March, 2016

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Issue #78

All The Tales

The Burden of Absolutes, Part 1 of 3
by Robert McKee

Jeb Blake watched from the hallway between the judge's chambers and the courtroom as Sheriff Collins shoved the scrawny man in chains into a chair behind the defense table.

"Sit down," Collins said. He jabbed a thick finger into the man's face. "I don't want to hear a squeak out of you unless Judge Walker asks you a question. You got that?"

The accused was Bobby Joe Thomas. He was a mostly grown man whose cheeks were cratered from teenage acne, but who was still young enough to have a few red clusters of pimples on his forehead and chin. He looked from the sheriff's finger up into his eyes, made a noise like he was sucking something out of a tooth, then gave a mossy smile.

"You best listen to me," the sheriff said. It was possible that Bobby Joe, who did not appear too bright, missed the threat in the sheriff's voice, but Jeb did not.

During the two years since he became the judge's stenographer, Jebediah had come to know Collins well, and this was the first time he'd seen the sheriff ever be harsh with a prisoner. Usually it was just the opposite. Collins was tough and big—well over six feet—but gentle with animals and people alike.

"Are they ready in there yet, Jeb?" Judge Walker asked from his chambers' door. In his right hand the judge held his spectacles; in his left, he held the papers that charged Bobby Joe Thomas with murder.

"The sheriff just brought in the defendant. Earl's coming in now." Earl Anderson was the local prosecuting attorney. He was a prissy little fellow without many friends, but he won the election for county attorney because there was only one other lawyer around, and he didn't want the job.

"Looks like the sheriff doesn't have much fondness for Bobby Joe," Jeb observed.

"I expect not," said the judge as he straightened his Masonic tie pin. "Few do." The judge wore his usual dark suit. He never brought his robes when he and Jeb made their bimonthly circuit ride into the judicial district's smaller communities. He was fond of reminding everyone that things were lots less formal on the prairie. It was common knowledge that the amiable old judge liked the relaxed manner here in the small town of Douglas more than he did the stuffy confines of the Casper courthouse.

"Looks like they're ready," Jeb said over his shoulder.

"All right, let's get started so we can get you out of here." Once they finished arraigning Bobby Joe, Jeb would begin the return trip to Casper on his new motorcycle, a Harley-Davidson Silent Gray Fellow. Tomorrow was his and Julia's first wedding anniversary, and he wanted to get home as soon as possible. The judge would spend the next three days hearing minor cases that did not require a court reporter to make a verbatim record, then catch the weekly train on Friday.

"All rise," Jebediah shouted as he and Judge Walker entered the courtroom. The judge climbed the two steps to the bench. Jeb sat at his small desk and took up his pencil and lined note pad. Jeb wrote in Pitman Shorthand and prided himself on being fast and accurate.

"Court'll come to order," Judge Walker said. His baritone hit the back wall, and all the people in the room, except for Bobby Joe, who was hampered by his shackles, stiffened. The judge had an actor's voice. He once told Jeb how, prior to reading for the bar, he'd made a meager living performing Shakespeare in a theater down in Denver. "Be seated," he said as he slipped the thin wires of his spectacles over each ear.

"We are here today to bring Bobby Joe Thomas before the court on the charge of murder. Are you Bobby Joe Thomas?" He peered at the defendant over the tops of his glasses.

Bobby Joe lifted his cuffed hands and scratched an index finger along the side of his thin nose. "Yep," he said in a voice that sounded even younger than he looked, "that's me."

"Can you read, Mr. Thomas?" the Judge asked.

"Naw, never learnt."

"Well, what I have here—" He raised the document so Thomas could see. "—is something called an Indictment. That's a paper that this gentleman wrote up—" He nodded in the direction of Anderson. "—and filed with the court. I won't read the whole thing because, the truth is, it's written in language that's sometimes hard for even lawyers to understand. But what it says is that two weeks ago, on the 16th day of July, 1907, right here in Converse County, Wyoming, you killed a fella named Lenny Lukather by shooting him in his sleep."

He said these last words, then paused. Jeb liked working with the judge. Walker always spoke clearly and was an easy man to report.

The judge put the papers aside. "I need you to know, Mr. Thomas, that because you've been charged with murder in the first degree, the only punishment available if you're found guilty of that charge is death by hanging."

"So how's it done, Judge? Do you send me over to the pen in Rawlins and let them string me up?"

"If there's a conviction, the execution takes place right here at the jail in Converse County."

"That's good. I ain't never liked Rawlins. Carbon County's about the ugliest place on earth." Bobby Joe turned in his chair and grinned at a large, hard-looking woman who sat in the back of the courtroom. Jeb saw their eyes meet, but the woman did not return Bobby Joe's smile.

"So, sir, how do you plead to the murder of Mr. Lukather, guilty or not guilty?"

"It's like this, Your Honor: I expect I shoulda shot that skunk ten years ago when we's boys on the La Prele, but to my shame and discredit I never did. Though I reckon, like they say, late's better'n never."

"Does all that mean you plead guilty, young man?"

"I done 'er, Judge," Bobby Joe said emphatically, "and I'd do 'er agin with pleasure."

"Hold up there, Judge," said the woman in the spectator section. She stood and walked to the bar. "He don't know what he's sayin'. He's just a dumb kid."

"Who are you, madam?" the judge asked, his voice taking on a sharp edge. Judge Walker was a relaxed jurist, but he would not abide anyone disrupting his court.

"I'm this fool's mother." She lifted a heavy arm towards Bobby Joe.

"You stay outta this, Ma. This ain't got nothing to do with you."

"He didn't kill no one, Judge. He's only sayin' he done it. He's just a boy, and in his best times he ain't never had the brains of a sheep."

"She don't know what she's talkin' about, Judge."

"Quiet, both of you," said the judge. "How old are you, Mr. Thomas?"


"When will you be twenty-one?"

"He won't be twenty-one till late next spring," the woman said. "He just barely is twenty."

"I don't suppose you've talked to a lawyer about how you're going to plead, have you?" the judge asked.

"I know what I done, Judge," Bobby Joe said, giving his mother a glare. "Talkin' to some lawyer ain't gonna change nothin'."

Jeb looked up from his notes and watched Judge Walker lean back in his chair. For a long moment the judge stared at the traffic passing outside the window. He then sat forward and peeled off his glasses. "All right," he said, "this is what I'm going to do: I'm not willing to accept your guilty plea, Mr. Thomas. I'm not convinced you fully understand the consequences. Instead, I'm going to enter a plea of not guilty for you. This is obviously a serious charge, and there's no need for us to rush into anything. I'll set it for a jury trial to be held in two months when Mr. Blake and I return.

"You're allowed to represent yourself in that trial, Mr. Thomas, but that's not a very good idea. Mr. Anderson here's an accomplished prosecutor, and I suggest you find yourself a lawyer."

"I don't need no damn lawyer. I killed him. It don't matter what this crazy old woman says."

"Court's in recess," said the judge as he stood. "You may take the prisoner away."

"Let's go." The sheriff placed his hand on Thomas' arm, but Bobby Joe jerked away.

"You ain't got no right buttin' in on this," Bobby Joe screamed at his mother. And he continued screaming even as Sheriff Collins lifted him by his collar and the chain around his waist and hauled him from the courtroom.

"If you don't mind, Mr. Blake," said the liveryman, "I'll wheel this beauty out front for you."

"That'll be fine, Max."

teach me to ride it the next time you bring it to town."

"Certainly. I'd be happy to."

Jeb knew that the big liveryman only pretended to be impressed by his new motorcycle. He expected the man, like just about everyone else, found it loud and frightening.

Jeb stood in a stable stall pulling on a pair of denims. He'd already removed his suit, rolled it up as best he could to minimize the wrinkles, and stowed it in a bag that he'd tied to the back of the cycle.

He hated the idea of spending the night on the road. But at least he was only having to make the long ride one way. When he and the judge came to Douglas the previous week, Jeb brought the motorcycle in the train's baggage car. He had to make the trip tonight, though. It was important to Julia that he was home for their anniversary, and it was important to Jeb that Julia was happy.

Despite all the talk of great opportunity, he'd been anxious about leaving his home in Chicago and moving west. He expected it would be rough living compared to big-city life, which was the only sort of life Jeb had ever known. But after two years he didn't regret a bit of it. No longer did he have to wait for hours in the hallway of the Cook County Courthouse and compete with dozens of other stenographers for cases to report. Here in Wyoming, Jeb had his own court. And he also had Julia, whom he'd met shortly after arriving. She was working downstairs as a typist for the county clerk, and Jeb fell in love the second he stepped into her office. At first she ignored him as she made her fancy Densmore typewriter clatter like a tiny Gatling gun, but Jeb knew she was only pretending.

He smiled at the memory of how pretty she'd been. And how pretty she was still.

Hell, he thought, riding all night wasn't so bad. There would be a full moon, the mid-summer weather was good, and it was always a thrill riding the cycle. If he kept up a steady pace, he'd be home before Julia was out of bed tomorrow morning.

He was deep enough into this pleasant thought that he didn't hear the door open at the opposite end of the stable because when the woman said, "You're that court stenographer fella, ain't ya?" he jumped so hard his feet came off the floor.

"Good, God," he said as he spun around, "you nearly scared me to death."

"Sorry. Didn't mean any harm. I need to talk to you; that's all."

Jeb recognized her as the woman from court, Bobby Joe Thomas' mother. She had the same gruff manner she showed earlier, and now Jeb was close enough to catch the aroma of someone who spent considerable time with cattle.

He was about to ask her what she wanted when he realized he was standing there with his pants unbuttoned and only half way up his thighs. He was embarrassed, and he scurried to tuck everything in.

"Slow down, young fella," she said. "I raised myself four boys. I reckon you ain't got nothin' attached to you that I ain't seen danglin' from them."

She laid a flour sack she was carrying over her shoulder next to a hay bale, sat on the bale, and removed her hat. She was a large woman, dressed in a man's clothes. Her shoes were heavy, with thick soles and laces, and had the look of shoes that had covered many miles.

Jeb, who didn't care if she had raised a battalion of boys, finished buttoning his jeans and rushed to pull on his boots.

