Author's Note

This story is a sequel to River Bend, which was a sequel to Whitewater.  All three novels are stand-alones, which means they do not have to be read in order.  It always helps to do so, but is not necessary. 

Please forgive any mistakes you might discover--typographical or otherwise; they are mine, and mine alone.  Proofreading a lengthy tale can be arduous, and I'm sure I haven't cleaned out all the errors yet.  I do have other stories on the drawing board which will involve some of the characters in Return to River Bend, but for the moment, my only goal and hope is that you will find this tale an enjoyable and worthwhile read.  All my labors will have been successful if such is the case.

A note about type size:  If you are using Internet Explorer and the type is too small, then go to View-->Text Size.  It defaults at "Medium."  Click on "Larger" or "Largest" and you should get a much bigger type, much easier to read.

Mark K. Lewis

Prologue, Part One: Terror Meets Its Match

          They terrorized the entire territory. But they especially terrorized the town of Trident.
          Trident was a small ranching community of maybe 500 souls in an out-of-the-way valley in the southwestern part of the territory. Visible in the distance were three peaks shaped like a trident; hence, the name of the town. The nearest railroad line was almost 100 miles away and would never get closer, so everyone expected Trident to become a ghost town in the not-too-distant-future. But the hardy folks of the valley were tenacious and wouldn’t give up. And they were hanging in there very well, thank you.
          Except when “they” showed up, which they did every four months or so. “They” were the Buckner gang, so named for their boss Bradford Buckner. The gang consisted of five members. Buckner was a prematurely grey-haired, hard-faced man, 40ish, quiet and unassuming, but the unquestioned leader of his men. The rest of the band consisted of “Caveman” Little Bull—“Caveman” because he looked like one—“Weasel” Taylor—“Weasel” because he looked like one—Pedro “Abe” Gonzalez—he fancied he looked like Abraham Lincoln, which was a hoot because he was a bushy-mustached, pepper-pot Mexican with gold teeth and wore a sombrero—and The Infant, the youngest member of the group, called “infant” because of his baby face. But that was the only resemblance he had to a child.
          They all were ruthless men and they all had their special talents. Buckner himself was a criminal genius, but also quick with a gun. Caveman was part Indian; hence, his last name “Little Bull.” Usually, he needed nothing but his hands. He was big, brawny, as strong as an ox and as dumb as one. But he followed Buckner religiously and had squeezed the life out of an untold number of humans. And animals. For longer range killing, he was an expert with a bow, and delighted to see both ends of his arrow protruding from his victim’s body. Weasel’s favorite tool was a razor-sharp knife he kept in a leather sheath up his left wrist. With a quick flick of his wrist, the knife was in his hand and soon after sliced across some unfortunate’s throat. Abe had a bullwhip and a lariat. His chosen pastime was larruping animals, especially chickens, pigs, cats, or dogs—he hated them—and dragging them behind Pronto, his horse, until nothing remained but a bloody mess. Or, if the animal was small enough, he would twirl it over his head faster and faster and launch it against the side of a building, or through a window, as hard as he could. When he finished with animals, he'd go after lawmen--he hated them worse--and pull them behind Pronto till they died in agony. He chortled with glee as he did it—“Abe, he kill another rebel!” It was great fun. To Abe.
          But The Infant was the worst. Barely 20 years old, he probably already had more notches on his gun than the other gang members combined. Infant was, in short, criminally insane. He had shaggy blond hair, but mismatched eyes—one blue and one brown—and they rarely seemed to focus. They also were partly crossed so nobody was ever sure which way he was looking. He loved to drink, gamble, and carouse with any woman he could get his hands on. But his most fearsome feature was his lightning-quick gun. He had out-drawn more than 15 men, and prided himself in the fact that none of them had ever even cleared leather and gotten a shot off. Even Buckner himself—and the rest of the gang—were a little afraid of him because they never knew what he might do. Buckner could control him—but barely, and usually only by giving him what he wanted. Weasel thought they needed to get rid of him.
          “Boss, that brat’s dangerous. He’s crazy and liable to shoot all of us one day. How about lettin’ me slit his throat one night while he’s asleep?”
          Buckner had given Weasel a slight grin. “You want to try it?”
          No, Weasel didn’t want to try it because Infant had this—terrifying—feature of sleeping with his eyes open. And with a smile on his face. And his hand on his gun butt.
          The law couldn’t catch them. After the gang had hit a town, robbing the bank, often killing some citizens, posses would be formed to chase them. Usually some members of the posse didn’t return home, and Buckner and his men always escaped scot free. The territorial Rangers had made many attempts to nail the gang; the result was that several Rangers disappeared without a trace. Buckner had a hideout somewhere in the mountains, but even the best trackers couldn’t find it. Weasel could cover the gang’s tracks…like a weasel in the forest. Nobody had ever come close to finding that hideout or bringing them in. Every town within a 500 mile radius was afraid of the Buckner gang and nearly all of them had suffered at their hands. Something had to be done but suggestions were few and far between—at least successful ones.
          “How about callin’ the army in?” one sheriff proposed.
          The army laughed at the idea. “Handle your own outlaws, we’ve got enough to take care of without solving your problems, too.”
          “I got an idea,” another lawman said. “Let’s put a gold shipment on a stagecoach, and let it be known it’s going to be there. Buckner’ll hear about it and he’s sure to go after it. We’ll set an ambush for the gang and be finished with ‘em once and for all.”
          So the plan was put into effect. Buckner’s gang never went near the stagecoach, but hit a bank instead—in the very town of the lawman who had suggested the gold shipment. And they killed his two deputies in the process. Caveman strangled one of them to death and Abe dragged the other one into oblivion. Weasel amused himself by carving his initials into the forehead of the bank president, while Infant tossed a baby high up into the air and shot it six times before it hit the ground. Then raped his mother in front of her husband and other children. Even Buckner was a little queasy at that one. But the boss tolerated—and in some ways welcomed—what Infant did, because it enhanced the ruthless reputation of the gang and their reign of terror. Because of that reputation, they effectively were successful at every raid before it even began. “The Buckner gang is coming!” created a despondency in a town’s populace that forestalled any attempt at opposition. Give them what they wanted and hope they left without too much damage. It usually didn’t work.
          And Trident was their favorite town largely because there was a whore there that Infant thought he was in love with. And there was a bank that usually had some money in it. And some lawmen and cats that Abe could drag around, and some other animals (and humans) Caveman could squeeze to death or pin to walls with his arrows. Weasel amused himself in whatever way he could; he was a bit of a pyromaniac and always liked leaving a burning building or two behind when they left. And Buckner, who wasn’t as sadistic as his gang members, watched it all with a careful eye and decided when it was time to leave. Not that he was above a little drinking and whoring himself. And killing, if it became necessary.
          So, terror filled Trident again when a teen-aged boy came riding into town, yelling in his best Paul Revere imitation, “The Buckner gang is coming! The Buckner gang is coming!”
          Every cat in the settlement made a beeline for the top of the highest tree it could find. The lawmen—and everybody else—wanted to follow…

          “Hey, Molly, come over here and sit my lap, why don’cha. You know I love you almost as much as I love myself.” And Infant cackled a laugh at his own non-humor.
          He was sitting at a table in Shorty’s Saloon, sharing a bottle of whiskey with Bradford Buckner. Well, “sharing” might not be the right word. Infant took ten drinks to every one Buckner did, but the alcohol never seemed to affect him. He’d empty a shot glass, then throw it across the room, pull his gun, and blow the glass to bits before it hit the floor. Shorty was going to run out of shot glasses before long, but Infant probably wouldn’t care. He’d just drink out of the bottle. The only reason he used the shot glasses in the first place was for the revolver practice.
          Molly—the aim of his affections—was about ten years older than the kid, and still had some attractive features, but now too many nights of hard living on the second floor of Shorty’s were beginning to show in the lines in her face and some flab she couldn’t get rid of. But that didn’t bother The Infant. She was his red-haired, green-eyed honey and he rolled with her as many times as he could during the Buckner gang’s visits to Trident. Molly was scared to death of Infant, but that included being too scared to ever tell him “no.” So upon his request to sit in his lap, she threw a furtive glance as Shorty, who nodded, and Molly did as Infant desired. She would have done it regardless of Shorty’s nod, but he wasn’t about to deny Buckner’s men anything, either. The sooner they finished their ruckus, the sooner they’d leave town. And hopefully, there wouldn’t be too many dead bodies around.
          Buckner himself was playing solitaire; the saloon was empty except for Infant and him. It was just after three o’clock in the afternoon, so there wouldn’t have been many patrons at that time anyway. The gang leader didn’t know where the rest of his men were, except that he had heard one loud “Yip! Yip! Yip! Yip!” which meant Abe had an animal, in this instance a cat, by the neck and was bouncing it along behind his horse. Buckner heard a little girl squealing and crying, apparently following Abe and the cat, but he’d heard that plenty of times before. Let Abe have his fun. There were plenty of cats around and the little brat could get another one. How he gets a rope around a cat I'll never figure out...
          So Buckner’s gang was there. In town. Terrorizing…
          A dog didn’t like the way Caveman smelled and took a nip at the big man. It was the last thing the dog ever did. The poor creature ended up floating in the nearest water trough…
          Weasel was looking for buildings he didn’t like and thought needed remodeling. He was sucking on a match and idly cleaning his fingernails with his knife. He thought the haberdashery shop was ugly and, situated as it was between a laundry and a clothing store…I’m sure the local lumber company could use the business. He chuckled at his own thought…
          The Buckner gang had hardly gotten started…

          From a hill about a half mile out of town, two eyes watched the goings on in Trident. But not for long…

