This novella was conceived, plotted and written in a single 60 minute session on 19 September 2015, by members of the Wrekin Writers group during which 2759 words were written by thirteen contributors.
Cover Art – Suki White
Chapter 1 – Bryan Vaughan
Chapter 2 – Jean Jeavons
Chapter 3 – Simon Whaley
Chapter 4 – Mike White
Chapter 5 – Di Perry
Chapter 6 – Phyllis Blakemore
Chapter 7 – Yvonne Watkins
Chapter 8 – Chris Owen
Chapter 9 – Darren Bailey
Chapter 10 – Dorothy Nicole
Chapter 11 – John Dyson
Chapter 12 – Mollie Bolt
Chapter 13 – Cheryl Lowe
The sun was high and cruel as George Washington took a weary step over the rise that revealed the small town of Dodge.
“I can’t keep doing this,” said his diminutive companion, wiping a bead of sweat from a tired brow.
“We’ll be there soon,” George pointed down the hill at a dry but inviting saloon.
“I don’t mean for today,” replied Ant. “I mean this drifting from town to town. I want to stop. Put down some roots.”
George shook his head. “We’ve talked about this,” he said, suppressing a scowl. “The west is calling and the east is catching up. We need to be free.”
“We can be free in a ranch,” argued Ant, hitching up his pants and resetting his wide-brimmed hat against the glare of the sands. “And I never agreed anyway. I was only going along with you because…”
“I know,” George’s tone softened and he reached out for Ant’s hand. “Let’s get down there first. Things will be easier after a bath and a bite to eat.”
Ant nodded tiredly and trudged on ahead. George paused and watched Ant. He loved Ant so much. Especially that bottom!
He slid a finger under his gunbelt to ease the chafing. Maybe Ant was right? Maybe it was time to find a place and settle down? He just couldn’t see himself doing it any time soon.
Approaching the town, this odd couple looked around. Something was amiss. Gun shots were fired, horses were standing on their hind legs, frightened.
Two people came rushing out of the bank. More gun shots were fired, bullets flying around but not hitting anyone. One leap-frog jumped onto the back of his horse, the other one was more refined. They were both carrying bank money bags tied together and put round the neck. No time for saddlebags. The bank teller came out waving a gun, his legs tied together so he found difficulty in persuading the robbers. Another gunshot was fired by a good citizen. One of the robbers fell off his bucking horse and was dragged along the ground.
This gives them an idea. They look at each other and race after the bank robbers, catch up with the one who has fell to the ground, punch him and steal the money bags off the first robber, race to catch the second robber, shoot him and steal the other money bags and take them. Of course they were going to return them to the bank?
“Stop right where you are, you rootin’ tootin’ cretins!” bawled the sheriff in his drawliest Dodge accent. “One false move an’ I’ll shoot the both of yers in the back.”
George and Ant stopped dead and glanced at each other from the corners of their eyes. Ant fluttered his eyelashes. Or was that just a bit of Dodge dust making him do that?
George’s hand gripped the satchel tightly and looked at their horses roped up a few feet away. Bloody typical! They’d put a dime in the pay and display for two hours and they’d only been here fifteen minutes. He considered making a grab for his gun in his holster. Ant saw George’s fingers flex. He fluttered his eyelashes again. Bloody Dodge grit.
“Right nah, you two,” the sheriff sounded closer. More chance of being hit, thought George. Better keep still.
“You two meet a description I was given,” the sheriff continued, “of two armed robbers, who’ve just helped themselves to a load of dollars that ‘ent rightly theirs.”
George’s adams apple bobbed. Ant fluttered his eyelashes. Bloody dodge grit again.
“Yous two are gonna accompany me to ma office where you’ll be tried by the finest court in Dodge,” the sheriff chuckled.
George looked at Ant. “We’ve been accused of bank robbery!” he hissed at Ant.
Ant fluttered his eyelashes. Bloody Dodge grit.
Ant tumbled down the steps. “Save me George.”
“They think I robbed the bank.” Ant was already mounting his horse.
“Don’t argue, for god’s sake.”
Townsfolk were pouring out of the bank, some of them brandishing pistols. Ant turned his horse and left. George leapt into the saddle and rode after him. Shots were fired and George heard a bullet whine past his ear.
“Christ, those bastards mean business.” He urged his pony to greater speed.
Ant’s mount had less weight to carry and had pulled ahead.
Out of sight of the town, they halted in an arrogo.
“What was that about?” George demanded.
“Those men we saw had just robbed the bank. When I walked in with our stake they thought I was one of them.”
“Why? Surely you’d be mad to walk right back into a bank you’d just robbed?”
