June, 2022

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Issue #153

Welcome, Western Fans!

Looking for free, tantalizing Tales of the Old West?
You're at the right place.


Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

The Rescue
by Ray Paltoo
Uncle Abner was the richest man in town. But when his only daughter runs off with a smooth-talking member of a clan of no-good outlaws, the law is unwilling and afraid to go after her. So he hires a half-Indian bounty hunter to get her back, with surprising results.

* * *

American Apostolic
by M.F. Robinson
A prophet searches for God during and after the Civil War, then tries to save a godless county from ruin.

* * *

Black Appaloosa
by Jason Crager
Lewis Bordeaux and his father live in far-off Montana, where they sift for gold in Snake Creek. When they're suddenly caught in the middle of the U.S. Army's campaign against native Nez Perce, their lives are in danger and Lewis discovers the power of his ancestry.

* * *

Prairie Wife
by Phillip R. Eaton
After the death of her new husband, Southern belle Annie is leery of spending the winter alone in Kansas. Her fears subside when a frozen stranger enters her life—until she discovers he is a wanted man.

* * *

Getting Swept Away
by Ginger Strivelli
The piano sometimes plays itself. They kick everyone out early every night. This is not your normal Wild West saloon. It is wilder.

* * *

Gallagher and Gaines
by Victor Kreuiter
Aaron Gallagher, a loner, isn't sure he wants to stay on his stake . . . but he won't be driven off by a greedy ex-employer.

* * *

Want all of this month's Western stories at once? Click here –

All the Tales

Gallagher and Gaines
by Victor Kreuiter

He was asleep when they came; the dog woke up him, huffing, growling, scratching at the door. He woke with a start, rolled over and shushed the dog . . . sshhhh . . . kept himself low, crept to his rifle, slowly straightened up and listened.

"Gallagher! You in there?"

That's what he heard outside; he couldn't tell how far away they were, him standing perfectly still, ears on alert, eyes adjusting to the dark. No window in the shack; it was early morning, hours before sunup.

"Gallagher! Come out."

He was in the new shack; he'd built it with a wood floor and that damn floor creaked. The first shack—the old one he was going to use as a coop—it was under some dogwoods, maybe fifty feet behind him. Gallagher stood still a bit longer, him in longjohns. The dog huffed and he clicked his tongue to quiet him, tiptoed to the door and shushed the dog again: "Ssshhh. "

It was Franklin Jessup's men outside, he knew that. Jessup wanted his land. Jessup's riders had been by to tell him . . . twice. Both times he'd told them the land wasn't for sale and both times the response was the same: Franklin Jessup wants the land.

Jessup already had a lot of land, a lot of cattle, a lot of money. Gallagher had worked for him a couple years until he'd had enough. You can't respect the man you work for . . . why work for him? Gallagher quitting . . . that displeased Franklin Jessup. Gallagher knew displeasing Jessup could be problematic. Owning land that Franklin Jessup wanted? Well . . . no point in wondering how that would end.

"Come on out." Same voice; it sounded like Matt Hagis. Hagis knew Gallagher and Gallagher knew Hagis. Hagis followed orders real good. "Let's talk!"

Gallagher slowly made his way to the door and cracked it open, staying out of view. "Who are ya?" It was dark out . . . a full moon turning everything silver, giving everything a slight halo. He knew who it was, and he knew Matt Hagis was trouble. Not too bright, not all that tough, but trouble nonetheless. Franklin Jessup liked to hire men like Hagis . . . use 'em up and throw 'em away; men like Hagis . . . they never caught on.

Hagis again: "Step out!"

"I'm good where I am," Gallagher answered.

He heard more talking . . . able to pick out a word or two . . . then he cracked the door and peeked around to see three riders out forty feet, still mounted. He figured Hagis as the one in the middle.

"Look here," Hagis shouted, "our hands are up." Gallagher cracked the door more and leaned out; all three riders had hands in the air. The moon pushed their long shadows right toward him; their faces were in the dark.

