This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any actual resemblance to persons or historical persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The Dukes of Hazzard characters, settings, locales, ect. are owned by other entities who have not endorsed this fic nor have they given express permission for the character's use. Author makes not claims to these characters and is not making any profit from their use.
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© Copyright: 2001. Cuz Bonita
Brian yawned, stretched, and sat the book down on the nightstand. He had stayed up late to finish reading an old western novel, having swallowed it whole since bringing it home from the library. With the creak of wagon wheels and the whinny of horses still fresh in his mind, Brian turned off the light and settled down to sleep. It must have been something else to live back in those days…
***** ***** ***** *****
A large black horse thundered down the narrow dirt road, it’s mane and tail flying in the wind. The long, thick neck of the horse was arched low and forward, and it’s legs pounded the road in a heavy, drumming gallop. The rider of the horse leaned over the animal’s shoulders and slapped the reins, begging more speed from the already-frothing beast. Gunfire cracked the air behind them, which did more to encourage the horse than any of the spurring of it’s rider.
The rider chanced a look behind him. The posse was gaining, the horses of the pursuers being fresher than his own winded mount. Worse, it was broad daylight, and the rider’s black clothing wasn’t hiding him. He might as well stand up in his stirrups and wave hello, and give them a nice, clean shot.
Right. The hell with THAT, he thought to himself. No posse had caught him yet. None would catch him now, if only Damascus wasn’t ready to burst a lung. That left few options for the fleeing outlaw.
He could fire on the posse behind him, drop a couple of the men in the process, but invariably face a return bullet for his efforts. As it was now, they might take him in alive to the U.S. Marshal. It all depended on the humanistic qualities of his pursuers, and Brian hadn’t had the chance to make polite inquiries.
Zing! A shot sang close to his ear. Dammit! If only he had time to think! Damascus was too good of a horse to run into the ground. He was the best train-runner and stagecoach-stopper Brian had ever ridden. He swore by ex-cavalry horses such as Damascus, who wasn’t afraid of a little gunfire. The hardiness of cavalry horses was the main reason Brian chose to steal them at every opportunity. Besides, the market for them was excellent.
Damascus had been a General’s horse in the Union Army, belonging to some Yankee officer who didn’t know giddyup from whoa. Being a Percheron/Arabian half-breed, Damascus seemed an ungainly beast at a trot, but at a full gallop he rivaled the best steam locomotives in Dixie. In fact, if Brian hadn’t recently robbed a train, Damascus would have left the posse standing still.
Bang! Too close. They were almost on top of him. As bad as shots as most drunken posses were, this one was going to be able to pick him off blindfolded in another minute. A stray bullet might even hit Damascus, and having his horse shot out from under him was another lousy scenario.
Brian leaned over the horse’s sweating neck, shouting a word of encouragement into the backswept ears. “Sugar! Sugar, Damascus! Sug-aaaar!”
The great beast bore down a little more, nostrils wide and flaring. The draft-horse blood held another ounce of endurance. Damascus had foam flying from the bit, but he gave his rider more, all for the promise of a sugar cube. Brian felt the added burst of power from the horse and gave a whoop, taking off his wide-brimmed hat and slapping Damascus’s flanks with it. “SUGAAAAAR!! HYAAA!”
The sign was all but a blur as the black horse galloped past the border. Hazzard County. The posse, having followed the outlaw almost from Atlanta, slowed their mounts to a walk. There was no point in wearing their horses down. After all, there was only one town of any size in these parts, and it had a Sheriff. Brian Coltrane might have gained some headway on the law, but he was by no means escaping it.
***** ***** ***** *****
Rosco P. Coltrane was a busy man. Routine gunfights were taking more and more of his time. Why was it, he wondered, that every bad-ass in the South had to prove his worth by taking on the local law in a high-noon spectacle? It was senseless. Now there was another body lying in the middle of the street, and it would have to be hauled off and buried at the county’s expense. “What the hell, do I look like Wyatt Earp?” he muttered to his cousin.
“Can’t rightly say. Never seen a picture of ‘em.” MaryAnne Coltrane nudged the dead man with the toe of her boot. “Who was this, anyhow?”
“Just some maverick,” Rosco sighed, returning his Colt to the holster. “I ‘spose we’d best git ‘em outta here before the flies get the word out. Insteada hirin’ deputies, I outta be advertisin’ for undertakers…”
“There’s a shortage of both,” MaryAnne agreed. She herself was an appointed deputy, despite her gender and the conventions of the age. It wasn’t unusual for MaryAnne to prove her worth through her own demonstrations of marksmanship, reminiscent of Anne Oakley. Fortunately, Hazzard was progressively-minded, and it had taken relatively few casualties for the town to accept her station. Now, standing next to Rosco in her fringed deerskin breeches and matching vest, she looked as natural in a badge as he did. Her hat was a tan Stetson as opposed to Rosco’s black one, but there was no mistaking the members of the Hazzard law.
MaryAnne lifted one arm of the dead man and Rosco took the other. Together, they dragged the body out of the street. Once this was done, Rosco adjusted the star on his leather vest, self-consciously. “I swear, I see one more varmint ride into town and challenge me, I’m just gonna shoot ‘em off his horse and the hell with it.”
“Khee! You’d still have to bury ‘em,” MaryAnne reminded.
“I’d still have to bury ‘em, Rosco agreed. “There’s gotta be a way to cut down on all these gunfights…”
“We’ll find one. In the meantime, just keep winning them, okay?”
Rosco smiled and tugged his cousin’s hat brim down. “You got it, sweetheart.”
***** ***** ***** *****
“Whoa, Damascus,” Brian called out. “Whoa. Easy now, we lost ‘em.” The great black horse snorted and shook his mane, slowing to a rolling trot and finally easing his bulk into an exhausted walk. Brian halted the horse and dismounted. Damascus was coated in sweat and seemed none too steady on his legs, but when Brian dug into the pocket of his black cattleman’s coat, the tired animal swung his ears up and nickered softly.
“There ya go, just like I promised.” Brian opened his palm and offered two sugar cubes to Damascus. The horse slobbered up the sugar and muzzled Brian’s hand for more. When Brian failed to produce another sugar cube, Damascus blew hot air through his nostrils and tossed his head. “Don’t get spoiled on me,” Brian chuckled. “You’ll get more later. Right now, I gotta get you cooled down and find you a nice stable. You ran off forty pounds of feed today. That’s why I gotta rob trains, ya know…just to keep you in alfalfa and sugar cubes…”
Brian kept up the one-sided dialogue with his horse, as he led it by the halter towards the shade of the woods. They followed a deer trail that took them to a burbling creek, where Brian promptly removed his rustler’s hat and stuck his entire face into the cold water. He gulped down a swallow for himself and then used his hat to scoop up a drink for Damascus, who buried his muzzle into it like a bucket and drank noisily. The horse managed to sneeze while drinking, spraying water on Brian and startling himself in the process. Damascus gave a yank of his head and upset the hat from Brian’s hands altogether, dousing his illegitimate owner with more water and then stepping on the hat with one mighty hoof. The horse cocked his ears back and blamed Brian for the entire incident.
“Sheeesh! Help yourself to the stream, then! Damn horse…oh, jeeze, no ya don’t, you’re not going to sleep here!” Brian saw Damascus tuck in a rear leg and balance it on the point of the hoof. The big horse sighed, locked its knees, and began a near-immediate snore, still standing upon Brian’s hat. “GAH! Awright! Sugar, Damascus! Lookit! Sugar…”
***** ***** ***** *****
The Hazzard hoosegow wasn’t much of a jail but Rosco took pride in it. Someday, he reckoned, the county would have enough money to build a proper courthouse, and with it, there would be a real Sheriff’s Department with a booking room, and a Sheriff’s office, and enough jail cells to hold all the rowdies on a Saturday night.
For now, he had to content himself with a wooden building that looked almost like every other wooden building in town, except for the single holding cell that took up one corner of the floor. It was cheaper, Boss Hogg had reasoned, to put the cell in the corner without any windows, so that the only expense in iron was for the one row of bars in front of the cell. The cell door was therefore included in that same expense, and it saved the county a bundle. Besides, Boss had argued, there was no need for a fancy prison when Rosco couldn’t catch anybody.
Rosco had protested vehemently. It wasn’t that he couldn’t catch anybody, it was that frontier justice had a way of circumventing due process. How could he properly arrest anybody, when he was constantly facing the lawbreakers in gunfights? Worse, how could he ever hope to hold anybody long enough for a proper trial, when local residents occasionally took matters into their own hands and strung up an outlaw before the county could?
Bah, Boss had muttered. Due process cost too much money. Lynch mobs were cost-effective and served as a good example of the public’s self-sufficiency.
Effective, but not necessarily choosy, Rosco argued back. Frankly, between the gunfights and the indiscriminate lynchings, it was a wonder Hazzard was enjoying any population growth at all.
Boss merely harrumphed in unconcern, chomped on his cigar, and left. The finer points of law enforcement didn’t interest him, save for it’s potential in county revenue. Thus far, law enforcement had only cost the county money. And Boss Hogg considered Hazzard County’s money to be his money. If Boss didn’t need a county Sheriff to serve eviction notices and mediate disputes to his favor, then he’d just as soon let the mob rule prevail. Only thing was, attracting settlers to Hazzard meant having to show a semblance of law and order. Boss needed settlers in order to sell them property. After selling them property, he sold them liquor, and dry goods, and overpriced materials for every conceivable need. Yes indeed, Boss saw himself as the Reconstructor of the South, one sucker at a time.
***** ***** ***** *****
Night had fallen over Hazzard County by the time Brian and Damascus snuck into town. There had been no sign of the posse, and Brian figured they had turned back towards Atlanta. There was easier prey to be had than the likes of him, after all. Not to mention that his bounty with the U.S. Marshal’s office was fairly modest. There were bigger fish out there for the professionals to chase; only the amateur, would-be avengers ever took after Brian. And when they failed to bring him in – and all of them so far, had failed - they returned to their homes and saloons until the next time some minor scoundrel crossed their path.
There were advantages to being a middle-of-the-road outlaw. Make too big a name for yourself, Brian knew, and it was only a matter of time before there were more wolves on your heels than you could shake off. Once in a blue moon, Brian pulled off the daring, big-heist caper, like today’s train robbery. But it was the smaller, mundane thieveries that were his bread and butter – like stealing horses. All tactics combined, it gave him enough money, excitement, and notoriety to enjoy the best of the bad life without having too short of a future.
Feeling confident, he led Damascus to the livery stable in town, and rented a large box stall for his horse. He instructed the groomsman to feed the horse as much grain as it wanted to eat, and to double the alfalfa rations, and to make sure the bedding was changed frequently. Before leaving Damascus at the stable, Brian turned the horse into the stall himself, opting to rub the animal down and brush the thick coat before seeing to his own wants. He tipped the groomsman generously, then made for the local saloon in search of a hot meal and a hard drink. From the sounds of the ruckus down the street, he didn’t have far to go.
The sign above the tavern read “The Boar’s Nest Saloon.” Tinny piano music banged out the windows and laughter poured through the swinging doors. The scent of whiskey, warm beer, and roast beef mingled together and drew Brian inside. It was altogether a hokey sort of establishment, catering to farm boys and the down-and-out drifter. So long as the food was passable and the whiskey strong, Brian could overlook the aesthetic shortcomings. So it ain’t the Atlanta Hotel, he thought with a shrug, and seated himself at a table near the piano. His back was safely to the wall, and he could watch the crowd with an easy eye.
“What’ll it be?” chirped a light voice, and Brian looked up to see a lace-corseted serving girl smiling at him. Well, maybe the saloon had more to offer than he originally thought. “Whiskey, half-bottle of the good stuff, and a plate of whatever you got roastin’ in the kitchen,” he answered, fishing out a silver dollar and spinning it on the table.
“Comin’ right up, sugar.” The waitress winked and walked away. She had the kind of walk that made the ruffles of her dress shake in a very attractive manner. Brian watched her lithe form whirl among the tables, hearing her name Daisy being called out by the customers.
It was good to be in a town again, where there was music and laughter and the chance of fair company. Brian was feeling better by the minute. Later, after a solid meal and two shots of whiskey, he was feeling positively wonderful. He’d robbed the Atlanta Express and outrun a posse, and the night was still young! Lord knew what he could accomplish next. Maybe if that serving girl was accommodating…
The saloon doors swung open and five tough-looking men walked in. They sported long, weathered coats, and their faces were half-hidden behind thick beards and mustaches. Their cowboy hats were coated with trail dust and the expressions beneath them were grim. Long-rifles were slung over their backs, and dual six-guns hung from their hips.
The five men slowly spread out among the bar, searching every face without speaking. The soft ching…ching…ching…of their spurs became the only sound when the piano ceased it’s melody. As one of the men turned towards the row of tables, lamplight glanced off the tin badge on his coat.
Oh no. Brian swallowed hard, and the tightness in his throat wasn’t due to the whiskey. The posse was here. They’d trailed him, or guessed his destination. This wasn’t some bunch of drunken has-beens out for an easy bounty! These were professionals. These were…
“Pinkertons,” a blonde man whispered somewhere to Brian’s right.
“You’re right, Bo,” his dark-haired companion answered. “But what’re they doin’ in Hazzard?”
The serving girl named Daisy tiptoed over to the two young men, obviously ill at ease with the armed posse. “You ever seen those fellas before?” She whispered to them.
“Heck no,” Bo said.
Brian listened to their conversation with half an ear. He was focused on the Pinkertons, who were spreading through the saloon like a bad odor. Two of the posse went upstairs, beginning a search of the sleeping rooms. The others were starting to mingle their way back through the tables, and whenever their hard gaze fell upon a man, the looked-upon couldn’t help but turn away. They were taking their time, being thorough. Not a face went unstudied.
“Luke, ain’t the Pinkertons the same ones that caught the James gang?” Bo whispered.
“Yep…after an awful lot of killin’,” Luke said quietly. “They’re the meanest, orneriest, most feared lawmen on either side of the Mississippi…though callin’ ‘em “lawmen” is kinda generous. Their brand of justice is for hire…”
Brian pulled his black rustler’s hat down low over his brow. Lord, they were here for him! How or why, he didn’t know. He took pains to avoid this kind of attention, but evidently, he’d underrated himself in the eyes of the law. He slid his right hand under the table and brushed his black coat open, casually loosening the .45 in his hip-holster. Then he slouched down in his chair and waited.
From the corner of his eye, he saw the young men at the table next to him blanch. They had seen Brian’s slight move, and they now understood who the Pinkertons were looking for. If they gave him away…
The three Pinkertons were getting closer, their spurs louder, their scowls darker. When they cast their stone-eyed glare at Bo and Luke, the two young men slowly stood up and protected Daisy with their bodies. They were smart enough, Brian noticed, to keep their hands well away from their gun holsters.
The Pinkertons and Dukes stared each other down for a minute’s lifetime. Brian didn’t look in their direction. He knew he was next. He felt it…
…felt the turning of the Pinkertons in his direction. Brian didn’t look up. There was the sound of cowhide being furled as the Pinkertons cleared their weapons from the holsters. Then, boot steps, slow and heavy on the wooden floor, echoed by the spurs…
Ching. Ching. Ching…closer…ching. The spurs were silent in front of him.
Gah, was something of the thought in Brian’s mind. His pounding heartbeat was drowning out his inner scream. A twitch, a sneeze, an ill-timed hiccup, and he was dead…
“Stand up,” one of the Pinkertons said, the words falling like stones. “Stand up, Coltrane.”
