March, 2023

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Issue #162

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

Cow-Boys and Calf Fries
by Maggie DeMay
I have been told calf fries are tasty. I've never been hungry enough to put that to the test. But I can't help wonder who the brave man was that first looked at a calf's testicles and said, "I bet there's some good eatin' on that calf nut. Let's have a contest!"

* * *

Broderick "Brock" Felton, Deputy
by Tom Sheehan
The day Brock Felton got his deputy badge, it was tossed into his lap by the current sheriff of Stockwood, Colorado, Deke Withers, on the job just three weeks and looking for help. Brock was a fine young man, but would that be enough for the good folks of Stockwood?

* * *

Bring Him Back Dead!
by Christopher M. Reynolds
Deputy Sam Fenton had faced down the guns of many outlaws—but now it was his ex-best friend aiming a Colt .45 at his heart.

* * *

Tommy and Tack
by Sumner Wilson
A lonely old man and his mule do battle with painfully lengthy nights and a pack of marauding wolves.

* * *

The Crossroads
by Ralph S. Souders
While chasing a steer that has wandered off the ranch, a young cowhand stumbles across a robbery in planning. Suspecting the involvement of a corrupt local landowner, a defensive plan is set in motion to thwart the criminals and bring them to justice. The cowhand learns an important lesson from this experience.

* * *

by Lily Tierney
"Clem, you have to make a decision," Martha said in a high pitched voice in her parlor.
"I told you over and over Martha that I am not the marrying kind," explained Clem.
But was he right?

* * *

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All the Tales

Bring Him Back Dead!
by Christopher M. Reynolds

The posse found the dead horse at the mouth of Rawhide Canyon. When they saw the Three S brand seared into its flesh, they knew then that Clint Farley had failed in his desperate attempt to escape justice.

Only two hours had passed since Farley blasted his way out of Saddle Rock jail with a Colt .45 and broke fast for the canyon. But, as far as deputy Sam Fenton was concerned, the story would end here, with him and the rest of the posse running Farley down within the gorge's towering walls.

The deputy knew Farley was playing a losing hand by rushing into this rock-lined death trap.

No sane man would ever attempt to take on a force of nature like Rawhide Canyon. But for Clint Farley, pure insanity was his only hope of escape.

Sheriff Leonard dismounted and slowly sauntered his lean, wiry body over to the dead horse. The old lawman crouched next to it, examining the bloody gaping hole in its brain. His calloused hand ran down the animal's bristly coat along its front leg. A bad fall had snapped it in half like a broken stick.

"Horse broke its leg," he drawled. "Clint must have shot it before he made a run for it."

"Just like the no good son of a bitch killed Jess McCauley," said Hugh Miller, owner of Saddle Rock's general store.

"Weren't right, Clint killing Jess 'cause his dogs killed his chickens. A chicken you can replace, but not a man's life," said blacksmith Riley Tanner.

Sheriff Leonard grunted in agreement as he stood and dusted the trail grit from his drooping mustache. He pointed his finger at a clump of gnarled shrubs.

"He must have cut and run through that pile of sagebrush over yonder and headed up Rawhide afoot. Clint must have known we were on his trail. Hell, he didn't even bother picking up his hat."

A dusty black sombrero lay in the dirt, half hidden by the brush.

The harsh sunlight gleamed on a silver dollar lying in the dirt. The sheriff stooped and picked it up. "I guess Clint won't need this," he said, putting the coin into his pocket.

"He won't be needin' nothing after today's over," said Sam Fenton grimly. He sneered and spit a thick wad of tobacco juice into the dirt.

The sheriff's eyes rested on Sam's dark face wondering how his deputy felt about hunting down a man who'd once been his close friend and business partner. He turned around. With a slow gaze, he studied the frowning faces of his volunteer lawmen.

They were a determined bunch comprised of Hugh Larson, Riley Tanner, Art Anderson, Ed Seminole, Jim Blainey, and deputy Sam Fenton.

There wasn't a man in the bunch who didn't know Clint Farley or how reckless he was. And they all knew, every last one, that Farley would kill them just as quickly as he did that horse if it meant staying alive.

The sheriff's eyes rested on Jim Blainey, and he sighed. He hadn't wanted him to join the posse, but he needed every able-bodied man he could round up. Blainey and Jess McCauley had been business partners in the Cross L Ranch. He'd been the chief witness for the state at Clint Farley's trial. Thanks to his testimony, Farley had been sentenced to life in prison for murder.

