Out for Dreadful Revenge – Extended Epilogue

Snowflake, Arizona 1882

Deep in the heart of Navajo County, Erastus Snow and William Jordan Flake founded their namesake town in ’78. It evolved from a stage stop and became a growing business hub when Holbrook Southern Railway gave the small community a railroad spur. Even in the progress of the growing community, the city maintained a hometown charm and was an inspiring location in which to live and raise a family.

Tommy and Judy Reece built a home twenty miles south of the White Mountains with the conifer wilderness and ancient forested beauty. The geographic location spared them harsh winters, and the summer months brought cool breezes from the mountain range. Nothing was ever what they planned, but Reece and Judy learned to live and adapt to the surprises that life brought them.

Snow and Flake were enterprising men who weren’t bloated with past exploits. The men immigrated to the area from California, avoiding the east coast conflict by miles and general persuasions against politics. Both men believed in family, aversion to alcohol, and peaceful community. While the place sometimes got its share of upstarts, the town council hired a man they knew had an exemplary past and an honorable recommendation from the U.S. Marshals in Silver City.

“Sheriff Reece, Mr. Flake and Mr. Snow need to see you in town right away,” Billy Towner said after his rapid pounding on the door. The twelve-year-old had long legs—sprinting two miles from downtown where the councilmen had their office took Billy about the same amount of time as it did Reece riding horseback.

Reece smiled at the young man, out of breath, using the doorjamb to keep himself upright.

“Did you run all this way?” Reece asked.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Flake paid me 25¢ to come to get you.”

“Alright, well, come on inside. I’m getting my boots on anyway,” he said. “We’ll take the buggy back; I’m picking up my wife from her friend’s place.”

“I don’t think Mr. Flake wants to wait too long,” Billy said. “He was real straight about telling you to come.”

“Well, I’m not going any faster than this, Billy. If you want me to hurry, go fetch the horse, and I’ll get the harnesses for the buggy.”

“Yes, sir,” he said. Billy ran for the barn, bouncing over the ground like a cannonball skipping the turf.

On the driver’s bench, Billy’s legs continued to bounce on the footboards. He seemed eager or nervous.

“You worried about something?” Reece asked.

“No, sir, but Mr. Snow and Mr. Flake didn’t want to wait too long for you, is all.”

“You’re not in trouble for me taking my time, Billy,” Reece said.

He slowed the buggy near the train station where Billy lived in a small two-room house with his parents.

“Tell your father I said hello,” Reece had to shout as Billy leaped from the driver’s box, darting into the tiny house.

Reece clicked his tongue and continued the rest of the trip downtown in the late afternoon. Judy had spent the day with her friend, Joyce, a new mother who needed help with getting organized and preparing for the reason of her life as a young parent. Joyce’s husband worked for the railroad and came back to two twice a week, which put a strain on their relationship, along with the added stress of raising a newborn. Judy had resilience and patience for both of them.

He had intended to ride by Joyce’s house before heading to Flake’s office, but Billy’s urgency made him curious about the unexpected visit. When Reece set the handbrake for the buggy and climbed out of the driver’s box, he saw the horses tied to the hitching post out front of the town council. Usually, Flake and Snow strolled to work; horses meant they had visitors from out of town.

When Reece opened the door, everything about the war and the bad memories he had put behind him suddenly caught him by surprise.

“What in the mighty name of Jefferson Davis do I see here?” Declan Houghton said, facing Reece when the door opened. “Do I see a big shiny silver star on your chest, Mr. Tommy Reece?”

The notorious outlaw—wanted in every country across the New Mexico and Arizona Territories—stood akimbo, waiting for Reece’s arrival. They shared a past and a battle with renegade Comanches. Declan had even saved Reece’s life during their fight for survival against the Indians.

Declan wasn’t alone. Reece recognized Coyote with a lazy eye and the other member of his former gang, Clyde Robles. Judy had helped Reece and the artist in Silver City draw up the bandits’ likenesses for the wanted posters. Copies of those posters graced the wall at Snowflake’s sheriff’s office.

