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Cas City Forum Hall & CAS-L  |  GENERAL TOPICS  |  Saddlebag Tales (Moderators: Marshal'ette Halloway, Lucky Irish Tom)  |  Topic: EotL 3 - Four Graves 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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LimeyJack
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« on: June 24, 2008, 11:48:40 am »


End Of The Line
by LimeyJack
(cc) by-nc-sa

3. Four Graves

Adam Smith Liche looked down into the four open graves through the haze of sideways rain.  A pile of mud sat beside each one, and a collection of simple wooden crosses lay in a pile.  The graves had been dug for some time.  Grass was growing around their edges, and water pooled at the base of each.  Just the sight of them send an ominous shiver down Adam's spine.  He shifted his ridiculous looking hat around his head, trying to keep the rain off his face.

Up the main street, towards the chapel, Mayor Fish trudged through the bad weather.  He wore a canvas poncho and a wide brimmed hat, but he still looked decidedly uncomfortable.  His mustache was pasted to his face, and around his neck his paper collar was slowly loosing it's starch. 

“How's that for dedication to the job?”  The Mayor said when he was in ear shot.  “Before he done left for Deadwood, the Grave Digger dug them four graves.  Said if we ever managed to filled them up, he'd come back and dig up some more.  Down right lazy, if you ask me.  Can't even be bothered to wait for a fella to die before digging his grave.  Just lazy.”

“Gives me the cold shivers.”  Adam volunteered, looking down into the four holes.

“Reckon it might.  You going out of your way these last few weeks to make yourself a candidate to fill one.”  The mayor finally stepped up besides Adam, huffing from his climb.  “You sure know how to poke the bear in the eye, I'll tell you what.”

“Any word of the Gaffa?”

“Nope.  But this town is sure fit to burst.  Word is the Anacreon boys are camped just up the pass aways.  That's keeping the crew from the Lazy S in town.  Burke's men are sticking around to see how it plays out, and Michael's outfit are setting up in the all old Palace Hotel.  And everyone walking around with one of them new Colt handguns being sold by at  Entenmann's.  And repeating rifles too.  No one's looking to make a fool of themselves by getting water logged, like the Gaffa did.  No Sir, they've all seen the light...  I'm telling you son, you're got to do something.”

Adam looked up from graves and at the white clapboard church.  The mountains beyond could barely be seen pushing through the fog. 

“What'd you want me to do?”

“Heck, I made you Sheriff for a reason, boy.  There's folks in this town still.  Decent folks.  After the gold panned out, that's all that's been left, but if there's much more gun play, those folks are going to shin out too.  I wouldn't blame them.  You show up and we've got Ranchers at each other's necks...”

“Then you made a mistake making me Sheriff...”

“The heck I did.  This town has got to stand up to them.  Yes we do.  And I ain't seen no one better able to make a stand than you, Dude.  That was something else the other night.  You strolling out of the Hinny plain as day, and facing the Gaga down.  We got faith in you, that's why the Council's gone and done what its done.  'Cause we're figuring you can make something happen.”

Adam felt a sinking feeling.

“What the Council gone and done?”

“They only sane thing decent folk can do when four armed gangs are occupying their town.  We've passed a law:  No firearms in the city limits of Endaleleen.  Effective immediately.”

“You want me to take away their guns?”  This made Adam smile.

“You got it.  And stop that Sears woman from selling any more!  Just don't make a lick of sense.  All them guns and all them itchy trigger fingers.  If we don't do something there'll be blood in the streets!  You take away them guns so this place can get back to civilization!”  With that, the Mayor turned and trudged off back down the hill.

“Civilization?  Here?”  Adam said to the empty graves and shrugged.

They next morning, the rain abated, and Adam posted the new city ordinance at the railroad platform, at the trail head into town, and (most importantly) on the door of the Singing Hinny.  At first the ordinance created quite an uproar, with much stabbing of fingers and puffing of cheeks.  But as evening rolled around, and the cowboys began to migrate into the saloon, reality began to set in.  Gully had been instructed not to serve anyone who hadn't turned in his firearms.  As the choice between guns and whiskey sunk in, thirst became a mighty persuader. 

As the evening went on, and the whiskey flowed, and the pile of pistols and rifles behind the bar grew, a genuine sense of comrade seems to form among the rival ranchers.  Rounds of drinks were being bought.  Playful barbs were being thrown.  It looked like the Council's plan might actually work.  Adam had to admit it, despite his skepticism.  Without the ever present threat of violence, the cowboy were able to find common ground in drinking and bawdy jokes.  At closing time, as everyone stagged off to their bed rolls, no one seemed to feel naked without their gun.

So there it was.  The cowboys were that easily unarmed.  No fights, no shots, just whiskey.  Adam's next task, however, wasn't going to be as easy.  He soon found himself in Entenmann's Hardware Store, under the gaze of the formidable Mrs. Sears.

