"Guilty as charged" was the verdict declared by the Honorable Leroy Shepherd, the 'Hanging Judge'. Convicted at his so-called trial for killing five men who brutally raped and murdered his wife Fanny, Aaron Knight spent the following three days watching the gallows being built just outside the only window in his cell.
Aaron's lawyer had argued that he was defending his wife. The judge determined that the five victims could not have committed the alleged crime against Fanny, due to the fact that she was a mulatto, the product of a plantation slave and her owner, therefore, she was considered to be a piece of property, not a person.
The creaking floorboards alerted Aaron that someone was coming. The hangman had convinced the Sheriff that it was necessary to measure Aaron's neck for the noose. He took a length of rope from his pocket and reached through the cell bars, whispering in Aaron's ear, "Shh, don't respond, and do as I say. When you are hung tomorrow, the hood that I use will have a leather collar inside it and protect you from dying, but you must play dead and not move. We will talk again when you are delivered to the coroner."
"That's enough time hangman, let's go," the Sheriff demanded.
Aaron never slept a wink all night. His mind could not forget the words that fell from the hangman's mouth. Who was responsible for keeping him alive, and more important, why?
A sunbeam cascaded through the bars of the tiny window, illuminating the dank cell. Two rats fought over the supper plate left on the floor that he never touched. Sheriff Taylor yelled in and asked Aaron if he wanted breakfast. Hunger was the least of his problems, knowing he was to be put to death in a few hours.
The hangman was getting an early start to his day, testing the workings of the gallows' trap door. A small crowd of townspeople were already starting to gather, attempting to get the best viewing spot. Aaron anxiously looked beyond his only scenery, now that he had a glimmer of hope to see tomorrow.
* * *
The crowd was beginning to swell as the sun was nearing high noon. It was almost time. The squeaky old door hinges, along with the footsteps that echoed against the hallway's stone walls, broke the deafening silence.
A softspoken voice from behind said, "My son, come let us pray to the Almighty for your forgiveness."
"Padre," Aaron began, "I shall never be forgiven for taking the lives of five men. But rest assured, the souls of these five men are going to hell for what they did to my Fanny. She was a person in the eyes of God, regardless of what any judge says. I should not have to pay this price."
"Come on Aaron, it's time. Put your hands behind your back."
The Sheriff snapped the handcuffs closed, and led him outside to the gallows. "Say, Aaron, I don't suppose you're going to need those fancy boots of yours where you're going, you mind if I have 'em?"
"Sheriff, when you can take them off of my cold body, they're yours. But not until."
The hangman approached the two of them and glared into Aaron's eyes. "Are you ready for what's about to happen?"
"Nobody in their right mind is ever ready for their own demise," Aaron paused for a moment, "But given the chance to be with Fanny again, yes I am ready."
A hush came over the crowd as Aaron was led up the stairs to the platform. Mothers turned their children's eyes away when the hangman placed the hood over Aaron's head.
The searing midday sun was blinding. The hangman stepped closer as he adjusted the rope around Aaron's neck. "Remember what I said. When the trap door opens, do not move. You must pretend to be dead. I'll talk to you later."
Without any hesitation he pulled the lever engaging the trap door, and Aaron's body jerked at the end of the rope.
The hangman looked out at the crowd and pointed at two men in the front row. "You two, help me get him down and to the coroner's office."
"What's your hurry?" someone yelled out, "Let him hang for a while."
"I can't wait around forever. I have to take the gallows apart and move on to the next hanging."
The men threw Aaron's body over a horse, and the Sheriff escorted them to Doc's place. Dr. Middleton also served as the county coroner, and asked the men to carry the body inside so he could examine it and verify the death. Sheriff Taylor followed behind to retrieve his handcuffs and take Aaron's boots.
"I can handle it from here Sheriff, thank you very much." Doc hurried them out, closing the door behind them.
Doc was frightened, not seeing any signs of breathing from the body. It was quite possible that the ruse didn't work and Aaron was actually dead. He removed the hood and still no reaction. Doc unlatched the door to the medicine cabinet and pulled the bottle of smelling salts from the shelf.
Aaron jerked back to consciousness with a good sniff, and started coughing and gasping for air. Doc hurriedly stuffed a towel in his mouth and told him to be quiet. Footsteps could be heard racing up the stairs. Doc jumped outside, pretending to cough like he had the croup.
The Sheriff met Doc about halfway up the steps and Doc was quick to offer, "That smell gets me every time no matter how often I do it."
