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    • "Ain't hardly nothin' to do but hunker down till she blows herself out." The man squatted, "Rance, is the name. Been watchin' you, doin' a fine job. You'll do Wheeler, you'll do. Try and get some rest, might end up bein' a long night. Least you won't be ridin' drag come daylight, there's a plus for ya."   He stood and made his way to his shelter to await the grub that was coming.   @Bongo
    • Meanwhile, in the main house, Reb Culverson was visiting with his old friend Fightin' Joe Hooker, who was the ramrod for the fledgling Montana Territory Stockgrowers Association, Northern District. He was there to convince ranchers to join and support the organization, hoping it would take root.   "And just what good is this here association ya got started?" Reb asked.   "It'll give us a voice in the territorial government, Reb, that's what it'll do. Once that happens we'll be able to git us some sortta range police to protect the herds, and the ranchers." Hooker responded. "Rustlin' might not be the threat it was, but you know as well as me, it can come back."   "You get anywhere with Lost Lake, 'er that cow thief on the Evergreen?" Reb asked.   "Can't say as I have, startin' with the smaller spreads an' workin' my way up to them two. I'm well aware of both spreads, and the men that own 'em."   -------------0------------   They swept down out of the trees whooping and hollering and firing off a couple of shots as they closed on both sides of a big group of cattle, just as they had planned. The  lone night hawk knew he had no chance of stopping the raiders, or of saving the cattle while he watched the chunk of the herd moving toward and then into the trees at a run.  He emptied his Colt at the raiders, the whipped out his Winchester  and levered several shots in the area where they had disappeared.   He could not know that one of his shots had found its mark. A man that had just joined took a slug in his back and toppled from his horse. Toole and the men continued to drive the cattle toward the dry riverbed as planned. It was an acceptable loss.   The sound of the shots, mere pops at the distance to the main house and the bunk house alerted everyone, and men boiled out of the bunk house guns in hand, only to watch the night man shooting after the rustlers.
    • Out on the boardwalk they stopped, "So we managed ta git a deal right off, thet's good, it is. Now all we gotta do is convince ol' Wentworth to free up the money so's ya don't have ta use yers right off." Amos commented, "Seems a fair deal but like you say, minin's not no sure thing."   "John and Mary are good folks. It's not a sure thing, but you saw the vein, went to the floor and it looks rich," Speed responded. "And it looks to be wider where they stopped digging. I can't wait to get it assayed to see what we've really got our hands on."   "And it should assay out pretty good from the looks of it, though I know so little about copper ore." Alice admitted.   "Well, you saw the copper ore, which is clearly distinguishable from the surrounding rock due to its reddish, mottled appearance. And that surrounding rock is granite which is not easy to work, but it can be done, and, if we have hit it, the veins could be as much as a mile long, a mile wide, and a mile deep!" Speed explained with a grin. "With that equipment we'll be able to not only dig deeper, we'll be able to tunnel, and we have the property to do just that."   "Jumpin' Jehoshaphat!" Amos exclaimed. Might oughtta buy up what ground ya can aound 'er, jest ta be certain!"   "First things first, let get on up to the bank." Speed suggested.
    • Justus was more than happy to have a chance to get out of the bulk of the wind, although he knew this was far from over.  And he knew they'd be hacking up dirt for days.     With the picket lines set, he moved over to help put up the shelters for the night, pretty quickly deciding that it was a fool's errand...they were all going to be miserable until this let up.   Squinting, he looked out toward the herd, not able to see but a few in the dust, it looked like they had been swallowed by the big, dirty cloud, and weren't even there.  In fact, he had the eerie sensation that all that was left in the world was this small circle of men and horses.   "Ya need me ta do anythin' else?" he called over the din of the wind.   @Flip
    • Doc Gilcrest walked into the bunck house to see Carson on his feet, dressed. "I may not be able to ride, but I can darn sure walk some. Tired of layin' in that bed."   "I reckon you kin do thet, sure 'nough. No body said ya had ta lie there if'n ya didn't want to. Yer stitched up plenty good. Jest leave thet hog leg where she's hangin' fer now, don't need the weight in thet wound."   "So anybody come sniffin' around?" He asked.   "Not so's you'd notice. There's four men down there keepin' watch, but it don't look like Lost Lake's lost any sleep over their man, that is if'n they even know he's gone." Gilcrest offered.   "He seen that brand an' went ta shootin'!" Carson reflected. "I jest shot straighter. Had no choice in the matter. Fool could'a rode on, but, well, that just ain't what happened. Hell of a mess."   "Oh I dunno. So far nobodies come huntin', the boss ain't upset over it, neither's Granger, so you got nothin' ta worry on 'cept gettin' better."   "I should'a been more careful, but maybe there just wasn't no way to be more careful. Up on the side of that mountain is the purdiest view a man could look at. You can see fer miles, see right where they got them cows of theirs. Now that ain't gonna be no easy matter to get to any of 'em. They're deep on Lost Lake range. Gonna be hard to get at, an' worse to get out. We'll lose some men tryin' this one, that's for sure!'   Gilcrest rubbed his chin. It wasn't like Carson to go on about the prospects of a job.

Confrontation !

The Old Ranger

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Mature Content: Yes, violence.

With: Quentin, Brendan, Greer, Billy, and Blackjack
Location: Somewhere along the property line between Evergreen and Lost Lake ranches
When: Early July, 1876
Time of Day: Early afternoon




It was one of those muggy dog days of mid summer, the sun was out,  only a light breeze made it reasonably tolerable - that is if you weren't engaged in manual labor. But that was exactly what four of the Evergreen hands were doing and were none too happy about it either. They had been ordered on firewood collection detail, an onerous task that involved going out into some of the wooded sections then chopping and gathering suitable firewood to fill up a buckboard. The wood was necessary for the large Steelgrave residence plus the bunkhouse for the rather large crew of hands who were employed on that ranch empire.


There had been four men sent out on this day, two mounted accompanying a buckboard wagon with two on board. Normally the job would be left to two men but with all the Indian trouble going on throughout the territory it was felt doubling the numbers was a precaution just in case. Of course all of them were suitably equipped with rifles and revolvers besides chopping axes for the actual wood gathering chores.




They had made their way to a sizeable stand of wood, with trees that were young enough to chop down easily and not be too heavy and thick cords to toss into the back of the wagon.  The wagon was now parked as close as possible to the treeline, the riders' mounts tethered to a convenient low tree branch. The quartet had just commenced with the work then.


In charge, mostly because he assumed the so called responsibility, was Black Jack Laine. He was also the oldest in his early mid thirties and was a rather forceful personality. He was reputed to be good with a six-gun and told anyone who would listen of his exploits in a range war down in Texas a couple years back. So of course the Steelgraves hired him, it wasn't for his cowpoke skills. He now sat on the wagon making himself a cigarette with paper and tobacco, having ordered the others to get started.




Greer was grumbling as he reached for one of the axes, something about having cut the palm of his hand the other day in the corral and how it would make swinging this tool a mite uncomfortable. It was an excuse, he was always making them. Hard work and Greer did not mix. Thing is everyone knew it by now and he got no sympathy.




Billy chuckled at hearing the latest whining, honestly that jasper was never happy, "That ain't a cut, that's a scratch."


"Damn, it's too hot anyhow for this sorta thing. We should do this at night when it's cooler," Greer now declared in that sorrowful tone of his.


"You want to wander about out here in the dark when Indians might decide to lift yer scalp...oh wait, you ain't got enough hair on that head of yers to get scalped," Blackjack smirked.


"Injuns don't attack at night," Greer argued.


"So you an Injun expert now too? How many Injuns you fought?" Billy chuckled as he stripped off his shirt, he was perspiring already and he had yet to take his first axe swing, "Crissakes, I'm sweatin' like a pig already."



Greer only muttered some more and finally picked up the axe. Billy grinned as he glanced over to Brendan next to him.

"You watch, Bren, it'll end up bein' you n' me who'll do most of the work today."


Yeah, it was going to be one of those days, little did any of them know how momentous it was going to turn out.


@Bailey  @Longshot




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Brendan wished he was the one sitting on the wagon and giving orders, but there wasn't much he could do about it.


"Nah, you got it backwards, Greer," he said disgustedly as he followed Billy's example and slid out of his suspenders and shirt, then tossed his shirt at Greer's head. "Injuns like attackin' at night. They're sneaky, like us. They just blend in with the shadows an' you never hear a sound 'til they're standin' right next to ya. An' then all you hear's this."


