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Fools' Gold

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The sun dropped from the sky and the chill in the air started to bite, I turned up my coat collar and looked around the station. This adventure had turned into one hell of a mess. I took a long swig of whisky and handed the bottle to Bama Red "Save me a bit for later, I'm going for a walk. I'm going straight north for a ways and anyone I see following me, I'm going to shoot."


With that I took my shotgun and bandolier and stepped out the door. One of the girls was outside still and I smiled just a bit "It's getting cold you should head inside."


She flashed a smile befitting an angel "Sir, you can be sure that I am smart enough to come in from the cold." From the sound of her voice I figured she was poking a bit of fun at me and laughed a bit in response. "Well then, I guess I'll leave you to your thoughts."


With that I stepped around the corner of the building and started walking.After about 30 minutes I found a spot that would make a good camp and sat down, attuning my senses to the night. I took a peyote button and began to chew, the taste bitter and a bit hard to get used to, but the opening of the mind was sometimes the only way to cross certain barriers. If I was going to speak to the dead, I would need this help.


Soon I saw the stars leaving trails across the sky and every smell was unique and scintillating. And then the Comanche braves who had died today came to my camp and sat around the fire that wasn't there. We passed the peace pipe and they thanked me for showing respect by burying them. When the brave I had finished off took the peace pipe he turned to me and thanked me for easing his passing. When all were ready to leave I asked my favor. "There is one waiting for me where you go. You will know her by this likeness" I showed them the photo in my pocket watch. "Tell her my heart is heavy that her wait continues, but I will come when the time is right."


They faded into the mist, leaving multicolored trails that soon faded. I felt the ground underneath me once again and the cold air began to feel like hammers beating into my flesh.. This passed in a few more minutes and I stood and looked around. It was nearly dawn and the false first light bathed the land. I quickly walked a circle and found a single print in the dirt.


I returned to the station and sat down on the porch. Someone had considered both my threat and my privacy to be of no importance. Apache Hawk had been there, but I already knew Blackwater had sent him. There was going to be a comeuppance down the road, but right now it would wait.

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I walked out toward the corral where the women that shot the Comanche brave was standing admiring the sunset and handed her the bottle of whiskey, which she took and I said, "Uwoduhi" and pointed to the sunset, smiling I pulled out a hard tack biscuit to eat and she took it as well. I knew she must have an upset stomach because fighting always makes one get sick, even if it's not before supper or not. But she looked at me, smiling and said "Thank you kindly." I looked up at her and asked, "Do hi t su ?"


I walked over to Blackwater who had his arms resting on the top rail of the corral looking off in the distance toward the south like he was studying something very hard. "How many years we know one nother Hawk.....bout 6 or 7 I figure ." And I nodded in agreement . "And all that time I never heard you speak a word of Apache away from you're people except now and to her. Aint none of my business but mind if I ask why ?"


"Yur right Blackwater.....aint none of yur business, but I'll tell ya anyway. I know that women. That's why I spoke Apache to her. That's why I gave her a drink when the killin' was done. She had seen it before....and I saw her before too. That's how I knew she could handle the whiskey. Saw her out drink a big man one night just to get his money and not bed him. She's smart one she is. and the young one that's doing the cooking, those two are keepers. The others are just dead weight and will be in our way if we don't drop them off in Santa Fe or the next town down the trail. Or they may even get killed or us killed. Either way, the way I see it, them women folk has got to go. All but those two. Sides, I don't fancy eating Red's or Bill's cooking all the way to Mexico !" Blackwater just stared off into the distanced and chewed on my words, letting them sink in.


Supper came and went then I was awaken by a small movement of a field mouse running across the floor of the depot building. I thought while the white folks was still sleeping, I would slip outside into the greatest church every made and talk with My Creator a while and thank him for letting me live though the night and asking him to let me live through the day and take care of my friends inside. Then I went on the hunt from some quail and their eggs for breakfast. As I got back to the depot door I saw the Colonel standing in the door way, rifle in hand, and shouted at me....."Damn it Hawk ! I could have shot you ! Don't go outside like that again !" I passed the quail birds off to Red and with my had on the Colonel's pistol, I smiled and said in a whisper, "Sir,,,you would be dead before you hit this dirt floor ! Coffee ?!"

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Blackwater was a man to ride with, I saw that right away. Him stepping outside that cabin to lay down that cover fire was the way a man did things.


He reminded me of my long gone brother too. I didn't ask, didn't need to... Blackwater had wore gray... He didn't sound like he'd lived awful far from the hollers and creaks I hunted squirrels in either,


So after I shared the reason I was alone in these deserted lands, and he gave me a little more history on The Man, I didn't have to think on it long. A murdered spouse beats a numb leg, every way you shake it.


And since I thought I remembered hearing about a man who'd been involved with killin a woman, and how a man matchin Blackwaters description had taken a whole night to bleed him, I figured I better let him have The Man.


He was gonna make him suffer a hell of a lot worse than I was. I had only planned to give him his two bullets back. But I was gonna be a might more selective about where I placed 'em.


So after we talked a bit I told him:


"He's all yours, but I wanna see it done. I mighta kept our farm but for that coward... And hell, I've been gettin paid to use a gun for 15 years. Every man I've drawed a gun on was wearin his face..."


"I'll tag along with y'all long enough for my horse to recover a bit, then I'm cuttin for sign. I'll meet y'all in Santa Fe... Or if y'all wanna share with me where you're headed from there I'll leave word in Santa Fe and stay on his trail. Y'all ain't gonna be movin fast in this wagon train..."

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Tom had laid it out. Now I was closer to finding the last of Celeste's killers and I was obliged to him for it. "Hawk, the colonel and I ain't actually travelin' with the wagons. Matter of fact me 'n' Flint had decided to hunt down that bastard you're trailin' if we could find him."


The farmer looked puzzled. I explained that we'd left a day ahead of the wagons to scout ahead and to see if we could pick up the trail of what had become both our quarry. I further added that we hadn't planned to see the wagons again until Santa Fe, but that the chance encounter with Hawk and the subsequent confrontation with the Comanches had forced us to meet here. "We'll like as not be headed after that outlaw, me and J. Mark before the sun is too high tomorrow. Red and the boys will have to finish the repairs on the women's wagon and they'd only slow us down," I stopped to study on what I'd just said. Then I added, "That is, unless the colonel changes his mind and then we'll do whatever it is he figures we need to do."


