Original Western Short Fiction

The Final Letter

By

The Tactical Hermit

 

I.

I first met Percy Ingovoll at a saloon called the devil’s watering hole outside of Cisco, Texas in the Fall of Eighteen Hundred and Ninety. I had just been discharged from the U.S. Army Calvary after spending five miserable damn years in Mexico hunting renegade indians and mexican bandits.

I had six months worth of Army wages in my pocket and was well on my way to an epic drunk and maybe a poke or two with some of the sportin’ girls when a gunshot rang out behind me at one of the poker tables. Looking over my shoulder I saw Percy Ingovoll standing behind a smoking Remington Single Action with a local gambler and lowlife name of Wally Steven’s sitting across from him with his face and head damn near missing. Before anybody could begin to ask questions, Percy walked over to Wally’s corpse and held up his right arm. Rolling back Wally’s shirt sleeve he removed an ace of diamonds.

“I want everybody to see why this bastard got killed. He’s a cheat!” There was a low murmuring among the crowd as Percy held up the card for all to see.

Percy then removed his hat and began raking the large pot of cash in the middle of the table into it. About this time, the bartender, a barrel chested Irishman with a thick brogue and even thicker mustache produced a sawed off 10 Gauge from behind the bar and cocked both hammers. To this day I don’t know why I decided to intervene. Maybe it was the fact I did not like seeing a man shot in the back or maybe I just did not like irish bartenders, I don’t know, but before you could say boo I skinned my Model 3 and walloped that bartender upside the head with its heavy barrel, knocking him out cold.

Upon hearing the commotion, Percy instinctively spun around and drew down on me.

“Whoa partner!” I said laying my Model 3 down on the bar next to a collection of the bartenders bloody teeth.

“This fat Irishman was about to shoot you in the back, I just helped him change his mind.”  A wide grin came across Percy’s face as he eased the hammer down and holstered his gun.

Taking a look behind him to check for any more would-be bushwhackers, he approached me at the bar.

“Appreciate what you did.” he said, extending his hand and introducing himself. I shook it and returned the courtesy.

“Logan Chandler. Originally from Lampasas.” I replied.

After talking for a while, four men, all half-drunk and armed approached and began asking questions about the toothless, unconscious bartender. Percy quickly grabbed my arm and led me outside.

“Listen, both Wally and that bartender are locals and I am just some stranger from out of town. These peckerwoods are all drunk as hell and it won’t take long before they decide to lynch both of us for fun. Whatta you say we haul ass out of here before that happens?”

Hearing the men getting more riled up and drunk in the saloon it did not take long for me to agree with Percy’s wise suggestion.

The night was clear and cold, with a three-quarter moon and a breeze from the east carrying the smell of rain. We decided to ride south for a few miles and then checked up off the trail into a small stand of cedar trees and waited to see if we were being followed.

“So why did you do it?” Percy asked as we watched the dark trail behind us.

“Do what?” I replied.

“Whack that big Irish bastard across the head that was gonna shoot me.” Percy spat tobacco juice and glanced over at me.

“Hell I don’t know, I guess I just don’t like seeing men get shot in the back.” My answer must have amused the hell out of Percy because he laughed like I had just told the funniest damn joke you had ever heard.

We rode a few more miles up the trail and finding a small creek, decided to make cold camp for the rest of the night. The next morning I was awoken to the smell of bacon and Percy feeding our horses with a bag of oats. As I wiped the sleep out of my eyes Percy came over and poured me a cup of coffee.

“Did you hear them coyotes yippin’ it up last night?” he asked smiling as he squatted down by the fire like an indian to tend the bacon.

“I would not have heard a damn buffalo crash through the woods last night I was so tired.” I replied. Percy smiled.

“You think them boys at the saloon are still looking for us?” I asked sipping my cup.

“Hell, I bet them boys are more worried about nursing their hangovers right about now.” Percy replied turning the bacon over with a fork.

“I don’t know, you did kill a man.” I replied looking at him sideways.

“Shit! The day it is a crime in this country to kill a card cheat or whack a surly bartender will be the day I move to Mexico permanently!” I could tell Percy was still half drunk as he stood up to stretch his back and wobbled some.

In the daylight I realized he was taller than I thought, with long, lean, muscled arms that resembled thick braided ropes. His hair was sandy brown with hints of red and the week’s worth of stubble on his face was a burnt red like the mid-day sun. He had eyes that were a strange deep shade of green, almost the color of fresh cedar with small specks of brown.

After finishing our bacon and coffee we broke camp. As I was rolling up my bed roll, Percy walked over and handed me a hundred dollars.

“What is this for?” I asked looking at the money.

“For saving my ass last night.” Percy replied smiling.

“Shit Percy this is too much!” I said shaking my head handing it back to him.

“The hell it is!” he replied pushing my hand back.

“Besides, I got plenty more where that came from.” Percy replied with a wink.

He then cinched up his saddle straps and got on his horse. I did the same and we both rode out of the woods to the main trail.

“Well Percy, what do you plan on doing?” I asked looking both ways up and down the trail.

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe head over to Abilene for a friendly game or two and then catch a train to New Mexico. A friend of mine just opened a saloon near Four Corners and invited me to help run it. How about you?” Percy asked as he placed a chaw of tobacco into his mouth.

“I was thinking of riding south to my old home place in Lampasas, see who I can find.” I replied.

“Well hell, why don’t you ride with me over to Abilene and at least let me treat you to a nice meal and a bath? I sure could use the company.” Percy replied smiling.

I thought about it for a second, looking up the empty trail and watching the pine trees sway in the gentle breeze. Hell, I knew there was nobody in Lampasas waiting for me. Both my folks died from scarlet fever five years back and my younger sister, Clara, had gotten married and moved to California with some tin pan chasing his dreams of riches.

“Sure, why the hell not!” I replied, reigning my horse west toward Abilene.

After going a few miles, and listening to our horses fart in rhythmic time and watching some buzzards circle high above us, Percy spoke up.

“So if we are going to be traveling companions, we best know a little bout’ each other in case one of us are killed. That way we can say something meaningful at the funeral.” I smiled at the comment without looking at Percy.

“Okay, where do you want to start?” I asked.

“Were you ever married? Have any children?” Percy looked at me sideways.

“Came damn close to getting married once to a gal in Durango. She was mexcan’ of course and did not speak a word of English, but damn that gal could….”

My story was interrupted by several gunshots up ahead of us. We both spurred our horses and as we came around a wide right bend in the trail we spied a covered wagon about a hundred yards ahead of us under attack by three men with mask on horseback. The wagon had come to rest near the side of the road after both of its horses had been killed. Near as I could tell there was one person inside the wagon returning fire with a rifle at the bandits as they circled.

“Whatta you say we even up the odds pardner?” Percy said pulling out his repeater from its scabbard. Before I could reply that maybe we should find cover before engaging three armed men in the open, Percy let off three quick shots, none of them finding its intended target, but all of them letting the bandit’s know our location.

“Dammit Percy!” I said spurring my horse into the brush off the trail. By the time I had dismounted and pulled my Winchester, the bandits had decided not to fight it out and hauled ass, leaving a plume of brown dust in their wake.

“What are you doing down there in the brush?” Percy asked me, sitting tall and smiling from his horse.

“You crazy sumbitch” I spat.

We both were cautious approaching the wagon, as nobody had shown themselves yet.

“Hello! In the wagon there! Don’t shoot! We both come in peace!” Percy called out.

Nothing was heard in return. We stopped ten yards shy of the flap and Percy dismounted while I held his reigns .

“Hello in the wagon!” Percy called out again. This time we could both hear somebody inside breathing hard. Percy drew his pistol and pulled back the flap. There laying down inside was a man of around thirty with dark blonde hair. His face was pallid and his sky blue eyes were bloodshot and haggard. He had one hand on his stomach with blood leaking out around it and in the other hand a cocked Double-Action Colt Army.

“Help me, I have been shot…” the man whispered weakly. Percy turned and gave me a concerned look and I quickly dismounted and jumped up into the wagon.

“Whoa there pardner” I said trying to soothe him. Before looking at the wound, I carefully took the Colt out of his hand and let down the hammer, placing it back in the man’s holster. I then moved his bloody hand aside and examined the wound. The Bullet had entered three inches right of his naval. Rolling him over slightly on his side, I could not see or feel an exit wound.

  “I’m so damn cold.” the man said looking at me with scared eyes as sweat poured from his forehead and his teeth began to chatter. Percy climbed up beside me and gave him a drink of water from the canteen while I looked around for something to make a dressing out of. Rummaging around inside the wagon, I could tell right away the man was a tin pan. Picks, pans, shovels, spades and other digging implements littered the back of the wagon. Finally finding an old shirt, I began ripping it up into strips for the dressing. The blood was almost black and I knew right away he had been shot in the lower bowels, which was never a good sign. I dressed the wound best I could, trying to staunch the bleeding.

“You keep your hand here as tight as you can.” I told him plainly. He nodded while his teeth chattered so violently I was scared he would chip a tooth. I covered him up with my wool blanket from my bed roll and then me and Percy went outside to talk.

“We gotta get him to a Doctor Percy. He’s burning up with fever.” The man was loudly mumbling incoherently about something while we talked.

“Since when are we responsible for bushwhacked travelers?” Percy asked with a confused look on his face. As I was thinking up a keen response the man yelled out with a concerning tone so much that me and Percy both immediately jumped back up in the wagon. The man eyes were large and he was pointing to the back of the wagon as if his life depended on it. Through chattering teeth he managed to get out

“In the trunk, please hand me the small leather satchel in there.” Not thinking anything of it I went over to the trunk and opened it and retrieved a small, well-worn brown leather bag. As I was about to hand it to him Percy intercepted me.

“Let’s see what he is so anxious to get at.” Opening the bag Percy found ten soup can tins with a piece of cloth stuffed down into them.

“Whatcha got in here partner?” Percy asked smiling looking over a the man, who by now had a look of extreme anxiety on his face. As Percy removed one of the cloths covering the can, both his eyes and mine almost popped out of our heads. Inside the can were dozens of chunks of gold as big as a man’s thumb.

“Holy shit on a shingle!” Percy said laughing. As a huge grin began to spread over my face I will never forget how loud the sound of that Colt’s hammer was when it was cocked. Me and Percy turned around at the same time to see the wounded man had drawn down on us and that anxious look had turned into one of pure anger. The smile disappeared from Percy’s face as he looked at me and said

“Well Damn Logan! Don’t you wish now you had disarmed the sum-a-bitch!”

II.

After me and Percy had stared down the barrel of that cocked Colt for a long few seconds with our hands in the air, the man motioned for us to hand over the bag, which we did. Once the man had the bag he motioned with the gun barrel for us to get out of the wagon. Standing there with our hands up, Percy had the presence of mind to state the obvious.

“Looks like to me you are in quite the pickle feller. Yeah, you have your gold, but you are also gut shot and dying. Without someone helping you to a Doctor, you are certainly going to lie there and bleed to death.”

Percy’s words hung in the air for a long few seconds while the wounded man surmised his terrible situation with a look of agony and anxiety I have yet to see duplicated on another man’s face since. The miner took a deep breath and spoke.

“You get to me a Doctor and I will give you one can.”

Immediately me and Percy did the math. There were at least a dozen chunks of gold in that can, each chunk weighing around 6 ounces, maybe more. With gold currently at around twenty dollars an ounce, one can was worth around fourteen hundred dollars minimum. With around ten cans in the bag, this gut shot miner had around fourteen thousand dollars in his possession.  No damn wonder those bandits were after him so hard!

With his arms still raised in the air, Percy, to my absolute horror, began to haggle with the miner.

“I think the going rate for something like this should be two cans.” The miner spit blood and raised the Colt.

“The fact that you would argue with a dying man holding a gun on you shows your character sir.” The miner replied, glaring.

Un-phased by the insult, Percy offered a practical assessment.

“Still, being things as they may, you need us if you wanna stay above ground for the foreseeable future.”

Seeing my chance I gently moved over next to Percy.

“Percy, let’s take the one can and get him to a Doctor.”

The look Percy gave me reminded me of the look my mother used to give me when she found me in my fathers tobacco. Pure scorn and anger. Before he could reply I continued.

“The man’s dying Percy! Now let’s stop farting around and get going!”

Percy finally relented.

“OK tin pan. One can paid right now and we will get going.” Percy switched his gaze from me to the miner. The miner shook his head in disgust and took out one can and handed it over.

“By the way” the miner said through gritted teeth.

“In case I die on the way to town my name is Arthur Wingate and I have relatives in St. Louis. I would be much obliged if you contact them.” Percy shot me a confused look as if the information had confounded him.

We rode into the town of Abilene an hour later with Arthur Wingate barely clinging to life but damn sure clinging to his Fourteen Thousand dollars worth of gold and that Colt revolver. Not seeing a sign for a Doctor’s office, Percy asked a man crossing the street where we might find one. We were directed to a fine-looking home not far out-of-town. “Charles A. Kirkpatrick, MD.” a sign read outside a ranch style affair with a white picket fence and gate. The yard was well manicured with several rose trellis’ by the front steps. With me on one side and Percy on the other, we walked the wounded man to the front door. Percy banged on the door with a bloody hand. The curtain on the front window parted and the door was quickly opened. A balding man in his fifties with wire rim spectacles and bushy black eyebrows that resembled two caterpillars crawling across his head answered. Taking one look at the miner he motioned us inside. We dragged the miner through the entryway and parlor into some type of exam room.

“Get him on the table over there.” the Doctor instructed us brusquely.

The room smelled of wood polish and antiseptic. As we laid him on the table the Doctor felt the miner’s pulse on his neck and then went over to a cabinet and started preparing some kind of injection.

“Anna!” the Doctor called out into the air.

Immediately a large, round-faced woman with auburn hair who looked to be around forty or so entered the room. She was tying a large white apron around her ample waist as she approached us.

“You gentleman may wait in the parlor”  she said as she herded us out the door and shut it behind us.

The parlor, which sat just off the entrance hall, was decorated with fine china, a Persian rug and a large love seat upholstered in a pattern of dainty roses.

“Damn! The Doctoring business must pay good!” Percy remarked looking around at the room. As we both sat down on the love seat I took notice of a large painting hanging on the wall opposite. It was a duel between two large man-of-war sailing ships.

“Battle of Baltimore – 1814” read the gold-plated inscription below it. As I stared at the painting I felt Percy’s heavy head collapse against my shoulder. It did not take long for my head to collapse the other way as both of our bodies surrendered to exhaustion.

Two hours later the Doctor was shaking us awake.

“Your friend is alive. I got the bullet out but he lost an awful lot of blood. If he doesn’t get an infection in his colon, he should survive. He should stay here for the next few days so I can keep an eye on him.”

Me and Percy both got to our feet and followed the Doctor into the exam room where Wingate lay asleep.

“I just gave him a large dose of opium tincture so he will be asleep for the rest of the evening. Please feel free to come back in the morning.” With that the Doctor began to escort us to the front door. Before we walked out of the room. Percy stopped.

“Say, that leather bag he had, where is it? He would want us to take it with us.” The Doctor eyed Percy suspiciously.

“Well Mr. Wingate informed me and my wife that the bag was to stay here under our supervision until he was ready to travel, and when I give my word to a patient, I keep it.” Percy smiled back at the Doctor and just nodded his head. Before leaving I extended my hand to the Doctor.

“We appreciate all you have done Doc, what do we owe you?” The doctor smiled wearily.

“We can settle the bill when the patient is discharged.” I nodded understandingly and me and Percy turned around and walked out of the door.

Riding into town it did not take Percy long to say what I knew was on his mind.

“So when do you want to rob the good doctor and his plump wife?” I did not even look at him when he said it. I let a few moments pass just to aggravate him.

“Hey, shit for brains! Did you hear what I asked? When do you want to go get that fourteen thousand dollars just sitting in that sawbones house waiting on us?” We were just coming into town and I stopped my horse.

“Percy you really expect me to go along with you robbing an honest miner of his find? Hell, the man already gave us over a thousand dollars just to bring him to the Doctor! You remember that?” Percy stopped and swung his horse around to where he was facing me.

“Logan if you honestly think I am gonna give up an opportunity like this you are crazy! There is enough gold sitting in that house to set you and me up for life!” It felt like I was talking to a brick wall.

“I will have no part of it and I will not stand by and watch you rob him either, so I am just letting you know.” Percy stared at me for a long minute as I returned the stare.

“You’re serious!” Percy asked, his mouth open.

“Damn right I am serious. We already got Seven hundred dollars worth of gold each! Shit man, be happy with that!” I spurred my horse and headed for town, leaving Percy sitting on the side of the road confused and angry.

Being alone that afternoon, I felt good about things for the first time in a long time. Instead of killing and maiming I had helped to save a decent man’s life, and had been rewarded handsomely for it. Perhaps this is something I could do on a more regular basis I thought to myself. Riding this strange wave of euphoria I decided to get a haircut, shave and a bath and then went next door to the tailor’s and bought me a brand-spanking new outfit. I had to laugh at the tailor when he asked me what I wanted to do with my old clothes. I  told him to promptly “burn them” and without missing a beat he replied “My thoughts exactly sir.”

Suited up in my new duds I went to the hotel and had a steak dinner complete with peach cobbler for dessert and then got me a room with a big soft bed where I slept like the dead. At breakfast the next morning however, Percy was nowhere to be found. My first thoughts to where Percy might be scared the shit out of me I don’t mind telling you. I imagined in my mind’s eye the miner and the good doctor and his wife laying dead in pools of their own blood with Percy riding hard for Old Mexico with that brown leather satchel in tow.

It did not take long however for the reality of Percy’s plight to be revealed. Walking down main street, I spotted his chestnut mare tied outside the city jail. Shaking my head with disgust, I walked over, took a deep breath, and entered the jailhouse. A man in his fifties with a head of white hair and a matching waxed handlebar mustache sat behind a desk with a name placard that read “Arthur T. Roberts, City Marshal”. The marshal did not get up when I entered and made sure I saw the double barrel 10 gauge in his lap.

“Yes sir can I help ya?” he asked, eyeing me suspiciously.

“Yes, I have come to fetch my friend, Percy Ingovoll, I believe you have him locked up in your jail.” The lawman grinned and took his boots off the desk.

“If you are referring to the gentleman whom was trying to fight the entire saloon last night, yes we have him.” There was a long pause as the lawman continued to size me up.

“OK, so let’s have him.” I said impatiently. The lawman gave a smirk and reached over on his desk and picked up a piece of paper. Taking time to remove his spectacles from his front shirt pocket, he then studied the paper.

“He is scheduled to go before Judge Tillford at 10 o’clock this morning.” The lawman answered.

“For fighting in a saloon?” I asked.

The lawman stood up. He was a tall, gangly man with long slender arms and almost no waist to speak of. I also noticed as he stood he wore a tie-down rig, which told me he fancied himself a gunfighter.

“Disturbing the Peace, Drunk and Disorderly and Destruction of Private Property are charges we take very serious here in Abilene, Mr.? I did not catch your name.”

The atmosphere was getting tense so I decided to cut through the bullshit and talk a language all  corrupt lawmen know. Money.

“I did not give my name. How much are the fines for those three charges?” I asked. The lawman’s expression turned smug as he walked over to the gun rack and holstered the 10 gauge.

“Well, let’s see for those three charges plus court cost, and the cost of stabling the man’s horse, let’s call it what we took off him in gold last night as payment in full.” He reached into his shirt pocket and laid out four thumb sized gold nuggets wrapped in cloth. My temper flared at that moment and I felt like the top of my head was gonna blow off.

“That seems a bit excessive since that gold is worth well over seven hundred dollars.” I replied, my face feeling hot and most likely the color of crimson from anger.  The lawman walked over and sat on the edge of his desk. He removed makings for a cigarette and began rolling one up.

“Well sir, it very well may seem excessive, but that is the price if you want to walk out of here with your friend this morning. Of course you are more than welcome to let him have his day in court but let me caution you, Judge Tillerson is not as lenient as I am.” The marshal smiled a shit eating grin as he lit his cigarette with a match.

“And by not as lenient you mean more expensive?” I replied looking at him coldly. The marshal shot me a look of pure cruelty through the haze of smoke. I thought for a brief moment before I spoke again since my anger was at the fine point of boiling over.

