It's What We Do

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: Booksie Classic
Two neighboring boys become fast friends in "Bloody Kansas" shortly after the Civil War. They become expert pistol shooters. They fall for the same girl. When grown they leave home and head down separate paths only to be forced into a confrontation neither one wants.

Submitted: November 10, 2016

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Submitted: November 10, 2016

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“It’s What We Do”

 

Ten year old Tyrus Hess stealthily weaved between the eight milking cows as he advanced toward the pasture fence.  He peaked over the big red cow but couldn’t spot Billy Taggert.  He knew Billy would also be sneaking toward the fence that divided the two farms.  Both boys assigned early morning chores included gathering the herd for milking.

Billy suddenly jumped out from behind a black and white heifer. “Bam!  Bam!  I got you,” he yelled.

“No you din’t,” said Ty.  He raised his wooden toy rifle.  “Boom! Boom!  You’re dead,” he said.

Both boys grabbed at fake wounds, spun around, tumbled to the ground and giggled.

Then they rose and Billy waved his arms to start the Taggert herd toward the barn.  “See you at the end of the driveway,” he said.

“Don’t forget your Arithmetic book,” said Ty.

***

Amy walked into her brother’s bedroom after breakfast.  “Are you going to wear your new shirt?” she asked.  “Momma said I would get a new dress next year when I get to go to school.”

 

2

Ty picked up the books that were held together with an old belt.  He smiled at his tow headed little sister.

“Did you play “Gunfight” with Billy again this morning?” she asked.

“Yep,” said Ty.

“Why do you do that?” she asked.  “It doesn’t look like fun to me.”

Ty shrugged and headed toward the door.  “It’s what we do,” he said.

***

On Saturday afternoon Billy and Ty went into town with Ty’s mother who needed to purchase supplies at Pete’s General Store.  While she shopped the boys wandered through the unpaved streets and alleys looking for things to do. 

As they strolled down the alley behind Dexter’s Saloon, Billy bent low to pick up a small box.  “Look,” he said.  “Somebody threw away a deck of cards.” 

“Best keep ‘em in your pocket,” said Ty.  “My Mom won’t allow card playin’ in our house.”

“Mine either, but I won’t tell her.”

“I wish I knew how to play poker.”  Billy said.  “Do you know how?”

“No.  Well…maybe a little.  I read a dime novel about lawmen and outlaws who played poker.”

Billy thought for a moment.  “Davey Blaylock is in the eighth grade and he learned a lot of stuff from his Pa.  I bet he could tell us how to play.”

The boys walked to the Sheriff Blaylock’s house.  Davey was in the yard throwing a ball for the dog to retrieve.

“Hi fellas,” he said.  “Yipee it’s Saturday and there ain’t no school!”

Billy handed him the box of cards.  “We found this in the alley behind Dexter’s.” 

Davey riffled through the deck.  “Why, there ain’t no aces.  Somebody took ‘em out.  Probably a cheatin’ gambler.  I should tell Pa,” said Davey. 

“Do you know how to play poker?” asked Ty.

With the cards laid out on the ground, Davey explained the basics of the game, the rank and odds of hands, the betting process, how to draw and even how to bluff.  

He handed the deck back to Billy and laughed. “You guys can still play, but it’ll seem kinda funny since there ain’t no aces.”

“Now we’ll be real gunfighters,” said Ty. 

“Or outlaws,” said Billy.  “I best hide these in the barn and the next time we have a chance, we’ll play.”

“We’ll use corn kernels for money,” said Ty.

***

The next day, Sunday afternoon, the boys met at the fence between the pastures.  They sat on a dry bare spot on the ground.  Ty brought an ear of corn to use as poker “money” and each boy counted out twenty kernels. The game would last until one of them had all forty kernels or they knew they had better get home. 

Their secret poker games went on at various times and places.  Ty, being more disciplined, won most often.  Billy played recklessly, winning big or losing big by bluffing and raising too often with mediocre hands.

Sometimes their poker game would end in a pretend gunfight similar to what the newspapers reported about ruthless confrontations in Dodge City.  The boys continued to invent their fun.

***

The Taggerts and Hess families lived as friendly Kansas homesteaders for ten years before the state began to tear apart over the slave issue.  Though the families remained loyal to each other and helpful at harvest time or in the event of family sickness, the adult’s relationship cooled.

