Dave P. Fisher                        
Author & Western Humorist

Double Diamond Books                      
  
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Monthly Feature
    
   When Dusk Falls

 Nineteen-year-old Dane Chandler has hired his gun to Pete Marier in a range war against the Newton brothers who are trying to drive Marier out.
 

 

Dane studied the two Newtons. From what he had learned the brothers were Norm and Barry. Norm was a hothead, and Barry the brains of the outfit. He put it together that the first man was Norm, the second Barry. From what he could see Norm was like a nervous cat in his movements, Barry was calm and calculating. Norm was said to be the mean one with a hot temper and a tendency to jump before he thought it all through. Barry studied and manipulated, but they were both equally bad.

Pete glared at Barry and growled, “The next time one of your hired guns comes near my property he’ll be shot dead. I’m not playing this game with you. No two-bit outlaws are running me out.”

Norm’s eyes were blazing with rage. He opened his mouth to say something but Barry cut him off.  “What is all this about anyway Marier? We don’t have hired guns and how do you figure you can come in here threatening to kill my workers?”

 “I don’t know how you transact your dirty business back east, but out here you fire a man’s buildings and cut his fences you’ve got a war on your hands. There’s no policemen here to protect you, anything you do here will be met with western justice. You stay on your side of the fence and I’ll stay on mine.”

Jumping forward Norm screamed at him, “There’s no place for your kind here any longer!  You get your disease infested cattle out of this country. I don’t want them contaminating my purebred stock.”

Dane watched Pete. Norm Newton’s temper tantrum had no effect on him as he calmly glared back at him. This was a man who had been born in this raw country and built something for himself out of it. He held no doubts that there was more than one man in a grave with Pete Marier’s lead in him. The likes of Norm Newton didn’t scare him a bit.

“My men have orders to shoot to kill. I think it’s time for you two to go back east where you belong.”

Norm was in a full blown, mindless, spitting rage. “This is my property and I’ll see you run out if I have to burn down every building and kill you and every diseased cow you own!”

“Go ahead and try it, you can be buried on your property. You want a war, you’ve got a war. By the way we wiped out your Barstow boys.” Reining his horse around Pete headed out of the ranch yard.

Nev and Dane held their places watching the brothers while Pete rode away. They wanted to be sure their boss didn’t take a bullet in the back.

Barry looked at Nev, then to Dane, and back to Nev, “I’m paying sixty a month for men who can fight, and we’re going to win this, so whose side do you want to be on?”

Neither Nev nor Dane answered, they simply reined their horses around and rode away following their boss.

Nev and Dane rode in silence, each lost in his thoughts. Pete stayed a good fifty yards ahead of them never looking back. With a mile between them and Newton’s house Nev spoke without looking at Dane, “Watch out for Norm, back east he was involved in a lot of crime. He’s not right in the head and doesn’t care what he does, he’ll shoot you in the back if given half a chance. Barry’s got the brains. He’s also spent more time out here and understands how we think. He’s the one that got his big money friends to set up this Hereford operation.”

“You seem to know them?”

“I know Barry, we partnered together for a while down in Kansas. He wanted me to join up with him and Norm on a cattle venture, but I hated Norm the first time I met him. The Newtons and me had a falling out you could say.”

“A falling out?”

“Yeah, I threatened to blow Norm’s head off. It’s a long story.”

“So, that’s why he was offering you, and I guess me, a job being his guns.”

Nev nodded, “Barry would rather have me on his side where he can keep an eye on me.”

They rode for a while without speaking before Dane asked, “So, how did you end up with this outfit and fighting the Newtons.”

“I hired on with the Diamond for a job, it was purely a coincidence that the Newtons started a fight with Marier. I wasn’t even aware that the place south of us was the cattle venture they wanted me in on until Marier started having trouble. He wanted to know which of us had gun fighting experience for a problem he was having with the new outfit. It wasn’t until we had our first confrontation with Barry and Norm that I knew it was them. It was after that Barry and I had words and things are as you see them now.”

They fell to silence; no more conversation was exchanged the remainder of the ride back to the ranch.

Pete was waiting in front of his house, still mounted he watched Nev and Dane approach him. Coming to a stop facing their boss Pete addressed Dane, “I see you have a rifle boot but don’t have a rifle.”

“No sir, I left Buffalo in a bit of a hurry and never went back for it.”

“I’ve got a 73 for you, hang on.” He dismounted and went into the house. A minute later he came back out carrying a new Winchester 73 and a box of 44.40 cartridges. Handing them up to Dane he said, “It’s already loaded. You fight for me and I furnish the rifle and ammunition, the other boys already got theirs.”

Dane looked the rifle over. “Always wanted one of these, thank you.”

“You might not be thanking me before this is over. I’m going to hire a couple more hands for the gather, I want the two of you riding shotgun for the crew. From now on you answer directly to me. Right now I want the two of you to head into town and nose around, try to pick up on what Newton’s gun hands are up to. I want to stay ahead of them and don’t want to get caught unawares.”

Nev nodded, “We’ll report back to you.”

The two men turned their horses and headed out of the ranch yard. Nev was grinning as he commented, “Now, this is my idea of a tough job, go to town. I think I could get used to working with my gun instead of a rope. It pays better and it’s a whole lot easier than wrestling steers.”

Dane shrugged, “That’s all I’ve ever done. This gunhand business is all new to me.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, since we’re going to be partners and all, what made you leave Buffalo and head clear down here? I’m not trying to be nosey, but I like to know something about a man when he’s watching my back.”

