The first guest writer in this new series on The Flash Fiction Offensive is Edward A. Grainger. I was honoured that he accepted my invitation and the following story was written especially for the magazine.
Most of you will know Edward A. Grainger as David Cranmer. He has a blog called The Education Of A Pulp Writer and he's also the editor of the fantastic Beat To A Pulp. I've known David for around eighteen months and he certainly is one of the good guys!
The following story features Mr Grainger's character, Cash Laramie. So, without further ado...
The Outlaw Marshal by Edward A. Grainger.
Mason Doig slapped four aces on the table, chuckling as his opponents' eyes rolled white. All three men folded their cards and threw them down. He wiped the winnings toward him with the crook of his arm and then stacked the coins in several neat piles.
“I’ll be…I’ll be…you’re one lucky bastard, Doig,” Teeth said grinning ear to ear. Doig made Teeth’s acquaintance earlier that day and took an instant shining to the simple, chatty hombre.
“Too lucky,” the chap seated across from Doig mumbled as his money found a new home. Doig’s eye slanted cold and hard at the tall, square-jawed gambler wearing a Stetson pulled low, his vibrant blue eyes barely visible from under the brim, and a cheek full of tobacco.
“You got something to say?” Doig snapped, rolling the ends of his Dragoon mustache between his calloused fingertips. What the hell is your name anyway, stranger?”
“Stranger will do fine.” The answer was bitter with hostility.
“Whoa … hold on, boys,” the fourth player, Sparks, interjected. “This is a sociable game. No need to turn ugly.” The barrel-chested man wiped his brow with the back of his sleeve. “I’ve been watching Mr. Doig and, as a professional, can vouch he’s dealing legit.”
Stranger huffed and Teeth hastily added, “What were we jawin’ ‘bout anyway, Sparks?”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s right,” Teeth said. “The outlaw marshal. You feel he’s after you, Doig?”
Doig’s hardened stare twitched from Stranger to his newly found bootlicker. “Ain’t no feel about it, I know.”
“He threaten you or something?” Sparks asked.
“Never even met the badge toter but word reached me in the hoosegow that he claimed Territorial Prison was too good for me and the beatings I took on a regular basis in that god-forsaken shit-hole was paid for by him.”
“What'd you do to end up in Territorial?” Sparks asked.
“Ain’t done nothing.” Doig shuffled the cards as he spoke. “I was wrongly accused of lynching a nigger. Imagine we live in a day and age when even if that was true I could be sent up.”
“Why would this marshal make it his business?” Teeth said.
“Turns out he’s a half-breed Injun and slave lover to boot. Shit, I hear he wears an arrowhead ‘round his collar and partners with a black marshal.” Doig's eyes were drawn to the leather thong on Stranger’s neck and whatever dangled from the end was concealed under his shirt. A chill washed over Doig.
“I’ve heard of this Cash Laramie,” Sparks said. “Heard he gunned down a father and son in Macyville a few summers back—”
“—because someone shot an Injun friend of his,” Teeth interrupted, pounding the table with his fist. “I heard that. Hey, didn’t he clean up that Masked Devil business in Pleasance? And something with that locomotive.”
“The Sundown Express.” Sparks snapped his fingers. “Yep, he killed a bunch of banditos holding a train-full of hostages. Saved Lillie Langtry’s life and got a medal from the President.”
“Are we here to play cards or join the Cash Laramie Fucking Admiration Society?” Doig sneered.
“Play cards,” Stranger said.
Doig raised a brow at Stranger and shifted uneasily in his chair. He dealt another series of pasteboards, his gaze fixed on the man across from him.
He'd come to Dodge because the city's marshal was known to keep a lid on violence and it seemed safer to hide in plain sight rather than having a loco lawman gunning for him in the hills. If his growing suspicions turned out to be true—that this stranger was the avenging lawman—surely the man would think twice before putting a bullet through him around here.
But maybe he was just imagining Cash Laramie was after him. Though he couldn't shake the sensation that he had a constant shadow mirroring his every move since he was released from Territorial.
The batwing doors flew open, squeaking loudly on a rusty hinge, and the ex-con jumped.
“Easy now, Doig, easy,” Teeth said, slapping a reassuring hand on Doig's shoulder. “Just a cowpuncher.”
Doig followed the newcomer who crossed the wooden floor where he joined the Long Branch Saloon’s curvaceous, red-headed owner. Dammit, he was dead beat and could use some sleep. One more round. He dealt lazily from the bottom of the deck and knew right away he’d fucked up.
Stranger’s eyes widened. “You God-damned cheat!” He kicked his chair back, standing.
Sparks tipped sideways out of his seat and scrambled across the floorboards looking for cover.
Teeth stood straddle-legged, facing Stranger. Both men bolted for their pistols. The Stranger’s Remington spoke first, pushing lead into Doig’s shoulder and shoving him back against the wall, his outstretched hand punching a gas lamp into darkness. Stranger’s iron flashed sideways to Teeth but the wide grinning player dropped low and to the right, pumping out two slugs from his Colt that burrowed into Stranger’s upper chest. The man clutched his torso with his left hand and stumbled backward onto another card table, expelling his last breath as he scattered cards, glasses, and money.
