THE DISENTANGLEMENT OF BILLY BOYLES

Reads: 530  | Likes: 9  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: DOWN-HOME
Novelette - 1856 - an eight year old boy and seven year old girl are brutalized by Indians, then by an outlaw gang, the boy's mother murdered. Rescued by a Texas Ranger and adopted by him, the boy grows up to acquire the skills needed for him one day as a Texas Ranger to set out to avenge himself, his mother, and the girl he loves.

Submitted: April 07, 2020

A A A | A A A

Submitted: April 07, 2020

A A A

A A A


 

THE DISENTANGLEMENT OF BILLY BOYLES 

Novelette & Painting by Virgil Dube’ – Copyright 2020

 

THE GREETING

Texas Ranger Captain Clem Thornton carried a Sharps Model 1853 carbine rifle and Colt 1851 Navy pistol in his belt holster, as he strolled the downtown Austin sidewalk, headed to the Texas Ranger Administrative Headquarters from his home a quarter mile away. At a point he veered left off the walkway to cross the street when a well-dressed young girl quickly approached him, “Wow, a real Texas Ranger! Can I shake your hand, sir?”

“Annie, don’t be rued. The Texas Ranger may be in a hurry,” the trailing woman interjected, obviously his mother with a man, likely her husband.

“Not a problem, ma’am, mister,” the Captain replied, shaking the boy’s hand then reaching to greet his parents. “You folks traveling through Austin; haven’t seen you before.”

“I’m Timothy Lee. This is my wife Daria and daughter Annabelle. Yes, we’re travelers from New Orleans. We’re loading on a stagecoach in a couple of days headed to California, another couple, the Boyles from Georgia are accompanying us, all of us making the stagecoach rather crowded, but tolerable.”

“Yeah, I like their son Billy,” Annabelle announced, bright-eyed.

The Captain introduced himself, hung around to be sociable, spoke at length with the couple about Texas prior to the family happily boarding the stage to continue their journey. Ironically, he was preparing to leave to hunt down Comanche renegade Dark Cloud, reputed to be in the area the coach would be headed. Tipping his hat, saying goodbye, he walked away, preferring not to scare the family perhaps unnecessarily by mentioning the renegade and his murderous band posed danger to any traveler.

COMANCHE RAID

Cole Bates and Curtis Skaggs’ history together dated back ten years when they met as sixteen-year-old drifting orphans. Both had experienced periods straight and periods they were desperados throughout Texas, Arizona Territory, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. During an unusually long period of lawfulness the pair recently hired jointly with the Overland Stage Line, switching intermittently on runs as stage driver and armed guard. 

This simmering mid-summer day with heat waves rising found the untidy pair in route from Austin to El Paso, Texas. Cole the stage driver heavily bearded with shoulder-length disheveled black hair, and Curtis the sandy-haired armed guard, red-faced from over drinking and clean-shaven with mustache, had switched duty every two hours. Following the twisting trail amid arid country sagebrush, Joshua tree, scrub, cactus, rock-strewn low-lying hills, they neared the station eight hours west of Austin, as thankful as their bone-rattled passengers for overnight rest, fresh water, toiletry, and grub prepared by the station attendant.

However, Curtis grew suddenly fidgety, “Partner, somethin’s eating at me, not a good feelin’.”

Cole studied the distant between them and small building approaching, then he scanned the countryside, didn’t see anything suspicious, “Don’t worry, Hargrove seems to have things in order at the stagecoach stop. I’ve had uneasy feelin’s many times … but nothin’ usually happens.”

Within minutes, Cole pulled the stagecoach to a stop twenty feet from the station. He secured the reins to the brake lever he set, and stepped from his seat to the ground. He picked up the water bucket from the porch where the station keeper had placed it for him to water horses. As Cole approached his four harnessed horses to refresh, he spotted horsemen charging over the nearby rise. “Injins … everybody, find cover fast! Curtis, help the passengers down and into the station,” he yelled.

Cole tossed the bucket aside and dashed back to the stagecoach. Before he reached the scabbard beside the driver’s seat and his Winchester, a bullet ripped through his upper right arm knocking him to the ground. An instant later, a bullet tore through Curtis Skaggs’ chest as he opened the coach passenger door, dead before he hit the ground.

***

During early morning, Chief Dark Cloud and his Comanche war party out of view of the attendant performing his duties in and around the station, waited patiently the coach’s’ arrival, familiar its schedule. After the coach stopped and before passengers unloaded, eighteen warriors swept over the nearby prairie rise, screaming war cries on ponies galloping down upon helpless victims, rifles firing, arrows and war lances flying.

The Comanche raid at Grand Junction stagecoach station in arid central Texas June 10, 1856, overwhelmed all station occupants, tearing apart the Boyles, Lee, Hargrove, and Skaggs families. Three warriors raped Daria Boyles. The last lifted a handful of her hair and partially scalped her. Stopping, he admired her beauty and left her believing she dead. Warriors murdered her husband Joshua and kidnapped their ten-year-old daughter Caroline. In addition, Timothy Lee and his wife Jessica were murdered, she raped, all scalped. 

For whatever reason neither would comprehend afterward, the Indians spared eight-year-old Billy Boyles knocked unconscious, otherwise unharmed. Seven-year-old Annabelle Lee escaped immediately and hid in heavy sagebrush a distance from the killing scene. Noble Hargrove the station keeper was found hiding in the outhouse, the last killed, scalped, he with family in Waco. Curtis Skaggs from Austin had no family, was destined one day for the gallows, but Dark Cloud got him first. Stagecoach driver Cole Bates managed to right himself enough to grab the pommel of a frantic horses’ saddle with his left hand. The horse terrorized fled into the brush, Cole retching and in pain clinging for his life. He dropped to the ground a safe distance, hid in thick sagebrush clustered around a Joshua tree, puked until he dry-heaved.

RANGERS LATE BY MINUTES

Several miles east six Texas Rangers spotted smoke swell above the horizon, Captain Clem Thornton, Hawk-eye Meadows, Todd Arnold, Rip Hagan, Jim Hammond, and Warren Cropp. The Captain and his troop riding along the Upper Road Stage Line between Austin and Pecos were hunting sign to confirm they were hot on renegade chief Dark Cloud’s trail. The smoke in vicinity of Grand Junction station attested the Indians were near.

“Damned it,” Captain Thornton swore, recognizing they were too late, remembering the couple he met on the Austin street, and their lovely daughter. Dark Cloud had struck once again ahead of their arrival, by all indications, fatally. “Onward,” he commanded, he and his troopers galloping toward the smoke. 

Captain Thornton and his ranger troop arrived in time to drive Dark Cloud and his raiders away, total engagement not their priority. Seeing the station had burned to the ground, Captain Thornton ordered his men, “It’s crucial we attend survivors before we chase Dark Cloud.” Though Rangers and Indians had exchanged gunfire, neither side suffered casualty. 

The Rangers noticed two dead stagecoach horses, their two equine companions nowhere visible, probably taken by the Indians for extra mounts. Rangers discovered amidst dead bodies lying beyond the ashes two persons alive, a boy named Billy Boyles, and his mother Daria, brutally raped, partially scalped, and semi-conscious. Captain Thornton knew and respected station keeper Noble Hargrove, his arrow-riddled body discovered a short distance behind the station outhouse, he too scalped. 

“The gall-darn varmints,” a man yelled appearing a distance from heavy brush, bloody, staggering toward the startled Rangers. Enraged Cole Bates’ bloody right arm dangled at his side.

“Help that man,” Captain Thornton ordered, Hawk-eye and Jim responding on the run. 

The two rangers attended Cole, the gaping wound cleaned by Jim with water and doused with whiskey, luckily the humerus bone nicked wasn’t broken, the mangled arm then tightly wrapped. Cole Bates realized his arm would hamper him several months, may be a lifelong problem according to Hawk-eye cleaning his soiled shirt. 

Ranger Warren Cropp scouting surrounding brush, yelled from fifty yards away, “Cap, there’s another survivor out here, a small terrified girl. She says she’s Annabelle Lee, daughter of dead parents.”

After rangers placed the girl inside the stagecoach and prone on a seat to shield her as best as they could from the grotesque scene, Captain Thornton removed his hat and knelt near Jessica Lee’s body prone beside her husband. Brutally assaulted, bloody, oddly, she still looked as lovely in death as the young wife he met days earlier in Austin while walking to Texas Rangers Administrative Headquarters. 

He untied the bandana around his neck and wiped flowing tears, recalling the couple from New Orleans was headed to California, and another couple was riding with them to the same destination. Gently, he wiped blood from her face, remembering everyone had been sociable; glad he had some last pleasant words with this charming couple before they met such a brutal ending. Still, he was glad he avoided comment of Dark Cloud looming to terrorize settlers, potentially travelers. What he regretted was not escorting the stagecoach. But duty compelled him to seek out Dark Cloud and rid him as a general threat.

Captain Thornton humbly muttered, “If only we had arrived sooner, Mr. and Mrs. Lee.” 

Captain Thornton stood. Tall, lean, shoulders broad but now slumped with the weight of quilt like a massive boulder pushing him down to the ground, he replaced his hat. Sighing deeply, he realized he must immediately bury the slaughtered, innocent travelers killed, the guard and stationmaster meaning nobody harm. Following the dreary labor for which all of his Texas Rangers shared, he decided to postpone tracking Dark Cloud, instead, escort the survivors to safety at Fort Concho the nearest refuge. Once he settled them under protection, he would resume hunting and preferably even the score with Dark Cloud. To date the enraged chief and his band had victimized homesteaders. Here, he had elevated his terror to killing travelers. Fatalities resulting from his raids had soared over fifty since two months earlier when he set out on a campaign to rid his homeland of every white man he encountered: men, women, children; it do not matter.

TEMPORARY REFUGE

Captain Thornton having acquired instincts on his job for the good and bad in humanity soon developed dislike for Cole Bates. His gruff behavior soon challenged the troopers’ tolerance in camp, his seemingly lack of appreciation for their sacrifice helping him, the woman, girl, and boy, and going full extent to see they reached safe refuge. The rangers held their tongues, ignored rebuttal because of their sympathy to his injury and pain. 

Captain Thornton had run-ins with bad men in his times, had studied Cole keenly, determined something was not right about the untidy man. Oftentimes Bates exhibited crude manners at evening camp meals while in route to Fort Concho; eating pig-like, breaking gas, interrupting rangers’ conversations, interjecting vile jokes and cursing, laughing at his deportment in mixed company ... crude, disgusting. Nevertheless, the captain and his troop endured Cole as they traveled thirty miles west from the decimated stagecoach station to Fort Concho, knowing their time in Bates’ company would end shortly.

Arriving at Fort Concho, Captain Thornton reported to Commander Lieutenant Colonial Herman Braxton. He described the fatal Indian attack, its gruesome aftermath. Commander Braxton graciously allowed the survivors refuge, the entire Texas Ranger troop glad their riddance of Cole. Nevertheless, Captain Thornton remained concerned for Daria, Billy, and Annabelle anywhere close to the slob. Regardless, the survivors out of his hands and for time being, safe; he set out to chase down and rid Texas of Chief Dark Cloud and his killer band.

During his three-week recovery, Cole Bates flip-flopped, staged a respectable front, and cooperated fully with Commander Braxton and his medical corp. In the meantime Daria strengthened, her scalp healed, and the kids adjusted better to reality after their torment and setback. Cole even catered to his beleaguered companions’ every need, displaying to soldiers and their commander his concern for their recoveries, and in private conversation with Commander Braxton, persuaded him he would care for Daria, Billy, and Annabelle and see they found safe haven once he released them to his safekeeping; suggesting outright he would be their protective guardian.

