Authors: Eric Barkett
More shots fired. Adolf fully standing charged forward. While it may have reached close to Jed’s height it was much wider and bristled with muscles like a circus strongman. Lead flew through the air as the guns rocked in Jed’s hands. Shooting as fast as he could to pump as many bullets into his opponent. Staggering, the werewolf nonetheless ignored the bullets showering its chest. It roared ready to end the gunslinger’s life and Jed bellowed while sending his last cartridge screaming into its maw. The werewolf dropped between his legs to the ground, dead.
Jed groaned and breathed in relief. He kicked its open mouth away from him in disgust. The gunslinger went to his feet. The Kruger in his left hand raised. His wounded right arm hung by his side. Jed did not aim at the dead werewolf. He aimed at the new werewolf on the outskirts of the campfire’s light. By comparison to Adolf this one was much smaller.
Like its brethren the werewolf had thick tuffs of fur around its head, shoulders, and groin. Its midsection was covered in thin fur, not as dark or long. Its teeth were bare and the yellow eyes thirsty for blood. Jed remained calm, his revolver unmoving. Hopefully, the werewolf did not count his shots, for Jed did and he knew his chambers were empty. Its yellow eyes locked onto his pale ones. One agonizing moment the gunslinger and beast stared. The werewolf stepped into the shadows and disappeared.
After it had gone Jed did not move. He watched the shadows even as the blood flowed from his chest. Even as it dripped down his arm, wetting the handle of his Colt. Several minutes passed before the chestnut calmed down. The spent cartridges of his guns dropped to the ground. Jed picked out the bullets attached to his gun belt and loaded the chambers. Then he started patching himself up.
The train grinded to a long slow stop, the wheels braking hundreds of feet before the station. Sluggishly, it crossed the last feet, lining its passenger cart with the platform. With a final shudder, a gasp of steam, and the train fully stopped. Smoke billowed out from the engine, a black dark color. The windows in the cart were covered with curtains. One flashed opened and swiftly closed again.
An old man, with a grandfatherly appearance, stepped out, scowling as the sun, already bright and harsh, blinded him. Carrying luggage in both hands, he reluctantly walked off the train, unable to cover his eyes. Another person followed, also holding bags and suitcases. A wagon was beside the platform, and they placed the bags on it.
The third person off the train was a woman. She exited expanding an umbrella, shielding her from the sun. Blonde air bright as the sun was bundled up in a bun. Keeping care the sun did not pierce the umbrella, she needlessly told the men to be careful with the bags. She held her own purse. A black woman, stern and silent, followed her under the shade.
The blonde woman waved to the man driving a parked carriage. “Hello, sheriff,” she said pleasantly.
Carter removed his hat greeting, “Good day Ms. Cooper. Nadi.”
The black woman made him nervous. Not for the color of her skin, but the beads and tribal necklaces around her neck and the bag that had plants poking their flowers out.
The final person joined the others. Amongst them, he was the shortest and oldest. He had pronounced wrinkles and a round grumpy face. He did not have the demeanor of a grandfather. Kids shied from his piercing eyes, vibrant despite his age, and daring anyone to meet them. Few did. Balefully, he glared at the sun. The climate in the southwest ill-suited him. All of its harsh heat and dry lands. He missed the dark forests of home. Business forced him here. He would make do.
Sheriff Carter anxiously approached. “Mister Douglas we have a problem.” Annoyed by the simple fact one existed, Douglas evenly awaited. Carter swallowed. “Ed Miller has been murdered.”
Beth Cooper gasped in shock. She blurted, “When? How?”
“Werewolf. Several days ago.”
Douglas did not react. Save for a constant frown, his face was expressionless. “Pray tell,” he began, “what you have done about it.”
Carter grimaced. This was the moment he dreaded the most. “The thing is sir, that Jonathon was not eager to do anything without you. And I have little experience in such matters. I…I hired a travelling gunslinger.”
“Oh dear,” Beth responded, perhaps slightly bemused.
The lines to Douglas’ eyes tightened.
Hastily, Carter added, “But…but he has made progress. Already he has killed one of them. Currently, he is hunting a second. The problem should be solved.”
Douglas said in a gruff voice, “On the way to town sheriff, you will tell us everything that has transpired in our absence.”
Head down Carter lead them to the carriage. Hudson narrowed his eyes, electing stay inside the station house. Through the grimy windows he saw all that exited the train. His fingers drummed on the counter. Douglas and his ilk were back. The King of the Hunt would not be pleased.
