FREE BOOK – The DEACON – Episode 24

Tommy went wide up the slope into the trees. I motioned for Buck to stay behind me. All of a sudden it hit me. I didn’t know what this horse would do if the shooting started. ‘Hey, Lord. Please keep an eye on this horse and let me hang on, Please. Thank you, amen.’

I rode along the steam.

A spot where the stream had been blocked a bit by rolling rocks across its width, causing a pool of fifteen feet across and two feet deep right in front of mouth of a cave. The cave looked like it was natural. The top of the dam lined up with the cave and on my side of the stream, fifty feet or so, was a pile of smaller rock that looked different than the rock the cave was in. There were no fresh tracks anywhere except for one set where Buck had come close a couple days before.

I got off the horse, dropped the reins, and walked across the dam. The cave opening was natural. No sign on it of any tools, but inside the mouth ten feet, I could see a pick and a single jack standing against the wall with a couple of drill steels alongside. A wooden box like one I had seen blasting powder in once over by Amarillo what seemed like a long time ago.

I walked up close and read the label. AJAX BLASTING POWDER. I lifted it and moved it up to the trees behind a bunch of scrub and rock with Buck’s help. Actually, he grabbed it and rode up there while I walked empty handed.

Returning to the hole was in a quandary. That hole was dark. How far could I go in and be safe. I had no light of any kind. ‘Lord, I need to see what’s in there. Any ideas.’ All I came up with was that small voice in the back of my head saying, ‘walk.’

I did, carrying my little pointy headed hammer.

Thirty feet in it was so dark the floor was difficult to see and there were no more colors, just dark shapes and space. Running my hands up the wall on the right side and across the ceiling I came to a foot wide hole in the ceiling. I checked it out by running my hand along the hole toward the entrance. It ended ten feet back. Now that I was looking in a different direction I could see a bit better. At the edge of the slot in the ceiling were whitish rocks with lines in them.

I went back to the thirty foot area, took a whack at the edge of the slot with the hammer, and brought down a fair sized slab of the roof, a few pieces hit me on my hat. Bending over, I grabbed the slab and made for the entrance.

In the noon sun the whitish stone looked white as snow and the lines were a rusty yellow. The rock crumbled with very little effort. The tough parts felt the hammer. Tommy came down from the trees, took one look, and said, “Gold, or my name’s little Suzy Brown.”

“Gold?” said I.

“Gold?” Buck said.

“Yeah, that’s gold. That’s the kind of gold miners love to see, cain’t remember what it’s called, but they love it. You can sit here with our little hammer and crumble it, separating the white quartz from the gold veins, and walk away with almost pure gold to take to town. Most banks’ll give ya 90 to 95 percent of the ounce price without any further refining. Why heck, you can refine it in a forge down to dang near the pure stuff.”

We all said, “Woooweee,” at the same time as we stood there gawking.

Tommy looked around and found a couple of sappy pine knots. Buck got a fire going. When we put the two together I had two torches to go in the mine with. They smoked a bit, but put out a fair amount of light. Forty feet in the veins of rusty yellow got bigger and the channel in the ceiling went wider and wider. All I could think of was, ‘Nancy’s gonna be a rich gal. This mine has enough gold showing to restock the ranch and build those line shacks she wanted.’ It was just a shame that her daddy wasn’t going to get to see it.

I left the mine without burning out the first torch. A dunk in the stream simmered it to out and both were put in a crack twenty feet south of the entrance so no one would see them if they happened to drop by.

We headed for the ranch house with some good news for a change.

Nancy cried all the way through the meal she prepared and set before us. I said grace and the crying started. It the time for me to eat the steak in front of me and five biscuits for her to settle down enough to talk about it. “What would I have done without you all? I feel so good and so bad all at the same time. Cicero missing. Tor dead. Shorts dead. All those gun hands dead and even that horrible Mr. Everson dead. All over gold. I wish it wasn’t there. Why couldn’t it be on someone else’s ranch? My mother homesteaded that section just because of the water. My father always said that place was a waste because it was so far out. I wish he was here now.” Her bawling wiped out the rest.

I went for a walk. I had a lot of questions I would have liked answered. Why homestead a place that far out even with water? Who was digging the hole deeper into the wall? Who found it? “What do I do next, Lord? I really need You to tell me.”

Everything seemed so done. The kidnapper/killers were all accounted for. Nancy was safe. Every body we knew of was buried properly. The hands remaining were trustworthy. I could leave whenever I wanted to.

Tommy died that night.

Tommy had the first watch. He never woke up me or Buck. I woke at the first hint of dawn and saw Buck’s bunk occupied. I didn’t even bother to check my boots for varmints before I kicked my feet into them. Grabbing my gun belt I whipped it around my hips and missed catching the buckle. I tried again and succeeded. The yard was empty. The house was quiet. All the horse seemed to be in the corral. Solomon looked at me like, ‘What’s up, Deacon?’

I found Tommy in the kitchen with a cup of coffee on his finger. The coffee was ice cold. I put the pot on the stove and added some kindling, blew on the ashes, and had a fire in a minute or so. Buck ran in, saw Tommy, and asked very quietly, “What happened?”

I told him all I knew.

Tommy’s body laid on the floor just as I had found him. He had soiled himself and his face was one of agony. His back was arched backwards. The coffee that had been in the cup must have gone down his gullet because none was seen spilled on the floor except one large drop under his cup lip.

The pot on the stove boiled. I reached for a cup on the counter and handed it to Buck. He grabbed the pot and poured as I reached for another cup.

I dropped it and spun around, slapping Buck’s full cup from his lips. The hot coffee go on both of us. My shirt caught some, but I leaned forward to give the hot coffee distance from my skin. Buck wasn’t as lucky. The scalding coffee splashed on his cheek and ear before pouring off his face and down his back. He screamed like a gut shot horse. I grabbed the water bucket and doused him with half a bucket of water.

“Thanks, I think. What was that all about?”

“The coffee is the only way Tommy could have been poisoned.”

“How do you know he was poisoned?”

“The box in the far corner of the counter. See, the one that says ‘rat poison’ on it.”

“Oh, thank you, Deacon.”

Nancy walked into the kitchen with her wrong shaped robe wrapped around her and fear in her eyes. “What’s all the . . .”

She saw Tommy.

“Is he dead?”

“Yes. Poison,” Buck answered.

“Oh, my god.”

“Ma’am. I wish you wouldn’t say that unless you know God up close and personal.”

“How’d he die?”

“Poison. I already told you that.”

“You don’t have to yell.” The crying started all over again. “Damn gold.” She turned and walked back to her room.

I heard the door slam.

“Let’s get him out to the barn, Buck. Did you see that box on the counter at dinner?”

“No. No one puts poison on the kitchen counter.” He looked around. “Do they?”

“Someone did. Far’s I can see. Either you or Nancy put it there, cuz I know I didn’t do it.”

“You can count me out. I know I didn’t do it either.”

I just shook my head grabbed Tommy under his arms. He was cold and stiff. Buck grabbed his feet. The barn was cool and a board across a stall became his marble slab until the grave was ready for him.

Nancy was still in her room with the door shut when they returned to the house. “I’ll cook, you watch,” I said.

“I’m watching after I get rid of this rat poison.” Buck walked out the back door. I watched him go a hundred yards from the house and slowly pour the poison out of the box onto the ground in a thin stream. The morning breeze kicked up a bit to help disperse the poison. He brought the box back and threw it in the stove.

We both watched it burn to ashes. I stirred the ashes. It was gone.

Three of us on the ranch and one of us was a killer.

Then my brain kicked in again. It wasn’t me. The reason for the murder was important. Tommy knew where the gold was. Of course, so did Nancy and Buck. Nancy already owned  the gold mine. That only left Buck, and he didn’t act like a killer. He was genuinely startled and surprised when his saw Tommy on the floor. So was Nancy.

Was there someone else on the ranch trying to kill us off? Why? Because that someone else knew about the gold and did not have a prayer of getting it without killing us off. That had to be it.

My head hurt as I grilled some steaks in a fry pan and burned some biscuits in the oven.

We ate it all regardless.

I told Buck I was camping out a ways tonight and if he wanted to do that he could. I informed Nancy of my decision and she just shrugged, locked her bedroom door, and yelled, “All you brave men leaving a woman at home to guard the fort. Oh well, I guess it is my ranch so it’s up to me to keep it. I won’t move outta this room tonight and I want everyone to know, I have a Winchester and two pistols in here. I know how to use them and I can’t miss if you come through the window or the door. Goodnight.” Her lamp went out.

I had done so much figuring that I was wondering if I was guilty of the murder of Tommy, by accident. We had really torn that kitchen apart a looking for all we needed to cook and serve a big meal, any one of us could have left that poison on the counter. Although, I can say I don’t ever remember seeing it in the kitchen or anywhere before.

I just started riding trying to keep the moon light bright around me while I was in shadows and under cover. After a mile or so I just rode. The dog appeared beside me just sauntering along with the horse’s quick walk. So here we were so deep in the mystery, but all together like we had been shortly after it began. The dog wasn’t too talkative, so I just shut up and rode.

Without thinking I had ridden toward the mine and come in on the high side of the ramp down to the creek. We set up camp near the high side of the slope and settled in for a night’s sleep in peace and quiet.

Solomon grunted which woke me up. I didn’t move. I didn’t open my eyes. I prayed that my breathing hadn’t changed any. Someone was very close to me. How did I know? I don’t know, I just knew.

