Sunday, April 25, 2010
This story was wrote for Mr V.
The old man showed signs of fatigue, as he stepped down from his old roan horse. Resting his right hand on the saddle horn, he allowed his tired legs a long overdue stretch.
Slapping the days dust from his clothes, he narrowed his eyes against the midday sun, he could just make out the faint dust cloud in the distance.
With his left hand he reached into his battered saddle bags.
Two long weeks had passed since he`d had a bath, and he couldn’t quite decide who smelt the worst, him or the horse. Raising his old army field glasses to his eyes, he scanned the horizon.
The dust cloud was beginning to fade, but he wasn’t worried, he`d pick up there trail easy. Wiping his eyes, he caught the bead of sweat rolling down his forehead, he wiped the dust from his army field glasses, and placed them carefully back in the saddle bags.
He was thirsty, but water had been scarce, his canteen was still fairly full, so he allowed himself a drink. The water was warm and slightly stale, but it washed the dust from his teeth. He was putting the canteen back, when he changed his mind. Removing his sweat stained hat, he poured some water over his grey hair and let the warm liquid run down his dust engrained neck. It felt good. Grady then poured some into his hat, and gave the horse a drink.
It was time to move on. He knew it was only a matter of time now, mounting the roan, he slipped his feet into the stirrups, and kissed the horse into a mile eating lope.
He was no stranger to this trail, he had ridden it, back in `65 just after the end of the war, but that was sixteen years ago.
He rode on and as he did so, he glanced at the dusty earth for sign, the unshod pony tracks were the same as they had always been right from the start, only now they were closer together, they were slowing down.
He began to think of how tired he was, and if he was, they were also.
It was dusk when he finally allowed the roan to stop, he was within` spittin` distance of his prey.
Stripping off the saddle and blanket, he let the reins fall to the ground. The mare sighed at the loss of weight. He lit no fire, and chewed on a strip of jerked beef.
The soft warm smell of a cook fire, wafted across the night air. But he was already engrossed in his next move. Cleaning and checking his Henry rifle had become second nature to him, finally he levered a round into the chamber. It was an old habit, grown out of bitter experience, and he wasn’t about to change now.
He knew it was going to be quick, it always was. He reckoned it was some three hundred yards to their cook fire, maybe a little less, but certainly not more.
As the old man began to crawl towards his targets, his elbows and knees protested at the hard earth and stones. He crawled on, daring to look at regular intervals, checking that nothing ahead of him would cause his targets to hear him coming.
The three shabbily dressed riders, were camped in a shallow depression, all three were calm as you please, totally oblivious to their impending doom.
The sweat was on his brow, he was aching all over, and his anger was welling, in his chest. He stopped and rolled over onto his back, exhaling slowly. His mind shouted at him to shoot now! But years of warfare, had taught him patience.
Lying there, he felt the comforting shape of his Henry, and with his left hand, he withdrew the Navy Colt from its holster. He felt much calmer now. He cocked the hammer on the Henry, likewise on the Colt.
Closing his eyes, he tried to keep the images from invading his brain, he could see it as if it was yesterday. The torn flesh, blood, the limp bodies, left like rag dolls, strewn across the dusty ground in front of the ranch.
He forced the painful memories from his thoughts, and as they receded, he made a decision. He wasn’t going to lie in wait and shoot them down where they lay, no.
He was standing up before he knew it, he would deliver the sentence that the court had passed on the men that had slaughtered his family.
“Howdy Boys!” His voice echoed, in the night air, all three men turned towards his voice, at the same time they reached for their weapons, the old mans Henry barked first, and began to vent his anger, on the men in front of him.
The noise of each round exploded into the night air, each one cleansing his soul. His first two rounds from the Colt, hit the man they called Caleb in the chest and shoulder, the hit to the shoulder causing him to pirouette, and collapse to the ground. His third shot caught the second man in the neck, it was plain to see that the artery was severed, as the thick oxygen rich blood arced from the wound, leaving a trail of steam in the cold night air.
The remaining man fell to his knees, pleading for life and crying, the tears rolling down his dirty face. He looked at the face of the old man, there was no forgiveness, they say that you only see the bullet that kills you. He would never know, or care. The Colt exploded, with flame and smoke erupting from the barrel, it was over. A dark hole appeared in the forehead of the pleading man, while the back of his head disappeared in a red mist, shards of white bone sprayed into the dark night.
