Matt turned to face Guthry, spread his feet shoulder wide with his gun hand thumb still hooked in his belt, still three fingers from his .44. The men that stood along the bar, drifted to one side, out of the line of fire. The room grew deadly quiet.
"I've had just about all the crap I'm going to take from a local loudmouth like you," Matt said. There was a deadly chill to his voice and Vernon shivered slightly from the feel of it. All of a sudden, he realized that he might be biting off a little more than he could chew. Being the braggart that he was, he couldn't back down from the step he had taken. He crouched and went for his pistol.
Realization that he didn't even have his gun half way out of leather, and was already looking into the black hole of a barrel, that looked three inches in diameter, he froze and in no time at all he felt the sting of salty sweat in his eyes from the large beads that had popped out on his forehead and trickled down. He swallowed hard, his Adam's apple moved up and down but the lump in his throat was just about to choke him and he couldn't swallow it. He lost control of his bladder and pissed down his leg, the warm fluid trickling into his left boot.
Dawning on him that he had just pissed in his own whiskey, he sucked in a mountain of air and said with a high pitched, fine toothed comb, squeak, "Ohooo, shit."
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One Bullet MoreFor Ruth
By James Richard Langston
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 James Richard Langston
All right reserved.
Chapter OneShe was unable to move, her eyes widened and she went into panic causing the adrenaline to flow through her body. Struggling, she gained the strength and presence of mind to roll him to the side so that she could stand, only to find herself facing half a dozen, ruggedly dressed men, with the sinister gleam of lust in their eyes.
It had been a normal day for the Fillmore family, the work was hard and the rewards seemed never to come. The chores were all done, she prepared supper over a hot wood burning cook stove and they sat to table, said their blessing and ate their supper with good natured talk between them, including the family's only child, a two year old, little girl, named Ruth. After supper, they watched the sun go down same as always. The three of them sat on the front porch, looking at the beautiful display of red, orange, yellow and gold, blending together like a canvas, splashed by an angry artist. Twilight fell softly on the Flying F ranch and the Fillmores retreated into the house to prepare for bed.
With no moon shining, most nights on the plains were as black as pitch. Without a light of some kind, it was hard to find one's way. That's exactly how it was with Matt's sister, her husband and their child on this fateful night. Usually, to save oil, the only light they enjoyed after sundown was firelight from the open fireplace in the side wall of their living area. Oil for lamps and candles were hard to come by and the Fillmore family could ill afford to buy them, when they were available. John's dream of building a first class cattle ranch had turned into a near nightmare of hard scrabble work, just to eke out enough money to keep food on the table. This night was no different from all the other nights that he was worn to a frazzle, except that, this night, there was a band of men waiting in an arroyo, not more than three hundred yards from the Fillmore ranch house, waiting for the darkness to close in around it, waiting for the light of the fireplace to dim.
John and his wife, Sarah, both, looked years beyond their actual age because of the hard work, hopeless worry and rough weather. He had cattle but the market was depressed, his cattle were scattered back up in the foothills of the mountain range that towered above two sides of the valley in which his land was situated and he had no money to hire riders to round up what cattle there were. He knew there were maybe fifteen hundred to two thousand head back in the hills, from natural increase but he had no way of knowing for sure. Besides, there was a tribe of savage Indians that lived back in those hills, holdouts from moving to a reservation and he was hard pressed for any solution to the complex problem. On top of all of that, as if that wasn't enough, he had been getting undercurrent threats from the Circle J bunch.
He had invested his life's savings to get the ranch and get it started and the bank held a mortgage on the place. He had no funds to hire the help he needed to make it begin to pay. He had his starter cattle, delivered to the ranch by members of the selling outfit but they all went back home after delivery and John Fillmore was left with over a thousand head of cattle and nobody to ride herd on them and they had drifted, far and wide. Leading up to the point where he was at this time, he had only been able to hire just one person, a local Indian, to help him round up enough cattle to provide each year's staples, but he had borrowed the money to buy the cattle to start with and it would be coming due, soon.
As soon as the cleaning up after supper was done, John sat by the fireplace and ran all of his problems through his mind as he smoked his pipe. The rest of the family, his wife, Sarah and his two year old daughter, Ruth retired for the night. The days were long and hard. There was much work to be done and the worry of possibly being attacked by renegade Indians or outlaws was just about as much pressure as could be stood. He sat there until the fire dwindled to just a few flames and flickers and then he finally decided to go to bed.
Matt's sister, Sarah, had married John Fillmore on the lawn of the Sherman homestead back in Louisiana. It was a beautiful time of the year with so much promise for both the weather and their future. The magnolia trees were in full bloom and the sweet aroma of the magnolia blossoms filled the air like the breath of a newborn baby. The smells of cooking, from the kitchen of the main house, were mouth watering. It turned out to be a lovely wedding with a delicious reception afterwards. Sarah was very happy, her beloved brother, Matt was there, back from one of his adventures, and the world seemed to be perfect.
