Into the West
The squeak of the pointlessly spinning wheel echoed in the desert. Sunlight faded on the horizon, throwing shadows against the remains of the overturned stagecoach and the crumpled bodies that sprawled among its ruins. The dust of the robbers swirled in the distance, as those murdering varmints fled into the hills with their ill-gotten spoils, the payroll meant for the miners of Cedar Gulch...
Davy slurped back his whiskey. “Somethin’ happened to the stage, Roscoe. It ain't like Joe to be this late. It’s mornin’ for heaven’s sake and he was due last night.”
The bartender nodded. “I know, but it could be they just had a broken wheel or somethin’. Don’t mean there’s trouble. `Sides, the Marshall and his posse rode out to see.”
“It’ll be bad news, Roscoe, you’ll see. Bad news.”
An hour later, one of the men who rode out with Marshall Collins came back to town. Davy watched the man ride to Ed’s, the undertaker for Cedar Gulch, and he kept watching, seeing the man leave town later, accompanied by Ed, his two helpers and their large wagon.
Davy burst back into the saloon. “I knew it! It’s bad! One of the posse just came and got the undertaker! Them that was on the stage is dead!”
A burly man jumped to his feet. “Tarnation and spit! What about the payroll!”
“Now, now, simmer down Uriah, we don’t know nothin’ for sure.” Roscoe chided the man and he sat back down. “There ain't nothin’ we can do but wait and see.”
He motioned Davy over to the bar and poured him a drink.
Davy took the whiskey. “Poor Joe.”
Cedar Gulch was in an uproar by the time Marshall Collins rode back into town, two days later and empty handed. He had pursued the robbers into the hills only to find more dead bodies and no money. This lackluster homecoming had him facing angry townsfolk and frustrated miners, and a grilling at a hastily called town meeting.
“What happened, Marshall?”
“Where’s the payroll?”
“Are there killers on the loose?”
Questions bounded at him like a cold north wind and Marshall Collins shouted above the din. “Quiet down now, quiet down! I’ll tell you all what I know.”
He waited until the voices subsided and continued. “As you all have heard, the stage was robbed of the payroll a few days ago and four good men were killed. Their families have my sympathies.” He nodded solemnly at the widows.
“Me and my men chased after those rotten miscreants, four men in all by their tracks. We followed them into the hills, only to discover more dead men.”
A gasp rose from the gathering.
“It looks as though there was a falling out among the thieves that led one man gunning down his three confederates in their sleep. Near as I can figure, that last thief made off with the cash. Unfortunately we lost his trail and he’s in the wind.”
Angry cries soared from the crowd and the Marshall spent the next several minutes placating the multitude and dispersing the crowd before it turned into a mob. The citizens disbanded, shuffling slowly to their homes and businesses, but a feeling of discontent hung still over the town.
Inside his saloon, down in his basement, Roscoe patted the not so empty barrel where the stolen payroll lay hidden and smiled. He knew the Marshall would keep looking for the last robber, but he also knew that man lay buried in the desert outside town with a bullet in his head.
Served him right for trusting me.
Now Roscoe didn't have to split the money with anyone, and no one could rat him out for being the mastermind behind the stage robbery. In a few months, he’d give them all a sob story about kin back east being sick. Then he and the money would disappear, and leave Cedar Gulch behind.
He chuckled to himself and went upstairs to serve the duped townsfolk their whiskey.