They say love is blind. A young man’s jealousy almost gets him killed. The man who did it is on the run.
Sheriff Bill Sharps walked up to the cell door and peered through the bars at the occupants on the other side.
It was a small and barren room. One thunder mug and an old cot tucked up against the far wall was the extent of its furnishings. The cot groaned under the weight of it’s two occupants.
The Rome brothers were sleeping off the ill effects of a late night binge. The sheriff wasn’t happy with the two boys this morning. In fact, he was down right disappointed.
He grabbed the bars and rattled the door to get their attention. “Hey, wake up you two. You look like a couple of stray pups snugglin’ up to each other tryin’ to keep warm. It ain’t all that cold in here. Besides, that don’t look natural. And another thing. If you break that cot you’re payin’ for it.”
Douglas, the younger of the two brothers slowly opened one eye. It was only for a brief second as he made the mistake of rolling over onto his back and promptly rolling off the cot. He landed in a heap on the hard wood floor. With great effort he let out a low and pitiful moan.
The sheriff couldn’t help but chuckle at the comical scene.
“You boys need to get up and get moving. It’s well past noon and your old man is breathin’ down my neck to cut you boys loose. He heard what went on with you two last night and I can tell you he’s not a happy man. He wants to see those horses of yours in a froth when you get home.
“I worked things out with the barkeep. He says he won’t press charges if you pay for the bottle of whiskey you shot and the window you threw the chair through. It comes to five dollars. Says he won’t charge you for the chair. Mighty nice of him I’d say.”
Willis lifted his head and looked in the direction of the sheriff. “Can you keep it down some Bill, my head is about to split wide open.”
The sheriff raised his voice. “Did you boys hear a single word I just said? If you two weren’t my nephews I’d leave you here until you gained some sense. Pay the five-dollar fine and git the heck out of my jail. I’m in no mood to deal with the two of you right now so let’s go. Your horses are out back so saddle up and head straight home. I told your pa I’d let you out about noon and it’s well past that. He’ll be lookin’ for you.” The sheriff unlocked the cell door.
Douglas and Willis Rome slowly got to their feet. Willis gave the sheriff a five dollar gold piece as they headed for the door. “Thanks for the room uncle Bill,” mumbled Willis as he stepped out into the chill of a cool afternoon.
“You boys want your guns back or should I just keep em’ before one of you gets yourself killed.” Sheriff Sharps pulled the guns from his desk drawer and walked out back. He handed them to the boys with a word of advice. “What you two did last night was no laughing matter. The next time you end up in one of my cells it’ll cost you more than five dollars and a one-night sleepover. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes sir, Uncle Bill. We hear you.” The two boys strapped on their guns and finished saddling up their horses. They said their goodbyes to the sheriff and headed out of town.
When they hit the hilltop junction Willis turned his horse towards home but Douglas stopped and called to Willis. “I ain’t goin’ home just yet. I’m heading back to town.”
Willis turned his horse back towards Douglas. “What are you talkin’ about. Pa will have your hide if you do that.”
“I can’t help it Will. I gotta see Miss Lilly and explain to her what happened last night. I started that fight on her account. That no good skunk of a man shouldn’t have grabbed her the way he did. I love her Will, and I think she loves me. Anyhow I got to set things right with her.”
Willis moved his horse up along side Douglas and did his best to enlighten his little brother. “Douglas, don’t you get it. Lilly works at that saloon. That woman don’t love you any more than that horse of yours loves you. Think about it. That horse may let you ride him and he may even come when you call, but he only stays put because you feed him and you hitch him to a rail when you’re not around. You darn well know that if you stopped feedin’ and hitchin’ him he’d wander off. And it’s a sure bet that if you stopped spending all your money on that woman she’d do the same.
“Use your brain little brother. Trust me, she’s using you. She’ll hang onto your neck until your money is all but gone and then she’ll find herself some other poor slick to take your place. So take my advice and forget about her and let’s head for home before pa comes lookin’ for us.”
