Abyss of Retribution
Thomas Calabrese –
Pueblo, Colorado is situated at the confluence of the Arkansas River and Fountain Creek, 112 miles south of Denver. Morgan Trask owned a 75,000 acre ranch in the area and was basically the law in the area. Even though Sheriff Bud Spicer was supposedly a public servant and was sworn to enforce the law impartially and without bias, he took orders from Trask. Morgan had two sons, Claude and Woody and both of them were bullies and rotten to the core. Their father let them do pretty much as they pleased and they ran roughshod over anybody that confronted or disagreed with them. The fact that they had a few dozen hired hands to back their play only emboldened the ruthless brothers. When they came into town, most men would be step aside and women would hide.
It was Saturday night and Miss Mandy’s Saloon was overflowing with drunken rambunctious cowboys. Claude and Woody were playing poker with three other men and losing heavily. One of the men at the table was Pete Cameron, a personable young fella and a better-than-average gambler who could handle a gun with the best. Pete was on his way to California and was just passing through Pueblo.
The Trask brothers were getting drunker by the minute and being inebriated didn’t help their judgment. After losing a big hand, Claude accused the stranger. “Ain’t nobody can be as lucky as you? What is it…six hands in a row that you’ve won?”
Pete calmly responded, “I don’t have to be lucky to beat you…its seven hands in a row if we’re counting. You can count…can you?”
“What my brother is saying is that you’re a cheating lowdown polecat.” Woody added.
“I don’t have to cheat, you’re a worse gambler than your brother and even dumber. I could bring a prairie dog in here and he’d beat you” Pete offered his opinion. “Being drunk and stupid is a bad combination when it comes to life and poker.”
Both men reacted to the insult by reaching for their pistols, but Pete drew his pistol first. “It wouldn’t bother me all that much to send you both to boot hill, but I reckon that’s up to you.”
While the two brothers contemplated their next move, one of the Trask’s cowhands who was standing at the bar decided to intervene. His poorly aimed shot missed Pete, but hit the saloon girl, Kit Tilden in the heart. She was instantly killed and Pete killed the man. The Trask brothers decided to make their play and Pete wounded both men then killed four more of their cowhands who made the mistake of getting involved. Sheriff Spicer heard the gunshots from his office as he dozed off in his chair. The dead men and the saloon girl were lying on the floor when he entered. Sheriff Spicer stepped over a puddle of blood and called out, “What the hell happened?”
Pete was standing at the bar, sipping on a beer. “I shot the men in self-defense…the woman was killed by that dead man at the bar.”
Woody protested as he held his hand against the bullet wound in his leg. “He killed Kit Tilden and starting shooting for no damn reason!”
“Anybody see what happened?” Sheriff Spicer asked.
The bartender stammered. “It happened just like Woody said.”
“Anybody see it differently?”
Floyd was bleeding from his right forearm and he warned the people in the saloon. “You know what’s going to happen if you call my brother a liar!”
Fear engulfed the room and nobody was going to dispute the Trask brothers’ distortion of the facts.
Sheriff Spicer said. “Looks like I’m going to have to take you in, stranger.”
Pete responded. “You know they’re lying, Sheriff.”
“That ain’t for me to say. You can tell your side to the judge.”
Pete made an announcement that came across as a stern warning “You all know what the truth is and if you don’t find courage right now to say what really happened, it is going to cost you. When you look back at this night, I want you to remember what I told you. Actions have consequences,”
Nobody said a word so Pete handed both his revolvers over to Sheriff Spicer and went with him to jail.
The trial was a farce. A dozen men testified against Pete Cameron with the same rehearsed story; the stranger got angry after being called a cheater and started shooting.
Judge Harry Rhodes was also beholding to the Trask family and easily made his decision after hearing the lies from the deceitful men. “The court sentences to you to be hanged by the neck until dead. May God have mercy on your soul.”
Pete responded to the verdict with strength and defiance. “You’re the one who’s going to need his mercy. I’ll settle for retribution.”
Judge Rhodes swallowed hard and mumbled, “Take him away.”
Two days later, Pete was lead to the gallows with the Trask family leading the townspeople of Pueblo behind them. As the hangman placed the noose around Pete’s neck, a cold wind blew through town and chilled the onlookers to the bone. It was eerie and disconcerting and Woody was trying to hide his fear with false bravado. “Hang him…I need a drink!”
Pete Cameron made eye contact and Woody’s went weak in the knees. He steadied himself against his brother Floyd. The hangman asked. “Do you want a hood?”
Pete smiled. “I want to remember everybody’s faces until the very end.”
The lever was pulled and Pete fell through the trapdoor. The rope snapped his neck and in that exact instant everybody in town knew they had made a monumental error.
Floyd offered. “Drinks are on me!”
