October, 2016

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Issue #85

All The Tales

Charlie Gauss Is Dead
by Dick Derham

Charlie Gauss was dead.

Why anyone should care was beyond the understanding of the three saddle-stiff brothers who swung down in front of the cantina in Rio Peidras, a wide spot in a narrow trail down in Chihuahua. They had fought with Charlie, robbed with him, downed a man's ration of whiskey with him, then robbed some more before their paths had separated. When word drifted north that some cowhand had stepped up behind Charlie in a Mex cantina, fed the vicious-mean SOB six beans, reloaded and fed him six more, they raised a glass to their old comrade, had themselves a rip-roaring good laugh, and forgot him.

Forgot him until they heard the number one thousand, a princely sum for a working man who thought a three-hundred-dollar haul from a stage stop was worth a month's vacation. No one ever figured Charlie was worth so much living, but someone put out a dodger promising good money for whoever took down Charlie's killer, the money to be picked up from a Denver lawyer known to men in the trade. "Wanted Dead or Alive," the poster declared, and the unspoken preference for the easy way suited the three riders fine.

The promise of such a good payday wasn't official, of course, nothing likely to be tacked up on a Post Office wall. It circulated only in a certain kind of establishment favored by enterprising men. They'd seen it in Jarvie's Saloon in Brown's Park, a settlement far from any nosy badge-toter where men could relax when they weren't on the job. The money was good and they'd done like work before, so here they were, the scene of the event, "crime" maybe some would call it, them as didn't know Charlie, ready to find the start of the trail.

The oldest of the three spoke with the natural authority the others had acceded to throughout their working lives. "We're just here to cut the trail dust, no word about our business. Not till we get a feel of the place."

The cantina was what you'd expect from a settlement so small it didn't appear on the map the Rurales had in their regimental headquarters. It was the kind of village where a man took his saddlebags with him whenever he stepped away from his horse.

A promising aroma of stale beer assaulted their nostrils as they pushed through the batwings. The hard-packed dirt floor hadn't felt a broom for weeks, but why brush dirt off dirt? The kerosene chandelier gave enough flickering light to allow card players at the central rounder, empty now, but left the dozen time-worn plank trestle tables around the edges of the room in welcoming shadows.

The two hard-bitten men against the left wall who eyed the brothers suspiciously matched the Texas saddles out front. Neither of the peons bellied to the bar for their tequila turned to watch, but their eyes probed the dusty mirror. Two of the brothers took possession of a table in the far corner, backs to the wall, where they could watch any newcomer. Not that they expected trouble here, but showing normal trail caution gave fair warning to everyone of the kind of men they were. Boyd carried the bottle of overpriced whiskey—whiskey not tequila to make the point they were unreconstructed Gringos—to join them.

After settling in for an hour, they flagged the bartender over. "Any eats in this place?" They agreed enchiladas and baked beans were dandy and turned back to their whiskey. Each took his turn in the crib, showing no interest in anything except the business of satisfying his needs as they let the locals get used to them.

The next morning over his beer, Boyd Runnels figured to talk up the morning-shift barkeep, Anglo-Texas from the sound of him, down here most likely on the dodge, and maybe liking to hear some friendly lingo. "Word in the States is you had some excitement a-ways back."

"Been good for business," the barkeep replied. "Men on their way south swing wide from the main trail to hear the story."

"I cell-mated with that bastard a while. Most folks I know would line up to buy drinks for him who done it."

The barkeep polished his glass idly. "Where do you do your time?"

"Brownsville," Boyd lied, playing the Texas connection, "five years when some fat-assed, big-hat rancher didn't like where I swung my loop."

The barkeep snorted. "Things ain't got no better since the Carpetbaggers were run out. You was lucky not to stretch."

"Surprised me one night when I was trailing three steers into the Eagle Pass butcher. Too many folks around to give me a cowman's rope, but that's when I reformed myself out of the cattle business."

By then, they were just two windys chewing the cud. "Name's Fred," the barkeep told him. "Me, I splashed my way across the Rio a spit and a holler ahead of a pack of them Ranger bloodhounds." Fred topped off Boyd's beer as a freebie. "Dumped me one who pushed too close. Now, I can't never go back."

"Good old Charlie had himself a fine going-out party, word is."

"Not much of a party, drinking tequila like regular. Didn't even know he was going til he was on the floor."

"Local cowhand, word is."

"Don't know where that word came from. Never seen him before. Never seen him since. Wearing a plainsman's flat hat, so I figure he come from the States."

Boyd drained his glass and gestured for a refill. "Didn't say nothing to Charlie? Just busted in and done it?"

The barkeep laughed. "Coolest kill I ever saw. Barged in, already drawn and cocked and started dropping his hammer while he was walking across the room, careful not to kill too quick." He passed Boyd a full glass. "While he was refilling his wheel, Gauss was still groaning and this kid taunted him with the name." He struggled to remember it. "Ralston, Rowlands, something like that, groined Charlie with his last loads, then strode out, leaving Charlie an hour or two to look at his bloody crotch and think about his sins."

"Hardly long enough for Charlie to get a fair start making a list," Boyd said. He took his new beer over to the table where Steve and Mickey were drinking their breakfast. The two putas left as he approached.

"The brassy gal told me Charlie complained that there was nothing but 'stinking Shoshone,' where he came from," Mickey reported. "Her and the other whore didn't shed no tears when they lost his trade."

"Plainsman's hat?" Steve said." Put that with Shoshone. Sounds like Wyoming."

* * *

Boyd Runnels hit pay dirt in the third saloon.

Rawlins, a muscular town of twenty-two hundred souls, still struggled to decide whether it was bringing knowledge and prosperity to the West as an outpost of civilization or whether it valued its commitment to the unconstrained vigor of sinew and bone that built—was still building—the new state of Wyoming.

The conflict in identities assailed Boyd's ears as he strode along Front Street. The rumble of farm wagons competed with cursing teamsters in the street, horsemen cursed back, all yielding to the urgent clatter of the Wyoming Lines stage making its noontime arrival from Medicine Bow, a cacophony jarring to the ears of a man who spent his life away from crowds, ears attuned to the danger present even in the sudden silence of a cricket, the flutter of a grouse, warnings that would be inaudible in the Rawlins metropolis.

He gave little interest to the random assortment of store fronts serving townsfolk: milliners, tailor shops promising made-to-measure shirts, household furnishing stores, white-linen restaurants; he paused briefly to window-shop at the gun store, craned his neck to stare in wonder at the town's architectural pride, the massive four-story Willis Building, stone-fronted, large panes of glass, giving evidence of the prosperity of the Farmer's and Merchant's Bank on the first floor, the upper floors serving as office space, and the solid structure leaving no doubt where it stood on the advance of civilization, not that a man in his line of work ever resented the arrival of new banks.

Over steak and eggs, Runnels had given his brothers their assignments. Steve had been dispatched to read through back issues of the Rawlins Gazette. Young Mickey, who didn't have the stamp on his face yet, would drift around town and sample the whiskey at the sweat-and-dirt cowhand saloons in case Charlie had been trawling for some hungry kid to side him on some action he planned. Himself, he was after Charlie's regular watering hole.

Rawlins had dozens of saloons, but it wasn't hard to narrow down the search. Charlie would never have been drinking with townsmen, nor with the thirty-and-found rannies from local ranches, not if he could avoid it. The kind of whiskey mills he settled into were made for men of sterner stuff. Runnels knew he had found the right place as soon as he shouldered through the batwings. Located down a narrow side street, with no frills, no special ornamentation to make hard-working men from the ranches think they had entered a world above themselves, the Last Stand Saloon was dominated by old wood tables, no pictures on the wall beyond the framed print from which the saloon took its name. a whiskey-stained oak, not mahogany, bar, but it did have a mirror polished bright so a man could read the room while he rested his belly. It was a hard place for hard men. Runnels felt comfortable at once. Charlie would have too.

"Double Anchor," he told the barkeep.

"A man who likes good whiskey," the apron replied. "New in town?"

"Drifting around. An old saddlemate said he was heading this way. Thought I might hook-up with him. Charlie Gauss."

"You a friend of Charlie?"

"Worked with him time to time. Don't know Charlie was ever much into having friends."

The bartender laughed. "Yeah, you know Charlie. Mean bastard, but he paid for his drinks." He refilled Boyd's glass as he reflected. "He watched his quarters real close at first, then seems he had plenty to spread around. He'd been seen a time or two on the Hill, up where the big houses are. Scuttlebutt was he had himself a woman. Never heard who."

"Charlie always works the angles. He still around?"

"Had him some trouble and headed south, a randy kid on his tail. Ain't seen either of them since."

* * *

In their hotel room that night, the brothers compared what they had learned. "Had money for drinks and cribbing, that's all the barkeep knew," Boyd reported.

Mickey had only a little more to report. "Sampled a half dozen saloons. Finally found me one where Charlie's name brought a sour face, so I knew I'd found him. Can't tell you much, but it's a low-class dive for cowhands who've tangled their dally ropes, the place a man goes when he's looking someone to partner up with. Charlie was making himself agreeable to any young, solitary hand who wandered in. Barkeep said the talk looked serious, but he didn't know about what."

"Recruiting," Steve speculated.

"Maybe we're going after it wrong, looking for his killer," Boyd mused. "Maybe it'd be easier to find someone who thinks doing the job is worth a thousand dollars."

"A woman," Steve said. "No man would give yesterday's chaw for the bastard." Boyd and Mickey saw no reason to disagree and Steve began his report.

"Counting back, I figured Charlie skedaddled about three months back, so I had the paper man pull out the last six months of his rag and I looked for any trace of Charlie."

"Find it?"

"Not for the last two months. Then I come across a story three months back. Didn't mention Charlie at all. Some dirt-scratcher named Donovan five miles out of town, the hired hand was killed, the woman did some entertaining before she went dark."

"Charlie Gauss, sure . . . that's his style."

"Woman's husband saw it the same way when he got back from Cheyenne. He strapped his old Civil War Army Dragoon around his waist, rode to town, and called Charlie out. I don't need to tell you what happened next."

"Poor ole Charlie. Probably broke him up what he had to do." When their laughter subsided, Steve continued.

"Sheriff called it self-defense, but took the killing of the woman more serious. Newspaper says he swore out a warrant but Charlie wasn't around no more."

"Anything else?"

"Story about the burial. The farmer had a kid who's been riding cow up in Johnson County, where some of the action's been. Guess he figured he knew why Colt makes shooting irons. When they plopped the dirt on his old man, he ranted that he'd get the killer. No one's seen him since."

"Barkeep down in Rio Peidras said Charlie was gunned by a kid. Guess we got us a who. Just not a where."

"I kept reading back further. Found another story. Bank robbery four months back, local banker name of James Willis was killed."

"A bank, a killing, and Charlie in town. Hard to think that's a coincidence."

"Story says two robbers, both masked, one looking middle-aged, one young, did their business, galloped down Front Street and by the time any of these townies thought to saddle up, the trail was cold."

"So, that it?"

"Pretty much. Big write-up about the banker's funeral. Preacher spouted the usual sky-pilot guff, messages read from both Senators back in Washington City, how his grieving daughter Penelope broke down at graveside, how the whole town mourned his loss, the usual bullcrap when some stuffed shirt takes it."

