
"The girls named me."
"Oh . . . your sisters?"
"Nope. My father sold me to a whore house when I was fourteen. Some of them girls mothered me, some sistered me and some were pure snakes.
"I . . . I am very, very sorry. Truly sorr—"
"Oh, to hell with men who are sorry. Sick of it. Dan Banthar wanted me all to himself, and I figured that's a better story: me in my own home with a man that don't beat me except when he's drunk and even then not nearly as hard as my father. I crack him in the face when he's drunk asleep, and I tell 'im in the morning that he just has to stop fallin' out of that bed."
Here she giggled again, a scale of notes running high. "Broke his nose twice! He's out huntin' for days. Sells the birds and meat to the store and the hotel in Mantry, so he ain't around to bother me much. Gets lonely, though." She stared a moment at the pity and sorrow she saw in his eyes and swatted at it. "You can stop lookin' so deep and troubled at me, Boyd Timms, and tell me about the world I'm missin' and tell me about yourself. Where you comin' from?"
He studied the girl and could not shake the pain he felt for her and the black anger for her husband. "This 'Banthar' is not a man, Pash. This is a snake with legs. Why not leave him far behind, and make another life?"
"Doin' what? Where? It's too many miles to anywhere but Mantry—back where I started from. Tell me something about you and have another biscuit and finish the coffee you didn't finish. Your pants tell me you was a cavalryman."
Boyd took his time, moving his mind away from Pash's troubles with great effort, like the action of giant gears and pulleys. "No. No, Pash, not a soldier, but I recently had some business at Fort Steel."
"Oh, hell, Fort Steel? Troopers would come from there into the whorehouse plenty of times, some of 'em awful wild. Two corporals had a fight over me once, a bad one, so I got a gun and fired it into the ceilin' yellin' 'The loser gets me!'" She gave Boyd a proud, bright-eyed smile. "Those fools stopped cold and didn't know what to do!"
She giggled again, and Boyd laughed loudly with his head thrown back in surprise and deep delight at this girl and the picture she had painted for him. His laughter ignited her, and she joined him until she had the breath to speak again.
"Now you! Go ahead! I need to hear somethin' else, somethin' . . . not me, somethin' new. You got that long rifle in the fancy case. You a hunter, too? Ever kill a bear? Ever kill a man? Tell me."
He rocked a bit on his chair legs. "Well . . . Pash . . . a Comanche warrior once hit me with an arrow, and I shot him off his horse. I don't know if the man expired because I fled the field with my friends and never looked back."
Pash stared deeply a moment. "Where'd that arrow hit you?"
"I cannot discuss that with a lady."
She smiled, then her eyes widened with a thought. "He unmanned you?!"
"No . . . he put a hole in my caboose."
Pash laughed loudly and banged the table with her hand so that the cups danced, and Boyd was thankful that he, at least, had given her that.
"So you're an Indian fighter."
"No—it was just one brief skirmish between the Comanche and the Utes. I was with the Utes.
"I lived with the Utes on and off for two happy years. A fine people. I appreciated their friendship and they appreciated my work."
"Showing them just what I saw when I looked at their faces."
While she was wondering, Boyd opened his wooden case and carefully lifted from it a sheet of stiff paper, blank on one side, and when he turned it, Pash saw the painting of a Ute woman staring at her, half smiling, saw her hair and upper dress, saw her eyes and into her eyes and the living humanity there, and it caused Pash to capture her breath and hold it still, and the room and the day were also still for several heartbeats.
"You done that? It looks like she's gonna talk any minute! Like I know her. Goshall, Boyd."
"It is what I do, Pash." He pulled another unframed painting from his case, a Ute man, strong, with stories in his eyes, and Pash, again, marveled.
"Look at that! Was he the chief?!
"No, a close friend."
"And . . . you go around sellin' these? Bet you sell a bunch!"
"There is a gallery in the states where they sell, in Chicago, and some are in a book and some in museums. Before the Utes, I painted the Osage in Missouri. I'm traveling to the railroad now, to Laramie and on to Illinois, to bring these to the gallery.
She held the paintings carefully, finger and thumb on the very edges and studied again. "We had some paintin's in the house and in the bar below but nobody seemed like they was gonna step right off the paper." She handed the pictures to him very carefully. He took them and was replacing them in the case when he said it.
"I'd like to paint you, Pash, if you allow."
"Me? You mean . . . now? Here? Put me on the paper?"
He nodded and Pash lit the surrounding countryside and Boyd's heart with her wonder and her smile.
