Mickey Minner



This story is a continuation of my series, The Sweetwater Saga . You may want to read the preceding stories before reading this one. Sweetwater, Rolling Thunder, and Fireweed can be found on my page here at the Academy or on my website –

Part 1





Instead of stopping the team at the mercantile or driving to the livery where she kept her horses, Dannie encouraged them to keep moving along Sweetwater's only street. It was still dark and she was relieved to see few lights glowing in the town's dark buildings; with a little luck she would be able to continue through town without anyone noticing. But looking down the street to the far end of town, she couldn't help seeing the two story building emerging out of the night's darkness and the brightly lit window of the room she shared with her lover. A shadow crossing the window confirmed that Leevie was awake and moving about the room.

The team had yet to reach the Silver Slipper when the boarding house's front door opened and Leevie stepped out onto the wide porch. Barefoot and wearing her winter coat over her nightgown, she quickly walked across the expanse and down the steps to meet the wagon.

Reluctantly, Dannie pulled on the reins to stop the horses. “Leevie, ya shouldn't be out here,” she said quietly setting the wagon's brake.

“Where have you been?” Leevie asked as her lover climbed down from the tall wagon. “I've been so worried.”

Dannie stomped the tiredness out of her legs then opened her arms to embrace Leevie. “I picked up a ‘xtra load in Garnet. Had ta take it ta Hellgate.”

Welcoming the feel of familiar strong arms surrounding her, Leevie slipped her arms around Dannie's waist squeezing her tight. “You look exhausted,” she murmured.

“Been a long night,” Dannie agreed.

“Then let's get the team put up and you into bed.”

“Can't,” Dannie said decisively.

Leevie tilted her head back to look into Dannie's eyes. “What do you mean?”

“I have… I seen sumthin' in Hellgate I… I have ta… it's… it's sumthin' Jesse will be wantin' ta know,” Dannie finally forced the words out.

“Then you can ride out to tell her after you've had some sleep,” Leevie insisted.

“No,” Dannie said in a firm voice. “It needs ta git done now.” She released her hold on Leevie. “Ya go back ta bed. I'll be back soon as I talk ta Jesse.” Then she turned to climb back up into the driver's box.

“Dannie, stop!” Leevie demanded reaching out to take hold of her lover's arm. “You can't go.”

Dannie spun around. “I have ta. Now, go back inside,” she ordered.

“Your team is as exhausted as you are,” Leevie persisted. “They won't make it to Jesse's.”

“Dammit, woman,” Dannie grunted when she saw the glow of lanterns being lit in some of the other buildings. “Ya is wakin' up the town.”

“I'll wake up the whole territory if it'll keep you from this fool idea,” Leevie snapped.

“What the hell is goin' on out here?”

Dannie and Leevie turned to see Bette Mae storming out of the Slipper, shotgun in hand.

“Sorry,” Leevie called to the agitated woman. “It's just us.”

Shuffling across the porch to stand at the top of the steps, Bette Mae relaxed her grip on the shotgun's trigger. “So's, ya finally found yer way home, didja?” she addressed Dannie.

“Yes, and she's insisting she has to go out to talk to Jesse right now.”

“What fer?” Bette Mae asked from the top of the steps.

Dannie frowned. “Ain't no bizness I want ta talk ‘bout ‘cept with Jesse,” she muttered.

Also awakened by the loud voice in the otherwise still night, Sally came out of the Slipper to stand beside Bette Mae. “What's wrong?” she asked sleepily.

“Tha's what I is tryin' to find out,” Bette Mae responded.

“I ain't gonna stand here jawin' with ya,” Dannie said angrily. “I aim ta go talk ta Jesse, so go back ta bed and let me be.”

Leevie tightened her grip on Dannie's arm. “You are not going anywhere—”

“Leave me be,” Dannie grunted twisting her arm free to start the climb up the tall wagon to the driver's box.

“Dannie, no!”

“Go wake up Billie,” Bette Mae told Sally then waited for her to hurry down the steps and past the wagon before returning her attention to the women in the street. “Leevie's right,” she told Dannie. “Best ya wait ‘till daylight.”

“Ya don' know what I seen,” Dannie shouted back, her voice breaking when the image she had spent most of the night trying to suppress flooded back.

“Then tell us,” Leevie implored.

Gritting her teeth in an attempt to control her churning stomach, Dannie released the wagon's brake. The tired animals were slow to respond to her urgings and it took several moments before they were all straining against the harnesses.

