Marshal trapped by outlaws aided by old friend.
|The twelve notches on the handle of his six-gun stood out more clearly as the dying sun cast shadows. Its holster had endured a lot of wear in its day. Their owner rode without hurry on a red-mix gelding back to the small town where he was law and order. A strong wind gusted from the badlands of New Mexico. Colt pulled his worn hat brim down, and his blue bandana up over his mouth and nose. The dust storm would send a hail of grit his way.
Mixed feelings fought for control as he approached the town. His carefree youth called to him, urging him to abandon responsibility and just ride away. But the early death of his kid brother demanded that he continue to shoulder the duties of a lawman to help make a difference in the harsh environment.
He pulled up as he neared the town cemetery. Colt stepped from the saddle and looped the reins over a post. There were few marked graves in the unkempt place. Colt walked to Jim's grave and bent down on one knee. He took off his hat as he stared at his brother’s grave. The pain of the loss felt like it happened yesterday.
Colt had been a wild one in his youth. Using a gun had come second-nature to him. With only a little practice, he had become the quickest and deadliest in his county. He’d never gunned anyone down unfairly. The challengers always drew first but quickly died. Colt’s bullet never missed its mark. He welcomed all comers.
Over time, he roamed near and far. His reputation preceded him wherever he went. ‘Gunslinger’ they called him and the honest people cleared the streets when he came to their towns. Going where he wanted, when he wanted, for as long as he wanted became his way of life.
All that changed in one day when he learned that his kid brother, trying to follow in his footsteps, had been killed in one of those ‘fair’ gunfights on the street of their hometown. He’d never been especially close to his brother…they were too many years apart in age. The death kind of connected the two though and Colt realized that ‘fair’ was never what it claimed to be in gunfights. His brother had been only fifteen years old. The winner had been a veteran of many shootouts.
Colt determined that he’d use his talent to keep the peace rather than break it. It was the least he could do for the kid, his brother. He’d learned that a town marshal was needed in Crooked Rock. By the end of the week, he’d applied for and got the job no one else wanted. His two predecessors hadn’t lasted more than a week apiece. The soil that covered their graves was still fresh.
He’d received word from the town minister of a murder. A middle-aged sodbuster had been found face-down in the soil of his freshly plowed farm. When the church-going farmer had missed two weekends of church in a row, the preacher knew something was wrong. He’d made the long journey to check on him and found the body. Buzzards hadn’t left much of him before he was discovered.
The town was dismally lit as Colt rode in. Tumbleweeds skirted across the road like phantoms. The narrow street was deserted. Everyday citizens had barred their doors and windows and sat rocking by the fire or were asleep in their beds. Colt reached down and patted his horse, “Just a little further now old boy.” The horse swung his head in acknowledgement and picked up his pace.
The sign in front of the bank swung as if it were being batted by ghosts. It made a deep grinding noise as it suffered that could be heard above the scream of the wind. Sand was piling up in small pockets where the wind was weaker. He noticed light reaching out from the saloon. Perhaps he’d drop in for a refresher.
He left his horse at the livery for a rubdown and an extra portion of grain. Pushing against the unseen force of the demon wind, Colt made his way to the saloon. The swinging doors danced in rhythm with the storm. Sheltered from the elements, he used his Stetson to brush off the grit and called for a whiskey. The sole bartender served up the drink without comment and continued to wipe the bar. Colt tossed it away in one swallow.
“Colt!” came a gruff voice from the past. He didn’t reach for his gun but turned slowly to face the man behind the voice.
“Guthrie…,” the word splattered against the plain barroom walls. Colt put the shot-glass down and moved to where the man sat alone at an antique table. “What brings you here, Guthrie,” asked Colt frowning.
“Just thought I’d drop in on an old partner,” replied Guthrie in an even voice.
“Guthrie, I’m not that way any more,” replied the lawman. “I’ve put all that behind me now.” He removed his hat and laid it carefully on the table.
“All of what?” queried Guthrie. He smiled slowly as he watched the marshal closely.
“I’m the law here now,” he said in a flat voice deadly serious.
“I’d heard about that…couldn’t believe it at first. I heard about your kid brother…I’m sorry,” said Guthrie.
“You’re gonna have to move on, Guthrie…there’s no place for your kind here.”
“I was only passing through anyway, Colt…I won’t stay where I’m not wanted. Have a drink with me before I ride out. Not too much comfort in drinking alone and it’s a long ride to the next town."
“Ok…for old times sake…I’ll have one,” agreed the marshal as he sat down.
When the drink was finished, the marshal shook hands with his old friend and Guthrie promised to leave within the hour. Colt left the saloon and started to his small spartan office when he felt a gun denting his ribs. He started for his gun but a stern voice advised, “Don’t.” His shooter was taken to ensure his obedience.
The Brady gang was in town and Colt found that he was their prisoner. They’d heard about him taking the job of marshal there and knew his reputation. To nip things in the bud, they took him prisoner before they made themselves at home in the saloon.
Colt sprawled in the middle of the splintered saloon floor as he was thrown through the swinging doors headfirst. Loud laughter rang out as the outlaws barged their way in. Hooting and singing, they called to the bartender to bring some bottles.
The lawman tasted blood from a tear at the corner of his mouth. Beating him senseless had been the first task after he was ambushed. Pain engulfed his body where he’d been kicked and stomped. He lay there defenseless as the gang roughhoused the bartender forcing him to serve drinks on his knees.
A dark figure in a poorly lit corner watched in silence as the frolic grew in intensity. No one seemed to notice him or the angry clouds that gathered about him. He poured one last drink and downed it in one gulp. Loosening his sidearm, he slowly straightened in his chair. The wind outside shrieked as it sought entry to the saloon as if to join the party within.
In a quick move, Guthrie slid a pistol across the floor to where Colt lay resting. As if rehearsed, Colt caught the shooter in his left hand and sprang to his feet. Time seemed to slow as the marshal noticed how good the six-gun felt in his hand. It felt too good…it had become an extension of his arm. Thoughts of the kid flashed through his brain. Then…bodies seemed to float in air as they tumbled in surprise to the floor.
Colt and Guthrie had been a good team in another life. The gang was no more. Their bodies littered the floor like sacks of grain. Gunsmoke filled the room and even the wind seemed to draw silent as it sensed the odor of blood and gore. The bartender stood motionless in shock as he stared at the men.
“Well…time for me to go now I guess,” drawled Guthrie.
“Yes…reckon it is,” agreed the marshal. The men looked into each other’s eyes as if arriving at some kind of understanding. They shook hands again and Guthrie started out the door.
He stopped just short of leaving, “…if you ever change your mind.”
“I won’t,” replied the marshal, “but thanks…Guthrie."
A sudden rush of wind pierced the swinging doors and moaned soulfully as it passed through the saloon. Colt thought about his brother and realized his decision had been the right one. The Brady gang had probably been the ones who’d killed the farmer.
He stood a little taller as he left the saloon. The badge on his vest would be his life…yet he pondered…and thought about the old times.