Meet up in Lambey

Chapter 1

Sheriff Jeffery Osborn of Lambey Arizona , known as Ozzy by the townsfolk, sat sleeping open mouthed at his desk with his head thrown back. Every few moments from under his large bow shaped mustache came the discharge of a turbulent snort followed by a long sonorous snore. Ozzy was truly enjoying his afternoon nap. There was nothing wrong in doing that, in fact most townsfolk wouldn’t have it any other way. For the last nine years he had been their protector in a frontier that didn’t give a hoot to most law and order.

Sheriff Ozzy had spent much of that time wearing out the old oak chair with his behind. Now fifty two years old, Ozzy stood six feet four inches tall and had a hard time finding a horse that would gladly carry his two hundred and eighty pounds any distance. Ozzy wasn’t fat, not really anyway. He was just big. He was one of those guys that looked more like he was made of boulders rather than flesh and blood. Next to his wife Jessica, who was a perky little brown eyed woman and the love of his life, he was a towering giant. Jessica believed he had a heart the size of his presence.

He carried the long barrel Colt Peacemaker. While the short barrel pistol was quicker to the draw, the longer barrel was more accurate. Although well armed, Ozzy found the best way to come out on top in a gun fight was to talk the other guy out of it before the lead flew. With the huge shadow Ozzy cast, he had little trouble convincing drunks and other no goods that a physical altercation would not be in their health’s best interest. A gun was the great equalizer or so it was thought. When push come to shove though, most trigger happy drunks came to the conclusion that a night in jail sure beat pushing daisy’s up from the grave the next morning. And so being the Sheriff of Lambey was pretty uneventful for the mustached Sheriff.

Most times being a Sheriff of a small town meant months of drudgery followed by a few minutes of crap and pee your pants action. If Ozzy knew what lay down the road for the next couple of days, he would’ve stayed snoring at his desk or at least brought himself an extra change of pants.

Over in Wickenburg, just a day’s ride west of Lambey, Sheriff TJ Lewis finished unchaining the three Bartell brothers from the jail tree. Now Wickenburg was a growing town but even with it’s all its rowdiness it still hadn’t got around to building a real jail yet. An old mesquite tree and chain served as the jail and as it turned out, was one of the few places of decent shade in the entire town.
Once freed, the brothers cast ‘I’ll kill you next time we meet’ looks at Sheriff Lewis.

Throwing the chain over his shoulder he warned the three brothers.“Now you boys just ride on out of here peaceful like. Head anywhere you want but around my jurisdiction. You give anyone any lip or hard time on your way out and you’ll be chained right back up here. We don’t cotton to mistreatin’ women around here. Soiled dove or house wife, it don’t matter. You end up back here an’ I’ll let you rot in the sun until the Federal Marshal makes his way back here to pick your dead asses up. You understand what I’m telling you?”

A grumble from one brother, a nod from the others. “Good, now I already took the money from your belongings to pay the Mexican boy over at the livery for the feed and care of your three nags.”
Then remembering something that made him chuckle he continued, “Oh, I left him a nice tip ‘cause I figured you’d be too cheap to give him one.” Pointing down the road he warned them “ You got ten minutes to disappear from my site, now git!”

The three brothers, Carl, Roy and Jerome Bartell rode as free men out of the town. It wasn’t the fight that folks knew about that proclaimed their evilness, but the paid for murder they performed that no one was aware of yet. They had been paid a hundred dollars each for the killing and they thought the job was performed perfectly. It wasn’t. It would be sometime later that the body of mine owner Clarence Dickson and his near dead wife would be found. By then though, the Bartell brothers would be long gone from town.

Roy spoke up as the left the outskirts of town on horseback, “That was too dang close for comfort! Jerome, what the hell made you think you could manhandle that whore like that back there in the saloon without half them poke starved miners jumpin’ your ass and pounding it silly?”

Spiting some old bloody snot onto the ground, Jerome looked at his two accusers, “You two coulda’ at least shot a few of ‘em to get ‘em off a me! My damn face looks like a mule danced atop it for a while. Lost me a few more teeth too. It’s getting’ mighty hard to chew.” Jerome opened his mouth at the brothers and grinned, showing fresh gaps in the uneven set of rotted teeth.

Roy snorted, “Yup, that right there is why you don’t do the thinkin’ here little brother. You really think we coulda’ shot our way to freedom? Crap, we’d be pig feed right now if we woulda’ pulled iron on that crowd. Miners is like hornets when they’s got the scent of a woman near ‘em. If you pull somethin’ stupid like that again, I’ll blow your brains all to hell an’ be thanked for it. I ain’t never gonna’ let you risk my life ever again over your cravin’ to poke your damn carrot into anything wearin’ a skirt. Carl and I shoulda’ just let ‘em all just tear into you. Good thing for all of us that the Sheriff showed up when he did. He did us a huge favor by placin’ us under arrest for the night. Sometimes it’s safer bein’ in jail than bein’ free. Ain’t nothing worse than a vigilante crowd. On the other hand though, what woulda become of us if they’d found the Dicksons while we was in that saloon or chained up? I’m just glad we’s outa’ there!”

Chapter 2

Once on the trail heading south east towards the Aqua Fria River, Roy mulled the situation over, then he spoke up. “Let’s keep headin’ south east for about sixty or so more miles, we can lay low for a spell in the hills outside of Cave Creek town. There’s some god awful rough territory there about and I can’t see any posse trailing us that far. Wickenburg ain’t got no real posse, just a bunch of drunk miners that are lookin’ for some excitement. They’ll get bored after they sober up an’ turn back.”

It was just after deciding they could hole up at Cave Creek when Jerome’s horse lost a shoe on the rocky trail. “Hold up fella’s, I think she threw a shoe back there.” Dismounting, he checked and found out she had.

Pointing up ahead, Jerome continued speaking, “Lambey’s on up ahead just a few more miles. I passed through there some years back before we all took to the owl hoot trail. It weren’t a big town then but I know they had a livery, saloon and a whore house. I’m purty sure they had a smithy there too.”

Shaking his head, Roy looked over at his brother and told him, “Figures you’d know all about that saloon and whore house now wouldn’t ya? I swear, that ol’ bean pole in your pants is gonna be the death of ya’ yet!” Let’s just hope they don’t find them dead folks back there and form a posse before we get your nag shod.”

Thinking about it a minute, Roy decided. “ We should have a few days at least. It weren’t like there was paid workers to show up for work at that mine the Dickson’s worked behind their place. By the time the shoeing is done, it’ll be getting’ dark. Still, we should be alright if we spend the night since no one was even aware we was headed this direction.”

The three rode into Lambey not knowing they’d never see the hills of Cave creek.
Pointing, Jerome told them. “There’s the Black Smith over there, let’s drop my horse off and head on over to that there saloon down the street.” Trying to muster up a spit, he continued, ” I got that dang Arizona alkali dust dryin up my throat somethin’ fierce. God how I hate Arizona”
Back in Sheriff Osborn’s jail house, Bassa, the Sheriffs dog of dubious origin woke up, stretched out full length and loudly farted.

Suddenly both Bassa and Ozzy’s eyes flew wide open. In one quick motion Ozzy ran to the door, opened it and loudly exhaled his held breath. Turning back to the dog, which didn’t seem to mind the change in the jails aroma, Ozzy yelled insults and futile threats to the mutt which the Sheriff vowed was now smiling at him. “I swear, why I ever took you in is beyond me, I should’ve never kilt your owner. Seems I did him a favor…” His tirade drifted off to vague remarks of the dogs origin as he noticed the three men wearing their holsters low slung and untied making their way on foot down the street to the saloon.

Backing slowly into stinking doorway, Ozzy found cover to observe the men. Looking behind him, Ozzy voiced his concerns to Bassa. “I don’t like those fella’s looks Bassa, why don’t you get on out there and see what how they handle you sniffin’ at ‘em.”

As if Bassa completely understood, He rose up, stretched again and wandered out the door. Crossing the street, the dog, whose appearance was best described as a wolf that someone had carelessly thrown a worn out bear skin rug over, meandered on an angle until he came up on the men.

As if on cue, Bassa lowered his head and sniffed loudly at Carl’s boot. Carl’s reaction was a swift kick that missed by an inch, “Get the hell outa’ here ya’ ugly assed mutt! Dang thing looks like it got skin diseases!”