Gallagher stepped out, rifle pointing down, stoop creaking under his weight. "Come back in daylight," he said. He turned sideways a bit to make his profile smaller. To his right, in a small corral, his chestnut snorted.

"We talked already . . . remember?"

He remembered. "Tell Jessup I'm not interested in selling." Gallagher had known they'd come back. "I got legal paper on this place," he said. Aaron Gallagher knew Jessup's men had ways to convince folks to give up their land. Some took the money. Some tried to hold out for more money . . . a mistake. Some took the safe route and left in the dark. Some stayed—not interested in selling—then lost their land and their lives. Where was the law on all this? Gallagher thought of that when he worked for Jessup, when he quit and got his own place, when he heard of one more forced sale, or worse—somebody shot trying to fight off Franklin Jessup's men. The law wasn't around much, that's what Gallagher decided. The law was mostly absent when Franklin Jessup wanted what he wanted.

"Jessup needs your place," Hagis said. All three riders had lowered their hands and Aaron Gallagher didn't like seeing that. "Gonna close the sale tomorrow," Hagis said, and his horse snorted and stepped a step forward . . . then took one more . . . and Aaron Gallagher inched back to the door and raised his rifle and pointed it at Matt Hagis.

"Sorry, not interested," Gallagher said. Franklin Jessup had never mentioned a price and Gallagher had never asked . . . no point in talking about what wasn't going to happen.

The riders on both sides of Hagis were quiet, their horses scuffling and snorting. It was one of those nights when the air is cool and the ground is warm and the trees and vegetation are little more than clumps of shadow and the few clouds in the sky reflect just enough moonlight to glow. It was a still night . . . stillness like that meaning something is coming to an end or something is starting up.

"Be in town tomorrow," Hagis said. "Jessup will be there. You can sign it over."

Town was a one-hour ride. Aaron Gallagher was not going into town tomorrow, or the day after, or the day after that. "In the morning, early," Hagis said, then the three of them turned and sauntered off. Gallagher watched them go, then squatted down and the dog came out on the porch and rubbed against him and he scratched that dog's jaw and neck and scratched behind both ears and when the dog whined Gallagher said "Ssshh . . . quiet now." He stood, stepped off the stoop and looked around. His chestnut was standing still, head drooping. "Them boys plan to run us off," he said. He was talking to the dog; the chestnut wasn't listening.

* * *

Gallagher didn't go into town the next day and nobody came from the Jessup ranch to ask where'd he'd been or how come he didn't show. He spent the day looking over his property, always keeping an eye on the horizon, wondering why he wanted to stay. Why be stubborn? He wasn't going to be a farmer, that's for sure. Cattle? He'd punched enough cattle for one lifetime. When he'd quit Jessup . . . when he told him he'd got his own place and was going to work it on his own, Jessup had refused him his pay . . . what was Gallagher going to do? Jessup called him a fool, told him a small place . . . some small patch of nothing . . . wasn't worth owning all by itself. "Stay with me," Jessup had advised. "Work here, for me . . . a man like you . . . you could have your own crew. Make some real money. Make something of yourself." Every word coming out of Franklin Jessup's mouth sounded like a sales pitch, sounded like a threat, sounded like a poorly-told lie . . . so why in hell would decent men line up behind a man like Franklin Jessup? That's what Gallagher wondered. The day he rode off he heard a couple rounds go off behind him . . . Jessup's men laughing at him and whooping it up. He never looked back.

* * *

The three of them came back two days later, in the dark, under less moon. Gallagher had spent the last two nights outside . . . fifty feet from the shack, sleeping next to his chestnut, in a thicket of trees. Being careful.

Jessup's boys use the same approach. "Gallagher!"

He didn't respond. He could catch a few words of them talking and it didn't sound friendly. One of the riders dropped off his horse, walked up to the new shack, knocked, waited, opened the door, looked in, turned and waved. "Empty!"

"Go on look at that old shack in back," Hagis said.

