Kansas was still a wild place. Oklahoma was opening up the Indian Territory near Tulsa and land was free for the taking, or so it was said. I knew there was no such thing as a 'free' lunch.
Speaking of lunch it was about that time and I was getting hungry. One or two more days here and it looked like I would be moving on.
It used to be called 'bleeding' Kansas but since them Jayhawkers and Red legs done worked things out, it was mighty peaceful. In relative terms. Deciding on steak, eggs and fresh biscuits with honey and jam; I had told the waitress to bring coffee and keep on coming. Then had told her to call me 'Skip' if she needed help. She would call all right, it was just not what I had expected.
Skip or whatever my name was that day never liked a town. They were just to complicated a place. I was a bit 'old Fashioned', though but wore a modern double rig, it was a cross shoulder draw, great if you were on a horse or had your back turned. I also had switched to the new cartridges using smokeless powder. Not only could one see better, the shots were more accurate and powerful.
It meant a lot. It was, after all, my way of making a living. I had been a hired gun for several years already. I was 19 and had learned the hard way that life was what you made it. If someone tried to take something from you there were only two choices, walk away or kill the bastard or bastards if there were more than one. It was the same choices I had demanded my 'clients' to understand and accept.
Out where I loved it the best, open range, it was still kill or be killed. Many a rancher paid the $100 per month I demanded, plus whatever I got from the men killed. It was never funny but, I remembered, the fee was usually a pittance when compared to the rewards, gold on them or monies gotten from selling off their horses and gear. Damn, a few of those ranchers also had some cute wives and daughters who were mighty appreciative of some outside help now and then.
I still hadn't decided to head East, South or out West. Money was not really the issue for a while. I had over $23,600 saved up, a fortune in those times and could last a man, hell a family, a lifetime. I did not want to even think of my family. They didn't exist as far as I felt.
Alice brought me some more hot coffee and biscuits. She came closer as she poured. She whispered. "Skip, are you any good with those or are they just show?"
I assumed she meant the guns since she referred to 'those' and I only had 1 other gun.
"Alice you never know! But I make my living with those things and there are some cuties out there who think my other gun is pretty good too. Why?"
"Well Skip, see that girl over there! Her Paw was killed by one of those 'bastards' standing over her. They all three said he was cheating, called him out and shot him like a dog. I've known Hank a lot of years and I have never seen him cheat anyone. Now those Yahoos are trying to get the ranch, saying he lost it to them. If I know trouble, that's not all they want to get from her, if you get my drift. She is a nice girl and everyone in town is afraid of those three. Can you help her?"
"Go over to her and tell her to call my name out, real loud and when I stand up get her and yourself out of here. Let me eat my dinner in peace after it's over?"
Alice, Bless her heart went over asked the gents if they wanted more coffee then whispered something to the pretty girl at the table. Alice was still there when, "Skip I need you!" rang out.
On cue, I stood up, dropped my napkin and let the chair fall back.
"Hell Sis, I hadn't finished my meal yet. There only three of them; just kill em them ... Hey! These ain't the 'bushwhackers' that shot Paw are they?"
Alice did her job, the three men rose and came forward. One of the men saw my rig and you could plainly hear him say. "Jeb, that ain't the rig of a farmer. Them's Colt 45's and he has two of them."
I'm not sure why that seemed important to him. Jeb though never seemed to understand that two new Colts and the rig cost more than a farmer made in a year. He should have listened to his friend, instead. "Now looky here, your Paw done lost his ranch to us. I've got the papers right here." As he turned as though reaching for something.
He had two slugs in him before he turned all the way.
The other two, they had caused me untold grief too, my food and coffee was getting cold. I shot the other two out of spite. They had quite a bit of money on them. I took out a Eagle tossed it to the barkeep and said to give it to whoever cleaned this mess up. I threw another Eagle to him adding that I wanted their horses, tack and anything in their rooms here in 5 minutes. "You don't want to make me angry, not today after having one meal interrupted."
Between the three they had over $500, mostly in gold. There was no deed to a ranch and there might be more gold in their rooms.
Dear Alice came back in, leading a sobbing girl behind her. "Is it over?" She asked.
"Hell no I said, My food got cold and so did the coffee! Can you set that filly down and rustle both of us some more of that steak and biscuits.?"
That got me a big smile from Alice and I thought of a couple ways she might want to thank me some.
"What's your name Sis", looking into the girls face.
She was feisty, I had to say. "Some brother you are, not remembering your Sis's name. If Paw were still alive he'd..." She broke out in tears. I had seen it a few times. experienced it myself.
"Your all alone now. huh."
She nodded. I pushed the bag of coins over to her hands.
"You left this at that table, thought you might need it."
She looked at me with those eyes, you know the kind, like the kind all girls over ten can make to get a guy to do whatever they want. Hell I bet they teach that to five year olds even.