          Trident’s law received a report—and an urgent request. “Sheriff, do somethin’! Them sidewindin’ Buckner men are gonna destroy the whole town. That Mescan’s workin’ on his third cat, Weasel’s already startin’ to strike matches like he’s fixin’ to burn somethin’ down, and that big, ugly freak’s been walkin’ around town, snarlin’ and spittin’ at ever’body like a mountain lion. Now he’s standin’ in front of the bank, eye-ballin’ it real good. Poor ol’ Molly over at Shorty’s keepin’ that Infant occupied, but you know he’s gonna get bored soon and start shootin’ at folks. Buckner’s got somethin’ in mind, you know he does, and it won’t be long till he does it. You and Tom cain’t just sit here. You got a town to protect.”
          Sheriff Lawson Culpepper sighed. He was 45 years old, a good man, and a good lawman. He kept a pretty tight lid on Trident, but he was out of his league with the Buckner gang and he knew it. When Henly Farris burst into his office demanding that he “do somethin’,” Culpepper had been contemplating that very thing, i.e., what to do. He and his deputy, Tom Almond, glanced at each other. They’d been having a powwow, basically wasting time, hoping the gang would just leave on their own, a hope they knew wouldn’t be realized. Culpepper had only been sheriff for seven months; he’d missed the last “visit” by the outlaws because he’d been in the mountains chasing a stagecoach robber. The previous sheriff had fallen victim to Abe’s noose—after The Infant had put bullets in both his knees. Surprisingly, they’d left the bank alone, but with Caveman staring at it now—at least according to Farris—that didn’t bode well for the town’s funds. The sheriff knew he and his deputy were going to have to take a stand. But, the sheriff thought, how do you stop a bunch of hoodlums like the Buckner gang?
          “What was that shooting we’ve been hearing, Henly? The Infant killed anybody yet?”
          “No, he’s been havin’ target practice with Shorty’s shot glasses. Not plugged anybody yet—that I know of.” Farris was a little exasperated. “Why are you and Tom just sittin’ here?”
          Culpepper looked up a Ferris, who was a farmer. “Do you have any ideas how to stop them?”
          “No, but ain’t it your job to at least try? That’s what you become sheriff for, weren’t it?”
          Not to throw my life away to the Buckner gang, it wasn’t…But Culpepper knew Farris was right. The sheriff and his deputy had a job to do—protect the citizens and property of the town of Trident. Maybe I can talk to Buckner, get him to back off a little…He stood up. “Come on, Tom. Let’s go down to the saloon, see if we can head off the worst of it.” He unlocked the gun case behind him, pulled out a shotgun and tossed it to his deputy, then took another one and checked it for load. “And hope we don’t need these.”
          “Why don’t you just shoot all of ‘em and be done with it?” Farris mumbled.
          “You want to try to outdraw Infant?” Culpepper asked him.
          Farris didn’t answer. It was pretty clear that the idea didn’t appeal to him much.
          “We’ll take care of it, Farris. You just go crawl back into your hidey-hole. In fact, clear the town as much as you can. Come on, Tom.”
          And Sheriff Lawson Culpepper and Deputy Tom Almond walked out of their office, heading for the saloon…wondering how much longer they had to live.

          They never made it to Shorty’s. Sheriff and deputy were walking too close together and Abe rode up behind them, launched his lariat, and got two necks as his reward. The Mexican bandito laughed, spurred his horse, and took off down the street. The weight was a little much for Pronto, but he could do it. And as far as Abe was concerned, it would just drag out the pleasure that much longer—no pun intended.
          The two lawmen had dropped their shotguns and were trying to release themselves from the rope. But their heads kept butting together, breathing was getting extremely difficult, and their flailings were desperate—and hopeless. Pronto was picking up speed. Abe was chortling, “Abe! He kill two more rebels! Two more! People of U.S.A. will be proud of me!” Maybe some of them would…
          Weasel was standing on the sidewalk in front of the haberdashery as Abe rode by. They both smiled and waved. Caveman was still beside the bank. He looked at Abe and grunted. Buckner just cast a glance out the window as Abe did his “Yip! Yip! Yip!” on the way by. “He’s got both your lawmen, Shorty. Never seen him do two at a time before. That’s a pretty neat trick.”
          Shorty—whose size and the amount of hair on his head matched his name—replied, “Mr. Buckner, can’t you…can’t you stop him? I mean, Sheriff Culpepper… Tom…they’re good men. Don’t let that Mescan kill them.”
          Buckner didn’t even look at the saloon owner. “A man only lives once, Shorty, so he’s got to enjoy himself. That’s all Abe is doing.”
          Shorty didn’t have the guts to reply that the sheriff and deputy probably weren’t enjoying themselves.
          The Infant was almost certainly having a good time. He was in a room on the second floor with his honey…

          Abe directed his horse around a corner and down a side street, about to make a circle and turn around. Things were going gray very rapidly for Sheriff Lawson Culpepper. He felt the ground bouncing beneath him, and he could hear the grunts and groans of his deputy beside him, but now he couldn’t breathe, and in a few seconds the gray would turn to black…and then disappear completely…

          But then, suddenly, there was no more bouncing as the horse stopped. Culpepper heard a thump as of something heavy hitting the ground, and he quickly removed the rope from around his and Tom’s necks. He was gasping for breath, hurting severely, perhaps with a broken bone or two. But he was alive, as was Tom Almond, who was lying on his back, barely conscious and not moving, but breathing. Culpepper couldn’t get up yet but he looked around.
          And he saw Pedro “Abe” Gonzalez lying in the street, a rope around his neck, his head at an ungainly angle.
          No more lassoed lawmen for Abe.

          Pronto the horse, now riderless, trotted back to Main Street. He saw Weasel and halted. Weasel was a little puzzled and called out to his partner. “Hey, Caveman, do you know what happened to Abe? There’s his horse, but he’s not on it and the two lawmen he was haulin’ are missing, too. Where’d he go?”
          “Dunno. Round that corner was the last I saw,” Caveman replied, pointing at the side street, and then he and Weasel walked towards Pronto to investigate. They were inspecting the rope that had towed Culpepper and Almond, when they heard a hissing sound and a thunk. Caveman looked at Weasel with shock registering on his face. Weasel stared incredulous. Sticking out of Caveman—front and back—was an arrow. Right through the heart. The big man looked down at the arrow protruding from his body, glanced at Weasel again with surprise still on his face…and then fell to the dusty street.
          No more protruding arrows for Caveman.

          Weasel, almost in a panic, took a moment to look around, but didn’t see anyone. Then he made a beeline for the saloon, shouting at the top of his voice, “Bradford! Bradford! Some Injun shot Caveman!”
          He had only been a few doors down from the saloon and he burst into the place, breathing hard. Buckner was holding a card in his right hand, about to play it, but stared at Weasel when he came in. “What did you say?”
          “Caveman,” Weasel wheezed. “We was…standin’ by…Abe’s horse. And…all of a sudden…this arrow…out of nowhere. Right through Cavemen, front and back.” Weasel was in agony. “I mean, he’s dead boss. And Abe’s horse. Abe’s missin’, too.”
          It didn’t take Buckner long to digest the information and draw some conclusions. He cursed. “Abe was pulling both of those lawmen. Too much weight. They must have gotten loose somehow…” He stopped and shook his head.
          Weasel voiced Buckner’s next thoughts. “But they’d be torn up, bein’ dragged behind Abe. And they wouldn’t use an arrow. Would they?”
          “No. No, they wouldn’t.” Buckner’s mind was racing. “Weasel, we better find out who did this. Go find Abe. I’ll get The Infant and we’ll start searching this side of town. I don’t have to tell you what to do if you find the person who killed Caveman.”
          Weasel smiled and fingered his knife. “I’ll get him, boss. And I’ll make him pay. And I’ll make him pay double if he killed Abe, too.”
          “You do that.” Buckner rose from his chair and headed towards the stairs to get Infant, not especially wanting to bother him at the moment. But circumstances dictated that the gang—what was left of it—act quickly and decisively. Shorty stood dumbfounded, listening and watching—and hoping.
          Weasel left the saloon in search of Abe Gonzalez.

          He found him, lying in the street where he had fallen. Weasel saw the rope around Abe’s neck, the lopsided way the Mexican’s head was positioned, and knew immediately that a second gang member had punched his ticket to eternity. Weasel flicked his eyes around, searching for the two lawmen and didn’t see them. “Musta been like Bradford thought,” he muttered to himself. “They got away somehow and done this.” He looked back down at his dead partner. “But a rope…the arrow…” Abe and Caveman’s favorite weapons…Weasel was a little spooked and grasped his knife. He wasn’t a terribly courageous man anyway, and now a ghost seemed to have taken the lives of two of his friends. He glanced around again, worried, and then ran for the nearest building, an empty shop with broken windows. He went inside and stood beside one of the windows, looking outside, searching the buildings across the street for any sign of…anybody. The good people of Trident had gone into hiding and there was no one in sight. No one.
          And Weasel never heard the…ghost…who came up behind him and slit his throat from ear to ear….
          No more necks for Weasel's knife.