But now Clint Farley was hiding deep within the canyon walls, and Jim Blainey had a score to settle with him.

"You men all knew Clint Farley," said Sheriff Leonard, "And I'll bet you ten to one that he's gonna want to shoot it out with us."

A few heads nodded in agreement at the sheriff's wisdom.

"Now, he's hiding somewhere in that canyon, and I aim to capture him. Clint Farley deserves a square deal, and I'd rather take him in alive than dead. But he's on the wrong side of the law and will make us take this manhunt to the bitter end."

"If I have my way, I'll bring the son of a bitch back dead," Jim Blainey whispered to Ed Seminole.

"You and me both," said Ed.

The two men stopped murmuring when they saw deputy Fenton give them a queer look. It seemed odd to him that the pair were more intent on killing than dispensing justice. But he couldn't blame them. He knew the bond between Jim Blainey and Jess McCauley ran tight. And Ed Seminole had worked for both men as a cowpuncher on their ranch for over a year. Blainey and Seminole might have been a couple of loud-mouthed drunks, but what man wouldn't want to avenge a friend?

The big-shouldered, raw-boned deputy shook the incident from his mind and continued listening to the sheriff's last instructions.

" . . .  he's desperate, which makes him more dangerous than usual. He ain't got nothing to lose. We do, so don't take no chances with him."

Sheriff Leonard pointed into the mouth of the canyon. "Clint Farley ain't no dummy, and he knows this terrain better than he knows the back of his hand. And he's damn gutsy enough to double back and steal our horses. Art, I want you to stay here and guard the ponies if Clint tries to backtrack. The rest of us will go in on foot. Now, that's enough of me running my mouth. Fenton, you, Blainey, and Seminole can take the north slope. Hugh Larson, Riley Tanner, and me will take the other. Let's get to it, gentlemen. We have until dark to round him up."

On the cliffs of Rawhide Canyon were junctures where a man willing to gamble his life might reach the peak. A desperate fugitive attempting such a damn fool thing would open themselves to rifle fire from any point in the canyon. But if Clint Farley could hold off the posse until the sun went down and keep hidden until nightfall, he might make it out alive.

None of the six men said a word, silently marching through the steep sides of the narrow gorge.

The posse's boots crunched softly against the ground as they swept the canyon, fanning out in a broad line, with three men to one side of a half-barren creek and three men to the other. They moved along at a slow, deliberate pace, watching for tracks.

As the men marched along, Sam Fenton's thoughts drifted to distant memories of better times.

It was funny, he thought. Not long ago, he and Clint Farley had been best friends and equal partners on a cattle ranch. But three years of hard luck broke their business and their friendship. After a bloody fistfight, Sam hadn't spoken a word to Clint Farley in two years.

Now, there was no more friendship between the two than between a fox and a hound. Farley was a convicted murderer, and Sam Fenton was the lawman bringing him to justice.

Sam Fenton, Jim Blainey, and Ed Seminole started moving north in a jagged, sweeping line, searching every crack and crevice in the canyon from end to end. There was no way in hell that Farley would be able to slip past three armed men or camouflage himself in a patch of rabbit brush.

Deputy Fenton gripped his carbine tightly as he inched along the steep slope. About thirty yards below was Blainey. Ed Seminole slinked above the two men, tip-toeing along the thin ridge winding through the arid basin.

They slowly crept forward, taking cover along the hillside, ducking into deep gullies, swinging around rocks, and crouching in shrub-lined slopes. They'd stop and listen intently for any sound which might betray the violent fugitive, then start moving again.

As the men prowled the ravine, Sam Fenton couldn't keep his eyes off Blainey and Seminole. There was something about the pair that didn't add up, and their presence in the manhunt was making the deputy uneasy. Especially Jim Blainey. The square-bodied bronco twister was practically jumping out of his boots with excitement, eager to join the posse.

To Sam Fenton, he seemed too eager.

He couldn't shake free the memory of Farley proclaiming his innocence throughout the trial. Clint Farley may have been many things: a mean drunk, a degenerate gambler, and wilder than an untamed stallion, but he'd never been a liar.

But in all truth, the damning testimony from Blainey and Seminole convinced him of Farley's guilt.

