Halloween Mystery 2019

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Ozark Wizard

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Crickets..... I hear nothing but crickets........

Alright gentlemen. I've just about worked out the first installment. Characters have been fleshed out and the theme is rolling. This story will be, for the most part I think, from the perspective of William (Billy) Quinn, a rather light-hearted "good ol' boy" from undetermined origins. He is remarkably educated for the time and region. Single, middle aged-ish. His exact date of birth is unknown to him.

I should have something solid to offer the day after tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow night.

Stay tuned!
 

Ozark Wizard

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eggman":qlnnn8qq said:
Could he be Dr. Quinn, medicine woman’s husband?
Ha! I hadn't thought about it but sure, why not?

But that's another story......
 

Ozark Wizard

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Here we go folks! Installment numero Uno!

It was a brisk morning I awoke to. I went downstairs from my room at the Sleeping Willow Saloon early, so as to not miss my breakfast before meeting with Andrew Sykes, the foreman of the drive I was looking to join. As providence would have it, Master Sykes was finishing his morning meal and chatting with others at the big table in the back corner under the stairs….

"Good morning Sunshine!" Mr. Sykes said as he saw me. "I'm Sykes, and if I'm not mistaken you must be the Roving Drover I heard was looking for work. I'm also told you are saddle bred and looking to join our party up north." He took a drink from his coffee in pause, sizing me up. "Do you have references?"

I began my description of trails I've ridden and under whom I worked for. He silently listened, sipping his coffee as I spoke, nodded occasionally to names I assumed he recognized, eyebrows raised once or twice to ranches of note it was my hope to impress him with. When I was finished, he downed the last of his cup and called to the bartender for more.

"Well sir, you seem worth while to hire on. The pay is one hundred Yankee dollars when we arrive at our destination with minimal losses to the herd. For any head I deem lost as part of your negligence, you will be subject to deduction of that pay. I noticed you haven't mentioned the route we are planning on taking. I will consider that to be a minor detriment at this point, but that will put you trailing the herd. Welcome. We'll ride out this Saturday. Do you have any questions?" he asked as he leaned back to avoid the bartender's poor pour.

"No sir, and thank you", I replied, looking longingly at the fresh coffee. My gaze was caught.

"Tiny," he said, get this man a cup. He kicked a chair away from the table. "Join us, I want to get an impression of you. What name do you go by?"

"My name is William Quinn sir" I replied.

"Fine Billy", he replied. "Have a seat. He motioned to his left, "This here is Markus, we call him Lefty. The man next to him is Danny," he then looked to his right, "Over here is Randolf and that there is Rabbit," as he pointed to the man with his back to me.

"Why is he called Rabbit?," I asked, at which the man turned around and smiled, showing the biggest two front teeth I'd had the experience to see on a man. He Grinned at me and said in heavy Southern accent, "Git it?" Everyone at the table laughed.

"He could run a cob through his teeth faster than those machines in Kentucky can shuck kernels for 'shine," said Randolf. The whole table busted into laughter. Rabbit joined in adding, "My Pappy wept when I came out west, sayin' he'll hafta pay to get his squeezins' shucked. But a body can't pay for nuttin' with empty jugs and big teeth!"

My coffee came and the table of new companions and I conversed for some time, until the foreman got up from the table and declared, "Have you fun boys, y'all have one more day until we ride. I'm off to find the man our ride will depend on the most," He winked to the table, and then left.

I looked at the balance of our group in puzzlement. Lefty got my look and replied, "there's a new trail cook with one of them fancy chucker wagons the boss is hoping to sign up." Danny leaned over to him and whispered "chuck. Chuck wagon" at which Lefty backhanded Danny's shoulder and said "Ah know dammit, ah was juss checkin' to see if'n you were payin' attention." The two devolved into a bunch of slapping hats, chests and such, which prompted Rabbit leaning over to me and said, "This is how they go. Brothers. Go figure. I'm wondrin' if'n they ain't married. Tough to say who'd be the pants and who'd be the dress though…." With that he slapped me hard on my back and got up. "I'll leave you girls to finish, Billy and I are off to pick our horses." With that he grabbed me up and led me outside. The bartender caught us at the door and stepped in my path.