          Buckner knocked on the door. “Infant! Get out here. We got a problem.”
          He heard some noise from inside the room, but didn’t bother trying to interpret it. In a few seconds, the door opened and a rather peeved The Infant, shirtless but with his pants on, stood looking at his boss.
          “What’s up, Bradford? I’m kinda busy.” The Infant’s mismatched eyes were rolling, and in opposite directions. Buckner could never figure out how he did that.
          “Caveman’s dead. Shot with an arrow. And Abe’s missing. I sent Weasel to look for him, but it appears somebody in this town is trying to do us in, and we’ve got to put a stop to it. Now. So get dressed. I’ll go up the street east; you go west and find Weasel and Abe. And find who killed Caveman.”
          “All right, all right,” Infant replied, still annoyed. But then a strange expression came over his face. “Caveman’s dead?”
          “Yeah. Weasel said it must have been an Indian because he was shot with an arrow.”
          “An Indian? What in the world?...Well, we’ll find him and scalp him.” And Infant chuckled. “I’ll be along in a minute.”
          “Ok, but don’t be long. I’ve got a bad feeling about this and we need to take care of it before somebody in town besides that Indian decides our medicine has gone bad.” Buckner turned and headed down the stairs.
          Infant didn’t think it was that big of a deal; he had never particularly liked Caveman anyway, so wasn’t sad to hear that he was dead. He closed the door and went back into the room. He smiled at Molly. “Now, where were we, honey?”

          Bradford Buckner was, to say the least, concerned, and he would have been more so if he had known that both Abe and Weasel were also dead. He stood still for a few moments outside the door of the saloon, rubbing his chin and jaw. For once in his life, he didn’t know what to do. Who do I look for? Where do I look? Maybe Weasel has found Abe…The whole setting was eerie and made Buckner uneasy. It was a bright day, full of sunshine, but the wind had started to kick up and moaned between the eaves of the buildings around him. And there was…nobody. He looked up and down the street. It was like the town of Trident had dried up and all the people had left; and the emptiness was palpable. Not a man or a woman. Not a dog or a cat. And, except for his men’s horses hitched in front of the saloon—nary a horse in sight. Buckner actually shivered, then shook off the melancholy. With half a smile, he said to himself, Well, if there’s nobody here, I’ll go find Abe and Weasel and we’ll rob the bank…
          But somehow he knew it wasn’t going to be that easy.
          He started walking, slowly, and instead of going east, as he had told Infant he would, he headed west, knowing that was the way Abe had been riding, and that Caveman and Weasel had been in that section of town, too. He passed a furniture store, a printer’s shop, a Mexican restaurant—he saw no one in any of them. Then he came to a stop at the corner of an empty building at a T-junction. Dust was blowing now and Buckner squinted his eyes against it and the lowering sun to the west. His eyes searched…across the street…a laundry…bookstore…grocery store…hardware…not a living, moving being anywhere. The base of the “T” in the junction was to his right. He scanned, slowly, the down the street.
          Empty. Trident had become a ghost town.
          Buckner crossed the T-junction and kept walking. He saw the haberdashery and the bank, and came to the side street that Abe had taken. His eyes narrowed when he saw a body lying in the dust about 100 yards away. He walked in that direction and, in a couple of minutes, was sure the body was that of Abe Gonzalez. Buckner’s jaw tightened. Hands on his hips—one hand very near his gun—he studied both sides of the street again…and then jumped back in horror as a body fell in front of him from a door to his right. Buckner’s skin crawled as Weasel’s two sightless eyes stared up at him, almost accusingly. The blood from Weasel’s slit throat had coagulated and was almost dry. The gang leader stared at the dead body…three of them…what…?
          But Bradford Buckner didn’t get where he was by lingering on the things he could not control. He immediately drew his gun and got into a shooting crouch, swinging his gun around, ready…for what?
          Very carefully, Buckner slipped into the building from which Weasel’s body had come. There were loose boards, glass, dust, and trash scattered everywhere; obviously the building hadn’t been used for a long time and he couldn’t even tell what it had been used for when it was occupied. He heard a sound to his left and quickly shifted his gun in that direction, but only saw a rat scurrying across the floor. Well, at least there’s something alive in this town...
          But then, he thought he saw something else. The back of the room was dark and in shadows, but…there was an outline…a form…human?...medium height… Buckner narrowed his eyes, trying to decipher the image. The peculiar thing about it was that near what was apparently the top…the head?...there were two… bright?...shiny?...they look almost like…ice…
          It was close to the last thought Bradford Buckner ever had. He heard a soft pop!, the sound of a derringer, and he grunted and his head snapped back as something firm struck him in the forehead. He knew he had been shot, and he was going to shoot back, but his fingers wouldn’t work; he couldn’t pull the trigger. He looked down, not understanding, and saw the gun fall from his hand. Then he looked back up and vaguely, as he was dying, saw…that form…a ghost…coming towards him. And Buckner’s last conscious thought, as he looked at that form was….
          And he was cold…very cold…
          He crumpled to the floor.
          No more...anything...for Bradford Buckner.

          The Infant was in no real hurry to obey his boss’s orders, so he enjoyed his honey a little longer before finally deciding to head down the stairs and go “Injun huntin’.”
          “I ain’t killed me a redskin in a long time,” he told Molly as he was getting dressed. “I don’t know whether I ought to just shoot him dead with the first shot, or play with him awhile.” He looked at her, at least she thought he was looking at her; with his eyes, it was hard to tell. “You know,” he continued, “put three or four bullets in him first, places that won’t kill him. Then one right between the eyes.” He pointed his forefinger at Molly, thumb up, in the classic shooting mode and “fired.” Then laughed.
          Molly shuddered. This callous disregard for human life was something she simply did not understand. “Well, I’m sure you’ll make the right decision,” she said, weakly.
          “Yeah, I’m sure I will, too.” He grinned at her—or in her direction. “I’ll be back soon, honey. Killin’ people works up my appetite. And I don’t mean for food.” And he laughed again as he left the room. Molly closed her eyes and pulled the bed sheet up under her chin. Please, God, please don’t let him come back…please…
          But she had prayed that before and had never received the answer she wanted.

          Shorty was gone when Infant reached the bottom of the stairs in the saloon. The Infant shrugged, went to the bar, picked up a bottle and had a nice long drink of whiskey. Then he set the bottle down and walked outside, ready to kill anybody he thought needed killing. Which was most human beings.
          What he saw, however, was not what he expected. He looked west, to his right, and had to squint because the sun was getting low. He finally distinguished four horses slowly ambling towards him. Over each was draped a dead body. Infant stood dumbfounded, his addled brain unable to reach any rationale explanation. For he recognized his four partners—Bradford Buckner, Caveman Little Bull, Weasel Taylor, and Abe Gonzalez—as the four dead men. He watched, still not quite able to comprehend this radical change in his life, as the four horses walked past him, apparently in no hurry to get anywhere. Then he looked to his right again—west—and out of the sun came another figure. This one was human—or looked like it. It was about 100 yards away and not walking very fast, either. Because the sun was behind that walking figure, Infant couldn’t distinguish who it was. The hat was pulled low; the one thing that struck him was the peculiar way in which the approaching figure walked. Different from any man I’ve ever seen…
          But Infant didn’t dwell on that. He was becoming a little unnerved. The person just kept coming, walking slowly, never speeding up, never making any untoward move, just…walking towards Infant. “Who are you?” he shouted when the figure was within 50 yards.
          No answer.
          “Are you the one who killed my friends? If so, you’re a dead man, you know that, don’t you?”
          No answer. The figure kept walking. 40 yards…35…30…
          “All right, hold it right there,” Infant shouted, really becoming unnerved. He still couldn’t see the face of the person approaching. And the figure kept coming. 30 yards…25…
          “I told you to stop.” The Infant continued to shout. “Don’t you know who I am? I’m The Infant, and if you don’t stop right now….”
          20 yards…15…10…
          “All right, I warned you,” and Infant went for his gun.
          He never cleared leather as two shots, sounding almost like one, delivered two bullets into his heart.
          The Infant stood there for a couple of seconds, shocked, again, not comprehending what had just happened. Then his body began shutting down. His legs gave and he dropped to his knees. The figure—the person—ghost?—who had shot him had never stopped walking, and now was standing five feet from him.
          The last thing Infant saw…the last thought he had was…ice…and he dropped face first to the dust of the street.
          Molly's prayer had finally been answered.

          Many of the people of Trident had witnessed this last act of the drama and began emerging from whatever holes they had crawled into. Several of them slowly approached the remaining figure in the street, who was ejecting the two spent cartridges and re-loading the gun. Sheriff Lawson Culpepper, with numerous scratches, bruises, and a broken arm, was one who was advancing. Even he stopped several yards away, however.
          But the figure looked at him and spoke—“you need to get the trash off your street, Sheriff Culpepper”—and then turned and walked away. The sheriff had seen eyes that were the color
          Nobody on the street—and there were at least 20 people there now—said anything. The events of the day were too marvelous, too astounding, too…incredulous to believe. The Infant was lying face down in the dirt, his hand still on the butt of a gun that had never left his holster. All of Buckner’s gang were dead, no more to terrorize Trident, or anyone else. And then this final, amazing thing…
          “Did you hear what I heard?” somebody said.
          “That’s…that’s…that’s….” And the stutterer looked at Sheriff Lawson Culpepper. “Sheriff, that’s…a woman.”
          Culpepper was all smiles. “Yeah. Believe me, she’s all woman....”
          Allie Summer is back.

