Return to Beaver Creek

As I rode into Beaver Creek I noticed that Main Street was unusually quiet. Moving on to the livery and unsaddled my buckskin
mare, carefully rubbed her down with a handful of straw, and bedded her down with a bucket of oats. She was a fine animal.
Born to the mountains, she was short in stature but long on endurance and speed. The next few days would be hard on the
both of us and I wanted her well rested for the trip ahead.
Miss Hattie's eatery was just down the walk and I decided to head over for the last hot home cooked meal I would have for
some time. Miss Hattie's had been the only restaurant in Beaver Creek for many years. Her specialty was Lamb stew and I was
looking forward to a big helping as I opened the door and stepped inside. Immediately I knew something was wrong. I could
have been the way the hair was standing up un the back of my neck, but I believe it was the way the room got quite as I
entered. There weren't many people in the restaurant, mostly farmers and ranchers in town for supplies and a day of shopping,
but every eye turned my way. Spotting my favorite table in the back of the room was empty I headed to it and ignored the
stares. Miss Hattie appeared immediately with a steaming cup of coffee. I murmured my thanks and took it from her. A second
later she returned with a steaming bowl of stew and a thick slice of bread. As usual she took the seat next to me and sipped her
own coffee.
"What's going on?" I asked as I chewed a big spoonful of the succulent stew.
She placed her work worn hands around the cup; her index finger was tracing circles around its rim. "Garrote Simms is in
town, and he's looking for you. Says he'll tear apart the town if you don't face him."
I knew the name as many men who made their living riding fences did, by reputation. It was said the Garrote Simms got his
name from strangling a man on a riverboat back east. It was never proven but it was a known fact that the victim had cleaned
Simms out at a poker game the evening before and Simms had sworn his revenge. Our paths had crossed a few months back
when I had shot and killed his brother, Blain, during a rustling attempt at the ranch where I was riding brand. The last words
from Blain had been that his brother would avenge him.
Hattie had been watching me for a reaction. When she didn't get one she continued. "He shot Ben Mason last night. Said it
was just the begining.Said there'd be one a day til you showed. Rice rode out to the Bar Seven last night, but they said you had
packed up and moved on."
The pieces were starting to fit together. My cool reception from the town's folk had been justifiable. They thought I had turned
tail. I looked up at Hattie who was regarding me over the rim of her cup. "I headed to Eagle Lake to do a little fishing. Was
thinking of trying my hand at some panning for a while. Try to make a start to buy myself a ranch."
"More likely you'll die on some cold mountain top alone like old Lester MacGraw." Lester MacGraw was a local man who had
gone into the hills a couple of years ago looking for gold. It had been suspected that he had been caught in an avalanche when
her stayed too late in the year. No one had spent much time up there and he had no local family so the body was never
recovered. I had been up once or twice, but not since the avalanche.
"Old Lester stayed too far in the season and took too many chances. I ain't aiming to die to make a living. Anyhow, it looks like
I have to get past Simms first."
"Not many would blame you if you headed out the back door now. Save yourself a piece of trouble, maybe even your life." Her
ageless green eyes were almost pleading.
I sat back and savored another bite of stew. I didn't come to town looking for trouble but I sure as heck wasn't going to back
away from it. If Garrote Simms wanted a piece of me I'd give him his chance. "Nope. Man's got to fight his battles. "They were
brave words I knew, but I couldn't back down and ask the town, the only real home I had know since losing my parents to an
indian raid, to bear the brunt of Garrote's rage. No, no matter what my head told me I had to stay and fight.
Hattie got up and brought me a generous portion of her fine apple pie. I was chewing the first bite when the door opened and
a monster of a man entered. He was a big man with shoulders as wide as an ancient oak, and arms as big as tree limbs. His
flat brimmed hat was pulled low, but I could make out cold blue eyes. Eyes cold with hatred and anger. Around his waist he had
a matching set of Colts tied down and I didn't doubt he knew too well how to use them. Yet despite the presence of the side
arms, I sensed he would rather tear a man apart with his bare hands and draw great pleasure from it. As he walked over to me I
didn't need to ask who he was, I knew I was looking into the face of the man that aimed to kill me, Garrote Simms.
