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Thread: Return to Sender - Chapter 8

  1. #1
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    Return to Sender - Chapter 8

    In the painting, Sean has stopped on his eastbound trip and as the sun sets, he looks back to the west, worrying about his family.

    Chapter 8

    The next afternoon after having left St. Louis, I was riding through a part of Illinois that was a nice mixture of good farmland, and rolling hills covered with fairly heavy timber. Henri, the bartender back in St. Louis had told me that I would have a few creeks and streams to cross in the next few days, but he didn't have any current word on what condition they were in.
    Not long before evening fell, I spotted the smoke from a campfire not more than a quarter mile off the trail. Working my way through the timber, I found their camp, and caught a whiff of their coffee brewing. Stopping just far away from the camp to fade into the shadows, I called out. "Hello the camp! The wind brought the smell of your coffee over my way, and I thought I'd investigate and see if you were interested in sharing."

    A few seconds passed while some hushed conversation passed between the men in the camp, then I heard one of them answer. "Sure, we never turn a man away from the fire without at least giving him a hot cup of coffee. Come on in, but ride slow, and keep your hands where we can see them."
    Doing just as he said, I rode into the camp. Two men were standing close to the fire. Both were holding rifles at the ready. A third man was supposed to be hidden in the shadows, but he was too impatient, and when he moved, I caught the reflection off the fire on his rifle barrel.
    My horse and I had covered a lot of miles together, and by this time, he had learned to anticipate my habits. When I stopped in the campsite, he just naturally turned in a direction to allow me to dismount with the horse between me and the men in the camp. When they saw me step from behind my horse, they saw me with my rifle in a position to use it quickly if needed. Offering a smile, I said, "It's always good to see folks taking care on the trail. Never know who you may run into, and it's best to be prepared for all things. Only thing, that gent in the shadows, should have moved a little further back into the cover. I saw him first thing when I rode in. Look, I'm just a stranger in this country, passing through. All I'm looking for is a cup of coffee. Now, do I stay, or would you rather I ride on out?"

    The fellow on the left looked like he was wearing a week-old beard, and was missing a thumb on his right hand. That wasn't uncommon. A man working on a farm or handling horses and cattle, could lose fingers mighty easy. When he lowered his rifle, the skinny guy beside him, did the same. A second later, the fellow that had been hiding in the shadows stepped into the camp and set his rifle against a stump. The man with the missing thumb spoke up. "Aw, come on in. Like you said, you can't be too careful these days. Have a seat by the fire, and have some coffee. Guess I should warn you tho. It's mighty strong."
    When I sat down, I set my rifle so that it was leaning against my leg in a manner so that it could be grabbed and in firing position very quickly if needed. When the skinny gent handed me a cup of coffee, I replied. "Thanks. I've been thinking about a cup of coffee for the last hour or so. Wanted to get further on down the road, so I put off stopping and starting my own fire. My name's Sean Eaton, and I'm headed east to check on my grandmother, who I've had word that is in bad health. You fellows live around here? I was kind of wondering whether the streams in this area are going to be easy to cross or not."

    By now, I had kind of assumed that the fellow with the missing thumb was the leader of their group. He and the guy that had been hiding in the brush passed a careful look between them, before he said. "No, the creeks and streams are a little low right now. You shouldn't have any trouble crossing."
    I took another drink from that coffee cup. "That's sure enough strong coffee."
    "Yeah," answered back the thumbless fellow. "That it is. Two cups of that stuff, and you won't sleep for six months."
    I chuckled, and said, "Well in that case, I suppose I'll just stick to one cup. When I was riding in here, I noticed that you have about a half dozen head of cattle grazing just the other side of camp. You just buy them, or taking them to market?"

