Sheriff Jeffery Osborn of Lambey Arizona , known as Ozzy by the townsfolk, sat sleeping open mouthed at his desk with his head thrown back. Every few moments from under his large bow shaped mustache came the discharge of a turbulent snort followed by a long sonorous snore. Ozzy was truly enjoying his afternoon nap. There was nothing wrong in doing that, in fact most townsfolk wouldn’t have it any other way. For the last nine years he had been their protector in a frontier that didn’t give a hoot to most law and order.
Sheriff Ozzy had spent much of that time wearing out the old oak chair with his behind. Now fifty two years old, Ozzy stood six feet four inches tall and had a hard time finding a horse that would gladly carry his two hundred and eighty pounds any distance. Ozzy wasn’t fat, not really anyway. He was just big. He was one of those guys that looked more like he was made of boulders rather than flesh and blood. Next to his wife Jessica, who was a perky little brown eyed woman and the love of his life, he was a towering giant. Jessica believed he had a heart the size of his presence.
He carried the long barrel Colt Peacemaker. While the short barrel pistol was quicker to the draw, the longer barrel was more accurate. Although well armed, Ozzy found the best way to come out on top in a gun fight was to talk the other guy out of it before the lead flew. With the huge shadow Ozzy cast, he had little trouble convincing drunks and other no goods that a physical altercation would not be in their health’s best interest. A gun was the great equalizer or so it was thought. When push come to shove though, most trigger happy drunks came to the conclusion that a night in jail sure beat pushing daisy’s up from the grave the next morning. And so being the Sheriff of Lambey was pretty uneventful for the mustached Sheriff.
Most times being a Sheriff of a small town meant months of drudgery followed by a few minutes of crap and pee your pants action. If Ozzy knew what lay down the road for the next couple of days, he would’ve stayed snoring at his desk or at least brought himself an extra change of pants.
Over in Wickenburg, just a day’s ride west of Lambey, Sheriff TJ Lewis finished unchaining the three Bartell brothers from the jail tree. Now Wickenburg was a growing town but even with it’s all its rowdiness it still hadn’t got around to building a real jail yet. An old mesquite tree and chain served as the jail and as it turned out, was one of the few places of decent shade in the entire town.
Once freed, the brothers cast ‘I’ll kill you next time we meet’ looks at Sheriff Lewis.
Throwing the chain over his shoulder he warned the three brothers.“Now you boys just ride on out of here peaceful like. Head anywhere you want but around my jurisdiction. You give anyone any lip or hard time on your way out and you’ll be chained right back up here. We don’t cotton to mistreatin’ women around here. Soiled dove or house wife, it don’t matter. You end up back here an’ I’ll let you rot in the sun until the Federal Marshal makes his way back here to pick your dead asses up. You understand what I’m telling you?”
A grumble from one brother, a nod from the others. “Good, now I already took the money from your belongings to pay the Mexican boy over at the livery for the feed and care of your three nags.”
Then remembering something that made him chuckle he continued, “Oh, I left him a nice tip ‘cause I figured you’d be too cheap to give him one.” Pointing down the road he warned them “ You got ten minutes to disappear from my site, now git!”
The three brothers, Carl, Roy and Jerome Bartell rode as free men out of the town. It wasn’t the fight that folks knew about that proclaimed their evilness, but the paid for murder they performed that no one was aware of yet. They had been paid a hundred dollars each for the killing and they thought the job was performed perfectly. It wasn’t. It would be sometime later that the body of mine owner Clarence Dickson and his near dead wife would be found. By then though, the Bartell brothers would be long gone from town.
Roy spoke up as the left the outskirts of town on horseback, “That was too dang close for comfort! Jerome, what the hell made you think you could manhandle that whore like that back there in the saloon without half them poke starved miners jumpin’ your ass and pounding it silly?”
Spiting some old bloody snot onto the ground, Jerome looked at his two accusers, “You two coulda’ at least shot a few of ‘em to get ‘em off a me! My damn face looks like a mule danced atop it for a while. Lost me a few more teeth too. It’s getting’ mighty hard to chew.” Jerome opened his mouth at the brothers and grinned, showing fresh gaps in the uneven set of rotted teeth.
