In The Dead of Night

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: Booksie Classic
A storm raged over the Mexican border town of Espinilla. The storm brought with it a stranger. Who was the man in black riding through the night?

Submitted: October 30, 2015

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Submitted: October 30, 2015

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The storm raged through the Mexican border town. The torrential driving rain and howling wind battered the buildings. Windows and doors rattled. Thunder crashed and boomed overhead. The pitch black darkness was illuminated now and then by flashes of lightning. The townsfolk were all indoors. Lamps and lanterns glowed from the buildings. Some of the town people watched the storm from windows and doorways.

Those that saw him expressed surprise as a man on horseback rode slowly through the night. The town of Espinilla was no stranger to outlaws, drifters and bandits but on a night as wild as this anyone with any sense would find somewhere warm and dry and stay put. The rider headed along the main street. He pulled his mount to a stop outside the cantina. He dismounted and tied his horse up outside. He crossed the raised wooded boardwalk, the wind tugging at his coat. He crashed through the door, slamming it shut behind him.

The place was packed. Most of the customers were men. They drank beer and whiskey. Some played faro and poker. Every man in the room wore a pistol. Some wore their guns on their hips, others, in the Mexican style, had their weapon holstered on their belly. When trouble could break out over a wrong word or sideways glance it was best to have your guns where you could reach them.

The stranger crossed the room. Rain water ran from his coat and hat. All eyes watched in the lamp glow as he trudged towards the bar. The barkeep, a heavyset Mexican with thinning hair half smiled at him.

‘You just got into town?’

The stranger nodded.

‘Not the most pleasant night to be travelling, amigo. What brings you here?’

‘Whiskey.’ The stranger grunted.

The barman, unsure if the reply was an answer to his question or an order, poured him a measure of whiskey. The man tossed nickels onto the bar. The barkeep scooped the coins up off the stained wooded surface. The stranger leaned on the bar with his back to the room as he sipped his drink. A figure approached to his right.

‘Well, look what we have here. You’re drenched to the bone.’

The stranger did not reply.

‘It aint wise to be travelling alone at night. These here parts aint the friendliest.’

‘That so?’

‘Sure is. What’s your name?’

‘They say names is for tombstones. What’s yours?’

‘Where you from?’

‘Just around.’

‘Your accent. You from Montana?’

No reply.

‘Come on, Montana. What’s the deal? You drift into town in the dead of night, in the middle of a storm. You’re either loco or you’re on the run. Which is it?’

The stranger shrugged. The man placed a hand on his shoulder.

‘You better start answering when I talk to you.’

Montana necked the last of whiskey. He turned to face the man. He was somewhere in his twenties and had a days growth of beard on his jaw. The look in his eyes said he wanted trouble. His hand hovered over the gun on his hip. Montana tipped his hat.

‘Good night.’

Montana stepped around him.

‘What? Where are you running off to?’

Montana crossed the room.

‘Don’t you know who I am? I’m Vance Grey! People don’t walk out on me!’

Montana walked out the door. Those looking on smiled to themselves. Vance drew his pistol. He rushed out the door. Standing on the boardwalk he peered around in the stormy darkness. There was no sign of the stranger. He stared hard, shielding his eyes from the rain with a hand. No sign at all.

‘You better run, Montana.’ he called. ‘You yellow bellied sonofabitch!’

He holstered his six shooter and went back inside to get himself another drink.

Vance Grey had almost forgotten the previous night’s encounter with the stranger when he entered the cantina the next evening. Last night’s storm had given way to a baking hot New Mexico day. Even though the sun had set there was still a hot humidity. As he headed to the bar Vance wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. The place was packed with drinkers and gamblers. He nodded howdy to a few men. Like him, a lot of his amigos worked for Jeb Cooper. His employer called himself a businessman. That vague title hid a multitude of sins and many downright crimes. Cooper owned half of the land in the county. He also owned so many stores, cantinas and cat houses that he’d lost count. He maintained his position by employing fierce men like Vance. And men like Grey thrived on using bully-boy tactics to get their own way. If trouble did occur they could and would hide behind the name of Jeb Cooper.

