Gideon Jericho hunts for a rogue mountain lion, arrives at the town of Krenshaw
High in the Colorado mountains, a fly buzzed around the head of Gideon Jericho. The big man absently waved his hand at the annoying pest, while peering intently at the ground. He was searching for the tracks of a mountain lion. The lion had been poaching cattle from lower down the mountainside, and Gideon had been hired to bring the beast down before it moved on to people.
Gideon was a large man, muscular and lean. Normally clean shaven, a week on the trail left his face bristling with a short beard and mustache. He wore a long coat over a shirt and vest, and denim trousers held by a thick leather belt. A gun-belt was wrapped around his waist, with two pistols that at first glance looked like Colt .45 Peacemakers. A closer examination revealed they were not from Samuel Colt's factories, as the metal gleamed differently than steel. Something ethereal seemed to hover over the weapons.
The man rode a large, brown horse with a white patch over one eye. A well made, well worn saddle provided a seat for Gideon, and a rifle case was hung from one side. A Thunderbird design was worked into the leather with beads, a gift from an old friend and guide.
Gideon raised his hand to his mouth, and pulled a one glove off, letting it fall to the saddle. He curled his fingers to whistle, then let out a low, stuttering note. "Brutus! To me, pup!" he called afterwards.
A moment later, a huge black dog appeared from the shadows of the forest. "What?" came a voice in Gideon's head.
"Any sign of the lion?" asked Gideon.
"Found tracks, found bits of fur. Not see cat. Not hear cat. Tracks still headed upland," came the reply. Brutus sat, and grinned up at Gideon.
"Probably headed for a cave of some sort. We'll stop here for the night. Did you eat anything?"
"Had rabbit. Was good. None for you," replied the dog in Gideon's head. His grin grew.
"Smart ass. Who wants to eat rabbit with dog drool anyways?" asked Gideon as he climbed down from his horse. He tied the halter to a nearby bush, making sure the horse had enough room to reach the clumps of grass. Gideon opened a saddlebag, and pulled out two ears of corn to feed the horse.
"Not dog. Hound. What you eat? Corn like horse?"
"I think fish tonight. And I have some potatoes. I can hear the stream," answered Gideon.
The man walked around the bush, and spotted the stream the mountain lion had been following up country. There was a small pool as the creek turned to follow the mountain's folds, and Gideon watched as a fat trout leapt from the water to snatch a mosquito.
Reaching into his coat pocket, he pulled out a small wallet. Inside was several hooks, some plain, some with bits of feathers tied to them to look like small insects. Selecting one that looked most like a mosquito, Gideon tied it to a bit of fishing line. Finding a place where he would not cast a shadow over the water, he gently tossed the hook out over the water. He wrapped the loose end of the line over his hand, and gently twitched the fly to make it appear alive. Slowly reeling it in, he watched as a fish rose to inspect the fly, then dart away.
With a sigh, he lifted the fly out of the water, then tossed it in again. This time the fish took the bait, and Gideon snapped the line back hard enough to set the hook! A grin crossed his face as he brought in the catch, a fat rainbow trout. He glanced at Brutus and said, "Dog drool free fish. Yum, yum!"
"Not dog. Hound!" came the reply in his head as Brutus lay back down.
Gideon picked up a stick to use as a stringer, and fed the narrow end through the fish's mouth and gills. Sticking the wide end under a rock kept the fish wet and alive while he caught two more.
"This should be enough," he said to Brutus, and carried the three fat fish to the campsite. Setting the fish aside, Gideon quickly set a circle of rocks to contain a small fire, then snapped off a few dead, dry branches from a nearby pine tree. Scratching a few slivers into the wood gave him a fire stick, and he quickly built a teepee of wood. Gideon pulled a bit of flint from his coat pocket, then pulled his knife from his belt to strike a spark.
Brutus barely had time to growl a warning when the big mountain lion leapt from his hiding place! Gideon brought his arm up to block the attacking claws, and the lion's face was inches from Gideon's. The big man could smell the big cat's last meal as the beast tried to bite his face!
Brutus leapt across the camp and sank his teeth into the back of the lion to pull him away from Gideon.
"Not fast enough!" roared Gideon as he rolled back and brought the knife up into the mountain lion's soft belly. The big cat roared in pain, and raked Gideon across the chest with his claws. Gideon slammed the knife up into the cat several more times until it finally died.
