Authors: Robert J. Thomas
“Nice piece of work on the sheriff by the way, Jess,” said Tony.
Jess nodded. “Why thank you, Tony. I thought so myself.”
Tony and Jess watched two men walk out of Andy’s Saloon and stretch. It was the same two men who were deadlocked in the poker game last night. Either they played all night or had fallen asleep at the table. The sun was up and the night chill was slowly disappearing. It seemed like such a peaceful day and yet Jess knew that this day would be anything but.
While Jess and Tony sat there watching the town come alive, Dick Carter was sitting in a chair on the front porch of his huge ranch home, deep in thought about his son, Red. Surely Red had been a pain in the ass most of the time but like any father, he still had loved his only son and Jess had taken him from him. Red had been such a pain in the ass growing up that Carter’s wife wouldn’t even have anything to do with Red so Dick Carter raised the boy the best he could and of course, Red had picked up a few of his father’s bad habits. The worst one was Dick Carter’s bad temper. Dick had wanted Red to inherit the sprawling ranch that he had built from the ground up and now there would be no one to leave it to except his wife, and he wasn’t happy about that. Their marriage had been a sour one from the start and only went downhill from there.
He thought about drawing up an agreement with his friend Cal Hardin who owned the ranch next to him. The agreement would specify how much Hardin would pay for Carter’s ranch and everything that went with it in the case of Carter’s demise. That would make Hardin the largest ranch owner in the area but that wouldn’t matter to Carter since he would be dead anyway. Dick thought of how Cal had reluctantly agreed to hold the ten thousand dollars in bounty money to be paid to a man by the name of Tim Sloan when he could bring the dead body of Jess Williams to Hardin to identify. Cal Hardin thought the idea was wrong but he owed Carter a favor. Carter had helped him get rid of some rustlers when Hardin’s men couldn’t seem to handle it. Carter’s men took care of the problem hastily, eliminating the rustlers within a week’s time.
Then Carter’s thoughts turned to Jess Williams. He was obsessed with the thought of killing Jess. He was absolutely crazy with revenge. He wasn’t thinking straight and he realized that, but there was nothing he could do to stop himself; it was simply his nature. He planned to ride into town today with six of his best hired guns, but not until the late part of the afternoon. He already had a few men in town and a few more riding out today to try to kill Jess, and if they failed, he would see to it himself. As he stood to stretch, he watched as two of his hired guns rode out towards Black Creek. He knew what their mission was. To find and kill Jess Williams, anyway they choose. They could ambush him, shoot him in the back or shoot him while he slept. Carter had two more men who would leave in a few hours and their mission was the same in case the first two failed. Carter didn’t care about the morality or the rightness of it. He just wanted Jess dead, like his son.
After several hot and strong cups of Tony’s coffee, Jess borrowed a razor from Tony and shaved his little bit of youthful stubble and washed up a bit. Then he walked over to Smythe’s General Store and sat with Jim and Sara and had some breakfast. Jess could see the worried look on Sara; she was on the verge of tears. She knew what was coming today and she was deathly afraid for Jess. It was about nine in the morning when they finished a meal of eggs, bacon, ham, fresh biscuits and apple pie.
“Sara,” said Jess, “you sure can cook. That was surely one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it. I hope it won’t be your last, though.”
“Ah…come on now,” Jim piped in, “Jess can handle himself. He’s pretty damn good with that pistol of his.”
“Maybe, but he’s facing a dozen hired guns, not just one man in the street,” said Sara.
“I have a hunch that Jess will have more help than he thinks before this thing is over,” Jim added.
“What do you mean?” asked Sara.
“I’ve heard some of the other men talking and they say they’re thankful that Jess is here and trying to help out the town. I heard that when trouble starts today, there’s going to be more guns than Jess’ talking. I know that Tony over at the livery will throw in and Andy over at the saloon will be ready with his scattergun. I heard a few other men say that they will be keeping their rifles handy for the next few days. Jess, you ain’t in this alone. I aim to throw in with my double-barrel too when trouble starts.”
“My Lord!” Sara exclaimed. “You wouldn’t know which end is the barrel. You’d just shoot your foot off or something. Are you out of your mind?”
“If Jess is willing to risk his life for our problems, the least we can do is back him up and help him fight our battle. If that means losing a foot, then so be it.” Jim said it so proudly, as if he was a politician making a speech and running for office. Jess had sat there watching them go back and forth and his smile finally turned to a quiet laugh. Both of them turned to look at Jess, Jim smiling and Sara looking concerned.
