J. Allen Wolfrum is a fiction author and former Marine based in San Diego, California.

 

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Ridin' for the Brand - Part III

Ridin' for the Brand - Part III

The Bird Cage hotel was not where I wanted to be, the place was filthy. When a man lives out on the range he gets to know the difference between clean dirt and and filthy disease ridden dirt. If a cattle outfit camps in one place for more than a few days, which is rare, the dirt gets a grimy disease ridden feel to it. At that point, you don’t even want a bath, you just want some clean dirt.

Just looking the Bird Cage made me feel like I needed to jump in the creek. To make matters worse, it wasn’t a hotel, it was a house of prostitution that happened to rent out a few rooms long term. Certainly no place for Missy Jacobs to be. There was bound to be some commotion associated with breaking Mr. Jacobs and Bill Nelson out of jail. Missy needed to be free and clear before that happened.

The kitchen door of the Bird Cage hotel opened into a side alley, I went inside looking for Milt Brandson, the bartender. He was the only person who worked at the Bird Cage that  knew me, calling him friend was a mighty stretch. I found Milt crouched down looking through a cabinet of liquor bottles in the back corner of the kitchen.

When Milt stood up and turned around he bumped right into my chest, it gave him quite a start and he snapped at me, “What are you doing back here! No customers allowed.”

“I’m no customer, Milt.”

Milt squinted his eyes. “You’re a hand with the Bar-T, right? Daniels? Clayton Daniels?”

“In the flesh, good to see ya Milt,” followed by my best politician smile.

Milt wasn’t buying it. “Get out of the kitchen.”

Before he could finish, I picked up a flour rolling pin with my left hand and tapped it on one of the whiskey bottles in his arms. “One question for ya Milt. Where’s Missy Jacobs?”

Milt smirked and didn’t respond. He made a move to push past me. With one forceful strike I knocked the whiskey bottles out of his arms and sent them crashing to the floor. Milt’s face turned bright red with anger, he was mad as a wet hen and I was in no mood to take his guff.

“Milt, I didn’t want to do that. You gave me no choice. Where’s Missy Jacobs? I know some hands of the Four-Sixes are keeping her here. All I want to know is what room … then I’ll leave you back to tendin’ bar.”

“You’re going to pay for that,” said Milt.

“Yes sir, I will. We all pay in the end. But today isn’t the end for me. Missy Jacobs? Start talking before I start gettin’ angry.”

“She’s in Room 213,” replied Milt. His eyes told me that he was telling the truth. They also told me that he would double cross me the instant he got the chance.

Milt hit the ground with a thud after a blow to the temple with the rolling pin. I hogtied him and threw him out in the side alley. Someone would find him before long, but I only needed a few minutes.

There was no doubt, the men holding Missy were professional killers. Running up the stairs with my guns blazing would have done nothing but get me buried in a shallow unmarked grave.

There was only one way to get up to the second floor without drawing unnecessary attention, the thought of it made my skin crawl, I’d done worse, not sober, but I’d done worse.

As the only man wearing half way clean clothes and a fresh shave, finding a lady to escort me upstairs was not a problem. On the walk upstairs I reminded myself to burn my shirt when this was all over.

In the hallway of the second floor was a man dressed in black pants and jacket with a clean white shirt. He sat in a chair with his feet kicked up on a stool. He was the lookout and his partner was inside the room with Missy.

The lady and I made quite a commotion on our way down the hall. We weaved from one side of the hall to the other. Another customer on the opposite side of the hall made just as much noise. The eyes of the man in the chair casually moved between us, he didn’t seem concerned, nothing unusual for an evening at the Bird Cage.

When his eyes moved toward the other end of the hallway, I palmed the hideout revolver from the small of my back and spun it around so I was holding the barrel and cylinder. As we walked past him I grabbed my lady by the shoulder and swung her against the wall in a passionate embrace. I spun around and knocked the hired hand off his chair with the butt of my revolver. He hit the floor with a thud and was out cold before he knew what happened.

Room 213, where Missy was being held, was one more door down the hallway. We kept moving, my lady gave me a strange look after seeing the man on the ground. It happened fast enough that she wasn’t sure how to process the situation. I grabbed her by the hip in a playful manner and she went along with it. She was a professional and knew better than to upset the man taking her alone into a room.

