Western Gunfighters #4 featuring Red Wolf

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Western Gunfighters #4 featuring Red Wolf

Post  Nik Havert on Wed Dec 26, 2012 12:04 pm

Red Wolf tapped the tip of a burned stick with his finger. He showed his fingertip to his short companion, "Shakespeare" Greg Casey.

The con man looked at the soot on the Cheyenne warrior's fingertip.

"I am nonplussed, good sir," Casey said.

Red Wolf smeared the soot with his thumb. "The soot is still wet. Your friends, Floyd and Akers, put out this fire not long ago. We are close."

"They are not my friends," Casey said. "Not since they stole what I earned and left me for dead."

Red Wolf stood from his crouched position near the quenched campfire. Dawn was breaking and the rising sun's rays cast him in silhouette to Casey's eyes. Casey looked up from his seat on a large rock and saw only a looming figure of a muscular man with the head of a wolf before him. He knew it was only Red Wolf's wolf headdress, but in the waking hours of the day it was impossible to tell where the wolf's head ended and the man's face began. Casey thought he saw pinpoints of red fire where the man's eyes should have been, but he thought that must have been an illusion from the fatigue of riding all night. Red Wolf had told him that he was the chosen warrior of Owayodata, the wolf-headed protector god of the Cheyenne, and, for a moment, Casey believed him.

The silhouetted man-wolf was joined by a massive wolf walking over the ridge and standing by the Cheyenne's right side. It was the wolf Red Wolf had named Pinebark. Casey figured the wolf could've fit his mouth around his head without trouble, so he always kept a healthy distance from him.

"You did not earn it," Red Wolf said. "You stole it from Big Mike at the mill."

Casey shrugged. "One man's bad luck is good luck for another."

"Do not forget your promise."

Casey held up his hands. "I will return Big Mike's payroll money as we stipulated for your help in finding my turncoat companions. In fact, to show you my goodwill, I have made you a gift."

Casey walked to his horse and reached into a shotgun case hanging from the horse's right flank. He pulled out a stick that was head-high on him. Hand grips had been carved into its length. One end had been whittled into a sharp point and the other a flatheaded knob. A hawk feather was tied at each end. He approached Red Wolf with it held in his outstretched arms. It was the first time he saw the Cheyenne surprised.

"You made a coup stick?" Red Wolf asked as he admired it.

"You talked about finding a new one so much the first score miles that I thought I'd whittle one if it would stop your prattling. I found the hawk feathers and the stick at our first camp."

Red Wolf spun the stick around his head in a sharp arc, thrust it at imaginary enemies, and then held it above his head and yelled to the sky in Cheyenne. Casey stepped back, not sure what Red Wolf was going to do next.

Red Wolf pulled the bone handle knife from his boot and cut a tuft of hair from Pinebark's back. The wolf never flinched. Red Wolf scanned the ground and began gathering small plants and a cactus. He muttered to himself while he ground them together on a flat rock. Casey sat back on his large rock, figuring the Cheyenne knew what he was doing and that questioning him would be pointless. He watched Red Wolf stoke the campfire back to life. He held the mixed herbs, wolf hair, and cactus to the rising sun and then threw them on the small fire.

Casey was about to ask if Red Wolf was sending a smoke signal to someone when the large man vaulted the small fire, grabbed him by the head and yanked him toward the fire.

Casey tried to back away, figuring the Cheyenne had gone crazy and was going to burn him alive. "What are you doing?"

Red Wolf shoved Casey's face into the smoke. "Breathe!"

Casey coughed, which made him cough more, which made him inhale a deep breath of the strange sweet-smelling smoke. He felt cold on his backside and realized Red Wolf had plopped him back onto the rock.

"Shakespeare" Casey looked up and saw Red Wolf towering over him. He was taller than before, tall as a tree. His voice boomed. The sun behind him cast red, yellow, white, and bright blue lights over him and through his eyes and mouth. The coup stick in his hand wasn't a coup stick at all. It was a naked woman. No, it was a huge snake.

"Owayodata has indeed sent you to me!" Red Wolf said, his voice loud as thunder. "You have carved his totem and given it to his agent in this world. You must have some Cheyenne blood in you Shakespeare Casey! Do you see him? Does he speak to you?"

Casey started reciting a monologue from "Henry V," but then realized he had no idea what he was saying. It sounded like gibberish, but Red Wolf was chanting the same thing. The morning clouds over his head were hundreds of gray wolves charging out of the sky and straight toward him. A raging fire reached up from Red Wolf's feet to his hips that were now higher than any mountain he'd ever seen. The Cheyenne's face was gone. Only the face of a wolf remained.

"Owayodata!" Casey screamed until he was spitting blood.

