[EFC Blue Ribbon - Free Speech Online]

Posse

Part 1 of 3

Published: Published: Bewildering Stories issue #158

Summer, 1874 / Kasher Point, Wyoming

The light yellow haze from extended drought seemed to hang like soft fog over the town. Dust kicked up by boots, hooves, and wagon wheels alike caught in the back of the throat adding to the suffering of unfortunates who were out in the unbearable heat.

From the relative comfort of his saddle, Marshal Augustus Poe watched as two burly men bathed in sweat carried another dead body out through the open double doors of the Agarose.

The two-story clapboard tavern was renowned for its rough trades of gambling and cheap liquor. To add to the surliness of the establishment, the owner had women on hand for the pleasures of the passing traveler and local alike, but only if they were willing to pay the price.

Poe took note of several other bodies lying quiet in the dirt as he guided his palomino along the main street of Kasher Point, Wyoming.

Apparently, the town was trying to clean itself up as best it could under what remained of the late afternoon sun. The unwavering stretch of heat and lack of rain would likely keep the local undertaker busy until winter. All it ever took was a spark; flared tempers with pistols drawn only led to dire circumstances for all involved. Dirt was dirt; it didn’t really care if you were right or wrong when it covered your coffin.

Figuring to have missed the most recent action at the Agarose by less than a day, he was saddened to see that there were a few women mixed with the men as they lay peacefully in wait for their turn with the rough pine boxes that would hold them.

A lanky, dark haired man, his face ravaged by pockmarks, wore a black top hat and coat as he directed the efforts of others while they worked along the street. He had the look of the average undertaker — tall, thin and gaunt with the perpetual frown that came with the job. No one ever seemed to enjoy the thankless job that came with burying the dead.

Dark eyes beneath the brim of the top hat measured Poe as the tall, angular Marshal passed by. No undertaker worth his salt missed a new arrival that might be in need of his business sooner than later — especially if the newcomer just happened to be wearing a badge as this one was.

Sighing heavily, the undertaker realized he might need more pine before nightfall. It was just the way of the west as far as he was concerned.

With long hair bleached white by the sun and skin dark and creased from the soft caress of the wind as he traveled, Poe had managed to grow a wisp of beard that was showing up dark but red with a little gray mixed in.

Unfortunately, it also served to give people the idea that he was an older man than he actually was. He had considered a clean shave, but decided against it for the time being. He’d wait to see how the beard finished growing in.

One look into the dark pearl gray of his eyes showed hard experience mixed with layered depths of grit and determination. The reputation of honesty and incorruptibility usually preceded him; cutting into the amount of prospective challenges to his authority. His willingness to demonstrate prowess with pistol or long gun alike while defending the law remained rarely questioned.

Hot lead from whatever had made work for the undertaker had vented holes haphazardly across the outer walls and tall doors of the Agarose. It looked to have been one hell of a gunfight, making him glad he had not been part of it.

Dismounting at the rail in front of the Sheriff’s office, Poe watched as several flatbed wagons rolled by on their way to collect the boxes. Too much pine for one hearse to handle meant livery wagons would have to haul off the dead. Wasn’t the first time he’d seen it happen and probably not the last. Each driver sat hunched over his reins as if already regretting what it was they had to do.

With his horse properly tied, he stepped up onto the boardwalk and walked toward the Sheriff’s open door.

“Took you long enough. Just sent the goddamn telegraph a couple hours ago.” The familiar deep basso voice of Sheriff Franklin Tombs rumbled out to greet him from within. “Hell, Poe, you should have warned me you were coming. I haven’t had time to properly hide the whiskey or lock away the women folk.”

“Good to see you, too, Franklin,” Poe replied easily, walking into the single room office with a smile. It felt good to shake the beefy hand of his old friend once again. “Though from what I hear of the women around here, they’re no better than the weak lemon water you pass off as whisky to the common traveler, or I might be offended by such a crude and callous remark.”

Franklin Tombs had been the man responsible for talking Poe into joining up as a Marshal, although Poe himself often referred to it more as a hard twist of the arm rather than simple conviction that caused him to wear a badge.

They had roamed the territories together for several years before Tombs suddenly up and quit to take the Sheriff’s job he now held. Once settled, he married a local woman and between them produced a couple of children to chase after them, last Poe had heard.

At six-foot-six, Tombs had the thick-muscled build of someone who could easily wrestle a bull to the ground barehanded. His ample bulk served as simple intimidation rather than the twin six-shooters he wore, easily quieting most problems that arose amongst the locals. Poe noticed his friend had lost much of his dark brown hair since he had last been out this way. Thinning remnants wrapped around the bald spot atop his head and showed hints of gray.

Having never been one to waste time with idle conversation, Tombs pulled out a half-empty bottle of whiskey and two shot glasses, leading to several toasts of old friends and the badges they had worn.

When they finished, Poe put his glass down and looked at his friend. “You mentioned something about the telegraph earlier. I hate to take credit for showing up to answer it; but truth be told, I just happened to be riding through the area and wanted to stop by to give my regards. Seems there are a lot of dead folks out there, care to tell me what happened?”

“You remember old Henry Plummer?” Tombs asked, tipping his head back to drain the last of his shot.