Gallagher watched the rider walk toward the little shack in back. The two men still mounted were talking . . . Gallagher could pick out the occasional word . . . dangerous . . .  careful . . .  let's finish this. The first man came back waving one hand. "Empty," he said. He stood next to his horse, listening to the other two talk, pawing through his saddle bags. He took something out, took a step toward the shack and now voices rose enough that Gallagher could clearly hear: "Jessup figured he'd be gone. Hell, that Gallagher . . . I worked with him . . . he's a strange one." Hagis was doing the talking. "Kept to himself . . . talked to himself." Hagis dismounted, started digging through his saddle bags, looked at the rider still on his horse and said "Keep an eye."

Hagis and the first man started toward the shack, stopped short and knelt, and when they stood up Hagis had a burning rag in his hand, held it out and took a step toward the shack.

Aaron Gallagher decided it was time to talk.

"Don't go burning my shack," he said. Relaxed tone. He was mostly hidden in that thicket of trees. Everything was shadow. The two men stopped, then Hagis started toward the shack, burning rag in hand. The other man knelt, drawing a pistol. The third, still mounted, turned his horse and made his move toward the trees, pistol out. Gallagher stood quietly and when that rider got near he fired once, twice, three times . . . placing shots through the trees . . . none of them close. Gallagher raised his rifle and put a bullet in that rider's chest, knocking him off his horse. The horse bolted left, running out away from the shack. Gallagher turned and fired at the two near his shack, grabbed the reins of his chestnut and backed it off another twenty or thirty feet, then ran back into the trees. The two riders at the shack fired wide, Hagis ran to the shack, pitched the rag onto the porch and disappeared around the side. The other man ran for the horses. Gallagher shot the horse nearest to him; it jumped, swayed, snorted, then collapsed. The runner got to the second horse, swung up onto it and yanked at the reins and the horse, spooked, twisted sideways, shuffled backwards and Gallagher shot twice. The rider fell off, jumped back up quick, and Gallagher shot two more times. The man went down and the horse bolted, then, like it always does, it went quiet . . . the only sound made by the down horse, struggling, whinnying, squealing, snorting.

Gallagher figured Hagis had taken cover behind his shack; flames were starting to spread along the front. The rider he'd shot off his horse? Not a sound. Dead? If he wasn't, he would be. Gallagher backed out of the trees, moving to his left, crouching low . . . moving toward his shack.

"It don't have to be like this," a voice said. That wasn't Hagis . . . it was the rider who'd tried to mount up. Gallagher listened carefully, went back into the copse of trees and cocked an ear. Hagis was behind the shack, most likely working his way toward Gallagher. Fire spread across the face of the shack; there was no way to stop it. Gallagher backed out of the thicket, looked toward the shack, then ran to his right, out into the open where two horses were snorting and stamping, wondering what to do. There was a lump where he'd dropped the rider who ran for the horses. Still alive? Didn't matter. He reversed course again, retraced his steps and got to his chestnut, patted its flank and walked it in a semi-circle, away from the burning shack. When he got far enough out he mounted, rode out and grabbed the riders' two horses, took them out to a wash and left them and his chestnut tied to scrub mesquite. He squatted, surveyed the land around his shack, took a breath, then started moving, keeping an ear cocked, stopping often, hearing nothing except the whoosh of growing flame.

* * *

Just before daybreak, Gallagher moved to his right, staying down, staying as silent as possible, going slow. The shack wasn't much more than embers. He crossed a slight ridge to his right and began slowly working his way toward the red coals of his shack. He swung out even further, saw no one, heard nothing, swung out even more and worked himself back to where he could see his first cabin and the dogwoods that surrounded it. The door was open . . . he hadn't been in that shack for weeks. Slowly, to his right, keeping distance, he was watching that shack when he saw a body move, heading away from him. He ducked, swung out even further, used the few mesquite trees as cover, and watched as Hagis came around the far side of the shack and moved out past the remains of his burnt-out shack, trying to get to the horses. Running, Gallagher retraced his steps, using that ridge for cover once more, then positioned himself facing due east, hoping a rising sun would reveal Hagis before he got to the horses. It worked.

