February, 2023

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Issue #161

All The Tales

Showdown at Silver City
by James Ott

The stagecoach rocked as it slowed to a stop. Edward Sutherland stepped into the Arizona sunshine and donned the wide-brimmed Stetson he had purchased in Abilene three days before.

Gunfire erupted to his right and left, bullets whistling by. He dived to the wood walkway. On the street to his left, a cowpoke in leather chaps was crumpling. A six-shooter dropped from his right hand, and he fell crashing to the bare earth. At Edward's right, a band of horsemen turned and skedaddled down the street in a cloud of dust.

A fine way to start a job as assayer, he thought. Long and lean, he got to his feet, located his dented hat, and brushed dirt from the knees of his tight-fitting worsted suit. A pair of sodbusters snickered.

"Welcome to Silver City," a hairy bearded old man, said. "You will love this place," said the next man, wearing a battered kepi-styled Confederate cap.

"What was that all about?" Edward asked.

"The miners don't like the cowmen and the cowmen don't like anybody," the old man said.

Edward nodded, collected his gear, and headed for the hotel, Casa de Plata. His two leather bags weighed him down. Clothes were packed in the light-colored valise. The dark bag contained his Colt Model 1871 Holster Pistol, a cartridge belt, .44-caliber ammunition, and his personal assessor equipment. The desk clerk called himself Diego and carried the heavier bag to a room that overlooked the street of shops and saloons.

The room was a familiar haven reminding him of his boyhood room in Cincinnati. A wide bed occupied the center, a crucifix hung on the wall. A washstand bearing a marble top, a pan and jug, sat between two open windows to the street. Warm winds disturbed the flimsy, plain white curtains.

Well, I made it, he said to himself. The long trip covered more than 1,800 miles, riding on five coaches. He observed terrestrial transformation from leafy green and flowing waterways to yellow and blowing dust. He was not dressed for the occasion, wearing a suit, a vest, and a tie. He loosened the tie and poured water from the jug into the pan. The cool water splashing on his face was invigorating. He looked out the window to the busy street and located the shop where he was expected, Mason's Gold & Silver Emporium.

At the Emporium's broad counter, Mason stood behind balance scales, a trademark for his work weighing metals from local mines. As he entered, Edward detected the familiar acrid odor of a smelter, the tool of his labor as assayer. He introduced himself and lifted his heavy bag on the counter.

"Glad you are here, Sutherland," Mason said.

He was a man about fifty years old, bald on the crown of his head and dressed in an apron over a collared shirt and tie. Edward guessed Mason's attire encouraged a degree of professionalism for his emporium where accuracy and honesty played dual roles.

"Let's talk," Mason said.

He moved to a roll top desk and motioned for Edward to sit on the chair beside it.

"I've hired you to test the real value of the metals coming from miners and Arizona Mining Company, the big operator here. I have a suspicion the company is selling me as much lead as silver. I've got the smelter, but I just don't know how best to work it. So, I use it for some blacksmithing."

"Lucky for us," Edward said, "precious metals don't oxidize or react to chemicals like the base metals. Given time and tests, I should be a good help to you. No sense paying silver prices for lead."

"You can start right now."

Edward hauled his heavy bag to a large room where a coke fire smoldered and blacksmith metal instruments hung on the wall. He withdrew six cupels, his own versions of the sturdy and fire-resistant bowls that contained metals for high-temperature tests.

"Here's a bunch of samples," Mason said, heaving wood boxes containing ore on a table. "Owners' names are on the boxes."

Edward took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. He numbered the samples, identified them with their owners, and noted them in a journal.

"I don't mind a little clerical work," he said to Mason. "My true love is this process called cupellation. It separates the precious from the base metals. I learned the process from a neighbor in Cincinnati. He was a relative of Annie Oakley. He taught me how to shoot and gave me my first gun. He felt sorry for me after my parents died from cholera. Thought I needed a way to defend myself and make a living."

"Sounds good to me," said Mason.

Edward stirred the fire and the orange coals in the smelter turned white and red. He thought about the first time he had heard about Mason's emporium in an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer. A reprint from the Phoenix newspaper, the article told how the silver from local mines had become local currency, displacing greenbacks after a local bank went under. At issue was the true value of the silver used in business transactions. The confusion had caused fistfights and shootouts.

After reading the article, Edward telegraphed Mason that he could solve the problem of value by refining the silver. Having no family to keep him in Ohio, a trip to Arizona for Edward had the taste of adventure. The shootout when he arrived served as a good opening act.

The front doorbell sounded. Edward heard voices, one that had a bird-like quality.

"You must be Mr. Sutherland. I'm Marian Mason, the daughter. My, it is getting warm in here."

Edward was immediately attracted to the dark-haired beauty. She smiled and looked spritely in a blue gingham dress.

"Please call me Edward."

"Edward it is. Nice meeting you. You are the firebug Daddy was telling me about."

"I couldn't do without a good fire. It's going to be an answer to the silver value problem. At least I hope so."

"Wonderful," she said, and turned to leave.

Edward heard more bird-like spoken words and the doorbell rang again.

Mason came to the smelter room. "You met my daughter. Her mother, a Spanish lady from El Paso, died when she was just three years old. Raised her myself."

"Beautiful girl."

"Thanks. One more thing. I know a newspaperman here. I'd like for you to talk with him. He can do a story on this process. I think a good honest story might help the situation."

"I don't mind."

Edward added wood and wielded bellows to build the fire's temperature. He had a while to go before the fire reached proper temperatures. He remembered what the old neighbor had taught him. Lead melts at 620.6-degree F, and silver at 1760-degrees. In the process, lead leaks away and deposits pure silver in the cupels.

The newspaper reporter, John Greene, watched as Edward poured ore samples in a cupel and merged it with the fiery coals producing a burst of tiny fireworks. Edward answered his questions. He asked the reporter about the shooting.

"He was one of the Carter boys, the youngest named Willie, from a ranch near the hills. He had an argument with a miner about a girl in the saloon. They settled it alright. He died on the spot. Big trouble."

At the time their conversation ended, Edward completed his first test. The original sample at three pounds weight had declined to two pounds of pure silver. He relayed to the reporter the test's outcome.

"According to the initial test, it appears that actual value of silver used in transactions was about one third less. I can understand why people have been skeptical and upset."

Greene's article wrote about the process and suggested that cupellation would answer the town's problems.

* * *

A day later, Sheriff Bill Kline, a star pinned to his open vest, entered Mason's Emporium with brown-robed Father Joseph Ross, pastor of the Franciscan mission at the end of the street. Their faces betrayed confidence that a solution to the town's problems was in sight. Steve Gillespie, owner of Arizona Mining Company, came in right behind them, followed by a young man. Gillespie was determined and distressed, the young man, languid and indifferent.

"You know my son, Harvey," he said.

The others acknowledged Harvey, who stood to the side. He wore boots and a casual white shirt, open at the collar, and a wide-brimmed hat. A long piece of straw poked from his mouth. His right hand rested on the butt of a holstered revolver.

"Where's Marian?" Harvey asked.

"At the school," Mason said. "She is teaching there."


"Let's get right to it," Gillespie said.

He cornered Mason. "If all the silver is refined now, what do we do about the buying and selling for the last year. We've been using polluted silver as currency. Every cowboy in town will be filing lawsuits. Miners will grumble. You, Mason, are the only one to gain from this fiasco. Your smelter will be the busiest fire in the entire West, refining silver. You might as well mint your own coins."

"The polluted silver is the big problem. We've got to return to basics here," Mason said. "Even if the bank does reopen and bring back paper money, we will still have the problem of unrefined silver. We've got to settle this once and for all."

As Mason spoke, a herd of cattle meandered toward the stockyards, Carter's men letting go with sharp cries. Animals diverted into alleyways and spaces between stores, their long and pointy horns scaring women and forcing sourdoughs to find safety.

"Carter's going to want to be paid for his cattle," Gillespie said. "With what!" he shouted and left the Emporium to make his way through the herd, his son Harvey in his track.

"That man can be trouble," the sheriff said. "He hasn't paid his workers for three months. He feeds them but there's no pay. He says he's waiting for the bank to reopen."

"I hear he wants to issue silver certificates," the priest said. "They might work, for employees anyway. It raises a question, though, will paper money be recognized?"

"I don't have an answer for that," Mason said. "I'd just like a bank to start up again. I'm doing my best to clear up the questions raised over the value of silver."

"We'd like to see the assayer at his work," the sheriff said.

He and Father Ross made their way to the warm area around the smelter and probed Edward with a dozen questions. Edward responded to those he had answers for, mostly providing temperatures that separated elements. As he spoke, he gave the visitors a sense of confidence that the ancient science might help solve some of the town's problems.

A clang of the doorbell sounded the entrance of the Confederate sourdough who shouted, "There's going to be a big fight at the corral." He left in a hurry and Sheriff Kline headed for the door listening for the sounds of gunfire.

The corral was anything but quiet. Three dozen steers stamped the ground and shifted from side to side, bellowing loud. The mine owner and son had made their way to the corral filled with cattle. Gillespie had grown up on a ranch and knew the changing tempers of a herd. They seemed to understand when trouble lurked. He felt for the Derringer pistol in his side pocket.

"Them Carters oughta be taught a lesson," Harvey said. He fingered the handle of his six-shooter.

A sudden wind blew through the stockyards. The herd moved aside as if on command. Wilson Carter, head of the clan, a stern fifty-year-old veteran of Phillips' Legion from Georgia, walked on as if an actor in a play. He turned toward the Gillespies, his body a perfect silhouette from the light behind him.

"Your men killed my boy. What are you going to do about it?"

Gillespie did not answer.

Harvey sneered. "Nothing!"

"I want my pound of flesh," Carter shouted. He drew his pistol and opened fire. From the barn in quick succession, rifle shots rang out. Gillespie dropped, taking two fatal bullets in his chest. Harvey, slow on the draw, toppled over, wounded.

Sheriff Kline arrived with his forty-five aimed at Carter, who fell after bullets punctured his chest. He rolled over in the dust. From the barn, rifle shots took out the sheriff. A slug hit him in the left shoulder. Kline fell to his knees dropping his pistol and grasping at the wound.

Father Ross had followed the sheriff to the stockyard. He said prayers over the dead, Carter and Gillespie. Harvey moaned in pain from a bullet that tore off the top joint of his little finger. Another bullet creased his left pants leg.

Harvey rasped, "I'll get those bastards if it is the last thing I do."

Gunfire had agitated the herd. A half-dozen steers broke down barriers and headed west. Carter's men in the barn climbed on their horses and chased after them.

Edward and Mason watched the gunfight from the Emporium's porch. The shootings lasted less than a minute. Edward had never felt helpless before except on the day when his parents died. He shook his head at the waste.

Anguish was inscribed on Marian's face when she entered the Emporium, quickly closing the door. Gunfire had caused children to scramble to windows and dash out of the school. They were so excited she closed school.

"It worries me, all this shooting," Marian said. "It's not good for the children. Polluted silver and having no bank causes some of our problems, but I think there is a lot more behind what is happening here. Some people want everything they can get, and they want it now."

"We need order in our daily lives. It is necessary if this town is to grow," Edward said.

"You're right about that," Mason agreed.

* * *

The smelter fire reached maximum heat. Edward piled stones around it to retain high temperatures. He labored ten-to-twelve hours a day filtering pure silver. The shooting motivated him to work harder as if refining silver was levying a positive impact.

Mason hired an old miner to do chores, maintaining the fire, storing silver in wood boxes, and loading lead in containers. Wood was scarce in that part of Arizona. Mason and the miner drove wagons a day away to a forest where they collected fuel for the fire.

Heat grew so intense in the smeltery that Edward had to go outside into 95-degree temperatures to cool off.

Edward usually stopped working at dinner time. He walked to Mason's house to enjoy food and the company of Marian and her father. On most days she cooked Mexican cuisine. Edward took delight in the exotic spicy taste and texture of tacos and tamales. He couldn't stop looking at Marian, charmed by her magnetic beauty. She had a sparkling personality and possessed an even temper, teacher competency, and a quick wit.

"Everything you have is doubly hot," she said to Edward, "your work, your food and the outside temperature. We're going to send you up to Flagstaff to cool off."

