The Last Good Chance

This is a work of short fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in this short story are entirely fictional and are of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or organizations or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

Tuesday

 

Detective First Grade Jimmy Boland took three steps into the Tipsy Gent saloon at a quarter past one in the afternoon and stopped dead in his tracks. The owner and Jimmy’s mentor, Tommy Donovan, seated on his elevated perch behind the bar, looked up from his sports page and with his bifocals on the end of his nose, studied Jimmy intently.

“What the hell you doin’ here this time of day?” Tommy asked with his mouth slightly ajar, confused.

Tommy was sparsely white headed and a good twenty years older than Jimmy. As he got closer to seventy, Jimmy could see all those years working the mean streets as a beat cop catching up with him. Two bullet wounds, one back surgery, a complete knee replacement, a fractured skull and numerous concussions had left him not as mobile and sharp as he used to be, but he could still make a mean Bull Shark if you asked him. Jimmy ignored Tommy’s question and just stood there, looking around the bar like he was dazed.

“What in the hell is wrong with you boy-o?” Tommy asked, taking off his glasses and straightening his posture.

“It just occurred to me that I have never been in this bar before five p.m, ever in my life.” Jimmy replied.

Tommy stared at him like he had a screw loose for a few seconds and then went back to his sports page shaking his head. Jimmy sauntered around behind the bar, grabbed a bottle of Glenfiddich single malt and a glass and took a seat. Without looking up from his paper, Tommy said

“You may not have answered my question about why you’re here at this hour but by your choice of drink, I think I can guess.” Jimmy poured himself a liberal three fingers, and took a long swallow.

“So you gonna wait for me to ask like a schmuck or are you just gonna tell me?” Tommy said looking over.

Jimmy took a deep breath and looked at Tommy.

“Yeah the bastards canned all of us. A hundred years of combined service between us and they fired us for doing exactly what they trained us to do.” Tommy took off his glasses and gently placed them on the bar. He then got up and retrieved a whiskey glass and walked over in front of Jimmy and poured himself a snort.

“What does it state on your paperwork?” Tommy asked not looking up.

Jimmy pulled a sheaf of folded papers out of his inside jacket pocket and threw them on the bar.

“Discharged for non-cooperation in an ongoing IA (Internal Affairs) Investigation of abuse of office and gross professional misconduct of Police Detectives First Class Murphy, Duran, Kearns and Boland.” Jimmy replied shaking his head in disbelief. Tommy picked up the papers and skimmed over them.

“Since you were not fired for misconduct you kept your severance and your pension.” Tommy stated, pursing his lips together and nodding in amazement.

Jimmy looked at him with tired eyes.

“What the hell is that look for?” Tommy laughed and then downed his drink in one go.

“Whatta you mean what’s that look for? You fuckin’ kiddin’ me?” Tommy replied pouring himself another snort. Jimmy reached in his coat pocket and pulled out a pack of Camels and his USMC zippo.

“What Tommy? Explain yourself please.” Jimmy asked, lighting a cigarette and then grabbed one of the silver tin ashtrays that sat stacked at the end of the bar.

“You all were fired, yeah, but you kept everything you worked for, including your reputation, intact, so who gives a shit about this IA dog and pony show bullshit?” Tommy replied, a huge grin on his face.

Jimmy exhaled the pale grey smoke and shook his head.

“I don’t see it that way Tommy, I see it as a kick in the nuts from a group of backstabbers I busted my hump for. Hell, most of the people in that room made rank off my collars.” Jimmy exhaled loudly, crushed out his cigarette and ran his hand through his thick brown hair. His pale blue eyes were dim and puffy from lack of sleep.

Tommy replaced the cap on the bottle of scotch and put it back behind the bar. He then turned around, took a deep breath, placed both hands flat on the bar, leaned down and looked Jimmy square in the eye.

“Pride is a son-of-a-bitch boy-o. It can cloud you perception of things, so let your old friend Tommy Donovan. break it down for ya’. The case IA had on you four was paper thin to begin with. A bunch of fucking hearsay with no evidence. No CCTV, no phone video, no recordings, no wire-taps. Nada. Nothing. The only card those bastards in internal affairs had left to play was to threaten you four with termination if you didn’t rat on each other. You all kept your mouth shut, so they fired you, but union rules still apply. No proven misconduct means you keep your pension and benefits. You just got an ace of diamonds for your river card for a fuckin’ royal flush boy-o!”

Tommy laughed again and slapped Jimmy on the back hard. Tommy fished a cigarette from Jimmy’s pack and lit it.

“I thought you quit?” Jimmy asked with a smirk.

“Yeah I did but sometimes certain situations call for a celebration relapse.” Tommy replied smiling. Jimmy laughed. Tommy was a fucking hoot.

“Let me tell you something Jimmy. I gave twenty-five years of my life to this city as a cop. It cost me everything I hold dear. My health, my marriage and my relationship with my only son, Logan, who chose the streets and drugs to his mother and me. But that’s the sacrifice. That’s the price you pay for doing this damn job, you understand what I’m saying to you?” Tommy looked at Jimmy with tired eyes filled with tears.

“Shit Tommy, I’ve known you for a long time now, and that’s the first time you ever mentioned your son.” Tommy took a long drag on his cigarette and exhaled the pale grey smoke into the air.

“Some things you keep locked away deep inside, hoping they will fade away like the tide, but of course they never do.” Tommy replied, looking out the window toward the street with a blank expression.

Jimmy got up and hugged Tommy’s neck. He loved him like a father and hated to see him in pain.

“OK Jim, enough of this hugging bullshit!” Tommy said, crushing out his butt and gently pushing him away.

“Guys come in here gonna think the place has turned into a damn gay bar!” Tommy said smiling. Jimmy laughed and patted him on the back.

“We still on for poker Sunday night?” Jimmy asked as he headed for the door.

“Hell yeah, I still gotta win back that twenty bucks I lost to you last week!” Tommy answered as he re-opened his newspaper to the sports section. Jimmy just smiled as he put on his Ray-ban’s and walked out the door.

Jimmy got home a couple hours later to find fellow ex-Detectives Mike Murphy and Patrick Kearns sitting on his back deck drinking his expensive german lager.

“Been calling you non-stop” Mike said agitated.

“My phone died” Jimmy replied, lying his ass off.

“Why the house call? What’s the emergency?” Jimmy asked cocking an eyebrow.

“Patrick has a problem he wants to discuss with you.” Mike replied cutting his eyes over. There was a lengthy pause and Jimmy noticed his grass in the backyard was looking a little brown. He made a mental note to turn the sprinklers on that evening.

“OK, let’s go in the house if you don’t mind. This neighborhood has ears.” Jimmy replied while he collected the empty beer bottles on the table. Walking through the patio door to the kitchen he tossed the empties into the trash while Mike and Kearns followed him in. Before Patrick had a chance to speak Jimmy spun around to face him.

“So how much you owe and to whom?” the bluntness of Jimmy’s question froze Kearns in his tracks.

“What the hell you talking about Jimbo?” Kearns replied, trying to look dignified.

“Come on Patty, don’t pull that shit, I know that look.” Kearns was quiet for a long moment, looking like a kid who had been busted stealing bubble gum.

“Super Bowl was supposed to get me square.” Kearns replied, keeping his head down.

“Unfucking believable!” Jimmy threw up his hands and walked into the living room over to his corner bar and poured himself three fingers of whiskey and took a long swallow. A bright green neon sign above the bottles of rum, tequila and vodka flashed ‘Jim’s Place’. Mike and Kearns followed him in and sat down on the couch. With his back to them at the bar Jimmy asked again in a calm voice.

“One more time Patrick. Who do you owe and how much?” Kearns cleared his throat as if the answer was going to come out sideways.

“A hundred K to Nikolai By Saturday” he replied.

Jimmy spun around with his eyes wide as saucers.

“You owe a hundred thousand dollars to the Russian Mob and you come to me?” Jimmy’s mouth was so dry he could hardly talk. Sensing Patrick needed help, Mike stood up and walked over to the bar.

“Jimmy, Patrick really needs our help man.” Jimmy downed his drink in one go.

“No Mike. What Patrick needs is a fucking undertaker.” Jimmy replied looking at him with an icy stare. Kearns got up and walked over to Jimmy, his head bowed in reverence.

“Jimmy I know I fucked up, I do, but if you could just talk to Nikolai and see what could be worked out? I just need some more time to put it all together.” Jimmy took a long, deep breath and rubbed his temples.

“There is no ‘working out’ things with these people Patrick but I’ll see what I can do. No promises though.” Jimmy filled his glass again and stared into space. Kearns nodded his head, breathed a deep sigh of relief and in a low voice whispered “Thanks Jimmy.”

