Mo's Manic Monday - Celebrate

Posted: Monday, February 19, 2007 by Travis Cody in
25




Well, it's MorgEpalooza Manic Monday!! Don't forget to visit our leader today. Happy Birthday Mo!!

The word for today is Celebrate. This piece is a little longer. It actually introduces an idea I've had for a long time.


Celebrate

The air was crisp and cool as the four rode deliberately into town. A sudden, bitter wind whipped down the street, snapping open one man's coat and threatening the perch of another's hat. A third man rode slumped in his saddle, listing to his right, as though a weight pressed down on one shoulder. The fourth rider led a string of five horses.

Three of the animals sported a trio of corpses, slung head down across the backs and wrapped in foul-smelling blankets. The saddles on the other two horses were empty.

The riders made their way slowly up the town's main street toward the jail. The street was mostly deserted. The wind carried with it the promise of a storm. A brightly painted banner stretched across the street proclaimed an upcoming end of harvest celebration. Most of the town folk would be home, tending to their seasonal preparations. Winter would soon take hold.

The sheriff stood on the porch in front of his jail. He wore black woolen trousers tucked into his boot tops. His shirt was gray flannel, worn over woolen underwear. Strapped to his right hip was a nondescript six shooter. Cradled in his right arm was a serviceable carbine.

"Bounty hunters," muttered the sheriff darkly.

The four reined in before the jail, nodding solemn greeting in the general direction of the man standing on the porch. They seemed bone weary and little concerned with social amenities. One man dismounted, the leader by his bearing, and walked up the porch steps. He was a dangerous man, noted the sheriff. It was in the way he moved; it was in the hollow of his eyes. His hands never strayed far from the grip of the Colt holstered at his right hip, nor from the hilt of a Bowie knife tucked in his belt.

The sheriff involuntarily took a step backward, stumbled, and admitted grudging respect. He was not a man normally, or easily, intimidated by gunfighters and such; neither was he a fool. He recognized in this stranger, and in the other three, men whose patience had long since run thin. These men were well used, and deserving of grossly exaggerated leeway.

And he was beginning to suspect who they were.

"Three from the McLaren bunch," said the leader. His voice was gravelly, stale and hoarse from days spent fighting wind and cold. "Tom Davis, Jase Pratt, Gordy McLaren."

"They identifiable still?" asked the sheriff.

"Should be. Been cold. Ain't been dead long. No more'n three, four days."

The sheriff left the relative comfort of his porch and stepped onto the street. As he did, a gust of wind sent biting cold clear through to his bones. He cursed as he approached the bodies, silently damning the circumstances that put him out in the cold instead of inside in front of a warm stove.

Quickly, distastefully, he peeled back the blankets, checked the identities. He knew Pratt and McLaren by sight. The other, Davis, he decided not to dispute.

With a nod and a grunt, the sheriff mounted the steps to his jail, motioning the leader to follow. The man gestured to another of the riders, who dismounted and followed him inside.

*****

Web Morgan watched through pain dulled eyes as the sheriff checked the bodies. He wanted nothing more than to slide out of his saddle and into a warm bath. He had been filthy far too long. His shoulder was a constant throb.

He knew the bullet must come out, but business first. Von would settle with the sheriff, and then Web would get his shoulder tended. Then they all could bathe, eat, sleep, and be quit of this town.

But there would be no celebration. The damn job wasn't done.

Things had not gone as planned for the Morgans, the first time in years they had not finished a job to suit, either themselves or the client.

Web Morgan and his brothers were the elite. Not lawmen. Not hired guns. At least, it wasn't that simple a distinction. They were more elaborately what they were.

They contracted their services to the highest bidder, ridding the wealthy of this or that problem, helping bankers prevent unscheduled withdrawals, and ensuring that payrolls found their way to those for whom they were intended.

They weren't personal bodyguards. They weren't bank guards. They weren't federal marshals. They had no legal authority to do what they did, other than under the pretense of collecting bounty. They had earned a grudging respect from bodyguards, bank guards, and lawmen because of what they did and the way they did it. The Morgans were more talented, more dedicated, more professional.

Had they cared more for self-promotion, they might be celebrated among their peers. Truth be told, they had no peers and were mostly shunned by more conventional practitioners of the art of bringing outlaws to ultimate justice.

They were currently in the employ of Gorman Potter Enterprises. They had thought to use the backing of the railroad contractor to bust the entire McLaren outfit. The gang had given Potter fits one time too many. The Morgans had been specifically requested to put an end to it.

Quick work they had thought to make of the job, and then to collect on a fee that put them tantalizingly close to retirement from the work.