“Why, they can't do such a thing!”  She threw he hands up in disgust.  Adam had just broken the news of the Council's prohibition on weapons sales.  “It's prior restraint-  Or some such thing!  I have my rights, you know!”

“I'm was a banker, before I was Sheriff.”  Adam said apologetically.  “No lawyer.”

“Well, those dunderheads!  They'll be...  I'll just...”  Her anger suddenly overcame her, and she seemed to choke back her emotions.  Adam suddenly felt like a bully.

“It's just the guns and ammunition you can't sell.  All other merchandise is still fine...”

All the emotion drained out of Mrs Sears' face, and she fixed him with her deathly stare once again.  Adam felt foolish for momentarily feeling sorry for her.  By the look in her eyes, she was no one who ever need to be felt sorry for.

“May I show you the store room?”  She said, as if it was an invitation to tea in the parlor.  Adam shrugged and followed her to the back of the store.  She opened a back door and they stepped into a dusty room piled high with merchandise.  There were some prospecting equipment, and some woodworking tools, but most of the room was stocked with crates of guns.

“My Lord...”  Adam managed.  He dusted off one crate and reveled 'Winchester Repeating Arms Company' stenciled in white.  “I...”

“You asked to speak to Mr. Sears when you first came into my store.”  Mrs. Sears said behind him.  Her voice was low and serious.  “There is a Mr. Sears, well was.  Is.  I mean, he's still alive.  He's just not  Mr. Sears anymore.  Well, he is...  I'm not...  Well, you know how it can be... 

We bought this store together three years ago.  It's never the miners that get rich in gold rushes, you know.  It's the storekeepers.  Success or failure, every miner spends the same on picks and shovels.  We were going to be rich.  Endaleleen was a busy town back then, and we were well on our way.  But the gold panned out, and the miners with it.  My husband sunk our profits into a deal to supply arms to the Cavalry.  But after the Bighorn, that order fell through.   The gold moved to Deadwood and so did my husband.  I understand he's trying his hand at digging the stuff up this time.  I wish him success.  He never had the temperament for being a storekeeper.  Very few men do.

And I'm left here.  Selling gold pans to a town with no miners. Now the only thing people in this town want, other than whiskey, is illegal for me to sell.  Tell me Sheriff:  How am I supposed to make a living?  What exactly is there in this town for a woman to do?”

Adam turned around and looked at her.  He knew what she meant, and he already knew better than to pity her.  The anger in her eyes told him not to.  He dug into his vest pocket for some silver dollars he had taken from the Hinny's cash box.

“I now have the means to pay off my chit.  For the gun and the hat...”  Adam said, holding out the money.

“Get out.”  Mrs Sears said, almost with indifference. 

As word of the No Gun Law made it's way out to the Anacreon boys camping in the raing, cowboys by the ones and twos broke camp and came into town.  They surrendered their guns, and happily drank with cowboys from the rival ranches at Singing Hinny.  All animosity seemingly forgotten.  Neither Adam or Gully could recognize anyone they had traded shots with from the other night, and in the interests of the truce, they didn't make an issue of it.  It seems that the cowboys were leaderless anyway, as the Gaffa had returned across the Big Sue to to nurse his wounds, and Banner had take a train out of town a few days after the gunfight.  They were left with orders to bottle up the town, but were far more interested in drinking whiskey, and sleeping in a real bed.  And drink they did.  With all the cowboys from all the ranches in town, their pockets full of pay from the year end roundup; it was beginning to look a lot like the good-old-days in the Singing Hinny Saloon.  On any given evening, cowboys were lining every inch of the bar, and taking every table.  The place was bullet ridden, with boards over every window, keeping the rain out, but it was the only saloon left in town.  Occasionally, one of the older hands might pull out a squeeze box and fumble through a tune.  Despite the questionable playing, voices would be enthusiastically raised in chorus, if anyone knew the words or not.  Gully collected guns, the cowboys drank, and all was peaceful in End of the Line.

That is until Banner returned.

Perhaps three weeks after Adam had posted the No Gun Ordinance, the four thirty train arrived in End of the Line as usual.  Unusually, however, five pairs of boots stepped off the train that day.  Adam, as Sheriff, had made it his habit to watch the comings and goings at the train platform each day.  This was the first time he had seen anyone disembark during the tenure.

One pair of boots belongs to Jacob Banner.  He was no longer dressed as a cowboy, but had taken the opportunity of his absence to purchase a gray suit.  He still worse his colt on his hip, however, and it shinned in the evening light.  The other four pairs of boots were black.  The men wearing them also wore black suits.  They each carried a pair of pistols in black leather holsters hanging from black leather belts.  Topping off their outfits, each wore a black hat that made Adam remember how ridiculous his made him look.