No comprende’, Brian thought. He didn’t move. He kept his head down, his body slouched in the chair. His left hand clutched the half-bottle of whiskey on the table as if he’d been drinking all night. His right hand was hanging slack at the end of his arm, fingertips nearly reaching the floor. The .45, half-out of the holster, looked careless.
Click! A hammer rocked back, and a pistol was put so close to Brian’s face that he could smell the gun oil.
His only reaction was a slight belch and some desperate thinking. I’m a harmless drunk. See? Nobody home. Out to lunch. For rent. This property is vacant. Your ad could be here…
“Take him outside,” One of the Pinkertons ordered to the others. “We’ll take care of it there.”
The very second the last word was spoken, Brian exploded to life, kicking the table into the Pinkertons with the force of a mule. He hadn’t raised his head the entire time, but this had allowed him to see exactly where the table was in relation to Pinkerton legs. Two of the men were knocked clean over, their guns going off into the ceiling. The third man was thrown off-balance, and Brian took the whiskey bottle he’d kept in his left hand and smashed it against the Pinkerton’s temple.
Three men were on the floor, but the two remaining Pinkertons rushed from the sleeping rooms upstairs, bringing their long-rifles to aim from the balcony. Brian’s right hand flashed to his .45 and it whispered from the holster and melded to his palm. His hand never slowed in its motion as the gun was swept up and fired within a single breath. The shot scored high into the brass chain of the chandelier, and it flickered and jerked a second before snapping loose to fall at the Pinkerton men on the balcony. There was a rattling crash, loose gunfire, screaming and shouting all at once, and it was time, Brian decided, to get the hell out of Hazzard.
For all his efforts, it wasn’t enough to let him leave. The Pinkertons on the ground level were sorting themselves out, and it was Daisy’s scream that rose above the rest, giving Brian the warning to turn around. The two of the table-felled Pinkertons were pulling themselves up and pointing Colt barrels at Brian’s eyes. Brian had a split-second to decide which one to shoot first, knowing full well the other would have him – but just as suddenly, Bo and Luke pounced upon the men like mountain lions and knocked them flat, wresting the guns from them and flinging them away. Pinkertons and Dukes fell to hand-to-hand combat, and Brian had no chance to watch. The whiskey-bottled Pinkerton was also shaking off his blow and he rushed at Brian with a savage yell. He slammed into Brian with the force of a bull, knocking him back through several tables until they plowed bodily into the wall.
The noise of splintering wood, crashing glass, screams, curses, and shouts grew in crescendo. Bo and Luke reduced one Pinkerton to unconsciousness and threw another into the upright piano, which proved to be too much for the instrument as it collapsed and the wire strings snapped apart. Brutal, off-pitch notes came from the piano like the yips of a dying coyote.
“FREEEEEEEZE!!” Came a hoarse shout over the din, followed by two fast gunshots into the air. “I said FREEZE!! Now everybody hush!”
The Pinkertons, to a man, took this as a signal to scramble loose from whatever predicament they were in and rush from the saloon from any conceivable exit. Like cockroaches, they melted from view and were gone before anyone could land a boot.
“Let ‘em go,” Rosco said to his deputy, who was looking to give chase. “There’s no point chasin’ them when we got four dozen other people to question.” Rosco turned from MaryAnne and looked over the trashed saloon. “Alllllright, somebody wanna tell me who started this mess?”
Outside, a cricket chirped. Sawdust drifted quietly from the ceiling. Somebody coughed.
“Let’s try that again,” MaryAnne said, resting a rifle over her shoulder. “Who started this??” Her turquoise eyes scanned the debris, noting the wide path of destruction. The jail wasn’t big enough for all the participants in this little melee.
Bo and Luke rose slowly from the ruins, wincing slightly. It hurt to move, but each felt fortunate that they were still able to do so. “Them five polecats who just ran outta here, they started it,” Luke answered, counting his teeth by tapping them with a finger. Bo, meanwhile, was checking his reflection in a cracked mirror, and thought for a panicked moment that a Pinkterton had really broken his face in two.
“You Dukes started a fight with five men?” Rosco said in disbelief.
“Naw,” Bo said. “Them five men started a fight with one. We just evened up the odds some.”
“For who?” MaryAnne asked, seeing no one else looking as battle-fatigued as the Dukes.
Bo and Luke looked around. “Some dude in a black coat n’ hat,” Luke said. “Where the….there he is! Under that heap of tables over there.”
MaryAnne followed Luke’s line of sight. Sure enough, there was somebody buried in broken furniture by the wall. She walked over to investigate, her spurs jingling lightly with her quick steps.
Brian heard the spurs coming at him and he struggled for full consciousness. His head was ringing like church bells for mass, and his body felt like it had been run over by a stagecoach. He crawled forward on his stomach, lumber sliding off him like tiles from a roof. His gun lay on the floor just beyond reach. He had to get it…quick…
The .45 was inches from his right hand. A brown boot stepped down on the gun, denying it from his grasp. Brian slowly curled his fingers together in defeat. Well, he’d given them a hell of a fight…
He then felt a rifle barrel tapping the crown of his hat. “Anybody home?” It was a woman’s voice, authorative but not unfriendly.
In curiosity and surprise, Brian looked up. Brown boots, silver spurs, and deerskin breeches led up to a blue, long-sleeved shirt. A deerskin vest hung over the woman’s shoulders, and pinned on that vest was a bright, silver star. Brian looked up into the woman’s face. She had long brown hair, high cheekbones, and a pair of sharp blue eyes that looked back at him intently from beneath a tan Stetson. She loosely cradled a Winchester rifle in her left arm, and her right hand rested on a holstered Colt.
MaryAnne, taking the young man’s curious stare for incomprehension, leaned down a bit and repeated herself, rapping him on the head again for good measure. “Yoo-hooo! I said, ANYBODY HOME??”
“Yeah, I hear ya,” Brian said, pushing himself up off the floor. Broken wood clattered around him, and he turned his head to spit out a splinter. “Mind if I have my gun back, Miss…”
“Deputy Coltrane,” she said coolly. “You’ll get your gun back if and when I decide you should have it.”
She read the appearance of the man before her all too easily. He was clean-shaven, but that was about all she could say for him. His voice held a mild Atlanta drawl, but his posture suggested a battle-readiness that belied his easy words.
His clothing, MaryAnne could tell, was not something to be worn by an honest rancher, farmer, or tradesman. The low-crowned black hat, and the long, black cattleman’s coat were meant for hiding in shadows. His denim jeans were dyed black as well. His boots…black, of course – were without spurs.
This was someone who did a lot of sneaking around. It was his eyes, she decided, that she didn’t trust most of all. It wasn’t their brown color that lent suspicion; it was the reflection of the bad conscience behind them that made their hue seem darker.
Rosco was much more direct in his appraisal. He walked up to MaryAnne, and with a tilt of his head towards Brian, asked: “Who’s this desperado?”
“Just some renegade,” she answered. “At least until he gives us a name…”
Every bad-guy instinct Brian had was telling him to lie. The deputy’s last name was the same as his, and though he’d always known he had un-met kin in Hazzard, he hadn’t known they were the law! And boy howdy, if they didn’t already know about him…this was going to be some bad timing for a family reunion.
A clever alias was almost at the ready, but the Dukes ruined his chance of using it. “We heard them Pinkerton varmints call ‘em “Coltrane,” Luke remembered helpfully.
“Pinkertons? Coltrane??” Rosco and MaryAnne said together, and their shock was so strong that Brian took a step back before it knocked him over.
“ROSCO!” A new voice boomed through the saloon, interrupting the tender moment. “I want whoever’s responsible for bustin’ up my saloon locked up pronto! Look at this place! My piano! My chandelier! My tables n’ chairs! My mirror!” Boss Hogg, the one man who could wear white in the days of horse and buggies and not get it dirty, scampered over the debris to view the damages. He found likely suspects amid the ruins. “AUGH! You Dukes! I should’ve known! Rosco, lock ‘em up!”
“Now hold on a minute Boss,” Luke said, and pointed to Brian. “It wasn’t our fight, it was his…”
“That’s right!” Bo added.
“Lock ‘em all up!!” Boss roared. “I don’t care who started it! Somebody’s gonna pay for bustin’ up my saloon! Rosco, MaryAnne, take ‘em away! All three of ‘em!”
Rosco didn’t refuse Boss’s orders. He would just as soon sort out this mess back in the booking room. Aside from that, it gave him a chance to use the jail, which was a refreshing change of pace once in awhile. “Awright, you Dukes. Hands up. Git on outta there.” He ushered Bo and Luke from the saloon, who protested to no avail.
MaryAnne scooped up Brian’s .45 and tucked it into her gunbelt. “You too, let’s go.” She raised her rifle one-handed to level it at Brian’s gut, but he didn’t seem inclined to move.
“Come on,” she said to him, hoping he wouldn’t resist arrest. It would be rude to have to kill him in cold blood. Rude, and right down expensive, because if his last name really was Coltrane, Boss would insist on having him buried in their family plot rather than the county land - relative or not. And MaryAnne hated to put him in the ground with all the unanswered questions he’d stirred up…
Brian saw the thought process in MaryAnne’s eyes. He tried taking advantage of it. “You ain’t gonna arrest me, Deputy.”
“You’re right,” she said after a moment, but to his surprise, she changed her grip on the rifle and looked ready to fire. “Daisy,” she called out, “Do you remember how we got the bloodstains out of the floor the last time I had to shoot down some idiot?”
“Sure do,” Daisy said. “I’ll go get a sponge. If we start cleanin’ up right away while it’s fresh, it won’t be no trouble…”
Brian’s hands found the sky. “Hold on, now, don’t go through all that work on my account…”
MaryAnne ignored his change of attitude. “Daisy, bring a mop, too.”
“I’d really love to see your jail,” Brian said hastily. “I’m sure it’s the finest one in Georgia…”
MaryAnne stifled a yawn. “You’ve seen one jail, you’ve seen ‘em all. You’d know that already tho’, wouldn’t ya?”
“Uhhhh…well...I seen one r’ two…”
“Just so I know what to put on the marker…what’s yer first name?”
“Brian,” the answer came nervously. “And if ya don’t mind, I think I’d enjoy the privilege of seein’ your jail. Honest!”
“Hmmm…” MaryAnne debated it. “I’ll arrest you as a favor, but only this once.” This time, when MaryAnne gestured towards the exit with the rifle, Brian walked. Daisy came from the bar with a mop and a bucket, and upon seeing that MaryAnne wasn’t going to shoot somebody, made a disappointed face.
***** ***** ***** *****
“Ga’ damn, Zeke. Fordie miles! We chased that sonofabit over fordie miles, n’ now there ain’t no bounty fer us.”
“That’s right, Zeke,” growled another Pinkerton. “Forty miles, and now we let the Sheriff scoop up that re-ward? What’re you thinkin’?”
Zeke, the leader of the group of Pinkerton operatives, spat tobacco into the campfire and said nothing. His attention was focused on polishing his rifle. He seemed unconcerned.
“Gal-dang,” said another member. “Ah remimbir when bein’ a Pinker-tin meant sumptin’!”
“It meant more before yew joined up,” retorted the man next to him. The posse was in a bad mood. They were bruised, battered, and sober, and their hopes of collecting a bounty had gone up in smoke. Their faith in their leader, collectively, was thinner than a Yankee dime.
“We shoulda layed low n’ bushwhacked Coltrane when he came outta the saloon…” the mutterings began again.
Zeke let it go on for a minute. Then, with cool deliberation, he stopped polishing his rifle, loaded it, and pointed it at the head of the man closest to him. “You got a suggestion there, Angus? Somethin’ you wanna share wit’ the rest of the group?”
Zeke pointed the rifle to the other side of the campfire, like a cross between Russian roulette and spin-the-bottle. “How ‘bout you, Chet?”
“Waaaal, nuddin’ comes t’ mind…”
Zeke’s rifle swung at the last two men, panning back and forth in front of their faces like a fickle weathervane. “Buck? Leroy? Any bright ideas?”
“Naw! No sir!” They answered, shaking their heads.
Zeke rested the rifle across his lap, keeping it handy. “I’m glad we had that open debate. Now if you dairy heifers are done chewin’ the cud, I’ll tell you what we’re a-gonna do.”
The campfire flickered low as the Pinkertons regrouped and made their plans. The voices of the men gave way to greedy, uncouth laughter, which rose into the night like the howls of hungry wolves.
***** ***** ***** *****
At the Hazzard hoosegow, things were getting crowded. The two Duke boys were penned up on the corner cell, awaiting bail. The third tenant of the jail was still being booked. “Lemme git this straight,” Rosco said to Brian. “Yer last name is spelled…”
“You outta know,” Brian said in vexation. “Sheriff, I got a riddle for ya. What do ya get when you cross a wayward uncle with a dance-hall girl in Atlanta?”
“Another cousin!” Brian yelled.
MaryAnne got it before Rosco did, and spat her coffee out. The Duke’s jaws dropped.
Rosco was still sorting out the punch line. Brian, amused by his own humor, uttered the one word that would forever erase all doubt. “Khee!”
“Oh, no…” MaryAnne groaned, and at this, even Rosco had to admit the evidence. No one, but no one, could khee like that, except for himself, MaryAnne, and…
“Good grief…” Rosco said, shaken. A long-lost relative had just dropped out of the blue – or black, truth be told - and events like this had a way of complicating people’s lives. Rosco didn’t handle complications well, and he therefore dreaded them.
MaryAnne knew how he felt. She already regretted not shooting Brian in the saloon. Ignorance was bliss…
Brian laughed at their expressions, tilting the brim of his black hat in salute. “Brian Coltrane, at your service! But don’t worry, y’all. I ain’t gonna hang around Hazzard.”
“Hush,” Rosco snapped. “You’re still bein’ booked, Coltrane or no Coltrane! Empty yer pockets out on the desk, there. Come on, we ain’t got all night!”
Brian complied, with a cavalier attitude. He removed a handful of change from the deep pockets of the cattleman’s coat, then fished out a pouch of tobacco, some cigarette paper, and a few matches. “There ya go.”
MaryAnne didn’t buy it for a minute. “Wait a minute,” she warned, coming around to face him. “Take off that coat.”
When Brian displayed resistance, Rosco muttered something about just having scrubbed the floor. “Shoot him outside, MaryAnne.”
The long coat was discarded in a heartbeat. Brian held it out at arm’s length, looking surly. MaryAnne grabbed it and checked the pockets. Nothing in the outside pockets of the coat…
…but the inside pockets were deep and double-lined. She removed a large bowie knife, four gold pocket-watches, several boxes of bullets, and a thick stack of currency. There was more, however. Another pocket was full of double-eagle gold coins and silver dollars. She piled it all up on the desk, not saying a word, letting the silence speak for her.
She made one more check in the coat’s lining and found another object. She pulled out a harmonica and waved it in Brian’s face. “Care to change your tune?”
His dark eyes glared at her. “I’m gonna refrain from comment.”
“On that note,” MaryAnne continued, gesturing at the money, “I want to know where you got ahold of all this do-re-mi. This is a lot of cash to be carryin’…”
Boss Hogg could smell a dollar a mile away. He was suddenly bustling into the booking room, and at the sight of the cash, let out gleeful chortle. “Well now! Heh heh heh heh! We got ourselves a gen-u-wine high roller here, don’t we?”
“Um…Boss…” Rosco began.
