Ridin' for the Brand - Part II
I crested the hill on the east side of the Bar-T ranch and looked down into the valley over Georgina’s floppy ears. The cowhand living quarters looked vacant, same with the pasture, only a few of the big Percheron draft horses remained. The only activity seemed to be coming from the cook’s quarters.
It appeared that the men responsible for the throbbing pain in my head weren’t lying, at least not about the ranch hands scattering to the winds. It was hard to blame the other hands for leaving, they were wanderers and their reputation was the only currency they could claim. No cowboy wanted their name associated with an outfit accused of stealing cattle.
I rode down to the barn and turned Georgina out in the pasture with the Percherons. I gave them fresh hay and water before heading to the bunkhouse. I found the inside empty as I suspected.
I headed over to check in on Sam, the Bar-T cook.
Greenhorn cowboys tended to look down on the cook on a cattle drive. I knew better than to treat the man responsible for making my meals with anything less than respect. My belief held especially true for Sam. Sam's a grizzly old man with gray hair down to his shoulders and a long gray beard to match. He walked with a pronounced limp in his left leg. Sam had no problem helping himself to an extra serving or two of apple pie and it showed. To the untrained eye, he doesn’t look like much other than a broken down old man.
On my first cattle drive with the Bar-T, I noticed that there was more to Sam than what was on the surface. That suspicion was confirmed when we ran into trouble on a cattle drive through Kansas. A few local cowhands threatened to cut a hundred head of our cattle for grazing on their land. Their claim had no merit and they figured we would back down at the threat of violence, they figured wrong and it was their last mistake. During the gunfight I watched Sam jump down from the chuck wagon, unsheathe a Sharps rifle, and knock a man from a horse galloping at three hundred yards. Not many men could have made that shot. It’s one thing to hit a tree trunk in a calm environment at that range. Killing a man riding a galloping horse at three hundred yards in a gunfight is another thing all together. I never confronted Sam about the incident, out here in the West, every man has a past, and asking personal questions is a quick way to find trouble. All of us came West for a reason, and it sure wasn’t because we were comfortable and happy with our lives back East.
I opened the door to the cook’s quarters, the smell of beans and bacon filled my nostrils. “Howdy Sam,” I shouted over the noise of clanging pans and boiling water.
Sam’s voice boomed from the back of the room, “Well … I’ll be damned if that isn’t Clayton Daniels. I should have known that you’d stick around. I figure you ran into some cowboys from the Four-Sixes while you were out herding strays.”
“Sure did, and they weren’t carryin’ good news,” I replied.
“No I don’t suspect they were. A few of them stopped by here and scared off all the hands with rumors about Mr. Jacobs and Bill Nelson rustling cattle. Of course Mr. Jacobs and Bill were off in town when they came by. And you were out herding strays. No salty hands around to keep the rumors from running wild. A few of the skittish hands got the greenhorns spooked and convinced them all to take off before trouble came.”
I nodded my head. “Figured as much. I checked the bunkhouse. Empty.”
Sam sighed. “None of those stories are true. Mr. Jacobs, Missy, and Bill should be back from town this evening, they’ll settle it once they get here.”
I felt a hollow pit in my stomach. “Missy went to town with them?” I felt the blood rush out of my face.
“She did … you feeling okay? You oughta sit down.”
I steadied myself on the chair. The thought of an innocent girl getting mixed up in this nonsense made me sick to my stomach. “The Four-Sixes hands that I ran into said that Mr. Jacobs and Bill Nelson were being held in the Durango jail for cattle rustling. If that’s true, I don’t even want to think about what happened to Missy.”
Sam untied his apron and threw it on the counter. “I figured they were just rumors, didn’t know there was any weight to'em.”
I nodded and held up a hand. “Let me do some scoutin’ before we jump into a heap of a mess. You willing to stay here in case Missy makes her way back?”
Sam took a breath and nodded, “you’re right, I’ll keep a lookout here at the ranch. If I don’t see you by tomorrow evening, I’m coming to town.”
“Understood,” I shook hands with Sam and walked down toward the pasture to let Georgina know that we weren’t going to be resting for long. Town was an hour ride from the ranch and I planned on traveling the last half mile on foot.
I waited until dusk to head out for town, I needed the cover of darkness on my side. I rode Georgina and brought along one of the Percherons for company. I wasn’t sure if I’d be coming back alone, a spare horse couldn’t hurt. I hobbled Georgina and the big Percheron in a small pasture with good grass. They were both happy to rest for the evening.
I needed to keep the element of surprise as long as possible. I set out for town on foot, not knowing what type of trouble I was going to find.
