Steel and Six-Shooters – Extended Epilogue

Sal Antonelli and Ira Willet sat at the back-room bar in Duffy’s Saloon in Colbert, Kansas. Brendan Duffy made it available to folks who eschewed public attention and had reason to avoid the law, especially those with illegally obtained goods for sale.

“So, Delilah,” Ira asked the bartender and Brenden’s lover, Delilah Grant, “when will Bren get back to town so he can look at our stuff?”

She cocked an ample hip to one side and planted a fist on it. “Next weekend, but it won’t do you no good if all you got are a bunch of pocket watches and fake paste jewelry from a stagecoach robbery. He can’t make no money off of that crap.”

Ira shook his head. “This time, we relieved a couple passengers and the guard of their weapons. Look at this beauty.” He pulled a sheath of his saddlebag and withdrew a knife from it. “This is a real Bowie knife.”

She took it from him and examined it critically. “Yeah, it sure is. For a change, you ain’t shitting me.” She returned it and went down the bar to serve another customer.

Ira turned to Sal. “Hey, why are you looking so gloomy? You stewing about your sister again?”

“No. That passenger we took the knife from made me.”

“How could he know you? And why do you care? We’re a hundred miles from Colorado, and you’re not wanted here in Kansas.”

“Maybe you’re right. Speaking of my bitch sister, I haven’t forgotten her. After things settle down in Colorado, I’ll go back there and get even with her.”

“I always had kind of a thing for her, you know.”

“Well, you can have her. She made a fool of me in front of that guy who looks like a bear and turned me over to the Rangers.”

Ira finished his beer and ordered two more for them.

Sal grinned. “Hey, I just gave myself an idea when I said you can have her. You still have ‘kind of a thing’ for her?”

“Well, I’d still like to boff her.”

“Let’s go over to that table in the corner where nobody can hear us, and I’ll tell you how you can have her.”

***

 Charlie and Aggie ate their morning pastries alone. Buck was shoeing horses somewhere, and Roger had returned to school two months before. Sergeant Saunders surprised them by riding up to the smithy.

“Hello, Sergeant,” said Aggie as he came in. “You’re too late. We just finished the last cream puffs.”

The Ranger smiled. “As I remember from the last one I had, I missed a real treat. But I’m here with some news for you. Your brother Sal has been spotted. But don’t look so alarmed. It was in Kansas.”

“Who saw him?” asked Charlie. “What was he doing?”

“Holding up a stagecoach. One of our Rangers, Ted Darcy, went home to McPherson, Kansas to visit his mother. On the way back, his stage got held up just outside Colbert, Kansas. One of the bandit’s bandanas slipped down, and before he raised it, Ted swore he recognized Sal.”

Charlie took her hand, felt it tremble, and squeezed it. “Don’t worry, dear,” he said. “That’s a long way from here.”

“It brings back bad memories,” she said. “His first boss after he left home was a man based somewhere near Colbert named Ira Willet. He’s a big, violent man who took a liking to me. He grabbed me and tried to kiss me once. I think he would’ve raped me if Sal hadn’t stopped him.”

Saunders said, “Months ago, we alerted all the sheriffs and town marshals in the counties along the border to watch for him. They know he’s extremely dangerous, and we’ve put another thousand-dollar reward out for him.”

“You don’t have to worry anymore,” Charlie said to Aggie. “We’ll be married next week, and I’ll never let you out of my sight.”

But she did worry. She seemed so frightened after she closed the restaurant, Charlie offered to spend the night at her house.

But she refused. “No,” she said. “There’s no sense starting people’s tongues wagging about us so close to our wedding day.”

The next evening, after Charlie closed his shop, and Aggie put together some food, they rode to their favorite hackberry tree for a picnic. With the advent of autumn, dusk came earlier, and they spent more time than usual in romantic intimacy after reviewing the list of wedding guests. It was quite late when Charlie and Aggie reached her house.

“I’ll take Penny to the stable for you,” he said.

