Gunfighter's Legacy: Orphans' Inheritance
A Preview of Volume 2 in the Beth Caver Saga
© 2019 CR Britting
Denver, Colorado, 1885
The Cattleman’s Rest was one of those restaurants where only those well off financially could afford to go for dinner. The décor was simple, but tastefully done, the food was excellent and beautifully prepared. Gas-powered overhead lighting gave the room a relaxed atmosphere. All in all, it was a great place to go for a quiet, leisurely meal.
Outside, it had rained most of the day then tapered off to a drizzle as it got dark. The result was partially flooded streets and a mess elsewhere. Traffic in the restaurant was right much lighter than usual and only about a third of the seats were occupied.
A big fireplace built into the back wall added warmth and helped dispel the dampness of the evening. Arranged in a semi-circle in front of the fireplace were a number of wooden rocking chairs. If one had the time, you could sit facing the fire and kind of lose yourself in the dancing flames. Many of the restaurant’s patrons had done exactly that and discovered it was a great place to sit and meditate.
Tonight one of the chairs was occupied by one John Farnsworth. In his mid-fifties, he was a short slender man with steel gray hair. His rugged, craggy face and deep tan suggested he had spent much of his life outdoors. A closer look would also reveal deep-seated fatigue born of many years of hard work.
Farnsworth was a rancher and had been a cattleman for more than twenty years, growing his spread northeast of Denver from a modest beginning to one of the largest ranches around. It was difficult, unending task and John was tired; tired of battling the weather and thousands of unruly steers.
He and his crew had just finished a large cattle drive. On a hunch, he had brought almost all his of cattle and when they reached the Denver area he found two buyers who wanted to take his whole herd. That resulted in several offers, each of which was higher and he’d finally made a deal at a price considerably higher than he had expected. All that remained was a final count tomorrow morning.
John sighed as he stared into the flames. He would make a small fortune from the sale and he was suddenly tempted to chuck the whole ranching idea and head for southern California and its warmer climate.
"Excuse me, sir."
A man's voice broke into his thoughts and John glanced up, seeing a man in his mid-thirties. "Oh, hello. Can I help you?"
"I hope so. I'm looking for a cattle ranch to buy. Can you point me in the right direction? My name is Jeff Dawson."
"Right pleased to meet you, Jeff," John replied as they shook hands. "I'm John Farnsworth. Have a seat."
As it turned out, Jeff was a shoe salesman from Boston. His dream had always been to move out west and start of a ranch of his own. He asked good questions about the business and their conversation lasted longer than either had planned. The more the young man talked about it, the more excited he became.
“Well, young fella, you certainly seem like you’re rarin’ to go,“ John said finally. “What’s holding ya back?”
“I've wanted to come out here for years, but my wife, Mary Margaret, flatly refused. Her father is the president of our company and she loved the fancy society lifestyle, the parties and all that.”
"You're right," John observed with a chuckle. "That is a problem."
“Yeah. Well, that’s how things stood for a quite a while. But last winter she caught a bad cold, which quickly became Pneumonia. She refused to follow the doctor’s instructions and a few weeks later, she died.”
“Sorry to hear that,” Farnsworth replied. “Must’ve have been hard.”
Dawson nodded. “It was at first, but finally, I realized it was time to make a change. I had already scheduled a sales trip out this way anyway, so after I finished my business, I decided to take some time off and look around.”
“Several places interested me, but they were big places with herds running in the thousands. Not only were they too expensive, but I’ve got a lot to learn before I could manage a place that size.”
Farnsworth thought about that for a moment. “How about a place with about 500 head?”
“Five Hundred? That’s interesting. It should certainly cost less and I could get by with a smaller crew to start with. Sounds like a good place to start. You know of a spread like that?”
“I do. My ranch, the Double-JF. I sold most of my herd this afternoon, leavin’ just enough for breeding. Might be just the right size for a new owner.”
“And you’re thinking about selling it?”
