by Larry Garascia
White hot sun streamed down from a cobalt sky and soaked the desert sand, turning the desert into an inferno until the temperature was a hundred twenty degrees. It became so hot it could not get any hotter. It was hotter than it had ever been. Over the white hot Nevada desert marshal Cody Justus walked his horse. The horse carried his saddle and saddle bags, a bed roll and two five gallon casks of water and a feed bag. Every hour Cody stopped and allowed the horse to drink from a canvas bucket. And Cody drank too. Not to drink was to die.
They had been walking under the torturous sun since dawn. It had been cool and dark and then the sun came up and the furnace lit and everything was hot. Cody was on the trail of Thaddeus Deaver. Yesterday Deaver had shot and killed four people in Reno while trying to rob the Nevada National Bank. He killed the sheriff and two deputies and a woman and shot and wounded a young girl.
Cody pulled his horse up and took down the canvas bucket and spread it open and poured water from a cask. While his horse drank Cody took a long pull from one of his canteens, then wiped his head and face and the back of his neck with a handkerchief. He was dressed all in white in protection against the savage heat. Even his hat was white. But he was dripping with sweat. So he took another long drink of water. The water was warm and tasted brittle but he drank it. Then he folded the canvas bucket, hung it over the saddle horn and set off again.
Cody had been across the desert before and it amazed him how it was a red hot furnace during the day and turned icy cold at night. The sand was hot under his boots and Cody could look out in the distance and see heat waves shimmering up into the sky, crashing together in undulating agony.
It was easy for Cody to track the outlaw for he was leaving a deep trail in the sand. There were foot prints from the horse but no boot prints. That meant Thaddeus was riding. And it meant he was killing his horse and would soon be on foot. Cody vowed to catch him before he made it to Break Out, a small windswept town on the California border.
Cody kept watch on the sky ahead for buzzards. Buzzards would be the first indication that the outlaw's horse had been killed. Not even a butcher like Thaddeus would leave a sick horse dying on the white hot sand. He would shoot him and leave him for the buzzards. And Cody was counting on that. Being on foot would slow Thaddeus down.
Cody led his horse up a rise. There were burnt out cactus on top of the rise and the sand turned brown and then the sand was white again and the tracks led down the other side and off into the distance.
And all the while it was endlessly hot. Cody paused and watered his horse again. He rolled a cigarette and smoked and when he was finished stripped the cigarette and scattered the tobacco across the sand. They started off again and the sun was straight up in the sky. As they walked the sun began to move to the other side of the horizon and it blistered Cody and his horse with new found agony. He did not believe it could get so hot. He stopped and watered his horse and poured water over his handkerchief and tied it loosely around his neck and took off his hat and poured some water over his head and let the water run down his face and neck. He replaced his hat and they set off once more through the afternoon inferno.
For an hour they trudged across the burning sand under the tormenting sun and when he stopped again to water his horse he used the last of the water from the first cask. He left the empty cask on the burning sand and set off again.
Meanwhile, not far out ahead, Thaddeus was having a hard time. He had ridden his horse savagely and the animal was giving out. And he was down to half a canteen of water and the scorching sun was a constant agony and the hot sand seemed to go on forever. Break Out was an hour away and he began to wonder if he could make it.
He slowed his horse to a crawl, but the animal staggered over the hot desert and fell panting onto the sand, throwing him from the saddle. Thaddeus knew it was the end. The animal had no more to give and he would have to shoot the horse and walk the rest of the way to Break Out.
With a single shot he killed the animal and left the horse where it lay and set off on foot, his canteen slung over his right shoulder. The sun was halfway down the horizon. When the sun set it would set quickly and the sky would turn inky black and the night turn cold as the desert gave up its heat. And when it got cold it would be very cold and he had no bedroll. He was sweltering now, almost choked by the stifling heat, but in a few hours he would be freezing. And that marshal was tracking him and he knew the marshal would not give up because that marshal never gave up. His only hope was to make it to Break Out where he would steal a horse.
Half an hour in front of Thaddeus a big wagon pulled by eight mules was making its way from Break Out to Reno. The wagon carried an assorted supply of various sundries and two large barrels of water. The sundries were for trade with the general store in Reno.
The wagon driver sat on his wooden seat with a towel wrapped about his neck to absorb the sweat he was leaking like a stuck pig. He was a man of ordinary height with very little hair on his bullet shaped head. His name was Evert Sims and he was fifty years old. He drove for the Break Out Freight Company and found it to be steady work. He liked driving freight wagons. It was easy work and did not strain him and it paid him thirty a month. Every week he drove the wagon from Break Out to Reno and then back across the scorching desert and he knew the rout by heart. But sometimes the dessert could look different. If there had been a sand storm he would see the desert piled with new dunes and parts of the trail invisible and the tallest cactus bent over into the sand. In the winter the daytime sky was soft blue and the nights would come sooner and it would be colder and the stars brighter. In the desert nothing stayed the same and that's the way Evert liked it.
Next to him on the wide wooden seat rested a Winchester .50 caliber repeating rifle, a canteen, a plug of chewing tobacco and his grey hat and a silver flask of whisky. Now and then he would take up the flask and have a sip of the whisky. He timed his drinks by the half hour and chewed tobacco and stared out at the hot sand and the blue sky and watched the gyrating heat waves floating up off the dessert. Then out in the distance he noted a flock of buzzards drifting in the sky and a shiver went through him and he took up the flask and had a long swallow. He did not like buzzards. Out in the desert buzzards meant death. He took another drink and put the flask back on the seat and reached over and pulled the rifle closer. If there were buzzards there was trouble. He had driven this route for years and never had trouble but today could change that in a bad way.
And trouble was coming in the form of Thaddeus who walked up the crest of a small dune and looked out and saw a wagon pulled by eight mules making its way slowly across the hot sand. The wagon was heading right for him. He could see a lone driver up on the seat. A smile crept over his face and he took a long drink from his canteen, took out his pistol and then lay down in the sand on top of the rise and waited for the wagon to draw closer.
But Evert had been in tough spots before and was not easily frightened. He knew the desert well and knew it could do bad things to a man who was not careful. Besides, it was time to water the mules. He pulled the wagon to a stop, grabbed his rifle and climbed down onto the hot sand. He took down two large tin pans and filled them with water from one of the barrels and let his mules take a long drink. He reached up on the seat and grabbed his hat and put it on. He put a new plug of tobacco in his mouth and cocked his rifle and stood looking out into the desert. Out ahead less than a mile away was a dune and Everett thought the dune would be a good place for someone to wait in ambush. He spat out the wad of tobacco, took up the empty tin pans and stowed them in his wagon, took out his Bull Durham kit and rolled a cigarette. He lit up and stood smoking while he studied his next move. His mules were well trained and paid him good attention. He would get the wagon moving and walk behind the left rear of the wagon. If somebody was lying in wait he would make a much harder target walking at the rear of the wagon. And if there was nothing to it then all he had wasted was a few minutes.
He stripped his cigarette and scattered the remnants over the sand. He went to the water barrel on his side of the wagon, removed his hat and opened the spigot and bent down under the little stream of water which ran over his head and down his neck. He closed the spigot and wiped his face and neck with a handkerchief, put his hat on, took up his rifle and called the mules to move.
Thaddeus had watched these proceedings with concern, for he had not expected the driver to climb down and walk behind the big wagon. And when the driver had removed his hat and soused his head and neck with water he had not expected him to be a Negro. He had never known a Negro and it came as a shock to him. Why was a Negro driving a big wagon across the dessert? It also came as a shock that the man was carrying a powerful rifle. Suddenly, hijacking the wagon was not going to come off without a fight. And Thaddeus was certain the man would fight. So if he was going to act he would need to act now.
Besides all his other woes he was hungry. He hadn't eaten in two days. There must be some food in that wagon, at least some jerky he thought as he lay on his stomach in the hot sand, figuring his next move.
Cody had also seen the buzzards and knew that Thaddeus had killed his animal. Cody climbed into the saddle and urged his horse into a fast trot. The sun was going to set and the going would be easier when it cooled. Then Cody came upon the dead horse and the swarming buzzards and kept on riding. He was going much faster than Thaddeus could walk and felt good about catching him soon. Cody knew there would be a gunfight but he was not afraid. If Thaddeus would not surrender Cody would kill him.
Thaddeus lay in wait and was surprised to see the man pull his wagon up short and stop. Evert was being cautious. He would stop now before it became dark. Thaddeus watched as the man watered the mules and reached under the wooden seat and brought out a paper bag and took out two sandwiches and ate standing up, washing down the sandwiches with a long pull from the silver flask. He put up the empty paper bag and sat down in the hot sand, rifle at the ready. He would sit here and wait for the sun to set and when it had set and the cold came he would drape himself in blankets and wait out the night. He was in a good position for it. The stars would light up the dessert and he would be able to see for miles.
Thaddeus crawled over the sand, keeping low. He held his pistol in his right hand and kept watching the man sitting in the sand by his wagon. The sun was setting now and he could clearly see the man outlined against his wagon.
Everett kept watching out into the dessert towards the dune. He had excellent eye sight and kept a careful vigil. His gray hat was pulled down against his forehead and he had jacked a round into the rifle.
Thaddeus had crawled down the back of the dune but was not moving fast enough. It would be dark soon. He would have to make a daring move. Then without warning he heard Cody ride up behind him and Cody called out his name and Thaddeus rolled up into a sitting position, his pistol aimed at Cody.
