December, 2022

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Issue #159

All The Tales

Truth Alone Lives on Forever
by Jeffrey Kedrick

Two of the train robbers lay dying in the dust, their blood leaking out and horses scattered. A third robber was riding hard, whipping his lathered horse, trying to get away from the famous lawman and his Native-American partner. The Legend sat tall in the saddle and drew his gun, his white hat and iconic black mask steady as a rock. The gun barked twice but the robber wheeled his horse and charged back towards them. The Legend had missed! After all these years, he had missed! The robber fired and three bullets tore into the trusted partner. Buckskin fringe shook wildly as the partner flew backward off his horse, leather headband sailing away in the wind.

* * *

The young deputy banged on the door three times, shaking the walls of the lonely shack. There was no answer, so he backed away into the dusty yard to look for the owner's horse. The famous white horse waited patiently for him there. The thoroughbred was fine-looking and tall, over seventeen hands high, but was neglected, the careless saddle still clinging to his back. The deputy took the time to remove the saddle and rub the horse down with sweetgrass. For his efforts, he received a grateful nuzzle and a soft whinny of thanks.

"Okay now, Silver. Good horse." The deputy went to the front door and banged away again. There was still no answer. Consarn it!

"Hello the house! Howwwwdyyy!" It didn't pay to go bargin' into a man's home round these parts. You were just as likely to be shot as welcomed.

He cracked the door and peeked inside. An unwashed sour smell hit his nostrils like stale beer on the dirty floor of an after-hours saloon. The one-room house looked like a mini-tornado had descended and hung around for a spell. Empty liquor bottles, a tattered shirt, and broken dishes were scattered on the bare wood floor. Bullet molds and a cartridge press surrounded the small silver foundry in one corner. The kitchen table was empty, save for a single blood-soaked leather headband. The deputy frowned at the grim reminder of Friday's events.

The famous man who owned the shack was lying passed out on the bed, naked except for his boots and a red bandana tied around his neck. The boots were worn and cracked and in need of a good polish. They hugged his legs tight, almost to the knee. One boot touched the floor, and the other rested on the bed's headboard. The Legend's uneven snoring filled the cabin, starting and stopping like a prairie chicken going after a June bug.

So, this was the man, the big man. Lying there buck naked, he shore didn't look like much. He had a slight paunch and his hair was grey and thinning, topping a wrinkled face that had seen better days. His three-day-old grey beard was not helping, and neither was the pool of drying vomit he was lying in.

The deputy bent over and shook him hard by the shoulder. On the far side of the bed, he saw the man's white cowboy hat, now a bit stained and crumpled. Was this really the hero that Wild Ridge needed? This hombre had saved many a town, but that seemed to be all in the past.

The deputy moseyed outside to the well pump and gave the handle several up and down cranks. The bucket filled with cool water, he came back inside and unceremoniously dumped it on the famous man's head. The man sputtered once  . . .  twice  . . .  and by reflex grabbed for a gun that was nowhere to be found on his naked body.

"D-d-dad blame it. What in all tarnation are you doin' up in here, you low down bushwacker!"

"Well sir, we're in trouble and reckon you're the onliest one can help us."

The Legend shook his head and said, "Well  . . .  why didn't you say so, boy? Stop drownin' me and we'll talk." After three tries, the Legend stood up, water still streaming off his wispy hair, and seemed to take in the room for the first time.

"Look at this god-awful mess!" he said. "What the hell you been doin' in here boy?" He looked down at his naked self. "Sweet suffering Jesus  . . .  Get me some damn britches! This is my domicile and not some peep show, you flannel-mouthed chucklehead."

The great man got dressed, buttoning a powder-blue long-sleeve shirt with a rawhide laced placket. He sucked in his gut and tugged up a matching pair of pants, looping a black western belt around himself. Clothed, he started to look a little more like the Legend and less like the town drunk.

They went and sat down at the table to talk, the Legend limping badly, but were stalled by the sight of the bloodied headband in the table's center. The deputy recovered and began to speak.

"Wild Ridge is under siege by Bert McCabe and his gang. McCabe is as mean as a rattlesnake caught on a saguaro cactus. Those varmints have taken over the saloon and the general store both. Marshall Bodine is dead as dirt, the hotel is burnt to the ground, and half the town is shot up. If'n you don't come today, they'll be nothing left but lizards and tumbleweeds!" It was a long speech for him and impassioned, the deputy's hands gyrating around like an unbroke bronco. He got an uncertain nod from the Legend, so the deputy left to get back to his dying town.

The Legend sat and pondered the deputy's words, leather headband in hand. He had never done this heroing business by himself, despite the infernal "Lone" moniker he'd been saddled with. He held his six-shooter hand straight in front of him, just to check again the shakes which seemed to be getting worse by the day. Reasons to quit were all he could get his head round. His eye strayed, startin' to hunt for a whiskey bottle with something in it, when the big white horse whinnied from outside. It roused something in him, got him moving, got him back to business . . . people savin' business.

The old black mask was hung on a peg by the front door. It looked a bit frayed and sweat-stained. He put it on his face as he knew no other way. It was a part of the man he was. It only covered his eyes, but for years it had been his disguise. He put on his white cowboy hat and looked into the cracked mirror. Once more, the ranger who always got his man stared back at him. His chest puffed out and he straightened, ready to kick some no-account behinds. He marched outside into the bright Sunday sun.

The Legend grabbed up the saddle that the deputy had draped over the hitching rail and cinched it onto the white quarter horse. He mounted, and with the slightest encouragement from his spurs, prodded the stallion into a healthy trot. "Hi-yo, old boy," he said quietly as they left his tumbledown shack behind. In his pocket, the leather headband pushed against his thigh.

Before setting off for Wild Ridge, there was a stop he had to make. Half an hour later, he reined the big white horse up next to a bunch of rocks strewn across a patch of sun-parched sand. This was not how he'd left the place on Friday. These were stones left carefully piled on top of his partner's grave, in order to protect him from the vile predations of coyotes and other vermin. Someone and only God knew who, had opened up the grave and uprooted the crude wooden marker he'd placed at its head. It lay some feet away, broken in two. You could still read the letters "Ton_ _" on it, but that was all.

He shook his head in sorrow as he stared into the empty grave. Then he turned the horse toward the town, his weary heart saddened with yet one more blow.

The sun was setting by the time he reached Wild Ridge. This place wasn't much to look at on its best day, and it was shore a grim sight now what with smolderin' fires and shot-out windows. Riding through town he noticed some faces peeking out from behind curtains, watching his every move. It was a good sign that they had not run. Perhaps the town could be saved, after he did his duty once more.

He dismounted in front of the saloon, gave the horse a quick nuzzle, and raised a hand to the deputy hiding behind the horse trough. Despite the hip pains, he strode confidently toward the saloon's swinging doors. The limp he could disguise, and nobody had to know about the broken-down shoulder and shaking hands that came with it. Experience and grit were going to get him through this, like they had hundreds of times before.

His heart wishing more for a drink than a gunfight, the man with the mask took a deep breath. He pushed through the swingin' doors and saw first the bartender. This mustachioed barkeep was quite a sight, shirtless with a red paisley tie around his neck and a woman's cotton bonnet on his head. His eyes looked wide and blank, an overloaded pair of peepers.

Another man sat well down the bar in the shadows. He wore fringed buckskins that seemed to glow white. He looked familiar somehow, but the hero had no time to think about that, because Bert McCabe himself sat at a card table in the middle of the room, as large as life.

The outlaw was surrounded by four of his men and several bottles of whiskey. He was wearing all black, his wild red hair somewhat tamed by a tall Stetson hat. The hat's band was adorned with a bright feather that shot skywards confidently. The two men's eyes locked.

"You're too late by a longshot, ol' man. Maybe twenty years too late," laughed the outlaw.

"You boys've played your last hand in Wild Ridge," the Legend said. He always liked to indulge in a little charged repartee before a gunfight. Despite his jitters, his voice sounded steady, thank the Lord.

"Would ya like a drink a'fore we kill ya?" McCabe offered up a half-full bottle of whiskey to the masked hero.

Unconsciously, the Legend took a step forward towards the bottle. He was betrayed by his own damn foot and looked down at it stupidly. He quickly drew it back, but it was too late. McCabe's men pointed at the retreating boot and laughed loudly at the hero's dancing.

Boot back under him, his anger rose. Pain was forgotten and the old energy surged through his body. These yellow-bellied sidewinders were laughing at him  . . .  at him! His gunfighter instincts took over. He was well-known not for killing, but for wounding his victims to take them out of action, so he sighted without thought their shoulders and hands. Eyes narrowing, it was time to give these boys what fer.

His guns were lovingly loaded with silver bullets, ready for this moment. In a flash the guns were in his hands, pointed and ready to fire. Five men and six shots, one extra for luck. That was how he always did it. He started to pull the triggers  . . . 

But it was too late. McCabe was already standing, a double-barreled shotgun smoking in his hands. For the first time in any gunfight, the famous man found himself flying backward, landing just in front of the swinging doors. He stared up at the ceiling, hearing more gunshots but feeling no pain, and feeling nothing at all as the gang blasted their weapons into him.

Still staring upward, the hero saw a face and finally recognized the shadowy man who'd sat at the bar. The loyal face of his partner was as familiar to him as his own. The glowing Native American reached down and put on the headband from the Legend's pocket, the circlet now a radiant white. The Legend felt his friend's hand firmly grasp his own as he was helped to his feet. He adjusted his mask, making sure it was secure over his eyes, and they walked arm-in-arm out of the saloon.

McCabe and his outlaws went back to their drinking and cards, happy to leave the lawman bleeding to death on the floor. Meanwhile, the two friends mounted their horses and were ready to ride.

As the big white horse reared up, the Legend in the black mask shouted, "Hi-yo Silver, away!" With that, the shining pair rode out of town together and into the beautiful purple and red sunset.

