The Vigilante Trail
A light snow was falling as Charlie Reardon left the diner and made his way down Madison Street. Looking at the flakes covering the frozen ground, he knew if he didn’t find his man here, he would have to wait till spring. Spending the winter on the prairies of Kansas didn’t appeal to Charlie.
Charlie had only arrived in Coldwater, Kansas, as the white, fluffy clouds were putting the sun to bed. This town was no different from the other towns Charlie and Smokey had visited. Charlie was hungry and wanted a drink to wet his whistle but his first job was taking care of Smokey, a gray colored guru. His first stop had been the dilapidated livery and corral. Flipping the squalid hostler a coin for extra grain for Smokey, Charlie headed for Pete’s Diner. He knew that a well cared for horse could mean the difference between life and death. Pulling the collar of his threadbare coat upward was more of a gesture than for warmth, as he spied the Lady Gay Saloon. He wasn’t a hard drinking man, but he knew he might get a lead on the man he was hunting. Listening to random talk had placed three of the four men he hunted under his gun. The last robber he killed had given him a name before taking his last, ragged breath. Memories of better days came to him as he kept his eyes on the shadows of Madison Street. The roads he had traveled left no room for carelessness.
Charlie had left his Crawling R Ranch in Destin, Texas to ride the vengeance trail after a lone rider leading three horses had barreled over his father crossing toward the bank. Three men firing shots as they ran from the bank grabbed their horse's reins from the fourth man. They galloped their mounts out of town without looking back at the old man lying in the dirt with one hand clutching his cane. Charlie had caught a glimpse of the men as he ran to his father’s side.
After burying his father, he left his cattle and horses to range free. The horse he chose to ride was a mousy colored guru. Caution was of utmost importance. A light colored mount was hard to hide on the trail. A dark colored animal would blend in with the boulders and skyline. His travels had carried him into the Hole in the Wall territory in Wyoming and Robber’s Roost in Utah. Mingling with outlaws and rowdy cowpunchers in hideouts, saloons, and on the trail three of the bank robbers had been dealt a deathblow. The last man to be found gave a description of the fourth man before he passed into eternity.
Charlie had gotten a reputation as a fast gun and had been seen mingling with known outlaws. His reputation as an outlaw was preceding him on the trail.
Loosening the rawhide throng on his holster containing a Colt Peacemaker, he glanced again at the falling snow as he pushed through the swinging doors of the Lady Gay Saloon. The smell of alcohol and smoke reached his nostrils as he paused to let his eyes adjust to the darkness. A painted lady squealed with delight as a cowboy wearing chaps lightly kissed her leading her toward the bartender.
A squalid looking bartender wiping glasses glanced at his newest customer. “What’ll it be?”
“Tangleleg,” Charlie replied, while looking at the picture of a naked woman hanging behind the bar. Three bullet holes were perfectly placed over her most luscious parts.
“Don’t get much call for the homemade stuff,” the bartender snarled as he poured the drink.
“I’m about out of coins. There won’t be any work in this weather.” Emptying the glass, Charlie pushed it toward the bartender for another. The sound of the juice going into the glass was stilled as a younger man wearing a turquoise shirt nudged Charlie’s arm. Turning toward the man, Charlie noticed a deep scar on his chin and his buscadero gun belt with two holsters. Two Colt Dragoons were facing toward the front.
Turning toward the bar, placing a dime in front of the bartender for his drink, Charlie knew this was the man he had on his wanted list. He also knew the younger man was hunting a reputation. The sounds in the saloon died as Charlie was told he had better go easy on the sauce. Ignoring the voice, Charlie calmly raised his glass. “I’m talking to you old man.”
Charlie said, “I’ve been hunting you.” You and three more robbed a bank in Destin, Texas. The others are pushing up daisies but the last one told me about you. The old man you killed was my father. Hands slapped leather. Only one shot was heard. Charlie’s hogleg was smoking as he replaced it in its holster. Sprawled on the sawdust floor was the last bandit.
Several men entered the saloon. One was the town marshal. After hearing the gunplay was a fair fight, Marshal Kingley said, “Seems like I have a poster on a man that looks like you. Just leave by sunrise.”
Not speaking Charlie left to go sleep in the stable with Smokey. During the night, the snowflakes had turned to slush. With the first glare of morning, Charlie rode Smokey toward home hoping a positive identification could not be made of him on the wanted posters. He knew he was now a gunfighter but only wanted to get his stock back on his range and run the Crawling R. He breathed a sigh saying, “Smokey, we’re on our way home."
Biography: Revia Perrigin was raised on a poor dirt farm in Louisville, MS. She now lives in Columbus, MS. Graduating MSCW (now MUW), she is a life-long learner taking classes in writing, literature and history. Now retired, she spends time doing what she always wanted to do-write. She has been published in the MUW literary magazine, The Dilettanti. Her short stories have appeared in Dew on the Kudzu and her story, Surprise for Annie, will appear in So and So (Southern owned and Southern operated) in the September-October edition. The genre she prefers is western.