Everett had seen Thaddeus roll up from the sand and brought up his rifle and took aim and squeezed off a round. The rifle barked and he saw sand kick up in the distance. Then he heard another rifle fire and looked out and saw a man sitting a horse up on the dune. Everett watched as the man fired again and he saw Thaddeus slump over. Then the man who had fired the rifle rode fast over the sand toward Everett, not stopping to look at the dead man.
"I'm Cody Justus, U.S. Marshal", the man said, pulling up to the wagon and dismounting. He was dressed all in white and wore a silver star over his right breast.
"I'm Evert Sims", Evert said, shaking Cody's hand. "I saw that man pointing a pistol at you and I shot him", Evert said matter of factly.
"I'm grateful to you Mr. Sims", Cody told him. "You helped me kill a very bad man. He killed four people yesterday in Reno", Cody told Everett.
"Well sir, then he needed dying", Evert said.
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The Ghost of Flamingo Flats
by J.C. Hulsey
Do you believe in ghosts?
Some folks do, some don't. I'm not sure which I believe. In this short story you will have to opportunity to make up your own mind as to what you want to believe.
Flamingo Flats, New Mexico Territory—1875
A lot of folks say the town is haunted. About the same amount of people swear that it isn't. But, there is one group of people who have no doubts about their small town.
They know for a fact that Flamingo Flats, New Mexico Territory is definitely, haunted.
Each and every person living there, be it a grown person or a small child has experienced first-hand, the apparition of Juan Santiago Margles Rodriguez, the famous marauding bandit that spent the last moments of his life in this small New Mexico town.
Why does his ghost, if it is his, continue to hang around this town? No one seems to be able to answer that question, because most of the inhabitants of Flamingo Flats did not live here at the time of Rodriquez's death.
However, there is one old man who lives on the outskirts of town that might know something. He is very old and as far as anyone knows he was here during the reign of Juan Santiago Margles Rodriguez, yet each time he is approached and asked about it, he vehemently denies that he knows anything. He refuses to talk anymore about it and usually slams the door in their face.
Until one day a newspaper man asked the old man the same question that everyone else had been asking for years. Apparently the old man was in a good mood, because he began talking.
"Of course," he started, "as with any legend, there are stories, many of them telling how Juan Santiago Margles Rodriguez and his gang of cutthroats rode into town that fateful morning in July of 1865."
The old man continued, "They immediately shot and killed the sheriff and the deputy and began taking control of the town. They set up their headquarters in the hotel, then thought maybe the saloon would be a better location since it was closer to the liquor. Each day, one of the gang would go on, what they called a shopping trip, for a new woman. It didn't matter to these evil men, whether she was married or single, a mother, or a spinster.
They did however, set limits on the age of the females. Any female under the age of sixteen was safe from their clutches. They would bring the woman screaming and kicking to their headquarters and take turns, using and abusing her. Several of the women killed themselves, rather than submit to the cruel tortures of these loathsome creatures.
If a man decided to intervene in what was going on, he was taken to the center of town and strung up on the flagpole, then beaten with a whip, within an inch of his life. There weren't very many men brave enough to try anything after the first couple of men were dragged back beaten, bloodied and bruised.
Then there were the men of the town that didn't condone violence of any kind. These so called peace loving men tried talking reasonably to the outlaws, but to no avail. The second in command, of the outlaws, cut the tongues out of two of the men for spouting, as he put it, peace and love that God would bless them all if they would only stop what they were doing.
These were some of the most evil men on the face of the earth. They were extremely satisfied with the way things were going in their town. Then one night after they had been ruling the town for almost three months, something happened to put the fear of God into even someone as evil as this gang of cutthroats.
One of their men was found one morning with his throat cut from ear to ear. He had been strung up on the same flag pole on which the killers had been stringing men up.
Juan Santiago Margles Rodriguez called a town meeting demanding that all the citizens come to the center of the town.
He began to speak in his broken English, "I am Juan Santiago Margles Rodriguez. I am the Lord and master of this town. Something has happened here that I did not condone. One of my men was viciously murdered right here on this very spot. I expect you, as law abiding citizens, to bring the guilty party to my headquarters by two o'clock today. If you do not do what I ask, one of you will be sacrificed. My advice to each of you as the leader of this town, would be to turn in this cold blooded killer, so that you," he pointed a crooked finger at one of the people standing in front of him, "or you," he pointed at another and then another. "What is your life worth? Do as I ask, no, I do not ask, but I command that you obey. That is all."
He turned and walked back into the saloon. Two o'clock came and went. At fifteen minutes past two, he told his second in command, "Go and bring back one of the people. They must be taught a lesson."
The man left intending to pick a man, whom he did not like very much. However, the second in command did not return as quickly as Juan Santiago Margles Rodriguez thought he should.
He told one of the other men, "Go look for Alejandro," his second in command."
Twenty minutes passed and Juan Santiago Margles Rodriguez was getting worried. Could there be a brave man amongst these people that he did not know about? He looked around. There were only two members of his gang and himself.
"You and you," he shouted, "Come with me. We need to see what is going on here." As soon as they stepped into the courtyard, they saw the missing men.
Just as the first man had been strung up on the flagpole, so were these men. Juan Santiago Margles Rodriguez drew his pistol and fired in all directions, until the hammer was echoing empty, in the quietness, after all the shooting.
He cursed when the sound of a rifle was heard and he watched as the man on his left crumpled to the dusty street. He quickly hid himself behind the post holding up the porch. A second shot rang out and the last member of his gang was slammed back against the hitching rail, turning a somersault over it. He was dead when he finally came to rest, face down in the dirt.
Juan Santiago Margles Rodriguez ran back into the saloon. There was no one to help him. No one to protect him. This was the first time since he had turned sixteen years old and began leading a gang of thugs that he was alone. It was a scary feeling.
He removed his pistolia and reloaded it with fresh cartridges, but did not put it back in the holster. He cocked the hammer and stood waiting for his fate. He vowed to himself, he would not go up without a fight.
He poured himself a drink, then another and another. As he lifted the third one to his lips, he threw it across the room.
"I need to keep a clear head," he said aloud.
He walked to the swinging doors and peered over the top. Just as his nose settled against the top of the door, a shot rang out. He heard the report a moment before the slug tore a chunk of wood from the door jam.
He quickly jerked back and flattened his body against the wall next to the door.
He took a deep breath, trying to get his heart to stop racing, then he hollered, "Are you afraid to face me man to man. Are you a coward? Why not come out so I can see your ugly face when I kill you, then I will cut out your heart and feed it to the mongrel dogs. Come on out," his voice was quivering and whining.
He let his body slide down the wall until he was sitting on the floor. His mind started racing, remembering all the times when he had men in just this same situation. He remembered how it made him feel at the time. It gave him a feeling of power to be in control of whether a man lives or dies. He remembers the first man he killed when he was only fifteen years old. He remembers each of them, one and all. So many, he cannot count the final tally of how many lives he had taken. When he did it, it was fun and exciting.
Is that how this man is feeling right now. Is he feeling the power of having me in his sights? I can promise him this, if he does kill me, I will take him with me.
He heard boots echoing on the wooden sidewalk. They stopped just the other side of the saloon door.
Juan Santiago Margles Rodriguez wiped the sweat from his face on his shirt sleeve.
"Come on in, you coward," he shouted.
He heard as the door swung open on the squeaky hinges.
Juan Santiago Margles Rodriguez sat pressing himself against the wall as if trying to blend into the wood. His heart was beating so fast and hard it felt as if it was going to burst out of his chest.
He tried raising his pistolia, but his hand wouldn't or couldn't move. He tried with all his might to raise his weapon, the tears streaking down his face.
He was, however, able to raise the hand that wasn't holding his gun and he made the sign of the cross, something that he hadn't done since he was a very young lad going to church with his mother.
He tried to close his eyes, not wanting to see the end coming, but his eyes wouldn't close. However, he was able to tilt his face up and looked into the eyes of . . . What was it? . . . Is it an Angel?
His mind flashed through memories that were long forgotten. Something his Grandmother had told him. A story from the Bible about an Angel of Death who destroys the evil that is hurting God's people.
Juan still could not raise his weapon, and yet he knew even if he could, it was not the kind of weapon to defeat this foe.
He watched as the rifle was raised to the shoulder, watched as the hammer was pulled back.
He wanted to pray, tried to pray, but had forgotten how. He had been so wicked his entire life and now all that wickedness was going to come to an end.
He felt the impact of the bullet as it slammed his head back against the wall, then his head slumped forward resting on his chest.
Juan Santiago Margles Rodriguez's evilness had come to an end in this little New Mexico town, but even in death, he was not going to be able to rest. He would wander all the days of his afterlife in this town that he had ravaged. His job now, was to atone for his evil ways by protecting this small town from any evil that tries to raise its head.
Flamingo Flats, New Mexico Territory has been peaceful ever since that night.
Oh, there have been men, evil men come riding into town, however, they do not spend more than a couple of hours, before they mount up and ride out of town just as fast as their horse will take them.
Is this a true story? Who's to know? It has often been said that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.
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Streets of Gold
by Nancy Peacock
I see a lot of strange people in my saloon. Some are good for a laugh; others are deadbeats I can't afford to be kind to in spite of their pitiful tales. Still others are friends who make my life interesting in this new town.