Billy and Ty, now fifteen, worked together, sneaked in a few “poker games” and spent many free hours practicing with the new .44 Colt revolvers they each received on Christmas Eve in 1863.  On Sunday afternoons they would often hunt gophers.  Shooting the striped rodents was difficult and required a steady hand and patience.  Eventually they both could occasionally hit one as it scurried away.

***

As the last bit of alfalfa was forked into the Taggert hay mow, Billy’s Pa turned toward his neighbor.  “I have to tell you Richard, I support the Border Ruffians.  We don’t need the Union telling us Kansas folks how to run our affairs.  I don’t hold with slavery.  It’s against God’s commandments.  But Kansans should be able to choose what to do with their own property.”

“Can’t say I agree,” said Richard Hess.  He spoke resolutely.  “Slavery should be outlawed...pure and simple.”

“Well, forget it, come on in,” said Taggert.  “Let’s have a beer and supper, I think the Misses fried chicken.”

Ty looked at Billy and frowned.Bothered by their father’s unusual exchange, the boys walked slowly toward the house.

“I gotta say that I stand with my Pa,” said Ty in a measured tone.  “But it makes no mind to me if you are agin’ the Free Staters.”

“I don’t give a damn,” said Billy.  “Just a lot of noise bein’ stirred up by John Brown on one side and Captain Quantrill on the other.  Who the hell cares?” 

They stepped upon the front porch and brushed hay dust from their pants.  Misses Taggert was waiting for them.  “Go wash up for supper,” she said.  “For heaven’s sake.  Why do you boys get so dirty?”

“It’s just what we do,” said Billy. 

“He’s right Misses Taggert,” said Ty.  “It’s what we do.”

Misses Taggert shook her head.  The boys laughed.

***

 

By the end Civil War, Billy and Ty realized the harsh realities of frontier life.  Although frequent Indian attacks had ended; the brutality of Free Stater and Border Ruffian raids, plus reports from Gettysburg and Bull Run kept the horrors of war fresh in everyone’s memory and hardened the boy’s outlook.  Even after Appomattox, bitter partisan feelings often exploded into violence.  Still, as the grim memory of Bloody Kansas surrounded them, they grew in confidence; in their skills, and, unusual for the times, a unique ability to agree or amiably disagree as emulated by their affable fathers. 

By their nineteenth year, strenuous farm work developed muscular arms and legs; and well-trimmed moustaches replaced peach-fuzzed upper lips.  They were now grown men ready to challenge life in the raw country of the West.  With dreams of indestructible hope and the arrogance of youth, they envisioned future recognition as courageous specimens of manhood.

***

The minister of the Clay Center Baptist church called the young people together after a Sunday service.  Billy and Ty were anxious to get home and go out in Taggert’s grove to practice with their six-shooters, but their parents insisted that they attend the meeting.

“You young people have a very important mission,” said Parson Schmitt.  “Kansas badly needs healing and it starts among you, the next generation.”  He went on with sincere, if long, sermon-like platitudes interspersed with appropriate Bible references.

The boy’s attention waned.  Ty poked Billy in the ribs with his elbow and nodded toward Lizzie Miller who sat across the aisle.  The dark-haired girl glanced their way, smiled and blushed, but apparently accepted the ogling. 

After the closing prayer and the “amen”, Lizzie walked toward the boys.  Ty rose, took a step toward her and watched those dark eyes skip by him.  Billy shyly lowered his head. 

Lizzie walked by Ty and came up to his friend.  “Hi Billy.  I’m glad you stayed for the meeting,” she purred.

Ty pursed his lips, looked at his boots and walked away.

Billy’s chest puffed and he smiled.  “I’m glad we stayed too.  I..I think I have to go now.  I will talk with you next Sunday…maybe sooner.”

 

Lizzie smiled.

The boys walked the two miles home.  Initially there was quiet.  Then Ty spoke.  “That Lizzie has a real hankerin’ for you,” he said.  “Certainly not me.”  He punched Billy in the shoulder.  “Guess she goes more for looks than brains.”

“Don’t be a smart ass,” laughed Billy.  “But to be honest about it, I hope you are right.  She sure is pretty.  C’mon let’s be gettin’ our pistols, so I can beat you at shootin’”

***

Tin cans and shattered bottles went flying off a stump in Taggert’s grove as the boys faced the targets and fired.  At ten paces Billy hit six tin cans in a row.  Ty’s score was four. 

They reloaded, turned their backs, whirled around and dropped to the ground before firing.  Billy hit three of six; Ty again hit four.

“We’re gettin’ to be pretty good,” bragged Ty. 

