Long about noon, Daniel caught sight of a rooster tail of dust off to the west. In moments he realized that the dust was being followed by dust. “Solomon, someone is being chased over there. We better check it out. Tor and Miss Diane might be in trouble.”
Daniel had just crossed the trail of tracks from their moving toward the Lazy E. The dust was coming straight for him. He moved off to the side of the trail to a group of rocks and scrub trees of some kind where he found a safe place for Solomon and a nest for him to set an ambush.
Just as he laid his Winchester over a rock he saw a woman riding Tor’s horse leading Tor on the pack horse and, from Tor’s position, he was hurt. No sooner had he figured that all out than eight riders topped the rise not a hundred yards behind. The woman was nice to look at even if she was dirty, sweating, and scared. He stood so she could see him and then squatted back down triggering two rounds toward the gun hands just as three of them decided it was time to shoot at the gal and Tor.
One man rolled off his horse under the hooves of the horses behind. The Deacon was fascinated by the dance of the wounded with the horses. One horse hit the man and tumbled. Now there were two men and a horse involved in the dance. “Not a pretty sight even if it is interesting,” he said to the rocks.
The gal led Tor in behind a group of trees fifty feet past the Deacons position. The Deacon saw that Tor was covered in blood down his left side and the gal was on the edge of panic as she frantically jumped off her horse and tried to catch Tor as he fell off the wrong side of his horse. The deputy landed in the dirt with a plop like a watermelon dropped off a roof. The gal screamed and tried to get around the pack horse that was in a panic himself.
The Deacon looked back at the gun hands. They still came. None of them were firing their guns. Deacon figured all their targets had disappeared. As the six remaining riders slowed they spread out into a line like a cavalry charge. Behind a ways, one rider was running trying to catch up his limping horse and the second was sitting up in the dirt watching the blood run from his arm and trying to tie his bandanna around the wound. The man in the middle of the line became his target as he fingered the trigger. The man fell and five riders came straight at him firing as fast as they could.
He moved down so his long gun was situated between two rocks and the two rocks gave him a tremendous amount of cover. Two shots brought down two more riders causing the other three to pull off into the trees up sloped from the trail. One man got up and staggered to a rock to hide behind while the other two just stayed still.
One man shouted, “You give us the woman and you can leave in one piece and upright.”
“You go back and tell the boss that ain’t gonna happen,” the Deacon replied.
“There’s still three here to your one.”
“There used to be eight. What’s that tell you?”
“You got lucky from ambush, that’s what.” The man moved as he spoke.
Deacon saw the move and splattered rocks all over the man. A few pieces of rock cut deep and drew blood. “I could have killed you, hombre, but I’m feelin’ a bit generous. I don’t know what you 8 had in mind for the young lady, but I’ll find out and your boss will hear from me. I don’t stand for a bunch of big strong growed men picking on one woman alone. You ought to be ashamed.”
The speaker for the ranch said, “Tell ya what. Let us ride outta here and we’ll share your words with the boss. I will leave one man here to make sure you don’t go nowhere until I get back.” There was a laugh in his voice.
The Deacon simply replied, “Nope. You all leave taking your wounded and dead, right now, or the buzzards and coyotes will feast tonight. I’ll just kill the rest of you.” He fired one shot and took the heel off the man’s boot. It had been showing since the last move. “I coulda put that right next to the knife scar you have on your cheek, hombre. Now move or die. If you move this direction or stay you will die. I promise.”
“Who are you? Why’s your nose in none of your business?”
“They call me The Deacon. I’ll be happy to say the service over you graves and read a few select passages from the Good Book. Now git!”
Silence reigned for about ten heartbeats.
“We’ll leave.” The man stood up in plain sight, turned, and went for his horse. He looked across the trail and yelled, “Come on, boys. Let’s gather the horses and pick up our casualties and go back to see Everson. I ain’t goin’ against that gun over there for no amount of money.”
He climbed aboard his horse and trotted after two of their horses grazing back down the trail.
Daniel stayed alert until he saw them cross the high spot. He rode to the high spot to watch them gather up another horse and keep on down the trail to the ranch. It was over.
He went back to where the girl and Tor had turned in.
Tor lay in the dirt with the girl working with pieces of Tor’s shirt trying to stem the bleeding from his side. “Ma’am. Let me get on that. I’ve done it before.”
“So have I.” There was a definiteness in her voice. “Get me some water.”
He handed her his canteen.
“How’d he get hit.”
“Lucky shot. Everson’s gun fighters and rustlers were behind us a good two hundred yards when one of them up and pulls his Winchester out and lets one go in our direction. First shot. One shot. Zap it nails this man right through the ribs. Ain’t no air bubbles, which is good.”
“There is no exi
t wound either,” Daniel said.
“I see that. Nothing we need to worry about now. Who is he?”
