Free Stuff

As most of you know, I wrote my Nanowrimo book, THE DEACON working title, on this blog and the one at my website www.dougball.com. It was great fun and I was blessed with many choice and wonderful ideas for corrections and plot. One suggestion even led me to the twist at the end. In thanks to all of you and any others that would like to see some of my work, if you sign up for my monthly newsletter I will send you, absolutely free, one of my short stories, THE BURT BOBB INQUEST.

Sign up with this link  SIGN ME UP, DOUG.

The story will go out in that newsletter on Friday, 5 February 2016.

In other news,

  1. I have not yet conquered website design using WordPress, but I am able to do much that I wanted to do to make for a better site.
  2. Two new books will be posted in the next few days.
  3. DEACON will get a release date in the next couple of weeks.
  4. DEATH BY BASEBALL is in its final stages. My co-author will be proofing my writing in a few weeks after the Alpha readers get through with it.
  5. If you would like to be a beta reader for any of my books, let me know.
  6. I am also looking for one more Alpha reader that likes to read westerns and/or adventure books.

As always, keep writing. Be Blessed.

I can be reached at writingsailor@gmail.com

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TRIUMPH

Today, a major WIN. I have actually gotten into my website and made a beginning on updating it. Take a look and let me know what you think. http://www.dougball.com.

Are you struggling to finish a work in progress? Does the ending baffle the living daylights out of you? Yup, me, too.

The only way to finish is butt in chair and work those fingers for the time it takes to add one word, then two, and away we go. Maybe time is the problem. A small device with keyboard or voice-to-text or a backpack full of laptop going with you everywhere could be the answer. Every time you get stuck in traffic, a service line, a doctor’s office waiting room, at the curb waiting for the kids, sitting in a chair while you child does their dance class, and on and on. You get the idea. WRITE, don’t just vegetate.

FOUR WAYS TO FINISH YOU WORK IN PROGRESS.

  1. Follow the above. Butt in seat and write.
  2. Challenge yourself each morning, in writing, to add a certain number of words.
  3. Read a favorite author for ten minutes before you try to write, tell yourself, “I can do as well as he/she does,” and do it.
  4. Bribe yourself. “I will get 500 words down and then I will get a Coke, or Chocolate, or a ten minute walk with the dog, whatever floats your boat as a favorite reward

Whatever you do, go write or write as you go. I would love to get my wife writing. She could write while I drive and it would distract her from the right seat driving she does.

Be Blessed.

FREE BOOK – The DEACON – LAST EPISODE

I rolled.

All sound stopped, but my hand was on my blood red engraved pistol handle.

Another foot step.

I rolled fast, pulling the hammer back and letting a lead slug fly toward the shadow that appeared as I opened my eyes. The shadow dropped with a grunt and intake of air a man makes when he’s hurt bad.

I rolled again.

The shadow, which I couldn’t see now, fired two quick shots into where I had been. All I could think was that makes two more holes in that saddle blanket.

Now I was blind due to the flash of his gun.

I heard him or her running into the woods downhill toward the mine. I waited until the moon came out from behind a cloud and my night vision began to come back. When I could make out trees and tell them from a horse, I moved downhill taking a wide sweep to the left where I remembered there was thick brush in places and lots of trees, big trees.

I turned Solomon loose as I went past him and told him to stay close unless something happened to me. Like he understood or something.

I walked, my boots crunching everything they touched. I took them off and hung them on a couple broken off branches so I could find them later. I walked quieter, much quieter.

The sound of splashing through the stream, probably the pool, told me a lot. If there weren’t two of the enemy here, the one had just gone in the mine.

Picturing the mine, I thought perhaps he had a smallish cowpony in the mine waiting for him.

Something moved off to my right. Something big. I went to ground. A fair sized pine was between my position and the big thing. I was ready to shoot when I realized it was a horse. A small cowpony. I let it walk right up to me and stood to greet it.

I knew the horse. Only one man had ever ridden it until he died. That man was Shorts. Shorts’ horse had come all the way here. I might believe that he would go to the ranch, but no out here.

I buried Shorts so I knew it wasn’t him down there in the mine. There was just one other man that might have brought that horse here.

Stepping out in the open I yelled, “Cicero, come on out. I’ll see ya get a fair hearing.”

No reply. The horse walked to the creek, bent down and drank.

“Come on, Cicero. It’s all over. You killed a lot of people, but you’re done, finished, it’s all over.”

No sound.

“I’m coming in, Cicero.”

I walked keeping the horse between me and the mine mouth. As I approached the line sight kept me drifting down stream until I stepped over the stream and walked along the wall toward the mine. Every two little steps I stopped to listen.

Nothing.

I arrived at the edge of the entrance to the mine. There was no way I wanted to do what I had to do. He had ridden with me. We shared the hunger of the hunt. Then at one point I think he even saved my life.

“Cicero,” I said softly, “Come out, now. Toss your gun out first and then come out.”

After a few moments of listening to the music of the stream, I heard, “I’m hurt. You hit me bad. I can’t come out.”

“I’m coming in. Put your gun on the ground and I’ll come get you.”

“Come get me and take me out of this hole so I can die looking up at the moon.”

I could hear the pain he was feeling in his voice. He was a hurting man. “I coming in.”

I moved into the entrance of the cave. He should have been able to see me silhouetted by the light of the moon behind me. I slid into the hole along the left side, my back rubbing the wall and my sixgun pointed deep into the cave. “Where are you?”

“Here.” A grunt and then a shot.

A line of flame come toward me and finished off my night vision again. My hand started pulling the hammer back and then the trigger until I had fired four rounds.

He screamed again.

This time I could hear death grab him and wrestle him deep down to hell where the unrepentant go.

I went outside, started a fire, got the pine knots, lit the unused one, and returned to drag Cicero out and across the stream where I laid him out like he was in a coffin before I went back in to find a shovel at the face of the mine.

With him buried I rode back to the Rafter B, sleeping in the saddle as Solomon took me where I needed to go and the dog tagged along.

 

The sun came up on me lying in my blanket in the dirt behind the house. Now I could tell Nancy and Buck that it was really over. Nancy could get a few miners to work the mine. Within days of beginning work there, she could afford all the cows she wanted. Buck could ramrod for her, he was a capable man.

I, I could got back to Evelyn and figure out what was next in my life of being the Deacon, a servant to the Church.

Another dream.

 

Last chapter

 

Two days later, with Solomon all packed up and another horse from the outlaw Laze E crew packed with almost nothing, I headed for Golden. The plan was to load up the pack horse with food and other supplies, I had a list, and hire a couple of hands to bring it back to the ranch and work there while I went on to Denver and the Caravan, hopefully with Evelyn if she waited. Oh, I wasn’t going to marry here, but we made a good team for the Lord. I had two or three great sermons in my head that needed to be preached.

Arriving at the main street of Golden, I checked the horses in to the livery down the alley from the hotel and then walked into the hotel. The lobby was busier than on the last visit. The windows had been fresh washed and the furniture was polished and waxed to shine like the sun itself. On one of those shiny pieces of furniture was a familiar face.

“Daniel, come and sit down.”

“Tor, what’s up with you? I sent you in here to recuperate, not hibernate or retire.”

“Well, I’d like to tell ya right now, but it’s my bed time. I am under strict Doctor’s orders. If I don’t live up to those orders I will be fired and the good Doctor’s bill will be mine to pay.” He got up stiffly and walked to the stairs with the stiffness of a very old man with all kinds of rheumatism.

“I’ll meet ya here in the morning. What time?”

“Make it about 8. And, do I have a surprise for you. Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

The desk man yelled, “We have no bed bugs in this hotel.”

Tor chuckled. “See ya a 8. I’ll bring the surprise.”

“I can wait. I need the sleep.” I turned to the desk, “Sir, a bed now or I perish.”

“Boy. Take this man to room 305 and hang the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign out for him. His rig is right there by the settee. Make it quick before he faints from exhaustion, Boy.”

“Yes, Sir.”

It was everything I could do to keep up with the young man he called, Boy, but I made it. He did hang the sign after my gear was put on a rack next to the door. The lamp was turned down. I blew it out as he closed the door with, “Good night.”

“Wake me at 7 please and have the barber fill a tub for me.”

“Yes, Sir.” I heard from the hall.

The pounding on the door was deafening. “I’m coming.”

“It’s 7:20, Sir. I’ve been trying to rouse you for twenty minutes.”