A towering barkeep pulled a Winchester from behind the counter and trained it on the two-bit players. Doig looked in shock at the slumped figure of the stranger, and then winced. “I’ve been shot.”
The barkeep yelled at Teeth to lower his weapon and commanded a bystander to step back out of the line of fire. In an instant, Teeth darted for the saloon's entrance and out onto Front Street. The barkeep trained a bead on him but with so many innocent onlookers in the line of fire, the man didn’t dare fire and cursed as the fleeing figure escaped.
The celebrated town marshal showed up with his deputy limping in behind him. They stoically rounded up the two remaining gamblers and hauled them away.
Doig sat in a hard wooden chair with his left wrist handcuffed to the desk and his right hand clutching a bottle of whiskey from which he occasionally downed a swig while the sawbones dug lead out of his shoulder. He heard the marshal in the other room asking several witnesses about the incident, and for the first time, he felt the law was on his side as the saloon patrons verified he had been drawn on. In the midst of all the questions, a ranch hand had tipped off the marshal that the stranger was actually a wanted hard case named Boze Allen. Doig felt a bit foolish that he had suspected the man was Cash Laramie, and he wished he had his friend, Teeth, to tell but the guy who saved his life was nowhere to be found according to the talk. Maybe Teeth ran because he was a wanted man, and Doig knew that feeling all too well.
The doc finished bandaging Doig's shoulder and called the marshal in.
"Okay, Doig, you’re free to go but I don't want to see your face in Dodge again. You hear?" The marshal unlocked the cuffs and gave Doig his few possessions, but not the winnings from the poker game.
Doig wandered down the street and rounded up his horse that he had left tied outside the Long Branch.
Doig sat in front of the crackling fire he had built not too far from a narrow stream, a perfect spot to camp for the night. He adjusted his arm in the sling as he stirred the logs with his good one. The sharp snap of a twig made him spin about drawing his iron. A familiar face emerged from the shadows.
“Dammit, Teeth. I almost shot you.” He reholstered his weapon. “Why'd you run?”
“Didn’t want to run into Matt. 'Fraid I’d have a lot of explaining to do. It was fool enough just entering Dodge.”
“I guess I never did know you’re wanted.”
Teeth stepped closer to the campfire light. He looked different, not hunched over. And not just the height but he now wore a Mackinaw jacket and a black Stetson. He had a Colt strapped to his side with his hand readied over the butt. An unlit cheroot hung from the corner of his mouth. No big smile, just cold steel blue eyes.
“Wait a damn minute. You called the Dodge marshal, Matt!”
“US Marshals are usually on a first name basis.” Teeth slid the rawhide thong off the hammer of his gun.
Doig lunged for his six-shooter but the first shot from Teeth’s iron ripped into his injured shoulder. Second and third slugs tunneled into both kneecaps rendering them mush. Doig dropped his pistol screaming out and flopping on the ground.
“I wasn’t expecting to take care of Boze Allen in the same week. Lucky for me, huh?” Teeth pinned another bullet to Doig’s left shoulder. The ex-con screams turned to low, stammering moans of anguish.
“Finish me you fucking bastard,” Doig yelled.
A broad smirk stretched across Marshal Cash Laramie’s face and in that moment the grinning card player was visible again. “Is that any way to talk to your good friend, Teeth?” A lazy white stream drifted away from the barrel of Cash’s Colt. The outlaw marshal strolled around Doig whose blood flowed toward the fire like a tributary clawing for a river.
“Let me tell you about the young man you murdered, Doig. His name was Keith. He was a good kid who could tell the funniest damn jokes. His mother used to invite my partner, Miles, and me over for supper and Keith would have us rolling. His daddy was a Buffalo Soldier who died during the war and, well, his mother just doted on him. Now she’s heartbroken. She’s a good Christian woman who wouldn’t understand this.” Cash squeezed off a round to the wounded man’s pelvis. Doig lurched up in a guttural screech, then collapsed in a fetal position, jerking like a fish caught on a hook.
“But maybe I can tell her news is you died and that will bring some sort of comfort.”
Cash lit his cigar and crouched before the writhing figure. “But that’s not good enough for me, Lyncher. No, I think I’ll watch you bleed and shit yourself. Yes that will make me happy.” He pulled a Bowie knife from his belt. “Then I’m going to scalp you since that’s what you expect from a half-breed like me. Am I right?”
The only response Cash got was a damning stare of tear-rimmed red eyes.
Edward A. Grainger is a member of the esteemed Western Fictioneers (http://www.westernfictioneers.com/) and is publishing Adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles eBook this June. He also writes crime fiction under the name David Cranmer and edits the webzine, BEAT to a PULP (http://beattoapulp.com/). He lives in Maine with his wife and daughter.