Authors: Robert J. Thomas
“That’s the plan, Andy,” replied Jess as he took a long sip of beer. “That’s the plan.”
HE TWO MEN WHO HAD BEEN
watching Jess from across the street had seen some of what had taken place in the saloon. They had
been thinking about trying to collect the blood money on Jess, but now they had some serious reservations about it. The other two men, who had left the saloon after witnessing the gunfight between Jess and the two men at the table, stopped and talked to them on the way out of town. The two men who had been watching from across the street headed for the livery and mounted their horses. When they rode up to the saloon, they stopped for a moment. Jess was still standing at the bar, watching them through the door. One of the two men stared at Jess, and for a moment, Jess swore that the man was going to dismount and challenge him right then and there. Then Jess saw a change in the man’s eyes and knew that there would be no challenge. The man looked at his partner. They both had the same look; the look of fear. They both rode out of town.
Jess’ plan was working so far. Two men down and at least four men run out of town. That in itself didn’t even the odds, but it certainly made them better. Hopefully, before the night was over a few more men would value their lives more than money or their reputation and leave town while they could still ride a horse sitting upright. At least he hoped so.
“Well,” said Andy, “seems like you scared off a few of ‘em.”
“Looks like it.”
“Don’t get your britches all bunched up in the crack of your ass. There’s sure to be more of them coming into town tonight. You’ll have more trouble than an elephant tryin’ to use one of them typewritin’ machines in a few hours. Tomorrow will be worse for sure, I’m telling ya.”
“Boy, you sure do know how to light up a man’s life, Andy.”
“Just telling ya, that’s all.”
“Well, thanks for being ready with that scattergun back there. I appreciate the help.”
“Hell, you didn’t need my help. I reckon you could’ve taken all four of em by yourself.”
“Yeah, but it was the thought that counted,” Jess said with a slight grin. Jess finished his beer and headed to the livery, which also served as the blacksmith shop. He asked Tony if he could sleep in the top of the livery tonight and Tony told him he could have anything he needed. Jess had not wanted to stay with Jim and Sara since that might possibly put them in danger. He fully expected some of Carter’s men to come for him in the middle of the night and he didn’t want to risk their lives. He set himself up above where Gray was stabled. Then, he visited with Jim over at the store. “How’s business been?” asked Jess, as he found Jim stocking some ammo behind the counter.
“Business still ain’t what it used to be, but for sure a damn sight better. Some of my old customers are trickling in, one by one. The sheriff came by right after I saw him ride back into town, probably from visiting Carter and informing him that you were in town, but he didn’t come in like he used to. He just stood around outside and watched.”
“I warned him not to bother you or your store ever again. He obviously didn’t take me seriously or he has a hearing problem,” said Jess. “I suppose he needs a little reminder.”
Jess started for the door but Jim wouldn’t keep silent. “Jess, don’t go messing around with him,” Jim pleaded. “It’s not worth it. He didn’t say anything or bother the customers; he just stood outside and watched.”
Jess stopped outside the doorway and turned back to Jim. “It doesn’t matter, when I say something, I mean it and he understood exactly what I warned him about. He’s obviously decided to test me to see how far he can push me and he’s about to find out right now.”
Jess walked straight from the store to the sheriff’s office. He walked in and found the sheriff sitting at his desk with his feet propped up on the desk. There was another man sitting in the office with the sheriff. Jess figured him to be one of Carter’s men. “Sheriff, are you a patient of Doc Johnson?” asked Jess.
“Well, he is the only pill-roller in town so I guess so. Why?”
“Because you obviously have a hearing problem and since it’s going to start affecting your health, maybe the Doc can help you out with it?”
“Whatever do you mean, Mr. Williams? Is there some kind of problem?” asked the sheriff in a nervous but sarcastic tone of voice. He seemed a little braver since he had another man in the room with him. “And how would bad hearing, if I had bad hearing, affect my health anyway?”
The other man in the room began to stand up but before he got his rump off the chair, which was to the left of the sheriff’s desk, Jess glared at him with eyes that could bore a hole through a chunk of granite. “You sit your ass back down in that chair unless you’re ready to be fitted for a pine box and I won’t say it again.”
That riled the man who was probably in his early forties and not used to being talked to by a young man who didn’t even look like he was past twenty yet, but he did, however, sit back down in the chair.
“Now see here,” protested Newcomb, “this is my office and I’m the Sheriff of this town unless you’ve forgotten that already.”
Jess walked up and shoved Newcomb’s feet off the desk, his boot heels slamming on the wood floor. “You’re no sheriff. You’re just another hired gun with a tainted badge pinned on you by a mayor who works for a man who thinks he owns the town. If you think for one minute that I’ll respect that badge as long as it’s pinned on you, you’re making a bad assumption and one that could cost you your life. I don’t give a shit about you, your badge, the mayor who pinned it on you, or the piece of crap paying you both.”
