A short story with David Murphy, aka longhair. Hero of "From The Ashes."
By David M Karder
A SlantedK Production
“Hey, Longhair, get your ass out there! The drunks are gettin’ restless!”
He got to his feet, outside the office a very vocal crowd, a busy night at Jake’s Saloon. A quick turn to the right and he opened the door of the office separating him from the front gambling room. Approached the threshold and received a violent greeting, the doorframe splintered via a shotgun blast.
Quickly spun away and ducked, out of line of sight, a patron yelled out. “You sack of shit cheat!”
Next to the same doorway that just splintered, an Easterner stood in silence, shaking. Therefore, a question needed asking. The enforcer stepped up. “You a cheat?”
“No, no sir, he’s a terrible gambler.”
A quick turn towards the sound of a shotgun ratchet, displeased with the patrons disregard for anyone’s safety. He stepped between the drunks target and the business end of the shotgun, the triggerman hesitated.
“A simple question I ask you, Sir.”
“What the blazes do you want, Longhair? You ain’t involved with this! The house has its money!”
“My question is, you willing to die because this fella whipped you at the table?”
“Cheatin’ ain’t winning and I don’t give a rat’s ass if I go through you to get him.”
“You see, that is a detail I must argue, the problem is you have threatened an employee of this fine, respectable, gambling establishment. If I let everyone that comes through those doors kill the winning patrons, how do you think that would look to my boss?”
The losing gambler was so infuriated his face turned dark red. Drool rolled down his chin, his left hand squeezed the barrel and he planted his left foot firmly. It was clear he intended to make his move. The enforcer was well aware of the situation, palm to revolver, pull, hammerlock, trigger, flash. Exit wound of the patron went from right to left through the torso. Blood splattered the man next to him, the body slumped forward, the shotgun discharged into the floor. The force of his guns expulsion rolled the limp body backwards to the table. Lying on the table, blood surrounded the body. From the front door, a shout roared out.
“BOBBY! What the hell!”
The new visitor had two guns drawn and blazing, not concerned with actually aiming, the first two rounds exploded a lamp hanging on the wall behind the victor of round one. That was all the time he needed. Revolver still in hand from the previous encounter, he quickly lifted it, hammerlock, and trigger. The front wall and door directly behind loser number two, decorated with brain matter, skull chips and blood. His body fell backwards out the door. The saloons enforcer scanned the room to assure that no one else wanted to get involved.
“No takers? Anybody else? Anyone?”
The room went quiet. Then the boss yelled out. “Clean up this damn mess, all I need is the new comers thinking they can’t enjoy a night of gambling. The cattlemen will be getting here soon. Let’s go. Longhair!”
“Nice shootin’, you think you could stay a little more focused?”
“Go home and get some sleep!”
He stepped over the carcass at the front door and walked to the front. Mounted his longtime companion, snapped the reins and rode into the dark.
The silver of the rising sun chased the stars of the night into the west. It had been a long hot night, dusty, dirty and no rain in a while. The cattle companies began converging to sell their herds. A chaotic race across the surrounding states, all competing for top dollar, whiskey, gambling and women.
This year was different, the gunman known as Longhair to most, David to his close friends, had a special concern, his dad’s brother was coming, and he had not seen him since before the civil war.
Arrived at the place called home, seated on the small rickety porch, cigar in hand, and a bottle of whiskey at his side, it was time to relax. He pulled a letter out that his Uncle Henry sent a few weeks back.
It’s been too long, I’m sorry I haven’t sought you out sooner. Good news though, bought a ranch a couple years back in New Mexico Territory. I have called it the Slanted K Ranch. Hired a staff and we are going to be heading up with about fifteen hundred head of cattle. This will be the first attempt at a sale since I took over the place. I will be departing the third of next month for your hole of a town. Be prepared, I heard you are a quality enforcer and tracker, might even know your way around a gun. If you are anything like your dad, I am gonna need someone like you, so start thinking about relocating again. It’s gonna take me some time to move these animals so see ya soon.
