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Cas City Forum Hall & CAS-L  |  GENERAL TOPICS  |  Saddlebag Tales (Moderators: Marshal'ette Halloway, Lucky Irish Tom)  |  Topic: EotL 6 - Fickle Quirks of Fate 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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LimeyJack
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« on: September 18, 2008, 04:13:56 pm »


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

5.  Fickle Quirks of Fate

Adam Smith Liche's neck itched where the rope had bitten into his skin.  The sight of Lon Doogan sitting in that jail cell should have surprised him, but it irritated more than anything else.  After days in the bucket of an old buckboard, what Adam really needed was a stiff drink and a warm meal.  What Lon Doogan represented to Adam, more than any sort of threat, was one more thing getting in the way of his creature comforts.  Any other day, Adam might have warmed to the idea of giving Doogan over for a lynching.  Get it over with.  God knows, the murdering son-of-gun deserved it.  But having lately been at the end of a rope himself, Adam's thoughts of the subject had begun to change. As must as he hated to admit it, a shot and a steak would have to wait.

“Well, I reckon there's no question to your guilt.”   Adam said to Lon Doogan though the bars of the cell.  The last Doogan brother was laying on a cot, looking up at the sheriff, smiling like a dope fiend. 

“Now how's that for justice?”  Chuckled Lon.

“A long drop on a short rope is just the sorta justice you deserve, Doogan.” 

“Afraid to finish the job yourself, Sheriff?  I hear you already got three Doogans planted in that cemetery up there in End of the Line.”  Lon sat up and tipped his hat back.

“There's a fourth grave dug and waiting for you, Lon.”  Said Adam.  “I guess there's some folk out there hell bend on lynching you.  Hung from a tree, hung from a gallows... I reckon the sad tale of the Doogan Brothers is gonna end pretty much the same..  ”

“I beg to differ.”  Lon said slyly.  “You're the law, ain't that right Sheriff?  A hanging here, or a hanging at the territorial pen might all end the same for us Doogans, but it makes a whole hell of a difference to you, don't it?  That badge you got on there.  Right there.  That badge says you got to hang me civilized, or all the law and order it stands for don't mean a thing.  You hearing that, Sheriff?”

“I hear ya.”

“Yeah, if law and order is going to survive in a little frontier towns like this, there just ain't no room for letting a little lynching slide by.  Today they're hanging a fella who surely deserves it.  Tomorrow, who knows?  Hanging a fella for spitting wrong...  How about that?”

“How about it?”

“Yep, if that mob grabs me, we're both done in.  Me by my neck, you by your badge.”  Lon chucked at the thought.  “Ironic, ain't it?  The man who planted three Doogan brothers has to save the life of the fourth...”

“I am often mystified by these fickle quirks of fate.”  Said Adam, and he turned away from the bars.  He looked at Mrs Sears.  She looked every bit the worse for her adventures.  Both eyes were sunken and black, and her nose was swollen at the break.  She gave Adam a pained look, and opened her mouth to speak.  It might seem like fate, but Adam knew things had been building to this.

It wasn't but a few nights ago that he was standing on a bolder, his own neck in a nose.  Mrs. Sears had fallen back into a freshly dug grave, smacking herself unconscious on the way down.  Hooves of the 16th Cavalry receded into the darkness, and the cracks of rifles began to thunder in the distance.  Adam was stuck.  That noose pulled tight around his neck, his hands bound firmly behind his back. He struggled to maintain his balance.  The slightest slip, and he'd never regain his footing on the slick boulder.  He tried to call out to Mrs. Sears, but the rope dug deeply into his throat, and a gurgle was all he could manage.  A few more minutes, and his legs would tire.  He could feel the strain in his knees already.  The Cavalry hadn't bothered to finish their hanging, but he was  going to die all the same.  Alone in the darkness.

The night was intermittently lit by the flashes of battle in the valley below.  As the minutes ticked by, and the strain in his legs increased, Adam became aware of a single light approaching.  Not from the valley, but along the side it.  It was moving slowly, perhaps at a walking pace, in what seemed like no immediate rush.  The light got closer and closer, and Adam became aware of the most singular of sights.  It was last thing he expected to see in the wilds of Montana Territory, while a Indian War raged nearby.  The light source was a lantern, carried by a gray haired man.  That in itself might not have been too amazing, but the old man happen to be dressed in the red velvet smoking jacket and bright purple slippers.  It couldn't have been more than five degrees above freezing, but the old fellow seemed impervious to the cold.  As he came closer, Adam could see silk night clothes emerging from the bottom of the smoking jacket, and two old spindly white legs stuck out naked into the elements. 

“Chilly night!”  The gray haired man said, when he was in ear shot.  He spoke through a large handlebar mustache that had turned brownish yellow from tobacco use.  “Not fit for saint or sinner!” 

The old man tromped across the grassy hill at a pace that made him puff.  Adam tried to speak up, but only manged another gurgle.