Major Tom Grady, stood still, a trickle of warm blood dripped off his left wrist, he knew he had been hit, but he didn’t care.
Sentence had been passed, justice had been done. He had done what the courts could not, he had finished what he had set out to do.
How long he had stood there he didn’t know, but the cold night air was eating into his weary bones. He was standing over the bodies of dead men, but he felt good. His Henry rifle hung heavy in his hand, he could feel the weight of it now, he thrust the Colt into its holster and swung round, cradling the rifle in his arms.
His thoughts were coming easier now. She had been a plain woman of strong character, who had bore him two sons. But the war had come, and he had heard the drum.
At the end of the war, he hadn’t waited to celebrate with his men, he left quietly and rode back to what he thought was to be a peaceful life.
The War was ended. Major Tom Grady, was going home to raise a family and some cattle. That had been the case for the first two months after his return, that is until the four badly dressed cowhands, riding Indian ponies had rode up to the ranch.
They had asked for food, Tom didn’t see any danger then, he gave all he could, but that wasn’t enough. He had been repaid by being beaten half to death, and made to watch as all three raped his wife, and then shot her and his two boys.
It was several days later, when the local sawbones had visited the ranch, to see Grady`s pregnant wife, that he had been found. Barely alive, the Doc took him home.
After the burial, he had sold the ranch, taking only what he needed, that was a little over fifteen years ago. He had been chasing these vermin for that long.
Tom Grady was still standing, as the sun began to rise, he had a thought about burying all three, but that was quickly cast aside, as he muttered to himself, “what the hell, even buzzards gotta eat!”
The roan was still there, Grady picked up the reins, the roan snickered and nuzzled his shoulder. Reaching for the saddle, he swung it onto the back of his horse. He had never noticed the weight of the saddle before, but now he felt every pound, he tightened the cinch, and stepping up into the saddle, he turned the horse South, and made plans for the next time.
Grady mentally wrote the three dead men off his wanted list. He was awful tired, but there was still one to go.
Vallance had come to Astoria, some ten years earlier, no one new from quite where, but he was peaceable enough, bought hisself a Ranch, down on the Sand Creek Valley.
Some say he was a drifter, others an ex-lawman, but whatever he was, he never said. The “Circle Y” Ranch had been almost derelict, old man Thompson, he couldn’t run the place on his own, not since his boys got killed, back in `64. Nearly everyone lost someone then.
Thompson sold out to Vallance, and then spent the next few years tryin` to kill hisself in the local Saloon. It was a gradual thing, then one day he upt an` died.
It was a little after sundown, and Grady`s roan horse was showin` signs of givin` in. As they rode into Astoria, Grady could barely make out the sign for the livery, an old oil lamp with a sputterin` flame finally gave him a clue.
Steppin` down from the roan, he glanced at the open doorway of the barn.
“Anyone in there? Got me a tired `ole horse needs feedin` and a good rub down!”…..There was no immediate reply. Then Grady heard a slow shuffling of feet, from inside the barn, came a man of about thirty, still pullin` on his shirt.
Grady said,” You own this here livery son?”….”Sure do!” Came the quick reply. “What can I do for ya mister?”
“This `ole bag a bones needs feedin` an` a good rub down, how much?” Grady waited, the man stood and looked Tom Grady up and down, finally he said, “ For you, nuthin`!”
Grady shot back a quizzical look, “This ain`t the time to play games son!” Grady wasn’t feeling to kind.
“That saddle yours?” ………….”It is.” Grady replied.
“Then you must be Major Tom Grady! ….The young man was forceful in his reply, yet there was a friendly tone to it.
“An` furthermore Mr Grady, I heard all about you, an` your dealins` with the Chantry Brothers! They wont be botherin` no one else now!”
The Chantry`s, had been a plum evil family, some said they had buried many folk out on the Plains. Unsuspectin` passers by, robbed and slaughtered, and dumped in some shallow grave, but you know how folks git to exaggeratin`! One thing was always true, they always rode unshod ponies.
Now there were three less to worry about.
