GENERAL TOPICS > Saddlebag Tales

The Deputies, Book 2: Tyler's Law

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charlie macneil:
I'm workin' on this one all by my lonesome. I'd like to keep it that way, if y'all don't mind. Thanks.
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Chapter 1

Four snow-crusted shadows moved through the night, the white plumes of their breath swirling away on the banshee wind. Scarves held hats on bowed heads as the riders pushed ahead into the teeth of the storm. The cold went deep, and the leader had begun to despair of ever being warm again. His feet in their leather boots were like blocks of ice, as was the gloved hand that held the reins of the exhausted horse. Rounding a shoulder of rock into the relative calm of the cove beyond, Bob Morton slipped the glove from his right hand. He reached inside the sheepskin-lined coat he wore to tuck his numb fingers into his armpit in an attempt to restore some dexterity to them.

Ahead, the welcoming glow of lantern light flickered through the early fall blizzard as the four men drew to a halt, eyes dull and watery. Morton stepped down, shucking his Winchester from the scabbard under the offside stirrup. He held the reins out toward Abel Barnes, who happened to be nearest. “Take my horse to the corral,” he said, trying to be heard over the shriek of the wind in the rocks at the top of the cove. “I’ll have a look inside, make sure we don’t have unwanted company.”
 
“Take your own damned horse,” Barnes replied, sneering. “I’ve got my own to look after.” He jerked the tired sorrel savagely around, turning toward the shelter of the lean-to shed that stood with its back to the swirling fingers of wind that reached into the cove. Snow had piled into drifts at the base of the wall.
 
Two long strides let Morton grab the headstall and stop the sorrel as Barnes cursed. “You’re the reason we’re late, Barnes. Because of you, we had to nearly kill our horses getting away from that posse. Right at the moment, I’m on the verge of shootin’ you myself, so don’t give me any lip. And if I ever see you treat a horse that way again, I’ll kick your butt into next week. Just shut up and do what you’re told.” Morton released the bridle and turned away, going back to his own horse as Abel Barnes’ hand moved stealthily toward his holstered Colt. “Don’t even think about it, Barnes,” the words drifted on the wind. “You draw that pistol, and I’ll take it away from you and make you eat it.”

Startled, Barnes could do nothing but drop his hand, and lean forward to pick up the reins Morton had let fall into the snow.  Barnes’ heard a chuckle and snapped his head around, but the other two shadows were turning away. He didn’t know for sure who had found the whole situation humorous, though he had his suspicions. He would bide his time, and wait for his chance to get even. Abel Barnes was a good hater.

The snow was soft and heavy underfoot as Bob walked tiredly toward the cabin. “Hallo the house,” he called. He stood just out of reach of the light from the oilskin-covered window next to the door and waited, Winchester held down beside his leg. The door swung inward, and Max Horner lifted a lantern, its rays illuminating the hulking, snow-covered figure.

“Is that you, Bob?” Max called. The Colt in his hand gleamed dully in the lantern light, muzzle level.
 
“Yeah, it’s me,” Bob said, moving forward into the light. “Are you alone?”

“Just me an’ this pistol,” Max chuckled. “Come on in.” He moved back into the room, favoring his right leg. He holstered the pistol and hung the lantern from a hook on an overhead beam. Bob stopped on the stone stoop to stamp the snow from his boots, and the smell of coffee, biscuits, and beans made his knees sag. It’d been the better part of two days since he’d had a decent meal. He, Abel Barnes, Jake Carver, and Ben Terrell had spent most of the last two days dodging a very persistent posse with a very good tracker. They’d finally managed to lose the posse because of the snowstorm that had suddenly blown in and covered their trail.
 
The interior of the cabin was warm, almost hot, after the cold of the storm. A fire crackled merrily in the stone fireplace, and the warm glow of lantern light was in sharp contrast to the spartan furnishings. A simple plank table, flanked on both sides by rough benches, stood to one side. On the back wall, four bunks stood in pairs, with a single bunk forming an L against the side wall, under the only other window in the room. Max had obviously been using that one, as it was neatly made up. The others were merely frames laced with rope. A set of rough-hewn shelves near the fireplace held some beans, a sack of Arbuckle’s coffee, and a sack of flour. A couple of pots and a large frying pan took up most of the bottom shelf, accompanied by a stack of mismatched plates, cups, and eating utensils. A crane held a pot of beans close enough to the fire to keep warm. A large enamelware coffee pot sat on the edge of the hearth, steaming gently. A pan of biscuits was on the table along with a book laying open, face down.