"A woman on the hill," Boyd remembered the barkeep's words. "Think maybe I need to pay a call on the grieving daughter."

* * *

Boyd Runnels felt intimidated even before he turned in at the brick walkway. The house, set back from a well-manicured lawn and framed by shrubbery someone had to empty the Denver Mint to water in summer time, was a massive structure by Runnels' experience, a portico sided by two-story columns, gables on the third floor. Him and his brothers and their folks could have spread out and lived in half the ground floor.

"Morning Miss Willis," he said to the woman whose black mourning arm band was a studied contrast with the silky lemon-soft blouse that cried out to a man's hands. "Man I used to ride with, he said he was going to traipse up to Rawlins. Thought I'd look him up. Folks thought you could tell me where I'd find good old Charlie."


"Charlie Gauss, big fellow. 'Bout, my size. Know him?"

She covered her surprise quick, Boyd thought, as she looked around to see if neighbors were watching her welcome a gun-hung plug-ugly like him into her home.

The furnishings of the house outdid the front. Plush carpeting, brocade wall paper, a grand piano, not a tinny barroom upright, a soft settee for two and overstuffed chairs that could cause a man's muscles to go soft, luxury he had only seen in the plushest of Denver brothels, but with a difference: not warring the senses; understated here, in a way that enhanced the effect. This was what it meant to have money. Charlie's eyes would have popped out of his skull.

Now they stood in the center of the room, the drawing room he thought folks with real houses called it. She let a dreamy gloss, not too forced, come over her eyes. "Charlie Gauss. Strong and gentle."

Boyd couldn't stifle a gasp. "Gentle . . . "

"Naturally, he had to make himself appear rough to brutal men that only understand coarse strength, but a woman sees through such things. The Charlie I got to know so well had a manly strength that a woman could sense was kind and gentle."

Boyd let her tell the story: they had met seemingly by accident. They had become close, "not that way, you understand, I'm a proper lady." She talked about his manliness, she told how he had plans to go into business in Rawlins, all he needed was a little capital. How she tried to help him, "such an asset to any community, don't you think?" But then came the lies, the slanders. "Of course Charlie could never be cruel." She told about the gunfight, "that horrid farmer who tried to murder Charlie right in middle of Front Street," the vicious threats the young Donovan had made at grave side, Charlie's generous decision to travel "to preserve the town's peace." But finally the sad news. "I'm sorry to tell you Charlie is dead." She reached out to steady herself on his arm as she sobbed gently. She let his other hand pat her comfortingly.

After a moment she seemed to recover. "Now all I have left is my memories. I've never met anyone who knew him and he talked so little. Tell me about his early days."

Boyd fidgeted. This had to be done carefully. Tell her enough, but not too much."Not sure how much to say. Maybe you figured, him and me didn't always ride straightest of trails. Couldn't fence him in, not back in the Texas days."

"Some men were born to live free."

"That's Charlie Gauss, for sure. They get the skunk who done it?"

She shook her head and sobbed, or tried to look like she was sobbing, "It was the Donovan boy. But it happened in Mexico. The sheriff says he has no evidence he can use."

"That's not right," Boyd growled, he hoped convincingly. "I rode with Charlie. I can't let it pass. I got to find the horned toad."

"He's a cowhand up near Kaycee," she said.

"Not for long."

"That sounds so much like Charlie," she said. Her hand slid gently along Boyd's arm. "Strong, decisive. Whenever he walked in, the room sizzled with energy. Much as it does now. A woman needs to feel the power."

No money was mentioned. Women could promise different ways of showing gratitude, ways that would leave no ties to the killing. When she moved in close, he welcomed what she was doing, letting himself enjoy what came next, her softness spreading itself against his chest, her hands moving in sensuous circles across his hard-muscled back, her lips questing to taste his power. Like any man, Boyd let her pleasure him, but Charlie thought so much of himself, he would have been fooled.

After longer than was decent, Boyd reluctantly released his embrace. "After I do right by Charlie, I'll be back," he promised her, not having to work to sound husky. Maybe there was more on offer, who could tell. "Then you and me can get to know each other real good."

"I want that, Boyd," she purred.

* * *

The chunky young cowhand had dropped off the freshly-rebranded heifer at the holding pen behind Charley Anderson's Hog Ranch, done his business, and swaggered out to the corral. He was swinging to the saddle when a friendly-looking kid he had never seen rode up. "Looking for work," Mickey Runnels said. "Know any ranches doing hiring?"

"We got a couple of empty bunks at C-Double-R. You could ride out with me and ask."

So Curt Donovan unsuspectingly rode toward his destiny. Half a mile away as they crested a rise, two horsemen waited. Even before Donovan could tense, Mickey's gun barrel was digging into his ribs. "My brothers got some business to talk over with you."

The riders turned south across the rolling range until they came to a dip where a small creek had washed deep enough to give their business the needed privacy.

"Swing down," Boyd ordered. "Don't have to fall so far that way."

Donovan cursed as he dismounted. "That bitch! She's paying you to stop my clock, ain't she? "


"The Willis whore! That sorry business was her from the beginning. She found this would-be hard-ass, near forty and getting long in the tooth—no offence," he said hastily to Boyd—"looking to make his life's killing. She twisted him around her finger like so much twine. Folks like her, living in the big houses, they think all they got to do is flicker their eyelashes and a man runs to do what they want."

"Charlie always had a taste for the finer things." Boyd said.

"She yarned him that a woman needed his strength, that they'd get married. Then it turned out her Pa lined her up to marry some big depositor, like he didn't already have enough money. But that could be handled easy enough. Gauss signed me up and we done what she wanted."

"You were the second robber?"

"We waltzed in just before closing, stuffed our saddlebags full of what was on offer in the vault, Gauss did his chore and we skedaddled to my folks' farm five miles out of town. We hunkered down there, divvied up the fifty-two hundred dollar take, and he lit out."

"Newspapers said you got away with over twenty thousand."

"I figure the cashier was in on the deal. Me, I didn't care. What a laugh! Paying off my Pa's mortgage with the banker's own money. Guess Gauss didn't care either. Him being sweet on that skirt, he figured it was all his one way or the other."

"So then?"

"So then I came back up here to my job, that polecat not telling me he planned to take a ride and shut some mouths."

"Charlie could be forgetful that way."

"When he lined me up, I let that bastard think I was just some dinky three-for-a-nickel plowman's kid. When he found I red-shirted my share up here, rustlers, nesters and two-bitters, cleaning out the vermin, he yellowed, aimed his nag's snout south and scampered. Told the Willis woman he'd come back and they could get hitched as soon as she sent word things had cooled off. When he wrote to let her know what stinking hole he was squirreled away in, she sent for me and told me how I could make good on my brag to score him."

"Quick trip down, even quicker job, way the barkeep tells it."

"When I come back she told me I'd stomped out evil in the world, making like she cared." Donovan cursed again. "Then word went around she and the cashier had the hots for each other all along."

Mickey had grown tired of the useless palaver and leveled his revolver. "Cut the chin music. Let's get it done. Them doves back at the hog ranch are waiting."

Steve raised a hand to restrain his impatient brother. "You hearing what I'm hearing, Boyd?"

"I'm hearing money."

"Likely the bankers group has a reward out on him," Steve speculated.

"And insurance companies pay a percentage of what you save them. Sounds like we got a good story to tell. Ten percent of fifteen thousand dollars will stand us for a long spree in San Fran." He turned to his younger brother. "You got some paper in your saddlebags, Mickey. Fetch it out. Our cowhand here's got some writing to do."

"Ain't going to do it," Donovan declared. "You greedy bastards'll cash my chips anyway. I ain't doing nothing to fatten your suck off my blood."

Boyd's light chuckle was almost disarming and he seemed faintly amused as he laid it out for Donovan.

"Let's reason this through together, friend," Boyd began. "We're just one simple trigger pull from earning us a thousand dollars. Maybe the extra money from the bankers would get paid if we cart you in face down, maybe not. Likely we'd take the gamble. But the insurance company needs your testimony in court if it's going to get its money back. You're writing the story out so you can't change your tune when you ain't under our guns. Your choice: you can write and ride to town, or you can fall down here."

* * *

As he walked up the brick path to the Willis mansion, Boyd Runnels felt none of the intimidation of his first visit. While he knuckled the front door, his brothers stood to one side out of her view as the door swung open. She wore the same inviting soft yellow blouse, top button already undone as though she had been expecting him.

The spurious hunger in her eyes faded fast when Steve and Mickey stepped up beside him. He'd just complicated her life. Like as not she had planned for that lawyer in Denver to get another untraceable commission.

"My brothers and me, we found him real easy, Penny." He handed over the dodger. "Now the job's done, don't see no reason to sweat the trail all the way to Denver for our money when you're right here."

If she thought about objecting, she quickly had second thoughts. The whole scheme had been designed to keep her name out of it. Spurning these three men would be a big mistake. She took them into the room her father had used as an office, opened the safe and counted out the stack of bills. The brothers saw themselves as honest outlaws; they let her replace the rest of the money and swing the safe shut. "With his killer finally dead, Charlie can rest in peace."

"Didn't say he was dead," Boyd told her as he stuffed the wad in his pocket. "Said we earned our pay. 'Dead or alive,' like the poster said. We knew you'd want us to do our work like good law-abiding citizens. Donovan's down telling the Sheriff some interesting stories."


"Ashamed to say, though, my brother here has become a disgrace to the family. Show her Steve."

Steve pulled back his vest to reveal the temporary-issue deputy's badge pinned to his shirt. He couldn't help grinning at the incongruity of him speaking the words. "Penelope Willis, you're under arrest as accessory to robbery, insurance fraud, and murder."

The End

Dick Derham, a native of Seattle, has been reading Western history and fiction since his teenage years. He seeks to combine historical accuracy with an understanding of how real people dealt with the experiences of frontier life. His first work in Frontier Tales, "The Pride of the Apache," which builds on the tension between Geronimo and the hostility of Arizonans to the Apache, with the US Army caught in the middle, appeared in the April 2015 issue of Frontier Tales. His five stories relating the adventures of Wells Fargo agent Dave Mitchell show different aspects of the challenge of law enforcement in the frontier and appeared in the July through November 2015 issues of Frontier Tales.

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That a Fact
by Larry Flewin

The rider was lean and hard, tanned the color of old oak by a life in the saddle. He had the quiet confidence of a man used to riding the beef and getting the herd through on time. The dun colored sorrel he rode in on was just as lean and muscled, the reins plaited by a practiced hand, Mexican style. Well worn bandoliers crisscrossed his chest while a gun belt showed the handles of a pair of Colt Dragoons. There was Sharps carbine snug in the saddle scabbard.

He rode in from the west, reaching the outskirts of town along towards noon. It had been a hot and dusty ride and he was looking forward to talking to someone other than himself. Riding herd was a lonely business, profitable to be sure, but there was no one to talk to other than a thousand head of Texas longhorns and some Mexicali wranglers.

