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A Bad Spring in East Fork

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Two  men road into town as Slim and I were sitting on the boardwalk in front of the saloon concluding a game of checkers. Slim hissed “See them two fellers rid’n in?  Thet’s Doc Ward on the right, t’other feller’s a gent know’d as Keller, Linn Keller.” “Keller’s a neighbor to Doc and a good friend u hisn.” “Yuh can see he’s a big feller, and he’s a real gentleman, but don’t never cross him or mess with Doc’s people.” “Linn is one tough hombre n’ he’s been around.” “It’s said he rode as a Law Dog a time er two.”

 

As the men drew along side of our position Slim hollered, “Howdy Doc, Linn, been out enjoyn the snow?” Doc replied, “Howdy your self there Slim.” “We just came in to allow Mrs. Ward to do a little shopping.” “The snow was a little deeper out towards our place. looks like you fellows got of easy with only two feet here in town.” “Wail,” said Slim “Thet’s one uh the joys of city livin.” “Yuh don’t have to shovel yur way fer to get to thu outhouse.” “Haw, Haw” “Oh, scuse my manners,” said Slim, “Ah dint introduce mu friend here,” as he pointed to me. “This here is John Calder, late of Connecticut and points west.” “He’s new in town, just rode in day afor yestiday.” “Hello Mr. Calder,” said Doc, “My name is Benjamin Ward, but people call me Doc, and this is Linn Keller.”

 

“Pleased to meet you both,” I replied. “Mr. Ward, I want to tell you up front.” “Earlier I rode out to your place looking for work.” “Your Missus asked me to return at a later time.” “Do not believe I frightened her but if she felt uncomfortable I apologize and and will look elsewhere for work.” “If you are planning on hiring riders I would appreciate the opportunity to be considered.” “I will be around for another day or two and would make myself available at your disposal.” Slim piped up, “Don’t he talk purty?” “Muss be thet eastern edjication.”

 

Doc smiled and said, “I’ll look you up tomorrow if that would be acceptable Mr. Calder?” “That would be fine, I’d appreciate it if you call me John, my father was Mr. Calder,” I said, holding up one hand in peace. “An old joke, I know, but true enough.” “Ha, that’s fine,”said Doc, “I’ll see you tomorrow about noon.” Then he and Keller rode on to the other side of town. “Well Slim, that Keller gent is real a real quiet type isn’t he?”  All I got was a, “Yep.”

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Doc had driven his surrey, with Abigail next to him, Keller joining them riding his mule. Dropping his wife off at Calamity Kris’s dress shop, Doc drove on, with Keller climbing in the surrey, leaving the mule standing sleepily in front of the shop.

 

After bumping into Slim Dawkins and being introduced to John Calder, Doc and Linn moved on toward the bank. Keller glanced over at Doc after they were out of earshot. “Notice anything about John Calder?” Doc kept his eyes straight ahead as he replied, “You mean the tan and the crows feet around the eyes that suggest he’s been somewhere like Texas or Arizona  and the sun for a long time, and recently? Or do you mean the gun rig that appears a little too nice but a little too well used for a cowhand chasing jobs? Or maybe the boots that were a little too nice and not at all worn at the heel for one either?” Keller just nodded and said, “Yep. I’m guessing law man. Just a guess though.” Doc nodded his agreement. “Seems nice enough, though. I appreciate he didn’t want to upset Abby. Course, being married to her, I don’t particularly blame him. Get her angry, and there ain’t no back-up in her.” Linn chuckled and shrugged, “You say that, and I have no doubt. I don’t think I’d want those eyes staring at me in anger.” Keller’s voice became just the least bit wistful as he continued, “But I think you also know how lucky a man you are.” Doc smiled, “Indeed I do, my friend. Indeed I do.”

Pulling up to the bank, Doc climbed down and reached for the bags that had been put in the back of the surrey. Looking at Keller, Doc asked, “Coming in?” Keller sat thoughtfully for a moment, then climbed down to join his friend, replying, “Sure, and I’ll try to keep a straight face.”

Walking up the steps and through the glass paned doors with the slightly fading green shades, Doc lifted his hand in greeting to the teller. “Good morning, Constance. Is Mr. Cushman in?” Before Constance could step around to knock on his door, the banker came out of his office at the sound of his name.

 

A little heavy and a little pink from spending most of his time inside polishing a chair with his trousers, Cushman had the look of a man who had a high opinion of himself. Moving behind the counter himself, Cushman smiled a saccharine sort of smile “Good morning Mr. Keller, Mr. Ward, how may I be of help to you gentlemen?” Knowing Linn had no business with the banker, both men had little doubt that greeting Linn first was intentional, a subtle way of diminishing Doc’s standing among the three. Doc chose to ignore the slight, instead speaking up, “I’m here to discuss my debt.” Frowning and shaking his head, Cushman replied, “I know you’ve experienced some tough times on your ranch, but I can’t extend the loan further than I have, and I must insist that you make some payment, and soon.”

Lifting the bags and setting them on the counter, Doc stared into Cushman’s eyes as he opened one of the flaps without looking down. Only after it was open did Doc glance down as he pulled out a sheaf of bank notes. “Could you get the note for the loan and calculate the exact amount for the payoff?” Cushman’s mouth fell agape, and his eyes got wide as he stared at the bills, sure there was more money inside the bags. Stammering, Cushman stepped backward and toward his office, his eyes on the money until he had to glance at where he was walking. He was back in a moment, and stood, trying to concentrate as he kept glancing at the money before him.

Finally, Cushman cleared his throat, Eight Thousand and Twelve Dollars, Mr. Ward.” Doc began counting, pausing only to say, “I would have brought a check drawn on a bank in Utah, but I didn’t want to wait. I wish to be done today.” Sliding the bills to Cushman and watching as he carefully recounted the money, Doc closed the bag and lifted it to his shoulder. Cushman glanced over to his teller, “Constance, could you hand me Eight Dollars from your till?” When she brought it to him, Cushman slid the coins to Doc, saying, “Your change, Mr. Ward, and I will destroy the note. Would you like to start an account for… Uhmmm… Any remainder?” Doc’s look was cold as he produced his copy of the loan paper work. “You will not destroy the note. I want to watch you write ‘Paid in Full’ on both it, along with my copy, and the amount paid. Then you will stamp both with the bank stamp and add your signature. Finally, I want a receipt for the payment, stating the same.”

 

Cushman’s face went a shade of red that pushed toward purple as he began to stammer again, “Ahh… Well… That’s not how we… Don’t you trust…” Before he could finish the question, Doc, his voice soft yet matter-of-fact, interrupted, “No, I do not trust you. Particularly when my home, my ranch, and my livelihood are at stake. Now, if you don’t do as I just instructed, and now, we are going to have a problem on our hands. I’m quite confident you don’t want to have a problem, now do you?” Shaking his head at the subtle threat, Cushman, his voice getting a little higher pitched, replied, “No, of course not.”


Getting the stamp, his hands shaking, Cushman did as instructed, handing Doc’s copy of the paperwork back to Doc, along with a receipt. Trying to recover some of his dignity, Cushman, smiled weakly, “So, about that account? I’d be happy to…” Turning even as Cushman spoke, Doc said over his shoulder, “Good day Mr. Cushman… Constance, have a good day.”

Once outside, Keller, keeping a deadpan expression, observed, “You don’t seem to trust our friendly banker.” Doc, his face also impassive, replied, “Why ever would you say that? I trust the man implicitly… To do whatever might gain him a dollar, no matter how shady. Shall we go to the General Store?”

Edited by DocWard
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Kit was unaware how long he had been asleep. The days ride took it's share of his energy, draining him to the point of true exhaustion.
Were it not for the dire warning that Orion just gave him, he surely would have remained in slumber. With the quickness he had grown accustomed, he pulled his S&W revolver from its holster which was coiled like a rattlesnake ready to strike, he thumbing the hammer, hearing the all familiar "click" of the cylinder rotating, aligning the next round of death, and praying to himself, "Lord, please forgive me for what I am about to do."
Remaining still, as if life had left him, his eyes peered under his wide brimmed hat searching the dark for whatever had startled Orion.
Nothing?
This was not like Orion to give false alarms. With his vision now growing more acclimated to the darkness surrounding him, Kit looked not in the area where Orion stood, now slinging his head up and down in a bobbing motion whilst tramping the deep snow with his front hoove, but to his right.
There in the distance, just beyond the tree line, a Grey Wolf! Without a second thought, Kit raised slightly,  turning to his right, and with total disregard for someone hearing the gunshot and possibly finding his location, he purposely aimed low and to the right, missing his target, yet fending off the danger. This one will live another day.
Too awake now to fall back to sleep, and with the fire no longer providing any warmth, he decided to make plans for heading out, albeit earlier than he had wished.

Edited by Father Kit Cool Gun Garth
Font - clarification
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"Doc," said I admiringly, "you do have a way with words."

I felt the man's grin -- it did not show a'tall -- and he grunted, but behind that grunt his mind was busy, and it would not be hard to reckon where his thoughts were runnin'.

I'd run into crooked bankers my own self and had no liking for the breed, I've known too many bottom polishers and most were more interested in filling their own pockets than much else.

On the other hand, if I know so darn much, why haven't I made that million dollars and retired, eh?

Doc had just guaranteed he had a rock solid claim on his spread and I frowned a little.

"Doc," said I, "who actually owns all that land between ours and the Green?"

Doc's eyebrow raised a little as he considered for a long moment.

"That's quite a bit of ground."

"Hammond claims it but I don't reckon it's his to claim."  

"You proposin' I should use my vast wealth and riches to buy up all that ground?"

"Nope."  My eyes were busy as I looked around.  "I propose that I should buy it."

Doc's silence meant he was thinkin' and I was satisfied he was runnin' several trains on several tracks at the same time.

"I'll be denying an asset to the enemy," I continued, "and by nailing down ownership hard, fast and legally, it will provide distance between us and him. If we both stay in the territory this close it'll come to a head and I don't much like it when that happens."

Doc nodded slowly, his eyes narrowed, and I chuckled a little.

"I reckon that means I am just naturally lazy."