“I’ll be down for the barber in five. I’ll want a shave and a bath.”

“Yes, Sir. The bath is waiting. It might be a touch cool by now.”

“Get out of here. I’m coming.”

I grabbed the cleanest clothes I had, the ones I had on for the last week, and headed down the stairs.

The barber was waiting with hot water, a razor, and soap.

As I finished and was getting ready to dress, he returned. “Sir, you cannot surely wear those same clothes. I had the Boy iron out the store creases in these. Your Mr. Tor has paid for them. He stated that he would be waiting in the café you ate breakfast in last.”

“Thank you.” I wanted to toss him a dollar, but I was broke until I could get to the bank and get some dollars for the gold in my bags.

“Mr. Tor said for you to not worry about money.”

“Thank you.”

Then I thought, ‘What is this guy, a mindreader?’

I dried and dressed. Brushing my hat was a waste, but I did it.

The café was a hole in the wall where an old roundup cookie held sway with a spatula and a cleaver. Tor was waiting for me in a back corner table sipping a cup of what I assumed to be coffee. I sat down with him and told the waiter, “I’ll have what he’s having.”

Tor smiled.

The man delivered the cup and I took a testing sip. “TEA! You’re drinking tea?”

“Yeah, according to this Doctor I have, it’s supposed to promote healing and I need all the promoting I can get.”

“How much longer before you can ride back to Denver with me?

“Don’t know that I’ll be going back to Denver. Sent the Marshall a note to tell him I’m probably out of the law business. Thinking about ranching with my new partner.”

“New partner?” That was a surprise, but then a lot had happened since we separated not that long ago.

“Order up. I’m hungrier than a sore toothed bear.”

“So what’s the surprise?”

He put a dumb grin on his face, “It’s comin’. Don’t you be worrying none.”

My mouth was full of steak and fried potatoes when Tor whispered, “Here she comes.”

“She?” I turned to see who he was talking about.

Coming across the room was a stunning young woman in a wool shirt and denim trousers. Her hair was the darkest of blacks. The way she walked said ‘look out here I come and I am confident.’ Then her eyes focused on me. Those eyes were dark and seemed to penetrate deeply whatever they focused on. “And, who is this lovely young lady?”

“This is my new partner. She has nursed me and wants me to work her ranch with her. I asked her to marry me last night and she is supposed to answer this morning.”

“Oh.”

I could not take my eyes off her.

Arriving at the table triggered my manners. I stood. She stuck out her hand which I took strictly out of habit. “I’m Nancy. This man here has told me all about the Deacon.”

She looked at Tor, “The answers ‘yes’ to your question last evening. I have already talked with the local Parson and he can do the ceremony this afternoon if that’s what satisfactory with you.”

“Whatever you say, Dear.” He tried to stand to greet her.

“Sit down. You aren’t ready for standing alone and walking, yet.”

“How’d you get here, then?” I asked.

“Got me a fancy chair with wheels. The boy from the hotel pushes me around when Nancy’s not available.”

“How can we have two Nancys in our lives?” I asked.

“We can’t. One of them is a fake.”

I sat down. My brain went to work with the extra pressure on it. “Nancy is a fake.”

“One of them is.”

I looked at the strong woman still standing at the table and stood up again. Sliding her chair out, “Would you care to join us at the table and have some breakfast?”

“I would.” She sat and slid herself up to the table.

I sat. “So, tell me about all this. I am, shall we say, befuddled.”

“Dad had come to Golden to meet me coming back from school in Philadelphia. I got here and he wasn’t here so I was waiting when Tor came in. My training was Nursing, in part, so the Doctor asked me to wait on him hand and foot until he was well. He’s been ordering me around forever. The gal you chased all over the country and rescued was an imposter. I am sure she was the daughter of that Lazy E owner. They been after the ranch for a long time and Dad was getting a bit leery of their activities. We were missing cows and hands were leaving without notice. They would just come in, get their gear, and leave. My last letter from Dad said that someone was shooting up the place without really trying to hit anything. He was worried they would start shooting to kill. So, here I am. I left school and caught the next train. I had wired the Doctor here to let him know I was coming.”

“Sorry about your Dad. Wish we had gotten there sooner.”

She looked at Tor, “When do you want to do the wedding?”

“When I’m ready for the honeymoon.”

“I am not waiting that long before I go to the ranch, cowboy. Today or six months from now. Take your pick.”

“Now, of course.”

I chimed in with, “I was told in Denver I could do weddings.” I smiled.

“Who said that?” Tor asked.

“Evelyn.”

“Who’s Evelyn?”

“My singer.”

“We’ll use the Parson,” Nancy ended the conversation.

We talked a bit longer while we finished breakfast. I left to get a spring wagon from the livery along with a couple of horses to pull it. The wrangler was very understanding and was willing to anything for Miss Diane and her beau. “That’s a right purty woman there. Women rare enough out here and purty are impossible to find. Danged if I can even find an ugly one.”

I chuckled as I drove off to the front of the hotel.

It was three days later when we stopped on top of the rise and looked down on the ranch house. I was mad. Tor was hurting. Nancy was ready to spit nails at the phony Nancy down below.

“I will ring her neck first and then slap her silly,” Nancy spit out like venom.

“Nancy. Hate will burn you for the rest of your life. What happened happened. We can get things straightened out and you will have your ranch with the gold for the rest of your life.”

“Don’t be preaching at me, Deacon. I’ve heard it all before and it did nothing to keep my Dad alive.”

“Everything dies. Why should you be exempt from death in your life?”

“Don’t even try to give me that religious garbage, Mr. Deacon. I have had it up to here,” she waived her hand above her head.

I pointed to my heart, “You only need it in here.”

“Shut up and drive.” She kicked Solomon in the ribs and headed for the ranch house as fast as he would go.

I had to take is slow. Tor was hurting and whining. Not that I could blame him any.

He said, “Catch here. That woman down there will shoot her out of the saddle if she gets half a chance.”

I saw Nancy jump off Solomon in the middle of the ranch yard and run to the house. The front door open and the false Nancy walked out. The two met at the edge of the porch in a collision I thought was going to kill them both. I could see the fur fly from my bouncing seat as we zigged and zagged down the slope to the yard.

We got there just in time to see the false Nancy catch Nancy with a beautiful roundhouse swing that caught her in the left ear. Nancy went down into the dirt hard.

My eyes must have bugged out because she bounced up and laid the false Nancy backpeddling onto the porch and flat on her back. Her head hit the wood with a resounding boom and bounced. She laid there still with a small pool of blood growing under her head.

Nancy moved forward and rolled the unconscious one on her side and began doctoring the head wound. Within moments the false Nancy looked like a war hero with a bloody bandage around her head as she sat up on the edge of the porch.

Nancy said, “Why?”

No answer.

I moved Tor into the wheeled chair on the porch and into the house. Neither of us worried about the battle on the porch.

After returning to the porch I asked, “Where’s Buck. Did you kill him, too?”

False looked up at me and said, “I have killed no one, ever. Buck is out checking a rumor from a passing rider that over two hundred head of my cows are over to the west in a large hole in the lava country. Who’s the tramp?”

“The real Nancy who was raised on this ranch, whose mother is buried up on that rise, whose father was killed by the Lazy E, that’s who.”

I watched. She never blinked. “So who am I if not Nancy who was raised on this ranch, whose mother is buried on that rise, whose father was killed by outlaws?”

“Beats me, lady. I have no idea. Who are you?”

“I am Nancy.”

Nurse Nancy came through the door. “No, you are not. I am the Nancy and I can prove it. Deacon, in the top drawer of the dresser in the room Tor is in you will find a tintype. Bring it out here.”

I did.

I looked at it as I walked out. There was no longer a doubt in my mind. I handed it to false Nancy. She took one look at it and began crying. As she shook her head the ends of the bandage flapped in the breeze.

“It’s not true. She planted that tintype while she was in there. I am Nancy.”

I was taken aback by her anger and pain. Why would she continue to cry and fight with the picture settled it? The tintype was definitely Nurse Nancy. I asked, “When was this picture taken, Nancy.”

“Around spring last year. Dad wanted me to get the picture so he could put it on his dresser. We never got around to getting a frame for it.”

I looked at False Nancy. “If you are you the real Nancy, what do you have for proof?”

“There was never a picture of me, but there is a picture of my mother in my room under the paper in the bottom of my jewelry box, the small wooden ammunition box on my dresser.”

