Word Count: 8000
“Guess I better get out there and make the rounds. The citizens of Laramie expect their lawmen to make sure there’s not any trouble in town. But I don’t expect there’s goin’ to be any trouble tonight. Not in this storm. Just listen to that wind howl.” Johnny McKay stood at the door to the Marshall’s office and watched the snow come down in great big flakes that seemed to be going sideways in the hard wind that had come with the storm.
“Yeah,” agreed Marshall Troop as he closed the log book that he had been working on. “How ‘bout I make the rounds this time. I could use some fresh air after working on those books for the last hour.”
“Well, I don’t know how fresh the air will be mixed with snow in it, but if you want to do it, I sure won’t complain.”
“I just bet you won’t,” Dan said as he smiled at his young deputy and pulled on his heavy coat against the cold Wyoming night. He put his hat on, then gave it an extra tug as he opened the door and slipped out into the dark night. He stepped off the boardwalk and around the corner of the building. He never saw the dark shadow following him.
The Marshall tried several doors along the street finding all firmly shut. He thought he heard someone behind him. He turned and looked but saw nothing other than blowing snow. He shrugged and went on. He turned down another street and then another. A big gust of wind nearly took his hat off and he tugged it down tighter. Again he felt as if someone was nearby. Looking all around, he didn’t see anything but a sleepy town closed up against the late March storm. He thought he might be imaging things. Getting the willies, he thought, due to the weather. And because he had spent so many years as a lawman. Sometimes it seemed like he had a sixth sense when there was going to be trouble. Again he shrugged his shoulders, trying to make the feeling go away, and continued on. There wasn’t much snow with the wind, barely an inch of it was covering the ground. Three steps farther on Dan stepped in the light of a lantern hung in the window of the harness maker’s shop. He opened the door and stuck his head in. “Everything all right, Ed?”
“Howdy, Marshall. Just wanted to finish this bridle before turnin’ in. Sure is bad tonight, ain’t it?”
“Yeah it is. See you tomorrow, Ed.”
Dan continued down the street without seeing another sign of life of any kind. Even Lilly Merrill’s Birdcage Saloon was closed up tight. The thought of his warm bed back at the office turned him around and he headed back. Johnny had been right. There wouldn’t be any trouble on a night like this.
The crack of a shot broke the whistling of the wind. Dan jerked as the bullet torn into his leg causing him to fall down. He tried to reach for his pistol but another shot ripped into his body and everything went black for the Marshall.
The noise of the pistol shots jerked Johnny McKay awake and out of the chair he was dozing in. He was out the door, six-gun drawn, almost before he was really awake. He stopped while still in the doorway to the office and looked up and down the street. He didn’t see anything to arouse suspicion. Maybe it had just been some cowhand blowing off steam, he thought. But where was Marshall Troop, he wondered. The Marshall would be investigating gunshots. He realized there was something wrong about the dark shape that was just off the main street across from the Bird Cage. He ran toward it, and as he got closer he could see it was the shape of a man. “Mr. Troop,” he called when he reached the figure on the ground. “Mr. Troop.” He could hear the quiver in his own voice at the sight of the Marshall lying in a heap on the ground in the snow, a pool of bright red blood puddling under and around him. Blood that looked to be already freezing the way Johnny felt as if he was frozen in place as he looked at Dan Troop who lay unmoving. Big snowflakes were swiftly falling out of the black night onto the Marshal and his deputy.
A few men had come out of the Bird Cage to see what was going on and Johnny realized that Lilly Merrill was crouching down by the Marshall, too. “It’s Dan. Johnny. What happened? Oh, Dan,” she pleaded, “please be all right.”
The Marshall groaned and tried to move.
“Don’t move, Dan, wait for the Doctor. Someone, please, get Doctor Shea.”
Dan tried to move and Johnny saw that his leg was twisted as if it might be broken. “Don’t move, Dan.” But he wasn’t sure if the Marshall even heard him.
Moments later, Doctor Shea arrived. While several men held lanterns for him to see by, he examined the injured Marshall. “Better get him into my office where I can take care of him out of this snow. He’s been shot at least twice.” Jake, Lilly’s bartender, and two other men started to move Dan. “Be careful with his leg. I’m sure it’s broke.”
Lilly and Johnny were glad that Dan seemed to be unconscious while he was moved to Doctor Shea’s office but it worried them, too. Lilly went quickly to help the doctor, even though it made her sick to her stomach to see the wounds in Dan’s chest and broken leg. It made her feel even worse to think that he might not pull through. The minutes passed like hours as she and Doctor Shea worked over the Marshall. Finally the doctor had removed the bullets and set his leg.