Father Joseph came frequently and took notice of the growing admiration the young people had for one another. After dinner on walks as the sun set over Carter's hills to the west, Edward began to confide in the priest. He told him of his esteem for Marian, "like a flower," he said, "blooming in the desert." On a buggy drive one Sunday after Mass in the mission chapel, Edward expressed his love for her. She allowed him a warm and loving kiss.

Edward's frequent contact with the father and daughter and dedicated city officials generated in him a fondness for the community. Pure silver he refined, and which Mason used for bartering, contributed to honest transactions. The ore's high value in bars was limited to buying and selling in big business dealings.

For small transactions and to pay employees, the Arizona Mining Company, managed now by Harvey, started issuing silver certificates. Miners flush with three months' back wages spent freely. Most merchants recognized the certificates as legal tender. Uncertainty prevailed, however, and owners held their breath that certificates would hold value when and if a bank reopened.

Certificates, known as silverbacks, eventually passed into the hands of dubious cowhands and the Carter boys.

On some evenings Edward visited saloons and talked with miners and cowpokes alike. Miners tended to talk more than the ranch hands. He liked the natural, unpretentious, and easy ways of the cowpokes. He found miners tended to be practical-minded and sure of themselves. Tensions between them remained high. They kept to themselves in bars and on the street. In their separation Edward saw the physical division as a reasonable caution to prevent conflict. He saw their caution as a possible opening to reconciliation.

Sheriff Kline remained under doctor's care for the shoulder wound. A deputy, Curtis Kincaid, took over. Curtis had a lackadaisical streak and adopted a different view of enforcement, defined by letting the boys have their fun, even some destruction of property.

"It don't do any harm," Kincaid told Mason. "Well, not much anyway. Better let the boys be, and nothing bad will happen."

"We'll see," Mason said.

For a week damages from cowpokes and grizzled miners amounted to a dozen smashed windows, a few broken noses, and complaints from offended women. A clerk in the hardware store was beaten by a drunken mob, he said indignantly, "because I was wearing a string tie."

Kincaid's theory came to a test on a Friday afternoon, payday for the Carter boys in the form of small bags of silver. Miners at the Arizona Mining Company received silver certificates. They came into town in droves to drink and gamble.

At the El Dorado saloon, they kept their distance. Carter's boys took up one end of the bar and filled chairs at several card tables. Miners occupied the other end of the bar. Harvey Gillespie, recovered from his wound, strode up to the open center.

"Whiskey for every miner in this saloon," he ordered. "I'm paying with my father's silver certificates."

Slade Carter, oldest son of the late Wilson Carter, eyed Harvey. The Winchester rifle he used to shoot Sheriff Gillespie lay in front of him. Only his upper half could be seen.

"We oughta burn every piece of that paper money," he said, loud enough for Harvey to hear it. "It ain't worth rolling it up for the outhouse."

Harvey turned to face Slade. Men at the bar stepped back. Harvey had his hand on his holstered pistol. Slade ducked behind the bar out of Harvey's sight. Another Carter son, Eldred, came into view with his six-shooter at ready and fired. The Carter's backup trick worked again. Harvey fell, knocking the spittoon clanging against the brass foot bar.

Miners rushed to Harvey's side. Cowpokes ignored them and continued drinking as if nothing had happened. Harvey was unconscious when miners carried him to the doctor's office.

The incident, so soon after the fatal corral gunfight, was widely reported in Arizona newspapers.

"These gunfights couldn't have happened at a worst time," Mason said. "We've got representatives meeting with territory officials right now in Phoenix. We are asking for help to attract a bank to the city. I learned today a bank might come here if we got serious about law and order."

Mason's declaration aroused Edward's conscience. He heard a voice humming in his ears that prompted him to important conclusions. Silver City, a decent town, had reached a crossroads. People had to stand up to the forces of ignorance and violence that threatened to destroy it. He as a young man had a stake in the community and saw a future for himself. His thinking was simple and honest. His conscience told him he was obliged to take a leading role in restoring law and order.

That evening at dinner he spoke to Father Ross about his vague plan.

"I don't want to kill anyone if I can help it. I've got to get involved."

A learned friar, the priest listened to Edward and advised him to pray hard, be rational about the situation, and seek a reasonable course of action. In the priest's mind he recalled his studies of Plato. The philosopher contended that an individual had a primary responsibility to his community, his family and himself. For Edward, Plato's instruction came innately to him. He understood he was obliged to follow his conscience and do what was right.

In his musings, Edward compared his thinking to the process of cupellation. He spent a hard night trying to refine his thoughts and work out a plan.

* * *

Edward's first job was to gain recognition as a lawman by city fathers and to work with Deputy Kincaid. He convinced Mason of this positive initial step. Mason spoke to city officials who expressed doubt. In desperation they later approved Edward's appointment as deputy. They felt better about him after watching a shooting display in the field behind the jail. Edward, armed with his Colt pistol, mowed down a row of milk bottles and shot tin cans out of the sky. In time they liked his plan to talk things out with the people.

The town newspaper heralded the appointment as a positive move.

"He's got the wherewithal to do what's needed to be done," Mason said.

Marian wasn't convinced. She feared for Edward's life and had visions of street gunfights with the Carters.

"I just gotta do this," Edward said one night after dinner.

Marian admired him for his courage and told him so. She thought about him and spent a sleepless night worrying.

"I don't like it," she told him. "I don't like it at all. But I think I understand."

Marian smiled at Edward and hugged him.

"Come back in one piece."

"I'll do my best."

Winning over Deputy Kincaid proved harder to accomplish. He regarded Edward's deputation as a move to boot him from office. He scoffed at Edward's plan to discuss issues with miners and ranch hands. "They got their own interests and to hell with everybody else."

"We've got to listen first and then show people that this town has a future."

"Well, go ahead," Kincaid said. He questioned whether Edward would last through one night.

By the end of his first week, the city provided Edward with a saddle and a horse, a chestnut stallion reared in Kentucky, her forehead marked with a white star. He named her "Copper" for her color and the symbolic star. He rode her every chance he had.

Edward sensed the miners' practicality offered a good group to start with. He sent a message to the mining company that he wanted to meet with employees on a matter of safety. Harvey, still recovering from his second gunshot wound, approved. A different man now that he had been shot twice, Harvey sent a letter to be read at the gathering. Edward read it and decided to hold the letter until the end of the miners' meeting. He hoped the tone of it would bring about the desired effect.

Mineworkers welcomed the time off. The more perceptive hoped for a return of good and safe times for Silver City. They gathered outside the main office eager to hear what Edward had to say. He detected a willingness to support law enforcement. He surprised the miners by walking on to the office porch dressed in a western-style shirt and wearing a badge and his Colt pistol in a big leather holster.

He knew he had made a good impression when a miner said, "Hey look, the assessor is one of us."

"You are darn right I am one of you. I love this city and want to do everything I can to make it safe."

A few miners cheered.

Several outspoken miners complained about the cowpokes' behavior and stressed the need for a judicial system. Edward spoke for about three minutes and ended with a plea. "What we need more than anything else is unity. Without it, Silver City will crumble and disappear. You can make a difference."

Then he read Harvey's letter.

"Boys," the letter started, "you know that I've not always been the hardest worker in this mine."

Edward stopped reading for those words to sink in with comic effect. After a moment of silence, the miners laughed. Edward laughed, too, and continued.

"I want to promise you here and now that I will be the hardest worker once I am free from the doctor's care. I've learned a bit about life having spent a couple of weeks nursing wounds. This violence and strife among people here will kill us all. Let's stand for unity and safety."

The gathering broke up. Miners strolled away talking among themselves. Edward had a good feeling about the session. Kincaid had expected the worst and said, "Lordy, I am surprised. I thought we'd have to shoot our way out of here."

"They looked like they want a safe town," Edward said, "but you never know when you are dealing with a lot of people."

"True enough."

That night Edward stood up on a chair in the El Dorado and invited all ranch hands to a meeting on the road leading to the Carter ranch. He noted that a few miners were mingling with the cowpokes. He hoped they were talking about the meeting at the mine and had a good opinion about it.

He wrote a letter to the Carters and to owners of five other ranches. Mason and several city fathers hand delivered them. The letters requested owners and ranch hands to meet under the Old Elm near the ranch road at noon on Saturday. Edward rose early that day and rode Copper to Kincaid's room near the stable. The deputy, impressed by his success with the miners, wanted to join in the effort.

The Old Elm stood twenty feet from the road and in sight of the main house of the Carter ranch. The white clapboard two-story frame building stood broken and dilapidated in the shade of ash and elm trees. Ramshackle outbuildings where the ranch hands bunked sat next to a weather-worn barn and corral where a dozen horses roamed. The Carter boys never married. Gossip in Silver City spoke of women living at times at the main house. Lately, the two brothers lived alone in the gloom of the old house. The burial site for old Carter was a mound of fresh earth.

The value of the Carter ranch was undisputed. It comprised ten thousand acres and adjoined other ranches in grasslands apart from the desert country.

Neither Slade nor Eldred Carter had responded to Edward's letter. Several other ranch owners sent notes back saying they planned to attend and bring their ranch hands. When Edward and Kincaid arrived on their horses, the crowd was scattered around the elm tree. Mason and a few city officials stood at the trunk of the elm. Mason hired a fiddler who played "Goodbye Old Paint, I'm a-leavin' Cheyenne," which aroused a few singers and a lot of foot tapping.

Edward looked over the crowd of fifty ranchers and cowpokes and immediately understood the audience differed from the miners. They were an independent lot, dressed in a variety of clothing. Some wore wide brim hats of various types and colors. Edward saw hats with huge ballooning crowns and even a few derbies. From past sessions in the saloon, he noted the cowpokes didn't talk much and gave no clues as to how they felt. Today was no exception.

As soon as the music died down, a ranch owner spoke up. "We're for anything that brings law and order to the city. I don't like taxes, but I feel this way. We've got to pay for a larger police force. Taxes are a good way to pay for better law enforcement. We need to let people know that we mean business."

A tall, stringy cowboy arose and said, "We don't get paid enough to do this job and the food is just horrible."

Edward asked for the floor at that point.

"Your salaries are a matter between you and your bosses. We don't want to drag that cat into our situation. Let's keep the subject to law enforcement. I like the idea the owner raises here. Hire more lawmen and pay them to keep the town safe. If a tax is needed, let's get it done."

City officials nodded to the suggestion. Mason said he would bring up the matter of more lawmen at the next meeting. With that, the gathering dispersed. Edward couldn't say for certain how the cowmen were reacting. Nevertheless, he had a good feeling about it. On horseback returning to town, Edward and Kincaid rode at a slow pace.

"The Carter boys stared at the speakers and hardly said a word to anyone," Edward said. "They left the meeting quickly. I don't know what to make of it. I don't like it though."

"If you ask me, they are the source of all the trouble. The old man was as mean as a cougar, and you couldn't trust him out of your sight."

"You are probably right. If we could get the Carters on our side—"

Edward didn't finish the sentence. A bullet struck Kincaid in the back at the left shoulder, another whizzed past Edward's head. Kincaid dropped from his horse as if he had been shoved. He lay on the ground exerting to remain conscious. Edward slipped from Copper and dragged the deputy behind a boulder as the horses scattered. Another two shots came from the same direction and ricocheted off the boulder.

The thunderous sound of a multitude of horses vibrated in the dry air. Two dozen men on horseback massed on the road. Mason and city officials were joined by miners and cowpokes volunteering as deputies. They dispersed into rock formations and behind scrawny trees, taking cover where they could. Edward watched the Confederate sourdough drive the riderless horses over a hill to safety.

Mason yelled, "Edward, you alright?"

"I'm alright. Kincaid is shot in the back."

Behind a boulder on the other side of the road the Carter boys crouched down and looked at each other. The sudden arrival of Mason and others scared them and put them on the defensive.

"We don't stand a chance," Slade said. "Let's make a break for it."

Eldred got up and fired toward Edward's hiding place. It was his last move. A cowpoke volunteer, nearest to the Carters, opened fire and dropped the pair where they stood.

Mason declared, "All clear!"

The horsemen rode into Silver City, the bodies of the Carter boys draped over horses. Kincaid rode next to Edward, still hurt but smiling that he survived.

"It's over," Mason said to a crowd gathered outside the El Dorado. "We've got volunteers to expand our law enforcement. More than that, I think we have the start of a unified city."

The people cheered.

