Authors: Stephen A. Bly
There will be six books in this series
FORTUNES OF THE BLACK HILLS
by STEPHEN BLY
Beneath a Dakota Cross
Shadow of Legends
The Long Trail Home
For information on other books by this author, write:
Winchester, Idaho 83555
or check out
Â© 2001 by Stephen A. Bly
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
Published by Broadman & Holman Publishers,
Dewey Decimal Classification: 813
Subject Heading: WESTERN FICTION
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Bly, Stephen A., 1944â
The long trail home : a novel / Stephen Bly.
Â Â Â Â p. cm. â (Fortunes of the Black Hills ; bk. #3)
1. Black Hills (S.D. and Wyo.)âFiction. I. Title.
PS3552.L93 L65 2001
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 05 04 03 02 01
our middle son
Sin is lawlessness. Lawless people have sauntered across the face of the earth since the Garden of Eden. But perhaps no era has had its lawlessness so romanticized and remembered like that of the Old West. Even a hundred years later, the desperados are recalled and portrayed in movies, books, and songs.
Often, we can remember their demise.
In the early morning hours of July 14, 1881, Billy the Kid was shot and killed by Pat Garrett in Pete Maxwell's bedroom at Fort Sumner, New Mexico.
On April 3, 1882, Jesse James was shot in the back by Bob Ford in St. Joseph, Missouri.
On October 5, 1892, Grat and Bob Dalton were killed by irate citizens of Coffeyville, Kansas.
On August 19, 1895, John Wesley Hardin was shot in the back at the Acme Saloon in El Paso, Texas, by John Selman.
And of course, George Leroy Parker (Butch Cassidy) and Harry Longbaugh (the Sundance Kid) were killed in . . . well, that all depends on who you choose to believeâfamily or film.
However, the Old West did not have bandits hiding behind every sage and cactus. Most folks were law-abiding, but they lived in a land so new, few laws had been established. Temptation was always before them: stagecoaches, banks, and railroads provided a good supply of targets. With law enforcement stretched thin or non-existent, crime often succeeded. Lawless lifestyles needed to be supported because whiskey cost only ten cents a glass and morphine only a quarter. And sometimes, sheer desperation motivated the crime. The civil war left many homeless, shiftless, and jobless.
But not every outlaw met a violent end.
Over seventy years old, Frank James sold tours of the James brothers' farm for fifty cents a person.
In 1910, Cole Younger still toured the country, lecturing on “What Life Has Taught Me.”
And some bad men turned out good.
The Lord has always been in the redemption business. He came to the earth to “save sinners.” Some of whom, like Samuel Fortune, had spent many a day on the owlhoot trail. Sam Fortune finds that Jesus' work for him provides more than an eternal home.
It drastically affects life on this earth as well.
It's a lesson we all need to learn.
Because, it seems to me, all of us come into this world as spiritual outlaws. And for many, it's a long trail home.
Broken Arrow Crossing, Idaho
Fall of '00
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to
thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude
of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.”
Psalm 51:1 (KJV)
Near Dry Fork, Indian Territory,
June 17, 1885
You ain't got no friends left but me, Sammy. All the rest are dead or in prison. Except maybe some lady friends.”
In a night too dark to see dirt, Sam Fortune stooped at the waist and tried to catch his breath. The prairie dirt radiated a stifling heat and masked the normal aroma of scattered sage. A lineup of past acquaintances paraded across his mind.
T-Bow: gunned down in a Chinese chophouse in Wichita. Grant: ambushed by a posse while trying to cross the Red River. Elmer Red: knifed in the Signal Mountains along Wildhorse Creek. Whitey and Harmon: hung by Judge Parker. And the rest . . . rotting in some jail, someplace.
Sam stood up straight. He couldn't see the man's straight, black hair that hung well past his shoulder, or his ragged duckings, or his dirty, black felt, wide-brimmed hat, but he could hear him gasp for breath.
“I can't for the life of me figure out how you lasted so long, Kiowa,” Sam panted.
“Devilishly good looks and a superior brain,” came the low, almost musical reply.
“Well, pick up your saddle, handsomeâwe need to keep hikin'.”
“Do I detect white-man jealously in that sarcastic reply?”
“Right at the moment, neither of us have a horse, a home, or a meal. In the darkness behind us, six men are ridin' after us, apparently to kill us. I figure your good looks and great brain are in the same fix as mine.”
“Fortune, you're a lucky man!” Kiowa called out somewhere ahead of him.
“How do you figure that?”
“Look down there.”
Reaching the top of the rise, Sam peered at lantern light that flickered out the front door of a shadowy building.
“That's Dry Fork!” Sam reported.
“Yeah, well all the other folks must be in bed, 'cause only one building still has lanterns lit.”
“There is only one building in Dry Fork.”