Before Clint Farley was hauled to court, he tried to mend the bad blood between them. He'd visited Farley's jail cell, offering help—and Farley had snarled at him fiercely, telling him to go to hell. Now he was creeping into Rawhide canyon to hunt down his old friend like a wild, rabid animal.

Sam Fenton's mind flashed back to the scant evidence in the case: Jess McCauley's body was found at the gate leading to his ranch house. His gun was still in its holster, and Farley's name had been scrawled in the soft dust of the road beneath the dead man's finger.

It didn't take a Pinkerton detective to see that he'd been shot down in cold blood.

Everyone in the small town of Saddle Rock knew the history of bad blood between Clint and Jess. At the trial, Clint Farley didn't deny that he had visited McCauley at his ranch shortly before someone killed him. And his name written in the sand had been a persuasive argument in his conviction.

At the trial, Blainey and Seminole claimed they had met Farley as he rode away from McCauley's homestead. After riding to the ranch, the pair found Jess McCauley dead beside the gate.

It would have been pointless for Clint Farley to deny the charges against him.

After accepting the evidence at face value, Sam Fenton had taken Clint's guilt for the stone-cold truth.

The weary deputy shaded his eyes from the sun and glanced below him. He saw Blainey had been swallowed up by a dense growth of withered Aspen trees growing along the steep hillside. Then he caught a glimpse of Seminole in the distance, sliding swiftly between clumps of scrub oak. He dropped out of the advancing line into a gulley, circling a jumbled mass of large stones that collapsed from the wall of the cliff.

As the hunt continued, Fenton couldn't forget the conversation between Jim Blainey and Ed Seminole. He wondered if either man had a personal grudge against Clint and was using this manhunt as an excuse to get even.

Suddenly a faint, menacing voice sliced through the dense wall of Sam Fenton's muddled thoughts like a hot knife through butter.

"Don't move, Fenton. Drop the Winchester and put your hands in the air."

Not six feet away squatted Clint Farley. He was backed up against the rugged canyon's burnt orange walls, veiled behind a hefty stone lying along the winding path. There was a sneer on his dusty lips as he pointed a revolver at Sam Fenton's chest. In his other hand, he gripped a .50 caliber Spencer rifle.

The deputy dropped his carbine to the ground and slowly reached his hands toward the sky.

"Collecting some blood money, Fenton?"

He and Clint Farley locked eyes. Farley's black sombrero was gone, and the sun blared down on his face with a swell of unforgiving heat. There was a wide gash across his left cheek, blood streaking all over his face.

Fenton felt pity for his old friend as the outlaw glared at him with sad, bloodshot eyes. In only a few hours, Farley had transformed from a man into a savage animal held at bay.

"Clint, you better drop your guns and come back with me," he said.

Clint Farley spat a vicious laugh and said, "I ain't gonna go to prison for something I didn't do. Not in a million goddamn years!"

As he stared down the barrel of Farley's gun, the deputy was almost relieved that Clint had gotten the drop on him. Sam knew that if the situation had been reversed, he would have put a bullet in his old friend without hesitation. But sentimentality was a luxury Sam Fenton couldn't afford. A soft heart in this territory could get a man killed.

Yet he didn't want the responsibility of returning his former partner to that miserable old jail cell in Saddle Rock. Or bring his corpse to the undertaker. But, as a sworn law officer, he still had a duty to uphold.

"You haven't got a chance, Clint. Even if you kill me, there's gonna be five more men coming after you. And you can't kill them all."

Farley gave his old friend a ruthless grin. "You wanna make a bet on that? If they come after me alive, they're leaving this canyon dead! Dying in a shootout is better than going to the pen for the rest of my life."

"This canyon's covered tighter than a kettle drum, Clint. Give me your gun. If you say you didn't kill Jess McCauley, then I believe you. I give you my word. I'll fight to clear your name."

The fugitive's lips curled back in a savage mocking grin. "Go to hell, Fenton!" he snapped. "I don't want no favors from you—now or never! You and me got all our business squared away years ago. You might have stomped me once, but not this time. Now, I got the upper hand! Cut your gun belt loose! I'm only gonna tell you once! I'd hate to have to drill you."

As Sam Fenton fixed his eyes on Clint Farley's passion-torn face, Jim Blaney suddenly appeared from the shadows at the edge of the cut bank. He snuck silently behind the outlaw and hovered over him like a vulture. His face had twisted into a dark mask of hatred, his mouth set in a cruel smirk.

