"The Stranger of Bakers Flat."
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By J.L. Kramer
The stage slowed as it made it's final run
upward along the slope that once on top, would
take it and its passengers into Baker's Flat.
Dust mixed with the sweltering heat of the near
noon hour, reached inward to the passengers,
covering then with a light film of powdery gray,
adding further to their discomfort.
It had been a long journey over and through
wild country. Trails roughened by mother natures
wonders. Trails worsened by travel itself, so much
so, that travel was anything but comfortable, yet it
was the only way, or at least the fastest way of
getting from the east to the western lands.
To the passengers of the little stage, life was
reduced to day after miserable day of traveling over
bumpy rutted roads, the constant threat of indian
attack, stage robbers, flash floods and break down,
but now it was nearly over.
The journey was coming to an end, at least for
the few who would decide to stay on in Baker's
Flat. For the others, there would be another week
or more of riding the stage and then California, if
they were lucky.
No one traveling through the wild lands were
safe and no one could say for sure how many ways
there were to die, or just when your time was up.
For those who stayed on in Baker's Flat, there
would be no more bumps or ruts, no more
stretches where they had to get out and walk or
bend a shoulder to the rear of the stage to save the
horses. No more rain, sleet or snow. No more biting
wind that chilled a man to the bone and rattled
That was the dream of the passengers who
chose to stop. No more thirst, no more misery of
the trail, yet they would find life little better in
Bakers Flat. There would still be riding to do,
chores to be done, struggles to build and carve out
something for themselves and those who follow in
"Here now, whoa!" The drivers voice reached
them in their sleepy daze as the stage paused at te
top of the slope to allow the tired and overworked
horses a chance to catch their wind. "Five minutes,
if ya want to stretch your legs, be at it. I got a
schedule to keep."
It was a joke of course. There was no schedule
that could be kept except for the daily starts and
stops, and even they were uncertain given mother
"All in now!" No one had dismounted, they
were all to tired to move, yet the drivers shouted it
He was an old man, not in age, for he was just
forty three, but years of making this run week after
week, had brought gray to his hair and beard.
Nature had added it's own touches to his face.
Wind and sun had tanned and toughened his skin
until it looked like old leather.
"Baker's Flat, here we come!" The driver
shouted and his whip cracked over the rumps of
the lead horses.
Slowly then, gathering speed as they moved
off, the stage started over the last mile and a half
stretch that would bring the passengers to some
kind of civilization and a blessed rest.
Inside the stage, the six passengers, having
drawn back the heavy curtain in hopes of catching
the slightest of a breath of fresh air, took one last
look at the country side before letting the curtain fall
back into it place.
It was a fair land, yet a land full of deceit. A
land dry and dependent upon the periodical rains of
Spring and Autumn, dependent upon the runoff from
the snowy capped mountains, and it was a land of
men and their bitter struggles against nature.
From the lookers vantage point, the land
looked relatively flat, but only a green horn would
believe that. Beyond their vision and right up to the
twin peaks, just barely visible through the
shimmering heat waves, lay a land broken and
A land scorched by heat, battered by wind and
rain, still it was a land to capture a mans breath
with its natural beauty. A land for the dreamers, a
land of cattle and wild horses, of trong natured men
and women, tall sons and daughters.
"Heya, get along there!" Again the drivers
voice and the crack of his whip touched the
passengers ears. Dust lifted around the stage,
filtered in through the cracks, but it was only a short
pull to Baker's Flat and after having endure for so
long, they didn't let it dampen their raised spirits.
"It's really not much of a town," Carl Braxton
spoke up as the stage gathered speed. "just a two
bit cow poke town. One hotel, a saloon, blacksmith
and livery barn and corral, Canton's general store,
a leather and gunsmith shop, the sheriff's office, a
school house which ain't big enough, a church
which is too big, and Charlie Lemmers eating and
He was a fat, balding man. A drummer by
profession, a seller of household niceties and
snake oil remedies. He had a wife and five children
and to those who knew him, it seemed he preferred
to be away from them. He had spoken often over
the long journey, much of it boring useless
information, but the others had listened, or at least
appeared to listen. They did the same now.
"Land sakes alive," Braxton said after a short
pause to look at his ornate gold watch. "Twelve
O' five... we're running late. Best you all eat as fast
as you can when we arrive. Lemmers, that
cantankerous old hound, he shuts his doors at one
O'clock sharp. Tells you he's got outside work to
A mile fell behind them as Carl Braxton went
on with his gab. "Well, it's a lie! An outright lie, I tell
you! I've seen him after he closes and the only
outside activity he does is go fishing down by the
stream." The drummer finished. He could feel the
road smoothen out and the stage slowed down.
They could all feel it.
"Baker's Flat!" The driver called out with a
joyous whoopee. "We'll be spending an hour here,
folks." He shouted pulling the stage to a halt.
"Those of you heading on west with me, best eat
while ya can." He added as he started dropping
baggage off the top.
"Fox, ya old scallywag! Late as usual, I see."
Called a man as he came from the hotel. "How
many ya got for me today?"
"Just three, Billy," Came Dan Fox's cheerful
call. "and as far as late goes, why don't you try
driving over them trails and see if ya can do any
better... Dog gone it, I swear they get any rougher,
I'm gonna have to put in a request for a new rear
end... beggin your pardon ladies."
It had took only a matter of minutes to unload
the luggage of the three passengers who were
staying on in Baker's Flat, then Billy Oliver was
ushering the drummer and the two ladies into the
hotel, a bag under each arm.
"Don't you worry none about your bags," Billy
Oliver was saying to the ladies. One was older, the
other young and beautiful. The drummer had been
there before and could fend for himself. "best get
you signed in, if your planning to eat that is. The
restaurant closes at one and doesn't reopen till
around four thirty or so."
"So, we have been told." Said the older lady
with a slight smile to the drummer.
"Room seven open, Billy?" Carl Braxton asked
hopefully. Room seven being the best room the
hotel offered, but he got a head shake no for an
"Sorry, Carl, just gave it to the ladies here."
Billy Oliver said. "Hope that is all right. Ain't got but
the two rooms right now." He added, looking at the
two ladies, who looked at each other and nodded
"That's fine with me. I'll only be here for a day
anyhow," Replied the older woman. "My husband
will be in tomorrow." She added showing off her
ring. "We just got married last week."
"Well, congratulations." The drummer offered,
then began his sales pitch. "A new bride..."
He sat at the furthest table in the rear of the
room with his back to the wall, his hat brim shading
his face and eyes.
From a distance, he looked tall and deeply
tanned, yet one could not be sure, for the darkness
of the corner masked his features.
Whatever it was, and whoever he was, the
people in the crowded room avoided him, yet the
only vacant chair was where he sat and it was
toward that vacant chair, that Belinda Hanson
She was a young woman, eighteen perhaps,
maybe less. She moved with grace and the ease of
a woman of stature. A tall woman of at least five
ten, her hips shapely and her waist small, her
bosom full and rounded.
No man could look at her and deny her beauty.
She was a woman to love at first glance, a woman
to dream of, but it was her eyes, frosty blue, and
her smile that set her apart from the others, that
and her bold innocence.
As she moved through the crowd with her
plate, for Charlie Lemmers set a common table and
men and women helped themselves, men doffed
their hats to her. Some stared, some looked upon
her with lust in their eyes, but no one spoke a
single improper word to her.
She was a lady, a real lady and to talk wrong
to her was to risk a hanging, or to die in an instant
from a angry drawn gun.
Women in the west were scarce. Beautiful,
proper ladies even more so. Men placed them on
pedestals, to gaze at, to admire and respect, to
dream about over lonely camp fires.
Even the lowest of thieves, murderers, and
other no gods, would kill a man, even one of their
own kind, for mistreating a woman and Belinda
Hanson was a woman. A beautiful and rare
"May I please join you, Sir?" Belinda Hanson
asked, coming to the rear table where the stranger
Her eyes took him in in a glance. He was a tall
man of at least six foot, but she could not measure
him well while he remained seated. His shirt bulged
with the muscles of years of hard labor, his face
was richly tanned from wind and many hour in the
hot bright sunshine.
"It's a free country, and I do not own the table
or chairs, Ma'am, so please, be seated." The
stranger replied coolly. He arose then, his long
limbs uncoiling, muscles rippling with his
movement, but never once did his eyes leave the
His movements were fluid, easy and well
practiced. His left hand slid out the chair for her,
helped her slide it back in, then he himself, sat
back down, his back squarely to the wall. It was
only then that he let his eyes turn to her for one
short measured glance.
"Thank you," Belinda Hanson said when she
was seated. "I am Miss Belinda Hanson, recently of
New Jersey, Mister..."
"I am nobody," His voice was soft, yet it had a
touch of bitterness as he spoke. "out here, names
mean little. You are judged by what you do, not
who you are. Back East and Europe, names are
what count, but most with the names got them from
their parents and grandparents... those who slaved
and fought to make their names mean something."
