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by kzn
Rated: E · Fiction · Action/Adventure · #2207298
My Published Work




Copyright 2019 by Mervyn B. Elsdon

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is purely coincidental.
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The Meeting Of The Four

Santa Rita Foothills, Arizona
Rick Samuel followed the trail through the jagged rocks that reached silently up to the heavens like long ridged fingers, hooked and twisted. The evening had long passed, and now, the only sound that came through the darkness was the creaking of his leather saddle, the uneven clopping of hooves against the hard bedrock, and the occasional blow from his weary dapple-gray mare.

         When Rick reached the outskirts of the small town, he rode the seventeen-hand mare parallel to the lights shining like little winking-lanterns in the valley far below. However, when he came upon the town’s signpost, he nudged the gray to the west and headed directly down the mesa and into the valley.

         He held the horse at a steady walk beneath a cold and silky-wet sky, through the slosh of wagon-wheel-ruts traced on either side by dense entangled bush and trees until he came to a shallow wash that passed through a little brook meandering its way south through the valley.

         Rick reined in the gray to study the layout of the land. Bushbuck Ridge, like most small towns scattered across the western frontier, had no reason to exist unless owned by a wealthy man or kept afloat with the money spent by men and women hiding from the law.

         The immediate brush and shrubs surrounding the town lay bare, burnt, and cleared to a distance of one-hundred-yards, a custom of most small towns in the untamed west.

         The wars with the Indians continued, and the thoughts of a hostile band of renegade Apache’s attacking their homes rested heavily on the minds of the settlers.

         Bushbuck Ridge lay on the opposite side of the brook, the dusky shadows of the wood and brick structures blended with the escarpment that towered beyond them bleak and rutted. Rick nudged the mare back to a walk and crossed through the wash to the open ground on the other side.

         At the end of the main street, a solitary dog barked as the moon slipped out from behind a diminishing bank of dark sliding clouds, and Rick shared in its eagerness for the change in the weather.

         There is a limit to the time a man can spend talking to his horse and stay sane. For ten days, Rick had been in the saddle. Most of the time, it had rained, and now tired, wet, and hungry, he thought only of a hot meal and a dry bed.

         “Hungry, girl?” he said to the mare and leaned forward, slapping her playfully on the neck. “Once I’ve found the livery stable, I’ll put you down for the night with some good dry fodder and a big scoop of grain.”

         To the sound of her master’s voice, the dapple-gray rocked its head and blew jadedly.

         Two kerosene lanterns hung from beneath the balcony at the front of the saloon, the flicker of light reflected in the large murky puddles lying in the street. The main street showed little signs of life; a few horses and two pack–mules tied to the holding-rail outside the saloon. Three men sat on a weathered bench outside the saloon window watching him. Rick touched his hat in a manner of greeting as he stepped down from the gray at the front of the wooden establishment.

         Four men seated at a table glanced up from their five-card-game when Rick pushed open the batwings and stepped through into the saloon. They carried the look of hard, rough men, bent on trouble. An empty whiskey bottle stood on the tabletop, another on its side rolling this way and that with every excited thump of a fist. Half-filled whiskey glasses, partly obscured by the thick haze of static blue-gray tobacco smoke now stood ignored; each man with a face of steel with cards held tight to his chest, eager to outwit the other to claim the large pot of money set at the center of the table. Rick had seen men like these in every town and village along the trail. Strong-headed and fast with a gun, needing little persuasion to get into a fight – guns or fists. Rick smiled and dipped his head, avoiding direct eye contact with any of them and headed straight for the long bar.

         The saloon was dimly lit and grubby, dirty white walls, a hard-stamped-earth floor covered with sawdust and squared pine tables and chairs placed around the room. Men occupied most of the tables with women hovering close by, eager to join in with the lively conversation, and to help them spend their hard-earned wages. At the far corner of the saloon sat a tall man dressed in a black, high-collar suit with a stovepipe hat perched on the crest of his bobbing head, tapping out a tune on an old and beaten upright Steinway & Sons piano.

         Behind the counter slouched a barkeep with thick brown greasy hair. The buttons of his dirty white shirt pulled tightly apart by the large belly they supported. Rick flinched at the grubbiness of the portly man.

         “Whiskey?” he grunted through a mouthful of broken and tobacco-stained teeth as Rick approached the counter.

         “Your coldest beer, please.” Rick removed his rain-drenched hat and placed it on the scuffed pine countertop then flattened his long, ash-blond hair with the palms of his hands. His wet clothing clung to his six-foot frame sending a chill up his spine that rocked his shoulders. He looked up into the mirror, fixed on the wall behind the bar, and smiled grimly. You look no better than the barkeep; he thought and flattened his hair again. “Anything hot to eat?” he furthered to the barkeep.

         “We only have warm beer, Mister,” the man mumbled throatily. “The kitchen dished up rabbit stew an’ beans earlier.” He gestured with a sway of his head towards an empty table. “Sit there. I’ll check if there’s any stew left.”

         The portly man popped his head around the corner of the bar and called into the kitchen. Minutes later, an old Chinese man appeared with a tray of hot food and a glass goblet of beer. The beer was warm as the barkeep had said, but it held a good head. Rick sipped at it as he ate the bowl of sloppy rabbit stew with soggy beans and dried crusty bread.

         When he finished eating, Rick picked up what remained of his beer and moved back to the bar.

         “Been a long day?” Rick remarked, looking around the busy saloon.

         “Same as any,” replied the barkeep. “There’s not much else to do ‘round here, but drink and lose your money at that cards table over there.”

         “Do you have a room?”

         “The barkeep made a few more swipes of the bar-top with a damp cloth, wrung it over the floor behind the counter, then looked up. “How lon’ ya’ stayin’?” he asked.


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