Most hotels have doors that lock, when a man pays for a room, even though the walls are thin as a newspaper, he expects a little privacy. The Bird Cage really wasn’t a hotel, locks on doors were mighty dangerous for the ladies. When we made a few more steps down the hallway and made it to Room 213, I flung the door open and threw my lady inside. She landed in the arms of the other man guarding Missy. Throwing a woman into danger like that wasn’t the most gentlemanly thing I’ve ever done, but I was short on ideas and time.

The man guarding Missy was tied up dealing the lady I shoved into his arms for just long enough for me to get the drop on him. By the time he got free there was a Colt pointed at his chest.

Missy ran toward me with a look of relief on her face.

“Whoah there fella, keep nice and still, we don’t want any accidents to happen, I get mighty twitchy when I’m nervous,” I said.

“You must be the only cattle rustlin’ cowhand left at the Bar-T, I’ll tell you what. You ride out of town now and I’ll let you live,” said the hired gun.

I couldn’t help but smile. “Now that’s a mighty kind offer coming from a man facing down the barrel of a Colt. There ain’t no cattle rustlers working on the Bar-T and you know it.” I nodded toward Missy, “when he drops his gun belt you pick it up and bring it with us.”

The hired gun dropped his belt, he wore two guns and had a big Bowie knife strapped to the back.

“I’ve seen you around, we ran into each other in Abilene,” said the hired gun.

The mention of Abilene and the sight of the Bowie knife triggered my memory. “Well … seems like we have ... John, I didn’t recognize you right away. Those new duds you got on threw me off for a minute. What are you doing riding for the Four-Sixes?”

He smiled, “I learned my lesson, I follow the money ... punchin’ cattle is no way to make a livin’. I see you’re still out there fightin’ steers and barely scrapin’ by.”

“A man’s worth isn’t measured in dollars, John. I don’t sell my gun to the highest bidder.”

John smirked and chucked, “Ohh that’s right. You’re one of those fools who ‘ride for the brand’, that’s gonna …”

“That’ll be enough from you. I ain’t no hired killer. And you’re darn right, I ride for the brand. And I always will,” I looked over to Missy, “hog tie him and shove a bandana in his mouth.”  I pointed toward the ground, “John, face down on the ground, if I get any sense you’re even thinkin’ about tryin’ to be anything but cooperative, the legend of John Wesley will end with you dying face down in a filthy whore house. And I’ll make sure that the story makes it into the newspapers and dime novels.”

John Wesley must have sensed that I wasn’t foolin’ around, and he was right. I would have killed him the instant he made a wrong move. Missy finished tying and gagging him. It wouldn’t be long before he was found, we needed to hurry. I gave my lady a dollar coin and made her promise to stay quiet. I had little hope of that happening but maybe it would be enough for us to get out of the hotel.

Missy and I rushed out the back of the Bird Cage, she kept John Wesley’s gun belt slung around her shoulder. She followed me in silence down the alley, we stopped just short of the livery.

“Clayton how are we going to get my pa and Bill Nelson out of jail? They’re fixin’ to hang them both tomorrow morning,” said Missy.

“Let me worry about that. You need to get back to the ranch, Sam’s waiting for you. Before you leave, I need your help, you remember my mule Georgina?”

Missy nodded.

“She’s hobbled with one of the big Percherons about a hundred yards back in the tree line. I want you to pick out two horses from the livery and bring them over to the same spot. When I get your pa and Bill Nelson out of jail we’ll need to get out of here in a hurry. Pick the best horses you can find,” I gave her twenty dollars, “that’s more than enough to cover the cost, tell them we’ll bring'em back soon enough ... Then you head back to the ranch.”

“What should I tell Sam when I get back?”

“Just tell him to be expectin’ us to be ridin’ in a cloud of dust and we’ll likely have some angry fellas on our tail. He’ll know what to do.”

Missy took a deep breath, “and these pistols?”

“Keep them with you, just in case.”

Missy took off toward the livery and I made my way toward the jail.

Ridin' for the Brand - Part IV

Ridin' for the Brand - Part IV

Ridin' for the Brand - Part II

Ridin' for the Brand - Part II