He suddenly tilted his head back to the sky and let loose with his version of the rebel yell. It started low in his throat and rose to a high, hair-raising pitch that sounded reasonably like he figured an Injun war cry would. It also sounded a little like a wolf howl, and made the horses shift nervously. All except his, who was a little more used to whoops and yells. 


With a grin, Brendan swung his axe and let it sink into the trunk of a tree with a thunk as if to represent a knife or tomahawk in Greer's balding head. "An' then it's too late."


Billy seemed as disgusted with Greer as he was. "You watch, Bren, it'll end up bein' you n' me who'll do most of the work today."


"Isn't it always?" he grumbled as he yanked the axe free and swung again. "I betcha Greer never gets a swing in and Blackie stays on the wagon."


@Longshot @Wayfarer

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Brendan begged to differ with Greer  about Indians.


"Nah, you got it backwards, Greer," he said disgustedly as he followed Billy's example and slid out of his suspenders and shirt, then tossed his shirt at Greer's head.


It hit Greer and fluttered to the ground, the man glared but said nothing, Brendan was talking anyhow.


"Injuns like attackin' at night. They're sneaky, like us. They just blend in with the shadows an' you never hear a sound 'til they're standin' right next to ya. An' then all you hear's this."


And the young man now proceeded to give out a powerful yell much to the surprise of the others and annoyance of a few of the horses. Billy seemed bemused as he watched the performance. Greer winced at the racket. Black Jack simply growled, "Oh shuddup!"


But Brendan wasn't quite finished, taking a powerful swing and burying the axe into the closest tree trunk, "An' then it's too late."


Billy observed the swing and the workings of Brendan's biceps and torso, then felt a twinge of jealousy when his own frame did not compare. Well, the other man was older afterall.  As for Greer, he huffed, "No Injun was born who can sneak up on me."


Blackjack lit his cigarette and ground the match into the wagon seat, "Besides any Injun who'd hit you in the head couldn't possibly do you any harm, nothin' up there to hurt."


That amused Billy but obviously not Greer who dared not backtalk the gunslinger. None of them had seen Blackjack in action but the way he carried that gun of his and the look in his eyes , no one wanted to mess with the fellow.


"Get to work, boys! That firewood won't chop and load itself now," Blackjack ordered.


Billy hissed, "You watch, Bren, it'll end up bein' you n' me who'll do most of the work today."


"Isn't it always?" Brendan grumbled as he yanked the axe free and swung again. "I betcha Greer never gets a swing in and Blackie stays on the wagon."


Barely a quarter hour passed when Greer paused to pull out an already filthy rag that passed for a handkerchief and mopped his brow, he was totally sick of this chore already. Glancing at the two younger ones, he figured let them do this sorta nonsense. Then he stared out at the skyline, Montana was a place for magnificent views. And had an idea!


"Sonofabitch! Lookee that!" he dramatically pointed in a general direction, dropping his axe.


Billy looked, but at what he had no clue or where? He didn't see anything. Blackjack had been dozing and woke with a start.




That helped nothing, it was as if he alone could see what he was jabbering about.  Greer now impulsively headed for his horse.


"I just saw me a big ol' deer. A nice fat doe!  I'll go shoot her and we'll have us a grand ol' supper!" Greer chortled then clambered onto his mount.


Billy just stared, he still saw nothing, no movement even. And then he knew. Greer was lying.


Blackjack sat up straight by then busying himself with stamping out the final ashes of the cigarette which had fell from his mouth to the wagon floor. Greer was racing off as he belatedly spoke.


"Now where you goin"?"


Billy just rolled his eyes and glanced over to Brendan. He figured Brendan had known Greer long enough by now to figure it all out too.


Not that it mattered what any of them knew or didn't know. Greer was racing off chasing his invisible deer.


Greer.jpg                  forgecharforstory1.jpg




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Brendan snickered at Blackjack's comment about Greer's lack of brains and got to work. He and Billy made a good team. Even though the other, younger man could be lazy, they worked well together since Brendan didn't get on his case like the other hands who actually cared about their work (few of them as there were) might have.


He nearly jumped out of his skin when Greer yelled, and tried to see whatever he was looking at. But there was nothing there, not even when he squinted. But as soon as the man got on his horse and started to ride away, he knew what was up. Greer wouldn't be back until he knew all the work was done. Brendan rolled his eyes and exchanged a knowing glance with Billy.


"Wouldn't it be somethin' if there actually was a doe," he grumbled as he started splitting one of the trees he and Billy had cut. "But he'll be back with nothin'. It'd serve him right if his horse threw him."


@Wayfarer @Longshot

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"Wouldn't it be somethin' if there actually was a doe," Brendan grumbled as he started splitting one of the trees he and Billy had cut. "But he'll be back with nothin'. It'd serve him right if his horse threw him."


"The odds of him hitting the damn deer even if he did see one are pretty slim to none. He's a rotten shot," Billy declared with a grunt as he then whacked at the fallen tree. He was going to be really sore the next morning, all this heavy work was not for him. Of course this whole task would be over with a whole lot sooner if they actually had FOUR people working on it.


He turned to sneak a glance up at Blackjack still sitting upon  the buckboard, he was sipping from one of the canteens they had brought along.


"Thirsty work there?" Billy couldn't resist some sarcasm.


"Damn right, hotter than hell today," Blackjack stated the obvious but didn't offer any to the other hands.


badguysagas01.jpg          forgecharforstory1.jpg

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Once Greer got out of sight of the other three hands, he pulled on the reins and eased the horse into a much slower pace. His plan was simple, wander around for ...oh maybe a few hours, then head back and sadly report he lost the deer and there would be no venison for supper tonight. He thought it was a pretty clever plan and here Billy always thought him an idiot.


He didn't get all that far when his eyes caught sight of some sort of movement up ahead, he was up on a rolling hill crest amongst some scattered trees and down below was a fair stretch of wild grassland. Sure enough there was a rider moving parallel to him, no more than ....maybe a good hundred yards off. He halted then grunted. There was something about that rider?


Dismounting he took a longer look. Wait! Talk about blind luck! That was certainly none other than that high and mighty Lost Lake big shot, Quentin Cantrell. The very man who slugged him hard in the beer tent brawl of last fall and now lately who pistol whipped him for no reason at all on Main Street, Kalispell. And then it turned out it was HE not Cantrell who got arrested! There was no justice.


Ever since he had sworn revenge, he'd told any Evergreen hands who would listen. Billy just scoffed. Another hand even laughed. It was because of men like Cantrell that he never got any respect in this world. 


But this was a golden opportunity, he might never get a better chance than this. He now pulled his Henry rifle from it's leather scabbard. Wiping his brow of sweat, he then brought the long gun up and aimed. The man had no inkling he was even about to die. Greer smiled to himself then pulled the trigger.



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Quentin Cantrell let Paladin find his own way down the side of the hill. The horse wound its way along the unstable slope until the ground flattened out at the bottom. Quentin turned Paladin to let the horse continue his pace but moving to cross the open meadow. The day already promised to be hot and Quentin had already learned how hot even a Montana summer can be.


After word of the Little Big Horn had reached Kalispell and the surrounding area, everyone was seeing Indians behind every tree and under every rock. The Lost Lake people were understandable worried after reading the lurid news stories and hearing the rampant gossip about the "Rampant Indian Uprising". Quentin did not consider himself an Indian expert, but he knew from his few dealings with the ones in this area that they weren't given to bloodthirsty rampages and his travels around the West in the past had shown him that the white man's idea of a "Savage Indian" usually started with something the white people did to them that made them so angry they were goaded into action.


But, regardless, Lost Lake was partly his and he was not about to take a chance on any Indian groups laying in wait on the land or massing to maybe attack the ranch or Kalispell. Quentin and Shade had organized the hands to act as scouts, riding out along the edges of the land looking for any signs of Indians, either camping or passing through. If they were to find such signs, they would immediately send riders into town and to the nearby fort to spread the alarm. So far, thankfully, nothing had been seen, either actual or sign of marauding Indians. Quentin had felt the nice morning air and decided to take one of the scout trips for himself, but the climbing sun was reminding him of how bad an idea it could be even this far north.


Quentin tugged rein and Paladin stopped in the meadow. Quentin sat his horse as Paladin fed on some of the summer grass and Quentin reached down and tugged one of his canteens loose. He twisted the cap off and lifted it up to take a drink. His head tipped back and he lifted the canteen just in time for the .44 rimfire round to smash into it. Water went everywhere and the canteen was smacked from his grasp at the same time the report of the rifle reached Quentin's ears. Reflex threw him to the side and he let himself fall from the saddle. Paladin bucked and neighed and hopped sideways as he felt Quentin fall. His horse was too well trained to flee and simply loped a few yards away to look back at his owner laying in the knee high grass.