And Commander Braxton fell for his deceit. When time arrived for them to strike out on their own, Cole suggested they seek Dustbowl, Texas, promised his companions he would find proper sanctuary for them there. Four weeks after arriving at Fort Concho, the four set out horseback, a pack mule Commander Braxton supplied, courtesy of the United States Army. 

Unbeknownst anyone, privately Daria began to experience morning sickness, realized she had been impregnated by one of the Indians. She decided to remain quiet until time arrived she showed, then to be subject to proper medical care, Dustbowl her objective.

LOOMING DARK EXISTENCE

Travel proved exhausting for the pregnant woman and two children. When Daria had bouts of sickness she concealed it as best she could.

Cole leading the group stopped to rest only on occasion, pushed forward relentlessly not to reencounter Dark Cloud. Each new day wore at Daria. Tough travel amid arid territory under the hot sun not just physical burden to her and the children worn to a frazzle, it exacerbated her loss of beloved Joshua. 

Atop oppressive travel, the trudge across wilderness wore him to the bone, Billy missing his Pa killed and sister kidnapped. He wept nightly, refrained openly during daytime. 

Cole Bates growing in pain from his slow-healing arm wound, increasingly drank whiskey soldiers supplied him for medicinal purpose. The man oppressed, hygiene abandoned and beard reaching mid chest, fretted he wasn’t getting personal satisfaction from the woman he had rescued, should be thankful to appease him his manly desires. The whiskey had begun to speak what his mind fantasized.

Daria Boyles identified the signs early after leaving the fort and sensed Cole’s yearning; his increasing advances making her increasingly fearful. Because of the circumstance she could not afford challenging, she displayed sympathy for his discomfort, nursed his wound stubborn to heal, medicated it daily with whiskey he otherwise forsake drinking, and changed his dressings. Working in close proximity to Cole, she resisted advances continuously. Atop that, she was having her own personal problems. Her scalp injury healed slowly and became infected. Sickness sometimes acute, she explained it was from something she ate. Daria had lost weight, general fatigue setting in making matters worse in the daily grind across central Texas.

Then one night she stood her ground when drunk he tried to grope her. Desperately, she yelled, “No, Cole, I can’t. I’m pregnant, can’t have sex.” 

“Figures, your sickness … that dirty Injin baby in you. I don’t give a damn, woman, had enough of your excuses.” He backhanded her knocking her to the ground, pulled her dress from her, shed his clothes and raped her in plain view of the horrified children. 

Billy and Annabelle fearful for Daria’s life, and theirs, clung tightly together, crying. During the attacks, the sounds ripping his heart apart, Billy wished he were older and physically able to deal with Cole Bates, as should be proper justice. 

The assaults continued nightly, routinely, Daria’s son and the girl forced to hear Cole’s guttural expletives, Daria’s resistance and screams torrential, unless for some reason he was so drained he could not sexually perform. 

The band of travelers did not make it to Dustbowl. They fell just short. 

Everyone exhausted, Cole happened upon an arid spread with several outbuildings ten miles east of the small town. What appeared abandoned property: weedy, ramshackle house, barn in disrepair, fence post’s dislodged, a few farm animal’s unpinned and running about loosely, he decided to settle in, wait until the owner appeared to claim it. The three occupied the compact two-room shack, Daria, Billy, and Annabelle in Coles’ disillusioned mind his rightful family. 

Nobody arrived the ensuing days to challenge Cole and his imaginary family, and claim the property. Nobody traveling the distant principal road paid attention to the newcomer’s presence. In Cole’s mind, he interpreted that nobody within the local community cared squatters had occupied the desolate shack. Empowered by that assumption, he ventured out, explored nearby surroundings, ultimately visited town and was hired as a stall cleaner in the livery stable under proprietor Malcolm Vickers. Having cleaned himself naked at the artesian well – body and clothes thoroughly washed, beard cut three inches shorter, he introduced himself as Seth Chalmers in town to anybody he encountered, and steadily mixed with the scant populace to insert himself a local citizen, never revealing to townsfolk he shared the old ranch place with a woman, young boy and girl for whom he ordered to stay in or around the immediate shack. Having collected roving hogs and penning them, he threatened to feed Daria and the kids to the pigs if they ventured from the ranch. 

However, people were not blind, especially a Dustbowl Citizen Bank holding the property’s’ mortgage. Clarence Hobson the bank Vice President ventured into the yard one day, Cole not present. He questioned Daria, the kids close to her, listened to the fear in her voice disclosing scant information their status and meager reason for taking refuge on bank property, the kids near starvation she stated and he noted.

Within minutes Cole rode up to find Hobson there and chased him away at gunpoint. Deeply jealous, he eyed Daria suspiciously, believing she gave Clarence more information than necessary, and that she eyed him a nice-looking man with lust, a betrayal to their relationship as common-law man and wife. 

Clarence Hobson rushed to the sheriff’s office, made a complaint. Seated at his desk in the bank, he prepared eviction papers.

OUTLAW REUNION

The big man bent over the water barrel just outside the large double door. He washed his face, arms and hands, replaced the barrel lid, took off his work apron and placed it on a jutting nail just inside the livery stable entrance. 

Cole Bates flexed his injured right arm, testing it, the wound having healed nicely as of late. He strapped on his gun belt and holster ready to take a break, glad he was a lefty and not hampered drawing his pistol should trouble arise. With change finally in his pocket, he had purchased ammo and practiced shooting a distance from the ranch shack, his skill drawing and shooting returning to the keen marksmanship he had acquired as a late teenager when he rode with desperados robbing banks and stagecoaches. The practice had rebuilt his confidence, and he left the livery to venture down the street, glancing both sides not a worry on his mind. 

Cole liked what he saw; a town relatively new and forming around cattle ranching with potential once the railroad line happened this way, a place he might settle one day should his fate so dictate. He arrived at his main objective and stepped just inside the saloon batwing doors, left hand low near his pistol butt. 

Cole Bates glanced around in the dimly candle-lit large room to observe the bartender behind the long bar cleaning shot glasses, two cowhands standing casually at the bar enjoying drinks and socializing, barroom maids in arm with each cowboy seeking companionship upstairs for a fee. One man seated near the front window hovered drunk over a whiskey bottle three-quarters empty. Hearing sudden commotion to his left in the far back corner, Cole spotted five men enjoying drinks over a card game. “I be gawl-darn,” he murmured, surprised the bunch were old acquaintances he and Curtis Skaggs had many years ago ridden the outlaw trail.

He approached the table, “Well, well, hello my old compadres.”

Doyle Morton tipped his broad-brimmed hat back and stared up at the stranger several moments, then jumped to his feet, and threw Cole an extended hand, “Why, if it isn’t Rattlesnake Cole Bates. Boy, do you look different behind that thick beard, lose-fitting overalls, and floppy hat. See you still have your six-shooter tied low, mighty handy indeed.”

Cole raised both hands as a sign to hush, and looked around. Seeing the few patrons present had not noticed Doyle’s blurt, he bent low and whispered, “Shush, don’t want that name out, fellers. Yeah, guess I do look different from the wanted posters … and it’s Seth Chalmers in this town, new name, considering a fresh start.” 

Cole straightened as the men muttered approvals and Doyle remarked, “Okay, we accept that, Seth. I heard you were shot at Grand Junction station, Dark Cloud almost lifting your scalp. Also heard old Curtis got hisself killed. Dang shame, always liked his company robbin’ stagecoaches all those fun years.”

“Yeah, poor Curtis dropped five-feet from me like a sack of rocks … didn’t know what hit him. My right arm was problematic awhile but has healed okay. I was lucky the Texas Ranger’s that rescued us didn’t recognize me, the beard throwing them off. Anyway, howdy to you, Doyle, you too fellers: George Hewitt, Marcella Nobles, Toby Duma, yes, and still scrawny Red-Jon Sly … see you still wearing that black eye pouch, makes your hair appear redder.”

Snaggletooth Red-Jon Sly dressed like his compadres in common cowpuncher attire, grinned, spreading the numerous freckles on his narrow face. However, his ice blue eyes that normally cut through any man confronting him with ill intent, squinted, an indicator of inner anger that cautioned Cole following his degrading remark. “Yes,” Red-Jon replied, “I eat like a horse and am still scrawny. So, why wouldn’t I wear a patch, Rattlesnake? You knocked my eye out when I tried to stop you beatin’ that old hussy to death down Waco-way.”

“Understand Red-Jon. I take just so much sassing from any woman; no matter she’s ancient. You should have stayed out of our dispute; would have your eye, see a tad better and be faster with that holstered colt tied low on your leg.”

“Pard, one eye doesn’t slow me, can prove it right now.”

For a moment, the two men’s eyes remained locked, until Doyle broke the impasse that could have proven fatal for one or the other of his old friends, both fast guns drawn on the spot if further tension provoked an encounter. Regardless, he felt Red-Jon was an eye-blink faster despite his visual handicap, a matter of sheer luck to determine which man stood and which man fell dead. “Cole, why don’t you join us? Bring us up to date on your whereabouts these past months after that Injin raid. As for us, we’ve decided to look into another line of work, one more profitable than driving coaches and freight wagons, one that’s civilized, pays richly and fast. Now, what about you consider joining us in Colorado. My sis Evelyn Tuttle owns a ranch there, wants extra good hands and me her foreman. I thought we’d ride up that way, see what she and husband Mathew has to offer moneywise, and bunkhouse accommodations.”

“That’s kinda sudden for me Doyle, considering my predicament.” He mulled briefly, watching his friends play cards. Rubbing his chin, he replied, “You see, I got me one hunk of a woman, am babysitting her boy and a girl on a place east of here.”

“Oh, I see, sounds like a nice setup … the woman I mean,” Toby, responded.

“How old is tha girl?” George Hewitt asked, bending over and spitting tobacco juice into a spittoon at the foot of his chair.

“She’s pretty, but a small-fry, George.”

The six shared small talk several minutes, Doyle paying for rounds of whiskey, all enjoying playing poker. Toward the games’ end, Cole slid his chair back and stated he must return to the livery stable, a job he despised cleaning stalls for paltry pay, “Look gents, hate to go but I got horse stalls needing manure shoveled before dark, be seeing you around.” 

Before Cole stood to leave, Doyle repeated his offer he accompany them to Colorado. He gestured to his companions and they drew close together across the table. Doyle speaking just above a whisper invited Cole to listen and think practically. He suggested a scheme to rob several stagecoaches to supplement their journey, Cole welcome to join them and split the proceeds evenly. Each man in the group had been an experienced stagecoach driver and knew the trails, routes, and schedules for most stage lines operating in Texas, Arkansas, and New Mexico Territory.

Cole warmed to the idea. He up and about to leave, Doyle suggested, “Say, pard, why not we ride to the ranch shack with you later today, get a look-see at this handsome woman you mentioned, share some of her grub, maybe have a late-rounder with her.”

“Suite yourself, my friends. I’m going to do quick stall cleans. Not to fluster Vickers I’m quietly leaving not to draw suspicion since the bank is after me and we’ve been seen together. I’ll tell him I got an emergency, that my old lady is sick out of her mind and needs immediate attention. I’ll meet you fellers just outside town. Then we’ll get the hell outta here.”

Cole exited the saloon, the batwing doors swinging behind him. He was about to step off the saloon porch when a man wearing a badge approached him, “Say, Mr. Chalmers.”

“Yes, Sheriff Dyson, what can I do for you?”

“Sir, I just got a complaint from Mr. Clarence Hobson at the Dustbowl Citizen Bank.”

