Monday, October 15, 1860
Eight horses stood steaming beneath the dripping trees. About their hooves were small broken limbs, a tattered carpet of leaves and hail stone’s the size of a baby’s fist.
Lafayette untied his hair, shaking it to wring the wet from its length thinking, ‘Got to buy me a hat when we get to town.’ Tying his hair into a tail, he asked, “You sure this is part of the group we are searchin’ for?”
Nathaniel Davis, the Baptist minister’s son, sat on the horse closest to Lafayette and he nodded, “I been keeping my ears open ever since I heard, y’all was looking for the men who killed your family. I heard some of ’em...” He pointed toward the camp site, positioned in a hidden vale, “...bragging behind the church Sunday before last. And when I saw ’em yesterday, I followed ’em here.”
Thaddeus nodded, “Appreciate your efforts, Nate. You go on and leave; there ain’t non need for you to stay.”
Nathaniel looked solemnly round at the other men.
“Ain’t no one gonna think less of you for leavin’,” said Brody.
Nathaniel shook his head hard and fast, “no! You and me been pals for a good while, Tad, what those men did to your family.” He licked his lips, “To Dora, it was not right.” He swallowed, pulling his pistol. “I am not leavin’.”
Sucking at his front teeth, Lafayette surveyed the men with him; Thaddeus, Fox, Jackson, Brody, Clyde, JT, and now Nathaniel. The camp below them looked somewhat worse for wear after the battering hail storm. Along their tether line, he counted ten horses. As he deliberated on the situation, the camp was slowly coming to life with men emerging from tents, mostly to take a seat around a freshly smoldering fire. Clearing his throat softly, Lafayette said, ‘Nate, I am not sayin’ I do not believe you but, I need some factual verification before settin’ myself or rest of y’all to killin’.”
Lafayette slanted his eyes to Thaddeus; a quick conversation took place between the brothers, without either of them saying a word.
With a sharp nod, Thaddeus slid from Cain’s back, slipping into the woods to edge around to the camp’s horses.
Lafayette sat tense watching his brother glide among the animals, about half-way down the line; Thaddeus halted stroking a horse’s neck and face. With a holler bordering on a scream, Lafayette kicked Coffee. The big bay lunged from the sheltering foliage with the other seven horses spilling out after him.
The bivouacked men leapt to their feet, fumbling for rifles and drawing pistols. But they were a minute past the action, bullets were already burying into their flesh. Blood sprayed, mud and hail stones tangled their feet, and in the bedlam of trying to escape, the bunched up men slammed into each other.
Suddenly, a pair broke free and was running for the horses.
Thaddeus stepped out wearing a growling grin, his anger flowing off him like rainwater.
The lead man slid in the mud, and in that breath of time it took him to get his footing, he got a clear view of Thaddeus and cried out, “Tad Crowe! I was not there. Tad, I was not!”
Thaddeus’ grin grew, his teeth resembling fangs behind his tight, pale lips. His aim was perfect. He shot the man further away in the center of his throat and then the one professing innocence right in the face.
Within the camp, Lafayette and his friends horse’s leapt across the logs surrounding the fire pit sending the smoldering wood spinning, churning the mud to slop, and trampling oilskin tents as they chased their prey.
From one of the collapsed tents, a man emerged, bringing a Colt rifle up to bear on Jackson. But he was thrown to the ground, by a hard knock from Ebby’s wide chest, as Fox had a go at running him down.
In minutes, it was over.
Lafayette dismounted, assessing the carnage, ‘I should be disgusted.’ he thought. ‘Instead, I feel exhilarated; feel alive.’ Walking up on the man, Fox had walloped with his horse, Lafayette stooped retrieving the Colt and straightening, he barked. “Brody, Nate, Jackson sweep the area for any we missed.”
Wiping the mud from the rifle, Lafayette’s skin crawled and he swung the Colt, slamming the barrel into the man and followed it up with a kick to his ribs. “Haul ’em up!”
Clyde and JT responded instantly, lifting the heaving, round-faced, curly-haired man to his feet, and shoved him toward Lafayette.
The man spit on the ground defiantly while clutching his ribs.
Lafayette held the rifle’s wooden stock before the man’s face, “Let me introduce myself,” he stated, tapping each initial burned in the stock as he coldly said, “I am Lafayette Henri Begnoir Crowe.” With a snarl, he struck the man in the face, shattering his pug nose and part of his cheek bone.
The defiance fell from the man just as fast as he hit the ground. Crawling backwards, he managed to gain his feet and turning to run, he bounced off Fox. Backing from him, the man spun straight into Thaddeus, who slugged him, knocking him to Lafayette’s waiting grip. The man’s good eye peered round at the group of men, none of them more than boys really, surrounding him, “What do you want?”
“To know how many of you fuckin’ bastards invaded our home?” Thaddeus said, kicking him in the side of his knee, creating an audible snap. The man crashed to the ground, squealing like a cut pig.
