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Published on Monday, May 5, 2014

Big Red

By J. W. Throgmorton


Beyond the shimmering waves caused by the desert's late-afternoon heat, McGraw, a short slight built man, patiently sat his pony. His distorted image blinked in and out of view, effectively concealing him from anyone in the town who might have a cause to look. After dark, he would ride into Tucson and handle his business.

When the sun produced a long misshapen shadow of him on his pony, and the evening stars began to twinkle in the eastern sky, McGraw leaned forward and stroked his horse's neck. "There'll be fresh water and feed soon, Old Son." He nudged his heels into the sorrel's flanks. The sorrel whinnied and eagerly stepped forward towards the town.

At the livery, McGraw was greeted by a young man, not more 'an boy. He said, "Howdy, Mister. You lookin' to stable your horse?"

McGraw nodded.

"That'll be two-bits a night-includes oats and groomin'."

From his vest pocket, McGraw fished out a silver dollar and tossed it to the young groom. "See to it that he's kept close by, I might need to leave sudden like."

The young man pinched his brow as he stared at McGraw. He seemed like he was about to ask a question when McGraw flipped another dollar his way. "Keep it. It's for the extra trouble."

Nimble fingers snatched the spinning coin out of the air. The young man grinned. "Yes, Sir, consider it done." He pocketed the dollar and held the sorrel's bridle while McGraw dismounted.

McGraw untied his bedroll and saddlebags and pulled them from the saddle. He draped the bags over his left shoulder, and cradled the bedroll in the crook of the same arm. In his right hand was his .44 Winchester. Its hammer rested gently on a chambered cartridge.

He looked up at the young man and asked, "You seen Red Cody in town lately?"

"Big Red?" asked the young man. McGraw nodded. "Yeah, I seen 'im. He's down to the Palace - least ways his horse is there.

McGraw looked to where the young man pointed. The stable hand added, "It's the dun tied to the porch post."

An unfriendly smile curled the corners of McGraw's mouth. "That could prove handy," said McGraw, and he walked toward the Palace saloon leaving the young stable hand scratching his head.

Four doors west of the saloon was the sheriff's office, McGraw always made it a point to stop in to see the local law whenever he came to town. He stopped at the window and peered inside. Sheriff Simpson sat at his desk leaned over a ledger. He paused to run his fingers through his already tangled mop of hair, and then he licked the pencil's lead point and wrote something in the ledger.

Lost in his writing, the sheriff didn't hear McGraw open the office door. "You gone deaf, Simpson?" asked McGraw.

Simpson bolted upright and slapped for the revolver that wasn't at his hip. His eyes darted from McGraw and then to the peg where his gun belt hung. Finally, recognition registered in the lawman's eyes and he grinned. "Damn it, McGraw. You could get yourself killed surprisin' a fella like that."

McGraw glanced at the sheriff's gun belt and a wry smile creased his face. "That's assumin' the fella was healed."

Simpson grimaced and stared hard at McGraw, but finally, he relaxed and leaned back in his chair. "What brings you to town, McGraw?"

"Red Cody," said McGraw. The sheriff sat erect in his chair and stared. "He's wanted for robbery and murder up in Prescott."

"I ain't seen no paper on 'im," said Simpson, "when did all this take place?'

"Close to a month back," McGraw reached into his inside vest pocket, "here're the papers from the circuit judge, 'Dead or Alive.'"

Simpson held up his hand. "I ain't doubtin' you, McGraw, just askin' is all-"

"The young man at the stable says Red's horse is at the Palace. There's a good chance he's there, too." McGraw laid his saddlebags and bedroll on the corner of Simpson's desk. "I'd like to leave my personables here-"

"Glad to oblige, McGraw. You headin' to the Palace directly?"

McGraw nodded. "I don't see no reason to put it off."

Simpson glanced at his rig hanging on the wall peg and pushed back from his desk. "You want some company?"

"Nah, he shouldn't be that much trouble."

Simpson looked at McGraw appraisingly. "He's got better 'an hundred pounds on you McGraw. Now, if you let me bring my Greener there won't be no trouble."

"Obliged, Sheriff, but I don't expect there'll be much need. Ten-years of rangerin' and I ain't needed help so far."