Not one person accepted his offer. In fact everybody just drifted off aimlessly. Morgan sensed the seriousness of the situation and angrily punched both his sons and left them both lying in the dirt. At midnight the heavens unleashed fury and rage against the town of Pueblo. For an entire hour, thunder rumbled and growled and lightning flashed non-stop. The earth shook under the feet of the residents and the buildings shook and rattled.
The people in the saloon were afraid to go out into the street. The bartender commented. “I ain’t never seen it as bad at this.”
At one a.m. the thunder and lightning stopped and it remained deathly quiet until sunrise. Mace Guthrie, the town drunk came rushing into Sheriff Spicer’s office. “You need to see this!”
Mace persisted, “You won’t believe it!”
Sheriff Spicer reluctantly followed Mace to the outskirts of town where the cemetery was located. Mace commented, “I was sleeping out here when that storm hit last night. Just before dawn, I heard something and when I got up and looked around I found this empty hole.”
“Who was buried here?” Sheriff Spicer asked.
“That stranger we hung yesterday.”
“Somebody must have taken the body.” Sheriff Spicer surmised.
Mace responded, “If somebody dug up the body…where’s the dirt? Look around, Sheriff, the area around the grave is burned. It don’t make sense.”
“You’re right…it don’t make sense.” Sheriff Spicer felt a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach. He kicked at the ground and a flame spouted up.
For the next three days, the main topic of conversation was the disappearance of the body until the stranger rode into town on a massive black stallion with a white blaze on his forehead. He was flanked on both sides by two wolf-hybrid dogs, one was white, the other was black. The stranger’s hat was pulled low over his forehead and he had six pearl handled Colt.45’s on his body. Two were in holsters on each hip and the other four were around his chest. Everybody in town stopped to stare at the stranger as he rode by. He stopped at the livery stable and dismounted. Moss Weaver walked out of the barn and asked, “Need some help, stranger?”
“How much to board my horse?”
Moss responded. “That’s the biggest horse I ever saw! Two-bits a day for just water, a buck day extra if you want me to feed him.”
The stranger pulled out a $50 dollar gold piece and tossed it to the stable owner. “I like my horse to get special treatment so give him four apples in the morning and a five carrots at night with his hay. I want him brushed everyday too. Treat him like your life depended on it.” He touched the handle of one of his pistol. “Because if he’s not happy, I won’t be either.”
Moss looked at the gold piece in appreciation and exclaimed. “Yes sir, you can’t count on me.”
“Is there a place to get something to eat?”
“Pa Smalley’s just down the street.” Moss answered.
As the man walked down the street with his dogs, Mace Guthrie walked up. “Who was that?”
“I don’t know, but he’s sure generous with his money.”
The stranger walked into the small café with his large dogs. Pa Smalley called out, “Ain’t no dogs allowed!”
The stranger tossed the old man a ten-dollar gold piece. “Make an exception,” and sat down at a table and asked, “Got any steaks?”
“Sure do…best this side of Kansas City.”
The stranger slowly explained. “Make sure you get this right…I want three of your biggest steaks. Make two of them rare and the other is cooked all the way through, but not overdone. Got any potatoes?”
Pa Swalley answered, “Sure do.”
“I’ll take some of those.”
“That’s two bucks a steak and four bits for the taters. Pay in advance.” Pa Smalley said.
The stranger set another ten-dollar gold piece on the table. “Keep the change…bring me a bucket of fresh water for my companions.”
The stranger slowly ate one steak, while his dogs devoured the other two. After leaving the café, he walked over to the saloon and sauntered up to the bar. A drunken cowhand kicked at one of the dogs who bared his fangs. The cowhand growled. “How about if I put a couple bullets in your flea-bitten hide.” When he reached for his pistol, the stranger hit him so hard that the cowhand went tumbling over a table and landed against the wall. Somebody walked over to check on him and announced. “Chancey’s dead.”
Another cowboy muttered in astonishment. “He killed him with one punch.”
The bartender looked at the man with six guns on him and asked. “Do you really need that many smokewagons?”
“I don’t like re-loading.” The Stranger continued, “I was supposed to meet a friend of mine here, but I got delayed on the trail. I was wondering if you saw him.”
The bartender asked. “Maybe …what’s his name?”
“Pete Cameron, nice guy, a hell of a gambler. I figured he might have come in here for a game.” The Stranger said
The bartender answered much too quickly. “Ain’t seen him.”
“You didn’t let me finish telling you what he looked like.”
The bartender’s upper lip began to quiver. “I said I didn’t see him. Do you want something to drink or not?”
The Stranger rubbed his chin in thought and commented. “You wouldn’t be lying to me, would you?”
A voice from the back of the room called out. “He said he ain’t seen him, are you deaf or stupid?”
When the Stranger turned around, five of Trask’s cowhands were standing before him so he asked “Maybe you saw him?”
“We ain’t seen him either…hit the trail, stranger while you still can.” The cowhand ordered.