Boss was fanning out the bank notes like playing cards. “My oh my! There’s almost enough here to cover my damages at the saloon!” He set to counting, happily.
“Now hold on there, you can’t just take all my money, that fight wasn’t my fault!” Brian protested.
“Especially when we don’t know where that money came from,” MaryAnne added. “Boss, we got more to investigate here…”
Boss wasn’t interested. “One hundred dollars for my piano, twenty-five dollars for my mirror, two hundred dollars for my chandelier, three hundred dollars for bustin’ every set of tables and chairs in the place…fifty dollars for spilled liquor…then there’s the fines! Disorderly conduct, ten dollars! Vandalism, twenty dollars!”
The tab grew until Boss had a purpose for every cent that Brian had formerly possessed. Boss stuck the paper money into his own vest pocket, and scooped the coins into his hat. He took the watches, too. He looked back at Brian with an air of indifference. “I don’t need this vagrant kept in our jail where the county would halfta feed ‘em. He had enough money to pay the damages and the fines. Let ‘em go.”
“I really think we should check with the U.S. Marshal’s office first,” MaryAnne said. “There’s probable cause…”
“She’s right,” Rosco agreed.
“Bah! Probable cause, lost cause, just because! It don’t make no difference to me! Let him go! But them Dukes don’t leave until they’ve covered their own fines, got that?”
“Good!” Boss stuck a cigar into his mouth and stormed out. He knew the kind of element that the black-clad stranger represented. He worked with it often, and double-crossed it when he could. Being astute with criminal thinking, Boss Hogg had learned long ago that fleecing outlaws meant easy money. What were they going to do, call the cops?
Brian certainly wasn’t having any such thoughts. “Guess I’m free to go,” he said cheerfully. Losing the money hurt, but being able to leave town in a hurry was more important. “Deputy, if you’d kindly return my few remainin’ articles…”
MaryAnne took Brian’s .45 from her waist. She gave the pistol a casual examination, seeing the scratches etched in the ebony handle. They looked neat, orderly, deliberate, as if the notches kept score of his exploits. Her blue eyes flicked from the gun, to the dark eyes of it’s owner.
Brian offered no explanation and no apologies. He put his cattleman’s coat back on and shoved the few remaining possessions he had into the pockets, waiting for the return of the gun.
She handed the weapon over with revulsion. “Get the hell outta my county,” she growled.
“Gladly. So long…cousin. I’d say it was nice meetin’ ya, but…”
Rosco saved the floor from another stain. He grabbed Brian and threw him bodily out the door. Brian hit the dirt hard, but scrambled up ready to fight. The Sheriff stepped out into the street with a hand on his pearl-handled Colt. As if on silent agreement, the two men circled each other, then stepped back until twenty paces separated them. They stood there, deadly and grim in the torch-lit street, staring down one another with the promise of trading lead.
MaryAnne stepped outside and stood slightly behind Rosco. If the Sheriff fell, she would quickly avenge him…or share his destiny. It was an eloquent statement of their kinship in both blood and badge. It was not unmoving to Brian.
“Draw,” Rosco said gruffly.
Brian looked undecided. The cold truth hit him. He couldn’t do it…and therein lay his doom.
“Draw!” Rosco barked. Brian shook his head and took another step back. Good Lord, he’d escaped the Pinkertons, but now the Sheriff was going to gun him down in the street…
“Yer yella, fella!” Rosco called out as Brian’s retreat picked up speed.
“Think what ya want, Sheriff,” Brian called back, finally turning away altogether and breaking into a run. The night swallowed up his black clothing, and in seconds he was gone.
“Good riddance,” Rosco grumbled, the battle tension leaving his posture. “Coward like him ain’t worth the bullet.”
MaryAnne stared after Brian’s departure and was more troubled than ever.
***** ***** ***** *****
The glow of dawn rose timidly over the green hills of Hazzard County, asking the night to politely move aside. The day was just beginning, but the Dukes were hard at work, taking care of chores and seeing to the operation of their farm. The elder member of the family clan, Jesse Duke, watched his two nephews with a jaded eye. They were working too fast, too efficiently, as if they were anxious to move onto other business. And if last night was any indication, it was business that could land them in more trouble. There was only so much money that Jesse could devote to bailing his boys out of the hoosegow, and he often reminded them of that fact to no avail.
Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Bo and Luke were saddling up their horses. The well-brushed coats of the two chestnut stallions shone reddish-orange in the early sunlight, and their black manes rippled with the tossing of their heads. Spirited like their riders, the matched pair of horses stomped impatience as they were saddled and bridled. They sensed the coming mission of their owners, and were anxious for action.
Uncle Jesse held his silence until Bo and Luke set their boots in the stirrups. At the sight of his two nephews astride their horses – the stallions that were dubbed General and Lee, respectively – he spoke his mind. “You two better not be runnin’ off to gitcher selfs kilt or landed in the hoosegow…”
“No sir,” Bo said. “We’ve just got a hankerin’ to find them Pinkerton fellas and ask ‘em nice about payin’ back for our bail. They was the ones that busted up the saloon, them and that other fella…”
“We’ll be careful,” Luke promised at Jesse’s glare. “We’ll be home before nightfall.”
“You mind yerselves around them tin-stars! They don’t mess around, and puttin’ two farm boys to a bullet would be all in a days’ work to ‘em,” Jesse warned.
“We don’t mess around either,” Bo said haughtily. It was then Jesse noticed that his nephews wore their side arms. So much for a quiet day in Hazzard County…
“Don’t do nothin’ to make me ashamed of you,” Jesse ordered.
“No sir, we won’t,” Luke answered for himself and Bo. Then they kicked their heels into the horses flanks and sped off.
***** ***** ***** *****
As the Dukes searched for the Pinkertons, the Pinkertons were conducting a search of their own. The sun had barely crested the eastern pines when the five-man posse thundered into town. They questioned all passerby they came in contact with, sparing no courtesy for the early hour. They moved through Hazzard like seeping swamp-water, saturating every home and business, and leaving their reek in the wake.
The town blacksmith pulled down the brim of his Confederate soldier’s cap, and observed the Pinkertons with misgiving. He had friends that found themselves on the wrong side of the law once in awhile. If the Pinkertons expected any information from him, they were going to be sorely disappointed.
Cooter stoked the fire in his shop and went back to hammering. He timed this precisely. Anytime a Pinkerton began questioning a Hazzard citizen, Cooter made sure to clang the anvil with the most ringing noise he could make, creating a din that couldn’t be shouted over. After a few minutes of this, five shadows entered the smithy and stood over Cooter, waiting to be acknowledged. When it didn’t happen, Zeke simply put his rifle in the blacksmith’s back.
Cooter let the hammer fall one last time, then turned around slowly. “Somethin’ I can do for you fellas?”
“We’re lookin’ for somebody,” Zeke said between chews of tobacco. “Figured you might know ‘em.”
“What say?” Cooter yelled, crooking a hand to his ear. “All that hammerin’, I’m half-deef.”
“We’re lookin’ for somebody!” Zeke shouted. “A rustler!” He gestured to Chet, who unrolled a battered WANTED poster and showed it to Cooter. The blacksmith took a good look at the drawing, and found the likeness vaguely familiar. Fortunately though, it wasn’t a picture of anyone he knew. He shrugged and shook his head.
“Don’t know ‘em. Ain’t seen ‘em. Never heard of ‘em.”
“You never heard the name Coltrane?” Zeke asked sharply. This morning, he and his men had found out that the Hazzard law bore the same last name as their quarry, and they had their suspicions about why Brian had fled this way.
“Who?” Cooter asked, sticking a finger in his ear.
“COLTRANE!” Zeke shouted, blowing a gasket.
“Oh, Coltrane! Why didn’t ya say so! Sure, the Sheriff is right down thataway, you can’t miss ‘em.” Cooter pointed his hammer in the direction of the jailhouse.
Finding the blacksmith useless, Zeke growled a curse and waved his men out. Before leaving himself, he turned and spat tobacco juice on the anvil. “I won’t forget you,” Zeke said with implied threat, and by the dilation of Cooter’s pupils, the Pinkerton leader knew that the blacksmith’s hearing was fine.
***** ***** ***** ******
Rosco didn’t know the Pinkertons were back in town until they made themselves unwelcome at his hoosegow. He had been catching some needed shut-eye at the booking desk, when the heavy clomping of boots and the jangling of spurs interrupted his nap.
“What in the heck do you tin-plated fools want?” Rosco said irritably. Sleeping at the booking desk tended to make him ornery. Being woke up from it made him downright unsociable.
Zeke looked pointedly at the empty jail cell. “We heard tell of you arrestin’ some folks last night. Where are they?”
Rosco leaned back in the wooden chair and stretched, answering with a wide yawn. “Them boys from the saloon? They all paid their fines and went on home.”
Instant cursing came from the Pinkertons. Zeke cut it off with rapid questioning. “That one in the black coat and hat. How long ago did he leave? Where was he headed?”
“Why?” Rosco demanded back. “Somethin’ I should know?”
“He’s wanted by the U.S. Marshal. We’ve got a warrant for ‘em, dead or alive. You find ‘em again, you hold ‘em for us.”
“Go hatch a rattlesnake.”
Zeke nodded to himself slowly. “I expected that reaction, Sheriff. Seeing as how you’re kin to that outlaw…”
Rosco narrowed his gunmetal-blue eyes. “I won’t mention what I think you might be kin to. Listen, you mavericks ain’t got any jurisdiction in Hazzard County, and I ain’t gonna have you all bustin’ up the saloon and stirrin’ up trouble! I don’t care if you’re after Billy the Kid, you ain’t gonna tear my town apart!”
Zeke bristled, and the rest of the posse sucked in a breath. The Pinkerton leader stared at Rosco with hostility. “We’ll do whatever we have to do! And we’ll take Brian Coltrane back with us, one way or the other.”
Rosco’s glare went sharp as ice. He didn’t hold much use for bounty hunters, especially this bunch. “Go to hell,” he said harshly, “and take the shortcuts.”
Zeke laughed contemptuously, then leaned forward dripped threats from a low, tobacco-soaked voice. “I’m sure I’ll see you there, Sheriff. In the meantime, if you want your little town kept in one piece…I’d suggest you turn Brian Coltrane over to us, right quick. No tellin’ what could happen otherwise…”
Rosco sprang from his chair, standing up fast and drawing his weapon. The pearl-handled Colt was steady in his hand, and the barrel pointed at Zeke’s nostrils. “Git!” he snarled. “Git outta here before you make me stain the floor up!”
Zeke glowered at Rosco, but his men were already shrinking towards the exit. He followed them out, leaving a spat of tobacco on the floor behind him.
***** ***** ***** *****
“I don’t have any sugar,” Brian apologized to his horse. “I gave it all to you yesterday, and there’s no money for more.”
A sharp whinny came from Damascus. He had allowed Brian to lead him from the livery stable in the middle of the night, and horse and rider had spent the rest of the evening camped outdoors without the benefit of a fire. Damascus was used to the spontaneous life that came with being an outlaw’s horse, but it was the sugar that made it all worthwhile. Without the sugar, Damascus saw no reason to cooperate with the ridiculous requests of his current owner.
At the moment, Brian’s only request of his horse was to beak into a trot. Damascus was plodding along the road as if he dragged a plow behind him. “Aw, come on,” Brian pleaded. “Giddy-yap!”
Damascus snorted and swished his tail around. He paused at some daffodils, sniffing the blossoms apart. Sugar?
Brian was about to give the horse a kick in the ribs and a slap with the reins, but Damascus moved on his own accord. The rattling creak of a stagecoach came into hearing, along with the jingle of a four-horse harness. Pounding hooves drummed a cadence around it, and Damascus knew what it meant. He bounded into the woods alongside the road and sought cover.
“Good boy,” Brian praised, patting the animal’s neck. “Good boy! That’s right, a nice stagecoach robbery would take care of our problems ‘bout now! Get ready…”
Brian pulled his hat brim down low and flipped up his coat collar. From his pocket, he pulled out a red bandanna and tied it just below his eyes. He took the reins in his left hand and withdrew his .45 with his right…and waited.
A Wells Fargo stagecoach rumbled into view. Four horses pulled it at a brisk trot, hauling passengers and goods from Atlanta to Hazzard. It was a stroke of luck for Brian, as Wells Fargo coaches usually meant a strongbox of some kind with valuables in it. All he needed was a couple hundred dollars and he could lay low for weeks, and get some distance between himself and that damned posse.
“Get ready, Damascus…here they come…HYAAAAAA!!”
Damascus burst from the woods and landed behind the stagecoach at full gallop, legs pumping like steam pistons. Brian leaned forward in the saddle, half-standing in the stirrups, the cattleman’s coat billowing out behind him like a cape. He felt his blood surge hot and wild as Damascus reached the back of the stagecoach. The thrill, the danger of highway robbery was always fresh to him, and he was scared as hell and tough as nails at the same time. He was as good as dead but he felt immortal. He was flat broke but about to be rich…”HYAAAAH!”
The stagecoach drivers spotted him. Rifle shots were fired and the stagecoach lurched ahead in a burst of speed, it’s horses taking to a frantic gallop. But Damascus hung evenly off the left rear corner, and Brian now stood up fully in the stirrups. He fired a shot and one of the stagecoach drivers yelled in surprise as Brian blew the hat off his head. The other stagecoach driver, having all the reins, couldn’t turn and shoot. The passengers were giving little screams of alarm, but so far none of them had poked a gun out the window.
“DROP THAT STRONGBOX!” Brian yelled at the stagecoach drivers. “DROP IT NOW!”
The driver doing the shooting aimed the rifle again. Brian ducked as the report cracked over his head, then stood up and fired back. This time, the bullet ricocheted off the rifle stock and it went flying from the driver’s hand. Brian leveled his .45 again, not repeating his earlier request.
“Don’t shoot!” the disarmed driver called out, and the stagecoach slowed. Brian urged Damascus ahead until he was alongside the stagecoach drivers. He aimed his gun up towards the driver on the left. “Throw down that strongbox easy-like, and nobody gets hurt!”
The drivers complied, struggling with the heavy trunk on the stagecoach. They heaved it over the opposite side where it landed with a thud. Brian continued to pace the stagecoach and keep a bead on the drivers. “Throw down any weapons you got there! Now!”
Two pistols clattered onto the road. The drivers looked at Brian helplessly. They’d done what he asked, but they had no idea if they would be spared.
“Awright!” Brian yelled. “Y’all just keep movin’! Don’t stop, don’t turn around! Vamoose! GO!” He fired three shots in the air for emphasis, and the stagecoach horses galloped wildly again. Brian whirled Damascus away and doubled back for the strongbox, stopping to collect the discarded guns and toss them out of sight. How quickly fortune had changed for him, from bad luck, to good luck, in the blink of an eye! He then reined Damascus in by the strongbox and shot off the lock. He jumped off his horse and pushed the lid open.
Gold, silver, and greenbacks met his eyes. Scattered documents filled up the rest…bonds, land trusts, and the like. Some jewelry was tucked inside as well. Brian shoved two fistfuls of paper money into his coat and grabbed the gold coins by the handful. He could live on this for months! Maybe even hide out in Mexico until things cooled off.
If only he had some way to carry all the loot, he might damn well retire. Having none, he took only what he could practically carry, and shut the lid on the strongbox. He moved it off the road. He had taken what he could use; he had no objection to the rest of the items being recovered by their rightful owners. Therefore, he’d put the strongbox out of view from the average traveler, but the stagecoach company would know to look for it along the road. It was an odd part of his psyche that Brian didn’t understand about himself. Some people called it a conscience. He called it a nuisance.