The memories of that wedding day, seeming so long ago, were in the mind of Sarah as she pulled the covers up under her chin. She was twenty three and the world was young and beautiful and she was in love. John came into the room, carrying a coal oil lamp, the light casting shadows on the walls like black ghosts from a dark lagoon. He put the lamp on the table at the foot of the bed, undresses and blew out the flame.
After he was settled in bed, she smiled sweetly into the darkness and settled in for a good night's sleep, not realizing that she would never see the beauty of a bright, sunny day again. She and her husband, John, were awakened in the middle of the night by the loud crying of the livestock from the barn in back of the house. Upon awakening, they saw the bright, flickering orange glow of the barn in flames. The pounding of horses' hooves could be heard from the darkness outside along with the roar of the fire and the hoots and hollers of excited men.
"What's going on," shouted Sarah. "What's that glow?"
"I don't know," her husband said. "Something is on fire; I think it's the barn. Oh, my God, it is the barn and it sounds like the livestock are trapped inside."
They scrambled to get their clothing on while hurrying toward the rear of the house, half dressed. Their only daughter, the two year old, was standing by the curtain that surrounded her bed, separating it from the kitchen. The curtain enclosure had been christened 'her room'. She was wiping the sleep from her eyes with the back of a balled up fist, standing there in her calico nightgown that came down to her ankles, a blue ribbon laced around the neckline. She held a handmade doll under her arm.
"What is the matter, Mommy?" She asked as her mother and father ran passed, stumbling over chairs and table, in their haste to rescue the animals from the burning barn.
"Stay in your room, Ruth" cried Sarah, over her shoulder, as she went through the door, on her husband's heels, tripping on the threshold and almost falling face down on the back porch.
John Fillmore leaped from the porch, over the steps, but his feet never hit the ground. A double barreled shotgun blast from a sawed off Greener all but tore him in half as the heavy load of double naught buck shot slammed into his mid-section, picking him up and throwing him back into Sarah, on the porch. The shot put a hole in him big enough to insert a doubled fist. Sarah lay there, pinned to the porch by the dead weight of her husband, blood soaking his clothes and spilling down to cover her, also. Horror registered on her face and she was on the edge of going into shock, wide eyed and sweaty. She finally gained her feet. Now standing, she was alone and facing half a dozen men, blood thirsty, lustful men.
They eased toward her and when she tried to turn and escape through the door, back into the house, they caught her and dragged her into the yard. After taking turns, having their way with her, one of them sliced her throat from ear to ear, to the screams of her young daughter who watched through a window. Ruth was still screaming when the flames engulfed her as the men, who had come to get rid of another squatter family, rode into the night, laughing as they went. The last man to ride passed the body of Sarah, fired a shot that hit her between the eyes, to no effect because she was already dead.
Silence fell on the house except for the crackling and popping of the remaining fire. In the distance, a coyote howled a mournful howl. A night bird took wing and flapped its soft wings against the warm night air. The flames, gradually, died down and sparks, whipped by Mariah, swirled into the night air, like fireflies, seeking mates, each time a piece of the house collapsed in on its self. The moan of the wind was a lonesome sound that washed the surrounding plains. The coyote, in the distance, howled to what was left of the brightness of the fire. There was no answer to his call and the darkness closed in and settled like a soft blanket on the remains of John, Sarah and Ruth Fillmore and all was quiet, all was still.
* * *
The mangy ole gray, brown coyote watched with keen eyes as Matt Sherman's powerful horses picked its way along the narrow trail below. He yawned widely, licked out his tongue, passed his white bone cleaned teeth, curled it back into his mouth and softly popped his teeth together, a couple of times. Realizing that there was no meal to be found with the man, he turned, blinked his pale gray eyes and walked back into the shaded darkness of an opening between two large boulders.
Sure that he hadn't been seen, the coyote walked a couple of tight circles, dragging his tail, in a sweeping motion, across the area where he had been sleeping most of the morning, curled up on the cool, powdery dust of his daytime bed, laid down, dropped his snout gently onto his crossed, front paws and returned to his dreams of fat, juicy sage hens and long legged, meaty Jack rabbits. Matt smiled to himself and thought, 'you sly ole flea wagon. You didn't think I saw you, hunter. Well, you go on about your personal business. You'll have no trouble out of this man, today.'
The day had begun with Matt sitting, straddled a deadfall tree trunk, about half of the bark flaked off. He was not ten feet from a babbling stream of fresh water that flowed over rocks and sand, making it crystal clear and as sweet as water can be. The side of the log against the ground was hidden by small growths of wild mushrooms and fern and there were places on rotted cracks that showed exposed sign of phosphorus. The morning birds were singing like a children's choir in a Methodist church balcony on a bright, early springtime Sunday morning. He was pounding a small leather pouch, in which was a handful of roasted Arbuckle coffee beans, with the handle of his hunting knife. A fat, bushy tailed ground squirrel sat on the stump, from which the deadfall had toppled and watched with bright, sparkling eyes. He flicked his bushy tail like a plumed, feather fan being waved in front of the face of an excited lady. Its tail flicked with each movement of its head and its head moved in quick jerks, almost constantly. It chirruped continually, in measured chirrups, at the large, ugly, two footed creature that had invaded its home territory, plopped a big butt down on its log and was making all kinds of unnecessary noises, keeping all of the other creatures awake, and so early in the morning.
