The Long Ride

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: Booksie Classic


Shot and left for dead by three bank robbers, Dewey Gibson has no food, has a wound that's becoming infected, and is a week's walk to the nearest town.

Submitted: August 20, 2018

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Submitted: August 20, 2018

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The Long Ride

Dewey Gibson, a strapping young buck of twenty, left his hometown of Lawrence, Kansas during the gold rush of 1860 for Prescott Valley, Arizona, seeking his fortune. Weeks later, he arrived in town, bursting at the seams with fortune seekers. Still full of hope, Dewey set out to find a grubstake. But reality hit him square between the eyes: too many miners and too few grubstakes, or jobs of any value.

The blistering heat of two summers and the biting cold of a winter were enough for Dewey. With dreams of getting rich fading, he heard of jobs--farm and cattle jobs--in Flagstaff, a week’s ride north for anyone able to make the journey. So Dewey set out, leaving gold fever as far behind him as he could ride.

Dewey fixed a mess of salt pork and beans and put them on the campfire to cook. He went to the stream for water to make coffee. After setting the coffeepot in the coals, he checked the pork and beans and stretched-out before the campfire.

Before long, the roaring fire was burning the beans, and the coffee was boiling over, but Dewey was sound asleep. The crack of a dry limb breaking woke him. Rolling to one side, he pulled his Colt .45 and stood, facing the noise. “Who goes there?”

“Easy, partner. Just a couple of weary travelers needing a place to bed down for the night,” said a voice in the darkness.

“Come near where’s I can see ya.”

“Careful with that hog pistol, mister. Don’t want it to go off accidental-like, do we?”

Dewey lowered his revolver. “Coffee’s boilin’ over. Probably strong enough ta grow hair onna toad.”

 The voice moved into the campfire’s glow. “Just the way we like it...eh, boys? I’m Hank.” Two figures blended with the shadows behind Hank. “This here’s my brother, Luke, and the curly-blonde one’s my cousin, Jason.”

“Where ya’ll headin’?”

“Prescott.”

“Gold minin’?”

“Naw. Too hard awork,” said Hank.

Jason stepped from the shadows and blurted, “We’s gonna rob a bank.”

“Can’t you keep him quiet for one minute, Luke?”

Stepping backwards, Dewey lifted his revolver toward the trio.

Luke rushed forward and cupped his hand over Jason’s mouth. “Sorry, Hank, whats we’s gonna do now?”

“Shut up a minute...Lemme think,” said Hank, waving his palm at Luke and Jason.

“Tweren’ta be no killin’ but now, things hav’va changed. Jason’s dun gone ‘n really screwed this up but good.” Luke released his grip on Jason.

“Okay, mister...here’s how I see it.” Hank rubbed his chin. “If you lower your gun, we’ll...um ...we’ll let you go. This ain’t worth getting killed over.”

“Ya crazy, Hank? He’ll ride outta here and warn the bank we’s acomin’. They’ll be awaitin’ fer us,” said Luke, waving and pointing his gun like a scolding finger.

Staring Luke down, Hank said, “Not...if... we...take... his...horse, he won’t. He can’t walk to Prescott in time; it’s a four-day ride from here, more than a week on foot.” Hank turned to Dewey. “What’ll you say, mister? We take your horse, ride off, and nobody needs to get hurt.”

“I guess it’s better than dyin’ over other people’s money. People I don’t even know.” Dewey didn’t like the idea of losing his horse, but he was outnumbered and outgunned.

“Okay, it’s a deal. Now, slide that shooter of yours back in its holster, we’ll have some coffee, and be on our way.”

“Hep yerself,” Dewey said, easing his Colt into its cradle. While the men sat around the fire and drank coffee, he moved opposite them and inched toward the stream.

Looking up from his cup, Jason yelled, “He’s gittin’ away.” He pulled his revolver and shot off a round, missing Dewey.

Dewey turned and flat-out ran into the shadows.

“What the hell, Jason?” screamed Luke, lunging for Jason’s gun. But Jason fired again before Luke could wrestle it out of his hand.

This last bullet pierced Dewey’s trousers, below the belt, through his fleshy right cheek. It laid bare a wound, three inches long, and half an inch deep. He howled and fell face-first into the stream.

“Did’da git him?”

“Jason, yer...a...blooming...idiot! Now, we’re killers,” said Hank, fuming and stomping around the campfire.

