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Cas City Forum Hall & CAS-L  |  GENERAL TOPICS  |  Saddlebag Tales (Moderators: Marshal'ette Halloway, Lucky Irish Tom)  |  Topic: EotL 5 - Left Ear Against the Knot 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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LimeyJack
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« on: August 05, 2008, 11:29:25 am »


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

5.  Left Ear Against the Knot

Jill Sears pulled her shawl tighter around her neck, and adjusted her wide brimmed hat against the wind.  Her seat on the bench of the buckboard left her sorely exposed to the elements, and she was beginning to deeply regret her choice of attire.  The large men's hat she had grabbed from the store had already drawn looks from passers by, but some delicate lady's bonnet wouldn't have lasted two minutes in the wind.  She wished she had just said 'to heck with it', and donned a pair of denim britches and a fur lined coat, but she knew that would have just added backhanded whispers to the already disapproving looks.  Better for a lady to freeze than to dress like a man.

Between the buckboard borrowed from 'Big Ben' Bell, and the large wagon Sheriff Liche had ridden down to the town of Corral to hire, they were carrying four hundred and twenty Winchester Rifles, one hundred and ten Colt Single Action Army Revolvers, six thousand rounds of .44-40, and eight hundred rounds of .45 Colt.  It was all of Jill Sears' stock.  The whole back room.  Everything Pete had bought, hoping to sell to the 7th Cavalry.  The albatross around Jill's neck. 

She has sold thirty two revolvers since Pete had shinned out for Deadwood.  Fifteen repeating rifles, if you counted the ones the Sheriff had taken, but never paid for.  After the Gaffa's cap-and-ball had misfired on Main Street, business for cartridge handguns had been brisk.  Jill had been hopeful.  Perhaps she would be able to dig herself out from under Pete's debut after all.  All that had come to an end when the End of the Line Town Council had banned the sale of firearms.  Idiots.  The Sheriff repealed the ban after his shootout with the Doogan Brothers, but all that killing quickly put a damper on folks desire for a new handgun.  The ranchers left town, and Jill was once again stuck with a lot of guns, and nobody to sell them to.

That was until the Reverend went and got himself kidnapped.  The Sheriff went off to mount a rescue in the snow, and returned with the Reverend and a tale of lawmen across the boarder in need of reliable rifles.  Seems he met some trapper in the mountains who knew of a new mounted police force in British Canada in need of guns.  The Sheriff suggested he should run the guns across the boarder, but Jill wasn't about to let her investment out of her sight.  He had protested, but she had been adamant. The Sheriff had proved himself to be a brave man, but Jill wasn't entirely convinced it wasn't just foolhardiness.  He enjoyed a drink, that was for sure.  Men who owns a saloons often do.  Whether it was guts or liquor that had gotten Adam Liche through his adventures, Jill could only guess.  Either way, she wasn't about to bet the store on a man like the Sheriff.  She had no desire to be on anyone other than herself, if the truth be told.

The road down the mountain from End of the Line had taken them to Corral.  There they had turned north along a wide cattle trail heading for Fort Shaw.  Away from the hills, the bitter Montana winds picked up pace, and lay the prairie grass on its side.  No fool should be out in the November weather, Jill thought to herself, but there she was.  Whipping her pair of brown mares as they turned their noses off the trail for some relief from the wind.  The large, oak sided wagon driven by the Sheriff clattered on behind.  It creaked and moaned under the weight of it's load, but its four horse team was able to keep up with the much lighter buckboard.

They were three days out of Corral when Jill first saw an Indian.  A lone rider, at the crest of a hill.  Nothing about him indicated he was anything other than another traveler.  He wore a heavy leather coat, dark britches, and a wide brimmed hat.  It wasn't until Jill realized that he was riding his pony bareback that a shock ran through her spine.  The rider studied them for a minute, then turned his horse and disappeared behind the horizon.

The Sheriff continued, blissfully unaware that anything was amiss.  Everything about Sheriff Adam Liche bespoke Townie.  From his dusty black suit and waistcoat, to his soft leather shoes with spats.  Only the hat he had taken from the Doogan Brother, and his brass sheriff's badge, gave an indication he was anything other than a tin horn fresh off the stage.  In a room, he was the sort that could easily go unnoticed.  Neither handsome nor ugly.  Tall nor short.  Fat nor thin.  Strong nor weak.  He was completely average, perhaps remarkably so.  Unremarkable, that is, until he opened his mouth to speak.  Not that his voice was unusual.  In fact, like the rest of him, it was utterly ordinary.  He spoke, however, with an easy command and intelligence that could quickly silence a room and focus attention.  He exuded a confidence in skill and action that was quickly infectious to those who listened.  A can do/why not sincerity that seemed to have little backing, but almost bottomless depth. 