The deputy felt a great wave of anxiety wash over him as his muscles tensed with anticipation. One wrong move from Blainey could cost him his life.

As Farley continued to hold his gun on Fenton, the deputy watched nervously out of the corner of his eye as Blainey veered far out over the bank. The seconds ticked as he waited patiently for the crisp command to end the dangerous situation, for better or worse.

Clint Farley took a restless step toward the deputy; his revolver still pointed menacingly at the lawman's heaving chest. Time dragged on like an eternity as Fenton waited for Jim Blainey to announce himself, giving the order for Clint to drop his weapon and surrender.

But at that exact moment, as the deputy's life teetered between heaven and hell, Sam Fenton realized the stark truth of the situation. Jim Blainey wasn't planning to save his life but taking Clint Farley's instead.

There would be no command to drop his guns because he had no intention of taking Clint Farley as a prisoner. Instead, the vengeful Blainey was going to shoot Farley square in the back, right between the shoulder blades.

With his gun poised in his meaty hand, Blainey rested his thumb on the revolver's hammer. He leaned farther out over the bank, about to make good on his earlier vow to bring the fugitive back dead.

The deputy's blood boiled at Jim Blainey's act of cowardice. To him, shooting a man in the back was as gutless and yellow-bellied as stomping on a crippled whore. There was no time for Fenton to shout a warning, barely any time to think.

Ignoring the gun pointed at him, the deputy stabbed for his Colt. In a flash, Sam Fenton slid his pearl-handled revolver from its holster and fired a volley of bullets toward Jim Blainey.

A slug hit Blainey in the arm, and his gun slipped from his fingers. He stumbled to the bank's edge, desperately flailing his limbs, and fell face-first into the gulley. His head bashed against a rock with a sickening thud. He now lay sprawled on the ground, still as a fresh corpse, unconscious but still breathing.

Clint Farley spun on his heels in time to see Jim Blainey drop like a lead weight. He turned and stared at Sam Fenton with a shocked look. A long moment of silence fell between the two men.

Deputy Fenton was the first to speak. He said grimly: "Jim Blainey was going to kill you, Clint; plug you square in the back."

Now Farley's look of surprise changed to one of eternal gratitude.

"I had a dead drop on you," he said, "but you still went for your pistol to save my life. You knew you was taking a mighty big risk. Why'd you do it, Sam?"

"I can ask you the same question. You didn't know Blainey was behind you. You musta thought I was drawing on you. Why didn't you shoot me, Clint?"

Neither man answered the other man's question. The two stood silently in the sun-drenched canyon, studying one another, trying to make sense of the other's actions.

Clint Farley shook his head in disbelief and dropped his revolver and the.50 carbine to the ground.

"I'm mighty obliged to you, Sam Fenton. When a man does right by you, you return the favor. Holler for the Sheriff, and let's get back to town. I'm turning myself into you, deputy."

Sam Fenton stooped over Jim Blainey's body and rolled him on his back. A throbbing purplish lump pulsed on his forehead, dribbles of red blood trickling down his face. His right bicep was a bloody mess, where Fenton had blasted him with a flying bullet.

The deputy cut off a strip of cloth from Blainey's blood-soaked shirt and tied it around his injured arm to stop the blood flow.

He frowned as he inspected the man's bare muscled arm. A faint pink scar was still visible on Blainey's forearm. Sam Fenton looked closer at the freshly healed wound with pensive eyes. It looked like it had been nicked by a bullet.

"Blainey was aiming to blast you in the back, Clint," he said. "I heard him and Ed Seminole talking earlier. Both of them piss-drunk sons of bitches seem to have it out for you. That's sort of peculiar, ain't it? Whatta they got against you? Any idea why they'd want to see you dead?"

Clint Farley scratched at his stubble-lined cheek mulling the question over in his head. Was there any reason big Jim would want to see him sent away to the big house in Yuma? Suddenly, his eyes widened in shock.

"Yeah! I remember something now. But . . . but . . .  "

"But what? Spit it out, Clint! Any reason at all?"