“Man’s name is Tor. He’s a deputy city marshal outta Denver. We’re on a fishing trip.”
“And you are?”
“My name is Daniel Fount. Lately of Denver.”
“Fount? You that preacher?” She smiled from a dirty face.
“Yup. That’d be me.”
“Tor here told me we needed to ride and meet the Deacon.”
“That’s be me. He give me that name. I ain’t likin’ it much.”
She turned back to the wound. Daniel watched as her straw colored hair caught the slant of the sun light. He had seen her eyes in the discussion and was startled to remember they were green, a deep pale green. “We buried your father right proper. And, went looking for you. Almost lost you after the rains. If it hadn’t a been for a man in that little town, Black, we woulda never found ya.”
She started as if stung by a bee. “Pa is dead. He told me that Pa had been taken care of and that’s how you found out about me.”
“We did take care of him. He was dying when I found him and talked a bit before he died. I found out you are Diane and someone named Everson owned a ranch and was givin’ you trouble. He also said to watch out for someone or something that starts with ‘Bur’.”
“Yep, he said kill Bur and died.”
“I know no Bur whatever follows.”
“It’s a mystery we need to figure out. For right now let’s get him on his horse with the saddle and move away from this spot. I’d rather not be here when the rest of the riders come back as I’m sure they must. This time they’ll bring the boss.”
“Everson is a killer and thief.”
“Perhaps we can end his sin if he shows up. Where’s a good place to defend with water, food, and a clear area for a battle ground?”
“The Rafter B. Pa’s ranch. Oh, I guess it’s my ranch now. Ma’s been dead for three years. Typhoid got her.”
They spent another hour working at hiding their tracks as they traveled just north of west. Daniel spent much of his time looking back from every high point. They came over a hump to find a small stream flowing in the opposite direction of their travel. Making a point of entering the stream at an angle up stream, they turned down stream once they were in the water.
“This riding in the water is losing time. It’s just plain slow, and I don’t like riding down in this little valley. No trees, no cover, anyone coming over that rim could see us a couple of miles away,” Daniel said in a low voice.
Tor said, “It can work.”
Daniel and Diane were both surprised by his comment. He hadn’t spoken during the ride.
“Find a rock shelf or gravel and get out of here.”
They had passed a shelf a ways back. “Let’s go back to that red rock shelf where we almost dumped our horses, Diane. You remember, the rock was so slick we almost dumped the horses.”
Daniel turned around and led the way.
The Rafter B wasn’t a large ranch. The headquarters consisted of a house about thirty feet square, a steep roofed barn, a small bunkhouse, and a couple of other small sheds and shacks. The corrals were bull tight and well laid out. The main corrals were dog boned with two large areas our on the ends and a narrow runway between them. Off the runway was three or four small corrals. Lots of gates swing in both directions allowed them to move and sort cows nice and easy with a minimum number of hands.
“Home sweet home,” said Diane. “And, it’s all mine. Only, I don’t want it now.”
“There’s no way a woman could hold a ranch like this alone.” Daniel was looking around as he said, “It is the best laid out place I’ve seen, but I haven’t seen many out this far.”
They rode up to the house. Diane stepped off her horse onto the porch with practiced ease, dropping the reins at the horse’s front feet. “You can stash the horses in the barn or the corral next to it. There’s a door that’ll allow the horses to go in and out. Should be feed in the barn unless some range rider used it all since we been gone. Ain’t happened yet, but Pa was always worried it would happen when we left the place. I’ll see if there’s anything left to eat.” She stepped through the front door.
Daniel led Tor’s horse to the bunkhouse and helped him down. Inside he laid him in a bunk on his good side and pulled the shirt bandages off slow and easy. Using his knife he cut around the one spot that was stuck to the wound. “Wooowee. You got more black and blue than you got pink. Good news is that the bleeding has stopped and I can see a bump under a rib just around the corner on your back. Let’s get some hot water and cut that slug out.” He looked around. “Stove over there in the corner with a dutchoven on top. Be back in a few moments, don’t go anywhere.”
“Sure. I’ll be right here for you to cut up like a side of beef.”
“Naw. I won’t do that. I just might carve the Lord’s Prayer in your hide though.”
A couple of old broken rails from the corrals and a match took care of the stove. Water from the well filled the dutchoven. An old shirt hanging on a nail made new bandages. Daniel found a whet stone in the barn next to the forge and worked on Tor’s knife a bit before he announced, “Okay, Mr. Deputy, it’s time for the Right Reverend Daniel Fount to get rid of the sin in your body. I will deal with it one slice at a time. Bite this.” He shoved a hunk of folded leather in the man’s mouth as he opened it to speak.
Daniel checked the lump again and with a quick move sliced a two inch gash over the slug.
“Man, leave a little there.” Tor was not speaking softly.