ALL IN THE WAY YOU LOOK AT THINGS

 

Our lives are not determined by what happens to us but by how we react to what happens, not by what life brings to us, but by the attitude we bring to life. A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events, and outcomes. It is a catalyst, a spark that creates extraordinary results.

-

Anonymous

 

K&H ROUND ROBIN ENDING

Riley’s Story

By Drena Hills

 

 

        Judge Henry Callahan was an honest man. He took the law and justice seriously and was intelligent enough to have realized long ago they often had little to do with one another.
 
            His circuit court included a large stretch of Texas and the panhandle and he worked hard to ensure that a man arrested in his region received a fair trial even if he was guilty as hell.
 
             He also knew that the circuits around him were often not as unbiased and that having a judge in your pocket was something the large ranch owners in the area took pride in.  Which was why he was so surprised when the telegram came directing him to Flint Rock.
 
             The town was built, bought and run by a Texas rancher named Bo Michaels and some said just existed for his and his family's amusement and use.  His family included 2 brothers and a sister, just as mean as he was, all inherited from their late father.  Everyone knew the law, the courts and government in that section was under his control.  Michaels wouldn't let a man like him in to decide something unless this part of Texas had turned upside down; and pulling his buggy to a stop at the entrance to town he sat back and decided it had.
 
             The four lawmen with him, also honest and also requested, stopped and drew their horses in and just stared.
 
             "Was it a tornado?" one of the deputies gasped.
 
             "If it was there had to be at least two of them," another decided.
 
             Callahan leaned forward hoping it would make more sense if he squinted.  The town looked like it had been hoorahed by the escapees from an opening of the flood gates of hell.  Buildings were smashed to rubble, outhouses on roofs, and bathtubs in trees.  Some were burnt to the ground and were still smoldering.  And everywhere there was debris, clothes, tin cans, sacks of feed.  It was as if some great giant had picked up the town and shook it.
 
             "It seems we got here a little too late to stop whatever it was that happened," Judge Callahan said exhaling.  "What exactly did your telegram say Sheriff?"
 
             "Just to get down here, some miscarriage of justice had been averted and they wanted impartial law sorting it out."
 
             "Well something was averted, but it certainly wasn't Armageddon," the Judge said dryly and clicking the reins moved his horses forward.
 
             "Sure is quiet," a deputy said swallowing.
 
             "I hear something up ahead," his friend said drawing his gun from its all ready unhooked holster.
 
             Turning the corner the group once more stopped in disbelief.
 
             Originally, and this they were certain about, a saloon had not been next door to the jail.  This saloon in particular, the Golden Slipper, had been across the street and four doors down; and yet now here it sat cozied right up to the jail even to the point of sharing a wall…well if there had been a wall.
 
             Oh the jail still had three…or the one cell that remained standing did.  The door was still firmly bolted, not that it mattered much with the roof gone.
 
             Tucked right along next to it was the main floor of the saloon.    There was still the bar and the beer kegs and the hurdy gurdy was playing happily, but as far as any permanent building it was clean gone except for a stairwell that led up, but that was about it.
 
             Several tables were set up, but all the attention was on a poker game half in the jail and half in the saloon between 7 men.  A second group of men were watching cheering enthusiastically as each hand finished.
 
             At the bar an older blond woman was cleaning glasses and yelling at the cowboys to stop shooting at the ceiling until she got one again.
 
             Judge Callahan considered all this and then putting the brake on his buggy climbed down and handed the reins to a young man nearby and walked over to the group just congratulating a handsome dark haired young man on his winnings.
 
             "Gentlemen," he said with great dignity.  "I am Judge Callahan.  Ranger Pearson is that you?" he said suddenly recognizing one of the poker players
 
             "Yes sir," the lawman said standing politely.  "Good of you to come sir."
 
             "I don't suppose you could give me a quick synopsis about why?"
 
             "This gentleman here sir is Sheriff Lom Trevors of Porterville, Wyoming," the Ranger said indicating the man playing poker from inside the jail.
 
             "I read about him, something about being arrested and convicted of murder.  I see their report that the hanging was supposed to take place yesterday was an error."
 
             "Ah yes sir," Trevors said standing politely.  "Little difference of opinion on that."
 
             Someone almost laughed, but swallowed it quickly when the Judge's steely gaze settled over the other members of the group.
 
             "And the rest of you are?"
 
             "Friends of Sheriff Trevors. I'm Joshua Smith and this is Mr. Thaddeus Jones of Wyoming," the dark haired winner of the last poker hand said standing with a friendly smile.
 
             "Judge," his partner said standing just as respectfully.
 
             "Marshall Jared Stone out of Colorado," another man said rising.
 
             "My we do have quite a group of lawmen here don't we."
 
             "And Bannermen!"  a voice popped up from the bar where a thin weasel faced man was leaning.  "Harry Briscoe sir at your service."
 
             "Patrick J. McCreedy," a larger older man said relighting his cigar.
 
             "Rancher at Red Rock?" the Judge asked.
 
             "That I am," McCreedy said clearly feeling he was important enough he didn't have to stand.
 
             "And this here is Wheat Carlson, Jim Stokely, Trampas and my cousin…" Trevors finished.
 
             "Folks call me the Virginian," the tall man said rising and the Judge quickly noted the similarity.
 
             "And the lovely lady behind the bar?" the Judge said, once a southern gentleman, always a southern gentleman.
 
             "Jenny, Judge can I buy you a drink?"
 
             "I think a bottle ma'am would be more useful," he sighed looking around. "I don't suppose there is a hotel left?"
 