“Good evening, gentlemen.”  Adam said, stepping towards the five men.

“Good evening...”   Banner began, then he saw the badge on Adam's coat.  “...Sheriff.  Why, that is a surprise.”

“Your friends staying in End of the Line?”  Adam nodded towards the four men in black.

“They will be spending some time in town.”

“Then I best inform you of the new town ordinance barring the carrying of firearms in the city limits.”  Adam tapped the sign he had posted on the platform.  “If you gentlemen will check your guns with the bartender at the Singing Hinny...”  There were some bemused grunts from the four men.  “Is there going to be a problem?”

“With all do respect, Sheriff.”  Banner began.  “These fellas ain't the kind to check their guns with anybody...”

“Council didn't make room for exceptions...”  Adam could feel the situation going south quickly.

“I don' t think you understand, Liche...”

“What's there to understand?”  Adam looked from man to man.  They did have some mighty fine hats...  “If you're friends want to stay in town, they're gonna need to give up their guns.”

“Well, I'll ask, out of respect for your position, but I can't guarantee anything.”  Banner turned to the neared of the four men.  “Ed, you want to check your guns with the Sheriff?”

“Sheriff?”  The man grunted.  “I'll spit in his eye.”  Banner turned back to Adam.
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LimeyJack
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« Reply #1 on: June 24, 2008, 11:49:30 am »

“Well, I tried.  I reckon they don't cotton to the council's new rule...”

Adam could feel the weight of his pistol tucked into his waistband.  It suddenly felt heavy, and very obvious.  The one called Ed, pulled back his jacked from his holster, and tapped his gun's pearl handle.  Adam was suddenly very unsure if his father's prognostic powers kept him safe from being gunned down in the street.

“Well, Sheriff?”  Banner prodded.

“I have to say, that is sporting hat.”  Adam said to the man caressing his gun. Suddenly cheery.  This took Banner and the rest off guard.

“What?”  One of the younger men in black replied.

“Your friend here.”  Adam gestured at the one called Ed.  “I'm admiring his hat.  Where ever did you find such a fine thing?”  Adam took off his own hat, and looked at it.  “This is the best I could find in this town.  Horrid thing.  Lost my old one in the Mississippi, but that's a long story.”

“You trying to be funny?”  Ed said through gritted teeth.

“No, no.  Just asking about your hat.”

“Why do you give a damn about my hat?”  Ed took a step forward, bringing him inches from Adam's face.

“Would you be interested in selling it?”  Adam said, starting at Ed's yellowed teeth.

“Idiot!”  Ed snarled and shoved Adam back across the platform.  “Get out of my way!”  The others pushed by Adam on their way off the platform.

“Remember, check your guns at the Hinny..”  Adam said weakly, as they passed.

“Oh, we will, Sheriff.”  The youngest of the group said as he passed.  He let out a belly laugh, and slapped Adam on the back hard enough to almost knock him over.  Adam sucked in his breath and his pride at the same time.  Lucky, people don't like to shoot idiots...

That evening, the Hinny was as busy as ever with blissfully unarmed cowboys.  Adam sat at his usual table.  The shutters open on the glassless window, despite the night's chill.  He watched the street for activity, but all seemed peaceful.

“Word is they're the Doogan Brothers.”  Gully said, putting a bottle of bourbon and a glass down on Adam's table.  “Fresh from Mexico where they've been fighting for Diaz.  Guess the Squire knows the oldest brother from back in the day when they both shot Juaristas for Maximilian.  Bounty killers.  Top money.  Guess Banner sent word right after you shot the Gaffa.  Went to pick them up in Saint Paul.”

“Perfect, just perfect.”  Adam said, and poured a drink.

“I take it they still got their guns.”

“I let them keep 'em.”  Adam said sarcastically.

“That would explain why you're still breathing in and out.”

“Didn't see this coming.  Didn't see Anacreon calling in professionals.”

“I take it they're here for you...”  Gully said as Adam drank his drink.

“Me?”  Adam coughed as the liquor went down.  “We could only wish.  Folks like that don't come all this way to kill one man.  If they're here, they're here for everybody.”

“You think Banner's making a play for the town?”

“...And the railhead.”

“Sounds like you've got another one of your Daddy's letters on the way?”  Gully added.  Adam had shared his father's otherworldly correspondences with Gully.  None of it had shocked him.  Devils and premonitions seemed to already loom large in Gully's world view.

“Not every threat is one of Harry Liche's crises.”  Adam mused.

“Killing us all?  Sure sounds like a crisis to me.”  Gully laughed.  “Do me a favor.  This time, if you start a shooting, do it a long way away from me...”

“I ain't starting no fighting.   Not with them.  Insanity might run in my family, but it ain't infected me...”

Raucous cowboys called for service at the bar, and Gully left to pour their liquor.  After a minute, Bert Stallman made his way over to Adam's table and dropped heavily into a chair.  He was drunk, and happily so.  His cheeks were rosy red.