Vance ordered a beer. The barkeep slid the glass over. Vance said he was much obliged but did not even make the pretence of offering to pay. The man next to Vance gave him a nudge.

‘What do you make of that?’

He pointed to a figure sitting in a dark corner. The man was dressed head to toe in black. Vance recognised him instantly. Montana, he whispered. His friend spoke again.

‘Looks like he’s waiting on someone or something.’

Vance took a swig of his beer. He slammed his glass down on the bar. He strode over to where the man he called Montana was sitting drinking whiskey.

‘Howdy, Montana. Not a smart move coming back in here. I reckon me and you got unfinished business.’

Montana glanced up from his liquor. He held Vance’s gaze for a second. He then looked back down. Vance slapped a hand on the table.

‘This gets sorted tonight, one way or another, y’hear?’

‘You reckon?’ said Montana.

‘I sure do. I ride with Jeb Cooper. Maybes you aint heard of him but let me tell you, round here that counts for something.’

Montana slowly got to his feet. A man named Baxter joined Vance. They glared at him, hands dancing near their pistols. Montana grinned.

‘Aint you fellers just the meanest gunslingers south of the Picketwire River?’

‘One more word.’ growled Vance.

Montana pushed his way between the two men. As he reached the door he paused. He turned back to them. He called out Good evening, ladies and left. Vance and Baxter drew their pistols. They stormed out after him. Montana was walking away down the boardwalk. The two men rushed up behind. Before Montana could move they both opened fire. The bullets tore into his back. His body jerked as the lead tore through him. In the darkness they fired shot after shot. His coat flailing, Montana’s body crashed bleeding to the walkway.

Vance laughed as he holstered his pistol. He patted Baxter on the shoulder.

‘We sure learned him a lesson.’

The following morning Vance, Baxter and two of Cooper’s men swaggered down the main street. They walked along as though they own the town itself. A man in a dark coat and hat walked past them. The man tipped his hat, howdy, and continued down the street. Vance and the other men glanced at each other then back at the man. They were all sure it was the same man they had gunned down the night before.

‘I thought we killed him.’

‘We did.’

‘Are you sure it was him?’

‘I think so but it was dark.’

‘Montana?’ Vance called.

The figure stopped walking.

Vance squinted in the glaring sunlight. The man turned around slowly. He had his head down. His black hat obscured his face. Then he raised his head. Montana glared at Vance. Then he grinned.

‘Help you feller?’

‘What is it with you, Montana?’ growled Vance.

‘Not sure I get your meaning.’

‘We thought we’d seen the last of you.’ added Baxter.

‘I think it would be best if you left town.’ said Vance.

‘That sounds almost like a threat. You wouldn’t be threatening me, would you?’

As though taking part in some strange dance, Vance and his men, and Montana, shifted off the boardwalk and out into the baking heat of the dusty high street. Montana watched the four men lined up in front of him.

‘You got some sand, Montana, I’ll give you that.’

Montana said nothing. He glanced to the boardwalk. A dozen people had spilled out from the cantina. He returned his attention to Vance and the others. In a swift motion he swept his long coat open revealing the silver pistol on his hip. He tucked the coat behind his six shooter. The others adjusted their stance, hands hovered near their holsters. The sun beat down over head as the men squinted at each other.

The four men watched Montana. He watched Vance. He was clearly the one in charge. The other men would follow his lead. Time seemed to stop. The whole world had suddenly shrunk down to this street in this Mexican border town. Nobody moved.

Then Vance reached for his pistol. Before he could aim and fire Montana drew his six shooter. He fired once. The bullet caught Vance square in the forehead. As his body dropped to the sand Montana fanned his free hand over the hammer of his pistol. He waved his gun quickly left and right. The other men fell as his bullets tore into them. It was all over in a matter of seconds. Then the world seemed to start up again.

