Published on Thursday, May 17, 2012
Draped Over The Saddle
By Lowell "Zeke" Ziemann
Suddenly, a frightening, screaming whistle pierced the mountain air. A bullet had ricocheted off of the boulder. An eerie howl followed as the sound echoed from the depth of canyon below.
Two more shots careened off the top of the boulder and hissed into the canyon. Luke peeked into the gorge. They were trapped on the precipice, with the lawmen above and a hundred foot drop in front of them. The only chance to escape would be to gallop out to the right where the lawmen waited, but their horses were spent.
Sheriff Dolan shouted. "Meeks! Toss the out bank's money and we'll let you ride off. Come out with yer hands high."
Ty edged to the end of the boulder. He reached around the boulder and fired a blind shot toward the sheriff's voice. His hunched shoulders, bowed legs, and slow movements belied his spunk. "He ain't gonna let me go. That young deputy might, but Dolan is a rotten liar--been after me fer years."
The sly grin that crossed the old outlaw's face surprised Luke. "I beat the hell out of him in a 'go-as-you-please' knife fight 'bout ten years ago. Nearly cut off his ear."
The sheriff's shout was a raspy snarl. "Give up Meeks!"
Ty flung down his battered coat. "Ever heard of a hangin' in Red Rock? Hell no! That's 'cause every man Dolan brings in is draped across the saddle."
A six gun boomed again. Another bullet caromed off the rock and produced the same peircing whine and shrill echo.
"Damn him," shouted Ty. With a fierce growl, he rose to his full five and a half foot height, stepped around the boulder, and fired twice in the direction of the sheriff. "Go t' hell!"
A quick return shot struck the boulder sending chips of rock into Ty's neck and face. He dropped his Colt when a second slug ripped through his shoulder.
Luke grabbed him before he fell. The wounds looked bad. Ty's old worn out vest turned crimson. "Luke, I'm bleedin' bad. Guess I'm done. Throw out the saddlebags."
"No," said Luke. "Let me fight 'em."
"Throw 'em out Luke! You might get out on your own if we throw out the money," he gasped. "Jail is better than dead."
Luke wrapped his neckerchief around the old man's shoulder. He reached into one of the pouches, slipped a twenty dollar gold piece into his pocket, and then flung the saddlebags around the corner of the boulder, throwing them as far as he could. "Don't fire! Ty's shot. We're coming out."
Luke eased by the horses that were tied to a scrub pine. He rounded the boulder, held his breath, and stepped into the open with his hands held high. Staggering, Ty painfully followed with his left hand covering the wound on his right shoulder. His bloody right arm dangled helplessly at his side.
With six-gun drawn, the burly lawman scrambled toward them and grabbed the heavy saddlebags. The badge pinned on the pocket of his black vest sparkled in the sunlight. His soiled white shirt hinted at too many days on the trail. He sneered and laughed aloud as Ty tried to lift his wounded arm.
With a slow motion, Dolan rubbed the ghastly scar that ran from his right ear to his lower jaw. He glared at his captives through slits of eyes. "Remember me Meeks? Ten years ago in that Holbrook saloon?"
Ty looked up, thrust his head forward and spit at the lawman.
With a curse, Dolan leveled his .45, and promptly put a bullet into the old outlaw's chest. Ty reeled, stumbled backward, lost his balance and slipped over the edge of the cliff. Ty Meeks was gone.
"He surrendered!" yelled Luke. "Didn't even have his gun, and you... you killed him!"
"Shut up, and stand where you are," commanded Dolan as he swung the smoking .45 toward Luke. "What's yer name kid?"
Luke's eyes glistened with choked back tears as he eyed the sheriff. "Name's Luke, Luke Rogers."
Dolan motioned toward his deputy with his left hand. "Cody, come down here and keep an eye on this youngster."
The young deputy took Luke's gun and stuffed it in his belt.
A satisfied smile crossed the sheriff's face. He threw the money bags over his shoulder and walked to his black mare. When mounted he grabbed the reins of the deputy's horse. "Nine years riskin' my hide fer little pay. I'm owed me this loot. Cody, jail young Rogers in Red Rock. Then tell those good citizens they can look fer their retired sheriff in Old Mexico! Sorry, but I'm requisitioning your roan too. You do as yer told now. Take this young pup to jail in Red Rock!"
