WHEN YOU NEED HELP, CALL A GIANT

mammoth mule

 

Chapter 1

Moose Cholack was a big baby, so big the Christian name Benjamin was soon replaced with the more fitting one of Moose.

At three years old he needed his own bed, the type a healthy twelve year old growing boy needs. His teacher gave him the use of her own chair and desk until they too became too small. It was then that Moose began using the floor as his seat. A large carnival pencil was his writing instrument. Still, Moose was an adaptive and creative child who held no grudge against for those around him for making him the butt of many jokes.

 In fact Moose seemed to enjoy his size. It sure made life easier on the family farm in Missouri to have a massive reserve of energy to call on when needed. Once when the farms mule came down lame he dragged the plow around while his older brother Whitey guided it.

Whitey was born of normal girth three years before Moose and as older brothers are, was very protective of his large but good natured brother. The relationship was tight but not so much that when at the age of sixteen and Whitey became antsy pants about seeing the world, Moose encouraged him to do so.

It was no secret that farming held no appeal for Whitey, so when his Uncle, also named Whitey, asked if he wanted to try his hand at Cowboying on the same working ranch in Montana as he did, Whitey jumped at it. Satisfied where he was, Moose stayed behind, being content as a hard working Missouri farmer.

When the rush to the west occurred, change came quickly to his community. The wagon trains brought innocent folk wanting a better life but they also brought with them thieves and scoundrels of various types. After numerous close calls, Moose decided to visit the local gunsmith searching for a proper firearm. It was during this visit that he discovered his huge fingers would not fit into a single trigger guarded pistol.

Stepping up to the challenge, the gunsmith colluded with his friend the black smith to outfit Moose with a custom made piece. Since no cartridge made was big enough to fit the new gun, they resorted back to the age old black powder cap and ball design. In this case, the ball weighed a little over a pound!

The first time the three men gathered to test the huge pistol, they fired a ball into a black locust fence post the thickness of a man’s thigh, the post was blown cleanly in half. Only Moose had the strength to withstand the recoil.

So it was that more than a few no goods backed down when seeing what was being aimed at them. In fact, one terrified man offered to pay Moose in gold coin if he would be allowed to go his way unharmed.

Six years passed since Whitey parted ways for the western life when Moose received a post from him. It was an urgent plea for help. In the letter Whitey explained that he had purchased an abandoned ranch outside the town of Crab Tree with good water but was having problems with the bully neighbor.

The neighbor, an Englishman, held no regard in handshakes or promises. The steam known as Red Rock Creek, meandered between the two properties and acted as the dividing line between the two. As most springs tend to, over a few years it wandered more towards the Englishman’s property, leaving Whiteys behind. Rather than holding to the gentleman’s agreement of sharing the water, Whitey one day found barbed wire fencing his cattle out.

Water is more precious than gold to a cattleman. A cow doesn’t give two hoots how shiny a colored rock is but will run for miles when they smell a stream of cool water.

Whitey found his herd bellowing along the barbed wire fence crying for the water they could not get to. Time after time Whitey cut the wire but it was always repaired the next day.

It all came to a head when the Sheriff arrived one day and handed Whitey a summons to appear in court. The charge was trespassing, infringing on water rights and theft of water.

Whitey knew the charges wouldn’t hold up in a honest court but as courts went, this one was pretty far from being called honest. The neighbor, Percival James, had been busy spreading cash and favors around the political circles for some time. It seemed now he was calling in some of the owed favors.

Throwing the papers back in the face of the spineless Sheriff, Whitey once again took the fence’s demise to task.

Sheriff Ted Dickens grappled with his holster shouting, “Stop right there Whitey or I’ll arrest you here and now for destruction of private property.” In the clumsy attempt at pulling his pistol, it ended up being juggled from hand to hand before it fell onto the muddy riverbank.

“Now see what you made me do? Damn you Whitey, now I’ll have to take it all apart to clean it!”

Whitey picked up the thrown away summons from where it lay on the ground and shoved it towards the furious Sheriff of Crab Tree, “Here,” Whitey told him, “clean that piece of iron horse shit with this!”

“You’ll be sorry Whitey Cholack,” Sheriff Dickens warned, “you’ll be sorry. Just wait till Mister James and Judge Cooperman find out how you treated me, you’ll wish you never messed with that wire!”

Whitey continued to cut the wire away, post by post. Whitey’s bone dry cattle shoved and bullied their way through the openings and plunged into the creeks cool water en mass. As the cattle gratefully slacked their thirst, Whitey knew troubled waters were brewing. The James spread, ironically named the ‘Placid Acres Ranch’, had way more cowhands working on it than Whitey’s ranch had. Whitey knew his place was outgunned and out lawyer’d so the worry weighed heavy on him.

Making his way back towards the ranch house he regretted that his dream of settling in the beautiful valley was beginning to leave a foul taste in his mouth and all because of some greedy Englishman who bucked the Western way.

 

Chapter 2

Two days passed and Whitey rode to the fence line where he had had earlier cut and removed the wire. The wire had not been replaced and Whitey wondered if James had come to his senses and decided to give up trying to keep his cattle from the once common creek.

Dismounting, made his way to where the now soggy court summons lay on the creeks muddy bank. As he stooped to retrieve it the zinging sound similar to an angry hornet passed just over his head. The angry hornet thwacked itself into a nearby willow tree’s trunk and a heartbeat later he heard the sound of a distant rifle shot.

Throwing himself upon the riverbank for protection he was inches away from the second shot which plowed up the mud if front of him. Rolling further down the bank he was completely hidden now from the shooter. Drawing his pistol was useless at this range and he wished he had taken the rifle from its saddle scabbard when he dismounted. He felt naked, vulnerable and dismayed that someone would go as far as trying to kill him over a fence.

Belly crawling along the length of the creeks bank he tried staying hidden to the eyes that had fired the two shots. He wondered if the shooter may have thought him hit since his rolling down the bank may have looked that way from such a distance away.

The bay seemed unconcerned over Whiteys dilemma and continued to casually crop the lush grass growing along the creek.

After a half hour of belly creeping, he reached his horse. Slowly he made his way to the lee side of it and gathering the reigns, guided the bay further into the tall brush where he could safely mount it unseen.

Once safely back at the Ranch, Whitey gathered his hands warn them of the recent attempt on his life.

“I know you weren’t hired as shootist but if you’re out on the spread, keep an eye peeled for trouble. I’d rather you run off than get into a shooting war so if you see anything that raises your concern, head back here to the ranch.”

One of the cowhands looked up sheepishly and replied. Whitey, you been a good boss ‘an all but fifty dollars a month ain’t enough to keep me ‘an my pard Leroy here on. We didn’t sign up but for workin’ cattle. I’m sorry, I don’t want it held agin’ us none but we’s taking to the trail away from all this.”

Whitey nodded his resignation, “I understand and won’t hold it against any of you if you leave. As I said, I didn’t hire you as shootist.”

That evening it was decided that with only eight men left, two twelve hour shifts would be needed consisting of three range riders and one scout with a long gun keeping the three safe from sharp shooters.

It was then that Whitey decided to write his brother for help.

In his letter he explained the situation and laid out a plan that not only would get the law off his tail but put the fear of God into the Englishman and his riders.

He wrote that if the first plan was not able to be implemented that Moose would then have to just go ahead and bust him out of jail. The second plan would be no problem for the younger but huge brother, seeing as no iron bar made could stand up to his huge hands. Still, when Moose read the letter he truly hoped the first plan was going to be the one chosen.

By the time Moose had left his farm in Missouri pot shots taken at Whitey’s men was a near daily occurrence. At the rate of attacks it would only be a matter of time before one or more of Whitey’s men was hit.

Moose drove his mammoth mule with little rest onward towards Montana. Most folk view a mule as a stubborn creature that plods away at their own leisurely pace. Those mules born and bred in Missouri though were known for their power and fleetness of foot. Mules were known to outrace and able to run a good horse into the ground. Crossing the mountains the mule once again has the advantage, having bigger hooves for a surer grip on rocky terrain. Across sand those large hooves act as a camel’s would by keeping the beast from sinking into the sand. They can eat nearly anything growing and can go without water for long spells. In Moose’s case, the big advantage was that it was the only animal capable of carrying his weight.

Making his way over prairie, desert mountains and rock strewn soil, Moose and his mule gobbled up the miles between Missouri and Montana.

It was no surprise then that Moose showed up sooner than his brother anticipated.

 

  The coming of dawn brought the coming of Moose. Riding up to the ranch house, Moose was met by one of the men who’s duty it was to keep an eye out for trouble. At first he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him until he ran and got Whitey to come see the stranger on a mule.

Whitey broke out in a big grin when he saw the huge man riding in on the over sized beast. Loping along faster than a horse could gallop, the two soon rode into the Ranches corral  where the Giant dismounted.

Seeing what had arrived, the men backed away in fear from the corral. Not only had they never even heard of a Mammoth Mule, but they weren’t even sure it’s rider was strictly human.

“Boy’s! I’d like you all to meet my baby brother, Moose. Moose, these here are what’s left of my hired hands.”

In a deep rumble that sounded as if it had its beginnings somewhere near the nation of China, Moose cleared his throat and holding out his hand in friendship, greeted them.

After each had shaken the mighty man’s hand they  wandered towards the house. Snodgrass, as the mule was called by, was led to a hay pile outside the barn first by Moose where he dove into eating to his heart’s content. “Don’t tie him up,” Moose warned,” it just pisses him off doing that. He won’t wander off nowhere, he likes me too much. Besides, I’m bigger than he is. Har, har, har.”

Resting on the homes large front porch, the cook came out with coffee and nearly dropped the pot in fright upon seeing Moose. That seemed to lighten the mood as the men had a hardy laugh.

“We need to go over the plan I have in mind,” Whitey told them. “what we need to do is get the law off of me so I can have the time to notify the Governor of what all is going on here. The last thing a politician wants is a range war over water rights. What I’m figuring is he’ll most likely send some troops over here Crab Tree to stalemate things until the courts can have a fair look at things. To have the freedom to do that though I need it to look like I was either run off or killed because if I stick my neck out in the open, I’ll be tried and sentenced before an honest court gets the chance to hear my case. Then there’s the folks here that are too scared of the James outfit to stand up and push back against the corruption going on. What we need to do is make them afraid of something even worse than Mister Englishman James. They’ll have to choice between the two to see who they obey and who they side against. I’m  thinking Moose here could just about frighten the dickens, no pun intended to our good Sheriff, out of most folk. If we can strike the fear of God into the town’s people, it will make it much harder for the Sheriff and the Judge to be buddy buddy in their ways.

Since both are elected officials, both will have the worry in the back of their minds of losing the next election if they can’t frighten the folk into voting for ‘em. So, gather round and I’ll tell what I’m thinking…”

 

Chapter 3

The creaky wooden batwing doors of the Cactus saloon of banged open as if a dust devil was behind the thrust. Darkness replaced light as a Giant form stood blocking the entrance. All heads turned and lifted drinks were put back down as the crowd squinted in the saloons dim light to see just what or who could have plugged up the entire doorway.

What the patrons saw first was a pair of huge boots, too large to be real yet they caused the floorboards to sag downward in a protesting squeal. As their vision drifted up ward, a single holster could be seen hanging low down from the Giant’s hips. From the holsters no strap leather top protruded a pistol grip handle the size of most wooden legs. A vest made from a single spotted cowhide covered a double stitched sail canvas collared shirt sporting buttons the size of silver dollars. No head was visible.

Slowly the massive form began bending at the knees giving room enough so the door jams lintel wouldn’t be fractured from the barrel sized head trying to enter the saloons interior.

Every patron to a man backed away from the form in the doorway leaving drinks, gambling money and winning poker hands to lie untouched. Suddenly the rumble started.

In harmony with the sound of the saloon floors failing wooden support beams was the sound like a steam locomotives boiler ready to blow itself apart. It was no hot iron pressure vessel but the voice of the statue sized man wasn’t wearing a Texas ten gallon hat, no such luck, it held at least thirty gallons if it held a quart.

As large as cue balls, the Giants eye’s scanned each patron as it spoke. “I’m lookin’ for a man that goes by the name Whitey” the rolling thunder questioned, “Is he in here?”

Silence.

“Well? Is he here!” The large mirror behind the bar shook precariously on its anchors. Glasses moved themselves away on tables and more than a few pants became wet from sheepish bladders.

An average sized looking frightened cowpoke rose slowly on unsteady legs from one of the furthest placed gambling tables. Holding his hat between both hands up against his belly, the aghast cattleman nodded in stark fear.

“I, uh, I’m called Whitey by some Sir. Is it me you’s looking for?

“Might be, your last name’s Cholack?”

“Y-yes Sir. Whitey Cholack Sir, that’s the name my Mama gave me… after her brother Whitey. I own the Ranch just north of town”

“Are you ready to leave this world mister ranch owner?” The bull Giant’s voice rumbled.

Slowly the massive right hand edged itself lower towards the holster carrying the custom made over sized pistol on his hip. The man called Whitey Cholack tried to back away from his certain demise but the rear wooden wall stopped his escape. The terrified looking cowpunchers arms extended forward as if he could fend off the blast that was sure to come with only his bare hands.

Removing what looked like an over sized model of a Colt 45 such as the type used as a hanging sign above a Gunsmith’s door, the Giant tilted the massive barrel and leveled it at the quaking man before him.

The big man spun the gleaming cylinder with his huge paw. Round and round the cylinder spun as the meager light from the doorway reflected off each of the loaded chambers like a strobe light. Mesmerized, the crowd stared as if the spinning silver cylinder were a roulette wheel with someone’s fortune or misfortune being held in the balance. It did not click, rather it clacked. As dissimilar as a click of a pen knife closing is to a rail cars wheel clacking on each rail joint, the cylinder spun testing the nerves of each watcher. When it finally came to a halt, all breathing stopped. One man’s nerve broke and he ran screaming for the door holding his head as if in pain. 

Later accounts by some told of a muzzle opening that was so big a normal man’s hand could have reached inside it to fondle the Giant lead ball within.

The jaw dropped patrons began to slowly edge themselves away from the line of fire, leaving a part down the center of the crowd like a church’s isle. No more than thirty feet away from each other, the huge gun and shaking cowpoke faced each other off.

The Giants sausage sized finger slid easily into the Mason jar sized trigger guard and began wrapping itself around the gleaming thick steel trigger. With a quick tug, the cannon sized gun came to life.

The explosion that ensued from that gaping muzzle reminded those who were gold miners of being trapped inside a mine during a blast. A ball of fire the size of a whiskey keg tore itself across the room catching men’s hats and clothing on fire as it passed by. Like thunder following the blinding flash of a lightning bolt, the concussion of the blast bowled even the soberest man off his feet. A Military cannon could not have produced the cloud of smoke as the fired pistol did. Not a soul within the place had the magical vision to see through the explosions cloud of acrid, eye burning white fog. Deafened, the crowd stood motionless as if fearing any movement would draw the ire of the Giant their way.

When finally the cloud began to lift, it was with the help of a fresh breeze blowing from where the rear wall once stood. Bright sunlight streamed through the barn door sized hole. For the first time in the saloons history, patrons could clearly see the filth and shoddy workmanship that for years had been hidden by the gloomy darkness. Looking back and forth as they hesitantly rose from their fallen position, the crowd stared in stunned silence as they searched for the body of the man called Whitey.

“M-my God! Whitey done got blowed to smithereens!” One man gasped. Still, no one inside dared to move except to slap out the fires of their burnt clothing.

Finished with the job he had come for, the Giant smiled then turned and with footsteps longer than a grown man could jump, the beast of a man thudded loudly out of the saloon. Once again, he stooped to pass under the doors frame.

Once outside, Moose, turned and quickly ran with unusual swiftness and dexterity to the rear of the saloon. Rounding the corner he came to a halt in front of the man he had just ‘Blown away’.

The blasted cowpoke also known as his brother Whitey, stood there slapping at his smoldering cloths with his hands laughing.

“My Gosh Moose. How much powder did you charge that monster with? I figured on having that cannon of yours make a lot of smoke, enough for me to walk out of there unseen but Good Lord,  I never thought I’d be able to step outside through the hole it made!”

“Better to error on the side of caution brother, to tell the truth it did give my hand a good slap!”

Moose removed the large western brimmed hat and peaked around the corner to make sure no one followed him. He looked back at Whitey and pointed to where he had tied up Whitey’s horse and his mule in the alleyway. “C’mon brother, daylights burnin’ away and we got to get you safely hid in the mountains.”

After sneaking out of town by riding behind the clustered buildings, they headed south toward Medicine Lodge Creek in Idaho along an old rarely used Indian trail.

Setting up camp along the mountain top ridge that divided Montana from Idaho, the two ate a meal of freshly killed mountain goat and biscuits they had carried inside of their pack.

After the meal, the two planned their next move.

“What we need to do now is build on the recent fright you gave those inside the saloon. We need to get the towns folks in the same mindset as those in the saloon. Once we get the whole town in jitters, Sheriff Dickens and Judge Cooperman will be too busy trying to calm their fears to worry about Mister James.” Moose nodded in agreement and Whitey continued.

“As it stands, having that fence line up gives James the right to take shots at our men if he can prove our hands were on his side of the land. Right now, he’s claiming both sides of the creek are on his land. If our men can keep tearing down his fence line during the night, our cattle can get watered. It ain’t a permanent solution but between you terrorizing the town and me missing and being hunted for, it should hold off any legal action from those two until my letter reaches the Governor and he sends help.”

“I guess I’d better head back to Crab Tree and stir the pot then. Are you staying up here or are you going to head down to Medicine Lodge Creek where it’s warmer.”

“I’ll head south some more to the creek. Tomorrow morning we’ll part ways.” Then stopping as if he just remembered something, Whitey told his brother, “When you go back, stop at the Ranch first and make sure all’s OK there. Tell the men what’s going on but don’t tell any of them what direction I headed off to just in case one of them gets caught and is forced to spill the beans. The less they know, the better they’ll be off.”

Peering at the Ranch house from the tree line, Percival James and one of his rougher men scouted the place out. “I don’t see no sign of Whitey nor that Giant, whoever he is, around the place Boss. Maybe Whitey did get blowed away for real.”

Sneering over at the big man, James shook his head, “Don’t be ridiculous. No one gets killed so badly that he leaves no sign. There wasn’t a drop of blood to be seen from the spot he stood. No, somehow he escaped the deadly assault that was surely meant for him.”

“Then who was this Giant fella? I saw him with my own eyes Mister James. He had vengeance written all over his face as he pulled that trigger. He must’a had it in for Whitey for sure. He had to come from somewhere’s we don’t know about, maybe he and Whitey had a grudge going from years back before Whitey settled here.”

Lifting his eyes to the heavens James responded more to himself than the man who had just spoken, “Astute thinking for a lumbering ox. Though in truth, each of us has a past life now don’t we?”

“Yes we..”

“I wasn’t looking for an answer you great lummox! Now let’s get on back to my ranch. I’m starving half to death and missed tea hours ago!”

Not knowing if being termed a ‘great lumox’ was an insult or a compliment the hand decided to remain quiet and went on to retrieve their horses.

 

Chapter 4

What the two trespassers on Whitey’s land didn’t know was that the Giant in question sat perched listening to their conversation on the lowest and sturdiest limb in the tree they stood under.