“News travels fast round here son,” Grady was wonderin` how he knew `bout them three already. ….”I was talkin` about them two you killed back in Carson City!” Grady sighed, “Look after the horse?”
“Will do Mr Grady!” The young man took the `ole roan, and led him to a waiting stall.
“What time does the Bank open ?” Grady shot the question. “Near enough, 10 am! Depends on wether there`s anyone needin` business!”
Grady made for the nearest hotel. It stood forlorn, and needing some serious renovation. Stepping into the half light of the foyer, he saw a tall thin man, in a “Sunday goin` to meetin`” suit. He didn’t look like he had got long to live, his palour was wan and pale.
“You the Manager?, I`ll be needin` a room”.
“Sure thing Mister, any luggage?”
“Nope!”…..With that Grady picked up the room keys and headed in the direction of the stairs, he found his room. But before going to sleep, he checked and cleaned his Colt, and carefully placed it under the pillow. Grady slept the sleep of the dead.
By morning Grady was standin` out on the boardwalk. Leaning against a post, waiting for the Bank to open. The passers by, noted his Range garb, and while looking him over, avoided his eyes. Most just crossed the street, he got the impression that no one wanted his type here.
“Howdy Mister!” The greeting came from the balding gent approaching Grady from the direction of the Marshalls Office.
“Hotel Manager said there would be someone needing business today! Step right on in Mister?” Grady didn’t answer.
Instead he handed the Bank Manager a brass key, “ Need this!” The Manager looked at the key, “Ain`t seen one of these type of keys since way back, it may take a few minutes?” Grady smiled, “I can wait!” he said without feeling. After what seemed an age, the manager came back and beckoned Grady, he was guided into a room, there were several small locked boxes on the shelves around the walls, and one long wooden well made box. The manager handed the key back to Grady, and nodded, saying, “Its on the lower shelf Mr Grady, call me if you want anything, anything at all!” With that, he withdrew closing the door behind him, Grady heard a key turn.
Grady saw the box he wanted, a long mahogany box, with brass fittings and a hand engraved name across the front.
It read, “Major T. Grady US Cavalry.” he ran his hands over the smooth shiny wooden case, and sighed. It had been such a long time.
He inserted the brass key, and gave it a half turn, the lock sprung open. Grady stood quietly, and then carefully raised the lid of the box.
The shine hadn’t left the gleaming octagonal shape of the barrel, a long barrel, all 34 inches of it.
Grady lifted the weapon from the box, he hefted it, and sighted along it.
“Hello sweetheart!……Been a long time, I`ll be needin` your services”. The rifle didn’t answer, it didn’t need to, Grady caressed the wooden stock, he checked the Ladder sights, and cocked the trigger mechanism. It was as though it was yesterday. Each trigger was as easy as it had always been.
The 1874 Shiloh-Sharps Carbine 45-110 Long Range Express Rifle, no ordinary rifle. A brass plaque on the stock, read “ Presented to Tom Grady with Grateful Thanks from Gen. George Crook”.
Grady took out the soft leather scabbard, that was folded neatly in the corner of the wooden box. The ammunition, all twenty rounds was swept up in his hands. Putting the Express into the scabbard, he started for the door.
He rapped on the well painted door within seconds the Bank manager had turned the key, and the door was opened.
“Got everything you need?” Came the question from the manager,….Grady stopped, turned and looked straight into the managers eyes. Grady didn’t need to speak.
He walked out of the bank, across the street and into the livery.
The young man was tending to his horses when Grady walked in, he squinted in the half light, and said, “ I need some information, you might be the man to give it to me? I`m looking for a man goes by the name of Valance!”
The livery man stopped his work, and rubbing his chin replied, “ Never heard that name, whats he look like?”
“He`s an older man, say forty, regular build and has a scar on his chin, kinda like a star!”
“ Theres a man down on Sand Creek, gotta scar the same, rides a Bay, calls hisself Bridges. I`d say he`s worth a look see”.
“Thanks!” Grady began to walk to the stall where his horse was, the Express over his shoulder.
“ If its any further help Mr Grady, the man you lookin` for got a stoop?”
“Yeah! He has!” Grady replied. “Then he is the man you want! Came here some months ago, comes in town, maybe once a month.”