“How ya know he’s dead?” asked Luke. “I’ma gonna check.”

Dewey floated in a calm pool, protected from the main channel’s flow, and circled around, and around. He held his breath as long as he could, rolled his head for a gulp of air, and continued floating.

“I see ‘im floatin’ face down. If the bullet didn’t git ‘im, he drown’did fer sure.”

Returning to the campfire, Luke asked, “Whats we’s gonna do now, Hank?”

“Just as we planned: Take his horse, saddle, and whatever else worth taking; and we ride to Prescott and get us a bank.”

“All...right!” said Luke.

“Where’s Prescott?” asked Jason.

“Good Lord, may I never have kids,” said Hank, tossing his coffee on the fire.

“Prescott’s a four-day ride from here,” said Luke. “That’s where’s the bank is.”

“Now I remember.”

“Where’s ‘is horse?” asked Luke, looking around the campsite.

“I don’t know. Musta run off when the shooting started.”

“How we gonna carry ‘is saddle?”

“Oh, crap...Just leave it. Let’s ride.”

“I kilt him, so it’s ma sadda,” said Jason. “The sadda’s mine.”

“I’s got a new sadda...a new sadda...a new sadda,” sang Jason while trying to mount his horse.

“Can you shut that moron up?” said Hank, mounting his horse.

“Whatza moron?” asked Jason, missing the stirrup for the third time as his horse circled.

“Will you just shoot me if I ever ‘pregnate a woman,” said Hank, riding into the night.

Luke doused the campfire and mounted his horse. “Ya ready, Jason? Time’s awastin’.”

“This here hoss hates me. Won’t stand still. I’s gittin’ a new one aft’ta we’s rob a bank. I’s kin use ma new sadda.”

“Shake a tail, Jason. I reckon Hank’s halfway ta Prescott by now.”

“He...is? ...How’d he go so fast?”

Shaking his head, Luke said, “Fergit it, Jason. Just fergit what I said.”

“Okay, Luke,” said Jason, straddling his saddle. “Ya said Prescott’s a four-day ride. Hank’s really fast, ain’t he, Luke?”

“I said, ‘Fergit it.’ Now, let’s ride.”

“But Luke, if Hank’s halfway ta Prescott, how’s we’s gonna catch...” Jason’s voice faded as the pair rode into the darkness at a brisk gallop, trying to overtake Hank before the moon set.

#

The clip-clops of horses’ hooves faded. When Dewey was sure they were gone, he swam to the stream’s edge and pulled himself onto dry land. The wound in his right cheek throbbed, but in the darkness, he couldn’t tell how bad it was. If the pain was any indication, it must be bad, yet he still could move his leg without difficulty. Hopefully, the bullet missed a major blood vessel; otherwise, he could lose a lot of blood.

He crawled to the campfire. Exhausted from the ordeal, Dewey finally fell asleep.

The morning sun peeked over the mountains, and its rays fell on the campsite. Dewey awoke with a start, reached for his gun, and searched for the source of noise that aroused him. On the stream’s bank was his horse, munching on aquatic grasses. “Why ya old nag. Yer a sight fer sore eyes.”

Dewey checked his wound; the bleeding had stopped, but he winced when he touched it. With each tug on his boot, pain shot down his leg. After removing his boots, the pain of taking off his canvas trousers came next. Freed from the heavy garment, Dewey stood and tried to walk. Limping with each step, he hobbled around the camp. He reached behind and felt for blood. He examined the sticky, dull-red liquid on his fingers. Old blood, no new bleeding.

He checked the bullet holes in his trousers: a single pair--one entered, centered on the right, back pocket; the other exited, two inches to the right. Lucky it didn’t hit my hipbone, just flesh. Standing barefooted and naked from the waist down, Dewey pondered his next move: Ride on--assuming he could ride--to Flagstaff, or return to Prescott. It was about the same distance and time, either way.

Shuffling across the campsite to his saddle and bags, Dewey figured that bunch probably stripped him bare of anything valuable, and he was right. His food, rifle, and bedroll were gone. When his horse ran off, she saved his saddle but little else. If an infection didn’t get him, he’d die from starvation, at least that’s what kept running through his mind. He couldn’t see any way out of his predicament.