He reined in to slap some of the dust off and take a good first sniff of big city air. That, plus the prospect of some hot food, and maybe even a bath, brought a thin smile to his trail-chapped lips. Yeah, that was Tombstone alright. Man didn't need to be too particular about his looks or his manners, better he look to the condition of his sidearms, and that they sat loose enough in their holsters. Last ride into town a couple years back had been a blur of riding, drinking, and shooting.

That done, he chirruped and the sorrel trotted towards town, eager for a good feed and a rub down. They rode past a newer wooden sign that had passel of writing on it. Right then a stranger stepped out into the street in front of him and held up his left hand like he was about to swear an oath at the courthouse. "Hold up there mister, where do think you're going?"

"Who's the hell's askin'?"

"That would be me," said the stranger. He had all the confidence of a man who was in the right to be asking. The rider took note of that and reined in before answering.

"Goin' into town to git me a beer and somethin' t'eat other than beans and beef. That against the law?"

"Might be. Seems to me you're packing a lot of iron there, friend, you expecting trouble?"

"Not unless somebody gets in my way. Don't allow for nobody to tell me what's what, 'cludin you."

The stranger stood his ground, left hand hanging down by his side, right hand shading the brim of his hat. "Yeah, that's what I kinda figured. Don't recall seeing you around here before mister, you new to these parts?"

"Been a while. What's it to you?" His right hand moved to rest lightly on the carved bone handle of the Dragoon on his hip.

"Well, I'm kinda new here myself, mister, I've taken to wearing the star in this town. I'm the law hereabouts."

"That a fact." The fingers of the rider's right hand slowly stretched out over the holster, palm resting lightly on the butt of the gun inside.

"That's a fact, says so right here." The stranger folded back the lapels of his frock coat to show off his own matched Colt forty-fives. The metal pinned to the left side of his vest glinted brightly in the midday sun, it read Deputy U.S. Marshal, and he looked every inch the part, dressed from head to toe in black, large mustachios curving cross his jaws, dark flinty eyes staring out from under a black wide brimmed hat. As cold and as forbidding looking as any lawman might want to be.

"Things have changed since you were last through these parts, mister. You might want to reconsider that," said the Deputy Marshal, nodding at the gun belt. "In fact you kind of have to, we don't allow guns inside the town limits anymore. It's the law and I'm bound to uphold that law. This here's a peaceable town and we want to keep it that way."

"That a fact?" The rider's brow furrowed, this was a new on him, towns without guns. How was man supposed to defend himself, or his honor, if he couldn't shoot what was troubling him?

"Yessir it is, city council passed the ordinance some time ago."

"You're still packin'."

"So I am, but I got the right, you don't"

"Says you. Been packin' iron all my life, don't need no tin star saying I cain't no more. You don't got the right."

"That may be, out there on the trail, but in town here it's my say so, and I say you can't. Now, the way I see it, we got two ways . . . "

At this point they were joined by an older, grey-haired man stuffed into badly scuffed brown boots, oversized grey flannel pants and a red plaid shirt. He shuffled his way up to the Marshal's side, a double-barreled scattergun crooked in his left arm. He had a bent and battered tin star pinned to worn black suspenders. This was Rufus, former town drunk, now a town Sheriff.

"Sorry I'm late Marshal, plumb forgot where I put the shells for this darn thing. He causing you any trouble?"

"Not yet he isn't. I'm just telling him what's what." The Deputy Marshal never took his eyes off the stranger, his polished black boots planted firmly in the ground. He'd stared down many a rider in his day, his steely nerves having disarmed more than one cowpoke with a grudge and a gun. "Like that sign back there says, this is as far as you go with those irons." The Deputy Marshal's hands moved closer to his own.

"That don't mean nothin', cain't read a lick," groused the rider. "Like I said, got everything I need right here," patting the well-worn handle of his Dragoon.

There were two loud metallic clicks and the scattergun came to life, aimed at the rider's chest.

"Like I said, this here's a law abiding town, mister. Got us street lights, faro tables, and a law that says you can't wear a gun nor shoot a man just because you want to. Hell, we even got cold beer."

"Cold Beer? That a fact?"

"Hell, yeah. The barkeep down to the Grand Hotel just got load of ice last week. Man can't hardly hold his glass it gets so froze up."

"Cold beer, eh? Ain't had one of them in a while."

"See you're packing a Sharps, haven't seen one of those in a while myself. Most cowpokes these days carry a Winchester. Mind my asking where you got it?"

The rider paused for a moment before answering, as though the memory of it was more painful than he was willing to admit. It had been a while since anyone had asked about his old friend.

"Yeah, I mind." He paused for a moment. "Got 'er off of one of Pickett's boys down to Gettysburg. Had me a Springfield but I couldn't get no shells fer it."

The Deputy Marshal smiled. "Yeah, thought that coat was a little grey. Way I hear it, you Rebs had a pretty rough time down that way. Some big battle or other?"

"Yessir, we did at that, scared them bluecoats half to death." He chuckled quietly to himself. "Sure as hell was crazy what we done, but we got at 'em right quick and darn near broke 'em. Thought the war just might be over for a minute, but they done chased us off." He paused, the tanned creases of his face turning into puzzled look. "How'd you know about that?"

"Man in town over to the train station, ticket agent, he talks about it all the time. He was there too, Yankee, though. Said it was the darndest thing he'd ever seen. Scared the pants off him."

"Yessir, it was that. Lost a lot of good men that day."

"I don't doubt it." The Deputy paused. "Tell ya what, mister. You hand over them irons to 'ol Rufus here and I'll stand you a couple of cold beers over to the Grand Hotel. Might be I'll stop by later and you can tell me all about it. Sounds like it was a helluva thing."

"Over to the Hotel, ya say?"

"Yup. Gotta pass by the Train Station to get to it. Just up ahead a little and off to your right."

The Dragoons, a LeMat revolver, a Bowie Knife and the Sharps made a deadly pile on the ground in front of Rufus. The Marshal touched the brim of his hat in salute to the rebel who did the same in return, and then rode on in.

"Marshal, Marshal!" That was Jimmy, Miss Julia's boy. She ran the boarding house down near the jail. He ran up and stood right in front of the Deputy Marshal, hopping up and down like he had ants in his pants.

"Whoa up there, cowboy. What's all the fuss?"

"Marshal, Marshal, you gotta come right away. Virgil's looking fer ya!"

"My brother Virgil? What does he want?"

"Yessir, he says to get along back into town quick as you can. The Clanton's are in town down to the corral. The OK. They're asking fer ya."

"That a fact?"

The End

Larry Flewin lives and writes in Winnipeg, Canada. His passion for writing covers the gamut from corporate newsletters and manuals to children's books, e-zine mystery fiction, and western short fiction. He has several online publishing credits including winning a song writing contest. Larry is passionate about his craft, and is never far from a pen; plots are where you find them. He is active in his community, a member of the Manitoba Writers Guild, and is currently completing his second novel.

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Home is the Sailor from the Sea
by Tom Sheehan

At the Rialto Saloon in Point of Interest, Nevada, after what was undoubtedly a difficult ride for most horsemen, Burl Edwards, a Navy veteran, had ridden from San Francisco just to lean on this bar before he headed home. Here he had had his last drink with his father, Sullivan Edwards, some eight or nine years earlier, in 1874, an unsettled adventurous spirit taking him off to sea. Now he was but ten miles from home after a trip nobody else in the room or in all of Nevada might have accomplished. It was not just the rough 500 miles from Mares Island Naval Base to Point of Interest, Nevada . . . with some other interests en route. This sailor'd been farther and deeper into dangers, made tougher decisions that others' lives depended on, seen more of the top of the world than all the Rialto customers put together, and survived where none of them likely would have come out alive. Rough and ready was he, a sense of timing built into his make-up, and an innate ability to see what made some men tick in their roles in life.

There were times that sense proved some men were lacking where others were heroic. Life in many places is accompanied by chance, and what else you might find around it. The young but experienced Edwards might have said, anytime he was back in America proper, "I've been there and seen most all of it," or what might sound like that.

Perhaps it was an element of temperament and taste, or the devouring curiosity that comes with adventure, or a hunger for other and newer space, but Burl Edwards, armed with these attributes, was one tough dude, though he was not a dude; not in the least, and not because of the clothes he wore, or the manner he dressed in them. Something about him said, along with his actions, a full statement about himself: "I can make myself at home anyplace I drop the reins or serve my thirst. On my hip I carry a Navy Colt .44 revolver a dying shipmate gave me with his last breath, his very last breath, just an hour before I slipped his body off a huge icepack into Alaskan waters with a commensurate salute."

Three of the Rialto's working women had immediately and with some admiration looked upon Burl Edwards as a stranger, and a new breeder type; he was a picture for them, clean-shaven, showing blond curls on his neck and at his collar, blue eyes that could open conversations from either side of a meeting of the sexes, long and rugged fingers showing a bit of foreign-earned music in their simple application of holding a glass, just the way some women might envision such a grace. The handsomeness of the man was very apparent to them, enough to make them stare dreamily at him, life being unsettled enough as it was in the daily grind.

Burl Edwards, for sure, had raised all eyebrows at his entrance to the Rialto with the odd mixture of clothes on his rugged frame, salvaged from his navy career, over for good now that he was home, though his garb had not called for "all" the attention. He wore a Russian fur hat, an Eskimo sealskin vest and a pair of spurred boots bought from the widow of a man killed in a gunfight, and carried a rifle that had not been used for a thousand miles plus and for which he paid $10 in a used gun shop. The boots had been the best deal of all.

He was comfortable with his clothes and gear though he was fully aware of the odd looks he was receiving. Such looks or passive curiosity, as it proved, did nothing for him, coming or going, and the whiskey at hand settled an old argument within him: anything out of the ordinary is unusual with some people his shipmates had dubbed "half-souls."

The bartender said, as he poured another drink, "You sure enjoyed that drink, Mister, so the next one's on me. You passing through Point of Interest? I think a good drink is worth a little light conversation when all these other dudes are hard at messing up their day." He released a short harumph of a laugh. "My name's Max Gilbert and I own the place."

"Then you've been here no more than eight or so years," Edwards said, much to Gilbert's delight.

"You've been here before and you hit the time right almost on the minute hand. I'm coming up on five minutes to eight years owning the whole thing." His smile was still in place as he spread his arms after looking at his pocket watch.

"You bought it from Silky Smithers. Is that right?"

Edwards had the drink to his lips when Gilbert shook off the question by saying, "In a manner of speaking. I won it in a card game, a game that Silky should not have been in." No explanation followed, and Gilbert walked away as though a mystery should remain a mystery.

Edwards, at that point, was a mystery to the bartender and to all the patrons in the saloon; he didn't recognize a single one of them though looks came furtive, sidelong, looking for some kind of information that might feed the general curiosity abounding in the room as though he was supposed to alleviate all their questions.