We locked eyes for several seconds, each man measuring the other before the big man broke the silence.
"You the dirty dog that murdered my brother?" It seemed more of a statement than a question and for what good it was I
intended to set the story straight, at least for my own peace of mind.
"I'm the man that shot your brother in a fair fight. He had it coming, he tried to steal some cows from the brand I was riding
for. When I tried to stop him, he drew. And lost." As I offered my explanation of the event, I leaned back in my chair stretching
my long legs. Pushing my pie away with my left hand I dropped my right to my side and took the leather strap from my Colt and
loosened it in the holster. I didn't intend to be gunned down in cold blood.
The big man's eyes never left my own, but it was obvious he had noticed my actions. He took a step back. Indecision crossed
his face, while he wanted me dead, his own gun was secured in his holster and any attempt to loosen it could be
misinterpreted, leaving me with the solid advantage. It was a big chance and one he was clearly not ready to take.
"Yeah? Well, that's not the way I heard it and I'm gonna kill you. You get your affairs in order, boy. We'll meet
again. Tomarrow at ten. You be there, I don't want to hunt you down." The Big man turned and walked out leaving a
stunned room behind.
After a few minutes I stood up and stretched. By now most of the other patrons had finished their meals and moved on. I
placed money on the table to cover my meal and moved to the rack to recover my tattered hat. As I was placing it on my head I
heard Hattie come up beside me.
"Where to now?" I could tell by her voice that she was hoping I would light out.
"I guess I'll take the man's advice." I stepped out into the heat then turned and tipped my hat at Hattie." See you in the
morning for breakfast. Sure would be nice to have some of you buckwheats."
Every eye was on me as I moved through town toward the livery. I could tell from the looks that some thought that I was
running out on them and leaving the town at the mercy of Garrote Simms. They would just have to wait until morning I told
myself. Still, I never did like being branded as yellow.
As I saddled the mare I could sense she was eager for action. I had decided to spend the night up on Mortar ridge, do some
fishing and thinking, then return in the morning to face Simms. I led her from the stable trying not to notice the angry stares
from the citizens that were taking notice of my departure. I could have set their fears at ease and told them I would be back to
face Simms, but I had never offered an explanation of my intentions before and didn't care to now. As I stepped into the saddle
the mare's ears perked up and her head jerked back. We had spent too many days in each other's company for me not to
recognize the signs of approaching danger. I turned my head to study my surroundings then it hit me. The blow hit me in the
right side just above my gun belt. The force spun me in the saddle and I almost tumbled off, but the mare sensed I had been hit
and spun enough to keep me on. The next thing I knew she was running like the wind. Only when we were a mile or so out of
town did I rein her in and take stock of my wound. When I saw how much I had bled I realized I was in trouble. Tearing off a
small strip of cloth I stuffed it in the wound. Then taking two strips of rawhide from my saddlebags, I tried myself on the mare
and let her have her head. I felt the urgency of her pace quicken just before I blacked out.
Sometime later I came to, still strapped to the saddle. The mare had stopped next to a running stream. My mouth felt like
cotton and I knew I needed to bathe my wounds so I using my teeth I untied the rawhide strips holding me in the saddle. I tried
to climb down easy but all I could manage was to fall from the saddle. The pain wracked my body forcing all thoughts out my
mind except my own agony. Again my world went black.
The mare nudged me with her nose and brought me back to my senses. The pain had faded some, but in it's place I felt light
headed and groggy. I had lost a lot of blood my jeans and shirt was soaked with it. Ignoring the pain as much as I could I drag
myself the edge of the creek. A couple of times the pain nearly overwhelmed me and I felt the blackness creeping back for me,
but I shook it off, determined to reach my destination. Before long I heard the sound of the running water near my ear. I untied
the bandana from my neck and dipped it into the water. It was cold and refreshing as I wiped the sweat and dirt from my skin.