He fired and dropped Matt Hagis before he even got close to the horses. The rider who'd been thrown? Gallagher hoped he'd been hit, wasn't sure, and cautiously made his way toward him. He could make out the figure, lying perfectly still, and approached slowly; the man was on his right side, facing away, legs twisted out, one hand clutching a hip and one hand stretched out in front of him. When Gallagher stood over him he could hear the harsh breathing. "How many men Jessup got?" Gallagher asked him

The man shuddered, tried to roll back toward Aaron Gallagher and failed.

Gallagher leaned down, tapped him on his shoulder with the barrel of his pistol. "Look here," he said, "how many men Jessup got now?"

Franklin Jessup never spent a dime he didn't have to . . . Gallagher figured that at this time of year he couldn't have more than three, maybe four or five steady hands . . . and most likely they weren't muscle.

"Hear me?" Gallagher asked.

The down man got his head to turn, got his eyes to focus, twisted his neck and looked at Gallagher and tried to speak but he didn't have enough left. Gallagher walked over to the copse of trees where the first rider had been foolish enough to charge . . . found the body . . . mouth open and eyes closed. He turned, walked toward the shack and found Hagis, breathing heavily, his chest twisted one way and his hips twisted the other. He didn't have long. Gallagher turned and walked back and dragged the last living of the three to the thicket of trees, leaned down and looked the body over before speaking. "You're shot two times," he said. "Legs." He stepped out in front of the man, knelt down and touched the man's neck, could feel a pulse, then pushed the man's head back and waited until he opened his eyes again.

"How many men has Jessup got?" he asked.

Mouth open, breathing hard, the rider said nothing.

Gallagher stood up. "You sure know by now Franklin Jessup will use a man up and throw him away." The man couldn't lift his head. "I'll leave you a horse, just in case you make it" he said, then turned and walked to his chestnut, swung up, rode over and grabbed the reins of one of the other horses and started toward the Franklin place. He hadn't gone far when the dog showed up, trotting beside.

* * *

It was light when he got to the Jessup ranch, a corral on each side of the big house, a bunkhouse on the left, a good size shed behind it and a slightly larger barn behind the shed. Nobody was out, which was interesting. Jessup not working with the sun up? Unusual. The whole place was up a short rise and Gallagher sat a couple hundred yards out, watching the house, watching left and right. He dismounted, stood beside his horse, checked and reloaded his rifle, reloaded his pistol, and wondered how much Franklin Jessup planned to pay for his land.

Two men stepped out of the bunkhouse, one hustled to the big house and knocked and entered, and one stayed put. Shortly, two men stepped out of the big house, stood and looked out at him, did some talking, then one went back in the house and the other started walking toward Gallagher. Gallagher raised his rifle over his head with both hands, waved it, then started walking toward the big house, slowing as Jessup's man got close.

"Need Jessup," Gallagher said.

Jessup's man stopped and raised both hands. "I got no gun," he said.

"I got a couple," Gallagher said. "Now go on back and have Jessup come out here . . . by himself . . . and tell him to bring my money. I got the legal paper with me. We can do this right here."

"Where's them others?"

"What others?"

"You don't know?"

"What I know and what you want to know don't necessarily line up, understand?"

Another question started when Gallagher shook his head. "Me and you are done," he said. "Mr. Jessup wants my property; go let him know this is his chance."

Franklin's man leaned over, looked around Aaron Gallagher. "Whose horse you got there?"

"Turned up at my place," Gallagher said.

The man turned and walked, never looking back. He didn't stop, walked inside and everything got slowed down. There was two men now standing right in front of the bunkhouse . . . didn't seem to be in a hurry to get to work. A horse and rider stepped out of the barn and stopped. Eventually the front door on the big house opened and out stepped Franklin Jessup and another man . . . they started walking toward Aaron Gallagher and when they were about halfway Gallagher held his rifle up, took a step toward the two and said, loud: "Jessup only," he said. "It's just me and Jessup got business . . . "

The two talked, then Jessup and the man started walking again. Gallagher raised his rifle off his shoulder and shouted, "You, go on back to the house." Franklin stopped, turned and said something and the man turned and started to return to the house while Jessup approached Gallagher. When he arrived he was not smiling. "That horse . . . " he said.