He could have done that so easily. About eight years earlier he had wandered away from town and eventually ended up on the Jeannette, a bark-rigged wooden steamship he knew had been built in England in 1861. It was commissioned as the British gun vessel Pandora and was sold in 1875 for an Arctic voyage. A New York newspaper owner, James Bennett, eventually purchased the boat in 1878 and renamed her Jeannette. She was sailed from Europe under control of the U. S. Navy's Lieutenant George Delong who had planned with Bennett to use the ship to try to get to the North Pole. Under an agreement, the Navy provided officers and crew for the North Pole expedition, Bennett paying for all other expenses. The Jeanette was refitted at the Mare Island Navy Yard in San Francisco Bay with new boilers and other equipment, and the hull was heavily reinforced to withstand and navigate among Arctic icepacks, which constantly endangered ships in northern waters.

In July, 1879 the Jeannette, under DeLong's command and according to her log book, sailed with four other Navy officers, twenty-three enlisted men, one being Burl Edwards, and three civilians. Visiting Alaska, she stopped at Unalaska and Saint Michael, where two Inuit dog drivers with their dogs and sleds joined the boat's complement. The Jeannette then called on an eastern Siberian port to refuel, went through the Bering Strait and headed for Wrangell Island in Alaskan waters. The ship was frozen in the icepack on September 6, 1879 but was carried the next twenty-two months by drifting ice for several hundred miles in a northwestward direction, until June 12, 1881. That day her hull was smashed open by the crush of ice and she sank the next day after all boats, equipment and provisions were off-loaded for a long journey on foot across ice to reach open water north of Siberia.

Eventually, as Edwards would tell some of his new friends in Nevada, only thirteen of the crew survived the sea in an open boat, perhaps 11 of them died on the tundra after they landed, and supposedly only two men returned to civilization. But Edwards, separated from others, found survival with an Eskimo group. His stories were long and emotional and filled with admiration for Eskimos.

Burl Edwards came home in the year 1883, a year that had come around the corner in a hurry. This seemed so to his father who had rushed into town at the prompting of a neighbor, yelling out his good day and, "Sully, I saw a stranger ride into town earlier dressed like he's been livin' with Eskimos and he's the spittin' image of your son, Burl, I ain't seen all the years since Martha left me."

Sullivan Edwards slid out of the saddle at the Rialto rail, rushed inside and hugged his son in a long and hardy grip.

Reunion soon reigned in the Rialto. "The bar's open," yelled Burl's father, the crowd rushing to get its share and the small talk starting in one corner; "By God he don't look like no cowboy I ever seen," said one cowpoke at a table, by name of Spurs Spurrier, "not with them duds, a hat like he's been born a foreigner and been pokin' fun at the hats we wear, a vest like he's an Eskimo and a funny look on his face like he don't believe anythin' he sees, that's meanin' us, me and you, Sparky, spendin' more time here than anybody in town, us reg'lars. If he's to look funny at either of us, he gets what's comin' to him, father or no father that's a rancher."

Sparky Tottingham, by all who knew him from older events, was ignitable, on the spot ignitable, as one townie was generally credited with saying numerous times, "That Sparky can git lit quicker 'n a sparkler, and he ain't got no proper name but his nickname."

Spurrier patted the side arm in his holster and his pal Tottingham slapped the table top with a loud bang. If Edwards had been at that table, heard that conversation, he'd have known they were "half-souls." As it was, he didn't have to budge very far before it came up in a louder conversation, which the senior Edwards tried to still with an additional round of drinks. The drinks were finished off in a hurry but the idle and irritating chatter continued with Spurrier and Tottingham until the elder Edwards stomped back to their table, slammed his fist on the top of it and said, "If I was a pup I'd smash you down with my bare fists."

The wise but unfortunate retort from Spurrier was, "Well, I see you got a pup over there with you. What's he up to in them duds he's awearin'?"

He received his reply from the seaman's rifle stuck in his mouth by Burl Edwards coming to his father's aid. "Taste the iron before you taste the lead, old half-soul, before you're all kinds of alloy and sorely mixed up in this life. If you apologize to this elderly gent who's been buying you drinks and who's my father I haven't seen in a long haul, I'll let it go, but if you're not so agreeable, we sure can find agreement other ways." He was standing over the table looking like a select man posing for the sculpting of a testimonial statue. Impressive he was, impressive and measurable to the whole saloon crowd.

Slowly withdrawing the wet tip of the rifle barrel from Spurrier's big mouth, casually, not in the slightest rush, he rubbed the rifle tip through the crook of his left elbow as if getting rid of germs, turned his back on the pair at the table and rejoined his father at the bar. All that crawling time of wiping the rifle tip clean, it was pointed directly at Spurrier, informing Spurrier and everybody else in the saloon that he would entertain no surprises. Not in the least. And never once did he seemingly acknowledge the other man, the one called Sparky.

Alternate periods of silence and buzz made awkward ways through the patrons of the Rialto, some of the buzz being recognition of the sailor/cowboy come home from his earlier years as plain cowboy. One old timer, sipping an hour on his beer of the day, declaring, "That boy had an adventure workin' on him since he could walk. I 'member his pa findin' him down at the riverbank one time like he was gonna float off 'n' visit anybody he could find. Scared old Edwards half way to Hell, kid was gone for hours. He musta knowed what was comin' along with that boy. Some of 'em come that way. My Paulie went off to Pilgrim Hill once just to deliver a package for Alden Smithwyck and ain't seen him since 'n' I can't do no more searchin' but worryin' takes all the time anyway."

Two drinks were waiting on the bar for the pair of Edwards, Gilbert the bartender smiling and nodding his head with more of his own thanks, and managed, in a later aside, to offer a bit of advice to young Edwards; "That noisy fella, Spurs, is a bad one. You got him cowed now, sure as shootin', but the one you gotta watch is that quiet one, Sparky. He ain't to be trusted no way in Hell. He ain't said much of anythin', but talkin' ain't his way." His eyes finished off the incomplete statement with a sour-faced and positive declaration and an imaginative smoky finger as he attended another customer.

When the Edwards duo left an hour later, headed for home like it was always going to be there come Hell, high water or Alaska, darkness was setting its way off the peaks, along the river bank, out past the end of town where the trail twisted with the river before the trail rose to the east and pointed the way to the Two Caliber spread. The ride was comfortable, uneventful even in the darkest areas where a struggling moon had begun its own ride. Sullivan Edwards watched his son study the rising of the moon and the position of the stars as though he was reading a chart. He said, "You know your way around up there, Burl? I haven't ever made any sense of them but that they hang around forever in their own way."

"Well, that's part of it all, Pa. You can count on them if you can see them. If there's no clouds you can find your way east, west, north or south and most of the in-betweens. At sea you have to know what they'll give you. It's not like a trail the Indians cut out a hundred years ago or the cows bring up with their push for water. If there's too many clouds to see the stars, I can make do here, with knowledge of the peaks, how the rivers run up or down, or a hundred other signs. At sea, it's like the boys say, 'a whole other world.'"

The father, looking back over his shoulder, said, "Think those two boys from the saloon will try to square things away with us, try to get even with that rifle poke. He never saw that comin' at him in the blink of a cow's eye?"

Burl Edwards could have pounced on the "us" his father had announced, which meant he was still the top dog, the sharer in all things to do with the family. He turned sideways in his saddle and qualified his own thoughts on the matter, "One of them isn't ever going to do anything, Pa, but follow the other gent's lead. He's the one I'll look for, but first I got to see Mom and give her a present I bought in Alaska."

* * *

He looked up at the moon still working its way over a peak, saw the Big Dipper tell its silent story, and heard a shipmate, part-time astronomer and full-time story teller, explaining the role that Orion played in the heavens while it was nailed against the deep blue of the night sky and the almighty universe itself going every which way on its own. That part-time astronomer had said of Orion, "That bunch of stars has more secrets tied to it than any other bunch of stars up there in the Milky Way, the universe, and all the other worlds put together. I heard that from one of the old Indian folks who said it came down the line to him all the way from the beginning. Said his folks knew more about the stars than anybody and learnt a lot of it from drawings on cave walls and deep cuttings."

Myra Edwards was a bounteous, round-in-the-face happy woman, but never happier than when she heard the unmistakable voice of her son from outside, from the tie rail in front of the house, and her husband's generous and hearty laughter also in joyous accompaniment. She couldn't remember how long Burl had been gone. Suddenly, as she stood transfixed in her kitchen, alone, a whirlwind happening within her body, being "taken over again," she saw him at age ten when she first noticed what she'd call from then on, "the long look in his eye."

That feeling came back to her in a rush, the awareness that her little boy wouldn't be little for long and there would come a kind of separation. Acutely, as if it had happened only moments ago, that feeling had returned and she felt like Owl Who Speaks Thunder, the shaman of a local tribe, exhorting her to be aware of all tendencies, all motion, all things that mattered to her. The first time he had said to her, in a swap of goods, "Winter comes twice, ice melts twice, fire logs run away in the smoke." It had drawn her imagination and she had had her husband gather and stack twice the amount of wood he had planned on. It was all used up by the fiercest winter the family and the ranch had ever encountered.

So aware, so agonized, yet so happy, she swept her boy into her arms, amply hugging and kissing him, the full grown man he had become, at one and the same time, her kitchen immediately turned upside down, her excitement obvious.

Burl, caught up in his own excitement, handed her the carefully wrapped present that he had carried many miles, though neither of them would ever know how far. It was wrapped in a cured leather skin that had earned a shine from handling and tied with leather thongs with Navy knots practically needing a code to untie.

After she hugged him for an eternity, she held the package in her hands. There seemed no tendency to open the present right away, but she added a quick and logical dictate to that appearance: "You've filled out, Burl, grown fully, and you've been gone a long time. Obviously you have learned something in the time you've been gone. I'll just think about what the present is for a few days, maybe until next week, next month, wondering, after all this time, what you brought home for me, what made you choose it, what you were thinking. Is that okay with you?" She hugged him again and ushered him directly to a seat at the table in the kitchen; mother's work was at hand

She smiled widely, clapped her hands, tousled the hair of both men in her life and said, "I suppose you men will want a drink or two to celebrate. I'll go right along with that." Three glasses came right onto the table and she poured the drinks, the aroma coming to her quickly as well as views of other years in quick succession.

They had a grand homecoming.

In the morning, Burl heard early kitchen work being done in a quiet manner, but pots and tins were not usually quiet in his mother's hands. Burl swung the blanket around him and went to the kitchen just as the sun was barely coming upon the house. His father came barefoot from the bedroom, pulling up his pants. His eyes were forcing themselves open.

"Don't go outside, either one of you," she said, a threat in her voice. "I've been cooking since four this morning, never heard anything, but we've had company. Don't go out until you've had breakfast. You won't like what you see."

When her husband rushed for the door, she looked at Burl, shook her head, and added, "The first thing he'll do is come and get his rifle."

Her husband came in cursing loudly, and grabbed his rifle from over the fireplace and grumbled about where he had left his boots the night before. "Those sons of bitches, he said. "One of our best cows is out there, cracked on the skull and dragged right into our yard here on two ropes still tied around her neck. Both our hired hands are over in the north canyon bedded down with the herd, so they wouldn't have heard anything during the night."

With boots on he went back outside followed by his son, also carrying a rifle, the one last in someone's mouth.

Sullivan Edwards walked around the cow, bloodied, two legs broken, bones showing through the breaks. With his belt knife he cut lose the two ropes and tossed them aside.