"My name's Dessie Thomas." She half rose from the bale and stuck out her hand.

"Jebediah Blake," Jeb said as he extended his own. The strength of her grip was surprising. This woman had experienced hard work up close. "I don't have much time, Mrs. Thomas," he said as he picked up his Stetson. He flicked a piece of straw from the brim. It was his good hat, but it was going to get plenty dirty before he was able to hang it on the hall tree at home. "I need to be getting on the road. What did you want to talk about?"

"It's my boy," she said. "He's lyin'. That worthless Lenny Lukather deserved shootin' if any man ever did, but Bobby Joe didn't do it. I know there's lots of people around think Bobby Joe's a wild one. And I admit his ways can get pretty raw, 'specially considerin' how civilized folks're gettin' these days, but he ain't never killed a soul."

Jeb had seen a lot of men charged with murder, but he didn't remember ever running across a mother who believed her son had done it. "Well, Mrs. Thomas, if he didn't kill the man, why'd he try so hard to plead guilty?"

"'Cause," she said, standing, "he's a damned fool, always was. But bein' a fool ain't no hangin' offense. I need you to help him. I been to see the sheriff and that weasely little prosecutor. They both run me out of their offices. I even went to see that other lawyer fella in town. He wasn't interested in helpin' neither."

As Jeb edged his way toward the door, he said, "Look, ma'am, I just write down what's said in the courtroom, then if there's an appeal to the supreme court, there's a record of what happened. I don't make the rules, and I sure don't make the decision about who gets prosecuted and who doesn't. There's nothing I can do."

"You know how this court business works, don't you?"

"Yes, I guess I do, some, and my advice is if you can't find a lawyer to represent your son, then at least go out and round up whatever witnesses you think'll help Bobby Joe's case. The judge'll let them tell their story even if there's not a lawyer there asking them questions. Judge Walker's a reasonable man."

"The only person who knows what really happened is Lukather's wife, Joleen."

"So bring her in."

"She won't do it. She's got her reasons, I guess. I don't understand 'em, but she's got 'em, and she won't come in. But she is willin' to talk. I need you to go out to her place and write down what she has to say."

Jeb suppressed a smile. "I can't do that, ma'am. Have her write a letter. That won't be enough if we go to trial, but, who knows, maybe if she can offer the county attorney enough evidence that Bobby Joe's innocent, it'll convince him to drop the charges."

"She don't read, and she don't write. None of us do. Besides, what she's got to say I want somebody who understands the workin's of the courts to hear."

"Sorry, but she's going to have to think of some way to tell her story other than through me, Mrs. Thomas. I have a wife waiting for me in Casper." With that, Jeb turned and headed for the door.

"Hold on, I want to show you somethin'." She bent and lifted her flour sack. "Just give me a second here to find it," she said as she rummaged around inside. Finally she straightened and pulled out a blue Colt .44 that looked to Jeb to be the size of a mule's hind leg. "I done buried three of my boys, and I ain't fixin' to bury the last. It just ain't natural that a mother'd have to do that. So, Mr. Court Reporter, I wish you'd reconsider helpin' my Bobby Joe out."

Jeb tried to swallow but couldn't. The sound of the triple-click as the woman pulled back the big gun's hammer caused a knot to twist in his throat.

Dessie Thomas stayed behind Jeb all the way to the Lukather place. She was riding a crusty old mule that the Harley-Davidson could easily outrun, but Jeb figured no matter how fast the cycle was, it wasn't fast enough to outrun a slug from the .44 the woman still toted.

"I don't think the girl's exactly what you'd call crazy," Mrs. Thomas said as they rode along. Jeb kept the cycle's engine running at barely more than an idle. He did it not only so he could hear what the old crone was saying, but he didn't want her to think he was making a break for it and start taking pot shots at him. "But there's no denyin' she's mighty strange."

Mrs. Thomas seemed in high spirits. She hadn't stopped talking since they left the livery stable in Douglas. Jeb assumed she was feeling good because after kidnapping him onto this fool's errand, she must have felt as though she was accomplishing something that might help her son.

"I've known Joleen since she was just a girl of five, and I can tell you not once in all them years has she ever set foot off that ranch."

"Never?" Jeb asked, finding it hard to believe.

"Never," the old woman confirmed. "I don't know what her story is about the shootin'. All she'll tell me is that Bobby Joe ain't the one who done it. But when I asked her to go to town and tell the law, she refused. I even brought out this ol' Colt that belonged to my dead husband and tried to take her into town the same way I'm bringin' you out here, but that didn't scare her one bit. She just looked at me and said, 'Go 'head, Dessie, and shoot me down, if you want to.' She said, 'It don't matter to me.'"

Jeb stopped the cycle, turned in his seat, and gave the woman a look.

"Don't be gettin' no ideas," she said raising the pistol higher. "I didn't shoot her 'cause, even though she is kinda strange, I like the girl. And, too, she's the only one who knows the truth 'bout my boy." She waggled the gun at Jeb's chest. "You ain't got neither one of them things goin' for you, mister."

Jeb realized there was nothing he could do about his situation except to try and keep the old woman happy, take the girl's statement, and get the hell out as quickly as possible.

"How much farther?" he asked.

"Only 'bout another mile. We just keep followin' La Prele Creek on into them trees yonder."

Jeb gave the Harley-Davidson a little more throttle and said over his shoulder, "Well, kick your mule then, old woman, and let's get this chore over with."

To be continued next month

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Buffalo Soldier
by Keith G. Laufenberg

Isaiah Norman frowned and stopped the forward progress of his horse. Norman was the only black soldier on this expedition into Indian Territory and the Indian Wars were still raging on violently in this area of Texas, late in the year of 1876. He was a member of the all-black Cavalry, often referred to as the Ninth Colored Cavalry, and he was on loan to the Seventh Cavalry because he was the best tracker in the Ninth and the Seventh's tracker had been killed in a skirmish, just a week ago. He was riding at the point position, about a dozen yards ahead of a long column of soldiers and, although trail-weary, he was becoming extremely wary. Norman had been taught, as a tracker, by his father, a slave who had been brought over from Africa in 1830, and then, after marrying a Sioux Indian, by his brother-in-law, an expert tracker, who had greatly added to Norman's already vast tracking expertise. Norman held his arm out and raised his hand slightly and the column, of over a hundred soldiers, came to an abrupt halt. He slid off his mount and, grabbing the reins, walked slowly down the ravine that the company was heading towards.

Norman glanced back at the commanding officer, Captain Ashley Lee, who was heading this mission up, and scowled. The man had been a slave-owner himself, from the Virginia territory, and he showed Norman absolutely no respect, even though he knew the importance of a tracker of Norman's ability and experience, to this mission. They also used Indians as trackers, but they were disdained just as much by the majority of the officers, and most of the enlisted men. Norman knew that the white armies were there to protect the innumerable white settlers' homesteading the vast acreage of the western plains, many traveling long distances from the east coast, and he also knew that the only thing standing in their way of seizing every parcel of land and the wealth found therein, were the Indian tribes living on those lands.

Norman had married a Sioux and had been planning to travel north, towards Canada, where, it was rumored they could live a free life, as opposed to the terrible conditions most of the Indian tribes were being subjected to when enclosed on a reservation, which the army was forcing all the tribes to live on. Isaiah Norman could feel it in his bones now, they were being watched, probably by Apache Indians, but what was he going to do about it? He exhaled a lungful of air and remounted his horse, then looked back at the platoon commander and yelled, "We have to go back Cap-tin Lee it looks like a trap."

The captain laughed and signaled for his men to continue onward, but almost as soon as they started up again, an arrow entered the captain's chest and his lifeless body slumped forward, when arrows and bullets began cutting the column to shreds, as a band of over 200 renegade Apaches fell quickly upon the now hapless Seventh Calvary.

* * *

Bloody Knife lived up to his name, as he moved from one soldier-coat to the next, taking scalps as he went. He came to Isaiah Norman and stopped when he noticed the tribe's Shaman, the medicine man, Medicine Bear, standing in his way. He told Bloody Knife that it was bad medicine to scalp a buffalo soldier, so called because of the texture of their hair, which resembled that of the hair between a buffalo's horns, and Bloody Knife stopped his carnage, asking Medicine Bear why it was considered bad medicine to scalp a buffalo soldier.

"Ah, Bloody Knife, they are not as the white soldier-coats are, they have been slaves themselves to the white-eyes, and the Great Spirit would have us leave them in peace."

Bloody Knife grunted his approval and took his knee from where it had been, on Isaiah Norman's chest. That was when he first heard Norman groan and realized that he was still alive, when Norman opened his eyes and stared at Bloody Knife and Bloody Knife saw that there was no fear in Norman's eyes. Norman began speaking to him in the Sioux dialect and Medicine Bear called to a Sioux brave named Black Hawk, who was riding with them, as he had escaped from a group of soldiers who had been transferring a number of his band to a reservation in Arizona. He had joined up with the Apaches and they were now making plans to attack the reservation in Arizona to free Black Hawk's wife and family. All the Indian tribes knew of the great chief Sitting Bull's fight to leave the plains of Texas for happier hunting grounds and it was rumored that he had fled to the north, into Canada, shortly after the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Black Hawk talked with Isaiah Norman and learned that he was married to Black Bird, a Brule' Sioux and was the brother-in-law of Slow Bear, a respected and fearless tracker, who had recently been killed on a reservation, shot by a soldier-coat. After telling of his plans to escape to Canada with his wife and tribe, it was decided later that same day, by the Apache tribal council, that if the buffalo soldier wished to accompany them he was welcome to, as they were going to attempt to travel north themselves, in an effort to join up with Tatanka Iyotanka, Sitting Bull.

Isaiah Norman helped guide the Apache tribe to Canada that year, where he joined up with Black Bird and the remainder of her tribe, which soon became his tribe. He lived there until his death, at age eighty-four, leaving behind three children, two sons, Bison and Black Bear, and a daughter, Little Black Shawl. Isaiah Norman's Indian name was the one given to the black soldiers, Buffalo Soldier, and if you talk to any of his clan, even to this very day, they will tell you many happy stories of his remembrance.