"It was so goddamn silly that I completely forgot about it. About a year ago, I was playing cards at Bess Watson's place. Jim Blainey was there, too. He was pissed drunk, as usual, and started smacking around one of Bess's whores like she were a man who owed him money. When he started dragging her around the parlor by her hair, I jumped up from my seat and beat the tar outta him. After I was done whomping him, I told him if I ever saw him in Bess's place again, I'd beat him again worse. When I threw him out into the street, he started hollering up a fuss, telling me to watch my back and that he'd get me one of these days when I least expected it. But, like I said, that was a year ago. I never thought the crazy son of a bitch would go through with his threat."

"How do you and Seminole stack up?"

"He ain't nobody to me. I might have shared a bottle of whiskey with him at Bess Watson's. But me and him don't have no history. Why do you ask, Sam? What're you thinking?"

Sam Fenton shook his head in disbelief. He had a hunch that was troubling him.

"The day after Jess McCauley's murder, I went into the Saddle Rock bank to tend to some business. Jim Blainey was standing at the cashier's window when I walked inside."

The deputy stopped talking, trying to remember every last detail. A little, meaningless, unimportant fact had lodged itself in the dark recess of Sam Fenton's mind—a little point he had forgotten until now.

"His right arm was wrapped up in a sling," Fenton continued. "I stood next to Blainey while he was scrawling off a check, and he was having trouble writing because his arm was all messed up. I asked him what had happened to it and he told me a snake had bitten him. I didn't make nothing of it then. But it's all starting to add up now."

The deputy had always assumed that his old buddy Clint Farley had killed Jess McCauley. Now he wasn't sure. On Jim Blaney's bloody arm was a fresh scar that might be from a bullet. And Blainey had been walking around with a bandaged arm the day after his ranching partner was murdered.

Clint Farley hunkered beside Fenton as he crouched in the gulley over Jim Blainey's unconscious body. The deputy gave the fugitive Farley a troubled glance and said, "Clint, during the trial, there was one thing I remember hearing. It seemed funny at the time. The way I remember it, the testimony was that McCauley's gun was found in the holster but had two empty shells."

"That's right," said Farley, nodding in agreement. "But what's so funny about that?"

"Only a plumb careless jackass would carry a pistol with two empty shells. Maybe one to cradle his firing pin, but two? In these parts, a man needs every bullet he can spare. And Jess McCauley ain't the kind of man I'd likely call a jackass, would you?

Clint pondered the question and said: "Which tallies up to what?"

"Maybe Jess McCauley had pulled his gun on whoever murdered him and gotten a shot off before he died. If that's what happened, then that would explain the empty shells. And maybe whoever killed him put the gun back in his holster—"

Clint interrupted the deputy's train of thought, finishing his sentence for him. "And scrawled my name in the dust and framed me for the murder! And you're thinking those two low-down drunks Jim Blainey and Ed Seminole was the ones doing the killing."

Sam Fenton realized that only two men had testified under oath against Clint Farley, and one was lying unconscious at his feet. The other was still on the steep side of the canyon hunting for Clint Farley and was closing in fast.

"Clint, I'm as sure about this as I have been about anything in my life. But it's gonna be almost impossible to make a jury believe a story like that. Not without having solid evidence to back up that yarn."

The evidence that convicted Farley was hearsay and wholly circumstantial. Yet, it was so strong that only absolute, unassailable proof would overthrow the conviction.

Time was short. Blainey was still unconscious, but he might recover at any moment. And the other posse members might soon appear, drawn by the sound of firing bullets. Sam Fenton didn't want that to happen—not yet.

An idea was prodding the deputy about how to help clear Farley of the crime. It was a wildly fantastic, utterly fool-crazy plan.

He carefully lifted his head above the mass of rocks, searching the hillside for any sign of Seminole. After some time, the deputy spotted him crouching along the hillside under the shadows of crooked pinion trees.

Before long, Seminole hunkered down on his hands and knees and began to crawl cautiously across the craggy dirt. A small boulder stood in his path. He clambered behind it, taking cover as he surveyed the terrain. He'd heard the sound of the deputy's revolver echo in the distance and wasn't going to take any unnecessary chances.

Sam Fenton stood in a shallow basin, hidden from Ed Seminole's watchful gaze. Clint Farley watched his former partner with intense curiosity as he picked up his rifle and steadied the barrel between two rocks. He glanced at Clint Farley and said;

"I never did like that son of bitch Seminole, no how."

He aimed his carbine, squinting along the barrel's iron sights. The top of Ed Seminole's white Stetson appeared from behind the rock as he lifted his head to scour the canyon.

