The Cap and Ball Outfit
by Kenneth Newton
It was around ten of a balmy October morning. Bill and the horses had smelled water, and were leading us to it.
It turned out to be a slow-running creek with trees and green grass alongside, down in a little draw.
We were just coming up on the creek when four riders topped a low rise, came down the near side, and were
splashing through the creek headed straight at us before we knew what was going on. They rode down on us hard,
and we both reached for our rifles, but by then we could see they already had guns in their hands. The one in
front yelled, "Leave them rifles where they are," which we did, and pretty soon they had us in a nice tight circle
with four pistols pointed at us as they shucked our long guns out of the saddle scabbards and took Bobby's revolver.
The man that appeared to be in charge turned to me. He was kind of scruffy looking, which they all were. He was
around my age, early thirties, with a scraggly red beard that had tobacco stains all around his mouth. "You got a pistol?"
"No, I don't," I said. "But listen, boys. I don't know who you think we are, but we ain't them."
"We know who you are." It was one of Red Beard's underlings. "You're a coupla damn no good cow thieves."
"That's not so," Bobby said. Bobby was no more than eighteen at the time, and plenty scared. "We ain't stole no cows,
and we dang sure didn't steal this bull. We're takin' him to Mister Spencer. If we ain't lost, his spread's 'bout a half
a day's ride north of here. Show 'em, Danny."
I reached around toward my saddlebags, which resulted in two or three revolvers being cocked, so I quit the idea. "It's
just a bill of sale," I said.
"Git it," said Red Beard, "and don't try nothin' funny."
After I handed it to him he looked at it for a good minute, which made me wonder if he could read, because there weren't
fifty words in the whole thing. "So you think this proves what?" he finally asked.
At that point I knew he couldn't read, so I did a recital for him. "Well, like it says, Mister Spencer put $100 down on
this bull back in March. He agreed to let Mister Willingham keep him all summer, at which point Mister Willingham would deliver
him to Mister Spencer, and collect the balance due. Mister Willingham owns the Circle W spread down on the south fork of the
Mescalero. Like Bobby said, we're delivering this bull."
Red Beard nodded. "Yeah, the famous Circle W spread. A cap and ball outfit run by a limey that don't know cows from
coyotes. But that don't stop 'em from tryin' to take over the cattle business in Texas, with their highfalutin English cows."
"These is all cartridge guns." It was the underling again. He had our rifles cradled in his arms, and Bobby's revolver
was stuck in his waistband.
"So?" said Red Beard.
"Well, you just said it was a cap and ball outfit, and these here long guns and this pistol is all cartridge guns.
There ain't a cap an' ball in the bunch."
Red Beard took a deep breath and slowly let it out. "It's just a figure of speech, Clarence. It means they're behind
the times. It ain't got nothin' to do with their firearms."
Clarence didn't seem to get it. "Well, these is cartridge guns, though."
"OK, Clarence." Red Beard turned back to me.
"Mister Willingham had a couple of rough years," I said, "but he's learning. He ain't trying to take over anything,
just make a living."
"Well, it's a damn sight easier to make a livin' now than it was when Mister Johnston started up the Rocking T fifteen
years ago, ain't it? We done whipped out the Mexicans, and run off the Comanch, and all your Mister Willingham has to
fight is mosquitos." He glanced with disdain at Bill, which is what we Circle W hands called the bull, though not
in front of Mister Willingham. "This is one of them Herefords, right?"
"Sure is," I said, "and a fine one. That's William the Conqueror."
Red Beard squinted and looked at me funny. "What does he conquer?"
"Well," I replied, "about the only thing I ever saw him conquer is a good lookin' heifer."
Red Beard grinned through brown, nasty teeth. "That's kinda funny, but it don't fix this problem we got. Actually,
there's a couple of 'em." He let down the hammer on his pistol and holstered it, then produced a tin of sulfur
matches from his saddlebag. As he was taking one out, he went on. "Our first problem is that Mister Johnston bought
out Dave Spencer back in July, so you got nobody to deliver this bull to."
"I guess Mister Johnston owns him, then, if he'd care to pay the balance due. If he doesn't want him, we'll just take
him back home with us." That sounded reasonable to me, but I didn't kid myself that Red Beard would see it that way.
"Oh, Mister Johnston owns him, for sure." He struck the match on the edge of the tin and put the flame on a corner of
the bill of sale. Once it was going good he dropped it to the ground and watched it burn up, then looked back at me.
"And our second problem is, here you boys are, out in the middle of nowhere, with a bull you stole. And based on
your confession and final words, you was takin' that bull up to Ft. Worth to try and sell him." He jerked his left
thumb over his shoulder toward a good-sized cottonwood that stood on the bank of the creek, about fifty yards behind
him. "Arthur, Stephen, rig up a couple of ropes." He put the matches away and got out his pistol again.
Bobby's eyes were the size of one of Bill's hooves. "What? Ropes?"
"Well, you see," said Red Beard, "to go along with the dollar a day and found the boys git, and the dollar-and-a-quarter
a day and found that I git, we git a $25 bonus for removin' cattle rustlers from the range."
"Hold on now, boys," I said. Arthur and Stephen had trotted their horses down to the creek, and I watched them throw
ropes over two branches. "I know you wouldn't kill an innocent man for twenty-five bucks."
Clarence thought that was funny. "Don't forgit there's two of ya," he laughed. "That means we git, uh, twice times
twenty-five bucks." He laughed again.
A whole lot of things happened in the next few seconds. So much happened that it will take a little bit to tell about it,
even though I'm going to leave out some details that don't amount to much. Some of it happened to me, some of it I saw
while it was happening, and some I kind of figured out later. At any rate, what transpired is this:
Clarence had no more than got his joke out of his mouth than a volley of arrows came in. Bobby took an arrow in the left
thigh, and one of the men holding the ropes got hit in the throat. The arrow went all the way through, and the arrowhead
was sticking out of the nape of his neck. He grabbed at it as he was falling off his horse, stood up, and stumbled three
or four steps before falling.
Next there was a half-dozen or so gunshots. Bobby's horse reared up, wheeled around, and took off running. The other half
of Arthur and Stephen got shot in the belly. His horse bucked him off, and he got up and came staggering toward me, Red
Beard, and Clarence with both hands clasped on his gut. I felt my horse falling out from under me, and I jumped off and
into Clarence, who was right beside me. This excited both him and his horse. The horse started bucking, and Clarence
dropped our guns. I landed on the ground on my back and my rifle practically fell into my hands. I grabbed it, got on my
feet, and took off running for a little gully maybe twenty feet away. I got there and dove in just about the time the
next volley of arrows came in. The gully was a good three feet deep, and twice as wide, and provided pretty good cover.
When the rifles started up again, I flattened out as best I could, and then got flattened a little more when Red Beard
jumped in on top of me. Clarence scrambled in next, though not on top of me, and the gut-shot hangman made his way to
the gully and fell in, down closer to the creek.
When the shooting tapered off I got out from under Red Beard and peeked over the edge of the ditch. The Comanches were
on top of that little rise, and must have felt like they were out of range, because they were kinda whooping it up and
not making an effort to take cover. They weren't much over two hundred yards away, though. That might have been a little
long for a Model '73, but my rifle was a Model '76, in .45-75. There was already one in the hole, so I stood up the tang
sight, raised it a little, thumbed back the hammer, and took a shot at the one with the biggest buffalo horns. I expect
he was dead before he hit the ground, which prompted the rest to disappear.
Once they were out of sight I looked for Bobby. He was hanging on, and Little Joe was running for all he was worth, and
that little sorrel could run. I don't know if he was just running wild, or if instinct had kicked in, but Little Joe and
Bobby were headed for home. At that point I heard hoof beats behind us and to the left, but there was only one of them,
and he was after Bobby. That Comanche pony could run, too, and was already past where the rear sight was set, but there
was no time to adjust it. I levered in a fresh round and got kind of half-in and half-out of the gully, with both elbows
resting on the ground. I lined up on the Comanche's shoulders, took some blue sky elevation, and touched it off. I heard
the bullet hit something. When the smoke drifted away the Comanche was on the ground, and his pony was circling around to
see what had happened. Probably less than a minute had gone by from the time the first arrows were in the air until I
knocked that Comanche off his pony.
"That was one hell of a shot," said Red Beard. "Both of 'em, actually."
"Hell of a shot, my ass," Clarence said. He pointed at Bobby. "He's gettin' away." Then he pointed at me. "And he's got a gun!"
"You better hope he gets away, because nobody else is gonna get us any help." I had had enough of Clarence. "If you want
this rifle, come and take it."
"We got friends, lots of 'em," Clarence said. "They'll save us."
Red Beard shook his head. "We go out rangerin' for two an' three weeks at a time, Clarence. We been out four days. There
ain't nobody comin' to look for us."
"Rangerin'?" I was watching the rise, but didn't see any movement out of the Comanches. "Is that what you call it?"
"Look, uh, it's Danny, right?" said Red Beard. "My name's Doyle. We wasn't goin' to hurt you boys, just scare ya a little,
teach ya a lesson, so you'd stay off Rocking T range."
I turned around and looked at them. Red Beard was holding his hand out, but he pretty quick realized I wasn't planning to
shake it, so he put it down. "I don't give a damn if you're Judge Roy Bean. This ain't Rocking T range, and Bobby and I
would be kicking on the end of those two ropes right now if those Indians hadn't come along, so spare me the bullshit."
I paused to catch my breath, and neither one of them had anything to say, so I finished it up. "And speaking of bullshit,
it looks like you boys and Mister Johnston missed a few back when you were runnin' the Comanches outa here."
"These are the first I've seen in three or four years," said Red Beard.
To be honest, it had been a while since I'd seen any, too. I wouldn't have headed out cross-country with just Bobby if I
had expected to run into Comanches—or Rocking T "rangers," for that matter. I nodded. "I guess they got bored up at
A loud groan startled all three of us. Arthur or Stephen was starting to hurt. In a little bit he cried out again. When it
was obvious neither Clarence nor Red Beard was going to go to him, I crawled down and took a quick look at his wound. I
patted him on the shoulder. "Are you Arthur or Stephen?" I asked.
"I'm Stephen," he said. "Arthur's dead. He's got a arrow in his neck. I seen it."
"You'll be OK, Stephen. Help's on the way." Of course, none of that was true. The Comanche that got him was well-armed,
with a buffalo gun, or a government trap door. Maybe even a Model '76 Winchester like mine. Stephen had a big hole in
his belly, and I could see his insides between his fingers. I unbuckled his gun belt, pulled it off him as gently as I
could, and took it with me.
I had crawled a few feet when he called out to me. "Mister," he said, "I'm sorry we was gonna hang you. I'm real sorry.
Can you forgive me? Please forgive me, mister."
He was just a kid, not much older than Bobby, and he knew he was dying. "I forgive you, Stephen. Rest now."
We didn't have a single horse that wasn't dead, wounded, or gone. Two, including mine, were down and not moving. One had
an arrow in its neck and was staggering in circles, one had a fetlock that was shot nearly in two, and one had run off.
Bill had an arrow in his left shoulder, and had walked down to the creek for his drink of water.
We didn't have anything to say to one another, so we just watched and waited for what we knew was coming. Meanwhile,
Stephen had started crying, and calling out for his mama, but his torment didn't last long.
In about an hour they came at us from all directions. Comanches like to do that. They come charging in at a full gallop,
feinting and weaving, so you can't draw a bead on them. Then they might break off, and start circling, all the while
shooting arrows as fast as they can get them on the bow, which is pretty fast. Then they might come straight at you
again. I counted eight, and based on what I'd seen earlier, figured that was all of them.
But eight was more than enough to polish us off unless we fought them smart, and we weren't. Red Beard and Clarence
started shooting as soon as they saw something to shoot at. Red Beard was using a carbine, but Clarence was popping
away with a revolver at moving targets over a hundred yards away. I waited, and when I couldn't wait any longer I
accounted for one Indian and one horse with three shots. The third shot was at the warrior I had unhorsed, but I
missed him and he crawled to safety. Right after that they broke it off.
"Clarence," I said, "Both of Bobby's guns take .44 Winchesters. Maybe if you ran them through the rifle you might
accidentally hit something."