    The skinny guy's hand twitched, and the big man from the shadows, inched closer to his rifle. With an intent stare at me, the leader said. "Feller back down the road aways took sick, and he couldn't take his cows to market, so his Missus hired us to do it for him. They are pretty poor and she couldn't afford to pay much, but mainly we just wanted to help them out."
    "That's might nice of you. A man needs to know that he's got neighbors he can count on when things get tough."
    The more I drank from that coffee cup, the more nervous those men seemed to get. Now maybe they were just who they said they were, then again, maybe those cattle were stolen. I suppose it wasn't any of my business either way, but clearly there was something amiss here, and my instincts were telling me that I best be getting away from this camp.

    After I took my last drink from that cup, I naturally stood up and reached out, handing the cup to the leader. "Well, many thanks for the coffee. It sure hit the spot. But, I've got miles to cover, so I think I'll head on down the trail aways." I saw the three of them start to reach for their rifles, then, I heard the leader call out, "Hold it boys." He had noticed what the other two had missed. When I had stood up to hand over the coffee cup, my other hand had just naturally pulled the rifle barrel up with me, and as soon as I was rid of the cup, the rifle slid into firing position. With a forced grin, his voice was soft as he warned, "Now, don't do anything rash stranger. In case you forgot, there are three of us. You might kill one of us, but then you have to reload, and the other two will surely kill you. I don't think you want that."
    Lowering my voice to the level of his, just to set him to thinking, I answered. "You have a point. Question is, which one will I kill? Now, that's something to think on. A fellow wouldn't want to be the one that got killed would he?" I could see that my words had them thinking. "Something else for you gents to consider. I pointed to the leather strip around my neck. "Down the back of my shirt is a razor sharp, highly balanced throwing knife. I can reach back, pull that knife and bury it in you thirty feet away before you can lift your rifle. I sometimes use it to hunt squirrels when I don't want to waste bullets, or if I need to not make noise. Now, in case you lost count, that's two of the three of you that won't be around for breakfast in the morning. How do you like your odds now?"

    As they each thought about their chances of being the lone survivor, I remained quiet, knowing the longer they thought on it, the less likely they were to act. After a minute of so, it looked like the big fellow had made up his mind, as his face took on a determined look. At that point, I knew I had to press the issue. Pulling my rifle into firing position, I screamed, "Oh the hell with it, let's get this party going. It's a good day to die!"
    The leader had caught the look on the face of the big guy when I did. My words put him into action. Two big steps took him to the big guy's side, and just as his fingers grabbed his rifle, the leader's rifle smashed into his fingers forcing him to drop it. "You idiot!", yelled the leader. "That man's just crazy enough to kill at least two of us, and I'm not so sure he might not get us all." Turning to me, he said. "Mister, if you still want to leave, nobody here is going to try and stop you. If they do, I'll kill them myself."

    "Fair enough," I answered. Then I had the skinny fellow untie my horse and bring him to me. With my rifle covering the three men at all times, I climbed into the saddle, then backed my horse until we were in the dark. Then I turned him and turning in a different direction, we took off at full speed until we were out of rifle range.
    No more than fifteen minutes down the road, a voice called out from the night. "Hold it right there. I'm Sheriff Jackson, and I've got a dozen men with me." When I stopped and didn't move, the Sheriff and his men slowly rode up to me. He looked back at his men and said, "Ben, you got a good look at those men, is this one of them?"
    Ben rode over and after taking a good look at me, shook his head. "No, he sure ain't."
    "So what's your name, and what are you doing out here?," the Sheriff asked.
    CONTINUED BELOW
    Last edited by barnburner; 07-09-2012 at 11:09 AM.
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  2. #2
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    CONTINUED.
    "My name is Sean Eaton, from out Colorado way. I'm riding back east."
    "Mind if I ask why?"
    Deciding I didn't want to actually deceive a law officer, I simply said, "A death in the family."
    "Well," he answered. "Sorry to hear that. Since you don't appear to be with the fellows we are after, I'll let you continue on your way. "You didn't happen to run across three men driving some cattle tonight did you?"
    "Bummed a cup of coffee from them at their camp fire. They weren't the most friendly folks I've run across on the trail. Seemed sort of jumpy."
    The Sheriff nudged his horse and moved a little closer and looked me over a second time. "I'm surprised they let you leave. Those were stolen cattle they were pushing. I would have expected them to kill anybody that might take information about them to the law."