"The new ones, with the names..." His hand
waved the air in a gesture of disgust. "They just live
off what others did before them and most of them
would snub those who came before them as
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pry or intrude."
Replied Belinda Hanson. She had not expected
what the stranger spoke. Nothing had prepared her
for that sort of greeting and she was taken aback
somewhat. "I'll move if you wish."
"No! You weren't prying, and it is I who should
apologize. I was rude and I am sorry." He said,
then went on. "You are new to the west. Out here,
one does not ask questions. If one wishes you to
know something, he tells you, otherwise it is
dangerous to ask questions."
"Call me whoever. Tom, Dick, George... like I
said before, names matter little out here. It's what
you do that counts."
"And what is it that you do, Sir, if I may ask?"
He smiled at that, his eyes softening as he
glanced at her for a brief second. Then he let his
eyes turn toward the door as three men came
inside, stopped to let their eyes grow accustom to
the change in lighting.
"Excuse me, Miss Hanson." He said to her as
she began to speak again. His eyes turning a
darker shade of gray... colder. Ever so slightly, he
shifted in his chair, the movement going unnoticed
by those around him.
"Those gentlemen are expecting me and it
wouldn't be wise to keep them waiting. Not in here,
at least." The stranger said to her, then added. "I
am sorry, Miss Hanson, I enjoyed your company,
but further conversation and your answer will have
to wait of another time perhaps."
Most of the noon time crowd had already gone
out, but a half dozen or so still busied themselves
with the fresh ham, potatoes, freshly baked bread,
jelly, coffee and mock apple pie.
Grumpy through he might be, Charlie
Lemmers knew men and he knew good food and
he knew how to prepare it.
"Ma'am, you just sit still here, and you'll be
fine." The stranger said letting his eyes glance her
"What?" Miss Hanson asked not
understanding. "I'm afraid I..."
Deliberately, the stranger ignored the girl
beside him. Slowly standing, hands close to his
sides, he began to move away from the girl and
toward the door.
"Why don't we step outside?" He said as the
three men took him in at last.
"Why don't we do what he came to do, right
here?" The man closest to the door and the
stranger said with a sneer.
"Outside!" The stranger said again, his voce
steady and calm. "There are ladies present."
"I don't really give a damn." Replied the man
closest to the door.
"You killed Joe." Said the second closest to the
door. "The Captain don't like his men messed
with... don't like it so much so, he sent us to find
you. To teach you and the rest of these fools, who's
running things here abouts."
The sound of hammers being pulled back
sounded loud in the suddenly stilled room. "You
heard the Gent, take it outside." Charlie Lemmers
said, his hands holding a scattergun on the backs
of the three men. "I don't want my place shot up
and I don't want my customers shot up either... not
by a bunch of fools."
"Stay out of this, Old man, or you'll wind up like
this dude... Dead!" The second man closest to the
door said over his shoulder.
"Outside, all of you, or they'll be picking buck
shot out of your carcass." Charlie Lemmers said,
his voice flat and cold. "Go ahead, Mister, if'n one
of these fools even looks like they are itching to lay
hold of their iron, you won't have no worries at all
"You're dead, Old Man," The second to the
door said, head turned slightly to take in Charlie
lemmers, his eyes blazing with hate. "The Captain
will burn you out for this, but I'll kill you myself, and
when I do, I'll make you swallow that shotgun
before I blow your fool brains out the back of your
"You?" Charlie Lemmers said with a half laugh
of disgust. "I got money three to one, says you fools
can't take him. He don't wear them guns for show,
but if'n you should somehow manage it... just you
come a lookin, I'll be here, and I'll be here long
after you are dead and buried in yonder cemetery."
The stranger had measured the three men as
they came in through the door. He was no stranger
to trouble and he knew what to look for in men as
well as wild animals. He was a hunter and
sometimes the hunted, but he had lived long with
trouble and the guns he wore at his side. More
importantly, he knew what he could do with them
when the need arose.
Slowly, he turned his back on them and walked
to the door. He paused just inside the door for a
moment to check the street, then stepped outside.
Stepped off the boardwalk and into the dusty street,
his back to the sun.
The man furthest into the room... short, fat,
with nervous eyes and sweaty palms... him last.
He would be the slowest to move and quickest
to break when the shooting began. The only killing
he was good for was a shot in the back from hiding.
That would be more to his liking, but he was
here, and he would hold back, try to slide off to the
side and hope for a chance...
In the center of the three... the tall scarecrow
with pale skin and cold steady eyes, hands long
and spindly, like a woman’s...
Him first... He would be the fastest, although
not the most dangerous of the trio. This one liked to
talk. He liked to tell you he was going to kill you...
He wanted you to know just how bad he was...
The end one, the one closest to the door... He
would be the most dangerous of the three. He was
big, nearly six two and weighed upwards to one
ninety and none of it fat. When he spoke, he said
only what needed to be said and when it came time
to drag iron, he might'n be the fastest, but he'd get
it out and he'd shoot until life completely drained
from his body.
Him second, and several shots aimed right at
They came from the door, stepped outside into
the bright sunlight. Stopped to let their eyes grow
accustom to the brighter light. Their eyes glance
right, scanning the street, then left to where the
A slow minute, they waited there. Then the
scarecrow and the big man stepped off the walk,
their spurs jingling with their movement.
The fat man waited, held back till his two
friends reached the street, then he took a step left
along the boardwalk.
"Move another step, fat man and I'll kill you
first." The strangers eyes focused on the two men
who were moving into the street, but he had not
forgotten the fat man.
The words broke the spell, the quiet that hung
over the street like death itself. The fat man
stopped, his eyes flicking to the stranger, to his
friends, then back to the stranger. His tongue
touched suddenly dry lips and unconsciously he
wiped his sweaty hands across his chest. It was not
going the way they had planned it.
It was hot out here, too hot. His face beaded
with sweat, his body, yet he felt the chill. The icy
chill of death was upon him and he wanted to run,
to be else where, but they had paid him and he had
made his boast to the scarecrow and the big man.
"It'll be me who gets the killing shot." He had
The scarecrow had laughed, a sneering
contemptuous laugh. "You... he'll be dead before
you even get your gun out."
"We will see what's what." The big man had
intervened. "The only thing that matters is he will be
The stranger stood tall and straight, waiting,
his hands hanging at his side. All was as he
expected it to be. He had known they would try and
flank him, to spread out and catch him in a cross
For that reason, he had deliberately only
moved left of the door a few paces, the distance
short and giving them no room to move.
None of them liked it. He could see it in their
eyes and on their faces as they moved to face him,
yet they were strong men, men of courage. At least
the scarecrow and the big man were.
Those two were warriors, paid warriors maybe,
but none the less, they were men to do battle with.
Men with whom one could ride the river, mountains
and valleys with. Men you could rely on if the fat hit
The stranger watched them calculate their
chances. They didn't like it a bit. It wasn't how they
had planned it at all.
The distance was short, only fifteen feet. When
guns flashed, men would die. Perhaps all of them,
for at that distance, no one was likely to miss.
"I'm going to enjoy killing you." The scarecrow
said with a half smile. It was his way. To talk, to tell
how good he was and how bad. He wanted to work
on the nerves of those he faced, to make them
squirm a little before they died, but it wasn't the
Inside the restaurant, those who remained
rushed to the windows. A few of the men, taking
Charlie Lemmers at his word, offered wagers that
the three would take the stranger.
It was unreasonable to believe other wise, but
it had happened before. When men drew guns
against other men, anything could happen.
Belinda Hanson had sat shocked,
uncomprehending what had happened. One
minute, she was sitting with a young man, the next,
men were talking about killing him. Her aunt and
uncle had told her about such things, of barbaric
practices, but she had not believed, had laughed
"Don't be silly, Aunt Jane." She had said.
"They have laws and policemen to uphold the laws,
just like we have... I'm sure of it. Otherwise, why
would so many people want to go out there?"
They had tried to tell her. Now... now she
believed, yet she couldn't understand. At last, she
too, ran to the window. Compelled by what, she did
Curiosity? A morbid curiosity perhaps, or
maybe it was fear and concern for the strangers
who's table she had shared for just a few minutes?
Guns exploded, shattering the quiet of
afternoon, the tension of the moment, and Belinda
Hanson pushed through the crowd in time to see
the end. Her breath caught and for a second, she
thought she would be sick.
"Oh, My God!" She breathed, fighting the
illness that threatened her stomach.
The fat man lay dead almost in front of the
window where she stood. A trickle of blood oozing
from a small, ugly looking hole in his forehead and
there was yet a second wound, blood spilling from
it as well in his throat.
Belinda Hanson stood horrified by the sight,
she tried to turn away, but her eyes kept returning
to the fat man, his face, and the eyes that stared
blankly back at her.