He made a show of tossing away the Colt. "It's empty anyways, and it so happens that my Colt's revolver takes the
same cartridge. Just so you know, I was plannin' to take these cartridges outa my belt and put 'em in his rifle."
"That's a good plan, Clarence," Red Beard said. Then he turned to me. "Speakin' of cartridges, how many you got?"
"Two or three in the rifle," I said, nodding toward my dead horse. "And Susie's laying on about half a box."
"Clarence," said Red Beard, "go get that saddlebag."
"What? Me? No! Why me?"
"Because you're young and spry and because I'm the boss, and I say go."
I knew what Red Beard was up to, which was that he'd rather have Clarence get shot than me, since we still had
Indians to fight, but I wouldn't have trusted Clarence to shovel shit, so I was halfway there before those two
realized I was out of the gully. By the time I got to Susie the Comanches had opened up on me. She provided
good cover from the front, but there was one or two off somewhere in the other direction, and they were coming
real close to hitting me with arrows and bullets both. When the boys in the ditch returned fire, things moderated
a little. I cut the thongs with my pocketknife, put my feet on Susie and pushed while I pulled on the bag, and it
came out from under her. Rather than waste time crawling, I got up and ran back to the gully and jumped in. I
didn't get a scratch, but Susie took two arrows and at least one more bullet, not that she cared.
Once I'd caught my breath I levered a cartridge into the chamber, lowered the hammer, and stuffed the magazine
full of the fat .45-75s. Then I counted what I had left, and said to no one in particular, "It's a little better
than I thought. I have sixteen rounds total." Stephen's revolver was a nickel-plated Smith & Wesson Russian model
with ivory stocks. It was a handsome gun, but as I wiped the blood off it with my neckerchief I wasn't thinking
about that. What mattered was that the wheel was full, and there were twelve more in the belt loops.
Clarence and Red Beard had thirty-one .44 Winchesters between them. We weren't fixed too poorly for ammunition.
It would be a question of how many warriors the Comanches were willing to lose in order to kill the rest of us.
They love nothing more than winning a fight, especially if they can get a couple of captives to torture in the
bargain, but they won't fight to the last man to do it. There comes a point where they say "to hell with it" and
reckon they'd rather live to fight another day. I just hoped we could last long enough to get them to that point,
or until some help arrived. They had food, water, and horses, and we had none. So it was pretty much up to them,
at that point.
About two hours before sundown, Red Beard said, "Well, thank God a Comanch won't fight at night."
I laughed a little. "Well, probably not tonight, anyway. Last night was pitch black, and tonight will be the same.
But if it was a Comanche moon, our throats would be slit and our nut sacks would be in our mouths before sunup."
"Jesus," Clarence said. "Our nut sacks in our mouths! Why you wanna talk like that?"
They didn't come at us again, and as it got darker, I began to entertain the hope that maybe they had already
called it off. I put down my rifle and buckled Stephen's gun belt around my hips, said, "I'm thirsty," and began
crawling toward Susie. I retrieved my canteen and got back in the gully. It was about a third full, and I drank it all.
"Well, by God," said Clarence, "in case you was wonderin', I'm thirsty, too!"
"Wasn't wonderin'," I said. I corked the canteen and tossed it to him. "The creek's right down there at the end
of this wash, and there's one dead horse and two dying ones out there that have canteens on their saddle horns."
"Maybe you don't read the papers, but they gave some of Reno's men big medals for crawling down and dipping some
canteens in the Little Bighorn after the Custer fight. Now, mind you, those were Sioux and Cheyenne. Comanches
are better shots."
Clarence did crawl down to the creek and fill the canteen, but he had no intention of sharing it with Red Beard
until Red Beard threatened to shoot him. Once that excitement had died down, I was disheartened to smell smoke.
The Comanches hadn't gone anywhere; they had built a fire and settled in for the night.
"They'll come for us at sunup," I said, "unless we get them first."
"Yeah," said Red Beard, "I think it's pretty much down to that."
It was still pitch dark when we headed out. I wanted to give us plenty of time to get there before they were up
and about. We left Clarence in the gully to guard the rear. He didn't like the idea, but he liked the idea of
going out in the open even less, so he didn't argue much, except about his share of the cartridges. Red Beard
had only left him ten. "This ain't right. I should git half."
"If this goes right," I said, "you won't have to fire a shot. But, here." I took off Stephen's Smith & Wesson
and handed it to him. "Don't try to run these cartridges through Bobby's rifle. It won't work. They go in this
"Well, I think I know a .44 Russian from a .44 Winchester. I ain't the one that works for a cap an' ball outfit."
Doyle and I stopped at the creek for a drink of water and relieved ourselves as quietly as we could. The rest
of the way was a slight uphill climb. We went ten or fifteen steps, then stopped and looked around, not that we
could see much, then went another ten or fifteen. We didn't hear a sound from the other side of the rise, so I
figured they were either asleep or lying flat and looking down their sights waiting for something to come into view.
We crawled the last fifty yards or so on our bellies. The ground was covered with all manner of stickers and burrs,
but I didn't feel them. I wasn't even worried about crawling on top of a diamondback. I was ready to finish it,
however it came out.
We inched our way to the top of the hill and looked over. The incline was steeper on the back side, and leveled off
in about 50 yards. On that level ground we could make out the glowing embers of a burned-out fire, and several
elongated shapes spread around it. They weren't the least bit scared of us, or worried about what we might do.
Some Texans never fought a Comanche. Maybe these Comanches never fought a Texan.
When it got a little easier to see and the shapes started stirring a little, I motioned to Doyle that I would start
on the left, and he should start on the right, and we would work our way into the middle. Then I held up three fingers,
and we both thumbed back the hammer. I nodded once, twice, and on three we pushed all of our chips into the middle of the table.
I hit the warrior on the far left. As he struggled to gain his feet I shot the next one, then went back and finished
off my end. Doyle was running shells through his carbine as fast as he could work the lever, and I couldn't tell if he
had hit anything, but it didn't matter. If he could keep their heads down, I could kill them. A big Comanch shucked his
blanket and came up on one knee levering his rifle, but I shot him before he could bring it to his shoulder. One was
kind of stumbling around in circles, looking for a weapon. I felt for him, since I don't wake up all that sharp myself,
but I had to kill him anyway. I took a shot at another man as he ran off into the gloom.
It was quiet for a few seconds, then their ponies started raising a ruckus. It was a terrible mix of whinnying, snorting,
and grunting. "What the hell?" said Doyle.
"He's killing their horses."
"So we can't have them."
In a few seconds things quieted down, and the Comanch came out of the emerging dawn and walked straight at us. He was
covered in blood, and held a bloody knife in his right hand. He was probably pushing 50, and his long braids were going
gray. He was dressed half white and half Indian, in a green brocade vest with no shirt underneath. He wore a deerskin
breech clout, and was barefooted. As he passed their fire pit I stood up and yelled, "Enough! Go home!"
He kept walking, and pounded his chest with the butt end of the knife. "No home," he yelled back. "No home, me!"
When he was twenty yards away, I said, "Stop!" He didn't, and at a distance of maybe fifteen feet, I shot him in the chest.
My ears were ringing, from all the shooting, I guess, and I could barely hear Doyle. "By God, Danny," he said. "You got 'em. You got 'em all."
I was in a daze, but I slowly collected my thoughts and shook my head. "No, five," I said. "I got five. There's got to be—"
Gunfire erupted behind us. The two Comanches who were planning to hit us from behind at sunup were after Clarence. It was
still hard to see at that distance, but I could hear Clarence burning up ammunition like there was no tomorrow. We took
off running in his direction, and when we got closer I could see the Indians circling Clarence, jumping their ponies over
the gully, and firing arrows under their necks. By the time we were a hundred yards away, they had stopped circling and
moved in for the kill. I stopped and tried to slow my breathing as they calmly fired several arrows into the gully. I
dropped to one knee and knocked one of them off his pony. The other looked around and then galloped away, hunched low
over the neck of his pony. My first shot at him took down the horse, but when I lined up on the stunned warrior, the
hammer fell on an empty chamber. I reloaded one round and finished it.
Clarence had four arrows in him, but he lived for a minute or two. His final word, "asshole," was directed at me. The
lever on Bobby's rifle was stuck half-open, jammed tight. Neither revolver had been fired. Clarence had emptied the
rifle and reloaded it with Russians.
When we heard riders coming, Doyle sat down and cried. "All this for nothin'. There's no end to the red bastards."
I felt the same at first, but soon I saw that each of those dozen riders r was leading two riderless horses. They
had ridden all night to save me, changing horses along the way. Mister Willingham dismounted first, and threw his
arms around me. "Danny, lad, you are a sight for sore eyes."
"So are you, sir," I said. "What about Bobby?"
"Well," he said, "it is touch and go. He may lose his leg." He glanced quickly around. "And the aborigines?"
"That's all of them, I think."
Some of the boys were clapping me on the back and shaking my hand, and the next thing I knew, Mister Willingham had
the muzzle of his Bulldog against Doyle's forehead. "Might this be one of the lynch mob?" He cocked the hammer.
"The big boss man," I replied.
"Well, now, Mister Boss Man. I see the ropes are still there. Take your pick."
"Hold on, now. Like I told Danny, we was just gonna scare 'em a little. Wasn't nobody gettin' hung."
"Well, now," said Mister Willingham, "I believe it would have scared me more than a little, what with the burning
of the bill o' sale, preparing of ropes, and such. It certainly scared Bobby. Did it scare you, Danny?"
"Yes, sir, it did."
"And have you learned your lesson, Danny?"
"Oh, yes, sir, I have."
He lowered the hammer on the Bulldog and removed it from Doyle's forehead. "Well, Mister Boss Man, it appears
your work here is finished." Without taking his eyes off Doyle, he reached behind himself. "Give me one of
those nags." He took a set of reins from one of the boys, then stepped to one side and handed the reins to
Doyle. "If you ever again so much as look crosswise at one of my men, I'll kill you on sight. Now you go
scrounge yourself a saddle and go home. And shoot those injured horses as you go." Doyle did exactly as told,
and soon disappeared over the rise.
We got the arrow out of Bill's shoulder, which was no mean feat. He made it home and went on to populate half
the state of Texas with his progeny. Bobby didn't lose his leg, but it never healed right. He eventually gave
up working cows, and moved to Austin to live with his sister.
Doyle Martin would go on to be included in the Who's Who Book of Texas Indian Fighters, as well he might, seeing
as how he once single-handedly killed ten reservation-jumping Comanches after they massacred three unfortunate
cowhands under his supervision.
As for me, there's not much to tell. I'm sure not many men can say they were saved from a lynching by a Comanche
war party, but I don't bring it up. I kept Stephen's Smith & Wesson, and I take it out and look at it once in a
while. There's still some blood on the ivory stocks.
The Comanche have long since lost everything they ever had. It's what always happens, "the way of the world," as
they say. I surely played my part in their downfall, and would do most of it again. But I regret shooting the Comanche
that was coming at Doyle and me with that bloody knife, though I know it's what he wanted. I'd like for that image to
fade away, but I expect it never will.
Back to Top
Back to Home
Mitchell at Wheatland
by Dick Derham
"How bad is it?"
Pete Morgan looked up as the dark-haired horseman reined in before the small log cabin, the man who had made
the proposal that could make him and his brother set for life, able to buy that horse ranch they had set their
eyes on, the man whose plan got them into this. He wasn't sure yet what he thought of the plan.
But he'd think about that later. For now, for every minute of time since they stopped the Wells Fargo wagon
the prior afternoon, worry and fear took all his energy. "It took him high in the chest. He lost a lot of
blood by the time I got him here."
"Missed them, thank God, and the fever's down some overnight. Beginning to hope he'll make it. If he don't . . ."
"The guard died," the visitor said.
"Didn't need to," Morgan said. "We had the drop on him. We didn't figure he'd make a try against two leveled Colts. But he
triggered at Lonnie quick and didn't have no "give-up" in him, so I had to stop him. After that, the driver panicked and I had no choice."
"You got the money. That's what matters." The visitor seemed less concerned about the killings than Morgan. Maybe
it was just part of the work.
"We figured to be back at the bunkhouse by now, just like we'd had a long spree in town," Morgan said. "Now I don't know . . ."
"This shack hasn't been used for years. Nestled in the pines, no one'll ever find you here."
Morgan reminded himself he had never done this kind of work before. His companion's assurance settled him some.