Watching from the doorway, the good Sheriff figured if anybody was mean enough to kick an innocent animal, even one as shaggy and unkempt as Bassa, then he sure don’t want ‘em hanging around his town. Dogs, especially Bassa he had discovered, were a pretty darn good judge of men.
Stepping into the street, Ozzy made his way unnoticed behind the men while Bassa returned to the jail’s porch for a well earned nap

Chapter 3

Waiting until the men had settled down to their drinking, Ozzy slid in quietly through the saloons batwing doors and immediately stepped to the right. This allowed him to observe the men as he stood in the shadows. It wasn’t long before the trio’s whiskey brought out their true colors. It started by arguing quietly amongst themselves but soon escalated to raised voices.
From what he overheard, the Sheriff figured something bad had gone down over in Wickenburg . The word ‘posse’ was spoken just once but it was enough for Ozzy to take some action. Casting his gaze over the crowded saloon, he soon saw his friend and part time deputy playing a game of poker. Catching the Deputy’s eye, he tilted his head towards the rear door and walked out.

Once meeting outside, the Deputy asked what was going on.

“Tom, did you notice those three men that walked in? They sure ain’t ranch hands or preachers the way they was wearin’ them irons low like. I got a feeling they did something bad up Wickenburg way. There ain’t a reason in the world for the likes of them to be here unless they’s up to no good. ”

The deputy agreed,” Yup, I think we got some bad ‘uns here Ozzy. What you thinkin’ on doin’ about ‘em?”

Ozzy leaned his powerful frame against the wall, “ I need something done real quick. Consider yourself drawin’ Deputy pay as of right now. I want you to high tail it over to Wickenburg and talk to Sheriff Lewis there and see if they caused a ruckus of any sort that they might have the law lookin’ for ‘em. I overheard them talking about Wickenburg and something about a posse. Ride hard ‘cause I need answers mighty quick.”

“Shoot, I’ll be there by midnight and back by morning.” With that, Fred was off to the corral behind the jail. A few minutes later Ozzy heard the pounding of hoof beats leaving town.

Not knowing whether the trio was spending any time or just passing through, Sheriff Osborn kept his eye open for any trouble within the saloon. It was soon obvious that the one named Roy was the leader and the other two Carl and Jerome or maybe all three were brothers. Ozzy had noticed there’s a difference between family and non family when folks drank and argued. Non family arguments usually brought out irons spewing lead to settle a disagreement. Family just fought with their fist or knives. Jerome and Roy soon proceeded to prove the Sheriff right. The fist started flying between the two.
Jerome woke with even more missing teeth and Roy’s left eye swelled shut. Carl had a couple of knots on his head from an upset patron who lost his drink when Carl fell into him. The patron lost the rest of his whisky when his bottle broke across Carl’s forehead. Jerome spent the night in the whore house. Carl and Roy had slept with their horses in the stable.
The predawn light found Ozzy kissing his wife Jessica goodbye at their doorway and told her not to worry. He had told her of the three who rode into town the day before.  He tried to lighten her mood by joking, “I got Bassa backing me up.” Then he added softly, “I love you Jessica, there ain’t no one gonna keep me from coming back home to my sweety at the end of the day.”

Jessica leaned against his powerful frame and wrapped her arms around him.

Ozzy had been her savior and true love from day he rode into a saloon in Santa Fe nine year earlier. While enjoying his drink, Ozzy noticed the young dark haired, big brown eyed soiled dove watching him from the other end of the bar. Being a man, and being intrigued at why such a good looking girl would be in the employ of the saloon as a whore, he approached her. It only took a minute of small talk and the two left for the privacy of her room. That night was the first of five nights straight. He was her only customer and it had run him near broke.
In those five days of privacy, Ozzy had found out much about the girl. She had been a mail order bride who’s man was found shot to death in Santa Fe two days before she arrived from Sandy Run South Carolina. With no money, no job and no future, she was left with no option but to do as many women of the day were forced to do. Sell the only thing they had worth selling to survive. Themselves.

Ozzy checked his funds the last morning and saw that they had been depleted to the point that he could no longer even spend one more night with her. It wrenched his heart for he had fallen hard in love.

Ozzy wanted to tell her of his love for her but figured such a pretty girl had most likely heard that same thing from every other cowboy visiting her room. The morning broke and Ozzy spoke of leaving.

“I am supposed to be in Arizona in another week. I took a job of Sheriff at a small mining town. It ain’t much but it’s an honest job. I don’t want to leave here, I’ve grown to…”

Without warning, Jessica threw herself at him and begged, “Please, take me with you! Don’t leave me here, this isn’t what I ever planned for in my life and I swear I would rather kill myself than feel another man atop me again!” By now Jessica’s streaming tears had found their way to the floor as they dripped from her little chin. “I will do anything for you, I’ll clean, cook, wash you and your clothes three times a day…anything! You don’t have to marry me even! Just don’t leave me here, please take me with you!” Jessica had collapsed against him and let herself bawl like a calf.

When Ozzy rode out that afternoon, he was a bit cramped on the saddle even though his Jessica was such a tiny thing.

She still was. As he left her that morning and walked down the street to the jail with Bassa following behind, she couldn’t help but feel her stomach knot up. She was expecting in a few months and began to worry about Ozzy’s safety. In the past nine years, trouble came and went and she had her worries but not like this. Something else was in play and she couldn’t put her finger on it. Shrugging off the unpleasant feeling she felt, Jessica went back inside to finish her morning chores before heading to the China Laundry. Since she announced her pregnancy, Ozzy wouldn’t let her wash clothes anymore. Secretly, she hoped it would continue that way after she delivered.
True to his word, Deputy Tom showed up at first light at the jail house with the news. “It seemed that the three are suspected of a killing for hire. The owner of the Smiling Lady gold mine, a Mr. Dickson, had been murdered and his wife near beat to death. She recovered enough to tell the Sheriff that three men had entered their house and kilt her husband to death over the gold mine. She overheard them while she lay there playing dead that they was paid to do the killin. It seems whoever hired ‘em had plans for the mine when the claim ended with their deaths.” Taking a break to spit on the ground, Tom then said, “They’s wanted over there all right Ozzy, what we gonna do?”

Ozzy’s plate was filling up mighty quick with problems. First was how to safely round the men up. Second was how to legally settle the issue of their freedom since they hadn’t committed a crime in Lambey yet. Thankfully, figuring out who ordered the killings was up to Sheriff Lewis.

“Well, first things first, let’s head over to the livery and see if they stabled their horses there. I figure I can legally hold them in our jail since you said that Sheriff Lewis told you he had issued a warrant for their arrest. We got to keep it legal like if this ends up having a Federal marshal involved. It seems every time a Federal Marshal shows up, a posse of lawyers is on his tail waiting to foil him at every turn.”
Ozzy pulled out his long barreled pistol and spun the cylinder. “when I go to arrest them, make sure you’re ready to draw quick like Tom, that group looks like they know how to use them tied down Colts.”

It took only a minute for Ozzy to find out the two brothers Carl and Roy, had spent the night in the hay in the livery and had recently left. “well, I think when we find the third man we’ll end up finding all three at once. I want you to head over to Mary’s Diner and see if they’s stuffin’ their chops with grub, they gotta eat sometime. I’ll be watching ‘em from next door inside the mercantile through the curtained window.”

Chapter 4
After leaving the stable, Roy pounded on the upstairs door the saloon owner said Jerome had spent the night in.

In reality, most rooms were rented by the minute, not the night. Women deprived cowboys spoke loudly of their ability to make a soiled dove swoon but if you were to ask her, she’d tell you she got about as excited as finding a new hole in her lace stocking. Many cowboys after being on the trail for months, discovered that their manliness had either got up and left ‘em or took to an embarrassing early exit. This ended up making room available only minutes later for the next customer. Jerome was not one of these. The soiled doves he frequented back in Santa Fe had complained they lost money when he showed up so they began to charge him extra. That was alright with Jerome since any money he had was either stolen or ill earned anyway. It wasn’t like he actually worked for it.

Roy’s pounding finally ended with the door opening and Jerome’s sorry black and blue face peered out. “Git your clothes on Jerome. Let’s head on over for some grub and cut on outa’ here. I’m getting antsy.”

The three Bartel brothers ordered their breakfast and sat impatiently waiting for their food. Jerome’s face still hurt from the pounding Roy had given it the night before in the saloon. Rubbing his jaw he looked over at Roy. “Dang it Roy, why’d ya go an’ punch me in my mouth, you know’d I just had it punched up the night before by them miners! I got so many teeth missin’ now that a whole biscuit’ll fit right between ‘em.”
“Then behave yourself ya idiot!” replied Roy. Seeing the food was about to arrive, he ended saying, “Soon as we finish eatin, lets head over to the livery and get back on the trail.”