“Very well, let’s have him then.” I said. The marshal hesitated as if he had not heard me and then stood up, making a big show to pocket the gold. He then slowly reached over on a peg and retrieved a set of keys.

A few minutes later he returned with what was left of Percy. My mouth fell open when I saw him. Percy literally looked like death warmed over. Both eyes were black and swollen and his lip had been split in several places. A deep gash on his scalp was leaking blood down the side of his head and to top it all of he could barely walk.

“My God! What the hell happened to him?” I asked taking hold of Percy’s arm.

“Like I said he tried to fight the entire saloon.” The Marshal responded non-chalant. Percy gave me an incredulous look that confirmed that statement was pure bullshit. As we left the marshal handed me Percy’s gun belt.

“If you or your friend make trouble around these parts again, I am going to do more than fine you next time, is that understood?”  I was so mad at that point I did not even turn around to acknowledge the smug bastard. Once we were out the door and to our horses I asked Percy if he was alright to ride. He nodded that he could and I followed along as he swayed back and forth in the saddle like a drunkard.

 

III.

“What the hell happened!” Dr. Kirkpatrick exclaimed as he answered the door.

“Your town marshal’s handiwork” I replied helping Percy inside the house.

“Oh my God! Bring him into the exam room” The doctors wife came from the parlor and took Percy’s other arm as we both helped him up on the exam table. Wingate sat up in his bed as we came in.

“Bandits?” Wingate asked with a weak voice.

“No, worse, the town law.” I replied sarcastically. After laying Percy down on the table I walked over to Wingate’s bed.

“What happened?” he asked hoarsely. I walked over and explained the whole thing.

“Ain’t nothing worse than crooked law.” Wingate fumed, his face turning three shades of scarlet.

“Looks like they broke two ribs and fractured his arm. He has a slight concussion and this cut on his scalp is gonna need a couple of stitches too.” I walked back over and gripped Percy’s hand.

“Hang on pard, Doc will put you back together.” I said as Doc began the process of stitching his head and setting a cast on his arm.

The next day Percy was awake, but only for a little while. He was still so out of it he would not even get up to urinate he would just roll over and attempt to pee in the bed pan. As I was sitting there next to Percy Doc came in to check on him. I suppose he could see the concern on my face.

“His body is repairing itself, we need to let him rest.” Doc told me checking his pulse. I walked out on the porch where Wingate was sitting in a rocking chair smoking his pipe.

“How is he?” he asked through the pipes blue-grey smoke. I shrugged and leaned up against the porch post.

“Don’t you worry yourself Logan. I once seen a man get the living shit kicked out of him by three other miners for poaching a claim.They worked him over good with shovels. He did not get out of bed for a damn week. He could take only broth and water. But you know what? after a week and a half he got right up and went back to work. Of course he did not learn his lesson too well and a week later he was shot dead for poaching another man’s claim. Some men are just dumb beast.” I had to laugh at Wingate. The man always had an entertaining story to tell, even if it was depressing as hell.

Early the next morning before sun-up somebody shook me awake. Looking up through bleary eyes I saw Percy standing there.

“We need to talk.” he whispered.

I pulled on my pants and followed him quietly through the dark house and out to the front porch. The early morning was cool and damp and the smell of honeysuckle floated on the air while a Whip-poor-will cooed from a tree out in the yard. Percy sat down in a rocking chair and lit a coal oil lantern on the table beside him. I could tell he had something serious on his mind.

“We need to get Wingate and get the hell out of here come first light.” Percy said matter of factly, sitting back in the chair. I gave Percy a puzzled look.

“What are you talking about? Why? I thought you might want to get back at the son-of-a-bitch marshal for what he did to you!” Percy shook his head.

“You don’t understand Logan. That marshal knows everything about Wingate and his gold.” The look I gave Percy was the look you see on a man’s face when he is utterly confused and lost.

“Wait a minute, so is that the reason they questioned and beat you like they did? They think we are all in cahoots or something?” I asked amazed. Percy nodded.

“Yep they think we know something. And the reason they think that is what happened out on the trail when Wingate got shot. Us accidentally finding him being ambushed out on the road and driving those deputies away that were trying to kill him was proof to the marshal that we are indeed in cahoots! Can you believe it!” Percy leaned over and lit the cigarette with the flame from the lantern.

I put my head in my hands. This was just too much for my foggy brain this early in the morning.

“So why not just me and you cut and run and leave Wingate to deal with this Marshal by himself? I mean you said the other day we are not responsible for helping every poor pilgrim we come across, right?” Percy sat forward in the rocking chair and looked at me.

“Normally I might agree with you, but now, like it or not we are involved in this thing up to our necks and we owe it to Wingate to get him somewhere safe. It may not be the smartest move, but it is definitely the right one.”

A half-hour passed and the soft light of dawn begin to break. I went into the kitchen to put some coffee on and then went and woke up Wingate. After Percy had explained everything to him and we agreed the best thing to do was leave town as soon as we could, Percy asked Wingate a question that made me do a double-take.

“That marshal knew an awful lot about you Wingate. How is that, being you are not from around here?” Wingate let out a long breath and shook his head.

“I sure am sorry you boys got mixed up in this thing.” Wingate said looking at us.

“Enough of the bullshit Wingate. Answer the question!” Percy said flatly.

“The claim in which I found the gold belonged to the Marshal’s brother. He was killed in a saloon brawl in Austin almost a year ago. When his claim came up for sale at the land office I snatched it up and began mining it. Of course this was before anybody knew the man had a will and had left the claim to his brother, the Marshal of Abilene, Arthur T. Roberts.” Wingate said lighting his pipe.

“Well I’ll be damned!” Percy said getting up out of his chair.

“It all makes sense now. He thinks you cheated him!” Percy exclaimed.

“Yeah what caused the confusion was Roberts had not filed the will with an attorney or any next of kin, he had left it with a whore in Austin he frequented. Once he died and the whore came forward to a judge, the land and mine had already been sold to me, so the marshal had no legal recourse, so he resorted to trying to rob and kill me out on the road when you boys found me the other day.” Wingate replied.

“Why the hell didn’t you tell us this earlier?” I asked.

“I did not want to get you boys anymore involved than you already were, I guess.” Wingate said looking at the floor sheepishly.

“Well there’s one thing we know for sure. That marshal intends to kill you to get that claim.” Percy said matter-of-factly.

“Yeah and the only reason he has not done so by now is because you are here, at the Doctors house. I reckon at any moment he is going to ride out here to arrest you for something and then take you back to that jailhouse and kill you for any number of reasons” I replied. Wingate leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath.

“Hell, there ain’t no way the three of us can hold off that marshal and all them deputies he has! What should we do?” Percy got up out of his chair and walked over and leaned against the railing.

“Only thing to do is to take the fight to the marshal before he brings it to us. We kill the head of the snake, the rest will die.”

A smoky silver haze floated just above the earth while two whitetail deer, a doe and a spike buck, grazed on the lush green grass. Uncertainty and fear coursed through my body at that moment like no other time in my life. Glancing over at Wingate I could tell the same was true for him.

“So we go in there and kill him? That is our plan?” Wingate asked looking at both of us, his lips quivering. There was a long pause.

“That or we wait and let him come out here and kill you, which sounds better Wingate?” Percy asked, still looking at the deer grazing peacefully.

After breakfast and a long discussion with the Doctor, it was decided all three of us would go into town that evening and murder the Marshal. I could tell the Doctor was troubled by our plan.

“Doctor if I am killed, I am signing off ownership of the claim and the gold I currently have in my possession totaling fourteen thousand dollars worth to be equally split three ways between You, Percy and Logan.” Wingate said as he signed a piece of paper and slid it over to the Doctor.

“Would you please witness this Doctor?” Wingate asked.

The Doctor put on his spectacles and read over the document. After reading it he paused for a long moment and took off his spectacles.

“Mr. Wingate are you sure this is what you want to do sir?” Wingate cleared his throat.

“I am sure.” he replied.

“I would like to ask one more thing.” Wingate said as he stood up from the table.

“If I shall be killed in this mis-adventure, I would like my body to be shipped back to Missouri and be buried next to my mother and father in our family cemetery outside of House Springs. Here is a hundred dollars to see to the cost.” Percy, me and the doctor all looked at one another with a sense of sincere sadness. Then Percy did something totally our of character. He stood up from the table and said.

“You can count on me Wingate!” the two men shook hands and smiled as if they were long lost brothers.

 IV.

That evening as we were preparing to leave, the doctor and his wife asked us into the parlor.

“I called all of you here to make a suggestion that I think can solve your problem much simpler than your current plan.”

As the doctor said this his wife entered with a freshly baked apple pie. A smile spread across Wingate’s face as he realized what he was about to say.

“You intend to poison him!” Wingate said jumping up from his seat like a man who had been touched in the head.

“Indeed we do. Anna has dosed this pie with enough hemlock to kill five men easily.” The doctor replied with a sly grin.

I sat back and admired the simplicity of the plan while Percy just shook his head in amazement and poured himself a brandy.

“Anna will deliver the pie first thing tomorrow before lunch and I expect you shall have the desired result shortly thereafter, depending of course if he eat’s it right then or later that evening.” The doctor’s tone was both proud and strangely enthusiastic.

After the meeting, we all moved into the dining room where Anna had prepared a lovely fried chicken dinner with all the trimmings. Everybody ate and drank until they were full as ticks. It was an overall jovial occasion. When we were finished, Wingate, now fully drunk, stood to make a speech.

“This day has truly turned out to be a surprise. I thought for sure it would end with me either being wounded or killed.” Wingate grew more unsteady on his feet as he kept talking, slurring his words so badly it drew nervous laughter from everybody in the room.

Suddenly I began feeling light-headed and dizzy myself, even though I had not touched a drop of alcohol. As my heart began to pound in my chest at the thought that was forming in my mind, I remember seeing Wingate collapse on the floor in a heap and hearing the loud thud his head made when it hit the oak planks of the wood floor. Looking over at Percy I noticed he had collapsed sideways in his chair, his tongue rolling out of his head like a sick dog.

“What the hell?” was all I got out before the world turned upside down, sideways and then went black as midnight.

When I awoke I was lying in the exam room with my head busting wide open from the most terrible headache I had ever known. Looking over to my left I saw both Percy and Wingate lying in a bed together like they were asleep. Suddenly two men’s voices could be heard.

“So why is this one still alive?” I heard one of the men ask.

“Not sure, he ate the same as the rest.” I suddenly felt nauseous like I was going to throw up.

“Oh Jesus Anna! Come help us with this one!” One of the men called out.

“Turn over on your side Logan.” a woman’s voice instructed me curtly. After I had retched, Anna wiped my mouth with a moist washcloth and then patted my head with it. As my eyes adjusted, I saw that we were not alone in the room. Standing there at the end of the bed was Dr. Kirkpatrick and Marshal Roberts. As I tried to raise my arm to draw my gun, I realized my arms were bound with leather straps and I was not even wearing any pants, much less a gun belt.

“Now now Logan, you need to take it easy.” Anna whispered. My blood was literally boiling in my head I was so mad.

“What the hell have you done!” I yelled out with a hoarse voice. Anna looked at me with abject pity and then turned around to her husband.

“Can’t we spare him?” she asked.

“Afraid not darling, he knows too much.” Dr. Kirkpatrick replied coldly. Anna gave a pouty look.

“Now Marshal our deal stands, we get all the gold and you get the deed to the claim, correct?” The Marshal gave her a look of disgust and answered

“Yes Anna, that was the deal.” The Marshal walked over to the bed where Wingate and Percy’s bodies lay.

“As for Mr. Chandler there, I figure a good story to tell the judge is these three had a falling out about the gold and Logan murdered them over it. Of course you two can be key witnesses as you saw the whole thing happen in your dining room, correct?”

As those words hit my ears a lightning bolt went through my entire body. Pure, seething anger emanated from every pore. As I jerked at the restraints the doctor and his wife backed up from the bed.

“Logan! You need to settle down!” The marshal yelled taking out his pistol to whack me.

“You murdering, corrupt bastards!” I yelled out, spittle flying from my mouth in a rant. After a minute of my temper flaring I was spent, the poison in my body completely zapping me of all energy and willpower.

“So he will hang then?” The Doctor asked, setting the brown satchel containing Wingates gold on a table to inspect the contents.

“Oh yeah, the judge won’t hesitate on this one.” The marshal proudly replied looking at me.

“A double murder over gold? That is about open and shut as you can get in these parts.”

Hot tears rolled down my cheeks as I turned to look at my best friend’s dead faces as one of the marshal’s deputies lifted me from the bed and handcuffed me. A flood of memories washed over me. Percy’s infectious laugh. Wingate’s wild mining camp stories. I remembered them all. As Anna watched from the window as they put me up on a horse, I was reminded when me and her helped carry Wingate into the house after he had been shot. I remember the Doctor taking such care sewing up Percy’s head after the Marshal had beat him. Now both Anna and the Doctor had murdered the same men they had cared for all these weeks in their own home! Greed truly infects men’s souls and turns them into heartless beast.

Arriving at the jail I was told it would most likely be tomorrow when I would be hung because they had to build a gallows and those things took time. I asked for some paper and a pencil to write a letter to my next of kin, and this is that letter my dearest mother Catherine. I hope you have received it or if you have not, I at least hope whomever reads this will seek out justice for me and my friends, Percy Ingovoll and Arthur Wingate who were murdered in cold blood by poisoning by City Marshal John Roberts, Doctor Charles A. Kirkpatrick and his wife Anna Kirkpatrick because the three of them conspired to steal Arthur Wingates gold and his gold claim.

Please let justice avenge us!

Sincerely,

Logan Chandler

 

THE END

 

A Border Reckoning

(Part 1 of the Border Trilogy)

canyon

I.

Northern Mexico, 1901

This land is Desperation and Hardship.

Everywhere the cracked red earth springs forth thorny reflections of violent resilience, as if creation itself is nodding its weary head to the inevitable conclusion of the despair that surrounds it.

In a canyon named resortes rojo, a large black seep in a red rock wall drained slowly down into a watery pool creating an oasis in multiple stands of juniper, cottonwood and pinyon trees. Shaded from the tortuous sun, this place is a momentary reprieve for both the sparse resident and weary traveler alike, including four Texas cowboys and forty-three head of stolen mexican mustangs. As the horses watered behind a well-made thorny picket line and the men set up a small overnight camp, a pair of young dark eyes hidden in a small cave far above them watched their movements intently.

The eyes belonged to a 14-year-old lipan apache boy, wiry and tall for his age, his muscles stretched over his long frame like taut steel cables while his clay colored skin was already rough-hewn, his pores blasted by relentless sand and wind, the moisture of  youth crucified long ago. His coal-black hair was shoulder length and unkempt, his bangs long enough to partially cover the crimson-purplish scar on the left side of his face that began dangerously close to his eye and ended at his chin. As the boy traced the long scar with his finger, in his mind flashed the image of the man who had put the scar there two years ago. The man had whispered into the boy’s ear like some deranged drunk lover that this was going to be a“forget me not” scar, a warning never to steal from him again. The boy remembered the bastards holding him down as the red-hot blade seared deep into his face, the smell of his own burnt flesh still fresh in his nostrils and nauseating him to this day.

 The boy waited until well after sundown until the men were fast asleep and snoring like a pack of hogs, save a sentry armed with a repeater perched on a high shale ledge overlooking the camp. With a three-quarter moon overhead, a broad carpet of soft white light enveloped the red canyon walls and created luminous shadows that danced in the firelight like mischievous children. The boy moved quietly, always in a deliberate fashion until he was out of the canyon and atop his bay mare, Cricket. He then raced back to the band of lunatics he called family who were camped several miles away on the western side of Montana del lobo.

Upon entering camp the boy reported what he had witnessed to the leader of the group, a mexican army deserter named Diaz. It was Diaz who had found the boy wandering the western tablelands weeks after the Texans had murdered the boy’s family. Often at night the boy considered how the smallest choices can often make the biggest impact in ones life. If his father would not have insisted he go hunting that morning, the boy would have joined his ancestors that day as well. When he returned from the hunt late that evening with a doe and sow pig hung over the back of his horse, he found the entire camp had been rode through and burned.  His father and uncle had both been shot through the head and strung up upside down on a tall cottonwood with their arms hacked off and their eyes gouged out. Their dick and balls had been cut off and stuffed in their mouths. His poor grandmother had been stretched over a wagon wheel and then set on fire with coal oil.

It took the boy a while to find his mother, the bastards had drug her away from camp with a rope around her neck. She had been gutted like a pig, the four-month old  fetus inside of her that had been the boy’s sister had been ripped from her womb and impaled on a sharpened paloverde pole made into a roasting spit. The charred remains of the fetus and the bloody black umbilicus hanging from it were a grim reminder that human life was cheap here, and regardless of age or innocence, held no sentimental place of reservation.

Diaz quickly called a haphazard council and an ambush was planned for just before dawn, only a few hours away. The groups number currently stood at ten fighting men, with one man injured. The boy was not counted and considered a half-ass scout at best. Their real scout, a Comanche named Parsons, had taken the boy under his wing and when out on the trail, showed him how to cut and read sign.

Tick, a black french creole from the swamps of Louisiana had been wounded in the leg during a mail-coach robbery a few days prior and was laid up and useless for fighting. The rest of the men were petty thieves save two white men. Grissom, a former US Army cavalry Sergeant and Spoon, a cow puncher from New Mexico. After the meeting had broken up, the boy walked over to Diaz’ shanty where he found him sitting outside cleaning a German mauser by the light of a lantern.

“You reckon these cowboys are the ones that killed my folks?” The boy asked.

“That was over two years ago kid, I seriously doubt it.” Diaz replied without looking at him.

The boy studied Diaz by the light of the lantern. He had a large flat face with a squashed nose and large black eyes. His hair was long and greasy.

“If you want to shoot one of the bastards, I will let you, makes no difference to me, so long as I get 30 horses out of the deal!” Diaz smiled widely, proud of the good fortune that had seemingly fell into his lap. The boy tried smiling back, but just looked down at his feet awkwardly, unsure of how to feel, but feeling anger and loneliness all the same.

After a small supper of beans and tortillas, the boy laid down by the fire and drifted off to sleep. He dreamed he was at a river, him on one side and his family on the other. His father was motioning for him to cross but he was scared. The current was too swift. His father kept calling out to him but he could not hear his words for the roar of the rushing water. A hawk called above him and when he looked up, the sun blinded him. He tried to see his father once more and then suddenly, he was awakened with a swift kick to his side.

The boy rose suddenly from his blanket, his fist raised to fight to find Spoon laughing. He was a tall thin white man with a shaved bald head and a black handlebar mustache flecked with grey. He said he had hired on to work for a rancher near Roswell but got into a fight in a saloon and during the scuffle, shot and killed a whore and a local banker named Peterson.

“I Did not mean to kill that whore.” he said in a mournful tone.

“But the banker? Well hell! Who gives two shits about a banker!”

He often bragged there was a five hundred dollar bounty on his head in New Mexico and Texas, but nobody believed him.

“Diaz says you can come along to help us drive them horses back, we leave in an hour, so be ready.”

Spoon handed the boy a New Service Colt revolver and gun belt. The boy took the rig gingerly as if he was handling a basket of eggs.

“Took that off one of those teamsters on that mail run. Damn fine Weapon.” Spoon smiled at the boy and spat in the dirt and clamored off toward his tent with a gourd of tizwin in his hand.