"That'll be a dollar for the coffee," he scowled.

"Isn't a dollar a bit steep?" I said. He looked down at the cup in my hand. "Deposit for the cup. Those came from the Far East, and I don't give stuff like that away."

I downed my coffee and handed him the cup. He looked at the cup, then at me. "A nickel," he muttered. Rabbit grabbed me and pushed the bartender aside. As we walked out he shouted over his shoulder, "Get it from the ladies at our table, we've got business to attend to!"

We headed down the boardwalk toward the stables at a leisurely pace, with Rabbit yammering away about the trail, telling me of the sights, the people we would meet along the way, and the rest of the crew I would come across at the stables. Three rides each was our allotment from what he told me. A good rotation.

I felt pretty good about this trip.
 

Ozark Wizard

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It's now day two since I've been able to access my account on the cloud to pull my next installment of the mystery. If I can't get it to work by morning I'll just rewrite the stupid thing.
 

Ozark Wizard

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Well, so I just went ahead and rewrote something.. It'll get us where we need to go...

Chapter 2

After our stop at Doan's Store for more provisions, our drive continued north towards the Canadian River. Troopers at Fort Griffin described the current status of the natives along our route as tempered, but small pockets of aggression were noted. Of note was a band of non-Res along the north shores of the Canadian. Mostly hunting bands. Sykes talked to the crew regarding contact with the natives, telling us not to approach them, and if approached to bring them to himself or Rabbit to deal with. In my past drives I had dealt with many different tribes, and have to learned enough of their languages to get by with my scalp intact. Most steered clear of whites, though it was not uncommon during hard years for them to steal an unbranded calf or even rustle a couple of head during night raids. With the loss of the buffalo I can't say I blame them, but the security of the herd had to be our chief concern. I am thankful for and at peace with my not having to take a life of any of those peoples, though I have noticed a few of my fellow riders that proudly carry a string of Indian scalps from their saddles, claiming to display them for luck and a deterrent to attacks from the 'savages'. I have distanced myself from those men, not just for my own sake, but because I find their behaviour distasteful and abhorrent.

As we were approaching our crossing point, the point rider was riding back and had a conference with Rabbit, who then rode off toward Sykes. The point rider then headed west. The message was passed along that the crossing was blown out with heavy water and we were to direct the herd westward to either another crossing, or perhaps connecting to the Goodnight- Loving Trail. That trail I had ridden before, so I was not opposed to being in familiar territory. We continued for several days until I began to recognize familiar peaks ahead. I believed this was a good time to perhaps renegotiate my status among the crew with Master Sykes. The opportunity presented itself at suppertime.

"Mind if I sit with you sir?" as I approached with my meal. Sykes waved me  over with his biscuit, still chewing. "Stirring my plate of stew around, I began to discuss with him our new path and asked if he was familiar with our route. Still shoveling food in his mouth, he shook his head. I began to eat while the plate was still warm, and the silence envelope us. As soon as he finished mopping up his plate, he tossed it on the ground next to him, casually wiped his face with his sleeve and watched me finish eating before he spoke. Once I was done, he said, "Eatin's for eatin'. I don't converse while my mouth is otherwise occupied. I'm going to guess you want to renegotiate you job duties now?" I was shocked, but tried not to let it show. "I've been watching you Billy. I noticed once we were headed to the GLT you sat a bit taller in the saddle and your disposition changed. Lefty tells me you've become a fountain of information regarding the area. I'll clear the air right now. I'm not payin' you any more, so don't ask. BUT," he pointed his hand at me," I am moving you to Pointman. That kid from Abilene hasn't had a clue where we are anymore, so I won't have him out there fumbling around and wearing the tallow of these cattle. What would you suggest we do from here?"

