Western Fiction posted April 24, 2011

This work has reached the exceptional level
Milo is challenged by Jack Adams

Story 5 - The Rustlers - Part One

by c_lucas

Julia and I arrived at her ranch, The Floating O, just before sunset. A group of cowboys were busy saddling fresh mounts. They stopped when we rode in. She nodded at a couple of cowhands as we rode past them. She deliberately ignored one asking questions about her whereabouts and rode into the barn. He gave me a look of raw hatred. I ignored him and followed her, but not before I saw Judge Greer sitting on the porch in a chair with wheels on it. I touched my hat in greeting. He ignored me. I wonder if he remembers me. I'm not wearing a beard now.
We dismounted and I began to unsaddle her horse. That damn puncher followed us into the barn. "Where have you been?" he asked Julia in a demanding voice, completely ignoring me.
She gave him a look of distaste. "Out."
"Who's he?" He glared at me.
"Milo Mathews, this is my foreman, Jack Adams.  Jack, this is a friend of mine, Milo Mathews."
I could tell Adams' love for me didn't improve. His anger kept my name from registering with him.
I nodded at him and continued to unsaddle Julia's horse.
"Don't bother with yours. You're not staying," his authoritative voice growled the words.
"Oh, but he is," Julia said in a voice that would've made a snowball shiver. "Mr. Mathews is my guest."
I thought of the naked young lady in my arms and tried to ignore Adams. I should have thanked him. His actions proved riling Julia was not a healthy thing to do.
"We'll see about that!"
I placed her saddle on the tree and started to turn around when he charged me. I side-stepped his advance. He tripped over my ankle and received a face full of horse droppings.  He quickly recovered, and slipped the thong off his forty-five while rushing me, swinging a roundhouse with all his strength.
My faster reaction dropped him on his ass with a left hook. He landed in the same pile, but on his butt. His unfettered gun slid under a pile of hay. I stopped my draw and shoved my gun back into its holster.
The barn began to fill with cowboys and I thought I was in trouble.
Julia looked at them. "Stay out of it!" It brought a quick image of her slapping me. Those fellows stayed near the door.
Adams slowly got up, ignoring the cowhands. He put his hands up and advanced carefully.
I've seen those bare knuckle fights where if one got knocked down, the other waited for him to get up and they both took a one minute break. To me, the only etiquette in a brawl is to be the last man standing. The interaction between Julia and her cowboys distracted me long enough for Adams to get up a second time.
He came at me with his fists up and his legs set apart. I kicked him as hard as I could between his legs. He lost all interest in fighting. I glanced at him rolling around in that pile of droppings, holding his crotch. Some fools never learn.
I turned my back and began to remove my horse's saddle.
"Lookout!"  one of the cowhands yelled.
I stepped away from my horse as fast as I could and drew my gun. Adams came at me with a pitchfork. I avoided it by moving to one side. When he charged past me, I introduced the barrel of my .44 to the back of his hard head. He fell in a clean part of the barn and lay there.
The cowboys stared at me as I checked the barrel before I put my gun away. Some started grinning.  "I'll take care of your horse," one of them volunteered.
I nodded and Julia took my left arm. We walked to the house to face the Judge.
"Father, this is an old acquaintance of yours, Milo Mathews."
Why is she trying to get me killed? I took off my hat.  "Your Honor, I'm sorry to hear about your troubles."
"I see you haven't changed your ways," Greer said, nodding toward the barn. He couldn't have seen the fight. He had surmised that since I walked out of the barn with Julia on my arm, Adams was in no condition to object.
"Jack attacked Milo," Julia said in my defense.
"That makes as much sense as a lone coyote attacking a lobo wolf."  The last time he gave me that look he had promised to hang me.  My worries disappeared when he invited me to dinner.
I accepted. He looked at both of us when I did the same to Julia's offer of the use of the guest bedroom.
"A Missourian bushwhacker under my roof."  He shook his head as if it bothered him.
"A Kansas farmer avenging the killing of his family," I corrected him and put my hat back on.
"Some farmer, better at planting men than seeds," he muttered to himself.
Julia held the door open. He turned and wheeled himself into the house. She smiled at me. "I'll show you to your room." 
When we arrived, she gave me a chaste kiss. "You can get cleaned up in here. Dinner will be ready shortly." She turned and walked toward the front of the house.
She'll want to start again, after dinner.
Dinner was a quiet affair. The Judge barely noticed my presence.  There were two empty settings and Julia had me sit next to her. A tall elderly black man, name Moses, waited on us He was polite, but gave me little attention. I felt uneasy so I ate, excused myself and went to my room.
Julia is trying to hide her feelings from her father. I thought of her sexual hunger and stripped to my long johns, placed my gun by my pillow and waited. It was not to be. No one came into my room that night. I fell asleep.
I woke with the rooster just before someone knocked lightly on my door. I called out "Enter." Maybe Julia has changed her mind.
Moses came in carrying a hot cup of coffee. He handed it to me and smiled. "Breakfast will be ready soon." He quietly closed the door behind him. At least he's friendlier this morning.
When I arrived at the table, the Judge and Julia were already there. I noticed the two extra settings and went to sit next to Julia, but she motioned to the one across from her, next to her father. Moses came in, refilled our cups and left without speaking.
"Julia told me she explained our troubles to you." The Judge was in a somber mood.
I nodded in agreement and went to remove the hat I had left in the bedroom. Julia grinned.
"How much do you charge?"  He was blunt.
"I don't, I'm a U. S. Marshal," adding, "I believe I owe you one."
We had a staring match with Julia ready to act as the peacemaker.
The Judge blinked.
I could see that Judge Greer was thinking about the incident in his courtroom. "Fair enough," he said and rung the little bell I had noticed the night before.
Moses appeared instantly.
"Moses, we are ready when you are." The judge took a sip of his coffee.
It was the first time in my life I saw him smile.
Breakfast was peaceful. The fourth setting went untouched, again.
"Jack must not be hungry, this morning," Julia said when she noticed me looking at the setting.
"Thank you, Mr. Mathews." The Judge surprised me. "He was becoming overbearing."
Then Julia caught me off guard, too. "The foreman's job is yours, if you want it."  How can she make that statement?
"I'm not a cowhand," I said in my own defense.
"Does that mean you will be leaving?" Greer asked.
"I'm staying, but you'll need to find someone to be your foreman."
Julia picked up the bell and summoned Moses. When he appeared, she asked him to ask a Pete Wilson to come to the house.
Moses left on his errand. 
Ten minutes later there was a knock on the door. To my surprise, Moses came out of the kitchen to answer it.
The cowhand who offered to take care of my horse came into the dining room, hat in hand. He nodded to the judge.
"Mr. Wilson, I believe you know our guest," Greer said in his best courtroom voice.
"I know him, but not by name." Wilson smiled at me.
"Mr. Wilson, this is Mr. Mathews. Mr. Mathews, this is Mr. Wilson." Even his introduction was courtroom correct.