Landing on his feet with a resounding thud, Moose ran back to where he had tied up his mule and continued on to the ranch house where he would meet up with the hands. Typical of a non wilderness wise person, James had given away his presence over a mile away by wearing a bright red hunting overcoat. It was this coat that James wore that let Moose follow James and his cohort as they tried their best to travel towards Whitey’s ranch house unseen. Moose had already determined where the best place to observe the house from and there he climbed the tree hoping neither would look skyward and discover him when they arrived.

“So Whitey is safe and hidden away till I send for him” Moose told the gathered men. “I also overheard Mister James say they have no idea who I am. They believe it was a grudge killing resulting from a past dispute. James is convinced Whitey escaped in the cloud of smoke but can’t prove it and neither man knew whatever became of me after the shooting.” Smiling wickedly, Moose told them, “Come tomorrow, I’m going to let the town know I haven’t left yet.”

Before the men parted to their rounds, Moose made sure each man still rode for the brand.

“We ain’t goin’ no place Mister Moose, as a matter of fact, I’m itchen’ to see what that there Englishman is made of. Bring him on I say!”

 

Chapter 5

Fred Johnstone was sleeping soundly in his room above his dry goods store, when awoke to a sudden crash outside. Lifting the window he peered out into the morning darkness to see what had made the infernal sound. The sound of splintering wood and a second crash made him lean out further in order to see. What he saw terrified him. There below and heading his way was the largest beast he had ever dreamed. Not even a nightmare could compete.

As Moose made his way down the street, he stopped time and time again to tear off the wooden roof overhanging each store’s walkway. Grabbing a post, he yanked mightily at it until it and the supported roof came tumbling down. Windows broke and storefront signs tumbled into the street adding to the noise.

Lanterns were lit and windows thrown open to the sound of screaming women and crying children. Plodding beside the man looking Giant, walked the biggest mule eyes had ever seen. Even non Catholics crossed themselves and called on Jesus, Mary and Joseph to save them.

No one had the sand to step out front to confront the Giant, instead most men skedaddled out the rear doors to the dry arroyo behind the buildings. Some relented and returned to save their wives and children before quickly returning to the wash.

By dawn the place had the looks of a tornado hit town. Few front windows remained intact and every walkway roof hung either at crooked angles or upon the ground in a heap.

Word reached The James ranch and having ownership of many of the buildings, Percival James came running. What he saw made his guts churn and bubble until he rushed to the nearest outhouse.

Meanwhile back at Whitey’s ranch, Moose was taking a bath trying to clean off the dirt and splinters the roofs had poured down on him. Using a cattle trough as a tub, he enjoyed replaying the recent event in his head and laughed from time to time to the amusement of the men.

The man Whitey had hired as Foreman, Tom Jeffers, approached Moose saying he and another hand should go into town to see what the towns folk were saying about the ruin of their town. Acting as innocent cowpokes, he told Moose they could not only hear what folks was saying but could spread the rumor that what had just occurred was nothing compared to what they had heard the Giant was about to do in the next few days to Crab Tree.

Sheriff Dickens stood upon the ruined jailhouse porch trying to calm the crowd. Lifting his hands into the air he pleaded for quiet. When the crowd eventually tired of it, a hush fell and Dickens finally gained control of the angry mob. “I’m telling you! I have no idea what or who this Giant is.” He shouted. “But, as you all know, I’m dedicating myself to finding out, even if it kills me!”

“It will!” someone shouted while others murmured in agreement.

“Enough of that! I’m sayin’ that I’m sending a post to the Governor declaring an emergency here. Only the Army can take this Giant on!”

Another anonymous voice shouted, “How long will that take? By the time troops get here there ain’t gonna be no town left. I heard that he’s comin’ back here soon to finish the job!”

“Well, given the time it takes to deliver the request and the Governor makes a decision and arrives with the troops, I’d say no more than a month or two!”

The crowd groaned and fist were now being raised.

The judge, seeing that Sheriff Dickens was in over his head sidled up next to him an the makeshift podium that until yesterday was a well made wooden walkway. Leaning into the Sheriffs ear he smiled broadly but his whispered words burnt like pouring acid onto skin.

“Dickens, you better get your ass on the trail of the scoundrel that did this!  You know damn well the Governor will never send troops all this way to capture a single man that you can’t even pin a capital crime on. We have an election in less than six months! You better believe it that if we lose then whoever takes our places will eventually find how we squandered the money folks paid in taxes. That silver saddle you ride so proudly on will be used  to sit your ass upon as they kick out your horse and dangle you from the rope!”

Poking Dickens in the chest with his pudgy finger, Judge Cooperman snarled, “Now you gather up some men like a posse and promise them high pay for riding with you, ten dollars a day now, you hear? I want that man or creature found by tonight!”

Whitey’s man. Tom Jeffers, kept an open eye and ear to all that was being said and done. He noted with interest that Mister James had earlier spent time with the judge. It was shortly afterward that the Judge confronted Dickens about capturing the Giant.

Moose sat upon the porch stoop having found out earlier that it was strong enough to hold him without collapsing. As Foreman Jeffers relayed the information to him, it confirmed that Whitey’s plan was working out as planned.

The Sheriff was now too caught up with the issue of the Giant to worry about enforcing the Court summons given to Whitey. The Judge also had too much on his mind to consider such a menial task as convicting and sending off to jail a man he knew to be innocent.

“This damn Giant has ruined everything!” He cried.

Three nights later it was the other side of the street that became the focus of the Giants wrath.  Along with some torn off porch overhangs, the Court house was broken into and trashed. It would take weeks to re file all the thrown about documents properly, save one, the original complaint to the court James had filed against Whitey Cholack. That was tucked away safely in Moose’s only pants pocket.

The Sheriff would never get the chance to send for help, not would it have helped anyway.

A gathering of the townsfolk that afternoon called for heads to roll. The Judge decided it was a good time to retire from office and was seen headed out of town in his black coach. Sheriff Dickens locked himself inside his own jail to prevent the mob from stringing him up like a ham in smoke house. During the night he fled on foot into the prairie and was never heard of agin. Mister James, the belligerent Englishman was another matter though.  He would require a special talking to in order to see things in a different light.

That night he had his own special meeting with the Giant.

As the evening meal was finishing, Percival James requested his smoking pipe and his nightcap, a glass of sherry. Boswell, the longtime James household man servant was deftly carrying both in on an ornately carved platter made from the very rare Chinese tree, the huanghuali when the house shook on its foundation. Thinking a bomb had exploded, Boswell forgot his place as the staid and unshakable servant and threw the platter ceiling ward.  The great rooms window where Percival had been reclining in his polished leather hobbed nail chair,  exploded into pieces as frame and all, burst inward with a loud splintering crash. There in the blank space which had moments before held the multi paned plate glass window, stood Moose.

Before Percival could respond, either to the crashing window or the expensive and age old Meerschaum smoking pipe that bounced off his head, a massive claw of a hand reached out and wrapped it’s sausage thick fingers around the neck of Percival James. 

The poor English cattleman’s eyes bulged in terror as he was lifted bodily by his neck and tossed like a child’s doll onto the floor, Boswell shat his pants.  A Giant leg, the size of a fallen log, then entered the room through the gaping hole. It was soon followed by the contorted body of the Giant as Moose tried his best to fit through the four foot wide by six foot tall opening. Once inside Moose stood to his full height and with his index finger pointed it at the terrified Percival James and then with the ‘come hither’ sign, demanded James to rise and step forward.

In the account later told by Boswell to the Captain in charge of the troops that arrived shortly after the James’s household invasion, Boswell detailed the following conversation between the Giant and Mister James.

“Who are you and why are you terrifying my house?”

“I am seeking justice for your sins!” The Giant bellowed.

“Sins? I have no sins Sir, none at all.”

Without saying a word, the Giant produced a sheet of paper and placed it on the lap of the shaking Percival. Looking downward at the placed paper, James realized it was the falsified complaint he had lodged against Whitey.

“Oh…That? I-I w-was going to ask for its dismissal in the morning. Yes Sir, I was going to do just that. I misjudged my dear neighbor terribly and when I saw that I had made an error in calculating our property lines I immediately decided that by tomorrow afternoon every fence and post would be removed.”

With a deep rumble in his depths, the Giant chuckled saying, “They are already down and gone. Now I will deal with you!” Moose’s right hand slowly crept downward until his massive fingers touched the carved pistol grip protruding from the holster.

James covered his head and screamed, “Please, Don’t shoot me! I heard what that cannon did to Whitey. Let me go and I promise to return to the small village back in England where I came from. I had only wanted to become rich!”

“Your greed has ruined you. I will return in three days. If you are still here I will stone by stone and board by board dismantle this house and then turn my wrath upon you! Do you understand Mister Englishman!”

‘Yes, yes, a perfectly fair and reasonable request.”

 

Chapter 6

Moose made his way swiftly back to the place where Whitey waited for word on what had come about. After explaining the events and outcome, Moose patted Whitey’s bay on the rump and said, “Better pack up brother, the problem is solved. We gotta’ get back.”

“What about the troops I sent for, how will I explain the trip they made was for naught?”

“Oh them? They’re not coming. The Army told the Governor  that they have their hands full with some Indian problem going on and can’t spare even a man. The Governor wrote you back and said he had decided to remove Judge Cooperman from the bench and that he is sending out his replacement. The new Judge should arrive shortly. He might even be here by now, I didn’t check.”

Upon their return to Crab Tree, the two brothers rode over to the James’s Ranch to see if James had held up his end of the bargain and returned to England. Upon arriving, they found the entire staff and cowhands had abandoned the place… all except one, Boswell.

When asked by Whitey why he had never left, Boswell explained why he had stayed behind.

“Well Sir, the truth being told, though I soiled myself in terror from the event, I discovered why the West is such an enigma to those not living here. I clearly saw what a thief and a man of low character Mister James was. What is acceptable behavior elsewhere is considered taboo here in the West. I could not in all good conscience, return to work for the scoundrel Percival anymore for fear of being painted with the same brush as him. Therefore, I had decided to wait until your return to ask if you might consider taking me on as your man. You will find me a handy person to have as I am quite capable of balancing the books and running a household. What do you say?”

“Well, I thought maybe my kid brother here could do most of that.”

Before Boswell could answer, The deep rumbling voice of Moose broke in.

“Sorry brother, as much as I enjoyed playing Jack and the Beanstalk with you, I really want to return home to my farm. Besides, harvest time is just around the corner and I need to be there for that.”

Whitey kicked the dirt with his toe and shrugged his shoulders. Looking up at Boswell he asked, “Can you ride a horse?”

“Not in the least but I am willing to learn Sir.”

“Well, I guess you don’t need to know that stuff anyway if you’re in the house all day. Alright, I’ll give you a shot Boswell. But do me a favor, Stop calling me Sir, my men will never let me here the end of it if you go around calling me that!”

“Yes Sir!”

 

The new judge determined after an extensive investigation into the James / Cholack affair, that Percival James had filed false complaints, had colluded with the Sheriff to illegally drive Whitey from his property and ruin his cattle business by denying his cattle water. He determined the damages done to Mister Cholack’s business and was rewarded the abandoned ranch that Mister James had once owned as compensation.

The town recovered and to this day no one knows who the big Giant was, where he came from or where he disappeared to.

The Giant, Moose returned to Missouri with his mule and harvested the crops that were in the ground at the time that his brother had called on him for help. He has fired his pistol three more times since leaving Montana then but those are for another story.

Boswell was a blessing to the ranch as Whitey saw his profits increase due to the brilliance of the man in charge of the books. Boswell learned to ride a horse but admittedly had a great fear of them. In horror, he shat his pants upon his first ride.

                                                                       The End

 

 

 

Advertisements

In-Laws and Outlaws

HashknifePosse

Chapter 1

Laying aside the month old Arizona newspaper, Texas rancher Slim Jim Rutherford looked across the breakfast table at his wife and shaking his head told her, “Well, I see your three brothers have been at it again. The paper here lays blame on the recent violent rustling jobs up near Holbrook up in Arizona on a small off shoot gang from the Hashknife group. That’s the group your brothers rode for.

Lifting the newspaper up once again to a reading position he continued speaking,” It says here, Known for their rough and tumble ways, the Arizona based Aztec Cattle company, commonly called the Hashknife Cattle Company (due to their unique cattle brand shaped like a cooks hashknife), is being blamed once again for a series of recent cattle rustlings in Navajo County Arizona by local ranchers. Aztec owner, Edward Kinsley, denies the charge saying it was not their men and is laying the blame on a small group of men who had earlier instigated much lawlessness on the surrounding ranches in the area. Mr. Kinsley stated that the group, led by a trio of brothers, were forcefully driven off the Aztec land a year earlier. The brothers, being named Jedediah, Ezekiel and Crete Britchen  and their small gang of followers (all ex Hashknife employees) are believed to be holed up somewhere  in or around the Navajo and Yavapai Counties  and have reportedly been seen as far south as the Superstition Mountains.  The United States Marshal Service is forming a posse to hunt the rustlers down as well as to keep an eye on the Aztec Cattle operation. Numerous complaints from small ranchers contending that the Aztec group is involved in rustling and rebranding of their stolen cattle has forced the Marshal service to act.”

Sally Rutherford pensively looked up at her husband exhaled quietly replying. “Just so long as they stay out of Texas. The last thing we need is them showing up here!”

 

Twenty two years earlier the Britchen family loaded up their belongings in a Conestoga wagon and left Missouri in search of greener pastures out west. Their trail ended up in Southern Utah where the parents of the children met up with a group of Mormon settlers from Ohio and converted to Mormonism. It turned out the parents conversion was not so much from the heart but what could be gained by joining such a group. The parents took immediate advantage of their new friends and neighbors. The three brothers and their lone sister Sally were raised in the strict Mormon ways in public but inside the home was another matter. It was a home where everything was for show. 

Jed and Zeke, as the brothers were commonly called, were rambunctious kids who tested the boundaries of their Mormon upbringing but they paled in comparison to their youngest brother Crete. By age fourteen, Crete cursed while speaking, was fond of smoking and was suspected of breaking into his neighbor’s house and coveting his neighbors goods… and their daughter.

Most times, Crete could be the sweetest of boys to his siblings, yet his siblings were becoming increasingly afraid for their own safety, especially during his many ‘mood spells’.

Crete’s wild mood swings had no rhyme or reason to their occurrence.

In the middle of a laugh he could become dark and sulky or was once heard laughing hysterically during a funeral. His parents believed him ‘tetched in the head’ and prayed for the day he would be old enough to leave home.

 When Sally, the youngest of the four and only girl, came to the marrying age of fourteen, her father announced that she would be marrying their fifty eight year old Bishop, a severely overweight man prone to sweating and loud wet mucus spewing coughing spells. Sally would be his fourth wife, yet unfortunately not the youngest of them.

No amount of begging by the four children would change her father’s decision. In return for his daughter, the Bishop promised him a large parcel of tall grass pasture in central Utah he owned. Not surprisingly, this also would keep Sally out of touch with her family.  The two men were like two  peas in a pod. Both used each other to gain what they wanted, both abused their authority upon those under them and both were using their Faith to achieve a secret comfortable living not available to everyone else. 

Sally’s brothers were for lynching the Bishop in secret but realized his detestable son Abaddon, would then most likely claim their young sister for himself through inheritance. The four children decided enough was enough and having no other alternative slipped out of Utah under cover and headed south into the Arizona territory.

In the three years that followed, Jed and Zeke became hard working Hashknife Cowboys for the infamous Aztec Cattle Company out of Holbrook. Crete on the other hand hung around town and rarely worked yet always seemed to have plenty of cash on hand. When his two brothers discovered that he had been suspected by the law of robbing miners and other loners, they decided to hide him within the safety of the Hashknife group where no one there asked questions.  The corrupted ways of the Hashknife cowboys on the Aztec Ranch suited Crete well and even the two brothers began to fall into the easy life style that rustling offered.

Meanwhile, Sally had taken a job on the Aztec Ranch as a cook’s helper. Kept apart from the realities of how the Aztec Ranch worked, she was blissfully unaware of her sibling’s wrongdoings. Her monthly pay was minimal but the Ranch offered her secure housing arraignments, meals and even a few dollars a month for personal needs. It was there that she met ‘Slim Jim’ Rutherford.

 Most all the hands liked and got along well with Slim Jim.  The tall, wide shouldered, sun darkened cowboy of few words and soft voice was not to be underestimated though. More than one drunken galoot found himself waking up black eyed and rib sore after a fisticuffs altercation with him.  Chided only in fun for his carrying a Bible within his possible satchel, he lived by the golden rule but never demanded others to believe as he did.

 It was true though that if asked a question of a Biblical nature, he happily complied by giving simple answers and left the questioner to make their own minds up. This brought him great respect even amongst the hardest of men… all except for one, Crete Britchen.

 Slim Jim Rutherford worked as a­­­ horse breaking cowboy for the Aztec Ranch which kept him far from the Hashknife crowd.  Breaking horses for the Ranch’s remuda was his main job but roping and branding always took precedence before a drive. Like Jim, most hands working for the Aztec Ranch were honest and hard working men. It was only the Hashknife group within the ranch that participated in the shady but all too common acts of cattle rustling. This physical separation of the two groups should have been enough to keep Slim Jim unknown to Crete but it wasn’t.

Hearing rumors being spread concerning his sister and Slim Jim, her new beau, Crete rode up to the ranch house to see the man for himself. After dismounting his exhausted horse, he left it hitched in the hot Arizona sun to fend for itself. Slim Jim Rutherford was everything that Crete wasn’t, such as being Kind, thoughtful, slow to speak, handsome and willing to put in a hard day’s work. These were traits that drove Crete to distraction and Slim had them all. At first greeting, Slim Jim stuck out his hand in a friendly way only to have it left hanging in the air. Crete, seeing the outstretched hand, spat on the ground in front of Slim and turned away saying. “I’d rather see my sister dead than tied with the likes of you.”

Jed and Zeke tried unsuccessfully for months to convince Crete that Slim Jim was the right man for Sally and if he didn’t like him, then he should at least leave the two alone. He didn’t.

Crete went out of his way to convince his fellow Hashknife hands that the Devil, if he existed at all, had a special place prepared for him in Hell. Openly mocking God and his Word, Crete in short order began to evolve from being just underhanded and distrustful to being downright evil. Taking some well heeded advice from Jed and Zeke, Slim Jim Rutherford eloped with Sally one night and headed into Texas and away from Crete to safety. They settled just north of Amarillo outside the cow town of Wheeler alongside the banks of the Canadian River. Only the oldest brother Jed knew of the couple’s whereabouts.

Shortly after their sister and Jim took flight into Texas, the two remaining brothers found that controlling Crete’s actions was becoming a losing proposition. His anger seemed continuous and took no provoking. He began telling his brother’s that he despised them and harbored a deep hatred for everyone except for his own mother. For reasons unknown, he held the belief that she alone was without fault and it were only she alone that he trusted. He believed that she visited him in his night dreams to comfort and give him guidance and advice. In truth, when her children fled Utah, she dismissed Crete as no longer living and was glad to be rid of him.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

After reaching the safety of Texas, Jim and Sally Rutherford discovered a land flooded with abandoned cattle from the war. Not being bred Texan’s, they were permitted by the Federal Army overseeing the law in Texas, to gather a herd and drive them out of State. This was something denied true Texans as part of the Federal Government’s nine year post war Reconstruction Act. The hated Reconstruction act was in fact enacted as punishment for those Southern States including Texas for siding against the North during the war. However, to the general public it was presented as a humane act of repatriation. Northern politicians and their friends took little time in capitalizing on the manacles placed on the South and bled the Southern States dry for their own financial gain. Millions of fertile acres, plantations, homes and factories suddenly found themselves under new ownership under this act. These carpetbaggers, as they were called, had little interest in the freed slaves lives other than to gather them together under a new and even crueler form of slavery called sharecropping.  

