Flint Rock Texas

1881

The Virginian’s Story

Sharon Kennison

 

He stood at the window, or rather at the open hole where a window used to be, surveying the town once again. Here on the second floor, Judge Callahan had an impressive view of the town. And everywhere he looked he could see the destruction. What had happened here, and why? And where were Michaels and his cohorts? That the answers to his questions rested with the people in the saloon he had no doubt. But would the answers justify what he now saw in front of him? That he didn’t know.

            He thought once again about the group of people that he had seen in the saloon. Some of them he knew, some only by reputation, and some not at all. Lom Trevors was well known and respected in the field of law enforcement. He was known to be a tough lawman, tough but fair, always willing to give a man a break. Just don’t cross him, otherwise he became rigid and hard, and steadfast in his decision. Never in all the years of his service to the citizens of Porterville had his ability or integrity been questioned. So how had he come to be here, sentenced to hang for murder? That was a question at the top of his list. The country needed more lawmen like Lom Trevors. Something very unexpected must have happened. But what? He hoped to soon discover that answer.

            Judge Callahan continued his reflections on the people due to visit him over the next few hours. He knew Patrick McCreedy by reputation only, never having met him before today. He owned several thousand acres around Red Rock, Texas. He was known to be a successful rancher, even if some of his tactics might show flaws in the light of day. But he had never been convicted of any crime, so to Judge Callahan’s mind he was innocent. Several prominent people counted McCreedy as a friend, so his arm extended a great distance. So just how did he figure in all of this? Guess time would tell.

            Callahan stepped away from the window to slowly pace the floor, continuing his review. Ranger Pearson was known to him, having testified at several trials. He was a tough lawman but a loner, seldom seen socializing with others. So to see him playing poker with a mixed band of men was very out of character. The judge shook his head.

            Harry Briscoe, now that was someone to watch. As a respected judge, Callahan learned who to trust and who to avoid. Callahan put Briscoe in the avoid category. He had little respect for Bannerman Detectives, and with that weasel face, in Callahan’s mind he could only be up to no good.

            Callahan stopped his pacing when he thought of the pair called Smith and Jones. That pair of cowboys intrigued him, even with the short meeting that had occurred. He had never met either of them before, and didn’t recall ever hearing their names. But there was just a mannerism surrounding each that demanded respect. He wondered how they fit into all of this. He continued his pacing.

            Marshall Stone, who he knew only by reputation, was known as being fair and well liked by the people in Colorado. He was slow to anger and even slower to draw his weapon. But when he did draw, he was deadly accurate in his aim.

            Callahan frowned, turning to retrace his steps across the floor. Stokely, Trampas, and that Wheat fellow were complete strangers to him. They all wore their guns tied down, and he suspected they all knew how to use them as well. Stokely and Trampas each carried themselves erect, as men who knew exactly who they were and were very comfortable with that. Wheat, he looked like too many miles on the road, dusty and slightly worn. He seemed to be much more a follower than a leader, but could prove to be a strong alley under the right circumstances.

            A smile came to Callahan’s face as he thought of the lady in the group, Jenny. She was a pretty lady, well dressed and neat, even with the town looking like it did. Just how did she figure in all this? He threw his hands into the air, ceasing his pacing. How did any of them fit? The smile faded as he returned to his pacing. He looked around the room, taking in the desk and the two chairs, which faced each other across the desk. A collection of papers was scattered over the desktop, pieces of a puzzle. One he needed to solve, and soon.

            That left one person, the one called The Virginian. The resemblance between him and Lom was remarkable. Further thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door. Returning to sit in his chair, he quickly glanced towards the list of questions before speaking.

            “Come in.”

            The door opened to reveal a tall cowboy, dressed entirely in black. Sharp, dark eyes darted around the room; nothing untouched during the brief few seconds it took to survey the entire room. His left thumb was hooked in his gunbelt while his right hand hovered near his holster. This man obviously was always ready for trouble. Or did trouble always find him?

            Judge Callahan motioned the cowboy into the room, pointing towards the remaining chair. The cowboy quietly closed the door behind him, and moved towards the offered chair. For a man of his size, he moved very catlike, quiet and swift without appearing to hurry. He sat down in the chair and waited.

            Callahan picked up a pen, breaking eye contact with the cowboy.

