Summary: Adam works with Roy against a notorious outlaw gang, but the whole family gets involved in the drama. Water, the lack of it, and a water trough are all part of the story.
Word Count: 5776
As the winds howled and the dust swirled, Adam rode beside Roy. They had ridden to Carson City to retrieve the man Adam had seen murder a man in the street in Virginia City. On the return trip, the skies had darkened suddenly as the wind rose. Unfortunately, they were in the midst of a drought with searing hot temperatures, so the winds picked up dust and sent it everywhere. It was hard to speak without getting that nasty grit in your mouth, so Roy had stopped saying anything. He just nodded to Adam to take the lead for he had more experience out here. Raising his arm to point, Adam let Roy know to lead the prisoner toward a ramshackle cabin he knew was there but couldn’t yet see. He trusted his instincts and memory to get them there. Suddenly, the shape of the cabin was discernible through the air laden with dust. There was a lean-to in the rear for the horses. Stumbling back into the wind, the three men worked their way to the door and wrenched it open.
“Hold it right there. What do you mean breaking in on a body like that?”
Standing before them holding a shotgun at stomach level was a beautiful dark-haired young woman.
Roy had to explain. “Well, young lady, I’m the sheriff of Virginia City and this here is a man helping me to bring this other man back to face trial for murder. We thought this cabin was unoccupied. If we could just stay here until the storm blows through, we’d be mighty grateful.”
Swinging the gun barrel to the back of the room, the young lady pointed out a table for the three of them. Once they were seated, she had other instructions. “Put your hands on the table. Don’t move. Even I can’t miss with a shotgun.”
She pulled Roy’s pistol from his holster and then did the same to Adam, who was furiously trying to remember why this woman looked so familiar. Then he had it. She had been in the crowd standing by as they carried Britt Holbrook to the undertaker’s after he had been shot. He wished there was some way to keep his pistol but knew there wasn’t. He saw Roy’s look of understanding too when she searched his pocket for the handcuffs key. She unlocked the handcuffs of their prisoner and handed the two pistols to him. He tied their hands and then tied them to the chairs on which they sat.
“Can’t say I’ve enjoyed your company. Sure glad to have those horses. It would be beastly not to have horses in this weather. Oh, and no water either.” He gathered up their canteens and soon they heard the hooves of horses pounding away.
“Roy, did I ever tell you about how Hoss forced me into the water trough?”
“No, cain’t say that you have. That have anything to do with the mess we’re in?”
“No, just passing the time as I try to untie my hands. Thinking about water too, trying to get some relief from this heat. I think if I move around some, I’ll be able to get my chair up against yours so we can help each other. Probably have to be fast. I heard Sport as they rode out. He should be throwing off whoever is trying to ride him by about now. They’ll head back here to get one of the other horses. We need to be ready when they do that.”
As Adam maneuvered his chair next to Roy, he told of being forced into the water trough by Hoss after he had pushed Hoss in. As he worked his way close to Roy, he started to untie the knot in the rope around Roy’s wrists. It was difficult with all the sweat from his exertions but he loosened it enough that Roy was able to slide his hands free, with the sweat actually making that part easier.
“Now, it seems to me, you was asking for it by pushing Hoss in.”
“Well, Hoss and Joe were going to throw me in but Pa walking outside stopped them. I just took advantage of the situation. It was a hot day. Getting wet wasn’t that bad.”
There was the sound of a horse’s hooves and Roy hurried to untie Adam but left the ropes in place so it looked as if he was still tied. Roy moved to stand behind the door. The door opened and the man’s eyes grew wide seeing only Adam tied. He drew his gun but had his arm hit by Roy who stepped from behind the door. Roy quickly retrieved the pistol as Adam stood and rushed to the door to push the shotgun to the ceiling before his accomplice walking in behind him could fire. He grabbed her and wrapped his arms around her, immobilizing her and pressing her ample bosom up against his chest. She tried to kick him, so Adam pushed one leg between hers and pressed her against the wall making her impotent in her rage. She tried to head butt him then, so he pushed her head aside with his and held her firmly. Roy used the discarded handcuffs that had been lying on the floor to handcuff the man and looked at Adam who was almost in a lover’s pose with the woman.