Scarecrow lay sprawled in the dusty street, his
legs crumpled up beneath him in death. The big
Belinda had arrived in time to see him stagger
backward a step, his legs buckling under him, his
hand still fighting to bring up his pistol. He had
fallen then, his chest a bloody mess.
"Oh, God." She breathed again. She had seen
the stranger cross the street, seen him mount,
blood showing on his hand, and she had seen him
riding away. It was more than she could take and
she turned away as the others rushed out into the
street to view the carnage.
"Never would have thought it possible."
Someone was saying as they headed for the door.
"If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes I'd never
believe it... three at once and him hit only once."
"Fast, that's what he was. Faster than anyone I
ever seen." Another said, then they were all gone
except Charlie Lemmers and Belinda Hanson.
"Who is he, Mister Lemmers?" She asked
"Well, Miss, I don't right knows anyone knows
for sure who he is, except maybe hisself, and he
"I'll tell ya what I do know though." Lemmers
went on. "He was drifting through they say, and
when he stopped at Ben Wilson's spread..."
Belinda Hanson's heart gave a leap. Ben
Wilson was her father. When her mother left him
and returned to the east with her, she had resumed
using her maiden name. She had insisted Belinda
do the same.
"He came upon three of the Captains men...
He ain't know real Captain or any such thing, they
just call him that... Real names Hawkins, and a bad
one he is." Charlie Lemmers rambled on.
"Anyways, he come upon three of Hawkins
men beating Ben, they had killed one of his men,
two others... the cowards, left him. Only Sammy
Samuels was left, 'cept he wasn't around at the
"They was working old Ben over pretty good
when that stranger showed up and took a hand.
They told him to stay out of it but he said he'd take
"What happened?" Belinda asked.
"Joe Millen went for his gun... died, that's what
he did. Took a couple of forty fours in the gut. The
rest of them thugs, they took off and the stranger
and Ben brought the bodies into town."
"That's the first time I saw him, anybody for
that matter. The Captain, he was plum put out and
ranted and raved to the sheriff that he wanted the
stranger locked up, but Ben said it had been a fair
fight and then he tricked one of Hawkins men into
saying Millen had drawn first. Busted Hawkins
chance to nab that feller for sure."
Charlie Lemmers chuckled with the memory of
that day. One thing he liked more than food, that
was talking... a pretty lady to listen to his tales, that
made it even sweeter.
"But didn't the sheriff ask who he was?"
"No Ma'am. Out here, one thing you don't ask
is questions. Get yourself in troube real quick, and
besides, the sheriff isn't the smartest feller to wear
a star... ain't got much guts either. He's got eyes
though, he saw where those bullets were placed in
Millen's body and they weren't placed there by no
"Next time I saw the stranger, he was with
Antonio Lopez, one of old Juan Lopez's
youngsters. A mean lot they are." Lemmers went
on with his story telling. "Anyhow, the way I heard
it, it seems like this stranger ran into Tony and they
rode together for a bit, then they heard shooting.
They rode for a look see thinking they might be
able to help someone out of a jam..."
"They found Ben Wilson... shot in the back he
was. Whoever killed him, they hadn't left yet, cause
they tossed a few shots at the stranger and Tony...
that was a mistake. The way I hear it, those two
fellers dusted the brush some and then they heard
someone grunt and then they heard two horses
"What happened next?" Belinda asked, fighting
back her tears.
"Well, they brought Ben into the sheriff's office
and told what they knew... next thing you know, the
Captain's there asking if he can move onto Ben's
ranch since it was empty now. I was there for that...
The stranger, he just looks Hawkins square in the
eyes and says no. Said the old man had kin, and
the land was going to be held for them, or rather
you." Charlie Lemmers finished.
Belinda Hanson's head jerked upward. She
hadn't told anyone who she was or why she was in
How? How could Charlie Lemmers know who
she was? It had been fifteen years since she was
"For me? What makes you think..." She
"You look just like you father." Charlie
Lemmers told her. "He was a good man, you know.
A damn fine man, pardon my language. It was
purely a shame when your Ma took you back east.
Nearly killed Ben, but he was tough and he got by...
all except you, he never stopped thinking or talking
about you." Lemmers added, glancing at her.
"I never really knew him. I was only three years
old when mother took me away, but he always sent
me presents at Christmas time and for my birthday.
Once, he even came to visit, but mother sent him
away before I could speak to him. Now I will never
get to know him." Belinda said sadly, and a tear ran
down her cheek.
"You'd best be careful, Miss, it could be
dangerous for you if anyone else figured things
out." Charlie Lemmers said patting her hand. "I
better tell ya some things about what's been
happening around here... wait just a minute while I
go lock the doors... wouldn't do to have anyone
hear who you really are. Not just yet anyways, lest
it be that stranger, but then I think he already
knows who you are."
Charle Lemmers locked the doors after a quick
look at where the bodies had fallen. Things were
getting complicated here abouts and the girl
presence would make it only worse. Still, he had an
idea the stranger, whoever he was, would be
looking after her and her interests...
Captain Hawkins, he was another story.
"Hawkins and his bunch came in here four, five
months ago. Had twenty seven hundred head of
cattle and no where to put them. Then one day,
he's telling it, he's just bought Doug March's place
"Well, he might have... No body knows for
sure. Ya see, a week after the supposed sale, they
found Doug's body in the bottom of a ravine. He
had been shot twice in the back."
"Anyhow, the Captain had his land, but it
wasn't enough though. He offered to buy Haley's
place, your fathers, and a couple of other smaller
"Haley wouldn't sell at first, but they threatened
him, said the same thing that happened to March
would happen to him if he didn't sell. He sold... he's
got a wife and three young girls to think of."
"Your dad, he wouldn't sell for nothing, and it
was his land that Hawkins needed to have control
over the whole area. They threatened him too.
Late at night it was and he couldn't say it was
anyone in particular, but he knew it was Hawkins
and his men."
"Then one night, a few days after they had
threatened him, they shot up his place. That didn't
work either, so they brought in some real toughs
and sent them to visit Ben... that's when the
stranger showed up and took a hand." said Charlie
Lemmers, pausing to catch his wind.
"They killed him anyhow, didn't they?" Belinda
asked, a lump in her throat and a new tear in the
corner of each eye.
"Yes, they killed him." Lemmers responded,
then went on. "Not that anyone can prove it lest it
be that stranger and we haven't seen the last of
him, I am sure of that."
"Hawkins has gotten bolder since your dad
was killed. He's got twenty five men working for
him, eighteen of them are nothing but hardcases.
They spend more time here in town than they do
out to the ranch. Folks are scared of them."
"But surely there is something that can be
done about Hawkins and his men... what about the
law?" Belinda asked, her voice almost pleading.
"We're not all afraid of Hawkins and his
gunmen, but Miss, you got to understand, a lot of
these folks have families. You can't ask them to risk
losing them, or getting killed and leaving them all
"As for the law... well the only law that's gonna
matter here abouts is the law you saw out in the
"I don't know what's going to happen. All I
know for sure is that all hell is going to break out
now that the stranger has killed off three more of
"Hawkins will set every man he has out after
him. They'll kill him if they can, and they'll kill
anyone they suspect of helping him. That includes
"If you go out to that ranch, they'll kill you and
blame it on the stranger."
"No one will question them... no one will dare.
Best thing for you to do is sit tight right where you
are. Don't let anyone know who you are."
"I got a friend back east... one of them lawyer
dude's, if'n ya like, I can send him a letter and ask
him to get things started for you. Make it legal and
Hawkins will have hell to pay arguing his claim."
"Once it's settled by a judge, you hire some
men and send them out their to look after your
"Hawkins wouldn't dare harm you then. This
country will look the other way on a lot of things,
but it won't tolerate anyone messing with a woman
of your class. He knows that, so does everybody
else that works for him, but there are always
accidents, if ya know what I mean."
"Is it really that bad?" Belinda Hanson asked.
"I'm afraid so." Charlie Lemmers told her, his
face somber. "When mans greed is involved, it's
always the worst. There is little Hawkins won't do to
get what he wants..."
"Oh, I'll give him credit. Once he finds out who
you are, he'll try being nice. He'll offer to buy you
out at a fair price and let you return to civilization."
"After that, all bets are off. He'll try scaring you
off like he did with the others. Late night visits and
such, a couple of close shots thrown your way...
maybe try and spook your horse if you ride one... If
none of that works, Miss, I can guarantee you, he'll
"You mean he'll try and kill me, don't you?"
"Yes, Ma'am. It won't be him who actually does
it, but he'll kill you just the same. He'll send one of
his men to do the job, and it won't be easy for you."
They sat talking in the back room for another
hour. Talking about her father, the surrounding
country, talked of range conditions, and then they
got around to, or at least Belinda got around to
Charlie Lemmers favorite subject, fishing!
It brought an instant smile to his face, to think
that a woman, a young and beautiful woman, might
be interested in fishing...
