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FREE BOOK – The DEACON – LAST EPISODE

I rolled.

All sound stopped, but my hand was on my blood red engraved pistol handle.

Another foot step.

I rolled fast, pulling the hammer back and letting a lead slug fly toward the shadow that appeared as I opened my eyes. The shadow dropped with a grunt and intake of air a man makes when he’s hurt bad.

I rolled again.

The shadow, which I couldn’t see now, fired two quick shots into where I had been. All I could think was that makes two more holes in that saddle blanket.

Now I was blind due to the flash of his gun.

I heard him or her running into the woods downhill toward the mine. I waited until the moon came out from behind a cloud and my night vision began to come back. When I could make out trees and tell them from a horse, I moved downhill taking a wide sweep to the left where I remembered there was thick brush in places and lots of trees, big trees.

I turned Solomon loose as I went past him and told him to stay close unless something happened to me. Like he understood or something.

I walked, my boots crunching everything they touched. I took them off and hung them on a couple broken off branches so I could find them later. I walked quieter, much quieter.

The sound of splashing through the stream, probably the pool, told me a lot. If there weren’t two of the enemy here, the one had just gone in the mine.

Picturing the mine, I thought perhaps he had a smallish cowpony in the mine waiting for him.

Something moved off to my right. Something big. I went to ground. A fair sized pine was between my position and the big thing. I was ready to shoot when I realized it was a horse. A small cowpony. I let it walk right up to me and stood to greet it.

I knew the horse. Only one man had ever ridden it until he died. That man was Shorts. Shorts’ horse had come all the way here. I might believe that he would go to the ranch, but no out here.

I buried Shorts so I knew it wasn’t him down there in the mine. There was just one other man that might have brought that horse here.

Stepping out in the open I yelled, “Cicero, come on out. I’ll see ya get a fair hearing.”

No reply. The horse walked to the creek, bent down and drank.

“Come on, Cicero. It’s all over. You killed a lot of people, but you’re done, finished, it’s all over.”

No sound.

“I’m coming in, Cicero.”

I walked keeping the horse between me and the mine mouth. As I approached the line sight kept me drifting down stream until I stepped over the stream and walked along the wall toward the mine. Every two little steps I stopped to listen.

Nothing.

I arrived at the edge of the entrance to the mine. There was no way I wanted to do what I had to do. He had ridden with me. We shared the hunger of the hunt. Then at one point I think he even saved my life.

“Cicero,” I said softly, “Come out, now. Toss your gun out first and then come out.”

After a few moments of listening to the music of the stream, I heard, “I’m hurt. You hit me bad. I can’t come out.”

“I’m coming in. Put your gun on the ground and I’ll come get you.”

“Come get me and take me out of this hole so I can die looking up at the moon.”

I could hear the pain he was feeling in his voice. He was a hurting man. “I coming in.”

I moved into the entrance of the cave. He should have been able to see me silhouetted by the light of the moon behind me. I slid into the hole along the left side, my back rubbing the wall and my sixgun pointed deep into the cave. “Where are you?”

“Here.” A grunt and then a shot.

A line of flame come toward me and finished off my night vision again. My hand started pulling the hammer back and then the trigger until I had fired four rounds.

He screamed again.

This time I could hear death grab him and wrestle him deep down to hell where the unrepentant go.

I went outside, started a fire, got the pine knots, lit the unused one, and returned to drag Cicero out and across the stream where I laid him out like he was in a coffin before I went back in to find a shovel at the face of the mine.

With him buried I rode back to the Rafter B, sleeping in the saddle as Solomon took me where I needed to go and the dog tagged along.

 

The sun came up on me lying in my blanket in the dirt behind the house. Now I could tell Nancy and Buck that it was really over. Nancy could get a few miners to work the mine. Within days of beginning work there, she could afford all the cows she wanted. Buck could ramrod for her, he was a capable man.

I, I could got back to Evelyn and figure out what was next in my life of being the Deacon, a servant to the Church.

Another dream.

 

Last chapter

 

Two days later, with Solomon all packed up and another horse from the outlaw Laze E crew packed with almost nothing, I headed for Golden. The plan was to load up the pack horse with food and other supplies, I had a list, and hire a couple of hands to bring it back to the ranch and work there while I went on to Denver and the Caravan, hopefully with Evelyn if she waited. Oh, I wasn’t going to marry here, but we made a good team for the Lord. I had two or three great sermons in my head that needed to be preached.

Arriving at the main street of Golden, I checked the horses in to the livery down the alley from the hotel and then walked into the hotel. The lobby was busier than on the last visit. The windows had been fresh washed and the furniture was polished and waxed to shine like the sun itself. On one of those shiny pieces of furniture was a familiar face.

“Daniel, come and sit down.”

“Tor, what’s up with you? I sent you in here to recuperate, not hibernate or retire.”

“Well, I’d like to tell ya right now, but it’s my bed time. I am under strict Doctor’s orders. If I don’t live up to those orders I will be fired and the good Doctor’s bill will be mine to pay.” He got up stiffly and walked to the stairs with the stiffness of a very old man with all kinds of rheumatism.

“I’ll meet ya here in the morning. What time?”

“Make it about 8. And, do I have a surprise for you. Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

The desk man yelled, “We have no bed bugs in this hotel.”

Tor chuckled. “See ya a 8. I’ll bring the surprise.”

“I can wait. I need the sleep.” I turned to the desk, “Sir, a bed now or I perish.”

“Boy. Take this man to room 305 and hang the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign out for him. His rig is right there by the settee. Make it quick before he faints from exhaustion, Boy.”

“Yes, Sir.”

It was everything I could do to keep up with the young man he called, Boy, but I made it. He did hang the sign after my gear was put on a rack next to the door. The lamp was turned down. I blew it out as he closed the door with, “Good night.”

“Wake me at 7 please and have the barber fill a tub for me.”

“Yes, Sir.” I heard from the hall.

The pounding on the door was deafening. “I’m coming.”

“It’s 7:20, Sir. I’ve been trying to rouse you for twenty minutes.”

“I’ll be down for the barber in five. I’ll want a shave and a bath.”

“Yes, Sir. The bath is waiting. It might be a touch cool by now.”

“Get out of here. I’m coming.”

I grabbed the cleanest clothes I had, the ones I had on for the last week, and headed down the stairs.

The barber was waiting with hot water, a razor, and soap.

As I finished and was getting ready to dress, he returned. “Sir, you cannot surely wear those same clothes. I had the Boy iron out the store creases in these. Your Mr. Tor has paid for them. He stated that he would be waiting in the café you ate breakfast in last.”

“Thank you.” I wanted to toss him a dollar, but I was broke until I could get to the bank and get some dollars for the gold in my bags.

“Mr. Tor said for you to not worry about money.”

“Thank you.”

Then I thought, ‘What is this guy, a mindreader?’

I dried and dressed. Brushing my hat was a waste, but I did it.

The café was a hole in the wall where an old roundup cookie held sway with a spatula and a cleaver. Tor was waiting for me in a back corner table sipping a cup of what I assumed to be coffee. I sat down with him and told the waiter, “I’ll have what he’s having.”

Tor smiled.

The man delivered the cup and I took a testing sip. “TEA! You’re drinking tea?”

“Yeah, according to this Doctor I have, it’s supposed to promote healing and I need all the promoting I can get.”

“How much longer before you can ride back to Denver with me?

“Don’t know that I’ll be going back to Denver. Sent the Marshall a note to tell him I’m probably out of the law business. Thinking about ranching with my new partner.”

“New partner?” That was a surprise, but then a lot had happened since we separated not that long ago.

“Order up. I’m hungrier than a sore toothed bear.”

“So what’s the surprise?”

He put a dumb grin on his face, “It’s comin’. Don’t you be worrying none.”

My mouth was full of steak and fried potatoes when Tor whispered, “Here she comes.”

“She?” I turned to see who he was talking about.

Coming across the room was a stunning young woman in a wool shirt and denim trousers. Her hair was the darkest of blacks. The way she walked said ‘look out here I come and I am confident.’ Then her eyes focused on me. Those eyes were dark and seemed to penetrate deeply whatever they focused on. “And, who is this lovely young lady?”

“This is my new partner. She has nursed me and wants me to work her ranch with her. I asked her to marry me last night and she is supposed to answer this morning.”

“Oh.”

I could not take my eyes off her.

Arriving at the table triggered my manners. I stood. She stuck out her hand which I took strictly out of habit. “I’m Nancy. This man here has told me all about the Deacon.”

She looked at Tor, “The answers ‘yes’ to your question last evening. I have already talked with the local Parson and he can do the ceremony this afternoon if that’s what satisfactory with you.”

“Whatever you say, Dear.” He tried to stand to greet her.

“Sit down. You aren’t ready for standing alone and walking, yet.”

“How’d you get here, then?” I asked.

“Got me a fancy chair with wheels. The boy from the hotel pushes me around when Nancy’s not available.”

“How can we have two Nancys in our lives?” I asked.

“We can’t. One of them is a fake.”

I sat down. My brain went to work with the extra pressure on it. “Nancy is a fake.”

“One of them is.”

I looked at the strong woman still standing at the table and stood up again. Sliding her chair out, “Would you care to join us at the table and have some breakfast?”

“I would.” She sat and slid herself up to the table.

I sat. “So, tell me about all this. I am, shall we say, befuddled.”

“Dad had come to Golden to meet me coming back from school in Philadelphia. I got here and he wasn’t here so I was waiting when Tor came in. My training was Nursing, in part, so the Doctor asked me to wait on him hand and foot until he was well. He’s been ordering me around forever. The gal you chased all over the country and rescued was an imposter. I am sure she was the daughter of that Lazy E owner. They been after the ranch for a long time and Dad was getting a bit leery of their activities. We were missing cows and hands were leaving without notice. They would just come in, get their gear, and leave. My last letter from Dad said that someone was shooting up the place without really trying to hit anything. He was worried they would start shooting to kill. So, here I am. I left school and caught the next train. I had wired the Doctor here to let him know I was coming.”

“Sorry about your Dad. Wish we had gotten there sooner.”

She looked at Tor, “When do you want to do the wedding?”

“When I’m ready for the honeymoon.”

“I am not waiting that long before I go to the ranch, cowboy. Today or six months from now. Take your pick.”

“Now, of course.”

I chimed in with, “I was told in Denver I could do weddings.” I smiled.

“Who said that?” Tor asked.

“Evelyn.”

“Who’s Evelyn?”

“My singer.”

“We’ll use the Parson,” Nancy ended the conversation.

We talked a bit longer while we finished breakfast. I left to get a spring wagon from the livery along with a couple of horses to pull it. The wrangler was very understanding and was willing to anything for Miss Diane and her beau. “That’s a right purty woman there. Women rare enough out here and purty are impossible to find. Danged if I can even find an ugly one.”

I chuckled as I drove off to the front of the hotel.

It was three days later when we stopped on top of the rise and looked down on the ranch house. I was mad. Tor was hurting. Nancy was ready to spit nails at the phony Nancy down below.

“I will ring her neck first and then slap her silly,” Nancy spit out like venom.

“Nancy. Hate will burn you for the rest of your life. What happened happened. We can get things straightened out and you will have your ranch with the gold for the rest of your life.”

“Don’t be preaching at me, Deacon. I’ve heard it all before and it did nothing to keep my Dad alive.”

“Everything dies. Why should you be exempt from death in your life?”

“Don’t even try to give me that religious garbage, Mr. Deacon. I have had it up to here,” she waived her hand above her head.

I pointed to my heart, “You only need it in here.”

“Shut up and drive.” She kicked Solomon in the ribs and headed for the ranch house as fast as he would go.

I had to take is slow. Tor was hurting and whining. Not that I could blame him any.

He said, “Catch here. That woman down there will shoot her out of the saddle if she gets half a chance.”

I saw Nancy jump off Solomon in the middle of the ranch yard and run to the house. The front door open and the false Nancy walked out. The two met at the edge of the porch in a collision I thought was going to kill them both. I could see the fur fly from my bouncing seat as we zigged and zagged down the slope to the yard.

We got there just in time to see the false Nancy catch Nancy with a beautiful roundhouse swing that caught her in the left ear. Nancy went down into the dirt hard.

My eyes must have bugged out because she bounced up and laid the false Nancy backpeddling onto the porch and flat on her back. Her head hit the wood with a resounding boom and bounced. She laid there still with a small pool of blood growing under her head.

Nancy moved forward and rolled the unconscious one on her side and began doctoring the head wound. Within moments the false Nancy looked like a war hero with a bloody bandage around her head as she sat up on the edge of the porch.

Nancy said, “Why?”

No answer.

I moved Tor into the wheeled chair on the porch and into the house. Neither of us worried about the battle on the porch.

After returning to the porch I asked, “Where’s Buck. Did you kill him, too?”

False looked up at me and said, “I have killed no one, ever. Buck is out checking a rumor from a passing rider that over two hundred head of my cows are over to the west in a large hole in the lava country. Who’s the tramp?”

“The real Nancy who was raised on this ranch, whose mother is buried up on that rise, whose father was killed by the Lazy E, that’s who.”

I watched. She never blinked. “So who am I if not Nancy who was raised on this ranch, whose mother is buried on that rise, whose father was killed by outlaws?”

“Beats me, lady. I have no idea. Who are you?”

“I am Nancy.”

Nurse Nancy came through the door. “No, you are not. I am the Nancy and I can prove it. Deacon, in the top drawer of the dresser in the room Tor is in you will find a tintype. Bring it out here.”

I did.

I looked at it as I walked out. There was no longer a doubt in my mind. I handed it to false Nancy. She took one look at it and began crying. As she shook her head the ends of the bandage flapped in the breeze.

“It’s not true. She planted that tintype while she was in there. I am Nancy.”

I was taken aback by her anger and pain. Why would she continue to cry and fight with the picture settled it? The tintype was definitely Nurse Nancy. I asked, “When was this picture taken, Nancy.”

“Around spring last year. Dad wanted me to get the picture so he could put it on his dresser. We never got around to getting a frame for it.”

I looked at False Nancy. “If you are you the real Nancy, what do you have for proof?”

“There was never a picture of me, but there is a picture of my mother in my room under the paper in the bottom of my jewelry box, the small wooden ammunition box on my dresser.”