That night Jimmy didn’t sleep. This thing with Kearns was a big problem. Paddy boy was as loyal as they come but he was never that smart and he just could not understand that with the Russian’s you did not work out “payment plans” or “deals”. You paid what you owed or body parts got broke or severed, both on you and the people you cared about. Jimmy considered squaring the debt out of his own money, but taking a hundred thousand out of his ‘retirement fund’ he had vacuum sealed in his garage wall put a serious dent in his long term plan. The money would have to be replaced if he did it, and being a realist, he knew Patrick was not good for it. That mean’t another job and with IA still up their ass, it was risky. So what to do? Jimmy had been on the street long enough to know that he could not walk into a meeting with the Head of the Russian Mob in Boston asking for leniency on a friend’s hundred thousand dollar debt without offering something in return.

Just before dawn broke Jimmy made his decision on what he had to do.

 

Wednesday

 

Nikolai Petrov had been sitting in his darkened office staring at a picture of his late mother for over an hour now. From a very young age he had accepted that death was as much a part of life as breathing. It was the Russian way of things. As he traced his mothers picture with his finger a tear escaped which he quickly wiped away. Watching his mother die a slow and painful death from ovarian cancer in a filthy, understaffed Soviet hospital outside Moscow had left a scar, a raw, nasty scar on his soul. Nikolai remembered watching her writhe in agony on the yellowed sheets as a picture of Premier Brezhnev stared down uncaring from the wall.

“Those fucking Politburo cocksuckers with their fancy new hospital in Kiev and all the modern western drugs and here we are in this rat infested hovel treating cancer with aspirin!” His father said as they drove home after their evening visit.

Nikolai remembered with clarity watching his father talk and smoke at the same time. It was a Russian art form. The staccato rhythm of his words were like venomous barbs that when combined with the pale grey cigarette smoke resembled a dragon breathing fire at his enemies. Two weeks later they buried his mother in the same cemetery his grandfather who had fought in the Great Patriotic War was buried. He did not cry at the service. He emulated his father in that respect and ate the pain, digested it down deep inside of him to give him fuel for the struggle that lay ahead. Before the memory could stab any deeper, there was a knock on his door.

When Jimmy pulled up at Nikolai’s club Trance, he was so damn jittery he had to take a xanax to calm down. After waiting fifteen minutes for it to kick in, he walked inside the club. Like all night clubs it looked unimpressive in the daytime. Amazing what you can do with lighting, Jimmy thought to himself. After asking to see Nikolai, he was searched and then escorted up to the office on the second floor.

“Jimmy Boland! As I live and breathe!” Nikolai said smiling as he came out from behind his desk and shook hands.

Dressed in an impeccable John Phillips grey suit, Nikolai had not changed one bit since Jimmy saw him a decade ago. He had retained his muscular physique and though pushing fifty, had the waistline of a twenty year old vegan meth head.

“Still a single malt man?” Nikolai asked as he walked over to a stocked bar cart.

“Your memory is as sharp as ever.” Jimmy replied smiling. Nikolai poured Jimmy and himself two liberal fingers each of top shelf scotch.

“My memory is sharp for things that matter Jimmy” Nikolai replied handing him the glass.

Na Zdorovie” Nikolai toasted in Russian.

Jimmy raised his glass and took a long swallow.

Nikolai walked over and took a seat on a black leather couch and invited Jimmy to do the same.

“The club is amazing” Jimmy said smiling, trying to make small talk and flatter a bit.

“Yes. We just re-decorated and added a new sound system, You and a lady friend must come on a Saturday night as my guest. VIP lounge, dinner, drinks, everything my treat.” Nikolai replied, smiling.

“That’s very kind of you Nikolai” Jimmy said rubbing his hands together, thinking of a way to broach the delicate subject.

“Listen, Nikolai, we’ve known each other for quite a while so I am not going to disrespect you by wasting your time and blowing smoke up your ass.” Jimmy made a point to keep eye contact with Nikolai even though his coal black eyes were intimidating as hell.

“Patrick Kearns owes you a hundred grand. He asked me to come speak with you to ask for more time but I am not as naive or stupid as my friend so this is what I have to offer. Promise me nothing happens to him or his family and me and my crew will go to work for you re-cooping the money owed while at the same time ripping your competition apart just like the old days.” Jimmy kept eye contact for a long minute as absolute silence filled the room like grey vapor.

Jimmy could literally see the small cogs and wheels turning behind Nikolai’s cold dark eyes. Schemes within schemes, plans within plans. Angles intersecting with hidden agendas with one absolute final goal: self-interest and lucrative profit.

Nikolai kept the stare for a long moment and then smiled and leaned forward to retrieve a silver cigarette box from the coffee table. Opening it, he removed a russian cigarette and lit it with a gold zippo. After exhaling the pale, blue smoke his gaze fell upon Jimmy like a raptor about to devour a meal.

“It’s true we have known each other for a long time Jimmy, so in the interest of time, I will dispense with the bullshit. When you and your crew of corrupt pigs worked for me back in the day you were useful. You did things for me nobody else could do because of the singular reason that you had a badge. Now, I hear you and your crew have been fired from the department. Put out to pasture as it were by your internal affairs. So what makes you think you can still be of use to me?” Nikolai’s gaze had become icy laser beams now. No emotion. No sentimentality, all business. Jimmy swallowed hard but did not miss a beat in his response.

“Because even though we don’t have badges anymore we still have the two most important things: contacts and information, both within the department and out on the street. Twenty years working the gutter gives you a lot of angles if you know how to play them.”

Nikolai pursed his lips and laughed.

“As always Jimmy, you shine when under pressure.” Nikolai crushed out his cigarette in a black marble ashtray, got up and walked over and sat on the edge of his desk.

“Hundred grand is a lot of fucking money Jimbo. You think you can re-coop all that in one job?” Jimmy stood to his feet.

“Trust me when I say that we can. I have an account from the old days I am going to cash in.”

Nikolai  took a seat behind his desk and folded his hands together as if he was praying.

“Typically I would want details but since this is you I am gonna do this. Just like the old days I will provide you any logistical support you need for the job. Vehicles, weapons, etc. Also, you have my word Kearns nor any of his family will be touched but I am gonna need the entire principal amount by Sunday noon. If you can do that I will forgive the ten grand vig and me and Kearns will be square.” Before Jimmy could think about it, he stepped forward and shook Nikolai’s cold hand.

“You got a deal.”

As he was walking to his car Jimmy’s heart began thumping like two jack rabbits fucking. It had worked. He had bought some time. Now all he had to do was go rip off a bunch of armed to the teeth coked out gang bangers. No big deal, Jimmy thought to himself. We got this.

 

Thursday

 

The next morning Jimmy called a meeting at the storage unit over in Chelsea. As the crew filed in with sleepy eyes and grande cups of coffee, Jimmy was trying to play it cool even though he felt like at any moment he was going to shit himself.

“Alright, we don’t have a lot of time so I’m gonna cut to the chase. Saturday night we are gonna hit a Southie Point Dawgs stash house in Telegraph Hill. Estimated take is half-a-million plus.”

You could literally hear the oxygen being sucked out of the room as everybody’s sleepy eyes suddenly grew large as hen’s eggs. Before anybody could pick their jaws up off the floor, Jimmy continued.

“Before any of you start bitching that this is too quick of a notice to do a job this size, Nikolai has agreed to provide all logistics and front any expenses. If we do it right, we can be in and out of there in less than five minutes and if the take is good enough we can not only square Kearn’s debt, but also walk out of there with a nice payday for each of us to pad our retirement.”

A few moments passed and Kearns, looking like death defrosted, stood up with tears in his eyes.

“I don’t know what to say to everybody except thanks.”

Everybody nodded until Mike, in true Irish fashion stood up and said:

“I tell you what you can say Paddy Boy; promise everybody here that you will never make another fucking bet in your life!”

Raucous laughter could be heard all the way to the street from inside the storage locker.

 

Friday

 

Jimmy checked his watch and yelled “Lunch! check your weapons!”

He made his way out of the shoot house to a set of picnic tables where he removed the magazine from his HK-416, ejected the round in the chamber and placed the rifle gently in the standing gun rack. He then removed his Level IV vest and helmet, mopped his brow with his shirt sleeve and drained a cold bottle of water. He was completely knackered. The crew had been running breach and clear drills since seven this morning and overall Jimmy was impressed. None of the men had lost their edge. Other than being slightly out of shape, Jimmy felt confident that everybody would do their jobs.  After lunch they had another briefing to keep things fresh.

“First things first. I greased our old friend Captain Delaney for Saturday night, so we should not have any noisy patrols investigating gunfire if these assholes get any rounds off. Also, we got lucky with the location of this stash house. It is parallel to a commercial park with around ten businesses close together, so there will not be a lot of civilian traffic to get in the way and worry about. Estimated number of bad guys is going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of six to eight. Figure three to four out front and four inside.”

Jimmy pointed to a spot on the white board where the stash house had been meticulously drawn.

“If it was me I would post my outside security here, here and here with a possible over watch position here.” Mike laughed as he removed a sandwich from his cooler.

“Correct me if I am wrong, but these are coked out gang-bangers Jimbo, not the Taliban. These numb nuts would not know an over-watch position from the missionary position.” That drew a round of laughter from everybody.