Men rushed from the raised walkways. They swarmed to Montana and the four fallen men. A tall man in an expensive suit marched up to Montana. Beside him was a large untidy man. He wore a sheriff’s badge on his stained waistcoat.

‘Sheriff, arrest this man. He gunned down four of my men in cold blood.’

‘You’re Jeb Cooper.’ said Montana.

‘Yes, I am. And I just watched you kill three innocent ment.’

‘They were hardly-’

‘You’ve got a murderer’s eyes. I can tell you’ve taken many a lift.’

‘Cooper,’ snarled Montana. ‘You might scrub up clean but you’ve got more blood on your hands than I have.’

Cooper’s composure slipped for a second. A mixture of shock and fear appeared on his face for a moment.

‘Come on.’ said the Sheriff. ‘I’m taking you to the jail house.’

As the lawman pushed him into the tiny barred jail cell and slammed the door he spoke to his prisoner.

‘You’re lucky, friend. Judge Wallace is in town. You will be in court in the morning. Tomorrow will be a good day for a hanging.’

Montana slumped on the hard cot bed in the corner of the room.

The next morning Montana was cuffed and taken across the street to the court building. As he was being shoved through the door he noticed Jeb Cooper. He was deep in conversation with a barrel chested man with a dirty grey beard. The sheriff dragged Montana through to the small court room. The rows of wooden benches were packed. There was chair and a desk on a raised platform at the front of the room. Montana was lead to a chair in front of the platform. A voice called out All rise for Jude Wallace. Everyone in the room got to their feet. Montana spotted Jeb Cooper on the right of the room. The judge entered the room and too his seat on the platform. It was the man with the dirty grey beard Cooper had been chatting to. He stared at Montana.

‘You are charged with first degree murder. It is put to you that you needlessly gunned down three innocent men in an unprovoked attack.’

‘That aint right. It was a four on one gunfight.’

‘Call the first witness.’ barked the judge.

One by one several men took the stand to explain than Vance, Baxter and the others had been taking a stroll along the street when Montana shot them down in cold blood before they could even draw their weapons. As each witness returned to their seats Montana spotted Cooper shake their hands.

Without giving Montana the opportunity to give his account of events the judge leaned forward, fingers linked.

‘There are countless witnesses who confirm that you senselessly murdered these four upstanding members of the local community.’

‘If those jackasses were pillars of this town then this says a lot about this rotten place.’

A roar of objection exploded across the room. Montana turned to see Cooper on his feet waving his arms in outrage. The judge called for quiet. The hubbub died down.

‘You are a killer. I know a murderer when I see one. Like as not, you’ve killed more people than smallpox. No. No. You won’t drift on to another town to raise havoc.’

He paused. Everyone in the room knew what was coming next.

‘You have been found guilty of murder. You shall hang by the neck until dead.’

As he was taken back to the jail he overheard excited chatter about the hanging. Before closing the cell door the sheriff beamed at him.

‘You’ll hang in the morning, boy.’

Two hours after sun up the next morning the sheriff dragged Montana out onto the dirt of the high street. Crowds of people lined the walkways as the lawman yanked him along by the handcuffs. The morning sun beamed overhead. They pushed on down the street. The townspeople swarmed behind.

Gathered at the wooden gallows were Judge Wallace and Jeb Cooper. With them were men that, judging from the way they hung on his every word, were on Cooper’s payroll. Cooper wore a dark blue suit and a look of righteousness on his face. Judge Wallace had a smug grin and breakfast stains on his tie.

‘Morning Judge, Mister Cooper.’ said the sheriff.

‘Let’s get this done, shall we?’ replied Cooper.

