'Out In The Desert'

By Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— Henrietta 'Harry' Knappe and Sally 'Snapshot' Nichols, lovers and Deputy's in 1870's Red Flume, Arizona Territory, USA, encounter a madman in the desert.

Note:— Influenced by the 'Wolfville' stories of Alfred Henry Lewis.

Copyright:— All characters are copyright ©2019 to the author, and are wholly fictitious representations: the overall local geography may be questionable, too.

—O—

The desert outside Red Flume, Territory of Arizona, on this bright hot morning of late June 187-, was as it had been for thousands of years, dry barren and deadly; but not as deadly as some who traversed its wide horizon-touching wastes. George Cailley was 32, tall, lightly built, highly intelligent, and as mad as a wounded bear—and presently, he was approaching Red Flume as fast as his hard-pressed pony could manage.

—O—

The building was a relic of the days, now long past, when silver came out of the nearby hills like floodwater off a mountain in Spring. Part shed, part bunkhouse, part shack, because of the dry conditions in the barren desert it was still in good condition; roof still whole, walls tight from the rain, which never came, and door still close-fitting; all that it lacked being a regular inhabitant; the last such, Jeremy Lampton, having given up the search for silver some twenty year since, high-tailing it for Phoenix and the easy life as a barkeep.

In the early morning Sally 'Snapshot' Nichols, dressed similar to her temporarily absent inamorata Henrietta 'Harry' Knappe in her usual mode of shirt and blue cotton trousers with a tight leather waistbelt, had come out from the shack where she and her partner had spent the night. Standing in the cold air she had unexpectedly come face to face with Cailley, some twenty paces off, pointing a carbine straight at her. She having left her six-shooters in the cabin, not fearing any disturbance so early in the day, now stood stock still watching the tall man, deciding what his state of mind and present actions might be—then such became all too obvious.

Aiming his rifle, pointing it straight at Sally, he gave a sniggering cackle as he poised to fire. Then, from a great distance off, somewhere out in the wild sandy rocky waste of the surrounding desert landscape came a single shot—

Bang!

Henrietta, at a distance of around 300 yards, using her far-famed expertise with a Henry .50 rifle, had nailed her prey, a cloud of dust bursting from the back of Cailley's jacket as the bullet hit his left side; Cailley, caught wholly unawares, falling to his knees. As Sally, still riveted to the spot, watched he straightened his left arm, still trying to shoot her with his wavering carbine, but—

Bang!

Henrietta's second shot again hit him in the back, thumping into his jacket before he could fire, knocking him into the dirt, though still moving.

Bang!

Henrietta's ensuing third shot, she taking no chances with the well-being of her lover, hit the renegade once more in his back just as he painfully managed to raise himself one last time. With this third impact he finally collapsed into the dust motionless; a few seconds later Sally heard a loud cry away in the distance as Henrietta called out to her—the brief but intense moment of danger was over at last.

—O—

"Who the hell is he?" Henrietta, having arrived back at the side of her lover, now gazed with some interest at the new-made corpse. "Recognise him?"

Sally bent over the dead man, taking a good look at his features, dirty and covered in sand as they now were.

"Nah, don't think so. Not someone I've been involved with anytime recent, anyways. You?"

"Nope, complete stranger t'me." Henrietta straightened, gazing at her companion. "Close call, though; dam' good job I'd gone out early t'catch rabbits."

"Yeah, it was, an' I thanks ye fer you're efforts therein." Sally acknowledging the fact. "What do we do with the remains?"

Henrietta passed a hand through her long black hair as she considered the position the two women now found themselves in.

"What I'd like—bury the b-st-rd, an' ferget he ever existed." She shook her head, before replacing her wide-brimmed hat. "But ya know the state o'society these modern days; what with newspapers, the telegraph, Pony Express, an' what-all, someone'll be sure, three month from now, t'arrive squalin' like a baby fer someone t'find the piece o'sh-t, tellin' everyone who'll listen what a paragon o'the virtues he was in life."

"Hah!" Sally not impressed at all with this rendering of the late assassin's character. "No virtue in pointin' a carbine right at my heart, an' goin' t'fire off a shot straight through me; me bein' unarmed the while—b-st-rd."

