Exigent (Chapter II)

A Logan Chandler Thriller

 

 

II.

Kabul, Afghanistan, 2016

Logan told Greta to forego any makeup and wear a drab afghan hijab.”Remember, bland and forgettable is what we are going for. Meet me at the back gate in 20 minutes.” Logan then went to the closet in the spare bedroom where he kept some of his clothes and chose a business casual outfit with a brown sports coat. He then took the elevator down to the armory to load out. In addition to his Glock 17, He chose a Heckler and Koch MP-7 with a 40 round magazine and an Aimpoint micro T-1 red-dot sight. The combination made for a very compact sub-machine gun that could easily be concealed under a jacket with a single point sling connected to a H harness. He then strapped his “BUG” or Back-up gun, a Glock 26, in an ankle holster and mounted a Strider tanto fixed blade knife horizontal on his belt at the 11 o’clock position. He also grabbed two M-67 Frag Grenades. After the armory, Logan went to the carpool and instead of the Yukon, checked out a smaller, more agile grey Range Rover. By the time he pulled around to the back entrance, Greta was waiting anxiously. As she climbed into the backseat, Logan adjusted the rear-view mirror to look at her.”You remembered your IBA ?” Greta shot a glance up at Logan and although she was wearing her Ray-Ban’s Logan could feel her piercing brown laser beams. “Yes General, I have my body armour on.” Greta replied with a frustrated smile. As Logan smiled back his brain was in hyper-drive. He was reviewing all the precautionary security measures. Beginning in 2012, after the Benghazi disaster, All Foreign service personnel were required to have GPS implants. These implants were the size of  grain of rice and actively pinged every two minutes.

The Marine at the back entrance gave Logan a strange look as he rolled up to the gate. “Off the book trip Mr. Chandler?” The Marine asked looking in the back seat at Greta. “Yeah, real quick, something the Ambassador needs.” The Marine stared at Logan for a minute.and then waved his hand for the barriers to be lowered. Logan nodded and rolled through the gate and turned toward town. Watching his rear view, as he left the embassy, Logan saw no tails, but that did not mean anything in this day and age of drones. The Russians and Chinese were known to monitor the comings and goings of Embassy personnel, but that had not occurred in some time. The weather was cloudy and cool, with the sun staying hidden behind the clouds. Traffic was light and they arrived at the shop four minutes ahead of schedule. Logan decided to make the block just to get a lay of the land and check for anything out of the ordinary. The shop sat nestled in the middle of a residential neighborhood, away from the hustle and bustle of the commercial district. As per protocol, Logan used the side entrance in the alley versus the front, but considering the off-chance of being boxed in inside the alley, he parked as close as he could to the street to allow a quick exit if needed. As Logan and Greta quickly entered the shop, the owner, a short, bald afghan with round glasses, met them with a confused look on his face. Greta, always quick on her feet, explained they were tourist and had got turned around and thought this was the only entrance. The owner smiled understandingly and kindly offered chai tea while they shopped. After a quick check of the small shop, Logan took up position where he could cover both entrances and let Greta do her shopping. After close to forty-five minutes, Greta had found three items and was ready to check out. Relieved that this was going to indeed be a painless shopping trip, Logan got ready to carry the purchases, a small rug, a painting and an afghan tea set to the SUV. The items were not heavy but were bulky, requiring Logan to have both hands to carry them, something that was frowned upon in the protection racket. The owner, seeing the difficulty, kindly offered to help carry the items out to the car.

Before walking out the door with the owner, Logan kindly ask the owner to lock the front doors and told Greta to wait in the shop and he would come back and escort her to the car when they were done. Greta gave a mock salute and then sat down and took out her phone. As Logan opened the door, bright sunlight flooded into the dark shop, blinding him momentarily. Logan slipped on his Oakley’s and once the spots in his vision disappeared, quickly glanced left and right and then stepped out toward the vehicle with the owner following. Once the packages were loaded, Logan shook hands and thanked the owner for his help. The owner then turned around to go unlock the front entrance while Logan returned to the side door to retrieve Greta. As Logan held the door open for her, she exited still looking down at her phone. As Logan shut the door, Greta was a few steps ahead of him heading to the SUV. He did not hear the shot before he was spun around to the ground on one knee. Instinctively, Greta hit the ground and laid flat. “Make yourself as small a target as possible” he had told her that day in training. Logan did likewise and from his vantage point, looking underneath the range rover, Logan could see the shooters feet. He was in cover behind a truck parked directly across the street. The narrow alley was protecting Logan’s flanks, but it also prevented him from seeing if the shooter brought any friends to this party.”Greta, Stay Down and Do Not Move!” Logan said in a low voice. As Logan brought one knee underneath him, the pain in his shoulder shot through his body like a stabbing electrical current. He gritted his teeth and  tried to replace the pain with anger. “Now I’m gonna kill you motherfucker.” Logan whispered to himself. In one smooth motion, he brought MP-7 up and while bringing the red dot to his eye he flicked the safety off with his thumb, putting the selector switch to full-auto. Instead of firing over the vehicle, Logan fired around it, keeping the engine block between him and the shooter. As the red dot centered on the back of the shooters car in the street, Logan let off a burst. The MP-7  belched and Logan could see a blur of activity as the shooter’s feet scrambled away from the impact. Logan wasted no time. He duck walked over to Greta and grabbed her arm. “We gotta move now!” Logan kept his voice low but stern not wanting to tip-off the shooter. Greta got to her feet and duck walked with Logan to the side door of the shop. As Logan opened the door three rounds impacted a half an inch above their heads. “Son-of-bitch!” Logan yelled as he pushed Greta into the building. Logan then spun around and without aiming, raised the MP-7 and fired another burst toward the parked truck. As He bolted the door closed, he found the owner and Greta both huddled together behind the marble counter.

As he joined them, Logan was relieved to see Greta already on the phone with the embassy QRF or Quick Reaction Force. “I call Police!” the owner said hysterically in broken English. “Not a bad ideal.” Logan replied calmly.”First things first, did you re-lock the front door after coming inside?” The owner nodded and then began crying. Logan patted the man’s shoulder. “Keep it together sir. We are gonna be alright.” Logan peeked around the counter. No sign of anybody yet. “Bloody amateurs. They are trying to decide what to do.” Logan told himself. Greta, who was slowly coming out of a daze, suddenly came to life when she saw all the blood on Logan. “My God Logan! You are bleeding!” She screamed. She quickly took of the hijab and began applying pressure. Logan grimaced. “I think the bullet went in and out clean.” Logan said as he was trying to examine it himself. Suddenly the unmistakable sound of fully automatic AK-47’s and a cacophony of breaking glass broke the silence. Rounds impacted wildly inside the shop. Logan could hear the bullets hitting the marble counter with a dull thud. Logan brought the MP-7 up and tucked Greta behind him with his arm. Tucked in a small  ball the owner began to whimper like a wounded animal. When the shooting stopped, Logan peered around the counter and saw three men in all black wearing balaclava’s. Since they had shot out the front plate-glass, Logan could hear them talking. It was ethnic Pashto. They were trying to decide which one would go inside. “Jesus Christ, this is amateur hour!” Logan said to himself. Just as Logan was about to open up on them from twelve feet away, he heard the police sirens. He then heard the unmistakable sound of a deuce and a half coming from the other direction. It was the  Marine QRF Team. The three shooters, realizing they were boxed in, dropped their weapons and laid flat on the ground. Logan could not believe his eyes. Surrendering? This was not SOP for terrorist. Immediately Logan was suspicious and told Greta and the owner they needed to move to the back of the store in the event one or all of them has a suicide vest. After a lengthy standoff where the three shooters were required to strip butt-ass naked on the street to ensure they were not suited up to explode, the QRF team got Greta out of there and back to the embassy while and ambulance took Logan and the store owner to the hospital.

Three hours later, Logan woke up in the ICU feeling groggy and sore, like he had been run over with a cement truck. His mouth was so dry his tongue was permanently attached to the roof of his mouth. An Afghan nurse sitting beside him saw him struggling and gently put a straw in his mouth and let him take a long drink of cold water. Logan looked at her and nodded a thank you. With his throat moist, Logan was now able to speak. In a hoarse whisper Logan asked “How did the surgery go?” The nurse fluffed the pillow behind his head and helped him sit up straighter in bed. “The neuro-surgeon was able to repair the nerve damage with your shoulder. With some rehab, You should have complete function return in three to six months. Are you in Pain?” the nurse asked. “Yeah, I am sore as hell.” Logan replied with a grimace. The nurse nodded and turned up the morphine drip on his IV. The nurse said something else to Logan but he did not catch it. The lights dimmed and Logan was floating away. Looking down, Logan realized he was on a raft made of balsam wood and vine cordage. Similar to the rafts built by the natives in Southeast Asia.The river he was on was wide and fast and had a strong current. The water was luminescent and had a purple and red tint. As he was steering the raft, Logan suddenly realized he was not alone. Greta was there, She was dressed in a shiny black bikini with dark Jackie Onassis shades and a wide brim straw hat like the Mexican fishermen wore down in Baja. “Isn’t the fishing great today Logan!”Greta said as she fought an Eight foot Blue Marlin. “Where the hell are we?” He asked as the huge fish broke the surface of the luminescent water. “Don’t you know anything Logan? This is the River Styx.” Greta replied laughing. Logan woke himself up clutching at his clothes looking for a coin to give to the Ferryman, Charon.

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Nangahar Province, Afghanistan – 4am

The small Tajik village sat dark and quiet in the pre-dawn hours. The drab brown mud buildings were stacked one upon another in neat rows, as if they had been carved into the side of the mountain by an expert sculptor. Tribal leader Hassim Mannoud was fast asleep when he was awoken by a dog barking in the village below. The old tribal leader sleepily reached over beside him and found his radio beside his Kalashnikov. “What’s the fuss down there?” he asked in Pashto. He had begun posting guards at the top and bottom of the village ever since the attack last month when two villagers were killed when bandits robbed him of the Two million dollars the CIA had paid him for his intelligence on the whereabouts of a certain Taliban commander. Mannoud released the talk button on the radio and heard nothing but silence. Again he hailed the lookouts. Nothing. “Shit” He said to himself. He reached over and pulled back the bolt on his AK and checked their was a round in the chamber with his finger. He then slid on his sandals and got a small flashlight laying by the door. Quietly, he opened the door to his house and crept out to the terrace. There was no moon and the village was pitch black below him. He sat on his haunches and carefully listened to the night. The dog had stopped barking. The wind was blowing out of the north and rustling the trees that grew on the eastern side of the mountain. Suddenly, like the crack of a whip, Mannoud heard a crash! Pottery breaking below him, about seventy-five yards away. Again Mannoud whispered into the radio, hailing the lookouts. Nothing. Carefully, the 75-year-old goat herder made his way down off the terrace and onto the path leading down in the village. He moved like a ghost, the way he had been trained by the CIA in the Eighties while fighting the Russians. Every five steps he would stop and listen. The wind had died down and very faintly he heard voices coming from the village below.

There was three of them and they sounded as if they were coming his way! Mannoud quickly got off the path and laid down in the tall grass by a large pine tree. He quietly moved the safety lever on his AK to the middle position to fully automatic. His palms were sweaty as he grasped the rifle, his finger resting on the top of the trigger guard. He saw the first man moving up the path, skirting the flanks, never exposing himself in the open. Mannoud was taken aback when he saw the intruders profile. The man was wearing  Night Vision Goggles. definitely not Taliban or a bandit, Mannoud thought. The man moved slowly and deliberately up the path, taking each step with precision. The rest of the team trailed close behind, following the point-man’s exact steps. When the men were about forty yards away, Mannoud centered the point-man in his sights. Suddenly, all three men went flat to the ground. Mannoud’s target disappeared out of the rifle’s front aperture like a vapor. The last thought that went through Mannoud’s mind was “Pull the trigger!”

The old Tajik warrior had not taken into account the CIA Kill team had a sniper in an overwatch position on top of a house 125 yards away. A seasoned Delta Force professional with a Suppressed SASS rifle with a thermal sight. The 168 grain thirty caliber bullet entered just right of Mannoud’s left eye, piercing his brain like a hot splinter, stopping all neurological function in the body instantly. “Tango Down” was heard in the earpiece of the kill team. The team leader carefully made his up to Mannoud’s body, turning him over for ID. Holding a phone with a digital picture beside what was left of Mannoud’s face, the team leader confirmed Mannoud’s identity. “Yep, this is him. Breaking that Pot brought him out into the open like a moth to a flame. Good job everybody. Let’s go home.” The Team made their way to a clearing one click southeast of the village where a Blackhawk would pick them up. Once on the chopper, the team leader made a note for his AAR or After-Action Report. “Beside HVT (High Value Target), seven Enemy KIA. Two Lookouts and five insurgents” The report, of course was a lie. Those five “insurgents” were a family: A 45 year-old man, a 32 year-old woman and two children, a four year-old girl and a seven-year old boy, who had been sleeping peacefully in their beds until they were executed with a suppressed pistol at close range because their house was needed for the sniper position.

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Greta awoke at 8am the next morning at the embassy with her head swimming with anxiety. She and Logan were about to be de-briefed like suspected enemy agents by the DSS, the State Department, The White House and eventually, if these three terrorist began talking, the Justice Department. Greta’s doctors had taken mercy on her and given her a week’s bed rest, prescribing xanax and ambien, so almost all of these de-briefs were going to take place from her bed via secure Skype. As Greta’s aides were helping get ready for the day, there was a knock at her door. Francesca, Greta’s aide-de-camp, went over and answered it. It was Charles Carson, the Deputy Ambassador. “The Ambassador is getting dressed and will not be taking visitors until after lunch.” Francesca curtly informed him. “Well please, give her these and my sincerest wishes she get’s better soon.” He handed Francesca a box of premium swiss chocolate with a get well soon note. Francesca took the package and quickly closed the door. “That bitch is not known as the ‘Gatekeeper’ for nothing.” C.C. thought to himself as he walked away smiling. Francesca walked over to the bed and handed the chocolates and card to Greta with a sour look on her face. Opening the card, Greta rolled her eyes. “Should have known that old shark would be the first to come around. When there is blood in the water, or any sign of distress, he will always be the first on the scene, without fail.”

Greta’s Skype interview with the DSS post-incident investigation team (or PIT) was cut short by her Doctor after she started feeling anxious and short of breath while recounting details of the attack. “This is Dr. Matthew Stone, The Ambassador’s attending physician. Due to the Ambassador’s anxiety level, we are going to reschedule this interview for a later date. Please contact her office tomorrow to set that up.” The Doctor then abruptly closed the laptop, not waiting for a response. “Damn  bureaucrats! They just do not understand the meaning of bed-rest!” The doctor smiled as he used his stethoscope to listen to Greta’s heart and take her pulse. “Definitely elevated.” The Doctor said as he reached into his bag and took out a bottle of pills. “Take one of these now and another in four to six hours if needed. I will leave the bottle and instructions with Francesca.” Greta nodded and thanked him. As the Doctor was packing up his gear to leave, Francesca came in and announced that her State Department one o’clock appointment was waiting to see her. The Doctor frowned and shot Greta a disapproving look. “I promise to keep it short Doc.” Greta said smiling. “OK, but this is it for today. No more visitors or interruptions, period!” The Doctor said with a stern look. Greta nodded and smiled as Francesca showed the two men into the room. As the Doctor passed the two men on his way out he gave a friendly nod and then done something very odd: He touched his right ear. What was that? Greta wondered to herself. Since all this happened her senses were in overload and she wondered if she was just being “hyper-vigilant” and reading more into things than what was really there. Still though, was he just scratching his ear or was it some kind of signal? Before Greta could ponder it further, The two men were in front of her.

Both men were dressed similar in light grey suits with no tie. Both had dark hair, dark eyes and olive complexions, a pre-requisite for field work in the middle and near-east desk at the agency, Greta assumed. One man stood around six feet while the other was much shorter, around five seven. The taller of the two spoke up. “Richard Grant and Chad Daniels, State Dept. Madam Ambassador.” Greta nodded her head and waited for Francesca to leave the room. As soon as she shut the door behind her, Greta sat up straight in bed, fully alert. “Talk to me gentleman.”  The taller of the two cleared his throat and walked closer to the bed. “Right now the three of them are not saying anything. They have not claimed membership in the Taliban or ISIS, which lends credence to the ‘lone wolf’ ideal, which we have been playing up in conversations with Operations.”  The man then sat on the edge of the bed, next to Greta. “Have they alluded that they work for or know Hassim Mannoud?” Greta asked with concern. The man shook his head. “No. They are keeping tight-lipped about their employer, for now at least.” The spook answered. “Well don’t you guys have facial recognition files on people like this? Won’t your analyst be able to connect the dots when they discover these guys work for a Tajik Tribal Leader who is on the CIA payroll as an informant that was recently ripped for a whopping Two Million Dollars?” Greta asked, her face now more animated with concern. “No. Whoever hired these guys was smart.They used outside help. People who have clean records and are not on our radar. The down side is that these two guys were very green. In fact I think this was their first hit, which explains why they missed killing you and just wounded your Security man.” The spook answered. Greta noticed the man was agitated as he spoke, as if what he was saying genuinely pissed him off.

