I looked at Shorts, “You figure they heard all that shooting and took off?”
“Nah,” he replied, “They were leaving anyhow. Probably figured his boys got the men following them and that his men would catch up. Why’d we take the shirts and hats of them?”
“Well, let me tell you what we are going to do next,” and I did.
After washing the shirts in the stream near their campsite, we headed after the Lazy E crew with the shirts flapping in the breeze from over the saddles of the extra horses. The hats were tied to our own saddles.
Long about noon we spotted our targets riding over a hill ahead of us. We were still in the trees so they didn’t see us. One man stopped at the top and dismounted. Cicero said, “Lookout. One man to watch the back trail for a spell.”
Shorts nodded and I reached for a shirt.
Within a short period of time we were the three survivors of the shootout riding to catch up. We were dressed in the shirts, wearing the hats, and riding the horses of the foursome that came to kill us.
Sure enough, as we got close to the lookout, he waved, climbed on his horse, and rode off the join crowd. We just kept out gallop steady and soon we were standing on the top of the hill looking at one man riding after seven more out on the flats. The one man rode in amongst the other and they just kept on going.
One or two looked back.
We waved our hats.
Resting the horses allowed the outlaws to move on down the trail and into a countryside that was broken and would only allow them to see on for a while longer. Once they lost us we could catch up or even get into them before they realized the trick we had pulled.
The ride became one of close the gap, but don’t catch up. They weren’t lollygagging on the trail. We weren’t either.
As we entered the broken countryside, we got a lot more cautious. It was a place that lent itself to ambushes and other nasty tricks. There was also the possibility that one or two might hold back just to find out what happened. I was almost hoping for that. We were still riding armed for bear and even had spares. I had the butt of my Winchester on my thigh and a second one in the scabbard. There was a Colt hanging by a piggin’ string from the horn of my saddle and another tucked in my belt. Both were .44’s of the same model as my .44.
All I could think of was ‘bring on the bears.’
Two men did drop back to visit with us and see what happened. Unfortunately they died as their guns cleared leather. The real unfortunate side of that was now we had six riders ahead of us. Five of which were outlaws and one was Diane, we hoped. The problem became one of possible ambush and another of hostage.
Just as we were moving forward again, we heard horses coming our way. I fired a couple of shots just to make them think the fight was still going on and they would be able to help their side get rid of the terror behind them, us. It worked. They rode right into us with guns drawn and fell off their horses with guns in hand. One fired just as he hit the ground and took a chunk out of Cicero’s left arm a hand span below the should. The worst part of it was that it was on the underside of the arm and was bleeding in squirts.
I ripped my bandana out of my pocket, wrapped the arm, and tied it as tight as I could get it. The bandana slowly turned red, but a second wrap with my own shirt seemed to do the trick. Shorts moved slowly forward with a sixgun in each hand, his Winchester hanging by a string from the horn.
Cicero said, “I’m okay. Let’s get this finished before the pain really sets in.”
There were now four ahead of us. Three outlaws and one young lady, we hoped.
We rode slowly, with Shorts out in front and Cicero in the rear. I kept the Winchester on my thigh, but it was in my left hand with the reins. In my right hand was a Colt, six rounds loaded. I signaled a stop with an air blast between my teeth. Shorts pulled up. Cicero and I joined him. “We’re going to get ambushed if we stay on this trail. Look how easy it was for us to deal with the last four men. That’s how easy it would be to deal with us at this point. Got any suggestions?”
“Yeah,” said Shorts. “You try to circle them by riding high above all this badland stuff and we follow the trail. If you can draw their attention, do that and we’ll hit them from another direction. If you can’t, you ambush them and we hit them from behind. If you see they have an ambush for us, let us know even if you have to start the shooting.”
“Sounds solid to me. Do either of you know anything about this trail or country?”
Cicero answered, “Yeah. North of here somewhere is Wyoming. Not too many more miles and the country widens out and there’s a long, wide open plain at about 8,000 feet or so, but I have no idea how far and in what direction. Went through there from Fort Collins to the Great Salt Lake just to see what it looked like right after I got into this country. Wasn’t too impressed with the lake. Cain’t do nothin’ with salt water except smell it.”
“But, you don’t know nothin’ about this country? Right?”