Not knowing Tom was a Deputy, the three paid no attention to the slender looking cowboy as he entered the diner behind them, grabbed a menu and sat down at a vacant table nearby.

Rushing through his breakfast, Roy leaned back, whipped his mouth with his shirt sleeve and loosened his belt a notch for comfort. “well, anytime yer ready, I am.”
Carl set his empty coffee mug onto the table. “I got a bad feelin’ myself now Roy. I wish now I hadn’t left my long gun with the horses.”
As they stepped outside, Jerome stopped dead in his tracks and pointed.

“Well damn my hide, look over yonder there! I know’d that girl anywhere. She was a whore over in Santa Fe some years back.” Strutting like a peacock, he boasted, “ I had her a bunch a times myself!”

Then before the others could stop him, Jerome swiftly scooted himself across the street to intercept the dark haired girl carrying a load of laundry. Timing himself to catch her between buildings, he caught up and shoved her violently into the shadowed alley. Before she could react, Jerome was on top of her trying to stifle her screams of help. Insane anger welled up in Jerome as memories of her laughed at him.

“Hey bitch! Remember me? I know who you are, you uppity whore! You refused me over an’ over no matter how much money I threw at you back in Santa Fe. And you a stinkin’ whore thinkin’ you was better’n me!”

Jessica fought hard against his attack but Jerome had already pulled his pants down to his knees and climbed on top the knocked down girl, trying to force her legs apart.

Tom heard the screams from inside the diner and ran to the door. Stopping behind the stunned brothers, he realized the screams were of a girl being accosted in the alley across the street. Forgetting his duty to watch the brothers for Ozzy, he ran flat out across the street pulling his gun from its holster.

Being experienced shootist, both Carl and Roy reacted to Deputy Tom reaching for his gun by pulling theirs in a blur.

Not aware yet that the would be rapist was one of the brothers, Tom didn’t look behind him as he ran. Suddenly Tom felt a tug on the back of his flapping wool vest and afterward heard the gunshot. Caught between trying to stop the attack and save himself, Tom dove headfirst into the dirt and fired backwards at the two brothers.

Another bullet plowed its way past Toms head, kicking up dust and blinding his right eye. Recognizing the form trying to rape the girl as Jerome, Tom took as careful aim as he could and using his left eye, fired high on the form on top of the girl.

Two things happened at once. Jerome jerked up, having had a bullet drive its way from Toms gun into his bare ass and up to and out of his shoulder an inch under the skin. It wasn’t a deadly shot, but it sure drove the pain scale to a ten.

The next thing that happened was Ozzy had entered the fight.

Watching the brothers leave the diner from the mercantile and having heard Toms original shot, Ozzy bolted out the door into the street with his gun drawn.

Hearing the scream, he realized it was Jessica’s.

Seeing Jerome lift up off of his wife and begin to jerk and twist from the intense pain of Toms shot, Ozzy remained calm, pushing the rising panic behind him, he aimed carefully and pulled the trigger of the long barrel Colt 45 at the flopping figure. Jerome’s head exploded in a red mist of brains and bone, leaving Jessica to run free.

The two brothers separated making it harder to take them out. Tom had made his way behind a water trough but Ozzy still stood exposed in the street behind the brothers. Lifting his head over and into the horse’s water trough to clear his right eye of dust, Tom barely finished when two bullets punched holes into the wooden planks protecting him. Seeing the water pouring from the holes in front of his face, Tom let the stream flow over his eye, finally clearing it of dust.

Roy swung around and fired from the hip at Ozzy as Ozzy’s barrel spewed a deadly stream of lead and fire into the left arm socket of Carl. Carl’s arm flew backward blown out of the long sleeve shirt and fell to the ground.

Roy’s shot caught Ozzy’s holster belt alongside his hip and harmlessly exploded some of the cartridges from it. Tom had by now regained his sight and composure and began throwing lead once again. Not wanting to hit the buildings or people within them behind Roy and Carl, he aimed low at their feet.

Carl was screaming and holding his pistol against his shoulder trying to halt the fountain of spurting blood from his empty arm socket. Suddenly the heel of his right boot disappeared, then his ankle took on a new angle as a bullet plowed into it.

Roy was still firing at Ozzy. Ozzy felt a jerk at his sleeve as a bullet passed through it plowing a groove up his arm. A second bullet punched clean through his thigh. Knowing it was only a matter of seconds before a deadly load would find it’s mortal mark, Ozzy steadied himself and fired the last of his cartridges into Roy’s chest.

Jerome lay blown to pieces, Carl was out of action, missing an arm and a foot. That left only Roy standing there looking with deadly hate at Ozzy. Slowly blood began dripping from between Roys lips and down his chin. Then as if he had just thought of something funny. He chuckled, coughed up more blood and said, “I told him his bean pole would be the death of him.”

Roy suddenly felt tired, very tired. It seemed his legs could barely hold himself up he was so tired. Then slowly his vision started angling sideways and then stopped as his head lay against the hard dust. His eyes closed and being tired beyond help, they never opened again.

A bit shot up but not to the point of dying, Ozzy limped over to his wife who was now running across the road to meet him.”Are you alright? Did he hurt you?” He shouted.

She flung herself at him crying but not for what had been done to her but for the pain Ozzy was going through. “No, I’m alright,” she cried, ‘ just bruised up a bit and in need of a new dress…” Suddenly her face crumpled and tears flowed.

“I’m so sorry Ozzy, it was my past coming back to haunt us. He recognized me from Santa Fe. It’s going to happen over and over, I just know it, Oh my God, I am so sorry Ozzy, and now you’re all shot up too! You came within inches of being killed because of me” She buried her head in his good shoulder and bawled like a baby.

Ozzy reached his good arm around her and pulled her to him. He could feel her swollen tummy against his. “I love you Jessica, I told you before, there ain’t no one gonna keep me from coming back home to my sweety at the end of the day.”

Glancing around at the dead, Ozzy softly told her, “When I saddled you in front of me and we rode out of Santa Fe, I knew days like this might come up. Then and there I decided you was worth it. I ain’t regretted it yet an’ never will.”

Ozzy looked at the blood soaking his shirt sleeve and pant leg. “C’mon sweety, let’s get me bandaged up.”

Heading towards Doc Simmons place, Ozzy felt a nudge at his feet. Looking down he saw Bassa looking sullenly back up at him. “Big help you were ya’ old flea bag!”

Bassa would have taken offense but he noticed the smile that Ozzy couldn’t suppress as he said it.

As the three made their way down the street, Back where the bodies lay Tom was heard to say. “Well, I better ride on back to Wickenburg and tell Sheriff Lewis he ain’t gotta worry about haulin’ these here no goods in anymore. Hmm, I never asked if they was a reward out on em… wouldn’t that be nice?”

This is the actual ‘Jail Tree’ in Wickenburg, AZ

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The lesser of all evils

In response to one reader’s thoughtful advice, the story originally titled, “The loathsome Sheriff of Arapahoe Junction” has been renamed, “The lesser of all evils”. Thank you my dear friend for your valued suggestion. This story is dedicated to you.

Prologue

For some reason the good Lord puts people on this celestial ball that by all rights and means shoulda’ never been placed here. Sheriff Maurice Du Bois was one of these.

Poking the evening cook fire with a stick and stirring the embers until flames gave new life to the campfire coals, John, the trail cook settled the blackened coffee pot back onto the rekindled flames. Sitting there tilting, it boiled up a fresh pot of coffee. He continued his tale to the group of cowhands and told them of the territory they were now passing through.

“A couple decades ago, These parts had folks livin’ around here. Hooking his thumb over his right shoulder he told them, “ Beyond that rise out there, was a small mining town called Arapahoe Junction. There’s nothin’ left there now but a few snake infested dilapidated buildings and the bones of mostly innocent folk.”  Stopping to pause, The cook’s eyes took on a tired sadness as the memories came flooding back to him.

“ I rode through there a few years back. I needed to see what remained. Other than some leaning building frames and sun bleached planks lying about, there’s nothing that would ever say it was my home or anybody else’s.  As towns went, it wasn’t a bustling one but it weren’t no tent town either. We had a dry goods store, livery, saloons, a couple of bordello’s book ending the town. It coulda’ grow’d into a real nice town ‘cepting for the Sheriff.  Yes Sir, that was one evil man. He needed killin’ something real  bad. I ain’t ashamed to say that my brother, me and a few others took to doing it. It’s kinda’ ironic actually. In trying to save the town, we ended up killing it!”

Chapter 1

Known to be a gambler, a womanizer and a low down skunk, Maurice Du Bois took pride in being all three. Born in France, he and his parents had relocated to New Orleans after being accused of counterfeiting French bank notes. The Gypsy telegraph (word of mouth between thieves) warned the family of an impending arrest and they made their escape by ship to America that night.