Prologue, Part Two: Ants and Ugly Horses

Early November…
          Kelly Atkins and I were having lunch at the Gold Dust Café in River Bend. It was a few days after the death of her fiancée, Nicholas Backstrom, and the Shootout at the Shiny Creek Corral. Kelly remained understandably distraught over the loss of her intended, but I could tell she was also getting angry, bitter, and disgusted at what he did to her. And at herself for letting him do it. She’d get over him, and it probably wouldn’t take very long.
          “You’re leaving Clearwater Valley, aren’t you,” she said to me. It wasn’t even a question.
          I glanced at her, then looked away. Kelly had a way of seeing right through me. She had asked me, a few days ago, not to leave Clearwater Valley, her home, and I hadn’t given her an answer. Yes, I was leaving Clearwater, and I had to tell her, but I hadn’t—didn’t—relish the thought.
          A little background. My name is Robert Conners, Rob, for short. Four years ago, I had been a happily married rancher near the town of Rogersville, which was a few hundred miles south of Clearwater Valley. I had small ranch, was totally satisfied with it, and enjoying a wonderful life with my wonderful wife, Julie. But the local land-baron, named Wilson Brant, wanted my land and everybody else’s, too. I wouldn’t budge, so he sent his men to burn me out. They raped and killed Julie, who was expecting our first child. I’m not bad with a gun, and I sent Wilson Brant and five of his paid thugs to Boot Hill. Well, Brant owned the law in the area so I had to run. As noted, this was maybe four years ago. During my wanderings from the law, I met the lady who became my second wife, Robin Morrow, who lived in the town of Whitewater, some 90 miles north of Rogersville. But before Robin and I got married, I had traveled here—running from the law—to Clearwater Valley, where I met, among others, Kelly Atkins and Gail Sanders. I helped the valley out of a tight situation, and Kelly and I almost got married; she was 19 at the time. But, Kelly and I didn’t get married; Robin and I did. But, sad story short, Robin left me, got a divorce, and I departed the Whitewater region going…somewhere; I had no idea where. I ran into a group of settlers who happened to be heading to Clearwater Valley, so I joined them, ramrodding their cattle drive. Once we arrived in Clearwater—River Bend is the town here—I met up with Kelly and Gail again. Gail had married the local banker, Homer Kragan, who intended to kill her, and almost did; such was the reason behind the aforementioned Shootout at the Shiny Creek Corral. Kelly had been engaged to Nicholas Backstrom, who was a slimeball deluxe operating in River Bend as a lawyer under the alias of Evan Dryer. Backstrom was a criminal genius (Kelly didn’t know this, of course), but with the help of new acquaintances, such as Ranger Allie Summer and ex-barber Ben Baker—and Kelly herself—Backstrom got his just deserts. And Kragan, too, who was found drowned in Clearwater River, which slices through the valley. (The information in this paragraph is a summation of the previous Rob Conners stories, Whitewater and River Bend.)
          And if all that doesn’t confuse the reader…well, hopefully, you get the general idea and background of this current tale. And why I was in River Bend at the moment.
         I had adored Julie more than words can say, and I may have loved Robin even more. So Julie’s death and Robin’s departure—the latter which had been only a few months prior—had left me totally empty and very melancholy. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. I was a rancher, and I had enough money to buy a fair-sized spread. And that’s probably what I would do. But I wasn’t sure yet that I wanted to do it in Clearwater. I was very, very fond of Kelly Atkins—and Gail Sanders, too, for that matter—but…Robin was too close in time. And Kelly was faced with the same situation with Nicholas Backstrom. But she still didn’t want me to leave Clearwater. I had to tell her I was going to.
          Full circle back to the beginning of this prologue.
          Still not looking at Kelly, I responded to her statement. “Yeah. I’m leaving Clearwater.”
         She was obviously frustrated. “Rob, why? You can’t keep wandering around.”
          I can’t? “I can’t?”
          “No, you can’t.” She was a bit angry now, and Kelly Atkins was a beautiful woman when she was angry—and when she wasn’t. A little above medium height, she was raven-haired, with green eyes, full lips, a pixy nose that I had always wanted to pinch but never had, and curves in all the right places. Her most wonderful—if utterly inexplicable--quality, though, was that she seemed to be fond of me. And, as noted earlier, I was terribly fond of her. I did look at her now, and wondered if I wasn’t being a total and complete buffoon by not asking her—at this very moment—to marry me. But I couldn’t. I just…couldn’t. Julie…Robin…oh, let’s don’t start that again, Conners
          Kelly continued. “You’re a better man than that, Rob. Clearwater is a lovely valley, with good grass and water, and you could get a good ranch here. And you know it.” And then she gave me a sassy smile. “I might even let you come call on me sometime.”
          Yeah. Nicholas who?
          Then she added, “Provided, of course, you aren’t planning on marrying Gail Sanders or Allie Summer.”
          I ignored that final comment and smiled in return. “Well, calling on you would be the best reason to stay in Clearwater, I assure you,” and her smile turned warm. “But,” I was in some angst. “Kelly…can you understand? I just…there’s something in me…that won’t settle down yet. It’s like I’ve got ants all inside my body, itching me, shattering my nerves, keeping me from…keeping still.” I sighed and shook my head. Then looked at her. “I just can’t sit still at the moment.”
          Kelly stared at me for a long time. “No, Rob, I don’t understand, I’ve never felt that way. I want some stability in my life right now. You seem to want to run away. It won’t work, you know. So, no, I don’t understand. But I’ll respect your feelings. And I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
          I wanted to kick myself for feeling the way I did. But how could I change how I felt? Kelly was right. I didn’t really know what I was searching for. But—at the moment—it wasn’t her. It wasn’t Gail Sanders. It wasn’t Allie Summer—not that any of the three would have had me anyway. And whatever it was I was hunting wasn’t in Clearwater Valley, either.
          “Will you write to me?” she asked. “I mean, once you get settled somewhere. I want to know you are all right.”
          I don’t know how to write, Kelly, you know that…I hadn’t written to her after I’d left Clearwater the first time. But I smiled at her, and it had to be a sad smile. “Sure. I’ll write.” And we both knew I was lying. But she made me do it by asking a question she already knew the answer to.
          We left the restaurant together and stood outside the door, about to say good-bye, and not wanting to. “Can you wait here a moment?” she asked me. “I have something for you.”
          Her horse was hitched at the railing outside the restaurant, so it only took her a moment. She brought back a small box and handed it to me. With a sad smile, she said, “I…made it for Evan for Christmas. I want you to have it. Go ahead and open it.”
          I did and pulled out a red and blue scarf. It was soft and it looked warm. I wrapped it around my neck and returned her melancholy smile. “It’s lovely, Kelly. Thank you.”
          She just nodded her head.
          It was a cold, blustery day, and that matched my mood. Kelly and I looked at each other, and I didn’t know what to say. So I said something stupendously brilliant.
          “Give your dad my regards.” Well, it was a nice thought
          Kelly nodded again. And, with one last look at me, she turned and walked away. I guess she didn’t know what to say, either. Or, she’d said all she intended to say. I stood there and watched her. She didn’t look back.
          “You two have a spat?”
          I glanced in the direction of the voice; an old timer was standing next to me, a silly expression on his face.
          “No,” I replied, not that it was any of his business. I gave him a wry grin. “Sometimes a man doesn’t know what to say to a woman, and she lets him say it.”
          “No feller ever knows exactly what to say to a woman, but yore an idiot if’n you let her get away, Conners. She’d marry you tomorrer if you’d ask her.”
          I didn’t need to hear that, and I wasn’t sure he was right. At least about the “she’d marry me tomorrow if I’d ask her” bit.
          But I was pretty sure he was right about me being an idiot for letting Kelly Atkins get away.

          Kelly had walked away from Rob without saying anything for the simple reason that she didn’t trust herself to say something. She was afraid she would break out crying, and she’d done her fair share of that in recent days and didn’t want to do any more. And, understandably, her heart went on the defensive. Let him go. If he wants to be a saddle tramp all his life, that’s his business. This is the best valley in the country and if he doesn’t have the sense to see it, then he’s not the kind of man I’d want anyway…
          I certainly don’t need him…
          He can’t stay put for more than a year or two…
          He’s a two-faced liar. He’ll never write to me and he sat there and said he would…
          I’ll bet he’s headed out to Gail Sanders’ place right now to propose to her…
          Or he’ll go join the Rangers and marry that Allie Summer. She practically threw herself at him…
          And his horse is ugly, too…
          It wasn’t working. Tears came to Kelly’s eyes…
          She turned and looked back at him, but he was walking in the other direction now. His dark blonde hair and twinkling, cynical blue eyes fit perfectly on a 6 foot, 200 pound frame that was almost solid muscle. He could smile and laugh as easily as anyone she had ever known. But she also knew there was hurt, deep hurt, inside him.
          As there was in her at the moment.
          She hoped Rob Conners was just a rebound from Evan Dryer.