“Hold on, hold on!  I'll get you down.”  Said the man as if Adam was a child stuck in a tree.  “However the heck you got yourself into such a mess is beyond me!”  Adam manged to cough out something that sounded like 'please hurry', and within a minute, the old man was tugging on the knot that tied the rope to the tree.  “Dang, never was very good at knots...”  He volunteered.  He put down his lamp, and tried with both hands.  Not finding success, he wearily pulled himself up onto the boulder.  “Lets try this end.  Have you out in a second...”  Loosening the hangman's noose, he pulled it over Adam's head.  “Watch out!”  Adam fell forward off the boulder and landed face first in the grass.  He breathed in hard like he'd never taken a breath before.

“Jill-”  Adam squawked, and tried to stand.  He fell forward onto his face again.  Trying again, he scrambled to the edge of the fresh grave.

“She's fine!  Just a bump!”  The old man said.  Adam looked down to see the unconscious Mrs. Sears.  Her chest moving as she breathed.

“Help me get her out!”  Adam struggled against his bonds.

“Hold up there, son!  Let me talk to you for a second.  She ain't going no where.”  Said the old man, climbing down from the boulder.

“Thank you.”  Adam's stopped wiggling, and sat still.  “That was a tight spot, I was in.”

“I'd say!”  The old man laughed.  He began to untie Adam's hands..  “Don't reckon it's a right night for a hanging...  You must have upset some folks, right properly.”

“You might say.  That was some luck.  If you hadn't come along...”  Adam rubbed at his wrists.

“Oh, it wasn't luck, my boy.  I've been watching you.” 

“Watching me?”  Adam look around into the darkness.  “From where?”

“Well...”  The old man began, then a confused cloud covered his face.  “It's rather hard to explain...  Some place a might warmer than here, that I know.”

“Sorry, I'm confused.  My name is-”

“I know who you are, Adam, my boy.”

“But, I-”  Adam focused on the old man's eyes.  So familiar, like something in the mirror...  “No, but you're dead!”  Then a cold shiver ran down Adam's spine.  “Oh no!  I'm dead too, ain't I?!”  He turned toward the noose hanging from the tree.  “I slipped off that boulder, and now you've come to take me to Saint Peter!”

“You ain't dead, son!”  Adam's Father chortled.  “I might be, but what is for sure, is we're both here right now, in the middle of God forsaken nowhere!”

“But-  But, how can you be here?”

“Tell you the truth, I ain't too sure.  Last thing I knew I was watching you willingly put your head in that there loop of rope, and then I knew I had to come and do something.  What kind of idiot are you, boy?  That pretty lady was trying to help you?”

“I- I-  I though you had foreseen all of this.  Your letters said...”

“I didn't foresee you committing suicide!”  Adam's Father scalded.  “I might have been able to predict the future, but I didn't predict you being such a dunderhead!  Grow up, boy!  Putting your head in a noose gets you dead, prognostications or not!”

“Sorry, I thought...”

“Yeah, I wish you had, then I wouldn't be standing out here in the cold!”

“But, you're here.  You saved me.”

“Just because you've gone so completely off the rails, my boy.”  Adam's Father looked around in bewilderment.  “What you doing out here, anyway?  You're a long way from End of the Line.”

“The guns...”  Adam said as if that was an explanation.  “The rifles?  Mrs.  Sears?  The Mounties?  Ain't they all part of your plan?”

“I didn't foresee any of this!  I definitely didn't foresee anything by the name of a Mountie.”

“But Vert-”

“Ah, Vert.”  Adam's Father said knowingly. 

“The trapper.  You know him?”

“Yeah, you might say.”  Adam's father laughed.

“He said I could sell the rifles-”  In Adam's head, the wheel turned.  “There ain't no mounties, are there?”

“Oh, I dare say there are, but I don't think you were sent out here to sell any guns...”

“This was a trap?”

“Solid as if it was made of steel.”

“But how-”

“Didn't I try and worn you, son?”

“When?”

“Back in The Dogman Saloon.  Back in Saint Louis.  Didn't I tell you to beware of the Green Man?”   

“You were the blind man?”

“Well, you might say...”

“But who-  None of this is part of your plan?”

“Not a jot.  You're as far of the reservation as them Indians down there.”  Rifle fire still lit up the night.

“Then I was-”  Adam looked back again at the noose.

“As sure as Sunday, boy.”

“Oh my!”  Adam turned a few shades whiter.

“You see why I had to come.”

“I do.  Thank you.  It couldn't have been easy.”
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LimeyJack
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« Reply #1 on: September 18, 2008, 04:15:14 pm »

“You don't know the half of it.  Don't expect me to make a habit of it.”

“Don't worry, I think I've learned my lesson about the fickleness of fate.”  Adam rubbed at his neck.  The full weight of his situation sinking in.  “I need to get back to End of the Line.”

“Took the words right out of my mouth.  But I'm afraid it ain't clear sailing all the way home, son.”

“I think I can handle the 16th Cavalry now.”

“No, it ain't that.  Your adventures- my influence -have come to the attention of...  Well, the opposition.”

“The opposition?”

“To our plans.”

“Oh.”

“I'm afraid circumstances are conspiring to stop you from returning to End of the Line.”