I retrieved the box and handed it to Nurse Nancy. She fumbled the latch. “It sticks.” On the second try she got it open and laid out the jewelry on a small table like it was important to her, lifted the paper, and there was nothing there.

False Nancy grabbed the box and shook it. Nothing fell out. “Where did it … She took it. She stole my mother’s picture. Now I really do have nothing, no ranch and no picture.

Nurse Nancy said, “I found where you had hidden it and put it up on the shelf in the closet.”

I looked at the paper lying on the table. There was a slight change of color over a part of the paper that was close to the size of the supposed picture that I saw when Nurse Nancy brought it out.

I prayed, ‘Lord, I need wisdom and answers here. Please show me the truth.’

An idea hit me, I looked at false Nancy, “What’s the terrain like to the west?”

“Mostly slow rolling hills until you get to the mountain.”

“Nancy, which direction is the nearest water hole from here. Just point.”

She stalled as if to think, “I don’t know if the one over there, or over there.”

False Nancy said, “There are no water holes in that direction for miles.” She pointed and shook her head with a smile. She knew she was right.

“How old was your dad?”

“61. He married late and I took a couple of years to come along.”

I said, “Alright. Nancy, how old was your mother and when and why did she die?”

She looked lost. “What is all this questions crap? I am the daughter. I’ve been away for a long time and now you want all these answers.”

The real Nancy yelled, “My mother died six years ago from some sickness that withered her away like a hot wind on green grass. She went from a healthy woman to dead in less than four weeks. I helped dad bury her. Come to think of it, she’s buried up on the hill, but her feet are under the headstone. Dad wanted it that way so the pressure wouldn’t be on her head. If you look at the head stone you’ll see a five pointed star that I carved in the sandstone one day when I was up there crying.”

“She spied it all out while she was here alone with the cowboy. Tramp? You’re the tramp living alone with a cowboy.”

“Did up the coffin and see where her feet are. No one could know that except Dad and me.”

I picked up the tintype from the jewelry box and then I slowly lifted the paper. When I put the two together it was plain that the tintype had been in that box at one time under that very piece of paper.

Nurse Nancy turned and walked to Solomon as I was doing the match up. As I lifted my eyes from the paper, she swung onto his back and took off like a shot. I called, “Solomon.”

He spun on a silver dollar and gave about ninety-five cents change before returning to the hitching rail right in front of me. False Nancy the nurse landed in the dirt after her flight of fifteen feet or so.

I’ll give her this. She got up and started walking away from the ranch slumped in her defeat.

I went to retrieve her. There were still questions without answers.

 

The last chapter

for now

 

After a tough couple of days we found out that Nurse Nancy was really a Nancy, just not the right one for the ranch. Cicero had met her on a trip to Golden when he had the gold assayed first time. He got drunk and told her everything, so when XXX brought Tor in she figured she could worm her way in if the outlaws killed the real Nancy or there was a miracle and the real Nancy died of unknown causes.

Cicero had told her a lot about the ranch and where to find the gold when he was whiskey blabbing and had even invited her to the ranch where she could live at the mine and he could visit her. She liked the idea of living in a gold mine and sooner or later would have killed Cicero. The gold would have then been hers and she could get out of area from time to time to spend a lot of money. The first thing she was going to do was buy out the saloon and dance hall she was working in.

I made sure she didn’t change her mind to ride away by taking her to the law in Golden.

Bottom line, Nancy had her ranch and the Lazy E was not going to be a problem anymore. Buck was going to stay on. Tor cried because he mad at himself for getting suckered in. He decided to take on the Lazy E seein’s how he no longer had a job in Denver and all the owners were dead.

Me, I went home to Evelyn to get my head on straight after all the killing and rescuing and just plain miracles.

If God was for me, who could stand against me. I could see me getting real proud in a short time. My thinking could turn to – Since I am so good, no one can stand against me.

For the first time in my life I felt fear so deep I trembled and froze. Fortunately, I was on Solomon and he was headed for Denver.

It wasn’t all about the money at all.

FREE BOOK – The DEACON – Episode 19

I did. As I was sitting on the calf I noticed a bit of milk running out of the calf’s mouth. It was pink. “Buck, this calf is bleeding from the mouth.”

Buck walked up and took a look. “Just what I thought. They done split the calf’s tongue so he cain’t suck. In a few days they’d be doggies and the mama’s would quit trying to feed them. In a couple weeks them Lazy E cowboy rustlers will come out and round up the doggies, brand them with the Lazy E, and claim them forever with no way of tagging them as rustlers.”

“Let’s drive them home.”

“Let’s leave them here and follow the tracks to the new home.”

“Nah, they’d be branded and it’d be our word against theirs. Let’s take a look at the horse tracks leading outta this place. I’ll wager they go straight thataway.” I pointed.

“Let’s ride.” He reached down and took the loop off the calf, climbed aboard, rolled his string, and we set out in the direction I had pointed. Sure enough the tracks led off that way. We followed until Buck said, “We cain’t stand against that many in that crew. Let’s go back and see what we can do.”

We camped nest to the calves that night and shoved them clear back to the barn the next day.

On the way back I asked, “How come them cows didn’t follow the calves’ scent back there at the place they was standing and bellowing?”

He went over to one of the cows in the corral that let him walk up close, dropped a loop, snubbed her off, and took a whiff of her nose. “Peppermint oil. They doused their noses with peppermint oil so’s they couldn’t smell their babies. When we took out after’em, they joined us knowing that riders are always around other cows. When we go close enough, the peppermint oil had worn down some and the scent came through. Off they went. Them full bags must be real painful.” He hunkered down and started milking the cow he had snubbed off. She stood there and I’ll swear she sighed.

We relieved them all, not much, just relief.

 

 

24

 

Denver was a five day journey there and back. I figured they would take ten at the least with Diane talking with the legal folks and the bank. I know she was going to report Tor’s death to the Marshall and then talk to him about the situation with the Lazy E. She was also looking for 2 more hands to help with bringing back some breeding stock and horses. We waited and worked for two weeks and no sign of them. The oats were gone. We were eating our own beef and wild onions, with an occasional prickly pear cactus roasted on occasion.

Buck suggested we go look for them. I suggested he wait here until I got back. Buck had seemed like a good hand and wasn’t going to back down without a good reason. We discussed options if the fat man came around and a few things Buck could do while I was gone. Didn’t take me long to saddle up and hit the trail with two pounds of jerky in my saddlebags.

Just before sundown I met up with a herd. I rode in cautiously and met up with three rough looking hands. “Howdy. You boys driving them beeves anywhere in particular?”

“Yup.” The big guy up front was real talkative.

“The brands are all different.”

“I have bills of sale.”

“You headed for the Rafter B?”

“Could be.”

“Miss Diane send you to meet up with a man called Daniel.”

“Could be.”

“I’m Daniel.”

“I’m Will.” He pointed to the man on his left, “This here’s Tommy,” and then he pointed right, “Cicero.”

“Welcome. You got about 10 mile thataway.”

“Figured.” Will was very talkative even when he knew who he was talking to.

Then he said, “Gonna bed down for the night. Cicero makes a mean biscuit and some thick gravy to go with the beans.”

“Mind if I join ya for the night?”

“Glad to have you, boss.”

“Boss?”

“Yup. Miss Diane said you was the boss and for us to take order or ride on.”

“Where’s Miss Diane?”

“Supposed to be behind us with a bunch a horses. Her and that Shorts fella.”

“You don’t sound like you like our Mr. Shorts.” I smiled at that.

He grinned and shook his head, “First man to ever beat me arm wrestlin’. Smacked me down good, he did. I can work with him. Don’t worry. That man is stronger than anyone I ever met.”

“How far back you figure?”

“Two days at Denver, or so Miss Diane told me. Should be almost caught up.”

“I’ll go check in the morning.”

We bunked out after another hour of fireside chit chat. I took the sunrise turn at watching the cows who were a bit buggered by something off to the south. Come full light, three horses came trotting in, no saddles, no bridles, lead ropes, just the horsed. The way they took to the cows you’d thought they was cow ponies or something.

Tommy rode out to relieve me for a breakfast of coffee and biscuits with a few think slices of beef, we had to finish the critter before it went rotten, mixed in. The coffee was great, first I’d had in a long spell of riding. The biscuits were a bit hard being leftovers from the night before, but were good for dunking. Cicero looked at the three horses as they wandered around the herd.

