Western Wednesdays—GALLOWS by Robert J. Randisi
January 4, 2012 2 Comments
There’s not many who could ride into danger as calm and collected as Robert J. Randisi’s iconic hero, Lancaster. But Lancaster’s found trouble he’s not yet known when he comes to the aid of a widow in Gallows. While his actions are on the side of the law, those sworn to uphold the law have their own corrupt interests—interests that have Lancaster facing the hangman’s noose. Preview the first two chapters below!
Lancaster spotted the house and felt lucky. His horse was in need of water and some rest. He’d passed a sign post a few miles back that told him he was twenty miles from the town of Gallows, but the horse was worn out. All he needed was a couple of hours and then he could make the rest of the trip.
There was a well right outside the house, but he knew how people were about their water, especially on a small spread. He needed to get permission from the owner before he tried to use it. He’d seen men die over less than a bucket of water. He also noticed that there were three horses tied off in front of the house. He didn’t know what he was riding into. All the more reason to ride into it carefully.
He wanted his horse to walk slowly toward the water, but the animal could smell it and was headstrong to get to it. Lancaster took strong hold of the reins, though, and kept the animal from rushing in. They could wait the few minutes it would take to find the owner.
As he approached the house, though, the feeling of luck quickly turned to something else as the door to the house opened and three men dragged a dark-haired woman outside with them.
“Bitch!” one of them shouted. “I never did trust her.”
“We’ll make her pay now,” another man said.
They dragged her toward the well. Lancaster wondered whether they were intending to throw her in. He found it odd that while the men were shouting at her, cursing and taunting her, the woman was not resisting, and was not making a sound. Then again, she probably felt that, as outnumbered as she was, it was futile to fight them.
All three men were wearing trail clothes, minus hats, and were carrying sidearms. If he intervened on behalf of the woman he was going to have to be ready to deal with three armed men. On the other hand, he didn’t have much of a choice. He couldn’t just watch them chuck her down the well, or worse, kill her.
He gigged his horse and trotted the last fifty feet, which brought him right up to them. At the sound of the horse the three men stopped and looked at him. They all released the woman, who slumped to the ground. Lancaster could see that her eyes were open, but he took his eyes away from her and put them on the three men. Looking at the woman too long could end up getting him killed.
“Looks like some excitement,” Lancastersaid. “Mind if I water my horse before you finish up?”
“Get outta here, mister,” one of the men said. “This ain’t none of your business.”
“I know that,” Lancastersaid, “I was just asking to water my horse.”
“Go water it someplace else,” the second man told him.
“Where’s the nearest water after here?” he asked.
“A town called Gallows,” the third man said, “’bout fifteen miles.” He was the youngest of the three, maybe twenty. The other two gave him annoyed looks.
“Fifteen miles,” Lancastersaid. “See, that’s too far. My horse needs some water now. If you’ll just let me water him, I’ll be on my way and you can finish.”
The three men exchanged glances. The woman moaned once, but Lancaster didn’t risk a look at her. The men all turned to face Lancaster squarely. Any chance he had at surprising them was gone. In the old days he would have rode in with his gun blazing. But no…in the old days he would have waited at a distance for them to finish and then watered his horse.
The old days were gone, though. Even though the old ways may have been easier.
He wasn’t the old Lancaster, anymore.
Lancaster turned his horse slightly to the left, exposing his right side to the three men, but keeping his horse’s head from being a factor when he had to snake his own gun.
“What do you boys have against the lady, anyway?” he asked.
“We told ya,” the first man said, “this ain’t none of your affair. Now ride off before ya get hurt.”
“I’d really like to oblige you boys and ride off, but my horse has already caught the scent of that water. I don’t think I could get him away from here if I tried.”
The woman moaned at that point and the oldest of the men kicked her lightly in the ribs and said, “Shut up. We’ll get back to you in a minute, bitch.”
“Hey, come on,” Lancaster said. “That’s really no way to treat a lady.”
Lancaster noticed that the youngest of the three kept looking down at the woman. He was the last one he’d have to worry about. The oldest man had taken the time to kick the woman in the ribs. It was the middle man, the one who kept his eyes onLancaster, that he was going to have to worry about first.
