From the beginning, Muley Tatum is a thorn in Marshal Carson's side. Muley is a hideous, grinning character that kills for virtually no reason, and he rides with whatever set of misfits he can persuade. Most are of outlaw nature, such as PossumTucker, who escaped jail to re-associate with the horrendous outlaw. But there is also a pair of brothers, trail riders up from Texas, that follow the devious man in black, looking for, they don't know what - perhaps a chance for something better than going back to herding cows in Texas.
Carson was instilled as a U.S. Marshal by President Grover Cleveland, being solicited for the job by the Kansas governor and a territorial Judge, to bring reasonable law and order to the Dodge City area following the antics of the Earps, Luke Short, Mastersons, etc.
The trails Carson follows to corral the demented Muley Tatum are many, all of them laced with death. But uniquely, Tatum has a generous kindheartedness toward women folk that came about when he was a youngster - but it's a weakness that could get him killed.
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REMNANT OF HELL
Men Without A Purpose
By DON M. RUSSELL
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2014 Don M. Russell
All rights reserved.
The July Sun Bore Down on Marshal Carson, hot as the surface of a well tended pot-belly on a January morning. But the sweltering heat was a simple nuisance compared to the problem tucked away in that whiskey-wash forty yards up the street.
Apprehending Muley Tatum and his sidekicks wasn't going to be simple or easy, but Carson was damn sure he'd get 'em. He felt it in his bones ... somebody else was going to die today. When that feeling came it'd always panned out, definite as the stink of burned hide on a fresh branded steer. He was confident too, it'd be one or more of the culprits in the saloon that was to be graveyard rubble, not him or the man at his side, Deputy Travis. They'd be the purveyors of death, not recipients.
"If you don't come outta there now, Muley, you'll not leave Spickard alive." Carson's warning shout was akin to blowing into the wind, toting no obliging effect to the hooligans inside the Yellow Moon where the earlier killing had taken place. Rad Carson tried talk for several minutes; even before he started, he knew his words would squirrel into empty ears, but it was his duty.
The position in which he'd placed himself was disgusting, belly down, and propped up with elbows on the smelly ground behind a water trough. He swallowed hard and clinched his teeth, the words pushed out of his mouth slow and pitiless, like a groundhog edging through a jagged hole in a board fence, "A hell of a way for lawmen to deal with derelicts, them firing at us like a tin target in a shooting gallery."
Again he shouted across the rut-marked street separating the rows of bleached board buildings, commanding Muley Tatum and his cohorts to give up their guns. "Thrown down and come out, Tatum." His voice raked with anger. But same as before, the response was a drunken, hideous laugh followed by a volley of gunfire. The three despoiled men holed up inside the saloon were decided, mind-fixed for a shootout.
Muley Tatum bellowed, from one step inside the louvered doors, "Go to hell, Carson! Me and my boys will paste your guts all over the street if you move from that hole you made for yourself." A deceitful grin, concocted with inner-bitterness, creased his face. He cut dark eyes around the corner, shifted to see though the acrid smoke and spun the cylinder of the Remington, checking new loads he'd thumbed into the revolver.
Intolerable heat owned the frontier Kansas town, shadows were thin and no breeze to push back the stale air. Perspiration spanked the lawmen's shirts and dotted their faces. Carson figured the scoundrels inside had time on their side, they were clear of the sun and able to move around, which he and Travis gave up when they took to the cover they did.
'Fortunately none of the townies were in jeopardy of catching a stray bullet'. Carson satisfied the thought with a deep breath. The street cleared of people when the first shots exploded inside the saloon and the terrified young wrangler leaped from the batwings, his wrinkled straw hat clinched in a fist, he ran, first from the brutal exploits, and secondly to employ the marshal.
It started as a calm morning in Spickard; quiet until the outlaw scum came riding into the settlement just after the bank clock struck ten. These were same men the marshal had run out of town just a week ago. A few random, disorderly shots were fired by the troublemakers back then but no real damage done. He'd threatened to throw 'em in jail, now he wished he had.