Other than a good woman and a cigar, David did not normally get excited over much. However, that day was different. Henry was the only known Kin he had. So many years with no family made him thick skinned, however, excitement percolated within.
The last week of the month crept up and Henry was due at any time. The cigar tasted much better that day, not sure, if he wanted to sleep or just wait the day out. The sun was getting higher and the norm was to sleep days. It was going to get hot for sure. The whiskey took effect, conversation with himself turned to babbling; “better go to sleep before I begin arguing with myself.” A few drinks down, adrenaline long departed, stepped to the bed, turned, laid down, his back cracked as he stretched out, “oh, this bed is comfortable.” It did not take long for the snoring to begin.
Like a crack of thunder, his slumber broken by the bottom of the front door rapping the frame in time to the kicks and yelling of a boy outside.
“Mr. David! Mr. David! Wake up! Wake Up!”
“Kid could wake the dead. I guess it’s why I requested he keep an eye out.” Rubbed his face, he stood. “Slow down, boy! I’m coming!”
Swung the door open and it slammed the wall. “What! What the hell is it, boy?”
“You asked me to get you if I saw the herd arrive, I did! I did!”
“You sure it’s the right herd?”
“Yes, Sir! They have the slanted K on them that you told me about.”
He took a coin off the dresser. “Good work, catch.”
The coin in hand procured a grand smile. He got on his horse and rode off looking at the money he just made.
Sun was high in the sky, looked like a few hours sleep was it for the day. The event called for a clean shirt. Had one to choose from, it had to do. With an enthusiastic pace, he headed to the staging area on the edge of town. The process was the most organized chaos ever seen. Cattle up and down the street pushed into corrals through a row of gates or funnels in order to make certain the counts for all the parties involved would be correct.
No sight of a Slanted K on those beasts, he moved on. Approached the next arena, there were about five hundred cattle left outside of the corral still needing counting. The ass of the cow nearest him had an unmistakable K, a quick glance around, no sight of Uncle Henry. Stood up in the stirrups, panned the arena and there was no sight of him.
David knew Jimmy, the manager at the collection office; he went to see if he could help. That was a tough task indeed, cattle, dogs, dust, and the drivers everywhere. He had to get off the horse but it raised the possibility of cattle trampling him to death. Patiently, he zig zagged through the maze and arrived at the destination.
Jimmy was working with two herd bosses at that moment, making every effort to keep peace. Weeks on the trail, riding with the herds provided a distinct odor, and the office smelled bad. Jimmy noticed David. “What ya need, Longhair?”
“Looking for the man with the Slanted K cattle.”
“That would be me!”
Shocked no doubt, stood before him was a hairy three hundred-pound Indian/Mexican, a good six and a half feet tall. He claimed the Slanted K cattle were his. In addition, the exact source of the smell, discovered.
David stepped closer. “Really Slim, is that so?” He did not take well to his new designation and stepped forward.
“Yeah! My cattle, paperwork is right here, smart-ass fool.”
Turned out his breath exceeded the stench his body produced. A fine aroma of tooth decay, chew and manure. A quick glance at the papers and it was obvious Henry did not write them.
“Jimmy, these documents are forged!” I turned to the stink. “You’re a cattle thief!”
He shoved David back. “You better get out of my sight, Longhair! I do not take kindly to being called a thief!”
Palm to steel, David drew, hammerlock, the barrel was on his forehead before he could react. Caressing the trigger Jimmy shouted out. “STOP!”
The behemoth was not confident the gunman would be obedient. He didn’t even get his hand to his sidearm. The others in the room stepped back.
Jimmy again. “You can prove this, David?”
David tossed Henry’s letter on the counter, and the gun did not flinch. “Look at the writing, Jimmy, no way that matches.”
“You know we need to include the Sheriff on this, so just slow down.”
His attention was back on Sasquatch. “Where is Henry Murphy, the owner of these cattle?”
No response, Sasquatch had lost his tongue. Alerted to the situation the big man’s coconspirators entered the office with rifles drawn.