He reached in the bag and threw a twenty dollar gold piece at the deputy. "That's yer share, fer expenses."
Deputy Cody Hatt's mouth fell open. He didn't move or speak as he watched Dolan ride away. After a minute Cody found his voice. "I don't believe Pat would do such a thing," he said to nobody in particular. "I've seen him put a beating on men and bring in many a man stretched over the saddle, but I never thought he'd cross the line and turn outlaw."
Deputy Cody Hatt put his hand on Luke's shoulder. "He shouldn't have shot the old timer---plain murder."
Luke wiped a tear from his eye. "Dolan hated him long before today. Ty beat him bloody once... put that scar on his cheek."
Luke glanced at Hatt--- tall, thin, sandy hair and a well trimmed mustache. He's about nineteen, same as me. What's he doin' with a cutthroat like Dolan? But, he probably wonders why I ride with an old outlaw like Meeks.
The deputy checked the tired horses, leaned against Ty's gelding, and pondered for a minute. "I'm not going back to Red Rock. Gonna stand up for what's right. I plan to trail Dolan and bring him in. You're welcome to join me, if you've a mind to. Hell, you got as much reason as me."
Luke removed his hat and smoothed his black hair. "Yer not gonna take me in?"
"Why? Dolan's the thief... and he plain murdered old Ty, even if it was the Sheriff's twisted idea of justice. He's gonna have a couple of days start 'cause we've got to walk these horses for awhile. Here, take your gun."
Luke holstered his pistol. "If your goin' after Dolan, count me in."
Abby finished doing the dishes and stared out of the rear window of the Sunflower Eatery. Maria and Felipe had gone home and the little café had closed for the evening. She scanned the Rim to the north. Shades of gray defined various mountain levels in the early evening sky. Looking south, she saw the purple and golden Mazatzal Mountains and the ribbon of a trail that led to Globe. The trail weaved its way into the brushed-covered hills, then disappeared in the rocky crags and deep canyons. Beyond, lay the rugged Superstition Mountains and beyond that the flat desert floor; quiet, lonely, and foreboding.
One small lantern lit the café with a soft amber glow that suited Abby's lonely mood. She thought about Cody and wondered if she would see him soon---or ever.
A loud knock startled her. "Who's that?" yelled Abby's Pa from the back room. "Tell 'em we're closed."
A hoarse voice shouted through the café door. "Mike, Abby, it's Uncle Pat."
Patrick Dolan walked in carrying a heavy saddle bag. Before closing the door, Abby peered down the shadowy street. Uncle Pat was alone. There was no second rider.
Mike Dolan came out of the back room and clasped his brother's hand. "How's the law business? Word is that old Meeks robbed the Red Rock bank and you been chasin' him fer the last couple of weeks. Did he get away again?"
"I shot him." His scarred face showed no emotion. "Law business couldn't be better. I'm headed to Mexico to take a vacation and raise a little hell."
Abby headed back to the kitchen. "I'll fix you some potatoes and chicken. OK?" Pat nodded and watched her intently. His stares always gave her an uncomfortable shiver.
As she cooked she watched her father and uncle engage in quiet, intense conversation.
Facially, they resembled each other, but her father's indoor work left him puffy and pallid. Uncle Pat was tanned, strong and swarthy. The white scar on his unshaven cheek stood out like a chalk line on a dirty blackboard.
When he finished eating, Patrick reached in the saddlebag and pulled out a ten dollar gold piece. "Take this for the meal. I'm gonna camp outside of town. See you at first light."
"Adios and thanks," said Mike, with a wink.
Pat walked out the door, mounted his black mare, led a roan, and turned to go. "Good night little brother, see ya at sunup."
Abby watched Pat leave. She turned to her Pa, stiffened, and placed her hands on her hips. "Ten dollars for a fifty-cent meal? Where's he going? I ain't going with him! You shouldn't either. When are you gonna admit he's no good? Someday, he'll get you killed."