This was different, merciless. Muley Tatum, a larger than average man who'd always been a weasel, along with his cronies, have soaked up way too much whiskey. They shot up the drinking establishment, wounded the barkeep, and killed Miles Courtney, a much respected local rancher. The puncher who'd busted into the Big Biscuit Café ten minutes ago, a cowhand from Courtney's ranch that'd stood with him in the saloon, interrupted the lawmen's lunch with frantic word of the shooting.
It happened that this was also a morning the old bullet wound in Rad's shoulder had chosen to act up. The occasional throb and stiffness didn't bother much unless rain joined with a cool prairie breeze. But for whatever reason today, the void of foul weather made no difference, the shoulder was an annoyance.
"Guess I'll have to go in after that no-account skunk and trim that mop of long black hair from his noggin," Carson bleated quietly to himself. Flexing his bothersome shoulder as he rested on his elbows, he took occasional glances over the two foot high board tank.
Carson glumly turned his head and looked at his deputy lying along side, munched his lips in a show of mild frustration, and raised a gloved hand to wipe sweat from his brow. This wasn't the first time, and likely not the last, that he'd have to lay his life on the line to rid his town of outlaw trash.
He and Travis, the twenty-four year old deputy, who'd been on the job just two weeks, had dived behind the horse trough when a volley of lead whistled overhead as they loped up the dirty roadway anxiously making their way to arrest Muley and his two roughshod side-kicks.
The marshal flexed his lips, his eyes locked on Deputy Travis, "You'll have to throw lead their direction when I leave this slop hole and make for cover out front of Hampton's store." His glare questioned the deputy momentarily. He hoped he'd figured accurately about the new lawman he'd favored the town council to hire; this was going to be one hell of a test, his life being on the line.
Rad tapped the brass star that hung on his worn leather vest, hankering for luck, "Okay, Travis, on the count of three, make the lever on that Winchester jump. You'll have to keep their heads down a spell till I can make the boards and those barrels." He flipped a thumb toward the other side of the street forty yards down and on the opposite side, next door to the Yellow Moon Saloon.
Rad Carson was a thin waisted, stout muscled man, taller than average, wide shouldered and owned a quickness that nature hadn't fostered to many. He nodded to the deputy as he counted, "One," rising to one knee he pulled the tan Stetson down tight, "two," shoved his Peacemaker into the holster so both hands would be free to catch his weight upon reaching intended cover in spite of the hindrance of the agonizing shoulder. "Three." Carson leaped clear of the smelly trough following his deputy's first shot but a wedge of mud from seepage at the end of the water box spoiled his footing and sent him sprawling. He swiftly righted his sturdy six foot frame, regained momentum, and anxiously fingered the big Colt on his thigh to be sure it was in place.
Travis's Winchester rang out; four, five, six, seven slugs ripped into the doorframe and shattered the window where one of Muley's men had been firing. The pesky outlaw at the window withdrew as Travis peppered the saloon with lead. He stepped back in place when the rifle quieted and the deputy poked his head up. The skunk-drunk man abruptly lifted the hand gun to chest height and made it buck. Lightning and flame once again stabbed from the barrel toward the lawman.
Marshal Carson heaved his agile body the final ten feet and flopped onto the weathered boards behind the flour barrels with an eruption of stowed air. 'Thanks, Travis', he grimaced and mumbled to himself, knowing the deputy had fulfilled his obligation in the best way possible.
"Give 'em Wild-Billy-hell boys!" Muley Tatum, the outlaw leader, urged his men. He knew Rad Carson wouldn't back down, that'd been his reputation ever since he pinned on the badge three years ago. "Don't let that law-dog get any closer. Kill him before he steps a boot on this side of the ... damn, he's comin' ... kill 'em—kill 'em!" Muley threw three quick, wild rounds at Rad just as the marshal braced his backside against the outside wall of the Yellow Moon.