During this short, but heartfelt, diatribe by her lover Henrietta had reached a decision.

"No way round it, dam'mit; we got'ta hoist the corpse over a packhorse, an' bring him in'ta Red Flume fer identification by the authorities."

"Oh God, there goes our two weeks in the badlands, enjoyin' ourselves."

"Could be worse," Henrietta unwisely trying for the high ground of humor. "Good job we're still within one day's ride o'the town; if'n we'd been any further off from society imagine the smell a'fore we reached civilisation?"

"Graah, that's nasty." Sally bending over dramatically, affecting about to throw up.

"Come on, gal; it's still relatively early morn, we can be in Red Flume by mid afternoon, if we try real hard."

"I aims t'do jest that simple thing, baby." Sally taking no prisoners in the matter. "I, for one, ain't spending even one night under the stars with a decomposin' corpse as my bed-fellow. Right, let's get the hosses' sorted out; make it snappy, lover, time matters, in this dam' heat. God, why'd he hav'ta go an' get hisself shot on my watch? Couldn't he have picked some other unsuspecting victim?"

"Ya said ya ain't never seen the remains a'fore?"

"Yeah, so?"

"He could'a seen you, a'fore?" Henrietta hitting the heart of the matter first pitch. "Could'a had some gripe o'long standin' against ya thet you've, since, forgot?"

Sally, with little effort, found the logical repartee to this supposition.

"Contrariwise, lover, he could'a had same fer you; but, takin' life as it presented itself, he fell t'startin' off the show with me; you bein' his tasty dessert t'finish with, when he'd done the deed with me."

Bur Henrietta, no slower than her sweet companion, snarled her quick answer to this calumny.

"Like I said, I ain't never seen the bushwhacker a'fore."

Sally, taking the opportunity offered, threw back at her revered lover what she had just suffered herself.

"But he still could'a known you, in the far distant expanse of all those years makin' up yer past life now pretendin' ter be history, my love—ain't that so?"

"God! Get t'harnessin' the dam' hosses, or we'll never dam' see Red Flume this comin' month."

—O—

Doc Wellesley as well as Sheriff Donaldson, on the ladies' arrival at Red Flume, were both unimpressed with the cargo they brought with them.

"Decomposin's settin' in, y'know."

"We'd noticed thet fac' these last three hours, or so; thank ye, anyway's, fer bringing' the matter ter everyone's attention." Sally, not a happy hunter, being as spiteful as her nature allowed.

"Know the deceased, do yer?" Sheriff Donaldson stampeding in where angels would have known better.

"No, we dam' well don't." Henrietta coming out fighting. "Thet is, no, we don't."

"Ah, only askin', it bein' my duty, an' all." Donaldson grasping the chance to be mean when offered. "So, who is he? An' wherefore he'd taken a spite against ye, at least, Sal?"

"The answers t'all those questions is flyin' in the wind, Charlie." Sally shrugging disconsolately. "All Harry an' I knows fer sure is, I clambered out'ta my bunk in Lampton's Shack this mornin', Harry havin' preceded me on the hunt fer breakfast; I siddled out in'ta the bright blue morn, an' found the reptile already standin' ter attention pointin' a carbine at the centre o'my chest; cacklin' some like a mad cockerel the whiles."

"I was huntin' around, a'ways off over the flat desert, when I hears somethin' an' turns quick ter see Sal's plight clear as day." Henrietta scowling luridly as she recounted the incident. "In 'course I immediate brought my Henry t'bear an' shot the b-st-rd ful'la holes, all accordin' t'Hoyle. These here remnants bein' the end result."

"Wishes ye both all happiness in yer duties in identifyin' the god'dam rogue- Doc, Charlie." Sally holding out an arm to her lover as she turned, with auspicious unconcern to the door of the surgery. "Come on, lover, let's find the Golden Oak an' swill down some whisky, ter take this dam' smell out'ta our noses."

"Hold hard." Donaldson waving an arm in the air. "Ain't near finished with you both, yet. All sorts o'things t'be answered, still."

Sally paused in her departure, eyeing Donaldson suspiciously.