A foot step.

Another.

A sixgun rubbing leather as it was drawn.

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FREE BOOK – The DEACON – Episode 23

I let the gun barrel drop and set the hammer down. “Sorry fellas, I was trailing them and you looked like them in this mornin’ light.”

“You saying I’m fat,” the man at the fire asked?

The other man laughed. “Mister Daniel, I’m glad you didn’t come in shooting. We’da both been dead and you would have killed two somewhat innocent men, us.”

I still couldn’t talk. The dog looked at men and then walked into the woods.

“What’s with the dog?”

I finally found my voice, “He shows up from time to time. I don’t know if nor when, nor where he come from, but he sure is handy sometimes.”

“Now that you’re here, want some coffee.”

“I’d be forever thankful. Sorry for the wake up.”

“It was kinda sudden, but the chill in my spine might just make me travel further today.”

The man from the blankets asked, “Tell us about them two. If she was a hostage, he had her under control. She never let on.”

“She didn’t want to die after watching you two die,” I said.

I spent the next hour sharing their coffee, bacon, and beans, while I told them my story. They never interrupted; they just kept my cup full. At the end I said, “I gotta get goin’ and get Nancy back to her ranch safe and sound. Much obliged for the feed. I ain’t had a real meal since I don’t know when.” My stomach was somewhat prominent when I stood up.

“Talk about a fat man,” the cook chuckled.

The other man rolled his blanket as he asked, “You really were a phony preacher until you got to believing your own preaching. Don’t that beat all? Where ya gonna preach next?”

“Denver, I hope. If I get through all this in one piece. Sounds like that fat man is right cagy. He just keeps giving me the slip. Again, I am sorry for the sudden wake up call.”

“See ya in Denver, Preacher.”

“I prefer, Deacon. I’m God’s servant and deacons are servants. I guess preachers are, too, but I don’t have the right to call myself one.”

“The Deacon. That’s quite a handle for a young fella like you. Have a safe journey to Denver by way of the fat man. I wanna hear ya preach. Maybe even I will believe.”

The Deacon climbed on his horse and rode off in the direction the two pointed out and the tracks in the dirt led. Where those tracks would end, he knew would be an ending to this episode in his life.

 

Within an hour he found where they had camped. The coals were still warm. He checked the tracks as well as he could. It looked to him like Nancy was doing all the work while the fat man watched from a cozy flat rock near the fire.

An hour later he noticed the tracks were getting further apart and more dirt was kicked up by each hoof. He was thinking on that when it come to him that they had started moving faster. Had they seen him? Was there something else that would cause them to run? He didn’t see any bear tracks or other wild critters that might have scared them. Even if it had been a critter, the fat man had guns and could have taken care of that issue.

They must have seen him.

He looked at his back trail. He had topped a rise and then dipped and topped out again. They could have seen him on the first top and been gone by the second. He had been seen.

That changed everything. He didn’t know the country. There were no towns around that he even had a hint of. They had not seen a ranch or signs of one in days. All he could do was keep on following and pray that he would see them first next time. If he didn’t, he knew he would die and the hand of the fat man, whose name he did not even know for sure.

He prayed and rode on along the tracks.

The dog appeared ahead of him with his nose down and very obviously tracking a scent.

“Well, thank you, Lord.” A smile grew on my face as I watched the dog stay just far enough away that I would be a long shot for a pistol if he tripped over the fat man. I shucked my Winchester and set its butt on my thigh, hammer back, and magazine full.

A mile or so further the dog jumped off the trail and I hit the dirt. Solomon stood over me like I was some crazy new-fangled rider. A shot broke the stillness. It didn’t come my way, but I could hear it whack into a tree trunk near where the dog disappeared. I moved through the trees and that horse followed me. He had never done that before with bullets flying. I wondered why he would do it now. I passed a large pine of some kind and he stopped behind it. Now I knew.

I heard another shot. This time it rattled a couple of limbs above my head before smacking into a tree somewhere behind me. I was getting shot at. Peeking around the tree on the far side from where I was last, a puff of powder smoke lifted ever so wispy from a copse of young firs about 50 yards in front of me.

The girl screamed.

I’d had enough. I ran twisting and turning one way and then the other, dodging around trees and over logs until I was not too far from where the shots were coming from. A nice soft bed of pine needles up against a fallen log became my home for a few breathes as I tried to get enough air. Another shot smacked into my log, but it didn’t come through. I waited.

Another scream.

I crawled to the end of the log where there was a large root ball with a hole under it. I entered the hole and found myself sharing it with a rattler, a black tailed timber rattler to be specific. He, maybe it was she, wasn’t happy.

I moved on in a hurry. My hurry caught the fat man flat footed. He didn’t get off a shot before I ducked into a small wash. The sand was damp, but there was no water running. I peeked. Nothing. I started to peek again when sand flew over me and a shot sounded. I ran to a large tree and stood behind it for dozen breaths before taking a look

I was now about 20 yards from the fat man’s firing spot.

A scream, again.

I ran straight at the spot watching for the barrel of a gun to show. A slug whipped by my head. A puff of powder smoke rose. I was still charging.

I fired and jacked the lever. I fired and fired and fired, until the hammer when click. The Winchester hit the dirt as I cleared the first bushes in front of the spot. A slap on the rock next to me was followed by a singing slug flying away and a puff of smoke not 15 feet in front of me.

My sixgun came out and three rounds went into the spot just under the smoke before I leaped through the crack between two fair sized boulders landing in the middle of the fat man.

He was bleeding from the corner of his mouth as he breathed a gurgle or two. His eyes came open as he gurgled one more time. He smiled. He died.

“Nancy, where are you.”

“Here.” She called from a few feet away, sitting on the ground behind the biggest of the two boulders. Her hands were tied.

I fell to my knees in front of her, untied the loose knots, and helped her up. She threw her arms around me and kissed me. “Thank you. You saved my life. He was going to kill me soon. That man told me I had one more sunset to see and then he would kill me if I didn’t sign the papers for the Rafter B. I kept telling him you were going to kill him and he would have nothing. Oh, Daniel, you saved my life.”

She fainted.

I whistled for Solomon and looked for the horses. Solomon trotted in, the spare tagged along. Nancy and fat man had to have some horses around here close so I went looking.

An hour later we set off for the home ranch back trailing all the way.

Nancy told me about the fat man as we rode. He was the owner of the Lazy E, Toby Everson. He wanted the Rafter B because there was gold in the hills on the south side of the ranch, the deeded side. Nancy’s father and mother had homesteaded a section each in those rolling plains and her father had paid every one of his hands to homestead a chunk and then sell to him. He paid them well for the land and for their job on the ranch, $5 above the going rate for hands in the area.

Nancy knew nothing of the gold until one of the Lazy E hands let it slip while they were running from us.

I asked why they ran.

“Oh, Everson wanted the ranch right proper. He wanted me to sell it to him. I told him it would be a cold day and then you came along. Something about you scared him stupid. He started running and you kept on following. Every man he sent was lost, they never came back. You were a jinx to his plan. Two of his men, two in the first ambush, were professional gunfighters and he had hired them on their credentials of being in a couple of grazing wars. What is it about you?”

“I don’t know. I just went to get you back to your ranch like your father asked me to do.”

 

We caught up to Cicero. He came out of a side cut of the valley where Shorts had died and surprised us both. I had my gun out and was forcing my finger not to squeeze the trigger when the Winchester that Nancy was carrying went off in my ear. Red blossomed on Cicero’s chest, his eyes went wide starring at Nancy as he slid sideways off the horse saying, “Not here, anyone but …”

Nancy broke into tears and bawling like I had never heard before out of woman, man, or kid. “I killed him. Cicero, I killed him,” she said, over and over again.

All I could do was get down and bury the man that had ridden so far to save this gal and then die at her hand. There was something there that just didn’t ring right with what I knew of God. Cicero was a hero, a warrior, and a woman had shot him, a woman he pledged to free or die trying to free. It just wasn’t fair.

“Lord, You are the boss, but was this really necessary? Did this man have to die at the hand of the woman he rescued? I hurt all over, Lord. Please, no more death. Please!” I cried out to the sky, the trees, the rocks, but really to God.

I buried him not far from Shorts taking time to scratch both their names on sand stone headstones. Men who chose to ride with me, will they all die? I mulling that over in my head when Nancy started riding away on the trail toward the Rafter B.

 

We arrived at the Rafter B on a blustery day. Brush rolled across the yard and no one was home. After I cared for the mess of horses we had brought in, Nancy called me to eat. She was at the table when I arrived. I ate like there was no tomorrow, at least until I was so full I was sick.

I darted out the back door and unloaded on the dirt. She wasn’t far behind. We sat on the half log seat and laughed. “You got more where that came from?” I asked.

After eating like a normal ranch hand, I sat and thought about all that had gone on. For some reason I was troubled.

 

RESERRECT TOR AND SEND HIM BACK TO GOLDEN WITH ONE OF THE HANDS. WHICH MEANS ONE MORE MAN (will) WILL HAVE TO LEAVE THE RANCH WITH THEM.

 

I could tell Nancy was feeling the horrors of the past episodes. She had seen her father dead. Then there was the kidnapping, the rescue, the rides, the lack of hope, the death all around her, the lack of sleep, and all of it was affecting her as I watched. She fumbled through the cupboards looking for a pan and then needed a sharp knife. There were three on the end of the counter just out of sight, but she went through everything before she stumbled on to the three knives. She seemed really pleased with herself when she found them.