“Oh, yeah, why?”

“Seems you are squatting on the old Judy and Milburn Thacker farm place and chased him off at gunpoint when he confronted your wife. A bank executive, Hobson says you all facing despair were welcome there a short period, pleased you gathered all the hogs gone wild, did some cleaning to the place. He’s waited, hasn’t had you appear to assume the old mortgage after Judy died last year, husband Milburn dead three years.”

“Well, sheriff, that’s news to me … will certainly get with Mr. Hobson after I talk it over with the old lady.”

“Do that. You have three weeks to act or I’ll evict you as per papers drawn up by Mr. Hobson. See you around Chalmers.”

Cole strolled slowly to the livery stable, considering what he just heard, ultimatum to buy or vacate, plus the offer from Doyle suddenly appearing freezable, appropriate. If he joined Doyle, what must he do about the woman and kids? They could not accompany him and a band of outlaws as rough as they come. It was a situation he must deal with as only he could. 

ABUSE – RAPE – AND MURDER

By the time, Cole met his friends outside town, the entire lot had chugged whiskey and were drunk out of their minds. Arriving at the shack and wasted in body, mind, and of time to flee the area, Cole faced a deadline with the banker and sheriff he could not and would not honor. The prospect that he join his old gang and make quick money robbing stagecoaches, and a new venture and start in Colorado, was so appealing it took over any semblance of responsibility he had clung for two innocent children and a woman having suffered unspeakable terror and heartache, first by Dark Cloud, and then he himself, and was pregnant. Any empathy he might have remotely possessed over the months and summoned these last minutes for the victimized trio before he parted company, vanished as if sand were swept away by a sudden windstorm.

The true, cruel, cold-hearted beast dwelling within Cole Bates surfaced as if he were a rabid wolf attacking three of his helpless infants pups.

***

Billy and Annabelle scared, teeth chattering, clung together in a corner of the side bedroom. They could not flee through the door, for three men blocked their escape. As they watched Cole wasted by whiskey, blurt, “So, Daria, honey, you are seeded by an Injun with child in you belly, and I saw how you looked at that banker Hobson, desired him, a worm of a man not like what I’m gonna show you.” He stripped off his shirt and unbuttoned his pants then approach the woman lying naked and bound to the beds’ head and footboard, she shrieking back and screaming, the kids subsequently crying. Annabelle turned her head toward the dark corner; but George Hewitt the closest guard forced her head around to watch, she crying ever louder terrified at mother suffering. Both children remained such the ensuing minutes, forced to listen to the rape transpire, violent movements that included beating, grunting, sighs of pleasure from the rapist, his mother’s pleas for mercy that Billy would never forget. Annabelle curled in a tighter ball next to him, her head pressed in his shirt at his chest, Billy struggling not to observe but his head jerked around if turned away to shield his vision. Of the moment, Billy noticed an L-shaped scar on the man’s hairy upper right back, a thing he and Annabelle if they survived would forever remember.

“Boy,” George Hewitt said, laughed, “that scar was from a broken whiskey bottle a whore attacked Cole in a bar down Mexico way.”

Raped, her body battered, broken, including her face beaten to a pulp, Daria Withers Boyles collapsed semi-conscious into the blood-soaked straw mattress. Her tormentor withdrew, buttoned his pants, put his shirt on, and started to leave the room. Looking down at Billy with a smirk, he said, “Nice your mother, boy, think I got rid of that Injin baby in her.” Billy returned the look with a hateful sneer on his swollen and sweat-soaked red face. 

Cole returned to the bed and untied Daria. He grabbed his half-dead common-law wife by her full head of black hair and dragged her naked kicking body out onto the shack and onto the front porch. He released her on the plank floor and hollered, “Billy-Boy, get your sorry ass out here; see what more is coming to your slut of a mother.” Then he called to his friends, “Gents, time you get into the fun … that girl in there all yours. George Hewitt had followed Cole outside. He spun around, rushed inside to be first to assault Annabelle, followed in turn by Marcella Nobles, Toby Duma, and scrawny Red-Jon Sly.

Eight-year-old Billy, tall, slender for his age, also beaten but not to the extent his mother, balked just inside the front door, but Red-Jon last to entertain himself in the side bedroom, pushed him out the front door. Billy stumbled unsteadily onto the porch. Trembling, terrified not to obey the lunatic apt to turn on him again, he stepped back but Red-Jon pushed him outward to the porch edge. 

Finally, Billy moved tentatively toward Cole standing over the heaped form of his mother out of fear for her, and Annabelle’s life, his if he did not appease the lunatic. “Mr. Cole, please don’t hurt Mama anymore … please. Don’t hurt Annabelle anymore. Mama didn’t mean to be disobedient; she was forced by the Indians … was hurting awful bad after the Indians killed Papa. And, sir, she was being friendly to the bank man asking about the property.”

“I saw the lust in her eyes; no forgiving the whore, boy. I’m gonna finish her and leave her body for the hogs out wonder.”

The next minutes of sheer terror his mother experienced, greatly traumatized Billy Boyles beyond what could be humanly possible, especially for a young boy formally naïve of wicked people. Daria brutality beaten and kicked repeatedly by the crazed man, for which the outlaws forced Billy to watch, Cole Bates withdrew his pistol, aimed it at Daria’s head and fired, killing what was meagerly left of her. Then Bates had Toby Duma and Marcella Nobles drag her lifeless body across the weedy yard to the famished hogs penned, and lastly do what would scar Billy the remainder of his life and be the driving force for ultimate revenge.

Cole had vanquished his lust. Within minutes Daria would disappear as direct evidence of his wrongdoing allowing him free reign to join the gang. Spent, having sufficient dose of cruelty, he chose not to kill but abandon the children surely to die alone and together, Billy beaten a last time before he mounted his horse to co-lead the gang with Doyle Morton. 

As dust settled after the gang rode away, Annabelle staggered outside and collapsed on the porch next to Billy’s prone body, he conscious and grieving. She was beyond further brutality unless a gang member returned for assault on her again. 

But none did. Every man satisfied was eager to get away and make quick money before dashing to Colorado. 

Late afternoon, Billy righted himself next to Annabelle lying near him and whimpering. Garnishing self-control, he struggled to enter the cabin, his desire to assist her raped repeatedly, several times right before his eyes. Rag remnants of her former long dress hanging from Annabelle, blood congealed on her legs and in her shoes, Billy raised water from an outside artesian well and helped clean her, nakedness no embarrassment to either, both feeling instead an affection that would last their lifetimes. Light dimming, Billy rummaged through a carpetbag Daria had kept after the Indian raid. He found Annabelle’s one extra dress, draped her with it, then supported and guided her outside as the sun set, determined to go and find help, probably best walk toward town. After what seemed hours in the dark of night, both helped each other stay upright. After frequent rests, they prodded onward, step by agonizing step following the rutted road to the town Cole had said was five miles away, traveling by moonlight, oftentimes arm in arm morally and physically pushing forward.

Billy and Annabelle were clinging desperately when they arrived in town prior to sunrise. A few gas lamps still illuminated the streets, enough light to find their way to the sheriff’s office, a dog, or cat stalking a rat occasionally scampering from a dark alley. 

Deputy Rodney Simpson on duty was shocked when the two appeared in the jailhouse door, “Oh, my, kids, what the hell’s happened to you?” 

No answer, the deputy guided and placed each on a separate bunk in an empty cell. “I’m gonna get the sheriff, and Doc Oppenheim … so stay put,” he instructed. Deputy Simpson then dashed from the jail, electing first to awaken Doctor Hank Oppenheim at his home that also served as his office. Then he hurried to awaken Sheriff Russell Dyson’s in his Gala Hotel room.

Billy and Annabelle greatly traumatized provided emotional and oftentimes broken account to Sheriff Dyson and Doc Oppenheim. They interpreted most of the kids’ story, notably that a gang of outlaws had raped and murdered Billy’s mother, fed her remains to hogs. Neither Billy nor Annabelle detailed sexual assault on her, though by her looks the doctor knew she too had carried the brunt of brutality from the killers, he confirming it later.

Several citizens, especially Malcolm Vickers, supplied a rough description of the man he hired, Seth Chalmers, heavily bearded and of gruff nature, disarrayed and stank to high-heaven. Billy corrected the name, stated he was Cole Bates, which Sheriff Dyson knew the name from an old wanted poster hanging in his office, not the man roughly pictured. An undermanned posse gathered midmorning and set out in pursuit of the gang, but the outlaws had a head start and vaporized into the wind, presumably by direction headed for Mexico. Soon, the posse abandoned the chase, Sheriff Dyson in the Post Office telegraphing Texas Ranger Headquarters in Austin to describe the crimes and sound an alarm, be on the lookout for the gang possibly nearing the border.

RUNAWAY AND THE AMBUSH

The Texas Ranger office in Austin responded, informing Sheriff Dyson that Captain Thornton had set out for Dustbowl. Captain Thornton and his Texas Ranger troop arrived within days. In the meantime rancher Frank Hansberry and wife Eleanor legally adopted Annabelle, Eleanor taking responsibility to nurse back to health a greatly traumatized child, a feat that would be challenging, might take years for which she and her husband had committed themselves. Not surprising the child experienced horrific episodes of anguish and screaming from the outset, her depression deepening. Frank and Eleanor needed help. He telegraphed his sister Florentine in Boston, she a nurse and her husband Jerome Campbell a notable tailor, asked their advice, if they might intercede. They responded they would, an act of kindness that would greatly affect Annabelle’s life and future.

Billy under Doc Oppenheim’s continual care, pained but mostly suffering emotionally, fled from the doctor’s office rear room in the dead of night. He dashed into the wilderness, no destination, enduring night cold just to be away from the horrors piling on, and to be alone maybe to end it all. It wasn’t until early morning when Doc Oppenheim found he had disappeared, hadn’t been abducted because orderly arrangement of the room wasn’t disrupted. 

Sitting on a bluff overlooking a deep dark void lit partially by full moon, Billy tried to sort the horrifying condition he had arrived, his parents murdered, first by savages and then by a grotesque evil man, he beaten unmercifully, the girl he had grown to adore raped repeatedly. How could his and her world be any worse for either of them? These awful things for which neither of them deserved churned in an unchecked gyration in his mind, that of a youthful boy and not a season experienced man, with temptation mounting to end it all, jump into the dark void just five feet away. Yet, something inside Billy held strong, and kept him from making the fatal leap. It was Annabelle Lee.

***

The Captain felt awful he left the woman and children at Fort Concho with the man he originally knew only as Cole, disliked him from the onset. He and his troopers set out to find the runaway boy, obviously petrified the man falsely identified locally as Chalmers, the killer of his mother, would return to town and murder him. 

Midmorning and five miles outside town the Rangers spotted the boy sitting on a rock near a deep drop-off, head down, knees tucked to his chest, alone just feet from the cliff’s edge. Captain Thornton, twisted in his saddle, “Men, remain mounted. Billy is too near that drop-off for us to approach hastily. I’ll dismount and ease toward him.”

Captain Clem Thornton dismounted. As noiselessly as he could, he approached Billy, spoke kindly in whispers, moved ever-cautious forward not to spook him possibly contemplating jumping. The boy showed no sign he would leap, so Clem eased to a sitting position beside the distraught boy, Billy receptive to his presence. Clem put an arm around Billy and sat quietly rocking him several moments. “Son, I’m not going to say … pretend I understand what you’re going through. I do feel your pain, for that pain hurts me also. Billy, rest easy, we’ll just sit here and enjoy the morning air, the golden sun beginning to rise in the sky, the quiet, the peace, and understand together that life will get better in the future for you and Annabelle.” 