Tatum's two sidekicks were dividing their shots, their targets several yards apart. And shooting at Carson was awkward; the marshal was on the like-side of the street they held.
"The first one of ya's that puts a bullet in him gets a hunert dollar bonus," Muley screamed. The big outlaw rubbed a dirty fist across his mouth and his ruddy dark eyes shuttered raucously as he took two steps backward. He flexed his lips and ducked back under the staircase, making his way catlike to the rear door of the Yellow Moon.
"I don't know, Patch," Lucas, the hooligan that'd been firing from a window shouted to his cohort, "I'm thinkin' neither of us is gonna collect on that bonus." His voice was pitched and scratchy. He looked around for Muley, hoping for workable instruction, or at least, more words of motivation.
Patch saw a mixture of fright and confusion in the reaction of his partner as his head jerked repeatedly in searching the shadows of the saloon for Tatum. He squinted, his eyes cut all corners of the room but came up empty, "Why, that dirty son of a sidewinder, he's gone," Patch shouted, "and left us to mop up the mess he made by killin' that old man." His glance reflected to the man on the floor, Miles Courtney, whose eyes were fixed and his head lying unnatural in a pool of blood.
"I ain't stayin' to save his sorry ass," Lucas turned. But before he could take a step, Rad Carson crashed through the large, multi-pane window and slammed to the floor; his hand filled with the Peacemaker, he rolled and fired from the cluster of shattered glass and splintered window casing. Pain seized his shoulder but was disregarded. The gun bucked twice and a slug crashed into the outlaw's left side. A shower of crimson droplets flew from the man's right underarm; the .45 caliber chunk of lead had passed through both lungs before existing. He yelped and convulsed to the sawdust floor, a flush of blackened blood spilling between his teeth. His eyes rolled, fluttered, and life leaked from his young body.
"I'm through ... I'm through." Patch screamed when he saw his fellow gunman fall. He went to his knees in the center of the broad square of tainted light that fought through the dust, both hands flailed high toward the chandelier overhead. One fist clinched his crumpled, rust colored hat as a sign of submission. A man that removed his hat was a man ready to crawl, not ready to fight on.
Carson's deep coffee-colored eyes moved over every square yard of the dingy barroom, hedging briefly at the jumbled conglomeration of tables and chairs in the rear. The hammer of the Peacemaker was back and the barrel jerked in a steady but constant movement. He searched the ragged stairway. With his eyes and gun twitching upward, he shouted to Patch, "Up there?"
"No," Patch Gillis answered, his breath hot with liquor and irritation, but cloaked in fear for his life, "out the back door like a chicken running from a coyote." He tilted his ragged tassels of dingy blond hair toward the back of the room but remained rigid on his knees, arms extended upward.
Rad slid the Colt into leather as he held focus on the kneeling outlaw and a spit of silence found its way into the room.
As if responding to a behind-the-curtain-whispered-cue, the batwing door creaked softly; Deputy Travis stood in the doorway, his feet braced wide and the rifle held at the ready, bright sunlight silhouetted around him, "You okay, Marshal?"
"Yea, I'm fine. You did a job out there, likely saved my bacon." He nodded in appreciation. "Good way to start earning your thirty-four dollars this month," the marshal added dryly. A slight grin followed his remark before his eyes swung away. He slowly made his way over the few steps to where Patch remained kneeling, the outlaw's hands held high. A trace of panic set in as he followed Rad's progress toward him, sensing the lawman's anger.
"Guess you're gonna lock me up in that pig sty you call a jail, are ya, Marshal?" His voice was shaky and eyes blinked with a liquored-up laziness.
"That's right." Rad stood over the roughshod gunman whose mouth had cocked into a sassy grin. "I'm locking you up!"
A mock, snide-ridden smile came to Patch's lips, followed by a deep breath extolling a partial release of apprehension. But his thought betrayed him.
The toe of the marshal's boot smashed into the man's stomach with the force of a mule kick, "After I teach you a thing or two."