"You will aid my champion," the wolf-god commanded. His inflection on the word "will" was strong enough to crack the rock on which Casey was sitting and drop him to the ground. "Do this and you will be remembered in the next world as a friend of the Cheyenne."

Casey nodded. It was all he could do as the massive snake slithered over his face.

"Shakespeare Casey."

Casey didn't want to open his eyes. He didn't want to move. He didn't care that a nice breeze was blowing over his body or that Red Wolf's voice was calm. The snake was still licking on his face with its massive tongue.

He steeled himsel and opened one eye. Pinebark was above him, licking his face. The wolf's tail wagged. Red Wolf, holding his wolf headdress in his hand, was crouched on the other side of Casey. He smiled down at him and helped him sit up.

He handed Casey his canteen. "Drink."

Casey, surprised to discover he had not spat up blood all over his shirt, drank the whole canteen.

"What did you see, Casey?" Red Wolf asked as he looked out to the horizon.

Casey's trembling started to wane. "What did I see?"

"In the smoke."

Casey searched his mind. It was like stumbling through a fog after drinking too much tequila. "The clouds," he said. "The clouds were wolves."

Red Wolf nodded. "What did he say to you?"

Casey was almost afraid to ask. "Who?"

"You know who."

Casey saw the rock he'd been sitting on was cracked. Had it always been cracked?

His trembling returned. "He said I'd be remembered."

Red Wolf laughed. The sound of it terrified Casey until the big Cheyenne yanked him to his feet and danced him around the sputtering fire. Pinebark jumped around them, yipping with delight. Casey began laughing and then couldn't stop. He wasn't sure why, but he felt at least six inches taller.

"Come, friend," Red Wolf said. "Let us go to Flagstaff."

"Flagstaff? Why there?"

"That is where Floyd and Akers went."

"How do you know that? Did Owayodata tell you?"

Red Wolf pointed down the hill. "No, it's over there."

Casey looked down the ridge to see the city of Flagstaff in the distance.

*****

"What the hell are we doin' in Flagstaff, Sheriff?"

Sheriff Lynne resisted the urge to swat his deputy with his hat. "We're here, Gordon, to get information."

Lynne had led his posse in search of the Cheyenne he'd let escape to Flagstaff in hopes they'd never find him. Red Wolf was in search of the men who'd stolen the payroll from the mill. It was an opportunity to stick it to Victor Chupp and his hold on Bellemont and most of the water there. He knew Gordon wanted to steal his job by killing Red Wolf and currying favor with Chupp, and he figured being in Flagstaff long enough would give Red Wolf a massive head start.

"He wouldn't come here," Gordon said as they rode into town. "He'd stay to the hills. He'd stick out here like a preacher in a whorehouse."

The rest of the five-man posse mumbled in agreement, but some were already eyeing saloons and streetwalkers.

"All these people may have seen him. We need to contact the local law and enlist their help," Lynne said. "Hitch up your horses, get a meal, and I'll be back with more men."

The other men stopped grumbling, apart from Gordon. He and the others dismounted outside the Dawn Star Saloon. Gordon watched Lynne casually ride deeper into the city until he was bumped by a short, one-armed man.

"Sorry, sonny," the man said through teeth that looked more like piano keys than a healthy mouth. He scampered into the saloon and called for a shot of whiskey.

Gordon looked down the street, but the Sheriff was gone.

*****

"I guarantee you they've been there," Casey said.

He and Red Wolf were hidden in a clothesline-strewn alley across from the Dawn Star Saloon. They'd sneaked into town before the sun had fully rose and Casey had yanked the Cheyenne into the alley as soon as he saw the saloon.

"What makes you certain?" Red Wolf asked.

"It's the first place with gambling, liquor, women, and beds. Petey can't resist a card game, and Floyd can't resist women. They'd stop in there to drink and rut and cheat some of the locals. They'd find out where the hot card games are and then move on. I'll go in there and ask around."

"I will go with you."

"You'll start a brawl as soon as you walk in," Casey said. He grabbed a coat and hat from a clothesline. He wrapped himself in the coat, only putting his left arm through the sleeve. He found a discarded candle below a window and rubbed blackened wax on three of his teeth. He turned to face Red Wolf, and the Cheyenne stepped back in surprise.

Casey, now standing bow-legged, had transformed himself into a one-armed man with missing teeth. His posture and facial expression had changed. He appeared ten years older.

"I'll need my bullets, sonny," he said in a voice not his own. "Just in case them rascals get ornery."

Red Wolf, who had never seen a play or professional actors, was still dumbfounded as he handed Casey his revolver's cartridges. Casey loaded his pistol and tucked it into his waistband. His hidden right arm under the coat gave him easy, constant reach on it.