“Adam, I need to get the other handcuffs from my saddlebag. Think you can hang onto her for a few more minutes?”
“I most certainly can. This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”
The woman growled at her predicament.
Grinning at first and keeping a pistol trained on the handcuffed man, Roy stepped out into the heat and dust to retrieve his saddlebags from just outside the door and brought them inside. With Adam’s help, he was able to handcuff the furious female. They put the two prisoners in the chairs to which they had been tied and tied them tightly. Remembering how he had gotten free, Adam tied their legs to the rungs of the chairs so they couldn’t move the chairs. Then he and Roy sat on the other two chairs and wiped the sweat from their brows.
“We’re gonna have to make it back with only three horses, you know. Someone will have to ride double with that she-lion there once this wind dies down.”
“Oh, I won’t mind too much, Roy. It’ll keep my mind off the heat.” Grinning at Roy, Adam elicited a laugh from his old friend. They made a good team. The winds increased instead of decreasing. Adam found some old rags and plugged as many of the cracks as he could but dust continued to get inside. In addition, the cabin was small, and with all four inside, it got even hotter. The smell predictably was unpleasant as well.
At one point, Adam went outside to see to the horses that he had already put in as much shelter as he could. Sport was gone and likely nearly home by now. The other horses were suffering from the heat and lack of water too. Back inside, Adam gave Roy a look that said a lot. They had almost no food because they had expected to reach Virginia City much earlier in the day. Now they might have to wait out the night in this cabin. They had almost no water for Adam had used over half of the water they had for the horses. Their prisoners had complained loudly about that, until Roy said they were no rules for how much water they had to give prisoners, which shut them up.
“Mebbe one of us ought to ride for help, and the other one stay here guarding the prisoners?”
“Probably what we need to do, Roy. There’s not going to be enough water for four people and three horses in this heat. Out of the sun and sitting around, we’re not using much, but once we start to ride, there’s not going to be enough.”
“Too bad this old cabin doesn’t have a well.”
“It does. I checked earlier, but it’s fouled. Smells awful.”
“Adam, would you mind being the one that does the riding for help here?”
“Not at all, Roy. Kind of expected it to be me. I’ll leave you the water. I can get water as I go. I know where to look. I’ll leave at daybreak, as soon as it’s light enough to see the road. Maybe this darn wind will let up some by then.”
As Adam prepared to leave the next morning, Roy walked outside with him. The wind had diminished considerably overnight but if anything, it felt hotter and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
“Adam, you reckon that it was just an accident that gal was here ahead of us? Seems to be a mighty big coincidence.”
“I’m guessing that you’re thinking the same thing I am. She was just ahead of us, possibly planning an ambush. With the dust conditions, she saw that cabin. As bad as things were, she figured we would head there so she did it first. Her horse was still saddled in back of that cabin when we got there.”
“But what if we didn’t stop? You reckon she was gonna follow us then?”
Nodding, Adam saddled up one of the horses. He adjusted the stirrups and pulled the cinch tight. He tied an empty canteen to the saddle horn before mounting up.
“Watch out for her, Roy. He’s vicious, but she’s clever. And from what we’ve seen so far, she could be dangerous too. Be careful.”
“I’m always careful. Don’t get to be my age in this job without being careful. Now you make sure you get some water soon. Wouldn’t want you stranded in this heat. Although if I know your Pa, he’s probably saddling up by now to come look for you.”
With a wry look at that last statement, Adam rode out. He guessed he had about three hours of riding in this heat to reach Virginia City. Then they would have to get some supplies and a horse and ride back. Without any food and very little water, Roy would be here guarding those two for over six hours. Adam hoped nothing would go wrong.
Having to detour to get water several times, in three hours Adam was still an hour away from Virginia City when he saw horsemen heading his way. It was Clem, his father, and brothers; they were leading Sport who looked to be in good condition. He waited for them in the shade of a tree.
“Well, Hoss, here we were worrying about our older brother but he’s just lollygagging under a tree relaxing.”
“Hey, older brother, where’s Roy and your prisoner. You leave him behind in Carson?”