Stepping down from the freight hauler where he had hitched a free ride, Du Bois grabbed his carpet bag from the wagon’s bed and stood there taking in the sight before him.

Six months earlier, the New Orleans Bee had run a front page story about the gold strike at Pikes Peak out in Colorado. Knowing the easy gold was in a miners pouch and not in the earth, he immediately made plans to acquire as much gold from the hard working men as he could.

The freight wagon’s muleteer had lost badly at Du Bois crooked card game back in New Orleans.

Feigning sympathy for the unfortunate driver, Maurice Du Bois offered to trade the debt owed by the Muleteer in exchange for his free passage out west. Having been thoroughly schooled by his Gypsy parents in the art of sleight of hand, Maurice Du Bois packed his marked cards, loaded dice and said Au voir to his crooked parents. Curses and insults were thrown after him by the old couple as the freight wagon carrying their golden egg and hoped for source of retirement income, began its slow motion westward to the gold fields without them.

Having traveled for weeks, the freight wagon last stop was only thirty miles south east of Pikes Peak. There at the promising town of Arapahoe Junction, Du Bois ended his journey.

While many of the buildings were still large canvas tents whose wooden fronts imitated real structures, there were enough solidly built structures being built to convince Du Bois that plenty of real money was being dug out from the nearby hills in the form of gold.

Taking in the town as he walked toward what he was told was the least expensive hotel, Du Bois kept his eyes peeled for saloons that would cater to a gambler such as himself. Stopping first into the barber shop he paid for a shave and had his black coat brushed clean by the man’s wife. After his cut and shave and smelling of Bay Rum astringent, he straightened the ruffles on his French cuffed shirt and placed his black flat brimmed hat neatly onto his head with a tilt. Looking at his reflection in the barber shop mirror, He smiled showing his teeth. Satisfied he was the gambler extraordinaire he walked on out.

Reaching the end of the town he spotted a bordello whose twin mirrored itself at the other end of town. Next to this one sat the Nugget saloon.

Entering the Nugget, Du Bois spotted a game of Faro in progress. Instead of heading to the gaming table, Du Bois sidled up to the bar.

“What’ll it be friend?” Asked the middle aged, mustachioed  bartender

Placing two bits on the bar, Du Bois responded, “Whiskey, just a glass of it.”

The bar tender filled a glass partway and slid it over to Du Bois and pointed to the quarter dollar piece on the bar.  “It’s fifty cents.”

With a silent look of disgust, Du Bois reached into his money pouch and removed a silver fifty cent piece. Laying it down he reclaimed the quarter dollar. “For fifty cents this better not be snake juice.”

“It ain’t the best but I’ve sold worse. It’s a mining town friend, like it or lump it, that’s the way it is.”

Du Bois remembered thinking back in New Orleans that it was going to be easy to skin the miners of their cash by gambling. He decided if that’s all he did here, he’d never get rich. But right now he needed a nest egg to do what needed to be done and some pocket money.

Making his way over to the faro game, he waited until an overweight, balding  man dressed in a conservatively cut wool  suit stood up and tossed his cards down. “I’m done for Gents, Lady Luck isn’t looking my way today.” Then, leaning over to the man holding the deck of cards and pointing to the pile of cash, he quietly told him. “Wilkins, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to get my rent, that’s it there laying in that pile in front of you.”

Wilkins nodded but before he could answer back, Du Bois grabbed the chair by the back, pulled it out and slid into it before the portly man had barely cleared the table. “Games still open Wilkins? Names Maurice, Maurice Du Bois, I’m fresh out of New Orleans.

The gentleman named Wilkins, spoke up as he reached for the cards. “Well?  What game is it Mr. Du Bois? Five Card Monte? Faro? You name the game we’ll play it.”

By five in the morning there was only one player left at the table besides Du Bois and he was fighting against the ropes. All the other players had thrown in and went home to upset wives or next door to the soiled doves. Fueled by a night of high stakes adrenalin and whiskey, Wilkins concentration began faltering with each new drink. The once swollen pile of cash in front of him now consisted of just a few coins.

Chapter 2

“You’ve got a hell of a lucky streak mister, I’d be fool to call you a cheat but danged if I can see how you did it. You’re good, real good. I know all the tricks, or thought I did until now. If I would’ve caught you even once, I’d have blown you outa’ your chair.” Pulling a sawed off shot gun with its stock cut like a pistol  from under the table, he laid it in front of him. “No need to fear Du Bois, like I say, it would’ve all ready happened. But to satisfy my curiosity, play me one more game, this time a hand of Poker, no raising, just a straight hand with a two card draw. I haven’t the cash left, but I do have a deed I’m willing to put up. I’m so convinced you somehow fixed these games that I’m willing to bet this deed that I was right.”

Normally, Du Bois would have feigned offense to the insinuation that he was a cheat but his own curiosity was now peeked.

With a chiding chuckle Du Bois asked, “What’s the deed to? Your ramshackle cabin on a spread of tumble weeds? A played out gold mine? Your Mama’s house?”

Sitting back in his chair, the gambler who had invited Du Bois to the table smugly remarked, “No Mister Du Bois, it’s the deed to over half this town.”

“The town? What the hell do you mean, the town?” “

“Just that Du Bois, you see, I own the majority of the land this town sits on. Sure, I’m in negotiations to sell it to the town committee who wants to legally annex it for the town, but until that time comes, it’s still mine to do as I please”

“I never heard of such a thing, what do I have to put up in exchange?”

With whisky induced confidence, Wilkins replied, “All the cash you cleaned out of those sucker’s pockets tonight. So what do you say Du Bois, are you game?”

Du Bois knew it was make or break time. Cheating was out of the question. The simpler the game was, the harder it was to find ways to cheat. “You deal and I’ll cut”

The game was quick, too quick for Wilkins. In his hand he held three deuces, on the table in front of Du Bois lay three kings. To Du Bois own amazement, he had won fair and square.

Wilkins sat stunned. His anger and bravado ebbed away as he realized what he had just done. Slowly he unfolded the deed to the town in front of him. “Worst luck I’ve ever had. What was I thinking.”

“Do you always carry that deed around with you Wikins?”

“No, I was to meet with the group earlier tonight that wanted to buy my property. Instead, I sat here all night and played card games.  Dang, I lost it like a green horn.”

Du Bois reached over and studied the deed and some legal papers attached to it. “These papers say that while you owned the land, the buildings here are individually owned and the owners of those buildings pay you rent for the land that they sit on.”

Flipping the pages back and forth, Du Bois realized on the first day of each month every person in town had to fork over their rent. As best as he could figure, it amounted to almost a thousand dollars a month. He let out a slow whistle.

With a laugh Du Bois told Wilkins, “I was going to head on to Pikes Peak to seek my fortune but I think I just struck gold right here and now!”  Kissing the deed, he looked across the table at the very ill looking Wilkins.

“We can get all the legal work done in a few hours when your attorney is open for business, yes?  Is he located in town here.”

‘You took his seat over when you came in Du Bois, he’ll be open in a few. Meanwhile I’m tired and need to think on some things. If you wish, I’ll be back here at ten this morning, we’ll go over to see him then.”

Chapter 3

At first nothing changed but the deeds owner. Then as the months went by, Du Bois began raising rents on business owners he didn’t like or he wanted gone. He continued to dangle the deed in front of the group that had wished to purchase the land. But now the price had doubled and the group found it on the edge of being unaffordable.

For the first time in his life Du Bois was in a position of real wealth and power. A good man would not have let this alter their life, but Du Bois was not a good man. He became even more boastful and began drinking heavily. Where once he respected women enough to be cautious and treat them with respect, he now cursed openly and became lewd around them. When the beating of the whores started, many of soiled doves left for greener pastures.

He found egotistical  pleasure at humiliating those who fell behind in their rent. Especially pretty women.  When the woman who owned the café could not make full rent, he demanded one half the business as collateral until she could pay the balence. Two days later the woman was found raped and strangled in her bed.

The town folks became scared. The smart ones began moving out, the others hesitantly stayed too scared in forfeiting  all they owned.

It was then that the remaining members of the Committee that had attempted to purchase the original deed from Wilkins met in secret.

None of the group was a shootist or even handy with a gun. A lawyer, the Doctor, a saloon owner, two merchants and blacksmith rounded out the group. There wasn’t even a Cowboy among them. None had ownership of a gun and only a few had ever shot one. They were for the most part, city bred folk.