"What are you talking about Doc?"
"The smell our bodies give off when you cut them open in the autopsy. You want to come in and see for yourself?"
"No way. I'll take your word for it. But why are you doing an autopsy Doc? You know he was hung."
"Regulations, Sheriff. If I don't follow the rules, I could lose my license. Now, we don't want that to happen, do we?"
"Okay, Doc. I'll have a couple of men go dig the grave."
"Thank you Sheriff."
Doc returned inside to tend to Aaron.
"Doc, just what the hell is going on?" Aaron begged, his voice hoarse and raspy from the hanging. "Am I really dead?"
"No, my boy. You are very much alive, and about to receive an offer of a future, if you want it."
"What are you talking about, Doc? I am not understanding any of this."
"Soon, boy, very soon. You'll know everything as soon as it's dark. I've got to hide you until then."
* * *
Aaron sat in the dark massaging his sore neck when the door swung open. In stepped Doc with two handsomely dressed gentlemen.
"Aaron," Doc said while closing the door, "this is Thurston McDaniel and Aloisius Turnbull. They have a proposition for you."
"I hope that one of you is going to tell me just what the hell is going on here."
Mr. Turnbull cleared his throat and addressed Aaron. "Mr. Knight, we saved you from your demise because we need your services."
"I don't understand."
"Let me try to explain. You see, Mr. McDaniel and I see a prosperous future for the west, and between the two of us, we are investing a tremendous amount of money both in banks and in the railroad system. The problem we face is, currently there is no law west of Kansas, and several gangs are robbing us blind."
"What do you think I can do for you? They just tried to hang me for killing five men." Aaron's voice got raspier the more he tried to talk. Doc fetched him a glass of water.
"Yes, that was unfortunate." Turnbull continued, "But that's exactly why we chose you. You are young and strong and pissed off at the world, and most importantly, you have proven that you are not afraid to kill."
Aaron doubled over coughing, took another sip of water and stood up. "You'd better get to the point. You saved my life to do what for you?"
"Turnbull, if I may," McDaniel interjected, "Son, we want you to infiltrate these gangs, one at a time, and find a way to wipe them out. Plain and simple, that means killing every last one of them any way you see fit."
Aaron couldn't believe what he was hearing. "I still don't understand. What makes you think I can do that? And, what's in it for me?"
Turnbull and McDaniel looked at each other, finally Turnbull said, "We believe that you will find a way to accomplish what we need you to do. This is your only opportunity to stay alive. When we receive word that these bandits have been taken out, we will wire funds to you, under the name of Aloisius Turnbull, Jr."
"And if I refuse?"
Turnbull pulled his revolver from its holster and pressed it firmly against Aaron's forehead.
"That grave they are digging for you should be finished by now, and technically you're already dead, so we will make sure you are, and plant you in that hole."
"Then, I guess you leave me with no choice."
"We thought that you would see it our way. There are rumors circulating around of an outlaw by the name of Brodie Raymond. He is easily recognizable by the scar on his left cheek and rope burns on his neck, and he has a terrible reputation for killing and stealing."
"What's that got to do with me?"
"It's the new you." Turnbull unsheathed a knife and passed it to Doc. "Doc, please."
A swift slash from Doc, and blood gushed from Aaron's cheek. After wiping the knife off, Doc tossed the towel to Aaron and told him to put pressure on the gash. "It should heal up and scar over by the time you get to where you're going."
"You sir, are now Brodie Raymond," offered Turnbull. "Your description is on wanted posters everywhere. Good luck."
McDaniel handed Aaron a bag with clothes in it. "Change into your new duds. Your grave is in the pauper section of the town cemetery. There is a horse there waiting for you, equipped with all the things you need to travel, including a gun belt and rifle. You need to fill in your hole and be out of town before sun up."
"One more thing," Aaron added, "let's just say I'm able to do what you want, and I stay alive, then what?"
"IF that time comes," McDaniel emphasized the IF, "you will get to stay alive."
* * *
Aaron, er, Brodie hurried to finish the shoveling. The morning sky was getting brighter and the sun would be peeking above the tree line before too long.
The horse that was left for him was a beautiful black stallion that stood at least fifteen hands high. No expenses had been spared with the buckskin saddle and bridle, or the matching two-gun holster. The twin Colt-45s sported white pearl grips and felt good in his hands.
Brodie stroked the stallion's forehead, "Well Big Boy, guess it's time to start our new life together. I hope you're ready for this, because I'm not so sure I am, but it beats being dead."