We drew up in front of the General Store.

Bud was looking asleep like he usually did and I looked around as I usually did.

"Calder," I said thoughtfully, then I clumb down and looked at Bud, and Bud looked plumb drowsy.

"Now where have I heard that name."

 

Edited by Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103
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When Calamity heard the bells of the front door chime, she rushed from the back of her shop to see who had entered.  She was greeted by Abigail's sweet smile.  "My dear, it is so good to see you" Calamity cried with her arms outstretched.  "Give me a hug, dear,  It's been way too long."   As they embraced, Calamity whispered, "way too long".  When they separated, Calamity said, "please come sit and have some tea with me,  We'll catch up on everything".  Abigail said, "well I'm not sure I have that much time.  Ben had some business to attend to in town and dropped me off here to do some shopping."  "Well alright then, what can I help you with, " Calamity stated as she motioned towards the big chair in the corner.  Abigail started looking out the window as if in a dream, "I would like a green cotton dress with pretty little flowers, maybe white and blue.  Just a simple cotton, nothing fancy, just a simple green dress,"  "That sounds lovely and would go well with your hair and eyes." Calamity whispered.  "Let me see what I can find.  You just sit there and I'll bring the fabrics for you to look at.  I have a pretty green that just came in I think would be just what you are looking for."  Calamity scurried off to the shelves where the bolts of fabric are kept,  She located the new green one as well as a couple of others Abigail might fancy and brought them over.  "These are the finest green cottons I have in my shop.  Which one do you fancy?"  The first was a meadow green.  It had golden ribbons running through it and small bouquets of pink flowers tied by ribbons scattered about it.  The second was lighter than the first.  It had small individual red peonies and blue and purple snapdragons lined up in almost a stripe pattern.  The third, well it was the finest.  A very deep emerald green that almost looked like velvet.  The floral stems were so life like they looked as though they were picked from the field and sewn directly on the fabric.  "Oh my, that is truly beautiful fabric" Abigail exclaimed when she set eyes on the emerald fabric.  "Yes it is really lovely, and would look exquisite on you" Calamity stated.  "Is the emerald on your choice then?  I have a lovely hat that will go with it or I could make you a matching bonnet.  Your choice."  "Oh yes," sighed Abigail "I'll take the emerald one."  "Well then, let's get you measured for this fine emerald dress."  Calamity knew Ben and Abigail had financial problems and owed the bank some money.  Mr. Cushman's wife made it a point to make everyone's business known around town.   It made her feel big, I guess.  She wondered where Abigail came into the money for a new dress but being a friend, Calamity knew not to ask.  Abigail would divulge, if she wished, in due time.  If not, it was none of Calamity's business anyway.

Edited by Calamity Kris
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Abigail stood as Calamity Kris started taking measurements. It had been such a long time since she had been able to visit with her friend and catch up. As they chatted, Abby let out a sigh and said “It will be so good to have the bank paid off, it will be like a weight off our shoulders.” Kris paused and looked up, “Is that why Doc was going over to the bank? That’s wonderful news! How… I mean, it’s none of my business, but I am so happy for the two of you!” Abby decided to stick with the story she and her husband had agreed upon, which while not exactly the truth, wasn’t a lie, “He went and did some work in Mormon territory, and it was lucrative enough to pay the loan, and also our tab with Seamus and Kay. They’ve been so generous, it will be a pleasure to do that!”

 

Abby could tell from the look on her friend’s face that she was happy and relieved for her as she stood to give her a hug. “That’ll be one less thing that terrible Mrs. Cushman can gossip about!” As Abigail arched an eyebrow, Kris realized Abby might be unaware of the things Mrs. Cushman said. Smiling, Abby replied “Why, what has Mrs. Cushman had to say about me and my husband?” Fretting over her measuring, Kris shook her head disapprovingly, “That you and Doc are broke, that pretty soon Mr. Cushman would have to call the note, and they would own your place, that the two of you could go back East with your tails between your legs. I so dislike that woman.” Abby smiled and responded, “Well, bless her heart.” With that, both women laughed. For her part, Abby knew that if there were a social function soon, she would ask Kris to make her the nicest dress she could, to please Ben and maybe make Mrs. Cushman a little envious.

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Something was naggin' at me, kickin' at the back door of my mind.

I'd heard somethin' about that big chunk of ground I was thinkin' about, now what did I hear about it ...

Now Doc had absolutely the most marvelous gift of silence -- my Pa one time told me, "Son, if you have nothin' to say, say nothin'" and Doc had the gift of leavin' a man alone to his thoughts when 'twas the right thing to do.

I stopped short and shoved out my bottom jaw and then I looked at Doc and he was lookin' at me like he expected me to come out with some grand announcement, but all I did was nod onet or twice and then I looked over towards the saloon, where we'd sized up Calder, and I couldn't help it, I felt the jollies tighten up the corners of my eyes and of a sudden things just looked a whole lot better.

We went on inside the General Store and Doc he looked around and so did I and he recht over and knocked his knuckle against a tin can marked Standard Oil Lubricating Grease and he allowed as I'd ought to take me a good long drank.

I give him a curious look and raised an eyebrow a little and Doc he turned a little so's only I could hear him and he murmured quiet-like, "I can hear the gears clatterin' between your ears. You'd best grease 'em before they wear out."

I couldn't help but grin kind of broad at that.

That was another one of Doc's gifts, he could poke a gentle grade of fun when 'twas to his purpose.

I set my hand real light on his shoulder and murmured, "Did you ever hear of Captain James Burcher theThird?"

Doc considered, then looked at me and I could tell I'd tickled his curiosity.

"It took me some time to recall, but I just saved myself a good chunk of gold."

"Now how's that?"

"That big chunk of land Hammond claims.  He does not own that ground.  Captain Burcher owns it."

"And who," Doc asked, "is this Captain Burcher?"

I looked around and smiled a little.  "I'll tell you right here directly, when we're set down and havin' a meal, but we faced one another over empty pistols in the middle of a battle and laughed like a couple damned fools, with hell a-boilin' around us."

I looked over towards the counter.  "Meanwhile let's gather up some supplies.  I'm short on canned peaches."

"You and your canned peaches," Doc muttered, shaking his head.  

"Oh, yeah, and I finally placed Calder.  You can trust him."

"I thought that might be the case," Doc said dryly.

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Doc and Linn paused inside the General Store, letting their eyes grow accustomed to the somewhat dimmer light inside. Seeing Seamus bent over the counter, pencil in hand, and Kay working with a rough looking cowhand, The pair scanned, seeing nobody else in the store. Adjusting the bags he was carrying, Doc nodded toward Seamus behind the counter, “Be right back, then we can go eat and you can tell me about Calder and Burcher.”

 

Seamus looked up with a smile as Doc approached. “Howdy, Doc, I’m a bit surprised to see you with all this snow on the ground. Figured you’d be hunkered down out at your place with your missus. How is she doing, and what can I get for you today?” Doc gestured with his head, “She’s doing fine, thank you. Over at Calamity Kris’s place right now, getting fitted for a couple of new dresses. I’ve got quite the grocery list for you, and when we figure up the tally for that, figure out what that tab is, I'd be happy settle up.”

 

As Doc smiled, Seamus drew his head back in a bit of surprise, but his grin broadened, “Why, of course, Doc. Do you have a list?” Doc handed over the list and Seamus gestured toward the stove. “Why don’t you and Linn sit down and have some crackers. This’ll only take a few minutes.” Tugging his coat opened, Doc walked over and sat down near enough to the stove to enjoy the warmth, as Keller did the same. Both men were aware that the cowhand was paying more attention to them since they walked in than he was to Kay as she tried to assist him. When the cowhand caught Doc’s eye, he gave a glare. Doc gave a short appraising look, then looked up into his eyes before giving a dismissive look and looking over at Keller, who seemed to be unimpressed as well. “So, about this Burcher, why do I know that name?”

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"It was in the woods," said I, "the battle was one of those skirmishes that never gets a fancy name, but you never forget bein' there."

My voice was distant in my ears as I smelled sulfur smoke and iron blood and I saw again blue smoke, hazed and layered, trapped in the still, humid air, hanging knee deep or so.

"I'd ducked behind a tree, I swung out and fired my pistol and I ran after the enemy, least until the enemy ran toward me."

Doc's eyes were busy, seeing more than the inside of the general store, listening with more than his ears.

"There I was in Union blue runnin' this-a-way, and here he come wearin' butternut grey runnin' that-a-way and we run straight toward one another and I don't know which of us was the more surprised.

"We stopped and we had our cocked pistols thrust each at the other and we both pulled the trigger at the same moment and his and mine both fell on a spent nipple."

I closed my eyes, remembering the surprise in the Confederate officer's eyes, knowing he saw the same surprise in mine.

"Now we'd been at it most of the morning and my ears were a-ringin' from all the gun fire, but when both pistols said the same thing at the same time ..."

I felt myself chuckle a little.

"I do not recall a louder sound in all my entire life than the click of that empty gun."

"That's where I heard the name," Doc nodded.

"We both laughed and then we holstered and we shook hands and allowed as the fight was about over and since neither of us could kill the other we'd ought to give it up for a bad job and so we declared a general truce and set about collectin' our dead and wounded.

"I run onto him not long after and again right after the war ended, and as I recall he invested in railroads and made a good profit and that's how he was able to afford that ground Hammond claims."

"You know the man."  It was a statement, not a question.

"He stood with me when I buried my wife, and I stood with him when he married his."

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As Doc Ward sat listening to Keller, he kept track of the cowhand in the store, glancing his way occasionally. It seemed the man had tried to hurry Kay along after the pair walked in, despite not seeming outwardly anxious or nervous. Doc sat, contemplating the information about Burcher, even as he wondered about the cowhand. “Sounds like your friend has the financial resources, and by the sound of it, he has—or had—the backbone to stand up to a fight. If Hammond is wanting to push onto that land, he may have one. Is he in the territory?”

