Between a Rifle and a Ranger – Ch. 3

Reid sat on his horse staring at the sign for Louisville. He was already closer to the city than he really cared to be and knew it would be risky heading into town. It had been a full day since he ran out of his last rations that Ed had given him. He knew he had to make the decision. Worse, he also had no way to purchase any goods. This would only leave him with the option to steal what he would need, and risk being caught. Or, he could just starve. Reid was seriously beginning to consider the second choice. Nonetheless, he knew that would never be a reasonable outcome. Reid had made his mind up a long time ago that the only reasonable outcome right now is survival by any means necessary. If it meant he had to steal, cheat and lie, he would. ‘Aint tryin’ to hurt no one though.’ He thought to himself. Reid figured he would try to slide in somewhere during the night and grab what he needed, this way he would have less of a chance of confrontation. He knew confrontation would only arouse suspicion and that type of attention was not what his current situation needed. ‘Well, shit.’ He said to himself as he gave Ace a little kick and trotted off in the direction of Louisville.

There hadn’t been many people Reid had crossed paths with since leaving Ed’s farm except for the occasional stranger passing him by. Always leery of those who passed by, he never got close enough to talk or say anything for fear of disclosing too much to any one person. Maybe he was just being paranoid. Reid wondered if the other Marshall’s were even chasing him. Hell, he wondered if they even knew of him. By this time though, they would have asked enough questions around town to know that there were two boys on the farm and not just his little brother. However, the real question Reid had been wondering since he left his home was if news had spread to Louisville already. ‘Would they really go to that great of length to bring justice to a kid who killed a piece of shit like that man? Maybe; maybe not’ He thought. He figured if they did that news would spread down the Ohio River by this time. He only grew more anxious with the more he thought about the situation and he would need his wits about him if he was going to be stealing anything in town. Then Reid remembered, he had never really stolen anything before. Except for that time, he got caught trying to steal some hard candy from Wilson’s Post when he was six. This was different. He didn’t have the luxury of getting caught and only getting worked over with a switch. He had no other choice but to walk away with supplies for the days ahead.

Reid could hear the city of Louisville off in the distance and knew he was close. There was something different about the air around here though. It wasn’t thin or crisp; like just before a spring rain, but heavy like how mud would feel if it was layered on your skin or clothes. It smelled rancid and rotten like the under belly of a hog that had been rolling in its own slop. He didn’t much care for the smell. But he reminded himself he wasn’t here for the smell or the debauchery. He was here because for a reason. He was here because he had no other choice.

Reid could see the lights through the trees and pulled back on Ace’s reins. ‘Supposin it’s too late to talk myself outta this.’ Reid said to himself. He slid off his saddle, rifle in hand and walked Ace into a small draw that was out of sight. He tied the reins around a small tree, ‘If you’re planning on talkin me outta this, now would be a good time to say something.’ Ace just stared blankly at Reid. ‘Yeah I figured as much. I’ll be back in an hour or two.’ Said Reid. He gave Ace a pat on his jaw and trudged off toward Louisville.

He could hear the music from the saloons and bordellos as he got closer and figured he would stay as far away from them as he could. Reid cradled his rifle in one arm as he hiked up his duster close to his face and pulled his hat down a little lower. He finally entered the city limits as the sun receded from the sky casting its last rays of light on the buildings for the night. For a moment, Reid watched the rays of amber and shades of red fade away over the tops of the buildings. It was the first time he had been to a city and had never seen buildings so big before. Just as the light was dying, Reid snapped out of his dream and caught a glimpse of a small stand-alone general store. There were no lamps lit in the store, but he made his way over to a window and peeked inside to see if anyone was still closing up the store. Luckily, it looked as if they had already closed the place down for the night. Reid strolled behind the store and looked around he could hear a couple of drunks yelling at each other in an alley. He walked to the front of the building and took another look around. There were only a few people walking about the main street, probably heading towards the saloon up the road a ways. The coast was clear, but Reid could feel a stranger’s eyes burning a hole in his back. He took a large lap around the surroundings, checking behind boxes and barrels, but still he saw no one. He leaned up against the back door of the shop and turned the knob. ‘Come on you didn’t really think it would be unlocked, did you?’ he thought to himself. He gave another look around fully expecting to catch a glimmer of eyes in the middle of the night. Still, nothing. He took the butt of his rifle and tapped the glass testing how hard he would need to hit it. He raised his rifle and ran the stock through the glass window pane. Reaching through the window, he unlocked door. ‘Okay, need a bag.’ He grabbed a burlap sack and stuffed it with dried meat, bread and dried fruit. Perfect. He could make this last for a solid week.