2. The Interruption
After nearly two hours, all of this was exploded by sound and swift motion as the door was kicked fully open and Dan Banthar was swinging the butt of his rifle into the head of a half-rising and wildly surprised Boyd Timms, who flew back into his easel, splashing the paints into the face of Pash as she reared back, breaking the unstable chair and landing on the floor. Boyd, too, lay on his back, stunned, his foggy sight showing Banthar pointing a rifle at his heart.
Banthar now stared wildly at his young wife who was splattered by a dozen colors and lay on the floor shouting at him.
"He was paintin' me, Dan!"
Banthar was shocked by this statement, his mouth fully open as he studied his many-colored wife and then shifted his crazed look to Boyd, shouting "Why?! Why'd you put paint on my wife, you crazy bastard?!"
Pash was trying to rise. "No, Dan. He was paintin' me! Like—"
Banthar aimed his rifle at Boyd's forehead now. "Paintin' on women, you crazy fool! What else did you do to her?!"
"Dan!" Pash untangled herself from the broken rocker. "Don't!" Boyd was slowly rising to his knees, his consciousness unable to fully come to roost.
Banthar pushed the muzzle of his hunting gun closer to him, shouting, "I heard you from outside sayin' 'Don't move, don't move, Pash—'"
"He paints people, Dan!"
"That's plain crazy," Banthar screamed, as Boyd was slowly standing, swaying, his eyes foggy.
"Don't shoot him!" Pash moved beside Boyd. "Don't!"
"Shut up!" Banthar shouted. "I'll deal with you later! Get yourself away from this woman-painter! I'm gonna blast him!"
Boyd's vision was clearing, though he still tilted. His words were mush. "Mr. Banthar . . . I was trying . . . to capture Pash's—
"Capture her?! I'll kill you where you stand, you—"
"Dan! You can't shoot him!"
"Cause it was me he done it to, and I should be the one to shoot him down! Here! Wait . . . !" She moved quickly to a blanket on a shelf and from its folds drew an enormous Navy Colt pistol, turning it toward Boyd and cocking the weapon as she held it with both hands and pointed it at his chest. "I'm gonna do it, Dan! Not you!"
Boyd was blinking in wonder, staring at this young woman who had upon her all his chosen colors and held, along with a heavy pistol, all the love in his heart.
"Then shoot!" Banthar shouted.
"Watch him so he don't move, Dan!" And when Banthar's eyes flicked toward Boyd, Pash shot her husband. The explosion seemed to lift the home and shake it, the man knocked back into a corner and losing the rifle and falling to the floor, as Boyd's mouth dropped and Pash stood there in the smoke from her weapon, wide-eyed at the figure on the floor. Boyd's open mouth and the smoke from the pistol and Pash's hard-focused stare seemed to last beyond all time. Then Boyd walked to Banthar's crumpled form and knelt there, and Pash, not able to speak until then, asked "Is he mortified? I aimed for his shoulder."
Boyd was inspecting the man's wound. "Your shot broke his arm."
She came to stand over Boyd. Her husband's eyes were closed. He was twitching. "He'll be riled," she said. "He'll be awful riled."
Boyd's long sigh seemed to take in every moment of this amazing day. Then he spoke. "No. No, Pash . . . not riled. I believe . . . your husband is suffering an attack, a heart attack."
It took only seconds, and then Daniel Banthar no longer existed. Boyd rose, steady now, though his head throbbed like an engine. He stared at Pash, then took the heavy revolver from her hand. She remained staring at the dead man who had abused her, but had taken her from a whorehouse to a home. She felt an ache, but no tears.
"It's me that done it," she said, "made him die."
"What you did, Pash, is save a life. My life. That is what you did, and only winged your husband, who then died of natural causes, and that is the bottom truth of it. Do you know the sheriff in Mantry?"
"The sheriff? Sure, he owns half the whorehouse and he and Banthar were thick." They stared a moment, then she added, "You best sit down."
While Pash applied cold well water to Boyd's throbbing head, she sent her mind ahead to the future. "What if the sheriff comes lookin' for 'im, for the huntin'? What do I say?"
"You best not be here. Pash, why stay? Leave this place, and I will take you wherever you want to go."
"I don't know where to go."
"Come with me. We'll travel far from here, and then you can make up your mind. It would be an honor to have you with me."
"It would?" Her question seemed to erase all other sound.
Boyd made sure he had her eyes, and he nodded. "It truly would."
A smile came trembling to her face, small and broken. Then she turned again toward the corner where the body lay. "What about . . . ?"
Boyd sighed again, long and heavy, then asked the question."Pick and shovel?"
"Under the porch."
3. The Stranger
"Shit," she said.
Boyd left the porch, saying "Come with me."
They walked to the corral, and Boyd dipped into one of the mule packs and pulled from there a slender telescope. He put it to his eye and found the rider in the glass, adjusting the instrument and then handing it to Pash. She faltered at first and then brought a large man on a large horse into focus. Boyd asked, "Know him?"
