“You boys throw out your pistols and come out with your hands up. Otherwise I’m going to head shoot these blubbering sons-a-bitches,” shouted Bass, looming over two Higbees sprawled at his feet. There was blood on their shirts and their hands were empty and raised. “Be quick about it, or you’ll find what you just got was only one small piece of the hell we’ll unleash on you.”
“I can’t,” choked out one voice. “You got me in the leg.”
“Well, get to crawling then, all the way out where I can see you,” Bass shouted. “Throw your pistol out here.”
“Give it up fellers. I’m bleeding to death,” said a quivering voice in the brush. After a good deal more cussing than I’d expect of a Mormon another pistol landed in the dust. A man stood, supporting himself by leaning against a stone.
The others, looking halfway dazed, came out with their hands held high. Gid Smoot’s left sleeve was wet with blood from the top of the shoulder down. A bullet had taken a chunk out of the tip of his shoulder. He pressed a hankie to the wound.
“Howdy, Bass. Britt. I sure am pleased to see you fellows,” I said. The Higbees continued their chorus of cussing, generally emphasizing each other’s stupidity. Most of them had suffered some sort of wound. The horse watcher was awake now, and cussing too.
“I’m shot in the head,” sobbed Titus Cluff, staggering out of the brush with his hands pressed to his brow. Blood from his wound had gushed down his hands to his elbows.
“No, you ain’t, you big baby, you’re barely hit, if at all,” I said as I took Titus’s shirt off him and tied it tight around his bloody head. There was a deep slice across his forehead, but most of the bleeding had stopped. “And you definitely ain’t shot in the head. You cracked it open on a rock, most likely.”
“He ain’t dying, I am,” said the dust caked, leg-wounded Furman Haight who had dragged himself through the bushes. He was bleeding bad, from a wound just above the knee. I made a quick tourniquet out of his shirt and twisted it tight with a stick. The blond-haired boy beside him didn’t look shot, but was covered in blood and had a badly busted nose. Bass had booted him a good one in his dismount. He hadn’t been cussing like the others and looked pretty shook up.
“What’s your name kid?” I said, as more moans came from around me. Britt and Bass kept pistols on the gang while I finished inspecting their wounds.
“Zach Petty,” he said.
“All right, Zach,” I said. “Hold this tourniquet stick tight for a few minutes while I try to make a bandage. Loosen it every little bit to see if it’s still gushing.”
“Help me, somebody help me,” said one Higbee crumpled against a rock.
“It’s Eldon,” said Gid Smoot, sitting down in the dirt. “I reckon he’s done for. He took a slug right in the belly.”
“It hurts,” groaned Eldon Jukes as I bent to check on him.
“Gut shot is a rough way to go, but you brung it upon yourself,” I said. “Here, let me see.”
Eldon took his hands away from the wound. The shot had barely nicked his side, just deep enough to skip off a rib bone before going out his back skin. Painful, but not fatal. Not unless infection set in. Riding a horse was going to be mighty unpleasant. I lifted the horse watcher to his feet and led him down with the others.
They cursed us blue for a solid three minutes after we made them hobble themselves by pulling their trousers down over their boots and lying face down on the bristly creek bank. I suppose it made them especially leery since I was still running around naked in a two-gun holster.
“Who’s the boss of this inept outfit?” said Bass.
“Ezra, that’s him down there,” Zach said. “Dead as a wagon wheel.”
Ezra Smoot was lying on his side, indeed dead as a wagon wheel. He’d taken one right through the chin. A few feet away was another dead man, face down with another bullet hole just beneath his left shoulder blade.
“You shot him in the back,” said Gid, as I rolled the dead man over. It was Reuben Higbee.
“Well, this ain’t good,” said Britt.
“Why are you boys doing this? What are you doing out here stealing horses?” I asked, looking at the dead men on the ground.
“We needed one in a hurry. Ezra’s horse stepped in a gopher hole,” Furman Haight said. “We’re after Wildcat Bob Ketchum. There’s a $1,000 reward on his head for killing three people in a stage robbery. We aimed to collect it.”
“Based on what I saw here, you all really ain’t cut out for that kind of work,” Bass said. “School girl dilettantes like you all shouldn’t be waving pistols at no one, especially not bands of killers like Wildcat Bob has. If you ain’t no better at ambushing people than what you just now exhibited, your bones are gonna be bleaching out there on the prairie. Stealing horses is even above your abilities, apparently.”
