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Trail's End

January 19, 2016

This is a true "Western Noir" in the style of Les Savage and H.A. DeRosso.  This unabridged version was published late last year by Pink-Eye Punchade.

       

                      

 

The life Dan Reeves knew best was over.  Someone else would have to volunteer to stay in the line shack for thirty a month and found.   He’d saved enough to put something down on a ranch.  Then he’d be his own boss and away from fucking bastards like Biff Thomas.

 

The cattle drive had been the last for the seventy-year old who sold his ranch unexpectedly and decided to live with his daughter, Sarah Jane, in Denver.  The fucking bitch liked to stand next to a cowboy, sometimes close enough for their arms to slightly touch.  He’d seen her type before.  A bored little tease with nothing better to do.   Even the toughest cowhand was aroused by her perfume.  Someday she’d get what was coming to her.  Dan wished he could be around when it happened.

 

He had been with Biff for five years, long enough to hate the old bastard and his daughter who needed to be fucked.  Biff liked to curse and spit at the new hands and thought nothing of giving them a good beating.  Those who quit were never forgiven.  Those he fired swore revenge.

 

 

For a day or two Dan sat around with the other ranch hands and talked about what they were going to do now the cattle drive had ended.   Some would stay with the new owners, while others moved on.  Others dreamed about finding Sarah Jane alone.  Dan’s dream was to buy a ranch in Cutler’s Valley about fifteen miles east of Devlin where he was now headed.    

   

 After four days of riding all Dan wanted was a mattress and a long night’s sleep with a roof over his head.  He’d had enough of nights on the hard ground in his bedroll.  It would be good to climb off his horse, get a room, and later after a wash down or bath, treat himself to a restaurant meal, a few drinks and a woman to fuck. 

It was late afternoon when he reached Devlin.  He reined his horse to a stop.  The town smelled like cow shit and his ass itched from being in the saddle too long.  He didn’t care how he smelled or looked.   His horse picked its way down the main street.   He wanted to feel the town’s rhythm.  His future was at stake and he needed time to think.  A tall muscular man with dark hair and blue eyes the endless, lonely ranch work, too often marked with violence and disappointment, had combined to leave their marks on him.  He looked older than his thirty years.  His slight limp was the result of being thrown from a horse.  The long scar down his left check came from being tangled in barbed wire.

 

Facing the rutted dusty main street was a church, general store, a hotel, bank, and a stable.  A few houses had flower gardens in front.  What a fucking contrast he thought.  The town was full of noisy revelers.

 

Decorations and banners announcing the fifth year anniversary of the adorned the buildings and fluttered above his head.  He continued down the street, the excitement of the celebration in the air.  Celebrations always brought in the women.  He could use one right now no matter how bad he smelled.

 

He guided his horse toward the hotel, swung down and stretched, ironing out his muscles, then brushed the dirt from his clothes.  For a moment it felt funny to be standing on the ground.  The hotel was weather beaten, but solid looking with a large porch. 

 

The hotel lobby stank of unwashed bodies.  The clerk at the desk was reading a newspaper.

 

"Got a room?" said Dan.

 

"Full up." said the clerk, not looking at him.  "Not a room to be had anywhere. Town's five years old today.  Never thought we’d make it.  But Devlin, he never gave up.  Wouldn't let us either.  He's a man to be reckoned with.   When the history of the West is written you mark my words, he'll be in it."

 

Dan reached over, grabbed the clerk and shook him.  “Fuck you and your hotel.”  He strode back outside.  A town should be shaped by the people in it, not by one man Dan thought.  He began to dislike Devlin.  The chalky dust stirred up by the light breeze strung his eyes. 

 

A broad-faced woman with coquettish eyes and a nice little ass emerged from the dark of an alley and stood next to him.  She gave him a smile and he followed her quickly back down the alley.  He pushed her to the ground and took her like an animal then tossed some coins at her.   He needed a drink and headed back to the street.

 

He led his horse toward Devlin’s Golden Lady, tied it up and headed inside where he stood for a moment adjusting to the dim light.

 

The odors of whisky, cheap perfume, and rancid sweaty bodies filled the room.  Pictures of scantily clad women hung on the walls.  Behind the bar was a large smoky mirror.  Instinctively he knew the man at a table against the back wall with his legs straight out in front of him was Devlin.   He was a big mustachioed man who looked to be in his late forties.  A cane had been hooked over a nearby chair.  Dan stopped when he saw Devlin engaged in a heated conversation with a well-dressed man who kept turning his white Stetson around in his hands.  The two men behind Devlin were tense and alert for trouble.  One was a big man with a crooked face.  The other, rangy and shifty-eyed.  One or two of the customers looked up from the bar, then went back to their whiskey.