“Damn right.  Practice pays off,” said Billy.  “Now all we need is some bad men to shoot!” he joked.

“Shooting is fun, but we’re spendin’ all of our allowance on shells,” said Ty

“Maybe someday we’ll need to shoot for real,” said Billy.  “Then spending for ammunition will pay off.”

“I don’t know if I could really shoot somebody or not,” said Ty.  “Guess maybe if a bad killer was gonna shoot Pa or Ma or for sure little Amy.”

“Lotsa bad men around,” said Billy.  “And most of ‘em probably need killin’.”

***

Two weeks later, on Sunday afternoon, Billy visited the Hess home.  The boys planned to spend the afternoon hunting gophers in the pasture and, if lucky, maybe shoot a few of the destructive little striped rascals.  As they loaded their six-shooters, Ty’s mother prepared sandwiches for them.

Amy came running in from the front yard.  “Three men are riding up the driveway,” she exclaimed.

The boys tucked their pistols in their belts and joined Richard Hess on the front porch.

 

The three riders wore torn and dirty uniforms of the Gray. Two of the men wore Rebel cavalry caps; the third wore a wide-brimmed high crown hat with a turkey feather plume.

Ty eyed them suspiciously.  Rumors of revenge minded remnants of the Southern Confederacy abounded in Clay County. 

Richard Hess looked at the dark bearded man with the feathered hat.  He appeared to be the leader.  “Are you boys headed home?” he asked.

 “What home,” the Blackbeard said.  “We lived near Atlanta.  Damn Sherman come through and burnt our homes clean to the ground.”

Ty spoke up.  “So where are you headed?”

The big Blackbeard Rebel answered with a growl.  “Not that it is any of your business you young pup, but we’re headed south to Indian Territory.”

“Why?” asked Billy.

“Looks like we got two smart-alecky whippersnappers here,” said the rider to the left of the leader. 

Blackbeard answered with a sneer.  “The Blue Bellies assembled us so as to snatch up our guns and then swear allegiance to the Union.  But we sure as hell ain’t gonna be reconstructed!”

Then he turned toward Ty’s Pa with a fixed stare.  “Southern lads are brought up showin’ more respect fer their elders.  Yer boys  must be Free Staters.”

Ty’s father pointed at Amy who stood frozen by the front screen door.  “Amy, tell your mother to bring out those sandwiches.  I bet these boys are hungry.”

Misses Hess brought out the bag of food and handed it to her husband.  Then she grabbed the hand of Amy and the two of them scurried into the house.

“You didn’t answer me,” said Blackbeard.  “Sodbuster!  Are you a Union man or ain’t ya!”  He stuffed his mouth with a sandwich.

Billy’s hand moved toward his pistol.  Ty followed suit.

“Just get off of Mister Hess’s property and go home,” Billy said.  “The war is over.”

Ty’s Pa moved back a step.  “I’m a Free Stater,” he said. “Owning slaves is sinful.  Leave us now.  Go.”

Blackbeard’s forehead turned into scrunched wrinkles and his eyes narrowed.  His jaw popped out from under an immense sunburned nose.  “Damn you preachin’ Yankees!” he screamed.  “Go to hell!”  He drew is gun and fired at Richard, then whirled toward the boys. 

Like lightening Ty pulled his revolver from his belt and fired from the hip.

Ty heard a quick second shot.  Billy had fired too.  Blackbeard skidded over the tail of his rearing mount and fell on his back.  He didn’t move.

Ty’s Pa grabbed at his right elbow.  Misses Hess ran from the house to her husband as the other two Confederates spurred their horses and galloped down the driveway.  “Ty!  Billy!” she yelled.  “Go get Doc Holmes and the Sheriff!”

Richard Hess sat on the ground and looked at his right arm.  It appeared that the bullet went clean through just above the elbow.  His wife ripped off her apron and wrapped the wound tightly.

Billy and Ty saddled two horses and galloped the two miles into town.An hour later they returned.  Doc Holmes and Sheriff Blaylock followed in a buckboard.

“Richard, you were lucky,” said Doc.  “The bullet missed the bone.  See here?  It grazed your side too.”  Then he smiled.  “You’ll have to work left handed for a while.  I’ll check on you in a week.”

Doc examined Blackbeard.  “Shot twice in the chest,” he said.  “Both shots would have killed him.  The boys did this?”

Ty stood in stunned silence.  Billy nodded with pride and grinned. 

The Sheriff stood and listened as Richard related the story. 