Burl, now in his pants and boots and a hanging shirt, gun belt in place, rifle in one hand, picked up the two ropes. His father didn't notice, but his mother saw Burl studying the knots in the ropes, how the loops went, where the sure knuckles came in the knots, what else he might glean from their knotted composition. She kept such thoughts to herself; it was her way not to embarrass her husband with finds or secrets he had missed in his observations . . . it had always made for the healthiest of marriages.

But she managed to say, "Nice homecoming for you, son. Did you gents step on some toes in town last night?"

Sullivan almost exploded. "That son of a bitch last night, the big mouth, I ought to go in there now and kick his ass all over town." He was spinning around in his anger like a top spins, in place, and then a slight wobble took hold of him.

Burl said, in a measured and sure tone that perked his mother's interest and intelligence in a hurry, "It isn't the mouthy one, Pa. It's the other gent. Spurs is not the fellow who set this. It was the other fellow, the one they call Sparks, not the one who doesn't like iron in his mouth. But we'll surprise him by going the way he won't expect us. Right through his buddy, Spurs, the talk of the galley."

Sullivan Edwards shook his head in wondrous doubt, while Myra Edwards, secretive on some things, quite open on other family matters, smiled at the years that had topped her son's thinking, whatever it was, whatever it intended. Her small wonder of a boy was now a grown up wonder, and a stalwart hero and survivor of a harsh naval experience and, with his return, a future rancher of means. She laughed inwardly at that as she thought, "Ah, the east and west meet, the cowboy and the sailor do mate up."

She knew she might as well put all her change on the table and count it out, so she said, without a trace of coyness in her tone, "When are you gents going back into town to square this away?" She looked out the window at the trussed up and dead cow, read the serious invisible signs employed by the perpetrator and knew quick action would be the best method of revenge for whatever comes out of it, for it would be revenge. The innocence of the cow in the incident might have made another woman cry seeing the protrusion of sharp, broken bones, one eye busted free, two legs broken, and the awful sense of revenge, anger and hate welling up in her usual "too-busy-am-I for that kind of Tomfoolery."

"Not me," issued from under her breath, for the trail to this very location had been a long one from Missouri, her first born buried en route in a lost and lonely place along the way, never to be visited again, she knew without doubt, because it would never be found again. Her morning prayers for him, already said, were said again, making repetition feasible, amenable. But she had kept serious thoughts on the job, kept them working, worked them into knitted or crocheted patterns spread about the house, in each room, as visible as she was: Happiness is not where you are, but what you allow around you. . . . Relationships come with clasp and the last fingernail and are not accidents of shallow touch. . . . Time doesn't have a whistle or a gong. . . . Mountains move and so does Time, but the speeds are different.

She looked sneakily, sideways, at her son Burl, gone for so long, back in the bosom of the family to be enjoyed, and to make amends when required; It was what older sons were born for. And out here, beyond Missouri, beyond the great river, beyond the lost graves, those needs were inevitable the way the west moved in continuous motion.

A few hours after breakfast, and after the dead cow was tended to, the two Edwards men tied up at the far end of the Rialto rail, at Burl's insistence. Overhead the sun was a brilliant flame of orange as it soared between clouds, as it poured sunshine onto the whole of Point of Interest through the same breaks in the clouds.

The pair walked casually past the horses gathered there, and the younger Edwards studied each horse as he passed by them, stopping twice to check out two horses, both grays, all the while his father kept shaking his head. Burl had not said a whole lot on the way into town, except to say, "The man who dragged our cow left a marker on his work."

The Rialto, of course, came to full attention when the Edwards tandem walked in and went straight to the bar where Gilbert at the bar asked, "Beer or whiskey, gents?"

Openly, he spotted the change in clothing that the returned sailor was wearing, those making him look like a working cowboy; the Stetson, old as Box Mountain perhaps, sat square on his head, the shirt had a worn but clean color, the denim pants slim by choice and discolored by wear wrapped under a gun belt primed with a Navy Colt .44, which, to the bartender and a few older men in the room, looked as mean and as tough as the man at the drinking dais who was obviously delivering a message to someone in the room, of whom Gilbert would make no mistake selecting.

"Bit of both," Burl Edwards said, his voice in immediate ascension, marked for close listening, the far corners of the room coming to rapt attention, poker hands being dealt coming to a halt, creaking chairs leaning their weights in silence. "We come to fetch a yellow-belly cow killer. Dragged a cow almost to our doorstep, two legs broken, one eye lost, and dead as a marlin spike. Now you tell me, Mr. Saloon owner, what kind of a patron would someone like that be, yellow all the way through his guts, or just yellow on the back of his neck or down that thin little yellow stripe that crawls down his back and hides from everybody's eyes in his all-year-rounders? You know, those duds he ain't washed once since a year ago Tuesday next and I can smell him from up here even with a strong whiskey in my nose."

Not once had he looked at the table where Spurrier and Tottingham sat, not once in any portion of the special delivery message to the Rialto-at-large.

He swallowed the shot of whiskey, picked up his beer, held it aloft, and said, in a firmer and louder voice, "Here's to the yellow belly wherever he's hiding at this moment, and to his best pal, who's not as yellow as him because he did not dare to do what his yellow-belly pard did to a damned harmless cow that ain't got no way to hit back even to anybody wearing that much yellow-to-the-bone way under his dirty old year-rounders he'll wear until they go to tatters on some prairie yardarm."

Burl the sailor, as if he were on the waves again, or the immense icepack that carried him and his shipmates months on end and hundreds of miles, faced the throng of patrons as he had faced polar bears, wolves, and the madness of a crazy, rifle-wielding, partly-clawed prospector he'd met in an Alaskan gold field. He figured then he was halfway home to Point of Interest, Nevada and another threat in front of him against that journey's completion. Each of those appointments had been met with courage, ingenuity and utter confidence. He'd been a crew watchdog; now he was the family watchdog. At the back of his head was the phrase his mother had crocheted in a frame beside the mirror in the hall; Who sings to my family sings to me, and I hear all the curses too.

For the hundredth or so time, he realized how far her words travelled to get to him. One place was near the top of the world; another was at the Rialto Saloon in Point of Interest, Nevada. There was nothing like home teaching, he had boasted to his shipmates and had told them countless times about his mother's methods, and one other saying stitched on the wall and in his mind forever: The least expected is always the last on the horizon, so don't wait on Santa Claus.

Spurrier made the first attention-grabbing move, tapping Tottingham on the shoulder, accompanying it with the age-old gesture of ignorance, the hunch of his shoulders and a hands-up and silent gesture that said, "Are you goin' to take that from him, Sparky? From that stupid sailor?" and then looking around for support for his questions, as though he had some part in arousing his pal from the dumb silence at their table.

Tottingham ignored him completely, keeping his eyes on Burl Edwards the way a lion tamer has to tend his fanged subject . . . or face the consequences, the awful consequences. The old man of the Edwards was not so noticeable, not so formidable, or so he thought as he started to find new things, prominent new things, about the younger of the clan, the way he had directed a clear and clean challenge right at his feet, where he sat at the table, where he now felt the chip on his shoulder was heavier than ever before.

Tottingham might have said to himself, "I'd better not mess with this gent, no matter what he looks like, even though he doesn't look as different today as he did yesterday: there's a power emanating from the sailor boy I'd not ordinarily contend with."

On the other end of things, Spurs Spurrier and his stupid talk bothered him, and had already pointed him out to every person in The Rialto as the man who sure looked like he had been the one who killed a helpless cow and dragged it into the Edwards' yard and who sat here challenged, so he might as well stand up and face the music.

Noisy Spurrier, it appeared, wasn't about to let it go. Wasn't his pard the toughest thing ever to sit a saddle, flop a pistol out of a holster, hit what he was shooting at . . . and every time? No matter what the target was, how big it was, how small it was, how fast or slow it moved? Wasn't he?

"Whadya say about this make-believe cowboy wearin' an old gun, Sparks? He don't look as tough as some gents you've took care of, does he, Sparks? Does he?" He was getting animated while egging his saddle pard into a sure-fire easy fight. "He looks light enough for me to take." His smile was wide and cocky, but in the same breath of words he was wearing thin on a lot of folks . . . that included Gilbert the bartender and owner of The Rialto, the many patrons in The Rialto, the two Edwards men standing at the bar, and most of all, his own pard sitting right at the same table.

The Rialto crowd, from the tension at the table, knew something was afoot in their midst.

"Okay," said Sparks Tottingham, throwing both hands into the air. "Okay, you want him, Spurs, you got him. Go get him." He held one hand out as if he was an usher at the church showing the way to a nervous groom-to-be. Bustle, ado and snickering snuck around the room swift as a quick draw calls attention to its motion.

Fear crossed Spurs' face as if an inner torch had lit it up. "I didn't mean it all like that, Sparks. Not like that. Hell, I didn't drag that cow in there. I can't tie them knots like you can, those ones you learned on the Mississippi like you said. No sir, I ain't no fair mix for him like you are."

Gilbert, ashamed himself, almost said it, but Sparks Tottingham, suddenly aging, feeling the power of self-measurement, grabbing at full manhood, said it first, "Why the hell don't you get on your damn horse, Spurs, and get out of town, all the way out, before I ever catch sight of you again. Now git." His voice had risen, and so had Spurs Spurrier, amazement crowding his face, standing, walking backwards to the door, his hands checking the way through the crowd behind him, as though he was going to get shot in the back.

In a matter of echoed seconds, his horse took off down the main road of Point of Interest and nobody, for sure, would ever see him again.

Inside, between the table of interest and the bar, the space seemed like a vacuum, silent, not quite holy, but a change, a transition, taking place in front of everybody. And that vacuum was altered like it might never be altered again in the same kind of situation.

Sparks Tottingham, face gone ashen gray, hat tipped back on his head, placed his hands palms down on the table. He spoke directly to Burl Edwards; "I'm so damned sick and tired of him I couldn't stand any more of him. Y'all know I killed that cow cause I was mad at how you stood up to me. I don't know if I can outdraw you, but it sure don't look like it'd be worth it. You got a ton of guts and it looks like you got them from your Pa there, and I never had none of that. Not one minute of it from the first day I was born. Not one minute of it." There was loss and loneliness and honesty now invested in his voice, a whole wagon-load of it.

"I worked some as a kid on the big river on a few boats before I come out here and I'd sure like to know what you did and where you went in the Navy. I'll pay what I owe for the cow and I'll apologize to the woman of the ranch and to them what cleaned up that mess. Hell, I'd even go to work for you if you'd give me the chance."

His head shook in doubt, as if he didn't believe what he had just said to practically the whole damned town of Point of Interest. "Hell," he said, "I came out here to be somebody, not a coal stuffer on the river, not hid down below all the time and never gettin' to see any of where we went along the river."

Silence stood at attention in The Rialto, and Gilbert, a man with keenness in his bones, said, "The bar's open. I think we just celebrated big time in Point of Interest, and I'm pretty sure we've just seen a new hire taken on at the old Two Caliber Spread."