One of my favorite customers is Billy Reems. He's good natured, always ready with a joke and entertains us with his wild tales of life as a cowboy when he was young. I let him run up a small tab against the advice of my bartender, Ned, who is tighter with my money than I am. Billy always pays me when he has money. He doesn't drink in excess, just an occasional whiskey when he's flush and a nickel beer when he's broke and thirsty. He works hard at a variety of jobs, never makes much money, and is always seeking a way to make more. He doesn't have a family. We don't know where he came from and that isn't a problem.
Some men talk about their past, some aren't so forthcoming. I'll tell anyone who asks that I came to America from Italy after my brothers emigrated and found this great land to be as wonderful as we had always heard. We invested in this saloon because we believe this town is going to grow and be important some day.
On this particular day someone ran into my saloon with the big news that the bank just two doors down had been robbed. The crook had a bandana over his face, a dirty hat pulled low and a big gun. He got away with a bag of twenty dollar gold pieces. He had gone in the bank when there were no customers, held up the clerk at gun point, had her fill up a sack and had walked calmly out after scaring her half to death.
The sheriff eventually got around to talking to me.
"Now, Sam, the clerk said the robber had whiskey on his breath. Do you remember who was in here right before the robbery?"
The bartender and I thought back and came up with three names. There were never many customers close to noon. The regulars would show up after supper; the lushes weren't awake yet.
"That seems like a mighty slim lead, Sheriff. It's possible for someone to drink whiskey that I didn't sell them. Mr. Lloyd McDonald came in for a quick one. He left right away and said he had to meet a man about some property he was looking to buy out east of town. Joe Cagligone was here to ask me for a job again. I may have to hire him just to get my money back I loaned him. I can't remember if he had a drink or not; Ned might know. Billy Reems said he had worked for Jonas Slidell unloading some grain at the railroad siding, been paid in cash and needed a drink to clean out the chaff he breathed. Do any of those sound like your man?"
"It's hard to tell. Did any of them leave the saloon and then come back?"
"Billy did, come to think of it. Pretty strange, too. He bought a shot of whiskey the first time he was in, put it on his tab, then showed up later with a twenty dollar gold piece, had a beer and paid his tab in full. I don't think he made that kind of money unloading grain."
The sheriff got all excited when I told him that.
"You say he paid you with a twenty dollar gold piece? Why, Sam, that's all that was stolen! I think I need to see that fellow!"
The sheriff found Billy at the boarding house and arrested him for the robbery. His room was searched but very little money was found. I went to see him in jail that evening. He insisted he had found the coin in the street. He thought it was a miracle and had gone around town paying what he owed. Apparently I wasn't the only merchant who let him run up a little tab. He had some money left which would keep him going until he could get another job but the sheriff confiscated that. He said he had told the sheriff about finding the money and the sheriff just laughed at him.
I was sure Billy wouldn't rob a bank. He matched the description the clerk had given the sheriff, but then so did most of the men in town, including me. Although it would have been hard to cover up my splendid moustache. Also I retain a little accent. Later that night, Ned came over to me at the little table where I kept my books and showed me another twenty dollar gold piece. A customer had just paid for a drink with it.
"Reckon it's any good?"
"Did you bite it?"
"Sure, but where would Hiram Foster get this kind of money?"
"Let's ask him. Tell him to come talk to me."
I questioned Hiram and he told me that he had been on the way to town and had found the money in the middle of the road. Now that was strange. Was it raining twenty dollar gold pieces? Should I put out my bucket?
This was just too much of a coincidence. I told Ned I would be back shortly, put on my cap and went over to the sheriff's office. I told him about the coin that Hiram had used. Even showed it to him. One gold piece looks much like the next, so that didn't help. He looked amazed.
"Sheriff, I don't think Hiram is dumb enough to use money he stole the same day he stole it. Billy wouldn't either for that matter."
The sheriff put his head in his hands and moaned, "If word of this gets out, everyone is going to go nuts hunting gold. Wonder how we can keep it quiet and still try to find out what's going on?"
"I think I'd wait until tomorrow when it's light and start a search down the road toward Hiram's farm. Get some of the guys you can trust to keep their mouth shut to go with you."
"Good idea. You keep your eyes out for any more coins. I'm going to go ask some of the other merchants if they know anyone who's struck it rich."
"Anyone who spends money like that in my saloon is going to stand out. I'll let you know."
When daylight came the sheriff and a couple of his deputies mounted up and rode out of town. He came in about noon to tell me the rest of the story.
"We watched the road carefully as far as Hiram's farm but didn't see any money. There hadn't been a lot of traffic out that way lately. Past Hiram's we slowed down and really searched. Found three more coins, one at a time, right in the middle of the road. Thank heavens it hadn't rained. We kept looking until we came to a camp out west of town on the river.
"There was a guy rolled up in a blanket who was sleeping off a drinking binge. He didn't give us any trouble when we arrested him. He had the money he stole in an old sack with—you guessed it—a hole in the corner. He had an empty bottle of cheap whiskey in his saddlebag. I guess he drank it before the robbery to give him courage and after to celebrate his new wealth. He couldn't believe we had tracked him so easily. I threw him in jail and let Billy out with my apologies. Since I couldn't prove the coins that Billy and Hiram found had come from the bank, I decided to just let them keep what was left."
"Well done. How about a beer to settle the dust?"
"Sounds good to me. I wish all the tracks I had to follow were marked with gold. Sure would make my life easier. Well, shucks, then anybody could be sheriff."
I poured him a beer, lit up a cigar, wiped the bar and settled down to get the details. I should write a book about the stories I hear in this bar. Can't wait to get
home and tell the wife about this one.
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by Rene Vega
Silas couldn't remember if it was day two or day three that he had been lost out here in this desert. This
desert that burned away its enemies and made friends of those critters that could survive the unrelenting
heat and then the biting cold of night. He stepped carefully over rocks to make his way to what looked
like a shady spot near a nook in the side of a large hill, or small mountain depending on how you looked
at it. The sunlight was bright and white and you could almost hear it. The thirst had gone from being a
physical sensation to being a type of dull sadness that permeated Silas's whole body. Yet he kept on
walking because sitting down to die was too difficult. At least the breeze of moving would be there.
Where was he? He wasn't used to this type of country. Not that Arkansas was a paradise but at least
he knew Arkansas and it wasn't this hot, the earth wasn't angry that you were there. In Arkansas
you were just there. Here you were at odds with the land. He knew that from when he got on the stage coach
back in El Paso. He had heard all of the talk about how hellish the trip was. How one had to sit in a
cramped coach with a bunch of hot smelly strangers who were all equally uncomfortable and brace yourself
against the heat, the bumpy road and lack of sleep. Mostly he heard of the Indian attacks which hadn't
happened in a while. It was hot and uncomfortable and he had to mentally prepare himself for the long
journey west but nothing could have prepared him for what ensued. Indians, Comanches he was almost certain
but again he was a novice to the dangers of these parts but he had heard of them before. Comanches,
Mexicans, Rogue white men, there was all manner of unsavory characters that could kill you out here.
There were four passengers on the stage coach. The driver and the shotgun had been killed first. That
was obvious from when they jumped out of the coach in a panic. From the looks of one of them, the driver,
they had been hit at close range with arrows. Not a thousand shotguns could save you from a well-launched
arrow. The arrow was deep into the stunned man's torso, who was still alive with a look of shock and fear
on his face. He had obviously fallen hard and fast onto the ground after he was hit which added to his
injuries. He didn't look worth even helping. The one with the shotgun was not around. He had probably fallen
off some yards back. A shotgun blast was never heard during the whole attack. They probably didn't have time
to react. The stage coach lost control as the Indians attacked and veered into some rocks where there was a
frightful impact and it flipped sending all the travelers into a big sweaty, uncomfortable pile of panicked
people on the right side of the coach. Then the horses were heard and the shouts of the Indians. It was one
thing to hear of Indian raids around a fire or at a Saloon but to hear their shrieking voices outside the
coach just feet from him sent a wave of unbelievable horror through his body. Silas thought of MaryBeth as
soon as the coach flipped over and he could hear the first of the Indians. He felt a profound disappointment
for her. But there was no time to think. The other three passengers began to claw and climb their way out in
a panic. The other three were the Brewers, Mr. and Mrs. He in his mid fifties and she in her early thirties
and the awkward nebbishy business man Mr. Langley. They climbed out of the stage coach and jumped onto the
dirt not as a team but as scared individuals all fighting for themselves. Silas had the advantage of being
alone and young. Mr. Brewer violently yanked Mrs. Brewer off of the ground and the two ran to hide behind
some rocks but unluckily for them two Indians on horseback revealed themselves from around the same rocks
just as they approached. Silas didn't wait to see the horrible outcome; he ran wildly in the opposite direction
as fast as his feet would carry him. As for Mr. Langley, who still ran with his brief case, only god knows what
happened to him. It was bright and hot outside, hotter than he had been so far on his trip. Where they had been
attacked made immediate sense. It was a craggy part of the desert between two dry mountains that formed with all
its rocks and uneven terrain a type of desert labyrinth of nooks and crannies.
* * *
Silas ran like the devil. He didn't have a gun on him. He had taken out of its holster and set it down underneath
his seat for more comfort. During the first leg of the trip the colt was kept in his side holster. The discomfort
and the tight quarters made him put the gun across his lap discreetly then when that also proved to be uncomfortable
he set it under his seat, thinking that in the event of a hold up or Indian attack he could easily access the pistol.