I began to tell him about my experiences and points of interest along our new route and he abruptly raised his hand, silencing me mid sentence. He then laid his head back and bellowed "RABBIT!! COFFEE!" He then looked back at me and asked, "Coffee?" I nodded, to which he hollered out, "FOR TWO!" Leveling his gaze back at me he then said, "Rabbit needs to hear this too. But spare me too many details son, I ain't got time nor patience for details."

Rabbit showed up quickly with a pot and three cups, with that wild grin he always seemed to wear, those front teeth protruding. It's always so hard not to look…..

"What's the story boss?" he asked handing out cups. He then poured a cup for Sykes and himself, then set the pot on the ground. We caught each other's looks and he smiled again. "Oh," he said through that huge, toothy smile, "did you want some too son? Help yourself!" He then turned to Sykes. "What's the story?" Sykes pointed at me as I poured myself a cup and replied, "It's the kid's story Rabbit. Have a listen." Rabbit turned to me. "Well kid, what's the story?"

I restarted my description of what lay ahead for us, without too many details. Landmarks, good grazing, population, and roughly the timing of each stop. Both men nodded at me and occasionally each other. Once I got to Cheyenne Sykes stopped me.

"So, when we get to Cheyenne, we cross the North Platte, correct? Normally we'd cross in Ogallala. Can we just continue north then to Miles City?" I nodded. "Yes sir, it's pretty flat, same terrain as the Dakotas for the most part. The cows can graze their way to market, plenty of water, fewer prairie dog holes to stumble into too."

Rabbit poked me. "Can we make up for lost time heading this way? We're going to be a week late as it is."

I shook my head. "Sorry sir, I doubt it. But we'll still make good time, and enjoy a pretty uneventful journey."   To which he slapped me hard on the back laughing, spilling most of my coffee on myself and the dirt. "My kind of drive!" he laughed as he rubbed the coffee into my coat with his bandana. Sykes shook his head as he got up.

"What do you think Rabbit?"

Rabbit got up and said "I think we've got us a new Pointman sir!" He then turned to the sound of a rider coming up fast to us. He looked back at me and said "Grab those dishes up kid and get 'em to the chuckwagon." As I collected things up Sykes and Rabbit met the rider, who jumped off his mount as the horse slowed.

"What is it Jed?" asked Sykes. Rabbit grabbed the horse's reigns to settle the beast down as Jed ran up to Sykes.

"Trouble sir!" Jed sobbed, wiping his eyes. "Terrible sir! I ain't seen nothin' like it sir! Chet's horse came back to camp covered in blood, pretty tore up and the only thing we could find of Chet is his left boot in the stirrup! You gotta come see! It's terrible sir!" Jed was trembling so hard you could see he was having trouble standing up. Rabbit looked at Sykes and said he'd take care of Jed's ride. Sykes and I helped walk Jed back to the camp on either side, half carrying him as he began to sob uncontrollably.

We got him laid out next to the fire and I then followed Sykes to the tree we had the horses tethered to. No sign of a bloody horse.

"WHERE THE HELL IS CHET'S HORSE?" shouted Sykes to the sky. A Voice replied from the falling dark, "Over here!" We headed to the voice and came to a lonely scrub sage just outside of camp, where the horse was tied. It was bleeding badly and already on it's side, not a good sign. Sykes looked at the man with the lantern.

"Did nobody think to get this saddle off before the dammed horse went down? What the hell are you thinkin' with?" as he began to undo the belly strap. As he worked he said, "Bring that lantern closer, and over to this side. What's your name?"

"It's Lefty sir," he replied as he moved around to bring the light closer. "Honestly sir, we don't, we didn't know what to do when that filly came in rider less. Took us a while to recognize her cuz of the blood hiding her marks. One of the boys figured it'd be best to let you decide what to do sir."