Ben and Clem, though, had seen the look on Adam’s face and waited for the explanation. Adam told them what had happened and that Roy was guarding two prisoners. He would have to lead them back there so they wouldn’t miss the old shack. Joe took the lead on the horse Adam had been riding and headed back at a slow pace to Virginia City with the weary animal. The other four headed out on the Carson road. As they reached the shack, Adam was immediately worried when he saw the open door. He dismounted and ran to the cabin and inside, with the others right behind him. The cabin was empty, but there were a few bloodstains on the floor. It wasn’t much but enough to know there had been an injury, and under the circumstances, they had to assume it was Roy.
Hoss walked outside with Adam and they looked for prints. There were boot prints leading to the well, and Adam didn’t want to think what he was thinking. Luckily, when they got to the well, there were three sets of boot prints leading away from it. It made them wonder, but they would get no answers until they found Roy. Ben and Clem stood on the porch, waiting for the two brothers to return. They didn’t want to obscure any prints.
Finally Adam walked back to the front of the cabin. “Three horses rode out and it appears that each one is carrying a rider. One might not be but that woman was light and would not be as obvious as the two men.”
“We’ve got supplies and they don’t. If we head out immediately, there’s a good chance we’ll catch them soon.” At Adam’s questioning look, Ben continued. “We didn’t know what to think so we came prepared for almost anything. We’ve got food, water, bedrolls, and bandages. That’s lucky too, because we’re going to need those things.”
“We’re going to have to walk the first part of their trail at least. They headed out over that shale and we’ll have to look carefully to see the marks. Once we get past that, it’s valleys and hills until they get to the next mountain. If we don’t catch up by then, it will get tricky. One man with a rifle up there could hold us off from quite far away.”
“There are enough supplies here for a day or two. However, if Clem and I go back to Virginia City, we could get more supplies and a posse and meet up with you further north.”
“That’s probably the best idea. I’ll take the extra supplies and catch up to Hoss, and we’ll keep going. If you don’t catch us today, watch for a signal fire tonight. We’ll try to let you know which direction to go. Otherwise, we’ll do a smoke signal in the morning.”
Trailing three horses through shale was extremely difficult. Occasional horseshoe marks on rocks were about their only clues. At one point, Adam and Hoss thought they had lost the trail when Adam saw a small bloodstain. It was only a small drop but enough to lead them on. They found a few more as they continued over the smooth rock.
“At this point, Hoss, I think Roy isn’t hurt too bad. It has to be him leaving this trail for us. If he can think that clearly and leave this trail without them knowing, he’s still got his wits about him.”
“I’m thinking you’re right about that. What I’m worried about is that they want us to follow them.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Adam, none of this makes any sense to me. He killed a man for almost no reason. Then he only goes as far as Carson where he has to know he’ll be arrested. She waits until he’s being taken back to Virginia City before she makes her move. How does that make any sense at all?”
Adam was thoughtful for a time. “Maybe they wanted Roy and Clem out of Virginia City for a while. They probably thought we would be in that cabin for a long time. Clem would have come looking for Roy when he was overdue.”
Hoss nodded. “Don’t make no never mind now. We gotta get to Roy and make sure he’s safe. Makes a body wonder if Pa and Clem ran into any trouble though.”
Tracking the two until it was dark, Hoss and Adam made camp and lit a big fire. If a posse was looking, they would know which direction to follow the next morning. In the morning, the two brothers had a cold breakfast and headed out. In less than two hours, they spotted a camp up ahead. Dismounting and moving stealthily through the brush, they approached the camp from opposite sides. There was one horse and one person in a bedroll next to a fire that was only smoking a little. Walking into the camp with guns drawn, they found the person in the bedroll was Roy and he had been beaten.
“Roy, can you hear me?”
Opening his eyes, Roy was relieved to see Adam’s worried face. “I can hear you. But if you was to talk a little quieter, that would be nice.”
Nodding, Adam continued to care for Roy, checking his ribs and arms for broken bones. Roy’s ribs were sore but not to the extent that would indicate they were cracked or broken. He was breathing normally too, so the injuries were mainly damage to his face and apparently at least one blow to the head.