“I see.”

“And I can't be of anymore help.  Just coming here has left me terribly exposed.  You're jumped a long way off the tracks, my boy, and it's now up to you to get yourself back on.”

“I see.”  They fell into silence and listened to the cracks of gunfire in the valley below.

“Well, I'd better be going.”  Adam's Father said, taking in a deep breath.  “It'll be daylight soon.”  He turned to go.

“One last thing.”  Adam asked.  “What about her.”  He said, nodding towards the fresh grave.  “What have I done to her future?”

“There's gonna be a heck of a lot of casualties in our little war, my boy.  Best to remember that at times like this.  It all for the best.  In the long run.  But some of the people along the way...  Well, you know...”   And with that, Adam's father picked up his lantern, turned down the flame, and stepped out into the darkness..

“You're not possibly listening to any of this?”  Mrs Sears said back in the Sheriff's Office in Corral.  “This ain't your fight.  You're not the law 'round here.”

“But I am the law.”  Said Adam thoughtfully.  He, Mrs. Sears and the Deputy had stepped away from the cell bars, out of earshot of Lon Doogan.

”You said yourself not a week ago that you're no lawman.  That that badge made you feel like a fool.  What's it to you if Lon Doogan gets hung by a mob?”

“Well, the half lynching given to me in the intervening week has made me a little bias.  Desperate, no good killer he might be, but he has a point.  He deserves to hang after the rightful due diligence.  Not before.”

“How the heck you gonna fight off a whole mob?”  Jill said, exasperated.

“I ain't fight off no one.”  Adam thought out loud.

“Well, you might not want a fight.”  The Deputy interjected.  “But ten more minutes, a few more drinks, and them fellas over in Steely's are gonna come back.  They'll be after Doogan right there, and they'll be more than happy to give you a fight, if you want one or not.”

“Dozen or so, you said?”

“Yep”

“But a big fella did most of the talking?”

“He did.”

“They ain't gonna be a problem.”  Said Adam, and he picked up the Deputy's shotgun.

“You're gonna shoot it out with a dozen guns?”  Mrs. Sears asked.

“Nope, just that one fella.”  Adam loaded both barrels of the scatter gun.  “Mobs are tetchy things.  Takes a whole lot of liquor to get one going, and just one punch in the nose to put an end to them.  I ain't so good with my fists, so...”  He slammed the shotgun closed.

Stepping out of the Sheriff's Office, Adam strolled out onto the quiet street.  Steely's was well light and chattering opposite to the jail.  From what Adam could see from outside, it looked like it was packed to the rafters.  Laughter and bawdy voices echoed out into dark street.  It was exactly the sort of place in which no one in their right mind would pick a fight.  So that was exactly what Adam knew he had to do.  He sauntered up the swinging doors, large as life, kicked them opened, and fired a blast from the shotgun into the celling.

That got everyone's attention.

“Who speaks for this outfit?”  Adam yelled through the ringing in his ears.  Though a mixture of shock, and temporary deafness, no one answered.  “I asked who's in charge here?”  Cowboys and sod busters began to back away.  Slowly a path cleared through the humanity, opening a path from Adam to a large fella leaning against the bar.

It sure was a day for coincidences.

“I think that you're be looking for me, laddy.”  The Gaffa said.  He took a drag from his small cheroot, and gestured to the ceiling.  “I see that you've got some bullets in that gun.”

Adam tried to shake off the shock of seeing the Gaffa standing there upright, but he knew he had lost him momentum.  What should have sounded like hard words, came out as bluster.

“I see you've recovered from our last encounter.”  Adam said.  The Gaffa pulled himself up from the bar and towered over Adam.  “Those Colts can be touchy things.”

“Aye, lad.”  The Gaffa looked down at Adam.  “But I got me a new shooting iron, just knowing that someday we'd be meeting again.  Imagine my luck, running into your here.”

“This your necktie party, Gaffa?”

“Oh, I'd say it's a popular outpouring of emotion.”

“Well, I'm here to tell you that the fun and games end here and now!”   Adam spoke up so the whole bar could hear.

“And who the hell are you, laddy, to tell us what to do?”

“I'm the Sheriff of Seldon County!  Speaking on behalf of the Sheriff's Office here in Corral!”

“You're not the Sheriff of End of the Line.”  The Gaffa sneered.  “I should know.”  Then loudly to the whole bar.  “'Cause I'm the Sheriff of End of the Line!”  Murmurs rose from the crowd.

“You gave up that office when you drew down on me in the middle of Main Street.  Unprovoked!  To settle a slight to your honor!”

“Aye, I did draw down on this here fella!  But it was pursuant to my duties as Sheriff, just like this legal hanging is here this evening!”  The Gaffa was talking over Adam, addressing the crowd.  “Now this...  this criminal comes in here feigning to speak as the law!  Protecting his outlaw compatriot over there in the jail house!  Trying to bully and prevent us from carrying out our just and rightful sentence upon the guilty!”  The bar rumbled with approval, and closed in around Adam.