“Now, me and my boys—you remember Coyote and Clyde, don’t you?” Declan said as he leaned against Flake’s desk. “We were sharing war stories with your employers. They can’t believe that you and that fine little filly Judy Stone managed to blow up a trading post that belonged to my late dear friend, Croaker Sweet.” Declan pressed his hand against his chest as he spoke in memorandum for the dead.

“Mr. Snow, Mr. Flake, is everything alright here?” Reece asked. He stayed in the open doorway, giving himself a slight advantage if Declan decided to start shooting instead of talking.

“Yes, yes, Mr. Reece,” Snow said. But his eyes conveyed a different story than his mouth.

“Now, Tommy, that’s not very nice of you,” Declan said as Coyote moved out from behind his boss, sliding to Reece’s left. “I was saying how we were old friends.”

Clyde remained seated on a bench facing the door. With his feet on the small coffee table and his hand on the pistol in the holster, it was impossible for him to miss if Reece pulled first.

“Declan, whatever you think about our fight with the Comanches, I can tell you, we were never friends.”

“That hurts me, Tommy. I thought after all this time, you had to forgive me.”

“I know you didn’t kill Aron,” he said.

“That’s right,” he said, snapping his fingers before pointing at Reece. “I forgot about that. Your friend got himself dead; fell on a knife, didn’t he?”

“No, not exactly,” Reece said, using his peripherals to check the street behind him in case he needed to duck. He didn’t want a bullet meant for him to hit someone else. “But you had your say, and I acknowledge that you didn’t kill Aron. You don’t need to be here.”

“No, you’re right, I don’t.” He glanced at Clyde and Coyote. Clyde finished hand-rolling a cigarette and lit it. Coyote had his good eye fixed on Reece, watching his hands and not his face. “But me and the boys were tying up some loose ends. It seems that wherever we go nowadays, something is haunting us.”

Declan’s right hand moved fast, causing Reece to jump, ready to pull his gun. He wasn’t a gunslinger; he never had to play quick-draw with outlaws. Snowflake wasn’t the kind of town that had a lot of riffraff stirring up trouble. Flake and Snow had a city ordinance that made serving liquor or beer illegal in town. The best anyone could hope for was hopping on the train and heading up to Holbrook, where they allowed open saloons. It was a pleasant three-hour ride on the train that Reece and Judy took from time to time.

Declan tossed a folded parchment at Reece. It landed on the floor in front of him. He didn’t need to open it to know it was a wanted poster with Declan’s likeness.

“Now, I’ve been hunting high and low for you, Tommy. I thought after fighting together, you wouldn’t betray me and the boys. But you don’t have any honor, do you?”

“Mr. Houghton, there’s no need for—”

Clyde pulled the pistol and shot the wall a few inches from Flake’s head. The man whimpered, ducking under the desk. Coyote hooted with laugher.

“I think you get the picture,” Declan said. “We’re a little pissed off that you needed to make it hard for us to show our faces around. That wasn’t very nice of you.”

“You can go,” Reece said. “You, and Coyote, and Mr. Robles are all free to leave here. I won’t send a telegram to the marshal’s office. I won’t follow you. I can vouch for Mr. Flake and Mr. Snow—they’ll stay quiet about your visit. You’re welcome to leave right now.”

“We’ll leave, Tommy. When we’re ready,” he said and sighed as Clyde stood.

Reece backed out to the boardwalk. The door stayed open. Coyote sidestepped around Mr. Snow’s desk. The man hid from view, taking cues from Flake. Three men followed Reece outside. He turned down the road, facing east as Declan, Clyde, and Coyote faced the sun. He backed up slowly, not taking his eyes off the three men. When he reached the buggy’s rear, Reece used it for cover while appealing to the outlaws.

“There’s nothing for you here, Declan. This town doesn’t have anything worth taking.”

“We came here to see you,” he said. “A little birdy in Alma told us about how the man that caught himself a genuine murderer in town turned his back and left. Captain Birney was sure talkative about you, Tommy. Wasn’t he, boys?”