The deputy held steady as beads of sweat trickled down his face. He closed one eye and took aim as his finger tightened around the trigger. With a loud, thunderous crack, a bullet whizzed through the air, grazing the tip of Ed Seminole's hat. The white Stetson sailed into the air like a dry leaf caught in a stiff wind.

Seminole shouted a loud yelp of surprise, taking deep cover behind the rock. After a long moment, he cautiously peeked his head around the stone, yelping again as another bullet came flying his way. He broke out in a cold sweat, muttering curses to himself.

Clint Farley looked on in amazement as Sam Fenton loaded fresh shells into the chamber and took aim. He still couldn't understand what the deputy was trying to accomplish by shooting at the hard-drinking cowboy.

Seminole crouched down further behind the boulder, dropping out of sight. As he peered his head around the curve of the rock, one of the cow puncher's feet slipped on the loose gravel, stretching it out beyond the cover of the stone.

Without hesitation, Sam Fenton sent another shot flying into the heel of Seminole's heavy leather boot. From his viewpoint, he saw his foot twitch with nervous excitement and quickly disappear again behind the rock.

The deputy was a sure shot with a gun and a rifle. He threw down his carbine and drew the .45 Colt from its holster. His chapped sun-parched lips curved into a cruel smile as he emptied the chamber, blasting away at the knobby stone with a hail of lead. He was playing a wicked game with Ed Seminole and loving every second of it.

Shot after shot, a deluge of .45 caliber slugs splattered at the stone, barely missing the cowpuncher's body by mere centimeters. As the deputy's Colt unleashed a torrent of bullets, there was no way for Seminole to return fire without exposing himself to certain death.

Sam Fenton gave Clint Farley a sly wink as he stopped to reload his trusty Colt. With sure-handed accuracy, he began to fire again. The .45 barked loudly, sending a rolling echo of gunfire reverberating throughout the high-walled cliffs of Rawhide canyon.

Seminole had become a ball of jittery nerves as he cowered behind the rock. As each bullet blasted against his skimpy stone fortress, he steepled his shaking hands and prayed to Jesus to let him live.

Instead of returning fire, he thought the smart money would be to play dead and wait, knowing the other posse members would soon be coming to his aid.

Sam Fenton knew it, too, and kept shooting at Ed Seminole until his revolver was empty. He peered over at Jim Blainey and saw he was still unconscious. Fenton turned to Clint Farley and said urgently:

"Slip down the gulley and hide in the brush down there. I'm gonna lure Seminole out from behind his rock, and I want you out of sight."

"Sam, has this heat fried your brain? What kind of hair-brained scheme are you cooking up?"

Get out of sight before I take a shot at you," barked Fenton.

Farley shook his head in disbelief and dropped down the gulley hiding behind a clump of brush. The deputy watched until he was gone, then shouted:

"Ed Seminole! It's deputy Fenton. I got him! I got Clint Farley!"

Seminole was still crouched behind the rock. After a moment, he rose warily to his feet and shouted:

"You say you got him?" he asked. His voice was raspy and panic-stricken. He came out of hiding, dragging his rifle along the ground and limping on a broken heel.

Seminole was shaking like a terror-stricken cat. He stooped to pick up his white Stetson, then came forward, scowling.

"Fenton," he said as he drew closer, "I'm damn glad you showed. That buzzard made this canyon plenty hot for me. Look," he said, pointing to a bullet hole in the crown of his hat. "I almost got my brains blown out! And the low-down son of a bitch ruined my new hat!"

He reached the edge of the gulley and looked down at the flattened body. It only took a moment for the scowl on his face to vanish, replaced by dumb-struck surprise.

"What the hell! That's Jim Blainey!" he cried. "Where's Clint Farley?"

Sam Fenton shrugged and said: "He musta gotten away in all the confusion. I heard shooting and came to help. Then I come down to this gulley and saw Blainey lying in the dirt. All shot up. Funny, eh? Him blazing away at you—"'

A furious look was plastered on Ed Seminole's face as he stared at Jim Blainey flopped out on the dirt.

"You mean to tell me that it was Jim Blainey shooting at me the whole time?"

Sam Fenton tried to explain the situation.

"Hell, Ed," he said soothingly. "He musta thought you was Farley. And you thought he was Farley."