            “First, I would like to thank you for coming and if you are ready, we can get started.”

            The cowboy barely nodded his head and continued to wait.

            “And your name?”

            “They call me The Virginian.”

            “Yes, but what is your name?”

            The man sat, and waited, not making a sound.

            “OK.” And Judge Callahan wrote the name The Virginian on the top of the paper.

            “So what can you tell me about all of this?”

            The Virginian watched as the judge wrote, not answering until Callahan had ceased writing and looked up.

            “I know that Lom is innocent.”

            “He is your cousin?”

            “Yeah. Our mothers were sisters.”

            “How do you know that he is innocent, that he didn’t murder that banker.”

            The dark eyes of the cowboy flashed and for the first time the Judge knew fear.

            “Because he isn’t that type.”

            “Oh,” said the Judge. “But he was an outlaw, wasn’t he?”

            The Virginian nodded. It was a known fact that Lom Trevors used to run with the Devil’s Hole Gang, something he never denied, but which he did regret.

            “Lom, like so many others had a hard childhood.”

            “How’s that?” The Judge studied the man sitting across from him. The resemblance to Lom was almost unnerving. But this man had a harder edge to his face, as if he had lived many rough years and traveled many long roads. The slight squirming that he was currently doing in his chair spoke volumes about how uncomfortable he was speaking about the past.

            “Lom’s parents, my aunt and uncle, had been married for a long time without ever having any children. In fact, they had totally given up hope when Lom was born. He was loved so very much, and yes you can say spoiled a great deal. See, by the time he was born his parents were getting older. And the stress of raising a young boy, no matter how good he was, was taking its toil on them.”

            “Are you older than he is?”

            The Virginian nodded. “Yes, by about ten years.”

            The Judge continued to make notes along the way, starring those entries he thought were very interesting. Glancing up at the cowboy he said, “Continue please.”

            “Well, when Lom was about sixteen, his parents both caught the fever. And they didn’t survive. I guess life sometimes deals you hard blows. They didn’t get to see Lom grow into a man. And Lom, being an only child did the best he could do. But without his parents to help and guide him, he found himself terribly alone.”

            “Where were you?”

            The Virginian paused before answering. “I had already left home. My parents had died the year before.  And I didn’t find out about my aunt and uncle for almost a year. By that time he had already taken to the outlaw way of life to survive.”

            The judge nodded. “I see. And what caused him to change his ways?”

            The Virginian smiled. “I’m not exactly sure. It took some time for me to find him. And by then he had left the criminal life style, having settled down in Wyoming. After a few years, he was elected sheriff, and has been there ever since. Once I asked him, and he said it just didn’t seem right, taken’ from someone what they had worked so hard to earn. Guess there was more of his parents in him than anyone knew.”

            Callahan looked for a long moment at the cowboy.

            “And you?”

            “What about me?”

            “Where do you live and what do you do?”

            “I work at the Shiloh Ranch in Medicine Bow, Wyoming. I am the foreman.”

            The judge watched the cowboy as he spoke, seeing the different emotions play across his face. That he was close to his cousin was an understatement.

            “So what can you tell me about this….” He hesitated, than waved his hand towards the windows, “mess.”

            The cowboy sighed before starting his tale.

            “It all started several weeks ago in Porterville. Bo Michaels’ brother, Red, showed up in town. Lom was out of town at the time. Well, Red acted there like he used to act here, doing whatever he wanted to do. But the townsfolk in Porterville are used to people acting like, well people and not brutes. Red became enraged one day that he couldn’t just take what he wanted to, I think it was a saddle. He got into a fight with a storekeeper. He pulled his gun and shot the man, dead.”

            This statement brought Judge Callahan’s head up. “I had never heard this.”

            “Well, I’m not surprised. Bo Michaels tends to run a lot of things his own way, including the newspapers. Anyway, Red left Porterville and high tailed it for home. When Lom returned and heard what had happened, he came here to arrest Red and take him back to Porterville to stand trial. That’s when the trouble started.”

            The Judge was intrigued and indicated to the cowboy that he should continue.

            The Virginian shifted slightly in the chair before proceeding with his story.

            “Lom rode in here expecting the worst, but what he got was beyond what he had imagined.”

            “How’s that?”