“Now it’s up to Dan, himself,” said Doctor Shay as he washed his instruments and placed them carefully in their proper place so that they would be where he could quickly find them the next time he needed them. “He’s strong, but still it’s going to be touch and go. Those are bad wounds and if infection should set in…” He didn’t finish his sentence but Lilly knew what he meant.
Johnny had left the office just minutes after the doctor started to probe for the bullet in Dan’s chest. He just couldn’t watch. He felt as if it was his fault. He was the one that should have been making the rounds of the town of Laramie. Not the Marshall. He was the one that should have been lying on that table while the doctor tried to find a bullet deep in his chest.
He went to the office where he got a lantern so he could look for sign of whoever it was that had shot the Marshall. He searched and searched in the dark and gathering snowfall, making wider and wider circles near where they had found Dan. But he couldn’t find anything that was a definite indication that it was made by the shooter. There were tracks everywhere as there had been people all up and down the streets before dark. Afterward it had snowed, covering the old tracks which should have made it easier, but a crowd of men had been all over when Dan had been found and carried to the Doctors office. Afterward, many of those same men had milled around talking and looking for themselves. Many of them had finally ended up at the Bird Cage and the several other saloons that were in the town. There were tracks everywhere.
It was near the edge of town that Johnny found a cluster of tracks that caught his attention. It looked as if someone had stood there for a long time. The tracks had been there long enough that there was some snow in them but not so long as to have been completely filled with snow, as if they had been made before the bad weather started. The tracks led Johnny between two building and down an ally. At the far end of the ally, he found a place where a horse had been tied. The man’s tracks disappeared as if the man may have mounted the horse and ridden off.
Johnny’s first thought was to saddle his horse and ride out on the trail of whoever had made the tracks. Some sort of instinct told him that they were made by the man that had ambushed Dan. But it was late, about midnight, and the storm was getting worse. It would be almost impossible to follow the tracks in the dark. It was very likely that the man had already holed up somewhere to wait out the storm. Johnny decided he should do the same thing. He would wait here for morning and to see how Dan was doing. For now, he did his best to memorize the tracks of the man and the horse. The tracks said the man was fairly good sized, with a larger track than he or Dan made. The man wore a cowboy style boot that did not have a shape toe on it, as many did. It looked more rounded. There seemed to be a slight chip in the left side of the boot heel on the right boot. The horse had tracks that were slightly larger than his chestnut gelding made. Big round tracks of a fairly heavy animal. But not near as big as a draft horse might make.
For tonight, Johnny McKay would stay in Laramie but he didn’t think he would sleep. He was too worried about his employer and best friend, Marshal Dan Troop. He knew Dan was seriously injured and there was a big chance he might not live. He didn’t want to think about that. He would only think about Dan getting well.
He went back to the office and lay down to try to sleep. He knew he would need plenty of rest before he went out to find the would-be murderer, but he was sure he wouldn’t be able to sleep. He took his boots off but not his clothes, then pulled a blanket up over himself. It was cool in the office but he didn’t have what it took to stoke up the fire in the potbellied stove in the office. He lay there, trying to picture how the country lay in the direction the tracks had taken. He wondered where he would go if he was the one running from the law.
It was with surprise that he woke up not long after sunrise when Lilly came into the office. “How’s Dan?” he asked. He shivered when he threw off the blanket, remembering he had never built up the fire. He went to the stove, added kindling and a couple of pieces of wood, struck a match and lit it.
“Still unconscious. But Doctor Shea says that’s for the best. That way he doesn’t feel the pain. And he says he doesn’t see any sign of infection so far.”
“That’s good. Lilly, you look like you didn’t sleep last night.”
“I didn’t. I sat with Dan. I’m going over to the Bird Cage to see if Jake has any coffee ready. Do you want some?”
“Yeah, I do. And some breakfast if he could fix it. Then I’m going out to follow a trail of someone who I think might have been the man who shot Mr. Troop.”
“Oh, Johnny. I know you must. But, please be careful.”
“I will. Oh, Lilly, will you ask Jake or some of the other volunteer fireman to act as deputy while I am gone. There’s a couple of badges in the desk.”
“I will. We’ll take care of the town. You do what you have to do.” Lilly started out the door then turned back to the deputy. “Johnny, there is a real nice sheepskin coat hanging in the storeroom that some guy left one night ‘bout six months ago and never came back for. You take it. You might need it as cold as it has been lately.”