“You meet the Doogans?”  Stallman asked, leaning across the table.

“I met them at the platform.”

“And you're still alive?”

“I was very polite.”

“That Squire's a piece of work!  First taxes, now gunmen!  He's hell bent to get his way in Endaleleen.”

“By hook or by crook, as they say.”

“Well, I'll tell you what I say:  I say if he wants a war, he can have it.  Here on Main Street are back across the Big Sue.  My boys are ready.  Ain't that right?”  He yelled to the bar, and a cheer came up from Stallman's men.  “Four Doogans or forty.  They ain't worth a plug nickel.”

“Word is they're professionals.”

“Shooting Mexicans, and fighting men ain't exactly the same thing, son!”

“There's also Michael & Burke to consider...”

“Phh...”  Stallman didn't seem impressed.  “A plug nickel for the both of them too!”

“Now, a shooting war ain't gonna do any of us a damn bit of good-”

“You didn't say that when my boys were fishing your fanny out of the fire!”

“I ain't saying-”

“You ain't saying nothing!”  Stallman cut Adam off, and Adam let it go.  Adam knew what he owed Stallman, and he wasn't going to insult him.  “Now, how do I get my guns back?”

“The Lazy S hauling out?”

“We ain't getting snowed in here with them killers...  Better in the open...  Room to manoeuvre...”

“Saddle up, I'll hand your guns back at the trail head.”

“Good enough.  First thing sun up, mind you.  Don't make me have to come wake you up!”

“First thing sun up.”

“Fine.”  Stallman climbed drunkenly to his feet.  “Then I'll bid you a goodnight.”  He cut a crooked path across the bar floor, and stepped though the swinging doors.

In the darkness, a match was struck.  On the boardwalk, Stallman froze in his tracks.  From inside Adam could just make out the faces of the Doogan Brothers.  The rest of their bodies shrouded in the blackness of night.  They had either snuck up to the saloon quiet as mice, or been waiting in the darkness before Adam had opened the shutters.  Either way, they had found their pray. 

“Stallman?”  The one named Ed said in the match light.  He lit his cigar, and then shook the match out.

“Who-who's there?”  Stallman managed.  He eyes straining to see in the darkness.

“You Stallman?”  Ed asked again.

“I am.”  Stallman brought his hand to his eyes to shade out the light of the bar.  Without warning there was a single shot, and Stallman convulsed. 

Adam sprung from his seat and barreled out through the swinging doors.  Pistol in hand, the blackness of the night washed over him, and he searched to make out anything in the blackness.  Gully came out not moments behind Adam, lamp in hand.  Light flooded the boardwalk and the street surrounding, but no Doogan Brothers could be seen.

Stallman, leaning against the door frame, lowered himself to the ground. 

There was a single bullet hole below his heart, and a gush of blood had already soaked his shirt.  He let out a low moan, and collapsed back through the swinging doors.  By the way his head cracked against the wooden floor, Adam knew he was already dead.

It took a moment for the yelling to start.  Everyone was staring at Stallman's body in shocked silence.  When it did, though, it was quickly followed by punches.  Lazy S hands accusing the Anacreon cowboys.  Twin Falls men calling the Lazy S a bunch of cowards.  The brawl made quick work of smashing up what was left of the Singing Hinny; but it came to abrupt end when Gully fired a shot from his scatter gun into the ceiling.  The bar cleared out, Stallman's men carrying off his body. 

Nerves were frayed, and everyone was itching for their guns.

Sitting at his table, Adam drank and stared at the blood stain on his floor.  As the evening rolled into the early hours of the morning, Adam drank more and more and started harder and harder at the red circle.  Finally, he had had enough.  He scooped up a lamp, and stepped out into the street.

“Doogan!”  He yelled repeatedly, as he made his way down Main Street.  Somewhere a dog woke up and started barking.  He was almost at the train platform before he got a response. 

“You looking for me?”  The youngest Doogan was sitting on the porch of house near the station.   

“Where's you brother?”  Adam said drunkenly.  To this, the young Doogan seemed took offense.

“You looking for trouble, Sheriff?”

“I'm looking for you Doogans.”

“You're drunk, you fool.  Go home.”

“Ain't you man enough to admit what you done?”

“Admit what?”

“Murdering Bert Stallman...”

“What?  Who said we done that?”  The Doogan Brother relaxed, and leaned back in his chair

“I seen it.”  Adam was having trouble staying vertical.  He really wished he'd had something to lean against.

“Then you really are a fool.  We ain't left this house all evening.  Ask anyone.”

“I ain't got to.”

“What you gonna do, arrest me?”