"You knows we both has leave from our depity duties these comin' two weeks, Charlie." She pursed her lips with determination. "So Harry an' I'll jes' mosey on along, eh?"

But Donaldson had the perfect rejoinder to this attempt at mutiny in the ranks.

"An' I, as Sheriff o'these here parts, admits straight yer leave can dam' wait; we havin' us a dead body here thet needs attention right off the button, ladies. So, get ter findin' the dam out who he was."

Donaldson giving both women his most intense authoritative stare.

"—right about now'd work fine by me, depities?"

"G-d'd-m." From Sally, defeated at the very start.

"B-gg-r." Henrietta no way happier than her lover.

—O—

"Y'know, lover, the trouble with this here telegraph, modern an' dam' fast as it is, is the fact waitin' on a response can take dam' hours, if not days." Sally was standing outside the Telegraph Office on Main Street, pondering their next move. "We've sent messages, an' descriptions of the deceased, t'Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff, and Yuma; with no guarantees they'll reply any time this week. So, what's our next move?"

"We could go back t'the Sheriff's Office, an' sit on our butts fer the week." Henrietta coming it sarcastic, she feeling in the mood. "Or, we could saddle up, head on back out ter Lampton's Shack, an' take up trailin' the route the deceased took t'creep up on us unawares. Might give some idea of his plans and wishes an' whatnot. Might even tell us where he was comin' from, final."

Sally turned to regard the woman she loved with all her heart.

"Harry, your imagination equals those Eastern fella's, an' some ladies, who write those romantic novels." Sally shaking her head, as over a poor invalid. "Words thet sound fine an' intelligent, until you sit back at ease an' give the whole plot some thought. The trail's two days old, at least. By the time we returns there an' get ourselves sorted out, it'll be more like four. What'll there be left t'trail?"

Henrietta shook her head in disagreement with this foolish standpoint.

"Sal, how many times have I told ya I can trail a rattlesnake over a granite pavement for miles without losing its line of travel."

"Hell, I al'lus put those stories down t'general boastin'; not takin' them at face value, whatever."

"Sal, ya disappoint me." Henrietta shook her head again. "Fer yer information, it's all true. The trail'll be old, sure; but I can still follow it; at least partially, anyway. It'll give us something to occupy ourselves with, meanwhile. Donaldson can take care of whatever answers our telegraphs kick up."

Faced with such a dilemma, whether to do something, do nothing, or await future events, Sally, unlike a famous character in the classic Play, crumbled without further ado.

"Oh, OK; but don't blame me, out there in the heat o'the desert, when ya can't find hide nor hair of a trail t'save both our lives. Jes' registerin' my humble opinion, is all."

"God, come on, woman. An' I loves yer, too; don't know if'n which makes it better or worse."

"Har."

—O—

Back at Lampton's Shack nothing had changed, at least to the average gaze. Four days after the dramatic exit of the deceased the shack still stood strong and whole, no-one else, apparently, having been by in the meantime. When Henrietta and Sally reined in their horses, and two pack ponies, there was nothing to see all round but the flat rocky sandy scrub covered wasteland that made the desert in this region.

"There's my coffee mug." Sally dismounting and taking a few steps over to the roots of a small bush. "I dropped it in the confusion of the moment, back then. Great, looks still in good order. Wan'na cup o'coffee, darlin'? I can get a fire goin' in the shack in no time."

"Suits me, dear." Henrietta taking more time to dismount, having used her higher position to rake the surrounding countryside with an eagle's gaze. "Not too strong, mind. Hell, I can still see where the deceased fell; bits of rag or somethin' layin' around, jes' over there."

Half an hour later, strengthened by two mugs each of Foster's Southern Sweet Coffee straight from the tin can with its red and gold paper label, both women felt more alive and ready to meet the contingencies of the day.

"Right, you can track a ghost, in the moonshine at darkest midnight then, can ya, baby?" Sally being just that least bit disrespectful of her lover's capabilities. "OK, show me."

"Har-har-har. Critics,—I don't know. Follow me, gal, an' learn."

"Hu-uumph."