The morning was cold. The sun did it’s best to shine and take some of that coldness away, but the wind was working against the sun making it feel colder. Johnny McKay rode in the direction he figured the man who had left the tracks he had seen the night before would have gone. A few miles from Laramie he found where someone had spent the night in a depression against a rock cliff wall. Whoever it was had built a fire and the coals where still slightly warm when Johnny felt them with his hand. The tracks that he found leading away from the camp looked like the same ones he had found last night after the Marshal had been shot.
The deputy wondered why the man would avoid the town. It seemed odd to Johnny that someone would want to camp out in the storm when they were that close to a warm bed. He felt as if he was on the right trail. It gave him a good feeling to think that all he had been taught by the Marshall might actually have sunk in. Maybe he really was starting to think like a lawman.
He urged his horse on at a trot. Fast enough to maybe start to catch up but slow enough that he wouldn’t lose the tracks in the fresh snow. Johnny was glad for the couple of inches of snow which allowed him to track the man he was following easier than if there hadn’t been any snow.
It was noon when he dropped down out of the hill country he had been in to a more flat area where he could see farther into the distance. Most of the snow had melted, leaving mud which still showed good tracks. He pulled up and dismounted, letting his horse rest for a few minutes while he scanned the prairie looking for any sign of another man or horse. And there he was. Or at least there was a horse moving at a good pace about a mile out in front of where Johnny was. The dark animal showed up easily against a patch of unmelted snow. “Well, at least I know what color the horse is,” he said to his horse standing quietly beside him. As he watched, he turned up the collar of the sheepskin coat that Lilly had insisted he take. He had been reluctant to take it but was glad he had, even if it was a bit large for him. It was cooler out here on the prairie than he had thought it would be.
As Johnny watched, the horse and rider dropped down into a brush filled ravine with a few taller trees sticking up out of the gully. Johnny had done a lot of exploring, hunting and fishing in this area when he had a few hours off from his deputy job and was familiar with the ravine. He knew there was a good spring hidden in the rocks and brush, and would be a good place for someone to hide out for a while.
“Maybe, just maybe…” he said softly to himself. In moments, he had mounted and began working his way out of the foothills in a roundabout way that would bring him into the ravine from a different direction than the one the horseman had gone.
Gradually Marshal Dan Troop became aware of his surroundings. Bright sunlight shown through a window. He saw Doctor Shea standing over him. The Doctor was feeling his wrist for some reason. “Well, Dan, welcome back.”
Instantly there was a gasp from someone on the other side of the room, and within a second, Lilly was beside the bed. “Dan, oh, Dan, you’re awake.”
“I think I’m awake,” mumbled Dan. “What happened?”
“You were shot,” explained Shea. “And don’t go trying to move around.” He put a restraining hand on the Marshal’s chest, when Dan tried to sit up. “One bullet in your left shoulder and the other one broke your right leg. You’re not going to be doing much for a spell.”
“When did it happen? How long have I been out?” He wiggled again.
“Dan, please be still,” pleaded Lilly. “You’ve been badly hurt.” Lilly took his right hand and held it as she leaned on the side of the doctors table where Dan lay.
“It happened last night, Dan,” said Shea. “Do you remember anything? Apparently you were making rounds about ten o’clock and were shot. Did you see who did it?”
“No. No, I don’t remember anything. Johnny…” Dan turned his head looking around the room. “Last thing I remember is telling Johnny I would make the rounds.” He winced. “Don’t even remember leaving the office.”
Lilly stroked his hand as she told him about what happened. “It was last night, across the street from the Bird Cage. Near the alley. I heard a shot but didn’t think much of it. Then someone yelled that someone had been shot. I ran out and saw Johnny bending over a man on the ground and when I got there I realized it was you, Dan.”
“You didn’t see who did it?” asked Shea again.
“No,” answered Dan. “Where’s Johnny?”
“He’s gone after whoever shot you,” said Lilly. “He found some tracks on the edge of town. Near the old Mayfield barn. He rode out early this morning. He hasn’t been back since.”
“What time is it now?” asked Dan.
Doctor Shea answered. “A little after eight in the morning. But I want my patient resting. That is unless you think you might be able to eat a little soup?”
Before Dan could answer, Lilly left the room for the kitchen in room off the back of the doctor’s office. “I’ll get some.”
“She made that soup hours ago so it would be ready when you came to. She’s really been worried about you.” Shea turned around and began moving bottles of medicine around on a cabinet. “We all have been, Dan. Wasn’t sure you would pull through for a while.”