I decided I didn’t need any more food and told Nancy I was going to bed down in the bunk house.

Along about somewhere in the night when it was dark shouts started in the yard. A gun was fired. A scream from the house. I went out the door with a gun in my hand and my body covered with not much except the blanket. It was a good thing I recognized the bean pole frame of Buck in the moon light.

I yelled, “Don’t shoot, Buck,” and put my gun under my arm with the  barrel pointing backwards.

Buck said, “Who the heck are you.”

“Daniel. Nancy is in the house.”

At that time Nancy come to the door with her robe covering her night clothes. She must have lost some weight, the robe hung like she must have been a bit heavier, not fat of course, it was just out of proportion somehow.

I called to her, “Nancy, it’s your hands. Go back to bed. We’ll get organized in the morning.”

Motioning Buck and Tommy inside and turning back caused me to drop my gun which made me bend over and using the wrong hand to pick it up caused my blanket to fall away and leave me bending over naked. I blushed all over.

“Even in the dark, I can see the shine, Boss,” Tommy yelled.

Nancy laughed and went back in her house.

I spent an hour or so jawing, catching Tommy and Buck up on all the latest with Nancy. Buck ended it with, “We ain’t finding many cows on this place with the Rafter B brand. We’ve moved a bunch of Lazy E and a few of a couple of other brands off to the north over the big ridge. We’re working the south side now and not much is showing. Saw some funny stuff off yonder,” he pointed, “Like someone’s working the ground and a hole in the canyon wall.”

“I’ll take a look at that tomorrow. Heard something about others working part of the ranch. We’ll see. Goodnight all.” I fell back and pulled the blanket all the way up.

The food bell clanged and my opened to bright sunlight coming through the one window in the bunkhouse. Every other bunk was empty. I emptied the one I used and grabbed for some clothes to cover my nakedness and ended the dressing by pulling on my boots. The table in the kitchen set for four. A plate from the counter, a spoon from the pot, and within moments my plate was full. Wasn’t sure what it was, but it smelled like good food.

Nancy came from her room with the same clothes she had been riding in, nothing was different.

“Why no clean clothes?”

“I need to wash up first.”

I looked around. “Buck, fill that bucket will ya and let’s get it on the stove to heat for a bath.”

I finished my meal and trotted outside to a #2 wash tub I had seen hanging on the back of the house. It came off the nail easily. In the bedroom it went. I lit the lamp for warmth. Then a blanket was up to cover the window completely. The bucket of hot water was brought in and dumped in the tub, a couple buckets of cold water were hauled in, and Tommy came up with a bar of stinky women’s soap from the kitchen under the sink. “Now, your bath is ready, Miss Nancy, enjoy.”

Buck tossed her a towel from the stack on the top shelf of a closet between the bedrooms, “Found these a couple days ago when I figured the water in the horse trough was warm enough for my ever’ three month’s bath.”

“Why thank you, boys. I’ll be awhile getting all this squished in dirt outta my pores. May even need another bucket of hot water.”

Every the gentleman, Tommy said, “I’ll get the bucket full and heating. When you need it I’ll bring it too ya.” Just as he finished he realized what he had said and turned as red as a ripe apple. “I mean, uh, you know, uh, awe forget it. I’ll put the bucket on the stove and you can do what ya want with it.” He got up and walked out with the empty bucket.

Once the rest of us regained our senses, off we went to get our chores done and move south.

 

An hour later she was still bathing.

I yelled through the door, “We’re leaving now. Off to the south.”

It was quiet for a moment, and then. “Be safe. I do not want to bury anyone else.”

“I agree.”

Our saddle bags were full of food and ammunition. Each of us had a few things we thought were important. I had found a pointy tipped hammer in the barn that I figured might come in handy and stuck it in my bags along with an old shirt of someone’s I had found in the bunkhouse. Actually, I had found two. One I was wearing and one was stashed.

South is a nice direction. It’s warmer that way – – – if you go far enough, which we were not going to do.

It was a good half hour before we saw our first beef, a cow with a calf about two days old. The brand on the side was Rafter B. An hour later we found a bunch of six cows with four calves. “Calf crop ain’t too bad,” Tommy said.

Buck had his opinion, “This ain’t much of a beef outfit. We shoulda found a couple hunnert by now the way we been zigzagging all over the countryside. This is just what we did yesterday, Boss, only it was a couple miles thataway. Someone has either been lying to himself in his tally book or this place has been stripped. I think it’s been stripped. That corral we found the first day out had been used. Cows in there for a couple days. Then the tracks go east. East is where a market might be. Them mines over around Golden and such make for a great place to sell a head here and a head there. Man could make more money with beef than with a pick in that country, unless he hit the mother lode, of course.”

“What about this side? How do you to figure this?” I said.

“Well, boss, I agree with Buck. Now for this side, there just ain’t no tracks. Except for the few head we done found, there just ain’t no other tracks. I’m thinking they started on this side. Only way to find out is go over to the east and see if we can come up with a serious mess of a herd going yonder.”

“Sounds like we got a beef problem for the little lady. What about the dirt shifty and digging? How far away is that?”

“Over thataway a mile or so, but we’d have to go back a couple miles to get a path in there. That’s some pretty rough country that happens of a sudden. If you don’t go at it just right you’ll miss or get blocked.”

“Let’s ride.” I kicked one of the new horses into a lope. Solomon got the day off.

 

We entered the grazyest valley I had ever seen. One side was a wall with a stream running right up against the wall. In many places the stream had cut way back into the wall. On the other side was a gradually sloping grass and tree filled ramp up to the level of the top of the wall. It was like God had dug a slopping ramp a half mile long down to a place where he just quit when He hit stone. Don’t get me wrong, He coulda smacked the rock and moved it. I’m just saying what it looked like to me at the moment.

FREE BOOK – The DEACON – Episode 21

FRESH FROM A NANOWRIMO WIN. FRESH OFF THE KEYBOARD WITH NO EDITING WHATSOEVER. BE BLESSED.

 

I looked down at a sleeping Shorts, “God, he is hurt. Let him get some peaceful rest and quick healing.” Now, was they telling God what to do or was it asking. “I am asking, Lord. Your plan is best.”

Cicero was sitting under Solomon, who was calmer than the other two horses. He looked at me and said, “You praying?”

“Yeah.”

“Pray for me, too.”

“You a believer?”

“Once I thought I was, but then God allowed my wife and son to die in a cabin fire. I walked away from God and since then I’ve just tried to be a good man to their memory.”

I had to think for a moment, “I think God will understand. Look at this way, maybe, I ain’t no expert. All of us are gonna die. Every single one of us. Why should your wife live forever? My Ma died. Was it God’s fault or was it man’s fault when he chose to not obey his Creator in the Garden of Eden? You really just didn’t like the pain. I don’t like the pain of not having a Ma to raise me up. If it weren’t so wet I’d get my Bible out and read to you, but all I can do is tell you what I remember in my own words. God says if we ask in all seriousness, He will forgive any sin except ignoring Him, or His Holy Spirit. It says in there that we are sealed to Him by His Holy Spirit until He can make all the promises He has made come true in your life.

“Does that make sense, Cicero?” I looked him in the eye.

He shook his head, “How can God forgive me for the things I’ve said about Him when I was mad or drunk?”

“I don’t know, but He says He can and will. Try it if you mean it.”

He looked at me and shook his head, but I watched his head bow and his lips start moving.

When he looked up again there was a peace shown on his face. “I think He said I was forgiven.”

“What a load of hoowey that was Daniel. How could you believe that, Cicero? How?” came the weak voice of Shorts from the ground as he sat up.

“Don’t ask me, but I did. You might wanna try it yourownself, Shorts.” Now Cicero was the preacher.

Shorts got to his feet and turned his back on us, relieving himself into the rain, downwind of course. He turned back buttoning his fly. “If your God is so powerful and forgiving, can He heal me and forgive me killing another man?”

I looked him in the eye and said, “Yes to both.”

He worked his way back to the ground and turned his back on us.

Cicero gave me a look and I nodded my head.

We stayed quiet until the storm decided to quit and the moon broke through the clouds. The wool blankets were very wet as we rolled them and got the horses ready for travel. Cicero and I had to lift Shorts to his saddle and make sure he was balanced.

With the leg dangling to the stirrup, I checked his wound again. The scab was forming nicely. I was healing well as far as I could see. Nothing looked or smelled bad. That was all I knew about wounds other than the prickly pear pods for a poultice and Evelyn had taught me that when I cut myself pretty bad one time.

We rode into a wet forest with the dripping boughs getting us wetter than we already were. I looked for a place to build a fire in this wet swimmin’ hole. Everything was soaked and so were we. Shorts didn’t need the cold and chill as weak as he was and it wasn’t doing Cicero and I any good either.

The trail was gone and so were the hoof prints. We’d have to worry about the next day. A lightning strike off to the east, lit up what looked like a shelter of some kind. Cicero saw it, too and turned off to check it out. In moments he was waving his hat and calling for us to come.

It was a recently abandoned cubby hole probably made by some Indian or trapper. There was a packrat’t nest at the back, two feet deep and three feet wide, that had enough wood in it to warm us up a bit. Any heat was better than none. The boughs of needles over the top of the shelter were just beginning to drop from age so inside was fairly dry. Compared to the outside it was a dry desert.