             "Oh yes sir!" the one named Jones said heartily.  "Best one in town!”
 
             "Course it is missing the front wall, but you get a real nice breeze off the prairie at night, you'll sleep like a baby," the one named Smith smiled.
 
            “I’m sure I will,” the Judge said dryly.
 
            “Riley here will take your bags over Judge,” Jenny smiled quickly indicating the boy who had taken his carriage reins.
 
             "Thank you," he said and taking the bottle Jenny offered him moved to return to his carriage.  "I'd like to have some supper and then perhaps I can start hearing this amazing tale one at a time, I'll let you gentlemen work out the order.”  He stopped.  “I don’t suppose I want to know what happened to the rest of the town."
 
             "Well that's kind of a long story Judge…" Smith smiled cheerfully.
 
             The Judge held up his hand and walked away.  "I can hardly wait."
 
                        
                                     *************************
 
            Judge Callahan leaned back in his chair and frowned at the nearly full bottle of whiskey before him.  He really should have made more of an effort to empty it.  It might have made all the versions of the same story he was hearing come together better.

 

          “Excuse me sir,” I said in what I hoped was a firm, adult voice as I resisted the urge to wipe my hands down my trouser legs one more time. “I believe I have the most accurate account of what occurred.  Kevin Thomas Riley, Weekly Gazette.”

 

          Judge Callahan looked up and squinted as if looking for someone past me.  By all rights he was entitled to his doubts. I am tall for my age, but too thin and had long since outgrown my best set of clothes which despite a great deal of tugging revealed far more ankle and arm than is presentable. To make matters worse I have been accurately described as both scraggly and gangly which added to my red hair and freckles makes me appear younger than I am.

 

          At 17 my voice has changed, but still cracks when I’m nervous and standing before the famed jurist had certainly made me that.  I realized there was very little chance he was going to listen to me.  I doubt I would have taken the trouble if I had been in his shoes especially with the men he had just called forward to give their eye witness account. 

 

          But both professional integrity and just plain stubbornness demanded I try and so I waited as the old man sized me up and tried not to squirm under the scrutiny.

 

          “You’re the boy that brought up my bags.”

 

          “Yes sir.”

 

          “And you are also the town’s newspaper man?”

 

          “Yes sir.”

 

          “All right Kevin Thomas Riley of the Weekly Gazette,” the Judge said finally nodding.  “Have a seat and tell me why your account is worthy of my attention.”

 

          “Because I’m the only one with an unbiased view sir, as a reporter I must keep just to the facts.”

 

          The Judge glanced down at the papers in front of him as if checking a fact.  “I have a note here the Weekly Gazette burned down and its owner died six months ago.”

 

          “Ah yes sir, Mr. McDowell was murdered in an attempt to shut down the paper.”

 

          “You were one of his reporters?”

 

          I paused trying to find the best way to explain how the errand boy who made coffee and swept up was now its lead reporter, well only reporter.  “I am now sir. I felt the legacy of Mr. McDowell should be preserved.”

 

          “Son I knew McDowell.  He was hard drinking retired editor from Chicago who was thrown off as many papers as he was out of bars.”  He stopped. “He was however an honest newsman and I have to give credence to your accusation of murder simply because I know of very few people he wrote about that didn’t want to kill him.  I will also go out on a limb here and make a guess you’re the one who has been leaking stories to the Fort Worth papers about what has been going on down here.  Just how did you manage that? Bo Michaels and his family had made it quite clear how they felt about their business being made public.”

 

          “Mr. Jared the stagecoach driver slipped my copy out to my girl…a friend in Fort Worth who passes it on to the Sentinel.”

 

          “A smart man might just move to Fort Worth and get a job reporting there.”

 

          I shook my head, “Hard to beat being the only reporter in town, especially a town with a story like this.”

 

          “You have a point,” he said dryly looking out what once had been a window and the destruction beyond.  “Bit dangerous though don’t you think?”

 

          I straightened sitting a little taller, “A reporter must stay with his story.”

 

          “Yes I suppose he must and the fact you feel an injustice, not to mention a murder occurred in the death of your employer wouldn’t have anything to do with this decision?” the Judge said quietly.

 

          “I will admit sir there was a slight leaning towards wanting the truth to come out.”

 

          “And you thought you could do that on your own?”

 

          “The truth doesn’t need me to champion it, just report it.”

 

“Touché,” the Judge said clearly not convinced of my sanity, but approving of my passion.  “Fair enough.”  He glanced at the sheets of paper in my hand. “Looks like quite a story you have there.”

 

          “I thought it best to document everything thoroughly.”

 

          “I see. Tell me son without all the flowery prose just what did happen here?”

 

          I looked the man straight in the eye and answered honestly.

 

          “A cyclone sir.”

 

 

                             **********************************

 

          The man I would come to know as Sheriff Lom Trevors stepped off the stage and took a long, focused look across the center of town that caused me to pause in mid sweep and evaluate him further.

 

          He was tall, lean and wore his gun tied down, something we saw a lot of in this town especially since Bo Michaels had started bringing in hired guns for his range war.

 

          But he didn’t give off the same aura as the other men I had seen and I frowned trying to place why he seemed ‘different’.

 

          He had an air of confidence in his stance and shook off the hot dry heat radiating up from the hard ground as if he were no stranger to it or its effects.

 

          “Just passing through?” Micah, the stage operator asked curious joining me on the porch and watching the stranger take his bag.

 

          “Day or two,” the man said. 