            “Bo Michaels thought he owned the town and refused to turn his brother over to Lom. There was a gunfight between Lom and Michaels’ band of supporters, or hired guns rather. A townsman was killed, a banker. Now Michaels’ right hand man did the shooting but they all swore that Lom had shot the man.

            Callahan frowned. “But if someone died in the crossfire…”

            The Virginian sat up straighter in his chair. “He didn’t. He was shot in the back.”

            “Oh, “ said Callahan, “I see.”

            “So Lom was arrested and jailed. Than Judge Sinclair showed up and they had a trial. Lom didn’t even get a lawyer. They found him guilty, sentenced him to hang.”

            Callahan had heard of Judge Sinclair and knew that Bo Michaels supplemented his meager judicial salary. He would have to see that something was done about Judge Sinclair.

            Callahan scanned his notes before continuing.

            “So where do the rest of you fit into all of this?”

            Callahan was surprised at the laughter that was emitted from this previous somber cowboy, taking back the years on his face.

            “Well Judge, you see, it was like this. Jenny was in town, running her blackjack card game in the saloon. See she recognized Lom when he rode into town. After the gunfight and “trial”, it didn’t take much to figure out what was going to happen next. So she did the only thing she could do.”

            “And what was that?”
            The Virginian smiled. “She sent a telegram to Smith and Jones.”

            Callahan frowned. “Smith and Jones? I don’t understand.”

            The Virginian leaned forward, resting his arms on the table. “Jenny knew that if something didn’t happen, and happen soon, Lom would die. So she sent a telegram to Smith and Jones. They have been friends with Lom, well for a long time. Those boys are very loyal to their friends. They started by sending the information to their friend Soapy in San Francisco. Soapy had a friend in the newspaper business, who managed to get an article published about the trial in many newspapers across the country. Of course, several of the papers in Texas wouldn’t carry the article. Anyway, Patrick McCreedy and Jim Stokely both saw the article and headed this way.”

            Intrigued, the Judge asked, “How did they know to do that?”

            The cowboy smiled. “Let’s just say some very subtle wording conveyed the message.”

            The Judge thought than said, “I see,” even though he really didn’t.

            “So in the mean time, Smith sent wires to Wheat, a friend of Lom’s, as well as to Trampas and myself. I had met the boys several times and really liked them. He also sent one to Marshal Stone, who in turn contacted Ranger Pearson, who contacted Harry Briscoe.”

            “But why Briscoe?”

            “Well, Judge, you never know when a seedy detective might come in handy.”

            The Judge nodded, “If you say so.”

            “Trust me, Smith had his reasons.”

            “So tell me more about Smith, and what happened here.”

            The Judge noticed the change in facial expression of the cowboy. A steel mask was once again in place before he continued.

            “Smith has a very keen mind. He organized everything. We all met here a few nights ago to work out the details.”

            “Wasn’t the town full of Michaels’ men?”

            “Yeah, it was.”

            Silence permeated the room until it became deafening.

            Callahan shook his pencil at The Virginian, raising his voice. “Why do you keep stopping? I asked you to tell me what happened, now tell me.”

            The Virginian tucked his head slightly so that only part of his face was visible. And in a very low voice replied.

            “I don’t like to be yelled at. So if you want to be able to talk to the others, I would suggest that you not do that again.”

            Judge Callahan had heard threats in his time, and they never bothered him. This simple statement spoke volumes. And Callahan could feel himself being physically shaken to the core. This must be what makes this man a good foreman. Callahan doubted that his men ever argued with him.

            Callahan lowered his hands, and cleared his throat before continuing.

            “I am sorry. But I have had a short night followed by a long day. And the rest of the evening doesn’t seem to be getting any shorter. I still don’t know why I am here.”

            The Virginian eased his hat back up towards his forehead and sat back slightly in the chair.

            “That’s the easy part. Smith says that you can be trusted, that you are an honest judge. And he needs you to clear this mess up with Lom, get his name cleared, and get him out of jail. And he needs you to take back with you the, hmmm, remaining members of Michaels’ gang.”

            “But I can’t clear Lom unless I have evidence that he is innocent. And by evidence, I mean more than your word.”

            “Oh, rest assured, you will have all the evidence you need. And once you have spoken to everyone, you will know that my story is a true tale.”

            “And the deputies that I was requested to bring with me?”

            “They are to help take Michaels’ men back to your town, so they can stand trial. Each man was hand picked, to be able to do this job and do it well.”