“I’d swear on my first month’s pay one of them horses is one Miss Diane and Shorts were bringin’. I remember the socks and the blaze.” Cicero looked a bit pale and worried as he said it. “I surely do hope I’m wrong.”

Will was standing off by himself looking at the herd including the horses as another horse came down the slope to our camp. “Damn. I bought that horse myself,” he yelled. “Something’s bad wrong.”

I saddled up as fast as I could. As I was mounting Cicero rode his horse over beside me, “What a pardner? I can hit what I shoot at.”

“Sure. Why not?”

Will was ready to go also, but I stopped him and sent him and Tommy on with the beef and four horses that had joined up. “How many horses were they gonna bring?”

“Ten or more and their personals.”

“I’ll be back. Until then, do what Buck tells ya. He knows what needs to be done.”

“I’ll do it. You shoot straight.”

“I usually do.”

Cicero and I rode off following the tracks of the fourth horse.

 

 

25

 

We hadn’t gone more than two miles when we saw the buzzards and crows circling up ahead, must have been thirty of the carrion eaters circling, lower and lower. We kept looking at each other as if to say, ‘Oh, oh,” as we rode. Over the top of a rise was a dead horse. From the tracks and the blood trail it had been shot and made it this far before giving up. It hadn’t been dead for long.

Kicking the horses into a faster gait, we spread out. I left Cicero on the tracks and I moved way off to the north where I could watch for the tracks of someone leaving the horse trail and heading for the Lazy E. I crossed no tracks, but Cicero found something. He was waving his hat when I turned that direction as I scanned the countryside.

I joined him.

Another dead horse. It was also shot and had traveled a ways. It was the horse Shorts had ridden last I saw of him. Another horse had stood next to it as it finished dying and the tracks matched the first dead horse. Too bad that first dead horse had to die alone.

We rode, two men angry at the loss of horseflesh and wondering where our friends were, rode rapidly, but with an eye out for anything toward whatever there was to find. A dead stranger was the first find. This man had been shot through the body and didn’t look pretty. A horse had stepped on his face. From the lack of blood on his face, he had been dead when the stomping happened. We left him and continued. The trail turned sharply like there had been an ambush or something.

Tracks of many horses moving in all directions came next. Cicero was trying to make sense out of them when I spotted something that didn’t look right down the slope. Cicero agreed it was something strange. We rode down with our guns out and ready.

We found Shorts. He had been dragged over the dirt and brush. The occasional cactus was an added pain for him. He was not a pretty sight. “Where you been?” he asked.

I looked at him again. “What happened to you?” He was propped up against a tree trunk, more blood than body.

“They thought they shot me, but they missed and hit my horse. He’s over there somewhere. Then they drug me. I think some of these prickly pear thorns are in at least two inches. I’ve pull out quite a few. They got Miss Diane. She was alive and running when I went down. She was alive when they paraded outta here heading toward the Lazy E. One of them said that this was the last time they were playing; from now on it was serious. I thought that was really funny and one of them threw a shot at me. Hit me here.” He pointed to his right shin bone. “Broke it. There’s been a horse wandering around down that slope in those trees. If one of ya would get him I could ride. My saddle is down that way just out sight behind the curve of the hill.”

I tossed him my canteen and said, “You get the horse and I’ll pick up the riggin’.”

“Sure, boss.”

I ran a coyote off the dead horse before I could get the rig. The horse was stiff. Two days at least this horse had been down. Two days Shorts had been leaning up against a tree trunk. Two days they had Miss Diane in their possession. I was getting mad. I was going to have to kill again and I didn’t want to. I was going to have to take care of an orphan like the Word says. The two ideas went together in my mind, but didn’t come together in the Bible. Then I got to thinking of Samson who killed him a mess of Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey just because they were messing with him. Then there was God Himself who ordered that all the evil nations in the Promised Land be killed down to the last child because of their evil ways.

I thought of folks in the New Testament that had died by God’s hand for lying to Him, or the armies of Texas standing up to the evil of Antonio Lopéz De Santa Anna after the Alamo fight. Was God on the side of the Texans? It hurt just digesting all this in my head. I prayed.

With the prayer came the idea that God has always dealt with evil in different ways, but always His person did the dealing, with God’s power of course. There was no way Moses dealt with a couple million Hebrews for 40 years without God’s power and wisdom. I felt strongly that God wanted me to rescue Diane no matter what it took as long as I gave them a chance to surrender.

Cicero and I got Shorts on the horse. I rigged some splints to hold that shin bone in place. One hunk of wood was laid along the bone to hold it straight. I slid a skinned Prickly Pear ear over the wound before tying it and the splint to the front of his leg.

Couple of weeks and Shorts wouldn’t have anything to complain about. We rode. I tried to get Shorts and Cicero to head for the Rafter B, but they would nothing of the kind.

Shorts said, “You park me in a good spot and me and my Winchester will take care of anything that shows itself. I’m goin’ with ya, or I quit and will go where I want.”

“You wouldn’t quit and you know it,” I said as I swayed in the saddle, laughing.

“What’s up with you?” Cicero shouted.

“Just thinking. Not too long ago I was saddle sore and aching. Now it seems like second nature.”

“Gets that way right easy like when you’re in the saddle all the time. I remember my first week in the saddle. It was not fun,” Shorts added.

We rode along the tracks until the day was done, and even then we kept going until we just plain could not see. We camped on a stream that provided us with what we needed most, water and wood for a fire to brew some coffee. Shorts pulled the pot out of his bags and handed it down to Cicero who had the grounds in his bags. Not much in the way of a supper, but it would have to do.

Noon the next day we were looking down on the Lazy E again. No one was in sight. No smoke from the chimneys. No horses in the corral or tied out. We rode in with guns cocked and ready. Reckless? We were mad to the bone.

Shorts took one quick look around and started riding north. “Come on, they went this way. Looks like Wyoming is their new home.”

We followed. No pieces of torn shirt. No silver discs. Just hoof prints from at least a dozen horses.

We followed.

We camped.

We followed.

We camped.

We caught up.

Cicero was out front and saw dust ahead of us leading into the trees at the edge of mountains ahead. If they got into those mountains we would be stuck with following on the trails that were available and could no longer pull off to camp or even work our way around them.

Shorts said, “I don’t know this area a bit.”

Cicero agreed.

FREE BOOK – The DEACON – Episode 16

Moving from tree to tree, I got to the horses. Actually, it was just horse, Solomon. Diane’s horse was gone and so was her saddle. Why had she left alone? Why was I on the ground? Why was it dark when it should be early?

I had to think hard through the pain to come back to the answer, my concussion. I had blanked out and she did what I told her. She left me. She left me covered with a blanket and Solomon. For both I had to thank her. My Winchester was gone.

I checked the saddle bags, but found nothing there to eat. We hadn’t had anything to eat in a day before I blacked out again, and now I was going to have to look for her tracks, find food, and catch up to her before the Lazy E crowd, specially the fat man. Not a goal I was too sure I could handle at that time.

A sharp noise rattled through the woods. I drew the .44 and stood as silent as the rock next to me. Solomon’s head came up. I grabbed his muzzle to keep him silent. We waited.

Another horse? No.

Must be a person making that much noise. No.

It was a cow, a big ugly fat cow, also referred to as beef steak on the hoof. If I shot the poor dumb critter I might as well send a telegram to the ones following us and tell them where to meet me.

The cow got to live a bit longer. I slowly and carefully saddled Solomon, eased myself into the saddle, and started to go . . . where? I had no idea. I checked the big dipper. A couple of hours left until it would begin to get light. I slowly climbed down and, leaning against a the rock wrapped in my blanket, I waited for enough light to see her tracks.

 

I woke again with the sun just over the horizon. Solomon was still saddled and not very happy with me. He nudged me and gave out with a couple of grunts as if to say, ‘Let’s go, laggard.’ I really could not blame him.

The tracks of a fast moving horse left that campsite heading east. It was the tracks of Diane’s horse. We took out after them.

In the morning light the tracks were easy to follow. If they were easy for me, I knew they’d be easy for any real hand on a ranch. For a while I drug a bush along behind, but looking back all I’d done is make an easier track to see the trail.

There was about three miles behind me when the sound of a rifle shot came from up ahead. Solomon kicked the speed up a bit and we went running into battle.

