In the Eyes of a Ranger

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Chapter 14

I couldn't believe it. Gibson dead? All of them dead? It was just unbelievable. They were the best Rangers on the front and had been through the ringer more than almost anyone else on the Colorado. But they were still men, I thought, and any man can become careless or make a wrong move. All of us that joined the Rangers accepted the fact that we could die and probably would, but it was still a shock when one of our own went down. Even the Legion's most best soldiers walked softly when they knew that the Rangers were around.

Right then I knew what I had to do. Gibson and the boys had been like brothers to me, especially since my own family had been killed, and for a long time I'd had it in mind to go back and be with the unit again when my exile at McCarran was over. Men like us had a kind of bond that could never be broken and an innate loyalty to one another that was stronger than anything else. We served and fought together, and that meant that we had each other's backs no matter what. Any man that crossed one of us crossed all of us and when one of our own was killed then it became the duty of the others to honor him with vengeance. I knew that Chief Hanlon wouldn't like it, but I had it to do. I would finish my meal, have a good night's sleep, and in the morning I was heading to Camp Forlorn Hope hunting for Legion scalps.

I cut another haunch from the side of Bighorner over the fire and chewed on it, loving the wild taste of the meat, and refilled my cup from the blackened pot over the fire. I had to get to the radio. The comms officer had already called in the report of the payroll thieves being caught and McCarran had already issued orders for them to be transferred. My orders hadn't come through yet, and I was glad of that. I'd hate to go AWOL and leave a mission undone. The comms officer was still in the tent, a cute little blonde girl that seemed a mite twitchy to me, and she was taking down reports and relaying messages to McCarran and Golf when I came in from the fire. I tapped her on the shoulder and she jumped, but a smile from me calmed her down right away. I've been told that I have a handsome smile and that had gotten me out of a lot of trouble in my time. Of course, it had gotten me into a whole heap more.

"Ranger Weathers," she said after a moment, "I'm glad you're here. I got a message for you a few minutes ago. It's from Camp Golf. Chief Hanlon wants to speak to you as soon as possible."

She dug into a stack of papers beside her station and pulled out a handwritten note. It was a chicken-scratch scrawl but after a few minutes I managed to make out what it said:

FOR RANGER DANIEL WEATHERS

RETURN COMMUNICAE ASAP

URGENT

- CHIEF HANLON

That was odd, but convenient as well. A little too convenient. They must have heard about Gibson and the boys and been monitoring the waves for news of my whereabouts and then flagged me when she called in that I was at the station. Hanlon was a shrewd old wolf and he had no doubt guessed what was in my mind. I would bet that he would have had the same thing in mind himself. I asked to borrow the radio so she could catch some chow and she happily accepted. It had been a long time since I'd worked a ham radio, but after a few awkward minutes I got the hang of it and soon had raised the Camp Golf operator. We exchanged pleasantries and he said he would go for Hanlon, and not even five minutes later I heard that gravelly voice of his coming back through the microphone.

"Weathers," he said, "it's good to hear from you. We were startin' to get worried."

"Nothing to write home about, sir. They hardly put up a fight."

"I suppose you've heard about Gibson?"

"Yes, sir. I want permission to head back to Forlorn Hope immediately. If you don't let me go, I'll just go there myself. Courts-martial me if you want, but I'm going back there."

"No need for that. I've already issued the orders. Major Polatli will be expecting you when you arrive and I've instructed him to brief you on the situation. They need Rangers over there since Gibson and the others are gone. Milo is there, but even he's not good enough to handle operations alone. You'll have complete autonomy to execute raids, ambushes, and any and all maneuvers required to harm or hinder the enemy."

"Just like that, sir? I didn't expect you to cave so easy."

"Any other time I wouldn't, but the situation is hard out there. They've got green kids and few supplies at Hope and what they have is dwindling fast. I still have reservations about puttin' you back on the front but when ya get down to brass tacks you're still one of the best Rangers we've got. I need good men on the front and lots of it to keep those Bulls in their place. Besides, no one fucks with our own."

"Thank you, sir."

"Don't make me regret this, Weathers. Hanlon out."

Just like that, I had my mission. My friends had been killed and now I was being given free reign to pursue and eliminate any and all Legion bastards that I could find. That was an assignment that I planned to enjoy, as bad as it sounds, and one that I would pursue vigorously. I'd lost a lot of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances in this awful-hell-war, but this time it was different. This time it was men that I had fought, marched, sweated and bled with. Men that I had called my brothers and was proud to do so. Their deaths couldn't go un-avenged. Now all I had to do was to tell Angeline.