“Johnny should have stayed here and wired for the county sheriff and the federal marshal,” said Dan. “He should have known he would be needed here to look after the town.”
Doctor Shea turned and looked at Dan. “What would you have done if it had been Johnny, Dan?”
“Yeah, I get your point, Doc.”
“That boy really looks up to you, Dan. Almost like you were his father.”
“I know, and I wish he didn’t. But I’m sure fond of Johnny. If I’d ever had a son, I would a liked him to be like Johnny.”
Johnny McKay rode down the ravine at a slow walk. It had taken him two hours to come into the ravine. At first he saw nothing to indicate that anyone else was around. Knowing that he was close to the spring, he dismounted so he could walk the rest of the way. A spot of mud free from grass caught his eye. There was a hoof print in the middle of the mud. It had been made by a big horse like the prints of the one he had seen the night before. He knelt to look closer at the print, feeling the edges with the tips of his fingers. It seemed to be fresh with the edges still sharp and hadn’t started to dry and crumble yet. Johnny looked up as a horse nickered softly. He hoped his horse didn’t answer it. He quickly slid deeper into the scrub oak brush along the banks of the gulch in case the rider looked his way. He sniffed the air trying to smell a campfire but couldn’t smell any. When he didn’t see or hear anything else, he started inching closer to where he thought a camp might be.
Pausing behind one of the several lodgepole pine trees growing near the spring, Johnny saw a black horse standing about fifteen feet the other side of the small grassy area around the spring. He drew his revolver as he realized that deeper into the brush near the horse was what looked like a man laying under a blanket on a bedroll. A small blackened circle surrounded by rocks suggested where a fire had been but was now out. The deputy took a few more steps toward the camp, expecting the man in the bedroll to wake up any second.
Suddenly something jabbed him in the back. “Don’t move, mister.”
Knowing it was the muzzle of a pistol that was jammed against him, Johnny froze in place.
A hand came into sight and took his gun. “Now put your hands up,” said the same gravelly voice.
Johnny raised his hands shoulder high while wondering how he had let himself get into this situation. Why hadn’t he thought that the man he was following would be watching for him? Some lawman and tracker he was, he thought.
“Walk, mister. Cross the creek. Over to the camp.”
Johnny did as he was instructed. He walked forward, stepped over the two foot wide creek that flowed out of the jumble of rocks and stopped beside the fire pit. Then he turned around. He had to see the face of the man he had been tracking. The man who had shot his best friend, Marshal Dan Troop. Or he thought that this was the man.
He looked into the face of a man he had never seen before. He was wearing a dirty leather hat with dark, stringy hair showing under it. He had light, blue eyes that stared out from a fleshy, pock-marked face. The man was shorter than Johnny’s six-foot tall frame but heavily built, and looked to be strong. He wore a faded shirt that seemed to match the hat in color, with a dirty wool jacket over the shirt that was ripped and looked too small to fit comfortably on the man. The homespun britches he wore were stuffed into scuffed boots that had seen better days. In this cold, he should have had gloves on his raw, red hands but didn’t. Johnny noticed his pistol was stuck in the waistband of the man’s pants.
The man looked Johnny over from head to toe. The kid was almost skinny, and not over twenty at most, he thought. He saw light hair, and hazel eyes in a face that showed the kid hadn’t experienced much hard life yet. But he sure did admire the warm looking sheepskin coat he had on. He wondered if it would fit him. He noticed there was a pair of leather gloves tucked into one of the pockets. “What you doin’ out here boy? Why were you sneakin’ up on my camp?”
“Lookin’ for the spring. Didn’t know anyone was here.”
“You gotta horse?”
“Back in the brush.” Johnny made a slight motion back down the ravine.
“Don’t do it,” cautioned the man, who thought his prisoner was thinking of attacking him. He raised the gun he had let drop so that it pointed at Johnny again.
“All right, mister.” He raised his hands a few inches higher. “I don’t want no trouble.” Johnny wondered how he was going to get out of his predicament. He had to get his gun back so he could take arrest the man. It was his duty as a deputy. It was his duty as a friend to Dan Troop, regardless of the badge he wore pinned to his shirt. A lot of the time, he and Dan would pin their badges to their jackets when they wore them but Johnny hadn’t even though of doing it today. Now he was glad he hadn’t so that the-would be murderer didn’t know he was a lawman. “Why don’t we just forget we ever saw each other? You give me my gun back and I’ll just ride on.”
