Excerpt from Chapter 2
Next morning Byrne and Alexander met in the street outside the inn. Alexander had managed to drag his heavy trunk out into the street. His gelding stood tied alongside Byrne’s red chestnut stallion. The stallion swished his tail as Alexander approached to untie his horse.
“So where are we to meet this stagecoach?” Alexander asked as he fought with the rope.
“The other side of town, I reckon. That’s where the trail leads off.”
Alexander stood on tiptoe to peer over his horse’s neck. At the far end of the town, where the main road opened up into empty space, a track worn by countless wagon wheels could just be seen in the packed dirt.
“Tack up your horse. Less to cram onto the coach that way.” Byrne took his own advice, throwing blanket and saddle onto his horse’s back. Alexander followed suit though he took considerably more time at the task. He was thus distracted when a racket sounded at the far edge of town.
The sheriff consulted his pocket watch. “The stagecoach is here already?!” Alexander exclaimed. He tucked away the watch and fumbled with the cinch in his rush.
Byrne was just finishing putting his horse’s bridle on. He looked to the end of the street upon hearing the clamor. Harnessed horses appeared around the far building, galloping full out. The coach appeared in turn, its driver leaning forward and whipping the horses on. Byrne took in the scene in a glance before swinging into the saddle. Alexander, too, had sensed that something was wrong and he circled his horse, frantically trying to finish putting on its tack.
Before the sheriff had finished his task, a series of deafening cracks rang out in the street, echoing off the buildings. The sounds stirred up a sense of sheer panic in the hearers. Alexander’s heart began pounding as he recognized the sound of gunshots. Hanging off the side of the saddle he paused to turn and look up the street.
Following in the wake of the coach a gang of riders appeared, all attired in dusters and western-style hats. Curiously for outlaws, which Alexander realized they must certainly be, they took no care to cover their faces. Even at that great distance it was clear that they were rough, ruthless men. Every one of them was armed with multiple guns and as they thundered into town after the stagecoach they fired shots at random.
Alexander tried to pull himself up into the saddle but his horse spooked at the myriad of sounds and the rapidly approaching coach. The Morgan reared, touched down, and reared again, rolling his eyes in fear. Only Alexander’s hand on the reins kept him from bolting.
The coach swung a tight corner, threatening to tip clean over. The axles gave a worrisome groan before the outside wheels touched ground again. The coach barreled down the main street. Pedestrians screamed and jumped out of the way as the rig barreled down the road. Some were faster than others; at least one was run down by the rig.
Byrne kicked his horse into a canter, riding toward the oncoming stagecoach. The bandits followed the rig into town and were gaining on it. Alexander scrambled into the saddle and drew his revolver. He let his horse run, directing him toward the approaching gang.
Once the local riders had passed, the stagecoach driver was able to slow his team and pull them up. The horses were blowing and drenched with sweat, stretching out their necks to catch their breath. They danced in their tresses, unnerved by the sounds of gunfire. The driver turned round to watch the encounter with nervous interest. Likewise, the passengers within the coach peered cautiously out of the open windows.
One passenger grew skittish as the gang bore down on them. Flinging the coach door open, he jumped out and ran toward the nearest building. One of the shots fired by the gang caught him and he fell with a scream.
Alexander held his badge aloft and fired one round into the air. He stopped his horse in front of the advancing gang and raised his voice. “In the name of the law, I order you to stop!”
The bandits continued to advance at a full gallop. Alexander willed himself to stand his ground though he was greatly unnerved by their charge. He fired another round into the air. “Stop!” he shouted again.
A shot answered and the sheriff flinched as he heard the bullet whiz through the air. It struck the tip of his badge, miraculously missing his hand, and the silver star went flying from his grasp. Alexander yanked his hand down, glancing at it to make sure no damage had been done. When he looked up again the gang was almost upon him.
Byrne came galloping up on his horse to join the sheriff, after having ensured that the stagecoach and its passengers were secure. The driver had his steeds back in control and the injured man had been dragged into a nearby building. The bearded man stopped his horse alongside Alexander and held his rifle at the ready.
Byrne heaved a silent sigh of relief as reinforcements came. The Glenn Rock sheriff and his deputies came galloping over, adding to the defensive line. Most of them held rifles and had revolvers holstered on their belts.