Douglas was the younger brother and the more stubborn of the two. Willis did his best to get Douglas to come to his senses but he may as well have been talking to a stump.
“I can’t do that Will. I think your wrong about Lilly and I’m heading back.”
Douglas turned his horse toward town and headed down the trail. “Tell pa I’m sorry but this is something I just have to do.”
Willis watched him as he rode back down the trail. He turned his horse and headed toward home, mumbling something about Douglas and his stubborn disposition.
It was late afternoon when Douglas got back to town and wouldn’t you know it, the first person he ran into was Sheriff Bill Sharps.
“Douglas, what the heck are you doing here and where’s your brother?”
Douglas tried to ride on past the sheriff. “I’m going to see Lilly and don’t try to stop me.”
The sheriff disregarded the threat and grabbed the horse by the bridle. “Douglas, that woman is trouble. You need to turn around and head home before you end up in my jail again.”
Douglas wanted no part of what the sheriff had to say. “Let loose of my horse. You’re just like everybody else trying to tell me what I should do and how I should feel. You don’t know. You’re not me. I got my own feelings and I need to do what I think is right, so let loose of my horse and leave me be.”
Sheriff Sharps let loose of the bridle and stepped back from the horse. “You’re right Douglas. You’re a man with feelings, that’s a fact. I can’t say I agree with them, but then you need to make your own decisions and your own mistakes in life. I won’t stand in your way. But I’m telling you right here and now. Don’t end up in my jail again.”
Douglas rode on to the saloon. He tied his horse to the rail and went inside.
As Douglas entered the saloon he scanned the room for Lilly. She was nowhere to be seen so he stepped up to the bar and ordered himself a drink. As he nursed his drink he continued to look for Lilly. He still didn’t see her so he decided to ask the bartender.
“Say, Gus, You haven’t seen Lilly around have you?”
The bartender pointed towards the stairs. “She’s working.”
Douglas couldn’t believe it. Lilly had promised him she wouldn’t work the upper rooms as long as he helped her out with living expenses. His disappointment was evident. He downed his drink and ordered another.
One full hour and several drinks later Lilly came down the stairs followed by a man he had never seen before. By this time Douglas was half drunk and in a foul mood. When Lilly reached the landing he blocked her descent and raised his voice toward her.
“I thought we had an understanding? Why are you doing this again?”
Lilly came further down the stairs. “Listen Dougy, A girls got to make a living and it will take more than what you can give me to have all the things I want.”
The man with Lilly spoke up. “Say boy, you need to mind your own business. Why don’t you run on home. I think I hear your momma calling. It must be past your supper time.”
The last thing Douglas wanted to hear right then was this stranger bad mouthing him.
“Why don’t you butt out mister. This is none of your concern.”
The stranger brushed past Lilly and leaned in close to Douglas as if to confide in him privately. “Me and the little lady here have been mighty happy for the past hour and now I plan on buying her a drink. Like I said, why don’t you be a good little boy and run on home to your mama.”
Douglas reacted in a way that was sure to bring him trouble. He grabbed the stranger by the collar and threw him down the stairs. Before he could recover, Douglas was on him. He lifted the man from the floor and threw him onto a table where a game of poker was being played. Chips, cards and money went in all directions. The stranger came off the table like a cat off a hot skillet. He came at Douglas with a knife that seemed to come out of nowhere. He stabbed him in the side and was out the door before Douglas realized what had happened. Douglas grabbed his side as he stood there in a daze of disbelief. Blood soaked through his shirt and onto his hands. The room slowly faded to black as he fell to the floor.
By the time Doc Lambert and the sheriff arrived Douglas was lying in a pool of blood. Doc did what he could to stop the bleeding. The sheriff recruited several of the bar’s patrons to carry Douglas down to Doc’s office where he could get a better look at the wound.