“I just got into town and ain’t ready to mosey on just yet.” The stranger looked at his dogs and asked. “You’re not ready to go are you?” The two dogs shook their heads. “We’re in agreement, we’re staying, but if you’re up to it, you can convince us to leave.”
The room went deathly silent until one of the cowhands reached for his pistol. In a blink of an eye the Stranger drew two pistols and killed all five men. The stranger’s back was turned to the bartender so he decided to reach for the pistol behind the bar. This was a mistake because the stranger sensed what was going on, turned around and slapped the bartender across the face twice with the barrel of his pistol.
Sheriff Spicer heard that a stranger was asking about Pete Cameron and didn’t know want to do. He got on his horse and rode out to the Trask ranch for guidance.
After leaving the saloon, the stranger went back to the livery stable and walked into the stall and put his head against his horse. Moss Weaver came in and asked. “What are you doing?”
“I’m asking my horse if you took care of him like you promised,” The Stranger added. “He told me yes. What do you know about Pete Cameron?”
The Stranger replied. “The man that this town illegally hung.”
“I didn’t have nothing to do with that. I told Sheriff Spicer that he shot in self-defense, but he told me that if the Trasks says if he’s guilty then that’s all there is to it.”
“Was there anybody else who was against the hanging?”
Moss said, “There’s some good people here in Pueblo, but they know that the Trasks will kill them if they stand up against them.”
“I can understand that. You know which ones are worth saving so tell them to be ready.”
“Ready for what?” Moss asked.
The stranger took his bedroll off his saddle and spread it out in the hay next to his horse. His dogs laid next to him.”
“You know that we have a hotel in town?” Moss said.
“This will do.”
Out at the Trask ranch, Sheriff Spicer was scared and nervous. “He’s already killed six men, I could be next. I need to get myself out of town. ”
Morgan Trask walked over and slapped Sheriff Spicer. “You yellow-livered coward, grow a backbone! I’ll handle this.” He turned to sons and ordered, “I want every man that can carry a gun ready to ride in 30 minutes!”
Later, fifty armed men churned up a cloud of dust as they rode down the trail to Pueblo. When they arrived in town, Moss Weaver walked out to meet Sheriff Spicer. “The stranger is waiting in the jail for you.”
Morgan, Woody and Floyd stormed into the Sheriff’s office, followed by fearful Sheriff Spicer. The stranger was sitting in a cell and he called out to Sheriff Spicer. “I turned myself in…I’m ready to stand trial for anything that you think I did wrong. He added some sarcasm to his next statement, “I know that I’ll get law and order in this town.”
Morgan Trask walked over to the cell and scowled. “So this is the hombre that you were scared of. He don’t look so tough right now.”
Floyd put his two cents in. “As meek as a lamb. We slaughter lambs in these parts.”
“No reason to waste time with a trial…hang him. The gallows is already built, might as well use it” Morgan commented.
Sheriff Spicer hesitated and voiced his opinion, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Morgan Trask spit in Sheriff Spicer’s face. “Do it!”
The stranger’s hands were tied and he was led into the street. As the mob walked toward the gallows that was located by the livery stable. Morgan Trask noticed that some of the doors of the businesses and small houses had the letter P (for Pete) painted on them. The black stallion and the two dogs were watching from a nearby hill. Floyd and Woody led the stranger up the stairs to the rope and Woody placed the noose over his neck.
Floyd joked, “You were looking for your friend…you’re about to join him. Give him my regards.”
The stranger smiled. “I’d rather be joining him than go where you’re going.”
It was a clear day, but all of a sudden a black cloud drifted overhead and thunder rolled and lightning flashed. Morgan nodded his head and the lever was pulled. The stranger fell through the trapdoor and hung there motionless for a minute as people stared at the dead man. All of a sudden, the body of the stranger began to move.
He broke the restraints on his hands and pulled himself up and removed the noose from his neck. He fell to the ground, rolled his head and commented. “That’s one way to loosen up.” The stranger waved his hand and his horse and dogs ran to his side.
Everybody who had watched the execution was frozen in place as they stared in disbelief at what they just witnessed. The stranger mounted his horse and waved his hand and every building that did not have a P painted on its door caught fire and burned to the ground.
As the stranger looked down from his horse at the Trask family, the ground opened up and dozens of evil men were swallowed up. Looking down into the hellish fire of eternal damnation, their screams slowly faded into the abyss of retribution. The Trask family and their cohorts had escaped penalty for their numerous transgressions in this world, but were about to pay for them in the next.
The stranger commented to Moss Weaver. “You got your town back,” and tossed him a bag of gold, “Rebuilt it the right way and don’t lose it again.” The mysterious stranger and his animal companions raced up to the ridge and vanished into the blue skies.
A young girl walked over to Moss and asked, “Who was that?”
Moss replied. “Reckon I don’t know or want to know, but one thing is certain; never hang justice from the gallows.”
– Work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance
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