We all turned in about an hour after sundown, having put away most of the Bighorner meat and all of two gallons of coffee between us. Take your average settler a week to eat a Bighorner, but a camp full of hungry Rangers who weren't promised tomorrow could certainly put away the groceries. I laid out my bedding and gear in the usual fashion and from the corner of my eye I watched Angeline lay out hers. She laid her rifles on either side of her bedroll, both within easy reach, and when she rolled her gunbelt she laid it so that both holsters and her knife could be easily reached if the need arose. She loosened her boots and put them at the foot of the bedroll, laces still tied and loose so that she could just step into them and tighten them down if she had to move quickly. I watched her set the bedding and couldn't help but smile. She had come far from the scared, bedraggled woman that I had found with a bunch of kids in the desert. She had come far indeed.

Dawn came too fast, as it often does, and before the sun was ever up Angeline and I were at the cook fire with our gear packed and ready to travel. Ranger camps rise early and the men in them are careful men who knew the value of being up and going as early as possible. There was coffee and flapjacks on the fire and the cook had cut the leftover Bighorner meat into something resembling sausage patties, so we ate well. They offered us supplies from their stores and we helped ourselves to some flour, jerky, coffee, and ammunition. We started off down the trail just as the sun was coming up over the eastern horizon. The desert was alive with all the colors of the dawn, looking for a moment like an absolute paradise.

"So where to now," Angeline asked, "back to McCarran?"

"No. I'm going to Forlorn Hope. That man that we heard was dead last night, Gibson, was my friend. He was killed with my old unit and they were all good men. I've got it to do and I'm not gonna stop until I've made their killers pay. I want you to go to -"

"Hell no. We tried that once and it was stupid. I'm going with you this time."

"Somehow I knew you'd say that."

Truth be told, I was happy to have her. She was beautiful and she was as sweet a woman as a man could find, but she was also a dead shot and as good in the desert or the mountains as any Ranger. She had the bark on, that one. She'd been up the creek and over the mountain and she had seen her share of trouble. Furthermore, she had a score to settle with the Legion just as I did. Between the two of us we made one hell of a team and I pitied the red-clad prick that found himself in our gun sights.

We followed the old highway eastward across the barren desert and the long-abandoned suburbs of New Vegas. The buildings were all blasted and weather-beaten, most of them little more than charred ruins that were barely standing, but in a few of them a man could still find some loot and occasionally even some food or ammo. Unfortunately, they were also a favorite hideout of the Fiends and for the few scattered Viper Gunslingers that were roaming the northern frontier and preying upon any and all that happened to come by. This stretch of road had been closed to caravan traffic and was officially off limits to civilians, but that didn't stop a few poor souls from venturing too far north or looking for a quiet place to score some Jet or Psycho.

It took three days of hard travel, but we made it to Forlorn Hope with little trouble aside from a brush with a couple of Vipers. They opened up on us from a distance and Angie dropped one with her Hunting Rifle and I peppered them with my Cowboy Repeater and they pulled off. It's amazing how supposed tough types lose their starch once the lead starts flying in their direction. I'd seen even the most hard-bitten men piss themselves the and run once they realize that they can catch a bullet just like any other man.

Forlorn Hope was a completely different place from the camp that I had seen after the Battle of Nelson. The flap of the medical tent was open when we walked by and I could smell the stench of death and sickness and see the full beds even with a glance. Doc Richards was outside the tent washing his hands in a basin, his white shirt covered in blood and the rag on his belt almost red with it. He looked older, thinner, tired, like a man that just about cashed in his chips. Most of the troopers milling around were fresh faces just in from California, all of them looking scared and green. I recognized a few of the troopers that I remembered from Nelson, all of them hard-faced and looking back at me with that Thousand-Yard Stare I'd come to recognize in a veteran. Some of them recognized me and waved while one even walked up and offered me a handshake. I remembered that he was right-handed and I thought it odd that he offered his left to me, until I noticed that his right hand was gone.