Tom looked like he was thinking over his own plan. We leaned on the fence rail and studdied the sinking sun. "What's the story with the colonel?" he finally asked, breaking the silence.


"He was an officer in the southern cavalry," I said. "One of the youngest to reach high rank. They sent him out to hunt Yankee officers a time or two that I know of and he was called on to hold rear guard and to sometimes attack enemy supply lines." I tried to find a way to show the respect I had for Flint's part in the war. "They had him do the dirty work that "propper officers" ain't got the guts to do themselves."


"What about you?" Tom looked at me, "That stunt on the porch while ago wasn't the work of a "propper officer" as far as I can tell."


"That?" I chuckled, "I owe ol' Bill a life or two and I ain't one to leave a man hangin' out in the wind."


"I s'pect that wasn't the first time you done something like that," he insisted.


"I rode with Forrest from the time he put his regiment together 'til the end of the war. There were a lot of times that we fought without cover. I learned much from the general."


I thought back to Fort Donelson and to Franklin. I also thought of Murfreesboro and of that day at the crossroads. "Hit 'em hard and move fast!" he'd said to me. "Sgt., you've got the element of suprise and you've got the enemy's own fear workin' for you. Use those tools the best you can." If every general in the Confederacy had done that, the outcome might have been different.


I said to Tom, "Why don't you talk to J. Mark before you decide what to do next?"

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As I worked on the quail and eggs Hawk had given me, I decided I was gonna have to get to know Tom better. He seemed like a handy fella to know and also seemed to be carrying a burden, much as most of the rest of us were.


"All right, you trail bums and ladies, breakfast is ready! Scrambled eggs and roasted quail breast, coffee, biscuits and sorghum. Best dig in, we won't be eating like this once we get back on the trail. We'll be lucky to get the coffee and biscuits!"


Well, I guarantee you the breakfast menu got everyone's attention, including ole J. Mark hisself! Pretty soon all you could hear was crunching of quail bones, slurping of coffee and some rather impressive belching - not all of it coming from the men!


"Hey, Tom!", I hollered. "Grab your coffee and let's take a look-see around outside." That caused a few sideways glances from Blackwater and Hawk, but I knew they was just curious.


"Tom, we gonna be together a bit and I always make it a habit to find out as much as I can 'bout the folks I'm riding with as possible. This may sound rude, but we may not have a lot o' time before things go south again. Tell me 'bout yourself and how you wound up with us. When you finish, I'll answer any questions ya got about me."

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Well in had done got way too crowded inside , I filled up the coffee cup and headed out to check the horses


I had to figure out where to leave these ladys , they would be a distraction that could get us all killed


watchin Blackwater and Tom , I kinda felt there was a lead on the dude , Blackwater was huntin


there still be a lot of ground to cover , and lots of dangers , before we get to the gold

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Taking my coffee cup, I refilled it, splashed in some whiskey and went outside to clean my Henry rifle. The man I was trailing was heading for Moriaty and would be stopping there as he had kin there. And I had spies there also. This rifle had saved my life many times so I took very good care of it, cleaned it, oiled it and stoked it as if it where a women......loving. I remember the day I took it off the dead cavalry sergeant ......Yankee he was, shot in the back while running away from the fire fight from my Springfield.


"GOSHE....YIDIITSE !" I said to the animal and snapped my fingers and he came to lay down by my side while I patted his head. I pulled my fighting knife from my moccasin boot and took a stone from my pack that I carried and began to sharping my knife in case I had to use it again. Never know where a razor 's edge may come in handy. That's when the lady walked through the door......."Osda Sunalei. Dohi t su ?" I asked.


See looked at me and smiled, and sipped the hot brew and said, "I'm sorry but I don't know or speak Apache." I lowered my head and kept on sharping my fighting knife and said to her, That's ok Calico Mary.......I do and I'll speak for the both of us !" and then I winked at her. She face lost her color as if she had seen a ghost........

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I let the two women fawn over me for a while until they started asking about money. I looked at them straight in the face and told them that they owed my a huge debt and that I had never paid for a woman and had no intention of starting now. I stood up and pulled up my pants over the wound dressing. I didn't sleep well that night, I had soared over a huge graveyard as an eagle, a graveyard full of those that I had put there. I had never killed a man without just cause, but it still gnaws at your soul a little bit every time.


That morning I still couldn't figure out why the one called Calico was so familiar, but put those thoughts away as I ate. I hadn't had much in the way of conversation with anyone since we had gotten to the cabin and I figured that I would keep it that way for a while and got my mounts ready to scout out the day's travel. I had a quick talk with Bama and Bill before I left and after letting them in on my plans for the day I suggested that the four women that couldn't shoot may need some lessons, just in case we were to need them.


As I was just about to leave, the woman who had been cooking the day before asked about my extra horse. "He's along in case I need fresh legs" was all I said. "You mind if I come along with you?" she asked as she petted the albinos face. "I always did like to ride, my names Mattie, what should a call you?" she asked and then said "The others call you Pepper is that all right with you?" I just said "sure" and then motioned for her to mount up and with that the two of us started out on what I was hoping would be a very uneventful day.

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After a mighty fine breakfast I decided I'd see if I could fix the wheel a bit better on the extra wagon. Bill, who seemed to always be tinkerin with somehting, was already outside tending to the teams and came over to help. When I looked under the wagon a little better, something just didn't seem right. "Bill, that looks a little odd," I said, "Let's pry them middle floor boards up, I got a hunch". Just as I suspected there was a hidden compartment. Inside was a couple of Henry rifles, several hundred rounds of .44s, a brace of 1860 armies, a small keg of black powder, some lead round balls, caps, and a money box. I had to break the lock on the box to get it open; there was about eight thousand dollars worth of bills inside. "I reckon' we ought to split this up amongst them gals, whatcha think Bill," He just nodded in agreement. Distributing the money could wait though we needed to get that wheel back on and get ready to travel.


I swore under my breath when I saw Pepper and Mattie talking and then he helped her mount one of his horse. "Dammit, I was hopin I could talk that pretty gal into keepin me company on the wagon, at least until we get to Santa Fe. Guess that'll teach me to speak up a little quicker; that damn Yankee beat me to the punch!" I said; Bill just chuckled.

