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A Bad Spring in East Fork

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Frank Milt was not to be messed with, as the rage he held inside his soul could never be extinguished. He was conceived from the unlikely pairing of a Cherokee Indian mother and a loner mountain man father. Growing up was a daily dose of living an almost parent-less life as his father was constantly roaming the mountains and streams trapping beaver and the like. When he did show up it was to restock on supplies for the next trip. His mother, bless her soul, was a hard worker and the only provider for the household, which wore on her daily. Without the affection and love she so desperately needed, she resorted to seeking that comfort from others. When he was 15 years old, he ran away from home, stealing one of his father's horses and rifle to start out on his own. Without any source of income he quickly found easy pickings in robbing banks. He only worked alone, not out of necessity, but based on his distrust for anyone. By the age of 18 years old he was not only a prolific bank robber, but a murderer as well. His ability to evade capture is a testament to his wilderness upbringing. No one was immune from his anger, be it a loner on horseback out on the range, a family living out on their own, or a cowboy saying the something at the wrong time.
Frank finished his meal at the SALOON, dropped the appropriate coin on the table and quietly exited the room, but stopped short on the boardwalk. Coming out of the Sheriff's office he spotted the Marshall heading across the street to the General Store. Pausing for a moment to contemplate his next move, he hastily headed toward the Sheriff's Office, stopping in front of the door, hand on the door handle, glancing one last time, then quickly entering the office.
The simplicity of the office did not surprise him; however, he couldn't help noticing the collection of knifes proudly displayed in a glass showcase. Spying one he favored, he simply busted the small lock on the lid, and without hesitation picked it up, eyed it's beauty, and placed it in his coat pocket.
On the wall just inside the door were several Wanted Posters, tacked to the bare wall in a haphazard manner. Blackwater, Tyrel Cody, and Cold Lake Kid among others. He was both surprised and confused that his likeness was not among those lesser known so-called criminals. He now wished that he had not tore up his Wanted Poster after shooting the preacher so he could place it on the same wall, but after thinking about it, it would explain how he could freely roam about town without fear of being recognized.
Having satisfied his own curiosity, he pulled back the curtain on the front door, perused the surrounding street scene, and satisfied he would not be noticed, slipped out of the office, down the boardwalk a short distance, and across the street to his horse, still tied outside the SALOON. 
"Time for some fun!" he chuckled to himself, as he gave the reins a hard tug to the right, along with a hard kick to the sides of his mount and off they went, heading out of town.
While in the SALOON having his meal, he had overheard a conversation between a couple of cowhands who were discussing some folks who had run into trouble several miles outside of town, due west. Frank decided this called for some investigation, or more likely, entertainment.
Several miles outside of town he approached the canyon he had passed through when he first came to East Fork.  Taking the high trail through the canyon, Frank found a perfect vantage point whereby he could easily see anyone passing through the canyon bottom.
And he didn't have to wait long as entering the canyon was a lone rider on an Appaloosa followed by four saddled riderless horses. Pulling his spy glass from his coat pocket for a closer look, he jerked back from his prone position.

"Dios mío," he exclaimed. Had he missed his mark out on the range? He was sure he had finally taken care of his nemesis, the preacher.

"Preacher!" he yelled at the top of his lungs, providing his quarry with a fair chance.

He quickly resumed his previous position, carefully shouldering his Sharps, taking every precaution necessary to ensure a steady shot.

The lone rider had almost instantly laid down on his horse as Frank's shot rang out.

Preparing for a second shot was out of the question, as the rider disappeared out of sight and onto the open range.

"Another day, preacher man. Another day."

 

 


 

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While Doc was over at the Burcher camp visiting the Hendersons, Jack began to drift the cattle to an area with better graze. This slow pushing of the reluctant cows allowed Jack to begin forming a plan. A plan to draw out Frezzel from the Hammond ranch, and with a little luck Hammond himself. With the cattle resettled in new pasture Jack prepared to join Doc and Miss Abby at the Burcher camp. Just as he was closing the bunkhouse door the whole troop of Miss Abby, Doc, Linn Keller, Burcher, his crew and a young fella in a black suit appeared on the horizon. There were four spare gray horses with tack, also. The spare horse’s trailed along without leads as if they were trained to it. Once everyone was in the yard Doc introduced the young fella and Jack. Seems he was kin to Keller, the son of Linn’s cousin, who was the Sheriff of Firelands, CO. Jacob Keller was his name and he’d brought the grays to Linn as a gift. Jack took the reins from Miss Abby and Doc, “I’ll take care of your horses, you go on in and relax a bit,” He said.

 

The Wards went into the kitchen where Miss Abby began to prepare a meal for the large crowd of men. The meal was delicious and everyone had plenty to eat. After everyone had eaten, Miss Abby excused herself, “I believe  I’ll take a bit of air while you gentlemen enjoy the last of the coffee.” Just as she opened the door, she screamed and fell back inside. Every man jumped to as the boom of a heavy rifle sounded. Doc, Jack and Jacob hustled Abby to the table well inside the house. Burcher, his crew and Linn charged out the door to defend the ranch. As Doc tended his wife Jack and Jacob stood by to assist if needed.

 

When Miss Abby was tended and found to be only slightly injured, the men went outside to discover what the others had found. They’d found that there was a single shooter on a hill, 800 yards if a foot and he’d high tailed it out of there. Doc asked Jack and Jacob Keller to escort Abby into town to stay at Miss Calamity’s place. Then Jack was to report the incident to Marshall Utah Bob and try to recruit the help of Texas Ranger Kit Cool. Once Jack had Miss Abby packed in the buggy with his horse tied to the back they got underway.

 

As Jacob rode along side he asked, “What is going on that someone is taking shots at Doc and Miss Abby?” Jack replied, “There’s a big spread the other side of Captain Burcher’s place. The owner, a man named Hammond, has tried to lay claim to Burcher’s land as it appeared to be open range. Linn Keller alerted Burcher of this claim and the Captain arrived with a clear title, cattle, hands and materials to establish a working ranch. Mr Hammond is not well pleased by these developments. He has been swinging a wide loop and apparently thought he could force Doc and Miss Abby off their land. There have been a couple of attempts to frighten them into leaving.” “Is that why my father’s cousin requested a horse? Is he being pressured to give up his land also?” Asked Jacob. “There was no expectation of Linn giving up his land to pressure.” Replied Jack. “Hammond sent four men to kill him, with no effort to buy him out or threaten him. Just flat out kill him. As you have seen that didn’t work. Linn survived unhurt and the killers didn’t. It’s unfortunate that there were no survivors to testify as to who sent them, but they were all known to be employed by Hammond.”

 

In town Jack took Miss Abby to Miss Calamity Kris’s house. There the two women embraced and Abby told Kris of the recent events. Kris assured the men that Abby and she would be safe and comfortable. Jack and Jacob headed down to the Marshall’s office. When they walked in there was Colonel Flint as well as  Utah Bob. “Howdy Marshall,” began Jack, “I’d like to introduce you both to Deputy Sheriff Jacob Keller of Firelands, Colorado. Jacob this is Marshall Utah Bob and Colonel J. Mark Flint late of the Confederate States Army. Marshall as you might suspect from his name Jacob is related to Linn Keller. He is the son and Deputy to Sheriff Linn Keller of Firelands. Sheriff Keller is cousin to our friend of the same name.” “Howdy Deputy Keller,” responded that two. “Jack, I believe that is the longest speech you’ve made since I’ve known you,” said Utah. “Yeah, we’ll I ain’t done yet,” growled Jack. “Some owlhoot took a potshot at the Ward’s house and near hit Miss Abby. She got some splinters, which Doc has removed. We’ve just set her up at Miss Calamity’s house to stay for a spell. Doc, Captain Burcher, his crew and Linn are tracking the shooter. I need to find Ranger Cool to ask for his help. We will join Doc in going after the shooter and whoever sent him.”

 

“Doc asked if you would kindly keep a special lookout for Miss Abby and Miss Kris’s welfare until he returns. Jacob and I will be riding as soon as I get in touch with Ranger Cool. Kit and I go back a way so I expect he’ll ride with us.” The Marshall said, “l will certainly watch out for the ladies. As to Ranger Cool, while I’m sure he will want to help, he was shot from ambush out of town a couple of days ago. He’s recovering, but I don’t know how strong he is yet. It was pretty close for him. He was lucky that Miss Venus was along with him or he might not have made it back in to town. He’s over at the hotel recuperating now.” “I’ll stop over there to see him,” replied Jack. “We’ll let you know if he is going with us. In the mean time Colonel, Marshall we’ll be on our way.”

Edited by Cactus Jack Calder
Wrong Army, my mistake!
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After Cactus Jack Calder had left I spoke with UB for a few more minutes before I decided to join the game, so to speak.  "UB, I believe I'll ride over to Doc Ward's place and see if I can offer my assistance. I don't suppose you would consider deputizing me?"  UB scratched his chin and pondered a moment. "I know you wore a badge a few times, you sure you want one again?"