Major Polatli saw us come in when we went to the command tent and came to greet us. The tent was abuzz with activity, with troopers and orderlies running from station to station with orders, dispatches, and reports of one kind or another for the comms operators to pass along the line. Polatli looked even worse than Doc Richards. His hair, once jet black, was going gray along the temples and his mustache was scruffy and unkempt and his face was thick with stubble. That was strange, since the major had always been so neat and trim before. His uniform looked as if it had been worn for days and I noticed that he wore his gun with the holster unsnapped, which was against regulation for an NCR officer, and that he'd taken to carrying a Combat Knife as well. He had never worn a gun outside of the field. His eyes were sunken and the lines of his face were deep set and hard as if he had aged ten years in the few months that had passed since Nelson.

"Good to see you Weathers. I guess you heard about Gibson?"

"I did. Do you know what happened?"

"Damned if I know. They went out for a routine patrol and sweep and they set up an ambush along the river down by that old abandoned vault in the valley. They had it all set up and had some legionnaires coming down the trail at them, but then all of a sudden a bunch of Legionary Assassins jumped up behind them and shot 'em to doll rags."

"How do you know all this?"

"Bronson told me. He's over in the hospital."

"Bronson! He's alive?!"

"Barely. He took a dozen bullets and went down a steep bank and broke his arm in the fall. Richards says that he's done all he can given the limited resources we have. The Legion's been hitting our supply lines hard and we're low on everything from beans to bullets. It'll be good to have a Ranger in camp again to give 'em some of their own medicine."

"Did you get Hanlon's orders?"

"I did. I'm to give you all the freedom of movement I can and to give you all the resources I have at my disposal, which I'll tell you right now isn't that much. Most of my men are fresh out of the west and those that have seen action are all on the front line or laid up in the hospital. To make matters worse, Richards has been losing his meds at night. That's all I need is a bunch of addicts running around camp."

"I'll get started in the morning. I'll go around and see if there are some good men I can use. We'll make our camp in the hills by the radio tower. If you need me, that's where I'll be."

"Alright. I have a man out in the field now that you might find useful. He should be back tomorrow. I'll send him your way once he checks in."

We left the tent then and started for the ridge up above camp to set up for the night, but I couldn't resist going to check in on Bronson. Polatli said that he was in a bad way and I knew only too well that in cases like that moments counted and that a man never knew if he would make it through the night. Bronson was a tough man and a hard one, but with enough lead in him even the toughest man in the world can die. Angeline saw me turn toward the medical tent and when I turned to explain she just nodded and smiled. She hitched her rifle up on her shoulder and started for the ridge to make camp without a word. That was a damn fine woman by any man's standards.

Doc Richards saw me coming and took a long draw on his cigarette. "If you have any fresh holes in you," he said, "I'm afraid you'll have to get in line. Business has been a little too good lately. Any more business and I'm likely to be out of business."

"I'm here to check up on Ranger Bronson. Is he still alive?"

"Yes, but I have no idea how. The man absorbed enough lead to put down a Deathclaw. Eleven gunshot wounds and four cuts from a machete, plus a tumble down the riverbank and yet somehow he's still breathing. I've never seen the like, not even when you were in there."

"He's a tough man. One of the toughest."

"Even a tough man can die. He's in there, the bed in the far left corner. Watch your step."

I nodded and went in, and right away I knew what he meant by that last part. Every bed was full with a trooper wounded in some way and the floor was covered with bloody rags, soiled bedpans, and buckets where some of the wounded men would vomit. The smell was the first thing that hit me. A man never forgets that smell, the stink of death, sickness, and injury that a place like this always carries. Nurses and orderlies went from bed to bed bringing water and fresh bandages to the men. One of them leaned over the man in the bed and sort of stiffened, and then I saw them pull a sheet over the dead man and cross themselves.

Bronson was right where the doc had said he was. He looked just as bad, too. He had bandages on his arms, chest, and I could see a cast on his left foot where it stuck out from under the covers. His left eye was bandaged and I could see the dried blood on it. His left arm was in a sling and there were bandages on his hand and bicep and when I looked closer I could see that he was missing his pinky and middle fingers on that hand. His right hand was not bandaged, but I cold see the healed scars on his knuckles where he had used them to mess up someone's face. Bronson was a stout, powerful man whom few men could match in a fistfight, and from the looks of that hand I could almost guarantee that whoever was on the receiving end of those blows was either laid out somewhere or no longer of this world.

"Hey, Dan," he said when I came over, "good to see ya. How ya been?"

"I've been good, Clay. How are ya feeling?"

"Like hammered shit, but I'll pull through. There ain't a legionnaire alive that can take me down. Besides, I wanna live to get a shot at that Vulpes."