With signed papers from the Army allowing the Rutherford’s to gather and drive what cattle they could find out of Texas to market, Slim Jim gathered a group of out of work Texas cowboys as his chosen employees. Hiring these Texans rankled the Army Commander but he was legally unable to stop it. In response though, certain restrictions were placed on the Texas cowboys. Unable to carry guns, permanently leave Texas and required to sign papers of loyalty to the Federal Government, the out of work cowboys went ahead and threw themselves fully into their job which made Slim Jim proud of each and every one. The cow hands took to liking Slim Jim and treated their first and only female trail cook, Sally, as they would their own kin. Within three years the Rutherford Ranch, called the Bar None Zero, was in the black and a little one was expecting to grace the Ranch’s presence before winter’s end.

 

After reading the news article to Sally, Jim set the newspaper aside and reached over to clasp his pregnant wife’s hands across the breakfast table. “Don’t worry none dear, your brother Jed’s been keeping us secretly informed of matters and I’m sure he’d let us know if they were to head our way. And look outside. We got over forty hands working for us, you think they’d sit still while your brothers wrecked havoc here? Why I pity the man who’d go up against this group of Texans!”

Smiling at the thought, Sally squeezed Slim Jim’s hand three times quickly. It was their way of saying, “I love you”. The answer came back to her in four quick squeezes, “I love you too!”

A bulky form suddenly filled the kitchen doorway. The two looked up seeing Biscuit, the camp cook that replaced Sally on cattle drives. “Folks?” With hat in hand he asked, “Are you needin’ anything else? If not, I’m gonna clean up here an head on into town.  I got some purchases to make an’ my hair an’ beard could use a trimmin’.”

Jim looked up at the grizzled character blocking the doorway as he stood rubbing his beard as if it were growing longer as he spoke.  Smiling slyly Jim asked, “Why Biscuit, I believe it was just last Saturday that you got trimmed up! I’ve never known you to get a haircut more’n twice a year. This doesn’t have anything to do with widow Johnston does it?”

Turning red faced, Biscuit harrumphed loudly then with false bravado replied, “Well… maybe it does an’ maybe it don’t! None a your business any hoo. Besides, the widow Johnston wouldn’t take kindly to hear the two of you flappin’ your jaws about her love life, hurrumph!”

Chuckling, Jim replied, “Give her our regards.

Suddenly Sally stood up at the table, “Oh, Biscuit, I’ve just been reminded, I have something for you. Here, let me get it.”

Looking in question at Jim, Biscuit shrugged asking. “Wonder what she got fer me?”

Sally quickly returned with a small parcel wrapped in brown paper. Handing the package to Biscuit she exclaimed, “I mistakenly ordered two of these from Humbolts Emporium. Jim has plenty and I couldn’t figure a finer time or a more deserving person to give it to.”

Unwrapping the string tied package, Biscuit unrolled it into the palm of his hand. “Why I’ll be! A bottle of hair tonic! Bay Rum no less! Why thankee deeply. It’s been years since I had some a this. Dang barber in town don’t use it, instead he splashes on that terrible smelling Hoyt’s trash. Smells like a French Mad’am if you git my point. Why back in the day, I can remember when lookin’ good meant a smidgeon of wagon wheel grease combed into your hair an’ some Mum tonic rubbed around your pits!  Why it put off takin’ a bath for a month or more! Still, I am quite particular to Bay Rum though, it shore will come in handy this afternoon!”

After Biscuit had cleaned up the breakfast mess and rode on into town, Jim pulled Sally aside as they walked outside onto the porch. “Hair tonic? Bay Rum? Sally, Bay Rum is an aftershave, sure it smells good but it’s really meant to keep any infection starting from shaving cuts. Biscuit has a beard, he never shaves!”

Sally stopped and chuckled saying, “If I went and bought him a man’s parfume so he’d smell good for widow Johnston, do you really believe he’d splash it on before visiting her? Not on your life. Much to womanly smelling, but a hair tonic is another thing all together. A man can smell like Bay Rum and still be a man. Who cares if he wears it on his head or in his beard? At least Biscuit won’t smell like baked beans and coffee grounds!”

“Good point dear, good point.”

 

 

The weeks passed uneventfully and a few spring crocus were starting to poke their heads above the melting snow.  In March, Sally gave birth to a chubby baby boy whom they named after Slim Jim’s father Joseph. Widow Johnston accepted Biscuits proposal of marriage and they asked Jim and Sally if the two of them could be taken on as the ranch cooks. Biscuit said he’d continue on as the trail or wagon cook and Belinda, his wife could replace Sally in her own kitchen. They reasoned doing so would free up Sally to tend to her child. It was agreed upon that shortly after their marriage, Biscuit and Belinda would take up permanent residence upstairs in the unoccupied portion of the house. A rear stairway leading from the upstairs hall down to the kitchen was installed so Belinda could start her four am day without disturbing the child. Nothing further had been heard from Jed regarding her sibling’s whereabouts so the fear of them showing up in Texas was put on the slow burner.

The Bar None Zero ranch became a beehive of activity just days after the baby Joseph was born. The activity wasn’t due so much from his birth but rather the time of the year. It was time to start getting a herd together for the drive to the Kansas City stockyards. Forty cowhands at first sight seems to be a large number of hands until they get broken into groups and sent in different directions gathering cattle. Some men headed south into the rocky desert while others headed east and west. The idea being that each group would gather as many unbranded cattle as could be found, brand them with the Bar None Zero brand and then drive them up to Amarillo to the tall grassy plains where the Bar None Zero sat. Once at the Bar None Zero, the herd would be divided into breeding stock and those that were going to market. Breeding stock included new born calves and their mama’s. Calves slowed down a drive and many never made it to market due to dehydration, lack of grass or predators. It just wasn’t worth the effort or expense loss so calves would have to wait until a later drive or used as breeding stock. Young bulls needed to be castrated before rejoining the herd. Even then it took some time for their natural sex drives to settle down so working with them was a chancy affair at best. Many a horse and rider were gored or trampled as a result of these amorous passions so cowboys had to be extra alert to his surroundings.

By the middle of April a decent sized herd had been gathered for the drive. The Bar None Zero now had a total stock of over five thousand head. It was decided that 2,400 of these were going to market. If the herd loss could be kept to below four hundred, it would put the Rutherford’s so well into the black that folks might even consider them pretty well off. 

The night before the drive was to start, Slim Jim kissed Sally goodbye and rode out to where the hands kept watch over the herd. Approaching one of the night riders, Slim hallowed him using a sing song voice to prevent the herd from catching a fright and starting a stampede. Newly gathered herds were the most skittish as no leader had yet come forward. It might be days on the trail before a natural leader showed itself and took charge of the herd and controlled their direction and moodiness.

 

The lone cowboy nodded his head towards Slim Jim and quietly replied, “Evenin’ Boss.”

Sidling up next to the man called Frank, Slim waited for the cowboy to continue.

“Been quiet for the most part.” Frank said, “ A few were buttin’ heads but that was during daylight. We’re keeping the herd moving in a slow circle until the moon comes up. Once they can see again and see there ain’t no predators about they’ll calm down even more. How’s the miss’s and baby doing?”

“Both are fine, thanks for asking’. By the way,  is Biscuit’s chuck wagon nearby, I could use some coffee.”

“He’s about a mile and a half east of here by Old Woman’s Creek boss. Because of the noise his pots an’ pans make gettin’ banged around while cooking, he decided to set up camp far enough away to keep the cattle from ’catchin’ a fright. You can’t miss the sight of his cook fire or for that matter, just lift your nose an’ you’ll smell his coffee.”

Chuckling lightly, Slim quietly said after taking a long inhaled breath through his nose, “By golly, you’re right, I do smell coffee!  It’s going to be a long night and even longer day tomorrow. Unless you got a couple toothpicks to prop open my eyes with, I’m gonna go and get me a mug of that eye opener. See you’ later Frank.”

Biscuit was busy cleaning up from the last shift of cowboys to eat their dinner. Two, 2 gallon coffee pots hung over the cook fire. Slim dismounted, secured his mare to the wagon’s wheel and strode over to the fire.

Pointing to the hanging pots he asked, “Which ones ready?”

“The one on the right has some left in it, the left ones almost done. If I were you, I’d give it a few and get a mug of the fresh stuff.”

“Thanks, I’ll wait then. It’s got egg shells in it?”

Biscuit stopped his washing of a large pot and stood facing Slim with hands on his hips. “How long have I been cookin’ fer ya’ an’ how many times you gonna ask me that?  ‘Course they got egg shell in’em! An’ until you start buyin’ me some a them Arbuckle beans, they always will.”

“Your wife said even with Arbuckles, the coffee’s better with shell in them. I’m not arguing, just repeating what Belinda told me.”

“Well, that’s ‘cause back at the house she feeds you that girly coffee.”

“Girly coffee? You mean because she adds a bit of sugar and cream to it, it’s now girly coffee?”

Hiding a twinkle in his eye, he replied. “Sure! Men don’t drink coffee with cream an’ sugar in it! Why next she’ll be servin’ ya’ll them Englishy crumpets and those sconey things!”

 Grabbing the coffee pot tilter hanging over the fire, Slim poured himself a large tin mug of the brew. “Well God forbid you ever eat anything more than beans and biscuits!” He laughed.

“What’s wrong with my biscuits? You sure are startin’ this drive off wearin’ the wrong pair a boots if you’re gonna now complain about my biscuits! And, you know I make the best beans in all a Texas.”

To himself Jim quietly mumbled while shaking his head, “It’s like talking to a fence post for all the good it does.”

“What’s that you say?”

“Nothing, just thinking out loud, that’s all.”

“Well, while you’re settin’ there with your mind all noisey like, let me tell you where tomorrow night’s rendezvous is. Since we’ve done this trail a bunch times before, you might remember that little box canyon about 10 miles east of here? Well, I figure with the cattle well fed and watered, it should be no problem getting’ the herd that far, besides, it’s pretty flat land from here to there. I’ll set up camp in front of the canyon that way you can keep the remuda corralled inside it.”

“Great, leave a full pot for the night riders when you turn in.”

“I always do, don’t I boss?”

It took Biscuit less than four hours to make the next day’s rendezvous location and set up camp for the evening meal. After unhitching the team, as required in order for the riders to know where they were, Biscuit lifted the wagon tongue to point at the North star. The camp cook had to keep ahead of the drive by using a leap frog motion. This meant it was he who determined the distance the herd traveled and its route each day. Of course it was the trail boss who really set the parameters but it was left up to the trail cook to determine the exact location of each evenings stopping point. Ahead of the cook rode the scout. It was his job to find water holes, fresh grass and any obstacles the herd might run into. The information he found was then passed onto the cook and the trail boss.  Behind the chuck wagon rode the trail boss, point rider or both. The point rider rode at the head of the herd and micro managed the drives direction that the trail boss decided upon. The steering of the herd was the job of the swing riders who were placed near the front of the herd on each side. Behind the swing riders were the Flank. They kept the herd bunched when needed or rode the length up and down to keep cattle from straying. The worst job and normally left up to green horns was the drag rider. Drag riders followed the herd from behind. They kept the herd pushed forward, they also ate the most dust. Graduating to the flak position a drag rider was then considered a working cowboy.

 

 The remuda or horse herd (of Spanish origin meaning change of horses), was kept away from the piercing horns of the cattle by being positioned off to one side. These cowboys in charge of the remuda were called Wranglers. Their job was to make sure the horses stayed healthy, well watered and fed. Any horse or mule doctoring needed being done was left up to the remuda boss.

It was on the third day that shortly after setting up for the evening camp, a rider hailed from a safe distance to warn the camp of his approach. As normal, Biscuit was alone at the time but knew the herd was not for off. This meant the trail boss, or point rider was probably with the range of gunfire. Biscuit hailed back and shouted, “Dismount and git yourself some coffee friend!”

The rider turned out to be Captain Oswald sent by Commander Wilcox, the Army commander and Federal overseer out of Fort Worth.

The lone Captain dismounted then turned south to whistle loudly. Within a minute, six other riders could be made out in the oncoming darkness. “Can my men get a mug also? We’re pretty worn out but worse, my man inadvertently left behind the sack of Arbuckles at the Fort”

“Why shore Cap’n, There’s a bunch a clean mugs in that hinged crate over there. Are ya’ passin’ through or need I ride out an’ get the trail boss?”

“If he’s nearby, it can wait. We’ll make camp here with you all tonight anyway. We’re about done in with today’s heat and all.”

Biscuit nodded, “Yep, it shore is a hot one for just bein’ spring, had to be in the high eighties. Why I remember once back in… oh maybe around late Seventy something, it got so hot my biscuit flour cooked itself in the sack and there was no need for a coffee fire neither! I just threw some grounds in the coffee pot an’ walked away. The men’s mugs never cooled off, we had hot coffee the whole night!”

Knowing a tale when he heard one, Captain Oswald just chuckled.

 

Chapter 3

One of the soldiers who had been relaxing in a lounging manner with his coffee, suddenly sat upright shouting.“I think I hear them comin Cap! Yep, here they come.”

Within an hour the herd had been circled and calmed, the remuda roped off and the hands that were not on duty were gathered around eating a hot meal of beans and beef.

Upon seeing the Captain, Slim Jim introduced himself. After a short time of small talk the Captain got to the point. “Seeing that you all hired Texans for this drive, I’ll be needing to see the men’s paperwork before you leave Texas.”

It rankled Slim to see his men treated this way, them being as American anybody else but he decided to let it ride and yelled for his men to get their permission papers out. Each man handed the Captain his paperwork of allegiance.

“The captain took them and carefully inspected each one. “Well,” He finally said, “Everything looks in good order. Your men can return to whatever they were doing, sorry for the inconvenience but I’m only doing following orders.”

“Sure, no hard feelings Captain.”

The experience left a sour taste in each mans throat though. The Captain, feeling the mood of the Texans and himself getting uncomfortable, ordered his men to set up that night’s camp on a small bluff away from the cowboys camp.

Later, he returned. “Mister Rutherford? May I speak to you in private?”

Slim Jim tossed the last of his coffee away and stood up saying, “Sure, take a walk with me. I enjoy the night sounds other than cattle bellowing in my ears.”

The two walked past the small bluff where Jim could see the soldiers tents had been set up. The white peaked tops stood reflecting the rising moonlight. A lone coyote began singing and soon others joined in his chorus. Night birds could be heard fluttering in and out of the cactus tops and brush. It truly was a magnificent night and Captain Oswald said so.

“It sure is a beautiful country, Texas. I’m from Louisiana myself. My folks were raised in the bayou swamps and that’s where they raised me. They were French Creole from back in the early days of the Country. They sent me away to boarding school and then to military school in Virginia. I’m a true Southerner Mister Rutherford and it pains me to see my neighbor Texans treated as they are. I sincerely apologize for forcing your men to prove their American loyalty. Davey Crockett and Jim Bowie must be turning in their graves over this mess”

“Yeah, I’m originally from the Arizona Territory myself,” Jim said, “I worked most my life on ranches up near the Rim just south of the canyon. It was a blessing I hailed from another State than Texas, it gave my wife and I a chance to seek our fortune here where Texans couldn’t. I felt bad seeing some of the best cow punchers I’ve ever seen having to take any job offered. Cattle is what most all of them know. They’re not used to even walking on foot some of them. They grew up sitting on a horse. That’s why when I saw a way around the law, I hired them straight off. I know it mightily peeved the Commander but he was bound by the law to let me have my Texans.”

“You mentioned you are married, you still that way?”

“Oh yes, and happy about it too. We eloped when the two of us was working for the Hash…er a cattle ranch up near Holbrook back then.”

“Holbrook you say? I heard some news from over that way. I was within earshot of my Commander and a U.S, Marshal when I overheard some talk about Holbrook They were talking about a group of no goods having left the Holbrook area and might be headed into Texas. It seems this group is led by three brothers and one of them is over the cliff crazy like. I heard that the crazy one murdered a few folks over nothing! It seems they were just minding their own business and for no reason the man guns them down in cold blood. The men weren’t even together, just walking the same boardwalk. Then as he left town he put fire to the new Methodist Church being built there and then shot the knees off its Pastor as he ran out to fight the blaze.”

During this time Slims stomach dropped to the ground. It could only be Crete and Sally’s brothers!

“Did they say anything more, like where they were headed to when they left Holbrook.”

“Not really, I heard they only returned to Holbrook to tie on a drinking binge. The Marshal said his men have tracked them all over the Territory and New Mexico and were only hours behind them when cleared out of Holbrook. One things for sure. They won’t find a safe place anywhere in the Arizona Territory or New Mexico for all the killing they’ve done in both places. I’m figuring that’s why the Marshal went and paid a visit to the Commander, he must figure they’re headed for the safety of Texas since they’re not wanted here yet.”

Now Jim’s stomach really churned. If the trio should make their way anywhere near Amarillo, then they’ll be sure to come upon the Bar None Zero Ranch and Sally.

“Now that I’ve spilled the beans about this group of rustlers, this is the real reason I was sent to check your men’s paperwork. We wouldn’t want them escaping the law under the cover of assumed names. I doubt you’ll run across them but if you hear anything of value along the way on your drive, would you send a message regarding such information to Commander Wilcox at Fort Worth?”

“Absolutely.”

“I am taking my men up to the border. When you get there we’ll meet up and I’ll escort you across and out of Texas. We won’t be there when you return of course so that means it’ll be up to you to sign the men in at Fort Worth upon your return.”

Slim absently replied, “Of course.”

The two casually walked back to the bluff where they parted ways. In the morning, the soldiers packed up and continued on their way without further conversation with the cowboys.

Slim Jim Rutherford was in a quandary. By law, he had to be with his Texans the entire trip, going there and back to insure their return. On the other hand, he needed to get back to the ranch as fast as possible and warn Sally and the others of the possible approach of the three brothers. If he were to leave and the Texan’s were stopped, then they would face jail time along with himself, for not being in their presence when they re-crossed the border upon their return.

Pulling a trail map from one of the many compartments within the Chuck Wagon, Jim unfolded the map and taking a ruler, tried to determine how many miles it was to the Oklahoma Territory border. The border lay between six and eight miles ahead, almost a full day away. Still, if he were to see the men over the border he could possibly sneak back into Texas unseen and speedily ride his way back to his ranch. After he returned, he could fortify his place, make plans or even get Sally away from there before Crete and his brothers showed up. Nodding to himself he knew that was the way it had to be but first he needed to take Biscuit and the point rider into his confidence.

 

Chapter 4

Biscuit sat there stunned.”Boss, you sure lead an interesting life, yes you do! How is it I figured the two of you to be just a pair of easy going married folk that never saw nothin’ more exciting than a dust devil or two? Why them brothers of hers is three of the biggest outlaws alive!”

The point rider Jason shrugged and said. Whatever you want us to do we’ll do Boss. I see no problem in getting to Kansas City or even back again without you. On the other hand, I know we’ll be required to stop in at Fort Worth and see the Commander to show we’re all accounted for. That’s the only problem that I can see. Maybe you can get on down to Fort Worth in time to meet up with us…if everything goes well back at the ranch. Besides, Texas is a big Territory, I bet your in-laws never even get close to you or up to Amarillo.”