Before Linn could answer, Seamus called Doc’s name, and with a sigh, Doc got out of the comfortable rocker, walking over to the counter where his items were packaged. Setting the leather bag on the counter, Doc looked over the items while Seamus finished up the tally, adding the money already owed to it, before sliding it across the counter for Doc to see. Nodding, Doc glanced around, seeing the cowhand down the counter as he pulled out some banknotes and gold coins. Seamus kept a poker face, saying nothing as he counted out the money and getting change for Doc. As he handed it to Doc, Seamus said quietly, “I’m glad things are looking up.” Doc smiled his appreciation, “It’s thanks to friends like you and Kay. I truly appreciate it.

 

As Doc was finishing up, he noticed Kay had the cowhand’s things packaged, and he hefted them and walked quickly out the door after paying. Gesturing toward the door with his head, Doc asked “Who’s that gent? I don’t recognize him.” Seamus shrugged, “I think he’s a new Hammond rider.” At the word, Doc gave Keller a look, knowing he had heard. Keller walked over to help with the packages, and with a quick “be seein’ ya,” they headed for the door.

The two had no sooner put the packages in the back of Doc’s surrey when five men, one of them the cowhand that had been in the store, came barreling out of Whiskey’s Saloon into the street. Spreading out, the men approached Doc and Keller, who turned to face them. The cowhand from the store pointed, almost shouting, “You! You killed three of our friends.” Doc shrugged, “Possibly. I’ve killed my share, and so has my friend here. We’re not opposed to adding to the number.” As he spoke, Doc noticed John Calder stroll out of the saloon, standing to the group's left and slightly behind them. Taking in the situation with a glance, Calder spoke up, startling the five men. “So, about that job, Doc? I’m still interested, and I ride for the brand.”

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After Ward and Keller moved on to the mercantile Slim suggested they retire to the warmth of the saloon and partake of the free lunch that accompanied a beer. John allowed as he could eat, so in they went. As they ordered their drink and wandered down to the lunch display, Slim said, “Yu notice them four fellers at thu back table?” “They’s Hammond riders, and a scruffy lot they is. They got more fire power than is usul fer cowhands.” John mumbled, “I’ve seen them, they were in here last night when I dropped in for a snort. They were drunk and loud, they don’t seem to be doing much cow work. Must be on vacation.”

 

Just then a fifth man hustled in and moved over to talk with the four rough looking characters. He said, “I seen those fellas Waco said shot up him and the other two out on the ranch. We need to settle their hash now. We’re five to two, we can clean the slate and the other outfits in the valley will know they can’t buck Hammond riders.”

 

Slim said, “Looks like troubles brewin. Yu rekin we’ns should take a hand n this game?” John replied, “You stay here and I’ll wander out after they leave, kind of play it by ear. If you like you could sort of wander to the door after I’m outside and maybe watch my back, just in case there’s more than the five we’ve seen. If they’ll go five against two there’s no saying they won’t go higher.” With that John hitched his belt into a comfortable position, lifted his pistol to make sure it was not tied down and ambled out the door.

 

The five men had speared out facing Doc Ward and Linn Keller in the street. One of the men shouted “You! You killed three of our friends.” Doc shrugged, “Possibly. I’ve killed my share, and so has my friend here. We’re not opposed to adding to the number.” John moved to his left around the five men and approached Doc and Linn. As John came up he faced the men and said with a big grin, “So, about that job, Doc? I’m still interested, and I ride for the brand.”

 

The cowboy who had started the challenge growled, “Two or three makes no never mind to us.” Slim at the saloon door said “Four.” as he raised the barman’s shotgun level and stepped down off the boardwalk. Three of the men began to look walleyed, but the yeller said “Don’t let him bluff you boys, he’s just an old drunk, doesn’t know what he’s doing.” The man on the end nearest Slim said, “He sure looks like he knows which end of that scattergun to point at us.” as he began to back up slowly with his hands in his vest pockets. “I got no wish to be blowed in half, so I’ll be moseying along. No call for hard feelings?” Slim allowed as, “Yu better stay raight where yu stand pardner. I dunt care tu be back shot.”

Edited by Cactus Jack Calder
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I talked one time to a boxer, one of them professional prize fightin' sorts that toured around and boxed all comers and that's how he made his livin'.

He talked about gettin' in the ring with someone and he'd size 'em up quick, he said when a man pulled in his elbows and moved with what he called "a certain economy," it meant his work was cut out for him and this was more than just another bare knuckle brawler.

I felt kind of that way right now, like I was pullin' in my elbows and I sized up the spread before us and Cactus Jack he challenged 'em and then this-yere scatter gun that just happened to have a man attached to it decided to speak on our behalf.

Words were exchanged and I don't recall what-all they were, I smelt sulfur an tasted copper and I knew there was a set of scales somewhere with men's lives being added to one pan and then the other, and I don't have any desire to go into a long box before I have to.

When the first man stepped out from behind the second and he already had a pistol in hand, I went all cold inside and there was no use wishin' I had my rifle instead of my short gun.

I let go of my package and it started to fall.

I recall I swatted my coat aside and grabbed me a good handful of walnut and fire bloomed dirty yaller from that first fellow's gun barrel.

I had a good grip on my revolving pistol and my elbow was bent and something thwak'd quietly through my coat where 'twas flared out from the draw and I brought up my gun barrel and saw the front sight and 'twas sharp and clear and I could see the crosswise serrations I'd filed into its back side not two weeks ago and I set that front sight right where I wanted that pistol ball to hit and the hog waller notch came up to grip that front sight like a lover will grip his woman's waist and my pistol spoke and I felt my falling package hit my foot and that kind of surprised me for I'd forgotten entirely I'd dropped it.

Part of me was grateful I'd not got anything in a glass jar.

Everything was movin' slow, slow, like the world was living in an ocean of cold clear honey.

I brought my gun muzzle down and my thumb slid off the hammer spur and the man I was linin' up on kind of shifted sideways like he'd just been blown by a stiff wind and there was thunder to my left and to my right and the fight was over.

I stood there and my mouth was open and I was breathin' deep and breathin' quiet and that fellow I'd shot moved a hand and I looked around, I looked off to my right and around behind and then back at them fellows bleedin' on the ground and I looked around to the left and Doc he had that look I'd seen so many times on so many faces and so did Calder and I eased my hammer down and then before I stirred out of my footy prints I kicked out that spent hull and replaced it and holstered my revolving pistol and I took me a long breath and sighed it out.

"Doc," said I, "are you hit?"

"No."
I looked across at Calder.  "Glad you're here."

His grin was quick, genuine, warm, and there was a fire in his eyes that told me he was kind of irritated at these ill mannered folks who wished us harm.

Matter of fact I was not kindly disposed toward them myself.

We three paced off on the left and strode toward the vanquished enemy.

 

Edited by Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103
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Doc Ward couldn't say what made him react, he just did. One moment he was standing, the realization striking him that the rider he had patched up had survived, only long enough to give names. The next, he felt his knees bending, his body leaning far back as his hand found the smooth walnut of the revolver at his hip. He was hearing the thunder of guns, seeing in his peripheral vision the flame from Calder's own revolver, the flame and billowing smoke from the shotgun Dawkins held. He saw the angry look of the cowhand who had been speaking change to surprise, then fear before he fell into the slush and mud of the street. Others twisting as he heard the zip of bullets close by.

 

Then it was over. Five men lay dead on the ground. Blackpowder smoke wafted slowly away in the cold air. Doc's ears rang as he scanned, his eyes wide, intense, looking for threats. Glancing down, he was almost surprised to see the pistol in his hand. Everything seemed to have happened slowly before his eyes, and he knew he had fired, but still, the revolver was there when seemingly only a moment before it hadn't been. As he replied to Linn's question, Doc methodically began emptying spent cartridges to replace them, not believing he had fired three times.

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Kit was feeling weary from this long journey from Tombstone, but nearing his destination gave him a fresh jolt of anticipation. He was hoping the lead that Ranger Miles had given him after he left the town of Tarrant to join a new Ranger outfit, would come to fruition.

His thoughts went back to those good times, testing Ryes’ shooting accuracy and making him a Deputy Ranger, even though he returned the badge before leaving Tarrant.

This has not been an easy trip to make; however, the search for those who killed his family would never end until punishment was meted. Being a GOD-fearing man, he was beyond redemption now, knowing that “… with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

He had left Tombstone going NW following the Santa Cruz River passing through Tucson, and Phoenix, then due north to Prescott, a long 12-day ride. Orion, ever the champion, made it look easy; however, Kit realized that they both needed some long-deserved rest if they were to make it to East Fork.

Upon arriving in Prescott, Kit went immediately to the Sheriffs’ Office to let him know he was in town, and what his plans were. The Sheriff recommended a Boarding House and after a nice hot meal and a bath, which was just what he needed to rejuvenate his fatigued body, he decided to stay in Prescott an extra day. Orion was being well tended to by the local farrier, who trimmed and balanced his hooves and replaced his shoes.

Being the dominant political center of the Territory, Prescott was protected and influenced by the presence of nearby Fort Whipple, named for Lieutenant Amiel W. Whipple. It was well-known that he had established the first access routes to nearby goldfields.

Having been well rested, Kit left Prescott, and made a point to stop by Ft. Whipple for a short visit before making his way through Yavapai County to the Little Colorado River, which eventually joined with the Colorado River. He soon found himself in No Man’s land following the Green River which juxtaposed from the Colorado heading due north.

Another 12 day ride and Kit took respite at Crescent Junction on the north side of Cottonwood Creek before they skirting the Uintah Mountains and crossed the Utah/Wyoming border.

The southwestern Wyoming territory was suddenly interrupted by a string of multi-colored buttes, carved over time by the Green River. Their majesty was a thing to behold, and Kit took pause to appreciate their splendor. After this last 13 day ride, he would stop in Green River City before heading to East Fork.

A days rest and Kit was heading due East passing through Bitter Creek, a small section town founded by the Union Pacific Railroad, basically a water and whistle stop. He then crossed the Continental Divide, and through Rawlins Springs. Kit heard stories about this town and how it got its name. It was told that General John A. Rawlins, in command of the troops surveying the route of the first trans-continental railroad, expressed a wish for a drink of good, cold water. Scouts had found a spring and having taken a drink, the General declared, “If anything is ever named after me, I hope it will be a spring of water.” The town then bore his name.