Edward took off his badge, unbuckled the gun belt, and carried it toward the Emporium. Marian was waiting on the porch.

"Your father said it is over. I'm glad. I didn't have to shoot anybody."

"You're better off refining silver."

"Yup," he said, mimicking the response of a Westerner.

The End

James Ott, a well-traveled Kentuckian, tasted the West as a soldier at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He is a former contract writer with McGraw-Hill publications. An aerospace specialist, he authored a book on the air transport industry titled, Airline Odyssey (McGraw-Hill). The Royal Aeronautical Society named him Aerospace Journalist of the Year for an article on the impact of 9/11. Publications include a biography of the artist Frank Duveneck titled The Greatest Brush (Branden Books) and a history of the Catholic Diocese of Covington. He studied English Literature at Thomas More University and earned a master's degree from Xavier University.

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by John H. Dromey

Up before dawn, Homer put on clean socks. From long experience outdoors in inclement weather, he knew clean socks to be warmer than dirty ones and they were also a source of comfort. With the many challenges Homer faced daily, he did not want to get cold feet. He had a reputation to maintain as a hard worker and an honest man. Someone who did his best to complete any task he took on, whether meaningful or menial. There was never a shortage of aboveboard chores in and around a small, for-the-most-part peaceful town. After all, the West was seldom as wild as it was sometimes portrayed in Eastern newspapers and dime novels.

There was a chill in the air already. According to Abner Kincaid, a wizened veteran of more cold spells than he cared to remember, the twinges in his knees were without doubt harbingers of an early winter storm. The locals might scoff at the rather questionable validity of the majority of the farfetched tales Abner was wont to spin, but they universally respected his prognostications with regard to the weather.

Cattle were still scattered in the high country. Ranchers were worried.

Sheriff Sam Carper was concerned about more than the weather. He sent for Homer.

"Stockmen are hiring practically anybody who can sit on a horse," the lawman said. "They're sending these dudes willy-nilly up into the hills to round up strays and move 'em to winter pasture. Some of those townsfolk may not fare too well around wild and wooly cowhands. There's bound to be trouble. I can't spare a deputy right now to follow along and ride herd on a bunch of tinhorns. Would you mind going, Homer? I can offer you a deputy's wages on top of what the ranchers pay."

"You want me to wear a badge? Wouldn't that make me a target for abuse by any hotheads in the outfit? I've heard, even when they're supposedly on their best behavior, some of the Ripshaw hands aren't much better than outlaws."

"You heard right, Homer, and—with that in mind—you can keep the badge in your pocket. Maybe you won't need it."

It was not a good time of year for Homer to say no to double wages. Besides, many of the newly-hired hands were likely people he knew. Some might even be friends or acquaintances. He agreed to go.

Although one of the ranchers loaned him a surefooted cow pony, Homer loaded his own mule with essential supplies. He left the pack animal at a line cabin while he helped with the roundup.

Homer earned every penny of his wages. He spent all morning in the saddle. At noon, he fixed his own meal rather than ride down to the lower elevation where the chuck wagon had stopped. That way, he moved more than his share of cattle and still had time to keep an eye on the other riders.

The roundup went well. Even the inexperienced cowboys contributed. All they had to do was hold on tight and let the horses do the work they'd been trained for. Most of the cattle had been bunched up and herded downhill by late afternoon. Only a few stray mavericks remained apart.

Night fell like a blanket over a bird cage. With it came the first snowflakes.

Homer headed for the cabin and hollered for the men from town to follow. The cowhands knew to seek shelter there without being told.

The snow started falling faster.

Homer strung a strong lariat from the corner of the stable to a post by the cabin door. The men crowded around the fireplace inside the cabin and ate a simple meal prepared by Homer from foodstuffs in his pack.

Outside, the snow was no longer merely falling. Icy crystals danced down the mountainside with the wind as a partner. Soon the ground was covered and drifts began to form.

After a hard day's work in thin air the men were too tired to talk much. They spread their bedrolls on the cabin floor and prepared to turn in for the night. Homer did the same. Soon afterwards, he drifted into a dreamless sleep.

Only Cletus Burton failed to follow suit. He sat with his back to the cabin wall and his knees drawn up under his chin. His legs arched over the saddlebags that rested between his heels and his haunches. Cletus smoked his pipe and looked around the room through half-closed eyes.

The next morning Cletus was still there. His pipe had gone out, and so had all the life from his body.

It was a while before anyone noticed something was wrong. Overnight, the fire had died down to embers and not much sunlight penetrated the raging blizzard to come in the cabin windows.

Breakfast was well underway when someone remarked, "Why doesn't Cletus move up to the fire? He'll get stiff as a board leaning against that cold wall."

It was then they noticed Cletus was not moving at all. The first person to approach the body was a hand from the Ripshaw Ranch where Cletus Burton had been the foreman.

The man bent down for a closer look. "There's something wrapped around his neck."

Cletus had been strangled. The murder weapon was a necktie. That threw suspicion on the townsfolk since several of them had joined the roundup wearing cravats.

A dangling fob chain provided a possible motive.

"His watch is missing," a sharp-eyed gent observed. "Whoever squeezed the life out of Cletus must have stolen it."

Everybody was stirring.

Bob Paige tried unsuccessfully to pull on his left shoe. The leather was stiff from being dried out overnight by the fire. Also, Bob's feet were swollen from exposure to the cold and the damp, but there was something else, as well. An obstruction. Bob turned the shoe upside down. Out fell a gold pocket watch.

"That fancy timepiece belonged to Cletus Burton!" someone yelled. "Here's our killer!"

"Get a rope," chimed in another. "Let's string him up."

Homer elbowed his way to the center of the group of angry cowpokes. "I'm Homero Gutiérrez. I represent the law." He showed them his badge. "Where's your necktie, Bob?"

"I don't know, Homer. When I woke up this morning, it was gone."

That admission sparked another round of hostile comments.

As soon as the shouting subsided, Homer said, "This man is in my custody as a suspect in the murder of Cletus Burton. It's up to a judge and jury to decide his guilt or innocence." He took Bob by the arm and drew him aside.

"Despite some damning evidence to the contrary, I don't believe you killed anybody," Homer told him. "Unfortunately, there's only one way I know to clear your name. I need to find out who did. Since my gut instinct won't count for much with this unruly bunch of yokels, I'll need incontrovertible proof that I'm right."

With a couple of men from town to guard his back, Homer inspected the murder scene.

Beneath a window next to the body, he found a damp place on the floor. Homer pursed his lips and blew his warm breath up and down on the frosted panes. Smudges on the glass suggested the window had been opened recently. The dampness came from melted snow.

The deputy and the suspect held a private conversation, speaking in hushed tones.

"Is that your cravat, Bob?" Homer asked.


Homer covered the body with a blanket, then he opened the saddlebags. One was empty. The other contained smoking paraphernalia.

"Why didn't he just stick his tobacco pouch in his pocket?" Homer wondered out loud. He did not expect an answer from the suspected killer.

"It was a sure way to keep it dry. He had to bring in his saddlebags anyway."

"Why was that, Bob?"

"In order to keep an eye on the money."

Homer glanced around to see if anyone else heard Bob's comment. No one was looking their way.

Homer lowered his voice even more, "What money?"

Bob whispered in reply, "The money to pay for the roundup and summer wages for the cowhands."

"Do you know that for a fact?"

"I do. I heard one of the Ripshaw hands ask for his pay. Cletus refused to give it to him until after the roundup."

"Which man?"

"I don't rightly know his name, but I can tell you what he looks like."

Homer recognized the man from Bob's description. Although he likewise did not know the man's name, it was without doubt the man who'd accused Bob of murder.

"Just because he knew about the money doesn't prove he took it, but having that knowledge makes him a suspect. You'd best not let on to anyone else that you knew about the money, Bob, or I may not be able to protect you."

Homer approached the cowhands. "Somebody needs to go out and tend to the horses."

Several men laughed. One spoke up. "Why don't you go yourself, Deputy? The ranchers selected Cletus to be a straw boss, so we had no choice but to take orders from him. If we decide amongst ourselves to pick a replacement for our dearly departed sidekick, it won't be you. Your little tin star doesn't carry much weight around here."

Homer could have argued their very survival depended on the wellbeing of the horses, but he decided to save his breath. The situation was not yet critical.

"Do you think you can get your shoes on, Bob?"


Homer gave Bob two pairs of clean socks and a pair of moccasins. He used rawhide thongs to cinch Bob's trouser legs around his ankles.

With a dripping wet bandanna, Homer fashioned a sling to carry a peach tin full of red-hot coals from the fireplace.

One of the cowhands offered a parting jibe. "Don't worry about Bob killing you in your sleep, Deputy. We'll be out sometime before the spring thaw to retrieve your body."

Bob and Homer went out into the blinding snowstorm and inched their way along the lariat to the stable. Homer got a fire going in the stove. Then he began the slow process of melting enough snow to water the horses.

It took a considerable amount of time to dissolve a washtub full of snow. Bob helped carry the warm water to the thirsty horses and Homer's mule.

"We've got to keep this fire going day and night. You can bank wood in a furnace or a fireplace, but this stove's too small for that. One of us will have to stay awake at all times. We'll take turns sleeping." Homer checked his sidearm. "It's unlikely anyone will come down from the cabin, but we have to be ready. Wake me if it quits snowing."

Bob looked askance at Homer's pistol. "The horses will be all right for another day. Shouldn't we get back to the cabin?"

"Is that what you want?"

Bob nodded.

The two men went to the corner of the stable to retrace their steps along the lariat. Bob grabbed the near end of the rope and gave a light tug. There was almost no resistance. He pulled hand over hand until all of the slack was taken up. He stood with a coil of rope at his feet and stared dumbfounded at the neatly-severed far end.

"Somebody cut the rope. We're trapped here!"

Homer was not particularly concerned. "We're only trapped if we wish to be. Either, or both of us, can leave anytime we want. We have plenty more rope and we know in which direction to head. The side of the cabin's a big target. Pay out the rope as you go, keeping it relatively taut between you and the stable where it's securely fastened. Head for the windward corner and you should have plenty of leeway."

"What if I get completely turned around?"

"You can follow the rope back to where you started. No one's going to cut the rope on this end."

Homer returned to his spot by the stove.

Bob hesitated, then followed. "Aren't you gonna try to get to the cabin?"

"Nope. It may not be as warm here, but it's safer."

"I reckon you're right."

The storm tapered off slightly, but still went on for a long time.

The snow stopped during Homer's watch. He shook Bob awake. "It's time for you to clear out of here."

"Me? What about you?"

"I'll stick around a while to see if I can catch the killer. Take my mule and head for town. Don't try to steer the critter. Just hold on for dear life and let him pick his own path. Wait for me at the jail. You can pass the time by telling Sheriff Carper what's happened so far."

"What's to stop me from going off in a different direction?"

"Nothing. You might get lonesome though. Should you decide to strike out on your own, your tracks will show me where you and the mule parted company."

Homer finished saddling the mule. Bob mounted up inside the stable. He had to lean forward over the animal's neck to keep from hitting his head. As they moved outside, Bob started to straighten up. The mule stepped into the snow with such confidence he almost left his passenger behind. Bob grabbed the saddle horn with both hands and held on with all his might.

Homer moved to an outside corner of the stable where he could keep an eye on the cabin. He watched until Bob was out of rifle range. Now, all he could do was wait. Homer curled up in a blanket and pretended to sleep.

Homer was nudged awake by a toe of a cowboy boot. He didn't know how long he'd slept.

"What kind of deputy are you? Where's the prisoner?"

Homer did not have to wonder what had become of the guide rope. The end of the lariat had been fashioned into a hangman's noose that the speaker was dangling in front of Homer's face.

"There're tracks leading down the hill," someone else said. "Let's get after him!"

The men scrambled to get their horses saddled. Homer, mounted on the mare he'd been assigned, was not the first one out of the stable, but he soon caught up with the leaders. Their progress was slow as their horses broke an easy-to-follow trail in the snow.

"Slow down, fellas. I've something to tell you."

"We've heard enough from you, Deputy. Stay out of the way."

"Who are you working for now?" Homer asked.

"Nobody. Cletus was a friend of ours."

"Such a good friend you're willing to ride off without your wages?"

"What d'ya mean? We'll get paid as soon as we get to town. The ranchers promised us our pay as soon as we finished this roundup."

