The Last Manhunt

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: Booksie Classic
Bounty Hunter Seth Mason returns to Dodge City after capturing the notorious Jake Franks only to find out that Franks has escaped. Seth is torn between His love for the daughter of a stern minister

Submitted: July 05, 2014

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Submitted: July 05, 2014

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Lowell “Zeke” Ziemann

1221 E. Kramer Cir. Western Short Story

Mesa, AZ 85203

480-200-7490

 

 

 

THE LAST MANHUNT

by

Lowell “Zeke” Ziemann

 

 

 

Despite the handcuffs, Jake Franks swung up into the saddle.  The muscular outlaw glanced

back at the deputy who rode a small roan and cradled a shotgun across his lap.  Soon, the silver

haired sheriff emerged from the jail and mounted his pitch-black mare.  As the rising sun cast

long shadows upon the street; the three gigged their mounts and rode out of Caldwell.

Jake was an angry man.  Angry from the time when, as a fourteen year old Georgian, he

witnessed the horror of General Sherman’s famous “March to the Sea”; still angry after he killed

three Yankee troopers and fled to Indian Territory to escape Union patrols: and angry enough for

subsequent forays into the territory people still called “Bloody Kansas”, to continue his

murderous ways.  He had earned the two thousand dollar dead-or-alive bounty that hung over his

head.

Using both of his hands, Jake tipped his hat to a few townsfolk who rose early enough to

get a glimpse of the notorious outlaw.

Ziemann/Manhunt/2

 

“You’ll be tipping your hat to the devil soon enough I reckon,” taunted young deputy Ted

Bean.  “The Abilene Judge’ll see to that.”

As they paraded out of the dusty cow town, Glen Milner, the portly seventy-five year old

sheriff rode next to Franks.  Deputy Bean rode closely behind the outlaw.

“Jake, I knew you when you first came to Kansas,” said the sheriff.  “Remember when I

tossed you in jail?  Five years ago, in seventy-one I think.”

“Busted up the Last Chance Saloon, as ah recollect,” said Franks.

The Sheriff smiled, “Figured you for just a wild kid then.”  He frowned and shook his

head.  “Guess I was wrong.”

“After the war, some Yank always needed killin’,” said Franks in his gruff southern drawl.

“It’ll be your turn when we get to Abilene,” commented Deputy Bean.

Milner pulled a cigar from a vest pocket and lit it, lighting up his tanned, wrinkled face.

“I heard my friend Seth Mason nabbed you without firing a shot,” said the Sheriff.

Franks eyes narrowed.  He spoke through clenched teeth.  “A right hard man that Mason.

Might be yer friend, but sure ain’t mine.  Ah’ll kill that yellow Yank, next time ah see him.”

Ted Bean grinned. “That’ll be damn hard all the way from Hell.”

“Shut up you fool,” snapped Franks.  “That low down Mason stumbled into mah cabin like a

drunken bum.  We commenced to sharing his hooch…and when ah woke up the next mornin’,

there ah was, handcuffed to the bunk.”

Deputy Bean leaned back in the saddle and chuckled.  “How ‘bout that.  The famous outlaw

Jake Franks, outsmarted by a bounty hunter and caught without a shot being fired!”

As they plodded on, Jake Franks turned, lowered his head and studied his captors.  He

focused on Deputy Bean.  Short and thin, the deputy looked silly with a big hat shading his peach

fuzz mustache and pimply face.  Obviously, appointed deputy and assigned this mission filled

Bean with a false sense of courage and self-importance.  Taking him…easy.

Jake’s attention swung to the Sheriff.  Milner? Honest reputation.Avoided his town for

years.  Ah wish some other law dog had taken on this job.  He’s old, but tough and a Southerner

to boot.  Why didn’t he just stay retired and keep breeding his fine horses?  Now Ah’m gonna

have to kill him….Best watch and wait.

Franks reined in, twisted in the saddle and looked squarely at Bean.  “Ain’t y’all the brave

one behind that shotgun.  Mason enjoyed makin’ sport of me.  Count on it.  Ah’ll kill him.”