"But, McGraw, Red's two-fifty if he's a pound-"

McGraw raised his hand. His stern look ended the conversation. He slipped the loop off his Peacemaker's hammer and loosened it in the holster. "Red's goin' back to Prescott-either sittin' on his saddle or draped over it."

Rifle in hand, McGraw nodded to Simpson and left the sheriff's office. Four-doors down the way, he stopped outside the Palace Saloon. Too short to see over the batwing doors, he stepped in, moved to the side, and scanned the room. The out of tune piano and din of reveling did not distract his focus. Red sat at a table towards the back of the saloon with two gals hanging on him.

Big spender, thought McGraw.

McGraw walked the length of the long narrow building and found a space at the end of the bar. His high-heeled boots put him at five-foot-two, but there was something, maybe an aura, which made him seem taller; the other men made room for him.

The bartender, a tall lanky man with dark hair and eyes came near. "What'll ya have?" he asked. His smile did little to distract from the pock scars on his face.

"Just a beer," said McGraw.

The bartender gave a nod. "Comin' right up."

Two cowboys on his right stopped talking and watched the exchange between him and the bartender. The younger of the two turned to McGraw. With a smirk on his face, he said, "Beer huh, too little to order a grown man's drink."

McGraw had heard it all before, though his reputation as one of Arizona's toughest rangers made these comments fewer, they still rankled. He stared hard at the cowhand. "Son, consider yourself lucky-I got other business needs tendin'."

The ranger badge pinned to McGraw's shirt peeked out from behind his vest. The young cowboy's partner grabbed his arm and leaned close in order to speak quietly. "That's Dan McGraw, you peckerwood. You keep on agitatin' him, and you're liable to end up dead."

The young cowboy glance back at McGraw, and then back to his partner. "You're joshin' me, Will. He ain't big as a minute."

Still speaking in a low tone, Will said, "Maybe so, but he's tougher 'an cut nails, and can pull that hog-leg faster 'an anyone you've seen. Now shut up and mind your own business." Will glanced toward McGraw and touched the brim of his hat. "Don't mind my partner, Mr. McGraw, he don't know no better."

A disinterested slight nod was all the response the cowboy received. McGraw had already changed his focus to Red Cody. The man was mountain size sure enough, but McGraw had seen bigger men go down.

His unshaven face, greasy red hair, and filthy clothes were a sign he'd been drinking for some time, at least two days. It was plain the girls hanging all over him were there for his money. They were trying to talk him into going upstairs for a double romp. McGraw would bide his time and take Red when his guard was down and least able to put up much of a fight.

The bartender returned. "Another beer?" he asked.

A sideways glance at Red made up his mind; Cody would be here awhile. "Sure, and somethin' to eat."

"Beans and beef steak, will that do?" McGraw nodded and pointed to a small empty table near the kitchen door. "It'll take a few minutes," said the bartender, "I'll bring it over when it's ready."

The bartender brought another beer and vanished into the kitchen. McGraw followed as far as the small table. He casually situated the chairs, so he could keep an eye on Cody without being too obvious.

The beans and beef steak was tolerable; the steak a bit over cooked for his taste, but it filled the void. He just ordered another beer when he spied John Roper standing at the saloon doors poised to enter. He hadn't seen Roper since the Mendez shooting near Tombstone. It didn't appear that Roper saw him, so he leaned against the wall and pulled the brim of his hat low and looked away.

Roper entered the saloon and walked the length of the bar. He appeared ready to turn and leave when he fixed his gaze on McGraw. The rancher raised his hand in greeting and boomed, "Dan McGraw, pound for pound Arizona's toughest ranger." Roper approached McGraw's table, his affable grin not to be denied. "I thought it was you, you old polecat-who're you after?"

All hell broke loose. Red Cody suddenly looked up at Roper and followed his gaze. McGraw rocked forward grabbing his Winchester with his right hand cocking the hammer, and holding up his left to halt Roper.

Big Red grabbed the girl on his left to use as a shield, drew and cocked his revolver, and placed the tip of the barrel under her chin. The bar room fell silent. Roper, who still had his hand in the air, froze and stared at McGraw with pleading eyes.

With the rifle to his shoulder, McGraw took careful aim, and said, "Give it up, Red, or, I'll drop you where you stand."

