Chapter 1

I leaned against the bar with my beer in my left hand—I never let anything occupy my right hand whenever I was in a public place. I wore two Schofield .45 caliber revolvers in a shoulder holster rig, as well as one strapped to my right thigh. The latter was to attract attention away from my shoulder holsters, which were really my main armament. If I stood with my arms crossed, it looked like I was in no position for a fast draw, but I could whip out the two pistols from my shoulder holsters without moving my hands before grasping the guns. This was the downfall of many a yahoo who wanted to challenge me! As a case in point:

A pimply-faced kid walked up to me in the bar and asked, "Air ya Bill Lang?"

"Yes, I am," I said without turning my body, just my head.

"Well, I think that ya're a fourflusher an' a fake. I'm callin' ya out, here an' now!"

I waved at the bartender, who walked over and leaned on his side of the bar. "Who's this kid who thinks he's a big man?" I asked, nodding toward the boy standing near me.

"That's Charlie Aiken. He's a bully an' a general trouble maker. Thinks he's Billy the Kid, or some such." Turning to the boy, the bartender said, "Go away, Charlie, afore ya git hurt real bad. This here Mr. Lang ain't gonna put up with much of yer nonsense."

"I ain't gonna back down. He's a coward ifen he don't take my challenge. I'm the fastest draw in the county an' he better back down from me."

"Look, kid. I don't want to fight ya, but ya're pushing me mighty hard. Ifen I draw, ya're gonna die. It's as simple as that!"

"Bartender, ya better move yer fat ass out of the way, cuz I'm fixin' ta draw, an' Mr. Bill Lang might accidentally shoot ya as he falls to the floor."

I nodded to the bartender and said, "Charlie, are ya shore ya want ta do this? Cuz, ifen ya draw, there ain't no turnin' back."

"Shore I'm shore! NOW DRAW!" The boy reached for his gun and I turned to face him. My left hand still held the beer mug as I drew my gun with my right hand. I cocked the pistol as I pulled it from the holster, and I pulled the trigger as the muzzle came to bear on Charlie's gut. He just thought he was fast, Charlie's pistol hadn't even cleared his holster when he died! The bullet blasted through his gut and cut his backbone in two as it exited his back.

I drank the rest of my beer before setting the mug on the bar, and I reloaded my pistol before returning it to its holster. I said to the bartender, "I shore am sorry 'bout that little dust up. It ain't gonna make trouble fer ya, is it?"

"Nah, don't worry 'bout it. Charlie don't have no friends nor family, so he ain't gonna be missed. By my reckonin', ya just did this town a favor." He turned to his swamper and said, "Buck, go git the marshal an' then clean up this mess."

"Shore thing, Mr. Smith. I'll git right on it."

The marshal came in a few minutes later with the swamper and said to the bartender, "Who do we owe our thanks to fer riddin' the town of this no-count saddle trash?"

The bartender pointed to me and said, "Marshal Sol Sedgwick, meet Mr. Bill Lang. He's the one what did our town the favor. I saw the whole thing, an' Mr. Lang tried several times ta git Charlie ta drop it. But ya know how Charlie was. He jus' didn't have the sense God gave a billy goat."

"Oh, I'm sure Mr. Lang didn't have any choice in the matter. Charlie was a real bully an' a bastard all aroun'. Lang?... Bill Lang, don't I know that name from somewhere?"

"Yeah, I'm afraid so, Marshal. I have a reputation as a shootist, an' people jus' won't leave me alone."

"Well, ifen I may ask, what brings ya to Hixville, New Mexico Territory?"

"A friend of mine, John Buckley, is having some trouble with rustlers an' he asked me to drop aroun' to see if I could give him a hand."

"Shit, I know John Buckley right well. He's a good man! Any friend of John's is a friend of mine." the Marshal put out his hand for a belated handshake. I shook his hand and, apparently, that was all I needed to seal my welcome to Hixville, NMT.

The bartender stuck out his hand and said, "I'm Walt Smith, and I'm right pleased to welcome ya ta Hicksville, myself. Ya headed out to John's place this afternoon?"

"Pleased ta meet ya, Walt. Call me Bill. Yeah, I stopped in fer a bite ta eat and directions to John's place. Kin ya help me out on both?"

"Shore kin. Will a ham sandwich on sourdough do?"

"That'll be great! An' I'll have another beer. How about you, Marshal, kin I buy ya a beer."

"No, thank ya kindly. I never drink while I'm workin'. I need a clear head."

"Yeah, I know what ya mean. Two beers are my limit 'til after dark."

Later that afternoon, as I was following the directions to John Buckley's Circle JB ranch, I heard some shooting in the distance. I picked up speed toward the sound and saw the trouble as I topped a small hill. A woman was hiding under a buckboard and shooting at some men who kept riding around her as if they were wild Indians. The men were shooting back and laughing as they did so. Her horse was dead, so she wasn't going anywhere; the men acted as if they were just waiting until she ran out of ammunition for her small pistol.