*The group rode out well before dawn. It had gotten much colder, so the boy imitated Grissom, who had tied a handkerchief around his face to block the cutting wind. As they neared the mouth of the canyon they found a shallow wash with waist high banks where some sparse cholla and whitethorn were growing to park the horses out of the wind. As Diaz quietly hobbled the stock, Grissom unholstered a Winchester carbine from his saddle rig and handed it to the boy. It’s loaded up but here are some spare shells anyways. The boy tucked the shells away and slung the carbine across his back. Grissom held a finger up to his lips for the boy to be quiet from here on out and then nodded his head toward the top of the cliff for the boy to lead the way. The pair crawled on all fours almost the entire way until they found the entrance to the small cave, both of them praying aloud that no rattlesnakes or mountain lions had moved in during the night. The boy carefully peered down into the dark abyss of the canyon. The warm orange light from the campfire had died down some, but still reflected off the red rock walls and revealed the three sleeping cowboys. The sentry, now fast asleep like his friends, sat on top of a large rock promontory that overlooked the horse corral, his hat tipped down over his eyes and  a carbine laid across his lap. Grissom pointed where he wanted the boy to take up a rifle rest to cover the cowboys while he moved to a place where he could cover the sentry. The boy copied Grissom as he removed one of his boots to use as a rifle rest. As the boy sighted down the carbine he noticed movement down below. It was Parsons. He wore no shoes or hat and had his face and body completely smeared black with axle grease. His bow was slung low across his back with a quiver full of arrows, and a large bowie-knife strapped to his leg. Both men watched Parsons slip through the mouth of the canyon, using the shadows of the tall rocks along the flanks.  Parsons closed the distance between him and the lookout and stopped, kneeling behind a set of large rocks with pinon scrub. He took the bow from his back and notched an arrow. As the boy’s eyes were trying to focus in the low light, the small cane arrow had already flown, its flight short and straight with the only sound being a sickly wet slap as the arrow found its mark right above the sentry’s adam’s apple. The man suddenly dropped the carbine and put both his hands to his throat as if he were choking at supper, his eyes were wide and scared, frantically searching for a reprieve from the pain. Blood sprayed from the wound like a fountain, covering the brown earth and rock like some ancient mayan sacrifice.

The indian quickly closed with from behind on the man’s position, taking control of his convulsing body and bringing him down to the ground behind the large rock. A few moments later, the black-faced indian appeared like a ghoulish specter, slowly lurking toward the campsite like some strange night creature of mexican fairy tales. His knife, covered in blood, looked black against the backdrop of the eggshell moonlight. Cock your rifle boy. Grissom whispered as the pair both drew a bead on the three men below. Parsons stopped behind a boulder and whistled, stirring one of the cowboys awake. Before the poor soul could get the sleep out of his eyes an arrow pierced his right eyeball with a swoosh. The boy jumped as Grissom shot the second cowboy through the chest as he was bringing his pistol from underneath the blanket. With that Parsons let out a war yelp and charged the remaining cowboy with knife in hand. The young cowboy panicked as he tried to get the gun out of the holster laying beside him, but it was too late. Parsons was already on top of him, the cowboy managed to let out one blood curdling scream, before Parsons delivered the death-blow, sinking the knife deep into the boy’s heart. Parsons then stood and raised his bloody knife to the night sky, his profile illuminated by the campfire, he let out a guttural yelp that originated from a place deep within his soul, a place of pain and loneliness. This was revenge. A deep seeded hate that boiled out like a wildfire consuming the countryside. It was a familiar sound the boy had heard many times from war parties of neighboring clans when they visited upon the white eye the same pain they had caused. The boy had to restrain himself from joining in, but this was not his hunt. this was not his kill. That day still awaited him.

Parsons went around and collected scalps from each of his victims, the four bloody pieces of matted hair and skin the only reminder of these cowboys short and meager existence in this brutal place. Grissom and the boy made their way back down to the arroyo where Spoon sat asleep in his saddle, half drunk, and Diaz sat smoking a cigar, watching the Dawn begin to break and the purplish light spread over the canyon like a familiar blanket. We heard Parsons hoop and holler so I guess he got his scalps? Diaz asked the boy. The boy nodded and Diaz grinned. Alright then, let’s go get them horses! Diaz remarked with his toothless grin. When they arrived Parsons had already looted all the bodies, and took one of the dead cowboys mounts, a fine, tall black stud for his own. Spoon noticed the new carbine Parsons was now cradling like a newborn babe in his arms. Whats that you got there Parsons? A New repeater? Whats that writin’ on the side of it there? Parsons held up the gun with bloody hands, not really sure what Spoon was talking about. Looks like an inscription of some sort. ‘J.T.’, huh, must have been the poor bastards initials. Parsons nodded indifferently and slid the carbine back in the saddle scabbard. By the time they drove the herd to the far side of montana del lobo the boy and his mount were exhausted. Tick had made some much-needed repairs to the horse corral and was waiting for them when they arrived, waving his hat and yelling them though the gate. That night everybody got drunk and celebrated. Parsons had riden over to Valle Azul and traded a horse for food and a case of mescal. Diaz hooped and hollered, firing off his revolver wildly. Grissom broke out a fiddle and started sawing a lively tune. Tick, with a half bottle or better of mescal in him, hopped on one leg like some carnival act, flailing around to the music in a wild display of grievous tomfoolery, finally falling down face first in a drunken heap. Spoon and the boy sat by the fire, watching Parsons clean and examine the new carbine he had taken off the murdered cowboy. Well Parsons you feel better now you killed them boys that killed your family? Spoon asked, Parsons stopped polishing the rifle and looked at Spoon through the crackling floating embers of the fire. There was complete silence between them. After a while Parsons went back to polishing the rifle. Damn indians, you can never figure em’ Spoon commented as he spit into the fire. After a moment he got up and stumbled to his tent where almost immediately the lantern went dark and snoring could be heard.

 

II.

The next morning the boy awoke to a gunmetal grey dawn and the smell of frying bacon and coffee. Grissom’s coarse voice soon broke the morning peace. Come on and get yourself some of this boy, we got a long day ahead of us. As the boy slowly made his way to the fire Spoon appeared out of his tent, looking as if he had been bushwhacked by road bandits and squinting at the new day as if the morning light were a pack of unwelcome solicitors banging on the front door of his brain. He stumbled out to the jakes and disappeared there for a considerable amount of time. Soon Diaz appeared, looking disheveled but somewhat jolly. Change of plans. Me, Spoon and Tick will take 30 head to the trader. I want the boy, Parsons and Grissom to take the remaining head up to that bastard Colonel Parker to trade for guns and ammunition. Grissom cussed under his breath and headed for the corral saying something about being a wet-nurse to savages. By the time the boy was saddled up and ready to ride, Parsons and Grissom were already leading the string of ponies out of camp. The boy trailed two mules to haul their return load of guns, both of them stubborn and ill-tempered animals. The triplet of riders and beast rode east with the sketch of pale blue mountains floating ahead of them with a set of small scribbled valleys in between twisting like a constrictor with no pattern or design. They camped in a small stand of cottonwoods near a trickling creek at sundown and early the next morning started off on the final leg of the trip where narrow winding valleys and red stone cliffs gave way to a never-ending stretches of white soda flats where the boy thought they might never see water again but Parsons managed to find a small spring where they all drank like fishes and the horses drank so much they laid down in a small stand of pinon and cottonwoods and slept for a while. They rode the rest of the day across the flats until sunset when they finally pulled into a silver mining camp that set at the base of some low pockmarked foothills covered with cholla and palovede called El lugar de las aguilas (The Place of the Eagles).

Grissom led the horses down a crowded street of miners and drovers to a corral that sat at the back of a two-story clapboard building marked ‘oficina and cantina’ Parsons dismounted and nodded for the boy to do the same. The boy felt eyes from all directions studying them. They tied their horses and waited for Grissom to join them. As they entered through the saloon doors, the sweet stench of whiskey and sweat was overwhelming and the din of drunken men’s voices drowned out all reason. Grissom made his way to the bar, navigating around crowded tables of miners playing poker with consumptive whores loitering like buzzards. Above the bar a stuffed mountain lion sat watching the pitiful proceedings, indifferent to the carnival scene below him. Whatta you have? The bartender asked. He was a large white man, at least six feet tall with an ox blood-colored boulder hat and arms like pine knots. Three rye, Grissom responded. The bartender wiped his brow with a rag and poured out one drink. You can stay but the two savages have to go, Colonels orders. Grissom paused, taking stock of what he had just heard. Grissom looked at the bartender with slight contempt and then drained his drink in one go. He turned to Parsons and nodded for the door. Parsons grabbed the boy by the arm and led him to the door. Grissom then nodded for another drink. Need to see the Boss, got horses to trade. The bartender again wiped his face and brow as he poured the drink. Upstairs, last door on right. Grissom downed his drink and laid a crisp five dollar bill on the bar and set the glass on top of it. As Grissom topped the stairs, a thin sickly mexican whore, scantily clad was leaning on the railing. Ola cowboy. Grissom ignored the woman and kept walking. The small corridor reeked of cigar smoke, kerosene and sex. At the end of the hall sat a bald squat man with a long black handlebar mustache cradling a double barrel 10 gauge. Grissom nodded to the man. See the Colonel? the man asked plainly. Yeah, got horses to trade, Grissom replied. Surrender your weapons the man said bluntly, holding out his hand. Grissom walked over and handed him his Colt. The man stuck the revolver in his waistband and rapped on the door. Enter! a deep voice called out from the other side.

The guard opened the door and nodded to Grissom to enter. Colonel William Frances Parker, United States Army retired, sat behind a large custom rosewood desk with his left leg feet propped up smoking a large mexican torpedo cigar. Parker was in his late-forties, with reddish blonde hair cut short and combed over and a neatly trimmed mustache. His steel blue-grey eyes seemed to look beyond the measure of men, seeking their unspoken agendas. It was said he had fought with Crook in the Apache Wars and actually shook Geronimo’s hand at his surrender. The room was freshly painted and smelled of cedar and sandalwood. A large bookcase containing several thick volumes on the History of the Roman Empire and Roman Military Tactics sat in a corner with several framed military commendations and awards populating the wall around it. Grissom’s eyes were drawn to a custom-made cedar gun cabinet with an etched glass door that took up one wall entire. It contained a Krag ’92, a ’95 Winchester and a ’97 Winchester Pump 12-Gauge.  A large painting of a four masted Man of War engaged in close quarter cannon battle with a brass plate stating “The Great Nile Victory, 1798” hung behind his desk.  Grissom also noticed the Colt 1900 Pistol which lay underneath a 3 week old newspaper from St. Louis. Sgt. Grissom! Well I’ll be damned! Parker’s feet quickly came down on the floor with a thud as he stood, limping on his left leg as he came around the desk. I heard you were killed in a skirmish near Juarez last year! Parker extended his hand and Grissom shook it with a soldier’s firmness. Grissom laughed. Yes sir, I heard that one too, but here I am, alive and well. The Colonel let out a hearty laugh and slapped Grissom on the back. So you are Sergeant! So you are! Remind me again, when did you get out of the Army? The Colonel asked, limping his way back around to his chair behind the desk. Around two years ago sir. Was at Fort Duncan the majority of my tour. Parker struck two matches and re-stoked his cigar while studying Grissom closely through the blue smoke. Fort Duncan, nothing short of the devils asshole! Parker shook his head and closed his eyes, as if trying to dissuade the memories from lodging in his brain.

Have a seat Grissom. Parker motioned his hand toward a chair. He then opened a desk  drawer and removed two glasses and a bottle of single malt scotch whiskey. He poured a finger in each glass. To your health sir! Parker said as he downed the drink. Grissom did the same and smiled. That’s fine whiskey Colonel. The Colonel poured each man another. So Colonel is it true what I heard about you? That you killed ten Comanche in a skirmish in ’96 up at Fort Stockton before being wounded in the leg? The Colonels face grew dim. Yes Grissom it’s true. But the part of the tale they leave out is how we lost 8 good soldiers that day. Those damn Comanches were like flies. The Colonels voice drifted off, his grey eyes staring off into a place beyond the horizon. The room went silent for an entire minute. Yeah and after getting a Comanche lance in the leg, the Army medically discharged me and here I am!  So Grissom, what brings you to my fine camp? Horses, Colonel. I have ten good ponies I would like to trade for rifles and ammunition. The Colonel paused. Horses? How many head? The colonels eyes studied Grissom now as he took a long drink. Ten Head, all good stock and in return I would like rifles and ammunition. I see. Well I won’t ask where the stock came from because as you know I run a fairly loose operation here. The Colonel gave a sly smile and Grissom nodded to the implied notion.

He knew the Colonel had set up shop here three years ago, at first trying to buy out some very lucrative mining claims and then when that failed, burning out the miners and their families and hijacking their claims with his hired army of ex-saddle tramps and mercenaries. He had also used his shady connections in the Army Ordnance Supply chain to find out railway delivery schedules so he could conveniently rob Federal weapon supply and payroll trains and blame it on Mexican bandits or Apache war parties.. Who you running with now Grissom? You still with Diaz and his band of cut-throats? Why you have not took my offer to hire on with me is beyond everything! I will be running all the rackets in this province soon Grissom, and before long, all of Northern Mexico if I am lucky, all the small-timers will have to kick-up 50% or get planted, it’s that simple. Why don’t you join me while you still can? The Colonel looked at Grissom solemnly, waiting for a response. Grissom just smiled. I kinda like my freedom Colonel, after a decade of Army life, not having to answer to somebody is nice for a change. The Colonel laughed heartily. Answer!? Hell boy, we all gotta answer one way or another! Now Let’s go take a look at that stock and see what we can work out. The Colonel finished his drink, stuck the Colt in the army issue flap holster and made his way to the door. The guard stood when the Colonel walked out and went before him downstairs clearing out the drunks and dregs.The saloon quieted as he made his way downstairs, each man eyeing him with a sense of both fear and reverence.

Parsons and the Boy were sitting outside the saloon on a bench sharing a piece of venison jerky when the group came out. As they passed, the boy’s eyes met the Colonels and his blood ran cold. Those same eyes belonged to the man who had cut his face two years ago! The boy felt heat from the top of his head down into his feet. It was like liquid fire, burning, torturing, cauterizing his insides. The boy feared he would burst from the hate growing inside of him! So many thoughts race through his mind. He could kill the sumbitch right here. He had his revolver. No, there were to many guards around. Too many witnesses. But hell, maybe he wanted a lot of witnesses, so these folks would know what he did. Best to stay calm. The boy steadied himself and took a breath. As the Colonel passed the two indians, he eyed Parsons warningly. These two indians are with me Colonel, Grissom motioned for Parsons and the boy to stand up. The Colonel stopped and inspected the two indians with a face of disdain and scorn. How old is this kid? The Colonel asked Grissom. Somewhere’s around 12 I think Colonel. We found him wandering in the desert a year or so back. Said his family got killed by Texas bandits. The Colonel turned his head to the street and spat and then turned and stared at the boys face. Murdered huh? How awful! Lot’s of bandits and cut-throats here about’s doing all kinds of evil. As he was about to walk off, the gleam of the Winchester Parsons cradled in the crook of his arm caught the Colonels eye. Nice Winchester you got there indian, may I? Parsons looked at Grissom who quickly nodded his head for him to comply with the Colonels request. As the Colonel turned the rifle over in his hands, the inscription shown in the bright sunlight “J.T.”, is that your initials indian? the Colonel asked, those grey eyes staring a hole through Parsons now. Parsons looked away and shook his head no. None the less, it’s a very nice rifle, can I buy it from you? Say fifty dollars American? Grissom’s mouth dropped open about the same time as Parsons. Before he could think about it, Parsons accepted the offer. Excellent! the Colonel replied, grinning from ear to ear, his eyes quickly shooting Timmons a weary. secretive glance. Timmons, Pay the man! Timmons promptly reached into his pocket and counted out five ten-dollar bills to Parsons and took the rifle. OK Gentleman, show me these horses! the Colonel’s voice boomed as he started toward the corral.

Parsons and Grissom started toward the corral with Parsons examining his new fistful of greenbacks and the Colonel following close behind. Timmons then without missing a beat, promptly rapped the boy upside the head with the butt of the Winchester, sending him to the ground with a thud. In the same moment as Grissom was turning to see about the commotion, the Colonel presented his Colt Automatic from his holster, and calmly shot Parsons in the back of the head, the explosion of the gunshot piercing the evening stillness and at the same time deafening all around with a stinging whine. The bullet exited right above Parson’s right eye, sending a mottled combination of white and grey matter mingled with blood spewing out into a wide luminous cone, most of it ending up in Grissom’s face and eyes. Parsons went limp and dropped like his backbone had been snatched out by some mysterious apparition. Grissom blindly grabbed for his revolver like a man groping in the dark for a life line but remembered in a hurried flash that he had been disarmed earlier by the guard. God-dammit Colonel! What have you done! Grissom yelled. As Grissom wiped the last of the splintered bone fragments and brain muck from his eyes, he realized at least five rifles were drawn down on him. The boy lay knocked out cold on the ground, the back of his head bleeding with Timmons standing over him gloating. Colonel! What the hell is this about! Grissoms face was red now, spittle flying with every word. What this is about Sergeant. Grissom is a cold-blooded bushwhack. This here carbine belonged to one of my best men, James Tobin or “J.T.” as it is inscribed right here on his gun. The Colonel grabbed the rifle from Timmons and held it up like evidence in a court room. With that the Colonel walked over to Parsons body as it lay crumpled on the ground, reached down and removed the fifty dollars from his pocket. That black stud right there that the indian rode in on was also J.T.’s. Now I don’t have anything against stealing horses, hell I steal horses everyday, but this was more than stealing horses Grissom. You and your band of cut throats murdered and scalped four of my men for 43 head of worthless stolen mexican mustangs! I should just shoot you like I did this damn indian, but you served your country Grissom and deserve to be hung like a white man I suppose. Go fetch that lazy drunk-ass sheriff and tell him to come put these two in the jail for the night. The Colonel spit in the road and stuck the Colt back into his waistband. What about the boy? Grissom asked. He did not take part in it, let him go! The Colonel looked down at the boy on the ground and spat on him. No I can’t do that Grissom. This boy belongs to a clan we tried to kill off a while back. You see that scar on that little bastards face! The Colonel pointed to the boy’s face, spittle flying in the air as he did.. I gave that little sumabitch that scar and warned him and his family not to stick around this country! But did they listen? Hell no! The Bastards were sitting on some of the best prime mining dirt in this territory and would not move! We tried everything but the savages refused. The next morning we went back and killed everybody there but I guess this little bastard got lucky that day. No, the boy hangs with you tomorrow at Noon. I will send a priest over in the morning if you want to get square with the Almighty, although with the scum you been runnin’ with, I doubt it will help. The Colonel shook his head in disgust and then walked off toward the saloon.

Directly a drunk mexican wearing a floppy brimmed hat and a thin hammered piece of tin fashioned to resemble a sheriffs badge came and collected Grissom and the boy. The boy was still groggy from being knocked over the head and had a deep gash in his scalp which was still bleeding. Grissom took his handkerchief and applied pressure to the wound. He then helped him to his feet.The mexican prodded the pair with a double barrel 10 gauge across the street to a makeshift jail in an old run down clapboard  building that had once been a freight warehouse. The “cell”  was nothing more than an oversized freight cage that smelled of stale piss. Grissom laid the boy down on the small bed and covered him with a threadbare blanket. That bastard Colonel killed my family. The boy’s words were groggy but still filled with anger. Yeah kid I know, he has killed a lot of families around here. Grissom took off the boy’s boots, then removed his own and jumped up to the top bunk and laid down. We gonna hang tomorrow? The boys question hung like heavy grey smoke in the room. Yeah kid, we are. Grissom answered, trying to choose better words that might comfort the kid but giving up. I will try to talk to the Colonel again tomorrow, see if he will see reason and let you walk away. Grissom closed his eyes and the last thing he heard before drifting off was the boy quietly chanting an apache death song.

III.

The next morning the sunlight spilled through the small narrow window in the cell and Grissom was awoke by the clanging of  keys as the hungover sheriff struggled to open the cell door. The boy swung his feet down to the floor and started putting on his boots. Colonel wants to talk to the boy. The mexican swung the 10 gauge around on Grissom as he waited on the boy to get to his feet. You stay put pendejo. The sheriff led the boy out of the cell and then locked the door behind him. He placed a pair of handcuffs  on him and led him outside, prodding him all the while with the 10 gauge. The street was already crowded with miners and drovers, dogs and livestock. The boy noticed a wagon load of lumber and several men building a gallows in an empty lot across from the jail. The sound of hammers and hand saws contributed to the usual morning din of a mining camp waking up. As The boy shuffled across the street toward the saloon, several miners loitered outside, waiting on the mine wagon. Some were still drunk from the night before, having never gone to bed, their eyes looking like bloodshot piss holes. The group quieted as the boy approached, some of them quickly looking down while others stared intently as the mexican prodded the boy forward through the doors and up the stairs to the Colonel. Timmons stood as the boy came to the top of the stairs. I got him from here Jose. The sheriff grunted and handed Timmons the handcuff keys and retreated back downstairs to the bar and his waiting bottle. Timmons grabbed the boy by the shirt, knocked on the Colonels door and opened it. The Colonel was busy shaving in a gleaming white porcelain basin. As Timmons seated the boy, the Colonel watched in the mirror. Leave the key with me Timmons. Timmons walked over and placed the key on the desk. The boy watched the Colonel intently. As Timmons left the room, the boy’s gaze shifted to the gun cabinet. Rifles with ammunition. No lock with a glass front door. How Silly the boy thought. The boy then noticed the Colt pistol laying on the desk, The same pistol that had killed Parsons and most likely the same pistol that had been used to kill his father and uncle too. You are thinking If I could only get to those guns, I could kill that son of a bitch, aren’t you boy? I don’t blame you. Hell, I would be thinking the same thing. The Colonel paused talking as he carefully trimmed below his lip with the straight razor, the sound of the metal scraping against the coarse whiskers the only sound in the room while outside the large window on the street several teamsters could be heard loading a freight wagon.