Montana was shoved up the creaking wooden steps. People flocked around. The skies overhead started to darken. Rolling black clouds filled the sky quickly. It was as though black paint had been added to blue water. Moments later the blue sky was completely replaced by an almost night time black. Montana placed a boot on the gallows platform. A boom of thunder crashed. The sheriff pulled him towards the noose. Rain began to fall. This quickly became a lashing downpour. Wind gusted through the town yanking at people’s clothing and rustling in their ears.

Montana was positioned on the trap door. The storm raged on. The lawman placed the noose around Montana’s neck. Shouting to be heard over the wind, rain and thunder, he asked Montana if he had any last requests. Montana shook his head. The sheriff gave the signal. The trap door opened. The townsfolk watched as he dropped. There was a snap as the rope pulled tight. Montana dangled from the rope. His legs kicked furiously.

Lightning struck overhead. The flash of blinding white light stunned everyone’s eyes. A split second later all eyes looked to the gallows. Was it over? Was he dead? People gasped. Some cursed. The noose was empty. They stared around in the wind and rain.

‘Look, there he is!’ someone shouted.

The townsfolk turned. People pointed in terror. The figure clad in black was further up Main Street. He had is back to them as he walked slowly out of town. Jeb Cooper swore. He grabbed a rifle. He pointed to the sheriff and one of his men.

‘Draw your weapons and come with me.’

The sheriff and a stocky man by the name of Sanchez drew their pistols. They nodded to Cooper. The three men marched through the storm as one. They followed Montana away from the town. They neared the man in black as he pushed on through the rain.

Cooper raised his rifle. He fired. Montana’s shoulder twitched as the bullet hit him. He kept walking. The sheriff and Sanchez fired. Bullet after bullet ripped though Montana’s body. His aims flailed as he was hit. But he walked on.

‘What the deuce is it with this feller?’ said the sheriff.

Montana spun to face them. His hat pulled down low, his face could not be seen. His arms swung up to point at his pursuers. Just as they saw the six shooters in each hand Montana fired. Cooper gasped as the sheriff and Sanchez took bullets to their heads. Dead eyes wide they dropped to the dirt.

Montana walked on away from Cooper. He turned right, walking quickly now. Cooper adjusted his grip on his rifle and ran after him. Then he saw where Montana was heading. The figure charged through the gates to the town cemetery. The raging storm grew more intense. The rain fell so hard it stung. The wind blew like a hurricane. And in the dark skies above thunder and lightning flashed and crashed.

As Cooper stepped through the gates to the cemetery Montana appeared right in front of him. He was facing him now, standing completely still. In the lightning flashes Montana’s face was a skull.

‘What are you?’ said Cooper.

Montana rummaged in his coat. He pulled out a crumpled photograph. Cooper stared. The photograph was of a couple in their twenties and their infant children.

‘You? But that’s can’t be. I killed them all.’

‘Yes, Cooper. Yes you did.’ Montana whispered.

Cooper stared in disbelief as Montana’s features were now as they had been in life.

‘It is you.’

‘Throw down your rifle.’

Cooper did as he was told.

‘Now, go for the pistol at your hip.’

‘What?’

‘Draw, damn you.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘You’re going to give me the chance I never had in life. Me and you, in a fair draw. Beat me and you walk out of here.’

Montana adjusted his stance. He swept his coat back behind his pistol. His hand was over his pistol. He was ready. Cooper looked as pale as the ghostly gunslinger he faced. He fiddled with his gun belt. He had killed many people over the years, most in cold blood. He never figured that one of his victims would return to demand the fair throw of a gun.

Cooper took a deep breath. He went for his pistol. Before his weapon was clean out of his holster Montana drew and fired six shots into his chest. He slumped to the muddy ground.

The next morning townsfolk discussed the previous evening’s events. They spoke of hearing the sound of gunshots from the cemetery and seeing a lone man dressed in black riding out of town through the storm.


© Copyright 2018 CTPlatt. All rights reserved.

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