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I didn't go back inside until it was dark, and I was too chilly to stand it anymore. Inside the depot, Pearl, Suzanna, and Ruby were all sitting in a corner, and looked like they were pouting. Must have been turned down, I thought, and I had to try not to laugh. Mattie wasn't with them, in fact she was on the other side of the room talking to Cody, sounded to me like they were trading stew recipes. I stopped to ask Culpepper how his leg was doing, he told me it was fine but didn't seem like he was in the mood to talk, so I left him alone. Red had seen me carry in some blankets that I'd fetched out of our wagon, and he let me know that us women could use the area by the fireplace to sleep, the men would take the other side of the room.


That was nice of them, but I didn't know if I was going to be able to sleep or not. I wasn't used to driving a wagon all day so I ached all over, and I had a lot on my mind. I thought I'd recognized the half-breed at first, now I was sure I did. He'd come into one of the saloons I'd worked in up in Kansas several times. The first time none of the other girls had wanted to wait on him, they were terrified of indians. I figured his money was just as good as anyone else's, so I volunteered. “Bottle of whiskey, the good stuff, none of that damn rotgut,” he growled, and dropped a gold coin on the table. I brought him his whiskey, but that's all he had wanted, so I moved on to other customers. He did the same thing a few more times, then came one night when his order changed a little. He not only wanted the whiskey, but two glasses this time. I had fetched it for him, then he hooked an empty chair at his table with his foot and pulled it out a little. “Sit for a minute, and have some,” was all he had said. I accepted his offer, and figured that another offer would be made as well. To my shock, he didn't say another word while we were drinking, then finally he leaned forward and pressed a gold coin in my hand. “That's fer you, ya don't got ta split it with yer boss,” he told me, and stood up to leave.


“Don't I gotta earn it first?” I'd asked him, more than a little confused. “Ya already did,” was his only reply, then he was gone. That had been the last time I'd seen him until that day, but I still had that coin, hidden in my belongings with the rest of the money I'd managed to save. When he greeted me that morning, I was still confused, both by the Apache words he spoke and his actions. I never had figured out why he had treated me the way he had done before, and I still didn't. I did however appreciate his courtesy, he'd shown me more respect those few times than any other 20 men combined ever had. One of these days I would have to figure out just what was going through his mind. If nothing else, it would prove to be an interesting conversation.


In the morning we had a decent breakfast, then I went to pack the blankets back in the wagon. My companions had no interest in helping to get ready to go, but I was more than willing to give the men a hand if they needed it. As I was approaching the wagon, I noticed Mattie getting on Culpepper's spare horse, and for a second I was more than a little mad. I told myself it was just because I had counted on her help and company on the road, the other three would be no use either with the driving or companionship. If Culpepper wanted Mattie's company, then I guessed I should be happy for her....

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As we were making final preparations to leave I looked up and saw Mary. She didn't seem particularly happy that Mattie was riding off with Pepper; at least I wasn't the only one. "Ma'am," I said, "If you'd rather I have a spare horse and we can let one of the other fellers drive that wagon. Or if you just want to ride along and not drive, I've got a couple of blankets you can set on and take it easy. It's still a fer piece to Santa Fe and I'm sure you'll do your part to cook and take care of this motley crew."

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Id repeated my story to Red over coffee that morning, an he seemed another solid type that deserved to have his questions answered, but he didn't ask many. And I wanted to talk to Mr Flint before we got started for the day...


Blackwater's statement about striking out after The Man hadn't been in my plans. I'd really hoped for a few more days of rest for ol' hoss before I started cuttin sign.


As I looked around the yard for Mr Flint I noted that Pepper fellers extra horse with a little jealousy... If not his riding partner.


A man needed a woman, that was a fact to write in stone. But a man needed to live through the choices he made, and I'd seen to many well meaning cowhands coughing those bloody bubbles in dusty alleyways and dark streets because of women like the one hitchin up to Pepper.


A man has to make his own decisions though...


As I scanned the yard my eyes hung on that woman that ought to be runnin these girls. She had her head on strait, and held it high. She was about as cold a woman as I'd ever seen though.


Still... I walked over to her wagon. Awkward as I ever was in front of a pretty girl I started, "I hear I have you to thank for knockin down that brave that got it in his head to ride me down?"


"Wanted to thank you. And I seen that look you're carrying around on yer pretty face. That look is garbage, throw it away. The men that died yesterday don't deserve a second thought. They was outlaws among Indians. Makes 'em the worst sort to float around this side of the dirt."


"I don't have any secrets to livin with the memory of those I've killed. 'Cept one... Don't put yourself in a position where you might have to pull the trigger, unless, you believe what y'all are up to is the hard right that needs gettin done. As long as every man you ever kill is to help a friend, or prevent 'em from hurtin a friend... Well even the almighty won't judge you for that..."


I didn't wait for a response, the look she was givin me told me to get, so i did. That last thing I'd told her was as true as it gets. I knew, because I knew the difference when a man wanders away from that advice and maybe kills a man he didn't need to.


My thumb rubbed the stock on that 66... The man that gave it to me all those years ago had told me roughly what I'd told her. He had killed a whole lot of men during the war with nothin more than a squirrel rifle and a good eye. And he slept like a baby. He died accidentally while tryin to prevent a shoot out between two of the very men he'd hired. The young one had already cleared leather when he stepped in between the two, and that old Forman had stopped a bullet meant for a man that would be dead a week later by another's gun...


Life has a funny way of givin some men what they deserve and ignoring others that deserve it more.


Snapping out I my daydream I started lookin around for Mr Flint again, an it struck me that by asking for his take on things I was accepting his lead in this party... Well so be it, if these men followed him I could pick a worse boss. And I probably had...


But where had he gone this morning?

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Tom told me his story with good grace and if he was offended by my rudeness in asking such a personal question, he didn't show it. Finding that he and Blackwater were after the same murderer was a disappointment to me. It meant that he would probably be riding with the Col. and Blackwater. I had kinda been counting on adding him to the wagon train party, as we could use an extra hand now that we had taken on the chore of getting the gals and their wagon to Santa Fe safely.


I had a feeling that Calico Mary was going to turn out to be pretty much of a wild card. She seemed tough, had some leadership skills and could handle guns. Once we got to Santa Fe, my gut told me that she wasn't going back to her old trade, no matter what the other gals did. I also knew that I was going to back her if she wanted to continue on the trail with us. I had no attachment to her and no plans for one - I'd leave that to Hawk, Culpepper and the other longhorns.