He was so obviously not a man of the West.  He knew nothing of cattle or mines or railroads.  The way he handled a gun was almost embarrassing, but his ignorance didn't manifest itself in fear.  When he saw the rider, he didn't see anything amiss.  Indians, to him, were that stuff of dime novels.  Feathers and spears.  Jill, however, had lived long enough in Montana Territory to worry.  Particularly since the Little Big Horn. 

They continued on for the rest of that day, setting camp by a frigid steam as dusk came early.  Jill waited until after they had both finish their supper before she mentioned their strange visitor.

“Did you see that rider this morning.”  Jill said matter-of-fact.  She was already bundled under her bedroll, fully dressed.  If the biting wind during the day were bad, once the sun set, it became downright painful to have skin exposed.

“Yep.  Didn't seem to like the looks of us.”  The Sheriff said, stoking the fire.

“Blackfoot.”  Jill said without explanation.

“Sorry?  Who?”

“Blackfoot.  Scout.”  Jill finished the last of her coffee, and held out her mug for a refill.  The Sheriff obliged with a confused look.

“Sorry, I don't...”  Then it sunk in.  “Oh.”  The Sheriff left it there.  He filled up his own mug, and they sat in silence for a few minutes, staring into the fire.

“It's Blackfeet Country from here on out.”  Jill said to finally break the tension.  “All the way to Whoop-Up.”

“Ain't there peace with the Blackfeet?  I thought Custer was mixing it up with the Sioux...”

“Sure enough.  Ain't been any trouble with the Blackfeet for decades.  Still...”

“Still? What?”

“Reservation is north of the Missouri.  We're still a might south.”

“I take it they ain't supposed to be off the reservation?”

“No without it meaning war.”

It was hard to say if he Sheriff slept much that night.  Jill definitely didn't.  Asleep or not, the Sheriff lay still in his bedroll  until the sun began to rise in the east.  At the first hint of light, he sprang from his sheets, and began to feed the horses.  Jill fried some bacon and briskets, and by the time she was ready, the wagons we hitched to their teams.  They ate their breakfast in silence, and started out along the cattle trail as soon a they finished.  It was another painfully windy day, and dark angry looks clouds fermented on the horizon. 

They had made a good six miles by noon, and they stopped to eat their lunch of dried meat.  If they pushed their teams hard, they discussed, them might make it to the Missouri River before nightfall.  More likely they would come upon it the next day.  Crossing the Missouri River meant they'd be close to Fort Shaw and it's contingent of Cavalry.  Suddenly the safety of a little civilization seemed like a welcome thing. 

Continuing on after lunch, they pushed on hard into the evening, trying to log as many miles as possible in the daylight.  As dusk was settling, they came to the edge of a wide, shallow valley cutting the country south to north.  The slope was mild, easy enough for the wagons, but Jill pulled her team to a halt anyway.  At the far end of the valley, she could barely make out a dust cloud in the diminishing light. 

“What's the hold up?  We've got another hour before dark.”  The Sheriff said, pulling his wagon in beside Jill's buckboard. 

“Can't you see?”  Jill said, straining her eyes.

“See what?”  The Sheriff stood up for a better view.

“Yonder.  At the end of the valley.  Something is kicking up dust.  Or smoke.”

“I can't see.  But my eyes ain't what they could be.”  Unable to see, the Sheriff sat back down and dug into his vest for a compass.  “Where we going from here?”

“Still due north.”

“That takes us right down that there valley.”  The Sheriff returned the compass to his vest.  “Guess we got no choice but to find out what's kicking up all that dust you see.”

“In the morning...”  Jill added.

“Yeah, this is as good a spot to camp as any.”

They camped that night at the edge of the valley.  They build only a small fire, and tied the horses close  in.  At dawn, Jill awoke from her restless sleep to find the Sheriff already awake and about.

“Lets get across that damn river, today.”  The Sheriff said when he saw Jill was awake.  They skipped breakfast, hitched up the teams, and were underway before the sun had officially risen. 

The morning brought much improved weather.  The sun burned through the clouds, and it almost seemed spring-like in the green meandering valley.  They valley floor was nice and firm, and they made good speed along the small river.  By noon, they were so hungry from missing breakfast, they stopped and built a fire on the river bank.  Jill made cornbread and beef stew, while the Sheriff led the horses down to the river.  While they were eating, they became aware of the faint sound of thunder in the distance. 

“A storm?  Today?”  Jill asked, mid bite.

“Rifles.”  The Sheriff said.  He wolfed down his cornbread, and stood.  “We should move on.”

Within ten minutes they were underway again.  What little comfort the good weather brought was shattered by the occasional low boom of a distant rifle shot.  As dusk began to fall, they found that the Missouri Rivers was still nowhere in sight.  The light began to failed them, so they turned  the wagons up the west slop of the valley, and searched for a safe campsite.  Twenty minutes of searching brought them to a cluster of exposed boulders next to a long dead oak tree.  It wasn't much cover, but it was the best that the open terrain had to offer.  They unbridled the horses, started a small fire, and rolled out the bedrolls. 