Mike's eyes narrowed and he raised his voice slightly. "Remember when he brought in the Colburn Gang? It was right after your ma died. He gave me part of the reward to get this café runnin'."
Abby cast a cynical glare at her father. "Oh I remember all right. All three of them were draped across the saddle, including fifteen year old Billy Colburn with a bullet in his back."
"Outlaws deserve whatever they git. Well, I'm goin'! You can come later if you want. The Gomez's can move in with you."
Mike looked at his daughter, nodded knowingly, then added. "Yer only sixteen and I know what yer doin'. Yer hopin' that Pat's young deputy comes courtin'. He won't. Pat sent him back to Red Rock with old Meek's young partner."
Her Irish green eyes flashed. "I can run things. Felipe and Maria will help me."
Luke and Cody walked their laboring mounts down the slope of the Rim toward Sunflower. The twisting, narrow trail demanded single file and stifled conversation.
As they trudged along, Luke recalled the peculiar wise counsel and biting wit that Ty possessed. He remembered the excitement of the robbery and getaway---the cliff where they were trapped ---Dolan's murderous hatred and revenge---Ty's fall over the cliff. Now what? I got nobody. Damn. Lawman or not, Dolan needs killin'.
When the trail occasionally widened, it allowed the young men to walk side by side. Luke turned his gaze to the deputy, who seemed deep in thought. Cody said he would do what's right', but maybe he changed his mind. Is he thinking of turning back to Red Rock? Oh well, Ty said 'Jail is better than dead'.
I could make a run for it. He let me keep my gun. But where would I go? No, he trusts me---I'll stay. Anyway if he's true to his word, he'll lead me to Dolan---and---he will need my help. Maybe Cody is just plain worried. He surely realizes he'll be risking his life and maybe mine too, if we catch up with Dolan.
The afternoon passed, sunlight faded and a full moon lit the rocky landscape. Well after midnight, they made camp in a stand of maple trees.
A warm campfire and tired bodies, eased Luke's mind. He took a piece of jerky and a bottle from the canvas poke that hung on Ty's saddle and sat down on his blanket. After a small sip of whiskey, he passed it to the deputy. Cody sat on his bedroll and leaned against his saddle. He now seemed relaxed now, sure of himself. Is he overconfident?
Luke wondered if he overstepped his bounds but he asked, "Why did you hire on with a hard man like Dolan?"
Cody pushed the brim of his hat up above his forehead and shrugged. "Pat and my Pa both rode with Quantrill during the war. Maybe that's why killing comes so easy to him. Anyhow, I've known him since I was a kid and Pa told me how Pat cleaned up Red Rock and all."
He took another sip and passed the bottle back to Luke. "I'm fair with a gun and needed a job. Pat likes me 'cause I never questioned his orders---leastways up 'til now. This was the first manhunt he took me on."
Cody rolled two cigarettes and handed one to Luke. He laid back, lit the smoke and continued. "Then too... I met up with Pat's niece a couple of times when she came to Red Rock with her Pa. They run a café in Sunflower." He blew some smoke and smiled. "Long red hair, green eyes and slim figure---Spunky Irish lass. Prettiest gal I ever saw. Figure to marry her one day. You'll meet her 'cause Sunflower is on the trail to Mexico."
Luke planted the picture in his mind. "Well, it's plain why you stuck with a killer like Dolan." He took another sip of whiskey and grinned. "Does this gal have a twin sister?"
Cody chuckled and looked toward the young outlaw. "No sister, but no need for you to worry 'bout women. Some gals can't resist a dashing outlaw like yourself."
Cody pitched his spent cigarette in the campfire. "How'd you end up partnerin' with old Meeks?"
"Ty's my Pa."
Cody quickly raised his up from his saddle. "Well I swear---Ty's yer Pa? I sure never guessed. Don't recollect that you called him 'Pa'."
Luke tilted his head and shrugged. "He's always been 'Ty' to me. Ma ran a boarding house and Ty would stay there when he came to Holbrook. I could tell he favored me, but didn't know he was my Pa until Ma told me a couple of months ago---on her death bed. 'Spect she didn't tell me earlier 'cause he was an outlaw and all, and they weren't wed. After the funeral, I didn't have nobody, so I lit out with him."