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When Cody offered to let me ride his horse or have one of the other men drive our wagon so I could ride with him, my first reaction was to say no. The men had their own wagons to deal with, it wouldn't be fair to make them drive ours. Then that new man, Tom, came over and gave me one heck of a talking to about how hard I was taking that fight the previous day. He was right, and I probably deserved it, but I wasn't sure how to respond. That indian brave hadn't been the first man I'd killed, or even Marvin for that matter. I'd had to stab a drunk cowboy once who had been trying to strangle me because he hadn't thought he'd gotten his money worth. That had been self-defense, but the two yesterday hadn't felt the same way. But the more I thought about Tom's words, the more I realized I needed to snap out of it, before this trip was over I might have to repeat yesterday's experience, I couldn't let it get in my head so much.


Going back to our wagon, I saw the other girls had finally managed to drag themselves outside. “Ok, I drove all day yesterday, and I'm still sore. It's someone else's turn, and Mattie ain't gonna be here, the three of you will have to take turns.” Suzanna threw a fit, claiming there was no way she could drive the wagon, the reins would simply ruin her hands, and the other two were quick to nod. “Well, too bad, stay here then, I'll just get mine and Mattie's things and move them into one of the freight wagons, I don't think Red will mind, we don't have much. Both of us have slept under the stars before, we can do it again. But I've got other plans for today, so you're all on yer own,” I informed them, and none of them was willing to stand up to me. As they started arguing over who had to drive first, I turned and went back to Tyrel.


“Changed my mind, ifn' it's alright with you I wouldn't mind riding with you, at least for a while,” I told him, and he smiled a bit, and told me to climb on up. As we got moving, I turned to him and asked, “I heard you saying something to Mattie about how you make rabbit stew, would you mind sharing your secret recipe with me?” If nothing else at least I would have someone to talk to during today's journey.

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Now I'm not normally the real talkative sort, but when thatt fine lookin lady agreed to ride with me today for some odd reason I just felt like openin right up. "Well miss Mary, " I started, "My maw, God rest her soul, showed me how to make the best Rabbit stew. First you clean and debone 2 rabbits. Then you soak em in brine, with plenty of pepper added, for 2-3 hours. Cut em' up jnto small bite size pieces and put em' in a big ole kettle full of fresh water.. Add taters, carrots, onions, and if ya got em' string beans and corn. Bring all that to a boil then let her simmer fer an hour or so til the meat is done and everything is good and tender. She always used to keep some sourdough hanfy and you just cant besg that with rabbit stew. If ol' Flint gives us some time in Santa Fe I might try an' fix us some. If'n I ever get enough money put back," I continued, " I'd open me up an eatin' house in Cheyenne or maybe Denver. I've been driving a dang wagon of some kind or other pretty much all the time since the war. Right after I took up with the Union Pacific railroad and discovered pretty quick I could handle a team haulin' cross ties. Once the railroad got as far as Utah I took up with a crew out of San Francisco haulin freight. For a brief time in the early 70's I hunted Buffalo and wouldn't ya know found there was quite bit of money to be earned haulin' hides. Since the rail keeps expanding I'm discovering there is not as much need for a wagon master. I was kind oc wandering around lookin fer something to do when I came across the major, er, colonel back in Toostone. He says we all stand the chance to come out rich on this little adventure, though he hasn't said how. You ought to speak with him about joinjng our group; I certainly trust you more than that damn yankee, Pepper"


We made more small talk, mostly about me because she didn't seem like she cared to discuss her own history. She asked about Blackwater and Flint, "Well, from bits and pieces I've gathered, I believe Blackwater is trailing the sob that murdered his wife and Flint is helping him. All I know for sure is that I trust Flint with my life and if he needed me to I'd charge Hell with just a bucket of water. I served under him at the start of the war. Blackwater I rode with briefly after Brandenburg and I trust the man but dont know him well. Bama I ran across a few times during the war and a couple times since; never had issue with him. Bill I just met, but we get along great and I believe he is one to ride the river with. Hawk ive seen him around, but know little about; I suspect no one does. Tom I've never seen or heard of, claims to be from Tennessee which probably makes him alright. Pepper is a damn Yankee, he claimd Flint saved him in the war; I have my doubts. He seems to try awful hard to prove he is trustworthy . How does the the saying go 'He doth protest too much'."


"I'm sorry, " I said, "hope I ain't bored you too much it's already time for some lunch and yonder is a water hole, I reckon we ought break a bit and rest. "

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As the wagons rooled up on the waterhole , I unhitched the team .


I had overheard enough I knew I had to have a talk with Cody , I motioned for Cody to bring his team over to the water


when he got there , I ask him just WHAT he thought he was doing , telling someone about the plan to recover the gold ?


was word to get out , that would lead to lots more trouble and killin , if we was to keep it .


from where the other gold was , the Maxamillon stash was not that far away , if one did not pay out , maybe the other would


FUNNY thing about the map , it was drawn upside down , to the seal that was on it , need to look at that a bit closer

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"Gold?" I said, "I didn't say nothing about any gold; as a matter of fact this is the first time I have heard anything about it. All the Colonel has shared with me is that we're headed to Mexico and that if everything works out we'll be rich! I'll grant you that I figured it would have to be something like that. If you know more though, do tell. Now I will agree on one thing, if we after some sort of treasure we should ought to keep that amongst ourselves. Them three useless girls we need to ditch in Santa Fe, but as far as I'm concerned it would be nice to have a gal like Mary or Mattie along; surely you'd rather have one of them cookin' instead of one of us men? Besides," I grinned "You have to admit they sure are a whole nicer to look at than you or Red!"


Gold, so that's what we are after. Seems like I heard something about some missing Confederate gold after Brandenburg; wonder if Flint got his hands on that? Well I reckon if he did I can't blame him for not tellin all the rest of us about it.

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J. Mark and I began saddling the horses. "You still want to get that murderer?" he asked me as I led the sorrel around to the fence rail and tied him.


"That's the plan if it hasn't changed 'cause of these Comanches." I replied. "The trail can't be too hard to pick up and we know from what Tom says where he was yesterday."


"Speakin' of Tom. What do ya' think about him?" The colonel tied off his saddle horse and began loading the pack saddle onto his other horse.