The spook got up and walked over to the window. “Greta, this situation is a potential shit storm for all of us, and it is just a matter of time before it starts raining down on our heads.” Greta stared at the two men for a moment, then leaned her head back on the pillow.”OK, so what can you do to fix it?” she asked. The man laughed. “If you are suggesting what I think you are, absolutely nothing. This is not a Jason Bourne movie Greta. We are already too close to this thing.” Greta let out an exasperated gasp and her face turned red. “Too close to it?  Richard, Me, you, Chad and Logan Chandler and his team are standing smack dab in the middle of it! Need I remind you, you two clowns came to ME a year ago telling me how your positions in the Agency gave you ‘unfettered access’ to otherwise compartmentalized information regarding large CIA Cash payouts to informants, remember? And I certainly did not hear you complaining when you both got two fat envelopes last month.” The man  stared out at the Embassy grounds for a long while, watching two birds fight over a piece of bread somebody had left from their lunch. “Greta make no mistake, we think we can continue this arrangement, but Counter-Intelligence is already all over this. If we continue to fuck around with these guys, they are gonna get suspicious and start looking at things forensically.”  “So if you can’t take care of it, do you know somebody who can?” Greta asked. Greta saw the two spooks glance at each other and smile. “Don’t worry Greta, we already have things in motion to tie this thing off. Now get some rest like your Doctor ordered.” As the two men left, Greta got an uneasy feeling. She needed to warn Logan she thought to herself. She looked around for her phone but could not find it. Suddenly she felt the pills take effect. “Wow, this is some strong shit.” she said out loud to nobody in the room. She leaned her head back on the pillow and began cycling through the day’s events in her mind. Thirty seconds later she was fast asleep.

In the ground floor lobby of Greta’s building, Doctor Stone and the two spooks got out of the elevator and talked briefly. “How long will she be out?” Smith asked. “I gave her a strong dose of Propofol, so with her weight, I would say twelve to fourteen hours minimum.” Stone replied looking at his watch. “That should be plenty of time.” Jones replied looking at Smith for confirmation. “Oh and here is her phones, as requested.” Stone handed Jones Greta’s iPhone. “Perfect. Thank you Doctor.” Jones said. “Remind me Stone, how long you been with the Agency?” Smith asked as they all began walking out of the building. “Thirty long soul crushing years. Retiring in four months.” Stone replied smiling. “You gonna miss it?” Smith asked. The Doctor laughed. “About as much as I would miss a colonoscopy with no lube.” The Doctor replied. “Ouch!” Jones replied as all three men let out a laugh while walking out of the building.

Charles Carson, the Deputy Ambassador, was never one to snoop, but when he heard three men talking outside his apartment door in the lobby, one of them Greta’s doctor, his curiosity got the better of him. As he stood by his door and listened to the conversation of the three spooks, Carson’s jaw hit the floor. Words and phrases like “Propofol” and “That Should be enough time” made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Why the fuck had this so-called “Doctor” given Greta Propofol and What did they need enough time to do? Carson’s mind raced. He could not go to the Undersecretary with this. He had to keep it out of the main channels because, after all, this was the CIA. He simply did not know how deep the corruption went. His only option was to get in touch with Logan Chandler or his team immediately.

 

To Be Continued…

 

 

Exigent (Chapter I)

A Logan Chandler Thriller

 

 

I.

Kabul Afghanistan – 2016

 

A black hard-skinned GMC Yukon took the corner at Massoud square and Bibi Mahru so fast it tipped up on its right-hand wheels momentarily. Panic-stricken street vendors and pedestrians alike quickly dived out-of-the-way to avoid this black blur of death that came out nowhere. As the Yukon sped away most of the vendors yelled obscenities in Pashtun while others choked and coughed on the acrid smell of burning rubber and exhaust. In the passenger seat of the Yukon, Logan Chandler cursed loudly at his driver. “Shit! I know we’re late but don’t kill us before we get there Tugs!” The driver, Stanley “Tugs” Pirelli, just grinned and continued to gun the accelerator with impunity. As they turned off of Bibi Mahru into the U.S. Embassy compound, a squad of U.S. Marines standing guard at the gate just smiled and shook their heads as the Yukon approached. Tugs rolled down the window. A Marine in full battle dress wearing a pair of Oakley Flak-Jacket sunglasses with the name tag JACKSON peered inside the cab. Tugs and Chandler held up their ID’s and Embassy Pass Badges.”Man, I would hate to be you Chandler. The Ambassador has already called down here twice in the last ten minutes looking for you.” Tugs and Chandler both nodded and Tugs rolled up the window. Jackson waved his hand to the control booth for them to open the reinforced metal gate and lower the spike strips and three-foot concrete barrier. Tugs rolled through slowly, navigating the staggered barriers and then making the wide right turn to the front of the embassy. As they approached, they saw another Black Yukon parked with the remaining three members of Chandler’s PSD team waiting outside. Eric “Chief” Reeves, the oldest member of the detail, walked over to meet Chandler as he got out. Chandler could tell from the look on Reeves face he was frustrated. Before Reeves could say anything Chandler cut him off. “Get the team ready to roll, I am gonna go settle the waters.” Chandler walked up to the front entrance of the embassy as a Marine guard waved him through. As he came through the turnstiles he saw the  U.S. Ambassador, Greta Stern, already coming out of the elevator. Stern was a rising star in diplomatic circles and one of the youngest ambassadors ever to hold the post. At 35 she was young enough to outwork her superiors and stupid enough to challenge the old guard in D.C. She was tall, at 5’8, but not rail thin like most of the D.C. jet set. At 130 pounds, she had a shapely figure and some “junk in the trunk” as her girlfriends liked to joke. Her Italian and Jewish heritage contributed to her dark complexion and features, which served her well in a muslim country, helping her to blend in and not stand out like some former blonde “barbie doll” types.

 Before Chandler could say anything Stern waved him into a conference room. As he followed her in he shut the door behind him. “What the Fuck Logan!” Stern said, spinning around to face him, her face already red. “Look, Greta, I am sorry, I overslept…” Stern waved her hand in the air as a signal for him to be quiet. “I left a fucking alarm clock on for you when I left! What more do you need, a wake-up call! Jesus!” Greta went over to a small mini-fridge and got a cold bottle of water and took a long drink. Chandler walked closer and although he wanted to touch her, he stopped himself, remembering the CCTV camera above him. “Look, I am sorry. I drank too much last…” Stern cut him off. “Save it. How many times have I went to bat for you when you have fucked up?” She turned and faced him. Logan just stood their silent. “No, that is not a rhetorical question, I am asking you, How many times?” Greta pulled out a chair from the table and sat down. “Look, I get it. OK, I know you have done a lot for me, including getting me this assignment.” Chandler replied, making eye contact. “Logan, you have no ideal the risk I have taken for you. And I know you have had a rough time since leaving DSS OK? The accident, the divorce, it was all a real shit-storm for you and I get that, which is why I have risked so much for you. But Jesus Logan! it has been two years and you still can’t get your shit together!” Logan pulled out a chair and sat down. “Greta, please. Give me one more chance. Do not dismiss me and my team. I swear to you I will get my shit straight.” Logan looked directly in her eyes and smiled. Greta let out an exasperated breath and stared at him, the wheels turning in her head. “OK. But this is it Logan. If you are so much as one minute late again, you and your team are gone. As in on a plane the same day gone, Understand?” Greta’s normally soft brown eyes narrowed into slits as she stared Logan down. “Understood Boss. Loud and Clear.” As Logan stood up he admired Greta’s shapely thighs and ass as she straightened her skirt, getting ready to go back outside.”See you tonight then?” Logan whispered. Greta looked at him lovingly and her eyes returned to those soft browns he knew so well. “Damn you Chandler, why does every man in my life have to be such a pain in the ass?” Logan just smiled. “I will drop by around nine.” Logan replied as he turned to leave. “Oh Logan, one more thing, I just remembered, I have something I want to discuss with you tonight.” Logan stopped in his tracks when he heard that, reading the implied meaning, and turned to look at Greta. “Greta I thought we agreed that we would not talk about this again.” Greta just smiled and winked. “Uh, I think you owe me Chandler! We’ll talk about it tonight. I will be ready in ten minutes by the way, please have the car ready.” Greta breezed past Logan through the door, leaving the faint scent of her perfume lingering in the air. Logan inhaled the smell and savored it. It was Twenty-Four Faubourg by Hermes. Logan had bought it for her while in Paris last year on a job. “Why does every woman in my life have to be a pain in the ass?” Logan mumbled to himself as he headed for the turnstile exit.

All three team mates were waiting by the Yukon’s when he walked out. “So, what’s the verdict boss? We headed back to the world?” Tugs asked. “Nope. We are back in business gentleman. Xena will be out in five.” Logan replied smiling, donning his Oakley’s and walking around the back of the SUV to get his gear. Xena was the code name of the Principle, or “client under protection” in Security terminology, In this case, Greta Sterns. Logan slipped off his tan baseball cap which had the Praetorian Security logo on front which consisted of a Gladius sword for the T in “Praetorian” and slipped his tan plate carrier over his head. Besides the two ceramic plates, one in front and one in back,which were rated to stop a .30 caliber bullet, the plate carrier also had several attached pouches which acted as a tactical vest, holding everything from extra magazines for his carbine and Glock to his radio and trauma blowout kit. Logan then slung up his carbine, a Heckler and Koch 416 A5. This specific model had a ten inch threaded barrel for compactness and could be fitted with a suppressor if need be. Finally, he double checked the 9mm Glock 17 in his drop-leg holster, ensuring a full magazine was inserted and a round chambered. “OK, Me and Tugs with Xena. Hambone and Chief in the Lead Vehicle. Remember: Keep those comm lines open and call out everything, regardless how insignificant and above all else, keep those heads on a swivel! Light docket today, only two stops and then back here for lunch. Any Questions?” The team shook their head in unison “Alright then, let’s Rock and Roll gents!” Four hours later, the detail returned back to the embassy ten minutes ahead of schedule, . “Mr. Chandler, I suppose you think being ten minutes early for lunch somehow cancels out you being ten minutes late this morning?” Greta asked from the backseat with a smirk upon her face. Logan smiled but did not turn his head to answer. “Not at all Madam Ambassador, not at all.”

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 The “Tipsy Diplomat” was a secret bar in the basement of the American Embassy in Kabul. With Afghanistan being a strict Muslim country where all alcohol consumption is banned, several decades ago, a very wise (and alcoholic) Ambassador made the decision to create a place for his stressed out and homesick staff could socialize and libate their “issues” safely without fear of arrest or international embarrassment. The alcohol had to be flown in under the cover of diplomatic pouch, so the staff had to settle for drinks made from either whiskey, vodka, rum or gin. As such, Martini’s, daiquiri’s and the old reliable jack and coke were very popular drinks. Chandler and his team sat at one of the eight tables in the bar, drinking vodka tonics. With an embassy staff of around forty, including Marine Security and off-book State Dept. and CIA Personnel, the bar could get quite crowded on some nights. “Standing room only tonight. I believe we are in violation of fire code.” Stanley “Tugs” Pirelli joked. Chandler smiled at the remark as he looked around the crowded, dark room for Greta. A group of drunken IT geeks yelled loudly as one of them scored a bullseye at the dart board set up on the far wall. Lance “Hambone” Perez, the team’s sniper, perked up. “Hey Tugs, how ’bout me and you do a ‘Fast Eddie Felson’ hustle on these drunk geeks?” Tugs smiled his Cheshire cat grin and pulled out a fat money clip of twenty-dollar bills. “After you Senor.” Tugs said. Chandler just shook his head. Those poor IT geeks had no ideal what was about to hit them. Over the past few years, Tugs and Hambone had perfected the “Dart Hustle” almost to an art form. As Chandler waited on Greta to arrive, he surveyed his team members one by one. Stanley “Tugs” Pirelli was from a small town in western Pennsylvania. Scared of a life of hard labor in a factory, he joined the Army out of High School and found it to his liking. After a decade in the Special Forces, he decided to go into the Private Sector to quote  “Make the real money he would retire on.” He earned the nickname “Tugs” during an R&R trip to Thailand, where in a Bangkok whore house, finding himself low on funds asked one of the girls how much a “Tug Job” would cost him. The rest is history as they say. Eric “Chief” Reeves was both the oldest member and the only SEAL of the team. Your quintessential “surfer dude” Eric was born in Solana Beach, California. Joining the Navy at 19, he had planned on getting stationed on a ship and just doing four years for the college money. That all changed the day the SEAL’s came to visit in boot camp. Seventeen year later, GMCS (Gunner Mate, Senior Chief) Eric Reeves Retired from the Navy with full benefits and pension with 3 tours in Iraq and a Purple heart and Bronze Star pinned to his chest. The last of the Wild Bunch was Lance”Hambone” Perez, from San Antonio Texas. The son of Venezuelan immigrants, Lance joined the Marines at 20 after 9/11. Becoming a Force Recon Marine and Scout Sniper, he did three tours in Afghanistan and according to him, all he got for his trouble was some “lousy shrapnel in his ass.” He earned the moniker “Hambone” for his ability to track bad guy’s in the bush. On one mission in Brazil, while tracking down some kidnappers, Tugs had commented “Damn Perez, you are like a dog sniffing out a hambone…” Besides being the team sniper, Perez was also the teams linguistics man, speaking Spanish, German, Russian, Arabic and Pashto fluently.

“You need another drink boss?” Chief asked, snapping Chandler out of his trance. “No. I will get it, thanks Chief. need to stretch my legs.” As Logan got up from the table he heard the IT geeks cursing over at the dart board as Hambone and Tugs held a hustler dart clinic. Logan walked up to the homemade “bar”, which consisted of plywood covered with blue marine carpet somebody had “requisitioned” from one of the many over-bid Government contract jobs around Kabul. Logan got the attention of tonight’s bartender, a guy named Greg Childers who worked in accounting. “Two Vodka Tonics Greg, Thanks.” Logan put a ten-dollar bill in the “Tip” jar while he waited on the drinks. Logan felt somebody brush up beside him, thinking it was Greta trying to surprise him, he turned his head to say something flirty and instead was met with the ugly mug of  the Deputy Ambassador, Charles M. Carson or “C.C.” as he was known around the State Dept. “Well, well, I expected to find you in here Chandler, cuddled up to Greta and a bottle of Vodka.” About that time the bartender set down the two vodka tonics for Logan. Carson laughed “Yep, just as I expected, except, where’s Greta?” Chandler turned around from the bar to face Carson even though he just wanted to go back to his table and ignore him. Like your standard Washington career bureaucrat desk jockey Carson was short, around 5 foot 6, with glasses, a receding hairline and a huge spare tire around his midsection. Logan, who had a full head of closely cropped sandy brown hair and stood  6 foot 3 and 225 pounds, towered over Carson as the perfect picture of masculinity.”Well Carson, at least I have something beside my own hand to snuggle up to tonight.” Chandler replied smiling, taking the drinks and heading to his table. Suddenly, in an unexpected flash of anger, Carson grabbed Chandler’s arm, causing him to spill one of the drinks. “Just who the hell do you think you are!” Carson spat, his voice raised, causing people close by to look in their direction. “Carson, you best take your hand off me unless you wanna draw back a stump…” Chandlers voice was flat and measured. Immediately Carson released his grip. “You think just because you’re screwing the ambassador you can get away with being a lush? Don’t forget Chandler, I know all about you. If it was not for Greta you would not even be working in this business. She saved your ass from going to prison.” Chandler calmly sat the drinks down on the bar and turned and looked Carson straight in the eye. “Carson, I don’t know what your problem is…” Carson interrupted him. “You! You are my problem Chandler! You and your little hired team of mercenaries parading around here with your ‘holier than thou’ attitude. Don’t forget Chandler I was there three years ago the day the Secretary of State almost got killed because of your incompetence! You were in charge of guarding her life and remind me, what was your Blood Alcohol level that morning? Still twice the legal limit? Jesus Man! You belong in prison! Not working at the U.S. Embassy!” Spittle flew as Carson got those last words out, his face crimson red with anger. Chandler kept his cool. “Carson, since you are so familiar with my personal history, then you surely know there was a senate judicial inquiry that found me guilty of being under the influence of alcohol that morning. I was discharged from the DSS and sent to Betty Ford for six months.” Carson smirked. “Sent to rehab! Yeah, because Greta went to bat for you. Calling in favors with all those Senators. You should have been sent to Prison and never been allowed to work in the security or law enforcement field again!” Carson replied, wiping his mouth with a napkin. “Regardless. I am here now and my drinking is under control, as you can see…” Chandler was again interrupted. “Under control! Jesus man you were late for work for the second time in a month this morning because of your drinking and carousing! You caused the Ambassador to have to re-schedule meetings with very important people Logan! I thought for sure she was going to fire you and your team, but No! Again, you squeak by because of the grace and goodwill of your main squeeze Greta Stern! Unbelievable!” Carson was getting worked up again, the veins in his forehead beginning to bulge.  Chandler took a deep breath and smiled. He knew arguing with Carson was fruitless. “I would be careful Carson, in the shape you’re in, you should watch elevating your blood pressure too much. Guys like you drop dead from heart-attacks every day.” Chandler picked up his drinks and headed back to his table. “Oh and Logan” Carson said, leaning on the bar. Logan turned back around, exasperated. “Don’t think I have not noticed that you and Greta are up to something.” Logan’s heart almost jumped out of his chest, but he remained calm. “Go get some rest Carson, you are talking nonsense.” Logan went back to the table. ‘What was all that shit about Skipper?” Chief asked, looking in Carson’s direction as he left. “Just Carson talking shit, as usual.” Logan replied smiling, his heart still thumping in his chest.