Cicero got the fire going while I put up our two horses. When he was ready, we hauled Shorts into the shelter and I went back out to put his horse on the rope with ours. I watched them put their rumps to the wind and shift to three legged stances, which is a horse’s way of saying good night. Thinking that was a good idea, I went inside to try for a nap myownself.

As I entered, Cicero tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to Shorts. He had tears running down his cheek. I said, “You okay, Shorts?”

He didn’t answer for a minute or two as Cicero added wood to the fire in the middle of the shelter. “I just asked God to show me He’s real by getting me warm and here we are.”

“Don’t expect that kinda service all the time,” Cicero said.

“I agree. I’ve asked for all kinds of signs and the answers rarely, if ever look like what I asked for.”

We were all asleep in a matter of minutes after we quit jawing. It’s amazing how warm a wet wool blanket can be when the wet gets warmed up.

 

All the next day we rode ourselves in circles trying to find the tracks. We found a few horse tracks, but the group was never big enough.

The distance to the Lazy E wasn’t that far and in searching we had moved closer and closer. At sundown we were looking down on the ranch frin a mountain side a good mile out.

We had talked as we rode and in those times we were separated we prayed, or at least Cicero and I did. I have no idea what Shorts did other than hang on to his horse.

As we watched the ranch fade into the dusk, I began to worry. No lights were being lit and I only saw one hand moving around. There were horses in the corral, but we were too far off to get a count.

“Okay, I’m going to go down there once it’s dark and see what I can see. If Diane is down there, I’ll try to get to her. If she isn’t I will be taking at least one prisoner. We get her again and there ain’t anyone that will take her away from me while I’m still breathing.”

“Is this a romance budding.”

“No, I’m just tired of riding around in circles and wondering if she is safe or not.”

We waited.

I rode into the darkness leaving the two cowboys behind and with a prayer on my lips.

The ranch was just as I’d seen it before, dying and falling down, filthy and stinking. One lamp was lit in the bunkhouse, if you wanted to call it that. I looked in the winter after creeping up a quietly as I knew how. One man was sitting at a three legged table playing solitaire. I watched him cheat twice before going around to the door. I drew my .44 and walked in.

“Howdy. Where is everybody?”

“Off to  Ooops,they’re headed for Wyoming and not the ranch. Done passed that.

 

Just before sundown we found the tracks. We had moved toward the north as we searched and figured we had covered a lot of country, but weren’t sure how far we had gone. Whatever the distance was, these tracks were fresh. The dirt, or should is say mud, at the edge of the tracks was still curling into the deep tracks. We couldn’t be more than an hour behind, if that.

How did they get so close? Had to be they found a spot to dry out and spent some time getting everything warm and dry, and all the people fed. I wasn’t about to backtrack to find out. We were close and we were going to stay close.

Within minutes we found a camp site that served out purposes, lots of wood, a tree canopy to break up the smoke, and shelter from the night breeze. We built a high wall on the north side of the fire to keep prying eyes from seeing the fire and even then we kept it small. We had nothing to cook and nothing to brew. Water was the only thing on the menu.

Cicero broke the silence. “We gotta ketch them folks tomorrow if for no other reason than to get their grub. We sure’s all get out cain’t shoot something without telling them we’re right behind them.”

“You know, Cicero, that gives me an idea. Let’s find us a spot in the morning for an ambush. Then we can shoot off one round like we was hunting and wait for a couple of them to come back and see what’s goin’ on.”

Shorts’ head came up, “I can sit and hold a Winchester without any problem. I can, I can. I’ll be of some use that way, instead of being an dead cow on the end of your rope to drag along.”

“Shut up,” I smiled when I said it. “If you was an anchor, I’d cut the line.”

Cicero looked at him. “How you feeling?”

“Pain’s tolerable. Bone aches. Toes wiggle. Butt is sore. Gut is empty. My attitude is one of wantin’ to kill someone or blow up something.”

We all got a chuckle out of that as we bobbed our heads. The jawing kept on for another hour as we worked to get the blankets reasonable dry. They weren’t too wet what with the body heat and fire the night before.

My blanket felt better than it ever had before as I rolled up in it after telling Cicero to wake me at something that resembled one in the morning. He had taken a look at the Big Dipper and said, “Goodnight, Boss.”

I awoke to see Shorts on watch and the night very dark. The Dipper showed it was close to 4 or so. I let him keep watchin’ and rolled over to find a more comfortable position in the damp needles.

Cicero kicked me gentle like. “You gonna sleep all day, Boss?”

“I was trying to after I saw Shorts on the job.”

Shorts smiled, “Just tryin’ to be of some use. Let’s go get’em.”

We ate our water for breakfast and saddled up three tired horses. They complained a mite, but not enough to be aggravating. The sun was behind the mountain we were one as we worked our way to the tracks and, with Cicero out in the lead, we went after our prey.

My head or something was telling me that this was going to be a day, an eventful day. That’s all I could latch on to. It wasn’t as if it were going to be a bad day or a good day, just an eventful day.

We rode into it with our minds and guns ready, like soldiers I would say.

Within minutes we saw their smoke and smell the breakfast cooking. Oh, was that an bodacious smell. I drooled. Cicero shook his head. Shorts just kept riding.

Right soon we came up on a cut to the left that was lined with boulders at the entrance. Shorts stayed on the trial and Cicero and I went to check it out. It was as close to perfect for our task as any place I’d ever seen. The gunmen could come right through the boulders and into the cut where we could take them on up close and personal. Even if things went sour there were two escape routes for us to back out through.

“Hey, Boss, it just don’t get much better than this.”

“I agree. Let’s get Shorts set up and then send out invitation to the party out.”

I rode down and got Shorts. Cicero got a smoky fire going for the outlaws to head toward and showed Shorts the place he thought the wounded man would work best in. It was right alongside of the main escape route. There was a crazy looking rock that was slick but not too slick. Shorts was set in position on the rock with lots of protection and a simple slide to the ground next to his horse. All he had to do was shoot until it was time to leave, turn and slide down landing on his good leg, grab the reins, and swing up with as little weight as possible on his bad leg.

Cisco got set at the spot he had picked out for himself which would us the same escape route as Shorts had. Me, I just parked my butt atop a rock dead in front of the trail coming in. The only bug in the ointment was the extra tracks coming and going on the trail, but that could easily have happened in we camped in the cut. All we could do was get ready.

I stood atop my rock and looked to Shorts. He nodded. Cicero stuck his arm in the air with a thumb up. There was nothing left to except start the party. The hammer clicked twice as I pulled it back. I aimed up the cut and let fly with on .44 round, immediately jacking the lever and then inserting a round through the loading chute. The .44 on my hip with the blood red cross on the grips had six rounds in the cylinder ready for a fight.

I prayed. “Lord, I don’t want to kill none of these men, but I think they aim to kill a woman, a defenseless woman. All of this is in Your hands. It surely isn’t in mine. Use me for Your will. Whatever, Lord.”

We waited.

We waited some more.

Four men made an appearance like magic out of the trees near the trail into the trap. The lead man pulled up and pointed to the tracks before swinging his arm along the trail to end pointing at the rocks. Another man motioned them on along the trail.

We had planned that Shorts would take the man on the left, Cicero would do the man in the middle, and I would take care of the man on the right. We never figured on four. I had estimated two. Cicero said three. Shorts said he didn’t care how many, he’d kill his share. We also agreed I would ask them to surrender before I fired. The two companions didn’t care much for that, but agreed that if one of them made a move for a gun, we would open fire.

They came forward as if it were a Sunday afternoon ride to check out a water hole or something.

I waited until they had passed the three entrance boulders and stood up. They didn’t see me concentrating on the trail like they were.

I yelled, “Surrender or die.”

All four looked at me and grabbed for their guns. Three rounds hit them with the shots sounding like one. The survivor of that blast caught three slugs just as his gun was coming to bare on me.

Cicero slid off his boulder and eased into the death scene. One at a time he checked them for life. He looked up, “This one is still breathing.” It was the one on the left. Shorts swore loud and clear. “He won’t last long though. He’s shot through both lungs from the looks of it.”

Cicero bent over and kneeled next to the man putting his ear to the man’s face. Moments later he arose. “He said he knew he should never have hung out with a man that would kill a woman.”

He bent to check again. “He dead.”

‘Three down and how many left’ ran through my mind.

We pulled the three to a spot where a boulder was in a position that the wind hollowed out a large hole under it. After stripping them of shirts, hats, guns and ammo, personal information, and money, we stashed them in the hole and stacked smaller rocks on top until they were well covered. Now we had four Winchesters, six Colts, and four fully equipped horses, all of which were top quality like most successful outlaws ride. Problem was, they had just gotten these back at the Bordeau ranch. Was Bordeau an outlaw? I might have to think on that awhile. All I knew was he wouldn’t be using that gun hand of his for a long time.

We backtracked the quartet to their campsite, which was abandoned. The fire had been drowned and steam was still rising.

FREE BOOK – The DEACON – Episode 18

“Just keep walking toward the fire.”

As I approached the fire, I saw Diane sitting on a log with her hands tied in front. She didn’t look too badly abused. She was still wearing the plaid shirt even though the hem was looking a mite raggedy. The look on her face told me she just gave up all hope. I knew better. There was a hope that never lets a gal down. It wasn’t me.