Pausing by the few rags laying on the stony ground which marked the last resting place of the departed bandit Henrietta bent down to examine the area with rather more intensity than Sally felt was necessary.

"Come on, lady, there ain't nuthin' here t'see."

"On the contrary, dear," Henrietta giving her partner the benefit of her quietest most ironic tone. "look there. See the bloodstains, those brown marks discolouring the sand? And over here, see; marks of his boots as he walked up t'this spot. Must'a been just a'fore you sauntered out the cabin right in'ta his carbine sights."

"No need t'bring thet back t'mind." This not being one of Sally's more uncomfortable memories.

"Look, that's the way he came; the marks of his boots are still clear." Henrietta now getting into her stride. "Lets follow along a'ways. Yeah, this way; he strode with a heavy step, diggin' his boots in every time; the marks still clear as daylight. Look at the sign he made in the sand an' pebbles comin' over this slight rise; God, a elephant couldn't have made a bigger mess."

Following close on Henrietta's heels Sally had to admit the trail, now its marks had been pointed out to her, was indeed fairly easy to mark and track.

"God, didn't think it'd be this easy." She making what apology she could, in the circumstances. "Figure all those whoppers ya told me over the years, ain't mere nonsense after all."

"Why, thanks."

But Henrietta was too focused on her work to take in much of what her partner was saying.

"Hah, look, broken reins on that bush over there." She ran across to the small bush, where the leather reins still hung limply. "See the hoof marks all round, an' the bitten through reins? His hoss was left here whiles he crept up on us."

"Must'a broken free when it realised he wasn't comin' back." Sally nodded agreement. "Could be halfway across the Territory by now."

Henrietta, meanwhile, had still been investigating the immediate area.

"See, come here, Sal. When it broke free it shed a saddle-bag." Henrietta, moving a few paces along, now stood over the leather satchel half buried in the loose sand and dirt. "Wonder what's in it?"

Sally was up for this.

"Try openin' the dam' thing; jes' a suggestion."

Sighing deeply at the level of culture she had to associate with but, intelligently, not saying so out loud Henrietta did as bid.

"Hmm, a shirt, shaving kit, what's this—oh, bandana—"

"Red, yellow, an' green; don't think much of his taste."

"A wallet, some loose coins," Henrietta continuing with her cataloguing. "a folding knife, single-edged, an' some loose sheets o'paper. No, wait on me, they're written on, letters t'someone, I think."

Sally's interest finally being stirred into life she leaned over the shoulder of her partner to get a closer look.

"What d'they say?"

"Gim'me a chance." Henrietta shoving her impatient companion aside none too gently, but with love all the same. "They ain't addressed t'anybody—oh, each's dated; they must be diary entries, I think."

"Interestin'." Sally coming close once more and grabbing Henrietta's waistbelt to show this time she meant to stay awhile. "OK, start readin', ya got an audience o'one, me."

"God." But, knowing she was beat, Henrietta gave in with as much grace as she could muster at short notice. "Right, let's see—this sheet—headed June Fourteen, thet's jes' over a week since."

"What's he say?"

"Uum, I'm quotin' here,—I final got a line on the two wh-res—God, he didn't like someone, thet's clear."

"Got a horrible idee he's referrin' t'us, lover."

Henrietta paused to take in this possibility.

"God, ya could be right.—sun-uv'a-b-tch."

"Get along with it, the sun's goin' down as we stands here."

"Gim'me a chance, gal." Henrietta attempting to regain the high ground. "OK, it's like this, he sez—I've got a line on 'em, they're holed up in Red Flume an' been so fer years. All those years I've been sat in Amarillo, thinking they was som'mers close by, wasted, it seems. Anyway's, I got them dead ter rights now. No railroad nor stage fer me, figure I'll cross the desert an' catch 'em unawares from behind, ha-ha."

"Mad fool." Alice making her calculated estimate of the departed's state of mind. "Barkin' a'fore he left Amarillo, an' God knows how more crazy he got a'fore findin' us, thet day."

Henrietta shuffled through the sheets of paper, looking for a later one.

"Here's one dated the day a'fore he met his fate." Henrietta studied it awhile then, noticing her partner becoming itchy as hell, allowed she'd read it out.