A decision was made that night. They would hire a shootist to remove Du Bois. That would leave the towns land deed open for the courts to decide its fate. Most assumed the courts would grant the town committee the rights to the deed so the annexed land could then be filed with the State. The call went out. A one hundred dollar offer was made.

The weeks passed but no shootist arrived. Meanwhile, Du Bois had run off the towns volunteer sheriff and took over his job. It wasn’t the job he wanted but the prestige and power that went with it. He had plans. His black riverboat gambling attire now sported a bright silver Sheriffs badge on its lapel. He became Judge and Jury, jailing and charging fines to line his pockets. Behind his back, the town folk began calling Arapahoe Junction, “Hells Junction”.

Wilkins and his lawyer, Henry banks, called for a secret meeting of the committee members.  Wilkins introduced the brothers, John and James to the committee members. Most everyone knew James as he was the Nuggets bartender. John on the other hand was less known because he spent most his time driving cattle to market as a cowhand.

Wilkins then told them that John had found out that “Sheriff Du Bois” ( as he now called himself), had been stealing explosives by having his men rob the freight wagons headed to Pikes Peak. Du Bois would then resell the explosives to the Pikes Peak miners at an exurbanite rate. Because the mining companies could not operate without the explosives, they grudgingly bought it.

Both the mustachioed  bartender James, and his brother  John, had fought in the war of the States. John for the Confederate States, James for the Union. Before the war, both had been coal miners living in north western Virginia. Their mining jobs had dealt with explosives, so had both their military careers.

James explained that his brother had seen the cell next to his filled top to bottom with crates of explosives when Du Bois tossed him in jail for being drunk, a minor offense but carrying a hefty fine of ten dollars. “I was just clearin’ the trail dust from my throat, I hadn’t hardly started drinkin’ for real yet but I guess the Sheriff don’t take kindly to bein’ called Ma’am. Can I help it that he dresses in frilly shirts?”

He told them that inside the next cell, a large tarp had covered the crates but his curiosity got the better of him. When Du Bois left for the night, he reached through the bars between the cells and lifted the tarp. Reading the words “Explosives” painted across the crates face, he then lowered the tarp and returned to his bed to think.

“So, this is what I’m thinking” says Wilkins, “Who needs a shootist when we can just blow him all to high heaven in his office with his own explosives!”

With little discussion and no argument, the committee disbanded and awarded John and James the duty to figure out the details of ridding the town of Du Bois..

A week later word went out to the committee members to meet at the livery at midnight. It was then that the brothers John and James divulged to the others of their plan to rid the town of Du Bois. One by one the door slid open a crack and a committee member quietly eased into the darkened livery. A single oil lamps low burning wick gave just enough light for the members to make each other out. John spoke.

“I’ll need some financial backing here because I need to get myself tossed in jail again. I’ll cause a drunkin’ ruckus of some sort, Du Bois hates drunks and he don’t care for me none either after what I called him.”

“ In order for things to go as planned, I need to be bailed out of there by evening. I have no idea what Du Bois is gonna’ set my bail at, but since I was just in an caused him grief, it ain’t gonna’ be cheap. I would figure on getting at least Fifty dollars together for bail, maybe more.” The others nodded saying they could get that amount and more together. It was decided that Henry Banks, the lawyer, would handle the bail proceedings.

“I also need at least forty feet of explosive fuse and one pound of black powder in a canvas sack. I’ll wrap the fuse around my waist under my clothes and stick the sack down my pants. I’ll pour some water on my pants like I pissed ‘em from drinkin’. That’ll pretty much guarantee Du Bois wont go feeling around my drawers for a hidden gun or anything else.  Since there are only two jail cells, he has no choice but to put me back into the cell next to the explosives. One thing I know, come dinner time, Dubois ain’t gonna hang around the jail. He’ll head on up to the saloon for dinner and drinks like he did before. When he’s gone, I’ll reach through the bars, lift the tarp and plant the sack of powder within the crates then lower the tarp again after setting the fuse.  I’ll trail the fuse out the back window where it can be lit later on.”

A murmur of agreement met the brothers ears.

“ I need someone to hang around out back near the window so you can hear me yell. When you hear me, that’s the signal for Banks here to run up to the saloon and insist that Du Bois take the bail money and let me out. He’ll complain and refuse at first, but play up to him by buying him an expensive bottle of whisky for his troubles, but make sure he takes it with him to the jail when he leaves.

Even though he could afford to buy his own distillery now, he’s so cheap he’ll still jump at the chance for a free bottle!”  That brought a quiet laugh of acknowledgement from the group.

“After he lets me out, everyone get out of there. James and I will set the fuse when we’re sure Du Bois is settled in for a spell with his bottle at his desk.  He’s too cheap to share it and once he starts on that bottle, he’ll take the time to finish it off.” More murmurs of agreement.

“The explosion should take out most of the building and along with it, Du Bois. It’s been a while since my brother and I used explosives. I hear they’re making a nitroglycerin based explosive called dynamite. It packs a wallop!  There’s no way to tell if there’s any dynamite  in these cases or not since they’re just marked ‘Explosives’,  so just in case nobody hang around the place. The businesses on each side of the jail will be closed that time of day so we don’t have to worry about any innocents bein’ blowed up.”

The lawyer Banks then spoke up nodding in agreement,” If everything goes well and we are all in agreement here, the morning after Du Bois is gone, myself and some of the committee members will travel to the State Capital to file for annexation of the land. Is this to everyone’s approval?”

Again, a quiet murmur of agreement was heard. “Then it’s settled.”

James spoke up now, “Let’s plan on this Friday, the day after tomorrow. That way I have time to purchase the powder and fuse.” He turned and asked the Lawyer, “How long will it take to gather up the money Banks?”

“Not five minutes, I’ll gladly foot the bail. In fact, here’s five dollars. Take it and go ahead and purchase the fuse and powder with it.”

 

Chapter 4

Friday morning’s sun peaked over the mountains to the east. Sun streaked into the curtained window of Maurice Du Bois.  If he had consulted a soothsayer, a medium or a fellow gypsy with a crystal ball, Maurice would have never gotten out of bed. Knowing you’re about to die can change a man. It can bring repentance or like Ebenezer Scrooge amends might be made. But Maurice Du Bois had no idea he would be charged in front of his maker before the day was over, so there was no change in him.

Rising from the bed, he stumbled to the wash basin and plashed the stagnant smelling water onto his face. With his head pounding in pain, he selfishly blamed the sleeping whore for amplifying his hangover by supplying him the night before with rot gut whisky. Making his way back to the bed, Maurice glared at her large bare rump jutting from under the blanket, lashing out like a spoiled child, he kicked it.

Descending the whore house stairs in a huff, the whore house owner and visibly upset Madam stepped into his path. “What’s my girl upstairs screaming about Du Bois?”Shoving the big woman aside Du Bois told her, “She woke up on the wrong side of the bed! Now get out of my way bitch” If the weight of sins added go your torment in hell, Maurice Du Bois just tipped the scales.

His day started off badly and got worse as it went on. While in the café eating lunch, a local drunk started a fight and knocked Du Bois food to the floor. In a fit of anger, the Sheriff dragged the poor man down the wooden walkway, stopping to kick him from time to time. By the time they reached the jail down the street, the man was knocked half senseless.

Using his foot to propel the prisoner forward, the drunk was sent crashing into the back wall of the cell. Du Bois locked the cell, slammed the front door on his way out and retreated to the saloon for a drink.

John lifted his black and blue face towards the small barred window in his cell. “You out there yet James?”

A voice answered in the affirmative. “Yup, how you doing, I was almost ready to step in and stop it when he started kicking at you.”

Trying to put on a good face with laughter, John replied, “I’ll live, I sure earned my wages though , didn’t I? Tell you what brother, it’ll be about an hour before I get this set up in here to blow. Come back and check on me then, OK?”

Uncoiling the fuse from his waist then removing the sack of black powder from inside his pants, John went to work. It only took half the time as planned so John laid down on the cot to give his sore body a rest.

“Pssst, John, you ready yet?”

“Sure am, go tell Banks to bail me out’a  here!”

Fifteen minutes later, an angry Sheriff Du Bois carrying a unopened bottle of Tennessee whisky and the overweight lawyer clomped down the wooden walkway to the jail.

“Come on Du Bois” Banks pleaded, “There isn’t reason in the world to set bail at a hundred and twenty dollars! Why bail for a murder charge is less.”

“You want him out so bad Banks, you can pay what I set bail at.”