The End

Sheehan has published 23 books; work in Ocean Magazine, Rosebud, Linnet's Wings, Serving House Journal, Copperfield Review, KYSO Flash, Soundings East, Vermont Literary Review, Literary Orphans, Indiana Voices Journal, Frontier Tales, Western Online Magazine, Provo Canyon Review, 3 AM Magazine, Vine Leaves Journal, Nazar Look, Eastlit, Rope & Wire Magazine, The Literary Yard, KYSO Journal, Green Silk Journal, Fiction on the Web, The Path, Faith-Hope and Fiction, etc. He has been nominated for 30 Pushcarts, a National Book Award, a Military Book Award and 5 Best of the Net Awards, receiving one, and Short Story Awards in 2012 - 2015. His author's site is at amazon.com/author/tomsheehan

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The Brute
by J.C. Hulsey

I watched as the kids made fun of him.

"Look, it's him. It's the Brute. Come on let's chase him," said the oldest boy.

"Not me," said the second boy.

"What if he decides to chase you instead?" asked a third kid.

"He hasn't ever done it in the past," quipped the first boy. "Come on," as he picked up a couple of rocks.

The other boys followed suit and filled their hands with stones, though not as big as those of the oldest kid.

The brute as they called him stood his ground, not the least intimidated by the young kids.

As the boys readied their missiles, I studied the one they called the Brute.

The man had grayish skin and black eyes. He had a bald head and on closer inspection, I noticed he had nary a hair on his entire body. He was a large man, but not in height. He was barrel chested with enormous arms and legs. Somehow all these things made him look deformed. There was one thing that made him unique. When he smiled, it seemed the whole area lit up, his teeth were perfectly shaped and shone like ivory, which he was doing now, smiling at the boys who were getting ready to bombard him with stones.

When he noticed me observing him, the smile quickly became a frown, which caused him to look like some sort of creature from another world. I averted my eyes, yet kept stealing glancing in his direction. I had an uncanny feeling as if he was drawing me into his world.

About then the first projectile hit its mark. It struck the Brute, as they called him, just under his left eye. He quickly grabbed the spot with his gnarled hand and uttered an unfamiliar grunt that sounded much like a wounded animal. About then a second stone and then a third and finally a progression of rocks that caused the man to turn and start moving into the underbrush.

"Did you see that?" the older boy bragged. "I almost blinded him with the first one."

"What was that sound he made?" asked another kid.

"What do you think it was?" said the first boy. "It was the sound of a Brute. Ain't you never heard a brute before?"

"Not 'til today," said one, "and it was an awful scary sound. I sure would hate to meet up with him on a dark night."

"Me too," they all chimed in.

* * *

"Hey, you boys," I said, in a scolding voice, as I approached them. "Why would you throw rocks at another human being?"

"Is something wrong with your eyes, Mister? That ain't no human being, it's a brute."

"What can you tell me about the Brute, as you call him?"

"Ain't nothing to tell," said the older boy. "He's just an ugly brute that lives in the mountains. He comes to town once in a great while."

"Does anyone know any more about him," I asked, "like what's his name, where he came from, does he have a family? That kind of stuff."

"I figure if anyone knows it would be old man Ferguson. He's about a hundred years old. Claims he's lived here all his life."

"Where might I find this Mr. Ferguson?" I asked.

"How come you want to know about Brian?" asked one of the boys.

"Who's Brian?" I asked.

"Oh, that's the name we gave the Brute," the smallest boy said.

"We figured everybody needs a name, even a Brute like him."

"Well I think that was very nice of you to be so considerate," I said. "Now where might I locate Mr. Ferguson?"

"You go down this road just as far as you can, hook a left and go as far as you can there, then turn to your left again and you'll see a little mud house. Ain't no house really, but that's what he calls his home. You going to see him?"

"Yes, I believe I will," I told them. "Thank you so much for the information." I turned to start down the road they had pointed out.

"He ain't there," said the little guy.

"Do you know where he might be?" I asked getting rather perturbed with all their procrastinating. "Would one of you please tell me where I might find Mr. Ferguson?"

"He's in town at the feed store," said one of the boys. "He goes there every day to play dominoes with some of the other old men."

* * *

I didn't bother to thank them again. As I said already, I was getting a little upset with them. Smart aleck little boys. Was I ever like that, I asked myself. Lord, I hope not.

I turned from them and heard one of them utter something about me that I purposely ignored. I headed in the direction of town. It wasn't much of a town as towns go, but it sported two saloons, a combination livery stable/blacksmith, several small businesses and then one huge building that had a sign proclaiming, The Largest General Store and Mercantile in the Whole state of Texas. Now talk about ego, I figure this store owner had a passel of it. I located the building I was looking for at the end of Main Street. I walked on the wooden sidewalk, my shoes making a clip clop sound that reminded me of a horse's hooves on the hard pack earth. I stopped at the front door peering inside. It was so dark and gloomy that I could barely make out shadows of men inside. I stepped over the threshold and stopped.

"Hey," said a voice from the gloom. "Come in or git out, yer blocking the sun."

I quickly stepped all the way in and moved to the side, letting my eyes adjust to the dark dreary place. The smell of feed and grain assaulted my nostrils, and an unfamiliar smell that I couldn't recognize, until I saw one of the shadows spit across the floor toward a spittoon, missing it by several feet. There was also another smell very distinctive, of unwashed flesh and clothing.

"What do you need, young feller?" asked a voice.

"I'm looking for a man by the name of Ferguson, Might one of you gentlemen be able to help me find him?" I asked.

"Whatcha want him fer?" asked a quivering voice, which I knew was my man.

"I have need of information that I understand he might have." I told the voice.

"I might know where to find this feller, but you're gonna have to talk plain if'n you want to talk to him. Don't be using all the big fancy words."

"I would be glad to pay for anything Mr. Ferguson can tell me about the Brute."

I'm telling you, it got so quite in that dark gloomy room that the sound of my breathing and heartbeat were the only sounds that I heard.

"I'm sorry," I said to the quite, "Did I say something wrong?"

"We don't talk about the Brute to strangers, fact is we don't talk much about him to one another," said the first voice I had heard.

"Hold on there, Boris," said the quivering voice, "This here young feller said he would pay. Ain't that right, young feller?"

"That's correct," I told them. "I am willing to pay a sufficient amount for information about this so called Brute."

"What does this suffi . . . mean?"

"I will pay a crisp five dollar bill for any information that I deem good enough for what I want it for." I explained.

"What is it you want this information for, if I might ask?" again the squeaky voice.

"I'm writing a series of stories about the anomalies in this part of the state for a newspaper," I explained.

"I'm the feller you asked about, but I don't reckon I kin help you," said the squeaky voice.

"May I ask why you can't or won't help? Is it not enough money, is that it?"

"Tain't the money," he answered.

"Then pray tell, what is it?"

"I cain't understand but about half of what yer saying. If I cain't understand the questions, then how am I going to answer'em?"

"Why don't we give it a try," I said, "say for two hours? If we can't understand one another, I'll give you the five dollars for your time and move on down the road. Does that sound fair? Are you willing to try?"

"Whatcha got to lose, Fergie, you'll get the money either way. Go ahead and see if'n ya'll kin git together."

"Okay, somebody help me up and I'll go with this young feller, 'though I don't think it's gonna work out."

I watched as a couple of men helped the old man to his feet. He stood there for what seemed an eternity to me, then he shuffled his feet and headed toward the door and me. He walked right past me and out into the sunlight. He stopped abruptly just shy of the door and I bumped into him.

"Don't be in such an all fired hurry. Got to let my eyes adjust to this bright sunlight, else I might go blind. Don't the sunlight hurt yer eyes, course not 'cause you're still young."

"Do you need help walking?" I asked him.

"What! You think just 'cause I'm old, I cain't walk by myself?"

"I meant no disrespect, I was just offering to help."

"Well, help yerself. I been walking this same trail fer more years than you or your pappy has been alive. Yer pappy is still alive, ain't he?"

"No sir," I said sadly, "My father passed away when I was quite young."

"Who raised you, boy, did you ma git married agin so's there was a man in the house to teach you things?"

"No sir," I told him, "It was just me and my mother, but she was a great teacher, and I also attended school for a few years."

"I figgered it was somethin' like that," he said, shaking his head.

"What did you figure?" I asked him.

"That's what's wrong with you. Every boy needs a man to teach him things ye cain't learn in school or from their mammy."

"And pray tell, what might that be?" This old man was getting under my skin with his attitude and accusations.

"Do you want to sit here or go somewhere else to begin our discussions?" I asked him.

"Let's head on down to my place. I'd feel more comfortable talking there."

"Okay, are you sure you don't need any help?"

"You keep on asking me that, yer gonna make me mad. That's somethin' you don't want to do. I'm meaner than a rabid skunk when I git mad. So, jest be careful, you hear?"

"Yes sir, I hear loud and clear. How far is it to your place?"

"It's just a little ways over that hill yonder."

"But, I thought, I mean I heard . . . "

"You been listening to them pesky boys, ain't ye?"

"Well, I did procure some information from them about where you lived."

"There you go with them big words agin. Talk plain, will you?"

"Those boys told me to go, oh, never mind, which way do we go?"

"You jest follow me and don't dawdle or I'll leave you behind."

Now who's using the big words, I thought to myself.

* * *

The further we went the faster the old man seemed to walk. By the time we got to the end of the street, I was having to walk fast to keep up with him.

"How much further?" I asked out of breath.

"Gitting tired, are you?" he chuckled. "It's jest over that little rise yonder."

I looked where he pointed and that little rise was a long ways off in my humble opinion.

"Come on, young feller, if you cain't keep up with a 97 year old, you ain't never gonna survive in this old world. Come on."

I do believe he became ever faster. I was almost running now just to keep him in sight. What did these folks eat and drink to make them so vigorous and youthful.

"We finally reached the little rise and he stopped on the top and pointed. "There she be. My home."

I caught my breath, leaning on my knees and looked in the direction his boney fingers were pointing. I didn't see anything but another hill and more hills.

"Cain't see it, kin you?" he chuckled again.

"No, I'm sorry, but I don't see a house. All I see is hills and more hills."

"That's exactly what yer supposed to see. I built it that way on purpose. In case the Indians come looking fer me, they won't be able to find me. "Course they don't cause no trouble no more, but in case they do, I'm ready fer 'em. Come on, we're almost there." He took off again, this time going downhill.

I could only pray that all this exertion didn't cause my heart to give out on me. My mother had told me that was what killed my father at a young age. His heart just stopped beating. One minute he was standing talking to her and the next minute he had left this earth for a better place, is how she put it.

"This is it is," he proclaimed, as he came to a halt in front of a mound of dirt.

I looked and all I saw was a mound of dirt.

"Still cain't see it, kin you?" he teased. "It's right here," he reached and pulled on a piece of wood sticking out of the dirt and just like magic, it opened up. A slab of dirt swung open just like a door.

"Let me go in and light a lamp. It gits purty dark in there," he disappeared inside the dark hole in the hill, reappearing a few seconds later. "Come in and visit my home," he disappeared again and I followed behind.

I was amazed at the change in the temperature. Where I was drenched with preparation outside, it was extremely cool inside this hill.

"Yer wondering how come it's so cool, ain't you?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact, that's exactly what I was thinking."