 

          “Well they got clean rooms at the Golden Halo Hotel and the Lucky 7 saloon has the coldest beer,” Micah grinned a toothless smile.

 

          Man tipped his hat, “Obliged, when is the next stage north?”

 

          “Day after next.”

 

          “Book me for two,” he said pulling out the money and passing it over.

 

          “Got a name?”

 

          “Trevors,” the man replied and then fishing a badge out of his pocket pinned it to the front of his shirt and strode unhurriedly towards the jail.

 

          “Wish he’d told me that first,” Micah said pocketing the coins. “Hate taking money from a dead man.”

 

          And spitting into the street he yelled to Jared he was going for a beer and ambled away.

 

          “More like off to spread the news,” Jared said disgusted watching the old grizzly and gray man lumber away. “He ain’t on the Michaels’s payroll, but he might as well be as quick as news about folks arriving in town gets circulated thanks to him.”

 

          “You really think he’s gonna try and arrest Red Michaels?” I said in awe leaning against the broom I was suddenly no longer interested in making use of. “Where you think he’s from?”

                   

          Jared shook his head, but gave me a meaningful look.  Jared is what McDowell always called a cowboy’s cowboy.  He rode every cattle trail until the years caught up to him and forced him to sit a stage, but a tougher more honest man never lived.  I asked him once why he stayed in a town like Flint Rock and I still remembering him shrugging saying he wanted God to find one decent man if He ever came looking.

 

“Not sure, picked him up in Fort Worth.  He’d come a ways though and wasn’t that trouble we heard Red got into up in Wyoming territory?”

 

          “Sheriff Overton isn’t gonna like that,” I said impressed something fierce that a lawman would come this far for a man he probably had no hope of taking back.

 

          “Nope, but he strikes me as the sort who needs to find that out for himself,” he stopped suddenly remembering something. “That pretty little girl of yours left you something. I’ll leave the horses to you.”

 

          Abandoning my broom I hurried quickly over to the team and began preparing them for their watering and noon feed.  I careful not to do anything out of the ordinary waiting for my chance and was glad of my patience when I turned startled to see a tall thin man watching me over his cigar.

 

          “Riley isn’t it boy?” he said quietly.

 

          “Yes sir, something I can do for you?”

 

          “You do odd jobs for just about everyone in town don’t you?”

 

          “Ah yes sir,” I said not liking the way he was staring at me.

 

          “Must give you chance to hear just about everything going on in this town, must have come in real handy when you worked for that newspaper fella.”

 

          And then I knew who he was.  The Michaels had hired a Bannerman detective to find out who was leaking news to the outside world.

 

          I shrugged and turned my attention back to the horses.  “Folks don’t talk much to the help mister.”

 

          “No, but they do forget they are there.”  He walked up and made me face him.  “Names Briscoe and I got my suspicions boy you know who is sending news reports out on this stage.”

 

          “Ain’t nothing going out on this stage cept what Mr. Michaels approves,” I said haughtily. “You can check the mail yourself.”

 

          “Oh I know the mail and the driver and even the stage itself has been searched, but it keeps happening.  Seems every time this stage makes a run to Fort Worth day later a story breaks about what has gone on in.”

 

          “Well I don’t know nothing about that,” I said turning only to have him push me back hard into the horse I was beside.

 

          “You better hope you’re telling the truth boy cause Mr. Michaels seems real eager to deal hard with whoever is passing those reports on.”

 

          I yanked free angry and he gave me an amused grin and sauntered away.

 

          I returned to checking the horses and found the message tied in the tail of the back left like always.

 

          No one ever thought to search the actual horses.

 

 

                   *****************************************

 

          I met the next three players in the drama two hours later when I went in search of Micah to tell him Jared was ready to pull out.

 

          The Lucky 7 is not the finest saloon, but as Micah mentioned the beer is cold and the card game usually honest.

 

          Besides the barman Ted never gives me any trouble when I come in and quietly take a beer in the back and eat most of his free lunch.

 

          It’s a good way to pick up news.  Mr. Briscoe was right, folks don’t notice the help, especially if they are young and keep to themselves.

 

          Today there were only three strangers in the saloon and luckily they had taken a table in the back allowing me to pull up a chair near the food and eat as I listened.  First man I had seen before.  He was Patrick J. McCreedy, a real affluent rancher from down south in Red Rock who usually gets up this way a couple times a year on business.  He’s cheap as misery, but always treated me fair when I’ve run a errands for him, well as long a I get paid up front.

 

          I know he is acquainted with the Michaels, but they don’t socialize despite both having more money and land than is decent.  I always gave him extra credit for that.

 

          The two men with him were hard types and I caught the names Carlson and Kyle.  They looked trail worn and dusty and were working their way through enough beer to cause McCreedy distress at what it was costing him.

 

          At first I chalked them up to being more hired guns for the Michaels, but then when Jenny come over to the table and let them buy her a beer I realized they were old friends as Jenny was real firm about not counting hired guns among her acquaintances.

 

          Jenny is a strange one.  Tends to mother me, which isn’t so bad, but she looks so darn sad when she’s doing it.  Rumor has it she killed a man, though no one knows the details.  I know Mr. McDowell knew the whole story, he got her the job at the saloon, but he was always closed lip about her past.  One thing I did know was that she had stuck around because of his death almost like she was waiting for something.

 

          It was then the lawman Trevors came through the door.  I couldn’t tell by his face how things had gone over at the jail, but I had a really good idea it was the main reason he was stopping in for a drink before getting a room.

 

          Jenny spotted him first and let out a delighted cry, which caused him to produce his first smile since arriving in town.