An hour later found Du Bois halfway through the bottle when the jail’s front door banged open.  In strode Du Bois three amigos in crime. “Boss, we just come from Pikes Peak, they’s chompin’ at the bit for them there explosives. We need to get’em  loaded an out’a here pronto! I told ‘em the price went up to twenty a crate, up from ten last time. They grumbled a lot but we got ‘em over a barrel. They’ll pay up.

While this was going on, one of the three had walked back to where the cases were stored. A strange look came over his face and he yelled to those up front. “Hey y’all, I smell something burnin’ back here, I think the place is on fire!”

Before Du Bois could get up out of his chair, three things happened in rapid order. The first was that the cases of explosive had in fact, turn out to be the more powerful dynamite, exploded.

The second was that the cell door in front of the yelling Amigo became a giant egg slicer and cut the shouting man into multiple pieces as it was blown through him.

The third, was what those folks standing outside on the street beheld. Ahead of the intense fireball exploding from the now shattered jail house was a wheeled armchair being blown across the street, with Du Bois, or at least part of him, still sitting in it. If the shock of the concussion had not knocked everyone down, they would have observed Du Bois and the chair were blown completely through the wooden front of the dry goods store across the street. Once inside, the chair and the torso that belonged to Du Bois rested it’s travel against a shelf of womens unmentionables.

Freed from the resistance of any walls, the explosion concussed into the street. The nearby buildings took on a permanent backwards lean as their fronts were violently sucker punched. Standing tent buildings stood no more. No window survived the blast and even the saloons occupied outhouse blew head over heels. The Devil stood in the middle of the chaos tallying up the evil souls he had claim to. Angles administered to those innocents who found that life continued on, in a much more beautiful place than Arapahoe Junction.

Chapter 5

Until it was legal and annexation granted, loans to rebuild the town were put on hold. The town stood as if frozen in time. True, some of the wooden planks and debris had been removed from the street, but the repairs needed to reclaim the town’s buildings, even those not owned by Du Bois, were not started.

One month later to the day, the annexation committee members that had traveled to the State capital returned.

The ringing church bell clanged in its damaged steeple, calling all those remaining to gather around.

Wilkins and Banks stood together facing the crowd.

Wilkins spoke first. “Folks, here’s the situation. We applied for annexation on the deceased Du Bois land most of this town sits on. The State Judge determined that if we had a signed purchase agreement, we could continue our application  to apply for the annexation. We don’t have one. We thought with Du Bois no longer in the way, we could apply for it as it would be vacated land that had no living owner. The problem rest this way. While we got ourselves rid of Du Bois, and I am not going to feel guilty about that, he left two living relatives to inherit his property. His parents!

A groan was heard.

“That’s right folks. We sent a cable off to the Sheriff over in New Orleans and he verified the two are still alive and causing trouble. I guess it’s true what Du Bois used to say about his parents. ‘If you think I’m a bad one, you should meet my Ma and Pa!’

Banks stepped in front of Wilkins now and spoke. “We have a choice. And none of them will please you. We can notify the parents of their son’s demise, but legally we also have to inform them of the inheritance he left them. Knowing those two, they’d light a shuck out here just as fast as they could. Once here, they’d also find out how there tyrannical son met his maker. Eventually they’d find out and take vengeance on all of us, maybe even call in the law on us.

The crowd didn’t sound pleased.

Someone else called out, “What’s the other option Banks?”

“Folks, we had us a good town started here. We tried the legal route but was derailed by Du Bois. The law won’t back us, no way.”

Tears started down the chubby cheeks of Banks the lawyer.” I already spoke to my wife. We are not willing to live under another Du Bois. We’re calling it quits here, we’re moving to Boulder. It’s far enough away that what happened here won’t follow us”

The stunned crowd stood there blinking in the bright sun.

Slowly without a word the crowd dissipated.

 Epillogue

John, the camp cook removed the coffee pot from the fire and poured himself a cup. Looking at the cowhands starring at him he spoke softly. “Some towns die when the gold or silver runs out. Some die when the railroad passes ‘em by. Arapahoe Junction died because we tried to save it!”

Finishing his coffee, he tossed the cups grounds  into the fire, He shook his head and said, “Who’d a thunk!”

The water hole

 

The water hole

Prelude

It was the summer of 1863. The fire bright orange ball of sun was just beginning to touch the top of the Diablo Mountain range to the west.  The newest American State of Arizona cradled this small mountain range approximately sixty miles southwest of Tucson.

A lone horse carrying two riders made its way slowly east out of the Diaz pass in the attempt to escape the setting sun and the bushwackers somewhere behind them.  It wasn’t the sun that dogged the two as much as it was the bullets still lodged in them.  The rear rider hunched over his wounded wife trying his best to shade her from the sun and hold her upright in the saddle. The wife, a middle aged Mexican beauty whose flawlessly tanned face was cropped by her long black hair that now hid her pain clenched eyes, lifted her head slightly. She had regained enough consciousness to pat the arms of her loving husband as he held her firmly in place. Almost immediately after her show of affection, she again  passed out.

Chapter 1

The two were on their way back to Tucson after visiting her family still living in Sonoyta, a small sleepy Mexican border village known only for its Jesuit mission.

Their breakfast that morning consisted of hot coffee, corn cakes and jerky, a meager but filling trail meal. Pleasantly stuffed, they mounted and rode east facing the rising sun. By horseback they had a three day ride ahead and already had three days behind them.  It was midday when they again made the decision to stop and water their mounts with extra canteens carried for that purpose. More pieces of Jerky wrapped in corn cakes would be their midday meal.  It was then the riders, Del and his wife Maria, heard the approaching horses.

From the north came four riders. An unpleasant feeling settled in Del’s stomach as he watched the four slow their approached into their camp. Del made his way to over to his horses and removed the Henry rifle from his saddle holster.

The lead rider lifted both hands into the air and exclaimed, “Hey now Mister, no need to pull that long gun on us, we mean no harm to you and your lady. We’re just honest cowpunchers making our way south to the border. It seems people keep mistaking us for a group of bushwackers out of the Wickenburg area. So for our own protection, we needed to clear out of the territory. We been holed up for a week at a water hole about six miles in the direction we just rode in from. It’s got lots of fresh water but no game at all to speak of. We’re hungry”

Pointing to the corn cakes, the man named Theo told them,” We sure could use us some of your grub mister. We ain’t eat nothing but biscuits and dried beef an’ that ran out yesterday.” With a forced laugh and cold, unsmiling eyes, he said, “Shoot ,it ain’t our fault we look just like them desperados.” Then turning to look at the placement of his men he added,” right Jethro?”

Eyeing the Corn cakes Maria had been making, Theo, dismounted and moved nonchalantly towards the fire. Jethro and the two riders Bill and Jess , remained in their saddles but nudged their horses into a side step that widened their separation from each other.

Del was no fool, these men meant them harm. They were most likely the bushwackers they had just kidded about. Marie stood unmoving while Del evaluated each rider then shifted his eyes to her. Marrying Del had afforded her a protected life away from violence. Still, in her gut she knew these desperados meant them harm and she returned the nod ever so slightly that Del had made to her.

Without warning, Del raised the long gun and fired a slug clean through Jethro’s knee which dug into the side of his horse. Jethro’s hand never touched the gun in his holster. Screeching in pain, he fell off his grazed mount and onto the ground. The surprised Theo turned and cleared leather but fired too soon. Missing Del, the wild bullet drilled straight into Maria’s gut. Hearing Maria grunt, Del Cocked his lever action rifle and again fired, this time cleanly blasting off the gun hand of Maria’s shooter. With the force of a mule kick, searing pain punched Del in the back, knocking him face forward into the desert sand.

When Del regained consciousness, the riders had fled, as well as Maria’s mount. Each move drove the breath out of Del as he crawled over to where his lovely Maria lay. She was still breathing but the shallow irregular breaths told the story. Looking around, Del realized they had been robbed. Gone were the four large canteens of water they had carried with them.

With only one horse between them, and shot up as they were, Del knew that reaching Tucson was now out of the question.  They needed water quickly. The loss of blood drove his thirst, and he could only imagine what Maria was going through. Being shot in the back and Maria unable to help, there was no way to clean his wound. As for Maria’s wound, it was beyond cleaning.

With a herculean struggle, Del mounted his dear Maria in front of him on the saddle and wrapping his arms tightly around her, they headed north towards the water hole the bushwackers had told them of.

Chapter 2

As water holes went, it was rather amazing. An underground spring fed the crystal clear pool of cool water. In any other circumstances it would have been a delightful place to camp out at. A ring of Mexican fan palms surrounded the small water hole.

No bigger than two freight wagons pulled side by side, the pools edges were of hard rock. Desert willows and western dayflowers grew between them adding to the pools beauty.  Beyond the palms, Mesquite and Joshua trees completed the landscape.

