Clay Brentwood rode easy in the saddle as the black stallion stretched its legs across the desert of southern New Mexico, enjoying his freedom from the limited space of the coral.
The man he carried was headed toward a group of tall hills in the near distance that hid and protected a small valley filled with knee-deep grass and a crystal clear lake. The small lake was fed from some unseen source and stayed full of cool, clear water year round. Hidden from prying eyes and sheltered from the harsh desert winds, it was ideal for what Clay had in mind.
Clay found the valley a couple of months back while he was exploring the land owned by his new boss, Señora Christina Ontiveros.
After exhausting his vengeance on the Beeler gang, Clay was at a loss as to what he was going to do now. Señora Ontiveros had offered him the job of Segundo on her ranch and he had taken it.
The ranch hands, mostly Mexican, had accepted him when they learned he spoke their language. Plus, he could out-ride or out-rope any of them, and had whipped two of them in an old-fashioned knock down drag out fight. Both were no-goods that were hired for their guns when the Beeler gang had been raiding the stock and killing the ranch hands. But now that the Beeler gang was no longer a threat, they were nothing more than money being thrown into the wind, and he told them so when he fired them and they had taken umbrage. Continue reading
A passel of kids scattered, several of them darting in front of my horse. The animal pranced, but I got him under control with a firm hand.
The crack of a fist on flesh drew my attention to two struggling boys.
A strapping big man wearing big overalls offered encouragement from under the awning in front of the mercantile. “Good punch, son. Hit him in the stomach!”
The victim of the fight appeared to be several years younger than the larger boy and was making no attempt to fight back. When the bully drew back his fist again, I’d seen enough.
Reaching down, I picked the kid up by the back of his shirt, rode several paces with him screaming and kicking, and then deposited him in the water trough. He came up sputtering.
“Hey!” The big man stepped down off the boardwalk. “Get down off that horse and I’ll…”
I swung my leg over the animal and dropped to the ground. “And you’ll what?” Continue reading
Jimruck waited on his belly under the junipers at the rim of the draw with two loaded Springfield 1873s and as the posse filed in below he fired nine times. When the dust of the rearing horses swirled away, five of the six men who rode in were sprawled on the soft dirt floor of the draw along with two mounts. The sixth man had crawled out of sight. Jimruck kept the Springfield shouldered but the sixth man didn’t appear. After a good half hour he lowered it and reloaded both Springfields by feel.
It was going to be a hot one. He could see the four remaining mounts foraging a few hundred yards beyond the mouth of the draw, hazy in the gathering heat. The sixth man wouldn’t have had time or thought to grab for a canteen. If he hadn’t made a move by sun fall, Jimruck would stalk him out down the rim. Jimruck doubted it’d come to that. The sixth man would see his horse out there and get plenty thirsty. Jimruck would have a clear ride south soon as this was finished. A no-dot town like that one couldn’t have come up with more than six men for a posse.
All this over some girl barely out of pigtails. She could tell what kind of man he was. She never had to follow him to the jakes. One of these days he’d lay off the womenfolk. It never came to no good and there wasn’t no profit in it. Jimruck guessed if ever he did lay off he wouldn’t go scouting around every town for escape routes, like this draw, before he headed on in. That day would come. The sixth man down there was wishing today was it. Well, it wasn’t. Jimruck rested his chin in the dirt. He was settled in right comfortable.
Court Merrigan’s short story collection, MOONDOG OVER THE MEKONG, is out soon from Snubnose Press. He’s a Spinetingler Award nominee with stuff appearing or forthcoming all over. Links at http://courtmerrigan.wordpress.com. He also runs the Bareknuckles Pulp department at Out of the Gutter and lives in Wyoming with his family.
Nobody said it. Not Briggs or Gillespie. And sure as hell not Mr. McClain, who wasn’t even there having this conversation with them in a small clap-board tavern off the main street. Called the Buffalo Head, the place had gotten its name from its most prominent decoration, an impressive trophy mounted on one wall. The tavern also happened to be one of the few in this section of town that McClain didn’t own — at least not on paper.