After the horseman swung down and wrapped the reins around a post the old wolver had rammed into the ground, Morgan led him into the shack.
"I counted out your money," Morgan said, as he pointed to the stack of greenbacks on the table. "You can count it if you like."
The dark-haired man hefted the pile, and gave a quick riff of the bills. "A good piece of business."
"If he makes it."
"If he's awake, I'll look in on him."
Pete Morgan led the visitor through the doorway to the narrow back room where Lonnie lay restlessly on a pile
made from both their blankets. His kid brother, so full of energy, of hope for the good life and now . . ?
The dark-haired man's two-shot Derringer slid from his pocket: one for the back of Pete's head, the other for Lonnie's
right eye, and there was no need to count the split.
He'd planned well.
* * *
An unwelcoming Platte County Sheriff looked up as the two dusty riders strode into his office. Without an invite,
the shorter one swung open the gate in the railing that set the lawman's desk off from the center of the room and
the barred cells beyond.
The man stepped slapped some papers on the desk. "Like to talk, Sheriff."
Sheriff Stansfield examined the credentials. "Wells Fargo agent are you, Collins? Your sidekick too?"
"Dave Mitchell," Collins said as Mitchell pulled out his papers. Sheriff Stansfield waved them away impatiently.
"You big shots flounce in here, ready to throw your weight around, like no small town sheriff can do his job.
Far as I'm concerned—"
"We're on the same side, Sheriff," Collins interrupted. Lawman hostility was a story he'd encountered from
Arizona to Idaho. Without invitation, he sat in the chair across the desk from the sheriff. "Wells Fargo just
wants its money back. We like it when the local law gets credit. Ask Sheriff Kemble over at Boise City and
he'll tell you."
"You the two that brought Bowers in?"
"We're the two that gave Kemble some extra riders to track down leads, riders that didn't think county lines
were fences. Kemble brought in the killer," Collins insisted. "The local paper didn't even know we were there."
Stansfield remained reserved, Mitchell thought, but who wouldn't be? A man's got to protect himself, protect
his turf, not let the voters think someone from the outside had to come in to do his job. Maybe politics was
public service, but it was also a ball-and-chain to a man who had always valued riding free. As Mitchell
brought over a chair from the deputy's desk and sat down next to Collins, he felt Stansfield's eyes following
him speculatively. Mitchell tensed as he saw his name click in the sheriff's memory.
"Mitchell" the sheriff said. "Dave Mitchell. I've seen paper on someone with that name. Bank robber? Jail
"Never killing," Mitchell insisted. "Consolidated Miner's Bank down in Tombstone. Jury said guilty and the
judge said five years," he acknowledged. "Stopped my share of Wells Fargo stages too. Yet here I am."
"Full pardon," Collins said. "Wire the governor at Flagstaff if you need to check. He's been my partner
for over a year."
Stansfield's noncommittal grunt proclaimed his continuing suspicion. Mitchell wanted to attack the man's
conviction that an outlaw never changes, but he knew by now that distrust was central to a lawman's nature.
Collins knew he was riding a different trail. That was enough for Mitchell.
"It's Wells Fargo's money," Stansfield admitted. "I guess you've got a right to look for it."
The sheriff told the two agents what little he knew of the robbery. The wagon taking the money to the
depository at Cheyenne had been stopped ten miles out of town. "No one except Wells Fargo was supposed to
know about the shipment."
"But someone did."
"Gunned the driver and guard, transferred the gold," Stansfield continued, "but they heard someone coming
before they could check their work and scampered."
Stansfield bristled. "Sure, there was a trail. Sure I followed it. And sure, I lost it. Just a small
town sheriff, right?"
"Don't know yet." Collins knew enough to keep his voice nonjudgmental. "Tell us about the trail."
"They rode into the brush, quartered up the hillside and onto Sherman Ridge, then after a mile looped back to
the County road. I tracked them a little further. Nothing nice and convenient like a horse coming up lame or
a nick in a shoe. Just two nags in good condition."
Stansfield paused, considered the question. "Range horses, not riding horses, I'd say. Handled the upslope to
Sherman Ridge better than my saddle horse, no stumbling or slowing, must have muscular legs accustomed to
working hilly terrain like any hard-working cowpony."
"A detail any swivel-chair sheriff would be sure to notice," Collins suggested.
Ready to take offense, Stansfield's eyes flashed before the words got through to him. His lips curled up and
he started to relax with the interlopers. "Maybe. Still don't tell us where they went. Headed south, that's
all I can tell you. For all I know, I might have followed them to Cheyenne and not learned anything. My place was here."
* * *
They found Bud Givens lying limply on a bed in the back room of the town doctor's house. The bullet had torn
through his guts, the bleeding had stopped, but the infection was doing its work. "Waiting to die," he told
them. "Just want to get it over."
"What can you tell us?"
They learned little more from the dying man than they had from the sheriff. Two men with bandanas over their
faces and dressed like any range rider. "Thought one seemed not much more than a kid," Givens said. "That's
the one Sy blasted before his partner cut him down." He groaned wearily. "I tried to back him up but . . ."
Collins rested his hand on Givens' shoulder."We'll get them for you," he promised. "Sorry we can't do more."
The two agents turned to leave. Collins was already in the hallway and Givens' tired voice barely carried across the
small room. "Double H," he told Mitchell. "Saw that brand on one of the horses. Don't know if it helps."
"If that brand's around, we'll find it."
* * *
The Double H ranch spread for ten miles north from Arrowhead Creek to the high country. In the ranch yard,
the two Wells Fargo agents found a man with the stance of authority conferring with another man.
Collins got straight to business. "Are you missing a couple of horses, Mister Holland?"
"And the riders that go with them. Lonnie and Pete Morgan. You know where they went to?"
Collins ignored the question. "What kind of men are they?"
"Pete came from Indiana six years back, green as sour apples. But worked hard, learned his job. Brother's
only nineteen. When he came out, I had an easy choice. Make a job for Lonnie or lose Pete. He's still
learning, but he works."
"Ambitious, both of them," the foreman added. "They got dreams of running a horse ranch."
Holland agreed. "Came to me for a letter saying they were good workers. They went to town to see the banker
about a loan to buy the Middleboro spread." Holland sniffed. "I could have told them not to waste their time.
All that skinflint can think about is the date mortgage payments come due. He'd sooner stick his money in a
gopher hole than bet on young kids."
"Killers, you think?"
"Pete's a good hand." Holland paused before continuing reluctantly. "But there's nothing he wouldn't do to
protect his brother."
Working a ranch takes all a man's energy. Holland had given little thought to the town gossip the cook had
brought back the prior night from his supply run. But Collins' questions brought it into focus. "The robbers?
You think . . . ?"
"Any idea where they might hide out, one of them being wounded?"
"We'll check our line shacks. I don't hold with robbery or killing, Collins. If they're on my range, we'll
bring them in."
The Wells Fargo men were a mile down the road before Mitchell turned to Collins. "We learn anything?"
"Two missing Double H horses, two missing Double H riders. Likely we have the names of the killers. But how did
they know about the shipment? Someone else must be in this. Maybe those line shacks won't be checked too closely."
"A prosperous ranch like this?" Mitchell said. "The range is dotted with Double H cattle."
"We see a lot of land and a lot of cattle. We don't see Holland's bank book. More than one rancher has turned
robber to pay his mortgage."
* * *
Collins walked down Cheyenne Street, past the dry goods store, past the milliner's amd a gun shop, until he
found the black-painted door window with the gold lettering that pretended to a greater dignity than the
small storefront could command. "Bank of Wheatland, Lloyd Briscoe, President", it proclaimed. He turned
the doorknob and entered the shotgun-style building. Two teller cages and a low railing set off the customer
area from the bankers' domain.
Collins raised his hand and flashed the Wells Fargo badge to the man bent over the books of account. "Like to
talk to Mister Briscoe." Floyd Briscoe emerged briskly from the office in the rear, his tailored broadcloth suit
the emblem of prosperity and cut to emphasize his slender, aristocratic build.
Once Collins identified himself, Briscoe asked the only question Collins ever got from the victim of a robbery.
"When do I get my money?"
"I'm here to start the process. We've got to file a claim."
"I gave the money to Wells Fargo. You let it get stolen. What more is there to know? Is this some way of Wells
Fargo to get out of paying? Make it look like they never lost the money?"
Showing sympathy for a man like Briscoe usually worked. "You know what lawyers are like. The suits in San Francisco
think the world runs on paper. Whatever you and I know isn't a fact until it is set down on the Proof of Loss form
and sworn to before a notary."
"I don't have time to go writing. I've got a bank to run."
"Let me confirm the facts. I'll write them up tonight and you can sign it tomorrow. That'll get San Francisco
off my back and I can get down to my real job, finding that money."
Briscoe was only slightly propitiated. He paused as he led Collins past the man at the desk. "Barber, here, is
the auditor from Cheyenne. Got word last week he'd be up to see if we still know how to add and subtract." The
two men shook hands. "Tell Barber that book entry I made is good. That Wells Fargo will pay my loss."
"Wells Fargo always makes good on losses, Mister Barber."
Briscoe's office was appointed with a dignity that expressed a solidity and affluence not evident in the working
lobby of the bank. Behind Briscoe's desk were engravings of Hamilton, Lincoln, and Grant, not overly welcoming
to a man of southern heritage like Collins, but this was Wyoming.
"You should be out looking for the robbers," Briscoe told Collins as he seated himself behind his mahogany desk.
"Nothing you can find out here."
"We rode out to the ranch they ride for this morning. Got their names and descriptions to our Denver office and
alerts are going out across Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska. Even in a town as big as 40,000 like Denver, two
strange cowhands, one of them wounded, get noticed quick." Mitchell's observations came to mind. Maybe Collins
was just making conversation. Maybe he was probing. "You've got a lot of prosperous spreads in this country."
Bankers like to show they have greater wisdom than sweaty men of business. "Beef on the hoof doesn't pay the
mortgage. Most Wyoming ranchers thought the eastern money-spigot would never stop gushing. They're learning
that a financial panic like the one back East means folks stop eating beef. The railroaders charge almost as
much to ship a six-hundred-pound Wyoming steer to Chicago as the slaughterhouses pay. The crash came on so
sudden, even smart men of affairs lost money. Lost some myself," he admitted. "Banks across the state are
finding mortgage payments hard to come by."
He paused as the idea sunk in. "Are you sasying Double H had a hand . . . ?"
"Pete and Lonnie Morgan did, for sure. Know them?"
Briscoe took a moment to reflect. "Young, no-account cowhands?" Collins nodded. "Ambitious beyond their experience.
They wanted me to give them money so they could buy a horse ranch. I asked them how much they'd saved, what
collateral they had." Briscoe scoffed at their pretensions. "About what you'd expect from dirt and sweat cowhands.
I told them to come back in a couple of years when they could show they didn't drink away all the money in their
pockets. They said they couldn't wait. Middleboro's ranch was for sale now."
"You turned them down," Collins said. "Nothing else you could do."
"They weren't happy when they left here."
"Could they have learned about the shipment?"
Briscoe showed his offense at the question. "Not from me." Then Briscoe paused. "Mister Tanner, my chief teller, stuck
his head in while they were there to check some detail, but didn't say much."
"The teller knew?"
"Of course. He had to put the count together. You don't think Tanner—"
"Someone talked. We'll ask them when we find them."
* * *
The road south of Wheatland ran through open country, past occasional farms with creaking windmills that
hoisted water from the aquifer far below to nourish fields a man's muscles had scratched into the earth.
Cattle, in small clumps, grazed their way across the table land. Platte County was a peaceful country, a
productive country, a working man's country.
Five miles out of town, where the road bent southeast, Mitchell paused and gave the scene a professional
appraisal, based on his three years working that side of the business. Here, according to the Sheriff, the
two outlaws had waited, hailed the Wells Fargo wagon, and forced it to a stop. It was a good location, Mitchell
decided, with no farmhouse in sight. In a country with little cover, a slight dip in the road gave what element
of surprise an outlaw could expect. Halt the wagon, disarm the guard, transfer the cash, and leave tracks up the
hillside. Tracks meant to be followed? Mitchell speculated. The animal trace left an obvious trail that invited
tracking. Were they professionals leading a deliberate false scent or amateurs on their way to a Double H line
shack? Were the horses part of the misdirection: kill two Double H riders, use their horses to send the law north
to Double H while the robbers put miles under their hooves as they headed for the safety of their hideout? But
how would outlaws from out of the area know of the shipment?