“Likely the boys saved your life.  That was damn good shooting,” said the lawman.  “I see no need for an inquiry here, definitely self-defense.”  He threw the body into the back of the buckboard and the two men left.

***

When Ty’s parents went in the house the boys sat on the porch steps.

“I wish we could’ve just driven ‘em off,” said Ty.  “But, I guess we did right.”

“They needed killin’,” said Billy.  “Makes me proud as a struttin’rooster.  Forget it.” 

“Guess we found those bad men we needed to shoot,” said Ty.

Billy patted a slumped Ty on the shoulder.  “When gunmen like us meet up with bad outlaws, it’s what we must do.”

***

On Saturday two weeks later just at sundown, Sheriff Blaylock rode into the yard.  He dismounted and went to the front porch.  Mister Hess stepped out to meet him.

 “How’s the arm Richard?” the Sheriff asked, then immediately switched the subject.  “I have a surprise for Ty.”

Ty finished his chores.  He entered the front door.  “Evening Sheriff,” he said.  “Am I under arrest?”

“Quite the opposite.  There was a two thousand dollar reward for the Blackbeard.  I got the money in today.  His real name was Chet Early; a murderous killer who rode with Quantrill.  He’d been wanted in seven counties.”

Ty sat down.  “I’ll be darned.  Well ain’t that somethin’.  Does Billy know?”

“Your rich!” yelled Amy.

“Billy knows.  I stopped there first.  He said he would head right over here after supper.  Like I told him, you need to stop by my office to get your reward.”

***

The next morning, during Sunday services Lizzie sat between Ty and Billy.  They had become a three-some at several evening community events lately, although the boys spent other times hunting, working and occasionally enjoying a beer without her.

Most of the community sided with the Hess family regarding the shooting.  In the light of all of the recent violence in “Bloody Kansas”, the incident seemed minor.

During the service, Billy squirmed.  He forgot to stand at the start of the opening hymn and Ty noticed his inattention during the sermon.  Lizzie turned toward him with a questioning expression on her smooth powdered face.

The three walked out after the service and shook Parson Schmitt’s hand.  Ty thought it best to leave the two sweethearts alone.  He began to walk away.

“Hold on,” said Billy as Lizzie held his arm. 

Billy bobbed his head up and down with conviction.  “I’ve made up my mind,” he said.  “I am going to Springfield, Missouri to find a job.”

“Billy, Billy,” she cried.  “I thought…”

“Wait,” he interrupted.  “I spoke with your Pa last night.  We’ll be getting married first and I will send for you when I get settled.”

Lizzie went into his arms.

“I just can’t stay on the farm,” said Billy.

A few quiet minutes followed.

 

“Well congratulations,” said Ty.  “I just might do the same myself.  Leavin’s been rolling around in my head for the last year.  Pa’s arm is alright now and I don’t see me puttin’ down roots on any farm site.”

Lizzie wiped tears from her smiling eyes.  “I love you Billy,” she said.  “Don’t wait too long to find a place for us.”

Then she turned to Ty.  “I guess all ambitious young men want to strike out on their own.”

Ty hesitated.  He searched for Lizzie’s eyes. “I guess we do.”

***

Dressed in his Sunday best, Ty served as Best Man at the wedding.  Ty’s little sister, Amy was dressed in a pretty pink dress that his mother had made.  She served as the bride’s attendant and was so excited that Ty feared she might faint.  Billy waited at the altar when Lizzie’s Pa escorted her down the aisle of the small church.  Lizzie’s mother had died over ten years ago, so Billy’s mother acted as hostess after vows were taken.

Ty put on his best smile and managed to control mixed emotions.He could not forget the first time he saw Lizzie a month ago at the Parson’s meeting.  His childhood friend and partner would be gone in a week and he knew very few other people his age.  He realized a change was due. There seemed no other choice.  He needed to strike out on his own.

***

When the Fall harvest was complete, Ty packed his bag and saddled his horse.  He checked the chambers in his pistol and stuffed it in his belt.  He kissed the forehead of his tearful mother and hugged Amy, who turned quickly and ran back into the house. 

Richard Hess locked eyes with his son.  “I left home when I was a year younger than you.  You will make good in Wichita.  Take care of yourself and write.  Go with God and come back whenever you have a mind to.”

Then he grasped Ty’s hand and said.  “A man needs to follow his dreams.”

Ty was not sure that he had a dream, but he knew he needed to leave.  He gave the tall buckskin stud a kick and cantered down the driveway.He reached Clay Center and went straight to Sheriff Blaylock’s office to pick up his reward.