“Nope, that wasn't what I had in mind.”  Adam reached for his gun, but missed.  The Doogan Brother jumped from his chair, and grabbed the butt of his gun.  Out of the darkness, Bobby Goodfellow suddenly appeared between Adam and the Doogan. 
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LimeyJack
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« Reply #2 on: June 24, 2008, 11:50:26 am »

“Howdy, Sheriff.  You're out late.”  He said, steadying Adam.

“Hey kid, watch out!”  Adam replied.  He swatted at the boy, but only managed to dislodge his top hat. 

“Catch your death out in this weather without a hat!”  Bobby said, pulling on Adam's arm.

“Maybe we can try this again when you sober up, Sheriff...”  The Doogan laughed, and sat back down.

“Leave me along, kid...”  Adam said, but Bobby was already dragging him off up the hill. 

“No reason it get yourself killed tonight, Sheriff.”  Bobby said once they were clear of the Doogans.  “After all, tomorrow's another day.”

Adam burped and tripped a little on his own feet.

As Adam expected, the morning brought him a visit from the Mayor.  He blustered into the bar under a full head of steam.  It was the last think Adam's hangover needed.

“How is this for a state of affairs!  Bert Stallman shot down in the-”  Before he could finish his sentence, Adam wound up, and slugged him in the jaw.  The Mayor bounced off one of the few remaining upright tables, and collapsed on the floor. 

“You and your God damned Council!”  Adam yelled at the mayoral heap on the floor.

“What was that for?”  The mayor managed through a bloodied lip.

“You and your 'decent folk'!”  Adam sucked in some cold air and calmed down a little.  His head was splitting.  “Take a man's guns away and leave him for the wolves.  Is that what it means to be 'decent folk'?  Well, to hell with the lot of you!”

“Why didn't you take those Doogan boy's guns?!”

“'Cause then I'd be laying there right next to Stallman!   Almost was last night, if it hadn't been for young Bobby.”

“Well, the fats in the fire now.  Lazy S is making rumbling of shooting it out with the Anacreons, Doogan Brothers or no.  They're five minutes from coming to get their guns whether or not you're apt to give them.”

“Heck, I'm of a mind to let them have 'em!”

The Mayor pulled himself up off the floor, picked up a chair, and set down.  Gully brought over a bottle and and glass, and poured the Mayor a drink. 

“Now Son,”  The Mayor said, drinking.  “One man is already dead, adding a dozen more isn't going the help matters.”

“Seems like it'd help matters to give every fella a fighting chance.”

“What we need here is some Law and Order, Dude.  If this thing busts wide open, it'll be the end of this town.  I ain't kidding.  If word gets down the valley of an all out range war up here, there'll be no more railroad, no more four thirty, no more cattle drives, no more saloon.  This saloon-  heck, this town -may not be much, but you've already risked so much to protect it.  Whatever your reasons.  If bullets start flying indiscriminately, it'll be the end.  End of it all.  You mark my words.”

Adam helped himself to a glass off the Mayor's bottle, and looked over the wreckage of his bar.  Hair-of-the-dog...

“Maybe this is one of Harry's Crises...”  Adam mused.

“What's that?”  The mayor said.

“Nothing.  You hold any sway over the Lazy S?  You think you can delay them some?”

“Dude, I can talk the ear off a mule.”

“Them give me an hour, maybe I can squelch this fire.”

“That's my boy!  A little Law and Order!”

“Mayor, what I got to do may look like many things, but it ain't gonna look like no Law or Order.”

After another drink to fortify him, the Mayor scurried off to waylay the coming war.  Adam put on his silly hat, and sprinted over to Mrs. Sears' store.  She was just opening, pushing a wheelbarrow of ax handles out onto the boardwalk for display.

“I need some of them repeating rifles.”  Adam said, out of breath.

“I can't sell you no guns...”  Mrs. Sears said with sarcasm.

“Good, 'cause I ain't got any money.”  Adam trotted past her, and into the store.  He opened the door to the storeroom and began prying open one of the crates.

“The town gonna pay for those?”  Mrs. Sears said from behind him.

“I'll give them back.”

Adam pulled out a winchester and opened the action.  He looked at the butt of the stock. Where did the cartridges go in?  Mrs. Sears snatched the gun out of his hand, opened a box of cartridges, and began to feed the loading gate on the side. 

“Didn't they teach you anything in the army?”  She handed Adam the loaded gun.

“I was in the artillery.”  Adam said weakly. 

“Now, don't scratch them.  I can't sell scratched guns.  Heck, I can't sell new ones...” 

“I think you might be back in business soon...”  Adam smiled.  She handed Adam a second loaded rifle.

 “Two enough?”

“Thank you, ma'am.”  Adam said, and sprinted out of the store. 