The gang drew up at the last minute, spinning their horses in tight circles. The beasts neighed and snorted, protesting the rough handling. More shots were fired into the air.
After letting their horses dance in place for a time, as if reluctant to admit they were outnumbered, the leader of the bandits yanked his mount around and kicked it into a gallop, forcing through his own comrades and charging out of town as quickly as they had come. The others turned their horses and followed, leaving no evidence of their visit but churned dirt and a cloud of dust.
Alexander dropped his arms with a heavy sigh. He had been terrified throughout the ordeal and suddenly his body felt as if it were made of jelly. Absently he wondered if he could stay in the saddle. Holstering his weapon, he turned to his companion as if just noticing his presence. “Have you been there all the time?”
Byrne gave him a strange look, then turned his horse and headed back to the stagecoach. Alexander remained still for a long while, not trusting his ability to stay in the saddle if his horse should move. When he had regained his composure somewhat, he directed his horse to where the stagecoach still stood. The local authorities had split up, most to chase after the bandits and ensure they did not return, while one deputy got the full story from the coach driver.
The stagecoach horses had their heads down, working the bits in their mouths; foamy sweat covered their bodies. Byrne was listening to the conversation between the coach driver and deputy when Alexander dismounted and teetered over to them. The bearded man moved off as the hapless sheriff approached, relinquishing the situation to a man of greater authority.
The deputy, still mounted, noticed Alexander approaching, leading his horse. The dazed sheriff paused as his boot clunked against something on the ground. Bending to retrieve his badge, he stared blankly at the divot left in the metal by the outlaw’s bullet.
“Hey, thanks for holding them up while we got our horses saddled,” the deputy said, extending his hand. Alexander reached up to shake it. His grip was weak. “Gotta say though, you’re a new breed of crazy, taking on a gang like that alone. What’s your name friend?”
“Alexander Judge. I am headed for Flintridge to serve as the new sheriff.” He paused for a moment, making sure he had answered every question posed to him. “I was not alone, though,” he added, thinking of how Byrne had come to his aid.
“Oh, right, your deputy?” The Glenn Rock lawman cast about, searching for Byrne. “Where’d he go? He was here a minute ago.”
Alexander looked around as well. He could see no sign of the bearded man. “Er, he is not my deputy. He is just a stranger I met on the train. As far as I know I do not have a deputy yet.”
“Uh huh. Well if you’re planning on pulling stunts like that on a regular basis I’d suggest you get a couple deputies to back you up. For starters, get the man that helped you today.”
“Is there much trouble out in Flintridge?” Alexander could not quite keep the troubled tone from his voice.
The deputy shrugged and laid the reins on his horse’s neck. “No more’n any other town out here. You deal with the usual stuff: Indian raids, bar brawls, brothels, and then of course there’s the outlaws. Today you met the Hayes-Lawson gang. I reckon you haven’t seen the last of them, either. They’ve been stepping up their game the past several months.”
Alexander stared at the deputy with a furrowed brow. All of a sudden, he was feeling overwhelmed, dizzy, distraught. How would he, a single lawman, cope with the so-called ‘usual stuff’ of the Wild West? It was far more rugged and uncivilized than the society to which he was accustomed.
The deputy must have noticed his change of expression for he let out a laugh meant to reassure and clapped Alexander on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, help is just two days’ ride. Any time you need extra muscle send word back here to Glenn Rock. We’re more’n happy to help out, at least until you get a posse of your own rounded up.”
“Much obliged,” Alexander said, appreciating the offer but unable to fathom being isolated so far from the next town. Two days’ ride just to send for help? Undoubtedly any criminal would make a clean getaway in that time. “What were they after?”
“Ha! What are bandits ever after? The coach was carrying a moderate payroll, some mail, the usual. Once we see that delivered to the railway and get fresh horses hitched up you can take the coach to Flintridge. Godspeed my friend!”
Alexander did not feel at all reassured.
A/N: If you enjoyed this excerpt, please consider purchasing the full book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Flintridge-Ahi-Keleher-ebook/dp/B07F7Y7S48
Are you enjoying my ongoing story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, AhiKWrite a Review