“Citizen of Corral!”  Adam turned his back to the Gaffa, raised his scatter gun about his head in as consolatory a gesture as he could manage with a weapon.  “I'm sure many of you have already heard about my gunfight with the Doogans in End of the Line!  Two brothers I shot down that day, and saw a third also on his way!  The fourth brother, now sits in that jail cell, accused of the murder of your own Sheriff.  You can believe me that there is nobody more eager to see the death of that man than myself, for if he was at liberty, he'd surly murder me for the death of his brothers!  But you must understand,  I am the dutiful and appointed Sheriff of Seldon County, and those shootings in End of the Line could not be avoided!  Here, right now, Lon Doogan is a prisoner of your Deputy Sheriff! He will stand trial for his crimes, and will receive punishment equal and just to his horrific deeds!”

“Is there any doubt here to this Doogan's guilt!”  The Gaffa interrupted.  “I bet a dozen of you saw him shoot the Sheriff down in the street!  In cold blood!    Why do we need a trial when, by all odds, those very same men will be sitting on this Doogan jury!  We're the court of law here!  Judge, jury, now it's time for us to be the executioner!  Let this gunman talk you out of doing what you know to be right, and he'll spirit this Doogan fella aways to freedom!  He knows he can't shoot us all, so he was to talk you all into submission.  Hang the Doogan!  Hang this fella too for protecting him!  Hang the lot of 'em!” 

The Gaffa had done it, the crowd was fired up.  They moved forward as a mass, and Adam knew he had lost his appeal to popular opinion. 

“Who's the law around here?!”  Adam yelled, turning back to the Gaffa.  He had one last chance before he himself got lynched beside Doogan.  “These people are law abiding citizens!  They'll follow the law!  They won't stand for villainy and wickedness in their own town!  No, sir!”  The crowd paused.  “One of us is the Sheriff, the real Sheriff, of End of the Line and duty bound to enforce the law!  So why don't  you and me settle this little nagging point!  We can then see justice done, and these folks can get back to living their lives!”

“Oh, that's how it is, ah?  How do you fancy settling it, then?  Fists or guns?”

“I came up spades with guns the last time...”

“Want to try your luck again?”

“You've got no friends to back you up this time, Gaffa.”

“Well, this little fella”  Said the Gaffa, patting his gun.  “is back up enough for me.”

“How about we take our shooting war outside?”  Adam spun on his heals, and pushed through the crowd  towards the door.  He cross the street to where Mrs. Sears and the Deputy Sheriff were waiting.

“What's going on?”  Mrs. Sears asked.  The crowd was spilling out of Steely's into the street.  “Did you bloody their nose?”

“Not exactly...”  Adam said, breaking open the shotgun.  He pulled the spent shell out, dropped it to the ground, and lay the gun down on the steps of the Sheriff's office.  The live shell, he gripped in his hand, feeling the firmness of it.  “The Gaffa's in there.”

“The Gaffa?   In Corral?”  She asked, but Adam didn't need to answer.  The Gaffa stepped out of Steely's, and into the street.  Adam's back was still turned to the him.  “Watch out!”  Mrs. Sears manged  as the Gaffa went for his gun.  Adam spun, grabbed for his pistol, throwing the shotgun shell into the air to do so.  But it was too late.  As he came around to face the Gaffa, the Gaffa leveled his pistol and fired.

Everything went suddenly very still.  The cloud of smoke from the barrel of the Gaffa's gun hung in the air between them, and Adam became aware of the tiny bullet cutting slowly through the air.  In front of him, the live shotgun shell he had discarded hung almost motionless in the air, suspended as if from a string.  Adam looked around to see the faces of people in the crowd frozen half way though expressions of shock and anger.  Time was almost standing still, but Adam was still moving. 

The Gaffa's bullet was on course for the center of Adam's chest, moving at a snails pace, but moving all the same.  Without effort, Adam stepped out of its deadly path.  He finished drawing his gun and cocked the hammer.  Leveling it at the Gaffa, he had plenty of time to aim.  He could feel the compulsion within him to fire.  The Gaffa stood there motionless in Adam's sights.  As large and easy of a target as anyone had ever been offered.  All Adam had to do was fire.  But something stopped him.  His hand began to shake from the conflict.  He could feel the evil of it.  All around him.  What was happening to him?  Whatever this magic was, the smell of brimstone burned at his nostrils.

Then Adam heard footsteps.  Metal spurs on the boardwalk.  Adam turned to see a dark figure in the shadows of the gaslights, watch from across the street.  The shadow was still moving while all around was fixed in a moment.

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LimeyJack
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« Reply #2 on: September 18, 2008, 04:15:51 pm »

All of a sudden the damn holding back time burst, and events washed over Adam like a wave.  The Gaffa's bullet, no longer aimed at Adam, collided with the spinning shotgun shell in the air.  The bright explosion peppered the side of Adam's face with shrapnel and shot, and engulfed him in a black cloud.  When Adam recovered, he look up to see a dumbstruck Gaffa, unsure of how he'd missed such a certain shot.  Adam saw the Gaffa again cock his pistol, and Adam let down the trigger of his own.  Both guns barked in unison.  The Gaffa's wildly into the air, and Adam's dead on its mark.