The End

Jeffrey Kedrick is a new author who lives on the beautiful Central Coast of California. Before becoming an author, he retired after 38 years as an engineer and project director for some of the largest projects in the world. He has been married to Lisa for 40 years and has two children at a university in Southern California. His patient family moved with him all over the world including Scotland, Angola, Australia, and even some exotic places like Texas and Louisiana. He recently finished an adventure / historical fiction novel set in Angola called "The Treasure of Tundavala Gap", planned for Q4 2022 publication.

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The Shooter
by Don Lawrence

As Pete bent over to wash his hands in the stream, he heard the rifle shot which flew just over his head and slammed into the ground behind him. He dropped the fishing pole and ran to his left where there was a small rock outcropping, part of the same rock formation from which the water descended into the pond in which he had been fishing.

Before sunrise that morning, Pete's older brother, Rick, walked down to the barn. Pete had already saddled his horse, Copper, so named because of his reddish-brown color. Pete had a small pack he was tying onto the back of the saddle. Tied to the rifle scabbard were two sections of his bamboo fly fishing rod. Rick asked, "How long you going to be gone?"

Pete explained, "I'm a fixin' to be back late afternoon or early evening. The fishing hole I favor is only about six miles or so up Cherry Creek. Just below the rim. I'll fish until mid-afternoon and head back down this-a way."

Rick warned, "Keep your eyes open."

Pete smiled and said, "I'll be just fine, big brother. Don't you worry."

"I'm sure you will. But still, be careful," Rick answered. "Joey Two Guns is a rattlesnake. He's killed others before and twice now he has threatened to kill you."

As Pete rubbed Copper's forehead, he looked at Rick and said, "I'll keep my eyes peeled. I've got my rifle and my pistol. We agreed, we're not going to let him cause us to live a life of fear. So, I'm going fishing just as I had planned to do a few days ago, and I'm going to bring home a bunch of nice fat trout for supper."

Rick smiled and said, "You're right. Have fun. See you later today."

All packed, Pete put his left foot into the stirrup, and swung his body up onto the saddle, his right leg swinging over to the right. He pulled his hat down tight and said, "Tell Julie to get the frying pan ready because I'm bringing home supper."

"Sounds good," Rick answered as Pete rode off.

Once clearing the ranch, Pete trotted his horse up the trail for the first two miles. He then let Copper walk as the trail narrowed and made its way up the canyon along Cherry Creek. A few mule deer that had been drinking from the creek scattered as Pete approached. He stopped and watched as they made their way up through the trees and then disappeared over a ridge. He passed a small pond, created by a beaver's dam, that also served as its den. Adjacent to the pond, he spotted a bald eagle sitting on a branch high up in a Ponderosa Pine tree. Pete figured the eagle was watching the pond for a trout to rise toward the surface, providing an opportunity for the eagle to swoop down to snatch the trout in its powerful talons. Pete thought about just fishing right here in this pond, but he was enjoying the ride up the beautiful canyon along the side of the small creek.

Half an hour later, he heard the bugle of a bull elk, calling out to any challengers in the area. He thought it was a bit early for the rut to begin, since it was only the first week of September, but then he heard a very distant response bugle of another elk looking for a showdown.

At one pond, he saw a few mallards and pintails, occasionally going bottoms up as they fed from the bottom of the small pond, consuming a smorgasbord of algae, aquatic plants, insects, worms, slugs, tadpoles and small mollusks. He stopped and inspected some tracks, which he determined were probably that of a mountain lion, the tracks being not more than a day old. The big cat had no doubt come down to the creek for a refreshing drink. He checked his Winchester to be sure he had remembered to load it, and then slid it back into its scabbard.

Eventually, he reached his destination. There was a nice, small meadow across the creek. The water tumbled over a few small boulders into a wide pool through which the water slowly flowed. The few times he had fished it, he had never failed to catch a few trout in this spot.

He dismounted Copper and led him just below the pool to the other side of the creek. While crossing, he gave the horse a few minutes to lower its muzzle into the water for a much deserved drink. Once across the creek, he removed the pack, scabbard, blanket and saddle from the back of the horse. He tied the horse to a fallen log and grabbed a few carrots from his pack, which he fed to the horse. He also dropped a few apples on the ground for the horse to enjoy.

While the horse was consuming his treats, Pete unstrapped his fishing rod from the scabbard, connected the two halves, then found his fishing reel in his pack and connected it to the handle of his fishing rod. He fed the tippet, leader and line through the guides and pulled enough line through so that it would not slip back. He retrieved his small case of flies, selected his favorite, tied it to the tippet and walked over to the edge of the water. There he began to slowly work his line, working the rod back and forth from the ten o'clock to two o'clock position, while slowly letting out some additional line. Ultimately, he let the fly land softly on the water, near the top of the pond, and immediately began stripping line as it slowly floated toward the downstream end of the pond. When the fly had reached the downstream end of the pond, he repeated the process and again landed the fly just below the spot where the water tumbled into the pond. This time, it only took a moment to get his first strike. He quickly set the hook and began working the fish. He played it just a bit, letting it run back and forth along the other bank. He reeled in the line he had stripped, and then slowly began to reel in the fish. He enjoyed the five or six minutes it took him to land the feisty Apache Trout. He tossed it up on the shore behind him, checked to make sure the fly was in good shape, and then started the entire process over again.

Pete was happy. He loved the beauty of the meadow, the various trees, the stream, the wilderness in general. He looked up at the bright blue sky and the white, puffy clouds that were slowly making their way along the rim above him. As a child, he didn't always enjoy going to church, but his family did so faithfully. Once in a while the preacher would say something that caught his attention. On one such occasion, he wrote down the verse the preacher was discussing and spent the next few days committing it to memory. Moments like this brought to the forefront of his mind that verse. He whispered it now as he worked his fly rod, watching the fly drift across the pond: "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities— his eternal power and divine nature— have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans chapter one, verse twenty."

He let out a sigh of contentment as he continued to strip line as the fly floated across the pond. Then the line tightened, the pole bent, he set the hook, and the fight was on! He immediately sensed that this trout was larger than the other. Eventually he caught sight of it as it made another run, pulling line from the reel as it went. It was indeed larger. He thought to himself, "This trout fights like it was sired by a bull!" In his experience, Apache Trout tended to be a bit more aggressive and larger than the other trout native to this area, the Gila Trout, but he was happy to catch either. The fish began to tire, and Pete brought it to the shore, holding the rod high in the air, pointing it behind him, he brought the fish to his feet, and grabbed it just behind the gills. He rarely used a net, and it may have cost him a fish or two over the years, but landing it by hand was part of the challenge. After removing the fly from the lip of the trout, he tossed it up onto the shore next to the first one he had caught. He then bent over to wash the fish slime from his hands. That is when he heard the rifle shot which flew just over his head and slammed into the ground behind him. He dropped the pole and ran to his left where there was a small rock outcropping, part of the same rock formation from which the water descended into the pond. Another shot ricocheted off the rocks as Pete ducked behind them. He looked at his horse, who was now about twenty-five yards away, head up, ears back, eyes wide open. He wished he had the Winchester that was still in the scabbard, leaning against the tree on the other side of the horse. It was too far to run for the rifle; no covering of any kind between him and the gun. He had his Colt 45 strapped to his hip and he'd have to make do with that. The individual with the rifle obviously had the advantage of accuracy from a greater distance. But Pete wasn't ready to concede the fight just yet.

He guessed that the shooter was using a Winchester Rifle that had a range of, with accuracy, up to one-hundred-fifty yards. Although his Colt had a range of just over one-hundred yards, it wasn't nearly as accurate from that distance. Pete had to figure out how to get within forty to fifty yards, without getting himself shot first. He figured he'd have about three seconds between shots, allowing the shooter the time to work the lever, take aim and then fire. However, if the shooter were shooting rapid fire, that is, shooting with the lever action instead of aiming and using the trigger, they could get shots off in just under one second. This method of shooting, however, was not nearly as accurate from long distance. Therefore, Pete figured on three seconds between shots.

Scanning the area around him, he saw a large boulder to his left, in the sand next to the creek. He was certain he could cover the distance in three seconds. He also liked the fact that it took him farther from his horse. The last thing he needed was for his horse to get shot, either directly or by ricochet. Now, how could he safely draw a shot from whoever that was up the hill? The hat trick was an old trick, he doubted that the shooter would fall for it. However, sometimes a guy would shoot at the hat, even though he figured it was empty, just to send a message of how good a shot he is. Therefore, Pete got set to make the quick dash to the large boulder, and after placing his hat on a short stick, he slowly raised just a small amount of the hat above the rock outcropping. The shooter took the bait. As soon as Pete heard the shot and felt the hat fly off the end of the stick, he dashed over to the large boulder, diving behind it and landing on the sand just before another shot ricocheted off the boulder.

"That guy is good," Pete thought to himself. He would have to change his plans accordingly. He had thought he might be able to work his way up the mountainside, going tree to tree. But having witnessed the accuracy of the shooter, he began to formulate another plan.

Step one of the new plan was patience. The large boulder provided ample protection. Settle down behind it and wait. Let the shooter deal with the anxiety of waiting. Let the tension build. Let the shooter's eyes grow weary as they watch intently for any movement behind the boulder.

Step two was listen. If the shooter grows impatient, he might try to sneak to a different vantage point. The shooter might even try to move far enough to one side or the other to be able to get a clear shot. However, every human makes noise when moving in the wilderness. It might be slight, barely perceptible, but it is there. The manmade sounds that, to most people, would blend in with the many sounds in the wild, sound slightly out of harmony to the ear trained by years of listening to the sounds of the wilderness. Pete had spent many years in the wilderness, listening, watching, learning. While he was growing up in Texas, his father had befriended Hawkalawa Masikee, or Hawk, as he preferred to be called, a Shawnee.