Bob set the Winchester against the wall just inside the door and unbuttoned his coat. He shrugged it off, shaking the snow off before coming into the cabin. He took off his hat and slapped it against a porch post to knock the crusted snow and ice off. His coat and hat went on a peg near the fireplace and he stretched his hands out toward the fire. He rubbed them together, working the tingles out as the feeling crept back into his stiff fingers. Max was setting plates, spoons, and coffee cups on the table. “You boys are a bit late, aren’t you?” Max asked quietly.
 
Bob looked over at him. “We need to talk about that. That trigger-happy, wannabe gunslick you saddled me with…” Just then the door swung open, and he fell silent. The others came in, shedding coats and hats and stomping snow from their boots.

“Come on in, boys,” Max called. “Coffee’s on, and the biscuits are ready.” Smiling, he reached out to shake hands with Jake and Ben. Abel Barnes turned away from the proffered hand, grumbling to himself and moving up to the fireplace. Max gave him a thoughtful look, his green eyes narrowing, and turned toward the fireplace himself. He picked up the big coffeepot and poured for all of them. His eyes met Bob’s in silent communication; a slight nod signified that they did indeed need to talk.



charlie macneil:
Chapter 2

Whistling loudly and somewhat on key, Bowie Tyler strolled along the boardwalk that lay beside the wide, dusty main street of Barlow. His spurs were jingling in time with the music. As he walked he was contemplating the fine, sunny afternoon. A light breeze stirred the dust of the street, and somewhere out of sight someone was hammering. It looked like he should have good weather for the long ride back to Laramie. He turned in through the open door of the sheriff’s office, banged the door shut, and came to a tuneful halt in front of the paper-littered desk of Sheriff Orville Hartley.

Sheriff Hartley had long since come to the conclusion that the Mexicans were onto something with the whole siesta idea. Consequently, he was slumped comfortably in his seat-sprung swivel chair with his booted feet propped up on a spur-scarred desk drawer. Sheriff Hartley opened one eye, glared at Bowie, and rasped, “Tyler, you’d best have a good reason for all the noise. You are interruptin’ my rest.”

Unfazed, Bowie just grinned at him. “That I do, Sheriff. I’ve come to take that gent quartered in that cell yonder off your hands." He pointed toward the back of the building. "Got a telegram from headquarters, and they want this little lost sheep to come home.”

“Huh!” Hartley grunted. He got to his feet and lifted a ring of keys from a drawer of the desk. “Kinda late to be headin’ for Laramie, ain’t it Tyler?” When Bowie just grinned at him, he snorted and said, “Well come on then. The sooner you an’ that critter back there go on down the trail, the sooner I can get back to my nap. Things were a lot quieter around here before you got here, an’ I expect they’ll quiet right back down again after you’re gone.” He walked to the barred door in the back wall of the room. He unlocked the door, swung it open, and motioned for Tyler to precede him.
 
Though he didn’t look the part, Bowie was a special deputy for Judge Randolph Martin. He stood only about five feet four inches tall, and with his ample waistline sometimes seemed to be almost as big around as he was tall. His ash blonde hair was worn short and parted in the middle, when it was combed, which wasn’t often. His boots were run down and there was a crude patch, put on with rawhide string, on the shoulder of his somewhat grubby buckskin shirt. A pair of ragged suspenders held up his britches, which he wore tucked into his boot tops. Altogether, he presented a less than convincing picture of a lawman. But appearances can be deceiving, as a number of gents whose faces graced wanted posters hither and yon had found out to their chagrin. Bowie Tyler was tougher than rawhide, and cat-quick on his feet. And his draw was a sight to behold.

He generally carried a Starr double-action Army revolver that had been converted to fire metallic cartridges. It was carried butt forward, high on his right hip, and he could draw that Starr equally as fast with either hand. Tucked into a sheath inside his shirt collar was a razor-sharp throwing knife with a leather-wrapped hilt. That knife had brought more than a few jackrabbits to the cook fire when he needed to maintain the peace and quiet of his surroundings and still be able to eat. The Arkansas toothpick he carried in his boot top was for chores that required a bit heavier blade.

