Chapter 1

"Bounty hunting ain't what it used ta be. It's a hell of a lot better now! Fer one thin', I used ta go fer weeks without makin' a score, nowadays, I usually make a payday at least once a week. Fer example, take that there galoot at the end of the bar, I'm fixin' ta make $125 offen 'im as soon as I finish this here beer. Ah, that wuz a good beer, Mr. Barkeep. Now ya jus' stand back an' watch how I does it."

Hank Prescott, our intrepid bounty hunter, put his beer mug on the bar and casually sauntered around the room until he wound up behind his quarry at the other end of the bar. Without being obvious about it, he unhooked the sawed-off shotgun he wore at this waist in the place of the usual pistol and pushed it into the back of his target. "Well, ifen it ain't Curly Bob Thompson! Please don't make any sudden moves what I might misinterpret, cuz that there's a shotgun apressin' in yer backbone. I'd hate to make a mistake an' cut ya in half cuz I thought ya wuz tryin' ta escape.

"Ya know ya're wanted over in Otero County, dead or alive, so it's yer choice 'bout yer condition when ya git there. Make up yer mind, cuz it don't make no never-mind ta me."

"D... Don't shoot, Mister. I ain't gonna give ya no trouble!"

"OK. I'm glad ta hear that there, cuz I'd hate ta make a mess fer the swamper ta have to clean up. Now, ya just finish yer beer and set the mug on the bar. That's good. Now, SLOWLY put yer hands behind yer back soz I kin cuff ya."

Curly Bob did as ordered and Hank marched him out to the street to a buckboard. "Have a seat in this here buckboard an' slide back in far enough soz yer feet are well inside. I wouldn't want ya ta git hurt while we ride ta Alamogordo. I know it ain't all that far, but I do want ta keep ya safe. Now jus' tell me which of them horses is yeren, an' we'll be ready ta go."

Hank slipped a leg-iron through a staple and fastened Curly Bob's legs securely in place. He tied Curly Bob's horse to the back of the buckboard and climbed in. After adjusting the seat cushion to his satisfaction, Hank drove off toward Alamogordo.

Three days later, Hank drove up to the Otero County jail and hitched his mule to the hitching rail near the watering trough. He moved Curly Bob's horse alongside and went to the rear of the buckboard to release Curly Bob and help him to walk into the court house. After three days of absolute misery riding in the buckboard, Curly Bob could hardly stand, much less walk!

Hank marched him up to the deputy sheriff and said, "Howdy, Henry. I gots another one fer ya. This here is Curly Bob Thompson. He's wanted fer robbin' the Overland stage, an' I'm claimin' the reward fer his capture. Give me a receipt, ifen ya please, soz I kin collect from the county Treasurer's office."

"Shore thin', Hank. It won't take a minute to git him locked up in a cell. Ya jus' take them cuffs offen 'im, an' I'll git right to it." Henry pushed Curly Bob into a cell and returned to paw through the desk. "Now, where the hell is that damned form. Ah, here it is." Henry filled out the receipt form and handed it to Hank. After a few minutes of pleasant conversation, including a description of Curly Bob's capture, Hank went out to his buckboard.

He took Curly Bob's horse to his favorite livery stable and sold it, along with the tack, for a reasonable price, which he pocketed. Hank then went to the county court house to claim his reward. This he took in cash, none of that paper money for him! He stowed the gold pieces in his money belt and dropped the rest in his pocket.

Hank got a room in a hotel and left his gear there in the room. He went to a barbershop had the works, bath, shave, and haircut. He dressed in fresh clothes and donned his S&W .44/40 in its shoulder holster and his sawed-off shotgun at his waist. He was now ready for a night on the city.

The first stop was at his favorite saloon for a beer and the latest news. The saloons were often his best source of information, both on the civic and social news of the surroundings and on the likely places for a bounty hunter to find employment. Besides, wanted men visited saloons, too, and he might chance on a lucrative catch as he enjoyed a beer.

Normally, Alamogordo was not a likely place for wanted men to wander around, since the city had both a marshal who provided the normal police functions and a strong sheriff presence to look over the county's interests. Therefore, Hank wasn't expecting anything beyond an evening's relaxation with friends and other pleasant company.

In fact, he had his eye on one of the saloon girls whom he often patronized. She, too, was partial to him, so she came over as soon as she was free from her previous customer. "Howdy, Hank. Ya in the mood fer a little smooching tonight?"

"Hell, no, Mae! I'm in the mood fer a lota fuckin'!" They both laughed at that, and she led Hank up to her room. One of the things Hank liked the most about Mae was that she kept herself and her room clean. He had never noticed Mae to stink, no matter how many customers she had before Hank got his turn. Hell, Mae was even good to kiss!

After a very pleasant interlude, Hank went back to the bar, and Mae cleaned herself up in preparation for her next customer. When Hank ordered a beer, the bartender asked, "Well, Hank, did ya hear 'bout the bank robbery down in Achin' Back? I heard there was a $500 reward fer the capture of the robbers and the return of the loot."