The Shawnees were a peaceful people who raised crops and hunted game. Hawk taught the boys a lot about hunting. Included in that education was the ability to hear things in the woods that most others would simply miss. Some of the sounds were easier to distinguish than others. They quickly learned how to tell the grunt of a black bear versus the grunt of an elk, the whining of a raccoon versus the moaning of a porcupine, the difference between the bark of a fox and the bark of a coyote, the screech of a red tail hawk as opposed to the sound of a barn owl when it chooses to screech rather than hoot. But there were other sounds that took longer to learn: How to differentiate the sound of a twig snapping under someone's foot versus the sound of a pinecone making a snapping sound as it hits a branch when falling from a tree. Or the difference between the sound of grass swaying in the wind versus the sound of someone's foot sliding slowly along the ground.

Many sounds were very subtle and took time to learn. It was those subtle sounds that Pete now listened for.

He also had one more trick up his sleeve: his horse, Copper. A cowboy's horse is oftentimes his best sentinel. Like most horses, Copper's senses were more highly developed and more nuanced than those of a human. As such, he was very much in tune with his surroundings. Any movement out of the ordinary caught his eye. If the horse sensed danger, his head would come up and his ears would perk up. Additionally, his ears would turn in the direction of any perceived danger. Therefore, Pete kept an eye on Copper as he waited to see what his would-be assailant would do.

He would implement step three of his plan in an hour or so. Let the stress build. Let the shooter wonder. Let the shooter grow impatient. Time was on Pete's side. He was in no hurry. His goal was to survive. The large boulder he hid behind provided the protection to survive. The shooter had an objective to achieve. The pressure was on his shoulders.

After working his plan over and over in his mind, and waiting for over an hour, Pete put his plan into action. He took off his shirt, and buttoned it up. He tied one sleeve into a knot, at the end, then filled that sleeve with sand, to make it look like there was an arm in it. He then tied the bottom of the shirt into a knot and also filled the shirt with sand. He pressed his body close to the boulder, intentionally made a scratching sound in the sand with his boot, and extended the elbow part of the shirt sleeve beyond the boulder and then quickly pulled it back in. He waited for a moment, as if waiting for a trout to take one of his lures. He then turned the shirt in such a way that he could extend the back of it beyond the edge of the boulder. No sooner had the shirt cleared the edge when a shot rang out. The bullet tore through the shirt, Pete cried out as he quickly pulled the shirt back and fell to the ground behind the safety of the boulder, out of sight from the shooter. He sat perfectly still and waited. After about ten minutes, he let out a long, low moan. He waited a few more minutes and coughed lightly. Then, sitting with his back to the boulder, holding his revolver in his hand, he waited. And listened.

For thirty minutes.

And then an hour.

And then an hour and a half.

And then, Copper's head came up. The horse looked up the slope. Then Copper looked over at Pete, and then looked back up the slope, as if to say, "Did you hear that?" Copper then went back to nibbling on some of the grass along the bank of the creek.

But Pete had been alerted. He continued to wait, listening intently to any manmade sound. After about ten minutes he heard it. It was a very subtle sound, barely noticeable, but he heard it. The sound of a boot that slid just a bit in the dirt. The shooter was coming down the hill. Slowly, meticulously, but he was coming. Pete smiled. The shooter had taken the bait. Now he just had to determine which side of the boulder the shooter would inch around. The shooter would not climb the boulder and come over the top. No, there was too much risk of making noise: a boot scuffing the hard surface, a pebble knocked loose and bouncing down the boulder, a slight amount of sand that could cause one to slip. The shooter would not take that chance. He would creep, as silently as he could, around one side of the boulder or the other. But which side would he choose? Pete would have to wait, and listen very attentively, to find out.

And so he sat, and waited, and listened, intently.

Copper lifted his head a time or two, but he couldn't tell Pete which side the shooter would choose. It would be up to Pete to react quicker than the shooter could step around the corner of the boulder, draw a bead on Pete, and pull the trigger. Pete stared straight ahead, listening like he'd never listened before. He reminded himself: Step one is patience, step two is listening. Two important lessons he had learned from his father's friend, Hawk.

The wait continued.

And then, the shooter made a mistake. A very small mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. A very small mistake, but a costly mistake. A very small mistake, but one that Pete heard. As the shooter stepped over a small log, just on the other side of the boulder Pete was behind, he bumped the butt of his rifle against his belt. It was a very light bump, one that the shooter didn't even realize, but it made a very slight sound. A sound that Pete heard. In spite of the noise of the water flowing a few feet away from him. In spite of the sound of the breeze rustling the leaves in the trees. It was a very subtle sound, but one that was out of harmony with the sounds of nature all around him. Pete heard a slight tap of the rifle on the belt. The sound came from his left. Pete slowly pointed his gun in that direction. Not more than two minutes passed before Pete saw the tip of the rifle and then the shooter peered around the corner to see if Pete was alive or dead. A second later, the shooter was the one who was dead. Without hesitation, Pete shot the shooter in the forehead, killing him before his body hit the ground.

Pete sat for a moment, staring at the shooter. He took a deep breath and then slowly let it out. He mumbled to himself, "Joey 'Two Guns' Johnson." After standing, he took a few steps to where the shooter lay, reached down, and picked up the shooter's Winchester. He worked the lever, ejecting all of the shells that were in the gun. Once emptied, he placed the gun on the shooters chest, then picked up all of the shells on the ground and put them in his pocket. He then removed the shooter's two pistols from their holsters and tucked them into his belt.

He went back to his hiding spot behind the rock. He shook all of the sand out of the shirt before putting it back on. He then went to the first rock he had hidden behind and picked up his hat. He placed his finger in the hole the bullet had made and mumbled to himself, "Nice shot Joey."

He walked over and picked up his fishing pole, dismantled it and walked over to his horse, Copper. He patted the neck of Copper, who, in turn, rubbed his nose against Pete's chest. Pete smiled, then placed the blanket and saddle on his horse. Once saddled, he rode Copper slowly up to the top of the ridge from where the shooter had been taking his shots at Pete. He found a fallen log that the shooter had hidden behind and from which he took his shoots. Pete saw three empty shell casings on the ground, which he left right where they were. As he looked around, he spotted the shooter's horse, tied to a tree about forty yards down the other side of the ridge. He rode down to it, without dismounting he reached down and untied the reins from the tree and then led the horse back to where the shooter's body lay. He allowed both horses to drink from the stream, then draped the body of the dead man over the back of his horse. He placed the shooter's rifle in its scabbard, which was still tied to the saddle. He placed the pistols into a small pack, which was tied to the back of the shooter's saddle.

He retrieved the trout he had caught, placed them in a small canvas bag, and tied them to the back of his saddle. He tied his fishing pole to his rifle scabbard, looked around to make sure he wasn't forgetting anything, took a drink from his canteen, refilled his canteen in the stream and swung up and into his saddle. Leading the other horse behind him, he made his way slowly back to the ranch.

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This story is an excerpt from my book, Shootout at the Soaring Eagle Ranch. Self-published on Amazon.

The End

Don Lawrence received his Bachelor of Science Degree and Master of Arts Degree from Pacific Christian College in Fullerton, CA. He was ordained into the ministry in 1978 at First Christian Church, Phoenix. He retired in 2017 and has spent his retirement fishing, golfing traveling, reading and writing.

Don and his wife, Lisa, live in Fountain Hills, AZ and have been married since 1980. They have two daughters, Andrea and Michelle, and two grandsons, Caleb and Jacob.

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Books by Don Lawrence

Shootout at the Soaring Eagle Ranch

Murder in a Small Town

Murder in a Small Town Church

Murder on a Small Town Golf Course

Remember Jesus: 52 Communion Thoughts and Meditations

Lessons from Life: 52 Short Devotions

The Book of Revelation: Insights and Interpretations

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Papa's Pistol
by Kenneth Newton

That Hus Walker needed killing wasn't in question. Folks had long been saying, "Somebody ought to shoot that sorry son-of-a-bitch," but nobody had stepped up and done it. But now he had murdered my papa, so I felt like the task had rightly fallen to me, though at the time I was but a girl of sixteen.

My name is Sis Barkley, nee Mallory. I'm nobody's sister, but I was going to be once. Momma and Daddy started calling me Sis while waiting for the new baby to come, but Momma and my baby brother both died during the birthing. Not long after that, Daddy handed me off to Momma's daddy, my papa, and said he needed some time alone to get his mind right. He never came back. I was six at the time, and from then on, it was just me and Papa and our little shack on the side of the hill above Randsburg.

Huston Walker made the circuit through the saloons of Randsburg, Jo'Burg, Osdick, Atolia, and Garlock, even going as far away as Ballarat, setting up his Faro table and relieving the miners of their pay. He was a cheat, of course, and he let men like Papa win just enough to keep them coming back to lose their winnings, and more. In the course of his work, he had shot one disgruntled loser and knifed another. In each case he claimed self-defense and walked away. Back in the 90's in those rough and ready gold mining towns, you could kill somebody for giving you the fish eye and usually get away with it. But he didn't take any chances with Papa. When Papa called him a cheat and stood up at the table, Hus Walker shot him in the chest with his big pistol and dropped a little pistol on the floor next to Papa's dying body.

I walked into the sheriff's office some weeks later, after Papa had been buried next to Momma, and after Hus Walker had once again been deemed an innocent man. Deputy J. D. Smith was balanced on the back legs of his chair with both feet on his desk, reading the newspaper. He rocked forward, put his feet on the floor, and stood up to greet me. "Hello, Sis. How you doin', girl?"

"Well," I said, "I've been better. But Bert and Shirley Meyers have offered me room and board for helping out at their mercantile, so I won't starve. Bert only tried to get frisky one time, and after I told him he needed to put that idea out of his head he said he was sorry and hasn't tried anything since. I guess I'm doing okay."