Greta never showed up at the bar. So Logan decided to drop-in. The Ambassadors quarters were on the top floor of the Executive building on the back-side of the Embassy compound. Logan flashed his ID to the Marine guard at the back gate and was waved through. Logan noticed the Marine smiling as he walked by. He wondered if all the Marines knew him and Greta had a thing? Most likely he thought. Logan went up a small flight of stairs where he came to the front entrance of the Executive building. Logan rang the buzzer and looked up at the camera and waved. Soon a combination of buzzes and pops could be heard as the door was unlocked. Logan went to the elevator and rode it to the third Floor. The first floor was where Greta’s deputy, Carson lived and the second floor was reserved for Special VIP Guest. The Elevator doors opened up on the third floor into a long hallway of shiny spanish tile. Logan turned right and walked into the living room area where he found the drink cart hidden in a large globe. Greta had just had the place re-decorated and Logan could see she spared no expense. Persian rugs and Dark Mahogany lined the place. Pouring himself two fingers of Glenfiddich single malt Logan walked back down the hall to Greta’s office where he found her in her nightgown at her desk working. She did not look up when he walked in. “I thought you were coming down for a drink.” Logan said as he sipped his scotch. “I was running behind on some reports to D.C., thought I might get caught up so we can have the weekend free.” Greta replied as she typed on her laptop. “Listen, I ran into our favorite person, Carson, and again he was up my ass and talking shit.” Logan walked into the room and took a seat in a plush chaise lounge in the corner. Greta stopped working and turned around in her chair, taking off her reading glasses. “What exactly kind of shit was he talking?” Greta asked. “Oh at first the usual, that I should not be working here, blah, blah, and then as I was walking away he said he knows that me and you are up to something.” Logan stared at Greta and sipped his whiskey. Greta rolled her eyes as she reached over and fished a cigarette from a pack lying on the desk. Lighting it, she got up from her chair and opened a set of french doors that led out onto a small balcony. Logan noticed as she got up she was wearing no underwear underneath her silk robe. “That asshole is always running his mouth. He has sent over half a dozen memos to the Deputy Secretary complaining about me.” Greta exhaled smoke out of the doors and a slight breeze carried it away. “But him letting me know he knows something kinda makes me nervous Greta…” Logan replied, finishing his drink. Greta finished her cigarette and closed the doors and then walked over to Logan. “He’s just running his mouth. He has been jealous of me and you for a while now. Plus, he doesn’t know or have anything, otherwise I would certainly know about it. Remember I have eyes and ears everywhere.” Greta arranged herself where she was standing in front of Logan. Logan set his glass down on the floor and wrapped his arms around her. “You did not drink so much that you will be useless to me tonight, did you?” Greta asked looking down at him. “No Madam Ambassador, all my gauges are in the green and ready for takeoff…” They both laughed as she grabbed his hand and led him into the bedroom.

That night Logan had the dream he had almost every night since the shooting three years ago. It was like playing a video back of the day’s events in slow motion. It was a routine meet and greet. DSS and the Secretary of State had flown in the prior evening to Kabul and was scheduled to meet President Ghani at his palace the next afternoon. DSS Protocol dictated a team liaison with Ghani’s security at the palace the night before to sweep and clear it. Logan was head of that Team. The check had only taken a few hours and after that the team decided to play some poker with the Afghan’s. Logan knew the rules about drinking on duty but decided to have a few screwdriver’s to loosen up anyways. The next morning he was feeling like hammered shit, but three red bull’s and some visine got him straight enough for detail. When the Secretary arrived at the palace, he took lead in her protective cordon. They had to walk about fifty yards to the library room where the meeting would take place. The media were thick as flies and it was very slow-moving. As they rounded a corner, in the dream, this is where things go into slow motion. Logan caught movement from behind a large stone column. It was an arab man in his twenties with a full beard. He heard the “Allah Akbar”yell  before he ever saw the gun for some reason. That half-second delay in reaction allowed the man to level the gun directly at the Secretary’s head. Logan was able to close the distance between him and the shooter, getting in-between him and the Secretary. Logan pushed the muzzle to the right as the gun fired. As he was pushing and controlling the gun with his left hand, he drew with the right and started working the trigger of his Sig 229 at point-blank range. The AAR (After-Action Report) claimed he shot the assailant twelve times in the chest and head, but Logan thought for sure it was only around five. The round the Arab got off hit the Secretary of State in the right shoulder, somehow missing the Level III Ballistic vest she was wearing. The bullet entered and exited cleanly, although there was some permanent nerve damage. The next scene in the dream was a huge cavernous courtroom. He was seated below a panel of five judges in red and black robes. The jury was made up of old Alcoholics Anonymous sponsors he had over the years. As Logan stood there, dumbfounded, all of the judges looked down at him and said “You were drunk the morning the Secretary of State was almost killed! You are GUILTY, GUILTY, GUILTY!” The sound of the gavel striking the sound block echoed loudly as Logan awoke in a cold sweat. His heart pounding like he had just run a marathon.

The next morning Logan awoke as the sun sneaked between the blinds and began to filter into the bedroom. The back of his eyeballs hurt and his mouth felt like a jar of cotton. Hangover pain scale from one to ten: Three. It was a Saturday, so the entire embassy was on weekend rotation, which meant a skeleton crew for everybody except security. As Logan got up to take a piss and shower, he could hear Greta in the kitchen, making breakfast for the both of them. “Smells like french toast.” Logan thought to himself. After a shave and a shower, Logan dressed and walked into the kitchen to find Greta on her laptop catching up on the day’s news, drinking a cup of coffee. “I made your favorite, french toast and bacon.” Greta said. Logan smiled as he walked over to the counter and poured himself a big mug of coffee. “Smells awesome, thanks babe.” Logan walked over and kissed her on top of the head. He then sat down across from her and began eating. “The press is still talking about this reprisal attack on this Tajik tribal leader in Nangarhar.  It has been three months, you would think they would move on!” Greta said, scrolling through the headlines. Logan stopped eating and looked up. “Do they mention anything about the $2 million that was stolen?” Greta shook her head. “No. Even if they did, they would not print it. The Secretary and the White House have made it very clear to the Post and this reporter that any informants the CIA are using to get intel on the Taliban and any money paid fall under the National Security Act.” Logan took another bite of french toast and a sip of coffee and thought about that. “If that is so then why is this guy still hanging on to the story?” Logan pushed his plate away in frustration. “He’s hanging on to the story because that’s what reporters are paid to do Logan, you know that. It’s not exactly like there is a lot going on as of late. Afghanistan and Iraq are no longer front page news, so when any little thing comes up of course they are gonna bird dog it…” Greta sipped her coffee, looking at Logan over her reading glasses. Logan contemplated that and drank his coffee. “I was thinking today maybe we could do some shopping? I need to get some  decorative items to send to my sister, she is re-decorating her house, you know the new one…” Logan’s brain tuned out when Greta started talking about her sister or interior decorating. “I already have the shop picked out, it’s only a ten minute drive.” Greta added, expecting Logan to say yes. “I would have to take the team with us and I am not sure if they have any plans today. You know I like to give them advance notice on stuff like this.” Logan replied. Greta rolled her eyes and got up from the table. “Oh Logan, for God’s sakes! It’s just a quick trip to a shop and I will go incognito, there is no need to bring the cavalry along is there?” Logan thought about it and considered how much it would piss off the team calling them in on their day off for a one hour unscheduled shopping trip for fucking antiques. “OK we roll solo. But tell NOBODY our plans, OK? It is absolutely essential we keep this on the down-low. Wheels up in an hour.” Greta smiled and did a mock salute “Sir Yes Sir, Captain Chandler, Sir!” She then came over and kissed Logan on top of the head and hugged him from behind.

 

To Be Continued…

 

A Border Redemption (Chapter V)

A Western Novelette

Part 2 of the Border Trilogy

Chapter V

La Voyant Ranch

It was a few hours before dawn and the cabin was dark and quiet. Everybody was fast asleep except the three men on watch at the windows. Creed had been on guard for an hour when Eve came over and brought him a cup of coffee and some fried cornbread. “My mom’s recipe.” she whispered, brushing her hair back from her eyes. Creed admired her beauty in the dim shadow of the candles. “Thanks. How’s Tick?” Creed whispered in reply. “He’s resting. The bleeding has stopped but he still has a fever.” Creed noticed the look of concern on Eve’s face. “Will he be OK you think?” Creed asked. “The fever worries me. It means there is an infection. He really needs a Doctor.” Creed just shook his head in frustration. “You think we can get out of here soon?” Eve asked. “I hope…” Creed did not finish his sentence as a sound outside caught his attention. “Pssssst” Creed got Knowles attention at the next window and Grissom’s at the back. Instead of talking Creed pointed to his ears and then outside. “Eve go take cover by the bunks and keep that revolver handy.” Creed whispered. Eve nodded her head and quickly moved over to the bunk with her waiting mother who already had a shotgun loaded and ready. Knowles, Grissom and Creed all shouldered their carbines and went on high alert at their windows scanning the area. It was a moonless night, and with the combination of the pre-dawn hour, the darkness outside was a sheet of complete blackness. Creed cleared his mind and listened. There! The sound he heard earlier, a rustling. Creed slowly cocked the hammer on his carbine and aligned the sights, scanning with the barrel of the gun. The sound, as best he could tell was coming from in front of the corrals next to the barn. Movement in the shadows! Creed aligned the sights and right before he squeezed the trigger Grissom whispered. “Hold your Fire! Coyotes! They are eating on the dead horses!” Creed let out a sigh of relief and relaxed the hammer on the carbine and withdrew the barrel back inside.

Creed shot a glance over to Grissom, who was smiling. “I guess we forgot there was half-a-dozen rotting horses out there!” Creed smiled at the remark. He glanced over at Eve and Sarah who were also smiling in relief. “Well since we are all up now, I think this calls for some coffee.” Rojo said, climbing out of his bunk. Creed was just about to say “I would love some” when the cabin exploded in gunfire. Knowles and Grissom were already calling out targets before Creed could get back behind his carbine. “Looks like they got reinforcements!  I count six guns back here!” Knowles yelled as he returned fire. “I count eight, No! Make it Ten! Jesus! Where did they all come from?” Grissom exclaimed as he returned fire as quickly as he could. By the time Creed had drawn a bead with this rifle, there were upwards of twenty mounted gunman surrounding the bunk house. Splinters of wood flew as bullets pierced the cabin. The women yelled in sheer terror as bullets impacted all around them. Rojo quickly herded the women into a corner away from the windows. He then took one of the mattresses off the bunks and laid it over them. He repeated this with Tick. “They are setting up some kind of barricade back here!” Knowles yelled as light first appeared outside and things could be seen more clearly. “Same thing in the front!” Creed replied. Creed watched in horror as three wagons were rolled into place not twenty yards from the bunk house. “Ammo!” Grissom yelled. Rojo crawled over and retrieved the saddlebag Knowles had brought and flung it over. “This all we got?!” Grissom looked up in distress. “Si!” Rojo replied. Grissom shook his head in disgust and continued firing. After the wagons were rolled into place, Newton and his posse stopped firing. Creed likewise ordered everybody to cease-fire. After a few moments, Creed watched two men ride up and dismount behind the wagons. Directly, a voice pierced the silence. “This is John Randolph speaking. I need to speak to the man in charge in there.” Grissom and Creed looked at each other in amazement. “This is Creed La Voyant Speaking Randolph.” Creed yelled out through the window. “Listen son, this thing has gotten way out of hand. I don’t want to see anybody else killed. So here is what I propose: You hand over the nigger and the mexican and we let Sarah and Eve go back home safe and sound.” Randolph replied. Creed shook his head in disbelief at the gall of Randolph. “That dirty sum-bitch!” Grissom exclaimed, shaking his head. “Tell me something Randolph, how many people out there know why you want this land so bad?” Creed asked. There was a long pause. “Well, I guess now, just me and you.” Randolph replied amused. ” Go ahead and laugh, you’re finished Randolph regardless what you do to Rojo and Tick, you  are still going down for all the evil you have done in this town! Right now John Lewis is in Austin at the State Attorneys office with a certain black ledger, sound familiar?” Creed replied. Five minutes passed in silence. The next voice was that of the hired killer, R.T. Newton. “OK Indian, you have heard the offer, either you send out the nigger and mexican and we let the women go or we just blow you all to hell, your choice. You got two minutes to decide.” Newton held up several sticks of dynamite wrapped together with a long fuse for all to see to give a visual aid to the seriousness of the threat.

Feeling like he needed to stall for time, Creed quickly answered. “One of the men you want is badly wounded and cannot be moved…” Newton could be heard laughing. “Oh Yeah, the gut shot nigger, forgot about that. That’s OK, you can just lay him out here and we will finish him off…” Creed’s anger boiled over immediately. “I’ll be damned if I will! And you all can go to hell!” Newton continued to laugh. “OK, have it your way. It is everybody’s funeral in that cabin in exactly one minute.” Rojo immediately stood up. “Tell him I am coming out, but only after the women are allowed to ride off safely.” Creed and Grissom traded glances, frustrated. “We don’t have a choice kid. The bastard has us by the balls.” Grissom whispered. Suddenly Sarah stood up. “Tell Randolph I want to talk to him face to face.” Creed looked at Sarah for a long moment. “It’s risky.” Grissom replied, looking at Creed then at Sarah. Creed paused and then yelled out. “Sarah Patterson wants to talk to John Randolph, face to face. I am sending her out, unarmed. Everybody hold your fire!” “You are trying my patience kid!” Newton replied from behind one of the wagons. Without warning and with the boldness of a lioness, Sarah burst out the door before Creed or Grissom could stop her. “John Randolph stop hiding behind your attack dogs and come out here and face me!” Sarah yelled out, her face red with anger. “Knowles, you and Rojo keep a sharp eye out back there, they may try something!” Grissom whispered. Meanwhile, Eve was glued to the window, watching her mother intently.