“Point taken, but let’s keep this in mind on the approach, OK smart ass?” Jimmy replied smiling, shaking his head.

“What kind of hardware these boys typically carry?” Duran asked with a mouthful of pastrami.

“Best I can tell from recent UI (undercover informant) reports is AK’s and assorted small arms like Mac-10’s. Let’s not forget these guys move weight for the Sinaloa cartel, Nikolai’s biggest competition, so we have to go in there expecting they will be rolling heavy.”

Jimmy flipped the white board over to reveal an assignment list, timetable and another drawing of the AO.

“OK so to recap, Duran is gonna be on Overwatch with “Leroy” (Leroy was the nickname of a Remington 700 .308 Sniper rifle equipped with a IR Nightforce 4-25x Mil-Dot scope and an AAC Suppressor) to cover our ass and provide security. Number one is Mike as breacher with the shield and ram, me as second and Kearns as third. Timetable will be as follows: 12:45 Duran is dropped off two blocks from the location to setup here.”

Jimmy pointed to a red x on the white board drawing, an elevated spot roughly two-hundred yards diagonally opposite from the house.

“The great thing about this perch is it will allow coverage of almost the entire house in the event we have anybody wanting to squirt out the back.” Duran interjected.

“The Van will then post up here out of sight of their hawks until he is in position.” Jimmy pointed a blue x on the board.

“If he able to take the shots without raising alarm, Duran will take out as many sentries on the outside perimeter as possible. Either way, as soon as we get the all clear over the radio, we move in to execute. Remember: Stealth is the name of the game. All weapons will be suppressed so let’s not make any unnecessary noise. As an added precaution, everybody police up their brass if rounds are fired. The ammo is clean and from a random lot but we still don’t need some forensic nerd shaking our tree. Also, as we discussed. there is a good chance they will all be wearing vest, so put two in the dome and put your man down. OK, so if there are not any more questions, go home, get some rest and we meet at the storage locker ten p.m. sharp tomorrow night.”

 

Saturday

 

On the way over to the storage locker Jimmy’s hands were sweating so bad he had to wipe them on his pants twice. He went through his mental checklist for the tenth time in an hour. He felt confident but as always he had the pre-op jitters. Nikolai had called earlier that evening to make sure everything was still a go.

“I want to re-iterate our agreement Jimmy. You leave no witnesses” Jimmy was silent for a moment.

“Hello? Did you hear what I said?” Nikolai’s voice had an edge to it now.

“Yeah I copy.” Jimmy replied. The  line went dead and the tone hung in Jimmy’s ear for a long minute before he hung up the phone.

The dodge work van came to a stop at the drop-off point at precisely 12:45 on the nose. Jimmy took a glance around, The streets were bare, as expected. Duran’s sniper nest lay on the roof of a massive refrigerated warehouse.

“See you on tha’ flip” Duran said as he exited the van with leroy slung over his shoulder in a extra large Addidas racket bag.

To make it look official, Duran was dressed in work out clothes so to the casual observer, he was just another dude going or coming back from the twenty-four hour gym a few miles up the road.  Duran quickly made his way to the side of the building where the service ladder to the roof was located. As soon as he disappeared around the building, Mike drove the block then turned right into a narrow alley and killed the lights. Jimmy adjusted his wireless ear bud, checked the mic level and then pulled his black balaclava over his head where just his eyes were showing and then topped it off with his kevlar helmet. Everybody else followed suit. Twelve minutes passed and Jimmy’s ear bud crackled to life.

“In position, I got three tango’s on roving patrol all wearing vest at two-hundred yards. Clear shots on all of them. Give me the count and I will take them out.” Mike let out a whistle as he started the van.

“Damn. Duran has not lost his touch.” Jimmy smiled as he pressed his mike.

“Roger. We are rolling your way now, give us ninety seconds and let em’ fly.”

There was one squelch for a reply and a minute and a half later the first 168 grain HPBT round exited Leroy’s barrel at over twenty-five hundred feet per second with the sound of a delicate whisper.

As the van turned the corner for the final approach to the house Jimmy rolled down his window and turned on his situational awareness radar full blast. It was dark and quiet. No vehicle or pedestrian traffic. Hell, there wasn’t even a dog barking. Whoever had decided on the location for this stash house was smart. It was a ghost town. Must have been somebody from cartel accounting Jimmy thought to himself because no street gang banger was this damn smart. Before the van rolled to a stop the sliding door opened and in one seamless motion the entire stack took shape. Mike took point followed by Jimmy and then Kearns bringing up the rear. Each man covered their own sector as they moved heel to toe, like a deadly black anaconda going in for the kill. As they approached the front door of the house Jimmy spotted all three of the lookout’s bodies laying dead in the grass spread about twenty yards apart. Having to step over one of them to reach the front door, Jimmy noticed he was a young kid, early twenties, hispanic with half his face missing.  Kearns’ round had entered just below his right eye and blown out the entirety of the back of his skull.

Once they were in position at the door, Mike checked the exterior for wires and booby-traps and then tried the knob. Right away he gave the hand signal it was locked and barred from the inside. Jimmy whispered into his mike “Breaching now” as Mike swung the small battering ram like Conan. It only took two swings and the door and metal bar came away from the frame and crumpled like crepe paper.

Immediately Mike tossed the ram aside and retrieved the kevlar shield from his back and drew his suppressed Glock from his holster while Jimmy tossed in a flash-bang grenade which filled the room with ear splitting POP! and a brilliant bright light like an arc welder. After a count of three Mike charged in with shield held high and Jimmy and Kearns in tight formation behind him. The front room was empty save a card table with empty beer bottles, ashtrays full of half-smoked blunts and a couple of folding metal chairs. To the right was an entryway into what looked like the main hallway and kitchen.

“Moving right” Mike announced.

“Covering left” Jimmy replied.

As soon as they rounded the corner into the kitchen earsplitting gunfire erupted. A tall, skinny white kid with a MAC-10 and a blue bandanna tied around his head fired wildly from the far corner. The .45ACP slugs slammed into the kevlar shield with a loud thump as all three men instinctively got low and returned fire. Mike, Jimmy and Kearns all fired simultaneously with their weapons. The kids’s head exploded like a melon and painted the beige walls behind him with a pink spray and brain matter as his limp body collapsed to the floor with a thud.

“Son-of-a-bitch!” Kearns yelled from the rear.

“Anybody hit?” Mike asked.

“I’m Good” Jimmy replied.

“I just shit my pants but I’m not hit, thanks.” Kearns replied smiling.

“Brass! Everybody police it now” Jimmy reminded the crew.

When they were done finding all their spent rounds Mike cleared the rest of the room and then turned around to go down the hall.

“Watch these doors” Mike called out as they started down the hall, waling heel to toe in unison. As soon as they came to the first bedroom on the right a commotion could be heard inside the room.

“Looks like we got a squirter trying to crawl through the side window” Duran called over the radio. A few seconds passed and the earpiece crackled to life again.

“Tango down.” Duran called out. Jimmy smiled and shook his head.

“Duran has not lost a step.” Mike reached down and tried the doorknob. Locked.

“You wanna do the honors” Miked asked, looking at Jimmy with a smirk.

“Gladly” Jimmy replied.

Jimmy took two steps back and delivered a front kick right behind the doorknob. The door was flimsy particleboard and the doorknob lock a joke. Jimmy’s foot went clean through the door while the lock flew into two different pieces. Mike quickly took his position in front and entered the room quickly. Nothing. Empty. Not a stick of furniture. “Clear” Mike yelled out as he turned around to continue down the hall.

As they came to the next bedroom door Jimmy could hear voices speaking in staccato Spanish inside. This was it. The target. The epicenter. The Holy of Holies. The count room. All hell was about to break loose Jimmy thought to himself. These fucking cartel soldiers are going to fight to the death to protect this money because if they lose it there bosses are gonna kill them anyways.

As Mike lined up on the door and Jimmy got ready to kick it in suddenly a voice called out in heavily accented English from the other side.

“Hello? amigos! There is no need for any more people to die here today. You want the money, yes? We will gladly give it to you. Our only request is that let me and my compadre walk out of here alive.”

There was silence as Mike gave Jimmy a quizzical look. Kearn’s was shaking his head violently mouthing he words “It’s a fucking trap!” Jimmy thought about it a minute.

“OK, here is the deal. You lay down your weapons and lay face down on the floor. We come in, clear the place and once we have the cash we let you go.” Another long period of silence as the two cartel members discussed things in spanish. Finally the same voice replied.

“Amigo how can we know you will do what you say?” Mike laughed to himself and Jimmy smiled.

“You don’t but I don’t think you really appreciate how badly you are really fucked right now. I Have a sniper outside your bedroom window ready to blow your asses back to Sinaloa and a team of guys out here itching to paint that room you are in with your brains so what say we cut through the bullshit and get this over with!”

Hushed voices could be heard talking.

“OK, we are laying down our guns and getting on the floor.” The man replied.