Bean spurred his horse up alongside Franks. “You better get it done in a couple of days,

‘cause after that you’ll be in the Abilene jail waitin’ on the hangman…anyway by now Mason’s

back home in Dodge City and probably has help if he wants it.”

The horses ignored the myriad of darting grasshoppers as they walked along the Abilene

Trail.  The flat grasslands seemed endless, dotted with small groves of cottonwoods and a few

outcroppings of rock formations.  As dusk approached they stopped near a small creek that ran

north to south.  Milner was spent.  Bean kept whistling.  But Franks remained quiet as bedrolls

were laid out.

“You take the first watch,” Milner said to Bean.  “’Bout midnight, you wake me.”

Long before dawn, Deputy Bean tossed a pebble toward the sleeping Sheriff.  “Get up

Milner, your turn.”

No reply.  Bean glanced at the sleeping Franks and tossed another pebble at the

Sheriff.  “Get up Milner!”Frustrated, he stepped over Franks and shook the sheriff.

“Milner wake up!  Milner… Milner---Good grief, he’s dead---he’s d---.”

The panicked Deputy clawed at the handcuff chain that suddenly tightened under his chin as

the burly outlaw lifted him off the ground.  With legs kicking and arms flailing, Bean desperately

tried to reach his holstered pistol.  Two jerks of the chain and the young Deputy’s arms dropped

like a rag doll, and Ted Bean gasped his last breath.

Franks tore into Bean’s pockets.  He grabbed some loose change, found the handcuff key and

freed himself.  A distant coyote howled eerily at the moon as Jake dragged Bean’s body under a

tree.  He tied the sheriff’s body across the saddle of the horse he had ridden that day and turned

the horse loose, knowing that it would wind its way back to Caldwell.

Jake sighed with satisfaction.“Lawman or not, ah won’t leave a loyal man of the South for

the buzzards.”

Jake saddled both the roan and the black.  He mounted Bean’s roan, led Milner’s black, and

rode south along the creek bank figuring a posse would see the tracks and assume that he headed

back into the Indian Nation.  Five miles downstream, he entered the creek and turned northwest,

riding back upstream toward the tiny settlement of Medicine Lodge, Kansas, about twenty miles

away.  Medicine Lodge sat ten miles southeast of Dodge City.  The rage that soiled his

conscience for a decade burned anew.  He was free again to dispense judgment to the Union

invaders.  But first, he had business with Bounty Hunter Seth Mason.

 

**********

 

Two days after capturing Jake Franks, Seth Mason returned to Dodge City, arriving in late

afternoon.  He deposited his bounty, paid his bills, and went to his room at the Dodge House.  He

ordered a hot bath, shaved, and relaxed by reading the book of Proverbs.

Seth’s bounty hunting tactics differed from many in his occupation.  His success was due to

disciplined planning and cunning.  Most of the others relied strictly on their skills with a gun

and tracking.  Bounty Hunters adapted violent skills learned in the Civil War, and were not

concerned if the outlaw was brought in alive or dead.Seth wanted quick payoffs and there was

no other way he could earn this much money elsewhere using the skills he had honed.

Over six feet tall, with penetrating blue eyes and quiet manners, Seth easily gained the

confidence and assistance of lawmen on his manhunts.  Somewhat of a scholar, he preferred

reading the Bible or the Classics and spent little spare time in saloons, usually entering one only

to find his man.  Subdued, but dangerous, even lethal if set upon, Seth Mason was known as a

man who was not to be trifled with when on his hunt.  In the coming days, Seth planned to take

in Eddie Foy’s vaudeville show at the Dodge Playhouse, catch up on national news, and visit

friends…especially one friend.

Then, after several days of relaxation, the itch for the hunt would return.  He would scour

newspapers and handbills, find a crime and send a telegram to the sheriff to confirm the bounty.

If the money was adequate, he would ride out to attempt a capture.  But right now he needed rest.

The next morning Seth left the hotel and walked down Front Street.  He passed the already

busy Longbranch Saloon on his way to Delmonico’s for morning coffee.  He paused at the door

and read the menu that was handwritten on the chalk board nailed to the door.