The End

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Robert's Rules of Order
by Jesse J Elliot

"Mierta! It's hotter than a jalapeña today! If they can invent a train that moves without horses, you think they could come up with something to cool a room," Cruz exclaimed as he wiped his forehead with a wet bandana. Iragene Jones, the sheriff, looked at her mild mannered deputy and smiled. His rare outburst of slang or swearwords was more humorous than offensive.

Both the sheriff and her deputy were sitting on a bench under a large oak, trying to catch a mild breeze rather than sit in their stifling office. The usual summer build-up of clouds wasn't visible in the cobalt sky, and it looked like another hot, dry day minus the relief of the New Mexico summer rains. They were eating their midday meal and going through their mail.

"Shit!" Iragene said under her breath and looked around guiltily to see that no one but her deputy had heard. "Nick Roberts, that nice stranger who killed that wife-beating coward, Jeb Pulski, is wanted in two other counties for vigilante murders. Apparently he goes around the territory killing bad guys or at least people he thinks are bad guys. The real problem is he shot the wrong man in Silver City. He shot the brother of a rustler and not the rustler. Though the victim was no saint, Sheriff Spike claims, he didn't deserve to die. Roberts is wanted for murder."

Cruz looked disappointed. "I saw Roberts leaving the hotel this morning. Nice guy. I wanted to give him an award for calling out Pulski and shooting him. When I told Pulski's wife and daughter that he was dead, Mrs. Pulski started crying—would you believe tears of joy? The whole family was in rags while that cabron drank away her inheritance. I say good riddance."

"I wish it were that easy," Iragene said dejectedly, "but Roberts is as guilty as some of the men he killed. Who knows how many innocent lives he took by mistake? That's one of the problems of vigilantes acting on their own. That's why we have courts."

"Which may or may not always provide equal justice under the law."

"Unfortunately, that's true, but no system is infallible." She paused and looked at Cruz, "When did you say he left town?"

"This morning about six. I saw him saddling up and riding east out of town."

"Well, it looks like our picnic is over, let's get the horses ready. I'll pack up some vittles and change into a riding skirt." She stopped and looked up, "I just wish a good gully washer would cool us down."

"No, Sheriff, we don't want rain until we track our man."

"You're right, and what better time to teach me how to track." She looked over at her deputy who not only had the uncanny gift of tracking, even on a rocky mesa but had the ability to pick up languages the way a dog picked up fleas. A family at Cochiti Pueblo had given Cruz a home when he lost his family, and he ended up adding Keres to his knowledge of Navajo, Spanish, and English. To Iragene Jones, Cruz was indispensible—in fact if he hadn't volunteered to become her deputy, she wouldn't have taken the job of sheriff. She never knew Cruz had promised her fiancée before his murder to look after her, but what had started as a duty became something else. For the first time in his life, he felt he now belonged.

They met outside the stable an hour later. Both riders saddled up and headed east. For a while the dirt road leading out of town was too busy to teach a novice tracker, but Robert's horse was a Morgan, an unusual horse for New Mexico, and the heavy prints began to stand out as the traffic decreased and only a few tracks were visible.

"Here's a good place to start our lesson."

They both dismounted, and the two of them crouched down to examine the big horse's telltale prints. To Iragene, all of the prints looked similar, but Cruz began to explain the subtle differences between weight, size, gait, and wear of the different horses' prints.

"Roberts's horseshoes are all fairly new and put on at the same time. Notice how they don't show the usual wear that older shoes show," comparing one horse's prints to another's. "He certainly takes good care of that horse. I saw him brushing and feeding him myself," he continued. "His tack and gear are relatively used but made of quality leather. He seems to come from money."

"Then why," she wondered aloud, "would he spend his time riding throughout the Southwest playing vigilante?" Cruz just shook his head and they continued to compare different horseshoe patterns. A few minutes later they set off again.

They rode for several hours, and the clouds and wind began to build up. "Oh no, beware of what you wish . . . we're getting that rain that we asked for this morning," Iragene said as she sighted the billowing clouds form overhead.

"There are some rocky cliffs we can use for a shelter just ahead. We can let the rain pass," Cruz said, pointing to some reddish tinged sandstone rocks jutting out.

"Actually, we're not far from the Pulski place, and the Morgan seems to be heading in that direction as well. Let's go the distance and see if we can find both shelter and our man."

They picked up their gait and arrived just as the rain began to fall. Cruz's sharp eyes didn't fail to miss the large black Morgan feeding contentedly in the shadows of the rumble down shack Pulski had used as a barn. Silently he pointed to the horse. Not knowing what type of reception they would receive, they tied up their horses in the barn and proceeded to the house. "We shouldn't encounter a problem—he doesn't know we're following him."

Iragene knocked on the door, and a bedraggled young woman, looking older than her early twenties, opened the door and softly spoke, "Sheriff, Deputy, what a . . . surprise. Please come in—out of the rain."

"Thank you, Mrs. Pulski, we're sorry to impose on you, we had some business to attend to but got caught in the rain." She looked around the hovel this gentle woman lived in and saw that it was neat and as clean as any one could hope to make it. She looked around for Roberts and then heard his voice behind a shabby blanket that separated the sleeping quarters from the rest of the house.

Mrs. Pulski smiled and explained that Nick Roberts had shown up to her home with food and gifts for her child. "It took almost an hour for him to coax Clara into even talking to him, she's so afraid of men . . . " and she looked around nervously, feeling she had said too much.

"Mrs. Pulski . . . " Iragene was interrupted by a sudden, firmer voice.

"No, call me Annie, and my family name is Miller. We were never legally married. Jeb got a crooked judge drunk in Dodge, and he signed a phony marriage certificate." Without the fear of retribution, Annie Miller was re-emerging from the beaten-down woman who had opened the door. Surprised, Iragene looked at this courageous young woman who had been through so much, and then she noticed the bruises on her face and arms. Annie saw Iragene look away, almost embarrassed.

"Annie, I am so sorry about not being here for you. If you'd only let us know about Pulski, we could have pressed charges and helped you."

"Help me?" she spewed out, "Sheriff, you and I know that horses are better protected than wives. A man can do whatever he wants to his wife—beat her, rape her, and he did all that," she suddenly realized that Cruz was there, and she blushed. Then suddenly quieter, she spoke again, "What sheriff would take a man to court for wife beating? What judge would rule for the wife? I know, because I asked Sheriff Barnes for help, and he dismissed me. Chuckling he said if I were a better wife, my husband would probably treat me better. I should go home and practice my cooking and womanly duties a bit."

Iragene couldn't contradict her on that common belief. Her outspoken suffragette aunt from South Carolina had recently sent her newspaper clippings about two judges finding two whip yielding, wife beating husbands innocent: State v. Rhodes, where a husband was found innocent because, the judge said, "the defendant had a right to whip his wife with a switch no larger than his thumb," and another case as recent as 1874, State v. Oliver, where the judge cited the "that a husband had a right to whip his wife, provided he used a switch no longer than his thumb." The archaic treatment of women by their husbands obviously hadn't changed—even in modern America.

Roberts quietly entered the room. "She's asleep, Annie," he said softly. He then looked at Iragene and Cruz. Almost smiling, he addressed them both. "Sheriff, Deputy, nice to see you both out of that rain."

"Nick," Iragene asked him, "I have to ask you, did you know Annie before you shot her so-called husband?"

"No," he returned emphatically, "but I did know him in Kansas." He paused and then attempted to continue, angry and provoked, "He and his four brothers raped and murdered my wife and daughter, leaving them both naked and bloody for me to find." His hands clenched as he remembered, and pain shot across his face.

His voice sounded miles away as he continued. "I buried them, and when I could finally see straight, I rode to town. I told the Sheriff. At first he didn't even want to do anything since my wife was a Kiowa, an Indian. Then, since the traveling judge was in town as well as the five brothers, the sheriff reluctantly put them on trial.

"The trial was a circus. The brothers claimed they had a little fun that got out of hand, but you know how them injun girls are, always wanting more—a three year old baby wanting more!" he cried out and then somehow found control. "The jury sided with the men, and they found them not guilty of murder and rape but of damaging my property. They were fined ten dollars and released.

"I don't know what you would do, but I made it my goal to kill every single one of those bastards. With Jeb dead, I had one more brother to kill, Ivan, the rustler. But then I met Annie and Clara, and I realized I'm tired of killing. I want to live. I'm done with death. I just want to pack Annie and the child up and go anywhere where we can forget and start anew."

There was silence around the room. Iragene's mind was replaying the events that led up to these two stories of innocent people paying the price for the cruel acts of others. She also figured herself into the picture when she realized that she, too, knew that Pulski was a wife beater, and she had done nothing to stop it. She opened up her saddlebag and took out the wanted poster from Silver City. "Was this Theo?" she asked.

Roberts didn't even look further than the words, Silver City. "Yes," he answered and looked at her, "that was Theo."

She felt petty in the midst of all this pain, but reined in her feelings and quietly asked, "Nick, wouldn't you want your name cleared? We could take you in and I would make sure the jury is made up of good, honest men. When you're cleared because of 'justifiable homicide,' you can start life without having to look over your shoulder all the time."

Just then a loud boom like a cannon went off just over the cabin, and the child awoke crying. Annie ran to her and scooped her up into her arms soothing her with a soft lullaby about rain. There was silence in the main room until the next clap of thunder. Iragene looked at Cruz and then said, "Let's see to our horses. I think we'll be here a while—if that's okay with you, Annie?" Annie nodded.

Roberts added, "Sheriff, Cruz, there's some food out there for the horses. Annie asked that I sell Pulski's horse and gear, so I bought some grain and hay for the barn." They acknowledged this and went out.

Cruz and Iragene entered what should have been a watertight barn. Instead it was less protected than what the rock shelter would have been. Their horses were free from the ensuing hail, but not completely dry. The two took off their saddles, brushed their horses down as best as they could and gave them some grain. The storm was at its peak of fury, and neither of them wanted to venture out into the two-inch hail that was now plummeting from the metallic grey sky.

"Sheriff, what are you going to do?" Cruz boldly confronted her. It was rare that Cruz exercised such assertiveness and never with her, but right now he obviously felt he had the right to question the system that had failed those two individuals.