Next stop……East Fork.

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Calamity and Abigail continued to chat until the air was pierced with gunfire.  The ladies paused and turned to each other as if to say what just happened.  They both gathered their skirts and made their way to the door.  Once outside, they saw the five men lying motionless with Ben and Linn, accompanied by another man they didn't know, surveying the situation.  Abby was about to launch off the porch to check on Ben's well being when Calamity grabbed her arm.  "It may not be safe to go over there quite yet.  I would wait until Ben or Linn give you the all clear."  Abby would have none of it.  "I need to make sure Ben is alright" Abby cried tugging at Calamity's grip.  Calamity being equally as stubborn refused to release her friend.  "Please Abby.  Stay here.  It's for your own good."  Ben heard the ladies talk and looking at Calamity stated, "It's OK Calamity".  "You can let her go".  Calamity released Abby who rushed across the street to Ben.  Burying her head in his shoulder she cried "are you OK?".  "We heard the shots.  I was so worried".  Ben nodded and patted Abby on the back.  "Yes I'm fine, dear.  Just fine." 

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Even as the smoke wafted away, people were emptying from buildings. Hearing his wife and Calamity Kris, Doc glanced in their direction, and at his word, Abby came running. Holding her husband close with one hand, Abigail looked at the men, her other hand covering her mouth. "Who were they?" Before he could respond, the Marshall, Utah Bob, came walking up, surveying the scene. Pushing his hat back on his head, he looked at the men, "What happened?" Bending to retrieve the package he had dropped in the snow, Keller explained. "Doc and I were in the store," he gestured to one of the downed men, "that guy there had been inside, and left. When Doc and I came out, the five of them were coming out of the saloon, and braced us. Seems a couple of their friends were the ones that tried to ambush Doc. Reckon they didn't care much for that and wanted to even things up."

Bob looked at Kay and Seamus, both of whom had come out of the store after hearing the gunfire. Both nodded agreement, Kay saying "He's from Hammond's ranch. He was in the store, and started wanting to hurry once Doc and Linn came in and Seamus say hello to them. He got in a rush, gathered his things and left in a hurry." Calder spoke up, "He came in and told these other four that the two men they were looking for were in the store, and they hurried out. I got up to follow, and Slim followed with the shotgun. Five to two didn't seem like fair odds to either of us."

 

Utah Bob absentmindedly stroked his bushy mustache, thinking. Finally he sighed, and spoke, "Well, I guess I'll have a few of the boys get a wagon and take them back to Hammond's place. The four of you might want to lay low for awhile. Hammond probably ain't gonna like his men getting shot up." Pausing, he added, "Again," as he turned. Both Keller and Doc shook their heads, Doc speaking up, "I have too much to do to lay low, Bob. Besides, unless I leave the territory, Hammond knows where I live. Same with Linn. I won't go hunting men, but I don't intend to tuck my tail either." Bob nodded his understanding, then turned to get someone to get the bodies off the street.

Looking at his wife who still stood close, Doc said, "It might be best for you to stay in town for a few days, maybe with Kris." Calamity Kris spoke up, "That would be fine with me, I have the room." Abigail's back stiffened, and her eyes flashed with anger, "I will not stay in town. My home and my place is at my home and with you, and we both know I can handle a long gun as good as most men, and a pistol passably well if I have to." Doc opened his mouth to object, but the glare his wife gave left no room for discussion. With a sigh, Doc shook his head as he looked at Calder, "Still want that job? If so, we should probably go buy some ammo."

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The shooting stared off to John’s right as one rider let loose at Keller, who responded in kind. The other riders began to grab for their guns and the next thing he knew his Navy was bucking in his hand and he heard the roar of Slim’s shotgun. Then silence.

 

As the smoke cleared John viewed the damage, five men down in front of him, the men on his side still standing. John punched out six spent shells and replaced five, leaving the hammer sitting on an empty chamber. Keller eyed him and asked, “You always load six?” “Only when it looks like rain,” said John with a tight grimace.

 

As his hearing began to recover John heard Doc and Missus Doc talking with a man wearing a badge. Then Doc turned to him and asked, "Still want that job? If so, we should probably go buy some ammo." “Yes Sir,” he replied, “I’ll get my gear and meet you at the mercantile, if that’s convenient.” Turning to Slim he said, “By the by Slim, I see you are still standing so I suppose you are okay?” “Wail, I ain’t perforated none of thet’s whut yur ask’n but ma earbones is sumut tender. Ah recon ah’ll recover better with uh beer fer mu haid.” As he shuffled off towards the saloon boardwalk he hollered, “Hey Barney, yuh want this here scattergun back ur watt?”

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Calamity was not a stranger to unpleasantness, nor was she a stranger to taking care of her own.

She gave Calder, Doc and Linn a fast but thorough looking over, frowning a little as she did, and as Linn holstered his revolver and turned a little, she saw what she was looking for.

Calder was turned and headed back into the General Store, Doc and Abigail were holding a council of war and Calamity seized Linn's coat and threw it open, obviously searching.

Doc looked at Linn, amusement in his eyes, and Linn looked at Calamity and tried to looked really innocent, and almost succeeded.

"Did you find what you're lookin' for?" he asked, his voice gentle, and Calamity tugged at his coat so he could see the bullet hole.

She dropped the coat and thrust a stiff finger up under his nose and declared firmly, "Linn Keller, if you get yourself killed, I'll never speak to you again!"

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As John rode along side Doc and Mrs. Ward in their  buggy out to the ranch he said, “Mrs. Ward, I expect that I had made you uncomfortable that day when I showed up at your place unannounced. If I you feel in anyway uncomfortable in my presence please let me know. I’d rather leave than make you feel that way.” Abigail Ward said, “That’s nonsense John Calder. You did nothing to make me uncomfortable that day, you were a gentleman and respected my being alone. And by the way my name is Abigail and I expect you to use it when addressing me.” “Uh, yes Mam, I mean Abigail. It will be my pleasure,” said John.

 

At that point Doc spoke up with a smile, “Don’t you forget and start Mam’n her or you’ll be in the dog house, and we don’t have a dog,” he grinned. “By the way John, Linn Keller seemed to think he’d heard something about you. He recommended you as he said, ‘Being alright,’ is there something I should know?”

 

“Huh,” replied John, “Well I guess if Keller’s heard of me you should know too. Then if my presence is a worry I’ll find something else to keep me occupied. In truth Doc, I don’t need a job, I’ve already got one. I’m a Texas Ranger on detached assignment to track down a fellow wanted for several killings down that way. I work without official sanction, but the Governor of Texas gave me my marching orders himself. So I am here anonymously you might say. If I catch my man he won’t be officially extradited, he will simply disappear from around here and suddenly reappear in a Texas jail awaiting trial.”

 

“You should also know that this man is wanted for questioning in two or three other states. I learned this from a Pinkerton who is also on his trail. Have you known Slim Dawkins very long.” Doc asked with raised eyebrows, “You suspect Slim is the killer?” Emitting a loud belly laugh John replied, “No Doc, Slim’s the Pinkerton. That old rough scoundrel act he maintains is a cover to allow him to lounge around town like a village elder and observe everyone who comes and goes. His English is probably better than mine even though he told you I ‘talk purtty’.”

 

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After Calder had let his purpose for being in the area be known, and said he would go back to town if his presence would be a worry, Doc's answer was quick. "It might strike people as odd if you come back to town so quickly after being offered a job. Besides, it seems Old Man Hammond is up to something, and I can't figure out what. He seems to be bringing in more hands, and they now seem to have it in for Keller and me. And like it or not, you and Dawkins sort of sided with us back in town. No, you come on out, and I'll give you some work. That way, you might be able to scout around and keep an eye out for this fella."

 

The three arrived at the ranch in the late afternoon, with the sun getting ready to drop below the horizon. Doc tried to give an idea of the lay of the ranch before he pointed to the bunkhouse. "She's built solid, just like the house. There's a potbelly stove, and some wood cut, but we'll need to cut more in short order, considering this cold snap. You'll notice the bunkhouse and the main house are good to cover one another's blind spots. The barn has its doors off to the ends facing away from the houses. I figure if anyone is gonna try to get into one of the buildings for cover, the natural choice would be one unoccupied by people."

 

As they carried in supplies, Doc gestured to his wife and said "Abby's quite the cook, if I do say so myself, and will make sure you're well fed. I got a decent remuda of good stock horses for this country, but I want to get more. One thing that has been bothering me... Keller's not running any extra hands right now that I know of. He doesn't have much reason to at the moment." At Calder's curious look, Doc explained, "A few of us tried to push a herd to the railhead at Laramie. It was my idea, and I planned and ramrodded it. Long story short, it was a disaster. Nearly wiped me out. Keller lost a good chunk of change. Utah Bob still has his ranch, but that's why he took on the job of Town Marshall, not that he doesn't do a fine job..." Gesturing to the West, Doc continued, "Sedalia Dave, who lives over yonder, also lost a good bit of money." Doc stopped short of telling Calder about the money he had, and his plan to pay the two men back for their loss.

 

Doc paused before continuing, "At any rate, I wish Keller had some hands about now. I don't particularly like the idea of him being alone. Any chance you get, you kind of ride that direction to keep an eye out. I'll do the same. Linn's about as sharp as they come, and more careful than most when it comes down to it." Doc chuckled, "I think he might be part fox, or considering him in a fight, part wolverine, but he's only one man. And he's my friend, so do what you can." Calder nodded as he hefted his gear to take to the bunkhouse. "Will do. By the way, do you prefer 'Doc' or 'Ben?'" With a shrug, Doc replied, "Abby's about the only one who calls me Ben anymore. Doc is fine." Calder again nodded before adding, "Since you don't seem to do any doctoring, you'll have to tell me how you came by the moniker at some point." Doc laughed, "Sure, over dinner."

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I puzzled on why Hammond was laying claim to ground that wasn't his.

He either wanted a safe route to where he was going -- which meant he'd be traveling it often -- or he'd found something he wanted, and he didn't want anyone else to have.