Bowie stepped up to the door of Bert Harper’s cell, grabbed the bars, and gave the door a shake. Harper, with nothing better to do, had been working on a nap of his own. The rattling of the cell door jarred him from a rather sound sleep. Startled, he reared up and hit his head on the bunk above. With his head in his hands, Harper proceeded to curse Bowie, his ancestry, and any possible future he might have. He then went on to ask, “What the hell do you want, Tyler? Go away and leave me alone.” Harper started to lay back down, one hand on his now aching head. Bowie rattled the door again, louder.
 
“Rise and shine, Bertie,” he said cheerfully. “Your presence is requested in Laramie. Judge Martin’s ready for your day in court. You’re not just in this cell for your health, you know.”

Harper reluctantly swung his feet to the floor and reached for his boots. “And just how do you plan on me gettin' to court, Tyler?” he groused. “Seein’ as how you shot my horse an’ all.”

“I shot your horse after you ran him into that rock slide and broke his leg, Bertie,” Tyler replied coldly. “I should’ve shot you instead, and brought the horse in. Now get your sorry butt up off that bunk and let’s go meet your new mount.”
Harper stood, picked up his hat and put it on, and moved to the cell door. Sheriff Hartley unlocked the door and swung it open. He kept hand on his gun and a watchful eye on Harper. In spite of Tyler’s apparent good humor, Bert Harper was not exactly a model citizen. Harper had killed a homesteader and his family, burned their cabin, and run off and sold what little stock they had. Along the way, he’d also robbed a small trading post and pistol-whipped the proprietor when the sixty year old didn’t move fast enough to suit him.

A pair of manacles lay near the cell door and Bowie squatted and picked them up, never looking away from Harper. He fastened the manacles to Harper’s wrists and motioned for Harper to precede him back to the office. Sheriff Hartley closed the cell door and followed the two men back to the other room. He reached into a desk drawer and took out a sheet of paper and a pen. Dipping the pen into a bottle of ink, he held the pen out to Bowie. “Sign on the bottom line, Tyler. And, nothin’ personal, but I’d just as soon not see your smilin’ face around here for a while. You’re too much trouble.”

“I don’t have the foggiest what you’re talking about, Sheriff,” Bowie replied, smiling. “But I plan on leaving your fair city just as soon as I can get my traveling companion here mounted up. Take care, now.”

Hartley watched Bowie and his prisoner go out the door and settled back down in his chair. Tyler and Harper had only been in Barlow for two days, but in that time, Tyler had been in two fights. Admittedly, the fights had been short ones, and Tyler had only been defending himself. But he had broken two chairs with other people’s heads. His short stature and rotund appearance just seemed to bring out the worst in the patrons of the Buckhead Saloon. Though he would deny no man the right to defend himself, Sheriff Hartley would just as soon not have to worry about such goings on. Settling back into his chair and propping up his feet, the Sheriff tried to resume the siesta that Bowie had so rudely interrupted.

charlie macneil:
Chapter 3

Bowie Tyler and Bert Harper came down the main street of Barlow. Bowie was whistling as he strolled along, seemingly without a care in the world. Beside him, Harper looked madder than a stepped-on baby. His hands were shackled in front of him but his legs were unfettered as he stomped along the boardwalk, his black expression daring anyone to get in his way. “Slow down, Bertie,” Tyler laughed. “You’ll hurt yourself.”

“Never you mind about my health, Tyler,” Harper snarled. “Just get me on a horse and get me out of here. The sooner we get goin’, the sooner I get shut of you an’ that infernal whistling”.

“Oh, we’ll get you mounted,” Bowie said. “But it may not be to your liking when you’re there.”

At the livery stable Bowie pulled Bert Harper to a halt. “You wait here. I’ll go find the proprietor of this establishment. He should have your mount saddled and ready to go.” Bowie moved up to the wide-open double doors of the big barn and peered into the cavernous interior. He left Harper standing, dumbfounded, staring at Bowie’s back. He couldn’t believe that Bowie would just walk off like that.