***** ***** ***** *****
The stagecoach rumbled it’s way towards Hazzard, minus the strongbox. It careened down the main road into town, which was the same one that Bo and Luke were traveling upon that morning. The stagecoach drivers waved down the two young men and shouted for help. “We were held up! Back there, couple miles down the road! Ambushed by a gunman!”
Bo and Luke turned their horses around. “What’d he look like?” Luke yelled back.
“Couldn’t get a look at ‘em, but he was dressed in black from head to toe, ‘cept for the bandana on his face! Rode a black horse! He took our strongbox, there’ll be a reward if you catch ‘em!”
“We’ll get ‘em!” Bo shouted. He and Luke spurred their horses with a whoop. The Dukes never saw themselves fit to wear a badge, but they took pride in their home territory and defended it fiercely. The chestnut stallions raced down the dirt road with a lightness of foot that rivaled any antelope. Their tails were streamers in the wind, and their riders clung low to the saddles and kept an easy touch on the reins. No horses were faster from here to the Kentucky Derby, and it took the Dukes scant minutes to find a rider in black some distance ahead of them.
Brian titled his head and listened. Damascus’s own heavy gait was making him unsure of his hearing. Were those hoof-beats behind them? “Whoa, Damascus. Lemme give an ear to that…” Brian slowed the big horse to a walk and turned half-around in the saddle, listening, watching, his hair starting to rise on the back of his neck. He sensed pursuit but there shouldn’t be any, not yet, not this soon! But it sounded like two horses with the speed of tornados were barreling down on him…
“HYAAAH, Damascus! HYAAAH!” Brian slapped the reins, still watching over his shoulder. He didn’t see it yet, but he felt it, he heard it. Pursuit was coming, and it was on wings.
Damascus picked up his rider’s urgency. The great, muscular legs of the large horse unfolded and stretched into a long, dirt-flying gallop, the polished black hooves nothing more a blur in the sunlight. The Atlanta Central Railroad couldn’t have made better time, and Brian felt optimistic about his chances for escape. Damascus could save him yet! On the open flats, there wasn’t a horse that could beat him!
Brian checked over his shoulder again. Two riders were emerging from around the last bend, driving their horses hard. They had managed to get within a half-mile of Damascus but they were not gaining ground anymore. So far, so good…
Until the riders split up to the left and right, leaving the road altogether, taking their mounts into the woods. Each had taken an opposite side of the road and disappeared.
Brian watched the move in confusion. If they couldn’t beat him on the road, how did they expect to ride their horses through the woods and make any gain? Maybe they were breaking the chase off, and didn’t care to hang around and be shot at. That was reasonable to assume, and Brian turned forward in the saddle. He kept Damascus at a full run, knowing he wouldn’t feel safe until he was back in downtown Atlanta.
Bo and Luke didn’t intend anything in the way of retreat. Separately, they moved their horses along the narrow Indian trails that they’d used to short-cut the Union Army when Sherman came calling. Gradually, the woods gave way to a broad meadow, and it was here that they took full advantage of the little-known route, their familiarity with the land allowing them to jump streams and avoid chuckholes that would have crippled the horse of an unwary rider.
Their strategy was a small bridge that lay near the county line. Their plan was one well-used and simple. Luke, having passed the black-clad rider by the use of shortcuts, now directed his horse back to the road to stand in front of the bridge. Bo guided his own horse to the road as well, coming out of the woods to fall in a quarter-mile behind Damascus. He would be seen by the stagecoach robber and would be taking some risks, but it was all part of the plan.
Brian fell for it. The sight of one horseman popping out of the woods behind him had his full attention. He drew his .45 and began firing, more to warn away than to wound - at least for now. If the would-be-hero behind him pushed his luck…
Damascus whinnied an alarm, and Brian turned forward in the saddle. A roadblock, by the bridge ahead! An armed man on a chestnut horse had a pistol aimed right at him. Brian knew instantly that the man behind him was part of the trap, and was closing it. There was no choice but to draw rein and hope for some luck, or he’d be shot out of the saddle.
Damascus snorted in fury and fought the tug on the bit. He tossed his black mane in defiance, as if shaking his head no. “Ain’t got a choice,” Brian said to his horse, coaxing the large animal to quiet down. As Damascus made a skittish halt, Luke yelled a command.
“Reach for the sky!”
Brian blinked. It sounded like something he should have been saying. He pulled the bandanna down from his face. “What the hell for?”
“For robbin’ the stagecoach!” Luke yelled.
“Wasn’t me!” Brian yelled back.
“We’ll let the judge decide that,” Bo called from behind. “Drop it, mister.”
Brian calculated his odds with gunplay. Not good enough, when he had two armed men at opposite sides of him. He slowly eased the hammer off of his .45 and tossed it in the dirt. “Happy?”
“Get down off the horse,” Luke ordered next. “Nice and slow.”
“You sure you two weren’t part of the James gang?” Brian asked as he dismounted. “Y’all sound pretty damn ornery for farm boys…”
“Cute,” Bo grumbled. “Now you just hold it right there, get your hands up.”
Brian did. The two Dukes closed in on him slowly, their spurs ringing with their steps. It got on Brian’s nerves. “I swear,” he said sourly, “That if it takes me a hundred years…I’ll git you two back for this.”
“I reckon time will tell.” Luke reached out and snagged the bandana from Brian’s neck. He tossed it to his cousin. “Tie ‘em up. We’ll take ‘em back to town…”
Brian suddenly jabbed his left elbow back behind him, square into Bo’s midsection. He hit Luke with a right-hand punch and knocked the Duke’s chin up, making him fall back a couple steps. Brian whirled around and tried to knock Bo out, but the tall Duke was already swinging at him, and while Brian blocked punches, Luke suddenly clicked back the hammer of his gun. At the telltale click, Brian let his fists drop. “Can’t blame me for tryin’.”
“Yes we can!” Bo said hotly. “Luke, can’t we just string him up and go home?”
“Uncle Jesse didn’t raise us that way,” Luke reminded. Bo scowled and picked the bandana up off the ground, securing Brian’s wrists in front of him. Neither Duke said anything more as they shoved Brian back upon his own horse. Damascus was quickly tethered to the Duke’s stallions, and the three men began the ride back to Hazzard.
***** ***** ***** *****
The appaloosa mare that MaryAnne rode deftly avoided the slow-moving wagons, running children, and roving dogs that congested Hazzard’s town square. Some of the townsfolk were lining up along the storefronts, picking viewing spots for the noon gunfight. One of these days, MaryAnne thought to herself, the daily business of the Hazzard County Sheriff’s Department wouldn’t be a public spectacle. But until then, she had to keep her appointments.
“Whoa, Phoenix.” She reined in the appaloosa and dismounted, keeping a watchful eye on everything around her. Every now and then, some fool challenged her or Rosco to a gunfight, and then hid up on a rooftop in an effort to pick them off. It was a cowardly tactic, and one that annoyed the hell out of her. Let the law try something like that, and everybody cried foul. But when an outlaw tried it, people seemed to appreciate the added drama. Did local law enforcement serve no other purpose than cheap entertainment for the masses?
Spurs chimed behind her. MaryAnne turned and saw Rosco walking up, and he looked full of pickle juice and vinegar. His Sheriff’s badge shone brightly on his black cowhide vest, and his blue shirt and denim jeans brought out the color of his eyes. The rest of him, however, looked as dire as a grizzly. Something had riled him, but she’d have to wait to find out what it was. It was almost noon.
MaryAnne walked to the center of the street, with Rosco a few steps behind her. The town square, so busy just a few moments before, was quickly thinning out as folks took cover. Her opponent had not shown up yet. Perhaps he’d changed his mind. It was some nameless out-of-town drifter who had laughed at the sight of a female deputy, and who had insisted on a gunfight rather than apologize. That suited MaryAnne fine, but now that she was here and the offender was nowhere to be found, her nerves were on edge. A setup?
It was one minute until noon. She listened for the customary signal to draw, that being the church bells that rang on the hour. MaryAnne had the nasty feeling that somebody was aiming at her, and from a location where she couldn’t see him to fire back.
Her eyes scanned the rooftops, moving past the church steeple…there! A lone figure occupied the belfry, and MaryAnne was fairly sure it wasn’t the minister. She waited…
Noon. At the first chime of the church bells, she saw the man in the belfry go for his gun. She drew hers first, clasped it into a fast, two-handed grip, sighted along the barrel and fired before the bells rang twice. The sound of the shot echoed off the buildings. She saw the gunman in the belfry clutch his chest and stagger. The sweeping motion of the church bell struck the gunslinger in the back, knocking him off balance, and he gave a weak, dying cry as he fell out of the belfry. There was a heavy, dull thud when the hit the ground.
The man lay still. The ring of the church bell continued until it counted out the hour.
MaryAnne and Rosco walked up to the dead man, who lay face down in the dirt. Rosco turned him over with a nudge of his boot. “Does he ring a bell?”
“Sort of. Rosco, he looks a lot like that maverick you shot yesterday.”
Rosco made a closer examination. “Yer right! In fact, he’s a dead ringer for ‘em…Khee khee! Maybe it’s his brother...”
“…for whom the bell tolls.” MaryAnne holstered her pistol. The townsfolk were beginning to disburse and go about their business. The show was over, and now that it was time to clean out the aisles, everyone was suddenly busy. MaryAnne sighed and grabbed one arm of the dead gunfighter and Rosco grabbed the other, and together they dragged the body out of the street. The unpleasant task reminded MaryAnne of the expression Rosco had worn earlier, and she decided to ask about it…delicately.
“How’s everything back at the hoosegow?”
“Busy,” Rosco answered, frowning. “I had me them Pinkertons to deal with this mornin’, and then I hear tell that the stagecoach from Atlanta been robbed.”
MaryAnne found that curious. “You’d think with Pinkertons in the county, nobody’d be fool enough to rob the stagecoach.
“Some half-wit tried it anyway. If I get my hands on the varmint responsible for the headache I’ve got from all this, I’m gunna…”
Pounding hooves made Rosco and MaryAnne turn and look back at the town square. Three riders were coming into town, two of them being the Duke boys on their chestnut stallions. The third rider, situated on a black horse between them, appeared to have made the trip unwillingly.
“Judas priest on a pony!” Rosco spat.
“That’s no priest,” MaryAnne said mildly. She and Rosco quickly finished the transit of the corpse to the undertaker, and then crossed the town square on foot. They saw the Dukes easing out of their saddles, but the rider in black wasn’t budging. The conversation of the three men drifted into earshot.
“Get down off your horse,” Luke ordered the captive.
Brian lifted his wrists, which were still bound in front of him. “Riiiight. It’s amazin’ you even got me up on the damn horse. If I try scootin’ out of the saddle with no way to balance myself, I’ll break my neck!”
“What’s your point?” Bo asked with a grim smile.
“Dammit, y’all…listen, I don’t see nobody here at the jail house. Tell ya what. Let me go, and I’ll tell ya’ll where I hid that strongbox. There’s a fortune in there.”
Luke turned his head slightly, as if he hadn’t heard right. “Strongbox? What strongbox?”
Brian rolled his eyes. Hicks… “THE strongbox! From the stagecoach!”
“You mean the strongbox from the stagecoach you robbed?” Bo said innocently.
If Brian’s hands hadn’t been tied, he would have pulled his hair out. “Give the boy a prize! Yes, that strongbox! From the Wells Fargo coach outta Atlanta!”
Rosco and MaryAnne walked slowly into view, coming around from behind the horses. They walked up to the Dukes and stood to either side of them. Bo and Luke smiled, folded their arms, and dared Brian to try and take back the full confession he’d unwittingly made.
Brian’s tongue lay dead in his mouth. He shifted in the saddle, squirming under the burning, blue-eyed stares that were branding him “G” for guilty.
“Git down from that horse,” Rosco commanded shortly.
Without being asked, Bo and Luke stood to one side of Damascus and motioned for Brian to slide down from the saddle. Assuming the Dukes were going to catch him, Brian swung a leg over and slid off the horse’s back. The Dukes moved aside and he fell to the ground in a heap. “@#%&*#!!”
The Dukes grabbed Brian’s arms and hauled him upright. Rosco jerked a thumb back at the hoosegow. “Take ‘em inside.”
“Our pleasure, Rosco.” Bo was happy to oblige the law, at least for this occasion. He and Luke ushered Brian forward between Rosco and MaryAnne. The latter of the two officers looked at Brian and slowly shook her head.
“Shame, shame…” Rosco muttered, feeling the same way as MaryAnne did. They turned and followed the three men into the jailhouse.
***** ***** ***** *****
“Prosecute? Of course I want to prosecute!” The stagecoach driver demanded. “My company has a policy about these things!”
“The entire strongbox and its contents were recovered,” MaryAnne reminded neutrally.
“Well, our passengers haven’t recovered! They’ve come down with a bad case of the nerves and only expensive whiskey seems to calm them!” Flustered, the stagecoach driver pointed over to the cell Brian occupied. “Wells Fargo prides itself on safe transport! We have to make an example!”
“I see.” MaryAnne handed over a document and a charcoal pencil. “Sign there. We’ll draw up the charges. The robbery took place in Hazzard County, so we’ll handle things locally, if there’s no objection…”
“Suits me fine. The less that gets back to Atlanta about this, the better.” The wiry stagecoach driver signed the paper and slapped down the pencil. With a last glare at the thief who’d embarrassed him, he stormed out.
“Another satisfied customer,” MaryAnne remarked to herself. She stamped the document with the county seal and added her own signature. Police work wasn’t done until the paperwork was finished, and she was meticulous about such things.
Once she caught up on the filing, she glanced over at the prisoner in the holding cell. He was still pacing, making the most of the small area he was confined to. Brian reminded her of a panther she’d seen caged in a circus wagon once. Back and forth, back and forth, turning inches into miles. It was beginning to drive her crazy. “Sit down,” she called from behind the booking desk. “I’m afraid you won’t be going anywhere for awhile.”
Brian stopped pacing and leaned on the bars, grasping them loosely in his hands. He hadn’t said a word to anyone since being relieved of his cattleman’s coat and his firearm. He had watched with detachment as his few possessions were itemized and boxed up for storage. The only time he displayed any attempt at communication, was when he saw the Dukes collecting their reward from the stagecoach company. Brian had given them both barrels of a one-fingered salute, and the Dukes had taken appropriate offense. Had it not been for the iron bars separating the three men, a grand fight would have been underway.
Looking back, MaryAnne figured she should have opened the cell door and let them sort it all out. She liked a good brawl as much as the next person.
A voice from the cell broke into her thoughts, unexpectedly. “Where’s the Sheriff?”
It had been spoken politely enough, so MaryAnne gave an answer. “At the telegraph office.”
“Hazzard’s got a telegraph office?”
MaryAnne chuckled at the surprise in his voice. “Just because we’re a small town, doesn’t mean we’re cut off from the world. We even get a newspaper once a month.”
“No kiddin’.” Something close to a smile touched Brian’s face. “You got that many folks that can read?”
MaryAnne looked up sharply, caught between annoyance and the urge to giggle. No doubt about it, there was a real smart-ass behind those iron bars. Still, she imagined that she should have shot him at the Boar’s Nest. Oh well…
***** ***** ***** *****
“Ga’damn, Zeke! A Wells Fargo re-ward slipped right throo our hands! Ah-hunnurd dollars them two farm boys got themselves, they did!”