Quentin lay sprawled in the grass, his Smith in his hand as he peered through the blades of grass back toward the direction the shot came from. His eyes narrowed as he watched carefully...gaze moving from left to right slowly before he saw the mounted man in the distance. Quentin squinted as the rider lowered his rifle to work the action and then it hit him as he saw the balding head...Greer. Quentin muttered a string of curses after deciding that he definitely should have shot that sonofabitch in the street that night.


Bringing the Smith up, Quentin aimed above Greer and let loose a few shots. He figured the sound of rounds passing by should keep Greer honest until he could figure out his next move.



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There was the crack of the shot, his rifle kicked a bit, and Greer quickly squinted to see if he'd hit his target. For just a few seconds, his hopes were skyrocketing. Bits of something flew, maybe from Cantrell's skull, and the man dropped off his horse! This triumph would more than make up for his embarrassing miss when he tried to pick off that damned Redmond girl. He levered his Henry as he now looked forward to heading over to the corpse and pick up some nice loot. The man was rich afterall, well HAD been rich.


But all that dissolved in an instant as three shots rang out. None came close to hitting him but it was plain even to the rather dim Greer who was shooting at him. Cantrell was alive!  Greer now had a quick decision to make. Had he thought it thru, he might have realized he still had the range on the man, rifle versus revolver, but he instantly reverted to type. Greer was essentially a coward, bullying and bushwhacking were his tactics and the idea of a stand up fight did not appeal.


He quickly half leveled the rifle and snapped off a shot at Cantrell's horse in the desperate hope he might bring the animal down and prevent pursuit.  Then he yanked on the reins and his mount turned about. He made his choice. Ride straight back to the others. Maybe Cantrell wouldn't chase him, especially with an injured horse? But if he did, there were three others back there at the wood detail. Four against one. That bastard wouldn't stand a chance.


Greer disappeared over the crest.





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Brendan had finally had enough of being the only one to be working besides Billy. He'd never been good with authority anyway, and watching Blackjack sit and drink water was the straw that broke the camel's back. (There wasn't a reason he couldn't have stopped to drink water before now, but that was beside the point.)


With his axe still in hand, he trudged over to pick up his shirt and headed back for the wagon, where he picked up one of the extra canteens and took a long drink, staring at Blackjack the whole time. He finally looked away and stretched to get the kinks out of his neck, arms, and back, groaning softly.


Suddenly he had an idea. His eyebrows shot up and his lips twitched. It was a good idea.


"If it's so hot," he said finally, "why don't ya cool off a little?" His free hand shot out and knocked the canteen up so that the water would hopefully spill out onto Blackjack's clothes. Yes, it was a waste of water. Yes, it would make the supposedly famed gunfighter mad at him. No, he wasn't thinking about that as he acted. Yes, it felt good to do that.


But before Brendan could move to get out of the way of Blackjack's wrath, a shot rang out. And then three more. And then a fourth. Even Greer wasn't that bad of a shot to miss that many times, or that stupid to keep shooting at a deer that had already gotten away.


And the shots sounded different, too. The first and the last were definitely Greer's rifle. Something wasn't right. Brendan dropped his axe beside the wagon and glanced at Billy, then at Blackjack. He was the oldest, after all, and would know what to do.

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Quentin finished reloading the Smith and snapped it shut. He looked back over at Paladin as another shot rang out. Quentin ducked but he also saw Paladin neigh and dance with a sudden motion. He had heard the faint snap of a round passing by but it didn't seem close to him.  Hoof beats carried to Quentin's ears and he craned his head up to glimpse the horse disappearing over a nearby hilltop. Quentin exhaled and stood, shoving his revolver back into its holster. He then jogged over to Paladin, giving the horse a quick looking over but he didn't see any wounds or blood. Quentin swung up into the saddle and reined Paladin around before spurring him off in the direction Greer had ridden off.


Several seconds Quentin crested the rise and off in the distance he could see Greer. He was leaned back, hanging on to the reins as his horse galloped furiously. The man looked like a pile of clothes flying in the same direction as his horse, not like a man riding a horse. Quentin smiled and leaned over, arms down to the sides holding Paladin's reins as he lightly kicked his heels. Paladin stretched his own neck out as his feet erupted. The horse's powerful legs gathering and leaping in unison and the animal literally leaped from a lope to a flat out run. Quentin's eyes widened a bit and he held on tighter as his horse began to close the distance on the rider in the distance...this wouldn't take long...


@Wayfarer @Bailey

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"If it's so hot," Brendan said finally, "why don't ya cool off a little?"


Blackjack was only lightly splashed on his trousers and no big deal as it truly was stifling hot this day but the surly gunman did not take it well. It was a deliberate disrespect and from  this young cowboy who really should know better. Guess he was going to have to teach him the error of his ways.  Only that's when the shooting started. One shot then more. He was knowledgeable about guns and it was both rifle and revolver shots. What the hell?




At first shot Billy figured he had been wrong about Greer, the man had indeed seen a deer and now was shooting it. Only the next three shots did not make sense.  He lowered his axe, "Injuns?"  God, he hoped not. They'd wiped out a whole mess of cavalry boys. What chance would they have?




Greer turned his head to look behind him and soon he saw that Cantrell was pursuing and he was closing the distance too. There was no thought of doing anything other than reaching help so he kicked hard on his mount's flanks. Thundering over a small rise, there was the treeline ahead and the wood wagon!  He began shouting at the top of his voice.






All eyes were on Greer now and he looked like the devil himself was chasing him the way he spurred his horse on. Pulling up then, he half dismounted, half fell to the ground, losing the grip on his Henry rifle but he scrambled to his feet just short of the wagon.


"What the hell?" Billy greeted him.  Blackjack was about to say something even worse.


"HE'S COMIN' TA KILL US!  RIGHT BEHIND ME! HE BUSHWHACKED ME AND ALMOST KILLED ME!"  Greer babbled on loudly even as he picked up his weapon.


"Who are you talking about?" snarled Blackjack.


"CANTRELL!  HIM!"  Greer could now point to the rider who had just galloped hard over the rise.


Blackjack blinked. Cantrell? Quentin Cantrell? He knew that man from some years back. Another time it seemed, a range war and they'd been working opposite sides. That man had been a hard one, not one to trifle with. Not good memories those. He hated Quentin Cantrell with a passion.


If there had been more time, he would have grilled Greer with more questions but to the experienced gunman, the course of action was obvious. If Cantrell wanted a fight, he was more than happy to oblige. In fact, if they killed this bastard, Steelgrave might even give them...more importantly HIM a bonus!


"Grab yer guns, boys! NOW!" he ordered even as he reached for his Winchester next to the drivers seat of the wagon.


If he had questions, Billy had even more but again no time to ask 'em!  How had Greer run into Cantrell? The first shot sounded like Greer's Henry? And now they were gonna be in a fight?


There had always been a feeling amongst the Evergreen crew that a range war with the Lost Lake ranch was inevitable. Steelgrave had hired more gunmen than cowboys it seemed. Thus Blackjack! And Billy well remembered the hard beating Shade Thornton had dealt out to him in the beer tent. Cantrell had punched out Greer then too. And not that long ago, the man had pistol whipped Greer and then pointed the gun right into Billy's own face looking quite prepared to shoot him. And now that every same man was coming for them?


Billy let go of the axe and raced for the wagon too in order to grab for his Spencer carbine, an older model weapon but it had been cheap and it's not like he was a professional gunman. His holster was next to the Spencer but he wasn't about to take time to put it on, he just yanked out the Single Action Army revolver and shoved it in his waistline. He couldn't believe this was even happening!


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Billy's first guess at the source of the shots - Indians - couldn't be right. Could it? Apparently not. Greer came barrelling toward them, yelling fit to raise the dead. He'd been bushwhacked? And his attacker was following him? Well, they'd just have to help Greer out and scare whoever it was off. But as Greer became slightly more coherent, the identity of the man who'd bushwhacked him made Brendan slightly less sure that "scaring off" was a good idea.


"Cantrell? Gee-hosephat." The words came from his mouth with the low, rough sound of a swear word. He'd heard from Billy and Greer - multiple times - about their grievances with the man from Lost Lake.


With a glance at Billy, Brendan grabbed his holster and hurriedly strapped it around his waist, then snatched up his rifle. It was an old "Mississippi" rifle he'd bought from his father before heading west, quite appropriate given Arabella's nickname for him. Why was he thinking of Arabella just now?