Two minutes passed and Mike pointed to his eyes with two fingers and then pointed to the frame of the door. He was going to look for tripwires to make sure these fuckers were not inviting us into a booby trap. Mike slowly turned the knob and cracked the door and peered up, to the side and down. After giving the thumbs up he stood aside as Jimmy delivered a front kick which sent the door flying back on it’s hinges.

Inside two hispanic men were lying flat on their stomachs with their arms spread. One fat, one thin. Two AK-47’s with folding stocks lay on the floor beside them. A Large desk with two digital money counters, rubber bands and a notebook lay on the desk. Some loose bills, no more than a few thousand dollars was scattered on the desk as well.

“Keep your head down and do not look up!” Jimmy ordered. Kearns quickly walked over to the desk and started rifling through it, frantic.

“Where’s the money! Where the fuckin’ deniro?” Kearns asked excited, his eyes big as saucers. When neither of the men answered, Kearns quickly walked over to the fat one and put the tip of the suppressor in his ear.

“Last chance El Gordo, where the fucking money?” The fat man began whimpering and cried out

“The closet behind the desk!” Kearns smiled and walking over to the desk, unstrapped his carbine and then opened the closet.

Inside were a dozen brown cardboard boxes stacked on top of each other to the ceiling. Kearns quickly grabbed one and put it on the desk, removing the lid with the numbers “125K” wrote on the top, a huge smile spread across his face as he reached in and pulled out three bundles of cash wrapped gangster style with rubber bands. “Fucking jackpot!” Kearn’s yelled as both Mike and Jimmy let out a whoop.

It took under five minutes to load all the boxes and guns in the van with Kearns and Duran having to sit on top of some of them to ride. Before they pulled away Jimmy ran back into the house. Walking back to the count room the two cartel soldiers were sitting up talking when Jimmy walked in.

“OK, so you let us go now, yes?” The skinny one asked in broken English looking up at Jimmy.

“I’m sorry amigo, but I had to promise a very dangerous guy that I would leave no witnesses and send a message to your organization.” As Jimmy pulled out his suppressed Glock the Fat man began crying out “But!, But! We did not see your face! Please! Plea…”

El Gordo’s sentence was cut short as the first round hit him an inch to the left of his nose, blowing out the back of his sinus cavity and brainpan with a swoosh. The skinny one fell sideways trying to escape but it was of little use as Jimmy pumped two into the side of his head, pinning him to the carpet and staining it a deep crimson. The fat one was still squirming as Jimmy began to leave so for safe measure he pumped one more into his head. Reaching down he collected all his brass and slipped it in his pocket and then walked out of the house as quietly as he had came.

The crew drove parallels for an hour to make sure they were not being followed and finally arrived at Duran’s bungalow near Winthrop for the count. Jimmy and Kearns finished the count at a quarter past two in the morning. Mike and Duran both passed out thirty minutes after sitting down. They both had earned it. As the final stack of bills ran through the counter, Jimmy plugged the amount in the calculator for the final tally. His mouth got dry and his throat tried to close up a little when he started to read out the number:

“Nine Hundred and sixty three thousand dollars.” There was silence in the room. Silence like in a church. Nobody spoke. Nobody moved. Nobody breathed for what seemed like minutes.

“Christ Jesus and the Saints” Mike whispered to himself. Kearns laughed so loud he woke Duran and Mike up.

“After we pay Nikolai that is two-hundred and forty grand each” Jimmy said hoarsely, barely able to talk. He quickly took a drink of beer to wet his throat then let out a “Holy Shit!” that could be heard for two blocks. Duran went over to the cabinet and pulled down a bottle of Irish whiskey he had been saving.

“This calls for a toast gentleman” Duran said sitting down four shot glasses and filling them liberally.

“To the Four Horseman of the apocalypse” Jimmy said holding up his glass with a huge smile.

“May they forever ride!”

Sunday

 

Jimmy awoke to this cell phone ringing the next morning.

“Just dropped off the cash to Nickolai” Kearns said in an exhausted voice and hung up.

Jimmy in turn hung up the phone and mumbled “Thank God” as he fell back to sleep. By six p.m. that evening he was sufficiently rested and after a shower and some  dinner felt like a new man. After watching the evening news where the top story was a “Gangland massacre” in Telegraph Hill he decided to begin work on stashing his new loot. The garage wall was stuffed with somewhere around $3,5 million, so he considered hiding it in an old standby: Inside the Refrigerator. Jimmy had lost count how many times they had searched drug dealers house and found the guts of a refrigerator stuffed to the brim with cash. The trick was replacing the rubber gasket sealant around the door you bad to break to get the cash inside. He chose the refrigerator in his man cave versus the one in the kitchen mainly because it was older and he did not want to rip apart his brand new stainless steel Maytag. As he was diving into the project his cell rang. It was Mike.

“So what time we doing this? Same as usual?” Immediately Jimmy remembered it was his turn to host poker night.

“Oh Shit” was all Jimmy could say.

“What? You forgot?” Mike asked laughing.

“Yeah, I guess so, hell it’s not like I have not been busy!” Jimmy replied, heading downstairs to his man cave.

“No worries Jimbo, I’ll bring everything, just have the table ready! See you in an hour.” Before Jimmy could answer Mike hung up.

In short order over the next two hours Duran, Kearns and Mike showed up, all with their arms full of beer, whiskey and munchies.

An hour into the game and Jimmy realized Tommy had not called or shown up.

“Since when was Tommy Donovan late for poker night?” he asked out loud. Everybody shrugged.

“Tommy is getting old Jimbo, he may have just forgot who knows.” Miked replied, counting his chips. Jimmy called Tommy’s cell. Straight to voicemail.

“Shit I hope the old fart did not have a stroke or something.” Jimmy thought to himself.

“I’ll try him again in half an hour” Jim said in passing as he began to deal the cards. An Hour and a half later Jimmy’s doorbell rang.

“My God Tommy, I have been calling! What happened?” Jimmy asked as Tommy Donovan slowly walked into the front hallway. Right away Jimmy could tell something was off. It looked like he had been crying.

“Come on down to the basement and let me get you a drink, all the boys are here.” Jimmy said, leading him down the stairs. When they got down to the man cave everybody was immediately concerned about Tommy.

“What the fuck happened to you Tommy?” Mike asked, standing up. Tommy remained silent and stoic. Jimmy sat him down at the table and poured him three fingers of Jameson’s. Tommy turned up the glass and downed it in one go. He then wiped his mouth and ran his hand through his white hair.

“I just got back from the Coroners office” Tommy said, his voice cracking. The entire room went deathly quiet.

“To identify my son’s body.” Huge tears rolled down Tommy’s red cheeks as he reached over and poured himself another snort.

Jimmy swallowed hard, put a hand on Tommy’s shoulder and in a gentle voice asked “What happened Tommy?” Duran asked leaning in at the table.

Tommy downed the drink and then looked up and stared into Jimmy’s eyes.

“He was killed during that shootout in Telegraph Hill last night.”

Jimmy’s heart shot up into his throat and all the color drained from his face. Mike tried not to react and turned and walked over to the bar. Duran and Kearst just sat there, wide-eyed and dumb founded.

“I didn’t know you had a son Tommy!” Kearst replied, his mouth still agape.

Tommy just kept his stare on Jimmy, his bloodshot pale blue eyes as chilly as a January morning.

“Yeah, he would have been twenty-two next Thursday.” Tommy replied.

Jimmy just shook his head, patted Tommy on the shoulder and walked over to the bar with Mike.  As Mike and Jimmy’s eyes met, one thought kept jabbing itself into their mind like a splinter: Does he know?

Jimmy walked behind the bar to grab another bottle when a thundering gunshot rang out.

Instinctively Jimmy ducked down behind the bar.

“Jesus Tommy! What the hell!” Kearst could be heard screaming.

 Jimmy moved to the end of the bar and peered around the corner. Tommy was sitting casually at the poker table with his Colt 1911 in his hand. Kearst was standing with his hands high in the air and seated across from them was Duran, slumped backwards in his chair staring at the ceiling with the back of his head blown out. Jimmy craned his neck around the bar and saw Mike on the floor in the corner, his eyes wide.

“Sit down Paddy boy” Tommy said in a calm voice, directing him with the barrel of the pistol.

“Mike and Jimmy! You two assholes come over here and sit down!” Tommy yelled out. Instinctively Jimmy reached for his cell but realized he had left it in the kitchen. He then quickly began to grab the small .380 he had stashed behind the bar when Tommy yelled “And I know about the hideout piece behind the bar Jimbo, so don’t even think about it.”

Jimmy’s heart sank as he placed the gun back on the shelf and then walked over to sit down with Mike.

“Listen, Tommy, whatever is going on we can help you man, just put the gun down…” Jimmy was quickly interrupted as Tommy pointed the pistol at his face,

“You got some balls Jimmy, some real huge balls. Still trying to con me even now! After all this!” Tommy’s gun hand began to tremble.