"Dammit, Cruz, I don't know! If I had it my way, we would all be riding back to town, Roberts would have his trial, and . . . "

"Sheriff, the jury would take one look at the two of them, say that they were in cahoots, and hang them both for the murder of Pulski, let alone the devil Roberts killed in Silver City."

They looked at each other, knowing the truth in his words, but their thoughts were interrupted when they heard the sound of a rider brazenly riding through the storm and stopping outside of the shack. Neither of them spoke, but each looked at each other, checked their guns in their holsters, grabbed their rifles, and waited. They could see right through the chinks in the walls now that the hail had subsided and only rain fell.

The man who had ridden up was big, and even in the rain he resembled his brother Jeb. They saw him grab his rifle and head straight for the door. Iragene and Cruz swiftly followed. They saw him kick down the door and begin screaming, "My brother's only been dead a week, and you gave his horse to your fuckin' lover to be sold? Why you bitch! I'm gonna kill this bastard, shoot him in the gut and make him watch as I take you and your little brat over and over. Then I'll sit me down, have a drink and slowly watch the three of you die."

Though Iragene and Cruz couldn't see into the shack, they could hear his words and only imagine the fear the three were experiencing with Ivan Pulski looming in the doorway. Iragene and Cruz split up. As she slowly made her way closer, she raised her rifle, instinctively knowing that this man would respond only one way.

"Drop that gun, Mister! We've got you covered!" she shouted out.

She caught him by surprise, but he regained control immediately. "Who the fuckin' hell are you, lady, and what are you gonna do? Shoot me?!" he guffawed.

She could almost hear the man's thoughts, deciding what would be the best way to get the drop on her. Then, moving faster than a man of his size should be able, he turned toward her with his rifle, only to have her shot hit him fully in his chest. He moved slightly, but almost immediately, Cruz's shot hit him low in the side. He fell flat on his back in the rain and remained still.

Cruz and Iragene got up to check the body. They then started to pull the man away from the door. Roberts joined them and helped drag him away. Just beyond the shack, they saw two little mounds, each adorned with storm scattered dandelions.

She pointed to the two graves, "Nick, were these children Annie's?" she whispered.

"Yes, they're dead because they cried too loud or took up too much of Annie's time. Sheriff, we're dealing with monsters, not men."

Later in the day, the four adults and little girl ate together from the food stores that Roberts had brought as well as the supplies that Iragene and Cruz had carried. They hardly spoke. Annie's daughter, Melanie, a waif of a toddler, wouldn't leave her mother's side and said nothing but would occasionally shake uncontrollably in spite of the lack of chill. The Pulski brothers and their gang had left too many people dead or damaged. Iragene wondered if any of their victims could ever be totally healed again. Just the trauma of the day's events had shaken her, let alone having lost a family or years to these cruel and brutal men.

"Sheriff," Roberts broke the silence, "what are your plans for me?"

"Were all the brothers that you killed at your ranch that day?" she asked him.

He looked at his hands and finally answered. "Yes, before I knew what they had done, I saw the five brothers riding way."

Suddenly, the reality that all five of her tormentors were dead hit her, and Annie began to cry. She turned toward Nick and cried uncontrollably in his arms, her frightened child clinging to her. No one said anything. She had had too many years of torment to wash away in a few minutes of tears.

Iragene and Cruz silently left the room. They stood out in the coolness of the early evening. Cruz looked directly at Iragene. "Sheriff, what are you going to do?"

"Do? We'll do what's right. We'll get a warrant out for the arrest of the five Pulski brothers for assault, murder, kidnapping, and rape against Annie and her children. We'll offer a one hundred dollar reward for each of the five brothers, dead or alive. In our county, the perpetrators, not the victims should pay for the crime." She looked directly at Cruz. "They're not in Kansas anymore."

"I agree, Sheriff. Justice must be served in El Bravo County," he said, and the relief in his voice was palpable.

* * *

The next day, Annie, wearing her new dress from Iragene (a spare she kept in her saddle bag), Nick Roberts, and Melanie joined Iragene and Cruz on their trip back to the county seat, La Madera. Iragene took them to The Hotel and got two rooms—one for Annie and her daughter and the other for Nick Roberts. When Iragene offered to pay for the rooms, Roberts refused.

"Iragene, I was a successful lawyer in Philadelphia before leaving my practice to go out west to Kansas for adventure. I still have plenty of money in the bank, though the $400.00 reward money will help me get my new family back to the east coast. As for adventure, I've had enough for a lifetime." He smiled and then paused, trying to say something but unable to articulate his feelings. "Iragene, I know I created an ethical dilemma for you. I hope you didn't compromise your position by dropping my charges."

"After hearing and seeing the crimes they committed against you and Annie, I would have compromised my position by not doing what I did. As I told Cruz, I think the biggest moral mistake I could have made would have been in allowing those monsters the satisfaction of continuing to inflict pain—even from the grave. No, I did what I had to do, and I'll be able to sleep soundly because of it." She smiled at him and then walked out of the hotel back to her office.

Cruz was there, having just finished writing up the wanted posters for the Pulski brothers. He looked up at her, wondering how she could still look so beautiful after a horrific two days, and smiled. She smiled back at him and sat down.

"Isn't this your week-end off, Cruz? Are you going to visit the Rancho Tecolote to pick out a horse for my nephew? I know Alexander is dying to see you."

"No, Señorita Jones, I will have to see him another time. I'm going to Cochiti to visit my Indian family and request a purification ceremony. The brothers may be dead, but I feel their filth and need to be cleansed."

She looked at him a while and then realized that there was much she didn't know or understand about this man who worked with her. She only knew that besides being her friend, her protector, and her deputy, he was also her conscience. He was right, the judicial system is fallible, but the fault lies not in the system but in those individuals who interpret it, and luckily Cruz was there to remind her.

The End

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That Day in Jefferson City
by P.D. Amos

On the road to Jefferson City, Missouri, and I'm feeling really tired. The War is only three months gone. It's hard to explain what's going on here . . . what I see, how things look . . . but I'll try.

The road is muddy and crowded, and somehow things are gay and grim at the same time. Everything in Missouri is that way . . . opposites, contradictions, love mixed with hate, mercy mixed with revenge, tenderness mixed with murder.

But looking back, how could it be otherwise?

Missouri was a slave state that didn't want to leave the Union, but didn't want to fight for it either. So the government just declared itself neutral. All in all, that seemed like a reasonable thing to do.

Old Abe didn't like it, though, so he branded the governor and legislature as traitors, and sent in a Union Army to invade.

And when that Army arrived, everyone and I mean everyone was forced to choose sides, and half went one way and half the other, and it was not just cousin against cousin like back East, but brother against brother. Some wore blue and some wore gray. Some had uniforms and some just farm clothes. Some went East to the armies of the juggernauts, and some stayed home to fight in clans . . . burning and killing, living in woods and hideouts, for four long years.

And then, all at once, just like that, it was over. Or it was suppose to be. Lee surrendered in Virginia, a Yankee government was installed in Jefferson City, martial law was lifted, and in a just couple of months, the Union Army withdrew.

And now, here I am, on this muddy road, three miles east of town.

It's late afternoon, and the road is full of men, returning from a hundred battlefields, all just trying to get home. Some ride, some walk . . . many limp. There's no order to it, just little clusters or rather clots of men traveling together in threes or fours, with small polite distances between the groups so they needn't brush against or talk to each another. They speak in that low, earnest, male tone that is never lavished on women or children but reserved instead for respectful talk among men who've shared in some great contest that somehow defines them.

Taken together, the mass offends the eye. An undulating thing of clashing colors and filthy tones that ripples like a muscle as it walks slowly along . . . deep blue with stained yellow stripes, butternut brown with black or red piping, sweat-rotted cloth that may have started out white but for which no name can now describe, dingy rolls of bandages tied as if by children around limbs or over stumps.

And the hats . . . of every conceivable shade and style. A few look new and crisp, as if issued yesterday, but most are odd rumpled things, having been used to carry water or staunch wounds for years on end.

The men in blue seem happy, at least those with all of their limbs. But none brag or strut, for they know that they lost more battles than they ever won, and it was just pure luck they weren't ripped clean through by a rebel rifle slug.

Those in butternut, or gray or brown, or the other hundred colors that came to be called Confederate, are sullen and ashamed. Not that they'd fought for a cause that might be unworthy . . . but that they had fought and lost. Most look down as they walk.

And yet here and now on this road, for this hour at least, all of the men are bound together by one simple truth: they're done with it, they've had enough, and they just want to go home.

As we near the city, the living thing perks a little. Humorous remarks about the upcoming food or card games or whores are tossed out and then carried up and down the line like warm drinks in Winter, and the men, all of them, laugh or guffaw or cat-call as the drinks are passed among them. And those in groups that recognize those in others, whether blue or gray, begin to call out names or nicknames to their old friends, and loudly tease "By God, I thought you was dead!"

The groups move closer now and mingle as they walk, and small fistfuls of plug tobacco, coffee, candy and sometimes even coins are dropped into open hands or into torn pockets with no need for trade, and phrases like "thanks Reb" and "thank-ya Yank" and "God bless ya friend" sprout forth along the roadside like small green buds on a long woody vine.

As we come closer to the city, I spur Nate to push ahead of the snaking crowd. It's late afternoon, warm and pleasant. The road bends and then spills abruptly into an open grassy field. Upon approach, I see a group of boys laughing and chucking rocks at some distant target, hidden from me by the bend of the path.

I smile, remembering such contests when I was a boy, wondering what row of glass bottles or stack of tin cans they assault, and anticipating an imminent crash or clatter as the rocks strike home. I may even pause to watch for a bit.

"Thunk." "Thwat." "Thud." That's what I hear.

Nate snorts loudly and balks, catching me off guard and jerking me forward in the saddle. I regain my seat and rein him in hard, forcing him to stand still. I'm into the field now and can see the whole clearing. The boys laugh louder and throw harder, happy with their prior hits. A faint creaking sound turns my gaze.

Forty paces in front of the boys is a large beam, a big log really, sitting atop two high posts. Three corpses dangle from it, hanging by the necks. Out of attempted civility, I suppose, somebody put old canvas bags over their heads, hiding the bugged lifeless eyes and bloated lolling tongues. The men sway slightly in their suspension, thick hemp ropes creaking in rhythm. Brown paper signs are pinned to their chests, each bearing neat black letters announcing "Horse Thief." Occasionally, the paper flutters in the wind with the sound of a small kite.

