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Authors: Robert J. Thomas

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BOOK: Brother's Keeper
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As Hanley walked down the street towards his hotel, he met the sheriff who was heading down towards the saloon. “Turning in, Mr. Hanley?”
“Yeah, I’m tired and need a good nights sleep. Besides, I’m getting itchy to get out of town, if you know what I mean.”
The sheriff grinned. “I know exactly what you mean. I suppose that ain’t Sloan lying on the floor over at the saloon, is it?”
The sheriff had a wishful look on his face. Hanley knew what he was hoping for. “No, it ain’t Sloan, but I kind of figured that you knew that already, Sheriff.”
“Yeah, suppose I did. Can’t blame a man for hoping though,” grinned the sheriff.
“Guess not. Well, if it’s any consolation Sheriff, I believe you’ll be rid of Sloan first thing in the morning.”
The sheriff smiled. “I guess good things do come to those who wait.”
“I suppose so, Sheriff.” The sheriff headed down for the saloon and Hanley went to his room and turned in.
It was early sunrise and Hanley was splashing some cold water on his face in his room when he heard a horse galloping below his window. He looked out and saw Tim Sloan riding out of town seemingly in a hurry. Hanley wasn’t surprised. Even though he didn’t know what the money was for, he knew that ten thousand dollars would make men do things they wouldn’t usually do. Hanley decided that maybe he would stay in town another day. He would rather ride behind Sloan than to catch up to him or even worse, to have Sloan following him out on the trail.

| | |

Dick Carter watched the second team of men ride out from the Carter “D” ranch. He didn’t know whether the first two men out this morning, Gene Horn and Blaine Roth, had been successful in killing Jess or not, but that didn’t matter. If they had, they would meet the second team on their way back and then notify Carter that the job was done. If not, Carter would ride out with his best six hired guns and finish the job himself, one way or another. He didn’t care if he got himself killed in the process. All that mattered to him now was that Jess Williams died in the process.

The two men on the second team were Woody Hampton and Flynn Dugan. Both men were hard cases and pretty good with a gun. Woody was especially good with a rifle and used it whenever possible. Flynn fancied himself as an expert with a pistol. Neither of them had any problem with ambushing a man and killing him, even if it meant shooting a man in the back. They were simply well paid man-killers and they didn’t play by any set of rules.

It was early afternoon back in Black Creek, Kansas. Jess was sitting with Andy at the saloon making small talk. As they sat there, two men rode into town and hitched their horses across the street at the sheriff’s office. It was Woody Hampton and Flynn Dugan. Jess and Andy watched them and they knew they were watching trouble.

“Well,” Andy said, “seems like ya got more problems,

Jess.”
“You’re always so quick to spread the good news,
Andy. Anybody ever tell you that?”
“Yeah, seems like I heard that once before from a
young smart-ass.”
“Wonder who that might be.”
Andy cocked his head again in that ‘you know what I’m talking about’ look. Andy got up and walked behind the bar and got his double-barrel while Jess sat at the table, waiting for the inevitable. After about ten minutes, Jess got up and walked to the bar. “Do you think maybe they’re not
involved in this?” asked Jess.
“Not a chance. I recognized both of those two. That’s
Woody Hampton and Flynn Dugan. My guess is they plan
to ambush you the second they spot you.”
Jess carefully walked over to the window and peeked
out and looked around as best he could so as not to make
himself a target. He saw nothing, but they had to have
gone somewhere. He wondered if the men knew where he
was yet. He couldn’t see from his position whether or not
Tony was watching what was going on, but he had to hope
that he was. He looked back at Andy who was standing at
the bar and keeping an eye on the back door. “Well, Andy,
it seems like I got more work to do.”
“I’m beginnin’ to think you’re one of them real smart
fellers.”

Chapter
Seven
J

ESS WAS STILL PEEKING OUT THE
front window from time to time and Andy was standing guard behind the bar, keeping an eye on the back

door just in case the two men knew that Jess was in the saloon. Andy’s nerves were getting frayed. He didn’t like waiting for something to happen.

“What the hell are they waitin’ for?” asked Andy, not really looking for an answer.