The big, dark-bearded Pinkerton known as Angus was unhappy for the second day in a row. Yesterday, a city-slicked outlaw had brained him with a whisky bottle. Today, Angus and his fellow operatives were sitting empty-handed and empty-pocketed in the saloon, while the two Duke boys had fallen into fortune.
Chet wasn’t any happier. “Waaaal, everythang’s gawn all t’ hell. Them Dukes r’ gunna collect the Coltrane bounty on top a’ that stagecoach re-ward! They’re the ones done caught ‘em….”
Buck and Leroy nodded with dour faces. “Wuz all a wasted trip,” Buck ventured to say.
“Ah-yup,” Leroy agreed.
Zeke knew he’d have to resolve the concerns of his men in a fair and equitable manner. He pulled a quarter out of his pocket. He held it up between two fingers for all to see. He frowned hard, and his mustache fell down at the corners like old curtains.
“We’ll settle this wit’ diplomacy,” Zeke said with false charity. “Heads, and you’ll do what I say. Tails, and I’ll let one of you brilliant jackasses plot our next move.”
The rest of the Pinkertons looked at each other, shrugged, and mumbled assent. Angus scratched his beard. “Reasonable, I reckon…”
Zeke flipped up the quarter, caught it, turned it over to see it and then turned it over again. “Lookit ‘dat. Heads, I win. So if you prairie chickens are done with your egg-hatchin’, we’ll get on wit’ more important matters.”
The rest of the Pinkertons fell back into line, nodding mutely. Zeke put the quarter back in his pocket. “We stick to the plan. Them Dukes saved us some work is all. A puny hundred-dollar stagecoach reward ain’t no match for the thousand that Brian Coltrane is worth. Now what would you rather be splittin’ up?”
“The thousand!” each man answered immediately.
“Thought so.” Zeke took a pinch of tobacco from a dirty pouch and crammed it into his mouth. He continued speaking as the tobacco juice moistened his lips, working up a spit as he worked up his men about the bounty. “You see, boys…we’re Pinkertons. Nobody says ‘no’ to us…and nobody takes what’s rightfully ours away! I think it’s time we showed this town why.”
***** ***** ***** *****
Cooter Davenport was pleased by his friends’ good fortune. Good luck for the Dukes was good luck for him, especially when Bo and Luke owed him money. “A hunnert dollars!” Cooter exclaimed. “In Union greenbacks! Yessir, that will spend, that will spend quite nicely here!”
Luke handed the money over to Cooter. “We figured that should cover the last set of shoes you put on General and Lee…plus pay for the wheel you fixed on Uncle Jesse’s wagon.”
Cooter took the money and sniffed it as if were a flower bouquet. “Ahhhhh. This’ll cover all that, and leave you saloon money besides!”
“We figured on givin’ the rest to the orphanage,” Bo chuckled. “But if you buy the first round, we might scratch up enough for the second…”
“Yeeehaw! That’s one heck of a great idea!” Cooter grinned and turned to Luke. Why didn’t you think of that, buddy ro?”
“’Cause I’m thinkin’ the last time I was in the Boar’s Nest, I about lost my teeth, and I don’t mean from gamblin’!”
Bo and Cooter grinned. “Helluva fight,” Cooter said, pushing up the brim of his old Confederate soldier’s cap. “Folks been tellin’ me that Boss had almost everythin’ in the saloon taken out with a shovel, includin’ you two!”
“That ain’t true,” Luke countered with a smile. “We were forcibly removed by ol’ Rosco, and enjoyed a night of hoosegow hospitality.”
“That ain’t nothin’ new! Heck, I figured y’all were in more trouble than that, when them Pinkertons came around stirrin’ everybody up this mornin’…”
“Pinkertons?” Bo and Luke said together.
“Yep, Pinkertons. The big n’ ugly kind. I’d thought they was lookin’ for y’all at first, but turns out they wanted somebody else. They were crawlin’ under everybody’s skin to find some other Coltrane dude…”
Bo gave a short laugh. “All they gotta do now is look in the jail.”
Luke slapped his cousin on the back. “Heck, from the look on ol’ Rosco’s face, I think they’d better look under it.”
***** ***** ***** *****
Back at the hoosegow, MaryAnne found it hard to concentrate on her daily tasks. The prisoner was pacing again, and he occasionally broke up the routine with some tuneless whistling. Cripes, if Brian felt obligated to whistle Dixie for forty-five minutes straight, couldn’t he at least get the pitch right?
MaryAnne had never appreciated what a blessing an empty cell was before this. It was no wonder that gunfights and spontaneous lynchings were the preferred method of justice these days; a few more prisoners like this one, and she’d feel less a deputy, and more a zookeeper.
MaryAnne looked up from her paperwork. She watched Brian complete another full tour of his jail cell. “Will you sit down,” she said in exasperation.
“That slab of wood you call a bunk ain’t very comfortable,” Brian replied.
“Oh, I’m so very sorry! I’ll see if I can get you more suitable accommodations!”
Brian ignored her sarcastic tone. “Really?”
“Hell no! You’ll rot right there, mister.”
The prisoner chuckled, and went back to pacing. MaryAnne was about to consider him just another duck in a shooting gallery, when she got a new idea. She opened a drawer to the booking desk, rummaged around in a box, and pulled out Brian’s harmonica. She held it in her hands and examined it curiously. Then she put it to her mouth and blew an experimental note, which sounded rather like a goose squeezing through a picket fence.
It has the desired effect. Brian stopped in his tracks and cringed at the sound. He turned to face MaryAnne and protested the abuse of a musical instrument. “THAT ain’t how ya play it…”
“Oh, it’s not?” MaryAnne blew another note, this time creating the noise of a damaged factory whistle.
Brian took his hat off and put it over his face. “GAH!”
Laughing, MaryAnne came out from the booking desk and walked over to the cell. “I suppose you can play this better than I can?”
“That’s right,” Brian answered, putting his hat back on his head. “If you’ll kindly allow me to show ya…”
MaryAnne put the harmonica halfway through the bars, but held on to it. “Just one thing. If you get a mind to make awful noise with this and get on my nerves…I’ll put this harmonica somewhere that’ll give you a whole new way to play it.”
He had to give her credit for that one. “Khee! Awright, Deputy…fair ‘nuff.” Brian took the harmonica, sat down on the cell bench, and began to play a slow, rich melody. It was tentative at first, but as he warmed up, he relaxed into the music and put some heart into it. A mellow, sad ballad poured from the harmonica, the music devastating and hopeful at the same time. There was a meaning behind the tune that MaryAnne could sense, though not put into words. Whatever the song, it seemed to fit the black-clad outlaw who claimed to be her cousin.
***** ***** ***** *****
Rosco held the telegram as if it were a bad hand of poker. Either way, it read spades.
The U.S. Marshal’s office confirmed what the Pinkertons had said about Brian. Wanted dead or alive. It contained another fact that the Pinkertons had conveniently forgotten to mention. One thousand dollar reward.
If the name of the wanted man had not been Coltrane, Rosco wouldn’t have cared less. He would have chosen option number one on the shipping method, and sent Brian’s gunny-sacked hide back to the Marshal’s office, postage due. The reward, meanwhile, would have been used towards the building of the county courthouse.
A small conflict of ethics wrangled each other in Rosco’s heart. The reward belonged to the Dukes, by all rights. The Pinkertons obviously wanted it for themselves and were willing to cause trouble to get it. Either way, Brian belonged to the U.S. Marshal.
Coltrane. Rosco decided that fate had it in for them, for the whole clan. Nobody else had these kinds of problems. The Dukes were renown for having problems, but Rosco doubted they could top this one.
He crumpled the telegram in his fist. He’d talk to MaryAnne before deciding anything. It was her problem, too. With that comfort, Rosco took his leave of the telegraph office and started walking back to the jailhouse. His spurs made pronounced jings as his boots pounded through the dusty town square. Occupied by his thoughts, he didn’t hear Mr. Rhuebottom calling for him until the third or forth time. “Sheriff Coltrane!”
Rosco altered direction and cut over to the general store. The balding shopkeeper looked distressed, wringing his hands and looking over his shoulder. Rosco met him outside of the store, noting that it looked closed for some reason. Mr. Rhuebottom quickly explained the problem.
“Pinkertons…them Pinkertons were in my store all afternoon! “Keeping watch,” they told me, but for what I don’t know! They chased my customers away…knocked canning jars off the shelves…ate all the beef jerky…said they’d only leave town when you gave up that fella in the hoosegow!”
“Jumpin’ Jee-hosephat!” Rosco didn’t need a map to figure this one out. The Pinkertons were going to harass the town until they got what they wanted. The longer Rosco held out, the more business in Hazzard was going to dry up. That would make for some unhappy citizens, and in short order, a ghost town. “Which way did them polecats go?”
“They split up. Said they were going to keep watch all over town. Said they’d pay you a visit when they felt like it.” Mr. Rhuebottom wrung his hands again. “Sheriff, I can’t go through anymore losses like I did today!”
“I’ll git ‘em outta town,” Rosco promised. “You just keep your store open.”
***** ***** ***** *****
As Rosco talked to Mr. Rhuebottom, two Pinkertons were conducting an audit of the Hazzard Bank. Chet and Angus, loudly proclaiming their years of experience with the Pinkerton Detective Agency, wandered through the bank and pointed out every problem that they could invent.
“Leaky roof,” Angus said, blasting a hole through the ceiling with his rifle.
“Waaaaal, that’s nuddin’ compared t’ the counterfeit money…” Chet insisted, displaying a three-dollar banknote that he had produced from his sleeve.
The bank customers, one by one, realized that the bank had problems indeed. Pinkerton problems, and it was enough to make them take their money out. The cash vault ran low, and as it did, Angus and Chet remarked casually that the bank might not be open tomorrow. The word began to spread. Only the clock, signaling closing time, prevented a full run on the bank. As it closed for the day - and if the rumors were to be believed, perhaps for good – citizens banged on the windows and on the doors, demanding to take their money out.
Over at the Boar’s Nest Saloon, business was going down the drain. Literally. Buck and Leroy, self-appointed liquor inspectors, strutted behind the bar. They took sips from every bottle, declared the liquor unfit for consumption…even theirs…and poured it on the floor. Bottles, both full and empty, were carelessly tossed over their shoulders to smash where they would.
When the Dukes and Cooter had walked in for a drink, a tearful Daisy explained that there wasn’t anything left, not enough to water a cactus. She had come to work that afternoon to find piles of broken glass heaped on the floor, an empty inventory, and no customers. Buck and Leroy had laughed at her, and she’d chased them off with a broom, but the damage was already done.
***** ***** ***** *****
MaryAnne was learning of these events in bits and pieces, as townsfolk rushed into the small jailhouse to tell her of them. She did her best to calm the fears of the public, but a slow dread was worming into her heart. Rosco should have been back from the telegraph office an hour ago. Despite all the trouble, no one had seen a gunfight, but in a way that worried her even more. If Rosco was holding his fire, it was quite possible that something was holding him.
She was getting ready to saddle up Phoenix and go search for him when Boss Hogg blustered into the hoosegow. His cigar was only a smoldering nub but kept it in his teeth and spoke through it. “MaryAnne! What in tarnation is happening to this town?! My bank! The Boar’s Nest! Rhuebottom’s! They’re all victim to a band of hooligans! Why ain’t you and Rosco out there doing something about it?”
“Rosco’s out there,” MaryAnne said shortly. “I was about to go find ‘em.”
“You better hurry!” Boss yelled. “The whole town’s riled up! I’m riled up! I don’t pay you n’ Rosco to good salaries just to see this happen!”
“You don’t pay us good salaries at all.” MaryAnne adjusted her gun belt over her hip and grabbed the Winchester from the wall bracket. Without another word, she hurried from the jailhouse.
“Hmph,” Boss grunted. It irritated him to the core, how MaryAnne knew when she could get away with sassing him. Leave it to her, to use Hazzard’s present chaos as an opportunity to speak her mind. “Bah!”
Boss turned to leave, but as he did, he turned to glare at the troublesome outlaw who was watching him silently through the bars. Boss narrowed one eye and gave his cigar a hard chomp. He had losses to recover, and if there was a way to get it out of a Coltrane or a Duke…he’d find it.
***** ***** ***** *****
Phoenix galloped around the milling crowd in the town square, no small feat as restless citizens took to the streets and grew louder in their discontent. MaryAnne kept the reins in one hand and the Winchester in the other, ready for anything. She hoped that her visible presence would settle the townsfolk down, at least long enough for her to find Rosco.
Boss had mentioned the Bank, the Boar’s Nest, and Rhuebottom’s. She’d start with those. Rosco was probably investigating the trouble, she told herself.
Rosco, in fact, was investigating the trouble, but was about to find more. Everywhere he went in town, people stopped him and said the same thing. Pinkertons! The name alone was causing damage. Something had to be done. And if he could find a Pinkerton that would stand still long enough, he’d do it. Lawmen or not, they’d gone too far. The Pinkertons wore badges; but tin badges were only tin, after all, and Rosco’s star was silver. Even if it was a little tarnished around the edges.
It was just a matter of flushing out the skunks, but where in the hell were they?
A loud, furious whinny rose over the noise in town, coming from the livery stable. A horse was upset and was telling the world about it. Another bellow followed, and Rosco decided to check it out. Nothing irritated him like someone messing with a helpless critter.
Damascus, having been impounded, was penned up in the stable and roped to a ring set in the wall. He whinnied again, shrilly. His black ears were folded down flat and his lips were curled back from his long teeth. He stamped and kicked against the wooden stall, rattling the barn. Pinkertons! He knew them by the smell. Like rats, the five bounty hunters had slunk into the barn and hid there. This enraged Damascus, who was already cranky because there was no sugar.
“Get that damn horse to shut up,” Zeke snarled at Angus. “I don’t care how you do it!”
Angus crept from behind the straw bales to do as he was told. The screaming horse was fraying his nerves. He found the source of the noise; a maddened Percheron/Arabian half-breed that eyed him evilly from the corner stall. The angry brute kicked the walls hard enough to shake dust from the rafters.
“Hsst! Quiet!” Angus snapped, edging closer. He found a pitchfork and raised it up. Damascus took it as the threat it was meant to be, and bellowed in such fury that Angus felt his blood turn to ice water. The horse was only getting louder; he’d have to kill it, before Zeke killed him. Or before the damn horse got loose and killed everybody.
Angus turned the pitchfork to fit through the opening of the stall, and drew it back slowly, readying it for a saber-thrust. Damascus tugged and kicked, but the thick halter rope was holding him fast. A desperate, terrified whinny tore from the animal’s throat.
The doors to the livery stables banged open and a sharp command rang out. “FREEEEZE!”
Angus froze. The shaggy-bearded man didn’t dare turn around. He could feel the target that the Sheriff had visually drawn on his back.
Rosco walked up behind the burly Pinkerton, keeping his pearl-handled Colt trained between the man’s shoulder blades. “I sure hope,” Rosco said with dire softness, “That you were just about to clean the stall.”
“Yup,” Angus said dumbly.
“Hush!” Rosco snapped. “Drop that pitchfork, gitcher hands up! Then tell me where the rest of your mangy gang is, so I can put you all in the same grave!”
Damascus abruptly neighed in alarm and stared at something behind Rosco. The Sheriff went to turn around, but it was too late; the stock of a Pinkerton rifle cracked against the back of his head. Rosco’s body went slack and his legs crumpled, and he fell heavily to the earthen floor of the barn.