"Thwack!" Another rock strikes home. The boys cheer. "Thwat." Paper tears. Laughter.

I urge Nate to continue, and we ride onward, passing the boys to the rear. He remembers the smell of dead men and doesn't like it. One boy, about twelve, turns to see us, smiles, and gathers more stones.

The town is just ahead.

Jefferson City. The first thing I notice is color, lots of it. And pennants and ribbons. And music. It's confused, clashing, seemingly everywhere. People stand in batches, sit in batches, ride in batches. There's mud on everybody, their boots, trousers, hats even. No one seems to care.

The place is like a strange medieval fair. Strange because there are rickety tables and booths everywhere, with hawkers and con men selling everything imaginable—liquor, mules, candy, hats, cloth, women, paintings, underwear, perfume, guns, and toys. Stranger still because nobody is buying anything.

Hollow eyed and exhausted, the dirty clutches of men gather round the colorful stands and stare. That's all. Just stare.

Some seem asleep, others confused or dazed. Every now and then somebody smiles and leans forward, as if perhaps to buy. Momentarily confused by the ghost of who he use to be, he slides his hand into his grimy pocket for a coin, only to remember, as if in a flash, that now he has nothing and is nothing.

I'm tired and want no part of the crowd. It feels . . . unpredictable. I let Nate pick his way through the mess and keep going until we are on the other side of it. I need supplies and Nate needs grain.

I stop in front of a small dry goods store and tie Nate to a post. The saddlebags get slung over my shoulder. They carry the gold and my journal. I check the street again for danger and unconsciously finger the grip of my Colt Navy, loosening it from the creaking leather . . . making sure it will come out fast if I need it.

I turn to the store and there on the walkway is a lawman. I only can tell it from his star, because all in all, he doesn't look much better off than the folks in the crowd.

He gives me a hard level stare, and slowly shakes his head back and forth. His thumbs are hooked in his gun belt just above the buckle, but his right hand is close enough to his holster to draw.

This is bad, and my blood goes cold. Wanted posters and men hanging from ropes seem common in these parts, and surely he had mistaken me for an outlaw.

Suddenly, he senses my anxiety and now he too is afraid. I see it in his eyes. He purposely relaxes his body and lets his head and shoulders droop at little, as will a dog when it wants no fight.

"Relax Mister," he says. "I just wanted to say . . . don't leave it."

I do relax a little . . . but not too much. I'm confused.

"Leave what?" I ask.

He points to Nate and says, "Your rifle . . . the Sharps."

"Why," I ask.

"Cause just west of here, out in Kansas, there're buffalo. The railroad runs all the way to Kansas City now, so a man with a Sharps can make a living shooting buff instead of starvin'. There's folks here who will steal it off your pack, or even kill you for it."

"Thanks," I say, sorry now for my hostility. "I'll watch it."

He nods and moves on down the board walk, thumbs still in his belt.

I pull the big Sharps from its scabbard and heft it over my shoulder with the bags. All together they must weigh forty pounds.

The dry goods store has just about everything and the owner looks healthy and prosperous. The Yankee occupation here has been good for business. Hundreds of troops with regular Union pay. Now that they're pulling out, things may go bad for the merchants. He knows it.

I buy what I need. Bacon, beans, hard tack, jerky, coffee, flour, soap, sugar, candy, matches, a few candles, dried figs, powder, percussion caps, lead ball, and shot. He even has pre-made cartridges for the Sharps. I pay with a single gold coin from my vest pocket, making sure there is no one else in the store when I fish it out. He seems unsurprised. Again, the Yankees had gold.

"A word of advice, Mister," he says. "Change out some of your gold for silver coins. Silver don't attract near as much attention. Less likely to get you killed. You can do it right here. If you go down to the bank, folks will notice."

He's right. I change out twenty dollars into the smallest coins he has, and thank him.

I walk Nate down to the livery and tip extra. "I want him curried, combed, rubbed and fed. Get the farrier over here and scrape and trim his hooves. Reset the shoes, and be damned sure to use new nails. Give him some extra grain, but not too much. Then put him in a separate stall and let him sleep. I want him ready to go by tomorrow."

"Will do mister," the livery man says. "I've taken care of horses for lots of officers, both sides." He smiles and takes Nate.

I think about going into a bar for a drink, but the two in town look crowded and dangerous. I trust my war instincts. If something looks dangerous . . . it is.

So I start walking down the street, away from the downtown section, just looking and stretching. I need a bath and a really good meal, and sooner or later I'm going to have to find something.

In a little ways, the town buildings give way to white clapboard houses. This must be where the merchants, bankers and lawyers live, because the houses are well built and well kept.

Down the block I see a small boy on a tall stump in a front yard, just behind a white picket fence. A big tree must have stood there at one time, but has been neatly sawn away. I hear music, and wander on down to see. Hell, I was going in that direction anyway.

He's a thin boy, about 10 years old, with dark hair, dark eyes and pale white skin. He's singing, dancing up and down, and playing a harmonica, all badly and all at the same time.

"Camptown races sing this song, Doo-Dah, Doo-Dah. Camptown race track's five miles long, Oh the Doo-Da Dah Day." He heaves a large harmonica to his mouth and blows and sucks furiously. The tune is raspy and scratchy, but he is hitting most of the notes. His face is scrunched and he is concentrating real hard on that thing, really bearing down. And all the while, his black leather shoes are tapping and clogging on the stump. Clipping and scuffing and hopping, seemingly at random.

I pause in front of the yard to watch. Plainly now, the show is for me.

He finishes the song, stops and grins, holding the harmonica over his head like he has won a prize. "Where ya headed Mister," he calls out, in his little huckster voice.

I hear a loud "Ahem," and look across the street. And old man is sitting on the porch of his house in a rocker. He slowly shakes his head back and forth. I ignore him. He resumes his rocking.

"Goin West son," I say to the boy. "Where else?"

"You need a room and a bath and a meal Mister. I can tell. Come right here. My ma runs the best boarding house in town. She can cook real fine and the rooms are real clean. Come right here." "Well, to tell you the truth, I was going to look for a place a little closer to the livery."

"Don't do that Mister. Those places are full of bandits! They murder people all the time. I can run down and fetch your horse for you when you're ready to leave. No need to stay down there. You'll be much safer here." His eyes are alive with the setting sun.

The front door of the house swings open. Out steps a beautiful woman. Her blond hair is tied back with a dark blue ribbon but still somehow falls loosely to her shoulders. Her skin too is cream. She wears a starched cotton blouse, bright white and stretched tightly at an ample bosom. A black skirt clutches tightly about her narrow waist.

"Jimmy," she calls. "Leave that poor man alone. He has business to attend to. I'm sorry Mister."

Jimmy steps down off the stump. "Sorry Ma," he calls over his shoulder. Then to me he leans and murmurs. "Ma needs the money really bad."

I pause. It's been a long time since I've seen a woman like this, and to tell the truth, it's a little awkward. She stands on the stoop, letting the silence take hold, waiting for me to speak I suppose.

"It's no problem Maam. I'm just looking for a place for the night. Your son tells me you run a boarding house here."

"Well yes," she says hesitatingly. "Though . . . there are no boarders here right now."

I don't know quite what to make of this.

"Well, I don't want to impose. I can find another. No bother."

"Course," she replies, "we are open for business. And, it would be no bother to board you. I run a respectable place here. The whole town knows that."

I'm tired and don't know what to say. She continues.

"So you are welcome here if that would suit you."

Suddenly, the walk back towards the livery seems too far.

"Well, if you're sure," I say.

"Of course," she replies. "But first, your name sir."

"Jacob Woodwright." "Well Mr. Woodwright, I'm Mrs. Bannister. Lora Bannister. We would be pleased to board you for the night. Jimmy, please show Mr. Woodwright in through the side door and prepare a bath."

With that she turns on her heels, and goes back inside, being careful not to slam the door.

An hour later, things are much improved. The side door opened into what was once a formal sitting room but which now holds a wood stove, a large copper bathtub, and lots of clean towels. I sit in the tub, leaning back, with hot steamy water up to my neck. I wash my hair by leaning back into the water, sometimes submerging my entire head so that the silence and warmth can surround me. I wash it three times. I have not felt this good in years.

While I'm bathing, Jimmy takes my clothes into another room, where I guess his mother washes and irons them near another stove. By the time I finish my bath, they will be returned, totally washed and dried and ironed. Sometime during the process, Jimmy runs two blocks down to the livery stable and takes my other clothes from my bedroll. These to be washed, dried and ironed as well.

Jimmy pours a last bucket of near scalding water into the tub, fresh from the stovetop, and then brings me a sharp razor, a bright mirror and a frothy soap so I can shave. I take my time, savoring it.

After two hours in the tub, I reluctantly step out onto a pristine throw rug. The long soak in the hot water has made me a little woozy. A tall pile of sweet smelling towels are at hand. I use three of them.

Jimmy is gone now. I dress in my neat clothes, clean my teeth in a basin with a cheroot and rinse, and then pause to listen. It is dark outside now. The woman hums softly in the next room, and the house smells of chicken and dumplings. I knock gently on the large wooden door.

"Come in Mr. Woodwright," she calls. "Come in."

I push the door open and step into a nice formal dining room. An oval table made of walnut, with matching chairs and cloth upholstery, is set for dinner. Four candles burn with flickering yellow light in a pewter candlestick holder. Mrs. Bannister is putting out coffee cups and Jimmy is carrying napkins.

"Please come in, Mr. Woodwright," she says. "Supper will be ready in a few minutes."

"Thanks," I say, embarrassed by the finery.

"Jimmy," she continues, "why don't you show Mr. Woodwright his room and help him put his things away."

Glad to be relieved of napkin duty, he says "Sure, it's just down this hall. I'll show ya."

Jimmy leads me down a short hall off the side of the dining room. At the end of the hall, we pass through a doorway into the guest room. The door is heavy oak, with wrought iron hinges and hardware, so I'm guessing it's really an old pantry or storeroom. It's small but clean, with a bunk, a side-table, a lantern, and a washstand.