“Dannie, please stop,” Leevie called out when the wagon began to inch away from her.

The team had barely made it past the Slipper when Billie ran up. Grabbing the bridles of the lead horses, he brought the wagon to a stop.

“Let ‘em go,” Dannie ordered reaching for the bull whip she carried but seldom used.

“Can't do that,” Billie said, “these horses are too tired to be going anywhere.”

Dannie glared at Billie standing stubbornly in front of her team. Dropping the reins, she moved to the side of the wagon away from where Leevie stood. “Then I'll git me a horse from the livery,” she told them swinging her leg over the side of the wagon.

While Leevie hurried around the back of the wagon, Billie turned the horses to lead them to the stables behind the Oxbow saloon.

“Will you stop,” Leevie cried as she tried to catch up to her lover.

Dannie spun around. She waited for Leevie to reach her then placed her hands on Leevie's shoulders. “I tol' ya I have ta do this,” she hissed.

Leevie looked into Dannie's eyes and was shocked at what she saw. Though it was still dark, the sky had lightened a little as the night had begun to be replaced by the dawn. Dannie's eyes were bloodshot and swollen and they were filled with a sorrow so intense that Leevie gasped seeing it. She lifted a hand to her lover's face and gently caressed her cheek. “Dannie,” she said softly, “I've never seen you like this. Please tell me what's wrong,” she begged.

“I think that'd be a right good idea,” Bette Mae added having left the porch to walk with Billie. They were now standing beside the distraught pair, the team of horses shuffling impatiently behind them.

“Goodness,” Ed huffed running up to the others with Sally. “What is this all about?” he panted.

Dannie looked at the anxious faces then sighed heavily.


It took several minutes for Dannie to force the words past the lump in her throat but she finally managed to explain what she had seen in Hellgate.

“Why?” Leevie asked, her arms circling Dannie in a loving embrace. “Why would anyone do that?”

“Can't account fer the hate some men carry,” Bette Mae told her.

“Damn,” Ed said shaking his head in disgust. “That's just not right.”

“Poor Jesse,” Sally said.

“Ya understand now?” Dannie asked. “I have ta go tell her.”

Ed looked sympathetically at the wagon driver. “It might be better to let Billie and me ride out—”

“No!” Dannie interrupted firmly.

“Dannie, I know what you're feeling—”

“Ain't none of ya know what I is feeling,” Dannie protested angrily. “But I'm the one that seen it and I'm the one that's gonna tell her ‘bout her friend. It's the right thing ta do.”

“Dannie's right,” Billie interjected. “Knowing Jesse, she'd want to hear it from her. I'll ride out with you,” he said directly to Dannie. “If that's alright?”

Dannie nodded. “I'd… I'd like that. But if we're doin' it, let's be goin'. Don't know how much longer I can keep my gut in check.”

Seeing that Leevie wasn't yet willing to release her hold on Dannie, Billie told them, “I'll see to your team and saddle some horses.” Then he started for the stables, leading the team and wagon behind him.

“I'll give you a hand,” Ed offered falling into step with Billie.

Bette Mae waited until the dust settled after the horses had walked away then she turned back to the Slipper. “Come on, Sally, let's get the stove heatin'. Looks like we is in for a busy day.”

Dannie watched Bette Mae and Sally until they had climbed the porch steps and disappeared back inside the Slipper before turning her attention to Leevie. “I'm sorry, honey,” she whispered wiping the tears off her lover's cheeks with the back of her fingers. “I didn't want ya ta know.”

“It's not right, Dannie,” Leevie sniffled.

“I know.”

“It's so terrible what Walk and his family must have… Oh Dannie, how will you tell Jesse?”

Danny pulled Leevie close. “Been askin' myself that all the way from Hellgate.”

“I should come with you.”

“No. It's bad ‘nuff that ya had ta hear that jus' now. No reason ya should have ta hear it again when I tell Jesse.”

“But Jennifer…”

Dannie realized the reasoning behind Leevie's concern. “Perhaps, you can ride out later; take Bette Mae or Ruthie with ya.”

Leevie sighed. “All right.”

“Sure you want to do this?” Billie asked when he walked up to Dannie and Leevie with two saddled horses.

“Thought ya was seein' ta my team.”

“Ed is taking care of them,” Billie assured the horses' owner.

Dannie bent to kiss Leevie on the lips then straightened and grabbed the reins to one of the horses and swung herself up into the saddle with a groan.

“Be careful,” Leevie told Dannie.

