Usual caveats apply…
Comments/recommendations appreciated, as always!
Edit- Based on Ray’s comment, slight rework here…
The sun cleared the hills in the east as Jud and two gunnies, Wade and Peck crouched at the top of the rise south of the Nevell ranch house. They could dimly see movement in the house, lit by the lamplight. Jud said, “Now remember, there should only be two people there, the old man and his daughter. We’ll shoot the old man from here.” He laughed. “Then we’ll go down there and have some fun with that little bitch before we burn ‘em out. Got it?”
Wade spit to the side. “Yeah, Jud, I hear ya.” Peck nodded as he stepped back, leading the horses down off the rise. Jud lay down and sighted on the window, chuckling as he waited. A red shirt appeared in the window and Jud fired first, then Wade shot a second later.
Alice was thrown across the table by the force of the bullet. Hank, Rio and Monte dived away from the table in fear as a second round ricocheted off the stovepipe. Hank moaned, “No, no, noooo…” as he crawled to his daughter. Monte eased up to the window as Rio scrambled back to the bedroom, returning with his carbine, ducking low to keep from being seen through the window.
“Did you see where the shots came from?”
Monte replied, “I think it was up on that rise by the trail.” He ducked back and turned to Hank. “Hank, is she alive?”
He’d pulled Alice to the wall, frantically checking her for the entry wound. “I think so, she’s hit high up.” Getting her shirt open, he found the entry hole under her collarbone. “Oh God, why her and not me?”
Rio said, “Calm down Hank, you gotta take care of her. We’ll do—”
Monte cursed, “Lookit these bastards, ridin’ up like they own the place. He eased over to the door, followed by Rio. “Let’s get ‘em close—”
Hank grabbed the rifle by the stove and aimed through window, screaming, “Die, you bastards!” He started firing and Rio and Monte scrambled for the door, Monte threw it open and they started shooting as they stepped out on the porch.
Peck grunted and fell from his horse as Jud and Wade turned and raced away, abandoning Peck to his fate.
Hank and Monte moved Alice to the bedroom as Rio kept watch out the door. Propping her head on a pillow, Monte rolled her up on her side as she moaned, and he saw the exit wound. “It’s all the way through. Don’t look like it mushroomed, so maybe didn’t hit anythin’ major.” He picked up the sheet Hank had ripped and made two pads, wrapped the rest of the sheet around her shoulder and added, “Hank, she’s got to have a doctor, I can’t do much to help her, other than get some liquid in her.”
Hank got up. “I’ll go, Rio’s in no shape for that ride and you’re all that’s keeping Alice alive, Monte.” He hurried out of the bedroom heading for the door as he mumbled, “I still can’t figure out why they shot her.”
Rio said somberly, “I think they were aiming for you Hank. She’s wearing shirt and pants, and they probably didn’t even know we were here. I don’t see them, but my vision is…still not right. You keep watch and I’ll saddle your horse Hank.”
Monte came out to the main room. “Which way you goin Hank? You’re liable to get caught up with them Kidds if you cross the river at the usual place.”
Hank said grimly, “I’ll go through the bastards if I have to Monte. I’ll be back as soon as I can with the doc.”
Rio led a saddled horse out of the barn, then whistled. Hank came out and swung up on the horse as Rio held the bridle in one hand and a rifle in the other.
Looking down, Hank said, “Keep ‘em off of Monte, please. I’ll be back as soon as I can with the doc.”
“Don’t worry Hank, we’ll be here when you get back. You just worry about getting the Doc. He slapped the horse on the rump and Hank galloped out of the ranch yard.
Pronto, John and others rode into Fort Collins just after nine in the morning, having caught the first train out of Denver. Arthur grumped, “I need to eat sumthin’. At least in camp, Pronto had breakfast cooked afore we went out.” They rode down the street and reined up in front of the saloon. “Wonder if they got grub here?”
Pronto dismounted. “One way to find out.” The others got down, tied their horses to the hitching rail with Pronto’s mule, and walked into the saloon. There were two groups of people in the bar, one group of older men were in a desultory game of cards, and other group were three cowboys sitting facing the door with a bottle on the table. The bartender was polishing glasses at the end of the bar when Pronto and the others walked in.
The bartender walked to their end of bar. “Help you gents?”
Flynn tipped hat back. “Y’all serving any food here?”