They tied me to a tree and gagged me. “We don’t need no sermons so we just goin’ ta make sure you cain’t talk. You must think you are really bad chasing a group like us. Read bad.”

I looked him in the eye and nodded as I tried to make my eyes smile. Once the tying was done they just walked away and left me there. Everson was nowhere in sight.

 

I WILL GO BACK AND PUT IN A MAGICIAN HIS FATHER KNEW THAT TAUGHT HIM A FEW TRICKS. You may think that’s cheating, but that’s the way it works when you are a pantser, writing by the seat of my pants.

 

When they tied me I had set my hands in the position the magician showed me back in Kansas City. I worked my hands a bit. By working my wrists flat together, I was able to gain a lot of freedom. Whether I could get my hands loose or not was another thing. There was going to be a showdown here shortly.

I knew they weren’t going to hang onto me for very long. As dangerous as they were I had beat them so far and they would want revenge and to make sure I wasn’t ever on their trail again. Don’t think I’m bragging here, it’s just the truth. Given half a chance, this orphan sitting across the fire from me would be free and they would all be in whatever condition I left them in after the escape. I could be dead alongside them, but she would be free.

It was as if she knew what I was thinking. She lifted her head and looked through the smoke at me with a pitiful smile on her face and shook her head. I nodded back. She just bawled all the harder. Her whole body convulsed from the sobs.

I had to do something before she had a total collapse.

The rag in my mouth was nasty tasting and caused me to try, without thinking about it, to shove it out and away from my mouth. As my jaw worked the bandana around my head began to slip downward. I was able to use my tongue to get the ball in my mouth moved above the head tie. I went into a shaking fit so I could dislodge it completely and drop it to the ground between my feet.

Something licked my hands.

The dog was here.

I froze wondering what to do now. I had a fighting partner in that dog. I looked over at Diane and nodded behind me. She looked at me, saw nothing, and went back to crying.

I laughed. I laughed out loud with the head tie on my chin. The whole bunch of supposed bad guys and outlaws jumped looking in every direction except at me. I said, “You big bad badmen all worried about a girl and a wanna be Christian preacher when nothing of this is going to benefit you one dollar’s worth. That fat man you work for is going to get it all and see to it that none of you live to tell about this. You will have killed a woman. They hang men for killing women out here, don’t they? Who wants to hang first.

“I have already killed and shot holes in a bunch of you. What? About half I’d say. You gotta kill me or there will be a witness to your killin’ a woman. You gotta kill her cuz that’s what the boss man wants.

“Why do you let that fat man boss you around like he does? He says go get a girl and off you go. He says kill the girl and you’ll do it. For what? Why? So the fat man can be rich while you work for $30 a month and food. Oh yeah, you’ll have to go steal the money he pays you with.

“Wait a minute. I have it. He wants a big ranch so he doesn’t have to outlaw any more cuz you guys have done all the killing and robbing and hell raising on the roads and in the cities around here. You get blamed and he is rich. Well, you better kill us now and scatter before he comes in and kills you off one at a time after he orders you to kill us. Or, you could cut us loose and get out of here. I do not lie. I will never tell anyone who any of you are.”

I quit. Then it hit me. They had listened and never tried to stop me. If I had been them with their evil minds, I would have just drawn my gun and ended all that speech. Instead, they had listened. They knew I was right. A few of them were looking at Diane shaking their heads. One was starring me in the eye.

“You know something, men. If you would get my Bible out of my saddlebags and cut my hands loose I could show you how to get forgiveness and change your life for eternity.”

I pulled my hand loose from the knots and brought both hands around to the front. “Just hand me by Bible, boys.”

It was like magic. Every one of them had a startled look on his face. Diane fainted and wilted into a pile across the log. Before my very eyes, this is true, the group of them wilted into the trees and began saddling their horses and leaving. I reached down to untie my feet before the rope around my waist fell to the dirt.

They didn’t leave us a thing to eat. One man walked back. “Ma’am, I am truly sorry for what I done. Please forgive me. I knew better.”

Diane was fuzzy. She looked at the man, old, wrinkled, and tears running down his cheeks, and just nodded her head.

“You been forgiven, cowboy. Now go and sin no more. If you’re looking for a job, see me in Denver in a week or two.”

He turned and walked away. He said over his shoulder, “I just might do that. I wanna hear more about this forgiveness stuff. My Ma usta talk of it when she drug me to the meetings. Shoulda listened, I reckon, shoulda listened.”

We listened as he climbed to the top of the hump. Once the sounds of them retreating were gone I went to Diane, “It’s over. We can go back to your ranch. How’s that sound?”

“You worry me. How do you just talk 16 men out of killing us and then calmly tell one you’ll get him a job and then tell me we’ll go back to the ranch, my ranch, and get things back to where they were. I was scared to death. They were going to kill me, but before they did, they were going to. . .”

“Stop. It’s over. There is nothing to fear except the usual things like snakes and such.”

She just looked at me like I was some kind of a loco lunatic.

“Diane, I have a God that is in charge. I am not in charge.” The dog walked up to me. “This dog came outta nowhere and has been in the middle of the whole thing. My horse belonged to the man who killed my Dad and that horse is a mind reader, or something of the sort. What just happened was me doing what that God I believe in told me to do. I don’t ever want to kill another man. That God allowed me to end this with no more killing. Who knows, He may have a good use for a few of them, just like he has for me. Where you were seeing no hope, I knew there was hope one way or the other. It was all up to that God.”

I hugged the dog and asked him to watch things for a bit while I got some shut eye.

Diane said, “You leave a dog on watch.”

“Yup. He can hear and see better than I ever have or will. Who else better to be on watch? Where’s your blanket?”

“I’ll get it.” She walked into the trees and returned, laid her blanket next to me and laid down on it. She pulled half over her. “Good night.”

I swear she was snoring before I even found my horse, let alone my blanket. I have no idea how long it took me to snore, but it was day light when I quit.

 

OKAY, YOU’VE READ THIS FAR. TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK OF THIS PLOT TURN.

23

 

We were half a day down the trail to the Rafter B when it hit me. The fat man hadn’t been there in the hollow. All those men were just hired hands, or at least working on shares. What happened to the fat man, Everson? How many men did he have still? Where were they? Was he still dead set on grabbing the Rafter B? There were a lot of questions and mighty few answers.

Long about mid-afternoon I saw a group of cows so I swerved off the trail to check them out. All were wearing the Rafter B except one old cow and a calf. The calf looked might stringy and the old cow didn’t have a bag to speak of. I shot the calf. Feeling bad about wasting a lot of meat, I rode off to catch Diane with only a hind quarter hanging on my saddle. We were going to have a meal tonight.

The sun was straight up the next day when we spotted the buildings of the Rafter B. “You wait here. I’ll check it out and wave bandana if it’s safe. Having to use the bandana reminded me I was going to have to get a hat next store we found, my head was frying through the hair.

No one was home. I waived my bandana and Diane joined me.

Other than dirt, the place was a mess. Coffee spills, dirty dishes, a broken chair, back door leather strap hinge at the top was busted, and the beds had been slept in with boots and spurs on. New spreads were needed on both beds. In the barn there were no oats left. The hay loft was a mess with cigarette residue all over the place. Did these clowns know nothing? Even I know better than to be in the barn, specially the loft, with a fire of any kind. The bunkhouse was a disaster. Food pieces all over the place and an obvious invasion of mice and rats destroyed the hominess of the place for me. I set up camp inside the barn next to Solomon.

Diane pointed out, “The two hands we left behind to watch the place are missing. My mother’s ring and my jewelry, cheap stuff, are all gone. The gun rack is empty. All the spare rounds are gone. I did find my dad’s hunting knife. It was stuck in the kitchen counter. From the looks of the counter, they left it there quite a few times. I will kill any of them I see. They killed my father and they have ruined this place, at least the memories. My mother’s tintype is missing. She was a beautiful woman and I’ll bet one of those cowboys is dreaming of her while he holds the picture up to the light. I’m sick, just plain sick of all this. Take me to Denver. I’ll sell the place to the meanest bunch I can find and go to San Francisco.”

“Let’s give it some time for the dust to settle before you make any big decisions. I’m not ready to go back to Denver quite yet, so I can stay here with you and help ya put it all back together. Light a fire and let’s eat.”

“There’s no food left except a few spuds in the root cellar. They broke all my canning jars, too.”

“Not too bad for only being here a few days or so. I wonder what the inside of the home ranch looks like.”

The sound of horses coming into the ranch yard called us to the window.

“It’s Buck and Shorts, the two hands we left here.” She turned and ran out the front door yelling the news and crying again.

The short of the story is that there were now three men and one angry woman on the place and Diane had turned a corner to be talking rebuild and make a go of the place. She knew there was money in the bank in Denver that she would have no problem getting when needed, and she knew the ranch had been making money. “So, why don’t we make it make more money? Dad always wanted to add a couple of line cabins along the edge of the heavy woods, one to the south and one to the west.”

“Excuse me, but wouldn’t it be better to find out what’s left of the herd and check out the graze before you start building projects for things that haven’t been done because they weren’t important enough. If there is no herd, there is no need for line cabins. If there is no herd, where did it go and how do we get it back,” the puncher named Shorts sounded like a wise man.

Standing not quite five feet tall in his high heeled riding boots, he still looked like a big man. Muscles rippled as he moved, his back was straight, the left side of his face had a deep purple bruise from a discussion with one of the outlaws when they rode into the place, and his clothes were well used up.