“We hiked ten miles to get to a town with only one building?”
“You want to turn around and hike back?” Sam challenged.
“Well, . . . as long as we're here, we could survey it for possibilities.”
After a short hike, they sat their saddles on the boulders across from the saloon door. “Stay here. I'll take a look inside. If you hear a ruckus, steal the best horse and ride west. No one's dumb enough to chase you out on the staked Plains.”
“If I hear a ruckus, I'm comin' in to save your pitiful white skin again, and you know it.”
The building pitched to the right, windblown like everything else for a hundred miles. The clouds that had covered the night sky several hours earlier made the air heavy, smelling of sulfur. It felt too hot to rain but not too hot to hail. In the distance, thunder rolled somewhere out on the Llano Estacado.
Four men with cards in their hands and wide-brimmed hats pulled low huddled around a blue-painted table in the back corner of the twenty-by-thirty-foot room. Two others leaned on the mahogany bar. One propped his massive stomach on the bar itself. To the left, a man wearing a vest embroidered with gold cord sprawled on top of a faro layout. A big woman in a straight-hanging, gray cotton dress and jowls caked with rouge rifled his pockets.
Bullet belts crisscrossed the bartender's chest. A vertical scar on his forehead forced a permanently raised eyebrow as if always asking a question. His chin was clean-shaven but his mustache was bushy and ragged.
Sam ambled slowly up to the bar. Next to the faded portrait of a rotund brown-skinned ladyâdraped in nearly transparent gauzeâa sign read: “Whiskeyâ10 cents/Waterâ25 cents.”
The bartender sponged the sweat off his forehead with a flour-sack towel. Then he used it to wipe the glass in his hand. “I didn't hear you ride up, mister. What can I get you?”
Sam studied the four at the card table. They, in turn, surveyed him. “I had a friend that said he might leave a message here for me.”
“What's your friend's name?” the bartender asked.
“Lafayette Wilson,” Sam said.
“He's dead.” The bartender slapped the glass upside down next to several others. “Some ol' gal up in Hays City shot him twelve times in the back. Can you imagine that? Twelve shots in the middle of the back.”
Sam brushed his mostly gray mustache, then slid his fingers down his narrow chin. “I reckon he didn't leave me a message, then.”
The bartender, reeking of sweat, whiskey, and onions, leaned closer. “I don't know. What name do you go by?”
Sam heard shouts from upstairs. Several bullet holes punctured the unpainted, planked ceiling. The holes were old, and he couldn't tell if they'd been made by firing up or down.
“I said, what name do you go by?”
Sam stared into the man's coal black eyes. “Sam Fortune.”
The bartender took a step back. “The outlaw? I heard you was in jail.”
The two men at the bar eyed Sam, slapped coins on the counter, and lumbered out the front door.
“I was.” Sam watched the two depart, but kept an eye on the four men in the corner. “But I'm out now.”
Fortune's right hand rested on the walnut grip of his ColtÂ .44 revolver. “Why do you ask?”
The bartender again wiped the sweat off his round face with the towel, leaving a clean streak across his cheek. “You're right, ain't none of my business. But there's a woman upstairs who claims to know you. I heard her say that. Maybe she has a message.”
“What's her name?”
The image of a very short, black-haired woman with long braids and riding boots up to her knees flashed in Fortune's mind. “What room is she in?”
The bartender held up a large, puffy hand. “She's busy right now, but she should be down pretty soon. You want the dime whiskey or the two-bit whiskey?”
“Neither.” Sam surveyed the comely woman on the painting behind the bar. “I'd like .Â .Â . something to eat.”
“It's midnight. Why would you want that?” The bartender wiped his nose on the towel.
“'Cause I'm hungry.” Sam studied the worn brass rail of the bar. Half a pair of handcuffs were still fastened to it.
The bartender peered at the woodstove at the end of the bar and waved his hand. “I can give you a fried beef chop and some beans for two bits.”
Fortune spied several flies buzzing around a slab of dark red, almost black meat on a chopping block by the stove. “Is the meat spoiled?”
The man shrugged. “Just a little.”
“Then fry it extra done, and give me two plates full and a cup of coffee.”
The bartender surveyed the open front door. “You expectin' company?”
“Either that, or I'm very hungry.”
The bartender shooed the flies with a sweep of his hand and sliced the meat. Then he waved the knife toward the corner table. “You want in on that poker game?”
“No. They haven't dealt a hand since I walked in. It's too slow a game for me.”
The big man leaned over toward Sam. “I reckon they cain't figure out whether to shake your hand or shoot you in the back. They ain't got a full cup of brains among the lot of 'em. You want whiskey?”
“Just that coffee.”
“Help yourself, but it's gettin' a little rancid. I ought to wash that pot one of these weeks.”