The sound of a couple of six guns going off echoed off the steep sides of a valley we were entering. We splashed through a small stream and up the other bank, still on the tracks. The problem became very evident. Two other sets of tracks joined Diane’s. She was in trouble.

The rifle sounded again, followed by a six gun.

I was behind two chasers which were between Diane and I. I couldn’t shoot until I knew the positions of both Diane and the two outlaws, or at least I was assuming they were from the Lazy E. Another pistol shot, this time closer.

I left the saddle and tried to walk, leading Solomon. That didn’t work by head began to swim and I went down.

The sun had moved about two hours’ worth when I woke up. I wasn’t as confused as earlier, but there was still the problem of getting into the saddle. When I finally did, I was seeing double and Solomon was wanting to move. We moved at whatever speed Solomon wanted to go and all I did was hang on.

At least there were no more gun shots.

For awhile.

Not two miles down the path, four more horses joined the three I was tracking. Now there were six on the trail of one young gal that just wanted to see her father buried proper and get her ranch back. The more I thought on that idea, the madder I got. Why? Why was this outlaw rancher so intent on gaining a ranch that he would kill her father and then go after a woman in a time and place where woman were looked upon as more holy than any church. You could burn down every church in the state and just rile folks a bit, but mess with a woman and every man jack of them would be on your trail with a hanging rope over the horn.

At this point, Everson had to kill her and bury her deep. If she made it to a real town, he would be a hunted man and so would all his hands, or gang. I was already on his trail and I intended to be the one who read to him from the Good Book and told him of his sins. God could deal with him when the time came for his final judgment. I didn’t want to be judge, jury, and executioner. I just wanted the girl safe and sound in her own home.

I looked to the heavens and said, calmly, “Is that too much to ask, Lord.”

Thunder rolled through the new canyon Solomon had just taken the two of us into.

I didn’t like the sound of that answer.

Solomon moved on like he knew what he was doing and I just worked at staying in the saddle and making sense of the sights I was seeing double. No more shots rolled through the canyon as the walls got steeper and the steam ran faster.

I heard a shout.

Solomon stopped before I could pull back on the reins. I slowly swung my right foot over Solomon’s rump and eased myself to the ground. Taking my left foot out of the stirrup was no easy task, but Solomon stood for it. I dropped my end of the reins in the dirt just in time to see the dog moving through the boulders on the other side of the stream. Where had he been? I didn’t really care, I was just glad to see him. I whistled softly and he ignored me. I moved parallel to the dog as we moved up the trail alongside the stream.

Another voice said, “Catch up when you can. I ain’t missing the fun when they catch that gal.”

“Some pard you are, Doby.”

I listened to hear Doby ride away followed by the other man grumbling about a busted latigo way out here in the middle of nowhere.

The trail went up steeply alongside a ten foot tall water fall. Kinda pretty it was, but who had time to appreciate the creation around them in times like this. My head came slowly over the top at the edge of the falls to see a man fumbling with his saddle, which laid in the dirt, and trying to piece together two pieces of broken leather.

It looked to me like the mice had gotten to his latigo and done a right smart job of eating a fair sized chunk out of the strap. Only two ways I knew to fix that; rivets or a new strap. He tried to use just the ring end of the latigo only to find it too short to make a tie. He reached in his saddle bag and pulled out a strip of leather a short half-inch wide and thick about three feet long. Using his knife he cut the two chewed ends of the latigo off square and over laid them. The pocket knife he dug out of his ducking trousers had a long, narrow blade which he used to start a hole through the two ends of the latigo.

I could see what he was planning on and filed that idea in the back of my mind should I ever need it. He was going to sew that latigo together with the leather. He tossed the leather strip in a backwater of the stream and as he did caught sight of me. He grabbed for his gun.

I hauled mine out, but before I could get it over the edge of the trail, the dog hit him running and leaping across the stream to land in the middle of one surprised gun hand whose gun went flying and feet went out from under. The dog stood on his chest and growled in his face. I stepped up took his knives away from him. The big one I had to roll him a bit for, but the pocket knife was lying in the dirt next to him.

The dog backed off when I asked him to.

“Stand up and tell me the name of the man I’m gonna bury right here.”

“You ain’t burying me.”

The dog didn’t like the sound of his voice or something, he took the man down again.

The man’s hand flashed into his shirt and came out with a short barreled small caliber pistol which I heard click twice as he thumbed the hammer back. I didn’t think. I just shot the man as he laid there trying to get that barrel lined up with me or the dog.

The dog backed off and wagged his tail. Last I saw of him he was going over the next rise on the trail while I was gathering what I could use of the man’s rig. Two chunks of jerky were a blessing and that little, short barreled pistol, and his gun belt were going to come in handy I was sure.

I rolled him off the trail and set all the rocks I could move over against and over his body while I was quoting the Good Book to him for a service.

No there were only five after Diane.


20

 

The double vision was going away. I could move without getting dizzy. Getting on Solomon was not the task it had been just hours ago. “You fixin’ me up, Lord? I will give thanks for that.”

We moved slowly up the trail figuring someone would come back to check on the man left behind, but no one did after a half hour. Solomon slowly picked up the pace until we came to place where someone, Diane probably, had rolled a rock and caused a slide to cover the trail with large rocks and also dam up the stream.

The Lazy E boys had moved enough rock to get their horses over the blockage making a new chunk of trail which I promptly used and kept on at the tail end of the parade.

As I rode I was looking at the tracks. There were three I could identify anywhere due to some weird markings, but the others looked the same to me. I was trying to figure out which one was Diane’s, but had no luck by the time the sun was low in the western sky. With about an hour to find a secure place to camp, the trail split. The tracks of the horses went one way, which was cresting the pass not more than two hundred yards ahead. The creek was down to almost no water in it. I could even see where the trickle began near a pair of rocks not fifty feet ahead.

I filled my canteen and took the other way until I was sure no one was following and began looking for a camp spot. My figuring was that I would set up a camp and walk up to the pass after dark and see what I could see of campfires or even cabins or a town in the distance. We were high enough up that unless the view was blocked, the view should be long and informative.

Maybe a quarter mile up the side path, I found a spot. Just as I was swinging off the back of Solomon, I noticed as single small boot track in the dirt right where I figured to put my bed. It was a flat spot maybe six feet wide and protected on two sides by rocks three feet high. The track looked to have been made by someone going from rock to rock, but there they had to hit the dirt because the jump was too far.

Eyeballing the direction I took out to see if any more tracks showed up. The reason was simple. I was sure this was a track of one of the boots Diane had been wearing. Diane had sent her horse down one trail as she got off and headed down the other going from rock to rock alongside the trail. Those gun dummies would never think of a trick like that. Why would anyone leave a perfectly good horse to walk on top of rocks when and where there was no way they could get back to the horse? And, it was a long way to anything down this new trail.

FREE BOOK – The DEACON – Episode 15

18

FROM HERE ON I AM INTERJECTING A DOG THAT SHOWS UP OUT OF NOWHERE WAY BACK IN CH -10 OR SO. I AM ALSO SIFTING TO FIRST PERSON BECAUSE I FIND THE THIRD PERSON USING DEAC’S POINT OF VIEW ISN’T WORKING FOR ME. I WILL GO BACK ON REWRITE AND ADD THIS IN. the dog will add more options to the story at every crisis point.

The Rafter B was quiet. There were horses in the corral, a couple tied with saddles on at the hitch rail by the bunkhouse, and one rider way off to the other side headed in. From the horse count, there were at least 22 men on hand to keep the party lively and me on my toes. As I watched from the same point Tor and I had used before, I prayed. It was a simple prayer, “Lord, help me please.”

I didn’t know what else to say.

Ezekiel, THE DOG, hadn’t been around for some time, at least since the shooting started after I was discovered at the Lazy E. No worry, sometimes I think that dog is an angel from God and other times he hits me like a demonic spirit. He does keep saving my bacon, at least on occasion. I could have used that dog right then. His smile and tail talk louder than most words.

As I watched, one man walked from the bunkhouse over to the barn. In a couple of minutes I could hear the bellows pumping in the forge and saw smoke come from the chimney. That gave me the location of two of the men. The front door on the house opened and out step Diane. She was looking back over her shoulder like someone was giving her instructions.

She flipped her hair by throwing her head around and walked to a swing chair. Her standing there was doing things to me. She had obviously had a chance to clean up and change clothes. There was no sign of any bruises that I could see from this distance. She sat and started rocking it back and forth with one foot while she tucked the other underneath her. As she rocked she kept throwing her hair. I got the feeling she was trying to say something to anyone watching. She knew it would have to be me because no one else knew she was a captive and her father was dead, except the outlaws of course.