            The Judge frowned. “How do you know so much about these deputies?”

            “Why do you think Smith wanted to bring in McCreedy? He knows just about everyone in Texas. He would know if any of those men are crooked, or if you are.”

            Callahan sat up straighter. “I can assure you that I am by no means dishonest.”

            The Virginian smiled. “That’s what Smith said.”

            “Ok, let’s get back to where we were, we will discuss Smith later.” Callahan consulted his notes. “You said that you gathered outside town. Did you have a plan?”

            “Well, one of us did.”

            The Judge pushed himself back in his chair. “Want to tell me about it?”

            The Virginian nodded.

            “Ranger Pearson made it here first, being from Texas and all. McCreedy showed up just behind him. Neither knew exactly what to do, so they waited, and watched the town. Within a few hours everyone had arrived, except for Smith and Jones.”

            “Where were they?”

            “Oh, they were delayed, picking up supplies.”

            “What kind?”

            The cowboy sat silently, not moving anything, except his eyes, which were never motionless.

            The Judge studied the face of the cowboy. Nothing showed on the face that The Virginian didn’t want shown. And now it was totally unreadable.

            “So when did they show up?”

            “Smith and Jones arrived outside town a few hours after the rest of us. Smith wanted to know about the activity in the town. We told him that the only ones we had seen out and about were Michaels’ men. We figured that the honest citizens of the town were hiding out in their homes.”

            The cowboy took a deep breath before continuing.

            “We knew that we had to gain control of the town. That was the only way to stop Lom from being hung. Smith said he had wired you,” pointing at Judge Callahan, “and he expected you here in a few days.”

            “And how many men did Michaels’ have?”

            “We counted about ten men walking around with shotguns. And figured a few more. Of course, we also saw Red Michaels and his brother Warren.”

            “So how did you think your band could take on so many men?”

            “That was simple. We had Smith and Jones.”

            “And you figured that would be enough?”

            “Why, Smith could talk his way out of a whale’s belly. And if he couldn’t, than Jones would just shoot in front of the poor thing until it released him.”

            “You know them well?”

            “No,” said The Virginian, “But Lom does. And that is good enough for me.”

            “Yes, so you have said. So tell me the plan.”

            “Smith said we needed a distraction. Take a few men out of the scene. Give Michaels a reason to believe that he couldn’t win. Than take control of the town.”

            “I see. What else did Smith have planned.”

            “Well, first off. If you want to get the upper-hand on someone, the best way is to send someone into their midst.”

            “So you had someone go into the town. Who? And why?”

            The Virginian shifted once again. Sitting in a saddle for hours at a time was one thing. Sitting in this chair was another.

            “Jones.”

            “Why would Smith send in his partner?”

            “Well Judge, if there is anything that most men recognize, it is someone who is good with a gun. Jones is very good.”

            “And how did that help?”

            “Jones rode into town. When one of Michaels’ men tried to stop him and told him to get back out of town, he refused to leave. The man, he forced the issue and drew on Jones.”

            “What happened?”

            “He never got the shot off. Jones shot the hat off of his head. Got everyone’s attention.”

            “And I suppose the man was a fast draw.”

            The Virginian smiled. “Apparently not fast enough.”

            “So they used Jones as a plant?”

            “Yep. Michaels welcomed him into the town. Thought he had himself a new hired gun. How wrong he was.”

            Judge Callahan jotted down some more notes. “So what other things did Smith have planned?”

            “He had us spread out in town and set up traps. Small things, sharp objects for people to step on, that kind of thing. Things which would distract the men in town. And while he was doing that, Jones was learning about who was in town and what was planned.”

            Judge Callahan thought for a few minutes before continuing.      

            “Tell me, how did the bathtub get up into the tree.”

            The Virginian laughed. “That was Wheat’s idea. He thought it would be funny to have the men go out in the morning to see that. It did look kinda funny.”

            The Judge smiled. “So how did that get done.”

            The Virginian shifted in his chair once again. “It really wasn’t that hard, once we got the tub out of the bathhouse. We waited until it got late, than several of us entered the bathhouse and carried out the tub. Wheat and Stokely watched and stood guard in case anyone came in that direction. Marshall Stone and Ranger Pearson had their horses ready, and we used ropes to loop around the tub and over the tree. They tied onto their horses and used them to pull the tub into the tree. Once there, Trampas and myself helped put the tub into a place where it would stay, and we waited to see the show the next morning.”