"I'll give you a sign if there's trouble," Casey said in his normal voice, which disturbed Red Wolf even more.

"What kind of sign?"

"Trust me, you won't miss it."

Casey started for the saloon, but Red Wolf grabbed him by the shoulder. He'd spotted Sheriff Lynne and his posse outside the saloon, and now Gordon the deputy and the others were dismounting while Lynne rode into town.

"The deputy. Watch him. He is cruel and eager to use his gun."

Red Wolf winced when Casey bumped into Gordon, but the deputy paid him little attention. Red Wolf sat back on a rain barrel and waited.

*****

Billy Mallory and Johnny "Apple" White, two gunslingers hired by Victor Chupp and Big Mike to catch Red Wolf and Casey, stood around the dead campfire and checked the multiple tracks at the site.

"Wolf," Apple said before biting into a Granny Smith. "Moccasin, too. Red Wolf was here. He's always got a mangy hound runnin' with him."

Billy crouched near a large, cracked rock. "Small feet here, lad. This must've been Shakespeare Casey himself. Why would they be travelin' together?"

"Who cares?" Apple said. "That makes it easier for us to grab both of them."

Billy looked down the ridge. "It'll be a bit tough to find them in Flagstaff, but with the good Lord shinin' upon us, Apple, I'm sure we'll be rewarded."

*****

Casey couldn't believe his luck. Floyd Hahn and Petey Akers were at the back poker table. Hahn was wearing an eye patch and had grown out his beard. One of the showgirls was on his knee and they were taking turns giving each other shots of whiskey. Akers was wearing clothes that made him look like a down-on-his-luck miner who had brought what little gold he had to the table in hopes of funding a new stake. It was a scam they'd played many times. Akers would put on the air of an inexperienced player to suck in the suckers. Hahn would play up his natural boisterous personality as a distraction for Akers to slip in marked cards and sneak peeks at the other players' hands.

Casey weighed his options. He knew they wouldn't have brought the money they'd stolen from Big Mike's mill. It was hidden somewhere and he needed to know where.

He walked up to the table as Akers was dealing. He grabbed Akers' left wrist and Hahn's right as Hahn reached for his cards. The other three men at the table looked up as Akers and Hahn froze.

"Well, well, well," Casey said. "I believe Hell is empty and all the devils are here."

He turned over their hands. Hahn had been dealt a full house. Akers held a deck with aces on the top and bottom.

*****

Gordon bellied up to the bar and ordered a beer. He reached for his coin purse, but it wasn't on his belt. He looked around on the floor before he remembered the short man bumping into him. He looked around and spotted him at the back poker table.

*****

Red Wolf ran across the street when he heard the fight. He stopped just short of the saloon doors and looked into the building. The main hall was a mass of flailing bodies, tossed furniture, and flung drinks. He saw Gordon the deputy trying to strangle Shakespeare Casey in the middle of the room.

He ran in, knocking two men to the floor with his coup stick as he did. He heard someone yell, "Get that injun!" to his right. A man grabbed him by the right arm. He stabbed the man through the instep of his right foot with the pointed end of the coup stick.

Gordon saw Red Wolf stabbing a man through the foot with a pointed stick. He dropped Casey to the floor. pulled his Colt, pointed it at Red Wolf's back, and pulled the trigger.

Red Wolf turned at the sound of the clicking. Gordon was pulling the trigger of his Colt as fast as he could, but the hammer kept falling on empty chambers.

"I took the bullets out," Red Wolf said. "And you were too stupid to check your own gun."

Gordon flipped his pistol around to hold it like a club and charged Red Wolf, who stomped him in the chest and knocked him across a warped table. A man jumped on Red Wolf's back. Red Wolf swatted him in the head with the coup stick. The man dropped to the floor, clutching his bloodied forehead. Two men rushed past Red Wolf and Casey, plowing through both men like they were trying to outrun a stampede.

"That's them!" Casey yelled.

Red Wolf yanked Casey from the floor. The two men ran out of the saloon and stopped on the top step.

Hahn and Akers stood with their hands up at the bottom of the steps. They faced two men that Red Wolf immediately recognized as professional killers. One wore a bowler hat and held a double-barreled shotgun. The other had his hand on his revolver in a right thigh holster. He was polishing an apple on his shirt.

"Well," Billy Mallory said. "Praise be to our Holy Mother and her son, Jesus Christ, Apple. The four bounties we want find us instead of us findin' them."

TO BE CONTINUED!

Nik Havert

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Re: Western Gunfighters #4 featuring Red Wolf

Post  Mechajared on Fri Jan 04, 2013 3:33 am

I love this, the action keeps getting better and better. Plus I love how the plot is thickening. Kick ass work Nik.

Mechajared

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