It got better, a boy came charging in carrying three saddle bags, one he was dragging in. "Mister the horses are outside, I'll get the saddles and stuff next. This is all they had in their rooms, the hotel man is bringing in some rifles here, I could not carry them too. Do I still get the $10?"
"Son, you don't get the Eagle, ... you get a double Eagle, that was quick work. Now get the rest."
"Sis, what Is your name? Mans gotta know his Sis's name I spect."
"Its Mandy. follow me home, I gotta thank you proper like for saving me and all this", she thumped the bag of coins.
"Honey how old are you?"
"Old enough! you? ... or do you only know how to use the guns on your chest, not the one in your pants?"
"Well I'll be! The little lady has some spunk in her. Alice, dear Alice came back with a tray of food, laid it all out and bent down and gave me a kiss.
"She's gonna need some help around the ranch. At least until she can find a man, a good man, who will protect this girl."
Now why was Mandy looking at me and smiling. I was not a good man. Still I thought, Mandy huh, and she was sharp as well as pretty. Just maybe I could stick around and help her out with a few things.
The boy ran back in. "What's you name boy?"
"Where do you live Jack Sir?"
"Jack, Sir! I usually do some work in the stables and he lets me sleep inside, at least in the winter he does."
Well Jack Sir, I think Mandy needs some help around her ranch. You get room and board plus 2 bits a day. If your good, I'll see to it you can make more. What do you say Jack Sir?"
"Just Jack Sir and I say, when do we leave?"
I said, "Why didn't you say your name was 'Just Jack Sir?' That's a funny name!"
He gave me a shrug then a look. He seemed to be 9 or 10, or there abouts.
"Get on one of them new horses and follow us to the ranch."
I asked if Mandy had a horse here, Yes she did and had Just Jack Sir bring hers and mine and saddle 'em up. When I started to the door the saddle bag the boy had brought was extremely heavy. I had a feeling things were going to get better, for everybody.
There were some folks thinking that the horses, rifles and gear was now free for the taking. Just Jack Sir was standing over everything, trying to do a man's job. He was holding a rifle in his hand.
I was a few feet behind him, motioned Mandy back inside, then readied for some fun. None of those fools even had a gun. They were trying to bluff the kid into running or crying. Big men I thought, four men against a 9 year old kid. Maybe they needed a few more. I heard.
"You all better get away. My boss will be here soon and you ought not make him angry. Them other three goin' to be sleeping in boot hill pretty soon."
I liked this kid. I drew a gun, rotated the cylinder then seemed to count how many shots I would need.
Before I could even put the gun away they were gone.
"Nice work. Just Jack Sir, did they give you any trouble?"
"No Sir, I told them I worked for you and that they better git. They left Sir."
"Yep, I saw that. I'm real lucky I got a 'man' like you workin for me!"
Whoever had raised him had done a fine job. Every town though seemed to have a dozen bad ones for each like him.
I motioned Mandy back out. I put the heavy saddle bag on one of the horses, the other two on the Roan, which was free. It was a hour ride or so to the ranch. I asked Mandy how big it was.
"Paw had been buying up land. I knew he would never risk it on a poker game. All told we have just short of 13,000 acres. There are about 2,800 head of cattle and 450 horses. At round up we have near 75 hired hands. 20 or so stay on the rest of the year. We brand the Double M.(MM) for Paw and myself"(Henry Michael and Mandy Michael).
"Just Jack Sir, bed the horses and we'll tell the foreman to get you settled in."
When we saw the foreman, he was drunk and seemed to be expecting someone else. His parting comment was something like, "Who the Hell are you? and Where is Jeb?"
I shot him just on general principle. Mandy indicated he was new. I had an idea that old Jeb had a lot already planned out. I asked Mandy who else was new? I got my answer.
It seems 5 or six old hands had decided to leave when the three Amigos moved in.
To the new men, the news that Jeb would not be needing their services seemed to mean more to them than the money they had said that he promised them. I offered to let them join Jeb to see if they could collect. They thought better and left that night.
"We need a foreman?"
A man stepped up. I tossed him a double Eagle and told him to get six or seven new men, good men, and the Double M was paying a dollar a day. We have a new man, Jack who is putting the horses away and needed a bunk. That did not seem to be a problem.
I never counted what was in those saddle bags when I took them inside the house, but the sight of all those gold coins made me realize the ranch was going to be fine no matter how many men we hired. I was raising Jack's wage.
Hey, ranching was not as hard as I thought it would be.
Then I went into the main house to check on Mandy. Things would soon get harder to handle. Mandy was indeed, intending find a 'proper' thank you for me.
I know life here was hard and fast but I did not know so were the women. I was informed I was sleeping in the main house, and in Paws bed.
Yep, that was where Mandy was sleeping too and I quote. "I had better not disappoint her?"
She was 16 going on twenty.
Life on a farm offers several choices in men, woman too for that matter. Slim and none were the most common choices. A virgin meant she was under 13 and could run faster than her brothers. At 16, almost 17. Mandy would be considered an 'Old Maid'.