Billy nodded, but before Clem spoke again, a shot rang out. The Captain stiffened, lurched to the side almost knocking Billy forward and over the cliffs’ edge. 

The world spun about Billy, echoes in the canyon of thundering hooves and guns blasting the early morning. A second bullet struck the Captain’s leg, his body pitching heavily against him. 

Billy slid from under the Captain’s heavy weight and across smooth rock to one side, within a couple feet of tumbling over the cliff’s edge. Arms flailing, in frantic motion he grasped the trunk of thick sagebrush and held on, his lower body dangling briefly over the rocky edge. 

Another bullet struck Clems’ right arm. Before the Captain fell into unconsciousness, Billy saw a horse and rider dash his way. In the next instant bullets riddled Ranger Jim Hammond as his horse reared in terror. Slumping against the horses’ mane, Hammond clung to the saddle pommel moments prior to him and his horse reaching the cliff’s edge and then spilling midair, disappearing downward into the abyss. 

From that last fleeting horrifying image, Billy witnessed Clem lapse into unconsciousness, probably dead.

Billy terrified, remained steadfast, watched as the killers systematically killed the remaining four fallen rangers, Clem’s body just feet from his hiding position. Cole Bates walked up and kicked the Captain’s body, fired another shot into it, then gazed over the cliff’s edge, muttering, “Guess the kid fell over … is dead down there on canyon rocks … good riddance.”

A dust devil emerged over a nearby rise and spun forcefully toward the killers. Cole’s tie-string loosened, his hat dislodged and flew over the cliffs’ edge, floating gracefully out of his reach and into the canyon.

“Oh, well, dime a dozen those sombreros,” Cole commented, remounting his horse and along with his men riding off and leaving the dead Rangers either to feed the buzzards or rot.

SURVIVING THE UNSURVIVABLE

Billy lowered his head, as close to the ground as possible, avoiding flying dust and loose debris battering him, fear no longer a stranger to him. The dust devil abating, he slowly pulled himself from the brush and crawled to relative safety, sat just feet from the Captain’s body to figure what next to do. Despite the wall of spiraling dirt and debris that clouded the area and obscured his vision, he managed faintly to see Cole’s hat sail away. Settled briefly to gain courage to access the slaughter, all rangers shot multiple times and dead, their horses also killed, except for the pack mule fleeing at the first shot, he forced himself to stand upright.

Billy had witnessed the last slug fired by Bates strike the Captain’s chest. He sauntered despairingly to Clem’s prone body and looked down at the fallen Texas Ranger. As they sat together those last brief minutes, he had felt deep affection for the Captain, as had the man for him, his kindness preventing him from doing the unthinkable. 

Weeping and wondering what to do next, probably run back to town to get Sheriff Dyson, Billy noticed the Captain twitch. He knelt, and leaned an ear close to Clem’s face, feeling slight breath from his nostrils. The Captain groaned, tried to speak, eyes cracking open to realize Billy was alive, present, and near to help him. 

“Billy, you are alive … please, get help,” he murmured, repeated, “Get help, Billy.” 

Billy sure the last shot had killed the ranger, lifted his bandanna and saw that his Texas Ranger badge still pinned to his vest was greatly indented, the bullet having penetrated the bandanna obviously to bounce off his badge. Stunned why the bullet hadn’t killed him, Billy raised his shirt lapel to see his shoulder bloody and greatly bruised, ribs probably broken, but also his wallet in the inner vest pocket that along with the badge had supplied sufficient barrier to repel the blow and save his life. He looked the ranger over for wounds elsewhere, found two but not in perilous places, one a flesh wound to his arm, the second to his upper thigh bleeding but not profusely. “Captain, yes, I’ll go to town and get help.”

Captain Thornton in shock responded weakly, “Billy, its time we speak on a first name basis … call me Clem, okay?”

“Yes, sir. Clem, I’ll do what I can to help you. You were kind to me, Annabelle, and my mother, taking us to the fort, coming now to find me and bringing me to my senses.”

Billy recovered a canteen from a fallen horse, gave the only surviving Texas Ranger water. He found a flask of whiskey in a dead Ranger’s pocket and gave the Captain a drink. Then he cleaned his wounds with water and poured whiskey over them. He placed a horses’ saddle blanket under the Captain’s head, another over him visibly coming around.

Then Billy set out afoot toward town. Finding the pack mule after about a mile traveling, he returned with it and some food and supplies further to aid the Captain, helped him recovering greatly to mount the mule, and together they set out for town. 

REHABILITATION AND A NEW LIFE

Gravely ill, but able to endure being moved by aid of caring citizens, Captain Clem Thornton along with Billy Boyles less distressed, attended church and graveside services for five Texas Rangers: Hawk-eye Meadows, Todd Arnold, Rip Hagan, Jim Hammond, and Warren Cropp.

Captain Thornton, Sheriff Dyson, Deputy Simpson, and all gentlemen in attendance respectfully removed their hats, as retired Army Master Sergeant Chester Nettles lifted the bugle to his lips, played taps, the Texas Lone Star State Flag to his left side, the American Old Glory Flag to his right side, Chester having performed the honor numerously during his lengthy military service. Dustbowl citizens numbering over a hundred, including children, plus Texas Rangers traveling from adjacent districts, laid the dead Rangers honorably to rest in the cemetery behind Dustbowls’ Methodist Church. 

Immediately following the service, Billy returned under Doc Oppenheim’s care in his home. Frank and Eleanor Hansberry invited the captain to recuperate at their home, the Big Star Ranch. 

Having recuperated several weeks and able to travel, Captain Thornton thanked Frank and Eleanor. The couple drove the captain to Dustbowl to meet up with Billy fully recovered and agreeing to travel with him to Austin to live with him and wife Clementine. 

Billy had no chance to bid Annabelle heavily distressed farewell, the two having grown close during the horrifying experience. Before departure, Clem telegraphed Clementine. Then he and Billy boarded the Stagecoach and headed to his home. 

Clementine anxiously waited, ready to help mend her husband and care for the boy clinging to him like he was his father. Ultimately, she adjusted Billy in their home, and nurtured him back to health as if she were his mother, Daria. 

THE YEARS MENDING - LOVE AND AFFECTION - AND TRAINING 

Completed rested under Clementine’s care, Clems’ broken ribs healed several weeks thereafter. 

During his convalescence, Clem and Clementine adopted Billy, his official name Billy Boyles Thornton. Consequently, the boy graciously acknowledged his good fortune and conducted his manner in like fashion. 

Billy adored his new home. He especially appreciated the prospect for a good life considering the horror he had endured. He did experience setbacks, rough periods, occasional wakening in the dead of night, screaming, and nightmares flashing back to his horrific torments. Gradually, awful dreams lessened, and he slowly changed to develop ever-deep affection for his guardian parents. All the time Clem and Clementine understood his sufferings and challenging effort to mend. The couple remained patient, allowing him time, not just physical but mentally. Once he settled into a normal routine Clementine began to home school him, she originally from Atlanta, Georgia, educated and qualified to teach. 

Recovered and fit as ever, Clem returned to his passion, the Texas Rangers, and Captain of a new rugged troop of men he bonded strongly. After an informant notified him, Captain Thornton in conjunction with an army regiment led by now General Herman Braxton, trapped Dark Cloud and his band entering Texas from Oklahoma Indian Territory, many killed and the Chief captured and imprisoned for life. 

During Clems’ leave he telegraphed her it last three months. Clementine decided after he agreed that she would return to Georgia during that period and take Billy. The two stayed with her parents Jorge and Priscilla LeMonté on their farm near Marietta, French immigrants seeking a new life in America. A farmhand, Jorge’s brother Norman LeMonté took Billy under his wing. He instructed Billy handiwork around the farm, especially to go hunting. Billy learned to fire the latest Remington revolving cylinder long rifle, a crack shot he became. 

Back in Texas following Billy’s twelfth birthday, Captain Thornton in his spare time began to teach Billy hand-to-hand combat. A quick learner, Billy by age fourteen became skillful handling a pistol, firing single-action revolvers fanning style with dead accuracy. He mastered the Sharps .50 caliber carbine; his favorite, great improvement over his Remington revolving cylinder long rifle Uncle Norman had given him upon leaving Georgia. 

Over thirteen years that Billy lived with the Thornton’s, he recovered remarkably, was especially studious in school, geology his favorite subject. He became an admired person of stature in the Austin’s expansive community, particularly the day Captain Thornton regally inducted him into the Texas Rangers under his command. Still, Billy held to the remembrance Cole Bates atop his mother and the L-shaped scar on his back. Old yearning based upon deep-seated hatred began to resurface, and, it needed an outlet, time nearing him to take action. 

***

Cole Bates, Doyle Morton, and the gang they co-managed, settled in Colorado on the ranch owned by Doyle’s sister, the EMT-Bar. The spread on the open prairie east of Denver specialized raising beef cattle for rail shipment to Chicago stockyards, the market prosperous after railroad expansion in the western frontier. The outlaws adapted to the lifestyle change apart from riding dusty trails and stealing cash off stagecoaches and heisting goods from mercantile stores of easy picking; banks later too risky. They reformed to hard work as all-around cowhands on the ranch, learned new skills to their liking: blacksmithing, bronco busting, range-fence-mending, and the fact their pay each month rewarded them handsomely, with possible allowance should one fall in dire need for legitimate reason. 

Cole went to extreme measure to befriend Evelyn and Mathew Tuttle. After Doyle on a provisional period became ranch foreman, Mathew mysteriously disappeared. Word circulated Matt had roamed his open range alone when an outlaw band happened upon and killed him. He and his horse had disappeared. No evidence surfaced, his body never recovered, and no accusation of murder materialized to point at the recent arrived Texas cowhands. 

Following the waning investigation by Denver authorities, Cole overly sympathetic and consoling Evelyn, grew ever close and fond of her. After three years of an escalating courtship, they married. Doyle not happy and suspecting Cole had murdered Matt to better posture himself to Evelyn, inwardly detested the marriage, but openly accepted his sister’s decision in the beginning because it facilitated her rebound from heartache.

The marriage slowly decayed, which did not go well for Cole. Doyle began to interject, repetitively declared in privacy with Evelyn that Cole was an opportunist, sexual pervert, and advised her that she had better dump him. ‘The man is lethal poison’, he pounded the accusation at his sister. And Evelyn began to take notice Cole’s laxity around the ranch, often-rude mannerism, forages away from the ranch to Denver, word he entertained whores there. Increasingly she began to listen to Doyle, put two-and-two together raising her former deep-lying suspicion she had suppressed when it had surfaced ever-increasingly, ‘Perhaps Cole did kill Matt, something I can’t prove, but nonetheless a probability’. After a three-way blowout argument one day in the horse barn: Evelyn, Doyle, and Cole, the accusation was blurted by Evelyn standing beside her brother, and an arrangement escalated full force. Close by, ranch hands mounted their horses and sought duty a safe distance away. 

Evelyn and Doyle prevailed, she concluding in heated fury, “Cole, I’m allowing you a handsome payment to divorce me, get the hell out of Colorado and never return or contact Doyle.” 

Cole realizing he had reached the end of this his grand trail, and with greedy hands for the small fortune she offered him, succumbed at the opportunity, glad his riddance of Evelyn, Doyle and his crony cowhands. Money in his pocket Cole knew where he was headed, Dustbowl, especially now the town was on a newly formed rail line leading to Pecos and El Paso. 

***

April 3 1874 Cole Bates with Red-Jon Sly accompanying him rode horseback into Dustbowl. Otherwise clean-shaven, Cole sported a handlebar mustache better to disguise him from his former self thirteen years earlier. He wore a three-piece black suit, derby hat, was slicked up to appear to locals the millionaire he aspired.