I retrieved the box and handed it to Nurse Nancy. She fumbled the latch. “It sticks.” On the second try she got it open and laid out the jewelry on a small table like it was important to her, lifted the paper, and there was nothing there.

False Nancy grabbed the box and shook it. Nothing fell out. “Where did it … She took it. She stole my mother’s picture. Now I really do have nothing, no ranch and no picture.

Nurse Nancy said, “I found where you had hidden it and put it up on the shelf in the closet.”

I looked at the paper lying on the table. There was a slight change of color over a part of the paper that was close to the size of the supposed picture that I saw when Nurse Nancy brought it out.

I prayed, ‘Lord, I need wisdom and answers here. Please show me the truth.’

An idea hit me, I looked at false Nancy, “What’s the terrain like to the west?”

“Mostly slow rolling hills until you get to the mountain.”

“Nancy, which direction is the nearest water hole from here. Just point.”

She stalled as if to think, “I don’t know if the one over there, or over there.”

False Nancy said, “There are no water holes in that direction for miles.” She pointed and shook her head with a smile. She knew she was right.

“How old was your dad?”

“61. He married late and I took a couple of years to come along.”

I said, “Alright. Nancy, how old was your mother and when and why did she die?”

She looked lost. “What is all this questions crap? I am the daughter. I’ve been away for a long time and now you want all these answers.”

The real Nancy yelled, “My mother died six years ago from some sickness that withered her away like a hot wind on green grass. She went from a healthy woman to dead in less than four weeks. I helped dad bury her. Come to think of it, she’s buried up on the hill, but her feet are under the headstone. Dad wanted it that way so the pressure wouldn’t be on her head. If you look at the head stone you’ll see a five pointed star that I carved in the sandstone one day when I was up there crying.”

“She spied it all out while she was here alone with the cowboy. Tramp? You’re the tramp living alone with a cowboy.”

“Did up the coffin and see where her feet are. No one could know that except Dad and me.”

I picked up the tintype from the jewelry box and then I slowly lifted the paper. When I put the two together it was plain that the tintype had been in that box at one time under that very piece of paper.

Nurse Nancy turned and walked to Solomon as I was doing the match up. As I lifted my eyes from the paper, she swung onto his back and took off like a shot. I called, “Solomon.”

He spun on a silver dollar and gave about ninety-five cents change before returning to the hitching rail right in front of me. False Nancy the nurse landed in the dirt after her flight of fifteen feet or so.

I’ll give her this. She got up and started walking away from the ranch slumped in her defeat.

I went to retrieve her. There were still questions without answers.

 

The last chapter

for now

 

After a tough couple of days we found out that Nurse Nancy was really a Nancy, just not the right one for the ranch. Cicero had met her on a trip to Golden when he had the gold assayed first time. He got drunk and told her everything, so when XXX brought Tor in she figured she could worm her way in if the outlaws killed the real Nancy or there was a miracle and the real Nancy died of unknown causes.

Cicero had told her a lot about the ranch and where to find the gold when he was whiskey blabbing and had even invited her to the ranch where she could live at the mine and he could visit her. She liked the idea of living in a gold mine and sooner or later would have killed Cicero. The gold would have then been hers and she could get out of area from time to time to spend a lot of money. The first thing she was going to do was buy out the saloon and dance hall she was working in.

I made sure she didn’t change her mind to ride away by taking her to the law in Golden.

Bottom line, Nancy had her ranch and the Lazy E was not going to be a problem anymore. Buck was going to stay on. Tor cried because he mad at himself for getting suckered in. He decided to take on the Lazy E seein’s how he no longer had a job in Denver and all the owners were dead.

Me, I went home to Evelyn to get my head on straight after all the killing and rescuing and just plain miracles.

If God was for me, who could stand against me. I could see me getting real proud in a short time. My thinking could turn to – Since I am so good, no one can stand against me.

For the first time in my life I felt fear so deep I trembled and froze. Fortunately, I was on Solomon and he was headed for Denver.

It wasn’t all about the money at all.

FREE BOOK – The DEACON – Episode 24

Tommy went wide up the slope into the trees. I motioned for Buck to stay behind me. All of a sudden it hit me. I didn’t know what this horse would do if the shooting started. ‘Hey, Lord. Please keep an eye on this horse and let me hang on, Please. Thank you, amen.’

I rode along the steam.

A spot where the stream had been blocked a bit by rolling rocks across its width, causing a pool of fifteen feet across and two feet deep right in front of mouth of a cave. The cave looked like it was natural. The top of the dam lined up with the cave and on my side of the stream, fifty feet or so, was a pile of smaller rock that looked different than the rock the cave was in. There were no fresh tracks anywhere except for one set where Buck had come close a couple days before.

I got off the horse, dropped the reins, and walked across the dam. The cave opening was natural. No sign on it of any tools, but inside the mouth ten feet, I could see a pick and a single jack standing against the wall with a couple of drill steels alongside. A wooden box like one I had seen blasting powder in once over by Amarillo what seemed like a long time ago.

I walked up close and read the label. AJAX BLASTING POWDER. I lifted it and moved it up to the trees behind a bunch of scrub and rock with Buck’s help. Actually, he grabbed it and rode up there while I walked empty handed.

Returning to the hole was in a quandary. That hole was dark. How far could I go in and be safe. I had no light of any kind. ‘Lord, I need to see what’s in there. Any ideas.’ All I came up with was that small voice in the back of my head saying, ‘walk.’

I did, carrying my little pointy headed hammer.

Thirty feet in it was so dark the floor was difficult to see and there were no more colors, just dark shapes and space. Running my hands up the wall on the right side and across the ceiling I came to a foot wide hole in the ceiling. I checked it out by running my hand along the hole toward the entrance. It ended ten feet back. Now that I was looking in a different direction I could see a bit better. At the edge of the slot in the ceiling were whitish rocks with lines in them.

I went back to the thirty foot area, took a whack at the edge of the slot with the hammer, and brought down a fair sized slab of the roof, a few pieces hit me on my hat. Bending over, I grabbed the slab and made for the entrance.

In the noon sun the whitish stone looked white as snow and the lines were a rusty yellow. The rock crumbled with very little effort. The tough parts felt the hammer. Tommy came down from the trees, took one look, and said, “Gold, or my name’s little Suzy Brown.”

“Gold?” said I.

“Gold?” Buck said.

“Yeah, that’s gold. That’s the kind of gold miners love to see, cain’t remember what it’s called, but they love it. You can sit here with our little hammer and crumble it, separating the white quartz from the gold veins, and walk away with almost pure gold to take to town. Most banks’ll give ya 90 to 95 percent of the ounce price without any further refining. Why heck, you can refine it in a forge down to dang near the pure stuff.”

We all said, “Woooweee,” at the same time as we stood there gawking.

Tommy looked around and found a couple of sappy pine knots. Buck got a fire going. When we put the two together I had two torches to go in the mine with. They smoked a bit, but put out a fair amount of light. Forty feet in the veins of rusty yellow got bigger and the channel in the ceiling went wider and wider. All I could think of was, ‘Nancy’s gonna be a rich gal. This mine has enough gold showing to restock the ranch and build those line shacks she wanted.’ It was just a shame that her daddy wasn’t going to get to see it.

I left the mine without burning out the first torch. A dunk in the stream simmered it to out and both were put in a crack twenty feet south of the entrance so no one would see them if they happened to drop by.

We headed for the ranch house with some good news for a change.

Nancy cried all the way through the meal she prepared and set before us. I said grace and the crying started. It the time for me to eat the steak in front of me and five biscuits for her to settle down enough to talk about it. “What would I have done without you all? I feel so good and so bad all at the same time. Cicero missing. Tor dead. Shorts dead. All those gun hands dead and even that horrible Mr. Everson dead. All over gold. I wish it wasn’t there. Why couldn’t it be on someone else’s ranch? My mother homesteaded that section just because of the water. My father always said that place was a waste because it was so far out. I wish he was here now.” Her bawling wiped out the rest.

I went for a walk. I had a lot of questions I would have liked answered. Why homestead a place that far out even with water? Who was digging the hole deeper into the wall? Who found it? “What do I do next, Lord? I really need You to tell me.”

Everything seemed so done. The kidnapper/killers were all accounted for. Nancy was safe. Every body we knew of was buried properly. The hands remaining were trustworthy. I could leave whenever I wanted to.

Tommy died that night.

Tommy had the first watch. He never woke up me or Buck. I woke at the first hint of dawn and saw Buck’s bunk occupied. I didn’t even bother to check my boots for varmints before I kicked my feet into them. Grabbing my gun belt I whipped it around my hips and missed catching the buckle. I tried again and succeeded. The yard was empty. The house was quiet. All the horse seemed to be in the corral. Solomon looked at me like, ‘What’s up, Deacon?’

I found Tommy in the kitchen with a cup of coffee on his finger. The coffee was ice cold. I put the pot on the stove and added some kindling, blew on the ashes, and had a fire in a minute or so. Buck ran in, saw Tommy, and asked very quietly, “What happened?”

I told him all I knew.

Tommy’s body laid on the floor just as I had found him. He had soiled himself and his face was one of agony. His back was arched backwards. The coffee that had been in the cup must have gone down his gullet because none was seen spilled on the floor except one large drop under his cup lip.

The pot on the stove boiled. I reached for a cup on the counter and handed it to Buck. He grabbed the pot and poured as I reached for another cup.

I dropped it and spun around, slapping Buck’s full cup from his lips. The hot coffee go on both of us. My shirt caught some, but I leaned forward to give the hot coffee distance from my skin. Buck wasn’t as lucky. The scalding coffee splashed on his cheek and ear before pouring off his face and down his back. He screamed like a gut shot horse. I grabbed the water bucket and doused him with half a bucket of water.

“Thanks, I think. What was that all about?”

“The coffee is the only way Tommy could have been poisoned.”

“How do you know he was poisoned?”

“The box in the far corner of the counter. See, the one that says ‘rat poison’ on it.”

“Oh, thank you, Deacon.”

Nancy walked into the kitchen with her wrong shaped robe wrapped around her and fear in her eyes. “What’s all the . . .”

She saw Tommy.

“Is he dead?”

“Yes. Poison,” Buck answered.

“Oh, my god.”

“Ma’am. I wish you wouldn’t say that unless you know God up close and personal.”

“How’d he die?”

“Poison. I already told you that.”

“You don’t have to yell.” The crying started all over again. “Damn gold.” She turned and walked back to her room.

I heard the door slam.

“Let’s get him out to the barn, Buck. Did you see that box on the counter at dinner?”

“No. No one puts poison on the kitchen counter.” He looked around. “Do they?”

“Someone did. Far’s I can see. Either you or Nancy put it there, cuz I know I didn’t do it.”

“You can count me out. I know I didn’t do it either.”

I just shook my head grabbed Tommy under his arms. He was cold and stiff. Buck grabbed his feet. The barn was cool and a board across a stall became his marble slab until the grave was ready for him.

Nancy was still in her room with the door shut when they returned to the house. “I’ll cook, you watch,” I said.

“I’m watching after I get rid of this rat poison.” Buck walked out the back door. I watched him go a hundred yards from the house and slowly pour the poison out of the box onto the ground in a thin stream. The morning breeze kicked up a bit to help disperse the poison. He brought the box back and threw it in the stove.

We both watched it burn to ashes. I stirred the ashes. It was gone.

Three of us on the ranch and one of us was a killer.

Then my brain kicked in again. It wasn’t me. The reason for the murder was important. Tommy knew where the gold was. Of course, so did Nancy and Buck. Nancy already owned  the gold mine. That only left Buck, and he didn’t act like a killer. He was genuinely startled and surprised when his saw Tommy on the floor. So was Nancy.

Was there someone else on the ranch trying to kill us off? Why? Because that someone else knew about the gold and did not have a prayer of getting it without killing us off. That had to be it.

My head hurt as I grilled some steaks in a fry pan and burned some biscuits in the oven.

We ate it all regardless.

I told Buck I was camping out a ways tonight and if he wanted to do that he could. I informed Nancy of my decision and she just shrugged, locked her bedroom door, and yelled, “All you brave men leaving a woman at home to guard the fort. Oh well, I guess it is my ranch so it’s up to me to keep it. I won’t move outta this room tonight and I want everyone to know, I have a Winchester and two pistols in here. I know how to use them and I can’t miss if you come through the window or the door. Goodnight.” Her lamp went out.

I had done so much figuring that I was wondering if I was guilty of the murder of Tommy, by accident. We had really torn that kitchen apart a looking for all we needed to cook and serve a big meal, any one of us could have left that poison on the counter. Although, I can say I don’t ever remember seeing it in the kitchen or anywhere before.

I just started riding trying to keep the moon light bright around me while I was in shadows and under cover. After a mile or so I just rode. The dog appeared beside me just sauntering along with the horse’s quick walk. So here we were so deep in the mystery, but all together like we had been shortly after it began. The dog wasn’t too talkative, so I just shut up and rode.

Without thinking I had ridden toward the mine and come in on the high side of the ramp down to the creek. We set up camp near the high side of the slope and settled in for a night’s sleep in peace and quiet.

Solomon grunted which woke me up. I didn’t move. I didn’t open my eyes. I prayed that my breathing hadn’t changed any. Someone was very close to me. How did I know? I don’t know, I just knew.

A foot step.

Another.

A sixgun rubbing leather as it was drawn.

FREE BOOK – The DEACON – EPISODE 21

I looked down at a sleeping Shorts, “God, he is hurt. Let him get some peaceful rest and quick healing.” Now, was they telling God what to do or was it asking. “I am asking, Lord. Your plan is best.”

Cicero was sitting under Solomon, who was calmer than the other two horses. He looked at me and said, “You praying?”

“Yeah.”

“Pray for me, too.”

“You a believer?”

“Once I thought I was, but then God allowed my wife and son to die in a cabin fire. I walked away from God and since then I’ve just tried to be a good man to their memory.”

I had to think for a moment, “I think God will understand. Look at this way, maybe, I ain’t no expert. All of us are gonna die. Every single one of us. Why should your wife live forever? My Ma died. Was it God’s fault or was it man’s fault when he chose to not obey his Creator in the Garden of Eden? You really just didn’t like the pain. I don’t like the pain of not having a Ma to raise me up. If it weren’t so wet I’d get my Bible out and read to you, but all I can do is tell you what I remember in my own words. God says if we ask in all seriousness, He will forgive any sin except ignoring Him, or His Holy Spirit. It says in there that we are sealed to Him by His Holy Spirit until He can make all the promises He has made come true in your life.