"Nope. But he's comin' from the direction of Mantry." Boyd removed his rifle from its leather, cocked it and held it at his side. They looked at each other for a moment, her speckled with paint and him still carrying his headache, then they put their eyes back on the coming man and watched as he also took a rifle from its scabbard and held it across his horse as he came on.
"You are certain you never saw him, Pash?"
"Sure as rain."
Boyd had not heard that expression, but took its meaning and nodded. Then he said, "I'll be Banthar."
"You will?" He nodded, still watching the oncomer as Pash stared at him. "You don't look much like Banthar and you sure don't talk like Banthar, y'know?"
"I will try it."
"What if he knows Banthar?"
"Have you ever played poker, Pash?"
They walked out of the corral and stood waiting as the large man came to them with no hurry, still carrying his rifle crossways in front of him. He was powerful looking, though quite overweight. His slack and shaven face was without greeting and his eyes were hard on Boyd, who spoke, attempting the vernacular.
"Why'd you uncase that rifle, Mister?"
"I come here to kill Dan Banthar."
Pash opened her mouth without any words, and Boyd stared, thinking hard, and then asked "Why?"
"That's my business," said the man.
"My business, too," said Boyd. "I'm Banthar."
"No you ain't."
"Banthar's a bigger man, and you're a liar."
Pash said, "Don't you call him a liar. He just quit drinkin'."
Both men were stymied for a moment, then the big man asked "What?"
And Pash said, "That's how he lost the weight." Boyd picked up this idea.
"The whiskey was doing harm to our marriage and making me fat, like you."
The big man's eyes narrowed on Boyd, then shifted to Pash. "Why she painted like that?"
"She's part Ute, and we're finished talking here."
"No we ain't. Banthar's a taller man. I seen him once, and you ain't him."
Boyd hesitated for two more seconds. "Ever hear of Cross boots?"
"They have extra tall heels, puts more height on a man. Had to give them up because they hurt my ankles, so that makes me Dan Banthar and that means you're sitting on my property and threatening my life, and I'm allowed to shoot you in the heart."
Pash joined in here. "My man can shoot the eye out of a . . . blackbird, so you better give it up and go away."
The man kept his stare on Boyd. "So you're Banthar."
"That I am and true, so what?"
"So you hit my cousin with a bar stool last winter and that's why I'm here and that's why I'm gonna kill you." Their guns were not aimed, but each man moved a finger and found his trigger, while Boyd was thinking and Pash staring at him. He finally spoke.
"Did I kill your cousin?"
"No, but he didn't even know his name for a long time."
"He know it now?"
"Yeah, but you put him through a lot of pain, and he's got a dent in his forehead.
Boyd took another moment. "I was drinking then and don't remember that scuffle, but if he's above ground and able to walk and talk then you are not allowed to kill me. I hereby apologize for the bar stool incident."
"That won't clear it. He still has a dent in his head."
"Well . . . I'll tell you what: I'll pay him five dollars for the dent and pay you five dollars for your trouble coming here. Otherwise . . . lift that rifle and die."
Pash held her breath for the longest moment of her lifetime until the big man finally cracked the silence, shouting, "Ten! Ten dollars and no less! Each!"
Boyd turned to Pash. "Reach into my hip pocket, dear'un, and pull out a twenty-piece."
She did so and then approached the man and held out the coin in her hand, staring at him in visible triumph. The man took the money, and Boyd said, "Case that rifle," and the man slid his gun into its case, turned his horse and left in a slow gait, and they watched him shrink and disappear into the wide prairie.
"So, he will now go and spread this story," Boyd said.
"Like honey on bread," Pash added.
And Boyd finished with, "And Banthar will be alive to the whole world." They turned then, walking to the house.
"What's that you called me," she asked, "when you sent me for the money?"
"Oh, 'dear 'un.' It's what my grandfather called my grandmother. 'Dear one'. Do you mind?"
She took his free hand as they walked. "Say it again?"
"Dear 'un." And he watched her smile grow as they went on, but then she turned on him with a darker thought. "But someday they'll come here for Banthar and his huntin', and . . . What'll the sheriff think? He gonna come after me?"
"We will be far, far gone, Pash. But to make sure, we'll have Banthar leave a message. Could he write?"
"Just some. Not much."
"We could carve it right into the wall."
"Yeah, carve it big, right over the fireplace. What'll it say?
Gon Fer Gud Banthar
Gerald DiPego is the author of five published novels, two stories and thirty produced screenplays. He lives in California's
Santa Ynez Valley, and looks back on years of horse-packing in the mountains of the West. www.geralddipego.com.
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