In the distance, Del saw the tops of the green palms. He angled towards them fearing Maria wouldn’t make it that far.  As the rays of the setting sun reflected off of the idyllic water hole, Del kissed the back of his wife’s head telling her, “It’ll be alright sweet heart, we made it to the water hole. I just need you to help me get you down in one piece. Can you stay up while I dismount?”  Maria, didn’t speak but she nodded her head slightly. Del dismounted then lovingly lowered his wife to the ground.

Once on the ground, Del made his wife as comfortable as he could. He uncinched his saddle, letting it fall to the ground. His horse immediately lowered her head into the inviting pool and began drinking its life giving water.

Del removed his hat and dipped it into the pool. Bringing the dripping hat over to Maria, he pulled his kerchief from around his neck and sunk it into his hat. He then and squeezed the water soaked kerchief between her dry cracked lips.

“I’m so sorry Maria, we never should have traveled alone. Your family gave us warning, but I was too bull headed to listen. “

Maria opened her eyes and tried to smile. The words she spoke came only as a whisper. “Delbert my love, how many times have we traveled over this trail to visit my family? Have we ever been in danger? No my love, you could not foresee these brutal men this time.”  Maria coughed which nearly drove her back into unconsciousness. After a bit, she again spoke but notably quieter now. “I know am dying my love. Hold me until I leave.” Finding his hand she held onto it tightly and continued speaking, ”When I go, place me in the ground within sight of this beautiful pool.” Without turning her head, she slid her eyes over to the water hole. “ Never have I seen such beauty with all its flowers and trees.” Then looking back into Del’s eyes, she whispered, ” I will watch over you my love, look for me after I am gone.” With those last words on her lips, Maria stopped breathing.

Darkness settled over the desert landscape. If there were light, it would have illuminated a mortally back shot man weeping over the beautiful woman he held in his arms.

 

Chapter 3   

Daylight found Del feverish. He knew the bullet was lodged next to his left shoulder blade. It had missed his lung but now he felt a growing infection starting. Time was of the essence if he were to survive. He had to make it to a doctor.

Lifting Maria’s head from his lap, he gently placed her fully on the ground. His tears had left trails of wet desert dust down his cheeks. Making his way to the clear pool, he drank for the first time since arriving. It was then he noticed his horse was missing. During the night it had run off.

Wildly looking about, he painfully rose to his feet. Hoping the horse had just wandered off looking for nearby  graze, he made his way to a small rise in order to scan the landscape around him. Reaching the mounds top, he rotated his body searching the desert for any sign of his horse. There was no sign. Disappointed, he made his way back to the pool where Maria lay. He decided to bury her in the spot where she had drawn her last breath.

Grabbing a flat stone, Del dug the grave throughout the day until he was satisfied she would rest undisturbed.  Afterward, he placed the same stone on top of the mound and with his knife, carved her full name on its surface. Then he wept.

The turning of the earth once more brought about the evening sun to silhouette the small Diablo Mountain tops.

With little in the way of food and with a rising fever, Del drank of the cool waters again. For the hundredth time, he pondered Maria’s last words. “Why did she say to look for her,” he wondered. “What a strange thing to say as her last words!  What did she mean by them?”

Deciding she may have been delirious, he finally gave up and tried concentrating on his own survival. Besides, he thought to himself, he was becoming so feverish that he might soon be in the same delirious state himself.

Gathering small sticks and branches as best he could, he soon  had a small fire going. Inside his saddle bag, he found a few pieces of jerky and an uneaten corn cake Maria had rolled up in a sheet of parchment paper. Hunger avoided him but he knew he had to eat to survive. As darkness settled over the desert, he let the fire dwindle into a pile of glowing embers.

It was then Del heard his name quietly spoken. He hadn’t hear it in his feverish head but instead it came from across the pond from where he sat. Searching into the night he gasped. On the other side of the pond stood his beautiful Maria.  With feverish eyes Del gazed at the apparition before him. “Maria?” His voice cracked. “My beautiful Maria? Oh how I wish it were really you. My fever’s deceiving me.”

Without moving, his beautiful  Maria spoke. “You are not deceived my love, I told you I would watch over you. Did I not tell you that you should look for me?”

“This is a cruel dream!” He shouted angrily. Attempting to stand, he fell onto his knees. “You’ve been taken from me! You’re gone. No one comes back! “

“Yes, I was. But I am waiting here until you join me. As I lay dying, the beautiful Gabriel took pity on me. In my sorrow I begged him to let me stay behind until you too would cross over the pool to join me.
I was granted that act of kindness. He is waiting on the trail up ahead. When you join me, he will take us home.”

It was too much for Del’s feverish mind to accept. He resorted again to anger to remove the apparition from before his feverish eyes. “You are not real! As much as I would hope it were true, it ain’t!”

His angry outburst nearly made him faint. In pain and now on all fours, he lifted his head and looked across the pool to see his wife still standing on the other side. She continued to smile patiently at him.

“When I stir the pools water, drink from it and your fever will lower enough to know I am really here. Please Del, you are dying as I was but it will be a little bit longer before we are together again. I do not want you to suffer during that time.” Pointing to the water hole she spoke, “ Drink sweetheart, now.”

Del Crawled to the pools edge. Suddenely ripples formed as she dipped her hand into the pool, Del lowered himself into the water and drank.

The next morning found Del ‘s fever significantly diminished. Having eaten the last of his food the day before, he knew he was going to be in for a rough time. The funny thing was, Del thought, “I’m not feeling hungry in the least.”

Then remembering the previous night, he looked to the pools opposite side as if still expecting Maria to be standing there. “Sure seemed real at the time though,” He said quietly to himself. “Maybe she was a dream, maybe not. Whatever she was, she’s right though, my fever did go down.”

Attempting to stand, his legs found themselves too weak to comply. “Oh Jesus, I’m worse off than I thought! I’m a goner for sure.”

By noon the sun was at its blast furnace best. Del’s skin had begun to blister where it was exposed and his lips were cracked open in numerous places. With only the water to drink and trying to save what little strength he had left, Del decided to lay within inches of the pools edge. Still, his fever and the gnawing hunger that should be plaguing him were not evident. He rested, then again fell asleep.

Chapter 4

He awoke to Maria’s voice. “My love, wake up, let us talk again. I know you will soon be joining me but I want to talk of our love.”

Del opened his eyes. Unable to stand or even sit up now, Del noticed a faint light on the pools opposite side. There stood Maria, as beautiful and alive looking as the day he met her.

“Why? You know I love you. Is there something wrong?

“No, I just miss you terribly. Time is not the same for me anymore. Sometimes I feel years pass waiting for you to awake from your sleep. You will understand soon. It is unimportant, I am just anxious to touch you again. How do you feel today?”

In the back of his mind, Del continued to think that this all may be a fever dream or maybe this is what happens as one is dying. “I actually don’t know if I have a fever anymore or not.” He said, “I feel all weak and shaky but my head feels OK. Do you really have the ability to take my fever away with the pond water?”

“I’m glad you feel better, but no, it was not me who removed the effects of your fever. I do not have that power, it was given for me to use, that was all.. Touch your head, is it not still burning?”

Del brought his hand up and the laid palm of his hand over his forehead. The fever was still burning. “Yeah, I feel the fever on my hand but not inside my head. I don’t feel hungry either, of course that just might be from bein’ sick, No?”

“No, not really. I asked that you not suffer while I wait for you. Do you remember Padre Feliciano at the mission in Sonoyta? When I was young he taught us about how God loves us and will answer our prayers. Remember your and my long talks together about Heaven and being granted miracles in your time of need?”

“Yes, of course. I still believe all that. I just figured it was for really saintly folk, not a guy like me.  I’m not used to asking for help… as you know what a stubborn fool I can be. So you pray and he really answers?”

“It is more than just what we used to call prayer. I can sit with him and talk with him as a child. It is wonderful here, I can’t wait for you to be with me. It will not be much longer. You are very sick. I was told that if you wish, you may cross over the pond at any time you decide.”

Del wiped the sweat pouring into his eyes. The day was not yet hot enough to cause him to sweat this bad so he figured his fever must be raging. Moving on his stomach, he again lowered his mouth to the pools surface and gulped at the cool water. Lifting his head, he told her,“Maria, I’d do anything to be with you right now, you know that. You know me though, I don’t give up till the end. I still want to somehow try and make it to Tucson, get healed up, return here and take you back there for a proper burial.”

