This is the eighteenth part of a fiction serial, in 916 words.
It was still early when I rode into town, and there were not that many people around. Down by the boat ramp where the ferrymen operated, there was no sign of the Portugee. I saw one man rowing back from Delano, and as he tied his boat up I asked if he had seen anything of Ben. “The Portugee? Not this morning. It’s still early for that fella. He’ll be sleeping off a skinful, or in bed being warmed up by one of them gals”.
I had a look around some of the alleyways nearby, but saw no sign of Ben. I wondered where someone so badly hurt could have got to, so led Lizzie down to the doctor’s office. It took some knocking, but he eventually came out to the door, wearing a nightshirt. He wasn’t best pleased at my questions, and told me he hadn’t treated any injured man that morning. Then as I turned to leave, he called after me. “Say young Fuller, you sure those two riders weren’t figuring to rob your place after you left?”
I felt a cold sickness in the pit of my stomach, and jumped straight onto Lizzie. It hadn’t even occurred to me that it might have been a ruse, and as I pushed Lizzie fast for home, I was thinking of what they could have taken. The Henry Rifle was valuable, but my daddy had that with him, and his tools were in the wagon too. They might be looking for the cash box though. Folks knew we were doing well, and there was no bank in Wichita at the time. I felt stupid to have fallen for it, but also scared that they might be hiding somewhere, waiting to bushwack me. But the money I had taken for the doctor wasn’t enough to rob a man for. Or was it?
As I got in sight of the homestead, I could see that the two horses were tied to a rail of the fence near the house. I slowed Lizzie down, and considered my options. I hadn’t seen any guns on those fellas, but they were likely to be packing. If I just blundered in, they might just shoot me down on sight. I left Lizzie grazing, and went along the edge of the creek on foot, still with no sure plan what to do. Once I was in sight of the front of the house, I could hear noises inside. Then the younger one came out with my tool box, and upended it onto the ground. He turned and yelled “Ain’t nothing in here ceptin’ tools”. Then one of our best chairs flew out the door, followed by the older man. “Has to be here somewhere, keep looking”.
The young man shook his head, and in his frustation he stamped on the chair, snapping the legs. Then he kicked my tool box so hard, one side broke off. I saw red and stood up, holding the pistol in my right hand and pulling back the hammer too. I walked fast, but it was a while before they noticed me. “You fellas get now, ain’t nothing here”. I was pulled up to my full height, pointing the pistol. I suddenly didn’t feel scared no more.
The younger one raised his hands, but the older one sneered. “Just tell us where you keep the cash, boy, and we’ll leave you in peace. You ain’t gonna fire that pistol, so put it down before something happens”. I shook my head. “If you fellas got pistols, you had better take them out slow and drop them on the ground. Ain’t no money here, my daddy took it all with him”. I was actually relieved that they hadn’t thought to look in the outhouse, and managed to keep my head still and not look across at it. Neither man showed any pistols, but the older man pulled a big hunting knife and started toward me. “Why you pup, I’ll make you tell us”.
I still don’t know how I came to pull the trigger, but there was a mighty loud bang, and the older man fell to the ground. The young one called out “Luke, Luke!”, and knelt down next to him. I pulled back on the hammer of the single-action pistol agan, and he screamed, “Enough mister, don’t shoot me! No need! Luke’s hurt bad.” I was sure breathing hard, but I kept the pistol on him as he pulled at his friend on the ground. The older man had a fair hole at the side of his neck where the bullet had caught him, and was bleeding bad. He made a few sounds that meant nothing, and the young one turned to me again.
“Just let us go. He’s sure bad, and I won’t give you no trouble” I waved my pistol in the direction of their horses, and said, “On your way, and don’t let me see you around here again”. It sounded strange to hear myself say that, almost too growed-up. It took a while for him to get Luke onto his horse, and he slumped forward as he got in the saddle. I kept them covered as the younger one mounted up, and followed them all the way to the trail. When I was sure they had gone, I went back to find Lizzie.
But before I could reach for her reins, I fell to my knees and sicked up everything in my stomach.