***

 The Sheriff reached behind him, spun the dials on the safe and handed Ty one thousand dollars.  “Here’s the money you earned.  Your Pa said you were going to Wichita.  I know Marshal Perry there.  I wired him that you’d be coming and would need a job.”

Ty thanked him then went to the bank, paid off a two hundred dollar loan his father had taken for the next spring planting seed, and deposited seventeen hundred dollars.  He spent twenty on a used holster and a new hat and kept eighty dollars back in cash.

He mounted the buckskin and started on the four day ride to Wichita.

***

Billy spent one more night with Lizzie and then came in to Blaylock’s office the next day. 

“Are you really going to take the train to Springfield?” asked the Sheriff as he counted out the thousand dollars.

“I’ll be looking for a job and finding a place to settle down with Lizzie.  Thought I might try being a lawman, deputy or policeman.”

“Springfield can be a rough place,” Sheriff Blaylock warned.  “Saloons, gunfights and the like. A short while back, Wild Bill Hickok killed a Rebel over a poker game there.  With men like that around, you’d best watch your step.  I’ll wire the Marshal Tomkins to give you an introduction.  You and Ty are both good with a gun.  You just might make a lawman if you don’t get yourself killed.”

Billy grinned mischievously.  “I’ll try to stay on old Wild Bill’s good side,” he said.  He stuffed the money in his coat pocket and walked to Pete’s General Store.

Wearing a new holster and a wide brimmed black hat, he entered the stage station and bought a ticket to Salinas in order to catch the Union Pacific train for Springfield.  He put enough money in an envelope for Lizzie’s fare and left it at the telegraph office, and carried the rest in cash.  First and foremost on his mind was finding a home for himself and his bride.

***

Ty arrived in West Wichita tired and hungry, but excited.  Tents and lean-tos lined a main street.  A few framed buildings were under construction.  At the southern end of the busy thoroughfare four huge livestock pens were being set up in anticipation of Texas cattle drives expected to arrive in the fall. 

 

A red haired girl stood just inside the swinging doors of the Delano Saloon.  As he rode past, she beckoned him to stop and enter.  Ty declined with a tip of his hat, crossed the bridge spanning the Arkansas River and entered Wichita proper. 

He walked his trusty mount and scanned the businesses that haphazardly lined both sides of the rutty main street.  A new fancy saloon immediately caught his eye.  The Buckhorn had ornate swinging doors and a huge window with T-H-E  B-U-C-K-H-O-R-N spelled out in fancy lettering.  A hand painted sign scrawled on the corner of the window read “beer 5 cents”.  Cowboys and townsmen milled on the plank walk that bordered the street.

A small frame building with bars on the window stood next to the saloon.  The sign hanging over the stout front door read “Marshal”.

Ty smiled when he reined in as the big buckskin snorted and whinnied as if to say they had finally arrived. 

“I’ll bet your Ty Hess,” said Marshal Perry.  “Sheriff Blaylock described you well.” 

The men shook hands and the Marshal pointed to a chair in front of his desk.  Ty smiled and sat down.  A cushioned chair looked good after hours in the saddle.

“Blaylock said you were an honest kid from a good family, and that you were good with a gun.”

“Don’t know about my being good with a gun.  He only saw the results of one gunfight.”

“Yeah, that’s true.  But it was against Chet Early, an outlaw who had killed five or six people.  His reputation stretched from Saint Louie to Topeka.  Anyway I’m in need of a good deputy.  Pay would be thirty a month plus four dollars for each arrest.”

A look of shock took over Ty.  “You mean you heard about that shooting clear over here in Wichita?”

“Hell, everybody knows about it.  People wonder who were the gunmen that were fast and brave enough to take a devil like Early.  And there are others around here nearly as bad.  Wichita needs a good cleaning.”

 “I know little about being a lawman…But I’ll think it over.”

Ty looked at the stack of wanted posters on the desk.  The top one read “WANTED FOR MURDER, CHET EARLY”.  It included a description of Blackbeard.  “Mind if I look at these?”

“Take ‘em with you.  That’s a whole stack of curly wolves,” said Perry.  “By the way did you find a place to stay yet?”

“Just rode in.”

“Good.  I fixed you up with Ma Stanky, if you want.  She lives down the street and takes in boarders.  Better place to live than the hotel.”

“Thanks.  I’ll ride over there now.”

