No Town for Outlaws
"No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow
that's in the right and keeps on a-comin'."
"Mort, you do like your job, don't you?"
"Yes, I do. Mr. Sorenson. Why?"
"And you'd like to keep it, right?"
"Well, yes. I've always been a lawman, so I don't know what else I'd do. I figured on retiring here, in this job, now that we've cleaned the riffraff out of the county. But being appointed is one thing, and running for the job is quite different. I reckon I can get enough votes ta keep this job as nobody else seems ta want it. You know Martha and I bought the old Martin place last year, don't you?"
"Yes, yes, of course. In fact, I recall Mr. Howard at the bank was concerned about your creditworthiness and ability to repay the loan, as being the sheriff here in Mitchell County has only been a temporary position for all of your predecessors. The cemetery is certain proof of that, don't you agree?"
"Yes, I suppose it is. What's your point?"
"Well, I told Mr. Howard that I'd guarantee your loan, as long as he kept it quiet. So, you see, without me you wouldn't have been able to buy the Martin Ranch, and if something happens to you it becomes mine."
"So basically what you're saying is that you have a vested interest in seeing me dead, is that right?"
"No, not at all. I'm just making a point, Mort."
"And what would that point be, Sorenson?"
"Well, that you are beholding to me for my intervention in your acquisition of the land you live on, and the house you live in. Without it, you'd still be living in the house provided by the county, a structure well below the standard your lovely wife deserves. I might also add that you are now two months behind on that mortgage. One more and the bank will be forced to foreclose, and I'll be forced to rescue the property and add it to my own."
"What is it you want, Sorenson? You're up to something here, and I'm not sure it's legal. So why don't you just cut to the chase."
"Well, since you wish to be frank, I'd like to own several more of the ranches bordering on my spread. I'm content to wait on yours, even assist you in making certain your mortgage is current, even support your upcoming election bid, provided I can be guaranteed of some cooperation in the acquisition of those other ranches."
"And exactly how do I fit into this plan of yours? What do I have to do?"
Well, I'm in no real hurry, but I do know that the next property I'd like, because of the good water and grass, would be the Creed place. You see, they are also in arrears, and unless they bring both their mortgage and taxes due by the end of next week, they will lose their home and ranch. Once that happens, as I'm certain it will, you'll be serving them the legal papers. They will be given just forty-eight hours to vacate, lock, stock and barrel, leaving any livestock and equipment behind. I expect you to enforce that eviction, even if you have to hire thirty deputies to get it done. I can even loan you several of my men to be deputized.""
"Oh, you mean like them half dozen new gun hands you hired? Just in case the Creed's don't want to go, you're willing to start killing people, or gettin' them killed, just to get what you want. Is that it?"
"Well, I wouldn't put it quite like that, but I suppose there is the chance that the Creed's will fight, and with their reputation I suppose there might be a few die, on both sides."
"Their reputation. That's some joke, Sorenson. The Creed's are some of the toughest men I've ever met, and their women aren't far behind the men. That's fact, not reputation or hearsay."
"Be that as it may, Sheriff, it will be your job to remove them from the property. And by any means necessary. Good day, sir," Pat Sorenson said as he rose and stepped outside to stand on the meager boardwalk in front of the Sheriff's Office in Colorado City, Texas."
Inside, Sheriff Morton Cummins was fuming, but keeping it all to himself while he waited for Sorenson to get out of earshot. Ten minutes later, standing at the back door of the jail, Mort finally let it fly. "That no account, cheatin' sumbitch, threatenin' me! Little does he know that me and Martha have more than enough put away to pay the bank off, and that's just what we'll do first thing tomorrow. Martha ain't gonna like it, but I won't let Sorenson try to bully me into doin' his bidding."
"What that, boss?" his deputy asked as he came in the front door of the office.
"Oh, nothing Jim. Just talking to myself."
"Sure sounds like you're mad at somebody 'r somethin'. Sure hope it ain't me."
"No, it isn't you, Jim. Say, come on over here and let me ask you something." Once his deputy, James Rooney, was close enough, Mort offered him a chair. "Jim, have you ever thought about goin' back to cowboyin'?"
"Yeah, a time 'r two, boss. But havin' a job I can count on every month, an' be able ta put away a few dollars instead o' bein' dead broke all the time sure has it's benefits."
"Jim, I hate to say this, but the main word you just used is dead. A fella can sure end up dead doin' this."
Aw, not around here, boss. Why, nobody even thinks about causin' trouble nowadays, since ya helped get rid o' all them outlaws a few years back."
"Yes, Jim, but where there's a void somebody always seems ta want ta fill it. I expect there will be trouble coming sooner than later. So let me give you some advice. Find another job and quit this one, soon. Even considering it myself. Me an' Martha got us a nice little operation out there now, an' I kind of like the idea of spending more time with her, especially now that the boys are gone. Why, I might even need to hire me a man to help out around the place, but I'll need to talk to Martha about it just to make sure we can keep a good man paid. If we can, then I know where you can go to work. How's that sound?"
