Unforgivable

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: Booksie Classic
Unforgivable is a western written by Genny Mikel a long time ago adapted from a script intended for film use.
In 1873 a peacefully retired gun fighter, former Confederate cavalry man George Rogers is running his business when his old gang, run by Wesley Sterns, whom he disliked as a womanizing drunk, gets together and robs a bank. Sadly when they rob it, George's one son and grand daughter are killed and his daughter in law begs him to seek revenge.
George unwillingly teams with a Texas State police officer who was a one time Union General and they track Wesley down, in the process George faces his racist hate and learns how to appreciate his fellow man, a gentlemanly native named Silent Mountain.

Submitted: June 30, 2019

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Submitted: June 30, 2019

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THE BREEZE WAS light and the sun was just warm enough as the little family moved down the road in the little town of Willow Bend.Lorren Rogers and his wife Rachel were walking down the road with their daughter Mellissa June who was off in her own world as always. 

  As they made their way down the road an old man on the side of the road looked at the little girl.  It was Scarecrow, the well known fixture of the area, with his oversized hat and glasses, thinking more of himself than most anyone else did.  As they passed him by Scarecrow nodded to Lorren.  “Cute Young un.” He commented.  Lorren smiled.

Lorren held the door to the bank open and then entered as several men on horses stopped just across the street, unnoticed by anyone.

There was a small handful of people in the bank,  An older man and his wife, a business man and a few other people, and Lorren approached the manager, looked quickly to see if he could find someone else to wait on him then went to the window.  He was not fond of this man, but if he could just get the check cashed and go he could forget it.

“Mr. Lorren, what can we do for you today?”
“Just a quick cashing of a bank draft.”
“No problem sir. And how is the little tiny lady today?”

Melissa June smiled and the manager chuckled to himself and went on about his business.  He was counting cash as Mellissa June went to the window and began to look dreamily outside.  Rachel came over and petted her head.  “Look mommy, a big rain storm is on the way.”  Mellissa said.  Rachel smiled.  Mellissa looked out again.  “I want to go run in the rain.”

Lorren looked over at his daughter as the bank manager handed him the money and at that moment the door burst open and in strode three men, a big man in black and gray clothing with a leg brace, a slightly smaller man with a rifle and a short, thin little man with two sticks of dynamite in his belt.  All three men wore masks and were carrying guns.  The bank customers scurried for the edge of the room with cries of fear, and the manager and bank tellers stared in shock, not knowing just what to do. 

  Lorren grabbed the money and ran to his family as the masked men came in and the leader laughed.  The man with the rifle laughingly turned a circle and confronted everyone with his Winchester rifle.

“Nobody give us a heart ache and everyone gets a nice bedtime story for the kids about the big bad men who made the withdrawl from the bank. You with the kid, don’t make another fast move.”

  Lorren heard the voice and suddenly he realized, the man with the brace was Wesley Sterns, the man with the rifle was Abel Grabe and the other man was Nick Clarke, all three of them veterans of the Confederate army who had made a name for themselves robbing banks and trains owned by the northern states, and obviously they had branched out to southern states since the war ended.

Wesley kicked the small counter door open, making a loud crash with his leg brace and holstered his pistols as he walked up to the manager and grabbed him by the collar.  He leaned close as Abel and Nick kept the customers at bay and corralled the other bank employees with the customers.

“A man named Bennington Simms who has a tobaccy operation sent three boxes of money to this bank as he transferred his fortune up here recently.  We want those boxes and we’ll even be nice and leave the customers with all their trinkets if you’ll just be so kind as to open that safe nice and polite like and not make my friend here use those sticks of nitro he has stuck in his belt.”  Wesley leaned right into the manager’s face as the manager stared in confused terror.  “Ya see, fat man in a suit, he ain’t all that great with the sticks and he might do more damage than we came to do.”

The manager stared into Wesley’s eyes behind the mask and stammered …”I-I-can’t do that sir!”

Outside the bank Scarecrow stood up and stretched then noticed the men standing across the street from the bank.  He stopped and stared for a second.  “Awe horse feathers.”  He stalked up to the sheriff’s office and walked in.  “Somebody is robbin that bank!”  He yelled.  The sheriff and his deputies, three men who looked too young to do the job, stared at him for a moment before the sheriff replied.

“Are you sure about that, Scarecrow?”
Scarecrow got angry.  “No, I ain’t sure about that!  I have no idea why men would be keepin’ lookout outside the bank, horses ready, keepin' their hands on their guns and lookin’ every direction like they worried about somethin'.  Whatchew think?”

Inside the bank Wesley walked out and looked at the customers in the bank, dancing a little as he walked and mocked the manager.

“Well what do you know folks, it looks like the bank manager is more concerned about the money old Benny Simms put in this bank than he is the safety of his customers.  Hey buddy boy, go blow that bank door off so we can get what we came for.  Fat man, you come join your pals out here.”

  Rachel grew enraged and began shouting at the manager as Nick whistled to himself and went to the vault, sifting powder around the door. 

  “You complete idiot, if he fires off that dynamite, the explosion could kill all of us, and you’re putting my little girl in danger!”

“I can’t just open that safe.  The money…”  Abel put his rifle up to the manager and Wesley forced him to sit down.  “You might want to just shut up, since you just made a woman into your enemy.  T’aint a problem, the vault will be open momentarily.  You wanna be greedy?  I got no problem with that, it just makes things fun for my friend who wants to show off.” 

  The manager looked helplessly on and Rachel stared at him with a glare.  Suddenly Wesley came over and looked at her, Melissa June who was staring up at him viciously.  He then got in Lorren’s face as Lorren stared back at him hostilly. 
  “Just take what you want and leave us in peace!  Do you really have to hurt everyone over those boxes of money? We aren’t going to stop you from taking them!  At least let my wife and daughter leave this bank before you play with that fuse.”

Wesley got close to Lorren.  “I know you, I’ve seen you before.  What’s your name mister?”

“My name is Lorren Rogers and I have no idea who you are.  I don’t keep company with thieves.”

  Wesley chuckled and walked over to the manager.  “You wouldn’t want that little girl of Lorren’s to get hurt now would you?”  He asked.  The manager looked at the vault and Wesley laughed.  “I get it, you have stake in the bank and if that money goes you stand to lose a bunch of money personally so you figger if we can’t get it then you save all that precious money.” 

  Nick finished with the powder and began running fuse as the sheriff quietly arranged men outside opposite the bank and one of the men keeping watch suddenly noticed them and he went across the street to the bank.  Scarecrow exchanged looks with him and commented to the sheriff “This gonna get ugly.  They’re onto us.”

The robber walked into the bank and yelled “WESELY WE GOT COMPANY, MIGHT BE A LOT OF EM.”

  Wesley turned to Nick who lit a match.  “You best hurry up with that.”  Wesley looked at Abel.  “You get ready and we’ll grab that money and get out of here.”

  Nick lit the fuse as the customers screamed and pushed against each other in a corner.  Suddenly there was an earsplitting bang and the bank safe door blew off and smashed into the inside of the counter, leaving the bank vault open and smoking.  With a whoop, Wesley closed in with Abel and they stuffed a few stacks into their vests and grabbed the three boxes with the name BENNINGTON SIMMS on the tops.  Nick held the customers at bay with his guns as Wesley and Abel made for the door and the other robber took one box.  They opened the door and as soon as they were outside a hail of gunfire began.  Bullets smashed bank windows and slammed into wood as robbers and town folks began to shoot back and forth.  Abel and Wesley got the boxes into their saddle bags and mounted up as they returned fire, and Scarecrow strolled out into the street, aimed his pistol which featured a very long barrel and fired.  The bullet struck Wesley in the chest and he cried out and twisted from the impact. 

Abel shot down three men and Nick, still inside the bank, took out the stick of dynamite and tossed it toward the counter, then grabbed a stack of cash and ran for the door.  He came out with a pistol in each hand, firing at the town folks and Scarecrow carefully aimed as three bullets hit around him and he fired on Nick.  The first bullet struck one of his pistols and as it flew away he cried out from the lead striking him.  The other two bullets hit Nick directly and he flew backwards and fell to the ground. 

Scarecrow then fired on one more robber who was mounting a horse and hit him in the behind.  The robber spun around and shot at Scarecrow, skinning his hat and saw that Scarecrow had emptied his gun.  He took a moment to aim his gun as the town folks continued shooting at the escaping robbers and Scarecrow jerked his arm and out of his sleeve he produced a small pistol and fanned the hammer, shooting the robber down. 

As the robber fell, his pistol arm flung out and he fired.  The bullet traveled through the door, into the bank, struck the dynamite, and with a roaring blast, it exploded, blasting glass out of the windows and pouring smoke from the interior. 

  As the robbers rode away the town men ran into the bank with the sheriff and amidst the smoke they beheld the customers, laying silent among the wreckage, with Rachel moving slightly.  The sheriff ordered a town gentleman to fetch the doctor and he sat down next to Rachel, who was badly wounded but still angry.  He saw the little dress under the rubble close to her and shook his head.
“He couldn’t just open the vault and give that monster the money!It was Wesley Sterns, an old rebel soldier who used to ride with…” she began coughing and the sheriff calmed her.  “Save your strength miss, there is a hospital down the road with a good set of nurses and you’ll be on your way there straight away.”  When the doctor came in and took charge of her the sheriff looked around.  “I want every man available to get ready to chase those men down right away.  Get your bags. We’re leaving no more than half an hour from now.”
Scarecrow sauntered up to the sheriff.  “I know me a bit about those men and I betcha I know where they might be headed.  You cut me in for some re-ward money and I’ll take ya there.”
“How sure are you that you know which way they’re headed?”
“Well, I wonder how long you all would rather chase all over creation tryin' to find em on your own.”
“Alright Scarecrow.  You ready to head out?”
Scarecrow grinned and proudly strode out of the bank.  As he went down the steps He yelled over his shoulder.  “I’m gonna clean my gun and grab some vittles and I’ll see you in half an hour.  Them boys ain't gonna git far.”  He then began to sing to himself as the sheriff and town folks watched him in amazement through a window.  “I shot him in the ass. I shot him in the ass, he ain't having fun no more cuz I shot him in the ass.”
  One of the men looked at the Sheriff.  “You think that old man can lead us to the robbers?  He seems to have some boxes missing from his attic.”
“I need every gun I can get, and a crazy one who has an idea where those men are headed will do.”
  “At least the crazy old fart can shoot.”
  The sheriff shook his head.  “He may be crazy, but right now we got a bank full of dead people with one wounded woman, a little girl dead and about eight men high tailing it down the road.  Scarecrow walked right out in the street in that mess and shot some of those boys down, and he thinks he knows where we need to go.  I have a hunch it’s just crazy enough to be true.”  The other man shook his head.  “Well if crazy will do it you picked the right man.”
Wesley’s horse was breathing hard as he reined it in down the road and he and the boys pulled their masks off. 
  “That was one hell of an explosion.  What happened?”
  “Nick had two sticks of dyno and if I had to guess I’d say one of the bullets hit it and blew him up.  There will be hell to pay for that.  All those people got hurt, probably killed most of them.” Abel said.  Thomas shook his head in angry frustration.  “No one was supposed to get hurt.  Nick got blowed up, John and Mark got shot.  Damn it anyway!”
  Wesley shook his head.  T”aint nothin' to be done about it now.  In this line of work those kind of things happen, you aughtta know that.  We got one hell of a nice paycheck here now boys. The money in those boxes is more than all the rest in the bank.  We got the good stuff!  Time to celebrate!”  Wesley let out a whoop and the rest of the boys followed and rode off down the rode at a gallop.  Thomas just rode with them silently and watched the clouds gathering overhead.
Wesley seemed to be ice cold.  No wonder.  Very little was known about how he had grown up, except that his father had been a rough and harsh man and his mother had fought him in regular shouting matches and sometimes violence.  When the south had been talking secession, Wesley had been working on a new developing rail project.  Interestingly enough he had been working for a firm who had a man named Tilman Bryant in it and Bryant was outspoken against slavery and Negro bondage. 
Bryant had been close friends with Immit Rogers, a staunch southerner with two brothers, Darien and George, who all were raised on a farm with an overbearing father who hated any race that was not white.  When their state had seceded from the union, a small militia company had been formed to prevent border trouble and in case an army needed forming.  Deep down, they all believed that war would happen one day because there was no way a split in the union could be allowed permanently.  Immit Rogers had been tapped to lead the group and he was joined by George, and soon after by Wesley and Abel Grabe.
Northern tensions had taken away the business interest George had had and he had been bitter and angry.Add to that a plague in forty nine that had killed his wife, one son and daughter, and George fell apart. 
In fifty six there had been fifteen very angry men who decided the yanks had to pay for all the trouble they had caused.  Immit was involved in business affairs for the army and when he had formed his southern interests he and Wesley had an intimate knowledge of the rail systems.  Opportunity knocked and these men had strapped revolvers on their hips and taken off to make the yanks pay, in more ways than one. 
Wesley knew the rail lines and even though he and George did not get along well, he respected George’ level of craftiness.  George was very good at speculating where and when to hit trains and with the drawing of a pistol, a little yelling and some fast movements of getting goods offloaded onto wagons that were moving along side the trains at the time, the boys made good on one, then two then three, and each time it was a little sweeter. 
There were a small handful of dusty little towns around the Texas area that made great places to hide out and George came up with the idea of buying a plot in a grave yard and using it to keep a casket loaded with their takings.  The grave was covered with stones cut so they could be removed by one or two men.  AS the robberies lead to great success the men found different places to hide the holdings, no honor among thieves of course.
But George was different.  He didn’t like to kill anyone and even though he was lightning fast with a gun, he only shot anyone who got in the way. 
In fifty eight there had been a train that had some investment money on it.  It was controlled by Tilman Bryant.  Bryant was no fool.  He knew there were bands of men out there ready to steal.  He also knew that Immit Rogers was suspected of giving information to George and Wesley. 
Hence in 1858 they had hit the train in force and found Bryant’s boys waiting with repeating rifles, pistols galore and a vengeance.  They shot the train to pieces and in the process they had creased George along the right cheek and taken off a chunk of his ear.  Fifteen men attacked the train, seven were arrested, and the rest were shot to bits.  George had worked his set of revolvers with fury, keeping a hail of bullets flung and outshooting men with rifles.  He had paused to refit his cylinders then fired on till his guns were empty.  That was that. 
Wesley had been the one to sew up George’s face, and he had done the best he could but the scar was very obvious.  George never concerned himself with it. 
  They had been sentenced to life, but in sixty one when the war began the local authorities offered them pardons if they would join the Confederate army.  They had all agreed happily and Immit was awarded the rank of colonel, while Wesley, George and Abel had gone into the cavalry.  George had acquired two 1860 colts which he prized and a LeMatte pistol which he carried on his horse. 
One thing Wesley had to say was that George was fast.  Te best way to get dead in a hurry was to cross George Rogers.  He got the name Lightning George, which he hated.
  They had ridden with the cavalry all through the war, now and then serving under Nathan Forrest, a few times under General Wheeler, but most of the time they were under Immit Rogers.  Immit was a cold man and he had raided native reservations several times with George, shooting down anything in their paths. 
There were two battles none of them had ever forgotten.  Both of them happened in a farm area called Darby Hill.  In May of sixty two, Jackson dispatched Immit to cut through the area in a strategic maneuver and he had caught the yanks trying to come up a hill…too late.  The canon fire had shaken the nearby towns and the musketry was so furious that it had mowed down Yankees like grass.  So horrible was the fighting that Immit and George had grown unwilling to continue.  AS the fields were turned blue and red with Yankees and blood Immit had ordered a cease fire.  When it was not heeded he rode up to his commanders and screamed “I SAID SILENCE THOSE CANONS, NOW DO IT, BE DAMNED BE DAMED!”
  George had been shot in the groin and they had found him in the woods, nearly dead, his eyes wide in horror having emptied his pistol at something no one else saw, claiming a demon had been sent after him.  It was after he recovered that the gang had began robbing trains again, the war making it a whole lot easier, especially since taking Union freight was considered an act of war.
In sixty four they had stormed up the same hill, but this time the Yankees were ready and had made the top first.  Three days of fighting ensued and the yanks had taken ground, fallen back, then taken more ground, a few times till they had finally faced the southern army on opposites sides of a small road, so close their bayonets had touched when they fired and their flags smashed together.  A final charge and it was all over. 
Wesley found himself running through the woods, his uniform caked with dirt and his musket empty.  There had been a deafening explosion and his right leg had been knocked up to where the knee hit him in the chin and broke his jaw.  He fell, the leg torn open, crawling as fast as he could.  Behind him came five union soldiers with their bayonets aimed at him.
  Out of nowhere came George, working a pistol in both hands and had shot all five of them down, then picked Wesley up and carried him away.  The doctor was going to take off the leg but Wesley chose to heal or to die with both legs. 
Two men had had legs blown apart by canon fire and the doctors had used screws to put the bones together and both men had survived by some strange twist of nature.  Wesley was one of them.
His leg would not hold much weight, but the brace helped.  After the war a lot of men had fled in fear of being hung for treason, but George had stayed.  He didn’t care.  The hangman never came.  George went to Fort Worth and took his money and set up a two level gambling hall with a stage and piano.  He didn’t have prostitutes there.  He’d never been into that and at any rate they could be found anywhere else.  He didn’t allow drunks or gun slingers to make trouble either.  Wesley had almost forgotten George…till now.
 