“That is a lot of help. Next time keep it to yourself, Cicero. I hurt too much to be listen travel story with no sense to it.” Shorts wasn’t happy.
“Yup. Wait til that little nick you got starts to heal and see how it feels.”
“Boys, we got a woman to rescue. Let’s ride.” I looked around to see the dog walk out from behind a clump of rock on the higher ground and start to trot up high on the side hills. Looked like a good route to where I could look down on the badlands where everybody else was gonna be.
“Luck,” said Cicero.
“Skill,” said I.
“Cow plops,” said Shorts.
“Grouch,” said Cicero and I as I lost sight of them.
I was riding one horse and dragging another as I followed the dog. Thing that amazed me was that none of those men had any food in their saddle bags. What were the folks we were hunting eating? Didn’t make any sense to worry about it. Hopefully, we would be eating with Diane by dark.
That was a pipedream, only I didn’t know it then.
The dog led me higher and higher, riding right out in the open. I could see both parties on occasion, but never together. The two on my side of the argument were moving slow and easy like along the trail. Every time I saw them I waved. If they waved back, I pointed to the other crew so they knew where they were and that they were all together.
An hour before the sun would go behind the western mountains the dog whined at me while he looked down on two of the gunmen stopping at the junction of this valley of badlands and set up an ambush. I couldn’t see where the fat man and Diane, I was sure it was her, went. There was no sight of the two on my side. I waited with the ambushers in my sights from a long way away. The dog just sat watching. I figured that if they raised a gun, I’d shoot. I might hit one of them, but I would surely warn Cicero and Shorts.
One of them raised his Winchester and put the butt to his shoulder. I fired.
The shot splattered off a rock six feet from the outlaw I wanted to hit. He ducked. Shorts rode into the ambush with guns blasting until he went down right after I fired my second shot. The rifleman went down hard at the same time. He had been sitting and unfolded to hit the ground hard enough to bounce. He was out of the picture.
Shorts’s head whipped back from the rifleman’s last shot, before he hit the dirt landing on his bad side and didn’t move. Cicero rode in
The second outlaw tried to get on his horse and leave, but chose to stand and fight it out with Cicero. He fired. Cicero spun around and off his horse, landing one his one good arm and both feet in a crouch. His sixgun spoke from ground level and I watched the second outlaw fold. He let fly another round that caught the bad man with his head coming down and spun the man around. The outlaw squeezed the trigger as he died and his one last round that caught Cicero somewhere in the body.
Cicero tumbled and laid still.
I rode down to check on my friends. As I rode I prayed, ‘Don’t let them die, please.’
The gunmen were never going to shoot another round or see another sunset. I almost wilted at that thought. All this killing and dying just wasn’t my thing. I could do it, but I surely did not want to.
Shorts was dead when I got to him. The round had caught him on the tip of his nose and went all the way through, leaving a mess on the back of his head. I covered his face with the hat he had been wearing.
Cicero was out of action, but alive. One bullet had caught him in the ribs right under the wound on his arm. The second round caught him in the other arm, breaking a bone just above his wrist. Two wings clipped and a furrow along his ribs put him out of action.
Catching up the horses I realized the dog was nowhere in sight. Every time he shows up, it helps the situation, so where does he go in between. s he off in the woods watching? Is he tracking the bad guy for us? What and where, big questions.
Checking the saddlebags, I found a can of beans and a pouch full of corn meal. Oh, yeah, here were guns all over the place and horseflesh aplenty, but right now I drooled over beans and corn meal mush. I had to use three shirts to get Cicero to quit leaking before I could get him set up so I could go after Diane alone. He would have no problem getting on his way, but he was going to hurt for a long time.
A quick fire, heated beans, and a slurry of corn meal mush filled our bellies. I left the rest of the corn meal with Cicero and set him leaning against a soft rock with guns at hand and three blankets. All the horses except Solomon were his to keep, also.
“I hate to leave a man down, but I gotta go.”
“I understand. I’d do the same in your shoes. I’ll meet ya at the ranch if ya don’t catch up.”
“If you leave this place, go back along the same trail we came on. I’ll catch you.” I was hoping out loud.
“Yeah, that sounds good. I’ll pull out in the morning after I eat this fancy meal you left me.”