 

"Market's dropping, Tom," said Devlin.

 

For a moment Tom stopped turning his hat.

 

"I need ten thousand, Paul."  His voice rose to desperation.

 

"You owe me over seven now," said Devlin. 

 

"I've got a man in Wellington with four thousand head of stock," Tom clenched his fists.

 

"Then sell."

 

“You know I can't do that," said Tom.  His jaw tightened and he looked around the room.

 

“And I can't risk ten thousand on the gamble the market will go up and you'll get out from under," said Devlin.

 

"I've been down before and I've always climbed back," said Tom. 

 

“Not this time," said Devlin. 

 

"Why?  I'm asking you why?” said Tom.  “After all these years we've known each other, you owe me at least an explanation.”

 

“We've all got our troubles, Tom.  I’m sorry,” said Devlin.  He focused his eyes on the man in front of him.  

 

“You've been waiting for this.  You've never been sorry about anything.”

 

“You have it all wrong,” said Devlin.  Dan noticed the forced concern behind the words.

 

“You dirty bastard,” said Tom.  “How much longer do you think you can push others like me around?” said Tom.  He drew his pistol and aimed it at Devlin.  “Tell your men to put their guns on the table.  This is between you and me.”

 

The bar patrons stopped as if caught in mid space.

 

Devlin signaled the two men behind him and they placed their guns on the table.

Dan instinctively stepped forward, grabbed Tom’s arm from behind and knocked the pistol to the floor then kicked it away.  Devlin flipped up his coat and leveled his own pistol at Tom.

 

“Now get out of here,” said Devlin.  “And don't ever come back.  Ever.   You're finished in this territory.”

 

“I didn't mean it, Paul.”  Tom sounded close to tears.  “I don't know what happened to me.  Please. I've never done anything like this before.  Please.”

 

“I hate men like you,” contempt crossed Devlin’s face.  “You disgust me with your whining.”

 

Devlin made a slight movement of his head.  The two men strode toward Tom, took hold of his arms and dragged him outside.

 

“You’ll pay for this.  You hear me.  You’ll pay.”

 

“The next round’s on me,” said Devlin to the bar patrons.   Someone let out a whoop and the patrons swarmed the bar.

 

“Obliged.  Name's Devlin.  Welcome to my town,” he said extending his hand.  Dan shook it.  The grip was powerful.  His face hard and cruel.  Sharp piercing eyes darted around the room as though he were expecting something to happen and didn't want to miss it.

 

“Dan Reeves.  Just finished a drive.” 

 

Dan sat as Devlin studied him.  Dan returned his gaze. 

 

“Whiskey?”

 

Dan nodded and took the glass offered him. The two men returned.  Dan saw blood on the man with the crooked face.  The other brushed the dust from his clothes then rolled a cigarette.

 

Dan wondered who else Devlin’s hired hands had taken care of.

 

“The big one's Steve,” said Devlin.  “The other's Jake.  Boys, meet Dan Reeves.”

 

The two men nodded.

 

“I owe you,” said Devlin.

 

They drank again, Dan took the whiskey slow.  After the days on horseback he thought he had never tasted whiskey as good. 

 

“I don’t know what got into Tom.  He seems to forget who it was that made this town what it is and gave them a chance.  They just can't understand.”

 

Devlin gave Dan a hard stare that made Dan uneasy. 

 

“Well, Mr. Reeves, what do you know about dancing?”

 

 “Dancing?”

 

“It's been a while since I was on the dance floor,” said Devlin.  “But my wife Judith likes to dance.   She means a great deal to me and I want her to be happy.  I'd like you to take her to the dance tonight.  Then we can talk about the future and the plans you have for your ranch.  This town needs men like you.”

 

But not men like Devlin Dan thought.  Maybe he’d better move on and find a ranch somewhere else.  If he stayed he knew he’d have to face Devlin at some point.  He wasn’t afraid of him, but didn’t like the odds he’d seen.

 

Devlin leaned forward and put his hand on Dan’s shoulder and squeezed it.

 

“It's important she has a good time. She's a very beautiful woman and I know the effect a beautiful woman can have on a man.” His face hardened. 

 

He poured out a shot for each of them. Then without waiting for an answer he drank his down.

 

“I'll tell her the good news.  I'm sure she'll be delighted to hear I've found her a dancing partner.”