Zeke stood over Rosco’s inert form and chewed his tobacco thoughtfully. The town was in shambles, the populace full of unrest, and the Sheriff was enjoying a vacation in oblivion. The latter was tempting to make permanent, but business came before pleasure.
With the Sheriff out of commission for awhile, Zeke saw a new way to accomplish his goals. Rosco might never come around – the possible double meaning amused Zeke – but in the meantime, there was another man in town who should be ready to negotiate.
The Pinkertons left the stables. Damascus swung his ears up, looked at the unconscious man who lay face down in the dirt, and nickered at him softly. When there was no movement, the horse’s head dropped low and a keening whinny came from the animal.
***** ***** ***** *****
“You think Rosco and MaryAnne are really related to that fella they got locked up in the hoosegow?”
“Hard to say,” Luke answered as he cleaned up the Boar’s Nest. “All I know, is I don’t envy ‘em if they are.”
Bo was manning a broom of his own. Glass tinkled across the wooden floor. The Duke boys, along with Cooter, couldn’t bear Daisy’s tears at the sight of the littered saloon and were helping her straighten it up. Honest fights were one thing; destruction for the sake of destruction was another.
Bo worked silently for a few more minutes before it got the best of him. “You think Rosco’s gonna give up that outlaw up to them Pinkertons? Especially if…”
“I don’t see where he’s got a choice none, Bo. An’ just because them Pinkertons are playin’ dirty, don’t mean they’re altogether in the wrong. If they chased a wanted man into Hazzard, they might have the right to take him back.”
“I’ll tell ya what, y’all,” Cooter broke in. “I thank God every day that I’m not a Duke or a Coltrane. No offense.”
“None taken,” Luke chuckled. “Besides, you got it bad enough bein’ our friend.”
“That’s the God’s honest truth, right there.”
***** ***** ***** *****
MaryAnne was officially worried. Rosco was nowhere to be found. She made subtle inquires with the townsfolk concerning his whereabouts, careful not to panic them. The last thing she needed right now, was for people to speculate that Rosco had been disposed of …even if it was a valid fear of her own.
Rhuebottom’s, the Bank, and the Boar’s Nest were all minus one Rosco P. Coltrane. No one had seen the Sheriff in an hour or more. The sun was beginning to set, the natives were restless, and the Pinkertons, like rabid raccoons, were bound to come out in the evening.
The appaloosa mare that MaryAnne rode gave a whicker of curiosity. The horse’s ears perked forward. Phoenix suddenly called out with a whinny, and it was answered with a loud, heaving neigh from the livery stables. Phoenix pulled at the bit and headed for the barn, breaking into a canter. Whatever had the mare’s attention, MaryAnne knew it was worth investigating. It paid to have a little horse sense, after all.
MaryAnne dismounted at the barn’s entrance. She felt it now; something had happened here. The stable doors were shut tight. She tried once to open them nicely. When the doors stuck, she decided the hell with it, and kicked them open with brute force.
In her line of vision, near the end of stalls, lay Rosco. Her breath caught in her throat and she ran to him, fearing the worst. “ROSCO!”
The Sheriff didn’t move. MaryAnne knelt beside him. The pearl-handled Colt was clutched in a death-grip in his right hand. I’ll give up my gun when they pry my cold, dead fingers from around it…she imagined him saying. The black Stetson was next to him in the dirt. It had flown off his head. By the way Rosco was laying, she could tell he had been attacked from behind. The big question: Was he alive?
MaryAnne gently pressed her fingertips to Rosco’s neck and shut her eyes. Please Lord…
Rosco’s luck had held out once more. He had a heartbeat, though it staggered around aimlessly, waiting for the rest of the body to join it. MaryAnne moved Rosco carefully and rolled him onto his back, figuring he could breathe easier if his face wasn’t in the dirt. “Rosco?”
The Sheriff groaned and stirred slightly. “Damn…Pinkertons…”
“So I’ve heard.” MaryAnne took a deep breath of relief, scooped Rosco into a sitting position, and hugged him. Rosco let go of the Colt and reached up to pat her shoulder, reassuring MaryAnne that he was all right. They sat there on the earthen floor for a few moments, silently regrouping. The horses watched over them, the low, nickering sounds of the animals offering comfort.
***** ***** ***** *****
Brian was getting edgy. He had been in jail since just past noon. He had no idea what he was facing from the law. He hadn’t seen the Sheriff in hours and had no idea what had befallen him. Then MaryAnne left, and he had no idea what happened to her, either. Then Boss Hogg had left and he was grateful for that much.
If only someone had remembered to feed the prisoner first. “Hell.”
There was no one to complain to, unless he wanted to appeal to the milling crowd in the town square, and that struck him as a really bad idea. This was what happened when the bars closed early; anarchy in the streets.
With nothing else to do, Brian fell back to doing what he did best when he was trapped and troubled. He paced. He took four steps, spun on his heel, and took four steps in the opposite direction. Repeat. If he kept moving, he kept thinking. If he kept thinking, he mind find a way out of this mess.
Hoof beats thundered up to the jailhouse. Voices mingled with the sound of spurs, and the boot steps sounded familiar. When MaryAnne and Rosco walked into the hoosegow, Brian had to admit he was relieved to see them. He was about to ask what was on tonight’s menu, when MaryAnne unfolded a telegram from her pocket. She looked at it, then looked over at Brian, and her expression was so hard it could have been chiseled from a rock.
They knew! They knew about the warrant and the reward. They knew everything! It hit Brian like a sandbag. Rosco had been to the telegraph office. Undoubtedly, the good Sheriff had wired the U.S. Marshal’s office and received a reply. The reply, he could tell, had subsequently been shown to MaryAnne before their return to the jailhouse.
Brian’s dark eyes kept to the floor. He felt MaryAnne and Rosco watching him. Perhaps they expected him to confess, apologize, or explain himself. What could he say?
MaryAnne’s blood was doing a slow boil. Rosco had been hurt, half the town had been ransacked, and the Pinkertons were up to God knew what else at this very moment. To top it all off, despite everything, neither she nor Rosco wanted to hand Brian over to a band of questionably-legit bounty hunters. Yet if they didn’t, Hazzard would suffer for it.
MaryAnne looked back at the telegram, and listed aloud the reasons she should have shot Brian from the get-go. “Horse rustler…train robber…stagecoach robber…chicken thief…”
Rosco added the reasons they should turn Brian over to the Marshal’s office, if not the Pinkertons. “Wanted, dead or alive. One thousand dollar reward in U.S. currency…”
Brian looked up and his eyes widened. One thousand dollars? Last time he’d checked, he was only worth five hundred. Inflation was raising hell with his future.
Having read the charges, MaryAnne spoke of the single, overriding factor that she and Rosco couldn’t avoid in making their decision. She spoke the word as if she still couldn’t believe it, but there it was. The crux of the matter. “Cousin.”
Brian sighed, gripped the cell bars, and nodded. “Kin.”
“Trouble,” Rosco called it.
***** ***** ***** *****
Rosco was right. Trouble followed, fast and furious. After confronting Brian with the facts from the Marshal’s office, Rosco and MaryAnne had sat themselves down at the booking desk to decide what to do. Each of them felt a reluctant liking for their infamous cousin, just as Brian did for them. The law, however, was the law, and Rosco and MaryAnne were sworn to uphold it. They also had a town to protect.
What they didn’t know was that Boss Hogg and Zeke were about to make a deal. The two men, one being county commissioner and the other a Pinkerton, had found common ground in greed. If there were two words that could sway Boss in any decision, they were cash profit. Chuckling and rubbing his palms together as if he could already feel the money in them, Boss lead Zeke to the jailhouse. He wanted witnesses to this deal, and Rosco and MaryAnne would be those witnesses.
For himself, Zeke brought his contingent of Pinkertons, who followed their leader with renewed loyalty. Zeke’s plan had worked, and they already fancied themselves as wealthier men.
Boss Hogg and Zeke entered the hoosegow together, and the sight of both men grinning was enough to curdle a pail of milk. The rest of the Pinkertons filed in, cramming the small jailhouse.
Rosco and MaryAnne got out from behind the booking desk and stood in front of the cell. They read the Pinkerton’s presence for the worst. “You ain’t takin’ him outta Hazzard County,” Rosco warned Zeke. “You can just forget it…”
Boss waved a dismissing hand. “Rosco, hush up and listen. Zeke told me all about the misunderstandings in town today. I’ve got a way for the Pinkertons get their bounty, and a way for me – I mean Hazzard, to get something for all our trouble.”
“Fair for all concerned,” Zeke said smugly. “Ain’t’ that right, Boss.”
“That’s right, heh heh heh. It’s all settled then! Couldn’t be easier. Rosco, we’re gonna hang that outlaw right here in Hazzard, and sell tickets to it! We’ll make a bundle! Then these nice Pinkerton gentlemen can haul the mortal remains to the Marshal’s office and collect their re-ward, savin’ the county the burial expense.”
Boss, proud of the idea, waited expectantly for reaction. Each Coltrane gave one.
“I knew you’d be impressed!” Boss chortled. He turned to the leader of the Pinkertons. “Zeke, after I’m done with that outlaw, I don’t care what happens to him! Do we have a deal?”
“Deal!” Zeke shook Boss’s hand with a wicked smile. “How soon can you set it up, Mr. Hogg?”
“I’ll have the tickets printed up today! Folks are good n’ riled up right now, I don’t see why I shouldn’t sell all the tickets in about three days! We’ll put up posters! We’ll draw folks from all over the tri-county area!”
The Coltranes gave another reaction.
“You’re a sharp businessman,” Zeke nodded at Boss. “Let us know what day the show’s on. We’ll be at the saloon.” With an oily, tobacco-juiced smile, Zeke turned to leave. He took a final glance at the renegade Coltrane who had slid through the grasp of justice so many times before.
“See you at the necktie party.” With that, Zeke and the Pinkertons made their exit.
The moment they left, Rosco rounded on his employer and brother-in-law. “Boss! You can’t do this! I can’t do this!”
Boss took a cigar out of his pocket and lit it. “Why not? It’s perfectly legal. That outlaw’s wanted dead or alive. That means there’s no need for a trial, the U.S. Marshal already says he’s guilty.”
“But Boss! That outlaw is our cousin! Didn’t Zeke tell you? That’s Brian Coltrane in that cell!”
“Cousin?” Boss said in surprise, taking the cigar from his mouth momentarily. He walked over to get a good look at Brian, who obligingly turned to show his best profile. “Cousin! Boss said again. “Well, my oh my! I ‘spose what they say is true, you can’t pick your relatives.” He bobbed his chubby girth with the words.
“Boss…” MaryAnne began, readying her own protest.
Boss didn’t want to hear it. “Cousin or no cousin, don’t make no difference! He’s gonna hang and that’s final! Now I gotta see about printin’ them tickets up. We’ll schedule the hanging for Wednesday, three days from now…we gotta figure out what time of day we’re gonna do this. Rosco, what’s your schedule like?”
“I got a noon gunfight ever day this week,” Rosco said honestly.
“Alright…morning then. Six a.m., crack of dawn!”
“Too early,” MaryAnne argued. “Farmers are working at that time of day, milking cows.”
“Bah…” Boss blew puffs of smoke from his cigar. “Three o’ clock in the afternoon, let’s say.”
“It’s too hot in the afternoon,” Brian objected. “You ever see folks just standin’ around in the sun that time of the day? Nope, they’re sittin’ in the shade, or takin’ naps.”
“AUGH!” Boss chomped his cigar in frustration. “Six o’ clock at night, then!”
“That’s dinnertime for most folks,” Rosco pointed out. “What about later, around sundown?”
Brian shook his head. “Too many bugs come out that time of night. Skeeters would eatcha alive.”
Boss had enough. He had the impression he was being stonewalled. “TEN-THIRTY A.M. ON WEDNESDAY! Whether you like it or not! There, find a problem with THAT!”
Brian was looking for one. His mind raced frantically. Then he grinned and touched the brim of his rustler’s hat, pulling it down a notch. “Oh, ain’t no problem with the time. No, the biggest problem is that y’all ain’t got a decent lynchin’ tree in the town square. What were you thinkin’, were you gonna run me up the flag pole?”
“WHAT!” Boss couldn’t believe it.
Rosco smiled. “Khee! He’s right! Them trees were cut down years ago for lumber, when they built the town! There’s nothin’ but a few saplings out there!”
“Then we’ll build a gallows!” Boss shouted. “A nice, big, fancy, trap-door lynch kit, stairs and all! We’ll put it in the center of the town square! Will that make you happy?”
“Sure,” Brian grinned, figuring he’d just bought an extra week on earth. He doubted they could build anything like that on short notice.
“Then I’m printin’ up the tickets! Rosco, you round up some builders and get that contraption built! I want it done pronto!”
“Okay, Boss,” Rosco said, giving up arguing for the moment. He watched the commissioner storm out.
Brian leaned forward on the bars. Now that the three Coltranes were alone in the jailhouse, Brian figured Rosco and MaryAnne would tell him something encouraging. There had to be some hint of an escape plan. They wouldn’t go through with this. They were kin, right?
MaryAnne looked at Rosco. The Sheriff shut his eyes for a long blink and shook his head.
The two officers turned to Brian, and if there was any hope in their blue eyes, he couldn’t find it.
***** ***** ***** *****
The next morning, Brian awoke to the noise of hammers on wood. He sat up from the hard jail bench, and walked to the inside corner of his cell. From there, he had a partial view out the door, right into the town square. Still waking up, he blinked at the construction in progress. It looked like the Dukes and a few other folks were hammering down boards on a wooden frame. Some kind of high platform was going up. Hmmm…
The town blacksmith was there too, studying the structure and talking to Rosco and MaryAnne. Brian couldn’t hear them, but it looked like they were discussing building plans. Ah, hell…
Though he was a mite slow first thing in the morning, Brian wasn’t stupid. Hazzard was about it have itself a centerpiece of frontier justice, and it was being built right before his eyes.
Damn. So much for buying time.
Rosco and MaryAnne finished their conversation with the blacksmith, and walked back towards the hoosegow. Brian saw them coming and readied a question. He hit Rosco and MaryAnne with it the moment they stepped inside.
“How the hell are you building that damn thing so fast?”
“The lumber’s already cut,” MaryAnne explained. “The sawmill makes the job a lot easier.”
“Yes. The lumber is cut at the mill, and we bring it here in flatbed wagons.”
“Ah.” Privately, Brian hoped the sawmill burnt to the ground someday.
Rosco pointed to the town square. “Takes more than a sawmill for a job like this. See that horse out there? Ain’t too many of them in these parts. He’s haulin’ most the lumber for us.”
Brian looked through the doorway, and saw Damascus pulling a wagon with a heavy load. The great black horse plodded along, but showed no sign of strain or objection. A white-bearded old man wearing bib overalls held the reins.
Betrayed by his own horse, Brian muttered something about wasting money on sugar cubes. Thanks to Damascus, the sawmill, and the people doing the hammering, the scaffold would be built ahead of schedule.
MaryAnne was rather proud of that. “It’s a community effort,” she added. “A lot of people heard about the project and volunteered to help.”
Brian snorted. “I bet.”
***** ***** ***** *****
The day went by quickly. Brian paced. Rosco and MaryAnne went about their usual business. Rosco won the daily gunfight.
The Boar’s Nest Saloon reopened, thanks in part to Duke moonshine. Rhuebottom’s General Store and the Hazzard Bank enjoyed business as usual. The Pinkertons, satisfied that their interests were being served, more or less behaved themselves.