“I can take it if it doesn’t measure up to your standards.”
“Anything’s better than nothing.”
“Adios.” I pulled Solomon onto the tracks of two horses heading up the side canyon.
I lost their tracks a dozen times in the rocky ground, but each time I just kept going the same direction and there would be tracks not too far up the trail. I was tired and hungry by noon and decided to take a break at the next spot that suited me. I could have used that dog right about then.
A shady spot near a small rivulet of water beckoned me and I took advantage of the invite. As I ducked my head to swing down from Solomon’s back, the whip of a slug went past and the sound of a rifle shot came rattling through the trees. My hat went flying and Solomon lunged, dumping me in the dirt. Solomon took three steps and stopped.
I rolled behind a downed tree and tried to figure out where the shot came from. My hat lay in the dirt not ten feet from me. I could see a hole in the brim on the back side. The shooter must have been behind me. A back shooter is no one to mess with. A real man will meet you and make his challenge face to face, but scummy cowards shoot people in the back.
The dog stood not twenty feet from me, sheltered by a rock and a tree.
“Thanks for the warning,” I said looking him in the eye.
He trotted off into the woods.
Then it dawned on me. I followed the dog. After a hike up the hill he stopped looking off in the direction I had been traveling. Two riders were just topping a distant hill and going out of sight. “You could have told me to bring my horse.”
The dog trotted after them. I went back for Solomon.
By the time I returned to the spot where the dog and I had separated, it was dark enough to know I was not going to do anymore tracking today. I took a nap.
The moon climbed high enough to do some good long about midnight. Half a moon stood out amongst a beautiful sky of stars and I could see my tracks coming in to this spot. Solomon walked over to me as if to say it was time to git. I threw the rig on him and we did.
Tracks leaped out of the dirt as we topped the hill where the two riders were last seen. I put the moon off on the far side of the tracks to help build a shadow in the tracks to make them easier to follow.
Over the next three hours I was off and back on Solomon as the tracks moved through different terrain. Once in a large spread of sage where all was in deep shadow, I had to get off and walk along bent over in order to see the tracks. Another time I had almost gone asleep, awakening suddenly if found that Solomon was plodding along the tracks of our quarry. I wrapped the reins around the horn and let him go. He stopped at a point the tracks led to hard rock and there were none to see. I got off and kept going in the same direction. After a dozen feet or more there was a scratch, another a little further, and finally they were back in dirt.
Just as the sun was beginning to put a bit of light in the east, I saw their fire pit full of glowing coals. We stopped and the dog walked right in front of me and parked himself as if to say, ‘what took ya so long?’
I looked over the dog to the campsite. Someone threw a hunk of wood on the coals making the sparks fly. Not a lot of them, but enough to let me know someone was awake down there. Leaving Solomon there, I headed down the slight drop to the camp on hands and knees.
The camp was larger than I would imagine they would need. A man squatted at the fire coaxing the heat out of the coals to catch the wood he had put on top. A coffee pot sat on the ground beside him. I could see another person wrapped in a blanket on the far side of the fire
I slid my gun out and moved toward the man at the fire. Twenty feet away I said, “Put your hands in the air and stand up slowly.”
The man froze in his position at the fire. Slowly he began to stand. I said, “Nancy, it’s me, Daniel, get out of that blanket and come over here to me.”
The blanket exploded.
The dog landed in the middle of the blanket.
A gun went off from under the blanket.
The blanket froze in place as the dog stood atop the rounded form.
“Get this animal off of me. Who you calling Nancy anyhow?”
I looked real good at the man who was now standing with his hands up. He was well built, but not the fat man. What was going on here?
The dog backed down and another man emerged from the blanket. He, too, was slim and not the fat man or Nancy. My jaw dropped.
“Who are you, Mister Daniel?”
I stood there silent, gun in hand, hammer back, and could say nothing.
The man at the fire asked, “You lookin’ for a heavy man with his daughter with him.”
“No. I’m lookin’ for a fat man with a hostage named Nancy.”
The man on the ground asked, “Was she ugly as a twenty year old post?”
“No. She was pretty and well built.”
“That must be the two that ate with us last night and then kept riding even though it was dark already.”