Roy snorted, “Yup, that right there is why you don’t do the thinkin’ here little brother. You really think we coulda’ shot our way to freedom? Crap, we’d be pig feed right now if we woulda’ pulled iron on that crowd. Miners is like hornets when they’s got the scent of a woman near ‘em. If you pull somethin’ stupid like that again, I’ll blow your brains all to hell an’ be thanked for it. I ain’t never gonna’ let you risk my life ever again over your cravin’ to poke your damn carrot into anything wearin’ a skirt. Carl and I shoulda’ just let ‘em all just tear into you. Good thing for all of us that the Sheriff showed up when he did. He did us a huge favor by placin’ us under arrest for the night. Sometimes it’s safer bein’ in jail than bein’ free. Ain’t nothing worse than a vigilante crowd. On the other hand though, what woulda become of us if they’d found the Dicksons while we was in that saloon or chained up? I’m just glad we’s outa’ there!”
Once on the trail heading south east towards the Aqua Fria River, Roy mulled the situation over, then he spoke up. “Let’s keep headin’ south east for about sixty or so more miles, we can lay low for a spell in the hills outside of Cave Creek town. There’s some god awful rough territory there about and I can’t see any posse trailing us that far. Wickenburg ain’t got no real posse, just a bunch of drunk miners that are lookin’ for some excitement. They’ll get bored after they sober up an’ turn back.”
It was just after deciding they could hole up at Cave Creek when Jerome’s horse lost a shoe on the rocky trail. “Hold up fella’s, I think she threw a shoe back there.” Dismounting, he checked and found out she had.
Pointing up ahead, Jerome continued speaking, “Lambey’s on up ahead just a few more miles. I passed through there some years back before we all took to the owl hoot trail. It weren’t a big town then but I know they had a livery, saloon and a whore house. I’m purty sure they had a smithy there too.”
Shaking his head, Roy looked over at his brother and told him, “Figures you’d know all about that saloon and whore house now wouldn’t ya? I swear, that ol’ bean pole in your pants is gonna be the death of ya’ yet!” Let’s just hope they don’t find them dead folks back there and form a posse before we get your nag shod.”
Thinking about it a minute, Roy decided. “ We should have a few days at least. It weren’t like there was paid workers to show up for work at that mine the Dickson’s worked behind their place. By the time the shoeing is done, it’ll be getting’ dark. Still, we should be alright if we spend the night since no one was even aware we was headed this direction.”
The three rode into Lambey not knowing they’d never see the hills of Cave creek.
Pointing, Jerome told them. “There’s the Black Smith over there, let’s drop my horse off and head on over to that there saloon down the street.” Trying to muster up a spit, he continued, ” I got that dang Arizona alkali dust dryin up my throat somethin’ fierce. God how I hate Arizona”
Back in Sheriff Osborn’s jail house, Bassa, the Sheriffs dog of dubious origin woke up, stretched out full length and loudly farted.
Suddenly both Bassa and Ozzy’s eyes flew wide open. In one quick motion Ozzy ran to the door, opened it and loudly exhaled his held breath. Turning back to the dog, which didn’t seem to mind the change in the jails aroma, Ozzy yelled insults and futile threats to the mutt which the Sheriff vowed was now smiling at him. “I swear, why I ever took you in is beyond me, I should’ve never kilt your owner. Seems I did him a favor…” His tirade drifted off to vague remarks of the dogs origin as he noticed the three men wearing their holsters low slung and untied making their way on foot down the street to the saloon.
Backing slowly into stinking doorway, Ozzy found cover to observe the men. Looking behind him, Ozzy voiced his concerns to Bassa. “I don’t like those fella’s looks Bassa, why don’t you get on out there and see what how they handle you sniffin’ at ‘em.”
As if Bassa completely understood, He rose up, stretched again and wandered out the door. Crossing the street, the dog, whose appearance was best described as a wolf that someone had carelessly thrown a worn out bear skin rug over, meandered on an angle until he came up on the men.