He exited the store and decided to take a different route back to Ace away from the main street. Each alley he passed was like a vein that flowed into a main artery of corruption and sin. The arteries carried the sadists to the pumping heart of the city where they were resurrected with the vigor of malice and driven back into the alleys to start the vicious cycle over again. The immoral self-indulgence didn’t bother Reid, maybe because he had seen it so many times before while he was growing up. The violence of the city felt natural like a familiar friend he hadn’t seen in weeks. He was raised in the malevolence of the Marshall; it hardened his soul and filled his heart with malice. The hate is what drove him to this point and it would take him farther.

Reid knew he only had to make it past the two drunks in the alley and then he would have a clear route back to Ace.  The drunks were still yelling as Reid was walking past the alley. He glanced down the alley way and realized it wasn’t just two drunks. There was a burley man on top of a naked whore, who apparently wasn’t good at pickpocketing. ‘Avoid attention.’ he thought to himself. He could hear the man beating her body and felt his blood pressure rise with each dull thud of his fist. ‘Just keep walking’ he told his conscience. His mind flashed to the Marshall mercilessly beating his mother. Then he heard the whore struggle to let out a smothered cry for help. Reid felt his blood boil and his heart begin to beat in his throat. He dropped his burlap sack of rations and quietly walked up behind the burly man.

“Fuckin whore! Try to steal from me!?” yelled the burly man.

Reid planted the butt of his rifle square on the side of the man’s head. The man crumpled and rolled over to his back.

“What the fu-”

Before the man could say another word, Reid delivered another shot with the butt of his rifle on the man’s face. He could feel the man’s occipital bone give way and his stock sink into his skull. The man lay motionless as Reid stood above him, rifle in hand, the stock dripping blood. He stared at the dead man. He felt nothing. No satisfaction. No pride. No glory for doing what he thought was right. Nothing, completely void of all emotion. He knelt beside the burly man and searched him for anything he could use. He had some tobacco in his chest pocket, a bit of money in his coat pocket, but no gun on his hip. ‘Damn’ he thought to himself. He checked the man’s other hip and found an iron tomahawk with a wooden handle. He checked its edge, it was plenty sharp. Reid stood up and looked down at the naked whore, her face swollen and her eyes barely open. She mouthed the words ‘thank you’. Reid simply nodded, slid the tomahawk into his belt and walked away. He grabbed his stolen goods and made his way back to Ace.

He was leaving the city limits and saw a couple of wanted posters nailed up on a board. For the hell of it, he figured he would take a look. He ripped them down and did his best to read them in the moonlight. He breathed a sigh of relief when he found that none of them were for him. So, they weren’t chasing him after all. Reid grinned and dropped the posters on the ground and continued toward Ace. The feeling was still there though. It was always there. It was present when he stole the goods from the store, when he killed the man in the alley, and even now heading out of the city. He decided to just ignore it and kept on making his way back to Ace.

Reid knew the man he killed wouldn’t be found until the morning and chances are no one would really miss him anyway. He figured he would make camp for the night in the draw where he left Ace. He set his burlap sack down beside his horse and leaned his rifle against the tree. He began to un-cinch his saddle…

“You ain’t half bad at thievin.” Said a voice in the darkness.

Reid wheeled around, rifle in hand “Who the fuck are you!?”