“Lemme check in the back. Might be.” He stepped through a door into the back of the saloon, coming back moments later. “Sorry, cook ain’t showed up. Best bet is the café down the street. But I got beer. Can’t guarantee how cold it is, but it is beer.”
Pronto glanced around and said quietly, “A little information if you don’t mind?”
“If I can.”
“Lookin’ for a place called the Bar N, it around here close?
The bartender said quietly, “Bout five-six miles northwest of here, north side of the river, but it’s a hard ride and you gotta cross the river.”
The saloon door slammed open and Hank rushed in, rifle held by fore stock. He looked around, then headed for the table where the card game was.
The bartender added, “Matter fact, that’s Hank Nevell there, he’s the owner.”
Hank put his hand on doc’s shoulder. “I need you to come to the ranch, somebody shot Alice this morning and she’s hurt bad!”
Doc Ferrell looked up in surprise. “What? Somebody shot Alice? Where?” He started up as he added, “Let me get my bag.”
One of the cowboys started laughing, and everybody turned to look as he said loudly, “Guess she got what she deserved.”
Hank spun around at the comment and the cowboy jumped up, drew his gun and shot Hank twice in the chest, stunning everybody in the saloon. He smiled as he shoved his gun back in the holster. “Well, he ain’t gonna be a problem anymore. Everbody can tell he was fixin to shoot me!”
Doc bent over Hank then looked up, shaking his head. Pronto walked over and looked down at the doc. “Doc, you gonna ride out there and help her?”
Rising, he answered, “Yeah, Hank’s gone, but if I get there in time, maybe I can save her.”
The cowboy, still smiling, said threatening, “Ain’t no use to go Doc, we might need you at our place. Sounds like the Bar N is done for, but the Rocking K is riding high.”
Pronto turned on the cowboy and the tension ramped up in the saloon. “Shut up, punk. The doc is going, and we’ll ride along to make sure nothing else happens!”
“I’m Todd Kidd,” the cowboy said his hand hovering over his gun. “Don’t need some old man, telling me anything. If I wanna stop the doc, I will! Or I’ll just stop you!”
Pronto, knowing the others had his back, walked toward him growling, “I’m right here, boy! Why don’t you try me for size, at least I’ll have my hand on the action of this pistol.” He crowded him, coming within arm’s length. “What’s the matter boy, you yella? Or just afraid to stand up to somebody who’s ready for ya?”
“I’m Todd Kidd, we own this town!” the cowboy said, his voice going up as he backed up trying to get room to get away from the crazy old man. He shot a panicked look at the two cowboys still at the table. They had their hands on top of the table and weren’t moving or saying anything as they watched Arthur’s shotgun swing in their direction.
Pronto stopped, spat on the floor, and said disgustedly, “Yeah, you’re yella. Afraid to face somebody that’s ready for ya.”
He turned away and the Todd grabbed for his gun as Juan yelled, “Watch it, Pronto!”
Pronto dropped to a knee as he turned, drew and fired in one smooth move, putting two rounds into the left pocket of the cowboy’s shirt. Todd’s one shot went into the table next to him as he fell back, dead on his feet. John, Juan, and Jeb draw and covered the rest of the room, as Arthur turned his shotgun toward the door. Rene drew his gun cautiously, turned and faced the back door, nervously looking back over his shoulder.
Pronto, still holding his smoking pistol, walked over to the table where the two cowboys sat, hands on the table. “You boys want in?”
The younger one looked up in terror. “No, Sir! We ain’t moved! But you played hob, that’s Roger Kidd’s youngest. He’ll come huntin’ you fer sure.”
Pronto holstered his pistol, and turned to the doc. “You ready to ride, Doc? Looks like we might have worn out our welcome here.”
“Ah, sure, let me get my bag and saddle my horse.” He started for the door, but it slammed open as Pete and two more cowboys entered the saloon at a run. The first thing they saw was shotgun in Arthur’s hand swing to cover them from a few feet away. They slid to a stop, not willing to risk moving. Pete saw the two bodies on the floor, glared around and ran over, first to Hank, then to Todd. He dropped to his knees cradling Todd. In anguish, he asked, “What happened?” When no one answered him, he yelled, “Somebody tell me what happened!” Tenderly laying Todd’s body down, he started to get up as the young cowboy said, “Uh well, Todd shot Nevell, then the ol’ man,” he pointed to Pronto, “He crowded Todd inta tryin’ him. And that crazy ol’ man killed him.”