As if on cue, Bassa lowered his head and sniffed loudly at Carl’s boot. Carl’s reaction was a swift kick that missed by an inch, “Get the hell outa’ here ya’ ugly assed mutt! Dang thing looks like it got skin diseases!”
Watching from the doorway, the good Sheriff figured if anybody was mean enough to kick an innocent animal, even one as shaggy and unkempt as Bassa, then he sure don’t want ‘em hanging around his town. Dogs, especially Bassa he had discovered, were a pretty darn good judge of men.
Stepping into the street, Ozzy made his way unnoticed behind the men while Bassa returned to the jail’s porch for a well earned nap
Waiting until the men had settled down to their drinking, Ozzy slid in quietly through the saloons batwing doors and immediately stepped to the right. This allowed him to observe the men as he stood in the shadows. It wasn’t long before the trio’s whiskey brought out their true colors. It started by arguing quietly amongst themselves but soon escalated to raised voices.
From what he overheard, the Sheriff figured something bad had gone down over in Wickenburg . The word ‘posse’ was spoken just once but it was enough for Ozzy to take some action. Casting his gaze over the crowded saloon, he soon saw his friend and part time deputy playing a game of poker. Catching the Deputy’s eye, he tilted his head towards the rear door and walked out.
Once meeting outside, the Deputy asked what was going on.
“Tom, did you notice those three men that walked in? They sure ain’t ranch hands or preachers the way they was wearin’ them irons low like. I got a feeling they did something bad up Wickenburg way. There ain’t a reason in the world for the likes of them to be here unless they’s up to no good. ”
The deputy agreed,” Yup, I think we got some bad ‘uns here Ozzy. What you thinkin’ on doin’ about ‘em?”
Ozzy leaned his powerful frame against the wall, “ I need something done real quick. Consider yourself drawin’ Deputy pay as of right now. I want you to high tail it over to Wickenburg and talk to Sheriff Lewis there and see if they caused a ruckus of any sort that they might have the law lookin’ for ‘em. I overheard them talking about Wickenburg and something about a posse. Ride hard ‘cause I need answers mighty quick.”
“Shoot, I’ll be there by midnight and back by morning.” With that, Fred was off to the corral behind the jail. A few minutes later Ozzy heard the pounding of hoof beats leaving town.
Not knowing whether the trio was spending any time or just passing through, Sheriff Osborn kept his eye open for any trouble within the saloon. It was soon obvious that the one named Roy was the leader and the other two Carl and Jerome or maybe all three were brothers. Ozzy had noticed there’s a difference between family and non family when folks drank and argued. Non family arguments usually brought out irons spewing lead to settle a disagreement. Family just fought with their fist or knives. Jerome and Roy soon proceeded to prove the Sheriff right. The fist started flying between the two.
Jerome woke with even more missing teeth and Roy’s left eye swelled shut. Carl had a couple of knots on his head from an upset patron who lost his drink when Carl fell into him. The patron lost the rest of his whisky when his bottle broke across Carl’s forehead. Jerome spent the night in the whore house. Carl and Roy had slept with their horses in the stable.
The predawn light found Ozzy kissing his wife Jessica goodbye at their doorway and told her not to worry. He had told her of the three who rode into town the day before. He tried to lighten her mood by joking, “I got Bassa backing me up.” Then he added softly, “I love you Jessica, there ain’t no one gonna keep me from coming back home to my sweety at the end of the day.”
Jessica leaned against his powerful frame and wrapped her arms around him.
Ozzy had been her savior and true love from day he rode into a saloon in Santa Fe nine year earlier. While enjoying his drink, Ozzy noticed the young dark haired, big brown eyed soiled dove watching him from the other end of the bar. Being a man, and being intrigued at why such a good looking girl would be in the employ of the saloon as a whore, he approached her. It only took a minute of small talk and the two left for the privacy of her room. That night was the first of five nights straight. He was her only customer and it had run him near broke.
