And state of the author…
Welp, found out something interesting. To publish a ‘collection’ of my stories, there has to be at least some new material. I’m looking at doing a paperback of my short stories and novellas based on reader’s input over the last month or so, since apparently my readers are a bunch of dinosaurs that LIKE real books in their hands, so…
Comments and recommendations appreciated, as always…
On the Trail
He settled up with Mrs. Lincoln, took the proffered paper bag with some biscuits and a slice of ham, and stuffed it in the poke he carried over the saddle horn. Red humped his back as Rio mounted and Rio settled himself a little more deeply in the saddle. “Don’t even think about it Red. I’m not in the mood this morning!”
Red’s ears flipped back and forth, he shook his head, and he felt Red mouthing the bit as he rode out of the stable yard. “Good boy, Red.” He reached down and patted his neck, then turned Red north. A half hour later, he came to the landmark where the cowboy had said he’d seen the cattle, and rode around until he found the old tracks of cattle trailing off to the southwest. He followed them for about a mile, and they branched off toward Georgetown, Oh boy. This is…not going to be good. Georgetown is a mining town, and if they’re up there, they are likely already gone. He got down, dug his old Frontier 6 and holster out of his saddlebags, slipped the holster on his belt in a cross draw position, then loaded the pistol and shoved it in the holster. He thought for a second, then pulled the 73 Winchester out of the scabbard and topped it off, then slipped it back in the scabbard.
Mounting up, he gigged Red to a trot, then a canter, following the tracks up the side of Clear Creek, as he climbed higher into the mountains. He stopped as the sun topped out overhead, put a hackamore on Red, and let him drink from the creek before hobbling him on some grass the cattle had missed. Taking the biscuits and ham out of the poke, he sat on a log and munched on them as he watched wagons trundling up the road, Lot busier than I thought. Am I missing something here?
He put the bridle back on Red, tightened the girth and took the hobbles off. He shivered as the wind changed, blowing down the canyon, and pulled the slicker off the back of the saddle, unrolled it, and took out the sheepskin jacket. Rerolling everything, he tied it back behind the saddle and slipped into the jacket, then mounted and trotted Red up the road. Four hours later, Red was blowing a little bit, and he slowed as the canyon turned and flattened out. “You want a break, Red?” He guided Red off the road, got down and took a piss in the brush on the side of the road, before grabbing a piece of pemmican out of the poke on the saddle. Idly chewing on it, he led Red over to the creek bank, and found an approach that allowed him to lead him down to the water. Scooping up a mouthful of water, he rinsed his mouth, then spit it out, Gah, taste like…metal? Copper? Something?
Even Red didn’t seem to like it all that well, and they were soon back on the road. As he came to a Y in the canyon, he saw the tracks swinging up the left canyon, and followed them. As he rounded the bend in the canyon, he saw a bench on the left side, with a rundown cabin, and what looked like pole fencing. He trotted Red up to the poles, and saw longhorns grazing inside the fence. One was close enough to read the brand, and it was Rafter H. As he rode along the fence, a bowlegged old man stepped out of the cabin. “Hey, what are you doing?”
Rio saw that he carried a rifle in one hand, but he didn’t see a six shooter, so he waved and rode over. “Strange to see longhorns this far up in the mountains. Interesting brand too.”
The old cowboy grumbled, “Got a problem, go talk to Olshansky at the Three Queens. He bought ‘em, and pays me to keep ‘em penned up down here.”
Rio hooked a leg on the saddle horn, “Olshansky? Three Queens?”
“Big Polack, he won the saloon in a card game, with three queens. He bought the cows off’n a couple of cowboys a week or so ago. They said they’d been told to drive them to the mine in Empire, but they didn’t want them.”
“Huh, I thought most Polacks were miners, not saloon owners.”
The cowboy hawked and spit. “Olshansky was a miner. Had, maybe still has, a claim up the canyon.”
“Three Queens, huh?”
“Yeah, right on Sixth Street. Two blocks from the hotel.”
“Hotel? Or a trumped up boarding house?”
The cowboy spit again. “Naw, it’s a real hotel, used to be Delmonico’s bakery. Some Frenchy, Dupuis or some’tin like that bought it and now it’s the Hotel de Paree.”
Rio stretched and found the stirrup again. “Thanks. I think I’ll ride up that way and see what there is to see.”
“Ain’t no jobs for cowboys, and I like my job.” The old cowboy motioned with the rifle as he said that.
“Got a job, ain’t looking for one.” He reined Red around and trotted back toward the road, whistling as Red flipped his ears and humped his back. “Fine, no more whistling. Stubborn damn horse.”