I had this notion that going to bed meant sleep. The response I got from Mandy was. "Hell no Mr. I've got you now and your not getting away, now use that other gun some."
It would be nice to say that everything was fine and we all lived happily ever after. That was not the case.
I still don't know if it was Mandy. the success of the Ranch, the rumors by the hired hands or just plain bad luck but there was always somebody that wanted to take something of mine for themselves. One day somebody decided Mandy was better off with them than me and decide to show her what a real man was like.
The Hotel/Bar/Diner still, a year after, talked about the three men I had shot. The one of the servers went and got me from Peabody's Hardware. The lover boy was dragging a half naked Mandy up the stairs to his room. One look at me and lover boy became piss boy. He had wet himself. Mandy kicked him and tried to run down the stairs, falling. She was now bleeding, mostly naked and almost unconscious from hitting her head.
Lover boy had tried to yell out for help, saying he hadn't done anything. That girl had enticed him up. By this time the barkeep knew what was coming and cleared out. Alice and another waitress grabbed Mandy and took her away. Lover boy and I were left alone.
Calmly I sat down and just looked at him. He finally asked me what the Hell I was doing, looking at him?"
I guess he was a big man again. "Nothing, just thinking if I should waste a bullet on you or just carve you up like the piece of shit you are. I think I'll use the knife?"
I walked up to him, took the large knife on my leg in my hand and proceeded to cut away. He never seemed to move much. Sure there were a lot of yells and screams but it was not too bad until the blade got a little dull. There sure was a lot of blood around.
I told him that we were not in a rush, that I was certain he had planned something similar for my wife. His eyes got wide and he started shaking and crying. You know the phrase 'throwing salt in the wound?" Well it does make things better, that is from my point of view. I felt this enjoyment should be shared. The whole town might be better off to see this. I kicked him outside, very gentle kicks of course.
There was not much of a crowd but I could see faces in the windows. This would give the town something new to talk about. Alice ran up to me. I thought she was going to make some plea for mercy for him. She merely told me the Doc was seeing Mandy. The fall might have killed the baby. Baby, what baby? If this bastard caused that, he would only wish to die.
I watched him crawl all night. He never got very far. Mandy was awake and the Doc said outside some cuts and bruises everything looked OK. That the baby pouch could take a lot. I asked the Doc to patch up lover boy. "Why?" he said, "your just going to kill him!"
"Maybe, but I want him to suffer a long, long time. Do you what the Indians do to animals like him?"
"No." came his reply.
"Watch for the next few days, I'll show you!"
Honey, salt and wet rawhide mixed with sun, open wounds and insects make for a slow and painful death. What was even worse was to be left alive, half a man with pieces slowly eaten or cut away. I heard he took almost 10 agonizing days to die. I had taken Mandy home but made certain some of the hired hands were around to keep any do-gooder from spoiling the fun. Inside town was never a problem again. On the open range or when went to St. Louis was another matter.
Sheep was our next big problem. Them and some damn fool who thought the water on our ranch was for him to use too. Well by this time even Mandy had a shoot first attitude. Life had taught her how hard things could be on a ranch.
Jack was close to 12 and was soon to learn that when a woman, or a girl, sets her mind to something, us guys don't stand a chance. The train to town not only brought goods and prosperity it also brought Mary Lou Reynolds. At 15, just the subject of about every boy's dreams and some young men too ... They all dreamed an awful lot about her.
We might have never met her, but one fateful day the train also brought another asshole to our town. This time Mary Lou became the unwanted object for his attention. At 26, he thought the world was his oyster and he had to start seeding the bed.
Now live and let live I usually say, but when a female, especially a 15 year old girl is attacked and almost raped, the memory of that almost happening to Mandy just takes point.
I think those in town knew. I know there were a few winks, free beers, diners and a ton of home baked desserts. Lothario just disappeared one day. The same day Mary Lou was laughing, smiling and started coming out to see Mandy and Jack. Well not exactly Jack, it seems no good deed goes un-punished. Mary Lou decided that her savior needed to be properly rewarded.
Damn, I found out that Mandy and Mary Lou both wanted me to dance to the tunes they called. I was told that there was only one good and correct response. That was the now 'infamous' 'Yes Dear' it was a century before its time.
Jack, smack, I now had 2 women who decided the sun, moon and stars revolved around me and wanted me to be happy. Now rockets were not a science yet, but even then, a man had to be a real fool to argue with logic like that. I was not one of those fools. Jack would have to work harder and faster next time.
Jennie Lynn Curry was born to Mandy at 8 lbs 7 oz and Jeffery Reynolds Curry about 11 months later, born to Mary Lou. Nope we were not Mormon, but, there were a few thoughts that way.
Kansas was turning more and more to farms. Ranching was something we all loved. Hell I thought it was easy, just gave orders and paid others to get the job done.
Texas, seemed to offer just about everything a rancher might want. We needed to have a family chat.
When this story gets more text, you will need to Log In to read it