After a few minutes, Randolph came slowly walking out from behind the wagons, two armed goons following him. He stopped ten feet from where Sarah stood. “OK Sarah, here I am, what’s on your mind?” Sarah took a deep breath and stared at Randolph for a long minute, the anger seething out of her. “John Randolph for the last six years I refused to believe the truth about what happened to my husband. But then yesterday as me and my daughter were comforting Marshall Prescott’s widow and she told me the rumors that were going around town about you, I realized how big a fool I have been. I refused to acknowledge the truth about what you really are Randolph.” Sarah had a look of utter disgust on her face. “And what am I Sarah?” Randolph asked, an impatient smirk on his face. “A Murderer.” she spat., glaring at him. Randolph chuckled. “You know every man who has ever accomplished something great in life have had accusations thrown at them. The Carnegie’s, The Rockefeller’s…” Sarah interrupted him. “Oh For God’s sakes Randolph! Stop your illusions of grandeur! You are nowhere close to an Andrew Carnegie or John Rockefeller! You are a lucky tin pan who turned into a crook, pure and simple. You have lied, cheated, extorted, bribed and murdered to get where you are and I hope to see you swinging by the end of a rope before all of this is over! And if you think me and my daughter are simply going to crawl away like whooped dogs while you and your goon squad murder those brave men in there you are sadly mistaken!” When Sarah finished her speech, you could have heard a mouse fart. Everybody, including his own men, were now looking at Randolph to reply while Sarah stood there with her arms crossed, a look of stern defiance on her face. Visibly agitated and embarrassed, Randolph took two-steps toward Sarah. As he raised his hand as if he were going to strike her an arrow burst out of his chest from behind, spraying Sarah with blood. Randolph’s eyes went wide as he looked down to see the black flint head  protruding from his chest. “Indians!” Randolph’s men yelled as they dove under wagons and Gunfire erupted from every direction. Grissom quickly went out and grabbed Randolph and Sarah and pulled them back into the bunk house. Creed took one look at Randolph and knew he would not live long, the arrow was too close to the heart. Knowles and Rojo had already took up positions at the windows and were firing at any of Randolph’s men that were still out in the open. Creed yelled at Rojo who was manning the back window. “How many riders back there?”. “I count ten, no twelve!” Rojo replied. Creed smiled. His uncle had been true to his word. He had returned, and in the nick of time.

It did not take long for the two dozen mounted braves to over run the disorganized posse. A large majority of the men were farmers and merchants that had no stomach for killing. Most dropped their guns and ran for town while others cowered under wagons and whimpered like children. Knowles put on his hat and holstered his pistol. “I am gonna go out there and make sure all the men who surrendered get treated fairly. Gotta have some semblance of Law and Order round here.” As Knowles walked out the door, Creed, Grissom and Rojo walked over to Ticks bunk. All three men removed their hats as they approached. They all knew from the way Eve was crying that he was gone. “When did he pass?” Creed asked quietly. “About the time the fight started.” Eve replied as she hugged him. Creed’s heart swelled with grief. Tick was the one who had found him wandering in the desert after his parent’s were slaughtered over three years ago. He had been the kindest to him out of all the men in Diaz’s gang, often sharing his breakfast and supper with him. Creed reached over and gently closed Tick’s eyes and then covered his head with the bed sheet. “Do you know what his real name was?” Eve asked, looking at all three men, all of their eyes wet with tears. “Tick was all we ever knew.” Suddenly Sarah’s voice broke the stillness. “Confess you son-of-a-bitch! Confess your sins before you go to meet your maker!” Creed jumped up and was surprised to see Randolph on the floor, still alive, with Sarah towering over him, shaking a cocked revolver at his head. “Confess you had a hand in murdering my husband and Marshall Prescott in cold blood! Confess right now!” Randolph’s face was ashen gray from the blood loss, his eyes going white as they rolled back in his head. His tongue, hanging loose from his mouth like a sick dog.  “Sarah.” Creed said in a clam and quiet voice. Sarah, surprised, spun around to face Creed, the revolver still in her hand. “Stay out of this Creed! That Bastard, That Monster, is going to confess!” Sarah’s face was contorted with hate, her eyes red and swollen from crying, her hands shaking from anger. “Sarah, how about we put down that gun before somebody else get’s hurt. He’s gonna be dead in a few minutes anyway Sarah, there’s no need for it…” Creed hoped he was making sense. After a few moments he took a deep breath as Sarah lowered the gun and handed it to Creed. Sarah then dropped to her knees in front of Randolph, who by now had died from massive blood loss. Between the great sobs and wails Sarah would try to speak but her pain was so great Creed could not make it out. Soon Eve came over and kneeled down with her mother and held her. Looking over at Randolph and then at Creed, Eve comforted her mother. “He’s dead mama. He’s dead. He will never be able to do this to anybody’s husband or Father ever again.” Both women cried for several minutes as Creed took a blanket and covered Randolph’s body.

Creed walked outside to find his uncle, Spotted Rabbit and Marshall Knowles conversing over the body of four dead men. Creed recognized one of them as R.T. Newton, Randolph’s hired gun. He guessed the other three were part of his outfit. “These four refused to lay down their weapons, fought it out and died like the dogs they were.” Spotted Rabbit spat. “Bury them with the rest.” Creed said as he surveyed the carnage. “How many dead?” Creed asked Knowles. Knowles shrugged. “I would guess around thirty, but I haven’t counted. What about Inside?” The look on Creed’s face told Knowles and Spotted Rabbit all they need to know and both bowed their heads in respect. “What about Randolph?” Knowles asked. “About ten minutes ago.” Creed said softly. “Good riddance.” Knowles replied coldly. “Tick was one tough sumbitch to have survived that long gut shot, most men would have died within an hour or two.” Knowles said as he put a plug of tobacco in his cheek. Creed nodded his head in agreement. “Well, on the bright side we won’t have to go to the trouble of a trial or building another damn gallows.” Knowles said smiling. “But, we still have a problem with Spotted Rabbit and his outfit being wanted renegade indians who have escaped an Indian Reservation. By law, I should arrest them and have them transported back to Mescalero. But hell, the way I see it, what you done here today makes up for all that Spotted Rabbit, so here is what I am going to do. I am gonna get on my horse and ride into town for a few hours. When I return, I want you and your boys Gone, and by Gone I mean out of Texas, comprende?” Spotted Rabbit nodded and turned to go talk to his braves. Knowles and Creed walked over the Barn where his horse was stabled. “I expect to hear back from John Lewis and the State’s Attorney’s office any day now.” Creed said, tightening up Knowles saddle straps. “Yeah, it’s a shame that bastard Randolph won’t be able to stand trial for the murders.” Knowles replied. “Yeah, but the main thing is the people who were taken advantage of in this town will get justice. That ledger proves he cheated this town out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hopefully a judge will give that money back to the people who were cheated.” Creed replied as Knowles mounted his horse. “I hope so Creed. Now don’t forget. Your Uncle and his outfit need to be gone. Preferably Mexico.” Creed nodded and Knowles lit out for town. Creed walked over to find his Uncle readying several horses. “I knew I would see you again Uncle.” Creed said smiling. Spotted Rabbit smiled back as he holstered a rifle in a saddle scabbard. “What are your plans?” Creed asked excitedly. “We will ride South.” Spotted Rabbit replied. “And you? What are your plans Nephew? To become the next Texas Oil Tycoon of Shafter?” Spotted Rabbit eyed Creed and smiled. “Honestly Uncle I have not thought about it. I just want to get things made right for the people who live here.” Creed replied. “Well with John Randolph out-of-the-way I am sure things will start to improve.” Spotted Rabbit replied. “And do I have you  and your bow to thank for that?” Creed eyed his Uncle smiling. Spotted Rabbit just smiled and mounted his horse. “Until next time Nephew!” Spotted rabbit yelled raising his hand as a red cloud of dust billowed into the air and thirteen riders and two loaded mules headed south to Old Mexico.

6 Months Later

Mayor John Lewis, Creed, Grissom, and Marshall Knowles sat outside at a picnic table under a large Elm tree in front of the main house. “So with the ledger, The State’s Attorney General was able to take it before a judge and seize all of Randolph’s cash and assets?” Creed asked. “Well, of course Randolph’s family is fighting all of this in court, but the bottom line is yes, that is exactly what he did. Plus the judge awarded all the business owners that Randolph had extorted all these years large cash settlements.” Lewis replied. “What about Sarah and Eve?” Creed asked.”The judge awarded them the silver mine that Randolph stole from her husband three years ago and a very large unspecified cash settlement.” Lewis replied. As Creed listened, his gaze shifted to the small hill behind his house where he had built a memorial for his dear friend, Tick. It consisted of a polished wrought iron fence and gate with a beautiful marble bench and a Tombstone, six feet high. The inscription on the tombstone simply read “Tick  1860-1903. A True and Noble Friend.” As Creed looked at the Memorial, his gaze shifted farther into the distance, where several oil derricks could be seen dotting the landscape. “Creed, excuse me, are you OK?” Lewis asked. Creed suddenly snapped out of his daydream. “Ah, yes. Sorry, I drifted off there.” Creed said smiling. “I was asking about the ranch, how are things going?” Lewis asked. Creed looked at Grissom to take over for him, still lost in his daydream. “Well, we have five wells producing right now and have plans to drill three more by years end.” Grissom said smiling. “Outstanding!” Lewis responded. Obviously happy at the revenue that was going to eventually produce for the town.”And Marshall Knowles, do you have any information on the band of renegade indians that attacked three months ago?” Knowles shot a glance over at Creed who was still lost in thought. “No, last I heard they were seen in Old Mexico.” Knowles replied with a smirk. “Well, let’s hope they stay on that side of the river.” Lewis replied standing up, signifying the meeting was over. All men shook hands and the Mayor and Marshall Knowles were driven back to town by their personal driver in one of the first Model T Fords in Shafter.

Creed and Grissom stood watching the automobile for quite a while, both of them amazed at the contraption. After a few minutes, Eve came from the house and coming up behind Creed, put her arms around his waist. Creed turned around to face her and smiled. “And what did our Good Mayor have to say?” Eve asked. “Oh, just that Randolph’s assets have been seized by the State and all the people in town that got swindled, including you and your mom, are going to be made whole.” Eve’s face lit up. “Oh Creed! Mom is going to be so happy!” She started to hug Creed and Creed suddenly recoiled, afraid he might hurt the growing baby inside her womb. Both of them looked at each other and grinned. “It’s OK, you’re not gonna hurt the baby!” she whispered in his ear. He smiled back and hugged her, lifting her off her feet and spinning her around as she giggled in delight. Suddenly in the distance, a loud explosion could be heard. As they all three turned around, they saw a fountain of oil spraying into the air out of one of the derricks. “There she is Creed! What did I tell ya! Number three hit!” Grissom yelled laughing, “Come on Boy!” Creed gave Eve one last kiss and set off toward the derrick, he and Grissom running at full sprint toward the derrick. Eve stood and watched them for a long while, the black oil raining down on her in a mist. She had never been so happy in all her life. She put her hand on her belly and felt the baby give a small kick. Eve smiled as she walked back to the house, content for the present and the future.

The End

A Border Redemption (Chapter IV)

A Western Novelette

Part 2 of the Border Trilogy

Chapter IV

 

La Voyant Ranch

Creed was dreaming he was soaring above the earth like the great eagle. The world entire lay below him like a painting that was alive and breathing. Colors were vibrant and the world was pulsating with the very rhythm of existence. Time moved around him in a blur and when he looked below he recognized his own ranch. Creed could see horses, cattle, he even saw Grissom mending a fence. “Look deeper” the voice said. Suddenly Creeds vision became different. He could see underneath the ground, into the dark nether places, deep within the earth. Below the ranch flowed a black river. It was as wide as the Rio Grande and swift as the Colorado. “What is this?” Creed asked. There was no response. The last thing Creed saw before waking up was the great black river flowing under the ground for thousands of miles, circling the earth many times over. As Creed awoke from the dream, he raised up out of bed and walked to the door of the bunk house. He walked out into the cool, pre-dawn morning. The sky was still dark but on the horizon that beautiful assortment of purple and red ribbons of color was beginning to bleed through the curtain of night. He went over and sat down. “What did I just see?” He asked himself. An hour passed and soon Grissom was up making coffee. “How long you been sittin’ out here by yourself?” Grissom asked, slightly perturbed. “For a while.” Creed answered. “Not smart Creed. You know we got people wanting us dead, right?” Grissom shook his head at Creed as he went inside to fetch the coffee pot. As Grissom poured two thick black cups of coffee, the image of the underground black river went through Creed’s mind again. “Say you ever seen a black river that runs underground?” Creed asked. Grissom smiled at the question. “You serious? A black river?” Creed shot Grissom a serious glance. “There is a black river running underneath our feet right now.” Grissom smirked at the remark. “What in the hell are you talking about Creed? You been sipping on Tick’s laudanum or something?” Grissom smirked. “No, I dreamed it about two hours ago.” Creed replied, still looking at Grissom seriously.  The smirk immediately disappeared from Grissom’s face. Grissom had known Creed long enough to know that his dreams were nothing to take lightly. Grissom pondered the question for a moment. Suddenly, as if snake bit, he jumped up from the table. “If this is what I think it is, we should be able to find some evidence around here somewhere. C’mon!” Creed smiled as he recognized the fire in Grissom’s belly. He jumped up and followed Grissom out the door. As they threw their saddles on their horses, Creed hollered “Where are we going?” Grissom smiled widely. “When we find what I think we are going to find all your questions will be answered kid, I promise!”

Marshall Knowles Office

Marshall Knowles was deep in reflective thought when Sarah and Eve Patterson stormed into his office. “Marshall, we need to talk!” Knowles had known Sarah Patterson long enough to know by her tone she was not in a good mood. “What’s going on Sarah?” was all Knowles could get out before Sarah verbally unloaded on him. “We just came from the widow Prescott’s house and you will not believe the rumors she has been hearing about how her husband died!” Knowles blood ran cold and his bowels suddenly felt loose. “What rumors?” Knowles replied sheepishly. “Rumors that John Randolph either killed J.T. or had him killed and then blamed it on those renegade apaches, you know anything about that?” Sarah stared at Knowles, waiting on an answer. Knowles’ mind raced and his heart pounded. Marshall Prescott may have been cut out for this corrupt business, but he sure wasn’t. He had known most of the families in Shafter all his life. How could he look them in the eye and lie to them? As Knowles searched for the right words, tears formed in his eyes. “Oh God, you do know something.” Sarah gasped, holding her had up to her mouth in disbelief. Eve stood up. “Marshall Knowles did John Randolph have Marshall Prescott killed? We demand to know!” Knowles looked up at Eve, his eyes red and swollen. “Please sit down Eve and keep your voice down.” Knowles whispered in a hushed tone. “What we are discussing could get us all killed.” Knowles got up and pulled the shade down on the large window facing the street and locked the door. “What I am about to tell you has to stay strictly between us for now, is that understood?” Both Sarah and Eve shook their heads that they understood. “Yes, Randolph did Kill Marshall Prescott and blame it on the renegade indians. But that is only half the story. The reason he killed him is because he failed to kill all of Creed’s outfit in the ambush at Preacher’s Gulch. Now there are two witnesses who can testify to attempted murder.” Sarah and Eve’s mouth dropped open and their eyes became big as saucers.

“But why? Why would Randolph want Creed and his outfit dead?” Eve asked. “It has something to do with that land Creed bought, from what I understand John Lewis was supposed to hold that Land for Mr. Randolph to buy but instead sold it to Creed.” Knowles replied, blowing his nose on a handkerchief. “Have you talked to John Lewis about this to find out about the land?” Sarah asked. “Can’t find him. He most likely left town when all this kicked off, and I cannot blame him. Randolph does not tolerate people who make mistakes.” Knowles gave Sarah and Eve a look of disgust. “You said Randolph failed to kill all of Creed’s outfit, who are the two witnesses?” Eve asked. “His mexican foreman, Rojo and a creole negro called Tick.” Knowles replied. “There’s more bad news.” Knowles continued. “Randolph has hired a group of killers led by a man named R.T. Newton to kill Creed and the other men. They arrived in town the other day.” Sarah took a deep breath and shook her head in disbelief as Eve reached over and squeezed her hand.”So I guess the question is what do you intend to do about all this Marshall?” Eve asked. Knowles stood up, adjusted his gun belt and hat. “I intend to stop John Randolph.” Eve looked at her mother for a long moment, nodded and then looked up at Knowles. “Well since I am guessing there is nobody crazy enough to join you in standing up to his ‘highness’ John Randolph, you can count us both in to help you.” Knowles smiled at the gesture. “Thanks Eve, but I don’t want anymore innocent people getting hurt.” “What? You think because we are both women we cannot shoot a gun? We both got trigger fingers Marshall!” Eve’s eyes flashed with anger. “Whoa! I am not gonna step into that argument! OK Eve, you and your mom can help. But First things first. We get out to Creed’s ranch and warn him about what’s going on.” Eve and Sarah both jumped up and prepared to leave as Knowles went over to the gun rack and got three carbines and a shotgun. Handing two of the carbines to Eve and Sarah he then reached under his desk and grabbed a large saddle bag full of ammunition and revolvers. “I see you have been preparing for this.” Eve asked Knowles as they walked out the door. “Been thinking about nothing else all day.” Knowles replied.