***

A stout woman with a huge bun of graying hair piled on top of her head walked out on her porch.The house looked quaint and well kept.  “I’m Adele Stanky.  People call me ‘Ma’,” She said.  A friendlier face would have been hard to imagine.

Ty stepped down.  “Marshal Perry steered me to you.  I’ll be needin’ a room; perhaps for an extended stay.”

“You’re young Hess, the gunfighter.  The Marshal said you would be coming.  Welcome,” she said.  She patted Ty’s back like a doting grandmother.

An outside stair led up to a comfortable room.  “It will be two dollars a day or twenty five if you stay a month.  Meals will be a dollar a day.  You can put your horse up in the barn outback.”

Ty nodded, not knowing if the price was fair or not.  But she seemed like a nice woman and the room was clean.

***

Billy stepped down from the passenger car.  He stood on the depot platform and gazed upon the Springfield town square.  Now this is a real city!  Saloons, a three story hotel called Lyon House, a large general store, and assorted smaller shops surrounded the square. 

To his surprise a small crowd had gathered near the station.  The leader of the group wore a badge. 

Billy hesitated.  Is that lawman friendly or is he here to arrest me? 

He stepped down and the lawman extended his hand.  “Marshal Tomkins.  Welcome to Springfield.  Blaylock said you’d be coming here.”  Then he turned to the crowd and announced, “This is the young fellow who killed Chet Early, that dirty coward who murdered a dozen people.”

The small crowd behind the Marshal closely watched Billy.  Some applauded.  Most beamed with adoration.  A few, peering from the rear of the group wore parts of tattered Rebel uniforms.  They stared with indifference; or maybe hatred.

 “Come with me Billy,” said Tomkins.  “Let’s go to my office.”

***

The Marshal settled back in his old swivel chair.  He came right to the point.  “I need help.  There are Blue Bellies and Rebels milling around the streets here in Springfield, and both are often on the prowl.  Hickok is a strong Union man and he killed a Rebel named Tutt awhile back. I think it will only get worse.  Your reputation precedes you.  I’d like you to be my deputy.”

The notoriety shocked Billy, but he smiled and took it all in.  “I’d be honored to work with you,” he said.

As Billy shook the Marshal’s hand, he brought up the matter most on his mind.  “I’m recently married and my Lizzie is waiting for me to find work and a place to live.”

“There are several nice bungalows on the south side of town.  “C’mon let’s find one you like.  Then we’ll stop at Kelley and Kerr’s Saloon for a drink and talk about your pay.”

***

Ty hung his holstered gun on the bedpost and relaxed as he leafed through the five wanted posters.  He put the one aside that described Chet Early.  He would send it to his father.  Each notice included facial drawings of the outlaw, a brief history and the money payable:  Reward $500, Junior Kellog, Horse Theft; Reward $1,000, Dix brothers, Otis & Clem, Murder; Reward $600 Cole Younger, Robbery;  Reward $1,200 Jesse James, Murder and Robbery.

“Thirty a month and four dollars per arrest,” thought Ty.  “Not much pay for what could be real danger.  I’d need to arrest half the town, to equal one of these rewards.”

No.  He would bounty hunt.  It would give him freedom to visit his folks, or Billy and Lizzie.  It would be chancy work, especially for a tenderfoot; probably more risk than he could imagine.  But he was confident in his thinking, and his gun.  Perry said the State needed to be cleaned up and bounty hunting is a force for law.  It’s time to rid Kansas of bad men.  It’s what I’ll do.

He closed his eyes and hoped to sleep, but he wondered about Billy and, he saw Lizzie’s smile.  Have they settled yet?  In a month or two he would visit Springfield.

***

Ty opened a bank account and informed Marshal Perry of his decision, and then he rode into West Wichita to look over that part of the town.  A different feeling existed on that side of the

Arkansas River.  Rowdies gathered on the boardwalk and most everyone went about armed.  He took a deep breath and entered the Delano Saloon.  At the bar he ordered a beer.  Wary looks were sent his way.  Were they looks of respect, curiosity or hatred?  No doubt the word had quickly spread.He already was known as a hard man; one who should not be trifled with, especially if you hailed from the South.

As he sipped his beer, Ty peered into the mirror and surveyed the patrons of Delano’s.  Most stared at him briefly, but turned and continued quiet chatter as they played poker. 

Ty recognized three or four Texas cowboys from their attire.  They glanced at him a few seconds, then quickly got up and walked out of the side entrance. 