Reese had tracked the outlaws day and night for four days. They were finally cornered in a box canyon. But Jess McLaren hadn't remained in his business for as long as he had without being bold. The Morgans got three, but four escaped, including Jess.

Web thought he had clipped one, but couldn't be sure. He had fired three shots, but then had taken the bullet in his shoulder as the outlaws bore down on them, racing like hell out of the canyon, nearly trampling the four startled Morgans. Travis killed two in quick succession. Reese dropped the third. Two others were unhorsed, but the remaining two picked them up and rode off before the Morgans could regroup to follow.

At least they had managed to snag old Gordy McLaren. His bounty was $600 dead. The other two amounted to $225 combined. The Morgans collected bounty for expenses. It provided them a decent living, and often was the difference in a confrontation. They were generally better equipped for long hunts, and better armed in a fire fight than the outlaws they hunted.

The real cash, and their future, was tied to private contracts.

Gorman Potter wouldn't pay unless his contract was filled. Gordy wasn't enough. Davis and Pratt were inconsequential. The Morgans needed two of the men who got away. Billy Fife was one, a cold blooded killer responsible for the deaths of at least six Potter employees. Jess McLaren was the other, and he wouldn't be any easier to deal with now. Gordy had been his uncle.

*****

Travis dismounted as his older brothers entered the jail with the sheriff. He didn't think he cared for the man's attitude. Travis never expected a celebratory slap on the back for the job he and his brothers did. Not from a simple sheriff or even from clients. He was in it for the money. But damn it all, anyway. He and his brothers made life one hell of a lot easier for a town badge.

Travis walked to where Web still sat his horse. He was surprised his brother was still in the saddle. Web wouldn't complain, but the younger man knew he must be in considerable pain. Travis had been there.

He reached out a hand and laid it on his brother's leg. Web slumped deeper in the saddle. The horse sidestepped gently. Web was able to lean his body against one of the support posts holding up the porch overhang. He groaned, sagging hard against the wood. Travis grimaced and left him to his pain.

He walked to the side of the porch, where the wind seemed quieter and less insistent. He seated himself on the third step, his feet planted wide apart. His spurs touched lightly against the side of the bottom step, digging in just a little, ready to give him solid traction should he need to move suddenly. As a matter of long and practiced habit, he had set himself opposite to Web, each man with a clear view of anything that might approach the other from behind.

Looking down the alley to his left, Travis noticed a little girl playing with a bright yellow ball. She was about seven, with golden hair. Each time she bent to retrieve the ball the breeze would blow it away. The girl squealed with delight and chased after it.

Travis found himself smiling. He liked children. They were innocent in a way he had never been. Too young in life he had known the emptiness of a hungry belly; of parents more concerned with fool's gold and money making schemes; of the stigma that is attached when older brothers steal for a living.

He banished his dark thoughts. He was long reconciled to what his life was and the reasons for it. He preferred to live in the moment, and enjoy the innocent happiness of a golden little girl and a bright yellow ball.

A particularly forceful breeze suddenly blew the ball to him. It came to a stop right at his feet. He picked it up, his large hand engulfing it though his touch was careful so as not to crush it.

He looked up to find the girl standing before him. He smiled. A handsome man through the dirt and grime, his green eyes flashed. The effect on older women often ensured that certain of his needs did not long remain unsatisfied.

This time, amusement replaced enchantment. The little girl's eyes were a dazzling blue, brimming with the promise of brook trout in a mountain stream. She returned his smile with an impish grin that melted the ice wall he kept around his heart.

"May I please have my ball back, mister?"

Her voice was music. Sweet chimes tinkling in a summer breeze. Travis was thoroughly mesmerized. He hadn't thought a voice could so rivet him. A woman's, possibly. He had allowed himself to be seduced by far less. That so young a child could capture his attention was curious. He caught himself wondering who might be this child's mother, and was she perhaps a widow, that he might have a chance to experience more of the wonder that was this little girl.

Travis was suddenly quite keenly aware of his appearance. He sported several day’s worth of stubble on his chin, his mustache wanted trimming, and his nose told him that a bath was all too necessary.

"Sure, darlin'," he finally answered the girl. His own voice sounded harsh to him. Travis put out his calloused hand. The child delicately gathered up the ball.

She back away several feet, still smiling at him, and tossed the ball.

Caught unaware, he let the ball hit his chest, awkwardly scrambling to catch it before it could clatter down the porch steps. Gales of girlish giggles and clapping hands celebrated his efforts. He smiled again, showing teeth between wind-chapped lips. Then he barked out a laugh as he lightly tossed the ball.