“Whoa! What the fuck Tommy! Con you? What are you talking about?”Jimmy replied in his best, surprised bullshit voice.

Tommy shook his head in disgust.

“Let’s begin with this: Kearst, the degenerate gambling piece of monkey shit that he is, owed Nikolai a hundred grand and you decided to get the four horseman back together and go rip off a gang of drug dealers for the money. Sound right so far?” Tommy replied, his eyes laser beams of ice.

The room was church house quiet.

“See the problem is that gang of scumbag drug dealers you massacred in that house included my son Logan. He was the kid you popped in the kitchen with the MAC-10, remember?” Tommy held out his phone with a crime scene picture of Logan dead on the kitchen floor.

“So you want to keep lying to me now Jimmy?” Tommy asked, keeping the pistol trained on him.

“OK, Tommy, you’re right, we killed your son. But not on purpose! We had no ideal he was part of that crew, no ideal whatsoever.” Jimmy pleaded. Tommy shook his head in disgust and leaned back in his chair, keeping the pistol level on Jimmy.

“Why did you have to kill Duran Tommy?” Jimmy asked looking over at Duran’s corpse.

“Self-Defense. Don’t you see the gun in his hand?” Tommy replied. Jimmy shook his head.

“You’re losing it brother. He’s not fucking armed!” Jimmy replied.

  “No problem, I have a throw-away in my truck, we’ll just plant it on him.” Tommy replied with a smirk.  Jimmy’s mouth fell open.

“What? Does that offend you Jimmy? I thought that was Corruption 101 shit for the Four Horseman!” Tommy spat, his eyes wide with anger. Jimmy stared at Tommy for a long moment.

“I would be real careful throwing that word ‘corruption’ around Tommy. It’s not exactly like you were snow white when you had a badge.” Jimmy replied. Tommy leaned forward and slammed his fist down on the table with a thud.

“Yeah I may have shook down the occasional dealer so my family could go on vacation or my son could have braces,  but I wasn’t a greedy criminal with a badge, murdering and stealing at will like you and your crew!”

While Tommy was distracted talking, Kearns had gradually positioned himself behind him. Thinking he had the drop, Kearns moved to snatch the gun but Tommy was one step ahead of him and turned and fired, hitting Kearns high in the chest, right under his throat. The blast sent Kearns reeling backwards, with the bullet exiting out the back of his neck painting the walls behind him with a wet splash of crimson mist. Kearn’s was dead before he hit the ground.

“Shit! Why did you have to shoot him Tommy!” Mike yelled, jumping out of his chair to check for a pulse on Kearn’s.

Tommy stood up and glanced over at Kearn’s body and then walked over to the bar as if nothing had happened.

“Because the son-of-a-bitch would have killed me if he got my gun! Another clear cut case of self-defense.” Tommy replied self-righteously.

“You have lost your fucking mind Tommy.” Jimmy spat in disgust. In the silence they could all hear a loud pounding upstairs as SWAT made entry into the house.

As Tommy was busy at the bar, pouring himself a drink and mumbling to himself incoherently, Jimmy got Mike’s attention. He mouthed the words it was now or never. With Tommy’s back to them, Jimmy and Mike rushed him like two linebackers, Tommy tried to spin around with the gun but Jimmy controlled his arm while Mike grabbed the half-full bottle of Jameson’s off the bar and knocked the gun out Tommy’s hand with a wallop. Once disarmed Tommy began to buck wildly. Jimmy was surprised at how strong Tommy was for his age. Even though he had a good 20 plus years on him, the old man was still a street fighter at heart. As Jimmy was positioning an arm bar and a take down, Mike picked up the gun and placed it against Tommy’s temple.

“You going to settle down or am I going to have to fucking kill you Tommy?” Mike asked out of breath.

“You morons don’t get it do you? I don’t give two shits about dying. In fact I welcome it. But I was hoping to kill all of you bastards before I went.”

About that time the door to the man cave busted open with a loud crack and in rushed several armed men clad in black with balaclavas covering their faces. Instinctively both Jimmy and Mike raised their hands and before MIke could drop the gun three rounds hit him high in the chest, spinning him off to the right like a pinwheel.

Jimmy could hear himself yelling “Don’t Shoot! Don’t Shoot!” in the chaos as Mike’s body crashed to the floor with a loud thump beside him. Jimmy’s mind went into freeze frame and as he was studying the expression on MIke’s face as he died, a question pierced his mind like a high beam through a fog bank. Why had they not announced themselves as Law Enforcement? Why had they not given commands to drop the gun?  Why were SWAT using Suppressors? The chaos and stress had made his mind like molasses in the winter time. As he was raising his head to look around, somebody hit him hard over the head and things went dark. The last thought Jimmy had as the blackness swallowed him up was that those guys did not have helmets or SWAT ID on their vest.

Jimmy woke up with a splitting headache handcuffed to a metal chair. He could taste the familiar metallic flavor of dried blood in his mouth along with nauseating bile. He tried to gather up enough saliva to spit but was unsuccessful. As he rotated his head around to see where he was he realized his left eye was swollen shut. What he could see out of his right eye was definitely not home, maybe a warehouse or garage? The smell of rust and old motor oil permeated the place.

“Hello? Where the hell am I?” Jimmy yelled.

Suddenly, a door opened off to his left and light from what looked like an office illuminated the warehouse. Immediately Jimmy knew where he was. He was at the docks at one of the dozens of shipping container facilities. As Jimmy squinted his eye to try and see the figure walking toward him, lights came on in the warehouse with a loud thump, revealing several armed men dressed in black surrounding him. The next voice Jimmy heard made his heart sink into his stomach.

“Jimmy Boland, as I live and breathe!” Nikolai said smiling as he walked over and pulled up a chair.

Jimmy smiled back like a fiend, revealing bloody, chipped teeth.

“Why am I not surprised to see your ugly face here Nikolai?” Jimmy replied shaking his head.

Nikolai chuckled. “Why are you not surprised? I will tell you Jimbo, because like you I am an opportunist and when I see an opportunity, I pounce!” Nikolai reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved a cigarette case and took out two, without asking Jimmy, he lit them and put one of them into Jimmy’s mouth. Jimmy inhaled and exhaled the smoke like a pro, his eyes like icy laser beams on Nikolai the whole time.

“So when you discovered Tommy was out on the street asking questions about who murdered his boy, you made sure he found out it was us who pulled the trigger and then encouraged him to come get revenge because it was a really convenient way to kill off all your loose ends and get ALL the money from the heist, not just what was owed to you, right?” Jimmy exhaled more smoke and then spit the cigarette toward Nikolai like an out of control rocket.

Nikolai watched the cigarette land harmlessly well short of his feet, politely stamped it out and then looked up at Jimmy and smiled.

“Once again Jimmy, you have proven why you are such a great Detective. You see all the angles!”  Nikolai stood up and crushed out his own cigarette and nodded to the goons behind Jimmy.

“Wait, before you go, you have to tell me. No way you were alone in all of this, there were way too many moving parts. Who was your inside man at the Department?” Jimmy asked, looking intently at Nikolai with his his one good eye bloodshot and swollen.

Nikolai smiled and motioned toward the office from which he had entered. The door opened and out stepped Captain William C. Delaney, Boston Police Dept.

“Me and the Captain here have been partners since the good ole ‘days Jimmy. In fact, he was the one that suggested I approach you twenty-five year ago!” Nikolai smiled like the cat that ate the canary as Delaney walked up.

“Son-of-a-bitch” Jimmy muttered to himself. One of the goons undid his leg shackles and stood Jimmy up.

“Thanks to Captain Delaney here we found all the money you had stashed in the walls of your garage and house. We also found the stashes at Kearns, Durans and Murphy’s place.” Nikolai replied.

“Oh how nice of him.” Jimmy spat.

“Delaney you always were a backstabbing cocksucker.” Jimmy shot daggers with his one good eye.

The Two goons turned Jimmy around to face an open shipping container of which to Jimmy’s horror were the bodies of Tommy, Duran, Kearns and Mike, all covered in white lime and wrapped in thick sheet plastic. Jimmy tried not show any fear when he saw the large piece of plastic on the ground obviously meant for him, but fear boiled out of him none the less.

“So you’re shipping us all off to Russia huh Nikolai?” Jimmy asked as the goons moved him inside the container.

“Yes. It’s for the best.” Nikolai replied.

“You know I only did this job to help a friend. I figured it was my Last Good Chance to do something good in my life.” Jimmy said, looking at the bodies.

“In the end we are all punished for our kindnesses my friend.” Nikolai replied as he motioned to the goon with his hand.

The gunshot was loud as it echoed off the inside of the container. Jimmy’s body slumped to the deck like a sack of bricks and the goons began covering him with lime and wrapping him in plastic.

Container #BE-456732 was loaded onto a transport ship bound for Murmansk, Russia later that day.

 

The End.

 

A Border Redemption

Part Two of the Border Trilogy

Read Part One, A Border Reckoning HERE

mex

This is a work of Short Fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in this short story are entirely fictional and are of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or organizations or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

I.

