Daniel saw the muscles in Tor’s back convulse.
The skin spread of its own accord and the slug rolled out onto the bunk.
Behind him came a sigh and then a thump on the floor. He turned and saw Diane just settling to the on her side.
Daniel shoved a piece of the shirt in the wound with one hand and reached out to Diane with the other. That didn’t work. He tended to Tor who had lost enough blood already. Grabbing the needle and thread he had stuck in the post, he began sewing the wound just as he had seen a doctor do on his father’s head one time in a small Kansas town.
Daniel finished sewing.
After a meal of pan bread from the kitchen and beans from a can the two men sat around the table and Diane stood at the wall.
“I am not leaving this place. They will burn it and lay claim to it.” Diane stomped her foot not once, but twice.
“How you gonna hold off twenty or more gun dummies from Lazy E?”
“I don’t know. But, I will tell you one thing, they won’t take me alive. There’s two men in that group that are going to die at my hand and that’s a promise. They could not keep their hands off me and their hands were dirty. Filthy pigs! I’ll kill them.”
Tor’s head came up staring at the table. “What?”
“Men like that should be shot down like dogs,” Diane added as she stomped her foot, again.
Daniel was not liking what he heard. He was still torn between the image his father had taught him of the Christian that was always turning the other cheek and the man that knew this was wrong and knew he could help do something about it. The Bible says for Christians to turn the other cheek and never states what you do after that second cheek was hit. It also says to take care of the widows and orphans. Here was an orphan and a woman alone all in one. What was he to do? He had asked that a lot lately and still was not getting a straight answer.
Of course, the fact that the orphan and woman alone was a very nice looking young lady all alone in a lonely patch of countryside did not have too much influence in the situation. “Ha ha,” he said outloud.”
“What?” Tor asked.
“Never mind. Just thinking.”
“How can you laugh at me?”
“Diane, I am not laughing at you. I am laughing at the choice I need to make.” Daniel got up from the table and walked out into the darkness.
The moon had not risen, but the stars were out providing more light than was necessary to walk around the ranch buildings. Daniel looked up in prayer. “Lord, you know what I am and all I am. I need your help. This gal needs your help. Tor needs your help. I am only one small man in your kingdom. Without you I am nothing. Guide me with Your wisdom and all the strength I need to keep this place safe. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
His world went black.
The sun was two hands high in the sky when he opened one eye. The ground the eye could see was dark dirt with a red tint. His head hurt like never before. He smelled smoke. Moving each leg one at a time and then his arms, he found one arm was tingling like he had slept on it wrong. He used the good arm to feel his head. There was a line plowed across the back of his head and when he checked his hand there was blood.
“Okay, Daniel. You have been hit in the head, you are bleeding, and something is burning. Get up!”
After four tries he finally made it to his feet and was able to check out his surroundings. The house was in front of him looking like someone had kicked in the back door. “Backdoor? How’d I get here?”
He took two steps toward the back door and had to fight his way to his feet again. Entering the house, it had been ransacked. Nothing was where it was supposed to be. The small secretary in the corner had everything dumped out of it and the drawers were smashed to kindling. The coffee on the stove was cold when he tried it.
He walked out front, the blood red cross felt good in his hand. “Was there a fight? Better check this .44.” It was filled with five good rounds. He put in the sixth.
Out the front door and across the yard to the bunkhouse he stumbled only to find it empty. His gear and Tor’s were still in place on the top bunks. The bloody rags were still on the floor. The view from the door finally revealed the fire he was smelling.
The shack furthest out was afire and almost completely gone.
The horses were not in the corral. He called, “Tor. Diane,” as loud as he could which sounded like a dying frog to him. No reply.
Two buckets of water from the well dumped over his head cleared his vision and his mind enough that he was now sure the ranch had been attacked and he was the first one down. Someone drug him behind the ranch house from the middle of the yard and dumped him for dead. There was no sign of the girl or Tor.
“God. This is not the answer I was looking for,” he said to the sky. He walked to the house and looked for food. A box of stale hardtack, if it’s possible for hardtack to be stale, was all he could find. The flour was on the floor and any other basics he might use were gone. On can on the counter had a touch of brown sugar left in it which he dumped in his hand and licked between bites of hardtack he broke up with the butt of his gun.
An idea hit him as he crunched more hardtack in his mouth. Solomon had come when he whistled before. He walked outside and whistled. He waited. Nothing.
He went to the barn to see what was there he could use.