“Either that, or real smart.”
George mulled this over for a while. “So what do we do now? Run for it?”
“Those bastards have got our money. I’m damned if I’m leaving that.”
“You’ll be damned if they convict you of robbing the bank. Let’s go. We can more easily get more money than get out of jail.”
“Yes, we could rob a goddamn bank!”
“We’ll go then. They’ll be getting a posse together and these horses are pretty tired.” Despite their predicament, George smiled to himself. In times of hardship Ant’s sense of humour kept them going. “Okay.”
They set off again, but slowly, conserving their mounts’ strength.
They fled from the bank but Antonia was not quick enough. She stumbled in the confusion. Kobus turned back to see she was amongst the rest of them and would appear to any bystanders that she was one of them. The sheriff turned up with his men who bustled them all together.
Now she was standing next to the men she looked tiny. He wondered if her cover would be blown straight away. He saw the look on her face as she gathered. He would have to leave her. Kobus managed to run down the back of the saloon where just a few dogs were barking at the commotion outside the bank. He crept on all fours to the single horse tied up outside and within an instant he had mounted and made away.
Antonia was jostled into the county jail with the others. Fearful now they would soon suspect she was a woman. Bad enough to be left there but what would they do to her if they found out she was a woman? She would be sharing a cell with six men and was terrified of what could happen. She felt vulnerable and had the nagging fear that Kobus had actually left her.
She sat slumped against the bars, head down so no one caught her eye. Perhaps she had pushed him too far with talk of settling down. Kobus was a drifter. That’s what he had always been and why should he change for her? She wondered if this was his chance to leave her. Perhaps he didn’t really want a ranch? Perhaps he wanted to keep moving, remain a stranger in every place? It preyed on her that she has forced his hand. If they hadn’t gone into the bank to sort out the money for the ranch, none of this would have happened.
The rest of the men were silent, but occasionally hit the bars. Night came and she sat, refusing to sleep in fear of what could happen if she let her guard down.
Feeling guilty, worried, Kobus vaulted on his horse, Lance, who went from standing into a cantor, then full gallop in twenty seconds. They left the town in a cloud of orange dust, disturbing the rows of terrified horses and mules tied to the posts outside the saloon and hardware shop. Stray dogs chased after them and the first quarter-mile sat Lance outstripped them.
Into the open prairie they thundered on and into a creek stained red by the setting sun. Cactus grew twenty feet high. Lance, he scaled the narrow pass, avoiding massive boulders and the occasional rattlesnake.
Kobus was then weary but he had to go on. He pulled Lance up at a waterfall, secured the sweating horse into the shallow at the side of the water. Lance drew the ice-cold water up through her feet. Kobus splashed his own face and drank deeply.
In the saddle again he flapped the reins on Lance. He’d no need to nudge him with spurs. Lance, after the short rest was ready to gallop full-out again. They sent up a cloud of dust in the open areas of the prairie for a mile around was cactus, boulders, occasional stunted trees and them looming before them a creek two hundred feet high, stained red in the setting sun.
Lance picked his way through the creek. It was strewn with boulders. It was dark. On they went further into its high sides. It was silent above, then the sky was still blue, with the moon just appearing.
The moon was not the only thing looking down on them. Some warriors from the Seminole Tribe lay on their stomachs watching the horseman go through the creek. Behind them on his painted horse was Chief Angry Bear. He motioned to his warriors. They stood round him and discussed their next move.
Irritably, Theron wiped the sweat from his eyes. Looking back at the flickering lights he considered his next move. Keep moving or find a way to get Ant out of the mess back on Dodge? He pulled a tall box of cigarillos from his boot, bristled a smoke and flicked a match from his thumbnail. The smell of sulphur was quickly followed by the rich oak scent of tobacco.
Inhaling deeply Theron reached into his other boot and lifted the stick of dynamite to his nose.
Dry as a bone.
The answer to his quandary was weighed in the calloused hand and not found wanting. Straightening his shoulders, the rider nudged his horse forward, smiling in anticipation of Ant wrinkling her nose at the smell of tobacco on his breath.
Rusty, the jailer’s hand, did his usual round with bucket and mop and made his way along the floor pushing his handcart closer to Kobus’ cell. As he moved it the bucket exploded and he was pushed into the adobe wall six feet behind him. As the smoke cleared he thought he saw two figures pushing their way out of the damaged cell and heard the sound of horses before the inky blackness of unconsciousness took him.
“I need a dress,” Ant shouted after the vanishing figure.