"—All ready, got me all the ammunition I need, an' enough weapons ter make the Mexican Army take notice an' go home.—"

"Ful'la himself, weren't he." Sally harbouring as much enmity now as when she first saw the bandit. "Jes' as well ya filled the coyot' ful'la lead, in my opinion."

"Can I continue—? I can, sweet o'ya. Right,—all I needs now is ter steal a hosss from Grubbins' Livery Stable, pack the saddle-bags, an' head on out fer Red Flume—"

"He stole his hoss?" Sally perking up at this item of news. "Now, baby, thet might, nor it might not, I agrees, be a posse matter. D'ya think they're still after him. Meb'be not so far off as we speaks here?"

Henrietta, though privately thinking her partner needed her brains Spring-cleaned, made as if considering the matter.

"Well, depends where this here Grubbins' Livery is located." She mused a little more, then shrugged. "If it's in Amarillo, Texas, we can fairly well ignore the idee of a posse comin' this far. But, on the other hand, if'n it's sum'mers in the Territory; well, ya might bet pretty high, an' yet win. Ever heerd o'Grubbin's Livery?"

This time it was Sally who stiffened her sinews to give the question some logical thought.

"Well, actilly, no." But she grinned widely, all the same. "But anyway's, I puts my dollars on Tucson. It's in the right direction, keeps up with his story, an' there ain't no reason we knows of thet it ain't Tucson."

Faced with this pathetic attempt at lucidity Henrietta struggled for several seconds not to express visibly what she thought; and was only rescued by Sally suddenly becoming interested in something altogether different.

"Hey, lady, there's a high dust-cloud moving over on the eastern horizon, or skyline." Sally took a few paces to stand on a low ridge of dirt and sand close by. "Looks like a group of riders, headed this way. They ain't movin' fast, but they're gettin' here, all the same."

Now, in almost any Western state, Territory, or other habited zone, the idea of meeting a group of riders out in the wild badlands, far from any centre of population, usually took the form of thinking suddenly of either bushwhackers, or rustlers; regular folks, with good reason for appearing in such an assembly, being rare as winged bison. Henrietta and Sally, without pause, taking the natural course in response.

"Come on, lets head back ter the Shack, pronto." Henrietta grabbing her lover's arm to help her along. "We can set up a defensive position there, easy."

"We'll be trapped inside."

"Yeah, but we got water barrels, an' food ter last fer weeks."

"They could burn the Shack round our ears."

"I doubts it; anyway's, if so, we goes out fightin' ter the last bullet, right?"

"Well," Sally contemplating the realistic course. "I was rather thinkin' of climbin' out a window in dead o'night, an' runnin' fer my life across the desert in the dark. It's a plan."

Henrietta, taking time out in clambering into her horse's saddle, gave Sally a pitying glance.

"Sal, sometimes the low depths ter which ya lets yer intellects drop surprises me. What are ya, a wimp, or a shootist with mean intent in yer belly?"

Giving no reply to this caustic question, she being wholly absorbed in sitting her own horse without major misfortune, Sally merely scowled frightfully, at no-one in particular.

"Come on, by the time we make the Shack, they'll dam' well be on our heels fer sure. Ya got yer Henry loaded, back there?"

"My Henry, as ya very well knows, is never unloaded, dearest."

"Har."

—O—

As Sally had surmised on first spotting them, the women had hardly reached the Shack, tied-off their horses at the rear, and entered the building, before the unknown riders cantered to a halt in front of it.

Henrietta had closed the door and laid the long thick plank of wood in its grooves across the inside just as a call came from the assembled riders outside.

"Hey, in there, who be ye? We here're a depities' posse out'ta Phoenix. If'n it's no trouble, I'll mosey up ter the door an' let ya see my credentials, signed by Sheriff Mulholland, his'self. How's thet suit ya?"

Henrietta already had her trusty Henry .50 rifle in her hand, all 15 rounds fully loaded. Now she stood back a pace to gaze at her lover, bending over a saddle-bag to her left, still struggling to load her two .38 Smith and Wesson revolvers.