His heart was pounding already and his hands were sweaty. Well, all of him was sweaty, but he was conscious of the slickness of his hands on his rifle. He moved around the wagon to the side that was further into the trees and hiked his rifle up in one arm, using the other to untether his horse's reins from the branch.


Cantrell was coming closer.


"Blackjack?" He was surprised his voice was as steady as it was. "Are we fightin'?"


Cantrell had tried to bushwhack Greer, so by all rights they should return the favor. But something just didn't feel right. He'd never actually shot anyone before.

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Quentin came up over the next rise and saw the wagon and he could faintly hear Greer screaming like a woman as he headed for it. A quick impression of men moving around the wagon told Quentin that the odds looked to be about to change against him. Quentin leaned back, pulling the reins and Paladin's head came up, back legs spreading as his front planted. The horse slid several yards on the grass and then Quentin yanked him around, spurring to the left and back behind the crest and below the level of the hill. He slid from the saddle and reached, dragging his Winchester from the scabbard and he patted a hand on the horse's rump. Paladin trotted down the hill toward the small valley behind as Quentin worked the lever as he crept back toward the crest. He dropped to all fours and reached to set his hat beside him as he eased up carefully, looking toward the treeline and seeing everyone was behind cover. Quentin chewed on his lip a moment as he considered his options, then he took a breath.




@Wayfarer @Bailey

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"Blackjack? Are we fightin'?"


Blackjack gave Brendan one of his fearsome glares, "We aren't paid to have these guns and go dancin'."


Greer echoed, "Yeah, we can take him! There's four of us now!"


The oncoming rider now had realized what he was getting into and quickly turned to high tail back over the rise while the men talked. By the time all of them were now armed and dangerous, the man was out of sight.

Blackjack was disappointed,  figuring Cantrell was riding away now as fast as his horse could take him. That assumption proved incorrect.




Billy glared at Greer, "Jeezus, I figured so!"


Greer glared right back, "He's lyin'."


Blackjack hushed them both, "It don't matter none now. I know this Cantrell from a past we shared. He is gonna kill us all. Don't you think he's gonna just take us back inta town where it's our words against his. No, he is a killer...I oughtta know. I'm one too."


Now he shouted back as loudly as he could.








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Blackjack hushed them both, "It don't matter none now. I know this Cantrell from a past we shared. He is gonna kill us all. Don't you think he's gonna just take us back inta town where it's our words against his. No, he is a killer...I oughtta know. I'm one too."


Now he shouted back as loudly as he could.






Cantrell's head reared back a bit as he thought about what the man said. After a few seconds his eyes widened in recognition.






Blackjack smirked then yelled back, "WHO IS THE FOOL HERE? IT'S ONE AGAINST FOUR!  WE LIKE OUR CHANCES!"


Greer started up a disturbing chuckling.




Billy stared at their self-appointed leader so Blackjack turned to the others and explained, "He and his bushwhacked us."


Brendan shook his head resignedly and adjusted his grip on his rifle. "Hell, why'd you get us into this, Greer?"


Greer huffed, "I got bushwhacked too!"


Brendan searched the rise with his eyes to see if he could see where Quentin was hiding. "Ain't you gonna answer him, Blackjack?"


Blackjack now raised his Winchester to his shoulder and looked down the sights, aiming it up along the crestline, "I'll answer him alright. Let's give the sonofabitch a reply he'll understand!"


Then he opened fire, pumping three rounds up there as fast as he could work the lever and bring the rifle up to aim the next shot. Greer joined in too, firing a couple shots too.


Quentin was just raising his head back up to take a look when the first shot rang out. It was joined by others and what had to be at least one more rifle. He ducked back down as he heard a few faint snaps as the rounds passed nearby but not too near. It looked like they had no idea where he was at the moment and were just fishing. Quentin rolled onto his stomach and crawled up just to the crest. He rested the Winchester on the edge, left hand cradling the forearm as he settled behind the stock. Quentin looked the wagon over and saw the drifting smoke from two spots...figuring that might be Greer and Jack. Quentin kept watching and soon saw at least two more movements. He nodded to himself. Those two might not be so eager to participate in a gunfight.


Quentin sighted and exhaled, then his finger curled around the trigger. The Winchester puffed a small cloud of white smoke as he fired at the one with what looked like an old muzzle loader. He glimpsed wood fly as the round struck near him but Quentin wasn't looking to kill anyone who didn't buy a ticket to this dance. He worked the lever a few more times, sending a total of three rounds into the wagon side and frame. After the last shot he crawled back below the crest and began crawling to the right, taking his hat with him because he knew bullets would be coming back at the spot the smoke came from.


So far only Blackjack and Greer were firing. Billy was just standing behind the wagon, taking in this first time situation for him, he was in an actual gunfight where people were trying to kill people? It was a lot to grasp.


A shot now struck the wagon, much closer to Brendan though than him. Still, he couldn't help but flinch. Another two shots whacked into the wooden sides of the wagon then. One of them caused a few splinters to fly and one struck him in his bare chest.


"Ow!" it stung but nothing more than a scratch as he glanced down. Still he knelt then by the back wheel.


Blackjack snapped at the pair, "Don't just stand there you idiots. Gonna let yerself get shot down like dogs. Shoot back!"


Billy now took a deep breath, cocked back the Spencer and popped up. Resting the carbine on the wagon he then fired at the smoke on the horizon. Since his was a single shot he ducked back down to lever it and recock it.


Meanwhile Greer blazed away like a madman, he was using up his magazine capacity at a quick rate.


Brendan heard the whine of a bullet and flinched as a few splinters grazed his cheek. "Shit!" He fired a shot in the direction of the smoke from Quentin's shots and then ducked down behind the wagon and swiped his arm across his face. His bicep was bloody in two places when he looked at it: one from his face and one from a splinter in his arm.


Greer and Blackjack seemed to be holding down the fort all right, so he edged around them to the front of the wagon and started undoing the harnesses of the horses. He didn't think any of the other men would think about the horses, but he didn't want them in harm's way. He slapped their rumps to get them moving and then crawled back beside Billy, working to reload his gun.


"We shoulda just given him Greer," he muttered quietly.


Billy noticed Brendan got hit with splinters too, the drawback of using the wagon for cover it seemed. As for the man's opinion...


"Not gonna happen," Billy didn't like Greer much and hadn't for a long time now but he wasn't prepared to turn on him.


Quentin lifted his head up from the rifle, moving his finger from the trigger as he watched the young man shooing the wagon's team out of danger. He exhaled....No, that one isn't in this for the fight. Another round came from the wagon and Quentin's eyes narrowed. He swung the rifle around and fired off a few rounds, sending them at Greer with a lot less worry about where they will hit.


(Start a new post?)


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Greer now ducked as bullets whizzed close to his position, that finally stopped his mad firing.



"He's too far away, we can't hit him from here!" he carped to Blackjack.




"Oh, it's a hard shot but not impossible. It's not the range though, he's in a good spot up there, we're gonna have to flank him then catch him in a crossfire," the veteran gunman now figured aloud.


He also spared a few precious seconds to berate Brendan, "Never mind the goddamn horses! Cantrell's out to kill US not THEM, you idiot!"


Billy popped up then and snapped off a barely aimed shot in the direction of the latest smoke puff on the rise, figuring just maybe he'd get lucky. Not that luck was something that hung around much with him in his young life.



Blackjack followed up that shot with one of his own, although considerably better aimed before dropping down behind the wagon once more. He well knew it was a real risk to expose oneself for too long with a shot like Cantrell. He had to think now on a plan to change this standoff.


Quentin lay below the level of the ridge, thumbing rounds into the Winchester to refill the magazine. He then eased back up slowly to look back at the wagon. He could see just a little motion as the four men milled around in the dubious shelter of the wagon. Quentin smiled to himself and pushed the rifle forward again. He aimed, then lowered the barrel before he fired two more times. His rounds kicked up a spout of dirt between Greer and Laine, then the other round smacked into one of the wheel spokes near Greer.


Greer yipped, "Dammit! He almost hit me!" then tried to move more to the center behind the wagon. This place was getting less safe by the minute.


Brendan glared back at Blackjack. "Don't mean he might not accidentally hit 'em!" He kept a grip on his rifle and hunkered down against the side of the wagon, away from Greer and Blackjack, who seemed to be the target for more of Quentin's shots.