 

I shook my head "No, not sure at all.  Prefer to make my own call most of the time."

 

UB nodded "I figured as much."  No I don't think a badge is the right look for you these days. Go do what you think is right."

 

I shook his hand and headed to the livery to fetch my horse and gear.

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The silence in the room was broken, not by either party speaking, but by a loud banging on the door. 
"Mr. Kit! It's Levi, from the telegraph office. I have your telegram."
As soon as Kit began to rise from the bed, Venus quickly stopped him and went for the door herself. Upon opening the door, there stood this tow-headed lad standing no more than three and a half feet tall, barefoot, with a face as red as a beet, most likely from running so hard.
"Oh, Ms. Lardy! I have a telegram for Mr. Kit," he sputtered, having not yet regained his breath.
"Why thank you Levi," she replied in that sweet voice of hers. "He's right here." 
She swung the door fully open, and stepped aside, as Levi made his entrance advancing to the bed and handing the folded document to Kit. 
"Shall I stay for a possible reply?" Levi politely inquired.
Kit responded, "I don't believe that will be necessary, if this is what I've been expecting. Please tell your father I appreciate his sending you to deliver my message, and thank you."
With that, Levi turned on his bare heels and rushed out the door and down the stairs.
As Venus closed to he door, she couldn't help but laugh out loud. "That boy is as hyper as they come! He takes his job as messenger very seriously. There's not a day goes by that you won't find him running barefoot through town tackling various errands for his father and others. I've used him on several occasions with pleasant results."
Kit could only chuckle to himself at the image she was delivering, causing his thoughts to go back to when he and his brother Clayton played together.
"I should go," she offered. "You have business to attend to, and you'll need your rest, Doc Waite's orders."
"Thank you again for bringing food and for your company," he returned with some hesitation in his voice, signaling he wished she would stay longer.
Understanding that, and feeling the same, she reluctantly reached for the plate and cup she had brought earlier and as she reached for the door..

Edited by Father Kit Cool Gun Garth
Reword to fit narrative

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Jack walked into the hotel lobby. The desk was empty, so he reached over the counter to retrieve the register book. Looking up Kit Cool’s room number he replaced the book. Seconds later the clerk returned from the back, “May I help you?” He inquired. “Nah,” said Jack with a mischievous grin. “Ah’l jest mosey on up to Kit Cool’s room’n say howdy.” “I’m afraid Mr. Cool is not receiving visitors at this time.” Replied the clerk. “Wail he’ll see me,” growled Jack with a scowl at the clerk, “I’ve come to collect.” With that Jack marched up the stairs as the clerk sputtered “Sir, please do not make a scene. This hotel has a reputation to uphold.” At that Jacob stepped forward and said to the clerk, “You needn’t worry he’s a Texas Ranger and so is Mr. Cool. They are old acquaintances, Ranger Calder is just going to check up on his friends recovery.” “Oh, well he might have said as much,” responded the clerk. “We really do have a reputation for maintaining our guests privacy.”

 

Knocking at Kit’s door, Jack was surprised when it was opened by a lovely young lady. She was circumspectly dressed, she smiled at Jack and asked “May I help you?” “Excuse me Mam, I must have the wrong room. I am looking for a gentleman.” Stammered Jack. “Oh, were you here to see Mr. Cool?” She enquired. “Well, uh, yes Mam. I didn’t mean to interrupt anything. I’ll just be, uh, going. I am sorry to disturb you.” “Jack, get in here,” bellowed Kit. “I’d like you to meet my nurse and rescuer Miss Venus Lardy. She has been kind enough to tend my wound and bring me meals as I’m laid up.” “It’s a pleasure Miss Lardy, I apologize for my reaction when you answered the door. I’m not much used to polite society and became flustered.” Smiled Jack. “You are quite forgiven, um, ‘Jack’, I’m afraid I do not know your proper name.” “Oh, it’s Calder Mam, Cactus Jack Calder at you service.” He replied with a slight bow. “Cactus Jack Calder, that’s quite an unusual name, especially for Wyoming. I suppose you are the other Texas Ranger I’ve been hearing about?” She queried. “Yes Mam I’m one of those Texas men that everybody likes to tell tall tails about. Don’t believe half of what you hear and take the other half with a grain of salt.” Jack smiled and relaxed a little.
 

He continued, “Kit, I was over to the Marshall’s office, they told me you’d been dry gulched. So I came by to see how you are making out. I see you are recovering with assistance. The Marshall said you were lucky to have a Miss Venus who got you into town before you expired. I guess this is one and the same young lady?” “Yes,” replied Kit. “Without Miss Venus help I’d be coyote bait now.” “Mam, I truly do thank you for saving this old reprobate.  I hope he has not been malingering to get sympathy from you.” Said Jack with a big grin. “Kit I wish I could stay longer but I have to catch up to a posse that is trailing another back shooting owlhoot. I’ll stop by when we complete the chase. Miss Lardy, it has been an all too short pleasure to meet you. I hope to encounter you in more congenial circumstances in the future.” “Thank you, Mr Calder, I hope to see you again.” Said Venus Lardy.

 

Returning to the lobby Jack said to Jacob, “Looks like Kit is occupied with getting better. Let’s tell Utah Bob and ride.” As they were leaving town they were hailed by J. Mark Flint, “You fellows mind if I ride along to join the chase?” “Not at all Colonel,” said Jack, “I know Doc will be pleased for your help. Are you sure you want to mix up in this dispute? I know you originally had plans to be elsewhere.” “Plans change,” grumbled the Colonel, “Adapt and overcome is my motto. I’ve always time to help a friend in need.”

Edited by Cactus Jack Calder
OTTO
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Venus turned to Kit as they both understood the situation, and left without saying a word.

Kit thought for a moment about the mornings events so far, then began to unfold the telegram that Levi had delivered.
"Ranger Cool. (STOP)
 So good to hear from you. (STOP)
 As to your most recent inquiry, one Frank J. Milt has a large scar on his left cheek, and   is missing a small piece of his right ear lobe. (STOP)
 You might also be interested in knowing that he has had several confrontations with a Linn Keller, former Yankee officer, Lawman and Preacher. (STOP)
 Stay safe my friend. (STOP)
 Sheriff York." (STOP)
Pausing for a moment to let this new information soak in, he then calmly folded the telegram, placing it on the table beside the bed, and contemplated his next move.
He began to feel better already.


 

Edited by Father Kit Cool Gun Garth
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I watched Jacob and Calder ride off with a woman I'd come to respect and admire, and my lips moved on their own as I breathed, "God ride with them!"

"Amen," said the Captain, just as softly.

I looked at the Burcher.

"We'll move faster if it's just Doc and me.  Stay here, stay sharp. You're occupying land he wants. I doubt if he's going to move on you, not if he sends one rifle to snipe us off like that."

"How well can you track?"  Captain Burcher asked bluntly, and I could not help but grin.

"Doc can track a butterfly across polished granite. I'm near to that good."

The Captain turned, raised a leather-gloved hand: one of his men came up with Bud-mule, saddled and ready to go.

"Rations and rounds in the saddlebags, sir," he said as he handed the reins off to me.

"I thought you might be more comfortable with a more familiar mount."

I nodded.

"Many thanks, Captain."

Doc was less than a minute more getting ready.

I knew he was out for blood.

So was I.

When I heard Abigail's scream and then I saw her raise her hands toward her bloodied face, I heard every scream that haunted my soul, every set of clawed hands raised toward a shattered face, I recalled my soul falling ten thousand miles off the face of a cliff as I looked at my dead wife's still form for the very last time before we set the lid on her box and lowered her into the ground, and I recalled Abigail not a minute before that scream, how I saw her as young and beautiful and absolutely to-her-soul contented with being Doc's wife, and the Lady of the House.

Doc intended to kill whoever did this.

I intended to make whoever it was, talk before he died, and God forgive me, I know how to make a man talk, and I would not regret in the least little bit the doing of it.

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Keller and Burcher watched as Doc walked out of his house to where the big bay horse he favored stood. Already in scabbards on the saddle were a Winchester and a Parker shotgun, along with two full canteens. Over his shoulder, Doc had a bedroll and a pair of saddlebags, full of pemmican, jerky, coffee and ammunition. On Doc's hip was his Colt, and on the other side, a dirk, the knife Keller had jokingly referred to as a "short sword" shortly before watching Doc use it to effectively send a man who desperately needed it to his maker. Keller knew other men had died from the steel in that blade as well. In Doc's boot, Keller knew was a sgian dubh. If the cold, almost emotionless expression Doc wore didn't say anything, to Keller's eye, the dirk and it's hidden companion told Keller everything he needed to know. Burcher elbowed Linn as Doc tossed the saddlebags over the horse and made them fast. Looking over at Burcher, Keller saw him nod, gesturing toward the dirk as Doc climbed into the saddle. Before he could comment on the nearly two foot long knife, Linn looked over at him, a death's head smile on his face. "It means Doc's going hunting men, and will take no quarter, nor ask for any."