J. D. was young for a lawman, around 20, mild-mannered, and not a bad-looking fellow. Not all that long ago we had sat at the same table in the one-room schoolhouse. I was four years younger, but he peeked over and cheated off me all the time. He was timid, and I didn't think he was anyone who would strike terror in the hearts of lawbreakers. "I'm really sorry about all this, Sis."

"I know you are. Thank you. I don't want to bother you. I've just come for Papa's pistol."

J. D.'s eyes got big and he swallowed hard. "For what?"

"Papa's pistol. You know, the one he pulled on Huston Walker. The one that got him killed."

J. D. sat back down. "Now, Sis, you testified at the inquest yesterday that your papa didn't own no pistol."

"Yes, I did, because he didn't. But the law chose to take the word of Hus Walker and three drunks he probably paid fifty cents apiece to lie for him. The law says Papa had a pistol, and because of it, Hus Walker was justified in killing him. I'm the only family he had, so it is rightfully mine and I want it."

J. D. sighed and shook his head. "Be that as it may, Sis, I do not have it. I have disposed of it."

"What do you mean? You had no right to do that."

"Yes, I did. That revolver was seized as evidence. Once a case is closed, I am authorized to dispose of unclaimed property."

"Well, the case was only closed yesterday, and I am here to claim my property. What did you do with it?"

J. D. looked thoroughly ashamed. "I, uh, I sold it to Hus Walker." His face turned red.

"Now," I said, "that is just fine, isn't it? Give me the money and I will go and buy it back."


"Damn it, J. D., give it to me."

He retrieved three dollars from a drawer and pushed them across the desk toward me. As I picked up the money, I asked, "Will you come with me to talk to him?"

"No, Sis," he said, sighing heavily. "I will not."

When I got to the Mojave Saloon Hus Walker was preparing to leave town. I found him around back, packing his gear into his one-horse buggy. It was not so much a buggy as a cart, with an enclosed area behind the driver for cargo; in this case, a suitcase and a faro table. His eyes got big when he saw me, but once he saw my hands were empty, he relaxed and took off his hat, smiling like the snake he was.

"Miss Mallory," he said, "as I said yesterday, I am—"

"I'm not interested in hearing those lies again. I want Papa's pistol."

Huston Walker served to reinforce my considered opinion of handsome men, namely, that they were all seriously defective in some way, but usually managed to charm their way through life. Daddy was weak and irresponsible, J.D. was pretty much useless, and Hus Walker was a cold-hearted thief and killer. He was about 40, with sandy hair and blue eyes, and big dimples when he smiled. "Well, now," he said, "just yesterday you swore under oath that your papa didn't—"

"I just had that conversation with J. D., and I'm not having it again. Here's your three dollars. Give me Papa's pistol."

His expression turned sour, and he went back to stowing the legs of his Faro table in the buggy. "It's not for sale," he said as he worked. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'd like to get to Garlock before dark."

I was looking around for something I could use to crack open his skull when the fire bell started clanging. I ran through the alley onto Butte Avenue, and could see that a house down the street was ablaze. As was usually the case, there was a breeze blowing in Randsburg, and it was whipping the flames into a fury and sending burning embers flying. Men from all sides ran in the direction of the fire. Two other buildings caught fire in less than a minute, and the fires seemed to make even more wind. There was no water to speak of to fight the fire, but men were already on the roofs of nearby buildings pulling off burning planks and throwing them into the street where the flames were stomped out by other men. One man ran right by me carrying a box of dynamite. I knew his intent was to blow up buildings in the path of the fire in hopes of stopping the spread.

I heard the clopping of hooves behind me and turned to see Huston Walker making his escape. He was well on his way out of town, and would have made it had not a gust of wind blown a shower of red-hot sparks down the street right in front of his horse. The terrified animal whinnied, reared, bucked a couple of times, and bolted down the street aimlessly. Despite Walker's efforts to rein it in, the horse continued its runaway and soon ran a buggy wheel into a horse trough at full speed. The buggy bounced a good three feet high, sending Hus Walker flying, his arms and legs flailing. He landed hard and tumbled up the street. When he came to a stop, he didn't move.

I turned and saw that another bone-dry wood structure had caught fire. There was a lot of yelling and clanging of the bell as men worked furiously. Nobody was looking in my direction. I ran to Hus and kicked his shoulder. He didn't react, so I rolled him over onto his back. To my surprise, his eyes were wide open and staring at me. "I can't move," he gasped.

"Oh, gosh," I replied as I knelt, opened his jacket, and began to search his inside pockets. The first one I looked in held a fat wallet, which I stole. The second contained the small nickel-plated revolver with black grips that I had seen at the inquest. I took it out. "Here it is, Papa's pistol," I said. I stood up and examined the pistol. I could see the cartridges in the cylinder, and I decided that in order to fire it, I would need to pull back the hammer, which I did. The cylinder turned and locked in place, and the hammer stayed all the way back in the cocked position. Walker's eyes got a little bit wider. He acted like he was going to say something, but I guess he decided it was no use, so he closed his eyes to await that which he knew was coming, and which he knew he richly deserved.

I bent at the waist, put the muzzle close to his chest, and pulled the trigger. A surprising amount of white smoke and fire belched out of that little gun, setting his shirt on fire. His body convulsed once, his head turned to the side, and he stopped breathing. I had planned to shoot him again for good measure, but there was no need.

The burning shirt suggested a way to hide my crime, so I put the pistol and wallet in my bag, pulled the drawstring, and hung it around my neck. Then I grabbed Hus Walker by the feet and commenced pulling him toward the nearest building, the Randsburg Drug Company store. The pharmacist had run to the fire, and the door was standing open. The fire was rapidly moving up the street, and I figured since it was going to burn up anyway, the drug store might as well take Hus Walker with it. I was making progress, but slowly, when a man said, "Here," nudged me aside, and grabbed Hus by the ankles. He knew what I had in mind, and in a few seconds Hus Walker was in his crematorium and my accomplice was walking away.

I remembered that walk. "Daddy!"

He was only about fifty feet away when he stopped, seemed to think about it for a few seconds, then turned around. He had a beard and less hair, but it was my daddy. "I'm sorry, Sis," he said. "For everything. I wish I was a better man, you sure deserved better, but I just don't have it in me." He smiled a very tiny smile. "You came out a yellow-haired beauty, just like your momma. Goodbye, Sis. I love you." He turned and continued walking away.

"Daddy, you don't have to go. Please stay," I said, but he kept on walking. I said, "I love you, too, Daddy," but I was drowned out by a dynamite blast, and then he was around a corner and gone. I thought about running after him, but instead I ran to the mercantile and helped Bert and Shirley drag merchandise up the side of the hill. We saved quite a bit, but after about a half-hour we gave up and watched Randsburg burn.

* * *

As I had anticipated, the drug store burned to the ground. They found a body in the ashes, too burned up to identify. But since Hus Walker's horse was still dragging that torn up buggy around what was left of the town, they assumed it was him, badly injured in the buggy wreck, and looking for help in the store, where he died. Huston Walker's official cause of death was "accidental injury." So, the law got it wrong again, which I thought was only fair. Maybe sometimes two wrongs can make a right.

It wasn't the first time Randsburg had burned, and it wouldn't be the last. But there was still gold in the ground, so the rebuilding began almost before the ashes were cold. Wagonloads of lumber arrived daily, along with stage coaches full of carpenters.

One of those carpenters was a personable young man named David Barkley, whom Bert Meyers hired to frame the new mercantile and lay out the ceiling joists. Twenty-five years, three children, and one grandchild later, he has managed to somehow keep concealed his worst personality flaws, which I know he is bound to have in abundance, as good-looking as he is.

I told him about Hus Walker years ago when we were still in Randsburg, not long after we met. I thought it might mean the end of us, and if that was going to be the case, I wanted to get it over with. But all he said was that he would have done the same thing, and that I must never, ever, tell anyone else. And I never did.

I don't know what I'm going to do with this story. I've thought about sending it to Life magazine, or maybe even the New Yorker. I could change the names, including mine, or I could just call it fiction. A person can confess to all manner of criminal activity if they say it was just make believe. I feel good about having written it all down, but I don't necessarily want my children and grandchildren knowing I murdered someone in cold blood, even if it was Huston Walker. I don't want them thinking it is okay to do that, or to steal money, for that matter, although most of that $262.00 was put to good use building Bert and Shirley's new store.

I've also thought about burning it, which would be kind of poetic, in a way. Or I might just fold it up and lock it in the desk drawer, next to papa's pistol.

The End

Kenneth Newton writes out of Ridgecrest, California, a few miles north of the Rand Mining District where this story is set. He has published a Civil War/Western novel, Passing Through Kansas, has put numerous stories in Frontier Tales, and has been selected to be included in several Frontier Tales anthologies. He placed a non-fiction article, "Wyatt Earp's Last Showdown," in the April 2021 edition of Wild West magazine. His article about western actor Kelo Henderson, "It's Good to be a Fellow Gunslinger," will appear in the December 2022 edition of Roundup, the publication of the Western Writers of America.

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by John Porter

In the early morning, an empty bottle flew over the batwing doors of the saloon. It flew past a horse tied to the hitching rail and splintered in the street.

Alone in the saloon, Billy Joe Tucker, a young cowboy, sat at a table and stared at a full bottle of whiskey on it.

"He called me a liar," Billy Joe shouted.

He pounded on the table.

"No man calls me a liar and lives!"

He grabbed the bottle, opened it, and took a swig.

"No man!"

He thumped the bottle on the table, pulled a bandana from his pocket, and wiped his forehead. He dropped the bandana on the floor and pulled a pistol from his holster.

"Let one do it, others will, too!"

He nodded.

"And you're as good as dead!"

He spun the cylinder, then grabbed the bottle, took another swig, and thumped the bottle on the table.