“Thanks! How far is Sand Creek?” ….”Maybe thirty miles?”
Grady saddled the old roan, he carefully tucked the Express rifle into the scabbard.
“You huntin` Buffalo? Mister Grady! `Cos they long gone from these here parts,” the young man was smiling.
“Nope, not today, but I jes might git myself a Coyote!” Grady smiled, and rode off.
With the directions from the livery man, he found Sand Creek. It wasn’t hard, it was the only place around with enough water for cattle, and there was plenty.
Grady needed get some practice in, he hadn’t fired the Express for some years, not since his Apache` huntin` days and this was no time to miss. He found himself an old river bed, sheltered from the Sand Creek valley, and far enough away, so`s no one would hear the rumble of the Sharps.
Climbing down off his roan, he began to measure out 900 yards, this would give him ample distance from his target. When he reached that distance, he then left a piece of white cloth, that he had stashed in his shirt pocket, on a rock. With that done Grady ground tied the roan, and began.
He removed the Express from the scabbard, checked the mechanism, raised the sights, and loaded one round, he set the sights for 900 yards, “Lets hope she aint` to far out!” he muttered to his horse. The Sharps was rested gently on Gradys bedroll, laid out across a flat rock.
Tom Grady, Apache` hunter, was back! He rested the but of the rifle deep in his shoulder, his cheek caressed the stock, and with his trigger finger, he pulled the rear of the two triggers to set the action. That done, he took a deep breath, and exhaled, sighting through the ladder sights, he could just make out the white cloth. Twice he went through the motions.
“Ok baby, let me here you bark!” Grady exhaled for the third time, as he did so, he squeezed the front trigger, it took only a couple of ounces of pressure. There was a sound like thunder! A rumble of sound exploded from the mighty weapon, “ One.. Two …three….four…fi…” he counted out the time to target.
The white cloth, so far away, flew back into the air. Grady smiled, “Well, you aint` to bad for an` ole man Grady!” he said to no one in particular.
There was no need to examine the cloth, no need to fire again, he was satisfied.
Grady put the Express away, and mounted the roan, “Now lets go see if`n we can catch me a Coyote!”
Grady was a patient man, he had to be, it was now a week since the practise shot. He had been watching the ranch house on Sand Creek for that long.
“Sure gives a man a bad back, lying here `ole hoss!” grady was on the point of giving up, he was tired and the diet of jerked beef was getting to him.
With one last sweep of his army field glasses, he surveyed the ranch house and the surrounding area. Nothing, not a damn thing. As he was about to put the glasses away, he saw a man coming out of the bunk house, he was heading towards the ranch house door. Grady watched and readied himself, he stared intently at the scene that was about to unfold.
The man reached the door, and after several seconds it opened, there was what appeared to be a short discussion, and then a man stepped out onto the porch.
The hair on the back of Grady`s neck stood up, there he was, Vallance Chantry! He had never forgotten the face, the hook nose, the mean, evil look of pleasure he had seen on Chantry`s face, as they raped his wife!
The anger in him was immense, but years of tracking this man down were not about to be wasted. Grady lined up the sights, and breathed deeply, exhaling slowly and with the man called Vallance Chantry square in his sights, he squeezed the trigger!
The kick from the Sharps was mean, the rumble of death exploded from the long barrel, and headed towards the ranch house. Grady mentally counted out the time, he watched as the man on the porch was flung back against the wall of the house, and slid slowly to the floor, to lay crumpled, dead.
Vallance Chantry stood on the porch of his ranch house, he stared out into the hills surrounding his domain, he hadn’t a care in the world.
He heard what sounded like thunder, but that couldn’t be, the sky was deep blue and clear. He smiled. The thump of the .45 calibre bullet, powered by 110 grains of the finest black powder, made in England, wasn’t what Chantry had in mind that day, he had other fish to fry.But that wasn’t to be. He didn’t hear the bullet, as he was flung back against the wall of his house, he looked down at his chest. He stared at the neat hole erupting thick red blood, his blood. He died, not knowing who, or what had killed him.
Major Tom Grady, slid the Sharps into its scabbard, and collecting the reins, he mounted the old roan horse. He was going home.