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A Bad Spring in East Fork

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Kit changed directions and headed to the row of businesses on the adjoining street and to the small telegraph office he had seen when he first arrived in town. Stepping into the office he was met at the counter by a short, stout gentleman in a collarless shirt and dark green vest. His eyes were pitch black, the size of gold coins, easily seen by the overly magnified glasses he was wearing. Without any head covering, the shiny baldness of his head made his overall appearance that much more bewildering.
"How may I help you this day," the telegrapher queried.
"I'd like to send a telegram if I may," Kit replied.
Grabbing a pencil and a small pad from the counter behind him, the telegrapher stood ready for the message.
"Sheriff James York - Tarrant, Arizona (stop)
Need more information on the identity of Frank J. Milt (stop)
Must have distinquishable features noted (stop)
Your friend, Ranger Cool (stop)"
"What do I owe you?
" Kit asked.
"That will be $1.20, based on the number of words," the telegraph responded.
Placing a single gold coin on the counter, two fingers firmly on its top, he slid the coin to him, and stated, "I can be reached at the hotel with the answer, and keep the change to pay for your courier services"
The telegraphers already large eyes grew even larger seemingly ready to explode then answering with a pleasant, "Much obliged, Mister."
With that, Kit turned and headed out the door, stopping on the boardwalk to ponder his next move.
"I think I'll head out of town for a trip to check out the land I've just inherited. It'll help clear my mind." he mused to himself.
Turning left on the boardwalk, he headed to the livery to get Orion.

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"Oh my goodness did you see the look on her face" giggled Kris.  "Why she looked positively livid" giggled Abigail.  Both ladies took turns mimicking Mrs. Cushman and her dour daughter, all the time giggling and laughing themselves silly.  As the silliness waned, Abigail paused and said "You know I will pay you for those dresses, as a matter of fact, I can pay you right now."  Kris looked at her friend in shock and said "I'm not at all worried, Abby.  You are my best friend and I know we will make things right together."  With that, Abigail came over and gave Kris a big hug.  "Thank you for that, Kris."  "Of course" Kris whispered. 

 

"I appreciate you wanting to stay with me and make sure things are safe here but you have a husband to care for and guests that surely need your assistance.  Are you sure you shouldn't go home?" Kris asked.  "I'm sure I will be OK here by myself.  I'll tell you what, why don't I ride home to get a few things that will enable me to stay here and when I return, you can go home.  I don't want your husband to hate me for keeping you hostage here.  Your own bed has to be better than that rickety old cot" Kris implored.  Abigail stared at the floor for a long moment.  "Well, it would be nice to have a bath and spend some time with my husband" Abigail mused.  "I agree, sweetie" stated Kris.  "Let me rush home and I'll be back before you know it."  Kris rushed towards the back of the shop.  "Make sure you bolt the door behind me, Abby" Kris said as she flew out the door.

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After a quiet night Jack was up before the sun crested the rise. He turned the stock in the barn out to the corral, set out hay and water for them and began to muck out the stalls. Soon the triangle on the back porch of the house began to clang. Jack washed his hands and face in the basin on the porch, scrapped his boots clean and stepped into the kitchen. “That sure smells like Miss Abby’s cooking.” He said. Doc smiled and replied, “Bacon pretty much smells the same no matter who cooks it, as long as it isn’t burned.” After eating and washing up the two men went out to corral and roped their horse of choice for the morning ride. Once the horses were saddled they headed towards the main road and the scrub area where Jack had found the cattle last evening.

 

At the scrub Jack said, “We should circle this area to look for the tracks of those men coming and going. I’d say it’s likely they headed cross country as I didn’t meet anyone coming away from here last night. The cattle weren’t here very long, they were still bunched up from being driven. So whoever moved them had to go another way than towards town or I would have at least heard their horses.” They quickly found the trail and examined the tracks for any distinguishing marks. “See this one shoe has a gauge in it. That’s Frezzel’s horse. I believe it is the rear hoof as it occasionally covers the track of the other hoof. I’m still concerned about him not changing those shoes. It just doesn’t make sense unless he’s got some particular reason not to. To me that says he’s trying to set a trap for whoever follows these tracks.” “You are probably right,” replied Doc “but what are we going to do about it?” “I’ll tell you what. I’ll begin tracking from here. You hang back a ways and off to the side over the crest of this rise. If someone is laying in wait they will be concentrating on the trail and likely not spot you. Once they open the ball you’ll be able to flank them and neutralize their position.”

 

“The strategy is good, but they are my cattle. I should be the one trailing the rustlers.” Replied Doc. “No sir.” Said Jack. “I’m the one after Frezzel, it’s my job. We are about the same build if we just switch hats no one will tells us apart from a distance. Besides if you get hurt Miss Abby will skin me alive.” Switching hats they took up their positions and Jack began to follow the tracks.

 

With his carbine in hand Jack followed the obvious trail at high alert. ‘These men must think everyone is a fool,’ thought Jack. ‘Even a city slicker could follow this trail. I’d better put on a show of working at this or they won’t be watching me carefully enough. I don’t want them to get suspicious and spot Doc covering my back.’ After an hour of slow pains taking tracking Jack spotted a likely ambush site amongst some trees. Stopping, Jack put on a show of removing his hat and wiping his head. Then he stepped down to examine his horses hoof, while casually looking around. Still out of rifle range he led his horse along the tracks towards a small stream. With the horse between himself and the trees he waited patiently, allowing Doc time to circle the site. Confident that Doc had enough time to get in position Jack mounted and began to move towards the trees. His hat brim was down low, but his eyes were able to scan the trees unobserved. Suddenly he spotted a hard straight line pointing out from cover. The line of a rifle barrel. Heeling the horse with those big Texas spurs he let out a ‘Rebel Yell’ and charged the tree line firing his carbine twice. He heard the buzz of bullets passing close and then the crack of the shots. Once he reached the trees Jack dove off his horse, slapping the animal on the rump to send him deeper into the woods. Taking cover behind a big pine he fired at the butt of a tree near where he knew the shooter was hiding. He didn’t know exactly where Doc was and didn’t want to chance hitting him with an errant shot. Jack figured his job was to keep the man or men busy, so Doc could spot their position. Jack noted that there were two men returning fire in response to his shooting. Pushing new shells into his carbine he then began to lay down a covering fire, being careful to pepper tree trunks near the men. Watching through a fork in the tree, Jack spotted Doc as he buffaloed one of the shooters. Doc held up his hand with two fingers showing and the pointed off to his right. Looking again Jack saw a boot sticking out from behind a large rock. This man had not shot at him. ‘What was he waiting for?’ The boot moved back out of sight behind the rock. Jack moved to the side of his tree furthest from the rock and lined up a shot as the edge of the tree the second shooter was using as cover. As the shooter began to try a shot, Jack hit the tree and sprayed him with splinters. Some of them must have stuck as the shooter howled and jerked his shot high. Doc quickly closed the distance and placed his rifle barrel behind the man’s ear. The man dropped his rifle and raised his hands. Doc whacked him along the side of his head sending him to sleep. Then both Doc and Jack charged the large rock circling around to either side, they came face to face.

 

The third man had fled and gotten away. They heard a horse gallop off at the far side of the wood lot. Jack hollered, “You secure those two.” As he raced on foot to see if he could spot the third man. There was no sign of the rider except a faint cloud of dust raised by the fleeing horse. Looking down Jack saw the tracks. There it was the shoe track with the gauge. It had been Frezzel. Now Frezzel had an idea who might be after him as he had surely been able to see Jack’s face from his vantage point. Again he wondered, ‘Why hadn’t Frezzel tried to kill Jack when he had a clear shot?’

 

Returning to the wood lot Jack helped Doc truss up the two bushwhackers before they came to. “I guess we need to make another trip into town to see the Marshall.” Said Jack. “Would you like me to put on my crazy hillbilly act again, to see what I can get from these two? It worked pretty well on those two who burgled your house.” “That might be entertaining.” Responded Doc. “However, the threat of hanging for rustling is a real thing that we don’t have to let go of even if they talk. Not until they testify in court. Those other two know they are safe from your crazy hillbilly character once they were in jail.” Nodding Jack sighed, “I suppose you are right. Let get these two loaded. By the way, did you notice their horses are wearing the Hammond brand?” “Yes I did. Do you think Hammond will add horse theft to the charges against these two, or admit he sent them to rustle my stock?” Asked Doc. “Charging them with horse theft would make the other men working for him leery of following orders that could get them in trouble. I don’t see him admitting to organizing a rustling operation. Especially since his operation has grown twice as fast as other ranchers in this area. Several smaller ranches have had problems with rustling. Suspicion is already rising as to his practices.”