"Billy, give me a hand here, she's bloating up and I can't get the strap free" Sykes said over his shoulder to me. I had seen this problem before, a dying horse will start filling out quickly. I came around and gave the girl a swift kick in the gut as Sykes tugged the strap free of the buckle. He then removed the halter and handed it to me. It was slimy slick and smelled of blood. As Sykes stepped away, the lantern lit the side of the filly, and revealed the stirrup with Chet's boot still in it. Sykes was busy talking to Lefty about getting some boys over to try to roll the horse over to recover the saddle. I reached down and freed the boot, and noticed it was oddly weighted. As I turned it over blood poured out. The other two looked at me pouring out the boot, then Sykes leaned in closer. "Give me that son." I gladly handed it over to him. He also must have noticed the weight, as he bobbed it up and down in his hand.

"Lefty, bring that light closer" he said. Lefty got right next to him. Sykes tipped the boot over so as to peer in. "Something in here," he said, and reached in.

It took a couple of pulls to produce Chet's left foot and part of his calf. I barely caught the lantern in time as Lefty let go of both it and his supper. Sykes looked over to me and, as he stuffed the foot back in the boot said, "You keep this close to your vest Billy, I mean not a word. Now go fetch up some others to roll this horse and free that saddle. We'll deal with the rest in the morning." I managed two steps before he grabbed my coat. "Lantern." As he took it he brought it up to our faces and quietly said "Not a word. You don't know nuthin'." With that he let me go and I followed the light from camp to get back. Halfway back, a wolf cried out the rising moon. I began to tremble. I couldn't control it. When I arrived at the fire everyone was standing around it murmuring to each other. I could hear Jed still whimpering and sobbing, as he sat close to the fire rocking back and forth shaking his head. Rabbit approached me and ask how bad it was. I handed him the still wet halter and said "Sykes wants some of us to help roll the horse so we can get the saddle free. The horse is pretty bad off, I don't think she'll make it." Just as Rabbit opened his mouth the crack of a Colt .45 rang out. Rabbit shut his mouth, looked out towards the sound and said, "reckon not." He then turned to the fire and said "Alright boys, the boss needs help rolling some horseflesh. Let's go!"

The crew looked at each other for a moment, then a few began to collect more lanterns and some shovels from the tool wagon. Rabbit looked at me, "Why don't you get cleaned up at the chuck wagon and grab a snort of whiskey from Chef. Tell him to fill your cup or Rabbit will bite his head clean off. He'll take care of you son." He then slapped my back again and tossed the halter to one of the men staying at the fire. "Git that cleaned up," he said. Take a light and two others with you to the creek." He then looked generally around and in a loud voice said "Minimum of two man teams from now on kids! That means if you have to squat I want a buddy at your back!" He then looked at the crew going to help Sykes with the horse, as they stood there. Waving his hands madly Rabbit hollered at them "GIT ON NOW! YOUR PAYMASTER IS OUT THERE ALONE!!" One voice said "What are you going to do?" Rabbit smiled real big and whispered to the group, "I'll beat your ass into a stretcher if I hear another word but yessir. Now git. Billy, go get cleaned up and try to get some rest. You got yourself a long day ahead tomorrow Pointman."

I went to the chuckwagon and got my hands washed, and Chef poured me a nice tin cup brimming with the roughest whiskey I've had the displeasure to endure. It did warm me up a bit, and I did eventually get to sleep. Rabbit was right, tomorrow was going to be a long day….
 

Blackhorse

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Man oh man...thrills and chills...couldn’t ask fer no better.

 I had to go pour me a cup of Pikesville Rye
ta keep from doing the ‘stationary panic’.


 

Ozark Wizard

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Stick":swfa6vob said:
I say! I do believe we’re off!

(Nice writing, Oz).
Well, thanks, but I apologise for the off the hip writing. My notes and some storyline is lost in the other of the 'cloud', so this is full blown ad lib. Bear with me, this will go somewhere.... :roll:
 

GrampaGrossbart

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Good stuff, Ozzie--a smidge closer to Blood Meridian than Zane Grey, just the way I like it! You've got the gift of natural dialogue, which is rarer than you'd think. Looking forward to the next chapter--don't envy our boy Bill riding point after that...
 
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