“He practically drew us a map to get here,” Clyde said with the cigarette dangling from his mouth. His thumbs hooked the buckle on his gun belt. “They don’t seem to like you very much over there.”

“Well, can you blame them?” Declan said. “Tommy got that saloon closed down. You got my friend hauled off to Yuma Territorial Prison because he murdered a Black boy. I take offense to that, Tommy.”

“Me too,” Coyote said. He brazenly approached the buggy, taking the outside way, keeping Reece in crossfire range between him and Clyde while Declan kept a causal distance.

“Did you know my good friend Charlie Stone died last month in that hellhole?”

Reece nodded. “I got notice of his death. Is that why you’re here? I appreciate you coming to tell me.”

Declan laughed. The short man with two guns had an ego that took up the whole street. “You think I’d risk my neck coming here on account of Charlie?” he asked. “I thought you had better sense than that.”

“There’s nothing here, Declan—”

“You’re here, Tommy. I’m here because you’re here.”

Reece saw faces poking out from curtains and through doors ajar. He saw people who depended on him to keep the peace. The odds weren’t going to get any better unless he could take out any of them. He needed the right moment, trying to decide if Coyote or Clyde was faster on the draw. Coyote leaned against the buggy a few feet from him. Clyde had his back to the wall, staying on the boardwalk, under the awning, remaining in the shade.

Reece had nowhere to run. They’d gun down him as soon as he turned his back. If his hands dropped below the back gate on the buggy, they’d put holes in his front. Either way, he wasn’t getting over to Joyce’s house to pick up Judy. He had a strange sense of acceptance, knowing she’d be spared witnessing his execution.

“Now, Tommy, I think it’s time you and I settle a score,” Declan said. “You once bet me based on your speed and mine, and I’d like to place that bet again.”

“I don’t want to shoot you, Declan. I don’t want to shoot any of you.”

“Well, truth be told, I don’t want to get shot,” he said, laughing. Coyote mimicked the yip of the wild, and Clyde finished the cigarette, flicking the butt to the dusty ground.

Reece saw something behind Declan and over Coyote’s shoulder. It wasn’t something he expected, nothing he wanted, but since seeing it, Reece had a renewed confidence that he might just see another day.

“If you think to need to face me, how about we throw down in the street?” he said. “I know you’re a hell of a fighter. The last time you and I scrapped, you handed me my ass.”

“You think you can best me now?”

“Well, I’d rather we get a beating than end up dead.”

“That’s a fair trade,” Declan said. “One problem with that is right over there.” He pointed to the train depot. “I’ll bet a hundred dollars the ticket agent already sent a telegram to Silver City, telling them that three known fugitives sprung up in your precious little town.”

“It’s possible. But it still gives you plenty of time to run.”

“I’m tired of running, Tommy. I think we’ve all had more than our share of hiding out. We came here to settle up, and we’re going our separate ways, ain’t we, boys?”

Coyote nodded, keeping his one good eye fixed on Reece. Clyde appeared indifferent and unimpressed.

“So, you’re saying you’re going to kill me before you leave?”

“That’s about the sum of it, yeah,” Declan said. “You can’t go blabbing that we’re criminals after I saved your neck.”

“Then I think we’re at an impasse.”

“That’s about right,” Declan said.

“All I need to know is which one of your boys wants to die first,” Reece said.

“Excuse me?”

“What did you say?” Clyde asked.

Reece shrugged, trying to appear casual about it. “I need to know which one of you, Coyote or Clyde, who wants to die first?”

Coyote yipped, but there wasn’t a lot of energy behind it. Clyde and Declan shared looks.

“You think you can take all three of us?”

“Well, I was hoping you’d leave by your own volition. But you don’t give me much choice, and I’m justified if you’re all dead.”

“You got a hot mouth on you, Tommy,” Declan said.

“Well, I figured you still want to see which one of us is fastest. Even if I got the jump on you, Coyote or Clyde will put a bullet in me. I’m giving them a chance to walk away. If they won’t, they need to tell me which one dies first.”