“We mustn't be making the sort of time I've been assuming.”  Jill said once they'd finished their dinner.  “We should be on the banks of the Missouri by now.  Tomorrow, I reckon.” 

“And from there?”

“Another hundred fifty miles, more or less.”

“And Blackfeet country all the way?”

“So they say.”

“I don't know if my nerves can take it.”  Said the Sheriff, half jokingly.  He moved his rifle, and stretched out on his bedroll.  Jill noted that the Sheriff's rifle hadn't been out of reach since they left End of the Line.

“Scared of a few Indians, Sheriff?” 

“Ain't ashamed to say I am.  Fear is good for a fella.  Keeps him paying attention.”

“You never struck me as a cowardly sort.”

“No Ma'am.  Ain't the same thing.  Fear and Cowardliness.  Fear keeps you thinking.  Cowardliness robs you of it.”
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LimeyJack
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« Reply #1 on: August 05, 2008, 11:31:44 am »

“That why they made you Sheriff?”

“Ah, heck!”  The Sheriff laughed.  “Mayor pinning a badge on me don't make me no sheriff.  Tell you the truth, I ain't ever felt like a bigger fool in my life.  Walking around like I was the Law.  If any man had lest respect for the law and order than me, I'd like to meet him.”

“Well, you sure wear the mantel well.”

“Don't mistake ill temperament for authority, Mrs Sears.”  The Sheriff added.

“Well, I'm glad you brought your bad temper to Endaleleen, Mr. Liche.”  Jill finished the last of her coffee and lay back on her bedroll.  “I was meaning to thank you, Sheriff.”

“Thank me for what?”

“This.  This trek.  Not many men would embark on such a journey.  Not with a woman in tow.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Sears.”  The Sheriff lay back on his bedroll, and pulled his rifle close beside him.  “The last few days, it feels more like you've been towing me.”

“Still,  I'm a business woman.  I know you could have bought out my stock, and made this trip on your own.  ”

“Now, where would I have raised the money to do that?”

“There's your saloon.  I'd have traded for that.”

“Oh, now you tell me...”

“You must have considered it.”

“Maybe I did at that...  But I figured, after Ed Doogan and all, I needed to pay back my debts in some fashion.”

“I don't see how you owe me anything, I was saving my own neck.”

“Well, I figure you might have saved mine too.”

“I don't think you were about to drop that rifle, Mr. Liche.”  Jill said guardedly.

“No, I wasn't.”  Said the Sheriff in the firelight.  “But I'm glad I didn't have to live with the me who didn't drop that gun.”

Darkness engulfed their camp.  Despite their need for watchfulness, they both quickly fell into a deep sleep.  They slumbered happily away, until Jill was awoken by the sound of hooves in the distance.  At first, she through she was dreaming, but then the sound came again.  Clearer and closer.

“Sheriff!”  She yelled, working the lever on her rifle.  The Sheriff stirred, groggily, then jumped to his feet.

“Blackfeet?”  He said, raising his rifle to his shoulder.  The both scanned the blackness the surrounded the campfire. 

“No, those are shod ponies...”  Jill remarked.  “There!”  A mounted silhouette appeared in the anemic moonlight.  They leveled their rifles.

“There in the camp!”  A voice called out, clear and echoing in the cold air.

“Who's there?!”  The Sheriff replied.

“Don't shoot!  I'm a friend!”  The silhouette spurred his horse closer.  Neither Jill nor the Sheriff lowered their guns.  As the figure came to the edge of the fire light, the distinctive blue of a cavalry solider became clear.  “Corporal Thomas.  I'm an outrider for D Troop, 16th Cavalry.  Out of Fort Shaw.  You folks are a long way from home.  Long way from anywhere.”

The Sheriff and Jill relaxed and lowered their guns.  Corporal Thomas dismounted and extended a hand in friendship.

“You're sure taking a change, riding this country at night.”  Said the Sheriff.  He shook the Corporal's hand, warmly. 

“The Column is moving up the valley below.”  The Corporal nodded down the hill.  “Not five minutes behind.  There's a mess of Blackfeet that have jump reservation, and gone on the run.  Not afraid to move at night, those boys, so we've gotta do the same.  I'd ask if you folks have come upon 'em, but I sees you all still got your hair.”

“We saw a lone Indian three of four days ago.”  Jill volunteered.  “A might south of here.”

“Must have been scouting.  Be glad he wasn't interested in you.”  In the darkness down in the valley, specks of light began to appear.  D Troop was moving along the valley floor.  “Where you folks heading?”

“Fort Whoop-up.”  The Sheriff said.  “Across the border.”

“My, now that's a trip.  What could possibly-”  The sound of a bugle cut the night air.  The Corporal shot to attention mid sentence.  He grabbed at his reins, and pulled himself up into his saddle.  “Sorry, that was for me.  You'll excuse me.”  And with that, he rode down the hill and into the dark.