Little did he know the celerity with which the Indians would attack. Now the gun would belong to the Indians. As he
ran he heard gunshots and shouting. How could those three, the Brewers and Mr. Langley stand a chance? They had none
and they were probably dead as he thought it. As he considered this a thought entered his mind that despite the
intense heat made him feel like cold water had been thrown over him; the Indians were expert trackers. He was only
buying more time. He too, did not stand a chance.
He ran and ran until his run turned into a trot. Like this he covered what felt like a large swath of land but on
foot with no horse it was probably nothing. His entire body was covered in sticky sweat. The sun began to go down.
He was at the side of the same range of razorbacks where they had been attacked. There was no sign of them coming.
No noise or dust off in the distance. Maybe he simply wasn't worth the trouble them. He hoped anyway. He climbed
up a ways, his legs rubbery from fatigue and found a nook in one of the razorbacks and rested a while. Everything
went black. He thought he saw MaryBeth tending her garden then making lemonade and offering him some. He felt
profoundly grateful for the lemonade and gulped it down. MaryBeth walked around her garden and smiled at him.
Then all of the sudden he woke up from his dream and found himself again in a vast dark desert. Carefully he
climbed down and took advantage of the darkness to continue walking. It was cold but the movement kept him from
concentrating too much on the discomfort. He walked all of that day heading east in hopes of coming across
Columbus or another small settlement. He continued all day and into the next.
* * *
On the second day of walking east he found the trail where the stagecoach had originally headed west. The thirst
was unbearable. He walked along the trail and wondered how far he had to go with no water and no food. He would not
make it except by dint of some miracle yet he kept on. He thought of MaryBeth and he felt a profound disappointment.
At least he had tried to come out west and do good for himself and his young bride. He wondered what she was doing
right now at this instant. Was she thinking about him? Or chatting away with some neighbor? Reading perhaps? At least
he had tried. He would be remembered for having at least being a dutiful husband and trying to improve their situation.
* * *
What seemed like an eternity of walking went by in the blazing sun when he came across something that he hadn't seen
on the way west. Then again he had not been looking out the window much. There was the foundation of what had once
been a cabin at the foot of a hill and a pathetic attempt at what had once been a garden in front. An old abandoned
settlement. It was so burnt by the sun and run down that you could barely notice it was there. What caught his
attention especially was the well in front. He walked up to the well hoping with every ounce of his being that there
would be water at the bottom. He got to the well putting his hands on the clumsy masonry and bending down to look. It
was dark and there was no bucket to lower. He looked around for a rock and not finding one he liked he took a coin
from his pocket. The experiment would cost him a whole dollar. He dropped it into the well and saw the coin vanish
into the darkness. Afterwards there was the refreshing sound of a the coin smacking into water making that high-pitched
gulping sound that small objects make upon breaking the surface of water. He looked around for a bucket but found none.
He thought quickly. He got into the well and with one foot on either side he shimmied his way down. If he had fallen
and gotten hurt that would've been the end of him but the risk had to be taken. It was a slow process but finally he
reached the wet muddy bottom and cupping the water in his hands began to drink. It was cooler down there by a couple
degrees so he stayed down there a while. When his thirst had been sufficiently slaked he sat waist high in the water
with his back against the well wall and rested. He managed to get some sleep in the cool darkness of the well. Later
he woke up when the sun was at its Zenith and began to shine into the well. The sun he thought, would eventually pass
and leave him again in shade were he could recuperate his energies and hydrate more for his jaunt through the desert.
As he considered this he heard something shuffling up above. A grunt and the shuffling of feet. All of the sudden his
heart rate jumped. The Indians were here. Of course! And here was he asleep at the bottom of a well! He listened more
closely. Perhaps there were trying to be quiet and waiting for him to surface again. They didn't have to. They could
just fire a rifle or an arrow into the well and end it there. Maybe they wanted to keep the well usable? He sat there
listening trying not to move so as to not make noise. He could hear someone walking about up near the mouth of the well.
It only sounded like one person. Then a head appeared over the edge looking down sadly. It was a dog. The dog whimpered.
Silas got to his feet smiling yet still a bit suspicious. What was a dog doing out here? Then again what was he, Silas,
doing out here? He kicked one wall of the well keeping his foot there while raising his other foot to the other side. The
cool wetness felt good on his horribly abused feet. He climbed up slowly little by little. When he reached the top he saw
the dog sitting on its hind legs looking pathetically at him. It was all ribs and its tongue stuck out looking parched
and elongated. Getting out of the well was the trickiest part. It required shifting all of his weight to the lip of the
well and at the same time lifting one of his feet over, or else be left holding on with nothing but upper body strength,
which would have been dicey. He negotiated it nicely and came out to lie still on the hot dirt. The dog stood there
panting and holding his gaze.
"Nice puppy" was all Silas could manage to say. The dog was a grey medium sized mutt. Silas lay there panting for a moment
before getting up. The water helped. He felt a little bogged down from drinking so much so fast but it was better than the
alternative. He figured he better keep walking and reach some township eventually. It was a long way off but walking along
the tracks he could perhaps be picked up by the next stagecoach or make it back all the way. He looked around for a
container that he could carry the water in. As he did the dog followed him listlessly and shyly. He found nothing. There
was nothing out there but some busted up old timber that had once been a primitive cabin and that well. He walked back to
the tracks and figured there was nothing left to do but walk. Behind him the dog was still sitting by the well. It
whimpered and looked at him imploringly. Silas walked along the track heading east determined to get help or come across
a settlement or anything remotely civilized. When he had gotten twenty yards down he heard the dog whimper again and
turned around. The dog would surely die out here. Marybeth loved dogs and it was perhaps because of this thought that he
walked back to the well. When he got to it he pet the dog.
"Just hold on a second there fella. I'll get you some water."
He made his way back down carefully. It was about twenty feet to the bottom. This time he would have to make his way back
up with only one hand. When he arrived at the bottom he set his hat upside down in the water and using the hat as a filter
he drank some more of the water. He couldn't tell in the darkness if it was murky or not. It did make any difference; he
was going to drink it anyway. When he was once again satisfied he filled the hat again and began making his way back up.
It was much different with only one arm, the other arm busy steadying the water but at last he made it up and set the hat
upside down on the dirt while he steadied himself to come out. The dog wasted no time in digging in to the water. It lapped
up every single drop that was in the hat. When the dog was left licking the inside of the hat for any residual moisture.
Silas carefully removed his boot and poured the water from within it into the hat for the dog to drink and did the same
with the other boot.
"That was mighty Christian of you," a voice rang out.
Silas quickly turned around struggling to put his boot on as fast as he could.
"I'm generally not in the habit of helping stragglers out. If I did that around here I wouldn't get much of anything else
done . . . but . . . I'm going to make an exception with you and take you closer to town and away from Apache pass if you'd like."
Silas looked around and saw no one.
"I sure would like." Shouted Silas, still looking around for the source of the voice. It seemed to be just on the other
side of the hill besides the former cabin.
"Who am I speaking to?" Yelled Silas? His own voice sounding weak.
"The name is Turner, John Montgomery Turner." The man appeared around the hill and walked toward Silas. He was armed with
two guns and a large carbine. He wore a huge brown hat and brown clothes with a long flappy duster.
"Safe to assume that you're lost or were involved in some raid or robbery?"
"Indian attack," replied Silas. He felt comforted by the fact that the man was familiar with all these unspeakable scenarios.
"I make my living out here. I take from the Indians what they took from whites like you. Now like I said I wouldn't
ordinarily be helping any one out here but . . . I saw how you helped that dog and it got me all sentimental. Made me
think that maybe I could do you the same favor."
"Well . . . I would greatly appreciate your assistance Mr. Turner and thank you."
"You are welcome Mr. . . . "
"Please to meet you Mr. Silas sir."
* * *
They rode two-up on the horse at steady pace. The dog followed them the whole way. Mr. Turner told his story.
"I came out here back in 60 with my wife and two daughters. We set up a house and a garden. Nothing ever grew.
Them Indians were more frequent than we had previously thought and one day they came and took my family away."
"Took them where?" asked Silas from the back of the lead-colored horse.
"And you've been out here ever since?"
"Yessir. Just killin' 'em back."
* * *
They climbed to the top of a hill then back down to a dip between two hills where Mr. Turner thought it safe to stop. He pointed to a spot.
"That looks like a good place for a fire."
Silas took that as a cue that he should start one and so he did. The dog hung around at a distance to observe
the two men. The fire wouldn't have been seen by a distance thought Silas but he was still unsure.
"Won't them Comanches see the fire?"
"Apaches you mean, they're not Comanches. They probably won't see the light of the fire and it's too dark
to see the smoke in the sky. They usually head back up north anyway. Of course I can never be too sure so
every time I light a fire it's a gamble bu . . . after years of being out here I know that they repair to
the north after a raid and they seldom attack at night."
Silas considered that if this strange old man had been out here as long as he had without being killed then
the odds were in their favor tonight. This gave him some piece of mind, though not much. He, Silas, was
entirely unfamiliar with this hot dry country full of death and horror. Mr. Turner reached into a leather
sack then threw something onto Silas's lap. It was a piece of jerky. The two ate in silence as the dog
became increasingly interested in the jerky. Mr. Turner threw a piece the dogs way which the dog made
short work of.
"How did you find me?" asked Silas.
"I was tracking the dog." answered Turner without making eye contact.
