For what is and what was,
this book is dedicated to my pards
Jack, Mac, and Mike.
The four of us share an ice blue secret.
See ya on down the trail, boys.
Things had been fair quiet in Deer Run over the winter. It was a mild one without a lot a snow an’ all that comes with it. Spring come along fair early, an’ brung some new folks an’ such. I reckon the town was gittin close to fifteen hunnerd souls. Several families had took to farmin’ outside a town a ways, an’ we had come up with a new variety store just a little piece down from the gun shop run by Arliss Hyatt. I had got a little more money outa the town an’ was able to give my deputies, Hank Buford an’ Emory Nail, a bigger bit a jingle in the pockets. Verlon was doin’ fine down at the livery an’ forge, an’ had got to where his rental business was comin’ along right good. He even had to keep a few a more horses on hand.
Me an’ my wife, Miss Harmony, was gittin’ along right smart, an’ our boy was growin’ like Butterprint in a bean field. Little Bill was on to bein’ three an’ a half year old. It didn’t hardly seem possible to me that it had been that long since he was born, but it was. He was gittin’ big enough that he could set up on Arliss the mule an’ wander around the yard an’ forge by guidin’ Arliss with his knees an’ pats on that little mule’s neck. A course, I never let him do that all by hisself. Arliss the mule was like a dog to me, so when I put Bill on him I’d stay outside an’ watch, knowin’ that mule wodden never git very far away.
Marion Daniels had a easy winter too, spendin’ some a December up with Homer Poteet and his wife, Miz Suzy. He drifted down our way in January an’ stayed on with us for two weeks or better. He tolt us that Homer had got a new brace for his leg, the leg that Cleveland Pettigrew had shot up that time, an’ was gittin’ around about as good as if it had never happened in the first place, lessin’ he had to run right smart. Royce Taylor, his wife, an’ little Mandy was all well and gittin’ on right fine, too. Even old Jake Coulter was still kickin’ like he hadden aged a day. It was a fine thing to have Marion come squat at our place for a spell an’ bring such news.
I et dinner with Harmony an’ Bill, an’ tolt Harmony I’d pick up some corn meal she needed an’ fetch it home that night after my shift in town. Then I put on my gunbelt with just the Remington I carried in a short drop on the right side, an’ walked down the slope to the livery to ketch up Willie. It warn’t never much trouble to git Willie. I’d take half a biscuit or somethin’ with me, an’ he’d come right up, knowin’ he was gonna git some kinda treat an’ all. I had took to takin’ Willie to work with me on the chance that I might need to git to a horse fair quick for some reason, without havin’ to hike on back a half mile or so home to collect him from down by the forge. I had put up a little pen out back a the office for him, or for a horse belongin’ to Hank or Emory. It warn’t terrible big or nothin’. Not more’n thirty feet square. But it had a big ol’ maple tree an’ it was some easier on a horse to hang around there with a loose cinch an’ no bit in his mouth than to be tied to a rail for several hours.
I rubbed Willie down a mite, picked his feet, then throwed my ol’ Taylor saddle on him an’ put on his headstall. I had got him a new bit over the winter, another short-shank snaffle, but some thinner an’ lighter than what he was used to. I was careful with him. Willie was the best horse I had ever had, or even knowed, I guess. By his teeth, he was ten or so, an’ I didn’t want him to never git hard in his mouth. I got a leg over his back an’ touched him to a short lope. He wanted to run a little bit ‘cause he was good at it, but I kept him checked in, promisin’ him that him an’ me would take out for a hour or two the next day.
When we got to the office, I turned Willie out inta that little pen, loosed his cinch a mite, an’ hung his bridle an’ reins on a post by the trough. They was plenty a water for him an’ near always a good patch a shade. I fetched some hay from the shed an’ tossed it in, but he ignored it. It’d be there when he got hungry. When I got out to the boardwalk, I seen that Hank Buford was settin’ on a chair out front a the office, pickin’ his teeth with a splinter a wood. I set with him an’ looked at the street. It was a fine June day, warm but not hot, an’ because they had been a little rain the day afore, purty much free a dust. Hank sucked on his teeth for a minute afore he spoke up.
“Telegraph come for ya, boss,” he said. “From the Marshal’s service. Marion Daniels’ll be here in a few days. Might be some need for ya. Didn’t give no details.”
“Well I reckon you ain’t much of a wealth a information then, are ya?” I said.
“I reckon I am the best you got available to ya at this time,” Hank said, pointin’ his finger at nothin’ in particular an’ stickin’ out his chin. “Yer awful damn grouchy. You got a case a the epizootic?”
“Not yet,” I tolt him.
“How’s that boy?” he asked me.
“Had him out on Arliss the mule this mornin’,” I said. “He come up from the forge on a dead run, hangin’ off the side a that mule like a durn Comanche, whoopin’ an’ carryin’ on. It scairt me a little is what it done.”