Urging Bud forward, Keller rode up beside Doc, looking over at him. With a nod, Doc reined the bay around, and lifted an easy salute to Captain Burcher as he began walking the bay toward the knoll where the attacker had shot from. Finding the tracks easily enough, the men dismounted, studying the horse's hoof prints, and the few boot prints of the rider. Not a word was spoken as they remounted and started out, following where the attacker had put the horse into a ground eating lope. Both men instinctively knew it wasn't a panicked retreat the rider made, as he didn't make a mad dash, kicking the horse into a gallop. The tracks were easy enough to follow for the better part of two miles, as they swung well South of town. Dropping from the lope to a trot, the rider began working to make use of the terrain, attempting to hide and cover his trail where possible. It quickly became clear the men would have their work cut out for them. Both were equally determined to be up to the task.

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Too easy.

Part of me was hid deep inside my long tall carcass and that part of me was whetting a knife and stropping its edge.

That hidden part of me had a smile on its face.

Part of me had a really unpleasant smile, the smile you might see on a bleached skull, or on the Reaper as he strode forth and swung back that harvester's scythe, ready to reap men's souls wholesale.

The trail was too easy at first and we both knew it.

Not a word passed between us.

Not a word had to.

I recalled the one night when he and I came a-boilin' out the front door, he to the left and I to the right, I recall ... and I wondered, afterward, though at the moment it was the most natural thing in the world ...

He went left and I went right, we had the whole house between us, but each of us felt the ground under the other's advancing boot sole.

Each of us knew exactly where the other was.

Each knew when the other brought up and shouldered, and each tasted copper that bright tenth of a second before the other's sear broke.

It was like that now.

I studied ahead whilst Doc studied the tracks, then he looked ahead whilst I espied out the tracks: the first sign spoke of utter haste and absolute lack of stealth, and that changed after a very little distance and this fellow got right sneaky.

Bud-mule was sure footed and so was Doc's bay, and both mounts moved with an utter stealth through the wooded terrain.

Whoever 'twas likely figured there would be pursuit and it did not take a college educated pefesser to anticipate an ambush.

I felt that inner self stroking a honed blade the length of that leather strop and I knew that was me, for I'd done that very thing after everyone else turned in.

My head came up a half inch and Doc drew up, then I hauled hard right and Bud he give a jack rabbit jump and something that sounded like an angry bumble bee went just Rim Skinnin' through where my head had been a moment before.

Bud he laid his ears back and bunched his haunches and we launched through the trees and I seen where the shot come from and Bud he sailed across a narrow little gully and landed just in front of a fell over timber and kind of hobby horse hopped over't and BOOOMMM somethin' fired off as his foreleg hit a man hard and his rifle went over backwards and the ball clattered harmlessly almost straight up and Bud he come to a stop and set down and I near to fell out of the saddle and landed both boots on some fellow's legs and I come out with an knife and said "Bud, up," and I set that blade ag'in this fella's Adam's apple and dropped my knee on his elbow and Death sang for joy in my ears and I sliced me a little cut right below his throat bump and that death's head skull face kind of crowded its way out through the face I had been a-wearin' and Doc's hand clamped down on my shoulder and he said "Don't kill him yet," and I let up my blade and that fella's eyes got real wide so I leaned back and set down on his legs.

Doc looked absolutely calm and utterly unruffled, never mind he set his boot down on the fellow's other elbow and set his weight on it, then he pulled out that Sghean Dbhu, nice and slow.

He considered the edge carefully, then he slud his sleeve up just a little bit and shaved off some arm hairs, nice and easy, one long shaving stroke, and he puffed his breath on the blade and I recall seein' those reddish hairs float down through the air.

This fella we was a-standin' on saw it too.

I had not said a word, for I reckon anything I said would have been like steam from a boiler's Pop Off valve.

Doc, on t'other hand, spoke in a quiet, almost a gentle voice.

"I have some questions," he said, and I could not help but smile, just a little.

Bud-mule, he wandered a couple steps and lowered his head and started snuffin' around for somethin' to eat.

That mule was just like me, forever lookin' for somethin' to fill his belly.

Edited by Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103
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With the stalls finally cleaned, Lucas headed for the bunkhouse, which was not one of the chores he cared for, especially if any of the hired hands were hanging around. They seemed to get pleasure in poking fun at him whenever they had a chance. Grabbing a broom and entering the building, no one was in sight; however, he heard voices coming from the rear. Pausing for just a moment to determine if they had heard him enter, he cautiously proceeded in their direction. Behind the door, he could hear them clearly.
"I sure wish Hammond would make up his mind as to how he's planning on resolving this land issue of his!" Austin bellowed.
"Me, too!" chimed Flynn.
Ike offered his position as well, "I'll be danged if I'm going to hang around too much longer. Those men in town have already killed too many of us already, and I ain't gonna be next!"
"I think we should all ride into town together and put an end to this, once and for all," Austin added. "This ambush idea isn't working, and the more we split up, the easiest it is to get killed or put in jail."
"What about Hammond?" Flynn asked.
"Forget him. Let's get with the others and see if they agree," Austin replied.
Hearing them start to grab their gear, Lucas made haste for the front and quickly began sweeping.
"Well look who came to clean up after us! If it isn't or little Lucas," Austin smirked, as he slapped him on the back of the head.
"You missed a spot," Flynn added, pointing to a pile of trash they had left in the corner last night.
"What a bunch of pigs," Lucas mumbled, under his breath.
Austin quickly turned on his heals, and got right in Lucas's face, "Did I hear you say something son?"
"No sir," he replied without hesitation, as if he anticipated Austin's reaction.
Without saying a word, Austin leaned to his side, ever so slightly, and proceeded to spit a wad of chewing tobacco, just over Lucas's shoulder and onto the floor behind him. "Looks like you got some more cleaning up to do."
The three men then exited the bunkhouse, laughing amongst themselves while heading to the corral where their horses were tied up.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Lucas counted his blessings, continuing with the task at hand.
A couple of hours later, having finally completed his last job of the day, he staged the broom and headed out the door for the main house.
He had only gotten a few feet from the bunkhouse, when he was almost trampled by one of the last of the hired guns that Hammond had put on the payroll. Lucas only knew him as Lefty, as the others have called him, with no formal birthname, only an alias.
Pulling on the reins hard, Lefty barked at Lucas, "Whoa there son, you best be getting, if you know what's good for you." Once he got his horse to a stand still, he dismounted, handing the reins to Lucas. "Take my horse to the barn and get him fed, and settled for the night. I'll need him ready first thing in the morning!" With that, he headed for the main house himself.
Alas, another job for an errand boy.
But not today!
Lucas decided it was time to take action on his own, instead of constantly being under the thumb of others. Putting Lefty's horse in a stall and providing him with hay and water, he went to the stall where his own horse, a Palomino was housed, saddled up and headed for town to speak to the Marshall.

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Hans was a good boy.  He came to live with Calamity and Uno when they bought the place.  Then Uno left, deciding to try and make his fortune in gold.  Calamity stayed behind, raising Hans herself.  She spent many hours teaching him right from wrong, good from bad and whom you can trust and whom you can’t.  He had grown up tall, dark and handsome.  When Abby came to the door, Hans and Calamity were there to greet her.  Calamity gasped when she saw Abby’s face.  “What happened to you?  Please come in and sit down.”  Calamity showed Abby to the hearth room where a big soft chair was waiting.  “Let me get you some tea, dear.  Tell me all about it.”  With that, Hans sat next to Abby and offered her his paw.  Calamity stood near by as Abby shook Hans’ paw.  That told Abby that Hans accepted her as a member of the family and would protect her as such.  He was the best German Shepherd in the territory and was not to be trifled with.  Calamity brought in the tray with tea and cakes and sat them in front of Abby.  Hans had curled up next to the big chair, quietly sleeping but was always alert.  You could see his ears twitch at the slightest sound.

Abby detailed the story of the evening and how the events unfolded.  Calamity held her hand to her mouth and gasped, not believing someone would try to hurt her.  “Well, you are safe here, Calamity stated.  You are welcome to the guest room for as long as you need.  Hans will be here with you durning the day and I will be here in the evenings.”  Abby began to put up a protest.  “I don’t want to be a burden on you, Kris.  I want to…….”  Calamity cut her off.  “Nonsense.  You are no trouble.  This will give me a reason to leave the shop and even bring home some hand work that can be done here.  While Hans is great company, he isn’t much of a conversationalist.”  With that, both ladies giggled.  “Can you teach me some of your techniques” Abby inquired?  “Absolutely” Calamity exclaimed.  “Now let’s relax a bit and get you off to bed.  I’ll have Hans stay with you tonight, just to make sure you are OK.  He’ll let me know if anything is up.” 