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When he arrived at the livery he was met by Shorty the blacksmith who the Marshall had recommended when he first arrived in East Fork. " Going for a ride? " Shorty inquired.
"That I am." Kit responded. With that the blacksmith turned and disappeared down the long line of stalls, reappearing only moments later with Orion, handing his lead rope to Kit. "As you directed, I gave him a bath, brushed him out, changed his shoes and fed him. Oh, and I gave him the carrots you had requested, which he seemed quite pleased to get."
"Thank you for taking good care of him for me," Kit said as he reached into his jacket pocket, procuring a single gold coin and placing it in Shorty's hand, and without any further remarks, mounted Orion and rode out past the Schoolhouse and Church, up Main Street and out of town heading east.
About five miles outside of town, he arrived at the area he recalled seeing on the survey that Venus has spread out on the counter. Although not the exact spot, its location based on the sun's position in the sky in relation to the Mesa, was a good indicator. "500 acres," he thought to himself. "What man needs that much land." He began to wonder if the deal his grandfather had made with the railroad was a bargain or not. Yes there were a good amount of trees on the property; however, not as much green as he would have liked. Nothing around for miles. Riding on, he eventually came to a small winding creek that appeared to be running from the north as far as the eye could see. Stopping for a short break, he dismounted, grabbing his canteen and heading for the creek, Orion beat him to it, bending down and lapping the water as if this would be the last time he'd have the opportunity. Kit laughed to himself as he knelt down, removing the cap to his canteen and filling it with the sparkling, fresh, clean water.
Placing the canteen back on his saddlebags, he took his hankerchief from his neck, dunking it into the cool water, removed his hat and wiped his brow and the back of his neck. He left the kerchief around his neck and put his hat back on.
Next he opened one of his saddlebags and withdrew his spyglass to get a better look at the lay of the land. The views were not spectacular, although the mountain ranges way off in the distance, did provide a descent backdrop. The fact that the creek was a valuable source of water to the land and could easily irrigate for crops was a huge factor in making the land valuable. Maybe Kit was wrong about the deal his grandfather made.
With both of them quenched, Kit returned the glass to his saddlebags, mounted and pulling the reins to the left, headed back to town.
Without warning, a single shot rang out as Kit felt the burning sensation in his side as he fell backwards off of Orion, hitting the hard sandy earth, landing on his side and eventually resting on his back. Looking skyward his vision soon blurred and then darkness.

 

Edited by Father Kit Cool Gun Garth
OTTO corrections
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I disposed of the watcher's carcass when I had the chance.

Rain took care of any sign and rain brought the mud I hoped to leave behind me back East and rain made me short tempered and cranky and I grabbed that ill temper by the scruff of the neck and shook it good and tossed it off the nearest hillside.

Captain Burcher scouted out a little distance from me.

We met up a few hours later.

Neither of us saw one blessed thing.

I offered him a tilt from my silver flask and we each took a short snort, a belt of Old Soul Saver to ward off the Devil, we looked the ground over and then faded through the timber, two ghosts on steel shod mounts.

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I stopped by the jail to see how the gambler was doing. "J. Mark, the Doc is in back now."   UB ushered me back to the cell after I laid my guns on his desk.  "He's been sleeping a lot, Doc said the laudnum would do that."

 

I nodded in understanding.  As we went back, I saw the doctor unwrapping the bandages to inspect the stump.  As he tossed the bloody bandages into a bucket I looked on. "How's he doing?"

 

The Doctor looked at me "Got a fever, but the stump is healing, no sign of gangrene, at least not yet, he might just make it."

 

I looked on, lost in thought for a moment. The doctors words brought me out of it.  "Why bother saving him? from what I've heard, you don't have an aversion to killing."

 

I looked at him through narrowed eyes. "No, I don't guess I do. As to why? I figured he'd die, it was intended as a kindness towards you."  The Doctor stammered a moment "Yes, I see that, I'm sorry I didn't see it before."

 

I laughed "Doc-I'm not that easy to offend.  UB if there are no warrants out on this man, I'd as soon not press charges.."  UB pointed his head towards his desk and I followed him, dropping my revolvers back into theie holsters.

 

"There is paper on him from at least three states, your poker winnings just went up $750.00, you want I should donate it to the orphanage again?"  I paused, "No, I have a different use for that money.  When it is available let me know.  I have to go to Kris Dress shop"  UB grinned "$750.00 would buy you a lot of dresses."  I chuckled, "Nah, I could never do them the justice that you do."  With that I walked out and down the street.

 

At the shop I knocked on the door and Kris answered with a big smile on her face.  "It's about time you said 'Hello' Mark, I was getting plumb irritated."

 

I removed my hat and walked in.  "Heard you were worried about the store, figured if you had a cot, I might just spend a few nights keeping an eye on things."

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Bang, Bang, you’re dead!” Kit shouted exuberantly, as he placed his thumb hammer down on his index finger barrel of the imaginary Colt revolver, lifting it just in front of his lips and blowing softly, then calmly sliding it into his front pocket holster. Peering out from the dilapidated board-on-board fencing that once barricaded their cattle, Clayton returned fire followed by, “No you didn’t! You couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, even if you tried.”

Before either could get another word out, came the sound of mama calling from the house. “You boys get in here and washed up for dinner. Your pa will be home shortly. Now don’t waste time, yah hear.”

Kit and his younger brother knew better than to not heed the words of mama, resulting in their abrupt sprint to the house, racing to see who would get there first. That’s when Kit, in his attempt to make it onto the porch with a huge lead over his much shorter brother, jumped over the first two steps to save time and in doing so, caught his foot on the nose of the thread of the third step, falling face first onto the porch.

His scream caused an immediate reaction from mama, who bolted out the front door. Seeing her son bleeding, kneeling, swept him in her arms and using her apron, began to hold it against the small cut just above his nose. Kit looked up seeing his mother who was now crying, her tears falling from her cheek and landing softly on his face, causing him to blink. Opening his eyes, he recognized those slender arched eyebrows, the dainty nose and blue eyes that were the face of……Venus!

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"Well I'll be" Calamity exclaimed to J. Mark.  "It's truly been ages since I've seen you.  How have you been?  Oh, where are my manners, please come in and sit" Calamity said as she motioned to a blue parlor chair in the front room.  "Let me get you some tea and cakes" Calamity said as she dashed to the back of the shop.  "Lil' missy, I don't need any tea and cakes, thank you kindly for the offer" J. Mark replied.  Calamity stopped in her tracks and spun about on her heels.  "Ok then, I'll come sit here with you and we can catch up" Calamity said slowly.  "I hear there's been some trouble in these parts and you might be in need of my assistance" J. Mark said as Calamity slowly lowered herself into another chair.  "Well, yes, yes there has been some trouble, you might say, maybe some cattle rustling and um some burglaries um and a few other things" Calamity stammered.  "But why would you think I need some help?  I'm just a little tailor shop.  I can't imagine anyone wants to hurt me" Calamity said in a surprised tone.  "I've been told you were afraid of another fire putting you out of business" J. Mark said.  "I just couldn't have that so I thought I would bunk here for a little while and make sure your shop is well protected" J. Mark said, "Iff'n that's OK with you, of course".  J. Mark couldn't get over the look of shock on Calamity's face.  "Are you ok, Calamity?" asked J. Mark.  "Why yes, yes I am" Calamity stammered.  "I'm much obliged with the offer of help.  You are welcome to stay here as long as you like.  The cot in the back room isn't very comfortable but I can give you some more blankets to soften it up a bit.  I don't have much to eat here but I can certainly bring some meals from home.  My house is just outside of town.  Is there anything else you may need?"  J. Mark said "No nothing else.  Your front window will also give me a great vantage point to goings on in the center of town."  I will be able to watch in case any one decides to start any trouble."  "Well then," Calamity exclaimed, "let me run home and bring you back some warm stew and fresh bread."  "Much obliged, mam", J. Mark said.

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"This business of bein' a good upstandin' law abidin' citizen wears on a man."

"I wondered how long you'd go before you said something like that, Yankee."

I shoved out my bottom jaw and considered.

"You were Cavalry and pretty damned good at it."

Captain Burcher nodded.

"I always liked the idea of a raid. Run in, kick the hornet's nest, run out. Don't take ground, don't take prisoners, just run in, raise Hell fast hard and nasty, and disappear."

The Captain chuckled quietly.  "It works," he admitted.  "It works very well."

"If I knew where Hammond was holed up, damned if I wouldn't wait with a rifle for him to step out on his back porch to get rid of some second hand coffee and just drop him right there."

"Your plan," the Captain said quietly, "does have merit."

"Except from the law."  I rubbed my chin, felt stubble, wished for a bath and a shave.  "This country is just plainly too civilized."

"It's only the civilized man who believes in civilization. Wartime throws that aside and we can get down to a simpler system."

I nodded, took a long breath, blew it out.

"What if Hammond were to show up, Yankee?  Let's say he came up-trail and you saw him first."
"Cowards like Hammond won't travel alone. Like as not he'd have men ahead and men behind, and unless I have a really good advantage I don't want to tear into a superior force."  I smiled with half my mouth.  "I am not as stupid as I look."

