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Western Short Story
From the cloud of dust and the clatter of steel rims on stones, I knew the afternoon stage from Yuma was just over the next rise, maybe half a mile off and headed my way, so I rode off the road, just as four men appeared from out of a dry wash. They pulled bandannas over their faces and took up positions on either side of the road. They hadn’t seen me, so I dismounted and let the reins trail on the ground.
Old Doby was well trained and wouldn’t go anywhere. He found a patch of grass and contentedly went to grazing, paying no attention to the sins of man.
They had picked the perfect spot. The team had just pulled a long grade, and would be winded. The dry wash provided concealment for a robbery, and the sandy bottom would slow the team even further. In fact, just beyond the wash was the flat where the drivers usually halted and let the team have a blow. Both sides of the road were strewn with old volcanic rock, some as big as a small house, and except for the sand of the wash, it was thick with cholla, prickly pear, and tall saguaro cactus.
With my Winchester in hand, I scrambled up the hill and found a spot between two boulders where I had full view of the wash and the road. One of the outlaws was sprawled out in the middle of the road like he was hurt or something, and the others had taken up positions on either side where the driver couldn’t see them, but I could see them plain as day. Two were armed with revolvers and the one who looked to be in charge was armed with both a revolver and a scattergun. They all had rifles too, but they were on their saddles, some fifty feet away.
I heard that driver whistling his team over the brow of that hill, and then the first pair of horses showed, followed by the rest of the team and the coach. To my surprise, there was a shotgun messenger seated next to the driver. That could only mean some sort of valuables on board, and it also meant possible bloodshed. The driver was full on the brake as they maneuvered down the slope and the horses were obviously winded from the long pull. Then the driver spied that body, and came back hard on the reins.
The coach came to a halt some fifty feet back from the man lying in the road and the driver leaned forward in his seat, trying to figure out what was wrong with him, but that shotgun guard was already lifting his weapon as he spotted a masked man on his right. Then the outlaw with the shotgun stepped out from concealment, also to the right and slightly behind the guard.
“We got you boxed messenger man. Best thing for you to do is hand that scattergun over butt first.” The guard hesitated, and then shrugged. Whatever he was protecting apparently wasn’t worth dying over. He took the shotgun by the barrels and handed it over.
The man on the ground scrambled to his feet and the fourth man stepped up by the driver.
“You passengers just set still in there, and don’t nobody commence shooting! We know what we come after, and once we get it, you can go back on the road.”
“All my passengers are women, and if you molest them in any way, hell won’t have it until the men of this territory hunt you down and hang you all!” I recognized the driver as old Bill Davis, and he wasn’t afraid of anything. He was also right. Molesting a woman was a death sentence out here in the territories.
“Ain’t nobody going to harm your women. Just hand over that satchel and we’ll be on our way.”
That’s when it happened. The shotgun messenger said, “What satchel?”, and just like that, the man with the shotgun cut loose and that messenger rolled off his seat to the ground, stone dead.
For a shocked moment, nobody moved as the echoes of the blast died away in the surrounding hills. Then the man with the shotgun spoke again.
“Now I want that satchel driver, and I mean to get it, even if I have to kill everyone in that coach to do it.”
I’d heard enough. I centered my rifle’s front sight on the shotgun man’s chest and cut loose. Dust puffed off his vest and he went straight down. Instantly, the man who had played dead in the road spun and fired his revolver, hitting a rock not six inches from my head and stinging my face with chips. That man could shoot, but so could I. I levered in another round and he too went down.
I shouted down from my place in the rocks, “The two of you still standing! If you want to stay that way, drop those firearms and step away.”
“That you Jimmy?” The driver had recognized my voice.
“Yeah Bill, it’s me.”
Bill Davis turned to the two remaining outlaws.
“You boys best get rid of them guns. That there’s Jimmy Wiggins, and he ain’t missed anything with that rifle in years.”
The guns hit the dust of the road and Bill Davis climbed down and retrieved the dead messenger’s shotgun.
“Come on down Jimmy. These birds ain’t going nowhere.”
It turned out that the stage was carrying a bank transfer of $25,000 in gold. One of the bank’s tellers was a cousin to the man with the shotgun, and he was in for a share, but all he got was a one way ticket to Yuma prison along with the two I brought in.
It also happened that the ladies on board were the territorial governor’s wife and daughters, and he showed his gratitude with a nice sum of money, as did the grateful banker. Two of the four outlaws had prices on their heads, and I got the reward money too. All that worked out just fine, because I had been planning a trip to the California gold fields and I needed a road stake.
When I set out for California later that month, I rode alongside the stage for a spell. Bill Davis was driving and we talked until we came to the place where the road split and he had to go south.
‘Well Jimmy, I’ll have to leave you here, but I want to thank you for what you done. That damn bunch of hooligans might have killed us all if you hadn’t been there. By the way, what the hell were you doing all the way out there anyway?”
“I was getting ready to hold up your stage.”
He just stared at me for a minute and then a slow grin spread across his face.
“You’re always spoofin’ someone! See you later Jimmy.” He clucked the team and moved on.
Except I wasn’t spoofin'. Like I said, I needed a road stake.