Patch yelled and rolled onto his side just in time for the heel of Rad Carson's boot to land with a jolt, flush on the bridge of his nose. "That's for shooting at me and my deputy."
Patch Gillis, his face bloodied and the breath still absent from his lungs, rolled over onto his back, arms thrust full away from his sides in semi-consciousness. "And this," the marshal drew and cocked back the hammer of the .45, "is for shooting Otis ... and killing a man in my town." The Colt spit fire and the slug tore through the palm of Patch's gun hand. Splinters and a spray of blood, clogged with sawdust, flew from beneath the smoking hand.
The wounded outlaw bellowed and writhed like a chicken with his head freshly missing. He exploded in a frenzy, clutching at his wrist and his body surging from the waist with a pumping action, he screamed, "Damn you, Carson, I didn't kill nobody, Muley did the killin'."
"Yea, and you was just standing by ... drinking a beer," Rad said to the screaming man, in a nonchalant tone. He slowly holstered the Colt and turned toward the bar, knowing Otis, the bartender, would be there on the floor behind the polished-top structure, according to the cowhand's fluster of rapid shouting in the restaurant.
Marshal Carson found his way to where the injured bar-keep was lying sprawled awkwardly on his back. He bent and pulled the apron strings from the expansive midsection of the hefty bald headed man, straddled the man, placed his hands under the man's arms and lifted the woozy barkeep from the broken bottles of sour mash. Rad helped him to a wooden crate; quickly inspected the wound and wrapped the man's upper arm with the white cloth. "The bullet went clean through, Otis, you're a lucky man. I'd say the doc will have you patched up and back serving this rot-gut stuff in no time." The two of them hesitated at the end of the bar and looked down longingly at the body of Miles Courtney.
"Miles saved my life," Otis said, his face drawn, "Muley was coming 'round the bar to shoot me again when Miles took in after him with that there broom stick." He indicated the broom lying on the floor with a nod of his head.
"Why'd he shoot you in the first place?"
"When I told him he owed a dollar and six-bits, he said he'd already paid for the bottle." Otis sniffed and rubbed at his nose, "I told him he was mistaken; he said I was callin' him a liar—pulled his gun and shot me ... shot me like I was a scoundrel dog beggin' for a bone."
In the center of the room Travis had up-righted the wounded, stoop- shouldered and blubbering outlaw, had him by the shirt collar and guiding him toward the door. He lifted his chin and asserted, "When I get this chunk of pasture-dung locked up, I'll get both Doc Hankins and Cyrus, the undertaker, headed up this way."
Rad looked at his up-start deputy with a glow of satisfaction, "Like I said before, good job, deputy ... you're earning your keep." He followed quickly with another remark, more for the ears of the used-up prisoner than for Travis, "If he gives you even a smart-ass remark, go ahead and shoot him, save the county some money on a judge and trial."
The young wrangler that summoned the lawmen stepped inside the door just after the deputy jerked Patch outside. He glared back over his shoulder, "I'll be on hand to see that sumbitch hang." He slowly picked his way through the chards of glass to stand by his boss's twisted body. "This shouldn't have happened." The youngster's hand went to his forehead and rubbed grudgingly as tears welled up, one sliding down a sun-browned cheek. "This is gonna bear hard on his wife, and Jenny, his daughter. The two of them thought more of this man than of life itself." The youngster turned red-rimmed eyes to Rad, "Likely some of the men back at the ranch will come after that man." His head flicked toward the door.
"What's your name, son?" the marshal asked.
"Name's Spencer, Spencer Cline, friends call me Spence."
"Okay." Rad raised his eyes from the rancher lying on the floor, "I Hope you're wrong about that statement Spence, he's my prisoner and ain't no body getting' past me to get to him." The boy's expression showed he comprehended the sincerity of Rad Carson's statement. "And," Rad continued, "according to Otis here, it was Muley that killed your boss, not my prisoner. The judge will have the final say on that."
Excerpted from REMNANT OF HELL by DON M. RUSSELL. Copyright © 2014 Don M. Russell. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
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