I approached town from the Northeast on a coyote trail, my route was hidden from sight by oak trees and thick brush. Carrying a rifle in town was bound to draw more attention than I wanted. I left my Winchester and a cartridge belt hidden in a scrub bush, if I needed my rifle, I was sure to need the extra ammo as well.
I squatted next to the oak tree to let my eyes adjust to the lamps that lit up the saloons on main street. I carried three revolvers, a .44 caliber Smith and Wesson Schofield on each hip, and a short barreled .41 caliber Colt in the small of my back. I preferred the inconvenience of carrying a spare pistol to the nerve racking experience of reloading in the middle of a gunfight.
As a safety precaution and matter of habit, I only carried five rounds in each pistol, leaving the hammer resting on an empty chamber. Before leaving the cover of the oak trees, I added the sixth round to each revolver and hoped I wouldn’t need them.
I quickly moved across seventy five yards of open land between myself and the back alley of town. I slowed my gait to a walk, and caught my breath. I headed toward the Red Bird Hotel in search of news about Mr. Jacobs, Bill Nelson, and Missy.
I knocked on the back door of the Red Bird three times and waited for a reply. A few seconds later the door cracked open.
“Miss Eleanor says all business goes through the front door tonight. If you want a turn, you’ll have to pay full price.”
I recognized the voice stuck the toe of my boot in the door jam. “Kate, I need your help.”
“Clayton is that you?”
The door opened and Kate greeted me with a hug and a kiss. The taste of whiskey on her lips gave me goosebumps. She pulled me inside and closed the door to the alley.
Before I could regain my bearings Kate slapped me across the face. It was a playful slap, but it still stung a bit. “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you in weeks, and you promised to take me to the hot springs.”
Kate didn’t allow me to answer, she grabbed me around the waist and kissed me again. Then grabbed my hand and started toward the stairs. I didn’t move my feet, she flipped up her dress and looked over her shoulder at me with a smile, “well let’s go cowboy, you’re gonna have to make it up to me.”
It isn’t often than a man in the West runs across a woman like Kate. We were what a more educated man would call ‘kindred spirits’, I just figured we were sinners. Kate and I both had problems, but somehow we meshed together. Yes, Kate is a lady of the night, but I have my own flaws and see no point in making judgements, things just felt right when we were together, I'll leave it at that.
I squeezed her hand and pulled her back toward me. “Kate, I need your help.” I watched her expression change when she looked into my eyes. “I heard Mr. Jacobs was arrested for cattle rustling and is in the jail. Is that true?”
Kate nodded. “That dirty bastard Sheriff Anderson rode in with him earlier today. There were two others with them. An older man and a younger girl. Rumor is that they’re going to hang the two men tomorrow..”
“Without a trial?”
Kate replied, “I told you, Sheriff Anderson is a bastard. He’s an evil son of a bitch and for sale to the highest bidder.” She spat on the floor.
“Okay, what about the girl?”
“They’re keeping her across the street at the Bird Cage.”
“Thanks Kate,” I looked her in the eye, “don’t tell anyone I was here,” I smiled and grabbed her by the waist, “but I’ll be back. Don’t you worry.”
She kissed me on the lips, hiked up her skirt, wrapped her arms around my neck, and jumped on me with her legs clamped around my waist. She hopped down after a moment and patted me on the rear. “Go on, do what you need to do … but you had better bring that cute bottom back here.”
I chuckled and shook my head. “Woman, you’re sure to be the death of me.”
Kate raised her eyebrows, “quite possibly.”
I shook my head and walked out the back door into the alley. I needed to make sure Missy was safe before dealing with Sheriff Anderson and the boys from the Four-Sixes.
Normally the short story of the week gets posted on Tuesdays at 8 a.m., due to the observance of Memorial Day, I pushed it back a day this week. I'll be back on schedule next week.
Life on the Catranch is moving along well. Rich and Pam are happy. We have a new cowskin rug for the living room and Pam loves to chase the string across it. It's just enough traction for her to gain speed then slide across the cow hide.
As for other writing endeavors ... things are mehhh ... but there is always light at the end of the tunnel and I think I finally see it. All I can do is keep laying it down on the page and eventually something good will happen.
On another note, I really enjoy writing these Western stories.
A few pictures from our trip to the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, CA. I spent at month training up there in 2002, it was a surreal experience to visit it again sixteen years later. Corporal Wolfrum of 2002 would not recognize the Jerad of 2018, which is probably a good thing, but maybe not. I guess it depends on your perspective.