“Naw,” said the man. “I think I’ll just keep you here for a while. You might be handy to have around. Git some of that kindlin’ over there and git that fire goin’ again. It’s gittin’ cool.”
“Sure thing, mister.” Johnny crouched down and stacked some of the small twigs and sticks into the fire pit. He reached into his jacket pocket for a match, scratched it on a rock to light it and held it to a stick with bark hanging off of it. In seconds the wood caught. The deputy added some larger branches to the fire. “We could use some more wood.”
The man had sat down on a log near the bedroll. He kicked at the blanket and uncovered a pile of firewood. “That’ll do fer now.”
Johnny held his hands over the blaze to warm them. “I need to go get my horse. He could use a drink and so could I. I got some coffee in my saddlebag.” He looked up at the man hoping the offer of coffee would cause the man to lose some of his caution. Maybe he would even put the gun back in his holster. “I didn’t catch your name. Mine’s Johnny M–,” he hesitated. “Miller.” He didn’t want to take a chance that the man had been in Laramie and had heard his name. He knew he had never seen him there but there was no need to take a chance so he made up a name.
The man scowled, but decided to speak. “Out here names don’t matter. You kin jus’ call me Gillard. That’s what most call me.”
“Sure thing Mr. Gillard.” Johnny reached over to the pile of firewood on the blanket and added some to the fire. He noticed one chunk of wood that would make a good club. He wondered if he could grab it and knock the gun out of Gillard’s hand. Not yet. If he waited, maybe the man would relax a little more and wouldn’t be watching so close. “Sure would like a cup of coffee. You got anything to eat?”
“Jus’ some jerky. You say you got some coffee on your horse?”
“Yeah, I do. Let me go get it.” Johnny started to get up and leave.
“Now jus’ hold it right there, Miller. You ain’t goin’ nowhere without me.” Gillard stood up and motioned with his gun at Johnny. “You lead out an’ we’ll go git that there horse. Go slow now. I’ll be right behind you.”
“Sure, sure, Mr. Gillard. But let me put some more wood on the fire so it don’t go out while we’re gone.” Johnny bent down and picked up two pieces of wood. One he tossed on the fire. He swung around and hit Gillard with the other one that he had noticed earlier.
Gillard saw the stick of firewood coming at him and ducked. Instead of hitting him in the head, it hit him on his shoulder knocking him down. Gillard rolled and came back up, his gun still in his hand. But Johnny came back around swinging the piece of wood again, and this time hit Gillard in the arm holding the gun. The gun flew across the camp and landed on the other side of the fire. Both men dove at it with Gillard knocking Johnny aside so that he landed in the fire. The deputy instantly rolled away from the fire, jumped back up and attacked Gillard again. Now they fought toe to toe. Gillard had the gun but Johnny had hold of his wrist, not letting him bring the weapon down so that he could use it.
Gillard was strong and weighed more than Johnny but gradually Johnny forced him to take a couple of steps back and the man tripped on the rocks that ringed the fire and both men went down again. Gillard’s head hit on one of the rocks and he lay still. Johnny scooped up the gun and brought it to bear on Gillard before he realized the man was unconscious. He let out a big breath and sank to the ground to rest for a moment. But he knew he had work to do. First he found his own gun that had fallen out of Gillard’s waistband onto the ground during the struggle. Next he went to Gillard’s saddle, removed the rope on it, and tied Gillard’s hands and feet securely. He did not want the man to get loose.
By the time Johnny got back to the camp with his horse, Gillard had come to, and lay on the ground glaring at the deputy. “What you go an’ do that fer?”
Johnny looked at the man in disgust. “You were holding a gun on me and wouldn’t let me leave. I thought you were going to steal my horse and gear and maybe try to kill me. When I saw my chance to take back my gun, I did.”
“Well what you gonna do with me?” whined Gillard.
“Thought I’d take you back to Laramie and let the law decide what to do with you.” It was at that moment that Johnny remembered that Gillard didn’t know he was a deputy since he had his badge pinned to his shirt and covered up by his jacket. Maybe that would give him an edge to get some answers out of the man, he though. He knew he had tracked the man from Laramie but he didn’t know for sure that the man was actually the one who had shot the Marshall.
“You wouldn’t do that, would you? I didn’t hurt you none. I was just havin’ a little fun with you.”
“You sure do seem concerned about going to Laramie. You wanted there for something?”
“Oh, no. No, not me. But I just don’t care fer them big towns.” Gillard squirmed on the ground trying to get more comfortable. He looked at Johnny for a long moment. “You come from there, did you?”
“What’s it to you if I did or not?”