Red shrank even smaller behind the girl. "Maybe so, but I'll take her with me. You want her blood on your hands?"

McGraw hesitated, and then lowered the gun's hammer and laid the rifle across the table. "How about it, Red-just you and me?"

Finally, Roper and the others decided to move; careful not to get between Red Cody and Dan McGraw. Red, dangling the girl in front of him like a rag doll, moved with the crowd for the door.

"Red," said McGraw, "Simpson's out there with his shotgun."

For the first time, Red's eyes showed fear. McGraw blocked the rear exit and Simpson outside; Cody had nowhere to go. "You tell Simpson I'll kill this girl if he so much as twitches."

The corner of McGraw's lips curled. "I tell you what, Red. You let the girl go, and I'll tell Simpson to let us be-"

"I ain't drawin' against you, Ranger."

"You've a reputation as a hard hombre," said McGraw as he unbuckled his gun belt. "Let see if it's earned." McGraw laid his gun belt on the table with his rifle.

Red stood erect, his shoulders relaxed, and he grinned. "Okay, tell 'im and step away from the table."

"Holster the gun first."

Cody shrugged and shoved his Colt into its holster.

"Simpson," shouted McGraw, "Keep everyone out of here until we're finished." He stepped away from the table.

The girl's eyes were wide with fear. When Red loosened his grip around her throat, she jerked his arm away and made for the batwing doors. Surprised, Red went for his gun, but McGraw sprang to the table and drew his pistol and got the drop on Red.

"Lose the hog-leg, Red."

Red glared at McGraw. "It's lucky for you, Lawman. Ain't no one, 'ceptin' my paw ever whipped me." He dropped the gun belt.

With the barrel of his gun, McGraw gestured for Red to move away from his rig. As he did so, McGraw returned his pistol to its holster and step out to meet Big Red Cody.

Red chuckled. "You've a lot of grit for a little man, but you're goin' to be sorry you holstered that piece." He rushed McGraw as he uttered the last word.

McGraw didn't expect that Red would fight fair, so he was ready. As Red came tearing at him, McGraw flung himself sideways at Red's ankles. The move was so sudden; Red didn't have a chance to alter his course. Red flew through the air and landed hard on the bar room floor.

McGraw rolled to his feet and stood ready for Red's next move. The hulk of a man slowly rose; he was winded from the hard impact with the floor. Red moved toward McGraw; this time slower and with greater care. He sneered. "You're gonna pay, Lawman."

Like a grizzly, Red bent forward trying to snare McGraw, but McGraw was too quick. Finally, in desperation Red swung his right at McGraw's head. McGraw ducked, stepped to his left and kidney punched Red. Red moaned and bowed his back. As the big man stood erect slightly stunned, McGraw kicked out at Red's knee. The snap of torn ligaments was loud, Red seemed confused, and then his knee buckled and he fell to the floor.

"You're done, Red, give it up."

Red pushed himself up onto his good knee. On his knee, he was only a few inches shorter than McGraw. "When I get my hands on you then it'll be finished."

McGraw shook his head. "You're thicker 'an a stump." He feigned to move in. Red, seeing his chance, swung with everything he had; missing McGraw. Again, McGraw stepped to his left and sent a round-house punch to Red's jaw, he felt it break. Red slumped to the floor unconscious.

Breathing hard, McGraw stepped through the batwing doors. "Simpson, bring in your bracelets."

When Red came to, his hands were chained behind him. Simpson stood over him with his Greener pointed at him. Seeing Red's eyes flicker, Simpson said to two men of the crowd that had gathered to watch, "You two carry him over to the jail. Doc can tend to him there."


*         *        *


Doc Kerry left Cody's jail cell and reported to Simpson and McGraw. "I've set his jaw and splinted it and his leg, but he isn't going anywhere for several days-even then it'll be by wagon."

Simpson looked at McGraw. "You should have shot 'im - it'd of been a lot less trouble."

"It's been a long day, Simpson. I'm going to the hotel-we'll talk tomorrow."


*         *        *


McGraw sat at the breakfast table finishing his coffee when Simpson walked into the cafe. "Coffee?" asked McGraw.

"Nah-had some already." Simpson pulled out a chair and sat. "What're your plans?"