“Ya wait fer morning fer ya ride out ta Jesse's,” Dannie told Leevie. “I don' want ya on the road whilst it's still too dark to see.”

Leevie nodded.

Dannie turned the horse's head toward the end of town. “Let's go,” she said urging the pony forward.


Jesse was sitting in a chair on the front porch of the ranch house when she heard the distinctive pattern of horses' hoofs beating against the ground. She looked toward the hillock south of the house to see a pair of horses trotting under the high arch that marked the entrance to her ranch. Recognizing one of the riders as Billie by the way he sat in the saddle, she resumed the task of pulling on her boots. With boots on, she stood to wait for her friend and the other rider to approach. Walking to the edge of the porch, she was surprised, and confused, when she realized Dannie was the second rider.

“Slipper burning down?” Jesse asked when the horses were pulled to a stop in front of the house. Receiving no reply, she looked at the pair perplexingly. “Something must have brought you out here,” she said. “Want to tell me or do you want to sit them horses while I get a start on my chores?”

Billie swung his leg over the rump of his horse, dropping to the ground with a thud. Dannie followed, groaning when her tired body was jarred by the impact with the dirt.

“Didn't know you rode,” Jesse told Dannie.

“I do,” Dannie answered rubbing her behind. “Jus' don' like it much.” She limped to the bottom of the steps. “Got sumthing ta tell that ya be wantin' ta know,” she said solemnly looking up at Jesse partially hid in the early morning shadows.

Jesse felt uneasy when she saw the serious expression on the wagon driver's face. “Come on up,” she told her friends. “I can get coffee if you'd like.”

“Think it best we talk first,” Dannie said halfway up the steps.

“Doesn't sound like good news you're bringing.”

“It's not.”

“Shall we sit?” Jesse asked fretfully while involuntarily backing away a couple of hesitate steps.

“I best stand,” Dannie said. She moved to stand in front of Jesse. After a glance over her shoulder at Billie who nodded his encouragement, she faced the rancher. “Was in Hellgate yesterday,” she began. “Had me a run-in with a trapper there.” Unsure how the events being relayed could be of any interest to her, Jesse listened quietly, yet apprehensively, as a somber Dannie continued. “What he dun said don' much matter but…” She stopped swallowing hard. “Ain't much likin' havin' ta tell ya this, Jesse…” She swallowed again. “Trapper was wearing… they was hangin' from his belt.”

“What, Dannie? What?” Jesse asked in a whisper.

Dannie took a deep breath, willing the words the come out. “Scalps… he had him scalps hangin' off his belt. I'm sorry, Jesse, but one of ‘em was… it was…” She reached out to place a comforting hand on the rancher's shoulder then she forced the words from her mouth. “One of ‘em b'longed to tha' friend of yers… the Indian.”

Jesse's knees buckled as she blindly reached out for something to hold onto. Dannie reacted in time to get her arm around her friend's waist before Jesse could collapse.

“You must have seen wrong,” Jesse muttered as she was helped across the porch to one of the chairs. She twisted about to look into Dannie's eyes. “You must have seen wrong,” she repeated more forcefully.

Dannie shook her head. “Only seen that beadwork once,” she told Jesse softly.

Stunned, Jesse allowed them to place her in a chair. “Can't be,” she mumbled.

“I'm sorry, Jesse,” Billie said kneeling beside the chair and placing a hand on her thigh. “I'm so sorry.”

“No,” Jesse spat out, her head moving rapidly from side to side. “No. I don't believe it.” She looked up at Dannie standing nervously on the opposite side of her chair. “You're wrong. It wasn't him. It wasn't.”

“It…” Dannie's voice hitched as she bit back a sob. “Damn, Jesse, I wouldn't make up sumthin' like this. It weren't sumthin' I took pleasure in seein' but it was there. I seen it and I been wishin' I hadn't ever since.”

Having been drawn away from his cabin by the unexpected early morning activity, Stanley called out walking across the ranch yard, “What's the problem?” He quickened his steps when he saw the look on Jesse's face. “What the hell is going on?” he demanded loudly.

Billie stood then pulled Stanley aside to repeat the grisly news. “Someone needs to go wake up Jennifer,” Stanley told him.

“I'll go,” Dannie quickly offered wanting to escape the anguish her information was causing the rancher. She stepped to the screen door, pulled it open and disappeared into the house before anyone could object.

Jesse turned grief stricken eyes to Billie. “She said scalps,” she asked choking on the words.