“Listen,” said Jess, “I appreciate the help, but don’t risk your life unless you have to. I can handle Carter and his men with a little help from Tony and maybe even Andy. I didn’t ask anyone to throw in with me, but if they want to, I can’t stop them and I’m not sure I would want to. There is nothing wrong with people fighting for their own town.”
Jess got up and hugged Sara and thanked Jim and walked out into the street. It was a little after nine in the morning and it was indeed a beautiful day. The air was cool and crisp but the sun was shinning bright and the cool of the morning was dissipating quickly now. The sky was a bright blue with no clouds in sight. Jess almost laughed at the irony of it. It was such a beautiful day. A beautiful day that he knew was soon to turn bloody and deadly. Jess wondered how many men would lay dead before the day was over. He knew one thing for certain though. Dick Carter would hit the ground dead before Jess would and he made himself a vow of that right then and there.
HE TWO MEN TOOK THEIR TIME
to saddle up. They were in no particular hurry even though they had been assigned a very important
and deadly task. Blaine Roth was as tough as nails and one look at his face would tell you that. He had a scar on his left cheek and his face was tanned and leathery. He had gotten the scar from a bar fight with another hard case several years ago over a woman. It wasn’t the only scar on his body. He had been in more fights than he could remember over his forty-four years, including several gunfights. He wasn’t considered fast with a gun but he wasn’t the type to get too easily rattled. He had once faced off with two men in a gunfight and stood his ground like an oak tree. He hit the first man square in the chest and even though he knew the other man had already fired his first shot, burning a hole in the soft flesh of his left side just below his ribcage, he took careful aim and hit the other man with his second shot. Both men lay dead in the street and he went back into the saloon, ordered a bottle of fine whiskey and told the barkeep to collect the money for it off the two dead men lying in the street.
Gene Horn was nothing like Blaine Roth. He was always clean-shaven, neatly dressed and he wasn’t one to get into saloon fights. Some of his friends had even taken to calling him Pretty Boy for a nickname. He was, however, very quick with a pistol. He had killed several men and had never been hit. Horn seldom drank or frequented saloons. He had just reached the age of twentytwo a few weeks back and he was somewhat of a loner, spending much of his off-time reading or practicing his pistol skills.
Both men did have one thing in common though. They both wanted to collect their share of the three thousand dollars of blood bounty on Jess Williams’ head. Carter had ordered them into town first this morning with another two to follow a few hours later. If Jess survived that, Carter would lead a group of six of his best hired guns into town and personally see to Jess’ death, one way or another. Both men mounted their horses and headed out to Black Creek. They had rode in silence for about fifteen minutes before either one of them spoke.
“What are you going to do with your half of the money?” Horn asked.
“Ain’t you getting a little ahead of yourself?”
“What do you mean?”
“Hell, boy, we ain’t even got to town yet, much less killed this Williams kid.”
“Well, there’s two of us and one of him and I am pretty damn good with a pistol. And you have that doublebarrel there. Hell, I’d say he’s pretty much finished when we get there.”
“Listen up Pretty Boy,” Roth replied, “you should never assume that you have the upper hand when facing down another man. That will kill you quicker than a chunk of lead in your chest.”
“You’re not rattled about going after this kid, are you? I mean, yeah, he’s fast and all and he has that fancy pistol of his, but he’s too young to be that fast. Hell, I’ve been practicing with a pistol longer than he’s been able to hold one in his hands.”
“I ain’t rattled. I’m just telling you that you never really know what’s going to happen when it comes right down to it. I plan on finding him and killing him. But the truth is either he’ll get me, or I’ll get him. It’s that simple.”
“Well, don’t you worry, Blain, I’ll be there to make sure that it’s him that goes down.”
Blaine Roth looked back over at Horn. “Just remember. We ain’t playing fair, neither. I don’t plan on back shootin’ him, but I don’t plan on giving him any quarter either. We face him together and we shoot first. If I don’t get him with my scattergun, you make sure you put some lead in him with that six-shooter of yours, you got that?”
“Don’t you worry about me; I’ll have two chunks of lead in that kid before you can cock that double-barrel. You can count on that and when it’s done, I’m going to take that fancy pistol and holster of his for myself.”