“Well, I weren’t there long. Jus’ long enough fer a beer an’ to pick up some supplies. But I did hear that that there Marshall got his self shot the other night.”
Johnny thought on what the man had said. Gillard did know about the shooting. What else did he know? “So I heard. But they got more than one lawman there. There’s a deputy, too. Maybe he would like to talk to you about that shooting since you were there and left town right afterward. Is that why you don’t want to go back?”
“Naw, kid. I didn’t do nothin’ wrong. Jus’ heard ‘bout it, is all.” Gillard squirmed some more. “Hey, kid, these ropes are awful tight. And my head hurts. Would you let me loose so’s I kin have a drink. There’s some whiskey in my saddlebag. Sure would taste good. Got a few blisters from fallin’ in that fire, too.”
At the mention of blisters, Johnny realized he had some on his neck and hand where he had landed in the fire during the fight, and they were starting to sting quite a bit. The sheepskin jacket had saved him from anything worse but he figured there were burns on the back of it.
He was tired and knew his horse was, too. He studied Gillard lying on the ground all trussed up. The man wasn’t going anywhere until Johnny decided to let him up. The sun would set in a few minutes and it was a long ride back to Laramie. He decided the best thing to do would be to get some rest and head out again first thing in the morning. That decision made Johnny unsaddled his horse, and led both his and Gillard’s to the stream to drink. Afterward he staked the two horses on the small area of patchy grass to graze. Maybe he could get some more information out of Gillard. With that thought, he found the bottle of whiskey and gave it to Gillard. After the man had taken a couple of swallows, he grabbed the bottle back, corked it and set it to the side.
A half hour later, Johnny sat by the fire sipping on a cup of hot coffee. He gave a cup to Gillard who asked for some whiskey in his. The deputy added some. Dirty plates lay beside the fire. The men had already eaten a meal of canned beans and jerky. It was the best Johnny could come up with and would have to do until they got back to Laramie.
“You seemed real concerned when I said I would take you back to town. Just what did you have to do with the Marshall getting’ shot?”
Gillard glared at him. “What’s it to you?”
“I was just wonderin’. You sound like you didn’t care for the Marshall. Why not?”
“That Marshall’s Dan Troop. I remember when he was a Marshall down in Texas. He killed my b… He killed my friend. I swore I’d get even with him.”
Johnny noticed that Gillard was starting to slur his words. “Get even with him? Did you? Did you shoot the Marshall?”
“Naw,” Gillard tried to turn over as best he could, tied up as he was. He knew he had been talking too much. “Come on, kid. Let me loose. I can’t sleep this way.”
“Nope,” said Johnny. “We’re stayin’ right here tonight. I’m tired, and so are the horses. And you’re stayin’ tied up.”
Marshall Dan Troop lay in a bed in the doctor’s office. He wasn’t sleeping well and the pain of his wounds wasn’t the only thing that was keeping him awake. He was worried about his deputy, Johnny McKay. He wondered where Johnny was and if he had managed to track down the man that had shot him. He knew Johnny was still young and new to his job as deputy. The boy had a lot to learn about being a lawman. And he had to quite thinking of Johnny as a boy. He was a young man who had taken on the job of a lawman. And Dan knew that Johnny had all the makings of a good one. He just hoped that the boy – er – man wasn’t getting himself into something he couldn’t handle.
He tried to roll over in the bed and groaned at the pain that flooded over him. He lay still willing it to go away. It eased some but not completely and he knew it would be some time before it did.
Dan remembered back to when he had been as young as Johnny and as green at the business of being a lawman. He had made lots of mistakes. A few that had almost cost him his life.
He must have made enough noise that Lilly had been wakened from the old couch she was dozing on. She crossed the room and sat in the straight back chair that was beside the bed. As she took Dan’s hand in hers, he opened his eyes. “Dan, are you hurting worse? Doctor Shea left some laudanum here for you. He had to go out to the McElroy place. One of the children got hurt.”
“No, I’m doing all right, Lilly. I’m just worried about Johnny. He should have stayed here. He should have sent a wire to the county sheriff, and let him handle it.”
Lilly smiled at Dan. “Is that what you would have done, Dan, if it had been Johnny who had been shot?”
“Of course not. But Johnny is just a deputy. And not very experienced at that. He still has a lot to learn.”
“And he’s been learning from the best. He can take care of himself.”