The Gaffa staggered back into the crowd where he was caught by a pair of cowboys.  The hole in his upper chest left him gasping dryly for air.  He choked, retched in some sort of attempt to cough, then let out a death rattle that left him still.  The crowd quickly encircled him, hiding the body from Adam's view.

“Go back to you homes!”  Adam said eventually.  Blood stream down the side of his face.  “They'll be no more killing this evening!”  But he needn't have bothered.  The whole of Steely's Saloon has seen the Gaffa draw down on Adam's back.  The necktie party was over.

“We make quiet a pair.”  Mrs. Sears said, the next morning in the Sheriff's Office.  Adam sat behind the old Sheriff's desk, while Mrs. Sears picked slivers of buckshot out of his cheek with a large pair of tweezers.  “That was something else.  The Gaffa hitting that scattergun cartridge in the air like that.  When he broke leather behind you, I figured you were deader than a doorbell.  Guess you're old Poppy is still watching over you.”

“Ouch!”  Adam winced as Mrs. Sears pulled out a shard of lead.  “I guess.  Luckily,  I think the Gaffa was as surprised as anyone that he missed, or he'd been quicker with that follow up shot.”

“How did you turn around so quick?”  Mrs. Sears asked, pressing a alcohol soaked cloth against the side of Adam's face.  It stung like the blazes.  “I ain't ever seen a person move so fast.”

“It's kinda...  Well...”  Adam struggled for the words.  “I think I had some help?”

“The same help that got you down from that hangman's noose in Blackfoot territory?”

“No, no this was different.”

“Different how?”

“Different.  Bad.” 

“You tell a mighty queer tale, Mr. Liche.”  Mrs. Sears looked into Adam's eyes.  He knew that despite all they had been through together, the matter of Adam's Father was still between them.  A part of Mrs. Sears was still grounded enough to think Adam's stories insane, and that mistrust looked back at Adam through those eyes.

“Once the Marshal arrives to take custody of Doogan, I'll head back to End of the Line.”  Stated Adam.  “I could rent a horse, or borrow one around town, if you're thinking of taking the buckboard.  Or there is always the train-”

“I'll wait around with you for the Marshal.”  Mrs. Sears interrupted.

“Ain't no need.  After all, you've got a saloon to keep.”

“To be honest, Mr. Liche, ever since you show up, I've been punched, kicked, dragged, dropped and shot at all-to-heck.  I'm beginning to be of the opinion that you're some sorta bad, bad luck.  But I reckon we started this adventure together, and- success or failure -we should finish it up together too.  Not to mention, I think you need me to watch your back.  You've got a reckless streak a mile long!”

“You are most kind.”  Adam smiled, and bowed a little in his chair.  “Guess this makes three in-a-row I owe you.” 

“That you do, but it can wait.”  Mrs. Sears stood up to leave.  “Right now I'm checking into that hotel down yonder, and seeing about a very hot bath!”

“Good luck.”  Chuckled Adam.  Mrs. Sears headed towards the door.  As see stepped out, she met a tall man coming in.  They both excused themselves, and the tall men stepped out to let Mrs. Sears by.

“I ain't ever see such a pretty face so hard done by.”  The tall man said after Mrs. Sears exited.

“Complements of the US Cavalry.”  Adam said, standing and extending a hand.

“And you don't look a sight better.”  The tall man took Adam's hand and shook it.

“Complements of a local gunman.  I'm Sheriff Liche.”

“Deputy Marshal Mosley.”  The tall man had blue, gray eyes and a pitch black mustache.  His stare seemed to cut right through Adam.  “I hear you've got a prisoner for me.”

“I surely do.”  Adam picked up a large ring of keys off the table, and stepped out from behind the desk.  “Thank you for coming so quickly, I hadn't heard you rode into town.”  Adam walked toward the cell, jingling though the keys.

“I was here last night, to tell you the truth.”  Mosley said, following.

“Last night?  You should of introduced yourself!  I could have sorely used your help with the lynching  mob the locals had rounded up for this fella.”

“Oh, I can say I did my heap of helping.”  Chuckled the Deputy Marshal.  Adam stopped in his tracks.  A cold finger touched Adam at his core. 

“You were there at the gun fighting?”  Adam busied himself with the keys.  He could feel Mosley's eyes burning into the back of his neck.

“You might say...”

“In the shadows?”

“Away from the lights...”

“It was you.”  Adam dared not turn around, turn around and look at those gray, staring eyes.  “You saved my life.”

“Ah.”  Mosley dismissed.  “I just didn't want you dead before we had a chance to talk.  You and me.  You're a lot like your father, you know.”

“You knew my father?”  Adam turned around.  He was expecting some monster to have replaced the Marshal.  Something terrify, from his childhood fears.  But it was the same tall, thin Mosley standing in the middle of the Sheriff's Office.  Same gray eyes.

“You could say I knew him.”

“It can't be.  You can't be...”

“Be what, Sheriff?”