"I'm sorry I made you miss out on your
afternoon fishing trip." She had said with a hint of a
"Well, I'll be jiggered." Lemmers beamed.
"How in the world did you know I liked to fish of a
"The drummer, Mister Braxton," Belinda
laughed. "he told us on the stage as we were
coming into town, that we'd best eat in a hurry
because you closed up shop and went fishing."
"Why, that old busy body of a fool..." Charlie
Lemmurs laughed. "Well, it ain't none of his
business what I do with my time. As far as missing
out today goes, a pretty lady beats a fish any day."
"Well just the same, Mister Lemmers, I am
sorry for making you miss out..." Belinda Hanson
paused, then laughed out-loud. "Don't you dare
repeat this, but I like to go myself once in awhile.
My uncle showed me how, but I didn't get to go
much because mother said it was un-lady like."
Charlie Lemmers face lit up with his smile. "It
will be our little secret." He told her.
"Thank you, Mister Lemmers." Belinda smiled.
"Now, I better be on my way. I have already taken
up to much of your time."
"Ok, just let me go check and make sure..."
Charlie Lemmers opened the door, opened it right
into the face of Hawkins' number two man. "What
do you want here?" He asked. "I ain't open yet."
"You're open if I say your open." Joey Pitts
said shoving Lemmers back into the room.
"Hello... what have we here?" He whistled
seeing Belinda Hanson.
"Why, Lemmers, you old fool... you've been
holding out on us, but if you're finished entertaining,
maybe the little lady would like to entertain me.
How about it honey?"
"You watch your mouth, Pitts." Charlie
Lemmers snapped. "You might get by throwing
your weight around here, but folks won't take with
you bothering a decent woman."
Joey Pitts was an average sized man with the
poison of three rattlers coursing through his veins.
A vivid scar ran from the top of his left eye down to
his whisker covered chin. A cigar stub hung from his
yellowing teeth and he smelled of sweat and cheap
His one and only purpose with Hawkins was to
intimidate, and that he did with sadistic pleasure.
A vicious back hand greeted Charlie Lemmers
as he finished speaking, knocking him backward,
then Pitts was on him. A savage left hit him in the
wind, a right snapped his head back and knocked
him to the floor, followed by a vicious kick to the
Only the startled gasp from Belinda Hanson
and the sounds of the shotgun she held being
cocked back, prevented Pitts from further abusing
the downed Lemmers.
"You ain't got the balls to do it, Lady." He
sneered, turning to look at her.
Laughter escaped his lips at having made a
joke and he took a step toward her. "Put it down, or
I'll take it from you and teach you some manners."
Pitts added, taking another slow step toward her.
"That's far enough." Belinda Hanson was
scared, but she held the shotgun tightly in her
hands. "One more step and I'll show you how much
guts I got Mister..."
"My uncle taught me, and he's a good
teacher." Her voice was a little strained, yet she felt
Joey Pitts laughed, laughed loud and hard. "He
forgot to teach you about hammers on shotguns.
You got them both pulled back too far... I could be
on you before you could even move." He laughed,
then turned ugly. "Then you and me... we'd have us
some fun. You got curves lady, I'd like to see what
they look like without your dress."
Belinda Hanson had no idea if Pitts was lying
to her or not. Thankfully, Charlie Lemmers was
starting to get up.
"You made your talk... why don't I pull these
triggers and find out?" She said, her voice rising.
Her nerves were beginning to unravel.
"Another time," Pitts sneered.
Turning, he sent a vicious boot into Charlie
Lemmers midriff and walked to the door. There he
stopped and looked back at Belinda Hanson.
"It ain't over with, Lady. We'll be meeting
again, and the next time you won't be holding no
shotgun on me... you and me, we'll have us a real
fun time then... As for you Lemmers, I'll be back to
finish our visit."
Belinda Hanson started out from behind the
counter to help Charlie Lemmers, but his pained
voice held her in check.
"No, you just stay where you're at." He said to
her. "He might come back."
"I been hurt worse," Lemmers breathed as he
crawled on hands and knee's toward the door.
Once there, he shut and locked it. "Just let me
catch my wind a second."
Blood trickled from his nose and at the corner
of his mouth. He wasn't hurt real bad, still, he had a
hunch at least one of his ribs were broken or
bruised real bad.
More than anything, his pride was hurt. To
have been taken so easily by a thug of Pitts stripe
irked him more than the pain in his side.
"Ok, Now," Lemmers said, slowly standing. His
head swam some and he felt a little sick, his legs
unsteady, but he was still in one piece and that was
more than he would have been had it not been for
Belinda Hanson. "I'd best get grub going." He said
moving toward her.
"But you can't... you're hurt."
"I'm alright now. You best be going yourself,
but be careful, Pitts is poison and he won't think
nothing of hurting a woman. If he gets the chance,
he'll do just what he said he'd do to you."
Hawkins sat in a chair at the ranch he had
taken by murder and he was in a no good mood.
It had all seemed so easy when he first seen
the area. A bunch of two bit ranchers and twenty
thousand acres of prime graze for the taking.
Six months... it should have taken six days.
That had been a mistake on his part though. He
should have had Ben Wilson killed the first day they
arrived. He had been the biggest, after him, the rest
would have been easy...
Then the stranger had showed up... people
started to get suspicious, asking questions...
Angrily, Hawkins fist slammed the arm of his
chair, his eyes sweeping the room. It was a shack...
a damn shack! He should be sitting in Ben Wilson's
ranch house instead of March's rat hole.
Couldn't his men do anything right? He
questioned himself. It was only one man... how
hard could that be... to kill one lone man?
Well, no matter, he told himself. The
scarecrow, Tyler and the fat man would take care
of him. And then...
A hard knock at the door sounded and Joey
Pitts swaggered in. Hawkins had never liked the
man, but Pitts had been useful to him.
Still, when it was over, and he had control of
things... Joey Pitts could disappear, and for good.
The scarecrow could handle that.
"What the hell do you want?" Hawkins
snapped, angered by Pitts arrogance.
"I've been to town..."
"Well, what is it?" Hawkins asked, sitting up.
"Is he dead?"
"He took them all..." Pitts began. "the
scarecrow, Tyler, and that fat slob... they're all
dead." Pitts finished his report with a half smile,
"I told you to let me handle it, but you didn't
think I was good enough... the scarecrow's better,
you said. Ha! Well, he's dead, now what do you
have to think about me doing the job for you?"
Hawkins sat dumbfounded. It was impossible,
yet Pitts stood there telling him they were all dead,
sneering and laughing at him.
The scarecrow had been fast... nobody he had
ever seen had been faster. And Tyler... he had
been a tough, tough man.
"Get the hell out of here!" Hawkins' rage burst
forth. "Get everybody, and I mean everybody... and
find him! I want that Son of a bitch found and killed
before the week is out. Do you hear me? I'll give a
thousand dollar to the man who kills him!"
Hawkins slammed the chair arm again and
heard it crack under the strength of the blow. It was
all going wrong... the towns people he could
handle, he already had the sheriff and half the
other fools buffaloed, but word was getting around.
Damn it! He thought to himself. How the hell
could one man be so hard to kill? He asked himself
over and over, and stewing over his failure to
consolidate his position.
Getting up, he poured himself a whiskey. Even
it tasted sour and he threw the glass against the
wall. "Who the hell is this stranger anyhow? Who
could be faster than the scarecrow?" He raged.
One by one, he checked off the names of the
gunmen he had heard of. None of them matched
up with the description of the stranger.
"Who? Who the hell are you?"
Outside, he could hear his men moving about,
hear their talk. That thousand dollar bonus would
get things done. It was passed time to move.
After the stranger was dead, he'd get rid of the
entire bunch, bring in real cattlemen and put up the
front of a successful cattle man. If anyone ever
came to investigate, he'd be in the clear, the
stranger blamed for it all.
Going to the door, he opened it and gave a yell
to Pitts. "Pitts, you see Brill, tell him to throw those
cattle onto Wilson's spread. We're taking it over,
and the stranger can be damned!"
"All right, Captain, but it might stir up trouble
with the sheriff and some of the others in town."
Pitts called back, taking the opportunity to throw a
jab at Hawkins for his inability to gain control.
He had signed on with Hawkins, believing him
capable and smart... now he had his doubts.
Maybe Hawkins wasn't up to the task. Maybe he
The ranch yard erupted with gunfire from a
near by knoll. Pitts, half mounted, dove for cover as
a bullet clipped his ear, showering his neck and
cheek in blood.
"Get him!" Hawkins shouted, ducking down
behind the door.
For twenty minutes, the unseen marksmen
continued to hold Hawkins and his men in place.
Then silence fell, yet no one moved for another ten
"What the hell you all waiting for?" Hawkins
shouted. "He's gone, get after him!" Still no one
Joey Pitts at last raised his hat over the water
trough, giving the shooter, if he was still there, a
tempting target to aim at. Nothing!