Red-Jon Sly having sided with Cole against Doyle and Evelyn was dressed well but not to equal his old friend and boss. A new patch over his eye, he still wore his six-shooter tied low and practiced regular shooting and quick draw. Red-Jon in his mid-thirties was as deadly as ever, twelve notches on his pistol grip.

Cole and Red-Jon dismounted in front of the Cowpoke Saloon. They looped the reins around the hitch rail and entered the moderately crowded saloon. Cole approached and leaned across the bar to draw the barkeep’s attention, “Mister, may I speak to the proprietor?” 

“I’m Arnold Wade, mister. Mr. Luke Misner is upstairs. Who are you seeking his company?”

Slight pause, Cole tried his best to air himself a judicious businessman, and answered, “Bart Summerfield; Todd here is my little brother, and partner. I’m new to these parts, a bar owner from New Orleans and have a proposition Mr. Misner might be interested.”

Five minutes lapsed when Arnold Wade returned, “Please follow me upstairs fellers.” 

Luke Misner slump-shouldered and sixty years of age opened his door and asked the pair to enter his lavish suite. Following introductions and before the three seated themselves to talk, Cole propositioned him, gave Misner a handsome figure to consider. 

Misner walked away, circled his suite, head down and thinking. A couple minutes pondering he returned to stand before Cole, hands on hips, replied, “Well, Mr. Summerfield, this is quite a surprise; please, you two have a seat.” 

The three seated, Luke Misner added, “Actually, I’ve wanted to return to Carolina back east, be with extended family in my elder years. I’ve had offers for my saloon. Nobody had this kind of cash, which speaks convincingly, so I’ll shake your hand on the deal, Mister Summerfield. How soon do you wish to finalize, have papers drawn with the County Clerk and cash exchanged?”

“Immediately. You can be on the next stagecoach on your way back east … wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am.”

The two men shook hands. 

The parties finalized the deal at the Courthouse the same afternoon. Luke Misner having no desire to take many valuables with him, packed bare necessities, namely chosen clothes, certain artifacts, and a few cherished items in a small chest. 

With cash pocketed, Misner hired two extra guards to accompany him in a specially hired stagecoach in the event his buyers were crooked and had ideas to reclaim spent money. Eagle-eye Cole Bates abandoned the idea he and Red-Jon would intercept the coach miles from town and do their style deadly deed.

Cole retained Arnold Wade as barkeeper, plus cute barmaids he expected personal affection, refurnished Misner’s former quarters upstairs. Every feasible thing set in place; he began a prosperous business that in time grew with great customer influx because of the Dustbowl Railroad Depot a scheduled stop in route to west Texas and far reaches.

DEPARTING AUSTIN IN SEARCH OF A KILLER

May 10, 1874, Billy stepped outside the Thornton two-floor home in Austin. He sat in a rocker on the lower porch next to Clem; hesitant to speak of a matter he had delved lately, growing stronger with time. 

Finally, he said, “Pop, I’m 26, and it’s time.”

Clem reading a newspaper lowered it. He turned, looked curiously at him, suspected his direction, “That you are, and a mighty sturdy man you’ve become, my right-hand Texas Ranger.” Not feeding in his meaning of ‘time’, he allowed Billy to explain what he already knew.

“Thanks, Pop. Yes, I’ve several Texas Ranger field campaigns under my belt, especially direct hand capturing Dirt-face Charlie Bottoms a deadly outlaw and killer known to partner with Sam Bass. I’m confidant, sir, eager, and wish to strike out on my own to investigate Cole Bates’ whereabouts. I’ve a hunch Dustbowl is a good starting point. Also, I’d like to take your badge Cole shot and indented and your old breast wallet. I promise I’ll guard them with my life.”

Clem did not immediately respond, considered what he knew would ultimately transpire. Then he said, “Son, I know you’ll take care of the badge and wallet, both a reminder I be extra careful on the trail.” He paused, intently looked Billy in the eye, “Son, I knew this day would come, especially you doing extra practice with that six-shooter I gave you, and for whatever reason I don’t understand, that mustache you grew lately.” Teasingly, he punched Billy lightly on his upper arm, “Moncho-man.”

Billy chuckled, “Yes, I hate a mustache but thought I’d grow one in event you agreed, better to disguise me in Dustbowl, Billy Boyles getting popular as a Texas Ranger.”

“I understand, appreciate your passion to right a wrong, and I value your directness. However, I feel despite your skills and practical understanding attained as an experienced Texas Ranger, that you be extra careful should you encounter this killer. I shouldn’t have to tell you, Cole Bates is as mean as they come. And his sidekick Red-Jon Sly is as deadly with a pistol as Sam Bass, maybe better should the two ever encounter. Best you get the drop on Red-Jon. I think the time has arrived you do what you think best. Clementine and I have long talked of this prospect and submitted to it, she more reserved than I am, naturally.”

“Thanks, Pop, I’m grateful, and appreciate all you’ve done for me, especially preparing me for this day.”

“Son, I know your answer, but must ask regardless … do you want me to accompany you; I would in a heartbeat clear, even if to China?”

Billy grinned, “Thanks, but no, Pop. It’s a thing I must do alone, less obvious to a keen-eyed-battle-worn outlaw.”

Given special leave by Clem his commander, Billy set out horseback the next day, riding his favorite horse Palette, a paint with chocolate and white color beautifully intermingled, face streaked white, splotched pattern across her body and half up her legs. Pack mule Big Ears tethered to his mount supplied him all he needed for the journey across Texas. He acknowledged Bates could be anywhere on earth: eastern states, California, Montana, Colorado, even Mexico, and considered Cole Bates might have established himself an alias under everybody’s nose. 

Like his father said, he would go to China to get the killer and rapist. But first, he set his sights on Dustbowl, having overheard during his suffering on the ranch shack’s porch what Cole said before he and his gang, “ I hate to leave Dustbowl; it’s a town with future growth potential’. That statement indicated Cole Bates might very well return.

Perhaps the man had returned, and had disguised himself as an upstanding citizen. A gamble with some merit, it was also a viable start in his pursuit of justice, revenge his powerful motivator.

DISCOVERY AND ENCOUNTER 

Two miles east of Dustbowl, Billy sidetracked the old stagecoach trail leading into town. He guided Palette and Big Ears up a long slope to arrive on a ridge covered by sagebrush, cactus and Joshua trees with boulders interspersed. He followed the rim a quarter mile coming to a horseshoe turn and a cliff drop-off, which descended into a canyon far below. He dismounted, searched the area, the same spot long ago where he mulled horrifying events that had destroyed his life when Captain Thornton and his Rangers encountered him. Same spot outlaws slaughtered the Rangers, left the Captain for dead, and believed he had fallen over the cliff. Same spot Cole Bates stood over his adopted father and shot him, the next instant a sudden dust devil blowing his hat from his head and into the canyon. 

Billy stepped close to the cliffs’ edge. He looked down, a sudden curiosity stirring.

Remounting Palette, Billy rode a wide sweep to descend into the narrow canyon that resembled a fissure in the earth. Ambling alongside the south wall from which bullet-riddled Ranger Jim Hammond and his horse had plunged to their deaths; he bent over often to search dutifully canyon crevices and between rock gaps. Minutes stretched into an hour. And the sun began to settle lower in the sky. Flash floods down the slight-sloping canyon floor would have washed most if not all items fallen that the Texas Rangers had possessed. He dismounted; led Palette and Big Ears to follow the flatter sandy floor a greater distance from where the massacre had occurred above. Within minutes, he found a small stream jutting between rocks from the deep earth. The water trickled to a pool a quarter mile down-canyon. The earth hollowed to a sink with some water collecting, lichen prominent on rock surfaces, at the waters’ edge, much of the precious liquid at this point evaporating or soaking into the soil. Richer vegetation existed here than any place he had encountered since climbing to this height. While Palette and Big Ears drank their fill and he casually scouted, he spotted something interesting in an elevated crevice on the north rock wall. He stepped carefully up an incline, from rock to rock; arriving at a point to see the object was gray-color felt material. Apparently, it had wedged there during a raging flash flood. Stepping upward in balanced manner, he crossed additional massive rocks, weaving between boulders to reach close enough to stretch a hand and grasp it.

He removed a hat that looked much like the one Cole Bates wore that fateful day. Looking close at the inner hatband, he read an inscription, the name of the owner, solid evidence to confirm his suspicion, an extraordinary discovery indeed. Returning to the pool and studying the hat, he mulled what next to do. Deciding rather than ride immediately into town, he would camp. He removed Palette’s saddle and bridle, and Big Ears’ pack. Fire blazing, he roasted a rabbit he killed earlier and went about setting up his bed role near the water pool. Camping on location overnight gave him additional time to sort his ensuing move if circumstance so dictated. In addition, hard-driven Palette and Big Ears had found ample grass to eat and water to drink.

***

Arriving in Dustbowl early next morning, Billy hitched Palette and Big Ears at the rail in front of the jail, wasting no time to check in with Sheriff Dick Abrams, his Deputy Nat Poole present, and a third man seated in a corner, his head down and chair leaned back against the wall, undoubtedly asleep. Following introductions and handshakes, he spoke softly his purpose in town but did not produce several items brought and still in his saddlebag to prove his case, not ready yet to expose his hand if his effort here proved a dead-end. 

As Billy summarized his story with no concrete direction as of yet, Billy had the elder man suddenly jerked awake, yawned, snapped his head up with a startled look on his bearded face. Batting sleepy eyes at Billy, he asked, “You that kid Billy Captain Thornton took with him to Austin?”

Surprised briefly, Billy lastly responded, “Yes, Sheriff Dyson. It’s a pleasure to see you again.” He stood half up and stretch to shake the man’s outstretched hand.”

Russell Dyson reseated himself, “My goodness, what the years have transpired a’ tween us … me agin’ and feelin’ it and you a mighty fine built young man. Son, I’m still handy with a gun; if there’s anything I can do to help, just speak up.”

“Thanks, Sheriff Dyson, I’ll keep that in mind.” 

Sheriff Abrams explained to Billy Frank and Eleanor Hansberry after taking the girl away while he was recovering in the doctor’s office, later adopted her. He refrained additional information, seemed reserved to do so. Billy did not inquire suspecting Annabelle had a much worse period than he after their rescue, and the sheriff had honored her privacy. 

Mission explained to local authorities and not verifiable until he concluded personal investigating, Billy asked if Halibut’s Café remained open. It was. “Fellers, hate to leave good company; I’m mighty hungry, would like a break from beef jerky and roasted rabbit on the trail.” 

Billy left the jail midmorning. He guided Palette and Big Ears to the livery stable, got caught up in conversation with elder keeper Malcolm Vickers’, joking, enjoying himself with a weathered old man that was an encyclopedia of experiences over many years, and consequently learned much about Dustbowl he was yet unaware. During their chat Vickers fed and watered Palette and Big Ears, brushed them down, and placed them in separate stalls to bed the night. One o’clock rolled around. Billy hungrier entered Halibut’s Café, feeling confident his horse and mule were safely cared. The spacious diner’s homey atmosphere included mouthwatering smells to drive a hungry man off the trail crazy before the waiter filled his order. 

