FRESH FROM A NANOWRIMO WIN. FRESH OFF THE KEYBOARD WITH NO EDITING WHATSOEVER. BE BLESSED.
I looked down at a sleeping Shorts, “God, he is hurt. Let him get some peaceful rest and quick healing.” Now, was they telling God what to do or was it asking. “I am asking, Lord. Your plan is best.”
Cicero was sitting under Solomon, who was calmer than the other two horses. He looked at me and said, “You praying?”
“Pray for me, too.”
“You a believer?”
“Once I thought I was, but then God allowed my wife and son to die in a cabin fire. I walked away from God and since then I’ve just tried to be a good man to their memory.”
I had to think for a moment, “I think God will understand. Look at this way, maybe, I ain’t no expert. All of us are gonna die. Every single one of us. Why should your wife live forever? My Ma died. Was it God’s fault or was it man’s fault when he chose to not obey his Creator in the Garden of Eden? You really just didn’t like the pain. I don’t like the pain of not having a Ma to raise me up. If it weren’t so wet I’d get my Bible out and read to you, but all I can do is tell you what I remember in my own words. God says if we ask in all seriousness, He will forgive any sin except ignoring Him, or His Holy Spirit. It says in there that we are sealed to Him by His Holy Spirit until He can make all the promises He has made come true in your life.
“Does that make sense, Cicero?” I looked him in the eye.
He shook his head, “How can God forgive me for the things I’ve said about Him when I was mad or drunk?”
“I don’t know, but He says He can and will. Try it if you mean it.”
He looked at me and shook his head, but I watched his head bow and his lips start moving.
When he looked up again there was a peace shown on his face. “I think He said I was forgiven.”
“What a load of hoowey that was Daniel. How could you believe that, Cicero? How?” came the weak voice of Shorts from the ground as he sat up.
“Don’t ask me, but I did. You might wanna try it yourownself, Shorts.” Now Cicero was the preacher.
Shorts got to his feet and turned his back on us, relieving himself into the rain, downwind of course. He turned back buttoning his fly. “If your God is so powerful and forgiving, can He heal me and forgive me killing another man?”
I looked him in the eye and said, “Yes to both.”
He worked his way back to the ground and turned his back on us.
Cicero gave me a look and I nodded my head.
We stayed quiet until the storm decided to quit and the moon broke through the clouds. The wool blankets were very wet as we rolled them and got the horses ready for travel. Cicero and I had to lift Shorts to his saddle and make sure he was balanced.
With the leg dangling to the stirrup, I checked his wound again. The scab was forming nicely. I was healing well as far as I could see. Nothing looked or smelled bad. That was all I knew about wounds other than the prickly pear pods for a poultice and Evelyn had taught me that when I cut myself pretty bad one time.
We rode into a wet forest with the dripping boughs getting us wetter than we already were. I looked for a place to build a fire in this wet swimmin’ hole. Everything was soaked and so were we. Shorts didn’t need the cold and chill as weak as he was and it wasn’t doing Cicero and I any good either.
The trail was gone and so were the hoof prints. We’d have to worry about the next day. A lightning strike off to the east, lit up what looked like a shelter of some kind. Cicero saw it, too and turned off to check it out. In moments he was waving his hat and calling for us to come.
It was a recently abandoned cubby hole probably made by some Indian or trapper. There was a packrat’t nest at the back, two feet deep and three feet wide, that had enough wood in it to warm us up a bit. Any heat was better than none. The boughs of needles over the top of the shelter were just beginning to drop from age so inside was fairly dry. Compared to the outside it was a dry desert.
Cicero got the fire going while I put up our two horses. When he was ready, we hauled Shorts into the shelter and I went back out to put his horse on the rope with ours. I watched them put their rumps to the wind and shift to three legged stances, which is a horse’s way of saying good night. Thinking that was a good idea, I went inside to try for a nap myownself.
As I entered, Cicero tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to Shorts. He had tears running down his cheek. I said, “You okay, Shorts?”
He didn’t answer for a minute or two as Cicero added wood to the fire in the middle of the shelter. “I just asked God to show me He’s real by getting me warm and here we are.”
“Don’t expect that kinda service all the time,” Cicero said.
