2 the leavin
Sheriff Weston waited with mixed feelings for Joseph Cates to arrive, because 'e knew 'is friend would be upset that 'is sister was missin, but at the same time 'e knew that if times were better Joseph would want to spend time with him and 'is family, an' go fishin. They hadn't seen each other for over two years. Well when the train pulled in the station, Sheriff Weston was waitin to greet 'is old friend. When 'e stepped off the train, they gave each other the normal hand shakes, back slaps, an' hugs old friends always give, an' started out for Sheriff Weston's house for supper, an' to discuss what 'ad happened at the farm where Penelope was abducted from. Joseph told John Weston; I'm sure glad to get here an' get some of Margaret's good cookin. It seems like a year since I ate a good meal. He replied; I know she'll be glad to see ya Joseph. You're all she's been talkin bout for well, ever since this happened. Got any ideas? He asked. None that I can think of that seem right anyway. It just doesn't make any sense. It didn't even look like there was a fight. The family was all murdered, even the kids, but she just disappeared it looks like. Almost like she just left with 'em, hard as that is to believe. An' we lost all track of anybody in the hills, down by the river. What part of the hills did ya lose track sign John? Over close to where your pops place was. About a mile south of the ol' farm. Strange alright. Let's ride over there tomorrow, an' check things out. I haven't seen the ol' place since I moved to Missouri. Ok Joseph, but let's go get some food though, afore Margaret shoots us both. They laughed an' headed on to John Weston's place. When they got to the farm, Margaret an' the girls were waitin on the front porch to greet their ol' friend Joseph Cates. After huggin all four girls, Joseph told Margaret 'e smelled fried chicken for the last 10 miles, even though she knew it was only 5 from town. She led the way in to the kitchen and they ate till their bellies almost busted.
That was mighty fine fried chicken Margaret; Joseph said. Why thank ya Joseph. I made it special for you; she said with a smile. All 3 girls just giggled an' grinned. After supper Joseph an' John went to the front porch to smoke an' talk afore retiring to bed. They reminisced about the old days when it was good times round those parts, an' the fishin holes they still know of. Joseph asked about old friends an' women they both vied after when they were younger. They both remembered a lot of the women, some with a sense of pride, an' some with a bit of fear. An' some, well, they just laughed about. Of course the subject of Penelope came up an' John just couldn't figure out how they killed a whole family an' took Penelope without leaving even one sign of a fight. It stumped Joseph too, but 'e was too tired to worry about it after ridin so long on a bumpy train, so they decided to strike out early in the mornin an' go over to the old farm place first, since it was kinda on the way to the Becker farm, where Penelope was taken from.
They came up on a bunch of horses just afore they reached the Cates family farm place, an' it was Jason Green, a man they both growed up with, an' went to school with. Mornin Jason; they both said, as they reached each other. Jason replied with a houdy, an' they all shook hands an' dismounted to talk a bit. John asked 'im if 'e'd seen anybody strange runnin round these parts lately, but 'e hadn't, or at least 'e said 'e hadn't. He said 'e had some coffee back at camp if they wanted to stop an' have some, but they both agreed to head on over to the farm, an' to the Becker place. Joseph asked 'im why 'e was campin since 'e lived only a few miles away. Are ya huntin Jason? Naw. He said 'e was out lookin for those murderers that took Penelope. John asked 'im if 'e had a posse, an' 'e said yes, 'e did. That's strange; 'e said. Why wasn't I informed of this posse? Well sheriff, we gave up on the posse you had, an' decided to put one together with men we figured could do a better job of findin Joe's sister. It's Joseph, Jason. You'll do good to remember that. Sure Joseph, sorry. Sure Jason. We'll see you boys later. They mounted up an' rode on to the farm place, an' agreed it did seem strange that Jason would have a posse. Maybe we should kinda keep a watch on this posse John. Maybe you're right Joseph. We'll do that. I never really trusted 'im anyway. Especially since I put 'im in jail last year. What did ya put 'im there for? Thievin. He stole 3 pigs from ol' man Becker. Ol' Dave? Yep. He had one butchered afore I came up on 'im at 'is folks place. Him and 'is brother did it, I reckon. Ol' Dave didn't want me to keep 'im though, cause 'e said the family needed the pork worse than he did. Well, that sounds like ol' Dave alright. This place sure don't look like it use to, does it John. Sure don't. I remember when the trees were full of apples, an' peaches. Your pop grew the best peaches around these parts, didn't 'e. He sure did. An' maw canned the best, too. Ain't that the truth. Sure is sad that them boys burned it down, huh. Yea, it is. Well, where did ya say them tracks ended? Let's go. It's down by the creek a ways. I think I might know bout where we're goin John. Yep, I bet ya do. Down by where that rock slide is? Yep, that's where they disappeared alright. I thought it might be. They get out on that rock, an' it'll be mighty tough findin the tracks. I'd say it's somebody that knows the area. That's what I been thinkin. Let's go anyway. I want to see the tracks anyway, if any 's left. I doubt if they are Joseph, cause it rained last weekend, but we'll check anyhow.