            “You mean to tell me that Stone and Pearson were involved in breaking and entering?”

            “Yep. They even enjoyed themselves.”

            The Judge laughed. This group was amazing. “So what happened?”

            “Judge, if you could have seen the looks on the faces of the men, well, lets just say that that is something I will long remember.”

            “I can imagine. But what about all the rest? The building burned down, and the saloon? And I can’t wait to hear about the outhouse on the roof.”

            “Well Judge, we didn’t just spend the night waiting. We took the time to do some other work around the town.”

            “And that was?”

            “We set some dynamite around several places, designed to do damage but not to destroy the building.”

            “Such as the saloon?”

            “Well, since the saloon was never totally empty, and we didn’t want to destroy it completely, we did the next best thing. We set the blast to take off the roof.”

            “And you waited until morning?”

            “We waited. Jones, he managed to slip back to talk to Smith, telling him everything he could, all that he had learned. Than he slipped back into town.”

            “So was it useful information?”

            “Yeah. Using what Jones had learned; Smith broke us up into small groups, sending each to a different part of town. And we waited. The next morning, we could tell that the men in town knew something was up. Several were walking around on tender feet. One had a broken arm from falling through a balcony ledge. Guess he should have noticed that partially sawed through board.”

            The Judge smiled.

            “So after a few hours, Smith sent McCreedy into town. Thought he would give Michaels a chance to get his men out of town, and release Lom.”

            “How was McCreedy to do that?”

            “Well Judge, everyone around here knows of Patrick McCreedy. And the power he has. McCreedy met Michaels and tried to convince him it was in his best interest to leave. Mac dropped a few names, names of people who could cause a lot of trouble for Michaels. And he told Michaels that if he didn’t leave the town, there wouldn’t be a town left to live in ”

            “Wasn’t McCreedy afraid, to be in the town alone?”

            “Ah, but he wasn’t alone. Jones was there. And when Jones backs someone, there is no need to be afraid.”

            “I see. Please go on.”

            “Well, Michaels listened to McCreedy talk, but told him that he was not afraid, that there was nothing McCreedy could do to hurt him or his town. So Mac did just what he had promised. He blew up the restaurant.”

            “Totally?”

            “Yes, Your Honor. That was one building that was leveled on purpose.”

            “And how did Michaels take that?”

            “Oh, he was not happy at all. It didn’t take much to know that something was up.”

            “I am surprised that he didn’t pull a gun on McCreedy.”

            The Virginian smiled. “He did. Only thing is, Jones was there to pull one on him. After relieving Michaels of his weapon, Jones moved around in front of Michaels, and backed out of town, keeping McCreedy out of the line of fire.”

            “And then?”

            “All Hell broke loose.”

            Judge Callahan slowly nodded his head.

            “So tell me about Hell.”

            “Michaels was so mad. He sent his men out to try to find us. Trampas and I were hiding out in the stables. Two of Michaels’ men came into the stables. They never went back out again.”

            “Did you kill them?”

            “Nah, but with the way their heads had to feel the next morning, they might have wished we did.”

            “But what about the burning building?”

            “That was Michaels doing. He found out that Pearson and Stone were hold up inside the surveyor’s office. He had his men set a fire around the building to try to burn them out.”

            “How did they manage to get out?”

            Smith and Jones gave cover fire while Wheat put a rope around one of the posts of the building. Stokely used his horse to yank the side of the building off. Pearson and Stone made it safely out.” The cowboy frowned slightly. “Wheat got a little singed in the process, but he was fine.”

            “So there is a gunfight going on. How did the jail get hit?”

            “Well, sir, you see, Harry Briscoe thought we needed to get Lom out of jail. So he and Wheat headed that way, intending on getting him free.”

            “So?”

            “Judge, if there is anything that my cousin is, it is honest. Even under the circumstances. When Wheat and Briscoe tried to pull down the cell bars, he refused to allow them to do it. Said he would get out the legal way.”

            “That is very admirable. But it doesn’t explain the wall.”