The Sheriff threw more wood onto the fire, and warmed his hands.  Jill crawled back into her bedroll, but before she could fall back asleep, more riders came up the side of the valley.  Half a dozen soldiers rode up to the camp this time.  Two were obviously officers of D Troop, and the rest enlisted.  The charged up to the camp as if in a great hurry.  As they approached, one of the enlisted men pealed off and rode over to the wagons.

“I am Major Jarrold of the 16th Cavalry Regiment.”  One of the officers began as he pulled his horse to a halt by the campfire.  The Major's uniform sported prominently tasseled shoulder boards that gave him a top heavy appearance.  “Do you folks know you're in Blackfeet territory?” 

“So we understood, yes.”  The Sheriff replied.

“What sort of damn fool brings a woman into Indian Territory!?”  The Major said angrily.  His horse fidgeted nervously under him.   

“To be truthful,”  The Sheriff smirked.  “she brought me here.  We're from End of the Line, we're on our-”

“End of the Line?  Is that a place?”

“Yes, sir its-”

“Never heard of it!”

“Well you wouldn't-”  The Sheriff began.  He was interrupted by a voice in the dark from the direction of the wagons. 

“Major!  You'd better come take a look at this.”  The voice said.  The Major spurred his horse, and rode off into the dark.  A minute late he came back with a Winchester in his hand.

“Can you explain this?!”  Said the Major.  Before, he has seemed perturbed, no he was genuinely livid.   

“What do I need to explain?”  The Sheriff asked, calmly. 

“Guns!  You bastard!”  The Major tossed the rifle to the other officer who examined it. 

“Now you wait a minute!”  The Sheriff was no longer calm.

“There's only one thing to be done with gunrunning scum like you!” 

“There ain't no law against selling gun!”

“There is to Indians!”  The Major drew his revolver from it's holster.  The Sheriff's mouth opened to protest, but nothing emerged.  “Lieutenant!  Arrest this man!  The woman too!”

The Lieutenant gestured with his hand, and the soldiers that had accompanied the officers dismounted.  The approached the Sheriff wearily, watching for any sudden moves.

“Now wait a minute!”  The Sheriff managed. “We ain't sold no guns to no Indians.”  One of the soldiers took the rifle our of the Sheriff's hand without incident.  Another picked up Jill's rifle from beside her bedroll.

“No, thank the Lord we got you first!”  Said the Major.

“We're on our way to Fort Whoop-Up!”  Jill interjected.  A solider took her roughly by the arm.  “We selling them guns to the British, not the Blackfeet.”

“I see.  At Fort Whoop-Up?”

“That's right.”

“Then you're damned by your own words!  Fort Whoop-Up is a whiskey trading post.  There's nobody there to buy guns but Indians.  America or Canada, it's a hanging crime in either place!”  The Major dismounted, and the Lieutenant followed suit.

“No, the Mounties!”  The Sheriff attempted.  He struggled between two soldiers who had forced his arms behind his back.  “The Mounties have set up a post in the Fort!”

“Mounties?  Is that a joke?  I'm not listening to such nonsense.”  The Major walked past the Sheriff and examined the oak tree they were camped under.  “Lieutenant, a noose here, I believe will suffice.”  He pointed at a low branch of the tree.

“Yes sir.”  The Lieutenant said with little excitement.

“You can't hang us without a trial!”  Said the Sheriff.  “Even if we are selling guns to Indians, we have our rights.”

“You have nothing!  I think you will find, that summery execution is both allowed and encouraged by law when sedition is uncovered during active military operations.  We are, after all, in no position to take prisoners with Blackfeet abroad in the territory.”  A soldier tossed a rope over the low branch of the oak tree, and began to tie a noose at one end. 

“This is insane!  You have no authority!”  Jill broke away from the trooper holding her arm, and jabbed a finger into the Major's chest.  “Are you going to tell your commanding officer that you hung a woman  for running guns?”

“Of course not!”  The Major replied, almost indignant.  “What are we?  Savages?  No, we'll take you back to Fort Shaw and let the Law hang you.  Your friend here, on the other hand...”

“My friend here is the Sheriff of Seldon County!”  The trooper tried to grab her arms again, but she swatted him away.  “You're going to hang a sheriff?”

“He's a Sheriff?”  Said Lieutenant with disbelief.

“He is!”

“He ain't.  I've met the Sheriff of Seldon County.  He's a big Scottish Fella.”

“That was the old Sheriff!”

“Then what happened to him?”

“Well, there was a gunfight...”

“Enough!”  The Major interjected.  “I don't have time to review this man's past crimes.  He can only hang once.  Troopers, if you will escort the prisoner to the noose.” 
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LimeyJack
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« Reply #2 on: August 05, 2008, 11:32:31 am »

The two soldiers wrestled the Sheriff over to the oak tree, and pushed him up onto the large boulder that stood under the dangling noose.  A trooper jumped up beside the Sheriff and began to threated his head through the loop.  From the direction of the wagons, another soldier rode up to the fire.  He was a grizzled, gray haired veteran, with the stripes of a Sargent Major on his arms. 