Suddenly, the main doors swung open and two men casually approached the bar.  The taller one pointed a long dirty finger toward a bottle on the shelf.  “Two whiskeys.”

Ty recognized them immediately from the poster.  The Dix brothers!  He calmed himself as best he could.  “Might as well get started in my new occupation,” he thought with a nervous grin.

“You two,” he said as he drew his gun.  “You are wanted men.  You’re going with me to Marshal Perry.”

The brothers twisted toward the voice.  Their hands inched downward.

“Wait boys!” barked the bartender.  “He’s the gunfighter who killed Chet Early.”

The younger Dix brother raised his hands and glanced at his brother.  “Otie don’t!” he yelled.

Otis Dix pulled his pistol and managed to get off a wild shot before Ty’s bullet entered his chest.

***

Billy walked the Springfield streets with a bounce in his step. He rubbed the badge on his coat with his sleeve.  The new Deputy received deference and respect from those he met.  Lizzie clung to his arm.  

After two months in town, Billy adjusted to town life. In fact, he enjoyed city noises, especially the nightly poker games and the aura of K and K’s saloon.

Lizzie worried about her husband.  He could be reckless with over-confidence.  He loved poker and had acquired a taste for whiskey.  Any warning concerning his newly formed habits and activities he quickly dismissed.

***

On a Monday morning Marshal Tomkins sent Billy south to the hill country.  Sam Buckley, a rancher from that area had been accused of horse theft and Billy was to bring him in to face charges.

The Deputy approached the Buckley ranch.  A rifle protruded from the window.  “Who are you?  What do you want?”

 “Billy Taggert, Deputy Sheriff.  Come out.  You are wanted for questioning in Springfield.”

“Boom,”  Billy’s new hat blew off of his head.  He dove to the ground, drew his pistol and fired a shot through the window.

“Get outa here and don’t come back!”

Unhurt, but stunned by Buckley’s reply, Billy turned, mounted and rode off.  He stopped just over the hill and pondered the situation.  He would wait.  Buckley had to leave the house sometime.

At dusk he saw a man walk out of the house and head to the barn.  A few minutes later the man rode out straight toward him.  Billy calmly raised his six-shooter and fired.  The man fell to the ground.

Billy went to the fallen man and rolled him over with a nudge from his boot.  It was Buckley’s fourteen year old son.

***

In the week before the trial, Billy spent nearly all of his time drinking at K and K’s Saloon.  His confidence disappeared; his money wasted on inattentive poker playing; his job lost. 

Lizzie’s attention and concern could not replace his bravado.  She cried, waited and wondered.

The jury returned a verdict of guilty and sentenced him to hang in two weeks.

***

After three weeks of rest and vacation, Ty entered Perry’s office.  “Any new handbills?”

Perry handed him five new wanted posters. 

Ty leafed through them as he leaned back on the cushioned chair.  Suddenly he bolted upright.  With an ashen face he slowly read out loud.  “WANTED FOR MURDER AND ESCAPING JAIL,  BILLY TAGGERT  $1000 REWARD.”

“What’s wrong?” asked Perry.

“I’ve got to go,” said Ty.  “I may be gone for a spell.”

***

The next day Ty rode the train to Springfield.  After inquiring at the livery he rented a horse and rode up to the small house on the edge of town.  There didn’t seem to be anyone around.  He walked onto the porch and knocked.  The curtain covering the small window in the door moved just a bit.  The door flew open.

“Ty, oh Ty.  It’s you.”  Lizzie threw her arms around him as tears streamed down her cheeks.

“I saw Billy’s name on a wanted poster…could not believe what I read.  Tell me what happened.”

Lizzie relayed the story.  She had been silent a long time and now the words poured from her like a cascading waterfall.  Billy shot a young boy by accident.  Billy took to drinking and losing at poker a lot.  Billy often stayed out most of the night.  Billy overpowered Sheriff Tomkins and fled a week ago.

Ty waited until Lizzie could slow down and calm herself.  “I’ll try to find him,” he said.  “Do you have any idea where he might hide?”

“I haven’t told anyone, I don’t want him caught and hanged; but I think I know where he might be.”

She looked into Ty’s eyes with a desperation that he had never seen on her face.  “We honeymooned at a cabin in the Ozarks, in a little town called Tahlequah; just a couple days south of here.  It is part of the Cherokee Nation.  The cabin is somewhat hidden in the woods; maybe a half mile due east of the Cherokee Court House.  There is an open pasture between it and the Courthouse.”