"I'll wire the Captain that I've captured Cody and wait for a new assignment."

"Well, its sure Red ain't going nowhere soon. That laudanum Doc gave him put him out cold. It's just for a few days; until his jaw starts mending." Simpson chuckled. "I suspect he'll be thinner when you return to get him."

"If it's me," said McGraw. "It's up to the Captain."

Later that day, McGraw stopped by Simpson's office. Simpson nodded a greeting when McGraw walked in. "I'm headin' out, Sheriff. The captain's sending me up to Show Low. There's been some trouble near the reservation.

"Apaches?" asked Simpson.

"Don't know-that's part of why I'm going up there." McGraw stood at the office door ready to depart. He flipped the brim of his hat, and said, "See ya around," as he closed the door.


*         *        *


Ten weeks later, McGraw again entered Simpson's office. "Howdy, Sheriff," he said as he stepped to the coffee pot to pour a cup. "Captain says Cody got loose."

Simpson hung his head. "Yeah, the sum-bitch had me thinkin' he was worse off than he was. I turned my back on him and he knocked me out cold. When I come to, he was gone and I was locked in my own jail cell."

"What's he riding?" Simpson looked at McGraw with a pained expression. McGraw couldn't contain his laughter. When he stopped laughing, he asked, "What else besides your horse did he take?"

"The sum-bitch took my Greener, and I want it back."

Still smiling, McGraw asked, "Which way was he headed?"

"East," said Simpson, "this time kill the sum-bitch."

McGraw gathered fresh supplies and left Tucson headed eastward towards Tombstone. Tombstone was a lively town yet to be tamed. McGraw's first stop was the sheriff's office. Behan wasn't there, so he went to the White Elephant Saloon; Behan's home away from home. He found Behan dealing faro.

McGraw stood off to the side of Behan's table and watched. Finally, the sheriff glanced his way and McGraw nodded. "Winnin' or losin', Sheriff?"

"The odds are with the house, McGraw, they never lose." Behan smiled at McGraw and asked, "What brings you to Tombstone?"

"Big Red Cody. Have you seen him?" asked McGraw.

"As a matter a fact, he's upstairs as we speak. He's been recovering from an illness of sorts. All he does is eat, drink, and bed the ladies." Behan stared at McGraw, ignoring the players waiting to receive their cards. "What do you want him for?"

"Robbery and murder, plus he broke jail in Tucson."

"Room two, McGraw, try not to make a mess when you take him."

As McGraw walked to the stairs, he saw one of the girls scurrying ahead of him and into room two. Red would know he was coming. McGraw stopped outside of room one and tried the handle; the door opened. Inside a cowboy was having the ride of his life and didn't notice McGraw standing beside the bed.

The girl's eyes showed interest, but no fear. Finally, the man sensed McGraw's presence and jerked around. He started to speak, but before he could get the words out, McGraw shoved his Colt under his chin. "I'm just passing through. I'll be out the window in a second and you can carry on-call out and I'll kill ya. Understand?" The man nodded.

McGraw went out the window onto the roof and crawled to room two's window. One quick glance through the open window told him all he needed to know. There were two girls curled up on the bed, and Red stood at the foot pointing Simpson's Greener at the door.

As McGraw came through the window, one of the girls screamed. Red whirled around bringing the shotgun to bear. A single shot rang out. Red fell to the floor with a bullet hole in his forehead. McGraw stepped fully in the room and walked to Red's body. He looked at the girls. "You liked him well enough to warn him I was coming, so you can like him enough to see to his bein' buried."

A few days later, McGraw rode into Tucson with a Greener across his saddle. He stopped at the sheriff's office.




Jim Throgmorton is the husband of one beautiful wife, the dad of two wonderful boys, and the papa of three brilliant grandsons. He is a Marine Corps Vietnam veteran. Now a retired general contracting executive who during his career has constructed projects in various parts of the United States, which included everything from a small retail tenant space to a 7 million barrel brewery. In 2008, he decided to pursue his lifelong passion and became a western genre novelist. Duncan at Green River, his first published book, although set in the future, is, in essence, is still a cowboy shoot 'em up. Now living on the west coast of Florida, Jim writes 4-5 hours each weekday. He and his lovely bride enjoy motorcycling, travel and entertaining their friends and family.


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