It had been a long night for both Johnny McKay and his prisoner. It had been cold and there had been a light drizzle off and on. Johnny had kept a fire going all night but still he and Gillard had been cold and damp. Several times Johnny had thought about saddling the horses and heading out, but each time he thought about how more difficult it would be to get Gillard on a horse and then to town while it was still dark. Here they had the fire and some shelter from the trees. Finally the sky lightened. Johnny was up and had filled the coffee pot with water for coffee. While he waited for the coffee, he saddled the horses, rolled up the bedrolls, and picked up anything else he could around the camp. He gave a cup of coffee to Gillard along with a plate full of beans that he had heated in the can by sitting it on a hot rock by the fire.
“Ain’t you got nothin’ but beans?”
“Be glad you have that much. Eat up or I’ll toss it out.”
Minutes later, Johnny dosed the fire with the dregs of the coffee pot. He put the pot in his saddle bag along with the plates and cups. Now it was time to get Gillard on his horse. He took his jack knife out of his pocket and cut the ropes around the man’s feet. As soon as he did, he stood, pulled his gun and kept it on Gillard as he motioned the man to stand. “Get up,” he said as he bent to pick up the piece of rope.
His hands still tied, Gillard struggled to his feet. “My legs is numb.”
“Get the kinks out then get on your horse,” said Johnny, keeping his gaze on the man.
Grumbling to himself, Gillard hobbled to the horse and slowly mounted. “Now you ain’t got no call to do that,” he said.
Johnny had holstered his pistol and was tying the piece of rope around Gillard’s left ankle. He tossed the end of the rope under the horse’s belly, then he walked around the horse and reached down to get the other end of the rope so he could tie the rope to the prisoners’ right leg. At that moment, Gillard kicked out catching Johnny in the head and knocking him to the ground.
“Gitup,” yelled Gillard at his horse as he kicked it in the ribs. The animal threw its head, neighed and took off at a full gallop.
Johnny got to his knees and then his feet, holding the side of his head. He stumbled to his horse and finally after several tries got his foot in the stirrup and was able to pull himself up onto the animal. Still dizzy from being kicked, he urged his chestnut after Gillard. As he did, he wondered how he would explain to the Marshall how he had let Gillard get away from him so easy.
The horses raced across the prairie, their riders urging them on. Gillard’s black horse had a head start but was a bigger and older animal. Gradually Johnny’s chestnut closed the distance between them. Even though Gillard kicked and whipped his horse, the animal ran slower and slower. The black just didn’t have it in him. Gillard attempted to hit the deputy as he drew up beside him, which was difficult with his hands still tied. It didn’t seem to bother Johnny, who grabbed Gillard by the arm to pull him from the saddle of the horse. But Gillard wasn’t going down without a fight. He managed to catch hold of Johnny’s sleeve and pull him off the gelding so that both fell to the ground.
After having the breath knocked out of them, both men lay on the ground unable to move. Johnny recovered first. With his head ringing from the fall, as well as from being kicked by Gillard, he stumbled to his feet, and pulled his gun to keep Gillard from doing anything else. But the man was too tired for the moment to try to get away, especially with his hands still tied.
“Get on your feet and start walking,” commanded Johnny when he figured they had rested enough.
“Walkin’?” squawked Gillard. “You mean you want a walk all the way to Laramie? Boy, I sure don’t figure you can be that mad at me fer tryin’ to take your horse. What are you, anyway? You tryin’ to be a lawman?”
“I am a lawman.” By now Johnny was really mad. He pulled the collar of his coat back enough to reveal the badge pinned to his shirt. “I’m Johnny McKay. Dan Troop’s deputy. I’m arresting you for shooting the Marshall. Now walk.”
Gillard glared at Johnny, untied the rope still tied to his left ankle, then started walking down the road.
“Not that way. Follow the horses,” said Johnny, motioning to the tracks the animals had left.
“You’re crazy. We ain’t gonna catch them critters.”
“They won’t go far. They’ll stop to graze soon. Now walk.”
They had only walked about a half a mile when Johnny saw the horses, and as he had expected, they had stopped and were eating. “Slow down. No need to spook ‘em.”
Gillard did as the deputy said. His feet were hurting already. He knew it would be better to ride than to walk.
They eased forward until the head of Johnny’s chestnut horse came up. They stopped. “Sit,” commanded Johnny. “And don’t move. You do and I’ll put a bullet in your leg.”