          I had one more thing I wanted to do before I left River Bend. I had been carrying around nearly $100,000—from the sale of my ranch in Whitewater—ever since I’d left down there, and I was getting a little concerned that I might set it down somewhere and then forget where I’d put it. So I picked up my saddlebags, where most of the stuff was, and went to the River Bend bank.
          I walked up to the teller. “I’d like to open up an account and deposit the money in these saddlebags.”
          The teller, a big, burly fellow who didn’t look the first thing like the stereotypical teller, smiled at me and said, “Ok, sir. Conners, isn’t it? How much would you like to deposit?”
          All the people in River Bend knew me, of course, I’d saved the town twice. Or at least that’s the way the story got told. Everybody likes a good lie. I’d only saved it once.
          “Well, I don’t rightly know how much is in here.” So I opened the saddlebags and dumped all the money in front of him. And was amused at how big his eyes got.
          “Uh…yes, yes, Mr. Conners, I think we can help you, but perhaps you’d better talk to the president, Mr. McBee…”
          Well, that’s what I did, and within half an hour, I had $95,000 deposited in the River Bend bank. I kept a couple of thousand on me for spending money at wherever I wandered to. Since I had once been an outlaw, the notion fleetingly went through my head that it might be kinda fun robbing the River Bend bank, but most of the money I’d end up with would be my own, so I didn’t see much sense in it. But it was nice to know that I could still have evil thoughts.
          But what this deposit really told me was that there was a very good chance that I would…
          Return to River Bend…


Chapter One—The World Is Full of Them

          Kelly might think my horse is ugly, and she might be right. He might think she’s ugly, too. Regardless, Ol’ Paint was as fine a horse as I’d ever known, and I knew horse flesh better than most men. So I kept him, defended him, and made sure he ate and drank better than I did. He’d saved my hide more than once in my life, and I wasn’t going to let him forget it.
          He was actually a pretty nice looking bay gelding, brown with white stockings. And he had a head on his shoulders, too—that is, if horses have shoulders. When I left River Bend, I hadn’t the foggiest notion where I wanted to go. But Ol’ Paint knew where he wanted to go—south. Someplace a whole lot warmer than River Bend was liable to be in winter.
          Ugly, maybe, but not stupid.
          Clearwater Valley is pretty far north, so getting south enough to find some warm clime would take some hustling. It wasn’t so much latitude as altitude; even though it was a valley, Clearwater was a good 4,000 feet in elevation, which—given its latitude—meant it was usually cursed with frightfully frigid weather in winter. I didn’t mind that so much, I was sort of a cold weather person, but I don’t think Ol’ Paint was a cold weather horse. So…when we left Clearwater…we headed south. At least to a lower elevation.
          It would be more accurate to say we headed southwest. The mountains weren’t as thick in that direction and the sun was actually shining once we got about 100 miles away from River Bend.
          And then I had a thought. I told Allie Summer that I’d like to get away for awhile…go to a trout stream, do some fishing, clear my head…That idea sounded better and better the more I rolled it around my noggin. And I knew just the place to go. A nice little warm cabin on the side of a hill, with a trout stream not 50 yards away. There was a stable for Ol’ Paint and nobody within miles. I knew it was there because I had built it over a decade ago before I met Julie and we had gone up there a couple of times when we were married. I hadn’t been since she’d died and I wondered if the memories of her would haunt me. But at the moment, they weren’t, so I thought I’d go and see how I felt about it. It was a couple hundred miles away, so it took Ol’ Paint and I a few days to get there; I stopped in the town of Agua Caliente and loaded up on supplies.
          I found my cabin—as solid as ever. I stabled and fed Ol’ Paint, stored my stuff, cleaned up around the place a little, built a nice fire, found my fishing pole…
          …and was still there three months later…

          They say that time heals all wounds, but sometimes “they” don’t have the faintest idea what they are talking about. Four months after Rob had left River Bend, Kelly Atkins was thinking, I wonder where he is. He said he’d write. I knew he wouldn’t. He and that ugly horse of his are probably in Mexico now…or he got into a shootout with some hotshot and got killed. No, I’ll bet he’s found him another woman. He’s a skirt-chaser if I ever saw one. He was seeing that Robin woman when he was up here the first time, and married her instead of me. What a cheat, a hobo and a liar…
          He isn’t worth it, Kelly, he just isn’t worth it…
          It still wasn’t working. Tears came to Kelly’s eyes…
          If Rob Conners was a rebound, he was long one.

          The interesting thing about it was that Kelly was almost right about some of the thoughts she had had. Almost, but not quite.
          She was almost assuredly right about me not being worth it, though…

          I’m sure the reader is a whole lot more interested in knowing what Allie Summer is doing than in what I’m doing, so I’ll tell you. In a little while. Some of you, who haven’t read River Bend, would probably like to know who Allie Summer is. Well, I’ll tell you that, too. In a little while. For the moment, you just need to know that she worked for the territorial Rangers, the best on the force. Right now, we must meet some other principles of this sordid, nefarious tale.

          The Buckner gang wasn’t the only conglomerate of hoods that plagued the territory; Allie hadn’t cleaned them all out yet. Trent Tolliver and his brothers, and their associates, operated on a wide scale, scanning three or four states or territories—all except Montana. The Tollivers had a lair somewhere in the Gallatins or Absaroka mountains; nobody was really sure. They’d do their raiding in the Dakotas, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, or Utah, and then meet up in Montana. And because they wouldn’t operate in the Montana territory, the Rangers had no jurisdiction over them.
          “Let me go after them,” Allie had said, more than once, to Captain William Travis McConnell, the head of the Rangers. “I’ll find them and put a stop to their nonsense.”
          “Can’t do it,” her boss had responded. “They aren’t wanted for anything here so we can’t touch them.”
          Allie had mumbled, “I can touch them. With a few bullets to the brain.”
          “Leave it be, Allie. They’ll make a mistake one day and we’ll get them.”
          They were still loose, raiding a wide area, and disappearing back to their hideout when necessary. It was all very well coordinated, and Trent Tolliver was the mastermind behind it.
          The gang itself usually consisted of 12 or 13 men. There were five Tolliver brothers—Trent, Top, Terrell, Twain, and Tristy, and they were as close-knit a family as family could be. They would go out in separate groups, each brother taking two or three other men with him (a few of these “extra” men the Rangers had been able to kill, but never a Tolliver). Then, every few months, the whole group would congregate at the Gallatin/Absroka mountain cabin and hide out for awhile. When Trent (the oldest), figured things were safe enough, he would get out his map, and designate which brother would go where in the next series of raids. Their objectives were usually small town banks, stagecoaches, and maybe even the occasional train, though that required two or three of the brothers working in tandem. They’d all be gone for a pre-determined period of time and then rendezvous again at their HQ again, where the booty would be counted and distributed. Trent ordered them never to take any chances on their “missions”; if the situation looked too dangerous, pull out and go to the next target. The brothers usually followed orders in that regard and it was one of the reasons why the Tolliver gang had never been captured. And with five groups making these sorties, they generally collected a pretty good pot, certainly enough to last them till the next time Trent sent them out.
          There was one exception to these “group” outings, and that was Tristy. He was the youngest, the cockiest, the quickest with his gun, and, next to Trent, the quickest with his mind. “I want to operate alone,” he had told his oldest brother from the outset. “Too many people make me nervous and I don’t trust anybody but myself.”
          Trent had snarled at him. “Even your own brothers?”
          Tristy had smiled back. “Especially my own brothers.” They actually had all laughed, and they let Tristy go it alone. Trent thought that Tristy’s gun found its way out of its holster a little too often, but, as noted, the youngest Tolliver was brash and liked to show off. His reputation as a quick-draw was growing rapidly, as was the price on his head. The reward for the entire Tolliver brotherhood was $5,000; half of that was for Tristy. But for all his arrogance, Tristy was careful. As noted, he was smart and that made him doubly-dangerous. And he brought in a lot of loot.
          Well, it was the first of January and time for the next set of operations. Trent, his four brothers, and nine more men were at the mountain cabin and the eldest brother had spread his map on the table, and pointing to the areas in which he wanted his siblings to operate. “Top, you take Gus, Lem, and Snarky and go into Idaho”—he pointed to the region of the map he had circled. “Twain, you head to Wyoming, Terrell I want you in Utah—“
          “We haven’t been there in a while,” Terrell interjected.
          Trent gave him a sour look for interrupting. “That’s why I want you over there. But watch those Mormons. They tend to shoot first and ask their questions to dead bodies.” He stood up. “Tristy, you go wherever you want to, you’re going to anyway.” He looked sternly at the youngest Tolliver. “Try to keep your gun holstered as much as possible, will you? Don’t kill unless absolutely necessary.”
          To Tristy, killing always seemed necessary, but he responded, “Yeah, yeah, ok. I think I’ll head to Idaho, too. I know a couple women there I like.” He grinned a big grin. “All the folks there seemed to really take to me.”
          “I’m sure they do,” Trent said, dismissively. “All right, guys, leave out tomorrow, back here as close to May 15 as you can. Got it?”
          There was universal acceptance, and Trent rolled up his map. He himself was taking a group to the Black Hills. Lots of gold over there
          The Tolliver gang was on the prowl again.

          It was the first of February and I’d been holed up for about three months. The ground hog had seen his shadow, so I figured spring would come early. And, actually, it seemed to be doing just that. The weather was unseasonably warm and the area was clear of snow. I thought it was time to head out and make something of myself. The trout fishing had helped—I had chosen the location for my cabin wisely, i.e., right by a hot springs pool, so I could take a warm bath every day and catch fish that were almost already cooked. But a man can fish and hunt only so much in life……………hold it.
          That’s got to be about the dumbest thing I ever wrote.
          Regardless, I was leaving, my mind just about settled to go back to River Bend. I admit I was getting anxious to see a cow rather than a fish. And, I also confess I had been thinking a lot lately about Kelly. Robin had left me, well, not quite a year ago, but I couldn’t—wouldn’t—let myself mope about it forever. Maybe it was time to settle in Clearwater Valley and see if Kelly would have me.
          Or Gail Sanders.
          Or some cow—and I don’t mean a human one.
          I sighed as I saddled Ol’ Paint; he was ready to go, too. Something wasn’t quite right in my gut yet, though, and I wondered if it was still the hangover from both Julie and Robin. But I just couldn’t let that hold me back, so I’d head in the direction of River Bend and see what happened when I got there.
          If I got there.
          I didn’t get there.