Thoughts of Fanny pierced through his brain as he rode out of town, but he knew it was time to put some distance between himself and his past.
* * *
There were more miles in between settlements the further west you traveled, and Brodie soon found out that his reputation had swiftly preceded him. Upon entering the first so called town, he stepped inside the only watering hole he spotted. He cleared the bar simply by walking in. The jittery bartender begged him not to cause any trouble.
Brodie ordered a whiskey. The bartender slid the bottle down the bar and told him, "No charge". He poured a couple of glasses for himself and tossed them back. The gut-rot whiskey had the flavor of kerosene and burned his throat. As Brodie scanned the barroom, every single cowpoke turned their eyes away from him. The barkeep directed Brodie to the only hotel in town for food, and apologized for not having any.
Brodie stood alone at the bar. Looking up, he could see his reflection in the big mirror behind the rows of bottles. He hated seeing the scarred face he now wore, and pulled out his pistol and squeezed the trigger, shattering the glass mirror.
"Barkeep, who around here knows the most scuttlebutt?"
Chester wiped the beaded sweat from his brow. "That would probably be me, Mr. Raymond."
"So, you know who I am?"
"Any gangs holed up in these here parts?"
"Can't rightly say."
Brodie set his Colt revolver on the bar. "Can't or won't?"
The barkeeper looked across the room and quietly said, "The Larson Gang was through here 'bout a week ago. Seeing as though we got no bank, they robbed the hotel and this here saloon. Shot up the town real good, they did, but only got about fifty bucks for their troubles."
A voice from the other side of the room yelled out, "You got a real big mouth, Chester. Ya ought to learn to keep it shut."
Brodie saw the man's reflection in the broken shards of the mirror. The bartender said that the mouth belonged to the ruffian who thought he ran the town. Brodie turned to face him. The man kicked his chair back and tried to draw, but Brodie shot him dead before he could unholster his gun.
A crippled old prospector rustled the money from the guy's coat and shuffled his feet around to the backside of the bar. He helped himself to a bottle and two glasses from a hidden shelf. Chester yelled at him, "Get away from there, you old coot."
"Well now, don't get your britches in a bunch, you young whipper-snapper. This fine young man just saved this town a whole heap o' trouble, by takin' out that sonna bitch. I'm gonna buy him a good drink, not that gut-rot you pour us."
Brodie placed his 45 back on the bar, looked at the old guy and said, "I'll take that drink mister, and the money too. And while you're at it, clean out the till, and pass the hat around to all of your friends here."
"You'll not get much," Chester said. "Nobody in these parts got any money. And those who did, got wiped out by the Larsons."
Brodie took the money from the old man's hat, looked at Chester and said, "I couldn't live with myself if I left your town without taken somethin' that didn't belong to me."
Brodie back tracked to the door. Out the corner of his eye, he spotted one of the patrons slide his hand to his holster. "Uh, I wouldn't do that if I was you," he said as he cocked the hammer back.
"C'mon Big Boy, let's high tail it outta here." One slap of the reins on the rump and Big Boy was at full gallop.
* * *
Nightfall would be arriving soon, Brodie needed to find a place to set up camp. Recognizing an imitation bird call, he knew he'd been spotted by somebody. A tall gangly fellow showed himself from behind a sassafras shrub and pointed his Winchester at Brodie's head.
"Get down off that horse, mister," he said.
"I got no beef with you," Brodie replied, as he stepped around Big Boy.
"You're in the wrong neck of the woods." He motioned with his rifle for Brodie to walk on ahead.
Standing his ground, Brodie said, "You're aiming that thing at the wrong guy."
Five more guns were pointed in his direction as Brodie was led into the camp of the Larson Gang.
"State your business stranger," Larson said.
Brodie stayed silent. The barrel of a rifle poked his ribs. "The Boss said, state your business."
Scanning his adversaries, Brodie faced the man who spoke first. "If you're the boss, you'd better tell your men to lower their weapons before two of them die."
"How do you figure?"
"I can draw and shoot two men before any one of you can get a shot off. And you will be one of the two."
Larson took a step toward Brodie and looked at his face real close. "Boys, put your guns away."
"Do as I say, now," Larson commanded. "We were just about to sit down to supper. Join us?"
"Don't want to intrude, but I don't mind if I do."
"Shorty, you're supposed to be standing guard. Did it ever occur to you to take his guns?"
Brodie looked up at his escort. "Shorty?"