“No, I have to unload the picnic things from the panniers first. Then I’ll take her. Besides, I like to rub her down myself. It’s a girl thing.”

When Aggie unlocked the door and entered the utterly dark sitting room, she noticed a faint smell that hadn’t been there before, a hint of sweat and tobacco, of someone accustomed to smoking, which neither she nor Charlie did.

Then it occurred to her that the room shouldn’t be so dark. She had left the curtains open. The moon and stars should be shining through the windows. She noted a slight movement in a chair in the far corner.

“Hello, Sis,” said Sal.

As she turned frantically toward the door, strong arms encircled her from behind. Someone had been lurking in the parlor. She could smell liquor on her assailant’s breath. Sal rose from the chair and reached her in a few steps just as she started screaming. With her arms held tightly to her sides, she pushed backward, raised her legs, and kicked Sal with booted feet with all her might.

Her scream turned to imprecations. “Let me go, you horses’ asses, you pond scum too cowardly to fight fair with a woman. You —”

“Gag her, Sal,” said the gravelly-voiced man who held her, “before she wakes up the neighborhood.”

But Sal, who had also been drinking, was slow in responding. Suddenly, the man’s arms let her go. A crushing blow to her head from behind was all she knew for a while.

***

As Charlie rubbed Thunder down, he remembered that he hadn’t given Aggie’s list of wedding guests back to her. Her writing was so much neater than his that they both agreed she should write the invitations. No problem, he thought. He would give her the list when she brought Penny to the stable. After finishing with Thunder, he went next door to work in the smithy, reorganize his tools, sharpen some chisels, and complete other chores.

Later, he realized almost an hour had gone by. Aggie should have come a long time ago. Putting their dinner things away shouldn’t take so long. He went out and down the street to her house. Penny no longer remained ground tied in front. He went in and searched the whole house. She was nowhere to be found.

A frisson of fear for her safety and anger surged through him. He knew Sal was involved.  He must have kidnapped her.

***

She awakened with a pounding headache, made worse because her head hung down and her body jounced up and down. Something wrapped her head so tightly she could hardly breathe. No, it covered her whole body, and she was gagged. She couldn’t move her wrists from behind her back. A little experimentation showed her they were tied, as were her ankles. She realized that her body’s motion came from being secured across the saddle of a cantering horse. At last, the horse slowed to a walk which gave her body and headache a little relief.

Finally, the ride ended. Her captors untied and removed the ropes, lashing her to the saddle. Then they lifted her from the saddle, none too gently, almost like one would a bag of horse feed. They untied the rope that held the quilt wound around her and removed it. She saw that it was the one her mother had knitted decades before. She couldn’t stand with her ankles bound and fell heavily on her butt, which made her head throb. She looked around frantically in the moonlight. The darkness, while under the quilt, had made her nighttime vision acute. She recognized the road as the one she and Charlie took to the hackberry tree for their picnics. They were still close to town.

Sal said, “We’ve got a ways to go. If you behave yourself, we’ll tie your hands in front of you and let you ride sitting on the saddle. But if you try any funny stuff, you’ll go back in the quilt on your belly over the saddle. Okay?”

Still gagged, she nodded. Sal cut the bonds around her ankles. Jerking her to her feet, he untied her wrists and retied them in front of her. The man standing behind Sal had a three-day growth of beard on his craggy face and a lascivious grin. A chill ran up her spine as she recognized him: Ira Willet, the man who had once wanted to rape her.

Soon, she was sitting in her saddle, holding onto the pommel with her bound hands, the two men riding side by side ahead of her. Sal held a rope tied to Penny’s bridle. They talked quietly, laughed, and passed a bottle back and forth. She knew Charlie would look for her. She could only hope he came down this road. She surreptitiously removed the chain around her throat that held the locket Charlie had given her last Christmas and dropped it in the road. His seeing it was a long shot. She also loosened her bandanna. She would also try to drop it somewhere along their route.

