elbowcreek
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CALAMITY'S RIDE

By George Smith

A resting figure lay on a well-used cot, no sheets to cover the old blue and once-white tick mattress; just a covering of a heavy, moth eaten buffalo robe. The persons breathing was soft, as if listening while outside darkness had smothered the log cabin and only a few tiny winkles of light showed there were other inhabitants dwelling in the small town of Guilt Edge, Montana.

The hour was mid-way to dawn when against the crusted snow surrounding the log cabin where the figure slept, or pretended to, a tall shadow emerged, silently approaching the doorway to the cabin. With care, the shadowed figure placed one booted foot upon the ice-crusted step, paused for a moment then leaned toward the door, listening, waiting, hearing nothing. A gloved hand reached for the door knob, turning it slowly, then pushing, trying to force open the wooden door. Ice and snow had sealed it shut, causing a curse to escape the mans mouth as he pushed even harder. With a muffled crack, the door opened an inch then became lodged. The man-figure placed his right shoulder against it, grunting from the pressure. Inch by fractional inch, the door eased inward allowing the cold of winters night to rush past into the one room.

As the man shoulders blocked the entrance, he paused again. From the interior, the three metallic clicks gave warning--he knew them, counted them mentally. "LOAD-HALF-COCK-and FIRE position. Fear etched his bearded face, his mouth began the words: "DON'T SH0--!" when orange tongues of flame reached toward him from across the room. Deafened by the explosion, the man recoiled backward, feet slipping on the frozen steps, sending him sprawling onto the snowy ground as a second shot splintered the door frame where his head should have been.

"GAWDANGIT, JANIE. HOLT YER FIRE! IT BE ME...BILLY NOLL!"

"Yer lucky I had the snakes 'er I woulda plugged ye center. Now, come on in while I fetch a light...... an' shet the damn door ahind ya when ya do. It's cold in here," she threw at him forcefully.

Calamity Jane, as she was known as--her real name being Martha Jane Cannary, struck a lucifer, touched the wick of a kerosene lamp and replaced the globe. She waited a moment until the small flame had warmed the glass then she turned the wick up higher, almost to the point where soot would have smoked the glass. The orangish light from the lamp pushed away the darkness as the cabins door was opened then shut by the man who now stood, embarrassed, before the woman as she still lay abed. Billy stood tall, a good six-two in his boots and the Montana sun and weather had worked him over pretty damn good in his thirty six years.

"Pass me that whisky bottle, Billy. My mouth feels a bit rough. Better have one yerself." Her callused hand reached for the bottle as Billy began to raise it to his lips first. She cut him down with: "AFTER me, ya damn fool. Where's yer manners."

Billy, again embarrassed, handed her the cold bottle, muttering his apology. His lips had been primed to taste the whisky so now he licked them in anticipation for what would follow. His eyes followed her every move, could almost taste the strong, cheap whiskey but he knew better. He would have to wait his turn at the two-person pecking order. Calamity guzzled the fiery brew, coughed then handed it toward the out-stretched, gloved hand. From habit, he started to wipe the neck of the bottle, glanced over its edge, eyes meeting those of the woman and raised it toward that face with: "To yer good health, Calamity."

"I seed what ya was about. What's the matter? Ya afeared you'd ketch somethin'?"

Quickly Billy made his confession. "No..no. It's jest a habit from the men I hang around with. Hell, Janie, you seed what they's like, all dirty an' smelly. None of em any too clean."

"OK. Now, what brings ya here?"

"Colonel, Ma'am. He sent me ta fetch ya. Sez it's important."

"That ol' bastard? What the hell he want me for? Any ridin' he wants done, he can do it hisself or send one of those worthless son's a his'n. Billy? We gonna palaver for if we are, build up the fire. Might be a few sparks left." Janie waved a hand toward the small parlor stove and next to it, the meager wood pile.