"G'd-m'mit, Jee-sus, dropped one—G'd-m'mit,—"

"How're ya gettin' along, pard?"

"G'd-m'mitwhat? What was thet, dear?"

"The army's arrived outside, lover, an' you still in your shift—I don't know."

"Fool, id'yeet, cross-grained yello—d-m'mit, dropped another—see what ya made me do, ya lumpkins, ya?"

"Get a grip, lady." Henrietta almost laughing, despite the situation of the moment. "Here, stand aside some, I wan'na open thet window, ter parley with the enemy."

"Go ahead, it probably takin' me the rest o'the hour t'load these dam' things."

Henrietta opened the small window just enough to let her face show, eyeing the group of riders, and one now dismounted figure, with all the needed caution due in the circumstances.

"You the leader?" Henrietta's deep tone easily carrying the twenty yards or so over the flat earth outside the Shack.

"Yeah, Depity Crawford, James." The figure took a couple of paces forward, arms wide to show he wasn't armed, or at least hadn't anything of the sort in his hands, yet. "I got a warrant fer the capture, dead or alive, whichever may appear needful, fer one George Cailley. He ain't in there with ya, is he?"

"What for ya want him?"

"Well, let's see." Crawford raised a hand to tip back his wide-brimmed hat. "First-off he shot dead a livery stable man, back in Phoenix, stole a hoss, an' stole fifty dollars from a citizen. We, back ter Phoenix, wantin' him somethin' sharp, I'll allow. He ain't there, is he? Or ya knows whereby he may be?"

"Give us a description o'the corp—er, thet is, Cailley."

Having caught Henrietta's comment the deputy hauled off a pace, frowning slightly.

"Hu-um, well, let's see, he's tall, six foot two, light built, near thin, in fact; fairly intelligent, but mean as a sidewinder on all occasions—pretty much mad, in fact." Crawford considered some more, stroking his chin to help the process along. "Seems, from what little he let out ter other citizens o'Phoenix, he had some deep-set antipathy ter some wh-r,—er, thet is, some women over ter Red Flume. We pretty quick found his trail headin' this way, an' as ya can see, here we be. Ya know where Cailley is, as of right now?"

Henrietta stood tall and quiet in the Shack's room, mulling over what Crawford had said; then came to a decision.

"Come on up ter the door, but mighty slow an' cautious; I got a Henry ready ter blow ya apart, an' my partner here's jes' itchin' ter let loose with her Smith an' Wessons—get me?"

Now in command of the defensive nature of those inside the cabin Crawford did as requested, taking all due care not to spook the inmates nor let himself get into any dangerous position, as much as he could, anyway. He handed over, at extreme arm's length through the small crack in the door Henrietta allowed as safe, his credentials in the form of a letter from Sheriff Mulholland and the necessary arrest warrant. Having read both, while Sally covered Crawford with both her .38's plus a mean scowl, Henrietta was satisfied.

"OK, ya can enter, pal; ease off with the pistols, Sal, he's friendly."

—O—

"Dead?"

"As a door-nail." Sally providing this confirmation of the Deputy's question.

"Sure?"

"Shot him myself." Henrietta attempting not to sound too satisfied with her own capabilities. "With my Henry, three hits at long distance—result, dead as mutton."

"Where be the corpse?" Crawford resigned to the roll of Fate. "So's I can confirm it actil is the reprobate we're trailin'."

"Doc Wellesley's office, back in Red Flume." Sally grinning as she spoke. "He having a shed t'the rear stoked with ice-blocks. By the time ya make it there he'll, Cailley thet is, still be in pretty presentable condition, probably."

They were seated round the table in the main room of Lampton's Shack; the rest of the posse having taken up residence in the wide stable to the rear with their horses. An hour had gone by, and a certain amount of information had passed each way across the table, too. Now both parties were in command of as many details pertaining to Cailley's movements and motives as were ever likely to come to light.

"Ya say ya knew he had some complaint, against Harry an' I apparently; but ya don't know exactly what it was?" Sally still worrying over this point. "Didn't he tell anyone what riled him?"

"Far as we can find out, no." Crawford shook his head, coffee mug in hand. "He had it in fer ye both, certin'; but why's anybody's guess. Ya sure neither o'ya know the man, from way back when?"

