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Authors: Robert J. Thomas

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BOOK: Brother's Keeper
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“Down to visit your friend, the sheriff.”
“What for?”
“You’ll see. Now get up and don’t make me say it again or I swear I’ll just plug you right there in your seat and that would save me a whole lot of aggravation.”
York got up and walked out of his office and Jess headed him down towards Sheriff Newcomb’s office. York walked into Newcomb’s office first with Jess right behind him. Newcomb was getting himself a cup of coffee when he heard them come in and turned around. His smile quickly turned to a frown when he saw Jess. “I didn’t have anything to do with those men who tried to kill you today,” said Newcomb, trying to defend himself.
“You sure were quick to point me out though, weren’t you?”
“They already knew who you were, honest,” Newcomb replied, nervously.
“It doesn’t matter now anyway. Get your keys and pick a cell for the mayor here.”
“You’re going to lock up the Mayor? You can’t do that.”
“I’m getting awfully tired of you telling me what I can or can’t do. The way I see it, I can do anything I want to do as long as I’m willing to die for it. Now get the keys and pick a cell before I start to work on that nose of yours again.”
Newcomb put his hand over his still bandaged nose and knowing there was no point in arguing with Jess, he got his keys and picked out a clean cell and opened the door. Jess pushed York into it and York sat down on a chair in the cell.
“You’re next,” said Jess, as he removed Newcomb’s pistol from his holster.
“Huh, what…you’re locking me up too?”
“You catch on real quick. Get in there with your partner. I don’t have any time to fool around with the two of you and I’m not going to give you the chance to help Carter when he gets here.”
Newcomb got into the cell with the Mayor and closed the cell door. Jess made sure it was locked. Then he took Newcomb’s gun and broke the key off in the lock. He looked at both men who were now seated. “The next time I lay eyes on either one of you, one of two things will happen. One, you’ll both be on a horse riding out of town, or two, and don’t ever doubt this for a second, the undertaker will be fitting you both for a pine box, understand?” Both Newcomb and York nodded in the affirmative, Newcomb still with his hand over his nose as if somehow shielding it.
Jess walked out and stood out in the middle of the street. He looked up and the sky was a beautiful blue color with just a hint of hazy clouds up high. He spotted Tony up on the roof of the livery and Andy in the window of the saloon. He looked over at Smythe’s General Store and saw Jim Smythe sitting on the porch with a double-barrel. I sure hope he doesn’t shoot his foot off,” Jess thought to himself, after remembering what Sara had said.
“Well,” Jess said to himself, “it’s a good day to die— for Dick Carter.”

Chapter
Eight
I

T WAS ONE OF THOSE PEACEFUL
serene days that made people feel good to be alive. The sky was beautiful with a rich blue color to it and

just a hint of faint clouds high enough to dress it up without blocking any of the sunlight. It was all lost on Dick Carter, though. He didn’t see any of the sunlight. He didn’t see any of the rich blue sky. All he saw was dark looming clouds and all he could feel was hatred down deep in his dark and brooding soul. A seething hatred that caused his head to slump slightly lower than normal and made his eyes look into some strange beyond that no one else could see because it wasn’t really there. He now realized that the four men he had sent into town today had failed and were most likely dead.

Dick Carter was sitting on the front porch of his sprawling ranch home. Deke Moore was sitting on a chair opposite the front screen door, carefully watching his boss slink into that strange beyond that Deke could not see and yet he knew it was there; at least it was for Dick Carter. Deke was waiting for what he knew was inevitable, and he knew he wouldn’t have to wait much longer. He tried not to stare at Carter but instead he would just glance over to his left every few minutes and try to read the look on Carter’s face. Carter was so deep into his dark thoughts that he never noticed Deke glancing at him even though he knew he was there on the porch with him. Deke was never too far from Carter. Deke was the best man Carter had with a gun. He was twice as fast as any of the other five men Carter had picked to go into town with him this afternoon. Deke’s job was to keep Carter alive first and foremost. Beyond that, he would kill anyone Carter told him to kill. It didn’t matter to Deke if it was an unarmed man, woman or even a child. Deke was simply a hired killer with no conscience at all. The consequences of his actions had long ago been lost on him. He just didn’t care anymore.