“Does that make sense, Cicero?” I looked him in the eye.

He shook his head, “How can God forgive me for the things I’ve said about Him when I was mad or drunk?”

“I don’t know, but He says He can and will. Try it if you mean it.”

He looked at me and shook his head, but I watched his head bow and his lips start moving.

When he looked up again there was a peace shown on his face. “I think He said I was forgiven.”

“What a load of hoowey that was Daniel. How could you believe that, Cicero? How?” came the weak voice of Shorts from the ground as he sat up.

“Don’t ask me, but I did. You might wanna try it yourownself, Shorts.” Now Cicero was the preacher.

Shorts got to his feet and turned his back on us, relieving himself into the rain, downwind of course. He turned back buttoning his fly. “If your God is so powerful and forgiving, can He heal me and forgive me killing another man?”

I looked him in the eye and said, “Yes to both.”

He worked his way back to the ground and turned his back on us.

Cicero gave me a look and I nodded my head.

We stayed quiet until the storm decided to quit and the moon broke through the clouds. The wool blankets were very wet as we rolled them and got the horses ready for travel. Cicero and I had to lift Shorts to his saddle and make sure he was balanced.

With the leg dangling to the stirrup, I checked his wound again. The scab was forming nicely. I was healing well as far as I could see. Nothing looked or smelled bad. That was all I knew about wounds other than the prickly pear pods for a poultice and Evelyn had taught me that when I cut myself pretty bad one time.

We rode into a wet forest with the dripping boughs getting us wetter than we already were. I looked for a place to build a fire in this wet swimmin’ hole. Everything was soaked and so were we. Shorts didn’t need the cold and chill as weak as he was and it wasn’t doing Cicero and I any good either.

The trail was gone and so were the hoof prints. We’d have to worry about the next day. A lightning strike off to the east, lit up what looked like a shelter of some kind. Cicero saw it, too and turned off to check it out. In moments he was waving his hat and calling for us to come.

It was a recently abandoned cubby hole probably made by some Indian or trapper. There was a packrat’t nest at the back, two feet deep and three feet wide, that had enough wood in it to warm us up a bit. Any heat was better than none. The boughs of needles over the top of the shelter were just beginning to drop from age so inside was fairly dry. Compared to the outside it was a dry desert.

Cicero got the fire going while I put up our two horses. When he was ready, we hauled Shorts into the shelter and I went back out to put his horse on the rope with ours. I watched them put their rumps to the wind and shift to three legged stances, which is a horse’s way of saying good night. Thinking that was a good idea, I went inside to try for a nap myownself.

As I entered, Cicero tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to Shorts. He had tears running down his cheek. I said, “You okay, Shorts?”

He didn’t answer for a minute or two as Cicero added wood to the fire in the middle of the shelter. “I just asked God to show me He’s real by getting me warm and here we are.”

“Don’t expect that kinda service all the time,” Cicero said.

“I agree. I’ve asked for all kinds of signs and the answers rarely, if ever look like what I asked for.”

We were all asleep in a matter of minutes after we quit jawing. It’s amazing how warm a wet wool blanket can be when the wet gets warmed up.

 

All the next day we rode ourselves in circles trying to find the tracks. We found a few horse tracks, but the group was never big enough.

The distance to the Lazy E wasn’t that far and in searching we had moved closer and closer. At sundown we were looking down on the ranch frin a mountain side a good mile out.

We had talked as we rode and in those times we were separated we prayed, or at least Cicero and I did. I have no idea what Shorts did other than hang on to his horse.

As we watched the ranch fade into the dusk, I began to worry. No lights were being lit and I only saw one hand moving around. There were horses in the corral, but we were too far off to get a count.

“Okay, I’m going to go down there once it’s dark and see what I can see. If Diane is down there, I’ll try to get to her. If she isn’t I will be taking at least one prisoner. We get her again and there ain’t anyone that will take her away from me while I’m still breathing.”

“Is this a romance budding.”

“No, I’m just tired of riding around in circles and wondering if she is safe or not.”

We waited.

I rode into the darkness leaving the two cowboys behind and with a prayer on my lips.

The ranch was just as I’d seen it before, dying and falling down, filthy and stinking. One lamp was lit in the bunkhouse, if you wanted to call it that. I looked in the winter after creeping up a quietly as I knew how. One man was sitting at a three legged table playing solitaire. I watched him cheat twice before going around to the door. I drew my .44 and walked in.

“Howdy. Where is everybody?”

“Off to  Ooops,they’re headed for Wyoming and not the ranch. Done passed that.

 

Just before sundown we found the tracks. We had moved toward the north as we searched and figured we had covered a lot of country, but weren’t sure how far we had gone. Whatever the distance was, these tracks were fresh. The dirt, or should is say mud, at the edge of the tracks was still curling into the deep tracks. We couldn’t be more than an hour behind, if that.

How did they get so close? Had to be they found a spot to dry out and spent some time getting everything warm and dry, and all the people fed. I wasn’t about to backtrack to find out. We were close and we were going to stay close.

Within minutes we found a camp site that served out purposes, lots of wood, a tree canopy to break up the smoke, and shelter from the night breeze. We built a high wall on the north side of the fire to keep prying eyes from seeing the fire and even then we kept it small. We had nothing to cook and nothing to brew. Water was the only thing on the menu.

Cicero broke the silence. “We gotta ketch them folks tomorrow if for no other reason than to get their grub. We sure’s all get out cain’t shoot something without telling them we’re right behind them.”

“You know, Cicero, that gives me an idea. Let’s find us a spot in the morning for an ambush. Then we can shoot off one round like we was hunting and wait for a couple of them to come back and see what’s goin’ on.”

Shorts’ head came up, “I can sit and hold a Winchester without any problem. I can, I can. I’ll be of some use that way, instead of being an dead cow on the end of your rope to drag along.”

“Shut up,” I smiled when I said it. “If you was an anchor, I’d cut the line.”

Cicero looked at him. “How you feeling?”

“Pain’s tolerable. Bone aches. Toes wiggle. Butt is sore. Gut is empty. My attitude is one of wantin’ to kill someone or blow up something.”

We all got a chuckle out of that as we bobbed our heads. The jawing kept on for another hour as we worked to get the blankets reasonable dry. They weren’t too wet what with the body heat and fire the night before.

My blanket felt better than it ever had before as I rolled up in it after telling Cicero to wake me at something that resembled one in the morning. He had taken a look at the Big Dipper and said, “Goodnight, Boss.”

I awoke to see Shorts on watch and the night very dark. The Dipper showed it was close to 4 or so. I let him keep watchin’ and rolled over to find a more comfortable position in the damp needles.

Cicero kicked me gentle like. “You gonna sleep all day, Boss?”

“I was trying to after I saw Shorts on the job.”

Shorts smiled, “Just tryin’ to be of some use. Let’s go get’em.”

We ate our water for breakfast and saddled up three tired horses. They complained a mite, but not enough to be aggravating. The sun was behind the mountain we were one as we worked our way to the tracks and, with Cicero out in the lead, we went after our prey.

My head or something was telling me that this was going to be a day, an eventful day. That’s all I could latch on to. It wasn’t as if it were going to be a bad day or a good day, just an eventful day.

We rode into it with our minds and guns ready, like soldiers I would say.

Within minutes we saw their smoke and smell the breakfast cooking. Oh, was that an bodacious smell. I drooled. Cicero shook his head. Shorts just kept riding.

Right soon we came up on a cut to the left that was lined with boulders at the entrance. Shorts stayed on the trial and Cicero and I went to check it out. It was as close to perfect for our task as any place I’d ever seen. The gunmen could come right through the boulders and into the cut where we could take them on up close and personal. Even if things went sour there were two escape routes for us to back out through.

“Hey, Boss, it just don’t get much better than this.”

“I agree. Let’s get Shorts set up and then send out invitation to the party out.”

I rode down and got Shorts. Cicero got a smoky fire going for the outlaws to head toward and showed Shorts the place he thought the wounded man would work best in. It was right alongside of the main escape route. There was a crazy looking rock that was slick but not too slick. Shorts was set in position on the rock with lots of protection and a simple slide to the ground next to his horse. All he had to do was shoot until it was time to leave, turn and slide down landing on his good leg, grab the reins, and swing up with as little weight as possible on his bad leg.

Cisco got set at the spot he had picked out for himself which would us the same escape route as Shorts had. Me, I just parked my butt atop a rock dead in front of the trail coming in. The only bug in the ointment was the extra tracks coming and going on the trail, but that could easily have happened in we camped in the cut. All we could do was get ready.

I stood atop my rock and looked to Shorts. He nodded. Cicero stuck his arm in the air with a thumb up. There was nothing left to except start the party. The hammer clicked twice as I pulled it back. I aimed up the cut and let fly with on .44 round, immediately jacking the lever and then inserting a round through the loading chute. The .44 on my hip with the blood red cross on the grips had six rounds in the cylinder ready for a fight.

I prayed. “Lord, I don’t want to kill none of these men, but I think they aim to kill a woman, a defenseless woman. All of this is in Your hands. It surely isn’t in mine. Use me for Your will. Whatever, Lord.”

We waited.

We waited some more.

Four men made an appearance like magic out of the trees near the trail into the trap. The lead man pulled up and pointed to the tracks before swinging his arm along the trail to end pointing at the rocks. Another man motioned them on along the trail.

We had planned that Shorts would take the man on the left, Cicero would do the man in the middle, and I would take care of the man on the right. We never figured on four. I had estimated two. Cicero said three. Shorts said he didn’t care how many, he’d kill his share. We also agreed I would ask them to surrender before I fired. The two companions didn’t care much for that, but agreed that if one of them made a move for a gun, we would open fire.

They came forward as if it were a Sunday afternoon ride to check out a water hole or something.

I waited until they had passed the three entrance boulders and stood up. They didn’t see me concentrating on the trail like they were.

I yelled, “Surrender or die.”

All four looked at me and grabbed for their guns. Three rounds hit them with the shots sounding like one. The survivor of that blast caught three slugs just as his gun was coming to bare on me.

Cicero slid off his boulder and eased into the death scene. One at a time he checked them for life. He looked up, “This one is still breathing.” It was the one on the left. Shorts swore loud and clear. “He won’t last long though. He’s shot through both lungs from the looks of it.”

Cicero bent over and kneeled next to the man putting his ear to the man’s face. Moments later he arose. “He said he knew he should never have hung out with a man that would kill a woman.”

He bent to check again. “He dead.”

‘Three down and how many left’ ran through my mind.

We pulled the three to a spot where a boulder was in a position that the wind hollowed out a large hole under it. After stripping them of shirts, hats, guns and ammo, personal information, and money, we stashed them in the hole and stacked smaller rocks on top until they were well covered. Now we had four Winchesters, six Colts, and four fully equipped horses, all of which were top quality like most successful outlaws ride. Problem was, they had just gotten these back at the Bordeau ranch. Was Bordeau an outlaw? I might have to think on that awhile. All I knew was he wouldn’t be using that gun hand of his for a long time.

We backtracked the quartet to their campsite, which was abandoned. The fire had been drowned and steam was still rising.

FREE BOOK – The DEACON – Episode 20

That made three of us that had no idea of what was ahead. Cicero talked of a discussion he had in a saloon one time with a rider from Wyoming. The rider said there were more dead ends in these mountains than there were good trail and even the deer get lost now and then. Shorts looked around like there was something lost before he said, “I did hear of a park in this area where the outlaws met to swap stock going north with those going south.”

“Why would they do that,” I asked.

“Easy reason. If you stole horses in the north, it’d be hard to sell them in the north. Same with cows. By making the swap, you end up with critters that no one’s gonna know the brands on and you can forge bills of sale much easier.”

“So, where is this park?”

“Beats me. I just heard of it, but this collection of mountains and such look like what that rider described to me. Said they weren’t too happy to see strangers in this area either.”

“Well, then. Let’s announce our arrival and see what happens.” I said as it pulled out my Winchester and headed for a small herd of elk a mile or more away. “Find a camp site and smoke it up. I’ll be right back.”

The young doe was easy to skin due to the winter fat she was working on. The three of us cut off some nice chunks of meat and began roasting over the fire which was now almost smokeless except for the fat drippings sputtering as they hit the hot coals. The night closed in around us.

Morning brought company.

“Hello the fire,” came out of the trees.

“Come on in. Hands in sight,” Shorts hollered while Cicero and I found holes we had spotted the night before.

The man came in riding a real fine horse that had not been ridden too far or for very long. He passed by my hole by not more than ten feet. “I got some biscuits in my bags. If you got the bacon, we got a meal.” He looked around.

“Where’s the other two?” he asked.

“What other two?” Shorts looked up. “I got coffee and nothing more. Even the coffee is puny, second pot with the same grounds. Lite and set.”

The man swung down on the off side of his horse from me and Shorts, but right into the full sight of Cicero. Then I saw the rest of them coming in from behind Cicero.

I stepped out. “Tell your friends to keep their hands away from their guns or they will die.”

“Who’s gonna kill them?” he asked as he turned to see me.

The two other riders moved in close to Cicero and right on past him. If I hadn’t  known where he was, I could not have been able to see him.

“Me.” I turned out into plain sight for all to see. Pointing at the two riders, “Get off your horses and lead them in here.”

“What’s your problem?” asked the first man.

I let him think on it as the two men got off their horses. One of them made the horse move so him getting off would be hidden from me. His boot hit the ground and Cicero stuck his gun in the man’s back, “Walk to the fire.” He looked at the other rider who was some startled. Cicero was only five feet from him.

The first man was tall and lean. His clothes were well worn but neat. The gun on his left hip was worn, but ready. The tie down had been slipped off. He just stood there looking at me.

He said, “You’re trespassing on private property.”

“Didn’t see no signs,” Shorts said from his spot on the ground near the fire.

“You must have missed them. I am the owner of this ranch. I am Bordeau.”

Cicero said, “Bordeau, ain’t that some sissy wine folks back east drink?”