Northern Mexico – 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?” Grissom asked 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, jumping up like he had been snake bit.

“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 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 drunk 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 asked, his nostrils flaring and his eyes narrowing toward Creed. Creed returned the stare in spades, taking note ofthe 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, six 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 two-hundred 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 thirty 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 as 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 and her face like delicate china porcelain with pale green eyes as sharp as a hawk. She held herself like a lady of proper high society, although her homemade dress and second-hand shoes suggested otherwise. Creed could not help but stare. He watched as she nestled up to the woman at the counter.

“Mother please, 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 turned and spoke. “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.”

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.”

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.” 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 vomit at any second.

Randolph smiled as he watched Lewis grow more uncomfortable. He then stubbed out his spent 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.

“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. That area belongs to me, regardless if I have the deed or not, understood?”

Lewis could feel Randolph’s intense, hot gaze upon him from across the room.

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.

II.

Patterson Farm

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 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 of ponies could be seen approaching from the trail above.

“Those are Apaches, white men don’t ride like that!” Tick whispered.

“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.

“Look 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 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

 

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 70’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 mines 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 the apache into the mine. Walking about ten yards they found Spotted Rabbit and a few braves roasting the ham of a deer over a camp 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 Singing Bird will accompany you. We will need to gather some plants first before we go.”

 

————————————–

 

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. Singing 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 Singing 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 Singing 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.

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 well, or worse yet, failures. 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 ranch hands.

“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, El Paso, Texas

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

Please come in person to discuss details.

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 John 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 one 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 .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 twenty-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 

 

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 yet 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 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.

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 Creed’s 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?” Grissom asked.

“There is a black river running underneath our feet right now.” Creed replied flatly.

Grissom smirked at the remark.

“What in the hell are you talking about Creed? You been sipping on Tick’s laudanum or something?” Grissom smiled.

“No, I dreamed it about just an hour 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 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 hand up to her mouth in disbelief.  Eve stood up quickly.

“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 laid the blame 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 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’s 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 their head, 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.

 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!” Creed yelled.

“OK, have it your way. It is everybody’s funeral in that cabin in exactly one minute.” Newton replied.

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 nervous 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 arrow head protruding from his bloody 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 ground, 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 calm 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, 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 Patterson?” Creed asked.

“The judge awarded her 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,

Creed gave Eve one last kiss and set off toward the derrick with Grissom.

Eve stood and watched them for a long while, the black oil raining down on her in a fine 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.

The Purebloods

This is a work of Short Fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in this short story are entirely fictional and are of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or organizations or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

Somewhere in the South in the not too distant Future…

I was chopping wood behind the barn when one of the dogs began barking and looking out toward the main road. Taking a step around the barn I spotted a Black SUV idling in the road. I wiped the sweat from my brow with my forearm as I shaded my eyes with my hand in time to see the vehicle slowly turn into my long driveway. Letting out a breath and shaking my head with disgust I walked into the barn and told my brother who was tinkering with the tractor to go inside the house and get ready for company. I then walked over to a pail of cold water and washed my face and the back of my neck and after drying off walked to the front of the house. As the SUV was pulling up I took a seat in a lawn chair by the blooming blue hydrangea bush and began packing my pipe for a smoke.

As soon as the two men exited the vehicle I made both of them for federal stooges. Cheap haricuts and suits with the standard issue oakley sunglasses and the useless and faulty N95 masks. They both did a cursory scan of the property and then took interview stances about ten feet away from me.

“Good Afternoon sir. I am special agent Giddings and this is my partner special agent Marks. We are both with the Department of Domestic Security and Well-Being. We are looking for Mason Hightower.”

I puffed my pipe to life and exhaled the first batch of bluish-grey smoke into the humid afternoon air.

“You found him fella” I said flatly.

Agent Giddings nodded and following his interview training by the numbers, attempted some levity to further gain my trust and break the ice.

“Excellent! Our navigation assistant was right for once Agent Marks, can you believe it!”

As Giddings and Marks giggled together like mentally deficient children, I remained stoic, puffing my pipe and giving the impression this entire encounter was about as thrilling as me trimming my toenails. Seeing my impatience, Gidding’s smile and laughter dissipated and he got down to business.

“Mr. Hightower we are following up on a tip we received via our new app “Neighbor Nanny” which allows law-abiding comrades of the State to include local health care providers to report serious covid mandate violations of their fellow neighbors and co-workers.”

I stared at the man like he was lower than monkey shit.

“Yes sir, well your local health clinic has reported that you are in violation of Covid Mandate 617.85 which clearly states all Children under the age of twelve must report for vaccination within seventy-two hours of notification. You currently have three children that are all under the age of twelve that have not reported to the clinic for vaccination, are you aware of that Mr. Hightower?”

I noticed both agents stances were now fully bladed and their hands at their waist line.

“Yes I am aware of that.” I answered, as I finished my pipe and tapped the spent bowl on the bottom of my boot.

Giddings curled an eyebrow at my response and for the first time a look of insolence came across his face. Before he could speak however I hit him with a zinger.

“Which is why I would like to ask you kind gentleman if you could help me round up the little rascals? They are such a handful at this age and me being a single parent, well, I don’t mind telling you they can stretch my limitations at times!”

Giddings and Marks looked at each other with a confounding smile.

“While yes sir! We would be glad to help you!” Agent Marks answered gleefully.

“Thank you so much! They are just inside the house here…” I replied smiling leading the way up the steps to the front door.

Opening the front door I led them down the hallway to the living room.

“Come on in, make yourself at home gentleman, let me see if I can locate the little hooligans…”

I gave them both a reassuring smile and then walked out of the living room into the kitchen where I flipped a red switch which automatically locked all doors and windows in the house and began distribution of an odorless, colorless sleeping gas through the main ventilation system in the house. After waiting around a minute I walked back into the living room to find Agent Marks and Giddings fast asleep, collapsed on the floor.

“It’s a good thing this gas only works on humans” My brother commented as he walked into the living room from upstairs with two aero-pods floating behind him.

“Yes, another ingenius invention by our Bio-Weapons department, but I do wish they could make these mask where they don’t itch so badly…” I replied as I tore the human face off myself with wet sucking sound and discarded it to allow my delicate translucent blue skin underneath to breathe and my eye tentacles to extend and rotate.

My brother followed suit, tearing off his face as well.

“Oh by the Hand of Neftu of Orion that is so much better!” he replied as his eye tentacles and proboscis extended to their full height.

We loaded up both of the humans on the aero-pods and moved them upstairs to the cryo chamber.

“When is the next pickup” I asked opening the cryo chute

“In two days” my brother replied.

I entered the proper code and the aero pod slipped into the cryo chamber with a quick hiss of air.

“The Research Department are very anxious to start dissection on these two. They want to discover why it is a species would knowingly spread lies and propaganda to murder their own offspring with poison under the guise of so called vaccinations and boosters? It is a biological conundrum they hope to solve.” I replied watching the cryo chamber process the pods.

“There is no conundrum to solve. From their inception this species has always invented new reasons to kill themselves off. If you ask me we should just bide our time. In another hundred years we will be able to take over this planet without ever lifting a finger.”

I pondered my brother’s words for a moment then turned around and headed back downstairs.

“Come on let’s go get suited up. Who knows what kind of people they will send around next to arrest us for not wanting to willingly murder our own offspring.”

My brother laughed so hard at the joke he had to reach up and wipe bio-slime from his eye tentacle.

The End.

Good Western Novels

 

A loyal reader of mine emailed me about some good Western novels to read.

Although I am a fan of the Traditional Western and like a lot of writers, cut my teeth on the likes of Louis LaMour, Larry McMurtry and Glendon Swarthout just to name a few, my entire ideal of the Western was turned on it’s head when I read Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.

Since then I have gravitated more to certain styles of writing that capture the raw, gritty and realistic life of the old west instead of the tired, tropish romanticism so prevalent in traditional westerns.

One writer I really like for this style is James Carlos Blake.

Top 5:

  1. In the Rogue Blood

  2. The Pistoleer (Based on the Life of John Wesley Hardin)

  3. The Friends of Pancho Villa

  4. Wildwood Boys (Based on the Life of Bloody Bill Anderson)

  5. Country of the Bad Wolfe’s

Medicine Gun

(Artwork is “Winter Travelers” by Alfredo Rodriguez)

This is a work of short fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in this short story are entirely fictional and are of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or organizations or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

This story is dedicated to my friend, John Gregory Herring, aka “Spotflare” (1947-2020)

“Keep your nose in the wind and your eyes along the skyline”

 

It was the waning days of late summer in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and forty-eight when ‘Red-Tail’ Jack Patterson came down from the Little Belt mountains for his annual visit to the Medicine Gun trading post near the mouth of the Judith river. Coming down into the low country on his three year old roan mare, the mountain man was a spectacle to behold. Everything he wore was self-made (except his tanned buckskins, which he had traded for with the Cheyenne) from his knee length Grizz coat to his red fox and muskrat hat, to his knee high Elk boots trimmed in the finest beaver fur. Resting in a tanned leather scabbard was his trusty fifty caliber hawken rifle while two fifty-caliber pistols were mounted on either side of his saddle horn. Tucked into his belt cross draw was another pistol, this one with a custom short barrel for a wider spread at close-range, along with his fourteen inch drop point knife with a antler horn handle rightly named “Annabelle.” He also on occasion tucked a razor-edged pipe hawk in his belt he had taken off a Crow brave last year after the bastard tried to steal his horse.