I considered on this for some time and then I pulled out a sheet of good rag paper and I dunked my pen in good black India ink and I set out to cause him trouble.

He'd given me grief and I learned early and well to cheat whenever possible... not cheat at cards nor take another man's wife, but cheat by taking every advantage, and I intended to get an advantage and not have to work hard for it.

Sailor-dog was curled up near to the stove, snoring like he usually did, and I considered some more before writing.

 

Captain Burcher,

You should be aware of a claim jumping trespassing carpetbagger named Michael Hammond who claims your place is his.

The man used to be a tall laughing young man when we were in school together but now he sends gun hawks after those who displease him.

I understand you own the ground between East Fork and the Green River, and that is the territory he declares to be his.

You may wish to have an understanding with this fellow.

 

I considered for a moment longer and then I smiled before signing it Empty Pistol, former Yankee

I folded the paper in thirds and sealed it with the base of a shotgun shell for a stamp, then I looked over at Sailor-dog.

Sailor was asleep and I hadn't the heart to trouble him with conversation so I set the letter out where I'd see it easily.

I knew a boy who rode like a Mexican and was straight as a die, if I gave him the letter and instructions to deliver it to Burcher, he'd ride through Hell itself and beat demons away with a leaded quirt before he'd fail me.

I banked the stove and thought for a long moment before picking up my Scripture and reading a little and then I went to bed, and I slept well that night.

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Doc Ward came wide awake. He knew it had to be near dawn, but he was certain something... some sound, had caused him to come awake. Listening in the darkness, he closed his eyes and attempted to still his own breathing. He could hear the soft, even breathing of his wife next to him. He heard sounds that could be coming from the barn, and was immediately on his feet. feeling for his clothes, Doc grabbed and stepped into his trousers and tugged the suspenders over his shoulders before he began shoving his feet into boots. Stirring, Abigail asked "What's wrong?" Doc's reply was soft and calm, "Probably nothing, but I heard some sounds down by the barn. Might as well get up now. Bar the door behind me while I go check."

 

Grabbing his coat and hat, Doc picked up the shotgun, checked it, and headed out the door, waiting for Abigail to put the bar in place before stepping toward the barn in the melting snow. Walking wide of the entrance, Doc saw the light of a lantern in the doorway. Moving to the shelter of a tree, Doc called out, "John Calder, is that you?" After a brief pause, came the reply, "Yes, it's me." Walking the rest of the way into the barn, Doc saw John, checking on the horses stalled in the barn and throwing them some hay. Looking at Doc, Calder saw the shotgun, broken at the breech and draped over the man's arm. "My apologies if I startled you. First night in a new place, and I never sleep well. I decided to get an early start. I thought after breakfast I might scout some, get the lay of the land and work over toward Mr. Keller's place, like you suggested." Doc nodded his approval, and said, "Abby's up, so breakfast should be ready shortly. I'll have her build you a sandwich or two to take along."

 

Knocking on the door, Doc announced himself, an heard Abby lift the bar for the heavy door, and pull it open. "Calder's awake. Already tossing hay. Too bad he's only here temporarily." Doc grinned at the last part. "We should be able to afford to hire a couple of men now, shouldn't we? You'll need some if you're going to buy more cattle." Doc nodded his agreement, before adding, "I think it takes a slightly different breed to want to deal with the cold of winters here, and I want men with smarts, and a willingness to work hard, and fight if they have to. I'm afraid there's going to be some fighting here very soon. Coffee ready yet?"

 

 

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I was up early, like I always was.

Livestock needed tended and I tended them as I always did.

Fried me up some dead pig and et bread I'd baked the night before, fried up some eggs and boiled up some coffee.

Sailor-dog bummed like he always does and he et with me.

I did me quite a bit of thinkin' and I said to Sailor, "I am likely the last of my kind."

I wiped a chunk of bread in bacon grease and fed it to Sailor, who happily took it.

I thought of the last several days and how fast things happened, and how I'd made it happen fast.

The War was many years behind me but war changes a man.

I learned the hard way that if a things needs done, I need to do it right away, or it won't get done.

Had I hesitated when Hammond's bunch come up on Doc, he'd likely be dead.

Had I hesitated when Hammond's next bunch braced us on the street, we'd have been hurt and one thing I learned hard, fast and nasty in that damned War was that I didn't fight for the government and I sure as hell didn't fight it for that man in the White House.

I fought it to keep the man beside me alive, and the man behind me, and when they give me rank I fought all the harder to keep the men who trusted me, safe and in one piece.

Had either situation come up in a court of law back East, I reckon some fancy attorney sort might argue that they could have wanted a palver or trade for coffee or hell I don't know, a man can argue anything.

My gut told me to shoot and shoot I did, and right glad I am I did not miss.

You learn that in war.

Read it, and react.

I cleaned up from breakfast and recht for my hat and for my coat, and I taken up my rifle and listened at the door before I drew it open.

I taken me a long breath and smiled, just a little, for it smelled of thaw, and relief from winter's cold would be right welcome.

 

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Doc, Abigail, and Calder sat around the table having breakfast. Not much was said until the business at hand was finished, then over coffee, Doc said "I plan to ride back into town today. I need to talk to Utah Bob, and I didn't have the opportunity to yesterday." Looking at his wife, Doc asked, "Would you like to go into town, or stay here?" Raising an eyebrow, Abigail gave a little smirk and responded, "It depends. Do you plan on another shootout today?" Seeing John Calder trying not to laugh with a mouthful of coffee, Doc shrugged, "Well, I don't have one scheduled, but they can be sort of impromptu affairs." Shaking her head as she got up to begin clearing plates, Abigail responded, "I'll make sure dinner is on the table. See that you're home, and be a dear and don't get yourself shot." At that, Calder laughed, and Abigail gave him a sidewise glance. "See that you don't either. It seems hired help is hard to come by. I suppose you'll be wanting something to carry along for lunch?" Swallowing more coffee, Calder answered, "If it wouldn't be too much trouble, it would be appreciated." Smiling, Abigail reached for two sandwiches wrapped in paper and sat them on the table. "Ben already asked, she said."

 

Doc rode into East Fork warily. Looking for anything unusual, anything out of place. Riding up to the jail, Doc dismounted in the now muddy street, and took a step onto the wooden porch in front, kicking the mud from his boots before opening the door and stepping inside. Utah Bob leaned back in his chair behind his desk, and Doc was pretty sure he disturbed a nap. Sitting up with a bored, sleepy look, that Doc knew masked a sharp mind and a tremendous sense of humor. "Howdy, Doc, I didn't expect to see you back in town today. What can I do for you?" Doc paused a moment, then answered, "I thought I should see if you need anything else over that affair yesterday." Bob shook his head and said "I got written statements from you, Linn, that Calder fella and Dawkins, as well as several witnesses from the saloon that heard what they were saying. They were going to brace the two of you, no doubt. I call it justified."

 

Doc nodded, then smiled as he reached into his coat and pulled out an envelope. "Then this won't be seen as a bribe or anything of the sort. I know you took some heavy losses due to that drive. You know I take responsibility for those losses. I hope this makes up for it." Bob furrowed his brow as he reached for the envelope, then his eyes widened as he opened and saw the money inside it. Looking up, he shook his head and offered the envelope back. "I can't take this. We all knew the risk. You can't afford it anyway. Use this to help you and your wife get back on your feet." Not taking the envelope, Doc smiled. "I'd take it as a favor if you did. I... I came into some money... Over by the Mormon settlements. I can afford it. I've paid off my note to Cushman, and have enough to give some to you, Linn and Sedalia Dave, and still have a tidy sum to buy some cattle." Bob looked at the contents again, and frowned. "If it helps ease your mind, fine, but like I said, nobody blames you but you." Doc chuckled, "That's enough. I think I'll head over to the diner and see if Michigan Slim has anything good on. Care to join me?" With a wave of his hand at the bare desk in front of him, Bob grinned, "I'm afraid I have too much work." As Doc headed for the door, he looked over his shoulder. "Sorry to disturb your nap, Bob. Enjoy."

 

Getting back on his horse, Doc rode the distance to the diner, and walked in after kicking the mud from his boots. He immediately regretted the decision as he saw Old Man Hammond and two of his sons sitting at a table. Hammond himself was older, with a shock of unruly gray hair and bushy gray eyebrows that shadowed the pale gray eyes underneath. A bulbous nose that had been broken in more than one fight sat over a mouth that looked like it spent its days sucking on lemons. Tall and powerfully built, both of his sons looked like younger versions of himself, their hair a reddish brown that was equally as unruly.

With a nod, Doc took off his hat and headed for the counter taking a stool at the far end where he could keep an eye on the three men out of the corner of his eye. Slim   walked over and sat a cup of coffee in front of Doc, knowing from their years of acquaintance that is what he would want. "Howdy Doc. Got some venison stew and bread with butter if you're a mind. Or I can have Cora whip you up some eggs with bacon, ham or steak. What'll it be?" "Stew sounds fine, thanks," Doc replied as he cupped his hands around the steaming mug to feel the warmth.

 

Hearing the scrape of a chair, Doc glanced to see the elder Hammond stand and walk toward him. Sipping his coffee, Doc waited, glancing up as the man got close, saying simply, "Howdy." Staring at Doc as if he had tasted something extra sour, Hammond said in a rough voice, "You and me are going to have us a reckoning. That Keller, too. Nobody murders my men and gets off scot free." Slim walked up and set a bowl of stew and a plate of bread down then stepped back, listening as he moved close to a sawed off shotgun under the counter. Doc looked unimpressed as he glanced at Hammond's sons and back to the old man. "Murder? Why, I would say yesterday that was what they had in mind, not us. They planned on five to two odds, and didn't fold when the odds changed."

 

Hammond glared. "Be that as it may, there will be pay back. The two of you also murdered three of my men on my home range, or had you forgotten?" Doc tilted his head, with a quizzical look on his face. "Funny thing, that. Four men were spreading out, planning on buffaloing me, and there was going to end up being dead men regardless. Keller's gun just sort of helped decide who. But since when did you lay claim to that land? You haven't filed on it, and you haven't run any cattle or anything else on it that I'm aware of." Hammond's face reddened, and one of his son's stepped forward. "He said it's our range. If you want, we can settle the score for those you two killed right here."