Billie sighed and nodded; then stood helplessly as Jesse began to cry.

At a loss as to how he could help his sobbing daughter, Stanley stood nervously wringing his hands.


Jennifer was slowly making her way down the stairs when Dannie rushed inside the house. “Goodness, it's you,” she greeted the sudden appearance of the woman. “Is Leevie sick?”

Hearing Jennifer's question, Dannie came to an abrupt stop in the middle of the sitting room. “Um, no,” she stammered.

Jennifer reached the bottom of the stairs then, leaning heavily on her cane, limped over to her friend. “Dannie, if it's not Leevie then why are you here before daylight.” Hearing the screen door open, they both turned toward the sound.


Suddenly, Jesse pushed herself up from the chair then dragged her sleeve across her tearstained face. She walked purposely to the door and entered the house. She moved through the sitting room with measured steps ignoring Jennifer's pleas to stop. Entering the kitchen, she walked to the cabinet that held her guns and retrieved her holster. After strapping it around her waist, she lifted her revolver off one of the shelves and loaded it. Then she closed the cabinet and walked out of the kitchen to again move through the sitting room and past her confused wife without saying a word. “Take care of Jennifer,” she told her father as she crossed the porch.

“Just a minute,” Stanley exclaimed when Jesse started down the step. “What are you doing?”

Jesse didn't answer as she broke into a run for the barn. Moments later, Dusty burst out of the barn already at full gallop. Before anyone could react, the mare was racing away from the house with her bareback rider.

“Stop her,” Jennifer screamed through the screen door.

Billie leaped off the porch and remounted his horse to chase after his friend.

Stanley looked at Jennifer then spun around to bounce down the steps two at a time. He mounted the second horse and was soon galloping up the knoll after Jesse and Billie.

When Dannie tried to move by Jennifer on her way outside, she was stopped by a cane being forced against her chest.

“No, you don't,” Jennifer growled pushing Dannie backward. “You better tell me what the heck is going on and you better be damn quick about it.”


Dusty charged through Sweetwater leaving a cloud of dust behind her.

“Was that Jesse?” Bette Mae asked Ed who was standing at the door of the Slipper.

“Sure looked like it.”

“Ya don' think…?”

“I surely do.”

“You best go roust Frank out of bed.”

Ed nodded then left to wake up the sheriff.

“Lordy me,” Bette Mae muttered watching the dust settle back to the ground. The fine particles shimmering pink in the morning light. “What is tha' girl thinkin'.”


Jesse face was twisted into a look of pure hate when Dusty plowed through Clark's River knee deep water at the crossing in Hellgate. It was still early enough in the morning that few of the town's occupants were visible. She spotted a man walking back to a cluster of tents and guided Dusty straight for him.

“Where is he?” she demanded, barely pulling Dusty to a stop before the big mare slammed into the shirtless soldier.


“The trapper.”

The soldier reached down and slipped his arms through the loops hanging at his sides then he pulled his suspenders up into place. “Which one?” he asked showing little worry with the annoyance being directed at him.

“The one showing off his trophies,” Jesse snarled.

“Oh, him,” the soldier muttered distastefully. “Last I saw him he was down at the hotel passed out at one of the tables.”

Jesse turned Dusty back to the road, not caring the mare was kicking dirt clods at the soldier as they rode away.


Jesse was swinging her leg over Dusty's neck before the mare reached the hotel. She slipped off the horse's side and hit the ground running straight for the hotel, the poorly hung door giving way without protest when her shoulder slammed into it. She charged into the dark room, her eyes quickly detecting a dark form slumped over one of the tables. She strode to the table and, when the man gave no reaction to her presence, she kicked the chair out from under him.

Cole hit the floor with a grunt and rolled onto his back. “What the hell?” he called out from his whiskey induced haze.

Jesse sneered down at the man sprawled at her feet. Then she saw them—five scalps hanging from the trapper's belt. Her stomach roiled when she saw the beadwork that was definitely the pattern Spotted Fawn had lovingly woven into Walks on the Wind hair. She also recognized the light brown hair of Spotted Fawn. But it was the tiny hair piece that hung from Cole's belt that sickened her most and she had to fight back the urge to empty her stomach right then and there.

“Whadda ya want?” Cole barked at the form standing over him, his glassy eyes unable to focus in the dark room.

Jesse bent down reaching for the scalps but before she could rip them free the room was suddenly flooded with light.

Awakened by Jesse's crashing entry, Puck emerged from the back room with a lantern. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes with one hand, he held the brightly burning lamp high with his other.