"That sounds real fine, boss. I reckon I'll wait 'til I hear from you on it 'fore I start lookin' around for somethin' else ta do."
"Alright, Jim. I'll try to let you know as soon as I can, in the next day or so. How's that?"
Jim just smiled and went back up front to continue what he was doing, sorting out and putting up the new posters that had come in the mail the afternoon before. He was over halfway through the stack when one poster caught his eye. He looked it over more closely, and then picked up a pencil and scratched on a moustache and thin beard.
"Boss, better come look at this!" he yelled out to Mort, still standing at the back door.
Mort slowly stretched, and then turned and walked back into the office. "What is it, Jim?"
"Look at this poster, boss. Don't that look one o' them new fellers Sorenson just hired?"
"It sure does, Jim. Good eye. I wouldn't be one bit surprised to find several more of his men on posters. In fact, why don't you go through them all, and just see if any more of those men are wanted? I'm goin' to make a quick round around town, visit some of the storeowners, maybe ol' Mack 'r Jason at the livery."
Without waiting for Jim to respond, Mort walked out of the door of his office and then turned toward Malin and Colvin's Livery. Mack would be a good place to start, on the off chance that he had seen any altered brands, even possible stolen horses that had shown up there.
Mack was, indeed, there in his office going over the brand book he kept handy. "Mornin', Mort. What can I do for ya?"
Sheriff Cummins told Mack why he was there, and what he wanted over the next week or so, and then left to complete his rounds. It was a nice afternoon, clear as a bell and just warm enough not to need a jacket. A bit warmer than normal for late March, making Mort wonder if it was going to be a hot, dry summer. A year dry year and the local ranchers would consider they were in the beginning of a drought. His place had good water, as did the Creed place, which was probably why Sorenson was so anxious to take over one, or both, of their places.
The newcomer had already begun overgrazing his land, and didn't have enough water to sustain a herd the size he was carrying. Not to mention that he was replacing good, solid cowboys with gun hands who had little to no experience running cattle, other than maybe someone else's, and were most likely more familiar with a running iron or D-ring that a real branding iron.
At fifty-one, Morton Jonas Cummins was tired, tired of fighting lawbreakers, chasing down lost animals and all the other things demanded of the Sheriff of Mitchell County, or anywhere else for that matter. He just wanted to spend the rest of his days sitting on the porch in the evenings with his wife of thirty-two years, talking about their family, the cattle and horses they owned, and what they had accomplished in life.
Now that his oldest son, Nathan, was living in San Antonio and practicing law, he and Martha didn't get to see he and his family nearly as often as they would like. And with the second son, Layton, going to school back east, studying to be a doctor, the house was strangely quiet. Nearly too quiet to suit Mort, and he was certain Martha felt the same way.
By the time he had made his rounds and talked to the shopkeepers, including a stop to see City Marshal Taylor, Mort had decided that unless Martha changed his mind, he'd be turning in his badge at the end of the month, if not before. He'd had enough, enough of the Sorenson's of the world along with the trouble they always seemed to bring with them, and tired of the politics needed to keep his job, even if he was appointed. It was all the more important that they pay the land off and be done with the local bank, as it appeared Sorenson was digging himself in there as well.
As he made his way back to the office, he noticed two of Sorenson's new riders, including the one on the poster Jim had found. Not wanting to start something alone, he opted to continue on to the office and grab Jim and a shotgun loaded with buckshot.
"Jim, grab a scattergun and come with me," Mort said as he checked the loads in his Colt Peacemaker in .44-40, and then grabbed one of the three shotguns in the gun rack. Checking to make sure it was loaded, he pulled open the drawer under the gun rack and pulled out several more rounds, just in case.
Jim followed suit without questioning Mort's request, and checked his Colt Frontier Six, also in .44-40, and grabbed a shotgun and loaded it as well as grabbing a handful of shells. "What's up, Sheriff?"
"That fella you found the poster on, he just rode in along with another one of Sorenson's new men. I think we need to bring 'em in 'fore they start somethin' we'll have to finish. I saw them pull up in front o' Dunn's, an' Rich ain't there. It's bein' handled by Rich's wife an' that pretty young daughter o' his. The way them two looked, it don't make for a good situation if that's where they headed. Ya ready?" Mort asked, hoping the young man was indeed ready to take in a pair of bad men.
Jim nodded, and the pair of lawmen walked out the door, covering the two blocks in minutes, only stopping for a moment to check the street out front of Dunn's for more of Sorenson's men, and to make sure the pair Mort was concerned with had actually stopped at Dunn's. They had, and there was no one else on the street, so they proceeded down the street, crossing the street at an angle from the entrance to the general store.
Stopping at the window, and keeping Jim behind him, Mort peeked into the store to see where everyone inside was. Sally, Rich's wife, and their daughter, Millicent, or Millie as everyone called her, were both behind the counter. He could see that Sally had her hand under the countertop, so he knew she was ready with the pistol Rich kept there. She knew how to use it, having grown up with six boys on a lonely piece of Texas, and wasn't afraid to squeeze off a round at anyone who disturbed her peace and quiet.
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