"This," Captain Burcher replied with a perfectly straight face, "proves the Lord is merciful."

 

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Looking down at him, a soft smile became noticeable as the edges of her mouth slowly curved upward, lips still pursed, until she spoke. "You are truly one blessed man, Mr. Garth. You've been shot, and by the grace of GOD, avoided death at the hands of some cowardly soul." As he raised his left arm to just above his waist to where he felt the stinging pain, she quickly grabbed it, lowering it back to his side again. "You'll not want to mess with it right now until we can get you to town to have the doc look at it", she insisted. Her touch was ever so soft and all he could do was take in the moment as it were.
"How bad is it?" he asked through parched lips. Grabbing the canteen she had sat next to her, she replied as she undid its cap and gave him a drink of water, "The bullet missed its intended target, but not for lack of the shooters accuracy. You see, it ricocheted off the timepiece you had in your vest pocket, piercing the side of your abdomen. I'd say a long range rifle of sorts."
"My watch!" he exclaimed, as if that was more important than his condition.
"I'm sorry it is completely destroyed," she replied in a solemn tone. She reached into her jacket pocket where she had placed the watch after tending to his wound, retrieving it and showing it to Kit. A sadness fell over him as he stared at the once, magnificently crafted watch with its elaborately engraved etchings, now a piece of metal with a deep gouge on one side. Venus opened the timepiece with its bent, albeit still working latch to reveal the faded black and white photograph of Ann and Joshua. He began to sob, as she placed the pocket watch on his chest, reaching for his arm and placing his hand on it. He immediately placed a death grip on it so as to never have it leave him again.
He was doublely blessed this day as Venus had set out this morning to compare the survey and deed descriptions to his paperwork before giving them to him. As she approached the property she heard the rifle shot, not knowing where it came from, but soon arriving where Kit had fallen, laying face up on the ground, Orion watching over him as if to say, "You'll have to come through me before you get to him!"
They both waited in the shade of her Surrey until he felt well enough to move, which wasn't long. Helping him into the Surrey, she tied Orion off on the back and they all headed for town.

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As Doc and Jack entered town with the two trussed up rustlers in tow. J. Mark Flint stepped out of the Calamity Kris’s Tailor Shop onto the porch. “Howdy Doc, Jack, whatcha got there?” He hollered. “Couple of rustlers.” Responded Doc. “Caught them moving cattle around on my spread. I’m getting awfully tired of people rearranging my property. First there were those jaspers who ransacked my home, now these hombres moving my stock. Someone is messing with my wife’s and my lives and I intend to see it stopped.” “You need any assistance, you let me know. I’m always up for a little ‘entertainment’. I’m spending nights at Miss Kris’s shop to assure no untoward activities occur here.” Said J. Mark. “I’m glad to know Kris has your help, J. Mark.” Replied Doc. “I’ll stop by on my way out of town to talk.”

 

At the Marshall’s office Doc and Jack unloaded the rustlers and pushed them in the door. “Marshall, Jack and I caught these two rustling cattle on my spread.” Said Doc. “I want them charged and held for trial. Jack and I will testify in court that they and one other man who escaped, were attempting to steal my cattle. They deserve the noose every other rustler receives.” “Wait - Wait.” Hollered one of the men. “We never stole no cattle we just moved them around a little. We never took them off the spread. You got no proof we meant to steal them cattle. We was just fool’n around.” “Unauthorized moving of another man’s stock on his own land is automatically considered rustling.” Replied Marshall Utah Bob. “I’m afraid there isn’t any question about bringing the charge if Doc wants to pursue it.”

 

“I kin prove we wasn’t rustling.” Begged the man. “We was sent to move the stock but not to steal none. We was told to just make tracks that would make the owner nervous.” “Oh, who told you to do this?” Queried UB. Realizing his mistake the man mumbled “Uhm, I can’t say, I’d be worth my life to say.” “Well, it’ll probably be worth your life to keep quiet.” Commented the Marshall. “Generally we hang rustlers pretty quick. Oh, you’ll get a fair trial, and a first class hanging.  Without any extenuating circumstances it sounds like a fore gone conclusion to me.” “What’s this exten... what ever you said?” Asked the two men together. “Extenuating circumstances.” Replied the Marshall, winking at Doc and Jack. “Like you were following orders of someone who had the right to have those cattle moved. That is unless Doc here is willing to drop the charges. Though you’d need to give him a real good reason to drop the charges. Maybe the name of who sent you, what you were supposed to do with the cattle and your testimony in court to that effect.” “He’d have that Frezzel guy kill us sure as anything. You need to protect us if we spill the beans.”  The men pleaded. “You’ll need to tell us all you know to see if you have enough information to satisfy the prosecutor. Once he okays a deal I’ll drop the charges. If you welch on the deal I can always recharge you and you’ll hang for sure.” Growled Doc. “That includes information on this Frezzel character.” Piped up Jack. “If we get him locked up your chances of survival improve immensely.” “Okay, we’ll talk.” Replied the rustlers. “Just keep us protected.”

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The sound of the train's whistle announcing it's approach drew the attention of residents of East Fork, but they quickly went about their business as it slowed to a stop. A number of people exited the train, although most would be on the train when it moved on. What wasn't noticed was the two hundred odd head of cattle moved into the stock yards beyond town to the north, and the cowhands who walked their horses down ramps as well. One of the hands, after consulting with his colleagues, rode into town and dismounted at the Saloon.

 

Walking inside, the man paused, thinking of how good a beer would taste. He knew there was time enough for that later, and approached the bartender. The cowhand, an older looking man with a graying handlebar mustache, pushed his head back slightly and asked, "Where might I find a gent by the name of Burcher? Might know him as Captain Burcher?" The bartender, paused, taking the man in as a no-nonsense sort, paused, then responded, "Not sure if he's in town or not, but he is camped out of town with a couple of his hands, playing nursemaid to a couple of movers that got in a bad way." The slight surprised lift of the eyebrows was not lost on the bartender, as he proceeded to give the man directions.

 

As the hand listened intently, he nodded occasionally, then offered his hand, "Thanks. Name's Capper. Chuck Capper. I rode for the Captain in the recent unpleasantness, and I'm now his foreman. Got some cattle for him. Should be more on the next train, along with timber for building." With that, Capper turned and exited the building, as the bartender leaned his forearms on the bar, thinking. Cattle? Well, now, that was interesting to know.

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Not a word was spoken on the ride back to East Fork, as Kit was lost in thought as to who may have wanted him dead. When they finally arrived, stopping in front the doc's office, Venus exited the Surrey and began to come around the other side when the doc's assistant, Brodie stormed out of the office onto the boardwalk to assist her in getting Kit out of the Surrey and into the office. "What happened to this stranger, Miss Lardy?"
"He was shot and was blessed enough to have not died. He's hurt bad though so I need Doc Waite to check him out."
Upon entering the office, the stench of blood permeated the air and Venus found herself covering her nose with her free hand.
"My word Charlie, what happened here?" she asked, almost choking on her words.

"J. Mark assisted me on a leg amputation on some hombre he accosted at the diner trying to cheat at cards. Sawed the poor guys leg off! What a mess, and Brodie and I haven't had time to get the smell out," he replied apologetically.
They then proceeded to place Kit on a clean table so Charlie could take care of his wound.
You sure are lucky, stranger. Though the bullet missed vital organs, it sure torn a couple of nice sized holes in you,” Charlie chuckled, as if to take enjoyment in another mans’ misery. “I’ll sew 'em up, but you’ll need at least a couple of days rest for them to heal properly, and most likely, be in some pain as well.
Thanks, doc, I……” Kit started to reply.
Charlie cut him off midstream. “You needn’t thank me, thank Venus, as she did a mighty fine job of stopping the bleeding.” Charlie turned to Venus, giving her a wink of the eye.
Where you stay’in?” Charlie inquired.

I’ve got a room at the Hotel,” Kit responded.
Turning to Brodie, Charlie told him “Once I get him patched up, take him to his Hotel room.

Brodie merely nodded.

Looking back at Kit, “I’ll come by and check on you in a day or two to make sure there is no infection.
What few people were in the lobby of the Hotel when Kit and Brodie sauntered in the front door, stopped what they were doing to just stare at the two of them.

Just taking him to his room,” Brodie mumbled to the desk clerk.
Once they arrived at his room, Brodie asked if there was anything further he could help with, to which Kit replied there was not. With that, Brodie promptly left the room closing the door behind him.

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Doc Ward and Cactus Jack left the jail and Doc headed over to talk to Abby at Kris's before heading back to the ranch. Cactus Jack walked his horse, leading Doc's bay down to meet Doc at the store. When Doc walked out, he pointed a thumb over his shoulder, "J. Mark is going to sleep on a cot at the store, and keep an eye on things. Abby's already headed back to the ranch. She'll probably stop to check on the Henderson's so let's head that way."