Delmonico’s was a quaint restaurant with wainscoting on the walls and shiny wooden floors.

There were ten tables, each with four chairs.  Dodge City shop owners filled the café in the

mornings for coffee, and the latest local business gossip.

“Hello Seth.”  The soft female voice belonged to the young widow, Dinah Scott, who was

enjoying breakfast with her father, Reverend Metz.  When she spied Seth approaching their table

her face glowed with a welcoming smile.  “I’m so thankful you’re back safely.”

Seth removed his hat.  “Mornin’ Dinah, I intended to call on you this afternoon…Mornin’

Reverend.”

Seth smiled.  Dinah’s hazel eyes shone and her auburn hair looked radiant.  Besides

her beauty, it was the mystery about her that drew him. I wonder what kind of man her husband

had been and why she chose to marry him?  Seth asked himself.He knew her husband had been

killed at Gettysburg, even after she had begged him to stay home.  After his death she moved to

Dodge City to be with her widowed father, and to seek a peaceful life.

He met Dinah at a church social.  The mutual attraction was immediate and had grown

steadily over the past year.

Seth understood that his bounty hunting troubled Dinah.  Yet she was always willing to

accept his company.  He thought about proposing, but hesitated, because he knew she

considered his occupation a waste of his intelligence and ambition, even somewhat barbaric.

Seth immediately recognized that Reverend Metz appeared annoyed.  In his clerical collar, he

appeared stiff, but dignified. “Will you be riding out again soon?” the Reverend asked.

Seth peered over his coffee cup.  “That is hard to say.  If there is a chance to arrest a killer and

collect a large enough reward, I go.”

Dinah shot her father a skeptical look, and then slightly raised her voice.  “Father…”

“I guess we’re kinda in the same business,” said Reverend Metz, as he put his cup down.

“Going after people, I mean.  I try to get men into heaven and you try to send them to hell.”

“If I capture them alive,” said Seth, “they have a chance to repent of their ways.  Maybe

you’re right though.  Like you, I try to get them to acknowledge their wrongdoings.”

Reverend Metz leaned forward.  “And if you don’t take them alive, you kill them.”

“Father!  Seth is no killer,” interrupted Dinah.

“Sorry Seth, but we know you have killed your man,” said the Reverend.

Seth’s narrowed blue eyes looked directly into the Reverend’s.  “The outcome of our

confrontation is up to the wanted man, not me.”

“Killing and capturing, it seems to me, should be done by a duly appointed lawman.”

Seth leaned back and shook his head.  “Lawmen are tied to a territory and are bound by

lawyerly rules.  Most are not about to risk their hide for their meager salary.  I have no such

limitations.  Remember there are crime victims here.  Think of them.  Bad men need justice.  It

makes no matter who corrals them…or how.”

Unconvinced, the Reverend suddenly rose from his chair and glanced at his daughter.  “Please

excuse me Seth.  I have to go to a meeting.  Good day.”

“Good day.  I’ll see Dinah home,” replied Seth, not bothering to rise.

 


**********

 

They walked in silence a several minutes before Seth spoke.  “Your father has a low opinion

of me…or at least my line of work.”

“Father has a pacifist streak, plus he is still very protective of me.  Mother died just six weeks

before John was killed at Gettysburg.  It was a difficult time.  Father knows how much I care for

you.  He sees that I won’t have other suitors coming to our door.  I think he worries that my

feelings for you, and the danger of bounty hunting, could leave me scarred again.”

As they walked, Seth took her hand.  “I told you my plans.  I want to own a spread near

Dodge or maybe up in Nebraska Territory’s Sandhills.  I have nearly enough saved up.  About

five thousand more and I’ll have it, and be done with this work.That said, I hope you

understand, and,” he paused, “you also understand the feelings I have for you.”

At the gate to the Parsonage, Dinah searched Seth’s eyes. “I’ll accept that for now…I

understand.  But when you find a place, will you…or can you quit bounty hunting?”

“Of course,” said Seth with slight hesitation.

Giving Seth a quick kiss and a smile, she added, “Seth Mason, don’t take any chances!”

She changed the subject to a happier note.  “I expect you for dinner tonight.  I’m making

your favorite, roast beef.”

Seth walked back to the Dodge House.  Will she leave me if I continue chasing bounties?

What’s wrong with catching killers?  Will she give ear to her father?  The hell with him.

He picked up his mail from the front desk.  In it were three newspapers and a telegram.

From Caldwell, the telegram read “MILNER DEAD.”  Then he saw the shocking headline in the

Abilene Chronicle.  “KILLER ESCAPES. SHERIFF MILNER, DEPUTY BEAN DEAD!”

The Dodge City Times had the story too.  He crumpled the telegram.  “Damn!  I shouda

just shot him.”

 

**********

 

Outlaw Jake Franks rode northwest on the trail to Medicine Lodge.  To keep the horses

fresh, he alternated mounts, changing from Bean’s roan to Milner’s black every hour or so.

He was certain that no posse would believe that he would be fool enough to head toward Dodge

City.  After all, only Milner, Bean, and Mason knew of his sworn revenge, and two of them

won’t be telling anyone.  Riding all night, he endured an August rainstorm and pesky

mosquitoes swarming around his hat.

Soaked and exhausted, he reached the little Kansas settlement of Medicine Lodge at dawn.  

He tied the tired horses to a tree in a small grove outside of town and walked to Red Nel’s

Saloon.  With muddy boots he trudged up the back stairs, entered the balcony hallway, and

stopped at the first door.  He rapped.

“Go away….GO AWAY,” came a tired female voice.  “We open at noon!”

“Nel, Nel…It’s me, Jake”

“Jake?  Jake?  Is it really you?”

She quickly lit a lamp, then ran and threw open the door.  She flung her arms around him and

led him to a settee in the corner of the room where they sat as he leaned on her.

“A cowboy came in last night and said you were gonna be hanged in Abilene.” Nel

said. “I thought you was a goner. How did’ja get away?  Why did’ja come here?  Why ain’t you

hidin’ out in the Nations?  You could‘a sent for me.”

“Ah’ll tell you the whole of it later.  Killed my guards and got away.  God ah’m tired.”

Jake shed his wet cloths and sat on her bed.With drooping eyelids, he watched Nel’s

image in the mirror as she grabbed her hair brush and combed her long black tresses.  Her

bronzed skin Osage beauty, well formed face and figure were reflected.  What does she want

with an outlaw like me?  She could have any of a dozen men who come into her saloon.

 

**********

 

Following the evening meal and a prayer of thanks, Dinah cleared the table while Reverend

Metz and Seth took their coffee in the parlor.

The Reverend peered over the top of his cup that he held with both hands.  “I read in the

Dodge City Times, that that outlaw got away again.”

“I know---very troubling,” replied Seth.

“How did you catch him in the first place?”

Wiping a platter, Dinah entered the room to hear the story.

“When I found out where he was, I put on my oldest clothes, bought a run-down mule and,

since I drink only coffee, bought a bottle and then sprinkled my shirt with whiskey.  When I

knocked on his door he thought some trail bum had dropped in without knowing quite where he

was.  He drank my bottle and we talked until midnight or later---mainly cussing about the war.”

“Crafty,” said the Reverend.

Seth continued.  “While he slept, I handcuffed him to the bunk. When he woke up he

became enraged, called me every name in the book, a coward and worse---vowed to kill me.”

“Hate and revenge can consume one,” said Dinah.  “Did you think it would be so easy?”

“It was my plan,” said Seth. “I delivered him to the Caldwell jail and they wired the Abilene

bank to pay off the bounty.  Sheriff Milner then received word that Franks was to be transferred

to Abilene, as he was wanted for two killings there.  Then Milner released me and said that he

and his deputy would escort the prisoner to Abilene.  I thought the Deputy was a loud mouth kid,

but I trusted Milner.”

Dinah asked, “You don’t really think that outlaw would be fool enough to come to Dodge and

try to kill you, do you?”

Seth put down his cup.  Averting Dinah’s eyes, he said, “I doubt it---Franks is a dangerous

man filled with hate from the war, but he isn’t stupid.  Anyway, no longer my concern.”

Unconvinced, Dinah said “No concern?  Seth Mason, you be careful!”

Thinking it best, Seth changed the subject. “Dinah, Banker Grossman stopped me today

and told me of a ranch that the bank is buying back from a borrower…says it’s a bargain.  He

wants to take me out to see it tomorrow.  I’d be obliged if you would ride out with us.”

Seth glanced at the Reverend whose face twisted into a frown.

Dinah answered Seth, while at the same time sending a defiant message with her eyes to

her father.  “I’d love to go, Seth.”

 

**********

 

The next morning’s sunrise sent a promise of a warm and pleasant day.  After breakfast

Seth and Dinah joined the bank President for a buggy ride to the ranch.  The trail followed the

railroad tracks, and several times crossed a small stream.  The day was peaceful, and the small

talk was welcome; but Seth was unable to diffuse the tension boiling up in his mind.

The plains were a rolling pea-green and beige carpet, with clumps of maple, ash, and

cottonwood trees.After mounting a hill and passing through a small grove, they rode into a

hidden clearing.  Below, next to a creek, set a small log cabin.  Its windows were intact, and the

roof and log siding looked sturdy.  The corral behind it needed new fencing, and the gate was

missing.  The whole setting was like a picture postcard.

“Here it is…nice huh?” said Grossman.  “The owner’s mother lived here and kept the cabin in

good shape until she passed away last Fall.  The price is right, grass is good… plenty of water.

The cabin is small, and the corral needs improvement…perhaps a barn and some additional

outbuildings…only about 200 cattle are included in the price.  But it’s still a bargain.”

“It’s lovely!” said Dinah.

“It certainly has strong possibilities.  I’ve ridden across the east of this area many times.

You’re right, good grass,” said Seth.  “Who owns it?  Why is it being sold?”

“Nel Koop, or Red Nel as she’s known, because she’s a half-breed.  Her Ma was Osage.  Nel

owns a notorious saloon a couple of miles from here in Medicine Lodge.  She’s paid little

attention to the ranch over the past few years and as a result is taking a loss---but she makes a

pile of money at her saloon.  Since her Ma died, she’s lost interest in the ranch.  I guess she

considers it simply a distraction.”

“I don’t know her, but I’ve heard that her place is known as a safe hangout for trail hands

and all sorts of vagabonds, thieves and cutthroats,” said Dinah.

Seth climbed down from the buggy and looked inside the cabin and then inspected the

corral. The ranch had great potential.  The price was right. He had ridden over most of it.

Walking back to the buggy Seth said, “I can’t pay cash---yet.  Would she come down on

price?”

“You can borrow what you need for improvements and some stock,” said Grossman.

“Perhaps I can get her to lower the price by five hundred, but I can’t be sure.  I know she is

anxious to get shed of it.  I think she might be reasonable.”

Dinah shot a hopeful glance at Seth. “This could be our opportunity.”

Seth smiled, noting Dinah’s use of the word ‘our’, then nodded to the banker.  “Lower the

price by five hundred, then work out the details and get it done.”

On the ride back to Dodge City, Seth noticed a relieved smile on Dinah’s face, then watched

the banker wrinkle his forehead and mumble to himself, apparently calculating the sales

commission.  Seth hid his anxiety and fingered the telegram in his coat pocket that he received

that morning.

“NEW REWARD…FRANKS… $4000…DEAD OR ALIVE.”

**********

 

A few days later, following morning coffee, Seth and Dinah, were relaxing on a Front

Street bench outside of Delmonico’s, when they saw an approaching rider mounted on a sleek

black mare. The female rider sat erect and wore a blue riding skirt and a white beaded shirt.  Her

jet-black hair, held in place by a red scarf, hung to her waist and bobbed up and down as the

mare trotted across the railroad tracks.

“She’s beautiful,” said Dinah, and added with a curious glance at Seth, “Did you notice?”