"How're you figurin' on flankin' him if we're stuck here?" he asked after the next barrage of Quentin's faded away. That would require someone or multiple someones to leave cover and get around behind Quentin, and he didn't fancy that. He glanced to where his horse stood, only partially tethered with the rest of the mounts that hadn't been attached to the wagon.


"We're too bunched up here, like fish in a barrel. We got the numbers but we need to make use of 'em," Blackjack remarked.


"Alright, here's the plan! Just lissen up and do what yer told," he now began.


"Billy, you go left and try to get up there ...stay among the trees and work your way up on his flank. Brendan, same thing only you go right. You both got cover on the way up, just use it. Me'n Greer got the repeaters so we will give ya coverin' fire. Then once you get over the rise he'll be trapped like the meat in a sandwich."


Greer nodded, "Makes sense, good plan!"


Billy frowned, "You don't have to be the one doin' the flankin'."


Blackjack snapped, "You two are faster, we got the better guns. Don't be a coward, boy. Steelgrave won't tolerate no cowards."


Billy nodded, "Fine! I'll do it."  He was young and quick and agile, yeah he could make it up there by going from tree to tree.


Blackjack turned to Brendan, "Enough talk!  GO! "


The veteran gunman now stood and began firing at a rapid rate up where he believed Cantrell to be. Greer was up there a few seconds later also blazing away.


Billy took a deep breath, gripped his carbine and broke for it from the wagon toward the closest tree trunk maybe twenty yards away.


Quentin's eyes narrowed as he watched from a different spot than his last shots. He heard the random rounds passing over the crest or kicking up dirt. He saw one younger one take off to his left heading for the dubious cover of some trees and he glimpsed that young hand from that night in town heading in the other direction. Quentin considered the flanking taking place and decided on the simplest solution...fall back.


Quentin turned and stuck his hat on his head and hop/slid down to the bottom of the hill. He hopped into Paladin's saddle and spurred the horse up the next roll of ground behind the crest he had been firing from. He spared a quick glance to each side but could not see either man. Paladin topped the crest and Quentin reined in and dismounted. He patted Paladin to send him down the hill once more but this time Quentin took off, moving along the hill to one side where he had seen the hand who had protected the horses moving to encircle him. Quentin kept moving until the hill rolled lower. He then stopped, going to one knee and watching for his target to appear around the next curve of ground ahead of him.


Brendan scowled at Blackjack's back and then shrugged. He was in this mess now, he might as well try to help the rest of the hands out. He counted to three in his head and then bolted from behind the wagon to the nearest tree. He knew he had time to move while Greer and Blackjack were keeping Quentin pinned down, but he didn't know how much time he had.


He crested the rise and saw no one.


By now both Blackjack and Greer had halted their covering fire, in fact Greer was muttering as his Henry was out of ammo.


 Brendan's spine prickled as he reluctantly left the cover of the trees and inched his way downward, trying to use the few shrubs and spindly trees for cover. He gripped his rifle in one hand and slid it along next to him. Then, as he rounded a hill, he came face to face with Quentin. He started to bring his gun up instinctively, then realized that he was too late. Quentin had the jump on him.


Quentin had been looking over to his left checking to see if Billy was getting near when he heard a sound and he looked back to his front to see The young hand come around the side of the hill. The younger man's eyes locked with Quentin's and he moved to bring up his breech loader.


Quentin had hoped to speak to the young man but seeing the Sharps coming up he swore to himself and brought up the Winchester. He moved the sights from the man's chest at the last moment and fired to the side. He saw a puff of red erupt from the man's left arm. The shot spun him as he had already been trying to retreat. Quentin knelt in case of a return shot but couldn't see him now. Quentin looked around before he spoke.


"Boy! I don't want to kill you...my fight isn't with you!"


By this time a good hundred yards off, Billy had now reached what he had hoped would be a good flanking position and cautiously crouched as he went over the crestline, Sharps leveled for any sight of the Lost Lake gunman. But nothing? What the hell? Had Cantrell just plain rode off and decided to live to fight another day?  That's when he heard a single shot. The direction was way to his front now and seemingly behind yet another rolling hillside.


Where was Brendan? Was that Brendan who fired that shot? Maybe he got lucky and killed Cantrell. God, Billy sure hoped so!  Of course there was another possibility. Cantrell had shot Brendan.


Billy dropped to one knee to think of what to do next? Should he stand up again on this crest and yell down to Blackjack and Greer to tell there is no sign of Cantrell. Though one of them might open up on him by mistake.  Or should he try for the next crest? Check to see if Brendan or Cantrell were on the other side? For the moment he slapped at a pesky mosquito that had landed on his bare chest and did nothing.


Back down by the wagon, Blackjack was shoving some further cartridges into his Winchester at least while Greer just stood there, both men listening. They too only heard quiet, one single shot, then quiet again.


"What do we do now? Go up there?" Greer asked.


"No, we wait. Patience. We got two of ours who went up and over," Blackjack decided.


@Bailey  @Longshot @Wayfarer


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Brendan went down with a muffled cry as the shot from Quentin's Winchester tore into his arm. The impact of the bullet spun him around and left him face-down in the prickly grass. He lifted his head, his heart pounding, and stared dazedly at the blood coming from his arm. It hurt. It really hurt.


As he grabbed his arm below where the bullet had gone in, he heard Quentin's voice. If Quentin's fight wasn't with him, then why had the man shot him? Brendan gritted his teeth and tried to scoot backwards a little bit. There was no way he could use his rifle now with only one good arm. Luckily he had thought to fasten on his holster before he left the wagon, so he had his Colt if he needed it.


The smart thing to do would be get away as fast as he could, but for some reason he found himself thinking about Billy. What if Quentin tried to ambush him the same way? He sat up as much as he could without showing his head over the rise and put his back against the hill. He eased his Colt from the holster and cocked it, rested it over his legs. It was hard to focus on anything but his arm.


"What about Billy?" He called to the unseen Quentin. "You lookin' to kill him?" If he could keep Quentin distracted, there was a possibility that Billy could sneak up on him. A slim possibility, but a possibility just the same.


"You and Billy need to be quit of the likes of Greer and Jack..." Quentin said as he eased closer, trying to see over the curve of ground. He knew Billy had gone down almost where he had seen him. "...Those two idiots are only out for themselves. You two keep following them and it's only going to end up with a cell, a bullet, or a rope...you understand what I am telling you?"


"Looks like I already got the bullet...but I understand," Brendan called grudgingly. He knew Quentin was trying to tell him to get while the getting was good. He scowled at his pistol and then stuck it back in its holster.


As the two exchanged words, Billy had decided he needed to do something, anything rather then remain where he was. For one thing he was rather exposed in the open. So he decided to take his chances over the next crest. He wanted to find Brendan and it seemed very possible Cantrell had ridden off anyhow. Gripping his Spencer once more and ready to fire at the slightest provocation, he now made his up to the crest then mumbled to himself, "This is so stupid."


And then he was up and over. Couldn't have been more than thirty forty yards away to his right there was Cantrell!  From where he was he still couldn't spot a prone Brendan.  Immediately Billy raised his carbine and fired way too fast. There was a sapling not ten yards from him so he raced to that and tried to scrunch behind the rather dubious cover it provided.


Quentin was trying to move closer to Brendan when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He saw Billy a moment before he disappeared in a cloud of white smoke. Quentin threw himself flat as the round passed by near him. He raised the Winchester and covered Billy as he ran to try and cover behind a thin tree on the hill side. "Dammit, Billy, drop that gun!..."


Quentin swore to himself as he could see BIlly still trying to work the lever of the Spencer. He threw a glance at Brendan's location to make sure he wasn't trying something foolish also. He then aimed at Billy and fired, the round tearing a chunk from the sapling before digging a deep crease in Billy's thigh.


"Owww!" Billy winced then glanced down to where the pain was coming from, his trousers were torn and there was blood.


Brendan was about to open his mouth again when he heard a shot. He threw himself back down a second time, jarring his wounded arm. As he lay there gritting his teeth against the pain, he had heard Quentin's exclamation and another shot. Did that mean Billy was shot, too? "BILLY!?" He risked a peek over the edge of the rise, his heart pounding again.


Billy heard the familiar voice but pinned behind the pathetic cover that the sapling was providing he obviously could not see where Brendan was or even how close? Least he was still alive. That was some encouragement.


"I hear ya, Bren!" he yelled out then decided to do some yelling back at the Lost Lake man.


"I ain't droppin my guns, Cantrell! I don't trust you. You were ready to shoot me in town that time and I hadn't even done nothin'. Now we been shootin' at you. If you want my guns, yer gonna have to kill me!"