Mitchell decided he had learned nothing from the robbery site. As before in his still-new life with Chet Collins,
he wondered how even a smart, experienced man like Collins ever solved a case. He kneed his horse forward, down
the road, puzzling over what questions Collins would be asking.
One thing his experience taught him—however professional or amateur they were, their plans had changed. No
robber figures on being shot. Almost any close-in gunshot wound would be too serious for a long distance escape run
to Cheyenne, let alone a reliable hideout in Browns' Park. Givens' shot had shattered their plans.
Mitchell remembered the pain and weakness that afternoon outside Leadville. Only a mile from the robbery he had
struggled to hold his saddle. His only chance for survival depended on finding a hole he could pull in around
himself and hunker down. The Morgans must have faced the same imperative need.
A quarter mile off the road he saw a farmer plying his hoe on recalcitrant water-stealing weeds. Mitchell reined
aside, and pulled up at the edge of the fields. For a moment he watched as the man labored intently to coax a few
vegetables from the tired soil. Finally he spoke.
"Hello, the field."
The farmer turned in surprise. "Howdy."
Mitchell palmed his badge and flashed it, indistinguishable at the distance, but the gesture asserted confidence in
his right to ask questions. "Maybe you heard there was a robbery and killing last Saturday," he began. "The killers
headed south, likely looking for a place to hole up. A cave, maybe a deserted cabin. Not too far. Know of any?"
The farmer studied Mitchell as he decided whether to answer. "Old Jed, he was a wolver years back. He had a shack
somewhere down Sherman Ridge. Don't know exactly where."
* * *
About three miles west of the road, Sherman Ridge extended for miles, a long fold in the earth that rose two,
three hundred feet above the prairie. Scouring the scrub along Sherman Ridge could take days. Any one-horse
trail not in regular use got covered over by brush, sometimes overnight it seemed. Mitchell knew he could ride
within a hundred yards of a hideout and not see it.
But a wolver's cabin was predictable in some ways. He wouldn't build it down on the flats where winter would come
at him from all sides. Nor would he build on the wind-swept crest of Sherman Ridge. He'd look for a place where
pines sheltered him from weather and gave him handy firewood.
Mitchell had spent three years living the owlhoot life, camping in the Colorado and Arizona outback between
"patronizing" Wells Fargo stages. A man develops an instinct, maybe not something he could explain to another
man, but as he told Chet Collins later, "I could almost smell the shack a mile away." When he saw a recently-broken
pine branch, his senses went into overdrive. Maybe there was even something he could do better than his partner to
earn his space.
As he pushed up the trail, his finger flicked off the keeper thong that held his six-gun secure. If he was right,
two killers would give him a hot-lead welcome.
* * *
Later that afternoon, as Chet Collins waited for Mitchell's return, he nursed a beer and reviewed the pieces of the
puzzle. Only Wells Fargo and the bank knew about the shipment—or someone tipped off by a pair of loose lips.
He was mulling over the limited possibilities when Ralph Barber put his hand on the chair across the table.
"Join you?" asked Barber, the man he had been introduced to briefly at the bank, the auditor doing the routine annual
review of the bank.
"Have away," Collins said. "How's your work going?"
"Looks like I'm finished tonight, two days early. I'll be pulling out tomorrow."
"So the bank has—"
"You know, my work is confidential. I can't talk to you about the audit."
"Of course." But then, Collins wondered, why are you sitting with me?
The waitress brought Barber his beer and the auditor leaned back to enjoy it. But it seemed he was a man who liked to
talk. "Not telling you anything out of school when I say the Bank of Wheatland keeps a good set of books, loan
documents are all in good shape. Briscoe's a meticulous paper-pusher."
Barber took another swig and Collins waited. The man wanted to talk, to get something out of his craw. Push him, and
he'd remember his ethics.
"Easy work, then."
"Even the cash balances come out almost exact. To within six bits.
"Always thought bankers kept a close rein on their money."
"Sure. All of them do. Even so, Briscoe's bank stands out special. Never seen a cash tally come so close to the book tally.
Even in any well-run bank, maybe a teller miscounts a deposit or withdrawal. Numbers can be transposed when they are written
down, or a three can look like an eight, a one can look like a seven, figures don't get added up right sometimes. Little
errors, honest mistakes. But things don't balance. That's normal. Even bankers are human. Maybe careless, but human."
"I'd think that's what you were looking for."
"What we look for are the crooked ones, the ones that doctor the books to make them balance with the cash. I look for paper
entries that try to bring the books into line with the cash balance, a poorly-documented loan with just the right amount,
for example. Everything adds up nicely and I'm supposed to put on my happy face and clear out of town."
"But you don't."
"You do this for a living, ten years now, you know how to doctor books in ways a small town banker has never thought of. I
figure I know all the tricks."
"But the books here are good, you said."
"The best. No phony loans. I'm not talking about the Bank of Wheatland, you understand. No sudden write-offs of loans just before
I arrive. None of the things I look for. Everything's just as it should be. And yet the cash count is off the book balance by only
six bits." He gave a short laugh. "It's almost like someone made the cash balances fit the books, instead of the usual way. And if
he did that, there's no way an auditor can track it down."
* * *
Off in a corner of the saloon, Collins learned that the robbers had not escaped with the money. "They knew their killer,"
Mitchell reported. "Let him get in their cabin. Shot with a small bore, likely a derringer. They'd been rat-chawed. I figure
dead maybe three days."
"The robbery was Saturday, four days ago."
"So they ran to ground, and the next day someone showed up and had a different idea of how to split. Someone they trusted.
Pete had no reason to be cautious."
"They would trust their boss. You think—"
"Not Holland," Mitchell spoke with conviction "No horseman would leave horses penned up in the corral to die without forage or water."
"Then . . ."
"The killer wore town shoes, not riding boots. New heels put on recently, the prints showed no wear. I made a trace of the footprints
so Sheriff Stansfield can figure out the size of the killer's shoes."
That was all Mitchell had to report. Collins' discussion of his afternoon added little. "Can't figure out Barber, though. He wasn't
just talking to warm the air. He was trying to give me a message."
They relaxed their way through their whiskey, Collins reminiscing about robberies he'd worked, some successful, some not. Mitchell
couldn't take his mind away from two cowhands, young men with hopes and dreams, betrayed and murdered by a thief without honor. He
thought of Barber's conversation with Collins. In moments, the picture became clear to both men.
"Looks like we earned our pay today, saving Wells Fargo fifteen thousand dollars." Mitchell leaned back, a welcome glow spreading
through him. "We got us a good job, Chet. Lucky for me the day I got teamed up with you."
"Thought you liked riding free, Dave."
"Riding free." He'd always seen that as the measure of manhood. But having his words thrown back at him no longer rankled, not
now that they were the measure of how far he had come since his shiftless days.
"A man learns things," he said. "Freedom without responsibility is hollow."
* * *
"Thought you had left."
Barber stepped into the banker's office. "I was settling my bill with the hotel, when these two told me I should sit
in on their meeting with you, Mister Briscoe."
The two Wells Fargo agents entered the office behind Barber. Neither man sat. "You bring my money?" Briscoe demanded.
Collins didn't answer. Or maybe he did. "Let me tell you a story, Mister Briscoe. Say an ambitious small-town banker buys
railroad stock, as much as he can. Say when the market crashes, he has to find money quick to cover his margin calls.
Say he has access to a bank vault with stacks of greenbacks and thinks he solved his problem. Next, say he gets notice
that his bank is being audited. Then two young cowhands apply for a loan and he tells them another way to get the money
they need. Say he visits them Sunday morning. All the money ends up back in the bank's vault and the books balance. An
interesting story, Mister Briscoe."
"You trying to blame those riff-raffs on me? Prove it."
Collins' business was done. "The robbery's all Wells Fargo cares about. Your claim is denied. If you want to talk proof,
you can sue for the money." Collins had reached the doorway. "Assuming you want the story to come out in a courtroom."
The one-time outlaw, consumed by fury at a murderer's callous betrayal of two young cowhands, had more to say. "As to
the killing, you'd be surprised what the sheriff can learn when he knows what questions to ask. Maybe the hostler at
the livery stable remembers who rented a horse for a ride Sunday morning. Maybe some farmer out hoeing his fields saw
the killer turn toward Sherman Ridge, someone the killer didn't even notice. The town cobbler will remember who recently
had his shoes re-heeled, maybe a pair of shoes the right size for the footprints I traced. It's hard to get away with
murder, Mister. Briscoe."
As they crossed the bank lobby, the two agents heard Barber delivering his news. "This changes my audit report, Mister
Briscoe. A fifteen thousand dollar shortage in cash balances is the usual sign of embezzlement. The law can track
down stock purchases."
Mitchell and Collins were concluding their briefing with Sheriff Stansfield when a gunshot sounded. As the sheriff
stood to strap on his gun belt, they heard someone running in the street. In a moment, Tanner from the bank flung wide the door.
"Sheriff, come quick. Mister Briscoe just killed himself."
Back to Top
Back to Home
No Bad Deed
by Stuart Suffel
Lewis brought the axe down with as much force as his body could muster. It flashed between Milton's
outstretched legs, hitting the chain dead centre. The link cracked open. Milton grinned in relief.
"That's her, Lewis. That's her."
He lifted the iron bracelet above his left ankle to reveal a red mark which encircled his flesh. He
gently rubbed the redness with both thumbs and shook his head in disgust. "Like animals. Treated us
like dogs. Like a herd of pack animals. I swear, if I ever seen any of them jailers . . ."
He stopped mid-sentence. Lewis wasn't listening, but was staring into the distance. He followed Lewis's
look. "What ye seeing, Lewis?"
Lewis didn't answer right away. He ran his hand along the axe handle. The shaft was nearly up to his
waist. "Nothing, I guess. Eagle's shadow, maybe."
Milton squinted into the distance. "No eagles round these parts. A hawk probably."
Lewis snorted. "Makes no never mind, eagle or hawk. We ain't gonna catch neither." He looked around him,
taking in the well-tended fields and rows of neatly trimmed hedgerows with contempt. The hill they had
chosen afforded a good look out place, but there wasn't much to look at. "Not even a goddamn carrot."
"Too early," Milton answered. "Be nothing for another couple of months or so."
"Must be something they could a growed in winter."
Milton laughed. "Lordy Lewis, you ain't never done no farming, have ye?"
Lewis spat onto the ground. "Nope. Never will neither." He rested the axe against the nearby tree, and
placed his hand on his stomach. "No good being free if we're gonna die of starvation, Milton. That farm
house we got the axe at last night is looking mighty tempting."
Milton eyes darted across Lewis's face. "Better not, Lewis. If one of them escaped . . ."
"No one will escape."
Milton stopped rubbing his red ankle. Some of his natural colour was coming back. He slowly picked up
the loose chains attached to the bracelet of each ankle and carefully tied them to his calves with
strips he tore off his trouser legs. He spoke without looking up. "You ever think a them young 'uns
that died in that fire?"
"Nope," Lewis answered flatly.
"I mean," Milton continued, "there weren't nothing we could a done." He glanced up at his companion.
Lewis face was a cold sneer. "Weren't there?"
Milton snapped his head away, but Lewis's words burned into his mind. Milton shook his head. Lewis
was wrong. They'd been chained together when they'd broke from the road crew that day, his left leg
to Lewis's right. There was nothing they could of done. Nothing.
Neither said anything for a time, then Milton heard Lewis gasp. He looked up to see Lewis staring
out across the distant fields again. Milton followed his look—this time he saw something. A
man. An old man bent over with age, carrying a walking stick. The man carried a rough knapsack on
his back. Milton spoke in a whisper. "You reckon he seen us?"
Lewis shook his head. "Nah." Both of them watched the old man cross the fields. "Farmer?"
"Maybe. Or a hand."
Lewis spat again. "Bit old to be a hand. What you reckon he's got in that knapsack?"
Milton shook his head. "No point in taking risks, Lewis. We've only two more days. Two days and
we're over the line—and then we're free, free."