Feeling a little stronger I pulled myself yet closer and drank. The cold water quickly quenched my thirst and gave me new spirit.
After resting a bit longer I began to clean my wounds. Despite the blood loss, it wasn't as bad as I had expected. There were no
signs of infection and obviously the bullet had not nicked anything vital on its way through. Feeling some restored, I sat up and
took in my surroundings. The mare, having no guide has followed her own nature and taken us into the mountains. After
scrutinizing the surroundings for sometime I began to recognize my surroundings. We weren't far Lester MacGraw's camp or
what had been his camp before his death.
Pulling myself up by the stirrup I took down my canteen and filled it from the stream. Them I grabbed the pommel. I knew I
would have to pull myself into the saddle, I was in no condition to walk and I would have to have shelter soon. Taking a deep
breath, I pulled myself up. The pain and nausea hit me immediately. I breathed deeply, willing myself to stay alert. The mare
perceived my weakness and stood steady waiting for my command. My head cleared quicker this time and I urged the mare on.
There were many superficial changes in the landscape since I had last visited Lester MacGraw with a load of supplies, but
basically the terrain was the same. Soon I was at the niche in the rocks that led to Lester's dwelling. Lester had been very
careful when he scouted the location of his camp. The main living area and corral were nearly impenetrable and easily
defensible by one. Hopefully it would serve me while I rested ad tried to regain my strength. As I slid out of the saddle once
again my head reeled. I stood motionless for several seconds holding the mare's neck for support. Again, my strength returned
quickly and I took the reins of the mare to lead her up the shallow grade. Minutes later I was at the corral. The gate had been
busted open evidently by the stock left behind after Lester's death. I led the mare in and propped the gate back up. Inside I
found a watering bucket and feed pan. I filled the bucket from a small stream that trickled from the rock wall and took some
oats from my saddlebag. Then, fighting waves of pain and dizziness I unsaddled the mare and wiped her down. Only then did I
go into the deserted dwelling. Three of the four walls were stone, as the dwelling had been made in indian fashion utilizing a
rock shelf as a roof and three of the walls. The fourth and front wall was made adobe fashion of dried mud and natural
elements. The door was wooden. Its double thickness ensured it would endure the harsh mountain winters. I searched the
inside, much in disarray since raccoons, opossums and other critters had made their way in looking for tidbits of food. Finally I
came across a coffee pot and a tin of coffee. With wood I found nearby I made a small fire in the hearth. I filled the pot with
water from my canteen and while waiting for it to boil I got some jerky from my saddlebags to make a broth. It had been more
than a day since my last meal. After my meager meal I felt my weariness settle. I went outside to check the mare. I knew she
would warn me if danger approached.
That night the fever set in. I woke up to the sound of the mare pacing and snorting. My bedding was soaked and I trembled as
I wiped a shaking hand over my sweat soaked face. Realizing something outside was distressing the mare; I grabbed my
Winchester and climbed weakly to my feet. I fed a cartridge into the chamber and opened the door. My vision was blurred, but I
made out the shape of a man opening the gate to the corral. I lifted the rifle unsteadily to my shoulder and took aim. Holding my
breath I squeezed the trigger. The recoil sent spasms of pain racing through my body. I slumped to the floor not knowing if my
aim had met its mark.
I woke again to the smell of wood smoke and bacon frying. The smell overwhelmed me and I rolled to my side and grunted.
Whoever it was could have killed me long before now and I really didn't care. Moments later the door opened and I sensed
someone leaning near me. I opened my eyes and was greeted by an intense searing pain the penetrated the depths of my
skull. I moaned. There was a gentle touch on my shoulder.
"It's ok, Ham. Don't try to move." The voice was very familiar. "Miss Hattie sent me to find you and see that you're all right. It
took me sometime though. That horse of yours is good. And I must have gone past the niche in the rock a half a dozen times
before I noticed your trail."