“You were right, Adam. She’s the smart one of them two. She whined and whined about having to do her business again, and cried and acted so pitiful for so long, I finally agreed to let her loose to do what she had to. She was cooperative and didn’t try nothing at all, and like an old fool, I let my guard down just a little when I was putting her back in that chair. She leaned forward and I moved to pull her back and she head butted me. Then she jumped all over me like a she-lion. She got my gun and made me untie her partner. She was giving him all the orders and he was doing whatever she said, like he was used to it.”
“We saw prints at the well. I was afraid of what they might have done.”
“Adam, I rightfully gotta apologize for that. They was gonna toss me down that well if I didn’t tell them who you were. They wanted to know why you was with me, and I just said you were an old friend helping me out. They seemed to buy it, but I don’t know with those two. Something more going on there than what they was saying.”
“We think part of it was to get you and Clem out of Virginia City for a while. We’re hoping that whatever it was, Pa and Clem were able to take care of it. They haven’t joined us out here, so Hoss and I are sure something happened there. Why do you think they let you go?”
“Well, what you’re saying makes more sense now. She said I had served my purpose and that leaving me behind was the best way to get more time. Then she told him to make sure I couldn’t follow them.”
“Did you hear any names?”
“They was real careful, but he slipped up once and called her Belle, and she woke him this morning by calling him Reed. She was whispering and I was making like I was still asleep. I don’t know if that’s his first name or last.”
“Did you see which way they headed out?”
“Far as I could tell by the sound, back the way we came. You must have passed them by this morning. This valley ain’t that wide.”
That only confirmed what Adam and Hoss had been thinking. Something was going to happen in Virginia City or already had.
“Now why do you suppose they picked Britt Holbrook to shoot if this was all planned out?”
Hoss was trying to make sense of the whole thing.
“Hoss, the man had what sounded like a Texas accent. Belle sounds like a name a southern family might likely name a daughter. My guess is that the two of them are from Texas or somewhere close to there.”
“Adam, but how does that explain Britt being dead?” Then suddenly, Hoss got it. Britt had a Texas style accent too. He was from there or had lived there a while. Hoss had a bit of Texas accent too, because when he was very young, his father had hired a group of drovers who were from Texas. Young and impressionable, Hoss had picked up phrases and a bit of an accent by being around them. “So, you reckon he was their target all along or were they worried he knew who they were and would tell Roy?”
“Hard to say until we get them locked up and answering some questions.” Roy was looking forward to that but knew it might never happen.
The three men had to ride slowly because of Roy’s condition. They were anxious to get back especially after Hoss said he had a feeling that something bad had happened. Unwilling to accept Hoss’ premonitions as always being accurate, Adam still was worried because so often Hoss did seem to have a sense of knowing when things had gone badly well before there was any evidence of that. When they reached Virginia City, their worst fears were realized. The bank window and door were boarded up, and as soon as they were seen, they were sent to Doctor Martin’s. Joe’s horse was tied up out front, and the three hurried inside. Joe stood and it was clear he had been crying.
“Pa’s in there. Doc dug a bullet out of him yesterday, but this morning he was bleeding again and Doc’s trying to patch that up.”
“My God, what happened?”
“When Pa and Clem got back to town, there was a bank robbery in progress. Pa and Clem didn’t even know. The gang rode toward them as they were leaving town and must have seen Clem’s badge, ’cause they just opened fire on the two of them. Pa and Clem never even got their pistols out. Clem got hit in his left arm, but Pa took one in the chest. It’s so bad, Adam, Hoss, so bad.”
Roy had settled into a chair. He needed some care but he could wait. “Joe, where’s Clem now?”
“Roy, he took out a posse. We haven’t heard anything so I’m guessing they’re still chasing that bunch.”
“Boys, I know it’s a lot to ask right now, but I don’t think I got the strength to do it. Could one of you go to my office and get that big stack of wanted posters on my desk? The more I think on it, the more I think I’ve seen that man Reed in that stack at some point.”
Joe stood. He could see how exhausted the three men looked, and he needed to burn a little energy anyway. He left to get the posters and then ordered some food to be sent to the doctor’s office. Once he got back, Roy and Adam began looking through the posters. It didn’t take long to find ones on James “Jim” Reed, wanted for murder in Texas, for robberies in Texas, Arkansas, and most recently, California. There was nothing on a Belle.