 

He rose clumsily to his feet, pressed his legs against the table, then took the cane in his hand and shuffled toward the stairs, motioning Dan to follow.  He stopped for a few moments before climbing to the second floor.  Once at the top of the stairs, he rested against a chair placed outside a door, then knocked.  The door opened and Dan saw a woman with brown hair standing in the doorway.  Her man's blue shirt was open to a strong looking throat, revealing an expanse of browned skin above her firm and ample bosom. 

 

She stepped aside as her husband entered leaving the door open enough for Dan to see half the room.  Dan wondered if he had left the door open on purpose.   

Devlin sat heavily on the bed.  She gave her husband a look he couldn’t read.

 

“You bastard. You've been drinking,” she turned away and walked to the bureau.

 

“I've found someone to go to the dance with you tonight,” said Devlin.  “A harmless fucking cowboy.  He helped me with some trouble downstairs.  I want to pay him back.”

 

“No,” she said.

 

“You're going and that's it.” Devlin’s cane slammed against the head board. 

 

She laughed.

 

“What's so funny?”

 

“You are,” she said.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Will you run him out of town when it's over?  Like you’ve done before.”  She turned to face him.

 

“I owe him for saving my life,” said Devlin.

 

“I wish he hadn’t.”

 

He raised his cane as if to strike her. 

 

“If it wasn't for me and this town where’d you be?”

 

“Fuck your town.” 

 

“I should have let you rot in that rooming house.”

 

“Then why didn’t you?”

 

Devlin rose slowly, crossed to her, then put his hands on her breasts and squeezed them.

 

“You're hurting me,” she said, pulling away sharply and turning from him.

 

He came up behind her and felt her breasts again.  She turned and hit him.  His return blow staggered her back.  Dan fought the urge to burst into the room.

 

“His name's Dan Reeves.”

 

“I don't care what his name is,” she said.

 

He took hold of her wrists with one hand.  He forced her to her knees.  The cane in his hand looked ready to strike. 

 

“All right,” she said.  “All right.”

 

He tossed her wrists aside and sneered at her.  She stood up fighting the sobs that shook her body.

 

Devlin crossed to the door and motioned to Dan.  He wondered if it was only the whiskey that made him feel edgy.  What would it be like to push him down the stairs and watch him die?  He paused in the doorway, first looking at Devlin then his wife.  Blood oozed from the cut on her lip.

 

Her brown eyes were lit with golden sparkles.  Her perfume reminded him of crushed clover.  A drop of semen oozed.  She’d be a good fuck, not like the girl in the alley who was a quick in and out.  

 

She held out her hand and he took it.  It was cold.

 

“Judith.”  Her straight forward look unsettled him.

 

“I want you to wear the blue dress with the white shawl,” said Devlin, who had stopped by the door.  “The one I bought you in St. Louis, you look good in it.  I like two things in this world, Mr. Reeves, fast horses and good-looking women.  When I die I want to be made into a beautiful woman's saddle.”

 

He lowered his body into the chair.  As she closed the door, Devlin’s cane blocked it.

 

She took his arm and led to the other side of the room. She motioned him to talk in a whisper.

 

“Paul’s very particular about who his friends are.  Those he can't control, he frightens away or beats down.  He's a cunning man.  Don't misjudge him by anything he says.  When a town like this grows, it's supposed to take a lot of time.  Paul changed all that.  He saw the possibilities and couldn't wait to start, no matter what the cost.  He was driving too fast over a narrow road and thrown from a wagon.  He had the horses shot and the wagon burned.  If I were you I’d head on out of here.”

 

He looked at her and knew he couldn’t.

 

By seven o'clock the sounds of the dance in the school house spilled over into the night.  A straw-colored moon hung between the peaks of the mountains, while on every side fireflies swayed back and forth as if moving to the same music as the dancers.

 

Devlin had positioned himself where he could survey the room.  He nodded at passerby’s and sometimes shook his head when he was spoken to.   A long table had been set up against the wall.  In the back of the room a fiddler played “Billy in the Lowground” with a long seesawing elbow and called out the dance in a whiskey voice.

 

“Swing your partner. Now your corner.  Doe si doe your partner.  Doe si doe your corner.  Alamande left with your left hand.  Grand right and left around the hall.  Now promenade all.”

 

Dan led Judith back to their square, bowing to each other and the others in the square.