Larson chuckled. "Yeah. It's an obvious nickname since he's a foot taller than the rest of us. Everybody's got nicknames. Let's see, yours is pretty obvious too. Scarface."
No sooner were the words out of his mouth, when Brodie drew both pistols and pressed them against Larson's temples. "Don't you ever call me that again, or it will be the absolute last breath you ever take on God's green earth. Do you understand me?"
Shorty cocked his Winchester and aimed it at Brodie's head. Brodie whirled and shot him in the chest. "I told you, you were aiming at the wrong guy."
Brodie glared into Larson's eyes, "Now, can we get back to dinner?"
The rest of the gang was uneasy about their guest, especially after he killed Shorty. They were whispering amongst themselves as to how they were going to get rid of him, and were shocked when the boss invited Brodie to join them.
"We could use another gun, now that you done kilt Shorty."
"For what? Why would I want to join up with you?" Brodie asked while staring down his soon to be new compadres.
"We're lookin' to make a big haul in a couple of days, and need six guns for the job," Larson told him, as he received the evil eye from his men. "And if any of you bozos got somethin' to say, say it now, or keep yer peace."
"Boss, how do ya know we can trust this yahoo?" asked Slim.
"This ain't no yahoo, Slim. This here's none other than Brodie Raymond."
Brodie raised his eyebrows, "You know who I am?"
"I wondered. But the moment you pulled yer pistols on me, I knew fer sure."
Slim and the other three glanced at each other, slouched, and went back to finishing their supper.
As the night grew darker, Larson gathered everyone around the fire and laid out plans for the big heist. The C & O Railroad was going to be rolling through Rocky Gulch in two days, carrying gold and munitions for Fort Collins. The train has to slow down through the gulch, putting the guards on high alert for an ambush. The plan was to highjack the train after it leaves the confines of the gulch, just before it picks up speed again.
The fire was left to burn out and everyone turned in for the night. Brodie stayed awake, waiting until all of the others were fast asleep.
With the other five snoring in unison, Brodie started on his silent mission. One by one, he approached each member of the gang, smothered their faces with a rolled up bed cloth, and sliced their throats.
He saved Larson for last. "Hey, wake up," he hollered. Larson tried to sit up but Brodie had his knee on his chest. "Larson, when you get to hell, tell them Brodie Raymond sent you."
Brodie placed the knife across Larson's Adam's apple and leaned on it. A gurgling sound emanated from Larson's neck as he gasped for air one last time.
Brodie wiped the knife clean on Larson's vest, and laid down for a good night's sleep.
* * *
Intending on an early start to his day, Brodie first needed to stage the area to look like a robbery. He gathered their weapons and ammo, the valuables from their saddle bags, and removed all of their boots. These items could be used for trade if he ran into any unfriendly natives. He selected one of their horses to use as a pack-animal and set the other ones free.
It was possible that no one would find the bodies for quite some time. Larson had picked a well treed spot for his encampment, but the area had to be left just right.
"C'mon Big Boy, it's time to mosey on."
* * *
Brodie traveled for several days, never laying eyes on another living soul. Just up ahead through the trees he spotted a water tower. There would only be one reason for it to be there, the railroad. If he waited there for the next train, he could at least find out how far he was from the closest town.
He found a spot suitable to set up camp, but before he could even unlash his satchel from the pack horse, Brodie heard a train whistle in the far off distance.
The approaching train slowed to a stop. The engineer lined up directly under the water chute.
"We don't want no trouble, mister," the engineer yelled down from the cab.
"Just wanna know how far to the next town. Not lookin' to cause no trouble."
Brodie no sooner got the words out of his mouth when five riders came thundering up from behind him with their guns a blazing. Several passengers on the train joined the crewmen and returned fire. Brodie suddenly found himself in the crossfire and was forced to shoot his way out.
When the smoke cleared, the robbery attempt only resulted in a lot of dead bodies. All five of the attackers lay on the ground, although two were still moving. The train engineer was dead, as were several of the passengers.
Brodie was somehow unscathed through it all, but was looking at the barrel of a shaking rifle, being aimed right at him by the fireman.
Brodie holstered his gun, put his hands in the air and yelled, "I'm not a part of this. I want no more trouble. And I don't want nothin' you got. Can you get this train to the next town by yourself?"
"Well, I ain't gonna stop ya."
While the train took on water, Brodie collected the guns from the dead men and chased away their horses. He knelt down next to one of the guys who was still breathing.
"Are there more of your gang?"
The guy pulled his handkerchief down from his face, moaned and coughed, and gasped for enough air to say, "Go to hell", before his body gave up.