The other five men who would ride into town with Carter today were all good with a gun and all quite experienced at killing. They were men who would not hesitate to shoot and would give no quarter to any man. Homer Densley and Butch Ramsey had come to work for Carter recently. They had heard that Carter was hiring gunslingers and paying well. They had been working together as bounty hunters for a few years before coming to Carter about two months ago. They were both looking forward to their share of the three thousand dollars.

Vic Nalley had been with Carter the longest. He had been a field hand for about five years with Carter and had honed his skills with a pistol to the point that Carter decided to pay him as a hired gun. The pay was much better and there wasn’t much labor involved. Most of the time was spent sitting around waiting to run off the next rancher or possibly killing some poor soul who was either brave enough or dumb enough to defy Dick Carter’s wishes. Nalley had welcomed the move.

Nick Priestly was the oldest of the bunch. He wasn’t the fastest with a pistol, but he was probably the most dangerous of the lot. Some said he was so mean that he already had a reserved seat in hell. He had killed his share of men and raped his share of women. One of the most talked about stories around the ranch about Nick was the one about the whore he had pleasures with one night. At the end of the night, he beat her to death with the butt of his rifle just for charging him a little more than what he thought he should pay.

Warren Malarky was a young Irish lad who had worked as a gunman for the last two years. He had a good sense of humor and was always telling jokes around the campfire. He had come from the East to escape murder charges after killing a man in his brother’s pub. All five of them were waiting in the bunkhouse for the order they knew was coming. They had all cleaned and oiled their weapons and made sure they were loaded and had extra ammo for all of them. It was a ritual that they performed often. A hired gunman relied on his tools of the trade and if they failed to keep them in proper working order and at the ready all the time, it could cost them their life. All that was left was to mount up and ride.

Dick Carter slowly rose his head up from where it had been hanging. He looked straight out in the direction of Black Creek. He stared out in that direction for a whole two minutes. Then, he slowly turned and looked straight into Deke Moore’s eyes with a cold hard stare. “Deke, tell the boys to saddle up and get my horse ready.”

Deke didn’t have to respond. He knew it wasn’t necessary. He simply got up from his chair and slowly walked over to the bunkhouse where the other five men were waiting. He walked in to find the five men sitting around and just chatting small talk. Deke stood just inside the door looking the five men over. He felt comfortable with them. Warren Malarky was the first to speak. “Is the boss man ready for his little ride into town?” Warren asked.

“As a matter of fact, he is. Mount up boys and get the big man’s horse for him. It’s time to earn our pay and maybe a big bonus.”

“I like the sound of that,” replied Warren.
“Especially that bonus thing,” said Homer.
“Just remember, this Williams kid is one tough

hombre. He might be young but he has put down some mighty fast gunmen already. You boys don’t give him any quarter at all. Just plug him when you get him in your sights,” Deke said, as he walked back out towards the house. He saw Dick Carter, who was standing now, checking his pistol out. Deke couldn’t shake the ominous feeling that would not leave him alone today. He wanted to try to talk Carter out of this whole business, but he knew there wasn’t the slightest chance of that. There was something that just didn’t feel right and yet he couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was. The one thing he did know for sure is that whenever he had that feeling, things usually went bad. But he was loyal to the bone to Carter and he would take a bullet for him. Carter had been very good to Deke over the years and Deke wasn’t the kind of man who would walk away from someone just because the going got tough. He walked up to the front of the house and looked at Carter. Carter holstered his pistol and walked down the two steps and over to Deke. He stared deep into Deke’s eyes as if trying to read what Deke was thinking. He could sense Deke’s uneasiness about the whole matter and the truth was he felt it too. Yet, all he saw in Deke’s eyes was loyalty. “Deke, let’s go kill that bastard who killed my boy.”

“You’re the boss,” Deke replied, “the boys are ready and so is your horse.” Without turning away from Carter, Deke waved his hand and the other five men mounted their horses and walked them over to where Deke and Carter were standing. Carter and Deke mounted their horses and Carter led the way into town. Carter had a strange look about him. It wasn’t so much a look of someone who was going to avenge a death, but more like someone who was going to their death. The other five men could feel it and they too wondered about it but the thought of three thousand dollars pushed it from their minds.