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Jacob closed his eyes and allowed himself to relax.

Doc's wife -- he was a disciplined soul and did not allow himself to think of her as anything but another man's wife -- was safely lodged; his task completed, he turned to the hotel and took a room, with the understanding he would be staying only briefly: the laundress was more than happy to thrash his shirt and smallclothes clean while he took his ease in the purchased luxury of hot water and good lye soap, and while he scrubbed his carcass clean, his linens were receiving the same treatment.

Bathed and shaved, his hair slicked, he turned to his black suit and boots:  a boy in the lobby offered to black his boots, and Jacob arranged for the lad to pick up his boots while he himself was tending his necessities:  he was out of the tub with a blanket wrapped around him like a Roman toga, and in that condition, received both the blushing laundress and the grinning little boy.

As was his habit, he paid them both handsomely, thanked them most courteously, dressed quickly, and was downstairs:  a meal was calling his name, and as he'd spent his time in the tub efficiently divesting himself of a couple days' accumulation, he wished to sit and consider, for he was a man who preferred to consider his actions.

Jacob was a man of habit, and it was his habit to take his rifle to the dining room: it was his habit to sit with his back to the wall, and it was his habit to park his rifle at his left, with his hat on a peg overhead.

The hash slinger was young, or had been once; she had the look of a young woman trying hard, and Jacob saw the appreciation in her expression as he spoke his words with his natural courtesy; he asked her recommendation, allowed as it sounded good to him, and as hard as he tried to look solemn and mature, the inner boy peeped out a little as he asked hopefully if there was pie.

"Sweetie," the hash slinger blurted, as if the words jumped from her lips unbidden, "if there's not, I'll make it!"

Jacob thanked her kindly, took a tentative taste of the coffee -- suprisingly good, he judged -- and he conducted his thoughts with a rigid efficiency, as if he were formally conducting a meeting.

Elbows on the table, fingers steepled before his lips and a slight frown on his face, he blinked and looked up with the slightest of smiles as a plate of fresh sliced sourdough settled in front of him, and a little plate of butter, pressed into molds and stacked on the saucer.

"Forgive my being forward," Jacob murmured, "but you do have the loveliest smile!"

The girl lowered her lashes and turned, quickly, and Jacob had the impression she was about to start watering from her eyes.

Troubled, he lowered his head and spoke to his plate, then he picked up a slice of bread, picked up a pat of butter with his knife, spread it carefully over the still-warm sourdough.

Lord, he thought, I did not intend to cause her distress.

Somethin' tells me she has a hard row to hoe.

She's trying so hard to take care of her people. I see that from how she's taken care of me and how she tends to the other diners.

He set this line of thought aside and picked up where he'd left off.

I told the Sheriff I was not here for anyone.

I have delivered Cousin's horses as Pa instructed.

If there is a fight I will throw in on Cousin's side.

Captain Burcher is the senior ranking officer, but Doc Ward appears to be the overall leader.

I will defer to Doc as overall commander, but the Captain will be the tactical officer.

Now Cousin Linn ... 

Jacob smiled with a gentle irony.

It's funny to think of another man with my father's name.

He allowed himself a bare moment of amusement, then returned to the subject under discussion.

I do not know how much of a tactical officer Cousin is.

I believe he was in that damned War, but I do not know what his rank or his experience.

I will regard Doc as overall commander, to the Captain as tactician --

Jacob's inner discussion adjourned when the plate of meat and potatoes landed in front of him.

Jacob looked up:  "I believe I owe you an apology," he said gently. "My words brought you distress.  Please forgive my inconsideration."

"It's all right," the hash slinger whispered huskily, shaking her head, and turning away.

Jacob blinked a few times, then returned to his meal, reflecting that as much as he knew about women, there was an immense amount he didn't:  he was as efficient in eating as he was in his other matters, and he very efficiently disposed of half the meat and half the mashed potatoes, and all the coffee, when the first shots brought his repast to a fast stop.

The hash slinger raised a hand to her mouth, eyes wide and looking toward the front door:  she felt the floor shiver underfoot with the cadence of boot heels, and looked to her left, and saw a tall, slender young man with ice-pale eyes, rifle in hand and pale skin drawn taut over his cheek bones, striding for the front door.

Part of the serving girl's mind whispered, Death rides a pale horse, and the rest of her considered that sometimes it wears an immaculate black suit.

 

Doc looked up at me.

"You're a parson," he said.  "You don't have to watch."

"Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord," I replied.  "We are to do the Lord's work."

I looked down at the suffering man.

It hadn't taken much to get the information from him:  as brave as he was at eight hundred yards, he was not nearly as brazen after being sat on by a mule, stomped on by a preacher, stood on by a man with revenge in his heart and a black handled knife in hand:  he'd absolutely spilled his very guts, trying to flood out enough that he knew, to save his miserable life.

"You tried to kill a woman."

My voice was quiet and there was no forgiveness in it.

"Do you now repent of all your sins, confessed and unconfessed, remembered and not remembered?"

"OhmyGawd ohmyGawd ohmyGawdohmyGawdohmyGawd," came the gabbling reply.

I looked at Doc and nodded.

Shining steel thrust deep; a slice, a twist, the steel was withdrawn, wiped carefully on the dead man's coat.

I pulled out the dead man's wild rag.

"I'll water this and you can clean the blade a little better.  No sense lettin' it rust up."

We froze, looked at Bud-mule.

Bud's long ears swung, looking with more than mule's eyes at the sound of several men a-horseback.

"Toward town," Doc whispered, looking at me.  "Something's up."

I nodded, thinking fast, smiling just a little.

"We have his confession.  Hammond sent him and Hammond is at his place.  That means Hammond is bought and paid for."

I thrust a chin toward the receding sound of running horses.

"Something tells me he just lost a lot of manpower. If we hit Hammond now we'll cut the head off the snake!"

 

 

 

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""One thing before we go." I said quietly as I drew my knife and quickly scalped the dead man, hanging his hair from my saddle horn. "Now let's go forth and finish this.

 

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Terror had shown in the man's face as Doc had taken a knee, placing his weight down on the inside of the man's upper arm. At the first touch of the razor sharp knife, the man started sobbing, begging, apologizing, claiming he didn't know it was a woman coming out the door. Doc was unswayed, and continued asking his questions, flicking the knife whenever he felt the need. If that didn't work, Bud was walked over to add some weight to the man's chest. It didn't surprise Doc or Keller when the man gave up Hammond's name without being asked anything specifically about the man.

 

As the bay horse and mules' ears came up, Doc, putting the knife to the man's throat, looked around to see J. Mark Flint riding up, following their trail. Seeing them, Doc looked back at the man, and told him, "Friend of ours," his voice flat of affect. J. Mark, pulled up and leaned on his pommel as he surveyed the situation. Linn gave a tilt of his head toward the man on the ground, "Found the guy that took a shot at Abby. Doc and I were asking him a couple of questions." J. Mark pushed his hat back as he looked at the bloodied, gasping man on the ground.

 

Looking up, the man gasped out the words, "Please... Mister... I didn't know a woman was coming out the door... Wasn't hired to kill no woman..." J. Mark leaned forward a little, his eyes clouding over with anger of their own, "But you knew a woman could walk out the door, and didn't care. As a result, she's alive, but will be disfigured for life, forced to look at the scars you gave her every... single... day... and have to face the comments and pity of friends and strangers." As the man's eyes widened, even Doc had to look away momentarily at the lie, stated with such conviction.

 

The man, hoping there was some mercy in the men, continued to babble. Explaining that Hammond was a feuding sort, and when men were killed on land he claimed as his, he would not be satisfied until the men were dead. He'd decided he also wanted Doc's place simply by chance, because it would be convenient in moving cattle to hold there before loading to the railroad. He also said there was a big guy with a scar over his eye that hulked around the place, that not even the seasoned fighters wanted to deal with. When satisfied the man had no more valuable information to be gained, Keller asked for his repentance. The man, looking into the three faces, knew there would be no mercy for him. Feeling the blade slide in, his vision began to fade, and Doc stood to wipe the knife.

"There'll be little enough trace of him after a week," Doc opined. "Shall we go gather up Burcher, and see if Calder was able to recruit that other ranger?"

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Lucas rode his Palomino hard wanting to arrive in East Fork as soon as possible knowing that trouble was brewing at the Hammond estate. Aurora was a fine mare and could ride as hard as any stallion and he had won many a bet with others who doubted it. Her ability to maneuver as the slightess moment combined with her endurance made her the ideal ride for him.

It wasn’t long before he met up with two other riders coming from town.

“Halt, who goes there?” Jack shouted, watching the oncoming rider pull up on the reigns.