 

As the two started out of town, they noticed a man on horseback somewhat ahead of them, moving in the same direction. When he saw the two following him, he drew up, waiting. As Doc and Cactus Jack approached, he moved his coat slightly, his hand on his thigh, within easy reach of his revolver. "Can I help you gents?" Cactus Jack pushed his hat back slightly on his head and put his hands on his pommel, "We're just headed back to the home range. Might I ask your name and where you might be headed?" The stranger shifted in his saddle, appraising the two men looking back at him. After a moment's consideration, he offered, "Name's Capper. Looking for a man by the last name of Burcher. Captain Burcher. Fella at the depot told me he might be this way. I work for him."

Doc tilted his head slightly, "Work for him? Well, you're heading the right way. He's camped with two of his other men. What did you say you did for him?" Capper smiled, "I don't recollect I did. I was under his command during the war, and now I work as foreman on one of his holdings. He telegraphed and is shipping some stock and building material this way to build on land he owns. Have a couple hundred head in the stock yards north of town, ready to move, and more cattle and men on the way." Doc leaned back in his saddle, took his hat off and ran a hand through his hair as he contemplated the news. Looking over at Cactus Jack, Doc said, "Cattle and buildings. Seems the Cap'n wants to bring things to a head." Looking back to Capper, Doc continued, "I'm Ben Ward, but most everyone calls me 'Doc.' This character riding next to me is Cactus Jack Calder. Texas Ranger, hired hand, teller of tales large and small, and all around good guy to have next to you in a fight."

 

Cactus jack looked back at Capper, "These fellas coming along... They fighters?" Capper leaned a little more further forward, his face somber, "Most of us served under him in the war, and all of us would charge the gates of hell at a gallop were he to say so, because we would know he'd be leading the way." Doc gave an approving nod, "Well, let's not keep the man waiting, shall we?" With that, Doc urged his horse forward toward where Burcher and the Henderson's camped.

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Captain Burcher stood slowly, rifle in hand, and so did I.

Not a word was spoken; no word had to be: each of us knew something was coming, and we both eased into the saddle and started to flank out.

I faded in amongst some rocks and the Captain took a liking to a patch of brush, and we waited, each of us kind of spreading our spirit out like we was runnin' an oily puddle out from ourselves -- I don't pretend to understand how it works, but it does and that's the closest thing I can think of to describe it, if you figure the puddle moves quick and covers several hundred yards across -- and then the Captain looked squarely at me and made a short hand gesture.

I waited.

Burcher came out of the brush at a right brisk trot and rode straight toward the cause of our alarm, a slender man who rode with the erect posture of Cavalry -- and from the look of the horse he was mounted on, I'd lay money it was Suth'n cavalry, those boys were just a marvel on horseback and made the Union cavalry look sick -- the two rode up to one another and shook hands and spoke a little, and then from behint this newcomer, an arrowhead of beef on the hoof, and I recht up and scratched my head, for I had not expected this.

I rode out and Burcher and this newcomer kind of faded off to the side torst me and the Captain looked at me with a quiet look of satisfaction about him.

"This is Capper," he said simply.  "We rode together.  Capper, Linn Keller.  He was Union but God will forgive him for that."

I thrust out my hand; his grip was firm, his gaze level, he had the look of a man who would get a job done and he didn't much care what the job was -- and when Burcher said they rode together, I surmised it was during the War, and that was good enough for me.

"Cattle, sir," Capper said, turning his head to Burcher, speaking with the brevity of a man on task, "and other supplies following."

"This is the first load."  It was a statement, not a question.

"Yes, sir.  Enough to start."

"We may have a fight on our hands."

"Yes, sir."

"Second shipment on the way?"

"In three days, yes, sir, just as you ordered."

Burcher smiled a little and nodded.  "It'll be good to have my own roof overhead again."

"Yes, sir."

Now I didn't know exactly what was going on, but from the size of the bovine flood moving slowly a-past me, it looked like Captain Burcher had plans for his property.

"Captain," said I, and I used his title a-purpose as he was with one of his men, "have you hands enough to keep the cowans and eavesdroppers from runnin' off your stock?"

They both looked at me and they had the guarded expressions of men who listened intently when information came their way.

"Strikes me the Philistines we face might look at this new wealth and covet it right into their own pastures."

The Captain raised an eyebrow and his hired man looked thoughtfully from the Captain to me.

"I don't preach behint the local pulpit," I said, "but I might not want to see my fellow man fall because he covets."

"Knowing Hammond," the Captain opined, "and knowing you, he won't fall from covetousness."

"No."  My smile was tight.  "I reckon he'll fall when I smite him with a sling stone."

Their eyes shifted just a little and I reckon they were looking at the rear stock of my .44-40 sling I had in the saddle scabbard.

Edited by Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103
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"Te tengo hijo de puta!" he exclaimed jubilantly. "I hope the buzzards chew on your sorry carcass for days," he said to himself as he lower the barrel of his Sharps rifle. His perch just below the Mesa provided him with the perfect vantage point with which to spot any rider on the road heading East out of town without spotting him. He liked that the backdrop of the mess made any rifle shot echo difficult to determine its source. On this day though it wasn't just anyone he wanted to kill , it was the preacher man.

 

Placing the rifle in its scabbard, he took a few moments to get a swig of water from his canteen as he reveled in the moment he had been looking forward to for months.
Opening his saddlebag he pulled out a faded rolled up piece of paper, holding it against his horse whilst staring at it for a time before reading it out loud, as if anyone could hear him.

 

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Glaring at the blurred image of someone who was supposed to look like him, he began to laugh. "If this is what they think I look like, they'll never find me!"

"They don't even show the two inch scar on my left cheek I got when I was mauled by a mountain lion. Nor the piece of my right ear that got bit off by some miscreant by the name of Mike Stony during a brawl at a Saloon in Dodge City."
"Diablos si me importa, ahora que 'El Predicator' esta muerto," he swore out loud, as he proceeded to tear the paper to shreds, tossing the pieces in the air and watching them scatter with the wind.
Satisfied that his work was done, he mounted his horse and headed to town.

Edited by Father Kit Cool Gun Garth
OTTO Correct
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Doc and Jack showed Capper where the Captain was set up, then Doc headed to the Henderson’s camp to see Abby and Jack split off towards the home spread.  Jack’s route passed through the pasture where Doc’s cattle were settled. Looking over the small herd Jack was satisfied that this time all was well. He moved through the wood lot the rustlers had used to try and bushwhack them looking for sign of the third rider. Finding the trail was easy at first, the man had galloped away leaving clear tracks. Moving along he saw the man had drawn his horse down to a lope shortly after crossing a ridge and moved into a stream. There were no tracks of him exiting the stream.

 

Jack wondered, ‘Which way did he go, up or down stream? The Hammond spread is south  towards town. If this man was working for Hammond he’d likely head back to the ranch and have people there provide him with an alibi. On the other hand if this was Frezzel he might be hightailing it out of the area.’ Jack turned north following the stream bed looking for tracks of the third man leaving the stream. Two miles on Jack found a shelf of shale along the west bank that had slight scaring. Jack had become a ‘fair to midlin’ tracker in the Texas panhandle country. Trailing Comanche warriors when they were on a horse raid, Jack had learned to track from the best against the best.

 

Once past the shale bank, he found scarce tracks, but enough to know he was onto the third man’s trail. There was that gauge in the shoe plain as day. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”  Jack mumbled to his horse. The tracks continued heading west for five more miles, then swung north. “That wily son of a gun, I’ll bet he’s headed for Hammond’s place after all. I’ll tell you what, Pancho, we’ll trail him as far as we can without being spotted. If he goes to the Hammond headquarters we can’t very well try and grab him. There will be too many people there for one man to handle. Even a Texas Range has to know his limits.” Jack opined to his horse. Ole Pancho, he just nodded his head and waggled his ears as they moved along. Jack, like many men who spent long hours alone on the trail had the habit of voicing his thoughts out loud. Rather than talking to himself he talked to his horse. That way he didn’t expect an answer. His old pard Jingle Jones had said “If they start answering you, then you know your in trouble.”

 

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"Kris, I thank you for the coffee.  Tomorrow morning I'm heading out.  Appreciate the cot saved me a little money."  I said quietly.  Kris looked at me a moment "You are welcome to the coffee and the cot anytime.  I think I can take care of the place myself." she smiled as she said it while placing her shotgun under the counter.  "Where are you headed this time Mark?"

 

I smiled "Well now, have you ever heard of Flint Mountain?"

 

Kris looked and thought a moment "In Montana, right?"  I smiled "Correct, well you won't find me there."

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"I thank you kindly for your assistance while you were here.  Your company was appreciated as well" Calamity stated in a sad tone.  "I hope you find what you're looking for".  With that, J Mark tipped his hat, spun on his heels and headed out the door.  Kris gently closed it behind him.  She leaned against the doorframe and took a deep breath.  Well, I'm on my own again.  I'll have to come up with ways to be able to defend this place on my own.  She slowly and deliberately walked around the shop looking for places to conceal, places to observe from and places that would make her venerable.