“I agree. I’ve asked for all kinds of signs and the answers rarely, if ever look like what I asked for.”
We were all asleep in a matter of minutes after we quit jawing. It’s amazing how warm a wet wool blanket can be when the wet gets warmed up.
All the next day we rode ourselves in circles trying to find the tracks. We found a few horse tracks, but the group was never big enough.
The distance to the Lazy E wasn’t that far and in searching we had moved closer and closer. At sundown we were looking down on the ranch frin a mountain side a good mile out.
We had talked as we rode and in those times we were separated we prayed, or at least Cicero and I did. I have no idea what Shorts did other than hang on to his horse.
As we watched the ranch fade into the dusk, I began to worry. No lights were being lit and I only saw one hand moving around. There were horses in the corral, but we were too far off to get a count.
“Okay, I’m going to go down there once it’s dark and see what I can see. If Diane is down there, I’ll try to get to her. If she isn’t I will be taking at least one prisoner. We get her again and there ain’t anyone that will take her away from me while I’m still breathing.”
“Is this a romance budding.”
“No, I’m just tired of riding around in circles and wondering if she is safe or not.”
I rode into the darkness leaving the two cowboys behind and with a prayer on my lips.
The ranch was just as I’d seen it before, dying and falling down, filthy and stinking. One lamp was lit in the bunkhouse, if you wanted to call it that. I looked in the winter after creeping up a quietly as I knew how. One man was sitting at a three legged table playing solitaire. I watched him cheat twice before going around to the door. I drew my .44 and walked in.
“Howdy. Where is everybody?”
“Off to Ooops,they’re headed for Wyoming and not the ranch. Done passed that.
Just before sundown we found the tracks. We had moved toward the north as we searched and figured we had covered a lot of country, but weren’t sure how far we had gone. Whatever the distance was, these tracks were fresh. The dirt, or should is say mud, at the edge of the tracks was still curling into the deep tracks. We couldn’t be more than an hour behind, if that.
How did they get so close? Had to be they found a spot to dry out and spent some time getting everything warm and dry, and all the people fed. I wasn’t about to backtrack to find out. We were close and we were going to stay close.
Within minutes we found a camp site that served out purposes, lots of wood, a tree canopy to break up the smoke, and shelter from the night breeze. We built a high wall on the north side of the fire to keep prying eyes from seeing the fire and even then we kept it small. We had nothing to cook and nothing to brew. Water was the only thing on the menu.
Cicero broke the silence. “We gotta ketch them folks tomorrow if for no other reason than to get their grub. We sure’s all get out cain’t shoot something without telling them we’re right behind them.”
“You know, Cicero, that gives me an idea. Let’s find us a spot in the morning for an ambush. Then we can shoot off one round like we was hunting and wait for a couple of them to come back and see what’s goin’ on.”
Shorts’ head came up, “I can sit and hold a Winchester without any problem. I can, I can. I’ll be of some use that way, instead of being an dead cow on the end of your rope to drag along.”
“Shut up,” I smiled when I said it. “If you was an anchor, I’d cut the line.”
Cicero looked at him. “How you feeling?”
“Pain’s tolerable. Bone aches. Toes wiggle. Butt is sore. Gut is empty. My attitude is one of wantin’ to kill someone or blow up something.”
We all got a chuckle out of that as we bobbed our heads. The jawing kept on for another hour as we worked to get the blankets reasonable dry. They weren’t too wet what with the body heat and fire the night before.
My blanket felt better than it ever had before as I rolled up in it after telling Cicero to wake me at something that resembled one in the morning. He had taken a look at the Big Dipper and said, “Goodnight, Boss.”
I awoke to see Shorts on watch and the night very dark. The Dipper showed it was close to 4 or so. I let him keep watchin’ and rolled over to find a more comfortable position in the damp needles.
Cicero kicked me gentle like. “You gonna sleep all day, Boss?”
“I was trying to after I saw Shorts on the job.”
Shorts smiled, “Just tryin’ to be of some use. Let’s go get’em.”
We ate our water for breakfast and saddled up three tired horses. They complained a mite, but not enough to be aggravating. The sun was behind the mountain we were one as we worked our way to the tracks and, with Cicero out in the lead, we went after our prey.