"Seems like an okay sort. He's damn well down to scraping bottom for gear and grub as far as I can tell," I thouight about what my next words would be. "You thinkin' about offerin' him one of them indian ponies?" I studied Flint's face. We'd both been down to broke and even walking a time or two and though neither of us needed to work or even take on these "adventures" for the money, we both knew what riding the grub line was like.


"I'd say he could use the help for sure," he looked around, "Do you think he'd accept? That horse of his could stand a rest and more grain or it won't be able to keep up with us."


"Well he's planning on tracking down Celeste's killer whether we come along or not, but he'll stand aside for me to do what I want once we catch him." I looked around and didn't see Tom. I wondered if he had thoughts of trailing along with us after our mutual goal had been achieved. "I'll agree to stakin' him to a horse for as long as he rides with us. After that.........."


Bama shouted orders and the wagons pulled out. Culpepper and the gal that had cooked rode out first on his horses, with Cody and the one called Mary on the lead wagon. One of the other three women sat on the seat of the second wagon with the other two riding seated on their belongings in the back. Bama had the third wagon and rode drag while Bill rode his horse and trailed the wagons. You could hear the three women arguing and complaining as they disappeared around the station house and out into the road.


We were both finished with the horses and we'd led them out of the corral when J. Mark turned and took a swing at my head. His fist caught me on the side of the head and stars flashed as I staggered against the fence. "Next time I say not to follow me, don't send somebody to nursemaid me!"


I shook my head and felt where my ear and skull met as I stood up. The stars had vanished as quickly as they'd appeared and I took a long breath to finish clearing my head. I walked back to confront Flint face to face. When our noses were close enough that a cigarette paper wouldn't have passed between them I slowly said,"I didn't send anybody to follow you. There others here besides me that know to watch your back, just like they'd watch mine or Bama's or anybody amongst us." I stuck my finger in his chest and poked it hard. I lowered my voice to a whispering growl that only he and I could hear. "If you EVER blindside me like that again, I'll tear you limb from limb and feed what's left to the crows. We've always trusted each other and we've always sided each other. If I DID send somebody to cover you it was for your own damn good, just like this warning I'm givin' you now!"


To the others that were nearby, it looked like a staring contest. "I reckon we understand each other," the colonel snarled as he stooped and handed me my hat.


"I reckon we do!" I snapped back and walked away.


Hawk turned to Tom and winked, "Them two will sometimes fight like two wildcats. Just like two little boys that's raised up together." he whispered. "Don't ever get between 'em when they're fussin'! They's liable to both set in on ya'!"


To J. Mark he said, "I was the one what got too close last night. Blackwater had nothin' ta' do with it." He walked over to where the colonel stood. "I weren't spyin' on ya'. We just chose the same path for our evenin' worship."


"Tom!" the colonel called to the stranger still standing, staring at the scene that had unfolded before him, "Saddle that grulla indian pony and lead your cayuse today. We'll see about shoeing him this evening and you'll have a spare mount for now."


"Let's see about picking up that trail and then we can meet up with the wagon's around sunset." the colonel said to anybody listening. "Bama's got some farrier tools and some ready made horse shoes in his gear."


To Tom he said, "When you're ready you can show us where that trail was!"

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We had ridden almost a half of a mile in silence when I suddenly spurred Midnight and lit out at a full gallop, wanting to see if Mattie could ride well enough to keep up if needed. `When I glanced over my shoulder to check on her I got a healthy surprise, not only was she following me in full stride, she was actually gaining on me. I had seen enough and let Midnight slow at his own pace.


"Testing me, were you?" was all Mattie said once the horses had slowed to a walk. "You've ridden a lot haven't you?" I asked her, already knowing the question. She had not only been able to ride all out, but she was leaning down on the albino's neck and using the reins to slap his flanks asking for more speed.


"I reckon you can ride well enough, now watch for anything unusual and let me know as soon as you notice anything." I told her as we continued on. We talked a little as we went and I was learning about her, something that was paramount when you were out in this type of country. Her father had died when she was young and her mother had died in childbirth just two months later, along with the baby. Her father had been in the cavalry and had taught her well how to ride and care for a horse.


"I bet you can shoot too, can't you?" I asked looking at her eyes intently. "That's why you were so good at reloading the empty guns during the fight, isn't it?" She looked down a bit, "Yes, he did, but I've never had to kill anyone before, not like Mary." she replied.


Not like Mary? Hmmmm, I knew there was more to that one than just being a whore in a saloon. I buried that bit of information until a later time and continued to glean as much from Mattie as I could.


Mattie had spotted some old tracks here and there and quickly pointed them out to me, but when she got a little excited and pointed at a small dot in the distance I knew she was much more capable of being just a soiled dove. The object was moving perpendicular to our path so I adjusted ours to a path that would intercept his. As we got closer I pulled my papers from the saddle bags and studied the faces on them, then I glassed the ever nearing object. It was Crosseyed Willy , wanted for killing a whole family by the US Marshalls.


I motioned for Mattie to dismount and after she had I signaled for Midnight and the Albino to lay down. I pulled the Sharps from it's scabbard, found a good spot to sit, and then the 45-120 round found it's mark and lifted the man from his saddle.


Mattie hadn't said a word the whole time, except to ask me to show her how to get a horse to obey so well.


We remounted and rode to where the man lay. Normally I would have put him on my extra mount and tied him, but as you know, that seat was taken by someone far more important. I thought for a minute, pulled my knife and lifted the man's head from his shoulder's. Mattie turned a little green as I packed it in waxed paper and slid it into a leather pouch.


"Did, you have to do that?" Mattie asked. "Only if I want paid and he wasn't using it anymore anyway" I told her as I swung back up into the saddle.

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Oh lordy, what had I been thinking, agreeing to ride with Cody? I sure hoped he wasn't going to get the wrong idea, or any of the others either. I just wanted someone to talk to, to get my mind off my darker thoughts. I knew these men didn't think much of whores, and weren't really happy being stuck with the five of us. It had been their idea that we come along, but even I had to admit we were safer this way, and it was only temporary. Or was it? Cody had said something about me possibly continuing on with them beyond Santa Fe, and I wondered if he was serious. Then he said something about the lot of them getting rich on this trip, and I realized he couldn't be serious. I mean, really, what were they doing....looking for El Dorado?


