DARK TRAIL HOME

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CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

Sitting around was beginning to wear on him as much as Tulsa giving him the side eye. He needed a drink, and he wanted to see something besides the inside of the bunkhouse. Malone didn’t allow whiskey in the bunkhouse, not even for medicinal purposes, although Manny had mixed some in with his tea.

“I gotta go for a ride, Porch dog. I’m going stir crazy.”

“Every time you go to town with me, you get into trouble. Or you get me in trouble.” Mark snorted.

“I just need to visit a saloon. Have a drink, hold some cards.”

“I ain’t going to Mudtown.” Mark said adamantly.

“That’s fine, we’ll go to the one on main street.”

“I’ll see does John and Lonny want to go.”

“By all means, ask Lonny to go. Your future brother-in-law,” Tyree said with a great deal of sarcasm.

“I doubt it. She is courting some banker’s son now.”

“What?”

“Yup, a pencil pusher. Lots of money.”

“Damn fickle women. Lonny will be heartbroken.”

The Blue Lady Saloon was brightly painted. Tyree asked himself why he’d never been in it before. There was nothing dingy about it. There was a decent piano player, the floor was real wood, with saw dust got swept up every night. The spittoons were shiny. It did smell of liquor and smoke, but then that’s why he was here. Lonny and John grabbed an empty table and Mark brought two mugs of beer. Tyree bought a bottle of rye and four glasses.

“Oh no sir. I don’t need any of that. I will stick to beer,” Mark said.

“Well, I ain’t scared to have a bit of rye. I can’t imagine you are a real Irishman, Malone. Maybe you –” Lonny started.

“Careful, Lonny. I got a bigger boot than Tyree, and my sister will still love me with my boot print on your ugly face.”

Tyree cut him a look. Mark, he noticed wasn’t as yappy as he had once been. He wasn’t quite as quick to laugh things off either.

John located a pack of cards and shuffled it several times. Tyree leaned back against the wall, smiling happily. Tyree watched people come and go.

Laughing and loud, a group of cowpunchers came in, pushing at each other in their already drunken camaraderie. Their laughter filled the place. Other men moved away from them as they became louder. He saw the sheriff join a card game across the room. On one end of the bar he saw Too Tall Ted drinking alone. He nodded to Tyree, and Tyree nodded back.

Tyree watched the cowhands. One of them was a man in his early twenties, a blond with straight blond hair, and a nose that was humped like it had been broken more than once. He was talking with a companion and looked over at Tyree and his friends. His companion too glanced their direction. The hump nosed fellow downed a whiskey, then a second, and dragged a saloon girl out to the middle of the floor to dance.

“Riley, you dance like a cow on loco weed,” one of his companions hooted from the bar.

Riley was loud, laughing and loutish. The girl seemed to enjoy his company, though Tyree imagined it was the promise of his money that enticed the giggles from her. The hump-nosed cowboy retrieved another drink from the bar and his companion nudged him, talking low. They looked his way briefly. Riley’s eyes settled on Tyree.

Hump-nose Riley was wearing a two-gun rig high up at his waist. His big Texas rowels had jingle bobs tinkled as he danced. A show-off, wearing high-shined boots and a clean stetson he probably saved for town. Tyree sneered at his vanity. Riley stumbled, which caused him to bump against the table where they sat. Tyree wondered if it was intentional. Mark’s beer sloshed over and ran across the table. Lonny and Mark jumped up, grabbing their cards, cursing the drunk.

“Flea infested sumbitch,” Tyree muttered to himself as he stood up, snatching the cards away from the spilled liquor.

“What you just call me, you saddle tramp bastard?” Riley stepped closer, reaching across the table toward Tyree, and Lonny shoved him away. Tyree saw the cowboy look past Lonny directly at him, even though it was Lonny who had pushed him.

“Get your carbuncled ass away from here,” Lonny told him.

“You low down piece of shit saddle bum,” the man said, but again he wasn’t talking to Lonny. He was looking straight at Tyree.

Tyree stepped away from the wall and around Lonny.

“Tyree,” Lonny said quietly. “Let’s leave.” Lonny had taken noticed too. Riley wasn’t interested in Lonny or the others. He was focused on Tyree.

“I know you.” Riley said to Tyree.”

“I don’t know you,” Tyree said quietly. “You probably mistook me for someone else.”

“Tyree.” Mark stepped in between them and Riley shoved him, almost knocking him over his chair.

“Now look, mister. We didn’t come in for a fight.” Mark told him as he reclaimed his balance.

“Mark, stay back. It’s me they want,” he said quietly.