“I ain’t counting on anything,” replied Roth, still trying to make his point. Roth knew that Horn was indeed pretty fast with a pistol and the truth was it did give him a small level of comfort. On the other hand, Roth was twice as old as Horn and that gave him twice the life experience. Enough experience to know the reputation of some of the men that Jess Williams had already killed. And Roth knew that they were all men who were fast with a pistol and probably faster than the young gunslinger riding next to him at this very moment. For a brief moment his common sense told him to ride past Black Creek and head for Texas. The only thing stopping him from doing that was the thought of three thousand dollars. That was an awful lot of money even if he did have to split it with his partner. They rode the rest of the way in silence.
| | |
Jess decided it was a nice day to visit the Mayor of Black Creek. He had already warned Sheriff Newcomb and since the sheriff worked for the mayor, Jess figured it was only fair to give the same warning to the mayor. That way there would be no misunderstanding about Jess’ intentions.
Nigel York was not a gunslinger. He didn’t even carry a pistol and if he did, he would probably shoot himself with it. He was in his late thirties and a man who liked to dress neatly and chase the women. He had worked for Carter over the years running errands for him in Black Creek. Things like running supplies out to the Carter ‘D’ ranch or taking messages to other ranch owners. He was a coward but more importantly, a yes man for Carter, which is why Carter ran him for mayor. It wasn’t much of a race though. Carter had everybody in town so scared that no one would run against Carter’s man. Even the incumbent Mayor decided it was time to retire instead of challenging Carter. Nigel had a small office in town and he was sitting behind a desk reading a newspaper and enjoying some hot coffee when Jess knocked on his open door.
“Yeah, who is it?” asked York, not bothering to look up from his paper.
“I thought I would pay a visit to the Mayor and introduce myself,” replied Jess as he walked inside the room. York finally looked up from his paper. His startled look told Jess that York recognized him immediately and York had a look of fear in his eyes. He stood up and backed away from his desk until his back hit the wall.
“No need to introduce yourself, Mr. Williams. I know who you are and I saw what you did to Sheriff Newcomb. You can’t run around assaulting people whenever you feel like it, especially officials of the town.”
“Really, why not?”
York looked down at the floor for a moment as if he would somehow find an answer written on the floorboards and not quite sure how to respond. He looked back up at Jess. “Because it’s against the law,” York replied, a small hint of defiance in his voice.
“The town’s law.”
“Don’t you mean Carter’s law? The law he bought and paid for?”
“I am the legal and duly elected Mayor of this town. I won the election fair and square. If you don’t believe me, go ask Judge Hollingsworth, he’ll tell you.”
“Of course you won. No one ran against you. What a stroke of luck for you, don’t you think?”
“Maybe, but I’m still the Mayor, and Newcomb is still the sheriff of this town and you’re going to have to abide by the laws of this town and its officials.”
Jess shook his head, amazed at how men could fool themselves into such a false sense of reality. “Listen up York, let’s get something straight. I don’t have to live with anything. I don’t have to respect you or the sheriff. Both of you are bought and paid for by the same man and neither of you are working for the benefit of this town. You’re both working for the man who is paying your salary. The same man who is trying to have me killed and the same man who is trying to run my good friends out of business.”
“There’s nothing against the law about Carter starting up a new store in town,” York interjected, before Jess could continue.
“Shut up and let me finish because I’m not going to say it again. You and your pal, Newcomb, are nothing but hired gunmen to me. I have no respect for your authority or Newcomb’s since it was bought and paid for with the same money that’s trying to have me killed. Which, by the way, is against the law, but I don’t suppose you’re going to do anything about that, are you? I’m going to give you the same warning I gave to Newcomb and I’m not going to repeat it. If I have to, you won’t have to worry about your next reelection. You stay out of this and you leave Jim and Sara Smythe alone, understand? If I find out you have even so much as looked in the direction of their store, I swear to you that I will come back here and blow one of your kneecaps clean off. Now, did you understand exactly what I said, or do you need me to repeat it for you?”
York’s eyes went to the floor. He was absolutely terrified and his knees were getting so weak he thought he might collapse at any moment. “I understand. I won’t bother the Smythes’ again, ever.”
“Good. I’m glad to hear it. You can pass on a message for Judge Hollingsworth too. He used to be on good terms with my pa but that was before Dick Carter put the judge on his payroll. Tell him if he stays out of my way, he’ll live, but if he gets in the middle of this, I’ll treat him the same as any of Carter’s hired guns. Have a nice day, Mayor.”