Coyote and Clyde exchanged glances. Coyote shrugged. He stood away from the buggy, right hand hovering over his sidearm.

Reece nodded and said, “I hoped you’d say that.” He pointed at Coyote with his left hand.

In the seconds that followed, Reece dropped to the ground under the buggy, drawing the pistol. He shot Clyde in the left foot, leg, and when the body fell into view, he put a bullet in Clyde’s chest. The man’s frozen expression of shock never left his dead face. A few feet from where Reece had crawled under the buggy, Coyote’s body flopped on the ground. The long-range bullet hit him in the back of the neck. His head didn’t stay attached long enough for Reece to see the man’s expression.

He got to the handbrake on the buggy before Declan could start shooting. Reece shouted at the spooked horse. When it galloped, Declan had to sidestep out of the way. Reece had climbed up, hanging off the rails.

Declan was looking for him in the wrong place.

Reece shot twice, missing both times, but got Declan to dive for cover. The buggy lurched, throwing Reece free. He landed on his right elbow, making him grunt as he rolled, hoping to kick up more dust.

A bullet punctured the ground near his knee. Another smacked dirt into his face. Declan paused to get a third shot, but the long-range .45-70 government cartridge knocked him off his feet with a solid hit to the right hip. He spun with the impact, slamming against the wall before falling to the boardwalk.

The shock of it hadn’t reached Declan’s brain before he took another shot at Reece. When the bullet tore through Reece’s leg, it slammed against bone, making him cry out. He held the revolver up but trying to aim through the pain proved difficult. He tried standing, hoping to flee from Declan’s sight, but his left leg refused to work correctly. Declan shot again. The bullet cut through the loose fabric between Reece’s arm and torso.

“Daddy!” a tiny voice cried out.

Reece saw little Aron running from the cover of the dry goods merchant where he held up with his mother. She couldn’t stop him from breaking for shelter, seeing Reece fall. Aron was a precocious four-year-old with an advanced vocabulary and a defiant streak that he got from his mother.

Aron raced out of the store with Judy chasing after him, throwing the Springfield rifle to the ground as she ran. Reece saw his whole world about to fall around him. He turned back to see Declan sitting upright, using the wall as a brace, one hand pressed to the hole in his hip, the other holding the pistol up in a quivering strength that faded as the blood pumped out of him. He had minutes to live with that injury.

“Please, Declan, don’t do it,” Reece said. He managed to stay up, throwing the pistol to the ground. Reece showed empty palms to the killer. “Please, don’t shoot Aron. Don’t shoot our son.”

Judy screamed, running with her arms out, trying to grab the boy before he got too close to his father. Reece saw Declan’s face change as it paled. A realization crossed the man’s expression. His eyes fluttered, looking at Judy running after the child. The gun in his right hand wavered; he was unable to keep it trained on Reece or Judy and Aron.

When the boy reached Reece, the only thing he could do was sweep him off his feet, turning his back to Declan and hoping the bullet didn’t pass through his chest if Declan shot him in the back.

Judy put her arms around Aron and Reece, watching Declan behind Reece’s back. He saw the terror in her eyes before she blinked away the tears. When Reece didn’t feel death tearing through him, he kept Aron’s face pressed against his chest, facing the killer. Declan died, eyes open, still staring at the family of three embracing one another.


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23 thoughts on “Out for Dreadful Revenge – Extended Epilogue”

    1. As fine a story as I’ve ever read, Mr. Burns. This is a tale tailor-made for the big screen. I’d definitely go see it, AND buy the DVD! Reading it was thrilling and very, very enjoyable. Thank you for this adventure. I truly look forward to reading more of your exceptional work.

  1. A very good story with a beautiful ending. I enjoy reading your books and hope you keep writing

    1. Very good story line that kept you reading and not wanting to put the book down!! Keep up the great stories and don’t stop writing!!!

  2. Good story, interesting plot, kept my interest throughout the book. Looking forward to reading another of your books.

  3. Johnny,
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and especially the extended epilogue. Your characters are realistic and inspiring to follow. I look forward to reading more of your books.

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