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Published on Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bold as Brass

By J. R. Lindermuth

 

"That there's Job Byerly's animal."

Stanton reined up. Pushing back the brim of his hat, he stared down at the stocky man who'd come out of the cabin and planted himself in his path. "You talkin' about the dog?" he asked.

A shotgun cradled in his arms, the man gave an affirmative nod.

"Critter followed me in from out there." He waved vaguely behind him, indicating the valley beyond. "Don't rightly know who he belongs to."

The man grinned, gazed up at him squinting with one eye closed. "That roan you're a-riding belongs to Job." He moved the shotgun to a more threatening position. "You fixin' to tell me the horse follered you, too?"

   

Stanton raised up in the stirrups and eased back his duster preparing for an easier grab at his own pistol if it came to that. "Nope. Borrowed it. Suppose I was to tell you Job's my brother?"

The man stepped closer, reached up and took hold of the bridle. He moved around to Stanton's side, pursing his lips and shaking his head. "I'd have to say you're a liar, mister. Me and Job growed up together down in Texas and I know for a fact he haint got no brothers."

"You must be Kulp then."

This took the man by surprise. He scowled and barked, "How in hell'd you know my name, stranger?"

Stanton chuckled. "You're right. I'm not Job's brother. But we're close enough to be kin, even if we haint seen one another in ages. We was in the war together. He's told me all about you Ed."

Ed Kulp blew breath and eased back, lowering the scattergun. "How come he had to loan you the horse?" he asked, still suspicious. "And where the hell is he?"

"He'll be comin' along directly," Stanton told him. "We met up in Twin Oaks," he added, referring to the nearest town. "He had some business to finish up. Told me to come on up here and get acquainted with you." He offered no explanation about the horse.

"How come he haint never spoke of you," Kulp asked, cocking an eye at Stanton.

"You'll have to ask him that," Stanton said, swinging down from the saddle. After tying the horse to the hitching post, he asked, "You got any coffee inside?"

Kulp turned and gestured for him to follow.

"Who the hell's this rowdy?" a gravelly voice barked.

"Friend o' Job's," Kulp said.

It took a moment longer for Stanton's eyes to adjust to the gloom of the cabin after the brightness outside. Now he saw there were two other men seated at the plank table. The heavier and older of the two wore a thick red beard and stared fixedly at the new arrival. Stanton figured him for the questioner. Extending his hand, he said, "Name's Stanton."

"That's Buck," Kulp told him as the man declined to shake. "Youngster is Cole Purdy."

Purdy rose and shook Stanton's hand. "Any friend of Job's is a friend of mine," he said.

"Danged fools," Buck growled. "How do either one of you know for a fact he's Job's friend? Just because he sez it don't make it so." He hitched back in his chair, staring defiantly at Stanton.

"Have a seat," Kulp said. "I'll getcha some coffee. Don't mind Buck. He don't trust nobody."

Stanton sat opposite Buck. "Sometimes that's a wise policy when confronted by strangers," he said with a smile.

"Damned right it is." Buck said, nodding. "Kept me alive these many years."

Kulp brought him coffee in a tin cup. Stanton took a tentative sip. Best thing he could say for it was it was hot and strong.

Buck leaned forward, big freckled hands flat on the table before him. "So, how do you know Job? We been together some time and I haint never heard him mention nobody named Stanton."

Stanton grinned. "Time I've known him I've never heard him mention no Buck neither."

A muscle twitched on Buck's jaw and he slammed one hand down on the table. "You some kind of smart ass, mister? I asked you a question and I want an answer."

Stanton laughed. "Questions don't always get answered the way we want 'em." He raised the cup as though about to take another sip. Then, suddenly, he flung the hot coffee into Buck's face.

Yowling and brushing a shirt sleeve across his face, Buck jumped up, going for his gun. But, before his hand even touched the butt of his own pistol, Stanton had drawn his Remington and it was pointed at the other man's gut.

Buck sat back down, wiping his face again with a faded indigo blue handkerchief. "Sonufagun, this haint right, mister. I only asked you a question. There was no call for you to scald me like you done."

Stanton eased down the hammer of his gun and shoved it back into the holster. "If you'd had a little patience I'd have told you how I know Job. Thing is, I don't like to be prodded. Not by any man. Maybe we understand one another a little better now, huh?"

Kulp and the boy hadn't tried to interfere. Both looked a little relieved now, the boy resuming his seat next to Buck and Kulp going to the stove to fill a cup of coffee for himself.

