Writings by Dale C. Clarke

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Bastian ‘Biff’ Clarke squatted down on his haunches and examined the town below the ridge. Threads of wood smoke rose from several of the houses and stopped in a flat cloud like a table top as it cooled with height. The moon he had been tracking the two he followed with was full and high before the sun set and would high for another hour or two.

Be ten O’clock by then. Damn!

It never seemed easy, the desperados they sent him after. The one he carried the warrant on was wanted dead or alive. He was not much of a worry, just a wrangler who had robbed the wrong people and killed one of them with his scattergun. The Mex he had hooked up with last week was a special case. Story was he was a bad hombre.

As though you have a choice. Col Hayes gave a Texas Ranger a warrant and if the felon joined an army of bandits you went against the army to collect the bad guy.

Biff rubbed the arm, healed but still it throbbed as the cool of night came on, advocating caution. He stood and walked back over the ridge. He pulled the saddle and tack off and stashed them in the scrub, well away from the body of the horse, walking on hardpan to leave no tracks. Gently cutting its throat cured the broken leg and gave no warning to the town of what the darkness held. Covered with a ground cloth and scrub cedar, well away from the road no one would find saddle ‘til he got back. He flipped his dark gray duster back to lift and drop the two Walker Colts strapped to his thighs, closed the duster, adjusted his star in circle, and stalked back to the horse. From there he made a heavy trail from the ridge toward the river -- the Natchitoches the Mex called it – the Red River for Texans.

Most of the shacks in the town were shuttered and dark. Music from a squeezebox floated from a bodega on the river road. Biff checked the hitching post. The moon had dropped low enough to shadow the horses that stood droop-headed at the rail. A tall quarter horse and an Indian paint with a Mex pommel and straw pad. Both long guns and saddlebags were gone. He gave both a lip sniff of ripped grass he had brought in his duster pocket when they bobbed their heads and loosed the cinches and undid the buckles of the chest straps.

At the corner of the building, he propped his hat on a box by the front in sight of the street. He picked up an empty bottle slipped it in his pocket for later.. With the waning moonlight that reached the alley between the buildings he felt and shuffled soundlessly along the wall to the back of the rough building. Through the cracks in the wall chinking he could see the inside. The one bog room was 12 paces deep by half as wide. On the near side there was a bar – a board on two barrels on end – lined with bottles of rotgut. The musician sat somewhere near the front playing “Garry Owen”. In the back, around some boxes sat Biff’s, quarry playing poker and drinking.

His mind gently reminded him and said, “Just wait for them to go piss. Get the Mex first. He’s the ‘badest’.” He sat and let his body relax in the shadow the moon had just returned to the alley. He rested one Walker in his lap and waited

. The boards creaked and the Texan came staggering out and stumbled in the dark the 40 paces to the outhouse. No, Biff remembered, Not the Texan. Need the Mex first. He cradled the Colt just in case. The Texan took a “sitting” and on the way back hollered, “Next!”. The Mex came out with someone else who h eaded for the outhouse. The Mex turned the corner into the ally, standing over Biff and started fumbling in his pants. As his eyes adjusted, he must have seen the barrel of the 44. He sucked in his breath – his last – as the flash of the big gun lifted him half way to the privy.

Biff stood up and stretched, ambling toward the front fishing out the small bottle. He tossed it at the box and his hat and was rewarded by two blasts of a scattergun. It tore up the corner of the building by the hat. The sound of hoof beats, a horse’s scream, and the thud of a body hitting the ground brought a slight smile of satisfaction to Biff’s face. He scooped up his hat and dining it stepped into the street, now lit by lantern light streaming from the open bodega door. The Texan stumbled to his feet as his horse with the saddle pinched down around its hind parts, bucked down the street.

“Bill, Texas Ranger. Dead or alive, you choose!” Biff said clearly.

Both Colts roared as Bill finally cleared leather. The first slug slapped him down into the dirt, the second slid him along into a heap. Putting one gun away, Biff rolled him over with a boot. The hole on the other side testified he was done for.

Entering the bodega slowly, with the gun still dangling at the ready, he said, “Catch that mustang and saddle him and the paint good for me and you’ve earned a dollar.” A young wrangler sheltering by the door jam of the bodega jogged off down the street. Biff noted he wore no gun. The barkeep stood with the squeezebox still strapped in both hands behind the bar.

“Step out here where I can see you, barkeep. I have papers on the Texan, Bill Brooks – “Bad Bill” – going to Austin dead. Keep the Mex’s long gun, standing there in the corner, and bury him.” He moved to the back door. There was a figure bending down over the Mexican’s body. Biff raised the Colt, aimed and shot. The figure turned and he shot again. It ran falling as it went toward the outhouse already dead and crashed into the door and lay still. He holstered the right gun and drew the left. Damn hard to watch a room and shoot at the same time. He scraped the silver and gold on the poker table into a pile and a couple at a time dropped them into his deep duster pocket. More than fifty dollars... He tossed the two saddlebags from the corner over his shoulder for later inspection.

The barkeep still had his hands safely in the squeezebox straps so Biff tossed another dollar on the bar boards. “The one against the outhouse is one of yours. There’s a dollar to bury him.” Giving a deadly glare, he said, “Don’t covet more.”

The barkeep shook his head vigorously – Biff knew he wouldn’t

. The sound of hooves at the front door announced that the wrangler had finished his roundup. The barkeep took his hands out of the squeezebox long enough to follow Biff’s orders to help wrap the Texan’s mortal remains, now mostly bled out, in the Mex’s serape. Then he and the kid loaded it onto the paint where it was tied to the stirrup rings. Biff watched them work and when they were done he accepted the scattergun from the kid and paid him the agreed amount. He tied the lead from the paint to the mustang, secured both bags to his new mount, and slid the scattergun into the long-gun holster, touched his hat, and walked the horses off into the dark, away from the way he came into town. The barkeep and the kid watched him go.

At the end of the street he turned away from the river and mounted. Can’t be to too careful. He slowly rode Northeast about ten miles along the road. When he hit the hardpan of the ridge, he doubled back and made a cold camp where he could watch the road from above. He first picketed the horses, hobbled, further away for safety. In the morning I’ll go get my saddle and get back to Col Hayes.

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