Over her own mug Henrietta had been attacking this problem from all likely angles for the last ten minutes.

"Nah, far as I recalls he's a complete stranger t'me."

"You, Miss Nichols?"

Sally, also, had considered the matter, but to little avail.

"Nah, never seen him a'fore; till he stood right in front o'me, what, four days since, pointing his carbine at my heart an' gigglin' like a girl with a stick o'rock."

"Yeah, he's been reported, some promiscus' across the board, as bein' mostly out'ta his mind." Crawford nodding gently at this sketch of the now dead refugee from Justice. "Had a report, a fortnight since, from Doc Brompton, over ter Phoenix, thet he was thinkin' o'askin' Judge Jeffreys ter write out a warrant o'insanity agin' him; so's I could legal haul him off ter Tucson, an' the madhouse there. Fine establishment, Tucson's madhouse, every town should have one, y'know; a social prerogative o'the highest order. Either o'ya seen the place?"

Henrietta took the prime move in answering this slightly off the board query.

"Neither of us has ever felt the necessity, Depity, thanks."

"Ah, well, there's al'lus the future."

With this enigmatic statement Crawford placed his mug on the table and rose to take his leave.

"You both coming over ter Red Flume with me an' my posse?"

"Nah." Sally definite on this subject. "Nuthin' more fer us, there. We'll stay here, an' continue the holiday thet dam'med crazy bandit interrupted some."

"Well, bye; an' thanks fer your information about Cailley; sets me an' my men all ter rights, in fact. Be seein' ya both."

"Bye."

"Good journey."

—O—

The day had meandered on; thankfully with no tendency to throw up any more dramatic scenarios such as had encumbered the ladies' earlier stay at the Shack. Sally was idly sitting by the table in the main room, oiling one of her pistols, while Henrietta was rifling through the remainder of the items contained in the saddle-bag left behind by the late deceased; neither woman having thought of giving it to the Deputy before he left for Red Flume.

"Anythin' interestin'?"

"Nah," Henrietta shaking her head as she examined what came forth from the dusty saddle-bag. "Another bandana, a shirt, a toothbrush, an old copy of the 'Phoenix Scout', from two weeks ago, coupl'a rags o'no import; somethin' wrapped in this one—oh-ho, a pistol—"

Sally ceased working on her own weapon, raising her head to take a gander at the object now in her paramour's hand.

"Jee-sus, what in hell's thet? Two cocks? Dam'me. Big enough t'fire cannonballs; never seen the like a'fore."

Henrietta turned the huge weapon round and about, similarly at a loss to recognise its make.

"Yeah, flat-sided, no chamber, one barrel. How the hell'd he fire two shots?"

"Is it loaded?" Sally, against her better judgement, interested in the technicalities. "Two cocks side by side, one trigger, one barrel? What calibre's it?"

"Well, the barrel's thick enough t'take a naval shell, see? Fancy it's a powder an' ball weapon."

Sally by this time had joined her partner leaning over the curious pistol.

"Jeez, see what ya mean; about as thick as a naval gun. Must'a loaded two charges in tandem. Jeez, thet sounds mighty dangerous; fer God's sake don't fire the thing accidental, lover,—might blow up the whole dam' shack."

Henrietta, during this anxious diatribe from her companion, had been looking even closer at the curious device.

"Look'ee here, it's got it written on the top o'the chamber, front o'the cocks."

"What?"

"Lindsay, Young America." Henrietta considered her lover once more. "Ever heerd o'sich?"

"Nah," Sally shaking her head vigorously. "but, my opinion, throw it out the back, quick as ya like; an' fer God's sake, don't even think o'firin' the thing."

After her examination Henrietta, being pretty much in line with her partner's thoughts, laid the old weapon carefully on the table before returning to the rest of the saddle-bag's contents.

"Nuthin' else, lover; 'cept, what's this—oh, a cotton bag o'beef jerky; feelin' hungry, Sal?"

"Har-har. Say, lady o'my heart, throw over thet news-rag, if'n ye please."