Randolph Estate

“I have had a man watching that ranch since yesterday. He says this indian boy, the mexican, the nigger and another white man are all holed up in the bunk house. You give the order and we can take care of all of them.” R.T. Newton spat tobacco juice into one of Randolph’s manicured flowerbeds. Randolph grimaced at Newton’s coarse manners. “Any sign of the land man, John Lewis?” Randolph asked. “No sir. No sign at all. His office and house are empty and nobody in town knows where he is at.” “Son-of-a-bitch!” Randolph spat in frustration. After pacing a few more times around the patio Randolph spun around to face Newton. “To make this look legal and not to draw too much attention from town, you are gonna need Marshall Knowles to accompany you out there, that way when the shooting starts you have the law on your side.” Newton laughed loudly at the remark. “Funny how the law works isn’t it Randolph? Law and Order always going to the highest bidder.” Randolph dismissed the remark with a smirk. “Stop by his office on the way out there, he will be expecting you.” Randolph walked over to the patio table and opened a satchel. Reaching inside he took out a large stack of banded hundred-dollar bills. “Here is the five thousand I promised. When this is all over, ride straight out-of-town. Do not come back out here, understood?” Newton shook his head. “Pleasure doing business with you Mr. Randolph.” As Newton tipped his hat, Randolph smirked and waved is hand, as if he were a king dismissing a lowly subject.

La Voyant Ranch

After riding only a few hundred yards from the bunk house, Grissom and Creed found what they were looking for. Creed watched in amazement as Grissom wrapped a handkerchief around a stick, dipped it into the black puddle of thick goo on the ground and then lit the torch with two matches. As the flame began to burn brightly, Grissom smiled. “That my apache friend is Oil! Liquid Gold!” Creed’s eyes got wide. He had heard about oil being found in Texas. Just two years prior at a place called Spindletop near Beaumont, a huge gusher had been discovered. “A Black River underground! I’ll be damned!” Creed exclaimed smiling. Grissom threw down the small torch and stomped it out. “You do realize this explains why Randolph was trying to have us all killed, right?” Grissom squinted up at Creed on horseback. “Yeah, there is damn fortune right underneath our feet.” Creed replied. Suddenly Grissom’s ear perked up. “Riders…Coming this way.” Grissom jumped back on his horse and him and Creed raced back to the bunk house. By the time they had dismounted and took up positions with their rifles, Knowles, Sarah and Eve could be seen riding up. “I don’t like this kid. Could be a trick.” Grissom remarked, aiming down the rifle. “Steady Grissom, let’ see what is on their minds…” Creed replied. Knowles stopped twenty yards from the bunk house and waved a white handkerchief. “We come in peace. We all just want to talk.” Knowles yelled out. “That fine Marshall, but just to be safe, how about you surrender all your guns.” Grissom responded. Knowles nodded and offered the small arsenal he and Sarah were carrying. Grissom’s eyes widened at the amount of firepower. “My God Knowles, what were you expecting? The Battle of the Alamo?” Grissom remarked as he picked up some of the guns and started carrying them inside. “Let’s all go inside out of the heat.” Creed said, helping Sarah and Eve down from their buggy. As Creed opened the door, Eve gave him a smile. Creed smiled back and felt himself blush. After everybody was seated, Rojo sat up in bed across the room to hear the conversation also. Grissom retrieved a bottle of rye from the cabinet and six glasses. and poured everybody a drink. Knowles talked for over twenty minutes explaining everything he had told Sarah and Eve about Randolph, Marshall Prescott and R.T. Newton. As he talked, Grissom and Creed just looked at one another shaking their heads. “What is it?” Knowles asked excitedly. Creed proceeded to fill in the blanks concerning the oil they had discovered and how John Lewis was on his way to Austin with a ledger containing evidence that, when combined with the testimony of Tick and Rojo, could put Randolph in prison for a very long time.

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Five hundred yards away from the bunk house on a small ridge, Taylor, Newton’s sharpshooter, was camped out watching the ranch through a pair of binoculars. He watched a negro water, feed and then curry comb the horses that had just rode in. Taylor heard riders approaching from behind and as he drew his pistol he saw Newton’s familiar black stud, followed by the others. “Please tell me a wagon with two women in it and Marshall Knowles arrived a short while ago.” Newton said as he dismounted. “You got it boss, how did you know?”  Taylor asked, arching an eyebrow. “The tracks are as plain as day coming from town. What else is going on down there?” Newton replied, spitting tobacco juice. “Not much. The negro is up and around. He is down there taking care of the horses right now, the rest are in the bunk house.” Taylor replied, handing the binoculars to Newton. As Newton watched Tick, a smile formed over his yellow teeth. “You think you can take him from this distance?” Newton asked. “Not a problem boss. What about the others?” Taylor replied. “Me and the boys will stage up in that stand of trees yonder.” Newton pointed below. “As soon as we hear you shoot, we attack. Your job will then be to cover us. Anybody steps out of that bunk house, put a hole through them, understood?”Newton replied, mounting his horse. “What about the lawman and the two women?” Taylor asked concerned. Newton paused looking down at the bunk house for a long second. “Casualties of War.” Newton replied coldly. Taylor stood looking dumbfounded as Newton and the other two men rode down into the trees, the dust from the horses swirling up around him.

————————————-

Tick had just finished forking some hay for the horses and was about to go up to the bunk house for a drink when something hit him in the stomach, almost like a hornet sting. Reaching down to investigate, his hand immediately filled with dark oozing blood. As his brain was registering that he had just been shot and not stung, Tick looked up to see three riders, several hundred yards out, firing carbines and pistols. “Son-of-a-bitch!” Tick yelled as he drew his revolver. He managed to get off two aimed shots before someone grabbed him from behind. “Come on you crazy bastard!” Grissom exclaimed. Tick continued firing his pistol as Grissom dragged him up the steps and into the house, slamming the solid wooden door behind them. Creed and Knowles were already returning fire with rifles through the two front windows, with Rojo manning the single back window. The windows had instead of glass, double reinforced wood shutters with cross-shaped shooting slits, which allowed the shooter to fire left to right and up and down. It was an age-old design found in forts all over the southwest. As Grissom dragged Tick to the kitchen table, Sarah and Eve jumped into action and quickly cleared the cups and dishes away. “Eve get me a pail of water and as many clean bandages as you can find!” Sarah yelled above the gunfire. After Grissom had helped Tick onto the table, he quickly ran to the window where Creed was at and began returning fire with his carbine. “I count three, you see anyone back there Rojo?” Creed asked. “Nada.” Rojo yelled back. “They are taking cover in the barn.” Knowles yelled. “Shoot their horses.” Creed commanded. The sound of the horses bodies dropping to the ground could be heard as each men put a bullet into heads, painlessly dispatching them. Sarah and Eve rolled Tick over to see if there was exit wound. Finding a hole about the size of an acorn dangerously close to his spine, they gently laid him back down. “The bullet went clean through.” Sarah yelled out. “Can you stop the bleeding?” Grissom yelled back, reloading his rifle. “I am gonna try.” Sarah responded as she began packing the wound. Tick’s face had grown gaunt and very pale. “I’m really thirsty.” Tick said, hoarsely. Eve gently gave Tick a drink of water. After he finished the cup, Tick smiled and tried to put on his standard charm. “I gotta tell you, if getting shot get’s me cared for by pretty women like you, I gotta think about getting shot more often.” Tick winked at Eve and Sarah and then grimaced as a wave of pain hit him. “Let’s move him over to one of the beds.” Sarah suggested. Rojo came over and helped Sarah and Eve move Tick to his bunk. He then went over and retrieved a bottle of laudanum from the cabinet. “Give him some of this, maybe it will shut him up.” Rojo gave Tick his rough smile, patted his hand and then resumed his post at the back window. As Sarah gave Tick a spoonful of the opiate she noticed a tear roll down Rojo’s cheek and heard him whisper a prayer in Spanish and cross himself as he kept watch outside.

——————————————-

During the night, Newton and his two men made their way out of the back of the barn and back to the ridge on foot where Taylor was set up. “Those crazy bastards shot our horses.” Pike said as they walked into camp exhausted. “Nothin’ crazy about that. Indian tactics. Take away your enemies mobility and you have a better chance of killing him.” Taylor replied as he cleared a place for the men to sit down and poured them each cups of coffee, “Looks like you gut-shot that nigger Taylor. Getting rusty or what?” Newton asked Taylor with a smirk as he sat down.”The drop on that aught-six load was more than I expected at this range, won’t happen again.” Taylor re-assured Newton with eye contact. “So what’s the plan Boss?” Jackson asked, lighting a cigarette with a brand from the fire. Newton smiled and opened up a saddle bag he had left at the camp. Pulling out two bundles of brown wax paper, he tore them open to reveal two cords of dynamite. “I brought this in the event we could get all the rats hemmed up and it looks like we have. Before dawn we will attack again and use the dynamite and this job will be over.” Newton carefully placed the dynamite back in the paper and the saddle bag. Taylor shook his head in disbelief. This whole job was spinning out of control fast.

To Be Continued…

A Border Redemption (Chapter III)

A Western Novelette

Part 2 of the Border Trilogy

 III.

The Randolph Estate

Marshall Prescott had been waiting in the parlor for over an hour. Twisting his hat in hand like a nervous child on the first day of school, he was running through several scripts in his mind that would attempt to explain the events of the last twenty-four hours. Prescott knew from long experience that Randolph did not take bad news, nor worse yet, failures, well. Suddenly, Prescott was jolted out of his dread by Randolph’s booming voice as he walked in. “What the hell was so important you had to ride out here to my house?” Randolph walked over to the bar and poured himself a drink, glancing at Prescott with a look of disgust. “Well sir, it appears the posse I dispatched to apprehend La Voyant’s outfit has been massacred by a group of renegade indians.” Prescott prepared himself for Randolph to fly into a blind rage. “And what of La Voyant’s outfit, were they killed also in this massacre?” Randolph asked. “Well sir, it appears the posse managed to kill the ten men La Voyant’s outfit was attempting to bring over, but Grissom, the Mexican and the creole nigger were not among the dead.” Prescott was now gripping his hat so tight his knuckles had turned white. Randolph spun around quickly to face Prescott. “These renegade indians, you think they were working with the boy?” Randolph asked, his face red and flushed. “No sir. It appears to be the band that escaped off the Mescalero Reservation last month. The US Army at Fort Sumner has been dispatched as well as the Texas Rangers.” Prescott replied. “So these red niggers just up and decided to attack our posse, huh? Are you stupid Prescott? One or all of them damn apaches are kin to that indian boy somehow.” Randolph replied. “Well sir they took all the posse’s horses and weapons but there is no sign they went to the La Voyant Ranch.” Randolph took a drink and then turned around and looked out the window. “So these three from the boy’s outfit, where are they now? Back at his half-ass ranch on my land” Randolph asked. “We believe so sir.” Prescott replied. “Well Prescott, you need to get another posse together and go over there and finish off these pieces of shit before they run off to the Federal Marshal in Austin claiming we tried to kill them.” Randolph spat out his words in frustration. Prescott swallowed hard at the suggestion. He could not believe what he was hearing. “Mr. Randolph I just cannot go and attack these men on their own property without just cause, that would draw more attention than we need. We need to stick to our original plan and ambush them on the road. That way we can claim bandits or indians killed them.” Prescott replied with a small glimmer of pride in his eye that he actually stood up to the mighty John Randolph.

There was long pause as Randolph pondered the situation. Suddenly, in a flash, Randolph spun around, and with Prescott’s face frozen in disbelief,  drew a small Colt pistol from his pocket and fired at a distance of less than six feet. The small thirty-two caliber round hit Prescott in the upper neck, tearing apart flesh, bone and artery, sending blood spurting halfway across the room like a fountain. Prescott dropped down to his knees, his left hand clutching at his neck and his right hand still trying to draw the gun on his hip. Calmly, Randolph walked over and at point-blank range, shot Prescott square in the head. The impact of the blast scorched the bone and threw Prescott’s head back in a violent whip. Like a limp dish rag, his body crumpled to the floor. Prescott’s eyes were wide and almost cross, a ghastly look of confusion and horror fixed on his face. The smell of scorched flesh and bone permeated the parlor so much that Randolph had to waft away the smoke and odor for fear of gagging. Randolph kneeled down and unbuckled Prescott’s gun belt, placing the rig on a table. He then reached down and unpinned the gold star from his shirt and placed it on the table beside the gun.”You are officially relieved of your duties.” Randolph mumbled with a smirk on his face. Randolph  then walked outside and got the attention of two of his goons. “I need one of you to dispose of that lump of shit in my parlor. Burn it, do not bury it, you understand? I also need one of you to go to the telegraph office and have this message sent.” Randolph handed the man a folded slip of paper. “After that, go and fetch Deputy Knowles, tell him to come straight out here, as it is a matter of supreme importance regarding the Marshall. You understand me?” Both men responded with a “Yes-sir” and headed in separate directions. The telegram Randolph sent had been written the previous night and was to be sent in lieu of Prescott’s failure. It read:

From: John Randolph, Shafter, Texas

To: R.T. Newton, Tombstone, Arizona

Mr. Newton I have a job for you and your crew in Shafter.

Please come in person to discuss details.

Enclosed is $1,000 cash for your trip and trouble.

The money is yours regardless if you take the job or not.

Upon completion of job there will be a bonus of $5,000.

Regards,

John Randolph

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 The La Voyant Ranch

The next morning as Tick and Rojo recuperated in their bunks, Grissom and Creed began work on the main house. Around noon time, Creed spotted a lone rider approaching. Grabbing their carbines Creed and Grissom both walked down to the barn and waited. As the man got closer, Creed recognized him as John Lewis, the Land Office Owner. “Hello! I am unarmed and come in peace!” Lewis yelled as he put his hands in the air, smiling. Creed and Grissom both waved and smiled back and lowered their rifles. “Come on inside the bunk house Mr. Lewis. Got sum’ coffee brewed.” Creed hollered back. “Stick around for this” Creed told Grissom. Grissom nodded and headed inside. As Lewis walked into the bunk house, he noticed Rojo and Tick in their bunks. “What happened to your two men?” Lewis asked concerned as he sat down at the table. “They were wounded in an ambush at Preachers Gulch.” Creed replied, pouring Lewis a cup of coffee. “Oh Yes, I heard about that. Those damn renegade indians are really causing a lot of trouble, I suppose we should be grateful your men survived..” Lewis replied, sipping at his coffee. Hearing this, Creed and Grissom quickly looked at each other. “What exactly did you hear Mr. Lewis?” Grissom asked, moving closer. “James Redding, the Telegraph Operator told me that one of Randolph’s men told him a group of renegade indians massacred around twenty-five cowboys at Preachers Gulch. He said a majority of the men were Mr. Randolphs and the others were hired men out of Mexico he thinks. Why, did you hear something different?” Lewis asked, a quizzical look on his face. Creed and Grissom’s face both got two shades of dark red. “That lying son-of-a-bitch!” Creed exclaimed, jumping up from the table and pacing the room. “Randolph had a group of fifteen hired killers set to ambush Rojo and Tick as they returned from Mexico with ten men who hired on to help build the ranch. That group of “renegade indians” was led by my uncle, Spotted Rabbit, who SAVED Rojo and Tick just in time before they were slaughtered by those hired killers.” Creed explained with fervor. Lewis sat at the table shaking his head, trying to absorb the news. “I knew Randolph was trying to take this land from you. That is the reason I rode out here, But I had no ideal he was going to go this far!” Lewis exclaimed, throwing up his hands. “You say this Telegraph Operator was told about the news of the ambush by one of Randolph’s goons? Well, it all makes sense. Randolph used my uncle and his band as scapegoats to cover up his botched ambush.” Creed explained, sitting back down. “You said the reason you rode out here was that you knew Randolph was going to try to take this land from us, what did you mean by that Mr. Lewis?” Grissom asked pointedly. Lewis reached into his jacket pocket and placed a folded leather-bound black ledger on the table. “For the last twenty years I have been in charge of every shady, illegal land deal Randolph has been a part of. And unbeknownst to him, I also recorded every dollar of extortion, bribe and kickback money that changed hands. With this ledger gentleman, you can put John Randolph in prison for a very long time.” Lewis replied.