The boys gaze stayed on the Colonel, the hatred pouring out of him in fluid waves of heat. He imagined breaking free of the chains and taking the straight razor from him and in a flash opening up his throat. The painting of the Nile receiving a fresh splash of crimson as the Colonel frantically died on the floor like the diseased pig that he was. The sound of splashing water brought the boy back to reality and present company. The Colonel washed his face and as he dried off with a towel walked over to the window to gaze at the already bustling town below. This place was a wide spot in the road when I got here. Nothing but a couple of run-down shacks and some whores. Now look at it! Because of me hundreds of men have jobs. Their families have food, clothing, housing; a future. The Colonel shifted his hard  gaze to the boy. I warned you and your family to stop stealing from me and move on, but they didn’t listen. So I cleared them out and made room for progress! The boys face grew red. His heartbeat racing like a rabbit. You gave us no choice! For years my family hunted these lands and then you come along and in a day say it is all yours! You murdered my pregnant mother and put my unborn sister on a roasting spit you sorry sumbitch! The Colonels face changed expression as the boy’s comment seemed to truly shock him. Anger was replaced with melancholy. I had no ideal they did such a barbarous, heartless thing! Those bastards! The boy sensed the Colonel was sincere in his sentiment, the boy’s anger started to simmer down, his muscles relaxed, his heartbeat slowed. The Colonel came closer as if to shake hands with the boy and offer an apology, and then suddenly in a blur, the Colonel delivered a powerful right hook into the boys jaw, knocking him backwards out of his chair and sending two of his teeth flying out of his mouth in a bloody mixture of spittle. You goddamn savage! I am gonna put you all on roasting spits before it is all over with! The boy lay dazed on the floor, the taste of blood and copper in his mouth, the Colonel’s words a distant echo as if he was underwater. Damn your soul to hell you worthless son of a whore!! The Colonel kicked the boy in the ribs, knocking the air out of him in a whoosh. The boy groaned and tried to roll away like a wounded animal, searching for a reprieve from the pain. Before the Colonel could kick him again suddenly Timmons bust through the door,  an expression of fear and excitement all across his face at once. Colonel we got visitors! Timmons was so excited he stumbled over his words like a retarded child. A half-dozen armed men led by a Mexican bandit! The Colonel regained his composure and walked over to the window to inspect the street. Well, the Lord is certainly being gracious to me today! Instead of hanging two pieces of thieving shit, I get to hang the whole damn gang! That’s Diaz and six of his cut-throats from Wolf Mountain. Looks like they came looking for this boy and Grissom. Probably thought you two assholes stole the weapons and ammunition he thinks I gave you. The Colonel laughed heartily, his face turning red as he slapped his desk in exclamation. No honor among thieves aye their boy? Timmons round-up the boys, I will try to get all these bastards in the saloon so we can take them all in one go! Timmons nodded his head and spun around and headed out the door. You just lay there and bleed you little bastard, I will be back to finish you off right and proper directly. The Colonel eyed the boy on the ground as he stuck the Colt in his waistband and retrieved a Winchester shotgun from the gun cabinet, loading up the tube and sticking extra double aught shells in his pockets.

 The saloon and the streets were already cleared by the time the Colonel walked outside with Timmons and four other men. Diaz and Spoon were waiting patiently still on their horses. Well, isn’t this a pleasant surprise! The Colonels grinned as he came out of the saloon doors, the Colt stuck down the front of his trousers and the Winchester Scattergun in his right hand.. Timmons stayed at the Colonels side as the four other men fanned out evenly to the left and right, each of them armed with a rifle. Diaz seemed to ignore the Colonel and the men. His gaze focused on an upright pine coffin sitting on the saloon’s porch. In it Parsons decomposing body stared back, half of his head missing, one eye staring lazily upwards at the sky as his black matted hair lay plastered against his pallid skin caked with blood. Around his neck they had hung a wooden sign with the words “Murderer and Horse Thief” in big white letters. Seeing Diaz state of fury, Spoon spoke up. We hear you got two of our people Colonel, we came to get em’ back. The Colonel laughed as he brought the Scattergun around to bare on the two riders before him. Reacting, Spoon drew the Schofield revolver that lay in his saddle holster and before he could cock the hammer the Colonel fired, the big shotgun roaring to life like a sleeping dragon, the buckshot tearing horse and rider apart like paper being ripped asunder by a strong breeze. Spoon was knocked clean out of his saddle, landing three feet behind where his horse had formerly stood, his chest opened like a bloody cavern, pieces of rib bone and marrow littered the dusty street. Spoon’s poor horse lay terribly wounded after the affair. It was crying in pain and trying to get his front feet under him to no effect when the Colonel pulled his pistol and mercifully shot the gelding through the head. Diaz’s horse had of course bucked wildly when this occurred, throwing him clean off and landing the mexican in the street on his ass. As Diaz got his feet, at least a dozen guns pulled down on him, including the Colonel, who had ejected his spent shell in the Pump Winchester and racked a fresh one. Don’t twitch a fuckin’ finger you worthless piece of shit or you will end up exactly like your friend over there. The Colonel’s voice was angry, but dead calm and focused. Timmons, go on over there and get his gun belt and make sure the sumabitch ain’t got no hideout guns or knives, you know how fuckin’ mexicans are. Timmons casually walked over, holstering his gun and patting Diaz down. After finding a small knife in his boot, Timmons unbuckled his gun belt and threw it all on the saloon porch. Diaz stood there smiling. You want my boots too Colonel? They are nice ones, belonged to one of your cowboys I believe. The Colonel’s brow furrowed at that jibe. I am gonna hang you Diaz. You and your buddy Grissom down there in my jail are gonna hang together and twist in the wind momentarily. Diaz laughed heartily. Go ahead and laugh you toothless sumabitch. In about 10 minutes you are gonna be laughing with the devil in hell. The Colonel motioned for the surrounding men to take him and tie his hands and feet. As the men were taking the rope to tie him suddenly one of the men’s head exploded like a ripe cantaloupe hitting rock, the rifle shot ringing out from above them. The boy had managed to free himself from his handcuffs and had now took up a firing position in the Colonel office with a Krag Rifle. At this Diaz ran and dove into a small alleyway beside the saloon. Suddenly it sounded as if the whole town exploded in gunfire at once. Some men fired wildly at Diaz while others fired at the office windows above. About this time, more shots rang out from down the street at the jail. The Colonel and his men had not accounted for all of Diaz’s men before the shooting started. Half a dozen of them had taken up positions near the jail and had bushwhacked the drunk sheriff and freed Grissom, now Grissom along with six mexican bandits including the black creole Tick, all armed with Repeaters and bolt-action rifles, were moving on the saloon. The Colonel seeing this yelled for Timmons and retreated back into the saloon. You go kill Diaz, he’s out back there somewhere unarmed! The Colonel yelled at Timmons. I’ll go kill this damn Apache kid and then we can take care of Grissom and the rest of those damn cut throats! Timmons nodded and headed for the back door of the saloon, as he was about to the back door, suddenly it busted open and Diaz came through blasting with a revolver. The first shot caught Timmons in the neck, and the second caught him above the right eye, sending his brain pan all over the brand new pianola the Colonel had just had delivered from St. Louis. Fucking Bastard! The Colonel screamed in fear as much as anger. He let loose with the shotgun on Diaz from about 10 feet away, the top half of Diaz virtually disappeared in a spray of pink mist and gore, with the bottom half of his body intact and neatly folded up on the floor.

Winded, the Colonel took a deep breath, reloaded and began to climb the stairs to finish the kid. Suddenly two of his men busted through the saloon doors, one of them gut shot and the other shot in the arm. Where the hell are the rest of the men! The Colonel yelled. Dead! One of the men blurted out as he made his way to the window with his revolver and began firing. God damn all you! The Colonel yelled as he charged upstairs. As he was about to kick down the door suddenly several shots rang out through the cedar door, splinters flying wildly into his face. The first shot hit the Colonel low in the gut and the second hit him in the right arm, spinning him to the floor. Sumabitch! The Colonel cried out. He had dropped the shotgun so he tried to pull his Colt in his waistband, but his arm would not work. Downstairs shots rang out as the Mexicans closed in on the two defenders in the saloon. The Colonel watched as Grissom and a black man busted through the saloon doors and cut his men down at close range with revolvers. About that time the Colonel’s office door swung open and the Indian boy walked out, holding a Krag Rifle. The boys eyes burned like two pieces of hot ember. The Colonel lay there, blood pooling on the floor from his wounds. Grissom, Tick and three of the Mexicans had found the good whiskey and poured themselves a drink as they watched the show unfold upstairs. Go Ahead Boy, Here I am! Get your Revenge! The Colonel yelled wildly, spit and blood flying from his mouth. The Boy calmly walked up to the Colonel, dropped the rifle and reached down and picked up the Colonel’s Colt. A look of disgust filled the Colonel’s face as he watched him. You worthless Savage! The Colonel yelled. I Fuckin’ Despi— before he could finish his sentence the boy fired three shots into the Colonel’s head, the shots in rapid succession, sending brain and gore flying all over, The boy looked at the body a while before finally spitting on him. The boy then calmly stuck the Colt in his waistband and made his way downstairs and out the saloon doors. Directly Grissom came out. The boys cleaned out the freight office Grissom said looking at the boy. The boy never blinked, just kept looking ahead like into a dream only he could see, We got around $1,000 far as I can tell in cash money plus rifles, ammunition and fresh horses and mules. Grissom continued looking at the boy, hoping for a response. Directly, the boy reached into his shirt and pulled out a two small sacks. You can add this to the booty too, found it under the floorboards in his office. Grissom took the sack from the boy and looked inside. Grissom’s eyes widened as he poured out Chunks of pure silver, some of the rocks as large as a baby’s fist. We are heading to Texas if you want to come along, Grissom asked, his eyes still wide from the silver. The boy  walked out into the street and looked up into the blue sky, squinting at the bright sun. There in the sky, the boy saw a huge river, a river as large and swift as the Colorado. Immediately the boy felt a familiarity about this place and then he realized it was the same river from his dream the other night. As he watched the water roar past he quickly realized he was not alone, his entire family was there, including a small girl he had never met before. Who is this? the boy asked his father, pointing to the small girl by his mother’s side. His father smiled and placed his hand on the child’s head.

This is your sister, Princesa Margarete. The boy’s heart swelled and a happiness he had not felt in such a long time washed over him like a summer rainstorm. Before the boy could say anymore, his family turned and walked away into a sweet, glowing light that climbed upwards into the sky. As the boy dried the tears from his face, he realized something that made his heart glow even more; This time him and his family were not separated by the river, they were all together! The boy laughed to himself and shook his head, he had never felt so happy, alive and content as he did this day.

The Mexicans soon came out of the saloon, carrying with them whatever was not nailed down: crates of whiskey bottles, blankets, pictures, lamps and rifles. By now, some of the miners and teamsters were making their way back into town from their hiding places in the mines and hills, all of them treading carefully, surveying the dead in the street. You coming along kid? Grissom asked as he began walking toward the horses with the Mexicans. The boy gave Grissom a long look, tears still filling his eyes from the vision.

Wiping the tears away, the boy smiled and said aloud “Let’s go to Texas.”

 

THE END

 

 

A Border Redemption

(Part 2 of The Border Trilogy)

mex

I. 

Northern Mexico,  10 miles from Presidio Texas, 1903

Grissom, Tick and The Boy sat under a huge red rock spiral at the mouth of a two hundred year old drainage basin. The sun had just gone down and darkness was slowly spreading over the desert. They had made a small fire where a pot of coffee brewed and as the night grew darker the crackling sparks rose into the night sky like hundreds of flaming arrows. “Well, regardless if a dream told you to go there or not kid, one thing is for damn certain, we sure as hell can’t go riding in there with the whole blooming outfit! Sixteen men, three wagons, one hundred and fifty head of cattle and  fifty head of fuckin’ stolen horses tends to draw people’s attention!” Grissom exclaimed, his face animated in the dim light. “Plus, how we gonna explain all the silver we got?” Tick interjected in his thick creole accent. The boy stared into the fire for a while, thinking, as if trying to divine an answer. “First, let me ask both of you something: Have my dreams and visions ever steered us wrong in the past?” The boy looked at both men earnestly. Tick and Grissom thought about that for a minute and looking at one another, both shook their heads no. “OK then,  From all I have heard, Presidio is sparsely a going concern. We won’t have any trouble getting the herd across there. The land office and bank is in Shafter, a few miles up the road. It was started when John Randolph found Silver near there over twenty some odd years ago. So us having large amounts of Silver in our saddlebags will not be seen as out of the ordinary. Me and Grissom will head to the land office tomorrow. Tick, you head back to the herd and get Rojo and the boys ready to travel. Once we have secured us some land and materials to start mining, Grissom will ride down to bring all you up here. We’ll bring the cattle and horses over in small groups after that, sound good?” The boy looked up at both men to see they understood. Tick nodded and said “Oui, Oui” in his broken Creole-French. “I only see one problem.” Grissom replied as he laid down on a blanket. “What’s that?” The boy asked, cocking an eyebrow. “When we get to that land office and the bank, they are gonna need a Christian name to put on the deed. ‘Boy’ will not suffice!” All the men laughed at the remark. “Got any ideals on what to call yourself?” asked Grissom smiling. The boy’s face went serious and he laid back on his blanket and looked up at the night sky. Memories of his murdered family flashed before him, and just like the vision of the great river he had seen a year before at the mining camp, the night sky turned into a panorama picture. The boy watched with wonder as the face of his mother holding his baby sister appeared in the stars. Then, suddenly, the outline of his father, armed with a bow, began to take shape beside them. Each star connected with the next in a beautiful symphony of light to form a constellation outline of his ancestors. The earth began to spin, the heavens above him getting further and further away, the sound of rushing waters surrounded him. The boy began to mumble in Apache.  “Remember your Creed, Remember your Creed…” The boy rolled from side to side, his eyes wide as if he were looking into a secret, invisible place. Grissom and Tick looked at each other with concern. Was the boy having a fit? Should they get him to a Doctor? “C’est une vision” Tick hoarsely whispered. “What the hell did you say Tick?” Grissom asked as he jumped to his feet, A look of fear coming across his face as his right hand hovered over his Colt. “The boy is having a vision, don’t touch him.” Tick calmly replied, stretching out his arms to make a protective barrier “This is sum’ spooky shit…I don’t like all this indian hocus pocus.” Grissom replied, taking a few more steps back from the boy. Tick ignored the cowboy and softly chanted the twenty-third Psalm “Si je marche dans la vallée de l’ombre de la mort, je ne craindrai aucun évitement.”  And as suddenly as the boy’s vision had begun, it stopped.

The boy lay motionless on the blanket. The silence of the night broken only by his ragged breathing and the crackling of the fire. He raised up from his blanket, a look of wonder and excitement on his face. “You alright there kid?” Grissom asked wearily, still keeping his distance. Tick handed the boy his canteen and he took a long drink and then looked up at both of them. “My name will be Creed.” the boy said flatly. A quizzical looks came across Grissom’s face. “Creed What? You gonna need a last name fer’ them bank papers and such…” Creed smiled at Tick, and Tick, in his strange French manner, smiled right back and laughed out loud. “You two sumabitches bout’ as crazy as a pinned up shit house rat, you know that!” Grissom exclaimed as he walked over to his saddle bag and retrieved a bottle of rye. “I have an ideal.” said Tick, still smiling. “Your last name can be ‘Le Voyant’, it means ‘The Seer’ or somebody who can see what the future holds. What do you think of that Creed? Fitting, no?” Creed looked up at Tick and both men had huge smiles on their faces. “That’s it! Creed Le Voyant is my new name!” Creed exclaimed. Creed jumped up like he had been snake bit and him and Tick hugged one another like long-lost brothers. “My new friend! Creed Le Voyant has been born!” Tick exclaimed, his voice echoing in the still night against the red rock walls. Creed and Tick began to both giggle hysterically as they danced a jig around the fire. Grissom meanwhile shook his head in confusion and sat down on a flat rock, away from the fire, and took a long pull from the bottle. “Well, I reckon if I die tomorrow I can say I have seen and heard it all. Five years ago I met a whore down in Durango with three nipples on her tits and now, I am about to go to Texas with a Creole who is half fuckin’ crazy and a sixteen year old apache brave with a french last name! I’ll be damned!!” Grissom exclaimed as he let out a hearty laugh and took another long drink from the bottle. Creed came over and grabbed Grissom up from his seat, and as the three men joined together and danced around the fire like savages from a by-gone era, their laughter and singing could be heard echoing off the canyon walls like a primal orchestra.

The next morning the group split up as planned. Tick rode south to the herd and Creed and Grissom crossed the Rio Grande into Texas. The town of Presidio was sparse and languid in its demeanor. Like so many of its residents, the town itself seemed to stand still in the dusty vacuum of time. Having been founded by bandits and scalp hunters after the Mexican War, it consisted of only a few dozen or so hearty souls trying to scratch a living out of the red caliche soil and a small contingent of soldiers to protect them. But travel twenty miles north to the silver boom town of Shafter, and it was a different story altogether. As Grissom and Creed slowly let their mounts amble down main street, the sure signs of prosperity were all around. Grissom counted three saloons, two hotels, a general store, a Gunsmith, a bank, a land office, a barber shop, and a woman’s clothing store where the latest fashions from Paris and Milan were displayed in the window.”My God this is a sight to see!” Grissom exclaimed. They stopped in front of a saloon with the appropriate name of “The Silver Palace” and hitched their mounts. As they prepared to walk into the saloon, two men, both wearing badges and both armed, one with a double-barreled scattergun, approached. The tallest of the two, with a greased black handlebar mustache and a Colt Peacemaker on his hip spoke up.”Howdy Gentleman. Names’ Marshall J.T. Prescott and this here is Deputy Knowles.”  Both Creed and Grissom stood silent and still as an awkward moment passed between the group. The lawman laughed. “Well, that was a helluva introduction wasn’t it Deputy!” The Deputy smiled and took two steps back, leveling the shotgun in Creed’s direction. The expression on the Marshall’s face changed. “I’m askin’ your names.” The Marshall’s voice was tense. “Bill Potterfield” Grissom said with a witty smile. The Marshall nodded at Grissom. “Mr. Potterfield, it’s a pleasure. And you kid, what’s your name?” The Marshall asked. “Creed Le Voyant” Creed replied, his face blank and self-assured. “Le Voyant? What kind of faggot name is that for a red nigger shitheel?” The Marshall smiled at his own remark, his nostrils flaring, and his eyes narrowing toward Creed. Creed returned the stare in spades, taking note not of the man’s face, but the muscles in his arms and hands, which he watched closely to see any hint of them flexing to grip the revolver on his hip. “French.” Creed replied. “French! Well My God boy, you are a faggot ain’t ya! So tell me, which way was it? Was it a Frenchman giving it to an Apache whore, or an Apache given’ it to a French whore?” The Marshall laughed heartily, looking to his deputy for reassurance. Grissom grabbed Creed’s arm from behind to keep it from drawing the pistol tucked in his waistband. “We have business in this town Marshall, so if you will excuse us.” Grissom pulled Creed away from the entrance of the saloon and toward the land office across the street. “Business, huh? Well I hope you can conclude it in a hurry Mr. Potterfield. Injun’s ain’t welcome in Shafter.” Creed never took his eyes off the Marshall as Grissom pulled him away. “Let it go kid.” Grissom said in a low-tone through gritted teeth. The Marshall watched as the two men crossed the street and went into the land office.”Deputy, go back to the office and start looking through the wanted posters and notices, see if any of them match our new visitors Mr. Potterfield and his french injun friend. Make sure to look for descriptions of injuns with scars on their faces to narrow it down.” Prescott said as he spit tobacco juice out into the dusty street, the red caliche dirt sucking up the moisture almost instantly.

