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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Western · #583757
Vengeance can be far reaching.
Johnny stepped down from the saddle and hitched his horse to a rail. His throat was dry and dusty from the long ride. Thirst was the main thing on his mind at present as he pushed open the swinging doors of the Lucky Lady.

“What’ll you have?” asked the saloon keeper.

“Beer will do,” returned Johnny in a thick drawl.

The bartender brought the beer. It sure looked good. Anything wet would look good just about now. “Not from around here,” asked the bartender, just making conversation.

“Nope…I’m not,” answered the young cowboy.

“Ma Ferguson’s place up the street is the best place to stay if you’ve got the money. Rooms are cheap and the food’s good,” offered the man behind the bar.

“Thanks, mister, I’ll check that out in a bit. Got to dust a little of the trail off first.”

“You’re welcome…where’re you from, Texas?” said the bar tender.

“Yes,” Johnny answered slowly, “why do you ask?” He subtly dropped his hand to his sidearm.

“No reason…just asking,” smiled the bartender as he walked away. Johnny relaxed a bit.

Alone and sipping at his beer, Johnny’s thoughts carried him back home to Texas. His family had owned a small spread just outside of San Antone. They worked a herd of cattle and goats and farmed a little to make a living. It had been a good life.

All that changed in one afternoon when Gantry and his boys rode in. Some big outfit back East was buying up land and ranches around San Antonio. All the farmers and ranchers were aware of it but not interested in selling. Gantry was hired to change their minds.

Johnny had ridden up to the far north pasture to look for strays after the spring roundup. Most of the livestock was corralled near the barn where they would be inspected for disease, dipped, and branded if needed. A few would be cut out to take to the sale barn in town.

He hadn’t been gone more than four hours at most when he rode back to a scene of disaster. Gantry’s men had been there. Everyone was dead, his mother, father, brother and sister…all gone. The house was in flames and the livestock were gone. It took him a week to find out who’d been responsible for the massacre and another week to pick up their trail.

Gantry’s work around San Antone had been finished because the people back East had decided he was too rough in the way he handled things. He and his men had ridden back to Arizona where it was rumored that men were needed at a big mining outfit.

“Bartender!…one more,” called Johnny.

The bartender brought another beer. Johnny tossed out a couple of coins. As the bartender took them, Johnny asked, “Ever hear of a man named Gantry around here?”

“Gantry….Gantry? Yeah, there is a man named Gantry that comes in here sometimes with a few other men. I think they work out at the Loadstone mine…they come in around sundown usually.”

“Obliged,” returned Johnny. He took his beer and sat down at a table in the corner of the saloon where he could see the patrons come and go.

It had been lonely…real lonely since his family was gone. The whole thing was still just a blur in his mind. He tried not to think about them…his family. It was more important to focus on the task at hand for now. The swinging doors opened and Johnny looked up quickly. It was only a dude from back East coming in to quench his thirst.

Johnny was twenty years old that spring before his family was killed. He was a tall youth…muscular from hard work on the ranch. His sandy blond hair came from his mother’s side of the family. A strong will and determination was his gift from his father. They were hardy people who’d worked hard to carve out a place for themselves in the world. Their passing would not be forgotten. Johnny would make sure of that.

A stranger sitting on the other side of the room watched Johnny mostly out of boredom. He noticed that the youth watched the doors closely. There was a grim set to his jaw and fire seemed to glint in his eyes. Apparently he’d ridden from far because trail dust covered his clothes. The way he sat showed that he was a hair trigger waiting for something to happen.

Johnny, unaware that he was being watched, sipped the beer and let his thoughts wander back to when he’d buried his parents. Tears filled his eyes when he thought about the kind words the preacher had said over them. They’d always been honest God-fearing people. Why? Why did things like this happen to the innocent. The preacher had said that vengeance belonged to the Lord. That was ok but Johnny was prepared to speed that along a bit.

The stranger across the room leaned back in his chair and pulled his hat down over his eyes. He’d ridden for days without rest himself and had been in the saloon a long time. A man need to rest himself a little, once in a while.

So the day wore on. It had been close to evening when Johnny had arrived. Within two hours, the sun began to set and provided a backdrop for events that were already set in motion.

Three riders tied up to the rail in front of the saloon. The tallest one who wore a grizzled beard was Gantry. They laughed quietly at some joke between them as their boots could be heard walking across the rough boards that led to the saloon. As the swinging doors burst open, one of the three called with an Irish accent, “Bartender, darlin’…it’s me, Flanagan here to bless you with me company again.” The others laughed as they strode up to the bar.

“Whisky”, called Gantry. The bartender set up three shot glasses along with a bottle of cheap whisky. He backed away and down the bar as he noticed Johnny’s sudden interest in the men.

The trio mostly talked quietly among themselves but the Irish one got louder when he recounted what the straw boss had told them. “No man of mine goes to the saloon during the week, he said,” Irish laughed. “Told him I didn’t know that they were all a bunch of ministers!” The others laughed too and Gantry slapped the Irish on the back.