A young woman with blonde ringlet hair and blue eyes snared Billy’s attention. As he passed her table centered in the room, he tipped his hat, and she smiled, pausing in conversation with an older man and woman in her company having lunch. He seated himself at an empty table at the café’s rear, ordered and devoured a sirloin steak, mashed potato’s with gravy, bowl of string beans, thick biscuits with butter, and glass of fresh milk. The girl on occasion gave him a quizzical stare, which he was obliged to return with a smile, she returning it shyly. The trio’s lunch finished, they got up to leave. As the young woman followed the older couple to the door, she turned, studied Billy with an expression mixed with liking and unease, the latter a troubling undertone subtly decipherable. She turned about, mistakenly bumped her right shoulder off the doorsill exiting. Embarrassed, gathering composure from her miscue, she stepped outside, clinging to the door, giving him one last look that strangely echoed mixed emotion. 

Billy finished the little left on his plate, sopping remaining gravy with half a biscuit. He downed what remained in his milk, left a tip on the table, and paid the cashier.

Exiting the café the young woman stood on the porch walkway in his path, face shinning, saying, “Billy Boyles, is that really you?”

“Yes Annabelle Lee, the same Billy that lived the nightmare you did.”

She charged to him, he receiving her in his arms, the two wrapped together and rocking several long moments before she finally released him and stepped back. “You are so tall, broad-shouldered, and I see you are a Texas Ranger? Oh, my, Billy,” and she began to cry.

Billy stepped toward her, but stopped. Close and looking down into her teary blue eyes, he said, “Yes, a Texas Ranger, following in the footsteps of my adopted father Clem Thornton, who I call Pop.” 

She removed a handkerchief from a small purse and wiped her eyes, “I remember Clem; how is he doing?”

“Fine; Pop recovered greatly, Annabelle. He returned to Ranger duty after six months, a period he and wife Clementine - my adopted Ma, helped settle me.”

“I read in papers of your deeds as a Texas Ranger. Why didn’t you in your wanderings come see me, must have known I still lived at The Big Star Ranch?”

Billy looked solemnly over and beyond her to the distance sparsely populated town this time of day, said after toiling to answer, “My sweet Annabelle, I figured you had gone on with your life, maybe married, had a family. Above all, I didn’t want to return and endanger whatever you had gained by rehashing our past, my very presence a stark reminder.”

Annabelle nodded, commented with frankness, “Billy, I’ve never come close to marrying. I loved you then as I love you now, would have paid you like respect had the tables been turned.”

The two stood mere inches apart; looking each other up and down, content not to speak; enjoying the happy moment that electrified both, love igniting anew.

Billy glanced sideward at the street where the elder man and woman waited in a farm wagon, with looks of contentment and also acknowledgement on their faces. “Annabelle, I assume that’s Frank and Eleanor Hansberry, your adopted parents that cared for Captain Thornton while I stayed at Doc Oppenheim’s before we left for Austin.”

“Yes, much has changed … our looks for sure, though I still managed to recognize you despite your mustache and you me. Honestly, inside we weren’t sure your identity at first. However, at the table the question arose and we began to expect the unexpected, that you were really Billy Boyles.”

“Yes, ma’am, I sure am in flesh and bone, it’s mighty good to see you Annabelle, and Frank and Eleanor. I hate mustaches, this one beginning to itch and aggravate me. My, goodness, Annabelle, I can’t believe you’ve grown up so beautiful, and don’t seem affected after all these years following your dreadful experience.”

Blushing, she responded, “Thank you Billy, and you’re a sporty handsome guy yourself. It did take time for me to get past the assaults and fully recover several years. I spent five years in Boston living with Aunt Florentine and Uncle Jerome. The separation from here greatly healed me; my aunt and uncle helping me overcome the brutality I suffered at the hands of those awful men that killed your mother. Age twelve I returned to Ma and Pa Hansberry and have become quite the ranch girl, great with horses and working range cattle herds.”

“My, my, looking at you I would never have guessed … fantastic, Annabelle.”

“Billy, tell me, has what happened to us the reason you are here, seeking reprisal, or are you on a ranger mission just passing through?”

Billy did not wish to ignore Annabelle’s question. However, he felt a direct truthful answer might throw a roadblock between them just reunited and declaring their feelings for each other. He paused, waved to the elder couple that returned his gesture. Then he addressed her, deliberately, “Look Annabelle, I can’t go into detail. True I’m here on an errand, but can’t make much contact with anyone at this time. Please understand and relay this to your parents. I’ll see you and them in due time, visit the ranch if you’d like after I’ve taken care of matters.”

“We welcome you. But Billy, please be careful. I’d hate for something to happen to you; do you understand, my love?”

“I do, my sweet Annabelle. I’ll take heed of your concern and our prospect for future together, something sudden that’s dear to me and you also.”

Annabelle smiled, nodded, as Billy lifted her gloved right hand and kissed it gently. He tipped his hat to her and then to the Hansberry’s and sauntered away a heavier weight on his shoulders. 

His mind astir and heart aflutter, just added more to a multitude of responsibility emerging that had potential to collide with his deep-seeded hatred for Cole Bates. His quest to bring the man to justice had become a dangerously imperilment for him if he did not deal appropriately with surging emotions after reuniting with Annabelle, a future between them bright. Yes, a dimmed light had relight between him and her, showed promise to become a bright flame to change his and her life.

QUEST FOR JUSTICE

Next morning, a Friday, Billy stepped between swinging batwing doors to enter the dim-light Cowpoke Saloon when a man wearing an eye patch stopped him just inside. “Sorry, even a Texas Ranger can’t wear a six-gun or hunting knife in this establishment.” 

Although Billy recognized Jon Sly despite his cover, eye patch a dead giveaway, heavy beard transparent, hatless shaggy shoulder-length reddish hair, Sly did not recognize him. Why would the gunman identify a grown man from the boy he battered, left on the ranch porch half-dead? The reputed killer of many had gained weight, wasn’t the scrawny man he remembered, which had along with several men, raped Annabelle a child after Bates raped his mother. The impulse to beat the hell out of him on the spot lay just short of irresistible. He fought the urge, considered his mission, and Annabelle resurfacing in his life, collected his composure to surrendered his six-gun and knife gracefully.

“Mighty fine piece, Ranger, like the knife, too.”

“Thanks; the colt’s seen plenty of action, pard,” he chuckled, added, “pick my teeth with the knife. By the way, who owns this saloon?” 

“Bart Summerfield. Why, Ranger?”

“You the bouncer?”

“Yeah, take care of misfits causin’ trouble.”

“Well, Mr. Bouncer, nothing’s wrong, just curious. Off the trail, I’m thirsty for a drink. Is that okay with you, buckaroo?”

“Be my guest; names’ Todd Summerfield, Bart’s my brother. He’s upstairs with a gal, be down in a jiff if you want to speak to him.”

“Don’t bother him, just getting a fix on Dustbowl after headquarters reassigned me this territory.”

Billy hated liquor, beer he barely tolerated, drank it when occasion dictated. Nevertheless, he yielded, ordered a glass of tap ale not to stand out from saloon patrons. He chose a chair and lone table and grudgingly sipped the cold beverage.

When Bart Summerfield descended the stairs from the mezzanine, Todd with apparent jitters stopped him. The gunman stood close and whispered, gestured toward Billy seated at the table near the wood burning stove and firewood piled against the sidewall. 

Bart approached Billy, “I’m Bart Summerfield,” stretched a hand. 

But Billy did not respond, “Sorry, no handshake, my custom unless I know a person.”

“Okay ... well, what privilege do I owe a Texas Ranger dropping in my saloon and asking about me.”

Billy saw through the disguise, recognized Cole Bates. Heavier than when he last saw him eighteen years ago, Billy guessed him low forties, former scraggly beard shaven and untidy hair neatly cut. Billy’s instinct was correct, Cole Bates had returned to Dustbowl and established himself. 

“Curiosity more than anything,” he answered. “As I told your bouncer Todd, I just want a drink before hitting the trail again heading to Pecos. Have a seat and chat a spell, Mr. Summerfield.”

“Suppose I can spare a few minutes. As owner of this establishment, I offer my service … anything I can do for the law?”

“Not especially.”

Summerfield turned about, whistled, “Hey, Arnold, bring my Ranger friend another glass free on the house.”

Billy accepted the drink atop the one he was finishing. He sipped the second drink slowly not to become woozy and loose-tongued, taking the unanticipated time to chat and evaluate Cole Bates. Small talk ensued, mostly about the town before conversation became self-centered from a narcissist that Billy recognized as a desperado characteristic. The few minutes they conversed Billy gauged the man unmistakably Cole Bates, clung to his every word, studied his curt manner for which he had never forgotten. He soon acknowledged Bate’s community stature was not all that great, also keyed on the identity of his one-eyed bouncer by remarks from his past that only Cole Bates would know. All along, hatred surged dangerously close to the surface like a volcano soon to erupt. Throughout, Billy kept a stone face, thought of Annabelle, and checked his speaking to control inward fury. “How come you’re so fortunate to have landed such a prosperous business in a remote Texas prairie town?” he asked, a tactic of inner control, but viable his inquiry nonetheless.

Bart hesitated, replied, “I had to break it off with some cowboy friends of mine, all wanting to stretch their wings elsewhere and finally relocating on a big spread near Denver, the Tuttle Ranch … doin’ quite well the last I heard. I came here with Todd and bought this saloon when it was stumbling businesswise.”

“I see … who was the previous owner letting it run down?”

Bart looked oddly at Billy. The extent of his inquiry made him suddenly edgy, a bit suspicious, “Ranger, why does that matter?”

“Just curious … getting a fix on the town in a territory I’ll be patrolling. Like every other town saloon, I may appear hunting a desperado.”

“Fair enough. Former owner Luke Misner sold me his saloon for enough money to purchase a ticket back east and stake him a new life in Carolina.”

Billy looked around pretending to admire the interior; “You did a terrific job fixing it up, compare it to top-notch Dallas saloons I’ve frequented.”

“Thanks, ranger, that’s mighty flattering. I never got your name when we met.”

“Claude Bowers, from Austin … wanted to be a Texas Ranger from boyhood.”

“Well, Ranger Bowers, it’s been a pleasure.”

Both men stood, did not shake hands, “Thanks Bart for the extra drink, sorry I couldn’t finish it, enjoyed our conversation, got a better fix on Dustbowl. I’ll be seeing you around.”

“Lookin’ forward.”

Billy exited the saloon. He paused, took a deep breath to settle checked anger just under the surface. He walked left down the sidewalk and across flat boards between most buildings, better for the womenfolk wearing long dresses to avoid collected mud on rainy days. A short distance he crossed the street and entered the livery stable to be greeted by Malcolm Vickers fast asleep on a cot, snoring louder than any Texas Ranger he had encountered. Quietly, he removed several items from his saddlebag stored in a locked footlocker. Tiptoeing out, he circled back to enter the sheriff’s office and dropped the items on the sheriff’s desk.

“What’s this?” Sheriff Abrams asked.

Seated before the sheriff, Deputy Pool to one side playing checkers with former Sheriff Dyson, Billy replied, looking one to the other, “Well, Sheriff Abrams, Russell, and Deputy Pool, I have some interesting information, and will need your assistance come Monday.”

“Glad to be of assistance, Ranger. So, what’s up?” Sheriff Abrams asked, with Pool and Dyson equally attentive.

They absorbed what Billy had discovered, and his plan to confront Bates alone. However, his plan drew frowns, and he noted it, “Look, I’m asking the three of you to back me but not be directly involved unless things get out of hand; the less hullabaloo and bodies drawing fire; the better. This is a weekend cowpunchers are in town blowing off steam. The saloon crowded, I’ll await taking action until Monday morning. First move will be to neutralize the bouncer Red-Jon Sly. I’ll do that quickly … Sly dangerous with a gun. Doing what I think is safer for citizens in general; I’ll need you just outside the saloon to take Sly into custody … okay?”