Johnny pulled a handful of grass and held it out to his horse. “Hey, feller. What you doin’ out here? Come here, boy.” The horse looked at Johnny and the handful of tempting grass. He knew it was Johnny that usually fed him, groomed him, and rode him. He walked to the deputy and took the grass. Johnny eased his other hand up to take hold of the reins that had been dragging. “Good boy.” He scratched the horse on his shoulder, knowing where the horse liked to be scratched. The horse grunted in pleasure and chewed the grass. Seeing its chestnut friend getting a treat, the black horse walked up to see if it could get some, making it easy for Johnny to catch it as well.
It took only a few minutes for Johnny to check the horses over to see if either had been hurt. Finding they were in good shape, he and Gillard mounted up. He hoped Gillard wouldn’t try to cause any more problems but he didn’t count on it.
It was mid-afternoon on the main street of Laramie. People walked on the boardwalk, shopped in the stores, and gossiped on the corners. Several wagons with teams of horses sat on the street waiting for their owners. A couple of cowboys rode in, tied up at a hitch rail, dismounted and entered the Blue Bonnet Saloon. A man stepped out of the Birdcage Saloon and looked about for a minute. He saw two men riding into town. With a start, he twisted around and almost fell trying to get back into the saloon. “Hey! Johnny McKay’s coming in with someone. Looks like a prisoner.” He ran back into the street.
Several other men followed him, including Jake, the bartender. “Ed, you run over to the Doc’s and tell him to tell the Marshall that Johnny’s arrested a man,” said Jake.
Johnny and Gillard rode on down the street and drew up in front of the Marshall’s office. “Get down,” commanded Johnny.
Jake ran over to the office with several other men behind him. “Did you get him, Johnny? Is this the man that shot the Marshall?”
Gillard dismounted with a groan. He was sore from the fight with Johnny the day before and falling off of his horse that morning. As far as he could tell, the young deputy wasn’t bothered at all.
“Inside,” said Johnny. He grabbed Gillard by his arm and pushed him through the door that Jake had opened.
In seconds Johnny had marched Gillard into a jail cell and locked the door on him.
“Is that him, Johnny? Is that the man that shot Marshall Troop?” asked Jake.
“I think so, Jake. But it will be up to a jury to decide.” Johnny dropped into the chair by Dan Troop’s desk. All of a sudden he was incredibly tired. “How is Mr. Troop?”
“Miss Lilly says he’s doin’ all right. She said he sure has been askin’ for you, Johnny. Maybe you better go on over to Doc’s and let him know you’re back,” said Jake. “I better be getting’ back to the Bird Cage.”
Tired as he was, Johnny knew he should go report to the Marshall. Still he sat for several minutes after Jake had left before he was able to get up and head for the doctor’s office. He wondered how he was going to explain to Dan how he had gotten into and out of all the problems he had had while he was arresting and bringing in his prisoner.
“I need a doctor,” complained Gillard but Johnny shut the door to the office without answering his prisoner.
Minutes later, he stood by the bed that Dan had been moved to in a back room of the doctor’s home. It had been a huge relief to see his friend was alive and recovering. He stood by the bed and told the Marshall all about trailing Gillard and his troubles arresting him. He hardly realized that Lilly and Doctor Shea where listening to his story.
“I know I let myself get into a couple of stupid situations,” finished Johnny.
“Yeah, you did,” agreed Marshall Troop, “but you were able to get yourself out of those fixes and still bring Gillard in.” Dan hesitated. “Gillard? Gillard? I know that name from somewhere.” His brow furrowed in thought.
“Yeah, you might. He said that he had known you when you were a lawman down in Texas some time ago. Said something about you killing a friend of his.”
“Now I remember. No, I didn’t kill a friend of his. But I did arrest a Joe Gillard for horse stealing and cattle rustling. He was tried and hung. Seems like he had a brother that got away. Maybe your prisoner is that Gillard’s brother.”
“It just could be he is,” agreed Johnny. “And I’ll bet when he saw you were the Marshall here and he had a chance, he took those shots at you as revenge for his brother.”
Dan looked at Johnny for a long moment. “You did a good job, Johnny, bringing in Gillard. You might just make it as a lawman yet.”
“And there has been enough talk for now, Dan. You need your rest,” put in Doctor Shea. “Johnny, you’ve got some scratches on your face that could use some attention. Come on out here and let me take care of them.”
Lilly went over to Dan and pulled the blanket up around him more to her liking. “Now Dan, you just lay here and let me take care of you while Johnny takes care of the town.”
“Somehow I don’t think I have much choice in the matter,” said Dan as he let Lilly fuss over him. As his eyes closed and he drifted off to sleep, he was glad that he had hired that young kid as his deputy a couple of years ago. And he sure was glad that Johnny was his friend.