Jess turned around and walked out of York’s office and back out into the street. He thought about Judge Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth had been a pretty good man in years past. His penchant for women and whiskey, along with his love for money had been his downfall. The fact that Dick Carter could supply him with all three was the reason that Dick Carter now owned Judge Hollingsworth. Jess remembered how his pa had helped Hollingsworth one time when some cowboys were trying to rough him up before he had become the Judge. Hollingsworth had never forgotten that and had always told his pa that if he ever needed anything, all he had to do was ask. Jess didn’t want to hurt Hollingsworth but he would if forced to, but he also figured that there would be no need for a judge in this whole situation. It wasn’t like Dick Carter was trying to have Jess arrested and put on trial for killing his son. He was trying to have Jess murdered and he was willing to pay well for the deed.
He noticed Tony down the street sitting there like a rock, just inside the large door to his livery with his rifle across his lap. Again, Jess felt good that someone was watching his back but he noticed that Tony was now looking down towards the sheriff’s office. Jess saw what Tony was looking at and he knew immediately what it was; more trouble. Blaine Roth and Gene Horn had already tied their horses to a post and were walking into Newcomb’s office. Jess walked quickly across the street to where Tony was now standing.
“What do you think those boys are up to, Tony?” asked Jess, already knowing the answer.
“You are joshin’ me, right?” Tony answered with a somewhat comical grin.
“I suppose so. Well, look’s like things are about to heat up again.”
“I’d have to say you are right about that. I know one of those men that went into Newcomb’s office. He works for Carter and he is one mean son of a bitch and he ain’t gonna come at you fair. He’ll shoot you on sight when he sees you and he’s carrying a double-barrel with him. My guess is that Newcomb’s already told those boys where you are.”
“No sense in hiding then, wouldn’t you say?”
“Guess not,” replied Tony, a grim sound in his voice.
Jess pulled the double-barrel out of the back sling and removed the strap from his pistol. He peeked out around the large open door and he saw both men were still in Newcomb’s office as he cocked both barrels. Jess glanced back at Tony and with a nod of his head; he was out the door and walking briskly across the street, his hand on the butt of his pistol. He went behind one building and worked his way between Andy’s Saloon and Jackson’s Hardware, which was the smallest hardware store Jess had ever seen. He was standing in the middle of the opening looking across at the sheriff’s office when both men came out of Newcomb’s office. Jess could see Newcomb standing in the doorway pointing at Jess. Tony had guessed it right. The instant that Blaine Roth saw Jess he opened up with both barrels. Jess had barely gotten his back to the wall enough to get some cover when Roth’s blast took out one of the windows of the hardware store as well as a few chunks of wood from the corner of both buildings. Jess could hear the pellets hitting the wall opposite him.
Jess knew that the slightest hesitation would cost him his life. A half second after the shotgun blast hit, Jess crouched down and moved to the left just enough to see the two men and then he opened up with both barrels. He saw instantly that the man with the shotgun was hit and as he spun around and hit the dirt, the spent shotgun shells he was trying to remove went flying in the air. Jess didn’t know for sure if it was a fatal shot or not but he figured it was good enough for the moment. He saw the other man who had already been running off towards the right of the man with the shotgun but Jess heard Tony’s rifle crack and the man went down like a sack, but not before the man got off two shots from his pistol. One of them took another chunk of wood out of the hardware store about four inches above Jess’ head and the second one hit the dirt not more that two feet from Jess. Jess quickly reloaded the shotgun and put it back in the sling and walked quickly across the street, his pistol now in his hand, his eyes scanning the street quickly. “Tony, cover me!” he hollered out.
“Got your back, Jess,” Tony hollered, as he walked out into the middle of the street.
Jess walked towards the first man who was moaning and wriggling around on the ground. The double-barrel was well out of reach and the man’s right hand was missing a few fingers. Jess looked over at the younger man who was lying on his back in the middle of the street not moving, his gun also out of reach. Andy had come out from the saloon with his double-barrel and Jess nodded to him to watch the younger man. Jess walked up to the man who was still moaning loudly. He looked down at the man who was defiantly looking back at Jess. Roth was bleeding from several areas including both of his legs.
“Do I know you?” asked Jess.
“Screw you, kid,” replied Roth.
“I suppose you were after the money, right?”
“Yeah, but I guess it don’t matter now, does it?”
“Nope, sure don’t,” replied Jess, with a matter-of-fact tone to his voice. “Looks like you’re hit pretty bad. I figure you’ll bleed out in a few minutes or so.”