As Pete’s hand went to his gun and he started to turn, the bartender slammed a sawed off double barrel on the bar, freezing everyone. “That’s enough! Pete Kidd, you stay right there, ain’t gonna be no more shootin’ in here today!” He pointed at Todd with the shotgun. “Todd killed Nevell and Nevell didn’t even have his hand on the action. Killed him just because he turned around when Todd laughed about his daughter bein’ shot.” He nodded toward Pronto saying, “Then this old man crowded and challenged him to shoot him since he was facing him, and he backed down. The old man started to walk away, and Todd tried to backshoot him, but didn’t make it. That’s it! Now all of you cowboys clear out!” He motioned toward the door with the shotgun, and Pronto and the others with him backed toward the door, followed by Doc Ferrell.
Pronto held his hands up as he asked, “Will you make arrangements for a wagon to take Nevell home? And let the Sheriff know?”
The bartender barked, “I’ll get the undertaker. Sheriff Mason’s down in Denver, ain’t no deputy. Now Y’all git!”
Arthur led the way, Pronto and the others escorting the doc out the door. Pete and the others glared at them as they walked out, but didn’t do anything. As soon as they left, Pete motioned to the others and they picked up Todd’s body, carrying it toward the door.
Out at the ranch, Rio prowled restlessly, carrying rifle the whole time. Looking into the back bedroom, he saw Monte hovering over Alice. “I got the dead one outside on his horse. Horse stepped on his reins and stopped. How’ she doing?”
“In and out, she’s lost a lot of blood, but I think it’s stopped.” He wiped her face with a wet rag. “I hope I can keep her from movin’ too much. What did you find?”
Rio smiled grimly. “I tracked ‘em back across the river til they turned around the butte. They were still runnin hard at that point.” He said angrily, “The brand on the horse is a rocking K, guess that’s the Kidd brand?”
“Yep, stay here with Alice, hold her hand or somethin’ while I go look at thet cowboy and his horse.” Monte got up and Rio sat down and tentatively grasped Alice’s hand on top of the covers. She rolled her head and he realized that Alice’s eyes were open and looking at him.
Rio wasn’t sure what to say or do, so he said gruffly, “You lay still. Monte got the bleeding stopped but you can’t move!”
Alice, pain etched on her face said softly, “It hurts! Why did they shoot me? Where is Dad?”
“They must have thought you were your Dad. He’s gone to Fort Collins for the doc, they should be back soon.”
“Can I have some water? I feel so thirsty.”
Rio picked up a cup, then lifted her head. “Don’t move too much, and don’t drink too much.
After she drank a couple of sips, he gently lowered her head back to the pillow. “Thank you Rio. Who are you? Why did you come here?”
He squirmed, suddenly uncomfortable. “I’m just a cowboy Alice, I came up here to visit my Uncle Ethan. He lives…lived up on the river.”
“Where? I didn’t think anyone lived up there, except maybe Monte.”
Monte is living in the cabin Uncle Ethan had. It’s on a bench bout seven thousand feet up. He rebuilt it after the war. He pretty much kept to himself after the war, so I’m not surprised you didn’t know him.”
“What about you? Who are you?
“Well, I’m from Texas, San Felipe del Rio is the closest…settlement, down on the border. I work for a ranch down there.” Alice had nodded off or passed out, he didn’t know which, but he could still feel a pulse, so he just sat and held her hand until Monte came back in, shaking his head. Rio got up, giving the chair to Monte. “Well, did you know him?”
“Yeah, he’s one of Kidd’s gunnies. Peck, I think his name was. He usually runs with that middle Kidd boy, Jud.”
Rio growled, “If Alice dies, I’ll get ‘em all Monte.” He blew out a breath and added, “Ever damn one of them.”
Two hours later, the doc, Pronto and the others rode into the ranch yard to be met by Rio, at the corner of the corral, rifle pointed at them and Monte, standing in the door, rifle in hand. Once he recognized Pronto, he decocked the rifle and came forward. “Doc, she’s in the house.”
The doc looked at Rio, seeing the scalp wound and was confused. “I thought Alice was shot?”