The owners of the trading post, Otis and Prudence McSween, were overjoyed to see Jack return since in the thirteen months he had been gone there had been countless rumors of his death from any number of french trappers, wagon train masters and Army scouts alike. As was the custom when Red-Tail visited, before he was ever allowed to put his feet underneath her supper table, Prudence handed Jack a large piece of homemade lye and mint soap, scissors, a small hand mirror and a towel and pointed him toward the creek to bathe.

“I love ya’ like a brother Jack, but My God! Me and Otis smelled you long before we saw you!” Prudence exclaimed, smiling.

Jack slapped Otis on the back and let out a hearty laugh as he took the necessaries from Prudence and headed to the creek whistling an old church hymn.

When he showed up an hour later, the couple did not even recognize him.

“My God, you look like a new man Jack Patterson!” Prudence exclaimed, smiling as she grabbed him by the arm and pulled him inside to the dinner table. Typically Jack would take offense at somebody calling him by his Christian name but Prudence McSween was the closest thing to family Jack had, so she could rightly call him whatever she pleased as long as it was not late for supper!

“So how many this time Prudence?” Jack asked, smiling as he sat down at their large maple dinner table as she poured him a steaming cup of coffee.

“Well, let me see.” Prudence replied, holding the coffee pot with a dish towel and looking up at the ceiling as if she was reading off an invisible tally sheet.

“Three at last count: cree war party, grizz attack and drowned in the Powder river.” Prudence replied with a wise smirk.

Prudence was a tall, handsome wisp of a woman, not yet thirty with dark, raven hair past her shoulders and soft, sad brown eyes. She and Otis had lost their twin daughters to the pox three years prior and the sorrow still clung heavily to her soul. Jack shook his head and laughed heartily as he enjoyed the regal comforts of having good honest white folks for company, a roof over his head and real coffee to drink.

“The Powder this time, huh? Last time it was the Milk, wasn’t it? And Cree? Hell, last Cree indian I saw was Rutting Pony. He tried to marry me off to his humpback sister for two horses and a pistol, can you believe it!”

The comment caught Prudence and Otis totally off-guard and they looked at one another in total shock and then busted out laughing so hard they both had tears in their eyes.

After finishing their coffee, Otis helped Jack unload the few black bear, mule deer and elk pelts from his mule as Prudence cooked up a dinner of venison backstrap, mashed potatoes and fresh squash from her garden. As they ate and talked about local news, Prudence took stock of Jack, whose full Christian name was Johnathan Obadiah Patterson. He was somewhere in his thirties and had deep set blue-grey eyes that often twinkled when he laughed. He had got the name “Red-Tail” not from the hawk as many thought but from his temper. Three years prior at a gathering near the Musselshell, ‘Coon-Eyes’ Jim Grady, a man of fearsome low-reputation and character, accused Jack of poaching beaver on his patch and a fight ensued. After the fight ole’ Coon-eyes actually in fact resembled a coon with both of his eyes blackened courtesy of Jack. After that day Johnathan became known as “Red-Ass” Jack, which later was changed to “Red-Tail” so as not to offend Prudence McSween, the only white woman in the territory Jack cared about not insulting with foul language and bad manners.

To their delight, Jack stayed on and helped Otis and Prudence with several jobs around the place including patching the roof, building a smokehouse and planting a fall garden. On the afternoon of the fourth day however things took an unexpected turn. While working in the garden Jack noticed one of the flea bitten dogs Otis had kept looking up the trail as if annoyed by something. Never one to ignore an animal’s instincts, Jack walked up past the barn to take a look. There, about fifty yards up the path was a skinny and winded grey mare with a man slumped over in the saddle. As Jack looked closer he could see a small pair of arms wrapped around the man from behind. A child! With his protective instincts telling him to run to the horse and help the man and child, his hard taught experience told him to stay put. This could easily be a trap. Besides the riled up injuns, there were bad outlaw elements around these parts since the wagon trains began coming through regular. Slowly backing up off the trail, Jack pulled his pistol and took a knee behind a tree. He sat there for a long minute listening and looking. After deciding they were indeed alone, Jack slowly walked up to the horse with his pistol cocked and trained on the slumped rider.

“Hello there on the horse! I say Hello!” Jack yelled out several times.

The horse was so exhausted it did not so much as flinch at Jack’s approach.

“Easy there girl, easy…” Jack cooed as he gently walked up and put his hand on the reins.

Immediately Jack could see the saddle covered in fresh blood with the slumped man in the saddle unconscious but alive, if not barely. Peering around the side, Jack could now see the child was a little girl around the age of eight, her wheat colored hair and little round face burrowed into the back of the man, whimpering softly like a wounded animal. Jack double checked that the child was not wounded and once satisfied started leading the horse toward the barn. By this time Otis had heard the commotion and came out running with rifle in hand to help.

“We got us a badly wounded man and a scared child here” Jack yelled as Prudence came out the door of the trading post wiping her hands on her apron.

“My God! Bring them both inside now!” Prudence demanded as she quickly went inside and began clearing the table.

Jack gently tried to pry the child’s arms away from the wounded man but the child was not having any of it, letting out a shriek of pure terror.

“Child, you are gonna have to let go so we can help him” Jack pleaded.

After a brief tug of war and the child finally relenting out of exhaustion, Jack gingerly lifted her off the horse and carried her inside to an anxiously awaiting Mrs. McSween who then took the child into their bedroom. After that Jack and Otis went to work lifting the man out of the saddle and into the house.

“Damn this feller’s lost a lot of blood!” Otis remarked as they laid him down.

“We need to find these holes and start pluggin’ em’. Otis, help me turn him over and get these clothes off of him.” Jack commanded, taking out his knife and cutting the bloodied shirt and pants off the man.

As Jack began to examine the man right away he counted two bullet holes high in his chest and one in his stomach. He could not find one exit wound. After a couple more minutes of searching the man let out a soft whimper,  took a wet gurgling breath, whispered the name “Celia-Anne” and then died right there on the table.

Otis and Jack both stared at the man for a long moment and then removed their hats out of respect.

“Not much we could have done. He had been shot in the lung twice and had lost too much blood.” Jack said softly.

As Prudence walked in from the back bedroom holding the child to her shoulder, her eyes met Jack’s and he gently shook his head that the man had passed. Quickly Prudence turned back around and shut the bedroom door behind her while softly singing a hymn:

 

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

 

Jack went through the man’s pocket’s respectfully looking for any clues as to his identity. All Jack could find was a worn brown leather wallet with three U.S. dollars which he promptly handed over to Otis.

“Who do you think he is Jack?” Otis asked, looking concerned as he pocketed the money.

 “Well, he’s not a trapper and he’s not a scout. Judging from his haircut and clothes I’m guessing he’s a pilgrim that got lost or separated from the wagon train, maybe.”

“But why would somebody shoot a pilgrim with a child? You think injuns done this?”

Jack shook his head. “I doubt it. And since he still has his wallet, I don’t think bandits did this either. It’s peculiar.”

Otis and Jack then proceeded to wrap the body in a blanket and bury the man behind the trading post in a little makeshift cemetery Otis had created for folks who had died while passing through, either from sickness or being murdered by injuns.

“We don’t even know this feller’s name for a marker.” Otis said, wiping his brow after shoveling the last of the dirt on the grave.

“The Good Lord knows him and I guess in the end that’s all that really matters.” Jack replied, his gaze fixed on the mountains in the distance.

A week passed and although the girl still had not spoken, Otis and Prudence slipped right back into their roles as loving parents. They had taken to calling the little girl “Celia-Ann” and she seemed to cotton to it just fine. Prudence sewed her some right handsome dresses and in the evenings after supper all three of them would go for a walk down by the creek while Jack watched from a distance on the porch smoking down his pipe. One evening Celia decided to pick a small bunch of yellow and blue wildflowers for Jack.

“Well that is right nice of you young lady! Thank You!” Jack said, smiling as he kneeled down and took the flowers.

Celia looked at him for a long moment, her little blue eyes twinkling with delight. Jack could see she wanted to say something but just couldn’t bring herself to do it. Instead, she cracked a smile that could break your heart and ran off into the house with a giggle, her sun kissed hair bouncing with every step.

“Someday that girl is gonna start talking and when she does the world better watch out!” Jack said out loud laughing to himself as the sun disappeared behind the little belt mountains and somewhere out in the valley the soft purr of a whip-poor-will floated on the evening breeze.