Cody slowly leaned back on his bed roll. "Meeks seemed like a good feller---if an outlaw. As for the sheriff?" He paused and continued with slow, measured words . "Partner, We'll get him. We will get him!"
Luke smiled, fell silent and laid back on his blanket. He blew smoke toward the bright moon. The only sound came from the horses as they gnawed at the grass and tossed their heads.
Minutes passed, before Cody rolled on his side to face Luke. "Pat's got a day's start on us, but with a good full day tomorrow we'll reach Sunflower. Doubt if he thinks there's any need to hurry, or much cause for much concern. He'll figure we're headed back to Red Rock."
Luke stared into the dying campfire. "Cody, I hope you get the money back, but leave the killin' of Dolan to me. It's his turn to come in layin' 'cross the saddle."
Abby prepared to close for the night while Felipe swept the floor and Maria wiped the tables. Her Pa and Uncle Pat had ridden out early that morning.
A tiny man, Felipe stopped his work and leaned on his broom. Always ready to offer advice, he said, "So yer uncle kilt old Meeks, eh? I bet he take bank money and he gonna set up shop in Mexico. Miss Abby, hangin' 'round with that no good uncle of yers is sure enough gonna get your Pa kilt."
Abby slowly nodded. Felipe only stated what she suspected. Uncle Pat gave Pa a gold coin. If he caught the robbers, he should've been taking the money back to Red Rock. Felipe is right.
She suddenly clutched her apron and covered her mouth with the back of her right hand. "Oh my God! Where's Cody? He probably rode with Uncle Pat when they were chasin' that outlaw!"
A knock on the door broke her thought. "Why do people keep coming at closing time?"
Felipe stood beside her as she carefully peeked at the edge of the closed curtain. With a shout, she flung the door wide open and threw her arms around Deputy Cody Hatt.
Luke snickered and stared at the ceiling. Cody, somewhat red-faced, broke loose from Abby's hug but clung to her hand. "Hello Abby darlin'." Between Abby's multiple kisses he added, "This is my partner Luke Rogers."
Abby wiped tears from her eyes. Luke stared at her. "Happy to meet you Miss Abby.Cody lied to me. Your even prettier than when he bragged on you."
Abby felt her face redden. "Cody, I was afraid something happened to you. Were you riding with Uncle Pat when he killed Meeks? And---and---when he came through here you weren't with him. And, and... oh I'm happy you're here."
Cody put his arm around Abby. "So Pat stopped here, huh? I figured so. He took gold coins from the bank and said he was heading to Mexico. I've got to catch him and get that money back. Luke wanted to go with me 'cause---". He didn't finish the sentence.
Abby took a deep breath and sighed. "He came here and got Pa to go with him to Globe.
I 'spect he and Uncle Pat'll will spend some time there, gambling and whorein' before riding to Mexico."
"When's the next stage to Globe?"
"Tomorrow, early morning."
"Good! Luke and I will get there by Saturday night. I got a twenty dollar gold piece for the fare."
Luke laughed, reached in his pocket and flipped his gold piece to Cody. "So have I."
Cody chuckled, grabbed Luke's arm and with his right hand pointed a 'six-shooter' finger in Luke's ribs. "You sly thief. Get 'em up! I'll have to take you in after all. Can't let a dangerous robber like you run loose."
Abby laughed at the joke, but then abruptly turned to Cody with pleading eyes and a set jaw. "I'm going too. Globe is a tough town---Don't want to see Pa killed."
Abby, Cody and Luke were the only passengers on the stage. Each seemed preoccupied with their individual thoughts. The coach rocked along the twisting, bumpy trail with a swaying rhythm that created discomfort. They crossed the Salt River and wound through mountain passes before the terrain flattened somewhat and the ride became more comfortable.
Abby sat quietly next to Cody and studied the two young men. Where did Luke come from? Glad he's here. Seems like he's friendly enough and Cody certainly enjoys his company. I hope he's is handy with his gun, 'cause Cody will need help. I know Uncle Pat. Now that he's turned outlaw he'll kill anyone who tries to get the money back. And Pa? Why did he have to get involved with that shameful brother of his?