"The best way to do that was to send the money along with one of the riders."

"Whoa!" The leader yelled, as he reined in his horse. The others followed suit.

The men turned in their saddles to face Homer. "Which rider?"

"Your friend Cletus."

"You mean he had the money in his saddlebags all along? Where is it now?"

"Only the killer knows for sure, but I have a pretty good idea myself. I can tell you who doesn't have it. That's Bob Paige. We're out of sight of the cabin. Let's wait here for the others to catch up."

A small group of riders approached. Homer looked them over carefully, one by one.

One of the late arrivals was impatient. "What are you waiting for? Sitting on a cold saddle ain't my idea of a good time."

"We're resting our horses," Homer said. "You're welcome to go on ahead and break the trail." He made no mention of the missing money.

The group moved on. Their horses struggled in the deep snow.

A final slow-moving bunch of stragglers caught up. They were leading two horses. One was riderless, since Bob Paige had left on Homer's mule and the other carried Cletus Burton's body.

"Is that everybody?" Homer asked, although he knew it wasn't.

"Nope. One's missing. Where's Cully?"

"We left him in the stable. Said he was gonna replace a strap on his saddle."

"That's peculiar. I never knew him to go looking for extra work."

"Me neither."

"Say, is he the shifty-eyed gent who accused Bob Paige of being a killer?"


Homer motioned for two men to follow and headed back to the cabin.

Cully's horse was standing in the stable unattended.

Homer and his companions dismounted. The only tracks led directly from the stable to the open cabin door. The men drew their weapons and approached with caution.

Cully was not inside the cabin.

"Why, he's plum disappeared."

"He'll be back as soon as he recovers the stolen money. Let's be quiet and wait for him." Homer pointed to the men's boots.

The cowboys took off their spurs and tiptoed inside.

Once inside, they could hear Cully at work as he hollowed out a cavern in the deep drift that nearly reached the roof on the west side of the cabin. Cully used a skillet to toss snow into the cabin through the open window. His heavy breathing was punctuated by the clang of the frying pan hitting the sill as he jarred loose the snow packed into his improvised shovel.

Cully gave a grunt of satisfaction. He'd reached the money pouch. It was right where he'd dropped it after strangling Cletus.

Speaking softly, Homer suggested, "Let's get closer to the window so we can grab his arms as he comes in. We can take him without a fight."

One cowhand whispered back. "I'd rather wait right here. We'll give him a fight if he wants one."

"I'll go along with that," the other hand agreed.

Sheriff Carper's instructions to Homer were to protect the townsfolk. He'd done that. If these cowpokes wanted a gunfight, he couldn't very well stop them. "Cully's a tough customer. One of you two try to stay alive. I'll need a witness."

"Step aside, Deputy. Here he comes."

Clutching the money bag, Cully slid through the window, then elbowed his way over the pile of snow and scrambled to his feet. There was a look of genuine surprise on his face. The last thing he'd expected was to be confronted by three armed men.

One cowhand took a step forward. "You have a choice, Cully. You can surrender and face justice in town or you can make your play here. I'll give you a better chance than you did Cletus." He holstered his pistol.

Cully dropped the money bag and went for his gun. Homer had never seen anyone move faster. The cowhands were no match for Cully. Neither was Homer.

The killer fired three evenly-spaced shots. He swiveled his upper body as he pulled the trigger. Three shots. Three human targets. Three misses.

Cully shivered and his arm trembled. His gloveless hands were partially numbed from exposure to the extreme cold while retrieving the saddle bag from the deep snowdrift.

Two of the gunman's targets had moved. The cowhands had dived out of the way. They did not pose an immediate threat.

Homer's feet were firmly planted. His arm was rock steady. He knew instinctively his life was on the line.

Cully's torso was twisted to his left. As soon as he straightened around again, he'd empty his six-shooter into the deputy.

Homer brought up his pistol as though it were an extension of his arm, as though he were pointing a finger at Cully's chest.

Cully was confident, despite his earlier misses. He started to smile. His hand steadied and his finger tightened on the trigger.

The impact of the bullet rotated Cully's body slightly so his shot went wide. Homer had fired first.

Cully's smile changed to a grimace of pain, but he wasn't finished yet. He tried to bring his pistol up again.

Homer fired twice more.

The men were quiet on their way into town.

Sheriff Carper was impressed. "I got a wanted poster on the gent you brought in. There's a big reward. Culpepper. He had a reputation as a dead shot and was none too particular in his choice of targets. There are three slugs in him. I don't reckon you know for sure which one of you got him."

"You're right, Sheriff," Homer said. "Cully's hands were cold from digging in the snow. He couldn't aim straight. That fortuitous circumstance was all that saved us. If it's all right with the others, we'll split the reward three ways."

The cowhands looked at each other, then nodded. They did not challenge Homer's statement.

By the time they got to the saloon, the cowboys' version of Cully's shooting emphasized their participation and relegated the deputy to a minor role. That was fine and dandy with Homer. Foregoing part of the reward was a small price to pay for peace of mind. The last thing he wanted was to be saddled with an unearned reputation as a fast gun.

The End

John H. Dromey was born in northeast Missouri. He enjoys reading—mysteries in particular—and writing in a variety of genres. His short fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Flame Tree Fiction Newsletter, Gumshoe Review, Mystery Magazine, and elsewhere, as well as in numerous anthologies.

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On National Road, 1869
by William Baker

Elijah lets Oma, his horse, trot on. Depending on who you talk to, the old Cumberland Road or National Road, is an easy way. It is a thoroughfare he means to travel into Illinois where he plans to jog around to pick up a route west. He has Arizona or New Mexico in mind, but doesn't care if it is Colorado or Wyoming, or somewhere of the like.

There are cornfields and other crops out here and he judges himself to be somewhere around the town they call Terre Haute, Indiana and about ready to cross over into Illinois where this National Road runs out and the wilderness trek begins. From that point he is to make his way to St. Louis where he will meet his childhood friend Salathial Fields and they will continue their journey together. Both young men seek a new life on the emerging frontier, a life of freedom. For Elijah, freedom from a life of tyranny at the hands of a step-father. For Salathial, freedom from the tyranny of judgement for skin color. To Elijah, National Road travel is a necessary step along the way. He will enjoy its ease, knowing he will not see its like again on the western frontier.

It is early and the morning mist hangs over the fields and woods as Oma carries him onward. He has seen no one since last night and knows this heavily traveled thoroughfare will liven up as the sun progresses on its path.

Elijah sees the men off the side of the road and up ahead. The big one looks down the road at him, stands up and looks at the other one, then dusts his pants and picks something from the ground. Trees and brush block Elijah's sight for a moment as he moves forward. When he gets closer to the men, he can see that they have camped. One is older and well worn, of his late 40s, the other much younger and sort of dumb looking.

The older one now leans against a tree with a rifle propped next to him. Elijah recognizes it for a Maynard .50 caliber and thinks of the recently defeated Confederacy. The younger, dumb looking man has a massive stick of ironwood in his beefy right paw and taps it on the ground. Elijah smiles his best 18-year-old boyish smile but his alarms are sounded. He must be wary, which he realizes may be all that these gentlemen are doing.

"Greetings young fella. Spare a minute for a chat? We ain't seen anyone since yesterday," the older man speaks and drops his hand to the barrel of the Maynard.

"Gentlemen," Elijah decides to not run for it as the Maynard is a formidable weapon in the right hands. He reins Oma to a stop. There is a fleeting, stealthy movement from the big one to position himself behind Oma but at a safe distance.

With polished practice the older man flips the Maynard upward and to his waiting hands, he points it at Elijah, cocking the trigger in one continuous fluid motion. "My name is Parson Taylor and that's my little brother Dan and I'll be thanking you to get down off of the horse," he says.

Elijah judges his chances for successful pulling of the Henry repeater from its saddle holster and decides against it. He glances back at Dan who is still in place but with the ironwood club in both hands now. He looks at the older man. "Mr. Parson Taylor and Dan," he says after a moment "we are not enemies. I do not know you."

"No sir, you don't. But I mean to take your horse, that nice Henry rifle you got there and whatever else I may want," Parson Taylor says. "You're decision is clear headed to leave your rifle holstered; there is no opportunity for you there."

"I see." Elijah judges that Mr. Taylor would and could shoot him should he spur Oma and try to run for it. He pushes his Stetson back on his head and smiles at the older man again. "Sir, could we not discuss it? I will share my provisions and be on my way with no harm done save perhaps a misunderstanding, as it were." He sees one course of action and stirs Oma to the position he desires.

"Sonny, you can stop moving the horse. You can't outrun a bullet and I am a crack shot, I admit," Taylor continues. "No, I must insist that you dismount."

Elijah spreads his hands and entreats, he moves Oma the slightest bit more, "Mr. Parson Taylor, you seem like a reasonable man. And an honorable veteran of the Great War." Oma is in place.

"Shoot him from the saddle," Dan adds from behind in a thick and clumsy voice.

"That is a thought, brother Dan," Mr. Taylor says "and maybe I shall if he does not dismount soon. My arms weary holding this rifle at aim."

"What do you with me, Mr. Taylor? You and your brother Dan?" Elijah takes his feet from the stirrups and checks on Dan again.

"I'm sorry to say that we cannot let you go. You see the Sheriff in the county knows us; it might never do for you to report to him," Taylor explains.

"You mean to shoot me anyway? I wish that you wouldn't," Elijah says. He is ready now.

"No, I shall shoot if needed. The noise of the rifle may draw an attention I do not crave. I mean for brother Dan to kill you with his club. Now please, for the last time will you dismount?" Taylor insists.

"I am to die either way?" Elijah smiles.

"My brother Dan is what some call retarded, meaning not swift of wit and as you can see he is big of body and slower on foot than you," Parson Taylor explains. "Look at it this way; you have at least a chance to escape Dan but none to escape my bullet while mounted."

"You afford me my chances with brother Dan unfettered?" Elijah asks and looks at Dan behind him who is not keeping with the conversation.

Parson Taylor lowers the Maynard rifle to a hip position and motions with his head for the boy to dismount.

"You make a point, Parson Taylor. It seems my options are indeed limited." Elijah spreads his hands in a surrender gesture and places the right hand on the horn of the saddle. "Will you allow me a moment of prayer to God?" Parson Taylor nods, Elijah checks on Dan again and lowers his head but does not close his eyes. He prays for half a minute and announces, "I will dismount."

In one motion he puts his left foot in the stirrup, swings his right leg over the horse and dips his body to dismount. Simultaneous he slides his left hand inside his jacket to the holstered Colt pocket revolver. He is hidden from Parson Taylor's view by his previous positioning of Oma and brother Dan can't see what he is doing from his angle. As soon as he has both feet on the ground he draws the Colt, ducks low and aims the pistol from under Oma's neck where he fires twice, hitting Parson Taylor in the middle with both shots. Well trained, Oma does not move. Elijah wheels and shoots the advancing Dan in the center of his chest. Dan drops forward to the waiting ground without ceremony, hands above his head and still gripping the club. Years of practice with Salathiel Fields makes all of this second nature.

Elijah turns to Parson Taylor who is slouched to a sitting position against a tree and reaching for the Maynard. He steps to the rifle and kicks it away. Taylor drops his hand to his wound and looks up.

"I am twice gutted. You have killed me boy," Taylor says with a gasp.

"You meant to kill me," Elijah responds.

Mr. Taylor looks at the blood oozing from under his clenched hands. "I have seen this on the battlefield. No doctor can save me now even if one were at hand. My brother is dead?"

"I am sorry to report, he is. I feel no guilt. You and Dan should not have made on me this way," Elijah steps back to leave then stops.

"Dan is not responsible. He was a half-wit, doing what I tell him," Taylor shrugs "I meant for him to kill you. I didn't care to use a bullet as they're hard to come by for that rifle and it is such a loud instrument," Parson Taylor explains.

"I don't regret what I did," Elijah continues "I regret the necessity of it."

"It is to be expected." Taylor nods his head.

The boy nods also, "it is unfortunate." In all of his studies of the west and all of his reading of the Beadle's Dime Novels the bad guy was never thus. The bad man, the highwayman, was a rough and tumble no-good with coarse language and foul disposition; dangerous and devious until the end. Mr. Taylor is a small, worn out, old rebel and Dan an imbecile. Taylor, without his rifle, is no threat. Intended robber or not, Elijah is anxious for him.