When Jess had walked over to the desk, he had partially turned away from Carter’s man in the chair. He could still see him out of the corner of his eye. He heard, more than saw, the man reaching for his gun. Jess pulled his gun, squeezing the trigger as he brought it across his belly and fanned a shot that hit the man in the chest. The barrel of Jess’ gun was only a few inches past his left elbow and Jess could feel the heat from the blast. The man fell back onto the chair, breaking one of chair’s legs and sending him to the floor. The chair could probably be fixed with a little work but the man, however, could not. He was dead when he hit the floor. Newcomb stood up and Jess took his left hand and slapped Newcomb so hard it put him against the wall. Not a punch, but open handed, which was much more insulting and exactly why Jess did it. Newcomb never tried to reach for his gun, he knew better after seeing Jess draw. Jess grabbed Newcomb by the neck with his left hand and rammed him into the wall. Jess put his pistol back in its holster and pulled Newcomb’s gun out. Newcomb froze in absolute terror. “Oh…God, you’re not going to shoot me are you?”
“Not yet. But I will guarantee you this. If you ever go within one hundred feet of Jim and Sara Smythe or their store, you’ll need an undertaker instead of something for the pain.”
“I won’t ever bother them again. You have my word. But, what did you say about pain?”
Jess didn’t bother to explain what he meant. He took Newcomb’s gun and cracked him hard across the nose with the butt of the pistol. Jess could hear the bone snap in his nose and the blood came gushing out of Newcomb’s nose so fast that Jess had to quickly step back so as not to get any blood on his shirt. Newcomb grabbed a white cloth out of his front pocket and held it to his nose with both hands. The cloth quickly turned red from the blood. “Damn it! You broke my nose! You’re a crazy man!”
“Maybe I am, but when you need something for the pain, you be sure to go to the new general store to get it, understand? If I so much as see you walk in front of Smythe’s General Store you’ll be seeing the front end of my pistol instead of the butt end of yours and don’t give me a reason to warn you again. If I have to, it’ll be your last day on Carter’s payroll and your first day in hell.”
Jess turned and walked out leaving Newcomb cussing and hollering about his nose and saying something about how Carter was coming to town tomorrow. He had blood all over his face and his shirt.
That sure was messy,
Jess thought to himself. He still had Newcomb’s gun in his hand. He unloaded it and threw it in the dirt. It hit the dirt about a second before a bullet hit the dirt not more than two inches from Jess’ left foot. Jess reacted with pure instinct. He knew that the bullet came from high up and to his left from the way the dirt sprayed up from the impact. He quickly moved to his right a step and as he did he saw two figures on a roof across the street about ten feet apart. Jess fanned two shots and hit both men dead on. One of the men fell forward off the roof, bounced off the short overhang and fell onto the boardwalk while the other man stumbled backwards and out of sight on the roof. Jess ducked and made a full turn around scanning everything he could to see if there were any more threats. He saw none. One of the townsfolk who had watched the failed ambush walked over to the body that had fallen onto the boardwalk. Jess quickly reloaded his empty chambers before holstering his pistol and walked over to the body.
“That’s old Ned Cullen. He won’t be missed much,” the man said, spitting some tobacco in the dirt.
“Is he one of Carter’s men?” asked Jess.
“He was, but I guess he’s off the payroll now.”
“Do me a favor and go up to the roof and see who the other man is.”
“What if he ain’t dead yet?”
“Don’t worry, he’s a goner. I caught him square in the chest. If he’s not dead yet, he’s not long from a meeting with his maker.”
The man walked through an opening between two buildings and walked over to the back of the building where the man had been shot and went up the back steps and onto the roof. Sure enough, the man Jess had shot in the chest was lying face down, dead in a pool of his own blood. The man went back down and told Jess it was another one of Carter’s men but that he didn’t know his name.
“Thanks for the help, Mister.”
“No problem. Most of us here in town understand what’s going on. You’re fighting for us and we sure appreciate it. We ain’t gunfighters but we’ll do what we can to help. Carter’s had an iron grip on this town since you left and it’s high time someone did something about it. Sure can’t count on the new sheriff; Carter owns him lock, stock and barrel, just like he owns the mayor.”
“I have a hunch the sheriff might back off a little.”
Just as the man was giving Jess a look of puzzlement the sheriff came storming out of his office with a rag that was dripping blood all over the boardwalk. Newcomb was heading straight for Doc Johnson’s office, and cussing up a storm. The man looked at Jess and said, “What the hell happened to him?”
“I gave him something else to do to occupy his time other than bothering Jim or Sara Smythe.”
The man chuckled at that. “I think it’s gonna work,” the man said.