It was a little later in the morning when Jed began riding. The rest of last night had been hard dozing and now Jed was mostly asleep in his saddle. Mostly on its own accord the chestnut plodded along through the burning land. The wounds suffered last night to its master had been more severe than Jed had thought. Thankfully, he had no fear of turning since the werewolf’s jaws had not pierced his flesh.
The land seemed dead. Occasionally, a vulture would drift lazily across the sky.
He stopped at Doctor Heinrich’s office when he finally arrived. The doctor was busy at his desk, scribbling furious notes on the paper. He looked up, the words dying in his mouth as he saw the dried blood adorning Jed’s clothes.
“Just need a few stitches, doc,” Jed said.
“Apparently. Follow me.” Heinrich led him to the same room the body of Ed Miller had lain. It was gone now, the table it had rested on empty.
Jed sat up on the table and took off his vest and shirt. The doctor tutted when he saw the wounds. There were three slashes on the gunslinger’s arm. Two were superficial and had clotted on their own. The middle one ran halfway to the elbow and wrapped in a faded bandana. On his chest were also several lacerations. These were short but deep. Jed gritted his teeth as Heinrich went to work.
The long, sharp needle was expertly woven through the wounds. Grigor came by and handed Jed a bottle of whiskey which he readily accepted. The alcohol eased the pain.
“Did you accomplish what you left to do?” The doctor asked, conversing as he finished the stitching.
“I did.” Jed grimaced as the thread to his chest was snipped by a pair of small scissors.
“Is the town safe?”
The gunslinger had grabbed an extra shirt and vest from his saddlebags and changed into them. The used clothes were ruined so he threw them out. Jed thanked Heinrich and left, heading to the sheriff’s office.
When he arrived he found Deputy Ross sitting inside, alone. Ross gazed at him and drawled, “Carter will be back in a minute.” There was silence as Jed went to sit, trying not to wince, on the only other chair in the sparse office. Ross couldn’t resist and asked. “Did you do it? You get the werewolf?”
Jed considered not answering. In the end he mumbled. “Yep.”
“Got any proof?” Ross sneered. The gunslinger swiveled his head to glance at the cocky deputy. Ross continued, “To me it looks like you got in a scrap and barely escaped with your life.”
Jed was too tired and irritated to put up with Ross. “Insult my honesty and I will defend it. I will make you regret those words if you fancy on repeating them.”
“Really?” Ross stood up, feet spread out. “What are you going to do about it?”
Just then Sheriff Carter entered. He saw Ross and his deputy’s demeanor, so wearily he ordered, “Sit down Deputy.” He saw the gunslinger. “Good you’re here. Come on then the managers want to talk with you. They came in this morning. I reckon you killed it.”
“I did.” Jed gave Ross a look and the deputy muttered. Sheriff Carter visibly brightened and he acted like the danger was past.
As they walked, the sheriff gave Jed introductions on them. “There is two of them, Douglas and Beth Cooper. Douglas is an older man who won’t take any nonsense. Before you ask I don’t know if he has a first name. Just call him Mister and give him respect and you won’t have any problems. Ms. Cooper is nicer and she doesn’t do much of the managing, though she handles the accounts. In fact it was her husband that started the company with Miller and Douglas. After he died she took his position, I suppose.”
The sheriff led Jed to Ed Miller’s house. Carter explained, “They are staying here for now.” He opened the front door.
A guard was standing inside, near the staircase. Sheriff Carter walked by not accosted. “Your guns,” the guard demanded.
Jed gave him a look. Then he gestured to the Colt at his hip. “Take it if you want,” he offered.
The guard reached. “But, you had better hope you can draw it faster than I.”
Instantly, the hand stopped. The guard frowned annoyed. He decided to step back. Jed tipped his hat, walking past. Jed saw the living room had been nicely cleaned up. Both of the mine owners were in the dining room with an old servant standing at hand. A late lunch must have ended, the dishes were placed away and Douglas was having an after meal drink.
“Finally,” Douglas said seeing the gunslinger. He was a little short, and his face, despite many lines, was fresh and vigorous. “Since you survived I will assume that beast is dead.”
Sheriff Carter answered for him. “Yes, sir.”
“Good,” Douglas stated. “Then you will be duly compensated. Thank you for services rendered. Of course having a gunslinger in my town is something I would rather not have. It leaves a bad reputation. I respectfully ask that you leave.” Douglas gave a slight pause as he studied Jed’s haggard appearance. His eyes were intent on Jed’s chest and he wondered if one of his wounds had opened, staining the shirt. “Whenever you feel ready.”