——————————-

Two days later, 6 Miles Northwest of Shafter

In the foothills of the Chinati mountains, with the sun filtering through a sparse patch of cedars, Creed and Grissom stood admiring their newly bought piece of land. “Well, kid how does it feel to own 100 acres?” Grissom asked smiling, slapping Creed on the back. “To be honest, it does not feel any different, except now I have less money.” Creed replied, looking at Grissom concerned. “Oh, don’t you worry kid, once we get a house built and some corrals, I promise you, it will look much different!” Creed smiled at the remark. Ever since Grissom had brought up the ideal of coming to Texas, Creed had dreamed of living a normal life. “We gotta put those outlaw ways behind us kid. And building this ranch is a big first step.” Grissom mounted his horse and turned a circle around Creed, pointing his horse South. “So I am gonna go down and get the boys like we talked about. And since we got the money, maybe try to find some carpenters and extra laborers to help us build this house quicker, sound good to you?” Grissom asked, squinting down at Creed.  “Also, Seein’ how that Sheriff is just lookin’ for a reason to lock you up or hang you, I think you should camp here and stay out-of-town until I get back. I shouldn’t be more than a couple of days” Grissom gave Creed that older brother look of sternness to emphasize the point. “Fine.” Creed answered flatly, still staring out at the land. “See ya’ when you get back.”

The dust from Grissom’s departure had not yet begun to settle when Creed mounted his horse and turned toward town. Call it adolescent stupidity or just stubborn pride, but he could not abide bullies, and he certainly could not abide any man wearing a bought tin star thinking he was better than him because the color of his skin. He rode around the back of the town, crossing by the white steeple Church of Christ on the hill and passing through the large stockyard and barn behind the Silver Palace saloon. He hitched his horse beside the set of jakes in the alley between the saloon and a chinese laundry. He then put on an old worn brown duster he kept in his saddlebag and pulled his hat down low over his ears. Maybe he could pass for just another dusty cowboy in this get-up. He ambled down the street, passing a barber shop, post office, undertaker and a big fine building with the words “Presidio Mining Company” on top. Walking past the General Store, Creed decided he better make use of this trip and buy some supplies to make camp with for the boys coming up from Mexcio. As he made his way into the store, he overheard a woman at the front counter arguing with the clerk. “Sir, the price you had marked in the front window for this dress was four dollars last Tuesday, now a week later, the price has doubled? I just don’t understand!” The woman was nice looking, around forty Creed guessed, but the situation had her all out of sorts. “Ma’am, my prices reflect supply and demand, that dress comes from Paris, France and is not cheap.” The clerk was a smug ass and knew he had the upper-hand in the argument.

As Creed moved around the back of the store to get a better vantage point on the situation, he saw another woman, this one much younger, tucked away in the corner, out of view. She looked to be around 17 and was beautiful a woman as Creed had ever laid eyes on. She was tall for her age, almost as tall as Creed. Her long hair was the color of sun-kissed hay in late summer, her face like delicate china porcelain. Her eyes were a pale green and sharp as a hawk. She held herself like a lady of proper high society, although her homemade dress and shoes suggested otherwise. Creed could not help but stare. He watched as she nestled up to the woman at the counter. “Mother, it’s OK, I don’t need the dress…” The young girl whispered. As the impatient clerk let out an exasperated gasp, taking the dress off the counter, Creed without hesitation, stepped up. “We will take the dress and also some shoes to go with it.” Creed laid two crisp twenty-dollar bills on the counter. The older woman spoke up. “Thank You kind sir, but we surely cannot accept charity from a stranger.” she smiled politely and taking her daughter’s hand, turned to leave the store. Creed took off his hat and stepped around in front of them. “No, please ma’am, this is not charity. It is a gift.” He quickly extended his hand. “And I am not a stranger, my name is Creed Le Voyant, what might yours be?” The older woman eyed Creed suspiciously, she had never seen an indian up close before. Her manners overrode her fear and she smiled back at Creed.”Nice to meet you Mr. Le Voyant. I am Sarah Patterson and this is my Daughter, Eve.” Mrs. Patterson smiled as she lightly shook Creed’s hand. Creed nervously smiled back. He had never felt so anxious in all his life. “Here is your dress and shoes, and your change.” The clerk said from behind the counter. Creed picked up his change and the wrapped package and placed it under his arm. “Please, allow me to carry this to your carriage Mrs. Patterson.” “Thank you Mr. Le Voyant.” Creed followed the ladies outside where a one horse carriage was parked. Creed placed the package in the seat and then helped the ladies step up. Creed saw the younger girl lean over and whisper something to her mother, smiling all the time and glancing back at Creed. Mrs. Patterson nodded her head smiling. She then turned to speak to Creed. “Mr. La Voyant, would you care to join us for dinner tonight around seven at our home? It is the least we could do to show you our gratitude.” Without even thinking about a response, Creed accepted. “I would be honored ma’am, whereabouts do you live?” Mrs. Patterson smiled and pointed east. “Follow the town road east for four miles, our place is on the left, you will see a sign marked Pattersons.”  Creed nodded. “Sounds good ma’am, see you at seven.” Mrs. Patterson put on a pair of leather gloves, took hold of the reigns and spoke to the horse. “Let’s go Annie-Mae” As the carriage rolled away Creed noticed Eve look over her shoulder at him and smile. My God, Creed thought to himself, have you ever seen something so damn beautiful in all your life!

——————————————

Randolph Estate, 10 miles west of Shafter

James Lewis patiently sat in the parlor waiting to see ‘Sir” John Randolph. He had been summoned at home an hour earlier by one of Randolph’s men stating his presence was “urgently required.” Despite having just come home after a hectic day of work and not yet having his dinner, James had accepted the fact many years ago, that everybody in this town, in one way or the other, was at John Randolph’s disposal. He gazed at the pictures that lined the red cedar walls of the parlor. One of them was of his father’s building in downtown Shafter taken over 20 years ago. James smiled at the memory the picture brought back. He had inherited his father’s dying real estate business upon his death. At that time, John Randolph was just another up and coming broke miner. Like so many miners during that time, he had come to Shafter with a mule, a pick axe, the clothes on their back and a dream. He still remembers the day Randolph came into his father’s office with a deed to a small tract of land  he had won in a lucky hand of poker the previous night. Six months later Randolph struck it big on that land, finding one of the largest silver deposits in the state of Texas. Now, twenty years later, Randolph owned the town of Shafter, and every thing and everyone in it, including Lewis Real Estate.

James’ stroll down memory lane was interrupted when the butler opened the parlor doors. “Mr. Randolph will see you now in his study, please follow me sir.” James followed the butler down the elaborately decorated hallway to the study. Opening the thick double-doors, a hazy, grey-blue cloud of cigar smoke escaped. “Mr. Lewis sir.” The butler announced. “Fine, send him in.” Randolph’s gruff voice responded from deep within the room. Once inside, James’ eyes had to adjust to the dim and smoky room. The place smelled of rich Cuban tobacco, french brandy and freshly polished oak. The study was enormous. Ten foot ceilings with solid oak bookcases lining three walls. Beautiful stuffed mounts of Dall Rams, Whitetail Deer, Red Stag and even a full body mount of a large Mountain Lion were placed throughout the room. A Huge picture window overlooked a large pond with elegant white swans floating on the water. Randolph sat in a massive leather lounger resembling a King’s throne, his slippered feet propped up on a foot-stool. “Fix yourself a drink Lewis and have a seat over here.” Randolph said pointing to a chair opposite his. As James poured himself a whiskey neat and made his way over to the chair, he noticed Randolph had a large revolver in his lap. Lewis’ heart skipped two beats and he felt the blood leave his face immediately. Lewis instinctively grabbed his stomach as his bowels attempted to evacuate. “You know anything about firearms Lewis?” Randolph asked. “No Sir, not a lot.” Lewis responded as he sat down slowly, praying he had not shit himself.”This is a Mark Four British Webley Revolver. It was used in Africa fighting the Boers last year. The cartridges are enormous, .455 caliber” Lewis watched with discomfort as Randolph picked up a cartridge from the red velvet display case and placed one in the chamber. “You know what a round like that could do to a man Mr. Lewis?” Randolph asked as he closed the gun and then placed it on the coffee table between the two men. Lewis shook his head no, still feeling like he was going to throw-up or shit himself at any second. Randolph smiled as he watched Lewis grow more uncomfortable. He then stubbed out his cigar, retrieved a fresh one from the humidor on the table beside him, and lit it. Once the room was once again filled with the thick blue-grey smoke, Randolph sat back in his chair, like a contented gargoyle in his lair, relishing the palpable fear he had put into James Lewis.

John Randolph came from Scots-Irish stock, his parents coming over during the famine of 1850. Not long after landing on Ellis island, Randolph’s father. hearing there would be cheap land and opportunity in Texas, booked passage to Galveston. John was born two years later, but his mother, weak from the long trip and the birth, did not survive. Life was hard for the two immigrants. John’s father found work doing odd jobs, but never anything steady. He made excuses to the boy for their low station in life, but John knew early on his father was nothing but a worthless drunk. When John was ten, his father was killed while cheating at a small stakes poker game. Penniless and homeless, John was taken in by the local Catholic orphanage where he stayed until he was seventeen. He soon found work at a local meat-packing plant. The pay was meager but steady. At night, after work in the saloons, John started hearing about the opportunities for finding gold and silver out West. John worked for a solid year, saving up his money and in the summer of 1871 set out for West Texas to make his fortune. Going through the school of hard knocks as a miner, John soon learned mining was a combination of backbreaking work and luck. After nine years of meager finds, John was just about to give up on his mining dream when during a random game of poker one night, he won the deed to a small tract of land near Shafter, Texas and the rest, as they say, is history. “I hear you sold two hundred acres in the Chinati foothills to a couple of drifters the other day.” Randolph’s gaze centered in on Lewis. Lewis straightened up in his chair and cleared his throat before speaking. “Yes sir, Mr. Randolph. A young injun boy with a scar on his face and a white man. They paid in cash.” Randolph got up from his chair and walked over to the large window overlooking the pond.

For a man in his fifties, John Randolph was extremely fit. At just over six feet, he was powerfully built, weighing in at close to two hundred twenty pounds. His reddish blond hair was thinning on top, but he kept a finely manicured beard which gave him a very stately, wise appearance. “They tell you what they plan to do with the land? They gonna mine it?” Randolph asked roughly, still staring out at the pond. “No sir, they did not say anything.” Lewis replied. “Marshall Prescott tells me these two fit the description of being part of that comanchero gang that massacred Colonel Parker and his outfit in Mexico couple years back.” Randolph kept his gaze at the pond outside, but all the while watching Lewis through the reflection in the glass. “Colonel Parker was a business associate of yours if I recall correctly.” Lewis kept his eyes to the floor and calmly took a drink of whiskey. “Yes. Parker was extremely effective in dealing with the indian and bandit problem.” Randolph turned around to face Lewis. “If the boy and this man were in fact involved in that mess down there, after they are convicted and hung, that property will go back up for sale, correct?” Lewis swallowed hard. He could see where this was going. “Well sir, I would suppose so. That’s really a question for a judge to decide.” Suddenly Randolph’s anger that had been simmering just below the surface since the conversation began, spilled over into the room. “Dammit Lewis! Why in the hell did you go and sell THAT piece of land? You knew I had plans to purchase that entire fucking mountain! Hell, one of my biggest mines is only 5 miles away!” spittle flew from Randolph and landed on Lewis’ face. Lewis did not dare move to wipe it off. “Well sir, Yes, I knew you had plans, but I had been waiting for over a year for you to buy, and frankly, I needed the money.” Lewis shifted in his seat to try to gain some distance from the fuming Irishman. “Money! Hell, you need money, come to me! Don’t fucking sell the most valuable real estate in the area to two no-account shitheel outlaws!” Randolph took a drink of whiskey and spun back around to look out the window. Lewis searched for something else to say but the words escaped him. “No more land sales in the Chinati Foothils John, PERIOD. That area belongs to me, regardless if I have the deed or not, understood?” Randolph was still trying to calm down as he stared out the window. Taking his cue, Lewis stood up to leave. “Yes sir, I understand.”  Randolph waved his hand as if he was shooing away a fly and the butler opened the door to show Lewis out. On his way home, Lewis wondered to himself why Randolph was so damn interested in that certain piece of land? Could it be this indian boy, this “no-account outlaw” as Randolph called him, was smarter than he appeared? John Lewis intended to find out.

To Be Continued…

 

A Border Redemption

(Part 2 of The Border Trilogy)

II.

 

Patterson Farm, A Few Miles Outside Shafter

After finishing his third helping of beef stew, Creed pushed himself away from the table, full as a tick. “Ma’am that was the best meal I have ever had, thank you!” Sarah Patterson smiled as she cleared the dinner plates and carried them over to the sink. “Well I hope you saved room for coffee and apple pie!” Sarah asked smiling.  Eve sat across from Creed, doing her best not to stare, but her mother noticed right away. “Eve, Honey would you please help me with the pie and coffee?” The question broke Eve out of her hypnotic trance and she jumped up. As the women were busy, Creed got up from the table and walked into the living room.The home was a modest one story ranch style four bedroom with a large den area, dining room and kitchen. Creed walked over to the mantle above the fireplace and admired the pictures sitting there. One of them showed a man with Mrs. Patterson and small child in front of some type of construction.”That is my late husband, Thomas, with Eve and me. It was taken while we were building this house.” Sarah said as she came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. Eve followed her, bringing in a coffee platter with three plates of Apple pie. “How do you like your coffee Mr. Le Voyant?” Eve asked as she sat the platter down on the coffee table. “Black is fine.” Creed replied smiling as he tried to not be so obvious in admiring her. Sarah smiled as she recognized the magnetism between her daughter and Creed. “Please have a seat Mr. La Voyant.” Sarah asked. “Please, call me Creed.” Creed asked as he sat down, trying to be as casual as he could.  “How and when did your husband pass if you don’t mind me asking ma’am?” Creed asked, trying to be delicate. “Thomas died in a mining accident six years ago.” Sarah replied, picking up the picture and dusting it off with the towel. “John Randolph had my father killed.” Eve said flatly. Creed noticed Sarah give Eve an exasperated look, but Eve ignored her. “My father started his own mine without John Randolph as his partner and Randolph killed him for it” The bitterness in Eve’s voice was readily apparent. “We don’t know that for sure Eve!” Sarah replied sadly, placing the picture back on the mantle. Creed felt the uncomfortable silence in the room but his curiosity was piqued. “Please forgive me for prying, but if you had proof Randolph killed your father, why didn’t you go to the law?” Eve walked over and took a plate of apple pie and a fork and sat down next to Creed. “Randolph owns everything in this town, including peoples loyalty. The last man that tried to speak out against Randolph had his store bankrupted and was run out-of-town as a debtor.” Sarah replied, looking out the window. “Creed, I am begging you, stay out of the mining business and stick to cattle, it is much healthier in the long run.” Sarah looked over at Creed, her eyes wet with tears. Creed took a deep breath. He could not believe what he was hearing. Eve got up and took the picture of her father down off the mantle and handed it to Creed. “My mother spoke those exact same words to our father six years ago.” Sarah let out a gasp and began to sob uncontrollably. “I Know! I know! It is all just too much!” Sarah exclaimed as she ran into the back bedroom and slammed the door. Creed’s mind was spinning and his heart awash with emotion. He had been led here not by happenstance he believed, but by fate, to a family who was suffering from the injustice of powerful and corrupt men. As Creed shifted his gaze from the picture to Eve’s dark eyes, suddenly time stood still and he was transported into a great whirlwind. Up above him, in the vortex, a dark cloud burst and thunder rolled so loud it was deafening. The whirlwind sat him down on cracking earth in the midst of a powerful earthquake. There in the midst of it all, in the pouring rain and the lightning flashes, Creed saw his father, dressed in ceremonial garb, beside him stood his unborn sister. She spoke Apache, but the thunder was so loud, Creed could not make out the words. He moved closer to hear, her dark eyes a flame that illuminated her entire face like a candle does in a dark room. When he got close enough the words carried on the wind and echoed in his ear, as if in a large canyon: “John Randolph must be stopped, he is a blight upon the lives of these good people…” Creed awoke several minutes later on the floor to Eve and Sarah gently shaking him. “Are you alright Creed? You fainted and were mumbling something in a strange language.” Creed quickly got up off the floor and brushed himself off. He was embarrassed beyond belief.. “I am so sorry for that! Thank you for the meal Mrs. Patterson, I must be on my way…” And before the women could say another word, Creed was out the door and on his horse, riding hard for town.

——————————————–

South Texas, One Mile from the Mexico Border

Grissom, Tick and Rojo returned from Mexico with ten men and a string of seven ponies. They crossed the Rio Grande and made their way through a place the locals called Preacher’s Gulch. The long, narrow canyon had high rock walls and through years of erosion, had created a natural bottleneck that had been used for ambushes for decades by both the U.S. Army and Indians. The lead rider was dozing in his saddle when the lookout for Marshall Prescott’s band of killers who liked to fancy themselves a ” law-abiding posse” spotted him. The lookout signaled to the fifteen armed men that lined the top of both sides of the canyon walls to ready themselves. When the last rider entered the canyon, all fifteen rifles barked at the same time, the gunfire echoing off the canyon walls and carrying all the way into the town of Presidio. By the time Grissom heard the crack of the rifles, he was already half way to the ground. The bastards had shot his horse in the head as it crumpled from underneath him. As he rolled away from the dead animal he reached for his Winchester carbine in the saddle scabbard. Once he had the rifle he started crawling for a set of rocks fifteen feet away. The combination of gunfire and men screaming in pain was deafening. There was so much dust being stirred up he had to crawl by feel, inching his way forward along the valley floor. Grissom came across one of the dying cowboys, a young kid, not more than nineteen. He had been shot in the stomach several times, dark black blood oozing out into the red caliche soil. The boys eyes stared straight ahead and as Grissom moved past him he heard him whisper in a hoarse voice: “Tell my daddy I am sorry.” Grissom stopped for a moment and simply said “I will” and kept moving forward, bullets impacting all around him. As he crawled he wondered if Tick and Rojo had met the same fate as that poor cowboy. Foolishly, he raised his head to try to see over the carnage of bloody horse-flesh and dead men, but it was useless, he could see nothing.  Suddenly he heard gunfire coming from the rocks ahead of him. As he inched closer, he saw Tick and Rojo returning fire with pistol and rifle. “Crawl faster you stupid son-of-a-bitch! What are you waiting for a goddamn written invitation!” Rojo yelled in his broken english. Grissom smiled at the old mexican bandit and started crawling faster. As he reached the relative safety of the rocks, Tick reached down and pulled him up. “Bon de te voir mon ami” Tick said in French, his black face shining. “Damn good to see you too Tick.” Grissom said through gritted teeth. As Tick pulled him up Grissom realized he had been grazed in the arm, the bullet creasing his bicep muscle deeply. As he tore a piece of shirt off to wrap his wound, he noticed Rojo had been shot in the thigh, and Tick in the arm, both of them bleeding badly. “We gotta staunch those wounds.” Grissom said flatly as he tore the sleeve off his shirt and began making two make-shift bandages. “It ain’t gonna matter, they are gonna send some men down here to finish us off soon.” Rojo spat, stopping to reload his revolver. Grissom ignored the old bandit and wrapped the cloth around the wound and tied it. Tick continued firing at the men above. “I think I got two so far” Tick exclaimed excitedly. Grissom wrapped his wound shaking his head at the crazy creole. Suddenly up above on the ridge a commotion could be heard. Gunshots. Several rifles at once. Shouting. Hooping. Hollering. Pistol Shots. Then Silence. “What the Hell is going on up there?” Rojo asked, a quizzical look on his face. In a few minutes, several riders leading a string pf ponies could be seen approaching from the trail above. As they approached Tick whispered “Those are Apaches, white men don’t ride like that!” “I don’t fuckin’ believe this” Grissom said throwing up his hands. “We are the only three to survive a damn bushwhack and now we are gonna get scalped for our troubles!” Rojo squinted his eyes at the indians as they approached. “Let me do the talking. Everybody put down your guns.” Rojo said quietly. Both Grissom and Tick looked at the old man like he had finally gone crazy, but did as he requested.