Billy adjusted some so his injured leg wasn't at all visible but the sapling still wasn't covering all of him. Despite his defiant words Billy was scared and desperately trying to think of what he could do to get out of this mess. If he could only manage to get a few decent shots at the man, he might still wiggle his way out of this. Or if Blackjack and Greer would get their asses up here.


Quentin curled his arms up, knuckles white on the rifle as he shook his head in disgust. "I judged you by your company, Billy! Even you can't be that big an amigo of Greer's to not understand..." Quentin took a glance in both men's directions. "...Please don't make me kill you...either one of you."


Billy heard the man but his mind was so jumbled up with what to do next, it was hard to concentrate. He was angry, he was scared, he was now bleeding even. And his situation was a poor one. The Spencer was too big (rather long) for being used behind this sapling. He still has his revolver though.  He thought of something then.


"Hey! If I throw down my rifle, you put yers down too?" he shouted out an offer.


Quentin sighed. He had heard this ploy more than once, but he was willing to give anything a try to keep Billy alive. He lowered the hammer on the Winchester and set it on the ground in front of him. He stood as his right arm moved over and pushed the hammer loop off the Smith, leaving it ready to draw as he spoke.


"Okay Billy...We'll play it your way. I put my rifle down..." Quentin closed his eyes a moment in defeat before he opened them back to watch Billy's next move...


Now Billy had been lied to most of his young life and he pretty much expected that's how people were. In truth he lied plenty himself. So he considered what he was about to do just the best possible move he had to try and turn the tables on this gunman. Some might call it a double cross. But he was desperate.


Billy now peered worriedly around the tree half fearing a rifle shot aimed at his head. But the man had laid his rifle down!  That was a break in his favor. Billy now stepped out with one hand, his left, up in the air, though his right held the just cocked SA Army Colt behind him.


"See.....we can settle this peaceable like," Billy tried to flash that charming grin of his but he was too nervous to make it convincing.


He took a couple of steps closer, wanting to close the range as much as possible.


Quentin could see it the moment the young man came out from behind the tree. The stuttering walk, the nervous expression...then Quentin's eyes caught his right arm and hand held down and behind his leg, Quentin's expression hardened.


"Billy, put the gun down or I will kill you where you stand. I am not joking...do it now!" Quentin's hand closed on the butt of his Smith but he did not draw, his body partly crouching, the familiar stance he had perfected over the years until it was second nature...



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"Billy, put the gun down or I will kill you where you stand. I am not joking...do it now!" Quentin's hand closed on the butt of his Smith but he did not draw, his body partly crouching, the familiar stance he had perfected over the years until it was second nature...


A part of Billy screamed to do just that, drop the damn gun and throw his hands up. But he was committed now, giving up would mean his job at Evergreen would be gone and even worse, the gunmen who worked for Steelgrave might decide to kill him for chickening out. And Billy was no coward, he didn't want people thinking he was a coward, he had a bad enough reputation as it was.


"Oh...this?" Billy brought the revolver up into sight from behind his back and held it up, still smiling and trying to act all friendly, even as he took a further few steps, "It's jammed, it missfired."


Billy was about fifteen yards away now, close enough to clearly see the rivulets of sweat trickling down his bare chest and a slight shaking of his gun hand. Billy himself felt like his heart was pounding so hard that it was going to explode. But he was close enough now for a chance...




The smile disappeared in a flash as Billy suddenly leveled the pistol at Cantrell to fire, "Sorry!"


Quentin's pistol roared from waist level. He didn't even feel the draw but he knew it had happened. Years of practice and then use of the skill had caused it to be something he could let happen based on what he saw in front of him, sometimes even before his conscious mind had processed the need to do it.


The first bullet hit Billy in the belly, just under his rib cage.  Billy jerked, it felt like a hard punch only much sharper.


Quentin's draw continued up until his arm was extended, his eyes falling along the barrel and sights as he covered Billy.


Stunned not just by the wound but by the sheer speed of his opponent's  reflexes,  Billy gamely tried to fight back, once more trying to level to squeeze off his own shot.


He saw Billy stagger back a step, then he began to straighten, arm unsteady but trying to swing back up to fire his pistol. Quentin's thumb dragged back the hammer and he fired again.


Billy was hit again, the bullet making a deadly hole in his right chest just below his nipple. The impact was enough to drop the weapon, the still unfired Colt landing on the ground with a thump and thankfully not firing as the hammer had been fully cocked.


Billy's hand went to his chest, clutching it as if that was going to do any good, his eyes caught Quentin's thru the rising smoke carried away in the light breeze.


"Oh ....jeezus! " there was real fear in his eyes as he took another unsteady step backwards and collapsed on his back.


Quentin watched Billy fall back. He knew there was nothing to be done for Billy...he let the revolver drop down to aim at the ground and his eyes flicked over in the direction Brendan was laying. He blinked and then spoke. "Brendan! See to your friend...I won't fire..."


It took Brendan a moment to realize what Quentin had said. He shook his head quickly, then pulled his pistol out of his holster, tossed it on the ground near his rifle, and raised his good arm so Quentin could see he wasn't going to try anything like Billy had. "I'm comin', Cantrell." His voice was unsteady and he felt like he was going to be sick.


He stumbled over the hill, past Quentin, and over to where Billy lay. Gosh, that was a lot of blood. It had to hurt something awful. Getting gutshot was supposed to be one of the worst ways to die. Lucky for Billy, Quentin had shot him twice.


"H-hey, Billy." He knelt beside his friend uncertainly. He'd watched animals die before, but never a person. "Ya did good," he said after a second in a soothing tone. "I didn't even get a shot off at 'im."


Billy winced up at his friend but it was plain he was still coherent -even thru the pain - to recognized Brendan though his tell tale grin did not appear as he barely nodded.


"It did...not go like it was....supposed to..." he replied in a soft voice, "I'm an idiot."


Then a spasm of intense pain gripped him and he writhed in agony, it was a whimper though not a scream. Billy was a tough young man and his body was plainly fighting the inevitable with all it had.


"Bren.....if he let's ya...you need to get outta here......oh god..." another spasm caused him to puff out his chest and gasp for air.


His eyes remained locked on the other cowpoke, "Leave me. I know I'm not gonna......you know..."


Quentin had moved away from the two to give them time. He broke open his Smith and dumped the empty shells, reloading from his belt and then holstering the pistol. He then bent and picked up his Winchester and began thumbing shells into the loading gate. Once he finished he cradled the rifle in his left arm so it was angled away and posing no threat. Quentin then turned and watched Billy and Brendan...silently cursing Greer and Jack for causing this to happen.


After a few minutes Quentin began to feel like he was an intruder on Brendan and Billy. He  walked over a few steps and spoke to Brendan when he looked up.


"You stay here with Billy. You're safe. I will bring back the wagon for you to use..." Quentin looked down at Billy and met his gaze. "I'm sorry, Billy. I wish this didn't have to happen..."


Quentin then spun and began walking away. His lip curled and he let out a sharp whistle. A minute later Paladin came trotting up from the small valley behind the hill. Quentin patted the horse and shoved his Winchester into the scabbard and he swung up into the saddle. He reined Paladin around and kicked the horse into a steady lope, circling around the lower curve of the hill and moving off in the direction of the wagon.




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"You ain't no idiot," Brendan said fiercely. He grabbed Billy's hand and held it tightly so the other man could have something to squeeze on. He could almost forget the pain in his arm now.


Billy moaned again at another another wave of pain but tried to smile up at his friend, his only real friend. Too many people thought that Greer and him were friends, they never really were. They worked together a lot and that was the only actual tie.


There was someone else speaking, thru the haze of pain and shock Billy looked up at the speaker. It was the man who shot him. He said he was sorry.  Billy slowly nodded, "You n' me both..."


Brendan was startled by Quentin's words and looked up at the gunman, his mind swirling with out-of-control emotions. If Cantrell was so sorry about shooting Billy, why'd he go and do it in the first place? "Thanks," he said finally in a tight voice, then looked away.


He adjusted Billy so his friend's head could rest on his legs. "Hear that, Billy? I'm gonna stay with you." He tried to keep his voice steady.


"Yeah.....ohhh, goddammit..." Billy closed his eyes for a few seconds, wincing before half whispering, "Bren...I want....I need you to do me one last favor."



"Name it," Brendan said, giving Billy's hand a squeeze. "You got any folks you want me to write to?" Not that he would be able to manage that, but he'd give it a go.