"All right, you heard the Captain, lets get after
The bullet came unexpected. Pitts believing it
safe raised up and was rewarded with a face full of
slivers from the horse trough.
"Bastard!" He screamed. "I'll kill you twice for
"Anytime, Pitts, anytime." Came a reply.
Silence fell for another half hour in which
nobody risked a move. Pitts lay hidden behind the
trough, nerves somewhat shaken, blood dripping
from his ear lobe, his face sore from the tiny
Joey Pitts was sweating despite the coolness
of the day. This was something he didn't like...
waiting! He hated it, he wanted to be on with things,
yet he made no move. His mind was working,
The sniper had known him by name... he might
have heard it in town, but...
"Pitts, damn you, get up and get after him."
Hawkins shouted from the doorway. He, like the
rest of them, could feel the uneasiness with in
"You want him so bad, Captain, why don't you
just ride along." Pitts snapped back. "So far all
you've done is get good men killed... show us what
you can do, Hawkins."
"Why you..." Hawkins hand moved to his side,
but Pitts had his gun out already and it was aimed
"Go ahead," Pitts snarled. "it'll save the
stranger from having to kill you. You've screwed
this up from the get go... I thought you had brains,
but you're nothing but a fool, Hawkins. The only
reason you're still alive is because we can still help
"You through, Pitts?" Hawkins asked, his
composure returning. "Clear out of here while you
can, Pitts. You got the cards now..."
"We'll see, Hawkins, yes indeed, we'll see."
Joey Pitts called, mounting his horse, yet never
letting his pistol waver from Hawkins chest. "Right
now, we'd best work together, or we'll all wind up
"Alright, what did you have in mind?" Hawkins
asked, conceding nothing for the moment.
"Why it's simple, Hawkins, any of these boys
want to follow me, they're welcome, and as far as
you moving over to Wilson's place, forget it. That's
where we're heading." Pitts smiled and watched
four men walk over to his side.
Hawkins was beside himself with fury, but
reason prevailed. Let Pitts have the moment, he
still had the bulk of the men on his side, and he had
the money to pay for more. The stranger was the
first thing to take care of, then he could deal with
Pitts and the rest of the fools who chose to follow
"Red," Hawkins said after Pitts and his
followers had gone. "ride into town and tell the
others what’s happened here. Find out where they
stand. Then I want you to put out a call for some
more men. As of now, any man with me draws
fighting wages. A hundred a month plus whatever
they take off Pitts and his bunch. A thousand for
"Yes, Sir, Captain, right away." Red Donely
called back as he moved toward his horse. When
he was mounted, he rode over to the porch. "If you
want, Mister Hawkins, me and the boys will ride
over to the Wilson place tonight and take care of
Pitts for ya... one less thing to worry about."
"No." Hawkins smiled. "We can afford to bide
our time there. Maybe we won't even have to worry
about him. The stranger might take care of him for
Red Donely laughed. "Yeah, maybe you're
"Right now, just find out who's still with us and
send off for a few more good men. Ten ought to do
it." Hawkins smiled, feeling better about the
Despite the split, the hunt for the stranger
For a week, no one in town had word of what
was taking place out in the hills. Then Pitts showed
up, two men laying face down over saddles,
another with his arm in a sling.
It was a devastating blow for Pitts and his
followers. Of the six who had eventually chose to
follow him, two were now dead, another wounded.
They all looked like they's been through a fight with
a cornered grizzly.
"Looks like you boys had a time of it." Charlie
Lemmers commented when Pitts entered the
"Shut up, Old man." Pitts snarled. "Tend to
your own business or I will show you a time."
"Just making talk, Pitts." Lemmers replied.
"Don't get excited."
"Shut up like I said and get me something to
The others had turned to the saloon instead of
food and they were busy relating the events of the
They had followed the stranger from March's
spread. Trailed him for the better part of the week,
up and into the high lonesome country. Then they
had lost the trail three hours short of nightfall. They
had called a halt for the day, set up camp in a little
hollow along side a little pond...
One minute they had been sitting around
speculating who the stranger was, enjoying hot
food and coffee... then he was standing there. He
was like a ghost, no one had seen or heard him
until he was standing there...
"Pitts... he see's him first and lets go a hurried
shot and then dives for cover. The rest of us, we
never had a chance. Never seen a man shoot so
fast and accurate. Three of us were down in a
second. The poof... he was gone and no one seen
"Don't know about you, Jake, but I've had
enough." The speaker had come in with the three
standing Pitts man.
"Yea, Roca, I hear ya." Replied Jake and he
downed his drink and worked his way out of Iver's
Long Shot saloon with Roca following on his heals.
Inside the restaurant, Joey Pitts stewed over
his food. It had been close, too damn close for him.
When the stranger appeared, he had been
bragging about having him by weeks end. Now, he
was realizing that he didn't want the stranger at all,
unless he could get him from behind.
Let Hawkins have him, he told himself. Then
pick up the pieces. Take care of Hawkins and take
Joey Pitts was no coward, but when you look
into the face of death and are lucky enough to
come out of it with your skin in one piece, why
tempt your luck.
No, he told himself realizing for the first time
that the problem with the stranger was more than
he could handle.
"To hell with it," He said under his breath, his
appetite gone in the moment. "Let Hawkins find
"You say something, Pitts?" Charlie Lemmers
asked, hearing the mumbling.
"Yea! I said your food gives a man indigestion.
Now shut up and mind your own business." Pitts
said coming to his feet. He needed a drink, needed
it bad, yet he couldn't leave with out raking his
spurs into the old mans side. "I haven't forgot about
you, or that bitch, not by a long sight have I
forgotten. When this is over, I'll be back."
Hawkins had had men out searching for the
stranger as well, but they had confined their search
to in and around the Wilson ranch and in the town
For a week, they had hunted the brush and set
up ambushes, hoping the stranger would wander
into one, yet they had seen nothing until the day
Pitts headed for town with his battered crew.
"Looks like, Pitts found him." Red commented
"Yeah, and it looks like he got run through the
corn grinder in the process. You'd best let the
Captain know, he'll be right interested." One of
Red's men spoke up.
"Pity, Pitts, ain't one of them face down over
them saddles." Another smiled.
"Well, it's getting late," Red Donley said
coming to his feet. "We'll all go in and grab a bite to
eat and a drink or two."
"Good deal, Red, don't know about these other
two lunk heads, but food and a whiskey would hit
They were all on their feet now. "Well, what
are we waiting for" Red asked. When they turned,
jaws dropped and hung open for an instant.
"Hello, Red." The stranger stood before them.
"You looking for me?" He asked casually.
Guns flared. Red Donely never knew what hit
him. The others had stood frozen, they too like
Red, faired no better. Red, and two others dying
almost in the same instant.
"No, no! I quit!" Screamed the forth man, his
body trembling with his terror.
Bing Hughes was just nineteen. He had signed
up with Hawkins on the chance of getting money.
Real money for the first time in his life. Now, all he
wanted was to live, to live poor and honest.
"Don't shoot! God, don't shoot, I quit." He
"You wanted to play in a crooked game, now
you ought to pay." The strangers voice was soft,
calm. Slowly, he eared back the trigger of his left
"No, please, no." Bing Hughes pleaded. "I'm
begging you, Mister."
The strangers cold eyes bore into Bing and he
tremble with fear.
"You two bit bad man, you're nothing but a
coward. I should kill you just for being yellow, but I
won't. I want you alive, I want you to go back and
tell your boss, his time is up and I'll be along
"Once you've done that, get your stinking
carcass on your horse and get out of the country.
Do you hear me?"
The words stung Bing Hughes, but they failed
to stir him to action, his fear of the stranger so
"I... I here you, Mister." He stammered.
"Then get out of here. If I see you after sunrise
tomorrow, you'd better have a gun in your hand,
because I'll kill you where I find you." The stranger
sneered and he watched Bing Hughes run for his
When he had gone, the stranger breathed a
sigh of relief. Suddenly, he was tired. Over the last
week, he had ridden over a lot of country and had
found little chance to sleep or eat.
The fights themselves had been nothing to
him. Hawkins men were tender feet when it came
to throwing lead. Pitts' crowd had been just as
inept. Still, the stranger had no desire for all the
killing. All he wanted now was some badly needed
sleep and a good meal.
He rode into Baker's Flat two days after the
fight with Red's bunch. He had ridden a good deal
more after the fight and he was worn to a frazzle,
his horse beat and well on the way to collapse.
After the fight, he had mounted and followed
Bing Hughes back to March's place. He saw his
message delivered, then watched Bing saddle a
fresh mount and start him out of the country.
At least the boy had gotten the message, he
told himself, maybe he'll have a chance now to
make something of himself.
The stranger waited a slow hour, then his rifle
came to his shoulder and for a second time he
dusted the ranch house windows with lead. Inside,
he could hear men ducking and cussing, could hear
Hawkins howling to "get him."