            “Well Judge, some of Michaels’ men saw Briscoe and Wheat at the jail. Thinkin’ they were breaking Lom out, they decided to not allow that to happen. They ran into the general store and grabbed some dynamite. Stokely saw them running towards the jail with the lit dynamite and shot towards them. He caught one; ended up being Warren Michaels, in the leg. He went down, but managed to toss the dynamite towards the jail. It landed just outside the wall, so when it exploded, it only took out the wall and not the entire jail. Lom was fine.”

            “That is amazing.”

            “We watched as one by one, Michaels’ men headed out of town. Smith figured that they were not die-hard Michaels supporters, so he let them go. Bo Michaels hid in the saloon.”

            “Smith sent Briscoe into the street, under cover of the remaining buildings. He had Briscoe, in his most official voice, tell Michaels that the Bannerman Detective Agency was on the case and he demanded Michaels to surrender.”

            “And Michaels agreed?”

            “Oh, no. He shot towards Briscoe. Said everyone would die before he surrendered his town.”

            “So what was Smith’s plan?”

            The Virginian stood to stretch. “Do you mind?”

            “Oh no, please.”

            The Virginian walked slowly across the room as he relayed the next portion of the story.

            “Smith figured they needed to see just how serious we were. But there was a problem.”

            “What was that?”

            “Jenny.”

            “What about her?”

            “Jenny was still in the saloon. And therefore in the crossfire. Smith needed to get her out before anything happened to her.”

            “So what did he do?”

            “A distraction.”

            “And that would be?”

            The Virginian returned to sit in the chair. “He sent Wheat to light the fuse under the, uh, outhouse. While he was doing this, Jones slipped in the back door of the saloon, found Jenny hiding in the office, and got her out. He took her to the jail, figured that Lom would keep her safe. Jones also left Lom a gun, which he did keep.”

            “So once Jenny was safe….”

            “Wheat lit the fuse. And the outhouse flew sky high, landing on the top of the hotel. It was a sight to see for sure.”

            “And this was part of the plan?”

            “Sure. It distracted Michaels’ men enough for the rest of us to get closer to the saloon. When Smith had us spread out like he wanted us, Jones lit the fuse in the saloon. The roof and second floor blew sky high.”

            “That must have been amazing.”

            “It was. And scared the men inside the saloon. They ran outside and started to scatter.”

            “What happened to Michaels?”

            “He ran too. Guess he wasn’t as brave as he wanted everyone to believe. He headed towards a horse, which was tied to the hitching rail. Unfortunately for him, the horse was very skittish. When Michaels tried to mount, the horse reared. Michaels was thrown and the horse fell backwards landing on top of him. Bo Michaels is dead.”

            “So what about the rest of the men?’

            “After Michaels was dead, the rest of his men seemed to lose their desire to fight. They threw down their weapons and came out.”

            “So Bo Michaels is dead. Warren has a wound to the leg. What about Red?”

            “We found him hiding in the general store, the big, brave man cowering in the corner.”

            “OK, that explains most, except for the saloon. How in the world did it get to the place it is today.”

            “Well, Judge, you see it is like this. I bet you didn’t know that at one time, the saloon was only one floor. And Michaels wanted to be able to have a saloon wherever he wanted it to be, so he made it, well, mobile. He built it with runners underneath the floors. With a little work, it can be moved just about anywhere.”

            “How did you learn about this?”

            “I told you, a seedy detective could come in handy. Briscoe may be a weasel, but there are a few useful bits of knowledge in his head. He remembered reading about the mobile saloon and asked Warren Michaels about it.”

            The Judge laughed. “And it got to where it sits now?”

            “Well Judge, since we couldn’t get Lom to leave the jail until you arrived to clear his name, we did the next best thing. We moved the saloon to where he was. Since the jail was missing a wall, we just moved the saloon, and after removing a part of the outside wall, pushed the two together. That way Lom could be involved in everything going on without leaving the jail."

            “So who is locked up in the icehouse?”

            The Virginian smiled.     “Warren and Red Michaels, two of their men, the rest left town, and they each have minor injuries only. They won’t be going anywhere until you are ready to take them back with you.” And Sarah Michaels. We found her hiding in the church. She was holding the minister hostage. Trampas found them hiding there when we did a search.” The Virginian shook his head. “Guess she shouldn’t have tried to shoot a man of the cloth, it didn’t make Trampas happy. Now usually he wouldn’t hurt a lady, but than again….”

            “That was no lady?”

