Author’s Note: This is Part II in Book I of my series Tales of the West. You may read Part I: “Milly” here.
Genres: Fiction – Western/Action/Romance
Please be aware this story has elements of violence, gun violence, murder and death.
Ethan played by Boyd Holbrook
Ethan had given his brothers the details of where they needed to be in four days’ time. He wasn’t sure just how timely Preacher John’s information was–it was the most recent information he had, but it could still have been a week or two old. So the brothers were making their way across the county as fast as they could to get to the town of Deadwater.
Ethan had heard about this town from within the bounty hunting circles, and none of it was good news. The township was owned and operated by a group of men not unlike Ethan and his brothers–men living on the edge of the law. And Ethan disliked not having the upper hand in any situation. The worst of it was, if Earl had somehow joined up with these men, it would be even harder for them to track him and for Ethan to do what he needed to do. So the Jackson brothers were a little on edge.
They decided it was better not to go straight into town but to find somewhere outside it to make camp. This was the standard Jackson gang’s rule. The camp site was the place everyone would return to if things went south.
Ethan pulled on the reins of his horse, the dust from the trail blowing everywhere.
“This is where we’ll be makin’ camp–we can’t go in any further” Ethan said
“Okay, let’s go off the road a lil’ ways” Floyd replied
The brothers slowly brought their horses a few hundred feet away from the main road into Deadwater and made camp. They ate beforehand as well because they didn’t know how long this job would take.
“Is this job gonna be hard, Ethan?” Jason said
Ethan took a swig of water from his canteen.
“Maybe… but if we do what we planned; things should go our way,”
“Just remember, nuthin’ else, but Earl matters–he’s the only reason we’re here. We ain’t here to get into any business with the gang runnin’ this town” Ethan said.
“What if they come lookin’ to get into business with us?” Floyd said
Ethan put his canteen away, lifted his hat off his head and dusted it off.
“That’s what we got guns for,” Ethan replied
“We ready?” Ethan said, looking at his brothers.
And with that, they broke camp and saddled up.
“Ride close and don’t do nuthin’ until I say”
The Jackson’s made their way into Deadwater. Ethan shivered as the sun became enveloped behind dark, grey clouds. Everythin’ from the stores to the street itself looked worn through. And everyone in that town had connections to the gang that controlled it.
The few townsfolk that were out in the street looked at the brothers as they made their way into their town. The Jackson’s headed straight for the saloon. It didn’t take long for the owner of the saloon to make his way to the front with his shotgun cradled in his arm.
Ethan clenched his teeth and readied himself for a fight. The adrenaline was already pumping through his veins.
“Ya’ll ain’t welcome in Deadwater” the man said, lifting his shotgun. “Don’t even bother gettin’ off yer horses”
The Jackson brothers stopped in front of the saloon.
“Ain’t plannin’ to mister–just lookin’ fer a long-lost friend is all” Ethan replied
The man laughed.
“Nobody comes to Deadwater lookin’ fer a friend–state yer true business or get the hell outta my town”
Ethan lifted his hat off his head real slow so he could get a better look at the man that was threatening him.
“You the boss or is there someone else I need to be speakin’ to?” Ethan asked, ignoring what the man said.
“He ain’t the boss ‘round these parts, that’d be me but he’s right about statin’ ya business”
A burly lookin’ man in a suit and tie pushed through the saloon doors with his hands in his waistcoat pockets. He had stains all over his suit and had a made a poor attempt at hidin’ them. The way he looked and the way he probably smelled was right what Ethan expected from a town like this.
Ethan nodded to the man
“I need information and I’m payin’ for it”
“Did ya hear that, boys? He’s payin for it!” the man was sarcastic and rude but Ethan didn’t mind that one bit. He was expecting a lot worse.
“Assumin’ I’m interested in what yer payin’–who am I talkin’ to?”
“The name’s Will,” Ethan replied
“Ha! “Will” ya say? Well, that’d be just fine. Come on down boys, take some of Deadwater’s hospitality–it’s a rarity!” he teased.
“I been talkin’ with Preacher John” Ethan continued
The grin on the man’s face slowly disappeared, and his men whispered to each other
The man took a long look at Ethan through squinted eyes.
“Elmore… get these men whatever they want and seat them at my table,” the boss man said, walking back into his saloon.
Ethan looked at his brothers and nodded to get off their horses.
The Jackson brothers tied up their horses and walked into the Saloon with Ethan leading the way. Ethan quickly looked around the place, takin’ in anything that might look wrong. The Deadwater saloon looked just like any other watering hole, except maybe a little grimier.
The boss man sat down at a table in the far corner of the room, away from the gambling tables, the whores and the few drunken locals.
Ethan sat down first with his brothers following suit.
“Elmore–whisky and be quick about it, boy!” the boss man said, snapping his fingers
Elmore brought out the house whisky in a fancy bottle and put down four shot glasses.
“Alright Will, state yer business–why’d John send you boys to my town?”
Ethan took out a few rolls of dollar bills and sat them down on the table.