"As good as dead," he said again.

He loaded each of the six chambers, then stood and knocked over his chair.

He pulled back the hammer of his pistol and clicked it, then released it and eased it onto the firing pin.

"But soon, Mr. Black'll be dead  . . . "

He jammed the pistol into his holster and turned to the bar.

" . . . dead as that cougar I was tellin' him about!"

* * *

The night before, in the crowded saloon, Billy Joe stood at the bar, an empty shot glass in his left hand.

"I been tracking that cat for a day and a half," he said, "and I finally seen him. He was a-creepin' toward me. I pulled my iron  . . . "

He raised his right hand and pointed his forefinger at Johnny Black, a middle-aged man who leaned against the bar.

" . . . and plugged him!"

Johnny smiled.

Billy Joe pounded the shot glass on the bar.

"You got something to say, Mr. Black?" he shouted.

"Nope," Johnny said.

"I think you do."

"I don't."

Billy Joe sneered at him.

"You callin' me a liar?" he asked.

"Hey, now, young feller," the bartender said, "lemme buy you a drink, and we can all simmer down here. There ain't no need for loud voices in this—"

"You callin' me a liar, Mr. Black?" Billy Joe shouted.

Johnny looked at him.

"I'm not callin' you nothing, young man," he said.

"You're thinking I made up the story."

"I'm not thinking nothing."

"Yeah, you are!" Billy Joe shouted. "You're thinking I made up the story about the cougar! You're thinking I'm a liar!"

Johnny sighed.

"I'm callin' you out!" Billy Joe shouted.

"Let's just shake hands," Johnny said, "and go our separate—"

"You tell me where and when, Mr. Black, and I'll be there," Billy Joe said, then curled his lip. "And you better be, too."

Johnny turned toward the batwing doors and took a step.

"Mr. Black," the bartender said.

Johnny turned to him.

"Sorry," the bartender said.

Johnny nodded.

"I'm telling you, Johnny Black," Bill Joe said. "I want a showdown with you."

Johnny turned to him.

"On the street in front of this here saloon," Billy Joe continued. "Tomorrow morning!"

"You'll have your showdown, all right," Johnny said. "Every man does. But no man knows when it'll be  . . . or who it'll be with."

He walked away.

Billy Joe looked at Johnny's old leather gun belt. He looked at the shiny ivory grip of Johnny's pistol.

* * *

Alone in the saloon in the early morning, Billy Joe grabbed the bottle of whiskey and took a swig.

"When somebody calls you a liar," he shouted, "you gotta fight him!"

He took another swig, thumped the bottle on the table, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

"What else can you?"

"Ride away," someone said.

Billy Joe drew his pistol and turned toward a shadowy corner in which he saw the silhouette of a young man leaning against the wall.

"Just ride away," the young man said.

"Who are you?" Billy Joe asked.

The young man moved into the light: he wore the same clothes as Billy Joe and looked exactly like him.

"Good question," the young man said.

Billy Joe stared at him, then blinked and stared again.

"'Member when Betty Sue accused us of being with Sally Marie and we had been—but said we hadn't?" the young man asked. "Some would say we was a liar, and they'd be right."

Billy Joe stared at the young man, who shrugged.

"So," the young man said, "I gotta say I'm a liar."

"But . . . but I really did plug that cougar!" Billy Joe said.

"Did you, now? And when was this?"

"Six . . . maybe seven months ago."

"I recollect that six or seven months ago, you wasn't tracking no cougar for a day and a half . . . at least not the four-footed kind."

* * *

Six or seven months earlier, in the evening, Billy Joe stumbled through the brush, a foolish grin on his face.

"Oh, Sally Marie, you is one wild woman!"

He screamed lewdly, repulsively.

He drew his pistol and fired six times in the air.

"One wild woman!" he shouted. "One wild and wooly woman!"

He screamed again.

"Billy Joe!" a woman shouted.

He turned and saw Betty Sue, an angry young woman.

"You was with that whore Sally Marie, wasn't you?" she shouted.

"Na . . . na . . . no, Betty Sue," Billy Joe stammered. "No! I always been true to you!"

"Then what are you doing near her cabin?"

"I . . . I'm trackin' a cougar."

* * *

In the saloon, in the early morning, Billy Joe stared at the young man.

"Look," Billy Joe said, "whoever you are—"

"You know who I am," the young man said.

"I called him out," Billy Joe said. "If I don't fight, everybody's gonna think I'm a coward."

"You know who you called out, don't you?"

Billy Joe nodded slowly.

"Then you know he's a gunman," the young man said.

"What if he is? If I don't fight him—"

"If you do fight him, you could kill him," the young man said. "He'd never have another drink or another woman or another breath of fresh air."

The young man shook his head.

"He'd never see another sunrise or another sunset. But you would, 'cuz you'd be alive . . . unless he killed you."

"Do you think he could?" Billy Joe asked.

"I don't think he could," the young man said, then smiled. "I know he could."

"What am I gonna do?" Billy Joe asked.

He glanced at the batwing doors, looked back at the young man.

"Maybe . . . " Billy Joe said, "maybe he won't come."

"Here I am, Billy Joe," someone called from the street.

Billy Joe flinched.

"What am I—?"

"Take off your gun belt," the young man said, "go outside, and tell him you don't wanna fight."


"Tell him you was drunk. And you'd be telling the truth."

"He called me a liar," Billy Joe said.

"Did he really?"

"I . . . I think so."

"Well, you have been a liar."

"If I don't fight, everybody'll think I'm a coward."

"Maybe not," the young man said, then shrugged. "But even if they do, you'll see the sunset tonight."

"Everybody'll laugh at me."

"Maybe not," the young man said. "But even if they do, you'll see the sunrise tomorrow."

"I don't wanna fight," Billy Joe said.

"You don't have to."

"Yes, I do!"

"No, you don't."

Billy Joe looked at the pistol in his hand and knew that he wanted another drink, another woman, and another breath of fresh air. He closed his eyes and knew that he also wanted to see another sunset and another sunrise. He opened his eyes and looked at the pistol in his hand.

"You don't have to fight," the young man said.

Billy looked at the young man and knew how he would feel if others thought he was a coward, if others laughed at him.

"You don't have to fight," the young man said again.

Billy Joe looked at the pistol, then looked at the young man again.

"Yes, I do," Billy Joe said.

"Well, then," the young man said, drawing his pistol, "fight."

* * *

On the street, Johnny Black stood, facing the saloon.

"I come to tell you I don't wanna fight," Johnny said. "I don't remember calling you a liar, but if I did, I wanna tell you I didn't mean to."

He looked at the batwing doors.

How many times had he faced off against young'uns like Billy Joe? Too many. Years ago, when they called him out in some town, he would leave, but the young'uns, all swollen-headed, would follow him to the next town. So now he stayed and tried to convince them that their lives were more important than they seemed to think they were.

He took a deep breath.

"You're too young to die," Johnny said, "and I'm too old to kill again. Let's just shake hands and go our separate ways."

Someone fired a shot.

Johnny grimaced, walked to the batwing doors, and walked through them. He saw Billy Joe lying on the floor of the saloon, a gunshot wound in his right temple.

"Well, young man," Johnny said, "you had your showdown."

The End

John Porter manages his family's cattle ranch in California, where he also writes stories, essays, and screenplays. Twenty of his screenplays have been produced (thirteen of them are listed on the IMDb). In August of last year, Two Gun Publishing published Your Typical Outlaw and Other Stories of the Old West, a collection of some of his Western stories. Later this year, Two Gun Publishing will publish The Good Lawman and Other Western Stories, a second collection.

Here are the links to his sites:

John Porter - IMDb

Two Gun Publishing

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The Southern Pacific Job
by Ash K.

The small, sad house stood alone amidst the scrub and cacti. Inside, Cassie tightened the roll of gauze around Rosemary's upper arm, the blood staining her fingers.

"Goddamn, Cassie, can't you be a little gentler?" Rosemary gasped out.

"Do you want this done right, or not at all?" Cassie said as she pulled on the gauze again. Satisfied, she tore the end of the gauze off with her teeth and tucked it into the wrapping.

"It hurts," Rosemary said, sounding much like a petulant child.

"What did you expect? You're lucky the bullet didn't get stuck in you," Cassie said as she brushed a lock of Rosemary's reddish-brown hair to the side.

"I'm fine."

"No, you're not. You escaped death by an inch," Cassie said, her face growing red.

"That's the risk you run when you rob trains for a living," Rosemary said.

"Exactly!" Cassie snapped as she flung the roll of gauze aside. "I've had it with robbing trains and banks and stagecoaches and innocent people we stumble across. I'm tired of living in the middle of nowhere; I'm tired of spending whatever money we make on the next job, and then screwing that job up. I'm tired of the endless cycle that puts us back here. I want an honest life, Rosie! I can't do this anymore!"

Rosemary staggered to her feet, one hand clenching her wound. "I've never stopped you from going elsewhere."

Cassie shot up after her. "I haven't gone elsewhere because I need you. Haven't we been together long enough for you to figure that out?"

Rosemary glared at nothing in particular. "Look at me," Cassie said. After a long moment, Rosemary finally looked back at Cassie, who continued, "Rosemary Perkins, you know I love you more than anyone in the world. But I don't want to live a life without you. I'm torn here, don't you see? I can't stand the work we do, but I can't imagine living the honest life if it's not with you. If I walk away, I lose you, and if I stay, I might still lose you. What the hell am I supposed to do?"

"I don't know," Rosemary mumbled.

"Please, Rosie. Come with me. We can go to Phoenix, that's not too far. We can go further—San Diego, Los Angeles, even Fresno if you want. Or we could go back east, to Santa Fe or El Paso or all the way past the Mississippi. Anywhere you want, just as long as it's not here."

"This is my life, Cassie. This is all I know," Rosemary said, reluctant to look Cassie in the eyes. "There's no room in honest society for me."