“Lucas Clayton, well known by Marshall Utah Bob!” he exclaimed.

Jack and Jacob approached the lad cautiously even though they were given a reputable introduction.

“Well, I’m Jack Calder, Texas Ranger, and this here is Chief Deputy Jacob Keller, Firelands County, Colorado. What brings you this way?” Jack inquired.

“It’s imperative that I deliver vital information to the Marshall,” Lucas responded in an excited voice.

Jack tipped his hat, “Well, you best be on your way then, stay safe. There’s a lot of wild shoot’in going on ‘round these parts.”

Each then set out on their separate tasks.

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Just in time to be too late.

I've no idea what the shot was, Jacob thought, but I'm seeing just a whole lot of nothing.

He went back inside, squared his bill and surreptitiously left a little extra for that hash slinger.

He frowned, went out the back door, toward the livery: he'd saddled his Appaloosa stallion and led it out when he stopped dead in his tracks.

"I will be sawed off and damned," he chuckled, taking one pace forward and thrusting out his hand:  "Father Kit, how in the world have you been?"

"I'm riding out," Kit said with that quiet look Jacob remembered from the last time he and his father saw the man. "You might want to ride with me."

"Is that Texas ranger -- Calder -- coming with us?"

Kit nodded.

Jacob needed no further explanation.

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Jack found Kit and Jacob behind the livery stable ready to mount up. He said, “Kit I am surprised, but happy to see how well you’ve recuperated.  Jacob I suppose you are heading out with us?” “Yes,” replied Jacob. “Father Kit is an old friend of the family and Linn Keller is family. Doc Ward is Cousin Linn’s friend, I believe that is justification enough for me to lend a hand.” “We’d best move out or we’ll miss the party,” replied Jack as he swung into the saddle. “I think we’ll find Doc and Linn at Burcher’s headquarters. Burcher will want to be in on dealing with Hammond’s attempt to take over the range.”

 

With Jack as a guide the three men made the best time to the headquarters, such as they were. Captain Burcher had already begun laying out the buildings for his ranch headquarters, but everyone was still living in tents. They arrived in time to see preparations underway. Men were saddling horses, the Captain as issuing orders, in general it looked like an army preparing for battle. Riding up to Doc, Jack reported. “We are here boss, what would you have us do?” Doc replied, “We are going to the Hammond spread to have it out with that low down scoundrel. We have good intelligence that your target ‘Frezzel’ is on the premises. If there is ever any question of your being involved that should suffice. Ranger Kit, I do not know if that fellow Milt you are after is working for Hammond. However, it is a reasonable assumption that he might be one of the hard cases on the payroll. Certainly the likelihood is enough justification for you to investigate, if you wish.” “Oh, I’m in for this ride,” said Kit. “I agree it is a likely place to look for Frank J. Milt.”

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Upon meeting Captain Burcher, he straighted up and gave me a smart salute.  "Wars over Captain, I'm just a civilian these days." Captain Burcher nodded "Suppose so." dropping his hand and extending it for a handshake instead.  I shook his hand firmly before continuing.  "Seems you have plans laid out, where can a broken down old war horse be of assistance?" I asked

 

Captain Burcher looked at me "Well that depends, hows your long range shooting these days?"  I smiled "Can't hardly hit anything smaller than a man at 1000 yards, but a man's still a big target. I'm just as happy up close though."

 

Captain Burcher looked at the scalp hanging from my pommel "And that? is it really necessary?" I nodded "Absolutely, I ain't no Archie Clement, but sometimes, you need to make the enemy aware of what is in store for them.  They'll see the body. They'll either get mad or scared. Either way it's good for us"

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Doc and I were ghosting through the trees, we were at least fifty foot apart when both of us stopped.

Not a sound prompted us, nothing showed itself, but we both stopped and listened with more than our ears.

Bud-mule was a brindle and blended into about anything and I was wearing undistinguished dun colors that used to be brown and blue and black and everything was kind of faded with sun and rain and wear, and Doc was about the same.

One thing about wearin' these ... they were soft and they were comfortable, and they were quiet.

I tilted my head and smiled just a little, and looked over at Doc.

My hands moved of their own accord.

My hands spoke in the lingua franca of the native, the sign language shared by all tribes, enabling any tribe to communicate with another.

Friends come, I signed, and Doc nodded, and something told me that ancient blood a-runnin' through his veins told him the same as me.

He returned the sign for behind -- again, an agreement: I could feel their approach from where we'd been.

We turned and looked forward, and our mounts resumed their silent pace.

 

 

 

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Lucas made his way to the Sheriff's Office, and as soon as he arrived, he dismounted while his steed was still in a stopping motion, running up the few stairs to the boardwalk and entering the Office as if the door had magically opened merely upon his hand touching the handle.
Marshal UB jumped from his chair, spilling his coffee on his desk and was just reaching for his sidearm, when he saw who it was that stormed in.
"Whoa there son, what's the hurry?" he bellowed, as he returned his revolver to its holster, while simultaneously checking his clothes for possible spilled coffee.
Lucas, still trying to catch his breath, blurted out, "I've come from the Hammond estate, having heard plans being made to storm East Fork and start a blood bath by killing those who killed their friends. I can only assume that includes Doc Ward, and Linn Keller. I wanted to get word to you and them before it's too late."
"Well, neither of them are here in town right now, I believe they're out where Burcher is establishing his new place." UB informed him. He continued, "In fact, almost everyone has already ridden out his way in preparation of some attack on the Hammond estate."
"I did run into Ranger Calder and Ranger Kit on my way here,
" Lucas added, getting his breathing back to normal. "I'll head back out to Burcher's place and lend them a hand!"
UB  approached the young lad, placing his hand on his shoulder, and in his best fatherly voice, advised him of the impending danger that will occur, and it best if he stay in town and not return to the Hammond estate until the other men had implemented their plan.
Lucas did not respond, as his disposition and facial expression said it all. "They still think of me as a youngster and unable to handle myself." he thought to himself.
UB could see the dejection in Lucas, and knowing him for many years, understood what he was feeling.
"Tell you what. How's 'bout you staying here with me, just in case they decide to try something here in town? I could use a good right hand man right now, if you're up to the challenge."
Lucas reacted just as the Marshall had anticipated. 
"I accept!" Lucas blurted out, without any hesitation. "I'll do you good!"
He extended his hand as if for a gentleman's agreement handshake, to which UB accepted, then returning to his desk, pulling out a Deputy's badge, he returned to Lucas and while pinning on the badge, stated, "Let's make this official."
Pride filled what used to be a young boy, and there now stood, a man.
UB let him have his moment, then stated, "As your first official duty, I'd like for you to head over to Calamity's Shop and make sure she is set up for any fighting that may come our way. She'll know what you mean. She's been through these situations before."
With that, Lucas left to follow his orders, as a Lawman.

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Posted (edited)

Jacob Keller considered.

There were enough men going ahead, enough men determined to punch Hammond's ticket and anyone else that wanted a ride on the Hell-Bound Train.

If I were intending to cause trouble, he thought, how would I do it?

His eyes swung to his back trail, back toward the rocky canyon where the voice he remembered yelled "PREACHER!" and a lead freight train the size of a man's thumb went whistling too close to him.

It wasn't the first time he was grateful he'd practiced laying down beside his stallion's neck, and it would not be his last.

He'd come with horses enough for his cousin and a little more, and his cousin was off on his mule: nobody was availing themselves of his bounty, so Jacob rode over to the picket line and loosed his little herd, kissed at them.

Frank Milt, he thought, you thought I was my cousin.

You tried to kill my cousin.

That's reason enough.

Then you took a shot at me.

Now it's my turn.

Jacob Keller had his father's eyes ... those cold, granite hard eyes, those eyes that could chill a man's blood just by looking at him.

He had his father's determination.

When the Grand Old Man decided he was right, it would take something pretty powerful to turn him from it.

Jacob Keller was not going to turn from killing the man who tried to kill him.

Jacob shucked his '76 rifle and eased his weight forward in the saddle, just a bit.

Apple-horse trod silently in the forest litter, walking slowly, easing a hoof down, pushing sticks ahead rather than stepping on them; the leaf-litter was damp, soft:  the greys that followed were just as stealthy, four-hooved fog drifting between the trees.

Would I come by the same trail?

Yes I would.

I would bet the men riding for vengeance would be looking forward, the way eager and vengeful men will.

I'd come right down that same trail they took.

Jacob smiled, just a little -- barely a tightening at the corners of his eyes -- the flesh was tight across his cheek bones and it felt like his ears were pulled back, just a little, and he looked around, kneed his Apple-horse to the right.

 

Frank Milt was more animal than most men.

Frank Milt was also a powerful man with a powerful hatred for everyone and for everything.
He was not abusing his horse because he knew he had to have it to reach the Preacher.

He thought he'd killed the man in Stone Creek.