“Yeah. After twenty years this Colorado weather chills me to bone, especially in my knees. They ache somethin’ fierce in cold weather. Last winter was partic’ly bad and I just couldn’t seem to get warm, no matter how much wood I put in the fireplace. I’ve had enough.”
Dawson leaned back in his chair. “Five hundred head, eh? How much are you asking for it.”
“That depends. You lookin’ to move out here sometime soon?”
Jeff laughed. “I’d do it tomorrow if I could. But realistically, I’ll have to wrap up things at home first, plus, of course, the journey is a long one. Probably six to eight months.”
Farnworth thought about that and his aching knees. “How does $100 sound?”
“You can’t be serious.”
“I am. Put $100 on this table and it’s yours. The place is worth more than that, of course, but I don’t care. I just want to get out. And you seem like the kind of man who’d do a good job takin’ care of it.”
The look on Dawson’s face reflected his disbelief. “That sounds like a great deal, John.”
“It is. So…”
“Done,” Jeff said and extended his hand.
The older man smiled as they shook hands. “Congratulations, Jeff. You done bought yourself a cattle ranch.”
During the next hour, Jeff learned a great deal about the Double-JF and he was a bit intimidated when the rancher described the size of the place. But since most of the cattle had been sold, John assured Dawson he could handle it. He just needed an experienced foreman to help him run it. They talked until the restaurant closed and agreed to meet in the morning and discuss it further while the cattle were being counted.
The sunshine returned with the new day and the sale went smoothly. After John and the buyer had shaken hands, John paid off his crew, giving each of them a nice bonus for their hard work. Then he and Jeff went to lunch and then to his bank, where John drew up a bill of sale for the ranch and had it witnessed by several bank employees.
“Congratulations, again, Jeff,” he said with a smile as they shook hands. “And good luck. When you finally get to the ranch, look up a rider by the name of Ryan Dixon. He’s my strong right arm and if he’s still available, he’d be perfect to help you manage the place. I'll wire my lawyer and tell him to prepare the transfer documents.”
That night, staring into the flickering flames at the restaurant, John Farnsworth drew a deep breath, content for the first time in years. After thinking it a long time, he'd finally sold the place. No more long hours and painful winters. There were a few things to take care of, then he could leave for California. The thick money belt hidden under his shirt would ensure him a comfortable life in the years ahead.
“’C’mon, Farnsworth,” he murmured as he dragged himself out the rocking chair. “Get a move on, tomorrow’s another day.”
Arriving back at his hotel, he went right up to his room, weary after a long day. He’d get a good night’s sleep and tomorrow he’d think about the future.
He’s only been in the room for a couple of minutes when he heard a knock at the door.
“Who is it?” he called.
“I have an important telegram for you, Mr. Farnsworth.”
“Oh? Just a moment.”
He opened the door and saw a well-dressed man in his mid-thirties.
“Here you are, sir,” the man said, handing the rancher an envelope.
“Thanks. One moment while I get you something for your trouble.”
Farnsworth walked over to the dresser to pick up a coin. He didn’t hear the quiet footsteps behind him and felt only an instant’s pain when something hit him on the back of the head.
A New Challenge
Blaine, Colorado, 1886, seven months later
The morning sun was well above the top of the buildings as Reese Pickrel and his friends, Clint Stebbins and Billy Joe Randorf, rode toward Blaine. The three young drifters had managed to get four day’s work at a ranch about 20 miles south. That job over and with their pay burning a hole in their pockets, they were ready to blow off some steam. They’d get a bath, a shave and do some gambling a bit later, but right now all they wanted was to grab a beer or two and wash down the trail dust.
On the way to Angel Creek, Clint had suggested robbing the bank. They’d never been to Blaine before and wearing masks they’d be hard to identify.
Reese didn't think much of that idea. “Count me out. I’m plumb beat and if we rob the bank, we’d have to go on the run again. I vote no.”