"We'll make room," Cassie said as she reached for Rosemary's hand.

"But how?" Rosemary said. "We're broke."

Cassie's hand fell. She forced herself not to say And whose fault is that? Then she cursed herself for such thoughts, reminding herself that she went along with Rosemary's schemes as well. "You're not wrong," she said. "But there's got to be another way."

Rosemary's hand twitched as she slowly lifted it to meet Cassie's. "I . . . I have an idea."

"Tell me," Cassie said.

"One last job. You and me. It'll be different this time. No more dynamite or anything like that. Just confidence and our pistols. We'll make the people inside open the safe instead of trying to blow it open ourselves. If I know one thing, it's that all you need to get along in life is confidence, and everyone else will fall in line." Rosemary's eyes were aglow as she paced back and forth. "This could work, this could really work," she said to herself.

Cassie watched with hollow eyes. Of course, she thought. She wanted to yell until her voice died, to shake Rosemary by the shoulders and beg her to give it up. She wanted to fall to her knees and cry until Rosemary listened to her. And yet, when she looked at Rosemary's shining eyes and excited smile, she saw the woman she had fallen for nearly five years ago. She saw the dashing, devil-may-care bandit who had swept her off her feet one fateful night outside the saloon in Albuquerque. She never wanted to be apart from Rosemary Perkins, but Rosemary didn't always make it easy.

Cassie grabbed Rosemary's hand, and Rosemary stopped talking and looked at her with her deep brown eyes. "Listen to me," Cassie said. "We're going to eat dinner and go to sleep. When we wake up, I want you to explain your plan to me in detail. Convince me that it's worth going along with. If you can, then I will do this with you. And it will be the last job, no matter how successful we are. Okay? Can you promise me this will be the last job?"

"I can," Rosemary said. "It will be, I promise. Don't worry, though. We're going to succeed, and we're going to be rich, and we're going to live the life you want, and I will enjoy it because I'll be with you." She pulled Cassie into a kiss, and Cassie couldn't help but return the favor. Every time, it was like walking on air.

In the morning, Rosemary explained her plan to Cassie over the last of their breakfast of thin oatmeal. Cassie had to admit it was, if nothing else, less harebrained than some of Rosemary's other schemes. It seemed like it could work, generously speaking. "Alright," she sighed. "I'll do it."

Rosemary's eyes lit up, and she threw her arms around Cassie, nearly knocking her bowl off the table as she did. "Thank you," she whispered. "You won't regret it."

"I better not," Cassie replied.

Three days later, they left the little shack behind for good. Their packs contained their few material possessions—clothes, utensils, the gauze, a can of beans, a battered book that Cassie's mother had given her when she was a little girl. It wasn't too hot out yet, and her hat did wonders, but Cassie was sweating nonetheless. Probably just nerves, she thought.

They reached the outskirts of Yuma around noon. The train was due in less than twenty minutes. There was a small crowd milling around the train station, most of them humble folk holding their satchels and trunks. Cassie and Rosemary joined the crowd, standing near the end of the platform. Cassie glanced over at the ticket office. There was a sign in the window that said, "Out to Lunch."

The train pulled into the station at precisely 12:23 p.m. according to the station clock. Its deafening horn blast caused even the most grizzled passengers to jump slightly. The high whine of the brakes filled the air as it slowed to a halt. The doors opened, and a few people exited, dragging their luggage behind them.

A conductor in a neat suit and cap stepped out and said, "All aboard! Form a line, and have your tickets ready!" The boarding passengers shuffled their way into an approximate line, with Cassie and Rosemary at the very back. Cassie stared at the back of Rosemary's head and drummed her fingers on her thigh. Rosemary looked over her shoulder and gave Cassie a grin.

Time slowed down as each passenger handed over their ticket and stepped aboard, moving as if through a sea of molasses, but when Rosemary reached the conductor, Cassie saw that only two minutes had passed.

"Ticket, please," the conductor said, his face stoic.

"Here you—oh!" Rosemary said as she dropped her ticket (a carefully-torn piece of newspaper) on the ground. She bent to pick it up. "Sorry about that," she said to the half-stooped conductor, who had instinctively bent over to pick it up as well. As she quickly pulled herself to her full height, she slugged the conductor in the jaw with that knockout punch of hers. The conductor grunted and staggered, his hands flying to his jaw, but it wasn't enough to lay him out. Cassie swooped in to shove the conductor off the platform and into a creosote bush. The train horn sounded once, and they hopped aboard the observation platform. Cassie couldn't help but linger there as the conductor staggered to his feet, his suit catching on the bush. Before he could get his bearings, the train had pulled out of the station. By the time he regained his faculties and started to run, the train was going too fast.

Rosemary was already walking down the center aisle of the passenger car. She moved so quickly and confidently that no one tried to stop her as she left the car. Cassie hurried after her and tried to imitate her confidence, but she pulled her hat low over her eyes anyway to avoid prying eyes. They passed through the two sleeping cars and the dining car in quick succession, unbothered by any conductor.

The trouble started in the first boxcar, where they were surrounded by crates of dry goods, mainly new clothes for well-to-do ladies. As Cassie passed by a stack of crates, a crewman who was picking his teeth startled and jumped to his feet. "Hey!" he said. "No passengers allowed back here."

Rosemary whipped around to face him. She pushed Cassie aside and drew her pistol from her bag. "You'll keep your mouth shut if you know what's good for you."

"Is this a stick-up?" he said as he raised his hands. His eyes flicked towards his gun, which was lying on a crate.

"Some guard you are. No, we don't want any of your junk," she said. Then she socked him in the side of the head. This time, her knockout punch actually knocked him out.

Cassie winced as Rosemary turned around and continued towards the end of the car. "I wish you didn't have to throw so many punches," she said. Rosemary didn't reply, but Cassie could see her shoulders tense. She pulled her bandana out of her pack and tied it around her nose, and Cassie scrambled to follow suit.

They barreled through the second boxcar before anyone in there could react and finally came upon the third boxcar. This one was much emptier, containing a few crates and the prize: the safe belonging to Wells Fargo. There were three men; one paced in circles while the others sat on the floor playing cards. One was bald, one had a shock of blond hair, and one had longish red hair. Before Cassie could gather herself, Rosemary drew her gun and roared, "Hands in the air!" With fumbling hands, Cassie drew her own gun and pointed it wildly at the nearest man. She noticed that at least one of the men had a holster, but their hands were all raised. Why wasn't he drawing?

"Let me guess, missy, you want me to open the safe," the bald man said as he slowly got to his feet.

"You catch on fast," Rosemary said. Cassie could tell she was smiling under her bandana. "Make it quick."

The bald man stepped over to the safe, not even fazed by Rosemary's gun as she moved closer to him. Cassie's eyes bounced between the other two men, who stared at her, unblinking. One of them leaned to the side like he was about to take a step, and she swung the gun towards him. He clicked his tongue in annoyance and stopped where he was.

"You're taking too long," Rosemary said, and in that moment, Cassie knew they were doomed. The jobs that went wrong were the jobs where Rosemary got impatient.

"Don't rush me, missy," the bald man said in a low voice as he continued to fiddle with the lock. "You want this done right, don't you?"

Rosemary pressed the muzzle against the man's back. "How hard is it?"

"Rosie, don't—" Cassie said as she instinctively turned, and all hell broke loose.

Everyone yelled something, though it was all incomprehensible. One of the men tackled Cassie, and she wheezed. Her gun flew from her hand as her head hit the wall and then the floor. Stars exploded in her vision before it all went black. At nearly the same time, a shot rang out, deafening in the closed space, and then she was gone.

She woke to the sound of the wind rushing past the train. She surely hadn't been out long, but her throbbing head muddled her thoughts. Someone was dragging her by the wrists towards the open car door. Her vision was still hazy, but she could see Rosemary standing over the open safe, with the bald man sprawled out at her feet. Blood oozed from his leg. She had her hands in the air, though she still held her own pistol. The blond man was pointing Cassie's gun at Rosemary; that left the redhead to hold Cassie by the wrists. She glanced to the side and saw the ground rushing past her.

"This is one hell of a standoff, huh?" the blond man said as he waved her gun, shouting over the wind and the train's clattering. "If you try to take the money, you get a shot to the stomach, and she gets thrown out. Unless you think you're fast enough to shoot me first, which I doubt." He jerked his head at Cassie. "It won't end well for either of you. What'll it be, Rosie? The money, or your lives?"

The man holding Cassie pulled her a little closer to the car door. The wind whipped through her hair and made her eyes water. Rosemary's small pupils darted around, looking at the safe, the bald man, the man with the gun, and finally Cassie. Please, Cassie thought, too afraid to open her mouth. I need you.

Rosemary's face hardened, and Cassie's heart sank like a stone. She turned to the blond man and gave him a cutting glare. Cassie tensed up, waiting for the redhead to throw her out, hoping that it wouldn't hurt too much when her face hit the ground.

Then Rosemary said, "Don't shoot. I'm putting it down." Cassie went limp with relief in the redhead's arms.

"I ought to shoot you for what you did to Jem," the man grumbled, but he let Rosemary put her gun on the floor.

"So why don't you?" she said as she walked towards Cassie, her eyes still on his gun.

"'Cause I don't feel like shooting anyone," he said reluctantly. "If you do, that's your cross to bear. I ain't having any part of that. I know I'm a good shot, but . . . Well, I thought I could for a moment there."

The redheaded man pushed Cassie to her feet, and she stumbled, nearly tripping over her own feet. Rosemary grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her upright, and she saw something different in Rosemary's eyes. She looked at Jem, all splayed out, and cringed at the wound in his leg. "C'mon," the blond man said, still holding her gun. "You're getting off at the next stop. Your guns are now property of Wells Fargo. And neither of you is getting on a Southern Pacific train ever again. I'll make damn sure of that."