Back in the street, he paused and looked down Main Street.  It was still early.  A crisp fall day.  A few Chinese was busy at the train platform, but otherwise things were quiet.  Adam stepped down in the street, a rifle in each arm.  He paced off a few steps.  Two hundred yards, maybe.  He did a little mental arithmetic, and found what he was looking for.  He stashed one of the rifles under the boardwalk in front of a empty store that looked like it had once been an haberdashers.  He sprinted up the street, and stashed the other rifle under the boardwalk in front of the Hinny.

Now Adam had a trap, he was going to need some cheese.

“Hey Gully, you seen that trouble-making kid?”  Adam asked as he stepped back into the saloon.  Gully was making a pile of broken furniture in the middle of the room.

“Bobby?  Not since he brought you in last night.”

“Can you find him on short notice?”

“Don't see why not...”

“Tell him I want to see him.” 

Gully picked his hat up off the bar, and began to leave.

“Oh, and Gully.  You know how you said I ain't to start anymore shooting with you anywhere around?”

“You know I do.”

“Don't be coming back for awhile, ah?.”  Adam said, checking the chambers of his pistol.

“Guess it won't do any good to tell you to calm down?”  Gully replied.  He shot Adam a look.

“Nope.” 

Gully stepped out the bar.

Bobby showed up only a few minutes after Gully left.  Adam quickly scrawled a note on a scrap of newspaper, and told Bobby to deliver it to the Doogans.  Bobby was more than happy for the adventure, and sprinted off down Main Street.

Adam waited.  He poured himself a drink, and opened up his paper on the bar.  As he waited, his stomach began to knot, and he wished he'd take the time to eat something.  To late now.  He tried to concentrate on an article about sewage ditches in Minneapolis, but couldn't keep track of his place.

It was about an hour before he got a result.  A Doogan Brother appeared at the door to the Hinny, flanked by Banner in his gray suit.  It  was the young one from the night before, as Adam had expected.  He stepped into the bar and surveyed the destruction. 

“Must have been quite a shindig.  I see why you were three sheets last night.”  He said, and chuckled.

“I didn't send for you.”  Adam said, not looking up from his paper.

“You don't send for anybody.”  The Doogan said with authority.  He held up the scrap of newspaper Adam had written on.  “Whatever Banner is paying, we can double it.”  He read.  “Mr. Banner here through that was very amusing.  Didn't you, Mr. Banner?”

“Very.”  Banner piped in.  “I'd like to see them come up with a tenth.”

“But, being Gentlemen, we thought we'd hear out your offer.  Exactly what do you think Mr. Banner here is paying us, Sheriff?”

Adam smiled inside.  Thank God for greed.  On the outside, he flipped the page of his paper.

“As I said, I didn't send for you.  I want to talk to Ed.”

This infuriated the Doogan Brother.  He stomped forward and slammed his fist down on the bar.

“There's nothing you can say to him that you can't say to me!”  He yelled.

“I don't deal with the runts of litters.”  Adam tried to keep calm. 

The Doogan drew his pistol, cocked the hammer, and shoved the barrel in Adam's face.

“Then you'll deal with a bullet!”

“And you'll go to hell.”  Adam said, and fired Gully's scatter gun from under the bar.

The buckshot came up through the bar and into the Doogan Brother's arm and face.  He snapped back, and crumpled into a pile of the floor.  Adam pulled out the shotgun, leveled it at Banner, and pulled the second barrel's trigger.  Click.  That's right, Gully had used that shot the night before.

Banner staggered back, tripped over a broken chair, and fell to the floor.  He frantically crawled for the door, and Adam circled the bar, drawing his pistol. 

“You murdered him, you son-of-a-bitch!”  Banner yelled back as he crawled.

“That's right, just like Stallman.”   Adam leveled his gun.  “And I'm going to do the same for you.”  Adam fired, splintering a chunk of the floor.  Banner made it out of the door, and rolled down the front stairs into the street.  Regaining his feet, he sprinted off down the hill.  Adam sent another shot after him, but it went wide.

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LimeyJack
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« Reply #3 on: June 24, 2008, 11:51:00 am »

Outside, Adam kept walking as calmly as he could down Main Street.  He half cocked his pistol, and extracted the empty brass.  Banner ran ahead of him, yelling unintelligibly.  Almost to the train platform, he clambered up into the Doogan's house.  Adam fed new cartridges into his gun.  As Adam came within 50 yards of the train platform, three dark figures stepped out onto the porch of the little house.  Adam stopped.  They stepped down into the street, three abreast. 

“Where's Pat!”  One of the Doogans yelled.

“If that's your brother, he's dead!”  Adam yelled back.  He let his gun hand drop to his side.

“You murdering bastard!”  Another yelled.

“Comes with the badge!”  Adam cocked the gun's hammer.

“It's gonna take you a long time to die, Sheriff!”  The last one said.  That one must be Ed, Adam thought, he seemed the most calm.