 

          “Jenny! Don’t tell me this bushwhacker’s hovel is home now?”

 

          “Girl’s gotta make a living Sheriff; it is still Sheriff isn’t it?”

 

          “Yes ma’am.”

 

          “You here on business?” she said with a sly smile that suggested she all ready knew the answer.

 

          “I hear the beer is cold, any chance I can talk you out of one?” he replied his eyes twinkling.

 

          “Coming right up Sheriff, I believe you know Mr. Mertree and Mr. Carlson,” she added breezily and I realized the two men with McCreedy had stood up, the smaller one looking like he was about to high tale it out of there.

 

          “Hello boys bit far from home aren’t you?” Trevors said pulling up a chair without being asked.

 

          “There working for me Sheriff,” McCreedy said eying up the man he had heard a great deal about from several sources.  “So you’re the fool that thinks he can take Red back to stand trial?”

 

          “I didn’t get the name,” Trevors said taking his beer and pausing long enough to take a deep drink.

 

          “Patrick J McCreedy.”

 

          Trevors looked up, “I believe we have mutual friends, a Mr. Smith?  Mr. Jones?”

 

          “Yea I know them boys.”

 

          “Then I hope you aren’t offering these two the same job you offered them.  Man could get killed working south of the border for you.”

 

          “Riley!  Lawd boy I called you six times!” Micah yelled hauling me to my feet.  “Jared wants you!”

 

          Reluctantly I never did overhear the end of that conversation, but found a very agitated Jared waiting for me about ready to pull out.

 

          “That Bannerman talk to you?”

 

          “Yea, but he don’t know anything,” I said not liking how scared this normally unshakable man looked.

 

          “You be careful he knows the stage is getting the stories out, won’t take him forever to figure out how.”

 

          “I will,” I said and watching him climb aboard I realized so had Mr. Briscoe.

 

          Things happened fairly quickly after that.  Near as I could learn Sheriff Trevors had checked into the hotel rented a horse and rode out in the opposite direction of the Michaels’ ranch.

 

          He came back six hours later looking like he had done a round with the devil himself, but there tied and gagged on the horse he was leading was Red Michaels.

 

          Red tends to drink a bit and there isn’t soul in Flint Rock who don’t know where to find him on a payday.  Still you would have thought the law would have least let him get a bit more of his clothes on before hauling him out of Maudie’s whorehouse down at the crossroads.

 

          The arrest quickly became a spectacle as the whole town turned out to watch him drag Red kicking and swearing into the jail wearing just a sheet for decency.

 

          Sheriff Overton attempted to stop the whole thing before it went any further, but Trevors' fist sort of knocked the wind out of him.

 

          This accomplished Trevors took over the jail and proclaimed it his property until the stage pulled out next. 

 

          I found this to be fact when Jenny sent for me and had me take food over to the jail with a note from her.

 

          Trevors looked up from the message I had handed him as he gratefully took the tray of food.

 

          “You tell Jenny thank you, but I’ll be fine.”

 

          “Begging your pardon Sheriff, but Red’s family isn’t going to take to you dragging off their kin for a trial in a town they don’t own.”

 

          He looked up sharply re-evaluating his opinion of me.

 

          “Then Red Michaels shouldn’t have killed a man in mine.”

 

          “This man he killed, he was real important?” I asked curious.

 

          “Son I get paid to make sure I think everyone is important in my town.”

 

          I nodded impressed, “But?”

 

          He smiled, “And he was a friend.”

 

          “Seems you’re a good one to have sir; Mr. Carlson also asked me to tell you him and Mr. Mertree will be here until you leave.  He thought you might like to keep track of their whereabouts; said they’ll be watching you leave.”

 

          He smiled, “Tell him thanks, but I can handle this.”

 

          And he could.  Sheriff Lom Trevors I would later learn from Jenny had been an outlaw once and while he might have turned his back on his old life, he was canny enough to hold on to any experience he might have gleaned from it.

 

          I stopped reading and looked at the Judge. “The next morning about daybreak Bo Michaels and his family showed up.  Siege started then and there.  Trevors was holed up in that jail for about a week and might still be there what with Carlson and Mertree lending him a ‘hand’, if Bo hadn’t gotten the idea of using Jenny to make Trevors surrender.

 

          They roughed him up pretty bad after that, and probably would have hanged him right there on the spot, but Mr. McCreedy went to bat for him saying he was going to get him a lawyer.  It delayed things a bit and gave the story a chance to get out.”

 

“A ranger, Pearson, and that Marshall Stone showed up a few days later, but by then Michaels had his witnesses all lined up, Trevors didn’t have a chance.”

 

          “I never did hear who he was suppose to have murdered,” Callahan asked curious.

 

          “Lori, Red’s sister said he shot two of their ranch hands in cold blood when he came looking for him.  She also swore he had his way with her against her will, which just about broke the courthouse up, heck even her brothers laughed at that charge.”

 

          “Lori Michaels not the molesting type?” the Judge asked.

 

          “Depends on if you ever could see a man lusting after a rattlesnake crossed with a cactus, then I suppose it’s possible.”

 

          “Looks or acts?”

 

          “Both.  Two other men, one kin of his rode in for the trial as well, Trampas and that fella that looks like him, he’s a cousin and calls himself the Virginian.  Guess they hail from Wyoming too and were in Fort Worth on a cattle buying expedition for a ranch they work at called the Shiloh.”

 

          “Sounds like Sheriff Trevors had a lot of friends in his corner.”

 

          “Yes sir, but no one knew what to do until they got here.”