In those five days of privacy, Ozzy had found out much about the girl. She had been a mail order bride who’s man was found shot to death in Santa Fe two days before she arrived from Sandy Run South Carolina. With no money, no job and no future, she was left with no option but to do as many women of the day were forced to do. Sell the only thing they had worth selling to survive. Themselves.
Ozzy checked his funds the last morning and saw that they had been depleted to the point that he could no longer even spend one more night with her. It wrenched his heart for he had fallen hard in love.
Ozzy wanted to tell her of his love for her but figured such a pretty girl had most likely heard that same thing from every other cowboy visiting her room. The morning broke and Ozzy spoke of leaving.
“I am supposed to be in Arizona in another week. I took a job of Sheriff at a small mining town. It ain’t much but it’s an honest job. I don’t want to leave here, I’ve grown to…”
Without warning, Jessica threw herself at him and begged, “Please, take me with you! Don’t leave me here, this isn’t what I ever planned for in my life and I swear I would rather kill myself than feel another man atop me again!” By now Jessica’s streaming tears had found their way to the floor as they dripped from her little chin. “I will do anything for you, I’ll clean, cook, wash you and your clothes three times a day…anything! You don’t have to marry me even! Just don’t leave me here, please take me with you!” Jessica had collapsed against him and let herself bawl like a calf.
When Ozzy rode out that afternoon, he was a bit cramped on the saddle even though his Jessica was such a tiny thing.
She still was. As he left her that morning and walked down the street to the jail with Bassa following behind, she couldn’t help but feel her stomach knot up. She was expecting in a few months and began to worry about Ozzy’s safety. In the past nine years, trouble came and went and she had her worries but not like this. Something else was in play and she couldn’t put her finger on it. Shrugging off the unpleasant feeling she felt, Jessica went back inside to finish her morning chores before heading to the China Laundry. Since she announced her pregnancy, Ozzy wouldn’t let her wash clothes anymore. Secretly, she hoped it would continue that way after she delivered.
True to his word, Deputy Tom showed up at first light at the jail house with the news. “It seemed that the three are suspected of a killing for hire. The owner of the Smiling Lady gold mine, a Mr. Dickson, had been murdered and his wife near beat to death. She recovered enough to tell the Sheriff that three men had entered their house and kilt her husband to death over the gold mine. She overheard them while she lay there playing dead that they was paid to do the killin. It seems whoever hired ‘em had plans for the mine when the claim ended with their deaths.” Taking a break to spit on the ground, Tom then said, “They’s wanted over there all right Ozzy, what we gonna do?”
Ozzy’s plate was filling up mighty quick with problems. First was how to safely round the men up. Second was how to legally settle the issue of their freedom since they hadn’t committed a crime in Lambey yet. Thankfully, figuring out who ordered the killings was up to Sheriff Lewis.
“Well, first things first, let’s head over to the livery and see if they stabled their horses there. I figure I can legally hold them in our jail since you said that Sheriff Lewis told you he had issued a warrant for their arrest. We got to keep it legal like if this ends up having a Federal marshal involved. It seems every time a Federal Marshal shows up, a posse of lawyers is on his tail waiting to foil him at every turn.”
Ozzy pulled out his long barreled pistol and spun the cylinder. “when I go to arrest them, make sure you’re ready to draw quick like Tom, that group looks like they know how to use them tied down Colts.”
It took only a minute for Ozzy to find out the two brothers Carl and Roy, had spent the night in the hay in the livery and had recently left. “well, I think when we find the third man we’ll end up finding all three at once. I want you to head over to Mary’s Diner and see if they’s stuffin’ their chops with grub, they gotta eat sometime. I’ll be watching ‘em from next door inside the mercantile through the curtained window.”
After leaving the stable, Roy pounded on the upstairs door the saloon owner said Jerome had spent the night in.
