Riding For The Brand: Sage Country Book Three (18 page)

BOOK: Riding For The Brand: Sage Country Book Three
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37.

Stretching my arms up was the signal telling Old Bill to take the shot. I’d made him promise not to kill anyone, just wing them. He helped me get Ed into the house, where we made him comfortable on a couch.

I sent Old Bill to Bear Creek to fetch deputies and on the way, ask Lida Burke to come help me with Ed. I instructed Old Bill to send a telegram, while he was in Bear Creek, to United States Marshal Maxwell Warren, in Denver. The telegram asked Max to arrest Jud Coltrane on charges of murder and theft, and then oversee the sale of the cattle. The proceeds of the sale were to be sent back with Gabe.

Later that afternoon, Buckskin Charlie and Old Bill reached us a good half hour before the buckboard driven by a deputy.

***

While the cowboys were burying Snake Flanagan and Higgins, a search of the buildings and pens at the Bar C Bar produced most of the stolen horses and equipment from the Rocking M. It was all inventoried and catalogued to be introduced as evidence at the trials of Jud Coltrane and Ed Baxter. When the trial ended, everything would be returned to the Rocking M.

That same evening, Buckskin Charlie and the deputy took Ed Baxter back to Bear Creek in the buckboard, but not before Buckskin Charlie had a chance to shoot Old Bill’s Creedmoore rifle. After shattering bottles at two hundred and fifty, then five hundred yards, he said it was the best rifle he’d ever fired. Old Bill was impressed Charlie could be so accurate with a rifle he’d never fired before.

Old Bill and I rode back to the Rocking M.

He didn’t stay. He didn’t even dismount.

He shook my hand with both of his, turned his Appaloosa, and headed out to “look around”.

***

It had been four days since Old Bill rode away. By now, I figured he was probably headed south, somewhere between Buttercup, Colorado and Argentina.

I was almost desperate to go home to Lora and the children, but I had more work to do.

I’d ridden around to each of the ranches that sent cattle to Denver, telling them the story, and letting them know as soon as Gabe returned, their money would be held for them at the general store. Mr. Burke had agreed to hold the money; he had the only safe in Buttercup.

“Now I’ll be postmaster, notary, store keeper and banker. Look at me, momma, I’m coming up in the world.” He said.

Lida Burke just smiled and patted him on the back.

***

When he returned from Denver, Gabe and I sat at the table and counted the money, dividing it up into packets for the different ranches. I didn’t know what to do with the money belonging to the Bar C Bar. I decided to leave it with the rest, on deposit with Mr. Burke.

Early on a Saturday morning, Gabe and I rode into Buttercup with the money. It was cold, the sky heavy with clouds threatening snowfall. As we traveled, Gabe told me I could hire as many hands as we would need, from those still working at the Bar C Bar.

“Pick two good men, no more. Somebody has to stay on to run that ranch. The money from the cattle they sold belongs to the brand. There’s plenty enough to pay the hands and I expect Jud Coltrane will need some of it for attorneys to defend him when he goes on trial in Denver.” I said.

“I’ll tell you one thing. Denver is getting plumb civilized. When we brought in the herd there were a lot of people watching. I reckon they don’t get to see many cattle drives these days. Coltrane was waiting for us at the stockyard. You should’ve seen the look on his face when that U.S. Marshal arrested him.”

“I imagine he was some put out.”

“Yep.”

“Probably embarrassed.

“Uh huh.

“He say anything?”

“Nope.”

“Smart.”

***

At the general store, the Burkes greeted us with warmth. When I told them Old Bill had left the country, they told me what he’d done for them. Henry Burke was mighty excited. He opened the safe and handed us two heavy coins.

“Mr. Kennemer told us he was grateful for what we done for the Murphys. What with buryin’ them and all. Said he wanted to have proper headstones made for them. He gave me a fifty dollar gold eagle to pay for the stones. Fifty dollars! I never seen a gold eagle before. Then he gave us another one, to pay for shipping or whatever. The whole bill for headstones with engraving and shipping from Denver wouldn’t come to more than twenty five dollars. I told him so. He just grinned, slapped me on the shoulder and walked out, smoking his pipe. Can you believe it?”

“Yes, Mr. Burke. I sure can.”

We’d just seen the gold coins and the money from the cattle sale locked away in the safe, when three men walked into the general store.

The man out front was dressed in a dark gray suit and tie with a matching bowler hat. He had the look of a prosperous gentleman. His manner suggested he was used to being treated with respect.

I glanced at Gabe. He’d seen what I had. The other two men had the look of trouble.

They were dressed similarly to the gentleman, but gun belts were in evidence and they moved with the cautious conservation of effort common to fighting men.

Gabe eased toward the door, thinking to get behind them, but one of them saw his intent and turned to block him.