I had no idea what I wanted to do, only what I didn't. I would be open to just about any suggestion that did not involve sleeping with men for money. As for this little “adventure” of theirs, well, maybe it would depend on if a similar offer would be made to Mattie. I knew that both Cody and Culpepper were at least a little interested in her, and that worried me. They probably thought she was a bit older than she really was, she did come across that way sometimes. But I knew her true age, and I also knew that despite having worked in the saloon in Kansas for five months, the girl still didn't really know much about men. Mattie hadn't been at this long enough to get over the notion that all men were gentlemen, but I knew better. She was just still so trusting of em', and I really needed to break her of that bad habit. I also needed to get to know both men a little better myself, to make sure that neither of them would end up breaking my friend's heart.


We stopped for lunch around noon, and I immediately hopped down off the wagon to find Red and see what he had available for me to cook. As I was heading his direction, Pearl was just getting down off the seat of our wagon, and she was furious. She tried to confront me to demand that I come back and take over the driving again, but I wasn't about to be bullied just because the three of them had me outnumbered. She raised her hand as if she was gonna try and slap me, but before she could I had my knife out and in her face. “Ya really wanna do that?” I asked her, and it only took a heartbeat for her to back down, and neither of the other two seemed in any hurry to interfere. “Good,” I thought to myself as I continued on to find Red, “maybe we're finally starting to understand each other.”

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Later that day we came across a waterhole and let the horses drink freely after we had dismounted. I knelt on one knee and used my hat to scoop water up to drink and pour over my head. Mattie had sprawled out flat on the ground and was drinking with her face almost entirely in the water. She looked over at me with an inquisitive look and asked me why I didn't sprawl out and just dunk my head in the water like she had.


"And what would happen if someone came up while you had your face down in the water?" I asked her. Her face suddenly lit up as she squealed, "You mean like Gideon, in the bible? Wow, my dad always said there was good stuff in it, but it never made sense to me!"


After we had had our fill at the water hole and filled the canteens we circled back finally coming in from the rear to meet up with the wagons. Mattie looked over at me, "I bet you did that on purpose didn't you?" I smiled and we dismounted, as I took the reins from her to take care of the horses, she reached up and kissed me on the cheek. "Thanks for treating me so well today" she said just before she skipped over to where the rest of the group were gathered.

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I was feeling all kinds of out of sorts and there wasn't much I could do to change that. I had forgotten how paranoid the peyote was prone to making me and that stunt with Blackwater ended better than I deserved, Tom took the pony and seemed appreciative, but just as he was having to earn our respect, I'd managed to lose a bit in his eyes and rightly so.


Hawk moved out with Blackwater and Tom rode with me and we started to look for the trail of the man Blackwater and Tom were hunting. Against all odds it was Blackwater that caught first sight of the sign through a nearly swollen shut right eye.


We all moved quickly and quietly over the next few hours. and the tracks became more frequent. Hawk spotted horse crap on the side of the trail, dust hastily kicked over it. Without hesitation he picked up a turd and broke it apart, "Cold as dirt, not so dry-more than a day but less than two old."


I dismounted and did the same as Hawk, nodding in agreement "not a bit of grain either, his horse is playing out-he's been walking it . . . a lot. Tom, looks like you kept enough pressure on him that he's taking a big risk."


Tom looked at me "What do you mean exactly?'


I took out a map and started by showing where the stage depot was and then where we were-with that done I drew a line along our path extending it three days ride ahead.


"Goemmer Butte-it will be hard tracking if he beats us there."


Blackwater gritted his teeth, and for a moment, I thought I was about to pay for my earlier indiscretion. "If you're right . . . we'll play hell catching him. "


Tom looked at me, "It don't make sense, riding in a straight line if you know your being followed." I nodded-"And there isn't much water on his route either-we better think of something quick."

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I thought for a moment. "Let's see that map again," I moved closer to the colonel. We were still close to the Santa Fe road and we were all going in the same general direction. The others were looking too. I turned and looked at my longtime friend. "Tell me what you think of this!"


Flint knew I had wanted this man a long time. "Show us what you're seein'."


"He's on a played out mount and mostly walkin'," I began. Everyone nodded agreement. "We can double time at an angle to where we meet the wagons in a couple or maybe three hours." Again all agreed. "We meet the wagons and unload the pack animals. Hawk, you borrow Bill's or Red's horse and Tom you leave your horse with the wagons and take which ever one that's left. Then we set out in a straight line for Goemmer Butte. We're all well mounted and can swap horses often enough to keep 'em fairly fresh. That way we can travel three times as fast as he can, else he's gonna' be walkin' for sure!" Those years under Forrest's command were coming back to me. I had learned what I could from the greatest tactician of the recent unpleasantness.


Hawk said, "It's risky, but it might work."


"Colonel!" Tom interupted, "You've lived here and know where the water holes are."


"Yeah, and we can ride all night if we have to." Hawk continued.


"We lighten our saddles." Flint said after staring at the map for a moment, "Leave saddle bags, shotguns, bed rolls, and all but one long gun. In their place we carry extra canteens and a days ration of grain."


I slapped J.Mark on the back, probably a little harder than I should have, "We'll ride the bastard into the ground!"


The colonel rolled up the map and grabbed the reins. More than one voice was heard saying loudly, "Let's move!!"

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We had gone back toward the spring I'd been at when I'd first seen their smoke, as The Man had used it before I found it. I been careful not to disturb his tracks when I'd made my camp there, so I took the group there to let 'em get acquainted with them. He'd even left a nice boot print in the mud, nice new boots, with a tall heel like some of the boys in Texas wore. After that I'd just sort of been following the terrain The Man usually followed, glancing at the ground for tracks when we rode through soft sheltered areas that'd hold tracks a few days.


The Colonel, as I'd heard him called, wasn't takin much. I'd never been one to ruin a good silence when there were things to be done, so I didn't say much either. He'd looked at me funny after he hit Blackwater, like he was sorry I saw it. I couldn't have cared less, I'd just rolled my tabacco over in my mouth and thought of my brother again. He'd been the sort to swing when he felt like it. He'd have his reason, and if you were standing close enough when the mood took him you'd catch one. I never held it against my brother, and I wouldn't hold it against anyone else. Besides, I was ten years younger than my brother and not being strong enough to fight back at the time, his moods had taught me to take a punch, and how to slip one. Even when I wasn't expecting it.


Just as I was starting to get concerned about not finding any new tracks the breed they called Hawk flagged us down. Blackwater had cut his trail.