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Night had fallen in East Fork, and the town had gone to sleep. The Saloon had closed, and the bartender finished his cleaning before retiring to his room on the second floor. In the distance, coyotes called to one another, and a poorwill was making his presence known. A gibbous moon hung high enough to offer its cold light over the town. A large man rode from up beside the jail, and without dismounting, used the moonlight to set to work, quietly working the shutters open that covered the bars to one of the cells. Once he had it open, he whispered, "Clay, Jim, are you in there?" A whispered reply came, "The other cell, who's there?" Without responding, the man moved his horse to the second set of shutters, and opened them with quiet effort.

 

Once shutters were open, he reached into a pocket and struck a match, holding his hand in the window to see. Clay and Jim were standing near the window in their sock feet, seeing who it was outside, and to ask what their plans were. As their faces crowded near the window, two shots rang out, and both men fell to the floor dead. As people were shaken from their sleep by the shots, lights slowly came to life, and Old Cal, who stayed over the jail at night, came running out of the back room, tugging a suspender over his shoulder, shotgun in hand. As he looked he saw the men dead on the floor and the shutters open as he turned the coal oil light up.

 

Cal wasted no time checking on the men, instead opening the front door to the jail, and running barefoot toward the side of the building. The sound of two more gunshots filled the air and Cal reflexively fired the shotgun into the awning over the porch of the jail as he stumbled and fell, struggling to get to his feet, to see his attacker in the moonlight. The last words he heard were, "You're not the marshal, dammit!" Then a bullet struck him in the forehead and he fell over. Putting spurs to his horse, the attacker went around back the way he had come, and was quickly out and away.

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The sound of gunshots awoke Kit from a deep sleep. Reaching under his pillow for his revolver, he lay attentive in the bed, his room lit up by the moonlight, casting eerie shadows throughout. He knew that any attempt to quickly jump into action would not be forthcoming based on his current condition.
Just as he was getting his bearings, two more shots rang out. They were coming from the direction of the jail. 
This time he decided to cautiously work his way to the edge of the bed, rising to a seated position. His right hand dropped his revolver on the bed as he worked his body upright, holding his left side where the doc had fixed him up. If he wasn't fully awake at this time,  the sharp pain in his side made sure he was. Now seated on the edge of the bed, he had a clear view out the only window in his room, of the north side of town. 
In the distance he could see movement in front of the jail, but unable to determine what was happening, until the sound of a shotgun and its barrel  flash caught Kit by surprise.
Soon to follow was a single shot and the night became suddenly quiet.
Realizing he could be of no assistance in his condition, he eased himself back onto his pillow unable to fall back to sleep, concerned for the townsfolk that may be involved in the shootings, praying for their safety.

 

Edited by Father Kit Cool Gun Garth
grammar
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As Kit lay restless in bed, he could now hear the shouts of various townsfolk, as they were trying to assess the current situation.
"Over there at the jail!" exclaimed one person. "Someone get the Sheriff!" yelled another. The overall uproar took over the previously serene quiet of the night.
Kit's thoughts went back to yesterday's events, trying to recall exactly what happened out on the range. A single shot, laying on the ground, the appearance of Venus, and then the doc's office. It all seemed a blur, as he vaguely remembered getting help to his room, but after that nothing until these shots rang out. 
Even with the commotion going on in town, it wasn't long before he fell back off to sleep.

 

 

Frank "Flapjack" Milt had made his way back to East Fork, still gloating over his recent victory. Heading to the Saloon, he tied his horse up next to the water trough and entered through the batwing doors.
Shimmying up to the bar, he pulled several loose coins from his pocket, tossing them onto the counter in a haphazard manner and grunted to the barkeep "Give me a Stone Fence and use one of your finest whiskeys, and best I don't see you water it down either, if you know what's good for you."

Slim reached up to the highest shelf on the back wall, grabbing a half filled bottle of Old Kentucky, snatched a whiskey glass from the back counter, turning it right side up and filled it half full in front of the stranger so as not to deceive him. Reaching under the bar with his now free right hand, he...
"Hold it right there!" Frank barked, as his right hand suddenly appeared above the bar, revolver already cocked, finger on the trigger. "You best not be reaching for no shotgun!"
Slim's eyes grew wide as he froze momentarily, staring down the barrel of a Colt 45. "Just getting some ice," he replied.
Frank return his gun to its holster as Slim rose holding two pieces of ice which he now placed in the whiskey glass. Turning around, he grabbed the bottle of cider on the lower shelf and proceeded to fill the remainder of the glass. A quick stir with a spoon and he slid the drink in front of Frank.
Grabbing the drink, he turned toward the half-filled room and headed toward an empty table in the rear. Without turning his head, he commanded, "Now bring me one of them free lunches you're offer'in."
Pulling the chair out and setting his drink on the table, he quickly scanned the room again making sure he was fully aware of his surroundings should a defensive move be called for. He then sat down, leaning the chair against the back wall,  placing his hat on the table,  and taking his first taste of his drink. 
Soon lunch was delivered with a plate of smoked herring, some rye bread, and dill pickles. "Nothing fancy," he thought, "but it's free."
Without fear of being recognized, he merely relaxed and enjoyed his drink and food.

 

 

Edited by Father Kit Cool Gun Garth
grammar
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Checking on the Henderson's, Doc and Abby agreed they should be up for travel into town, and that they would help them get there in the morning. Both husband and wife expressed their concern about being able to afford a stay while Mr. Henderson continued to convalesce, but Doc insisted it would be taken care of. It would be safer for the family, particularly with the trouble Doc knew to be brewing. Captain Burcher and his men had been staying on site, but were ready to move onto the land he owned, and begin building a headquarters.

Abigail finally broached the subject that had been on their minds, "Where do you intend to go to, once you're able?" Maury replied, "Frank's brother sent word that he has land enough for us west of East Fork. We heard someone mention it, is it close by?" Abigail looked at Doc and he looked at her, both puzzled by the answer. Doc thought for a moment before speaking, "Yes, it is the local town we've been traveling to and from, and where we'll be taking you. But we're not familiar with any Hendersons hereabouts. Would he be closer to the Mormon settlements over west of here?" Frank shook his head, "No, he said West of East Fork. He's a number of years older than me, and takes more after our father's side of the family in his appearance. But he's a devout man, I would think he is in church every Sunday." Doc frowned, not wanting to tell the man he was mistaken about his brother living in the area, or that he and his wife didn't attend services, for that matter. He could tell religion was something very important to Frank and Maureen, and he respected that it was.

 

Doc smiled, "Well, we'll sort it out soon enough. First thing is to get you into town tomorrow morning, and let you get some rest indoors in a bed instead of in a tent on a cot." Frank returned Doc's smile, "Maury and I are simply thankful that God sent all of you when he did. We feel blessed to have your help." Doc nodded, "It's our pleasure. We'll see you in the morning." With that, Doc and Abby headed for home.

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I slept out away from everyone else.

I'd circled back and my place was still secure, Sailor-dog was happy to see me and Chester snarled and slapped at me so I tucked him in close ag'in my chest and rubbed his upturned belly and had I not been wearing gloves he'd have brought blood, he had them hind pistons diggin' fiercely into the deer hide I wore.

'Course they were already scarred up some for we'd done this before.

I rode on back and had a palaver with Doc for I was restless and 'twas a thing I'd felt before, somethin' I'd managed to lay like a priest will lay a wandering ghost, only this ghost clumb up out of the grave when my wife died and I take my broken heart and rode away from Stone Creek and come out here.

I'd come onto a mountain witch not long after that damned war was over and she'd told me I'd die holdin' hands with my wife, settin' in a rockin' chair with her, and she pointed to the far western horizon as she spoke: I looked to where she pointed and when I looked back she was gone, and I figure that was a sign, and all that come back to mind oncet I rode in and swung down and had me a palaver and a powwow and some coffee, and not in that order.

"Doc," said I, "I reckon the Law has enough information to send the Law after Hammond and he knows it. He'll either light a shuck out of here and not stop until he's fur enough away nobody knows him, he'll stay and fight like two hells, or he'll sneak in and try and kill anyone that can testify ag'in him."

Doc considered this for several moments and then nodded, slowly, eyes busy in the gathering dark.

"He'll not run," Doc said thoughtfully. "He'll more than likely do everything else."

I closed my eyes and taken a long breath.

"I reckon that's so."

 

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Jack had followed the tracks well into Hammond land before he pulled up in copse of woods overlooking the headquarters buildings. “So, Pancho, no question the third rustler came here.” He said. “If it’s Frezzel, and I believe it is, then we have a location to look for him. Let’s head back to Doc’s and figure out a plan to capture that bird. Maybe come up with some sort of bait. If we do it right we might even lure Hammond out for Doc and Linn to settle his hash.” Jack turned Pancho and headed away from the headquarters. Being a careful man he traveled a different route than he had ridden getting there. This was a good move as his tracks had been spotted by one of the ranch hands.