 

The unmistakeable click of two shotgun hammers caused all four men to look. Michigan stood there, shotgun in hand. "I have a rule. Only person allowed to shoot anyone in my establishment is me. If you've finished your meal, you can leave now, if not, sit down, shut up and finish. You let Doc eat in peace. I won't have my customers harassed. If it were Doc giving you grief, I'd be saying the same to him. Now, what's it gonna be?" Scowling, Hammond reached into a pocket and slammed coins down on the counter. "For the meal. I might have to ride over to your place soon myself, Ward. I might want to expand my holdings even more." Doc looked up into Hammond's eyes, then into the eyes of his sons. "If you do, you'd best settle your affairs first, and bring better men than I've seen so far." With that, he turned and began to eat as the three stomped out.

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John saddled his horse as Doc headed out towards town. He checked his rifle and Colt one more time. ‘No use in carrying empty weapons, likely to get you killed,’ he thought to himself. Heading out the opposite way from the access road John figured to see the land first hand. Doc had told him the general layout of his ranch, where the pastures were, the line shacks and such. Also the boundaries with Keller’s spread and the Hammond land. He warned that Hammond was claiming land most people thought was open range, beyond his established ranch boundary. Doc said, “Keller believes that land belongs to a man named Burcher, a former CSA Army Captain. It seems they have some history together, became acquainted during, ‘That Damn War,’ as he says it. Remember, Hammond’s men tried to jump me on that range two days ago. They seem to be under orders to enforce Hammond’s claim with a gun.”

 

As John rode he kept an watch for likely ambush sites, a trait he’d developed riding the brush country of west Texas. The landscape here was different, but rough and dangerous men didn’t change much. Heading towards Keller’s ranch he saw there were few cattle about. Doc had mentioned he needed to restock his range, so the lack of beef didn’t necessarily indicate a problem with predictors or rustlers. After an hour of investigating the area John spotted what he figured was the Keller headquarters. Riding in slowly with his hands in sight he hailed the house, “Hello the house, anybody to home?” From a brushy draw behind him he heard, “That you Calder?” Without flinching John said, “Yes Mr. Keller, I just dropped by to say howdy.”

 

“Doc send you over to check up on me?” asked Keller as he approached with a dog at his side and a Winchester under his arm. “You mind if I step down?” “No, your welcome just about anytime, ‘Cactus Jack’.” With a sheepish grin, as he swung down, John said, “So you figured that out huh?” “It wasn’t that hard, you’ve got the eyes of a lawman or an owlhoots, but the manner of a honest man. And there are few people carrying the name Calder. If you were an owlhoots I’d expect Smith or Jones or the like. Though the rumors I’ve heard of ‘Cactus Jack’ are intriguing. I sort of wonder where the moniker ‘Cactus’ came from.” Laughing John said, “That’s a long story, something for an evening tail. Suffice it to say I earned it the hard way.”

 

“So back to my first question, Doc send you over to check up on me?” Keller asked with twinkle in his eye. “Well he did mention that you were here alone, with no hands on the place. Thought you might could use a visit now and then. Since I’m just getting the lay of the land I figured that knowing how to find your place might come in handy sometime.” “OK, how about some coffee? It’s fairly fresh, just made it before Sailor here let me know you were coming. Oh, by the way this is Sailor, say hello to him so he will know you are welcome. Otherwise he might not be happy to see you the next time you ride in,” replied Keller. “That sounds like a plan,” said John as he knelt down to be face to face with Sailor and extended his closed hand to be sniffed. “Hello fellow, my name is ‘Cactus Jack Calder’ I’m pleased to meet you.” As Sailor sniffed and then licked John’s hand, Keller said, “I see you have experience meeting strange dogs. They do appreciate not being looked down on by people who are unfamiliar to them. Sailor will welcome you here as a friend from now on.”

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HOO!  I’m finally pullin’ m’self out o’ the woods, at last, but I’m still limpin’ from when Aggie (Agamemnon, my ol’ horse) tossed me after losin’ his footin’ on a dead limb covered by a frostin’ of snow.  I am tuckered, but happy to see the familiar well-rutted road to East Fork.  I dunno where Aggie is, but I know he’ll go to town and post himsel’ at his favored saloon.  It’ll jus’ be a matter of findin’ which saloon.  He’s a drinker, that Aggie.

 

Me?  I’m South-Eye Ned McHigh.  That ain’t my real name, but it might as well be, as I’ve used it since my pa sent me on my way after the incident.  I used to be called “South-Eye” cuz I was a good shot, but now my eyes are shot.  I cain’t see good without the spectacles, which I refuse to wear cuz I always a-break ‘em.   So, I leave ‘em at home for the wife to scold me for not wearin’.  It’s her self-appointed duty, and she’s good at it.

 

My limp is attributable to a swoll ankle and from makin’ in the woods without therapeutic papers whut I lost a coupla days back.  Them papers is a luxury I have grown used to in my advanced years of….I think, 60-somethin’.  Somehow though, I lost my haversack of papers, jerky, and oats.  Aggie’s got my canteen.  My liver and stomach are intact and feelin’ the pinch of not consumin’ nor imbibin’ for five days.  That’s the last time I go lookin’ for this sasquatch critter!

 

I’m still cheerful as God has seen that I am still adequately clothed with thick trousers, boots, wool coat, waistcoat, long-underwear, and fur-felt hat.  I’ve got my Winchester and my two six-shooters, but they did me no good for gettin’ meat to eat.  I did also lose my sleepin’ blanket, so it’s good I see the town, nigh. 

 

Lessee, here’s my priorities upon hittin’ town:  Drink; eat; warsh; change clothes (scratch that); drink; tell stories (“lies”, some call ‘em); and, bed in the back of the saloon, so’s I don’t have to go home right away.  I got enough to cover the beers, whiskies, and meal; pert-near $5!!  No sense in riskin’ my life with the wife.  Jiminy!  These boots were NOT made fer walkin’; but, walkin’s what I gotta do for a few more yards.

Edited by South-Eye Ned
Cuz!!
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The sun was hanging high in the cloudless sky as Kit could now see the outline of East Fork off in the distance. A lone mesa jutting from the continuous, unbroken desert landscape provided a serene backdrop to the small town, its flat top and steep sides an odd sight on what had been, up to this moment, a barren lifeless trip.

The celestial orb that had been causing his brow to sweat, was also working on the once snow-covered ground, turning it to a muddy slush. He pondered how Orion must feel having eventually make his way from soft, fluffy snow to this treacherous muck.

Kit had been riding a parallel path with the Union-Pacific Railroad since first arriving in Green River City and as he neared East Fork, he could see the rails coming closer as the local Train Depot could be seen at the north end of town.

Arriving in East Fork, he took a quick tour of the town to get his bearings and acquaint himself with its offerings. There were two streets that divided the town into three sections. Railroad towns were often laid out in a T-shape, with the top portion being the street paralleling the railroad and the straight part being the town's main street. Turning south on main street, was the Land Office on his right and the Post Office on his left. Next to the Land Office was the local Bank which was across the street from the Sheriffs’ Office. This made complete sense to Kit, providing quicker law enforcement for potential bank robbers; however, he found it odd that the building was not constructed of bricks, which was the case in most towns.

The town folk appeared to be quite friendly, especially to a stranger, new to their town. Coming up on the General Store on the right, next to the bank, Kit tipped his hat to what appeared to be the proprietor of the business as she was casually sweeping the boardwalk in front. He was taken aback though when she returned his greeting with a scornful frown.

Across the street was a SALOON though a rather large building for such a small town. The typical loud chatter could be heard even from the street along with the increasing crescendo from the pounding of piano keys to some long familiar tune. As Kit approached the end of the street, there was the inevitable two-story local hotel occupying the entire corner of the block and across an adjoining street the town Church facing directly north.

Left at the end of main street, Kit could now see the small red schoolhouse that sat adjacent to the Church, and now turning north onto the second road that ran parallel to main street, was the Livery and its blacksmith, a building that appeared to house several other small businesses, including a Dress Shop and a barber shop, and finally another much smaller SALOON.

As with most towns, there were no houses to be seen in town itself, but off in the distance behind and around town instead. Kit understood all to well the reasons for this, what with dust in the summer and mud in the spring. His wife once told him that good ladies did not wish to live cheek-to-cheek with prostitutes, gamblers and drunks.

Having satisfied himself with his current surroundings, Kit headed for the Sheriff’s Office to introduce himself.

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Having finished his meal after Hammond and his sons left, Doc lingered over a cup of coffee, chatting briefly with Michigan Slim. Listening to Slim and his familiar drawl, Doc thought back to Ohio and his days in college. It was somewhat of a joke between the two men that Michigan and Ohio were rivals, dating back to the Toledo War. The two would chuckle over the fact that the only loser in the conflict seemed to be Wisconsin, a State not even involved.

 

Slim mentioned that he had seen a few strangers in town over the past couple of weeks. He opined that they appeared to be cowhands, but a little rougher than most he had seen, all appearing ready for trouble. Doc pondered this as he drank his coffee. Doc knew Keller wasn't hiring hands, and the only other big outfits in the area other than Hammond were Utah Bob and Sedalia Dave, both of whom had lost cattle in the ill-fated drive to Laramie as well. That could only leave Hammond, which would account for the two run-ins that had already occurred. The information left Doc concerned. He might need to see if he could get some cattle driven in, instead of going off in search of a herd, simply to stay close. He decided he should also try to hire a few more men, if he could find ones that were solid and dependable. He mentioned both of these in passing to Slim, who nodded. Doc knew the word would start to get around. Despite being a diner, the place passed information as well as any saloon.