"You get him." Someone had shouted back.
The stranger laughed at that, laughed all the
way back to his horse, and he was still chuckling as
he made a slow circle of the ranch, sticking to
cover where he could, riding boldly in the open
where he couldn't.
That night, he slept in the barn on the March
ranch. Sneaking in right under their noses and
slipping out with the dawn.
To add insult to them, his rifle barked again,
sweeping the pane-less windows and the lone door.
"Hawkins!" His voice echoed in the morning
quiet. "Sleeping well these nights?"
Another day, he wasted hanging around the
ranch. Occasionally slipping in close and placing a
shot at a window or the door. At last, with darkness
closing in, he mounted his horse and headed for
Beard stubble covered his hollow cheeks, his
eyes showed bags under the heavy eye lids and he
slouched with weariness. No one showed on the
street as he rode in and made his way toward
Three times, he knocked softly before he
heard someone stirring inside. Then like a ghost,
he faded away until the door opened.
"Who's there?" He heard Lemmers ask.
"Me." He said stepping from the shadows.
Recognition came quickly to Charlie Lemmers.
"Come inside and I'll put something on for you."
"Much obliged, but I don't want to cause you
"Trouble?" Lemmers chuckled when the door
closed. "You sure raised hell with Hawkins and that
Pitts bunch. They split you know?"
It was the first time the stranger had heard
about it so Lemmers filled him in on the comings
and goings. When he got to Belinda Hanson, he
hesitated for a second, then spelled it out for the
stranger as well.
"She's quite a woman." He added, looking slyly
at the stranger, but the stranger wasn't listening, he
was fast asleep in his chair.
"Ya never knows, maybe you two can get
together." Lemmers said softy, getting up and
dropping the bar into place. It was going to be a
long night, he told himself. He doubted if anyone
had seen the stranger come in, but he decided to
keep watch just the same. He didn't know why, but
he liked the way the stranger conducted himself...
he had guts, that's what he had.
"Yes, Sir, maybe you two could." He chuckled
at the thought of young love.
The dawn came quickly to the house of Charlie
Lemmers and he quietly stirred up the fire for
"You sleep mighty sound for a hunted man."
Lemmers commented when the strangers eyes
"Too sound," The stranger replied with a slight
smile. "but God, I needed it."
"I was just fixing to set up some grub before I
have to go and open the restaurant. You want
something?" Charlie Lemmers asked.
"Just coffee, I'll eat breakfast over to your
Charlie Lemmers jerked around at the
strangers words. It was nuts, suicide, but he liked
the boldness of it and had no doubt that the
stranger could handle any trouble that came his
"You want to shave before you come over?"
He asked, a slight laugh escaping his lips. "A dead
man ought to look his best at his funeral."
"Oh, I don't know about funerals," The stranger
smiled. "But a shave might be right nice. A man
never knows when he is gonna meet a pretty lady...
take the last time I was in town. Met a real beauty.
It's a shame I never really had a chance to talk to
her. Had some trouble if you remember."
"Yeah, I remember." Charlie Lemmers said
seriously, then added a bit more lighter. "Well,
young feller, you might get lucky and see her again.
She comes regular to eat... likes my cooking better
than her own I guess."
Despite the early hour, the first person through
the door, was Belinda Hanson. She gasped when
she saw the stranger seated at the back tabe
eating his breakfast. Their eyes met, held for a
moment, then she drew them away and checked
In her mind, were the memories of the last time
she had seen him sitting there. In heart, she felt a
fluttering and she tried in vain to shrug it off.
What was he to her? She asked herself. The
last time she had sat with him, he had been rude,
He's just a stranger and nothing more, yet she
remembered Charlie Lemmers saying the stranger
had helped her father and had tried to hold his
ranch for her.
Why? She wondered, helping herself to a plate
of steak, potatoes, peaches and fresh bread and
"You shouldn't be here." She said coming to
his table. "Pitts is still in town and so are some of
Hawkins men. They'd kill you if they found you
here." She added, a touch of fear in her voice.
"A mans got to eat some time." The stranger
replied, coming to his feet and pulling out a chair
for her. When she was seated, he went on. "Last
time I was here, I met a pretty lady and our
conversation got interrupted."
"Ma used to tell me that it wasn't polite to walk
out on a Lady. She was right you know." The
"But what about..."
"Not to worry, Miss Hanson." The stranger said
cutting off her protest again. "And I promise, I'll try
to be more of a gentleman this time. Unfortunately,
I can't stay long this morning, I've got some
unfinished business to attend to."
Belinda Hanson sat unknowing what to say or
think. She was disturbed by this stranger, feared for
his safety, yet was drawn to him and the
comfortable feeling she had when she was near
him. Her eyes took in his freshly shaved face and
he smiled at her.
"Cat got your tongue, this morning?" He asked
suddenly, and saw her blush.
"No, I was just thinking." She responded. "You
shouldn't be taking such a risk as this, but I am glad
you are here. You wouldn't tell me your name last
time... would you at least tell me why you are doing
this?" She asked.
For a moment, the stranger sat quietly, taking
his time with his answer and enjoying the fresh
beauty of the woman who sat next to him. It had
been a long time since anyone thought or cared
about him, and somehow, he felt the girl really was
concerned about him.
"Let's just say," He began at last. "that I just
can't stand to see someone profit by stealing
someone else’s work. Work that took years of bitter
struggling to build up. That's what Hawkins is trying
to do, and he murdered your father to try and get
"Then you know who I am?" She asked, when
he had finished.
"Yes, Charlie told me, he thought I ought to
They sat talking for another half an hour.
Talking of the everyday things, the east and what it
offered and why people were leaving it to risk all
they had in a new and wild land...
"Mans headed this way." Charlie Lemmers
called poking his head out from behind the kitchen
door. "Looks like Joey Pitts. If you are not hunting
scalps, better take the kitchen door here and
Joey Pitts had turned heavily to the bottle after
his fight with the stranger. He had thought he was
going to make a haul. The split with Hawkins had
gone off, six men chose to follow him, and then...
Then it had all fallen apart. Two of his men
died, one was all but useless, and two had ridden
out on him...
He was in a surly mood this morning. It was
early of a day for him to be up, but he had been
haunted by the nearness to death and had gotten
up for a stiff drink to ease his shaken nerve. It was
then, that he had glimpsed Belinda Hanson headed
toward the restaurant.
"The Bitch! Thinks she's too good for anyone
around here." He had grumbled, pulling on his shirt
"Bitch!" He repeated again as he neared the
eatery. He'd show her a few things, then he'd drift.
Let Hawkins fight it out with the stranger. There
were other places and better chances of money, if
a man played his cards right.
Tripping on the top step of the boardwalk, Joey
Pitts swore, then kicked the door open violently.
She sat there... the bitch, looking like some queen!
Well, he had had whores that were better and less
Boldly, Joey Pitts walked to her table, took the
time to stare at her, measuring her features and the
pleasure he would get from her...
Drool formed at the corner of his mouth.
"Pitts, what do you want here?" Charlie
Lemmers asked, coming from the kitchen.
"None of your damned business, Old Man."
Pitts sneered tossing a glance toward Lemmer.
Charlie Lemmers had moved slowly toward
where he kept his scattergun, but he never got a
chance to pick it up or use it. Pitts wheeled like a
cat and his gun spit fire, the slug taking Lemmers
high in the left shoulder, then he spun back and
viciously back handed Belinda Hanson as she rose
from her seat.
"Get up!" He snarled down at her. "We're going
to take a ride, you and me... we're going to have a
little fun..." Bending over, Pitts slapped her again,
then his hands reached to jerk her to her feet.
Blood showed at the corner of Belinda
Hanson's mouth. Never before had she been hit.
She was scared, yet she...
Joey Pitts soiled hands touched her again and
she recoiled away from him.
"What's the matter, Bitch?" Pitts sneered at
her, moving after her, his hand ready to slap her
again. "Ain't I your kind of fun? Don't worry, by the
time I am finished, you'll learn to like it."
"Leave her be!" The voice spoke from behind
him and Pitts froze with momentary fear. "You want
me, Joey, not the girl... you've been hunting me,
well now I am here." The strangers words were
softly spoken, casual, as if they were just a friendly
greeting, but there was death in that voice and
Joey Pitts knew it even as he turned to face the
"You!" Pitts breathed.
"One of your friends, Joey?" The stranger
asked, his left hand indicating the girl on the floor.
"She must like the rough stuff early in the
morning... Why don't you step aside honey, after I
take care of Joey here, maybe you'll let me play
Belinda Hanson was horrified by his words,
scared to death of Joey Pitts and all that he
implied. She couldn't know the stranger was
talking, hoping Pitts didn't recall that they had sat
together when he first came to town, but then Pitts
hadn't been there then, so he might not even know
the two knew each other.
"Sure, Sweetheart, step aside like he said."