I recognized the voice. Gil Mathers was Hattie's Godson. He had come to live with her at a young age after his parents were
killed in an Indian raid. She treated him like her own son; we had struck up a friendship after I rescued him from some rowdy
cowhands one evening. They had come to town drinking and looking for trouble and Gil just happened to cross their path. I
should have known Hattie would send him after me.
"I guess Garrote couldn't wait." I said through gasps, "Funny, I didn't figure him for a dry-gulcher." They words had taken a toll
and I laid down again close to passing out.
"It wasn't Simms." Gil went to the fire and returned with an offensive smelling potion. "I found some Arrowroot growing
nearby. I made some tea and ground a poultice for your wound."
Arrowroot was a local plant that the Indians used for medicinal purposes. When used as a poultice it helped keep infection
away and quickened the healing process. As a tea, it restored energy and fought fever. It smelled horrible and tasted twice as
bad. I took the foul smelling liquid from him and emptied the cup in a single swallow. I choked back the bile rising in the back of
my throat. "Wasn't Simms?" I croaked.
"I'm sorry to say some of the townsfolk got a little nervous when they saw you saddled up and heading out of town. One of
them decided to take it in his own hands. Naturally, When we explained you weren't some opinions changed about you, but by
then it was too late." He returned to the fire and filled the cup again. This time I smelled the aroma of fresh broth. Without a
word I took it from him and begun to drink.
For the next couple of days I drifted between periods of wakefulness. Gil kept himself busy by tending to my needs and fixing
the place up. The corral gate was replaced and the living quarters put in order. A couple of times he had wandered off just far
enough to kill a rabbit and once a deer. By the third day, I was on my feet again and ate a hearty meal of venison steak and
squaw cabbage that Gil had prepared. My strength was returning rapidly. Gil's nursing and a burning desire to go toe to toe with
Garrote helped me along. I felt certain I could beat him in a fair gunfight, but a man like Garrote had to beaten on him own
terms, man to man. Even if I recovered my full strength I knew I wouldn't be able to stand up to him for long. I had to beat him
quickly or be beaten or likely killed. I began working around the dwelling, moving boulders to make a small addition to the
stable. It was hard work and my body ached, but I was getting stronger each day.
On the fifth day I ventured a ways from the dwelling. I had decided to get the lay of the land in case I got the opportunity to
return and check out Lester's diggings. Not more than a half-mile from the dwelling I ran across a skeleton wedged in between
some rocks and half covered by brush. After pulling the brush away and inspecting it closer I proved what I had already
suspected. It was the body of Lester MacGraw. From the looks of things he had broken both legs and pulled himself to the
rocks for cove. I decided to collect his personal effects for his relatives. I had heard somewhere that he had a niece somewhere
east of here. It wasn't until then that I noticed the bullet holes in his jacket. Had there been just one I might have passed it off
as being caused by the elements and wild animals but there were five. I couldn't believe my eyes. Lester, who had never tried
to harm any one, had been dry-gulched. I emptied his pockets of his few effects; a gold pocket watch, a penknife, an unfinished
letter to his niece, and a small leather pouch. I opened the pouch and poured the contents into the palm of my hand. I stared in
amazement, there were four gold nuggets! None of them worth a mint, but it was enough to tell me that Lester's claim had been
productive. And probably enough to get him killed. Fire burned through my veins, I had a goal after I was finished with Simms
and that was to find the man that killed Lester. After giving as proper a burial as I could, I returned to the cabin and related what
I had discovered to Gil. We agreed not to try to take his remains back to town since this was the place he had loved the most.
I knew I had to return to Beaver Creek to face the man that wanted to kill me. I wasn't sure he was still there, but I felt he
wouldn't leave the town until he knew I was dead. I decided to send Gil back the next morning with a message to Garrote that I
would meet him on the 14th at noon. Just five days away. Although I had grown stronger with each day I knew that I would
need to be at my peak to beat Garrote. I would have to win fast there was no way I could defeat a man his size in a drawn out.
The next morning Gil rode off with a promise to pass on my message to Garrote and a special message for Hattie. With any
luck I would see them all again soon.