Lewis pinched his stomach."If we don't die a hunger first. I ain't suggesting nothing. Just asking
him for a bit to eat, is all. Maybe he's got some dried beef or something."
Milton allowed this to roll around his head for a bit. The hunger pains he'd kept under control now
barked into his ear. "No harm asking, I guess." He stood up, stretched a little, hooked his thumbs
into his trouser belt and moved forward. Lewis fell into line with him, picking the axe up as he did so.
"Why you bringing that?" Milton hissed, pointing at the axe.
"To valuable to leave here. Besides, we might be able to trade it for some grub."
Milton paused for a bit, then nodded. Both men moved in silent rhythm towards the bottom of the hill.
* * *
The old man didn't hear them approach. It wasn't a walking stick he carried, but the handle of a scythe,
the blade of which had seen better days. He was using the farm tool as a prop to hold him upright as he
walked, but the blade was catching dirt as he crossed the fresh furrows of soil, making the enterprise
somewhat futile. They were about six feet away and Milton was about to call out a 'Howdy', but Lewis
moved like a leopard and hit the old man across the back of the head with the axe handle. The old man
slumped, head first, to the ground.
"What you do that fer?" growled Milton.
"Don't be so naïve," Lewis snapped. "He weren't gonna give us anything. We'll be long gone 'fore he even
knows what hit him. Might even think it was a dream. Now keep an eye out 'til I look in his knapsack."
Lewis bent down and quickly ripped the knapsack off the old man's back. He pulled it open and peered
inside. Dissatisfied with what he saw, he upturned the sack and shook the contents free. Only two
items fell out. A coat, and a white canister of some kind. Lewis picked up the coat and pressed and
patted it through thoroughly. Empty. He lifted the coat up to take a better look. It was an old faded
black overcoat—more like a tent-coat that a freight-hopping hobo might wear, complete with with
a sewn-on hood and two oversized sleeves. Lewis grimaced; the coat was as old and ragged as its owner.
He threw it onto the ground in disgust and grabbed the white canister. But it wasn't a canister—it
was a sheet of paper which had furled up into a roll. He unrolled the sheet. It was blank. He waved the
sheet towards Milton. "What you make of this?"
Milton quickly glanced at the sheet. "I don't make anything of it. Lewis, we gotta get outta here."
Lewis threw the paper on the ground in anger. "Milton, what do you see?" he asked.
"Exactly. Nothing. And lots of it. No one around for miles. Now keep your jitters under control and help
me search this old-timer. Maybe he's got something in his pockets." Milton frowned, but he did as Lewis
requested. They both grabbed the old man's shoulder and turned him over.
Milton stepped back in shock. "He's dead."
Lewis looked down at the old man's face, his lifeless eyes, his frozen stare. "Yup. Reckon he is at that."
He gave a grin and winked at Milton. "Guess it was his time."
Milton gave Lewis a look, but said nothing. He watched silently as Lewis ran his hands along each side of
the corpse, cursing that there were no pockets. Lewis patted the old man down, head to toe. Lewis spat.
"Not a goddamn thing."
Then something glimmered. Lewis glanced towards the piece of paper he had emptied from the old man's
knapsack. He reached out, picked it up, and lifted it to the sun. The paper sparkled. It was then he
noticed the two glittering lines which ran down each side of the paper. He looked at Milton, his face a question.
"Gold leaf," Milton said.
Milton shook his head. He then glanced at the dead body below him. "Lewis, we gotta bury him. It's the decent thing to do."
Lewis snorted. "Decent don't come into it. It's the sensible thing to do. Dead bodies bring police. But
nothing fancy, mind. Just enough to hide him."
Milton nodded. "I'll break off a couple of posts from that fence, for digging," he said pointing to the edge of the field.
Lewis nodded in agreement. He looked at the paper in his hand. The two lines shone in the sunlight. For a moment,
he thought he saw some words scribbled across it, but a closer look showed nothing. Trick of the light. Anyways,
valuable or not, he was taking it with him.
* * *
The makeshift screen was ugly, but it kept the night wind off—most of it anyways. Lewis glanced across at
the sleeping Milton, envying his ability to sleep anywhere, anytime. Thankfully, he had finally stopped snoring—else
Lewis wasn't sure he could hold out another two days without killing him. Milton was a coward and a sneak, but honest after
a fashion. Lewis didn't doubt the con had family across the Pennsylvanian border. But he did doubt that they'd be welcoming
him with open arms. Still, it was his best—his only—option for now.
Cleveland was only a few days on from there. Detroit maybe a week or so more. Then up to Winnipeg and the open plains of
Canada. Shortage of ranch hands there, so Milton said. A new country, a new start. Lewis was so enamoured with these
thoughts that he didn't hear the old man approach until he was an arm's length away. And in that arm was a scythe.
The slice of the scythe through bone was enough to wake Milton from his slumber. He bolted upright at the sound. The
figure that stood over the headless body of Lewis did not resemble the old man they had buried. But Milton knew it was
him. Only now, he didn't seem so frail. The scythe was not being used as a walking aid, but held high with one hand, blade-side
up. The old black overcoat hung loosely upon his frame, the hood half covering his face. His free hand protruded from the coat's
oversized left sleeve. It held a white scroll. Milton recognised it. The old man dropped the scroll onto the ground. It was only
then Milton noticed the three small children who were gathered around the hooded figure.
The old man turned and walked off into the distance, closely followed by the children. Milton watched them go, his body rigid
with fear. But, despite the fear, he forced himself to take a closer look at the gold trimmed piece of blank white paper which
now lay open on the earth. But the paper was no longer blank. On it was written a name.
Milton M. Grumman.
Milton's eyes bulged outwards, like some crazy frog.
And that is how they remained two days later when the local deputy sheriff found him. The deputy had no trouble easing Milton into
his wagon, no trouble guiding him through the prison gates of the Western State Penitentiary in Pittsburgh some days later. And
those jailers who brought Milton to his solitary confinement cell had no trouble either.
It took a good three months to get the full story out of prisoner Milton. Chief Keeper, Captain Mortimer E. Sheridan, more or
less laughed when he heard it. Clearly the two cons got into a fight, and Grumman got lucky with the axe they'd stolen. He was
doing life anyway, so it made no difference, and Lewis Bollinger was hardly a loss to humanity. But the story Milton told was an
enjoyable one. The piece of paper with his name etched on it was a nice touch—must have taken him quite a while to get it
so fancy. Yup, all the story missed was a deer-toed, red-horned, goatee-wearing devil to make it perfect.
But when Chief Sheridan heard the screams that came from Grumman's cell a few nights later, his heart thumped just as hard and
as fast as any man on duty that night.
They reached the cell, but none of the jailers reached for their cell keys. Finally the Chief cussed and pushed the others aside.
The lock clunked open and the heavy iron door swung wide into the corridor. Half of Chief Keeper Sheridan knew what he'd see when
he stepped into the cell, the other half dismissed the idea as preposterous.
But the first half was right. Milton M Grumman's head rested in a corner of the cell. His headless body was slumped upright against
the bed, legs out, arms folded, like a man reading a book—only this one wasn't reading. Though there was something in his hands.
Chief Sheridan walked over to the corpse. He lifted the sheet of white paper out of the Milton's death grip and opened it flat. It
was blank, save for two gold lines which ran down each side. The carefully etched name of Milton M Grumman was no more. Chief
Sheridan glanced around the cell to confirm what he already knew. There were no holes in the wall, no tunnel from outside, not a
single window bar had been touched. Then he noticed something at the base of the late Milton M Grumman's left leg. Despite the
cold sweat which was now forming on his brow, he forced himself to take a closer look. He lifted the trouser leg up. There,
around the corpse's ankle was a deep red ring, cut down to the bone. Any deeper, the ankle would have snapped off. He glanced
at Milton's hands. Both thumbnails were stained dark with blood. The chief spoke without turning around. "Tell the shop to make
up a coffin—a strong one. Nothing pretty, nothing fancy. Just strong. I want it here within the hour."
* * *
Some said Doctor Francis Julius LeMoyne was a madman, a lunatic in league with the devil. A man with no soul, no respect
for the sacred, no respect for the church, no respect for the dead. Others called him a visionary, a humanitarian, a
modern day saviour who had the courage to do what needed to be done to rid Pennsylvania of deadly plague and pestilence
left by unsavoury and unsanitary corpses.
Whatever the truth, the crematory he had opened a couple of years previously, in 1876, had not done as brisk a business
as the good doctor had hoped. Not that he had brought the crematory to Washington Pennsylvania to make a profit. Far
from it. But should some income be raised from some wealthy patron to keep the furnaces burning, so to speak, well,
he certainly would not refuse such good fortune. And no patron had deeper pockets than the good folk at Western State
Penitentiary. Sadly, their custom was infrequent. But no less welcome for that. So even though it was in the middle of
the night when he had received the phone call from the prison, and the required paperwork would not be ready until the
following morn, he had sent out a housemaid to rouse his one employee to attend to the matter, forthwith.
Mister Briggs, the manager, book-keeper, 'meeter and greeter', and truth be told, oven sweeper, of the United States of
America's only crematory, waited patiently at the doors of his employer's creation. He stifled a yawn with one hand,
sipped coffee from the other. He hoped the good doctor would add a little extra in his pay packet for this unruly
intrusion upon his sleep.
After a while he began to consider returning to bed, but at that very moment a wagon came thundering up over the
ridge of the road. Minutes later it screeched to a halt outside the crematory. The wagon doors were flung open
front and back and a total of six jailers jumped out of it. Without word or gesture they wrestled a rough-looking
coffin out of the back of the wagon and proceeded towards the waiting Briggs, who tried to hide a grimace at such
undignified actions. He opened the crematory main doors and allowed the entourage to pass through.
Another man stepped out of the wagon. Briggs recognised him as the Chief Jail Keeper, Captain Mortimer E. Sheridan.
The chief gave him a brief salute, Briggs returned the gesture. The chief approached him, handing him a scroll of
white paper. "Make sure this burns with the coffin," he said. Briggs looked at the piece of paper. He was about to
say that this was hardly a time for joking, but something in the chief's demeanour told him to keep quiet. The
chief passed him by without any further communication.
Sometime later when he had collected the ashes into a cheap but ornate urn, Mister Briggs stepped outside of the
crematory. Sometimes a prisoner's family would spring for a good—or even expensive—urn. His gut told
him that this was an unlikely candidate, but it was worth a shot. The six jailers were standing around, the chief
a little further off, smoking a cigar. Briggs approached the chief, ornamental urn in hand. "Thought you'd given
them up?" he said, nodding to the cigar.
"So did I", Sheridan replied. "Is it done?"
Briggs nodded. "So, chief, what will I do with these ashes?"
The chief didn't look at the urn. He turned to follow the other men who had already started walking towards the
wagon. He spoke over his shoulder.
"Send them back to hell," he said. Moments later, the wagon was nothing but a dot on the horizon.
Briggs watched them go. He looked at the urn in his hand and sighed. He went to the side of the crematorium, lifted
the lip of the urn and scattered the ashes onto the ground around a nearby willow tree, where the ashes of so many
others had been scattered before. He knocked the urn against the brick wall of the crematorium, then took out a
rag and wiped it clean. The urn would have to wait another day for someone to claim ownership of it. Meanwhile, it
would do nicely as a storage jar for that fancy gold leaf scroll of paper the sheriff had asked him to burn.
Might as well get some value out of working such an ungodly hour.
Back to Top
Back to Home
No Place to Run
by Melissa Embry
Fredericksburg, Texas, September 1862
It took until dark for Peter Schoenfeld to push the runaway heifers out of the river bottom and back to the home
place. The severed ears of the longhorned bull his grandfather called the old Mexican, the bull who had lured the
heifers from their corral, swung from his saddle horn, knotted with a thong cut from the bull's own hide.
Tomorrow he and his grandfather would take a yoke of oxen into the bottoms to haul out the renegade longhorn's
carcass. Tomorrow they'd eat beef. Tonight, he looked forward to the frying pan of squirrel his grandfather had
promised for supper.
But the house was dark and there was no smell of cooking as he penned the heifers and replaced the top pole of the
corral they'd escaped from. He unsaddled his riding mule and turned her loose. Instead of meandering into the
pasture, she followed him, nipping at his shirt as if begging for turnips.
"Off, Schatzie," he said, slapping her away.