“Okay,” the three men replied standing simultaneously with Billy.

“Gentlemen, the rest is my call, just me and Cole Bates.” 

The three in turn shook his hand, Sheriff Abrams saying, “I’m sure you’re one hell of a lawman. Nevertheless, understand we have your back and all is fine with me, Ranger Boyles. But please be careful; rumor says Cole is mighty slick with a gun. We’ll be close, come to your aid fast should things sour.”

Billy picked the items up and left the jail. He headed to Gala Hotel where he intended to rest and mentally prepare for the coming showdown long in the making, his disentanglement near completion.

***

Sunday evening Billy retired early. He needed a good night’s sleep, at least what was humanly possible considering what lay ahead for him Monday. 

The nightmare hit him just after midnight, vividly ...

He watched helplessly his half-dead mother Daria brutality raped, beaten and kicked unconscious by the crazed outlaw, and then Cole Bates shoot her to death, have gang member’s drag her limp body across the weedy yard to the hog pen, lift and toss it over the fence, hogs engaged instantly to tear her apart and feast. Having dosed out their cruelty, spent, and placated, Bates and Doyle abandoned him and Annabelle to die alone at the dilapidated ranch shack - Billy beaten a last time before the outlaws rode off, and Annabelle bleeding and collapsed on the porch next him beyond any outlaw to seek further pleasure from her. 

He righted himself, struggled to assist the girl near his own age raped repeatedly, several times right before his eyes. Annabelle’s long dress hanging in rags from her, blood flowing down her legs and into her shoes, he went to an outside artesian well and raised water in a pail, then cleaned her in the cabin, affection between them suddenly accepted. He assisted dressing her in an old dress and then guided her outside, off the porch, across the yard and together trudged toward town. What seemed hours in dark unfamiliar surroundings, he and Annabelle supported each other arm in arm, struggling every agonizing step the five mile distance, moonlight guiding them. Then Cole Bates reappeared an evil demon to finish them off.

Billy gasped, awakened with a start. Profusely sweating, his heart pounded like an Indian war drum. Short of screaming aloud, he growled like a crazed animal, pounded the mattress with both fists as anger consumed him.

Suffocating, he needed air badly.

Pants and boots slipped on, loose shirt not tucked into his waistband, Billy buckled his gun belt and knife sheath over the shirt and left the room. Seated on a porch chair outside the hotel, the town in darkened slumber, he settled to cool off and further calm, night air somewhat chilly but definitely refreshing. Soon, he heard spurs jingle, then saw the shadowy lone figure walk the street and stop twenty feet before him, legs spread apart and ready for action. “Who sits there?” Deputy Poole asked.

“Deputy, it’s me, Ranger Boyles, see you doing your rounds.”

The deputy sighed, relief, “Yeah, a peaceful night. Is everything okay?”

“Yes, my room’s too stuffy, needed fresh air.”

“Okay. I’d sit a spell but must finish my night watch. Hope you have a better night, Ranger Boyles,” the deputy commented, tipped his hat and walked away.

Billy in his room an hour later lapsed into a restful sleep.

***

Monday morning Billy exited Gala Hotel lobby. He noticed the weekend crowd had practically vacated town, notably cowpunchers, wranglers, and ranch foremen departing the hotel after experiencing morning hangover, most leaving by horse, some by mule and wagon.

“Great,” Billy muttered, “the more out of the way the better.”

He entered the U.S. Post Office and approached the counter. Behind it, a squat bald-headed man wearing a clerk’s bib sorted mail he’d place in postal boxes lining the opposite sidewall. “Postmaster, I’m Texas Ranger Billy Boyles; got a moment?”

“Yes, sir; heard a couple days ago a Texas Ranger had ridden into town, am mighty pleased to meet you Ranger Boyles. Tom Berber at your service.”

“Thanks, Tom. I’ve an official message to telegraph Texas Ranger Headquarters. It’s rather lengthy but urgent, must stand here while you process it, sorry, no waiting.” He pushed a handwritten note across the countertop bearing the Texas Ranger logo mask head. “Would you please send this message to Captain Clem Thornton in Austin? Tom, please understand you aren’t to speak of it to anybody, unless Sheriff Abrams were to inquire directly to you … understand?”

“Yes, Ranger Boyles, my mouth is sealed.”

Billy’s message to Clem … 

‘Dad I located Cole Bates here - (stop) - separate Tuttle Ranch twenty miles east Denver, Colorado - (stop) - Evelyn Tuttle proprietor not wanted - (stop) - Arrest Doyle Morton, George Hewitt, Marcella Nobles, Toby Duma - gang members involved rape - murder Daria Boyles - repeated assaults Annabelle Lee - (stop) - Ranger Boyles arrest Bates and Sly Dustbowl today - (stop) - not worry – (stop) - local law enforcement backup’. 

Message delivered, Billy opened the door to exit. He paused to hear the Postmaster reassure him, “Ranger, needn’t worry, your message is absolutely confidential.” 

Billy waved over a shoulder and stepped onto the walkway. Stomach growling, he realized he must eat a hardy breakfast to be alert and respond quickly facing Bates. As he strolled the street in route to the diner he surveyed the town much different than when he last entered it that tragic day with Annabelle. He noted side streets led to neighborhoods in construction. And once vacated lots between certain buildings were being constructed. Main Street stretched to the west end of town, curled away from a sloping hill. He acknowledged Dustbowl appeared a good place to settle down. But that wasn’t in his cards presently; he must deal with another dire matter … bring Cole Bates to justice.

As Billy enjoyed a hardy breakfast at Halibut’s Café, he noticed out the front window that general business appeared slack. But some people were out and about. Several patrons shared the diner with him, of them two men enjoyed ham, eggs, and coffee, were joking and laughing; totally unaware events to transpire would mark their towns’ history. He had hoped for but had not seen Annabelle reappear in town, wanting furtively that she would, acknowledged she should not be present when the confrontation occurs and he serves justice to Bates, either the man surrender or fight. He paid for his meal then returned to his hotel room, where he lay awhile rehashing his best approach to confront Bart Summerfield, alias Cole Bates, also Red-Jon Sly, fully expecting both men to react hostilely and not submit to arrest and face the gallows.

Before noon, Billy exited Gala Hotel. He stood on ground planks to one side of the hotel and placed the items he had shown Sheriff Abrams on the ground near his boots. He checked his 1873 single-action Colt Peacemaker, spinning the cylinder making sure it was loaded with at least five rounds. He worked the hammer action assuring him his fanning technique firing the weapon worked properly; it worked fine. Feeling he needed added firepower, he lifted a bullet from his cartridge belt and placed it in the empty chamber he commonly left blank to avert accidental misfire. 

Behind him, Billy failed to notice an older man and young woman walk across the street. He was not in position to see the apprehension on the woman’s face; the man also worried escorting her hurriedly out of harm’s way.

***

Annabelle and her stepfather Frank had just arrived in town. They had stepped to the ground from their buggy to begin searching for Billy when they spotted him loading his pistol. Neither had expected a fight this day in their otherwise peaceful town. 

Last evening Annabelle had requested her stepfather take her downtown to have a consoling word with Billy, for whom a boy she had fallen in love and reaffirmed her love Friday, and he to her. She had further broken down to admit before her adopted parents her happiness reuniting with him and deep affection that she and Billy understood, proclaimed their bond was everlasting. 

Walking across the street and seeing Billy on the verge of a gunfight, Annabelle felt frantic, wanted dash to and stop him. But she could not. To do so she would interfere, be a distraction to further endanger him in a hostile situation probably now unraveling. She clutched her stepfathers’ arm, and with him, hurriedly entered Clarkson Mercantile. She stood at the large front store window gazing out at Billy holstering his pistol, the woman in the upper floor propositioning him; he politely responding as any gentleman would, tipping his hat. The woman abruptly disappeared. Her heart pounded in her chest watching him look carefully up and down the street, pick up several items on the ground near his boots and begin to walk across Main Street toward Cowpoke Saloon, one instance looking up and muttering something. 

From down the street she spotted Sheriff Abrams, Deputy Pool, and Russell Dyson appear suddenly and walk evenly paced behind Billy. “Oh, my God, it’s beginning,” she muttered, Frank clutching her close to him to comfort her.

“Baby doll, Billy will be okay. He’s a seasoned Texas Ranger and his father has been a good teacher, Clem the best, this young man right at his heels.”

His words were not reassuring in a real-world situation that could go very wrong very fast, possibly to destroy their lives suddenly renewed together, vanquished in an instant.

Main Street bare, dead quiet reigned within Dustbowl except for an occasional horse whinny. Minutes passed that seemed eternal, until Annabelle suddenly heard rapid gunshots thunder to shatter the peace. She began to shake, her stepfather clutching her tightly to keep her from collapsing. “Has the next worse thing happened to me in my life?” she whimpered.

***

A young woman with auburn ringlet hair stuck her head from an upper hotel window, “Hey, Ranger, want to have some fun … come on up.”

“Billy holstered his revolver, turned and tipped his hat, “Sorry madam, my eyes are peeled elsewhere. Advice … stick you’re pretty head back inside and stay put.”

“Hell’s-Bell’s,” the woman exclaimed and jerked herself back inside, slammed the window.

Billy bent over, picked up the items. He strolled slowly toward Cowpoke Saloon, where mid-street he looked up to see a buzzard perched on the roof rim, “Appropriate,” he muttered.

Billy stepped on the saloon plank porch, boards squeaking. He placed the items on a chairs’ seat next to the saloon entrance; stepped several strides to swing open the batwing doors. Entering the darkened environment lit by oil lanterns spaced about, Red-Jon Sly intercepted him, six inches shorter and fifty pounds lighter - a dwarf in comparison, dangerous with a gun nevertheless. Faking unbuckling his cartilage belt, Billy pulled his Colt from the holster quickly and slammed the barrel over Sly’s head. 

The gunman’s eyes rolled back in his head. He sagged, collapsed like a wet rag in Billy’s arms. “That’s for raping my mother and Annabelle Lee, you slimy bastard.” 

Billy grabbed Red-Jon by his hair with both hands. Then he dragged the unconscious man outside to awaiting Sheriff Abrams, Deputy Pool, and Former Sheriff Dyson now deputized, the three taking him into custody, roping his hands and feet and dragging him out and under the hitch rail where he lay unconscious on dirt amidst horse manure. Billy retrieved the items from the chair seat and reentered the saloon to see five stunned people standing beside toppled chairs, stone still, eyes wide and mouths agape. 

Nobody armed and danger minimal, Billy turned his attention to the shocked bartender, “Mister Wade, I see Mr. Summerfield hasn’t appeared, assume he’s upstairs.”

“Yes, Ranger, he’s with a female guest.”

“Terrific. Would you please pour me a large glass of cold milk and place it on the bar. Next, I want you to pull the shotgun from behind your bar and place it atop the counter butt toward me - mind you, carefully. Then you must leave the premises pronto.” He returned his attention to stunned cowhands and several local citizens. He raised his Colt high enough all could see and circled the barrel while pointing his other hand holding his items toward the batwing doors, “Everybody, out! Immediately before hot lead starts flying!”

Bartender Arnold Wade and the five patrons fled through the batwing doors, one instance squeezing through three abreast and almost spilling outside on the porch, law officers stabilizing and escorting them to comparative safely.

Billy walked calmly to the room’s center, boot heels striking tersely on the wood floor, spurs jingling. He pushed aside several chairs from his path and placed the items close together on a tabletop: hat to one side, badge atop wallet, and handwritten note on official paper near the hat. No appearance by Summerfield yet, he sauntered back to the bar, positioned the shotgun for quick access in event he needed it. Then he drank milk from the glass, wiped his mouth with his shirtsleeve and leaned sideward against the bar. An elbow propped on the bar top, boot resting on the rod footrest inches above the floor, he waited wondering if Cole Bates was aware something wasn’t right downstairs.