Chapter Two—They’re Everywhere

          Allie Summer was in Denver. She was on an assignment that wasn’t exactly her favorite, but it needed to be done.
          “You’re the only person I’ve got available at the moment, Allie,” McConnell told her. “It will be easy and then you can come back and go on vacation. You deserve it.”
          “I want to wait until April to take some leave, Captain. I’m going to hide out in the mountains and it’s too cold up there now. April will be nice.” She smiled inwardly. Do some trout fishing, like Rob Conners suggested not long ago…
          “Well, that’s your choice, but I need you to take Levin to Denver. I’m sure I’ll have something else for you when you get back.”
          Sometimes Ranger work could be boring, and hauling prisoners from one location to another was one of those times. At least for Allie. Clyde Levin was a notorious outlaw in Colorado, but he’d been captured up near the Canadian border. Allie’s mission was to shepherd him to Denver. Fortunately, the railroad ran all the way. Allie kept him handcuffed to the arm of his seat the whole time—his right wrist cuffed to the seat on his left so that his arm was stretched across his body.
          “But I’ve got to eat,” Levin complained, “and I can hardly do it like this.”
          “The people you killed needed to eat, too, Levin, but you weren’t terribly concerned whether they did or not. And I don’t really care if you do or not. You eat like that or starve. Makes me no difference one way or another. Yeah, actually, it does make a difference to me. I hope you starve.”
          Answering the call of nature didn’t provide much more comfort for Levin. Allie uncuffed him with her razor at his throat—“don’t cough,” she told him—and then walked five feet behind him with a rifle pointed at his back. When they got to the first privy stop, Allie said, “You’ve got two minutes. After that, I start shooting, and those boards on that privy don’t look like they’ll stop a bullet.”
          “Two minutes? I need longer than that!”
          Allie looked at her pocketwatch. “One minute and fifty-five seconds.”
          Levin always finished his business in time.
          So…Denver. Allie looked out the window as the train clackety-clacked into the outskirts of the city. She had never been to Denver before, never been to a city near the size of this one. She wasn’t impressed as she saw the buildings slide by. Deliver this creep to the local law and get back home. I wonder what time the next train leaves…
          The Denver sheriff had been alerted, of course, that Levin would be arriving on this train and he was, indeed, on the platform waiting, with two of his deputies beside him. Allie had cuffed both of Levin’s hands and he stumbled de-boarding the train and almost fell on his face. The lady Ranger had given him a little shove…
          “Oops,” she said, with a smile on her face. “Be more careful. We wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself before you got hanged. You need to enjoy all the pleasures of dangling from a rope.”
          Levin called her something unprintable and Allie just smiled again. “I’ve heard that one before, slimeball.”
          The sheriff was looking a little strangely in the direction of Levin and Allie, who were now advancing towards him. He was a tall man, mid-30s, dark hair and eyes, firm chin and jaw. He didn’t approach but Allie came up to him and asked, “You the local law who’s supposed to take this thug off my hands?”
          “Yes,” the sheriff said, hesitantly. He was looking at Allie queerly; she was used to that, too. Not just the strange looks she got because she was a Ranger, but because of her own striking appearance. Allie was half-Cheyenne, half-Scandinavian. She was taller than most women of the day, about 5’7, and she weighed 120 pounds. Her skin coloring was about half-way between Indian and Scandinavian. She had gotten all of her father’s features, including jet black hair, except one—she had those ice blue eyes which came from somewhere in her Scandinavian ancestry; her mother’s eyes had been blue, but not as startling as Allie’s. As has already been recounted in this story, Allie’s eyes were almost hypnotic; they seemed to almost glow in the dark. And they could indeed freeze the gates of hell.
          From almost her first memories, Allie had wanted to be a Ranger. She learned to shoot, throw a knife, use a bow and arrow—she was an expert in almost every weapon known at the time. Her father had taught her everything an Indian could teach about surviving in the forest, and she had the quickness and reflexes of a rattlesnake. She had joined the Rangers at the age of 17 after a mob had killed her parents, Winter Wolf and Sandra. She quickly became Captain W. T. McConnell’s best Ranger, and he had learned never to ask questions as to how she got things done. As noted, the current assignment bored her, but she was always willing to do anything the Rangers wanted her to do.
          Yet for all her fierceness and arrogance, she had the heart…of a woman. Sometimes.
          The Denver sheriff shifted his gaze to the man with Allie. “Is this Clyde Levin?” Allie was a little surprised the sheriff didn’t know the outlaw.
          “Yes, it is. Captain McConnell sent me to bring him to you. Oh, and he sends his regards. Says he met you in Cheyenne once.”
          “That’s true,” the sheriff replied. “I’m Bart Donaldson, and these are two of my deputies, Roger Keeper and Erase Trainer. McConnell’s a good man.”
          Allie was looking strangely Trainer. “Erase? Did your parents give you that name?” He grinned a near toothless grin. Ugly as sin
          “No, I did,” Donaldson interjected. “He has this…tendency…to erase any problems that he thinks need erasing.”
          Allie smiled. “I like that approach.”
          “Always works,” Erase said, still grinning, and Allie laughed.
          “Yeah, it does. Saves the taxpayers some money as well. A bullet is a lot cheaper than a trial.”
          “Puts a lot of crooked lawyers out of business, too.” Allie laughed again.
          “’Crooked lawyers’ is redundant, Erase.” He chuckled.
          Donaldson gave them both an annoyed look and then went back to his examination of Allie. “I don’t mean to pry, or be nosey. But I’ll admit I’m curious. You’re…a woman…”
          Allie was amused. “How many deputies do you need to figure that out?”
          “Are there…many women…in the Rangers up there?”
          “Nope. I’m the only one.”
          Levin spoke up. “And I’d appreciate it if you’d get me away from her as soon as possible. She’s a holy terror. You ought to see the weapons she carries.”
          Donaldson raised an eyebrow at Allie. “I see the rifle, revolver, and knife. What am I missing?”
          “She’s got a razor behind her neck, a derringer in her boot, two of ‘em, maybe, and don’t let her take that bracelet off her wrist or she’ll slice your head off with it. It’s a garrote. She’s got a bow and arrows somewhere, but I haven’t figured out where she hides them. Oh, if you give her half a chance, she’ll throw you through that window behind you.”
          Donaldson looked at Allie strangely. She smiled and shrugged. “There are a lot of dangerous critters out there.”
          “And one more thing,” Levin said. “She’ll freeze you to death with those eyes of hers.”
          Donaldson and his deputies were studying Allie again with an over-exaggeration of interest. “Yes,” the sheriff replied. “I noticed her eyes right off.” They reminded the sheriff of a line from a poem by Poe: “and his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming….” She has a demon’s eyes, if I’ve ever seen any… Yet Donaldson had to tear his own eyes away from her. She’s an absolutely stunningly beautiful woman…must be one of McConnell’s secretaries, though this is a strange job to give a secretary…well, it's not an overly difficult assignment and she might have been all he had at the moment…
         “My mother was Scandinavian, my father was Cheyenne,” Allie explained briefly. “And I’d like to get home as soon as possible. Can you tell me when the next train leaves?”
          The Denver lawman shook off his stupor. “Not until tomorrow, I’m afraid.” It was late afternoon now. “But you’ll be the guest of the city. We’ll put you up at the Hobbit Hotel, you can have dinner, and then be on your way tomorrow, if you’d like. But I’d be happy to show you some of the city, if you’ll stay a few days. I’m sure W. T. wouldn’t mind.”
          Allie didn’t know if Donaldson was asking for a date or not, but she wasn’t inclined to accept. “Thank you, sheriff, but I’d just as soon head home. I get nervous around too many people.”
          “And they get nervous around her,” Levin, the outlaw, muttered.
          Donaldson ignored that and said to Allie, “As you wish.” Then he spoke to his deputies about Levin. “Lock him up, boys. I’ll see that…the lady here…gets to the hotel and checked in.” He looked at Allie again. “I didn’t get your name.”
          “Summer.” The sheriff nodded, apparently assuming that was Allie’s first name.
          “Let’s go, punk,” Erase Trainer said to Levin, giving him a shove, “or I’ll do what that Ranger shoulda done…”
          Donaldson spoke to Allie as they left the train station. “You’ll have to ride a horse, I’m afraid. I didn’t bring a wagon.”
          “Ride a horse?” Allie replied. “Gee, I’ve never done that before.” And Donaldson laughed.
          “The Hobbit’s not far. It’s not a bad hotel, but Denver should have better ones by now. The city was founded almost 30 years ago. Mining town. Named after the Kansas territorial governor, James Denver.”
          Allie couldn’t have cared less about any of that. She was looking at all the hustle and bustle around her as they rode down the dusty street. Ladies in flowing pink dresses, carrying matching parasols, men with black canes in starched black suits with coattails, strutting down the sidewalk like they were important or had someplace important to go or something important to do, hawkers hawking their junk from wagonstalls on the street corners, some kid shouting at the top of his lungs, trying to sell the afternoon newspaper, three old codgers sitting in rocking chairs in front of a saloon, taking turns spitting tobacco at a spittoon six feet in front of them…and the place stank to high heaven. Tons of horse stuff all over the streets will do that to any town…As if on cue, she saw two horses hitched to a rail to her right unload their lunch, adding to the barnyard ambiance Denver was already engulfed in.