Towards nightfall, the platform in the town square was nearly ready. Brian wasn’t. He had tomorrow yet, and then a few short hours after that, but time was marching on like The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
To Brian, the whole thing felt like a bad dream that he couldn’t wake up from.
He asked Rosco to send a telegram to Atlanta. The Sheriff agreed to so do.
The words Brian sent to his old friends were short and to the point. In big trouble. Hazzard County Jail. Send help. Fast.
A couple of hours later, Rosco brought back the reply from Brian’s former friends. It was even shorter and more to the point. Happy landings.
Brian tore the telegraph up and smacked his hand against the bars. He was getting edgy.
MaryAnne noticed it. “High strung, isn’t he, Rosco?”
Brian gave his cousins the evil eye, but there was no stopping them.
MaryAnne continued to talk about Brian as if he wasn’t there. “I suppose I can’t blame him,” she told Rosco. “He’s at the end of his rope.”
“Hanging by a thread,” the Sheriff agreed.
MaryAnne browsed a wanted poster. “You know…I don’t want to go out on a limb, but…”
“AWRIGHT!” Brian yelled, unable to stand anymore. “Take me out there tonight and get it over with! Do whatever ya want, but quit with the bad jokes!”
MaryAnne and Rosco looked up innocently from the booking desk. Rosco shrugged and stood up. “Well, I ‘spose I’d better git out on the evenin’ rounds. I’ll swing by later…”
There was a thud as Brian banged his head against the wall. His cousins had no mercy.
***** ***** ***** *****
The gallows, which had become the envy of the tri-county area, was finished the following morning. The whole town stood around and admired it. Stagecoaches and wagons rumbled into Hazzard from neighboring counties, just as Boss had predicted they would. He sold all his tickets in short order, his only regret being that he should have charged more for them.
The bustling activity of the town square was causing inconvenience to Rosco. Things were so busy, that he and his noon opponent du jour had to resort to an alley for their gunfight.
His enemy for this battle looked something like the other men he’d been gunning down lately. How many brothers did that sucker have? Lessee, I’m booked for the next three days, I already got two of ‘em and this here’s the third…
The church bells sang out, the opponent drew first, and Rosco stayed alive only because the enemy hadn’t anticipated him ducking. Rosco drew his Colt as he dove stomach-first for the ground, firing as he hit it. It was a wild, sloppy shot, but it did the job. The other man took a few jerky steps, wheezed out his last breath, and died without using the ticket he’d purchased for tomorrow’s hanging.
“That was too close,” MaryAnne said in disapproval. “Way too close. Rosco, let me take tomorrow’s gunfight. You need a break.”
“I’m fine, sweetheart.” Rosco pushed himself up off the ground and holstered his gun. He brushed the dirt off his silver badge. “I’ve had close calls before. I’ll have ‘em again.”
“You’ll have me grey-haired before my time,” MaryAnne complained.
“Khee! You’ve put me through a few ordeals yourself.” Rosco and MaryAnne dragged the body to the undertaker, who was rapidly becoming an affluent citizen.
Once the clean up was done, the two Coltrane officers walked to the jailhouse. They avoided looking at the scaffold in the town square, though it’s long shadow loomed over them as they walked by.
“Tomorrow’s gonna be a rough day,” MaryAnne said quietly.
“I know, sweetheart.”
“I wish we could talk to him. Really talk. Tell him…”
“We can’t, MaryAnne. For his sake as well as our own.”
A tightness was starting in MaryAnne’s throat. In less than twenty-four hours, Brian would be up on that platform. “I don’t want to watch it,” she said suddenly.
“Oh, now…c’mere.” Rosco wrapped an arm around her shoulder, and they continued walking to the jail. “We’ve done everything we can. We have to let the Lord handle the rest.”
MaryAnne nodded, sighing. “I know, Rosco. But if something goes wrong when he’s up there…and we have to see it…”
Rosco pulled MaryAnne into him sideways, hugging her. “Hush....”
***** ***** ***** *****
That evening, as the sunset pulled a blanket of night over the hills, Brian stopped his pacing.
Rosco, who was seated behind the booking desk, looked up from his newspaper. Seeing the haunted expression in Brian’s dark eyes, he folded it shut and sat it down. He got up and walked over to the cell.
Brian didn’t think he could form any words. His mouth was dry, and he swallowed with difficulty. Fear had dried him up, and no matter how brave he was determined to be, he was struggling with the waiting.
Rosco understood, though Brian hadn’t uttered a sound. The Sheriff took a few steps over to the small Franklin stove that occupied a corner of the hoosegow. He got a tin cup and filled it halfway with cold coffee. He handed it to Brian through the bars. As the young man sipped at it, Rosco retrieved a small liquor bottle from the drawer of the booking desk. He brought it to the cell, and when Brian put the tin cup out, Rosco poured a generous amount of whiskey into it.
Brian drank it gratefully. At length, he gave a deep sigh and handed the empty cup back. “Thanks, Sheriff.”
“You’re welcome.” Rosco took a short pull from the bottle before he put it away. He never drank on duty, but God help anyone who tried to keep him from doing so right now. He returned to Brian and simply stood next to him, waiting for the words that he knew would be coming.
When Brian didn’t seem to know where to start, Rosco said gently, “It’s okay for you to ask for somethin’.”
I…I’d like to see my horse…just for a few minutes. And if you got any sugar cubes, I’d like to give him some.”
“I can do that,” Rosco agreed. The Sheriff’s eyes, normally a hard gunmetal-blue, held kindness.
***** ***** ***** *****
MaryAnne, on foot, led Damascus through the torch-lit streets of Hazzard. She led the horse with nothing more than a halter around his head and a rope, trusting him to behave. Damascus, with his neck drooped low and his ears angled back, followed with apathy.
When they neared the jailhouse, two men were standing outside. A kerosene lantern on the porch lent a glow to the faces, and Damascus recognized his rider. The horse raised his neck and perked his ears forward, giving a sharp whinny in greeting.
MaryAnne brought the horse to a halt in front of Brian and Rosco. She kept her grip on the halter rope, but allowed enough slack for the horse to move his head freely. She stood to the side. Brian stepped close to Damascus, and the horse’s nostrils flared with joy. He could detect the treat that Brian was holding. Sugar!
“Yeah, Damascus…here you go, boy.” Brian opened his palms, offering a heap of sugar cubes in each hand. Damascus sniffed at them, snorted his appreciation, and slobbered all over Brian’s hands as he accepted the treat. Damascus licked up every grain, and Brian gave a small laugh as horse head-butted him lightly for more. “Spoiled horse, ain’tcha…”
Finding that the sugar was gone, Damascus contented himself by nibbling at Brian’s hat. Brian smiled, letting the horse play with him. He stroked the animal’s nose and petted the strong neck, reflecting on the exploits they’d shared. Damascus, feeling Brian’s mood but not truly understanding it, rested his head over one shoulder and nickered softly. Brian suddenly wrapped his hands around the horse’s neck and buried his face in it.
MaryAnne turned away. Her breath hitched, painfully.
Rosco, standing with his arms folded, reached a hand up to his brow and shut his eyes.
No one counted the minutes that passed. Brian, knowing that it would never get any easier, let go of Damascus. He reached up and scratched behind the horse’s ears, murmuring a farewell. Damascus nuzzled him, understanding the affection, if not the parting.
When Brian turned around and took a step towards the jailhouse, MaryAnne gently tugged at the halter rope and guided Damascus back to the stables. Behind her, the melody of a harmonica lifted it’s strains to the night.
***** ***** ***** *****
Zeke was looking forward to the morning. He hadn’t stopped smiling since the gallows went up. As far as he was concerned, time couldn’t move fast enough. He and his operatives whiled away the hours at the Boar’s Nest, playing poker and drinking whisky, annoying the locals and disturbing the peace.
Several times, the lace-ruffled wench named Daisy had “accidentally” spilled liquor or food on him. He had taken a mind to show her what respect was about, when the two Duke hicks stood up and readied to draw their pistols.
Boss Hogg, who had been playing cards with the Pinkertons, waved his arms and yelled that there would be no shooting in his saloon. The Dukes held their fire and invited Zeke out into the street. There were too many witnesses both in and out of the saloon for Zeke to cheat at the gunfight and get away with it …and he knew that cheating was the only way he could win. Forced to back down, he mumbled an insincere apology to the serving girl and returned to the card game, where he could cheat with impunity.
None of the Pinkertons realized that Boss Hogg was the biggest cheater at the table. Nature had gifted Boss with beady, darting eyes and a thousand changeable expressions. He used them to his full advantage as he bluffed, stacked the deck, and switched cards under the table. Zeke, losing his money and his temper at the same time, kept his mind on the morning. Between swigs of whisky that he sucked straight from the bottle, he made comments about looking forward to a good hanging.
MaryAnne, after having returned Damascus to his stall, had went to the Boar’s Nest for a drink. Like Rosco, she never drank on duty, but she’d be damned if anyone would stop her tonight.
She hunched over the bar and rested a boot on the brass railing, her back to the Pinkertons. Their ill sense of humor and bad manners were grating on her nerves. She really, really, wanted to shoot somebody, and if Zeke wasn’t a lead prospect, she didn’t know who was. The sound of his voice alone was giving her trigger-finger a twitch. She wrapped it around a shotglass and tossed liquor down her throat, feeling the burn of it heating her blood.
Coltrane blood. Her name and her badge were two of the most important things in her life. She and Rosco shared a kinship in blood and silver. The law was their life, their livelihood, and their pride. Together, they protected Hazzard County at the risk of their own hides, and thought nothing of it.
The Pinkertons, meanwhile, were here in Hazzard for their own interests. They protected no one. Nothing but the bounty meant anything to them. A bounty on a Coltrane…
Bile rose in MaryAnne’s throat and she swallowed it bitterly.
Zeke’s voice carried over everything in the saloon, even the new piano that was banging out Turkey in the Straw. Thinking of Zeke, MaryAnne imagined changing the tune to Jackass in the Bar. She then modified it to Jackass Full of Lead and hummed along with that in mind.
“I’ll be happy to see that Coltrane hang,” Zeke said loudly. “There’s just one more thing I wish I could do.”
“Whut’s dat?” Angus asked.
“Leave his carcass for the buzzards to pick at.”
“Waaaaaal, yew can’t have everything,” Chet said.
Zeke laughed roughly, and tilted the liquor bottle to his tobacco-stained lips. “That outlaw would give a buzzard indigestion!” The Pinkertons guffawed as Zeke swigged down whiskey.
There was an explosion of glass in front of Zeke’s face as a gunshot rang out. Whiskey soaked the table, the playing cards, the betting money, and Zeke. The Pinkerton leader looked at his right hand, which only held a jagged end of a glass bottle. The rest of it lay in scattered fragments around him.
The smoking barrel of MaryAnne’s Colt revolver was trained on Zeke’s head. She advanced on him slowly, spurs jingling with her measured boot steps. Her teeth were clenched in wrath, and her eyes were flames of blue fire. “Draw,” she hissed with a trembling, rage-choked voice. “DRAW!”
Chairs scooted back, and everyone moved as far away from Zeke as they could.
MaryAnne stared at the mustached, dirty face that gaped back at her in shock. She pointed the gun at Zeke’s hat-covered forehead. The trigger begged to be pulled. A black, narrow tunnel vision blotted out everything in MaryAnne’s mind.
“MaryAnne,” Rosco’s voice said quietly from the door. “He’s not worth your badge.”
Her stance didn’t change. The gun didn’t waiver. Zeke sat at the table, unmoving, soaked in whiskey and his own sweat. His eyes were wide with stupified terror, like those a cow in a slaughterhouse. MaryAnne felt no sympathy, no pity. Only a deep revulsion that a man like Zeke could wear a badge. Any badge.
Her own badge, along with Rosco’s presence, were the only things keeping Zeke from the deepest pit in hell.
MaryAnne raised the barrel to the ceiling and let the bullet fly just to watch Zeke jump. “You listen to me,” she rasped in anger, her words curling with the gun smoke. “You get to see my cousin hang tomorrow…but you do NOT get to mock him!! EVER!”
Such was the fury in MaryAnne’s voice, that no one dared speak a word. The silence went unbroken except for the sound of her spurs, as she contemptuously turned away and marched out the door with Rosco.
***** ***** ***** *****
The eastern sky woke first, tossing off the night’s blanket with a careless hand. A bright, clear day rose over Hazzard.
Rosco had spent the night in the jailhouse, sitting in a chair next to the cell. He rubbed the hour’s worth of sleep from his eyes and straightened his back, wincing. He felt like hell and figured he’d fell worse before the day was over.
Rosco looked into the cell. Brian looked back at him and gave a short nod for a greeting. The young man was pale, drawn. It was unlikely he had slept; Rosco could tell that by Brian’s drained look.
Neither of them has spoken much during the night. Brian had played the harmonica, read some of the newspaper that Rosco had given him, and then stared vacantly at the wall for a few hours. At one point, Rosco had mistaken Brian’s retreat into himself as a need for solitude. Yet when he stood up from the chair, Brian asked him not to leave. There was no figuring the kid out.
Belatedly, Rosco realized that companionship, shared in silence, was probably all Brian had wanted.
For himself, Rosco wanted coffee. Strong coffee. He fixed a pot of it on the Franklin stove, trying to ignore the growing tumult in the town square. Ten-thirty was a few short hours away.
Rosco offered a cup of coffee to Brian, who turned it down with a shake of his head.
“My coffee’s not that bad,” Rosco told him.
“It was damn near undrinkable last night, even with the whiskey.” Brian said it straight-faced. Only when Rosco eyed his own cup with suspicion, did a small smile break open.
“You rascal.” Rosco gave him a half-grin. “Just for that, I’m making you drink some!”
“Do your worst,” Brian chuckled. He accepted the cup Rosco gave him. He took a sip and made a face. “Damn! This really is worse than last night’s batch…”
“I’m out of sugar. Gave it all to you last night.”
“For Damascus,” Brian remembered. He sighed, the weight of his destiny returning to him. “Sheriff, what’s going to happen to my horse, after...”
“That horse belongs to the U.S. Cavalry. He’ll be returned to his rightful owner.”
Brian raised an eyebrow. “How’d you know he was a cavalry horse?”
“By the big branded letters ‘U.S’ that are on ‘em, and the army saddlebags.”
Rosco chuckled and finished off the coffee. “I didn’t get this badge by bein’ just another pretty face.”
“That’s for damn sure.”
The Sheriff narrowed his eyes. “You really got a smart mouth, you know that?”
“Got me where I am today,” Brian said, and his smile was sad. A silence took over from there, that neither of them knew how to break.
***** ***** ***** *****
MaryAnne hadn’t slept any better than Rosco or Brian. She had forced herself to try for sleep, but it evaded her. There was too much to do, too many problems on her mind, for her to rest.
She gave it up with the rooster’s crow, and made breakfast for herself, Rosco, and the occupant of the jail, just as she had for the last few days. Other than the fact that one them was on the wrong side of the bars, the meals at the jailhouse had been enjoyed as a family.
Today would be another matter. She didn’t feel much like eating, but she had to keep her strength up. After preparing a platter of biscuits and a pan of sausage gravy to go with them, she carried breakfast to the hoosegow.
The way the crowds were in town, it she was amazed that everything made it there intact, including her. She dove into the jailhouse and sat the pans down on the stove. “Sheesh!”