“And to think it was the Blackfeet I was worried about.”  The Sheriff said as the noose was tightened around his neck. 

“Alright, now...  You-”  The Major began.  “What's your name?”

“Adam Smith Liche.”

“You, Adam Smith Liche, stand accessed of-”

“Sheriff Adam Smith Liche.”

“Alright.  You, Sheriff Adam Smith Liche, stand accessed of the high crime of-”

“Permission to speak, sir.”  The Sargent Major said, climbing off his mount.

“Not now, Sargent!”

“But if it pleases the Major...”

“Can't it wait?”

“No sir.”

“What is it?”

“I would humbly remind the officer, that the accused, under section forty three of the revised military code, should be give the opportunity to author his last Will and Testament, even during a summary execution.”

“A what?  Will and Testament?”

“To say goodbye to his family, sir.”

“Oh, all right.”  The Major said, annoyed.  “But be quick about it.  Let him down.”  He waved at the Troopers holding up the Sheriff, and they removed the noose from around his neck.

“And sir...”  The Sargent Major added.

“There's more?”

“This is rather hard ground, sir.  And who knows what action the morning will bring.  It might be best to make the accused, since he won't be needed for combat, dig a grave.  For proper disposition of his remains.”

“Yes.  Good idea.  See to it.”  The Major said absentmindedly.  He the strolled over to campfire, and examined the contents of the coffee pot.  The Sargent Major removed a shovel from his saddle bags, and walked over to Jill and the Sheriff.

“Thank you.”  Said the Sheriff, rubbing his throat.  The Sargent Major handed him the shovel.

“Don't thank me.  I bought you an hour, no more.”  The Sargent Major said through gritted teeth.

“Why the kindness?”  Jill asked.

“Selling guns to the Indians...  The whole Blackfeet Nation couldn't afford three of them guns.  Not in a hundred years.”

“I'd appreciate it if you'd let the Major know that.”  The Sheriff said, examining the the shovel.

“Heck, if he listened to me,”  The Sargent rubbed him stubbled chin.  “we wouldn't be chasing around here in the dark.”

Leaving two troopers to watched the Sheriff, the Major and the Lieutenant settled in beside the roaring campfire.  They examined the captured Winchesters with interest, and drank the last of the evening's coffee.  The Sheriff picked a spot a good dozen steps away from the oak tree to start digging his grave.  He made short work of stripping off the stop soil.  It quickly began to shocked Jill to see him dig into his job with such zeal.

“You in a rush?”  She said, standing beside the hole that was already knee deep.

“Hate to be found laying down on the job.”  The Sheriff said, and shot Jill a smile.

“You seem very cavalier.  You were almost just hanged.  In twenty minutes, they're going to try again.”

“Yeah, I reckon.”

“We've got to do something.”  Jill said earnestly.   “Get some horses.  Make a chase out of it.”

“Have I told you about my Pappy?”  The Sheriff said, seemingly changing the subject.

“What?  What's your father got to do with anything?”

“I didn't know my father.”  The Sheriff began, still digging away.  “Never married my mother.  Left us when I was one or two.  I understood he was dead up until quiet recently.  That's what my mama told me, at least.  I reckon it was wishful thinking on her part.  Well, it turns out he was dead, but not back when I was one or two.  Just up and died recent.”

“Aint you listening?”  Jill kneeled down beside the grave.  “We've gotta think of some way to shin out of here.  They're gonna hang you!”

“Turns out my Pappy was some big shot Wall Street mogul.”  The Sheriff continued, ignoring her.  “Left us to make his millions.  And here he was, dead, and me his only son.  I find this out, you understand, while sitting in a jail cell, after tried to rob one of my Pappy's payrolls.  Didn't know it at the time, of course.  Not until he had stitched me up good and tight and handed me off to the law.”

“This is insane.”  Said Jill, throwing up her hands..

“Not bad news, you could say.  Him passed on and all, and me in line to inherit all he had.  It would be far to say all I really tried to do what steal my own money.  But no.  My old Pappy had different plans for me.  Of all his millions and Manhattan Mansions, all he left me was a saloon in a forgotten mining town in the Montana Territory.  You know, two months ago, I couldn't even find Montana on a map?”

Shots rang out from the campfire.  The officers were test firing the Winchesters.  The seemed suitably impressed. 

“You have lived a fascinating life, Sheriff.”  Jill said, exasperated.  “I still have my hideout, but it's only got the two shots.  You think-”

“You see, Mrs. Sears.  My Daddy had sold his soul to the devil.”  The Sheriff continued.  This revelation made Jill momentary forget escape and listen closely.  “No joke.  Honest to God.  Made a deal with the devil.  His soul for the power to foretell the future..  That's how he'd made his millions.  Precognition.  Well, now with death coming upon him, and the time fast approaching for him to pay his bill, my clever old man hatches himself a plot to- at lest in a small way -deprive the devil of his due. 