Calamity Page 3 G.Smith

"Yes'm. I'll do that. It is a might cold out tonight." Without further ado, Billy tossed in some wood chips, blew gently at the mound he had placed in the stove, and saw a tiny spark that quickly died. He blew again, found some more embers then taking another drink from the bottle, spit toward where he noted the glow. What followed was almost a disaster. There came a loud WHOOSH, followed by the erupting of smoke and ash after the fire inhaled fresh air, igniting the raw whisky. Billy had his head half-buried in the doors opening and when the fire burst into life, poor Billy was left with no eyebrows or lashes. His facial hairs were non-existent, leaving his face the shape of an elongated moon where all the hair had been burned off..

"What the hell's a matter with you, Boy? Ain't you got no smarts at all? That was monogahela. Dum-near pure alky." Calamity looked at the figure sitting on the floor in front of the stove and began to laugh, loud and boisterous. She raised her right arm, pointing at the stunned man. When her laughter subsided, she continued. "Shet the damn stove door after you put some wood on it. You look like hells fire got to ya."

Billy peered inside the stoves opening, added more fuel, slammed the door shut then on hands and knees, crawled to one of the two chairs set before the small kitchen table. With much effort he raised himself and sat, waiting for Calalmity to rise from her cot. He watched the manly figure with interest. Her hair was of chestnut color, her body muscular but the face was not that of a womans. With shortened hair, she could have passed for a man, which she had done many times, even to the point of being a currier for The Man himself; General George Armstrong Custer, the poor bastard. Deserved what he got and then some, it was always stated. If it hadn't been for her taking a message to Ft. Fetterman, she herself would have been one of those infamous members of the 7th. Cavalry. But, things have a way of going for the poor and innocent. She had carried her message all right, after having swum the Platte River. On reaching the fort, she became ill to the point of pneumonia, or close to it. There, she lay in bed for many days, recuperating. That put an end to her army life as a scout. Then, a stint with the railroad she eventually made her way to Montana, where she was now.

Calamity scowled at the man seated before her. Two white eyeballs peered from a blackened face at her as she half rose from her cot. His mouth hung half open as he stared at her when she swung her legs from beneath the robe. More scowls from her and her voice continued its hostility.

"WELL?...What the hell you a'starin' at? Ain't ya seed a woman half dressed a'fore?"

Billy's mouth started to move as if to answer but he had forgotten what he wanted to say. All he could do was stare, moving his lips up and down with no sound coming forth. Calamity snarled at him.

"Avert yer eyes, ya damn fool, while a woman gets dressed. And shet yer mouth. Yer a'droolin' on the rug." Ignoring him, she stood, reaching for her heavy trousers, slipped her long, woolen, underwared legs into the cold pants. That was what Billy was staring at. He had never seen a woman dressed in mens long underwear. Avert his eyes? Never! Some mysteries about women were unveiled to him.

Oh' sure, hell, he'd been around enough women in his time, but none like this one. He was more accustomed to the "dainties" down the street at the Palace. Calamity lived in a small shack at the north west end of town, keeping more to herself during the cold spell that had enveloped the land. Ah, but in the evenings, she would wander down to the bars, sampling the whisky, paid for by anyone who wished to hear of her exploits. Most of them were lies she herself had made up but no one was brave enough to question them. If they had, chances were,they would have found themselves sucking on the cold business end of her pistol.. Or feel it being wrapped around his noggin. Leastwise, she would have tried.

Calamity picked up her red and black checkered wool shirt from off the floor and placed her arms in the sleeves, catching her one thumb in a hole at the elbow. Frowning, she glanced side-ways at Billy to see if he had noticed it. She could handle an ox team, drive a stage coach, handle a weapon, rifle or pistol with proficiency but when it came to thread and needle, she shied away from things like that. She reached for her western boots, slid her feet into the familiar leathers and stomped life into them. They were cold but would soon warm from the stomping.