“I believe little Bill is spendin’ too much time with his mother,” Hank said. “I speck that Harmony has wore down all her goodness tryin’ to uplift you to a reasonable state. I think she has turned off bad an’ bitter from failin’ with you like she’s done, an’ is takin’ her mood out on the sprout.”
“That’s what you think, is it?” I said.
Hank couldn’t keep aholt a his grin no more an’ laughed. I jumped in an’ we set there, enjoyin’ each other. Like I said, it was a fine June day.
It was gittin’ on into the afternoon a little bit when this hayshaker name a Digby Worth come by to pick up his Colt. He’d got a little free with it the night afore an’ Emory Nail had collected it from him an’ run him outa town. He was some sheepish about havin’ his Colt took away an’ asked me to apologize to Emory for his conduct an’ to thank him for not throwin’ him in jail or nothin’. He also tolt me that he had been provoked.
“Who provoked ya?” I asked him.
“Carl Winston,” he said.
“Doan know him,” I said.
“Hog farmer,” he tolt me. “Him an’ his brothers has got a place out east a here about fifteen miles. Come thisaway around a year an’ a half ago. Got half a section a scrub. Run sows an’ boars loose with some ol’ lean-to hog houses for the sows to git cover when time comes to farrow. They’s a creek runs through the place that’s plumb full a suckers. They net a mess of ‘em out now an’ then an’ throw ‘em to the hogs. They doan sell nothin’ ‘round here. Ship ‘em off so nobody’ll know where the fishy tastin’ pork comes from. I worked for ‘em a spell, sloppin’ hogs an’ such. They doan feed ‘em too much. Let ‘em root around for acorns an’ the like. I was there for near two months, I guess. When I asked for my wages, they run me off. Threatened ta shoot me. I’d been drinkin’ last night an’ come on Carl an’ his brother Ellis outside the Houston House. They tell me I was wavin’ my gun around some an’ yellin’ at ‘em quite a bit. That’s when yer deputy come across me. Them boys seen him an’ took out.”
“Don’t know a thing about them Winston folks,” I said.
“I was surprised ta see ‘em myself,” he said. “I never knowed they ever come over this away. They usually go on over to Easly or someplace. Lookin’ for a bigger attraction than usual, I reckon. They’s three a them brothers. The third one is called Emmit, but he ain’t right.”
“What do ya mean when ya say he ain’t right?” I asked him.
“Most of the time, he thinks he’s a hog or somethin’. Goes around hunched over an’ snortin’ an’ gruntin’ like a durn pig. Sometimes he spent the whole day out in the pasture with them hogs, down on all fours an’ fussin’ with ‘em an’ such.”
“The hell ya say!”
“Yessir, Marshal,” he went on. “He gits upset about somethin’ he’ll commence to squealin’ real loud an’ runnin’ in circles, smashin’ inta things. Once in a while he’s crows like a rooster, but most a the time he’s purty much just a pig.”
“I never heard the like,” I tolt him.
“Scairt the hell outa me the first time I come across him. Got to squealin’ an’ tried to bite me. He runs loose out at the farm, but he doan go nowheres with Carl an’ Ellis. They leave the place an’ Carl locks him up in a ol’ root cellar so he cain’t run off or nothin’. I’m kinda glad to git shed a them fellers.”
“What are you fixin’ ta do now?” I asked.
“I got some kin out west near Enid, in the Oklahoma Territory,” he said. “Thought I’d try to find me a little work to git a short stake, then strike out that away.”
“Can ya drive a nail an’ sling a saw?”
“Yessir, I can,” he said.
“Go over to the livery an’ forge off the west edge a town. Fella there name a Verlon Clarke is wantin’ to put in a new holdin’ corral. He’s my daddy-in-law. Tell him I sent ya over. He might have some use for ya. Three or four days work an’ you got a stake to git to Enid.”
“Well, thank ya, Marshal,” he said. “That’s right nice of ya. I got enough for a haircut an’ a shave. I’ll git after that an’ then go out to the livery. I look like too much of a durn tramp the way I am to ask nobody for some work.”
He went off toward the barbershop then. I set back down an’ leaned agin the wall.
“That yer good deed for the day?” Hank asked me.
“Yep,” I said. “Glad to git shed of it. For a while I thought I was gonna have to waste it on you.”
He grinned at me. “Yer a hard man, boss.”
“Go on home, Hank,” I tolt him. “Things are quiet. Emory’ll show up afore dark. Tired a talkin’ to ya.”
Hank stood up then, slapped me on the knee, an’ walked off. I kept my seat where I was for a spell, then come the gunshots. Two of ‘em. I set off runnin’ down toward the barbershop.