“Thing is, I should be dead right now.  I weren't meant to end up in that jail cell back in Saint Louis.  My robbery was supposed to go off just as I planned.  I was meant to be shot in the back later by my fellow conspirators in the crime.  An argument over the distribution of the loot, I'd assume.  But my father used his powers of premonition to redirect my fate, thwart my plans, and place me safely in the hands of authorities where he wanted me.  The price for my life was to be banished out here to End of the Line.

“My father's invisible hand has been on my shoulder ever since.  All my actions now- my new fate, if you will  -has being predicted by him.  He foresaw that I would come in conflict with the ranchers.  He foresaw the Doogans, and how I would head off a whole range war.  There was many troubles he foresaw me overcoming,  all to the end of me defeating the daemon that had taken his soul.  Yes, ma'am.  My Daddy had one big grand plan for me.  And if my Pappy had predicted the Gaffa, the Sqiure, and the Doogans.  I'm figuring that maybe he foresaw the 16th Cavalry too.  So, you see I ain't worried.  I don't thing it's my destiny to get hung here today.  No by and jumped up little major like him.”

Jill was speechless.  Before, she had though the Sheriff was merely foolhardy, but now she realized he was totally certifiable.    Back by the fire, the officers had finished the last of the coffee. They put down the Winchesters, and were making their way back over to the noose.  Out of ideas, Jill fished her derringer out of her boot and hid it in the palm of her hand.

“Good work.”  The Major said upon inspecting the grave. It was a good grave.  Wide, about four feet deep.  The Sheriff had outdone himself.   “Have you finished your last Will and Testament?” 

“I ain't got no family.”  The Sheriff said, climbing out of the grave.

“More's the shame.  Let's get to it.”   

The two troopers took the Sheriff by the arms and escorted back up onto the boulder under the noose.  They tied his hands, and slipped the noose around his neck.  The Sheriff didn't fight them, he put his head through almost willingly.  The rope hung down the side of his face, and the Sheriff, quiet absentmindedly, rested his left ear against the knot.  He seemed calm, almost serene.  It filled Jill with a terror inside.

“You, Sheriff Adam Smith Liche, stand accused of high crimes against these United States of America, and the Territory of Montana, by willfully supplying firearms to”  The Major continued, but Jill stopped listening.  Everyone's attention was transfixed on the makeshift gallows.  Jill moved slowly up behind the Major, and when she was close enough, jabbed her derringer into the small of his back.  The Major stopped mid sentence.

“They're be no hanging today, Major.”  She said quietly into the Major's ear.  Then to everyone:  “Cut that man down or your Major will be breathing though his liver!”

Nobody moved.  The Sheriff balanced precariously on the boulder, swaying in the wind.  The seconds ticked away

“Didn't anyone hear me?  Cut him down, or the Major dies!”  Jill yelled again.  One of the soldier began to climb the boulder.  Jill was about to back away from the Major, when a hand shot around her and wrapped around the small gun.  A thumb was jammed in front of the hammer, and though Jill pulled the trigger, nothing fired.  It was the Sargent Major.  He spun her around, ripped the small pistol out of her hand, and slapped her hard across the face.  Jill collapsed to the grass, pretty sure her nose was broken. 

“Tie her up!”  The Sargent Major said, tossing the derringer away into the night.  A trooper pulled Jill up off the ground and trusted her arms behind her. 

“You son-of-a-bitch!”  She spat.  “You know we ain't selling nothing to the Blackfeet!  Hang that man, and his blood is on your hands!  Not that fat idiot, but yours!”  The Sargent Major fixed her with a cold look.

“Orders is orders, ma'am.”  He said and turned back to the hanging.

“Orders?!”  Jill yelled, half crying.  “There ain't no orders you have to obey to hang an man you know is innocent!  God gave you a brain man, use it!”

“Shut her up!”  The Sargent Major yelled to the trooper holding Jill.  He tried to cover Jill's mouth with his hand, but she bit him.

“Ride to Fort Whoop-Up!  Hand us over to the Sheriff in Corral!  Anything, just don't hang him right now!”  Jill kicked and struggled to get free.  The Sargent Major fixed her with a steely glare.

“The Officer has given is order.  The execution will go ahead.”  The Sargent Major said.  His tone chilled Jill's blood.  “When you're ready, sir.”

“Thank you, Sargent Major.”  The Major responded.  “Now where was I?”
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LimeyJack
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« Reply #3 on: August 05, 2008, 11:33:31 am »

But that was the end of his speech.  From the valley below, a rumbling rose up.  Low at first, but it began to build.  Hoots and hollers began to be mixed in.  As the rumbling hit full crescendo, it was joined by the cracks of rifle fire.