"Close! Too close," said Gideon as he tried to catch his breath. "Thanks for the help, my friend."
The suddenness of the attack left Gideon's heart racing, but the big man soon calmed his breathing and heartbeat. He looked around to see if anything else was in the area wanting to attack. After a moment, he realized the mountain lion probably didn't have his mate nearby. He looked down at the pile of brown fur, claws and teeth.
The big cat lay dead. Gideon moved the body closer to the river to dress out the carcass, to take it back to town to collect the bounty. He looked down at the claw marks across his chest. The were not too deep, but they were bleeding a fair amount.
"Damn, that was a new shirt," he grumbled as he removed his coat, torn vest and torn shirt. With the shirt now ruined, Gideon tore the cloth into strips to form bandages. Kicking off his boots, he removed his trousers, then lowered himself into the cold water of the stream to wash the blood away. Brutus took up position near the stream to watch for any other trouble while Gideon cleaned his wounds. After the cold water mostly stopped the blood flow, Gideon climbed out of the pool and began wrapping his wounds with the torn cloth.
"Better warm yourself up before you see your girl," said Brutus with a dog laugh.
Gideon looked down at himself, and shook his head at his friend's teasing. "She's always been satisfied. It's not size, it's technique!" Pulling his pants back on, Gideon turned to finish with the dead mountain lion.
With the guts removed, Gideon tied the lion from a branch and removed the fur from the carcass, leaving the head, paws and tail. The meat and bones were buried along with the offal, and finally Gideon rolled the lion up into a canvas cloth and tied it tightly.
With the bounty prepared for delivery, Gideon pulled a fresh shirt from his saddlebag and pulled it on. He didn't have a spare vest, but the one torn by the mountain lion was still somewhat serviceable. He finished dressing by tugging on the long coat, and returned to preparing his supper. The fish were tasty, as a meal tends to be after nearly getting killed.
The next day, Gideon broke camp and prepared to head back down to collect his pay for tracking the mountain lion. Brutus was already awake, and drank his fill from the stream.
"Let's get going, you mangy mutt," Gideon said to his dog.
Brutus looked at Gideon with exaggerated dignity. "I not mutt. Purebred shadow hound."
"Yeah, yeah," laughed Gideon as he tied the mountain lion skin to the saddle. "You can leap from shadow to shadow. You can talk, when you want too. What else you got?"
"What else you need?" asked the hound.
With a grin, Gideon put a boot into the stirrup, and hoisted himself onto his horse. With a click-click of his tongue, he brought the horse around to take them back down the mountain side.
"When did you realize we had gone from hunters to hunted?" he asked Brutus. "Your warning was almost too late."
"Wind shifted just a bit. Caught his scent just before he leapt. No wind shift, maybe you get hurt bad. We lucky."
"Yeah, lucky." Gideon rested his hand on his chest, feeling the bandages over the cuts the big cat had left.
The morning was warm and where the sky peeked through the trees was blue and nearly cloudless. Gideon guided the horse with a skillful hand, avoiding roots and rocks. Brutus followed along side, sometimes entering a shadow to reappear twenty or thirty feet further away, but mostly covering the ground normally.
Finally the trees gave way to open fields, and Gideon spotted the town of Krenshaw from the smoke of fireplaces. Krenshaw was not his final destination to deliver the mountain lion skin, but the little mining town might have a warm meal and soft bed. Or at least someone who could cook better than his own camp skills provided, and a bed softer than the ground and pine needles.
"What say? Care for a bite and a good night's sleep before heading on?" asked Gideon.
As Gideon rode into town, the man looked around. A single muddy road lead between two rows of buildings. The usual businesses were present, saloons, dry goods, assay office, pharmacies, stables, a small City Hall and Sheriffs Office, and finally a hotel.
Gideon stopped the horse in front of the hotel and dismounted. A young boy looked up from the wooden walkway and grinned. "Nice horse there, Mister. You in town long? I can have him brushed and clean his hooves for you," said the young entrepreneur.
Looking over the boy, Gideon reached into his pocket and pulled out a coin. "Fed and watered, brushed, and check his shoes." When the boy nodded, Gideon flipped him the coin and handed him the reins.
"What's his name, Mister?"
"None. I just call him "Horse,"" answered Gideon.