Jess was standing to the right of the front window and he looked over at Andy. “Maybe they’re waiting for you to show your pretty face.”

“I don’t think it’s me they’re waitin’ for. Besides, this face ain’t been pretty in a hell of a long time now.”
“You’ll get no argument from me on that one.” Andy glared at Jess and mumbled something that Jess couldn’t quite understand.
“You in a hurry to get shot again?” asked Jess.
“It ain’t gettin’ shot that’s bothering me so much. It’s the waitin’ fer it.”
“I’m getting tired of waiting too. I might as well try to get this over with. Those two boys have had too much time to think about what they’re planning. I’m going out the back door and take a look around and see if I can spot them.”
“Okay, but be careful.”
“I’m always careful. You watch your back.”
Jess slowly walked to the back door. The screen door had a spring on it and Jess grabbed a broom and pushed it out a little and let it spring back. It made some noise but didn’t attract any fire, which is what he wanted to know. He walked over by the screen door and peeked out and looked around to see if he could spot any ambush. What he did see was a lot of junk and debris in the back of the saloon. “Hey, Andy,” he quietly called down the hallway.
Andy poked his head around the corner. “What?”
“When this is over, how about cleaning up the mess back you’ve got back here.”
“Give me a break for Christ’s sake. We got more important things to worry about right now like gettin’ shot,” said Andy, a look of frustration on his face.
Jess stepped out the screen door and down the two steps. He pulled his double-barrel out of the sling and checked it to make sure it was loaded. He knew it was, but it was just an automatic thing he did. He worked his way along the back wall until he got to the opening between Andy’s Saloon and Jackson’s Hardware. He decided that was too close to Andy’s Saloon. If they knew he had been in Andy’s, they would spot him too easily in that opening. He made his was along the back of the hardware store to the next opening and he began to work his way along the walls while looking up at the rooftops and the windows of the two buildings looking for the two men he knew were looking for him. He had just about made it to the opening when he heard the words—”Hey
,
Mister.” Jess spun around with the double-barrel and just as he lined up with the voice he had heard, he spotted a head darting back into a window of the one building. “Don’t shoot, I’m not armed,” a voice came out from behind the window.
“Okay, but you come out of that window with a gun and I’ll blow you and half of that window apart.”
“I’m just trying to help. I know where those two men are that are after you.”
“Where are they?”
“One of them is up on the roof of the Sheriff’s office with a rifle, and the other one is on the roof of the building next to mine. I saw him climb the back steps of the hardware right after they came to town. I think he’s still up there because I heard some noise up there just a minute ago.”
“Thanks, Mister. I appreciate it.”
“No problem. I know what you’re trying to do to help the town out. I don’t like that damn Carter one bit either.”
“Keep your head down when the shooting starts.”
“You ain’t talking to no fool.”
Jess worked his way to the back again. He found the steps that led to the roof of the hardware next to the tailor’s shop. He waited for a moment to decide how he was going to proceed. He looked at the steps which looked pretty old and dried out. He decided what his plan would be. The only problem with the plan was that half of the plan relied on Tony being at the ready from his vantage point at the livery. Jess had to only hope that Tony had already spotted the other man who was across the street or that he would spot him when he came out of hiding, which is exactly what the man would do when he heard the gunshots that were about to happen. Jess slowly climbed the back steps and he kept his feet to the outer edges of the steps. There were a few creaks and noises as he climbed the steps but they were so slight that Jess was sure that the man wouldn’t hear them.
As he got to the top, Jess removed his hat and slowly raised his head and peeked over the top. He found what he was looking for. There was a man standing behind the fake front of the building holding a rifle and peeking around the edge looking around the street. With the other man on the other side and down several buildings, they would have Jess in a good crossfire if he went out into the street or even walked out of just about any building along the street. It was a good plan but one that was about to go bad for the two men who had planned it, although they didn’t know it yet. Jess put his hat back on and stepped onto the roof staying low and very deliberately walked towards one side of the rooftop so that he could keep himself out of sight of the man across the street on the roof of the sheriff’s office. He couldn’t go much further forward for fear that he would expose himself to the other man. There was a ledge that was about a foot or so high all around the roof so Jess figured that he could hit the ground for cover if the man across the street opened up on Jess. So far, so good, Jess thought to himself. Jess figured it was time to have a little conversation with the man. The man looked to be in his thirties and fairly well dressed. Jess didn’t know who this man was but it was Flynn Dugan. Dugan was watching the street and the buildings across from his ambush point and obviously never figured he would have to watch his back. That was about to be a fatal mistake that the man would never make again.
