A Western, since I've never contemplated writing one before. Bear with me...
|The ropes, taught and wrenching with water from the river, stretch with bull-like groans and rub against Conway's shirt, scraping his skin red. The burning from his fighting to get loose hurts him more than the bullet from a few months ago. His hands, under the waters' surface, flail to reach his knife. The water is cold, but he is glad that the river is slow and deep enough for his hands to stay invisible under the surface.|
"Awright Conway, any last words before we tear you apart?" This is Bull Shannon, the ranch hand and ramrod that reluctantly took on Conway for the last drive. His demeanor fits his name; snarling and huffing like a rampaging beast. He is a dried up carcass that Conway would like to see hanging on barbwire.
Conway struggles against the ropes and tugs one way making the men to his left shift their weight toward him, splashing water over his way. The men on the right step backwards quickly to keep the rope taught, and stay their distance. “Hold ‘im, hold ‘im tight!” one of them yells. Conway does not want them to.
“Bull, you can’t hold me, and you ain’t gonna tear into me!” Conway twists some more, staring coldly at Shannon. Stepping into a small divot with his right foot, Conway gains another two inches in to the water and more freedom to move his right hand toward the knife in its sheath.
The men pull on the rope again, which jerks their captive toward the shore, without success. Bull spits out some of his tobacco, creating a mess on the ground and his chin; he wipes it off his stubble with his sleeve. "Heh, you reckon that? Well, you'd be wrong." He looks around at the other men, his fellow drivers, "This group o' men have a strong feeling that you ain't right about that. An' I don't have to be the one myself to the job — we feel the same about ya!"
"Yeah!" "Yah!" "Hep!" A staccato choir votes together about Conway's end, slacking off on the rope at the same time. This allows Conway to deftly, and swiftly, remove the knife from its scabbard. He has a hand on a weapon, but for now, it is his only means of escape, not revenge. The plan, step back hard to get the men into a struggle with him, pulling tight on his ropes and digging in hard to the dry shoreline. At the moment, he just wants his knife to be sharp; if the ropes are too wet, they will not easily give way to a blade.
“C’mon, pull him up here!” Bull sees Conway trying to pull away, thinking that his prisoner wants to get to the dry land on the other side, and lose the others in the water. He puts his hand on his revolver, still in its holster, and readies to put an end to his troubles. “Drag him it you have to.”
The three men on the left and shuffle their feet up the bank, while the men on the right rope, struggle to gain an inch on Conway; for Conway, the strength of the river is on his side. The men grunt, and feel an advantage coming. Conway feels it too, and suddenly takes several steps toward them. His captor’s feet slip underneath them, and their bodies fall to the dirt. Conway gets a lurch, and has slightly more freedom to move. He quickly gets both hands out of the water, up toward the ropes, with the knife’s blade attacking the rope. He steps back to make the rope taught and easier to cut. Fortunately, these ropes are not any thicker.
On the shore, Bull is astonished at the sight, but only keeps a steady eye on Conway who is 25 feet away. He spits again, and slowly gets a tight grip on the handle of his pistol, and raises its girth from the ‘pocket’.
Some of the fallen men pull on the rope from where they lay, while two fumble to get to their feet and pull. Conway’s knife does not get through the rope quickly, and he has to saw at it with jerking motions. With the rope being pulled from the shore again, he has to pull against the shore with his feet slipping on the riverbed.
Not having to concentrate on more than one action, Bull has time to get his gun out now, and leveled at Conway’s torso facing directly at him. He cocks the hammer with this thumb.
The first rope snaps away from the knife’s edge.
Bull squeezes the trigger.
Conway falls down to the left with the flow of the water.
The bullet just misses him, ripping into the water instead.
The men on the right fall back with their full strength free now.
“Damn!” Bull is upset now, and quickly pulls on the hammer again. His aim is unsteady now, as his works on sighting up Conway.
Popping up out of the water, spitting out water and sucking on the air, Conway peddles his feet to get a stand against the water, and into position again to cut the remaining rope. He wishes he had his Smith & Wesson; he could at least make those on land dick for cover so he could scramble away.
There may be no hope for Conway now as Bull readies to squeeze to pull back on the trigger again, sure to hit his mark this time.
Shannon jerks to his right upon hearing the gravelly voice, kicking dirt up with his feet, and his hand gripped tightly on his pistol. He sees on the small ridge behind him his boss, Harry Rusk, on a horse, with his son Sam beside him on his own horse and with a rifle out. This carbine is resting on the horn of the saddle, surely loaded. Bull lowers his gun slightly, but does not un-cock it, and sheepishly acknowledges Rusk’s appearance, “Yessir, Mr. Rusk?”