Lafayette stepped in front of his brother as Thaddeus, drew back to kick again, saying, “It would be best for you, if you just said how many?”
“All right... all right....” The man whimpered, holding his leg. “Were you the brick house or the one with the white columns?”
Lafayette rolled his head back on his shoulders. Popping his neck, and holding out an arm, he halted Thaddeus’ again. Squatting before the man, he raised the stock of the rifle to the man’s good eye and tapped his initials, “are you so dense, you require a second reminder?′
“NO!” The man yelped, pushing himself backwards in the mud, “I know where you mean. There were twenty maybe, twenty-five of us.”
“Well, what was it twenty or twenty-five?” Lafayette asked, pushing the rifle stock against the broken joint.
A shriek rolled from the man, tears leaking from his eyes, “Twenty-five, Twenty-five!”
Lafayette nodded, letting up. “How many of the twenty-five, are here?”
Whimpering the round-faced man tried to peer around Lafayette who was filling his vision, “Here let me jar your memory.” Lafayette said dryly, waving to his brother.
Thaddeus grinned and stuck the heel of his boot into the man’s knee. This time his scream echoed off into the forest and Thaddeus pushed harder, “For Christ Sake, all of us...ALL OF US! Please, by God, let off!”
Thaddeus stepped back.
"Bonne. Very good. So, now, m’ petit frère and I would like to know...” Lafayette leaned in, looking close at the man. “... Why?”
The man’s watering brown eyes darted from Lafayette up to Thaddeus and back again, “Why?”
Thaddeus raised his boot, this time over the uninjured knee.
“No... no... no.” The round-faced man yowled, “I do not understand what you want. If you are playing with me, before killing me, just get it the fuck over with.”
“Oh, I plan on killin’ you.” Lafayette said as matter factly as ordering a beer. “I am just leavin’ it up to you, lettin’ you decide . . . . if I should shoot you clean or leave you to dangle and strangle.”
At this, Clyde Massey stepped back, taking off his hat.
Lafayette looked up, “You got a problem, Clyde?”
He shook his head; his eyes veering to the man sprawled in the mud.
In a tone that brooked no arguments, Lafayette ordered, “Then go assist the others in findin’ out how many of these bastards are alive.”
Clyde all but jumped to attention. Slapping his hat back on, he snapped off, “Yes, Captain.”
Thaddeus watched Clyde walk off. ‘Is that how Gabe became a Captain?’ He thought and looked to his brother, whose expression was so cold-blooded he almost did not recognize him.
Lafayette had not registered Clyde’s reaction, only turned back to the blubbering man in the mud, “So, m’ question was... why?”
The man appeared honestly bewildered, his eyes wondering up to Thaddeus and anywhere else to avoid the look Lafayette was laying on him.
Shaking his head, Thaddeus squatted. “He means, why did you attack our home? Why did you kill our Sister? And, also who all was you ridin’ with?”
The man shivered all over, “I ain’t got answers for all that.”
Blackness swept over Lafayette and before anyone could blink, he snatched the man’s right hand, snapping his index finger clean in two.
The man squalled, his eyes rolling like a trapped animal, “I was following the others... just following ’em.” He babbled.
“Following who?” Lafayette asked.
“Me and my pal, Roger was just following.”
Lafayette sneered, realizing the gutless pile had no more reasoning in him than to follow others blindly. “Fox, JT string ’em up.”
“Yes, Capt’,’” Fox replied, as if he had been calling Lafayette this for years.
Standing, Lafayette exhaled hard, “Any others alive?”
“Just two,” Jackson replied, motioning Lafayette to follow him.
“Suppose it says something for y’alls accuracy.” Lafayette answered with a bland smile. Following his friend, Lafayette could hear the round-faced man’s gargled cries and not a drop of regret ran through him.
Jackson on the other hand, sped up, trying to leave the sound behind.
Realizing what he was doing, Lafayette caught his arm, pulling him around.
Jackson looked pale and like he was having a hard time breathing.
“If this bothers you ami, call to mind Dora gut shot. YOU of all of us know what a painful slow death she suffered. Think of Gabe, Peter and Web shot to pieces on their own land; and of m’ Father dying...” he jerked his thumb toward the man spinning in the air, “...exactly the same way that bastard is. And, if ‘n that does not work then you think about your own family and how what happened at Sienna could still happen at your place. You focus on all that and ain’t none of this goin’ to bother you. But Jackson, if it still does, I suggest you ride on out for home.”
Jackson smoky blue eyes closed, he could see the laughing faces at Sienna, people he considered his second family, and the warm love he had felt there. When he opened his eyes, he no longer looked lost. Gripping Lafayette’s shoulder, he nodded. “I am with you, Bub.”
Leaning against two trees were the remaining men of the campsite. A grizzled older man, still muscular but beginning to bend with age, he had been shoulder shot. The other one was nearer the ages of Thaddeus, Fox and JT. He was deathly pale; both his hands clutching at his pelvic bone with blood streaming freely between his fingers.