"Vulpes Inculta?"

"The very same. I heard one of the Bulls call him by name when they thought I was done for. Can't miss him. Smug lookin' bastard with a damn dog on his head. Him and that centurion, Silus, I think his name was, they put it all together. They'll get theirs."

"I'll see to that. You get some rest now. Anything I can get for ya?"

"Yeah. Two busty blondes and a bottle of good whiskey. I wouldn't mind a steak, either."

It would be like him to joke about his condition. Bronson had always been the funny one. He looked all in, like he was about to pass out at any moment, and his voice was hoarse and labored when he spoke. There was a jug of water beside his bed with a cup and while we were talking he reached over and took a drink. It was strange seeing him like that that, his hulking form laying in a sick bed with holes in his hide. Bronson had always been a massive beast of a man, strong enough to wrestle a Deathclaw barehanded and one of the best rifle shots I'd ever seen, and I had no doubt that he had accounted for himself in that fight. Gibson and the others were hard men, too hard to go down without taking more than a few red-clad assholes with them. The Legion may have won that day, but they had won it hard and gone away bloody.

Angeline was over the fire when I made my way up to our camp an hour or so later. She'd gotten some supplies from the sutler's store and when I came up she had a pot of fresh coffee on and a couple cans of Pork N' Beans in the pot with some frying pan bread to go with it. She melted into the brush like a spirit when she heard me coming and only came out again when I walked up to the fire and poured myself a cup of the blackest coffee I'd ever tasted. She really had been a caravaneer's wife, for her coffee was the kind that only a far-traveling man could appreciate. I'd heard it said that caravaneers always threw a Brahmin shoe into the pot when they made trail coffee. That way they knew when the coffee was ready when they saw the shoe standing up by itself.

I'd spent a few more minutes with Bronson before letting him sleep, then gone around camp looking for some likely candidates for a patrol squad. Just as Polatli had said, most of the veterans were still on the front and the few that were in camp had just come in from combat duty and were looking for a little rest. I couldn't blame them for that. The rest were mostly young recruits that either had too much enthusiasm or too little to suit me. A man with his dander up is a good one to have around, but there comes a point where spunk and confidence become arrogance and bravado. Men like that don't last long out in the desert. I wanted good solid men who had been through it already, men that were steady and willing to do what was needed. I'd found only one or two men that fit the bill, and one of those was still recovering from a side wound in the field hospital.

The sun was just coming over the horizon when I slipped out of my blankets and wiped the night sweat from my guns and slung my gunbelt about my hips. The coffee was still on from the night before and the fire was just down to coals. I added some sticks and coaxed it to life and heated up the coffee and some beans. Angeline was still in her bedroll when I took up my rifle and started down toward camp. She was normally an early riser and could give me a run for my money when it came to the trail, but she was tired and worn out after the long run from Station Foxtrot. She would need her rest over the next few days, so I let her sleep.

The camp was in its usual state of disarray. I'd heard the shooting in the distance late the night before and I knew what it would mean. Skirmishes were almost constant in the valley between Nelson and Forlorn Hope and in the country around, and every day the patrols came in with fresh wounded for the hospital or fresh corpses for the sad little cemetery on the east side of camp. Gibson and Cooper were over there, but I hadn't allowed myself to go visit them yet. Graves and headstones were no way to remember friends. I knew them has as good, tall, strong men that would and could tackle hell with a bucket of water and I wanted to remember them that way instead of as some sad marker over a sorry patch of dirt on the ass-end of nowhere.

I walked down to the barracks to check on the recruits and to see who had come in during the night or early morning. The patrols were always long and bloody and once the reports were turned in the only place anyone wanted to be was back in the barracks with a warm bed and a few hours of rest ahead of him. Private Sexton was there, still managing his little ear contest, and a new man was outside the barracks when I walked up who looked like he'd been through hell. His nametag said Stone and his face was purple, flushed, and his eyes were sunken and baggy from many nights without sleep. He was smoking a cigarette that I would have sworn was going to fall apart with all the twitching he was doing while trying to hold it to his lips. Addict. Hydra, or maybe Psycho. Either one would mess a man up something awful and either one made even the best soldiers into mewling cowards.