“Mister—” the oldest man said, and then drew his gun.
Lancaster drew and fired. Despite the fact that the oldest man cleared leather first, Lancaster still shot the middle man first. He caught him bringing his gun up. The bullet hit the man in the chest. The man stepped back, tripped over the fallen woman and went down on his back.
The oldest man was bringing his gun to bear as Lancaster snapped off his second shot. As he did so he slid out of the saddle, falling behind his horse. He was hoping to get off a shot underneath the animal but the oldest man, as he fell to his death, managed to squeeze off a wild shot that hit the horse with a perfect killing shot. It was all Lancaster could do to roll away and keep from being pinned.
The youngest man had been startled by the gunplay and went for his gun way too late.
“Don’t do it!” Lancaster yelled at him, getting to one knee.
The young man paid him no mind, probably didn’t even hear the warning because of the blood pounding in his ears. Lancaster had to choice but to shoot him, which he did. He managed to dispatch all three men with three shots, which was the kind of shooting that had made his reputation many years ago, when he was plying his trade as a killer for hire.
“Damn it, I told you not to!” he shouted as the boy fell onto his face.
Lancaster got to his feet and quickly approached the fallen men, kicking their pistols away just in case, but he needn’t have bothered.
They were all dead.
Lancaster was a creature of habit. Before he did anything else he ejected the spent shells from his gun, replaced them with live loads and then holstered the gun. Only then did he bend over and drag the woman out from under the dead man.
As he carried her to the porch he noticed that her dress, face and hands were covered with blood. He set her down in a rocking chair on the porch and inspected her for injuries, but found none. The blood obviously belonged to somebody else, but who?
“Ma’am, can you hear me?”
Her eyes were open, but she didn’t respond. He considered his options. Get her some water from the well, or go inside the house and see what awaited him there?
“Ma’am?” He tried again, but to no avail.
He made up his mind, stood up and entered the house. He was immediately greeted by the smell of blood, a scent he was very familiar with.
He was standing just inside the door, with a kitchen set up on the left with a table and chairs, and to his right a sofa, armchair and fireplace. Wherever the blood smell was coming from, it wasn’t from here. There was another doorway, and from where he stood he could see the foot of a bed.
He crossed the room and entered the bedroom. At first all he saw was the blood spatter on the wall, but then he spotted the boots sticking out from the other side of the bed. It took only three steps, and then he was looking down at the bloody body of a man who had obviously taken a shotgun blast to the head. This was the only place he could see that the woman would have gotten the blood all over her. Was this her husband? Perhaps the three men killed him, and then she had cradled his body in her arms, covering herself with his blood.
He went back into the main room, grabbed a couple of tin cups from the kitchen. He then went back outside, where the woman was still in the chair, rocking back and forth slowly.
He walked to the well, brought the bucket up, filled the two cups and carried them to the porch.
“Here,” he said, holding one cup to the woman’s mouth. He tried to get her to drink, but without much success. He sipped a bit from the other cup himself, then set both cups down on the porch and went back inside. He searched the kitchen and living room area, finally found a bottle of whiskey in a cupboard.
He carried the bottle outside, picked up one cup and splashed the contents into the woman’s face. Thankfully she reacted, blinked, sputtered a bit as the water caused some of the blood on her face to rinse off.
Lancaster poured some whiskey into the empty cup, then held it to the woman’s mouth. She sipped and choked, but he held the cup there, lifting it until she had swallowed it all. He then lifted the bottle to his own mouth and took a healthy swig.
He crouched down next to her and could see that her eyes were focusing.
“Ma’am, can you hear me?”
“I just rode up here lookin’ for some water,” he said, “and now I’ve killed three men. Can you tell me what happened here?”
“The man inside?”
“I’m sorry, but he’s dead.”
“Did those men kill him?” he asked. “And then drag you outside?”
“No? They didn’t kill your husband?”
“N-no, they didn’t,” she said.
“Well, if they didn’t kill him, who did?” Lancaster asked.
“I did,” she said. “M-may I have some more whiskey, please?”