I carry a shotgun in a scabbard by my saddle for situations where I might have to shoot while riding. I pulled it out of its scabbard and started charging toward the circling men. One of them saw me and started shooting in my direction. Suddenly the laughter was gone and the men were deadly serious.

All three of the men had seen me by now and were shooting in my direction. I didn't shoot back because I was still well out of effective range, but I was closing fast. I raised my shotgun in preparation for shooting and the three men suddenly remembered urgent business in the next county. They rode away as fast as their horses could carry them and I let them go.

I rode up to the woman, tipped my hat, and said, "Howdy, ma'am. Are ya OK?"

"Yes, thank you. Or, at least, I will be as soon as I kin git out from under this here buckboard. I'm Jane Buckley. Who are ya?"

"I'm Bill Lang an' I'm please ta meet ya. I didn't know John was married. It looks like he finally got some sense." I smiled and got off my horse to help Jane from under the buckboard. When she stood up, I could see that she was a real looker. Her hair was a dark brown and her eyes were a light blue-green. She was about 51⁄2 feet tall and her breasts really filled out her shirt. Her trousers were loose, like a working cowboy would wear them, so I couldn't tell more about her body. But I sure was impressed by what I could see of her pretty face.

"Oh, wonderful! John said that ya would be coming to help us out. Ya shore arrived at a good time fer me.

"Yeah, it looked that way. Who were those galoots?"

"I have no idea, but I'm sure that they did not have my best interests in mind. They deliberately shot my horse so that I had to stop. Sully was a fine animal and it was such a waste to kill him."

"How far are we from yer ranch house? Could we ride double ta git there?"

"It's about 3 miles that way. We could easily ride double ifen yer horse is up ta it."

"My horse is easily up ta it. Come on!"

We rode double to the ranch house and a Mexican came running up. "Miss Jane, what happened. Where is Sully?"

"Some yahoos shot him about 3 miles that way. The buckboard is still out there. Please get it back for me, Alberto. An' this is Mr. Lang. He'll be staying with us for a while. Please look after his horse after we git ta the house."

"Yes, ma'am, Miss Jane."

We rode up to the hitching rail in front of the house and I helped Jane down from my horse. I hitched him to the rail and Jane invited me inside. "John's not here right now. He's looking into something on the south range. He'll be back by supper. Kin I offer you coffee, or sumpthin' else?"

"Coffee would be real nice, Jane."

"OK, ya sit there an' I'll see 'bout it." She went into the kitchen and was back a minute later. "Evita will bring us some coffee in just a few minutes. While we're waiting, please tell me sumpthin' 'bout ya. John talks a lot 'bout ya, but I don't know how much I kin believe."

"Well, I don't know what all John has told ya, but I guess ya kin believe it. He's always been pretty truthful with me. I'm pretty much a mercenary soldier of fortune. I go wherever I need ta, ta make a living with my gun. I'll admit, though, that I'd like ta settle down, but I don't know what woman would have me, what with my reputation as a shootist."

"Surely, it can't be all that bad!"

"Oh, but it is! I stopped in Hixville ta git a bit of lunch and directions ta yer place when some kid, Charlie Aiken, jus' had ta try his luck against me. I had ta kill him in the saloon afore I could git lunch."

"I know of Charlie Aiken an' his reputation as a bully, so I'm not surprised that ya had ta shoot him. What did Marshal Sedgwick have ta say about all this?"

"He thanked me fer riddin' the town of a public nuisance! An' I'm supposed to relay his greetings to John, along with Walt Smith's."

A Mexican woman brought in the coffee and Jane and I talked about general topics for a while, just getting to know each other. I found out that she had married John nearly 2 years ago and they had no children, yet. She was a former school teacher and now handled the business end of the ranch while John ran the physical side.

We were talking when there arose a great clatter out in the yard. We both rushed to see the cause and were stunned to see John being carried in from a wagon. Four men were carrying him on a blanket being used as a stretcher. He had been shot in the side and nobody knew how bad the wound was. Jane had him carried to a downstairs bedroom and laid on the bed, still on the blanket.

Jane shooed the men out the door and had me help her get John's clothes off so that we could see the wound. This was really bad! The bullet had entered his left side and appeared to have traveled toward his left kidney. There was no exit wound, so somebody was going to have to probe for the bullet to get it out. The nearest doctor was over 40 miles away and Jane didn't have much confidence in him, anyway.

I had some experience with bullet wounds and there was a woman on the ranch who was a passably good practical doctor. According to Jane, she was certainly better than that male quack! John was unconscious, so we needed to go after the bullet while he would not feel the pain.