“She is, mine’s a week or so old. She’s inside and needs you bad, Doc. Monte is with her now. He kept her alive somehow.” He looked up at Pronto. “How the hell did y’all get here so quick and what the hell are y’all doin out here?”
Pronto shrugged and dismounted. “We figgered we better get up here afore you tore the country apart. ‘Sides, I wanted to say hello to Monte.”
Rio noticed that Hank was missing, “Where’s Hank?”
Pronto spat in the dirt. “He’s dead, some punk shot him down in the saloon when he came to get the doc.”
“Oh hell, who’s gonna tell Alice?” He blinked and focused on Pronto. “Where is the bastard that killed him?”
Jeb drawled, “He’s dead too. Pronto pushed him and he turned yella, then tried to back shoot Pronto when he turned away.” Jeb chuckled. “If it hadn’t been for Arthur and his little pop gun, we’d a had a real shoot out when his…brother show’d up.”
Monte came to the door and said, “Damn, you really are alive you old bastard.”
Pronto laughed. “Same to ya, ya ol’ son of a bitch!” He started walking toward the porch.
Monte replied, “I thought they kilt you ten or twelve years ago down Mexico way.”
They met at the bottom of the steps, pounding each other on the back as Pronto said, “If it hadn’t been for Rio’s Pap, I wouldn’t be here. He found me and got me back to the ranch after I got shot down in Ol’ Mehico.” They broke apart and he added, “I kinda stayed around and kept an eye on the pup for ‘em.”
“Yeah, that’s what I used to call Rio, he follered me round like a puppy.” Cocking his head, he asked, “What happened to Rio? I see the scab and missing hair.”
“I found him layin’ on the steps of the cabin I’m…was livin in. ‘Pears it actually belonged to Ethan Bell. Rio’d been head shot and I guess he had a concussion. I had to bring ‘em here, cause I couldn’t get the fever down and his head wuz gettin’ infected. We wuz here when Alice wuz shot and we got one of ‘em. He paused as Flynn walked up. “Doc tole me about Hank, damn shame too. I guess I’ll have to try to hold this place til Alice gits better, if she lives.”
Juan interrupted, “Has Señor Rio gone after them yet?
Monte glanced at him. “What you mean?”
“The ones who shot him, Señor.”
“Naw, he ain’t in no shape to ride. I’m surprised he wuz able to ride today and backtrack them Kidd riders.”
The doc came to the door and yelled at Monte, breaking up the reunion. “We gotta get Alice to town if I’m gonna keep her alive. She’s lost a lot of blood.” He looked around and added, “See if you can find a wagon and get it hitched up!”
Monte nodded and turned toward the barn. “Boys, I think there’s a wagon in the barn, the team should be in the corral bout three hundred yards up the draw.”
Flynn snapped out, “Jeb, you and Juan get the horses, Arthur see if you can get the buckboard ready to go. Maybe some blankets to ease the ride?”
Everyone scrambled to get things done, and fifteen minutes later, Rio came out gently carrying Alice in his arms, tears streaming down his face. Doc was holding her left arm steady and holding a pad over the entry wound. He’d already given her a dose of laudanum, and she’d passed out again with a moan when Rio picked her up. He gently handed her up to Pronto who was kneeling in the back of the wagon and he gingerly lay her on the padding they’d found as the doc climbed into the wagon.
With Flynn driving, Doc in the back with Alice, and Arthur riding Shotgun. Juan sat on a fresh horse, cautiously feeling him out as the doc turned to him. “Son, you got to ride to town and let my wife know I’m bringing Alice in. She’ll need to prepare for me to do surgery, and I’ll need water heated and everything laid out as soon as we get there. Go two blocks past the saloon, turn right, go one block east and it’s the whitewashed house on the corner.”
“Sí, Señor! I ride like the wind!” Juan gigged the horse into a fast trot, then a gallop, dust flying from the hooves as he bolted down the trail toward Fort Collins.
“Let’s go Mr. Flynn, times a wastin’.”
Monte stepped back from the wagon. “We’ll hold things down here, til you send the boys back.” Flynn snapped the reins and the wagon rolled out of the ranch yard, followed by Jeb and Pronto.
Cavanaugh looked at Rio, “Where do you want me?”
Rio bit his lip for a second. “Rene, can you get up in the hayloft? That would…give us eyes down the trail.”