"No shit? That's a lot of money, Asa. How many robbers wuz there, an' how much did they git?"

"I ain't shore 'bout the take, but there wuz 4 robbers, and they wuz mean ones. They shot a teller fer no good reason an' wounded some more folks durin' the getaway."

"Thanks fer the tip, Asa. I'll look into it, tomorrow."

The next day, Hank left in his buckboard for the mining town of Aching Back, Dona Ana County, NMT. It took 4 days to get there at the brisk pace Hank had his mule set, so he wasn't too sure of the possibilities of getting anything out of this bank robbery, but he might get lucky.

He stopped off to see the town marshal as a courtesy call as much as anything else, since this was Hank's first visit to Aching Back. "Howdy, Marshal. I'm Hank Prescott. I do a little bounty hunting fer fun an' profit where I kin find it."

"Howdy, Mr. Prescott. I'm Jacob Rasmussen. Ya kin call me Jake. I 'spose ya're here in our fair city cuz of the bank robbery last week. Well, I'll take all the he'p I kin git. Them bastards kilt a mighty fine man and hurt some others. There wuz 4 of 'em, an' they headed out toward Las Cruces. My posse followed 'em fer most of the day, but we never caught up. I don't have much of a description, but I'll give ya what I have. Ya better talk ta Sam Hudson, the bank president, afore ya go chasin' them yahoos.

Sam Hudson verified that there was a reward, $250 for the bandits and $250 for the return of the loot, which was $13,257. They had not taken the 36 cents left on the counter. Hank unhitched his mule and saddled her. He transferred his .44/40 rifle and lever-action shotgun to the saddle scabbards. "Giddyup, Ada, we gots some crooks ta cotch."

Hank followed the route that the posse had taken, but he was not traveling as fast, so he was able to notice the place where the bandits had left the road and headed into the hills. Either the bandits were stupid or very confident, because they had not made any effort to hide their trail. Since he was moving slowly, Hank was forced to camp overnight, not one of his favorite pastimes. Hank like to say, "I'm built for comfort, not for speed!"

About the middle of the next morning, Hank found himself approaching an isolated cabin. There were no trees nor brush close to the cabin; it was as if the cabin was deliberately sited to be used as a defensive position. He knew it was occupied because he could see smoke coming from the chimney and there were 4 horses in a rope corral near the cabin. The one exception to the lack of cover was the outhouse, which was close to the one door to the cabin's interior.

The cabin was quite small and had only one window on each of the three sides not having the door. There were no windows on the side with the door. Hank thought that whoever designed the cabin was ignorant of the best ways to build a fort.

Hank couldn't see a well, so he didn't know how the people in the cabin got their water. Maybe they had a pump inside the cabin, Hank had heard of that innovation starting to show up around the territory.

Hank's first duty was to determine who was in the cabin. It was possible that they were not the crooks he was hunting. The problem was in finding out the truth without getting himself shot! He needed to look in the cabin, but that was going to be tricky.

The best way to get close enough to the cabin was to approach on the door side, but keep the outhouse between himself and the door. That way, he wouldn't be seen by somebody looking through the door. Hank tethered his mule in an arroyo and prepared to sneak up on the house. He thought that he would be close enough to the house that he would not need his rifle, so he took his shotgun and a bandoleer of shells.

Hank stayed close to the ground and slowly made his way up to the outhouse. He could tell by the smell that it had been recently used. Oops! Sounds told him that it was currently in use. This was going to make things easier than he expected. All he had to do was take a look at the person inside the outhouse, and he would know whether or not these were the bandits he was hunting.

He carefully leaned his regular shotgun against the wall of the outhouse and unlimbered his sawed-off shotgun. Hank quietly stepped around to the front of the outhouse and, holding his gun ready, flung open the door of the outhouse. Hank pointed his sawed-off shotgun at the man sitting there and commanded, "Hands up!"

The man was startled, but quick witted enough to reach for his pistol unholstered and in convenient reach. Unfortunately, he was not quick witted enough to realize that there was no way he was going to beat a shotgun already pointed at his chest.

Hank recognized that this was one of the bank robbers and fired a blast into the gut of the man shitting there. Knowing that the noise of the blast would attract the attention of the men still inside the cabin, Hank slammed the door and ran around to the back of the outhouse where he had left his regular shotgun. He reloaded and returned his sawed-off shotgun to its belt hanging.

A voice from inside the cabin shouted, "PERCY, WHAT IS GOIN' ON? ARE YA OK?" Of course, there was no answer. A man stuck his head out the door as if looking for an answer. Hank recognized another one of the robbers and fired a quick shot at the protruding head. Ah, the joy of using a shotgun! The man's head was hit with several shot, which killed him instantly, but didn't mess up his face too much to be recognizable.

Just to keep the attention of the two men still alive inside the cabin, Hank fired another shot at the door. Now the two men would be focused on the door, expecting a rush at any moment. Hank reloaded and ran to the nearest window.