Jane called for Juanita, the doctor, and went to the kitchen to start boiling some water. We knew enough to boil the instruments and cloths we would use to clean the wound and to wash our hands thoroughly. Jane came back and we discussed what to do. Juanita came in and we discussed the situation some more. We finally decided to work on John on a table set up in the bedroom. That way, he could be lifted on his blanket stretcher directly from the bed to the work table and back to the bed after we finished.

Juanita had some surgical instruments which she had left in the kitchen to boil and she had also put some cloths into another pot to boil. Meanwhile, Jane had a suitable table moved into the bedroom and laid some blankets on it to cushion it a little bit. She would lay a boiled sheet on top when we were ready to move John to the table. When everything was ready, four strong ranch hands were recruited to be stretcher bearers. Juanita supervised their hand washing with strong lye soap.

Based on level of experience and other factors, Juanita was appointed the doctor, I was the nurse, and Jane was my assistant. The four men lifted John onto the table and stayed in the room to hold him down if he regained consciousness before Juanita was finished.

Since it was the only way to get to the wound, John was placed on his right side so that the entry wound was facing up. Juanita started out by carefully cleaning the skin around the wound and inspecting the bullet path for cotton fibers from John's shirt. Fortunately, it was a warm day and John had not been wearing more than a thin shirt over the area where he had been shot. Juanita had thoroughly inspected the shirt and had a good idea of the amount of cloth fibers that she should find in the wound.

The bullet had missed the ribs, so it had penetrated into his body a dangerous amount. We hoped that no vital organs had been damaged beyond their ability to repair themselves, because our skill was not up to doing any repair work. Juanita found the bullet and was able to extract it without doing any more damage.

Uh-oh, Juanita found evidence of shit on the bullet! If the intestine had been punctured, there was absolutely no way we could save John's life. All that Juanita could do was clean out the bullet's path as well as she could and hope for the best.

John was lucky that the bullet had not reached his kidney or other organ, so if he did not have a badly damaged intestine, Juanita thought that he had a reasonable chance of recovering. She sewed up where she had been forced to cut and told Jane to keep John on his right side as much as possible to keep pressure off that possibly torn intestine.

John was lucky that he had been shot with an old style ball bullet instead of the newer conical form. This kept it from penetrating quite so far, all other things being equal. It also made a signpost indicating who had fired the shot, since there were very few cap and ball weapons still in use.

John was carefully moved back to the bed and covered so that he wouldn't get a chill. Juanita went to her home to rest, Jane stayed at John's bedside, and I went out to talk to the men who had brought John in.

"Howdy, men. I'm Bill Lang, John's friend, and I want to find the bastard who shot him. I need some answers. Were any of you with John when he was shot?"

"No, Senor Lang. We had all gone over the hill ta look for the missing cattle. Senor Buckley said that he would be along in a minute; he had ta piss. We heard a shot and rushed back to see what had happened. Senor Buckley was lying on the ground beside his horse. We saw that he had been shot, so I sent Jose to get a buckboard to bring him ta the house."

"Are you the foreman and what's your name?"

"Si, I am the foreman. My name is Juan Ortiz."

"I need to see the place where Senor Buckley was shot. Juan, please have somebody fetch my horse an' pick somebody to go with me to show me the place. I'm going back inside to check on Senor Buckley."

I went back to the bedroom to find Jane quietly crying. I asked, "Jane, is there anything I can do for you or John?"

"No... No, there's nothin' ya kin do right now."

"OK, I'm goin' out to see where John was shot. I want ta see if I kin find any clue 'bout why he was shot. I'll be back in time fer supper."

"Bill, please be careful. There's no way ta tell ifen somebody might still be out there an' waitin' to take a shot at ya."

"Don't worry 'bout me, Jane. I'm always careful. That's what's kept me alive these last few years."

I went to the front yard and Juan was sitting on a horse waiting for me. He was holding the reins of my horse, which he handed to me. I mounted and signaled Juan to lead the way.

We headed out to the south at a fast lope. We had about 4 miles to travel before we got to the ambush spot. Juan showed me where they had found John; I could see the blood stain on the ground. There were some bushes about 60 yards away, so I rode my horse in that direction. I saw some stirring in the bushes and I got suspicious. I bent over just as a shot rang out!

A bullet passed by just where my head had been a moment before. I pulled my right-hand pistol and rode as fast as my horse could move toward the bushes. When I was close enough, I jumped off my horse and dove into the cover of some brush. I could hear Juan riding up behind me and there was some more movement in the bushes.

I snapped off a shot at the motion and there was a scream of pain. I rolled away from my former location and jumped to my feet. When I reached the brush where the scream had come from, I found a trail of blood drops leading deeper into the mass of brush. Juan came running up and we went after whoever had left the trail of blood.

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Story tagged with:
Historical / Violent /