Buck was a good six feet tall, slim as a rail, and mad as a wet cat. “Them boys was talkin’ takin’ the cows, Mizz Diane. They’s gonna kill us till Shorts whipped their big man, not the fat one but the one that thought he could whip his weight in wolverines. Shorts showed him the error of his ways. After that we just saddled up and rode out. Ten to two left us no choice and they never even tried to stop us. I think most of the cows is over to west of here. Leastwise, that’s where we stashed the ones we found.”

Diane hugged them both, again. “Thank you, you both have a job here as long as there is a here.”

Ten hard days of riding showed us that most of the stock was still around. Diane figured she was a couple hundred short, but we hadn’t worked much to the north yet.

At dinner that night, I said, “We need supplies. That sack of oats Shorts here found in the barn has helped us, but it’s almost gone. Oatmeal mush and beef just isn’t my idea of great grub. It might keep our ribs from showin’ but it ain’t making me any fatter. A man’s gotta have a gut if he’s to be a big shot preacher, you know.”

Diane said, “Hush up and say the grace.”

Next morning Shorts and Diane rode for Denver while Buck and I started digging the cows out of the brush north of the ranch house.

Five or six miles to the north we found over a dozen cows bellowin’ without calves. All of them were bagged up to the leaking stage. “These here mama cows got calves somewhere. From the looks they ain’t nursed in two days. Two days ain’t much of a lead when it comes to trackin’ them baby critters,” Buck was angry. He pointed his horse north, writing big S’s in the dirt with horse tracks as he searched for the trail of them calves. The cows kept up their chorus of bellows as I rode off to join him. My S’s were made to the east of his, me knowing where the Lazy E was let me point right for it.

Half a mile later with the bellowing following us, Buck whooped and waived his hat. I waved the raggedy hat I found in the bunkhouse back at him and rode over. Sure enough, calf tracks separating from the cow tracks. The cows had been forcibly pushed back by two riders while three moved the calves north. While we were sorting out the tracks, the cows trotted on by us still bellowing.

“Let’s follow them,” Buck shouted.

I nodded and we were off at a pretty fair clip to keep up with the cows. They didn’t run far, maybe two miles at best, when we went over a rise and there below us in a patch of green grass with a trickle of water running through it, were a dozen calves. The cows called and the babies come a running.

One after another they hit a teat and commenced to sucking.

One after another they cried and backed off.

Looked at Buck, “That normal?”

“No.” He shook out a loop and laid it over the head of the nearest calf. “Get down there and lay that poor critter down so’s we can check it out.

FREE BOOK – The DEACON – Episode 17

Me, I just walked until I found another track closer to the trail and kept on going. I started singing ‘Amazing Grace’ as I rode along hoping to catch up before it was so dark I had a chance of missing her if she turned off.

“Who taught you to sing, cowboy?”

“My daddy’s star attraction,” was my answer.

“Got room on that horse for me?” She stood up right next to the trail not fifteen feet in front of me. The dog was at her side.

“Where’d the dog come from?”

“He’s been around off and on all day. Is he yours?”

I chuckled, “No. He belongs to him. No one is that dog’s master, unless he’s a hound from heaven and belongs to God.”

“Probably. Oh, it is good to see you up and about.”

“I’m feeling better, but I ain’t all the way there yet.” I stuck my hand out and down slightly, “Grab on and let’s get a bit further down the road before it is totally dark.”

She did and we loped along watching for something on our back trail and a place we could fort up and get some rest for the night. Just after it got really black, we crawled into a shallow cave. A rock wall about a third fallen, stretched across the mouth of the cave leaving an opening large enough for Solomon to get in. He refused the shelter and went out to dinner with the dog. The dog loved the place. I let her take the first watch at the rock wall to the front of the cave and I got some shuteye.

I awakened to a low growl from the dog. He was looking back up the trail and just rumbling under his breath. Diane was sound asleep leaning against the wall. Solomon was standing next to his saddle. We saddled in record time. I put Diane aboard Solomon and, leading the horse, I trotted down the trail. The dog disappeared so fast he might as well been smoke.

That running stuff is for the birds in or out of boots and I was wearing high healed riding boots. After a mile, I sent Diane on ahead with the horse and I took the rifle to set up a watch on the back trail. She got the small six gun. I didn’t think to give her extra shells for the gun.

After almost falling asleep in the first five minutes I was hunkered down to watch, I stood up. When I did a slug whanged off the rock right next to my head. The sound of a shot followed as I slid back down into my hidey hole. Taking a quick peek to see what I could see, I saw nothing. Someone else did. Another round went splat into the same rock. Either the first shooter moved or there was more than one. I went with two shooters.

I prayed.

I prayed for that silly dog to show up and for Diane’s safety.

I had checked the terrain before I hunkered down and knew they could not get past me without me knowing it or being dead of course. I was watching for the first and didn’t want to think about the second.

One man popped up and right back down just like a prairie dog after a long winter’s sleep. I didn’t move. He tried it again. I didn’t move. The third time he lost his senses, I killed them with a bullet through his head.

The second, third, and fourth outlaw returned fire. There were some angry because I had killed number one. I crawled to a second spot off twenty feet or so.

The new spot did give them a route to get by me without me seeing them, but I doubted if they could see it from their angle. The way they had followed us and not cut us off told me they didn’t know this area at all and who would unless they stumbled on it like I did.

While I was trying to make up my mind what to do next, the sound of four or five shots rattled off the mountains from the direction Diane had gone. It was time to go.

I flung three shots in the general directions of the outlaws and started around the corner of trail behind me. Once I was clear it was back to running again. Those gun dummies were sure trying to murder those rocks back yonder. Must have fired off at least a box of shells. I smiled. I wasn’t there.

 

The trail went uphill for a short distance and then topped out in a nice campsite situated in the saddle. A problem became very clear. Going down the other side I would be in plain sight for at least five minutes even if I ran. The trail went zigzag down the mountain with one level not twenty feet above the next. Every time I was going across I was like a shooting gallery I saw in St. Louis once with a bunch of ducks moving across the scene and the object was to shoot them down as fast as they popped up. I never got to try that, but my dad did and didn’t do very well. He could hit a target standing still, but he couldn’t hit the slow moving ducks that were larger than the bullseye he could hit standing still. I was hoping the men behind me were as bad as my dad.

They weren’t. The first one to shoot took a chunk out of my rifle’s butt leaving splinters hanging out for me to poke in my face when I brought the Winchester up to return fire. When I got to the next switchback I just kept on going straight ahead. There was a stream at the bottom of the hill, but it was a long way down there.

After I cut out about half the downhill of the slope, someone saw me and fired a couple shots that sent twigs and needles falling on my head. I turned straight down the hill and did fairly well until I was fifty feet or so above the stream where I tripped and pretended to be tumbling act all the way to the water. The water and I met with no introduction, just a noisy, wet connection. The rifle was still in my hand when I came up for air.

The dog was sitting on the bank.

I reached for him and he took off downstream along a hard rock ledge and disappeared around a rocky corner. He was trying to tell me something, of that I was sure. The trail got a washing as I trotted in his steps shaking out the Winchester and my .44. In no time at all I rounded another corner and ran into Solomon. Solomon without Diane. He had a bleeding spot on his hip that I checked. It was a grazing shot that probably hurt more that it was dangerous.

He actually looked like he was happy to see me. I know I was happy to see him.


21

 

My position in the saddle gave me confidence that God was looking out for me. I yelled, “Thank ya, Lord,” and kicked Solomon into a fast walk. It was a gentle kick.

Down the trail we found a spot where the ground was all torn up. Must have been the place where the shots I had heard were fired. Three fired rounds lay in the dirt and a piece of wet plaid cloth that matched the shirt Diane had on was lying atop a rock like someone had put it there on purpose. More trail markers from Diane? I wasn’t sure of this one.

The dog barked from downstream. We took off after him. This time I gave Solomon his head and let him go his own speed which, due to the narrow trail, wasn’t very fast. Horse tracks with dog prints over the top of them filled the trail. I could smell fresh dust. Another piece of shirt was hooked on a branch to the high side of the trail.

It was her.

I gigged Solomon telling him to move faster. He held to the pace he had. I let him, he was smarter about the trail than I.

We splashed through the stream and up the other side a bit before going down and across the stream again. After six or seven crossings, I could tell by the water splashed on the bank still soaking in that we were catching up. I pulled back on the reins, not wanting to run into them when they had the advantage and I wasn’t ready. It was a good thing I did.

Around the nest corner there they were, just crossing the creek again into a tangle of aspen and scrub. The one at the back jumped off his horse and unlimbered his long gun. He was pretty good. From about 200 yards, he planted that slug in the tree right next to my head. I mean not even a foot away. Needless to say, I hit the dirt.

From a distance came the shout of victory from the shooter. He was sure I was down and yelled he was coming to get my scalp. Someone else told him to come back, but he kept coming. I could have, but I didn’t take his scalp. He was dead from a gunshot wound when I left him.

I didn’t shoot him, it was the outlaws chasing me.

All I could do was pray and say, “Oh goody, bad guys in front of me and bad guys in back of me. How can I miss?” Right then the story of Elijah and his servant came to me.