We acknowledged each other, but didn't offer to shake hands.
Wilson stood there waiting for the Judge to continue.
"I have decided to replace Mr. Adams ...."
"He and three men rode off last night, Sir,"
"Thank God," Julia muttered under her breath. If the other two men heard her, they didn't make a comment.
"Mr. Wilson, I would like you to take over the position as foreman."
I looked at the judge and imagined him wearing his black robe. He was all business. I noticed he made the job offer, not Julia.
"Do I do it my way?" Wilson asked.
"No one will interfere," Julia answered. Her father didn't correct her for interrupting.
"Have a seat, Mr. Wilson."  She gave a pretty good imitation of her father's manner.
Wilson did not move. "May I ask, what's his role in this?"
"May I call you Peter?" Julia asked. He nodded. "Milo is a U. S. Marshal. He's an old friend of the family ...."
The judge, in the process of sipping his coffee, had a coughing fit. When he finished, she continued, "He will be helping us with the rustlers. If he asks, give him all the help you can."
Peter sat down. The judge rang his bell. Moses appeared.
"Bring our new foreman whatever he wants," Greer said. His face looked like a huge burden had been lifted off of him.
Peter asked for coffee. We spent the next hour discussing the problem. When we finished, Julia went with him to talk to the cowhands.
I went to my room, got my hat and walked to the barn to get my horse. She came in just as I finished tightening the girth.
"Where is the nearest telegraph?" I asked, stroking my horse's neck and scratching it behind the ear.
"Miner's Junction is ten miles away," she said, looking at me like the cat ready to eat the bird.
"I need to let my family and my boss know where I'm at," I said, fighting the urge to hold her. "Then I'm going to look over the land. Those rustlers have got to be hiding somewhere close."
Julia took my hand and pulled me into a nearby stall. She put her arms around my neck. I leaned down and she kissed me, hard and long.
My hand began unbuttoning her shirt, but she stopped me.
"Be careful," she said, refastening the buttons and hurried out of the barn.
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.


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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