Jimmy chatters away, happy to be helping me out. There isn't much for me to put in the room except my saddlebags and Sharps, but I let Jimmy carry the rifle and he puffs out his chest.

Supper is served five minutes later. Before we eat, Mrs. Bannister says Grace, and I am forced to join in. It's been a long time since I've done that.

Chicken and dumplings are served up out of a steaming cast-iron pot. There's hot cornbread and greens as well. It feels good to be eating food that's been cooked by someone else. When you cook for yourself on the trail, each meal gets successively worse.

Mrs. Bannister keeps up a pleasant banter of conversation, about everything and nothing. At first, it's hard for me to join in. (Four years of killing, you know.) But after a while, I remember that I use to be an educated man, and start to get the hang of it again. By the time dinner is over, she's managed to drag my life story out of me, minus the War of course. She intentionally stays away from that. All I learn about her is that her husband is a surveyor for the railroad. He went West three years ago and hasn't been heard from since.

After dinner, she suggests we move into the parlor and have some after dinner coffee. It's full dark by now, and she only lets Jimmy sit in the parlor for a few minutes before sending him off to bed. He groans and begs, but finally troops off, apparently use to the routine.

We are alone now, sitting in the parlor, talking, sipping coffee. Sometime during the process, Mrs. Bannister has unbuttoned the top button of her blouse, complaining of the long day. I didn't really notice it was open until, well, it was open.

The conversation starts to wind down, and I hear a grandfather clock ticking away somewhere down the hall. Mrs. Bannister rises to take away the coffee cups and then remarks, "Oh Mr. Woodwright, I've quite forgotten my manners. Would you like a small glass of wine?" Before I can really answer, she sets the cups aside and opens a small wooden side chest. "I keep this for special guests . . . ones I feel I can trust."

She places a crystal wine glass on the table in front of me, and pours from a crystal decanter. The wine is dark red and smells rich and bitter. I taste it, and smile.

"Aren't you going to have some as well Maam?" I ask.

"Goodness no, Mr. Woodwright, I'm a strict Baptist you see."

I settle back to sip the wine, knowing there would only be the one glass, and wanting to make it last.

"And now, Mr. Woodwright," she says, "I must apologize that I feel it necessary to address our business at hand. Room and board here for the night are $1.00, in coin, not paper. And, of course, I must kindly ask for it in advance. Folks have been known to leave before dawn without paying. I'm not saying that you would Mr. Woodwright, but I think a firm policy is best."

This sudden formality catches me by surprise, but I find it amusing.

"Well, I certainly understand Mrs. Bannister, and that's no problem." I take a silver dollar from my vest pocket and place it in her palm. The coin disappears into her tight skirt pocket. She smooths out the skirt on that side with her hand, taking her time doing it, and smiles. There is a long pause.

"And, Mr. Woodwright," she says in a lower tone. "I like you. I can see you are a man of . . . quality. So if there's anything extra you might like . . . I am sure that I can provide that as well."

I choke a little on my last sip of wine, not really certain where this is headed.

"I'm not sure what your meaning is Maam," I say. "I think I have everything I need."

She smiles, and then leans back a little in her chair. Her hands reach up and untie the blue ribbon from her hair, and she shakes her head slightly so all of her hair tumbles down.

"Well," she says, looking me straight in the eyes, "I would imagine that a man like you may get lonely in his travels, and need some extra company now and then."

Now I KNOW where this is headed!

Without breaking her gaze, she unbuttons the second button of her blouse and fluffs it open a bit. I can just see the top of her black undergarment.

"And what, may I ask, might this extra service cost Maam?" I ask.

She smiles and sighs. "Only two dollars Mr. Woodwright. Surely, that's fair enough."

Now, I wish that this turn of events wasn't happening. I'm in a quandary here. You see, in my whole life, I've never paid for a woman. Never. Not even during those years in the War. I always found the concept to be . . . well, offensive. On the other hand, I don't want to tell her that, because it might make her feel like a whore. On the other hand, she is a whore, more or less, and I don't want to get her upset. God knows what she might do. Scream? On the other hand, I haven't been with a woman in months, and she is beautiful . . . and suddenly two dollars doesn't sound like very much at all.

Somewhere deep inside, my flimsy sense of propriety abruptly shifts, and I'm taking her up on it.

"Well, Mrs. Bannister," I say, really taking my time to pick my words. "That certainly is a fair offer . . . and I guess . . . I'd be pleased to take you up on it."

"Good Mr. Woodwright," she says cheerfully. "I'm glad that you will." She takes my glass and refills it. "Of course," she mentions apologetically, "that will require payment in advance as well."

"Of course." (Two more coins leave my vest.)

We sit a while longer, letting the evening sink in. I finish my wine, waiting for her to tell me what to do. (Or was I suppose to tell her what to do?)

"Jimmy is sound asleep by now," she says. "Why don't you go to your room and wait for me. I have to go upstairs to freshen-up. I'll only be a few minutes."

She leaves and I hear her footsteps tread upward on the staircase. She sings softly to herself.

I return to my room, change out of my clothes, light the lantern at the bedside, turn it down low, and get under the covers. It has been a long time since I've had any wine, so I find myself a little unsteady. I can hear her singing softly to herself upstairs. I lay back with my head on the pillow and wait.

A half an hour goes by. Or maybe more? I'm tired and mellow. I finally hear her footsteps coming gently down the staircase . . . and then through the dining room . . . and then down the hallway towards my room. I hear her hand on the doorknob, and a creak of the door, and then a small metallic clatter. I'm fuzzy now, but my brain knows that sound for sure!

It's the sound of a door bolt being rammed home and locked from the outside!

"What the hell," I think, and rise up out of bed. But the world spins and reels and I'm falling backwards, down into steep and total darkness, doped like a horse . . . and then all is black.

I am in that darkness for a long long time.

* * *

"Wake up Mr. Woodwright," someone shouts in my face. "Wake up!"

The voice is high pitched and screechy. I open my eyes to blinding light. Jimmy is shaking me and yelling in my face.

"Wake up Mr. Woodwright, your horse is ready and leaving! He'll get away."

What? My horse? Nate? Is leaving me? Nate?

With Jimmy's help, I pull myself upright in bed. My head is splitting. Jimmy yanks open the window shade. The light is an iron spike, crashing through my right eye.

"Coffee," says Jimmy. He's holding a big iron cup. "Here's coffee."

"Thank God," I think, and glug it down. My stomach churns. I'm not sure I'll be able to hold it for long.

"Get dressed Mr. Woodwright. It's past noon. Your horse is leaving. Hurry!"

Leaning on Jimmy, I wrestle to get into my pants. He ties my shirt around my back, and then props me up as I step into my boots.

"My saddle bags . . . my Sharps. Where are they? They're gone?"

"I just put them on your horse Mr. Woodwright. Hurry. He's leaving!"

With Jimmy shoving me along, I stumble out of the bedroom, down the short hall, through the dining room, through the bathtub area and out the side door, almost falling headfirst into the yard.

"Look," Jimmy screeches. "Yer horse. There he is!"

I focus my eyes in the blinding light and see Nate. He's all saddled up, with his halter rope loosely wrapped around the front fence. My bedroll, guns and gear are all tied down. He dances sideways, happy to see me, and pulls away from the fence, the rope loosely trailing.

I find I can walk stiff-legged now, and lurch across the front yard and through the open gate. I grab the saddle horn and drag myself up into the seat. Jimmy hands me the reins, and as soon as I have them, he slaps Nate hard on the rump, sending him trotting down the street, heading due west and out of town. "Ya!" he yells.

I glance back over my shoulder and see Mrs. Bannister standing on the front porch stoop. She's smiling and waving a white handkerchief.

"Good-bye Mr. Woodwright," she calls. "Do come again. Do come again."

I right myself in the saddle, holding on for dear life as Nate moves into a cantor.

The old man I saw yesterday is once again in the rocking chair on his front porch. He shakes his head back and forth.

The End

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Pointed Gun
by Robert Gilbert

Morning haze began thin out across Colmer Valley, the divide between Summit Range and the Twin Peaks of Red Stone Pass. The land lay peaceful and still this side of the valley, a thin gust of wind caressed my face, and in the far remoteness came the faint howl of coyotes. I judged them to be a distance away of maybe a half mile or so. A partial moon painted against the open sky was cream and crescent shaped, seemingly resting between the spires of Ghost Ridge. It's the opposite direction of where I've spent the night sleeping under the stars near the opening of the valley wedge. I'm returning home, having been a witness to a murder in Meredith Junction, five miles off on the other side of Coles Canyon.

My eyes were near closed, perhaps I'd catch a few more winks of needed sleep, but I could hear the slow approach of a horseman. That sound ended as I now was hearing Spanish Spurs jingle in my direction. My fingers reached for my leathered Colt .44 but I hesitated after listening to his question and feeling the cold barrel of a gun pressed deep into my cheek. The voice didn't sound all that angry; rather, the speaker wanted to make sure I heard his words.

"You Marshal Brothers from Cheyenne River?"

A moment of silence prevailed. My eyes opened and turned in his direction.

"Are ya? Don't take too long to answer my question."

"Who wants to know? I'm Warren Brothers and the badge on my vest gives you the answer."

"I guess it does at that, Marshal." His eyes glanced at my wrinkled clothing where a glimpse of silver metal would come in to view.

"Take your .45 away from my face," I growled. "What's your business?"

"Name is Jacob Flowers. My sister and brother-in-law is dead. They was killed outright yesterday."

"Serious news," I said. Flowers' gun lifted away from my face and I was able to sit up. "Strange way to wake a U.S. Marshal. You come here needin' help and all."

"The Waverly boys done it," he said. "'Ever'body knows them boys in these parts." His hand moved the gun back into its holster leather.

"I know of their name and reputation," I said. "So you come this direction in hopes of locating me? You handle that .45 pretty good compared to other people I've known."

He began his lengthy story, watching me as I finally woke up, stood and dressed with the Stetson positioned correctly. The firewood nearby I had kept dry under a tarpaulin that I carry in case of rainy nights sleeping under the stars in the middle of nowhere.