Once Sheriff Sharps knew Douglas was being looked after he sent one of his deputies to search for the man who had done the stabbing. He sent another to fetch Douglas’s pa and brother while he headed back to the saloon. Lilly was on his mind and it certainly wasn’t for pleasure. She was the first person he planned to question. When he arrived at the saloon he went straight for her. He grabbed her by the arms and tossed her into a nearby chair. “What do you know about this?” He demanded.
Lilly was in a mild case of shock but she had enough sense about her to tell the sheriff what she knew. She relayed the story of how Douglas had provoked the man by throwing him down the stairs and onto the table. The stranger had told her his name was Buck and that he was just passing through. She didn’t know much else.
The sheriff questioned several others but no one in the saloon had seen the stranger before.
Things weren’t sitting well with Sheriff Sharps. He was not going to let this drifter escape. He had stabbed his nephew, his sister’s boy. Douglas was family and that made things personal. After he finished his questioning, the sheriff stepped outside and headed toward Doc Lambert’s office to check in on Douglas. As he passed by the blacksmiths shop, Smitty, as he was called spoke up to the sheriff. “I know who you’re lookin’ for Bill. Can’t rightly say where he is right now but I know him.”
That got the sheriffs attention. “Well, let’s have it Smitty. I’ve got no time for games. My nephew is bleedin’ to death and the man who did it is on the loose. Who is he?”
Smitty spat into the hot coals of the forge and wiped his mouth off on his sleeve. “His name is Frank, Frank Hadley, but he goes by the name of ‘Buck’. He’s a mean one. I knew him in Falls City a few years back. He’s a hot head, and quick with a knife. I seen him stab a man over a two bit drink and wipe his knife off on the kids shirt before he hit the floor. Yup, he’s a mean one. Rode in this afternoon. I was gonna tell you about him when I seen ya.”
“Well, ya did right Smitty. Thanks for the name. I sent one of my deputies out to pick up his trail. We’ll start after him at first light. You’re welcome to ride along with us if you like.”
“I reckon I’m too old to be taking up with a posse, I’ll leave that to you younger boys. But I sure appreciate your asking.” Smitty spat on the coals once more as he went back to his work.
The sheriff continued on to Doc Lambert’s place. As he stepped inside the door he was met by Mrs. Lambert. She had assisted her husband with Douglas and was in the process of sterilizing some of the surgical instruments he had used.
The sheriff politely removed his hat. “Good evening Mrs. Lambert. How’s Douglas?” he asked.
“It looks like he’s going to pull through,” replied Mrs. Lambert. “The knife hit one of his ribs on the way in. He was extremely fortunate that none of his vital organs were damaged but he does have a broken rib and he’s lost a lot of blood. Doc is stitching him up right now. He’ll need to stay in bed for a few days until he regains his strength and that broken rib will take some time to heal.”
The sheriff thanked Mrs. Lambert for the information. As he was just about to leave, several horses rode up to the gate. The dust didn’t have a chance to settle before Willis Rome and his pa, Nathan, flew through the door.
With a justifiable sense of concern Nathan inquired about Douglas. “Where’s my boy? How bad is he?”
The sheriff relayed the information he had just received from Mrs. Lambert and assured Nathan they would be going after the man who did this at first light.
“Why are you waiting for first light?” Nathan demanded. “There’s still light enough to go after him right now.”
“Because,” Bill calmly replied, “We don’t know which direction he went after he left the saloon. I have a deputy out right now working on picking up his trail. There’s not much we can do until he gets back.”
Nathan removed his hat and sat down on the edge of an overstuffed chair. “You know Bill, ever since their ma died I’ve tried to raise these boys on my own. I may not be the easiest person to get along with and I admit, I’ve made my share of mistakes, but I did the best I could. Maybe I didn’t do good enough. I don’t know what has gotten into that boy lately. He’s only sixteen but he’s getting to be more than I can handle.”