 

Standing up, Doc dropped payment on the counter and headed for the door. Leaving his coat open and checking his revolver in the holster, Doc looked outside for Hammond or his sons before stepping out. Once out onto the boardwalk, Doc saw a man much the worse for wear, slogging toward the nearest saloon. "Ned? Everything OK? Judging by that limp, you done something to that ankle again. Where's that critter you call a horse?" Ned paused and looked up, squinting slightly. "Howdy, Doc! Aggie slipped and sent me head over teakettle, and wandered off before I could get my wits about me. He'll be around shortly, I expect. I think I'm gonna have me a whiskey or three. Care to join me?" Doc shook his head as he chuckled. "No, I need to get back home to Abigail before too long. You can have one for me." Ned grinned, "I think I can do that!"

 

As Doc stepped off the porch and went to tighten the girth on his horse, a long legged bay, he spied a rider, slowly walking his horse through town, glancing, scanning with his eyes and taking in the town, as if carefully noting his surroundings. He didn't have the appearance of a cowhand, but he did appear to be someone who had confidence in his own skills, and had no desire to be trifled with. As he glanced Doc's way, Doc gave a polite nod of his head, which the stranger returned before passing on. As Doc mounted his own horse, Doc watched as the stranger rode on, seemingly unconcerned. Doc muttered to himself as he reined the bay around, "I hope that's not more trouble."

Edited by DocWard
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“Mr. Keller, since John is my given name I would appreciate it if you kept the ‘Cactus Jack’ under your hat for now. Over that cup of coffee I’ll explain why,” said John. “It’s fine by me, said Keller, out here many people use names they were not born to. And by the way my name is Linn, I’d feel more comfortable if you’d address me that way” “Fair enough Linn, I’m not exactly starting a new life,” replied John. “If you’ve heard stories of ‘Cactus Jack’ you’ve likely heard I’m a Texas Ranger. That hasn’t changed, I’m up here on an undercover assignment. I’m in search of a killer wanted in Texas for several murders. Back in Texas he went by the name of ‘Lefty Frezzel’, I’m not sure he hasn’t changed it since then. He’s a big fella with one eyebrow, the left one. His right brow looks like a wolverine chewed it off. Kinda ruined his handsome look, if he ever had one. I have received information that he is wanted for questioning in two or three other states for the disappearance of people.”

 

“That sounds like a nasty fellow,” said Linn. Do Doc and Abby know about your mission?” John replied “Yeah, I offered to move on so that they wouldn’t be involved in any trouble. Doc said it would look strange if I did and would make my hanging around suspect. It isn’t likely I’d be able to sign on the Hammond spread since the little disagreement in town. Slim Dawkins and I are probably on a black list over at there.”

 

Linn asked, “Speaking of Dawkins, do you know what prompted him to take a hand? He’s been around town for a while, doesn’t seem to be working, just hangs around the saloon. Some think he’s a drunk, but I’ve never seen him even slightly impaired.” John said, “Well I’ve already told Doc and Abby, so I guess there’s no harm in letting you in on his little secret. Slim is a Pinkerton man looking for this Lefty fellow also. He is operating alone just as I am, and he figured out the ‘Cactus Jack’ connection. So we agreed to sort of keep each other advised as to our progress. The saloon is a convenient place to pass information without raising suspicion. Slim did say he’d heard there was a new Segundo out at the Hammond spread and he’s supposed to be a hard case. So that’s about it for now, thanks for the coffee and introducing me to Sailor. I guess I’ll mosey on back towards Doc’s bunkhouse.”

 

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Word travels fast and word often gets stretched but this time I don't think it got stretched much.

Hammond allowed as Doc and I were dead meat.

That meant Hammond was a dead man as soon as I saw him, for as soon as he saw me, he'd try to punch my ticket.

Wouldn't be the first time someone tried.

I learned the hard way as a green lawman that soon as you pin on that tin star, you're going to be tried, and sure enough I was: I had to render unto the Philistines in the language they understood, and the town fathers were less than entirely comfortable that my methods were fast, brutal and effective.

Me, I didn't much care what the town fathers thought.

I was The Law and when a man jumps me intendin' to bend a brakeman's club over my gourd, he's only got himself to blame if I finish the fight by introducin' his face three times fast to the gravel roadway.

His drinkin' buddies didn't much care for my methods so I had to treat them in a similar manner, least the second one:  by the time the third one allowed as he would finish what the first two started, I'd had enough of workin' hard so I shot him in the face and that ended any further hostilities.

I was right glad John came out and we'd exchanged particulars.

I knew of a Cactus Jack Calder and knew the name was that of a good man and true.

Meetin' him in person was a two way surprise.

I was surprised he wasn't ten foot tall and about as broad at the shoulder, for the Texas Rangers have an impressive reputation, but I was equally surprised to realize that -- as ordinary lookin' as he was -- I could still see the man was watchful like a lawman, he moved like a lawman, and when the two of us were together, each of us was watchin' a-past the other's back -- something that only veteran lawman, or infantrymen who've seen action, will do.

I knew he'd be the man to ride the river with, but then I count myself a rich man indeed, for I have said the same about Doc, and more times than one.

Now I'd set a boy to ridin' to Captain Burcher's place and I knew he'd be a while gettin' from here to there and back and I was a bit surprised when the lad showed up with a grin on his face and a note in his hand, for I did not expect him for another day.

I thanked him for his kindness and set him down for a bite to eat whilst I broke the seal on the return note and held the note out at arm's length so I could read it easier.

Yours Recd & many Thanks

Will handle soonest

JB

I nodded, wishing I knew just what action the man was going to take, and when, then I smiled a little.

Knowing Hammond -- if he was this close -- I'd not have to worry about Burcher chasin' him out of the woods towards me.

Like as not I'd run into him and soon.

Very soon.

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Kit dismounted from Orion in front of the Sheriffs’ Office, looped the reins around the saddle horn and stepped up onto the boardwalk, taking time to kick the first step with his boots to get what little mud off them as possible before heading to the Office.

The Sheriff had already made his way to the front door awaiting Kit’s arrival, greeting him with a “What brings you to East Fork, Stranger?” He had already seen Kit arrive and found it odd that instead of heading to the nearest SALOON, he casually rode the town.

May we speak inside?” Kit replied, to which the Sheriff calmly turned around and into his office with Kit close behind, closing the door as he entered.

My name is Kit and I may need your assistance, if you have a mind to.

Pleased to meet you Kit, my name is Utah Bob, Deputy U.S. Marshal and town Sheriff, but folks around here skip the title and just call me UB. Have a seat. Can I get you a cup of coffee, just brewed a fresh pot?”

 

“I’d appreciate that Sheriff,” Kit replied as he grabbed a chair slid it in front of the Sheriffs’ desk and taking his hat off, proceed to sit down.

UB moving to the pot belly stove in the corner of the room, grabbing the coffee pot and a tin cup from the shelf and while pouring coffee stated with a firm tone, “We’re not looking for any trouble here in town, Lord knows we have enough of our own troubles as it is.” Setting the coffee pot back on the stove, turning and handing the cup to Kit, UB queried him, “Now then, what can I do for you?”

 

Edited by Father Kit Cool Gun Garth
UB's job title clarification in BLUE
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Some years ago I set and listened to a pretty Mexican girl playing a guitar that was big enough it made her look like a little girl.

Double strung it was, and deep toned, and I set in the South Texas evening and let the beauty of her strings flow through my dried up soul.

Fancy dressed vaqueros with silver trimmed gunbelts and big roweled spurs stood nearby, looking with dark eyed suspicion at anyone and me in particular:  I don't know how long I set there, but when I finally got up I walked over to the one that was lookin' the meanest at me and I asked him in a quiet voice if he would give me a blessing.

I saw suspicion and hostility in his eyes and I recht into a pocket and pulled out a small pouch that clinked a little when I handed it to him.

I told him I knew what it was to bury my wife, and if I set any longer and listened to her guitar sing in the shadow of the overhang, like as not I would weep for the memories that ran like water through my soul, and it would be a blessing on me if he were to give that to the girl playing the guitar.

He asked me "Why do you trust me, senor?" and I said "You are watchful as only a brother or an uncle is watchful, and it would not be proper for me to address her, as we have not been properly introduced."

He blinked and then he nodded and I stepped to the side, and turned, and went to my horse.

I mounted up and turned and saw the girl looking into the pouch -- she held it in her left hand -- and her right hand was cupped over her mouth.

They both looked at me.

I touched my hat brim and then I turned my chestnut and we rode off.

I considered this as I saddled my mule.

Some men wander, and after that damned war, I did.

All I knew, all I loved, was shattered by everything that all of us went through in the War.

That upset was the coal in my boiler that wandered me around for some years, least until I got here and I kind of run out of steam, so here I stayed.

Good country and good people and I took a chance with one investment and another, I lost money and I made money and I know Doc felt just awful bad when that cattle venture didn't work out but that is the nature of an investment -- it's a risk, a gamble, you do the best you can and sometimes it works and when it don't, why, them things happen.

Now when Doc stacked up them Yankee greenbacks and allowed as it burdened his conscience to think he'd lost my money, and had I not taken his money it would have hurt his feelin's, and I wouldn't hurt his feelin's for the world, so I figured I'd go over and have a talk with his wife.

I allowed as I would ask her a favor and have her hold onto that cash money and if anythin' happened to me, why, she was to spend it as she saw fit.

I have been foolish in my young life but I try not to be a fool, and was I to believe I'd live forever, I would be not just a fool, but a damned fool.

Hammond was a mean one himself and he'd already sent one batch after us after t'other come on their own.

Him and them would have the advantage of where and when, unless I went after him, and the old soldier in me was of a mind to go after him and shoot him in the back of the head from ambush, but the law takes a dim view of such things.

On the other hand, was the opportunity to offer, I might do just that anyway and not tell anyone.
I stepped into the saddle and dismissed such thoughts, and in my mind, I heard that Mexican girl playing that guitar again.

 

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If I was to bush whack someone headed for town, thought I, where would I lay wait?

My mule was content to contemplate infinity while I thought, while my eyes were busy, as we stood back in some brush to break our outline.

The mule wasn't black, he was kind of ... well, splotchy, and I generally wore what I had, which was weathered and faded and tended to blend in as well, and I considered for a while before allowin' as maybe my mule ought to travel a little and not stand there and doze in the shade.

I reckon he was gettin' a little chilly in the shade anyway.