None of them said the actual words, “Go kill that chinaman, Dickie.” But to Dickie Sloane their statement of his mission was as clear and as cold as the creek water running down from the snowpack on Mount Whitney.
“Here,” Briggs said. “You’ll need this.” He slid a well-worn derringer across the table to Dickie. A small pistol with two short .36-caliber barrels, over and under, it felt surprisingly heavy in Dickie’s hand. Fully loaded, the derringer held just two shots. Dickie had heard the derringer called a lady’s pistol, but that didn’t matter to him because using it was going to make him the man he had always wanted to be. Sure as shooting, it would. Dickie was flattered to find out the big man, Mr. McClain himself, knew who he was. He’d been so happy at this news he would have turned down cash payment anyway, but he was more than willing to accept the alternate payment they offered him. Six months worth of free tumbles at the Blushing Rose.
“Keep it hid,” Gillespie said. “Till you’re ready.” Continue reading
The black stallion, its head held in regal splendor, danced down the dusty street less than two hours after the sun brought news of the coming day.
On his back, a tall man with a tied down colt on his hip rode easily in the saddle, looking neither left nor right, yet his eyes, shaded by the brim of his hat, missed nothing.
Reining in at the sheriff’s office, the man ground hitched the stallion, knowing the big horse would stand quietly, waiting for his master to return.
“Where can I find the sheriff?” the stranger asked of an old man sweeping the sidewalk in front of the sheriff’s office.
The old man had a bent back and watery eyes. He leaned on his broom and eyed at the stranger and his horse. “Down to the cemetery. The Beeler gang shot him four days ago.” Continue reading
Some of the children in town called him Colonel Tom. He was never a Colonel. It was one of the many reasons he avoided town: the looks from the children, the looks from everyone. The only reason he even went into town anymore was to get his bottle of morphine. The rest of the time he was stuck at his shack in the Sweetwater Woods. The creek trickling by could barely be classified as water, let alone sweet, but it was his and only his, as far as he could tell.
The Great War for Southern Independence had been over for almost six years now; he was sure he could still smell the carcasses of his comrades buried in shallow graves near his home, the shack. Forgetting the war was getting easier and easier, but the smell would still haunt him. There were cool nights when the sickly sweet stink would compel him to pull up his floorboards, searching for a dead rat or possum, only to find dirt and pebbles. On warm days he’d scrub himself raw in the muddy creek, thinking the offending smell might be coming from him.
The days passed quickly on the morphine. It was the days without the drug that were torturous and slow. But even when he felt his best, there wasn’t much time to get things done. The sweeping, the chopping … all waited till they absolutely had to be done. He never cooked till he was too hungry to wait any longer. His musket stood still now; he couldn’t afford the shot or the powder. He hunted only with traps, often waiting too long to check them and finding the meat spoiled. But it was only himself he had to look after, and he didn’t pass judgment on his sloth. Thomas knew that he still worked hard. He worked for the morphine. Continue reading
Hours after the fire, people continued to wander the ruins – their thoughts lost in the swirling wisps of smoke drifting from blackened rubble and scattered debris. They were in Texas, circa 1890, and each of them knew that change was coming to Neverton, a small community along the cattle trail to Fort Worth.
In the saloon, Vernon Carter’s eyebrows lifted heavily. “As mayor, I’m tellin’ you gents we have at serious problem confronting us.”
He paused a moment, his eyes moving from face to face, studying the other two men on the town council. In appearance, he was an older man with rosy cheeks and a weather-beaten face.
“In fact,” he continued, his voice barely above a whisper, “Our town will dry up to nothing unless we come up with some serious thoughts. As I see it, things are about to change faster than a fellow can spit. We need to get our heads together and think out a solution.” Continue reading