He walked back outside and there was Solomon walking down the slope behind the house. He whistled again. The horse lifted his head and ran. Daniel filled the well bucket for the horse.
“Okay, Lord. I think you want me to be the Deacon that Tor talked about. Kind of a protector of the widows and orphans. The question is, how far do I go? It’d take a lot of killing to eliminate the evil men in this world that would prey on widows and orphans. Do I just kill them or only in self-defense?” The word ‘defense’ ran through his head loudly. “So, just in self-defense it is. Thanks.”
Twenty minutes later he was mounted and on the trail of the riders leaving the ranch. He had not found Tor or the girl anywhere on the ranch. He had even checked the ashes of the burnt building. The Winchester was fully loaded and a round was under the hammer. His six gun held six rounds. The horse seemed to sense the urgency of the situation and would put his head down every now and then, bring it up, and move a little faster.
“I think this horse is a blood hound and on the trail of one, or both of his old running mates.”
A trickle of smoke eased through the boughs of the trees he was watching from a ridge line. The trees were alongside a stream the reflected the sun like cheap glass beads an Indian might wear. He doubted the presence of an Indian. The trail he was following led like an arrow to the smoke.
Just as he was set to go around and get ahead of them, they emerged from the cover of the trees and climbed the far side of the small valley. He could not make out a rider that looked like Tor, but the straw colored hair of Diane was a flag in the breeze. She was riding the pack horse with a saddle on it. Her hands were tied to the saddle horn.
All he could do was continue to follow, but first he had to wait for them to clear the far side and that would give them back some of their lead.
As he waited, Solomon got more and more antsy and ready to go. When Solomon could wait no more he whinnied and was answered from the trees. The Deacon watched the crowd going up the other side until they disappeared over the top before he untied Solomon and rode down to the campsite.
Tor was there and so was his horse.
The horse was lame. Tor was a mess. Blood oozed from cuts and holes all over his body. His scalp was gone. He was alive.
He smiled at Daniel. “I’ll see you in God’s house. I told Him after I was caught that I was His to do with as He pleased. I asked for forgiveness from my doubts and sins, and I did plenty. Hey, I even named a few that I thought would keep me from Him. He took me in. I feel nothing. Through all this, I felt nothing. Well, Deacon, the task is all yours. I’m going away and will wait for you in Heaven. Do what you know you gotta do, my friend.”
His head slumped and his entire body hung from the ropes he was tied with.
Daniel cried like a baby. “This isn’t what I asked for, either, Lord.”
He walked down to the stream and washed his face. He found Tor knife stuck in the tree on the back side form the body, pulled it out, cut the ropes, and buried the best friend he ever had.
The horse had a rock between the shoe and his frog. Daniel dug it out and walked the horse a bit after tightening the shoe, using a rock for a hammer on the nails. It wasn’t a good fix, but it was a fix. Now he had two horses.
He rode to the top of the hill as he thought about all the Lord had been dealing him. He’d asked for the enemy to be delivered to him and God had sent them to him. Problem was the Deacon had not expected the method that God had choses. He needed to be more specific in his prayers or watch out for all ways God could answer his prayers.
The top let him see the rooster tail of dust moving away from him and toward where he figured the Lazy E was located.
Staring into the eastern sky as the sun set behind him, the Deacon studied the problem before him. There were twenty or more gun hands and outlaws down there. Diane was in the main shack with the fat man whom he assumed was Everson. The Bur that needed killing was somewhere, probably down there. There were two men at the front door and two men at the back. Men with rifles were positioned in pairs and one trio on high points all around the place. Six men, as near as he could determine, walked the grounds seemingly at random.
“Okay Lord. That a bit much for me to tackle. What do you have in mind?”
All that came to mind was, ‘walk in and get the girl.’
“We gotta be serious here, Lord.”
He made sure no one was coming his direction from any direction. The two not a hundred yards away and uphill from him had not even looked his way. Everybody was watching the ranch yard. To his left was a shallow wash that would probably allow him to belly crawl in most of the way to the bottom of the hill, but from there to anything that could be called cover was a long way.
As the scene darkened, he saw the cook hang his apron on the door to the cook shack. One man left the lookout spot nearest him. He checked all around. Same thing was happening at all the points. The apron must have been a signal for the meal or watch change.
Without thinking, he stood up and walked straight for the cook shack. At the last minute he turned to the house. With his hand covering the butt of his Colt, he walked up to the back door guard on the house shack. “Wanna go eat. I got all I want of that swill.”