He looked into the cabin and could see both men facing the door, braced for an onslaught they expected to come from that direction. Hank fired through the closed window at one of the men, levered in another round, and fired at the second man. He levered in another shell and returned his attention to the first man. No problems there. Both men were lying on the floor, mortally wounded.

Reassuring himself that neither man was able to shoot, Hank went back to the door and entered the cabin. The second man that Hank had shot was already dead and the first man died as Hank looked in his direction.

From the looks of things, Hank had just gotten to the cabin in time. It appeared that the men were preparing to leave and were waiting for Percy to return before they left. The men had divided the loot, and Hank wondered how they decided who got to keep the odd dollar. The money was a mixture of cash and paper money, and each of the robbers had pretty much an equal share of both kinds of money.

Hank took the time to make sure that all of the reported loot was still there; it was! Just in case Sam Hudson tried some chicanery, Hank removed $500 in cash from the loot and got ready to return to Aching Back.

Hank saddled the horses and tied a body to each one. He fetched his mule and, taking the other horses in tow, started back to town. Hank decided not to chance camping out with 4 corpses—it was too likely to attract scavengers. So Hank rode through the night and pulled into Aching Back about 7:00 o'clock in the morning.

The marshal was at the jail and was happy to give Hank a receipt for the 4 bodies. However, he wouldn't let Hank leave until he had gotten the whole story of the tracking and the fight. Jake figured that Sam Hudson would be at the bank by now, so he and Hank went to see Hudson. Jake went along out of naive curiosity, rather than any other reason.

They reached the bank and Sam was there, so they went into his office. Hank said, "Here's the entire $13,257 you said was taken, minus the $500 in reward."

Hudson started to sputter and look distressed. Jake pulled his pistol and pointed it at Hudson. "WHAT THE SHIT IS GOING ON?" Jake bellowed. "Ya told me that the bandits had gotten away with over $37,000. Were ya plannin' ta pocket $20,000 an' blame it on the bandits?"

"Come on, Jake. I kin explain everythin'."

"I hope so! Ya'll git yer chance to explain it to a judge an' jury. Hank, ya'll have ta give me the reward money 'til after the trial, but I'll make shore ya git back every penny."

"OK, Jake, I'll trust ya on this. Shit, I hate crooked bankers!"

They locked Hudson in the town jail, and Hank left, promising to keep in touch, so he would know when to show up to testify at the trial.

Hank returned to Alamogordo for another visit with Mae and to tell Asa about the bank robbery case.

The next morning, Hank stopped by the county court house to pick up the latest batch of wanted posters. Man! The new style posters with the pictures were slick. You were a lot less likely to shoot the wrong man with a picture to go by, instead of a half-assed description!

Hank drove out of town north toward Lincoln in Lincoln County. It wasn't long before he was joined by a young man riding in the same direction. "Lookin' fer company, Mister?"

"Shore, son. I'm Hank Prescott. Call me Hank. Where're ya headed?"

"Howdy, Hank. I'm Bill Jones. I'm headed toward Lincoln. I'm lookin' fer a job. Know of anythin'?"

"Not right off hand. Ya a cowboy?"

"Sometimes. I've been known to take most any kind of honest work I kin git. I have a bad temper and that makes it hard ta hold a job. What kind of work do ya do?"

"Well, Bill, I'm mostly a bounty hunter, though I do take on other jobs on occasion."

"A bounty hunter, hunh? Lookin' fer anybody right now?"

"Nope, jus' ridin' around waitin' for sumpthin' ta happen. I'm pretty lucky 'bout havin' good thin's drop in my lap."

"I'm curious. Ifen ya don't mind my askin', how come ya drivin' a buckboard pulled by a mule, 'steada ridin' a hoss? Most men wouldn't be seen in a buckboard 'cept on business, or ifen they wuz sparkin' a woman."

"Well, I'll tell ya, Bill, I like my comfort. I used ta ride a hoss everywhere, but my back got tired, my legs got tired, an' my ass got sore. None of that happens now that I sit on a cushion an' have some support fer my back. I kin even lie back ifen I wants to. That's why I have a mule. Ya see, mules are a whole lot smarter than hosses and female mules are the smartest of them all. I kin relax an' even nap ifen I want to, an' Ada here is smart enough to wake me ifen danger shows up."

"How does a mule warn ya of danger?"

"I'll give ya an example that actually happened ta me well north of here. Ada an' I were goin' down a mountain road an' I wuz not payin' attention like I shoulda been. Suddenly, this here big brown bear comes out of the woods aside the road. Now, a horse woulda bolted an' prob'bly wrecked my buckboard, but Ada stopped well short of the bear and snorted loud enough ta wake the dead. It shore woke me up to the danger, but that snort wuz loud enough to scare the shit outa that there bear, and, afore I could make a fool outa myself, it took off fer the woods an' I didn't have ta do anythin' but laugh at the idee of a mule scaring off a bear."

Bill laughed and said, "Shit, Hank, that's a good one! But is it true?"

"Hell, no! But I like ta tell it, anyway."

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Story tagged with:
Historical / Humor / Violent /