"Move!" was all it took for Billy to make way so she could warm her hands before the fire. She rubbed her rough hands together, reached for the bottle again and took along pull, passing it to her companion who smiled and brought it to his question forming in his face as to how much he would dare sample. She caught his meaning, gruffly saying: "Hep yerself."

"Thankee, Miss Janie." Billy took a pull on the bottle then spoke

"Ah Miss Janie? What ya reckon the Colonel want of you?"

"Don't know fer sartin', but I guess I'll have to go find out. You wanna come along or you wanna stay here til I gets back?". Billy, confused, asked:

"Is that an invite or you jest want my company to the colonels?"

"Take it any way ya choose," she said as she put her heavy, winters Mackinaw on then wrapped a scarf around her neck. From the coats pocket, she drew a pair of heavy mittens, slipping them onto her hands. Reaching behind him, she removed her western hat, slapped it on her head and opened the door. Looking behind her, she met Billy's gaze and read it.

"Fine. You stay here. I'll be back soon but, lay off my whisky." Then she was gone into the night. Billy stood by the one window, watching the retreating figure, coat collar pulled up around her neck, fighting to keep her balance either from the whisky or the icy street, if one could call it that. There were no sidewalks, just the rutted dirt streets of Guilt Edge.

A lighted window beckoned the lone figure, its dim glow showing through the elm trees that formed a path to the two story house near the end of town. Calamity struggled, seeking the smoothest route toward the large front door where she rapped loudly on the wood frame work. Without waiting to be let in, she shoved the door open, feeling the blast of delicious heat emitting from the over-size fire place. Before the fire were two over-stuffed chairs, backs facing the entranceway. Above the back of one of the chairs, she could see the shine of a bald head and knew it to be the Colonel.

"Come in and set, Calamity. We need to talk." He heard her stomping the snow from her boots and shuddered, thinking, why the hell didn't she do that outside instead of in his house?

"Cold out there, Colonel. Ya got any whisky to warm my poor body?" she asked.

"You know where it is. Help yourself. And hang your coat on the rack beside the door. I don't want any snow melting on this rug. It's imported, you know," he spoke athoritively without turning around.

"Sorry, Colonel. I reckon I most forgot." Colonel Waldin C. Walker frowned at hearing her comment then crossed his short legs before the fire. In his hand, he held a cup of steaming brandy and from his mouth jutted a large cigar, smoke curling toward the high ceiling where it drifted, catching the breeze from when the door had been opened. He heard the tinkling of the decanter, the gurgle of liquid being poured into a glass, he hoped, and waited for his guest to seat herself.

"How'd ya know it was me, Colonel? It could have been one of the renegades from the mines, come ta rob ya." Calamity plopped herself into the chair opposite, raised her whisky glass toward the man on her right, saying cheerfully: "Salute." From the corner of his eye, he watched as she threw the liquid down in one move and a gulp, smacking her lips and then wiping her hand across her mouth. "Good stuff, Colonel. Hell of a lot better than the crap I been drinking. What's on yer mind?"

"In answer to your question, if it had been a robber, he or she wouldn't have bothered to knock. Therefore, It had to be you. Salute, yourself," he spoke as he touched his lips with the hot brandy. He'd rather sniff the brandy fumes then drink it, enjoying the fragrant aroma of cognac, also, imported.

"OK. I'm here. Billy said you wanted to see me pronto. Must be important to drag me out this time of night and in this shitty weather, beggin' yer pardon, Colonel."

"It is, Miss Calamity. Very important. I need you to take a message and a package to my bank in Lewistown. It has to be there by eight o' clock tomorrow morning." Switching hands where he had been holding his brandy,, his right reached over the arm of his chair and brought forth a leather saddle bag then passed it toward the woman next to him. Calamity took the bag, felt the heft of it and set it down next to her right leg giving it a slight nudge with her foot as if to confirm what her hand had told her of the contents....money.