"Is it your dog?"
"No . . . I saw it's tracks, they looked fresh and had no human to accompany it so I thought
I would track it down to keep it company or else eat it."
Silas now began to question what the jerky was made of but thought it best not to think about too much.
* * *
There wasn't an extra blanket around so Mr. Turner was kind enough to offer his coat for Silas to
sleep with. The coat smelled worse than a corpse but was better than being left without cover. For a
pillow Silas initially used his boots but then put them back on fearing an attack in the middle of the
night by the Apaches, if that was indeed what they were. He was cold and huddled closer to the fire to
keep himself warm. The dog sat like a sphinx some feet away drearily watching Silas. As Silas became
drowsy he heard something move. He opened his eyes in fear he saw that it was just the dog coming
closer, at first sniffing around for a chance scrap of food then settling down against Silas's torso.
In this fashion the two helped each other stay warmer. It was a fitful night of sleep. Every now and
then the crackling of an ember would wake him up or the fidgeting of the lead-colored horse which was
tied to a tree some yards down hill. Every noise was a potential Apache with a knife in his hand waiting
to spring out and kill. He thought about MaryBeth. What he wouldn't give to hold her then. To be home.
Sometimes he thought he was home in bed with MaryBeth but he would open his eyes and see that the body
next to him was that of the mangy dog. He was grateful to MaryBeth for liking dogs, for it was his
compassion for this one that had saved his life. He thought about that a while. If he got back to her
he would tell her this story and emphasize that through helping the dog he had helped himself. There
were so many stars out. Eventually they all faded into a deep darkness.
* * *
Silas opened his eyes sometime around twilight. Turner was already up and smoking a pipe.
"You two getting married?" he said. Silas unwrapped his arms from around the dog. The dog let out a
big yawn that caused its pink tongue to extend far.
"Well . . . it was better than freezing."
Silas sat up and readied himself. Twilight was just beginning and it was cold and somewhat damp.
The desert looked peaceful in all directions.
"Wish I had some coffee to offer you." grumbled Mr. Turner, sticking his pipe into his mouth and puffing repeatedly.
" I don't require coffee." said Silas. " The thought of being scalped is vivifying enough."
"That's very true."
Mr. Turner probably had little conversation out here by himself and taking advantage of a rare companion he
thought it an opportune time to wax poetical. Looking off into the crepuscular horizon he assumed a
philosophical look on his face and began.
"One thing I never get sick of seeing around here . . . despite how inhospitable this country can be . . . is the majesty
of the sunrises and sunsets. It's fixin' to be a real good this morning. You can just tell by the way it feels
that the sun's gonna come out with a lot of fanfare all dressed up like an arrogant peacock."
Silas indulged the man by listening but the truth was he had no heart for the poetic ramblings of Mr. Turner. He
wanted to get back to a town where he could feel safe yet this man was his only chance. Mr. Turner took his saddle
to his horse and as he secured it he stopped for a moment to look longingly at the horizon."Hell . . . there times
when you'd think heaven—"
Silas heard a sharp noise like a hummingbird come across his ear just as the dog bolted from his lap and ran off.
An arrow. He turned to Mr. Turner and saw with horror that the man had the front half of an arrow sticking out of
his neck just above his left clavicle and the back half behind his neck. Blood poured out of the man as if from an
overturned bottle. The stunned Mr. Turner took his right side gun out and uselessly fired it at the ground then
took a step forward and fell, landing prone. The blood splashed onto the dirt in front of his visage. The hair on
Silas's neck stood on end and his blood ran cold as he sprang to his feet. He was agog with fear. The arrow had
obviously come from above so Silas instinctually ran down hill. As he passed Mr. Turner he could hear the man
struggling for breath. Silas quickly picked up the gun Turner had dropped and ran to the horse which the Indians
had apparently not taken yet. He unhitched the horse and jumped on whipping the reins and driving the heel of his
boots into the animals ribs with vehemence. The horse picked up speed quickly through the cool misty air as Silas
felt himself flying through brush and thicket. How long he flew he didn't know. The sun came up in the east. He
headed east. Behind him was no dust, no Indians, just desert. Like this he continued in the direction of the sun.
Mr. Turner had certainly been right about the sunrise. It was a riot of color painted across the sky. The sun was
an enormous showy peacock now mauve, now blue, now on fire, now a bright soft orange. The clouds were like
Olympian cliffs on a far away shore. When the horse could no longer keep up its racing pace Silas slowed it down
to a gallop. He continued like this for a while nervously glancing behind him to see the murderous Indians who he
feared were on his trail. He had a horse and a gun this time. His odds were increased. After an hour of galloping
he heard yelping behind him. The mangy dog had finally caught up.
Back to Top
Back to Home
by Mark Wilkinson
Hank checked the old clock hanging on the side of the banged up station. The train was supposed to be running right up to the platform, but it wasn't in sight.
Dust swirled at his feet as he sheltered himself against the support beam of the wholesale store. He was under the shade of the rickety wooden roof, but that didn't stop him from getting hot. He shifted his hat a little to block out the glare of the high sun.
To his right on the opposite side of the street sat one of his men in the rocking chair on the porch of the Dusty Bowl saloon. With his head leaned all the way back and his eyes propped closed, Rico looked to be in the middle of one of his siestas. Hank smiled, showing his crooked and yellow teeth. Rico wasn't sleeping, he knew that. But he should still look like he was faintly interested.
Not far from Hank to his left, stood the other man, Gary.
Gary was actually sitting on the side of a water trough, his leg raised on a wooden beam, and he was playing with his six-shooter, swinging it around his finger, cocking it and aiming across the street to the train station, before pulling back into his lap and disarming it, and then starting up the whole parade again.
The son of a bitch was making a noise.
"Would you cut that out? Almighty! As if the heat weren't enough!"
Gary looked up from his gun. "The matter, Hank? Scared?"
"You just irritatin' me, s'all." Hank looked at the clock. Where was that damn train?
"Well I'm sorry for that, just I can't sit like this all the day waitin' for some ghost to show up," Gary finally shoved the revolver into it's sheath. "Hank, come on! We both saw him get one from Linus back at Bridge, and that was nearly a month ago! Ain't no man gonna survive that kind of wound! What we doin' here anyways!"
"Hey!" Hank stepped closer to Gary, his fist clenched and pointed straight at the man. "It's not a good thing spreadin' Deacon's business all over the air so that anyone can get an earful, you hear me? Deacon says we gotta be here, so we be here!" He returned to the post, and checked to see if anyone had looked in their direction. Satisfied, his eyes returned to the clock, while he cast his ears into the distance, waiting for the faint howl of steam.
"This is a load o' shit an you know it."
"I know, man. But if Deacon says he's on the train and we gotta take care of it, then what we gonna do? You ever seen the man that high-tailed on Deacon, huh? You ever hear 'bout someone double crossin' him? I don't know about you, but if Deacon says I gotta be here, then I'm here."
Hank crossed his arms, his back starting to ache. He hadn't slept for two days, seeing that he and these two sissies had to ride up from all the way south, just to come give a last howdy-do to an old friend that always liked to show up when he was least welcome.
Shit, why me? Hank thought, as he watched a tumbleweed make a lazy path through town. I seen this ghost draw in a fight, damn! Not even Deacon's that fast. How we gonna stop him, even if he is half-dead?
Gary, staring into his lap, mumbled, "Deacon just doesn't want us near that gold o' —"
"Shhhhh, shut up!" Hank hissed. "You know we ain't supposed to say anything!"
"Man, something really is itching your behind." Gary looked at him coldly.
"Well, maybe there is." Was all Hank could say.
"Deacon comes to me an' says 'Hank ol' friend, I got me a little budgie that told me a story last night, see?'"
"I go, 'really Deacon? What did it say?'"
"Deacon says to me real quiet, 'He told me that one of our old friends is gonna come up this way, looking for trouble. Trouble that we don't exactly need just about now.'"
"I say, 'Sure? Which one?'"
"Deacon looks around to see if any the others are listening in. 'Linus' friend, the one with lightning in his fingers.'"
"I go 'Aw shit, Deacon.'"
"'I thought you'd say that.'"
"'But he's dead, we all saw him go down! No man's gonna come up from that.'"
"'That's not what my little budgie said. He said ol' Blue survived that little thing, said he's on his way here, right this minute.'"
"I manage a faint smile. 'Any chance your budgie's lyin?'"
"Deacon grabs me hard by the shoulder, and for the first time, I see something I haven't ever seen in those dead eyes. 'Listen
to me, I ain't playing with you! Take Rico and Gary and ride hard all the way to Blackwater, wait for him at the station, he'll
be there at noon in two day's time. I want you to camp out on that platform for God's sake! And when he shows that pus-filled
head of his, I want you to blow it open for me, eh?'"
"His hands are squeezing so hard on my shoulder I'm starting to suffer a little. 'Okay Deacon, I'll do it.'"
"He looks at me, those dead eyes staring all the way into my head, right where nobody's supposed to can see. I sometimes think
he can see what I'm thinking, the way those dead eyes tear up through your face."
"'Alright,' He says finally. 'You don't fail me now.'"
Hank looked towards the clock. It read 12:13.
Something was definitely bothering him. Whether if it was Deacon's cold, dead eyes that night, his final words to the gunman,
or this train's unwillingness to be on time was anyone's guess. Hank guessed it was a combination of both.
You don't fail me now.