 

The hand returned to the bunkhouse and cleaned up for supper. He thought the tracks were from one of the other working hands on the ranch. There was a sharp division between the working hands and the rough men Hammond had recently brought to the ranch. No one wanted to deal with these rough men as they were always in an ornery mode, growling and glaring at the regular hands. Several men were nearly ready to draw their time and move on. They knew if they did, they’d have to move on quickly and far to avoid trouble.

 

Once he reached the Ward ranch, Jack went to the house to talk with Doc. “Doc, I went over through the wood lot this afternoon and picked up the trail of that third rustler.” He said. “I followed it to the Hammond headquarters. I believe it was Frezzel, the man I came here to arrest. I figure he is working as part of the rough crowd Hammond has recently hired. The situation is getting unstable as Hammond is trying to grab more land. If we can’t get him to back off there’s likely going to be a range war.”

 

“You are right about that.” Responded Doc. “The thing is Hammond doesn’t realize what he’s up against. Linn Keller, Captain Burcher and his entire crew are former Cavalry  Soldiers. They know how to conduct an open field war. If it comes to that it is not be a set piece engagement. Those rough men he has hired are opportunists, used to bullying there way against terrified opponents not hardened soldiers.” Jack said, “I was hoping we could come up with a plan to bait out Frezzel and maybe Hammond too. Get them out away from the headquarters where they could fort up. If we isolate those two we might defuse the situation. The hard cases ride for the money, not the brand. Hammond’s regular ranch hands won’t bring a war to the other spreads if there is no threat to Hammond’s land. They ride for the brand but they will recognize other people’s right to live their lives without fear.”

 

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I was inspired to caution, to quote a fellow I rode with back during that damned War -- educated he was, he always spoke in fine sounding words, at least until he inherited a chunk of canister that removed the left side of his skull, then I reckon his speech making was done before the Throne.

I rode back into town and I paid me a visit to the telegraph office, and I parted with some coin before I left.

Now Bud is a steady and reliable mule and he's my choice for saddle stock but Bud was not fast.

I knew a man who could provide me with some good, tough, mountain bred saddle stock, and I knew I had but to ask, so I sent my ask-it by the singing wire.

I sent off to my cousin, a pale eyed old lawman with an iron grey mustache who just happened to wear the same name as me.

'Twould not be right to ask his help for this fracas, hell, he's got a whole county to take care of, but he'd let me know some time back if he had somethin' and I was needful, 'twas mine, and I figured Bud-mule might not be the best choice if I had need to move fast.

I sent the ask-it and paid the coin and I set my backside down for a meal and did my level best to turn invisible while I did.

The meal was good, the coffee was better.

I et my fill and thanked the folks and out the door I went, and me and Bud-mule we pointed our noses back torst where we'd come from.

 

 

 

 

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"Sir?"

Sheriff Linn Keller looked over at his son, then leaned forward and spun the telegram across the desk to his pale eyed firstborn.

Jacob read it, read it again, looked up.

"Cousin, sir?"

The Sheriff nodded.

Jacob placed the handwritten missive very precisely on his father's desk, watched his father very carefully as the lean man with the iron grey mustache leaned back in his chair and contemplated the ceiling.

"He wouldn't ask for saddle stock unless he needed it," he said slowly, eyes narrowing:  Jacob could almost hear the oiled chuckle of meshing gears behind those pale eyes.

"What kind of horses will he want, sir?"

"Cavalry, Jacob," the Sheriff said decisively, bringing his chair down to level and rising quickly, easily, reaching up for his pearl-grey Stetson.

"We've no chestnuts, sir, nor have we any but your Outlaw-horse for blacks."

"He'll have need of some fire under the saddle."

Jacob raised an eyebrow.

"Not Powder, sir."

"No.  Not Powder.  That's a bit too much fire."

"We've the line back dun, she's out of Powder's sire."

The Sheriff nodded.  "That's one."

"How many will he need?"

"He asks for one."

"He'll need more than one, sir."

"He will.  I'm thinking four."

"How soon, sir?"

"How soon can we get them to the depot?"

"An hour, sir, no more."

"I'll have Esther arrange an express."

"Will you be taking them, sir?"

The Sheriff hesitated.

"It's family, sir. If he asked for horses he might be needful."

The Sheriff closed his eyes, took a long breath, blew it out through pursed lips and puffed cheeks.

"No, Jacob," he said finally.  "I have a county to tend."

"Be pleased to take 'em for you, sir."

The Sheriff smiled a little.

"Don't let your sister know.  Sarah would bust a gut to go."

 

 

 

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They say time heals all wounds; however, in Kit's case, that was only half true.
The loss of his wife and only child were buried in his heart for eternity, never to be healed.
His gunshot wound was another story.
Doc Waite had made a courtesy visit first thing this morning. Checking his wound after removing the bandages, he was pleased to report that Kit was healing faster than expected.
"How's the side?", he asked.
Kit hesitated before answering, as if to contemplate the corresponding response from Charlie.
"Still sore. Had a rough night last night, but not as bad as it's been. Looking forward to getting back on my feet again."
Charlie finished rewrapping the wound as he countered, "Don't be in such a rush that you bust my stitches!"
"I'll do my best," Kit replied.
With that Charlie packed up his satchel, grabbed his hat and bid good day as he left the room.
As he approached the stairs, Venus was coming up with a plate full of food.
"Good Morning, Charlie," she said in her soft toned voice.
Grabbing the brim of his hat and nodding as he stepped aside to let her pass, "Good Morning as well, Ms. Lardy". He purposely avoided using her first name, so as to exude a professional, gentlemanly appearance. "Here to see my patient?" he added, knowing full well that was her intention.
A slight blush immediately appeared on her face as she stammered, "Thought some good food would help him regain his strength."
"He was definitely blessed to have you come by when you did. Most likely would have bled out."
With that, they parted ways, Charlie heading back to his office, as Venus approached Kit's room and knocked softly on the door.

 

Edited by Father Kit Cool Gun Garth
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"How will I know your cousin, sir?"  Jacob asked as he drew up in front of the Sheriff's office.

Four grey horses clustered about him: each was bridled, each was saddled, but none were bitted, and Jacob did not have a tether on any of them:  two were geldings, two were mares, but not nearly fresh, which was good, as Jacob rode his Appaloosa stallion.

The Sheriff regarded the small herd, and then his son:  the two had worked with these horses, trained them, taught them, not with a heavy hand and a whip, but rather with patience and with understanding.

"He'll look like me," Linn replied, "but he doesn't have the eyes."

"Yes, sir."

Linn nodded as he considered Jacob's rifle in its scabbard, the shotgun hung from the saddlehorn by its lanyard; he knew Jacob could handle himself in a fight, and had: he knew he was a man grown, father and husband and a man worthy of the name, but still there was that patriarchal discomfiture that comes of the father staying home while his son rides off to what may well become a war.

His cousin's missive was brief, and to the point: there were no details about what he faced, but a man hears things, and even at this distance, he'd heard rumor of a possible range war.

"Watch your top knot," he said finally, and stepped off the boardwalk, thrusting out his hand.

Callused hand grasped callused hand:  father and son each nodded, once, and then Jacob tightened his knees a little, and Apple-horse raised his head and stepped lively, and he and the handpicked herd trotted proudly down the dirt street.

Linn was not a demonstrative man -- unless it suited his purpose -- and it suited his purpose to watch his son depart, and then to turn and walk slowly back into the Sheriff's office.

He closed the door gently, latched it carefully, and then stared hard at the thick planks, as if deciding whether he wished to drive his fist through them.

 

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"You're like a ghost on that mule."

I smiled a little.

"Comin' from you, Captain," I replied, "that is a complement."

"It's meant to be."
"Flattery," said I, taking a noisy slurp of coffee, "will get you everywhere."

"Hot?"  the Captain asked casually as I whistled air in through pursed lips.

"Scalded the hair off my tongue," I gasped.  "Damn-NATION, I should waited a little!"

"You're not supposed to imitate my bad examples," Doc deadpanned, and I nodded:  "Trust me to cause trouble!"

"How long since you sent for somethin' to replace that mule of yours?" 

"Three days, maybe four.  Takes a bit even with an iron horse pullin'."

There was a faint BOOOOMMMM, the deep-toned concussion of a heavy rifle, and our heads all came up like hounds hearing a distant call.

I set my tin cup down and taken a long stride towards my Bud-mule.

 

Jacob Keller asked directions to find a fellow named Linn Keller.

The Sheriff gave him a long look when he asked.

Jacob considered how it would look to the local lawman's eyes: a stranger in a black suit rides into town, four saddled but riderless horses with him, and neither rein nor tether to be seen:  then Jacob pushed his black hat brim up a little with one finger and gave the man the full benefit of his pale eyes.

