Chapter 22, Rivers-Edge, Waiting
Jed Thornton shook his head while surveying the men in the river, slowly holstered his revolver, and pushed his hat back. “So much for talk’in them out of it,” he said ruefully. “Anyone hurt?”
Each did a quick once over on themselves. Jim Wainright was the only one who had taken any damage. He had been grazed on his left thigh. The bleeding had already stopped by the time he realized he had been hit. Each of the Rangers had at least one new hole in their clothes. It was a closer gun battle than they cared to admit. This could have easily went the other way. If it had lasted a little longer the rangers were sure it would have. Things just seemed to break right for them today.
Don Mathers dumped his empty shells and slowly reloaded his guns. “What do you think? Is this gonna end it?”
Thornton shook his head, “Nope, only for the four left here. I figure this is shaping up into a real beaut. We’d better get back to town while the Perkins’ are still licking their wounds. We’re gonna need the sheriff and the Marshall and as many men as they can deputize. If these boys get the rest of their men, from all accounts I’ve heard this wasn’t all of them, and combine that with the guys from the Hill spread, we’re gonna need every gun we can get.”
Kelvin and Luke joined the Rangers at the water’s edge. Thornton continued, “While we wait for Carlton and Donni to climb down off of the hill. Let’s get these bodies out of the water and up on the bank. We will send the undertaker out here to pick them up once we get back to town. Besides we need to see if we can identify any of them. In case they have any warrants out on them.” Jed said and winked at Kelvin. Kelvin was unsure why he did that but figured Carlton would understand once he got here. The five of them waded into the river to retrieve the bodies.
They had just finished hauling the bodies out and inspecting them when Carlton and Donni walked up leading the horses from where they had staked them out-of-the-way.
Jed welcomed them, “Well boys it looks like we will be around for another day. It was good having you guys up on the hill. I think it took the wind out of their sails right away. It discouraged some of them from even joining the fight.”
“About that Jed,” Carlton started, “four of the men that turned and fled early are our friends. We noticed that they hung back before the shooting started and then once it started they took off. I’m pretty sure they recognized Kelvin and Luke so didn’t join in. I am looking forward to hearing from them once we catch up to them again.”
“Well as long as they are not riding for Perkins’ ranch any longer I won’t hold it against them. So it seems that it is good fortune that we ran into you boys again.” Jed replied. “The plan is to head back to town and deputized as many men as we can to shut this down. I expect we will need to go out in force to the spreads around here and make sure we run off as many of the hired regulators as we can. With luck we will shut this down before it get’s much worse. We’ll send the undertaker out here to collect up this bunch,” he finished as he waved toward the bodies.
“We need to go to the Gatlin’s and make sure they are ok.” Donni spoke up, interjecting his concerns into the conversation.
“Donni we need to get back to town like Jed said,” Carlton replied.
“Actually Carlton,” Jim Wainright interjected, “it might be good to have you boys go and warn them. Tell them to send riders to the other ranchers around that are on their side, spread the word, and to send any men they can spare to town to be deputized.”
After a brief discussion all agreed that the Holts would swing by the Gatlin’s place before returning to town. The Rangers would go on back to town and make preparations there.
As they were leaving the river’s edge Kelvin asked Carlton, “What about Dan and the others?”
“I imagine that they’ll be showing up in town sooner or later,” Carlton said as he swung into his saddle.
It had been an uneventful afternoon. They warned the Gatlins and headed straight back to town. Donni was none to happy that Carlton had drug him away from the ranch quickly. They got back at dusk. The Holts waited in the saloon, waiting for Thornton and the other rangers, who were still out rounding up the law and deputies. They were not having much luck getting any of the townsfolk to join in on the fight. Luke lit up a cigarette and left, saying something about taking a stroll. Kelvin sat quietly and shuffled his ever-present deck of cards. Carlton sat and drank his whiskey, sparing occasional glances at Donni, who was cleaning his pistols. The others, Dan, et.al. had not arrived and Carlton was beginning to wonder if something had happened to them. There were a lot of things beginning to worry Carlton. Was this really what he wanted for himself and his brothers?
“Donni,” he said finally.
Donni looked up and raised his eyebrows, “Yeah Carlton?”
Carlton sighed heavily. “I’d always kind of hoped that you’d grow out of this wild streak. But it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. At least not before it gets one of us killed.”
Donni looked mystified, “What do you mean, big brother?”
“All I’m saying is that you need to settle down some. I mean it this time, Donni. I’ve got a bad feeling about this one.”
Donni poured himself a whiskey, “Sure Carlton. I’ll do whatever you say.”
Carlton smiled slightly, “Leave the girl alone, little brother. Keep your mind on business. We’re caught in the middle on this one, in many ways we’ve got guns from both sides aiming at us. This isn’t the time to be fooling around.”
Donni drained his glass and smiled at Carlton, “Okay.” he replied with as blank of an expression on his face that he could maintain.
Carlton stared at him for a few moments longer trying to tell if he was serious or not. Donni stood up and stretched, “I’m gonna go find Luke.”
Carlton watched him leave, frowning. Kelvin looked away when his older brother’s attention returned to the saloon. “Uh, Kelvin…,” Carlton began.
Kelvin slammed his cards down, “No. I ain’t gonna do it. If something happens all I’ll do is mess it up and you’ll blame me for not watching out for Donni!” Carlton blinked in surprise and then began laughing.
Kelvin watched him suspiciously, “What’s so funny?”
Carlton shook his head and poured himself another whiskey, “Sorry, little brother. I see you are finally beginning to think. How about a game of cards?”
Kelvin broke into a big smile, “That sounds like a good idea. You want to wager some money?”
Carlton rolled his eyes, “You take me for a fool? I said play cards, not loose my shirt.”
Donni crossed the street looking for Luke. He spotted the tall lean figure of his cousin leaning against the General Store. He stopped beside him and began rolling a smoke. Luke exhaled a large cloud of smoke and looked at Donni.
“Some excitement today, huh?”
Donni nodded, “How’s does it feel to be a U.S. Deputy Marshall?” ‘
Luke shrugged, “Don’t feel much different to tell the truth. Though I did notice some people looking at me kinda funny when they saw my badge.”
“Let’s take a walk,” Donni suggested.
The two Holts slowly strolled down the main street towards the southern end of town. They walked by the Silver Dollar, the second and usually quieter saloon in town. It was doing a roaring business tonight. Neither one noticed the short, bearded man who was leaning against the hitching post straighten and walk inside after they’d passed. A few minutes later a large group of men left the saloon and congregated on the street.