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