Bordeau drew his gun as he brought it to bear on Cicero. I put a round in his gun hand taking his pinky off as it pushed the Colt out of his hand.

He cussed shaking his hand flinging blood all over spooking the horses they had ridden in on. “Mister Bordeau, I reckon we got off on a bad start. My name is Daniel. This is Cicero and the man with the bum leg is Shorts. Cicero is long on knowledge and Shorts is short on patience. I would recommend that you and your men come into the fire while Cicero takes your horses to the line. At the fire you can enjoy some of our weak coffee and pleasant conversation.”

“I will kill you, whoever you are.”

“Not with that gun or hand you aren’t. Sit down and shut up.” I was getting madder.

Cicero relieved the other two of their weapons, including a big knife from each, led the horses to the line, and returned to camp from different direction, nodding to me as he leaned on a tree.

“Now then, Mr. Bordeau, we are looking for a young lady, our boss. She is being deprived of her freedom and her ranch by a fat man that owns the Lazy E ranch. I believe his name might be Everson. Have you seen or heard of such a person or such persons trespassing on your ranch?”

He just stared at me.

I put a round between his toes. “Now, I took off your pinky and sent your gun to the scrap yard. I don’t want you to doubt that I missed your toes on purpose. Did you see or hear of such people in the last few days?” I jacked the hammer back for emphasis.

“No.”

“He’s lying, boss. I can tell by his eyes.” Shorts swung his six gun to point in Bordeau’s direction. “Bet I can take an eye out without hurting him too bad. Might just smart for a while, but he’ll never forget the day he met us.”

“No.” I walked to the other two men. One was a fidgety and a saloon gal in church. “You. Have you seen or heard of any such folks around here lately?”

He flinched when the gun barrel just naturally pointed at his face. I lowered it to his fat belly.

“Well?”

He got to dancing like he had to find a tree.

Cicero stuck his gun in the man’s ear. “Well?”

“Well?” Cicero pushed on the gun a bit and almost made the man lose his balance.

The second man caught him and pushed him away. “Get away from me. Answer the question. You do know the answer, don’t you? It’s simple, yes or no.”

Bordeau started to say something. I said, “You had your chance. Shut up.”

“Everson was through here two days ago. Swapped out horses and headed north. I saw no woman or girl. He had three men with him, but swapped out 13 horses.”

“Thank you. Cicero let him go. Give him back his gun and knife. He will need it to survive until he gets where he’s going.”

“Where am I going?”

“Anyplace you want, but I would suggest someplace far from here. I hear Texas is nice this time of year.” I gave him my toughest look which I’m sure didn’t come near to matching Bordeau’s.

The third man said, “Can I ride with him. He and I been pards for two years now and only got in with this crowd cuz it looked easier than playing with cows and no one wanted us over the winter. I liked Texas and I ain’t got no posters on me down there.”

“Go. Cicero, give them both back their gear and watch them carefully. I turned back to the leader of the trio. “Mr. Bordeau, whatever am I gonna do with you?”

“You better kill me or I will kill soon’s I can.”

“That just is not the proper respect for your captor. Tell ya what, I’ll leave ya here with you six gun and all the ammo you want. You can walk back to the hole you crawled out of and know that if I see you again looking my way, you will die. Now go sit under that big fir over there and get some sleep.” I walked to his horse and stroked the neck and mane. “I do like your horse. Maybe I’ll just swap you for him.”

“You ain’t got anything I want.” He was getting real grouchy.

“Your freedom.”

“You ain’t gonna kill me, kid. You ain’t got the guts.”

“Let me see you again after today and you will find out the hard way. Without your pinky, you are gonna have to learn gun slinging all over again. And, I gather you are a hired gun.”

He sat quiet.

“Who’s your boss.”

“I am the boss.”

“No wonder them two wanted out. No man wants to work for a boss that can be beat by a kid. Them boys were looking for someone to take care of them.” I stopped and looked around like I was thinking. “Get over under the fir; I’m sick of playing with you. Now get!”

He started to swing the right hand and I dropped him with my gun barrel planted across his skull. I grabbed his feet and drug him over to the spot under the fir. I sat him astraddle the trunk and tied both feet together, and then did the same with his hands. He was truly loving that tree. Bark was bristly. He wouldn’t like that at all.

Shorts was roasting elk when I got done. Cicero walked back to the fire at the same time I did. “Boss, what now?”

“We keep tracking. We are now sure that the trail is still the right one. They are headed for Wyoming. Whether they get there or not we don’t know. We don’t know a destination, we only know the direction.” I looked to Shorts, “You up to this, partner?”

“Just try to leave me behind.”

We finished what we wanted of the elk. I partially cut the ropes holding Bordeau, laid his gun next to him (didn’t work anyhow), walked to Solomon and got him ready for the ride. We killed the fire and away we went. I decided it wasn’t going to do us any good to try to sneak up on them and get the drop. So, we’d have to follow and take our chances on an ambush. But, we’d make much better time and close the gap quicker.

The trail laid before us like the stairs to Heaven that Jacob saw. Only this time there were no angels on the trail. That was a truth for sure.

Due north we traveled. Finding a campsite with an hour after we took to the trail with small boot prints around the fire gave us hope. No sign of blood or bloody bandages. There was one place where someone slept that was more than ten feet from all the others. I checked it out very carefully. Back up under a scrubby plant was the Rafter B brand scratch in the dirt and partially covered with a leaf. We were on the right trail for sure. Cicero said the fire was cold and he figured they were two days ahead of us.

I said, “How’d you figure that?”

“That’s what the man said when you questioned him.”

“Well now, aren’t you the smart one.”

“Yes I am.” He turned to climb aboard his horse, turned, “I’ll bet they’re headed for that pass and are probably moving up the trail to it right now.”

“I am not going to argue with you. You’re too smart for me.”

Shorts yelled, “Let’s ride. I can’t take much more of you two clowns. I gotta find the circus you come outta and give you back.” He was smiling.

I gave him a phony smile back and swung into the saddle we were at the bottom of the main climb by sundown. Like most trails to passes and saddles in this part of the world, there was a stream running not far from the trail. The sun was already behind the mountains to the west and the temperature was dropping. We built a fire well sheltered from the breeze and the trail, pulled out the last pieces of elk, and set to roasting. We ate it more hot than cooked so we could curl up in our blankets. Shorts took the first watch. He said his leg was hurting some and he wanted to get good and tired. I changed the dressing and saw there was no sign of infection or such. He was happy at that news.

Sleep came easy.

Cicero woke me up way too soon.

A hot bed of coals allowed me to stay warm as I listened to the last of the night.

Soon as I could see fifty feet, I woke up the other two, saddled the horses, and let them graze a bit before everybody was ready to mount up. Knowing the trail was gonna be steep and rocky, we checked the shoes all twelve feet and found nothing to trouble us.

When the sun’s rays hit us we were two miles up the trail and coming close to a false pass. The real pass showed behind the one we were approaching. “Cicero, you wanna check out that false pass and make sure there is no one waiting for us?”

He rode on ahead and just as he got to within range of the pass he turned off the trail. He got off his horse and tied it in a spot anyone up top couldn’t see. Then he went deeper into the trees to circle around their flanks if there was anyone up there. A good half hour later he was standing in the false pass waving us up.

I picked up his horse on the way.

Shorts was hurting pretty bad as we approached Cicero. I asked, “You gonna make it, friend?”

“Just try to leave me behind. I’ll be riding when you quit.”

Never underestimate the power of a man’s pride on something like this. He sounded like he was trying to convince himself he could make it. I responded, “That convinces me,” and meant it.

I handed Cicero the reins to his horse. He said, “There was a man here. He’s behind the rocks over there.” When he pointed I saw the knife cut on his arm. “That bad?”

“Nah. He just nicked me as he fell. I got him from behind and as he fell he spun. Dead on his feet, he got me with a touch.”

I checked it out. It was a bit more than a touch, but should be nothing to worry about. Now I was riding with two men that were limited in their abilities due to the outlaws. I wasn’t going to have much chance to do any talking to Everson or any of his gang. That after noon, late, we crossed the pass after I checked it out. No one was waiting to give us a well-earned reception. We rode through without feeling any disappointment concerning the reception not coming off.

The downhill side didn’t offer any good campsites. We curled up on the trail. Cisco took the first watch and I got the last again. My eyes opened to a well-lit world. Shorts was leaning against a rock wrapped in his blanket snoring up a storm. Speaking of storms, black clouds were rolling over the mountain ridge to the west.

I yelled, “Let’s get out of here. This is no place to be in a storm.”

Shorts jumped to his feet before he thought. Fortunately, he didn’t put full weight on that bad leg. “What?”

I pointed.

Cicero said, “That doesn’t look good. I hate mountain storms. We have a ways to go to get below the tree line and under cover. You got a slicker, Daniel?”

“No. You?”

“No. Shorts, you got a slicker?” I asked.

“No. Our blankets will have to do.”

The wind hit us hard enough that the horses staggered. We kicked them to go faster. Solomon wanted to run, but the shale and gravel wouldn’t allow that. He’d end up with a broken leg and I’d have to shoot him if he ran. The first marbles of hail hit us as we ducked into the first clump of trees.

Cicero, in the lead, yelled, “Keep going. There’s a better place down a ways.” He threw his blanket over his hat and most of his body.

Shorts and I did the same. It was hard to keep the blanket in place with the wind blowing as hard as it was, but without it the hail would be very painful. Solomon didn’t like it at all and tried to get to Cicero in a hurry. I held him back.

The first crack of lightening hit the first clump of trees just as we entered Cicero’s choice of hidey holes. The first clump of trees burst into flames. If we had been there, we would have died.

“Thanks, Cicero,” yelled Shorts.

I help him off his horse and, with three blankets, set up a shelter that would keep most of the hail and the rain that followed off us and the horses. The horses were all spooked and hard to keep close under the shelter. Even Solomon in all his wisdom wanted to run with the wind. To do so would have been his death. The lightening might still take us away from this world. I had no fear of that, matter of fact, on some days it seemed like a good idea. God was in control, not me.

We waited. I tried to imagine what it would have been like if that lightening had hit us in camp just below the top. It wasn’t a pretty mental picture at all. Fried cowboys and preacher did not sound too appetizing or productive.

As I stood there trying to hold the blanket shelter together by sheer willpower I go to thinking, which in the past has been sparse and not too productive. What had I gotten myself and Tor into? It had killed Tor. Yeah, I knew he could have walked away from my stupid ideas, but he wasn’t that kind of man. How many times had Diane been with me and how many times had I let her get taken away? This prayer stuff was shaky at best. God wasn’t my servant and He wasn’t going to jump every time I said, ‘hey, God.’ His plan was best, that I knew in my head and heart, but sometimes I questioned. Was that okay? Was I allowed to question God?

“What about the killing? Was that okay if I was protecting someone or even just me? Should I be doing what I am doing? Is this what God wants me to do or is this what I want to do because Diane is pretty and in trouble?”

FREE BOOK – The DEACON – Episode 19

I did. As I was sitting on the calf I noticed a bit of milk running out of the calf’s mouth. It was pink. “Buck, this calf is bleeding from the mouth.”

Buck walked up and took a look. “Just what I thought. They done split the calf’s tongue so he cain’t suck. In a few days they’d be doggies and the mama’s would quit trying to feed them. In a couple weeks them Lazy E cowboy rustlers will come out and round up the doggies, brand them with the Lazy E, and claim them forever with no way of tagging them as rustlers.”

“Let’s drive them home.”

“Let’s leave them here and follow the tracks to the new home.”

“Nah, they’d be branded and it’d be our word against theirs. Let’s take a look at the horse tracks leading outta this place. I’ll wager they go straight thataway.” I pointed.

“Let’s ride.” He reached down and took the loop off the calf, climbed aboard, rolled his string, and we set out in the direction I had pointed. Sure enough the tracks led off that way. We followed until Buck said, “We cain’t stand against that many in that crew. Let’s go back and see what we can do.”

We camped nest to the calves that night and shoved them clear back to the barn the next day.

On the way back I asked, “How come them cows didn’t follow the calves’ scent back there at the place they was standing and bellowing?”

He went over to one of the cows in the corral that let him walk up close, dropped a loop, snubbed her off, and took a whiff of her nose. “Peppermint oil. They doused their noses with peppermint oil so’s they couldn’t smell their babies. When we took out after’em, they joined us knowing that riders are always around other cows. When we go close enough, the peppermint oil had worn down some and the scent came through. Off they went. Them full bags must be real painful.” He hunkered down and started milking the cow he had snubbed off. She stood there and I’ll swear she sighed.

We relieved them all, not much, just relief.

 

 

24

 

Denver was a five day journey there and back. I figured they would take ten at the least with Diane talking with the legal folks and the bank. I know she was going to report Tor’s death to the Marshall and then talk to him about the situation with the Lazy E. She was also looking for 2 more hands to help with bringing back some breeding stock and horses. We waited and worked for two weeks and no sign of them. The oats were gone. We were eating our own beef and wild onions, with an occasional prickly pear cactus roasted on occasion.

Buck suggested we go look for them. I suggested he wait here until I got back. Buck had seemed like a good hand and wasn’t going to back down without a good reason. We discussed options if the fat man came around and a few things Buck could do while I was gone. Didn’t take me long to saddle up and hit the trail with two pounds of jerky in my saddlebags.

Just before sundown I met up with a herd. I rode in cautiously and met up with three rough looking hands. “Howdy. You boys driving them beeves anywhere in particular?”

“Yup.” The big guy up front was real talkative.

“The brands are all different.”

“I have bills of sale.”

“You headed for the Rafter B?”

“Could be.”

“Miss Diane send you to meet up with a man called Daniel.”

“Could be.”

“I’m Daniel.”

“I’m Will.” He pointed to the man on his left, “This here’s Tommy,” and then he pointed right, “Cicero.”

“Welcome. You got about 10 mile thataway.”

“Figured.” Will was very talkative even when he knew who he was talking to.

Then he said, “Gonna bed down for the night. Cicero makes a mean biscuit and some thick gravy to go with the beans.”

“Mind if I join ya for the night?”

“Glad to have you, boss.”

“Boss?”

“Yup. Miss Diane said you was the boss and for us to take order or ride on.”

“Where’s Miss Diane?”