"Why me, Colonel? Why not have one of yer own boys deliver it?"

"HARRUMPH! No. I need someone I can trust and if they knew what and how much was in those bags,...well, you know men and women better than most. The main obstacle, for them, would be getting past the Palace. No, I need trust and you're the only one." From his breast pocket, he brought out an envelope, passing it toward Calamity Jane, saying: "In this you'll find a substantial sum for your trust, shall we say?" He looked at the woman and for the first time she could remember, he smiled.

From somewhere deep within her hardened soul, she felt a stab of pain. And following it, a lone drop of moisture itched its way down her cheek. Quickly she dabbed at her eyes then placed one of her hands on his that was resting on her right elbow. She sniffed, rubbing her nose with her left hand.

"Must be kotching a cold, Colonel. Sorry," she apologized, quickly looking away.

"No need for apologies, Miss. I understand. If you'll go out to my stables, you'll find my sorrel already saddled and waiting for you. You'll leave when ever you're ready." He took her right hand, squeezed it adding: "Miss, what you will be carrying is my future. Should anything happen to it would mean the end for me...a very bitter end."

Jane sniffled again, patted his hand and looked at him with proud eyes. "No need for you to worry, Sir. I'll have it delivered muy pronto....and thank you for your trust." She rose from her chair as did he and for a very brief moment, the two looked at one another, understanding how each felt. She walked to the coat rack, dressed as she had when she entered and without turning, made her way to the livery stable out back, saddle bag over her arm.

Opening a side door, Calamity entered, finding a lighted barn lantern hanging from a hook on one of the overhead beams. She stood a moment to adjust to the darkness of the interior and it was then she saw the figure standing near one of the stalls. She was taken aback for a moment until she heard a familiar voice saying: "Yo hoss, he done ready fo' yo, Miss Jane. Colonel he say to have him's sorrel ready fo' you. Don' know 'zactly where yo is headed but de colonel say it 'potent so you be's careful out dere, Miss Janie."

"Oh, I will, Jube. I surely will." She slung the weighted bags over the horn, tying them in place then expertly swung into the saddle as Jube opened one of the two main doors. Gigging the mare forward, Calamiity Jane again entered the night. It would be a long and cold eighteen mile ride. But first, she would have to check on Billy to let him know where she would be going. Maybe a bait of grub would be in order before she left. Kinda delute the raw whisky that now set sour in her stomach. Coffee and a bait a grub would do her good, before she headed out. Calamity rode at a fast trot to her cabin, tied the reins to a near-by bush and stomped her way into the warmth where she lived. Billy still sat before the fire, the bottle of whisky still untouched since she had left. She knew how much had remained and a quick glance confirmed her thoughts. Trust? Yes, she too had trust in mankind, especially Billy.

"Well? What did the ol' bastard want of you this time of night?" he asked sarcastically.

"Business, Billy. Just plain business. Got a ride to make an' I'll need some grub an' coffee before I go. Fetch me that sack a frozen eggs an' that slab a bacon over there will you while I make coffee. You want some? There's a-plenty for both." Billy brought her the eggs and bacon while she readied a pan, laying bacon in first so as to have some grease to fry the eggs in. Taking the last of her eggs, she lay them on a small rack on the left side of the stove for them to thaw while she added water and coffee to the ancient and battered pot. Billy brought in more wood and filled the fire box. Moments later, the sound and smells of bacon permeated the close interior.

"Watch these a second while I bring in something." Without waiting for a question or comment, she rushed outside and brought in the saddle bags, tossing them on her cot. Billy eyed the leather, heard the clink of coin then shrugged his shoulders as if to say it was none of his affair. Right now, he wanted to eat more than anything. Watching Calamity at the stove, he re-thought his thinking about wanting only food. There were, after all, more things in life than food that he wished for. One was in those saddle bags and the other was at the stove.