Joey Pitts smiled, trying to sound braver than he
felt. "This dude won't get off a clean shot before I
kill him, but you never know... we would want you
hurt before we have our chance to have us a little
party, now would we?"
He was sweating and his guts crawled with too
much whiskey the night before. He didn't like none
of it, but he was here and the stranger was here...
Joey Pitts trembled slightly and he made a
conscious effort to stiffen his legs, then he made
his play for his gun.
Even before his hand touched the butt of his
walnut gripped pistol, he knew he was dead. He
was too slow...
He screamed as the heavy forty four slug
slammed into his chest. He didn't want to die... he
wanted to live, to see another part of the country,
but the heavy slug drove him back a step and a
second extinguished the last flicker of life from his
Slowly, his body settled to the floor, eyes
staring, but not seeing the man who had killed him.
The world of viciousness was gone from him
Belinda Hanson looked from the body of Joey
Pitts to the stranger, then she ran for the counter
where Charlie Lemmers lay bleeding. It had
happened so fast... so very very fast.
Many thoughts raced through her mind as she
knelt over Charlie Lemmers. Lemmers was hurt,
but not as bad as it could have been. Pitts had
meant to kill him, she was sure of that.
"Can you make it up to the counter, if I help?"
"I think so." Lemmers replied weakly.
"I'll go get the Doc," She said when she had
helped him to a stool. "don't go anywhere." Turning
toward the door, she stopped. He was gone!
Belinda Hanson stood stunned, shocked by
the strangers disappearance. One minute he was
there, the next...
People were beginning to approach the eatery,
she could hear their foot steps on the boardwalk.
Movement came to her feet again and she headed
for the door. She would send one of them for...
"Where's he at?" Doc Carrigan asked. He was
the first to reach and enter through the door.
"Over there, but..."
"Young feller stopped by and said Charlie got
shot. I hurried over as fast as I could..." Doc
Carrigan stopped. "Who's that?" He asked seeing
Joey Pitts body laying in the corner.
"Joey Pitts." Belinda Hanson breathed.
Others crowded into the room to see the
carnage and hear of what had taken place, the
sheriff being one of the last. Still, he assumed an
authoritative air and pushed people out of the way
until he reached the counter where Charlie
"Who done it?" He started. "Any witnesses?
Come on speak up."
Belinda Hanson turned from where Charlie
Lemmers sat being treated by the doctor. "I was
here," She said loud enough for everyone to hear.
"Joey Pitts tried to molest me. He slapped me
around a few times, then that stranger everybody is
talking about came in. They had words..."
"You seen it?" The sheriff asked stupidly, and
half the room snickered with their disgust.
"Of course she saw it, sheriff. That's what she
is trying to tell you and if you shut up and listened
for once, we'd know what happened here." A man
called from the crowd and others laughed openly.
"Go ahead, Miss." Another called and the room
quieted for her.
"The stranger told Pitts to leave me alone...
when Pitts turned around, he went for his gun."
Belinda told the gathering.
"Is that all?" Someone asked. "The stranger
just outdrew and killed Pitts?"
"Served him right! Slapping a woman around...
should have been hung I say." A woman who had
shoved her way in was saying.
"He's dead, Em, but we can still hang him if'n
you want to watch." A man laughed.
Em Shotten was the local gossip and the men
took pleasure in giving her tongue something to
waggle about. This would do it for sure.
"How about it, Em?" Another man called and
the laughter started again.
"Too much violence! If the sheriff had any
nerve, he'd put an end to it. It's getting to the point
where a decent woman can't even stop and have
breakfast without being set upon by a man." Em
Shotten said indignantly, then marched out of the
The others in the room laughed at her. They
knew where she would go next. She would head
straight to the preachers house, interrupt his
preparation of his Sunday sermon and then catch
all the good ladies of Baker's Flat later as they filed
out of church and fill them in.
Despite their laughter at her, the men in the
room took serious what she said. She had been
right, Joey Pitts should have been hung for what he
tried to do to Belinda Hanson. She had been right
about it being time for the sheriff to stand up to
Hawkins and his ilk and bring back law and order to
"Doc, how's Charlie?" The object of their
present speculation asked. "Somebody go fetch the
undertaker." The sheriff added, not turning to look
at those behind him.
The stranger had left right after seeing Belinda
Hanson's startled, frightened eyes as she ran to
help Charlie Lemmers. He had made only one stop
on his way out of town and that was at the doc's
place, then he was riding toward the distant hills
and his lonely camp of the week before.
Inside him, he carried the bitterness. His
mouth tasted bad. It was always the same after a
gunfight. He hadn't ever wanted to kill another
human being, but all his adult life, he had found
trouble waiting for him at every turn. Maybe it was
his fate to always wander the lonely lands in search
of peace, only to find death awaiting him.
His mind wandered back to the little valley in
the heart of Sioux country, a valley he had come to
call home and to the woman who had been his
wife, her brother and three others...
All gone in on horrible day of death and
suffering. Killed by a band of renegade white men.
"Anne..." He breathed the one word, thinking of
her, seeing her beauty once more. The love for her
was still embedded in his heart and soul and he felt
the pain and loneliness touch his heart.
Two years now...
He almost couldn't believe it. Why hadn't he
been killed at the same time? Was it because his
instincts for survival were greater than the others, or
was it fates cruel joke on him?
Why hadn't he been able to gain revenge upon
those who had stolen everything worth living for
away from him?
"Anne... God, how I miss you." He said softly
as he wove his way through the tree's that shielded
his hiding place.
It wasn't much of a place, but it was better than
most he had known since the death of his wife. It
was just a shack made of sticks and mud thrown
over a dead fall, but he didn't mind. It kept the rain
off and retained the heat pretty well on a cold night.
A seep of water lay close to hand and there
was forage for his two horses, one being his
"Doom, old boy!" He called when he
dismounted at the thrown together coral and lean
to. "Did you miss me?"
Of all the things he had ever possessed, other
than his love for Anne, Doom was his most
treasured. They had ridden many miles together,
seen a lot of country and fought a lot of battles
"I seen her again, Old boy. She's a beauty like
Anne was, only softer, I think. She's knew to the
west, she doesn't understand yet, but give her time,
she'll learn." He said patting Dooms sleek neck.
Belinda Hanson helped Charlie Lemmers back
to his place amidst his loud protests that he couldn't
close the restaurant... people counted on him,
depended on him for their meals...
"I can cook. Maybe not as well as you, Mister
Lemmers, but they'll still eat." Belinda told him.
"Now, no more arguing, please. You heard what
Doctor Carrigan said, you need rest."
Charlie Lemmers had argued, but in the end,
she had won out. She stood in the kitchen then,
baking bread, a roast of beef and a chocolate cake
for the evening meal.
It was already too late for anything to fancy for
lunch, but then she didn't expect too many
customers being that it was Sunday and folks
tended to stay home or go out on picnics.
Her mind wandered to the stranger. Who was
he? Where was he now? Why had he left so
They were questions that bothered her, yet
she couldn't say why. He was a ruggedly
handsome man, but it wasn't his looks... No, she
told herself, she wasn't... couldn't, love a man who
killed so easily.
Who was he? It was a question everyone
asked and there had been much speculation on the
subject. That he was a gunman was obvious, yet
he wasn't on the run from the law. The sheriff had
checked through his wanted poster, not that he
would have challenged the stranger had he been
One thing everyone agreed upon, was that he
wasn't a thug like Pitts or any of the others that
Hawkins brought in. He appeared to be honest and
fair, so who...?
Some had said he was Londean. One of the
most feared gunmen the west had ever bred.
Impossible, others had argued. Londean died
in Sonora town...
Mexican bandito's, it was said, ambushed him
and robbed him of everything he had. Shot him in
I've seen his guns, another had said.
Still others said, maybe he's that Collin Dean
feller we've heard about.
No, another replied. Collin Dean was with them
folks that got wiped out by the Sioux. I ran into that
Russell feller, he was there. Lost his son and
Dean was with them alright, he told me. Said
he had been the best fighting man he had ever
seen. They buried him next to his daughter and son
and a couples of the others... Ask me, they were
lucky, so many of them got out.
One by one, the men folk had went through the
names of the gunmen they knew or heard about,
yet none of them had been able to come up with a
name that fit the strangers description.
"Maybe he's one of them Texas gunfighters
we're always hearing about."
"Could be, but I heard talk of some real bad
ones down Missouri way, that have been moving
this way. Maybe he's one of them."
Belinda Hanson had listened to them and Charlie Lemmers speculating. They didn't know
and it didn't matter to her really. All she knew for
sure was that when she was with him, she felt safe
and somehow at peace with herself.
"Oh, no, the cake!" She said wheeling back to
the oven, her reverie over. "Ouch!" In her haste to
pull it out, she burned her finger. "Damn!" She
added, looking around to make sure no one had
heard her swear.