Momentarily blinded by the harsh light, Jesse froze. Cole didn't hesitate to take advantage and slapped her hands away then struck out with his foot. Jesse dodged his clumsy attempt to kick her and responded by driving the toe of her boot into his side. Cole screamed in pain.

“What are you doing?” Puck yelled.

Jesse ignored Puck. “Those were friends of mine,” she snarled at Cole. “You ain't walking out of here with them.”

“Ya ought to pick yer friends better,” Cole snarled right back at her. He rubbed his side, glad the enraged woman hadn't kicked his other side still healing from the arrow wound. He rolled onto his side to hide the motion of reaching for his knife. “Where's my knife?” he screamed in surprise finding the scabbard empty.

“Took it away from you last night,” Puck explained. He was standing behind the bar content to see how events played out from a safe distance. “You were getting too nasty from the whiskey.”

“I'll show ya nasty,” Cole directed his anger at his cousin. “Get me my knife or I'll cut yer liver out when I find it.”

Puck didn't move.

Jesse pulled her pistol free of the holster then pointed it at Cole, very slowly, very intentionally. “I should shoot you like the dog you are.”

“What is it about crazy women in this town?” Cole asked to no one in particular. “Help me up, Puck.”

“Not this time.”

“Jesse, don't do it,” Billie yelled running through the door-less entry.

“Stay back, Billie,” Jesse warned. “You, too, Poppa.”

“Poppa?” Cole mocked. “This yer whelp?” he asked Stanley who burst into the room on Billie's heels. “Don' seem ya used a belt on her often ‘nuff,” he said pushing up into a sitting position. “If ya plan to shoot me, go ‘head and do it,” he told Jesse. “If'n ya got the nerve,” he added with a laugh.”

“He isn't worth it, Jesse,” Billie told her.

“He killed Walk.”

“Was that what he was called?” Cole asked. “Dumb Injun name.”

“Shut up!” Jesse shouted cocking the pistol.

“Jesse, don't,” Stanley called out in alarm.

“He killed them… all of them. Even their baby.”

“Ya got yer own babies ta worry over,” Stanley told her. “Think ‘bout them.”

Her father's words penetrated her hate clouded brain. “He has to pay,” Jesse said determinedly. “We have to take him back to Sweetwater. Frank can keep in jail until the judge comes.”

“Ain't no law ‘gainst killin' Injuns,” Cole said confidently.

“He's right, Jesse,” Billie agreed grudgingly. “Even if we took him back, Frank can't charge him with any crime.”

“Walk was your friend, too,” Jesse screamed. “Don't tell me the law won't do anything to him.”

“Jesse, I understand—”

“No, you don't,” Jesse cut off her father. “You don't see them as people any more than he does,” she said jabbing her pistol at Cole. “He killed them. Don't you get it, he killed them.”

“They was stealing my elk,” Cole said matter-of-factly as he struggled to stand.

“Move one more inch and I'll blow your head off,” Jesse warned.

“Shoot him,” Stanley bellowed. “Shoot him and git this over with. But ‘fore ya do, ya be tellin' me what I should tell Jennifer and yer momma. What do I tell ‘em when ya don' come home with us? Tell me, daughter… what?”

Jesse turned her gaze from Cole to her father then to Billie and back to Cole who was kneeling on the floor smirking at her. She glared at him. “Give him his knife,” she barked at Puck.


“Stay out of this,” Jesse ordered Billie. “Get him his knife,” she ordered again.

Puck scampered into the back room to retrieve the knife. When he came back, he would get no closer to his cousin than before and had to slide the weapon across the floor to come to a skittering stop right in front of Cole.

“Pick it up,” Jesse told the trapper who instantly complied gripping the handle firmly and jabbing the blade at her. Knocking the blade aside, she grabbed a fistful of the trapper's greasy hair and pressed the barrel of her pistol to his forehead. “Uh, uh. I didn't give that to you so you could cut me.”

“Then whatja want me ta do with it?”

“Cut your belt free.”

“My belt?”

“Cut your belt. I'm taking those with me.”

Cole laughed. “Plan on wearin' these yerself, does ya?”

“Cut your belt free or I'll do it myself.”

“I might take a likin' ta that.”

Aggravated with Cole, Stanley pulled a knife from his boot and sliced through the trapper's belt before he knew what was happening. “Give me yer gun,” he said holding out the gruesome object to Jesse.