In reality, most rooms were rented by the minute, not the night. Women deprived cowboys spoke loudly of their ability to make a soiled dove swoon but if you were to ask her, she’d tell you she got about as excited as finding a new hole in her lace stocking. Many cowboys after being on the trail for months, discovered that their manliness had either got up and left ‘em or took to an embarrassing early exit. This ended up making room available only minutes later for the next customer. Jerome was not one of these. The soiled doves he frequented back in Santa Fe had complained they lost money when he showed up so they began to charge him extra. That was alright with Jerome since any money he had was either stolen or ill earned anyway. It wasn’t like he actually worked for it.
Roy’s pounding finally ended with the door opening and Jerome’s sorry black and blue face peered out. “Git your clothes on Jerome. Let’s head on over for some grub and cut on outa’ here. I’m getting antsy.”
The three Bartel brothers ordered their breakfast and sat impatiently waiting for their food. Jerome’s face still hurt from the pounding Roy had given it the night before in the saloon. Rubbing his jaw he looked over at Roy. “Dang it Roy, why’d ya go an’ punch me in my mouth, you know’d I just had it punched up the night before by them miners! I got so many teeth missin’ now that a whole biscuit’ll fit right between ‘em.”
“Then behave yourself ya idiot!” replied Roy. Seeing the food was about to arrive, he ended saying, “Soon as we finish eatin, lets head over to the livery and get back on the trail.”
Not knowing Tom was a Deputy, the three paid no attention to the slender looking cowboy as he entered the diner behind them, grabbed a menu and sat down at a vacant table nearby.
Rushing through his breakfast, Roy leaned back, whipped his mouth with his shirt sleeve and loosened his belt a notch for comfort. “well, anytime yer ready, I am.”
Carl set his empty coffee mug onto the table. “I got a bad feelin’ myself now Roy. I wish now I hadn’t left my long gun with the horses.”
As they stepped outside, Jerome stopped dead in his tracks and pointed.
“Well damn my hide, look over yonder there! I know’d that girl anywhere. She was a whore over in Santa Fe some years back.” Strutting like a peacock, he boasted, “ I had her a bunch a times myself!”
Then before the others could stop him, Jerome swiftly scooted himself across the street to intercept the dark haired girl carrying a load of laundry. Timing himself to catch her between buildings, he caught up and shoved her violently into the shadowed alley. Before she could react, Jerome was on top of her trying to stifle her screams of help. Insane anger welled up in Jerome as memories of her laughed at him.
“Hey bitch! Remember me? I know who you are, you uppity whore! You refused me over an’ over no matter how much money I threw at you back in Santa Fe. And you a stinkin’ whore thinkin’ you was better’n me!”
Jessica fought hard against his attack but Jerome had already pulled his pants down to his knees and climbed on top the knocked down girl, trying to force her legs apart.
Tom heard the screams from inside the diner and ran to the door. Stopping behind the stunned brothers, he realized the screams were of a girl being accosted in the alley across the street. Forgetting his duty to watch the brothers for Ozzy, he ran flat out across the street pulling his gun from its holster.
Being experienced shootist, both Carl and Roy reacted to Deputy Tom reaching for his gun by pulling theirs in a blur.
Not aware yet that the would be rapist was one of the brothers, Tom didn’t look behind him as he ran. Suddenly Tom felt a tug on the back of his flapping wool vest and afterward heard the gunshot. Caught between trying to stop the attack and save himself, Tom dove headfirst into the dirt and fired backwards at the two brothers.
Another bullet plowed its way past Toms head, kicking up dust and blinding his right eye. Recognizing the form trying to rape the girl as Jerome, Tom took as careful aim as he could and using his left eye, fired high on the form on top of the girl.
Two things happened at once. Jerome jerked up, having had a bullet drive its way from Toms gun into his bare ass and up to and out of his shoulder an inch under the skin. It wasn’t a deadly shot, but it sure drove the pain scale to a ten.
The next thing that happened was Ozzy had entered the fight.
Watching the brothers leave the diner from the mercantile and having heard Toms original shot, Ozzy bolted out the door into the street with his gun drawn.
Hearing the scream, he realized it was Jessica’s.