"We have never robbed before. It was ill advised from the start." Mr. Taylor closes his eyes and is silent and bleeding for a long moment, "We went to church Sunday last. Mount Carmel Primitive Baptist. The man preached hellfire. There was a chicken dinner after." He looks at the boy and lets a small smile creep forth, "you are practiced, yet too young for the war."

"I mean to live in the Wild West," Elijah explains. "I am prepared and educated in all things of the west." He stares at the Maynard, satisfied that it is far enough out of reach, then he holsters his pistol. "I have never killed before. God gave me leave, but I still do not relish it."

"What do they call you?" Parson Taylor asks with closed eyes.

"Elijah Brandt, sir."

Taylor smiles but does not open his eyes. "You have read the periodicals, I see," he says. "Sorry we met under these conditions. You seem a good sort."

Elijah looks at the ground, "I would like to pray for you, sir."

Parson Taylor looks up at the overhead canopy of trees then down at his bloody hands. He looks at last at the boy and wets his parched lips, "I should be playing Whist," he gasps.

"Mr. Taylor?" Elijah asks.

"I should be at my sister's house in Corydon, Indiana, playing Whist in her parlor," he explains. "She begged us not to leave, but somehow we are here," he sighs.

The older man shakes his head again and the boy can see color draining from his face. He does not fancy watching Parson Taylor die, but considers it indecent to leave a man to utter his dying words to the empty wind. "I urge you to not report this to the county Sheriff," Taylor continues. "He is an unpredictable sort and may welcome your news by placing you in jail for future hanging." Taylor begins to gasp at the end of sentences and the boy figures it can't be long at any rate.

"Would you like for me to contact friends or kin?" Elijah offers.

Taylor looks at him, "no. That is as bad for you as the Sheriff, or worse. Leave us here, we will be found. You should ride before another traveler comes and complicates the issue."

Elijah looks up and down the road for as far as he can see. No one presents themselves but Parson Taylor's words are true. He looks back at the old man who has closed his eyes again. "If you are sure then," Elijah says.

The boy mounts Oma. He looks at Dan who has not moved and then at the old man who still breathes with eyes closed. He checks the location of the Maynard. He prays God's mercy for these highwaymen he has killed.

He expects action and possible gun play in the Wild West. He is prepared by years of study and reading and years of practice on the horse, with the rope, knife, and firearms. He never expected adventure to begin before leaving Indiana.

He spurs Oma to an even and quick trot and rides on in profound sadness.

The End

William Baker's short fiction is published a number of times since 2013. He thrives and lives a positive and purposeful life in Yeshua in Indiana. He maintains an author website, williambakerauthor@gmx.com

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The Dangerous Type
by Austen Burke

Harrison Frittata was not exactly what you would call a capital M Master criminal. What successes he had were, almost assuredly, in spite of himself and also due in large part to the ineptitude and laziness of the Arrow Creek County law enforcement community. In this instance his grand escape was due in large part to excellent timing. He was holed up in what he thought was a safehouse with Emily, one of his lady friends. The Marshall and his posse, under cover of darkness, stealthily surrounded the house but there were parts of the property that they overlooked. When they started hollering for Harrison's surrender he took a peek through the outhouse door and decided that discretion was the better part of valor. As quietly as the posse had crept up on Emily's house Harrison slipped into the woods. He paused just long enough to use the crick as a natural bidet before angling towards the canyon in nothing but his long underwear. He spent the rest of the night splayed out on a rock with a great view of the surrounding country.

Come sunup he started making his way back to Emily's house. He took his time to make sure he wasn't walking into a trap, so he didn't get there until ten or so. He snuck in through a window and, listening intently, went into the kitchen. He didn't hear anyone so he sat down and started to pick the burrs from his long underwear. Presently Emily came downstairs and started cooking breakfast. She lit the fire in the stove and started some eggs and bacon, in no time the kitchen smelled like comfort.

"Are you going to sit there all day like my laundry," she asked without turning around.

"Huh," he grunted.

She spooned some eggs and bacon onto a plate then slid it to him, "Flapping in the breeze."

"Oh," he smiled, "I've just got a couple left."

When he finished with the burrs he tucked into his breakfast just a flapping in the breeze.

* * *

Emily was seated at the table resting her head in her hand, "You've never warranted a posse before," she mused laconically.

"Maybe I pissed off the wrong person," he said.

"Maybe Arrow Creek County is done with you," she said.

"I think I might be done with Arrow Creek County," he replied.

Emily helped him gather up his few things and saddle his horse. She watched him hop up in the noonday heat.

"If Johnny Churro or Frankie Sopapilla comes by tell 'em I lit out," he said.

"Yeah, alright," then "Hey . . . come here."

She kissed him hard, and she kissed him long. She wanted to remember his clean taste (he didn't smoke or chew). When she was done she looked in his eyes and smacked him lightly on the cheek. He wheeled his horse around, and that was that. She didn't watch him ride away for very long, a bandit's woman is as adept at moving on as they are, besides it looked like rain and she had laundry to get off of the line.

* * *

When most individuals with a career in unlawfulness moved on from Arrow Creek County they usually chose to manifest their destiny and headed west. That's why Harrison thought he'd head north into Utah. He knew the Mormons would give him a hell of a time, but as much crap as he'd get from them the Marshalls would get even more. He didn't have a plan beyond that. Maybe Missouri. Hell there was always Mexico.

After Utah he worked his way into Colorado and spent some time working in a mineshaft, but that wasn't for him so he moved on. He helped run some cattle across the state and into Kansas. He spent a little time in Topeka gambling, and trying to set up a score that never materialized when he remembered about Missouri. He sold his horse and scraped up his money then bought a train ticket. If it didn't work out there was always Mexico.

Missouri suited him alright. He had a couple of successful robberies and was making decent money but it never felt like home to him. The obvious progression was to move down the Mississippi, and Harrison, never one for excessively creative thought, followed this literally natural course down to New Orleans. He spent some time doing a little bit of this and that but New Orleans didn't suit him either. He was relieving some of the pressure from a night of carousing against a wall outside the bar when he saw an ad for passage across the Gulf and thought, "Well. Maybe it's time for Mexico."

* * *

Pretty soon he found himself in Tampico with too much time on his hands and dwindling money. He spent his nights in a cantina called Ve a Ver's eating Puerco pibil, getting drunk, and pissing off the locals by making up English lyrics to Cielito Lindo or whatever else the musicians were playing. Sometimes the night ended in a fight and sometimes it ended with him sick in the street. Both outcomes felt like success to Harrison depending on whether he was in a drinking mood or a fighting mood; they usually bled into each other.

"I had me a gurrlll
I had me a gurrlll
We go swimmin' in the lake
Together; sometimes
Without clothes
Heh, heh. You know what I mean

She was a great gurrlll.
I mean she was a GREAT gurrlll.
I thought we were in love.
But I'm an ass.

Harrison was wailing slurrily much to the annoyance of the other patrons when he was tapped on the shoulder.

As he was turning, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the man behind him cock his arm back, so he switched his turn to a duck. As he righted himself under the man's blow he used his momentum to land a hefty punch to the man's stomach and simultaneously push him into his friend standing behind him. The pair knocked several chairs over and spilled quite a bit of beer. Harrison took the scene in in a flash and tossed some pesos at the bar before dashing off cackling maniacally. The next night he was caterwauling away when he saw in the bar mirror two men approaching him. They might have been the same men from the night before, or just the fairly regular occurrence of individuals trying to forcibly shut him up. In any case, he reached into his pocket and gripped a handful of pesos, braced his feet against the bar, and when they got close enough he pushed himself and his chair into them. His hand flew out of his pocket scattering pesos everywhere in anticipation of the spilt beer. Unfortunately for Harrison these less than gentlemen were familiar with these sorts of tactics. One of them wrapped him in a bear hug as the chair was sliding out from under him. The other one punched him in the stomach as he was trying to wriggle free to no avail. Pretty soon his priority changed to getting his breath back. When that happened his assailants dragged him outside.

"Gringo, are you looking for work," the one who was bear hugging him asked. When Harrison stopped struggling the bear hugger nodded to his compadre who thoughtfully stopped hitting Harrison in the stomach.

Harrison did some quick estimates in his head and thought that maybe he had enough money for another two maybe three months, "I guess I am," he coughed.

* * *

They told Harrison the job was in San Luis Potosi, which meant nothing to him. The views from the train, on the other hand, well those were gorgeous. Harrison hadn't realized how much he missed that rugged landscape. He hadn't realized how lethargic the Gulf humidity had made him. He felt a sense of, well not really ambition or direction, return but a spontaneous energy that had left him when he rode away from Emily. His recruiters lead him through a hacienda to the well appointed study of its hacendado.

Harrison was not someone who was predisposed to taking orders from a boss, but everything about Fermin's appearance spoke to his competence and efficiency from his trim moustache and goatee, to his perfectly knotted tie, to his constantly calculating eyes. Fermin seemed like a jefe he could get along with. Harrison was so magnetized by him that he didn't notice that he and Fermin were staring at each other until his recruiter pushed him into the room and shut the door.

"Please sit," Fermin gestured to a chair as Harrison approached the desk, "Can I offer you a cigar?"

"I don't smoke," Harrison said.

"Ah, I see. Clean lungs. Are you a drinker? If I offered you tequila would you accept," Fermin asked.

"Now that I'll gladly accept," Harrison replied.

Fermin pulled two glasses from his desk and a bottle of tequila, "Excellent," said Fermin as he poured the tequila and slid Harrison his glass, "My men tell me that you're the dangerous type."

Harrison took a sip of his tequila, "Oh I don't know . . . "

"Very well. I need brave men, would you say that you're a brave man," asked Fermin narrowing his eyes.

"I like to think of myself as a brave man, but if you polled my friends they'd probably describe me as foolhardy. To my discredit I think that's probably a more accurate description," Harrison said.

Fermin sighed, set his glasses on the desk, and began rubbing his eyes, "Oh so you're the humble type. Are you at least a pistolero?"

Harrison took his time, "I might have been in the past."

Fermin put his glasses back on, "Hmm. Circumspect as well as humble. We'll get you set up in the bunkhouse. I think we'll have some work for you before too long."

* * *

Harrison was perched precariously on the pile of timbers he and his gang had heaped on the railroad tracks. He had robbed a train or two during his bandit apprenticeship but it had been quite some time, since then he had focused more on stage coaches and occasionally cattle rustling. He checked his watch and hoped he still had the knack. When he heard the train he whistled so that everyone would be in position.

The train slowed to a halt in front of Harrison he drew his pistol, fired it in the air, and said, "This is a stick up!"

Curious as to why the train had stopped the soldiers riding it stuck their heads out of the windows. When they saw a bandit they ducked their heads inside then popped them back out with their rifles. Harrison fired in the air again and nervously shouted, "Now". When the first shot from the soldiers barely missed him Harrison leapt down from the timber and started running towards the train shouting, "Now! Now! Goddamnit Now!"

He had made it to the front of the engine and he was still taking heavy fire. He caught his breath then climbed to the top of the engine and ran towards the cars. He steadied himself on the smokestack and burned his hands. He jumped onto the top of the first car and lay down flat depriving the soldiers of a target. Soon enough their shooting stopped because the rest of the bandits had snuck up on the soldiers from the weeds and disarmed them. The rest of the robbery went without incident.

As soon as Harrison got back to the hacienda he went to Fermin's study and banged on the door. He immediately yelped in pain. He tried the door handle, found it was unlocked and went in. He strode over to Fermin and slammed his hands down on the desk. He immediately yelped in pain, "I've got to stop doing that," he thought.

"Hey," he howled fueled by the pain in his palms, "That train was guarded."

Fermin gave him a bemused smile, "Yes well it was a train robbery. Were you expecting it to not be guarded?"

Harrison looked confused for a moment, "I . . . well . . . no. But your men didn't respond. Am I just a convenient big gringo target or are you trying to get me killed?"

Fermin looked at him incredulously, "If my employees get killed I have to find new employees. What did you say?"

"Now! Now. Now. I was screaming my head off for five minutes but bupkiss," Harrison said throwing his arms in the air.

"I see," Fermin chuckled, "They don't speak English. Try "Ahora" for the next robbery. In the meantime I'll have my wife Renata help you expand your Spanish."