He'd thought wrong and that galled him, and he felt that hatred boil in his stomach and he knew he'd have to swallow some more of that damned ground gypsum to settle his stomach, else it would sour and he'd heave again and he hated it when he heaved.

He drew up and taken a thick pinch of ground gypsum and put it on his tongue, raised his canteen, swallowed, swallowed again:  he took another mouthful of water and sloshed it around, swallowed.

There.

Not too much.

Don't want to get bound up again.

I hate it when my bowels won't move.

 

Jacob Keller eased his thumb onto the hammer spur, eased it back to full stand, felt more than heard it click.

He eased his arm out, slow, like he was under water and letting his arm float.

He made a gesture and the following greys came up, blinking, waiting.

Jacob smiled a little, climbed down, pulled his knife and sliced a few likely looking branches:  he had piggin string, he had a shirt and he had a little time, and it was time to put them to use.

He set his hat on his handiwork, tied to the grey's saddle:  he kissed at the horse, walked a bit from the trail, the horse following.

When Jacob returned, he took his Apple-horse, laid him down behind a log, went down on one knee half behind a tree, and became as still as the mountain itself.

His timing, as it turned out, was perfect.

 

Frank Milt stopped, realizing his hand was holding a canteen instead of a rifle, realizing something was very wrong, realizing he could not shoot someone with a canteen --

He shoved the thought from him as viciously as he'd shove an opponent in a knock-down drag-out brawl.

He dropped the canteen, realizing it would make a sound when it came to the end of its strap and not caring:  he bent a little and seized the wrist of his Sharps, pulled hard, brought it out, swung it around, dropping the fore-end neatly into his waiting hand.

Movement -- movement on his left -- he turned in the saddle, saw something a-horseback half a hundred yards into the trees, raised the rifle to shoulder, his lips twisting into a sardonic grin --

I got you now --

The Sharps shoved against his shoulder, and Frank Milt lived long enough to realize something wasn't right, whatever was on that grey horse coming at him looked like a man at first but it folded over and the hat fell off, and about then the left side of his head parted company with the rest of his skull and brains and blood sprayed over his mount's hind quarters and a surprising square footage of forested mountainside.

Jacob Keller cycled the '76 rifle's lever, precisely, deliberately, and not at all hurriedly.

"Nobody," he said quietly, "takes a shot at my family."

His eyes tightened just a little at the corners.

Not long after, a tall, slender lawman, followed by a flowing fog of grey horseflesh, streamed down the trail behind the cavalrymen.

 

 

Edited by Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103
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Calamity was on the little step ladder, moving some hats when she heard the jingle of the bells on the door.  She stepped down and turned to see Lucas.  "Hello Lucas.  What may I assist you with today?"  Calamity moved the step ladder out of the way and walked towards the front of the shop.  Lucas tipped his hat and proudly stated "Utah Bob sent me over here to assist you, ma'am."  With that, he puffed out his chest and thrust his shoulders back to make the badge peek out from under his coat.  "Well, I see" Calamity said, making a point to notice the badge.  "What is it you are supposed to assist with" Calamity asked, as if she didn't already know.  "I'm supposed to help you with any fighting that may come our way" he said proudly.  "I see" Calamity said.  "So Bob thinks there might be some trouble here in town, does he".  Calamity paused and thought for a second.  Another set of eyes would be helpful if anything did break out.  Besides, help around the shop was always welcome.  "I'll tell you what, Lucas.  Why don't you help me determine what spots would be best to see people out the windows and coming in the door.  Then we can move the counters around to give ourselves some cover, if we need it.  How does that sound to you?  You can help watch the front of the store and I'll take care of the back."  Lucas was so proud to be taken seriously he didn't mind moving furniture to achieve that.  Besides, he was one of the best shots in town and everyone knew it.  "Yes ma'am" Lucas said, grinning from ear to ear while he walked around the shop, looking for the best places to get a view of anything that might be happening outside.

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Doc stopped the bay in a spot where the dappling of the sunlight through the trees would make him difficult to see, then dismounted, wrapping the reins around a sturdy branch. Moving quietly, despite the boots he wore, Doc moved to where Linn sat astride Bud. J. Mark Flint moved his mount over close by, wary of getting too close as he looked around. Rifle in hand, Doc gestured toward the Hammond ranch. "Think I'm going to take a quiet stroll and see what I see. If you don't mind, stick close by here and wait for the reinforcements, and I'll be back shortly." J. Mark held up an index finger for Doc to wait, and reached back into his saddlebag, pulling out a pair of field glasses, "I'd like these back in one piece, if you don't mind." Reaching for them, Doc gave a nod, "I'll do my best." With that he turned, and walked quietly through the trees, soon disappearing from view.

 

When Doc reached the wood line, he took a knee just inside the shadows, and lifted the field glasses. Not seeing movement, Doc dropped down and began snaking his way through the grass to move closer. Pausing whenever he had a clear view of the ranch house or the ranch grounds, Doc would use the glasses, slowly scanning the area. There was smoke coming through the chimney, but no movement other than the horses in the paddock. Doc got as close as he dared, able to hear the horses stomping and blowing in the paddock. Not wanting to spook them, Doc moved away from the paddock as he crawled, looking for a different angle, hoping to see into the big house, or the bunk house. Still not seeing movement, Doc waited, watching and wondering. It wasn't typical for there to be no movement at all on such a place, and Doc worried.

Doc finally decided to work his way back to the tree line, and then moved slowly through the trees back to where Linn and J. Mark waited. Reporting what he had seen, and describing the layout, the three discussed where the hands might be. Doc saw no cattle, only horses, and it was thought that some might be moving them, although with the number of hands Hammond was thought to have, that wouldn't account for them all. The three decided to wait for Burcher and the others to arrive, to see if they had seen anything, then decide from there.

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"Doc, where would you put a sniper to provide cover for those who might be in the house?" I asked.

 

He looked at me and scanned the area again "You think this is a set up?" Doc asked

 

"I do." I said simply as I slid my sharps out of the scabbard and grabbed a bandoleer of the .44-77 cartridges.

 

Doc looked at me worriedly, "Don't get ahead of yourself, Burcher and his men will be here soon."

 

I nodded "I know, and likely so does Hammond. In his position I'd be laying in wait and take them on before they got here.  I'm going to head back and check the road and make sure I'm wrong or be ready to join in if I'm right."

 

Linn frowned "Burcher knows better than to ride into an ambush."

 

I nodded in agreement "I'm sure he does, but nonetheless I'm going to scout the high ground and see if I can find anything.  If not I'll be back when they arrive."

 

Linn shook his head "No talking you out of this?"

 

"You know better than that." I replied  He shrugged and looked at Doc Ward  "Doc, you want I should go with him?"

 

Doc Ward looked at each of us "No, if Mark wants to find a vantage point to cover the road in, he'll be better off alone.  Mark, if you find trouble waiting, don't take it on alone."

 

"Doc, I can still hit a man farther than most snipers. If I start shooting I won't stay in one place long. Good judgment comes from bad experiences, and I've been through enough of those."

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Riding with Captain Burcher, Jack, Kit and Jacob followed Doc and Linn towards Hammond’s place. As they neared the ranch, Jack observed that Doc and Linn had spread apart. Signaling Jacob, they each chose a path and silently followed. They came upon the Doc and Linn in the same observation point Jack had used earlier when he trailed the third rustler. “Took you long enough,” quipped Doc. “Glad you’re here. Linn and I figure most of the gun hands are off to town, the working crew is out on the range. Hammond is here we’ve seen him down at the house. This is probably the best opportunity we’ll have to beard the scoundrel in his den.” “How do you want to approach the house?” asked Jacob. “Linn and I discussed this,” replied Doc.

 

“Linn and Mark are fair hands with a long gun. Mark has gone in search of a possible ambush by Hammond.  If Linn sets up here, the two of them  should be able to discourage anyokne who tries to interfere. Captain if you and your men move along the tree line to the left you’d be behind the barn and bunkhouse. From there you can approach those buildings pretty much unobserved. Jacob, you, Kit, Jack and I will swing right to the access road. You look like a Lawman, with you in the lead we should be able to ride right up to the front of the main house without arousing suspicion. Captain once we reach the porch you and your men should move to neutralize anyone in the barn or bunkhouse. We’ll leave it to your discretion how that is accomplished. The four of us will grab Hammond if he steps out to meet us or take him in his lair if necessary. I’d prefer not to engage the normal working staff in gun play. However, they must know the type of man they are working for and accept the consequences. Are there any questions?” Returned from his scout Flint growled, “I’d sooner get up close and personal with this brigand. However, your plan is sound and uses the skills of each man appropriately. I say we go with what you’ve laid out.” The rest of the men nodded their heads in agreement.