Seeing Jerome lift up off of his wife and begin to jerk and twist from the intense pain of Toms shot, Ozzy remained calm, pushing the rising panic behind him, he aimed carefully and pulled the trigger of the long barrel Colt 45 at the flopping figure. Jerome’s head exploded in a red mist of brains and bone, leaving Jessica to run free.
The two brothers separated making it harder to take them out. Tom had made his way behind a water trough but Ozzy still stood exposed in the street behind the brothers. Lifting his head over and into the horse’s water trough to clear his right eye of dust, Tom barely finished when two bullets punched holes into the wooden planks protecting him. Seeing the water pouring from the holes in front of his face, Tom let the stream flow over his eye, finally clearing it of dust.
Roy swung around and fired from the hip at Ozzy as Ozzy’s barrel spewed a deadly stream of lead and fire into the left arm socket of Carl. Carl’s arm flew backward blown out of the long sleeve shirt and fell to the ground.
Roy’s shot caught Ozzy’s holster belt alongside his hip and harmlessly exploded some of the cartridges from it. Tom had by now regained his sight and composure and began throwing lead once again. Not wanting to hit the buildings or people within them behind Roy and Carl, he aimed low at their feet.
Carl was screaming and holding his pistol against his shoulder trying to halt the fountain of spurting blood from his empty arm socket. Suddenly the heel of his right boot disappeared, then his ankle took on a new angle as a bullet plowed into it.
Roy was still firing at Ozzy. Ozzy felt a jerk at his sleeve as a bullet passed through it plowing a groove up his arm. A second bullet punched clean through his thigh. Knowing it was only a matter of seconds before a deadly load would find it’s mortal mark, Ozzy steadied himself and fired the last of his cartridges into Roy’s chest.
Jerome lay blown to pieces, Carl was out of action, missing an arm and a foot. That left only Roy standing there looking with deadly hate at Ozzy. Slowly blood began dripping from between Roys lips and down his chin. Then as if he had just thought of something funny. He chuckled, coughed up more blood and said, “I told him his bean pole would be the death of him.”
Roy suddenly felt tired, very tired. It seemed his legs could barely hold himself up he was so tired. Then slowly his vision started angling sideways and then stopped as his head lay against the hard dust. His eyes closed and being tired beyond help, they never opened again.
A bit shot up but not to the point of dying, Ozzy limped over to his wife who was now running across the road to meet him.”Are you alright? Did he hurt you?” He shouted.
She flung herself at him crying but not for what had been done to her but for the pain Ozzy was going through. “No, I’m alright,” she cried, ‘ just bruised up a bit and in need of a new dress…” Suddenly her face crumpled and tears flowed.
“I’m so sorry Ozzy, it was my past coming back to haunt us. He recognized me from Santa Fe. It’s going to happen over and over, I just know it, Oh my God, I am so sorry Ozzy, and now you’re all shot up too! You came within inches of being killed because of me” She buried her head in his good shoulder and bawled like a baby.
Ozzy reached his good arm around her and pulled her to him. He could feel her swollen tummy against his. “I love you Jessica, I told you before, there ain’t no one gonna keep me from coming back home to my sweety at the end of the day.”
Glancing around at the dead, Ozzy softly told her, “When I saddled you in front of me and we rode out of Santa Fe, I knew days like this might come up. Then and there I decided you was worth it. I ain’t regretted it yet an’ never will.”
Ozzy looked at the blood soaking his shirt sleeve and pant leg. “C’mon sweety, let’s get me bandaged up.”
Heading towards Doc Simmons place, Ozzy felt a nudge at his feet. Looking down he saw Bassa looking sullenly back up at him. “Big help you were ya’ old flea bag!”
Bassa would have taken offense but he noticed the smile that Ozzy couldn’t suppress as he said it.
As the three made their way down the street, Back where the bodies lay Tom was heard to say. “Well, I better ride on back to Wickenburg and tell Sheriff Lewis he ain’t gotta worry about haulin’ these here no goods in anymore. Hmm, I never asked if they was a reward out on em… wouldn’t that be nice?”