The old cowboy got a look at Red’s brand. He hawked and spat, then turned back toward the cabin as quickly as he could, mumbling to himself. An hour later, Rio rode into Georgetown and stopped dead, This ain’t a bunch of shacks. This…it’s a real town. Dunno why I thought…oh well, time to find out what’s going on. He rode through town, marveling at the Victorian houses, the brick buildings going up, and the prosperous citizens he saw on the boardwalks. The sun was close to hitting the top of the mountains to the west, and he decided to try the hotel the old cowboy told him about.
Tying Red at the hitching rail, he stepped up on the boardwalk and walked through the door into a world of good smells coming from the restaurant. His stomach growled at him, reminding him lunch was a long time ago. The older man behind the counter looked up as he said, “Afternoon, any chance of a room?”
“Oui, Monsieur. How many nights?”
“Um, one, maybe two.”
He flipped the register around saying, “Two dollars a night. Please sign in.”
“Two dollars?” Rio asked, outraged.
“Two dollars. Each room is a private room. Fresh linens. And indoor bathing.”
Rio reached in his vest pocket and pulled out two dollars, dropping them on the counter as he signed the book. The man took a key off the board, “Room six, upstairs to the right. Door is numbered. Dinner will be served at six o’clock.”
Rio nodded. “Livery stable?”
“Two blocks over, east side of town. Fifty cents if you want anything other than hay.”
Rio grimaced, but took the key and went back out to Red, taking his blanket roll, saddlebags, poke, and rifle out of the scabbard before going to the room. Once there, he shoved the things under the bed, sniffed, and was surprised to find the bed really did smell clean, Maybe it is worth two dollars, but that’s still a lot of money just to sleep inside. He started to take the second pistol off, but changed his mind and left it on his belt, he did dig the saddlebags out and dropped some spare rounds into his coat pocket.
Going back downstairs, he unhitched Red, and rode down 6th Street past the Three Queens, Looks prosperous. Guess I’ll go find the stable, then decide whether to walk or ride. As it turned out, the stables were in the opposite direction, and he decided to leave Red at the stables. He rubbed him down, paid the extra for the feed, and piled his tack in the back corner of the stall, trusting Red to guard it overnight. He walked by the hotel on the way to the saloon, and his stomach growled again, Ah shut up. You’ll get fed. It ain’t like you’re starving. He walked through the doors of the saloon, and immediately stepped to the side. It was fairly quiet, with a couple of tables of miners off to one side, and what looked like a couple of cowboys sitting as far away from the miners as they could get. He chuckled to himself, and started toward the bar, noting that the sawdust was fresh, and it didn’t smell like stale beer. When he got there, he didn’t see anybody, and said, “I wonder—”
A huge, bearded man got up from behind the bar and asked in heavily accented English, “You vonder vhat cowboy?”
Rio laughed. “If I can get a beer, and if you are Olshansky.”
The big man pulled a beer and set it in front of Rio. “That will be a dime. I am Olshansky, vhy you vant to know?” Leaning on his scarred forearms on the bar, he stared at Rio intently.
Rio dropped a dime on the bar, took a swig of the beer, nodded, and said, “Good beer. I hear you bought some cows from a couple of cowboys.”
“Ve did. Me and Dupuy, at ze hotel.”
“Did these cowboys have any papers for the cows?”
“Vhy you vant to know?” Olshansky flexed his shoulders, and it was all Rio could do not to back up.
Instead, he took another swig of beer. “Well, those cows are stolen. They are Rafter H cows, and they were rustled three weeks ago.”
Olshansky’s face flushed red, and he started reaching for Rio, cursing under his breath. Rio backed up, and Olshansky finally said, “You lie! I paid for cows!”
Rio held up both hands as Olshansky started to reach under the bar. “I don’t doubt you paid for them, I’d appreciate it if your hands stayed where I can see them. But the problem is, you didn’t pay the owner for them. Just curious, how much did you pay?”
“Ve paid, tventy-five dollars a cow. Fifty-three cows.”
A voice behind Rio startled him. “Rio either make up with him or shoot him. My supper is getting cold over here.”
Rio swiftly stepped to the side, putting the bar and Olshansky both in his line of sight. He chuckled as he saw a middle aged cowboy with prematurely white hair. “You’re a long way from home, Jack.”
“So are you. They Rafter H?” Rio nodded, and Texas Jack Hart laughed. “Polack, you got taken. Those cows belong to him, well to his daddy. And you really don’t want either one of them mad at you.”
Olshansky look between the two. “Vhy?”
Hart chuckled. “Because either one of them will shoot your ass dead. Oh, let me introduce you to the Laredo Kid. You might have heard of him.”
There was a scramble as the other cowboys got out of the way, and the miners suddenly got very quiet. Rio shook his head sadly. “Dammit Jack, you’re costing me friends again.”