“That’s fair enough. My pa and his partner drove a man’s herd to the Bighorns from Texas.  They stayed on. I was ten when we moved there. My pa was the foreman.”  He stopped and was silent for a minute before he continued. “Last week he got in an argument over a maverick with a no-account from the neighboring outfit. He shot my pa over it. I went after him, called him out, and killed him. I took out of there before the law came looking for me.”

Nev nodded, “Sounds like a reasonable course of action to me. I left Missouri when I was sixteen. I shot a man dead who had attacked my seventeen-year-old sister. There’s more law there than here, but it’s not fair law. The man’s name was Brown, the judge’s name was Brown, and the sheriff’s name was Brown. I think you get my drift. All inbred hillbillies. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that my neck was in a Brown rope. I headed west.

“I worked at any job I could get. In Kansas I picked up with an old gambler who taught me how to play cards. Not just play, but play and win. So, I played cards for my living. I killed a man in Abilene who was dealing off the bottom. I killed another in Hays while Hickok was Marshal and figured punching cows in Nebraska was safer for a while.”

Dane’s eyes opened wide, “You met Bill Hickok?”

“I never met him, so to say, I saw him around quite a bit. He was quite a card player himself.”

“Is he as good with a gun as everyone says he is?”

“Well, let’s put it this way, I left town before going up against him. I’m not that foolish.”

They rode along for another hour talking back and forth. Reaching town Nev swept a hand   out before him, “Well, here it is, Ogallala. Not much to see, but it’s the only town for miles around, and the saloons are a gathering place for honest men and outlaws alike. The Cowboy’s Rest, and Tucks, are the most likely places to find Newton’s men. Just look around and listen to the talk and see what you can learn. I’m going to get into a game and get someone to start talking. Just don’t tell them you’re from the Diamond.”

Dane nodded his understanding. “Lead the way.”

The Cowboy’s Rest was already active with drinkers and gamblers. Few cowhands were present as they were still out working their ranges; however, men from other walks of life were present. Nev was looking for anyone who might resemble a hired gun. To Dane all the men in the place looked alike, they all wore guns and looked like they could handle them.

Nudging Dane with his elbow Nev motioned to a pair of men standing at the bar. “Them, I bet they work for the Newtons.” Making his way toward the two men Nev stepped up to the bar next to them and ordered a drink. After a bit he began a conversation with the man beside him.

Dane was impressed at Nev’s easy style, he was a man who could talk. He wasn’t much of a talker, but Nev could start a conversation with anyone anywhere. Pretty soon Nev led the two men to a table with a deck of cards in his hand. Dane started making his way through the crowd, not sure what he was looking for.

A half hour passed with Nev talking amiably with the card players around the table. Nev had positioned himself at the table so he was facing the door. Dane had made his way around the room and was back at the door when it opened. A man moved in several steps then shouted loudly into the room, “Who owns the sorrel with the Double Bar Diamond on him?”

The room fell from a loud din to a low murmur at the man’s question. All eyes searched to see who would answer. Most in the area knew that Pete Marier was having trouble with the new upstart Newton ranch. Nev casually looked up from his cards, “It’s mine, what’s it to you?”

The two men sitting at the table with Nev stared at him. They had been taken in and had said more than they should have. They now realized that the man who had invited them into the game was working them.

The man at the door shouted back, “We don’t want any Diamond riders in here.”

Nev calmly laid his cards face down on the table and picked up his money putting it in his pocket. In a conversational tone Nev said, “Pete Marier’s been around here a lot longer than them red headed Newton clowns. What circus did they escape from anyway?”

Dane moved in behind the man and said, “And the Diamond’ll still be here when Newton’s place has turned to dust.”

The man stiffened, he had been careless in thinking that only one Diamond branded horse meant only one rider who they could make an example out of. Now, he had one in front of him and one behind.

Dane went on, “You have a problem with Diamond riders?”

The man turned slowly and studied Dane, “I don’t know you.”

Dane held the man’s eyes, “I don’t care who you know. You didn’t answer my question.”

“Yeah, I’ve got a problem with it. You’re running those diseased Texas cattle and contaminating the range with them.”

“The only thing contaminating the range are the Newtons, and now you’re contaminating this room.” It was a direct slap in the man’s face, and a challenge.

The man stared at him. He was a hired gun, a bushwhacker, but not a gunfighter. He had been around long enough to know better than to take up a fight with a stranger, especially one as confident as this kid was. He tried to figure a way out of his corner and stay alive at the same time. To turn around and walk out was not an option. To push the fight might be the last thing he ever did. He was a sure thing killer, and this was far from a sure thing. 

By now the room was dead silent as the crowd took in the confrontation. Nev called out across the room, “You haven’t met my partner, that there’s Dane Chandler. He kills men for a living, especially if they’re contaminating a room.”

The Newton man knew he was in a bad spot with every man in the room watching him. He cussed himself for shooting off his mouth before checking out the room. He could just walk out of the room, but each one of those men would tell others until there wouldn’t be a place in the west he could go where he wasn’t known to be a coward. There was only four feet between him and the kid, he was sure to catch some lead whether he beat the draw or not.

The man nodded, “Okay kid, you’ve got me treed in a bad spot, but there’ll be another day.” He started for the door feeling that he had escaped with his pride intact.

Dane blocked the door. “No. I’m not riding out of here waiting for a bullet in the back from a yellow belly dry-gulcher. You made the challenge so you might as well pull that gun ‘cause you ain’t leaving.”

 

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