“I wish that were true but the fact is the oldest brother Jed knows where we live. I’ve trusted him over the years and until now there’s been no reason to fear that he spilled the beans as to Sally and my whereabouts to his siblings. That changed I guess when the Marshal Service started hunting them down for murder. I’m figuring they’ll want to use my ranch to hole up at. Damn it!”

Biscuit rose up brushing his pant legs saying, “Come what may, I still got forty odd hands to feed tonight, I need to be goin or the men will go hungry. Jason, you too, let’s get movin’, there ain’t nothin’ more we can do sitting’ here blabbin’ about it!”

Jim also rose, “Biscuits right, start the drive. I’ll just have to do what I think I can get away with. I’ll decide something before we reach the Oklahoma border later today.”

Saying that, the men parted ways to start the days drive.

 

 

 “Borders just ahead Boss” Shouted Jason, “I can see the soldiers too.”

It took nearly three hours for the cattle and men to cross the border. There was no creek or sign to notify a soul they had just crossed the border. Instead, a soldier sat staring into a sextant as if he were onboard a ship. Earlier that day, the scout and chuck wagon had made the crossing. They were now a few miles ahead and pointed towards the east. From this point they would head east across the Western and Chisholm trails which headed north to the rail yards in Dodge City and Wichita. The last and final trail would be the Shawnee. At that point they would turn onto this trail and head north to the stock yards in Kansas City. The Bar None Zero would have to drive their cattle without the benefit of the rail road because of their sheer volume. Having over 3,400 head sent by rail meant many more deaths than the Rutherford’s could afford to lose. While rail was faster, it also meant losing control of your entire herd. It was up to others to feed, water and make sure no one rustled your stock. This skepticism was well founded. There was more than one herd that arrived at the yards having a different owner than the one that shipped them.

Once safely across and out of sight of the Captain and his men, Jim rode parallel to the border and re-crossed it five miles from where the Captain remained camped. If Jim was lucky, the troops would wait a day or two to rest up before heading back south to Fort Worth. This would give him ample time to skirt their line of sight and make his way back to Amarillo.

A Bar None Zero ranch hand out gathering strays saw Jim driving his horse hard as he headed towards the ranch gate. With foam flying from its mouth, the sweat drenched flanks glistened in the afternoon sun as if they were mirrored. Racing after his Boss, the man on a fresh mount still could not catch up to Jim. It wasn’t until Jim had stopped and dismounted at the ranch house before the hand caught up to him.

“Boss! What’s goin’ on? What’re you doin’ back here? Where’s the herd?”

“Too many questions right now, just hang here a bit until I come out. Take care of my mount, no water yet, she’s too hot, just walk her and give her a good rub down first, then water but only a small amount at first.”

“Sure Boss, I know what to do, she’s in good hands.”

With that, Jim took two steps at a time as he made his way up the porch. Just then Sally appeared holding the baby in the doorway. “Jim! What’s wrong?”

Over a cup of coffee and some pie Jim explained all he had heard from captain Oswald. Sally outwardly looked calm but Jim noted she had lost all the color in her face. She waited until Jim had finished then spoke.

“Jim, you have no choice, Crete will kill the two of us if you don’t kill him first.”

“But Sally, he’s your brother!”

Crete made his bed, now he must lie in it. You can’t call the law, they’d discover you have left the Texans and would arrest you and them. For their sake and ours, please, do what you know you need to do.”

“What about Jedediah and Ezekiel, am I to kill them too?” Jim asked, hoping she’d say no.

“That will have to wait to be seen, that’s all I can say. It mortifies me to ask you to do this but I’ve run this scenario through my mind many times over the last couple of years. We have a family now, many men depend on their wages from us. We have too many responsibilities to let my insane brother take all that away. If Jed and Zeke didn’t do anything to stop him by now, they won’t after they arrive here either. I believe all of my brothers have gone to the bad. If the law were to catch up to them, they’d all hang for their crimes. Is it a sin then to act in a like manner? I believe not.”

That evening Jim gathered the remaining hands and explained the situation. “We have no idea if there are others that ride with them. For all we know it could be just the three or it might be thirty, we have no idea. What we need to do is to plan for the worst and hope for the best. There are seven of us here not counting Sally and the baby. What edge we have is that they have no idea we know they are coming.

Looking at the gathered group Slim Jim told them. “Keep your side arms handy loaded and worn at all times. You men who have saddle rifles make sure they’re in their holsters if you have to ride off anywhere. I know this will test your morality a might but this is a life or death situation, shoot first and ask questions later. Just because these men are Sally’s brothers doesn’t mean a hoot. They’re wanted for murdering innocent folk and if they make it here to the ranch, your lives won’t be worth a plug nickel. No matter what, don’t let ‘em start talking to you, crazy men can make a heap of sense and they’re capable of talking the skin off a snake.”

The group nodded heads as one. They had lived on the range long enough to accept that sometimes there was no other way and killing must be done. This part of Texas had no Law, other than the Army out of Fort Worth and they held little concern for local problems unless directed by their superiors back in Washington.

“I want two men to go with me. I figure if they come to Texas it won’t be through the desert but along the Canadian. Two of us will scout along the Canadian, if we run into them, the third person high tails it back here for reinforcements.  Phil? Why don’t you take Erney here and saddle us up the horses? Make sure you hang a holster for a long gun on your saddle too. We’ll head out in a half hour.”

In a short time Phil and Erney sat on horseback ready to leave. Slim Jim exited the house in front of Sally who was carrying the baby. With his horse held between the other two riders, Slim mounted after kissing Sally. Without further word, they rode off west towards Tascosa and the Canadian.

 

Chapter 5         

Crete woke up with a stiff neck. Grumbling as he twisted his neck to and fro he wandered behind a large group of boulders to relieve himself. It had been a long ride through New Mexico but by noon the small group of hardened men should make it to the border of Texas.

 When he returned to the camp, the others were awake and getting a morning meal started. Six men were left following the three brothers making the group nine in all. Crete wanted to get rid of a few of them from the group. He told Jed and Zeke that their mother had visited him and told him that three of them would end up betraying them.

“Which three?” asked Zeke.

 Neither Jed nor Zeke believed their mother spoke in Crete’s dreams to him and that any vision was fabricated within his own mind. “Besides,” Jed told Zeke under his breath, “Ma ain’t dead yet and although we know Mormons believe in an afterlife, we also was taught there weren’t no such thing as ghost. Crete’s vision’s is from bein’ teched in the head, nothin’ more.”

With a cutting side glance, Crete stopped to look at his two siblings asking them, “Why do you want to know? You gonna warn ‘em or something? I’ll tell you which three!”

Walking away from the cook fire, he removed his pistol from its holster, spun the cylinder to make sure he was fully loaded and turned around. Facing the group of breakfast occupied men, he raised his pistol and calmly began pulling the trigger. Crete may have been insane but his craziness had no affect on his crack shot abilities. Within seconds three innocent men tumbled to the earth.

“What the hell are you doing?” Zeke shouted at him as he ran to disarm his brother. Out of the corner of his eye, Crete judged the closing distance of his brother, then turned and fired point blank into his head.

Watching Zeke’s body collapse and fall forward into the camps fire, the last of the three followers in stunned disbelief threw up their hands in surrender.

Jed stood speechless half expecting Crete’s gun to turn his way.

Holstering his weapon, Crete spoke to the remaining group members. “Naw, the rest of you’s is alright. Put your hands down, ya’ look stupid sittin’ there like bunch a school children! Unless Mama tells me different, them three I shot is the ones that was going to turn us over to the law.”

One hardened man slowly rose. “That is my cousin you just plugged! Weren’t no way he woulda’ turned on us. Your Mama ain’t said shit you idiot! You’re just plain crazy and I’m cuttin’ my ties with you all here and now.”

Calmly, Crete shrugged his shoulders and simply said, “Alright,” then lighting fast pulled his iron and fired the last remaining two bullets into the man’s chest.

With six pulls of the trigger, five men lay dead, one his brother and three loyal followers.

 

“If’n anybody else is upset enough to pull iron on me, remember, I also carry this.” Removing a small caliber pistol from a hidden holster from behind his back, he brandished the small but deadly weapon in front of the men. As he waved the gun about, his face took on the evil expression that Jed was so used to seeing. Crete began to breath hard and saliva began to leak from his mouth like a panting dog.

Turning to face Jed, a large glob of foamy slobber dripped out from Crete’s mouth onto his vest. Using his sleeve, Crete ineffectively wiped the foamy saliva from his face. “I told ya’ll that I hated each ‘an every one of you! Remember brother, Sally and you ain’t immune to my hate neither! After we get to Texas and find where her an’ that bastard Slim Jim is holed up at, I’m gonna deal with ‘em like Mama told me to!”

“And ruin our only means avoiding the law? We ain’t wanted in Texas for no crime. If you kill them, it won’t be but a short time before them Texas Rangers are on our tail. They’re like she badgers, they never give up once they got your scent.”

“I don’t give no hoot about any Texas Rangers, they ain’t no where’s near as smart as I am! Have we been caught up with yet? No! You know why? Because Mama watches over me, that’s why!”

“Is Mama dead that she speaks to you Crete? Last we heard she ‘an Paw were doin’ their Mormon thing and was alive an’ well.”

“Mama ain’t never gonna die Jed, she leaves her soul come night and lays down next to me. She tells me all the secrets you and others been hidin’ from me, she knows everything. She told me Zeke needed to die but never said when. It just happened that it was his time. Mama keeps some stuff to herself.”

Zeke was your brother, her son. Do you really believe she wanted him dead? Why would she want that?”

Crete snarled, “Because she only loved me, that’s why!”

At that instant, Jed knew his brother meant to kill him as he did Zeke, without remorse.

 

The four men made their way into Texas from New Mexico using the Canadian River as their guide just as Jim thought they would. Crete, now heading up the gang unopposed, decided to shy away from the larger town of Tascosa and instead opted to make camp just outside the tiny burg of Cheyenne alongside the Canadian River. Without him knowing it , this placed him only twenty miles from the Bar None Zero Ranch. That night under the cover of a sliver moon night, the two remaining gang members slid out unseen into the surrounding desert.

A grey streak on the Eastern skyline announced the coming dawn. It was then that the already high strung and paranoid Crete discovered the missing men.

“They’s gone!” He yelled to his still sleeping brother. “We gotta get outa’ here, I know they’ll tattle on our whereabouts fer sure! Listen… is that horses I hear? Yes? No?”

Jed, alert now, stood up to listen. “Naw, there ain’t no horses.”

“Are you sure?” A look that changed from near panic to suspicion came over Crete. “Maybe there is horses comin’! Maybe you told those two to high tail outa’ here. Maybe you an’ them are in cahoots with each other an’ I’m bein’ left holdin’ the bag while you all set me up for capture. While you all escape”

Suddenly Jed looked past where Crete stood and pointed. “Look, their horses are still tied to the highline between them two trees! That means they left on foot.”

Searching where the men’s bedrolls had been, they saw the two large canteens the group had were missing, along with the only rifle the group had.

The sudden change in the situation seemed to sober Crete up somewhat. “Well, for sure, the two couldn’t have gone far, most likely they either made their way into Cheyenne but more likely they are on their way to Tascosa. We should take the horses and circle around south of Tascosa then enter town from the east. They’ll most likely be keeping a lookout expecting us to come in from the west.”

Crete looked skyward at the rising sun and blew heavily through parsed lips. “Mind you Jed, this don’t mean we’s done with what was started between us brother. One of us is going to die, Mama told me that but she didn’t say which one of us. I’m makin’ sure I’m the one who walks away.”

 

Chapter 6

Slim, along with riders Phil and Erney sat in their saddle overlooking the Canadian river outside of the town of Tascosa. The town wasn’t much as large towns went. Unlike the crowded mountain towns or large cities, the buildings had plenty of empty space between them. Few good sized trees existed as most were cut down for building lumber. What trees existed were misshapen or stunted. In contrast to the bland town, the valley the town lay in was a cattleman’s dream having tall grass, good water and plenty of both. As desirable as the land was to others, it held little interest for Jim. He knew that if the brothers came by the Canadian River, they would most likely stop here. He regretted ever trusting Jed, the eldest of Sally’s brothers with the information of the Bar None Zero’s location. In all the time that the two had sent secret letters to each other there was never any indication of Jed having gone truly to the bad. On the other hand, Jim and Sally had gained precious information on Crete. By letter, they had watched him deteriorate into lunacy. It was through these letters that especially Sally, had determined that her brother was dangerously insane to the point it was either him or them that would die. She, unlike Crete’s belief, knew it was going to be he that died.

Three groups of men were converging onto the small town at the same time, each using a different route. Entering the town from the west on foot, the two fleeing members of Crete’s gang headed straight for the saloon located in the center of the town. Figuring if Crete was on their tail, he’d start at one end and work his way to the other. If they kept a good eye out, they’d spot him and have time to either ambush him or take cover until in frustration, he left to search elsewhere.

Crete and Jed entered town from the East and true to the ex gang members thinking, started searching from one end and heading to the other. What the two men hiding in the saloon didn’t realize was that while they were correct in pre guessing Crete’s method of search, they didn’t realize the brothers has come in from the opposite end. They realized their mistake when the salons bat wing doors opened and in stepped Crete.

Meanwhile, Crete wasn’t doing so well himself, not that he was aware of this of course. As Crete and Jed circled their approach into town the two made a fatal mistake, that of riding for a short distance along the peak of the Canadians embankment. The two brothers on horseback, along with the two empty saddled horses behind them, stuck out in the slanting late afternoon sun like cut out silhouettes against the backdrop of the flat grassy landscape.

“That’s them!” Whispered Slim. “No mistake, I’d recognize Crete anywhere. He rides all lazy like, and slumped down in the saddle. Let’s pull up just a bit more and ride behind ‘em. The last thing either is going to suspect is us tailing them. We’ll observe where they go and what they’re up to before we make our move. Phil, hold up a might on runnin’ for help. It appears that they’re alone. Those two bare nags behind them must have belonged to a couple of their gang. I bet ten to one the rest took to their heels when they realized their boss was a crazy man!”

It would have been comical if it weren’t so serious. As Crete and Jed stepped into the saloon, just behind them with hats lowered over their eyes, strode in the real man Crete wanted dead, Slim Jim Rutherford, the hated husband of his Sister Sally.

The sound of the batwing doors opening caused the two ex gang members to turn in unison. The one sitting furthest from the door, dropped his beer mug and went for his gun.

The first sight Slim saw on entering the salon behind Crete and Jed was a man standing at the bar raising his iron towards the door they had just come through. Slim yelled “Duck!” Hoping Phil and Erney wouldn’t take the time to size up the reason for his warning, Slim dove to the floor to protect himself and behind him he heard the twin thumps of his two as they too kissed the floor. The single shot that the man at the bar got off caught Jed in the upper leg. Screaming in agony from a shattered thigh bone, Jed fell like a rag doll. With his bleeding brother rolling around screaming, Crete dove to the right. This once again left Slim and his two hands exposed to deadly gun fire. Crete rolled once and in a single motion, stood up and pulled his pistol.  In three rapid shots, Crete expertly blew the shooter clean off his stool.

Unfortunately for Crete, the second ex gang member was now pouring deadly slugs in his direction. Crazed and stumbling forward as if demon possessed, his gun hotly spit lead and fire. Crete’s left ear disappeared from his head then his hat, along with a bloody portion of his scalp. Still, Crete’s aim remained deadly accurate during the smoky barrage and eventually the shooter, bleeding out from multiple holes, rolled backwards off his stool dead.  Making his way jerkily to where the two ex gang members lay, Crete stood tottering over the two like a drunk.  Other than the screaming of Jed, there was no other sound in the saloon.

Fatally shot more than once, Crete fell heavily to his knees. The empty pistol dropped to the floor as Crete’s arms and torso began jerking as if controlled by strings. A loud inhale was heard then his last words gurgled through his blood frothed lips. “Ma ma?”   The sound of Crete’s face smacking itself on the wooden floor ended his fate more solidly than any judges gavel.

In a state of disbelief, the crowd remained silent in the gun smoke filled room. 

 

Slowly, Slim turned to look behind him. Lifting his head cautiously, he asked his men, “You two hit?”

“Nope, not me!” came the reply from Phil as he ended flapping his hands over his body looking for wounds.

 “Me neither Boss, but I need to buy some new under drawers, I believe I’ve gone and filled mine up!”

Suddenly the salon came to life. This was the most excitement this dusty cow town had seen in ages. With whoops and hollers and mouthing gun shots, the patrons began loudly reenacting what they had just witnessed.  No one hurried to drag the bodies outside nor tend to the now unconscious Jed. The bar tender did walk around to the front of the bar to where the two dead gang members were sprawled out on the floor and began going through their pockets. Looking up at the cowboys gazing down at him in repulsed disbelief, he told them, “They owe me for their beers yet!”

Slim made his way over to where Jed silently lay bleeding out from his shattered leg. “Get a Doctor!” He yelled.

A gruff voice behind him made him turn, “Right here Mister, I’m the Doc.”

Looking down at Sally’s brother he asked, “Can you save him? His legs half blowed off!”

“Maybe, but there ain’t no savin’ that leg, it’s a goner fer sure.”

“Do what you can for him, he’s kin.”

Digging into his pocket Slim pulled out a small roll of money. Here’s forty dollars, I’ll come back for him in a few weeks. If that legs to come off, try and get a wooden one on him. There should be more than enough there for everything but if not, I’ll make good on any further debt when I come back.”

“What do you want I should do if he dies?”

“Bury him well and keep what’s left of the money for your services.”

 

Chapter 7

Making his way back to the Oklahoma and Texas border, Slim camped a few miles beyond the bare grassy plain on the Oklahoma side. There he waited for his drive cowboys to return from the trail drive. Luckily, no sign of Captain Oswald or his men were seen. If all went well, he would re-cross the border with his men and with them head to Fort Worth to verify to Commander Wilcox that all the Texans had returned.

Since he had sent Phil and Erney back to the Bar None Zero to tell Sally all that went down, he camped alone.

Back at the Ranch, Sally cried over the deaths of her brothers but knowing their demise was inevitable she didn’t cry for long.

 She asked Phil and Erney if they would return to Tascosa within the next two weeks with a wagon and retrieve her remaining crippled brother Jed, if in fact he had survived.

 If in fact he had survived, the Rutherford’s would be faced with another problem. Fellow ranchers and cattle buyers would then associate Jed with the Hashknife cattle company and the alleged rustling they were being blamed with. Any missing cattle in the area would be blamed on the Bar None Zero Ranch. Just the mere suspicion could destroy all that Slim and Sally had worked so hard for.

 

Three weeks had passed when Slim noticed dark forms moving slowly in his direction from the North east. Knowing this was the same direction that he expected his men to come from his mood lightened at the thought of seeing them and knowing the cattle had made it safely to market. Disappointment did not raise its head as he recognized Biscuit’s chuck wagon. Breaking camp he rode out excitedly to meet them.

Once again united with his men, Slim crossed back into Texas where they headed to Fort Worth. During their ride, the men heard all that had gone on and each night around the campfire that story was all the topic.

Heading south, the group crossed over the Canadian and Red River and when the reached the Brazos they headed Southeast towards Fort Worth. The money made in the large sale would give each man his wage plus a bonus equal to his wages for risking the venture out of Texas. Slim also told them that to prevent his men from being skinned by gamblers, saloon keepers and whores, he had Sally set up each mans bonus in an account at the bank in town. Every bonus a man relieved from now on would be placed within this account which could not be accessed for one full year from the date of its opening. Each man would receive a small ledger book from the bank showing each deposit. Since none of the men had ever had a savings, it was a novelty to them. Some bragged that on the day the money was made available, they’d head into town and experience the biggest blow out ever seen. Most of the men though said they’d like to save up even more for new Mexican made saddles and such.