They got to the rock slide area, an' sure enough, no tracks left. How much did it rain last weekend John? Quite a bit. Probably washed the last tracks out. Sounds like my luck. Oh well, let's go to the Becker place, an' see what we can find over there. When they arrived they found a burned out house an' barn. Damn those people; Joseph said. They all should be hanged. Oh they will be Joseph, as soon as we catch up to the rascals. Findin 'em's one thing. We gotta prove it was them that did it. That shouldn't be hard, if Penelope's still with 'em. But if she ain't, we might have a problem. What all did ya find John? Well, ol' Dave was layin over there by the chicken house. He'd been shot once, in the head. An' his wife, Melba, she was half burned over by where the porch was. And the other ones, the three kids, they was all cut up, over by them trees. Why they cut them little kids up is beyond me. Yea, me too John. Where did ya find Jack? He was in the house, shot I suppose. All that was left was 'is skull, an' a few bones. His skull was all busted up like it'd been shot. It was awful. Don't make any sense. It's like they was leavin a message or something. Yea, but what? I don't know, but we need to find out what it was, an' figure out where they might 'ave went. An' I want to find Penelope, afore they do anything to her. You know how she was always kinda frail. Yea, I do. Where do you think they might of went John? Not sure Joseph, but if they was headed to your old farm, that's east of here, an' north. Why would they be headed that way? There's more law that way. If they head north, they'll have an advantage on us, if they're Yankees. They get into Ohio, then they can get on over to West Virginia. If they get up north, they can hide out forever, an' we'd never be able to catch up to 'em. We'll have to root 'em out afore they get that far then, if they aint already up that way. We best get back to your place an' load the wagon. You an' wagons, I ain't never seen the likes Joseph. I like wagons. It's easier than a horse, an' ya can haul a lot more previsions. An' ya don't get near as tired in a wagon. Yea, but it's slower than horseback. True, it is, but if my hunch is right, speed may not be what we need right now. But I'll ride a horse, if it makes ya feel better. I rode one over here, didn't I? John Weston just laughed at his friend an' they headed back to his place to load up, an' head out to find the trail of these murderers.