"My father sent me," he said quietly, and the Sheriff nodded:  Jacob saw the realization in the man's eyes and he said, carefully, "I'm here to deliver the horses he requested. I'm not after anyone in your territory."

He followed the lawman's directions:  the instructions were clear, and gratefully simple:  when he came into a broken canyon, he considered this would be a fine place for an ambush, and he shucked out his '76 rifle, his thumb laid over the spur, pale eyes busy.

The deeper he got into the canyon, the greater his discomfort grew, until a voice challenged "'PREACHER!" and Jacob put his heels to his stallion, whistled, laid down along his Appaloosa's neck:  Apple-horse did not need to be told twice:  his father's Cannonball mare was famous for taking out like a ball from a field gun, but his Apple-horse could do the same thing, and as Jacob clung to his back like a burr on a long haired hound dog, Apple streaked down the trail, ten feet long and two feet tall and pale as a ghost, with four horses streaming behind him like a grey creek flooding up-trail.

Jacob did not slack their speed until they crested and turned and came downhill, to where he could see a wall tent in a sizable clearing, tethered horses in a line, tethered the way he'd seen Cavalry picket their mounts -- he saw the sentry, realized this was cavalry, or had been -- he straightened in his saddle and screamed "EEEYAAAHOOOOO!" and came into the clearing, slowing quickly, Apple-horse rearing and windmilling his hooves in greeting.

The four following greys swarmed around him, restless, throwing their heads, nostrils flared:  Jacob stood up in his stirrups, looked at rifle barrels being lowered, revolvers being eased back into leather and he saw three men standing shoulder to shoulder, regarding him levelly.

He eased Apple-horse forward, slowly thrusting his Winchester back in its carved scabbard:  he swung down, looked from one face to another, stopped, stared.

Jacob Keller took off his hat, slowly, and extended his hand.

"Sir, I am Chief Deputy Jacob Keller, Firelands County, Colorado," he said formally, "and I will be sawed off and damned if you aren't my father's twin!"  His grin was quick and genuine and he added, "All but the eyes."

Linn Keller stared openly at Jacob and nodded, grasping the proffered palm.

"You could be your father," he said slowly.  "The old man put his stamp on you, all right!"
"You should see my sister," Jacob deadpanned.  "She looks nothing like either of us!"

"Now that's a blessing," one of the other two muttered, and they chuckled as if sharing an inside joke.

"Sir, you sent for horses."  Jacob curled his lip and whistled; the four crowded around him, begging for attention, snuffing loudly at his middle.

"These four are knee trained.  I'll need to show you how they're trained."

He felt more than heard someone approach, and he smelled perfume:  a woman's voice, rich and musical, caressed his ear.

"Shouldn't you eat something first?" she asked, and he turned and automatically brought her hand to her lips, carefully kissed her knuckles.

"My lady," he said gently with a half[-bow.  "You have the advantage of me, ma'am."

Abigail Ward looked at Linn.

"He looks like you," she smiled, then looked at Captain Burcher.

"But he has your manners."

Jacob Keller's face colored a little, and his ears colored quite a bit more.

Much more.

Jacob cleared his throat, shifted his weight from one foot to the other, then looked at Linn.

"Sir," he said, "I recall Pa said you were sky pilot in Stone Creek.  Someone took a shot at me when I came into that broken canyon back yonder and I heard whoever 'twas yell 'Preacher!' before he shot."

Linn considered a moment and Jacob saw his good right hand close into a fist, slowly, tightly.

"Milt," he whispered, his eyes hardening.

Doc and Captain Burcher looked sharply at the man.
"Milt?"  they asked, their voices blending:  "Frank Milt?"

 

 

 

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Lucas had always wanted to be a cowboy, growing up on his Uncle's ranch. 
He lost both his parents to cholera while in a wagon train heading to Wyoming from North Dakota. They suffered and died quickly as there was no medical attention to be had. Lucas was quickly quarantined, and survived.
His mother's brother and his wife took him in, raising him since he was eight years old.
Looking back now, he understood why his Uncle Clayton and Aunt Becky made him do the chores he was required to perform. Up at the crack of dawn to feed the chickens, gather their eggs. Provide hay to the horses in the barn and clean their stalls. Even milk the cows on occasion. All life lessons required to learn responsibilities.
Then there was Church every Sunday regardless of the weather. Pastor Sullivan was a tall, thin rail of a man with short black hair so dark, it appeared to be painted on his head. His clothing was impeccably tidy, and he always wore a fresh cut flower on his lapel. Folks rumored it was in memory of his late wife. His fire and brimstone sermons are still etched in Lucas's memory.
But the best part of his time at the ranch was learning to be a cowboy. Uncle Clay, as he called him, taught him his riding skills and how to handle a horse that makes you a team, one with each other, and knowing the next move even before the other did. Roping was next, and man that was hard. Learning the differences between a lasso which is made from stiff rope so that the noose stays open when it's thrown, and a lariat which has a small reinforced loop at one end, through which the rope passes to form a loop, and when to use each one. Combining those learned skills into roping cattle became second nature. And finally, shooting a rifle and pistol. Clayton was a shotgun messenger riding stagecoaches for Wells Fargo. He told him many tales of his adventures warding off would be robbers and Indian attacks. Although he was deadly with his Greener Double Barrel Hammer Damascus Shotgun, he favored his 1873 Winchester. He was also known to handle his sidearm, a .36 caliber 1851 Colt Navy Revolver, with the best of them. Lucas spent every available free time practicing and honing his long range rifle accuracy and his lightning fast, dead on proficiency with a revolver.
Yet here he was standing with a pitchfork, about to shovel horse manure, cleaning out horse stalls.
"Quit your day dream'in son! I ain't paying you to just stand there," came the loud obnoxious voice, quickly shattering his drifting thoughts.
"Yes Sir, Mr. Hammond, Sir," Lucas replied in his best apologetic voice.
"Well, don't just stand there, get those stalls cleaned out, and when you're through, head over to the bunkhouse and clean it up! Those no good hired hands are the messiest bunch this side of the river."
And with that, headed back to the main house.
All Lucas wanted at this moment was to be a real cowboy.

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Venus softly knocked on the door to Kit's room and upon hearing a "Come on in," she entered. His eyes lit up as he exclaimed, "Food! What a wonderful surprise." Realizing his poor manners, he quickly followed up with, "It's great to see you so soon. I can't express my gratitude enough for what you've done for me. Clearly a debt that I will repay someday. "
Placing the plate of food on a bureau near the bed, along with the cup of coffee, she sat down on the bed next to him.
"I hear Doc Waite is impressed with your recovery, and that you should be up and about within a day or two. That is great news! I'm sure you're famished,  so I took the liberty of stopping by the diner to get you some breakfast."
"That is so thoughtful of you. You'll make some man very happy someday,
" he replied, forgetting that he hadn't yet known if she was married or not. He felt embarrassed, not only in making that assumption, but the look in her eyes, and her sudden rising from the bed to retrieve his meal, told him that he had struck a nerve. 
The moment was awkward now as he tried to eat his breakfast, not taking stops in between to continue a conversation. He was hungry not having a decent meal since the surgery, and soon he was finished and began working on his coffee.
"I've never seen a person eat so fast. For  a moment there, I was afraid you were going to choke on the food," she said with a sweet chuckle.
Kit apologized, not only for his eating manners, but for his earlier remark which appeared to upset her. 
"There's no need for that," she countered, as she took his plate and returned it to the bureau.
"Most folks here in East Fork know my history, and I guess there's no reason you shouldn't know as well," she continued as she returned to her previous spot on the bed. 
"I'm a widow," she stated solemnly. 
"Married only a year, and lost my husband in the war," her eyes beginning to tear up to the point of overflowing and running down her cheeks.
Without hesitation, Kit reached up with an extended finger to wipe away the tears, when she grabbed his outreached hand, and through tear soaked lips whispered, "These tears, whenever they are shed, are all I have left to remember him by. "
They both remained frozen in silence.

 

 

Edited by Father Kit Cool Gun Garth
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I about fell over when Jacob showed up.

I don't know what took me more by surprise ... his lookin' just like I remember my cousin lookin' ... or them horses stickin' with him like fog swirlin' around a stump in a plowed field.

He showed up in a black suit and a necktie and that didn't take away one little bit his skill a-horseback.

Now I didn't have no idea a'tall how to ride a horse without a handful of reins but Jacob he showed me -- by virtue of throwin' me his rifle and yellin' "Don't let go of that!" and whistlin' to the grey I straddled, and off we went, and four of the Captain's men with us.