 

          Judge Callahan looked up sharply, “They?”

 

          “Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones,” I said with respect I felt sincerely.  “Mr. Smith arrived first, the actual idea was his.  Mr. Jones arrived a bit later and figured out how to do it.  I got the impression they work that way a lot.”

 

          “Sheriff Trevors certainly knows some interesting men.”

 

          “Yes sir and I and the Michaels realized real quick his friends were more than a match for his enemies!”

 

 

 

                             *******************************

 

          It was hours after the trial ended and I was certain all the options to save Trevors had run out.  There was talk of the hanging taking place in the morning and I drifted over to wait for the stage to come in hoping Jared might have some good news.

 

          But it was late and it got later and when it did pull in I knew my worse fears were confirmed when I saw a stranger driving the coach.

 

          He was young looking, probably middle 20’s with longish dark hair and an easy hand on the reins.  He clearly had handled a team before and pulled the stage up sharp jumping down in one fluid motion to open the coach door while yelling for someone to get a doctor.

 

          I took a step towards him and let out a little cry of horror at the man he was pulling out.  It was Jared and he had been beat to a bloody pulp.  

 

          “JARED!” I yelled taking the older man from the stranger and letting him lean against me as we set him down.

 

          “What happened?” Micah asked casually like he was asking the time.

 

          The stranger looked up sharply and I realized he had blood on him from helping Jared.

 

          “He needs a doctor, go get one,” he ordered Micah and then turned to me almost gently and added.  “Is there some place we can take him out of the sun?”

 

          “In here,” I said indicating the little back room I shared with the stage driver.”

 

          “All right lets lift him together he’s in a real bad way,” the stranger told me and together we lifted him inside the door to a nearby bunk.

 

          “Get me some water,” the stranger ordered.

 

          I nodded and then spotted Micah still standing there.

 

          “Micah go get the Doc!”

 

          Micah didn’t meet my eyes.  “No point he ain’t gonna come.  Ain’t no one gonna lift a finger to help him since he crossed Michaels.”

 

          I stared in disbelief, “You knew they were going to do this to him?”

 

          Micah spat a wad of tobacco, “I don’t know nothing.”

 

          “You filthy swine, he was your friend,” I said falling on the man determined to pummel him into the ground.

 

          I suddenly felt a strong arm pull me back and turned swinging to face the stranger who ducked easily.

 

          “What’s going on?” he said studying us both.

 

          “Just telling the boy the Doc ain’t coming and if you two got any sense you’ll make yourself scarce as well.”

 

          I wasn’t aware I was crying until I choked a curse at him, but Micah just ambled away like every other damn coward in our town.

 

          “Come on lets see what we can do for him,” the stranger said taking my by the arm and leading me inside.  I noticed he paused as we entered and gave the street a long hard glance before shutting the door and drawing the shade.

 

          I followed him in, but I have to confess I just stood there slightly numb.  The entire thing had brought back the morning I had found McDowell’s broken body in the alley in back of the newspaper and I felt sick to my stomach.  Worse in the presence of this man who seems so in control, so the example of all I had ever hoped to be as a western man I felt embarrassed and wiped my tears away with the back of my hand feeling useless and foolish.

 

          “Hard to see a good friend go down, especially unjustly,” the stranger said quietly and looking up I saw sympathy and not pity in his eyes.  It might not have seemed like much, but it returned some self respect to me at least wise enough to admit.

 

          “It’s my fault, he was protecting me.”

 

          The stranger pulled off his jacket and took the water from where I had set it down.

 

          “The fight he put up makes me suspect he isn’t the type of man who does anything he doesn’t want to.  Get me some rags, clean ones I can use to bind him up.”  He caught the worried expression on my face and gave me a reassuring smile.  “Don’t worry I know what I’m doing.  I’ve got a little cousin who is always getting himself beat up; now find me those bandages.”

 

          Looking back I realize now how easily he just took charge without making any show about it.  His words and confidence calmed me down enough to get some use out of me and I hurried back with the requested items eager to help.

 

          “What can I do now?” I said passing him the items and neither of us missed how my hands were shaking.

 

          “You got a gun?”

 

          I swallowed, “Jared keeps one behind the counter.”

 

          “Get it and watch the door let me know if anyone looks like they are heading this way.”

 

          I nodded and turned back, “You realize this is gonna get you into a  deep well of trouble mister.”

 

          The stranger merely smiled and gave me a wink, “Oh I think there is more than a good chance I’ll be able to tread it.”

 

          His cocky attitude bolstered me like a tonic and eager to please I quickly found the gun and box of shells and settled down to watch out the window only glancing back to see what progress he was making.

 

          “So tell me about the Trevor’s trial.”

 

          I turned back sharply, “You a friend?”

 

          “I suppose he’ll answer that better if I keep them from hanging him,” he said and waited until I quickly ran through what had happened and where things stood.

 

He listened well, something I admire in a man and strive to emulate.  When I was done he got up and washed his hands and picked up his jacket.

 

          “He gonna make it?” I asked softly.

 

          “He’s a tough old bird, stay with him and when I get a chance I’ll have a talk with the doctor about taking a look at him.”

 

          “What makes you think he’ll listen to you?” I said cynically.  “Michaels has this whole town in his pocket. Anyone decent or fair left a long time ago or got killed ‘cause they stayed.”

 

          “You didn’t, neither did your friend Jared here,” the stranger pointed out.  “And don’t worry about me convincing the doctor, sometimes its all in how you ask folks.”

 

          He picked up his hat, “Which way did you say the jail was?”