Kobus looked down at the campfire. There were two men that he could see and about a thousand cattle moving nearby. These guys had to work for Washington, could he really risk approaching them? He sat there thinking. If these guys turned nasty Ant could be stuck in the hideout while he was lying somewhere in an unmarked grave. The howl of a coyote seemed very close. Maybe they wouldn’t bury him, just feed him to the wild dogs.
He had to go down there. He needed information. As he made up his mind the men dismounted and a third man arrived. They all seemed very relaxed. The man who had arrived gave a great hooting laugh bending over double and the others joined him. They didn’t look like killers, but could you really tell these days?
Getting his horse he headed over the rise. “Hello in the camp!”, he called.
The laughter stopped and the men sprouted riffles. One disappeared into the darkness.
It’s just a normal cautious bunch of cowhands, Kobus, relax.
“Can I share your fire tonight?”
“Get your hands where we can see them stranger.”
“My name’s Kobus. I’m not a stranger.”
You’re a stranger to me. I’m not from round here.”
“Well, me neither. I’m just saying I’m not a stranger, is all.”
The sun was low in the sky as he approached the ranch. Kobus tethered his horse in a copse of bushes some distance from the ranch and helped himself to a mouthful of water from his flask. He stood quietly for moment as he studied the house and outbuildings, getting his bearings, learning the layout. It would be dark soon and he would need to find his way around.
After a few minutes he made his way towards the nearest building. Standing in its shadow he could hear the voices of the cowhands arguing about. He listened for a while – six different voices, possibly one or two more men there but they were thinking about food and little else. Not the men he was after, obviously.
He moved on. Lights had now appeared in the house, shining onto the. He worked his way around the outhouses, moving stealthily, stopping ever now and then to listen for any movement. Reaching the house he stood in the shadows and looked through the window.
Four men sat around a desk in what was obviously an office. Papers littered the desk with bottles of whisky.
“I don’t see why we can’t take the cash out now.”
It was the man closest to Kobus who had spoken.
“No way. You’ll just go spreading it around and there’ll be hell to pay. You’ll wait ’til I’m ready.”
The man who had spoken must have been standing against the wall. A fifth man whom Kobus hadn’t been able to see. Figured. There had been five riding away from Dodge when Kobus and Ant had first seen them.
“But I’m pissed off waiting in this hole of a town. First give me my share and I’ll be off.”
“You can piss off right now if you like,” the hidden man said, “but you’re not taking any cash with you. Come back in three months and I’ll let you have your share then. Not before.”
“Yeah, and it’ll be waiting for me. How do we know you’ll keep your word? Why?”
Sheriff Longstride fingered the hammer of his pistol and then re-adjusted his holster-belt uneasily. He turned and glanced behind him at his two deputies. George and Ant remained silent as the men shuffled and spurs jingled. Finally Longstride broke the quietness that had begun to settle.
“So we think we know how this got here, and how it’s going down! This is your last chance to tell us everything you know, and don’t forget, we already have a good ‘take’ on what you’re about to confess to, so save yourself time and skip the fantasy!”
George turned and faced Ant. “Will you tell him?”
Ant looked away and mumbled, “No! You do it.”
George stepped backwards and reached behind the desk.
Three gun hammers cocked loudly and George froze.
“Just getting the evidence, Sheriff Longstride – it’s here behind the desk in the two saddlebags.”
George cautiously stooped and retrieved two leather bags.
Nothing could have prepared her for the scene of devastation. One man lay writhing in agony and crying for his mother, while Bill, the ‘hand man’ was running round in circles, singing what sounded like a nursery rhyme – except that it had a number of unusually adult words. Annie, the town madam, had fetched some water in a bucket from the stand pipe and seemed to be splashing around indiscriminately – for what purpose was unclear. She seemed to be enjoying herself.
Antonia was magnificent. She managed to stay calm and invincible in the centre of the melee and suddenly it was realised that the battle was over – victory was hers.
“Come on pal,” she said. “Help me round up these useless wasters.”
“But where to?” Ant asks Kobus feeling the onset of tears.
“Anywhere. Not here. I hate this place of sanctimonious morons. Lets just saddle the horses and follow the wind.”
Ant opens the drawer and removes clothing. Taking her time, she folds them, piling them on top of the other in a neat pile on the bed.
Kobus grabs them and walking through the door screws them into a compact ball. Descending the stairs he whistles.
Ant begins to follow him. They stop at the top of the street.
“So?” she whispers. “Do I stay or do I go?”
“Where would you go?”
“I could stay with Daddy. Go back to my old bedroom. Enjoy the home comforts.”
“But why would you do that before placing this ring on the third finger of your left hand?”
Ant stopped. She saw Kobus dip his hand deep into his pocket.
“What did you say?”
“I said come here. There’s something I want you to see.”