The other gunny focused his attention on me, where I was standing near the back of the store with my hands crossed in front of my belt buckle.

“Good morning, you must be the storekeeper.” The gentleman said, addressing Mr. Burke.

“Good morning sir. I’m Henry Burke and this is my wife, Lida Burke. This is our store.”

The gentleman removed his hat.

“How do you do? My name is Nordwick. I’m the legal representative of Jud Coltrane, the owner of the Bar C Bar ranch.”

The other two men never took their eyes off either Gabe or me. They weren’t about to remove their hats. If they were going to remove anything, it would be their guns from the holsters.

“How do you do? How can we be of service, Mr. Nordwick?”

“I was given to understand John Everett Sage, the County Sheriff, was in occupancy at the Rocking M ranch. Is that correct?”

Mr. Burke glanced at me.

“Yes sir. Last I heard.”

“We were just there—and he was not. Have you any idea where we might be able to find him?”

Once again, Mr. Burke glanced at me. I nodded back at him.

“Good morning, Mr. Nordwick, I’m Sheriff Sage.”

Tturning his head, the man shifted his gaze to me, looking me over.

“I see. While you don’t have the appearance I’d expected, let me say your reputation precedes you, sir.”

I neither moved nor answered.

“Mr. Nordwick turned his back to the Burkes, as though they no longer existed.

He looked at his men, at Gabe, then back to me. You could’ve cut the tension in the room with a knife.

“I see we understand each other, so I’ll get straight to the point. I have in my possession a restraining order against you, Sheriff Sage. In light of your well known proclivity for violence, Judge Walters in Denver issued the order. You are not to be seen anywhere in the vicinity of the Bar C Bar ranch. Further, these gentlemen are agents of the Pinkerton Agency. They will conduct a search of the Rocking M ranch to determine whether any of the livestock or other property of Mr. Coltrane’s ranch is now in your possession. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”

I smiled at him.

“Yes, Mr. Nordwick. I understand what you said. There’s nothing on the Rocking M for you to see. You should be aware my department conducted a search of the Bar C Bar. We found considerable stolen livestock and other property belonging to the Rocking M ranch on the premises. It’s all still there and it better stay there, as its evidence of Mr. Coltrane’s criminal activity. A full inventory was taken, which will be presented at the trial.

May I see the restraining order and some proof you actually represent Jud Coltrane?”

I uncrossed my hands, resting my fingertips together.

The Pinkertons moved their hands closer to their guns.

Mr. Nordwick gently removed a folded sheet of paper from inside his jacket and tossed it at my feet.

I locked eyes with the man.

“Pick it up and hand it to me, Nordwick, or whatever your name is.”

He sniffed and sneered, “Pick it up yourself.”

“Yumpin yimminy! Stop it, by golly! I won’t have this in my store.” Lida Burke said, as she came bustling from behind the counter.

I watched the two Pinkerton agents. They looked to their boss.

With some effort, Lida bent and picked up the document, handing it to me.

“If you men are gonna fight, take it outside, don’tcha know!”

I looked over the restraining order. After a moment, I relaxed, chuckling.

“Thank you, Mrs. Burke. There’s no need for a fight. This seems to be a legitimate court order. There won’t be any trouble here. I intend to fully comply with the restraining order.”

Nordwick’s eyebrows shot up, expressing his surprise.

“That’s it? You’re just going to ride away?”

“Of course, I have no grievance with you, Mr. Nordwick. My business in the area is concluded.

The funds from the sale of Bar C Bar cattle have been deposited with the Burkes. If you’re able to satisfy any concerns they may have as to your right to represent Mr. Coltrane, they’ll let you have the money.”

Mr. Burke blinked several times, attempting to formulate a response.

I nodded toward Gabe.

“This is Gabe Partridge, the foreman for the Rocking M. We’re going back to the ranch now. You and your friends from the Pinkerton Agency are welcome to ride along.”

Mr. Nordwick opened his mouth, but nothing came out.

I started walking toward the door, the Pinkerton men stepping aside.

“If you’d prefer to come later, that’s fine, but I won’t be there. Gabe will be in charge. I’m on my way back to Bear Creek. I’m going home.”

Home again,
38.

 

I stopped Dusty on the sloping side of the mesa just above the bridge over Bear Creek. I often stopped here to enjoy the view of the County seat of Alta Vista County, the city of Bear Creek, Colorado.

The highest point in the city was the courthouse at the top of the hill. The other tallest structures were the church steeples. The city was rapidly spreading out, so rapidly now, only the streets in the central business district, and the closest adjoining, were paved with bricks. In the spring, telephone lines were to be strung from the city, all the way down to Denver.

At the bottom of the hill upon which the city was built, on the western edge of the organized blocks and neighborhoods, right next to Bear Creek, sat our beautiful whitewashed, two story house on thirty five acres. The place I now called home.

