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by Robert L. Sellers Jr.

part 2 of 3

Tombs smiled and looked strangely amused. “Managed to get a shot off at the last of them but seems I missed and hit the whore that was sitting in front of the gambler holding her tight. He left her lying in the road after she fell from the horse stone dead. It would seem I haven’t lost my touch with long guns any.”

Poe was confused. “You got her but missed him?”

“Somehow I managed to get a bullet to go around him and through her, back to front while he held her tight against him.”

“That’s not possible and you know it, Franklin.”

Tombs pointed an index finger at Poe. “I knew you would say that. So, I did a little checking around her clothing and body. Found blood on the back of the dress near her wound that hadn’t soaked through from the inside to get where it was.”

“Meaning the rider was hit too.”

“Yep, never flinched or slowed down one bit. Just let her fall to the ground as he rode off and didn’t miss a beat. A whore’s a whore, but goddamn if they’re still not women folk underneath.”

“All right, what else is there that I should know about?” Poe asked reluctantly.

“Afraid I’m gonna have to show you the rest. Let’s take a walk, shall we?”

* * *

There were fewer bodies out on the street and more boxes waiting for pickup when they passed through the doors of the Agarose. Tables and chairs lay overturned and broken, spread haphazardly around the room. Broken glass crunched beneath their feet as they walked through the mess.

Poe stopped at one table that was flat to the ground, covered in poker chips and coins. He looked up at the rail on the second floor balcony above it. “She got up after taking a bullet and falling from way up there?” he asked with surprise. “You sure they hit her before she fell?”

“According to those who witnessed it, the shot put her back hard against the wall before she stumbled forward and just up and fell over the rail.”

Hands resting on his gun belt, Poe turned to look at the damage around the room. He found blood mixed with dirt and other debris. One particular area of the floor nearby was darker than the other wood around it. He'd seen someone who'd died from a slit throat, and the dark oval shape on the wood floor could have come from only one source.

“I take it that’s where she slit the man’s throat?”

Tombs nodded, moving to stand by the darkened area. “Slit his throat, held his head to one side by the hair and kissed him on the neck as his blood gushed out, or so I’ve been told.”

“You’re joking,” Poe said incredulously.

“Nope, and that’s not all; saved the best part for last.” Tombs said, moving to take the side stairs up to the second floor without further explanation.

The dead man lay face up and naked on the bed, brown eyes open and blank. The deep dark tan of his muscled body told of work done in the open fields under the hot sun. The dead man’s clothing, boots, and gun belt lay piled on a nearby chair. He’d been shaved recently and had little or no facial hair while long tangled brown hair flowed over the pillow around his head.

When Tombs stood to one side and gestured for a closer look, Poe moved in to examine the man.

He looked for wounds in the usual places, starting below the dead man’s waist and working up. Whores who killed their clients usually did so once they had the soft spot out and their client was properly distracted. A quick flick of the razor would normally be enough to incapacitate any man.

However, other than long healed wounds and assorted scars from previous fights, not a mark on the otherwise healthy looking body seemed unusual until he got to the neck area.

There appeared to be a wound of some sort on the right side of the throat with small rivulets of dried blood that had trailed down to the pillow beneath his head.

Ever so gently, Poe turned the man’s head to the left so that he could get a closer look at the wound. He saw what looked like teeth marks surrounding the wound with distinct pairings of puncture wounds top and bottom. From the loose feel of the man’s head as he turned it back and forth, he figured his neck had been broken as well.

“Franklin, as funny as this might have been to set up, you and I both know vampires don’t exist. Now you want to explain what the hell really happened here?”

The smile died on his lips when he turned to find Tombs looking solemn and not smiling back. “Didn’t know you’d be showing up like you did today, Poe. They found him like that after the fight. We figure the whore tried to dismount when she heard the shots and the dead man objected.”

He was seriously beginning to consider the same far-fetched conclusion that his friend had, given the evidence in front of them.

A vampire had done this.

Poe had heard and seen many strange things in his day, but nothing that ever looked clearly as strange as what he was seeing now.

“Okay, if this whore and her friends were really vampires, and I’m not saying they are yet, what do we do about it now?” Poe finally asked, still waiting for his friend to admit this had all been some kind of sick joke.

“Had someone track them as far as Mason Ridge where there’s an old hunting lodge that’s been used off and on for years. To be honest, I was planning to have someone from town lead a Posse up there. Guess you could do that for us just as well now that you’re here.”

Poe laughed. “You were seriously going to send a Posse after them and not lead it yourself? I remember the day when you would have gone after them alone and not bothered to call for help even from me.”

Tombs didn’t laugh, but smiled in a knowing way. Apparently, he hadn’t shared everything there was to share yet.