My head or something was telling me that this was going to be a day, an eventful day. That’s all I could latch on to. It wasn’t as if it were going to be a bad day or a good day, just an eventful day.
We rode into it with our minds and guns ready, like soldiers I would say.
Within minutes we saw their smoke and smell the breakfast cooking. Oh, was that an bodacious smell. I drooled. Cicero shook his head. Shorts just kept riding.
Right soon we came up on a cut to the left that was lined with boulders at the entrance. Shorts stayed on the trial and Cicero and I went to check it out. It was as close to perfect for our task as any place I’d ever seen. The gunmen could come right through the boulders and into the cut where we could take them on up close and personal. Even if things went sour there were two escape routes for us to back out through.
“Hey, Boss, it just don’t get much better than this.”
“I agree. Let’s get Shorts set up and then send out invitation to the party out.”
I rode down and got Shorts. Cicero got a smoky fire going for the outlaws to head toward and showed Shorts the place he thought the wounded man would work best in. It was right alongside of the main escape route. There was a crazy looking rock that was slick but not too slick. Shorts was set in position on the rock with lots of protection and a simple slide to the ground next to his horse. All he had to do was shoot until it was time to leave, turn and slide down landing on his good leg, grab the reins, and swing up with as little weight as possible on his bad leg.
Cisco got set at the spot he had picked out for himself which would us the same escape route as Shorts had. Me, I just parked my butt atop a rock dead in front of the trail coming in. The only bug in the ointment was the extra tracks coming and going on the trail, but that could easily have happened in we camped in the cut. All we could do was get ready.
I stood atop my rock and looked to Shorts. He nodded. Cicero stuck his arm in the air with a thumb up. There was nothing left to except start the party. The hammer clicked twice as I pulled it back. I aimed up the cut and let fly with on .44 round, immediately jacking the lever and then inserting a round through the loading chute. The .44 on my hip with the blood red cross on the grips had six rounds in the cylinder ready for a fight.
I prayed. “Lord, I don’t want to kill none of these men, but I think they aim to kill a woman, a defenseless woman. All of this is in Your hands. It surely isn’t in mine. Use me for Your will. Whatever, Lord.”
We waited some more.
Four men made an appearance like magic out of the trees near the trail into the trap. The lead man pulled up and pointed to the tracks before swinging his arm along the trail to end pointing at the rocks. Another man motioned them on along the trail.
We had planned that Shorts would take the man on the left, Cicero would do the man in the middle, and I would take care of the man on the right. We never figured on four. I had estimated two. Cicero said three. Shorts said he didn’t care how many, he’d kill his share. We also agreed I would ask them to surrender before I fired. The two companions didn’t care much for that, but agreed that if one of them made a move for a gun, we would open fire.
They came forward as if it were a Sunday afternoon ride to check out a water hole or something.
I waited until they had passed the three entrance boulders and stood up. They didn’t see me concentrating on the trail like they were.
I yelled, “Surrender or die.”
All four looked at me and grabbed for their guns. Three rounds hit them with the shots sounding like one. The survivor of that blast caught three slugs just as his gun was coming to bare on me.
Cicero slid off his boulder and eased into the death scene. One at a time he checked them for life. He looked up, “This one is still breathing.” It was the one on the left. Shorts swore loud and clear. “He won’t last long though. He’s shot through both lungs from the looks of it.”
Cicero bent over and kneeled next to the man putting his ear to the man’s face. Moments later he arose. “He said he knew he should never have hung out with a man that would kill a woman.”
He bent to check again. “He dead.”
‘Three down and how many left’ ran through my mind.
We pulled the three to a spot where a boulder was in a position that the wind hollowed out a large hole under it. After stripping them of shirts, hats, guns and ammo, personal information, and money, we stashed them in the hole and stacked smaller rocks on top until they were well covered. Now we had four Winchesters, six Colts, and four fully equipped horses, all of which were top quality like most successful outlaws ride. Problem was, they had just gotten these back at the Bordeau ranch. Was Bordeau an outlaw? I might have to think on that awhile. All I knew was he wouldn’t be using that gun hand of his for a long time.
We backtracked the quartet to their campsite, which was abandoned. The fire had been drowned and steam was still rising.