He saw her long ears, darker than the starlit skyline, prick toward the house.
There was no welcoming hail from the dogtrot house where he and his grandfather lived in isolation from their
neighbors. Neighbors whose eyes followed them when they drove to church on Sunday, muttering against the young
man who stayed safe in Texas when their sons were dying at Shiloh or languishing in Yankee prison camps. Neighbors
who turned away without greeting since this month's news about bloody Antietam. Old Schoenfeld had begun to speak
of joining the other German settlers who fled to Mexico to escape the wrath of Confederates against Union sympathizers.
The night was moonless. As Schoenfeld climbed the porch, his boot toe struck something where no obstacle should be.
Something solid but yielding. The strangeness made the stubble of his young beard prickle.
He dropped to one knee to examine the thing, running his hands over it in the dark. It was the body of a large dog,
his grandfather's bull terrier. He started to call out in alarm but found his mouth suddenly too dry to form words.
He was close enough now to make out the gleam of broken teeth where someone had pried the dog's jaws open.
And close enough to make out a figure slumped in the doorway behind the dog. The body of a man, his homespun shirt
gummed to his chest and side with deeper darkness. Young Schoenfeld didn't need the smell that stung his nostrils to
know the darkness was blood.
He bent over his grandfather's body, running his hands gently over the dead face, over the coarseness of an old man's
beard, over the dribble of tobacco and more blood from the mouth. The eyes . . . he closed them,
pressing his fingertips against the stiffened lids to hold them down.
He didn't think to swipe at the tears running down his face.
His grandfather's hair no longer waved back from his temples in thick white wings. The top of the old man's head was
a scalped stickiness that made bile rise in his grandson's throat. But there had been no scalping Comanches here in
the Texas hill country since old Schoenfeld and the rest of Jack Hays' Rangers pushed them out in '44, before Peter
was born. When his father, dead of the yellow jack last year, was still the one called young Schoenfeld.
The men who killed old Schoenfeld scalped him to hide their own identities. But he could guess who they were. And
that they would return for him.
A snort from the mule Schatzie startled him. He looked back to the yard to see her ears swiveling toward the road.
* * *
State of Chihuahua, Mexico
By the time he reached Mexico, swinging southwest to cross the Rio Grande, he had evaded Confederate conscription
agents, a band of comancheros—the mestizo outcasts who traded with Comanches—and the ragtag forces of
Mexican president Benito Juarez retreating before the army of invading emperor Maximilian.
He dropped the reins of his mule, letting her pick a way through the thickets of mesquite and creosote. The scrub-covered
dunes were packed snug as honeycomb cells in a hive. When he had looked over the countryside from the mountains beyond the
river, the dunes covered it like herds of gray-green beasts.
The dunes rose head-high in this country he had entered. The country in which, except for carrion birds wheeling overhead,
he and the mule seemed to be the only breathing creatures.
As the sun neared the zenith, he halted. The air was hot during the day, even this late in the year. He dismounted and
unsaddled Schatzie before nicking a vein in her neck. She stood exhausted, not heeding the tiny wound. He put his mouth
to it and sucked. But he had drawn barely enough to wet his tongue before the flow clotted and ceased.
A fly appeared as if out of thin air and fastened itself on the last drop of oozing moisture.
Schoenfeld lay in the shade of the dune, his hat over his eyes, and slept until a faint breath of coolness roused him.
The mule was nowhere in sight. He lay back again, eyes closed, sensing the ebbing daylight. When it was full dark he
would rise, hoping for a star to guide him through the cool of the night. But where it would lead him, he couldn't guess.
He woke to the sensation of being watched. He opened his eyes but he could see no one in the darkness. The night air was
cold on his face. He reached drowsily for his blanket, only to find something heavy encumbering his arms and shoulders.
A fleece, he thought, from the smell of wool fat on it. As he raised a hand to touch the fleece, wonderingly, he became
aware of a darker shape beside him.
He gripped the butt of his revolver. His empty revolver.
"Hola," the stranger said.
A woman's voice, murmuring questions. He understood only a word here and there, but he relaxed a little. His eyes darted
back and forth, searching for others before he sat up gingerly. The woman put a dipper of water to his lips and he sucked
"Thank you," he said. "Gracias." He put a hand on the dipper, gesturing for more water.
By her voice and figure, she was young. But a shawl enveloped her head so that her face was hidden from him, with only
the starlight to see by.
She filled the dipper again from a jug and offered it again.
"Where am I?" he asked. "Who are you?"
She sat silently, in an attitude of attentive listening.
"Donde es?" he asked, struggling to remember words, to frame them with unaccustomed lips.
"Me llamo Peter," he said, then corrected himself, "Pedro. Pedro Schoenfeld. Como se llama, por favor?"
She laughed softly and gestured with a finger over her lips.
* * *
He found the mule, Schatzie, when he woke before daylight.
"So you came back, did you, you philandering hussy?" he said.
Schatzie dropped her head, picking at something on the ground, something tied with a faded bandana. Before
he could stop her, she flipped the bandana end over end, scattering its contents—tortillas and a handful
of beans. She nosed eagerly through the food.
"Damn your eyes, girl, you've gone and ate my breakfast."
In spite of his hunger, his heart soared as he vaulted onto the mule's back. The woman, the one he half thought
he had dreamed, was real. She had brought the mule back to aid him.
He gave Schatzie her head. At his kick, she trotted down the trail, with an air of knowing her way, until whinnies
from a herd of horses milling in the corral greeted them. An encampment of brush huts straggled along the banks of
an arroyo, wisps of smoke still rising from the cook fires.
He passed three or four women, nodding and touching the brim of his hat to them. None returned his greeting with
anything more than a stare. Nor did he, he realized with surprise at his own eagerness, feel any recognition for them.
Don't be a fool, Schoenfeld, he thought. You never even saw her face. You didn't hear her say a dozen words. How
could you expect to know her again?
As he approached the stock corral, a man, perhaps alerted by some signal from the women, emerged from a hut. Another,
younger man, soon followed. They sauntered toward Schoenfeld, who had dismounted, without any appearance of alarm.
But both wore pistols shoved through their belts. The younger man dropped a hand to the butt of his gun.
Schoenfeld was aware of his own pistol with its empty chambers.
"Buenos dias, señores," he said. "You have many fine horses here. Muchos caballos."
He tried to keep his eyes off a bay Morgan with a U.S. Army brand, searching for words. The appearance of the
horse thieves didn't help his memory.
"Do you need someone to break them?" he asked at last in English. He smiled, although his face felt as
stiff and cold as his grandfather's night back in Texas.
He was so intent on the men's approach he didn't notice the woman who joined them until she lowered her shawl
from head to shoulders. And he knew her, knew her in his heart, in spite of his earlier misgivings.
He swept off his hat. "Señora, gracias. Muchas gracias."
She took the arm of the older man at her side. "Papi," she said, "este es Pedro Schoenfeld."
Her voice stumbled a little, charmingly, Schoenfeld thought, over the unfamiliar consonants.
"At your service, señor." He bowed to the old ruffian, without taking his eyes of the man's weapons.
"Mi padre," the woman said, smoothing the man's gray-stubbled cheek. "Guadalupe Obregon."
The younger man stepped forward, still fingering his gun. "Permit me to introduce myself," he said.
"My name is Garza. And I see you have already made the acquaintance of my betrothed."
The woman's eyes—really, she wasn't more than a girl, Schoenfeld thought—flicked toward Garza.
A wary expression clouded them.
"You speak English real good, Mister Garza," Schoenfeld said, unpleasantly aware of Garza's glance toward the woman.
"Like you," Garza said, "I am a tejano."
* * *
By the time the new year had passed, Schoenfeld had risen from Manuela's dog—perro, Garza called him instead
of Pedro—to fellow bandit. When he had time to think—when he could bear to think—he wondered what
his grandfather would say. And if "risen" was a proper term to use among robbers and murderers. But in that time
also, Manuela's condition began to show.
"When I find him, I will kill him," Obregon said, staring at his daughter across the hearth fire of the shack built
of upright posts and adobe that was the gang's winter quarters.
Schoenfeld leaned against a far wall, swathed in his poncho, following the conversation with his eyes on the girl.
"Who is he?" Obregon demanded again. "Was it a soldier?"
"Yes, father, yes," Manuela said. "A soldier. One of Juarez's men."
Good, Schoenfeld thought. Let your father follow Juarez's army to El Paso del Norte and we'll escape across the river, you and I.
"Patrón, how many months have passed since Juarez's men were here?" Garza asked. "And how many months does a woman carry a child?"
No one else dared speak. Only Garza. Schoenfeld saw Manuela shudder under Garza's stare.
"Do you think I can't count?" Obregon asked. "Of course she's lying. It is someone here. Someone in our midst."
His eyes roamed around the room, searching one after another of his men, but not even the insolent Garza would
meet his gaze. Not for the first time, Schoenfeld wondered how the daughter of a villain such as Obregon could
be so unlike her father. She walked among the desperadoes with the assurance of a queen, the assurance that
made him love her.
While Schoenfeld watched her, his own face hidden in the shadow of his down-turned hat brim, Obregon sprang. Kicking
aside the coals of the fire, he seized Manuela's shoulder and jerked her upright. Schoenfeld's hand tightened on the
revolver he clasped under the folds of his poncho.
As he held Manuela, Obregon drew one of the pair of pistols he wore at his waist. He locked an arm around her shoulder.
Baring the few teeth left in his mouth, he turned her to face the row of men leaning against the wall. The muzzle of
the gun in his other hand thrust upward under her jaw.
Schoenfeld's gaze moved from Manuela's eyes, their dark irises ringed white with fear, to Obregon's. He watched the
eyes, searching for any flicker of warning in their opaque depths that the maddened man meant to carry out his threat
to the girl.
Schoenfeld straightened a fold of his enveloping poncho so that the opening under his arm would give him a clear shot.
He felt Manuela's look slide over him and move on.
"Which one is it, daughter? Which of these cowards do you fear? Confess and his death will be a slow one. He will live
to feel you spit on him."
Schoenfeld glanced at Garza, third in the line past him. He guessed from the line of his arm that Garza had also drawn
his pistol and pointed it toward him. If Manuela indicated Garza as her attacker, he would shoot Schoenfeld. Manuela's
face told him she understood.
Garza yawned loudly. "I confess, patrón," he said.
The muzzle of Obregon's pistol moved from Manuela to Garza.
"I confess that these proceedings bore me," Garza said.
Schoenfeld caught Manuela's look of mingled horror and relief. Her eyes flicked to the half-hidden muzzle of
Schoenfeld's gun and signaled no.
"You are bored with living, perhaps?" Obregon asked Garza. "That can be remedied."
"What man among us would throw his life away for a girl?" Garza asked. "Only look at her. Someone seized her in the dark
as she went to the well to fill her water jar."
"You're saying she doesn't know who attacked her?" Obregon asked.
"She dares not point out a man at random and say he was the one. That might leave her still at the mercy of her ravisher."
"So must I kill you all?" Obregon threw Manuela down and drew both pistols. "I must shoot all you miserable vermin to
wipe out the stain on my honor?"
But there were a dozen of them and he was only one.
"Hear me," Garza said. "What one man has hidden may be uncovered if all search. But perhaps a reward would make the
search more diligent."
"Whoever discovers the villain will have my daughter as his wife," Obregon said.
"A dishonored woman? What prize is that?" Garza asked.
"Then I will add this to her dowry." Obregon tore open his shirt, pulling out the great diamond and emerald ring he wore on a chain around his neck.
"I will consider it," Garza said.
Schoenfeld watched as, leaning his head back against the wall, he pulled his hat over his eyes and composed himself to sleep.
* * *
"You should have named him before he spoke," Schoenfeld said to Manuela the next morning as he lifted an olla of water from the well.
"He would have killed you if I had. You saw that," she said.
"We must flee," Schoenfeld said.
But he knew it was too late. Since Obregon had pledged not only Manuela but the great diamond and emerald ring
as reward for the name of the man whose child she carried, the eyes of every bandit followed her to the well,
followed her as she drew water. But avidly as they watched her, their eyes slid away from hers, fearing some
sign of fear or favor by which she might betray a man to death.
"No, my darling," Manuela said. "You must flee."
Then she slapped him, walking away to complain loudly that now every rogue, even this cursed yanqui, thought
he could accost her.