Fortune poured himself a tin cup of steaming, black, lumpy liquid, then strolled to the open doorway; one hand rested on the grip of his revolver.
They don't have the nerve to shoot me in the back. At least, not yet.
He pulled off his hat with his right hand and took a sip of coffee. Without glancing out into the darkness beyond the doorway, he replaced his felt hat and meandered over to the big woman who stood behind the faro table. The man with the black beard still sprawled on his stomach, motionless on the green felt table. She was dealing out a hand of solitaire on the back of the man's gold braided vest.
She looked at Sam. A soft, pleasant smile broke across her puffy lips.
“You want to play faro, honey?” she asked.
Fortune pointed his coffee cup at the man on the table. “Is he dead or alive?”
“Don't matter, does it?” she winked. “But, I'll throw him on the floor if you want to play.”
He stepped closer to the lady and caught a whiff of very strong, lilac perfume. “Darlin', I'm just wonderin' if that's the way all your customers end up.”
She grabbed a handful of the man's oily, dark hair and yanked his head up off the table then dropped it down with a thud. “Only them that welch a bet.”
Sam took another sip of hot, bitter coffee. “Leave him there. Looks sort of picturesque, you playin' cards on his back.” He turned a one-armed wooden chair so its back was to the wall and plopped down beside the woman.
Kiowa Fox entered the saloon and meandered to the bar. His duckings looked even more tattered in the lantern light of the saloon.
The large woman continued playing cards on the unconscious man's back. “You hidin' out or just lost?”
Sam took another sip of coffee but didn't look up at her. “Neither.”
“Mister, no one comes to Dry Fork unless they're hidin' or lost. There is absolutely no other excuse for being in this place.”
“Which is it for you?” he challenged.
“Hidin' from an angry husband.”
“Yours? Or some other gal's?”
Her laughter rolled out like the lowest notes on a piano. “Both! Now, it's your turn.”
He peered at the stairway in the back of the room. “I'm waitin' for someone.”
She studied the numberless playing cards in her hand. “The half-breed you signaled at the door is over at the bar now.”
“You don't miss very much.”
“There ain't very much happenin'.” She poked two cards in front of him. “Which one of these queens do you think I look like?”
“Neither, darlin'âthey are both old and fat-faced.”
She buried the queens in the deck and looked around the room. “Who are you waitin' for?”
Sam sipped the now tepid, rancid coffee. “Ladosa.”
She sorted three cards in her right hand. “I should have known.”
He rocked the chair back on its hind legs. “I just want to talk to her.”
The woman raised her thin, dark eyebrows. “Honey, this is Dry Fork. We don't give a cow chip what you two do.”
“I'm waitin' to see if she has a message for me.”
“She's up visitin' with the deputy.”
Fortune sat his chair back down with a thud. “Who's up there?”
She reached over with long fingers and patted his shoulder, as if patting a favorite dog's head. “You ain't much of a card player, precious. You jist tipped your hand. You on the run?”
“Let's just say I'd rather avoid a deputy U.S. marshal.” He stood up and glanced at her makeshift table. “The jack of hearts will play on the queen of clubs.”
“You talkin' cards?”
He grinned and squeezed her hand. “Yep.”
“That's too bad.” She tugged at the sleeve of his cotton shirt. “You sure you don't want to play?”
“I'm lousy at cards, remember?”
“Of course I remember, honey.” Her light, girlish giggle did not match her size. “That's why I asked you.”
“I think I'll check on my chops.”
“The meat's rank,” she warned him.
“Anybody get sick on it?”
“Well, if it kills me, you can have first rights to rifle my pockets.”
A big grin broke across her face. “I'll take you up on that, darlin'.”
Sam Fortune headed toward the bar. The four men at the poker table followed his every step. Their cards still laid facedown on the round blue table. He backed up against the bar next to Kiowa Fox.
“Is that man on the faro table dead?”
“Nobody seems to know . . . or care,” Sam reported.
“You want a whiskey, yet?” the bartender called from the frying pan.
Kiowa set down his glass. “My compadre don't believe in drinkin' alcohol. Course, he could drink this dime stuff. There ain't nothin' in it but prickly pear juice and strychnine.” He leaned a little closer to Fortune, and lowered his voice. “Those four in the corner drinkin' up the nerve to start a fight?”
“Sort of looks like it.”
“Spot anyone you know?”
“Not yet,” Fortune whispered.
“Good, let's go steal us a horse.”
“What? And miss a fine meal?”
Kiowa pointed at the woodstove. “You ain't really goin' to eat that, are you? I hear it's spoiled.”
Fortune pointed at the whiskey glass. “You aren't really goin' to drink that, are you?”
Kiowa threw his head back and gulped down the amber liquid. “Maybe we ought to leave. There's only six horses left out there.”
“Which direction did the first two head?”