"Nobody to write to..." another pained wince as he tried to expand his chest for air, the one bullet had pierced a lung.  Though the belly wound was causing the most pain.


"Bren....you gotta....shoot me....put an end ta this....please," he now begged.


Billy had watched an old cowboy die of a bullet in the guts once and that old fella suffered for hours before finally fading away.  He didn't want to end up going thru all that. He didn't have to be no doctor to know nobody survives bullets and in the chest and in the belly.  If there was no hope, why drag it out?


"Not in the face though," Billy had always gloried in his handsome features and even now it was important to him, "Only good thing God gave me......ohhh, damn....was my good looks."


He coughed then and spit up some blood.


Brendan got a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach, but he mustered a smile. "Sure, Billy. Not in the face." He let go of Billy's hand and moved his head gently from off of his legs. "Gimme a minute. Gotta get my gun."


He ignored Billy's pistol lying not too far off and instead went back to get his own, half-hoping that if he drew it out long enough, the bullet to Billy's chest would finish him off, even though he knew it was too much to hope for.


Billy was now writhing as the stomach wound seemed to worsen but sadly his body refused to give in to the inevitable. His one hand almost clawed the bullet hole in his belly, to no avail of course.


"You sure about this, Billy?" Brendan asked as he came back and knelt beside his friend, the pistol dangling from one hand.


"You n' I both know I'm dyin'! Please, I can't stand it no more..." Billy once more spasmed in agony.


"Then you.....owwwww, you don't go back ta the ranch! Get away from there before ....." he gasped, "before you die too."


"All right, all right. I won't go back." Brendan realized as he said the words that he did need to get away before something like this happened again. He might not make it through a second gun battle.


He straightened up and pointed the gun at Billy's chest, right where his heart should be. "My damn hand's shakin'," he muttered through clenched teeth. "I'm gonna count to three."


"Just don't miss... you lazy..." Billy tried to force a smile but it was all just too painful, even though to the end his happy go lucky sense of humor was still there.


"One." he took a deep breath and tried to steady his hand. "Two..." He took one last glance at Billy's agonized face and then looked up at the sky.


Billy now turned his face to one side, he waited for the end with resignation.


"Three." The brightness of the sun made his eyes water - or were they already watering? - as he pulled the trigger.


Billy's chest had another hole ripped into it as his body jerked, but this third bullet had done what both young men had hoped for. Billy's eyes were still open but he had stopped breathing, he was gone.



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The waiting was wearing on the patience and nerves of both of the men back at the wagon. They were arguing now openly. It was  not knowing what was going on yet occasional shots, the latest two quick ones,  indicating it was certainly not over.



"Pistol shots, those were pistol shots," Blackjack declared.


"So? Our men got pistols too," Greer countered as he paced back and forth, he was losing it with all the suspense.



"Men? They're boys. Bet they never fired a shot in anger," Blackjack huffed.


"You sent 'em up there," Greer retorted.


"Yeah, I did. Better them than me. If you're so damn impatient, you get on yer horse and go help'em then, I still think we wait...for now," Blackjack pointed out.


"No....not me. I'll stick it out here with you. I just wish to hell we would know somethin'.....if this don't beat all," Greer whined.


A short distance away, Quentin watched the two men. He sat Paladin who stood in a rolling fold in the ground, allowing only his head to stick up as he saw Greer and Jack pace and fume around the wagon. Quentin nodded to himself once he was satisfied both men were he had last seen them. He reined Paladin around and trotted back down the small draw. He turned and sat a moment, his right hand reaching and drawing the Colt from its crossdraw holster, thumbing the loading gate open and spinning the cylinder on half cock to check the loads. He closed the gate and stuck it back in its holster and then drew the comforting weight of his Smith, breaking it open to check the loads in it as well. Checking both were habit, and habits either kept you alive or got you killed.


Quentin then straightened, inhaling deeply and his mind went back. How often had he sat in a secluded spot, surrounded by other troopers...readying themselves for a charge or a raid on a supply wagon train...a lot of times the skirmishes he took part in meant nothing to the epic names of various battles, but so very important to those who survived and died during them. Quentin's eyes slowly came back open and his heels dug into Paladin's flanks. The powerful stallion kicked off, his legs leaping him forward and into a gallop.


The horse gained speed quickly. Quentin held the reins in his left hand, Smith out to the side in his right hand as he leaned over, his head down and almost level with his mount as the horse built speed. As Paladin cleared the crest and leveled off heading for the wagon Quentin let out his pent up emotions in a loud screech. All of his anger and frustration erupting from him in the moment of release. The sound almost helped his horse accelerate as Paladin raced toward a spot past the wagon.


"What the hell?" Blackjack turned to see Cantrell mounted a big stallion charging in their direction but not from where they had expected but on the flank.


He quickly swung his Winchester to snap fire at the mounted rider but must have missed. Without waiting to even lever a new round in the chamber the gunman scrambled then to put the wagon between him and the galloping horse now going by.


Greer froze for an instant at the same sight of this loco man charging them from out of nowhere.


Quentin would have taken pleasure in the round eyes that popped open at his appearance. Lots of white around both Jack's and Greer's eyes as they saw him, low on the hurtling horse covering the distance at a frightening pace. The Smith came up, thumb cocking the hammer and he threw a round at Greer, knowing he probably missed but also knowing Greer was born yellow and was probably already wetting himself.


Greer tripped and fell or he would have tried to run off, losing his rifle on the ground.  He didn't even pause to reach for it but cowered as their tormentor galloped on past.


Paladin followed a line to the side of the wagon, still unchecked in his wild gallop. Quentin's arm shifted forward toward Greer and he thumbed off three rounds, letting instinct and years of practice guide his shots rather than what was in front of his sights.


There was a loud pained scream as Greer felt the bullet bite into the back of his upper leg just missing his knee.


Quentin's mount flashed by the wagon and Quentin's arm and body turned like a turret, aiming back behind him as the horse continued on. Quentin fired again at Jack and then he sent a final round further back toward Greer. Quentin tugged the reins and Paladin curved in a half circle, barely slowing his pace as Quentin shoved his Smith back into its holster and his hand flashed over and pulled the shorter barreled Colt, wheeling back toward the wagon with a fresh pistol in hand, cocking the weapon as he watched for his next target, eyes searching the wagon for his quarry.


Both of his targets were on the move too. Greer had forced himself up, ignoring the pain of the wound and limped toward his horse tethered to a close tree. All he could think of was to run!  Escape! Hell with Blackjack or Billy or anyone! He just wanted to live !


Blackjack was made of sterner stuff and cocked then aimed his rifle at Cantrell, ready to squeeze the trigger. He knew just one good shot could drop that sonofabitch off his saddle and then he could finish him.


Quentin tugged Paladin's head and the horse made an incredibly tight turn as he slowed, The Colt came up and Quentin thumbed off two shots. From this distance the shorter barrel didn't matter as he fired at Jack before Paladin had even finished circling.


The first round just missed but the second one shattered Jack's leftside collar bone. He gave a cry of pain and dropped the rifle, staggered back a few steps but a man like him, who had always lived by the gun and never gave an opponent any mercy, would not quit. He then went for the revolver in his holster.


Quentin slowly walked Paladin closer, his eyes flicking back to Greer before returning to Jack. Quentin held his Colt out straight and covered Jack, hammer cocked as he looked the man over.


"You bastard!" Blackjack snap fired thru the pain.


Quentin felt a sting as the bullet cut a line on his left sleeve, parting the fabric like a razor including the skin beneath. He had already responded to the motion and his Colt bucked, sending a round back at Jack but without the difficulty of a moving horse or target. Quentin knew he had hit the moment he fired, his thumb cocking the hammer again in case another shot was needed.


It was not needed as this bullet struck him in the left chest, ripping into the heart muscle and death was almost instantaneous. Blackjack's head rolled back, his gun falling from his grasp, and he lay flat on his back then with sightless eyes still open.


Quentin looked at Jack only another moment, then his eyes and his pistol came up. "Greer...!" Quentin's voice was flat and emotionless as the word whip-cracked between the two men. Quentin waited for him to turn, arm and pistol as unwavering as his expression.


What with all the shooting, Greers horse stampeded as soon as Greer managed to loosen the reins around the branch, the animal also no doubt sensing the terror in it's master too.  Greer cursed as the beast hastened off, he could not chase it even in the best of times let alone with his leg wound.  There was yet another shot and then silence.  That is until he heard  "GREER!"


The panicked cowboy now turned to see Cantrell facing him, sitting on that stallion of his, brandishing a gun, and seething with barely held in check anger.