When was the last time I did that, he wondered.

The girl caught the ball deftly with two hands, and sent it spinning back to Travis. He caught it much better this time. The game of catch was on between a stubbled bounty hunter and a doe eyed innocent child.

*****

"Name's Von Morgan," said the leader. "This here's Reese."

"Pleasure," coughed Reese as he crossed the room to the stove, alternately blowing on his hands and rubbing them together in an effort to warm himself.

The sheriff stopped midway between sitting and standing behind his desk. It was only for a second, the clenching of every muscle, but it was pronounced enough for both Morgans to sense it.

The sheriff eased himself the rest of the way into his chair. "I heard y'all was in Texas."

"Was," came the succinct reply. Von's tone was blank. He was inured to the reaction to his name. He would be surprised, and quite probably facing his death, on the day the sound of his name did not shock or frighten someone.

That did not mean he appreciated the reaction in people with whom he conducted his business. Not the money part of his business.

"Well, welcome to Gateway, Arizona. Population 173, till Meg Saxon delivers. Could be twins, Doc says."

Von grunted. He didn't expect to be in Gateway long enough to celebrate the population increase, whether by one or two. His indifference was not lost on the sheriff, who shifted in his seat and began to rearrange paper on his desk.

"I'm Charlie Gragg. I, uh, got some paperwork here, somewhere, on them three you brought in. I'll write you a voucher you can take to the bank in the mornin'. It's a little late in the afternoon. Harry's usually shut down by three."

"That'll do fine," agreed Von. "We'll need copies of the death certificates, with two other witnesses besides you."

Gragg nodded. He was aware of the terms of the contracts signed by the Morgans. He had overcome his initial shock. The Morgans were said to be quick to anger, and momentarily the sheriff felt he had earned a first hand look at the consequences of Morgan ire. He decided to forgo his normal open dislike of bounty hunters in the interest of preserving peace in his town while these men were in it. Gateway could afford a night's measured hospitality to Von Morgan and his brothers, and therefore so could Gateway's sheriff.

"Let's have those papers, Gragg."

"Comin' right up, Mr. Morgan."

*****

Travis was enjoying his game of catch. He heard the door to the jail creak open and slam shut, and felt a twinge of regret. He would have to go with his brothers, to see that Web was properly tended, and get himself cleaned up and fed, maybe get a drink or three. What he truly wanted was to stay and play catch.

An elderly woman appeared in the doorway of a dress shop across the street. She stepped into the brisk wind and clapped a hand to the bonnet she wore. The folds of her skirt danced about her ankles inelegantly. Somehow, she managed to keep herself moderately unruffled, and to maintain control over the package she carried under one arm. Travis saw her frown into the wind and swivel her head from side to side.

He suppressed a chuckle for the proprieties of some people.

"Lucinda May!" the woman called. "Lucinda May, you come, right this instant!"

The little girl tensed at the sound of the woman's voice. Clearly, that was her name and, just as clearly, she wished to leave the call unanswered. She sighed.

"Comin', Gram!"

The elderly woman turned her head to the sound. Travis happened to be looking at the woman. As their eyes met, he read the powerful emotions. She saw him as too many others did; dirty, in need of a shave, befouled by the stench of death. The woman didn't even know who he was, but it was plain to Travis that she thought she knew what he was. Travis surprised himself. The woman's scorn touched that raw spot he thought he had left behind.

She marched directly across the street and grabbed the child roughly by one tender arm.

"You come away from there this instant, young lady. This isn't the sort you should be associating with."

The sort, Travis grimaced. The sort of what? The woman's tone dripped with loathing and her phrasing was almost a curse. Her eyes shown with disdain as she jerked at Lucinda May’s arm. The woman’s lack of a noun struck Travis hard. He wasn't a man, in her eyes, nor even an animal. To her, Travis was something produced by a world beneath her, and therefore beneath her interest.

The woman wrenched her eyes away, as though that first fleeting moment of eye contact would somehow contaminate her. Travis sat on the porch step, nearly unmanned by the vehemence of the woman's remark and her behavior. He was accustomed to adverse reactions, but had never before been faced with such raw, undisguised hatred. He wondered how something so dead to difference could have the raising of something as wonderful as Lucinda May.

The girl struggled to keep pace with her grandmother's long, hurried strides. Once she looked back at Travis and smiled.

Travis felt a little better for that. It was something pleasant he could carry when he left this town, which he was suddenly more than ready to do.

"Let's go see the doc, Trav," said Reese, who had witnessed the exchange. Travis heard a measure of the woman's hatred reflected in his brother's voice.