“Prison is too good for that piece of goat shit.” Tick weakly hollered from his bunk across the room, taking a big swig of laudanum. “The only way we can tie Randolph to the ambush and murders is the testimony of Tick and Rojo.” Lewis replied, looking at Creed and Grissom. “Somebody is going to have to contact the Federal Marshall in Austin directly.” Grissom replied. “Why not just telegraph them?” Rojo suggested from across the room. “Because James Redding, the Telegraph Operator is on Randolph’s payroll, and any information he is told goes directly to Randolph.” Lewis replied. Creed paced the room, thinking.  “The only thing to do then is to take the ledger directly to the Federal Marshall’s office in Austin, Mr. Lewis.” Creed said, looking at Lewis intently. “Why me? Why not you or Grissom?” Lewis replied, shrinking in his chair. “Because Me and Grissom need to stay here to protect Tick and Rojo. As you said, they are the only living witnesses to his crime, so he is definitely going to try to kill them, and me in the process if he can.” Creed answered boldly. Lewis sat there silent for a few minutes, contemplating the situation. Grissom walked over and placed his hand on Lewis’ shoulder.”You said yourself you are tired of Randolph running rough-shod over the people of this town, including you, Mr. Lewis, this is your chance to stop him.” Creed walked over and placed three hundred dollars on the table.” This will cover your round-trip stage fare plus hotel and food.” Lewis stood up from the table. He looked at Creed and Grissom for a long moment, then over to Rojo and Tick in their beds. He reached down and picked up the money and placed it in his pocket. “Do you own a revolver or pistol, Mr. Lewis?” Grissom asked. “Ugh, No, never had the need for one.” Lewis replied. “Well, now you do sir. We are dealing with dangerous men, and you have to be prepared to defend yourself.” Grissom handed Lewis a Smith and Wesson M&P Model .38 Caliber revolver with a four-inch barrel and a box of shells. “You can keep this in your jacket pocket without having to wear a holster.” Grissom added. “The gun holds six rounds, but the hammer rest on an empty chamber for safety.” Grissom showed Lewis, breaking open the cylinder. Lewis nodded and pocketed the gun and ammunition. The three men walked outside to Lewis’ horse. “I will have to ride to Fort Davis to catch the Stage. I will go by my place and pack a few things and head out. If I ride hard, I can get there tonight and catch the first stage in the morning. If all goes well in Austin, you should be hearing from me within a week, hopefully with a dozen federal marshalls in tow!” Lewis extended his hand to Grissom and Creed, who both shook it.”Please let the Federal Marshall know my uncle had nothing to do with the ambush at Preachers Gulch.” Creed reminded Lewis. “I will be sure too.” Lewis replied. “Be Careful Mr. Lewis, there is a lot riding on this trip!” Grissom said smiling. “I will. You two be careful and protect those men in there! Right now they are more valuable than silver or gold!” Lewis spurred his horse and took off for town, a trail of dust swirling up into the noonday sun. “What do you think his odds are?” Creed asked Grissom, squinting into the bright sun. “Right now kid, he is our only hope at stopping this bastard so I gotta believe his odds are good.” Grissom replied, spitting brown tobacco juice into the dirt.

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The Randolph Estate

“Congratulations Marshall Knowles! I know you will make the town of Shafter proud with your service!” John Randolph smiled as he shook hands with the newly promoted Marshall while a local newspaperman snapped their picture, the bulb flash blinding both of them temporarily. Afterwards, Randolph walked over and slipped a hundred-dollar bill in the newspaperman’s vest. “And make sure to include something about Marshall Prescott being killed by that band of renegade indians, OK Bill?” Randolph shook hands with the newspaperman as the man nodded and winked that he understood. “Come on out to the back patio Marshall and have a drink.” Randolph said waving his hand to Knowles. As Knowles followed Randolph through the house, he noticed a group of cleaning ladies in the parlor scrubbing the floors. That must have been where he killed Marshall Prescott. Knowles thought to himself, his stomach suddenly getting nauseous. “Knowles come on over here and sit down.” Randolph motioned from the patio table. “Now that you are Marshall, I am gonna be leaning more heavily on you to get things done.” Knowles nodded and tried to hide the fear that was welling up inside him, turning his stomach inside out. What the hell had he gotten himself into! “Now as you know your former boss let me down in taking care of this indian boy and his friends squatting on my land.” Randolph eyed Knowles for his reaction. Knowles just nodded. He knew what Randolph was implying. After the failed ambush, the two living witnesses, Rojo and Tick, had to be silenced. Knowles did not say it, but one thing had always bothered him since this all started. Why was Randolph so concerned about this particular piece of land? What made it so special?  “To help speed up the process of taking care of this problem I have called in R.T. Newton and his boys, I assume you have heard of Newton?” Randolph smirked as he looked at Knowles for his reaction. Anybody in Law Enforcement had heard of R.T Newton. He had made a name for himself as a mercenary, a gun-hand for hire working for rich ranchers and railroad tycoons. “Yes sir I’ve heard of him” Knowles said. “Good. Then you know he is more than capable of handling this band of misfits. Just stay out of his way and let him work.” Randolph lit a cigar and exhaled the grey smoke. Knowles stood and shook hands with Randolph. “If that will be all Mr. Randolph, I better get back into town and see about hiring me a couple new deputies.” Randolph stood also. “By all means Marshall and by the way, I will be increasing your salary to two hundred dollars a month and your deputies to seventy-five. I want you all to know how much I appreciate your hard work.” Randolph smiled as he chomped down on his cigar. “Thank you sir.” Knowles tipped his hat and turned around and left. As he was riding away from the estate Knowles felt used. He realized that this was the moment he could either become just another Randolph stooge or stand-up and do something. Regardless of the money and perks, he did not want to end up like Prescott and become a by-line in a fictitious newspaper story. He had to do something, and fast.

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The Palace Hotel, Shafter TX

R.T. Newton and his three associates checked into their rooms at the Palace Hotel John Randolph had reserved and paid for in advance. “How long will you be staying with us Mr. Newton?” the clerk asked smiling. “That is to be determined young man, but let’s just say a week for now.” The clerk handed the men the keys and snapped for the bellhop to get their luggage. “That’s not needed, we can handle our own bags.” one of the men said gruffly. “OK Gentleman you are all set, here are your keys.” As the clerk handed Newton the keys he took stock of the man he had heard so much about over the years. He stood close to six-foot with coal-black hair and a neatly trimmed handlebar mustache to match. He was lean for a man his age, the familiar paunch belly was absent and in its stead was lean muscle that made his arms and legs appear like braided steel cables. His hands were the hands of a working man, large and scarred, with dislocated knuckles from many a bar-room brawl. He was dressed impeccably, with a tailored gun-metal grey suit, low-cut Wellington boots and being a native of Mississippi, an elegant black string tie. Newton did not wear a traditional gun belt like most hired guns of the day. Instead, he wore a shoulder rig with a Colt Semi-Automatic .38 Caliber handgun. Always a careful man, Newton also kept a back-up gun, a custom-made Colt 1903 Hammerless in a pocket holster and a .22 caliber derringer in his boot. As the clerk watched Newton ascend the stairs, he also took stock of the men following him. None of them really stood out, they were all about the same height and weight and dressed basically the same. Each of them in custom tailored dark suits with tan dusters. All of them wore tie down gun belts. As each man entered their room, they took care to set down their bags gently. Each of them carried an assortment of small arms including rifles, shotguns, revolvers and pistols. One of the men who went by the name Taylor and fancied himself a sharpshooter had one of the new 1903 Springfield Rifles with a telescopic sight. It was said this rifle with the right man behind the trigger could kill a man from over five hundred yards away. Taylor intended to put that theory to the test.

Later that night, the front desk clerk, a man named Peters, stepped outside for a cigarette and met the young bellhop leaning against one of the stone columns in front of the hotel, loafing as usual. After bumming a smoke, the bellhop’s curiosity got the best of him. “So tell me Mr. Peters, who was that old man and them three guys that checked in earlier? You acted like you were kind of scared of them…” Peters smiled at the remark. “Yeah if you knew who they were son, you would have been scared too…” The young bellhop’s eyes got big and excited. “So tell me!” Peters rolled his eyes and relented. “His name is R.T. Newton. He’s a mercenary. A Gun-Hand. Some say he has killed upwards of thirty men, maybe more.” The clerk exhaled the cigarette smoke into the cool night air. The bellhop laughed in excitement. “Hot Damn! I knew there was something about that old man! What about the other men, who are they?” Peters took a moment to answer. He could hear the piano playing at the saloon at the end of the street and men talking loudly. “Those men are Newton’s ‘associates’. In a word: Killers, just like him. Some of them are ex-army, some of them outlaws. All of them are dangerous.” Peters took one last drag of his cigarette. “Wow. I cannot wait to tell my friends about this!” The bellhop gushed. Peters shook his head at the young boy’s foolishness and crushed out his cigarette with his foot. As he was about to turn around and go back inside he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Suddenly out of the darkness in the alley beside the hotel, a man appeared. It was one of Newton’s killers. Peters froze. “Good evening sir.” the bellhop said startled. The man said nothing as he ambled up the hotel steps. Peters moved aside to allow him to pass but the man stopped before entering the hotel. Being so close, Peters could smell the whiskey on his breath. He also got a good look at him. He was young, around twenty-five or so. He was unshaven and grizzled and had a nasty scar across his neck. As Peters was examining him, the man suddenly turned to face the bellhop. “You’d best keep your goddamn mouth shut about Mr. Newton kid. He don’t like people who gossip…” The man slurred his words slightly as he stared at the kid with coal-black eyes. The bellhop’s face went white. “Uh, yes sir, no problem.” the boy squeaked. Satisfied he had made his point, the man turned back around to make his way to his room. As he got to the stairs the man stopped and smiled. In a low voice he said “You were right Mr. Hotel clerk.” Peters walked over closer, straining to hear. “I’m sorry sir? Right about what?” The man turned and in the blink of an eye and in one smooth motion, with the simultaneous sound of iron clearing leather and the hammer being cocked, drew his revolver and pointed it right at Peters head. “I am one dangerous son-of-a-bitch!” The man eyes were wide and crazy, like a feral animal. His crooked smile revealing yellow and black teeth.  Peters felt his bowels and bladder release and all the blood drain from his face. Suddenly the world went black and he crumpled to the floor in a pool of his own piss and shit. Smiling broadly, The man holstered his gun and made his way drunkenly up the stairs. The bellhop just stood there staring with his mouth agape and his eyes wide, scared to even move or make a sound.

To Be Continued…

A Border Redemption (Chapter II)

A Western Novelette

(Part 2 of the Border Trilogy)

II.

Patterson Farm, A Few Miles Outside Shafter

After finishing his third helping of beef stew, Creed pushed himself away from the table, full as a tick. “Ma’am that was the best meal I have ever had, thank you!” Sarah Patterson smiled as she cleared the dinner plates and carried them over to the sink. “Well I hope you saved room for coffee and apple pie!” Sarah asked smiling.  Eve sat across from Creed, doing her best not to stare, but her mother noticed right away. “Eve, Honey would you please help me with the pie and coffee?” The question broke Eve out of her hypnotic trance and she jumped up. As the women were busy, Creed got up from the table and walked into the living room.The home was a modest one story ranch style four bedroom with a large den area, dining room and kitchen. Creed walked over to the mantle above the fireplace and admired the pictures sitting there. One of them showed a man with Mrs. Patterson and small child in front of some type of construction.”That is my late husband, Thomas, with Eve and me. It was taken while we were building this house.” Sarah said as she came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. Eve followed her, bringing in a coffee platter with three plates of Apple pie. “How do you like your coffee Mr. Le Voyant?” Eve asked as she sat the platter down on the coffee table. “Black is fine.” Creed replied smiling as he tried to not be so obvious in admiring her. Sarah smiled as she recognized the magnetism between her daughter and Creed. “Please have a seat Mr. La Voyant.” Sarah asked. “Please, call me Creed.” Creed asked as he sat down, trying to be as casual as he could.  “How and when did your husband pass if you don’t mind me asking ma’am?” Creed asked, trying to be delicate. “Thomas died in a mining accident six years ago.” Sarah replied, picking up the picture and dusting it off with the towel. “John Randolph had my father killed.” Eve said flatly. Creed noticed Sarah give Eve an exasperated look, but Eve ignored her. “My father started his own mine without John Randolph as his partner and Randolph killed him for it” The bitterness in Eve’s voice was readily apparent. “We don’t know that for sure Eve!” Sarah replied sadly, placing the picture back on the mantle. Creed felt the uncomfortable silence in the room but his curiosity was piqued. “Please forgive me for prying, but if you had proof Randolph killed your father, why didn’t you go to the law?” Eve walked over and took a plate of apple pie and a fork and sat down next to Creed. “Randolph owns everything in this town, including peoples loyalty. The last man that tried to speak out against Randolph had his store bankrupted and was run out-of-town as a debtor.” Sarah replied, looking out the window. “Creed, I am begging you, stay out of the mining business and stick to cattle, it is much healthier in the long run.” Sarah looked over at Creed, her eyes wet with tears. Creed took a deep breath. He could not believe what he was hearing. Eve got up and took the picture of her father down off the mantle and handed it to Creed. “My mother spoke those exact same words to our father six years ago.” Sarah let out a gasp and began to sob uncontrollably. “I Know! I know! It is all just too much!” Sarah exclaimed as she ran into the back bedroom and slammed the door. Creed’s mind was spinning and his heart awash with emotion. He had been led here not by happenstance he believed, but by fate, to a family who was suffering from the injustice of powerful and corrupt men. As Creed shifted his gaze from the picture to Eve’s dark eyes, suddenly time stood still and he was transported into a great whirlwind. Up above him, in the vortex, a dark cloud burst and thunder rolled so loud it was deafening. The whirlwind sat him down on cracking earth in the midst of a powerful earthquake. There in the midst of it all, in the pouring rain and the lightning flashes, Creed saw his father, dressed in ceremonial garb, beside him stood his unborn sister. She spoke Apache, but the thunder was so loud, Creed could not make out the words. He moved closer to hear, her dark eyes a flame that illuminated her entire face like a candle does in a dark room. When he got close enough the words carried on the wind and echoed in his ear, as if in a large canyon: “John Randolph must be stopped, he is a blight upon the lives of these good people…” Creed awoke several minutes later on the floor to Eve and Sarah gently shaking him. “Are you alright Creed? You fainted and were mumbling something in a strange language.” Creed quickly got up off the floor and brushed himself off. He was embarrassed beyond belief.. “I am so sorry for that! Thank you for the meal Mrs. Patterson, I must be on my way…” And before the women could say another word, Creed was out the door and on his horse, riding hard for town.

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South Texas, One Mile from the Mexico Border

Grissom, Tick and Rojo returned from Mexico with ten men and a string of seven ponies. They crossed the Rio Grande and made their way through a place the locals called Preacher’s Gulch. The long, narrow canyon had high rock walls and through years of erosion, had created a natural bottleneck that had been used for ambushes for decades by both the U.S. Army and Indians. The lead rider was dozing in his saddle when the lookout for Marshall Prescott’s band of killers who liked to fancy themselves a ” law-abiding posse” spotted him. The lookout signaled to the fifteen armed men that lined the top of both sides of the canyon walls to ready themselves. When the last rider entered the canyon, all fifteen rifles barked at the same time, the gunfire echoing off the canyon walls and carrying all the way into the town of Presidio. By the time Grissom heard the crack of the rifles, he was already half way to the ground. The bastards had shot his horse in the head as it crumpled from underneath him. As he rolled away from the dead animal he reached for his Winchester carbine in the saddle scabbard. Once he had the rifle he started crawling for a set of rocks fifteen feet away. The combination of gunfire and men screaming in pain was deafening. There was so much dust being stirred up he had to crawl by feel, inching his way forward along the valley floor. Grissom came across one of the dying cowboys, a young kid, not more than nineteen. He had been shot in the stomach several times, dark black blood oozing out into the red caliche soil. The boys eyes stared straight ahead and as Grissom moved past him he heard him whisper in a hoarse voice: “Tell my daddy I am sorry.” Grissom stopped for a moment and simply said “I will” and kept moving forward, bullets impacting all around him. As he crawled he wondered if Tick and Rojo had met the same fate as that poor cowboy. Foolishly, he raised his head to try to see over the carnage of bloody horse-flesh and dead men, but it was useless, he could see nothing.  Suddenly he heard gunfire coming from the rocks ahead of him. As he inched closer, he saw Tick and Rojo returning fire with pistol and rifle. “Crawl faster you stupid son-of-a-bitch! What are you waiting for a goddamn written invitation!” Rojo yelled in his broken english. Grissom smiled at the old mexican bandit and started crawling faster. As he reached the relative safety of the rocks, Tick reached down and pulled him up. “Bon de te voir mon ami” Tick said in French, his black face shining. “Damn good to see you too Tick.” Grissom said through gritted teeth. As Tick pulled him up Grissom realized he had been grazed in the arm, the bullet creasing his bicep muscle deeply. As he tore a piece of shirt off to wrap his wound, he noticed Rojo had been shot in the thigh, and Tick in the arm, both of them bleeding badly. “We gotta staunch those wounds.” Grissom said flatly as he tore the sleeve off his shirt and began making two make-shift bandages. “It ain’t gonna matter, they are gonna send some men down here to finish us off soon.” Rojo spat, stopping to reload his revolver. Grissom ignored the old bandit and wrapped the cloth around the wound and tied it. Tick continued firing at the men above. “I think I got two so far” Tick exclaimed excitedly. Grissom wrapped his wound shaking his head at the crazy creole. Suddenly up above on the ridge a commotion could be heard. Gunshots. Several rifles at once. Shouting. Hooping. Hollering. Pistol Shots. Then Silence. “What the Hell is going on up there?” Rojo asked, a quizzical look on his face. In a few minutes, several riders leading a string pf ponies could be seen approaching from the trail above. As they approached Tick whispered “Those are Apaches, white men don’t ride like that!” “I don’t fuckin’ believe this” Grissom said throwing up his hands. “We are the only three to survive a damn bushwhack and now we are gonna get scalped for our troubles!” Rojo squinted his eyes at the indians as they approached. “Let me do the talking. Everybody put down your guns.” Rojo said quietly. Both Grissom and Tick looked at the old man like he had finally gone crazy, but did as he requested.

