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Sagas of the Wild West

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Two On The Trail

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Case was not a fan of riding at night, and the trail to Whitefish was a long one, but there was business to attend to. Fifteen miles at night would take longer than by day. The moon, though not full was his visible light and the sandy color of the dirt beneath the horse's hooves was plenty to see by for both he and the horse.


As he rode he thought, the mind always active was crowded with thoughts, and most were of the woman, Katherine Bowen. He wondered what it was about her that had stayed with him, an uncomfortable feeling and if there was one thing Case Steelgrave didn’t like, it was feeling uncomfortable. Who was she anyway, some wisp of a woman from the east who probably wouldn’t last the summer.


He spurred his mount to a trot and made a decision, he was going to the hideout where the stolen cattle was being re-branded. There were too many, time to move them out, lay low for a bit, not too long, but long enough for the country to simmer down and ease up on guarding their herds. Case left the trail and headed northeast before returning to a northbound heading.



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  • 3 weeks later...

Case Steelgrave pushed on through the night at an easy pace for both him and the horse. It had certainly been an eventful past several hours. He was conflicted about his part in resolving the stage hold up. Not that killing the men bothered him, quite the contrary, it had happened without feeling, much as it always had. There had never been any feelings about killing, it was just part and parcel of who he was.

And what of this woman? Why had he raced to stop the holdup? Why had he intervened, this bothered him, it was not the sort of thing that Case would do as there was nothing to gain from the intervention besides the killing of men he didn't like, and a risk to his own life. So the question of why what was it about her? She was just a woman, granted, a pretty woman, but just a woman none the less. He was a man with no time for entanglements and she would certainly be that if he allowed it.

There were stolen cattle to be moved once the brands were altered, and more to be taken. No, Case Steelgrave had no time to spare on anything, much less a school teacher in Kalispell. He pushed on in the darkness with his thoughts.


Leaving Kalispell at night had not been the wisest thing, but he needed to be away and back to what he did best and that was to handle the law in Whitefish, and break it everywhere else. There was land to grab, cattle and horses to rustle, knowing his brand artist was the best rope and ring man in the territory. And there were ranches to take and add to the Steelgrave’s budding empire.


The decision to stop sometime short of mid-night was one made out of weariness. It had been a busy afternoon and evening and it took a lot out of a man, what with the killing and all. And, the thought of some coffee and some jerked beef had sounded really good. He’d eat, swallow some coffee then roll up in his blankets and was asleep in moments, but for Case Steegrave, it was a fitful sleep with visions of the Kalispell schoolmarm

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The easy thing would have been to do this last night, but tracking in the dark can be tricky. Oh, there was enough moonlight that had been a fact, but waiting for daylight was always better, besides, he wasn't in a hurry and the recent tracks were clear and easy to follow, bespeaking a man with no fear of being followed. The words of Linda Everson echoed in his mind as he rode north out of Kalispell.


He came on a spot where the man had stopped, built a hat full of fire, made coffee, then pushed on. He'd let his horse rest a mite, the sign of a man good with his animal, also a man to be wary of.  He had no illusions about Case Steelgrave, none at all. The man was as deadly as a rattler that he knew. So He also pushed on.


The sun had already reached its zenith sometime ago and Pronto took a pull on his canteen, more to wet his lips and the inside of his mouth, even though water in this country was plentiful, it always paid to not take chances. It was then he noted that the trail veered off north-west and Case had picked up his pace, Pronto did not. No telling where Case was headed but it was not to Whitefish unless he had a reason to go a roundabout way of getting there. Pike pulled up on the rein and stepped down, turning his horse between himself and whatever or whoever was just ahead. He took the time to adjust his cinch, though there was not much slack in it, and his horse did not protest the action.


Satisfied he was alone, but wary of a possible ambush, Pronto remounted and followed the new trail wondering where it would lead, and what might happen. He was not looking for a confrontation, though he was looking to talk with the Kalispell Marshal about Texas without accusation, what he would do then might well rest with Case Steelgrave's reaction.  Gunplay was not out of the question, but need not happen unless it was forced on him.




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“Gawddammitt Robbins will you quit that infernal pacin! Lite an’ set fer Chrissake.” Toole ordered, “oughtta smack ya with this here runnin’ iron!”


David Lander Robbins hadn’t started out to become what he was, a gunman and rustler. He had a nervous condition whenever he was without purpose and at present there was precious little for him to do.


“Yeah well, hell,! I’m goin’ down’t the herd give Slone a break. Wish ta hell the boss’d ride in an we could get this drive goin’.” He shook his head. “Damned posse could ride in here any time an’ we be caught with, whot, a hunderd head of stole beef?”


“Git! An’ tell Slone to get up the end of the valley and let Larson come in!” Toole ordered. He was no boss, but he was pretty close as his talent was respected. “Tell ‘im Guthrie’ll relieve him in a couple hours.” There was always a guard, but Toole was getting nervours, Case was supposed to be there by now, or so he thought.


Robbins nodded and stepped aboard his horse trotting off toward the herd. Toole, his work done, looked around and suddenly said; “Larson, ride for town see what’s up with the boss.


