David woke up when the stranger cleared his throat and he reached for the Colt in its holster next to him on the ground. He knew his goose was cooked when his hand felt the nothingness of the empty holster.
"Looking for this?” The stranger asked.
David Raleigh struggled to focus his eyes on the man. His vision blurred, sharpened, and then finally settled down in the flickering light of the campfire and he saw a tall man staring down at him. The man pointed to a gun stuck in the front of his wool pants.
"Who the hell are you?" David asked. His head pounded from either the wound he had sustained earlier that day or the whiskey he had drunk to try to deaden it. At this point, David wasn't sure which hurt the most.
"Name's Roland," the man said. "I'll be taking you in."
"You don't know who you're messing with," David struggled to get to his feet.
"People keep saying that," Roland said. "And yet, here I stand with your gun in my belt. Where's your brother?"
"Right behind you!" David yelled.
"You truly are dumber than a bag of horseshoes, ain't you?" Roland shook his head. He knew the woods for hundreds of yards at least were clear. He had scouted it well before sneaking into the camp.
David Raleigh was in no shape to resist or to saddle his own horse for that matter. He was, however, in much better shape than reported by the old cowboy who had been riding shotgun on the stage coach. The brothers had tried to rob it twenty miles away but that had not worked out and the report was that he had caught a load from the ten gauge in the head.
Blood oozed through the rag tied around David's forehead but he seemed to be mostly dizzy and weak.
Roland bound David’s hands together, saddled his mare, and then put out the fire.
"You walkin?" David grinned down at him in the moonlight. Roland added dense to the dizzy and weak symptoms.
"Shut up, Raleigh." Roland put two fingers of his left hand in his mouth and whistled three times. Seconds later Horse trotted up. Roland tied a lead to the other horse and swung into the saddle.
It was a couple of hours after sunup when Roland tied their horses to the hitching post in front of the Marshal's office in the small town of White Springs. He led Raleigh inside.
The Marshal sat behind a small desk in the one room office. He looked up, sipped coffee from a tin cup, and then stood. He was a tall man, not old but not a spring chicken either.
"What have we got here?" he asked.
"David Raleigh, wanted dead or alive for murder, bank robbery and I guess they'll add robbing a stage coach."
"We didn't get nothing from that stage so that ain't gonna count," David said and collapsed onto the floor.
"Guess it might be dead instead of alive if you don't have a Doc in this town," Roland said looking down at David who had begun to shake on the floor.
Eventually the shaking stopped and they put David in a cell.
"Make yourself at home," the Marshal said. "I'll run down to Doctor Healey and see if he will come take a look."
"Take your time, we'll be here when you get back. I'll fix us a cup of that coffee if you don't mind."
Roland stepped out back to use the facilities and found there were none. He made do. Back inside he poured two cups, walked to the cell, and looked in. He didn't have to check. He'd seen dead men before.
"Well, hell," he said and took both cups outside and sat on the bench and drank them before the Marshal got back with the unneeded doctor.
"So much for your plan to use David to lure his brother into town," the Marshal said as the doctor bent over David's body in the single cell.
"Been thinking about that," Roland said. "I think we can still get him, if you two will bear with me a couple of days."
Roland laid out his plan and the two agreed. David's body was moved that night to the local undertaker who was sworn to secrecy. The doctor made daily visits in the morning and the local cafe sent food three times a day. For two nights Roland stood watch on the roof of the Marshal's office.
Roland climbed down the back of the building on morning three, went inside and started the stove to make coffee. He saw the Marshal tie his horse out front and waited while he unlocked the door.
"This ain't going to work," the Marshall said.
"Let's give it one more night," Roland said.
"Jason Raleigh is smarter than his brother was," the Marshal said.
The Marshal looked past Roland at the single cell. The two men had bunched a couple of blankets into the shape of a man on the bunk and placed David's hat where his head would have been. David's boots were poked under the bunk, his gun belt and gun hung on a nail behind the Marshal's desk.
"You think all this will fool him?" the Marshal asked.
"In the dark, it might..."
The door flew open and James from the cafe exploded into the office.
"Juh, Juh, Juh, James is not late, no Juh, Juh, James got here right on time, James is not late, James did good."
The Marshal rolled his eyes, but told the young man that he was on time and had done good. Roland also assured James that he had done good and was on time.
"Can I feed the prisoner, can I, can I, can I?"
"No, James the prisoner is sick," the Marshal said. "We'll give it to him after the Doc looks at him. You did good though, and you're right on time."
Satisfied that he had done good and was on time, James left and Roland ate the breakfast.
"Think I'll get a bit of shut eye." Roland yawned.
It was a few minutes before noon when Jason Raleigh slipped along the side of the Marshal's office, ducked under the window, and slowly turned the door knob. He was inside the door with his gun in his hand and cocked when the Marshal looked up from his desk.
"Real slow," Jason said. "Stand and unbuckle that gun belt."
The Marshal did as ordered and Jason took a quick look over his shoulder toward the cell.
"Little brother," Jason yelled. "Get up, we're getting out of here!"
There was no answer.
With his full attention back on the Marshal, Jason demanded that he take the keys over and unlock the cell.
"It ain't locked," the Marshal said. "No reason to."
At that moment the door flew open and James exploded into the office.
"Juh, Juh, ...James..."
Jason turned toward the commotion, firing from the hip. James dropped instantly.
Roland sprang from the bed and as Jason turned back he leveled his gun at Jason.
Realizing he was beat, Jason began to lower his gun. A shot rang out, Jason grabbed his chest and the next shot came as he sank to his knees. He tottered, then fell on his face.
As Roland stared, astonished, at the Marshal, smoke from David's gun curled up in front of his scowling face. The Marshal lowered the hammer on the gun, lay it on his desk. and then ran to James.
The next morning Roland met the Marshal at the little town cafe for breakfast. They had just finished eating and were lighting up when the doctor came in.
"How's your patient?" Roland asked.
"Pretty good. I think he is going to be fine," the doctor said. "But he does seem a might confused."
Roland wondered how he could tell but kept that thought to himself.
"Confused about what?" the Marshal asked.
"He thinks you shot that Raleigh boy at your office, not Roland." The doctor looked at the Marshal and waited.
"Well, Doc if that were true and, of course it ain't, I sure couldn't collect on that reward money," the Marshal said. "Roland here has seen fit to give it to James for his medical care and anything else he needs in the near future so ..."
“ Hmmmm,” The doctor shook his head and headed over to sit with a bunch of town folks in the corner.
"You think he bought that?" Roland asked.
"No," the Marshal said. "But the man does like to get paid."
"And you can convince James that I did the shooting yesterday?"
"Probably not, but no one around these parts much cares about James or what he thinks."
"His Dad does," Roland said standing and dropping money on the table for the meal.
"Yeah, I do," the Marshal said. "You take care now."
Roland nodded and headed out the door into the morning sun.
- Roland, A Short Story
My first Western short story. A great big tip of the Stetson to Jason Whitman for allowing me to use his excellent photo. Jason Whitman Photography
Thanks again to Jason Whitman for allowing me to use the photograph. Just realized I used his first name for a bad guy. That was totally unplanned and unintended!