Seeing his chance, Harper ever so slowly slid his left foot ahead. Then his right foot, all the time listening with bated breath to see if his manacles were going to make a noise and give him away. Harper had managed to cover about three feet of the straw-littered sand in that manner when he heard a clicking sound that stopped him stock-still in his tracks. He had just lifted his foot to move forward again, and he stood there uncertainly with his foot just clear of the ground. He slowly peered around, and looked directly into the muzzle of Bowie’s Starr revolver. The muzzle of the Starr looked like a black eye staring back unblinkingly into Harper’s suddenly wide-open eyes. The hammer was eared back and Bowie’s finger was on the trigger. But Bowie was still peering intently into the dark interior of the livery barn. Harper dropped his foot back to the ground.

“Hallo in there,” Bowie called. He didn't look around to see if his prisoner was still moving or not. He just took it for granted that Harper had stopped. “Anybody home?”

From inside the barn, a voice said, “Is that you, Deputy Tyler? Got your mounts right here.” A husky fellow of about thirty, one leg a wooden peg below the knee, came stumping from the barn. He was leading Tyler’s black horse and the ugliest excuse for a brown mule to ever see daylight. A McClellan saddle was cinched on the mule’s back and a rope halter and lead rope connected the mule to the horn of Tyler’s Texas rigged saddle. The mule was bony and old, its muzzle gray from nostrils to eyeballs. Its ears were flopping in time to its steps.

“That ain’t a horse, an’ that ain’t my saddle,” Harper sputtered. “An’ I ain’t gettin' on that beast for nobody.”

Bowie turned to face Harper, revolver still in his hand. “Well, Bertie, the way I see it you can do one of two things. You can either get up on that “beast” or you can walk to Laramie. It’s your choice. But think about this: if you decide to walk, you’re gonna be manacled to my horse, and he’s a fast walker, and we’re a long ways from Judge Martin’s courtroom. So what’s it gonna be?”

charlie macneil:
Chapter 4

In the cabin in the mountains the lantern had been blown out and the fire was burning low. The flare of a pocket of pitch in a stick of wood sent shadows dancing around the cabin walls. A chorus of snores came from three blanket-shrouded forms in the bunks built against the back wall of the room.

The wind outside had died down. Only the occasional gust moaned around the eaves of the cabin or swirled down the chimney to stir the embers of the dying fire. The snow still fell, but not with the stinging intensity of earlier in the day. Instead, it came down in a feathery silence, frosting the trees and filling the mountain passes. The horses stood under the lean-to shelter, content to share the warmth the close surroundings brought.

Inside the cabin, Bob and Max sat at the table, sipping coffee in silence. Bob stared, brooding, into the flickering fire. The two men had been friends and saddle partners for a lot of years, and Max knew that eventually whatever was bothering the big man across the table would come out. Over beans and biscuits earlier, he had intentionally steered the conversation away from the last few days, knowing something had gone very wrong. So Max waited, back against the wall, right leg stretched out on the bench he was sitting on.

Bob stirred. With a grimace, he swallowed the last sip of the cold coffee in his cup and lifted his eyes to Max’s. “Where’d you find that trigger-happy bastard?” he rumbled quietly.

“Bronco Jarvis,” the higher-pitched answer came back, just as quietly. “He came through here, said he knew a good man he could get word to easy. You’d already left for Sycamore Springs, so I told him to have Barnes meet you there, and gave him a note Barnes should have showed you. I know you don’t like to go into a job short-handed. So what’d he do?”

“He shot the banker’s wife…”

********
Three riders came into Sycamore Springs late in the day, each from a different direction. One by one they stepped from their saddles at three different places along the street. The biggest of the three, who was riding a long-legged bay, tied his horse loosely in front of “Cattleman’s Bank and Trust, Ronald J. Searles, Founder”. He stepped up onto the boardwalk and stretched the kinks out of his back as he nonchalantly perused the street. The only other people he saw anywhere were two small boys chasing a slat-ribbed mongrel dog at the far end of the street, and a man in a flat-brimmed hat, cloth coat, and tied-down holster sitting on a bench in front of the saddle shop next door. The man looked intently at the big man for a moment, then stood and moved toward him.