The beans he left on the fire were dried-out and burnt around the edges, but Dewey managed to chisel a few bites from the middle of the pot. He didn’t care how bad they tasted; it was food; and his belly was happy to finally to get some nourishment. The coffee was thick and cold, but he drank some, anyway, and sputtered when the strong, bitter liquid traversed his palate.

Dewey tried to sit, however the pain of skin pulling the ragged wound was too great. Instead, he raised his right leg--bent at the knee--in small increments, and stretched the skin a little at a time. He felt for fresh blood: none. Over the course of half an hour, he raised his knee parallel with the ground. He tried to sit, again. This time, as long as he kept his weight on his left buttock, he could sit with minimal pain. The stream that saved his life yesterday, he hoped would save his life again. Dewey stripped naked and wadded into the cool waters to soak his wound, exercise his leg, and rinse off days of sweat and dust.

Dewey didn’t hear three sets of hooves approaching. A crusty older woman and her two youngsters--a boy, about twenty-one, and a daughter, about nineteen--stopped, overlooking the stream, and Dewey splashing in the water.

“Howdy, mister, having fun?” asked the woman.

“I...I’ma soakin’ a wound.”

“Do tell. Come closer so we can get a better look at you.”

“But I can’t, ma’am. I...I...I ain’t got no clothes on.”

“Don’t matter none. You ain’t got nuthin’ I ain’t already seen. Now, come closer. I can’t see that far off. Billy, keep your rifle on him.”

“Okay, Ma.”

“I...I’ma comin’, but ya got no need ta point that rifle at me,” said Dewey as he waded toward the shore. He stopped when he was waist-deep.

“I still can’t see you good enough, mister. Come closer. Billy, help him obey.”

“No, ma’am, that ain’t necessary. I’ma comin’. But what about yer daughter?”

“Time she sees what varmints are made of.”

“Varmints? What ya mean callin’ me a varmint?” asked Dewey, standing ankle-deep in water with his hands cupped over his embarrassment. “I ain’t no varmint.”

“Hush up, mister, this is family business. Is this here the man who tried to have his way with you, Jeannie?”

“No, Mama. This here feller’s taller, gots wrong hair, no mustache, and ‘tis much better lookin’.”

Dewey felt the blush of blood rush up his neck and cheeks.

“So...‘tain’t him, Mama.” Jeannie shifted her weight in her saddle. “And... and...” She cleared her throat. “And the man ‘twas drunk and never...” Jeannie looked skyward. “Um...he never gots his pants all the way down, so I didn’t see him...” She looked back at Dewey. “...full ...uh...full...naked-like.”

“Just look away, child. No need to get yourself so upset...Sorry we interrupted your fun, mister. You can go back to doin’ whatever you was doin’ when we rode up. Come on, children, we gonna keep lookin’ till we find him.”

“Wait a minute, ma’am. I’m...I’m in dire straits here. Three men came inta camp last night and shot me when I tried ta escape. They took my food, rifle, and left me fer dead. If I don’t find food or my wound gets infected, I’ll be as good as dead inside a week or so.”

“Never hear’d of anyone starvin’ to death in a week, but the wound’s another matter altogether.” Ma dismounted and walked to the water’s edge. “Lemme see your wound.”

Dewey bent over, exposing his backside. “How’s it look?”

“This hurt?” asked Ma, poking him in various places around the wound. “How about this spot?”

Dewey winced. “That’s sore a bit.”

“Tell me straight, mister. Do...it...hurt or not?”

“It hurts. It hurts a lot.”

“Maybe infection in the wound, son. When you get shot?”

“I reckon it was an hour past sundown, or so.”

“About twelve or thirteen hours...too fast for infection to show...maybe just hurtin’. It looks as if a gnarly knife ripped your backside open, son. We’ll know tomorrow about infection...Billy...Jeannie, we’re makin’ camp. What’s your name, fella?”

“Dewey. Dewey Gibson.”

“Well, Dewey, don’t just stand there all naked in front of God and everybody. Get some clothes on. Us women folk seen all we can take for one day.” Laughing hysterically, Ma turned to her kids and directed the layout of camp.

Dewey struggled but managed to dress. Billy gathered wood and started a fire. Jeannie took the coffeepot to the stream for fresh water, glanced toward Dewey on her return, and smiled at him. Dewey had been watching her every movement, and smiled back. After Billy got the campfire going, Ma prepared a meal of cornbread, dried beef, and beans.

While they were eating, Dewey asked, “What was the man like that attacked yer daughter?”