"I ever tell you how purty you are, Miss Janie?" Slightly embarrassed, Billy waited for the onslaught, which surprisingly never came. Without turning around, Calamity, in a bored-heard-it-all voice said:

"Yeah-yeah, Billy. Just keep a tight rein on them thoughts of yourn an' fetch two plates. Them eggs is about ready." Timidly, he held out two plates while she dished out the bacon and eggs. Setting them on the table, he added two forks and two cups, reached over and got the coffee pot, pouring the dark brew into the cups. Calamity had not bothered to remove her winters wear for she knew she hadn't much time before she would have to ride on out of Guiltedge. Eighteen miles of cold hell awaited her and whatever else, she did not know. In her Mackinaw coat pocket was an envelope and perhaps a brighter future. Enough to get her through the winter anyway. Wolfing down the last of the eggs and bacon, she slurped the cooling coffees’ remains, stomped her feet to settle them comfortably, kissed Billy on the forehead, much to his embarrassment and left the cabin to begin her ride.

Colonel Waldin C. Walker mulled over his decision to have that woman deliver his future. Could he really trust her? You damn right, he could. She was hard as the rocks in the mine he was about to purchase but the town folk would never lie about her honesty. Hadn't she been a stage driver? And they don't hand out the job unless that person is trustworthy. No. His decision was final and he had no fears of her making the delivery on time. Providing some of the towns scum had other ideas. Like those two boys of his. Worthless would be considered a compliment. What other word could he have used? Anyway, they weren't his boys, really. They were his wives’ by a previous marriage.

The Colonel again crossed his short legs, relaxing before his fire, thinking of what the banks board members would say when Calamity delivered the money and note for the purchase of the mine. He was fifty-four years old but looked older, having served his time in the army in the southwest. Life in those forts tended to age a person greatly. After being released from the army as a captain, he took the role of colonel, and no one questioned it. Why should they? He was respected, a good Christian and an outstanding person in the community. Smiling to himself, he finished his brandy and slowly made his way to the upstairs bedroom. As his weight sank into the mattress, the woman next to him stirred, asking: "Who was that downstairs you were talking too, Dear?"

"Calamity Jane, Dorthy. Just Calamity Jane."

"And why would you be in her company? You know what she is."

"No. What is she, other than a rough but kind person," he answered defensively. Miles out of town, Calamity rode, hunched against the cold and the now western winds that chewed at her like a lone wolf.

Once, after leaving the towns last residence, she had another two miles to go before she came to the junction of the stage route to Lewistown and places east. Right now, she was holding to the north-south route to Ft. McGinnis and Maiden Canyon gold mines. It was all open country for another five miles at least, then she would strike the wooded areas east of Lewistown before it opened up again. That would be the most likely area for an ambush, although she never suspected anything like that. After all, who knew where she was going and what she was carrying? None, that she herself knew of, other than Billy and he was safe and snug inside her cabin. Probably finishing off the rest of my whisky, she cursed at him.

Keeping her head turned half-way away from the west wind, she tried to curl her face inside her Mackinaw and still keep an eye on the road she was taking. She walked the sorrel for it was no use trying to ride any faster, what with the wind and blowing snow. She couldn't take the risk, for now, at least. Maybe when the first light of day crept from behind the mountains, she could push faster. If the mare busted a leg out here, she might as well make her peace with whoever was in charge of her destiny. There would be no going back. She'd freeze to death within a short time, even before she made it half way to her cabin.

Calamity removed one of her mittens and from her watch pocket, she slipped the old Ingram, popped open the cases' front and tried to read the time. Without an illumines dial, it was of no use to her. She put it back into her pocket and snarled into the wind as if too send it back from whence it came. Time passed with the slowness only known in the darkest of nights. With her head facing half-east, she could watch the sky and gladdened as the first signs of dawn were coming. The mare stopped as if confused or waiting for a command. Looking ahead, she could see the junction and gigged the mare to the right. This was the main route, the one she had waited for. But now, she was facing the full brunt of the wind. Draping the reins over the horn, she unwound her scarf then placed it over her hat, tying it securely under her chin, wrapping the long ends around her neck, clumsily tying the ends together. Ahead, she could barely make out the darkened outline of trees and once inside, she would find some relief from the cursed wind.