From my elevated position on the road, I saw the harness horses out in the meadow and I could just make out the children playing in the front yard.

I’d brought a surprise with me, but it was somewhat spoiled by the fact I’d been spotted on the bridge as I crossed over the creek. The children had alerted Lora and all three of them were waiting for me at the front gate.

I jumped off Dusty and wrapped Lora up, kissing her boldly, to the delight of the children.

I knelt down, Jake and Sarah rushed in for a hug.

“John Wesley Tucker! You said you’d be gone for just a few days, and it’s been more than a week. Well, at least you aren’t all shot up.” Lora said. “You aren’t hurt are you?”

“No ma’am. I’m healthy as a horse. Speaking of which, look what I brought with me.”

I brought the horse around from Dusty’s off side.

Jacob’s eyes lit up with recognition.

“Shangaloo. Look, sissy, it’s Shongaloo. Do you remember Shongaloo?”.

Sarah shrugged, uninterested. She probably didn’t remember the horse.

“I found him down around Yellow Butte. He was your dad’s horse wasn’t he, Jake.”

Jake nodded silently, a somber expression on his face.

“Well, he’s your horse now, son.”

Jake’s mouth dropped open, his eyes wide with wonder and obvious delight.

Lora searched my face. Seeing my smile and nod, she understood the situation. She scooped up Sarah, holding her tight. “He doesn’t know how to ride, John.” she said.

“He’ll learn. I’ll teach him. Would you like that, Jake?”

“Yes sir!”

“Good, I’ll give you your first lesson this afternoon. Right now, you can start by leading him down to the barn. Here, take this lead rope—now don’t look at him, look where you’re going. Atta boy, I’ll open the pasture gate. Just follow me down to the barn.”

***

Buckskin Charley was more than eager to give me back my seat behind the desk in in the courthouse.

He brought me up to speed on the condition of Ed Baxter.

“Doc had to take his arm off, John. He was afraid of gangrene. There was too much broken bone and tissue damage. Baxter will have to live the rest of his life with only one arm. Hell of a thing to happen to a top hand.”

I nodded.

“I hate to hear it. Then again, he brought it on himself.

He’ll probably hang for the murder of Sean Murphy and all the other crimes he committed while he was riding for Jud Coltrane.”

Charlie nodded his agreement with my statement, and said, “Baxter’s arraignment is set for Monday. Doc thinks he’ll be strong enough by then. He’s weak as a kitten right now, but he can walk well enough. By Monday, he should be able to handle the stairs.

We’re holding him on the lynching charge. Do you want to add some more charges to it?”

“Yep, he should also be charged with attempted murder of a peace officer, horse theft and maybe even negligent homicide—Mrs. Murphy died shortly after learning her husband was lynched. Probably can’t make that stick, though. I still get mad thinking about Jake and Sarah leaving their mother’s body and walking barefoot all the way here.”

“I understand how you feel, John, but it may be hard to prove. Much of what you’ve told me is just your word against his. You say he pulled a gun on you, and the horses and equipment were found on Coltrane’s ranch, but you can’t prove Ed Baxter had anything to do with stealing from the Rocking M.”

“He was the foreman of the Bar C Bar. The Rocking M horses and equipment didn’t just magically appear on the property without his knowledge.”

“I expect when it comes down to a jury decision, knowing is one thing, doing is another”

“Charlie, you’re a pretty good Chief Deputy, but I swear, you should’ve been an attorney.”

“Maybe, but you know I’m right.”

I took a long, deep breath and let it out slowly.

“Yep, I reckon you are, at that.”

“Do you still plan to charge him with those things?”

“The only thing he confessed was the lynching.”

“Did you ask him how the horses and equipment were stolen from the Rocking M?”

I shook my head.

“There wasn’t occasion to ask many questions. He was holding a gun on me at the time. After he was shot, he wasn’t in any shape to talk about much of anything.”

“He can talk now.”

I gave it some thought. Ed Baxter wasn’t likely to offer any information, not if it would only serve to further incriminate himself. What if I had something to offer in return? Maybe we could make some sort of deal.

“You know, Charlie, what you said before about it just being my word against his, was true. This whole thing was Jud Coltrane’s doing. He’s the one who should face the worst consequences. He could go free if there isn’t anyone to testify against him. Ed Baxter is the only one who can do it.

Ed is an honorable man. He only went along with Coltrane’s plans because he was riding for the brand. That’s no longer the case. Maybe we can make a deal.”

“That’s what I was thinking. Coltrane will have the best lawyers money can buy. I’d hate to see Baxter swing, while Coltrane goes free.”

“That won’t happen. Not if I can help it. I believe I’ll have a word with our prisoner.”

BOOK: Riding For The Brand: Sage Country Book Three
3.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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