Within minutes after collecting the firewood, flames of red and orange began to snap and crackle, dancing a hot jig as if they'd found their partners.

I retrieved an old coffee pot and two battered tin cups from my saddlebags to share with Mr. Flowers. I'd soon made the coffee and we sipped the hot brew sitting across from each other.

"Who sent you out here to find me?" I said. My lips blew across the steaming coffee to try to cool it, taking the first small sip. I watched Mr. Flowers do the same with his brew. More importantly I was studying the man, trying to figure him out. He looked plain and all right, his face was two days in needing a shave, with heavy wrinkles on his forehead and noticeable calluses on both hands. He'd been working the range for a long while.

"Tell me what happened," I said. The coffee was getting a bit cooler.

"My sister, Corrine Highgrass, and her husband, Joe-Dan Highgrass, had a well-kept spread maybe 'bout seven miles to the north o' Cheyenne River. It's called the Wedgewood Ranch. They had money from the mine business but it finally went bust. Enough saved that they wanted to move on real quick-like. E'verthing was sold 'cept for some special belongin's they kept, leaving in the direction a wee bit north of the ranch."

"Word spread that they were movin'?" I said, already sipping a second hot cup.

"Yeah, word got around pert' quick of them movin', and more word spread that they had savings money put away, proceeds from selling the rest of the gold mine that they knew wasn't gonna be worth a pile of fresh cow shit!" Jacob Flowers laughed at his own amusement, doing his best to sip more coffee. He finally swallowed and moments later spit into the fire, listening to the mucus momentarily hiss.

"So the Waverly boys got wind of this . . . " I said.

"Three of 'em, Marshal. Royce, the big one; Dicky Tom, the middle brother; and Oscar, the little fart who can weasel himself out o' any skirmish. And that's the damn truth. They's three are gonna roast in hell. Damn fuckin' bastards!"

"How do you know it was them?" I asked.

"Somebody close in bein' friends with Joe-Dan was hired to do chores for 'em. He'd show up once in a while to make some extra money. He was out back a distance, not noticed, watchin' what was goin' on. He heard screaming and gunshots and more screaming and then dead silence. At the same time them Waverly brothers came out of the house carrying looted goods that belonged mainly to Corrine. Personal things, ya know."

"Anybody else witness to this killin'?"

"No Sir. But as much as their friend is truthful, you best talk with him."

"Who is he and where's he located?" I said.

"Name is Willie Pardon. Can't help but see 'im, Marshal. In the war with the Rebs, he came up lame at Gettysburg and after the war he drifted this direction. Still wearing the shabby gray, but now it looks like rags. Turned to almost white. Can't miss 'im. And sometimes he uses a crutch under the armpit, helpin' him walk from a leg wound."

"Where can I find him?"

"Best that I recall, you can head over to a small town called Little John. 'Bout three hours ride north o' here, over in the direction of Crowley Land. High Plains part of the country with plenty of summer heat comin' through. Best if you stock up with several canteens o' water. That's hot country this time o' year."

"I've been in that direction before," I said. "You comin' with me? They're your kinfolk. Best look after 'em."

"I'll follow you back to Cheyenne River," he said. "There we can fill up with fresh canteen water."

"After Cheyenne River, then what'll happen to you?" I said.

"Reckon I'll follow ya to Little John, but I'll stay a ways back if there's gun fightin'."

"You ain't scared of a squared-off gun fight, are ya?" I began to laugh and he looked the other direction.

"That's your business, Marshal. If we sett'lers and town folk need help, we turn to you. You know the law better than us and that's why we put trust in you. Ain't nothin' new 'bout that."

"Let's get ready to ride," I said, dousing the campfire with the remaining coffee. As the wood smoldered, Jacob Flowers and I quickly stomped and booted the wood in different directions to make sure every spark was out.

He mounted his chestnut and I footed the stirrup to my bay. Turning away from where I'd slept, we headed northeast to Cheyenne River.

Jacob Flowers wasn't much of a talker when we were making our way through Colmer Valley. It was the cool of the day in this lowland. Beautiful scenery lay all around us in between the cliffs that stretched to the sky, beginning to change color from a dark maroon to hues of rust and pink, finally coming to life.

"I'm curious, Mr. Flowers, how was it that you came to find me?" I said.

"It was your Deputy McClintick who give me directions," he said. "Got 'em written down in my shirt pocket right here. Wanna see 'em, Marshal?" I declined, knowing that Howard McClintick could give directions to a person who was blindfolded and they'd find me.

We kicked up dust and tumbleweed along the way and maybe an hour later we were seeing the distant outskirts of Cheyenne River. It was a peaceful town thanks to me and Howard who came here from Wescon, Kansas, near the border with Colorado. Wescon had its problems with justice and it didn't take long to get that cowboy town under our control in making it honest and livable.

Years later Howard and I got word of Cheyenne River being a tough town, looking for a respectable lawman to come in and straighten it up a bit. They immediately hired me and I wouldn't take the job without Howard. We work together real good and I said that same fact to the Cheyenne River Municipal Organization (bunch of stupid dumb fucks anyway) and they went along with authorizing both of us.

"What ya think's gonna happen to the Waverly boys?" Flowers said, sounding impatient, as we were now making our way through Cheyenne River, easing up in front of the U.S. Marshal Office.

"I'll give 'em time to come peaceful," I said. "Probably not scared of anybody, especially me."

We dismounted and already standing on the boardwalk in front of us was Deputy McClintick.

"I got business in Little John," I said, looking in Howard's direction, after throwing the loose reins over the hitch rail. A water trough in front of us let the horses stand idle to cool their flanks and drink.

"The Waverly boys?" Howard asked. "Killin' the family of the man you rode in with?"

"Sounds that way," I said. The three of us walked into the office and I stood behind my desk searching through a stack of wanted posters.

"You sure they're wanted, Warren?" Howard said. "Nothin' of their names has come in."

"You might send a telegram up and down the line," I told him. My eyes leveled on Howard. "See what comes up. In the meantime, Mr. Flowers and I are headed north of here."

"Want me to ride along?" Howard said. "Or maybe you'd be better off if I stay."

"You take care of Cheyenne River," I said. "This town needs a good lawman and you're it."

"Little John is a distance," Howard said. "You sure them Waverlys are there?"

"That's a chance we have to take," I said. Howard and I walked outside. "Gotta meet up with an old Reb from the war who claims of seein' what went on. I guess it's his word against them Waverlys'. Somebody's gonna be truthful to this story."

"You ready to ride, Marshal?" Jacob Flowers interjected. He was already saddled, had canteens filled for him and me, and was slowly backing away from the Marshal's Office to the center of Cheyenne River.

I had already packed the saddlebags with fresh ammunition for my Colt.44 and Winchester. There was enough for Mr. Flowers in case he decided to join in on the Waverly manhunt. I waved a goodbye to Howard, footed the saddle and turned the bay in the direction of the end of town.

Heading north, we made our way across rolling landscape, a distance east of the beginning hills that eventually elevated into a long stretch of Lost Creek Wilderness, nestled at the base of the Pawnee Butts. I'd been this direction before on personal family business, paying my respects to a nephew who had passed on from an unknown sickness that had kept him suddenly bedridden for weeks. My sister was more than damn 'ol fever upset. Never seen her cry so much in my entire life. Doctor had come in from Morgan City. He said it to be a moving fever, and for family members to be in a quarantine location as designated by the doctor himself along with the county sheriff. It finally went away over time after killing three members of another family. I've never been that sick before and ever since been doin' my best in keepin' it that way. Real sorry for my kinfolk who came down with it first, and then it spread in all directions. Bad news, but everything got better over time.

We weren't that far away from Little John, maybe another hour, crossing up and down hills, then the high plains would be in front of us a short distance, before the land returned to rolling hills. We crossed the Cottonwood Creek maybe a half mile back knowing our destination wasn't that far away.

Jacob Flowers didn't talk much after leaving Cheyenne River, but now something must have triggered his lips to the degree he couldn't shut up. I got tired of his jawin' and I flat out told 'im to hush up or I'd turn back from where we came. He followed orders for a spell, knowin' that I was payin' attention.

"You ever kill people, Marshal?" he finally asked.

"Only when I have to," I said.

"Been a lot of 'em you killed?"

"I've had my share. Mostly troublemakers and those with supposed fast guns."

"Anybody famous?"

"Tom Joe Brown and his bunch came through Cheyenne once."

"Tom Joe Brown? Fast talker with that fancy Winchester. And those scum drovers?"

"I was only interested in Brown. After I finished takin' care o' him the others suddenly disappeared."

"I heard that those others high-tailed it damn fast. True?"

"I gave 'em all a warning to leave town and Brown had shit for brains, I guess."

"He did his business with that fancy rifle. Make ya scared?"

"It didn't bother me a bit. He didn't respect my no-guns-in-Cheyenne River law, so Deputy McClintick and I straightened their minds out real quick."

"Then the town went peaceful again?"

"That's my intention every day. And it seems to be working."

The blue sky that had prevailed was turning dark from the west. Little Joe wasn't that far away but I had a serious feeling that any moment the gray and ebony sky would begin to open up with much-needed rain for the farmers and sodbusters.

The next thing Jacob Flowers and I felt was a cloudburst, first with droplets, then with sheets of driving rain. We were instantly saturated. We pointed our hats downward to keep the wind and driving rain away from our faces. The movement of our horses was slow paced, since we were careful of the rutted road used by the stage line and freight wagons. Nothing worse than a horse gone lame thanks to a misstep from a deep-in-the-mud wheel mark road.

We made our way into the far end of Little John. In the back of one of the buildings, soaked with rain, was a flap-open tent awaiting the next gentleman to get off with one of the whores. The front street was extremely muddy, wagon tracks had already overflowed with rain in both directions and the town remained empty except for several wet horses hitched in front of the Lady Lee Saloon and Entertainment Establishment.

From underneath one of the taller boardwalks a mangy wet dog presented itself as if wanting company to walk him home in this rough-hewn tiny community. He was shivering, in obvious need of food and a good companion so he strayed with us. Always nice to have a good dog around to keep you company.

A distance from the saloon a small man continued to walk our way in ankle-deep mud. His clothing was what looked to be a once legitimate gray uniform. His hat covered an old and wrinkled face, now saturated with the showering rain. He saw my badge and came to life.