“The Devil.”  Adam let the words slip out.  Mosley guffawed.  He walked to the desk, pulled a chair up beside it and dropped his lanky figure down.  He put a foot on the edge of the desk, and pushed himself back onto two legs of the chair.

“I've been called many things, in many places, and I can honestly say 'The Devil' is the best.  But don't let your preconceptions cloud you.  It so much more complicated that you think.”

Adam stepped slowly back to the desk, feeling the weight of his gun in his waistband.  It was a simple comfort in a growing feeling of uncertainty.  He sat down in the old, dead Sheriff's chair.  Across the desk from the Deputy Marshal.

“What do you want?”  Adam managed.

“To talk.”  Mosley said, almost casually.  “I believe you got some letters from your father, after his death.”

“He warned me.  Warned me about you.”

“I'm sure he said a great many things.”  The Deputy Marshal reached into his jacket's vest pocket, and pulled out a pair of envelopes.  “I must admit I hadn't realized what your father had been planning.  Took me completely by surprise.  A few letters got by before I fixed it so they'd start coming to me..   Entertaining reading, I'd say.”  He looked into the open envelopes casually, then tossed them onto the desk.  “Here's the one's you missed, if you're interested.  But, as we both know, events have deviated a might from your fathers predictions.”

“I reckon I'll ask again:  What is it that you want?”  Said Adam, leaving the letter where they lay.

“I want you know we ain't enemies, son.”  Mosley leaned forward to make his point.  He removed his foot from the desk, and the chair returning to all four legs.  “Your old man was the recipient of great gifts, but that same gift knocked him a whole peck-short-of-a-bushel.  It ain't natural what you father could do.  Takes more than a regular head to hold it.  I don't mind saying, it had driven him plumb loco by the end.  Paranoia, I've heard them call it.”

“The gift you gave him.  Gave him in exchange for his soul.  Are you angling you make the same sort of bargain with me?”

“Ha!”  The Deputy Marshal let out a laugh, and slapped his thigh.  “Don't start talking to me about the soul!  You don't know of what you're speaking, and it makes you sound like a fool to try!”

“I know I ain't interested, whatever deal you're thinking of offering.”

“I ain't offering any deals!  I came here to offer up the hand of friendship. See, right there.”  Mosley held out his hand.  “And you go ahead and spit right in it?  Now, I tell you, that ain't very neighborly.”

“You gonna tell me you have nothing to do with Vert and them guns.”

“Well, now, I'm not about to say-”

“I thought so.”

“You've cost me a great deal, son.  You can't blame me for trying to repair what you broke.”

“Repair?  You set me up to get hung!”

“You put your head in that noose, boy, trusting your old Pappy to save your hide, not me!”

“Good thing he did, too.”

“And your father knows what price he has to pay for it.”  Mosley said with a dismissive gesture. 

“And Lon here?  And the Gaffa?  Those you mending things too?”

“You asking or telling?”

“Telling, I guess.  Telling you to send all the Doogans and Gaffas you want.  It's no deal!”

“Don't be pigheaded!  You just don't understand.  The world don't work the way you think of it.  What you think is up and down ain't nothing like what you think it is.  I didn't make no deals with you daddy, no deals he didn't want to make.  I didn't trick him before he tricked me.  All I done is show him how much bigger the world is than he had any idea of.  I want to do the same for you, son.  I want to be your friend.  If you'd just stop being so damn, pigheaded!”

“Friends with the Devil?”

“Don't hang that hat upon me.  It ain't like that.”

“What's it like, then?”

“Do you see any horns, son?”  Mosley leaned in close and removed his hat for effect.  “A tail?  Hooves?  You may have a stomach full of Sunday School, but don't stare thinking thats anything like how to world really works.”
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LimeyJack
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« Reply #3 on: September 18, 2008, 04:16:29 pm »

“And you want to enlighten me?”

“Good choice of words.  'Enlighten'.  I like that.”

“For the price of my soul?”

“Now, didn't I worn you not to use that word?  You don't know what you're talking about.”

“I know I'll be happier with it than without.”

“Will you, son?  Will you really?”  Mosley began to look Adam over from head to toe.  “So where is it?”

“Where's what?”

“This soul of yours?  Where is it?  Show it to me?”

“I can't show you my soul.  Don't be a fool!”

“Me?  A fool?  The Devil?  No soul to show me, huh?  Interesting.”

“You gotta a point to make?”

“My point is, son.  You're dead.”

“I ain't dead.”

“Yes you are.”  Mosley stood up and began to pace.   “You're died in The Cave-in-Rock.  Stabbed in the back by river pirates over the sum of one million one hundred and ten thousand six hundred and fifty three dollars.  Dumped in the Mississippi, to be found by fishermen when your body was so bloated that they couldn't tell if you're a he or a she.  That's you fate, son.  Written in the aether as sure as the sun will rise.”

“But my father changed that.”

“He did.  He did, with the help of yours truly.  I, however, being unaware of it at the time.  He freed you from your fate, Adam Liche, but he didn't free your soul.  He couldn't do that.  Heck, I can't do that!  Your father needed you as his hands and his feet.  He needed you to do the things in this world that he couldn't do from beyond, but he didn't need your soul, boy.  That he left floating in the Mississippi.  That he left to a scoundrels fate.  That he left to the river.”

