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  • Writer's pictureWyatt Cochrane

War Wounds Snippet 2 - click to read

At five a.m. Thorn already long awake, jumped out of bed, slipped into his clothes and picked up his saddle bags. He opened the straps and checked the contents one last time. Montana’s a long way off. He crept out of the room and lightly tapped on a door, a few rooms down the hall. No reply. He knocked a little louder. Nothing. He tried the knob and found it unlocked. He eased the door open. Gone! Five in the morning and gone! He should have known better than to trust them. He pounded down the stairs and checked the dining room, knowing they wouldn’t be there. He marched to the livery. No one there. The saloon was dark. Everything in town was closed. There was only one place they could be. There were no lights on in the Sheriff’s office. He cupped his hands around his eyes and pressed them against the window. Unable to see the cells, he trotted around back. He leaped up and grabbed the sill of the one of the two barred windows and pulled himself up. There, he found Red and Art sprawled on the bunks. He grabbed a bar with one hand, reached through with the other and tapped lightly on the glass. They didn’t move. “Dead drunk,” he cursed. “Who’s out there?” the Sheriff demanded, pointing a shotgun out of a second floor window. Thorn dropped to the ground, keeping his hands high. “Just looking for my men. I don’t want trouble. I’ll come around front.” “You’ll do no such thing!” the Sheriff barked. “You’ll come back at eight when I’m open. You and your boys have cost me enough sleep tonight.” At eight ten they should have been a couple of hours on the trail. Instead, Thorn paced back and forth on the boardwalk, waiting for the Sheriff to come down and open for the day. Once in the office, the Sheriff told Thorn that the men had been found at three in the morning, drunk and pounding on the door of the whorehouse. “What will it take to get them released?” Thorn asked. “Well,” the Sheriff explained. “Just being drunk and pounding of the whore house door would a cost them a night here and little fine, but breaking into the saloon and stealing several bottles of top-shelf whiskey’s another matter. The boys said their boss, I assume that’d be you, would pay for the hooch. I suppose if you paid Randolph for the whiskey and got him to drop the charges, I’d let these jaspers out for a ten dollar fine.” “Ten dollars!” “Each! Otherwise these boys are in my care until the circuit judge comes around in couple of weeks.“ “I can’t wait two weeks. I’ll pay for whatever they stole or broke. I’ll pay a fine, bail them out...” “Sorry, young man, but those boys ain’t going nowhere, unless Randolph drops the charges.” “If not, what happens?” Thorn asked. “Judge’ll probably give ‘em another couple of weeks and a fine. Maybe more.” “For a few bottles of whiskey?” “Top shelf whiskey. And the judges does like his top shelf.” “I can’t even wait two weeks.” “Well young man, you do have a problem,” the Sheriff smiled, “but it ain’t my problem. Now get the hell out of my jail. I got things to do.” A few minutes later, Thorn pushed open the door to the saloon. The blonde sat near the bar, nursing a cup of coffee. “Looks who’s here,” she laughed. “Come for your turn?” “No Ma’am, I was hoping I could talk to the owner.” At that moment the bartender, came through a door from the back. “What the hell are you doing here,” he snarled. His nose was swollen and he had two black eyes. Thorn held up his hands. “I just want to pay for the whiskey my men took.” “That was my best stuff, but, sure, you can pay. Forty dollars.” “Forty dollars?” “Like I said, it was my best stuff.” Thorn pulled two double eagles from his pocket and set them on the bar. The bartender took them and tapped them on his palm. “Thank you. I’ll just put these away.” He reached behind the bar and came up with a double barrel shotgun. “I don’t want any trouble,” Thorn said. “I just want to get my men out of jail.” The bartender cocked both barrels. “Shoulda thought of that before you broke my nose. Now get the hell outta my bar!” Thorn shuffled back to the hotel and payed for another night. He threw his saddle bags in the corner and fell back onto the bed. How could they do this to him? During the war, they’d been like older brothers, always teasing and laughing and helping him deal with the bad. The Colonel called Red and Art his ‘privates for life’ and he’d warned Thorn not to let his friends drag him down. When Thorn had found them, down and out, it just seemed right to offer them the job. He hated to leave them, but if he was going to make Montana before the snows, he would have to find other men - men he could count on. By nightfall, it felt as if he had spoken to every person in town. Any man not already engaged had gone off to work on the Northern Pacific Railroad. Two big herds that had come through town in the last month had taken a few more boys Even the young cowboys from the saloon had ridden out at first light, heading home to Oklahoma. The day drawing to a close, Thorn stopped by the Sheriff’s office. “I brought the boys’ war bags,” he said. The Sheriff pointed to a corner. “Can I see them?” The Sheriff pointed to the doorway leading to the cells. “I knew you’d get us out,” Red laughed. “Not this time boys. Looks like you’re going to be here awhile.” “We’ll git on the trail as soon as we’re out,” Art said. “Be too late.” “Did you find some other fellars to go with you?” Red asked. “Tried everywhere, but there’s no one.” “Whatcha gonna do?” Art asked. “I guess I’ll go back to ridin’ shotgun.” “What about your cows?” Red asked. “Sell ‘em I guess.” “Awe Thorn. We let you down,” Red said. “It’s all my fault.” “No. It’s mine,” Thorn answered. “You can’t give up,” Art argued. “Out of all of us, you’re the only one gonna make something of hisself. The ol’ Colonel knew that. Hell, we all did.” “You gotta keep going,” Red begged. Sleepless hours later, Thorn tossed and turned. Maybe he could drive his little herd by himself. If he got far as Ogallala he would find cowboys to ride with him to Montana. If not Ogallala, surely Cheyenne. After breakfast, he spotted a cavalry sergeant and two soldiers walking into the general store. He rushed over. “Sergeant, excuse me.” The sergeant turned. “What can I do for you son? Are you looking to enlist. You’ll have to see our barber first,” he joked. “No sir,” Thorn stammered. “I’m, I’m driving a little herd toward Ogallala or Cheyenne and am wondering if there’ been any Indian trouble in the last few weeks.” “Matter of fact, we just got back from Cheyenne yesterday and had a quiet trip.” “How was the grass and water?” “Good, once you get off the beaten track. There’s been a couple of herds and several wagon trains, so you’ll have to skirt a little. When are you leaving?” “I’m thinking I’ll leave today.” “Good luck son. It’s been quiet for a while, but tell your crew to keep their eyes open and their powder dry. Them Cheyenne and Arapaho would like that pretty blonde scalp like yours.”

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