"You the marshal from Cheyenne River?" he said in a noticeable southern drawl.

"I'm that man," I said.

"I'm Willie Pardon," he said. "Fought at Gettysburg and my leg is cut up real bad. But I'm still here, using my trusty crutch."

Jacob Flowers and I tied our horses to the hitch rail across from the saloon. We immediately stood on the boardwalk along with Willie Pardon, listening to the loud noise coming from the Lady Lee Saloon and Entertainment Establishment. In all my years of being a U.S. Marshal, I've never heard such a long-winded name for a beer and whiskey joint. Maybe this place was something special with pool tables, five-card poker and a few fancy whores upstairs.

Spats of rain continued to swirl around our faces, while I was conducting my interview with the Reb.

"You sure 'bout seein' the Waverly boys do what they did?"

"Yes, Sir, Marshal," he said. "I was inside the barn doin' chores for Joe-Dan Highgrass. He hires me sometimes to do what I call the shit work 'cause it's back breakin' sons-'o-bitchin' work."

"Then what?"

"The Waverly boys ride up," he said. "Ever'body knows that Joe-Dan and his wifer had money hidden away. Waverly boys knew it too, I reckon."

"So the brothers killed 'em both?" I said.

"I come from doin' chores after hearin' gun shots," he said. "The Waverlys had already mounted up and were leavin' with personal goods that I know belonged to Corrine. I seen the whole thing and it was real terrible about them two dead. Don't know if they took any money."

"After I confront the Waverly boys," I said, "I'll need a statement from you, exactly what you told me."

Willie Pardon nodded his assent.

"Mr. Flowers," I continued. "Go around the back side of the saloon. I'm givin' you orders to shoot if they high-tail it out the backend of that place."

Mr. Flowers followed my instructions, crossed the street through the thick mud and disappeared between two building separated by a thin walkway.

"Willie Pardon," I said. "You stay back a-ways 'cause I need you as my witness."

I trudged across the street through the same rutty mud as Mr. Flowers had traversed. Standing in front of the batten doors, my eyes focused toward the bar. There rowdy customers stood together, their language getting louder to outdo the piano player who had a chorus of sots joining in a jubilant singing serenade.

"Waverly!" I shouted. I pushed open the saloon door, stepping several feet inside.

The music suddenly stopped. Two men at the bar slowly turned, facing my direction.

"Who wants to know?" came from a lone voice.

"Name is Warren Brothers, U.S. Marshal from Cheyenne River."

"Yeah? So?" replied the same person.

"I'm here to arrest Royce, Dicky Tom and Oscar. You three the Waverly brothers."

"Got the wrong people, Mister," Royce said. "Arrested for what?"

"The murder of Joe-Dan Highgrass and his wife Corrine," I said in a louder tone. "Killed at their ranch."

"You're full o' shit, Marshal!' Dicky Tom said, laughing before swallowing another gulp of beer.

"You three comin' peaceful?" I asked "Or will this turn nasty?"

Everyone around the bar began to move away except for Royce and Dicky Tom.

"Where's Oscar?" I questioned.

"Outback takin' a shit," the bartender said.

"You want it nasty, Marshal?" Royce said. "There's two of us and Oscar'll be here quick."

Without hesitation, Royce drew his .45 Colt, lifted to shoot and suddenly felt the explosion of hot lead penetrate his gut, the sound given off from my .44. Another shot from my Colt struck a whiskey glass close to Royce. It shattered with bits of glass and droplets of rye flying behind the bar. Royce's knees buckled and he slowly fell to the floor. Blood oozed around a lifeless body.

Dicky Tom had moved a foot away from his brother and easily lifted his Colt from its leather, ready to point at me. I instantly saw what was going to take place, swung my arm in his direction and fired. A single shot bore into Dicky Tom's chest. His eyes stayed open as he staggered forward, then in one more step before me he collapsed to the muddy floor.

Upon hearing the noise from inside the saloon, Oscar quickly finished his outhouse calling. He slid his britches up and strapped on his holster with a Colt resting inside. The outhouse door swung open and he stepped out two feet from the privy.

Jacob Flowers was behind the saloon and heard all the commotion and gunfire. He knew who was in the outhouse and was armed with a Winchester.

Oscar took one more step, reaching for the saloon back door.

"Mister, I wouldn't go in there," Jacob warned. The Winchester was pointed at Oscar.

"Who are you?" Oscar said. "What do you want?"

"You killed my sister and brother-in-law. Remember?"

"That was my two brothers inside. Ask 'em about it."

"They're dead, you sons-a-bitch. Now it's just you and me."

"They done it, not me. I didn't want ta kill 'em."

"But you were there and you stole some of my sister's goods."

"It was nothin'. It didn't have any value."

"It was personal to her!"

"You still haven't proved nothin'."

"Go for your gun to see if you can outdo this Winchester."

Oscar slowly turned toward Jacob. In a flash, Oscar grabbed the butt of his Colt, had it halfway out of its leather. The sound of a Winchester exploded in front of him. The bullet tore into Oscar's upper chest, causing him to step backwards maybe a foot and fall into thick mud.

I was standing at the back door and was witness to the entire confrontation.

The three bodies were left with the town barber who also fronted as the undertaker. We thanked Willie Pardon for the information from him to legally close the case. Jacob Flowers and I saddled up, turned away from Little John and headed south toward Cheyenne River at an easy pace. It would be a long ride and Jacob would fill the time talking about what just happened. Soon I'd see him cry, mentioning the coming funeral services and burial for Corrine and Joe-Dan.

The End

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The Killer and the Doctor
by Charles Rector

In May 1887, Patrick Runde was feeling pretty full of himself. He had killed his father without anyone in law enforcement suspecting him. Now he was going to inherit the ranch that his father had built up and with it the wealth and social standing that came with it. His friend, the local political power boss, had always said that he'd make a great state senator since he'd always vote the party line. Now that his father, who abhorred politics and politicians, was out of the way, there was nothing or nobody standing in the way of his ambitions.

Runde sat contentedly at the table eating the porterhouse steak that the family cook had prepared for him. By the plate was the bottle of whiskey that he had selected for this private celebration. Life was good.

Just then Doctor Paul Walther stepped into the dining room. "I hope I'm not bothering you," the doctor said with his hat in hand along with his bag.

"Not at all," said Runde, "kind of surprised you're here though. I thought you had left for Phoenix."

"I was on my way, but I turned back. Got a lot of things on my mind that I want to talk to you about," said the doctor.

Runde replied, "Why don't you sit down and make yourself comfortable. I'll get the help to get you something to eat and drink."

After a servant came with a bottle of whiskey, Doctor Walther took a swig of it and remarked, "That was just what the proverbial doctor ordered. All that time in the hot desert."

Runde laughed, looked at the doctor and asked, "What's on your mind, Paul?"



"I've gotten to thinking about your father and how he met his untimely death. There are some things that point to you as a killer," the doctor said gravely.

Pat exclaimed, "Me a killer? You're crazy!"

The doctor replied, "Don't deny it. Given our past relationship, I really did not want to believe it. However, as I was riding to Tucson, I got to thinking about the strange fact that your father died so soon after your mother. While it's clear to me that your mother died of natural causes, I just cannot get over the fact that your father died so soon after her and so oddly."

"So are you accusing me or something?"

Doc Walther leaned forward in his chair and said, "We need to talk about this, now if you don't mind"

"All right" said Runde, "Let's talk about your suspicions."

Doc Walther placed his black bag in his lap and started talking, "Did you know that I have been a doctor right here in the Arizona Territory for 21 years? And before that, I served in the medical service in the U.S. Army for 20 years?"

Pat Runde responded, "Of course doc, its all you ever talk about it seems like."

The doctor narrowed his gaze at the new ranch owner and said, "You always were an insolent brat. Your parents sure spoiled you rotten and ruined you."

"Gee doc, you sure know how to praise a guy," Runde said sarcastically.

"You know, in all my years as what the injuns call a medicine man," the doctor went on, "I've handled all the problems that a frontier doctor can expect to handle as well as some completely unexpected situations."

"Are you trying to audition as a filibustering U.S. senator on my time?" Pat Runde was getting exasperated. "Please doc get on with your suspicions before I die of old age," the heir to the Runde ranch said.

"Your father died just a few days later in a strange way," Doc Walther said.

"You said his heart gave out."

"That seemed to make sense at first. You had said that he had been suffering chest pains. However, when I examined him, I found something in his throat that should not have been there. I got it out, but did not say anything about it because I wanted to believe you," the doctor said.

Runde started to feel agitated, "What did you find in his throat?"

"A feather."

"A feather?"

"A feather, you know the kind you find in a pillow. A feather that had no reason to be in your father's throat," replied the doctor.

"That's weird," replied Runde, "perhaps he got it in his throat while he was having convulsions in the bed."

"That's odd," replied Doctor Paul Walther, "you said that he died as peaceful as a lamb. That's your exact words."

"I might have been mistaken," Runde replied. "You are insulting my very honor insinuating that I could kill my beloved father like that."

"And there's something else. There's been talk that your father had been messing around with the widow Faherty. She's got kids and if your father married her, you could lose your entire inheritance. You obviously have a motive for murder." Doc Walther just sat there for a bit contemplating the scene. Finally, he said, "I'm going to bring this to the attention of Sheriff Mark Edgette and see what he intends to do about it."

Upon hearing this, Patrick Runde decided that he had to eliminate this threat to him and his ill-gotten wealth. He stood up and tried to pull out his gun to shoot the doctor. However, the doctor pulled his gun out of his leather bag and shot Runde first.

"Doc . . . you shot me," Runde said with his last gasp.

Doctor Paul Walther got up and looked down upon Patrick Runde in a disapproving way and said, "I suppose I'm wasting my time telling you this, but I'm not really who you thought I was. You thought that since I was a man of medicine, I was a man of peace and as such an easy make. Actually, before I became a doctor, I was in the U.S. Army for twenty years and that's where I got my medical training. All that time on the frontier fighting the injuns helped me learn the fine art of the quick draw in close combat. The simple fact is that you never had a chance against me."

The End

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