“Kinda stocky, curly blonde hair, scraggly mustache, and acted dumb-like.”

“Dumb-like?”

“Ya might say that,” said Jeannie. “He talked funny; like a child at times, and fer a grown man, didn’t know what he was doin’...I mean...he didn’t know how to be with a woman.”

“How’d ya know?”

“Been raised on a farm, mister! I know what’s for what. I seen animals adoin’, and I seen Billy’s different from me, so I’ma knowin’ withoutta doin’.”

“What you insinuatin’ about my youngin, mister?”

“Don’t get all riled, ma’am; I don’t mean ta suggest nothin’ about yer daughter,” said Dewey, glancing at Ma. “Nothin’ at all.” He looked into Jeannie’s hazel eyes. “What happened?”

“Mama?”

“Tell him, daughter. Maybe it’ll help us find that weasel.”

“Okay, Mama, I’ll try.” Jeannie fixed her eyes on the burning campfire. “Near sundown, Mama and Billy was awaitin’ with the wagon at the general store, and I was comin’ to meet them, when a man--the curly blonde man--grabbed my arm and pulled me between two buildings.”

She stood and clutched her neck. “He put a gun to my throat and told me to be quiet-like while he had his way with me.”

Mimicking with her hands, she continued. “He pushed me to the ground, and tried to unbuckle. But his gun belt slipped around his ankles. When he unbuttoned ‘n dropped his pants ‘n stepped towards me, he got all tangled ‘n fell at my feet.”

She looked toward Ma. “He cursed ‘n...’n... crawled on top of me but never lifted my dress.”

Jeannie stared at Dewey. “He ‘tweren’t gonna accomplish nothin’ thatta way, mister.” Looking away, she said, “I knew then, he didn’t know how to do what he was tryin’ to do.”

Gesturing and acting out the events, Jeannie continued. “Before he could try anythin’ else, we hear’d voices comin’. He jumped up, tried to untangle his gun belt, ‘n pull up his pants all at once.”

She twirled. “He stumbled and fell again and again. Last I seen him, he was cursin’ ‘n hoppin’ on one foot--his gun belt danglin’ from the other--makin’ for the shadows.”

Standing with her feet planted firmly on the ground and hands on her hips and in a defiant tone, Jeannie said, “Thinkin’ back, if I ‘twasn’t so fearful, I’d have laughed myself silly at him.”

Dewey’s eyes were as big as saucers. What a woman.

Turning to Ma, he said, “He sounds like the one who shot me. Name’s Jason, the cousin of two brothers, Hank and Luke. Thar riding ta Prescott ta rob the bank. Chances are they’ll come back this way, afterwards.”

“Don’t say. So if we wait for them here, we’ll get that no-good, low-life that attacked Jeannie.”

“Yep, I reckon so.”

#

At sunrise, Ma woke Dewey and told him to lower his trousers, so she could examine his wound. “It’s infected, puss draining in a couple of places. Have to remove the scab, and it’s agon’na hurt a might bit. Billy, get up and build a fire. Jeannie, get some water aboilin’.”

Pulling down his trousers, Dewey gritted his teeth in anticipation. “Calm down, son. I haven’t started, yet. Billy, fetch some of that medicinal whiskey.”

“Okay, Ma,” said Billy, returning with a full bottle of Kentucky’s finest.

“Where’d ya get this, Ma?” asked Dewey. “Ain’t tasted nothing this good since coming west.”

“Husband was a drunkard, but he liked the best and left a few bottles when he passed. Keep them for medicine’s sake.”

“I could sure use a good slug.” Dewey chugged a couple of gulps, and on an empty stomach, the alcohol put him a stupor in short order. “Okay, Ma, dig...a...way.”

“Jeannie, bring a boilin’ hot cloth.”

“Here, Mama.”

“This’ll burn a little, but it’s what you need.”

“Yeeowl...Gemme another swig.”

“We’ll let that set a spell to soften the scab...not too hot now, ain’t it? Little longer...that’s enough. Let’s see what we got. Ummm...not as bad as I figured it’d be, but I have to remove the scab. Billy, stick the knifepoint in the fire, get it white-hot, and bring it to me. Son, you’d better take another swig.”