Jess made one final check around the town. Tony was up on the rooftop of the livery with his rifle. Andy was sitting just inside the doorway of the saloon and he had placed a heavy wooden table against the wall next to a window. He figured that would give him a little extra protection. Jim Smythe was standing behind his counter and had his double-barrel leaning up against the wall next to the open door. On a table next to it lay at least a dozen shotgun shells in a bowl. Jess also noticed another man up on the rooftop of Smythe’s General Store. He had a rifle and he waved at Jess. It was the man who had identified Ned Cullen. That made two rifles and two shotguns on his side and even though he wasn’t sure about how much help Jim Smythe or the man on his roof would be, but the extra fire would distract Carter’s men nonetheless. He felt more comfortable. At least as comfortable as any man who was facing down a bunch of murderous hired guns could be.

The ride to Black Creek started out as a slow and somber one. As they neared Black Creek though, Dick Carter’s ears got redder and redder and then his face began to take on a slight tinge of red color. There was a slow crescendo of hatred building up inside Dick Carter, driving him forward. Deke, who was riding next to him, noticed the change as well as the change in Carter’s pace. He was slowly pushing his horse faster until the horse was in a slow gallop. Then, as the buildings in Black Creek became visible around the last bend, Carter pushed his horse a little faster. The seven horses stirred up quite a dust cloud. Tony had just stood up to stretch a little when he noticed the dust. “Rider’s coming in!” hollered Tony, so as everyone could hear. “I count seven riders.”

Jess was on the opposite end of the main street from where Carter and his men were riding in. He was heading towards the spot he had picked out between Andy’s Saloon and Jackson’s Hardware. He heard Tony’s call and saw the dust at the other end of town. There was no time to get to the spot he was heading for and he quickly looked for any other cover. For a split second he began to head for the first building on his left and then he looked back down the main street and saw seven men riding abreast down the street as if they owned it. He could see that Dick Carter was in the middle of these men and he knew that they were all there for only one reason—to kill him. For some reason, and he never quite knew why, a sudden change came over him and he stopped in his tracks and turned to face the seven riders slowly coming towards him. He realized that he was putting himself in an extremely dangerous position and yet he just didn’t care. Rage began to surge in him as he thought about the unfairness of life. Here he was, guilty of nothing but killing Carter’s son for the cold-blooded murder of the previous sheriff of the town, and now seven men, six of whom he had never met, were getting ready to kill him for money. So, there he stood, right in the middle of the street, staring down at the seven men, not moving one inch. If you had been standing next to Jess you would have heard him say to no one but himself and in a strong and most deliberate voice, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” His strap was off his pistol and he had already picked out his first target—Dick Carter.

Tony had quickly ducked down out of sight but he had watched Jess turn to face down Carter’s men and he wondered if Jess hadn’t all of a sudden gone plumb loco. He remembered what Jess had said earlier about Carter so Tony trained his rifle on one of the other six men. Andy had moved to his spot next to the window and had his double-barrel trained on the men who had just ridden slightly past him. Jim Smythe was shaking in his boots, but he had his double-barrel sticking out the front window. He had never killed a man before, but he would if it meant saving Jess. The man up on Smythe’s roof had his rifle trained on the men also.

All of a sudden, Carter and his men stopped dead about one hundred feet from where Jess now stood like a statue. Everybody tensed and Tony put a slight bit of pressure on the trigger of his rifle and had it aimed right at the side of Homer Densley, although he had no idea who the man was and didn’t really care either. No one moved. It was as if for a moment or two, time stood still.

Dick Carter was staring straight down at Jess, his face the color of a red apple. Deke was looking around a little but since they had ridden slightly past them he didn’t spot any of the other men who were helping Jess. Homer Densley leaned over to his pal Butch. “Kid’s kind of stupid to just stand there and make it easy for us.”