They decided to camp over by the old Cates place. Maybe if Joseph's hunch was right they'd see something. They'd check out Jason Green too while they was in that area as well. At least see if they could find 'is "camp" an' stop in for a visit. See if 'e still had some coffee. John wanted to see just who 'e had in 'is posse. They came up on a camp fire, an' it was Jason Green an' 'is bunch. They were invited in, an' went in to have coffee. They didn't know most of the men in this bunch, but Joseph did recognize one man. It was a man 'e met in the war. A gorilla fighter. Bad news 'e thought. He didn't say anything, but John knew 'e recognized someone, an' they soon left an' headed to find a good place to set up camp on their own. They didn't know for sure, but something just wasn't right with 'em. It just didn't have the right "feel" bein in camp with Jason Green an' 'is men, especially since they didn't know most of 'em. This brought up the question of (why would a bunch of strangers be lookin for Penelope?) the only one they knew that would know 'er was Jason Green. An' he was never a valiant type. He didn't even go to the war. He stayed home with 'is folks, an' worked the farm while 'is brother went off to fight the Yankees. His brother, who was the only other man they recognized, was Bill. Bill Green. Another one Joseph remembered as being a gorilla fighter. What are ya thinkin Joseph? I don't like it. Bill an' Jason Green, both together lookin for my sister. Why then? Why are they lookin for 'er? They never cared for anybody but themselves in their lives John. Not me, or you, not anybody. You said they were both in on the pig stealin? I'm not sure on that Joseph, I just caught Jason with the pork. Bill wasn't around at the time, but 'e could very well been in on it, I guess. I haven't seen much of Bill since the war. Almost makes me wonder why they took three pigs, when one would've done just fine. Pork only stays good for so long ya know, unless ya know how to cure it, an' I never seen their paw do any curin in my life, as long as I knowed 'em. An' them boys never did cure any meat, they just cooked it, an' ate it. Ya think they planned to sell some of it? No idea Joseph. What's that got to do with what happened here though? Well, if they was planning on sellin the pork, it would mean they were tryin to get money. Times are hard lately, an' lots of folks need money Joseph. Yea, but most folks try to get it honest like. Yea, that's true. You don't think maybe they might be in on this killin, do ya? I don't know John, but we're gonna find out. We'll ride over tomorrow an' visit that "posse, but tonight, I'm gonna slip over an' take a look see. I'll be back in a while. You keep that coffee hot, ok? It'll be hot when ya get back. You sure ya don't want me to come along with ya? Nah, I'll be ok. I work better, an' quieter by my self. You always were the sneakiest feller I ever seen. Had to be. Paw was a stickler when it came to 'is peaches.
Joseph slipped over to the camp an' sit as close as 'e could get to the bunch without bein seen, but 'e couldn't quite hear what they were saying. He could smell the food they were cookin on the fire though. He almost wished 'e'd ate afore coming over here, but 'e'd wait till 'e got back. He counted eight men, an' a woman, or at least it looked like it might be a woman, but 'e couldn't make 'er out. He couldn't make any of the men out either. One of 'em looked like 'e might be a black feller. They didn't see a woman when they were at the camp earlier, or any black fellers. He wondered who she was, an' wished 'e could get close enough to see the camp better, but there was no cover at all. He sat for an hour afore 'is stomach began to growl at 'im for food. He decided 'e wasn't gonna get anywhere sittin here, an' if they heard 'is guts growlin, 'e'd be had, so 'e decided to get back to 'is own camp, an' food. When 'e got back, John had supper on the fire, an' hot coffee waitin. What'd ya see? Well, I counted eight men, an' I'm pretty sure one of 'em was a black feller, an' I think a woman, but I can't be sure. It looked like a woman, but if it was, she was dressed like a man, chaps an' all. She even wore a gun. That's strange. We didn't see any woman earlier, or black men. I know, an' there was only six men then, too. What do ya make of it John? I don't know, but it sure looks fishy. Let's go by an' see 'em tomorrow. Ok. What ya got cookin? Pork chops. I butchered this hog last month. Mighty tasty. Good, cause my guts been growlin for almost an hour. I'm starved. Well, dig in, it's ready. Got biscuits in that pan there. They ate, an' drank coffee for awhile, an' talked about the old days,mostly women, fishin, an' stealin peaches from Josephs pops trees. John said: You still remember the time we snuck up in that ol' peach tree an' took a bite out of almost every peach on it, just to spite your old pop, cause 'e told us to keep out of it? Yea, an' if we started from the top like I said, we'd been able to eat more, but you had to go an' get full, an' too heavy to climb the tallest branches. They both roared on that one, till they remember the woopin they got after they got busted. Josephs pop could really lay it on ya when 'e set 'is mind to it. Peach tree tea is what 'e called it. Well sir, after laughin an' talkin for awhile, they finally drifted off to sleep.