Ma took the knife and poured some whisky on the hot tip to cool it. She slid the point under the scab’s edge and lifted. Pus and blood gushed out, and Dewey let out a yelp that echoed through the valley. As she lifted more scabs, more pus and blood drained from the wound, and Dewey’s screams and curses sent wildlife scurrying for cover. With the last of the scab removed, Ma could see where the infection sites were.

“You better bite on this,” Ma said, handing Dewey his belt.

Ma poured whisky on the wound, and scraped all the pus that was visible. The wound was bleeding, and fresh blood pooled where Dewey lay. “Bring the salt, Jeannie.”

Ma poured a generous helping on the wound. She took a boiled cloth, folded it, and pressed it on the wound. Dewey squirmed from the pain. “Need another swig, son?”

“Yeeeeeah...might say I do.”

“Come here, girl. Press this tight. Your ma’s knees done give out.”

“Yes, Mama.”

Jeannie knelt next to Dewey and pressed against the bandage. She took a wet cloth in her other hand and wiped the blood from this right hip and upper leg. When she put the sopping wet cloth on his cheeks, water trickled between them and his legs. Dewey muscles tightened. “Relax, Mr. Gibson, I’m not gonna hurt you.”

“I think I’m clean enough, missy.”

“No hanky panky the two of you. Jeannie’s been saving herself for the right man.”

“No worry, Ma. I’ma waitin’ for the right woman too.” Dewey thought he saw a twinkle in Ma’s eyes when he said that, but he shrugged off the thought.

“Lemme see the wound, Jeannie...Looks good for now. Bleeding’s stopped...You can leave the bandage off and let it air dry. I think it’s breakfast time. You hungry, son?”

“What about me? I’m hungry too,” said Billy.

Jeannie smiled and went to get fixings for breakfast from the supplies.

#

“Your wound looks good after two days of healing...I don’t see any infection, neither. You’ll be good as new soon,” said Ma. “You should try riding a bit.”

“Okay, if you think it’s healed enough.”

“I’ll help saddle your horse,” said Jeannie, “if you need any help.”

“I can always use some help.”

Jeannie handed him the blanket, and Dewey’s hand touched hers. She smiled and blushed. He put the blanket on the horse’s back. After heaving the saddle into place, he reached under the horse’s belly for the flank cinch. Jeannie crouched, handing it to him. He tightened it and the back cinch too.

Dewey turned, and Jeannie handed him the bridle. He laid the reins over the horse’s neck, slipped the bit into its mouth, slid the crownpiece over its ears, and tightened the strap. Grasping the reins, he asked, “Do ya wanna go for a ride?”

“Never thought you’d ask.”

Dewey helped her onto the saddle and climb up behind her. The saddle’s cantle jabbed his wound, and he suppressed a yelp. They started with a walk, followed by a trot, but with each bounce, pain shot through his buttock and down his leg. He stopped. “Let’s trade positions. I’ll sit in front, and ya can sit behind the saddle.”

“Okay, whatever you say, Dewey.”

Dewey dismounted and rubbed his behind. He helped Jeannie down and remounted. Reaching for her arm, he pulled Jeannie onto the horse’s croup. This time, the horse could slow gallop without causing Dewey pain. All the while, Jeannie held tight to Dewey’s chest.

“Whoa, easy,” said Dewy, patting his horse on its neck. “...That was fun, wasn’t it?”

“I enjoyed ridin’ with you, holdin’ tight to you, bein’ so close to you.”

“Me too, Jeannie. Yer kinda special, different from any girl I ever met before.”

“How was the ride?” asked Ma. “...Oooh, did I interrupt somethin’?”

“No, Mama. Dewey and me was just talkin’, nothin’ more.” Jeannie walked the horse to the stream.

“She’s a right pretty young woman, don’t you think, Dewey? Gonna make the right man a perfect wife someday.”

“Ma, yer as subtle as a mule kick, you know?”

Ma walked away humming a tune.

Dewey glanced toward Jeannie. She does look right pretty at that. A man could do a lot worst but no better.

#

“It’s been seven days since Hank and his kin left here ta rob the Prescott Bank. I figure four days riding ta Prescott, maybe spend a day in town, and three days back. So we got a day or more before they come up the trail.”

“What if they ride strait through?” asked Billy.

“Have ta give the horses time ta rest and feed, else they’ll ride them in the ground and be on foot.”

“They took my rifle, but I have my revolver with twenty rounds. What else we got?”

“I got a rifle,” said Billy, “...and twenty-five cartridges.”

“This old single-shot relic won’t be much good, but it has twelve shots,” said Ma.

“I keep Pa’s old handgun, but it only has six rounds,” said Jeannie.

“I’m fair marksman, not great but can hold my own. How about you, Billy?”

“I can shoot out the eye of a gnat, buzzing at fifty yours.”

“Ma?”

“Not quite as good as Billy, but don’t challenge me to a rifle fight as long as we’re close up.”

“Jeannie?”

“Close up, only.”

“We’ve the makings of a small army. Surprise will be our edge against these men. If we get the drop on them before they know what hit them, we can capture or kill them before they kill us. Billy, ya stand the day watch, and I’ll stand the night watch. That ledge and those boulders on either side of the campsite should be our best defensive positions.”

#

“What ya doing here, Jeannie? Ya should be sleeping.”

“I couldn’t sleep thinking about you and what could happen if they sneak up on you during the night, so I came to watch with you. Besides, I like being near you.”

“Okay, but be quiet.”

“...Dewey, what are you going to do when this is over?” whispered Jeannie.

“What ya mean?”

“I...I mean...yer a young man...and...and...I’ma young woman...never been kissed nor done nothin’...well...I was wonderin’...uh...to put it thisa way...if you ever...I mean... ever gave me as much as a thought. There I said it!”

“Jeannie, you like me...don’t you?”

“Of course I do, you dumb old ox.”

“I like you too, but this ain’t the time to do any courting.”

“Dewey Gibson, you’re just the...”

Dewey took hold of her shoulders, pulled her close, and kissed her. “Now will you keep quiet and go back to your bedroll?”

“Sure, Dewey, anything you say.”

#

“Hank. Hey, Hank, we’s been riding these nags real hard,” said Luke. “They’s about ta drop under us if we’s don’t give ‘em a rest.”

“We’ll stop where Jason shot that feller. There’s water and feed for the horses.”

“You thinks his sadda’s still there? I kilt him, so his sadda’s mine.”

“You’re a perfect reason against incest, Jason.”

“What’s this here incest?”

“It’s when our brother and sister, your ma and pa, gave life to you. The seed don’t grow right when the fertilizer’s too much like the seed.”

“Huh?”

“Fergit it, Hank. It’s above him.”

“My point is, Jason, yer different and difficult to deal with. You do things you shouldn’t like killing that stranger. ‘Twas no need for it. That’s what I mean. And you shot up the bank. ‘Twasn’t necessary, neither. Yer plumb dangerous at times.”

“I like shooting. Makes people take notice. They don’t call me dumb when hot lead’s flying around them. I like shooting a lot.”

“We better get moving. Close to sunup, and we should be near to the clearing where we met the stranger. We’ll rest there for the day before heading to Flagstaff.”

“Yeah, and I can get my sadda. I gonna get my sadda.”

“Good Lord,” prayed Hank, “help me get through this night so’s I don’t shoot that ignoramus.”

#

Dewey’s eyes hung heavy as the hours dragged on. His thoughts drifted back to what Jeannie said and the kiss. But horseshoes pawing against hard ground and rocks brought him back to realty. He slipped over and awakened Ma, Billy, and Jeannie. “Thar comin’. I reckon about a hundred yards up the trail. Take yer positions.”

Each gathered their bedroll and stashed them behind a bush. Taking positions overlooking the campsite, they waited for the approaching men.

#

“Can we’s finally rest?” asked Luke, dismounting. “My arse’s near glued ta my saddle.” His horse strolled over to the stream for a drink. Luke stretched and rubbed his backside.

Jason dismounted and looked around. “Where’s my sadda? We left it here, but my sadda’s gone.”

“Shut up about your ‘sadda’,” shouted Hank. “Your horse is more important than any old saddle. It needs water and feed.”

“But I want my sadda,” mumbled Jason while he unsaddled his horse. “It’s my sadda.”

“Luke, you didn’t take your saddle off. Your horse needs a rest too,” yelled Hank.

“Okay. Okay, I’ll git it.” Luke waded into the stream, uncinched the saddle, and plopped it on the bank.

Hank dismounted, took the saddlebags of money, and pitched them near the burnt-out campfire. He loosened the cinch and let the saddle drop to the ground. His horse wondered to the stream and took a long drink.

Jason said, “Lemme see the money, Hank.”

“Yeah, I wanna see it too,” said Luke. “How much ya think we’s got?”

“I guess it’s safe to count it. Doubt the posse’s on our trail.”

Luke and Jason stood over Hank while he emptied the saddlebags on the ground.

“Put yer hands up,” yelled Dewey. “We got ya covered.”

Jason and Luke hunkered down, drew their guns, and searched for the direction of the voice. Hank gathered the money into the saddlebags and said, “Wait a minute, partner. We can talk this out.”

“There ain’t no talking to it. Drop yer guns.”

“How many ya think there is?” whispered Luke.

“At least two,” said Hank, nodding toward Billy’s position. “See the rifle on that boulder?”

“Got thirty seconds...then we start shooting,” shouted Dewey.

“I like shooting,” said Jason, standing and firing toward the sound of Dewey’s voice.

“Jason, you crazy idiot. Your pa should have buried you with the afterbirth,” screamed Hank.

Billy took aim on Luke and fired. Luke fell backward, dead, blood streaming from a hole in his forehead. Jason kept shooting wildly, missing his target. Hank shot two rounds toward Billy’s position, but he had already ducked behind a boulder.

“Looky here,” yelled Ma.

Hank pivoted and fired just as Ma’s rifle sent a bullet screaming towards its target. Grabbing his shoulder where Ma’s projectile shredded flesh and bone, the impact knocked Hank backward. He managed another shot at Ma’s exposed left arm and shoulder. It found its mark, and Ma winced when the bullet passed through the fleshy part of her upper arm.

“Hank...over here,” shouted Dewey, standing and firing three shots of his revolver.

Hank didn’t have time to return fire before the slugs hit square in his chest. He paused, his revolver tumbled forward on his index finger, and he fell facedown with a thud.

Jason scrambled for cover, toward Jeannie’s location. She backed against a boulder when she saw him coming. Holding the pistol with both hands, she pointed it at Jason, as he got closer. Her hands were shaking. She recognized him as the man who tried to molest her, and he was approaching, fast. He dove behind the boulder and looked straight into the barrel of a Colt Dragoon .44.

“Hi you, missy. Ain’t gonna hurt me, are you?” Jason crawled closer.

“You’re the man who tried to hurt me.”

“Sorry, missy, I don’t know you.” Jason inched forward.

“You grabbed me in Sedona, dragged me between two buildings, and tried to have your way with me but couldn’t.”

“I could’ve if I wanted to.” Jason raised up on all fours and extended his hand.

“Not from what I seen. You too dumb to know what to do.”

“I ain’t dumb. I’ll show you I ain’t,” yelled Jason, charging at Jeannie.

She squeezed the trigger, and the hammer struck the cartridge, propelling a ball of lead down the barrel. The shocked look on Jason’s face froze in place when the bullet punched a hole between his eyes, and gunpowder residue splattered on his face. The exiting round exploded the back of his skull, and he slumped at Jeannie’s feet.

Dewey ran toward her, shouting, “Are you alright? Are you hurt?”

“Ma’s been hit,” yelled Billy, “’Tain’t bad though.”

“Is Jeannie alright?” hollered Ma, getting to her feet. “Help me, Billy, gotta see my baby.”

“She’s safe and unharmed. The varmint never touched her. She got him right between the eyes, stopped him dead on the spot. She’s quite a woman, Ma. She sure is.”

“Stop it, Dewey. Stop talkin’. Can’t you see I’m hurtin’ inside? Never killed anyone or anythin’ before, and it don’t feel good, like I did wrong, or somethin’.”

“It was him or you. He would’ve killed ya for sure if givin’ the chance. Ya did right.”

“He’s the one who attacked me in Sedona, so he deserved it, I guess.”

“Yer right; we won’t dwell on it.” Dewey put his arm around her and drew her tight. Jeannie leaned her head against his chest.

Dewey turned to Ma and asked, “How’s yer wound?”

“I’ll be okay, son. After we bury this bunch, what we gonna do with the bank’s money?”

“Return it, of course. No use being robbers ourselves.”

“That’s what I wanted to hear. Billy and me will stay here while I heal up. You take Jeannie along to Prescott; she’ll keep you company, and you’ll get to know each other a whole lot better.”

“What ya sayin’, Ma?”

“Nothin’, son, nothin’ at all. Just lettin’ nature take its course on the long ride to Prescott and back.”

#

The End


© Copyright 2018 D Ray Van. All rights reserved.

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