Captain Hawkins took the news of Joey Pitts
demise with a little bit of satisfaction and great deal
First Joe, then the scarecrow, Tyler and the fat
man, now Pitts... Whoever the stranger was, he
was better than most and that worried him even
more so now.
Scarecrow had been better than most. Better
than eighty five, ninety percent of those who wore
guns and thought themselves good. Pitts and Tyler
had been tough men, better by far than the average
gunman and they didn't take killing easily.
No, whoever this stranger was, he was better
than anyone he had working for him and that
spelled trouble unless they could catch him
sleeping and had a half dozen guns on him. It was
the only way to be sure...
"Captain?" It was Blue Davis sticking his head
into the office. He was a big burly man and he took
his name from the bluish stain on his right cheek,
the result of a gunpowder burn.
"Yeah, what is it?" Hawkins called back. His
nerves were on edge. He had flinched when Davis
spoke to him.
"We've got him, Captain."
"Got who?" Hawkins asked, sitting up
straighter in his chair. "The stranger? Is he dead?"
"No, Sir, but we tracked him back to his hole."
Davis said, hopeful that Hawkins would remember
it was him who brought the word and no one else.
"We thought you might want to be in on it."
Like a bolt of lightning, Hawkins was up and
buckling on his gun-belt. "You sure?" He asked.
Blue Davis nodded his affirmative and then led
the way out.
Hawkins mind worked rapidly. He would win
After-all, he told himself. A smile touched his lips
then as he thought of Joey Pitts and the others who
had betrayed him. Fools! He laughed to himself.
"How many men do we got?" He asked Blue
as they mounted and started off.
"Counting you and me... seven, Captain." Blue
Davis replied, then added the details of where the
stranger was holed up. "He up on a little hill sort of,
about three miles from here. The hill levels off
about fifty feet up and there is kind of a seep back
in there. We'll have to be careful though, there’s a lot
of tree's and brush to go through to get at him."
Seven! It was enough, wasn't it? Hawkins
asked himself. Of course it was, he told himself. If
Blue's description of the place was correct, more
men would only add to the chances of being heard
by the stranger when they moved in for the kill...
The sun was going down and the heat of the
day was beginning to lift, still he was sweating.
Was it fear? He wondered, then dismissed it as the
pulled up where the others waited.
"He's up there all right, Captain, heard his
horse knicker once or twice." Said the man who
"All right, lets go get him." Hawkins smiled as
he slipped from the saddle. His nerve steadied by
the men around him.
"Captain?" It was Bing Hughes speaking.
"What about the money?" Hughes asked.
"With six of us and yourself... who to know who
Bing Hughes' memory of the stranger was still
deeply ingrained in his brain. It had been close that
last time and the stranger had said he would kill
him on sight. It wasn’t a good feeling, and he was
Greed had won out and he remained with
Hawkins. The stranger had seen the kid mount a
new horse, had assumed he was clearing out of the
country, but the kid had only ridden away on an
errand for Hawkins.
"Quite right." Hawkins smiled. "I'll tell you all
what. To be fair, we'll make the reward twelve
hundred to be split by all of you and I'll throw in
another hundred a piece after we have everything
It was the right thing to say at the time and all
the men eagerly agreed with his offer. Three
hundred dollars was a lot of money and beside,
there would be seven guns to the strangers two.
"Lets go." Hawkins said.
The strangers eyes opened suddenly. For a
second, he lay quiet, listening. Whatever it was that
had woken him up was a danger to him, this much,
he knew immediately.
Darkness was closing in rapidly and he quickly
let his eyes go over the area in which his camp
It was quiet... too quiet!
Slowly, his ears attuned to any noise not of the
surrounding area, he slipped away into the brush. A
long five minutes passed as he waited and listened.
Nothing happened, nothing moved or was there
any sound out of place. All was silent and that in
itself was a warning to him and he remained
It came to him then, a crack, not loud, a snap
like the breaking of a twig under a boot heel.
Another snap off to his left, some fifty feet perhaps.
More sounds came to him and one by one he
placed them. Five men at least, he told himself,
He was trapped here, he knew, unless he
chose to make a run for it on foot. His horse lay off
to his left and there was no safe way to get to them.
At least three men moved there.
"Wait for my signal." The voice, barely audible,
came to him on a slight breeze. It was a voice he
recognized. Hawkins! "Easy, keep it quiet."
They were closer now. Close enough to see
into his camp and the little hut where moments
before he had been dozing.
"Fire!" Guns blazed away into the blackening
night. The air filled with pistol smoke, the sound of
lead being hammered into the hut, echoed off into
the hills, carried by the whisper of a breeze... a
breath of death, then silence.
"Whew ee! Blasted the Bastard to kingdom
come." One man whistled.
"Light a fire, I want to be sure." It was Hawkins.
The moon broke the horizon as the stranger
stepped from the brush and into the clearing like a
ghost. A phantom of death, and in his hands, he
held the making of death.
The fools had gathered together to celebrate
his dying... it was too easy, yet they had come
hunting death, so who was he to question the
hands of fate?
"Oh, My God!" He heard a man breath.
Hawkins head jerked up in that instant before
the strangers guns flamed orange, he realized, that
he was a dead man.
The strangers guns slammed into his palms.
Once, twice, three times... his guns thundered until
one clicked on empty and the other held but a lone
Two days later, the stranger rode into Baker's
Flat. The sun had just barely peaked over the horizon and gray stilled streaked much of it. Folks
were still asleep or just starting to rise to begin their
He rode with a purpose and with a destination
in his mind. He rode straight toward the house of
Charlie Lemmers. It was time to be leaving, but not
without saying good bye first.
At his knock, there came no reply. He knocked
again, and then he heard heavy slow foot steps
from with in. A second later, the door opened to
Charlie Lemmers looked old and haggard,
feverish. He was sick and he had lost weight and
for an instant, the stranger thought about excusing
himself, apologizing for having disturbed him, then
leaving, but Charlie Lemmers stopped him.
"You, is it? Come on in." Lemmers forced a
smile. "Last time I made the coffee, it's your turn
"You should be in bed." The stranger said. "I
shouldn't have come. I'll go if you like."
"Nonsense!" Lemmers told him. "You're here,
and the coffee will do me good." Charlie Lemmers
added, as he settled down into one of his kitchen
chairs. "She's been looking for you... worried sick
The strangers back was to Charlie Lemmers
and he kept it that way as he filled the coffee pot,
then he moved to put it on the stove, added a few
sticks to the fire, then turned to face Lemmers as
he spoke again.
"She's a might beautiful girl... you couldn't find
one better here abouts."
"It's finished." The stranger said. "Hawkins is
dead, a few of the others as well, the rest, they just
saddled up and started to drift. She won't have no
"You ain't gonna see her, are ya?"
"No, it's best that I don't"
"Why?" Lemmers asked. "Will you tell an old
man that much?"
"Once..." The stranger began. "Two years ago.
I had a beautiful wife and a ranch... White
renegades took it all from me. They killed her and
burned the place down."
"I'm sorry for you, but that doesn't change
anything about that girl over to the eatery."
"It would, if she knew who I was. Renegades
killed Anne, but if hadn't been them, it would have
been some other reputation hunter come looking
for me. Well, I am dead now. At least, that's the
story you hear told... let it stay that way. Maybe
then I can live my life in peace."
"She loves you," Charlie Lemmers eyes almost
pleaded with the stranger. "You know that, don't
"And what would you have me do?" The
stranger asked, feeling the old bitterness return.
"Marry her, have her become a widow one day
because some cub shot me in the back to gain a
"No, maybe you're right." Lemmers conceded,
but when on just the same. "I don't know for sure
who you are, but I got a hunch and if I am right... if
they ever found out, the place would be crawling
with wanna be gunmen. That still..."
"So long, Charlie, say good bye to Belinda for
me." The stranger said, turning toward the doors.
He stopped at the door, glanced one last time at
the old man who had been his friend for a time,
then stepped outside. Doom, his magnificent horse
stood waiting for him.
It was time, he told himself, stepping up into
the saddle and moving him onto the street. "Come
on, Old Boy, we've got some new country to see."
He walked Doom up the street one last time,
one last look, then he turned and started back.
Belinda Hanson saw him from the window and
hurried to the door, and down the steps as he rode
"Wait!" She called out, sensing that he was
leaving for good.
The stranger heard her cry out and his heart
leaped with in him and for a moment, he thought
about stopping. Instead, he turned in the saddle
and waved a hand.
"Good bye and good luck." He called, then he
kicked Doom into a trot.
"Wait!" She called after him. "Please!"
He didn't hear her, didn't see the tears that fell
softly down her cheeks. He rode on and after he
had cleared the town, he raised his own hand and
brushed away a tear of his own.
"Come on, Doom, we'll stop by and see Mable
and Millie on our way through." He said softly to his
horse and his mind turned to that mongrel dog.
Whatever happened to him, he wondered.
"You cannot worry about that which you cannot control."