Now she began to notice the lack of feelings in her feet. "Whoa, ol' girl. Time for this one to do some walking." Stiffly, she dismounted and began to plod westerly, stumbling over the frozen ruts. The mare had been showing signs of tiredness as Calamity walked in front, the mare following her like a pet dog, head bobbing with each step. Another half hour passed. Calamity‚€™s feet were beginning to feel normal so she mounted the mare, continuing west at a comfortable pace for the tow of them. No great need to hurry which would only tire them both. She knew she had time enough to reach Lewistown. Again she removed the watch, barely noting the time in the dim, mornings light. It was just a little after six. She estimated she had about five more miles to go when she heard....no, felt the passing crack of a bullet, mini-seconds before she heard the actual rifles report as a blue whistler narrowly missed her head..

Instantly she dug her spurs into the mares flank, leaned low over the saddle horn and fell to the rhythm of the mare. Another explosion came from her right, the bullet passing far from its intended target.

"HE-YAH, Pard," she shouted into the mares ear. "Some son of a bitch is lookin‚€™ fer a fight an‚€™ he‚€™s gonna get it....if we get outta here in one piece."

Without looking behind her, she knew she would be followed by whoever was taking pot-shots at her. Somebody must have known what she was carrying but, who? No time to think on it, she told herself. Tired as the mare was, she responded quickly. What snow lay on the ground was nothing. In fact, it gave better footing to the beast she rode.

They cleared the first knoll, dropped down into a gully and began to gain altitude at the next rise... Chancing a glimpse behind her, Calamity could see two riders pushing their mounts, about two hundred yards back. "Stupid men," she spoke to the mare. Ain’t no way were they going to gain on her, if the mare could keep up the pace. As Calamity leaned forward, she listened to the horses breathing, concentrating also on the feel of its body beneath her. If it faltered, she would have to make other plans instead of an all-out race. Calamity‚€™s teeth gripped the mitten of her right hand, pulled it loose then stuffed it inside her coat. She reassuringly touched the revolver holstered against her right hip, in case there was going to be some gun play shortly. Behind the scarf she wore, Calamity actually smiled at the thought. Again she glanced behind her, noting the two men had gained on her but not by much.

She knew their horses were more rested but the little mare held steady...until they passed over the next ridge. Now Calamity detected labored breathing and there was a slight faltering in her stride. Having removed the one mitten, she had tucked her right hand inside her coat for warmth but now she withdrew it and patted the mares neck, whispering: "Come on, baby. Come on. You can do it. Don’t give up on me now."

As they passed over the next ridge, instead of following the roadway, Calamity hauled the mare to the left, forcing her to climb the same ridge they had passed over. Now they were in the timber as Calamity brought the mare to a quick halt, tossed the reins over the mares‚€™ head then threw herself from the saddle. Drawing the .38 from its holster, she sprinted, crouched over, for the roadway, quickly ducking behind a ground juniper bush as she sucked in great draughts of air and waited, listening for the hoof beats of the two riders.

Long moments passed before the two riders came into view, hunched over their saddle horns, whipping their mounts to greater speed. Calamity eared back the hammer of the .38, rested her right hand over her left wrist and sighted at the nearest rider. Holding to a good lead, she let the hammer fall then spoke to herself, with satisfaction, “one down.” as she saw the figure trying to maintain a grip on the reins. It was of no use. He threw up his hands and fell sideways onto the frozen ground. The second riders head swiveled to the left, noted his partners absence then saw two orange flames stabbing at him from behind a juniper. Leaning farther forward, he dug spurs into his mounts flank as Calamity mouthed the words once used before: "Stupid men."