“Ain’t no kid that stands down seven men in the middle of the street,” replied Butch.
“I ain’t ever seen anything like this before,” said Warren, “that boy must have gonads bigger than a bull.”
“What do you think he plans on doing, Butch?” asked Homer.
“Making us all rich,” replied Butch.
“I think you boys are right about that,” Malarky chimed in.
Deke was listening to the chatter and watching Carter’s face. He didn’t like the feeling he was getting and he leaned over to Carter and whispered to him. “Mr. Carter, are you sure you still want to go through with this? We could turn around and go on back to the ranch. There have been enough men killed already over this kid. He just ain’t worth it,” said Deke, sure that none of the other men heard him. Dick Carter never heard a word. He was in his own little reality where all he saw was Jess Williams’ body lying in the street riddled with bullet holes. All he could hear was Jess Williams screaming out in pain as he lay dying. A chill ran up Deke’s spine as Dick Carter began to move his horse forward at a slow walk. Carter had pulled a few feet ahead of the other men and they followed along still abreast and covering most of the street. “Look alive, boys,” Deke said, “I don’t like the feeling I got about this.”
“Let’s just shoot this little bastard and go have a drink,” grunted Nick Priestly.
“We follow the boss man’s lead and you know that Nick,” said Deke in a somewhat scolding voice.
Carter walked his horse straight at Jess and stopped within ten feet of where Jess was still standing, his feet seemingly planted to the ground like an oak tree. Everyone tensed again, waiting for the fireworks to happen. Deke and the other five men moved up to where Carter was. Jess kept his stare straight into Carter’s eyes but he still kept the other six men in his view. He had already spotted Deke Moore to Carter’s immediate left and he figured him for a quick draw by the looks of him. Jess had already figured by the discussion that this man was the leader of the other men. Jess decided that this man was his second target, with Carter being his first. For the second time in a few minutes, time seemed to stand still again. Carter leaned a little forward in the saddle and looked at Jess with as much pure hatred as any one man could muster. “You killed my boy, Jess Williams,” said Carter, his voice actually shaking from the seething hatred he felt in his heart for Jess.
Jess didn’t respond right away. Instead he shifted his glance to the three men on the right, and then to the three men on the left making sure his eyes locked on each and every one of them for just a second. Then, he turned his eyes back directly at Carter and Carter saw something that surprised even him. He saw more hatred in Jess’ eyes than he himself had ever felt, even at this moment. It was then that Carter realized that this young man before him was no kid, but a hardened killer of men. Yet, Carter could not turn back now; he had to finish this, no matter the outcome.
“Mr. Carter,” said Jess, “you have exactly one minute to turn around with your men and head back to the ranch and end this thing once and for all and I mean everything. That includes trying to have me killed, the bounty on my head and your grip on this town. If you don’t, I will surely kill you right there on your horse.”
Carter glared back at Jess. “Like you killed my boy? Well, I ain’t going to be so easy. I’m not going anywhere until your sorry ass is lying in a pool of your own blood right here in the middle of this god damned street.”
Jess cocked his head ever so slightly and you could see what looked like a hint of a slight smile beginning to form on his lips. “You know what, Mr. Carter? I wouldn’t have it any other way,” replied Jess, in a firm voice. Dick Carter began the movement of getting off his horse and what stopped him was what Jess had to say next. “By the way, Mr. Carter—your time is up.”
Then, Jess did something that was out of the ordinary even for him. Maybe he was just plumb tired of playing by someone else’s unwritten rules, or tired of playing fair with men who didn’t know the meaning of the word. Maybe it was the fact that he was facing off with six professional killers hired and paid for by Dick Carter of whom he had no beef with and maybe it was a combination of all of these things, but whatever it was, he had simply had enough.
