GENERAL TOPICS > Saddlebag Tales

'Rip' Campbell's first appearance -


Well, my latest book features Rip in his element-  a wild boom town.  He first appeared in a story in a small magazine that probably only a few dozen people read.  Although the character's mine, I'm only allowed to publish pieces of stories about him without my publisher's permission -- 

So, here he is, wandering the dangerous streets of Philistine, New Mexico.  He's had a few drinks and has just found out that the whole town is out looking for him for a robbery he didn't commit. 

  I tossed three dollars in coin onto the bar and waved the shotgun at the bartender.  "I'll drop this off at the edge of town for ya to pick up after I'm gone,"  I told him.  "Just to be sure ya don't go gettin’ obstreperous again.
   "Good luck in catchin’ yer bandit,"  I added with a wave.   
   I stepped out into the dusty street and headed for the livery.  It wasn't a long walk but it was made a little more excitin’ than usual by the two or three fellows who seemed to have not had horses or guns to join the posse in chasin’ after whoever had really robbed General Hawks' mine office. 
   One jasper tried to part my hair with a pick handle as I rounded a corner.  I took it away and up-ended him in a rain barrel.  I know he didn't drown there because the flailin’ of his legs finally tipped it over.  When last I saw, he was rollin’ around tryin’ to extricate himself. 
   Another enthusiastic young waddie tossed a loop over me and tried to drag me with his horse.  He was a might slow takin’ a dally about the saddle horn though.  Truth be told, I think he'd been drinkin’.  Anyway, I gave the rope a heave and yanked him out of the saddle. 
   I left him bawlin’ like a calf, swingin’ upside down from a stable beam, with his own rope around his ankles. 
   Another fellow who came after me with a butcher knife, I just downed with a shotgun butt on the jaw and left under the boardwalk with a mongrel dog snufflin’ like he'd found a new tree.   
   I gave a quarter to the little Mexican boy who'd been lookin’ after my horse.  His sombrero was bigger than he was, but he seemed like a hard worker.  He went to fetch Gus for me.  "Watch out for his teeth,"  I warned.  "He's a mean one." 
   While he was saddlin’ him up, who should I see ridin’ into town but Breck Stratton and his outfit.  You could have knocked me over with a feather! 
   I walked directly out into the street to meet them. 
   "Why, Breck, I thought yer crew was all down and nigh dead with the vapors!  What's everyone doin’ ahorse after such a ordeal?" 
     "I came by to see what was taking you so long."  Breck was a big mean cuss and most folks around left him alone.  He was a little inclined to play fast and loose with the law from time to time, but I never held that against him.  His 'Lazy 8' ranch was below mine, down on the Snake River and he was a pretty good neighbor in a land with not many folks except the miners who bought our beef. 
    "I just stopped to use the necessary and have a couple of drinks,"  I told him. 
   "You've been gone for hours!"  he snapped. 
   "Well," I admitted.  "I'm afraid I was a little pre-occupied.  Ya see, they got the new Montgomery Wards catalogue in the outhouse for papers.  I haven't seen one in nigh on two years, an’ I expect I sort of lost track of time." 
   "All the time I was waiting, you were sitting on the john reading the Monkey Wards catalogue?"  I don't know as I've ever seen Breck as angry as he was right then. 
    "Sorry, Breck, but it don't look like I made too big a hash of things.  Yer men look pert and sassy enough.  I'm glad to see they're recovered." 
    "Did you get--"  he hissed through gritted teeth,  "my package?" 
    "Sure, pard, it's in my saddle bags."  I motioned over my shoulder with a thumb. 
   "All right boys,"  Breck settled back in his saddle and waved an arm like a cavalry commander.  "Kill this patsy!" 
   Me, I thought he was kiddin’.  It just didn't make any sense.  But then I saw a half a dozen hands reachin’ for firearms and I just naturally reacted to the action.    
        I whipped up the scattergun I'd been haulin’ with me, swept my left hand across the hammers to cock them, and let blast.  I don't know what the bartender had loaded into that 12 gauge but it wasn't buckshot.  It was somethin’ light--birdshot, rocksalt, or carpet tacks--that sent men and horses to dancin’ like crazy!  My left hand had yanked a Colt dragoon before the second shotgun blast sounded and I put a .44 into Slim Stark who fancied himself a gunhand but wasn't quite fast enough to pull it off. 
   With the whole crowd buckin’, yellin’, and blastin’ like a thunderstorm, I dropped that shotgun and whipped up my right-hand Colt.  My left-hand gun fired again in-between their rearin’ horses to ventilate Jack-knife Brady as he took a bead on me with his Winchester.  That spoiled his aim for him.  Then the street was one great roarin’ of yellow flames and sulfur-stinkin’ powder smoke as I just let those hammers slip, one after another until I couldn't see anyone left to shoot.
   My ears ringin’, I watched a couple of horses gallop off, leavin’ their rider's in the dust of the street.  I waved my empty guns back and forth, instinctively coverin’ any twitchin’ movement of my fallen assailants.   
     "Fool Hillbilly--"  Breck wheezed.  Sometime in the fracas I'd ventilated him, but he was still mounted.  He'd been at the back of the murderous pack, obscured by clouds of white smoke.  His shoulders were hunched and he was bleedin’ from his mouth, but he was still game.  "You spoiled it all!" 
    He walked his horse through the driftin’ smoke as cool as well water.  He'd heard the lonesome sound of my hammers clickin’ on empty chambers and his loaded pistol dangled in his hand. 
   "The plan was perfect--except for your stupidity--"  he accused. 
   I clenched my pistols in my fists, wonderin’ how I could get my hands on him without takin’ a bullet through my guts.
   He walked that horse right up to me, shock makin’ him dizzy and uncertain of his shootin’.
   "You may have ruined it,"  he coughed when he talked and I knew he was goin’ to die eventually,  "but I'll make sure you don't live to enjoy it--" 



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