One of Riley’s friends stepped out from the bar.

“You’re Allison. From Texas, we ain’t mistook nothing. Heard you was good with that lead chucker.”

Tyree didn’t know any of them. There were four of them. He wondered how many wanted in on this dance.

“Lonny, John, take Mark and get out of here,” Tyree said, his stomach clinched as he contemplated what Riley and his friends might do.

“We ain’t going nowhere,” Lonny growled.

“Allison. You rode with the Kingstons down in Texas.”

“I don’t know any Kingstons.” Tyree said. Kingstons were mustangers, he had ridden with them a time or two. There had been gun trouble between the Kingstons and some ranch hands.

“I heard you were pretty quick,” Riley said. “That so?”

“You’ve mistaken me for someone else,” Tyree tried to sound calm and self-assured. He slipped the loop off the hammer of his gun as he hid the move behind Lonny.

“You quick boy?” Riley asked. Repeating himself.

Tyree shook his head. “We just want to play some cards, Riley. You are welcome to join us. I’ll buy you a drink.”

“I want to see what you got. Allison.” Tyree glanced over at Lonny and sighed. “You see what happens when you try to be friendly with folks?”

“Some people are just assholes, Tyree,” Lonny agreed.

“Some people are just looking for a place to die,” Tyree said.

“Tyree.” Mark was shaking his head, speaking at almost a whisper. “He’s twice your size. He’ll stomp your ass.”

“Let’s go Tyree, let’s just back out of here,” Lonny said.

He was willing to do just that. The last thing he wanted was to draw attention to himself, or get his friends killed for no good reason.

“You know how to use that iron, boy?” Riley asked. Tyree saw him slip the loop off his pistol hammers.

“God, don’t do that,” Mark almost moaned.

He was talking to Riley for all the good it did him. He got between Riley and Tyree. It was Tyree who pushed him aside this time.

“Get back Mark. Get the hell out of here,” he said viciously.

Riley was already dropping his hands to his guns. One of them cleared leather. He heard someone beside him draw a sharp breath, Lonny, he thought. Then gunfire filled the air.

Tyree’s first shot hit Riley below the ribs, the second in the chest, the last ripped a hole in the cowboy’s throat, tearing the life out of the youngster as it went. That throat shot hit the wall on the other side of the room and people dove right and left, scrambling and yelling. The single shot from Riley’s gun thunked into the floorboards, skidding under their table.

Someone screamed as Riley clawed at his throat, unable to get air. Blood spurted in little arcs from the gaping hole in his throat.

Tyree’s eyes swept the room. One of Riley’s friends, the one with the droopy mustache, took a step forward, his hand on his gun, crying out Riley’s name, but his friends grabbed him, dragging him back. The sheriff stepped out into the middle of the room, his gun drawn.

Tyree tasted gun smoke, the sharpness curling in his nose. He watched blood creep across the floor from Riley’s neck and sighed deeply. Tyree reached for his rye and finished it off, poured a second shot and tipped it back, liking the burn as it wet his dry mouth. He kept his gun in his hand. Beside him, Lonny held a gun too. He stepped to the side, watching the men at the bar.

Nobody was moving, frozen there, deciding their next move.

“You need to go home, boys. Go home and stay there. I know where to find you if I need to.” The sheriff told them. He waved a hand at the Texas outfit. The other people around them had moved to the edges of the room, not wanting to get caught in the middle of more lead flying. The room had fallen quiet till the law man spoke, his words commanding those around him. His voice tight with fear.

“Let those guns fall, every one of them.” He demanded of the cowhands standing against the bar. Gun belts fell to the floor.

“Ya’ll come to the wrong place for this. I won’t tolerate it. You go on back to your camp, take your boy here with you.”

“I guess it’s time to go home,” Tyree said. Beside him, Lonny and John backed toward the door, their guns drawn, dragging a stunned Mark with them.

“Get on your horse and go home,” John told Mark. “Come on, Tyree.” They backed out together, mounted, and kicked their horses into a run.

Once outside of town, Tyree turned his horse in front of Mark’s.

“Mark?”

Mark looked stunned, his face pale.

“Mark, are you okay?”

“Am I okay? That yahoo tried to kill you.”

“But he didn’t. Are you alright?”

Mark was blinking hard, his eyes shining as he sleeved across his eyes. Tyree reached squeezed his forearm.

“I’m sorry, Joker. I really am.”

“You’re not what I thought you were,” Mark said in a whisper.

“I know,” Tyree whispered back and swallowed hard.

Shit, shit, shit

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