Jess had him in his sights with the double-barrel and decided to at least warn the man first. He didn’t know why he should have to; the man standing there was surely going to shoot him on sight with no warning or hesitation. But Jess wasn’t quite able to do that although he internally fought himself over it.
Why not just pull the trigger on this man? He would do it to me. Why play fair with a man who doesn’t? Why not treat this man exactly the same way he was about to treat me?
This was a running argument that Jess was having more and more often with himself, but there was still something in him, some sense of fairness that was still embedded in his mind that just wouldn’t allow him to shoot a man without the man at least having a warning. He decided to call him out.
“Hey,” Jess called out to the man, “have you seen him yet?”
The man made the slightest movement as if he was going to turn and then he froze in place and Jess could see that for a moment the man was trying to process what was happening. It only took Dugan about three seconds to figure out what had happened and then it took him another two seconds to decide what he would do about it. Jess saw the move coming. Dugan had both hands on his rifle but he slowly shifted the rifle to his left hand, still with his back to Jess. He knew there was no chance that he could get off a shot with the rifle while spinning around. That left Dugan’s right gun hand free and it was slowly moving towards his pistol. Jess knew exactly what he was going to do and simply watched and waited for him to do it.
Flynn Dugan thought he was fast and the truth was; he was pretty fast. But not fast enough for a man, who was holding a double-barrel, cocked and pointed at you and just waiting to pull the trigger. Flynn dropped the rifle with his left hand and spun to his right pulling his pistol out. The pistol had just cleared the holster when Jess opened up with both barrels. The blast hit Dugan so hard that he flew back and went right over the edge and bounced off the short roof over the wooden walk below the building. Before Flynn hit the walk a rifle cracked and a bullet whizzed by Jess, missing his head by inches. Jess dropped down flat on the rooftop, his pistol now in his right hand. Then he heard another rifle crack but it didn’t seem to be coming from the roof across the street.
Jess slowly crawled to the front of the rooftop he was on and peaked over the edge. He looked across the street in the direction that the rifle fire had come from and saw nothing. Then, he noticed Tony walking out into the middle of the street, his rifle still trained on the roof where the other man, Woody Hampton was.
“Jess, I’m sure I hit him!” hollered out Tony. “I’ll keep the rooftop covered while you go check him out. Jess holstered his pistol, reloaded the double-barrel and put it back in its sling, and quickly climbed down the steps and ran between the buildings and across the street. He ran behind the sheriff’s office and climbed the steps slowly. He peeked over the top of the roof half expecting another rifle shot but what he saw was Woody Hampton, leaning up against the front ledge of the building, holding his chest, his rifle lying about six feet from him. Jess walked up to him, his pistol now in his hand. He picked up Hampton’s rifle and threw it off the roof.
“I found him Tony,” Jess called down, “you hit him for sure, but he’s not dead yet.”
“Me and Andy are keeping an eye on everything down here. You be careful up there. Don’t give that snake a chance, Jess.”
“I won’t, and thanks to both of you for the help again.”
Jess looked at the man who was bleeding profusely. The man hadn’t said a word; he was more occupied with trying to stop the blood from flowing from the hole in his chest. “You don’t look too good
,
Mister. I don’t think you’ve got long to go.”
The man looked up at Jess. “Just be thankful you threw my rifle off the roof, else I’d plug you for sure.”
“Mister, about the only thing you’re going to do is plug a hole in the ground when they bury you.”