Early the next morning, they rose to a beautiful sunny day, an' after eatin breakfast, they headed over to the Green camp. The mile ride over there took them right past the old Cates farm place, an' they noticed the peaches still startin to come on the trees, an' the apple blossoms were pretty as ever. They both chuckled when they passed that ol' peach tree. They rode on to where the Greens were camped, an' they were all still there. Welcome boys. Have some coffee with us? Don't mind if we do; John told the leader. They sat down by the fire an' had coffee, but didn't see any woman, or black man, an' there was only six men again. It seemed strange, but they kept quiet about it, for a minute. They didn't want this bunch to get suspicious. Well, John didn't anyway. Where's the other two men that were with ya; Joseph asked. What two men; Jason replied. The two I seen in here last night. I believe one of 'em was a black feller. What do ya mean? You been snoopin around? Well, it just seems a bit peculiar that a posse would camp twice in the same place if their trailin a bad bunch like you fellers are. You were here night afore last, an' here again last night. Well, we were lookin around your old place, seein if we could pick up something he missed with his posse. (He was pointing at Sheriff Weston when 'e said this.) I don't think 'e missed anything. It just seems kinda strange to me that you're all still even in the same area. Don't ya think this bunch 'as already left the county? Well, yea, but we need to figure out which way they went first. Well, they came this far, an' it's east, an' north. Almost looks to me like they might be headed for Ohio, or even Pennsylvania, or West Virginia. Why do ya think they might be headed for Ohio, or Pennsylvania? Just a hunch. Lots of Yankees've been runnin around pillagin an' all. Lotta killin goin on lately, might be a bunch of those boys, or even you for all I know. Why you son of a bitch!!. Jason started to draw down, but Bill grabbed 'is hand. This ain't a man you want to play guns with brother. He turned to Joseph Cates an' told 'im; I think you boys done wore out your welcome. So do I; he agreed. We'll just ride out quiet like, an' you boys keep to yer coffee. Don't need anymore killin in this county. John an' Joseph mounted up, an' Joseph looked back at Jason, an' said; we'll find the people that did this, an' they'll die, either by gun or by rope, don't matter to me. I promise ya that. They walked their horses out of camp an' the posse sit still drinkin coffee. Nobody drew a gun. They knew better. The Green boys knew both John Weston and Joseph Cates, and how fast they both were.
As soon as the men left, Bill told Jason; go get Penny, Sam an' Zeb. Were leavin. Where we goin Bill? Up to Pennsylvania. I know a bunch up there that'll help us hide out for a spell. But don't ya think that marshal might fallow us? Yea, Marshall Cates might. Sheriff Weston wont go past the state line, I don't think. Marshal Cates might, my ass. His sister is runnin with us. He'll come right behind us. He seen her. No 'e didn't. He just seen two extra men. He never said anything about no woman. Yea, but I know Joseph Cates. He don't miss a thing. An' if 'e did see the men, why did 'e say only two extra men, an' not three, like there is? That's a point alright, that's one reason were leavin right now. An' one more thing. What's that Bill? If we need to, we'll use your woman for bait. Bait? What do ya mean, bait? I think ya know. If Cates sees 'er, he ain't likely to shoot at us so fast. I see, but I don't want to put 'er in no harms way. You know she's kinda frail. Don't you bother bout that. I'll take care of 'er. I just want Cates off our trail, an' if 'e knows she's with us, he'll be doggin us all the way across the country if 'e has to. He won't stop Jason. He won't ever stop. So we'll have to stop him. We might have to cause Sheriff Weston to have to go home. Maybe for some trouble there's been there. Like maybe 'e has a funeral to go to. Who's funeral Bill? His wife, an' maybe 'is kids. Seems like I remember Cates had a likin for 'er a long time back. Him an' Weston competed for 'er when they 'as younger, only Weston got 'er. If she was to be hurt, or dead, they'd both have to stay around here for a spell. Yea, an' they'd both be madder 'n wet chickens too. They'd kill ever last one of us for sure then. Let's don't do it Bill. Not killin a woman, an' her kids. I think they got three kids. Little ones. It didn't bother you killin that woman an' them kids at your woman's place none. That was different. She wanted out, an' we helped her, that's all. It's different than what you want. No it ain't. We need somethin to keep them two here so we can get some distance between us an' them. This'll help us get that distance. It'll give us three or four days lead. I just don't know Bill. Well, you better grow up some then. We're goin to Weston's place, now saddle up. I lead this outfit an' what I say goes, ya hear? Now saddle up men, were headed for Weston's place. Where's Zeb, Sam, an' Penny? They're comin boss; Josh said as 'e led the three in. Josh Gibson an' Zeb Smith were two others of the gang, along with Gerald Abernathy, Charles Winston, an' Harvey Masters. They all saddled up an' headed south west, towards Sheriff Weston's place. They didn't notice the two men hiding in the woods a half mile down the trail.