Adrenaline flowed freely within her as she walked to where the mare still stood. Patting its neck, she checked for wounds and finding none, led her to where the fallen figure lay face up on the roadway. As she looked down at him, he stirred and opened his eyes.

"Howdy," she spoke, smiling. "Ya hurt some?"

Came a weak answer. "Y..yup. S..some."

"Whur it be, stranger? Not that I give a damn." Her eyes followed the Skid marks and seen the bloody trail left behind.

"Won’t tell ya but it hurts like hell," he managed to say.

Calamity reached down, unloosened his gun belt and yanked it free, the side arm still tied down to the holster. Rolling him over, she laughed out loud at seeing the wound. He groaned heavily.

"Nice shot, if’n I do say so meself. Peers like you ain’t gonna be sittin’ for a mighty long while. I picked the biggest an’ ugliest target since I was about outta breath at the time. Lucky fer you, maybe, but I think you’ll live. We’ll know when we get ya to town so jest lay quiet an’ I’ll see what I can do." She laughed quietly, knowing how embarrassed he must feel with a bullet hole in his lower cheeks. From off her saddle, she removed a lariat, slipped a loop around both of his wrists then added: "Face up or down? It’s yer choice."

"Wha..what are ya gonna do?" he asked wide-eyed as he seen her take the loose end of the rope and tie it to her saddle horn. She mounted, looked down at him in passing saying: "Well, friend, it looks like you’ll be having a tough trip. But, like I said, I think you’ll live." Gigging the mare forward, she began to drag the man, face up, toward Lewistown. His curses went unheard and Calamity ignored them, for a while at least. Eventually, they grated on her nerves. Stopping the mare, she turned in the saddle, removed her mitten from her right hand, drew the revolver and pointed it at him saying: "Take yer pick. Shut the hell up an’ enjoy yer trip or keep on bitchin’ or I’ll put an end to yer misery right now. An’ if that partner of yourn’s got any idee of an ambush, well, I don’t think you’ll be enjoyin’ another sunrise like the one we got comin’. We got about three miles ta go so hesh up an’ let’s get at it."

The remainder of the trip was uneventful as Calamity hauled her burden in front of the sheriff’s office where she tossed the reins over the hitch rail. Dismounting, she clumped up the two steps, shoved open the door and stood nonchalantly in front of the man with the badge pinned to his vest. "Got a gift for ya, Sheriff. He’s right outside"

Curiously he asked: "What is it, Calamity?" He recognized her immediately as one of the locals of Fergus County for she was well-known throughout.

"Bushwhacker. They’s two of ‘em but I could only bring one down. Anybody come ridin’ in here in the last hour or hour an’ a half?" she asked.

"Nope. Just one of the Colonel’s step-sons. Why?"

"Tother one is outside, that bein’ the case. Maybe that’s why I didn’t recognize the varmit. Leastwise I think that’s him. Better go have a look-see an’ fetch the doc. This one isn’t in too good a shape."

"Really. What happened to him? Horse fall on him?"

"Nope. I shot him."

"You shot him?" the sheriff asked as he rose from behind his desk, a concerned look on his face.

"Had too. They was after me." She glanced at the clock hanging on the wall behind the desk and asked: "That the right time?"

"It is. May I ask why it’s so important?"

"Got business at the bank across the street in a few minutes but I’ll be back soon’s I’m done. I’d ’preciate it if ya threw this one in the pokey an’ the tother one too." Without adding anything further, she exited, stomping her way across to the banks entrance as the sheriff’s words followed her with: "I’ll do that, ma’am, and with pleasure. Those two only showed up around here a few weeks ago."

At two minutes past eight, Calamity opened the banks door carrying a pair of saddle bags slung across her left shoulder, which left her right hand free in case she needed it. Walking briskly, she stood in front of the banks president where she tossed the saddle bags onto his desk. Elmer Vestre looked up asking nervously: "May I help you?" Looking down at him, she stated her business.