“Supposed to be behind us with a bunch a horses. Her and that Shorts fella.”

“You don’t sound like you like our Mr. Shorts.” I smiled at that.

He grinned and shook his head, “First man to ever beat me arm wrestlin’. Smacked me down good, he did. I can work with him. Don’t worry. That man is stronger than anyone I ever met.”

“How far back you figure?”

“Two days at Denver, or so Miss Diane told me. Should be almost caught up.”

“I’ll go check in the morning.”

We bunked out after another hour of fireside chit chat. I took the sunrise turn at watching the cows who were a bit buggered by something off to the south. Come full light, three horses came trotting in, no saddles, no bridles, lead ropes, just the horsed. The way they took to the cows you’d thought they was cow ponies or something.

Tommy rode out to relieve me for a breakfast of coffee and biscuits with a few think slices of beef, we had to finish the critter before it went rotten, mixed in. The coffee was great, first I’d had in a long spell of riding. The biscuits were a bit hard being leftovers from the night before, but were good for dunking. Cicero looked at the three horses as they wandered around the herd.

“I’d swear on my first month’s pay one of them horses is one Miss Diane and Shorts were bringin’. I remember the socks and the blaze.” Cicero looked a bit pale and worried as he said it. “I surely do hope I’m wrong.”

Will was standing off by himself looking at the herd including the horses as another horse came down the slope to our camp. “Damn. I bought that horse myself,” he yelled. “Something’s bad wrong.”

I saddled up as fast as I could. As I was mounting Cicero rode his horse over beside me, “What a pardner? I can hit what I shoot at.”

“Sure. Why not?”

Will was ready to go also, but I stopped him and sent him and Tommy on with the beef and four horses that had joined up. “How many horses were they gonna bring?”

“Ten or more and their personals.”

“I’ll be back. Until then, do what Buck tells ya. He knows what needs to be done.”

“I’ll do it. You shoot straight.”

“I usually do.”

Cicero and I rode off following the tracks of the fourth horse.

 

 

25

 

We hadn’t gone more than two miles when we saw the buzzards and crows circling up ahead, must have been thirty of the carrion eaters circling, lower and lower. We kept looking at each other as if to say, ‘Oh, oh,” as we rode. Over the top of a rise was a dead horse. From the tracks and the blood trail it had been shot and made it this far before giving up. It hadn’t been dead for long.

Kicking the horses into a faster gait, we spread out. I left Cicero on the tracks and I moved way off to the north where I could watch for the tracks of someone leaving the horse trail and heading for the Lazy E. I crossed no tracks, but Cicero found something. He was waving his hat when I turned that direction as I scanned the countryside.

I joined him.

Another dead horse. It was also shot and had traveled a ways. It was the horse Shorts had ridden last I saw of him. Another horse had stood next to it as it finished dying and the tracks matched the first dead horse. Too bad that first dead horse had to die alone.

We rode, two men angry at the loss of horseflesh and wondering where our friends were, rode rapidly, but with an eye out for anything toward whatever there was to find. A dead stranger was the first find. This man had been shot through the body and didn’t look pretty. A horse had stepped on his face. From the lack of blood on his face, he had been dead when the stomping happened. We left him and continued. The trail turned sharply like there had been an ambush or something.

Tracks of many horses moving in all directions came next. Cicero was trying to make sense out of them when I spotted something that didn’t look right down the slope. Cicero agreed it was something strange. We rode down with our guns out and ready.

We found Shorts. He had been dragged over the dirt and brush. The occasional cactus was an added pain for him. He was not a pretty sight. “Where you been?” he asked.

I looked at him again. “What happened to you?” He was propped up against a tree trunk, more blood than body.

“They thought they shot me, but they missed and hit my horse. He’s over there somewhere. Then they drug me. I think some of these prickly pear thorns are in at least two inches. I’ve pull out quite a few. They got Miss Diane. She was alive and running when I went down. She was alive when they paraded outta here heading toward the Lazy E. One of them said that this was the last time they were playing; from now on it was serious. I thought that was really funny and one of them threw a shot at me. Hit me here.” He pointed to his right shin bone. “Broke it. There’s been a horse wandering around down that slope in those trees. If one of ya would get him I could ride. My saddle is down that way just out sight behind the curve of the hill.”

I tossed him my canteen and said, “You get the horse and I’ll pick up the riggin’.”

“Sure, boss.”

I ran a coyote off the dead horse before I could get the rig. The horse was stiff. Two days at least this horse had been down. Two days Shorts had been leaning up against a tree trunk. Two days they had Miss Diane in their possession. I was getting mad. I was going to have to kill again and I didn’t want to. I was going to have to take care of an orphan like the Word says. The two ideas went together in my mind, but didn’t come together in the Bible. Then I got to thinking of Samson who killed him a mess of Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey just because they were messing with him. Then there was God Himself who ordered that all the evil nations in the Promised Land be killed down to the last child because of their evil ways.

I thought of folks in the New Testament that had died by God’s hand for lying to Him, or the armies of Texas standing up to the evil of Antonio Lopéz De Santa Anna after the Alamo fight. Was God on the side of the Texans? It hurt just digesting all this in my head. I prayed.

With the prayer came the idea that God has always dealt with evil in different ways, but always His person did the dealing, with God’s power of course. There was no way Moses dealt with a couple million Hebrews for 40 years without God’s power and wisdom. I felt strongly that God wanted me to rescue Diane no matter what it took as long as I gave them a chance to surrender.

Cicero and I got Shorts on the horse. I rigged some splints to hold that shin bone in place. One hunk of wood was laid along the bone to hold it straight. I slid a skinned Prickly Pear ear over the wound before tying it and the splint to the front of his leg.

Couple of weeks and Shorts wouldn’t have anything to complain about. We rode. I tried to get Shorts and Cicero to head for the Rafter B, but they would nothing of the kind.

Shorts said, “You park me in a good spot and me and my Winchester will take care of anything that shows itself. I’m goin’ with ya, or I quit and will go where I want.”

“You wouldn’t quit and you know it,” I said as I swayed in the saddle, laughing.

“What’s up with you?” Cicero shouted.

“Just thinking. Not too long ago I was saddle sore and aching. Now it seems like second nature.”

“Gets that way right easy like when you’re in the saddle all the time. I remember my first week in the saddle. It was not fun,” Shorts added.

We rode along the tracks until the day was done, and even then we kept going until we just plain could not see. We camped on a stream that provided us with what we needed most, water and wood for a fire to brew some coffee. Shorts pulled the pot out of his bags and handed it down to Cicero who had the grounds in his bags. Not much in the way of a supper, but it would have to do.

Noon the next day we were looking down on the Lazy E again. No one was in sight. No smoke from the chimneys. No horses in the corral or tied out. We rode in with guns cocked and ready. Reckless? We were mad to the bone.

Shorts took one quick look around and started riding north. “Come on, they went this way. Looks like Wyoming is their new home.”

We followed. No pieces of torn shirt. No silver discs. Just hoof prints from at least a dozen horses.

We followed.

We camped.

We followed.

We camped.

We caught up.

Cicero was out front and saw dust ahead of us leading into the trees at the edge of mountains ahead. If they got into those mountains we would be stuck with following on the trails that were available and could no longer pull off to camp or even work our way around them.

Shorts said, “I don’t know this area a bit.”

Cicero agreed.

FREE BOOK – The DEACON – Episode 18

“Just keep walking toward the fire.”

As I approached the fire, I saw Diane sitting on a log with her hands tied in front. She didn’t look too badly abused. She was still wearing the plaid shirt even though the hem was looking a mite raggedy. The look on her face told me she just gave up all hope. I knew better. There was a hope that never lets a gal down. It wasn’t me.

They tied me to a tree and gagged me. “We don’t need no sermons so we just goin’ ta make sure you cain’t talk. You must think you are really bad chasing a group like us. Read bad.”

I looked him in the eye and nodded as I tried to make my eyes smile. Once the tying was done they just walked away and left me there. Everson was nowhere in sight.

 

I WILL GO BACK AND PUT IN A MAGICIAN HIS FATHER KNEW THAT TAUGHT HIM A FEW TRICKS. You may think that’s cheating, but that’s the way it works when you are a pantser, writing by the seat of my pants.

 

When they tied me I had set my hands in the position the magician showed me back in Kansas City. I worked my hands a bit. By working my wrists flat together, I was able to gain a lot of freedom. Whether I could get my hands loose or not was another thing. There was going to be a showdown here shortly.

I knew they weren’t going to hang onto me for very long. As dangerous as they were I had beat them so far and they would want revenge and to make sure I wasn’t ever on their trail again. Don’t think I’m bragging here, it’s just the truth. Given half a chance, this orphan sitting across the fire from me would be free and they would all be in whatever condition I left them in after the escape. I could be dead alongside them, but she would be free.

It was as if she knew what I was thinking. She lifted her head and looked through the smoke at me with a pitiful smile on her face and shook her head. I nodded back. She just bawled all the harder. Her whole body convulsed from the sobs.

I had to do something before she had a total collapse.

The rag in my mouth was nasty tasting and caused me to try, without thinking about it, to shove it out and away from my mouth. As my jaw worked the bandana around my head began to slip downward. I was able to use my tongue to get the ball in my mouth moved above the head tie. I went into a shaking fit so I could dislodge it completely and drop it to the ground between my feet.

Something licked my hands.

The dog was here.

I froze wondering what to do now. I had a fighting partner in that dog. I looked over at Diane and nodded behind me. She looked at me, saw nothing, and went back to crying.

I laughed. I laughed out loud with the head tie on my chin. The whole bunch of supposed bad guys and outlaws jumped looking in every direction except at me. I said, “You big bad badmen all worried about a girl and a wanna be Christian preacher when nothing of this is going to benefit you one dollar’s worth. That fat man you work for is going to get it all and see to it that none of you live to tell about this. You will have killed a woman. They hang men for killing women out here, don’t they? Who wants to hang first.

“I have already killed and shot holes in a bunch of you. What? About half I’d say. You gotta kill me or there will be a witness to your killin’ a woman. You gotta kill her cuz that’s what the boss man wants.

“Why do you let that fat man boss you around like he does? He says go get a girl and off you go. He says kill the girl and you’ll do it. For what? Why? So the fat man can be rich while you work for $30 a month and food. Oh yeah, you’ll have to go steal the money he pays you with.

“Wait a minute. I have it. He wants a big ranch so he doesn’t have to outlaw any more cuz you guys have done all the killing and robbing and hell raising on the roads and in the cities around here. You get blamed and he is rich. Well, you better kill us now and scatter before he comes in and kills you off one at a time after he orders you to kill us. Or, you could cut us loose and get out of here. I do not lie. I will never tell anyone who any of you are.”

I quit. Then it hit me. They had listened and never tried to stop me. If I had been them with their evil minds, I would have just drawn my gun and ended all that speech. Instead, they had listened. They knew I was right. A few of them were looking at Diane shaking their heads. One was starring me in the eye.

“You know something, men. If you would get my Bible out of my saddlebags and cut my hands loose I could show you how to get forgiveness and change your life for eternity.”

I pulled my hand loose from the knots and brought both hands around to the front. “Just hand me by Bible, boys.”

It was like magic. Every one of them had a startled look on his face. Diane fainted and wilted into a pile across the log. Before my very eyes, this is true, the group of them wilted into the trees and began saddling their horses and leaving. I reached down to untie my feet before the rope around my waist fell to the dirt.

They didn’t leave us a thing to eat. One man walked back. “Ma’am, I am truly sorry for what I done. Please forgive me. I knew better.”

Diane was fuzzy. She looked at the man, old, wrinkled, and tears running down his cheeks, and just nodded her head.

“You been forgiven, cowboy. Now go and sin no more. If you’re looking for a job, see me in Denver in a week or two.”

He turned and walked away. He said over his shoulder, “I just might do that. I wanna hear more about this forgiveness stuff. My Ma usta talk of it when she drug me to the meetings. Shoulda listened, I reckon, shoulda listened.”

We listened as he climbed to the top of the hump. Once the sounds of them retreating were gone I went to Diane, “It’s over. We can go back to your ranch. How’s that sound?”

“You worry me. How do you just talk 16 men out of killing us and then calmly tell one you’ll get him a job and then tell me we’ll go back to the ranch, my ranch, and get things back to where they were. I was scared to death. They were going to kill me, but before they did, they were going to. . .”

“Stop. It’s over. There is nothing to fear except the usual things like snakes and such.”

She just looked at me like I was some kind of a loco lunatic.

“Diane, I have a God that is in charge. I am not in charge.” The dog walked up to me. “This dog came outta nowhere and has been in the middle of the whole thing. My horse belonged to the man who killed my Dad and that horse is a mind reader, or something of the sort. What just happened was me doing what that God I believe in told me to do. I don’t ever want to kill another man. That God allowed me to end this with no more killing. Who knows, He may have a good use for a few of them, just like he has for me. Where you were seeing no hope, I knew there was hope one way or the other. It was all up to that God.”

I hugged the dog and asked him to watch things for a bit while I got some shut eye.

Diane said, “You leave a dog on watch.”

“Yup. He can hear and see better than I ever have or will. Who else better to be on watch? Where’s your blanket?”

“I’ll get it.” She walked into the trees and returned, laid her blanket next to me and laid down on it. She pulled half over her. “Good night.”

I swear she was snoring before I even found my horse, let alone my blanket. I have no idea how long it took me to snore, but it was day light when I quit.

 

OKAY, YOU’VE READ THIS FAR. TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK OF THIS PLOT TURN.

23

 

We were half a day down the trail to the Rafter B when it hit me. The fat man hadn’t been there in the hollow. All those men were just hired hands, or at least working on shares. What happened to the fat man, Everson? How many men did he have still? Where were they? Was he still dead set on grabbing the Rafter B? There were a lot of questions and mighty few answers.

Long about mid-afternoon I saw a group of cows so I swerved off the trail to check them out. All were wearing the Rafter B except one old cow and a calf. The calf looked might stringy and the old cow didn’t have a bag to speak of. I shot the calf. Feeling bad about wasting a lot of meat, I rode off to catch Diane with only a hind quarter hanging on my saddle. We were going to have a meal tonight.