Johnny scooted his chair back slowly and rose to his feet. “Gantry!…Gantry!” he called in a loud commanding voice.

Quick as a cat, Gantry turned, rolled, drew, and fired. Johnny never even had a chance to pull his gun. He stood only a moment with a quizzical look on his face before he fell head-first to the hardwood floor. A little stream of blood ran from his hairline across his cheek to drip from his youthful chin. The Irish one walked to where Johnny lay and rolled him over with a booted foot.

“Good shootin" Gantry,” said the Irish.

Gantry slowly rose and holstered his six-gun. He walked to Johnny and stared down at him a minute. “Don’t even know him,” remarked Gantry. “Check his pockets,” he ordered. The third member of his group searched Johnny’s pockets and found only a little money and a bill of sale for a place in Texas.

“Says ‘Johnny Beechum’ here,” he informed the others.

“Beechum?…Beechum?,” thought Gantry. “Hey Irish…wasn’t that rancher we persuaded down in San Antone named Beechum?”

“I’m not sure,” returned the Irish. “Does it really matter?”

Gantry smiled and said with a laugh, “No…don’t reckon it does.” The trio returned to the bar ignoring the young cowboy’s body.

“Hey! Bartender! This bottle’s almost empty, bring another one,” called Gantry. The bartender did as he was asked but stayed behind the bar. Someone needed to call the sheriff but it wouldn’t be him, at least not while Gantry and his men were still there.

The stranger across the room had quietly watched it all from beneath his hat. He straightened himself, lifted his hat, and reached into his pocket. Pulling out a star-shaped object, he carefully pinned it on his vest. Words inscribed on the star proclaimed that the wearer was a Texas Ranger.

No one noticed when the ranger stood as if to leave. Not even the bartender seemed to notice. He loosened his pistol in its holster as he pushed past an empty chair. As the chair scooted across the floor. One of Gantry’s men saw him out of the corner of his eye and nudged Gantry.

Gantry turned slowly and saw the ranger standing about fifteen feet away from him. “Ranger…what brings you to the parts,” asked Gantry in a canny voice.

The ranger slowly looked down at Johnny’s body laying on the floor and then looked straight into Gantry’s eyes. “I’ve come for you Gantry…you…and your men,” replied the ranger with a distinctive Texas accent.

“Me? What business do you have with me?” asked Gantry as the men on either side of him spread out a little.

“You know what business Gantry,” replied the ranger in a stern voice. “Murder and cattle rustling.”

Gantry kind of smiled. The Irish one cat-called, “Ranger’s come to take you in Gantry…come to take you in!”

“You’re coming too, Irish,” said the ranger in a quiet even voice.

“No one’s taking me anywhere,” replied the Irish as he quickly drew his gun.

His hand had barely begun to lift the sidearm before a bullet hole appeared directly between his eyes. A look of disbelief crossed his face for a moment as he fell back against the bar and to the floor.

“Gantry…you’re next,” said the ranger.

Gantry had gone to reach for his gun when the Irish got his but stopped when he saw the lightening draw of the ranger. “Look, ranger, I didn’t murder anyone…that was just…just business,” he pleaded.

“Gantry…I know your kind and the kind of business you do. You want to go walking or should they dig you a hole up on Boot Hill?” returned the ranger.

“Now ranger…you got no business with me, I said! I wouldn’t be so foolish as to cause trouble in Texas. Everyone knows that the rangers keep the law there. I’ve done a few things in my time but not in Texas…I swear it!”

“Let’s go Gantry,” the ranger holstered his gun and began to walk toward the door.

“Ranger!” Gantry yelled as he drew. Blood began to spread from a bullet hole in Gantry’s chest just over his heart. He fell heavily to the barroom floor. The third member of the trio began to babble as he hoisted his hands up.

“Ranger…now ranger…I’m not wanted for anything.”

“I know you’re not wanted Red. But you need to get riding out of here…maybe to Utah or California. Far away would be good. If I find you back in Texas, there’ll be a score to settle,” said the ranger as he put his gun away.

The ranger walked to where Johnny was just coming to on the floor. “Wha…what happened?” the young man mumbled. The ranger looked at the wound on Johnny’s head.

“Just a crease,” he told the bartender. “Have it looked after and see that he gets a place to sleep.”

“Yes…yes sir!” replied the bartender as he walked quickly from behind the bar.

“My name is Jones…John Jones. Gantry was wanted in Texas for murder…tell your sheriff. He can contact the Rangers office in San Antonio.”

The ranger walked slowly out the swinging doors and mounted a pinto horse. He looked about the town a moment before he rode out. “Looks like a peaceful little town,” remarked the ranger to his horse.

Spurs nudged the horse’s flanks and he burst into a slow gallop leaving the town behind.

Dwane Barr
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