"It's 'cause the walls are so thick the heat can't get in and the cool can't git out," he waved his arms in a circle.

"That's amazing," I told him.

"Ain't nothing amazing about it," he huffed. "Jest common sense is all it is. If more folks today would use common sense, this old world would be a much better place. You want somethin' to drink? I got some cider I made myself. It's purty strong so you might not like it."

"Just some water if you have some?"

"What do you mean if I got some? Everybody's got water. Why don't you git it yourself, I'm sort of tuckered out after that little trip from town. There's a bucket setting over yonder," he pointed to the other side of the room.

I crossed the room and got a dipper full of water. I lifted it to my mouth. The moment it touched my lips, I knew there was something unique and different about this liquid. It was cool which I expected, but it was also sweet tasting.

"This is some of the best water I have ever had," placing the dipper in to fill it again.

"It ortta be. Comes from an underground spring in the back there. Ain't no water no place around here as good as that water. That's the main reason I built here, because of that spring. Now that you've watered yourself and rested a bit, what is it you want to know about Brian?"

"You're calling him the name that the kids gave him. Why's that?"

"That ain't the name the kids give him. That's the name his mama gave him when he was born. Brian Tuttle."

"So he does have a family?"

"Not no more, they died when their house caught on fire. Brian was lucky he got out alive. He's been on his own since he wus about ten or eleven, I reckon. He comes by here sometimes and I give him some victuals. Not a lot 'cause, I ain't got a lot. I reckon I'm probably the only friend he's got. Everybody in town thinks he's some kind of monster. Those kids you're talking about like to tease him and make fun of him. He just takes it with a smile and goes about his business."

"What caused him to look the way he does? Was he in some sort of accident?"

"No, he weren't in no accident. He was a pretty baby when he came into this world. Did'cha ever notice how ugly babies grow up to be pretty, even some of'em beautiful, and the pretty babies grow up to be ugly, well, not like Brian, but some ain't nothing to brag about.

"Of course the local doctor, Doc Barnes didn't have an explanation for his condition and the family didn't have enough money to travel to see a specialist, so we just watched and wondered as he continually got worse.

"When he stopped changing, it was just like the way it started. Little by little 'til he looked the way he does now. He's still the same lad he was, in his head, but the folks don't understand that. They take a look at him and make up their mind that he's evil."

"When the kids threw rocks at him he gave out with some sort of guttural sound like a wounded animal. Can he talk?"

"He could at one time, but when a person lives his whole life in the wild, separated from civilization, they forget how to talk."

"How long has he been away from civilization?"

"Going on twenty years, best I kin figger. I used to try to talk to'im and get him to talk back, but he would quit coming by, so I stopped trying and just accepted him the way he is."

"His body looks deformed. Has he always looked like he does now?"

"I reckon that started when he was about twenty or twenty one. Can't remember exactly when it started. First it was just his hands, then his feet and then one day he looked the way he does now. That's when he almost quit coming to town altogether. He sneaks in sometimes at night to scrounge in the trash cans fer something to eat. And like I said, I try to help all I can, which ain't nothing to brag about."

"Isn't there something that can be done for him? Some kind of home or something?"

"Now can you picture somebody that's been living free in the forest locked up in some sort of home for sick folks? I don't think so."

"Why are the people so afraid of him? Don't they even try to understand that he's a human being just like them? He's a creation of God as are they?"

"People don't look at him as a creation of God, but as a creation of the devil. If you ain't realized it by now, you may never get it. People are mean and cruel and there ain't no fixing 'em. Let me tell you 'bout the time they hunted Brian like an animal."

"Why would they do that?"

"Well, a little girl was found at the bottom of a ravine and some nut claimed he saw Brian push her off. Well, we found out later the man was lying just to git attention. But it was after the fact. I believe those folks had it in their mind to kill Brian that day. Like I said, they hunted him like a wild beast, cornered him up on a high cliff. There was a struggle between one of the men and Brian. The man planted his foot in Brian's chest and pushed him off that cliff. How he survived is beyond me, but by him surviving that fall only convinced the people that he was the devil's spawn and they wanted no part of him. Because he was innocent of killing the little girl they tolerate him, but from a distance. Found out later the little girl had fallen to her death by tripping over a vine at the edge of the ravine."

"Did the people feel bad about treating him that way?"

"Not after he survived that fall off the cliff. Like I said, that only convinced them that he was evil."

* * *

"I would like to talk to him? Do you think it would be possible?"

"I don't think he will, but we kin try, if that's what you really want to do."

"I really do. When can we try to see him?"

"First thing you need to do is learn to be patient. It's gonna take a lot of patience on your part if you expect to talk with him. He don't care much for people and trusts them even less. Let's git something to eat, catch a little nap and come first light, we'll go see if we kin find him. How's that sound to you?"

He fed me a bowl of some concoction that he called stew. I have to admit it was filling if not very tasty. I fell asleep almost instantly. I suppose because of all the walking I did following behind the old man. My dreams were filled with monsters, goblins and all sort of weird looking creatures. Thankfully, I was saved from the worst one when I was awakened by the old man shaking me.

"Time to rise and shine, gonna be a fine morning. I got some breakfast fer you over there on the table. If'n ye want to see Brian, then we need to git a move on."

I stretched as I got out of bed and went to the table. There before me was a plate heaped full of what looked like scrambled eggs. I didn't want to hurt the old man's feelings by asking what it was, so I took a bite and I was extremely surprised that it tasted very good. I cleaned the plate in no time.

"I 'spect yer wondering how come the air is so fresh, ain't you?"

"I hadn't noticed until you mentioned it, but yes, now I am wondering how it smells so fresh. One would think a hole in the ground would have a dank, dusty smell. I meant no offense by calling your home a hole in the ground."

"Feller's got to call it what it is. The reason fer the fresh air is ventilation shafts. You didn't think I knew any big words, did you?"

"I'm impressed," I told him.

"I seen how the miners put shafts in the ground so's they would have fresh air plumb down in the ground where they's working. I jest copied what they done."

"Where are the shafts located here in your home?"

"Got three of'em. One is right above yer head, 'nother is on the end of the room to your right, last'n is over behind me, 'bout seven or eight feet."

"I meant to ask earlier, where do we . . . ?"

"Oh, I shoulda told you already. Follow me."

I followed him as he ducked his head and found we were in another chamber or room as he called it.

"You see that little box there?" he pointed.

"Yes, I see it."

"That's it."

"That little box is it? What is it?"

"'Member I told you 'bout the underground spring?"


"Well, this is downstream from where I gits the drinking water. I do my business in that little box there and the water takes it away on downstream someplace, which I don't concern myself with. I'll go on back and git things ready fer the trip while you do your business." He ducked back out of the room.

As I was sitting on that little box, I suddenly realized this grizzled old man was some sort of genius. I finished and went back where he was tying a rope around a burlap bag.

"Well, pilgrim, you 'bout ready?"

"I guess I am. Do you know where Brian might be?"

"'Course I know, he's my friend. But then agin, he tends to not stay in one place fer very long, but then he comes back to his old home place purty regular. I figger that's where we'll look first."

Again I was amazed when he pulled on a stick and the slab of dirt opened just like a door on hinges. As soon as we were clear of the opening, the old man gave a little shove and it just sort of melted back into the hill. The only way a person could tell it was there would be to get down on hands and knees and know what to look for, and then you might not be able to find it.

* * *

"Come on, this way, I'm all rested up and raring to git on the trail," he took off at a brisk pace that just like the day before, I was having a hard time keeping up.

"Mr. Ferguson?" I called to him.

He didn't stop or even slow down, "You having a hard time keeping up, ain't ye?" he chuckled. "And by the way, you kin call me Fergie."

"Yes, I am having a very hard time keeping up this pace. Do you think you might slow down just a little?"

"I reckon I kin, but it's gonna be hard since I'm all rested up and all. But, jest fer you I'll try." He did indeed begin to walk a bit slower, like he had changed gears or something.

"How's that?" he asked. "Kin ye keep up now?"

"Thank you so much. Yes, that's much better.

"You know now that we slowed down, it's gonna take longer to git there?"

"I don't mind it taking longer, especially if it means I'll arrive there still breathing."

"That sounded like you're making a joke. Wus you making a joke?" he chuckled again.

I didn't answer, not because I didn't want to, but because I was breathing too hard.

We went uphill and downhill and on level ground. We went through scrub brush, thorny vines and all kinds of different things. I was cut, scraped and bruised from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet.

"There it is," said Fergie, pointing down a narrow path.

I looked to where he was pointing and saw a little ramshackle shack that looked ready to collapse at the first sign of a breeze.

"Is that his home place," I asked. "I thought you told me his home burned killing his parents."

"I got mixed up a little. They wus in the barn when it caught fire. That's it over yonder," he said pointing to a burned pile of rubble.

"That little shack there is where he came into this world and more than likely will go out of the world. Come on, let's see if he's there," he scrambled down the little path with me right on his heels.

We reached the yard and Fergie stopped just about five feet shy of the front door.

"Why are we stopping?" I asked the old man.

"Wanta be sure it ain't booby trapped. I done told you he don't much care for folks. He could set a trap to catch them if'n they come here looking fer him." He squatted down, which I didn't understand how a man his age could be so agile. He surveyed the area, then stood and said. "Looks to be all clear, but my eyes ain't as good as they used to be. Step careful with each step. In fact, step in my footprints, that way if I git hit maybe it'll miss you."

We made it to the door without incident.

"You did say he stayed here sometime, didn't you?" I asked as I looked at the door hanging loose with only one hinge attached.

"Oh, he don't go in through the front door, no, he's too smart fer that. Follow me," he started around the edge of the building until we reached a small window just a few feet off the ground.

"This little winder is where he goes in and comes out. If'n he's in there, this is the place." He squatted down again to my amazement, placed his hand on the ground and leaned down on his hand. "Hello, Brian!" he yelled. "Are you in there?"

"I don't hear anything," I told him.

"Of course you don't. You think he's gonna come running out to greet you with open arms. I done told you he don't trust nobody. Hey, Brian," he yelled louder. "It's Fergie, yer old friend Fergie."

"I don't think he's in there." I said.

"You 'member back at the hut, I told you, you had to learn to be patient?"

"Yes, I remember."

"Well, this is one of them times you got to be patient. Hey Brian, it's Fergie and I brought a friend with me. You don't need to fret 'bout him. He's okay. He wants to meet you."

I heard a shuffling noise come from inside the shack.

"I heard something, did you hear it? Is that him?" I was getting excited.

"Jest calm down. If it's him, he's got to take a gander at you first and then decide if yer friend or foe. 'Member what I said, patience."

"I don't hear the noise anymore. Maybe it wasn't him."

"I'm gonna git tired of telling you, be patient," he growled.

"I know. I'm trying, but it's extremely hard."

"Turn around real slow, I said slow, and don't make any unnecessary moves."

I turned as slowly as I could and saw standing about ten feet away, Brian the Brute. He was looking me up and down as if he were getting ready to pounce on me and eat me for dinner, at least that's how I was feeling right at this moment.

"Hey, Brian, it's Fergie. You ain't forgot yer old friend Fergie, have you?"