The five Apaches approached slowly with the bright mid-day sun at their backs. They all were riding bareback and were dressed in common cotton shirts and breeches. The lead rider wore a U.S. Calvary blue tunic with brass epaulets. Their long  jet-black hair hung loose with each of them wearing a red-head scarf. All of the men looked to be in their early twenties except the one leading, who looked to be around forty. They were all heavily armed with Winchester Repeaters or bolt-action .30 Caliber Springfield’s. “I think this is that group that escaped off the Mescalero Reservation last month. But the newspaper said they were like twenty of them, not five.” Grissom whispered. “Look up at the ridge-line Pendejo and you will see the rest…” Rojo whispered back. Grissom and Tick shaded their eyes with their hands and looked up at ridge-line to see a dozen or more apache rifles pointed at them. “Marie Mère de Dieu!” Tick exclaimed. “Nobody move and let me do all the talking.” Rojo calmly replied. The five indians stopped their horses short of the rocks where the men were sitting. Rojo began talking to the leader in Spanish. “He says his name is Spotted Rabbit and they are part of ‘The Big Water People’ band that escaped the Federal Prison Camp in New Mexico. They were going into Old Mexico when they heard all the shooting.” Rojo whispered. Rojo then followed protocol and introduced himself, then Grissom and Tick. Spotted Rabbit stared at the men for a few moments and then pointed at Tick and asked something.  “He wants to know if these men on the ridge were trying to kill us because something the black man did.” Rojo laughed, translating. Tick and Grissom both laughed at the remark. “Tell him no, these were hired killers working for John Randolph.” Grissom replied. The apache leader spurred his horse closer and spoke up.”He ask if you are the same Grissom who with a young Apache boy killed Colonel Parker two years ago at El Lugar de las aguilas.” Rojo interpreted, looking at Grissom with eyes wide in disbelief. “Tell him everything.” Grissom replied, looking at Spotted Rabbit. After a few minutes of conversation, Rojo turned around to Grissom and smiled. “You are not going to believe this, but Spotted Rabbit is Creed’s Uncle and he wants us to take him to meet him right now.”

————————————————

The La Voyant Ranch

 Creed had just finished watering his horse when he saw three riders approaching from the south-west. He quickly moved inside the bunk house where he had rifles ready and loaded. He had figured Randolph would wait until he was alone to attack. Peering out the window, waiting for the group to get closer, Creed recognized Grissom as the lead rider with Tick and Rojo trailing. Creed quickly walked outside to meet them. As Grissom got closer Creed could see that he was wounded. “What the hell happened!” Creed asked as he grabbed the reigns to stop the horse. “Bushwhack. Randolph sent a hired posse of killers to hit us at Preachers Gulch. They killed all ten of the men Rojo hired and damn near killed the three of us.” Grissom gritted his teeth as he dismounted. Tick and Rojo rode up and Creed helped both men out of the saddle. “That leg needs attention.” Creed said as he helped Rojo into the bunk house and sat him down on one of the beds. Tick followed them in slowly, his face pale and his arm in a make-shift sling. Creed began examining Rojo first. “The bullet went clean through, we just need to keep clean bandages on it till’ it mends”. He then went over and looked at Tick’s arm. “Looked liked they winged you buddy.” Creed said smiling at Tick. “Oui, Oui” Tick smiled back through gritted teeth. “The wound is infected and the bullet is still in there, we are gonna have to cut it out of ya.” Creed said, a grave look of concern on his face.  “Kid, we got something important to tell ya..” Grissom said as he limped into the kitchen. Finding a bottle of rye whiskey and four glasses, Grissom poured everybody a drink. “Grissom we don’t have time right now for drinking and stories, Tick’s arm is in bad shape, we need to find a Doctor for him…” Creed was interrupted by Grissom with a quick wave of the hand. “Listen to me kid!  I did not get to finish my story. Twenty Apache’s who escaped off the Mescalero Reservation saved us from all being massacred by Randolph’s hired thugs. The Apache leader, Spotted Rabbit, claims he is your Uncle and wants to meet you.” Grissom drained his drink and poured himself another. All the blood drained from Creed’s face and he had to sit down before he fell down. “My uncle! The only Uncle I knew was killed with my mother and father two years ago!” Creed exclaimed, looking at Grissom in amazement. Creed reached over and took the glass of rye, tilting it up and draining it with a grimace. “He said his band was called The Big Water People, if that means anything.” Grissom replied. Creed’s eyes got wide. “The Big Water People were my mother’s band, they had been moved to the reservation four years ago.” Creed got up from his chair and paced. “That explains why you did not know about him then.” Grissom replied. Creed spun around and faced Grissom as an ideal flew into his head. “If there are twenty of them, one of them will be a healer I am sure of it. Tick should not ride anymore with that wound. We need to bring them here to help him” Creed walked over to get his hat and rifle. “Where are we supposed to meet them?” Creed asked Grissom. “At Sanderson Springs at nightfall.” Grissom replied, refilling Ticks and Rojo’s glasses of whiskey. “We better get going then, Tick cannot hold-out much longer.” Creed said as he headed for the door. Grissom drained his drink and quickly followed him.

—————————————————

Sanderson Springs, Texas

Sanderson Springs was a ghost town that was a good thirty minute ride from the ranch. Gold had been discovered there back in the late 1870’s but like all mining towns, when the gold played out, so did the people. Spotted Rabbit had told Grissom to meet him in one of the many abandoned mine east of town. Creed soon realized why his Uncle had chosen this location. With the United States Army, Texas Rangers and Bounty Hunters all looking for him and his band, what better place to hide than underground. As Grissom and Creed approached the entrance to the mine, they could see the faint glow of a campfire coming from inside the mine. Two apaches with rifles emerged from the darkness. Creed and Grissom dismounted and approached. One of the apaches spoke Spanish to Creed. “Spotted Rabbit just wants to see you, not the white man.” Creed nodded and turned to Grissom. “I get it kid, it’s a family thing. But don’t take too long, Tick needs help.” Creed followed one of the apaches into the mine. They walked about ten yards and found Spotted Rabbit and a few braves roasting the ham of a deer over the fire. The aromatic scent of the meat filled the dank cave. Spotted rabbit stood when he saw Creed. Creed was amazed at how tall he was. Well over six feet, with well muscled arms.”Do you still remember the apache tongue or should we talk in Spanish?” Spotted Rabbit asked with a smile. “I still remember” Creed responded in the Lipan apache dialect. Spotted Rabbit smiled as they embraced for a long moment. “The last time I saw you, you were knee-high, now look at you, your Mother would be so proud!” Spotted Rabbit smiled as a tear rolled down his cheek. “Look Uncle, I would love to take time and catch-up, and we will, but one of my men is badly in need of a healer and we cannot go into town. Can you come and help him?” Spotted Rabbit took a long look at Creed. “You have the caring heart of your Mother. Of course. Me and Little Bird will accompany you. We will need to gather some plants first.”

————————————–

The La Voyant Ranch

When they all finally reached the ranch, Tick was at death’s door. His face was pallor in color and he was drifting in and out of consciousness, mumbling like a feverish madman. Rojo, despite his bad leg wound, was up with a cool washcloth, trying to comfort him as much as he could. “He has been burning up with fever since you left.” Rojo said in a frantic voice. Spotted Rabbit reached into his saddle bag and pulled out a mortar and pestle and began grinding various herbs and plants he had collected along the way. Little Bird walked over to the fire and took out a small brand. He then lit some ghost bush and with the thick, grey smoke wafting around Tick’s body, he began chanting an apache prayer. “Give him some whiskey, we are going to have to remove the bullet.” Spotted Rabbit told Creed. Rojo, understanding the instruction, took the bottle of rye and tilted Tick’s head up so he could drink from the bottle. “Rojo you and Little Bird hold his arms. Spotted Rabbit, you hold his legs.” Creed told the men as he drew his knife. Walking over to the fire, Creed held the blade of his knife over the flame until it was glowing red-hot. He then plunged it into a pail of water by the table to cool it off. He ripped away Tick’s bloody shirt and taking a clean piece of cloth, wiped away the blood. Tick was mumbling in French, slipping in and out of consciousness, his eyes rolling back in his head. As Creed made the first cut, Tick yelled in agony, his body bucking from the pain. “Hold him still Dammitt!” Creed yelled. After another moment, Tick’s body went limp as he finally passed out into a deep sleep. Creed breathed a sigh of relief. Creed has made a deep enough incision he could finally see the bullet. Taking the point of his knife, Creed slid it under the slug and popped it out. Spotted Rabbit then took the poultice he had made from the ground up herbs and packed the wound. “Leave it uncovered tonight, but keep it moist and tomorrow wrap it in some clean bandages and change them every day.” Spotted Rabbit told Creed. “For the pain, give him a spoonful of this every few hours.” Spotted Rabbit handed Creed  three small bottles of brownish liquid. “Laudnum. We stole a crate of it from a town doctor in Carlsbad. Handy to have around if you don’t have a Doctor close-by” Creed took the bottles and put them in the cabinet by the sink. He then went over to his bunk and opened his foot-locker and took out an envelope.”I know I can never fully re-pay you for all you have done, but this will help.” Creed handed Spotted Rabbit five one hundred-dollar bills. ‘Take this money and go to Old Mexico and disappear Uncle, Please. If you stay in Texas, they will surely catch you and hang all of you.” Creeds eyes were wet with tears as Spotted Rabbit slowly took the money. The old indian smiled at Creed. “You have your mother’s giving heart, and her gift for visions too. I see it.” Electricity shot through Creed and made his hair stand on end. “Has she been guiding you?” Spotted Rabbit asked. “Yes she has. My father and my unborn sister have been too. She has told me I must stop a powerful man from hurting others. The same man that killed our ten men and almost killed Tick and Rojo.” Creed looked up at his Uncle, his eyes clear and bright. “Then you must do it.” Spotted Rabbit replied flatly. “But you still have not answered my question Uncle. Where will you go?” A look of concern flooded Creed’s face. “My path is not your path nephew, so it is not your concern. We all must be true to what we are called to do and what I have been called to do is bring war against the white man. We are tired of being under the white man’s thumb in that awful, dry place they have put us. We would rather die fighting than go on living one more day as slaves.” With that, Spotted Rabbit embraced Creed and then turned for the door. “Wait! When will I see you again Uncle?” Spotted Rabbit stopped but did not turn around. “You will see me again nephew, I promise.” And with that Spotted Rabbit and Little Bird walked out the door, mounted their horses and rode off into the dark Texas night. Creed watched them as they rode off, and somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew his Uncle was not lying to him. He would get to see him again one day. Just not in this life. Just not in this world.

 To Be Continued…

 

A Border Redemption

(Part Two of the Border Trilogy)

 III.

The Randolph Estate

Marshall Prescott had been waiting in the parlor for over an hour. Twisting his hat in hand like a nervous child on the first day of school, he was running through several scripts in his mind that would attempt to explain the events of the last twenty-four hours. Prescott knew from long experience that Randolph did not take bad news, nor worse yet, failures, well. Suddenly, Prescott was jolted out of his dread by Randolph’s booming voice as he walked in. “What the hell was so important you had to ride out here to my house?” Randolph walked over to the bar and poured himself a drink, glancing at Prescott with a look of disgust. “Well sir, it appears the posse I dispatched to apprehend La Voyant’s outfit has been massacred by a group of renegade indians.” Prescott prepared himself for Randolph to fly into a blind rage. “And what of La Voyant’s outfit, were they killed also in this massacre?” Randolph asked. “Well sir, it appears the posse managed to kill the ten men La Voyant’s outfit was attempting to bring over, but Grissom, the Mexican and the creole nigger were not among the dead.” Prescott was now gripping his hat so tight his knuckles had turned white. Randolph spun around quickly to face Prescott. “These renegade indians, you think they were working with the boy?” Randolph asked, his face red and flushed. “No sir. It appears to be the band that escaped off the Mescalero Reservation last month. The US Army at Fort Sumner has been dispatched as well as the Texas Rangers.” Prescott replied. “So these red niggers just up and decided to attack our posse, huh? Are you stupid Prescott? One or all of them damn apaches are kin to that indian boy somehow.” Randolph replied. “Well sir they took all the posse’s horses and weapons but there is no sign they went to the La Voyant Ranch.” Randolph took a drink and then turned around and looked out the window. “So these three from the boy’s outfit, where are they now? Back at his half-ass ranch on my land” Randolph asked. “We believe so sir.” Prescott replied. “Well Prescott, you need to get another posse together and go over there and finish off these pieces of shit before they run off to the Federal Marshal in Austin claiming we tried to kill them.” Randolph spat out his words in frustration. Prescott swallowed hard at the suggestion. He could not believe what he was hearing. “Mr. Randolph I just cannot go and attack these men on their own property without just cause, that would draw more attention than we need. We need to stick to our original plan and ambush them on the road. That way we can claim bandits or indians killed them.” Prescott replied with a small glimmer of pride in his eye that he actually stood up to the mighty John Randolph.

There was long pause as Randolph pondered the situation. Suddenly, in a flash, Randolph spun around, and with Prescott’s face frozen in disbelief,  drew a small Colt pistol from his pocket and fired at a distance of less than six feet. The small thirty-two caliber round hit Prescott in the upper neck, tearing apart flesh, bone and artery, sending blood spurting halfway across the room like a fountain. Prescott dropped down to his knees, his left hand clutching at his neck and his right hand still trying to draw the gun on his hip. Calmly, Randolph walked over and at point-blank range, shot Prescott square in the head. The impact of the blast scorched the bone and threw Prescott’s head back in a violent whip. Like a limp dish rag, his body crumpled to the floor. Prescott’s eyes were wide and almost cross, a ghastly look of confusion and horror fixed on his face. The smell of scorched flesh and bone permeated the parlor so much that Randolph had to waft away the smoke and odor for fear of gagging. Randolph kneeled down and unbuckled Prescott’s gun belt, placing the rig on a table. He then reached down and unpinned the gold star from his shirt and placed it on the table beside the gun.”You are officially relieved of your duties.” Randolph mumbled with a smirk on his face. Randolph  then walked outside and got the attention of two of his goons. “I need one of you to dispose of that lump of shit in my parlor. Burn it, do not bury it, you understand? I also need one of you to go to the telegraph office and have this message sent.” Randolph handed the man a folded slip of paper. “After that, go and fetch Deputy Knowles, tell him to come straight out here, as it is a matter of supreme importance regarding the Marshall. You understand me?” Both men responded with a “Yes-sir” and headed in separate directions. The telegram Randolph sent had been written the previous night and was to be sent in lieu of Prescott’s failure. It read:

From: John Randolph, Shafter, Texas

To: R.T. Newton, Tombstone, Arizona

Mr. Newton I have a job for you and your crew in Shafter.

Please come in person to discuss details.

Enclosed is $1,000 cash for your trip and trouble.

The money is yours regardless if you take the job or not.

Upon completion of job there will be a bonus of $5,000.

Regards,

John Randolph

———————————————–

 The La Voyant Ranch

The next morning as Tick and Rojo recuperated in their bunks, Grissom and Creed began work on the main house. Around noon time, Creed spotted a lone rider approaching. Grabbing their carbines Creed and Grissom both walked down to the barn and waited. As the man got closer, Creed recognized him as John Lewis, the Land Office Owner. “Hello! I am unarmed and come in peace!” Lewis yelled as he put his hands in the air, smiling. Creed and Grissom both waved and smiled back and lowered their rifles. “Come on inside the bunk house Mr. Lewis. Got sum’ coffee brewed.” Creed hollered back. “Stick around for this” Creed told Grissom. Grissom nodded and headed inside. As Lewis walked into the bunk house, he noticed Rojo and Tick in their bunks. “What happened to your two men?” Lewis asked concerned as he sat down at the table. “They were wounded in an ambush at Preachers Gulch.” Creed replied, pouring Lewis a cup of coffee. “Oh Yes, I heard about that. Those damn renegade indians are really causing a lot of trouble, I suppose we should be grateful your men survived..” Lewis replied, sipping at his coffee. Hearing this, Creed and Grissom quickly looked at each other. “What exactly did you hear Mr. Lewis?” Grissom asked, moving closer. “James Redding, the Telegraph Operator told me that one of Randolph’s men told him a group of renegade indians massacred around twenty-five cowboys at Preachers Gulch. He said a majority of the men were Mr. Randolphs and the others were hired men out of Mexico he thinks. Why, did you hear something different?” Lewis asked, a quizzical look on his face. Creed and Grissom’s face both got two shades of dark red. “That lying son-of-a-bitch!” Creed exclaimed, jumping up from the table and pacing the room. “Randolph had a group of fifteen hired killers set to ambush Rojo and Tick as they returned from Mexico with ten men who hired on to help build the ranch. That group of “renegade indians” was led by my uncle, Spotted Rabbit, who SAVED Rojo and Tick just in time before they were slaughtered by those hired killers.” Creed explained with fervor. Lewis sat at the table shaking his head, trying to absorb the news. “I knew Randolph was trying to take this land from you. That is the reason I rode out here, But I had no ideal he was going to go this far!” Lewis exclaimed, throwing up his hands. “You say this Telegraph Operator was told about the news of the ambush by one of Randolph’s goons? Well, it all makes sense. Randolph used my uncle and his band as scapegoats to cover up his botched ambush.” Creed explained, sitting back down. “You said the reason you rode out here was that you knew Randolph was going to try to take this land from us, what did you mean by that Mr. Lewis?” Grissom asked pointedly. Lewis reached into his jacket pocket and placed a folded leather-bound black ledger on the table. “For the last twenty years I have been in charge of every shady, illegal land deal Randolph has been a part of. And unbeknownst to him, I also recorded every dollar of extortion, bribe and kickback money that changed hands. With this ledger gentleman, you can put John Randolph in prison for a very long time.” Lewis replied.

“Prison is too good for that piece of goat shit.” Tick weakly hollered from his bunk across the room, taking a big swig of laudanum. “The only way we can tie Randolph to the ambush and murders is the testimony of Tick and Rojo.” Lewis replied, looking at Creed and Grissom. “Somebody is going to have to contact the Federal Marshall in Austin directly.” Grissom replied. “Why not just telegraph them?” Rojo suggested from across the room. “Because James Redding, the Telegraph Operator is on Randolph’s payroll, and any information he is told goes directly to Randolph.” Lewis replied. Creed paced the room, thinking.  “The only thing to do then is to take the ledger directly to the Federal Marshall’s office in Austin, Mr. Lewis.” Creed said, looking at Lewis intently. “Why me? Why not you or Grissom?” Lewis replied, shrinking in his chair. “Because Me and Grissom need to stay here to protect Tick and Rojo. As you said, they are the only living witnesses to his crime, so he is definitely going to try to kill them, and me in the process if he can.” Creed answered boldly. Lewis sat there silent for a few minutes, contemplating the situation. Grissom walked over and placed his hand on Lewis’ shoulder.”You said yourself you are tired of Randolph running rough-shod over the people of this town, including you, Mr. Lewis, this is your chance to stop him.” Creed walked over and placed three hundred dollars on the table.” This will cover your round-trip stage fare plus hotel and food.” Lewis stood up from the table. He looked at Creed and Grissom for a long moment, then over to Rojo and Tick in their beds. He reached down and picked up the money and placed it in his pocket. “Do you own a revolver or pistol, Mr. Lewis?” Grissom asked. “Ugh, No, never had the need for one.” Lewis replied. “Well, now you do sir. We are dealing with dangerous men, and you have to be prepared to defend yourself.” Grissom handed Lewis a Smith and Wesson M&P Model .38 Caliber revolver with a four-inch barrel and a box of shells. “You can keep this in your jacket pocket without having to wear a holster.” Grissom added. “The gun holds six rounds, but the hammer rest on an empty chamber for safety.” Grissom showed Lewis, breaking open the cylinder. Lewis nodded and pocketed the gun and ammunition. The three men walked outside to Lewis’ horse. “I will have to ride to Fort Davis to catch the Stage. I will go by my place and pack a few things and head out. If I ride hard, I can get there tonight and catch the first stage in the morning. If all goes well in Austin, you should be hearing from me within a week, hopefully with a dozen federal marshalls in tow!” Lewis extended his hand to Grissom and Creed, who both shook it.”Please let the Federal Marshall know my uncle had nothing to do with the ambush at Preachers Gulch.” Creed reminded Lewis. “I will be sure too.” Lewis replied. “Be Careful Mr. Lewis, there is a lot riding on this trip!” Grissom said smiling. “I will. You two be careful and protect those men in there! Right now they are more valuable than silver or gold!” Lewis spurred his horse and took off for town, a trail of dust swirling up into the noonday sun. “What do you think his odds are?” Creed asked Grissom, squinting into the bright sun. “Right now kid, he is our only hope at stopping this bastard so I gotta believe his odds are good.” Grissom replied, spitting brown tobacco juice into the dirt.