Gallagher turned and walked to the horse, grabbed the reins and walked it back to Franklin Jessup. "Consider it a gift," he said and handed the reins to Jessup.

"Where's the man was riding it?" Jessup asked.

Gallagher shrugged. "Musta got lost somewhere," he said. He walked to his chestnut, opened a saddle bag and pulled out some papers, walked to Jessup and handed them to him. Jessup stared at them, taking his time, then looked up at Gallagher. "We never set no price."

Gallagher hung his head, chewed on his lip, looked at Jessup then stepped to him and pulled the reins back out of his hands. "This horse'll do," he said. "That seem fair?"

Jessup was looking at the paperwork again, didn't raise his head when he spoke. "Think you can get away?"

Gallagher let the reins drop, touched Jessup on the arm and motioned for him to step aside . . . Jessup took two or three steps, then Gallagher pulled the rifle from its holster, aimed at the house and fired twice. The house boasted two windows in front, ground level; they exploded. He looked at Franklin Jessup and said, "Telling me I can't?"

Jessup looked back at his house. "Glass ain't cheap," he said, "and I sure do remember you, Mr. Gallagher."

"Then here's what you need to forget," Gallagher said. "Forget about me and forget about which way I head out. Understand? You can stew on this . . . if you like . . . or you can be sensible and figure this here deal is mutually advantageous." Gallagher didn't wait for an answer. He turned, slipped the rifle back into its holster, pulled a rope out of his saddle bags and tied the Jessup horse to his saddle, mounted his chestnut and stared at the Franklin place. There was a couple more men out now in front of the bunkhouse . . . looked armed.

"Don't send nobody after me," Gallagher said. "Your payroll got smaller this morning. Maybe I did you a favor, think of it that way." He clicked his teeth, looked down at the dog and said, "You coming?"

Jessup raised a hand and two riders stepped out of the barn. Aaron Gallagher saw that, shook his head and looked at Jessup. "You want to get back to your house a healthy man?"

Jessup stared at his house, turned and looked at Aaron Gallagher a long time without speaking, then: "You gonna shoot an unarmed man? In the back?"

Gallagher nudged the chestnut to Jessup, drew a pistol and pointed it at him. "Anybody follows me, I'll kill 'em. When I'm done killing 'em all, I'll come back for you. Would you want that? That make sense to you? I mean . . . think about it . . . the land you wanted is yours. You can hire who you want, pay 'em what you want. Maybe you ought to be smart and declare yourself the winner here."

* * *

Gallagher rode southwest for a day. Nobody following. He rode west for another day and skirted around ranches, crossed a few trails and kept to himself. Turned north and rode hard for two, three days, then turned and rode due east, trailing the Platte, and then the Missouri. Followed the Missouri until it rolled into the Mississippi, then turned north.

One day a cowboy, two horses and a dog showed up in Peoria, Illinois. The cowboy, going by the name of Eric Gaines, found work, put down roots, and after a few years went by married a widow woman whose husband had owned a blacksmith shop and a dry goods store. Eric Gaines never said much, was respectful of others and honest in his dealings and over time he learned how to run both those businesses real good. He gave all the credit to the widow woman he married. Sat beside her in church on Sundays and took her on buggy rides and picnics and helped her in her garden and nobody ever saw him in a saloon . . . he'd get teased about that a bit and it never bothered him.

The only issue between him and the wife was the dog. She did not sit with a dog indoors. Did they argue about it? No, never. She gave up after a time . . . every time she'd shoo that dog out, Eric Gaines would go out, pet it, talk to it, and bring it back in.

"What do you see in that dog?" she'd ask him, and he'd laugh, try to pat her hand or give her a kiss and she'd laugh and push him away. "Oh," he said, "he looks out for me. You gotta understand, we've been through a bit together."

The End

Victor Kreuiter has published fiction in the Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Halfway Down The Stairs and Literally Stories. He lives and writes in the Midwest.

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