“That's insane.  You can't live without a soul.”

“Oh, I beg to differ, good sir.  And you being breathing proof.  Your father knew the price he had to pay for his gifts, and he knew the price you'd have to pay for helping him.  And he did it all the same.  I ain't here to make a bargain for your soul, Adam.  I don't need to.  You ain't got no soul for the offering.”

The cold hardness of this washed over Adam, and it chilled him to the bone.  He remembered the first time, facing down the Gaffa.  The freedom he felt.  The weight that had been lifted.  He remember standing over the graves of the Doogan Brothers, looking down at the three white crosses.  The cold wind blowing, and feeling nothing inside.   Could he feel it now?  Anything?  Any sorrow for killing the Gaffa right there in the street?  There was nothing.  Just emptiness,  Somehow that didn't seem right.  Did seem quite...  Human.

Then he thought of Mrs. Sears.  Jill.  He could see her looking at him through those black eyes.  That lit something inside him.  He looked up at Mosley cold dark face.

“For the last time:  What do you want with me?”

“I ain't here to take a soul, but to give one.  You father is using you, son.  He's hell bent on controlling things on the other side as he controlled things here.  He's insane!  Deluded to depths of his power.  But even the insane can destroy.  Destroy years of work.  Years of preparation.”

“You're afraid of him.”  Adam realized.

“I ain't afraid of nothing!”  Mosley showed the first sign of emotion.  “None of you half-breed fools!”

“Then if I have no soul, why don't you kill me?”

“I still have that option!  Don't you doubt it!  But there is so much we can still archive!”

“You're afraid of me too!”  Adam was delighted.

“Don't delude yourself!”  The Deputy Marshal was genuinely furious.

“You're afraid of anyone who knows you, aren't you?”  Adam stood up from his desk and pointed an accusing finger at Mosley.  “Anyone without a fate you've already determined.  You can't control.  You could kill me, but then I'd be free of you forever.  No, you have to strangle me with your lies first.  Make me come willing or you're powerless against me.

“That's what my father foresaw.  He wasn't planning on saving our souls, but saving us from them.  And that scares you.  He knew what we were actually capable off, us folk, he could see it in our futures.  He knew with space, and time, and good luck our souls could be ours for the making.  Free and in the clear and liberated from your shackles and quirks of fate.  Yes, that's it, isn't it?  You plot, you scheme, you bribe and threaten but you know given the truth everyone will eventually throw you down.  You're nothing, nothing without your fear.

“So you may be correct.  My soul might still be back there.  In the river.  Stabbed through the heart, left to a scoundrel's fate.  But I know the truth.  That's your soul, not mine.  Feast on it, feast until you gorge yourself.  I have a new soul.  Built and custom fit, by me.  Complete in its potential.  Exuberant in its scope.  Unwavering in its determination to see a world- a new world -free of you and your stranglehold of fate.  I'll take my new soul, thank you very much, and you, sir, can go to hell!”

“That is all you have?  Ramblings of a madman?.”  Mosley said, calm and collected again.  “I must admit, I was expecting more from you.  If only you know one fraction of with you speak of.  Had one drop of understanding...”

“I understand enough.  I believe were done here, Deputy Marshal Mosley.  I think you should take your prisoner and go.”

“Well, never let it be said that I was not a reasonable man.  If you won't consider my offer...”

“The matter is closed.”

“Then I'll take my leave.”  Mosley returned his hat to his head, and moved towards the door.  “Good day, Sheriff.”

“Good day, Marshal.”

From the line of cells, Lon Doogan emerged.  He was fully dressed, with leather and gun around his waist.  How the cell had been opened, Adam had no idea.  Lon tipped his hat to Adam, smiled, and followed Mosley out the door.

That afternoon found Adam and Mrs. Sears in the seat of the buckboard, following the trail beside the railroad tacks, heading up the valley back to End of the Line.  Mrs. Sears was washed and perfumed.  A small amount of makeup covered the worst of her bruises.  She had purchased a new dress, and sat next to Adam, every bit the picture of a woman.

“I won't hold you to it, you know.”  She said out of the blue.

“Hold me to what?”  Adam replied, shaken from this thoughts.

“The saloon.  I won't hold you to the deal.  I won't take your bar.”

“I don't understand.  You don't want the Singing Hinny?”

“I didn't say that!  I said I wouldn't hold you to your deal.  It ain't far, anyway.”

“I won't hear of it.”  Adam said, offended.  “We shook on it.  That makes it a contract, I reckon.”

“But without it, you'll have nothing!” 

“And so will you!”

The sat silently for a moment, at an impasse.

“Then I'll give you half of it back.”  Mrs. Sears said, finally.

“What?  Partners?”

“Exactly.”

“In all honestly, ”  Adam said.  “I don't know much about running a saloon.”

“You've been in one before,”  Mrs. Sears laughed.  “that's more than me.”