Gary stood up sharply, his head cocked to the side.
"Listen," He breathed, then, "Yeah, I think so, the train's comin'."
Hank brushed his thick wavy hair behind his ears and stepped out into the sunlight. He turned left, then right. His eyes
searched out yonder past the street, down the length of street that ran parallel to the station and out into the countryside,
what he could see of it anyway.
The wind rose up and blasted him with a red hot gust of air and sand. It flew into his face, his hair and clothes. Hank
spat dirt when it tried to sneak into the corners of his mouth.
Out here in the desert, sand got in everywhere.
Hank wiped his face with a grimy hand, and pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. All he could hear was the wind
swirling about him, his boots scratching under him as he turned, and in the distance, the rhythmic squeak of a poorly-oiled windmill in the gust.
He finally turned back to Gary, who had not moved a muscle since proclaiming he could hear something. The other man stood still, his head
raised, a faint smile on his lips.
"Man, what you on ab—" Hank stopped.
He cocked his head in the silence. The wind howled in his ear, so he turned to face it.
There, on the edges of the wind, riding the bucking swirling beast like a wrangler came the sound. It was faint, like
a breath of air in the middle of one of those tornados they had back east. But Hank could hear it . . . just.
It was the sound of steel wheels on hard iron rails.
A dust devil kicked up right behind them, sucking all the dust that was floating around them into its belly. Both men
turned to see the spawn of the desert grow in stature until it looked like a wall of red rust spinning and buffeting
through the town. It passed by them, through them, and gathered momentum as it bucked into a vicious fury, thrashing
with reckless violence against anything that came into its path, before losing control of its energy and spilling its
sandy cargo over a wider area than the one it harvested the dust from.
Gary coughed hoarsely as the desert animal died away, his mouth and nose filled with the vile stuff. Hank had closed
his eyes and shut his mouth; even then some had gotten in.
"Goddamned desert," Gary cursed as he spat volumes of sand from his mouth and tried to wipe the stuff from his nose.
"Just wish we could be rid of this place and go back to the prairies, back home."
Hank chuckled. "You dumb shit, no one ever told you not to smile when a dust devil kicks up in front of your face?"
Gary glared at him through bouts of snorting and spitting. His teeth seemed to be covered in it.
From behind them, they heard the creak of wood as the rocking chair Rico was sitting on came to its normal upright position. The Mexican had heard the train.
Hank looked at him, and saw that Rico cradled his Winchester rifle across his lap. The weapon was loaded, no doubt.
Rico was sitting restfully, his eyes on the door to the station. The Mexican's dark complexity shielded him a little
better to the harsh sun than Gary and Hank's Pilgrim white, yet he chose to stay in the cooler shade of the saloon's porch.
Rico looked at Hank and nodded once, before bringing up a burly hand to wipe the thick but well-trimmed beard at his chin.
He looked about ready for a fight.
"Well, that bastard finally woke up. Just about time if you ask me," Gary quipped from Hank's side. He dusted off his
jacket, and wiped his holster clean with an old handkerchief that had definitely seen better days. "How come he got to sit in the shade?"
"Shut up, Gary. Now's not the time."
The gunman shut his mouth and checked to see that his weapon was clear in its holster.
It would be a few minutes yet before their target stepped off the train, but it was always better to prepare early.
Hank did the same, first drawing the Colt at his side, and then letting it slip back into its leather cradle before
pulling it out again, this time to make sure it had a full compliment of ammunition.
Six bullets, one to kill a man.
Satisfied that the weapon was fully loaded, Hank slid it back into its holster. At a time like this he would have
preferred to do a complete overhaul on the gun, stripping it and cleaning it, making sure it was well oiled, before
carefully putting it back together. Then he'd take it out back and give it a few warm up shots, preferably at some
empty bottles, just to get his eye in.
Then he'd be ready.
No time for that, cowboy he thought miserably. Just aim and hope yours hits before his does.
Gary was making a thorough job of it, though. The man had removed all the bullets, and was sliding them back into the
weapon one at a time, checking the tip of each bullet. His eyes glanced up occasionally from what he was doing towards the station door.
From out in the countryside, a dark blotch appeared through the heat haze. Trailing it, high in the air, was a much larger
white haze. All three men turned to watch the blob dissolve into form, right until they could clearly make out the shape and
design of the steam engine in front, its compliment of coaches trailing behind it. The locomotive was about to arrive.
Hank turned to watch Rico. The dark man still sat quietly in the rocking chair, his Winchester across his lap, his eyes like
stone, focused intently on the train rolling into the station. Presently his hand disappeared into his long coat before
emerging again, this time bearing a dull silver flask. He flipped the cap off and brought the flask to his mouth, taking a
quick swig from whatever was inside. With deliberate patience, the man recapped his drink and tucked it gently into the
inner pocket of his duster.
The wind kicked up another gust just as the train blew its horn to signal to those already not aware of its presence that
it was just about to arrive. Great plumes of white steam rose from the engine as the train began to slow, coming to the
end of its long trek across the desert. The grinding of its bare steel wheels on the track became even more audible now
that the machine neared, and finally disappeared from view behind the bulk of the station.
All of a sudden, life came back to the deathly silent town. Where once there had only been the occasional pedestrian in
the street, now a kaleidoscope of people spilled out from the dull wooden buildings into the harsh desert sun.
Somewhere, a door opened. Voices could be heard from inside the saloon, kids from further up the street spilled out into
the daylight from the buildings and sprinted up to the station, eager to see what the train had brought to the town. Shop
owners, wholesalers, even common folk seemed to appear from nowhere, clutching at baskets or trolleys. Most of them were
making their way to the side entrance of the station, going out fetch the produce and goods that they had ordered.
"Wait," Hank called out to his companions. There were too many people now. Children ran in front of the men, playing in
the dusty street. A dog appeared from nowhere and trotted up alongside Gary, sniffing inquisitively at the man's boots,
before lifting its leg to the water trough that was serving as Gary's chair.
Gary watched the dog with some disgust as the beast finished its business. It then swiveled around for another sniff at
its surroundings, before ambling off to wherever it had come from.
Hank retreated back into the shade of the wholesale store, leaning against the wooden beam.
The train came to a final stop as the whistle bellowed, calling for present passengers to depart, and for future passengers
to begin boarding. The station door banged open as people began to stream in and out, going about their business. From
somewhere up street, a cart pulled by two mares rolled into view. Driven by an old man that looked like he belonged in the
Ark, the rickety old thing made its way past the mob of people, before stopping at the service entrance. Almost immediately,
Indian slaves began to fill the thing up with sacks of what Hank guessed to be maize.
Busy for such an out of the way place.
A tall fellow came out of the saloon and tried to start up a conversation with Rico. He said that if Rico felt the urge, then
he knew just the whore for him. She was upstairs in the second room to the right, just past the old potted plant that had last
seen proper water in the dark ages. If Rico was willing, this man would sell her to him for half the current rate. His smile
showed a jaw that had misplaced half of its teeth over the years. Rico did nothing, said nothing. He only stared straight ahead,
his eyes fixed at the station. The man tried again, this time clearing his throat a little testily, just to emphasize that this
really was a good deal. As he opened his mouth, Rico's hands moved faster than thought. The man gagged and nearly swallowed
the barrel that was now in his mouth.
The Mexican cocked the rifle, and turned his head slowly to stare the man squarely in the eyes.
He got the message.
Without a word, he stepped back slowly, never turning his back to the man in the chair. Slowly, with well-timed steps, he
retreated through the doorway, back into the dark recesses of the saloon.
The Mexican returned his gaze to the street, nodding to Hank.
"Dammit, now wouldn't that have caused a mess."
Hank turned to see Gary, arms folded, scolding the Mexican with his frown. Hank sucked up a ball of phlegm into his mouth
and spat it out into the dirt at his feet.
Passengers began to step out of the station, their luggage collected. They stood around looking for a lift, or they went off
immediately in a direction, eager to be to their destination. Well-dressed gentlemen in bowler hats, sporting spectacles and
cigars, escorted fine ladies off the station platform into waiting carriages to be driven to the surrounding farmsteads or
towns. Money seemed to be a-plenty, and the fine people seemed more than eager to flaunt it as much as they could. Fine coats
and frilly dresses, silken scarves and white cotton umbrellas seemed so at odds with the down beaten townsfolk and barren
land. This was an unforgiving frontier, meant for hard men with little cares in life. Not for the cream of society.
"Damned rich folk, don't know what's waiting for them." Hank spat again into the ground, this time, not to clear his mouth.
"You think after this is done, we can follow one of these carriages out of here? Stop them along the way and see how deep
those pockets go?" Gary was smiling greedily from where he sat. His eyes spotted a young woman boarding a fine paneled
coach, her husband helping her in, before loading the luggage on to the top. Gary's eyes betrayed his feelings. "Always
wanted to see a high-class lady naked, always wanted to feel how she'd fit in under me."
He cackled a coarse laugh, filled to the brim with vulgar intention. Hank smiled back at his companion before looking
at the fine specimen Gary had chosen for himself. She had a firm, lithe body with beautiful long brown hair that streamed
past her shoulders. He licked his lips at the prospect, "Not before me, old boy. Not before me."
Gary spilled laughter into the windy air, his lecherous thoughts temporarily replaced by humor.