 

“Alright,” said Doc. Give us three minutes to swing around to the access road. Captain, when you see us coming up the road you can begin to move.” With Doc leading, the four men moved through the trees to the far side of the headquarters area. Once on the access rode, Jacob moved into the lead. As they neared the house the front door opened and a woman stepped out onto the porch. “Can I help you gentlemen?” She queried. Dismounting and signaling Kit, Doc and Jack to do the same, Jacob stated, “I’m a Deputy Sheriff. We’d like to speak to Mr. Hammond.” “I’m afraid he is indisposed at the moment,” replied the woman. I’m his house keeper, Mrs. McPherson. There is no one else at home.” “Neither of the son’s are available?” asked Jacob. “No sir they rode into town with a number of the hands just two hours ago,” she replied. Stepping closer to the porch Jacob spoke softly, “Mrs. McPherson, please step aside, we are going to enter the house and I’ve no wish to see you injured. This is business of a serious nature and may become dangerous.”

Edited by Cactus Jack Calder
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While Kit stayed with Mrs. McPherson to assure her safety, Jacob, Jack and Doc entered the house and cat footed down the hallway to the office. There they found Hammond behind his desk with the notorious Lefty Frezzel seated across from him. “What is the meaning of this?” demanded Hammond. “By what right do you men enter my house uninvited?” Doc stepped forward with his hand on his gun. “We’ve come to have a reckoning with you for the murders and attempted murders you’ve ordered.” “I’ve murdered no one,” bellowed Hammond. “You’ve no proof I’ve done anything wrong. Ward! This is all a vendetta by you to destroy my good name in the county. You’ve been trying to liable me with charges you can’t prove for months now. I’ll have you in court for this outrage.” Hammond looked past the three as if expecting someone.

 

Smiling coldly, Doc said, “If you are waiting for your gun hands to rescue you, your out of luck. Most of them, except for Frezzel here, are off in town. Any others remaining about are being captured by Captain Burcher’s ‘light cavalry’ as we speak. You are alone to answer to me for your attacks on myself and my wife.” As Doc spoke Hammond eased his hand unobserved to where he kept a revolver strapped to the underside of his desk. Frezzel in the meantime was slowly twisting his hips to free his holstered gun for a grab. Rather than lift the revolver above the desk top, Hammond fired through the front of his desk. As it passed through the front panel the bullet struck a metal bracket. This deflected it’s path, striking Frezzel in the stomach. The wound though fatal was not instantaneously so. Frezzel, in a reflex reaction drew his revolver and shot Hammond in the chest, killing him instantly. Jack had drawn his pistol as quickly as Frezzel but didn’t fire. Instead Jack clubbed Frezzel’s gun hand as he turned to shoot the others. In a heartbeat it was all over. Frezzel was dyeing quickly and Hammond was dead. Kit entered in with his gun drawn to see what had happened. “It’s all over here,” said Doc. “Frezzel and Hammond killed each other, while trying to shoot us. A gruesome poetic justice.”

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When the  first shot rang out in the room, Doc, Jacob and Cactus Jack all drew their guns, but held their fire as they saw Frezzel jerk from the shot, and his own gun quickly appear and fire into Hammond's chest. As Frezzel sat, his chest heaving as he breathed his last, the men looked at each other in disbelief. As Kit entered, and the men explained what had happened,  Mrs. McPherson followed him in, letting out a scream and running from the room.

 

Doc holstered his gun, then took his hat off as he rubbed his hand through his hair, walking from the room to escape the acrid smoke and the scene before him. "I'll tell Mrs. McPherson not to go back in, we'll send the undertaker out. I think we need to get back to town, but to be careful. The sons are still around, and I don't know what they have planned in town. I have a bad feeling, though."

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Jacob knelt and examined the bodies, pulling open their garments and taking a professional look at each wound.

Practiced fingers lingered at their throats, finding what Doc Greenlees called the "carotid groove" and felt, patiently, for the least pressure that would mean a heart was still alive.

Nothing.

Jacob waited a little longer, tapped each man's lower eyelid, looked at the black circle of expanded pupil, observed the darkening of the nailbeds, and finally stood, looked from one to the other.

He frowned, thinking, then squatted again, felt Hammond's coat, crushing the pocket material, reached into the off pocket, pulled out the hideout revolver, slipped it into his own right hand coat pocket.

He already had one in his left.

Jacob stood.

"I reckon your shades are still here," he said conversationally.  "Pa told me a man's ghost will stay near the body for just a little while."
His smile was tight, little more than a marginal widening of his mouth.

"Don't bother to haunt this place and don't bother staying on this earth. I know how to cause you great harm."

His voice was quiet, spoken with the confidence of a man who did, indeed, know exactly how to harm a shade of the departed.

He'd learned from a woman who gazed the crystal ball, a woman who knew herbs and healing, a woman who would have been hanged not many decades before, for being a witch.

Something cold seemed to punch through him and Jacob exploded into a whirling, spinning, shining tornado.

His fighting knives were sharpened on a coarse stone:  he'd preferred this edge for general cutting up of a meat animal, and he found it worked very well indeed when cutting through an opponent's clothing as well:  now, as he laid about himself, a knife in each hand, he employed what the trick rider Daciana taught him:  that a ghost can be cut with a sharpened blade, that base metal has been a ward and a charm against spirits since time immemorial, and even his father mentioned that it was common in the South for everyone to carry a blade of some sort, straight razors being greatly preferred -- not as antipersonnel weapons, but as a ward, a charm, and if need be, a weapon, against haints, spooks, boogers and things not of this world.

Whether because of his swift and deadly dance, whether it was imagination, whether it was exorcising the memories he carried, or whether he genuinely tore into the departing shades of two dead men ... whether because of, or in spite of, the deputy's efforts, he felt no more cold incursions into his living soul.

Jacob sheathed his blades and stepped out of the sulfur fouled air and joined his compatriots outside.

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Captain Burcher entered the house as Doc and his companions left the office. “Have you found him?” questioned Burcher. “Hammond is dead.” Replied Jack, “He tried to shoot Doc through his desk but killed Frezzel. Frezzel shot Hammond as he died. They are both gone.” Doc asked, “Did you secure any other men on the property?” “Yes,” replied Burcher. “There were only the wrangler, an old cowhand, and a blacksmith. They are not interested in fighting for Hammond. They say the regular hands and foreman have gone out to work the cattle and are not expected back until this evening. The hired gun hands rode off together earlier this afternoon and the stable boy took off shortly after they left.” Jacob said, “Jack, Kit and I encountered the stable boy, Lucas, on his way to town. He was very excited and claimed he had vital information he had to deliver to Marshall Utah Bob.”

 

“We need to get into town,” said Doc. “I have a bad feeling about those gun hands and the Hammond Sons going to town in a group like that.” At this point Jacob joined the men and they left the house to collect their horses. The ride into town was accomplished in relative silence. The Main Street was exceptionally quiet when the cavalcade arrived at the Marshall’s office. The hitching rail in front of the saloon was crowded with horses. Doc recognized the Hammond Son’s mounts among them.

 

Doc, Linn and Jack entered the Marshall’s office to find Utah Bob loading a shotgun and his pockets with shells. “I’m glad to see you here in town,” he said. “I think I’m going to need some help soon. Lucas told me Hammond’s gun crew have decided to take action without his say so. The Sons are with them over at the saloon. I’d guess they’re screwing up their courage with a drink or two. Oh, Doc, I deputized Lucas and sent him over to Miss Kris’s to help the ladies in case trouble goes in that direction.” Linn Keller got a sour look on his face and said, “Perhaps it would be a good idea for one of us to join them at the tailor shop. I’ve got a lot invested in this situation, I want to see it concluded” Doc grinned and said, “The ladies should be able to support Lucas in the event anyone tries to cause them trouble. I say we control the situation by containing it to the saloon. Once the gunnies find out their paymaster is gone they will not be interested in a fight. I doubt they will look to the son’s as leaders.”

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I took a scattergun from the Sherriff's rack with an approving nod from UB and slipped a third colt in my waistband. "I'll come in the back."  I mounted my horse and headed for the edge of town, dropping off out of sight to make my way to the back of the saloon.

 

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I knew what had to be done and I knew right now was the best time to do it.

I set my jaw and strode towards the Saloon.

Utah took three long strides and grabbed me by the upper arm.

"What do you think you're doin'?" he said quietly, his voice tight, and I turned to look very directly at the man, and then I smiled a little.

"We can either have a pitched battle or we can yank the fuse out of the bomb," I replied. "I reckon to go in there and tell 'em their boss is dead, the purse is empty and their best chance of long life and happiness is somewhere far from here."

"Wait'll we get into position!"
They've got concealment and they've got some cover," I argued. "The longer we wait, the more set they'll be and I don't like the ten-to-one odds of storming a fixed fortification. We don't have that many men and we don't have any men to lose!"

I turned and started for the saloon again as men sprinted across the street on either side of me, far enough apart to avoid being seen, obviously moving to surround and contain.