“Talking don't get it done!”  Adam replied and the Doogan's were drawing.  Everyone fired at once, but at the range, had little success.  As bullets whizzed by, Adam backed up the hill. 

The Doogans were smart.  Professional.  After a few shots, two of the Brothers stopped firing, letting the third engage Adam.  Trading aimed shots, Adam and the one brother worked their way up the hill from cover to cover.  Behind, the two other brothers kept their distance.  Finally, after 30 yards or so, Adam's hammer hit on an empty chamber.

This was the signal, the two other Doogans charged forward.  Adam turned tail and ran.  A bullet whizzed by his ear close enough to draw blood.  He slip to a stop in the mud in front of the haberdashers.  Pulling out the hidden winchester, he drew a bead on the charging Doogans from a sitting position. 

His first shot took a leg out form under one of the brothers.  The other brother dove up onto the boardwalk as Adam worked the lever action.  The third brother, standing in the middle of the street, frantically tried to reload his pistol.  Adam held his breath, took his time, and fired.  His target fell forward into the street.  Dead before he hit the ground. 

From the boardwalk, a shot rang out and dug through the meat to Adam's left forearm.  He yelped, worked the action, and dropped the hammer on an empty chamber.  Tossing the rifle down, he pulled himself into a crouch, and sprinted off up the street to the Hinny.

A few shots followed him, but nothing found its mark.  He retrieved his second rifle from under the steps of the Hinny, found cover behind a pillar on the boardwalk, and  looked down on the town.  One body still lay in the street, but the other two brothers were gone.  Adam began to reload his pistol.

In the eerie silence, Adam could hear his heart pounding.  His hands began to shake, as he fed cartridges into the cylinder.  Blood began to drip from his left hand onto the planks of the boardwalk.  He pulled out his handkerchief and stuffed it up his left sleeve.  Any moment now...

A woman's scream broke the silence, and a chorus of crashes came from the far side of the street.  The door to Entenmann's Hardware Store was flung open, and one of the Doogan Brothers step out onto the boardwalk dragging Mrs. Sears by her blonde hair.  She was kicking and flailing, trying to break away, but The Doogan's grip was firm.  He dragged her down into the street, and pushed her down to her knees. 

It was Ed.  The oldest.  He leveled his pistol at Mrs. Sears' head, and cocked the hammer.  Adam shouldered his rifle, and leveled it at the Doogan.

“Alright, Sheriff!  Enough games!  Throw down your guns and I'll let the woman live.”

Adam took aim but hesitated.  If only he was a better shot...

“I'll give you to the count of three, then I put a bullet in her head!”  Ed yelled.  Adam didn't doubt him for a second.  Mrs. Sears stopped struggling, and shifted off her knees into a crouch.  What hair that wasn't firmly grasped by the Doogan fell wildly around her, hiding her face.

“One...”

Mrs. Sears pulled up the hem of her dress, revealing a knee-high black boot.  She undid the top eye, and dug her hand down inside.

“Two...”

Her hand came back out of the boot holding a derringer.  She grabbed it by the right hand and cocked the hammer with the left.

“Three!  Times up Sheriff!”

Without looking, she thrust the derringer up and out.  The twin barrels of the small gun found a home in the Doogan's exposed armpit.  There was a loud crack and a puff of smoke.  Ed Doogan looked surprised, then pained, then fell slowly forward like a felled tree.  He hit the street face first, still holding a large tuft of Mrs Sears' hair.

Adam jumped up and crossed the street as quickly as he dared.  He prodded the fallen Doogan with the crown of his rifle, but he was already comfortingly dead.  Mrs. Sears sat in the mud of the street a few yards away, blood trickling down her face for her torn scalp.

“You forgot to hand in that gun.”  Adam said slyly.  Mrs. Sears looked at the derringer and dropped it into the mud.

“So, arrest me.”  She said groggily, and gave Adam a smile.  Out of the corner of their eyes they both saw movement down the street.  Adam spun around and raised the rifle.  It was Big Ben Bell.  He was running up the street, shotgun in hand.

“The other one!”  He yelled up at Adam.  “With the leg!  He came through my stable!  Took a horse!”  Adam lowered the rifle and let the hammer down to half cock.  “He's getting away!”

“Let him.”  Adam said, helping Mrs. Sears up out of the mud.

“But-  My horse!”  Big Ben said stopping beside them.

“If he's had enough for today, so have I...”  Adam handed the rifle to Mrs. Sears.  “Thank you for the loan.  Didn't even have to shoot that one.  Should be fine to still sell as new.”

“Am I back in the gun business, Sheriff Liche?”  Mrs. Sears said look at the rifle.

“I believe you are, Mrs. Sears.”  Adam said, then turned to Big Ben.  “Come on, we'd better clean up.”