Fort Worth lay between the Brazos and Trinity rivers just west of the town Dallas. It was an easy trip and uneventful in nature. The four hundred mile trip took twenty one days to complete as the group could only go as fast as Biscuits chuck wagon. The men were festive in nature and had little desire to immediately rush back to start gathering up the next herd. During this time, Slim Jim Rutherford grew to know his men and in return, they him. 

 

A disgruntled, red haired sentry with a scruffy beard stood obediently outside Commander Wilcox’s door. Looking through narrowed eyes at the dusty trail weary man in front of him the sentry crossed his arms on his chest and loudly asked, “Who might you be and state what business you might be having with the Commander!

Slim held his tongue and tried to remain polite. “My name is Jim Rutherford, I just drove a herd of cattle out of Texas to Kansas City using born Texans to do it with. Commander Wilcox ordered me and my Texans to report back just soon as we returned. I’m here to report our return.”

The guard lifted his nose skyward in obvious distain at the thought of Texans making an honest living. Pointing to a row of hard wooden benches placed against the wall the soldier in an obviously Eastern accent sneered, “The Commander is a busy man, he’s all booked up for the next few days. You and your men better get used to ridin’ those benches over there. I’ll add your name to the list of those wanting an audience with the Commander. If for any reason you leave, I’ll remove your name and you’ll be placed at the end of the line again.”

Slim looked around and seeing no one in wait asked, Where are all the others? I don’t see a line anywhere.”

The soldier leaned forward. “There ain’t gotta be one, I make up the line and I say you wait until I’m damn well ready to show you in to see the Commander! If you give me any lip, I’ll add another day’s wait every time you piss me off!”

Slim became red faced and stood with clenched fist going nose to nose with the guard. Just as he was about to speak through his clenched teeth, the door swung violently open and there it stood the Commander whose face was redder than Slims.

“Soldier!” He shouted at the man, “ Did I just hear you right?”

“Yes Sir! Er… no Sir, I mean this man is wasting your time Sir! I’m only trying to keep order here Sir!”

“Order my ass! I bet if I waited a bit longer, I would’ve heard you play this man for a bribe to see me! Am I right Corporal?”

“I can’t rightly say Sir, I’m sorry Sir!”

“Don’t apologize to me Mister, apologize to the man you tried to skunk!”

The sudden change in the man would have been almost humorous if Slim wasn’t so mad at him.

“My deepest apologies Sir, The Commander is not as busy as I thought, he’ll see you now.”

Pointing to the frosted glass door the Commander told the guard, “In the future, you may want to remember  that I can hear every sound made out in this hallway through this thin door soldier, including every word you speak and every bribe you try to make!”

Without accepting the man’s apology, Slim then entered the room behind the Commander.

The Commander showed Slim Jim to a seat and shaking his head said, “I swear, the men they assigned to my post out here are the dregs. At the end of the War, the commanding brass gave out all the good post to the ass kissers and those well connected. Those of us who took the job seriously, like me, ended up in no man’s land babysitting a bunch of misfit lazy men whose only skill is looking for the easiest way out of work.” Settling into his own chair, the Commander looked up pleasantly at Slim asking, “ Now, what can I do for you and your men Sir?”

“As I told your guard Commander, I legally took a group of born Texans across the border and as agreed to, I am here to sign them each back into the State as the Law requires me to.”

“Ah… you’re the one. Captain Oswald sent word that you’d be in to see me. Welcome back.”

“Thank you Sir, I have all the men’s paperwork here.”

Taking the forty some sheets of signed releases from Slim, the Commander laid them on his desk and asked. “Are all the men here? Did you lose any? I mean did any die on the trail?”

“No Sir, not a one. I’ve never seen a group of men as determined to do a job well done as these were.”

“Texans, they sure are a different breed alright. I’ll take your word all is in order. I’ll sign these and absolve the men of any further need to wait to get back home. They’re free to go whenever they want, as you are. Welcome back.”

Stepping back into the outer hall, the reprimanded guard looked away as Slim closed the door behind him. Not wanting to get himself or any of his men in trouble his mind raced as a way to even the score with the obnoxious guard. Knowing any spoken threat or physical action against the man could be considered reason for his arrest, Slim sauntered up and stood closely next to the man. Not knowing what Slims intentions were, the Guard stood silently waiting for Slim to make his move. Suddenly, a loud, wet sounding blast of foul smelling bean fueled pent up intestinal flatulence was expelled. After waiting a few seconds for the foul aroma to escape his britches, Slim calmly walked away. As he and the men walked down the hall towards the main doorway snickering, slim heard loud hearty laughter coming from the Commanders office.

 

Chapter 8

Hugging Slim tightly, Sally had met him as he and the rest of the cowboys rode into the yard. Before he could speak though, Sally pulled him away from the men. “Slim, when Phil and Erney came back with the story of my brothers, I asked them to fetch Jed if he still lived and return with him back here. It may have been a mistake but he’s the only family I have left. He’s not doing well.” She turned and faced the house.

“Jed spends all his time in that wheeled chair contraption staring out the window. He barely eats and refuses to exercise or be fitted for a wooden leg.  He asked me to send you to him when you returned, he’s in the parlor.”

Tired as he was from the long dusty ride, Slim denied himself the few private moments with Sally that he had hoped for. Instead, he slapped off the dust as best he could using his hat and stepped into the house. The coolness of the place surprised and pleased him. After being sun blazed for so long any shade was welcome. The smell of an upcoming noonday meal made its way from out of the kitchen. It was good to be home.

Stepping into the dimly lit parlor, Slim saw Jed in his wheeled chair in front of the window. A Navajo colored blanket covered his lower half. Slim assumed this was because Jed did not want folks to see his stump. Walking quietly up to Jed, Slim spoke.

“Morning Jed, mind if I sit down myself? It’s been a long ride and I’m near done in.” Settling himself heavily into one of the overstuffed chairs, Slim looked the man over sitting next to him. “I see you survived, minus a leg but you survived. I’m not going to pretend I’m pleased to see you here but Sally says you wanted to talk.”

Jed turned his unshaven face away from the window and turned his chair to face Slim. Jed’s demeanor had changed from that of an older wiser brother to that of a broken man. Sad, bloodshot eyes stared back at Slim.

“My coming here wasn’t my idea. Sally insisted and with a missing leg there wasn’t much I could do but be dragged back here by your men.”

Exhaling heavily that almost sounded like a sob, Jed lifted his head saying. “I know what my presence here will do to your operation. For harboring a member of the Hashknife group, even an ex one, you’ll be blamed for every missing cow within a hundred miles. When word gets out what happened up in Tascosa the folks around here will want to finish the job by dangling me from the nearest tree.”

“No one’s gonna’ hang nobody one my spread.”

“It’d be best if they did. No one’s gonna honor your business deals once they find out our relationship. You’re kin and in Texas that means you’re just as guilty as I am. No, I didn’t want to come here. I wanted Sally to be free from her brothers and the bad name we made for ourselves, by whatever means. You gotta send me away, fast, before folks find out just who I am and that I’m here. It’s the only way Slim, the only way.”

I can’t, like you said, like it or not, you’re kin.”

“Slim, I’ve already said my piece to Sally, I’m sorry for not bein’ the brother she needed. To you, I just ask for your forgiveness. I want nothin’ else.”

“If Sally forgave you then who am I to hold a grudge? We’ll think of something. ”

Slim started for the front hall then turned. “I’ll think of something Jed, I’m not sure how to clean up this mess yet but I’m sure there’s a way.”

From inside the parlor Slim heard a soft reply, “There is Slim, there is.”

Thinking Jed had come to grips with the situation and that he’d let Slim and Sally do the thinking, Slim walked out onto the porch where Sally awaited him.

“What did he say?”

“Well, not a lot really. He apologized and felt deeply about not being the kind of brother you deserved but to tell the truth, he seemed more worried about our future with him staying here than even I was. I know it’ll be a rough sell to folks but I can’t just hand him over to any old mob to get hung. He might not be a wanted man in Texas but that won’t stop folks from feeling as they do or even acting on those feelings.”

As they stepped off of the porch and made their way toward the men, Sally placed her arm around Slims waist and drew close to him. “I’m afraid I made a mistake Slim, maybe it would have been best to let nature take its course up in Tascosa and leave him be. No one would have then found out we were related.”

It was the familiar but gut wrenching sound of a single gunshot that caused the two to turn on their heels and face the house.

The men stood motionless, as if glued in place. Suddenly finding his legs, Slim tore into the house on a dead run. Sliding to a halt at the parlors entranceway, Slim saw the blood splattered window and the slumped form of Jed in his wheeled chair.

From behind him, he heard Sally stifle a cry. Turning to look at his wife, he saw her standing at the entranceway with her fist crammed into her mouth as if trying to hold back a scream.

 Wheeler Texas up near Amarillo is not known for its hills but a small rise was found less than a mile from the house to cradle the grave of Jedediah Britchen. It was a better send off than what his two brothers received, for sure.

Slim held Sally close as the rest of the men stood silent. Only a short prayer was offered but before Sally turned from the mound that held her brother she said to it, “In your own way you tried to be the big brother I deserved. You accomplished that. Thank you for your final act. It saved our ranch. You can rest in peace brother.

That day a new iron was added to the familiar Bar None Zero brand. The Resting J.

A Christmas story on Mount Tweto

A Christmas story on Mount Tweto

By J W Edwards

Originally posted on this blog on 01/29/2012

Winter-Creek-Crossing

Dana McClure was pretty. Not only pretty but really darn pretty.

The year was 1876 and Christmas was just a few days away. While most of Mosquito Gulch Colorado was preparing for the festivities soon to come, Dana McClure, the prettiest prostitute in town was running for her life on a horse with a thrown shoe.

Things hadn’t worked out quite the way she planned. Her plan was simple. Get out of town with a load of cash before the Madam knew she had fled and start her life over somewhere else as a respectable lady. Free from the chains of being a kept saloon girl she was young enough to believe she still had a future and was hell bent on finding it.

Three years earlier at the age of 17, Dana had started her ‘employment’ at the Greenhorn Saloon in Mosquito Gulch after the stage she was on was robbed outside of Denver.  Some might have considered her lucky, others not. While the other passengers gave up their belongings and their ghost, Dana was spared the quick death freely given to her fellow passengers. Instead, young Dana became the pleasurable object of the four galoots that held up the stage. When they had decided she had been played out, they left her to the elements.

Jasper Shroud found her. He had left the Bank of Denver the day before after depositing the previous week’s cash that the Greenhorn Saloon had bled from its customers. Whiskey, gambling and a whore house on the 2nd floor made Jasper a rich man. A very arrogant and spoiled rich man. Tossing her into his surrey as one would load a potato sack onto a wagon bed, Jasper grunted his pleasure and continued on his way back to town.

When Dana awoke, it was in a feather bed in a gaudy room consisting of silk wall coverings and velvet curtains.  There she was being tenderly cared for by the Madame of the Greenhorn and a couple of its whores in the ‘Madams’ own room.

Jasper was not caring for her out of the kindness of his heart. In his mind, he had found her, could save her life and get a nice financial return on his ‘investment’ by whoring her out when she recovered. It was not an unusual situation. Many a woman who lost her man on the frontier soon found out neighbors and friends had only so much generosity and resources to help out. The lucky ones with male children remarried within a couple of weeks, the old and infirm soon passed on.  Many younger ones became whores.

For the present, Dana accepted her fate as a whore with the same apparent resignation as many fine Lady’s of the day accepted their ‘duty’ to make sure her man was fed, clothes repaired and his manly desires well taken care of. Looks and love played little part in this arraignment.  It was all about daily survival.

Religion played no part in a whore’s life. God had no role in their daily affairs as he paid attention only to the church going, for they belonged to him, not the whore. There was no hell after death. Hell was now; death was a release from hell. Hell wasn’t for Dana though, she had plans that didn’t include her death.

Each man that shared her bed paid the Madam his dollar before he went upstairs for his hour of lust. If the whore was gooder than good she might find a dime on the table after he had departed. If that dime was not turned over to the Madam, a good old fashioned beating by a burly staff member named Tommy, reminded her that under no circumstances was a whore deserving of more than the Madam provided her.  Each night the girls rotated rooms. This prevented the squirreling away of a hidden cache in loose floorboards, bed frames and such. No whore ever took another whore into her confidence. A whore could never trust another whore to keep her mouth shut. This kept the power of the Madam absolute

On December 20th of ‘76, Dana made her move.

Chapter 2

She was told the night before by Madam that Henry Jason Willard, the eastern rail road mogul of high wealth and high living was passing through Mosquito Gulch on his way to Denver and had requested Dana’s companionship for the entire night. Dana made her preparations. The room was cleaned and sage grass had been burnt in the pot belly stove to cover the smell of the many men that had passed through.

But it wasn’t those preparations that concerned Dana. During her stay at the Greenhorn Saloon she had befriended a young black named Rufus who while not being owned by the Madam and the Saloon, was in fact owned by the Madam and the Saloon. No one suspected the unusual friendship between Dana and Rufus. Not that they were improper with each other mind you, but a whore and a black in 1876 did not strike a friendship. Still they had stolen moments to talk and even more important, dream. Dana spoke of the day she would leave Mosquito Gulch and Rufus had vowed to help her.

A few of Rufus’s duties at the Greenhorn were to remake each bed after use, search for hidden coins left by grateful patrons and report to Madam any whores overheard plans of leaving or skimming cash. Running errands for the whores in town was also one of those duties. Rufus was in a perfect position to give Dana the help she needed that night.

Entering the Saloons bat wing doors wearing a black bowler derby and blue pin stripped suit Henry Jason Willard, announced his arrival. “Drinks are on me until I say!”  Cow punchers, gamblers and whores alike all cheered. Upstairs, Dana made ready her plans.

A light knock grabbed her attention and a young blacks voice quietly whispered, “Good luck Ma’am.” Dana smiled to herself as she headed for the door.

Dana opened the door to find on the floor, a very expensive bottle of Tennessee whiskey, two clean crystal glasses and a bowl of fresh mountain ice resting on a silver server. Beside it lay a small leather pouch that Dana knew contained over 14 dollars in coin. Inside jingled her squirreled savings that had been being secretly held by Rufus. A folded paper note with the single simple word “Chestnut” on it. All was set and in order.

By 10pm, the esteemed Mr. Willard made his way upstairs after a single stimulating game of poker. He lost over Seventy dollars in that short time but showing how unimportant that amount was, he smiled and added another ten to the pot for good measure.

Dana answered the door and invited her Gentleman caller in.

“Oh my sweet dear, you are more than I ever hoped for. My man said you were very young and pleasing to the eye, but I never imagined this grunt town would ever produce a fine a whore as you.” Whether it was meant as a compliment or an unsavory remark Dana did not know, nor did she care.

In her best imitation of an awe struck fickle Lady, Dana responded, “I am pleased you find me desirable sir, I am yours for the taking but first let me pour you a glass of fine a whiskey as can be found west of the Tennessee Mountains.” Holding up the glass she offered, “Ice?”

It was the ice. Laced with a horse sedative Mr. Willard was soon drugged. She had managed to get him partway onto the bed before his lights went out. Appearing as a child saying his nightly prayers, He knelt bedside snoring. Dana could not contain her hatred.  She pulled down his drawers exposing his bare behind. With a sharp knife, she engraved her name, date and the name of the Saloon into his hide. He represented every man that had come into her room, except for one. That one, who told her his name was Ben Toker she believed was different.  Against her better judgment, Dana had secretly loved him as much as he had openly loved her. Because he did so openly, Madam soon found out, Dana feared for her lovers life and to save him she ran him off.  Shaking her head as if to clear her mind, she reminded herself she could not think of him now. Instead, she had to prepare for her departure from Mosquito Gulch and the Greenhorn Saloon.

With no moon out to help light her way, Dana climbed out of her window using the 15 foot fire escape rope. No luggage was taken as whores had no luggage. Tucked beside her breast lay the pouch containing now over 200 dollars, most in gold double eagles. These being a ‘gift’ from Mr. Willard that he would not be aware of until tomorrow…along with a carved ass that was going to be very difficult to explain to his very rich and jealous wife back east.

Chapter 3

Making her way through the darkened alleyways she finally made it to the livery stable. It was now past 3 am but a slight knock on the big sliding carriage door brought a very wide awake Black liveryman to her

“Night Ma’am, be quiet now. My nephew Rufus done tol’ me you was comin’ an I need be ready when yo got here.”

“Unfolding the paper handed it to him and said to him, “Rufus gave me this, I am assuming it’s about a horse for me?”

“Yes’m, It means you done bought an’ got papers fo’ “Chestnut”, a fine strong horse Ma’am.  Realizing Rufus had somehow paid for the horse and tack out of his own meager savings, Dana opened her top and being careful to not expose her breast, pulled forth the money pouch. Taking a hundred dollars out in double eagles, she handed the gold coins to the Rufus’s uncle. “Please, give these to Rufus, I owe him my life.”

“I will do dat Ma’am, he a good boy, shore is a good boy. Shore is a lot of money here Ma’am, you shore ‘bout dis?” Satisfied she had not made a mistake, he walked over to the tack room, there he removed a saddle, blanket and saddle bags. “In dem bags be some men’s drawers and stuff he got fo’ you. Yo’ need to change into dem to fool anybody dat might see’s you leave here. I’ll burn yo dress and ladies stuff in da lit stove Ma’am so’s dey ain’t found.”

“Thank you, both you and Rufus are a Godsend.”

The old black turned to her and stopped short.  Wrinkling his forehead as if thinking, he approached Dana. “ Rufus done pray fo’ you, you know dat? He tell me he do dat each an’ ery night. He do pray fo’ you Ma’am. He say God love you an’ da Lord tol’ him to do dis stuff he doin’ fo’ you. God say he protect yo’. He say you be Gods special child. Da Lord done tol’ him all a dat.”

Dana did not know what to say in return because she wasn’t sure she even believed in God anymore. Still, she held the old black mans words in her heart. She knew now why Rufus would risk his life for her.

Dressed and mounted as a man, she nodded and tipped her brimmed hat at the liveryman as she left quietly into the night. Once out of town she broke the chestnut mare into a gallop.

Chapter 4

Figuring Dana had a good five hour head start, Rufus  informed both Madam and Jasper Shroud that after multiple tries, that morning no one was answering his knocks at her door. Their repeated knocks brought no answer either. Trying the knob, Jasper found the lock was jammed. “Give me room, I’m gonna bust down the door” he told Madam and a few of the whores that had gathered. Shouldering the door pretty hard brought no result and afraid of harming himself he told the whore at the top of the stairs to get Tommy to break down the door.

It took Tommy only one kick and the door broke inward off its hinges. The small group stood staring wide eyed into the room at the scene before them. There, still kneeling at the bedside was the powerful Henry Jason Willard with his head still resting on the mattress before him. With his drawers pulled down, everyone starred at the dried bloody carvings etched into his backside.

Reacting to the scene as if gut punched, Jasper stumbled backwards out into the hall holding his head. “Oh my God, What did she do?  What did that idiot whore do to him?”

Jasper knew the trouble he and the Greenhorn Saloon were in. There was no way Mr. Willard would let this pass without retribution on a major scale. “He’ll not only take it out on us but the entire town’s gonna’ pay for this. Let him lay a minute, I need to think this out before trying to rouse him”.