Conway quickly got to his feet during this moment while everyone ashore stopped suddenly when they heard the familiar voice. The one cut rope has loosened around him, so he takes to cutting the other rope, now wet and lax. He could work to wriggle his way out, but he fears this would gain too much attention.
Rusk wrinkles his 60-odd year face, “What’s this commotion about?” The two Rusks are still like pillars.
Chewing hard on the soggy mash in his mouth, Bull does not bother to spit, “We have a little problem with one of the fellers, and we’re takin’ care of it.” Some dark drool makes it past his cracked lips.
Harry Rusk adjusts his posture, “When I gave ya this ram-rodding job, we had an understanding, didn’t we?”
Bull only stares and chews.
“If there is a problem…, ghrrr!” He clears his throat with such a startled rush, his son turns to him, readying to give assistance. Harry Rusk carries on, “That is, if you are experiencing issues with your charges, then you take care of it. But if you are needin’ to end their employment, you needs to take it up with me first. ‘Member that?”
Spitting and dribbling again, Bull un-cocks his gun. He turns his head quickly over to Conway, still in the water and moving no more, seeing that the tide has turned his way. “Cut him loose. We’ll soon be rid of ‘em.”
The others pull on the ropes gently as Conway walks steadily out of the cold water. He had been in the water so long, the weight of his body and the water clinging to him and his clothes, puts great pressure on his tired legs. He feels like a newborn calf walking up the shore.
“Get dried, and come see me at the house.” The elder Rusk sits, waiting on Bull to make his final move.
Shaking off his ropes, Conway complies, “Yessir, right away.” He looks at Bull with contempt, and satisfaction that things did not go the other way.
Bull Shannon, un-cocks his gun, and shoves it back into the holster. Wiping his chin again, he kicks the dirt hoping that his anger goes with the pebbles. Knowing that this turn is not for the better, he walks toward his men, the other hired hands, and waits for Conway and the Rusks to leave.
Sliding his gun back into its home, Harry Rusk and his son leisurely ride away.
Out of sorts, Conway sees the calmness between the three parties, and ventures off toward the direction of where he last saw his horse. The sooner he gets distance between he and Bull Shannon, the better he will feel; and the drier, once he can get undressed. He never thought he would get into a circumstance like this, on his own. Dire situations were not unusual during the war. Now, it seemed unlikely—unbelievable. Coming into the Rusk Ranch operation did not look treacherous, at first.
Three months before:
The Polynesian Hotel is unlike any other hotel in town. It did not stand out compared to other hotels in the state, but it was usually the first façade to catch the eyes of newcomers on Main Street; flaming green paint with shimmering blue trim around the windows and eaves. Conway, too, was drawn toward The Polynesian, and so he steers his horse toward it. The dust from the street is kicked alight by the heavy traffic through this major thoroughfare. People come from the smaller towns, from the sprawling farmland and ranches, and from Eastern cities. Their reasons are being here are varied, from the mundane of buying seed or making claims, to somewhat exciting, like purchasing new fabrics or purchasing deeds to a greater life. Others are just simply passing through, on the way to places better or worse. That is the way Conway sees it. This town could be the last, good or bad.
A boy, not yet teenaged, stands out front of the hotel, on one of the steps up to the entrance, waiting for guests. He is neither clean, nor dirty, trying to be presentable with what he has. Noticing Conway, he eagerly meets him, “Welcome to The Polynesian, sir. Will you be staying for the week?”
Smiling, Conway is surprised by the temerity of the boy, “What makes you think I want to stay at this hotel, boy?”
Conway’s horse jerks his head as the boy grabs hold of the bridle, “You kiddin’? Everyone wants to stay at The Polynesian, the grandest hotel around!”
He looks up at the ‘majestic’ two-story hotel. “The grandest, eh? Well, I don’t know about staying a week…, how much is the livery?”
“We take care of the horses free for all the guests!” The boy is overly exuberant.
“Is that a fact? Hm…” Conway swings his leg around and dismounts, “That sounds like a GREAT deal, doesn’t it, Hester?”
The boy has a curious look, “Hester? The horse is a stud, mister.”
Conway looks at his horse, with a little smirk, and then back at the boy. “Really?” He reaches into his vest pocket and pulls out a penny, holding it up to the boy’s face.
His face lighting up, the boy puts out his free hand, “Yessir!” He trots off toward the livery stable with the horse, “C’mon, Hester!” Conway chuckles as he hears the boy whistle a little tune.
Turning his attention toward the hotel, he moves forward and up the steps, passing wily through the pedestrians going by.