Dead Men Hanging
by Robert L. Sellers Jr
|Table of Contents|
Welcome to the Weird Wild West where the men are tough and the women can be, too. It’s a place with horsepower measured by hands or hooves, and the number of cylinders in a long gun or pistol makes the difference between life and death on the open frontier of the western United States.
The streets here are dusty, the lead hot, the women fast and the cards faster. Disagreements finish face to face with pistols drawn at noon while the undertaker waits with his pine. Quick justice is dispensed under tall trees and at the end of a short rope — if you’re lucky.
There are people here who are not as they seem, and others who watch them. Supernatural and mortal alike unite to reach what peace they can find between them. Hunters can become prey, and prey can become the hunter. This is their story.
part 1 of 2
1891, Goblin's Toe, Wyoming
Sheriff Augustus Poe stepped out onto the boardwalk, pausing to relight his pipe. The brace on his left leg was starting to bother him again and he made a note to see the Doc about it first thing in the morning.
Enjoying the taste of the sweet, aromatic blended Cavendish tobacco, he looked down the street toward the lights of the Belmont Tavern.
Days spent riding in the sun had left his long hair bleached white while his skin was dark and heavily creased. Most people who met him thought he was older than his fifty-two years. His curled gray beard only added to the image of an older man.
He smiled, thinking of how often that false image had surprised someone who thought they could push over this Sheriff. His left leg might be in a brace but the rest of his body was still in shape. The fact that he won more bets than he lost while target shooting showed his aim had not slipped any either; it may have even improved some.
With any luck, there would not be any more bar fights or gunshots to ruin what was otherwise proving to be a beautiful evening.
It was almost hard to believe that only the year before they had officially become the forty-fourth state. Up until then things had been pretty wild and rough.
Fortunately eighteen-ninety had come and gone taking with it the wild and woolly days and leaving mostly peace and tranquility in its wake.
Peace did not come without the occasional flare-up though, like the one at Phoebe’s earlier in the week. Three men had started a brawl and then tried to shoot their way out of it. Two patrons and one of the girls had died before it was over. Fortunately, he had been able to convince the rest of the town not to lynch the men on the spot.
As a Federal Marshal, he had covered the territory helping to enforce the law and apprehend the guilty that broke it. Had it not been for a stray bullet hitting his kneecap, he very well might still be doing what he had so enjoyed.
Those days were long past, though. As the Sheriff of Goblin's Toe, Wyoming he now cared for the same people day in and day out. The change had not been very hard to deal with as the town offered enough challenges to keep him busy.
Between the men who worked the Donnetelli Scaggs Mine, the ranch hands who tended cattle or the folks who passed through town on their way east or west there was always a chance someone would do something that required his attention.
He turned toward the quiet side of town hoping to walk off the pain the brace caused when he sat for too long in one place.
He had almost made it to the end of the boardwalk when he heard the sound of approaching horses. Turning back, he watched several riders rein their mounts to a halt in front of his office.
“Damn-it!” he cursed, knowing they would only come looking for him if he didn’t go back and see what they wanted.
He counted six of them, wearing dusters and gun belts. He saw rifles tied to each of their saddles as well. Even from a distance, it was clear from the glint of metal on their chests that they were lawmen of some sort.
Only one rider dismounted while the others remained in their saddles, straight-backed and watchful of the town around them. He smiled, noticing that each rider had one hand free and near his belt at all times.
Perhaps they simply wanted directions, but he doubted it.
* * *
“We’re looking for these three men. Any chance you’ve seen them?”
Years of playing poker allowed Poe to keep his reaction blank as he looked over the familiar faces on the wanted posters.
Although justice had already been delivered to the three murderers from Phoebe’s, these men would probably not understand the methods used, or why. He needed time to figure out a plan.
He had been right about them being lawmen; the six men formed a Sheriff Posse from down south of Cheyenne. Their leader was a young man by the name of Bart Hollingsworth. None of the men was less than six feet tall or older than twenty-five. It didn’t take much to see that they were tough as nails; hard eyes, muscled and ready for anything.
Poe shook his head. “Not that I recall. I can check around and see if anyone else has. You might want to visit with Sheriff Payne in Lion Springs. He’s seen his share of problems lately, if you know what I mean.”