‘What could she be trying to say, Lord?’

The flip was always in the same direction, to her right. Every time she did the flip her hair would fall over the right side of her head and promptly slide back to the left. What was she saying, if she was saying anything?

She lifted her right hand and arm so the arm rested on top of the swing back. She knocked on the wood a couple of time and then slowly extended her pointer finger and brought the hand to a quiet position with that finger pointed.

Okay, so there was something over that way that was important. The sun was over there and a couple of hours from setting. I was sure she was not pointing at the sunset. There were no colors painted, yet.

I tried to focus on the area to the west from her angle. There was nothing but wide open spaces, or so it looked from where I was. Then I saw the dog. He was sitting very still about two hundred yards out from the side of the house. Anyone not knowing what that dog looked like would only see a scrubby bush if he could see anything looking into the sun like that.

Had she given something to the dog to give me if I showed up? Was she her dog? Questions I had no answers for at that time. One thing was sure, I was going to move around and join that dog about sundown.

After a few minutes she talked with someone inside the house, stood up, stretched like she was tired and going to bed, turned, and walked into the house with her left arm slapping the wall beside the door jamb three quick times with her knuckles. Three raps. Three shots. Danger or trouble. Most of the time it was the signal for ‘I need help.’ Was that what she was doing?

An answer slapped the back of my mind. She needs help to get to the dog or that way. Wait, she signaled she is going to bed for the night at a really early, too early for a young gal. She is going to sneak out of the bedroom on that side of the house and go in that direction and will need help. ‘Lord, you and I know she needs all the help she can get.’

I started sliding backwards toward Solomon. Once I reached him, we walked slowly, very slowly so we kicked up no dust, away from the house until it was relatively safe to mount up and head west.

The darkness took a long time coming that evening.

When it did, Solomon and I headed for dog.

There was no dog.

I could see the light of a lamp through the front room window. The window on the same side, but further back on the house was opened half way and dark. I watch standing in from of Solomon just in case someone saw us from the ranch. With the two merged figures a watcher would see neither horse or man, instead it would be some object like an old tree or something of the kind.

A dark figured eased out of the back window to the ground. It was easy to see the dark against the white wash on the wall. I assumed it was her and watched her move to the back corner of the house before dropping to hands and knees and crawling toward me ever so slowly.

The bunkhouse door swung open and one of the hands stepped out for an after dinner smoke. I had never seen them eat dinner. The thought just came to me.

A figure moved at the front room window. The fat man stepped to the window and looked out.

He knew she was leaving. He knew sooner or later I would show up. The hands were staying undercover so I would not be scared off by their movements or presence. This was all just one big trap to catch me.

Diane was confident of her escape through the open window that the fat man had left open on purpose, that she stood and walked rapidly all hunched over. Her in those dark clothes were going to be very hard to see from the house or the bunkhouse as she got further and further away.

She was coming right at me like she could see me.

I moved off her path a good fifty feet and covered Solomon’s muzzle so he would not make a noise.

The bunkhouse door opened again and two men stepped out. They gather two sets of reins from the horses tied there and swung into the saddles before riding to parallel her path. The outlaw in the barn came out on horseback and paralleled her on the other side. The fat man moved out to the porch and took up position sitting in the swing. He obviously planned on hold court from that position after his boys caught me and drug Diane back.

So, he still did not have her signature on the deed that he needed, was my first thought. My second was he would kill her this time and forge a signature or make up a very large story to cover his occupying the Rafter B. A third thought was that he could burn the barn with the two of us in the ashes and no one would be the wiser when he bought the place from her just before the accident.

Tor and I were the only ones that knew where her father’s body was and Tor was not going to do any talking. I was in his way as much as the gal.

‘Lord, I need Your help.’

 


19

 

As Diane came abreast of me I said, “Keep riding. You’re being followed. Don’t worry, I’ll meet up with you.”

She started a bit, but kept it calm. “Please hurry. I just know they’re gonna kill me soon.”

“Did you sign the deed over?”

“No.”

“Keep riding.”

I turned to check on the followers. The single rider was coming straight at me and the other two were out of sight in the dark and probably behind a rise in the land. Diane kept in going without changing pace.

There was a rope on my saddle, but I had never roped anything in my life. Even when the other boys were roping hay bales and fence posts, I sat and watched. Dad raised me to be a phony preacher just like him. I really fooled him.

As the single rider came on I moved toward him going from one tree to another until I was in a great position. He saw my horse and got real cautious, climbing down off his horse, and creeping forward. As he passed by position, I clubbed him on the back of the head with my .44. He fell like he was dead.

I rode to intercept the other two followers.

By the time I caught up with Diane she was out of the woods and moving quickly across an open grassy plain. Dark spots shaped like cows dotted the country side and a clump of what appeared to be trees could be seen in the distance. I decided the best thing to do was just ride up to her and escort her on her way. The two gun dummies could follow or attack, I really did not care.

We talked a bit as we rode. Out of the corner of my eye I watched for the riders off to the left and could not tell them from cows or elk in the grass. There were just dark shapes here and there. All I could think of was they were snakes in the grass and just as difficult to see..

We arrived at the trees which surrounded a spring filled a small pond where the cows in the past had left their sign of many visits in the past. “You keep on riding and I’ll see what I can do about them two.” I nodded in their direction.

Two dark spots turned to come straight at us as the distance between them widened. I said a quick prayer under my breath and settled in to a great spot behind a tangle of tree trunk and scrub brush, and waited.

The first one to catch sight of me had his six gun in hand. He started to to raise the pistol, so I shot him out of the saddle. As I fired, I heard a shot behind me and felt a round graze my left arm like a hot iron. I turned to see the a shadow bringing his sights to take another shot at me. He didn’t like it that I did not fall down and die with his first shot. His second shot missed. He needed some practice. He wasn’t going to get any practice, I shot him out of the saddle. He fired at the sky as he fell.

I rode like my horse’s tail was on fire to catch up with Diane. “Let’s ride.”

She kicked her horse into a run alongside me. We covered some ground for about ten minutes when I called, “Let’s ease’em down to a gallop and head toward the east and the mountains. We need some cover.”

 

Morning found us snuggled into a clump of rocks in the foothills with a small, very small fire keeping us warm. As soon as I could make out separate rocks a hundred feet away, I saddled the horse, woke Diane, and we left the place. Swinging up into the saddle caused my head to swim and I had to hold on with both hands to keep from falling. That wasn’t good at a time like this.

“You know how to get outta here to some civilization where we can find help and a bit of rest?”

“I think so.”

“You lead, I’ll follow.”

As we rode I told her my problem. The look of fear on her face scared me.

“Just keep going if I go down. You won’t be able to put me on a horse, so you get to safety. If you can hide me a bit, that would be good, but don’t leave my horse with me. Take him down  the trail a mile or so, and let him go.”

“What do I do then,” she asked.

We discussed that issue for a bit, until she went silent. I dropped back further.

 

It was dark, very dark. I was on the ground and it was cold. A blanket was over me, my head throbbed, and it was dark. Trying to stand was a failure for the first two times. I was able to stand only if I held on to something solid, like the tree next to my blanket. “Diane,” I whispered.

No reply.

“Diane,” I said in a normal voice, except there was a twinge of fear that I didn’t like in the sound of it.

No answer.

FREE BOOK – The DEACON – Episode 12 – Comments requested

15

 

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.”

“Yes Ma’am.”

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’.”

“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.”

The rode.


16

 

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.

“Welcome back.”

“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.”

“I remember.”

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.

 

Free Book – The DEACON – Episode 8 – Tell me what ya think

“I wanted you to come back anyhow, but not this way. Did ya have to bring your friends?”

“They got a bit pushy. Who’s that you got there with you?”

“Wounded man. Still breathing, but that’s about it.”

Tor leaned into his rifle butt and squeezed off a round that took a horse out from under one of the riders. Daniel’s following shot sent the rider tumbling. The last rider pulled up behind a large fir tree filled with moss. Dan couldn’t see him. He put five rounds through the tree about man high.

Tor did the same thing as Daniel reloaded.

While Daniel was reloading, he could hear the wounded man trying to say something. He leaned down to listen. He whispered desperately, “They took her.”

“Who?”

“They took her, my daughter, they took her.”