After a few seconds, the fog of shock drifted off and Jasper began giving orders.”Tommy, you and Madam  saddle up some horses for us, we’re going to find the Whore Dana. Go hire that Indian tracker if she left town.” Walking into the room, he spied the empty whiskey glass. The bowl of ice had melted, leaving a white ring around the bowls edge.” Drugged, She had help, find out who besides the Negro Rufus had access to her room and to this whiskey tray.” Spotting the discarded wallet on the floor, Jasper opened it and found it empty. Stating the obvious Jasper spoke almost to himself, “She robbed him too. Dang, this is bad, real bad. Mr. Willard ain’t gonna’ blame her as much as me for havin’ a low down robbin’ whore on my payroll. It’s gonna be me that pays.”

After a thorough search of the room produced nothing more than what the eye could see, Jasper headed downstairs. “Press the Negro, beat the crap out of him till he admits all he knows. He had to know something, somebody does, find out!”

Meanwhile Dana was beginning to have her troubles mount. The chestnut mare had thrown a shoe on the trail and her gait was being affected. Having nothing on her to remove the opposite side shoe to equalize the horses gait, she had no choice but to continue on until the animal became lame. Reaching into her past, she revived the knowledge of western survival she had been brought up with. Coming to a fork in the trail, she decided to head up towards Mount Tweto, hoping once past the tree line the snow there would blanket the trail.  Dana figured the snowy trail would cushion the shoeless hoof and prolong her ability to ride. Feeling confident again, she knew she could reach the town of Buckskin Joe in a few days if all went well. From there she could take the stage to a railway depot and from there to San Francisco.  Just as she settled in for the ride, the snow started.

Lightly at first but as she gained altitude past the tree line, the wind became more aggressive. Blowing snow limited her sight but she knew also that it would cover her trail. Her only worry was that there had been no snow falling at the fork below the tree line.

“She went East up towards the tree line” the Indian grunted to Jasper. “With a missing shoe in this dirt, she knew her trail would be easy to follow if she stayed on that trail. Once she hit’s the tree line there’s a trail up there where she can go either to Leadville or up to Mount Tweto and over to the mining town of Buckskin Joe.”

Jasper thought about it and finally spoke to the small group of men tracking Dana. “Mr. Willard gave me just three days to find her and bring her back. If after three days I don’t return with her, he’ll send out his men to stretch all our necks.

That dang negro boy wouldn’t admit to nothing, too bad for him. ‘Course, I ain’t  cryin’ no tears for a newly stove up negro boy, that’s for sure. Even so, just to temporarily save my own hide, I had to sign over ownership of the Greenhorn to Willard. That whores not gonna’ see Willard alive I tell you that!  An’ I’m gonna’ do some god awful things to her before I bring her dead carcass back to the Greenhorn, that’s for sure.

“So this is what I’m thinking. She ain’t no trail savvy cowboy so she’ll most likely head over to Leadville because the trail is easier. There ain’t no call or reason for her to head up to Mount Tweto. Most folk knows there ain’t no shelter on the trail up there. If you look to the north east, a winter storm is brewin’ big time up Tweto way. Even a stupid whore wouldn’t head into the teeth of a winter blow. No, she’s headed to Leadville, Let’s trail up to the divide atop the tree line and then head that a way.”

With that decision, Dana’s luck had turned again for the better.  By the time Jasper and his posse reached Leadville and realizing she had instead gone on up to Mount Tweto, the three days allotted for returning Dana would have run out.

Chapter 5

By the second day, the mare’s breathing was becoming more labored as they climbed higher into the Colorado mountains. Dana wrongly figured Mount Tweto should be just a few more miles ahead. She had heard patron’s talk of the passage over Mount Tweto to the town of Buckskin Joe but only in the summer months, never in the winter. Dana thought on this but decided she had no choice anyway. With the mare’s thrown shoe and Jasper most likely figuring on her to head to Leadville, she dismissed the thought that she had made a mistake.

By the third day, Dana began to realize just how big Colorado was. The staples she had and the grain for her horse in her saddle bags were pretty much gone. Having to huddle each night in a hole dug into a snow drift, she covered herself as best she could using her and her horses stiff wool saddle blanket.

That night Dana had fitful dreams of the young man she loved but had recently driven away. In her dreams she called to him as she watched him ride away, always into the storm.

By the morning of the fourth day, Dana was aware she may not make it to freedom after all. In fact, so weak was she that upon standing she nearly toppled over the cliff alongside the trail. That’s when she realized her mare was no longer there. Whether the mare left to return home from hunger or it too had miss stepped and had gone over the cliff’s edge, Dana did not know. She did know one thing though, without a horse, Dana the runaway whore was done for.

Finding a handful of grain in the bottom of her saddlebag, she chewed the hard beads and swallowed them. When she could find no more, she began to cry. Sitting pow wow fashion with her empty saddle bags on her lap, she wailed away. The storm with all its fury laughed back at her.

By nightfall, Dana was convinced she was not coming off the mountain top. She lay down in her dug out snowdrift and once again covered herself.  “I wonder what all went on after I left”, she mused.  “I shouldn’t have let Rufus do so much, he’ll be found out for sure. Poor Rufus, Oh why did I think they wouldn’t find out? Why was I so selfish to that poor boy?” Dana once again dozed off.

Dana awoke to a sound, or lack of it. During her fitful hours of sleep the storm had blown itself out. Dana reckoned it was near dawn. A sliver of moon and the stars of heaven lit the far away mountain peaks like giant diamonds glittering in a sea of black. Where the wind still raged in the furthest mountains, snow blew over the peaks like wind spray over ocean waves.

The breaking daylight removed the black sea and replaced it with green tree lines broken by purple and crystal white shadows. The sky was as light blue as blue can get. Amazed, Dana sat up in her dug out and gazed at the beautiful scene before her. If she were to die she thought, this is what she wanted to look upon during her last moments.

She wondered how the earth in all its beauty could sustain the evil of mankind, herself included she admitted . If she were God she thought, “I’d of never made man, I woulda’ just made what my eyes now see, beautiful things like mountains so’s I could enjoy looking at them.” Suddenly she felt very lonely. She then wistfully said, “All this beauty and no one to share it with, what a shame.”

It was then that she remembered what day it was. Christmas. She began to laugh. “I’m to die on Christmas day!”

Her laughter turned to tears as she remembered Christmas as a child. Her loving folks, the sound of hymns being sung at church, the story of baby Jesus being told and the reason for his birth. It all came tumbling back in an avalanche of childhood memories. She realized it was she who had driven God from her life, not the other way around. With the full knowledge that in all likely hood, today would be her last day on this earth, she prayed.  So fervent were her prayers that she did not hear the plodding hoof beats approach her from the direction she had come days before.

A shocked voice was suddenly heard, “My God, Dana, “Oh Lord my prayers have been answered!”

Like a spring being unwound, Dana violently shot standing up in a last ditch effort to defend herself from the fear that the rider was none other than Jasper Shroud. Looking about wildly for other riders that usually accompany him, she began edging towards the cliff. She would rather throw herself into the abyss below than face Jasper’s torment.

But something about the voice halted her at the edge. Trying to see the face hidden in the morning shadow his hat cast, she stood there prepared to leap.

“Dana! No, don’t, it’s me, Ben.”

Removing his hat his sandy colored hair was whipped backward in a gust of breeze, showing his face.

“When you told me to leave”, he said, “ I was sorely hurt an in my selfishness I went back to my ranch an’ pouted like a schoolboy. I tried to forget you, I really did but I could no sooner stop lovin’ you than I could stop my own heart beating by wishin’ it.”

Dana stood transfixed, her hands slowly cupping her mouth and nose. “ Ben? Is it you? How did you find…”

Jumping down off his horse he grabbed Dana by the shoulders, his eyes searching her face.

“ I went back for you. I had to one last time see you, to offer you everything I had if you’d just leave the Greenhorn and come back with me. But when I got to Mosquito Gulch, you was all the news. Folks there said you robbed the rail baron Henry Willard and carved up his behind as a message to his wife that he’s a cheatin’ skunk! Word was, Willard had given Jasper just three days to find you, then he’d send his men after him.”

“Ben, How did you find me?  What made you decide on which trail I took?”

“Well, When I got to the fork an found Jasper, the Madam an’ the rest of his friends all neck tide on a tree, I figured they wasted them three days lookin’ for you in Leadville, so why should I?”

Dana, weak as she was, wrapped her arms around Ben and looking up into his eyes asked, “Now that you found me, do you really think a whore like me could ever be a fit wife for a man as good as you? Really Ben? “

Ben, leaned down and kissed her, “Dana, we all have our good an’ bad points about us. I ain’t no better fer callin’ on you than you was fer lettin’ me into your bed.  I guess like the good book tells us, We all fall short but for the grace of God we’d all be lost. It’s Gods Christmas present to us Dana.  If you’ll be my wife, I promise you this, I’ll try to be the best present you could ever wish for”

Dana said to him smiling, “ Dear Ben, I have no gift but myself to offer you in return.  If you want me, I’m yours… but I want three, no,  four more promises from you .”

Thinking of all the savory and unsavory possibilities of what those promises might be, Ben nervously asked,” What are these four promises you ask for Dana.”

Dana stepped back and weak as she was, a glint of mischief still hinted in her beautiful blue eyes.

“First, we are to be married by a preacher just as soon as we can because a lady does not bed a man until  they are married. I do  hope you own a nice Sunday go to meeting oufit , ‘cause each Sunday we’ll be sittin’ front and center in them church pews, OK?”

Ben gulped, “Yes’m, married. Preacher…pews…OK”

“Second , get on over to that nag you rode up on and rustle us up some grub from your saddle bags. If you haven’t noticed I’ve been starving up here.”

“ Grub, Gotcha, What’s the third promise?” Ben asked.

“Get me the heck off this here mountain and set me in front of the biggest fire the stove at your ranch can make,  I about froze to death waitin’ on you to come rescue me!”

By now  Ben was chuckling as he finally realized Dana was only toying with him so he asked, “An the fourth Promise?”

Lifting her hand, she gave him the “come hither” wiggle with her finger… and said, “ Come here and promise to kiss me again.”

It was a promise he never broke.

Homer’s magic bullet

 

Chapter 1

In the darkened room on the second floor of the Argosy Hotel, a nervous hand slowly parted the window curtains to get a clear view of the street below. The night shadows hid those seekers who might be a danger to him. The only movement he saw was a late night mule drawn cartage wagon that rumbled by.  Down the street, oil lamps lit the walkway and entrance to the Half Dollar Saloon. Inside a skinny old man wearing a well worn bowler derby plinked away at the piano trying his best to remember a tune nobody else recognized. It was a slow night, even a few of the whores had given up and went upstairs to their rooms alone for a chance to get some early shut eye. For all intensive purposes, the town had fallen asleep. Stepping closer, the tall gaunt man pressed his hawk like face sideways to the window pane so he could see further up and down the dark empty street. Seeing no movement he backed away and closed the curtain and for the first time in months he felt safe.

Homer Goldstein, the man in the second floor hotel room, was a scared and wanted man. For the last three months he’d been tailed, had his mail opened and had his home broken into numerous times. Homer really wasn’t the object of attention so much as what he had invented was.

It was the bullet that passed close to his head one night as he sat relaxing in the parlor that settled things for him. Finally conceding that his home, his town and his neighbors and his synagogue had to be left behind if he were to survive, he quickly packed a few belongings and fled his beloved Tennessee home.

Heading west by rail, he eventually ended up in the mountain town of Castle Rock about fifty miles south of Denver Colorado. The small town lay in the shadow of its namesake, a tall butte that claimed the skyline called Castle Rock. Juniper and Ponderosa pine climbed the mountain sides in the distance while a few shade giving oaks and Tulip trees sprinkled themselves around the town.

Homer took a room at the modestly priced Argosy hotel where he unpacked his belongings then headed over to the bank. For a small fee, many banks rented space within their vaults. It was his invention stored securely in its wooden case that was placed within the vault for safe keeping that morning.

For the last fourteen years Homer had worked as a gunsmith. It was the only job he had ever held. Actually, it was the only job he had ever wanted.

His father, a watchmaker in Memphis, encouraged the young Homer to follow his desires even though he secretly had hoped the boy would follow in his footsteps. Homer started out as an apprentice at the Tennessee Bean Rifle works where he quickly rose in rank within the company. Six years later, Homer stood holding the cherished Master Gunsmith Certificate he had worked so hard to get.

Homer had no wife to share his joy with, nor did he want one. He had no close friends either. He cared little for the world outside the shop window. Politics, the cost of pork bellies and the price of a bushel of corn held no interest for him. Only his guns mattered. To Homer it wasn’t machining, it was art.

Lying down on the Argosy’s soft feather bed in his room, Homer wished he’d never sent the letter to the war department asking them to consider his revolutionary designed rifle. His mistake was his naivety and blind trust in Government officials.

Upon receiving the letter, Wilfred Moneymaker, the head of the war department, passed it down the line until it fell on the desk of James Parker, an egotistical ladder climber whose father had gotten him the job.  Parker immediately saw how he could use the letter to his advantage.

In a private meeting with the company that the war department was presently purchasing their arms from, Parker told the owner of Eastern Valley Arms of Goldstein’s invention. It was not so much the rifle itself that interested them, it was the cartridge that went into the inventive gun.

“Without the chemical makeup of the propellent within the cartridge, all you are showing us Mr. Parker, is a multi caliber cartridge. I can list a boat load of arms makers working along those same lines even as we speak, us included. The easy part is the damn gun itself, but we’ve hit a wall on the cartridge. According to this spec sheet, this Goldstein fella’ seems to have figured it out.”

The speaker was Amos Silver, the owner and president of the Eastern Valley Arms company. Reaching into his vest pocket, Silver pulled out a pair of reading spectacles and once again looked over the letter.

“The ballistic performance out does anything thing on the market today. Our newest cartridge has a maximum chamber pressure rating of 23,000 psi. Goldman’s is 45,000 psi. That’s twice the power of our best cartridge. Hell, that much power would blow any of today’s rifles to sky high! Look at the velocity of the thing, 1,100 feet per second. Ours? 450 feet per second.  What he invented gentleman was a hand held cannon, not a rifle.”

“I knew this would interest you Sir,” Parker groveled, “I’m sure I can convince this Goldstein person to give us the chemical makeup of the cartridge’s propellent. After all, he’s just a small time rube gunsmith located in Tennessee and I have the power of the Department of War behind me.”

“I don’t want the War Department to get its hands on the makeup Parker, the idiots there would give it to every Tom, Dick and Harry that makes ammo for them. No, we want it for ourselves Parker. Use whatever means you wish, but we get the formula!”

“If I get it to you, what’s in it for me?”

“Oh don’t you worry son, you’ll have a fat purse for your efforts, as long as this isn’t all some ruse you schemed up.”

“No Sir, no ruse, this is for real. I took the letter to our own gun works people and they confirmed it was possible. Even the steel specifications used in the chamber and barrel seemed accurate”

Lighting a large Cuban cigar, Amos Silver then pointed it at Parker, “Son, you get the makeup of that cartridge and you can quit that lousy low pay Government job, of course if you don’t…” Silver let then let the freshly lit cigar fall to the floor and twisted it under foot. “You get my drift son?”

To Parker’s frustration, the face to face meeting with Goldstein went badly. Homer refused to give away any more information on his invention and withdrew his offer. He had a bad feeling about the young man with greedy eyes and wanted nothing more to do with him.

It was shortly after that meeting that Goldman realized he was being spied upon.

 

Chapter 2

Rising early, Homer went downstairs for breakfast in the Argosy’s dining room. It was a comfortable and surprisingly elegant room. The windows had long velvet curtains from ceiling to floor at each window and the floor was carpeted complimenting the imported wall paper. White linen table cloths dressed each table and real silverware was at each place setting. For the price, Homer felt he had made a very wise decision on choosing the Argosy hotel.

Homer sat politely as a tall skinny waitress taking breakfast orders took his order. In watching her, he found a strange stirring within him. Perhaps, he mused, he should be so bold as to introduce himself to her. As he watched the waitress in a state of  enchantment take his order, a young man dressed in typical cowboy attire and wearing a colt 45 on his hip sat down at the table next to him. It was Homers first encounter with a real cowboy and he was fascinated. Turning to the cowboy, the waitress glanced back at Homer and gave him a perky smile. There couldn’t have been a bigger contrast between the East and the West. Never before had a woman shown him any interest and on top of that, just the idea of wearing a six shooter openly thrilled him.

After the waitress finished taking their orders, Homer turned to the cowboy. “Excuse me Sir,” Homer excitingly asked, “I see you are wearing the new model P Colt 45 Peacemaker, have you had a chance to shoot it much?”

The cowboy turned and stared at Homer for a moment before answering, “A few times, snakes and such. Shoots nice”

“Please, excuse me if I seem forward, I’m newly arrived from Tennessee and have an interest in fine firearms.”

“Well friend, it ain’t for sale if that’s what you want to know, took me a year’s pay drivin’’ cattle to buy it.”

“Oh no, you misunderstand Sir, I’m not interested in buying it from you, you see I am a Master Gunsmith recently arrived. I design and build rifles but have done a few revolvers too. it’s just that I admire fine arms.”

“Oh, that’s it then.” Reaching down, the cowboy removed the Colt from its holster and after emptying the cylinder of its five bullets, he handed it to Homer. “Not that I don’t trust you, but I’d hate to be robbed with my own gun!”

Taking the gun handed to him, Homer began looking at the Colt with expert eyes. “I truly meant nothing more than to ask what you thought of the Colt. It was for my personal interest only. The machining is of an excellent quality. Did you have it custom engraved?”

“Yup,  they come plain but the man I bought it from is also an engraver so he did the designs on it.”

“It’s beautiful Mr..? Oh, I’m sorry, let me introduce myself.”  Handing the revolver back to the cowboy grip first, Homer spoke, “My name is Homer Goldstein, and yours is?,”

“Jesse James…” Seeing the shocked look plastering itself on Homers face, the cowboy chuckled, ” Nah, just joshin’ ya’ friend! Robert Fisher my name, folks just call me Fisher though.” Looking closely at Homer the cowboy asked, ” You a Jew or something Goldstein?”

Looking downward in disappointment Homer replied “Why yes I am. How did you guess?”

“I dunno, maybe the name, maybe the nose and thick glasses gave it away.”

“Does my being a Jew bother you? I know it did back in Tennessee. Most folks shy’d away from us Jews unless they wanted something ”

“Nope, don’t matter to me in the least. You meet all kinds on the trail and ya’ learn to trust them to watch your back. I rode with Mexicans, Negro’s, Swede’s even a number of Irishman.  Never rode with a Jew before, not that I know of anyway.”

His smile returning, Homer replied, “I guess us Jews don’t make very good cowboys, at least I never heard of one. In fact, I never met a real cowboy either.”

“Well there ya’ go, now ya’ met one. So Homer, why’d you leave… what was it, Tennessee you said? What brings you all the way out here?”

“My life. I have some bad people wanting something from me. They tried to kill me back home so I fled out West and ended up here. If they don’t chase me out here I might open my own gun works, I don’t know much about running a business but I’m very skilled at the smithing of firearms.”