"No! No! Now don't go shootin' !  I didn' wanna fire at you, Blackjack made me! He ordered me to. I mean...hell, I missed ya on purpose. Don't kill me, I didn' wanna, give ya my word!" he had put his hands up and figured his last hope was to just maybe talk his way out. Sure as hell, shooting hadn't worked!


Quentin shifted and slid off Paladin, moving around the horse and walking toward Greer. "Quiet!..." Quentin snapped, his voice flat as he stopped a few paces away. "Don't you say another word, you mealy mouthed yellow bastard..." Quentin's control faltered a moment and Greer could see the expression that twisted his face for an instant before he resumed his cold facade.


"There are two men laying dead around here, and they are all your fault. You tried to kill me Greer...and because of your small petty little scheme, people died..." Quentin's voice raised suddenly into a roar. "...AND I HAD TO KILL THEM!" Quentin saw Greer wince but he continued in a lower tone.


"Brendan is back there shot...he might be alright, but that's on you, too..." Quentin gave a slight smile, but the expression did not meet his eyes. "...I had tried to put that life behind me when I came here. I wanted to just be a gentleman rancher...raising my sister's kids...maybe find a good woman, but no...Even here there are men like You, and Jack and even Case...men who suck the life out of everyone and everything around them. People like Billy, and Brendan...the people of Whitefish...and now the people of Kalispell..."


Quentin lowered the Smith and paced a few steps back and forth. "...During my travels I found I couldn't fix every problem I came across. Violence couldn't solve everything, and sometimes the issues were just too big for one man to fix..." Quentin came to a stop and turned to face Greer fully. "But here...now, with everything that's at stake, I've decided that I can fix the problems here, because I have something to protect, and people who need protecting..." Quentin's arm swung up and he centered the Colt on Greer's chest. "Goodbye, Greer."


The Colt roared and bucked twice in Quentin's hand, both rounds hitting Greer dead center. Quentin watched as he grabbed his chest and slowly sank to his knees, before he toppled forward with a heavy finality reserved for the dead. Quentin stood there and looked at Greer's body as his hands automatically emptied the spent shells from the Colt and reloaded it, then slid it back into its holster and did the same for the Smith. Quentin then turned to begin cleaning up the area, loading the bodies into the wagon and then tying the mounts to the rear of the wagon and getting the team back into the harness. He then climbed into the seat and clucked the team into motion, the wagon rumbling back in the direction he had left Brendan and Billy.


@Longshot  @Wayfarer

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Quentin's head snapped up at the sound of the shot. He held the wagon reins as it trundled along at a steady pace and his other hand dropped down to the butt of his Colt. He kept listening but heard nothing else. He left the Colt in place and sighed. He could guess what that shot was for so he waited patiently as the wagon covered the distance. Finally he crested the hill and he saw Brendan standing there over Billy. Quentin stopped a few yards away and climbed down. He walked a few steps closer but kept an eye on Brendan. People in his situation weren't beyond doing foolish things. After a minute of looking at the young man, Quentin spoke.


"Brendan...I'm sure Billy is grateful for what you did. I am glad he had a friend with him at the end." Quentin moved closer before he spoke again.


"I need to bring the bodies back to town so we can clear all this up with the Marshal, but I think you should have anything you wish to keep from any of them, including the money..." Quentin gave Brendan a moment after he said that. "You can also have all the horses and saddles...you can sell anything or everything and keep the money. Use it to start fresh. Get away from Evergreen and become your own person, Brendan. You owe it to Billy to make it worth what happened..."


Quentin looked at Brendan and his eyes caught the stain on his shirt. "I should look at that wound before we get started for town. It looks like it's still bleeding."


@Wayfarer @Bailey @Longshot

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Brendan was staring down at Billy's body when he heard the rumbling of the wagon, but his eyes were glued to the ground where his friend lay. His pistol lay beside Billy where he had dropped it from fingers that would not hold onto it anymore. His spine prickled but his senses seemed dulled for some reason. When Quentin finally spoke, he looked up and met the eyes of the older man. 


Some of Quentin's words didn't register with him, but the part about getting away from Evergreen definitely did. Billy had told him to get away, and now Quentin was telling him again. He needed to get away.


"Bodies." He looked down at Billy again and swallowed. "Yeah." He bent down and slid Billy into his arms to pick him up, but realized he couldn't lift him because of his arm. And then Quentin mentioned his arm.


Brendan looked down at his arm and the blood that stained the sleeve of his gaping-open shirt. Funny, he almost didn't remember sliding the shirt back on in the heat of the gun battle. He looked up at Quentin and shook his head slowly. "I'll have someone look at it in town."


At first he couldn't think of who he would have look at it, and then all of a sudden he knew. Caroline. She'd know what to do, or she'd know someone who did. And she would be able to get him whiskey so he could forget.


He knew that he needed to go to town. His eyes snagged on his horse at the rear of the wagon and he took a few steps forward, then paused. "My rifle's over there..." he said, gesturing vaguely at the rise where Quentin had shot him. He meant My rifle's over there and I'm going to get it. Don't shoot me. I want to put Billy in the wagon but I can't lift him. Don't leave him here, but couldn't say all of that. "I'll come into town with you..."


Quentin watched Brendan walk around like a victim of artillery. He listened to the random words he said and watched Brendan start moving in a few directions, but never completing the motions. Finally Quentin sighed and took his good arm to stop him.


"Brendan, stop...get in the wagon and sit. I'll load Billy up, and you can forget about that rifle. Take Jack's. It's better than yours, and same for a handgun. Take one or more of the others. I have a feeling you might need them before this is over..." Quentin helped Brendan up onto the wagon's bench seat then he went over and picked Billy up, carrying him over to the wagon and laying him in beside the other two, covering all three with the canvas that had been in there to cover up the firewood. He then checked Paladin and the other horses tied to the back and they all were secure. He came around and climbed up beside Brendan, giving him a glance and then clucking the team into motion, heading for the nearest trail that led to Kalispell.


Ordinarily Brendan would have bristled at being told what to do and being helped up onto the wagon, but now he was almost glad of it. He didn't have to think. In fact, he was trying not to think: about how close he had come to dying and about how Billy was dead because of him. He was afraid that if he thought about it too much he'd be sick.


"Why...why Billy and not me?" he asked after a while, staring ahead at the trail without really seeing anything. "I came at you first."


Quentin breathed in deeply, then exhaled. "You did, and you got shot for it..." Quentin looked over at Billy as he let the team keep pulling the wagon. "...Billy got shot for what he did also. I am not apologizing for defending myself. You could be laying in the back of that wagon with Billy...or instead of Billy and he could be sitting there in your place."


Quentin rubbed his face tiredly. "Listen, Brendan...people die. People die real easy out here unless you are very careful or very good. You got real lucky today and you better make the most of it."


"Didn't ask for a sermon," Brendan muttered. He looked up at the sky for a minute. The motion of the wagon hurt his arm, but it was also soothing in a way. "How come you're doin' this?" He gestured vaguely at the wagon, bodies, and horses. "How come you just didn't ride off?"


"Because that's not who I am...First of all, that idiot took a shot at me. That was on him and he was going to pay for it. The rest of you were dragged into this by him. Yes, even Jack, although that was a payback several years overdue." Quentin kept watching the road and was quiet for a few breaths. "I made a habit of getting involved. Whether I was asked, or sent for, or I heard about a situation...I would get involved. I always found out about what the particulars were, but once I was as sure as I could be...I would help people..." Quentin then turned to look at Brendan again. "...And this isn't a sermon because I am about as far from a priest as you're going to find in this country. I have some Greers in my past, and more than a few Jacks...and...a few Billys. I would like to think I also have a few Brendans, but I honestly don't know."


It didn't make sense why the man who had shot his friend would try to help him. If Quentin hadn't taken charge, Brendan still might be standing by Billy's body. It wouldn't have been too long before other hands from either Lost Lake, Evergreen, or both ranches showed up to see what had happened, and it wouldn't have looked good to be the only one alive.


Brendan digested this information silently, squinting ahead at the trail to Kalispell. It was still hard to process anything, but his mind was becoming slightly less muddled. Finally he nodded once. "Reckon it's a nuisance gettin' involved sometimes. What...what are we gonna do when we get to town?"


He remembered Quentin saying something about the Marshal, and the horses, and his arm. "There's a gal...works at the saloon...she'll take care of my arm."


Quentin nodded. "If you think that much of her, then she must be the one to help you...saloon it is..."


@Wayfarer @Bailey



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