“Where?”

“North . . . uuhhh . . . west.”

“What’s her name?”

He tried to sit up. Daniel held him down. “Calm down, we’ll help ya.”

“They took her.”

“What’s her name and why?”

Daniel could see that the man was getting weaker and weaker with every breath.
“What’s her name?”

“Diane. Just like her . . .  mother . . . Diane.”

“Where would they take her?”

“The ranch. Get her back. They’ll …. kill …” He tried to sit up.

Daniel eased him back down, “Who are they?”

He breathed a shallow breath. Blood oozed from the hole in his chest. Daniel could see him gather himself for one more answer. “Lazy E brand. My . . .Rafter B. . . save it for her.” He paused with a gasp that Daniel thought was his death rattle. “Kill . . . Bur…”

This time he did die. It was over for him.

Tor stopped firing as a horse ran out from behind the tree they had fired at. “Let’s go see what’s what over there.” He looked at the dead man. “He still alive?”

“No. Just died. We got a problem.”


11

“I don’t have a problem, yet. All we gotta do is make sure those three over there are dead or gone and then do some buryin’.”

“Tor, this man says they took his daughter and he has a ranch they are trying to take from her.”

Nothing had moved for a while. Tor stood up so he could see the ground just over the creek bank. Nothing. “Let’s ride.”

‘It is over,’ Daniel thought, ‘I killed at least one more man. God forgive me.’ He started shaking.

Tor walked his horse through the stream and up the bank into the campsite before looking back, “You comin’ or you gonna stand there and feel sorry for yourself. We defended ourselves from them killers and now we gotta take care the leavin’s.”

Daniel walked through the stream and started toward the fir tree he had filled full of holes. He was half way there when he remembered Solomon. The horse was off a couple hundred yards to the east grazing on the sparse grass alongside the creek. “Solomon, you’d do me a favor if you came here.” He whistled.

The horse lifted his head, looking straight at Daniel. He bowed his head for another bite and Daniel thought he was in for a long walk to get the horse. Instead, Solomon picked up his head and started trotting toward him with his head off to one side to keep from stepping on the reins. Daniel waited and when the horse got close, Daniel grabbed the saddle horn and climbed aboard wondering what else this horse could do.

At the fir tree, Tor was examining the bleeding man on the ground. “Bout time you got here. Check them other two. This one’s still alive. If them two are dead, check the horses for brands and clean out the saddlebags for letters and stuff that might tell us about these men. Did that other horse run far?”

Daniel looked around. “Nah, he’s over at the tree line munching on the grass.”

“Check him out. We could use a pack horse or two.”

Daniel checked the first man. Dead. The second was still alive, but just barely. He had a round through his middle just above his belt line and another in a lung which was bubbling pink blood.

He hunkered down next to the man, “Fella, you are dying. Are you right with your Creator?”

“You . . some kinda . . . idjot . . or what?”

“I’m a preacher.”

“You . . shot me.”

“You tried to kill me. What did you expect? Would it make a difference if I said I’m sorry.”

The man spit in his face. “Damn you.” He fell back and breathed one last breath as one last bubble popped on his chest.

“I think you are the one that is damned. I just need God’s guidance in a better way to deal with men like you.” Daniel was talking out loud as Tor eased up behind him.

“My man’s dead.” He heard what Dan said and added, “What other way is there to handle men that are coming at you shooting and trying to kill you and send you to heaven?”

“I don’t rightly know. Me and God will have a couple of long discussions about this.”

“Daniel, why do you think God gave you the gift of being able to hit a fly in the eye at fifty paces with a six gun and take out a running rabbit at a hundred?”

“So I can eat.”

“You really mean that don’t you. You’re not just talkin’?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you ever think that maybe God wants a Christian man to stand up for the weak and take care of the feeble, the orphans, the women, and such?”

“Well, yeah. Been thinking and praying on that, but God ain’t done no answerin’ yet.”

Tor swept his arm around the whole scene before them and said, “You really believe this isn’t God speaking. What’s it gonna take? You waiting for Him to boom out of the clouds with words loud and clear?”

“That would be nice and definite, wouldn’t it?”

“Yeah, but I don’t think He works that way. He’s a bit more subtle. He sends three killers after you while you’re helping an old man die. He tells you there’s a weak woman off someplace in trouble, a woman that can lose her ranch. We don’t even know if there’s kids involved. Matter of fact, we don’t know that the woman is a woman and not a snotty nosed kid still.”

“Let’s bury these four bodies and get on up the trail of the rest of the killers.”

“Sounds like a good idea. We done took care of a bunch of killers and put a dent in the forces of evil what took the gal. Come to think on that, did you think you were fighting evil here just as much as you would be in the tent or the opry hall or wherever? Too bad we don’t have Miss Evelyn here to make for a nice send off for these three hoodlums and specially the old man over there.”

“Shut up,” Daniel smiled. “Let’s get the burying done. You dig and I’ll say the words over their graves.”

“You help dig and I’ll listen to the words. How’s that?”

“What we gonna dig with? This dirt’s hard as a rock and filled with rocks.”

“Let me look around.” He rode off toward the trees.

Daniel caught up the only horse standing. He had to finish one that was wounded too bad to save. He found a bit of jerky and some pinon nuts in one set of bags and nothing else but a few rounds of ammo and a clean shirt. Tor claimed the shirt and they split the ammo.

The sun was low on the horizon as they set the last two rocks on the grave. “I really wish we could have given the old man his own grave and not had to bury him with his killers.”

“Get out of it. There was just this one big knocked down tree I could find. They all fit in the root hole and there was a mess of rocks up close. They are dead. You told me yourself as we laid them to rest, these are just casing for their souls. God will pick them up later.”

“I guess you could say it thataway, but I still don’t like it.”

“Daniel, when you get to likin’ killin’ and buryin’, it’s time for you to hang up your gun and spend the rest of your days praying.” Tor pointed toward their horses. “Let’s mount up and git. By the way, I like what that gunsmith did with the grips on your gun. That engraved cross in blood red says a lot about the man carrying the gun.”

“It gives me a good grip, but I think it’s a bit dramatic.”

“Not for the showman for the Lord that you are.”

“I ain’t nothin’ but a servant in the Lord’s house.”

“Well now, let me do some figurin’ here. The Lord’s house is the Church, right?”

“Well, yeah, you could call it that.”

“And the servants of the Church are called Deacons, right.”

“Yeah. They were set up to help the weak widows and orphans.”

“So that makes you a Deacon, don’t it.”

“I guess you could say that. All I want is to be a servant of the Lord.”

“Okay, Deacon, you got yourself a name.”

“What? You’re gonna change my name?”

“Yup. God did that with Abram and Saul when they started working for Him. Why not you? I like the ring to the name, Deacon.”

“I ain’t too sure, Tor. I ain’t really cut out to be helpin’ widows and orphans and such.”

“Which piece is missing?”

The Deacon didn’t have an answer.

After tying two saddles to the saddle on the one standing horse, and making sure the guns were tied on tight, they rode into the trees with rifle butts on their thighs, leading their new packhorse. The tracks led them not more than a hundred yards into the trees before turning left and following the terrain through the trees until they cut to the right and uphill along a cut with a small trickle of water flowing and up over a pass a ways past the spring that fed the trickle.

Once over the pass, Tor called a halt for the night. “Gonna be too dark to see the track right soon and I’m getting’ a mite hungry.”

“I’m beyond hungry.”

The DEACON – Episode 7

“Well, how many times am I gonna be hitting my gun with a rock?”

“Probably never, but if you drop something on the hammer when it’s in your holster, you will have a nice groove down your leg for the rest of your life, which might not be very long. A shot like that just right and you’d bleed out in a minute, or get gangrene, or lose the use of that leg due to a shattered knee, or just plain have an ugly scar on a weak leg.” He handed the pistol back to Daniel, who slipped it back in its home on his hip. “All them options are not too healthy. A working man cannot afford to carry a round under the hammer. Once you get in the battle, the first time you reload you fill them all. If you know the battle is coming, you load them all. Got it?”

“Yes, sir. None of them options sound good to me. Don’t want the battle either.” He drew and shot a large rattlesnake coming out from a hole under the rock right next to Tor. “There’s supper.”

Tor jumped and landed about six feet away from where he started. “You eat snake?”

“Nope. Hear it’s good though.”

“I don’t eat snake,” he said as he continued to watch the reptile writhe in the dust making mud with its blood. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Get us a fire going.”