“ You picked a good town Homer, nobody but miners and such come out this way. I’m here visiting my old boss. He retired from the cattle drives and settled down here after getting stove up from a Comanche arrow through his knee. I told him after I finished my last drive I’d head out this way to see how he was getting’ on, an see if he needed any help.” He started chuckling, “ I needn’t a worried though. First saloon I stopped into here was wearin’ a new sign over the door declairin’ “Under new ownership, Proprietor Dusty Plains“, that’s my bosses name. He’s doin’ just fine. Maybe my old boss could help you in opening up your place if you decide, seems he knew more about runnin’ a business than I gave him credit for. ”

“I’m sure I’d be delighted to meet his acquaintance.”

“Hopefully your trouble didn’t follow you out here, Colorado’s a good place to start over at.”

Breakfast arrived just then and as was the custom in public dining, all speaking came to a halt.

Afterward, and not wanting to become a nuisance, Homer excused himself telling Fisher he enjoyed the conversation and started to head back towards his room.

“Hey, Goldstein, wait up a second!” The voice was Fishers.

“Just out of curiosity, mind tellin’ me what room you was in upstairs?”

A moment of paranoia made his heart skip a beat but not wanting to sound rude since the cowboy seemed friendly, Homer answered, “Well, I’m staying in room 204, but why do you ask?”

More to himself than to Homer, the young cowboy mumbled, “Huh, just as I figured.”

“Figured what and why?”

Nodding his head in the direction of the stairs Fisher told him, “I saw a man leanin’ his ear against that door. I figured he was tryin’ to listen in. He wasn’t dressed like no burglar I’ve ever seen , and at the time it wasn’t none of my business  so I walked on. It was when you said something about being followed that it got me to wondering what that fella’ was doin’. Maybe it is just coincidence but maybe it ain’t.” Stepping back he appraised the tall slender man up and down. “You ain’t armed are you?”

“No, as funny as it seems I never carry a gun, even though I make them for a living.”

“Listen Goldstein, you seem like a nice fella but a bit of a green horn to how we do things here out West. Tell you what, let me open that door of yours in case that no good got himself inside while we was eatin’”

Relief showed on Homers face, “Oh, if you would I’d be so grateful. I have no friends here and I do honestly feel quite vulnerable.”

Together they took the stairs to the second floor rooms. Stopping in front of Homers room, Fisher whispered for Homer to stay aside of the door and not to enter until Fisher told him it was safe.

Taking the key from Homer, Fisher silently turned the lock and pushed the door slowly open after drawing his gun. Making no noise, Fisher turned to Homer and put the guns barrel to his lips as a warning not to speak.

Quietly swinging the door open, Fisher spotted a figure inside the room facing away from the door. A well dressed man stood bent over Homers open suitcase going through it.

“You all best have real good reason for stickin’ your paws in my friend’s baggage friend!”

The sound of Fishers icy voice took the young well dressed man by surprise. Turning quickly, he attempted to pull a small revolver from his coat pocket.

Robert Fisher, who moments before had only fired his new Colt Peacemaker at snakes and critters, fired a single well aimed hip shot into the forehead of the burglar.

Homer heard the shot and fearing for Fishers safety, ran into the room only to turn right around and vomit by the door.

“Yeah, it’s a mess alright. Can’t blame ya’ for losin’ your breakfast… bein’ from the East an all.”

“Oh my God,” Homer gagged, “his head stuffing is blown all over my room!”

“Sorry about that, maybe I shoulda’ stopped an laid a blanket down before I shot him.”

“I’m sorry, you risked your life and here I am worrying about my laundry.”

“Any idea who he is?”

“No, none. I’ve never seen him before but his clothes are the same style as most men wear in the larger Eastern cities.”

The well dressed corpse lay face up and partially across the bed. Fisher took his time going through all the man’s pockets. When he was satisfied with his search, he placed all the found items atop the dresser bureau. Using his fingers, Fisher poked through the belongings.

An uncashed bank draft for $500 dollars from Eastern Valley Arms in Connecticut drew Fishers interest.

“Looks like a fella’ named Amos Silver signed this draft. Does either name make any sense to you?”

“Yes, I know of both. Eastern Valley Arms is a military arms maker owned by Amos Silver out of New Haven Connecticut. They are known to have multiple long term contracts with the War Department. Some think they rig the bids to favor Eastern Valley but nothings ever been proven.  I don’t understand why he would be involved with my situation, it was that Parker fellow  from the War Department in Washington that I had the problem with.”

“The way it looks to me Homer, is This Parker fella’ may be in cahoots with this Silver person in trying to get at whatever it was that was in your letter.”

Slumping his shoulders in defeat, Homer shook his head exclaiming, “Then I’m not safe after all. If what you said is true then they’re not going to give up until they get what they want.”

“Kinda’ looks that way friend. I think I’ll stick close to you for a bit yet if you don’t mind. There may be more than just this fella’, usually is. Since they didn’t know where your trail would end, I’d say they rode on the same train as you.  All they had to do was wait and watch. When you got off, so did they.”

A clamoring of hard sloe shoes running up the stairs, ended their conversation.

An angry front desk clerk appeared in the doorway. Looking towards Homer, he demanded, “What’s going on here Mr. Goldstein, I heard… Oh my God! Did you shoot that man?”

Before Homer could answer, Fisher spoke up, “Naw, I did. Earlier I spotted this man with his ear to the door. When Mr. Goldstein and I finished our breakfast we come up here an’ discovered him burglarizing Mr. Goldstein’s room.” Pointing to the small handgun lying on the floor Fisher continued.  “When I surprised him, he tried takin’ a shot at me but I got the draw on him.”

A young man dressed as a bell hop had followed behind and spoke from the doorway. “Mr. Peebles? Should I send for the Sheriff?”

Answering the young man without turning to look his way, Peebles directed him. “Yes, and gather some cleaning supplies and get Mr. Jones, he should be at his mortuary. I want this body gone and gore cleaned up as fast as possible.”

Looking disgusted at the mess of blood and brains, clerk Peebles sternly told Homer, “I’m afraid we’ll have to charge you for cleaning up this mess and replacing the ruined wall paper Mr. Goldstein.”

Turning to Fisher, the clerk looked with distain on the cowboy, “The Sheriff will want to hold a hearing on this shooting as soon as possible. I wouldn’t leave town, whoever you are!”

Catching the acid in his comment, Fisher replied, “I ain’t goin’ anywhere. Although I’m thinkin’ when the folks stayin’ at this hotel find out their rooms ain’t safe, they’ll be high tailin’ it outa here for the place across the street.  In fact, seeing how there’ll be a rush on rooms, tell the Sheriff he can find me over there in my new room.”

The clerk looked horror stricken at the thought of all his customers fleeing his hotel for the one across the street and quickly began to back track his mouth.  “ Please, we sincerely value all our guest. I deeply apologize if I spoke rudely just now. This terrible incident must have caused you much distress, I know it did me. Let me make it up to you by giving you both a week’s stay here at the Argosy’s  expense. I’ll have a new room for you right away Mr. Goldstein.  There is no need to speak of this to our other guest, is there now?”

Replying for both of them, Fisher shuffled his feet then spoke up. “Well, if that includes meals, livery care, bath and haircuts, we might find it in us to keep shut about it. What about the Sheriff though, he’ll have it all over town after he hears what we have to say at the hearing.”

With wheels spinning inside his head, the clerk gasped, “Oh my yes, you’re right! I must catch him before he gets up here. I’m on the hearing committee so I’ll just tell him it was a private argument and you had to shoot the man in self defense…yes, that’s what I’ll tell him. Good day to you both, I need to run.”

After the clerk took to the stairs two at a time, Fisher turned to Homer. “Well, we got free room and board for a week, that’s somethin’ good that come out of this wouldn’t you say?”

“Indeed! I do feel the need for a free trim, bath and shave Mr. Fisher, would you care to join me?”

Chapter 3

An hour later found the two men each soaking in high backed copper bathing tubs. Homer and Fisher found themselves alone after the Negro bath house house boy had filled the tubs with hot water.

“So Homer, if you don’t mind me askin’, what in tarnation is it that Eastern Valley Arms wants so badly from you that they’d chase you all the way out here?”

“I guess if anyone has the right to know, it’s you. On my account, you’ve gotten yourself neck deep in my troubles. I apologize and thank you at the same time. Tomorrow I want you to go over to the bank with me. I want to show you what the fuss is all about. In fact, if you’d stay with me until I can figure a way out of all this, I’d gladly hire you to act as my guardian.”

“Kind of like your private Segundo huh?”

“If I think that means what I think it does, yes”

As the two stepped into the bank the next day, they were greeted by the owner. “Ah, Mr. Goldstein, I’m so glad you have stopped in! Earlier today, there were three men who stopped in asking if anyone fitting your description had stopped in. I lied, I told them I was unaware of anyone like that. They seemed a bit on the rough side, is everything alright?”

“Yes, all is fine and thank you for being discreet regarding my presence here.” Turning to Fisher, Homer introduced him as his private security person.

“I wish to enter your vault if I may. I need to inspect my property within it.”

“Of course Mr. Goldstein, please follow me.”

Opening the large rented drawer within the vault, Homer removed the wooden case he had carried all the way from Tennessee. Fisher stepped closer in order to see what the inside held once Homer opened it. Unlatching the two locks, Homer lifted the lid.

Fisher let out a slow whistle.

“That is one beautiful rifle my friend, but what’s so different about it that makes them folks so determined to get their hands on it?”

“This.” Homer opened a smaller box and removed one of the multi sized cartridges and handed it to Fisher.

“What in tarnation is this thing? A bullet?”

“Yes, that’s exactly what it is. The rifle is designed to fire it. If you notice, the actual bullet is a small 25 caliber projectile mounted within a modified turned down sharps style .50-90 brass cartridge.”

“Whew! I bet she’s got some punch, but ain’t other folks workin’ on similar bullets? I heard they was.

“Yes they are. The difference is this. Every cartridge made today, no matter how many grains it holds, has inside it the same explosive, black powder. This is not black powder but a chemical formula involving powdered metals, extremely reactive oxidizers and other additives that I can’t disclose. It almost triples the power of a sharps and with the smaller projectile will travel over one mile with total calculable accuracy. In fact I have tested it to over one and a half miles and it maintained a killing force.”

Fisher took one long last look and handed the cartridge back to Homer. “God, no wonder them folks want this so bad. It’d put every other gun maker out of business!”

“Yes it would!”

The new voice behind them was so unexpected they both jumped.

Before they could react to the voice, three men with guns drawn stepped forward. “I’ll take that box you have there Mr. Goldstein. I’m sorry I have to do it this way Goldstein but you left me no choice. ” Homers heart sank. It was Parker.

The tough looking no good standing next to Parker spoke up and pointed to the ceiling with the barrel of his revolver. “Put your hands up Goldstein, you too cowboy.”

“Lonny,” said Parker,” get Goldstein out of here. I got a score to settle with this rube cowboy here. He’s the one who killed Troy in the Argosy. ”

“Sure thing Parker, I’ll be waiting for you and Chuck at Old woman Creek”.  Lonny then led Goldstein out the banks rear door where he had their horses waiting. Forcing Homer to saddle up, Lonny tied his hands to the saddle horn and mounted himself behind Homer.  As they galloped away, the two fleeing riders heard the gunshots. Homer knew his newly found friend had just been killed.

Chapter 4

Fisher, Parker and Chuck heard the pounding of hooves as Lonny and Goldstein galloped off. It was then that Fisher made his move. Even he was surprised at the speed at which his Colt Peacemaker left the holster. The two had let Lonny’s leaving distract them ever so slightly. Before they could return their barrels onto Fisher, his Colt was rapid firing its deadly lead.

Fisher aimed first at the hard case standing to Parkers left. His gun was aimed closer to Fisher than was Parkers. The Peacemaker lived up to all that it was known for. Two quick shots plowed into Chucks gut. Before Parker could pull back his hammer the Colt Peacemaker exploded once again. This bullet hit the side of Parkers own gun. Knocking the barrel aside, the lead bullet continued traveling. It entered Parker just above the wrist. Once inside his arm it drilled it way through the arm until it explosively exited from the elbow.

Parkers look of shock matched that of his hired gun Chuck. For safety, Fisher always left the chamber empty under the hammer empty. With only two rounds left in the six shooter, Fisher returned the Peacemaker back to Chuck.

Chuck, doubling over from the two gut shots, leaned forward and saw himself staring down the 45’s barrel. The last thing he saw was the flame. The next thing he saw was God.

Parker let out a terrible scream as the bullet left his arm. The pistol fell to the floor but not before Fishers last bullet had already left the barrel. Parker, always one to dress well and hair meticulously groomed, would have felt chagrined at finding out that his funeral had to be a closed casket affair.

Holstering the Peacemaker and grabbing the precious case, Fisher jumped over the body of the hard case known as Chuck and ran into the banks teller area. There he spotted the bank owner lying on the floor unconscious. A teller lay sprawled out near him. Whether dead or alive, Fisher had no time to find out.

Once out the rear door, he mounted up on Parkers horse… either stolen or rented. It was now Fishers.

The horse jolted forward as if electrified. Running at a full gallop, Fisher knew Lonny had a good lead on him. Knowing a hand gun was near useless in a chase on horseback, Fisher began unpacking the rifle from its case on the run.

Within ten minutes Fisher reached the plains just east of the South Platte River where he spotted Lonny and Homer racing away in the distance.

“Damn! I got to stop them before they get to that rise up ahead.”

Once the two crested the rise, Lonny could stop on the other side and set up an ambush. The chase was beginning to seem like an effort in futility.

It was do or die Fisher decided. He then did something that screamed insanity, he stopped and dismounted.

Finding a large stone about a foot high, Fisher laid down prone behind it. Taking a cartridge from the flat ammo case, Fisher loaded the chamber and shot the bolt home. Resting the rifle barrel atop the rock to steady it, Fisher looked down the sight trying to sight in on the riders ahead. Since Homer had mentioned that he had fired it at a distance of over a mile, Fisher was counting on that it was still sighted in at that distance.

Slowing his breathing he found his target. He considered the distance and lifted the barrel. It was all a guessing game. He felt a slight breeze coming from the Platte River so he moved the barrel to the left. Even after pulling the trigger, it would take the projectile over five seconds to reach his target. All these thoughts spun in Fishers head as he compensated his aim for the variables.

All this took time and with panic rising, he saw Lonny’s horse start the climb up the fifty foot high slope.

Just as he was pulling the trigger, the thought entered his thinking that since this bullet had three times the punch of a normal bullet, it just may travel completely through Lonny killing Homer. As he pulled the trigger, in response to this fear he pulled the barrel up. It wasn’t much, just a micro amount but Fishers heart sank knowing the shot would now travel over their heads.

It was at that moment that Lonny’s horse made it to the crest. Then Lonny did something unusual. He stopped on top of the crest and turned around facing Fishers direction. In horror, Fisher saw that now Homer sat in the direct path of the bullet. Five seconds turned into hours.  At last he saw Lonny lift his firearm skyward in a wave to ridicule the stopped Fisher. Lonny had assumed that Fisher had given up.

As Lonny raised his firearm he opened his mouth and yelled a curse at the dismounted rider over a mile away. Laughing he leaned forward causing Homer to bend forward. It was in the middle of his second set of curses that Homer heard the most unusual sound above and behind him. It was the bullet traveling faster than any bullet previously made . It tore open the air like an exploding lightning bolt.  The sound the near white hot projectile had been making suddenly ended in a burst of sound similar to an exploding pumpkin.

Lonny had nothing to say about it seeing as the projectile had entered his mouth mid curse and disintegrated the entire back of his head. Lonny didn’t slowly roll off his horse, instead it looked as if he was yanked violently backwards out of the saddle.

Turning to see what was happening, Homer watched as Lonny landed ten feet behind his horse. With his thick lenses, Homer could not see well enough to view Fisher clearly but he knew by the sound of the bullet that not only was it his invented cartridge that had been fired and killed Lonny but it could only have been fired by Fisher. Somehow, Fisher had made it out alive after all!

Feeling a world of trouble being lifted off his shoulders, Homer headed down the slope at an easy gait to meet up with the only friend he had ever made. Smiling widely as Fisher came into view, Homer watched Fisher jumping up and down and laughing as he waved his hat around his head.  Homers grin widened to the point that it hurt his face.

Riding back to town side by side, the two talked of Homers next move. ” Tanks to you, I am able to open my own place now that I’m sure its safe. How would you feel about me asking you to stay and help me set it up and run it?”

“I ain’t got much else goin’ on, the railroad and barb wire’s putting a real pinch on cattle drives.” Turning to Homer he reached over and gave him his hand. “Sure Homer, I’d be honored. By the way, does job that include any pay by chance?”

Gripping his friends hand he gave it a firm shake, “A man can’t work for free Fisher, let’s head over to the Argosy for dinner and we’ll hammer out the details.”

Slowly, a wispy smile crossed over Homers face as the memory of the tall skinny waitress smiling over at him at the Argosy entered his thoughts.

“Yes Sir Fisher, I do believe we have a future here, a real nice one too!”

It’s finer than Texas

Chapter 1

John  Henry knew something was about to happen. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up like signal flags in warning.  Cautiously, he eased his right hand over to the Henry rifle in its leather scabbard and drew up reign to listen. He was partial to that particular gun for a couple reasons. First, it was a gift from his dear Anna and second, ever since he had found out its inventor, Benjamin Tyler Henry, was a distant relative, he took extra pride in it. He was often heard to say, “Nothing like supporting a family member in his budding business”.

He had been riding with heightened caution for he had been warned the Ponderosa pine forest of the Colorado Plateau east of the Mogollon Rim in Arizona held perfect cover for robbers and other no goods. Murdering the unwary for their belongings was a common occurrence and John Henry wasn’t about to be caught with his pants down and boots off if he could help it.

His travels had taken him from Texas through the New Mexican territory and into Arizona where he hoped to re settle and start anew in the high altitude of Flag Staff. He rode alone now but for the last eighteen years his wife Anna had been his beloved partner. Less than three months before, she had given up the ghost after a short but painful bout of brain fever. He buried her alongside the creek she loved to play in as a child. Her parents, a twin sister and an older brother rested nearby to keep her company.

When John Henry married Anna, both her parents were alive and the small cattle ranch they owned was prospering. Folks in the early days of the West had rough lives and when both parents came down with Typhus, Anna traveled to her old homestead to care for them. Unfortunately, she too contracted the disease and succumbed shortly after her parents had passed.

In his grief, John Henry sold off the parent’s ranch along with his own small spread and left to escape the painful memories Texas held for him. With one last longing look, his eyes took in the placid scene of the graves dug in safely alongside the creek and knew he was right in leaving. It was a place for the dead to sleep at and wasn’t a place for the living to mourn in wakefulness. Saddling up his favorite mare, he mounted and rode out leaving the dead to rest.

Having survived unscathed to date, the further north he got the more he began to relax. The hand drawn map he carried said it was only a few more days to his destination in Flag Staff

The trip took longer and more out of him than he had hoped. Reaching the tall pine forest a week previous, he decided he and his horse needed a good rest.

It was during that rest that he met and immediately disliked Sean O’Leary.

John heard O’Leary making his way through the forest long before he caught sight of him. Reaching for his Henry rifle he waited until the object of all the racket appeared.

Something about the set of the man, how he packed his mule and the noise he made traveling drew red flags of warning. John waited for the man to ease up and declare his intentions. When the familier yell, “Yo the camp!” never came, John jacked a cartridge into the Henry’s chamber and stood up to better show himself.

Seeing the rider was aware of John and the camp but still no shout of greeting to the camp came, John yelled at the forest rider, “Stay where ya’ are an’ state your business mister.”