25 comments:

  1. thanks for celebrating mo today!

    smiles, bee

  1. Janna says:

    You write very well.
    Thanks for doing Manic Monday! :)

  1. Turnbaby says:

    Yessssssss

    Trav--so fine.

    Excellent early character development leading to involvement and questions--I want to know why "Travis" is living a life to which he is merely resigned--I want to know more--I am invested in such a short time here. Very well done sugar.

    The story flows very naturally and you painted quickly a vivid 'scene'. I am so happy it's working for you

    Mine's up and getting darker by the day *sly grin* hehehe

    *SMILING*

    SMOOCH

  1. I like this. You know Trav, there is nothing like the old west to strip away the defenses and show what were the basic components of a man's character. I liked the ball toss. And I hate to say it, but for a horrible second, when the little girl threw it at him and he didn't touch it, I was afraid he was going to go for his gun. Instead, we see he has lost some element of humanity, and the child represents that. Nicely handled.

  1. Bond says:

    TRAVIS: It is not only working for you ... it is flowing like a deep river after a winter melt...

    Excellent Job my friend... I feel humbled by the writing I find here.

  1. Travis says:

    Bee: Wouldn't have missed it my dear!

    Janna: **blush** Awww shucks.

    Skittles: Why thank you!

    Turn: I'm hoping I can get a second "chapter" out of this for next week. We'll see. Glad you like it.

    Stewart: I appreciate the kind words.

    Vinny: Thank you Sir. It's starting to feel like it used to way back when.

  1. lisa says:

    Travis -
    One of the reasons I look forward to Manic Monday is your writing. Another fine story and yet again leaves me wanting more.
    Have a great day!
    Lisa

  1. Just another chapter out of this???? Heck, I want to read the whole book! I'm captivated once again :)

  1. Gosh I love your stories!

    Thanks for stopping by and yes, Happy Birthday, Mo!

  1. JohnH985 says:

    Very good. I want to read more. I like the way you've taken these words from manic monday and crafter stories out of them. Very well done.

  1. Angell says:

    Trav - that was wonderful honey!! I'm so looking forward to reading the rest.

  1. Coolness - I like the way the two worlds touch. Contrast is great!

  1. Morgen says:

    shoot fire, my friend.
    you got the juices goin' like a toothless yokel in a baccy spittin' contest!
    In other words: every week your writing gets better and better.
    I applaud you, and am humbled at how you can make short fiction so moving.
    Thanks for sharing your creations with us, I appreciate it!
    And thanks for the B-Day shout out!
    Best one in ages!
    Thanks to Blogging Friends like YOU!
    cheers,
    Manic Mo

    PS: I love the name Web for an old west character written about on the internet. Excellent!

  1. Claire says:

    Wow i am very impressed! I took my time to read it and you managed to visit mine and comment already!
    Glad to hear you love the cake!lol!

  1. Travis says:

    Lisa: Why thank you my dear!

    Heather: No pressure or anything like that! I'll start with one more chapter and see where we go from there.

    Crazy: I'm glad you're enjoying the work.

    John: It started with that first piece on drifting, and now everything is flowing. I'm just riding the current now.

    Angell: Well, tune in next Monday and if I can write more, it'll be there.

    Jeff: Thanks dude! Looking forward to Part 5 on Wednesday.

    Mo: I'm glad you're enjoying your birthday and pleased to be a small part of it. Keep the great Monday words coming!!

    Claire: Welcome to my place!

  1. I enjoyed your writing, and I'm glad for the opportunity to stumble over to your site.

  1. Hey! Thanks for visiting my blog! Wow. I love your stroy!! Quite amazing. The flow of it is suburb! The ball toss was great. Have you ever gotten anything published yet? Just curious. This was really good writing!
    By the way HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

  1. Meribah says:

    I enjoyed this story very much. I like the way you fleshed out "Travis" and made him "real" in such a short piece.

  1. Sanni says:

    Once more I have to say: I love love LOVE your writing, Trav! =)

  1. julie says:

    Yup yup yup Travis! Very vivid!

    Keep 'em coming!

  1. Travis says:

    India: Thanks for stumbling over and for the kind words.

    Lucas: I have not been published yet - gotta finish something first. Thanks!

    Meri: Glad you liked it!

    Sanni: Thanks!! **big grin**

    Julie: Yes ma'am!!

  1. I like this a lot -- a very Tombstone feel, which is one of my favorite movies. You might consider using the sheriff's POV right from the beginning of the scene to show through his eyes these dangerous men. The exchange with the little girl was great. Good luck with it!

  1. wolfbaby says:

    wow totally impressed I will be back for more.. you will continue this right?