Western Fiction posted April 29, 2011


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Milo survives an ambush.

Story Five - The Rustlers, Part 2

by c_lucas




STORY FIVE
THE RUSTLERS - PART TWO
NARRATED BY MILO MATHEWS

End of Part One:
I watched her until she entered the house. My mind was in bad shape. I tried to concentrate on the business at hand, but it wanted to concentrate on an auburn-haired beauty who would give me more than a kiss.
******************************************
 
Because of it size, Miner's Junction couldn't afford a lawman. It did have a general store, a livery, a two story saloon, a train station, and a few rickety shacks.
 
By mid-morning, I went to the train station and sent wires to my sister, Esther and to my brothers, Matt and Billy. I sent a longer one to my boss.  As I was walking toward the saloon, I noticed one of Julia's cowhands leaving the general store with loaded saddlebags.
 
Pete had said something about Adams and three cowhands quitting the herd last night. This could be one of them.
 
I cut into an alley and watched him. It looked like the saddlebags were heavy. He threw them on his horse's back and left town. I waited about five minutes and followed him.
 
 
My horse saved my life by stepping into a hole just as a bullet whizzed by my left ear, penetrating my hat. I jerked my head aside and my hat came loose, fell to my back and hung by its chin strap.
 
I hit the rocky ground, taking my Sharps rifle and its holder with me.
 
My horse ran back the way we came and stopped within a few hundred yards of me. Even though I was stunned from my fall, I hustled into cover of the boulders. The hail of bullets, coming my way, spurred me on.
 
Those varmints wasted shots on the rocks as I made for higher ground.
 
It was a hard climb because my feet kept slipping on the loose granite, but I was able to get high enough to be above them. Finally, they quit shooting. I left my hat off and peered down on the bushwhackers who were about three hundred yards away in their own nest of boulders. I would have to get higher in order to root them out.
 
I counted four rifles in the boulders and all were carbines. 
They had a surprise coming because I carried a Sharps '53 which used the same metal cartridges as my .44.
 
The ambushers didn't even have sense enough to spread out, or to seek higher ground. Adams had a grudge against me, but maybe there was another reason for his ambush. I had the advantage of being higher and having a more powerful rifle. It was their dance, but I would call the tune.
 
Keeping to the rocks, I worked my way up higher and angling toward them.  Soon, two of them were exposed; one was an easy shot. I removed my rifle from its holder, slipped a cartridge in and took aim at the bottom of his hat. When I fired, the nearby rocks turned red.  I quickly put another shell in my single shot and peered out. No one was in sight; I moved higher and saw their horses. I fired three rounds scaring them until they ran off.

One fool exposed himself and fired at me. He didn't return my reply; two down and two to go.
 
Time moved on. The afternoon's sun was cooking my brains and making my Sharps too hot to handle. I shaded it with my body and maintained my watch. Like the idiots below me, I was in the rocks without any water. Joe's Uncle Sky once gave me a tip on how to survive in that condition. I put small pebbles in my mouth to generate saliva. It helped a little.
 
It was late afternoon before I got my next chance. One of the horses returned. I spied the canteen on its saddle and waited. Forty-five minutes later another varmint exposed himself. The canteen hanging over the saddle horn proved too much for him. He took off running toward the horse. Now, it was three down and one to go.
 
Whoever was still down there tried to move a couple of times, but my rifle discouraged him. He stayed put.
 
The horse sought shade under nearby trees and the afternoon wore on. The pebbles did very little to help my thirst, but I kept the last bushwhacker trapped.
 
 
A couple hours after darkness settled in, I heard a running horse headed toward town. It looked like the last polecat had made a break for it, but I had a pretty good idea where I could find him.
 
I unloaded my rifle and put it back in its leather holder. Scabbards for rifles were available these days, but I never got around to getting one. I had that old rifle and its holder since Pa was killed. I could shoot six to eight shots a minute, but usually, one shot did the job.
 
The loose gravel made getting out just as hard as it did getting in. My feet slipped out from under me twice, but my hand on the still hot boulders kept me from falling. I made it down and started walking back to town. My mouth was too dry for me to whistle for my horse.
 
Before I finished my first mile, it whinnied and trotted to me. I took several sips from the canteen, hooked my rifle holder in place and mounted. Now, I had a dry-gulcher to locate. I rode slowly to town in case he planned to ambush me, again.
 
It was prudent to stop on the edge of Miner's Junction and check the town out. The quarter moon furnished very little light, but I was able to make out the different buildings.  The livery stable was the closest building to me, and had two lanterns burning.
 
After studying the town for several minutes, I rode to the livery. The horse the liveryman tended by washing it down looked to be in bad shape.
 
"Whose horse is that?" I asked in a casual manner.
 
"It belongs to Jack Adams, the foreman of the Floating O. He tried to run down some rustlers, but his horse gave out on him a few miles outside of town. Jack wasn't in too good of shape, either." The liveryman finished and studied me. Wisely, he didn't comment on my condition.
 
I fished out two silver dollars from my pocket and handed them to him. "When you get finished with his horse, take care of mine." He would do it because I had given him four times the going rate. I knew where my last attacker would be, so I pulled out my gun and checked the rounds. I took my badge out of my pocket and pinned it on.
 
Until the ambush, I considered Jack to be a personal problem. Trying to kill a U. S. Deputy Marshal made it federal business.
 