“The Column!”  The Major screamed. 

Muzzle flashes lit the valley below.  The hollers became distinctly war cries.    The Blackfeet were charging on the main column.  A sitting duck, idle, exposed on the valley floor.

“To your mounts!”  The Major barked orders, while chasing down his horse.  “Sargent Major!  The wagon!  We'll need all the firepower we can muster!”  The Sargent Major saluted, and hopped up into the seat for the large wagon.  The team had already been harnessed, and they galloped off down the slop of the valley. 

“What about the woman?”  The trooper holding Jill yelled. 

“Forget about her!  To your horse!”  The Lieutenant yelled back.  The trooper pushed Jill out of the way as he charged to get to his mount.  She stumbled back, tripped and fell backwards into the freshly dug grave.  Her head hit the side as she went down, and everything went black as she crumpled into heap at the bottom of the hole.

Floating in and out of consciousness, she was vaguely aware of the sound of combat in the distance.  Gun shots and the screams of men.  Blacking out again, she came too later to what sounded like two voices talking calmly.  One voice was definitely the Sheriff, but the other she didn't recognize.  She tried to cry out, but could only manage a horse whisper.  She tried to stand, but the excretion slumped her in unconscious once again.  She awoke a third time to see the Sheriff standing above her, looking down.  The sun was out above him, and he reached out a hand.

“Anything broken?”  He said with a smirk.

“My nose.”  Jill replied.  “Maybe my head...”  The Sheriff grabbed her by a shoulder and pulled her to a sitting position.  From there he pulled her to her feet.  After untying her hands, she climbed out of the grave.  “What happened?”

“The Blackfeet happened.”  The Sheriff gestured down into the valley.  Even through her blurry eyes, she could made out the battlefield.  Men and horses lay dead with the sun of the morning beating down upon them.  “Last I saw, the 16th Cavalry were heading north.  The Blackfeet nation not far behind.”

“How did you get down?  The rope...  I heard voices.,,:

“Well, that's a might difficult to explain...”

“The guns!”  It suddenly struck Jill.  “They took the guns!”

“They left the buckboard.”  Said the Sheriff.  The brown mares were harnessed in front of the small wagon.  It sat by the boulder near the oak tree.  The noose still hung from it's low branch.  “There's most of the revolvers and at least fifty of the rifles.  As for the rest, I guess the Blackfeet got them, after all.”

“I wish we had been selling rifles to the Indians.  At least then we might have gotten paid.”  Jill's head throbbed. 

“Here.”  The Sheriff held out his hand, Jill's derringer was in it.  “You almost got me out of another tight spot.”

“I guess I didn't need to so brave.  You Pappy took care of you, just like you said he would.”

“I guess he did, though not exactly as I have figured it...”

“I thought you'd gone loco.  Working so hard to dig that hole.”

“If that was the last thing I was gonna do, I was gonna do it right.”  Said the Sheriff.  Jill found this morbidly funny, and couldn't help but laugh.

“Your father make any prognostications about my future?  Without those rifles, I'm broke.”

“I don't think you entered into his plan.”

“A shame...”

“Still, Mrs. Sears, our deal stands.  I promised you good return on those rifles, and I plan to pay.”

“You're broke.”

“Before, you said you'd take my saloon.”

“The Singing Hinny?  You're joking.”

“I'm not going to joke on a day like today.”

“Ain't that bar some part of your new fate?  Your Daddy's big plan?”

“New fate, old fate, it's just a bar.  We're making our own futures here, Mrs. Sears.”

“You're serious.”

“I am.  It ain't much of a place.  It's gotten all shot to heck, but it's the only steady income in town.  Now, I know it's not exactly respectable for a woman to run a saloon...”

“Sheriff, right now I can't afford respectable.”

“Then it's a deal?”

“Yes, it's a deal.”

“Good.  Let's get moving.  This time for home.  Sooner we set out, the sooner we're back to civilization.” 

And they climbed up onto the buckboard, pointed the horses south, and headed out.

They made faster time on their returned trip.  The second night, the Sheriff manged to take a dear with one of the remaining rifles, and they ate venison on sticks, roasted over the fire.  The saw no sign of Cavalry or Indian on the trail, but they kept their campfires small, and slept in shifts all the same. 

It was a Sunday evening by the time they reached the town of Corral.  From there they could follow the railroad tracks back up into the hills, and back to End of the Line; but by this point they had been on the trail for almost two weeks, and most of the last week had been without provisions.  The sight of civilization filled Jill with an overwhelming desire to sleep in a real bed, and to eat hot food that did taste like burnt wet wood.

As they rolled onto the main street of Corral, things seemed suspiciously quiet.  It was dark, but it couldn't have been much past six thirty.  Unlike End of the Line, Corral was a bustling, prosperous farming town.  Farmers might be sober, honest folk, but lights out at six o'clock seemed extreme even for a Sunday.

