Cowboys of the Old West Series
The Drifter – (A Novella)
Chase Masters is mistaken for the bandit, Bloody Bart, when he shows up wounded at the relay stagecoach station run by widow, Nessa Pemberton.
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Excerpt from The Drifter:
Charles ‘Chase’ Masters leaned back lazily on two legs of the chair with his feet perched atop the wooden table. He plucked a haunting tune on the strings of the guitar he’d borrowed from the saloon’s musician. With a bottle of rye on the table in front of him and a pretty girl on each side, life was good. Almost too good for a drifter like him, and he should have known his wonderful luck lately was doing nothing more than courting trouble.
The batwing doors to the Deadwood Saloon burst open, and all eyes turned to see the sheriff with a gaunt old man in dirty traveling clothes standing beside him. Chase’s fingers stilled on the strings of the instrument, and his hand lowered to his side, ready to draw his gun if need be.
“There he is,” said the old man, pointing directly at Chase. “Just like I told ya, sheriff.”
The sheriff’s rifle aimed straight at Chase’s chest as the men slowly moved forward. The girls on both sides of Chase moved away quickly.
“Get your hands above the table, Bloody Bart, before I take your head off,” warned the sheriff.
Chase slowly looked from one side to another to see everyone moving away from him.
“Are you talking to me?” he asked, not moving from his lounging position, guitar still poised in his arms, and his hand secretly resting atop his six-shooter.
“No tricks, Bloody Bart. Now put down the guitar and slowly stand up, hands above your head.”
The silence in the room was deafening, and Chase felt like this wouldn’t end well for him, even if he didn’t deserve the treatment.
“Now sheriff, I think you’ve mistaken me for somebody else. My name is Chase Masters, not Bloody Bart.”
The sheriff cocked his head and eyed up Chase, but all the while kept his gun pointed directly toward him, though the tip of it lowered slightly. “You sure about this, Hank?” he asked in a low voice, speaking to the old man next to him.
“Well . . . yeah. I guess. He sure looks like the bastard that’s been holding up stagecoaches and leaving a bloody trail of bodies wherever he goes.”
“I’ve never held up a stage in my life, nor do I plan on it,” Chase told the lawman. “And you’d better tell the old coot to stop making accusations like this, or he’s going to wind up dead.”
The sheriff’s gun raised. “Shut your mouth, stranger. I’ll do the talkin’. Now, Hank, did you see the man who robbed your stage or not?”
“Well, it was kinda dark.” The old man scratched the stubble on his jaw. “But this here man sure does look like the leader of the Dover Gang.”
“You’d better be sure,” snapped the sheriff.
“Uh . . . I didn’t get a close look at him, but I could definitely recognize his horse. It’s one of them there painted horses, and a beaut at that. Cream colored with a white mane and black spots. It has one big black spot that looks like a skull right on its side.”
“Emil, check the hitching post outside the saloon,” the sheriff said with a nod of his head to a man standing near the door.
The man named Emil walked over to the door, opening it with his shoulder and surveying the street. “Nope. Just three brown horses, and two black ones, and one pure white that’s nothin’ more than buzzard bait. I don’t see no fancy painted ones at all.”
“That’s because my horse is the one you’re referring to as buzzard bait – which by the way is far from the truth,” Chase told him, slowing taking his feet off the table and putting them on the floor. He knew his horse was old and slow, but he wasn’t in any hurry so it didn’t matter. Still, he didn’t like anyone referring to her in such a derogatory manner. His horse, Ol’ Marey, had been with him as he drifted over the lands for years now and had never done him wrong. “And I’m not this Bloody Bart you’re looking for, sheriff, so put down your gun already, will ya?”
“Hank, you dunderhead! You made a mistake, didn’t you?” growled the lawman.
“I . . . s’pose,” the man said scratching his head. “But I swear he looks a lot like ol’ Bloody Bart.”
“Dammit,” swore the sheriff, “what in the tarnation were you thinking? He slowly lowered his gun. “All right, stranger, you’re free to go. But I warn you to make tracks before someone feels obliged to help you bite the ground. Because if you look anything like Bloody Bart, you’re going to have a heapful of trouble following you wherever you go.”
Chase thought about not heeding the man’s warning. After all, he’d done nothing wrong – other than looking like a man who was a stagecoach robber and murderer.
He’d already paid for his bottle of rye and also a girl and room for the night. He handed the guitar back to the Spanish musician he’d borrowed it from and slowly got to his feet. Every eye in the place was on him, and he had a feeling in his gut that told him to just move on.
He had no intention of causing trouble, but neither did he want to have to keep looking over his shoulder for the next day if he lingered in town. He was a drifter – and wanted it to stay that way. He’d learned to take temporary jobs to make money, savoring the good and leaving the bad behind. He got what he needed or wanted from one town, and then just moved on to the next. No one or nothing was going to hold him down, but now this town left a bad taste in his mouth and he couldn’t wait to leave.
“Fine,” he said, picking up the bottle of rye and taking one last swig before handing it to one of the girls who had been keeping him company all night. “I’ll leave, but I don’t like being compared to a stagecoach robber and murderer, so don’t let me hear anyone mention it again.”
He slowly made his way to the door, stopping only for a moment when he heard someone whisper from behind him.
“Whatever you say, Bloody Bart.”
It usually took a lot to roil Chase, but when he got his dander up, it wasn’t pretty. He just took a deep breath and his hand twitched above his gun. Then thankfully, he heard the sheriff from behind him bringing him back to his senses.
“Sorry about the mistake, Masters. Just trying to clean things up around Deadwood, that’s all.”
“Well, then you’d better keep looking, sheriff, because I’m not your man.” Chase didn’t bother to turn around when he answered, because if he did, he’d only be tempted to get himself in trouble. He walked out of the saloon feeling ready to hunt down and kill this Bloody Bart himself, because if there was one thing he hated the most in life, it was being called a bandit.