The boss man looked at the money and looked back up at Ethan
“I said state yer business,” he repeated
“I’m after information unless you got somethin’ better–the name’s Earl, Earl Prescott” Ethan replied
The man reached for his shot glass and drank down his first shot and started pouring himself another
“Prescott… that name ring’s a bell alright. Elmore here will know if anyone does. Elmore get on over here, boy!”
“Yessir!” Elmore replied running to the side of the table
“Earl Prescott–ya know ‘em?”
Elmore looked a little nervous. He slowly leaned down towards the boss man and whispered something to him.
Ethan tried to read the man’s reaction.
The boss man took another swig of whisky and wiped his mouth.
“Well, boys… got some bad news for ya regardin’ this Earl Prescott yer after”
“Out with it” Ethan replied
The boss man shook his head.
“He was here–this Earl Prescott, but he got himself killed a week back. Turns out he was on the wanted list of some lone bounty hunter. He tracked him here and killed him in his sleep… in his god damn sleep!” the boss man said, making a cutting action across his throat.
“God dammit” Ethan replied
The boss man poured Ethan a drink and Ethan gulped it back and motioned to the man for another.
“Whatever he did… he never had a hope’ n’ hell caus’ that bounty hunter made sure he was bled right out–never seen so much blood!”
Floyd and Jason each took their shots
“Where’s the body at?” Ethan asked
“They buried it up at the old cemetery–it’s just a pile o’ dirt now, no headstone to speak of ya’ understand”
Ethan pushed the money towards the boss man and got up
“Thanks for givin’ it to me straight, I appreciate it” Ethan replied
“Ya’ll welcome to stay a night or two–on the house, of course!” the man said
“No, we ain’t stayin’ but thanks for the offer”
Ethan and his brothers left the saloon, got on their horses and made their way to the old cemetery the boss man spoke of.
Ethan had to be sure.
He cursed all the way to the graveyard
“Well, I guess that settles that,” Floyd said
“It don’t settle a goddamn thing!” Ethan replied, getting off his horse and looking around the grave site
“I thought we were after Earl?” Jason said
“We were after Earl… and some god damn bounty hunter took him from me,”
“From us…” Floyd said
Ethan walked around the graveyard until he found the newly dug grave site
The boss man wasn’t lying about the state of it either. It looked like a pile of dirt was just thrown on top of a hole in the ground.
Ethan started pushing the dirt off the grave, and his brothers joined in
When they got to the coffin, Ethan pried it open without too much effort. The wood was old and rotten.
Once the lid came off, the brothers covered their mouths from the stench that made its way upward from the rotting corpse beneath.
Ethan wrapped his bandanna around his nose and mouth and looked in
“God dammit all ta hell!” he cursed again
It was Earl alright. There were so many cuts on his face, Ethan could barely make out his likeness. But it was him, and the revenge that the Jackson brothers were seekin’ had been takin’ from them.
Now Ethan and his brothers had another problem comin’ at them out of nowhere.
Who killed Earl? Ethan thought on this for some time, goin’ through a mental list of all the bounty hunters he had met. It had to be one of them, and only a few of them would cut up a body like that.
Once the brothers got back to their campsite, they fixed dinner and sat around the fire eating in silence
“What we gonna do now, Ethan?” Jason asked
Floyd looked at Ethan
Ethan was staring into the dancing flames with a pained expression on his face
“We need to think on this some… whoever killed Earl might be comin’ for us next, which means someone must have put out another bounty”… Floyd said
“Any idea who that might be?” Jason asked
“I know of a few men that would cut their victims like that for fun,” Ethan replied
“Friendly folks you got to know there, Ethan,” Floyd said
“Ain’t nuthin’ nice ‘bout killin’ for a livin” Ethan replied
“Well, that looked like a little more than just a job back there–I mean his face,”…
Jason couldn’t finish his sentence
Ethan looked at his brothers
‘I’m gonna say this to ya one more time caus’ it needs to be said… if either ya’ll want out of this…” Ethan said
“And we told you we were in this no matter what, and that ain’t changed one bit. Just tell us what needs doin’ next” Floyd replied.
“Alright. We’ve got two parties after us–the law hired that posse some time back and they’re still on us. But now we got someone we don’t know comin’ at us”
“And… we need to decide who to kill first?” Jason asked
“If we stay one step ahead, we might get through this,” Floyd replied
“Ain’t no might ‘bout it–we’re getting’ through this” Ethan said, picking up the last piece of bread off his plate
“Where to next?” Floyd asked
“We gotta set a trap somehow and draw them all out,” Ethan replied
“So we gotta go somewhere they’ll expect us to go,” Jason said
The brothers all looked at each other
“Old Miller farmhouse,” Floyd said
“Old Miller farmhouse,” Ethan replied
Ethan wasn’t too sure how he felt about goin’ back to the farmhouse, but he knew it was the best chance they had of givin’ faces to their enemies.
-END OF PART XIX-
You can read Part XX of Ethan’s story right here.