Brodie turned to the last one alive. That guy grabbed ahold of Brodie's shirt with his bloody hand, and pleaded with Brodie to save him.
"Nope. Sorry, but your time's up buddy, you're gonna die. It's just a matter of now or later."
"Then, please mister, put me out of my miser . . . " He didn't even get to finish his last sentence.
As the train headed out for its next stop, so did Brodie and Big Boy.
* * *
The next town was closer than Brodie anticipated, and he arrived there before dark. After the morning's skirmish with the would-be train robbers, he wasn't feeling like dealing with any more people, so he set up camp just outside of town. He put a pot of coffee on the campfire, and settled on some jerky for his supper, while Big Boy and the pack horse grazed on the plentiful green grass.
The cloudless sky turned into a blanket of blinking stars as the sun disappeared over the hills. Brodie fell fast asleep, only to be awakened hours later by a wet tongue slobbering on his face.
It was daylight already, and peering through his eyelids he could see a little boy with his arm around a big yellow dog.
The boy squatted in front of Brodie and asked, "Hey, mister, are you dead?"
"Well, son, that just might be the question of the day. Are you an angel?"
"No sir. I'm a little boy. And this here's my dog."
"Your dog gotta name, boy?"
"Yes sir. My daddy calls him Dog."
"Can you tell me where I am?"
"In my yard. That's my house over yonder."
"Can you fetch me some grub, boy?"
Once Brodie was upright, he could see the outskirts of the town. He no sooner had his gear packed, and the little boy returned with some biscuits.
"Thank you, boy. Tell me, where's your daddy?"
"He's at workin'," the boy said, staring at Brodie's six-shooters.
"What's your daddy do?"
The boy got real excited and said, "My daddy is real portant. He touches everybody's money."
"He work at a bank?"
"Oh, no. He gots a money store," he said, beaming ear to ear.
"Thanks, boy. I'll see ya around," Brodie said, and headed into town.
Wherever he was, it was about the quietest place he'd ever ridden in to. There wasn't a single horse tied to a hitching post, nor was anybody walking the street.
Brodie tied Big Boy up in front of the saloon. A sign on the door said, 'Closed until noon', then he heard the church bell ring. It dawned on him that it must be Sunday, and everyone was in church. That would explain why he was all alone. He was checking the straps on the pack horse when he heard a door open and men talking. Brodie leaned around the backside of the horse, to see five men coming out of the bank. Four of them had guns and saddle bags, the fifth man had a gun to his head. They all darted down the alleyway between the buildings.
Brodie waited until he could hear the sound of their horses, and ran down the alley. He watched the dust cloud kick up behind them as they rode off. There on the ground was the fifth guy. His head was bleeding pretty bad.
"I'll live. I'm not so sure about the town though. Everybody's money was in that bank. Those thieves got away with all of it."
Brodie curiously looked at the stranger and asked, "You got a little boy and a dog?"
"Yes, but what's that got to do with anything? Are they alright?"
"They are fine. I was just askin'."
Brodie waited for the church services to be over and the saloon to reopen. He settled in for the afternoon to devour a steak dinner and several shots of whiskey. The townspeople were slowly finding out about the robbery and were getting riled up. It was time for Brodie to track down the thieves before any town vigilantes interfered.
About a mile out of town, he located a wooded area where he could hide his pack horse while he trailed the thieves. Their tracks led Brodie down a laneway that was carved out of the heavily treed forest. He traveled cautiously, wishing that he had eyes in the back of his head. Not hearing anything but singing birds, chirping crickets and Big Boy's hooves on the earth, Brodie began to wonder if he was on the right path.
Big Boy raised his head in the air and snorted. The smell of a wood fire permeated the air.
"Well, Big Boy, I didn't know that you were part bloodhound."
Brodie traveled the rest of the way on foot until he reached the cabin. Four horses were tied out front and he didn't notice a single man standing watch. He snuck up to the cabin and peeked in the lone window. All four of the men were sitting around the table.
Forcing his way into the cabin would be a suicide mission, he had to figure out a way to get them outside.
Brodie gathered some dried grass and piled it at the corners of the cabin. He planned to smoke them out. He started a fire, then blew out the flames, in order to let the piles smolder.
The game plan was effective, one by one they ran out coughing from the smoke. Brodie laid on his belly behind a rock and once the last guy was outside, picked each one of them off with his trusty old Winchester.