Roy wrote out a few messages and names and asked Joe if he could impose on him again to send those telegrams. Within hours, they had their answer. Belle was Jim Reed’s wife and suspected of being his accomplice, although there was no evidence to support the theory.
Adam was the first to add his theory on Belle and it made sense to the rest of them. “No wonder there’s no evidence of her involvement. She’s out masterminding the whole thing while her accomplices actually carry out the robbery.” They all nodded at his statement. This Jim Reed didn’t impress them as being too smart. It made sense that she was running the show. Wearing a dress and riding sidesaddle said nothing about the quality of her mind. She appeared to be a take-charge kind of woman who wouldn’t let any man tell her what to do.
As they talked of the two criminals, they waited for news of Ben. Finally, Doctor Martin walked out looking exhausted.
“We’ve managed to stop the bleeding finally. The bullet hit a rib and some of those fragments were causing the bleeding. I think I have them all taken care of now, but I can’t be sure and he’s too weak to have me working on him anymore. He’s lost a lot of blood. There’s a risk of infection too. I know that’s a lot of bad news, but I thought you would like to know everything. The good news is that he’s still alive; breathing is shallow but regular, and his heart is beating with a regular rhythm.”
All three sons wanted to see Ben. Doctor Martin told them to be quiet and be careful what they said, for he might be able to hear them even if he couldn’t respond. Adam and Hoss came out after a short time and looked to Roy.
“We want to ride after that gang.” Adam spoke but Hoss was at his shoulder as he always was in circumstances like this. The two thought as one at times.
Roy stood and picked up his hat. “I’m gonna go with you two. I got me an idea.”
“Roy, you’re hurt, and we wanna ride fast. Adam thinks we can take some short cuts and catch up to the posse.”
“Boy, I don’t think we hafta catch up.” At their frowns, Roy continued. “They left Texas ’cause he was wanted there. Now, do you think they’re really going back to California now that he’s wanted there? I think they’re leading the posse that way, and as soon as they can, they’re gonna cut back and head north or east. Now east takes ’em back toward us, so my guess is north. We oughta head that way and see if we cain’t intercept them. What do you think?”
Adam stood quietly and Hoss watched him. He knew how Adam could think through things like this, so he waited to hear what he had to say. If Adam agreed with Roy, they would head north. If not, Hoss was going with Adam to catch the posse.
“We’ll need to take a lot of water. It’s very dry up that way and no telling if any of the water holes or springs will have any water in them. We’ll get some food from the mercantile. Jerky, beans, and canned goods are probably our best bets with the heat. Bring extra neckerchiefs and an extra tarp or two. We may run into a dust storm too.”
The decision made, the three went to make their preparations after Hoss told Joe what they were going to do. Joe wanted to go too, but Hoss said he and Adam wanted one of them to stay with their pa. Joe wanted to do that too, so was easily convinced. Within an hour, Roy rode out with Hoss and Adam, hoping that their theory was correct and the gang could be intercepted. Desires for justice and for revenge were closely linked at this point for all of them.
With Roy riding as fast as he could with the injuries he had, the three men made camp just before dark. Hoss got some beans cooking and pulled out bacon and hung strips of it next to the fire on green sticks. Roy relaxed against his saddle resting. He had never wanted to be on another posse, but if he had to be in one, he preferred these two men to almost anyone else. Adam was using the fire for light and studying a map. He pulled a pencil, and using a flat stick, drew some lines on the map. After about fifteen minutes, he marked two Xs on the map and looked up. Roy was curious, and Adam could tell by his look that he should explain.
“Using the time elapsed, and the direction the gang went before they likely doubled back, I’m estimating they could be this far by tomorrow late.” Adam indicated the first X on the map. “Based on our speed today, and assuming we start riding at dawn tomorrow, we should be able to be here.” And he indicated the second X. “We can make camp out of sight and be ready for them the next day.”
“That’s fine, older brother, but what if they doubled back sooner than you think or rode faster?”
“Looking at the map, I used the first spot that they could double back without being easily seen. They could have gone further, but as well planned as this seemed to be, I’m guessing they had the first spot picked out before they left. Hard for them to ride faster with her riding sidesaddle. Now maybe she could ride a bit faster, but then we should be right behind them at that spot I marked. We can check the tracks on the road to get a better idea.”