Brian's eye didn't waver even a tad from watching me. I was beginning to worry that I had bitten off too much this time.

The Brute took a couple of steps in our direction, then stopped as if contemplating if he wanted to continue. I heard a low growling sound much like that of a cornered mountain lion.

"Say something, pilgrim, so's he'll know yer a real person," said Fergie real low.

"Hello, Mr. Brian. My name is Gabriel Montague. All my friends call me Gabe. You can call me Gabe if you would like to be my friend," I said with a quiver in my voice.

"That's good, what you said," Fergie told me. "Talk some more."

"I traveled a very long distance just to meet you," I told the Brute. "I'm so glad to have this opportunity to finally meet the great Brian Tuttle. I sure would like to be your friend. Would you allow me to be your friend? I have all sorts of things I would like to talk to you about and I'm sure you have things that you could tell me about and things to show me. Like living in the woods like you do."

He took another few steps toward me completely ignoring Fergie. He was now standing close enough to reach out, grab me around the throat and choke me to death, but he didn't. I felt and heard my heartbeat so loud, I knew if the Brute heard it he might think it to be some sort of weapon I had brought to hurt him.

He just stood there and continued to scan up and down my body finally settling on my face and then zeroing in on my eyes. I think he recognized me from town when the kids were throwing rocks at him. Perhaps he remembered the way I scolded them for their treatment of him. He reached out with his left hand touching me on the cheek. It was all I could do to keep from recoiling from his touch. I stood petrified to the spot. He let his hand fall away from my face and did the unexpected. He smiled with those beautiful white perfectly formed teeth and just like in town it seemed the whole area lit up with a brightness that I couldn't explain even if I tried. He took my hand in his and rubbed the back of it with his other one. I heard a different sound almost inaudible that I barely heard. It sounded much like the purring of a cat. I glanced over at Fergie and he was standing with his mouth hanging open and a surprised look on his face. I was quite flabbergasted myself. This was more than I had ever hopped for. Brian gave a little tug indicating I should follow him. I let him lead me away to where I knew not, but somehow I felt a sweet calmness fill me, yet I felt safe no matter where he took me.

I glanced back and saw Fergie wave as we left him behind.

* * *

Brian led me through the forest of green trees so tall they seemed to touch the sky. I noticed all kinds and colors of flowers. The fragrance was overpowering, almost. We crossed over a small stream, the water so clear I could see fish swimming. Finally, he stopped and pointed up the side of a cliff. I turned my eyes in the direction he was pointing and saw a nest of baby birds. I glanced at Brian's face and it was aglow with something I can't put into words. Somehow he had transformed from an ugly Brute into a beautiful angelic creature. I realized at that moment that this is where he belongs, not in some home locked away where he couldn't hurt anyone. No.

* * *

This was his home and I hoped he would let it be my home for a short while.


This world can be cruel at times, well not the world itself, but the people populating it. They have no tolerance for things or people that are different. We may ask why does God allow people to be deformed and criticized for the way He created them.

I can only answer that in one way. God doesn't make any mistakes and as we found at the end of our story, The Brute became a beautiful creature because that's what he was on the inside. Outside beauty is something that pleases man, but it is the beauty on the inside that defines a person.

The End

J.C Hulsey is Texan, has been since his birth. Married for 57 years, he's a father, grandfather, and a great-grandfather. An award winning author, a publisher, (Outlaws Publishing LLC) host of a weekly online radio show (The Wild West Showdown) publishes a Digital Magazine (The Outlaws Echo) and DJs (The Old Cowboys Country Music Show).

What did he do before the book world took him captive? He worked for Bell Helicopter, served in the USAF and the Air National Guard.

Asked why he's doing all these things when most retirees are content to sit back and watch TV. He replies, "If I don't do it, who will?"

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Cattle Annie and Little Britches
by John Young

Cattle Annie and Little Britches have been mostly forgotten in the annals of western history, but not in Oklahoma and Indian Territories. There, they were two of the most famous female outlaws ever to strap on a six gun.

They were a cattle thieving couple from the Indian Nation of Oklahoma who only flourished for a couple of years before being caught. Maybe it is because little is known about what happened to them later in life. But during their heyday they were known to be closely associated with the infamous Wild Bunch.

The Wild Bunch, also known as the Doolin-Dalton Gang was a gang of outlaws based in the Indian and Oklahoma Territory during the 1890s. They robbed banks and stores, held up trains and killed lawmen. They were also known as The Oklahoma Long Riders from the long dusters they wore. No outlaw gang of the Old West ever met a more violent end than the Wild Bunch. All eleven would die in violent gun battles with lawmen.

In those days lawmen were often foiled in their attempts to corral the gang because people such as our two female outlaws would warn the gang members when they were in the area.

Crack Shots

Around Pawnee and Perry, Oklahoma, Cattle Annie and Little Britches were also wanted for selling liquor to the Indians and horse theft. The two attractive teens were both excellent shots with a pistol or rifle. Cattle Annie was born Anna McDoulet in 1879 to James C. and Rebekah McDoulet of Lawrence County, Kansas.

She had an older brother, Calvin and an older sister, Martha. And at the time she was imprisoned her siblings also included Claude, Maud, Everett, George, James, and John.

The following night, the girls were tracked down near Pawnee by Marshals Bill Tilghman and Steve Burke. Both girls gave fight, and several shots rang out as the girls made their way to a back window to escape. Cattle Annie was caught by Burke, as she climbed out the window but Little Britches escaped, temporarily. The lawmen gave chase amidst several shots fired over her shoulder at them, but her shots missed. Finally Tilghman shot her horse, which ended the chase. Although fighting like a wild cat Jennie was finally subdued and both girls were jailed.

Annie and Jennie were charged with stealing horses and selling whiskey to the Indians. Annie received a one year sentence in the Framingham reformatory for women in Massachusetts, but was paroled a few months later, due to poor health. She remained in Framingham until she found work as a domestic for Mrs. Mary Daniels in Sherborn, just south of Framingham.

A few months later, she went to New York, where some stories claim she died of consumption in Bellevue Hospital. But what actually became of her is not certain. Other stories claim Annie returned to Oklahoma and married Earl Frost of Perry in 1901, had two children, and divorced Frost in 1909. The museum in Guthrie, Oklahoma claims she married again to a J. W. Roach of Oklahoma City and died in 1978. Another popular legend has her returning to Oklahoma, marrying twice before marrying Jack Dalton and living in Purcell as Anna Ohme Burke Dalton.

Jennie was held for two months in the Guthrie jail as a material witness for a murder trial. She had witnessed a shooting while working as a domestic. Her two-year penal sentence began in Framingham reformatory in Massachusetts on 11 November 1895.

However, she was released on 7 October 1896 for good behavior and returned to her parents in Sinnett.

There were rumors she married, settled down, and raised a family in Tulsa. But what really became of her may forever remain a mystery.

The End

John Young became a news reporter in the Marine Corps back in the early 70s. He writes on a wide variety of subjects. Before that, he served in the US Army during the Vietnam War. After leaving the Corps he worked in many other fields. News reporter, photojournalist, editor on a weekly, surgical technician, truck driver, route salesman security guard and many others. But writing is what he like best. His web site: http://hubpages.com/@jy3502 His email is jjy2384@gmail.com.

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It Can Cost You
by B. Craig Grafton

Jim Bowie sat watching the professional gambler. He was a dark swarthy man with dark black curly hair, dark black eyes and had an all around dark evil look to him. This self proclaimed dandy was part negro. Jim thought probably an octoroon at the least but a free man of color nonetheless. Jim knew who he was.

The gambler was playing poker with a young and obviously naive young man. In fact he was hardly a man at all with his boyish look, light brown wavy hair and hazel eyes, a genteel delicate manner about him. He shouldn't have been gambling, but he was flush, or had been flush, with the proceeds of the sale of his planter father's cotton crop in New Orleans. But now as the paddlewheel steamboat plowed north through the waters of the Red River he was almost broke, the professional gambler about to take the last of his money.

The comely wife of the young man, a dainty thing, watched from the doorway wiping the tears from her eyes. She could see that her husband was making a fool of himself but couldn't stop himself as a gentleman must, if he is to lose, lose with dignity.

Jim looked at his companion, a man known as Thimblerig who he made his living shuffling a pea under thimbles. Thimblerig knew what Jim was about to do and nodded as Jim approached the young wife and introduced himself.

She sobbingly revealed the facts that Jim already knew. Then Jim said, "Ma'am if you will go to your cabin now please, I'll return with all of your husband's lost money shortly. This man he's playing with is a professional card sharp. Your husband had no chance. I know how to play him." She graciously nodded her consent, thanked Jim profusely and hurried away all the while still sobbing.

"Seems you've been on a winning streak friend," said Jim addressing the gambler. "Mind if I might try my luck?"

The dark man glared at Jim and growled, "You got money? And who in the hell might you be?" "I be Jim Bowie of Arkansas."

The gambler adjusted himself and sat up straight in his seat. "And I am," but before he could finish Jim cut him off. "You be John Lafitte, the bastard son of Jean Lafitte the privateer."

"Well then you have done business with my father. He has spoken highly of you as a business man. I'm honored to meet you sir."

Jim did not return the compliment. Lafitte sat there expecting one but to no avail. "Well then lets play cards," he mumbled as he grabbed the deck and began shuffling.

A crowd now gathered round and Thimblerig started taking bets. The excitement grew as first Jim started to win back some of the planter son's money. Then his luck would switch. Back and forth it went between them. Jim would win and get ahead and then Lafitte would win it back and then some. This was the rhythm of the game for some time. Finally it came down to one hand for all the money. Lafitte was dealing, one to Jim, one to himself, one to Jim, one to himself.

Then in the blink of an eye Jim jumped up from his seat pulled out his famous knife and stabbed the card in Lafitte's hand that he was dragging from the deck to himself. The knife coming down with a loud thud between Lafitte's fingers not touching him while pinning the card to the table. Jim had placed the knife exactly where he wanted. Jim said, "That card came from the bottom of the deck."

"Then to the deck and let pistols be trump," challenged Lafitte. "Bowie I'm going to blow your brains out."

The duelists went up to the deck. The crowd followed. Thimblerig acted as Jim's second. The combatants took their places, marched out the appropriate number of paces, turned and fired. Lafitte crumbled. Jim remained standing. A locket of Jim's hair floated to his feet. Thimblerig bent down and picked it up. Then the crowd reassembled back in the gambling den where Jim was gathering up the money. His knife was still pinned to the stabbed card on the table.

Thimblerig entered holding the locket of Jim's hair between his index finger and thumb. "He shot off some of your hair Jim."

"What did he say he was going to do Thimblerig?"

"Blow your brains out."

"I moved my head. Never tell anyone how you're going to play your hand Thimblerig. It can cost you."

From the crowd someone hollered, "Where'd you shoot him Jim?"

Thimblerig grabbed the knife stuck in the table and pulled it free, the last card stuck to it. "Where do you think?" he shouted back, showing the Ace of Hearts to the crowd.

The privateer Lafitte never held it against Bowie for Bowie killing his son. After all, it was a fair fight.

The End

B. Craig Grafton is a retired attorney.

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