“It was more like borrowing,” Gid said. “We really didn’t mean no harm. You’re with that trail herd a couple miles back, ain’t you? That herd will be along soon. You coulda just took you a siesta and waited for them. We know’d that herd would catch up to you afore sundown. It’s Charlie Goodnight’s outfit, ain’t it?”
“No, it was flat out robbin’. That’s a blooded horse you were trying to steal, worth all the horses you got there and twenty more,” I said. “They’ll be no argument on that point, or I might start contemplating some real gut shooting.”
“I expect ya’ll be best served taking that advice,” drawled Bass after another round of insults from the horse thieves.
“You going to behave yourself?” I said to Zach. He wasn’t running his mouth like the others. In fact, he’d barely uttered a word since the shooting stopped.
“Yes, sir,” he said, looking down, thoroughly beaten.
“Alrighty then. It looks like your compadres there are sufficiently subdued enough we can let them up. Long enough to tie them up anyway,” I said. “Get the ropes off them saddles.”
After we had the bandits roped securely to the trees I threw their saddles and guns into the deepest part of the pool. After that, I pulled my drawers over my thorn-riddled legs and dug some bacon and biscuits out of my saddlebags.
“You all just going to sit there and eat while we’re bleeding to death over here?” shouted Gid Smoot.
“I don’t see the point in us standing,” I said as Britt piled kindling for a fire. ”Shootouts is hungry work.”
“You’ll bleed out at the same rate, us standing or setting, eating or having hunger pains,” said Britt. “More you talk, though, faster you bleed. Something to consider.”
“Hunger makes a man cranky, too,” I said. “Probably something you’d best avoid.”
“I’d offer to share mine with you boys, but why waste it on someone we’re likely gonna hang,” said Bass.
“Hang?” said Eldon.
“On an empty stomach, that would be my vote,” said Britt. “Leave us be, if you know what’s best.”
“It hurts,” said Eldon.
“I reckon it does. That’s generally the point of shooting someone,” Britt said. They were a bickering bunch, and I couldn’t tell if they were more upset about their dead kin, being forced to surrender, or facing the wrath of Porter Higbee.
“I’m bleeding to death,” said Furman.
“And ain’t nobody bleeding to death with that nice tourniquet on. Now we just need to remember to loosen it so he don’t lose that leg,” said Britt. “Going hungry don’t help a man’s memory about such trivial matters. Just let us eat in peace, before we faint away from hunger and forget all about you.”
“These ropes are digging into us. This is might uncomfortable,” said Tobias Hoagland, one of the younger bandits.
“You keep running your yap I’ll make you as comfortable as old Ezra there,” said Bass. “He ain’t complained a bit and that’s how I like it.”
“When my pa finds out about this, he’s gonna hang you on a meat hook,” said Areli Higbee, another of Porter’s sons. He was the other Bass had kicked in the jaw when he’d vaulted off his horse.
“You and all them pistols,” snarled Gid. “You all gonna need a bunch more guns than what you got now. You may have got the drop on us this time, but you can’t whip all of us.”
“Got the drop on you?” I said.
“Son, you’re a real idgit, you know that?” said Bass. “I reckon I won’t be taking advice from no shot up Higbee, especially no gunfighting advice. I can’t move without tripping over some dang leaking Higbee or another.”
Beyond the Goodnight Trail is Roy V. Gaston’s second novel. His first, How Can A Man Die Better, is an American Civil War novel that follows the campaign of the gallant Dan McCook’s 52nd Ohio Regiment across Tennessee. Beyond the Goodnight Trail is the first of a planned series of books that follow the Black Seminole from 1835 to their days as the 10th U.S. Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers who cleared Texas of hostile Comanche in the 1870s to their climactic charge up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt in 1898.
Gaston has been fascinated by the West and the Civil War since his early elementary school days, and began his writing career after a first career supervising housing unit in the Ohio prison system.
A native of Athens, Ohio and a graduate of Ohio University, his favorite genres are historical fiction, noir, hard boiled, Southern Gothic, alternative history, and westerns. He is fan of Sir Harry Flashman, Hitch and Cole, Gus and Woodrow, Hap and Leonard, Spenser and Hawk, Marty and Rusty, Gravedigger and Coffin Ed, Statler and Waldorf, Buck and Roy, Willie and Waylon, Billy Joe and Jerry Jeff. And Conspiracy Theories.
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