The boy lead the horse away to the stables to be bedded down for the night. Gideon entered the hotel as the bell tinkled overhead.
"Ah, Good Afternoon, Sir! A room for the night?" asked the proprioter.
"Yeah, for me and my dog," answered Gideon while Brutis sat alertly next to him.
"Well, sir, we don't normally allow pets. We have a kennel out back..."
"Me, and my dog."
The hotelier looked between Gideon's hard face, and Brutus' open mouthed grin, and swallowed.
"As you say, Sir. Five dollars for the night, and that includes dinner. You can take it over there in the main dining room, or in your room if you prefer."
"Main room will be fine. When is dinner served?"
"In about a hour, maybe less. The Missus makes a fine roast, and there should be plenty for all."
Gideon handed over the fiver, and signed the guest register.
"Anything to do in this town?" he asked, but before the hotelier was able to answer a shout came from outside.
"Lord have mercy, lord have mercy! Sheriff! Sheriff! There's been an accident up at the Lucky Englishman!" shouts a heavyset, but pleasant looking black woman as she runs into town, making a beeline for the Sheriff's Office. A young boy is following in her wake.
Stepping outside, Gideon watched the scene unfold while the hotelier stood beside him.
"What's going on, Marilyn?" asked the sheriff, a heavyset but still muscular man.
"My daddy and the other miners were killed by a giant, feathered snake!" said the boy.
"A feathered snake? Are you sure it wasn't a cave in? Those mines are a dangerous place to work," asked the sheriff, looking confused.
"No sir! It was a big snake, all covered in feathers. I don't know what happened, but there was a loud roar, then smoke and dust came out of the mine. I was near the entrance, and I saw the snake before I ran."
Gideon listened as the boy went on. He looked down meaningfully at Brutus, then stepped off of the sidewalk. A few brisk paces took him to where the boy, his mother and the sheriff were talking.
"Please Sheriff! You have to check on my husband," said Marilyn.
"All right. I'll gather up the men, and we'll go out there and check it out."
Gideon stepped forward and said, "Would you care for an extra hand, Sheriff?"
The lawman looked over Gideon, noting his muscular build and gunbelt, but shook his head.
"Jericho. Gideon Jericho."
"Thank you, Mr. Jericho, but I think me and the boys will be able to handle this. A mine accident is a tragic thing, and I don't want it getting any more tragic by having someone I don't know along as a lookie-loo."
With that, the sheriff turned and opened the door to his office and called out, "Roger! Get George, Randall and the rest, and have them saddle up. We need to investigate somethin' out at the Lucky Englisman!"
Turning back to the mother and son, he says, "We'll check on things at the mine. If there are any survivors, we'll get them help and bring them back." Turning to the boy, he adds, "Don't be saying nothing about no feathered snakes. I don't need folks getting all riled up any more than they need to."
The boy gulps, but nods his head.
A moment later, the sheriff and posse mount their horses and ride off in the direction Marilyn Washington and her son arrived from.
Gideon looked around, then turned to the boy's mother. "Might I have a word with your son, ma'am?"
Marilyn Washington nodded, and Gideon lead the boy a few feet down the wooden sidewalk.
"Are you sure it was a feathered snake? And not just a cloud of dust, or something in the mine breaking loose during a cave-in?"
"No, sir. It was a snake all right. Big one, as big around as a man, and covered in green feathers. All the snakes around here are brown and gray, or brown and black," said Robert.
Gideon stroked his chin, and turned to watch the sheriff and his men ride away.
"All right. Thank you. I'm sure the sheriff and his men will be able to handle themselves," said Gideon. He looks again, just as the sheriff enters the woodsline, and disappears from sight.
"Have you two had anything to eat? The hotel is about to serve dinner; I can spot you if you are short."
"Thank you kindly, but the hotel don't allow us Colored folks. We'll eat at my friend's house, if it's all the same to you Mr. Jericho," said Marilyn Washington as she took her son's hand.
Smiling grimly as that announcement, Gideon watched as mother and son walked down the wooden walk and to a small yellow house set back from the main road. A black woman was working in her garden, who then stood up and waved when Marilyn and son approached. All three went into the house.
Looking down at Brutus, Gideon shook his head. "Shame about how some folks act. Well, let's get ourselves some dinner."
End of Chapter One