When the liveryman saw my action, he quit his chore and started unsaddling my horse. Sometimes, a badge will get you faster service.
 
I headed for the saloon.  The train station was quiet and the general store was closed. Stopping at the swinging doors, I peered into the saloon.
 
About a dozen men and a couple saloon girls were in it. Three of the men were in a poker game. Adams stood drinking at the bar and I watched him for a few minutes. He didn't turn around to check the crowd for new faces. I slipped inside and eased my way along the wall keeping my eye on him. He didn't see me and I didn't draw any attention to myself. I crossed the floor and managed to get within ten feet of him.

"Hello, Jack, I came to finish our discussion." I noticed the gun on the bar and knew I made a mistake.
 
Adams turned around with the gun in his hand and hatred in his eyes. "You damn son-of-a-bitch, you ruined everything!"
 
I started to dive for the nearest cover.
 
He fired too fast and my hat took its second bullet. The other patrons, girls, and the barkeep dropped to the floor. I followed them diving onto a table and turning it over just as Jack fired his second shot removing a chip out of my protection.  Now I had a thick table between us and drew my gun. 
 
Jack placed his hands on the bar and swung over it. 
 
I did a quick check of the others; nobody wanted to deal themselves in. I hunkered down and waited for Jack's move.
 
Adams must have used up all his patience in the rocks because he jumped up and we fired simultaneously. In his haste, he missed for the third time.
 
I didn't. I heard him hit the floor and watched the bar over my gun sight. When he didn't reappear, I eased around behind it. I fired in haste, but my bullet ventilated the left side of his chest. He was over his anger with me and our conversation was finished.
 
"Marshal," someone said in a timid voice as I looked at the body. I recognized the train master who had sent my wires. A short man in his late fifties, and standing holding a beer mug instead of a gun. By pure reflex, I aimed at him. Seeing I was in no danger, I holstered my gun and he let out a sigh of relief.
 
"You have a telegram. It came in a few hours ago." He took a drink of his beer. I noticed a tremble in his hand.
 
The bartender stood up and placed a fresh brew on the bar. "On the house," he said, smiling. It seemed like everybody had a case of nervous hands.
 
I emptied it, holding it in my left hand and never taking my eyes off those around me.  "Are you finished?" I asked the railroad man when I set my mug down.
 
He nodded and we walked to the train station. I read the message in the lantern light. The telegram was from Esther. Someone had bushwhacked her oldest son, Samuel. 
 
"When is the next train heading for northeastern Arizona?" I knew the back shooter was a walking dead man. Esther ain't gonna let him get away with shooting her boy. I'm surprised she's asking for help.
 
"In about an hour. The fare is five cartwheels." 
 
I gave him five silver dollars. He wrote out a ticket to the nearest place to my final destination. I would have to go the rest of the way on horseback.
 
The storekeeper didn't argue when I took him from the saloon and forced him to open up. I bought a few supplies including a new hat. Since there was still a chance of being shot at, I put the new hat in my saddle bag and kept the old one on my head.
My horse didn't complain when I picked him and my gear up. He was used to my leaving in the middle of the night.
 
The train was about forty-five minutes late. I got my horse settled in and, with my saddlebags and rifle I entered the only passenger car. My presence made up fifty percent of the passengers. A middle-age woman made up the rest.
 
I was sunburned, scratched and bruised in several places, with my old hat on my head. The Sharps, in its holder, rested against the back of the seat in front of me. My saddlebags rested on the seat next to me. To add to my problems, the bath I enjoyed yesterday had worn off hours ago.
 
My fellow passenger got up and moved as far away as she could. She settled in her new seat with her back to me and I noticed her auburn hair.
 
"Damn," I muttered under my breath. I hadn't left a message for Julia to tell her why I was leaving.
 
I settled my hat over my eyes and tried to rest. To my way of thinking, Julia's problem had been solved: Esther's had just started.


Recognized


The time period is 1882. This story takes place in Colorado
Thank you, SnoPaw for the use of your image, "End of the Road Canyonlands"

Milo Mathews is Esther's oldest brother. He is currently employed as a U. S. Marshal. Milo is six feet tall, forty-four years old and weighs in at one hundred and eighty pounds. He has short cut dark brown hair and brown eyes. Has a reputation of a gunman.

Matt Mathews is Esther's middle brother. He is the owner of The Silver Spur Saloon in Flagstaff, Arizona Territory. He is forty-three, five foot ten, two hundred and ten pounds, with brown hair, a close cut beard and brown eyes. He was crippled when shot in the hip while helping Milo revenge their parent's death. He has a reputation of being a honest gambler and good with a gun.

Julia Owens - Milo's Friend --widow, daughter of Judge
Henry Greer- Five foot-seven. One hundred and twenty pounds. Long auburn hair. Owns the Floating O.
Stewart Owens Julia's deceased husband.

Judge Henry Greer, Retired Federal Judge - Julia's father--Held his court in Missouri early sixties, gray hair and beard, short haired. Confined to a wheel chair

The Cowboy's Hat - The hat offers shade, in some cases, it can be used as a water container. The hat is the first garment put on and the last taken off. A cowboy would have to be greatly distracted to forget his hat. Julia smiled because she had distracted Milo enough for him to forget his hat.

It is amost impossible to shoot the cowboy's hat off his head. The bullet would find little resistance entering and exiting the material.
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