MOVING DOWN A DUSTY ROAD toward Cactus Bend was yet another man who reflected the rigors of the war.  With a battered leather hat, a large moustache and a scar next to his right eye he rode along, a commanding figure in an aged suit he had gotten before the war and still used.  Next to him was a Native American, Silent Mountain, who had served side by side with him in the Union army and still joined him from time to time on hunts for serious criminals when the Texas State Police, the new answer to Texas Rangers, came calling.
The rangers were a memory, and the State Police were a fixture that had been the brain child of the northern reconstruction movement, often corrupt, not well liked, and generally not paid for their services, having to supply their own horses and guns for the tasks assigned.  The man with the scar, James Caldwell, was brother to the other soldier whose leg had historically been repaired using house screws.  Both of them were staunch abolitionists and had joined the army at the same time. 
  James’s brother had been in one major battle and had his horse shot out from under him and part of the horse had rocketed through his leg and exposed the knee bones which had been repaired with screws.  He also had a brace but used a cane with it since his leg was much less usable than Wesley’s and the medical field had contacted them both to request permission to acquire their damaged legs as surgical specimens upon their deaths. 
James rode up to the brick building that served as head quarters for law enforcement and walked in, to be greeted by a big handshake for him and Silent Mountain as they entered.  The beaming fat little man who greeted them looked almost like sporting balls stacked on each other.
“Well well, Jimmie Caldwell!  I haven’t seen you since you wore that blue uniform!  Is your brother still alive?”
“He is, and when I’m not being called on to chase fugitives we work on an antique resale business.  He keeps a photographer on hand for pictures and it does pretty good.”
“Well as much as I hate to pull you away from business, this is the situation.”  The big man got very serious as James and Silent Mountain sat down in his office to listen.
“About eight or more men robbed a bank in Willow Bend, and they made off with one of the biggest hauls that’s ever been taken.  They had help in the fact the money they got was in a set of boxes where it had been packed by a tobacco king named Bennington Simms.  In the process of stealing it they managed to blow up the bank with a stick of dynamite and they killed about ten people, among them a couple with a six year old girl named Mellissa June.  The public is outraged and a small band of men has already taken off to go after them, but no one knows where that bunch is.”
“So you already have a posse?”
“Not exactly.  The town sheriff took all the men who would ride with him and went after them.  The mother of the little girl, Rachel Rogers, is still clinging to life by a thread and she identified them as Wesley Sterns, Abel Grabe, and several others, said they knew who her family was.  You look concerned, Jimmie, what’s on your mind?”
“I know the name Wesley Sterns.  All of us served in the war, I was on one side and that bunch was on the other.  Immit Rogers and his brother were there and Lightning George Rogers was one of the most notorious train robbers they had.  He rode with Sterns, and they would hit trains and take money, then keep most of it and give the rest to their army.  They seemed to have a sixth sense about where to find the goods.  Wesley is a drunken arrogant man who has no values.”
“Well you’re going to love this.  Rachel Rogers is his daughter in law and the girl that died is his grandchild.  After the war ended he stopped being a criminal and settled down in Fort Worth to a regular business and he was all about family.  They moved out there and he rode out there each month to see them.”
Silent Mountain nodded.  “So this man George will also be spoiling for revenge.”
“Let’s hope so, we need all the help and bullets we can get.”
The Marshal opened his drawer.  “I can’t help you find any of these people but I can give you the means to authorize some help so that it isn’t just you going out there to track down Wes and his trouble makers.”
“That’s fine, but we’re going to head out now before this storm comes in.  There isn’t time to gather other people.”
“Well one way or another I wish you luck.  Maybe you might look George up.  He has a small one man place not far from here.”
James shook his head.  “I’m not going to waste my time. George Rogers is a hard core southerner, and he hates black people and natives and he would never ride with a former Union officer.”
  The marshal nodded.  “Good fortune be with you two, you’ll need it.”
As the two men walked out of the sheriff’s office, Silent Mountain looked up at the clouds.
Some time before they had ridden into town in a stone building on a busy street a piano was playing vigorously and several tables had games going on with men gathered around laughing and having a time.  Like a shadow to the side with his boots on a chair and a glass in front of him was a haunted man.  While the others were having their fun with the cards and asking for songs of the piano player who tipped gaily back and forth as he played, the man watched and smiled now and then.
No one caused any trouble in the place, they simply walked past the two flag poles with confederate flags dangling and the sing that said Old Dixie and went in to play cards and have some laughs.  There were no prostitutes.  They had those down the street and this was a respectable establishment, where there were no gun fights or drunken brawls. 
The man had boots that reflected age and he wore a belt buckle that said CSA on it, a big one he had had made since he did not like the small ones.  He also bore the same insignia on his broad black hat, as if he could not recover from something.Part of him still lived in the past, his head a dark home surrounded by the fluttering ghosts of the past that would come and go at different times and drift aimlessly, fading away, lost forever as his eyes stared out at the crowd, dark and haunting and listening to the piano play a few feet away. 
There was a jagged scar down the right side of his face and a chunk of his ear was gone, courtesy of a bullet that sang past his face from a rifle in 1858 when a large robbery on a train did not go quite so well.
He also had a scar on his groin where a Yankee officer had shot him at close range in the war.  But it was long before those days that his fast flash of hand work on his two pistols had earned him the nickname Lightning George, a nickname he hated and he corrected anyone who used it.
George had been fine, sitting there listening to the music and enjoying the atmosphere of this place he had set up to put the past behind him and move on with nothing more than the relics of war that he wore.
He often remembered the rantings of his father, always upset about something, cursing and spitting in the kitchen of the cabin when George had been young because his older brother Immit had decided not to remain on the farm but to go onto one of the local barges where he could make some decent cash and consider what his father had called a “store bought’n education.”
George had grown so weary of the landscape, dreary and windswept that he had grown to hate the lonely, empty farm where father ranted about the holy writ and spoke angrily about the “nigras” who worked the surrounding farms. 
He had rented a few Negros to help when events on the farm had overwhelmed the family, but he was aggressive and treated them roughly and rudely.
George had said nothing when he had finally left the farm, just taking what little he owned and walking away one day. 
It had been a long hard road trying to make it in business, working for others, then having the struggles between the states ruin his business.  George was deadly fast with the worn pistols that hung next to his hips, but he had been enjoying the respite of his home and gambling house since the war ended.  It seemed like forever since those days of musket fire and hard rides.
  The peace was nice, but not permanent, which he realized in a flash of cold revelation as he saw Immit standing grief stricken by the front of the place looking at him.  He said nothing, nor did he need to as his eyes told a story.  That story unfolded when George stood over the bed where Rachel was laying, reflecting having been huddled over Mellissa June when the dynamite had exploded and her efforts to save her had been to no avail.  She was the only remaining witness who had told the law about the robbery and identified men who didn’t yet know that their identities had been revealed. 
George had clutched her hand as she had looked up at him with fire in her eyes in her last moments on earth.
“It was Wesley Sterns!”  Rachel said venomously.  “That man got my baby killed and my husband!  Him and that Abel Grabe, and the other man had to have been Nick Clarke.”
“It will be made right, Rachel, you can count on it.”George promised as Immit stood by silently holding their hats and saying nothing, envisioning his little niece who he would not see again.
“You make em hurt Georgie, you look em right in the eyes and let em know they won’t live to spend that money while my baby girl lays in the ground!”
“The devil won’t save them in hell Rachel.  I’ll take care of it.”
In no time she had faded away, and with her the last of the good that had came from his years on this earth.  George had stood silently over the graves staring at the caskets as the minister had spoken.  As they had watched the three boxes slowly lowered into the ground and the little handful of ladies had tearfully sung and thrown flowers on to the tiny casket that held Mellissa June, George had walked up to the casket with his son Lorren and touched it lightly and said almost too quietly to be heard “I know you done what you could.  It’s my fight now.”
A man in a nice top hat had joined them at the funeral and he had walked up to George as requested, removed his hat and handed George a picture. 
As they funeral ended, Immit had accompanied him back down the road.
“Is there anything I can do George?”
“Yeah.  You can keep an eye on my holdings while I look for those swine.  I got a good idea where they will go.  If Wesley wants to look into my son’s face and acknowledge him then get him killed, he can have me be the last thing he sees.  You follow me?”
Immit nodded.  “I’ve got it, little brother.  Go with God.”
George lit up one of the cigars he occasionally would smoke.  “If I went with God it would be the first time.”
An hour later George had a bottle unopened in front of him at his house and he was staring at the picture.  It was a photo taken in the morgue of Lorren, Melissa June and Rachel laying side by side as the undertaker had readied their caskets. 
George stared at the picture, and then he flung the bottle at the wall and watched it explode.  No liquor would make it right, just flying lead.
George strapped on his set of 1860 Colt pistols and put his Le Mat revolver in his rear holster.  They were the prizes he had gotten from his first days of service in the war and had served him well.  They generally rode silently on his hips these days, a casual friendly reminder that he did not put up with any fancy pants antics in his business.  Now they would serve again.
George rode off toward the West shortly after that moment, the picture tucked in his chest pocket. 
THUNDER RUMBLED ACROSS THE sky and lightning flashed till the sky was lit up almost like daytime it was so fast.  George looked up at it and his horse was making noise in fear.  George dismounted and walked next to his horse talking gently and leading it.  There was a town just ahead and he knew where to go to get settled for the night.  He was very certain he knew where to look for those bastards, and he was not concerned about it at all.
As the town came into sight he saw the hotel standing there and wondered if Bethany was still there.  She had been the voice of reason for a long time, but not always one he had wanted to hear.
Back in the day, the boys would come roaring through town and Wesley would romance another booze bottle while George went to relax without all the noise.  Often he would take out the picture he kept in his things, protected above all else, and he would go back to that time and remember.
What could you do when that happened?  When everything you had built your hopes and dreams around, your center for living, what made everything right got taken away from you and you felt desperate, trapped, running anywhere and everywhere to escape, but there was no escape.
That was how he had felt in forty nine.  After the nightmare of living with his father he had met her, and she had been the one picture of perfection on earth.  There was not a flaw to be found in her.  She was so much better than George, and for that reason he never quite understood what she saw in him.
After they had met everything made sense and the world became a place where George felt all dark things roll off of him as if they were not there.
Darrien had liked her too and when he came around she was always Miss, even after George had married her.  When Lorren was born, Darrien came by and she was still Miss, and he treated her with the respect he would have treated an angel from heaven.
Had he done something so terribly wrong?  Had he committed a sin so dark that the devil had been loosed on him?  When 
George had made the investment property profitable and set them up well the demons had came calling.  The epidemic had rolled through silent, deadly, like a fog, filling every crack in town, and the people had fallen like grass.  George had spent every dime both trying to keep his kids and his wife from losing the battle as well as paying for treatment for some of the other people who had nothing, and yet the unrelenting fury of death had claimed them all.  George remembered how she had gone from long flowing hair and a flawless look, framed in the dresses he had bought her to a sweat drenched shadow of a human being whose hand he had held as she breathed her last next to their other son.
He had died in so many ways that night, as he had seen her fade away.  His wonder at whether there was a God had died, his hope and all feeling had died.  He had Lorren left or he would have taken his gun out and just put this world of toil and pain behind him.
Darrien and Immit had tried to console him, but even though he had moved on, all that had made him human had gone down into that casket with her.
That damned Yankee had gotten all upset over abolitionist efforts and he had cancelled the leases of all southern men like George and pulled out the support for the business leaving George to collapse.  He had sold his wagon and horses and slept in the prairie. 
Then he had tried to tell Darrien he had no money to pay the last he owed, but he underestimated what was left of George.  Darrien was content to walk away, but George had walked with his fists clinched into the big plantation house and as the well dressed man had shrank back in a corner trying to reason with him, George had pulled his pistol, aimed it between his eyes and slammed his head to the wall, looking his square in the eyes.
“There’s two ways we can do this, you Yankee bastard.”  George had said to him.  “You pay me the money you owe me or they bury you.  End of story.”  The man had tried to stammer a reply and George had replied by cocking his pistol.
That black waste of flesh that had been his servant grabbed for a shotgun and before he could level it, George had fired three rounds into him and placed the pistol back between his eyes and looked at him.  He had emptied his fat wallet into George’s other hand and George did not bother to count it. He stuck it in his pocket and said “Nice doing business with you, you Yankee trash.” George then walked out.
George came up on the hotel and handed his horse over to the stable groom.  He then walked casually toward the hotel.  There had been one Yankee who had been a true gentleman, a close friend of Immit who had never done them wrong, Tilman Bryant.  George forgot him as the heat from the kitchen came to him and he walked into the building. 
The rain was pouring down in torrents and down the road there was yet another sound…the unnerving sound of a man snoring.  The band of men who had left Willow Bend had not prepared for the rain, they had left too hastily with the image of the dead bank customers and the little girl with her mother still fresh in their minds.  Several of them had found shelter in a small barn and the rest had stretched out under the wagon with the canvas over them.  Scarecrow was snoring loud enough that the horses had perked their ears up and were gazing inquisitively in his direction. 
“Are you sure we can sneak up on them thieves with that old man along?”  Someone asked.
“When we find them it will most likely be daylight and he will be wide awake with his gun in his hands” came the reply.
  There was a pause as scarecrow snored and muttered to himself, then someone said “Why doesn’t that make me feel any better?”
As the rain rumbled on the roof of the hotel, George went in and paid for a room for himself.  He went upstairs and hung up his wet clothes and shook out his hat then returned down the stairs in his other clothes, the only other ones he had in his traveling bag that happened to be for business and he appeared for dinner in a tail coat and nice shirt, feeling a bit like an undertaker dressed like that on this particular journey.  Strange, he thought, but oddly appropriate.
George sat down, the table decorated lightly with candle light and a nice cloth and for a moment he thought back to his wife and the times they had at places like this, but before he could feel the pain of the past come upon him he saw Bethany come into the room and scurry over to where he was sitting.
“Well lightning George, it’s been a long time since you came around this place!”  Bethany said with a smile.
George shook his head. “And it will be even longer the next time if you call me that again.  Why don’t you people get it that I hate that stupid nickname.  It sounds like some hero out of some cheap paper novel for kids and I never was or wanted to be some kid’s hero.”
  “I’ll fill your belly in a minute Georgie, but what brings you out here?  Please don’t tell me you’re headed to Pale Horse again.”
George sat back and laid his hat on the table.  “I am but it isn’t for fun, I have some personal business to settle.”
“What kind of personal business could you have in that sin hole?”  Bethany sat down next to George, who hesitated, then looked at her.
“You remember that bunch I used to ride with before and during the war that made our reputations and got me that stupid nickname?”
“Yeah, but they haven’t been heard from in years.I thought they all vanished out to Kansas or blew away someplace.”
“Well they blew back in and they robbed the Willow Bend bank.”
  “So what does that have to do with you?  You aren’t thinking of hooking up with them again, please say no.”
“No it ain’t that nice.  They never contacted me, I s’pose they know it was no use.  I’m not up for that game anymore.  I quit when the war ended.  But they went there on the day that my son Lorren went to conduct his business and to make a long story real short they used dynamite to blow the safe and in the process they managed to kill Lorren and his family.”
Bethany sat stunned for a moment then she spoke with an air of horror to her voice.  “Please don’t tell me that little granddaughter of yours, Mellissa June...”
“Yep.  They sent me a telegram and told me that Rachel was in bad shape and I rode like hell to get to her.  Just in time.  She told me it was Sterns and she made me promise to make it right, not that she had to.  There are only a few men in this world who have that leg brace and Sterns is one of em.  Ain't no way two men with the same leg brace who knows Lorren are going to rob that bank.”
“You’re going out there all by yourself?”
“Who’s gonna join me Bethany?  You?  No one wants to ride with me.  I don’t give a damn anyhow.  Wesley is a stupid drunk who thinks he was put on this earth by God himself.  I ain’t afraid to take him.”
“But what about the others?”
“A bunch of clowns.  Abel Grabe was with him and Abe can’t shoot a revolver worth a damn, Nick got killed, and the rest of them haven’t been in business for years.  They probably got the bullets rusted into their cylinders.”
Bethany sat for a moment then she got up and rubbed George’s shoulders for a moment.  “I’m going to feed you and set you up in that top room.  I don’t know what to say Georgie.”
“Ain’t nothin to say, Beth’ny.  I appreciate ya.  It’ll all be made right, I’ll see to it.  They won’t spend that money while the worms eat my family.”
“Was it on purpose?”  Bethany asked.
“I don’t care if Satan himself told them to do it.  My kin was in that bank and now they’re in the ground.Wesley robbed the bank and they died.  That’s all that matters to me.”
Bethany patted George on the back and left.
  Some time later James and Silent Mountain rode up in front of the hotel and came in, and the attendant, a young man, came up front and politely stopped them.
“I’m sorry sir, but this is a white only establishment.”  He smiled.  James looked at him for a moment then got up nose to nose with him and looked down into his eyes.
“Do you see this star I’m wearing?”
“Yes s-sir.”
“Alright then.  Here’s how this works.  My friend here works with me tracking down dangerous men, murderers and robbers and right now we are on the trail of a handful of really bad ones.  We both got soaked in that rain and I am really short on patience.  Do you want to deal with that problem over the fact that my friend here is a Native American and not some snot nosed white, racist bastard?”
  “Um, n-n-no sir.”
  “That’s just great then kid, we’ll be taking that room now thank you.”
Minutes later Silent Mountain was bunking on a small couch and James was laying out in a bed in the room and Silent Mountain looked over at him.  “Any ideas where we might pick up another man or two?”
“Not an idea of any kind.”
“That’s okay.”  Silent Mountain smiled.  “I bring extra arrows.”  He chuckled and went to sleep.
Down the road, over the hills and in a sleepy town in the same rain storm stood a church with a handful of parishioners who had gotten together to fellowship.  With them was a pastor, Michael Christopher, a bit but very friendly man.  He had been there for some time and was the town patriarch.  He was a Santa without the beard and he kept a small bible with a thick leather cover in his chest pocket for quick reference.  It had a fancy cross made of iron on the front and had been given to him by a grateful parishioner who had been down and out and gotten back on their feet thanks to him giving them a place to stay and work for several months.
As the group stood and talked and laughed at the rain outside which was not dampening their spirits, the front door opened and the crowd grew silent as Wesley Sterns walked slowly into the church, his leg brace squeaking and his eight fellow robbers trailing behind.  He strode slowly down the center aisle as if enjoying the sudden attention of the worshippers who were simply staring at them wordlessly.  Wesley soon stood in front of Pastor Christenson who regarded the man for a moment then calmly asked “Is there something we can do for you gentlemen?”
  Wesley smirked and looked around at the crowd.  One of the men behind him, Thomas, looked over at one of the young ladies and could not stop staring.
“Well to be brutally honest, Rev’rend, we ain’t exactly gentlemen.”  Wesley said.  “But since you asked, all we wanted was a place to get out of that flood out there, and you all can do whatever stuff you were doing.”  The pastor did not blink as he looked at Wesley. 
  “We have an upstairs area where you men are welcome to sit down and relax.  You are welcome to join us if you so desire, but whether you do or not, I will ask you to remove those weapons of death on your hips and leave them out of this room.  You may leave them upstairs, but this is the house of God and we will be respected.”
Wesley stood for a moment and there was an uneasy silence among the worshippers who seemed to be expecting the men to suddenly turn on them in a blaze of gun fire.  Instead, Wesley chuckled again, removed his hat and without turning to his boys he said “You heard the rev’rend, boys.  Since these folks are kind enough to let us use their church to avoid drowning, head on upstairs and put them shooting irons up and show these fine folks the proper respect.”
Almost as if their own fathers had spoken to them, they men went obediently upstairs and the church folk began to talk again.  Pastor Christenson noticed that Thomas moved slowly, then stopped, turned and looked out over the crowd as if fighting with himself, and he looked at the young lady in the crowd again.  He stared at her and she looked at him, and then smiled in a friendly way.  He looked surprised, then he looked up the stairs, down at her, then he stepped toward the church goers instead of going up stairs.  He removed his pistol and placed it on a cabinet and looked at the pastor, then stopped, as if caught doing something wrong.  The pastor smiled and nodded and, as if seeing the big man endorsing his curiosity, Thomas stepped forward and joined the church goers.  None of the other men came down or even checked to see what was going on, instead they were snoring audibly within moments. 
As the night grew dark, Pastor Christenson and his attendees fellowshipped, then they began to depart for their homes as the rain slowed down.  Thomas remained and finally he walked up to the pastor as the young lady smiled behind him, several feet away.
Pastor Christenson smiled welcomingly and Thomas looked unsure of himself, and then spoke.  “Um, pastor, I don’t mean no disrespect, and I ain't no church going man but…I’d like to talk.”
The pastor reached out a friendly arm.  “We can take all the time you want.  Come join me.”  Thomas came along like a puppy and behind him the young lady smiled.
Thomas retired with the pastor to his private room where they sat under candle light and began to talk.  The pastor spoke in friendly tones and Thomas began to speak about his years in Kansas, the war, joining the cavalry, and meeting up with Abel Grabe, who joined him up with the gang and for years they had rode together.  But now he had seen his friend Nick shot down and it came home to him the reality of life and death.  He had been questioning everything.  The pastor talked to him as the hours went by and they drained a pot of coffee as the rain stopped and the pastor took out his little bible and began to discuss things with Thomas.  Up in the loft, the remaining men were fast asleep and tethered in the barn outside were their horses, saddle bags tucked away neatly with a massive fortune waiting.
 