That did not faze David. “Let’s get something straight, right here and now! Drop that steel or I drop Sasquatch! NOW!”
The recipient of the gun’s barrel nodded and they obeyed.
Jimmy spoke up. “This will get straightened out, David. The sale is on hold until this situation can be resolved.”
“Jimmy, I will walk out of here, but this will not end quietly!” Weapon holstered, the people in the room took a breath, and bloodshed stalled for the moment.
“Know this, Sasquatch!” From his belt, he pulled a tomahawk gathered in a previous battle, held it to his face and forcefully suggested. “I will plant this tomahawk in your forehead if anything happened to the owner of the Slanted K ranch. This is the last thing you will see!” David turned and left.
Rage flowed, furious, knuckles clinched and white. “What to do?” He had to clear his head, find an answer, the street packed, his horse trapped between the post and the horse troft. It took a mighty effort to just untie the horse and maneuver back out of the insanity. Made his way out of the cattle business district and emerged at the gamblin’ parlors and saloons.
Henry was missing, as far as all obvious facts pointed out. He stood toe to toe with an issue, detective work was necessary. A few drinks at a competing establishment helped take the edge off the hysteria. Back to the street, he passed Jake’s Saloon, the place of David’s employment, a very familiar voice shrieked.
“LONGHAIR! What the hell are you doing?”
“Whoa.” The horse slowed and turned. “Jake, I got some business to take care of.”
“Longhair, you got my business to take care of! Get in my office.”
“Yeah.” Get in my office, get out of my office, over and over it echoed through my head. I have been in this town way to long.” In the back of Jake’s place, one of the staff took the horse. It had been a while since experiencing such emotion.
He had to try to keep everything in prospective and pause until a solution would present itself. Entered through the back door, the bar was packed, the gaming room was at capacity and the girls were running the floor with trays full of drinks. One would think Jake was feeling like a king, more money flowin’ in the till right now than in the previous weeks combined. Oh no, the issue was he did think he’s king.
“Longhair, get over here, come on, your good but who’s the boss?”
For once, his office was empty, no women, no big cash spending private treatment guests, smoking on the big couch, just Jake and David.
A curious look came to David’s face. “He never calls me David.”
“Sit your ass down, I’m a bastard, this is well known, and you’re one tough son of a bitch. You’re family here, and you gotta know I got your back anytime anywhere. While you were buying drinks at someone else’s saloon, mind you. Jimmy got word to me on what happened today. The County Sheriff is currently forming a posse. As soon as they are prepared, they plan to head south.
“Some of my boys mixed in with the cattlemen, and I just ended a meeting with the girls before you rode by. If there is anything talked about, joked about, or anything, we will know the instant it happens. There is nothing you can do to speed it up. Therefore, you’re going to stay here and do your job. I have everything covered.”
Taken back by the effort of who was known to be a heartless son of a bitch, his hands were to his head and he stared at the floor. “Jake, he’s the last one of my family.”
“I know, kid. We will turn the tables tonight. The drunks will give up something. Just keep it in focus, don’t lose your edge, I can’t afford you losing your edge.”
“I got it, Jake.” Lifted his head. “Thank you.”
“Get out there and do your job, Longhair! Time is money, you’re an hour late and the sand is falling.”
He closed the door as they left, and standing in front of him was his little spy. “Mr. David, what ya need me to do? Let me help. I want to help! Can I help?”
“Ok, buddy, talk to doc, see if anyone came in with some gunshot or knife wounds. If so let me know, if not just hang out on the street and see if you hear anything.”
“Gotcha Mr. David, I won’t let ya down.”
He ran out and disappeared into the crowd. An hour passed. With so much smoke in the room, there was no need to light a cigar. In fact, a stroll on the front boardwalk was in order. A fairly normal state of affairs, losers and winners, chips back and forth. With the setting of the sun, the alcohol transformed gaming into drunken confrontations. David thought Jake needed to water his booze down more. Truth be told, loosing was much more common in relation to ones inability to focus on ones set of cards.