"But those were soldiers," Harrison ventured the fragment of a thought taking shape before trailing off.

"Uh huh. Who were you expecting to guard . . . " Fermin trailed off himself before chuckling, "Wait did you come to Mexico and not realize that we were in the middle of a war?"

Harrison looked sheepish, "I . . . no. Maybe. What, what, what are we doing then if it's not a secret?"

"We're depriving the Porfirite forces of cash on behalf of Lerdo Tejada," responded Fermin.

"So are we robbing the rich to feed the poor," asked Harrison hopefully.

Fermin instinctually reverted to his wry smile, "No I don't think so. It's more likely that we're robbing the rich to feed the rich. But I get a cut, you get a cut, I keep my hacienda, and I can keep paying the people who work for me slightly more money than what poor people are paid."

Harrison opened his mouth, but Fermin cut him off, "You see yourself as a hero don't you? Well, I hope you survive this war," Fermin came out from behind his desk and clapped Harrison on the shoulder, "Come on. We'll get you set up in a new room while your hands heal."

* * *

The room that Harrison was lodged in was simple, it had a bed, a nightstand, and a dresser. It was easily a step up from the bunk house. The floor was covered in blue tiles that were cool on Harrison's feet. As he lay down he noticed the moonlight streaking through the window shutters and hitting the tiles. It reminded him of the stories that his grandpa told him about the pixies from his hometown in the old world. Harrison never believed in them but if you were going to see a pixie this was definitely the light that it would happen in. He got up, opened the window and looked outside, he could understand why his Pops believed in that. He suddenly felt overwhelmed and exhausted so he went back to the bed. Before he fell asleep he caught site of something scampering by the wall. It was probably a mouse.

As his hands healed he worked on his Spanish with Renata. She oftentimes doubled as his nurse and changed his bandages. She knew just enough English that she could understand Harrison's intent. He made up in energy what he lacked in linguistic aptitude. Renata's refrain, "En Espagnol" could be heard from the room repeatedly.

Harrison was put back in the rotation as soon as his hands had mended. He was the preferred raid leader for all of the pistoleros not because his tactics were the best but because he was a big gringo target and he always took more than his fair share of enemy fire. Still, he got results; his raids had fewer losses than anyone else's. Soon enough he was Fermin's right hand man, not just because of his success but also because Fermin truly enjoyed his company. He and an elite crew perfected the train robbery. His instincts were always to leap forward never behind the pile of timbers so he started wearing oversize gloves so he didn't burn his hands on the engine. His crew took to wearing them as well after successful heists and photographs from this period inspired Walt Disney's design of Mickey Mouse, and subsequently other gloved cartoon animals.

* * *

During their downtime most of the pistoleros gambled with each other or got drunk while they were waiting for the next raid. Harrison joined in on those festivities from time to time but found that he was at a disadvantage with the Mexican games due to his linguistic handicap. Most of the time when he was bored he would go help the campesinos with their vegetable plots, or muck out the stables. Sometimes he helped with the horses, or fixed a door hinge here or a window shutter there. Once he re-did a roof. He liked having something to do with his hands, so being a Jack of All Trades/bandit suited him.

His unostentatious helpfulness was not lost on Renata, nor was his easy friendliness, or naíve charm. She continued tutoring him in Spanish long after his speaking skills were sufficient for his tasks. This was a fact that was completely lost on Harrison. Renata found herself falling out of love with Fermin, it's difficult to love a man who spends his days at a desk plotting. Furthermore, Fermin took Harrison under his wing and started including him in strategy discussions. It wasn't Harrison's forte but he applied the same energy to analyses of maps and troop movements that he did to learning the language of his second home and he made progress. Renata transferred the qualities that she did love about Fermin in proportion to Fermin's success in turning Harrison into a military intellect.

* * *

It was the height of the summer and Harrison was sleeping on the floor. He had started waking up sweaty and tangled in sheets that offered no relief from the heat. The floor was hardly more comfortable but the tiles stayed cool all night long. He had the window open on faith to let the air circulate even though the summer atmosphere was stagnant. A man can dream. He was laying in the watery pixie moonlight when Renata woke him up with some very vigorous and pointed caresses.

"I . . . uh. Oh my God," Harrison exclaimed as she slid on top of him.

Renata leaned down and whispered, "En espagnol," while she nibbled his ear.

Eventually the tiles were just as warm and sweaty as the sheets would have been but slippery and treacherous. When they moved their unsportsmanlike conduct to the bed Harrison fell and bumped his ass. He didn't hit it so hard that it interfered with the night's athletics.

When their energy was finally depleted Renata was holding Harrison when she asked, "What's Emily like?"

Woozy and half asleep Harrison responded, "Oh she's a lot like you . . . " before trailing off into a snore. Renata took that as her cue to sneak out. Moving forward Renata made it a point to have a nocturnal rendezvous with Harrison at least once a week. They always ended the same way, with Harrison falling asleep before he could finish describing Emily.

* * *

Harrison was on his way to his weekly meeting with Fermin when Fermin himself stopped him in the hall, "Come with me. Why do you think the trains have been better guarded as of late?"

"I think it's probably because we're losing and it's freeing up soldiers to guard the cash," Harrison said.

"Perhaps . . . well perhaps," Fermin replied while still leading Harrison outside at a brisk pace.

They stopped at the bunkhouse which had several soldiers by it. Fermin signaled the soldiers to round everybody up. The pistoleros staggered out in clumps of two or three. The bunkhouse was basically a toaster for humans so most of them weren't wearing their shirts, they pulled on their suspenders as the soldiers got them in line. Some of them came out still hopping one leg after the other into their pants.

Fermin paced up and down the line twice before whipping Diego in the face with his pistol, "We have a spy," he yelled as he pointed his gun at Diego's head.

"No, no I'm n . . . ," screamed Diego but his pleas were cut off by Fermin's shot. Fermin nodded to the soldiers, who picked two of the pistoleros and marched off with them.

"Now," started Fermin, "If I find another spy. It won't just be two of us getting fitted for a uniform, we'll all be trying our luck in the regular army. Now . . . "

Fermin turned on his heel and walked back to the house at a rapid trot. Harrison had a hard time keeping up with him. When he caught him in his study Fermin was resting his elbows on his desk and he had his forehead in his hands. Harrison sat down as Fermin tossed his glasses on the desk with a sigh and began rubbing his face with both of his palms. Harrison thought he noticed . . . but maybe not.

Fermin stared blankly at the business cluttering his desk held in place by his pistol as he asked, "Who did they take?"

"Ramon and the other Fermin," Harrison said.

"Awww, Ramon was . . . alright. Alright," Fermin said looking directly at Harrison, "What the hell am I doing? I mean is there any GOD DAMN value in managing some low level partisans? You're out there disarming the enemy and stealing their money maybe killing a couple. I don't know that's something at least. What am I doing? Shooting my own men? What's the goddamn point. Huh? Huh?"

Harrison started, "I don't . . . I"

"When my father died I could have stayed in Mexico City like every other hacendado but I didn't I came out here. I could have hired a manager like every other hacendado but I didn't, I came out here like a goddamn asshole, and now I'm wasting . . . " Fermin breathed deeply and got a hold of himself. He opened up the bottom left drawer and pulled out his bottle of tequila. He poured two glasses and slid one over to Harrison.

"Have you ever been betrayed," he asked without waiting for a response. He idly began playing with the gun cocking it and un-cocking it. Harrison noticed that it had been pointed in his direction the entire time, "I think betrayal is actually more rare than people assume. I think in order to be betrayed it has to happen from someone you love otherwise it's just . . . what's your American phrase? Getting 'dicked over'. We were just dicked over today."

"Do you really think . . . " Harrison started.

Fermin cut him off, pulled out his ledger, and ran over the numbers, "I don't know. But we're ahead on human resources expenses so we could afford the loss and now they'll police themselves."

Fermin held his glass up to eye level and stared at the tequila as he rolled it around the tumbler. It seemed that he had forgotten Harrison was even there, "I am the dangerous type," he said to himself. Harrison backed out of the room without touching his liquor.

* * *

"If he finds out he's going to kill us."

"I know. Do you want to stop?"

" . . . no. Did you . . . "

"Of course. Of course I knew what he'd do when I started this."

"Should we . . . "

"Do anything? I think things will be alright."

* * *

As the war continued the soldier's visits became more frequent. Initially, Fermin was running three gangs of pistoleros. The army whittled it down to two, and then just the one. The war needed more and soon enough Harrison was running operations with a gang that was too small to safely rob anything. Even though it was made up of veterans little by little his casualties started to increase.

One night Renata came to him, told him to get dressed, and tossed him a burlap sack, "Throw whatever cash you've saved in the sack."

"Wait you're bleeding . . . ," Harrison started.

She cut him off, "It's not mine. Get your guns and a rifle if you have one here. Give me one of your pistols."

Harrison could hear gunfire and screaming in the near distance; it was somewhere on the hacienda. All of a sudden Harrison felt like he was out of his depth, the blue moonlight felt menacing. She lead him through the dark house. When his eyes adjusted he realized they were going to Fermin's study. When they got there Harrison could hear men demanding a combination to a safe. Harrison burst in before Renata could stop him. He saw one man with a gun on Fermin who had blood running down his forehead, one man working on a safe that had been dragged through a hole torn in the wall, and lastly a man with a gun on him. He put his hands up and let his pistol droop limply by his index finger. Renata cursed him under her breath as she listened to the excited chatter in the room. She closed her eyes so that she could visualize the locations of the voices better. When she opened her eyes she peeked around the door jamb but couldn't get an angle on the robbers so she threw herself into the study. When she landed she took a moment to aim and shot the bandit covering Harrison then used her last bullet on the safe cracker. Harrison twirled his pistol around and shot Fermin's attacker but not before Fermin absorbed two shots himself.

Fermin propped himself up on his elbow and looked from Harrison to Renata then back again. Then he looked at the burlap sack in Harrison's hand and his wry smile came to him automatically. He started to chuckle but it was interrupted when he began coughing up blood. He couldn't hold himself up and laid back down.

Harrison and Renata rushed over to him, Harrison taking his hand and Renata cradling his head in her lap. Harrison was afraid to ask but he couldn't stop himself, "Did I dick you over?"

Fermin smiled again and weakly told him, "No. You didn't."

Harrison began repeating, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," as they held him until he died. When it was over Renata grabbed the burlap bag and opened the safe. She started filling it as quickly as she could.

"Come on help me. We don't have a lot of time, they'll be looking for these guys soon enough and we need to get out of here while it's still dark," she said.

Numbly Harrison obeyed her. They took as much cash and gold bars as they could carry and snuck out of the house. On their way towards the edge of the property Harrison saw the bunkhouse on fire. It was surrounded by Porfirite soldiers who were firing into it indiscriminately. Thanks to their oversized fire gloves the pistoleros were holding their own but anytime one of them tried to make a break for it he was gunned down. It was only a matter of time. Harrison unslung the rifle from his back but stopped when he felt Renata's hand on his shoulder.

"Come on," she nodded towards the safety of the wilderness, "It's a lost cause."

* * *

Thanks to the goodwill that Harrison had built up with Fermin's campesinos as well as a hefty payment of cash he and Renata were able to lay low in San Luis Potosi for the rest of the war. When the Porfirites won and Diaz took office he issued a general pardon for all of the soldiers who fought on behalf of Tejada even the non-traditional ones. Still it wasn't long before the pair felt the unspoken but creeping antipathy around them and came to the conclusion that, pardon and their money notwithstanding, they were persona non grata. They decided that there was always Texas. Unfortunately no one would sell Harrison a train ticket so they were forced to saddle up their horses and ride north to the Rio Grande (or at least out of the range of his infamy).

As they got under way Harrison asked Renata, "Would you marry me?"

"Then my name would be Renata Frittata, "she said.

"Oh, I . . . " stuttered Harrison.

"It's ok. Let me think about it," she said with a smile, "So. Tell me about Emily."

With his own wry smile Harrison said, "In English."

Renata hemmed and hawed embarrassed with the reversal of their rhetorical situation until Harrison relented, "Oh ok. She's a lot like you; the dangerous type."