            “Exactly Judge.” And both men laughed.

            “Is there anything else you want to tell me before we end this.”

            “Only that Lom is innocent of all charges. You are here to see that justice is served. I hope that Smith’s faith in you isn’t misplaced.”

            “I assure you, if your story matches the others, Lom will be released and allowed to go free. And the state of Texas will owe a great favor to you and the others, especially it seems to Smith and Jones.”

            “Can I get that in writing?”

            “What?”

            “Never mind Judge.” And standing, The Virginian extended his hand towards the Judge. Callahan rose, grasping the hand offered. Both men stood for several seconds, not speaking, but saying many things in the process. Than The Virginian pivoted and silently left the room. Callahan sank back into his chair, a new and growing respect for the men and woman gathered in the town. To have friends like that would be worth all the gold in the world. He only wished that some day, he would be lucky enough to count any of them as his friend.

            And he lowered his head, finishing the entries on his paper.

 

            The Judge was seated in his carriage, ready for the return trip. He glanced around to the deputies, each with horses tied to theirs. The Michaels brothers were looking none too happy, as well they should. Sarah Michaels sat in a buggy, hands bound behind her and a bandana in her mouth. Already she had irritated everyone, so they had decided that she could make the trip in silence.

            Callahan turned back towards the group of men and woman gathered on the porch of the saloon. Lom Trevors stepped over to the carriage and extended his hand.

            “Thanks for everything. Are you sure I can’t take Michaels back with me?”

            Shaking Trevors’ hand, the Judge replied, “No. I think there is enough evidence to get him convicted here in the state of Texas. Trevors, you are a lucky man to have friends like this.”

            Lom stepped back and nodded. “I know that Judge. And I will be forever grateful.”

            The Judge surveyed the group, than speaking to the deputies, “You men go ahead and head out. I will be right along.”

            “Yes sir.”

            And they watched as the deputies headed out of town, the remainder of Michaels’ supporters in town.

            Callahan turned back towards the group, making eye contact with Smith.

            “And to you sir, I am grateful. Who would have ever believed that Hannibal Heyes could actually go straight.”

            Heyes, wearing his poker face, never cracked a smile. “I’m sorry. Who were you talking to?”

            “Oh, you are very good Mr. Heyes. But it didn’t take long to figure out who you really were. As well as you Mr. Curry,” looking towards Kid.

            Callahan raised his hands quickly, “But don’t worry, your secret is safe with me. I have a reputation for upholding the law. But I am not a stupid man. I know that all of this was a result of you. You risked your lives for a friend. And a lawman at that. A real outlaw wouldn’t have done that.”

            Callahan surveyed the remaining members of the group. “And I suspect that everyone here knows the real truth. And anyone that can count this many lawmen as friends, well they can’t be all bad.”

            “When did you figure this all out, I mean, not saying that I am who you think I am.”

            The Judge smiled. “It didn’t take much. I just took the things that everyone said and put them together. A quick shot, but careful to not kill. A silver tongue with an agile mind. The combination could only add up to Heyes and Curry.”

            Heyes stood for a few minutes, weighing his options. Silence surrounded the group of people. Several hands hovered near weapons, should the need arise. Tension became thick and all wondered what would happen next.

            Curry glanced towards Heyes and silently nodded, a motion that none saw except for Heyes.

            Heyes smiled, than stepping forward, extended his hand towards the Judge. “Thank you sir. And I hope that I can count you as one more friend?”

            “You had better.” He smiled. “Or else I will arrest you.”

            The group laughed, as Heyes stepped back. Lifting a hand, Callahan waved, than headed his horse out of town. The group stood watching him as he became a distant dot on the horizon.

            Heyes turned to face the group. “Well, now what do we do?”

            Stokely stepped forward. “I say we try to help these citizens clean up their town. There is a lot of work to be done. And then, how about another game of poker before we all leave?

            “Jim,” Kid Curry said. “Why couldn’t you have come up with something that wasn’t so hard on the back?”

            Slapping Curry on the back, Stokely laughed. “Why, a little hard work never hurt anyone.”

            “So they say, Jim, so they say.”

            And the group moved off towards the center of town, to help the citizens start the long process of rebuilding. But this time, it would be a town that would now see freedom for all. And would always have a bathtub in a tree as a reminder of what they went through to achieve that freedom.