“Mighty quiet...”  The Sheriff volunteered, as they pulled up in front of the Continental Hotel.  The street lights were lit, and horses loitered at hitching posts, but nobody was on the street.

“Maybe the theater's in town?”  Jill speculated.  She stepped down from the buckboard and stretched.

“Just our luck to miss a show.”

“Lets just hope theres food cooking somewhere.”

“You said it.”  The Sheriff climbed the steps and cracked open the door to the hotel.  “Nobody here, neither.”

“Well, this is just down right unfriendly...”  Jill said.  She climbed up onto the boardwalk and tried to looked through the hotel's window.  As she did, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the glass.  She was horrified.  He nose was crooked and broken, swollen to twice its normal size.  Dirt and black soot covered her face, and her hair under the large hat was oily and wild.  Suddenly the full gravity of the last few days hit her.  What had she done?  Why had she been so foolhardy in the first place.

“Why didn't you tell me I look like this?”  Jill said, unable to pull away from the glass.

“You look fine.”  The Sheriff said.  “Trail dust and soot.”

“My nose...”

“You look fine.”  Repeated the Sheriff, but his attention was drawn up the street.  A man had stepped out onto the boardwalk a few doors down.  He was a plump fellow, with long sideburns and a wool jacket.  He looked at the Sheriff and Jill, thought little of them, the did a double take.  He seemed to recognize the Sheriff.

“You, you there!”  He stammered, jogging towards them on the boardwalk.

“Hey, where the heck are folk-”  The Sheriff tried, but the man interrupted.

“You're the Sheriff from up in End of the Line, ain't ya?  I rented you a wagon not a fortnight ago.  You remember me?”

“Well, about the wagon...”

“Doesn't matter.  Nope.  I'm sure glad you're here, Sheriff.  We've got one heck of a situation here.”

“Well, as that may be, I've had a long haul today.  All I can think about if sleep any maybe some chow.  You know if there's still-”

“No, no, you don't understand!  Something needs to be done!”

“I understand I'm hungry.  I'm sure your local fella can handle whatever trouble is a brewing.”

“But that's just it!  Our Sheriff is dead!  Shot through the head!”

“Poor soul.  You raised a posse?”

“Didn't need to.  Got the fella that done it, right there in the jail.”  The man gestured down the street.

“Good job, now do you know if the-”  The Sheriff gestured towards the hotel.

“But that ain't the half of it!”

“You caught the guy?”

“Yes.”

“And he's in jail?”

“Yes.”

“And he ain't escaped?”

“No.”

“Then what'd you need me for?”

“Well, the Sheriff...  That is, our Sheriff.  He was quite popular in town.  Folk have taken his death kind of hard.  To hard, you might be saying.”

“They'll get over it.”

“Well, yes, but you see...  There's a group of...  Well, citizens...  they're in Steely's Bar just yonder.  There's talk of...”

“Well, what?”

“They're talk about rushing the jail, and stringing up the fella that done shot the Sheriff.”  The man let the words rush out in a long torrent with no pauses.  “ There's only the Deputy Sheriff in there with the prisoner, and he just a kid really...  It terrible, terrible I tell you...”

“A lynching?”  The Sheriff seemed upset.  He rubbed at his throat in sympathy.

“Yes, in Corral.  Can you believe it?”

“Well, we'll see about that.”  The Sheriff said, and started off down towards the jail.  The chubby man followed behind, and Jill kept pace out of curiosity.

At the jail, the Sheriff pushed open the door without knocking.  Inside, a young man sat at a desk, with a shotgun cracked open in front of him.  He flinched as the door opened, and fumbled with the weapon.

“Don't worry, I ain't here to kill ya.”  Said the Sheriff authoritatively.  “What's this I hear about a lynching?”

“They're over there now.”  The young man said, nodding across the street.  There was a well light saloon directly opposite.  Things seemed quiet.  “Getting all liquored up.  The ringleaders were here a few hours ago, demanding that I release my prisoner.  I told them to go to hell.  They didn't like the sound of that.  They said they'd be coming back.  Coming back with friends.”

“How many where there?”

“Dozen, maybe.  Big fella did most of the talking.”

“And they're fit for a hanging?”

“Ain't no doubt about it.”

“And I thought this was a friendly town..”

“Well, our Sheriff was a might popular.”

“But a lynching?  That ain't what he'd have wanted.”

“No sir.”

“So, where's this prisoner, then?  Let me take a look at him if everybody wants so bad.”  The Sheriff asked, and turned to a row of cell, lining the far wall.  In one, a man in black lay on a cot.  His back was turned, and his hat was over his head.

“Wake up!”  The young man yelled, and rapped the shotgun butt against the bars.  The man stirred, and rolled to his other side.  Both the Sheriff and Jill gasped in unison.

“Nice hat you got there, Sheriff.”  Lon Doogan said, and smiled.
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