I knew how it was done.

I'd been part of such containment teams myself.

I wanted no part of the war again.

If I can get in there and tell them they are without employer, employment or pay, I reasoned, they might fold their hand and leave.

Like most good plans, most workable plans, it was very simple and very straightforward, and it worked very, very well, at least until I set foot across the threshold.

I blocked the first fist launched toward my chin, I managed to close with this first combatant and seize him by the belt and the collar and swing him between me and two incoming enemy rounds.

My good intentions disappeared in concussions and smoke and I dropped my dying human shield, I twisted to my left and threw a table up between me and them and I recall how poker chips, shot glasses and most of a marked deck sailed and fluttered through the air.

I also recall three splintered holes appearing in the tabletop and how the shivers spun through the air in my general direction.

I made a long dive toward the back of the bar.

I wasn't the only one with that idea.

The barkeep was on his belly, his hands over his ears and he was kind of curled up, trying to make himself as small as he could, I reckon.

He must've seen me out the corner of one squinched-shut eye and he looked at me with big and surprised eyes and I grabbed his bung starter and belted the fellow across the skull, and I was not in the least little big gentle about it.

He'd looked up and saw me and he reached for a double gun hung handy on the back of the bar, and once I laid him out cold, why, I dropped the bung starter and grabbed that double gun myself.

From the confined roar of outgoing gunfire from inside the saloon, I believed the moment for reasoned discussion and rational information was long past.

Now it was time for persuasion of a less than gentle nature.

I eared back the hammers on that double gun and I did not hesitate one little bit.

For all things there is a season, a time for every purpose under the heavens.

It was time for this preacher to go to war.

 

 

 

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"Now with the desk positioned this way, you can hide behind it and see out the front window, as well as the side window at anyone coming towards the corner of the shop" Lucas opined.  Calamity crouched behind the desk and peered through the crack in the wooden front.  By golly, Lucas was right.  You could see both windows from there.  "Great idea, Lucas" Calamity chimed.  "It makes the shop appear to be larger as well.  Thank you for all your help."  Just as Calamity was completing the last words, shots rang out from the Saloon.  Calamity and Lucas dove behind the newly positioned desk for cover.  Calamity grabbed her rifle tucked under the counter top while Lucas crawled to the corner and procured the shotgun hidden there.  They both watched and waited for some indication of what was going on.
 

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I slid along behind the bar on my left side, my left leg digging for traction and pushing me along, til I came to the end -- it wasn't a very long bar -- I came to its end just as one fellow came looking for me and I raised the muzzle on that abbreviated twelve-bore and drove him longways, from just south of the belt buckle up to his collar bones, and he lost all interest in further hostilities.

Something spanged close enough to sting me with splinters and I laid down on my back and aimed that double gun down towards where I'd just come from and give another hostile the other barrel, and he kind of sagged and he didn't feel much like arguin' either, and I had no more shells for the sawed-off, so I rolled over onto my Prayer Bones and fetched out a hand full of walnut handled argument and I set to speech makin'.

I had five shots.

I had to make 'em count.

That bar was not much for cover, matter of fact a bed sheet would have been as good at stopping enemy lead, my only hope was a good offense and I began to offend just as fast as I could, and that fella I'd just sent to Hell on the Buckshot Stage was kind enough to donate me his dropped revolving pistol so once mine ran dry, why, I could pull a Border Shift and have another one ready to go.

Everyone's attention was towards the outside and I am not the least bit ashamed to say I commenced to shooting men in the back.

In a gunfight there is no such thing as fair play, and after I'd been in that damned War a year and a half, an ambitious young officer who'd fancied himself God's gift to the military, a West Point underclassman who figured he knew more than the Creator himself, admitted to me that, "If you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics are rather poor," and right about then -- with a saloon full of gun smoke and concussions slammin' down on me from all sides, why, the last thing on my mind was tactics.

I figured to kill as many of them as I could for one reason and one reason only.

I wanted to live to see sunrise the next day.

My plan went just fine for the first little bit, I shot two of them square between the shoulder blades and they both collapsed, I missed a third but got him with the fourth as I come a-runnin' out from behind the end of the bar and I figured the piano might make a better bullet stop, I holstered my empty revolver and grabbed the back of the piano and hauled one-handed and one of them outlaws came runnin' over and yelled "Make room, you fool!" and near to threw me across the room, he hauled that piano out of the way like 'twas an empty book case and damned if there wasn't a short door behind it.

He kicked the door open and I fired once and he collapsed, one hand out the escape to freedom.

Part of me was inclined to make what a gambler called a "Hasty Exit," and then I recalled Utah and everyone else outside and reasoned there would be lead heading towards me was I to run outside so I looked around and damn if things weren't just all of a sudden ... silent.

Gunsmoke settled into lazy layers in the still air and my ears were screaming at me and I looked for anyone moving and then I fell back behind that piano and commenced to punch empties out of my own cylinder and dunk in fresh rounds.

I holstered and reloaded the second pistol as well and a head poked in that sawed off door and yelled "HEY LINN!  YOU OKAY?" and I nodded, I stood up and slid that second revolver into my waistband and I looked around.

I recall I gripped the top edge of that upright piano and the deck kind of swayed some underfoot and hard hands gripped me under the arms and their voices came from a long ways off and I heard Utah yelling something and his face was red and  the cords were standing out in his neck and I shook my head and then 'twas like someone set up an Arab gong beside my head and hit it with a big hammer and I blinked and grabbed Utah's arm and yelled "CALAMITY!"

The two of us turned and dove out that short door behind the piano and neither of us paid the least little bit of attention to the dead man we trompled on in the process, and divin' out that secret door was all well and good -- Utah was a lean man and so was I -- but I didn't get low enough and skint the hell out of my back right through coat, shirt and all, and that hurt.

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When Linn walked purposefully toward the Saloon, Doc Ward set out to follow close behind, just in case his friend needed assistance. No sooner had Keller gotten through the door than the situation deteriorated. Rounds coming out of the door caused Doc to spin away, even as he felt the sensation of something tugging at his hat. Having experienced that sensation one other time, when he had went out after Lt. Caspar Collins, somewhere in the back of Doc's mind was the knowledge there was a bullet hole in his hat.

 

Sprinting the short distance to his horse, Doc slipped his Winchester from the scabbard and dropped to his knee, a porch post offering the barest of cover as he started putting rounds into the window that bullets were coming from. There was a brief roar of fire, but everything seemed over almost as quickly as it had begun. Following several paces behind Utah Bob as he pushed into the Saloon, Doc looked around, rifle at the ready. Doc was just getting ready to comment about how few men there were on the floor when the shouted "CALAMITY!" caught his attention and he went bursting back through the door, believing his wife to be at her shop.

 

Once out the door, he had no sooner started for the shop when he heard the shrill voice of Mr. Cushman shouting "Help! Help! They've robbed the bank! Help!" Doc stood flat footed, rifle in hand, searching for danger as he saw three horsemen laying low over their horses backs at a dead gallop. Lifting the rifle, Doc paused, knowing at the range they were already at, he stood little chance of hitting one of the riders, and simply wasn't able to bring himself to shoot a horse.

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When the men arrived back in town from Hammond's place, Doc, Linn and Jack headed to see Marshall UB. Kit and Jacob left their horses on the outskirts of town, out of sight, behind the Telegraph Office while both dismounting and pulling their long rifles from their scabbards and taking cover on both sides of the street.

Keeping a low profile, they each began to move closer to the SALOON where several horses were tethered, as well as in front of the Bank, making sure that the alley spaces between the buildings were not occupied.

As Kit approached the Bank, he heard voices, though faint, coming from the back of the offices. He signaled to Jacob who was approaching the Marshall's Office on the opposite side of the street, to cover him. Peering in the window of the Bank, Kit could only see shadows moving back and forth, and unable to discern any fowl play, continued down the boardwalk, nearing the SALOON, where he lay low for anyone exiting.

With Jacob now staged across from the SALOON, Linn, Doc and Jack along with UB, were seen leaving his Office, when Linn suddenly charged into the SALOON like a madman with a vengeance.

The ensuing battle, and gun fight from within the SALOON lasted for only minutes. Kit as well as the rest of the men were on edge, wanting desperately to aid Linn, but with no knowledge of the conditions in the SALOON, held our ground.

No sooner had the battle become silent, when three men burst from the Bank, mounted their horses and began riding out of town. Kit immediately turned, standing as he raised his Henry, when Mr. Cushman exited the Bank, stood directly in his line of sight of the riders, waving his hands in the air and yelling, "Help! Help! They've robbed the Bank! Help!". 

Unable to get a clear shot, he lowered his rifle, cut down the alleyway between the SALOON and the Bank to the area behind the row of buildings. With a signaling whistle, Orion quickly came galloping up to him, and soon he was on the trail of the robbers.

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