Luke broke the silence. "Hey Cody, maybe we should become bounty hunters," he teased. "Ty taught me how outlaws make plans, and you have experience as a lawman. Abby's sure to be your boss anyway, she might as well boss me too. She can scour the wanted posters and send us out to get a killer."
Cody jabbed back. "Wouldn't work---we'd never get along. Lawmen and outlaws are enemies. Besides, you were an outlaw for only a month---you'd have to go rob a bank or two to gain some training."
Luke laughed. "And you'd have to catch someone like me and not let 'em go."
Abby enjoyed at their kidding. The bond between the two was cemented. She joined the joshing. "It's a capital idea. I'll send Luke on the dangerous jobs and keep Cody home to arrest drunks and old ladies who steal hats from the dry goods store."
Luke shot back. "Then I get a bigger share of the reward."
"We can start by getting Dolan," said Cody. Then he quietly added, "If he doesn't kill both of us first."
Cody's ominous warning prompted silence once again.
After a few minutes Abby turned and looked at Luke. "Why are you helping? This dangerous business and it isn't your fight."
"Ty Meeks was my Pa."
Abby's face flushed. She looked at Cody, then back to Luke. "I didn't know. I'm sorry Luke."
Big Jake's Saloon was alive. Several bright red, orange, blue and yellow striped serapes decorated the walls. Two giant Mexican sombreros and a giant miner's pick hung over the bar. To the right a spiral stairway led to a balcony that featured small rooms where soiled doves plied their trade. On this Saturday evening, business boomed.
Vaqueros, gamblers, and prospectors raised glasses and shouted over one another in conversations of Spanish and English. Occasional shrieks of laughter annoyed three Globe business owners who held a hushed conference at a corner table.
Mike Dolan, splendidly dressed in his day-old store-bought suit, stood at the bar, trying to enjoy his beer. He watched the action, glanced toward the stairs again, and rocked from one foot to the other. We should be in Mexico by now. How can Pat be so carefree?
A young, barefoot girl wearing a low cut white blouse and long, colorful skirt approach him. Her long, thick black hair was held in place with a white ribbon. A red rose was pinned to the ribbon. She batted her long dark eyelashes at him. "Buy me a dreenk, seenyor?" Despite her allure, Mike shook his head. He could not relax. Unlike his older brother, the feeling of danger, even impending doom, dominated his mind.
Pat Dolan emerged from an upstairs room with the saddlebags hanging over his left shoulder. He strapped his gun-belt around his ample waist and staggered down to Mike. Brother Pat was in his cups. "Little brother, tomorrow mornin' we ride fer the border---leave at first light. I'm havin' a night cap at the bar and then we'll turn in."
Mike nodded. "Good. Two days here is already too long."
At dusk the Concord stage pulled up near the Globe Hotel. Spanish band music blared from Big Jake's Saloon across the street. The setting sun gave off its dying glow as it hid behind the Superstition Mountains. Long shadows melted into darkness and a murky, moonlit gloom hung over the dusty street.
Cody gave Abby his hand to help her step off the coach. He nudged Luke and pointed to Big Jake's. "Dolan is in there."
"How do you know?" asked Abby.
"My roan and Pat's black are tied outside. Pat took both when he stole the money."
Cody checked his .45. He looked at Abby and then at Luke. "You want to come along Luke? Abby, you wait out here."
"No!" said Abby. She turned and abruptly headed for the saloon. "I'm going in to see if Pa's there."
"That's no place for a lady... Abby! Abby!" Cody watched helplessly as Abby walked with determined strides toward the swinging doors of the saloon. Luke and Cody followed and stationed themselves on the boardwalk, one on each side of the saloon entrance. Hidden in the shadow of the veranda roof, they could peek into the saloon, but could not be seen from inside.
Golden beams radiated from the saloon lamps. The light filtered through the slats of the swinging doors and cast a striped pattern on the boardwalk. The band finished a Spanish polka and began to play a soft waltz.