 Time crept by. Billy checked his pocket watch - ten minutes had lapsed; the man must really be enjoying himself upstairs, he mused. 

He heard the first heavy footsteps above, then a pause just behind the mezzanine bannister running high above the bar counter. Cole is obviously scanning the empty barroom below, he determined. 

“Where’s everybody,” Billy heard him utter. 

More heavy footsteps, Coles’ boot heels chomping the first steps, sound of boards flexing. Another pause, obviously, the saloon owner surprised tables were disarrayed with not a soul visible.

Cole Bates, alias Bart Summerfield stepped off the staircase and gingerly onto the barroom floor, spotted Billy, “Well, Ranger, we meet again … what’s up partner?”

Billy did not reply. He lifted his right hand and gestured toward the room center and table where the items he had placed, lay.

Cole Bates paled, unsure what next to do. He moved toward the table, his motion noticeable unstable. Picking up the note with a trembling hand, he read it entirely: ‘Summerfield, this is the hat that blew off your head after you shot Texas Ranger Clem Thornton in the chest. Clem my adopted father is the only Ranger that survived that day on the bluff, the Texas Ranger badge under his bandana crushed by your bullet and the wallet inside his vest inner pocket the only things saving his life, me the boy with him you had beaten half to death after you fed my dead mother to hogs. Cole Bates, I am Texas Ranger Billy Boyles, here to arrest you for murder and rape of my mother Daria Boyles, the murder of five Texas Rangers, and multiple assaults by your men on Annabelle Lee. Either throw up your hands and face the gallows or make your play. You go for your gun you are instantly a dead man.’ 

Cole wore his Remington .44 low on his left side, evident his skill and that he would not surrender his freedom when he pulled back his coat in order to reach his gun butt. 

“Hello, Billy, it’s been a long time. Much sand has passed under our boots since seeing you that day on the bluff. Sorry about all that hardship I passed to you, your mom, Annabelle. Please understand, I advise you to pick the wallet and badge up and make for the door. Sly was fast with a gun, but no match for me a southpaw.”

Billy calmly drank the remainder of his milk. He placed the glass lightly on the bar away from the shotgun then righted himself to face Bates, staring intently into the evil eyes of the man he had long wished to meet as per this minute. He stepped four paces from the bar, the jingle of spurs and heavy heels crisply sounded throughout the spacious room. He halted ten feet from Bates and awaited his compliance or action.

A slight flicker in Cole Bates eyes and movement of his left shoulder set Billy’s right hand into motion, recovering his colt from his holster in the blink of an eye, the hammer fanned with his left palm four booming times at blinding speed.

Cole Bates had managed to raise his revolver half from his holster a split second before bullets in succession ripped through his body. He flew backward, each impact driving him farther until he smashed into the wood-burning stove, dislodging the stack from the sidewall. Bates, the stove, and the smoke stack toppled over and against the blood splattered far wall, his body collapsing slowly amidst heaped firewood. Billy had surgically placed each bullet on the man’s heart periphery, fatal nonetheless, giving him one precious moment to have the final say. 

His Colt smoking, Billy approached the fallen sprawled outlaw, stopped six feet from him. Gasping, filled with hatred, he yelled at the dying man, “Does this bring back memories Cole Bates before you draw your last breath?”

Cole near death, murmured, “Fastest gun ever. Damn, should have checked that you fell over the cliff.”

“Yes, Bates, blunder that day you didn’t search for me. I saw you shoot Captain Clem Thornton and slaughter his ranger troop, rape and shoot my mother, have your men assault Annabelle. Yes, I remember the L-shaped scar on your hairy back. Thanks for the info yesterday, revealing where Doyle Morton, George Hewitt, Marcella Nobles, and Toby Duma are held up near Denver … a tough arm of the law after them right this minute, all to swing on the gallows for their horrific deeds. Sly is in jail and will hang right here in Dustbowl, your compadres to join him later.”

Billy fell into silence as Cole Bates slumped into death. He extracted four shells from his pistol and reloaded hastily should any accomplice appear to avenge Bates’ death.

“I saw everything, a fair fight, Billy,” Sheriff Abrams said the next moment, emerging to stand beside Billy, putting a hand on his shoulder.

Billy sighed deeply, stepped to the bar. Head down, he leaned heavily against the counter, “Why don’t I feel any better after killing that despicable creep?” he muttered.

Russell Dyson came to him from the saloon entrance, Billy collapsing into his outstretched arms. Both men clung together, “Son, lightning took a back seat to what I saw you do here today. I understand … you did what you had too do, any decent man would have … nobody will fault you.”

A woman from the balcony above screamed, “God Almighty, Bart’s dead, the father of my baby … I’m pregnant,” then she charged back into her room and slammed the door.

Russell muttered, as he guided Billy outside, “Poor Milena.”

TOGETHER AGAIN

The shooting over, Sheriff Dyson and Deputy Simpson escorted Red-Jon Sly to a jail cell. Doc Oppenheim hurried there to attend his head injury, a lump the size of an egg raised. 

Town citizens gathered outside Cowpoke Saloon, chatter among them swelling. One in particular in charge of a local newsletter Sagebrush Bulletin, Postmaster Tom Berber, the editor, jotted details of the event on paper, as he interviewed deputized Russell Dyson. 

Following the brief interview, Russell Dyson scanned the crowd, spotted whom he was searching. He approached Arnold Wade, “Arnie, you might better hustle upstairs to console Milena Senora.” He repeated her outcry seeing Bart Summerfield dead, and explained he was notorious Cole Bates, advised, “Escort Milena to the sheriff’s office when she’s ready, explain she’s not to blame her connection to Bates nor of her lover’s wrongdoings. We and the community will help her, and her child when it arrives.”

As Arnold bolted into the saloon to do as asked, Annabelle walked uneasily from the crowd. Alongside her adopted father, she approach Billy, voice trembling as she spoke, “That was awful, Billy. Though I hated that evil man, the horror he and his gang did us, this is sudden … a total shock. I must get home, sort things. When you’re ready, and if it’s okay, please drop by and we’ll talk.”

“Yes, Annabelle, it was brutal and I understand. We’ve expressed our feelings, and correctly, we must sort things, take some time to mellow after this showdown I was compelled many years to do, avenge my mother, and you.”

Annabelle turned around to leave, her steps quickly faltering. She fainted, would have collapsed totally had Billy not acted fast to catch her in his arms. He rushed her to a sidewalk bench in front of Cowpoke Saloon. A woman hustled to them, handed Billy a water canteen from a nearby cowboy’s saddle, and her napkin. He wiped her face, kissed her forehead. Coming around but woozy, Annabelle could only mumble gibberish to Billy. Supported solely by Frank Hansberry, they hobbled to his wagon, he driving it from town and immediately to home.

When later their emotions had settled and they assessed their futures via messages to and from the ranch, Billy rode out to the Hansberry Big Star Ranch. A grand ranch, it specialized in cattle, was where Frank and Eleanor had rescued and raised Annabelle from a terrifying experience to live in a healthy environment and become a sturdy young woman with education and stature in the area. 

REDEMPTION

Billy telegraphed Clem and requested a leave of absence, which the Captain granted. Meanwhile, he stayed in Dustbowl’s Gala Hotel and regularly visited Annabelle. In time, he and Annabelle became engaged and soon thereafter married. 

The newlyweds stayed with Frank and Eleanor in the large ranch house. Billy hung his gun belt and knife on a peg, used it only when rounding up cattle on the range, or for varmints oftentimes a nuisance. He traded his Texas Ranger badge for a rope, still rode Palette a good cattle horse, transformed quickly into a ranch hand on an expansive spread he and Annabelle would someday inherit. He retired Big Ears permanently to a pasture. A year after marriage, Annabelle gave birth to a girl, she and Billy naming her Annie Clara.

Eleven months later a buckboard appeared under the Texas-Bar entrance sign. It kept steady pace up the rutted road and finally arrived and parked at ranch house. 

Billy peered out the front kitchen window, “I be doggone.” He raced out the front door, exited the front porch full speed, in the process almost stepped on a terrified hen, “Pops, Mama, so good to see you, welcome?” He halted abruptly, “And, who’s the fine lady accompanying you two?”

“I’ll allow the fine young lady to explain, Billy, my son,” Clementine said, getting down first, approaching and hugging him.”

The young white woman appeared Indian to Billy, black hair hanging straight below her shoulders, look, demeanor, dressed much like a Comanche maiden. She stepped down from the wagon and slowly approached him, “Billy, it’s me, your sister, Caroline.”

“Oh, my,” Billy said, tears forming, suddenly crying, stunned beyond responding immediately until finally he dashed to and hugged his long lost sister as she did him.

That night after a celebrating supper and everybody seated about the living room on a sofa and two wingback chairs, high back chairs brought in from the front porch, Caroline divulged her harrowing story. Fundamentally, after taken captive Dark Cloud and his warriors assaulted her repeatedly, a thing hauntingly familiar to Annabelle and Billy. She lived nomadically in Oklahoma Territory; birthed two children by warrior Eagle Feathers, a fine man she clarified. Texas Rangers rescued her while raiding Chief Clever Fox Comanche war camp bordering the Oklahoma Territory. Her children died in that raid, Eagle Feathers also, the children’s deaths greatly distressing her. Clem hearing of the raid and finding out her identity, went to her in prison, released her and took her into his home as he had Billy, waited until she had fully recovered to venture to Dustbowl for this reunion.

Clementine took center stage. She explained that during Clems’ leave, she received word from her parents in Georgia they were facing dire crisis. Life after the war and Atlanta burned by General Sherman devastated them and the economy. Their farm consequently could not rebound and they lived off the land with zero income. She offered them refuge at her Austin home, which Clem agreed and Jorge and Priscilla were thankful, the family arriving weeks earlier, also Jorge’s’ brother Norman. The house full wall to wall, Caroline wished to go see her brother, perhaps get a job in Dustbowl and relocate there permanently.

Annabelle stood from her wingback chair. She went to and sat beside Caroline on the sofa, took hold of her hands, “Caroline, we’ve all shared a horrible past starting with the station Indian raid, you taken into captivity many years, enslaved, brutalized, but experiencing a tolerable life and good relationship with a man, he and children sadly gone. We’re all part of that tragedy; good reason we’re very close. You are my sister. We need help here, and I’m pregnant again, due in about six months. I … we can use you, not as a housemaid, but supportive as my partner in the things we all do around the ranch. What do you say about coming to live with Billy and me, Frank and Eleanor, be Aunt Caroline to our Annie and our newborn?”

“There’s no question,” Billy interjected, coming and kneeling before her. “Caroline, do you wish to live here with us? We can certainly use your expertise, warmth and love in our family finally coming together.”

Caroline smiled, embraced her sister-in-law, bent forward and repeated with Billy.

Clem and Clementine Thornton left the next morning. Together they shared the same sentiment - satisfaction their adopted son’s role in the resurrection of a family formally disentangled in the worse possible manner, had come full-circle in such wonderful manner.

***

Neither member of the family attended the hangings of Cole Bates’ gang. The outlaws buried in the Methodist Cemetery back corner, bore only basic facts on their headstones: outlaw name, date and reason of death, no divine sentiment listed whatsoever.

So goes another story in the building of the American Frontier, tragedy happening, love surviving. 

THE END


© Copyright 2020 Virgil Dube. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments: