They dropped off the dead man with a Sheriff in a small town. The Sheriff pointed out that the man had a bounty on his head, a fair sized one. The Sheriff promised to wire the Sheriff that offered the bounty and would have an answer for them on the way back. The Deacon preached at the man’s funeral after his partner dug the grave and Tor laid him in it.
The Sheriff said at the end, “I hope you boys have some warm blankets. The pass and twenty miles beyond will freeze ya in the height of summer and no one in their right mind goes up there in the winter. I got a couple of blankets a saddle bum left behind when he chose to die in our little town.”
“How’d he died.”
“Chicken pox, the doc said. I think every man, woman, and child had the chicken pox after he passed. You want the blankets or no?”
“I’ll pass. I heard the Indians got all kinds of diseases from the blankets the army give them. I don’t want no chicken pox.” Tor could be real definite when he needed to be.
“Well, you boys keep a look out for them Lazy E cowboys. They think they own the range. Truth is the Rafter B has more lawful range than the Lazy E. Rafter B owns most of the water rights also.”
“That could just be that’s what all this is about.” Deacon said. “Did they pass through here in the last week or so with a female?”
“They ain’t welcome in our town and they know it. Last time they was here and had a hurrah in our town they killed the youngest son of one of our families. Six years old and shot cuz he wouldn’t pick up the gun a randy threw down for him. Seems the boy bumped into this randy and the randy was insulted. Demanded that the boy draw. Folks pointed out the kid didn’t have no gun, so the randy threw one down. Finally, the randy got egged on long enough; he just drew and killed the kid. We hung three of them. Two of the ones we hung had prices on their heads in Cheyenne. They ain’t been back since.”
The grave digger said, “They comin’ back. You just wait and see. No one hangs the Lazy E.”
“It’s been six months and they ain’t tried. I’d be happy to hang this one if you wanna leave him.” The Sheriff looked at Tor. “I can get him outta your hair that way.”
Tor was thinking heavy on it when Daniel said, “Nah. We need him to find the headquarters of this Lazy E ranch.”
“Well,” said the Sheriff, “Ya can’t miss it. It’s the poorest lookin’ property you ever did see up thataway about thirty miles. Its so cold on that side of the pass, ain’t no cows will stick around. They all head south in a hurry. Don’t you worry none, the stench will announce it for you.”
“Sounds like a glorious ranch.” Daniel was trying hard to see a place like this in his mind. This country was so beautiful he was having a hard time.
Tor cut in, “Let’s ride. We can get a good ten miles before we have to camp which should put us at the ranch by noon tomorrow.”
The sun started the new day with a sky painted by God in one of His better efforts. Daniel washed the sleep from his eyes with his fingers after dipping them in a stream.
The grave digger was getting antsy on them. “You gotta let me go. If I ride in there with you, they’ll hang me after they kill you.”
“Sounds like real friendly folks on that ranch you work for. How many cows they running?”
“Don’t rightly know. Must be around ten or twelve thousand. We brought in one lot from Wyoming last year that musta had three thousand head in it. Man was that a ride. We almost killed the cows moving them south that fast.”
“What’d you do? Steal them in Wyoming?”
“Nah. We got them in Montana. Lost a good one in ten on the way down.”
Tor looked at Daniel. “This must be one mighty big rustling outfit. Must run them to Nebraska to sell.”
“Nah. We moves’em to Kansas. Nobody knows Montana brands in Kansas.”
“We’re in deeper than we thought, Tor. How we gonna deal with this?”
“God said He’d deliver, right?”
“Then we will wait upon this God of yours.”
The Deacon looked at the grave digger and said, “There’s smoke up ahead. That the ranch.”
“Naw, that’s a line shack, and I do mean shack. I spent a week snowed in there last year.”
“How many men there now?”
“Maybe two, at worst three. Only two bunks.”
Tor said, “Is there a way around it?”
“Yeah, but it’s a long way and you don’t wanna go there.”
The Deacon said, “Let me just ride down there and ask for a job.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Tor said.
“They’ll kill ya.” The grave digger was cheery to have around.
“I’ll give it a try. I ain’t never been killed before.”