The next few days passed quickly and on the morning of the fifth I saddled the mare once again. She was anxious to free of
the confines of the corral despite the easy living. Finally I turned her toward Beaver Creek and gave her head. Soon I made out
the outline of the town. Like it or not it was where my destiny lay and my life either began anew today or ended. I tied the mare
out in front of Hattie's rather than take her to the livery. Immediately as I entered the front door the delicious aroma of Hattie's
buckwheat pancakes and bacon frying greeted me. She had been expecting me. I noticed that for the first time in all my years, I
was alone in the small cafe. My footfalls sounded thunderous as I made my way back to my usual table. In the midst civilization
once again I felt more isolated than ever. As I pulled back my chair and sat down, Hattie entered from the kitchen with a
heaping plate of cakes.
"Hi ya, Kid. I figured it was you. Not much business today." she set the hotcakes in front of me, and then leaned over and
quickly placed a mother kiss on my unshaven cheek. "Eat up before they get cold," she said as she went to the sideboard for
I sat for a moment in stunned silence. I all the days I had known Hattie she had never displayed such affection to anyone that
I could remember. It wasn't that she was cold, just not free with her affection. It was a trait of many frontier women. They lived a
hard life. As I started on the mountainous stack Hattie sat down beside me and sipped her coffee in silence. Moments later the
front door opened and Bick Weakly the town sheriff came over to the table.
He removed his hat and nodded at Hattie, then turned his gaze at me."I'm a bit surprised to see you back in town, Ham" he
pulled an extra chair to the table, "You know I don't condone disorderliness like this, but some one has to stop that man. He has
the whole town terrorized. Gil said you were planning to face him down with your bare hands. I gotta tell you, son. That's crazy.
He's a big man. A big and powerful man."
I pushed the half empty plate back and took my coffee cup. "Only one way to get the messages through to a man like that.
You've got to beat him on his own terms. It's the only kind of honor they understand."
Bick seemed to understand this and nodded in understanding. Then he changed the subject."Gil told me you came across
Lester's remains. I notified his lawyer and niece. They come in on the stage today."
I sipped my coffee slowly, "I can't imagine why someone would want to murder a kind old man like that. He never hurt no one,
didn't have an enemy that I ever knew of."
"Had at least one I guess. Counting Lee Grange, maybe two. Maybe." There was something cryptic in the way he said it and
before I could call him on it he was up and out the door.
I sat for a few minutes considering what he had said. Was there more to it than just murder? I still didn't understand why.
Perhaps there would be more answers when the stage arrived. And just maybe I needed to pay Lee Grange a little visit. Til then
I had more pressing business to tend to. I sighed and looked out the window. Across the street at the Continental Hotel there
was a fluster of activity. A crowd had formed at the entrance now they began to part and I recognized the familiar bulk of Simms
coming through. I got up from the table and headed toward the door. I looked back at Hattie, "Keep the coffee hot."
Simms had a murderous sneer on his face as he spotted me and start across the street. In his wake were a dozen men eager
witnesses to spectacle that would take place soon. The fire raging within me was reaching its own crescendo and I was willing
to show him all the blood he craved. His own. As I passed the mare I placed my gun belt across the saddle. This time I would
win a fight without irons.
As we drew up in front of each other in the center of the main street I knew I had to take the advantage quickly if there were
any hope for victory. I brought my right arm up from my side with lightening quickness and landed it solidly on his chin. I
followed it up with a left jab to his ribs. These two blows that I had put all my weight into barely moved Simms. I was still
recovering from the shock when I saw the meaty fist of his coming my way. I sidestepped just enough to avoid the full brunt of
the blow, but still staggered from the abbreviated force. Knowing that my only hope lay with speed I delivered another
combination punch that shot from my body like chained lightening. Again the big man was hardly moved by the weight of my
assault. Before I could recover Simms moved in and ensnared me in a bear hug. Suddenly, it was clear that he intended to
break my back or at the least my ribs, perhaps both. I felt pain shoot through my spine as the big man squeezed. My lungs
ached for air, but I could not fill them. I could feel my defeat closing as the darkness swirled before my eyes. With my last
reserves of strength nearly gone, my survival instinct took over. I drew my head back and with as force as I could muster I drove
the top of my head into his. I heard the sickening crack of bone splintering, and then witnessed the blood gushing from Simms
nose. I realized that I had finally found my mark on the big man as I crashed to the ground.