Lafayette appraised both prisoners and without hesitation, stepped forward shooting the boy in the head.
The grizzled man jumped, “Jesus Christ!” His eyes darting from the dead boy to Lafayette.
“Here is the deal. I want you to consider how you wish to meet your Maker.” Lafayette pointed to the man still kicking on the strangle knot and then to the quick death next to them.
The corner of the grizzled man’s mouth sneered up, “Ya is all piss and vinegar, ain’t ya, boy?”
Fire lit up in Lafayette’s dark eyes, his dimples appearing as if by magic when a large smile sprang across his face. Releasing a short barking laugh, he squatted.
His blatant sadistic merriment made the grizzled man lean back deeper into the unyielding tree.
“When y’all murdered m’ famille...” He tapped the man’s chest, “I would like to know who your leader was and who all you rode with?”
The older man frowned, his eyes drifting to the ground between his feet.
Lafayette’s smile twisted, and placing his fist over the bullet wound, he leaned into it. The man bucked and with a grunted growl, he latched hold of Lafayette’s arm. The ominous clicks of pistol hammer’s being cocked sounded loud in the still forest. The old man’s squinty eyes shifted to those standing behind Lafayette in a half circle. “Let off ya son-of-a-bitch. I ain’t ignorin’ ya. Just do not know how ya think, I would know which place ya is speakin’ of.”
Rolling back from the man, Lafayette rested his elbows on his knees, “Your group has vandalized and murdered that many homesteads?”
The man slowly nodded, “And, more than that Sonny. Y’all is just lucky ya caught me on a slow day.”
Lafayette pushed some escaped hair from his face, leaving a streak of blood on his forehead, “Lucifer is goin’ cry when I put you down.”
The man released a coughing laugh, “Suppose he will.”
Pursing his lips tightly, Lafayette exhaled stringing each of his words out with deliberate clarity, “Cass County . . . . Harrisonville . . . . Sienna . . . . Antonio Crowe.”
“Ah, t’weren’t as many horses there as we’d been told.” Smiling, the man looked up at the hard faces glaring at him, “Humph, some of ya must be Crowes. We thought we got all ya.”
Lafayette’s fists clenched.
Seeing the anger rising in Lafayette, the man chuckled, “good for ya boy, a man’s son oughta seek out his vengeance.”
“Who did you ride with?”
“Been alive, before ya was even an itch in ya Pa’s pants.” He sneered at Lafayette and then to the others, “Hell before all y’all were around. There ain’t no way; I am givin’ up any of my pals.”
Lafayette could feel heat rising in his face, “What about who led you?”
“He was an uppity bastard, part of the Home Guard. And, his sidekick was an arrogant Mick, did not care much for either damn one of ‘em. Still, I ain’t handin’ out their names.”
Lafayette nodded and standing he shot the man between the eyes.
“Yeah Tad,” Clyde answered, setting the collection of firearms he had gathered from the campsite in a pile on the ground. He looked up at the set of reins being offered. “What’s this?”
“Like you to have her.”
Clyde’s eyes ran over the large bay taking note of her long white stockings. He licked his lower lip. When he at last spoke, he sounded strange, “Are you sure?”
“Your gelding is a bon garçon.” Thaddeus said. “But, how old is Bud, anyway?”
“Bud’s...” Clyde, took off his hat, looking to the picket line where his splashy paint stood. “He is nineteen, I have had ’em most of my life.”
“He and you sure been down a lot of damn roads, ain’t you?” Thaddeus said, looking at Clyde from the slant of his eye.
“If you plan on ridin’ down this fuckin’ road with Lafe and me, well, I reckoned you might like to give your garçon a rest; not doin’ em the injustice of runnin’ em to death. Maia here is only five.”
Clyde nodded again, once more looking the mare over. “But you and Lafayette ain’t got much left.”
“Ah Hell, we got plenty of stock down South.” He pushed the reins towards Clyde, “Sides, what is we supposed to do, ride two damn horses at once?”
“She sure is a beauty.” Clyde smiled. “What’s her name, again?”
“Maia Danseur, she’s a bon fille. Sure footed, I held her back for breeding m´ Missouri Climber line.”
“If you are both sure?” Clyde asked, taking the reins and looking toward Lafayette who was strolling up.
“We are; and the other nine horses, all but one of ’em, belong to different homes around the County,” Lafayette stated. “That is if JT and I were reading the brands correctly.”
“What you plannin’ on doing with ’em?” Clyde asked, rolling Maia’s reins between his fingers.
“Figure on taking ’em into Harrisonville, leave ’em for the Sherriff to sort out and return to their proper owners.”
Clyde looked toward the dead, “And, them?”
Thaddeus snarled, “Take what we can use and leave ‘em to rot in the fuckin’ mud.”
Hearing the vulgarity of his own hostility coming from Thaddeus’ mouth made Lafayette feel somehow he was not doing right by his little brother. Shaking his head, he walked off, patting his pockets in search of a smoke.