The End

As are most writers Austen has been a lifelong reading enthusiast. He'll take the Post-Moderns over the Moderns and is a devoted fan of Thomas Pynchon. He spent five years in Chicago performing improv and stand up. He is incapable of writing anything without a joke.

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Feckful Mirror
by Ginger Strivelli

Cormac clutched an envelope and a key as he dashed up the stairs almost glowing with excitement. He used the golden fancy key to open up his Uncle's bedroom. When he got inside he looked around quickly spotting what he was looking for. It was an old broken mirror in a gussied up frame. It was hanging innocently on the wall across from his dead uncle's golden bed.

"Hello, boys!" Comac said standing in front of the mirror on the wall. "I'm your new owner. Ole Uncle Ian, bless his soul, is dead and buried. He gave you three to me.

One of the three pieces of broken mirror in the frame, fogged up a bit as a face appeared there. "Ian is dead? We feared as much when we'd not seen him in days, indeed bless his soul. Lovely man, I will miss him. Pardon my boorish manners, I should introduce myself. I am Anterior Dimitri."

"Yes yes, Uncle Ian told me."

Anterior Dimitri faded away and was replaced by a similar face in one of the other two shards of the looking glass in the frame. "Ian could not have told you about us. Only the one who owns us can know of us. Furthermore, I will not miss him. He was a disappointment."

"Ah, you're the grumpy one. Named Posterior, like a horse's backside. He did tell me about you right here in this wee note from his will. I was given one broken mirror that hung in his room. I felt more than a good bit put off, as my sisters and cousins were given boats, houses, and champion racing horses. Then the lawyer told me all I got was one mirror, a broken one at that. However, then I read this note, telling me you boys were magic, like genies living in the mirror. You can help me make my dreams come true, Ian said. He told me all about you. Anterior the nice one, Posterior the grumpy one and Superior the smart one are all brothers living inside the broken magic mirror." Cormac laughed waving the envelope around in front of the mirror. "Now then, Superior, come on out here and say hello to your new owner like your nice and grumpy brothers have already."

The face faded away and was replaced by the same face more serene in the last piece of mirror in the frame. "We aren't strictly speaking brothers, more like . . .  oh never mind it is too hard to explain to a human. Hello, son. What is your name?"

"Cormac McMahon, at your service or I should say you boys are at my service."

"You want gold and riches, and women of course,"

"No Posterior Dimitri, I don't want that. I want adventure, excitement, and fun!"

"Fun?" Posterior replied, shaking his head. "We are not a toy to be played with."

"Of course not, You are a feckful mirror my uncle says." Cormac waved the envelope in his hand again.

Cormac stuffed the envelope into his vest pocket and started taking the mirror off the wall. "Now boys, for your first trick, we are getting a wagon and supplies for us to join up with one of them there wagon trains headed west to California. That will be an adventure, exciting, and fun. Right boys?"

"We can't just make a wagon and supplies appear out of thin air, you silly child."

"Oh Posterior Dimitri, I don't care how you do it. Just do your magic stuff and get on with it."

"If I may?" Anterior Dimitri began. "Superior is excellent at conjuring spells, he may indeed be able to help you get a wagon and supplies."

"I can, of course." Superior Dimitri said his words laced with pride and self confidence.

"Go on then, conjure me up a wagon and we can set off for California." Cormac was carrying the mirror down the steps of the fancy house that Cormac's sister, Eileen, now owned.

"You shall need three animals. Goats, sheep, or cows would be best." Superior Dimitri said.

"Brother, animal sacrifices have gone out of favor in the last couple thousand years." Anterior Dimitri said as he appeared in his piece of the mirror looking a bit worried and more shocked.

"No, no, not for a sacrifice. I know this horrid place isn't ancient Rome or mystical Atlantis. Cormac will trade one animal for the wagon, one for the horses to pull it and the third for supplies to pack the wagon with."

"Well boys, my father owns several sheep. I am sure he'd give me three."

"Good, fetch them, then head to the stables and barter a trade of one sheep for two horses to pull the wagon and a sheep for the wagon. Then take the wagon and horses and third sheep to the general store and trade the third sheep for supplies to fill it with." Superior Dimitri bowed his head like he was on stage being given a standing ovation for some impressive performance.

"I can do as you say Superior Dimitri but not even a fool would trade me so much for so little."

"Unless he was under the influence of an unfiguring spell and couldn't figure out the unevenness of the trades. Which they will be if you get a smoking pipe and fill it with a pinch of tobacco, a pinch of Forget-me-nots, and a sprinkle of sugar. While you are making those deals, smoke the pipe and blow the smoke out in the face of those bartering with you."

Cormac laughed, and smiled even bigger. He stuffed the mirror into a burlap feed sack and slung it over his shoulder and almost ran to his father's house. Cormac was indeed able to talk his father into giving him three sheep. He did indeed talk the stables into trading him a sturdy old wagon for just one sheep, and two strong horses for the second sheep.

Cormac loaded the last sheep and the mirror into his wagon, hitched horses to it, and took off for the general store. There he made another unbelievable trade of one sheep for fishing and hunting supplies, barrels of dried fruit and beef jerky, bags of carrots and potatoes, jars of jam, honey, along with cooking gear, a bedroll, blankets, an oil lamp, and several other things. He loaded up the wagon. Cormac started out west right then. He was smiling ear to ear, driving into the sunset.

Cormac drove till midnight before setting up camp for the night. He asked the Dimitris to tell him how to magic up a wolf pup, to take west with him. Anterior Dimitri told him a very ancient old song to sing. As he sang it the third time, a mother wolf appeared out of the forest with a pup hanging from her mouth. She brought it over to the campfire and dropped it in front of Cormac before running back into the forest. It was as simple as that. Cormac was flabbergasted.

He consulted the mirror about a name for the pup. Anterior Dimitri suggested Beauty, Posterior Dimitri suggested Fool, and Superior Dimitri suggested Loyalty. Cormac however went with his own suggestion and named her Explorer.

Bright and early Cormac was up packing up the wagon to set off. Explorer stayed right on his heels like a shadow. Anterior Dimitri kept calling Explorer a good dog, to which Superior Dimitri would pop in and correct his brother saying that she was a wolf. Then Posterior would loudly add that she was not a good one either. Cormac was chuckling at the mirror arguing with itself, as he loaded it back into the wagon.

Cormac just turned down a random westerly headed road and asked the mirror how to find and join a wagon train to travel with. Superior told him to draw a wagon train in the dust in front of his wagon and draw his own wagon in the dust behind it. Afterwards he was to tie a magnet to the front of his wagon and take off westward. Cormac said it sounded silly to him, but the smoking trick worked on the guys he traded with the day before. He had used their magic song to get a wolf pup like he always wanted. So he'd try that spell too.

He shouldn't have doubted it and would never doubt another spell the magic mirror gave him again, because by noon he had caught up with a wagon train headed to California. He asked the guides on horseback with that line of wagons, if he could join in. He didn't even have to light the pipe and blow magical smoke at them. They agreed right away, saying they could use another rifleman as they were heading into Indian territory. Cormac assured them he had a rifle and would use it, as that was one of the hunting supply items he had in his wagon. He failed to tell them he'd never shot one before though.

Posterior Dimitri was saying Cormac's ugly face was going to hurt from all the smiling. Explorer was happily playing peek-a-boo with Anterior Dimitri who was fading in and out of his mirror piece amusing the wolf as Posterior Dimitir faded in and out of his piece complaining. It was just a glorious day. One of many. Cormac was having so much fun heading west. He'd even started courting one of the single girls who was traveling with her family in the wagon train. He was having an adventure, living exciting days, and having fun, just as he'd always dreamed of back in the boring little town he grew up in. He said a prayer for his Uncle Ian every night. He was so thankful for the mirror.

The wagon train was making good time but summer was wearing and fading away. The guides said they had to get over the Rocky Mountains before the snows started. They were worried, pushing the wagons to travel faster, stopping later each night, and starting earlier each morning. One morning while fetching water for his horses Cormac overheard the guides telling each other they were too far behind and would surely get snowed in atop the mountains and all die. Cormac snuck back to his wagon after overhearing that dire destiny and asked the mirror's help of course.

The three Dimitris squabbled among themselves a while over what type of magic would best speed them up. Finally they agreed on two spells instead of just one. They had Cormac bring them a big bucket of the oats that they fed the horses with. Then they had him add some bird seed, dried cherries, and told him to spit into the mixture thirteen times. Cormac eyed the mirror suspiciously but followed their instructions nonetheless.

Anterior Dimitri told Cormac to go around and give each house on every wagon and each of the guide's horses a mouthful. Cormac had stopped doubting the feckful mirror's strange magic spells and just did as he was told.

As the wagons broke camp that next morning, the riders mounted on horses were having a hard time staying in their saddles because their mounts were running so quickly and they were barely keeping up with the wagons, as all the wagons' horses were also seeming to fly across the prairie.

That day the wagon train didn't even have to slow down in the afternoon as usual. The horses never got tired, they seemed to be going even faster into the sunset than they had gone out of the sunrise that morning.

However the second spell, the better spell, the Mirror had Cormac work to get them over the mountains before the snow started, took place that night while everyone was sleeping. Superior Dimitri told Cormac to get a needle, thread it with silk thread, then dip it in honey. Then using only three stitches on each wagon cover, link them all together by those silk threads. He traded the girl he fancied a jar of canned blackberry jam for the needle and thread. He had not even had to use the pipe smoke, as it was a fair trade. It took him almost an hour linking each wagon to the one in front of it and the one behind it with the delicate silk thread. Explorer had trailed him around the wagons obeying the command to not howl or bark. When the circle of wagons were all stitched together, Cormac reported to the mirror they were ready.

The spell the mirror used was an ancient one. One that had been used by the Pharaoh Zoser in Egypt four thousand years before to rescue his whole family from the Nile flood when it arrived a moon cycle early and about washed his Lower Egypt Palace away. The Dimitris had told him to stitch up seven carpets for his family to fly off to their other Palace in Upper Egypt.

The spell worked just as well on the wagons as it had worked on the carpets thousands of years and thousands of miles away before. While everyone was asleep and none the wiser. Cormac had flown the circled wagons three hundred miles in one night.

In the morning, that prairie he had landed them in looked pretty much like the one they had taken off in, to all the pioneers On the other hand, the guides had figured out they were further west by the time they reached a river mid day that they should not have reached for several days. They couldn't figure how they'd gotten there so fast, even accounting for the horses all still running like they were in the Belmont Stakes horse race.

Cornac and all three Dimitris laughed but didn't give them any clues. Cormac couldn't tell anyone about the mirror anyway per the rules that had kept Uncle Ian from telling anyone about them until after he had died. Had Cormac been able to tell them they'd not have believed him anyway. So everyone was none the wiser but much less worried about the snowy Rockies. The horses continued to race westward at their supernatural pace.

Finally the Rockies were in sight, way off in the distance one rainy Thursday. They circled the wagons to camp for the night. No one got a lick of sleep though. In just minutes a couple dozen Native warriors showed up on the ridge to the north above the wagon train. They were all painted and feathered in glorious outfits. The sight of the Natives in their strange finery terrified the pioneers, as they'd all been told exaggerated outrageous tales about the Natives being violent. The Natives were just as fearful of the settlers as they had all been told similar tales about them.

The guides and men of each wagon were getting rifles out and the women were all setting up to help the men reload the weapons. Cormac did retrieve his rifle and stood by the back of his wagon as the others were . . .  but he was whispering to the mirror inside his wagon, asking the spirits inside it for a spell to save them all from any bloodshed on either side.

Superior Dimitri argued with Posterior for a bit then proclaimed they had a spell that would keep the Natives from attacking. Cormac told him to spit it out because there were twenty at least gathered looking down at them, waiting to pounce like a cat on a mouse.

The Brave in charge of the hunting party above on the ridge was praying to the Earth Mother Goddess of his tribe, asking Her for help. He in some cosmic coincidence had used the same metaphor telling Her the Settlers below his men were about to pounce on them like a cat on a mouse.

"Get your frying pan and ladle out and start beating out this tune." Superior Dimitri hummed out a thirteen note tune. It really was not a pleasing piece of music, but Cormac obeyed nevertheless. The men on both sides of his wagon started shouting at him asking him what on earth he was doing. Before he could make up some lie to cover the fact that he was doing magic, everyone on the wagon train and everyone on the ridge turned their faces upwards to see a huge bird swooping down from the stars.