————————————————-

The Randolph Estate

“Congratulations Marshall Knowles! I know you will make the town of Shafter proud with your service!” John Randolph smiled as he shook hands with the newly promoted Marshall while a local newspaperman snapped their picture, the bulb flash blinding both of them temporarily. Afterwards, Randolph walked over and slipped a hundred-dollar bill in the newspaperman’s vest. “And make sure to include something about Marshall Prescott being killed by that band of renegade indians, OK Bill?” Randolph shook hands with the newspaperman as the man nodded and winked that he understood. “Come on out to the back patio Marshall and have a drink.” Randolph said waving his hand to Knowles. As Knowles followed Randolph through the house, he noticed a group of cleaning ladies in the parlor scrubbing the floors. That must have been where he killed Marshall Prescott. Knowles thought to himself, his stomach suddenly getting nauseous. “Knowles come on over here and sit down.” Randolph motioned from the patio table. “Now that you are Marshall, I am gonna be leaning more heavily on you to get things done.” Knowles nodded and tried to hide the fear that was welling up inside him, turning his stomach inside out. What the hell had he gotten himself into! “Now as you know your former boss let me down in taking care of this indian boy and his friends squatting on my land.” Randolph eyed Knowles for his reaction. Knowles just nodded. He knew what Randolph was implying. After the failed ambush, the two living witnesses, Rojo and Tick, had to be silenced. Knowles did not say it, but one thing had always bothered him since this all started. Why was Randolph so concerned about this particular piece of land? What made it so special?  “To help speed up the process of taking care of this problem I have called in R.T. Newton and his boys, I assume you have heard of Newton?” Randolph smirked as he looked at Knowles for his reaction. Anybody in Law Enforcement had heard of R.T Newton. He had made a name for himself as a mercenary, a gun-hand for hire working for rich ranchers and railroad tycoons. “Yes sir I’ve heard of him” Knowles said. “Good. Then you know he is more than capable of handling this band of misfits. Just stay out of his way and let him work.” Randolph lit a cigar and exhaled the grey smoke. Knowles stood and shook hands with Randolph. “If that will be all Mr. Randolph, I better get back into town and see about hiring me a couple new deputies.” Randolph stood also. “By all means Marshall and by the way, I will be increasing your salary to two hundred dollars a month and your deputies to seventy-five. I want you all to know how much I appreciate your hard work.” Randolph smiled as he chomped down on his cigar. “Thank you sir.” Knowles tipped his hat and turned around and left. As he was riding away from the estate Knowles felt used. He realized that this was the moment he could either become just another Randolph stooge or stand-up and do something. Regardless of the money and perks, he did not want to end up like Prescott and become a by-line in a fictitious newspaper story. He had to do something, and fast.

       ————————————————–

The Palace Hotel, Shafter TX

R.T. Newton and his three associates checked into their rooms at the Palace Hotel John Randolph had reserved and paid for in advance. “How long will you be staying with us Mr. Newton?” the clerk asked smiling. “That is to be determined young man, but let’s just say a week for now.” The clerk handed the men the keys and snapped for the bellhop to get their luggage. “That’s not needed, we can handle our own bags.” one of the men said gruffly. “OK Gentleman you are all set, here are your keys.” As the clerk handed Newton the keys he took stock of the man he had heard so much about over the years. He stood close to six-foot with coal-black hair and a neatly trimmed handlebar mustache to match. He was lean for a man his age, the familiar paunch belly was absent and in its stead was lean muscle that made his arms and legs appear like braided steel cables. His hands were the hands of a working man, large and scarred, with dislocated knuckles from many a bar-room brawl. He was dressed impeccably, with a tailored gun-metal grey suit, low-cut Wellington boots and being a native of Mississippi, an elegant black string tie. Newton did not wear a traditional gun belt like most hired guns of the day. Instead, he wore a shoulder rig with a Colt Semi-Automatic .38 Caliber handgun. Always a careful man, Newton also kept a back-up gun, a custom-made Colt 1903 Hammerless in a pocket holster and a .22 caliber derringer in his boot. As the clerk watched Newton ascend the stairs, he also took stock of the men following him. None of them really stood out, they were all about the same height and weight and dressed basically the same. Each of them in custom tailored dark suits with tan dusters. All of them wore tie down gun belts. As each man entered their room, they took care to set down their bags gently. Each of them carried an assortment of small arms including rifles, shotguns, revolvers and pistols. One of the men who went by the name Taylor and fancied himself a sharpshooter had one of the new 1903 Springfield Rifles with a telescopic sight. It was said this rifle with the right man behind the trigger could kill a man from over five hundred yards away. Taylor intended to put that theory to the test.

Later that night, the front desk clerk, a man named Peters, stepped outside for a cigarette and met the young bellhop leaning against one of the stone columns in front of the hotel, loafing as usual. After bumming a smoke, the bellhop’s curiosity got the best of him. “So tell me Mr. Peters, who was that old man and them three guys that checked in earlier? You acted like you were kind of scared of them…” Peters smiled at the remark. “Yeah if you knew who they were son, you would have been scared too…” The young bellhop’s eyes got big and excited. “So tell me!” Peters rolled his eyes and relented. “His name is R.T. Newton. He’s a mercenary. A Gun-Hand. Some say he has killed upwards of thirty men, maybe more.” The clerk exhaled the cigarette smoke into the cool night air. The bellhop laughed in excitement. “Hot Damn! I knew there was something about that old man! What about the other men, who are they?” Peters took a moment to answer. He could hear the piano playing at the saloon at the end of the street and men talking loudly. “Those men are Newton’s ‘associates’. In a word: Killers, just like him. Some of them are ex-army, some of them outlaws. All of them are dangerous.” Peters took one last drag of his cigarette. “Wow. I cannot wait to tell my friends about this!” The bellhop gushed. Peters shook his head at the young boy’s foolishness and crushed out his cigarette with his foot. As he was about to turn around and go back inside he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Suddenly out of the darkness in the alley beside the hotel, a man appeared. It was one of Newton’s killers. Peters froze. “Good evening sir.” the bellhop said startled. The man said nothing as he ambled up the hotel steps. Peters moved aside to allow him to pass but the man stopped before entering the hotel. Being so close, Peters could smell the whiskey on his breath. He also got a good look at him. He was young, around twenty-five or so. He was unshaven and grizzled and had a nasty scar across his neck. As Peters was examining him, the man suddenly turned to face the bellhop. “You’d best keep your goddamn mouth shut about Mr. Newton kid. He don’t like people who gossip…” The man slurred his words slightly as he stared at the kid with coal-black eyes. The bellhop’s face went white. “Uh, yes sir, no problem.” the boy squeaked. Satisfied he had made his point, the man turned back around to make his way to his room. As he got to the stairs the man stopped and smiled. In a low voice he said “You were right Mr. Hotel clerk.” Peters walked over closer, straining to hear. “I’m sorry sir? Right about what?” The man turned and in the blink of an eye and in one smooth motion, with the simultaneous sound of iron clearing leather and the hammer being cocked, drew his revolver and pointed it right at Peters head. “I am one dangerous son-of-a-bitch!” The man eyes were wide and crazy, like a feral animal. His crooked smile revealing yellow and black teeth.  Peters felt his bowels and bladder release and all the blood drain from his face. Suddenly the world went black and he crumpled to the floor in a pool of his own piss and shit. Smiling broadly, The man holstered his gun and made his way drunkenly up the stairs. The bellhop just stood there staring with his mouth agape and his eyes wide, scared to even move or make a sound.

To Be Continued…

 

A Border Redemption

(Part Two of the Border Trilogy)

IV.

La Voyant Ranch

Creed was dreaming he was soaring above the earth like the great eagle. The world entire lay below him like a painting that was alive and breathing. Colors were vibrant and the world was pulsating with the very rhythm of existence. Time moved around him in a blur and when he looked below he recognized his own ranch. Creed could see horses, cattle, he even saw Grissom mending a fence. “Look deeper” the voice said. Suddenly Creeds vision became different. He could see underneath the ground, into the dark nether places, deep within the earth. Below the ranch flowed a black river. It was as wide as the Rio Grande and swift as the Colorado. “What is this?” Creed asked. There was no response. The last thing Creed saw before waking up was the great black river flowing under the ground for thousands of miles, circling the earth many times over. As Creed awoke from the dream, he raised up out of bed and walked to the door of the bunk house. He walked out into the cool, pre-dawn morning. The sky was still dark but on the horizon that beautiful assortment of purple and red ribbons of color was beginning to bleed through the curtain of night. He went over and sat down. “What did I just see?” He asked himself. An hour passed and soon Grissom was up making coffee. “How long you been sittin’ out here by yourself?” Grissom asked, slightly perturbed. “For a while.” Creed answered. “Not smart Creed. You know we got people wanting us dead, right?” Grissom shook his head at Creed as he went inside to fetch the coffee pot. As Grissom poured two thick black cups of coffee, the image of the underground black river went through Creed’s mind again. “Say you ever seen a black river that runs underground?” Creed asked. Grissom smiled at the question. “You serious? A black river?” Creed shot Grissom a serious glance. “There is a black river running underneath our feet right now.” Grissom smirked at the remark. “What in the hell are you talking about Creed? You been sipping on Tick’s laudanum or something?” Grissom smirked. “No, I dreamed it about two hours ago.” Creed replied, still looking at Grissom seriously.  The smirk immediately disappeared from Grissom’s face. Grissom had known Creed long enough to know that his dreams were nothing to take lightly. Grissom pondered the question for a moment. Suddenly, as if snake bit, he jumped up from the table. “If this is what I think it is, we should be able to find some evidence around here somewhere. C’mon!” Creed smiled as he recognized the fire in Grissom’s belly. He jumped up and followed Grissom out the door. As they threw their saddles on their horses, Creed hollered “Where are we going?” Grissom smiled widely. “When we find what I think we are going to find all your questions will be answered kid, I promise!”

Marshall Knowles Office

Marshall Knowles was deep in reflective thought when Sarah and Eve Patterson stormed into his office. “Marshall, we need to talk!” Knowles had known Sarah Patterson long enough to know by her tone she was not in a good mood. “What’s going on Sarah?” was all Knowles could get out before Sarah verbally unloaded on him. “We just came from the widow Prescott’s house and you will not believe the rumors she has been hearing about how her husband died!” Knowles blood ran cold and his bowels suddenly felt loose. “What rumors?” Knowles replied sheepishly. “Rumors that John Randolph either killed J.T. or had him killed and then blamed it on those renegade apaches, you know anything about that?” Sarah stared at Knowles, waiting on an answer. Knowles’ mind raced and his heart pounded. Marshall Prescott may have been cut out for this corrupt business, but he sure wasn’t. He had known most of the families in Shafter all his life. How could he look them in the eye and lie to them? As Knowles searched for the right words, tears formed in his eyes. “Oh God, you do know something.” Sarah gasped, holding her had up to her mouth in disbelief. Eve stood up. “Marshall Knowles did John Randolph have Marshall Prescott killed? We demand to know!” Knowles looked up at Eve, his eyes red and swollen. “Please sit down Eve and keep your voice down.” Knowles whispered in a hushed tone. “What we are discussing could get us all killed.” Knowles got up and pulled the shade down on the large window facing the street and locked the door. “What I am about to tell you has to stay strictly between us for now, is that understood?” Both Sarah and Eve shook their heads that they understood. “Yes, Randolph did Kill Marshall Prescott and blame it on the renegade indians. But that is only half the story. The reason he killed him is because he failed to kill all of Creed’s outfit in the ambush at Preacher’s Gulch. Now there are two witnesses who can testify to attempted murder.” Sarah and Eve’s mouth dropped open and their eyes became big as saucers.

“But why? Why would Randolph want Creed and his outfit dead?” Eve asked. “It has something to do with that land Creed bought, from what I understand John Lewis was supposed to hold that Land for Mr. Randolph to buy but instead sold it to Creed.” Knowles replied, blowing his nose on a handkerchief. “Have you talked to John Lewis about this to find out about the land?” Sarah asked. “Can’t find him. He most likely left town when all this kicked off, and I cannot blame him. Randolph does not tolerate people who make mistakes.” Knowles gave Sarah and Eve a look of disgust. “You said Randolph failed to kill all of Creed’s outfit, who are the two witnesses?” Eve asked. “His mexican foreman, Rojo and a creole negro called Tick.” Knowles replied. “There’s more bad news.” Knowles continued. “Randolph has hired a group of killers led by a man named R.T. Newton to kill Creed and the other men. They arrived in town the other day.” Sarah took a deep breath and shook her head in disbelief as Eve reached over and squeezed her hand.”So I guess the question is what do you intend to do about all this Marshall?” Eve asked. Knowles stood up, adjusted his gun belt and hat. “I intend to stop John Randolph.” Eve looked at her mother for a long moment, nodded and then looked up at Knowles. “Well since I am guessing there is nobody crazy enough to join you in standing up to his ‘highness’ John Randolph, you can count us both in to help you.” Knowles smiled at the gesture. “Thanks Eve, but I don’t want anymore innocent people getting hurt.” “What? You think because we are both women we cannot shoot a gun? We both got trigger fingers Marshall!” Eve’s eyes flashed with anger. “Whoa! I am not gonna step into that argument! OK Eve, you and your mom can help. But First things first. We get out to Creed’s ranch and warn him about what’s going on.” Eve and Sarah both jumped up and prepared to leave as Knowles went over to the gun rack and got three carbines and a shotgun. Handing two of the carbines to Eve and Sarah he then reached under his desk and grabbed a large saddle bag full of ammunition and revolvers. “I see you have been preparing for this.” Eve asked Knowles as they walked out the door. “Been thinking about nothing else all day.” Knowles replied.

Randolph Estate

“I have had a man watching that ranch since yesterday. He says this indian boy, the mexican, the nigger and another white man are all holed up in the bunk house. You give the order and we can take care of all of them.” R.T. Newton spat tobacco juice into one of Randolph’s manicured flowerbeds. Randolph grimaced at Newton’s coarse manners. “Any sign of the land man, John Lewis?” Randolph asked. “No sir. No sign at all. His office and house are empty and nobody in town knows where he is at.” “Son-of-a-bitch!” Randolph spat in frustration. After pacing a few more times around the patio Randolph spun around to face Newton. “To make this look legal and not to draw too much attention from town, you are gonna need Marshall Knowles to accompany you out there, that way when the shooting starts you have the law on your side.” Newton laughed loudly at the remark. “Funny how the law works isn’t it Randolph? Law and Order always going to the highest bidder.” Randolph dismissed the remark with a smirk. “Stop by his office on the way out there, he will be expecting you.” Randolph walked over to the patio table and opened a satchel. Reaching inside he took out a large stack of banded hundred-dollar bills. “Here is the five thousand I promised. When this is all over, ride straight out-of-town. Do not come back out here, understood?” Newton shook his head. “Pleasure doing business with you Mr. Randolph.” As Newton tipped his hat, Randolph smirked and waved is hand, as if he were a king dismissing a lowly subject.

La Voyant Ranch

After riding only a few hundred yards from the bunk house, Grissom and Creed found what they were looking for. Creed watched in amazement as Grissom wrapped a handkerchief around a stick, dipped it into the black puddle of thick goo on the ground and then lit the torch with two matches. As the flame began to burn brightly, Grissom smiled. “That my apache friend is Oil! Liquid Gold!” Creed’s eyes got wide. He had heard about oil being found in Texas. Just two years prior at a place called Spindletop near Beaumont, a huge gusher had been discovered. “A Black River underground! I’ll be damned!” Creed exclaimed smiling. Grissom threw down the small torch and stomped it out. “You do realize this explains why Randolph was trying to have us all killed, right?” Grissom squinted up at Creed on horseback. “Yeah, there is damn fortune right underneath our feet.” Creed replied. Suddenly Grissom’s ear perked up. “Riders…Coming this way.” Grissom jumped back on his horse and him and Creed raced back to the bunk house. By the time they had dismounted and took up positions with their rifles, Knowles, Sarah and Eve could be seen riding up. “I don’t like this kid. Could be a trick.” Grissom remarked, aiming down the rifle. “Steady Grissom, let’ see what is on their minds…” Creed replied. Knowles stopped twenty yards from the bunk house and waved a white handkerchief. “We come in peace. We all just want to talk.” Knowles yelled out. “That fine Marshall, but just to be safe, how about you surrender all your guns.” Grissom responded. Knowles nodded and offered the small arsenal he and Sarah were carrying. Grissom’s eyes widened at the amount of firepower. “My God Knowles, what were you expecting? The Battle of the Alamo?” Grissom remarked as he picked up some of the guns and started carrying them inside. “Let’s all go inside out of the heat.” Creed said, helping Sarah and Eve down from their buggy. As Creed opened the door, Eve gave him a smile. Creed smiled back and felt himself blush. After everybody was seated, Rojo sat up in bed across the room to hear the conversation also. Grissom retrieved a bottle of rye from the cabinet and six glasses. and poured everybody a drink. Knowles talked for over twenty minutes explaining everything he had told Sarah and Eve about Randolph, Marshall Prescott and R.T. Newton. As he talked, Grissom and Creed just looked at one another shaking their heads. “What is it?” Knowles asked excitedly. Creed proceeded to fill in the blanks concerning the oil they had discovered and how John Lewis was on his way to Austin with a ledger containing evidence that, when combined with the testimony of Tick and Rojo, could put Randolph in prison for a very long time.

————————————

Five hundred yards away from the bunk house on a small ridge, Taylor, Newton’s sharpshooter, was camped out watching the ranch through a pair of binoculars. He watched a negro water, feed and then curry comb the horses that had just rode in. Taylor heard riders approaching from behind and as he drew his pistol he saw Newton’s familiar black stud, followed by the others. “Please tell me a wagon with two women in it and Marshall Knowles arrived a short while ago.” Newton said as he dismounted. “You got it boss, how did you know?”  Taylor asked, arching an eyebrow. “The tracks are as plain as day coming from town. What else is going on down there?” Newton replied, spitting tobacco juice. “Not much. The negro is up and around. He is down there taking care of the horses right now, the rest are in the bunk house.” Taylor replied, handing the binoculars to Newton. As Newton watched Tick, a smile formed over his yellow teeth. “You think you can take him from this distance?” Newton asked. “Not a problem boss. What about the others?” Taylor replied. “Me and the boys will stage up in that stand of trees yonder.” Newton pointed below. “As soon as we hear you shoot, we attack. Your job will then be to cover us. Anybody steps out of that bunk house, put a hole through them, understood?”Newton replied, mounting his horse. “What about the lawman and the two women?” Taylor asked concerned. Newton paused looking down at the bunk house for a long second. “Casualties of War.” Newton replied coldly. Taylor stood looking dumbfounded as Newton and the other two men rode down into the trees, the dust from the horses swirling up around him.