Bart frowned in clear disappointment. “That’s our next stop. We had really hoped they stopped here.”
Understanding the frustration he himself had suffered while chasing his own fugitives, Poe reached down and pulled out the bottle of whiskey that he often described as only for “medicinal” purposes.
Digging around the cabinet over the washbasin, he managed to find enough glasses for everyone and poured a round. Holding his glass up, he looked at the men as they raised theirs.
“May the men you’re chasing find themselves at the end of a rope, sooner rather than later.” It was an old Marshal’s toast and brought smiles from several of the men.
He had to admit that he enjoyed the burn of the whiskey almost as much as the taste of the tobacco waiting for him in his pipe. He put his glass down and smiled, resting a hand on his leg brace. “I would offer to go along but with this leg...”
Bart returned the smile as he got up and the men began to file out. “No need. If we can’t find any sign of them we should be back through in a few days.”
Poe shook hands with him before watching them mount up and head back out of town.
Picking up the empty glasses, he set them in the washbasin and filled it with water from the pitcher. Capping the bottle, he placed it back in his desk before grabbing his own coat and heading out.
There was work to do before this night was through. He had come up with a plan and now needed to enlist the services of the town Doctor to accomplish it.
If all went well, the Posse would get their men and the town would be able to keep its secret.
* * *
The old Charlemonte mansion was located on a hill overlooking the town. Built by one of the original mine owners, it now served as the home of the three Dorchester sisters.
A sprawling two-story building with a wide wrap-around porch, tall narrow windows covered in vines and a widow’s walk facing the mine, it looked spooky enough at night to ward off any casual visitor who might approach. The spiked iron fence surrounding the property only completed the image.
Walking up the winding road toward the mansion, he thought of how well the remote location had worked out for the three women. Not that they would have wasted any time worrying about what their neighbors might have thought of them if they had any nearby.
No light was visible in any of the windows leading him to believe that he had already missed them.
Reluctantly he decided to wait on the porch rather than aggravate his knee anymore than he already had on the way up.
Setting his lantern down in front of a bench, he pulled out a block of wood with a knife from his pocket. Ever patient, he gently began to carve the wood.
What had begun as a way to kill boredom while traveling had become a tried and true method of relaxation. Most times while he traveled, the choices of entertainment had been limited to carving or drinking and carving was the one option that would not bring a headache in the morning.
“Hello Sheriff, what brings you out this way on a night such as this?”
With a start, he looked up and realized Abigail Dorchester must have been standing there for quite a while, silently watching as he had carved the wood.
Her long raven black hair was done up in a fancy bun while her sleeveless black gown looked like she had been to a formal party. She even wore black gloves that covered the pale skin of her arms just past her elbows.
Casually, almost as if gliding, she walked over and looked at the figurine that he held. He handed it to her and she held it up for closer inspection.
“If I didn’t know better this looks like me the first night we met.” She sat down next to him on the bench and continued to admire the details of his handiwork.
“Abby do you remember those three men that you and your sisters took care of for us?”
Abby turned the figurine slowly in her hands. “Yes, they caused no end of trouble at the tavern and the gentlemen’s club if I recall. It was a shame that they brought so much death to a house of pleasure.”
He winced, knowing that not even he would have called Phoebe’s brothel a “gentlemen’s” club. “Yes, those would be the three.”
“May I keep this?” She asked with a pleased smile. Her alluring dark eyes were tempting to look at but he carefully avoided them.
“Please consider it a gift.”
Carefully pocketing the knife, he stood and looked out over the yard. “Actually it’s more of a bribe than a gift, from someone in need of a favor.”
When her smile faded and she raised a questioning brow, it was time for him to smile. “I need to see those men again, Abby. And before you ask, it won’t really matter if they are dead or alive.”
Rising to her feet, she moved toward the door. The request must have intrigued her, since Poe had not asked any more questions.
“Follow me then. We’ve been keeping them in the cellar.” Holding the door for him, she paused. “Watch your step down there.”
“And what should I be looking out for?” He replied.
Copyright © 2005 by Robert L. Sellers Jr