Bob Morton casually hooked a thumb over his belt near his holstered Colt, and waited. The man looked around quickly, almost furtively, and asked, his voice a nasal twang straight out of the Missouri hills, “You Bob Morton?”

Bob looked him up and down, and asked, “Who are you?”

“Name’s Abel Barnes. Max Horner sent me. Said you needed another man.”

“How do I know Max sent you?”

Barnes reached into his jacket, and Bob tensed. Barnes ever so carefully brought his hand back out, a piece of paper between his fingers. He handed the note to Bob, who recognized Max’s scrawl. “Alright. Where’s your horse?”

“Behind the bank.”

“Good. Go on in, and act casual. I’ll be right there.” Barnes nodded once, stiffly, and went into the building. For a moment longer Bob stood and let his gaze drift up the quiet, late afternoon street. The horses the other two riders had come into town on had vanished, which was just right. He mentally checked that step off of the list he kept in his head, and followed Barnes into the bank. He left the bay tied at the rail.

charlie macneil:
Chapter 5

According to Bob’s information, the bank should be holding several thousand dollars in gold, silver, and paper. The fall roundup was on, hands would have to be paid, and cattle buyers would be cashing checks. With any luck, this one last big strike would see Bob retired to a ranch far from here.

Inside the bank, the only sounds were the ticking of the Regulator clock on the wall and the scratch of pen on coarse paper as a balding man in sleeve garters and a green eyeshade tallied accounts at a tall desk behind the teller’s cage. A sign that read “Ronald Searles, President” in gold script hung loosely on a door that stood ajar near the desk.

The sound of the two men’s boots on the puncheon floor brought the clerk’s head around and a smile began to form on his face. “Can I help you, gentlemen?” he asked as he stepped down from his stool and moved to stand behind the window.

Bob drew his pistol as he stepped up to the window. “You sure can, friend. You can open up the safe for us. We need to make a withdrawal.”

The combination clerk and teller’s face paled and he swallowed loudly. “I can’t do that,” he stammered. “The safe is in Mister Searles’ office, and only he has the combination.”

“Then we’d best go see him, hadn’t we?” Bob asked mildly.

The back door to the building swung open, startling the clerk. Ben Terrell and Jake Carver stepped inside the bank with several sets of saddlebags draped over their shoulders. Jake had several canvas bags tucked in his belt as well. “All clear,” he said.

“Alright, Mister…” Bob said, looking at the clerk.

“Jacobs,” the man answered. He was sweating profusely.

“Alright, Mister Jacobs. Let’s go see Mister Searles. Time’s wastin’.” Bob indicated the door to the office, and stepped through the gate in the low wall separating the lobby of the bank from the teller’s area. Jacobs pushed open the office door and stepped inside with Bob right behind him.

A slender fellow in shirtsleeves and vest, seated at a rolltop desk, looked up sharply. “Here now, what do you want?”
“Uh, sir, this gentleman would like to make a withdrawal,” Jacobs said with some difficulty due to the dryness of his mouth.

“Then take care of it,” the seated man snapped.

“A withdrawal out of the safe, Mister Searles, if you don’t mind,” Bob said. He moved from behind the teller so that Searles could see the gun in his hand. “And this gent says you’re the only one who can open it.”

Searles swallowed loudly. The act of swallowing seemed to help him regain a small measure of his composure. “And I suppose you’ll shoot us if we don’t give you what you want?”

“No, but I am prepared to blow the safe, and this building, to Kingdom Come if need be. Your choice.”

Reluctantly the banker rose from his seat. “I suppose I’d better take the less violent alternative. Just a moment.” He knelt in front of the large iron safe, and a short time later swung the door open. The shelves were piled with bags of coins and stacks of bills. Ben and Jake moved in, rapidly and expertly filling saddlebags and canvas sacks and carrying them out to the waiting horses.

As the money was being sacked up, Morton was trussing up the banker and the teller. He gagged them and laid them side-by-side on the floor. When he had them securely bound he straightened. He could hear the tapping of footsteps crossing the lobby floor. A female voice called out, “Ronald dear, are you here?” Then a shot broke the afternoon silence, followed by a scream and the thud of a falling body.

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