 

          “You aren’t thinking of going to visit him are you?” I said in horror.

 

          “Well be rude not to, him being a friend and all,” the man smiled and once more I was dazzled by how disarming it was.  I suddenly felt more hope than I had a right too.  “Never did get your name?”

 

          “Riley sir, Kevin Riley,” I said suddenly ashamed it had taken me this long to introduce myself and offered my hand.

 

          He smiled and shook it, “Joshua Smith.  Riley huh?  I think this is for you!”  And reaching in his jacket he pulled out a slip of paper I knew immediately was from Fort Worth.  “Clever idea hiding it in the horse’s tail. I can tell you from personal experience not a lot of people would think to look there.”

 

          “You mean they didn’t get it?” I said falling back relief flooding over me.

 

          “No and he didn’t give up your name despite the beating they gave him,” Smith said checking his gun.  “Stay low with him and you’ll be safe.”

 

          And without another word he was gone.

 

          I slid into a chair and glanced over at Jared’s unconscious form and found myself suddenly not sure I wanted to stay safe anymore.

 

 

                             *********************************

 

          An hour passed and to my amazement not only the doctor, but Jenny arrived.  I always thought she was kind of sweet on Jared and I know he was crazy about her.  But seeing the Doc plain flabbergasted me and I pulled Jenny aside as he set to work on him with more enthusiasm than I had ever been privy too.

 

          “Smith told him that Michaels hired guns beat up the wrong man and Bo was so upset he was going to kill them and him if Jared didn’t make it,” Jenny smiled sadly.  “And seeing as how Bo and a grip of his men just rode out cause Lori sent a man to say the ranch was under attack guess there was no way to check!”

 

          I blinked at how clever a motivation that was and mentioned it to Jenny who laughed.  “Son, Smith can talk rings around the devil. Trust me, you put your money on him, if he says he’s gonna do something then he’s gonna do it.”

 

          “He says he’s going to help Trevors.”

 

          “Then he will,” Jenny said firmly. 

 

          “You sound like you know him.”

 

          “Well as any woman gets to know a man like that…hey where you going?”

 

          “Jared will be fine with you I gotta see what’s happening.”

 

          “You gonna get your fool head shot off going out there Kevin!”

 

          But I didn’t hear, I had all ready picked up Jared’s gun and headed out the door.

 

 

                             **********************************

         

          I passed the jail, but didn’t stop.  I presumed Smith had gotten Marshall Stone and Ranger Pearson to let him in.  They had offered to help Sheriff Overton with guard duty to avoid any chance of a lynching, though I never did decide who they were keeping him from being lynched by.

 

          Reaching the saloon I charged in with my gun in my hand and found I was out of breath for no reason.

 

          Wil Michaels and some of his boys were at the bar laughing, the only other customer was McCreedy sitting at a corner table nursing a beer.

 

          I heard someone come in beside me, but didn’t turn around.

 

          “Wil you son of a bitch you and your kin nearly killed Jared.”

 

          Wil turned slowly clearly amused.  He’s the youngest and being closest in age he has done his best to make my life miserable since the day I arrived in town on an orphan train.

 

          “Who let you out in long pants Riley?” Wil smirked, but his eyes got a little wider when he saw I had a gun hanging in my hand at my side.

 

          Tapping each of his boys on the shoulder they turned and unhooked their guns, a challenge any sane man would have run from, but I was too far past any hope of that.

 

          “You and your stupid family have just gone too far!” I yelled with a rage that had simmered far past the boiling point.  “It’s got to stop. I thought I could stop you with words, but I see now Jared was right only way to bring down a mad dog is to kill it.”

 

          “Four against one,” a soft drawl said and I realized someone was beside me.  “You sure you wanna buck those odds?”

 

          “Back off mister this isn’t your fight,” Wil said and something in his voice made me risk a glance over.  The stranger was young, fair and looked like he had been riding hard for a long time for a good reason.

 

          But what impressed me was how calm he was.  I was breathing heavy and even Wil’s boys were sweating, but not him.  He just stood there next to me like he didn’t have a concern in the world and it was unnerving.

 

          “Might just be my fight if you’re the Michaels who has been giving Sheriff Trevors so much trouble,” the stranger said with a sudden dark edge to his voice that made us all shiver owing to something not connected with the room’s temperature.

 

          “You another one of his friends?” Wil tried to sneer.

 

          “Yup, but for your way of looking at things might be wiser to think of me as your enemy, this way we won’t have any confusion when I have to kill you.”

 

          “Like you said mister 4 against 1 and trust me that boy ain’t gonna be of any use to you,” one of the hired guns said and went for his gun.

 

          What went down next was the stuff legends are made of. I knew for a fact two of the men with Wil were not only fast, but had reputations that made dime novel covers, but facing this man they barely cleared leather.

 

          His gun just leapt into his hand and he moved like time stood still for everyone but him.

 

          I suppose it lasted less than 30 seconds and I confess I never even got my gun cocked to help.  But when the smoke cleared the three hired guns were on the floor moaning and Wil was cowering against the bar having wet himself, his holster shot clean off.

 

          “You go with Mac here while me and these fellas have a talk,” the stranger told me reloading and returning his gun to his holster in a flourish I bet he had practiced just to piss off the people he had just outdrew.

 

          I looked up from his hands to meet his solid blue eyes and found a smile there and suddenly McCreedy had a hand on my shoulder and was leading me out the door.

 

“Come along son lets leave Mr. Jones to get his answers,” Mac said leading me out quickly not even trying to pretend he wasn’t as anxious to be gone as I was.