Carter had no sooner righted himself in the saddle and was getting ready to make one more comment to Jess and then go for his pistol when Jess—moving at lightning speed—drew and plugged Carter square in the middle of the chest. Jess fanned his second shot at Deke Moore but Deke’s horse had been startled by the gunshot and jerked ever so slightly and the slug hit Deke in the left shoulder, knocking him out of the saddle. As soon as Jess had fanned his second shot he began running to his right to avoid being hit and to keep from getting hit from the fire that was beginning to rain down on the group of men still on their horses. The shots were coming from both directions as well as from above and from ground level. Deke hit the ground about the same time that Carter’s dead body landed. Shots were ricocheting everywhere. Tony had hit Homer Densley in the neck with a rifle slug. Butch Ramsey had taken a shot at Jess, barely missing him, when Andy’s double-barrel barked and blew him clean off his horse. Vic Nalley threw a shot at Andy and took a chunk out of the wood wall as the slug went through it and stuck solidly in the wooden table Andy had placed in front of him. Jess fanned a third shot and hit Nalley in the chest and he hit the dirt, dead. Nick Priestly had taken a few pellets from both Andy and Jim Smythe’s scatterguns but not enough to put him down, but enough though, to thoroughly piss him off. He threw himself off his horse just as a rifle slug from the man on Jim Smythe’s roof zinged past his head. As he hit the dirt he looked through the legs of the horses looking for Jess’ legs. He took a wild shot and the slug poked a hole in Jess’ left pant leg. The horses were scattering now and there was dust flying everywhere. As soon as Jess found an opening, he fanned two shots at Priestley. The first one hit him in the shoulder and the other one hit him in the top of his head, blowing half of his brains out of the back of his head.
Warren Malarky took a few pieces of buckshot but had not gotten off one shot yet. Slugs were whizzing past him in rapid succession and he quickly realized there was no hope. He figured that he might have a chance if he made a run for it and he spurred his horse and headed out at a full gallop away from the bloody carnage that was going on in the street. With his left hand, Jess grabbed at a rifle in the sling on Nick Priestley’s horse as it began to move away from the commotion. He put his pistol in his holster and then he levered a slug into the barrel of the rifle. He glanced at the other six men lying in the street to make sure they weren’t able to take a shot at him. Andy was running out of the saloon now and Jess hollered at Andy to watch the six men and then he lifted the rifle up and sighted it on the back of Warren Malarky who was now heading past Jim Smythe’s store blasting away with his pistol. Jim was trying to get behind the front wall when one of Malarky’s shots hit him in the leg. Jess fired and the .45-70 slug from the Winchester hit Malarky in the middle of his back, exiting out the middle of his chest and then hitting his horse in the back of the head. The horse’s front legs buckled and the forward momentum caused the horse to roll forward and flip onto his back, pinning the now dead rider underneath. Neither of them moved again. Jess threw the rifle down, pulled his pistol back out of his holster, and hollered out to Tony who was now standing on the roof watching everything.
“Tony, go and see if Jim’s okay!”
Tony didn’t respond, he just took off and headed down off the roof and over to see about Jim Smythe. Jess began reloading his pistol as he turned back towards the bloody mess in the street. He looked at Andy who was watching the only one left alive. Deke Moore had been dazed by his fall off his horse and the slug in his shoulder, but he was still very much alive. Jess looked over at Carter who now lay motionless in a pool of dark blood, which was already seeping into the dry dirt of the street. He looked at the other four men who lay dead in various grotesque positions scattered around the street, each in his own pool of blood. Then he looked back down the street at the dead man still pinned under a very dead horse.
“One hell of a shot there,” remarked Andy, as he too, looked down the street. Jess said nothing but simply nodded at Andy. It was then that Andy noticed something different in Jess’ eyes. There was a dark and foreboding look to them that Andy had not seen before. It actually made Andy a little uncomfortable. Jess holstered his pistol and Andy noticed that he didn’t put the hammer strap in place, which was unusual and out of the ordinary for Jess, which is why Andy noticed it. Jess turned his attention to Deke, who was now sitting up holding his shoulder. The fog in Deke Moore’s brain was beginning to clear now and he was beginning to feel the pain in his shoulder a little more. Jess stared deep into Deke Moore’s eyes as if trying to read something in the man. He found what he was looking for.
“What’s your name, Mister?” asked Jess.
“Deke Moore, not that it matters.”
“It matters.”
“To you maybe, not to me.”
I usually like to know the names of the men who try to kill me.”
“So now you know it and now you can kiss my ass.”
“I’ll pass on that.” Jess looked around at the dead bodies again. So did Deke.
“Those were all good friends of mine you killed,” Deke remarked.
“Maybe I killed them, but I’m not the one responsible for their deaths. Your boss there Carter is the one responsible for every bit of this. I didn’t ask for none of this,” replied Jess, anger rising in his voice now.