Private Sexton was on his cot, as usual, and when I asked about who had come in from the field he nodded toward three men in dusty fatigues that were huddled around the coffeepot in the next room. Of the three, two of them were young privates fresh out of California who looked like they couldn't be more than seventeen or eighteen. First tour soldiers, much too green for my purposes. The third man was a corporal with a scar on his cheek, still not as well seasoned as I'd like but a good prospect. I was heading out the door when a red-faced sergeant with wide shoulders and a thick shot of sandy hair came through and smiled when he saw me. I didn't immediately recognize him, but he obviously knew me from somewhere. He held out his hand and I took it, happy to feel the steel grip of his strong hand.

"Good to see you here, Ranger. It's been a while."

"Do I know you, sergeant?"

"We met at Nelson, sir. I was on the line with you. 'Hold center and squeeze the trigger gently', you said to me. I tell that to all my boys now and we always kill more than our share of legionnaires."

I remembered him then and I couldn't help but be amazed. The man I remembered was a wild-eyed raw recruit whose trigger finger was too itchy for his own good. Shooting at anything that moved and burning ammunition like it grew on the mesquite. This man before me now had changed from that scared kid in a big way. He was only a couple of inches shorter than me but was just as broad in the shoulders and arms and he wore his gun like he knew what it was for. Both the rifle and pistol looked immaculate and he had a Combat Knife in his belt that had two notches on the hilt. I'd never held with notching guns or knives for one's kills, but to each their own. I decided that I liked this man.

"I remember now, the kid who shot too fast."

"Not anymore. Your advice has saved my ass a few times."

"I bet. I'm looking for some men for a dangerous duty and I like your style. We'll be going out into the desert and raiding Legion supply lines, ambushing patrols, and gathering intel on enemy movements in and around Nelson. I need good men that can handle themselves and who can stand their ground. You interested?"

"Who's in command?"

"I am. I'm taking over for Ranger Gibson."

"I heard about Gibson. Damn shame. If you're in charge of this outfit, then you can count me in. I lost a cousin to the Legion last week and I've seen too many of my men shot down from ambush in the last couple months. It'll be nice to take some back."

"Good. We'll meet on the south side of camp tomorrow morning. Bring lots of ammo and enough water and grub for two days' walk. Make sure you get some rest tonight."

"Yes, sir."

"Good. I'm sorry, but I don't think I ever got your name."

"The name's Travers, sir, Sergeant Thomas Travers from Baja."

I left him then and started back toward our camp to check on Angeline. I saw the tiny column of smoke from our fire and I could smell the coffee and food cooking as I came up the hill and when I came in sight of camp I could see Angeline and another person squatting by the fire. Instinctively my rifle came into my hand and I held it low, for I've never been what you could call a trusting man and strangers just naturally made me nervous. His back was to me and he was talking to Angeline, who was smiling, and I could see that he was nursing a cup of coffee. His rifle was on the ground beside him, a Trail Carbine that looked well worn and appeared to be a damn fine weapon. As I came closer he appeared to be a little more familiar, although I couldn't quite place him. When I got in closer Angeline saw me coming and raised her cup to greet me, and then the stranger turned to face me and I instantly recognized him. It was Jubal, the courier that had the whole Mojave talking.

He looked different, but I knew it was him. His Armored Vault Suit was gone now and had been replaced by a white shirt whose sleeves were decorated with some kind of tribal pattern and one of which was rolled up to accommodate his Pipboy, and worn over the shirt was one of the old Kevlar vests that I'd heard tell of but never seen myself. His black jeans were over his boots and I could see a patch on the left knee, and on his head was a brown wide-brimmed hat that barely held his thick red hair. He wore his guns on a leather cartridge belt like mine and on it there hung a well-worn .44 Magnum Revolver and a Bowie Knife that looked only a little different from mine. His mustache and goatee were shaggy and he was unshaven from many days of traveling, his clothes were dusty, and his boots looked a little down at the heel, but he was still every inch the hulking juggernaut that I remembered from that day in Nipton.

We shook hands and I felt that powerful grip again before Angeline offered me a cup and a plate. We talked on for a couple hours after that, listening to him talk about his journey to the Divide and his showdown with another courier from Caesar's lands, his adventure in the Utah country and the war between the White Legs and the Sorrows and Dead Horses led by Joshua Graham, Caesar's former legate and the man that had been known for years as the Burned Man by Tribals and wastelanders after he was set afire and tossed into the Grand Canyon by his ruler. He'd found the men that ambushed him in Goodsprings and dealt with them in Boulder City, but had not yet gone after their employer on the Strip. His name was Benny, a name that I knew from the talk of the recruits coming and going from the Strip back at Camp McCarran. I had never met the man myself, but I knew that he stood no chance against Jubal.