The sun was straight up the next day when we spotted the buildings of the Rafter B. “You wait here. I’ll check it out and wave bandana if it’s safe. Having to use the bandana reminded me I was going to have to get a hat next store we found, my head was frying through the hair.

No one was home. I waived my bandana and Diane joined me.

Other than dirt, the place was a mess. Coffee spills, dirty dishes, a broken chair, back door leather strap hinge at the top was busted, and the beds had been slept in with boots and spurs on. New spreads were needed on both beds. In the barn there were no oats left. The hay loft was a mess with cigarette residue all over the place. Did these clowns know nothing? Even I know better than to be in the barn, specially the loft, with a fire of any kind. The bunkhouse was a disaster. Food pieces all over the place and an obvious invasion of mice and rats destroyed the hominess of the place for me. I set up camp inside the barn next to Solomon.

Diane pointed out, “The two hands we left behind to watch the place are missing. My mother’s ring and my jewelry, cheap stuff, are all gone. The gun rack is empty. All the spare rounds are gone. I did find my dad’s hunting knife. It was stuck in the kitchen counter. From the looks of the counter, they left it there quite a few times. I will kill any of them I see. They killed my father and they have ruined this place, at least the memories. My mother’s tintype is missing. She was a beautiful woman and I’ll bet one of those cowboys is dreaming of her while he holds the picture up to the light. I’m sick, just plain sick of all this. Take me to Denver. I’ll sell the place to the meanest bunch I can find and go to San Francisco.”

“Let’s give it some time for the dust to settle before you make any big decisions. I’m not ready to go back to Denver quite yet, so I can stay here with you and help ya put it all back together. Light a fire and let’s eat.”

“There’s no food left except a few spuds in the root cellar. They broke all my canning jars, too.”

“Not too bad for only being here a few days or so. I wonder what the inside of the home ranch looks like.”

The sound of horses coming into the ranch yard called us to the window.

“It’s Buck and Shorts, the two hands we left here.” She turned and ran out the front door yelling the news and crying again.

The short of the story is that there were now three men and one angry woman on the place and Diane had turned a corner to be talking rebuild and make a go of the place. She knew there was money in the bank in Denver that she would have no problem getting when needed, and she knew the ranch had been making money. “So, why don’t we make it make more money? Dad always wanted to add a couple of line cabins along the edge of the heavy woods, one to the south and one to the west.”

“Excuse me, but wouldn’t it be better to find out what’s left of the herd and check out the graze before you start building projects for things that haven’t been done because they weren’t important enough. If there is no herd, there is no need for line cabins. If there is no herd, where did it go and how do we get it back,” the puncher named Shorts sounded like a wise man.

Standing not quite five feet tall in his high heeled riding boots, he still looked like a big man. Muscles rippled as he moved, his back was straight, the left side of his face had a deep purple bruise from a discussion with one of the outlaws when they rode into the place, and his clothes were well used up.

Buck was a good six feet tall, slim as a rail, and mad as a wet cat. “Them boys was talkin’ takin’ the cows, Mizz Diane. They’s gonna kill us till Shorts whipped their big man, not the fat one but the one that thought he could whip his weight in wolverines. Shorts showed him the error of his ways. After that we just saddled up and rode out. Ten to two left us no choice and they never even tried to stop us. I think most of the cows is over to west of here. Leastwise, that’s where we stashed the ones we found.”

Diane hugged them both, again. “Thank you, you both have a job here as long as there is a here.”

Ten hard days of riding showed us that most of the stock was still around. Diane figured she was a couple hundred short, but we hadn’t worked much to the north yet.

At dinner that night, I said, “We need supplies. That sack of oats Shorts here found in the barn has helped us, but it’s almost gone. Oatmeal mush and beef just isn’t my idea of great grub. It might keep our ribs from showin’ but it ain’t making me any fatter. A man’s gotta have a gut if he’s to be a big shot preacher, you know.”

Diane said, “Hush up and say the grace.”

Next morning Shorts and Diane rode for Denver while Buck and I started digging the cows out of the brush north of the ranch house.

Five or six miles to the north we found over a dozen cows bellowin’ without calves. All of them were bagged up to the leaking stage. “These here mama cows got calves somewhere. From the looks they ain’t nursed in two days. Two days ain’t much of a lead when it comes to trackin’ them baby critters,” Buck was angry. He pointed his horse north, writing big S’s in the dirt with horse tracks as he searched for the trail of them calves. The cows kept up their chorus of bellows as I rode off to join him. My S’s were made to the east of his, me knowing where the Lazy E was let me point right for it.

Half a mile later with the bellowing following us, Buck whooped and waived his hat. I waved the raggedy hat I found in the bunkhouse back at him and rode over. Sure enough, calf tracks separating from the cow tracks. The cows had been forcibly pushed back by two riders while three moved the calves north. While we were sorting out the tracks, the cows trotted on by us still bellowing.

“Let’s follow them,” Buck shouted.

I nodded and we were off at a pretty fair clip to keep up with the cows. They didn’t run far, maybe two miles at best, when we went over a rise and there below us in a patch of green grass with a trickle of water running through it, were a dozen calves. The cows called and the babies come a running.

One after another they hit a teat and commenced to sucking.

One after another they cried and backed off.

Looked at Buck, “That normal?”

“No.” He shook out a loop and laid it over the head of the nearest calf. “Get down there and lay that poor critter down so’s we can check it out.

FREE BOOK – The DEACON – Episode 16

Moving from tree to tree, I got to the horses. Actually, it was just horse, Solomon. Diane’s horse was gone and so was her saddle. Why had she left alone? Why was I on the ground? Why was it dark when it should be early?

I had to think hard through the pain to come back to the answer, my concussion. I had blanked out and she did what I told her. She left me. She left me covered with a blanket and Solomon. For both I had to thank her. My Winchester was gone.

I checked the saddle bags, but found nothing there to eat. We hadn’t had anything to eat in a day before I blacked out again, and now I was going to have to look for her tracks, find food, and catch up to her before the Lazy E crowd, specially the fat man. Not a goal I was too sure I could handle at that time.

A sharp noise rattled through the woods. I drew the .44 and stood as silent as the rock next to me. Solomon’s head came up. I grabbed his muzzle to keep him silent. We waited.

Another horse? No.

Must be a person making that much noise. No.

It was a cow, a big ugly fat cow, also referred to as beef steak on the hoof. If I shot the poor dumb critter I might as well send a telegram to the ones following us and tell them where to meet me.

The cow got to live a bit longer. I slowly and carefully saddled Solomon, eased myself into the saddle, and started to go . . . where? I had no idea. I checked the big dipper. A couple of hours left until it would begin to get light. I slowly climbed down and, leaning against a the rock wrapped in my blanket, I waited for enough light to see her tracks.

 

I woke again with the sun just over the horizon. Solomon was still saddled and not very happy with me. He nudged me and gave out with a couple of grunts as if to say, ‘Let’s go, laggard.’ I really could not blame him.

The tracks of a fast moving horse left that campsite heading east. It was the tracks of Diane’s horse. We took out after them.

In the morning light the tracks were easy to follow. If they were easy for me, I knew they’d be easy for any real hand on a ranch. For a while I drug a bush along behind, but looking back all I’d done is make an easier track to see the trail.

There was about three miles behind me when the sound of a rifle shot came from up ahead. Solomon kicked the speed up a bit and we went running into battle.

The sound of a couple of six guns going off echoed off the steep sides of a valley we were entering. We splashed through a small stream and up the other bank, still on the tracks. The problem became very evident. Two other sets of tracks joined Diane’s. She was in trouble.

The rifle sounded again, followed by a six gun.

I was behind two chasers which were between Diane and I. I couldn’t shoot until I knew the positions of both Diane and the two outlaws, or at least I was assuming they were from the Lazy E. Another pistol shot, this time closer.

I left the saddle and tried to walk, leading Solomon. That didn’t work by head began to swim and I went down.

The sun had moved about two hours’ worth when I woke up. I wasn’t as confused as earlier, but there was still the problem of getting into the saddle. When I finally did, I was seeing double and Solomon was wanting to move. We moved at whatever speed Solomon wanted to go and all I did was hang on.

At least there were no more gun shots.

For awhile.

Not two miles down the path, four more horses joined the three I was tracking. Now there were six on the trail of one young gal that just wanted to see her father buried proper and get her ranch back. The more I thought on that idea, the madder I got. Why? Why was this outlaw rancher so intent on gaining a ranch that he would kill her father and then go after a woman in a time and place where woman were looked upon as more holy than any church. You could burn down every church in the state and just rile folks a bit, but mess with a woman and every man jack of them would be on your trail with a hanging rope over the horn.

At this point, Everson had to kill her and bury her deep. If she made it to a real town, he would be a hunted man and so would all his hands, or gang. I was already on his trail and I intended to be the one who read to him from the Good Book and told him of his sins. God could deal with him when the time came for his final judgment. I didn’t want to be judge, jury, and executioner. I just wanted the girl safe and sound in her own home.

I looked to the heavens and said, calmly, “Is that too much to ask, Lord.”

Thunder rolled through the new canyon Solomon had just taken the two of us into.

I didn’t like the sound of that answer.

Solomon moved on like he knew what he was doing and I just worked at staying in the saddle and making sense of the sights I was seeing double. No more shots rolled through the canyon as the walls got steeper and the steam ran faster.

I heard a shout.

Solomon stopped before I could pull back on the reins. I slowly swung my right foot over Solomon’s rump and eased myself to the ground. Taking my left foot out of the stirrup was no easy task, but Solomon stood for it. I dropped my end of the reins in the dirt just in time to see the dog moving through the boulders on the other side of the stream. Where had he been? I didn’t really care, I was just glad to see him. I whistled softly and he ignored me. I moved parallel to the dog as we moved up the trail alongside the stream.

Another voice said, “Catch up when you can. I ain’t missing the fun when they catch that gal.”

“Some pard you are, Doby.”

I listened to hear Doby ride away followed by the other man grumbling about a busted latigo way out here in the middle of nowhere.

The trail went up steeply alongside a ten foot tall water fall. Kinda pretty it was, but who had time to appreciate the creation around them in times like this. My head came slowly over the top at the edge of the falls to see a man fumbling with his saddle, which laid in the dirt, and trying to piece together two pieces of broken leather.

It looked to me like the mice had gotten to his latigo and done a right smart job of eating a fair sized chunk out of the strap. Only two ways I knew to fix that; rivets or a new strap. He tried to use just the ring end of the latigo only to find it too short to make a tie. He reached in his saddle bag and pulled out a strip of leather a short half-inch wide and thick about three feet long. Using his knife he cut the two chewed ends of the latigo off square and over laid them. The pocket knife he dug out of his ducking trousers had a long, narrow blade which he used to start a hole through the two ends of the latigo.

I could see what he was planning on and filed that idea in the back of my mind should I ever need it. He was going to sew that latigo together with the leather. He tossed the leather strip in a backwater of the stream and as he did caught sight of me. He grabbed for his gun.

I hauled mine out, but before I could get it over the edge of the trail, the dog hit him running and leaping across the stream to land in the middle of one surprised gun hand whose gun went flying and feet went out from under. The dog stood on his chest and growled in his face. I stepped up took his knives away from him. The big one I had to roll him a bit for, but the pocket knife was lying in the dirt next to him.

The dog backed off when I asked him to.

“Stand up and tell me the name of the man I’m gonna bury right here.”

“You ain’t burying me.”

The dog didn’t like the sound of his voice or something, he took the man down again.

The man’s hand flashed into his shirt and came out with a short barreled small caliber pistol which I heard click twice as he thumbed the hammer back. I didn’t think. I just shot the man as he laid there trying to get that barrel lined up with me or the dog.

The dog backed off and wagged his tail. Last I saw of him he was going over the next rise on the trail while I was gathering what I could use of the man’s rig. Two chunks of jerky were a blessing and that little, short barreled pistol, and his gun belt were going to come in handy I was sure.

I rolled him off the trail and set all the rocks I could move over against and over his body while I was quoting the Good Book to him for a service.

No there were only five after Diane.


20

 

The double vision was going away. I could move without getting dizzy. Getting on Solomon was not the task it had been just hours ago. “You fixin’ me up, Lord? I will give thanks for that.”

We moved slowly up the trail figuring someone would come back to check on the man left behind, but no one did after a half hour. Solomon slowly picked up the pace until we came to place where someone, Diane probably, had rolled a rock and caused a slide to cover the trail with large rocks and also dam up the stream.

The Lazy E boys had moved enough rock to get their horses over the blockage making a new chunk of trail which I promptly used and kept on at the tail end of the parade.

As I rode I was looking at the tracks. There were three I could identify anywhere due to some weird markings, but the others looked the same to me. I was trying to figure out which one was Diane’s, but had no luck by the time the sun was low in the western sky. With about an hour to find a secure place to camp, the trail split. The tracks of the horses went one way, which was cresting the pass not more than two hundred yards ahead. The creek was down to almost no water in it. I could even see where the trickle began near a pair of rocks not fifty feet ahead.

I filled my canteen and took the other way until I was sure no one was following and began looking for a camp spot. My figuring was that I would set up a camp and walk up to the pass after dark and see what I could see of campfires or even cabins or a town in the distance. We were high enough up that unless the view was blocked, the view should be long and informative.

Maybe a quarter mile up the side path, I found a spot. Just as I was swinging off the back of Solomon, I noticed as single small boot track in the dirt right where I figured to put my bed. It was a flat spot maybe six feet wide and protected on two sides by rocks three feet high. The track looked to have been made by someone going from rock to rock, but there they had to hit the dirt because the jump was too far.

Eyeballing the direction I took out to see if any more tracks showed up. The reason was simple. I was sure this was a track of one of the boots Diane had been wearing. Diane had sent her horse down one trail as she got off and headed down the other going from rock to rock alongside the trail. Those gun dummies would never think of a trick like that. Why would anyone leave a perfectly good horse to walk on top of rocks when and where there was no way they could get back to the horse? And, it was a long way to anything down this new trail.

FREE BOOK – The DEACON – Episode 14

“I’d rather not, but I gotta eat. Ain’t had nothing since they killed that man back on One Horn Creek. Les should be back in a minute or two. He don’t like that food any more than you. I’m getting . . .” He walked away grumbling.

The Deacon a quick prayer of thanks and opened the door.