“I ain’t mean you no harm.” Said the voice

Reid turned trying to follow the voice and listen for footsteps. He heard nothing. He ducked under Ace. “An’ how am I supposed to know that!?”

“You don’t. But I be the first to tell you, I ain’t no friend neither. Figurin’ we can prolly help each other fer a bit.”

“I don’t need your fuckin help! Soon as I find you, I’m gonna break your fuckin neck.”

Right then, Reid felt an arm wrap around his chest and the cold steel of a bowie knife press up under his jaw. Whomever the voice was had a clear shot to his throat. “I aint mean you no harm. But if’n you make me, I’ll cut yer damn head off.”

Reid dropped his rifle on the ground.

“Good. Now, finish makin’ your camp and lets eat, shall we?”

Reid got his saddle off Ace and laid it on the ground. He was in no position to make a move on this person as they had the upper hand, and his rifle now. Reid propped himself against his saddle and rustled through his burlap sack he threw the stranger some dried beef and fruit.

“What the fuck is this? You don’t cook?” said the stranger.

“No fires.” Replied Reid.

The stranger sat down across from Reid and leaned his back up against a tree. “Don’t worry, you’ll get your rifle back. Not much for the long gun myself.” The stranger showed Reid his pair of revolvers on his hips. “They ain’t exactly the best in my line of business.”

“An’ what is your line of business?” asked Reid

“Thievin’, which you ain’t half bad at by the way. ‘Cept for the whole killin people after you do it. You should think about my line of work, instead of murderin folks.” Said the stranger. Reid realized that the stranger was the man he had felt watching him the whole time. He just played dumb and gave the stranger a weird look. “Come on kid, it ain’t hard to figure out. Anyone who travels as light as you are is runnin from someone. Hell, you won’t even start a fire cause you don’t want someone to see it. In fact, I’m bettin yer that crazy sum bitch them Marshalls are after.”

Reid’s heart sank into the pit of his stomach. They were after him. And they were close. Deep down though he knew they would come for him eventually. No one can just kill a U.S. Marshall and get away with it. Reid decided he would play dumb a little longer to find out more. “What Marshalls?” said Reid

“Over heard a few Marshalls today tellin the Sherriff that they were in town lookin fer a young skinny kid with reddish brown hair. Said he was carryin’ a rifle too, one a kid his age had no business carryin’. No offense, but you fit every part of that bill. Said he been on the run since West Virgina and may be heading this way. They says he been killin folk along the way. Says he murdered his own damn family in cold blood. Shot his daddy with his own rifle too and painted his naked body with his own blood. The way you killed that man in the alley, I may just believe them Marshalls.”

“What you gonna turn me in for some reward or some shit?” Reid replied.

The stranger gave a little laugh, “Hell no. The bounty they got on yer head right now aint worth the boots I got on my feet. Besides, I can’t turn no one in fer a bounty unless I’m plannin’ on collectin’ the one on my own head first.” Reid relaxed a little bit. At least he knew this stranger wasn’t about to turn him in. “But they want you something fierce kid. Said they was fixin on getting a posse together. Fuckin Marshalls. They don’t stop until they’re dead or find who they lookin for.”

The two sat in silence for awhile after that, listening to the sound of the woods and the coyotes off in the distance. Reid finally piped up “He weren’t my father ya know.”

“Yeah, I figured some shit about all that weren’t true. Them papers got a way of twistin things round to how the law sees fit. Gotta talk to the man who was there to get a read on what actually happened. Or in this case, the kid. I can tell you aint the crazy sum bitch they say you are. I do believe you killed that Marshall though. And I do believe you aint sorry for a damn bit of it. You got some hate buried in yer heart, I can see it your eyes. Seen it when you killed that man in the alleyway. That kind of rage do things to a man’s mind if he don’t let it go.” Said the stranger.

“Good thing I plan on letting it go then.” Said Reid assertively.