Seems the king of the country next to Elijah’s home sent an army to kill him because of his good instructions to the army of Israel. The servant got up in the morning and saw the army of this king lining the hills around the town Elijah and he were in. The servant ran back in the house and told Elijah they were going to die, there was an army surrounding this little town. Elijah didn’t even get flustered. He just asked God to show his servant His army. God opened the eyes of the servants to see the army of God, which was huge and ferocious and more powerful than the king’s army. Needless to say, the kings army got dealt with right smartly.

“Okay Lord. Let me see your army.”

All I saw was the view between my horse’s ears and I wasn’t too happy with that. There was no army between Solomon’s ears, at least not that I could see.

We took off to get in the tangle of trees and scrub before the ones behind us caught up any more. I couldn’t believe my good fortune when there was no one waiting for us there. The tracks just kept on going. The dog tracks were still there on top of the horse tracks. A patch of cloth was on the ground partially buried by a hoof print. It looked to me like the dog’s print had uncovered a big part of it.

What kind of dog was this?

I stopped just inside the dense stand of aspen and scrub, turned my Winchester toward the men behind me, and took another outlaw out of action and of the saddle right. He fell next to the tree that had the slug in it that had been fired at me as I emerged from that opening earlier. He went down and the two horses behind him rode right over the top of him. His scream wasn’t pretty. I really do hate to see men die. God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform.

I know it’s Old Testament, but the Bible says that if you live by the sword, you will die by the sword. Somehow I was figuring that gun could be substituted for sword. But, then again, Jesus told his disciples that the time would come when they would need to sell their spare robe to buy a sword. Would gun fit there? I wasn’t sure. It sure seemed like God was setting up a bunch of bad men to stand in front of my gun. Would I die by the gun?

I quit thinking on the subject with that question.

Four shots were fired in my direction so I returned the favor with two rounds from the Winchester. Didn’t hit anything important, but it made me feel better. It also scattered the crowd behind me.

Solomon decided it was time to get us out of there. I had to hold the horse back or we would have smack dab into the tail end man ahead of us. We rode slowly along moving from cover to cover always keeping an eye on the back trail. I felt like a dumb kid first time he saw the big city and all the big buildings with his head swiveling as fast as possible.

As we rounded a corner on the trail I saw a fork. One path went up the side of the hill and the other stayed down along the creek in a bottom that was widening. From where I was I could not tell which branch the outlaws had taken with Diane. Both trails led to areas of wide open country. The bottom was wider and had fallen into a different type of growth, small trees far apart. The uphill branch was hanging on the side of the mountain by a hair, a very fine hair.

I crossed the creek through a mess of brush and saplings to get a better look at the uphill branch. There were no tracks on it. There were no tracks on the trail along the stream, either. The revelation was a strange and unfathomable to me as the Revelation of Scripture must have been to the human writers. How could this be possible?

It was a cinch they had not turned around. We would have collided. There was no sign of brushing out tracks on either path. They must have gone down stream walking the horses in the water. I took the path along the creek and began serious watching of both banks for an exit point. The problem became that I had to check out every solid rock exit point very carefully which meant I had to ride up every shelf and rock bottomed side cut until I could be sure they had not used it for an exit and started off in a new direction.

I had done two shelves and three side cuts before I hit the right one. It was a shelf of sandstone three feet wide and angled off uphill and away from the stream. There was a beautiful campsite centered on a flat red rock that would have made a great dinner table and kitchen next to the fire pit. I could see where someone not too long ago had set their saddle and blankets on the ground not too far from the fire and spent the night. A reasonably new flour sack was draped over a limb to confirm my findings.

That shelf went on for a ways, but fortunately, I saw two fresh strike marks where an iron horse shoe had recently hit the soft sandstone. About two hundred feet into it and there was a silver disc and a shred of plaid shirt. Diane was still thinking. Not too far after that point the tracks became clear as the path hit damp clay and I could pick out individual horse’s prints.

From the length of strides and position of the tracks I got to thinking they had started moving faster, but like a bunch of dummies they were going uphill and were going to tire their horses much faster. Having been on the trail for some time and on tired horses, they needed to find a campsite right soon or kill their horses.

The trail rounded a corner and started going down, at the bottom was a plume of smoke. Someone had just lit a fire of wood that wasn’t very dry and I had a real good idea who it was. Sitting in the trail was the dog. The location was ideal if they hadn’t started the smoke pouring into the sky. There was a ten acre hollow filled mostly with threes so close together you couldn’t see very far into the patch of woods.

Looking around offered me no way out of the fix I was in now. Thinking on the crowd behind me and the location of the ones with the smudgy I was the meat in the sandwich. ‘Charge, always charge,’ rang through my head. Solomon started walking down the hanging trail into the hollow as the dog stood and trotted into the woods. I lifted the rifle out of its scabbard and check for a round in the chamber and a full magazine. That was about as ready as I could get.

Nobody challenged us in any way as we approached the thick woods in the hollow. The dog came out of the trees and moved toward the creek we had been following, disappearing around a pair of rocks. Still no challenge. Behind the rocks I found the dog laying down in a sunny patch of sand in the bottom of a dried up pool not six feet from a drop off into the stream thirty feet below.

So, now I was not the meat in the sandwich. I had a hidey hole just big enough for the three of us as long as only one of us stretched out at a time. It was defendable, but it would be a fight to the death, there was no exit except the entrance. I sat myself in the entrance behind a clump of brush I pulled out at the side and moved to block the entrance and waited.

Within moments, a man walked out of the woods not a hundred feet from me. I could have shot him with the greatest of ease except for the idea that it would blow my cover. There was no way I was gonna do any shooting until the followers caught up and joined up with the ones in the woods with Diane. Then and only then would I know how many and where they were.

Solomon nickered twenty minutes later. The horses in the woods responded and so did a horse coming over the hump into the hollow. Both sides thought the nicker came from the other group of friends. The following group of men saw the smoke in the hollow and pulled their rifles out in preparation of finding me. I had to chuckle at that idea. Unless there was a trail out the other side, and I hadn’t seen one, I had them bottled up real nice. Of course I had no way of stopping a concerted charge of the whole bunch of them even if every shot was a killing shot. With ten rounds in the Winchester and six in the pistol, I’d be two bullets short of dealing with the crowd I figured was down there. Twelve men had just ridden in. From the sounds of things whooping and hollering down there, they must be old friends.

Two men walked to the edge of the woods and began walking back to the ridge on the trail. They were posting guards and the fox was already in the hen house. I guessed there wasn’t a decent tracker in the bunch if they didn’t see my tracks coming up that rise before the hollow.

Two hours later the dog woke me up with a paw on my lap. I looked around to see two more men coming from the woods with rifles in their hands, walking up the trail with rifles in their hands. The changing of the guard was nothing fancy like I’d read about in the paper a couple years back, but that is what they did. I went back to sleep figuring the dog and horse were gonna be on lookout.

I was wrong.


22

 

I was awakened by a gun prodding my ear and a voice, “You listen here, boy. I will blow your head off if you move sudden like. Keep your hands where they are a Lefty gathers your armament.”

I did.

“Now, stand up slowly, very slowly.”

I did.

“Walk on out here.”

I did.

“Lefty, get the horse and keep him covered from behind.”

He did. At least I suspected he did. I could hear Solomon walking not too far behind me as we walked out of the hidey hole and down to the tree line where we were met by three real bad men who welcomed me with a heavy handed slapping up-side of my head. I pretended to be knocked out and fell to the ground.  They kicked me until I got up.

The voice with the gun said, “Stop. Boss man wants him alive and whole. If he screams loud enough the girl might sign the papers.”

I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut. “Not if I have any say in this. She won’t.”

“Then she’s gonna die, preacher.”

Oh, so at least one of them had seen me in Denver or someplace earlier. “Lefty,” the speaker was behind me, “Did you listen to the sermon?”

“Yeah. Didn’t like you sayin’ we’s all sinners. I ain’t never sinned in my life, yet.”

“Did you just join this gang?”

“Nah. Did most of the horse wranglin’ for the ranch until you come along.”

“You must feel right proud riding with outlaws that are trying to take a ranch away from a woman after they killed her father, right proud.” He hit me in the back of my head sending my hat flying.

FREE BOOK – The DEACON – Episode 14 -Fresh, unedited during Nanowrimo

“I’d rather not, but I gotta eat. Ain’t had nothing since they killed that man back on One Horn Creek. Les should be back in a minute or two. He don’t like that food any more than you. I’m getting . . .” He walked away grumbling.

The Deacon a quick prayer of thanks and opened the door.

The two barrels of a shotgun looked like tunnels. “Get back out where you belong. I told you men, no one comes in this house without my invite. Get.” It was the fat man.

Daniel turned and walked out.

“Don’t that beat all. I get right up to the man and he’s got the drop.” The Deacon walked away from the back side of the house as he saw a man coming his direction. He dropped behind the ruins of the jail shack Diane had been in before. There was not much of it standing after someone had destroyed it. He laid there until the sun’s light no longer did much for the guards.

The man knocked on the door. The fat man answered. They talked for a minute or two. The only words the Deacon caught were, “then someone else is in this area, find him.” just before the door slammed in the man’s face. The man ran to the front of the building shouting order to everyone he passed.

Two men trotted around the house and set up station at the back door. Others went running everywhere, but no one thought of a tumbled down shack in plain sight. The lookouts were sent out to at least three points and a couple of men were put on the roof of the bunkhouse, which had a roof higher than any other building. The voice of the fat man shouted, “Take him alive and we’ll teach him to leave us alone.”