The five Apaches approached slowly with the bright mid-day sun at their backs. They all were riding bareback and were dressed in common cotton shirts and breeches. The lead rider wore a U.S. Calvary blue tunic with brass epaulets. Their long  jet-black hair hung loose with each of them wearing a red-head scarf. All of the men looked to be in their early twenties except the one leading, who looked to be around forty. They were all heavily armed with Winchester Repeaters or bolt-action .30 Caliber Springfield’s. “I think this is that group that escaped off the Mescalero Reservation last month. But the newspaper said they were like twenty of them, not five.” Grissom whispered. “Look up at the ridge-line Pendejo and you will see the rest…” Rojo whispered back. Grissom and Tick shaded their eyes with their hands and looked up at ridge-line to see a dozen or more apache rifles pointed at them. “Marie Mère de Dieu!” Tick exclaimed. “Nobody move and let me do all the talking.” Rojo calmly replied. The five indians stopped their horses short of the rocks where the men were sitting. Rojo began talking to the leader in Spanish. “He says his name is Spotted Rabbit and they are part of ‘The Big Water People’ band that escaped the Federal Prison Camp in New Mexico. They were going into Old Mexico when they heard all the shooting.” Rojo whispered. Rojo then followed protocol and introduced himself, then Grissom and Tick. Spotted Rabbit stared at the men for a few moments and then pointed at Tick and asked something.  “He wants to know if these men on the ridge were trying to kill us because something the black man did.” Rojo laughed, translating. Tick and Grissom both laughed at the remark. “Tell him no, these were hired killers working for John Randolph.” Grissom replied. The apache leader spurred his horse closer and spoke up.”He ask if you are the same Grissom who with a young Apache boy killed Colonel Parker two years ago at El Lugar de las aguilas.” Rojo interpreted, looking at Grissom with eyes wide in disbelief. “Tell him everything.” Grissom replied, looking at Spotted Rabbit. After a few minutes of conversation, Rojo turned around to Grissom and smiled. “You are not going to believe this, but Spotted Rabbit is Creed’s Uncle and he wants us to take him to meet him right now.”

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The La Voyant Ranch

 Creed had just finished watering his horse when he saw three riders approaching from the south-west. He quickly moved inside the bunk house where he had rifles ready and loaded. He had figured Randolph would wait until he was alone to attack. Peering out the window, waiting for the group to get closer, Creed recognized Grissom as the lead rider with Tick and Rojo trailing. Creed quickly walked outside to meet them. As Grissom got closer Creed could see that he was wounded. “What the hell happened!” Creed asked as he grabbed the reigns to stop the horse. “Bushwhack. Randolph sent a hired posse of killers to hit us at Preachers Gulch. They killed all ten of the men Rojo hired and damn near killed the three of us.” Grissom gritted his teeth as he dismounted. Tick and Rojo rode up and Creed helped both men out of the saddle. “That leg needs attention.” Creed said as he helped Rojo into the bunk house and sat him down on one of the beds. Tick followed them in slowly, his face pale and his arm in a make-shift sling. Creed began examining Rojo first. “The bullet went clean through, we just need to keep clean bandages on it till’ it mends”. He then went over and looked at Tick’s arm. “Looked liked they winged you buddy.” Creed said smiling at Tick. “Oui, Oui” Tick smiled back through gritted teeth. “The wound is infected and the bullet is still in there, we are gonna have to cut it out of ya.” Creed said, a grave look of concern on his face.  “Kid, we got something important to tell ya..” Grissom said as he limped into the kitchen. Finding a bottle of rye whiskey and four glasses, Grissom poured everybody a drink. “Grissom we don’t have time right now for drinking and stories, Tick’s arm is in bad shape, we need to find a Doctor for him…” Creed was interrupted by Grissom with a quick wave of the hand. “Listen to me kid!  I did not get to finish my story. Twenty Apache’s who escaped off the Mescalero Reservation saved us from all being massacred by Randolph’s hired thugs. The Apache leader, Spotted Rabbit, claims he is your Uncle and wants to meet you.” Grissom drained his drink and poured himself another. All the blood drained from Creed’s face and he had to sit down before he fell down. “My uncle! The only Uncle I knew was killed with my mother and father two years ago!” Creed exclaimed, looking at Grissom in amazement. Creed reached over and took the glass of rye, tilting it up and draining it with a grimace. “He said his band was called The Big Water People, if that means anything.” Grissom replied. Creed’s eyes got wide. “The Big Water People were my mother’s band, they had been moved to the reservation four years ago.” Creed got up from his chair and paced. “That explains why you did not know about him then.” Grissom replied. Creed spun around and faced Grissom as an ideal flew into his head. “If there are twenty of them, one of them will be a healer I am sure of it. Tick should not ride anymore with that wound. We need to bring them here to help him” Creed walked over to get his hat and rifle. “Where are we supposed to meet them?” Creed asked Grissom. “At Sanderson Springs at nightfall.” Grissom replied, refilling Ticks and Rojo’s glasses of whiskey. “We better get going then, Tick cannot hold-out much longer.” Creed said as he headed for the door. Grissom drained his drink and quickly followed him.

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Sanderson Springs, Texas

Sanderson Springs was a ghost town that was a good thirty minute ride from the ranch. Gold had been discovered there back in the late 1870’s but like all mining towns, when the gold played out, so did the people. Spotted Rabbit had told Grissom to meet him in one of the many abandoned mine east of town. Creed soon realized why his Uncle had chosen this location. With the United States Army, Texas Rangers and Bounty Hunters all looking for him and his band, what better place to hide than underground. As Grissom and Creed approached the entrance to the mine, they could see the faint glow of a campfire coming from inside the mine. Two apaches with rifles emerged from the darkness. Creed and Grissom dismounted and approached. One of the apaches spoke Spanish to Creed. “Spotted Rabbit just wants to see you, not the white man.” Creed nodded and turned to Grissom. “I get it kid, it’s a family thing. But don’t take too long, Tick needs help.” Creed followed one of the apaches into the mine. They walked about ten yards and found Spotted Rabbit and a few braves roasting the ham of a deer over the fire. The aromatic scent of the meat filled the dank cave. Spotted rabbit stood when he saw Creed. Creed was amazed at how tall he was. Well over six feet, with well muscled arms.”Do you still remember the apache tongue or should we talk in Spanish?” Spotted Rabbit asked with a smile. “I still remember” Creed responded in the Lipan apache dialect. Spotted Rabbit smiled as they embraced for a long moment. “The last time I saw you, you were knee-high, now look at you, your Mother would be so proud!” Spotted Rabbit smiled as a tear rolled down his cheek. “Look Uncle, I would love to take time and catch-up, and we will, but one of my men is badly in need of a healer and we cannot go into town. Can you come and help him?” Spotted Rabbit took a long look at Creed. “You have the caring heart of your Mother. Of course. Me and Little Bird will accompany you. We will need to gather some plants first.”

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The La Voyant Ranch

When they all finally reached the ranch, Tick was at death’s door. His face was pallor in color and he was drifting in and out of consciousness, mumbling like a feverish madman. Rojo, despite his bad leg wound, was up with a cool washcloth, trying to comfort him as much as he could. “He has been burning up with fever since you left.” Rojo said in a frantic voice. Spotted Rabbit reached into his saddle bag and pulled out a mortar and pestle and began grinding various herbs and plants he had collected along the way. Little Bird walked over to the fire and took out a small brand. He then lit some ghost bush and with the thick, grey smoke wafting around Tick’s body, he began chanting an apache prayer. “Give him some whiskey, we are going to have to remove the bullet.” Spotted Rabbit told Creed. Rojo, understanding the instruction, took the bottle of rye and tilted Tick’s head up so he could drink from the bottle. “Rojo you and Little Bird hold his arms. Spotted Rabbit, you hold his legs.” Creed told the men as he drew his knife. Walking over to the fire, Creed held the blade of his knife over the flame until it was glowing red-hot. He then plunged it into a pail of water by the table to cool it off. He ripped away Tick’s bloody shirt and taking a clean piece of cloth, wiped away the blood. Tick was mumbling in French, slipping in and out of consciousness, his eyes rolling back in his head. As Creed made the first cut, Tick yelled in agony, his body bucking from the pain. “Hold him still Dammitt!” Creed yelled. After another moment, Tick’s body went limp as he finally passed out into a deep sleep. Creed breathed a sigh of relief. Creed has made a deep enough incision he could finally see the bullet. Taking the point of his knife, Creed slid it under the slug and popped it out. Spotted Rabbit then took the poultice he had made from the ground up herbs and packed the wound. “Leave it uncovered tonight, but keep it moist and tomorrow wrap it in some clean bandages and change them every day.” Spotted Rabbit told Creed. “For the pain, give him a spoonful of this every few hours.” Spotted Rabbit handed Creed  three small bottles of brownish liquid. “Laudnum. We stole a crate of it from a town doctor in Carlsbad. Handy to have around if you don’t have a Doctor close-by” Creed took the bottles and put them in the cabinet by the sink. He then went over to his bunk and opened his foot-locker and took out an envelope.”I know I can never fully re-pay you for all you have done, but this will help.” Creed handed Spotted Rabbit five one hundred-dollar bills. ‘Take this money and go to Old Mexico and disappear Uncle, Please. If you stay in Texas, they will surely catch you and hang all of you.” Creeds eyes were wet with tears as Spotted Rabbit slowly took the money. The old indian smiled at Creed. “You have your mother’s giving heart, and her gift for visions too. I see it.” Electricity shot through Creed and made his hair stand on end. “Has she been guiding you?” Spotted Rabbit asked. “Yes she has. My father and my unborn sister have been too. She has told me I must stop a powerful man from hurting others. The same man that killed our ten men and almost killed Tick and Rojo.” Creed looked up at his Uncle, his eyes clear and bright. “Then you must do it.” Spotted Rabbit replied flatly. “But you still have not answered my question Uncle. Where will you go?” A look of concern flooded Creed’s face. “My path is not your path nephew, so it is not your concern. We all must be true to what we are called to do and what I have been called to do is bring war against the white man. We are tired of being under the white man’s thumb in that awful, dry place they have put us. We would rather die fighting than go on living one more day as slaves.” With that, Spotted Rabbit embraced Creed and then turned for the door. “Wait! When will I see you again Uncle?” Spotted Rabbit stopped but did not turn around. “You will see me again nephew, I promise.” And with that Spotted Rabbit and Little Bird walked out the door, mounted their horses and rode off into the dark Texas night. Creed watched them as they rode off, and somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew his Uncle was not lying to him. He would get to see him again one day. Just not in this life. just not in this world.

 To Be Continued…

A Border Redemption (Chapter I)

A Western Novelette

(Part 2 of The Border Trilogy)

mex

I. 

Northern Mexico,  10 miles from Presidio Texas, 1903

Grissom, Tick and The Boy sat under a huge red rock spiral at the mouth of a two hundred year old drainage basin. The sun had just gone down and darkness was slowly spreading over the desert. They had made a small fire where a pot of coffee brewed and as the night grew darker the crackling sparks rose into the night sky like hundreds of flaming arrows. “Well, regardless if a dream told you to go there or not kid, one thing is for damn certain, we sure as hell can’t go riding in there with the whole blooming outfit! Sixteen men, three wagons, one hundred and fifty head of cattle and  fifty head of fuckin’ stolen horses tends to draw people’s attention!” Grissom exclaimed, his face animated in the dim light. “Plus, how we gonna explain all the silver we got?” Tick interjected in his thick creole accent. The boy stared into the fire for a while, thinking, as if trying to divine an answer. “First, let me ask both of you something: Have my dreams and visions ever steered us wrong in the past?” The boy asked both men earnestly. Both men thought about that for a minute and looking at one another, both shook their heads no. “OK then,  From all I have heard, Presidio is sparsely a going concern. We won’t have any trouble getting the herd across there. The land office and bank is in Shafter, a few miles up the road. It was started when John Randolph found Silver near there over twenty some odd years ago. So us having large amounts of Silver in our saddlebags will not be seen as out of the ordinary. Me and Grissom will head to the land office tomorrow. Tick, you head back to the herd and get Rojo and the boys ready to travel. Once we have secured us some land and materials to start mining, Grissom will ride down to bring the crew up . We’ll bring the cattle and horses over in small groups after that, sound good?” The boy looked up at both men to see they understood. Tick nodded and said “Oui, Oui” in his broken Creole-French. “I only see one problem.” Grissom replied as he laid down on a blanket. “What’s that?” The boy asked, cocking an eyebrow. “When we get to that land office and the bank, they are gonna need a Christian name to put on the deed. ‘Boy’ will not suffice!” All the men laughed at the remark. “Got any ideals on what to call yourself?” asked Grissom smiling. The boy’s face went serious and he laid back on his blanket and looked up at the night sky. Memories of his murdered family flashed before him, and just like the vision of the great river he had seen a year before at the mining camp, the night sky turned into a panorama picture. The boy watched with wonder as the face of his mother holding his baby sister appeared. Then, suddenly, the outline of his father, armed with a bow, began to take shape in the night sky. Each star connected with the next in a beautiful symphony of light to form a constellation outline of his ancestors. The earth began to spin, the heavens above him getting farther and farther away, the sound of rushing water all around him. The boy began to mumble in Apache.  “Remember your Creed, Remember your Creed…” The boy rolled from side to side, his eyes wide as if he were looking into a secret, invisible place. Grissom and Tick looked at each other with concern. Was the boy having a fit? Should they get him to a Doctor? “C’est une vision” Tick hoarsely whispered. “What the hell did you say Tick?” Grissom asked as he jumped to his feet, A look of fear coming across his face as his right hand hovered over his Colt. “The boy is having a vision, don’t touch him.” Tick calmly replied, stretching out his arms to make a protective barrier “This is sum’ spooky shit…I don’t like all this indian hocus pocus.” Grissom replied, taking a few more steps back from the boy. Tick ignored the cowboy and softly chanted the twenty-third Psalm “Si je marche dans la vallée de l’ombre de la mort, je ne craindrai aucun évitement.”  And as sudden as the boy’s vision had begun, it stopped.