Stopping a hundred feet from the camp, the rider threw his arms up in feigned surprise and yelled back in a heavy Irish accent, “ Ach, tis just me, Sean O’Leary. A traveler I am and a weary one at that… and hungry to boot! I could no more deny the scent of your cook fire than I could tell the sun is not shining. Ach, The smell is like that of me own dear mothers cookin’, God rest her saintly soul, an’ here’s  me with my belly shouting  a plea sayin’ it’s been a wee bit a time since I paid it any mind. “

John Henry heard the false friendly tone in the man’s voice.“Mister, that don’t tell me your purpose, just that you ain’t ate and you want my grub! Only a fool enters another man’s camp without permission! Ain’t you ever heard of a shout or do you really think you’re immune to getting yourself blowed out of the saddle for your ignorance?”

Paying no mind to the question John asked, the Irishman dismounted without permission.  O’Leary led his mule by the reigns toward Johns cook fire, dropped them and stood alongside the mules pack. “If you could spare a few beans or a potato, you would surely have my eternal gratitude.” Seeing the Henry rifle lift up and center on his belly, O’Leary stopped his advancement and added. “I bet you are now saying to yourself, now how could a man travel such a distance without even a single potato in his sack? Now before you answer, let me be tellin’ you. I was happened upon by a gun slinging galoot named Marcus along the trail the day before. When that hoodlum rode away, he had relieved me of any food I might be havin in my sack. And here I am just a lone Irishman, a babe in the woods if you will. I’d be behooved if I could at least sit a spell and share in your coffee. ”

John Henry lifted the barrel higher up into the face of the lying Irishman. “I didn’t invite you to eat or to stay. I don’t like your looks mister and I don’t believe a word of your story either. Now just you get back on that mule and ride on out’a here. “

John Henry was no fool. He had ridden the Texas trails half of his life and could sniff out a bandit like a horse does a water hole. He had already looked at and decided the man and his mule were a set up for murder or at least a robbery. The story of a robber known as Marcus was bullcrap. John was always aware of his back trail and who was on it. In the past week, no one was within ten miles behind him. Therefore the Irishman had not come from behind him but had swung around the camp from the front to make it look so. John suspected with the limited supplies that were more for show than for survival, and the man being a lone rider in a bandits paradise, it could only mean one thing… the man had accomplices waiting somewhere nearby.

With the tip of his Henry, John then pointed to the mule pack behind the old saddle. “I bet if I threatened to shoot your mule, you’d find food aplenty in that pack. It sure looks like that bacon slab you got in there is staining it” Besides the large dripping pork fat stain, John had noticed an older but well oiled Springfield rifle untied alongside the mule pack and within easy grabbing distance.

Realizing John Henry was a bit more adept at figuring the truth out than he originally took him for, the Irishman decided to make a face saving retreat before any lead flew. “And to think I had it in mind to offer you good coin for some of those beans and coffee!” Reaching down, he grabbed up the mules reignsl. “Never you mind then, I’ll just be on my way.”

As the Irishman was speaking, John Henry could not miss the narrow eyed glances the mule rider was giving his Henry rifle. It wasn’t a look of fear but of covetousness and it made him uneasy.

As the Irishman turned his mule back to the trail, John noticed the Irishman glanced into the forest and gave his head a quick, “No” shake to someone in hiding.

That evening, John Henry bedded down after dowsing the fire. He normally would have left the glowing coals to burn out by themselves but tonight he felt safer having no fire to light up his campsite. He wondered whether the Irishman would return with his gang to kill him for his belongings. To be sure, John knew the man was lying.

He slept that night with one eye open waiting for the Irishman and his cohorts to show up.

The next morning found John still alive and in ownership yet of his rifle and belongings. John lay awake in the early dawn listening to the forest sounds. For the last half hour while he listened, no man sounds could were heard. He felt safe enough then to stand up and show himself. After a quick meal of coffee, biscuits and bacon, he set out heading to the small town of Strawberry.  The town sat just north of the East Verde river near Sunset Canyon. From Strawberry it was less than a two day ride into Flag Staff. As much as he looked forward to a hot meal, a soft bed and a glass of whisky, John decided to pass on through the town without stopping. Being this close to the end of his journey, his desires for comfort could wait another day or two.

He traveled unmolested along the forest trail. John began to believe the Irishman and his band of no goods had decided he wasn’t worth the fight and found himself beginning to relax.

The smell of wood smoke lifted his nostrils to the wind. Pulling out the hand drawn map again, he decided the smoke was coming from the town of Strawberry up ahead and not from any bandits.

By noon, he came upon a sharp overlooking bluff on the trail. From there he could see over the tree tops down to the town of Strawberry not two miles ahead.  It lay not in the forest but outside it where the desert stretched as far as the eye could see.

The strange beauty of the desert held Johns gaze. Here on top of the bluff within the shade of the dense forest a cool breeze blew and the trees kept the harsh sun from reaching the ground. In less than a mile ahead though there was no shade, no breeze and no trees, unless one called a Joshua tree a tree.

He sat there on horseback overlooking the panorama before him when the hairs suddenly stood up on the back of his neck like red signal flags of warning.

Chapter 2

Sounding akin to a bee in flight, the bullet tore into the top of John Henry’s well worn Stetson.

John flung himself from the saddle but in his haste, he landed awkwardly and fell flat faced to the ground. Rearing in panic by Johns sudden movement, his mare then sped off down the trail towards the town of Strawberry.

Realizing his trusty Henry rifle was still snug in its saddle scabbard, John felt his hip to make sure that at least his Navy Colt was still secure in its holster. It was.

Seeing a single clean hole driven into his hat, he grabbed it and plopped it back onto his head.

Cautiously scooting off of the trail into the brush, John Henry lay hidden. Without his horse, he was easy pickings and the moment he stood up he’d be a target of whoever had shot at him.

John had no doubt it had something to do with the Irishman. He figured there were at least a couple more siding with him. “Damn bushwackers, I shoulda’ shot that damn Irishman the moment he stepped into my camp.”

John Henry lay there within the dark shadows of the forest and brush until he felt whoever had shot at him wasn’t going to check on their shot. He crawled parallel alongside the trail until the brush became so dense he could not continue. Reentering the trail, he stood for a few minutes listening to the forest sounds. Nothing seemed out of place.  Flitting birds, ground squirrels and other critters continued to make their usual noises. No alarm warnings are sounded. Figuring whoever shot at him was more interested in what was on his horse than him personally, john started down the trail to Strawberry.

After a mile or so, the trail joined up with what John took to be a wagon road into town. Deep ruts and fresh horse apples said the road was fairly well used. By the time he entered the outskirts of Strawberry, there were long shadows being painted along the dusty street.

Something didn’t seem right to John Henry. While the town was far from any ghost town he’d seen before, he was surprised the street was empty of animals and people.

Making his way into town by walking dead center down the street, John Henry glanced right then left as he walked.

Glancing about he noticed the wooden frame buildings looked in good shape, no broken windows or collapsed awnings. Nothing to say it was a deserted ghost town. The street, while dusty was without trash. There were some dried and even a few fresh looking horse apples laying about.  The horses water troughs seemed to have fresh water in them and the hitching post seemed strong and useable.

No store was open no people were seen. A dress shop window had a recently arrived dress from New Orleans advertized in the window. A tobacco shop had meerschaum pipes and silver cigar cutters in the window, expensive items all left untouched.  .

John Henry could not make out the other end of town clearly but he figured with the desert alkali dust and heat waves radiating off the dirt street that it should be expected. Not pondering on that, he made his way to the center of town.  Once there, he stopped and scratched his head. “What the dickens is going on” he thought, “have I lost my mind or are these folk all out somewhere?”

One way to find out was to see the Sherriff,” if I can find him,” he mused.

As he made his way to the Sheriffs  office, he slowly walked  past the towns  bank. Looking into the windows as he passed, he didn’t see anyone moving about inside. Reaching for the banks front door, he turned the handle and was taken by surprise to find not only the bank unoccupied but all its doors were left unlocked.  “Oh hell, this ain’t right!” He loudly exclaimed.

Turning from the bank, he made swift headway to the Sheriffs office.

Approaching the jail, began to wonder if there could be a celebration or maybe a town function of some sort going on. He could recall as a kid the entire town he lived in at the time turning out for a horse race in a field outside of town. Then another time the entire town showed up to see the reformed town drunk get baptized in the creek nearby. There were reasons for people to go somewhere, maybe this was one of those times. “I bet that’s it, they’s just all gone off somewhere, they’ll be back soon.”

Arriving at the Jailhouse John Henry turned the door knob. The door swung inward on a set of squeaky but well maintained hinges.  Hesitantly, he stuck his head inside the Sherriff’s office and shouted.

“Hey, anybody home?” He yelled, “Sheriff, you all in here?” Silence was the response.

John Henry could figure nothing further so he stepped inside to wait for the Sherriff to show up. Feeling a strange tiredness, his drooping eyes took in the jail cells. They were also empty.

Yawning, he opened the cell door and stepped inside the confined area. A single cot was all the jail cell had within it. Making his way over to the cot, he sat down to rest. His head began to ache and the strange desire to sleep started overwhelming him, he lay down on the cot, and fell into a strange fever  like sleep.

John Henry heard familiar sounds as he lay deep in sleep. Like phantom wraiths they ghosted in and out of his dreams. The sound of horses clopping past, the front door of the jail house opening and closing, men talking within the jail and outside on the wooden walkway. There was the sound of a wagons squeaky, grease starved wheel hub as it made its way down the street. Boots thumping on the wooden walk outside said people were out and about. All the normal sounds for a normal town.

Morning broke through the jails single iron barred window in the cell. Streaking downward and in motion, it finally crawled onto John Henry’s face and eyes.

Abruptly, he awoke and sat up.

Wiping his hand across his eyes in order to sharpen his focus, he stood up and looked into the jails office. Remembering the sounds he heard during the night within the jail, he was surprised no one had wakened him to question why he had put himself in jail. The cell door was still unlocked so he pushed it open and walked into the office.   No one greeted him. The place was as empty as the night before. Spying a coffee pot he lifted it up to see if it contained any brew. While empty, it seemed too warm to be room temperature. Tipping the lid back he saw there was a scant amount yet in the bottom. He swirled it and saw grounds moving within the swirling wave. Someone had made coffee while he slept!

He quietly opened the front door, peered outside then stepped onto the wooden walkway.

Back out in the street, silence and emptyness once again greeted him. “Aw c’mon now” he complained, “What in Sam Hill is going on here?”  Starting up the street he stepped into a pile of horse dung, fresh horse dung. “How in the hell did that end up here if they ain’t got no horses here about? This is plain retarded!”   Swinging around in a full circle and near panic, he again saw a completely deserted town. No horses, only dung, no wagons, just tracks, no people, just unlocked doors.

“This is not right, not right at all” He loudly told himself. John Henry then decided to find a saloon. If anyone was in town, that’s where they’d be.

Seeing a building with a tall false front and a set of batwing doors he walked toward it. The sign over head claimed it was the Dusty Bone Saloon. It advertized food, drinks and the most beautiful woman to be had west of the Mississippi. Thinking of how many months some Cowboys was on the trail without seeing a woman, he figured whoever had named the place had hit the nail on the head.

Stepping up to the saloon’s wood plank walkway, he clomped up to the batwings door. He cocked his head before entering it to listen for any sounds coming from inside.  He heard nothing.

Slowly he swung open the doors and looked into the gloomy interior. Entering the dimly lit room, he took in the place as he walked up to the gaming tables. Cards lay about, even coins! Drinks had been half drunk and left sitting.

“Hey! Anyone in here?”  He glanced at the stairway leading upstairs to the whores rooms and took to the stairs two at a time. Reaching the hallway, he pushed open the first door he came to. Empty. Each room was the same. He turned and ran.

Time seemed to play tricks on him. As he ran from the saloon, he noticed the deepening shadows crawling up the dusty street. Wasn’t it just morning?

Feeling the strange sleepiness coming on once again he headed back to the saloon again and to the whores rooms to nap. Hunger had not seemed to be a concern nor even thirst. He didn’t quite understand, it was as if he was experiencing a brain fog. Reaching the step to the wooden walkway, he took the time to look down the street to the end of town. Once again he could not quite make out the details of the buildings or even the road. The end of town just seemed to blur into a smudge. He shrugged and entered the Saloon again. As he made his way to the stairs, he noticed new glasses had replaced the old ones at the table and bar. A few whisky bottles sat like unmoving pillars among the glasses.

Rubbing his aching head, he climbed the stairs to the whore’s rooms. One room stood with its door open so he stepped in and lay down to rest. Again sleep came upon him as if he had been drugged.  The last thing he thought of before he blinked out was that tomorrow he’d get on out of this strange place. Something just wasn’t right here.

Chapter 3

Again the night sounds came. This time he heard voices clear and distinct. Sometimes it was the huffing, puffing and grunting of cowhands and whores, other times it was sounds in the street. He dismissed the whores even in his sleep for somehow he remembered where he lay and assumed somehow it was being acted out in his dream. The street sounds interested him though. One in particular was the sound of many horses arriving along with cheers and congratulations. John Henry tried to discern what was being said above the din. Something about finding some no goods, a vigilante posse and hanging were some of the words he clearly understood. Then it all faded back into his sleep as a crowd began cheering. He slept until sunrise.

Dawn came abruptly. Jumping up from the bed, John Henry grabbed his hat and tore down the steps into the bar. Again he saw no patrons or bar tender. This time he was not surprised that the glasses and bottles had changed again. Stepping outside into the morning sun he started down the street to the end of town  where he swore in his dream he heard a crowd cheering. By now he was no longer concerning himself as to why there was no one about. He had put that out of his head because just as soon as he could, he’d head out of this crazy town, horse or no horse. Once gone, he figured things would return to normal.

Heading to the end of town he had heard the cheering he abruptly stopped and stood staring slack jawed at what he saw.

There, hanging from one of the few trees in town twisting in the breeze were three men. One of who was the Irishman. Removing his hat as if it would help him see better, John Henry cautiously approached the hanging figures. Black tongues stuck out of their gaping mouths. The two he did not recognize had pissed their drawers and the Irishman had included crap his. It was not a pleasant scene to stare at.

It was then that he realized he was at the end of the town he had not been able to see before. Due to sand being blown or heat wave he did not know, but being as close as he was he figured the end of town would be clearly visible now. It still wasn’t.

A  blur of fog was still preventing him from clearly seeing the end of the street, now only a hundred feet away. So intrigued was he that he turned from the three rope dangling figures and walked towards the end of the street.

As he approached, it seemed the end of the town ended in a blur of light. As he slowly walked towards it, he saw the light becoming more intense.  By the time he stood within feet of the last building the light was brighter than the morning sun. It wasn’t the brightness though that held him in a trance like state but the figure he saw within the brightness. It was his love, Anna.

Slowly, he approached the vision of the love of his life, his mind reeled in disbelief. “Anna?”  His voice cracked, “How? What is going on? That cain’t be really you! I buried my Anna back in Texas!”

In the brightest of light, Anna Smiled at him and spoke. ”My dear Jonathan Dickson Henry, who else would I be?”

Hearing his name spoken forced John Henry to his knees. There was only one person in the world besides his dead parents who knew his middle name, and that was his Anna.

Anna reached out her hand to him, “Come to me John Henry, it’s time now to leave this place. I have been waiting for you .”

“What do you mean, waiting? How did you know I was in this town anyway?”  Looking up in confusion John Henry quietly asked her. “What’s goin’ on sweetheart? Why am I being punished like this. I know you’re not really here.  Tell me, why am I here an’ you there? Have I gone mad?”

“No, you have not gone mad” Anna answered, “Do you remember the Irishman you met and took a dislike to on the trail?

“Yes, I remember seeing him. I didn’t cotton to him right off but I never saw his pards I just guessed he’d have some hidden away somewheres. I take it that’s ‘em hanging over there next to him? For what was they all hung for?”

Anna answered, “It is them, and they were hung because of what they were and what they did to you.”

Did to me? You’re tellin’ me it was them that shot at me an’ put a hole in my favorite hat? While I ain’t partial to havin’ my hat shot off my head, that ain’t no call to hang ‘em. Why they hang ‘em for that?”

“My dear John Henry, He didn’t just shoot the hat off your head, he shot the hat off through your head!”

“What???”

“That’s right, he killed you. Your body was found laying on the trail shortly after some of the town’s folks investigated after hearing the shot.  Your horse has been stabled in town since then. They caught up with those three last night in the forest, brought them back and hung them from that tree.

“Well if I’m dead then how come I’m standin’ here talkin’ to you.  Wouldn’t I know it if I was dead? Besides that, I’d be layin’ in a grave somewhere an’ I think I’d know if I was layin’ dead in a grave somewhere. Wouldn’t I?”

“It’s true John Henry, you are lying in a grave, right over there on the hill. You can walk over and take a look at your grave but I think you’ll believe me without having to take a look.”

John Henry looked over towards the hill, where sure enough, a new grave had been dug and filled. “How come I cain’t see no one except only  them that shot me?”

“Because they are dead. You can no longer see the living. Each time you fell asleep your spirit edged closer here to the light. I was sent to guide you.

The sounds you heard where those of the living. I know you noticed the changes each day. I saw you looking at the glasses and bottles yesterday. You saw they had changed. “

“How come I don’t see nothin’ move?”

“Because you only see a tiny slice of time, less than a blink of the eye, not unlike a painting captures a moment in time.”

John Henry’s mind began to make sense of it all. Rubbing his chin, John Henry looked to his beloved Anna. “So it’s for real then? I’m dead? Huh, maybe that explains why my horse took to the trail without me. She musta knowed I was a goner ‘cause she never woulda’ left me otherwise.”

“She did. I was delighted when she ran towards town for I did not want the Irishman to claim your Henry rifle. I know how much that rifle means to you.”

“It weren’t the rifle itself that meant so much to me Anna. It was ‘cause I knowed how long and hard it was for you to save up that much money to buy it for me without me knowin about it. Yup, I guess I’ll have no need for it now that I’m dead. Say Anna,  this may sound a bit queer but was you watchin’ me the entire time after I was kilt?”

“I’ve been able to see everything, yes.”

“I slept in the whorehouse, you knew that?”

Anna started chuckling, “Yes sweetheart, I watched as you slept and the whores came and went and plied their trade in your bed. It did look a bit crowded at times John Henry, I wish you could’ve seen it!”

It started out as a chuckle but grew into a full belly laugh for the two of them. John Henry slapped his thigh and shouted “Oh my word!” He cried, “that sounds like perfectly horrible sight.”

After a minute, the two stopped their laughing and chuckling. John Henry looked soberly at the town around him. True, the only thing that moved was the slow twisting of the dead men as they hung. He pondered the events and it all fit together too perfectly to be anything but the truth. He then turned his eyes back to his beloved Anna and told her.” I always wondered how I would go. Funny thing is, I never even knew it when I did go. I guess that explains why I ain’t touched no food or ever got thirsty either, huh?”

Instead of answering immediately, Anna reached her hand out to him. “Come home now with me John Henry, it’s finer here than even in Texas.”

Jonathon Dickson Henry closed his hand over hers and told her, “I loved you so darn much that sometimes I wondered if I could live without you after you passed. I guess I couldn’t huh?”

Anna smiled at him.

Together, hand in hand, they turned and walked away from the town and into the sun bright fog.

Anna and John Henry slowly began to dissapear from sight.

“Finer than Texas you say?”

“Yes John Henry, as hard as it is to believe, it’s finer than Texas!”

The End