Sunrise was blocked by the mountain, making for a cool morning. The trail of the killers went off before them like a beacon on a rocky shore, but neither of the men were in a hurry. The Lazy E brand on the pack horse matched the brands on the two dead horses, so their assumption was they the Lazy E was the outfit that had killed the old man and run off with Diane. Tor had never heard of either brand and figured they had to be from a distance away.
“Let’s go easy and slow, Deacon. Any place we can’t see too far ahead is a good place for an ambush. By now they know that there three shooters didn’t finish their task. My guess is they were supposed to finish off the old man and make him disappear. The hands they were riding with will be wondering how a wounded and dying old man could take the three of them. I’m guessing they will just keep on riding, or send one really good man back to see what’s what.”
“Tor, could we quit with the Deacon stuff.\? I’m just simple Daniel.”
“There ain’t nothin’ simple about you, Deacon, nothin’ at all. Daniel’s lions didn’t open their mouths and weren’t dangerous. You are dangerous. You don’t know it yet, but you could probably win in a gunfight with better than half the gundummies running around this countryside. You are dangerous. I’m glad I’m on your side and you’re on God’s side. Let’s ride. I wanna get down off the steep part of this mountain. We got nowhere to go ‘cept down the trail and that like being in a funnel.”
“Wanna help me get this horse packed up?”
At the bottom of the steep grade the trail split three ways; right, left, or straight ahead. The tracks went straight ahead and Tor indicated he was happy with that. There was flat land out there no more than a mile away. A line of dust was very pronounced at the base of the mountains on the other side of the flats.
Tor said as they began forward, “We’re in for a long ride. Them folks ain’t lettin’ no moss grow on their horses hooves. There’s a five building, two horse town up this valley a couple hours away. Let’s head up there, sell the extra horse and gear, and see what we can get to eat. We might also pick up a bit of gossip or news concerning the Rafter B or the Lazy E. Sooner or later we are going to end up at one or the other. Maybe even both.”
Daniel started down the trail while Tor continued to survey the countryside in all directions, even up behind where they had come from.
The sign said, ‘BLACK – no Chinee allowed’ which kinda gave Daniel the idea these folks might not be the friendliest folks he had ever met. He was right.
The man at the stable said, “I don’t want the horse. Wouldn’t have a Lazy E horse if I was lost and afoot. You boys out to get hung or something?
Tor gave him an earful before saying, “Where is that ranch, anyhow?”
“Way up over yonder. Northeast of that tall peak over there. I only see’d them once down this far and that was three days ago. One of them riders, there was nine of them, wanted to drink up all the booze in town and the others wanted to help. Some fella traveling down valley, gave one of them boys some lip. They just up and hung him. Right over there crossed the street. Tossed a rope up over the center beam of that cabin and jerked him up. Big fella he was, took four of them pullin’ on the rope to get him off the ground half a foot. Big guy danged near kicked that front wall in. You can see the marks from his boots and the blood from his bleeding fingers where he tried to get a holt of that wall. Died anyway. Them riders just laughed at the whole danged thing. Missy tried to stop them. They slapped her around a bit and then two of them took her out behind the cabin and Missy won’t say nothin’ past that. She’s forty years old and been a widow for the past five. She just sits in her cabin now and cries a lot.”
“How far away is that Lazy E?”
“I ain’t got the foggiest idee.”
Daniel said, “Would Miss Missy talk with a preacher?”
“You bet she would.”
The Deacon turned and went to the cabin.
Tor walked over to the largest building in town carrying the extra guns and gear. The sign said, ‘General Mechandise.” He came out with a tater sack full of cans and whatever. He still carried one hand gun the proprietor did not want. Someone’s initials were carved in the notched grips. It was a .44 identical to the Deacon’s gun except for the grips. Tor bummed a screwdriver from the livery man and took the grips off, tossing them in the potbellied stove in the corner of the livery office. He tucked the skeleton gun his bed roll. There was a sly grin on the man’s face.
After Deacon left Miss Missy’s house, she was standing in the door with a smile on her face. “Daniel, you take care of yourself and find them gun hands. They need someone to read to them from the Good Book and you are just the man.”