When nightfall arrived, Brodie packed up all of the saddle bags, and rode back to town and headed to the banker's house. He attempted to put the money on the porch without being noticed, however, Dog had other ideas and announced his arrival. The banker opened the door and greeted Brodie with his .45 in hand.
"I remember you. What are you doing here?" he asked, cocking the hammer.
"Don't shoot. I'm returning your money. Those men won't bother you ever again."
"Who are you, mister?"
"Let's just say I'm a very close friend of Dog, and your boy. Now, if you'll just lower the pistol, I'll be on my way."
Brodie disappeared into the darkness.
* * *
Brodie Raymond stoked the morning fire to heat up some coffee and counted his blessings, wondering at the same time how and why he had been so lucky to stay alive.
In a short few months, he had survived hanging at the end of a noose, he had overpowered several gangs of criminals, racking up more kills than the best buffalo hunters, prevented several robberies, became a blood brother to the Lakota, and put up with all of mother nature's furies. It was time to find somewhere to hibernate.
The nights were getting colder and the leaves were changing to their fall colors. Winter in the Rockies was arriving early, and heading back east didn't seem like a good idea. The Arizona Territory looked like a plausible destination for a few months, but first there was a matter of having the funds wired to him that were promised.
Brodie traveled to the nearest train depot, the last on the line before traversing the Rocky Mountains.
Three days later he got a response to his telegram. It was addressed to Aloisius Turnbull, Jr. and thanked him for his service and enclosed a money order for fifteen dollars.
Brodie stood in disbelief, looked at the clerk and said, "This can't be right. Fifteen dollars? Surely there's been a mistake."
"I'm sorry sir, but I'm just the clerk. I take the messages and pass them on."
"Can I cash this money order here?"
"No, sir. You'll have to take that down to the bank."
Brodie was pissed. He put his life on the line to save their railroad and their banks for a measly fifteen dollars? It was a very good thing that Turnbull and McDaniel weren't standing in front of him, or he'd have two more notches on his gun.
He took a deep breath and said to himself, well, two can play this game, and headed to the bank.
Just as he was about to enter the building, a man came running out with a gun in his hand and a bag thrown over his shoulder. Chasing after him was one of the tellers.
"That son of a bitch just robbed us blind," he yelled, "Stop him."
"You'll never catch him," Brodie yelled. "How much did he get away with?"
"Everything, he cleaned out every till, and the safe."
There was only one thing that Brodie could do. "C'mon, Big Boy, let's ride." And the black steed flew out of town.
As soon as Brodie caught up to the thief, he stopped chasing him and just started to follow behind, waiting to see what his next move was going to be. A couple of miles down the road, and the horse first slowed to a trot, then stopped altogether. The rider turned to look at Brodie and waited for him to ride up alongside of him.
With his gun drawn, he said, "You following me mister?"
Brodie tipped his hat back and nodded his head. "What gave you your first clue?"
"What do you want?"
"Well, you see," Brodie continued, "I got this here cashier's check, and I wanted to cash it at that bank you just thieved from. But it seems as though you took all of their money. I want some of it."
"You want me to cash your check? Are you off your rocker?"
"Oh, no. You see, the guy that owns the bank, well he owes me. So, I want everything that you took."
"I'll shoot you first."
"I don't think so. You see, even sittin' on this here horse, I can draw my gun and shoot you before you can pull your trigger. Now you can go ahead and try me if you want, or you can drop the bag and ride off, and I'll let you stay alive. What's it gonna be?"
"Just who the hell do you think you are anyway?"
"I thought everyone knew me. Allow me to introduce myself, the name is Raymond, Brodie Raymond. And what do they call you?"
The rider looked Brodie over good: black hat, black shirt, black pants, black horse, two fancy guns, scarred face, yup, it could be him.
"I'm Jesse Dalton," he said, and holstered his gun.
"Well, Jesse Dalton, I'll take that bag now."
"My brothers aren't gonna be happy about this."
"You can tell them to look me up anytime. Now, ride on outta here."
Brodie opened the bag and took a quick glance at the loot. Without counting it, it appeared to be an acceptable amount for what he felt was owed to him.
"Well Big Boy, it looks like we've been paid after all. Time to say goodbye to Brodie Raymond, and hello to the new me, Boyd Gallagher."
The wind picked up bringing a chill to the air. Looking up at the darkening clouds, Boyd patted his horse's neck and said, "Big Boy, Arizona is looking better and better. The snows are coming, so we're going." He nudged his spurs into Big Boy and yelled, "Get up there."