“Well, I guess that don’t matter now,” said Deke, “there are six men dead, just the same.”
“Actually, I count seven,” countered Jess, his face hardening even more.
“Kid,” Deke replied sarcastically, “you sure are good with that pistol, but your mama obviously never taught you how to count.”
“Actually, she taught me how to count to ten before I was five years old. Could you count to ten when you were five?” It took a full five seconds before Deke finally figured out what Jess was getting at. He looked over at his pistol lying in the street where Andy had thrown it. “I’ll tell you what kid, you give me my pistol and then we can face each other in the street like men, fair and square. My right arm still works fine. What do you say?”
“Well, Mr. Moore, It seems like the bad news is that you chased fair clear out of town when you seven men rode into town today to kill me. I got a hunch that fair won’t be back until sometime tomorrow.”
“Well, you ain’t gonna’ just shoot me, are you?” asked Deke.
Jess looked at Deke square in the eyes and that’s when Deke Moore saw it. “What do you think?” replied Jess. Deke lurched for his gun but it was too far away. Jess drew his pistol and put two slugs solidly into Deke Moore’s chest. Deke fell back into the dirt on his side.
“Jesus God Damn Christ!” hollered Andy. “You can’t just plug a wounded and unarmed man like that!” Jess holstered his pistol, but not before reloading the two spent cartridges.
“It seems as though I can—because I just did.”
“And you don’t feel even a little bit bad about it?” asked Andy, a confused look on his face. Jess looked down at the street where Warren Malarky lay dead pinned underneath his dead horse.
“Well,” replied Jess, “I do feel bad about the horse.” Andy cocked his head and gave Jess one of those strange looks.
“Well, I do. I like horses,” said Jess, defending his comment.
“You remember that thing I said before about thinkin’ you’re gettin’ a mean streak in ya?” asked Andy.
“Yeah?”
“Well, just so ya know, I ain’t wonderin’ about it anymore.”
Tony had been walking up to Andy and Jess when he watched Jess plug Deke Moore in the street. Tony stopped for a moment and hung his head and said “damn” in a whisper that only he could hear. He continued towards the bloody carnage in the street until he was standing in front of Jess and Andy. “Damn shame this had to happen like this but then again, we didn’t ask for it either,” said Tony.
“How’s Jim?” asked Jess.
“He’s fine. He took one in the leg but it went clean through. The Doc is with him now.”
“That’s good and don’t either of you two feel sorry for any of this. These men all came in here to kill me along with anyone else who got in their way. They got exactly what they deserved. You can be sure of one thing; I wouldn’t have been the last person these men would’ve killed. You probably saved a dozen innocent lives that would’ve been taken by these murderers over the years if they had rode back out of here. And Carter there would’ve owned this town, lock, stock and barrel and would have run it the way he wanted. That’s what you need to think of.”
Both Tony and Andy looked at the seven dead men and as they did, they realized that what Jess said made sense, even though it didn’t seem to fit the normal way a man would think. They knew that these were hardened professional killers who had killed before and surely would have killed again. You could see the expression of both men change.
“Andy,” said Tony, “I think maybe we did a good thing today, even though it might not feel like it right now.”
“I’m beginnin’ to think so, too,” Andy replied, still shaking his head. “But I do think our boy here is gettin’ just a little loco.”
Jess looked down at the dead bodies and looked at Andy. “Well, I might be a little loco, but I’m alive and they aren’t. Now, I’m going over to check on Jim. Tony, strip these men of all their guns and money and give it all to Jim. It will make up for most of the money he lost due to Carter’s new store. You can keep all of the horses.”
“Hey, what the hell do I get?” retorted Andy, “I coulda got shot again, ya know.”
“Well Andy, you can have that poor horse I shot over there,” answered Jess, as he looked down at the horse still lying on Warren Malarky’s dead body.
“What the hell am I goin’ to do with a damn dead horse?”
“You serve steaks in your saloon, don’t you?” asked Jess as he turned and headed for Smythe’s. Andy gave Jess another one of his looks and then he glanced down at the dead horse. “Well, I guess they probably won’t know the difference anyway. What do ya think, Tony?”
Now it was Tony’s turn to give Andy a comical look. “Have you eaten one of your steaks lately?” Andy had a hurt look on his face. Then they both turned to watch Jess as he walked over to check on Jim Smythe.

BOOK: Brother's Keeper
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