“Of course,” Seth said, with a grin meant to tease. “I’m not blind.  You’re right.  That’s a

beautiful mare.  Oh, and that rider isn’t exactly ugly either.”

Dinah laughed.

The horse drew most of his attention.  As the rider passed them Seth sat bolt upright.  That

mare was Sheriff’s Milner’s!  Milner would never sell the mare.  How did that lady get his prized

horse?

Keeping this information to himself, Seth, with Dinah on his arm, walked around the corner

and passed the bank.  The mare, her black coat shining, was tied in front of the bank.  Now he

was dead certain.  It was Milner’s prized horse.

He walked Dinah home, then hurried back to the bank.  Just as he turned the corner, the

mystery woman mounted the black and urged her into a trot.  Grossman came out of the bank

and waved goodbye to her.

Seth watched the woman ride away as Grossman shook his hand.  “That was Nel Koop---Red

Nel.  She agreed to lower the price five hundred.  I’ll prepare the papers.  We agreed to meet at

the ranch tomorrow at noon to sign.”

Seth stretched his mind in an attempt to put the pieces of the puzzle together.  Just a couple of

weeks ago, Sheriff Milner had spoken of his admiration for the black mare that he had raised

from a colt.  Now Milner was dead and the horse shows up here being ridden by Red Nel?

**********

 

Well before noon, Seth and Grossman rode to the cabin.  Red Nel showed up riding a small

roan.  Papers were signed and hands were shaken all around.

Seth studied Nel, who was not apprehensive and showed no signs of nervousness.  She made

some small talk, wished Seth luck with the ranch, and then left for Medicine Lodge.

The banker put the documents into his brief case and headed back to Dodge City.

Seth waved to Grossman.  “I think I’ll ride the property lines.”

When both were out of sight, Seth followed Nel.  His old friend, Sheriff Milner, had to be

riding the mare the night he died.  That was reason enough to follow Nel, but there was more.

The black mare could only end up here if Jake Franks had ridden it.  Franks must be in Medicine

Lodge, or at least had passed through.The killer’s vow of revenge must have dominated his

soul and caused him to throw caution to the wind.

Did Dinah think he was now done with bounties?  Seth somehow felt as though he was

betraying her confidence.  Her heart was set on his owning the ranch.  He thought about turning

back, but something pushed him onward.  Old habits and emotions stirred.  He was on the hunt.

Seth spoke out loud to himself.  “One thing is certain, Franks will surely kill again.  Then

too, with the outlaw free, I’ll always have to keep looking over my shoulder.  Whether I’m

ranching or bounty hunting, that is no way to live.  I’d be a damn fool and probably get

bushwacked if I let Jake Franks make the first move.”

Riding on the trail to Medicine Lodge, Seth removed his hat and wiped the sweat from his

forehead with his shirt sleeve.  He checked and re-checked his six gun, rolled his shoulders, and

stretched his fingers.

A sudden thought wrinkled his forehead into a frown.  Had his relationship with Dinah made

his strict, disciplined ways of bounty hunting recede?  Would love dull his skills?  Lose his

daring?But the possibility of Jake Franks being in Medicine Lodge could not be dismissed.

“This will be my last manhunt,” he swore to himself aloud.  Then, he smiled at such an

impulsive vow.  For if Franks was in Medicine Lodge, and won their impending showdown, this,

without a doubt, would be his last manhunt!

**********

 

“Where ya all been?” asked Jake as Nel opened the door to her room.

“Sold the ranch.” she said.  “I’ve been trying to get rid of the place since Ma died.  The

banker found a buyer for me... man from Dodge City named Mason.”

Jake leaped off the bed.  “Mason?...Seth Mason?”

“Yeah.  You know him?” asked Nel.

Jake grabbed Nel’s shoulders.  “That’s the damn Yankee bounty hunter who foxed me…and

ah aim to see him bleed!”

Nel twisted away.  “Jake---Jake.  For heaven’s sake let it go!  Ride out.  Go to the Indian

Nations and hide out.  You can’t kill every Yankee.  Let him be!  He’s gonna be a rancher now.”

Jake waved a finger in Nel’s face.  “Not only a Yank, but a damn yellow coward besides.