The two barrels of a shotgun looked like tunnels. “Get back out where you belong. I told you men, no one comes in this house without my invite. Get.” It was the fat man.

Daniel turned and walked out.

“Don’t that beat all. I get right up to the man and he’s got the drop.” The Deacon walked away from the back side of the house as he saw a man coming his direction. He dropped behind the ruins of the jail shack Diane had been in before. There was not much of it standing after someone had destroyed it. He laid there until the sun’s light no longer did much for the guards.

The man knocked on the door. The fat man answered. They talked for a minute or two. The only words the Deacon caught were, “then someone else is in this area, find him.” just before the door slammed in the man’s face. The man ran to the front of the building shouting order to everyone he passed.

Two men trotted around the house and set up station at the back door. Others went running everywhere, but no one thought of a tumbled down shack in plain sight. The lookouts were sent out to at least three points and a couple of men were put on the roof of the bunkhouse, which had a roof higher than any other building. The voice of the fat man shouted, “Take him alive and we’ll teach him to leave us alone.”


 17

 

Surveying the area left few options for the Deacon. He could stay where he was or move and hope it would work out better. Just as he decided to stick until he could see really well, all havoc broke out. A man came running down the hill behind the house towing a horse. That horse was Solomon. Now he knew he had to do something.

The fat man came out of the house, listened for a moment and started shouting orders about searching the place with a flour sifter if he had to, but he was getting the man who owned the horse. The fat man lined everyone up in two lines facing opposite directions. The lines were anchored on the house at one end and the bunkhouse at the other. The men were spaced far enough away from each other that they could see each other and all that was between them.

He yelled, “Move straight ahead and comb every spot and pile and building on the place. I’ll get the house and the area behind it. Hawkins, you get the area behind the bunkhouse.”

“Yeah Boss,” was the only reply.

The Deacon knew he would be found in about 25 steps. He rolled sideways away from the building until he hit a dip he could not roll out of. Gathering his feet underneath his body he lunged and ran as fast as he could for the tree line a good quarter mile away.

A man shouted, “There he goes,” and threw a couple of quick shots into the night.

The Deacon ran like he had never run before, except maybe the time he got caught in the melon patch. He laughed as that thought went through his mind. Shots were coming at a steady rate behind him, but nothing was hitting very close. The sound of men running soon disappeared in the sound of horses running.

He stopped and turned, gun in hand.

Six horses were just passing the running men. Only three of the horses had riders allowing the runners to attempt to catch and mount the free running horses. He watched one man swing into the saddle by grabbing the horn and then sail all the way over the horse making a hard landing the dirt.

He fired two shots and moved quickly to the left as far as he could without losing too much of the lead. He turned and ran, shots were hitting the dirt where he had fired. In moments he saw a shallow ditch to his left and angled for it. It was too shallow for his purposes. The trees were closer, but still out there a ways.

The poofs of dust were getting closer. He realized he was running over a hump and the stars were behind him in the view the outlaws would have. Cutting his angle back to the right, he willed himself to go faster as he prayed deep in his mind. ‘Lord, this is a bit more delivering that I had asked for. If I had another choice, I’d ask for them to all fall down and let me get to the trees.’ He looked back. They were still coming.

He stopped, turned, and let fly with two more rounds. The rider fell off the lead horse. The Deacon ran. ‘This ain’t getting no easier, Lord. I know you said that vengeance belonged to you in your book. So, you wanna take your vengeance on these sinners, please? Any time now would be fine.’

He found more energy and kicked his feet out in front a bit further with each stride. Before he really thought about what to do next, he was in the trees. A sharp turn to the right seemed appropriate, so he did. He saw the ditch just in time to jump it and get a great idea from it.

A large tree 50 yards further became his barricade. He turned. Punched out the fired rounds and poked 4 rounds in as replacements. Looking back where he had come from, he could see three riders entering the trees. They would go past him if they continued that direction and he would be covered on two sides. Not a good position when a man is afoot and the chasers are on horses.

He fired three shots directly at the lead man who fell forward over the neck of his horse. As the wounded man hung on, the other two drew up. The Deacon fired one more round. He hit nothing but the air it passed through as far as he could tell, but it had the desired effect. The two riders turned toward him and ran their horse into the ditch.

The Deacon ran back and with a heavy hand smacked both men with the barrel of his .44. They both ended on the dirt in disorganized piles. The horse both had broken legs, the Deacon shot them and quickly reloaded. “One of them could have come through this with four good legs, Lord. I would be riding now, but thanks anyway. You’re in charge and not me. Where to now?” he said to the sky.

All he heard was, ‘Whistle.’

He did.

He also worked his way through the trees further away from the runners. As he was ready to fall down and take a rest, he heard the sound of horse’s hooves coming from direction of the ranch. The sky was beginning to look a bit gray allowing a bit better sight in the thick wooded area. The way out was going to be too well lit in a matter of minutes and he would have no chance against the riders coming.

A whiny sounded.

“Solomon?”

Another whiny.

“Solomon. Here boy. You good looking devil you.”

The horse extended his muzzle. The Deacon gave it a quick pat and then swung into the saddle. His spurs just naturally gigged the horse’s ribs none too gently. The horse took off, swerving right and left around the trees at a clip that caused the Deacon to lie down on his neck and pray the horse was smarter than he was.

When the Deacon realized there were no more trees whizzing by, the sky was light enough for even a human to see the trees in spite of the forest. There was just one problem, there were no trees and the two of them were running horse belly to the ground across a large open flat area.

Shots sounded behind him. He turned. They were so far away and off the horses trying for a luck rifle shot. Nothing landed anywhere near.

The Deacon eased back on the reins and said, “Easy there, big boy, we got a ways to go and there may be more coming.” He was checking the surroundings as he spoke and the hills to the right looked like the best option.

‘It was going to be a long ride around the Lazy E in order to get in position in order to save that gal,’ he was thinking.

Not a soul stirred on the grounds of the Lazy E as the Deacon stood in the middle of the yard that had bristled with men 12 hours before. The .44 was hanging in his limp hand as he looked around. Tracks all over indicating a lot of moving around told the story of a rapid evacuation of the grounds.

He entered the last building in his search, the house shack. The stench of old sweaty men’s bodies was mixed with the gentle fragrance of a woman. He checked the only other room to find a bed, if you want to call it that, covered in a tick mattress that was more lump than mattress. No woman’s things were left out in the open that he could see right off. A shiny object caught his eye. He picked it up, a concha. A concha from the belt the girl had been wearing.

He stuck it in his vest pocket and left the ranch site with a new zeal to get that gal out of the hands of the Lazy E.

After riding a mile straight away from the buildings, he did a circle all the way around. Tracks showed that the men leaving had left in groups of two and three, all going in different directions. “That ain’t gonna work, boys. All I gotta do is follow one of you and I get to the meet up spot. The question I have is, which one of you has Diane with you?”

He followed each set of tracks back to the ranch one at a time. On the third one just hundred yards or so from the house, he found another concha. It matched the one in his vest pocket. He pointed Solomon’s nose along the direction of the tracks and kicked Solomon into a steady, ground eating gallop.

Within two hours it was easy to tell that the horse was about done in. The Deacon saw a small trickle of water coming from a seep into a water carved basin just a dozen feet off the trail and stopped. “Not the best place to camp, but it works.”

The horse nudged the water and sucked what was in the basin, which wasn’t much, and then walked toward some dried grass still standing beyond the seep. From the strength of the trickle of water, it was going to be an hour or so before the basin would be filled again. Both horse and rider settled in for a nap.

They had not gone very far after resuming the tracking, when the Deacon got a revelation. The three horses he was following were headed for the gal’s ranch. The man grumbled, “Wish I knew the country. It’d be nice to swing around and beat them there.”

Not a mile more the horse stopped. The Deacon looked around and tried to get him to keep on the trail which was pointed at a group of mixed aspen and fir on the far side of an open area. Every time the Deacon would pull his head straight on, the horse would turn to the right. The man let him go the way he wanted which was the downwind side of the grassy meadow the Deacon was trying to get him to cross.

Not but a few moments into the circle, the strong smell of smoke came to them. “Is that a camp or a rest spot, Solomon?”

The horse bobbed his head.

They travelled on until the Deacon caught the hint from the horse that it was time to turn back to the trail which brought them to a spot where the fire and the movement of men around the fire were seen. “Looks like they’re in for the night. Got’em a brush shelter, for the lady of course, and a chunk of meat on the fire. They musta brought that with them. There haven’t been any shots fired since this morning at the ranch.”

He dismounted and started toward the fire.

Half way to the fire he heard a noise off to his right. As he turned his head swiftly in that direction, his world went crazy. A dizziness hit him, his eyes refused to focus, and the day went dark as he fell to the dirt.

He woke up to the sun on the other side of the sky. He had been out all night. Trying to stand was a comedy show in itself. A whistle brought the horse after he checked in the direction of the fire to find nothing there. The horse walked up behind him as he was checking his gun. He turned quickly and the dizziness hit again, only this time he grabbed a tree and held on it and consciousness at the same time. Solomon looked at him as if to agree the Deacon had a problem.

The Deacon took inventory. He had been shot. He had fallen. He had not eaten for two days. The combination was obviously dangerous for him. Cogitating on all of it brought back a memory of a time when Evelyn had been climbing the steps into the caravan when his father had opened the door in a powerful hurry catching Evelyn in the head. Evelyn had gone down hard, landing on the back of her head. She was dizzy and out of sorts of a few days. His dad was mad because she could not sing and draw the crowd.

Dad had called her problem something that was hanging on the back of his mind. A concussion. That’s what his problem was, a concussion. How long would it last? How many times would he fall? How was he going to rescue the gal if he kept sleeping for many hours at a time? Something about sleep rang a bell. Someone with a concussion was not supposed to got to sleep for a day or so.

Well, he had stayed awake for a couple of days so he should be all right. But, he was not all right. Why?

“Solomon, we got a problem.” The horse bobbed his head.

“Is that the only answer you have?” The horse bobbed his head.

“Forget it.” He took the reins and walked into the campsite. Another Concha was lying in the dirt just under the edge of an emerging fern curl. Next to it was the ‘Rafter B’ scratched in the dirt.

He had been right. Now all he had to do was get there. Something else caught his eye. On the fern curl was a spot of what looked like blood. Her blood? Was she trying to show that she was hurt or being hurt?

“Come on, Sol, we got places to go and no time to get there.”

He let the horse set the pace.

FREE BOOK – The DEACON – Episode 12 – comments requested

15

 

Long about noon, Daniel caught sight of a rooster tail of dust off to the west. In moments he realized that the dust was being followed by dust. “Solomon, someone is being chased over there. We better check it out. Tor and Miss Diane might be in trouble.”

Daniel had just crossed the trail of tracks from their moving toward the Lazy E. The dust was coming straight for him. He moved off to the side of the trail to a group of rocks and scrub trees of some kind where he found a safe place for Solomon and a nest for him to set an ambush.

Just as he laid his Winchester over a rock he saw a woman riding Tor’s horse leading Tor on the pack horse and, from Tor’s position, he was hurt. No sooner had he figured that all out than eight riders topped the rise not a hundred yards behind. The woman was nice to look at even if she was dirty, sweating, and scared. He stood so she could see him and then squatted back down triggering two rounds toward the gun hands just as three of them decided it was time to shoot at the gal and Tor.

One man rolled off his horse under the hooves of the horses behind. The Deacon was fascinated by the dance of the wounded with the horses. One horse hit the man and tumbled. Now there were two men and a horse involved in the dance. “Not a pretty sight even if it is interesting,” he said to the rocks.

The gal led Tor in behind a group of trees fifty feet past the Deacons position. The Deacon saw that Tor was covered in blood down his left side and the gal was on the edge of panic as she frantically jumped off her horse and tried to catch Tor as he fell off the wrong side of his horse. The deputy landed in the dirt with a plop like a watermelon dropped off a roof. The gal screamed and tried to get around the pack horse that was in a panic himself.

The Deacon looked back at the gun hands. They still came. None of them were firing their guns. Deacon figured all their targets had disappeared. As the six remaining riders slowed they spread out into a line like a cavalry charge. Behind a ways, one rider was running trying to catch up his limping horse and the second was sitting up in the dirt watching the blood run from his arm and trying to tie his bandanna around the wound. The man in the middle of the line became his target as he fingered the trigger. The man fell and five riders came straight at him firing as fast as they could.

He moved down so his long gun was situated between two rocks and the two rocks gave him a tremendous amount of cover. Two shots brought down two more riders causing the other three to pull off into the trees up sloped from the trail. One man got up and staggered to a rock to hide behind while the other two just stayed still.

One man shouted, “You give us the woman and you can leave in one piece and upright.”

“You go back and tell the boss that ain’t gonna happen,” the Deacon replied.

“There’s still three here to your one.”

“There used to be eight. What’s that tell you?”

“You got lucky from ambush, that’s what.” The man moved as he spoke.

Deacon saw the move and splattered rocks all over the man. A few pieces of rock cut deep and drew blood. “I could have killed you, hombre, but I’m feelin’ a bit generous. I don’t know what you 8 had in mind for the young lady, but I’ll find out and your boss will hear from me. I don’t stand for a bunch of big strong growed men picking on one woman alone. You ought to be ashamed.”

The speaker for the ranch said, “Tell ya what. Let us ride outta here and we’ll share your words with the boss. I will leave one man here to make sure you don’t go nowhere until I get back.” There was a laugh in his voice.

The Deacon simply replied, “Nope. You all leave taking your wounded and dead, right now, or the buzzards and coyotes will feast tonight. I’ll just kill the rest of you.” He fired one shot and took the heel off the man’s boot. It had been showing since the last move. “I coulda put that right next to the knife scar you have on your cheek, hombre. Now move or die. If you move this direction or stay you will die. I promise.”

“Who are you? Why’s your nose in none of your business?”

“They call me The Deacon. I’ll be happy to say the service over you graves and read a few select passages from the Good Book. Now git!”

Silence reigned for about ten heartbeats.

“We’ll leave.” The man stood up in plain sight, turned, and went for his horse. He looked across the trail and yelled, “Come on, boys. Let’s gather the horses and pick up our casualties and go back to see Everson. I ain’t goin’ against that gun over there for no amount of money.”