          But it was the buildings that mostly caught Allie’s attention. They turned onto a stone-paved street that was lined with two-storied, posh brick structures with doctors’, lawyers’, and land agents’ names all over them. She counted at least 10 mining companies within a two block radius. There was a huge theater—the “Rose”—advertising some play with a handbill featuring a woman wearing less than Allie would feel comfortable going to bed in. The whole place smelled of money—well, what smell was left over from the horse stuff, that is. She and Donaldson hadn’t ridden half a mile till Allie hated the place. There’s more crooks in these buildings than in the entire Montana territory…
          Donaldson explained, “The hotel is down Third Street—the next block.” He had to lift his voice to be heard. He gave her a whimsical smile. “It’s a lot less noisy and there’s a decent steakhouse right across the street, with a nice bar.”
          “The steakhouse sounds good,” Allie said. “I’m not much on bars. Every time I go into one of them, some guy thinks I work upstairs. Or wants me to.”
          Donaldson laughed. “Well, an hombre always thinks he can get lucky after he’s got a few shots of whiskey inside him.”
          Just then, a man with a star on his shirt—another deputy, Allie assumed, a city the size of Denver would need quite a large policing force—rode up. He gave Allie a once-over, but then looked at, and spoke to, the sheriff. “Sheriff, there’s a couple of men holed up in the Mangus Mining Company building. Apparently, they thought there was money there and they’d rob the place. Well, we’ve got the building surrounded, but they’ve got three hostages and say they’re going to start sending out dead bodies in a few minutes if we don’t let ‘em ride out of here.”
          Donaldson’s face turned hard. “Hostages, huh.”
          “Yeah. Three of them. Two clerks and the president of the company.”
          “Archibald Cooper,” Donaldson told Allie. “They can have him, for all I care.”
          “Where is this place?” Allie said.
          “About a mile up the road, back the way we came,” Donaldson said. “I’ll have to leave you to find the hotel by yourself. It’s just up the way a few blocks on the right. Tell them I’ll come in and settle the bill later. Or if they demand payment up front, I’ll pay you back.”
          “That hotel can wait,” Allie responded. “I’m coming with you.”
          Donaldson hesitated. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.” Then he added hastily, “Not that you’re incompetent, but you are way out of your jurisdiction and I’m afraid…well, I don’t want you to get hurt.”
          Allie shrugged. “I’ll watch out for stray bullets. Another gun never hurts. Come on, we’re wasting time.”
          The sheriff acquiesced because they did, indeed, need to hurry. “All right, but I want you to know that under no circumstances are you to get involved. You can watch, but stay out of it. Is that clear?”
          “I understand,” Allie said with a smile. Well, he seems fairly competent. Maybe he won’t need any help…
          Donaldson nodded, figuring that matter was settled. “Let’s go, Hoot. I need to get there before they start tossing bodies into the street.”
          Allie rode along at a canter behind the sheriff and his deputy. In a couple of minutes they came to a section of the street that had been cordoned off for more than a block. There were gawkers, of course, but Donaldson’s men kept them back.
          “Sheriff,” one of the deputies said, “they’re getting antsy in there. Say that if you don’t talk to them within five minutes, somebody is going to die.”
          “Ok,” Donaldson responded. “I’m here now.” He said to Allie, “Why don’t you stay back here where it’s safe, Summer.”
          “I will if you will.”
          Donaldson gave her a perturbed look. He didn’t have time to argue with an obstreperous woman. Well, if she wants to get her head shot off, that’s her business…”All right, then, come on.”
          The deputy on the ground looked Allie up and down, then waved her on through.
          The Mangus Mining Company structure was in the middle of the block, undistinguished in appearance, with dirty double windows and a peeling sign hanging over the door. This was not the high-born area of town Allie had ridden through earlier. “Don’t let appearances fool you,” Donaldson said. “Archibald Cooper is one shrewd operator and Mangus is one of the richest mining companies in Denver.”
          “Why don’t you like him?” Allie asked
          “Because he’s the south end of a north bound Appaloosa.” Allie smiled.
          Donaldson’s men—and Allie counted seven—had set up a barricade across the street, mostly of hay bales, but with a couple of sacks of corn feed thrown on top. Donaldson and Allie came in low and knelt behind the barricade. As always, Allie got some looks, and as always, she ignored them.
          “What’s the situation?” Donaldson asked.
          One of his men, whose name was Barrett, replied, “They’ve just been waiting for you, sheriff. Three of them.”
          “I thought there was just two.”
          “No, there are three.”
          Donaldson’s face was thoughtful and grave. “Three hostages?”
          “Any idea who the outlaws are?”
          “Nope. They won’t identify themselves.”
          Right then, a voice was heard from inside the Mangus building. “Sheriff? You out there?”
          “Yeah, I’m here,” Donaldson responded. “You men throw your guns out and come out with your hands up and nobody will get hurt.”
          He heard laughter at that. “You come get us. Tell you what. You for all three hostages.”
          Donaldson’s face grew perplexed. “Who are you?”
          “You don’t recognize my voice?”
          “No, I don’t.”
          “It’s your ol’ pal, Two o’ Clubs Grigsby.”
          The sheriff grimaced and blew out his breath.
          “Who’s he?” Allie asked.
          “An ‘ol’ pal,’ like he said. I killed his brother a few years ago and sent Two of Clubs to prison. I’d heard he’d escaped and was half expecting him, but I didn’t think he’d pull a stunt like this.”
          Allie nodded. “Where’d he get the name ‘Two of Clubs’?”
          “He killed a man over a card game one time when he thought the fellow was cheating with a two of clubs.”
          Allie almost smiled at that. The two of clubs is the weakest card in the deck. “Well, I don’t think he’s got a very good hand right now, either.”
          Donaldson looked at her. “It seems to me that he’s holding all the cards. I know Grigsby. He’s a killer and he won’t hesitate to shoot those people in there.”
          “Sounds like he wants you, not them.”
          The sheriff gave Allie a bit of an annoyed look. “That doesn’t especially make me feel any better. Or solve the problem.”
          “Sure it does,” Allie replied. “You make the trade for the hostages. Then you go in there, get blown away, and then when the three thugs come out, we’ll blow them away. Three bad guys to one good. Pretty good trade, I’d say.”
          Donaldson just stared at Allie. He wasn’t sure if she was kidding or not. “That’s easy for you to say. What would you do if you were in my position? I don’t really think you’d want to die, either.”
          Allie, of course, had been joking, but she knew exactly what she’d do. And she also knew exactly what she was going to do. But first, she wanted to see what Donaldson would do. After all, it was his problem, not hers.
          “Keep your shirt on, Sheriff, I was only joking. I wouldn’t trade 100 outlaws for the life of one good lawman.”
          Donaldson turned his gaze back to the mining building. “Well, I’m glad to hear that. But I don’t especially think this is a good time for jokes.”
          Allie looked at him. “Sheriff Donaldson, if you can’t laugh at death, you’ve got no business being a law officer.”
          Donaldson looked back at Allie. Who is she? She might be crazyHer eyes…He almost shivered—and was almost hypnotized--staring into Allie’s ice blue eyes. Then he shook it off, and returned his attention across the street. “Maybe you’re right but pardon me if I don’t feel like laughing at the moment.”
          Grigsby called out again from across the street. “Sheriff, you got two minutes to show yourself and head across the street. You know I mean what I say.”
          “Does he?” Allie asked Donaldson.
          “Yeah. I’m afraid he does.”
          “What are you going to do?”
          He looked at Allie again. “Die laughing?”
          Allie smiled. “Well, I know what I’m going to do…” She took off her holster, but pulled the gun out and stuck it into the back of her pants. Then the derringer went up her left sleeve. She already had a knife in a sheath on her right wrist.
          “What are you doing, Summer?” the sheriff asked.
          Allie replied, “Contact your local mortician, Sheriff, and let him know that he’s fixing to have three bodies to fit for caskets.”
          She stood up and shouted, “Don’t shoot! Please don’t shoot! I’m not armed!” And she climbed over the haystack and into the street.
          “Summer, get back here!” Donaldson said.
          But Allie kept walking, slowly, towards the mining building, her hands up in the air. She had gotten Grigsby’s attention. “Stop right there, lady.” Allie was about halfway across the street, and halted. “Who are you?”
          “My name is Summer.” She figured Grigsby had her Donaldson call her that. “I’m…” oh, what’s that sheriff’s first name? “…Donny’s sister. Please don’t kill him.”
          “Donny?” Grigsby asked.
          “That’s my…pet name for him.”
          “I didn’t know he had a sister.”
          “I’m from back east. I just got here today. Don’t kill him. I mean…I’ll trade…me…if you’ll let the hostages go…and let Donny live…I’ll do…whatever you want….”
          Grigsby obviously could see Allie although she couldn’t see him because it was light outside and dark in the building. He was silent for several seconds….