* * *
Schoenfeld sat on his mule, a coil of rope at his saddle horn, as Obregon conferred with Garza at the
end of that day. Manuela stood beside her father, her eyes cast down.
He and Manuela should flee now, Schoenfeld thought, now, before lying Garza had a chance to name him. But
they had no place to run, caught between Juarez's army and the French, a prize on their heads from both
sides as members of Obregon's bandit gang. To the north there was only Texas, where his grandfather had died.
Schatzie sidled uneasily beneath him. He touched the mule's sides with his spurs. He would do it after all.
He could spur the mule forward and seize Manuela. They would be gone before the others mounted.
"And you have found the man?" Obregon asked.
"I have found him," Garza said.
"How do I know you will not point the finger at someone else to save yourself?" Obregon asked.
Garza grinned as if in answer to Obregon's question, but as he spun his pistol's chamber, its
muzzle pointed toward Manuela. She would die before Schoenfeld could lift her to his saddle.
"All of us have been with you for years," Garza said, "and your daughter has walked among us
without harm. Until now."
Schoenfeld couldn't look away from Manuela. As if she felt his gaze, she raised her eyes to the rope at his hand.
Garza pulled off his hat and held it over his heart. "As God is my witness," he said, "The name of the man—"
"Sing, Schatzie," Schoenfeld said in desperation. And Schatzie brayed.
The sky-rending sound drowned whatever Garza had been about to say. His mouth made the shape of a curse, unheard
in the din, as he turned to the mule—turned away from Manuela—and raised his pistol.
Before Garza could shoot, a loop flew from Schoenfeld's outstretched hand onto his enemy's shoulders.
At the same instant, he whipped the mule to a gallop, reining her toward the sunset so that the eyes
of those who pulled their guns were too dazzled to shoot well.
Garza screamed, once, as the rope jerked him from his feet.
Then the scream stopped abruptly and he was only a bundle bounding at the rope's end behind the mule,
caught in the mesquite thorns and torn loose to be caught and torn again.
Schoenfeld flung himself onto the far side of the mule, clinging with one hand and foot hooked over the
saddle. He heard a bullet whine past, close enough to singe Schatzie's brush of mane. He dared not look
back, not at Manuela, not at the thing whose weight tugged at the rope trailing behind him.
And then Obregon yelled. The firing stopped. Despite the cease fire, the sun had slipped below the horizon
before Schoenfeld dared circle back to the camp. He glanced back at the bloodied nakedness he dragged behind
him. Only the scraps of boots marked that it had once been a man.
He watched Obregon stroking his mustache appraisingly as he returned. Saw the old bandit wave down
the guns of his men.
"I suppose Garza was the villain, then, daughter?" Obregon asked.
Schoenfeld turned his eyes to her, willing her to answer, yes. He saw her nod, saw her smile at him. But
he couldn't smile back.
She was beautiful and he loved her more than his life. But a cold wind struck his back as he searched her
face in vain for any sign of pity, any sign of remorse for the man, terrible though he was, who had died so
violently for her sake.
She looked at Schoenfeld, at the thing he offered Obregon in return for her hand, and waited for him. He was tied
to her now, he knew, more tightly than Garza's body was tied to his saddle horn. She had recognized in him a man
who could do this thing, who could free her, no matter what the means, from someone she hated. They, two, were alike,
he and she, and the thought chilled him more than the winter wind.
Back to Top
Back to Home
by James P. Hanley
Matt Parker, sheriff of Rawlings, Kansas was opening a cell to let out a drunken cowboy who made the mistake
the night before of throwing a punch at the once-prizefighter and now deputy, Brew Winston. The cowboy's eye
swollen and his walk still unsteady from the liquor, he stumbled toward the jailhouse door to be nearly knocked
over by the frantic rush of a local rancher.
"Sheriff," the man said, "That bastard Lou Carey stole one of my horses."
"Calm down, Vince, and tell me what happened," Sheriff Parker said.
"I saw him, even took a shot at him before he ran off. He stole one of my best animals."
Just then, Deputy Winston walked in and glared menacingly at the frightened cowboy clamoring to get through the
blocked doorway. The sheriff repeated the story of the theft while Vince nodded.
"Ain't that the third complaint against Lou Carey stealing horses?" Winston asked.
"Yes," Parker answered, "but this is the first time anyone seen him stealing. We need to ride out to his place."
Asking Vince to describe the horse, the sheriff and his deputy headed out to the Carey property which was about
two miles from town.
The Carey spread consisted of a rundown barn, a house with a sagging porch and horses circling in an unevenly
constructed corral. The stretch of land leading to the place was open with few trees and some high brush to the
side of the dirt road. Near the corral, Deputy Winston pointed toward a quarter horse with a tan body, dark
lower legs and black mane and tail in the corral and said, "That looks like the one Vince described."
Their talk was interrupted by the sound of a shot and a bullet striking in the dirt to their left. Both men jumped
down from their horses. Sheriff Parker ran to a woodpile and Winston charged toward an overturned buckboard nearby.
Both were armed with rifles that they removed from their saddle scabbard. A second bullet came from a side window
of the house and both lawmen fired in that direction. Shots were exchanged and a bullet cut a piece of wood from
the buckboard and dug into Winston's arm. The sheriff could see his deputy and, noticing the blood flowing from his
arm, assumed Winston had been hit by a bullet. Out of the corner of his eye, Parker saw a figure coming out of the
barn carrying a long thin object which Parker immediately considered was a rifle. The person lifted the object as
if pointing in the sheriff's direction. Parker quickly fired and the person fell to the ground. A shriek came from
the barn and a woman ran toward the prone form. Sheriff Parker walked slowly toward the woman who was leaning over
the body, weeping furiously. As protection against any more gunfire, Winston kept his rifle aimed in the direction
of the house. When Parker got to the woman and the still body, he saw she was blood-soaked from hugging the bleeding
figure. He then saw the blank face of a teenage boy in the woman's hold and the pitchfork on the ground. The loud
laments continued and the sheriff's attention was so focused he didn't hear the sound of a horse galloping away.
Shortly, Deputy Winston came alongside the sheriff. He had wrapped his bandana around the wound and while the center
of the cloth was wet with blood, the injury seemed minor. Both lawmen looked down at the slain youth and his mournful
mother cradling her dead son. When Sheriff Parker came over to the boy, the woman stood and backed away, staring with
her face contorted in grief and hate. Parker felt the boy's pulse in case there was remaining life in the still body,
but he looked upward when he heard an anguished shout and saw Winston lunge at the woman to knocked the pitchfork
from her hand before she speared the sheriff. She squirmed to be free of the deputy's grasp until she dropped to the
ground weeping uncontrollably.
In the following days, Sheriff Parker slept little and was distracted during the day. His wife and son sensed his
distress but nothing they could do would bring him out of the funk. Deputy Winston repeatedly reminded the sheriff
that it wasn't his fault but was also unsuccessful. Parker found it difficult to look at his fourteen-year-old son
who was, he estimated, about the same age as the boy he shot. At the burial service the boy's mother cursed the
sheriff and warned that her husband would come back to revenge the killing of their son.
One morning a week later, the sheriff and the deputy met in front of the jail and, as was often their custom, walked
in opposite directions to patrol the town. Not long after they separated, Parker saw two young men scuffling in the
middle of the street; they were rolling in the dirt attempting to gain a hold that would pin the other. Parker
shouted to stop and ran toward the combatants to break them up. As he neared the young men, he heard a shot fired
from behind him. When no bullet struck near where he was, Parker spun around and saw that Winston had his gun
pointed toward a space in shadows between two buildings.
Parker called out, "Brew, what happened."
Instead of shouting a response, the deputy jogged toward the sheriff and stopping close, said, "Let's grab these two."
Both of the young men had stopped fighting and looked toward the lawmen in a stance that reflected thoughts of running
away. Winston's pointed gun discouraged that alternative. Grabbing both by the collar, he lifted them and asked what
was going on.
Nervously, one answered, his voice in a high pitch, "A man paid me and my brother to fight in the street. He said
we didn't have to hurt each other, just to make a fuss in the middle of the road."
Parker, still confused, asked Winston, "What's this all about and what were you shooting at?"
"When I heard you yell I turned and saw a rifle sticking out from the edge of the building. I didn't see who it was,
only the barrel pointed at you. I didn't have time to aim so I just fired to spook the man out to get you. I bet he
was the one who put these two up to it."
When both in Winston's grip shrugged, the deputy let them go. Parker watched them scamper away and said, "We should
have asked them what the man who gave them money looked like."
"No need," Winston said, "we know it was Lou Carey. He's not only a horse thief, he's a coward trying to ambush you."
"There's not much we can do until he shows himself," Sheriff Parker said.
"I'm going to ride out to his place in case he came back home. I can talk to his widow and see what she knows, but
I doubt she'll tell me much," the deputy said.
In the morning, Deputy Brew Winston rode out to the Carey place. As he neared the house, he watched carefully for any
sign of the hiding thief. When he neared, Missus Carey came out and her glare conveyed her anger at his arrival. His
attempt at being pleasant was met with a cold stare.
"I'm sorry to bother you, Missus Carey, but I was hoping to find your husband before more harm comes."
"More harm," she said facetiously, "My son is dead and my husband is missing and wanted by the law; how much
more harm can there be?"
"I'm sorry about your boy, as is the sheriff, but we need to bring your husband in before he does something
that can get him killed or at least makes him a wanted man for the rest of his life."
"You won't find him, not before he gets revenge. Your sheriff had better watch out. An eye for an eye."
Deputy Winston reported to his boss that he wasn't counting on Missus Carey to help and was certain that
her husband wouldn't rest until he harmed the sheriff somehow.
"He can go after me all he wants, as long as I'm the target," the sheriff answered.
At day's end, Sheriff Parker returned to his place a mile from town. A modest property with a square barn
Parker had built himself for horses and for storage, a hand-hewn log, two-room house where he lived with
his wife, Laura and son, Cliff. A rough corral of overlapping wood formed in a rectangle enclosed two restless horses.
Inside the home, the sheriff's wife was preparing dinner—a stew of meal and vegetables that filled the large
central room with an appetite-whetting aroma. They spoke about the routine things they did during the day until
Parker's wife made a comment that caused him to sit straight.
"When I looked out the window, I saw someone ride up near the barn, stare at the house, turn, and leave as if looking
for something. Whoever it was didn't stay long and was mostly hidden by the barn."
Sheriff Parker asked his wife to describe the person but she answered that she hadn't seen whoever it was
clearly or long enough to offer much. Before going to bed, the sheriff put a rifle in a corner of the room
and reminded his wife and son that the gun was accessible.
When the sheriff met with his deputy, he conveyed his suspicions. "Carey was likely at my place. Probably
looking for me. We've got to find him before he harms my family if they get in the way."
Winston sat silently, staring at the far wall as if something was showing on the wood.
"Did you hear me, Brew?"
"Yes," the deputy responded slowly. "Missus Carey said her husband would get revenge"
"That's right; he wants to kill me for what I did."
"What if revenge is to make you suffer as he did?"
The sheriff wrinkled his brow as a reflection of confusion. "What are you trying to say?"
"You shot his boy and one way to seek revenge is to—"
"You think he's after my son, Cliff, to get back at me?"
"Maybe he wanted to gun you down at first; that's why he shot at you in town. That didn't work. But
now he's figured there's another way—your boy."
Sheriff Parker thought about the deputy's logic. While he was pondering, Brew spoke up, "Look, that's just
my thinking, but maybe you need to stay at your place until he shows there. If he comes to town looking for
you, I'll get him."
"If you're wrong, I'll be bringing him to my place to get me and put my wife and son at risk. He tried
to get me in town, I bet he'll try again here."
"I hope I'm wrong, but if you're wrong and he targets your son while you're in town . . ." There was no need to finish the sentence.
"You can get some men to help you if there's trouble in town; you know who they are," Parker said.
The night was moonless and Parker was staring out the window at the stars' formation when his wife asked from behind him, "Where's Cliff?"
"Can't have gone far," the sheriff answered without taking his eyes from the sky. Suddenly, his wife's question
penetrated. "Must be in the barn," he said rushing out the front. Once outside he called his son's name
repeatedly, each time with increased volume and trepidation until he heard his boy's shout to come into the
barn. In the far corner of the barn, the sheriff's horse was limping, a strip of red-stained cloth covering
a slit in the animal's leg.