“Oh, this is the start of a extraordinary partnership!  How can we ever fail!”

“But I thought you had connections.  You know, up there.”  Mrs. Sears pointed to the sky.

“Try a little lower.”  Adam gave the thumbs down.

“Oh, that's right.  Old Dutch.  Am I risking my mortal soul, Mr. Liche, as well as my respectability, being in business with you?”

“I think your soul, and your respectability,  is very much safe with me, Mrs. Sears.”

“I'll hold you to that.”

“Please do.”

The rode along in peace for a moment, wagon wheels rattling.

“Who were you talking to that night of your hanging, while I was down all trusted up in that grave?”  Mrs. Sears said.

“Would you believe me if I told you?”

“Perchance.  Why don't you try me?” 

Adam gave her a hard stare.

“Would you believe that my Father came back from the dead to cut me down from that noose?”

“Nope, not for a second.”

“Then lets say:  My horse.  I was talking to my horse.”

“You're not going to tell me, are you?”

“I just did!”

“You weren't talking to no horse!”

“If you don't believe me, ask her?”  Adam gestured to the left horse or the two pulling the buckboard.

“I ain't talking to no horse, either!”

“They I reckon it'll have to stay a mystery.”

“I reckon so...”  Mrs. Sear smiled.  Adam chucked, and whipped the horses on.

It was evening by the time they reached End of the Line.  The dilapidated Main Street was as abandoned as ever, but the sight of it filled Adam with a homey glow.  The light from the Singing Hinny was the only sign of life, and it's smashed windows and bullet marked walls where more welcome to Adam than anything he'd ever see before in his life.  Dismounting from the buckboard, Adam and Mrs. Sears hopped up the stairs to the boardwalk, and through the Hinny's swinging doors.

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LimeyJack
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« Reply #4 on: September 18, 2008, 04:17:06 pm »

“A drink please, Gully!”  Adam said as he walking into the warmth of the large fire.  Gully was standing lazily behind the bar.  A few cowboys were hunched around one of the few remaining tables, playing cards.

“You're back!”  Gully stated the obvious.

“Back, and thirsty.”  Adam realized he had been dry for more than three weeks.  A feat that must be a record west of the Mississippi.

“Good evening. Mrs. Sears.”  Gully said respectfully.  Mrs. Sears hovered just inside the door, unsure of what she had gotten herself into.

“Ah, yes.”  Adam remembered.  “Gully, I'd like you to meet the new Proprietress...”

“Who?”  Gully said, confused.

“Mrs. Sears.”

“Proprietress of what?”

“The Hinny.”  Said Adam.  Gully looked awestruck.  “The Bar.”

“You sold the saloon to Mrs. Sears?”

“Yep.  Nope.  Well, half of it.  There was a slight hiccup trying to sell the guns.”

“What sort of hiccup?”

“They got stole by some Indians”

“Indians?  Guns?!”

“It wasn't our fault!”  Mrs. Sears added.  “The US Cavalry tried to hang the Sheriff...”

“Why'd they do that?”  Gully wasn't any less confused.

“For...  Well..  Trying to sell guns to the Indians...”

“I see.  And this was when you sold half the bar to Mrs. Sears?  While you were getting hanged for selling gun that the Indians just up and stole?”

“No, no, It were after, and I gave it to her.”  Adam was confusing himself.

“But I gave half of it back.”  Said Mrs. Sears.  “After the Sheriff shot the Gaffa.”

“You shot the Gaffa!”  Gully's head was about to explode.  “Again?!”

“Permanent this time.”

“I'd hope so!  Hate for it to become a habit!”

“So you can see, I could really use a drink.”  Adam licked him lips.

“Me too!”  Gully threw up his hands.  “But we ain't got none.”

“Ain't got no what?”

“Drinks.  Booze.  Liquor.   We're all out.”

“The bar...”  It began to sink in.  “Is out...”  Slow at first.  “Of...”  Then it hit home.  “Booze?”  A part of Adam's world collapsed.  His hands began to shake.  All the insanity and danger of the last few weeks began to wash over him.  It was all Adam could do not to break down and cry.

“Train ain't been in for three days.  We drank the last of it last night.”

“But, but.”  Adam tried to organize his thoughts.  “This is bar...”

“Yes.”  Gully said, talking as if Adam was a child.  “A bar with no booze.”

“But that can't be.”

“Afraid so.”

“I'm half owner of a dry bar?”  Mrs Sears questioned.  She didn't know much about saloon keeping, but that didn't sound like a winner.  “What happen to the train?”

“Held up, I guess.  A day or so ago.  Broke up the tracks, and ransacked the train.  Had a fella from the railroad in yesterday, looking for the Sheriff., wanting you to pull a posse together.  Kept talking some foolishness about a vagabond preacher, or something...”

“A Marauding Monk?”  Adam snapped out of his stupor.

“That was it.  Craziest dang story.  Said the train was robbed by someone called the Marauding Monk!  Robes and everything”

“Oh,”  Adam said, his heart sinking.  “I really need that drink...”

“Me too!”  Mrs Sears agreed, to disapproving looks.
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