There was some talking after that about where they thought he was headin. I was new to this country, spent most of my years bein hired to "solve" land or water disputes or outright "us VS them" range arguments north and east of this territory. I had trailed a man in this general direction once before, but I'd caught up to him long before he'd gotten out areas I was familiar with.


So, when they started talking about Goemmer Butte I wasn't so sure. The Man had avoided high ground wherever possible for the past month, but maybe there was something significant about that butte that'd make him head toward it. I tried to remember if I'd ever heard any names for the places outlaws hid out down this way, but nothing came to mind.


So when the plan was out together to cut the wagons trail down the road a piece I went along with it.


I wasn't very excited about dropping my kit at the wagons though. Everything I owned was on my horse. I didn't have much in the way of memories stashed away in there. But the few things I did connected me to things I didn't talk about.


There was a old watch in there, with a picture of a pretty young girl. She'd been the daughter of that foreman that'd been killed by the young hot headed gunman. I'd taken his watch figuring I'd give it to her when I saw her. The only other thing he had worthy of passin on had been the '66 I was carrying. The foreman hadn't died until later that night, and he'd given me the rifle. He'd also told me to use nothin but the rifle until I learned to shoot a pistol better than I had earlier that day, and I had practiced obsessively for a long time after that. That was 12 years ago though, and I still had the watch. It also had his name engraved on the lid.


He'd been a popular NCO in the war, and an even more popular foreman. I didn't want to be answering any questions about that watch.


I didn't figure the men at the wagons would mess with anyone's kit, but them women...


I rode to the wagons with a sense of foreboding...

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At the wagons we began to unload and strip down to the bare essentials. Tom was lightly loaded and finished up before me. I motioned for him to come over.


"Tom, I don't want this to sound like an order, but would you see to unloading my pack horse the rest of the way. I've got something I need to do before we get on the trail . . "


Tom just turned and started to load my gear into the wagon with a quick nod.


I gathered up my writing supplies and drew a quick map or the church in Mexico City and the location of the gold in the basement. I further explained that the Church was scheduled to be converted to a state prison and work was to begin shortly. I finally explained my plan for how to get in and out, even if work was underway. Finally I sealed it in an envelope with a bit of hot wax using the heel of my bowie to leave a distinct impression.


I handed the map and instructions to Bama Red. "Been selfish keeping this all to myself. I'd suggest you open it as soon as you are in Mexican territory and have no one around that you don't trust completely when you do." I explained our plan and Red looked at Tom's mounts "Those ponies are going to slow you down. Take my spare mount for Tom if you think he'll accept it.


Bama Red took the envelope and tucked into his inside vest pocket and patted it from the outside saying "It is safe here, You have my word."


I shook his hand "Didn't need it Red, I knew it would be safe with you-just get rid of the whores in Santa Fe and if Pepper hasn't proved himself to your satisfaction before you cross into Mexico-you kill him."


Red's eyes showed he didn't like the last part so I continued "That's a strong suggestion Red, not an order."


I passed Red's offer along to Tom and the two men spoke briefly and Tom took the lead rope and tossed it across his pommel "Thanks, I'll bring him back if I'm able."


Red nodded "I know, but he's a horse, not a man."


When I finished my task I saw the others were ready to go. I grabbed Shameless' pommel and swung up as Tom tossed me the lead to my spare mount- a tall, glossy black stud I had taken to calling Midnight Massacre, or Midnight for short after finding him in a corral with three dead Pawnee who had tried to steal him. He was calmer now, but I was still the only one he would let ride him.


"Thank you Tom." I said quickly and then with a click of my heels Shameless and I headed off at a ground eating pace that would cover ground and get us to the first waterhole on our route.


I had set a pace that wasn't quite a horse killing one, though that indian pony was going to have a hard time before it was over. Still it was a hardy animal and we could turn it loose when it became a burden.


Blackwater rode up beside me after a bit and we all slowed to a fast walk "You'll kill that pony at this pace."


I nodded "Maybe, but if that gent you're hunting gets into the rock near Goemmer Butte, he can circle and disappear into the foothills for 270 degrees-he won't need a horse to lose us."


Blackwater nodded and kicked his mount back up to our previous pace, or maybe a bit faster.

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After Col Flint , took off with a detachment of hunters , going after the killer , I got back to keeping the wagons in good repair


sure did not need anything , going wrong , was we to have to make a run for cover again


Cody , did ya check the wheel on the other wagon ?


we need to fill the water bbls , just in case , I noticed they were a bit low , even though there should be plenty of water for the next couple of days


The Gray was acting a bit skiddish , for no reason , I could explain , nothing seemed to be out of place , but , I had learned to trust its moods


When , we get to Santa Fe , there should be a couple more horses , waitin there , I had wired to get em shipped by rail , before we had left town


sure will be nice to have a couple extra horses , out of my stock of mtn ponys , solid stock is a must , if we is gonna get out fast


them soiled doves , ain't being much help , Calico and Mattie , are ok , but them others is worthless , we need to get shut of em pretty fast


they be rooting around in things , that don't belong to em , don't set well with me

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When Colonel Flint and the others came back, I made sure they all had a bite to eat and some coffee, then watched as they unloaded their gear, storing it in the back of one of the freight wagons. They weren't there that long, then they rode off fast. I cleaned up the plates and cups they had used and was going to put the stuff away in the freight wagon where it belonged, but as I came around the side of the wagon I realized there was already someone there. “Just what do you think you're doin' in there?” I demanded. As Ruby straightened up I noticed she had Tom's saddlebag in her hands. “You just mind your own business, and leave me alone!” she hissed, and I knew I'd caught her looking for things to steal. Weren't right to take things that don't belong to ya, and I didn't hesitate to drop the plates, grab Ruby, and shove her away from that wagon.


I should have known she wouldn't take kindly to being interrupted, and for a second I thought I was facing down an angry bobcat, complete with teeth and claws. She came at me fast, and started slapping at me and pulling my hair. I didn't really want to fight her, but if that's they way she wanted it, fine, two could play that game. I wasn't going to settle for just hair-pulling, I punched her right in the gut first chance I got. No sooner had she doubled over than Suzanna jumped on my back, pulling my hair some more and trying to dig her nails into my face. As I was trying to twist away from her, I noticed Pearl heading my way as well, but fortunately for me Mattie got to her first, and the two of them started going at each other.