"He thought I was Clint Farley, my ass!" rasped Ed Seminole. "That goddamn son of a bitch knew damn well I was behind him! He shot my new hat off! And he knew Farley's weren't wearing no white hat."

"You must be wrong, Ed." Sam Fenton's voice was soft and reassuring. "That don't add up. Why would Blainey shoot at you on purpose?"

"Why?" Seminole's face was venomous. "I'll tell you why! Because he owes me a thousand dollars. So he figured to pay me off with lead bullets instead! He thought—"

The two men suddenly heard a low, pitiful moan. They looked down and saw Jim Blainey struggling to awake from his unconscious stupor.

"What the hell happened? Where am I?" he asked groggily. He groaned in pain as he tried to sit up, clutching at his wounded arm. His eyes were dazed as he looked up at the two men.

Seminole glared back at Blainey with a white-hot hatred burning in his eyes.

"What happened?" he jeered. "Your little plan backfired. That's what happened. You figured it was cheaper to kill me than pay me the money you promised. Safer, too. Then nobody would ever know that you killed Jess McCauley and framed Clint!"

"What're you flapping your lips about, Ed?" said Jim Blainey. He was still shaking the cobwebs from his head, his thoughts clear as mud. He turned his head away from Ed Seminole and locked eyes with Sam Fenton. An enigmatic smirk was on the deputy's lips.

"That's enough, Ed! Shut up! Don't say no more! We've been tricked!"

The severity of his situation suddenly dawned on big Jim Blainey as bright as the morning sun. He glared at Sam Fenton and said, "You double-crossing son of bitch! You and Clint Farley was in on this set-up together!"

Blainey made a quick stab at his gun, but his holster was empty. He saw his revolver lying in the dirt, far out of reach, and let a string of unholy curses part from his lips.

Ed Seminole continued his tirade against Blainey.

"I never should have trusted you. Any man willing to kill his own business partner ain't got no kind of loyalty. Wait till I tell the story in court! Wait till I tell a jury how you cheated Jess McCauley—and murdered him when he found you out! And offered me a thousand dollars to testify Clint Farley killed him! You tell me to shut up? Well, I ain't gonna shut up no more."

Jim Blainey painfully rose to his feet. Sam Fenton had tricked him good, and he knew it. He couldn't fathom how the deputy figured out his ploy. But he knew one thing for sure: if you can kill one partner, it's just as easy to kill two.

"Sure! I promised you a thousand dollars. And I'll pay you off—in full! You yellow rat bastard!" he snarled.

Then, suddenly, swiftly, Jim Blainey moved. His left hand thrust into his pocket, snaking a hide-out gun he kept for emergencies. He fired the tiny .41 Derringer into Ed Seminole's chest.

The slug sent Seminole reeling backward, hands clutching empty air. Then, Jim Blainey popped another bullet at the swaying man, and Seminole went down.

Sam Fenton's Colt practically leaped from his holster into his waiting hand. Blainey whirled on him, but Fenton's gun was already belching lead. A round of slugs caught him in the guts, dropping him dead to the ground.

Clint Farley rushed up the gulley just as Blainey went down. The sound of sheriff Leonard's weary voice suddenly echoed throughout the canyon.

Clint Farley said: "Here comes the sheriff."

Sam Fenton knelt next to Ed Seminole. He tried to raise himself up but stumbled.

"Take it easy, Seminole," said Fenton gently.

The man had been hit twice and hard, but he grinned faintly at the deputy. "I'm all right," he whispered. "I'll live long enough to testify."

"Jim Blainey's dead, Ed. And dead men are out of my jurisdiction. He's gonna have to answer to a different judge now," said Sam Fenton, pointing his finger toward the heavens.

The deputy stood tall and looked at Farley. "That clears you, Clint."

Clint nodded. "For the second time today, Sam, I'm obliged."

"Forget it," said the deputy. "But don't open your mouth. Seminole is going to live. Let him tell his version of the story. Sure as hell, if Sheriff Leonard ever heard the truth, I wouldn't even be able to get a job in this town cleaning spittoons in Bess Watson's cathouse."

The End

Christopher M. Reynolds is a former chef from Denver, Colorado. He's a sleight-of-hand aficionado and has written extensively about magic tricks. When not cooking or practicing cheating at cards, you can find him watching Italian spaghetti westerns or reading Agatha Christie novels. "Bring Him Back Dead" is his first western story.

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