No surprise there, Reese thought. His friend was a bit reckless and he would sometimes do foolish things at the drop of a hat.
Reese remembered a day last week when Clint had an argument with a saloon girl. He’d slapped her around some to show her who was boss and he was just getting’ into it when Reese pulled him off.
“C'mon, Clint. That's enough. Clint. Leave her alone.”
The woman, named Rose, struggled back to her feet, blood dripping from her lower lip. “You’re a real man, ain’t ya, mister. You make me sick.”
That was the wrong thing to say. Clint jerked free from Reese and hit her with his fist, knocking her down.
“Say that again, lady.” he snarled as he stood over her.
Rose wiped the blood from her face but said nothing as tears streamed down her cheeks. Then she tried to get up, but he kicked her in the stomach. She cried out and doubled over, her hands across her middle.
“Next time, keep your blasted mouth shut.”
He turned away. “Women are weak,” he declared to the whole room. “They talk tough, but they ain’t. Cookin’ and cleanin’, that’s all they’re good for.” Then he grinned. “Yeah, and maybe for one other thing, if you know what I mean.”
Looking back on it, Reese sighed. No doubt about it, Clint didn't have much patience with women, especially if they wouldn't grovel at his feet.
The three young men were almost to Blaine when they heard a gunshot. Fifteen seconds later they heard a second.
"Sounds like someone else is robbin' the bank," Billy Joe suggested.
"Sounds more like a war to me," Clint replied. "Let's check it out."
As they drew closer, they saw a considerable crowd on the sidewalks and the drifters noticed two men standing in the street facing each other.
"Looks like a shootout," Reese observed. "And that looks like a dead horse, too. I wonder what's happened?"
"I'm not fighting you, mister," said the man with his back to them. "I've had enough killing."
A woman's voice? Reese wondered. Really? He'd never seen anything like it. The woman, if that's what she was, wore a man's clothing and had a pair of six-guns belted around her. What in world…?
As they watched, the woman turned toward the general store.
Clint turned to a man standing on the sidewalk. "What's goin' on, mister? We just got here."
"That stranger, a man named McCraken, rode into town just this morning and called out the Carver woman, sayin' she'd killed his brother. When she wouldn't fight him, he shot her horse."
"Aw, that's awful," Billy Joe said. "He didn't have no call to do that."
“Don’t you walk away from me, Carver,” the gunman yelled drawing their attention back to the gunfight.
Carver turned and walked away, but she'd only taken three steps when McCraken drew his gun and fired. The woman stumbled as the bullet hit her in the right arm.
"Now turn around, Carver, or I'll bore you right where you stand."
She turned to face him, bleeding from the wound in her upper right arm.
“I’m not fighting you, mister.”
"A dollar says the stranger takes her," Reese whispered to Billy Joe.
"I dunno," his friend replied. "I think your dollar's wrong."
"Aw, C'mon," hissed Reese, waving a hand at the girl. "Look at her, she's scared to death. Any fool can see that. He'll put her down before you can blink an eye."
The gunman turned to the crowd watching from the sidewalk. “I know what her problem is, folks. She's just plain yella. Shucks, I think I’ll just take those fancy guns o’ hers and send her home to mama."
The crowd laughed and then it happened so fast Reese almost missed it. The woman grabbed her left-hand revolver and pulled it. Caught off guard, the gunman pulled his own weapons as he turned to face her. He was faster than lightning, but Carver had a long head start. He had barely cleared leather when her bullet struck him just above his belt buckle. He doubled over and stumbled back a couple of steps as he tried to stay on his feet.
That brought a gasp of surprise from the surprise of folks watching from the sidewalk.
"You little wildcat," McCraken screamed and lifted his guns to fire. But because of his wound, he couldn't quite lift them high enough and both bullets struck the ground about ten feet short of his target.