The bird was glowing like it was made of gold and flames. As it reached just a few yards or so from the ground, it stopped diving and somehow floated there. Showing it was the unbelievable size of forty or fifty yards wing to wing.

Half of the wagon train people were shrieking in fright upon seeing this. A few were frozen still and silent in shock. A couple were shooting at it with their guns, though the bird seemed totally unperturbed by that.

Up on the ridge, the Natives were all off their horses, throwing down their weapons and kneeling on the ground with their arms raised up toward the bird. It looked like they were praying to it, Cormac thought.

"What kind of blarney trickery is that? It's not real, just something your magic has made us think we see, right?" Cormac whispered to his magic mirror hiding in the back of his covered wagon.

"No, Sir." Anterior Dimitri answered. "That is a Thunderbird. A magical creature that the Natives know is sacred. They won't attack now. They know the Thunderbird came to stop the battle."

Anterior Dimitri was right. The thunderbird hovered a couple more minutes, then suddenly launched itself back skyward. It quickly reached such heights the humans could no longer see it.

The Natives all turned back from where they came and left the wagon train unharmed. The people of the wagon train had taken the Natives and the Thunderbird as bad omens. They hitched up the wagons and left off in the middle of the night, leaving the nearby tribe's village unharmed as well.

As the wagon train crossed the Rockies, the snow did, alas, start falling nightly. They were magically able to make it across before it piled up deep and trapped them there for winter. The group of settlers reached California and started their planned homesteading as winter arrived in earnest.

Cormac didn't want to homestead a farm though. He was of course still after adventure, excitement, and fun. So with a spell from the feckful mirror he turned a water barrel full of salt water into silver. He used that silver to buy himself a saloon in a little port town overlooking the Pacific Ocean that he was so excited to see.

Cormac hired dancing girls, piano players, and some Chinese ladies who told fortunes by reading tea leaves all to work in the saloon. Cormac's saloon was soon the most trafficked establishment in town. It was visited by those coming from back east and those coming across the sea from the far east. Cormac's saloon quickly became the most adventurous, exciting, and fun place on the west coast, all thanks to Cormac's feckful mirror.

The End

Ginger Strivelli is an artist and writer from North Carolina. She has written for Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, Circle Magazine, Third Flatiron, Autism Parenting Magazine, Silver Blade, Cabinet of Heed Literary Journal, The New Accelerator, and various other publications. She loves to travel the world and make arts and crafts. She considers herself a storyteller entertaining and educating through her writing.

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Rolle's Rangers
by George Kotlik

Rolle ran as fast as he could. At long last, he reached a meadow surrounded by wooded hills with a log cabin erected at its center. Rolle approached the cabin. The front door swung open, and a middle-aged woman appeared—musket in hand.

"Rolle!" the woman shouted, dropping the gun.


They embraced.

"What happened?" Hannah asked. "Why are you back so soon?"

Rolle informed her about the Battle of the Monongahela. Fearing what would become of Hannah once the British pulled out of western Pennsylvania, he escaped his service to protect her. Hannah was furious.

"I cannot believe it!" she fumed, "How irresponsible of my husband to put our lives in jeopardy like this. Mother was right, I sure do know how to pick 'em."

"Honey, you need to relax."

"Relax? How can I relax? The British army kills deserters." Tears welled up in her eyes. "I don't want to lose you."

"You're not going to lose me," Rolle said, holding her tight, "We need to figure out what to do next. Braddock's Army is gone along with Pennsylvania's only defense against the French. The French control the forks of the Ohio and they will use Duquesne as a staging ground to raid backcountry settlers." Rolle shook her urgently. "Do you know what that means?"

Hannah looked up at him. "What do we do?" she asked helplessly.

"I have an idea."

"I'm scared."

"Me too."

* * *

The following day, Rolle ventured into town. At the local tavern, Rolle assembled an audience. Standing atop a wooden chair in the dimly lit tavern, Rolle addressed thirty-five settlers, "The French are coming sooner rather than later. When they come, we must be ready."

The settlers murmured among themselves.

"What do we do now?" one settler shouted out.

"Raise a militia," Rolle replied, "we defend this valley ourselves."

"And who's going to lead this militia?" another settler said.

"I am."

"What qualifies you for that job?"

"I was a provincial officer; I saw action in King George's War." More murmuring. Rolle went on. "If we refuse to fight, the French will pillage our homes. Join my militia. Sometime tonight, if you have the time, come speak with me at my table."

At the end of the night, Rolle collected his signatures and rode home. Hannah was waiting by the fireplace when her husband stepped through the front door.

"How did you do?" she asked.

"Eight names," Rolle said exasperatedly, "less than half of what I expected."

"It's a start." Hannah replied. "More will join. The settlers need to see that we have a chance. Give them time and you'll see—more will come."

Rolle sighed. "You're right."

"I'm your wife. I'm always right."

* * *

Of the eight recruits that signed up, only six showed up to their first training session, further perturbing the already anxious Rolle. Regardless of how he felt, from sunrise to sunset, Rolle trained his militia six days a week for four months straight. In due time, the militia began referring to themselves as Rolle's Rangers.

In the coming weeks, several French and Indian raiding parties penetrated the Pennsylvania frontier. In response, Rolle and his men orchestrated traps and ambuscades. Dozens of French soldiers were slaughtered in numerous backcountry engagements. Soon enough, word of Rolle's Rangers and their success against the French spread like wildfire. Eager to join the fight, frontiersmen from across western Pennsylvania flocked to Rolle's standard. By the end of the month, Rolle's Rangers boasted thirty-five recruits.

* * *

Further west at the Forks of the Ohio, Captain François-Marie Le Marchand de Lignery, presiding officer over all French forces in the Ohio Country, chaired a council of war with the other officers under his command.

"No one has answered my question," Lignery said through gritted teeth. The officers fell silent. "How have a bunch of farmers, these Rolle's Rangers, managed to kill seventy-one French soldiers and thirty-three Native warriors?"


The newest officer spoke up. "Our raiding parties," he reported, "have been less successful than we had originally anticipated."

Lignery fumed. "Really? I had no idea." Picking up the nearest bottle, he threw it at the young officer who ducked just in time before the bottle whizzed past his head, shattering on the wall behind him. "You think I don't know that!?"

Afraid of Lignery's wrath, the officers remained silent. Composing himself, the captain spoke calmly. "Your incompetence," he said, addressing his officers, "has shown me that you cannot handle a ragged group of country farmers. In consequence, I will personally assume command of this problem myself. Lieutenant Nicolas?"

"Yes, captain."

"I want the army ready to march first thing tomorrow morning."

"Yes, captain."

* * *

In short order, Lignery marched into Pennsylvania at the head of a hundred-fifty-man mixed force of French soldiers and Indian warriors. Lignery launched a brutal border war, razing every settlement he came upon. After torching one homesteaders' cabin, the frontiersman begged the French captain to spare his life.

"I'll do anything you ask," the farmer pleaded.

"I'm looking for Rolle's Rangers," Lignery replied. "Tell me where they are, and I will spare your life."

The farmer hesitated a moment before giving in. "They're not far, about half a day's ride east from here."

"How many are there?"

"No more than thirty last I checked."

"You will take me to them. Do you understand?"

The farmer nodded.

"Good." Lignery turned to his sergeant, "Watch him. If he does anything stupid, shoot him."

* * *

The following morning, while Rolle was away, Lignery and his troops surrounded the ranger's basecamp. All at once, Lignery's troops opened fire on the unsuspecting frontiersmen. The settlers closest to the woods died first. A few rangers took up positions around Rolle's cabin and fired back. Unable to see their opponents, the rangers fired blindly into the woods. The battle lasted an hour. After suffering nineteen casualties, Rolle's Rangers surrendered.

The French Captain stood triumphantly before his prisoners. "Which one of you is Rolle?"

The prisoners stared back at him.

"Which one of you is Rolle?" he said, a little louder this time.

The prisoners remained quiet.

Lignery sighed. He produced his pistol. "Have it your way."

A ranger stepped forward. "Rolle is not here! Don't shoot, have mercy!"

"Where is Rolle?"

"I don't know," the ranger replied.

Lignery scoffed. "I'm going to shoot you."

"I don't know where Rolle is," the ranger said, "but I know where his wife is."

"Shut up, Trevor," one of the other rangers said. Lignery lowered his pistol. "Rolle's wife?"

"Yes, she is here with us."

"Where?" Lignery asked.

"Trevor, don't. I swear to God."

Trevor pointed to one of the prisoners. "Her name is Hannah. She's Rolle's wife. She knows where he is."

"Trevor, you son of a bitch." Hannah said angerly.


"Seize her," Lignery ordered. Two Troupes de la marine brought Hannah before the captain.

Lignery looked her up and down. "So, you are Madame Rolle?"


"Where is your husband?"

"You just missed him."

"Where did he go?"

"I don't know, he didn't tell me."

Lignery grinned wickedly. "Madame, we can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way. I will let you choose."

"I am telling you I don't know where he is."

"She's lying!" Trevor shouted.

"Shut up, Trevor!" Hannah snapped. "I swear, captain, on my life, I do not know where my husband is."

Suddenly, a soldier appeared beside Lignery. "Captain, nightfall approaches," the soldier said in a low voice, "we must be on our way."

"Burn the cabin," Lignery ordered, "Clap this bitch in irons and kill the rest."

Seized with fear, a few settlers bolted for the tree line. French muskets quickly cut them down, while bayonets cleaned up the rest. Consumed in flame, the cabin burned behind Hannah who marched west—deep into the North American wilderness.

* * *

Rolle knelt beside the charred remains of his log cabin. A note nailed to a nearby tree caught his attention. It was addressed to him. It read:

Bonjour Monsieur Rolle,

I know you, but, alas, you do not know me. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Captain François Marie Le Marchand de Lignery. It has come to my attention that you have disrupted French aspirations for this country. I am putting an end to your designs once and for all. I am keeping Hannah at Fort Duquesne. She will be executed in three months' time. If you turn yourself in to me before then, I will release her.

Captain François Lignery

Crumpling the letter in his fist, Rolle mounted his horse and rode off towards Fort Duquesne.

* * *

After several days of hard riding, Rolle at last reached the Forks of the Ohio and, more importantly, Fort Duquesne. The French fort sat beside the conflux of the Alleghany and Monongahela Rivers. The fort was made of square logs roughly sixteen feet in length, stacked on top of one another, and filled with dirt. A parapet rose on the rampart.

The fort buzzed with activity. Rolle wondered how he could sneak inside undetected. Somewhere behind him, a French patrol meandered its way down an old Indian trail through the woods. Rolle counted four French soldiers. He quickly darted into a bush as they neared. Without warning, Rolle fired his musket into one of the soldiers, killing him instantly. The Pennsylvanian then fired his pistol into another soldier, knocking him out of the battle. One of the Frenchman fired back but missed, allowing Rolle to charge him. Rolle stabbed the Frenchman repeatedly. Seized by fear, the last soldier ran away. Rolle scooped up a musket from the ground. Taking aim, he sniped the retreating soldier in the back. The Frenchman screamed as he died.

Stripping the dead of their personal effects, Rolle donned one of the French soldier's uniforms. After inspecting his reflection in a nearby pond, he raced down the trail towards Fort Duquesne.

* * *

Fort Duquesne's sixteen-foot-high walls towered over Rolle. Night had fallen by the time he reached the gate. Two Troupes de la marine guarded the fort's entrance which was, curiously enough, opened. Sweat pouring down his face, Rolle nodded to one of the guards as he passed by. The guard nodded back and just like that Rolle was inside the French fort.

Rolle eventually found the prison. A watchman stood guard by the door. Rolle quickly knocked him out and seized the set of keys attached to the guard's belt. Rolle slipped the key into his pocket and searched for Hannah. Inspecting each prison cell carefully, Rolle finally found her curled up in a ball.

"Hannah, it's me, I'm here to save you." Rolle inserted his key into the door. With a click it swung open.

"Hey, honey." They embraced.

"I'm getting you out of here. Are you ready?"

She nodded. "I love you."

"I love you too."

* * *

In short order, Rolle and Hannah fled the prison. Posing as a guard with his prisoner, Rolle escorted Hannah past the gate and out of the fort to safety. Under the light of a full moon, they escaped into the hills.

The End

George lives in Florida.

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