Olshansky asked, “Vhat ve do to make right?”
Rio focused on him. “Give me the sumbitches that sold them to you, and I’ll call it even.”
Olshansky started to answer, but two men stepped through the door, and Rio and Jack both turned quickly. An older, walrus mustached man with a star on his vest asked, “What is going on here?” Rio saw the hotel clerk behind the man and wondered if this was the owner, Dupuy.
“Well, Marshal, at least this man,” pointing to Olshansky, “and possibly that man,” pointing at the man behind the marshal, “If his name is Dupuy, bought stolen cattle.”
“You got proof of that?”
Jack laughed as Rio sighed. “Reaching in my jacket for papers.” He reached slowly into his jacket and pulled out the packet of letters. He laid them on the bar and stepped back. “Those papers are from the bank in Fort Collins that allow me to rep for the brand. And Jack there, knows me and my dad from Texas. Sixty head were stolen from us about three weeks ago, and fifty-three head with Rafter H brands were sold to Olshansky and apparently a partner named Dupuy, here for twenty-five a head. Now the going rate is forty to sixty a head, as I’m sure they know.”
Jack said, “Dammit, now my supper is cold.” But he remained standing, the thong off his pistol, and his hand not far from the holster.
The marshal stepped up to the bar, opened the letters, read them, and looked sharply at Rio. Rafter H and H Bar?”
“H Bar is our ranch brand. Rafter H is our road brand. There are fifty some odd steers down on a bench about a mile from here with Rafter H brands, and the old cowboy down there says they were bought by Olshansky here.”
The marshal shook his head. “Oleg, he’s the authorized rep for the brand. Who did you and Rene buy the steers from?”
“Two cowboys, Buck and…”
Dupuy interrupted, “Jack, the other was named Jack, and I heard him call the other one Stiles. They took two rooms at my hotel.”
Jack glanced up at that. “Rio, that’s gotta be Stiles and Harvey. Couple of gunslicks, and I guess, now rustlers.”
Rio cocked his head. “I’ve heard those names, but…they don’t ring a bell.”
Jack laughed. “They’re smart enough to stay out of Texas.”
He looked at Dupuy. “Are they still at the hotel?”
Dupuy shook his head. “No, they have been gone…three, maybe four days now. I heard them say something about Brown something north of here.”
The marshal sighed. “They must be heading for Brown’s Hole. That’s up in Utah or Wyoming territories. Bunch of thieves hang out up there. Bunch of shacks apparently.”
“Why haven’t they been cleaned out?”
The marshal shrugged. “Too many places to ambush a posse, and too many ways out of there. Easier to hope they kill each other off, or wait for them to come out.”
Dupuy said, “I will give you back your money, and your food is on me.”
Rio nodded. “Thank you. C’mon Jack, I’ll treat you, since I made you miss supper.”
Olshansky looked at them in confusion. “You not make us pay?”
“You paid. Just the wrong people. That isn’t your fault. I think you two are honest, and you did tell me who they are. Just don’t buy any of our cows again, unless you buy from us directly.” He picked up the letters, bundled them back up, and stuck them back in his jacket, then faced the sheriff. “You satisfied?”
He nodded. “Yes, and I appreciate the fact that you didn’t shoot anybody. I really didn’t want a gunfight before supper tonight.”
Rio laughed. “Honestly, neither did I.” He started for the door. “Supper’s on me, Jack. C’mon if you’re coming.” Jack grabbed his hat off the chair and followed Rio out into the night.
An hour later, Rio sat back and groaned. “Ate too much.”
Jack nodded, looked around at the empty restaurant, then said quietly, “What are you really doing up here?”
“Running cows up by Fort Collins. Horsetooth Canyon. You think they went to the Hole? Is that where you’re heading?”
Jack grimaced. “Yeah, got a little too hot for me in Texas. Got into it with the Johnson brothers over at Johnson City. I don’t take kindly to men trying to force themselves on women, much less young girls.”
“How many did you kill?”
“Them two brothers the first night. Well, one for sure, got a lot of lead in the other one. He might’a died later that night. Anyway, their family came after me. I killed three more of them, then lit out. I’m tired of killing idjits. Figured I’d hole up over the winter and see what things look like next spring.”
Rio made a snap decision. “I think I’ll ride along with you. Maybe I can recover at least some of the money, and take care of those two. That way I don’t have to deal with them next spring.”
“I’m leaving tomorrow.”
Rio nodded. “Meet me here in the morning, and I’ll buy breakfast.”
Oh yeah, and I hope to have TGM- Sunset out by Christmas, with the collection to follow after the first of the year.
And thank you to those who’ve bought the anthology, To Slip the Surly Bonds that I’m in. I truly appreciate it!