They rode down.
As they approached, a man stepped out of the cabin with a tin cup in his hand. “Howdy fellas.” He looked at the grave digger, “Welcome back, Ethan. We been a missin’ ya.”
“These men killed Frank. Kill’em.”
“Frank probably deserved to die, foolin’ with women the way he does. Never could stand a man that fooled with women that didn’t wanna be fooled with. Like you, Ethan. You kill your own snakes, I ain’t gonna help ya.”
Ethan looked at Tor with fear in his eyes. He knew how Tor felt about him and now he was getting no support for the brand. “I guess I’ll just let them kill ya then Peso. Ya oughta be dead anyhow.”
“How many men this ranch got? I need a job and I need a warm place for the winter.”
“Boss man ain’t around, but I can tell ya he ain’t hiring the likes of you.”
“Why not. I’m a better hand than anyone he’s ever seen. If you can saddle it, I can ride it.”
“Cuz you the law. I seen ya in Denver last spring when I went in to spend my winter money.” He reached for his gun.
The Deacon’s shot slammed him back in the cabin just as the window glass broke and a rifle barrel appeared. Tor and Deacon sent lead through the window taking out the glass that was left. The sound of a body hitting dirt and a man’s cry of pain put a period on the episode.
“I’ll check inside. You keep an eye on this clown,” Tor said as he headed for the door, leaving his horse ground reined. He grabbed Peso’s arm and drug him out of the way before sticking his six gun in the door, “Speak up or I’ll poke holes in ya if ya move.”
The stepped in.
The Deacon stepped down from his horse and started for the cabin. Ethan took the opportunity, slapped his horse’s rump with the reins, and took off for places unknown. Daniel let him ride until he was out a long rifle shot away before sending a couple of pistol shots in his direction. Ethan fell from the horse.
“Danged if that ain’t the best pistol shot I ever did see,” exclaimed Tor.
Deacon said, “I was just trying to scare him so’s he’d keep goin’.”
“I’ll bet he’s scared where he ends up. That ole devil ain’t gonna take kindly to the likes of him polluting Hell.”
“There’s a lot of his old friends to keep him company in misery and pain.”
“Let’s ride. Folks might a heard them shots.”
Rather than go directly toward the smoke they had been seeing of miles, they rode to the east where a group of small mountains stuck up their heads. “Time to check out the rest of the place from a distance before we go in.”
Tor was all in favor of that and led the way.
Wasn’t long until a group of six riders could be seen heading for the cabin they had left the three bodies in or near. A saddled horse trotted out to greet them. Tor led the two of them into a wash that was deep enough to keep them hidden from the new arrivals for at least a mile if they wanted to go downhill toward the headquarters, but they went up hill toward the mountains and ran out of cover in a few hundred yards.
Daniel said, “Let’s just wait right here and see what they do.”
Tor agreed. “You know something. You got that gun of yours out right quickly back there. Mine was not even moving upward when your shot went by my ear. Ya plugged him dead center, too.”
“Didn’t think or I would have let you kill him.”
“I’m happy you got him. His gun was almost clear of the holster when your slug nailed him.”
“Let’s don’t dwell on my shooting. I just reacted. I didn’t plan to kill nobody. He moved. He died. That’s about all there was to it. God delivered them.” To himself he thought, ‘God deliver me for the killin’.’
Tor shook his head as he watched the six riders toss three bodies over three horses and head back to the ranch. “Come dark, I propose we sidle on down there and take a look see. That’ll mean some walkin’. You up to some walkin’?”
“In the dark is evil. Men hide their sins in the dark. We as God’s people are the light of the world and it’s time to shine a bit of light on that mess of rattlesnakes.
Knowing that six alive and three dead hands were headed for the ranch, the two of them set out to find a very quiet corner in the mountains where they could keep an eye on things and get rested for the night work. When they found it, Tor set the Deacon to watching for a couple of hours while he napped with the understanding they’d trade tasks in two hours. Or, they’d do what was necessary if it all fell apart. “Plans ain’t worth spit unless the other side cooperates, Deacon. You remember that.”
“Yes sir. Hush up and get some shuteye.”