Simms wiped his bloodied hands on his shirt then turned to me again with rage in his eyes. In an instant he reached behind
him and pulled out a thin stiletto he'd hidden in his belt. Ready to keep the advantage even I pulled out my boot knife. Simms
came rushing in slashing with the knife in front of him. Stepping away to the side I felt the cold steel graze my side as he
pivoted to keep en garde. I stretched the knife in front of me. It was becoming clear that Simms still had the advantage. His
reach was another four inches longer than my own. I was watching him closely, waiting to find a weakness in his defense when
he charged again. This time I was taken completely by surprise. I fell to the ground thrusting my knife out in front of me. As
Simms landed on top of me I felt the blade of my knife penetrate him to the hilt. I didn't need to guess as I rolled Simms limp
body off of me that my weapon had found its mark and Simms was dead. At that moment I felt saddened that a man had lost
his life, but glad to have come out of it the victor.
I took stock of my own wounds as I headed back to Hattie's. My hands were battered and swollen, as was my face. One eye
was cut and there were two nasty gashes where Simms blade had cut me. Overall, I was in no condition to complain. The door
opened just before I reached it and a tear stained Hattie pulled me in and escorted me to my table where a pan of water and a
hot cup of coffee waited. I took a big swallow of the coffee as Hattie began to bathe my wounds. I started to work my hands in
the water to take the stiffness out. I still had unfinished business in this town. I hardly noticed the two strangers in the room until
they drew up in front of me and asked to sit down. The sheriff was with them.
"Ham, this is Lorraine MacGraw and George Beard. They're the one I told you about earlier. Mr. Beard was Lester's lawyer
and has some information I think you might be interested in."
George Beard was a tall man. Not the kind you would think of as a lawyer. Different cloths and different conditions, you might
have taken him as a ranch foreman. He held out his hand to me. "Pease to meet you, Mr....."
"Just Ham," I answered for him.
"Ham." he smiled a genuine smile like a man that didn't have a care in the world. I envied that. "Well Ham. As you probably
may not have known, Mr. MacGraw was a very wealthy man. And certain..uh..provisions of his will could not be executed until
the body was found."
My face must have betrayed my surprise because the beautiful Lorraine MacGraw met my eyes and smiled. At that moment,
something passed between us and I saw my destiny in her eyes. Embarrassed I looked back at Mr. Beard and tried to
concentrate on him. "What provisions?" I asked.
"Mr. MacGraw may have been something of a prophet. He put in his will that if he were lost in the mountains, whoever gave
his body a proper burial would inherit a half interest in his claim." Mr. Beard took out a copy of the will and handed it to me.
I hadn't much schooling so I just looked at it and handed it back. "Tell me Mr. Beard, you know of anybody that would want
Lester dead.
Mr. Beards looked up quickly like he was expecting that question. He studied his hands a minute before he replied. "I've been
thinking about that for sometime, Ham." Mr. MacGraw's former partner has been in touch with my firm several times trying to
obtain the rights to purchase that claim."
"Former partner?" I asked.
Mr. beard looked uncomfortable, as if this were dangerous ground for him. That fueled my curiosity all the more. "Yes, Mr. Lee
Grange had originally purchased the claim with Mr. MacGraw, but after it failed to pay after a couple of years he lost interest
and sold him share back to Mr. MacGraw. When he found out right before Lester's death that the claim was rich he wanted
back in claiming Lester had tricked him." Mr. Beard looked up into my eyes. I could see fear in them." It is my opinion that Mr.
Grange killed Lester. He has threatened me several times."