Luke could hear Mike reprimand his daughter as he attempted to hurry her toward the door. "What are you doing here? I told you before. Never go into a place like this!"
"Please Pa, get out of here. There's going to be trouble. Cody is here to arrest Uncle Pat."
Luke and Cody flattened against the outside wall. Mike looked over the doors and scanned the dark street. "Deputy Hatt is here? He'll never arrest Pat. Pat'll kill him."
As Mike and Abby argued, Pat Dolan left the bar and joined them. He still carried the saddlebags. "Abby girl! Glad you changed yer mind and joined us."
Mike grabbed Pat's arm. "Pat, yer Deputy, Cody Hatt, he's here."
Pat stopped short, but didn't say a word. He adjusted his gun belt, and slid his .45 up and down a couple of times, in and out of the holster, then brushed by his brother, swung open the batwing doors and stomped into the moonlit street. "Cody! Dammit Cody! Where are you? Why didn't you follow my orders?" he boomed.
Cody emerged from the shadows and drew his six-gun. "Hand over the saddlebags Pat. I'm takin' the money back to Red Rock."
Luke quickly stepped inside the saloon, grabbed Abby's hand and yanked her around the corner and into the blackness of an adjacent, narrow alley. Mike stayed inside and peeked over the swinging doors. The band finished the waltz and struck up another festive Spanish polka.
Pat's chest heaved. He spoke slowly, with a loud heavy growl. "Cody Hatt, leave town. I don't want to kill you."
Hidden in the dark alley, Luke drew his gun and took aim at Pat. He hesitated. The sheriff shot Ty down in cold blood. Am I no better than Dolan? He couldn't pull the trigger--- not from ambush. Instead he stepped into the street. "Dolan!"
Pat Dolan twisted toward the voice. "Well, if it ain't the young two-bit outlaw Rogers.
Yer here too?"
"I'm going to kill you Dolan. Ty was my Pa and you plain murdered him."
Dolan took a long look at Luke, then Cody, and back to Luke. The ugly scar on his cheek twisted as his mouth bent into a crooked sneer. "You damn young hooligans! Join Meeks in hell!"
Like a striking rattlesnake he drew his .45 and fired two quick shots at Luke.
A slug struck Luke in the hip. He stumbled back into the alley, but steadied on one knee and fired. His shot nicked the Sheriff's gun arm.
Dolan cursed, switched the gun to his left hand and fired blindly into the dim alley. Then he whirled toward Cody and his six-gun roared a fourth time. The shot whizzed by Cody and tore splinters from the saloon wall.
Luke carefully squeezed off a second round. At the same time Cody fired. Dolan, hit in the neck and stomach reeled backward. The saddlebags slipped from his grasp and his gun fell to the ground. Blood gushed from his neck, and a ghastly hole appeared just above his belt. For a split-second he stared at Cody, mumbled incoherently, then fell back and lay motionless.
Alerted by gunfire, the Spanish musicians ceased playing and Big Jake's patrons peeked over and under the saloon's swinging doors.
Mike ran and knelt next to his dead brother. "Too long here Pat...too long. Mexico..."
Abby rushed to Cody. "Cody, Cody, are you hit?"
"I'm good. See to Luke."
Abby ran back into the alley and helped Luke to his feet. With Abby's help he hobbled toward Cody.
Luke managed a painful smile. "Fer a minute there, I was wishin' you would've takin' me back to Red Rock."
Cody holstered his six-gun, took a deep breath, smiled and sighed with relief. "Abby darlin', would you mind taking Cody home with you until he heals up?" He spoke loud enough to be certain that Mike would hear him. "I'll come to Sunflower for you."
Luke grimaced, but managed a grin. "Takin' the money back to Red Rock?"
Cody nodded, "That's right. And I'm takin' Dolan back draped over the saddle."
Lowell "Zeke" Ziemann is a semi-retired Compliance Supervisor for the Phoenix Office of a Wall Steet Firm. Former occupatioins include teacher, coach and insurance adjuster. Zeke has had a life long interest in the Old West and has a vast library of books and artworks. He has been writing Western short stories for the past five years and has several published on line.