Jacob he spun around and come up beside me and told me how to lean in the saddle and tighten my knees and more on one side than t'other would do it, and damned if that horse didn't do just what I wanted, and once I got used to it, why, Jacob he pulled some stunts that them cavalry boys already had down cold:  we taken out acrost the field at a dead-out gallop, we come to a fast stop and Jacob he come boilin' out of attair saddle of his and laid a hand on his stallion's neck and that stallion he laid down just nice as anythin' and Jacob he went down behint his stallion with his rifle over't and I looked to my left and to my right and damned if them cavalry boys didn't do the very same thing.

I come out of my saddle feelin' like a damned fool, for they was already on the ground and rifles laid over their horses' barrels and I laid my hand on the grey's neck and down he went and I could not help it.

I stood there and laughed like a damned fool.

Jacob he give a whistle and come up on his hind legs and them cavalry boys they come up too and their horses with 'em and that grey he come up and side stepped a little to get his left side close in to me and we all clumb back into saddle leather.

I am no hand at a Cavalry charge and was someone to call "Troop, left in threes, hooo," I'd likely say somethin' really intelligent ... like "Huh?" -- but they taken pity on me and didn't try nothin' like that.

Now that grey horse it had some other tricks Jacob run me through, he made a dummy out of a shirt and a set of drawers and tree branches, he set a hat on it and he said to stay right beside him.

I think 'twas the grey stayin' with him more than me keepin' the grey up with him, but we rode back a good ways from attair dummy an then Jacob he turned and we rode a big circle and then we come up torst attair dummy and Jacob he reared back and his stallion dropped his back end and set them fore hooves stiff and he stopped fast and my grey didn't, Jacob he thrust out an arm and yelled "Git 'im!" and damned if that grey didn't just plainly come unglued underneath of me, attair gelding commenced to thrash and stomp an bite and run over that dummy and I think he finally spun around and bunched his hooves close up and bounced up and down on what used to be a fairly decent shirt and drawers.

Jacob looked at me and allowed as I had to be pretty good to stay aboard, as most fellas without no reins to hold onto would have been lost, but I had me a death grip on attair rifle and to be real honest I was afraid to let go of it.

He managed to peel that dummy out of the ground and set it back up and we come a-runnin' at it ag'in only it was my turn to yell "Git 'im!" and this time the rest of them grey horses come too and they all tore into it.

Captain Burcher he was doin' a lot of watchin' and very little talkin' and once we were done and I handed Jacob back his rifle, why, the Captain he shook his head and lamented why didn't they have such horses when they really needed 'em and he could have done a lot more good had he such fine and well trained mounts.

 

 

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After having watched the display of horsemanship with approval, Abigail insisted on having Linn, Jacob, Captain Burcher, Curly, Hal and Capper join them and Calder for dinner. When Doc raised an eyebrow, she returned the look and said they could make room. As they rode toward the ranch, Abigail told of a Hungarian gentleman she had met while in college who had regaled her of stories of the Hussars during the Napoleonic Wars, and how she loved horses and riding.

 

Once at the ranch, Doc went inside with Abigail to see what she needed while John Calder tended to their horses, and the others tended to theirs. Abigail smiled at her husband, "It has been a very long time since we've entertained, and I miss it so, even if there aren't other women. I know there's so little room, but we can make it work." When Doc nodded and smiled, her smile in return warmed his heart.

 

Abigail turned to begin preparing food, looking over her shoulder at him, "Besides, I think poor Jacob was quite disappointed when he found out I was married, despite the fact I am old enough to be his mother." Doc chuckled, "Not quite, my dear, but I will only add the young man is quite refined, in both his manners and his tastes." Smiling, Abigail turned and gave a slight curtsy, then instructed Doc, "Bring in some more wood if you please, then go out and enjoy the company of your friends." Doc walked to the cupboard, and pulled out the bottle of Irish whiskey along with some enamelware mugs, and replied, "I'll be back with the wood in a moment."

 

Doc handed the bottle and cups to Linn to pass around, only saying, "Save me some, will you?" Looking at the bottle then back at Doc, Keller nodded, giving a severe look. "I shall endeavor to, Sir." Both men laughed at the comment, out of the ordinary for Keller, and Doc went to the wood pile to split a bit of wood. Before he could swing the double bit axe, Jacob, approached, taking off his coat and rolling his sleeves. "I can take care of that, Sir, have a drink and relax. I insist." Doc handed the axe over and walked back, taking a cup from Burcher.

Later, as everyone went inside at Abby's call, Doc was surprised she could put such a meal together on short notice. But in front of them were a ham, beans and potatoes, bread, butter and honey. Doc noticed the table set with their fine china and silverware, despite the fact that several men would have to sit on stools. Upon seeing the food laid before them, several of the men turned and went back outside, to dust themselves off, run fingers through hair and wash faces and hands at the outside pump. Running boot toes over the backs of pant legs, they filed back in. Everyone remained standing until Abby came to the table herself and sat at the far end from her husband. As she sat, the others followed suit. Abby watched in pleasure, but also with a little amusement as rough men, all used to a life outdoors, worked to remember their manners as they dug into the food.

After everyone had finished their meals, and were sitting, elbows on table and talking, Abigail excused herself and decided to step outside for a moment before clearing plates. Opening the door to the house, she suddenly screamed and twisted away, falling back inside as the sound of a solid "thunk" of bullet hitting wood and the door sill splintered. A heavy "boom" followed, and men scrambled away from the table, Doc diving for his wife to put his body between hers and the doorway even as he worked to drag her back inside. Slapping at his hands, she struggled to her feet, cursing in terms that let everyone know she was alive, if not unhurt.

Keller, Burcher and his men piled out the door, as the heavy gun boomed once more, then again. Doc, John Calder and Jacob began tending to Abigail. Fighting to keep Abby from putting her hands to her face, Doc called out for more light as he lifted her and sat her on the table. "Keep your hands down," Doc snapped, "and let me see what is wrong!" Her right eye closed, Abby snapped back, "My face hurts, that's what's wrong!" Taking a deep breath and trying to remain calm and patient despite his pounding heart, Doc looked, moving her head gently with his hand. "You have a bunch of splinters in your face, nothing that appears serious, but I need to get them out. Is your eye OK?" Abby slowly relaxed, letting her eye flutter open. "It stings, like something is in it, but I can see."

 

Relieved, Doc nodded as he let out a sigh of relief. Going to a small chest, Doc grabbed an old kit and pulled out tweezers, gauze and witch hazel. As gently as possible, with Jacob and John looking on, waiting in case Doc or Abby needed anything, Doc began pulling splinters from Abby's cheek, jaw and ear, looking for more in her hairline. Every time Doc would pull an especially deep one out, Abigail would curse and pound her small fist against the table, much to the chagrin of Jacob, and the amusement of Calder.

 

When he was finished, Doc patted his wife on the shoulder, and grinned. As he looked at her, he gave a hidden glance toward Jacob and said, "Don't worry, I don't think there will be any scarring, and the young men will still want to dance with you." Abby laughed despite herself and shook her head. Glancing at Jacob, she replied, "Good, maybe they won't step on my toes like you do." Doc frowned, giving his best hurt look, but kissed his wife gently on her forehead. "I need to go see what's going on."

 

Walking outside, followed by Calder and Jacob, who was looking confused and concerned, Doc saw Keller and the others waiting. "She's fine. Took a lot of splinters, but they came out OK. What did you find?" Curly pointed and replied, "He was up on that knoll, 'bout eight hunnerd yards off. Big gun. Probably saw the door open, took a chance on trying to hit one of us." Doc stood, his eyes emotionless as he listened, then he asked "Leave prints that can be followed?" Curly nodded, "He left in a hurry, but I can't say how far."

Doc looked at Calder and Jacob, "I want the two of you to go with Abby into town. I want her to stay with Calamity Kris. I'll let her know, I don't think she'll argue. After you drop her off, John, see if that other Ranger is still in town, and will join us. Let Utah Bob know what happened. It's time we start to put an end to this nonsense. I aim to find whoever took that shot and kill him. I'm not particular how. If he's working for Hammond, the old man better throw whoever it was to the dogs, or I'll kill him too" Doc turned on his heel and walked to the house to Abby know his plans and gather his gear. The other men glanced from one to another for a moment before heading to their horses. Hal muttered loud enough for the others to hear, "That just ain't right. I was just workin' up to asking Miss Abigail for seconds."

 

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I stopped by the Sheriff's office, curious about the prisoner I'd helped operate on.  "UB, how's that prisoner doing?" i asked as I walked in.

 

UB motioned toward the coffee pot and I poured myself a cup.

 

"Doc says he'll be ready to fit a peg leg to the stump in a few months, if they don't hang him."  UB chuckled, "seems a waste of good lumber if you ask me."

 

I nodded, "Can't disagree."

 

In the small office, the prisoner heard every word "Ain't it bad enough you you crippled me,  now I have to listen to you talk about me like I was some kind of animal."

 

I laid my guns on the desk and approached the cell "Mister,  I'd not mistreat an animal, but what you got, you asked for."

 

About that time Jack Calder walked in the door.

 

 

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