Matt glanced at the animal and smiled to himself as he untied the string around the neck of the pouch, looked inside and shook it a couple of times. Not satisfied with the job thus far, he tied the strings again and, laying the pouch down, slapped it a few more times with the flat of his knife blade. The squirrel jumped with each slap of the knife. Matt checked the beans once more and, satisfied, poured the crushed beans into the water, which was just coming to a rolling boil. Using his bandana, he pulled the coffee pot from the hotter part of the fire to the edge so that it would boil at a slower pace to get the full rich flavor out of the beans.
He brushed his hands together and held them out to warm them over the fire for a minute, mostly out of habit. He then held the slab of bacon, rested it on the deadfall and sliced off a half a dozen thick strips and laid them across the flat bottom of his frying pan. The pan was already hot and the bacon began, immediately to sizzle and pop as it fried. The aroma of the coffee, boiling, wafted on the air and was joined by that of the bacon. Not being able to wait, he fished out a half cooked strip and popped it into his mouth and bounced it around inside a moment or two, with his tongue, to cool it enough to chew. 'Man, I do love good, smokehouse bacon,' he thought as he savored the taste of the greasy strip.
Then he went about frying the rest if the strips to a golden brown. By the time the bacon was completely browned, the coffee was ready and he poured himself a tin cup of the black, scalding brew. He sipped the coffee, wincing at the hot and then crunched the bacon along with a cake of hardtack and finally, he broke off a piece of hardtack, laid it in the frying pan to soak up the remaining bacon grease and popped that into his mouth, and washing it down with the rest of his cup of coffee, looking over the rim of his cup at the squirrel, still flicking its tail.
He poured himself another cup of the smooth, glistening, amber liquid and sat next to the fire, warming himself. He set his cup aside, took out the makings, troughed a paper, sprinkled the finely cut tobacco into it, rolled and smoothed it, licked the paper to make it stick, twisted one end and put the other end in his mouth. He fired the quirly with a twig from his campfire, tossed the twig back into the fire and sat back to enjoy his smoke. Staying in camp just long enough to put things back in the same order he had found them, he doused water on the fire to put it out and then scattered the ashes. A small limb off the deadfall tree was used to brush the area and a quick check was made for any plant breakage caused by his boots or his horse's hooves. He stopped for a minute to listen to the sounds of the surrounding area. With no out of the ordinary sounds, he returned to his task.
He then gathered dry leaves, pine cones and needles and sprinkled them on the site where the fire had actually been, covering that area and the scattered ashes as well. He then laid a broken limb of the deadfall tree, across the spot where the fire pit had been and sprinkled leaves and pine needles on top of it. Even the squirrel couldn't tell that Matt had spent the night there. He did all of this, not because he care one whit about how the area looked, but he did it for practice in covering his sign, hiding it from anyone trying to follow him.
In the scheme of things, there wasn't much that Matt Sherman did not see, like the coyote in the rocks above the trail. He could see the flick of a deer's ear at three hundred paces while he and the deer, both, stood in a thick forest. Usually, the success of the hunt depended on which one, the hunter or the hunted, flicked first. His life's experiences had been a constant source of learning for him.
Since he could remember, he had been reading both books and trail signs in nature. His father had taught him the skill of reading signs and his mother took care of the reading of books. He was reading books, on his own, by the time he was six years of age. At a very young age, his late teens, he had spent two years on his uncle's schooner as first mate and after that, he had worked on the docks in New Orleans. Living in southern Louisiana for so many years had afforded him the opportunity to go on many hunting trips deep into the swamps where he honed his skills in tracking, hunting and fishing far beyond where his father had taken him. He was a survivor, a fighter of the first order, a hunter.
All of a sudden, there was a foreign sound from upstream. A splashing sound that shouldn't have been there. Matt quickly went to his horses and took hold of their noses to keep them from making any sounds. He got deathly still and listened. Something or someone was splashing in the stream. A whinny came floating on the early morning air. Matt's animals twisted and shied, trying to answer the call but Matt held them tightly and kept them quiet. Then he saw the source of the sounds, an Indian, sitting a paint pony, rode out of the trees and trotted out into the open, heading away from the stream at a slow trot. Matt watched until he went from sight over a rise before he turned the horses' noses loose.
His only sister had married a man from west Texas and had moved there. A year later, she had given birth to a baby girl, Ruth and the three of them lived on their ranch, somewhere west of Seminole, Texas, close to the New Mexico Territory. That's where Matt was headed this warm sunny day, when he had sighted the mangy ole coyote in the rocks above the trail. A large, Redtail hawk soared across the deep blue of the sky and threw its dark shadow along the trail ahead of Matt as though leading Matt in his way. He looked up, squinted against the brightness of the sun and noted the hawk. 'Fly on, great bird of prey, for it is a beautiful day to fly,' he thought.
Excerpted from One Bullet More by James Richard Langston Copyright © 2011 by James Richard Langston. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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