A split second later, Carver fired a second time, this time hitting McCraken between the top two buttons on his shirt. The impact knocked him off his feet and his fancy six-guns flew from his hands. The crowd stood in stunned amazement as the gunman landed in the street in a small cloud of dust,
For perhaps ten seconds the young woman remained motionless, the revolver in her outstretched hand and a thin wisp of smoke curling upward from the barrel. She finally took a deep breath, lowered the weapon and turned away from the still body in front of her. Tears running down her face, she knelt beside the black horse, touching his muzzle one last time.
"Man, the Carver gal was fast," said Billy Joe as they watched in awe. "That'll be one dollar, please." He held out his hand.
Reese grunted. "That wasn't fast. McCracken was careless." He slapped a coin into his friend's hand. "C'mon. Let's go get a beer."
"I can't believe she wouldn't fight," Billy Joe said as he watched the Carver woman get to her feet and turn into the general store. "If he'd shot my horse, I woulda bored him right on the spot. That's a fact."
Inside the general store, Gail Youngfellow Johansen wiped away her tears as she turned away from the front window. How awful. Beth had not wanted to fight, but she’d had no choice and now she’d killed another man. Where would it end?
Gail’s brother Nate had been Beth’s friend and mentor, but they’d only known each other a few days before he was killed in an ambush. Beth had come to Blaine to tell Gail of his death.
The bell over the door tinkled and Beth stumbled inside, blood dripping from her shirtsleeve.
“Why?” she asked and Gail could hear the sob in her voice. “Why do men act like that? I didn’t want to fight him. I didn’t! But when he shot Midnight, it was . . . it was . . .”
Gail gave her young friend a big hug. After a minute or so, Beth stepped back.
“You know, someone told me this would happen,” she said with a sigh. “That men would come after me and try to kill me. I guess now I believe it.”
Beth took a deep breath and Gail was startled at the determined look on her young face.
“Well, no more. I’ve had enough.” As the older woman watched in surprise, Beth Carver took off her guns and dumped them on the counter. Then she turned without a word and headed for the door.
"Women are weak," Clint reminded his friends with his usual sneer. "They try to act tough, but they ain't, not when it counts."
"She killed McCracken, didn't she?" Billy Joe declared.
Reese liked Billy Joe, but sometimes he was dumb. "Oh, C'mon," he retorted, "it was luck, pure and simple. If McCraken had been payin' attention, he woulda done her the instant she touched her Colt." He stopped as they reached an alleyway between the buildings and turned to face Billy Joe.
"Listen, I knew a gal like her once in Grand Junction. Name was Amanda something or other. Anyway, some drunken cowboy killed her husband over a card game. This Amanda gal swore she'd get even. She strapped on a six-gun and went looking for him."
"She did?" asked Billy Joe, his eyes wide. "That took a lot of courage."
"It was a fool thing to do. She showed up in the saloon and called him out. Everybody started takin' bets on it."
"Well," demanded Billy Joe in exasperation, "what happened?"
"He killed her. She never cleared leather. He shot her three times before she hit the floor." Reese shrugged. "Same thing would've happened to Carver if the kid had been payin' attention."
Clint nodded. "Like I always say, some women talk tough, but they ain’t got it when the shootin’ starts.”
They watched for a few moments as several men picked up the body of the gunman and headed up the street to the undertaker. Then Billy Joe noticed Carver come out of the store. She was unarmed.
"Look there," he said as she came in their direction. "Here she comes."
"She don't look like no gunfighter to me," Clint said, a sneer in his voice. "Especially without all the iron hangin' around her."
He turned to his friends. "You know, I think somebody needs to help her outta them pants. Then smack her on the bottom and send her home to put on a dress."
Reese grinned. "Yeah? And I suppose you're just the man to do it, huh?"
"Well, why not," retorted Clint. "I just don't know what I should do first, take off the pants or give her smack on the bottom."
She came toward them, a cold look on her face. Billy Joe could see the bloodstain on her sleeve and from the way she carried her arm, it must be hurting her.