The two men watched the coach rattle past them. The woman looked out the window just as they passed by, and Gary blew her a
kiss, before sticking out his yellow tongue at the beauty. The innocent face disappeared behind a flimsy curtain before
Gary could show her any more, and dust enveloped the two men. Hank coughed once, and turned his gaze to the station, but
Gary's eyes lingered a little longer. "Gonna find you soon, little darlin'."
There seemed to be no passengers left on the station porch. All that was left were the last of the slaves and porters,
finishing up their duties and getting ready to board. It had all happened so fast. What needed to be loaded had been
done in a matter of minutes, and all the supplies that the train carried, seemed to be already on its way out of town,
in a cart or on horseback.
As quickly as they had appeared, the people of Blackwater faded back into the woodwork.
Hank cast his gaze to Rico, who was now out his chair and standing, the rifle raised and ready to fire. The Mexican seemed
to have found a little angst.
"You seen him?" Hank called out.
The Mexican shook his head. He moved steadily to the steps, his sight never leaving the building in front of him, his gun
never lowering. Slowly, he joined his two companions on the street, though he stood a little distance off to Hank's right.
Hank himself now moved from the shade of the wholesale store out into the street, his hand on the butt of his Colt. Gary
had also stood up, and was moving off a little to the left, his hands also near the comforting weight of his weapon.
They were well spread now, Rico on the right, in front of the Dusty Bowl saloon, Hank in the center, in the middle of
main street which ran perpendicular to the station, and Gary off to Hank's left, also in the middle of a street than
ran in the direction that the train was about to move in.
The three men stood poised, ready.
What little people were left in the street, caught sight of the movement around the station, and began to head for
cover. Shootouts were not uncommon this far from civilization. This was the land of the outlaw, a land that lawmen
were trying to tame furiously. Most of the time, those two forces found themselves on the opposite ends of bared
barrels, usually in a little train station town like this. These people surely would have witnessed something like this before.
They scanned the surrounds once more, and fanned out a little more. Silence ruled like an invisible god among the streets,
and even the locomotive had gone silent. There was no movement, not up street, nor down at the station. The gunmen stood, waiting.
In the distance, a crow cried.
Almost in response, a coarse, gruff voice yelled at the top of its volume, "All aboard!"
A whistle blew and like a giant creature coming to life, the train hissed and puffed as the steam fired up again, and
the wheels slowly began to turn. Filled with new cargo, passengers and a new destination, the train began to move.
Slowly, but surely, with great thudding pistons echoing out over the flat land, the beast hissed steam and gathered
momentum until it began to roll over the tracks, gaining speed until its long body passed the small station, on its way into the horizon.
And just like that, the train was gone.
The three men stood unmoved in the street. Had they missed him? No, surely Rico, whose eyes had never left the station
door, would have seen him come out. No, that couldn't be.
"We never checked the boarding platform, maybe he's still there." Gary's voice sounded louder than it actually was.
The silence was unnerving.
"Good thinking, Gary. Why don't you go check for us?" Hank replied quietly.
The other man shot him a glance filled with pure venom. If they had been anywhere else, Hank would have burst out laughing.
After a moment, Gary opened his mouth. "Hank?"
"I'm not sure about this, but has Rico ever seen him? I don't think he has, man. He was up in jail when this
bastard started following us round the place."
Hank stared at Gary. The other man shrugged his shoulders in the windy air and frowned a questioning face. The
realization hit Hank like a sudden bout of windless ness, knocking the strength from his knees.
Gary was right, Rico had never seen Blue. He could have disguised himself and slipped right past them while
Hank and Gary had been goading over that fair lady a little while back. Rico surely would never have noticed
him if he didn't know what to look for. And Blue was real clever.
"Shit," Hank breathed. He looked over to Gary. "You think he coulda got past?"
"Man, look at the time on that watch. Ain't no way he's just waiting out there on the platform. And we can pretty
much see inside the station before he can see out." He stepped closer to Hank, "Boy, I think he go past us."
The clock read ten to one. Sure as hell, the train had arrived forty minutes earlier, and it wouldn't have taken
him long to disembark. Hell, forty minutes was more than enough time for a man like Blue to come up with a plan for evading them.
Still . . .
"I don't know," Hank continued. It could have happened that way, but what if they had been wrong altogether.
What if Deacon's little budgie had lied to him? What if Blue had not decided to stop here, but at Glory half
a day to the east? Then he could have hired a horse and chosen any number of routes out here to Blackwater.
If he was still alive, of course
Rico himself seemed to have eased off on his weapon. The Mexican had been in jail when they'd picked up
Blue back east, some six months ago. He'd only rejoined the gang in the last month, after their last
encounter with Blue. It could have happened that he missed the man while the passengers were moving on
and off the train. Hell, it probably did.
"To hell with this," Hank waved at thin air. He called Gary over, and Rico came up as well.
"We ain't got no time for this. Maybe he got by, maybe he didn't. In the end, if he's alive, he's
gonna still come to us. We just gotta be prepared, s'all."
"What about Deacon? What we say to him when he asks us?"
"Well, Gary my boy, we'll just tell him Blue never showed up. We tell him we waited till sundown, and
nothing happened. Figured he jumped train somewhere east and decided to beat it in on horseback." Hank
looked at his companions in the eye. They returned the stare.
"Besides," he added, "We know what they're up to back there. You want to miss out on that?"
Gary replied faster than a speeding bullet. "Hell no, been waiting for something like that my whole
life." His eyes did not lie.
Rico didn't have to say anything. His smirk and his gaze told the same story.
"Then it's settled. We head back now."
Hank clapped his men on the shoulders, and they turned back towards where they had stowed the horses.
As they began to walk back up the street, a voice from the depths of hell, cold with certainty, and
fiery with confidence shouted loudly from behind them.
"I Thought Deacon would have sent Frank or Linus. Someone who would at least have a fair chance of survivin'."
As one man, they turned to face the source of that voice.
He was dressed like no other man Hank had ever seen. From the hat on his head all the way down to the soles
of his dusty boots, the man wore black, nothing else. His belt and holsters were a faded brown, just about
the only deviation. He had a close cut beard that trailed his jaw line and expanded to include his chin and
lower lip, and his hair could be seen rustling in the wind around his ears.
He had a long black jacket that fit closely to his body and ended around his knees. Presently he was carrying a
sling bag over one shoulder and another small case in his other hand.
The three gunmen fanned out again, slowly taking up their previous positions. The man at the platform slowly
laid down his possessions on the wooden boards at his feet, and stepped off onto the barren street floor.
"You're supposed to be dead." Gary called from Hank's left.
The man stood calmly and smiled slightly at Gary's remark, his hand gently sliding the coat around the gun
nestled at his side. He stood absolutely still, only his eyes moving from side to side.
To Hank's right came the too-loud sound of Rico cocking his rifle. The Mexican brought the barrel down to bear
on the dark-clad stranger. They were now fanned out completely, all armed and ready to do what they had come to do.
"Who's the new one?" came the stranger's voice from under the black hat. His eyes were fixed solidly on Rico.
"He ain't new; Rico's been part of the gang for a long time. Just that he's been holed up in jail for the
last year or so." Hank spoke loudly, filling himself with anger and confidence as his voice boomed out over
the desolate town. "What was it again? Robbing a bank on the border, and violating a lady's honor? Am I right?"
Rico smiled for the first time, and nodded as he did so, showing a hideous gap in his bottom set of front teeth.
Hank smiled too, feeling their chances grow by the second. This one was fast, but not fast enough to stop three
of them. "Yeah," he finished, "Rico was always one for the ladies."
Gary chuckled slyly, his hands having found their way towards the gun at his side. He too, seemed to have
realized that the numbers game was beginning to play into their hands.
The stranger cast his eyes over to Gary, his face a mask of stone. He then moved to Hank, and for a crazy second
Hank thought it was all over, that they were dead, that this ghost had come and gone already. The moment passed,
as the stranger turned his stare to Rico.
Gary spoke in the bustling wind, his confidence bursting at its seams. "Hey boy! Why don't we play a game? How about—"
A gunshot rang out over the scene. The sound exploded in Hank's ears, and for a moment he was frozen in an uncommon
panic. Gary stood stunned, his eyes wide and fearful.
Rico was dead before his head hit the ground. The outlaw's blood began to mingle with the desert sand, his Winchester
tossed behind him from the sudden force of death.
Hank had been looking at the stranger all the time. He had probably seen him draw his weapon, just hadn't realized
what was happening. He had been way too fast.
Gary shocked out of his momentary frozen state, and pulled his gun. Another loud bang echoed through the street,
and another. Gary dropped to the floor, two holes in his chest. Hank looked straight into his old friend's eyes,
just as the life left them. He saw complete and utter darkness.
Gary fell forward and hit the bare street, face first, uttering his last breath.
All alone now, Hank brought his face up to look at the stranger. He hadn't moved at all, not shifted his stance once,
and only his gun had talked. Those dark eyes stared into Hank's skull, much like Deacon's.
"Didn't like your new pal very much," the stranger motioned to the now cold form of Rico. He then pointed at Gary.
"Maybe he would have lived a little longer if he shut his mouth."
Hank, seething with hatred and anger, slowly began to circle around towards the other street, the one in which Gary
had stood. His slow steps brought him past the body of his old friend, and Hank paused to look down. There was a
spreading pool of blood underneath the fallen man. The blood didn't get that far, though. The thirsty sand soaked
up the moisture faster than it could flow, and before too long all that would be left would be a brown patch.
The stranger had also begun to circle to face Hank, his steps taking him closer to where Rico lay.