The smell of cattle had overwhelmed the air of the fine town. Very tough to pretend everything was business as usual. A release needed, back into Jake’s, the barkeep nodded and he returned the nod. A female voice broke the normal noise.
“Eat shit and pay!” A gun fired and a door slammed upstairs. A visitor emerged from the hall and walked the steps in confidence. When he reached the bottom step, the girl stood at the top of the balcony and blurted out.
“He didn’t pay!”
The enforcer reached the stairs as the guest’s left boot touched the main floor.
Chest to chest, with a low controlled voice he inquired. “What’s the issue, cowboy?”
“No issue, your woman or should I say, stinking whore, don’t know how to do her job.”
From the balcony. “Screw that! He couldn’t get it up. For an hour he kept blaming me!”
The attention of the crowded bar anticipated confrontation. The cowboy remained smug.
“You gonna believe me Longhair, or that whore?” He made a motion as if flipping hair behind his sholder.
The response was a devastating right-handed jab to his Adam’s apple. Both his hands quickly grabbed his contracted neck. He was no longer able to breathe, that assisted in getting his full attention.
“You will pay what you owe, or I may need to get involved, you don’t want me involved, or do you?”
A scratchy, forced comment. “No, no I don’t.”
“Pay the barkeep and get out.”
He began to cough. Breathe came back to his lungs. He pulled a knife and thrust forward, nicked David’s side and penetrated his vest as he turned. With his left elbow, David exploded his nose. Right hand secured the closed fist, knife and all. A quick jerk and fist went to the back of his forearm. To his knees went the whimpering baby. An upper cut with the knee to his jaw, a pull of his hair snapped his head back, released his wrist, and with a full round house David busted his eye wide open.
Bleeding, the fool had trouble with consciousness. His effort to alter the outcome in his favor was ineffective.
“Now listen cowboy, you still have an issue with payment. Let’s tag on the cleaning fee for the blood you just got on my fist. You gonna get your money out or you think I need to help with that one?”
On all fours, a spit of chew and blood went to the floor and he reached in his pocket.
David put his left hand on the head of the bleeder; the right hand palmed his revolver. “If anything comes out of that pocket other than money, you will die staring at the floor.”
He dropped some folded bills and passed out. Two bouncers picked him up and tossed him to the street. David’s favorite little spy dodged the limp body, no pun intended. When the beaten man hit the gravel at the bottom of the entrance, the boy yelled out.
“Mr. David, Mr. David!”
“Talk to me buddy, what ya got?”
“The doc.” The boy stuttered and gasped trying to catch his breath. “The doc, doctor, you need to get to the doctor’s office. The stage brought in a man in terrible shape. I ran as fast as I could, I did what you said Mr. David, did I do good?”
“Yes, yes you did, sit down and rest, come see me when you can.” That kid ran right behind David, keeping stride all the way to doctor’s office. Shoulder to the door David stopped in the waiting room, nobody there, a light was in the last room. He approached the door and the doctor stepped out.
“Wait.” A bloody hand went to his chest, able to see past the doctor. A resemblance of a man lay on the table, sheet soaked in blood, he struggled to breath, a cough and blood came out the victim’s mouth.
“What, doc, talk to me!”
“He said his name is Henry, he said he knows you. It’s bad, very bad, he lost so much blood. The guys on the stagecoach found him two days ago, bandaged him up and rode hard to get here on his request. His skull is likely broken his throat has a slit in it, and two gun wounds I can identify.”
David stepped up to the body, there was no way to recognize him, face was a mess battered and bruised. The fact was he didn’t really remember what he looked like.
He leaned in to talk. “Henry, you made it, this doctor knows his shit, you just keep fighting, and he will do the rest.” A crushed hand touched David’s arm. He coughed and spit more blood.
With every breathe and every bit of strength, he strained a nearly unrecognizable sound. “David, all is lost, wrangler took it all.” More blood, a convulsion scared the shit out David, the doctor pushed him aside.