————————————-

Tick had just finished forking some hay for the horses and was about to go up to the bunk house for a drink when something hit him in the stomach, almost like a hornet sting. Reaching down to investigate, his hand immediately filled with dark oozing blood. As his brain was registering that he had just been shot and not stung, Tick looked up to see three riders, several hundred yards out, firing carbines and pistols. “Son-of-a-bitch!” Tick yelled as he drew his revolver. He managed to get off two aimed shots before someone grabbed him from behind. “Come on you crazy bastard!” Grissom exclaimed. Tick continued firing his pistol as Grissom dragged him up the steps and into the house, slamming the solid wooden door behind them. Creed and Knowles were already returning fire with rifles through the two front windows, with Rojo manning the single back window. The windows had instead of glass, double reinforced wood shutters with cross-shaped shooting slits, which allowed the shooter to fire left to right and up and down. It was an age-old design found in forts all over the southwest. As Grissom dragged Tick to the kitchen table, Sarah and Eve jumped into action and quickly cleared the cups and dishes away. “Eve get me a pail of water and as many clean bandages as you can find!” Sarah yelled above the gunfire. After Grissom had helped Tick onto the table, he quickly ran to the window where Creed was at and began returning fire with his carbine. “I count three, you see anyone back there Rojo?” Creed asked. “Nada.” Rojo yelled back. “They are taking cover in the barn.” Knowles yelled. “Shoot their horses.” Creed commanded. The sound of the horses bodies dropping to the ground could be heard as each men put a bullet into heads, painlessly dispatching them. Sarah and Eve rolled Tick over to see if there was exit wound. Finding a hole about the size of an acorn dangerously close to his spine, they gently laid him back down. “The bullet went clean through.” Sarah yelled out. “Can you stop the bleeding?” Grissom yelled back, reloading his rifle. “I am gonna try.” Sarah responded as she began packing the wound. Tick’s face had grown gaunt and very pale. “I’m really thirsty.” Tick said, hoarsely. Eve gently gave Tick a drink of water. After he finished the cup, Tick smiled and tried to put on his standard charm. “I gotta tell you, if getting shot get’s me cared for by pretty women like you, I gotta think about getting shot more often.” Tick winked at Eve and Sarah and then grimaced as a wave of pain hit him. “Let’s move him over to one of the beds.” Sarah suggested. Rojo came over and helped Sarah and Eve move Tick to his bunk. He then went over and retrieved a bottle of laudanum from the cabinet. “Give him some of this, maybe it will shut him up.” Rojo gave Tick his rough smile, patted his hand and then resumed his post at the back window. As Sarah gave Tick a spoonful of the opiate she noticed a tear roll down Rojo’s cheek and heard him whisper a prayer in Spanish and cross himself as he kept watch outside.

——————————————-

During the night, Newton and his two men made their way out of the back of the barn and back to the ridge on foot where Taylor was set up. “Those crazy bastards shot our horses.” Pike said as they walked into camp exhausted. “Nothin’ crazy about that. Indian tactics. Take away your enemies mobility and you have a better chance of killing him.” Taylor replied as he cleared a place for the men to sit down and poured them each cups of coffee, “Looks like you gut-shot that nigger Taylor. Getting rusty or what?” Newton asked Taylor with a smirk as he sat down.”The drop on that aught-six load was more than I expected at this range, won’t happen again.” Taylor re-assured Newton with eye contact. “So what’s the plan Boss?” Jackson asked, lighting a cigarette with a brand from the fire. Newton smiled and opened up a saddle bag he had left at the camp. Pulling out two bundles of brown wax paper, he tore them open to reveal two cords of dynamite. “I brought this in the event we could get all the rats hemmed up and it looks like we have. Before dawn we will attack again and use the dynamite and this job will be over.” Newton carefully placed the dynamite back in the paper and the saddle bag. Taylor shook his head in disbelief. This whole job was spinning out of control fast.

To Be Continued…

 

A Border Redemption

(Part Two of the Border Trilogy)

V.

La Voyant Ranch

It was a few hours before dawn and the cabin was dark and quiet. Everybody was fast asleep except the three men on watch at the windows. Creed had been on guard for an hour when Eve came over and brought him a cup of coffee and some fried cornbread. “My mom’s recipe.” she whispered, brushing her hair back from her eyes. Creed admired her beauty in the dim shadow of the candles. “Thanks. How’s Tick?” Creed whispered in reply. “He’s resting. The bleeding has stopped but he still has a fever.” Creed noticed the look of concern on Eve’s face. “Will he be OK you think?” Creed asked. “The fever worries me. It means there is an infection. He really needs a Doctor.” Creed just shook his head in frustration. “You think we can get out of here soon?” Eve asked. “I hope…” Creed did not finish his sentence as a sound outside caught his attention. “Pssssst” Creed got Knowles attention at the next window and Grissom’s at the back. Instead of talking Creed pointed to his ears and then outside. “Eve go take cover by the bunks and keep that revolver handy.” Creed whispered. Eve nodded her head and quickly moved over to the bunk with her waiting mother who already had a shotgun loaded and ready. Knowles, Grissom and Creed all shouldered their carbines and went on high alert at their windows scanning the area. It was a moonless night, and with the combination of the pre-dawn hour, the darkness outside was a sheet of complete blackness. Creed cleared his mind and listened. There! The sound he heard earlier, a rustling. Creed slowly cocked the hammer on his carbine and aligned the sights, scanning with the barrel of the gun. The sound, as best he could tell was coming from in front of the corrals next to the barn. Movement in the shadows! Creed aligned the sights and right before he squeezed the trigger Grissom whispered. “Hold your Fire! Coyotes! They are eating on the dead horses!” Creed let out a sigh of relief and relaxed the hammer on the carbine and withdrew the barrel back inside.

Creed shot a glance over to Grissom, who was smiling. “I guess we forgot there was half-a-dozen rotting horses out there!” Creed smiled at the remark. He glanced over at Eve and Sarah who were also smiling in relief. “Well since we are all up now, I think this calls for some coffee.” Rojo said, climbing out of his bunk. Creed was just about to say “I would love some” when the cabin exploded in gunfire. Knowles and Grissom were already calling out targets before Creed could get back behind his carbine. “Looks like they got reinforcements!  I count six guns back here!” Knowles yelled as he returned fire. “I count eight, No! Make it Ten! Jesus! Where did they all come from?” Grissom exclaimed as he returned fire as quickly as he could. By the time Creed had drawn a bead with this rifle, there were upwards of twenty mounted gunman surrounding the bunk house. Splinters of wood flew as bullets pierced the cabin. The women yelled in sheer terror as bullets impacted all around them. Rojo quickly herded the women into a corner away from the windows. He then took one of the mattresses off the bunks and laid it over them. He repeated this with Tick. “They are setting up some kind of barricade back here!” Knowles yelled as light first appeared outside and things could be seen more clearly. “Same thing in the front!” Creed replied. Creed watched in horror as three wagons were rolled into place not twenty yards from the bunk house. “Ammo!” Grissom yelled. Rojo crawled over and retrieved the saddlebag Knowles had brought and flung it over. “This all we got?!” Grissom looked up in distress. “Si!” Rojo replied. Grissom shook his head in disgust and continued firing. After the wagons were rolled into place, Newton and his posse stopped firing. Creed likewise ordered everybody to cease-fire. After a few moments, Creed watched two men ride up and dismount behind the wagons. Directly, a voice pierced the silence. “This is John Randolph speaking. I need to speak to the man in charge in there.” Grissom and Creed looked at each other in amazement. “This is Creed La Voyant Speaking Randolph.” Creed yelled out through the window. “Listen son, this thing has gotten way out of hand. I don’t want to see anybody else killed. So here is what I propose: You hand over the nigger and the mexican and we let Sarah and Eve go back home safe and sound.” Randolph replied. Creed shook his head in disbelief at the gall of Randolph. “That dirty sum-bitch!” Grissom exclaimed, shaking his head. “Tell me something Randolph, how many people out there know why you want this land so bad?” Creed asked. There was a long pause. “Well, I guess now, just me and you.” Randolph replied amused. ” Go ahead and laugh, you’re finished Randolph regardless what you do to Rojo and Tick, you  are still going down for all the evil you have done in this town! Right now John Lewis is in Austin at the State Attorneys office with a certain black ledger, sound familiar?” Creed replied. Five minutes passed in silence. The next voice was that of the hired killer, R.T. Newton. “OK Indian, you have heard the offer, either you send out the nigger and mexican and we let the women go or we just blow you all to hell, your choice. You got two minutes to decide.” Newton held up several sticks of dynamite wrapped together with a long fuse for all to see to give a visual aid to the seriousness of the threat.

Feeling like he needed to stall for time, Creed quickly answered. “One of the men you want is badly wounded and cannot be moved…” Newton could be heard laughing. “Oh Yeah, the gut shot nigger, forgot about that. That’s OK, you can just lay him out here and we will finish him off…” Creed’s anger boiled over immediately. “I’ll be damned if I will! And you all can go to hell!” Newton continued to laugh. “OK, have it your way. It is everybody’s funeral in that cabin in exactly one minute.” Rojo immediately stood up. “Tell him I am coming out, but only after the women are allowed to ride off safely.” Creed and Grissom traded glances, frustrated. “We don’t have a choice kid. The bastard has us by the balls.” Grissom whispered. Suddenly Sarah stood up. “Tell Randolph I want to talk to him face to face.” Creed looked at Sarah for a long moment. “It’s risky.” Grissom replied, looking at Creed then at Sarah. Creed paused and then yelled out. “Sarah Patterson wants to talk to John Randolph, face to face. I am sending her out, unarmed. Everybody hold your fire!” “You are trying my patience kid!” Newton replied from behind one of the wagons. Without warning and with the boldness of a lioness, Sarah burst out the door before Creed or Grissom could stop her. “John Randolph stop hiding behind your attack dogs and come out here and face me!” Sarah yelled out, her face red with anger. “Knowles, you and Rojo keep a sharp eye out back there, they may try something!” Grissom whispered. Meanwhile, Eve was glued to the window, watching her mother intently.

After a few minutes, Randolph came slowly walking out from behind the wagons, two armed goons following him. He stopped ten feet from where Sarah stood. “OK Sarah, here I am, what’s on your mind?” Sarah took a deep breath and stared at Randolph for a long minute, the anger seething out of her. “John Randolph for the last six years I refused to believe the truth about what happened to my husband. But then yesterday as me and my daughter were comforting Marshall Prescott’s widow and she told me the rumors that were going around town about you, I realized how big a fool I have been. I refused to acknowledge the truth about what you really are Randolph.” Sarah had a look of utter disgust on her face. “And what am I Sarah?” Randolph asked, an impatient smirk on his face. “A Murderer.” she spat., glaring at him. Randolph chuckled. “You know every man who has ever accomplished something great in life have had accusations thrown at them. The Carnegie’s, The Rockefeller’s…” Sarah interrupted him. “Oh For God’s sakes Randolph! Stop your illusions of grandeur! You are nowhere close to an Andrew Carnegie or John Rockefeller! You are a lucky tin pan who turned into a crook, pure and simple. You have lied, cheated, extorted, bribed and murdered to get where you are and I hope to see you swinging by the end of a rope before all of this is over! And if you think me and my daughter are simply going to crawl away like whooped dogs while you and your goon squad murder those brave men in there you are sadly mistaken!” When Sarah finished her speech, you could have heard a mouse fart. Everybody, including his own men, were now looking at Randolph to reply while Sarah stood there with her arms crossed, a look of stern defiance on her face. Visibly agitated and embarrassed, Randolph took two-steps toward Sarah. As he raised his hand as if he were going to strike her an arrow burst out of his chest from behind, spraying Sarah with blood. Randolph’s eyes went wide as he looked down to see the black flint head  protruding from his chest. “Indians!” Randolph’s men yelled as they dove under wagons and Gunfire erupted from every direction. Grissom quickly went out and grabbed Randolph and Sarah and pulled them back into the bunk house. Creed took one look at Randolph and knew he would not live long, the arrow was too close to the heart. Knowles and Rojo had already took up positions at the windows and were firing at any of Randolph’s men that were still out in the open. Creed yelled at Rojo who was manning the back window. “How many riders back there?”. “I count ten, no twelve!” Rojo replied. Creed smiled. His uncle had been true to his word. He had returned, and in the nick of time.

It did not take long for the two dozen mounted braves to over run the disorganized posse. A large majority of the men were farmers and merchants that had no stomach for killing. Most dropped their guns and ran for town while others cowered under wagons and whimpered like children. Knowles put on his hat and holstered his pistol. “I am gonna go out there and make sure all the men who surrendered get treated fairly. Gotta have some semblance of Law and Order round here.” As Knowles walked out the door, Creed, Grissom and Rojo walked over to Ticks bunk. All three men removed their hats as they approached. They all knew from the way Eve was crying that he was gone. “When did he pass?” Creed asked quietly. “About the time the fight started.” Eve replied as she hugged him. Creed’s heart swelled with grief. Tick was the one who had found him wandering in the desert after his parent’s were slaughtered over three years ago. He had been the kindest to him out of all the men in Diaz’s gang, often sharing his breakfast and supper with him. Creed reached over and gently closed Tick’s eyes and then covered his head with the bed sheet. “Do you know what his real name was?” Eve asked, looking at all three men, all of their eyes wet with tears. “Tick was all we ever knew.” Suddenly Sarah’s voice broke the stillness. “Confess you son-of-a-bitch! Confess your sins before you go to meet your maker!” Creed jumped up and was surprised to see Randolph on the floor, still alive, with Sarah towering over him, shaking a cocked revolver at his head. “Confess you had a hand in murdering my husband and Marshall Prescott in cold blood! Confess right now!” Randolph’s face was ashen gray from the blood loss, his eyes going white as they rolled back in his head. His tongue, hanging loose from his mouth like a sick dog.  “Sarah.” Creed said in a clam and quiet voice. Sarah, surprised, spun around to face Creed, the revolver still in her hand. “Stay out of this Creed! That Bastard, That Monster, is going to confess!” Sarah’s face was contorted with hate, her eyes red and swollen from crying, her hands shaking from anger. “Sarah, how about we put down that gun before somebody else get’s hurt. He’s gonna be dead in a few minutes anyway Sarah, there’s no need for it…” Creed hoped he was making sense. After a few moments he took a deep breath as Sarah lowered the gun and handed it to Creed. Sarah then dropped to her knees in front of Randolph, who by now had died from massive blood loss. Between the great sobs and wails Sarah would try to speak but her pain was so great Creed could not make it out. Soon Eve came over and kneeled down with her mother and held her. Looking over at Randolph and then at Creed, Eve comforted her mother. “He’s dead mama. He’s dead. He will never be able to do this to anybody’s husband or Father ever again.” Both women cried for several minutes as Creed took a blanket and covered Randolph’s body.

Creed walked outside to find his uncle, Spotted Rabbit and Marshall Knowles conversing over the body of four dead men. Creed recognized one of them as R.T. Newton, Randolph’s hired gun. He guessed the other three were part of his outfit. “These four refused to lay down their weapons, fought it out and died like the dogs they were.” Spotted Rabbit spat. “Bury them with the rest.” Creed said as he surveyed the carnage. “How many dead?” Creed asked Knowles. Knowles shrugged. “I would guess around thirty, but I haven’t counted. What about Inside?” The look on Creed’s face told Knowles and Spotted Rabbit all they need to know and both bowed their heads in respect. “What about Randolph?” Knowles asked. “About ten minutes ago.” Creed said softly. “Good riddance.” Knowles replied coldly. “Tick was one tough sumbitch to have survived that long gut shot, most men would have died within an hour or two.” Knowles said as he put a plug of tobacco in his cheek. Creed nodded his head in agreement. “Well, on the bright side we won’t have to go to the trouble of a trial or building another damn gallows.” Knowles said smiling. “But, we still have a problem with Spotted Rabbit and his outfit being wanted renegade indians who have escaped an Indian Reservation. By law, I should arrest them and have them transported back to Mescalero. But hell, the way I see it, what you done here today makes up for all that Spotted Rabbit, so here is what I am going to do. I am gonna get on my horse and ride into town for a few hours. When I return, I want you and your boys Gone, and by Gone I mean out of Texas, comprende?” Spotted Rabbit nodded and turned to go talk to his braves. Knowles and Creed walked over the Barn where his horse was stabled. “I expect to hear back from John Lewis and the State’s Attorney’s office any day now.” Creed said, tightening up Knowles saddle straps. “Yeah, it’s a shame that bastard Randolph won’t be able to stand trial for the murders.” Knowles replied. “Yeah, but the main thing is the people who were taken advantage of in this town will get justice. That ledger proves he cheated this town out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hopefully a judge will give that money back to the people who were cheated.” Creed replied as Knowles mounted his horse. “I hope so Creed. Now don’t forget. Your Uncle and his outfit need to be gone. Preferably Mexico.” Creed nodded and Knowles lit out for town. Creed walked over to find his Uncle readying several horses. “I knew I would see you again Uncle.” Creed said smiling. Spotted Rabbit smiled back as he holstered a rifle in a saddle scabbard. “What are your plans?” Creed asked excitedly. “We will ride South.” Spotted Rabbit replied. “And you? What are your plans Nephew? To become the next Texas Oil Tycoon of Shafter?” Spotted Rabbit eyed Creed and smiled. “Honestly Uncle I have not thought about it. I just want to get things made right for the people who live here.” Creed replied. “Well with John Randolph out-of-the-way I am sure things will start to improve.” Spotted Rabbit replied. “And do I have you  and your bow to thank for that?” Creed eyed his Uncle smiling. Spotted Rabbit just smiled and mounted his horse. “Until next time Nephew!” Spotted rabbit yelled raising his hand as a red cloud of dust billowed into the air and thirteen riders and two loaded mules headed south to Old Mexico.

Six Months Later

Mayor John Lewis, Creed, Grissom, and Marshall Knowles sat outside at a picnic table under a large Elm tree in front of the main house. “So with the ledger, The State’s Attorney General was able to take it before a judge and seize all of Randolph’s cash and assets?” Creed asked. “Well, of course Randolph’s family is fighting all of this in court, but the bottom line is yes, that is exactly what he did. Plus the judge awarded all the business owners that Randolph had extorted all these years large cash settlements.” Lewis replied. “What about Sarah and Eve?” Creed asked.”The judge awarded them the silver mine that Randolph stole from her husband three years ago and a very large unspecified cash settlement.” Lewis replied. As Creed listened, his gaze shifted to the small hill behind his house where he had built a memorial for his dear friend, Tick. It consisted of a polished wrought iron fence and gate with a beautiful marble bench and a Tombstone, six feet high. The inscription on the tombstone simply read “Tick  1860-1903. A True and Noble Friend.” As Creed looked at the Memorial, his gaze shifted farther into the distance, where several oil derricks could be seen dotting the landscape. “Creed, excuse me, are you OK?” Lewis asked. Creed suddenly snapped out of his daydream. “Ah, yes. Sorry, I drifted off there.” Creed said smiling. “I was asking about the ranch, how are things going?” Lewis asked. Creed looked at Grissom to take over for him, still lost in his daydream. “Well, we have five wells producing right now and have plans to drill three more by years end.” Grissom said smiling. “Outstanding!” Lewis responded. Obviously happy at the revenue that was going to eventually produce for the town.”And Marshall Knowles, do you have any information on the band of renegade indians that attacked three months ago?” Knowles shot a glance over at Creed who was still lost in thought. “No, last I heard they were seen in Old Mexico.” Knowles replied with a smirk. “Well, let’s hope they stay on that side of the river.” Lewis replied standing up, signifying the meeting was over. All men shook hands and the Mayor and Marshall Knowles were driven back to town by their personal driver in one of the first Model T Fords in Shafter.

Creed and Grissom stood watching the automobile for quite a while, both of them amazed at the contraption. After a few minutes, Eve came from the house and coming up behind Creed, put her arms around his waist. Creed turned around to face her and smiled. “And what did our Good Mayor have to say?” Eve asked. “Oh, just that Randolph’s assets have been seized by the State and all the people in town that got swindled, including you and your mom, are going to be made whole.” Eve’s face lit up. “Oh Creed! Mom is going to be so happy!” She started to hug Creed and Creed suddenly recoiled, afraid he might hurt the growing baby inside her womb. Both of them looked at each other and grinned. “It’s OK, you’re not gonna hurt the baby!” she whispered in his ear. He smiled back and hugged her, lifting her off her feet and spinning her around as she giggled in delight. Suddenly in the distance, a loud explosion could be heard. As they all three turned around, they saw a fountain of oil spraying into the air out of one of the derricks. “There she is Creed! What did I tell ya! Number three hit!” Grissom yelled laughing, “Come on Boy!” Creed gave Eve one last kiss and set off toward the derrick, he and Grissom running at full sprint toward the derrick. Eve stood and watched them for a long while, the black oil raining down on her in a mist. She had never been so happy in all her life. She put her hand on her belly and felt the baby give a small kick. Eve smiled as she walked back to the house, content for the present and the future.

 

THE END