Hank vaguely noticed the extreme warmth of the high sun on the back of his neck. He also felt a hot wind gusting
around him, blowing up dust. He was sweating, but not from the heat.
He now stood in the middle of the street that ran parallel to the station, with Gary's dead body about six paces
to his right. Roughly twenty yards in front of him stood the stranger they called Blue, his hands resting peacefully
at his side. Rico's body was less than two steps from the stranger, and for a second Hank hoped the Mexican wasn't
dead, hoped that as the stranger drew his gun, Rico would reach up and grab the hand, distracting the stranger,
opening the chance for Hank's shot to be the first, and only one.
You're alone now, no one to help you.
The wind whistled at his feet, and somewhere the rusty windmill continued to squeak in the harsh heat of the day.
Hank stood ready, his gun free in its holster, and his hand as nimble as could be.
The stranger stood solemnly, his hands straddling the holster of his gun, his eyes staring deep into Hank's. Hank
tried hard not to focus on the stranger's eyes; rather to focus on the center of his chest, just under the top
button of his shirt, right in the spot where he'd put a bullet if he got half a chance.
"Hank," the stranger's voice was calm, almost reassuring. "Tell me where Deacon's at."
Despite his fear, Hank managed a harsh laugh. "You really think I'll do that? Help you while you shoot me in the
chest?" he barked another laugh, this one filled with bitterness.
"There's no reason not to tell me. Even if I get out of here, there's still seven of his men."
"You're damn right, you son of a bitch!" Hank spat all the fury he could muster as he shouted the words, and drew
his gun to fire even as he spoke, hoping to catch the stranger off guard.
He pressed the trigger, and felt an invisible fist slam into his shoulder with enough power to take him off his
feet. Hank twisted around, feeling his shot go astray and his shoulder disintegrate at the same time. The ground
came up fast, and Hank slammed into it real hard. Feeling the wind knocked out of him, Hank choked on dust, and coughed.
He'd been hit. The bullet had got him in his right shoulder, and he felt wetness there. He also tasted iron in
his mouth, and knew that the bullet had probably nicked his lung. As he lay there, contemplating the fatality
of the wound, the pain which had been strangely absent, came back with full force. He rocked onto his back and
gasped as the pain seared through the right side of his chest. He tried to cough, and this time he felt blood
fill his mouth instead of spit. The pain made him grimace, and he brought his left hand up to inspect the shoulder.
The stranger stood above him.
Now he knew why they called him Blue. Those eyes were filled with pale blue. There was no smile on his lips,
and his eyes showed no remorse at Hank's agony. His gun was pointed straight at Hank's forehead.
"Tell me where Deacon is, and I'll end the pain."
Hank spat blood at him, and tried to kick him. Blue blocked his kick easily with his foot, and returned Hank's
effort with one of his own, driving his foot home into Hank's groin.
The wounded man tried to gasp air, but his chest was failing. He tried to sit up, and Blue kicked him hard in
his stomach. He fell back hard on his back, and this time a wail of agony escaped his mouth. He tried to
massage his privates with his unharmed hand, but nothing seemed to dull the pain. He distinctly became aware
of eyes on him. The townsfolk were peeping out of their windows and from behind their doors, their curiosity unchecked.
Blue put a heel sharply down on his stomach. "Tell me, I'm not going to ask again."
Hank tried to muster himself. "What for, huh? I won't go back on Deacon. You're wasting your time, cowboy."
Those eyes showed no emotion, no feeling. His face betrayed no thoughts. He calmly stared at the broken man in front of him, patient, waiting.
What did Deacon do to this man?
Hank felt his breath beginning to wheeze, and his energy beginning to sap. His blood was spilling into the dust, much like his two companions. He'd be joining them soon.
"You know," Hank spoke softly, the energy in his voice gone. "I don't think I ever met someone quite as cold as you,
you know that? Apart from Deacon, of course." He turned his head, and spat a huge wad of blood that had collected in
his mouth. His lips were stained red. "I really hope that man puts a hole in your damn heart."
Blue smiled slightly. "Tell me where he is, so that I can give him the chance."
Hank tried to raise himself up to one elbow, failed, and didn't try again. The pain was threatening to overwhelm him.
"Two days to the northwest, little town called Canyon Falls. Nice place. Trees and grass, you know?"
Blue nodded once, his eyes searching deep into Hank's. Hank smiled faintly, despite the pain.
"Hope that man puts a bullet in you."
As Hank watched the barrel flare, his last thoughts were of what he'd seen in Deacon's dead eyes two
nights ago, the sight which had haunted him all the way here. Fear, it was fear.
Before the blackness descended, Deacon's final words echoed through Hank's soon-to-be shattered skull.
Don't fail me now.
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Legendary Marshal Bass Reeves
by John Young
Overcoming the harsh conditions of a slave's life in the 1800s to rise to a position of particular note would be a
noteworthy accomplishment for anyone born into that life. But to become the most famous U.S. Deputy Marshal West of
the Mississippi and perhaps the greatest frontier hero in our nation's history would be an impressive feat.
That man was Bass Reeves, who became the first black U.S. Deputy Marshal at Fort Smith, Arkansas. Over the 35 years
Reeves served as a Deputy United States Marshal, he captured more than 3,000 outlaws.
Bass heard too much talk about freeing the slaves and simply Bass fled to Indian Territory and lived with the Seminole and Creek Indians.
During this time Reeves practiced endlessly sharpening his firearm skills, becoming quick and deadly accurate with a pistol. Although
he claimed to be only a fair shot with a rifle, he was barred on a regular basis in competitive turkey shoots. He wore two Colt pistols,
butt forward. Ambidextrous, he rarely missed.
The Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 meant Reeves was no longer a fugitive, so as a free man Reeves bought land near Van Buren,
Arkansas and became a successful farmer and rancher. A year later, he married Nellie Jennie from Texas. The Reeves raised ten
children on their homestead . . . five girls and five boys.
However, Reeve's life changed dramatically when Isaac Parker was appointed judge for the Federal Western District Court at Fort
Smith on May 10, 1875. At the time, Indian Territory was teeming with thieves, murderers and notorious outlaws who took refuge
in the territory that previously had no law to speak of.
One of Parker's first acts was to appoint U.S. Marshal James F. Fagan as head of some 200 deputies he was ordered to hire. Fagan
had heard of Bass Reeves being someone who knew the territory as well as being able to speak several tribal languages fluently.
Fagan lost no time in recruiting him as a U.S. Deputy Marshal. His orders . . . bring them in, dead or alive!
Reeves' courage and ability to apprehend or kill his quarry quickly earned him a formidable reputation. Wearing his large
signature black hat and riding a large stallion, Reeves struck an imposing figure. He always dressed impeccably and kept his boots brilliantly
shined, and he was known for being polite and courteous. However, he was also a master of disguise. Sometimes he would masquerade as a
cowboy, farmer, gunslinger or outlaw.
The tales of his captures are legendary. On one occasion, Reeves was in pursuit of two outlaws in the Red River Valley near the
Texas border. Bass formed a posse and set up camp about 28 miles from where the two were hiding at their mother's home. Reeves
disguised himself as a tramp wearing old shoes, dirty clothes and a floppy hat, complete with three bullet holes.
Arriving at the home, he told the woman who answered the door his feet were aching after being chased by a posse who had put the
three bullet holes in his hat. She invited him in for something to eat. During the meal she told him about her two outlaw sons,
even suggesting the three should join forces.
Saying he was worn out from the chase, she consented to let him stay a while longer. Later Reeves heard a whistle coming from
beyond the house. The woman went outside and two riders rode up. Shortly, the three of them came inside and she introduced her
sons to Reeves. After a brief discussion, it was agreed it would be a good idea to team up.
Reeves later watched the pair as they drifted off to sleep and when he was convinced they were asleep, he handcuffed the pair
without waking them. At dawn, he marched them out the door . . . followed closely for the first three miles
by an irate cursing mother. Within days, the outlaws were delivered to the authorities.
One of the high points of Reeves' career was capturing Bob Dozier. Dozier rustled cattle and horses, robbed banks and stagecoaches,
and was a murderer and swindler. Dozier was unpredictable, which made his capture difficult. Many lawmen had tried and
failed . . . until Reeves came along. Dozier eluded Reeves for several years but he finally tracked him down in
the Cherokee Hills. After refusing to surrender Reeves killed him in a gun battle on December 20, 1878.
However Reeves' toughest assignment was having to hunt down his own son. His son had been charged with murdering his wife. The other
deputies were reluctant to take the job. And though Reeves was saddened, he demanded the task. Two weeks later, Reeves returned to
Muskogee with his son and turned him over to authorities. His son was tried and sent to Leavenworth, Kansas prison. However, with a
citizen's petition and an exemplary prison record, his son was pardoned.
In 1907, state agencies assumed law enforcement and Reeves' duties as a deputy marshal ended. Bass however, didn't give up being a
lawman. He signed on as a patrolman with the Muskogee Oklahoma Police Department. It is reported there were no crimes on his beat
during the two years he served there.
During his exemplary career Reeves Killed about 14 known men. Reeves always said he never shot a man when it was not necessary for
him to do so in the discharge of his duty to save his own life.
Reeves' career finally ended when he was diagnosed with Brights disease in 1909. He died January 12, 1910 and though he was buried in
Muskogee, Oklahoma, the exact location of his grave is unknown.
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