He deserves to die and ah aim to see to it!”

**********

Seth’s man-hunting instincts returned to full alert as he entered Medicine Lodge.  The town

had only one rutty street.  Red Nel’s Saloon was in the middle of five buildings on one side of

the street, while a few shacks, teepees, and tents were scattered on the other side.One corral

stood at the far end.

Seth walked his mount past Nel’s saloon keeping a steady eye on the swinging doors.  The

saloon was painted a gaudy blood red and stood out like a huge ruby ring on a dirty hand.  Four

horses were tied to the rail in front, but the black mare was not among them.  He rode down the

shaded alley next to the saloon, taking note of the outside stairs.  Then he spied the black mare

tied to a fence behind the saloon.  The roan, still saddled, was there also.  Circling back to the

main street, Seth tied his horse to the hitching rail in front of Red Nel’s Saloon.

Remembering that Franks had a reputation for not facing an adversary, Seth decided to boldly

walk right in to Red Nel’s.  At least three of Franks’ victims had been shot in the back.  Perhaps,

if he is in the saloon, Seth’s best bet would be to call him out face to face.  It might be

foolhardy, but Seth could think of no other option that might give him an edge.

He pushed aside the batwing doors, slid away from the sunlight and let his eyes adjust to the

dim, smoke filled saloon.  Over the bar hung the stuffed head of an enormous Texas longhorn

steer.  A poker table sat in the far corner, and two booths lined the opposite wall.  A Faro table

was next to the bar.  To his right was a stairway leading to three rooms on the balcony.

Four cowboys stood at the bar drinking and talking with the bald bartender.  They paid little

attention to Seth.  He knew that in a saloon like Red Nel’s, it was dangerous to ask a stranger

questions.  He saw no sign of Jake Franks.  With the exception of clinking glasses and an

occasional burst of laughter, all was quiet.

Seth moved to the foot of the stairway and paused.  Suddenly a balcony door opened and

Seth saw a man walk out, strapping on his gun belt.  Jake Franks!

Seth drew his Colt.  “Jake Franks!  Throw up your hands!  It’s Mason!”

Franks stopped, took a second, and then carefully chose his words.  “If it ain’t a tricky

Yankee snake!  Ah thought ah’d have to peek into every outhouse in Dodge to call y’all out.

Glad ya saved me the trouble.”

Two of the men at the bar quickly slid out the side door.  The other pair, a tall thin cowboy

and the young puncher with him stood frozen, staring at Mason.  The bartender dropped to his

knees and peeked over the bar between two whiskey bottles.

A smirk came across Jake’s face.  “Surprised to see ya facing me.  Ain’t sneakin’ upon a

man and handcuffing him while he’s asleep more yer style?”

Seth took his stance.  Then he made a show of slowly sliding the Colt back into his holster.

“Have it your way.”

Franks eyes widened.  His teeth clenched.  He leaned forward, seething with hatred.

Then it happened.  Both men drew their guns.  Two shots roared as one.  Seth groaned as a

slug singed his ribs.  Franks doubled over.  Seth fired again, as did Franks.  The outlaw’s shot

splintered wood on the stairs, but Seth’s found its mark a second time.  Franks tumbled down the

stairs and lay near Seth’s feet.

“Damn…Yank… Go t’hell,” Frank whispered.  He groaned once, then went limp.

Seth raised his gun again as he saw the door to a balcony room open.  Nel eased out of her

room, and Seth saw her stare at Franks lying in a spreading pool of blood at the bottom of the

steps.  She descended the stairs as in a trance, picked up Jake’s hat, knelt, and carefully placed

the hat over the two gaping holes in his chest.

“Jake, Jake,” she moaned.  “Too late, Jake.  You damn fool!…Jake.”

Seth turned away.  He held his side with one bloody hand.  His gun hand still held his

smoking Colt.

A sense of accomplishment and relief filled his chest, but it was tempered by doubt, guilt

and even despair.  What will Dinah think?

 

 

 

 

THE END

 

 


© Copyright 2019 zeke ziemann. All rights reserved.

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