THE MOON BEGAN TO SHOW full and bright through the clouds as the storm passed to the east and the countryside was touched by a slight mist and water filled the river beds and streams as it flowed away again, leaving the night clear overhead and stars surrounding the earth in the endless silence of night.The horizon turned deep red, then blue as early morning began to show. 
In his room, eyes wide and sweat pouring off of him, lay George, silent, breathing hard, unseeing as he lay twitching and his eyes beheld not the plaster walls of the hotel, but the Union Army under Tillman Bryant coming at full charge, cavalry and infantry with yells of fury.
In sixty two, Stonewall Jackson had been impressed with the performance of the bearded, long haired man known as “Ruthless Rogers”, George’s slightly taller brother who had earned his commission to military school fighting Native Americans.  His dark brown hair was slightly wavy and he was thought of as either an attractive southern gentleman or a loud, mouthy pro-southern, pro-slave man whose speeches before the war had angered abolitionists severely.  He had been friends until secession with a stout, slightly shorter man with a slight beard and black, wavy hair named Tillman Bryant who was an astute business man who had studied at military academy with Immit.  He was also an ardent abolitionist who detested slavery.
Now flags flew, bayonets gleamed, uniformed men of blue and gray charged toward each other on the field of battle, and Immit Rogers was leading the southern army against Tillman Bryant, one of several clashes between the two men.
In  sixty two the rebels had mounted a tall hill called Darby Hill and had rained lead and canon down on the Union army who were shot to pieces till Immit had demanded the canons stopped, no longer able to stomached the hail of insane death being dealt to the enemy.
It had been a glorious victory for the south, and when Jackson had died, it had been a factor when Lee seriously considered replacing him with Immit Rogers. 
The sting of that bloody carnage was ringing in the ears of the Yankees in 1864 when they had returned to the same hill again, but this time Bryant had pushed with demonic fury to mount that hill again, and this time he had been first. 
  The hail of lead had been beyond imagination and the town could hear the battle miles away and some houses were shaken so badly that china fell from shelves and broke. 
The rebels were making a desperate stand by a creek and as the horses came rushing together they struck with such fury that some of the horses tumbled end over end, throwing their riders and filling the water with fighting men and horses.
Tillman had shouted “REMEMBER FREDERICKSBURG, REMEMBER SIXTY TWO!!” And his men had charged as if Satan himself was leading them.  George felt the blows of union sabers so hard that his own sword had bent and the strikes that hit it, and after emptying his pistols in the middle of the fight, Tilman had faced the rearing horse of Immit, pulled a small pistol from his sleeve and shot the horse in the head, tumbling it on Immit then spending the next round right into George at close range. 
George was unable to continue fighting, so fierce was the pain and he had splashed out of the river and staggered to the woods bleeding and shouting in pain. 
His body twitched, but the sights in his mind would not let him go, and as he had done so many times in the past George found himself playing in front of a tree bleeding from the wound as he saw the hideous form of a dark figure move toward him in the woods. 
George fitted his empty revolver with another cylinder, smearing it with blood and shaking as terror gripped him and this unholy thing came towering over him and looked down on him and he raised the pistol and in a frenzy of panic he fired on the unyielding form which reached for him with boney hands…
Suddenly there was a voice, and in a flash George had freed his pistol from the holster and it was right at Bethany’s nose, ready to fire.  George had a split second to realize who she was as she fell back with a frightened cry and he tensed his thumb on the hammer to avoid shooting her.
“DAMMIT BETHANY!  WHAT THE HELL, YOU TRYING TO GET YOURSELF SHOT?!”
“Bethany retreated and shakily began to spew apologies.  George replaced he gun and looked at her.He shook his head, not even knowing what she had said.
“Hush your yap, woman!  You damn well should know better than to startle me awake, and if you didn’t you do now.  Can you get me something to eat and get out of here?  I ain't no kid anymore and I ain’t comfortable with a woman seeing me without all my clothes on.”
“Oh Georgie, it doesn’t matter to me.  You know that.  What, you never did a little whoring?”
George looked at her.  “Well it matters to me, Beth’ny, can you please respect my personal vanity?  And no, I never did any whoring at all.  I ain’t that kind.”
Bethany laughed cheerfully and closed the door. 
Minutes later George was down at the table among a small handful of noisy hotel guests who seemed in some party mood he could not put his finger on.  George had found his clothes still soaked so he had put back on his fine shirt and tail coat.  If he died, he would die well dressed.  Save the mortician some work.
George sat down and began to eat as Bethany patted him on the way past to serve the other guests.  As he ate he became aware of a Native American who sat down a few tables away to some stares from a few murmuring patrons, offended that the man should be in this place with them, and he observed that the native had a badge on and was with a white man.  That explained it.  Then he saw the white man and the scar next to his eye and realized who it was, a well known former Yankee named James Caldwell, another infernal abolitionist. 
It wasn’t bad enough that these yanks won the war, but then they sent a crooked bunch of arrogant asses down here to do a thing called “reconstruction” and since there were no Rangers left they had formed a bunch of idiots called the Texas State Police.  It amused George because these loons would send their boys after criminals and make them furnish their own guns and horses…and they would do it!
George was about to take a bite when he saw James get up and walk toward him.  He sat back.  This whole affair just kept getting worse.  The last thing he wanted to do was talk to some Yankee sop and his native companion.  George glared up, but James simply nodded.  “George Rogers, may I have a moment of your time?”
George looked at James and took a breath.  “Well normally I got no use for a damned Yankee, ‘specially one traveling with the likes of him, but since you didn’t call me Lightning, I am now dying of curiosity as to what the deuce you want to talk to me about.  I ain’t wanted that I’m aware of.”
James nodded cordially and sat down.  “I’m not here for you George.  “I’m here because I know who you are and I know a band of robbers you used to run with robbed a bank and killed your family.”
“You must be pretty damned smart to have found me here at this place.”
“Well actually that part was an accident.  We left town yesterday and rode hard to get out West and stopped here because of the rain.  I know who you are anyhow and figured we needed to talk.”
“So I figger you must be with the state police they stuck together.  Figgers, stupid yanks go and send one man and his injun, and if you know about Wesley Sterns then why the hell are you traveling just the two of you?  Going to catch up to Wes and sit and pray for some fire to come down?  You gotta know he didn’t get his reputation by making dolls for kids.  The man has lots of experience robbing banks and shooting people.  Ask me how I know that, James.”
“I’m aware of all that, George, and they authorized me to deputize some men to help with the capture of Wesley and his gang.”
George sat back and looked at James.  “Okay, let me get this straight Jimmie, you got sent down here just the two of you with some extra metal in the hope you might find some people to help you take on a band of men that ranges in the neighborhood of eight to fifteen like it used to, and since you are here that means you’re going to Pale Horse, which is a dirty little dump of a town.  Just the two of you, yes.  And there you plan on taking on these boys with whoever you can find to join.  May I ask one question James?”
  “What’s that?”
  “With mentalities like that, how the hell did you yanks win that war?”
“Well then, since you are so convinced of our Yankee incompetence, may I ask you a question George?”
“Proceed.”
“What the hell makes you think you stand a chance against these men you just told me about on your own?”
George stared at James for a moment and James raised an eyebrow.  “You haven’t thought this through very well have you, George?”
“Well if the truth be known Jimmie, I had no expectations of help and figgered I’d take my best shots come what may.”
“In other words your planning is no better than ours.  That being the case, I propose you join us and we go after them together.”
“I don’t work with two things, injuns and niggers.  Never have and never will.”
  James lost his patience then and looked around the room then looked George square in the face.
Alright George, dammit I’m going to tell you how it is.  I don’t have time for your racial hatred and ignorant behavior.  You and me are out there to get the same band of men, even if it is for different reasons.  You are a fast gun who is traveling alone and I am a law man traveling with one other and there are eight of them.  Those are bad odds no matter what.  If we go out there that way then chances are very good that all three of us are going to go home in caskets.  You may be a good shooter George, but there is no damned way you can take on eight or more men alone!  You want revenge because your family got killed. Well I want that and those outlaws gone for good.  Right now you are just a vigilante which makes you an outlaw chasing outlaws.  You team with me we stand a better chance and we do it right.  Think about your family George. Do you want to avenge their murder or just be shot as a racist idiot who was too blinded by bigoted hate to do more than go down in a blaze of gun fire?  I feel like there is a gentleman in there who is loyal to his family.
George took a bite of his meal and nodded.  James felt a bit better because he realized there was more to George than some hard headed southerner.  George raised a brow and answered. 
“Damn that was good, Jimmie, and you barely took a breath while you said all that.  You yank officers who never went to West Point never cease to amaze me!”
James sat back.  “Well did I accomplish anything or are you still as ignorant as you were when that bullet creased your cheek?”
George did not look up.  “That ain’t nice.”
“You know what I mean George.  What say we put our rebel Yankee differences aside and help each other out.”
George tossed his fork down and sighed.  “You made your point Jimmie, I pretty much had written myself off as a dead man, but I guess it would be nice to stand a chance of walking away from this fight.  But I ain’t gettin friendly with that injun.”
James sat back in his chair.  “His name is Silent Mountain and he’ll treat you with whatever respect you show him.”
James dug out his star and put it on George as Bethany walked up, her face a mask of surprise, and James deputized George and patted his chest.  George looked indignant and snapped at Bethany just a bit.
“Quit standin there gawking, woman and get some food for this nagging old woman and his squaw so we can get on the trail.  I aughta shoot Wesley for this if nothing else.  Hell, I never thought I’d see the day I’d team up with a law man, ‘specially a yank and his injun.  Lately my luck has just been awful.”
James laughed playfully and patted George on the shoulder as he returned to his table where Silent Mountain was nodding.  “I am most impressed my friend.  I have seen many things in my time, but a northern white man deputizing a southern man with his reputation.  His hate for those who killed his family must be so great indeed.”
James looked at George.  “That and someplace inside that cold exterior is a bit of a gentleman.  Besides, that man is the best with a gun.”  Silent Mountain nodded and grinned.  “Somehow that makes me feel all the more concerned.”

THE MORNING SUN WAS STREAMING through the windows of the church when Wesley and his boys got up and strapped on their weapons and readied to leave.  Wesley happily tipped his hat to the minister and called to Thomas, who came out of the private room and stood as Wesley looked at him, the room and the minister.  Wesley suddenly turned menacing.
“What you and that minister been cooking up behind closed doors, boy?”
“Nothing.  I just decided to stop here and go back to Colorado or whatever.  I just don’t want to ride anymore.”
Abel Grabe drew near and talked to Wesley who was glaring at Thomas.
“I don’t trust him.  Somethin went on last night.”
Wesley spoke in a low threatening tone with his hand resting over his gun.
“Now you listen hear, youngster.  If you think this minister is going to keep you here and fill you fulla this God crap during the night and we’re going to ride off into the sky with that huge payoff and trust you to just stay behind then you got another think comin'.  Get your ass ready and we’re heading out.”
“We didn’t even talk about the rest of you.  I talked to him about my personal life.  I saw Nick get killed and I’ve just had enough, that’s all.”
Abel Grabe snarled at Thomas.  “There’s a hang man’s noose waiting for you Thomas, and if you think that praying to God when they tighten it around your neck is going to help then you stared at them church women too hard!”
Pastor Christenson spoke boldly.  “I’m not a stupid man, Mr. Sterns.  Only an idiot would not know who you were when you walked in here with those guns on.  I don’t care what you do when you leave.  Thomas made the choice to remain behind and take a new direction in life.  There is no reason why he should follow you down a path of destruction if he chooses not to.”
Abel looked at the minister and smirked.  “We don’t trust no turncoat.”
Wesley stared at Thomas.  “You ain’t worth a damn in this world when you ride with us then spend one night in a church and get all goo goo eyed over some church woman that gives you the eyes.  Hell Thomas, I seen countless men die.  You get used to it.”
“I ain’t goin' any more with you Wes and that’s that.  I’m not interested in staring over my shoulder the rest of my life.”
Wesley laughed and shook his head.  “Suit yourself, young un.  You  ain’t worth nothin to me.”
As the band of men turned to leave, Wesley suddenly turned, drew his pistol and fired at Thomas, who flew backward against the pulpit and lay motionless on the floor with a hole in his jacket front.  The pastor walked up to Wesley disregarding his gun. 
“Get out of my church, you murdering savage!  And rest assured that trail you follow will lead you to death and damnation!Scorn the light of right, you fool!  Enjoy your life while you have it, soon it will end and you will regret every second you spent wallowing in evil!  Get out of my church, evil man!”
Wesley turned to leave and spit on the ground on the way out.  As the men mounted and rode away, the minister turned to Thomas and heard a shout outside of “one more share for every man here!”
Thomas opened his eyes as the minister sat him up and he looked around in wonder.  He then put a hand inside his jacket and pulled out the little bible.  There was a pistol ball in the cross on the cover but everything else was fine.  Thomas simply looked at the door in amazement and the minister smiled.
On the trail, the men from Willow Bend were shaving and readying for the day.  Scarecrow was in a river shaving and admiring his weather beaten face.  On the shore a horse was standing and looking at him with it’s ears perked up.
Scarecrow began to sing to himself as he got out of the water and the other men stopped what they were doing.  The horse pawed at its face as if to cover it’s eyes then took one more look at Scarecrow and doubled away from the water.  Scarecrow smacked some water at it and yelled.  “You stupid old nag.  I was considered a handsome man in my day.”
“How drunk were those women?”  Someone asked and there was a chorus of laughter.
Wesley and the boys were galloping along with good cheer as the sun warmed the trails and they saw a wooden sign that said Pale Horse on it and there were cheers from the boys.  Abel rode next to Wesley.
“I wonder why they called this place Pale Horse.”
Wesley smiled. “The town was put together in the forties by some religious nut and his wife.  They believed that the end was near, so they named the place after the biblical pale horse of death.  Kinda funny that the war happened afterward iffen you think about it.”
“How long we gonna be here, boss?”
“Long enough to unwind from the last few days of riding hard and collecting', then divvy up the money, go to where we hid our cash crop from the last few jobs, then whatever the rest of them want to do is their business, but I’m going to Tennesee to some holdings I have there and do some other things.  I’m tired of riding and shooting, too old for this stuff any longer.”
Abe nodded.  “Old man Simms must be mad as hops about having his money vanish.”
“Well he made it easy.  All that money still boxed up.  I hadn’t counted on that.  Sure made it work well.”
Abel looked at Wesley.  “What about that bunch that was shootin' at us.  You know it’s a matter of time before a posse shows up.”
Wesley laughed lightly.  “I ain’t worried.  I already took that into consideration.  I got a plan.  While we’re in Pale Horse we’re going to get trouble off our backs.  A few drinks later everything will be fine.”
Able stared for a moment.  “You seem awful sure.”
Wesley smiled mischievously.  “This ain’t my first rodeo, Abe.”
  As the boys rode into town dust twisted in the air some distance behind them and Scarecrow rode right behind the sheriff as the group of men rode, then stopped.  To the wonder of all of the men, they came to a crossroad and Scarecrow got off of his horse, walked down one of the trails a bit and got down on his knees and began to sniff horse droppings.  He then stood up and as disbelief crossed the faces of the other men, he stood and announced loudly “jest as I thought, they went that a way!”
“How do you know that?”  The sheriff asked.  Scarecrow looked proud.  “I smelt the smell of the leader’s horse.  That’s his shit.”  He then got on his horse and aimed down the trail as the other men stared at him and shook their heads.  One of the men looked at scarecrow.  “You can identify his horse by it’s shit?  What did you do during the robbery, sniff it’s rear?”
Scarecrow turned matter of factly.  “Everyone thinks their horse’s shit don’t stink, but believe me it does.  All of em smells a little different.”  The other man stared at him.  “I won’t ask where you learned that.”
The town of Pale Horse was bustling with people roaming every direction and the boys smiled as they came into town.  Wesley led them up to the sheriff’s office and he dismounted and limped into the office and greeted the sheriff with a handshake.  The sheriff smiled big and closed the curtains to the office.
“Hell yeah, Wesley Sterns, how you doin' old boy?!  It’s been years!”
“You didn’t hear?
  The sheriff looked puzzled.  “This is an isolated town and we don’t hear allot.  But you’re a famous man and that means if you came here then you must have pulled down a job someplace.”
Wesley smiled as if he was pleased with himself.  “We hit the bank in Willow Bend.”
The sheriff’s eyes got wide.  “Wow!  No doubt.  Get a decent take?”
  Wesley nodded.  “The tobaccy tycoon Bennington Simms saw to it we made some nice profits.”  Wesley dug out three rolls of bills, already ready to go.“Here’s the thing.  We had a little bit of trouble, old Nick got careless with some dynamite and got his self killed along with some bank patrons.  Three of them were family of one of my old associates named George Rogers.  He’s mighty handy with a gun and the sheriff of Willow Bend will get some good old boys together and they will come looking for us.  There is one good road in and out of this town which makes it easy to see trouble coming. I want you to keep an eye out, the sheriff smiled.  “No problem old friend.  Go to the hotel and don’t worry about a thing.”
Wesley smiled. “I knew I could count on you.”
With that, Wesley went back out and he and the boys headed to a large and bustling hotel bar and got a room.  They sat down and over bottles and enthusiasm in an upstairs bedroom with their belongings casually thrown aside and the three boxes of money open before them.  Abel divided the spoils of their robbery as they watched with the glee of children.  They were drinking a toast and Wesley stood up.
“Well boys, we get what we got tucked away from the war, and we leave here with more than enough to live multiple lifetimes!  Not bad for a few trips through some banks, Yankee trains and a war!  We won’t be soon forgotten.”
The glasses clinked and as the boys drank, Wesley paused.  “We got a little piece of business to take care of then we can relax this evening and unwind before we move on.  But for now, a drink!”
The band of robbers went down the stairs and mingled with the other guests in the hotel for a while.  The piano played and the drinks flowed freely, and without financial issue, the band of men began to drink and sing and Wesley undid his leg brace and sat with empty bottles next to him and a full one in his hand.  He was glassy eyed and watching his fellow men dallying with the ladies as the world began to fade into a haze.  He wandered back to better days, thinking of when he had walked away from the house and vanished into the woods, running around with a flintlock musket hunting small animals.  He had run into an old graveyard one time, tangled with weeds and vines, with a tall mausoleum full of the bones of men who had fought in the war for independence.  Wesley had not been afraid, indeed he had been fascinated and he wandered around reading the old stones.
He had stood in front of the mausoleum with its metal doors, hinges rusted from age, standing alone, visited rarely by anyone and with mice and rats scurrying over its floors.  There was a statue standing in the center of the room and there were crypts on both sides.  Wesley wondered at how long those crypts had been there undisturbed with the silent dead inside, motionless, surrounded by wood or metal, laying dead and slowly turning to dust.
As he thought of those things, one of the ladies came over and began to rub his shoulders.  She finally leaned down and spoke to him. 
“If it’s too sensitive a question you don’t have to answer, darlin, but I been wonderin' how you got that contraption on your leg.”
Wesley smiled a little.  “War.  Cursed stupid war, lost with nothing coming from it but death. Tens of thousands of men and boys shooting and screaming, killing and dying.”  Wesley took another drink and continued, shaking his head as he spoke.
“Men blowing huge holes in each other with flags flying and all praying to the same God for victory.  You get to know a man one day then the next you see him with a bullet hole in him staring into your face with a wide eyed empty stare.  Then they come to you and tell you it’s all over and all the men you used to know buried in a thousand graves no one will ever find dead and gone, all for nothing. Nothing at all.  And their moms and dads, husbands and wives get to stand over their graves and talk to them if they were the lucky ones who got shipped home in a box covered with that flag they died for.”
As Wesley spoke, the world around him of men gaily singing and drinking and celebrating faded away and Wesley saw the smoke covered battle field.  He remembered that day as if it was yesterday. 
Immit had been wounded in battle and ha actually been drug out of the line of fire by Tillman, during a mutual conflict.  When he had recovered the south was losing the war and southerners feared that the yanks were going to strip them of everything.  Immit feared being tried for treason, but George had already seen the inside of jail and at this point he cared not at all.  There was one chance to pull the smashed army back together and Immit among others thought that lone more pass through the hills would do it.  They had a great plan, and it would have meant that Immit would have been one of the heroes of the south, with a career in politics if he so chose…but alas it was not to be.
They had moved the massive army with flags flying up toward the hill, and as canons shook the ground once more, muskets had shot with such fury that bark was stripped from trees and small saplings fell.  George, Abel, Wesley and several others had rode in on horseback and were finally on foot and saw the yanks fighting with a vengeance, with James Caldwell and his brother screaming to their troops to move forward.
The battle had gone forward and back, forward and back, at one point over a small road with men practically inches from each other.  A final charge and the rebels were falling back, running through the woods.  Bryants rifles had some sort of northern gun that had a longer barrel than most rifles, a scope and broke open to be loaded in half the time of a normal musket and could shoot longer ranges, which meant as fast as the boys got close they got shot down.
As the troops fell back, Wesley turned to return fire and was amazed to see colored troops coming through the woods, bayonets fixed, shouting at the southerners, whom they saw as their former masters.
Wesley was staring and for a flash of a moment he wondered how negroes had fared with guns in their hands, and in that time a shell exploded, sending a piece into his right leg.  He had fallen and was dragging himself away as several men bore down on him with bayonets and he screamed, imagining the piercing fire that would soon bring his death.  George appeared from behind the trees with his revolvers in each hand and blazed down the men coming toward them and he pulled his LeMatte pistol as he threw Wesley over his shoulders and retreated through the woods. 
It had been the end of the war for him, and it was only because of angry insistence that the doctor had not cut off the leg.  He expected Wes to be dead in a few days, but with wagon screws holding the bones in place, they healed, a scarred mass, but enough so that he regained the use of his leg.  The brace hurt, but he could walk, so he would not complain. 
Wesley sat and the bottle rolled onto the floor.  The saloon manager came out and served another round of drinks and smiled.
A snake coiled up and retreated as James trotted by on his horse. Silent Mountain was behind him and they were making small talk but George did not say anything to the native.  He looked up at the edges of the hills and rocks and felt an uneasiness he had felt during the war.He was brought back to the real world when James called to him.
“George, we should be getting close to Pale Horse.  Are you sure that’s the best place to look for the boys?”
Wiping his face with his hand, George nodded.  “Before the war we did pretty good at getting our hands on a lot of money.  During the war it was almost easier.  We had trains and wagons that had cash and a few times there was payroll gold.  We got a lot of money.  Now think about it James, do you think we could go around with thousands of dollars on us and fight a war?  Hell no, we were marching and patrolling and as a rule we were moving all the time.
“Like anybody else we wanted to keep our holdings safe, since they represented what we had after the war if the south lost.  Pale Horse is a dirty little town that was started by some fanatical preacher back in forty something and it has been taken over by nasty people out for their own good.  I passed through there in the late sixties on my way to Fort Worth and it hasn’t changed much.  You can buy anybody with a little cash.  We had hiding places there since going to a bank wasn’t overly smart, and I’m pretty damn sure that drunken arrogant turd is going to go there, get drunk a day or two then head out to someplace like New Orly or Tennessee, vanish and live out his life on all the loot we collected.”
James sighed.  “Oddly enough that sounds to me like a pretty good plan, and I’m the one chasing them.”
Silent Mountain smiled.  “How much loot might we be talking, my curiosity makes me ask?”
George was uncomfortable talking to the native but he made himself answer anyhow.  “We hit one big one in sixty four, and the rest of them all combined gave us enough to be rich men for the rest of our lives.  Wesley and a few of the others lost their humanity.  I lost a really nice hat.”
As the men moved down the trail they saw a wagon moving at great speed down the trail ahead with a man and a woman, not able to control the horses.  They rounded a corner too fast and the wagon went over.  There was a scream from the woman and the tongue on the wagon broke, leaving the horses to run away and the frantic little man who had fallen from the wagon was trying to get to his wife as the men spurred their horses and came up to the scene.  George took off his hat and grabbed his water container and Silent Mountain went to the woman’s side.  James calmed the man down as they observed his wife. 
Silent Mountain took a sewing kit out of his belongings and noticed the surprised look on George’s face.  “I sewed up many wounds during the great war.  I am well prepared.”
The little lady woke up and surprised everyone as her husband began to calm down and straighten his clothes.  She stood up and adjusted her dress and slid back into a polite mood with an odd smile.
“Gentlemen, I am Ella Powell and this is my jittery husband Markus, and we are so grateful that you came along and helped us.”
George nodded pleasantly.  “You hurt, missus?”
“I’m quite fine, thank you so much.”
The little man shook their hands and when he came to George he stopped in sudden surprise and James smiled at the look on George’s face.  The little man took a breath and began to talk as his wife rolled her eyes.
“Oh my word, I know you!  You’re lightning George!  I Heard all about you!  During the war you chased a killer named Immint all over the place and you wound up being a general in the confederate army!  It’s such an honor to be here with such a famous man!”
George looked at Markus blankly and replied “Well pardon me for seeming terse, but the man’s name was Immit, he was my brother and he didn’t do all that train robbing.  By the way I really hate it when people call me Lightning George.”
Markus looked puzzled.  “Then who did all the robbing and killing we read about in the papers?”
George smiled sarcastically.  “That would be me.”
Markus looked surprised and awkward and suddenly turned away.  “Well I guess we should be on our way now.”  He said.
Ella gave him a strange look.  Marcus then stopped in his tracks as he realized his horses were gone, and he regarded the wreck of his wagon.  George looked at the wagon. “I hope your very important items were not very heavy because my horse is already a wee bit tired.”
Ella sighed.  “The wagon was empty.  We took goods to the market and were returning home, and something on the side of the trail spooked the horses, I’m thinking it was a group of Native Americans who passed by and barely looked at us.”
James looked at Ella.  “So all you really have is a bit of cash and your own selves to be taken home.  How far are we talking?”
  Ella smiled.  “A few miles down the road outside of Pale Horse.”  George looked at the couple thoughtfully.  “You don’t say.  Well that could be beneficial to us all, so I’ll take the lady and someone take the gent and we will move forward with a small proposition I have.”
“Sure thing Li-I mean George sir, we owe you a debt.  We’d be glad to do for you.”
Ella smiled at the idea of riding with George and he helped her onto his horse and they began to ride.  Ella was a light little woman and the ride was easy enough.  Everything would have been fine except that Marcus had a tendency to rattle on about all sorts of subjects.  James just rode, and Silent Mountain took a nap in the saddle which amazed George who smelled Ella’s perfume and thought of his wife again.  As they rode he began to think of her and the sting of loneliness bit at him and again he wondered why she had been taken, the one truly good thing in his world.  He heard Ella humming to herself and he silently thought for a moment about his family so long ago. 

ROSETTA LIKED THE SMELL OF the soap she used for washing the laundry.  It was some sort of strange thing the lady of the house got from town.  It stung a little on the skin but it got most anything clean. 
Before the war Rosetta’s family had been bought by an evil man named Victor who put his son in charge of the slaves and she did her best to avoid him.  He was quick tempered, edgy and was always in stern moods.  He hit slaves without hesitation and there was one time he threw one of the women down the stairs in the house.
Elmo fallowed Victor around like a puppy and seemed to idolize his father.  But he was evil inside, and there was not one bone of good in him.  She had seen him take older slaves and have them get on the wagon and when he came out with his rifle they knew what it was there for and were terrified.  The wagon would disappear, there would be a muffled shot, and Elmo would come back with one less person in the wagon and not say a word to anyone.
He served in the confederate army and had been shot in the side so they sent him home.  When the war ended Rosetta found out that her family was no longer captives, but they did not celebrate, instead they ran.  Emancipation or not, she knew Elmo would run after them with his rifle and kill them all.
She worked for Mr. Knotts and he was a good man.  He paid her, fed her and gave his black servants use of a house on his land which they turned into their own home and he did not care what they did to fix it up.
Rosetta still saw the evil look in Elmo’s eyes in her dreams, soulless, like a demon on legs.  It was the same look she saw on the face of a man standing behind her when she turned around to take in the washing.  He was a big man with a bit of a belly and a tattered hat and doglike eyes, his teeth stained from years of neglect. 
Rosetta tried to run but he caught her easily and struck her hard when she screamed, and she felt his hand bones strike her face. It stung and she tried to get up off the ground but he landed on her and forced the air out of her lungs.  He smashed down on her and began to tear her dress.  She dreaded feeling his ill smelling body on hers as he took her by the hair and sneered in her ear.
“Got me a feisty nigger woman, hey?  You think you can outfight me, you little cow?  You ain’t good fer hardly nothin’ but I’m gonna show your ass what you be good for.”  He laughed, then there was the sound of a hammer cocking and two barbells of a shotgun were in his face.  Mr. Knotts was shaking in rage.
“Get off that woman, you filthy excuse for humanity.  I’d love to kill you, so give me a reason”
The man got up and looked at Mr. Knotts through his small, squinty, dog like eyes.“You gonna shoot me, old man?  You don’t look like you got it in you.”  He sneered.  Mr. Knotts bristled with rage.  “I served under General Thomas Gardner in the war, and I watched your kind fall like grass, and I ain’t never regretted killing a single one of you good for nothin’ secessionist trash.”
“Well that’s just plain rude” came the voice of Wesley Sterns as he walked up on the scene.  His leg brace squeaked and Mr. Knotts turned to regard him.
“Now dammit anyhow Vern, what did I tell you about messing with folks around here, you got old Knotts mad and he might just shoot you and make me have to shoot him!”
Mr. Knotts stared at Wesley.  “I know you.  Wesley Sterns.  You had your name in the papers all the time using the war as an excuse to rob trains and banks.  I see your taste in friends hasn’t improved.”
Wesley smiled.  “Well I’ll tell ya what, Knotts, why don’t you lower that shotgun and we’ll talk about why we came out here so that nobody gets hurt.”
“I don’t trust this thing standing here.”
“Oh don’t worry about old Verno, he ain’t gonna hurt you.  He knows if he causes a problem I can shoot you both down without a thought.  Now lower that shotgun so we can talk business.  You got some hardware and I got a man named Benny Simms hot after me because I took out a loan on his fortune without asking him first.”
Mr. Knotts lowered the shotgun as Rosetta left hurriedly.  Mr. Knotts then spoke to Wesley.  “I know what you want.  I’ll get it for you, and I want you out of here.  I got no use for you boys.”
Wesley smiled.  “Sounds good to me.”
Within an hour they were back on the trail and Wesley shook his head as he lead a wagon with a large box in it.  He looked at Vernon.  “I can’t figger out why you would be so desperate you’d get all filthy with some nigra woman.  I just can’t figger that out.”  Vernon didn’t say anything.
The boys arrived back at the saloon and hoisted the box and carried it up the stairs.  Abel Grabe brought a bottle up and gave it to Wesley who was kicked back in a chair in the room the robbers had rented and he toasted himself.
“Here’s to Wes Sterns, who will deal with the handful of shenanigans who are headed this way, then who shall vanish down the trail after collecting the rest of his holdings from where they are stored and live out the rest of his days as a rich man never forgotten for his exploits during the war between the states.”
One of the boys came into the room and smiled.  “That’s good Wes, do you think it will work?”
Wesley took a drink.  “If it don’t it will be fun trying!”
As Wesley spoke, a pair of brass binoculars lowered and Scarecrow lay stretched out as if he had been ran over on the grass.  “It shore looks like em to me.  Just like I thought, they went boozlin’ it up in that saloon so you can bet they ain’t in top fightin’ condition.  The sheriff got up.  “I’m going down there to enlist some help, you boys wait here.  I don’t want to raise too much of a stir with those boys over there.”
Scarecrow pulled his beard.  “There’s goin’ to be a stir, you can count on that.”
The sheriff rode down to the town and went into the sheriff’s office in Pale Horse.  The sheriff nodded as he walked in and up to his desk.
“Sheriff, we have reason to believe that a band of men who robbed the Willow Bend bank and blew it up killing some of our people are holed up here in this town.  I have a handful of fellas that came to see justice done.  Have you seen any strangers riding through from any wanted posters?”
  Standing up, the sheriff of Pale Horse nodded.  “We’ve got a fairly popular bunch at the hotel saloon right now, but we don’t have enough hands to take them on.  Where are your boys at?”
“Just outside of town waiting word so we can move in when we need to. Can we count on you and your deputy?”
“You sure can.  Go get your help and we’ll see what we can do.”
With a nod the sheriff of Willow Bend went out the door and looked at the people milling around the streets.  Something didn’t feel right but he dismissed it as nerves.  He made his way down the road again and a curtain closed behind him in a window, and moments later the deputy was approaching Wesley Sterns, who was flipping a coin and having a drink. 
“The sheriff told me to let you know, a posse just arrived outside of town and they’re headed this way.”  The deputy said.  Wesley simply laughed to himself.  “Hear that boys?  The law is comin’.  They want to get that paycheck from upstairs!”
Wesley went down to the front room where a small handful of people were.  He went to the manager of the hotel and tossed him some cash.  “There is about to be some trouble out there in the street.  This is for any damage to this place, and you might ask these nice folks to get out of here to avoid getting hurt.”Wesley walked out on the porch and was joined by Abe Grabe. 
“You almost seem like you’re looking forward to trouble, Wes.”
“You worry too much, Abel.  After bein’ in the cav for years, I doubt this little small time bunch of volunteers is going to be a problem.  All they gonna do is get our name in the papers and make the folks at home shiver and shake.I can just see the look on Benny Simms’s face when he heard what we done.  He probably was redder than a barn dancing around swearing revenge over those boxes he thought were so safe in Willow Bend.”
The sun was getting low in the sky when the volunteers from Willow Bend walked deliberately down the road toward the hotel where they saw Wesley and Abel flanked by a few other men come calmly out to greet them.  Scarecrow fingered his long revolver and talked as he stared straight ahead.
“Well call me crazy, some folks do, but I don’t think the sheriff of this here town is fixing to help us, matter of fact it appears to me like that sumbitch tipped em off that we were coming.  Something in that drunken bastard’s swagger tells me so.”
“I guess I was foolish for trusting him.  Dammit anyhow.”
Another man spoke as they came close to the robbers.  “”Us against a bunch of half drunk thieves.  Doesn’t sound too bad.”
Wesley laughed loud as he swaggered out into the street.  Behind him the patrons ran out of the saloon and got out of the way and in the window of the sheriff’s office the sheriff and his two deputies watched the action.  Scarecrow regarded them.  “Sunsofbitches.”  He said.
  “Now why do you boys have to come down into our quiet little town and raise a fuss?”
The sheriff of Willow Bend spoke angrily.  “It might have something to do with you coming into our town blowing up the bank and killing the patrons including a little six year old girl for some money.  That might be the reason, you good for nothing murdering bastards.”
  Wesley grinned.  “Well I’m sorry, but that big paycheck was just a little too much to leave alone.”  He replied. 
Vernon looked at Scarecrow and fingered his gun.  “Crazy stupid old man.”  He muttered.
The sheriff tensed his gun hand.  “Well we came to get the money back, with you dead or alive.  My personal preference…”
Wesley drew his pistol and fired instantly and there was an explosion of lead from both sides.  One bullet whined off of his leg brace and tore his pants.  He stumbled backward and another bullet hit his shoulder and knocked him down.
Vernon drew his pistol and shot at Scarecrow, who fired his long barreled gun first and hit Vernon twice.  He then emptied it and missed the advancing form of Vernon as the curtain in the upstairs bedroom was swept aside and two robbers looked out.
Vernon closed on scarecrow and fired, shooting a hole in his hat, then wounding him in one leg and the last round hit his gun, glanced off and flew away.  Closing on scarecrow, Vernon pulled his big knife and muttered “gonna cut you up.”  Scarecrow grinned.  “Oh what’ll I do?”  He swatted his right arm and a mini revolver came out.  He fanned the hammer and shot Vernon straight in the head.  With a quick spurt of blood Vernon went down, his desire to rape Negro women cured forever.
There was a blaze of gun fire and men began shouting and falling, and the volunteers dove behind fences and wagons.  But to no avail.  Upstairs a Gatling gun had been unveiled, from Knotts farm and Wesley laughed out loud as he heard it blaze to life, shearing through the wagons and wood work, bringing wounded men out where he and Abel Grabe playfully shot down the sheriff and his volunteers to one last man.  Scarecrow felt shots rip through him and he shot back, but was too unsteady to hit anything.  He turned and ran to a horse he saw, climbed s far on it as he could and rode off down the road. 
Wesley Sterns, like a tower of evil in dark leather clothes, limped forward with his leg brace squeaking loudly and he finished off the men in front of him.  He twirled his revolver and laughed out loud, put it away and arrogantly walked back toward the hotel.  “Fun’s over lads!”  He shouted.  “Tomorrow mornin' we leave this dusty hole behind and go away to read our legends in the books ever more.” 
Wesley walked into the hotel saloon and as his cheering buddies came in to celebrate their victory, he spoke to Abel.  “Tonight we get the rest of it, after I get this scratch looked at.”  Abel nodded.
Scarecrow draped himself over the horse and just let it walk.He tried to push himself up into the saddle but he was wounded too badly and the pain was severe.  The Gatling gun had sliced through him in two places and he was slick and sticky from bleeding.  He thought of the girl in the bank, the explosion of the dynamite, and of the reward money he would never see.He faded in and out, and then he heard voices and saw a man with a scar on his face looking down on him.  Behind him was a man he knew used to ride in the yank army and a native.  But that scar.  He’d seen it in the papers. 
“Well old man, I’m going to guess you got out of Pale Horse after tangling with some robbers holed up there, or you are the worst man at target practice I ever saw.”  George said as Scarecrow woke up.
“There’s a man named Wesley Sterns with a bunch of evil minions who were waitin for us and they had a Gatling gun.  You got one more cigar?”
“Yeah, I got one,” George said flatly.  “And I’ll have it an hour from now.  It’s my last one.”
As Scarecrow sat up, James nodded to him.  “In answer to your question you were about to ask, you’re at the home of a very nice couple of people, Mark and Ella Powell.  You came here hanging from your horse, singing to yourself and my Native American friend patched you up.  Markus took his wife into town to check and see if those men were there, and she was going to send a telegram for help so we could go after them.”
Scarecrow sat up. “Well now that you answered my question, I could use just a pinch of…”
George silently handed a bottle to Scarecrow, who took one generous gulp, sighed like a contented cat and gave it back.  “T’sall I want.  Just enough to wet my gizzard.”
James stood up thoughtfully and looked at George.  “Well we have our answer.  They definitely are there.”  Scarecrow looked at George.  “You mean to tell me you sat here and let those two nice folks you mentioned go into town just to see if Wesley and his robber friends were there and you waited here?  What kind of sense does that make?”
George got up and walked toward the door.  “It makes sense when you want to get into town without them knowing you are there and starting a massive shootout in the streets.  Those men made off with a lot of money and they aren’t just going to let the law come and get it.  Besides, there are three of us and a bunch more of them.  It won’t be pretty when we meet.”
George walked past Silent Mountain on his way out of the house with a cigar in his hand.  He stepped outside and regarded the rugged terrain as he lit a match.  There was very little out here, mostly a lot of tumble weeds with some rocky hills off in the distance.  The Powell’s had a nice little place and obviously they had done well for themselves.  The house was two levels with nice barns and everything looking well kept.  George wondered what had spooked their horses and made them run, and he looked toward the barn and saw several wagons.  Well off indeed, they were.
George took out the picture he had had taken and looked at it, the images of his family stirring him.  The photographer had not wanted to take a picture of the bodies, but George was not a man to be trifled with and he had helped the mortician lay them out and arrange them as well as you could with people who had been burned and damaged in an explosion.  They were intact, but an ugly image to be sure.  George put the picture back as Silent Mountain came out and joined him, but he did not speak to the native, and had Silent Mountain not spoken to him there would have been no communicating.
Silent Mountain studied George for a moment and George turned to him and said shortly “Something on your mind, injun?”
Silent Mountain remained calm as he answered.  “I do not understand your hate.”
  George looked at him as he took a puff and answered.  “Hate of what injun, I just got done buryin' my family.”
“Hate of other men who are not the same as you.  You refer to the nigger and to the injun.  You talk about not associating with out kind.”
George took one more drag and put out his cigar and looked at Silent Mountain almost hostilly but the native did not change his calm demeanor.  “I associate, but if by that you mean do I see all men as being equal, no I don’t.  Niggers are good for working fields, and I don’t know what you natives are good for.”
“For this reason that you do not see others as equal to yourself you look down upon them and fight a war that kills many many warriors.”  Silent Mountain said.  George looked sat him for a moment and twitched his eye then replied.  “We fought a war to preserve our right to live our way without the meddling northern yanks coming down here trying to take away our way of life.  Why do you care what we fought for?
Silent Mountain regarded George thoughtfully.  “You and your brother Immit Rogers came and killed many of our people, men women and children on our lands who could not possibly have done you any harm, yet you used your great guns to destroy those you did not know.”
George retorted smugly.  “Our cavalry unit ran a bunch of useless backward savages out of land we had to use to get railroads and supplies through for our army and for our towns.”
As he shot out the words, it occurred to George that he had had this conversation with one or two other natives not near as calm as Silent Mountain and one of them was a descendant of North Wind, a hater of white people who had started a small war with them.  That native had gone for his knife and if George had not had split second timing he would have been hit with the knife, but instead drew his pistol and shot the angry man down.
But amidst it all, Silent Mountain remained oddly calm and George was lightly amazed at his attitude.  “George Rogers you become famous among many people for using your many guns to drive out people you believed did not belong living the way they so chose, yet you fought a war against the blue coats because you believe them to do the same to you.”
  George felt anger beginning.  How dare this savage question why the confederacy had fought the Union?  Oh that’s right, this one had fought for the yanks.  George thought about just shooting him down but he realized that would be a major mistake.  As little as he thought of Silent Mountain, James would skin him alive for taking an ally away. 
“I don’t expect you to understand.”  George replied.  Silent Mountain remained collected through the demeaning tones of George’s retorts and he simply smiled.  “It is well you do not expect so because I do not understand.  Did you also own slaves?”
  George suddenly felt like laughing, and he shook his head.  “You people always assume that because someone lives down here and fought for the south we owned slaves.  No we didn’t.  Like I said, we had no cash money and them niggers were ‘spensive.  We barely kept food on the table and we worked hard for it.  I Never owned a slave in my life, but I don’t like working with niggers either.  Sorry if you don’t like what I’m sayin'.  No worries, about ten thousand damned Yankees tried to kill me during the war, they hated me as much as you do.”
Silent Mountain smiled.  “I don’t hate a man without a reason. You were raised by an angry man who was filled with hate and he treated you very poorly.  Inside you is a loyal gentleman who will fight to the death for right and fair.”  Silent Mountain walked away from George who just watched him go.  Normally referring to his family that way would have caused a serious problem, but the fact was this stupid native was right.  George’s father was a mean bastard and he never understood why his mother had stayed with him, much less gotten close enough to have kids. 
Immit had gotten along with him, but when his father had died, he noticed his mother changed.  She began to smile, to socialize and to become different.  Immit had tipped his hat at the funeral, but he did not show much regard.  George had gone, and walked up to the casket.  He had checked his pulse to make certain there was no question, and said one thing to him “guess I won’t hear your stompin boots come roarin' after me again you mean old bastard” and he had walked away. 
George went to the door and stopped, taken by the cackling voice of Scarecrow, this tall, gangly, gray haired man who was so odd.  It didn’t take much to figure out that he had some boxes missing from his attic.  He was badgering James about joining them.
“I’m tellin' you mister, Benny Simms is payin' a damn pretty piece of re-ward money for them boys and he even offered a bonus for them bein' dead.  That’s how bad he wants them.  I ain’t sayin' it’s all about the money, but I want to go after them and you really need another man handy with a gun.  From what you tell me, that Markus guy ain’t too useful with a pistol.”
“Scarecrow, Markus has a wife and a business and this isn’t his fight.  If you want to go that bad and think you’re up to it then clean up and load that gun and we can go at first light.  I could use all the guns I could get.”
“Fantastical!”  Scarecrow responded.  James stepped outside with George, who grinned.  “Well there is you and me, the injun and with that old bag in there, there would be about eight of us.”
James was going to laugh when he heard Scarecrow wail from indoors “my shootin' is good and my hearing is better, Lightning George!”
ELLA WAS DRESSED IN ONE of her favorite dresses as Markus held her close to him and they came into the town.  Everything was an uproar.  There were men stretched out on the ground and loud music coming from inside the hotel. 
Markus shook his head.  “They used a Gatling gun.  That’s the only thing that could do damage like that.  They had just a few of them during the war, but they cut people down like grass.”
Ella looked at the mess and guided Markus past them.  “We have to send that telegram to the headquarters and ask for help for those men.  If the robbers have a Gatling gun, they don’t stand a chance, just two men and a native.  That native may not even shoot that well.”
As they rounded a corner, they ran straight into Abel Grabe, who looked at them and grinned.  They tried to walk around him but he stepped into their path.  “What would you fine folks be coming into town at a time like this for?”  He asked.  Markus stepped in front of Ella and looked angrily at Abel.  “Why would you care?”
  Abel smiled again.  “We just had us some trouble, and you folks are in a hurry to get into town.  Seems to me you’re up to something.  Got an eye on reward money?”  He asked.  He then looked Ella up and down.  Markus gritted his teeth.  “Take your eyes off my wife, you murdering bastard.”
Abel started to laugh mockingly and as he did Markus struck his right arm and a three barreled pistol came out which he cocked and pointed at Abel, who stopped laughing and looked surprised.  “You may be a big gun fighter Mr. Grabe, but all I have to do is pull this trigger, and I’ll kill you if you don’t take your damned eyes off my wife!”
Abel just stared at the little man, taken by his sudden bravado.  He raised his hands, half mockingly, and slowly walked away.  He suspected he could have shot Markus, but an angry man defending his wife could more than likely get a shot or two off from that gun and Abel didn’t feel like pushing his luck.  Markus had a three shot gun and he suspected he would have at least two in him one way or the other. 
Markus and Ella did not wait, they hurried to the telegraph office and sent a telegram to the State Police Headquarters and they made their way back to their horses and got out of town as the bodies were taken away and the robbers began to celebrate again.  They noticed that the robbers were boozing it up and laughing loudly about their success and they made haste back to their ranch to tell James what they had seen. 
As they began to come into view of the ranch, George was standing with his hat off and a look of disbelief on his face as he shook his head and listened to Scarecrow, who had taken a bath and was shaving as he sang to himself in the mirror.
“Pretty pretty eyes, such pretty pretty eyes,
Don’t you know I love them pretty pretty eyes.
Love that handsome face, so full of lively grace,
You are the sweetest thing, to walk upon this place.”
George might have not been so taken by the old folk song except that he saw the look on Scarecrow’s face and realized he was singing about Scarecrow.  How could the man shoot anything with eyes that bad?
Ella and Markus then entered the house and as they ran over each other’s sentences they managed to tell what they had seen and were surprised that Scarecrow had informed them already. 
“That’s perfectly fine.”  James said.  “I appreciate you sending that telegram because what will happen is that they will get it and send help, but I’m not sure we can wait to go after those thieves.”
“We can’t” George responded.  “Right now is perfect. When they get boozed up and don’t suspect anything.  This would make it easy if we move now, and catch them when they’re ready for bed.”
James looked worried.  “Even drunk there is a bunch of them.”
Scarecrow sneered “you can’t count on that sleazy sheriff, he sat right there in that office and watched us all a shootin’ and he tipped em off to begin with.  Nothing like bein’ on the payroll for Wesley Sterns.”
George smirked.  “Yeah, evil is infectious.”
As the sun drew low in the sky, the gentlemen made their polite goodbyes to Mark Powell and his wife Ella and they mounted their horses and began to trot toward the town.  James was stern and resolved, ready to bring the robbers to justice or throw lead wherever he had to.  Silent Mountain trotted along slowly as if he was taking everything in stride and not too worried.  He had lived a long life and was at peace with all things.  All men must die, he reasoned, and to die going against an evil enemy was honor to him.  He could be at peace with that at the end of his life.  He felt he had raised his family, served his people and done all that the higher powers would require of him and there was inner peace.
George was stern faced and he seemed to feel more resolution as the miles between him and the small dusty town shrank. 
Silent Mountain looked around and began to feel uneasy.  Scarecrow began to sing to himself and Silent Mountain rode next to him and told him to be quiet.  He then looked around them and George stopped his horse.  “I’ve seen that look before, injun, is there something on your mind?”
As the horses all stopped and the men looked around George put his hand on his pistol grip.  He looked around one more time, and like wind in a tree he was toppled as natives suddenly exploded from the rocks around them and knocked all of them from their horses.  Scarecrow went down cursing, and both George and James were knocked around, their gun belts thrown to the side of the trail and they were kicked and beaten into submission.  They then were tied by the neck and wrists and drug off to toward places unknown.  Scarecrow was tied at the hands and placed on a horse and the horse was lead along for what seemed like an eternity. 
The moon rose high in the sky and the knees and ankles of the men were in great pain from their forced walk when they found themselves lead into the light of a raging fire with a large camp of natives directly ahead.  They were brought to the edge of the fire where an old chief looked up from his sitting place and rose slowly as the men were stopped, dirty and sweating in front of him.  He nodded his head and Scarecrow was eased from his horse and sat by the fire.  The chief examined the men one by one carefully and he pulled Silent Mountain to the fire where he was sat down.  George and James were led to a set of trees and strung between them standing. 
James was breathing hard and drenched in sweat, and each time his knees weakened his wrists were stretched to searing pain by the ropes.  George was covered in sweat and looked very dark as if he knew something.
Once the men were tied, the chief walked slowly around and regarded them as the natives with him followed and watched.  He was flanked by men in face paint who appeared to be his lieutenants.  James did his best to brace his knees and avoid tearing himself apart. 
The chief finally led his fellows over to where the men were tied and he addressed the two white men from a few feet away. 
“The wounded old tired man with the white beard, I have no quarrel with him.  He is just a crazy man and has done no wrong that I know.”
The chief stepped closer and his fellow natives glared at the two tied men as he spoke. 
“The one known as Silent Mountain is one of our people and my family has encountered him before.  He has done us no ill.”
The chief drew near to James, nodded his head and signaled to another native who loosed the bonds so that James, although still tethered to the trees, could sit down.  He then squatted in front of him and spoke.
“I am an educated man and I read the white man’s news papers.  I know who you are.  You are the white warrior James Caldwell who was in many pictures when the blue coats fought the gray coats.  You had the Negro in your ranks and some of my people.  You fought for freedom for the slaves.  You carry the badge of the law man on your shirt and I remember you served under a man known as Thomas Gardner who was an agent to our people.  Thomas Gardner was one of few men who spoke the truth to us and kept his word.” 
The chief looked closely at James who looked back, feeling an odd sense of relief at his words.  But he did not want to get too trusting that he would go home to his family again.  There was serious trouble here and he knew it as the face of the chief got more stern and he walked up almost touching George in the face as he spoke in angry tones.
“I know you too white warrior.  That scar on your face gives you away.  You are the one they call Lightning George, a man very fast with his mighty gun, fast to shed blood.  You came to my people with your brother the long hair and you shot men women and children without remorse.  As the little girls ran screaming from you when you killed their mothers you shot them in the back.  I despise you.  You are evil, the son of your father the god of demons.  I will kill you this day that you may go and join him in the abyss.”
The chief spat in George’s face and George just looked at him with a look that reflected a hate filled man who knew his time was done.  The chief walked back to James and sat in front of him.  His voice was friendly again as he spoke.
  “I do not understand why you would travel with a man such as this.”
James spoke and was surprised at his own level of calm as he did so.  “There was a robbery in a small town and some people were killed, chief.  He was traveling with me to catch the robbers.  His son and grand daughter were among those killed.”
  The chief nodded as if he was reasoning the situation out.  “You tell me that this man with the scar is going to avenge his own?”
James nodded.  “That’s right.”
The chief got up and went back over to James and got in his face again.  George was revolted at the thought of this native capturing him then getting so close as he mocked him.
“So tell me, evil man, now that you have felt the sting of death come to your people, how does this make you feel?  Are you yet so convinced to deal death to others, evil man George Rogers?Ah, nothing to say huh?  You go to avenge your family and yet you so wantonly rode among my people spitting death from the end of your big gun.  I am going to skin you alive, tie you to the ground and let the ants do away with you.  See how the sun will soon rise again.  I will let you think on this and tonight by the light of the full moon I will tear the flesh from your bones white warrior with gray coat and you will feel pain as my people till your father the demon god comes to claim you.”
The chief got up and walked away, leaving George and James tied to the trees and George strained and groaned from being forced to stand.  He recalled having tied Negros up like this to punish them for running away when he had been one of Immit’s border riders after secession.  As he felt the burning agony in his legs and wrists he began to feel compassion against his will for the men he had hurt.
George looked at Silent Mountain sitting next to the fire with the chief who was sharing a pipe and food with him and he threw his head back and groaned as his legs burned in pain.  He felt his hatred of the Negro slaves begin to turn to regret of having seen female slaves stuck like this and he felt angry at himself for inflicting this kind of suffering on anything that breathed. 
James looked at him.  “I’m sorry George but I don’t know if there’s anything that I can do for you.  I have no gun, there is a brigade of them and they’re making certain I can’t do anything.”
“James, it’s over for me.  The most I can hope for is to get my head cut off before they get me out there.  He means it, he plans on feeding me to ants after he skins me alive.  They do that.  Damn it, damn it all anyhow.  And Wesley will ride into the sunset with a pile of money fit for a king and no one to stop him.He shot down the one group of boys who came for him with a Gatling gun.”
James shook his head.  “Right now I wish Scarecrow had a canon.”
The chief walked chewed a piece of beef and spoke to Silent Mountain in the light of the fire. 
“You were at the battle of Dark Mountain. You are the great warrior known as Fears Not The Bear, is that right?”
Silent Mountain shook his head slowly.  “No, I am Silent Mountain, the son of the Hichappi.  “I joined the blue coats and helped raise a regiment of our people to fight against the gray warriors that rode against us on our lands during the Great War.  The long hair you speak of is Immit Rogers, the brother of this man tied to the tree. He is on a quest to avenge his family and the others who were killed in the great robbery.”
The chief frowned and looked puzzled.  “This man spent years inflicting suffering on others, and yet he wants justice for his own.”
“He is not able to understand this.  His mind is closed, blinded by hatred of another man because of the color of his skin, taught this by his fathers.  He only sees his own pain and not the pain of anyone else.”
“And yet you ride with this man, why is this?”
“Our people needed the blue coat’s great guns to fight the gray coats when their arrows were not enough.  There were good men among both sides. I brought justice to our people with the long guns.  Now I wish to bring justice to the innocent when men cause their deaths.”
The chief nodded.  “I will send you out when the sun rises again with the old man and James.”
At length, the old chief walked back over to where the men were tied, Silent Mountain following, looking at George with a look of more sorrow than George had ever seen a man have before.
As the natives gathered around, the chief took a knife from one of his natives and looked at George. 
George felt the bonds on his wrists and he saw the image of Rachel laying in the bed at the hospital, her face burned, and he then saw his granddaughter standing in front of him in sixty nine, laughing about something.  He felt bitter rage burn in him that their deaths would never be avenged, that the man who’s life he had saved by charging into the teeth of a Union attack had carelessly let his family get caught in the middle of a robbery and had taken the last of the good things he had on earth…and there was nothing to be done about it. 
George pulled at the ropes and roared in anger as he tried to break free, but the chief moved toward him with calm resolve.  The chief walked slowly, letting this man who had hurt so many savor his last moments on earth before someone took his existence away and let him feel total helplessness.
As he walked, Silent Mountain called out to him and the chief turned.  George could see his face and saw it filled with pain as he walked forward and slumped to his knees, looking at the chief.  As he did, James spoke up to the chief, begging him.
“I know you’re angry about your families, and I truly understand, but I can’t fix that.  George was on his way with me to capture some men who robbed a bank.  I will go in with no one to back me up without him.  His little girl was killed and he wants to avenge her death.  These men are evil men…”
The chief looked over at James.  “I hear your words old warrior.  It is sad that white man George lost his child but the blood of our people is on his hands and he has no feeling for anyone but himself.  He is an evil man also and I have it here, now, to avenge the deaths of others.  The blood of our people will be avenged and I shall free you to deal with your enemies.  You will find a way.  A white man always finds a way to kill.”
The chief was about to return to George but Silent Mountain cried out in a voice filled with sorrow.
“I beg you, great warrior, take me instead and let this man George go.”
The chief was surprised and he turned and walked back, sat down in front of Silent Mountain, greatly taken by what he had said.  “Do I hear this?  That you offer your life up for this son of snakes?”
Silent Mountain nodded.  “Chief Many Horses, I beseech you to kill me and free him.  I am ready.”
  The chief was very upset and he looked at George, then back again at Silent Mountain.  “But how can I do this thing?  Do you not know that this man would never do the same for you?”
George felt tears sting his eyes and he gritted his teeth.  He then spoke up.  “That ain’t necessary Silent Mountain.  You don’t have to offer yourself to die some horrible death for me.  I did those things, I killed those people.  I can’t have another man be put to death on my account!  Let em kill me if..”
“SILENCE THAT DOG!”  The chief shouted.  One of the natives held George by the hair and put a knife to his throat.  The chief then leaned close to Silent Mountain.  “Are you sure you will offer yourself for him?  Why would you do this?”
  Silent Mountain paused for a moment and his eyes traveled from George to Chief Many Horses.  “It is the right thing I do.”  He replied.
Many Horses stared at him for a moment then rose slowly and looked at George, who had tears streaming down his cheeks as his face reflected anger and desperation. 
The chief spoke loudly so that all those natives around him could hear him and George could hear his words very loudly. 
“May this sacrifice haunt you all the days of your life, white man George, till the day you join your father the demon God in the abyss.  This man owes you nothing and yet puts all that you hold dear ahead of himself.”
The chief walked toward another warrior, dropped the knife and took his tomahawk and walked toward Silent Mountain who sat and looked at George.
For the first time in his life, George felt a feeling he had never felt before, and he looked at Silent Mountain and began to cry as he saw chief Many Horses stand next to him and grip the tomahawk.  George gritted his teeth and James sat staring helplessly as the chief raised the tomahawk high, let out a yell and brought it down on top of Silent Mountain’s head, turning it sideways at the last second and letting it land flat.  George felt a jolt of shock and Many Horses stared at him for a moment, then dropped the tomahawk and walked to him.  He grabbed George by the hair and jerked his head back, hissing angrily in his face as he spoke.
“I will not spill the blood of a great honorable warrior for a man such as you who is worth nothing.  I will honor his bravery and willing sacrifice.  For his sake you will walk off my land where you came uninvited, gray coat warrior.  But know this, if ever I see that ugly scar again, son of the devil, I will kill you.”
  The chief let George go, and as the ropes were cut, George fell to the ground, his heart pounding.  He did not have it in him to look at Silent Mountain as horses were given and they mounted and rode out of the settlement.  They returned to where they had been captured and in the dark they located their gun belts and put themselves back together.  Silent Mountain lay down and slept soundly, and Scarecrow snored loud enough that the horses moved away from them.  James said nothing, and George sat till he fell asleep without realizing it.
THE MOON GLOWED FULL AND illuminated the dark world and a cemetery sat in the blackness, covered by a blanket of stars that made it seem as if there was nothing else in the universe, that the dead that rested there, silent and alone were lost in some abyss far from very eternity itself.
A light mist curled around the graveyard and vines grew up obscuring tall, weather stained old stones with cracks splitting their fronts, messages unread for years, perhaps decades, memorializing men and women from all walks of life who, after lives filled with fortune, poverty, fame and ignominity now lay as dusty bones falling to pieces just under the surface of the ground.  The mausoleum had broken stained gals windows hiding its black interior and the secrets it held within from an unseeing world that cared little except on the rare occasion that a new tenant would come to join the ranks of the silent dead.
  So it was as a band of horses came through he shadows and a leg brace squeaked in the darkness and a voice cut through the mist.  It was Wesley Sterns, flanked by Abel Grabe and the other robbers.
“Yes sir, it was pretty damn smart if you asked me.”  Wesley said as they entered the graveyard and dismounted.  “You had the other boys from the reb army who hated them yanks and they robbed banks and buried the money in caves, hid it under trees, and either they got shot or went to prison or some of them forgot where all that stash was kept, the fruit of them dodging bullets. 
  “Then old Georgie comes along and we were talking about how I used to hang in the cemetery to avoid my bastard dad’s tirades and he suggests we be creative.”
  Wesley walked past a tall standing angel and up the steps of the mausoleum.  The others shrank back as he pulled his pistol and fired, again and again, and the lock danced then smashed apart.  A man in the darkness said “damn it Wes, you could get hurt doing that.”  Wes laughed and tossed the lock aside.
The band of thieves walked into the mausoleum and brought lamps, illuminating it’s interior.  They walked towarda statue that was missing it’s head and Wesley looked around and nodded.  “You know, they should build stuff like this and charge people money to come in and get their wits scared out of them.  They should have people dress up as dead folks and jump out from behind stuff and throw the skeer into em…nah something like that would never make money, folks would be too scared to come out or they’d be too afraid of some damned spook grabbin' em and takin' em into the shadows.”
In front of them was a crypt with four pieces of stone over the top and the men Tooke sections and remove them to expose a rusty old casket.  Abel laughed.  “Sure does look spooky enough.”  He said.  Another man piped up “it’s about to look a lot better.”
The boys took the lid and forced it to break loose.  There was a bang and a mist of horrible smelling air and the men shrank back for a moment.  Wesley walked up and swung the lid open fast and swore loudly.  Inside the casket was a rotting old woman with a dress on her stained and decayed. 
A voice in the dark spoke to Wesley.  “What did they do, resell the hole to someone else and take the money?”
Wesley did not answer, instead he grabbed a lamp and walked around for a moment, and then he called to the boys and pointed to another crypt which had another headless statue next to it.  The robbers pulled the stones off the top and found yet another rusted casket and the lid on this one opened easily.  The interior had stacks of cash and neatly arranged containers of gold coins.  Sighs of relief went up.  The boys were about to help themselves to the containers when they heard a noise of soft foot falls coming from the dark.  Several hands went for gun grips but Wesley took a lamp and boldly strode into the dark where his lamp illuminated a young man in his twenties, clad in older clothes, an impish young man whose eyes glowed like a dog’s eyes.
“Whatchew want, boy?”  Wesley asked.  The young man looked at the leather clad robber with the leg brace and meekly replied “my name’s Gene.  I got no home, I hang out here.  I…I…”  Wesley started to laugh. “No kiddin'.”
Wesley walked back to the casket and grabbed a stack of cash from his own stash and walked back, tossing it to the young man.  “Here, Wesley Sterns junior.  Now get the hell out of here and let us get back to dirty business.”
  The young man looked at the money then turned and hastily left.  As Wesley came back, Abel asked him “how much didjew just give that kid?”
Wesley laughed and shook his head.  “I have no idea.  I just gave him one bundle.  Now let’s get what we hid here and get the hell out of this grave yard before a bunch of these crypts open up and dead people come eat us.”

THE SUN TURNED A BLAZING RED and it was not hard to find water to freshen up in since thirty feet away Scarecrow was singing “pretty eyes” to himself and washing.  He was joined by the others, then as Silent Mountain took a drink George looked at him.
“Lord knows I have my bad points Silent Mountain but ingratitude ain’t one of them.  I know you did me a damn good turn back there.  They were going to kill me slow and painful. I guess I been pretty much an ass to you and you deserve better.  I just don’t understand why you did that.”
Silent Mountain stood up and smiled pleasantly and patted George on the shoulder.  “A great white warrior told me not too long ago, I do not expect you to understand.  Now let us go and seek the men we went through all this to get.”
The breeze began to blow harder and the sun lit up the town in a soft morning blue.  Wesley Sterns stretched and looked over at the leather bag he had the last of his money in.  Abel Grabe took a drink and handed the bottle to him as the other men stretched and began to rise.
In a few moments the robbers were all down the stairs eating meat and potatoes for breakfast and Wesley snickered to himself.  It had been a long night.  As the other men joked about the ride ahead of them and the news paper articles about the shootout, Wesley thought back again to when he was a boy and had roamed that cemetery because it was a place of peace, far away from the problems at home.  He had gone back to it again during the war many times to drop off money from robberies, and last night was almost kind of fun. 
As they feasted and took their last drinks in the Pale Horse saloon, the boys toasted their partnership, their jobs and Abel Grabe took a moment to go alone to the room they would soon leave and he ran his fingers through the money in his bag.  He laughed as he felt the cold metal of the gold and the fluff of the paper.  By now Bennie Simms had to be furious at having lost twice, the robbery, then the chances to get the money back.  Now the boys were headed into the sunset with years’ worth of profits.  Abel was thrilled and he put a pocket full of gold coins in his pants just to feel them.
Wesley and the boys cleared their things out of the rooms and came down stairs to the saloon.  Wesley tossed one more gold piece at the hotel manager and tipped his hat then walked out the front door and his entourage of thieves loaded up their treasures and prepared to mount for the ride into legend as some of the most successful robbers of their time.
As Wesley buttoned his saddle bag shut he was about to raise his good leg to get on his horse when Abel called out in surprise “we got company!”
  Wesley heard George’s voice say “not enough time to run to your Gatling gun either, you sonofabitch.”
Wesley Sterns turned and his hand freed his gun on the right side and in the flash of an instant, Lightning George had drawn on him and a bullet slammed into his leg brace and another into his gun, shattering and going into his side.  Wesley cried out in pain and made for the saloon, drawing his other pistol and firing back as George shot him in the back of the leg.  Wesley made it into the saloon and fell into a chair, one pistol in his left hand and burning with pain. 
Abel had drawn his rifle and George had shot with his other hand, making the pocket with the gold explode all over.  A second shot hit him in the left arm and a third hit the mechanism of his rifle, rendering it useless.  He ran into the saloon where he tried to work his rifle to no avail and he cursed George, who once again, in a split second, had shot him and Wesley to pieces before anyone else could move.  His arm was broken and his rifle useless.  Abel slammed it down as he heard the gun fire outside and town folks ran for cover as the law came to town and faced the robbers.
James Caldwell fired his shotgun twice as bullets sped past him, and he slung shells into it’s chambers with amazing speed then drew his revolver. He shot two men down and saw the sheriff and his deputies come running out of the office ready to fire on him. 
  Scarecrow pulled his long nosed Buntline and shot the sheriff, who flew backwards and as if he was a ghost, the deputies shot at him and the bullets buzzed past as he shot down one deputy and his gun emptied.  The other deputy smugly advanced on him and Scarecrow looked up, smiled impishly and swatted his right arm and a small pistol came out with which he fired two shots between the deputy’s eyes and yelled “dirty filthy corrupt lawman!”
The street came alive with the sounds of robbers firing guns and the men in the street took cover.  Silent Mountain returned fire also, and saw James get hit.  James fell wounded and Silent Mountain grabbed him and drug him behind a wagon.  James reloaded and threw his gun to George who walked toward the hotel shooting and knocking robbers down.  James looked up and saw a bullet strike George and he bled, but he did not seem to notice.
Two men went up to the hotel room where the Gatling gun had been left and they were loading it when Scarecrow fitted a new cylinder to his pistol and he carefully stood and aimed the long nose of the buntline.  The first shot struck one of the men and the second struck the handle on the gun, blasting it off and rendering it useless.  As the man trying to work it attempted to crank it anyhow, Silent Mountain took the pistol he was carrying and fired off into the window taking the man down.
  At length there were no robbers left, either they were wounded and useless or dead.  George stood and refitted his colt pistols with fresh cylinders as town people began to look out windows.  James shouted at the town people from where he was laying and George stalked toward the hotel saloon. 
“This man is operating with the authority of the Texas State Police.  Do not interfere!  George shouted.  A man in a store yelled “that’s lightning George!”  That was enough to keep the streets clear. 
  Reloaded, with James’s pistol, George said angrily “You sit tight there James, I got this.  I went through a lot for this moment and I’m takin' it.”
As George strode up the steps of the saloon, James and Silent Mountain exchanged looks of surprise as they heard Scarecrow dancing in front of the sheriff’s office and singing to himself.
“I shot him in the ass, I shot him in the ass, he ain’t coming back no more cuz I shot him in the ass.  They ain’t havin' fun cuz I shot the Gatling gun, ain’t gonna rob no one no more, I shot em in the ass.”
George blew through the doors of the saloon with venom, and Wesley looked up at him as did Abel Grabe, in chairs on opposite sides of the walkway.  Wesley had an empty pistol and Abe had a useless rifle. 
Wesley began to laugh.  “Well well well, if it ain't Lightning George, the baddest man with a shooting iron I ever served with!”
George was not amused and his eyes blazed with rage. “You boys and me got unfinished business.”  He said.
Wesley got serious suddenly and said accusingly “funny thing Georgie you weren’t saying that when we robbed banks and trains during the war!”
George bristled.  “That was before you and your boys blew up a bank and killed my kin.  I ain't here about the money you stole from old Simms, I could care less about that.  I care that I just got done burying three caskets and one of them had my six year old granddaughter in it.  I ain't here for any other reason.”
Abel looked at his useless rifle then back at George.  “That was an accident George, no one meant to hurt your family.  Nick had a stick of dyno in his belt and he got shot.”
George suddenly knocked Abe’s rifle away from him.  “And I guess you think that makes everything alright?!”
“Awe hell George it ain’t like we picked that bank because they were there, it just so happened to be that way. What could we do, send them outside?”
George turned to Wesley.  “You were always the big leader of these boys, so I got something to show you.”  George got out the picture of his family and held it right in front of Wesley and gritted his teeth.  “My daughter in law Rachel lived long enough to tell me that you looked right in my son Loren's eyes and told him you knew who he was! Now he’s a dead man, damn you!  A DEAD MAN!  This is all I have to remember them by! DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO LOOK INTO A CASKET AND SEE A LITTLE GIRL?  Rachel said you told the bank manager that little girl was going to get hurt!”
Wesley shook his head and cursed.  “George I told him that so he would open the vault.  I shoulda never said nothin' to Lorren but it kinda caught me off guard he was there.  The whole damn thing was an accident.”
George threw the picture down.  “Well she’s dead all the same ain’t she?  I’ll tell you what I’m going to do Wesley.  I could have shot you dead in the street a minute ago, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to look into your face while we settled up. I’m going to give you and your favorite son here a chance.”
George took his pistols off his hips and slammed one down in front of each of the men and snugged James’s pistol into his right holster.  He then casually lit his last cigar and puffed it, taking a long hard look at each of the two men. 
“Since you two think I’m being so unfair, I’m handing each of you a loaded gun, and I’m going to turn my back on you.  When I drop this cigar, you do your best, and be assured I plan to do mine. I promised Rachel on her death bed that I wouldn’t let you go spend that money while her and her daughter lay in the ground, and I intend to keep that promise.”
  George turned to the front of the room and looked out the door.  Wesley kept talking behind him and Abel looked at the pistol in front of him and back at George and tapped his finger. 
  “Hell George, we got a ton of money in those boxes.  You saved my life during the war.  We could take that money and ride the hell on out of here.  These town folks are cowering across the street, too scared to get close to us.  They won’t stop us.  We didn’t mean for your family to get hurt.  Why not ride out of here with us and go someplace else.  What you got in Fort Worth?”
George could not believe he would ask that, but he calmly replied “Three graves, and one of them is a little girl in a satin dress with her mommy and daddy on both sides of her and she won’t ever celebrate another birthday.  Your money don’t mean shit to me.”
George finished his cigar and the room was deathly silent as he tossed it to the floor and crushed it with his boot heel.  He knew for an instant what they were thinking, and he could practically feel them readying to reach for the pistols.  One more time, he would try to earn that childish nickname they had given him, Lightning George.  He could feel the weight of James’s pistol on him.
Wesley uttered some curse and at the same time his and Abel’s hands grabbed the revolvers and pointed them.  At that instant, George’s hand grabbed the pistol on his hip and instantly without thought threw the hammer back and he turned on the men who had stolen Simms’s money and blown his family to death days before.
George fanned the gun with the expert perfection he had learned from years of practice with his brother Darien and during the war fighting the Yankees.  The first bullet hit Wesley and he fell back as he second one finished him.  As George fired on Abel there was a return shot and George felt it smash into his chest.  He saw Abel go down, shooting as he went.  Abel shot George’s hat off, then a bullet passed under his arm and tore his jacket, and by that time Abel had landed on the floor and the last shot passed through one of George’s legs.  George walked forward undaunted and yelled “This is for my family!”  He fired the last rounds into the men he held responsible and stood for a moment.  He was burning in several places and his chest hurt badly.  George knew it was over for him and he gathered the guns and walked to the door.  There was a dribble of blood, but amidst the pain of being shot by this drunken trash he felt as if things had indeed been made right. 
George didn’t expect to make it to the street and he looked down to see how bad the hole in his chest was.  He was amazed to see that the bullet had smashed into the star James had pinned on him, ripped his sleeve, and vanished.  He was fine outside of his leg.