“Get out, let me work.” Jake, the Sheriff, the little spy and Jimmy were in the hallway. The door slammed behind.
“Is it him?” Jake mumbled.
“Yes, he’s a mangled mess.”
The little helper spoke out. “What ya gonna do Mr. David, let me help, tell me what to do.”
“Get my horse. I need to go to my place.”
Oh the wisdom of the law, Sheriff spoke up. “Now I can’t have you taking this into your own hands, son. I will resolve this problem.”
The horse arrived. There was little concern to prolong the current itinerary of the conversation. Up on the horse, the bravest boy we knew stepped up.
“What’s next Mr. David? What ya need?”
“It’s my turn.” He tossed him another coin, that smile was so grand.
The sun began its transformation, leaving this side of the world. He chased it to his house. Supplies needed gathering for the impending confrontation, ammo, rifles, and two additional revolvers. Stood on the porch and watched the rise of the blood red moon. Interesting, a testimonial or was it a premonition? Yes, a premonition.
Shots fired in the distance, back towards town, David jumped on the horse and quickly achieved race speed. Heart rate was as fast as the tempo of travel. Senses were automatic, that part of the job he knew all too well. What were the shots though? One guess was the Sheriff tried to handle things on his own.
Low in the saddle he made a hard left turn at the stage office. The Street he sought was in view, two more gunshots fired. He approached the Sheriff’s office and slowed enough to get his boots to the ground. Ratcheted the rifle and reviewed the scene through the tip of the steel. Two more shots from the same building, a chair came through the window and the Sheriff followed yelling. “Get down!”
Before he hit the ground, an eruption of gunpowder, flame, wood and assorted chunks of the contents of the Sheriff’s office blasted across the dirt road.
“Jail-break!” The Sheriff yelled out. “They’re getting away out the back!”
Some whoops heard from the alley past the office. Three horsemen came ripping out into the street turned away from them. A quick alteration of angle David continued observation through the site of the rifle, trigger, bam! Rider to the left of the trio fell and used a set of stairs to stop his face first decent. He no longer participated. Ratchet, spent shell ejected, hammerlock, trigger, man to the right of Sasquatch slumped over, fell to the ground and rolled violently to a stop. He was also no longer playing.
Sasquatch did not get it so easy, on to his horse David was off to the race. The horse knew how to play, they were hauling ass in no time. Approached the same corner previously utilized by the remaining thief. On this side of the turn, the little helper was frantically signaling him to stop. Pace was too rapid to stop. He dismounted and rolled hard on the ground.
The horse continued through the corner, as he slowed, two shots fired and the horse stood to hind legs. Dropped to all four and immediately u turned. Sasquatch had some stones, he stopped to fight, the kid kept David from running straight into the potential disaster. Belly to the ground, exposed to the next round of shots he rolled to the right and took cover. Two dust bursts where he once was indicated the closeness of the decision.
“I’m waiting, Longhair! Go ahead get out that tomahawk! Your gonna DIE LONGHAIR!”
David sprinted down the walkway. Random posts and cover made it difficult to shoot through. The enemy had eight shots left. Left hand, David drew his blazing steel to provide six rounds of cover fire while he rapidly charged down to a respectable distance. Bullets whizzing, the post at head level splintered as he passed it, a window to the right shattered. The fool’s last round discharged, David stopped, right palm to steel, draw, hammerlock, trigger, and knee capped the stinking thief.
He dropped to the ground. Continued clicking off empty cartridges, the last thing the murdering cattle thief saw was David’s left-handed hay-maker and the tomahawk entering his forehead. Promise kept, a shattered skull, tomahawk planted deep in his head, they both took a shower in blood. David could wash, the other was no longer concerned with bathing, not that he ever was.
Henry was alive. Fighting under the care of the doc and Sasquatch no longer had any significance.
The enforcer turned to see the kid running up.
“Did I do good Mr. David? Did I do good?”
“Yes, yes you did very good.”
Thank You for Stopping in.
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