“I don't ever want to see you in Sweetwater,” Jesse told Cole as she straightened up pulling her pistol away from his head. Then, swallowing hard, she exchanged the gun for the belt. Reverently, she carefully removed the scalps from the belt before tossing it back at Cole. Then without a word, she turned and walked out of the hotel.

“Go with her,” Stanley told Billie who had finally allowed himself to breath.

“What about—”

“I'll keep an eye on ‘im ‘til yer safely out a town.”

“Are you sure that's a good idea?” Billie asked eyeing Puck suspiciously.

“Don't be worrying about me,” Puck told the men. “Cole makes his own trouble. I want no part of it.”

“Shut up and bring me some whiskey,” Cole snapped. He had managed to lug his body off the floor and into a chair while the others talked.

“Go on,” Stanley urged Billie. “She'll be needin' a friend.”

“Seems like she ain't too good pickin' those,” Cole laughed.

After Billie left, Stanley walked over to the bar. “I'll take a glass of that whiskey,” he told Puck who was holding a bottle of the liquor.

Puck pulled two glasses off a shelf behind the bar and filled them almost to their rims then pushed one toward Stanley.

“What about me?” Cole asked.

“You want one, come get it,” Puck answered.

Grumbling, Cole forced himself to his feet. “Ought ta go after that bitch,” he muttered.

“Ya try and I'll shoot ya.”

“Ya let that dumb whelp—”

“Tha' ain't no whelp,” Stanley said angrily.

“Ya a Injun lover?” Cole asked leaning on the bar several feet from the angry man who held a pistol loosely in his hand.

Stanley lifted the glass of whiskey to his lips and drained it, grimacing as the bitter liquid burned its way down his throat. “Ain't got no use for Injuns,” he said slamming the glass down onto the bar.

Cole laughed. “Injuns. Don' mean nothin' to nobody,” he said snatching the whiskey bottle out of Puck's grasp.

Stanley eyed the trapper who drank straight from the bottle. “They meant sumthin' ta Jesse,” he said calmly raising the pistol and aiming it at Cole's head. “Ya hurt my kid… hurt her bad.”

Puck dove for cover behind the bar just as Stanley pulled the trigger.

Stanley watched Cole's body crumble to the floor then he turned and walked toward the door. Mounting the horse waiting for him, he rode away from the hotel as those alerted by the shot ran toward it.


Puck was standing by the bar looking curiously down at his lifeless cousin when Lieutenant Gage ran into the room followed closely by several of his troopers.

“Go stop that man,” Gage ordered his men.

“No need,” Puck told them.

“What do you mean? This man's been shot dead.”

“So he has.

“Aren't you his kin?”


“You saw what happened?”

“All of it.”

“And you don't want that man arrested?”

“I think he got what he had it coming to him.”

Confused by Puck's casual demeanor, Gage shook his head in disbelief. “Guess if you want to let it go… You want help carrying him to the graveyard?”

“Nope. I've cleaned up enough of his messes,” Puck explained picking up the lantern. “Besides, he isn't worth digging a hole for.”

“What do you plan to do?” Gage asked troubled by Puck removing the lantern's chimney.

“I plan to give him a nice burial right here.”

“Don't think Travis will appreciate that.”

Puck considered the statement. “Probably not,” he agreed. “There's enough pelts over at the depot to pay for the damages. You can tell him they're his.” He started for the door carrying the lantern with him. “Now I suggest you clear this room.”

“What about the back room?”

“It's empty,” Puck assured Gage then waited for the soldier to hustle his men and the other curious town folk who had arrived at the hotel back outside. “To you, cousin,” he said lifting the lantern in the air in a final salute. “May you burn in hell.” Then he hurled it across the room, watching it shatter when it struck the front of the bar. Within moments flames were licking their way across the floor toward Cole's body.

Puck walked outside to find a crowd of townspeople and soldiers standing in the street. He spotted Travis among them, the building's owner not appearing too bothered by the demise of his business. “I apologize for Cole,” Puck told him.

“He needed killin',” Travis replied. “Thanks for the pelts.”

“They're prime… cleaned and stretched them myself. They'll bring top dollar.”

“You stickin' around?”

“No. Heading home.” Puck took a final look at the hotel— the wood building was already fully engulfed in hungry flames. Then he set off down the street heading east.

Travis tossed him a wave before turning back to watch his building burn. “If you boys want breakfast,” he told the men milling around, “you best grab some buckets and save the cook shack from burning.”


To Be Continued...


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