BENNINGTON SIMMS MADE GOOD on his promise and awarded the money he promised plus a bonus for killing the robbers, who were confirmed dead for him and disposed of.  James tipped his hat to George and shook his hand after they had been bandaged.  And Silent Mountain prepared to ride back to his native homeland.  James held on to George for a moment and smiled.
“I have to say I never thought I would do a service with a former confederate, especially one that was the finest with a gun.  You’re a good man George.”  George smiled.  “Well that’s a matter of opinion but thanks anyhow.”  He replied. 
George walked up to Silent Mountain and nodded to him as he shook his hand.  Silent Mountain said with a smile, “You shouldn’t be seen shaking hands with an injun but you are a brave man good with a gun and you believe in justice.  I hope you continue walking straight.”
  George had a pleasant tone to his voice as he replied.  “I won’t forget what you did up there.  If it wasn’t for you I’d have been skinned and eaten by ants right now.  I still don’t understand why though.”
Silent Mountain looked at George Seriously and replied “George, you were raised to believe that Negros were inferior, created to serve the white man. You were raised to believe that the native is just a savage. The fact is George that men develop differently under different circumstances.  I was raised around white settlers and became good friends with many of them including James. We served together.  You felt you were wronged by the north so it justified stealing from their banks, but at the same time you had a just, gentleman side to you and that is why you stopped robbing after the war.  Your family was murdered by evil men and it was your duty to avenge them and make certain those men killed no more. I wanted to make sure the good man in you did not perish for the evil work of the other man.”
  George’s face flashed with good humor.  “Damn!  You must have learned to make speeches from James.  You breathed well and everything when you said that!”
  Silent Mountain shook his head with amusement.  “Go home Lightning George.”
“Take care, squaw.”  George replied.
Before he left town, George stopped by the hotel and caught up with Scarecrow, who was leaving, his hair all slick and his clothes cleaned, his long gun neat on his hip, George handed him an envelope.
“Your re-ward money.”
“Oh my word yes.”  Scarecrow responded.  “I hope you didn’t think I did all that just for the money, now didjew George?”
George looked at him and replied “Believe me, Scarecrow, there is not a shred of doubt in my mind that you did plenty of it purely for amusement.”
An hour later George was riding back toward home.  Behind him, Wesley was dead, Abe was dead, years of violence were dead and a part of him that he wished to forget was dead also.He could not change the three graves, but at least the men who had put them there would never spend the money they had stolen.  George began to hum his wife’s song.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


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