    Tilting my hat back so he could see the smile on my face, I answered. "They did seem to be dead set against my leaving, but, I managed to convince them that it would be in their best interest to let me go, they sent me on my way."
    Even in the dark, I could see the Sheriff's eyes locked on me. "Mr. Eaton, when you ride back this way on your way home, you be sure and stop in Ellis Grove, and tell me about just how you convinced them to let you ride out of there. That must have been some speech."
    "Yes sir Sheriff, I'll do my best to do that."
    The Sheriff and his posse headed toward the direction I had come from, and it wasn't long before I heard a lot of gunfire, but it didn't last long. There wasn't any doubt in my mind as to the outcome of that short lived battle. Those three rustlers were most likely dead. The boys in that posse looked a lot more interested in shooting, than they did in asking questions. Had I still been in their camp drinking coffee, I'd most likely be dead right along side them.

    It was a warm, humid night, but a chill ran down my neck when I thought about how razor thin the difference between life and death could be sometimes.
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    Last edited by barnburner; 07-10-2012 at 01:12 AM.
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  3. #3
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    A quite stressing life overseas in those times I'd say. Such unfriendly encounters were certainly not so frequent in Europe in the same age, nor was anyone carrying weapons.
    Long time civilization and religion induced inhibitions and rules made life a little easier this way I guess.
    About the previous chapter, I see the ladies didn't consider all the issues about Sean missing for such a long time or at least should his death or presumed one be assumed after due time. I guess in those times You could hardly expect two ladies with ungrown sons to live alone (or Dover stay for many years to accomplish his mandate).
    Your illustration here is one of the best ever. I like it!
    Panta rei (everything flows)!

  4. #4
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    Still enjoying the story.

    I like having the illustrations too!

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  6. #6
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    Caesar, Thanks for your kind comments on both the story and the painting. Very much appreciated.

    Marilyn, Very happy to hear that you are still enjoying the story. By the way, I noticed that when you commented on chapter 7, I had forgotten to attach the painting to it, in case you want to take a look at it too. (Since you are finding this story to be interesting, you might want to do a search for my first novel, "Follow The Sun". Return to Sender, is the continuation of that story. (If you have an e-reader, I can give you a link to download Follow The Sun at no cost.)

    Sandy, Thank you so much my dear friend. Your support is always appreciated.
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  7. #7
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    Hi, i am on an iPad and have. Kindle app

    I have enjoyed the stories and illustrations. I appreciate the larger print. Very inventive! Marilyn

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marilyn Anne View Post
    I have enjoyed the stories and illustrations. I appreciate the larger print. Very inventive! Marilyn
    I don't know why I went brain dead and didn't change to a larger font before now. Thankfully Pat mentioned it and woke me up.
    "Follow the Sun" can be downloaded here in either Kindle or Epub format.
    https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/109080
    Use discount coupon code LT28W at checkout, to get it free. (Note - anybody else that's reading this , feel free to use it.)
    Hope you enjoy it, and I'd appreciate it if you would let me know what you think.
    Thanks,
    mike
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  9. #9
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    Mike, I am afraid I have missed out on the start of this story ...I have a kindle can I get it at the link you gave Marilyn?

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by gxhpainter View Post
    Mike, I am afraid I have missed out on the start of this story ...I have a kindle can I get it at the link you gave Marilyn?
    Sure. Just use the same link and discount code to get it free. That will download to your computer, then transfer it to the kindle.
    When I finish with this book, I will be uploading it for download also.
    If you have any problems, let me know. I can always just email you a copy.
    Mike
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