Outlaw Born-Chapter One

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Chapter One


Ben rinsed his tin plate with the last sip of his coffee and stepped back inside. The ragged tent did little to keep out the winter winds. He longed for another hot cup of brew but his ration was low and the troop's supplies had not yet made it through the fighting. What he had left would better serve him in the morning.

His breath fogged the air in front of him as he searched his pack for his last sheet of precious paper. He carefully set out his ink and pen before lighting the nub of a candle he had left. In one hand, he held the pen, in the other his most prize possession a photograph of his wife and young son. He gazed at the images for a moment before he began to write.

My dearest Ellen,

I wish I could say the war goes well, but it just seems to go on. They say battles have been won but all I can see anymore are the bodies of men. Young and old scattered like torn paper across the fields.

It is cold here tonight. I am grateful for the bit of shelter the tent offers against the climate. Though I would much rather be resting in front of our fireplace watching you work your quilt.

He sighed softly as his thumb caressed the frame of the photo. That spot worn smooth by the times he'd sat and looked at the image of his wife and child, and reminisced of home. It was where he longed to be, teaching his son to keep his heels down as he rode his pony. If he survived tomorrow, he would be another day closer to home.

I am lonesome for home and my family. Perhaps soon this bloodshed will end and I can come home to you, my wife. I must end this letter and try to rest for tomorrow we take to arms again. It may be some time before I can write another note. Remind Henry to keep his heels down when he rides. Tell him his father is proud of him. Know that you and our son are ever in my thoughts and always in my heart.



He glanced back at the noise of his men playing poker for matchsticks. Money had become more precious than it was a night years ago in New Mexico. He was young, full of whiskey and spit when he'd almost lost all he had to a gambler. Ben had been saved by pure luck that night. Watching the men play and jib his memory fell back on that night long ago.

He gazed at all his money piled in front of his opponent. Ben had to win it back or he would need the spade to dig his grave. Too much whiskey had expanded his ego into the belief he was good at poker.

His opponent had noticed Ben's distress or at least the sweat that rolled from his brow. The older man took a long drag off his cigar. It was one of the expensive kinds, which smelled of spice, softening the stout tobacco odors. He tapped his cards on the table, closed them, and then fanned them back open again.

With a curt nod, he pulled two cards from his hand and slid them face down over the green felt toward the dealer. The dealer lifted the cards and made note of them as if they held the key to Ben's fate.

With a practiced flick of thumb, the card sharp tossed out two cards. He inclined his head toward Ben. "Mr. Mason, your bet."

Ben glanced down at the cards in his hand. The edges were warn and yellowed from the many hands that had held them. They gave no help in the crucial decision he must now make. One card could make a difference in his pockets; if they would be filled richly or remaining empty.

He settled his hat further forward on his brow to keep the nervous sweat out of view of his competition. Ben felt in his gut that the man had a sure hand.

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