“Thank you, Missy. I just do the work of the Lord.”
“That won’t be pleasant work, Deacon,” yelled Tor.
“Let’s get on up that other hill,” said Daniel.
The next morning the rains came.
“This will wipe out the tracks we need.”
“Don’t worry about it. I prayed last night that God would deliver these gunmen to our hands without a fight. I got the impression He said yes.”
“Oh, goodie, now we’re working on impressions.” Tor threw up his arms, “Okay, I’m game. Let’s go round them up.”
“He didn’t say we would just round them up. He said he would deliver them into our hands.”
They crested another pass where they found two men stone drunk snoring away. Three empty bottles lie in the coals of last night’s fire. Daniel walked up to the two men and relieved them of the guns before kicking them awake while Tor stood at the edge of the camp with his rifle covering the scene.
The two came up on their feet trying to draw sixguns that were not present in the location they had been every other morning of their lives. “Looking for these?” the Deacon asked, holding one in each hand pointed one at each belly.
“Wha? Where? I, aaahh. Everson’s gonna kill you if you mess with us.”
“Who is Everson?” Tor asked with a soft voice.
“My boss. Runs the Lazy E, biggest ranch in the State of Colorado and Wyoming.”
“There’s some fair sized ranches south of here and I know of at least one that’s bigger than Texas over on the Kansas/Nebraska border. That must be some big ranch you come from.” Tor’s face got hard, “How come I never heard of a mess of rattlesnakes that big? You two the really bad men that messed with Miss Missy back there in Black.”
“That old bag, she . . .”
Tor stopped the comment by stepping forward and giving the man the butt of his Winchester in a powerful upper cut. The man went down like a shooting star only without the brilliance.
Daniel knelt down alongside the poleaxed man. “He’s dead. From the angle of his head, I’d say ya busted his neck, Tor.”
The second man layed back down and started shaking and holding his head. “Oh, my head. It’s gonna blow up. I think we got some bad Rye back there. My head. It’s killin’ me.”
Daniel said, “Save us the trouble.”
He kicked the man in the back, “Get up and get your horses saddled.”
In a split second, the Deacon’s gun was in his mouth. The hammer was drawn back and the Deacon had his finger on the trigger. “Last chance. Saddle up your horses, we got a trail to ride and you’re gonna show it to us.”
“Not me. Kill me if you want, but I ain’t gonna show you nothin’.”
Tor jammed his rifle barrel in the man’s ear. “Wanna bet which one of us can take the biggest chunk outta his head, Deacon?”
“Well, let me see, Tor. Both of us are packin’ .44’s here. One’s got a short barrel and the other is long. So if we both pull the trigger at the same time, my bullet will get there first. If I angle the barrel up slightly, there won’t be nothin’ for you to blast off.”
“That’s a great theory. You wanna try it?”
“How we gonna tell which got the biggest chunk.”
“Yeah. If I get the biggest chuck the splatter of his brains and skull with be to your right. Whereas, you get the bigger chuck, the splatter will be to your front. Got it?”
“Yeah. On three. One. Two.”
“Wait. I’ll take ya there. You will die and I will blow both your brains out, if you have brains that is.”
“Saddle up and tie your partner on his horse well. I’m assuming we’ve a ways to go.”
“Couple of days or more just to the southern boundary of the Lazy E. a week to the headquarters.” The man said as he got up to saddle up.
Daniel had some reservations on the truthfulness of the man’s times, but said nothing.
The man moaned and bellyached for the next six hours as they traveled northeast. “Come on. Let’s get some sleep so I can sleep off this hangover. That was some bad Rye, I ain’t never had a head like this one.”
“What? I thought you were born with that head,” Tor chided the man. “It’s so ugly and danged near worn out. But, that’s all right, you won’t be needing it much longer.”
The man just gave him an evil eyed look.
They camped a half mile past a small stream that was too much in the open for their purposes.
The man started, “That Missy gal, she was . . .”
Tor finished it with a sharp right to the jaw that put the man to sleep.
He woke up hours later tied to the blanket wrapped body of his partner and screamed.
“Shut up or I’ll lay you out permanently,” was Tor’s reply.