“I understand my love, but there is no need to think of doing all that. I am at peace where you buried me. I asked that you bury me here besides this beautiful pool among the green plants. I am happy that you did, it made your heart happier knowing I rest in this beautiful place. Where in Tucson is it as beautiful as here?”

“You have me there!” Del answered. “I wouldn’t mind finding myself being buried here next to you.” Suddenly Del began to chuckle, “Thing is my dear, there’s no one around to do the honors!”

“Trust me my love, it will be.” And with that, Maria once again faded into the darkness.

“Maria? Maria! Don’t leave me, I’m scared to die by myself. I need you to be with me when I go!”

Del fell into a fever wrought sleep. By noon he was unable to crawl the few inches to the pond to quench his thirst. He could tell by the smell that the infection in his back was septic.

Still, he felt little pain and no fever. By now his body was being horribly wracked by the sun as well as the fever. If he could see himself, he would not recognize the face that was once a handsome man. Being born and raised in west Texas had given Del a ruggedness one could only describe as manly. He now appeared to be a shell of what he used to be. He was now so dehydrated that even the skin on his hands became as thin as parchment paper.

lying on his stomach and unable to move about , Del looked over where Maria had been appearing and in a voice that sounded more dead than alive he tried shouting for her,” Maria!” His face collapsed onto the flat rocks edging the pool.

“ Yes my love? “

Barely lifting his head he asked, “Where did you go? You left me! I’m scared sweetheart, I never died before! Will it hurt?”

“No Del, it will not hurt. You only have to walk across the water to hold me once again. Please, trust me Del, have in all our years together given you any reason or cause to doubt me?”

“No, you have been my trusted soul mate since we met. I’m a goner here sweetheart, my heart is racing and I can’t breath well no more. How do I find the strength to get up and walk over to you”

Maria smiled broadly at her loving husband and told him. “ Stand up my sweet, it is time for you to hold me once again.”

Del shakily started to rise, then suddenly found a strength that was not within him before. Rising to his full height, he stretched and looked about startled at what he saw. The pond water shimmered with the luminescence like that of a sea shells inner pearl essence.  The blue and purple flowers now radiated in hundreds if not thousands of colors he had never seen before. Amazed at what he saw, his eyes finally sought out and found those of Maria’s. “Oh my gosh.” He exclaimed, “You’re so beautiful!”

“As you are my love!”

Del looked down and saw his hands were strong and youthful, his voice once again strong his legs felt powerful. He walked over the ponds surface and threw his arms around his dear wife. “I love you so much! Am I really dead now?”

‘Turn around and see for yourself.”

Del, still holding Maria turned enough to view across the pond. There his body lay sprawled on the ground. “I guess I am dead, this ain’t so scary after all. It was nothing crossing over the pond,” He said to her smiling. “Do we leave the pond now to go home?” He asked her.

“We will leave after this is played out,” She told him, “there is something that must be finished first.

When she was through speaking, Del heard the sounds of horses arriving at the pond. At first he thought it was ironic that just as he dies help arrives. Then he saw who the riders were. The four bushwackers.

 

Chapter 5

The four rode in still bandaged and bleeding. Their leader Theo, had his stump wrapped in an old shirt and Jethro sagged in his saddle feverish from the knee wound. The two unhurt riders dismounted easily and strode over to Dels corpse. A kick to the ribs lifted him a few inches clear of the ground and nearly dumped him into the pool. Del and Maria stood on the opposite bank watching not 20 feet away but invisible to those alive. “Dangest bad luck I’ve ever seen!” Said Theo, “help me down Fred. My stump is killin’ me.”

Once on the ground Fred helped Jethro dismount. Jethro lay moaning where he was placed. The four horses made their way to the pond and drank deeply. The other unhurt bushwacker Bill, asked Theo what to do with Dels body. “We cain’t be leavin’ it layin’ about.” He told Theo, “ It’ll draw critters and coyotes from miles around. Then they’ll  sense your blood an’ you bess believe while you sleep, they be on you in a minute! Besides, he’s startin’ to stink”

Even in his pain Theo knew Bill was speaking the truth. “Yeah, you and Jess bury him over there by that other grave. It must be his woman. The diggin’ will be easier over there anyway seeing  as it’s been already dug up once before.”

That night the four drank what whisky they had left and enjoyed a meal from the last of  Marie’s stores.

Del Turned to Maria saying angrily. “Did you see what they did? That bushwacker kicked me even though I was dead! He said I stink too! I’ll teach them to go kicken on me!”

Pulling his pistol from it’s holster, Del fired all six well aimed shots at the men. There was no explosion, just clicks. “What’s going on? I know I reloaded, they should be shot to heck!”

“Guns do not work here my love.’

Throwing his gun down, Del ran around the pond and up to the four bushwackers. There he swung his fist to and fro, up and down…all with no more effect that punching a puff of smoke. ‘”I can’t even punch them Maria! This just ain’t fair! They need to be punished, they shot you, they shot me they stole your horse!”

“Come back to me my love and I’ll explain.”

Del rounded the pond to stand next to his wife again.” I guess I acted the fool, didn’t I?”

“You were upset and you wanted vengeance. Remember, here there is only one who says, ‘vengeance is mine’. It is not ours to seek vengeance, not here.  Do you remember the night your horse ran away from the pond? Yes? OK, I must tell you it did not just wander off as you thought. I frightened it off!”

‘”Why did you do that? And how come these bushwackers don’t see me but you said you were able to scare off my horse?”

“Men cannot see a spirit, for that’s what we are now my love, but an animal can.”

“Why did you do it, scare off my horse I mean?”

“I did it because you were dying and I didn’t want you dying somewhere out in the desert where your body would become a meal for scavengers. I was selfish, I wanted you to lie in your grave next to me.”

Del looked sheepish. “Oh, then I guess that’s OK then. So what about these no goods here? Do we just have to let them ride out of here free to do what they please?”

“No, watch this.”

Maria stepped in front of the horses and screamed at the top of her lungs while waving her arms frantically. As one, the horses bolted in panic, never to return.

“What the hell did that?” Theo shouted. “what spooked ‘em to hell like that? In the condition we’re in, there ain’t no way we can track ‘em down. Look way out yonder to the east, they’ll be twenty miles off by morning the way they’s runnin’! Were goners without them horses.” Looking around he yelled, “Dammit, they had our packs on ‘em too!”

Del sat on the ground laughing as he realized what Maria had just done. “You stranded them here the same way I was!”

“I told you it would all work out didn’t I”

“Oh my gosh, did you think that up yourself?”

“No,” She said looking up the trail, “I had some advice.”

Chapter 6

On the morning of  the fifth day, Jethro had passed on. By noon Theo had followed. Without food, Bill and Jess were so weak, neither could stand. The seventh day found them both expired in the furnace known as the Sonora desert.

The four sat looking forlorn and lost at the edge of the pond next to their corpses. Not having crossed over to the opposite shore yet, they were unable to see Del or Maria yet.

After a time, within a shimmer of golden light, the beautiful Gabriel came to the pond. He strode over to Del and Maria and greeted them warmly. Del would have cried at the beauty of Gabriel but there were no tears to shed on this side. Squeezing both their hands he let go and walking to the ponds edge Gabriel called the four men in a voice that was as powerful as dynamite yet as loving as a child with a kitten. “Come here. Cross over the water and follow me!”

As if suddenly awake, the four gathered themselves up and one by one crossed over the pond to stand in front of Gabriel. It was then they noticed Del and Maria.

Ignoring the beautiful Gabriel, Theo yelled out, “Why you two scoundrels got us kilt out here!” The four drew their pistols and began firing away at Del and Maria… all with no effect. After realizing their guns only made clicking sounds, Theo threw his gun at Del’s head…which went clean through with no harm to Del. “What?” Exclaimed Theo, It was then he realized his hand had been returned to him. Turning in amazement he shouted, “Look fella’s, my hand! It’s back on me!”

Theo stood there smiling while the other three gathered around him wide eyed.

At that moment, Gabriel once again commanded and pointed to the south, “Go, follow that trail, there you will forever reside at its end!”

As the four headed down the trail heading south, they began laughing and telling crude jokes and  wondering if there were any loose women to be had. Del stood up, took Maria’s hand in his and together they began to follow the four down the Southern trail.

“Delbert, Maria, stop!” Gabriel’s hand reached out to them and halted their steps.  “That trail is not for you two, it is for them. It heads South where the dark reigns forever.

Stepping between them, Gabriel gently spread his arms over their shoulders as a bird protecting her young.  After turning them in the opposite direction, the three began walking. Smiling broadly, Gabriel then told them. “Delbert? Maria? Come, your trail is with me, to the north, into the light.”