"I tried to stop the bleeding, Pa. He's been cut with a knife. Wasn't an accident."
Realizing that he hadn't come out of the house armed, he rushed his son toward the front door of his home.
A shot struck the ground near Cliff, and Parker pushed his son through the front door. He put on his gun
belt and headed back to the barn after gathering cotton strips to use for bandages for the horse's wound
"What's going on, Pa?" Cliff called after his father. The sheriff didn't answer but said sharply, "Stay here."
Walking hurriedly to the barn he looked around. The land was flat with few places to provide hiding. Stopping
for a second, he listened for unfamiliar sounds. He thought he heard a horse neighing in the distance.
Nearing the barn, Parker called out, "You coward; you shoot at a boy from the dark and cut my horse. If you're
a man, you'll come out in the open and face me. I'm the one you want, not the boy or my horse. You cut the
animal to keep me here but I'm not going anywhere until I get you."
Another shot sounded but there was no indication that the bullet was anywhere near. When another followed,
Parker turned toward the house, his glance drawn by movement at the window. He saw a chunk of wood fly off
near the window and, frightened for his family, he dashed toward the house.
In town, Deputy Winston had returned from a short ride and since it was late in the day, he decided to head
toward the saloon for a beer before going to the jailhouse. As he sipped the lager, a clerk from the general
store who handled the Western Union wires came in and stood beside the deputy.
"Brewster," he said, calling the deputy by his full name, "I stopped by the jail to tell the sheriff there
was a telegram but there was no one there."
"Do you still have it?" Winston asked. "The sheriff is out of town, may be for a few days."
"No, I dropped it back off at the store. I recall most of what it said; it was from the sheriff of a nearby
town who said something like: arrested man named Carey; started fight. Drunk, bragged he tried to kill you."
Winston slammed his glass on the bar and jogged toward the door. "Got to tell the sheriff," he shouted
as he hurried.
At the Parker spread, the sheriff scanned the darkened area while in front of the house, but still couldn't
find the shooter. When no additional shots came, he started to walk away from the building. The door opened
behind and his son stepped out and uttered a single word, "Pa," before two shots followed in succession and
struck near the door. Parker rushed back toward the front of the house and looking inside saw his son was
fine. He slammed the door shut. When another bullet passed close, he saw the muzzle flash and fired quickly
in the direction. A return bullet indicated he'd been unsuccessful in striking the shooter.
A water barrel stood to the far left of the house front; the sheriff ran to it for cover, and was nearly behind
the wood slats when the slug struck his thigh. Parker went down before reaching protection. In the tumble, his
gun got away from him. Momentarily stunned, he shook his head to regain focus and started toward the weapon a
short distance away. He crawled a few feet and stretched toward the gun, but before he could reach it, a bullet
hit the ground nearby. He sensed the shot was fired from a downward angle. Looking up, he saw Carey's wife
staring down at him, her rifle pointed toward him.
"Missus Carey, don't do this! Your son's death was an accident. This is murder."
"I didn't want to kill you, my husband did, and when he failed in town he took off," she answered with a maniacal
calmness. "I wanted to shoot your son so you'd have a dead boy like I do."
"If you shoot me, every lawman in the state will be looking for you and you'll be hung. Does it really avenge your
son if you're in the ground next to him?"
"Yes," she answered simply and raised the gun to eye level. Before she could squeeze the trigger, a bullet struck her
in the forehead and she flew backwards as if shoved.
The sheriff crawled toward the woman but it was clear she was dead. At that moment, Brew Winston charged in on horseback.
Parker looked at him then to his holster and realized his deputy hadn't fired at Missus Carey. When he glanced at the
deputy's face he noticed Brew's stare toward the front of the house. Parker turned to his house and saw his son, frozen
near the door, with a rifle still pointed.
In the following days, the sheriff—his injury not serious—learned that Lou Carey was sentenced to prison
after the man he fought in the other town had been badly hurt. Missus Carey was buried next to her son. While the
sheriff's concern about the threat of revenge was gone, he and his wife were worried about his son; Cliff was very
quiet after he killed the woman. The sheriff assured his son that what he did was necessary, and that Missus Carey
could have gone after him and his mother next, but the boy still seemed haunted. A few months later, Sheriff Parker
handed in his badge and took his family west, far away from the memories of that day, to start fresh.
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Yet He Knew
by B. Craig Grafton
"Wake up Woody. I got to get going."
Woody painstakingly shuddered and pulled himself up, shook his battered head side to side, and groggily moaned out
loud, cursing his bad luck. His head still ached and his right leg continued to throb. The knot on his head had
been bandaged as had the wound on his leg. A splint was wrapped around his leg.
"Patched ya up best I could, old buddy, while you was out. That splint ain't worth a damn but, then again, I ain't
no doctor. But I did get the bleeding to stop. Them Blanco citizens broke your shin bone when they shot you in the leg."
"Help me on my horse," said Woody.
"No can do, partner. I'm going on alone. You can't ride. The pain will just cause you to pass out, fall off again, and
re-injure your head and leg. Can't put you on my horse with me. Can't make no time that way. Posse will find you soon
enough. I've left you a canteen of water and some jerky in your blanket roll there."
"Augustus, you just can't leave me here in the middle of nowhere in the hill country of west Texas. It was your idea to
head out here. Said it's too rocky to track us and now you say a posse is after us. Thanks a lot, partner."
"Well, Sheriff Butcher Metzger, that old meat hacker, couldn't track us, that's for sure, but he's no fool. He knows
Indians can track out here. Figure he hired him a Kiowa or Kickapoo."
"Oh ya do, do ya, and don't forget the Comanches. They'll be looking for us too."
"Ya got to rest and rebuild your strength Woody. You can't be moved. You've lost too much blood and you can't hobble
around on that leg. You'll make it worse. Won't never heal right."
"Where's my bullets, Augustus?" screamed Woody, frantically pawing through his blanket roll.
"Reckon I need them more than you. Same goes for your horse. I'm taking that too. 'Sides I left you one bullet, in case
the Comanches come across you, and 'sides, you always brag no man will ever take you alive."
"Well whoop whoop, huzza and hurrah! I do thank ye ever so kindly."
"Ya know damn well you'd do the same if the roles were reversed."
Woody lowered his head and muttered, "I guess you're right. You'll get no argument from me there. If wet get through
this though, meet up at the usual rendezvous hideout and divide up the bank money?"
"You bet, partner."
"And if I don't make it, give my share to Juanita over in Carrizo Springs."
"Hell no, I ain't giving that old granny abuela woman anything. She'll just spend it on primping up and tequila. I'm
giving it to Padre Pedro to pray you out of Hell, you being French and Catholic and all. Probably haven't got enough
here to get you to Purgatory though."
"Lord knows I could use some help there, but won't matter no how, no way. Padre Pedro will spend it on Juanita anyway.
Vamoose and Adios, mi amigo."
"Thus I bid you farewell and Adieu Mon Ami Woodell Duvall." Augustus Jones rode off, never looking back.
Woody wrapped himself in his blanket. He checked his one bullet in his revolver. Ready for whatever. He hunkered down
for the night, somewhere in the middle of the hill country. Where he was he had no idea. He prayed his holy Marys that
Sheriff Butcher Metzger would find him before the Comanches.
But somebody else found him first. That night someone or something watched him. Whatever it was it kept in the shadows.
It kept sniffing the air, all the while moving furtively through the blackness among the cedars and live oaks. It kept
its distance, sizing up its prey, waiting to jump and make its move, while the night slowly expired.
Woody slept like the proverbial log. His injuries, the hard ride, and grueling escape had thoroughly worn him out him.
He was totally out of it when the thing grabbed him, hurled him over its shoulder, ran up the steep rocky hillside, then
dragged him through a jagged rocky hole into a small foul-smelling cave. His capturer roughed him up so much that it sent
excruciating pain throughout his body. He passed out again. It was the foul odors that woke him.
Woody could hear someone pacing around but in the pitch black darkness of the cave he couldn't see a thing. Where the hell
was he? Was he already in hell? And what time was it? Had to be getting close to daybreak.
That smell, what the blazes was that? Now Woody had smelled some pretty foul awful stinking animals before, both alive and
dead. Why, he'd smelled the putrid smell of rotting human flesh. He'd smelled burning human flesh. Smelled the rancid body
odors of some of the men he had ridden with too, but this smell was something else, kind of had an oily musky smell. It was
overpowering and made him slightly dizzy and confused.
Then the thumping started getting closer. The thing was coming toward him. Something big and hairy was beside him. This much he
could make out as the small cave entrance now let in a smidgen of the dawn's early light. Then it started to rub up against him.
He could feel udders, he believed, against his chest. This animal thing was a female animal thing. Its continued rubbing him.
Kind of reminded him of the dance hall and barroom girls in the saloons that would brush up against you when they sensed you
had money in your pockets. "Is this female animal in heat?" he wondered. Oh God no.
Then suddenly it stopped. He could hear it taking in deep sniffs of the air.
Over to the cave entrance it hurried, got down on
all fours and squeezed through to the outside and into the dim morning light. It stood erect and sniffed some more and looked
down the hill into the ravine. It could see nothing because of all the trees but it knew something was out there.
It was right. Someone was down there. Someone else was sniffing the air taking, in its foul odor from above—the Kickapoo
that was leading the posse. He had gotten the posse up at the crack of dawn and back on the trail. He didn't get paid until he
had tracked down Jones and Duval, and every minute of daylight counted.
The Kickapoo saw it. There on the hillside, near the top, a massive figure was silhouetted against the rising dawn. He raised his
arm to shield his eyes, pointed toward it and blurted out something in Kickapoo.
"Just what in the hell does that mean? Speak English, not Indian." growled Sheriff Metzger.
"That thing up there. See it. It is a mighty demon animal that lives in these hills. It is evil. You cannot kill it but it can kill
you. It will rip you up into shreds. The stories of our ancestors are true. We must leave now and not offend it by intruding upon its home."
"Ain't no truth to it at all, ain't no such thing," huffed Sheriff Metzger raising his arm and shielding his eyes from the sun. "Looks
like Jones to me. All that poppycock legend gibberish, well I've heard it too, only from white men, and that don't make it so either.
It's still bull in any language. We'll just find out if its Jones or a demon," he said raising his rifle and firing.
He widely missed and the thing loped up to the top of the hill and over, out of sight.
"You should have stayed a butcher and not a sheriff," snickered the Kickapoo.
"Come on fellas. We got him on the run," hollered the Sheriff as he waved his men forward and started climbing up the hill.
Near the top, the Kickapoo smelled the cave, stopped and pointed to it. "One may be in there Sheriff."
"Hogwash! I'll check it out, you being too much of a sniveling coward. Besides, we just saw Jones. Duvall could be holed up in there."
The sheriff bent down on his knees at the cave entrance and shouted in, "This here's Sheriff T.F. Metzger. Anybody in there better
now speak or forever hold their peace, as me and my posse aim to come in a-shooting first and counting bodies afterwards."
"Thank God its Metzger, old T.F. Metzger." Woody was relieved. He chuckled. Everybody knew what the T.F, stood for, That F...ing Metzger.
"It's me Sheriff, Woody Duvall. I'm alone and unarmed." He didn't have his six shooter, or one shooter as it had become, as it got
left behind during his capture. "Leg's broken. Can't walk. You'll have to carry me out."
"I ain't falling for that old trick Duvall. I got Jones out here," he bluffed. "And if you ain't out here in five minutes, I'm going
start sawing off his fingers. Always carry some of the tools of my old trade with me. Never know when they might come in handy. So's
you just better drag your scrawny old worthless carcass to this here entrance and we'll pull you out from here. Besides, this place
stinks to high heaven. I ain't going in this outhouse. What you do, foul yourself when you heard it was me? Scared you s—"
But before he could finish, Woody hollered, "Enough already! I'm coming." Woody inched his way painfully forward and was painfully pulled out.
"Duvall, you just better count your lucky stars I got to you and not those Comanches. You know how them Comanches torture and skin a fella alive."
"Kickapoo here claims he saw a wild half-demon, half-animal beast-thing that lives hereabouts. I bet you have no idea what that thing would do to you."
Yet he knew. Yeti knew too.
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