Cassie was about to apologize before Rosemary cut her off. "I'm sorry," she said.

"I'll believe that when pigs fly," the blond man said. "Go on." He followed them down the length of the train. The journey back to the passenger car felt even longer, especially with everyone's eyes on her. He didn't point a gun at them, but the look on his face told a damning story. All Cassie could do was keep her head down.

At the back of the passenger car, they sat down together, and the man returned to his own car after saying something to a conductor. "Thank you," Cassie whispered to Rosemary.

"Between you and the money, there was only one real choice. I'm sorry I made you think otherwise." She threaded her fingers through Cassie's, out of sight of the other passengers. "Cassidy Stanton, I'm sorry for everything. It's over, I promise. I want an honest life. With you. It shouldn't have taken this long for me to realize that. It shouldn't have taken me almost losing you."

Cassie tightened her grip on Rosemary's hand. "I shouldn't have doubted you."

"It's not your fault. I'm the one who gave you enough reason to doubt. I should thank you for putting up with me." Rosemary grinned a little. She brushed a lock of black hair out of Cassie's face. "I forgot how nice your hair looks in the sun."

Cassie blushed and stifled a laugh. "You charmer."

"That's my job," Rosemary said. "What do you want to do when we get to . . . wherever we're going. Was it Los Angeles?"

"We'll find out when we get there," Cassie said. "There are a thousand things we could do. I don't really care, as long as I'm doing it with you."

When they disembarked at Los Angeles, Cassie saw Jem hobbling away, supported by the two men. A trail of blood droplets followed him. The blond man looked at them briefly, shook his head, and turned away. Cassie sighed and hung her head.

"Hey," Rosemary said, snapping her fingers in front of Cassie's face. "Don't be like that. That was my mistake, not yours. Look lively, now!" She swept her hand out. "A whole new city to explore. We can do whatever you want."

"Yeah," Cassie said. "And whatever you want." She gave Rosemary a quick kiss on the cheek, and Rosemary blushed. "Let's go."

They joined the bustling crowd and allowed themselves to get lost.

The End

Ash is a recent college graduate who dreams of a writing career. She did not go to school for writing, but that won't stop her. In the meantime, she enjoys reading, drawing, and making comics. So far, her writing has appeared in Bright Flash Literary Review.

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The Swimming Pond
by Ralph S. Souders

The sun was moving westward in the Colorado sky as Seth Morgan got onto his saddled horse and headed north toward the back of the property. The Morgan farm was almost 800 acres in size, and it was a ten-minute ride to reach the natural spring and pond located near the northern boundary. The spring was located on the Morgan's side of the property line whereas the pond was on the adjacent McDevitt farm. John Morgan, Seth's father, and Silas McDevitt had an understanding that enabled both families to enjoy unencumbered access to both the spring and the pond. The spring was the source of drinking water for both families. A stream that came from the pond meandered across both farms, providing fresh water to the livestock. The pond was kept isolated from the animals by a log fence, reserving it for recreational use only. Seth Morgan often visited it on hot afternoons after his chores on the farm were finished for the day.

As Seth reached the pond that afternoon, he dismounted and tied his horse to the fence. He loved coming to the pond. He enjoyed the quietness and the solitude that he found there. It was the perfect place to relax after a hard day of working. Feeling hot and sweaty, Seth removed his clothes and laid them over the fence before jumping naked into the four-foot deep, cold water. It was wonderfully refreshing. After a few minutes of swimming in the quarter-acre pond, Seth climbed out of the water and sat on a large boulder in the shade, drying off in the warm breeze. He would typically go through this cycle two or three times before getting dressed again and then riding back to the house for supper. He knew that he was fortunate to have access to such a pond. Most farms in the area did not have a natural spring and pond and the kids on those farms had nowhere to go for relief on hot, summer afternoons. Seth was certain that his father would have been happy to share the pond with neighboring families, but as far as he knew, none of them had ever made this request nor had his father made any unsolicited offers.

Seth was surprised that afternoon as he suddenly heard a horse approaching the pond from the east. He had been daydreaming, lost in his thoughts as he sat on the boulder, oblivious to his surroundings. Now, realizing that the horse and the rider were almost upon him, he contemplated getting dressed quickly but he was uncertain that he had enough time. Instead, he opted to jump back into the pond. Standing in the chest deep water, he turned toward the visitor. He expected to see one of the male farmhands who occasionally found time to take a late afternoon swim. Instead, to his surprise, he discovered that the rider was a young cowboy, probably in his early twenties. Seth had never previously seen him. The cowboy was easily ten years older than him with long, brown hair and a light complexion. He was clean-shaven. He was wearing brown pants tucked inside his boots, a gray shirt and a black Stetson. He had a gun belt around his waist and a Colt .38 handgun hanging in a holster against his hip. His horse was a black roan. A bedroll, a saddlebag and a rifle in a scabbard were attached to the horse, as was an older, well-worn saddle upon which the man was sitting.

When the rider reached the fence, he climbed off his horse and tied it directly beside Seth's. The cowboy observed Seth's clothes on the fence before locating the boy standing in the pond's water. Seth noticed the bemused expression on his face.

"Howdy," said the cowboy to Seth. "Zeb Taylor's my name. I'm sorry if I'm disturbing you. I hadn't expected to find anyone here."

"I'm here most afternoons," replied Seth. "This is my daddy's property." He knew, of course, that it was technically Silas McDevitt's property, but he didn't believe that it was necessary to make this distinction for the visitor.

"I'm sure you come here often," remarked the cowboy. "Frankly, I was going to sit by the pond and relax for a while. There are several nice ponds in the area, but as far as I can tell, this is the only one that hasn't been fouled by cattle. I've stopped here twice before when traveling from Denver and back, but I never swam. I didn't know that anyone swam here. It's not a bad idea. It seems like an ideal spot for swimming."

Seth was surprised. He had never realized that the cowboy had been visiting the pond. The stranger had never left behind a single indication that he had been there. Seth, however, believed what the cowboy was telling him. There were no fences surrounding the area farms and from time to time, one would see a rider or two traveling across the farmland. It was very possible that some of these men had become aware of the swimming pond. Nevertheless, this was the first time that Seth had encountered a stranger there.

On several occasions through the years, Seth had been taken by surprise when his sister Tessa and her friend, Alice McDevitt, had snuck-up to the pond and embarrassed him while he was swimming or drying himself in the wind while sitting or standing by the boulder. The girls typically did their swimming in the morning and Seth had been given strict orders to stay away from the pond when their horses were there. He had disobeyed his father only once in this regard and he still recalled the whipping that he had received. His excitement of seeing the naked girls and embarrassing them had not been worth the punishment that he ultimately received. He certainly had no plans to ever visit them again while they were swimming in the pond.

As Seth stood in the pond facing the cowboy, he suspected that the cowboy could easily see him through the clear water. The man, standing beside his horse, did not seem to be very interested. Seth and the stranger proceeded to have a cordial conversation about diverse things such as horses, the countryside, weather, fishing and hunting. Seth knew that he was presently in a vulnerable predicament. He was standing naked in the water while his clothes rested on the fence about ten yards away. His horse was tied directly beside his clothes. His father was at least ten minutes away by horseback, working in the barn adjacent to the farmhouse. The stranger, armed with a pistol, stood between him and his clothes. Seth was apprehensive but cautious. He knew that he needed to remain calm. He didn't want to do anything that might aggravate the visitor or agitate him unnecessarily. He needed to be careful.

"Actually, I was getting ready to leave," Seth casually informed the cowboy. "My folks are expecting me home for dinner in a few minutes. My daddy gets angry when he needs to come over here and fetch me."

"Okay," replied the cowboy, "whatever. Do you think he'd mind if I took a quick swim in your pond this afternoon? It gets awfully hot and dusty on the trail. It's nice to cool off and get clean toward evening time. I hate climbing into my bedroll sweaty from riding all day. It makes for a very uncomfortable night."

"Swim as long as you'd like," invited Seth, "I don't reckon anyone else will be coming over here this evening. I'd be surprised. Right now, I need a few minutes to dry off and get dressed."

"Yeah, sure," said the cowboy. "I understand." With that, he mounted his horse and rode into the adjacent field to provide the boy with some privacy. He would wait in the field for a few minutes before returning to the pond.

Once the cowboy was gone, Seth exited the pond and walked to the fence to retrieve his clothes. Upon reaching the fence, he carefully stepped over it, and stood naked beside his horse. He then took his shirt off the fence and proceeded to dry his body with it. With the stranger nearby, he was not about to stand in the sunshine and wait for the wind to dry him. Within a couple of minutes, he had put on his clothes except for the damp shirt. He intended to ride home shirtless with the shirt tied around his waist.

Minutes later, the cowboy came back to the pond. As he sat atop his horse, he and Seth conversed again for a couple more minutes. Then needing to leave, Seth untied his horse and climbed into the saddle. He turned the horse toward home. Although his brief encounter with the cowboy had been relatively uneventful, he felt somewhat lucky to be leaving unharmed. The man seemed to be a nice enough guy, but what if he had been unfriendly or even dangerous? Seth was pleased that the incident had gone well without any problems.

"So long!" Seth shouted to the cowboy as he left the pond and began riding away. "Have a good evening."

"You, too," responded the cowboy. "Maybe I'll see you again sometime."

Seth waved good-bye friendlily and headed for his house on the other side of the farm. He would have his horse in the barn in fifteen minutes or so. He estimated that he would be having dinner with his parents and his sister within the hour. It had been a busy and eventful day. As he traveled across the farmstead, he decided that he wouldn't say anything to the others about the cowboy he had unexpectedly met at the swimming pond that afternoon. Although Seth had done nothing wrong, he felt uneasy and decided that it might be best if he kept the details of their brief encounter to himself.