“Maybe not, if you get me to a doctor.”
“Doctor?” Jess responded with a hint of anger in his voice. “You just opened up on me with that scattergun with no warning and tried to murder me in cold blood for money and now you want a doctor?” Jess shook his head. “Not today
Mister. What you’re getting today is a meeting with your maker. I’m not going to let the Doc patch you up so you can come after me again, and you and I know that’s exactly what you would do. Sorry, but I don’t play it that way. I have to go check on your partner over there.” Jess turned and walked towards the other man.
“You bastard. You can’t just let me die here in the middle of the street!” Roth hollered.
“I’m afraid you’re dead wrong about that, Mister,” replied Jess, not even turning his head back to the man as he said it.
“Well, Andy, how’s his partner?” Jess asked as he walked over to the younger man lying on his back in the street. The front of the man’s shirt was covered in blood and there was a good pool of blood soaking up the dirt.
“He’s a goner. He just passed on while you were having that delightful little conversation with his partner over there. You ain’t really going to let him lay there and bleed to death, are you?” asked Andy.
“Absolutely,” Jess said, looking back at Roth who wasn’t moaning as loud now. “That man is a cold-blooded murderer who has killed before and will kill again. I’m not giving him a chance to kill anyone else ever again, especially me.”
“All right then, I guess it’s your show. Can’t argue with ya anyway. He sure would’ve come back at ya the first chance he got. That’s Blaine Roth and he’s sure enough a hard case and that’s a fact.”
A few people were now gathering in the street and that gave Newcomb enough courage to come out of his doorway and onto the porch, but not enough courage to step down into the street. “You can’t just let him lay there and die. Someone should go and get the Doctor,” Newcomb said, his voice a little shaken.
Jess glared at him and noticed a sign that was hanging above Newcomb’s head that said ‘Sheriff’s Office’ on it. It was hanging with a small chain on each end of the sign and two hooks that were fastened to the porch ceiling. Jess never said a word as he snapped off a shot from his pistol cutting one of the chains in half causing Newcomb to first duck and then look up. He looked up just as the sign swung downward striking Newcomb square in the nose. He let out a scream and a few curse words and grabbed his nose and began running over to the Doctor’s office. Doc Johnson had been standing in the doorway to his office, watching the entire incident. Jess looked at Andy and Andy just shook his head.
“What?” asked Jess.
“I think you’re beginning to get a mean streak in ya.”
“Maybe, but he did deserve it. He’s the one that pointed me out to these two.”
“Like they weren’t gonna find ya anyhow?”
“Well, they didn’t need any help and besides, I did warn him.” Jess reloaded and holstered his pistol.
“Looks like Roth is just about done in. He ain’t breathin’ regular,” said Andy, nodding in Roth’s direction. Roth was in his final death throes. Blood was beginning to wet his lips and he was barely breathing. Jess and Andy watched him take his final breath.
“Two more down, and who knows how many more to go,” said Jess.
“Too many,” said Andy. “It’s gonna be a long day.”
“I believe it,” said Jess. He knew he was in for more trouble today. He didn’t know when or where it would come from but he knew for certain that it was coming. Andy went back to the saloon and Jess turned to Tony who had walked up, still holding his rifle and still watching the rooftops.
“Thanks, Tony. I appreciate the help.”
“No problem. I ain’t the only one who will throw in with you when you need it.”
“That’s a little comfort. I have a hunch that by the end of the day, I’m going to need the help. I figure Carter’s coming to town later today but not until a few more of his men try to take me out.”
“I see it that way too.”
“Tony, will you do me one more favor?”
“Sure, you name it.”
“When Carter does come to town, leave him for me.”
Tony smiled an evil smile. “No problem.”
Jess decided to take another walk around town. As he started down the street, the Undertaker was walking towards the two dead men who lay in the street. As the Undertaker passed Jess, he smiled and nodded as if to say thanks for the work. Jess nodded back and then smiled at the irony of the thought that while he and the Undertaker were in two completely different occupations, they both profited from the same thing; the death of men. He thought about all that had happened since his return to Black Creek. He had hoped that his visit would have been a pleasant one but instead it had turned deadly with this battle for his life because of Dick Carter. Jess hated men like Carter almost as much as he hated the men who had brutally murdered his family. He hated him for what he represented and what he stood for. Power, money, and the willingness to use it for all the wrong reasons. That was about to change—and Dick Carter wasn’t going to like it.