"I reckon so. Open that there bag, read the letter inside and sign a receipt After you count the money that’s in there. Go ahead an’ take yer time. You got all of fifteen minutes." Her demand went unquestioned. Perhaps it was the sound of her voice or the look on her face but whichever, it brought results as Elmer shouted.

"MR. BRACKER! Count out the money in these saddle bags the sign the receipt while I read this letter. It’s from the Colonel. And hurry. This woman has other important business." Smiling up at her, he added: "Isn’t that right, Ma’am?" Mr. Bracker is my assistant, you understand."

"Great. I’m so pleased," she chided him. Elmer, slightly embarrassed, began to read the enclosed letter.

It was beginning to show signs of a clear evening as Calamity rode the tired, little mare into the stables behind the colonels house, where she was greeted by the colored man, Jube. "Y’all’s have a good trip, Miss Janie, weather bein’ what it is?"

"Fine, Jube. Just fine. Nice little mare the colonel has. Yup. Very nice so you take good care of her, ya hear?"

Jube’s smile was as warm as the stables they were in as he replied: "No need to worry ‘bout dat, Miss Janie. Colonel say he wants to see you right away, soon’s you gets back." He led the mare to her stall and began to unsaddle her, speaking to the animal in soft tones as Calamity exited through the small door, making her way to the colonels house. She smiled as she approached, rapped loudly then entered without waiting for his command to do so. Still seated in front of his Huge fireplace, she could see the shine of his head over the back of his favorite chair. "Come and sit, Calamity. Did everything go as planned?"

"Not exactly. I did have a few problems but your money and letter was delivered on time. Here’s your receipt, all signed as you requested." She handed it to him over the back of the chair, into his waiting hand.

Without looking at her, he unfolded the piece of paper then added: "Help yourself to the whiskey. By the way, what problems did you have? Did Elmer throw a fit?" referring to the banks president. He heard the tinkle of glass and the sound of whiskey being poured, then waited for her to seat herself next to him

As Calamity related what had happened, the colonel chuckled softly, saying: "I wish I could have seen it all. Those two deserve what they have coming to them. I’m sure the sheriff will be by tomorrow or soon after. I do thank you, Miss Calamity, for all you’ve done, even risking your life for an old fool. But for your curiosity, what you delivered was a small fortune for the purchase of the mine in this area. Therefore, I am the sole owner."

After the meeting, Calamity walked the darkened street, stumbling through the ruts as she made her way to the one-room cabin that was hers. She noted the smoke rising from the stove pipe, saw the lighted window and knew Billy was still there. As she burst through the door, she caught Billy unawares, his long legs stretched out fully, his feet braced against the wall of the cabin and in his hand was a book. As she entered, the book went flying as Billy fought to right himself. He swore: "DAMN, Janie. Ya coulda knocked." Embarrassed, he sat up, staring at her nervously.

"Why?" she asked. "It’s my house. Now OUT!" Calamity stabbed the air toward the doorway with her thumb.

Billy scrambled for his boots, shoved his feet into them and quickly put on his coat and hat. He rolled his eyes at her, silently pleading then said: "Miss Janie? Couldn’t I spend the night? It’s damn cold out there an’ I got it all nice an’ warm for ya."

Scowling at him, she said: "I’m cold, tired and hungry, in that order. Right now, all I want to do is sleep. Pass me the bottle, if there’s anything left in it," she added. Taking it from his hand, she eyed what remained, uncorked it and swallowed the fiery liquid with pleasurable sounds. After, she made him remove her boots then threw her coat and hat on the floor, slipped out of her pants and crawled beneath the buffalo robe with a sigh. With her right hand, she again stabbed toward the door as Billy took the hint, leaving her alone as she wanted it.

The End

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