"Ah, ya want's ter get ahead o'all the news round Phoenix, thet's a'ready two whole weeks old." Henrietta letting her sarcastic side have full rein. "Nuthin' like keepin' ahead o'the times, dear."

"Fool. OK, lem'me see. What was annoyin' the good citizens o'Phoenix, two weeks since, thet Cailley found it important enough ter keep the rag with him on his travels?"

For the first time Henrietta followed the logic of her partner, and was impressed.

"Sal, thet there's what the philosophers' calls a deep thought; I'm— awestruck."

"Id'yeet." But Sally had been putting her reading to good effect. "There's a big report on the front page, dearest, all about us."

Suddenly all was quiet in the Shack as both women sat by the table, heads down over the long story in the newspaper. The silence continuing for two or three minutes, till both had absorbed the tale set out in print for the delectation of the Phoenix readers, two weeks ago.

"Well, I'll be dam'med." From an astonished Henrietta.

"Not a'fore me, lover." Sally keeping her end up.

"So, thet's why Cailley was mad as hell, an' dead set on endin' both our careers?"

"It was all over thet set-to we had with the Wilkins' Gang, back in San Anton' Texas in, what was it, '69?"

"Nah, '68." Henrietta having a clearer memory for numbers than her companion.

"We shot Wilkins, an' two of his henchmen," Sally frowning over the details as they returned to memory. "an' thet woman—you recall, she was close by Wilkins's side, in a drab green dress, an' a'fore ye could sneeze she hauled out a sawn-off from under her shawl an' attempted ter separate ye from life wholesale. How many bullets did we pump in'ta her?"

"Enough ter kill the b-tch outright, no return ticket from the Heavenly through train, is all." Henrietta, now she recalled the incident, still harbouring grudges. "An' it turns out, 'cordin' ter this here rag, she was Cailley's sister. I'll be dam'med?"

Sally, however, was lost in her own thoughts; grudges of her own beginning to surface the more she thought about the recent newspaper article.

"What I wants ter know is, why'n hell the paper ran the old story, at all?" She, meanwhile, frowning strongly enough to have made an advancing pack of hungry coyotes realise their mistake and make alternative arrangements for supper. "Dredgin' up old news o'no likely interest t'modern times. An' the dam' editor never so much as asked our permission a'fore puttin' the whole sorry tale in print. Might at least have warned us, so's we could'a made an early escape—ter New Mexico, or meb'be Mexico, itself."

"Har, ya got a fine likin' fer yer own safety, dear; an' I loves ya for it." Henrietta smiling softly. "An' the idiot editor goes all out, tellin' everyone an' their Aunt we both now lives in Red Flume, visitors welcome."

"I got me a wish ter take a small detour over Phoenix way, an' inform thet editor o'his mistakes in life; meb'be, endin' his'n in the process." Sally letting her meaner nature take full control of her feelings.

"A fine an' wholly laudable desire, lover." Henrietta being of much the same opinion. "But, takin' things as they now is—Cailley being dead, an' no-one else o'Wilkin's gang left ter annoy us, why don't we jes' ferget the whole dam' thing, an' take life easy from now on?"

Sally, even through the red mist over her eyes that was only just dispersing, could see the sense in this outlook.

"Yeah, s'pose yer right, darlin'." She heaved a deep sigh. "We can, at least, enjoy the rest of our holiday out here. No-one else's liable ter come traipsin' along, wantin' our blood—d'ya think?"

"I thinks yer right, lover."

"One thing, lady o'my heart."

"Oh, yeah," Henrietta intrigued. "What?"

"I'm steppin' out a'whiles, ter see t'the hosses in the stable; you're the one who's gon'na take a hike in'ta the desert out back, an' throw thet dam' dangerous two-cock field-gun o'Cailley's away, so's no-one ever finds the dam' thing ever agin', is all."

"God, women." A statement Henrietta had been finding herself muttering more and more often lately.

"What, lover?"

"Lovely starlit evenin', dear heart." Henrietta well-knowing her best, and safest, course of action. "I'll be back in a jiffy; an' have supper on the go when ye returns from feedin' the hosses."

"Har."

The End

—O—

Another 'Red Flume' story will arrive shortly.