The next day Jack headed out early to go hunting. With fall quickly approaching the Mule deer and Elk would be active in the valley timber below the snowline and he intended to take advantage of it.

As he was heading out Prudence came out the front door in a rush.

“Wait! You can’t go without taking a lunch!” she exclaimed smiling, handing Jack a small red handkerchief tied up with a hunk of jerky, a sliced onion and some homemade goat cheese.

“Much obliged Mrs. McSween.” Jack replied, tipping his hat.

As Jack rode off he smiled to himself. If any of his old mountain buddies could see him now he would be the laughing stock of the territory. Packing a lunch in a handkerchief to go hunting for the day? Whoever heard of such foolishness! But that’s what living indoors does to a man. Still, Jack may not have wanted to admit it to his buddies or even to himself, but he was fast growing accustomed to these small little pleasantries of life.

Prudence watched Jack until he disappeared around the bend and under her breath uttered a small, earnest prayer for his protection and return.

After about an hour of riding, Jack got off the main trail and headed south. Although he intended to do some hunting, that was not all he intended to do on this outing. He had decided to satisfy a curiosity he had about the man who died bringing Celia to safety. Where had he come from? Jack knew he had most likely been part of a wagon train going west to Oregon. It was the only logical explanation of why an eight year old white child would be out here in this wilderness with a man who was obviously not a trapper. The only problem was the trail the wagons took was over a hundred miles to the south. So the most likely explanation was the pilgrims had gotten lost or separated and went looking for help. The question was why had the man been shot? and by whom?

Although Jack knew the trail would be cold and almost impossible to track, he followed his gut instincts and backtracked south-east. It did not take him long to find something. Stopping at a small spring to fill his flask and let his horse drink and graze, he spotted smoke on a ridgeline to the southwest. Jack ruled out injuns. Injuns did not make big fires for all to see like white men did, they were smarter than that. No, this was most likely eastern tenderfoot pilgrims. Being cautious, Jack decided to make a big circle and approach them from down wind. As he got closer he began to smell their clothes and their cooking. These men had been on the trail for some time judging from how loud they were stinking up the countryside.

Coming within a hundred yards of the camp Jack left his horse in a small stand of ash and maple trees and crept up within earshot of the camp. Taking a knee in the high grass he sat there with his Hawken rifle and watched and listened.

There were three of them, all of them with decent, well-fed mounts.

“How long is that rabbit gonna take to cook? I’m so damn hungry I’m ready to eat it raw!” One of the men complained.

“You watch your mouth young’un! Yeah, you eat this meat raw and you’ll wish you were dead!” An older man replied sitting by the fire, turning the meat in a pan with a fork.

After a few minutes the man cooking by the fire divided up the meat between each of the men.

They all ate like they were starving except the older man who had done the cooking. He restrained himself and ate like a civilized man, savoring the taste.

“How much longer do we gotta stay out here Boss? Pearson and his daughter have either been scalped or are bear turds by now!”

“We stay out here until we find them or find proof they are both dead, it’s that simple.” Boss replied

“That Jake Pearson was stupid to argue with the prophet like he did. He should have just given up his daughter to marry when she turned twelve like all the other families in the wagon train agreed.”

The man called Boss stood up to stretch and looked over in Jack’s general direction. Jack could see clearly he was heeled with a pistol and a large knife.

“We’ll rest up a few more hours and then ride North. An Army scout told me there is a trading post near the mouth of the Judith. It’s possible he could have made it there.”

As the three men settled down for a rest Jack shook his head and cursed under his breath. This beat all he had ever seen or heard. A grown man marrying several twelve year old girls? What the hell was going on? And why did they call that man a prophet? Were they some kind of church? Jack had more questions than answers about who exactly these people were but he knew one thing for certain: These were the men responsible for that man’s death and they were about to ride to the trading post and find Celia. Jack simply could not allow that to happen. Jack crept back to his horse and thought about a plan. Judging from listening to these three talk, only the older one, “Boss” , had much experience with killing. The other two, were just hired pups. The simplest plan would be to just to ride in there with his three pistols and kill all of them in one fail swoop. But it was also damn risky. Better to divide and conquer and pick em’ off quietly, one at a time, using fear as his primary weapon, just like the injuns did. He pulled his Crow pipe hawk from his saddle bag and stuck it in his belt.

Jack waited an hour to let the three men get good and relaxed and then crawled into the high grass not fifteen yards from the camp. He quietly unsheathed his knife, reversed his grip and made several short, quick calls with his mouth that sounded like prairie dogs humping. At first the men paid no attention and then Jack increased the volume and then two heads popped up in unison. Jack smiled to himself. This was going to be fun.

“What in the hell is that?” one of the young pups exclaimed.

“Sounds like a horny prairie dog” Boss replied lazily, uninterested.

“Well they need to shut the hell up!” the kid replied, laying back down on his bedroll.

A few minutes passed and then Jack started up again, increasing the volume.

“Sonofabitch!” The kid yelled out as he got up and stormed toward Jack in the high grass with his pistol drawn.

“I’ll shut you up you little squeaking bastard!”

The kid came bounding through the grass like a pissed off bull elk and stopped within three feet of where Jack was crouched. Jack could now see the kid’s face clearly. He was no older than seventeen, tall and lanky with a baby face and large, scared eyes. Jack doubted he had ever killed a man in his life. Jack let him walk right by him and then in one swift motion came up behind him like a mountain lion springing a trap. With his left hand Jack covered the boy’s mouth and with his right brought his fourteen inch blade down in a plunging motion into his heart. The boy died with a soft gurgle and his eyes wide with horror as Jack gently set his body down in the tall grass. It had all taken less than ten seconds.

Wiping the blade on his pant leg, Jack then made a semi-circle around the camp and waited. When neither of the two men moved, Jack quickly walked over to the other young boy who was lying down on his bed roll with his back to him.

“Did you kill that noisy bastard Seth?” the boy asked with his back turned

“No, but something killed Seth” Jack whispered back, smiling like the devil himself.

As the boy jumped up in fear Jack closed the distance with a razor edged pipe hawk in one hand and a .50 caliber pistol in the other.

“Oh Christ” was all the boy could choke out as Jack brought the pipe hawk down into the boy’s skull with a wet splitting sound, the boy’s blood and brains spilling out into the dirt like thick, black oil.

In all the commotion Boss sprung to his feet and while he was cussing trying to cock his pistol Jack shot him clean through the right knee, sending him crashing down to the ground screaming like a banshee.

Jack casually strolled over and kicked the man’s pistol out of his grasp.

“You sorry bastard!” Boss yelled out in pain.

“Bushwhacking three innocent Christian men! You will burn in hell for this!” Boss spit in anger, his eyes like two red coals.

Jack stood there watching him squirm in agony for a long moment and then drew Annabelle from her sheath and walked over.

“Go ahead! slaughter me like you did those two innocent boys!” Boss spit through yellow, cracked teeth.

Jack kneeled down in front of Boss and in one quick jerk grabbed the man’s hair with his left hand, turning his face so it was inches from his.

“Innocent? You want to claim you and these boys were innocent Christian men? What kind of Christian men hunts and kills a father trying to protect his eight year old daughter from some sick bastard wanting to marry and bed her?” Jack stared at the man with pure hatred.

“The great prophet will deliver this world!” Boss cried out as he writhed on the ground laughing hysterically.

“This is for Celia and Jake Pearson.”

Jack then scalped the man in one quick motion with his knife, the scalp peeling off the man’s skull like ripe melon. Smiling, Jack then proceeded to stuff the bloody pulp of hair into the man’s mouth until he began to choke on it.

“Maybe that will shut you up for a few minutes.”

After gagging and retching for what seemed like forever, the man finally spit out his own scalp and began yelling in pain at the top of his lungs once again.

“Keep yelling like that and you’re gonna attract injuns, most likely Blackfeet, who will take pleasure in roasting you alive for sport.”

Jack shook his head in disgust as he turned and leashed the three horses to his and then gathered all the men’s weapons and stowed them on the trailing horses.

“Oh God! Please shoot me, please mister!” Boss pleaded and cried like a child as Jack mounted his horse and turned North.

Jack refused to look at the man as he rode out of the camp at a slow walk.

When Jack arrived back at the trading post that afternoon, Otis, Prudence and Celia were all waiting on the porch.

“My, my, where did you get those three fine horses?” Prudence asked, walking up with her eyes wide.

“Oh, The Good Lord just dropped them in my lap,” Jack replied with a smile.

Otis walked over and unsheathed one of the captured rifles and then glanced up at Jack with a smirk.

“The Good Lord is mysterious like that I reckon.” Otis replied as he began removing the saddles and feeding the horses fresh hay.

Jack walked over to Celia and kneeled down and gently touched her on the nose, making a funny face.

As Celia let out a long belly laugh at his silliness Jack smiled and a deep sense of satisfaction washed over him like he had never known in his life.

Home had finally found him.

 

The End.