“After I sent the telegraph out for a Marshal, I sent another to friend at Fort Danna. He sent a reply shortly before you arrived informing me that he would dispatch a special cavalry force right away. I figured it would be too late by the time they got here, so I want to send you while the trail is still warm.”

Poe frowned, suddenly realizing why his friend had chosen to stay behind. “I’m expendable while you have family that depends on you now.”

Tombs glanced long and hard at the floor before looking back at Poe. “Same can be said for the other men I’m sending with you. I don’t exactly know what these things are or what they’re up to, but Mary Jane would kill me herself for going off against them now that she’s about due with our third.”

The two men looked at each other as silence filled the room around them. It didn’t take long for Poe to come to a decision. In the end, there really wasn’t much of a one to make anyway. He’d sworn an oath to protect the people of the territories and wasn’t about to start backing down from it now. Even with ample evidence that someone was running around the area trying to make it look like they were vampires.

“All right, let’s get this posse of yours together and see what we can do before the cavalry arrives to mess up any chance we might have to find that whore and her friends. Probably best to head out at first light in the morning.”

Tombs smiled as he turned to leave the room. “They’re waiting at the stables, ready to ride out when you are. We didn’t know you were coming, but I’m damn glad you’re here to lead them.”

Poe smirked, letting out a snort as they descended the stairs. “Tell that wife of yours I expect a proper meal when we get back. Let her know I prefer my steaks thick. Only way to teach you to send me on a wild goose chase to find something we both know doesn’t exist.”

Tombs stopped just outside the doors to watch the last of the boxes hauled up and onto the wagons in the street. “Poe, be extra careful up there. Let them go if it looks bad. Cavalry will take care of them when they get here.”

The seriousness of the comment and the look of concern upon his friend’s face sent a chill through Poe. He didn’t appear to be joking and truly seemed worried about what might be waiting for them up on that ridge.

“Gonna go get my horse and move it to the stables with the others. Meet us there in a bit so we can figure out how we’re going to deal with whatever it might be that we find.” Poe replied leaving his friend standing at the doors of the Agarose while he walked back up the dust-filled street.

Poe kicked himself when he found his fingers wandering to his gun belt to count ammunition.

For the first time in a long time, he was feeling fear of the unknown and wondering if he could best it before it bested him.

How do you kill something that bullets won’t put down? He hoped to have that question answered by the time the Posse left town.

Looking around as he untied the Palomino, he wondered where the closest church might be. They might need some holy water and crosses before they headed out in the morning. He still couldn’t believe what the evidence had told both him and Tombs.

They were going to be hunting vampires that could come out during the day.

Somehow, of the books he had read as a kid; none had ever seemed to mention that vampires could do that. Damn hacks probably had no idea what they were writing about half the time anyway.

* * *

The seven members of the Posse arrived at the base of Mason Ridge just about the same time as the sun was reaching its high point for the day in the clear blue sky above them.

Poe tried not to think of how much each of the volunteers reminded him of the dead man he had examined back at the Agarose.

Much like the unfortunate man who had last been with the whore Medusa, all were hardened ranch hands; thick-muscled with hard eyes and tough attitude toward anyone who would kill innocent people and think they would get away with it. Well practiced at staving off poachers from the cattle they protected, each had proven to be a crack shot and did not seem likely to cower in the face of danger.

They had all sat quietly the evening before, sipping whisky as Tombs laid out the suspected nature of what it was they were going after and what very well might be lying in wait for them up on the ridge they would ride towards in the morning.

None scoffed at the notion of their quarry being possible vampires or that they were required to wear crosses and carry corked vials of holy water that they could opened in a hurry if needed. Jason Rolleston, Michael Bidwell, Alex Morgan, Thomas Billingsworth, Kyle Gardner and Trent Holmes were all experienced men and willing to carry out their mission even after the wild story they had heard.

Given that bullets had not seemed to slow the things down properly, they had strapped sheaths holding double-barrel shotguns to each saddle that would be within easy reach. While a bullet might pass through someone, a shotgun blast would likely cut the same person in half in close quarters.

Poe had sent Billingsworth and Morgan off to the east while Holmes and Gardner would approach from the west. This left Rolleston, Bidwell and himself to ride up the middle as they hoped to block any attempts at flanking them with thoughts of escape. The only route left for the three at the lodge above them would be up into the high mountains.

Poe and his men had just reached the edge of a wide meadow below the lodge when several shots erupted from the east causing flocks of birds to rise into the sky from nearby trees. Several more answered from the west. The high pitch snap of the gunfire indicated pistol fire, rather than the dull roar of shotguns.

Proceed to the conclusion...

Copyright © 2005 by Robert L. Sellers Jr.

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