The boy lay motionless on the blanket. The silence of the night broken only by his ragged breathing and the crackling of the fire. He raised up from his blanket, a look of wonder and excitement on his face. “You alright there kid?” Grissom asked wearily, still keeping his distance. Tick handed the boy his canteen and he took a long drink and then looked up at both of them. “My name will be Creed.” the boy said flatly. A quizzical looks came across Grissom’s face. “Creed What? You gonna need a last name fer’ them bank papers and such…” Creed smiled at Tick, and Tick, in his strange French manner, smiled right back and laughed out loud. “You two sumabitches bout’ as crazy as a pinned up shit house rat, you know that!” Grissom exclaimed as he walked over to his saddle bag and retrieved a bottle of rye. “I have an ideal.” said Tick, still smiling. “Your last name can be ‘Le Voyant’, it means ‘The Seer’ or somebody who can see what the future holds. What do you think of that Creed? Fitting, no?” Creed looked up at Tick and both men had huge smiles on their faces. “That’s it! Creed Le Voyant is my new name!” Creed exclaimed. Creed jumped up like he had been snake bit and him and Tick hugged one another like long-lost brothers. “My new friend! Creed Le Voyant has been born!” Tick exclaimed, his voice echoing in the still night against the red rock walls. Creed and Tick began to both giggle hysterically as they danced a jig around the fire. Grissom meanwhile shook his head in confusion and sat down on a flat rock, away from the fire, and took a long pull from his bottle. “Well, I reckon if I die tomorrow I can say I have seen and heard it all. Five years ago I met a whore down in Durango with three tits, and now, I am about to go to Texas with a Creole who is half fuckin’ crazy and a sixteen year old apache brave with a french last name! I’ll be damned!!” Grissom exclaimed as he let out a hearty laugh and took another long drink from the bottle. Soon Creed came over and grabbed Grissom up from his seat, and as the three men joined together and danced around the fire like savages from a by-gone era, their laughter and singing echoed off the canyon walls like a primal orchestra.

The next morning the group split up as planned. Tick rode south to the herd and Creed and Grissom crossed the Rio Grande into Texas. The town of Presidio was sparse and languid in its demeanor. Like so many of its residents, the town itself seemed to stand still in the dusty vacuum of time. Having been founded by bandits and scalp hunters after the Mexican War, it consisted of only a few run down buildings, a small contingent of soldiers and a few dozen hearty souls trying to scratch a living out of the red caliche soil. But travel twenty miles north to the silver boom town of Shafter, and it was a different story altogether. As Grissom and Creed slowly let their mounts amble down main street, the sure signs of prosperity were all around. Grissom counted three saloons, two hotels, a general store, a Gunsmith, a bank, a land office, a barber shop, and a woman’s clothing store where the latest fashions from Paris and London were displayed in the window.”My God this is a sight to see!” Grissom exclaimed. They stopped in front of a saloon called “The Silver Palace” and hitched their mounts. As they prepared to walk into the saloon, two men, both wearing badges and both armed, one with a double-barreled scattergun, approached. The tallest of the two, with a greased black handlebar mustache and a Colt Peacemaker on his hip spoke up.”Howdy Gentleman. Names’ Marshall J.T. Prescott and this here is Deputy Knowles.”  Both Creed and Grissom stood silent and still as an awkward moment passed between the group. The lawman laughed. “Well, that was a helluva introduction wasn’t it Deputy!” The Deputy smiled and took two steps back, leveling the shotgun in Creed’s direction. The expression on the Marshall’s face got serious. “I’m askin’ your names.” The Marshall’s voice was tense. “Bill Potterfield” Grissom said with a witty smile. The Marshall nodded at Grissom. “Mr. Potterfield. And you kid, what’s your name?” The Marshall asked. “Creed Le Voyant” Creed replied, his face blank and self-assured. “Le Voyant? What kind of faggot name is that for a red nigger shitheel?” The Marshall smiled at his own remark, his nostrils flaring, and his eyes narrowing toward Creed. Creed returned the stare in spades, taking note not of the man’s face, but the muscles in his arms and hands, which he watched closely to see any hint of them flexing to grip the revolver on his hip. “French.” Creed replied. “French! Well My God boy, you are a faggot ain’t ya! So tell me, which way was it? was it a Frenchman raping an Apache whore, or an Apache given’ it to a French whore?” The Marshall laughed heartily, looking to his deputy to laugh along with him. Grissom grabbed Creed’s arm from behind to keep it from drawing the pistol tucked in his waistband. “We have business in this town Marshall, so if you will excuse us.” Grissom pulled Creed away from the entrance of the saloon and toward the land office across the street. “Business, huh? Well I hope you can conclude it in a hurry Mr. Potterfield, injun’s ain’t welcome in Shafter.” Creed never took his eyes off the Marshall as Grissom pulled him away. “Let it go kid.” Grissom said through gritted teeth. The Marshall watched as the two men went into the land office. across the street. “Knowles, go back to the office and start looking through the wanted posters and notices, see if any of them match our Mr. Potterfield and french injun friend here. Make sure to look for descriptions of injuns with scars on their faces to narrow it down.” Prescott said as he spit tobacco juice out into the dusty street, the red dirt sucking up the moisture almost instantly.

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Six Miles Northwest of Shafter

In the foothills of the Chinati mountains, with the sun filtering through a sparse patch of cedars, Creed and Grissom stood admiring their newly bought piece of land. “Well, kid how does it feel to own 200 acres?” Grissom asked smiling, slapping Creed on the back. “To be honest, it does not feel any different, except now I have less money.” Creed replied, looking at Grissom concerned. “Oh, don’t you worry kid, once we get a house built and some corrals, I promise you, it will look much different!” Creed smiled at the remark. Ever since Grissom had brought up the ideal of coming to Texas, Creed had dreamed of living a normal life. “We gotta put those outlaw ways behind us kid. And building this ranch is a big first step.” Grissom mounted his horse and turned a circle around Creed, pointing his horse South. “So I am gonna go down and get the boys like we talked about. And since we got the money, maybe try to find some carpenters and extra laborers to help us build this house quicker, sound good?” Grissom asked, squinting down at Creed.  “Also, Seein’ how that Sheriff is a giant mules asshole, and is just lookin’ for a reason to lock you up or hang you, I think you should camp here and stay out-of-town until I get back. I shouldn’t be more than a couple of days” Grissom gave Creed that older brother look of sternness to emphasize the point. “Fine.” Creed answered flatly, still staring out at the land. “See ya’ when you get back.”

The dust from Grissom’s departure had not yet begun to settle when Creed turned his horse toward town. Call it adolescent stupidity or just blind pride, but he could not abide bullies, and he certainly could not abide any man wearing a bought tin star thinking he was better than him because the color of his skin. He rode around the back of the town, crossing by the white steeple Church of Christ on the hill and passing through the large stockyard and barn behind the Silver Palace saloon. He hitched his horse beside the set of jakes in the alley between the saloon and a chinese laundry. He then put on an old worn brown duster he kept in his saddlebag and pulled his hat down low over his ears. Maybe he could pass for just another dusty cowboy in this get-up. He ambled down the street, passing a barber shop, post office, undertaker and a big fine building with the words “Presidio Mining Company” on top. Walking past the General Store, Creed decided he better make use of this trip and buy some supplies to make camp with for the boys coming up from Mexcio. As he made his way into the store, he overheard a woman at the front counter arguing with the clerk. “Sir, the price you had marked in the front window for this dress was four dollars last Tuesday, now a week later, the price has doubled? I just don’t understand!” The woman was nice looking, around forty Creed guessed, but the situation had her all out of sorts. “Ma’am, my prices reflect supply and demand, that dress comes from Paris, France and is not cheap.” The clerk was a smug ass and knew he had the upper-hand in the argument.

As Creed moved around the back of the store to get a better vantage point on the situation, he saw another woman, this one much younger, tucked away in the corner, out of view. She looked to be around 17 and was beautiful a woman as Creed had ever seen. She was tall for her age, almost as tall as Creed. Her long hair was the color of sun-kissed straw in late summer, her face like delicate china porcelain. Her eyes were a pale green and sharp as a hawk. She held herself like a lady of proper high society, although her homemade dress and shoes suggested otherwise. Creed could not help but stare. He watched as she nestled up to the woman at the counter. “Mother, it’s OK, I don’t need the dress…” The young girl whispered. As the impatient clerk let out an exasperated gasp, taking the dress off the counter, Creed without hesitation, stepped up. “We will take the dress and also some shoes to go with it.” Creed laid two crisp twenty-dollar bills on the counter. The older woman spoke up. “Thank You kind sir, but we surely cannot accept charity from a stranger.” she smiled politely and taking her daughter’s hand, turned to leave the store. Creed took off his hat and stepped around in front of them. “No, please ma’am, this is not charity. It is a gift.” He quickly extended his hand. “And I am not a stranger, my name is Creed Le Voyant, what might yours be?” The older woman eyed Creed suspiciously, she had never seen an indian up close before. Her manners overrode her fear and she smiled back at Creed.”Nice to meet you Mr. Le Voyant. I am Sarah Patterson and this is my Daughter, Eve.” Mrs. Patterson smiled as she lightly shook Creed’s hand. Creed nervously smiled back. He had never felt so anxious in all his life. “Here is your dress and shoes, and your change.” The clerk said from behind the counter. Creed picked up his change and the wrapped package and placed it under his arm. “Please, allow me to carry this to your carriage Mrs. Patterson.” “Thank you Mr. Le Voyant.” Creed followed the ladies outside where a one horse carriage was parked. Creed placed the package in the seat and then helped the ladies step up. Creed saw the younger girl lean over and whisper something to her mother, smiling all the time and glancing back at Creed. Mrs. Patterson nodded her head smiling. She then turned to speak to Creed. “Mr. La Voyant, would you care to join us for dinner tonight around seven at our home? It is the least we could do to show you our gratitude.” Without even thinking about a response, Creed accepted. “I would be honored ma’am, whereabouts do you live?” Mrs. Patterson smiled and pointed east. “Follow the town road east for four miles, our place is on the left, you will see a sign marked Pattersons.”  Creed nodded. “Sounds good ma’am, see you at seven.” Mrs. Patterson put on a pair of leather gloves, took hold of the reigns and spoke to the horse. “Let’s go Annie-Mae” As the carriage rolled away Creed noticed Eve look over her shoulder at him and smile. My God, Creed thought to himself, have you ever seen something so damn beautiful in all your life!

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Randolph Estate, 10 miles west of Shafter

James Lewis patiently sat in the parlor waiting to see ‘Sir” John Randolph. He had been summoned at home an hour earlier by one of Randolph’s men stating his presence was “urgently required.” Despite having just come home after a hectic day of work and not yet having his dinner, James had accepted the fact many years ago, that everybody in this town, in one way or the other, was at John Randolph’s disposal. He gazed at the pictures that lined the red cedar walls of the parlor. One of them was of his father’s building in downtown Shafter taken over 20 years ago. James smiled at the memory the picture brought back. He had inherited his father’s dying real estate business upon his death. At that time, John Randolph was just another up and coming broke miner. Like so many miners during that time, he had come to Shafter with a mule, a pick axe, the clothes on their back and a dream. He still remembers the day Randolph came into his father’s office with a deed to a small tract of land  he had won in a lucky hand of poker the previous night. Six months later Randolph struck it big on that land, finding one of the largest silver deposits in the state of Texas. Now, twenty years later, Randolph owned the town of Shafter, and every thing and everyone in it, including Lewis Real Estate.

James’ stroll down memory lane was interrupted when the butler opened the parlor doors. “Mr. Randolph will see you now in his study, please follow me sir.” James followed the butler down the elaborately decorated hallway to the study. Opening the thick double-doors, a hazy, grey-blue cloud of cigar smoke escaped. “Mr. Lewis sir.” The butler announced. “Fine, send him in.” Randolph’s gruff voice responded from deep within the room. Once inside, James’ eyes had to adjust to the dim and smoky room. The place smelled of rich Cuban tobacco, french brandy and freshly polished oak. The study was enormous. Ten foot ceilings with solid oak bookcases lining three walls. Beautiful stuffed mounts of Dall Rams, Whitetail Deer, Red Stag and even a full body mount of a large Mountain Lion were placed throughout the room. A Huge picture window overlooked a large pond with elegant white swans floating on the water. Randolph sat in a massive leather lounger resembling a King’s throne, his slippered feet propped up on a foot-stool. “Fix yourself a drink Lewis and have a seat over here.” Randolph said pointing to a chair opposite his. As James poured himself a whiskey neat and made his way over to the chair, he noticed Randolph had a large revolver in his lap. Lewis’ heart skipped two beats and he felt the blood leave his face immediately. Lewis instinctively grabbed his stomach as his bowels attempted to evacuate. “You know anything about firearms Lewis?” Randolph asked. “No Sir, not a lot.” Lewis responded as he sat down slowly, praying he had not shit himself.”This is a Mark Four British Webley Revolver. It was used in Africa fighting the Boers last year. The cartridges are enormous, .455 caliber” Lewis watched with discomfort as Randolph picked up a cartridge from the red velvet display case and placed one in the chamber. “You know what a round like that could do to a man Mr. Lewis?” Randolph asked as he closed the gun and then placed it on the coffee table between the two men. Lewis shook his head no, still feeling like he was going to throw-up or shit himself at any second. Randolph smiled as he watched Lewis grow more uncomfortable. He then stubbed out his cigar, retrieved a fresh one from the humidor on the table beside him, and lit it. Once the room was once again filled with the thick blue-grey smoke, Randolph sat back in his chair, like a contented gargoyle in his lair, relishing the palpable fear he had put into James Lewis.

John Randolph came from Scots-Irish stock, his parents coming over during the famine of 1850. Not long after landing on Ellis island, Randolph’s father. hearing there would be cheap land and opportunity in Texas, booked passage to Galveston. John was born two years later, but his mother, weak from the long trip and the birth, did not survive. Life was hard for the two immigrants. John’s father found work doing odd jobs, but never anything steady. He made excuses to the boy for their low station in life, but John knew early on his father was nothing but a worthless drunk. When John was ten, his father was killed while cheating at a small stakes poker game. Penniless and Homeless, John was taken in by the local Catholic orphanage where he stayed until he was seventeen. He soon found work at a local meat-packing plant. The pay was meager but steady. At night, after work in the saloons, John started hearing about the opportunities for finding gold and silver out West. John worked for a solid year, saving up his money and in the summer of 1871 set out for West Texas to make his fortune. Going through the school of hard knocks as a miner, John soon learned mining was a combination of backbreaking work and luck. After nine years of meager finds, John was just about to give up on his mining dream when during a random game of poker one night, he won the deed to a small tract of land near Shafter, Texas and the rest, as they say, is history. “I hear you sold two hundred acres in the Chinati foothills to a couple of drifters the other day.” Randolph’s gaze centered in on Lewis. Lewis straightened up in his chair and cleared his throat before speaking. “Yes sir, Mr. Randolph. A young injun boy with a scar on his face and a white man. They paid in cash.” Randolph got up from his chair and walked over to the large window overlooking the pond.

For a man in his fifties, John Randolph was extremely fit. At just over six feet, he was powerfully built, weighing in at close to two hundred twenty pounds. His reddish blond hair was thinning on top, but he kept a finely manicured beard which gave him a very stately, wise appearance. “They tell you what they plan to do with the land? They gonna mine it?” Randolph asked roughly, still staring out at the pond. “No sir, they did not say anything.” Lewis replied. “Marshall Prescott tells me these two fit the description of being part of that comanchero gang that massacred Colonel Parker and his outfit in Mexico couple years back.” Randolph kept his gaze at the pond outside, but all the while watching Lewis through the reflection in the glass. “Colonel Parker was a business associate of yours if I recall correctly.” Lewis kept his eyes to the floor and calmly took a drink of whiskey. “Yes. Parker was extremely effective in dealing with the indian and bandit problem.” Randolph turned around to face Lewis. “If the boy and this man were in fact involved in that mess down there, after they are convicted and hung, that property will go back up for sale, correct?” Lewis swallowed hard. He could see where this was going. “Well sir, I would suppose so. That’s really a question for a judge to decide.” Suddenly Randolph’s anger that had been simmering just below the surface since the conversation began, spilled over into the room. “Dammit Lewis! Why in the hell did you go and sell THAT piece of land? You knew I had plans to purchase that entire fucking mountain! Hell, one of my biggest mines is only 5 miles away!” spittle flew from Randolph and landed on Lewis’ face. Lewis did not dare move to wipe it off. “Well sir, Yes, I knew you had plans, but I had been waiting for over a year for you to buy, and frankly, I needed the money.” Lewis shifted in his seat to try to gain some distance from the fuming Irishman. “Money! Hell, you need money, come to me! Don’t fucking sell the most valuable real estate in the area to two no-account shitheel outlaws!” Randolph took a drink of whiskey and spun back around to look out the window. Lewis searched for something else to say but the words escaped him. “No more land sales in the Chinati Foothils John, PERIOD. That area belongs to me, regardless if I have the deed or not, understood?” Randolph was still trying to calm down as he stared out the window. Taking his cue, Lewis stood up to leave. “Yes sir, I understand.”  Randolph waved his hand as if he was shooing away a fly and the butler opened the door to show Lewis out. On his way home, Lewis wondered to himself why Randolph was so damn interested in that certain piece of land? Could it be this indian boy, this “no-account outlaw” as Randolph called him, was smarter than he appeared? John Lewis intended to find out.

 

To Be Continued…