The next morning, Seth arose early and shortly after dawn, he and his father went to town in their buckboard, planning to purchase supplies for the farm at the general store. They would also visit the bank and the local blacksmith before making one last stop at the saloon. His father would typically have a couple glasses of whiskey there while Seth would enjoy a glass of cider. Seth loved his daddy, and he always enjoyed their trips to town together.

By late morning, Seth and his father had completed their errands in town and were relaxing in the saloon before heading home in the buckboard. They had some chores awaiting them after lunch. Seth's father was on his second glass of whiskey when the local sheriff entered the room and approached them at the bar.

"Morning, John. Seth," said the sheriff. "How are you doing?"

"We're okay," replied John Morgan. "How are you?"

"I'm fine, thanks." Then, referring to a paper in his hand, the sheriff gave it to Seth's father. "There's an outlaw at large who may be coming toward our area. He's wanted for the murder of two young sisters in Kansas and possibly some other young girls in Missouri. He's armed and considered very dangerous. Keep a careful eye on your daughter, John. Let me know if you should see him out near your place."

John Morgan took the paper and read it slowly and carefully. It was a Wanted Poster, and it contained a detailed sketch of the outlaw. Seth looked inquisitively over his father's shoulder and immediately let out an audible gasp. Both his father and the sheriff noticed his reaction.

"What is it, son?" asked the sheriff. "Have you seen this guy?"

"Tell him, Seth," instructed his father. "Have you seen him?"

"Yeah, I think I saw him yesterday," Seth informed them. "He was at the pond on our property." Seth proceeded to describe his encounter with the cowboy to the two men, both of whom were surprised to hear this information. When he finished, the sheriff could barely contain his excitement. He immediately left to organize a posse. They would be heading toward the Morgan farm within the hour. Any tracks from the outlaw's horse by then would be eighteen hours old. The sheriff and the posse hoped to locate these tracks near the swimming pond and begin their pursuit of the fugitive from there.

Wasting no time, John Morgan left his unfinished glass of whiskey on the bar. He had already paid. "Come on, Seth," he ordered as he hastened toward the door. "We need to get home."

Seth and his father went outside and quickly climbed onto their buckboard that was parked alongside the building. As soon as they were seated, John Morgan prompted the horses, and they began pulling the buckboard home. He got them up to a good speed quickly. Normally, this ride would take a half an hour or so. Today, with the horses running at a faster pace, Seth expected that they would reach the farm in perhaps twenty minutes. He observed that his father was holding the reins tightly and he had a very concerned expression on his face.

"Why didn't you tell me about this stranger last evening?" asked his father, finally speaking.

"I didn't think it was important," explained Seth. "He seemed like a nice guy. He didn't try to hurt me or anything."

John Morgan nodded his head in understanding. He knew that Seth had been very lucky. He cringed as he recalled how Seth had described yesterday's incident; how he had been naked in the man's presence and how he had gotten dressed as the man waited nearby. The stranger had had the perfect opportunity to assault the boy. The family would never have heard his calls for help as he had been too far away. John Morgan's eyes began to moisten as he realized the danger that his son had so fortunately avoided.

"If anything like this ever happens again, you need to tell me," John Morgan instructed, "even if it doesn't seem important. Strangers don't belong on our property unless they're obviously just passing through. If you see a stranger, you let me decide if it's important or not. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, sir," said Seth. "I'm sorry. I didn't know better."

"Well, now you do," admonished his father.

Without his father providing an explanation, Seth understood the basis of his worry and his desire to get home as quickly as possible. This was potentially a very serious situation. His sister, Tessa, and the neighbor girl, Alice, quite often went swimming in the pond in the morning. What if the outlaw had decided to spend the night and had still been there this morning when the girls arrived? They would be in grave danger and might not have been nearly as lucky as he had been. He hoped that neither of the girls had gone to the pond today. He felt certain that it would be his fault if the cowboy was to have harmed either of them. As the buckboard got nearer and nearer to the Morgan farm, Seth became increasingly worried and upset.

Finally, the buckboard reached the farm, and the horses pulled it onto the property, finally stopping behind the house and in front of the barn. Seth and his father observed the corral and were relieved to see Tessa's horse standing there unsaddled. If she had gone to the pond that morning, she had already returned. Quite likely, she had decided not to go swimming at all. John Morgan called for Tessa and almost immediately, she came out of the house through the back door. He walked over to her and held her tightly in his arms. Tessa noticed the tears in his eyes. She didn't understand why her father was crying.

"Saddle your horse, Seth," instructed his father, as he finally let go of his daughter and headed toward the barn. "Hurry up. Let's not waste any time."

They saddled the horses hurriedly. John Morgan loaded his rifle and carried it with him as they mounted their horses and began to leave the corral, heading toward the back of the property. Elizabeth Morgan had come out of the house and was standing beside her daughter in the yard. "Where are you going, John?" she called to him.

"No time to explain," he informed her. "We'll be right back"

As Seth and his father rode toward the pond, they both felt the tension of the moment. Seth had never previously been in a situation like this, and he was afraid. He was also proud that his father had elected to bring him along despite the potential danger. His father had shown trust in him. He hoped that nothing unpleasant awaited them.

"Listen to me, Seth," said John Morgan as they neared the pond. "I don't know if he's still here or not. If he is and shooting starts, you turn around and head back to the house as fast as you possibly can. Don't worry about me. The sheriff will be arriving before too long. Until he gets here, it'll be your job to protect your mother and sister. You do whatever you have to do. Do you understand me?"

Seth was stunned to be given such an awesome responsibility. He nodded at his father solemnly. "Yes sir," he said. "I understand. You can depend on me, I promise."

"I know I can," responded his father with a confident smile. "I have no doubts."

As they approached the pond a few minutes later, they were both relieved to find nobody there. The stranger was gone. There was no way of knowing if Alice McDevitt had been there that morning or not. If she had, she had hopefully gone home unharmed. The danger seemed to have passed. John Morgan instructed Seth to ride to the McDevitt home to ascertain that Alice was there. Otherwise, there was nothing more for John Morgan and Seth to do. If the cowboy was to be found and apprehended, he would now be the responsibility of the sheriff and the posse. The Morgan farm was safe. John Morgan had seen to that. Seth was incredibly proud of the bravery and the resolve that his father had shown. He sincerely hoped that he would someday also be a man of such strong courage and character.

Within the hour, the sheriff and a posse of four men arrived at the farm. Seth led them to the pond and showed them exactly where the cowboy's horse had been tied to the fence. The men located the tracks and determined that he had ridden away in a northerly direction, heading toward the Wyoming Territory. The tracks were only a few hours old, indicating that he had spent the night sleeping beside the pond. There had been no campfire and the cowboy had left no trash or debris behind. The posse was excited as they left the property, following the trail of their quarry, optimistic that they would find him before too long.

Early in the evening, they came across him relaxing beside a riverbank. He had already taken a quick swim in the cold water and was feeling clean and refreshed as he ate some cold food out of a tin can. His bedroll was open, and he was planning on going to sleep in that location at dusk. The posse quietly surrounded him and when they were ready, they easily captured him without any resistance. The cowboy was genuinely surprised, and he proclaimed his innocence. His captors treated him roughly, punching his head and his torso several times, bloodying his nose and bruising his ribs. Then, tightly hogtying his hands and feet, they laid him on his bedroll for the night. The following morning, they brought him to Wide River where he was placed in the town's jail to await the arrival of the United States Marshal. The sheriff notified John Morgan that the criminal had been apprehended. He and the other residents in the area were relieved to learn that the fugitive was in custody.

The following week, the U.S. Marshal arrived in town, prepared to take possession of the prisoner and transport him to Fort Hays, Kansas where he would face federal charges. Upon interviewing the man, however, the marshal informed the sheriff that he was not the outlaw that the government was seeking. Although the captive bore a certain resemblance to the fugitive sketched on the Wanted Poster, he was innocent of the crimes for which he was being held. The captive, Zeb Taylor, was a twenty-two-year-old courier who traveled the northern half of Colorado delivering legal documents on behalf of a Denver law firm. He had no criminal record, and he hadn't been to Kansas in more than four years. The sheriff apologized to him for the terrible mistake and immediately released him from jail. Although angry and humiliated, the young cowboy was relieved that the error had been discovered and that he would not be hanging for some murders that he had not committed. As quickly as he could saddle his horse and pack his gear, Zeb Taylor rode out of town, heading again toward the Wyoming Territory where he intended to deliver the documents that were still in his possession. They were now late, but he trusted that the recipients would accept his explanation. His return travels would once again take him through the vicinity of Wide River and the Morgan farm. He already knew that he would not be stopping again when he traveled through the area. It was not something that he had any desire to do.

Seth Morgan was sorry that he had created so much trouble for the cowboy, although he believed that he had done the right thing in informing the sheriff about him. His primary responsibilities were to his family and his community. He needed to always act in their best interests. If he was to ever see the cowboy again, and the incident of the arrest was mentioned, he was certain that he would apologize for the difficulties that the man had suffered. He would never, however, apologize for his actions. He was pleased that the mistake had been discovered and the cowboy was not harmed. Things could have easily turned out much differently. Meanwhile, although he intended to continue enjoying the swimming pond on hot afternoons, he would remember what had happened there. In the future, he would always be cognizant of unexpected riders approaching the pond. He had learned an important lesson. If a stranger did visit there, he would quickly inform his father. Realistically, he did not expect such a situation to occur very often if ever again. Nevertheless, if one would, he was certain that he now understood exactly what he would need to do.

The End

Ralph S. Souders is an American author of suspense and literary fiction. He has written three novels; Hans Becker's Family, Ursula's Shadow and Lost in the Water. His short stories have appeared in Frontier Tales, Gadfly Online and The Penmen Review magazines. He is a graduate of the University of Central Florida. He is happily married to his wife of thirty-five years. They are now retired and live in Middle Tennessee. His website is

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