“Ty,” she continued, “go find him.  Send him back east to the States where he can disappear.”

“I’ll try.”

“One more thing…He’s changed Ty.  The last time I saw him in jail, he told me that life was no longer worth living.”

***

Ty crossed the Illinois River and rode into the small town of Tahlequah.  The two story Cherokee Court House stood out like a giant stone monolith among the tents, stores and round clay constructed Indian dwellings. 

He walked in and went to the main office.  A stern looking man dressed in a dark suit sat behind the desk.  Ty extended his hand and got to the point.  “Ty Hess.  I’m looking for a friend.  I believe he might be in a little cabin behind the Court House.”

“Chief John Ford,” said the man behind the desk.  “Cherokee name is Guwisguwi or Little White Bird in your tongue.  I answer to all three.”

“Have you seen my friend?”

“Yes, he and his bride were here awhile back.  He’s here by himself now.  I hear he is wanted by the white man’s law.  Are you here to get him?”

“We have been friends since youth.  I want him to give himself up.  I want no trouble.”

Ford reached behind his desk and picked up a rifle.  “I will walk with you.”

***

The two men entered the gate behind the Court House that opened into a small pasture.  At the far end of the pasture, a cabin porch roof peeked out from a grove of colorful maple trees.

“I will wait here,” said Ford.  “Your friend did not respond when I saw him two days ago.  Be careful.  He is a troubled man.”

As Ty weaved between grazing cows a pensive boyhood memory flashed in his thoughts and caused him to stop.  He hesitated.  Then he advanced again, slowly taking a few more steps.  Standing still in the quiet of this idyllic green, he cupped his hands around his mouth, cleared his throat and shouted.  “Billy, Billy, come out.  It’s Ty.  Lizzie told me you might be here.  Come out, let’s talk.”

After a tense three minute wait the door opened.  Billy walked out with his six-gun in his hand.  With his other hand he threw down an empty whiskey bottle.  He stayed behind some of the cattle as he approached.  “Go back Ty.  We’re on opposite sides now.  I ain’t goin’ back to be hanged.”

With no further words he began shooting.  Ty ducked, going to one knee.  Billy’s first shot was well over Ty’s head.  His second and third shots were way wide. 

Ty rose and remained still, wondering what to do.  Even if drunk, he knew Billy could have shot him.

The two men stared at each other.  The cattle resumed grazing.  Nothing moved.  There was no breeze, no voices…a deadly silence.

Suddenly, a rifle shot from the rear shattered the afternoon air.  Billy clutched his chest and stumbled forward.  Ty caught him as he fell.  He turned to see Ford calmly walk back toward the Court House.

Through tears Ty looked into the face of his friend.  “I couldn’t shoot at you,” he mumbled.

Billy struggled but spoke.  “I know.  I din’t… aim at you either.”

Ty gulped his words.  “I…I am sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Then through a cough Billy said, “It’s just …It’s… what we do.”

Ty sat next to his dead friend for a while.  John Ford came out with a short handled spade.  “You can bury him in the maples behind the cabin.”  Then Ford continued stone faced and resolute.  “I thought you might let him kill you.”  After walking half way back to the court house he turned.  “I want no money from white man’s law.”

***

Ty entered Marshal Tomkins’ office carrying a sack.  He took a pair of new boots, a red kerchief, a badge, and a studded belt from the bag.  “Billy Taggert is dead.  I buried him.  These are his belongings.  I will be giving them to his wife.  I brought them as proof so that I can collect the reward.”

Tompkins studied Ty’s face.  “I knew Billy well.  He would never give up those new boots,” he said.  “I will complete the reports.”  Then he reached behind his desk, opened the safe and gave Ty the thousand dollars.  Ty put the money in an envelope.

***

Lizzie looked out from the window when she heard a rider approach.  Ty stayed in the saddle as she ran out to meet him.  He leaned down and placed the bag on the ground.  From his vest pocket he handed her the envelope.  “Billy was killed by an Indian.”

Lizzie put the back of her hand to her mouth.  With blank eyes she stood like a marble statue, but did not cry.

Ty reached from the saddle and tenderly touched her shoulder.  “These things were Billy’s.  I’m going back to Wichita.” 

He turned to go and slowly walked the horse a few steps, then swung around and looked back into Lizzie’s dark melancholy eyes.  “I room at Ma Stanky’s Boarding House in Wichita.”

THE END

 


© Copyright 2017 zeke ziemann. All rights reserved.

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