Jess had noticed through all of this that the blacksmith, Tony, and the Barkeep, Andy, had appeared in front of their doors. Tony had his Winchester rifle in his hands and Andy had his double-barrel. They nodded their heads to him as if to say that they were watching his back and he could count of them when the time came. It gave Jess a comfort level he was not used to. He nodded back and they knew exactly what he meant. Thanks for watching my back. They went back into their respective establishments and back to work. Normally, Jess would apply for any bounty that these two men might have had on their heads, but he knew that he could not rely on Newcomb to assist in that so he figured to hell with it. He did, however, remove a very nice pistol and holster from the very dead Ned Cullen, along with fifty dollars that he found in his front pocket. He figured that he would give the pistol and holster to Jim Smythe to sell. He climbed up the back steps to the roof where the other man lay dead and he picked up a very nice model 1876 Winchester rifle and another thirty dollars. The dead man’s pistol and holster wasn’t worth taking it off him.
He figured that the ambush was a result of Newcomb’s trip out to see Carter earlier. He realized that this was a personal war between himself and Dick Carter but it was also a fight for the townspeople. This town had been part of his life and the townspeople had stood by him and his family when they had needed it the most. His pa had been friends with most of the long time residents. His pa would have wanted Jess to help these people and that’s exactly what he was going to do. Even if it cost him his life, which was entirely possible, the way things were going. Two more down, he thought to himself. The odds were still bad, but they were getting better by the hour. He knew that he would have more trouble tonight and he would be prepared for it, as always.
Jess decided to go back to the saloon and get something to eat. Andy’s daughter, LeAnn, was an attractive woman, with medium brown hair and brown eyes. She had a nice shape but you could tell she was a sturdy woman and quite a talker. Andy had once commented that she could talk a man right out of his passions. LeAnn did most of the cooking and serving at the saloon. Simple meals like stew, beans, cornbread or steaks and not much else.
Jess took a seat at a corner table and Andy brought him a beer. “Andy, you better bring me some coffee and make it strong. I think I’m going to need to be awake most of the night.”
Andy nodded, knowing exactly what he meant and went back and got Jess a hot cup of coffee. “Can I get ya anything else?”
“Well, I am sort of hungry. How about a plate of whatever smells so good back there?” Jess said, nodding in the direction of the kitchen. “Oh—and Andy, thanks for today.”
“It was my pleasure, Jess. It weren’t nothin’ compared to what you’re doin’ for all of us.”
About five minutes later LeAnn came out from the kitchen carrying a huge plate of stew and homemade bread. It smelled like heaven. She put the plate down in front of Jess and poured him another cup of coffee.
“My, my, my, Jess Williams, you sure look as cute as you did when you left here a few years ago. I remember you coming into town and picking up supplies for your pa. Don’t you remember me? I used to see you over at Smythe’s place picking out candy? Didn’t you see me in there? I used to go there every time you came into town. How have you been? I heard you shot a lot of men already and that you’re faster than a rattlesnake and do you have a girlfriend or a woman you’re partial to and…”
“Damn it, LeAnn, let the man alone to eat his meal. He don’t need to listen to you jack your jaws all day long. Get your ass back there in the kitchen where it belongs!” Andy hollered.
Jess never said a word; not that he would get one in anyway. He just looked at LeAnn and smiled while she had talked. Now, he watched her as she threw her head back and stormed back into the kitchen. Just as she got to the door, Jess said, “Yes and no.” LeAnn turned around with a look of puzzlement on her face.
“Yes, I do remember you at the general store—and no, I have no woman that I’m partial to.”
LeAnn smiled one of those devious smiles. “Well, maybe we need to change that.” Jess didn’t respond; he just looked at her, now regretting the answer he had given. I sure have to learn when to keep my mouth shut, Jess thought to himself.
“I told ya to get yer ass back in the kitchen, now!” Andy yelled. LeAnn threw her father a kiss and went back to cooking. Jess looked at Andy who had this strange look of frustration and hopefulness all wrapped up in one bewildering look.
“I shouldn’t have said that, huh Andy?”
“No you shouldn’t have but I’m shore glad ya did.” Now Jess had a strange look on his face. He shook his head and went back to eating, as he said, “No way, Andy.”
Andy’s head just kind of hung a little low, his hopes dashed. “Damn women, you can’t live with them and you can’t shoot ‘em.”
Jess chuckled as he began to eat the heaping plate of pork stew. The bread was as good as any biscuit’s he had ever eaten—almost. He finished his meal and went back to the livery and asked Tony if he would keep watch while he took a little nap up in the top of the barn. Jess knew he wouldn’t get much sleep tonight and he wanted to rest while he had the chance to do so without someone ambushing him and the way he figured it, the next ambush would take place in the late hours of the night.