Hoss nodded in agreement.
“Well, how you boys gonna figure out which tracks is which on a road like that?”
Hoss looked at Adam, who nodded back. “That horse that Reed is riding has a heavier shoe on the right back leg. The farrier didn’t do a good job matching shoes. The horse probably threw one recently, and they had to stop to get a new shoe. Hoss and I noticed that yesterday. We’ll look for that track specifically. The horse she’s riding shies to the right a lot too, possibly because it’s not used to being ridden sidesaddle. So that’s something else to look for.”
The next morning, Adam and Hoss had coffee, jerky, leftover beans, and canned peaches out for breakfast and had the horses saddled before they woke Roy. Once Roy worked the stiffness out a little, he accepted a helping of peaches from Hoss. They quickly ate, and then Hoss and Adam used sand to clean the plates, dumped the leftover coffee on the small fire, and packed the gear away. They each took a handful of the jerky as they mounted up and started riding. By about four in the afternoon, they reached the road and located a good spot to camp after Hoss and Adam had checked the road and found that no riders had passed through recently. Once they had the horses out of sight, they settled down to wait, eating peaches and drinking water. As it got closer to dusk, Hoss and Adam moved out to take up positions to either side of Roy because they could see riders in the distance, and it appeared that one was a woman. As the riders drew closer, it was clear that it was the gang they were seeking. They had ridden further than Adam had guessed but the basic plan could still work.
As the riders drew near, they slowed. Someone in the group must have sensed or guessed something wasn’t quite right. Then Adam saw that Hoss had dropped his red handkerchief as he crossed the road, and it was laying there like a flag announcing their presence. Before the riders could turn and flee, Adam yelled out that they should drop their weapons and raise their hands. Instead, three drew weapons and began to fire as the woman and two others fled. Adam hit one of the fleeing men who fell, and Hoss and Roy downed the other three quickly. It had been a foolish move on their part, but Belle and one other got away.
The first instinct of Adam and Hoss was to chase the two who had succeeded in their flight, but common sense said it was suicidal. They would expect pursuit and could lie in wait for them almost anywhere. They gathered the bodies of the three dead men and none was Jim Reed, so they had to assume he and his wife were the two who escaped. They did find the bank bags in the saddlebags of the horses they rounded up. It would have to be enough. They were now closer to Reno than Virginia City and decided that the next morning, they would take the bodies there and send out alerts for Jim and Belle Reed. Hoss and Adam took turns standing guard that night, but there was no sign that anyone was anywhere in their vicinity. They maintained their vigilance until they reached Reno where they made a full report, and brought the bodies to the undertaker’s. As they and the sheriff there sifted through wanted posters, they found several that seemed to match the dead men. All were wanted in Texas or California.
After resting comfortably in a room at the hotel, in the morning Adam picked up the telegram he was relieved to get. He almost ran back to the hotel to wake Hoss and Roy and tell them the good news. Their father was conscious and expected to make a full recovery. They could ride more at ease on the way home knowing that.
Three days later they arrived back in Virginia City and were overjoyed to see Ben sitting in a chair on Doctor Martin’s office porch. He was pale but smiling. Adam and Hoss greeted their father with evident relief as Joe sat to his side smiling.
“Well, brothers, what took you so long? We’ve been waiting out here almost all day for you to ride in. For some reason, Pa didn’t want to go back inside until he saw your sorry faces.”
Adam just sighed and then began his narrative. “It was a long and dusty road. The hot sun beating down on our heads and the hot wind blowing in our faces. A long and dusty road.”
Roy walked by Hoss, who was standing next to Adam with his thumbs hooked in his pockets. Hoss tipped his head to the side and Roy knew exactly what he meant. Roy reached out one hand and placed it on Adam’s chest shoving him backwards into the horse trough. Adam sank under the water and then sputtered when he broke the surface. Joe started giggling so hard he fell to his knees holding his stomach. Ben had a hand on his chest putting pressure against the wound he had, but he was laughing softly too. Hoss’ guffaws brought a crowd who saw Adam smile, remove his boots to pour the water out, and then lie back in the water with a huge grin. Roy crossed his arms and shook his head, thinking this had to be the most interesting family anyone could know, and then he started laughing.