He climbed aboard his horse and trotted after two of their horses grazing back down the trail.

Daniel stayed alert until he saw them cross the high spot. He rode to the high spot to watch them gather up another horse and keep on down the trail to the ranch. It was over.

He went back to where the girl and Tor had turned in.

Tor lay in the dirt with the girl working with pieces of Tor’s shirt trying to stem the bleeding from his side. “Ma’am. Let me get on that. I’ve done it before.”

“So have I.” There was a definiteness in her voice. “Get me some water.”

“Yes Ma’am.”

He handed her his canteen.

“How’d he get hit.”

“Lucky shot. Everson’s gun fighters and rustlers were behind us a good two hundred yards when one of them up and pulls his Winchester out and lets one go in our direction. First shot. One shot. Zap it nails this man right through the ribs. Ain’t no air bubbles, which is good.”

“There is no exi

t wound either,” Daniel said.

“I see that. Nothing we need to worry about now. Who is he?”

“Man’s name is Tor. He’s a deputy city marshal outta Denver. We’re on a fishing trip.”

“And you are?”

“My name is Daniel Fount. Lately of Denver.”

“Fount? You that preacher?” She smiled from a dirty face.

“Yup. That’d be me.”

“Tor here told me we needed to ride and meet the Deacon.”

“That’s be me. He give me that name. I ain’t likin’ it much.”

She turned back to the wound. Daniel watched as her straw colored hair caught the slant of the sun light. He had seen her eyes in the discussion and was startled to remember they were green, a deep pale green. “We buried your father right proper. And, went looking for you. Almost lost you after the rains. If it hadn’t a been for a man in that little town, Black, we woulda never found ya.”

She started as if stung by a bee. “Pa is dead. He told me that Pa had been taken care of and that’s how you found out about me.”

“We did take care of him. He was dying when I found him and talked a bit before he died. I found out you are Diane and someone named Everson owned a ranch and was givin’ you trouble. He also said to watch out for someone or something that starts with ‘Bur’.”

“Bur?”

“Yep, he said kill Bur and died.”

“I know no Bur whatever follows.”

“It’s a mystery we need to figure out. For right now let’s get him on his horse with the saddle and move away from this spot. I’d rather not be here when the rest of the riders come back as I’m sure they must. This time they’ll bring the boss.”

“Everson is a killer and thief.”

“Perhaps we can end his sin if he shows up. Where’s a good place to defend with water, food, and a clear area for a battle ground?”

“The Rafter B. Pa’s ranch. Oh, I guess it’s my ranch now. Ma’s been dead for three years. Typhoid got her.”

The rode.


16

 

They spent another hour working at hiding their tracks as they traveled just north of west. Daniel spent much of his time looking back from every high point.  They came over a hump to find a small stream flowing in the opposite direction of their travel. Making a point of entering the stream at an angle up stream, they turned down stream once they were in the water.

“This riding in the water is losing time. It’s just plain slow, and I don’t like riding down in this little valley. No trees, no cover, anyone coming over that rim could see us a couple of miles away,” Daniel said in a low voice.

Tor said, “It can work.”

Daniel and Diane were both surprised by his comment. He hadn’t spoken during the ride.

“Welcome back.”

“Find a rock shelf or gravel and get out of here.”

They had passed a shelf a ways back. “Let’s go back to that red rock shelf where we almost dumped our horses, Diane. You remember, the rock was so slick we almost dumped the horses.”

“I remember.”

Daniel turned around and led the way.

 

The Rafter B wasn’t a large ranch. The headquarters consisted of a house about thirty feet square, a steep roofed barn, a small bunkhouse, and a couple of other small sheds and shacks. The corrals were bull tight and well laid out. The main corrals were dog boned with two large areas our on the ends and a narrow runway between them. Off the runway was three or four small corrals. Lots of gates swing in both directions allowed them to move and sort cows nice and easy with a minimum number of hands.

“Home sweet home,” said Diane. “And, it’s all mine. Only, I don’t want it now.”

“There’s no way a woman could hold a ranch like this alone.” Daniel was looking around as he said, “It is the best laid out place I’ve seen, but I haven’t seen many out this far.”

They rode up to the house. Diane stepped off her horse onto the porch with practiced ease, dropping the reins at the horse’s front feet. “You can stash the horses in the barn or the corral next to it. There’s a door that’ll allow the horses to go in and out. Should be feed in the barn unless some range rider used it all since we been gone. Ain’t happened yet, but Pa was always worried it would happen when we left the place. I’ll see if there’s anything left to eat.” She stepped through the front door.

Daniel led Tor’s horse to the bunkhouse and helped him down. Inside he laid him in a bunk on his good side and pulled the shirt bandages off slow and easy. Using his knife he cut around the one spot that was stuck to the wound. “Wooowee. You got more black and blue than you got pink. Good news is that the bleeding has stopped and I can see a bump under a rib just around the corner on your back. Let’s get some hot water and cut that slug out.” He looked around. “Stove over there in the corner with a dutchoven on top. Be back in a few moments, don’t go anywhere.”

“Sure. I’ll be right here for you to cut up like a side of beef.”

“Naw. I won’t do that. I just might carve the Lord’s Prayer in your hide though.”

A couple of old broken rails from the corrals and a match took care of the stove. Water from the well filled the dutchoven. An old shirt hanging on a nail made new bandages. Daniel found a whet stone in the barn next to the forge and worked on Tor’s knife a bit before he announced, “Okay, Mr. Deputy, it’s time for the Right Reverend Daniel Fount to get rid of the sin in your body. I will deal with it one slice at a time. Bite this.” He shoved a hunk of folded leather in the man’s mouth as he opened it to speak.

Daniel checked the lump again and with a quick move sliced a two inch gash over the slug.

“Man, leave a little there.” Tor was not speaking softly.

 

FREE BOOK – The DEACON – Episode 9

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Sunrise was blocked by the mountain, making for a cool morning. The trail of the killers went off before them like a beacon on a rocky shore, but neither of the men were in a hurry. The Lazy E brand on the pack horse matched the brands on the two dead horses, so their assumption was they the Lazy E was the outfit that had killed the old man and run off with Diane. Tor had never heard of either brand and figured they had to be from a distance away.

“Let’s go easy and slow, Deacon. Any place we can’t see too far ahead is a good place for an ambush. By now they know that there three shooters didn’t finish their task. My guess is they were supposed to finish off the old man and make him disappear. The hands they were riding with will be wondering how a wounded and dying old man could take the three of them. I’m guessing they will just keep on riding, or send one really good man back to see what’s what.”

“Tor, could we quit with the Deacon stuff.\? I’m just simple Daniel.”

“There ain’t nothin’ simple about you, Deacon, nothin’ at all. Daniel’s lions didn’t open their mouths and weren’t dangerous. You are dangerous. You don’t know it yet, but you could probably win in a gunfight with better than half the gundummies running around this countryside. You are dangerous. I’m glad I’m on your side and you’re on God’s side. Let’s ride. I wanna get down off the steep part of this mountain. We got nowhere to go ‘cept down the trail and that like being in a funnel.”

“Wanna help me get this horse packed up?”

At the bottom of the steep grade the trail split three ways; right, left, or straight ahead. The tracks went straight ahead and Tor indicated he was happy with that. There was flat land out there no more than a mile away. A line of dust was very pronounced at the base of the mountains on the other side of the flats.

Tor said as they began forward, “We’re in for a long ride. Them folks ain’t lettin’ no moss grow on their horses hooves. There’s a five building, two horse town up this valley a couple hours away. Let’s head up there, sell the extra horse and gear, and see what we can get to eat. We might also pick up a bit of gossip or news concerning the Rafter B or the Lazy E. Sooner or later we are going to end up at one or the other. Maybe even both.”

Daniel started down the trail while Tor continued to survey the countryside in all directions, even up behind where they had come from.

IF YOU HAVE READ THIS FAR, PM ME WITH YOU OPINION OF THIS VERY ROUGH STORY, IT’S RIGHT OFF THE KEY BOARD WITH NO EDITING YET. AND I’LL SEND YOU A BONUS. REFERENCE EPISODE 9 IN YOUR PM.

The sign said, ‘BLACK – no Chinee allowed’ which kinda gave Daniel the idea these folks might not be the friendliest folks he had ever met. He was right.

The man at the stable said, “I don’t want the horse. Wouldn’t have a Lazy E horse if I was lost and afoot. You boys out to get hung or something?

Tor gave him an earful before saying, “Where is that ranch, anyhow?”

“Way up over yonder. Northeast of that tall peak over there. I only see’d them once down this far and that was three days ago. One of them riders, there was nine of them, wanted to drink up all the booze in town and the others wanted to help. Some fella traveling down valley, gave one of them boys some lip. They just up and hung him. Right over there crossed the street. Tossed a rope up over the center beam of that cabin and jerked him up. Big fella he was, took four of them pullin’ on the rope to get him off the ground half a foot. Big guy danged near kicked that front wall in. You can see the marks from his boots and the blood from his bleeding fingers where he tried to get a holt of that wall. Died anyway. Them riders just laughed at the whole danged thing. Missy tried to stop them. They slapped her around a bit and then two of them took her out behind the cabin and Missy won’t say nothin’ past that. She’s forty years old and been a widow for the past five. She just sits in her cabin now and cries a lot.”

“How far away is that Lazy E?”

“I ain’t got the foggiest idee.”

Daniel said, “Would Miss Missy talk with a preacher?”

“You bet she would.”

The Deacon turned and went to the cabin.

Tor walked over to the largest building in town carrying the extra guns and gear. The sign said, ‘General Mechandise.” He came out with a tater sack full of cans and whatever. He still carried one hand gun the proprietor did not want. Someone’s initials were carved in the notched grips. It was a .44 identical to the Deacon’s gun except for the grips. Tor bummed a screwdriver from the livery man and took the grips off, tossing them in the potbellied stove in the corner of the livery office. He tucked the skeleton gun his bed roll. There was a sly grin on the man’s face.

After Deacon left Miss Missy’s house, she was standing in the door with a smile on her face. “Daniel, you take care of yourself and find them gun hands. They need someone to read to them from the Good Book and you are just the man.”

“Thank you, Missy. I just do the work of the Lord.”

“That won’t be pleasant work, Deacon,” yelled Tor.

“Let’s get on up that other hill,” said Daniel.

The next morning the rains came.

“This will wipe out the tracks we need.”

“Don’t worry about it. I prayed last night that God would deliver these gunmen to our hands without a fight. I got the impression He said yes.”

“Oh, goodie, now we’re working on impressions.” Tor threw up his arms, “Okay, I’m game. Let’s go round them up.”

“He didn’t say we would just round them up. He said he would deliver them into our hands.”

They crested another pass where they found two men stone drunk snoring away. Three empty bottles lie in the coals of last night’s fire. Daniel walked up to the two men and relieved them of the guns before kicking them awake while Tor stood at the edge of the camp with his rifle covering the scene.

The two came up on their feet trying to draw sixguns that were not present in the location they had been every other morning of their lives. “Looking for these?” the Deacon asked, holding one in each hand pointed one at each belly.

“Wha? Where? I, aaahh. Everson’s gonna kill you if you mess with us.”

“Who is Everson?” Tor asked with a soft voice.

“My boss. Runs the Lazy E, biggest ranch in the State of Colorado and Wyoming.”

“There’s some fair sized ranches south of here and I know of at least one that’s bigger than Texas over on the Kansas/Nebraska border. That must be some big ranch you come from.” Tor’s face got hard, “How come I never heard of a mess of rattlesnakes that big? You two the really bad men that messed with Miss Missy back there in Black.”

“That old bag, she . . .”

Tor stopped the comment by stepping forward and giving the man the butt of his Winchester in a powerful upper cut. The man went down like a shooting star only without the brilliance.

Daniel knelt down alongside the poleaxed man. “He’s dead. From the angle of his head, I’d say ya busted his neck, Tor.”

The second man layed back down and started shaking and holding his head. “Oh, my head. It’s gonna blow up. I think we got some bad Rye back there. My head. It’s killin’ me.”

Daniel said, “Save us the trouble.”

He kicked the man in the back, “Get up and get your horses saddled.”

“I can’t.”

In a split second, the Deacon’s gun was in his mouth. The hammer was drawn back and the Deacon had his finger on the trigger. “Last chance. Saddle up your horses, we got a trail to ride and you’re gonna show it to us.”

“Not me. Kill me if you want, but I ain’t gonna show you nothin’.”

Tor jammed his rifle barrel in the man’s ear. “Wanna bet which one of us can take the biggest chunk outta his head, Deacon?”

“Well, let me see, Tor. Both of us are packin’ .44’s here. One’s got a short barrel and the other is long. So if we both pull the trigger at the same time, my bullet will get there first. If I angle the barrel up slightly, there won’t be nothin’ for you to blast off.”

“That’s a great theory. You wanna try it?”

“How we gonna tell which got the biggest chunk.”

“The splatter.”

“The splatter?”

“Yeah. If I get the biggest chuck the splatter of his brains and skull with be to your right. Whereas, you get the bigger chuck, the splatter will be to your front. Got it?”

“Yeah. On three. One. Two.”

“Wait. I’ll take ya there. You will die and I will blow both your brains out, if you have brains that is.”

“Saddle up and tie your partner on his horse well. I’m assuming we’ve a ways to go.”

“Couple of days or more just to the southern boundary of the Lazy E. a week to the headquarters.” The man said as he got up to saddle up.

Daniel had some reservations on the truthfulness of the man’s times, but said nothing.

The man moaned and bellyached for the next six hours as they traveled northeast. “Come on. Let’s get some sleep so I can sleep off this hangover. That was some bad Rye, I ain’t never had a head like this one.”

“What? I thought you were born with that head,” Tor chided the man. “It’s so ugly and danged near worn out. But, that’s all right, you won’t be needing it much longer.”

The man just gave him an evil eyed look.

They camped a half mile past a small stream that was too much in the open for their purposes.

The man started, “That Missy gal, she was . . .”

Tor finished it with a sharp right to the jaw that put the man to sleep.

He woke up hours later tied to the blanket wrapped body of his partner and screamed.

“Shut up or I’ll lay you out permanently,” was Tor’s reply.

Silence followed.

© 2017 Doug Ball – Author