It was all starting to make sense to me now. A jealous ex-partner who would stop at nothing to get the claim back had killed
Lester. "Who owns the rest of the claim?"
"Miss MacGraw owns it as well as the all the property Lester had purchased before his death. He left everything to her.
Except your claim interest, of course."
"Well, I don't want it. Put it all in Miss MacGraw's name. Any decent man would have taken care of Lester's remains." I could
feel my shackles rising again, fueled by the knowledge of Lester's murderer. Miss MacGraw put up a hand to protest, but I
would have none of it." I won't take it, but I'd be glad to work it for you. It seems I need a job, anyway."
She smiled pleasantly, "I would be pleased."
With every eye on me I got up from the table. "Right now I have a little business to attend to." No one said a word as I walked
out. I stopped by the mare and picked up my gun belt. I checked the loads then strapped it on and tied it down. It was a familiar
feeling that set me more at ease. I patted the mare's head and set off in search of Lee Grange.
I found him sitting in front of the salon with his Winchester across his lap. I took note that that was likely the same rifle that
had wounded me. That stoked my anger more. Lee looked up as I approached. I could tell by the way he sat up straight and
gripped the rifle that he was nervous.
"Hello, Ham." he said in as friendly a voice as he could muster.
I made no effort to reply in kind. "It's a sorry excuse for a man that shoots at a man that couldn't shoot back." I watched as
Lee squirmed.
"Now I'm real sorry about the other day, Ham. You know how it is. The whole town was scared you were gonna ride out and
leave us at the mercy of that Simms fella." He was sweating rivers even though a cool breeze was blowing.
I stepped closer until only a couple of feet separated us. Even though I knew he could hear me fine I kept my voice up for all
to hear. "That ain't what I'm talking about, though I ought to shoot you for it right now. No, I'm talking about a man that didn't
even carry a gun. A man you gunned down in cold blood. The name Lester MacGraw ring a bell, Grange?"
Lee looked at me hard trying to decide if I really knew what I was talking about. I could see his nerves were settling and raw
anger was taking their place. I knew he wanted to take me on, but wasn't sure he would win. And men like Lee Grange only bet
on sure things. "You don't know what you're saying boy. You got no proof." His eyes were steady on mine, but there was a
tremble in his voice. I knew he was pushing the edge so I pushed harder. I wanted him to try to kill me.
"Don't I? I'm the man that found Lester's body and I'm here to tell you either you turn your self in to sheriff Weakly now or I
go myself. Either way I want to see you hang."
We locked eyes for several seconds before he looked away. "Like I said, boy, you got no proof." The words were bold. He
was a rattlesnake that had been cornered and I knew it. It would take very little to push him over the edge now.
I shrugged "Have it your way." I turned and started toward the jail. My body was tense and waiting for what I knew would
surely come. I sensed rather than hear the rifle come up from its resting place. Lee had decided to take his chance. As the lever
cocked I heard the crowd gasp, but I was already turning, drawing my Colt. By the time I faced Lee the rifle was nearly level. I
fired as soon as my gun cleared the holster. I knew I had hit my mark when I saw the stain in the middle of Lee's shirt. I looked
at Bick who came running up. "He had it coming."
Again, Hattie waited for me at the doorway of the cafe, but this time Lorraine stood beside her. She touched my arm as I
entered and I looked down at her blue eyes full of concern. I led her back to the table where Hattie was serving up more of her
fresh apple pie and hot coffee. No one spoke for several minutes. Much had happened and no one knew the right words.
Finally, Hattie's started gathering the empty plates. "So Ham, does this mean you'll be staying in Beaver Creek now?"
I looked over at Lorraine and knew I couldn't be happy any place else. "I've got a job now, Hattie and a new boss."
"Partner." Lorraine spoke up. "Mr. Beard is drawing up the papers now. Mr......"
I smiled and held out may hand "Spencer, ma'am. Hamlet Spencer." As I felt her warm hand slip into mine I knew it would be
much more than a beautiful partnership.