"You sure are fast, Mr. Stanton," Cole said. "Seemed like I blinked and you had that .44 in your hand."

"Comes with practice. Not something to be overly proud about. You wear a gun long enough you're bound to run up against somebody faster."

Buck turned away, muttering.

"You say something?" Stanton asked.

Buck swiveled his head, looking back over his shoulder. "I say somethin' to you again you'll hear it."

Kulp patted the man on the shoulder as he passed, coming around to sit by Stanton. "Easy, boys. No need to get riled with one another. I got a elk stew cookin', Buck. You always liked my stew. Think on how much you're gonna enjoy that and calm yourself." He turned to Stanton. "Ol' Buck's got a temper, but he haint a bad feller. Give him a chance to get to know you and I guarantee you'll soon be swappin' tales."

Things were quiet a few moments and Stanton used the opportunity to study the three of them. He knew Byerly's gang had been whittled down, but hadn't been sure how many men were left. Now, assessing the odds, he wondered had he made a mistake riding in here alone. Well, it was too late in the game to worry about that. The question remaining was when and how to make his next move.

Kulp belched, rose and went back to the stove to check on his stew. Buck filled and lit a pipe. He smoked in silence, keeping an eye on Stanton while pretending not to. The kid busied himself oiling and cleaning a hogleg that was older than him.

"You been with this bunch long?" Stanton asked.

Proud of being singled out, the boy grinned. "Nah. I just joined up after they passed through my town. Mr. Byerly promised me I'd have a chance to make some real money and have more fun than shearin' my pap's sheep."

Kulp chuckled. "You can see how desperate we are, takin' on a whelp like this'un. We got cut up real bad last month when we hit the bank down at Santa Rosa. Lost some good men and didn't get much to show for it." A cloud passed over the man's face.

"Yeah. Job told me about that. Said he was checkin' out a situation in hope of making up for it. Offered me a spot with you all."

"How'd you come to know Job?" Buck asked suddenly.

"They served together," Kulp said before Stanton had a chance to reply.

"Oh," Buck said. "What regiment?"

"Same as him."

"That haint what I asked, mister," Buck growled, leaning forward. His hands twitched and a nerve jumped on his face.

"Third Texas Cavalry— Deadshot Rangers."

"Now I know you're lyin', you sonofabitch," Buck said. "Bold as brass, comin' in here with a tale like that. Job and me signed on with Cap'n Mabry together. Weren't no Stanton with us."

Stanton Snorted. "You sayin' you knew every fellow in the company? I sure as hell know I didn't. Maybe we didn't sign on at the same time. Captain had to recruit replacements after every battle. Were you and Job together the whole time?" While he held Buck's attention, he surveyed his chances. Kulp was still at the stove, his shotgun leaning against the wall by the door, a good ten foot away. The kid's piece was on the table and not loaded. The situation was clear.

Buck jumped up and made his play. Before his weapon cleared leather Stanton drew and fired. The slug took the bandit square in the chest and he tumbled back, crashing with his chair to the floor. Stanton swiveled his attention to Kulp. "Don't make the same mistake, Ed," he said. "I'd rather not kill you."

Kulp grimaced. His gaze flicked across the room to his shotgun, then he thought better of it and raised his hands. "Who the hell are you? Whadya do that for?"

"Like I told you, the name's Stanton. What I didn't tell you is I'm marshal down at Santa Rosa. I've been trailing the bunch of you since you made the mistake of hitting my town."

Cole Purdy had shoved back in his chair. White-faced, he stared down at Buck, then back at Stanton. "I guess you haint no friend of Job's," he said in a quavering voice.

"You guess right, kid. We did meet down at Twin Oaks. He's in a box down there at the undertaker's. His shot missed me but took out my horse."

"That's why you was ridin' his," Kulp said.

"He had no further need of it."

"So what happens now?"

"We can have a bit of that stew of yours and then you can go back to Santa Rosa with me to stand trial. Unless you'd rather join Buck."

Ed Kulp shrugged. "I haint that dumb. Stew's about ready."

"What about me?" the kid asked.

"I'd suggest you go on back and help your daddy shear sheep. It may not be as exciting. But you'll live longer."

THE END

 

J. R. Lindermuth lives and writes in a house built by a man who rode with Buffalo Bill. A retired newspaper editor, he is the author of 11 novels, including five in his Sticks Hetrick mystery series. His stories and articles have appeared in a variety of magazines.

 

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