After a time, they came to a ford across a creek. But instead of crossing it, they took a trail that disappeared into willows and undergrowth alongside the stream. She dropped her bandanna in the road as Sal and Ira turned her horse onto the trail, though it seemed unlikely Charlie would realize they turned there.

They stopped in a clearing with a tent on one side with glimpses of other tents scattered further back among the trees. A fire ring of rocks lay before the tent. Sal and Ira dismounted and tied all three horses to a picket line.

Sal said, “This was our gang’s hideout when I had my own gang.”

“Now,” said Ira, “it’ll be Aggie’s and my little honeymoon retreat.”

Aggie felt her stomach churn. Sal took her from her horse and, once standing, she doubled her bound hands into fists and tried to swing them at Sal’s head. But Ira grabbed her from behind and held her arms at her side.

Ira laughed. “This little filly’s got spirit. We’ll have a lot of fun.”

Sal joined him in laughter as he untied her wrists. Then each man grabbed an arm and twisted it behind her, where they rebound her wrists. Sal pushed her down into a sitting position and started to tie her ankles.

“Don’t do that, Sal,” said Ira. “I’ll just have to untie them. Let’s just take her boots off so she can’t walk away through the briars and brush.”

As Sal pulled her boots off, he said, “I see you’re excited about my gift to you.”

“Yes, I’m really looking forward to our night together.”

“I’ll be leaving pretty soon,” said Sal. “Once the blacksmith sees she doesn’t open the restaurant, he’ll go to her house looking for her. But she won’t be there. I will, with a surprise for him. I’ll have to figure out a way to find that man that looks like a bear so I can get him too.” He leaned close to Aggie and pulled the gag out of her mouth. “You can scream all you want out here. There’s nobody around to hear you.”

She spat in his face. He slapped her. “You’re welcome to the little bitch,” he said to Ira. “Let’s finish this bottle before I go.”

They took the bottle and Aggie’s boots and disappeared into the tent. Only then did Aggie notice the autumn chill. She sat alone and disconsolate, trying not to think of the night ahead of her.

***

Charlie knew Sal would return to Kansas with Aggie in the most direct route possible to avoid discovery by the Rangers. He considered various routes and decided on the road that Aggie and he took to their picnic place as the most likely one. Perhaps she had left a clue about her passing. He followed it slowly. Finding such evidence would be difficult in the moonlight.

Indeed, he almost missed the chain and saw it only by a gleam of moonlight on the locket. He was right. Sal was taking her along this route to Kansas. And much farther along, by the ford over the little creek, he saw her bandanna. He crossed the ford. If he hurried, he could catch them before they got much farther.

***

Then Aggie remembered the panniers containing the picnic things behind Penny’s saddle. And the bread knife she always kept in one. She stood quietly and went to Penny’s side. Reaching into the pannier with her hands bound behind her back proved difficult, but at last, she felt the knife’s handle and withdrew it. Sawing away at the rope binding her wrists was even more challenging and resulted in a few bloody nicks of her wrists.

But at last, her hands were free. Then all she needed was a weapon more substantial than the bread knife. Keeping an eye on the tent flap to make sure it stayed closed on the laughing carousers, she crept down to the creek and selected a suitable rock from its edge. Then she returned to the tree and sat with her hands and the rock behind her.

Sal finally appeared from within the tent, weaving slightly. He waved to Aggie and said, “Enjoy the rest of your evening.” He untied his horse, mounted, and rode off.

Aggie thought she would dread confronting Ira Willet when he appeared, but her rage trumped her fear. He came out of the tent a few moments after Sal left, wearing only his shirt and long-legged underwear bottoms.

“Are you ready for me, honey?” he called.

He looked surprised but excited when she answered sweetly, “Why, yes, I sure am.”

He walked to her, none too steadily, and reached down to undress her.

She pulled out the rock and slammed it against the side of his head. He fell backward and sat before her with a stunned expression and a hand on the injury. She leaped forward and gave him a blow on his forehead that put him down and another one to be sure he stayed there. She rolled him onto his stomach and tied his hands behind his back using the rope she had freed herself from.