I know I was.

We went on down trail, not in any pa'tickelar hurry a'tall.

My mind was as busy as my eyes and I thought back over several new things that come about and I was busy tryin' to fit 'em together.

East Fork warn't on the main travel routes but 'twas a settlement, and a settlement meant a general store for resupply and a place to eat, for a man's belly always wants filled, it means a saloon for a man's throat always wants wet down some, and it means company, for men are social creatures and talk is a thing to be wished for on the trail.

Unless you talk to your mule, which I did, but the mule didn't talk back so that got old kind of quick.

Ahead of me, off to my left, another trail come in at kind of an angle, and there was a rider settin' there waitin' for me -- a big fellow, on a ratty lookin' dun that looked to be sheddin' out winter hair and lookin' patchy, but if you looked under the fur the horse itself looked like one of those undistinguished, tough-as-nails mountain horses a man is lucky to find.

He was looking torst me and I rode right up to him like I owned the place and said "Howdy."

Now this fellow was big and he was ugly and one eye brow looked like it had been chawed off by a hostile beaver and he said "Howdy" in a voice that sounded like he was grindin' rocks in his craw and I stopped and stuck out my hand, sidlin' my horse up close to him so I could reach.

"How in two hells have you been?" I asked, and behind what seemed like a permanent scowl I saw a shadow of surprise pass behind his expression and he returned my grip and said "Hungry, where can a man get a meal?" and I said "On in town, the saloon ain't bad."

He nodded but he didn't move.

"You look like a lawman."

"Not for a couple years now."

He frowned some more and finally said "You're Keller."

"Yep.  You're Frizell."

"Yep."

"What's your pleasure?"

He considered for several moments and then he said "You might be interested in this."

I raised an eyebrow and he hooked a thumb over his shoulder.

"Half a day's ride back I run into some fella, big and ugly he was, him and what looked two grown boys with him.  Sandy hair, looked like they all sucked lemons."

"I know 'em."

"They allowed as they was goin' to cut your throat and slice you up for fryin' up for breakfast meat."

I laughed.  "I know 'em.  They headed back torst the Green?"

"They are."  He worked his jaw like he was worryin' an idea and then he added "There's somethin' else."

I nodded for him to go ahead.

"There was a wagon, looked like a young couple.  I didn't get close enough for 'em to see me but the girl was big and pregnant and her fella was either hurt or sick."

I nodded, weighing my options.

"The saloon's got some pretty good stew, fried meat's done clear through, there's a restaurant with really good stew and they have decent pie."

"Pie," he said faintly, and his expression was a man who was only just realizing how hungry he was.

"Livery's honest, the hostler knows horses and he's careful about shoein'.  I'm fussy about my horse shoes."

"Obliged."

He lifted his reins and rode on ahead and I thought for a minute, then I give Bud my right knee, pressing in steady and gentle.

Bud turned and we taken Frizzell's back trail.

A woman, pregnant, and her man sick or injured ... well, I'd best look into that.

I've worked with Pinkertons before.

We knew about the one in the saloon.

I doubted me not there were two nearby, watching:  they seldom worked alone -- fact is, I'd never known just one to show up by himself, they always came at least three at a time.

No, 'twas safe sending this hell raisin' trouble maker into town.

If the Pinks were looking for him, they were expecting to find him, and it was not likely a'tall he'd take them by surprise.

 

 

 

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Doc Ward headed out of town due East instead of South, from which he had come. There weren't many routes to his place, and eventually, he needed to get onto the main trail to his home, but he could try to keep anyone looking for him guessing as much as possible. Doc rode slowly, constantly scanning, looking for the obvious and less obvious places someone might lay in wait.

 

Several miles out of town, after starting to circle South, Doc saw wagon tracks, with a mule team pulling, deep in the mud, going off toward the West. There appeared to be some sort of cattle and maybe saddle stock trailing behind, likely tied to the back of the wagon. Pulling up, Doc paused, standing in the stirrups as much as possible to see where they traveled. Sitting back down in the saddle, Doc paused to contemplate. It had the look of settlers of some sort, but then where did they come from, and where were they going? They were using a very old trail, not used in Doc's memory. If they were heading for the Mormon settlements, there were easier and more direct paths.

 

Doc was almost inclined to follow, but couldn't tell how far they had gone, and he had no provisions. He knew Abigail would be expecting him, and he didn't want to worry her. Even as he continued on, looking for any danger, his mind pondered that wagon. As he got closer to his place, Doc remained alert. Riding parallel to the road, and skirting some brush while moving to keep from sky lining himself, Doc pulled up again. Looking down, he saw where a horse had stood, tied, for some time. Now Doc climbed out of the saddle, and pulled his Winchester from the scabbard. Moving slowly in increasingly larger circles, Doc found boot prints. Whoever it had been didn't seem worried about the prints being found.

 

Doc paused, again and again, to look around, to study the area, to be sure whoever had been around hadn't simply shifted positions. Doc was somewhat concerned, as he knew the prints moved toward the home he shared with his wife. Finally, Doc found where someone had appeared to lay something down, Doc guessed a saddle blanket, and had stretched out to lay on it. Doc felt a shiver run up his spine, because he knew what the person was looking at: His house. Down off the small ridgeline Doc was currently kneeling on, Doc's house lay  past the trail, across a small creek, about a half mile distant. Doc guessed that whomever had been here was using a glass or binoculars to study the layout.

Doc stood, and moved quickly back to the big bay that stood patiently waiting, and picked up his pace the rest of the way home. Getting closer, he circled around to come from the back of the barn, staying under cover as much as possible. Dismounting inside the barn, Doc left the bay saddled and bridled, walking it into a stall and wrapping the reins. Pausing before moving out of the barn, Doc quickly jogged to the house. Knocking on the door and calling out his wife's name, Doc breathed a sigh of relief as he heard the bar being lifted from inside and his wife's voice.

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I knew a fellow years ago who talked to himself right along reg'lar.

Some said he was soft in the head.

I was young and I didn't know straight up from go-to-hell so I asked him and he laughed and said "I throw my ideas out on the air so I can see what they sound like!"

Knew another fellow who'd got hit in the head and from that day on he could not cipher numbers a'tall, least not the way he'd been used to.

He had to talk 'em out in words and then he could run them numbers just fine.

Nor ordinarily I would have told my mule Bud that I had me the feelin' things were goin' to happen, and I would have told Bud-mule that them fellers headed back for the Green just might fork off nice and convenient and head for Doc's place.

The territory was not gentle and it would take a good horse but we-all been here a while and we-all were used to it and so I taken a look at the ground and saw where a rider had done just that.

My bottom jaw slid out and so did my Winchester rifle and me and Bud pointed our noses torst Doc's place.

Was someone to wish him harm, they would be lookin' at him and they might not be payin' enough attention to their back trail.

Now I am a man with a busy mind and sometimes it aggravates me that I can't just quit thinkin' for the mind is forever busy and sometimes I can turn it down a useful path and sometimes that Mexican girl playin' that big double strung guitar gets to playin' but today my mind run on ahead to take a look at what I recalled this territory looked like last I saw it, and part of my mind considered Hammond and two boys and if one went this way, was the other with the old man and might the old man swing back also.

There was only one set of tracks ahead of me and the rider was careful to pick out the easiest path.

It's not like he was layin' a plain set of tracks to be followed, it's more like he was taking no care to stop and turn and look at his back trail like I was a-doin'.

Now of a sudden I got this itchy feelin' between my shoulder blades and I l'arned a long time ago the old lawman was right when he counseled me, "Son, when in doubt, follow your gut," so I give Bud my right knee and we swung around a thick stand of brush and come out where I could see my own back trail and we froze and watched and I saw ...

... nothing.

Not  a sound, not a sight, nothing where it hadn't ought to be.

We stood there for some time and then Bud and me, we pointed back torst where that fella with the bad eye brow had come from.

To this day I do not know why I did, only that the feelin' was strong and I went with it.

Doc's place was well behind me but I had to do this and so we rode on over the saddle and down t'other side and I heard a woman's voice and she did not sound to be a'tall pleased.

I tasted copper and I smelt selfer and my thumb laid itself up over that Winchester rifle's hammer spur.

Bud he stopped and laid his ears back at me and he muttered like a contrary old man who's losin' at checkers and I leaned forward a little and patted his neck and whispered "Step," and he taken one step, and "Step" and he taken a step and "Step," and he taken one more step and I could just see over the edge of the drop off.

I swung up a leg and slud out of the saddle, I taken Bud-mule's reins and dropped 'em, I rubbed him under the jaw and said "Stand fast," and he shoved his head against me and grunted and I rubbed him under the jaw ag'in and then I turned and squatted and then bellied down on the thaw, knowin' full well I would rise wet and not really givin' a good damn.

I eased my Winchester forward and taken a look at the distance.

Hammond's hand -- I recognized him from town -- had that woman by the arm and he shook her and shouted "WHERE ARE THEY?" and I taken me a sight on his head and then I lowered my aim so as to take him between the shoulders.

He r'ared back his arm with an open hand, he intended to smack her across the face, and my finger just barely touched curved steel when a rifle spoke and Hammond's hired hand's head snapped back and he fell bonelessly at the woman's feet.

Now that ain't bad, thought I, don't even fire the shot and he falls over dead.

Must be magic in this rifle.

The woman went over backwards and hit the ground kind of curled up with her arms acrost her belly and I waited, for that rifle shot come from somewhere and I was not about to run into someone's gun sights.

A stocky man rode up to the woman, dismounted, knelt:  two more came from around behind the wagon, they were paying attention to something -- or someone -- layin' in the wagon.

The man raised his head, looked around.

He wore a faded coat just like I did, but he wore a pearl grey hat that looked just awful familiar, and then he turned his head just enough I could see he had somethin' on the front, and I grinned.

"Captain Burcher!"  I called.  "Is your pistol empty too, sir!"

He looked up and I stood up.

"Well get down here, you damned Yankee, this woman's in labor!"

His voice was full and strong and echoed off the rocky hillside and me and Bud, we come down grade on the Hot Foot.

 

 

Edited by Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103
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