“Yeah, well…Carter will be putting you in the ground before this day is over. He’s coming for you and there is nothing you can do to stop him.” The man coughed and let out his last breath. Jess simply watched him die. If Hampton had lived another few seconds, he would have heard Jess’ response. Jess knew he was speaking to a dead man but it didn’t really matter. What he said was more for himself than anyone else. His voice was low, firm, and deliberate. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Jess made his way back to Andy’s Saloon. He passed the Undertaker again and the Undertaker still had that strange smile on his face as he passed by Jess and nodded to him. Jess, Andy and Tony sat down at a table and Andy brought out a good bottle of whiskey.
“I didn’t know you had any good stuff here,” said Tony.
Andy had a hurt look on his face. “I do if you got the money to pay for it.”
“I can’t afford that stuff,” replied Tony.
“It’s on me,” Jess replied. “Actually, it’s probably on Carter. I found fifty dollars in the front pocket of the guy you plugged earlier. Besides, it’s the least I can do after you just saved my life.”
“Well, I don’t know about that, but I will drink this fine whiskey. Thanks.” They sat there for what seemed an eternity but in reality it was only about fifteen minutes. It was a strange thing about time. It seemed to slow down after an event such as men shooting it out with one another and some living, and some dying. Maybe it was because the one’s who survived savored the following few minutes after their brush with death. It wasn’t something they thought about, it was something they felt and yet couldn’t put a finger on. They slowly sipped the fine whiskey and savored the good flavor.
“Well,” Andy broke the silence, “since I’m the one who always points out the good news, I think things are about to get a whole lot worse in a few hours.”
Tony didn’t say anything and Jess looked at Andy, shaking his head. “You just can’t let a man have a good moment, can you?”
“Well, someone had to say it! What do ya think Carter’s gonna do? Let us sit here all day and drink this fine whiskey? I’ll tell ya what he’s doing. He probably on his way into town right now with a bunch of professional killers and they ain’t coming to town to thank ya for killin’ all their friends. They’re coming to kill you, me, Tony, and anyone else who will help you.”
“Well then, I guess we better have a plan. Taking on two men is one thing. Taking on six or eight is quite another. Tony, if you still want in, I’ll need you up on a rooftop with your Winchester where you can see them coming and warn us,” Jess said.
“No problem. I’m with you, all the way,” Tony replied.
“Andy, I’ll need you with that double-barrel. As a matter of fact, go down and see Jim Smythe and borrow two of his so you have three of them loaded and ready. You can do a hell of a lot of damage with three scatterguns. Don’t fire off both barrels at once though. Make sure you get six separate shots out of them before you have to reload.”
“Okay,” replied Andy.
“All right, then. In the meantime, if you know anyone else who wants to help, tell them to stay in their houses or their stores and cover us with rifle fire or whatever they have. If they keep Carter’s men ducking, it will give us the edge to take them out as quickly as we can.”
“Sounds like a good plan,” Tony said, trying to smile.
“It’s the only one we’ve got right now,” replied Jess, as he got up and started walking out of the saloon.
“Where are you going?” asked Andy.
“I got something I need to tend to right now. Oh, and by the way. Don’t let Carter or his men get off their horses, understand? I figure they’ll ride right into town as if they own it. If they get a chance to dismount and run for cover, that’s bad for us. If they try to do that, just open fire on them and don’t stop until every last man is down.”
“So, we don’t give them any warning? We just plug them even if they haven’t fired a shot?” asked Tony, not really caring much about it but just wanting to know for sure.
“Don’t worry, they’ll have a warning. But only one and it won’t last long. I’ll see to that.” Andy and Tony nodded and Jess walked out and headed for the mayor’s office. He found Nigel York at his desk writing a letter.
“Afternoon, Mayor. How’s your day going? Better than mine, I hope.”
“Well…uh…I suppose my day is going okay so far. What do you want?”
“I’m here to inform you that your day just got worse.”
York was terrified of Jess. Of course, he was a coward and was terrified of most other men. “What do you mean? What do you want with me? I’m not the one shooting at you.”
“No, but you have played a part in the overall plan to have me killed and I’m not going to give you any opportunity to help again in any way.”
“What are you going to do? You’re not going to shoot me, are you?” York asked, afraid to hear the answer.
“I should plug your sorry ass right now or maybe save the cost of a bullet and just beat you to death with a big stick, but for now, I’m at least going to make sure you can’t do anything to help your boss. Get up.”
“Where are we going?”

BOOK: Brother's Keeper
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