 

I was in shock at that point suddenly having realized how quickly I would have died without the stranger’s help and how foolish I had been thinking I could take on the Michaels alone.

 

          “Why don’t we just holster that son,” McCreedy said gently and took the gun from my shaking hands. 

         

 

          As we left I overheard this man Jones go up to Wil and say he was looking for his partner.  He mentioned having caught up to his trail and finding a lot of blood. He then added he had kept Will alive only until he found out whose it was.

         

                                      *****************************

 

          “Things are about to get interesting Riley,” Mac told me when we were safely down the street.  “Best you look after Jared and Jenny, no telling what is gonna happen now, especially if anything has happened to Mr. Jones’s partner.”

 

          I looked up startled.  Mr. Smith!  He was Mr. Jones’s partner!  And suddenly I could see it clearly; they were perfectly suited like two different but matched horses.

 

          “Mr. Smith?” I said turning to him.

 

          “You know Mr. Smith?”

 

          “He’s here, he’s the one who brought Jared in, that was Jared’s blood on him.”

 

          “Well thank heaven for that, they might only tear up half the town now.  Never seen two fellas so easily riled up once the other is put upon.” He suddenly grinned.  “Had to be born in Texas no matter what they say.  Look son you go round up Smith and tell him he can meet in my hotel room.”

 

          I looked at him surprised, “You are going to help?”

 

          He laughed and chomped on his cigar, “Son I wouldn’t miss this for the world!”

 

          I watched him leave trying to remember if I could ever remember anyone ordering Patrick J. McCreedy the way that Jones fella had and deciding I had seen two miracles in a the space of moments.

          Worried about Jared and hoping to find Mr. Smith I started to run back towards the stage office just in time to see Mr. Smith exiting the jail.

 

          “I wanna help you, but the law is the law,” I heard Pearson said clearly disgusted to be boxed into a corner.

 

          Stone nodded, “Of course doesn’t necessarily mean were gonna do anything to stop you either.”

 

          Smith smiled and thanked them.  I saw him catch Mertree’s eye over at the general store and give him a signal.  It was then he saw me and frowned.

 

          “Thought I told you to stay put,” he said.

 

          “Michael’s men, this stranger, hell I ain’t never seen anything like it in my whole life.”

 

          “Take a breath Riley, slowly,” he said firmly.

 

          “I went to the saloon to stop them, this stranger he helped me.  Mr. Smith he was the fastest gun…”

 

          “He hurt?” he asked sharply.

 

          “No sir and there were 4 of them!”

 

          For a moment I saw the panic and fear in his eyes, but it disappeared on this pronouncement.  “Four?  Just four?  Couldn’t be that fast.”  But I noticed he was walking us faster to the stage office.

 

          We reached the door and heard the gun click back.  Mr. Smith was no slouch reaching for his gun, but just as it cleared leather a voice stopped him.

 

          “I thought you were dead!”

 

          Mr. Smith broke into a grin at the sight of my savior from the saloon.  “You made good time.”

 

          “Finding your horse and enough blood to fill a creek got me moving a little faster,” Jones said eying him up as he replaced his gun. “You sure none of that blood your wearing is yours?”

 

          “Stage drivers, speaking of which where is he and Jenny?”

 

          “Had Wheat move them to the smoke house, safest place to be when all this goes down.”

 

          “What goes down?” I asked and they both turned as if suddenly remembering I was there.

 

          “Whatever plan he’s gone and thought up,” Jones said shaking his head.

 

          “You’re his little cousin!” I suddenly gasped.

 

          Mr. Jones looked up wearily put upon to stare at his cousin disgusted.

 

          “Ah Mr. McCreedy said you can use his room to work out your plan,” I added afraid they were going to fight.

 

          “Big Mac said that?” Smith said grinning at his partner who nodded impressed.

 

          “Said he didn’t want to miss this.”

 

          Smith laughed a deep long chuckle, “Well at least he has faith in us.  Riley I want you to round up a few folks for us and have them meet us there.”

 

          “Yes sir!”

 

          “You sure you wanna be a part of this Riley?” Smith asked after he gave me the names.  “Things gonna get a little wild as soon as it gets dark.”

 

          “He’ll do,” Jones answered for me.  “Stood up against 4 men and walked away standing.”  He then gave me a wink and I grinned back and took off running to notify everyone of the meeting praying I remembered all of this for later when I had some paper!

 

 

                                      ************************

 

          Fifteen minutes later Misters McCreedy, Trampas, Virginian, Mertree and Carlson were assembled in the hotel room with Mr. Smith.  There was a tap at the door and Jones entered with Mr. Briscoe and I stood up concerned.

 

          “He’s working for them Mr. Smith!”

 

          Mr. Smith smiled, “He usually is Riley, but ever since I cut him down from the barn they had him hogtied in I figured he might be of some use to us.”

 

          “Didn’t trust me!” Briscoe snarled. “Me!”

 

          “Well I guess we gotta credit them with some sense,” Jones said dryly.

 

          “Actually Thaddeus we don’t, they did hire him,” Smith grinned.

 

          Briscoe gave them a ‘very funny’ look and snarled back, “You both are just lucky Bo and most of his men rode out to look after his ranch, which was under attack.”

 

          “Not luck,” Jones said quietly.  “Was.”

 

          “You saw it?” Briscoe said amazed.

 

          “No he was it,” Smith said proudly. “Which means by the time they get back here it’s gonna be just after dawn, plenty of time.”

 

          “So what’s the plan?” Wheat asked.