          "Donny” was watching Allie—as was everybody else—with extreme interest. I wish I had her guts…where did McConnell find her? But I can’t let her get killed
          He called out again, “Summer, get back here. It’s me he wants, not you…”

          “Now, hold your horses a minute, Sheriff,” Grigsby hollered. “Maybe we can come to some kind of agreement here. You come on in with your sister. Me and the boys will…make her acquaintance…and I’ll let you live. I’ll have to put a bullet in each of your kneecaps so you won’t be able to walk no more, but we’ll turn the hostages loose. You let us get out of town and we’ll call it even. How does that sound?”
          Allie looked back at Donaldson. He looked at her. She nodded. She has something up her sleeve, the sheriff thought…well, besides that derringer… He didn’t know about the knife on her right wrist. Maybe she DOES have a razor and garrote…
          Allie turned back to the mining building. “Do you have to shoot him? He’s my brother. I don’t want him to get hurt.”
          “I’m sorry, ma’am, but he killed my brother. I told you I’d let him live, and Two o’ Clubs Grigsby always keeps his word.” Ha, I’ll bet you do, Allie thought. “But I’m going to have to hurt him just a little bit because of what he did to my kin. You can understand that, can’t you?”
          “I…I guess so. But please don’t kill him.”
          “I promised you I won’t.” Then, “Sheriff! Come on. Without the hardware.”
          Donaldson looked at his deputies. “If worse comes to worst,” he said softly to them as he laid down his gun, “you make sure those men don’t get out of town alive.”
          “What’s she doing, sheriff?” Deputy Barrett asked. “Who is she?”
          “Greg, I don’t know the answer to either one of those questions, except that she must have a death wish and she’ll probably get me killed, too. But she’s getting us into the building alive. At least, I think she is.” Then he shouted out, “All right, Grigsby. I’m coming. But if you hurt my sister…”
          “Aw, sheriff, we won’t hurt her, we just want to have a little fun. She’s awfully nice looking. I don’t know how an ugly jackass like you could have a sister that looks like that.” He guffawed, and Allie heard some other snickers from inside the building.
          She waited until Donaldson came up beside her and they walked slowly towards the building. “That’s it,” Grigsby said, “nice and easy. There are two rifles pointed at you with itchy fingers, so don’t move fast or try anything stupid.”
          The Ranger and the Sheriff walked into the building. It was simply laid out and furnished. There was a counter that stretched about half way across the room, and a desk a little way behind it. In the back of the room was a closed door, but there was a plaque on it that read “Archibald Cooper, President.” A clock on the wall read 4:15, a small bookshelf, a couple of dusty paintings, and that was about it.
          Except for the human flesh in the room. The three hostages were all sitting and tied to chairs in one back corner. Cooper was obvious by the clothes he wore. The other two hostages were unremarkable male clerks. One of Grigsby’s men was standing over them, pointing a revolver. Another man was holding a rifle, aimed at Allie and Donaldson, and the outlaw who was obviously Grigsby was behind the counter, also with a rifle. Aimed at the sheriff.
          Allie took in Grigsby at a glance. Medium height, 30ish, red hair under a stained gray Stetson. She didn’t like the look in his eyes; a little crazy. She spoke first, and had a tremor in her voice. “Ok…we’re here. I’ll do what you want. You promised not to kill Donny.”
          “I’m sorry, lady,” Grigsby said, his voice hard. “But a man’s got to pay his debts. Donny boy here killed my brother and put me in prison. I’d say I owe him, big time. He’s got to die. You understand, I’m sure.” Then, to Donaldson, “Any last words, Sheriff?”
          The sheriff’s face was hard. Why did I let her lead me into this? I should have known… “You won’t get away with this, Grigsby, you know that, don’t you?”
          “Oh, yes, I will. I’ve got a fourth hostage now. We may even take her with us, she’s such a looker. Start your prayers, Donaldson, because you’ll be talking to God in a few seconds anyway. Or the devil, most likely.” He raised his rifle and pointed it at the sheriff’s chest.
          “You pull that trigger, buster, and you’ll join him in hell a split-second later.” Allie had her revolver in her hand now, aimed at Grigsby. Her voice matched her eyes…ice.
          Grigsby was caught off-guard. “Where did you get that…?” His eyes narrowed. “So the little sister thinks she’s tough. But I still hold the aces, lady. Jansen back there has a gun on the hostages. You shoot and he shoots.”
          In a flash—and nobody saw the move—the derringer was in Allie’s other hand. “Jansen has blood in his veins, too. Except if he pulls that trigger, a lot of it will be splattered against the back wall.” Allie didn’t even bother looking at Jansen, but she could see him out of the corner of her eye. He shifted a bit and didn’t appear to like the idea of where his blood might end up.
          “Woman, I don’t know who you are, but you’re awfully dumb. I only want one life—Donaldson’s. Then I’ll let the hostages go. You’re not going to accomplish anything but get him killed, you killed, and them killed, too.”
          “And you killed and Jansen killed and that other goon back there. It’s your call, Grigsby. How bad do you want to live? Is Donaldson’s life worth yours? If you’ve got a card higher than the two of clubs, I suggest you play it.” Her .36 was rock solid in her hand, aimed at Grigsby’s head, and the derringer covered the other two men. Donaldson was staring at her, completely befuddled.
          Grigsby scowled. “You aren’t that good, nobody is.”
          Allie smiled, but it wasn’t the smile that reached her eyes. “Do you want to bet your life on that? But you’ll never find out if I am or not, because my first bullet is going into what little brain you’ve got.”
          Grigsby was getting a little unnerved and even more so by looking into Allie’s eyes. He’d never seen such terrifying eyes before. Absolutely cold. “Who are you?”
          “My name is Allie Summer. I’ll put it on your tombstone as the person who killed you, if you want me to. After I spit on your grave.”
          “Oh, Lord in heaven,” Jansen muttered. “Boss, you’ve heard of—“
          “Yes, I’ve heard of Allie Summer, but didn’t know she was a woman. Where did you find her, Donaldson? Is she really your sister?”
          But the sheriff was gawking at Allie, too. “You’re Allie Summer? It never registered…I never thought…” Allie was a little surprised that she was known this far south.
          Everybody was distracted now and Allie knew she’d never have a better chance. She had learned that “fair play” was for losers, and most lawmen who “played fair” ended up six feet underground. She didn’t trust Grigsby not to start firing, so, while everybody was contemplating her name and reputation, she cut loose. Her first shot hit Grigsby right between the eyes. He grunted and his head snapped back, but by involuntary reaction, his finger pulled the trigger on his rifle. Allie heard Donaldson cry out, and knew he was hit, but she didn’t have time to check on him. Her next shot, with the derringer, took Jansen in the heart, and he lifted up onto his toes, a surprised expression on his face, and started toppling over. Because Allie had had to turn her head to look at Jansen, the third outlaw was able to react. He fired his rifle at Allie, but she was on her way down to the floor while shooting Jansen. Unfortunately, her revolver scooted out of her hand when it struck the floor, but she still had the derringer and fired the second shot. She missed because the man was also moving. He had to chamber another bullet and aim his rifle to shoot, and it took him too long—he never pulled the trigger because Allie had slid the knife into her right hand and thrown it. It hit the man dead in the heart…and he was dead on his feet. She grabbed her firearm again, just in case, but she knew all three men were dead.
          She quickly checked, just to make sure, though. Archibald Cooper spoke up. “Oh, thank God. That was so frightening. Please untie me, this is so uncomfortable.”
          It didn’t take Allie long to agree with the sheriff’s assessment of Cooper. “You can wait, mister, the sheriff’s been shot.” Allie went over to Donaldson, but he was slowly getting to his feet, holding his left shoulder.
          “I’m alright,” he told Allie. “I think the bullet passed clean through.”
          Allie confirmed that. “Yes, it did.” She took out her handkerchief and handed it to him. “Here. This will help staunch the blood flow till you can get to the doctor.”
          A voice called from outside. “Sheriff? Is everything ok?” It was Deputy Barrett.
          Donaldson went to the door. “Yeah, Greg, everything’s fine. It’s over. The three outlaws are dead and the hostages are safe.” He looked at Allie. “You’re amazing, woman. I’d heard you were good, but…” He shook his head. “I also thought you were a man.”
          “I didn’t think anybody down here would know me.” She smiled. “I was glad to help. I never can pass up a good hostage crisis.”
          “Will somebody please come untie me?” Archibald Cooper.
          Donaldson gave Allie an annoyed look. “I told you he was a…”
          “Yeah. Let him sit there and stew awhile.”
          By that time, several of Donaldson’s men had arrived. “Are you ok, Sheriff?” Barrett asked. “You’ve been shot…”
          “Just a flesh wound, Greg.” Then, motioning to Allie, he said, “Do you know who this is?”
          Barrett looked blank. “I think you said her name was Summer.”
          “Yeah. Allie Summer.”
          Barrett’s jaw dropped and he stared at Allie. “Great Caesar’s ghost…I thought Allie Summer was a...” Yeah, yeah, yeah
          Allie was putting her derringer back into her boot and sheathing her knife, which she had retrieved and wiped clean on the outlaw’s shirt. The .36 she shoved into her pants pocket until she got her holster. “That’s a .36,” Donaldson observed. “Not a very powerful gun.”
          Allie tugged on her shirt sleeves to get them orderly. She didn’t look at the sheriff. “A gun doesn’t have to be powerful if you shoot straight. Look what the derringer did to Jansen back there.” Then she did look at the sheriff, and gave him her non-eye-reaching smile. “And it didn’t even splatter any blood against the wall.” She added, “A .45 is for a macho man who thinks he has to show off. I could draw ten times before you lugged that heavy thing out of your holster.” That isn’t exactly what Allie believed. She had a .45 and was as accurate and almost as fast with it as with the .36. She just preferred the smaller caliber because it fit her hand better.
          Regardless, Donaldson wasn’t inclined to argue with her. “Take over, Greg,” he said to his deputy. “I guess I’d better get the doctor to look at this shoulder.”
          As it happened, a doctor had entered the building. He had been rounded up, just in case he was needed. “I’m Doctor Parker,” he said. “Sit down and I’ll take a look at that wound.”
          Allie spoke up. “If you don’t mind, Sheriff, I’d like to go get that hotel room now and something to eat. Train food would gag a rat.”
          Donaldson laughed. “You’re right about that.” Then, he looked at the Ranger. “Allie, thank you. I don’t know what I would have done in this situation, but I’d probably be dead. I’ve never seen anything handled as smoothly as you handled this.”
          Allie nodded, then smiled. “Tell Erase we solved the problem the easy way.”
          Donaldson chuckled. “Ok. Please don’t leave town till I see you. There’s a reward for these hoods, and since, technically, you’re out of your jurisdiction and in effect acting as a private citizen, that reward would be yours.”
          “I’ll throw in $100, too,” Archibald Cooper said. He had been released by one of Donaldson’s men and had walked up.
          Allie looked at the sheriff and rolled her eyes. “Generous, isn’t he. I can’t take the reward, Sheriff, you know that. Give it to your favorite charity.”
          There were too many people milling around and Allie didn’t like crowds, especially any of them who were behind her back, so she said good-bye and left. She smiled to herself as she rode to the hotel.
          Denver’s not such a bad place after all…
          But she did hope for a quiet trip home.
          Wasn’t going to happen….