Soon, wearing her boots, riding Penny, and leading Willet’s horse, she turned toward town. She had to warn Charlie that Sal awaited him.

***

After fording the creek, Charlie realized the foolishness of racing after Sal unarmed. He returned to town and slipped up Mrs. Mason’s back stairway to retrieve the Peacemaker.

He took a shortcut past Aggie’s house on the way out of town. As they went by it, Thunder nickered, and another horse answered from behind it where no horse should be. He went around the house and found a strange horse there. Leaving Thunder ground tied, he went to the back door. He felt sure Sal was waiting for him inside. He could have heard him and Thunder circling the house.

But if that were true, what had he done with Aggie? Was he holding her prisoner in there, or was she lying dead in a ditch somewhere?

He opened the door slightly but dropped to the ground. Two shots tore through the door about where his chest would have been. He pushed the door open further, fired at the silhouette of whoever stood in the kitchen, and watched him slump to the floor.

He leaped up and ran in. He kicked the gun out of the hand of the man on the floor and dragged him close to the door so he could identify him by the moonlight. Sal lay there with blood bubbling from his mouth.

“What did you do with her?” Still holding Sal’s shirt with both hands, he shook him.

But Sal died in his hands.

Charlie got up and ran through the house, calling Aggie’s name and looking everywhere for her, with no luck. He had to find her, alive or dead. Racing outside, he saw lights go on in neighboring houses, undoubtedly awakened by the shooting, but no one came out.

“Stop right there!” someone commanded. Al Hamrick stood at the corner of the house with a shotgun leveled at him. “Charlie, is that you?” He dropped the gun’s barrel. He wore only his trousers with galluses hanging to his knees, shivering in the cold.

“Hi, Al.”

“We didn’t know it was you. I sent my boy to stop Aggie from coming any closer because there was a shooting at her house.”

“You sent your boy…. What did you just say, Al?”

Just then, Aggie on Penny, leading another horse, came riding frantically around the house. “Oh, Charlie, are you hurt?” In moments, she was in his arms, crying on his shoulder.

***

To Aggie and Charlie’s surprise, the town provided the largest wedding Lyndonville had ever seen or would probably ever see again. Since virtually everybody in town attended, it was held in the park. The late October weather cooperated remarkably well with a bright sun and not a cloud in the sky.

After the ceremony, Murdoch toasted the couple. He said, “In all my days as a bounty hunter, I’ve never seen the same criminal provide two rewards before he died. I hear they raised it to two thousand dollars this time. Right, Charlie?”

“That’s right. Boo said you’re checking out your horse tomorrow. To exercise him?”

“No. I’m going to California. I hear there’s a lot of criminals in the gold fields out there.”

THE END


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9 thoughts on “Steel and Six-Shooters – Extended Epilogue”

    1. I read your books for entertainment, and enjoy them. But glaring inconsistencies annoy me. In the extended epilogue, Charlie returns to town because he realizes he is unarmed, then shoots Sal without a weapon. Please.

  1. Excellent tale! Any chance of more stories containing Aggie and Charlie’s escapades? I will definitely read more of your works. You are an excellent storyteller.

  2. Lots of action and suspense and suspects to follow. Who’s going to do what to whom? Keeps the reader guessing.

  3. One of the most invigorating stories I have the opportunity to read! And I have read over 1100 books thus far! The characters, both good and bad, are perfectly selected for their dedicated assignments from beginning to end!
    The storylines are unsurpassed in their descriptive rendition of realistic old American folklore adventures! Too, their are no slowdowns throughout the entire series of outstandingly exciting believeable western terminology!
    Great job by an outstanding Author! Most definitely recommend this amazing series of one exciting adventure after the other to all readers! Regardless of your reading desires, you will find yourselves unable to put the book aside until the final page has been absorbed!!!😃

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