 17

 

Surveying the area left few options for the Deacon. He could stay where he was or move and hope it would work out better. Just as he decided to stick until he could see really well, all havoc broke out. A man came running down the hill behind the house towing a horse. That horse was Solomon. Now he knew he had to do something.

The fat man came out of the house, listened for a moment and started shouting orders about searching the place with a flour sifter if he had to, but he was getting the man who owned the horse. The fat man lined everyone up in two lines facing opposite directions. The lines were anchored on the house at one end and the bunkhouse at the other. The men were spaced far enough away from each other that they could see each other and all that was between them.

He yelled, “Move straight ahead and comb every spot and pile and building on the place. I’ll get the house and the area behind it. Hawkins, you get the area behind the bunkhouse.”

“Yeah Boss,” was the only reply.

The Deacon knew he would be found in about 25 steps. He rolled sideways away from the building until he hit a dip he could not roll out of. Gathering his feet underneath his body he lunged and ran as fast as he could for the tree line a good quarter mile away.

A man shouted, “There he goes,” and threw a couple of quick shots into the night.

The Deacon ran like he had never run before, except maybe the time he got caught in the melon patch. He laughed as that thought went through his mind. Shots were coming at a steady rate behind him, but nothing was hitting very close. The sound of men running soon disappeared in the sound of horses running.

He stopped and turned, gun in hand.

Six horses were just passing the running men. Only three of the horses had riders allowing the runners to attempt to catch and mount the free running horses. He watched one man swing into the saddle by grabbing the horn and then sail all the way over the horse making a hard landing the dirt.

He fired two shots and moved quickly to the left as far as he could without losing too much of the lead. He turned and ran, shots were hitting the dirt where he had fired. In moments he saw a shallow ditch to his left and angled for it. It was too shallow for his purposes. The trees were closer, but still out there a ways.

The poofs of dust were getting closer. He realized he was running over a hump and the stars were behind him in the view the outlaws would have. Cutting his angle back to the right, he willed himself to go faster as he prayed deep in his mind. ‘Lord, this is a bit more delivering that I had asked for. If I had another choice, I’d ask for them to all fall down and let me get to the trees.’ He looked back. They were still coming.

He stopped, turned, and let fly with two more rounds. The rider fell off the lead horse. The Deacon ran. ‘This ain’t getting no easier, Lord. I know you said that vengeance belonged to you in your book. So, you wanna take your vengeance on these sinners, please? Any time now would be fine.’

He found more energy and kicked his feet out in front a bit further with each stride. Before he really thought about what to do next, he was in the trees. A sharp turn to the right seemed appropriate, so he did. He saw the ditch just in time to jump it and get a great idea from it.

A large tree 50 yards further became his barricade. He turned. Punched out the fired rounds and poked 4 rounds in as replacements. Looking back where he had come from, he could see three riders entering the trees. They would go past him if they continued that direction and he would be covered on two sides. Not a good position when a man is afoot and the chasers are on horses.

He fired three shots directly at the lead man who fell forward over the neck of his horse. As the wounded man hung on, the other two drew up. The Deacon fired one more round. He hit nothing but the air it passed through as far as he could tell, but it had the desired effect. The two riders turned toward him and ran their horse into the ditch.

The Deacon ran back and with a heavy hand smacked both men with the barrel of his .44. They both ended on the dirt in disorganized piles. The horse both had broken legs, the Deacon shot them and quickly reloaded. “One of them could have come through this with four good legs, Lord. I would be riding now, but thanks anyway. You’re in charge and not me. Where to now?” he said to the sky.

All he heard was, ‘Whistle.’

He did.

He also worked his way through the trees further away from the runners. As he was ready to fall down and take a rest, he heard the sound of horse’s hooves coming from direction of the ranch. The sky was beginning to look a bit gray allowing a bit better sight in the thick wooded area. The way out was going to be too well lit in a matter of minutes and he would have no chance against the riders coming.

A whiny sounded.

“Solomon?”

Another whiny.

“Solomon. Here boy. You good looking devil you.”

The horse extended his muzzle. The Deacon gave it a quick pat and then swung into the saddle. His spurs just naturally gigged the horse’s ribs none too gently. The horse took off, swerving right and left around the trees at a clip that caused the Deacon to lie down on his neck and pray the horse was smarter than he was.

When the Deacon realized there were no more trees whizzing by, the sky was light enough for even a human to see the trees in spite of the forest. There was just one problem, there were no trees and the two of them were running horse belly to the ground across a large open flat area.

Shots sounded behind him. He turned. They were so far away and off the horses trying for a luck rifle shot. Nothing landed anywhere near.

The Deacon eased back on the reins and said, “Easy there, big boy, we got a ways to go and there may be more coming.” He was checking the surroundings as he spoke and the hills to the right looked like the best option.

‘It was going to be a long ride around the Lazy E in order to get in position in order to save that gal,’ he was thinking.

Not a soul stirred on the grounds of the Lazy E as the Deacon stood in the middle of the yard that had bristled with men 12 hours before. The .44 was hanging in his limp hand as he looked around. Tracks all over indicating a lot of moving around told the story of a rapid evacuation of the grounds.

He entered the last building in his search, the house shack. The stench of old sweaty men’s bodies was mixed with the gentle fragrance of a woman. He checked the only other room to find a bed, if you want to call it that, covered in a tick mattress that was more lump than mattress. No woman’s things were left out in the open that he could see right off. A shiny object caught his eye. He picked it up, a concha. A concha from the belt the girl had been wearing.

He stuck it in his vest pocket and left the ranch site with a new zeal to get that gal out of the hands of the Lazy E.

After riding a mile straight away from the buildings, he did a circle all the way around. Tracks showed that the men leaving had left in groups of two and three, all going in different directions. “That ain’t gonna work, boys. All I gotta do is follow one of you and I get to the meet up spot. The question I have is, which one of you has Diane with you?”

He followed each set of tracks back to the ranch one at a time. On the third one just hundred yards or so from the house, he found another concha. It matched the one in his vest pocket. He pointed Solomon’s nose along the direction of the tracks and kicked Solomon into a steady, ground eating gallop.

Within two hours it was easy to tell that the horse was about done in. The Deacon saw a small trickle of water coming from a seep into a water carved basin just a dozen feet off the trail and stopped. “Not the best place to camp, but it works.”

The horse nudged the water and sucked what was in the basin, which wasn’t much, and then walked toward some dried grass still standing beyond the seep. From the strength of the trickle of water, it was going to be an hour or so before the basin would be filled again. Both horse and rider settled in for a nap.

They had not gone very far after resuming the tracking, when the Deacon got a revelation. The three horses he was following were headed for the gal’s ranch. The man grumbled, “Wish I knew the country. It’d be nice to swing around and beat them there.”

Not a mile more the horse stopped. The Deacon looked around and tried to get him to keep on the trail which was pointed at a group of mixed aspen and fir on the far side of an open area. Every time the Deacon would pull his head straight on, the horse would turn to the right. The man let him go the way he wanted which was the downwind side of the grassy meadow the Deacon was trying to get him to cross.

Not but a few moments into the circle, the strong smell of smoke came to them. “Is that a camp or a rest spot, Solomon?”

The horse bobbed his head.

They travelled on until the Deacon caught the hint from the horse that it was time to turn back to the trail which brought them to a spot where the fire and the movement of men around the fire were seen. “Looks like they’re in for the night. Got’em a brush shelter, for the lady of course, and a chunk of meat on the fire. They musta brought that with them. There haven’t been any shots fired since this morning at the ranch.”

He dismounted and started toward the fire.

Half way to the fire he heard a noise off to his right. As he turned his head swiftly in that direction, his world went crazy. A dizziness hit him, his eyes refused to focus, and the day went dark as he fell to the dirt.

He woke up to the sun on the other side of the sky. He had been out all night. Trying to stand was a comedy show in itself. A whistle brought the horse after he checked in the direction of the fire to find nothing there. The horse walked up behind him as he was checking his gun. He turned quickly and the dizziness hit again, only this time he grabbed a tree and held on it and consciousness at the same time. Solomon looked at him as if to agree the Deacon had a problem.

The Deacon took inventory. He had been shot. He had fallen. He had not eaten for two days. The combination was obviously dangerous for him. Cogitating on all of it brought back a memory of a time when Evelyn had been climbing the steps into the caravan when his father had opened the door in a powerful hurry catching Evelyn in the head. Evelyn had gone down hard, landing on the back of her head. She was dizzy and out of sorts of a few days. His dad was mad because she could not sing and draw the crowd.

Dad had called her problem something that was hanging on the back of his mind. A concussion. That’s what his problem was, a concussion. How long would it last? How many times would he fall? How was he going to rescue the gal if he kept sleeping for many hours at a time? Something about sleep rang a bell. Someone with a concussion was not supposed to got to sleep for a day or so.

Well, he had stayed awake for a couple of days so he should be all right. But, he was not all right. Why?

“Solomon, we got a problem.” The horse bobbed his head.

“Is that the only answer you have?” The horse bobbed his head.

“Forget it.” He took the reins and walked into the campsite. Another Concha was lying in the dirt just under the edge of an emerging fern curl. Next to it was the ‘Rafter B’ scratched in the dirt.

He had been right. Now all he had to do was get there. Something else caught his eye. On the fern curl was a spot of what looked like blood. Her blood? Was she trying to show that she was hurt or being hurt?

“Come on, Sol, we got places to go and no time to get there.”

He let the horse set the pace.