Bill took a seat in a chair across from Nathan and looked him square in the eye. “Nathan, I know it’s been hard on you and the boys ever since my sister passed on, but you’ve done a right fine job with these two boys of yours. They’re just at that age where they’re ready to get out on their own. It’s nothing you did. Kids have a way of growing up on you. These two are getting restless and it may be high time you think about cutting them loose. Believe me, they’ll do just fine. I’m sure this is something Douglas will learn from.”
Nathan got to his feet. “You’re a good man, Bill. I’m fortunate to have you as a friend and an uncle to my boys. Now why don’t we go see what we can find out while we wait for your deputy to get back.”
The three men left the doctors office and headed up the street towards the saloon but before they got too far the deputy in charge of locating Frank Hadley’s trail rode up.
“Well, I got good news and I got bad news sheriff. A couple of folks out on the street told me he headed north out of town in a cloud of dust after he left the saloon. I picked up his trail and tracked him for a ways but lost it in the dry wash about a mile out of town. It’s pretty rough country out there and with night coming on I don’t expect he’ll travel much further until first light.”
Well with that bit of information the men went about getting together a posse to be ready to go at first light.
The sheriff invited the Romes’ to spend the night at the boarding house where he stayed.
Frank Hadley slowed to a walk as the sun went below the horizon. He was several miles out of town heading north. He knew the sheriff would be on his trail at first light so he wasn’t about to stop. He dismounted and began to lead his horse along the dry wash for a ways and then headed out across the desert. He took full advantage of what little moonlight there was and proceeded as carefully as he could.
He knew the area had several narrow ravines but he was unfamiliar with their exact location and stepping off the edge of a cliff was a definite possibility he didn’t want to experience. Eventually he found the trail he had come into town on. He knew if he headed East he would run across a rail line and a water tank where trains took on water each morning before heading further north and eventually turning toward the east.
Hadley kept his horse moving along the trail. It was almost light when he reached the water tank. As luck would have it there was already a train taking on water for the days run. He worked his horse into a nearby gully, took off its bridle and unsaddled it. He gave it a swat to get it moving then started out on foot. He had stolen that horse and would get another when he had the chance. He made his way up to the train and climbed into an empty cattle car. In no time the train began to move out.
At first light the sheriff, along with Nathan and Willis Rome and several men from town set out to pick up Buck Hadley’s trail.
The trail was clear as far as the dry wash. At that point they split up. The two deputies and several others followed the dry wash while Sheriff Sharps and the rest of the men headed overland in the direction of the railroad tracks. Not knowing if Buck Hadley would be up ahead waiting for them, they moved with caution. Buck was partial to the knife, but he also carried a gun.
By early afternoon there was still no sign of Hadley. The sheriff and his group reached the tracks and followed them to the water tank where they found the saddle from Hadley’s horse. That could only mean one thing. He had managed to hop the morning train and given them the slip.
The two groups met up back in town that evening. Sheriff Sharp’s had sent off a telegram up north to the sheriff in Henryville, warning him about Frank ‘Buck’ Hadley. Nathan Rome was upset that Hadley had gotten away, but was extremely thankful upon his return to see Douglas awake and talking.
In Henryville, Jessie Wakefield stepped out of the Copperhead saloon. He had been drinking with a few of the boys for most of the evening and was about to make his way back home. He walked up to the rail where he had tied his horse along with several others. After looking the horses over for the second time, the realization hit him. He shouted with surprise and anger. “Hey, my horse is gone. Somebody stole my horse!”
Once again Frank “Buck” Hadley had slipped the noose. It was only a matter of time before he would be brought to justice. Be it before a judge or God himself.
As for Douglas Rome, Buck Hadley had taught him a valuable lesson. It came at a high price. But it was one Douglas would remember for the rest of his life.
© Copyright 2023 by Scott A. Gese All Rights Reserved.
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