The stranger gave another little laugh, “Nothin ever works out how you’re figurin it will though. The sooner you figure that out the better off you are kid. This constant livin on the move and runnin, you can’t be tryin to have things figured out. You gotta worry about today and where them men are that are after you. That’s how you stay ahead of’em. You try to have things planned out and you just end up shootin yerself in the foot. See when you plan these things out you only ‘spect one thing, when you gotta ‘spect everything. They used to ‘spect me to rob the next bank. See they had it planned out, problem was they didn’t ‘spect me to rob that train.”

Reid thought to himself ‘He robs banks and trains?’ Then he finally realized who he was sitting across from. He was one of the men he saw on the wanted posters. His name was Bill Carson. Reid had heard about the man before, stories say he started robbing banks when he was just ten years old and later became a gunslinger for which he was known. Being from Louisiana, Reid didn’t know how he didn’t catch on to his accent. “Shit, you’re Bill Carson ain’t ya?”

“In the flesh. Not quite what them stories make me out tuh be though.”

He was right. Everything Reid heard says the man had a temper and was quicker than a rattlesnake with his guns. Heard he would kill a man just as soon as he looked at him. But this guy sitting in front him was different. Calm and collected, with his wits about him. He was intelligent but didn’t talk like it. “With all do respect, I heard you were meaner than a mountain lion.”

“I used to, believe me I did. That was long time ago though. Learnt it was better to be smart than mean. Easier fer people to trust you that way. Hopefully, it don’t take you long as it took me to know that.” said Bill.

“Is it true that you named your guns Sword and Scale?” asked Reid.

“Naw that’s just them papers again tellin tall tales. They say I was a man of the people and handed out justice, by ‘Sword’ or by ‘Scale’. Truth be, I killed who I was paid to kill. An’ I was damn good at it too. T’was how I let go of my hate back den.” Replied Bill.

Reid thought about what Bill had just said “So if you was so damn good at killin people, why the hell did you stop?”

“Well it turns out, there only so much killin a man can do ‘fore it gets to him. Least that’s how it turned out for me. It was a rich man, some sort of old money in his family. Had himself a damn big plantation he did. Paid me good money to kill this man in town that been sleepin with his wife. And I did. Shot dat man while he was cleanin himself. Wasn’t ‘spectin that woman to turn a gun on me though. Ain’t never seen fear like that in no ones eyes before. She weren’t tryin to kill me outta rage or anger, she’s jus tryin to defend herself. Suppose it wasn’t the first time I seen that type of fear though. But it damn sure was the first time I noticed it. Killed that woman in cold blood, I did. Didn’t have to, coulda jus wounded her. But I wanted to. Weren’t paid to kill her neither, but I did. I do believe killin that woman was more killin than my soul could handle. Ain’t slept a full night since that day. Don’t matter where I am she always finds me. Suppose it’s God’s punishment fer what I done.”

Reid looked down “Bill, what the hell did you want with me?”

Bill grinned “Hell, I jus needed to eat an’ figure someone who jus got done stealin some would have somthin better den dried fuckin meat.” They both laughed and talked on into the night.

Reid woke the next morning to a rain drop hitting him in the face. ‘Fuck.’ He said to himself. He hopped up and looked around. Bill was nowhere to be found. He was gone just as fast as he had come. Bill kept his word though and left Reid’s rifle leaning on the tree. Reid looked up at the sky, it was gray with rain. He looked north and saw the darkness rolling in. He could feel the air air change and run cold electricity over his skin. ‘Yepp, this is gonna be a big storm.’ He said to Ace. Reid saddled up his horse and tied down his burlap sack to the back of the saddle. He grabbed his rifle and mounted Ace.

Reid rode up the small draw to the top of the hill and turned around to look at Louisville. He didn’t much care for the town but he found himself wishing he could stay for a while longer. He knew this was not where he would stop. He was far from being done; his journey was far from being over. With no place to stay, the storm would drive him further. Reid stared at the thunderheads rolling in and wondered which storm was going to catch him first…

 

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