 

He followed her back through the open doors to the large porch.  Steve and Jake watched from the shadows. He realized the blue dress made her look more desirable than any woman he had ever seen.  Her eyes half teased him and her breasts invitingly thrust forward.  He could no longer hide his arousal.  Her hair was soft and inviting, and he wanted to run his hands through it and feel her breasts and the V between her legs. 

 

“Take me away from here.”

 

Her face was close and full of enchantment.  He couldn’t stop himself and kissed her softly, lingering over her lips.  Her arms went around him.  She kissed him fiercely and pressed so close to his body he couldn't move.  Her hand pressed between his legs.

 

Jake leapt at Dan knocking him to his knees.  Judith stumbled and fell.  Dan shook his head trying to clear it.  Steve came at him fast.  Dan's fist struck upward and caught Steve in the stomach.  He bent over then slumped to the ground.  Dan was off balance from his blow to Steve as Jake saw his chance and drove his knee into Dan’s chest.  The blow staggered him backward.  Dan steadied himself and struck Jake with a short jab.  His head rocked back, and he stood long enough for Dan to measure him and send another blow against his face.  Jake lost his balance, and fell sprawling.

 

The fiddling broke off and the dance came to a stop.  Devlin was on his feet, pistol drawn.   Steve’s hand flashed for his revolver.  Before he could shoot Judith stepped between them.  Steve hesitated and Dan knocked the revolver away.  He grabbed her and they ran into the night toward the horses.  Devlin's shots shattered the darkness around them.

 

                                                  ----

After riding through the night they stopped to rest by a creek that ran in a silver thread to the mountains.  Even the murmur of the water and the songs of waking birds couldn’t make Dan forget what happened at the dance.  He wondered how hard she’d be to fuck now they were alone where nothing could interrupt them.

 

Over the distant ranges, a small black cloud poured a dark mass of rain on some isolated spot.  The sky was listless, flat looking, and bright.  The air was laden with sulphorous smoke as lightning began to flash.  The wind rose and the leaves shook.  The first drop thumped on the earth, and another, and another, exploding the dirt into little craters.  The lightning and rain moved closer, breaking the sky open.

 

The rain increased.  The drops stung their faces and made it hard to see.  They rode into deepening darkness.

 

The trail fell away into a steep gully of a creek.  The horse's hooves slipped and Dan grabbed for her reins.  The horses toppled both of them over into the gully.  Dan hit his head.  Judith let out a cry.  Before he passed out, Dan remembered stones glistening in the roaring rain.

 

The tops of the hills on either side of the creek were sandy with short, tufting grass.  The morning breeze was fresh and sweet.  Gophers whistled and insects rose from the grass in thick clouds to torment them.

 

Dan had lost track of time, but knew they had been walking for several hours by the position of the sun.  The horses were nowhere in sight.  At the bottom of the next hill a small deserted town clung to the prairie.  Weeds grew in the main street.  Several cabins, a livery stable, general store, saloon and church.  Dan hurried to the first cabin, which sat against a small grassy mound.

 

“Hellooo.  Hellooo.”

 

There was no answer, only the sound of their breathing. 

 

“Hellooo.  Hellooo.”

 

He banged on the door. 

 

“Where the fuck is everybody?” she said.

 

“This could have been a plague town or maybe the townspeople just gave up and left.  Towns like this are cursed.”

 

She looked at him.

 

He pushed against the door and it swung open.  Sun streamed through the windows.  He looked around then opened a cupboard.  A tin of coffee and several cans of beans had been placed on a shelf.  She stood next to him.  Her musky odor excited him.

 

He slipped his fingers under her dress and pushed her back onto the bed.  In a moment he was on top of her.  He yelled in pain as her kick to his balls toppled him to the floor.  She rolled off the bed and dashed outside.  Dan stumbled behind her. 

 

“You fucking bitch.”

 

“Just like a man.  You see a woman like me and all you want to do is fuck her.”

 

Devlin stepped into the street from behind a barn. The single whipping throw of his pistol discharged.  The shot spun Dan around.  His body lost its vibrant tension.  He slumped. His head drooped forward.  Then he swayed and fell.  Judith screamed.  Anger and hate choked her.  She swung at her husband.  He ducked, laughing.  She swung again.

 

"Did you really think you could get away?”

 

“You disgust me.  You’re nothing but a fucking cripple.”

 

He regarded her blankly then raised his pistol and shot her in the heart.  She fell quickly to the ground, reached out towards Dan and fell still.  The red blossoming from her like a rose. 

 

The wind blowing through the street was like the sound of a fiddler playing faster.

 

 

           

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