“The Sheriff of Bannack City back in the early sixties?” Poe replied with some surprise. “Wasn’t he strung up with a couple of his deputies around January of sixty-four?”

“That they were. Along with several other men, whose collective guilt is still being debated to this day.” Tombs sat forward to rest his elbows on the desk. “There was also a Mexican greaser by the name of Pizanthia who was killed three ways to Sunday by the same mob.”

Tombs paused to pour another shot and sucked it down. Given the nature of the work going on in the street of his town, Poe couldn’t blame the man for finding comfort in the shots. He’d probably known most of the people that had died.

“Trapped the son of a bitch in his cabin and used a goddamned howitzer to bring it down around him when he wouldn’t come out peacefully. Damned fools then emptied a gun into him before stringing him up half dead. Shot him full of lead once his feet left the ground simply because he was stubborn enough not to be dead in the first place.”

Tombs sat back in his chair causing a loud creak of protest as it shifted beneath his bulk. “Burned him up and what was left of his place after that; damned cowards. The day I shoot a man that I had just strung up with a hundred rounds of lead...” Tombs downed another shot and pushed the empty glass away in disgust.

“I take it that greaser had something to do with your problem today? Kind of hard to do when you’re dead and all like that.” Poe said with a smile, while Tombs just looked at him with a straight face and a frown.

“A man in town used to work out that way and knew of Pizanthia and the whore he kept. White woman, about twenty-five to thirty; had long auburn red hair and skin that bordered on pale. Everyone called her Medusa. Damn greaser whored her out when he could and made good money doing it. Perhaps too good, given the company she kept if you know what I mean.”

Poe patiently waited for Tombs to continue, refusing another shot. Tombs simply capped the bottle and pushed it aside.

“Now it seems this whore was always around the greaser’s cabin working her business, day and night. When that mob finally came for him, someone keeping an eye on the greaser saw her go into the cabin with him all cozy like just before the mob got there. Neither hide nor hair of her was found after he was dragged out of the place, or after it was burned to the ground.”

“I’m guessing you’ve run across Pizanthia’s whore recently?”

Tombs nodded, glancing out the window at the failing light. “Night before last, Graven pulled in with a new stable full and set them right to work. One of them was a white woman who had long auburn red hair and skin that bordered on pale. Even called herself Medusa when asked.”

Tombs paused a moment before continuing. “To fully understand just how strange this is going to sound, you’ll have to listen with an open mind for a bit.”

“Sure,” Poe replied, sensing the seriousness of his friend’s mood.

“Two slick looking, middle-aged gambler types wearing wire rimmed spectacles came in on yesterday’s stage. Pin-striped suits, fancy vests, waxed moustaches and bowlers like those you see in the big cities. They set about trying to sliver off a few shares of the local’s pocket change with a few card tricks. It was going well till they got called on it and a fight broke out earlier today.”

Tombs rose to his feet and began to move around behind his desk as he spoke. It reminded Poe of when the big man had paced by the campfire talking strategy when they were trailing a felon.

“Now, even though they usually don’t allow weapons when gambling, that hasn’t seemed to stop anyone from carrying one. Hayden Cork and Miller Thompson each pulled their guns, as did the gambler, with shots exchanged all around. Dorsey Levin managed to duck down and watched the gambler take bullets from both men. Apparently the gambler then returned the favor by killing Thompson outright and wounding Cork without slowing down.”

Tombs stood behind his chair with both hands on the back of it. “All hell broke loose after that and it became a free for all. Everyone who had a gun pulled it out and started blasting. Those who survived recalled both gamblers being hit more than once and never even flinching. Claim their eyes just started to glow dark red after they were hit.”

The sound of horses pulling a heavy wagon echoed in through the doorway as it passed the office. It was a bit unsettling knowing what it was that the wagon might be carrying.

“Medusa, who was upstairs with a client, apparently came out when the fireworks started; wearing a flowing red dress and open bodice with a shawl. She must have startled someone by her sudden appearance at the rail. They shot her square in the chest. Damn whore fell over the rail and collapsed an otherwise perfectly good card table flat down to the ground when she landed on it spilling chips, cards and liquor over everything.”

Poe waited out his friend’s pause as he pictured the scene.

“Funny thing is that she didn’t stay down long. Got up and started slashing people with a razor. Craziest thing I heard was when Wild Bill Davenport managed to get a straight bead on her with his pistol; she just walked up to him and batted his gun away. Slit his throat without Wild Bill making much of a struggle to stop her. He just stood there and let her do it. She finished him with one swipe. Ear to ear, caused quite the gusher.”

Poe almost pointed out that it wasn’t all that uncommon for whores to carry razors in case of trouble. They were easy to hide and quick to use. But his friend would have known that, just as he did.

“’Bout that time, the gamblers and the whore Medusa must have decided to skedaddle their way out and grabbed a couple more whores for insurance. Saddled up and were on their way out by the time I showed up with my carbine.”

* * *

Continued


Copyright © 2004, 2005 by Robert L. Sellers Jr. All rights reserved.
Please do not use without permission of the author.

Return to top


mY Guest Book

Table of Contents


Tales of the Weird Wild West