Chapter I -- Posse

711 44 20

Summer, 1874 / Kasher Point, Wyoming

Yellow haze from an extended drought hung like the softer fog of velvet swirl to reach out and gently caress the outer edges of town where a phantom rider on horseback suddenly appeared as if spawned from its very midst.

With what little traffic there was to tangle with easily avoided, anything that moved simply managed to disturb yet more of the dust that had already been kicked up from around them by the shuffle of boot, hoof and wagon wheel alike; which in turn stuck like a fine coating of grit to the back of most everyone's throat that may have been forced to spend as little time that they could out in the heat.

Those that happened to notice the stranger's arrival also made note of the polished badge with its eight point star clearly pinned to his vest before they quickly moved to alert others nearby that a federal lawman had arrived with whatever trouble such a visit might have otherwise brought with it.

From the relative comfort of his saddle, Marshal Augustus Poe watched as two men bathed thick with sweat carried a limp body of another out through the open doors of the Agarose, one at the shoulders of the unfortunate soul while the other carried a pant leg bent at the knee in each hand.

The two-story clapboard tavern had long been known for its rough trade in both gambling and cheap liquor alike; along with several rather tawdry and curvaceous young women who were made available and ready to tend to most any pleasures of the passing traveler and local alike; but only if they were willing to pay their price with as little quibble or complaint as possible or might otherwise have been tolerated by management.

Poe also made note of several other dead bodies that lay quiet in the dirt nearby while he gently guided his palomino along the main street of Kasher Point.

Long hair bleached white by the sun; his skin had become dark and creased from the soft caress of wind as he'd often traveled the open plains; while in a confounding turn, thicker wisps of a beard that he'd grown of late had somehow managed to show up dark and red with gray mixed in throughout as if just to annoy him.

Unfortunately, this new look had also managed to give those that he may have met in passing the idea that he was a much older man than he actually was; while one look into the dark pearl gray of his eyes showed hard experience mixed with layered depths of grit and determination.

On more than one occasion he'd considered a clean shave, but in the end had figured it best to wait and see how the beard grew in before he made any more such radical changes as he already had.

Merit from an otherwise stalwart reputation of honesty and incorruptibility as a lawman had often preceded him where he traveled; which in turn aptly cut into the amount of prospective challenges to his authority that may have been otherwise found, along with his willingness to demonstrate prowess with both pistol and long gun alike that was sure to have made it far less likely that others may have still chose to draw against him when pushed.

The farther that he went as he made his way along main street, he couldn't help but watch as the town around him desperately tried to clean itself up as best it could from under what remained of the late afternoon sun.

An unwavered stretch of heat and lack of rain would likely continue to keep the local undertaker busy until winter, as all it ever took was a spark; flared tempers with pistols drawn that more often than not led to dire circumstances for all involved one way or the other.

Dirt was dirt; it didn't really care if you were right or wrong when it covered your coffin.

From the looks of things, he figured to have missed the most recent action at the Agarose by less than a day if not two while he took note of several women mixed in with the men as they lay bloody yet peaceful in wait for their turn with the rough pine boxes that would serve as their final rest.

A lanky dark-haired man, his face ravaged by pockmarks, wore a black top hat and coat as he directed the efforts of others while they worked along the street.

He carried the look of your average undertaker - tall, thin and gaunt with the perpetual frown that came with a job that no one ever seemed to enjoy when it involved tending to the dead.

Dark eyes beneath the brim of the top hat measured Poe as he passed by; not that many undertakers worth their salt ever missed a new arrival who might otherwise have found themselves in need of their business sooner than later - particularly so, if the newcomer just happened to be wearing a badge as this one clearly was.

With a reluctant sigh once the newcomer had passed, the undertaker also realized that he'd probably need a whole lot more pine by nightfall; it was just the way of the west as far as he was concerned. Especially when lawmen suddenly appeared out of the blue like this one had.

It wasn't long before Poe found yet more evidence of the recent violence.

Hot lead from whatever it was that made such tedious work for the grave diggers had vented holes haphazardly across the outer walls and tall doors of the Agarose.

It must have been one hell of a gunfight, something that he was more than happy not to have been a part of.

As he dismounted at the rail in front of the Sheriff's office, Poe watched while several flatbed wagons rolled by on their way to collect more boxes. Too much pine for one hearse to handle meant livery wagons would have to haul off the dead.

Each driver sat hunched over his reins as if they already regretted what it was that they would have to do.

Not the first time he'd seen it happen and probably not the last.

With his horse now properly tied to the rail, Poe stepped up and onto the boardwalk as he made his way toward the sheriff's open door.

"Took you long enough, just sent the god dammed telegraph a couple hours ago." The familiar deep basso voice of Franklin Tombs rumbled out to greet him from within. "Hell, Poe, you should have at least warned me that you were coming. I haven't had time to properly hide the whiskey or lock away the women folk."

"Good to see you too, Franklin." Poe replied easily with a smile as he walked into the single room office to shake the beefy hand of his old friend once again.

"Though from what I hear of the women around here, they're no better than the weak lemon water that's rumored to serve as whisky for the common traveler or I might be offended by such a crude and callous remark."

Blood-LinesRead this story for FREE!