Well John; Joseph said in a muffled voice; they don't seem to be in a hurry, an' they sure ain't headed east or north. Yea, ya reckon they might be lookin for clues back in town? Maybe. Let's see what they're up to, an' see if we can get close enough to see for sure if that's a woman they got with 'em. They fallow for a time an' realize the bunch ain't goin to town at all, but off towards Weston's place. They step it up a bit to get closer, an' get spotted by a man in the group. The men can't take any chances on the two seein Penelope Becker with 'em, so they head for a gully, where a trail heads off to the east, an' they can make a run for it, hiding Penelope in the woods. This spurs the two law-men to give chase. When they hit the gully, they see the bunch runnin out away from 'em headed west, but not makin a fight of it. Just runnin. They pull up, an' stop to figure it all out. Why would they run if they was a posse? An' why were there nine men afore, an' only seven now? They look at the tracks an' see that two horses went off in the woods. They track the horses instead of chasin the main bunch, only to find the horses pulled out of the gully an' headed east at a dead run. Well John, it's for sure someone who knows the land took off this way. Yep, but who? They hit it hard for some reason. Let's go find 'em. You go on John. I'm goin back to fallow that bunch. I don't like the looks of this. Ok Joseph. I'll catch up to ya later, after I find out who took off east, when those varmints went west. Yea, it seems kinda funny that they split up like that. John Weston headed east, an' Joseph Cates went west on the trail of the main bunch of horses. It wasn't long afore 'e knew right where they were headed. He kicked 'is horse into a run an' went pell mell to head 'em off, in case they had any ill manner of plans, which 'e figured they probably did. After what happened at the Becker place, anything could happen. An' 'e didn't want anything to happen to 'is best friend's wife an' little girls. When 'e came into the last bend in the road afore Weston's place, a bullet whizzed by 'is head. He quickly drew an' fired at 'is assailant, hitting the man in the chest. When 'e got to where the man fell, 'e realized it was Jason Green. This is not good, 'e thought, but if a sober man shoots at ya, ya gotta shoot back, friend or not. Besides. He wouldn't be shootin at me for no reason, 'e figured. He headed through the trees towards Weston's place, partly to save time, an' partly to not be seen, or at least make it harder to hit 'im if they took pop shots at 'im. It was only about another quarter mile to Johns place, an' 'e wanted to get there quick as he could. When 'e could see the road, 'e seen Bill Green an' 'is bunch just pullin up to Johns house, an' Margaret was standing on the porch with Peggy, her youngest of the three girls. The other two were in the barn doing chores. He knew the only way 'e could warn Margaret was to start shooting, so 'e started shooting up a storm, but it was of no good. He saw Margaret an' Peggy fall, an' then 'e seen other men of the gang looking in the barn where the other girls were, an' they started shootin. He yelled out as 'e rode as fast as the horse would run, but they lit a shuck afore 'e could get there. When 'e got to the house an' checked, 'e saw that the whole family 'ad been murdered. Shot down in cold blood. He carried the two girls from the barn an' laid 'em by their mother an' little sister, covered them all up, said a prayer an' went to find John Weston.
He didn't go far afore he met John, an' 'e started to tell 'im what 'ad happened, but John busted out an' ran for the house as fast as 'is horse would go. Joseph fallowed 'is friend an' did 'is best to console 'im, but at a time like this there is no such thing as consolin a man. All John Weston could see right now was hate. A hate that would drive a man if 'e didn't watch out. He wanted vengeance. He wanted the men who did this dead. No matter about the badge 'e wore. He wanted them dead, an' nothing less would do.