I don’t reckon it took me mor’n half a minute ta git on down the way. Just past the barbershop, they was a body layin’ on the boardwalk. I run over to it an’ knelt down. It was that Digby Worth fella that had just been to the office with Hank an’ me. He had a big cut across his forehead an’ another one on the bridge a his nose. He was showin’ blood through the left side a his shirt near his gunbelt, an’ bleedin’ fair smart from a wound on the left side a his neck below his collar a little ways. His eyes was flutterin’ some an’ he was twitchin’ quite a bit. His Colt was still in the holster. I leaned over him an’ spoke up.
“Mister Worth,” I said, “Can ya talk to me?”
He tried to, he shorely did, but all that come outa him was kindly a gurgle. I rolled him to his side some an’ he coughed up quite a bit a blood an’ settled a mite.
“Who done this to ya?” I asked him.
“Carl Winston,” he said, his voice more clear after gittin’ shed a some that blood.
“The hog farmer?” I asked.
He nodded like, then commenced to gurgle agin. I rolled him an’ he coughed up more blood.
“Am I dyin’?” he asked me.
“Yer fair hurt, Mister Worth,” I said. “I speck ya are.”
“Alright then,” he said, an’ set to gurglin’ some more.
I tipped him over agin. When I laid him back, I could easy see he was on his way out. He looked up at me.
“I’ll git that hog farmer,” I tolt him.
“I’ll take my rest,” he said. “I’m some tired.”
He commenced to gaggin’ agin. I rolled him, but it warn’t no use. He coughed up a mess a dark blood an’ I felt him go on. I eased Mister Digby Worth to his back, an’ the barber, Lionel Davis, showed up with a sheet an’ laid it over him.
“I seen it, Ruben,” he said. “I seen the whole damn thing. Oh, Lord. It happened right in front a me is what it done. It warn’t one bit this here boy’s fault.”
It was then that Hank Buford come runnin’ up, huffin’ purty heavy.
“Who’s kilt?” he asked me.
“That Digby Worth fella we was just talkin’ to a little bit ago,” I said.
Lionel jumped back in. “I seen them two fellers across the road,” he said. “This fella here come in for a haircut and shave. I put him in the chair an’ them two come in from the other side of the street. The big one grabbed this dead feller outa the chair an’ hit on him a couple times with the butt a his revolver an’ then drug him outside. Hell, Ruben, this poor feller couldn’t hardly stand up. I doan even believe he really knowed where he was. The big one turned his revolver around and shot that young feller once from less than five feet, an’ shot him agin’ when he fell to his back. Then him and the other one took to horse at the rail across the street an’ went out headin’ east at a hard run. This boy fell where ya found him. He didn’t stand no chance at all. Not one. It was just murder is what it was. Nothin’ but murder. Godawmighty.”
“What’s that fella that run off look like,” I asked.
“He’s a hand taller than you,” Lionel tolt me. “Maybe fifty or sixty pounds heavier. Got a full black beard an’ ain’t no spring chicken neither. Wearing a narrow brim black hat, a dark blanket coat, an’ brogan shoes. The one with him looked near like him except for the hat and was a little smaller. Both of ‘em on bay horses. Kilt this boy on the boardwalk here without no reason I could see.”
“Had ya ever seen them fellas afore?” I asked him.
“Never had,” Lionel said, “but when they come in my place, I smelt pig shit.”
“Whatcha want me ta do, boss?” Hank asked me.
“You go git the undertaker an’ his wagon while Lionel keeps a eye on the body so doan nobody git nothin’ from it. When ya git back, git all his possibles an’ truck gathered up an’ put everthin’ in the office. He was horseback. Find his mount an’ tack and take it down to Verlon at the livery. Then go to the telegraph office an’ contact the law around Enid in the Oklahoma Territory about any folks out that way by the name of Worth an’ tell ‘em why. His possibles an’ such need to go somewhere.”
Hank nodded. “How ‘bout you?” he said. “What are you gonna do?”
“Thought I’d collect Willie an’ go lookin’ for a hog farmer,” I said. “When you git all that other stuff took care of, head east. I speck we’ll run across each other.”
“You goin’ by yerself?”
“Thought I would,” I said.
“I doan feel good about that,” Hank said. “This feller has proved hisself to be a cold killer. I’m afeared for ya.”
“Thank ya, Hank,” I tolt him. “You head out that way when ya git everthin’ took care of. I’ll be careful.”
“Yer the boss,” Hank said, “but that doan make bullets bounce off of ya. Take it easy, Rube. I’m used to havin’ ya around.”
I grinned at him an’ slapped him on the arm. Hank headed on his way. I went down to the office an’ collected my rifle, strapped on my second Remington in a crossdraw, put a headstall on Willie, tightened the cinch, an’ led him out of the pen. I guess Willie sensed I was some disturbed ‘cause the minute I throwed my leg over him, he was ready to run. We went a block down Mainstreet with that little buck turned sideways protestin’ that I wodden give him his head. When we got past the barbershop I slacked the reins an’ he durn near jumped right out from under me. I kept my seat an’ we was off, headin’ east near as hard as Willie could go.
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