 

          The man named Smith smiled and pushed back his hat, something in that one single motion made those who knew him well grin expectant.

 

          “Well I was just talking to Ranger Pearson seems there aren’t many things to stop a hanging legally.  And we do want to stop this legally.”

 

          “We do?” Kyle asked.

 

          “Yes Kyle we do.  If we stop it legally the Judge Ranger Pearson has wired to come down here and sort this out will have time to arrive and no one involved will be in any trouble for delaying things.”

 

          “So what qualifies as a reason to stop a hanging?” Jones asked trying not to smile and I got the slightly impression he was all ready two steps ahead of the rest of us.

 

          “Indian attack, but most of them been rounded up for reservations.  Sickness, plague works too, but I can’t see the Doc helping us with that.”

 

          “Out with it Heyes!” Jones growled.

 

          Smith smiled, “Well there was one other thing that will legally delay a hanging in the state of Texas…a twister!”

 

 

                             *******************************

 

          I have no doubt if any other man except Mr. Smith had attempted to recruit a group of men to pull off a plan as mad as that one it would have failed before they left the room.

 

          But Smith knew how to sell an idea and what was even better his partner knew how to ask the right practical questions and offer his own convincing solutions after he asked them.  By the time Smith was done explaining we were not only convinced we were excited.

 

          The plan was relatively simple the town had to look like a tornado had whipped through and as night was approaching all we had to do was leave its aftermath.  A great deal of dynamite creatively placed would do the job, but the trick was making sure there were eye witnesses to the cyclone, aka Red and Wil Michaels.

 

          Here it was McCreedy and Pearson who came to the rescue.  McCreedy, being a good and dutiful Texan advised the ranger a twister was headed this way.  Pearson, with a twinkle in his eye, thanked the upstanding Texas citizen and did what any Ranger under similar circumstances would do, he rounded up the entire town and took them down to the church cellar.

 

          I still remember him and Stone pausing on the church steps and assuring the blacksmith’s wife that they would stay outside and do what they could and then pushing her politely, but firmly back down they barred the cellar door.

 

          Smith and Jones looked at them both.  There being present clearly didn’t fit in with the plan and would not help when they both testified to the truth.

 

          “You boys just go about your business and don’t worry about us.  Me and the Texas Ranger here wanna watch,” Stone said pulling up a chair and a beer.  “Nothing like watching a twister from a comfortable position.”

 

          “Yea hell I wouldn’t be a Texan if I missed this,” Pearson said and as they still stared at him he added, “Justice comes in many forms boys.  Texas Rangers all ready lost one man mysteriously down here and this town did nothing to help bring his killers to justice.  Well this Ranger for one is ready for a little down home payback!”

 

          Smith broke into a grin and saluted them both.

 

          And so just about midnight a cyclone the size of which has never been in Texas before or since whipped through town destroying everything in its path.

 

          I stopped and looked at Judge Callahan.

 

          “And that’s what I will testify in court if asked.”

 

          The Judge nodded and poured himself another drink.

 

          “And I suppose when Bo Michaels and his bunch rode back in…”

 

          “Ranger Pearson told them the hanging was off due to the inclement weather and town crisis.  In fact so bad was the crisis he was able under Texas law to take over as law in Flint Rock, especially with Sheriff Overton unconscious and all.”

 

          “Unconscious?”

 

          “Yea got hit with a flying whiskey bottle during the height of the storm.  Jenny saw the whole thing.”

 

          The Judge tried to swallow a smile, “An amazing woman.”

 

          “Yes sir.”

 

          “I am going to guess since I found Mr. Michaels and his family tied up in the ice house that they didn’t see things Ranger Pearson’s way?”

 

          “No sir so him and his deputies, Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones and some others relieved them of their weapons until you could get here and sort things out.”

 

          “Interesting how the ice house managed to be the only building to survive without a scratch.”

 

          “Yes sir, Mr. Smith said that was because God thought a Texan should have a cold beer available after such a terrifying ordeal.”

 

          “God is very kind, I notice He also managed to save all the whiskey in the saloon too.”

 

          “Yes sir, Mr. Jones says God is part Irish.”

 

          Laughing the Judge leaned back and threw down his pen.

 

          “Only in Texas.”

 

 

                                      ***************************

 

          A week later I stood at the livery waiting with Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones’s horses.  Things were being sorted out all nice and legal and the Michaels were in more hot water than I had ever hoped.  There was still a hanging in the town’s future, but now it was theirs.

 

          “Riley you told this story just fine, gonna be a hell of a newspaper man,” Smith smiled shaking my hand.

 

          “Thank you, Mr. McDowell always taught me the trick was knowing what to leave in and what to leave out… Mr. Heyes.”

 

          He blinked and his partner turned to stare at us both.

 

          “Excuse me?” Hannibal Heyes said politely.

 

          “Guess I just left that part out.”

 

          They looked at each other and slowly nodded understanding the promise I was making.

 

          “And just for that Riley I promise when we can were gonna give you exclusive rights to an even bigger story,” Kid Curry vowed.

 

          I nodded, “Sheriff Trevors hinted at something like that, but don’t feel obliged I owe you too much all ready.”

 

          “Thank you,” Heyes said grateful and mounted up. “The Judge ever say which version of the story he is putting down in his official records?” he asked curious.

 

          “No sir, but I did suggest he put it all down t what we say in the newspaper business when eye witnesses tend to get confused.”

 

          “And what is that?” Kid Curry grinned.

 

          I grinned back, “It’s all in the way you look at things!”