Jed cleared his throat. “Respectfully, sir, there is a slight problem.”
Douglas’ eyes narrowed. “Is there?”
The coal owner’s attitude annoyed Jed and so the gunslinger was strangely glad when he said. “You see I spotted another werewolf.”
“Another one?” Sheriff Carter took the news the harder. Visibly his shoulders seemed to sag. Not for the first time Jed decided the sheriff was not cut out for his job.
Jed responded, “At least. Though my gut tells me a whole pack has moved in the area.”
“And your gut can be trusted, Jed?” It was the women who spoke, and she could only be Beth Cooper. Placing a coffee cup on the table she stood, giving Jed an excellent view at her. One he was glad for. She had golden hair pulled into a bun with green eyes that shone like emeralds. Her skin was pale and smooth, unscathed by the harsh sun.
Jed respectfully removed his hat. “It’s not only my gut, ma’am. I was able to have words with the werewolf I was hunting, before we got to fighting. He told me there were more. But if you folks want to handle it then I’ll step aside. I never planned on staying.”
Carter moved as if to cajole him to stay but stopped and gripped his hat.
Douglas did not appear pleased. He asked Carter, “What is your opinion, sheriff.”
“Well, sir, I believe he is better equipped to deal with them than us. He has already taken down two. Not forgetting the fact that he has a knack for finding for them. I think we should get him to stay.”
Douglas and Beth exchanged gazes. Neither showed any hint of what they were thinking. Beth spoke, “I think it best we don’t get involved.”
Douglas spoke again, grudgingly, “Very well, at the same price I will allow you to hunt the other werewolves. Coordinate with Sheriff Carter.”
On their way out a woman walked down the stairs. She was black skinned and atop her clothes were an assortment of beaded necklaces and large earrings. Instantly, Jed knew what she was. He had dealt with witch doctors before. Carter hurriedly walked past without acknowledging her. Jed tipped his hat. She merely registered his presence by a flicker of her eyes. It was an uncommon sight, most lived around New Orleans.
Jed’s next destination was the tavern. While he wouldn’t get drunk, on account of a werewolf pack roaming around, he was more than willing to fog his brain and the pain. The saloon was rowdy that day, more raucous than usual. A couple of women were in the crowd tonight, willing to help the miners spend their gold. The female presence brought the worse out of the men. Jed walked by a couple of fights to reach the bar. The men were brawling over the women’s attention. Everyone glanced at the gunslinger. Full knowledge of the werewolf attack had spread.
Bjorn at the bar was as happy as Jed was. “Got some new faces,” Jed remarked.
The German replied, “They’ll make the men spend more on drinks. If only to soothe their bruises.” He gave him a drink.
For a while Jed quietly nursed his wounds with whiskey until a voice said, “Jed Ethen.”
There was a certain way it was said to make a man give pause. Jed analyzed the words. Its tone was haughty, perhaps arrogant, definitely said by someone young in years. His right hand dripped to his gun. The longer he thought about the voice the more it reminded him of times being challenged. Jed turned slowly, the world going quiet as he focused on the speaker. It was a boy, maybe eighteen, standing tall and proud. Trying to act tough, thumbs hanging in his belt, mouth set in a smirk. The single most important part of the boy’s look was the two guns tied at his waist. They were a duplication of Jed’s. Youngsters had many ways to get a reputation, one of which was to challenge those with one.
“Yes,” Jed said. How the blazes the kid knew he’d be?
“My name is Obadiah Thompson.” He said it like the name should mean something. Or like it would mean something.
Jed tensed when the boy moved his hands. Surprisingly, he moved them to his back and withdrew a paper.
“I have a letter for you,” the boy said.
Jed froze. “A letter,” he reiterated, completely bewildered.
Jed took the letter cautiously and flipped it open. Besides being crinkled the script was written small and fast. However, it was also familiar. The gunslinger had seen this chicken scratch before. It read:
Well, Jed I suppose he found you. This is my boy Obi. He is going to ask you something and I’d appreciate it if you accepted. Now I know you don’t owe me anything and I remember what you said when you left. Even so I guess I’m recommending him. I haven’t taught him anything, so he is lacking in that regard. Funny I never wanted my sons and daughters to follow my footsteps. So what does a man do when his son wants to do it? I don’t know. Anyway he might be young, but he is a good kid. I’ll leave it up to you.
In a minute, Jed had read the message. Looking up at the boy he could now see the resemblance in the face to the man who had wrote the letter. The colonel had never been a writer. Always made it look like he was talking right in front of you in his letters. Never remembered to sign it either.