Mattie and I had had just about enough of the other three anyway, we'd never gotten along. They hadn't worked in the saloon in Kansas with the two of us, Marvin had picked them up at some second rate bordello in St. Louis, and the three had acted like they were better than me and Mattie the whole trip and we were tired of it. I finally shook Suzanna off and sent her sprawling, just in time for Ruby to recover enough to come at me again, this time with a small knife in her hand. I ducked back out of the way, grabbing for my own knife, but I wasn't fast enough and Ruby managed to slice my left arm open. That stung like crazy, but I managed to switch my knife to my right hand, and the two of us started circling each other.


Mattie and Pearl were still going at it, and the men seemed to be content with just standing around watching. In fact they appeared to think it was quite entertaining, darn them! Suzanna was such a coward that I figured she wouldn't try to interfere again, not when Ruby and I had our knives out, so I ignored her. The pain in my arm was a bit distracting, but Ruby wasn't much of a fighter, and it wasn't long before I saw the perfect opening. I closed in on her, and got my knife past hers long enough to sink mine into her side, up to the hilt. That same exact second, I heard a voice call “Watch out!!” and turned my head slightly, just in time to see Suzanna swing a large tree branch at my head. For a split second I wondered if I had killed Ruby, then the tree branch connected with my temple. I was out cold before I hit the ground....

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We where riding toward the butte like the wind, then slowing a bit, then picking up speed again. I knew what those white man where thinking about me and my horse but that's why I signed on the the Tejas rangers. "I want a man who can ride lie a Apache, shoot straight and fight like the devil himself......if ya can't do that, I aint haven' ya !" is what my Captin' told me. When my Captin' ask Private Hutchinson if that breed could ride and fight he said of me....."Captin.....durin' the war I saw a white man ride a horse till it drops then go on a foot. Hawk comes along, gets that same horse up, rides him mother 50 miles, eats him and then still fights another day !"


I was gonna get that feller what killed Blackwater woman. Not just cause it pained him so. And not cause there bound to be a reward or coin on his head. No sir ! I was gonna help kill him cause I figured he needed killing !

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I had been off in the trees to relieve myself when I heard what sounded like two mountain cats fighting over a kill. I finished my business as fast as I could, hitched my pants up and ran to see what in the world was going on. It was the women fighting, two against three and two of them had knifes drawn circling each other like prize fighters in a ring. This wasn't good, all we needed were wounded women on our hands. Calico had stuck the one she was fighting with before I good intervene and the next thing I knew one of the others had hit her upside the head with a branch knocking her to the ground in a heap. The branch caught me just good enough to drawn blood from the cheek, I drew one of my Colt's, pointed it at the branch holding wench and motioned with it for her to drop the branch.


By then Mattie had Pearl in a headlock looking at me like she was asking me what to do. "Let her go so her and Suzzana can check on Ruby, then go get my "bag" and bring it here" I told Mattie. I bent down and picked up Calico throwing her over my shoulder. Mattie came back with the bag with Willy's head in it and handed it to me with an inquisitive look on her face. I threw it to the two tending to Ruby and told them, "Here, if you want to see what's in someone's bag, you can have mine." I turned and carried Calico to the wagon and laid her down inside it. As I did, I heard two screams, the sounds of puking and then the other men's laughter.


Mattie jumped into the wagon and began wiping Calico's brow with a damp rag until she started to come around. Mattie looked at me and seeing the blood running down my cheek leaned over to me and as she was wiping away to blood whispered in my ear, "We need to talk."


Finally Tyrel came over to check on Calico, who looked like she still had a lot of fire in her eyes, so I motioned for Mattie to take a walk. "I'm going to go wash up, Cheyenne will you come and watch for me?" she asked right on cue.


We walked a little ways making sure everyone had stayed back at the wagons and Mattie began telling me, "The men didn't know I was in the bushes taking care of some personal business and I heard them talking. The one called Flint told Red to kill you before you git into Mexico, if he didn't trust you by then. I thought you ought to know that." "And he gave Red an envelope and said not to open it until he got into Mexico."


Really? I thought, doesn't have the guts to try it himself? . This would take some thinking. Mattie got cleaned up and we returned to camp where Calico was not happy at all, not to mention the other two who were still dry heaving.

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Calcio , let me see that arm , ummm . looks like it could use a coupe of stitches , I ain't the best at it , but I have done a few


mostley on myself ,


As for Ruby , there ain't no fixin that cut , got the lung and the top of the aorita , see the bubblin deep red color blood comin out


she is gonna bleed out real fast .


Bama , I think we should tye the other two up so we don't get stabbed in the middle of the nite and we dump em at the first place we come to


unless , ya got a better plan .


Pepper and Calico was talking , tryin to not be seen doing it , that puts me on edge with them too


Hey Pepper , ya want to take a look at this ?


as he came around the back of the wagon , I put my Arkansas toothpick aganist the side of his neck , NOW tell me what ya was plannin with Calico


the book says beat your sword into plows , I made this from a broken plow ,


Ya best start talkin , before I commance to whittlin ,

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I was annoyed to have that skinny knife at my throat, and then bill started talking gibberish about me talking to myself, I looked him straight in the eye, sniffed his breath and asked him, "You been hitting the hootch again Bill?"

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I might have been in the shine , BUT , You an Calico sneekin around in gonna get ya killled


Don't think I can not take your head off with it ,


NOW tell me what you 2 is up too , or ya is dead where ya stand


just to prove the point , I gave him a slight nick with the point

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Bill nicked my neck with his knife and reworded his question, he was wanting to know what I was talking with Calico about. I looked at him like he was nuts and said, "Look at her! what do you think I was talking with her about? how to shear a lamb?" Then I cocked the Colt I had sticking in his ribs, and asked, "you want to put that away before neither of us gets a chance with Calico?"

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Ya may get me , but I will get ya before I go down ,


I heard enough to know She said Bama had a map , Today is as good a day to die as any


so go ahead pull that trigger and you will die for sure , I might also


start tellin the truth of prepare to meet your maker , one way or the other , I don't care

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"Map?, all Mattie said was an envelope, she didn't say what was in it! Dang it man get yur women straight, Mattie said to watch my back because y'all don't trust me, and me and Calico were talking about, well she was wanting to go with me tomorrow instead of Mattie, you gonna stick me for that?"

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