"Hello, Miss Gunfighter," Clint said, tipping his hat as she came up to them. "Where ya goin' in such a hurry?" The woman made no reply and tried to walk around them, but he stepped in front of her.
Carver glanced up at him. "You're blocking the sidewalk, mister."
"I am?" Clint recoiled like he'd been slapped. "Well now, ma'am," he replied in a mocking voice, "I surely am sorry. I certainly wouldn't want to get in the way of a big, tough gunfighter like you."
"Stop calling me that," she demanded. "I'm not a gunfighter."
"Well now, ma'am, there's a man down at the undertaker's who'd dispute that if he could."
She took a deep breath. "Look, mister, I didn't want to fight, he forced it. Please, just move aside and let me pass."
"I can't rightly do that, ma'am. I told my friends here I was gonna help ya outta them pants and into a dress."
"Don't forget about smackin' her on the bottom," added Reese with a grin.
Billy Joe chuckled as the woman glared at Clint. This was turning out to be a good show. Then Carver turned away and stepped down into the street, apparently wishing to avoid a confrontation. She'd only taken three steps when Clint grabbed her by the arm. Spinning her around, he pinned her against a nearby hitching rail.
"What's the hurry, Miss Gunfighter? We're not done yet.” So saying, he reached down and began to unfasten her pants. "We'll have these off in no time."
Billy Joe gaped. Clint was going to undress her in front of the whole town?
Then Carver stomped hard on his foot. Billy Joe winced as his friend howled in pain, hobbling around as if someone has dropped an anvil on his toes. Carver gave Clint a shove and he lost his balance, landing in street in a big cloud of dust.
Carver turned to face Reese, an angry expression on her face. "How about you, mister? You want some of me, too?"
Reese held up his hands. "Not me. Clint always was a little stupid."
"Well, tell him to keep his hands to himself. Next time he might get hurt."
Carver started to walk away, but she’d only taken a few steps when Billy Joe called after her. “Excuse me, ma’am."
She stopped and glanced back over her shoulder. “Yes?"
"I uh, well, I jest wanted to say I’m shore sorry about your horse. The black looked like a mighty fine animal.”
Her face softened. "He was,” she replied. “Thanks.”
She tipped her hat to him and turned away. Reese stared at his friend in surprise. “Billy Joe, what are you doin’? She made us look bad in front of the whole town.”
Billy Joe glanced across the street. People were watching from the sidewalk and most were chuckling as they turned away. He felt his face grow red with embarrassment. Reese was right; the Carver woman had made them look bad.
Reese walked over to Clint, grabbed him by the hand, and pulled him to his feet. "C'mon. Let's go grab a beer."
Clint jerked away and looked up the street in Carver's direction. "No woman's gonna treat me like that!"
His hand dropped to his side and with a grunt, he pulled his gun, centering it in the middle of Beth Carver's back.
Before he could shoot, Reese grabbed his arm and pulled it toward the ground. "What are you doing, Clint? Calm down, will ya?"
"I'm gonna kill that female!" Clint snarled.
"In front of the whole town?" Reese retorted. "You're gonna shoot an unarmed woman in the back?"
Clint tried to pull his arm free, but Reese held on. "Ease up, Clint. This ain't the time to settle with her."
Clint took a deep breath. Reese felt his friend relax and released his grip on Clint's arm. "C'mon," he said, "let's go down to the saloon. I'll buy the first round."
Clint took a last look down the street. "I'm still gonna kill her. You mark my words."
As the three men headed down the sidewalk, Sam Johnson stepped out from behind the pile of shipping crates in the alleyway, having witnessed the entire episode. That Clint sure is a hothead. If he ain't careful, he's going to get himself killed.
He headed across the street to the cafe, thinking about Clint's words. You want to kill her, do you, Clint? Fine, you'll just have to get in line. A few weeks back Sam had tried to rough up Carver himself. Like Clint, he had come out on the losing end, but in his case, he'd spent some time in jail because of it. Now in his mid-forties, Sam was prematurely gray and he was a bitter, angry man at the best of times, He had sworn to get even with Carver and followed her to Blaine to watch the McCraken kid gun her down.