John Larson swung into the saddle, being the only other rider saddled up, and with a wave took off at a gallop.




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  • 2 weeks later...

The trail across the open country had been easy to follow, but it had become harder to follow once they were into the trees. Pronto's pace had slowed to a walk as he scanned the ground looking for what had become elusive tracks, and for him, that was unusual. He prided himself on his ability to track, no matter the ground, but this had him scratching his head.


Finally, Pronto stopped and dismounted to get a closer look at the ground, holding onto his reins. There was a cat track, plain enough to see from the new vantage point, but no hint of a horse track, so he began a circle search, his next step in locating this trail. It would be a slow process, yet he was aware even in the forested ground, horses tended to disturb the debris on the forest floor.


So far there was nothing that was noticeable and the sounds of the forest were clearly audible, his circular approach did not seem to be working, however, there was a break in the trees just ahead, the open ground would make this easier, but he had lost a lot of time with his search. Still, he pressed on.


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Case broke out of the trees and spurred his horse to a gallop to cover the last mile or so to the camp. He wanted to get the herd on the move believing there were enough of them. Of course, other than the hands involved, it would be pure profit, at thirty dollars a head, with no questions asked, he'd clear about twenty-five of it. Not bad for doing nothing more than running a gang, any unbranded stuff would have the EG brand and be driven to the Evergreen spread.


He pulled up once he was close to the cabin. He could see Toole giving a wave. Looking to the valley he could see the stole herd they had built, and knowing Toole, those brands were changed and the beef ready to move north where they would be met by a Canadian bunch who would move the cattle to the highest bidder on either side of the border. It was a sweet set up, and it had been working well the better part of the year.


"Mister Toole, are we ready to move?" He asked as he stepped down.


"Ready as they'll ever be Boss, Toole replied. "You come onto Robbins out there?"


"No, no I didn't, something wrong?" Case asked suspiciously.


"Oh no Boss, I sent him to ride in with you." Came the explanation. "Step inside? Coffee or a drink?"


"Sound good." Case responded.

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Now Robbins, who wasn't the smartest of the bunch, and some nervous, took his own trail to get to where he figured on meetin' up with the boss. It was a bit longer, but more protected than the straight ride to meet up with Marshal Steelgrave. He figured that it would take him a few minutes longer to reach the destination, but he also believed he had plenty of time.


Loping along at a trot he cleared  the trees when to his surprise, he spotted someone other than his boss, a stranger on a roan horse he also didn't recognize, well, to Robbins, he could only mean trouble so he drew his Winchester out of the saddle scabbard, levered in a shell into the breach, and took careful aim. His finger tightened on the trigger as he let his breath out when the rifle exploded with the intended shot.

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And then he was dead...or he felt like it, never having been dead before he might well have been mistaken. his body was moving side to side and his head tended to lurch in all manner of directions. He was aboard a horse, the smell and the movements told him that. And almost suddenly there was a pain in his right shoulder. He opened his eyes, yet all was black. so he raised a bit to see the roan's neck and the brim of his hat.


He slowly began to sit upright but the pain was searing, he examined his right side to find it soaked in blood. He did not have a clear view of his shoulder area, but that was where the blood was coming from and if he was not able to stop the flow, he would die. The horse snorted and threw his head, causing Pronto to look up.


Kalispell was just ahead, and there were folks straining to see who was coming their way.  He needed the doc real bad, he slumped down again but not all the way, His head was still up as he reached the stage line stables, hoping she would be there.



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The low rays of light streaming in the big double-doors of the barn danced with myriads of tiny particles -- dust, hay, hair -- swirling around Addy as she added to the mix, brushing loose hair and dirt from Duke's back and haunches.  The big Belgium draft horse stood placidly, munching on hay as he was groomed, and Addy was content, humming quietly to herself as she worked.  She enjoyed this time, just working quietly with the horses, alone, and...


...and a shadow blocked the sun in the doorway, although she didn't pay attention at first, not until she heard a horse snort close by, and the shadow persisted did she look over and see the rider, there in the breezway.  He didn't look too good...in fact, he looked like he was about to fall out of the saddle, and indeed, he started to do just that. 


Dropping the brush, she ran toward him, catching him in time to keep him from hitting hard, she crumpled beneath him, cradling him as she took in the situation.  Blood, pallor...


"Pike?"  She didn't know the man well, but she recognized him.  "What happened?  WEEDY!"  She knew the kid was around somewhere, and sure enough, a moment later he ran in, then froze, eyes wide.


"He been shot?" the boy asked, but he didn't get an answer, just, "Go fetch th' Doc, hurry!"  And he was off at full speed.


"Gonna be all right, Mister Pike," she cajoled, tearing his shirt to look for the source of bleeding, then pressing her hand against the wound to stem the flow of blood.  "Doncha die here, th' horses don't like th' smell'a blood."



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Pike lay in the arms of the teamster, “ain’t planin’ on it, Ma’am. Not to give a backshooter the satisfaction.” He knew he’d been hit hard, he was not sure the why of it, but there were surely two things he planned to find out, the who and the why of it. “Sorry ta’ bleed all over ya.” His voice was weak, strained, and his words halting when he spoke.


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