“Rough out there?” Rosco asked behind her, quietly.
MaryAnne nodded. “Rough in here?”
Rosco nodded. “I don’t think he slept, and I doubt if he’ll eat. Can’t say that I blame him.”
“I have to try,” MaryAnne said, and fixed up a plate. She carried it to the cell.
Brian sat dejectedly and didn’t look up.
“Breakfast!” MaryAnne announced cheerfully.
Brian raised his head, slowly. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Nope. I’m serious. Biscuits and sausage gravy.” She took the cell door key from her gun belt and opened the door. Brian made no effort to take the plate. She sat it down next to him on the bench and closed the cell door again, locking it. “Eat it before it gets cold.”
Brian, starting to get annoyed by her mundane attitude, uncoiled himself. “For some damn reason, I just ain’t hungry, awright?”
“Too bad. We don’t waste food around here. Eat. Or else.”
Brian stared at MaryAnne as if she were a lunatic. Then his eyes crinkled, and a chuckle came from him. “You’re something else, Deputy.”
“I’m a Coltrane,” she answered. “We’re not known for being reasonable.”
“Guess not.” Brian looked at the plate, but his heart wasn’t in it. He was going to die, for God’s sake, and all his crazed cousin could do was think about food. Outside, the noise of the crowd was filling the streets, and the church bells were chiming their way towards his last hour. But here, have some breakfast…
Brian appreciated MaryAnne’s gesture, though he was unable to lift the fork. “Thank ya kindly,” he said abruptly, understanding her and the way she showed her heart. He knew that he’d miss her, and Rosco, and that if it wasn’t for the bad choices he’d made in life…he might have had a family here, someplace to really call home.
For all their teasing, Rosco and MaryAnne had shown him acceptance, and kindness, though they had every right to show distain.
Brian couldn’t repay them. But he could eat the breakfast, and make MaryAnne happy.
He picked up the fork and went to it. Intent on his food, he didn’t notice her swiping a loose tear away from her eye.
***** ***** ***** *****
The church bells rang ten, on the hour.
MaryAnne took a pouch of tobacco, along with cigarette paper, from the small box of possessions that belonged to Brian. She sat at the booking desk and carefully rolled a cigarette, licking the paper and sealing it neatly. She went over to Rosco, who stood next to the cell, and the Sheriff lit the cigarette with a match. MaryAnne handed it to Brian through the bars.
He nodded his appreciation and smoked in silence. The wisps of smoke evaporated into the air, disappearing like time itself.
When the cigarette was finished, Brian dropped the stub to the floor and crushed it with a boot heel. His dark eyes gazed at his cousins for a moment. Then he reached up with one hand and removed his black, soft-brimmed rustler’s hat.
He handed it to Rosco through the bars. “For you, Sheriff.”
Rosco took it, not knowing what to say. Words didn’t fit, no matter how he tried them on, so he looked back and Brian and thanked him with a gentle nod.
Brian took the harmonica from his shirt pocket, and offered it through the bars to MaryAnne. “For you, Deputy…”
She accepted it reverently. “You’ve changed your tune,” she whispered, her throat so tight that the words had trouble escaping.
Rosco took a key from his gun belt and put it to the cell door. He unlocked it. His hands, so steady and sure in a gunfight, seemed to tremble. “It’s time to go, son…”
Outside, there was a sound of heavy boot steps and jangling spurs approaching the jail. Five Pinkertons, armed to the teeth, walked into the hoosegow as if they owned it. Zeke held a short piece of rope in his hands. He marched to the cell, indicating for Rosco and MaryAnne to move aside.
“We’re taking over from here,” Zeke told them.
Rosco and MaryAnne’s expressions went from surprise, to outrage. Rosco gave Zeke a ferocious glare. “I’m the Sheriff of this county, I do the hangin’!”
“Move aside, or we’ll make this a hanging for three! This is OUR bounty at stake, by God!” Pinkerton rifles, brandished by Zeke’s henchmen, were lowered at Rosco and MaryAnne.
With a savage, frustrated look, Rosco moved aside. MaryAnne moved away when Rosco did, but spoke her mind to Zeke. “When this is over, you leave Hazzard County…or I’ll shoot you on sight!”
Zeke spat on the floor, uncaring. He yanked open the cell door, grabbed Brian, spun him to face the wall and shoved him into it. He pulled Brian’s arms behind his back and tied his writs together, binding him with a knot so tight that Brian hissed through his teeth.
With his cousins at gunpoint, there was no fight that Brian dared to give. When Zeke spun him back around and shoved him out of the cell, Brian looked over his shoulder and shot a deep look of hatred at the Pinkerton. “All that bounty money,” Brian said with soft, deadly conviction, “Won’t buy you out of Hell.”
Zeke snarled and shoved Brian forward, and the rest of the Pinkertons grabbed him and dragged him out from the jailhouse. A rifle in Brian’s back prodded him towards the gallows. Brian marched forward, keeping his head held up and his shoulders high. He’d be damned if the Pinkertons enjoyed any fear from him.
Seeing the prisoner, the crowd broke into a cheer. Brian took a quick look at the crowd. It was huge, filling the town square and spilling out from windows and rooftops. If every face in the audience was a paying spectator, Boss must have made a bundle. A festival atmosphere was in the air, complete with peanut vendors and refreshment stands.
Boss’s knack for enterprise amazed Brian. “Concessions? At a hanging? Only in Hazzard…”
“Shut up,” Zeke said, giving Brian another shove in the back. Brian took a fast step forward, pretending to stumble, and then made a sudden, military halt that caused a spontaneous pile-up behind him. It amused the crowd, which was worth the cuff Zeke gave him in the back of the head. He couldn’t get away with it twice, though, and Brian was at the base of the gallows a moment later.
It was built high off the ground, with a dozen stairs leading to the platform. Everyone in the crowd was sure to have a decent view. Aside from the scaffold’s height, it was a traditional design, with an inverted “L” lynch-pole dangling the noose.
Another shove in the back. “Move.”
Brian mounted the stairs slowly. It wasn’t out of cowardice; there was no railing and the steps were relatively narrow. Being hung was one thing. Breaking his neck ungracefully by losing his balance like an idiot was another.
The thump of his black boots echoed off the wood. The slow, steady sound caused a hush at the front of the crowd that rippled back through the entire throng of spectators.
The heavy footing of Zeke and Angus followed. The rest of the Pinkertons took positions on the ground, standing guard.
The moment Brian reached the platform, he was grabbed roughly and made to stand on the closed trap door. Angus held him there as Zeke brought the noose down from the lynch-pole, throwing it over Brian’s head. The noose was adjusted and tightened with smooth expertise.
In those few seconds, Brian looked out and found the faces of his cousins, the town blacksmith, and the Duke family near the front of the crowd. The Dukes waved cordially, and Brian wished he could spit that far.
Angus backed away. Zeke moved to the side, putting a hand on the upright lever that controlled the trapdoor. He paused for the requisite moment of silence. The crowd held it’s breath. Brian lifted his dark eyes to the sky, then shut them.
Zeke threw the lever back. There was a racket of clattering lumber and a gasp from the crowd. The floor of the scaffold collapsed, dropping Zeke and Angus screaming to the ground. The entire structure seemed to come apart at the seams, like a faulty wooden crate. Timber fell outward at all sides, spilling over like felled trees, and the Pinkertons standing guard scrambled away.
The noise was like a lumberyard being hit by cannonball. The gallows was an engineering failure. When it was over and the dust began to clear, all that remained of it was the lynch-pole, which had been set solidly in the ground - and the trap door, which had remained intact, thanks to the beam that connected it to the pole.
Someone had gotten the drafting plans all wrong. Zeke’s pull of the lever had caused everything but the trapdoor to drop away.
Brian, still standing upon it, opened his eyes incredulously. “That,” he called out with a shaken, but jubilant voice, “Was pretty damn slick.”
The crowd’s uncertain murmur turned into a roar of laughter. Near the front of the audience, there were a few people who were especially pleased
“KHEE! It worked! It worked!” Rosco yelled.
“You mean it didn’t work!” MaryAnne said happily. “And that’s what we wanted! Cooter, you did it!! You rigged it!
Cooter grinned, flipping a hammer into the air and catching it. “Bo n’ Luke helped pull it off. Wasn’t nothin’, really…”
Luke cut the celebration short. “This ain’t over yet. Look!”
Over by the scattered lumber that had once been a gallows, the Pinkertons were figuring out that they’d been duped. Chet, Buck and Leroy were surveying the damage, debating on pulling Zeke and Angus from the wreckage…or taking Brian and splitting the bounty three ways instead of five. The latter idea held more appeal, and they looked up at Brian with menacing greed. The only problem was that the stairs had fallen apart with the majority of the scaffold, and short of skimming up the post, there was no way to get to the prize. This confused them.
Chet hefted his rifle and shouted at Brian. “Waaaaal, yew git down from there!”
The idiocy of the demand made Brian laugh. “Come and get me, sapsucker!”
“Shoot ‘em, then shoot the rope”, Leroy instructed Chet. “He’ll fall off from there and we can pick ‘em up easy.”
“GAH!” Brian felt like a tin can on a fence railing. He was still trussed up to the lynch-post, and there was no getting away.
His plight wasn’t unnoticed. MaryAnne aimed her rifle, too. “Make it a good shot, sweetheart,” Rosco said next to her.
A rifle shot cracked over Brian’s head, startling him. The rope from the lynch-pole suddenly went slack, having been torn apart by MaryAnne’s bullet. Brian could now move without strangling himself, and he dropped quickly to one knee, ducking at the last second before Chet’s shot was fired.
“Waaaal, that’s cheatin’!” The Pinkerton complained. Buck and Leroy, seeing more of a challenge unfolding, aimed their rifles. The trapdoor was too small for Brian to do much; the next shot would have him. If that wasn’t enough, Zeke and Angus had rejoined the party. The thought of being made fools of in front of an audience put blood in their eye. They circled the underside of the trap door like ravenous wolves, waiting for the prey to jump, or fall. Either one suited them fine.
“Look out, ya’ll!” Cooter yelled at the Pinkertons, and pointed behind them. The hoof beats of three fast horses were bearing down on them. Chet looked, and saw the Duke boys on chestnut stallions racing towards him, leading huge black horse that was whinnying furiously. The stallions neighed their own battle charge, and rather than face the three horses of the apocalypse, Chet turned and ran full tilt from the square.
Buck and Leroy weren’t as quick to bail, until they saw the Hazzard County law coming from the other ride. The Sheriff was astride a white mustang, and the Deputy rode a swift appaloosa. A large coil of rope was in one of the Sheriff’s hands, and in the Deputy’s, a Winchester rifle. Rosco yelled an invitation to Buck and Leroy that left both men cold with fear. “You boys want to see a hanging? I’ll give you a hanging!”
Buck and Leroy fled. Zeke and Angus, after bullying the town from behind their tin stars for days, found that the town was ready to bully them back. “The U.S. Marshal will hear of this!” Zeke shouted as the guns of the Dukes and Coltranes fixed their sights on him. “You’ll lose your badges! You’ll be hunted down and strung up like dogs! You’ll…”
MaryAnne cocked her rifle. Zeke and Angus shut up and froze in their tracks. The Dukes dismounted, and relieved the Pinkertons of their weapons. Sweat broke out on the bounty hunter’s faces.
Rosco stared at the two men, his eyes gunmetal-hard and glinting. “You can run now,” he said with a voice so deceptively mild, that the Pinkertons felt their knees shaking. They backed up, stumbling over the scattered wood, bumping into each other, and trembling with terror. Rosco’s impassionate face watched every move, unnerving them further.
The Pinkertons sensed that they were getting a head start and not a reprieve. The finally turned their backs and ran through the crowd, which booed them and threw peanuts. Rosco watched them like a hawk, waiting until the men were in the clear and thought they were getting away. Then spurred his horse and followed, a cold smile lighting his face.
“Don’t take too long!” MaryAnne called after him. “You got a noon gunfight comin’ up!”
Brian, still wearing way too much rope for his comfort, cleared his throat. “Uh…if y’all don’t mind, I think I’d like to leave town now…”
“Who said anything about you leaving town?” MaryAnne said, resting the Winchester over her shoulder. “You’re not tearing off into the sunset scott-free, mister.”
“Nope. You’re staying right here in Hazzard, were Rosco and I can keep an eye on you.”
“What about my horse?”
“Oh, you mean that stray half-breed that was abandoned in the stables?” MaryAnne smiled. “Nobody else has claimed him, so I guess he’s yours…”
Brian’s grin was pure joy. Cooter led Damascus up near the trapdoor, so that Brian could jump down on the horse’s back. MaryAnne moved Phoenix over, and freed her cousin from the ropes.
As Brian rubbed the circulation back into his writs, MaryAnne yelled to the crowd. “Show’s over, folks! Tho’ there’s a gunfight at noon, providing the Sheriff ain’t chasing Pinkertons to Kansas and back…”
Cheers and whistles filled the air. The shuck and jive they’d just seen had been worth the price of admission, and no one was going home unhappy.
Including Boss, who was counting his thick stack of money and laughing all the way to the bank. On his way over to it, he passed by Brian and saw the young man sitting upon his black horse, looking at him warily.
Boss squinted one eye at him. “Why you so surprised, boy? I never keep a bargain! I got my money, you didn’t hang, and the Pinkertons got ripped off but good! Heh heh heh!”
Brian snorted and watched Boss walk away, hearing the man chortle as he counted greenbacks.
MaryAnne tapped Brian’s shoulder, and then reached into one of Damascus’s saddlebags. She dug out Brian’s cattleman’s coat, playfully threw it over his head, then added his hat, and put the harmonica in his hands. “Rosco and I decided you’d better keep that stuff,” she smiled as Brian donned his garb. “You look kinda natural in it.”
“Naturally bad,” Bo agreed, as he and Luke chuckled and got back on their horses. Luke pointed in the direction where the Sheriff had chased Zeke and Angus. “MaryAnne, how about we round up ol’ Rosco before he misses his gunfight?”
“Sound like a good idea to me. C’mon, boys! KHEEHAAAA!” She nudged Phoenix with her heels, and the appaloosa leapt into a gallop.
“KHEEHAAAA!” Brian echoed, and Damascus reared up at the sound. The great black horse tossed his head and whinnied, plunging forward with eagerness. Sugar!
Bo and Luke gave the Coltranes a head start, before they cried their rebel yells and spurred the chestnut stallions into the chase. “YEEEHAAAAA!!!”
Cooter took off his Confederate soldier’s cap and waved it after them. With another Coltrane in town, business at the blacksmith’s shop could only get better.
***** ***** ***** *****
Brian woke up, shook his head, and ran a hand through his brown hair. The dream had felt so real, that he wasn’t sure about the current date for a moment.
The book on the nightstand reminded him that it was, in fact, just a dream. Brian got dressed, pulled on his boots, threw his jacket on, and went downstairs, taking the book with him. He figured he might as well return it to the library, since he was already finished with it.
He found Rosco sitting in a chair in the living room, reading a book that held his full attention. MaryAnne stood behind the Sheriff and was reading over his shoulder.
“Whatcha readin’?” Brian asked.
Rosco glanced up from the book. “A new western that just came out. Khee!”
MaryAnne looked up, grinning. “You should see some of the characters in it.”
“Are they characters you can identify with?” Brian asked, a feeling of déjà vu’ coming on.
“You could say that,” she answered, letting loose with a khee at the same time as Rosco.
THE END…until the next time.