Apparently he had come over to Nelson the week before we arrived and had been roped into helping Ranger Milo put some NCR prisoners out of their misery right after having some dealings with the Legion on his own. He had gone to Ranger Station Charlie as a favor to old Ranger Andy in Novac and found it massacred, then gone on a little revenge run on the camps near Broc Flower Cave. Angeline chimed in that she had heard through her bounty hunting contacts that the Legion had a large price on his head, and mine, and that the Frumentarii and the infamous Legion Assassins had been set on his heels.

Things had been hard in camp when me and Angeline arrived, but from what Jubal said it had been even worse before. Supplies had been running low and the Legion's attacks had been almost constant. Polatli had sent him out to find some supplies that were supposed to have been brought over from Helios One but had not arrived, and he sort of sighed when he simply said that he had "found them". Neither of us needed any more explanation than that. I could imagine what had happened and the thought of it filled me with a deep rage. I was anxious to get back out in the desert ante and to be on the hunt for the Legion again, and when I asked him if he wanted to join my recon squad he was only too happy to oblige.

"I've seen you on the trail," he said, "and I wouldn't want anyone else watching my back in a difficulty. You say we take out tomorrow morning? I'll be there with bells on, figuratively speaking of course. I just need to reload some empties and I might led Doc Richards a hand in the field hospital. You won't have to look for me, Dan.

"Ma'am, that was some fine coffee and some fine grub. I haven't eaten that well in a long time. Dan is a lucky man to have you around."

I felt a touch of color come into my cheeks after he said that and I felt the sudden urge to punch him in the face. Angeline flashed that pretty smile of hers ante and I saw her cheeks redden just a mite as she collected the plate and cup he had left. He got up and checked the loads in his guns, then with a tip of his hat he turned on his heel and started down the trail for the main camp.

That was it, then. Between myself, Angeline, Jubal, and Travers we ourselves a solid squad. Jubal and I were both good on the trail, Angeline would be our sniper, and Travers knew the area better than most of us. I'd seldom come into the valley between Nelson and Forlorn Hope back before the town was taken and since then it had been mined and booby trapped like nobody's business and a man had to know the way through if he was to go anywhere in that valley without losing a leg to a land mine or a bear trap. Travers had been leading patrols and raids in the valley since the battle and he would know all the trails through the mine fields and which areas had the most Legion activity. All four of us were top riflemen, for I'd asked around about Travers before I came back to camp and everyone I talked to praised both his toughness and his marksmanship.

The day waned and Angeline and I said little to each other. Jubal's comment had unsettled the both of us, although I'll admit that I was the more upset. I had come to terms with the fact that I wanted to be with her, but it was still hard to hear it talked about by others. Some would say that I was moving on too soon after Jenny, but in the wastelands a man has to do what he has to do to move on with his life. My wife and family were gone and there was nothing I could do about it and there came a time when a man just had to move on with his life and come to terms with himself. Jenny had been a fine woman and one that I missed dearly, but she was a woman that knew the life and who I was sure would have wanted me to be happy.

We cleaned our weapons, put fresh edges on our knives, counted our ammunition and filled our belts with fresh shells, and packed our supplies for the next few days. A stream flowed through the camp that was fed by a small spring nestled in the rocks and both of us filled two canteens from the spring itself. We would travel light and fast and keep to the best of cover, so we kept our packs light and carried only the absolute essentials. Angeline had gone down into the camp while I was gone and gotten herself some NCR chest armor, which she now wore over her merc's clothing, and a bandoleer which she filled with loaded magazines for her Marksman Carbine.

Dusk was a beautiful sight and the two of us sat on the ridge and watched the sun sink into the western mountains. She looked beautiful in the evening light, her fiery hair catching all the color that the sun shone down, and when she turned to say something to me I kissed her.

It was a long, warm, passionate kiss, the kind that I hadn't had in a long, long time. It was the first time I had kissed her first, and from the way she squeezed my hand in hers I knew she enjoyed it just as I did. It lasted only a moment, but it was the sort of moment that I wished would never end. I felt alive for the first time in a long time and I knew that tomorrow promised many things and not all of them good. I knew only too well that a man never knew when his last day would come. Mine could come tomorrow, or hers, and I wanted to live every minute we had left to the fullest. I realized in that moment that Jubal had been right. I was, as he had said, a mighty lucky man.


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