Just as he stepped outside, he was surprised to see Carver riding down the street. He quickly turned away for fear she'd recognize him. After she passed, he turned back and noticed she'd changed to a different shirt. She'd probably been to see the doctor.
Then Sam noticed Carver was unarmed. Really? Maybe I should follow her. Once she gets out of town, it would be easy enough to shoot her right out of the saddle.
That brought a grin to his face. Yeah, and just leave her for the buzzards. He had only taken a few steps toward the livery stable when he remembered the hot-tempered kid named Clint. That gave him an idea.
The rusty hinges of the batwing doors squeaked when Sam pushed his way into the saloon. He bought himself a beer and turned casually to survey the room. The three young men were sitting by themselves in the corner. None of them even looked up when Sam sat down at the table next to them.
The forest north of town was a good place to come when a person wanted to be alone. It was very quiet and only the occasional cry of a small animal broke the silence. A short distance from the road, a horse grazed contentedly in the tall grass. Nearby, Elizabeth Carver walked slowly among the trees, oblivious to the beauty that surrounded her.
She was a tall woman, within an inch or two of six feet and more straight up and down than most. Her long hair was a reddish-gold, much like autumn leaves, but most times she kept it up under her hat. Her tomboy lifestyle had gotten her a good deal of ridicule and made her the subject of much gossip over the years.
Seeing the trunk of a fallen tree, Beth sighed and sat down, picking a couple of wildflowers from a clump at her feet. They were pretty and it wasn't so long ago she would have enjoyed taking them home for the dinner table. But home was many miles away and two men were dead by her hand.
Coming to Blaine had been a mistake. Gail had been kind, but other folks in town proved to be just as cruel as the townspeople back home. They either made snide remarks or refused to talk to her at all. At least at home, she was with her father and people she knew. The thought surprised her. Despite the gossip of the old women and the teasing cowboys, she did have some real friends back home.
Beth got up and wandered over to a small stream nearby. She got a drink and splashed some of the cool water on her face, thinking of Dick Thorne, her childhood friend and someone she'd always dreamed of marrying. She remembered the sad look on his face the day she left. Maybe it was time for a new start like they'd talked about.
All at once Elizabeth Carver wished she were already home. She caught up the mare's reins and swung up in the saddle. Tomorrow she would pack her things and head out.
She was thinking about home when she rounded a curve and two men stepped into the road in front of her. They were the same men she'd seen in town. What are they doing out here?
Something about the look on their faces made her instantly alert. The man on the left said something to his companion and both laughed as they came toward her. Beth pulled her horse to a stop, wondering what they wanted.
"Hello, Carver," the older one called. "We've been waiting for you."
"Waiting for me?" she asked as they drew closer. "Why?"
"We wanted to have a little talk with you," he replied. "Ain't that right, Billy Joe?"
His friend nodded, an eager grin on his face. "That's right, Reese. And I found just the place, too. It's back in the woods a bit and it's got soft pine needles on the ground and we're gonna--"
"Billy Joe," Reese told him. "You talk too much."
"But, Reese, I thought we was gonna--"
"Shut up, Billy Joe. Let me handle this."
Beth had heard enough. “Whatever you've got in mind, gentlemen. I want no part of it. And where's that friend of yours? The one with the smart mouth?"
"Right behind you, Carver."
Beth's head snapped around, and she was startled to see Clint standing just a few feet behind her, his gun pointed at her back.
"Hello again, Miss Gunfighter," he taunted. "As Reese said, we've been waiting for you.”
Her heart pounding, Beth stared at Clint, shocked at the sudden turn of events, her mind racing as she realized the situation had just turned deadly.
This is the end of the preview. If you’re interested in reading more, please contact me and we’ll see if we can work something out.