“For supper?”

“Yup. You the eatin’est feller I ever rode with.”

“How do you think I keep my manly figure.”

Tor went hunting.

Daniel went fishing as soon as the fire was burning well.

The fish were not biting and Tor was not back after an hour. Dan had heard no shot and was beginning to wonder what was happening in the woods when the shot finally came. It sounded surprisingly close.

He gathered more wood and set the coffee to boiling as he waited. The fishing line got checked a time or two. Still no Tor. Dan strapped on the Bixby gun and saddled his horse. Just as he swung into the saddle, “Hey, you wanna come over there with that horse and help be bring this in.”

It was Tor.

Dan rode his horse across the stream and up to where Tor was coming out of the woods dragging a young doe, all nicely gutted and beheaded, toward camp. Dan pulled it up on the horses withers and gave Tor a hand climbing on behind him, turned the horse for camp and crossed the stream. As he was crossing the rock he had tied his fishing line to came off the large rock he had set it on.

He had a bite.

An hour later they were eating venison steaks in the dark and rigging a rack to make jerky on. The fish got away.

The coffee pot was empty nest to the embers of the fire when they rolled into the bedrolls for a night’s sleep. Each was full to the brim and content.


10

Two days later, the two of them rode into Golden. Tor wanted to stop and see an old saddle partner and Dan was just going to find someplace with a couple of books for sale. Didn’t make a difference what they were, he just wanted to unwind a bit in something other than the Bible. It had taken him a full day to make that decision.

Tor pointed in the direction of the hotel, “Meetcha there in a couple of hours. Two beds please. You roll and toss so bad I’ll end up on the floor. There’s a gunsmith down the block a bit that might be able to do something about the slickness of them grips on your Colt. Try him.” He rode away before Daniel could say anything.

Daniel was dazzled. He’d seen big cities before, but never had he seen a town with the hustle and bustle of this one. He had to guide his horse around wagons and people walking in the middle of the street. A wagon loaded with beer from the Coors brewery almost killed a man after the wagon driver took his eyes off the street to look at a dance hall gal on the balcony of a saloon. The man turned and saw the lead horses when they were about two feet from straddling him.

Dan eased up the street looking for the sign advertising a hotel in the midst of all the other signs. Seems like every building had three or more businesses or products to sell they thought worthy of having its own sign. “I ain’t seen this many signs since St. Louis, but St. Louis never had this many folks running around like chickens with their heads cut off.”

“Hey, quit star gazing and get outta the road, young feller,” came from his right. A pedestrian was held up by Daniel’s slow rubber necking of all there was to see.

“Sorry, old timer, I’ll push a little here now. How far’s it to the hotel?”

“Two buildings down. Only sign is on the winder, but ya cain’t miss’er a bit. Bright green paint around them winders.”

“Thank ya kindly, sir.”

“Now get outta my way.”

Daniel moved the horse with a gentle gig of the spurs he’d found in the saddle bag. Tor said they were cavalry spurs, short and stubby, and also reckoned that Bixby had been cavalry once upon a time “Cuz he rode so straight up and down like he had a ram rod for a back bone.” Sure enough there was the green trim on a pair of fair sized windows. One said HOTEL and the other said SALOON in large gold and black letters.

He had to sidle in between the hitching rail and the plank sidewalk in order to tie off the gelding he had named, Solomon. Not that the horse was wise, just that it sounded like a good Christian horse name. The horse would never have a thousand wives, but being a gelding it wouldn’t matter.

He swung down gingerly; his backside still wasn’t used to all the riding, pulling his Winchester out of its case as he did. After doing a couple of deep squats, he entered the hotel and walked to the desk. “Need a room with two beds or two rooms with one bed.”

“Very good, sir. Let me see what we have.” He turned to look at a bunch of cubbies behind him. “Aah yes, sir. We have two rooms side by side, each with one bed, both on the third floor facing the avenue. Will that do, sir.”

“Yeah. How much?”

“Fifty cents each. Dinner will be served in the Dining Room,” he pointed to a door behind Daniel, “In about an hour. Of course, they always have something to eat 24 hours each day. There is also the Saloon to your right,” again he pointed, “Serving the finest of liquors, beers, wines, and just plain everyday good whiskey. One of our local miners has a still and a local brewery makes the finest beer in the territory.”

Daniel plunked a ten dollar gold piece on the counter and said, “May I start an account and sign for meals and drinks?”

“Yes sir, you certainly may. Sign the ledger please and use the same signature on your tabs.” He turned and pulled two keys from adjoining slots, flipped a tab to red like most of the other rooms, and set the keys on the ledger as Daniel signed, ‘Daniel Fount, Denver.’

“Could you tell me where the best livery and gunsmith might be?”

“Why yes, sir. The livery is down the alley on the right side of the hotel,” he pointed, “And the gunsmith is across the street and uphill about a quarter mile. Can’t miss him, he has a large six shooter for a sign hanging way out from and above the rest of the signs on this street. Old German fella that I have only met once, but the best of reputations I assure you.”

“Thank you.”

“I recognize your gun, but you weren’t the man wearing it last time is saw it.”

“He lost in the game of life.”

“Oh, very good. Sir. He was not a very savory individual. Thank you for winning in the game of life.” He smiled and turned to the lady that had just walked in.

Daniel heard, “Who is that terrible man? He killed a man in the saloon the last time I was here,” from the lady.

As he walked to the gunsmith, he got to thinking that maybe, just maybe, he would be wise to change the grips altogether rather than just have them reworked. Tor was coming down the street, saw him, and pulled over to the plank sidewalk where he said, “You wanna double up?”

“Sure.”

They finished at the gunsmith with Daniel carrying a loaner and Tor guiding the horse to the hotel where Daniel picked up his horse and they rode to the livery up the alley.

“Ya seen one livery stable, you have seen them all,” Tor said.

“And smelled them all,” Daniel added.

Two days later they left town before the sun came up and the crowds hit the streets. His old saddle partner was no longer in Golden.

It was Sunday. The bells were ringing on at least three churches somewhere in the town. Daniel felt a pull, but he was not ready yet for the questions that would come inside the walls of a friendly church. Tor offered to go with him if that was the hold up and Daniel just turned his horse to the street all the wagons had been coming into town on during their brief stay.

Within an hour the sun was up, they were off the road and on a thin trail leading into the high country, and up ahead was a smoldering fire. They spread out without saying a word as they approached the smoke. No one was there.

A breeze picked up as they looked around. Nothing. A jumble of prints in the dirt told them nothing. At least four different horses had been over this site time and time again. Tor got down and started probing the ground with a stick he grabbed. Daniel watched with his newly adorned six shooter held in position with his elbow locked into his side. No one had to tell him something had happened here.

Tor finally tossed the stick, “No new graves.”

“How do you know?”

“The top inch or so is disturbed by the prints here, but after that inch or so the ground is rock hard. If there was a grave the dirt would be loose and the stick would have gone in deep from the pressure I put on it. Why don’t you dump your canteen on this fire so’s it don’t get away, fill up from the stream, and we’ll just mosey on our way. While you’re doin’ that, I’ll just take me a ride up towards them trees and see what I can see.”

Daniel did as he asked while he looked around in the direction the horses had gone. All there was in that direction was a heavily forested area leading to the base of the biggest mountain around. The whole scene seemed strange to him as the water gurgled out of the canteen he watched Tor moving at a quick trot in that direction. When the gurglying quit, he rode down to the water and was just about off the horse when he saw him.

The man was sitting with his legs in the water next to a rock on the far side of the creek, still as the stone itself. A gun lay in his lap and the front of his shirt was bright red.

“Tor.”

No response.

“TOR!”

Daniel looked up to see Tor jerk his horse around and ride like the devil was after him toward the camp site. Out of the trees came three riders and as soon as Daniel saw them they opened fire. Daniel started to mount and then realized if he got in a good position he could cover Tor and the old man next to the rock. The rock looked like a good place to hunker down.

He crossed the creek and turned Solomon loose to fend for himself, squatted behind the rock, and then pulled the wounded man in with him. He laid the Winchester across the top of the rock, lined up the sights, and squeezed the trigger. The center of the three riders took a tumble. Tor kept coming straight across the campsite and on through the water until he jumped off his horse, rifle in hand, and took up a spot thirty feet or so downstream from Daniel.

“You okay?” Danile asked.

“Yeah, not a scratch