The next day, Adam and Big Ben buried the Doogan Brothers in three of the four pre-dug graves up by the chapel.  The Reverend Evan read solemnly from the Bible, while Adam and Big Ben filled the graves in.  The Mayor arrived at the graveyard as Adam was planting the white crosses at the head of each grave.

“Tell me Mayor, what are folks down in the valley gonna say when the hear about all the murdering up here in End of the Line?”  Adam planted the last cross and dusted off his hands.

“Those weren't murders.  That was justice.”  The Mayor said authoritatively. 

“Justice?  Guess that's what you call killing when you slap a badge on it...”

“Still one empty grave, though.  That was Lon Doogan that stole Big Ben's horse.”

“Might be that he ain't destined to fill that grave.”

“I for one would be happy to see it stay empty.”  The Reverend chimed in.  “ It's been a mighty lot of killing for one small town.”

“No never mind when it's folk that need it...”  The Mayor kicked at the fresh dirt on one of the graves.

“Heartbreaking when it's folk that don't.”  The Reverend reminded.  “I'll be taking the body of Mr. Stallman back with his men.  Back across the Big Sue.  He had a wife and child at the Lazy S.  These will be difficult times for them.”

“Very considerate of you, Reverend.”  The Mayor said, and the four men fell into silence.  Looking down at the graves.

“Looks like all the cowboys are heading home.”  Big Ben said, break the meditation.  “Before the snow sets in.”

“I think we're going to have a quiet winter.”  Adam added.

“You've seen to that.”   The Mayor said.  “Everyone knows there's Law and Order in Endaleleen now.  There'll be no more fighting amongst the ranches.  Not unless they want to dust it up with them man who killed the Doogan Brothers.”

“I gave the cowboys back their guns.  I gave everybody back their guns.”  Adam stated a fact.

“You're the Sheriff.”  The Mayor shrugged.  “Do what you think is best.”

“Well,”  Adam said, picking up Ed Doogan's hat from where it hung on a white cross.  He dusted it off, and put it on his head.  “I got a saloon to keep.”

The hat fit perfectly.  It was a mighty fine hat.

A few cowboys were drinking at the bar of the Hinny when Adam returned.  Their conversation stopped when Adam stepped into the bar.  Adam picked up one of the few remaining intact chairs, and sat down at his usual table.  He opened the shutters and let in the brisk autumn air.

On his table, on top of his paper, was an envelope.  Adam sucked in air through his teeth.  This would be the third letter he'd received, but the idea still sent chills down his spine.  He tore open the envelope, and unfolded the heavy paper:

My Son,
If this letter finds you well, then we can both take heart that things are going according to how I've foreseen.  I have glimpsed fleeting images of open graves and white crosses.  I sincerely hope these were not visions of your future, but somehow tangential to the occurrences of the last few days.  My gift is at times very precise, and at other times, frustrating vague.  But no matter, if you are reading these words, you are alive and ready to assail the challenges that lie ahead of you.

I foresee that in the last few days you have either dueled and killed one of the local faction leaders, or he has been killed by hired men and you have done the same for those killers.  Regardless of the exact details, the resolution is the same:  Your authority as the Strong Arm of the Law in End of the Line has been assured.

I cannot implore you enough to abandon this position of power at the first possible convenience!  Authority.  Law.  Establishment.  These are the false idols that are leading our Great Union astray.  The very powers we are fight against.  Your authority will provide you no succor in the conflict that is to come.  It can only act as an albatross around your neck. 

This said, however,  your position is not without its advantages.  With the local factions mollified, you may now turn your attention to this much older evil that is returning to End of the Line.  Those Drums I spoke of- Drums in the hills -they are closing.  Build your alliances.  Construct your defenses.  Keep your weapons clean.  You will soon need every resource at your disposal.

Well done, my boy.  Be vigilant.

Henry Archibald Liche

Adam folded the letter closed, and returned it to its envelope.

“Insane.”  Adam said out loud.  “He's completely insane.  I'm being guided by the dead hand of the insane...”

“What was that?”  Gully said from the bar.

“Nothing.”

“Is that another one of your father's letters?”

“Yep.”

“What he say this time?”

“That I should quit being Sheriff.”

“Heck, I could of told you that, and I can't see into no future.”

“He says there's a war a coming to End of the Line.”

“A war?  A war over what?”

“Didn't say...”

“Didn't say?  Who's gonna be fighting who?”

“I guess It's me....  and some old evil...”

“Well alright then.”  Gully said sarcastically.  One of the cowboys needed another drink, and Gully fetched the bottle.  “But you mind what I said:  Don't start no more shooting around me.”

“I won't.”  Adam smiled.   Down the valley, the four thirty had come into town a few minutes early.  As it belched steam, and the Chinese busied themselves unloading freight, a number of figures stepped off of the train.  Straining to see, Adam could just make out a man, a woman, and a whole heard of children. 

“Now, who the heck can that be?”  Adam said.
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