Due North From Uvalde
by Gary Clifton
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
Uvalde had no law. As a crowd of spectators gathered to inspect the dead bandit on the boardwalk, Elizabeth stood, shaken, but still holding her tray of lunch.
Brannigan walked across to the Western Union Office and wired Mr. Monroe and the Bexar County Sheriff in San Antonio of the holdup. On the chance that the bandits might return, he stuffed his Colt in his waistband.
In fifteen minutes, replies from both Mr. Monroe and the San Antonio Sheriff said a Texas Ranger was on the way from San Antonio and another from Del Rio.
Brannigan wired back and pointed out that the bandits had fled to the north, adding to the distance and difficulty of either Ranger. He included a description and saw instantly if any chance existed of capture, he must arrange a posse.
After a brief mid-street appeal for assistance and receiving no volunteers, he pocketed a box of .44 cartridges from his desk drawer, grabbed the heaviest coat he could find, obtained a canteen and bag of grain from the livery, and borrowed a saddle for Elizabeth’s finely bred roan mare. Thanking the stars they’d used the mare to pull their buggy to work that morning instead of his aging war trophy horse, and stuffing two of Elizabeth’s lunch rolls in his coat pocket, he headed north on the Rock Springs Road, cold and alone.
He cursed under his breath that he’d left Charlie asleep in the barn when he and Elizabeth had departed that morning. Rock Springs was forty miles distant, thirty more than the range of the worn horses the bandits were riding. If he paced himself, he would overtake them before dark.
Brannigan found the two bandits’ trail easy to follow even in the well-traveled road to the north. An occasional droplet of blood in the dust meant the fleeing men would be unable to make full speed, nor would they last long. The older man was badly hurt.
He felt a twinge of guilt that he shot the man in the back, but as he envisioned Eastwood, father of two small children, lying murdered for no reason on the bank floor, he regretted he had not gotten off another shot.
Within two miles, the bandit’s trail veered off the road, sharply left to the west. Heading for Mexico? No, too far. They have a place to hide over that way somewhere.
Estimating he had about three hours’ daylight, he followed the bandit trail west, again regretful Charlie was not trotting along beside him and that his Henry seven-shot .44 rifle wasn’t in the saddle scabbard.
He stopped, gave the mare a portion of corn, filled the bag with water from a small creek, reattached it, and ate part of his lunch roll.
In two hours, he spotted the two horses against the flat skyline of the setting sun a mile distant. No human figures were identifiable, probably meaning the wounded man was on the ground and the kid was tending to him. Aware they might have rifles and he was armed only with his Colt, he swallowed any misgivings a normal man might have and cantered the roan forward.
The old man was dead. The kid, his back turned, trying to dig a shallow grave in the sandy soil by hand, did not hear Brannigan approach, Colt in hand.
“It’s over, kid.” Brannigan covered the young man. “You got that hogleg on you. Best toss it, or I’ll do what I gotta do.”
Visibility was still good in the early fading light. Brannigan could see the tears and the trembling, dirt-caked hands. The kid pulled the revolver and tossed it several feet.
“Rifles? Find them and do the same.”
“Ain’t got no damned rifles, mister. I only had two rounds for my Colt. Now Pa’s dead and we’re gonna lose...” He dissolved in tears.
“Young fella, I’m gonna climb down. You flee, go for a hideout gun... I got no choice.”
“Don’t shoot me, mister... Mama needs me.” More tears.
Brannigan dismounted. “Okay, tell me... uh, first, what’s your name?”
“Uh, Wilkens... Leonard Wilkens.” He was skinny, beardless, with dirty, sandy hair. He trembled uncontrollably.
“Fifteen... You the law?”
“No, I’m the banker you just robbed... and murdered our teller.”
“Weren’t me, mister. That dumb Smokey is... was mama’s cousin. He jes’ wandered in last week, saw we was about to lose the place and Mama is dying, and he said that little bank in Uvalde had thousands... jes’ waiting to be raised.”
“What’s wrong with your mother?”
“Consumption. She’s bedridden. Pa’s got himself kilt. Now you gonna take me to jail and she’s gonna die... all alone.”
Brannigan thought it best he didn’t tell the kid he’d shot the old man. “How far is your place?”
“Five miles... or so, further west. Bank up at Rock Springs is fixing to foreclose. That’s why...”
Brannigan, killer of two men in the last few hours, felt whatever bloodlust he’d worked up should be put to bed. “Get on your horse and take me there.”
“Whut about Pa?” The boy dropped to his knees beside his slain father.
“I gotta take his body back to Uvalde. No use burying him out here. We’ll bury him proper. What did you do with the money you stole from my bank?”
“Hangin’ on Pa’s saddlebag. From whut I saw in the bank we had more than enough to pay off the $500 mortgage. I’ll give it back, mister.”
“Mount up, lead your father’s horse, leave his body here so I can come back and carry him to Uvalde, then take me to your mother.” Brannigan waved the Colt.
With the flour sack of cash and coin tied on Brannigan’s saddle horn and the kid leading, they started west into the cold wind.
“You had anything to eat, kid?”
“Pa fixed flapjacks for breakfast before we rode for Uvalde.”
Brannigan tossed the kid the last piece of bread from Elizabeth’s lunch tray. The kid wolfed it down. In another hour, they came upon a deteriorating prairie ranch, so called by the inhabitants of the area because the soil up that way was too poor to farm.
Inside, by lantern light, the kid showed Brannigan a dissipated, pale, obviously dying woman of fifty or so, lying motionless beneath a dirty bedspread. She’d be dead in two days, tops. Brannigan motioned for the kid to follow him back out.
In the dark chill, Brannigan tied the flour sack of bank money on the kid’s saddlebag. “I’ll pick up your father and see he gets buried. Same for your cousin, Smokey.”
The kid stared, awestruck. “Ain’t sorry he got shot.”
“Kid, you aren’t much of a bank robber. Pay off the mortgage, there’s enough there to bury your mama, try to sell this place, then head west... I hear there are cowboy jobs in Montana. Don’t come back to Uvalde or San Antonio. Never.” He fed and watered the mare and rode back east into the dark prairie, grateful the cold wind was at his back.
He had no problem following his own trail back to the old man’s body and was sufficiently strong to load him across the mare’s back. The problem was, he knew she could not carry double the ten miles back to Uvalde. When he walked into town leading her at daybreak in the icy wind, he expected to find no help. Then he saw full lantern lights in the bank.
Elizabeth, Mr. Monroe, and a lean rider who had to be a Texas Ranger were sitting, faces concerned, around a potbellied stove, sipping coffee. Elizabeth had made her way home and back and sat with Brannigan’s .44 Henry across her lap. Charlie, sprawled asleep against a back wall, had jumped to his feet when Brannigan was still a block away.
Holding the heavy weapon in one hand, Elizabeth rushed into the chilly morning and gave him a long embrace. She held up the rifle. “Thought you might need this, you damned fool. Traipsing after those wild bandits half armed was dumb, Henry Brannigan.”
“They weren’t so tough, Elizabeth. The old man’s body is on your mare outside. Actually, I could use a biscuit or I might have to eat this rifle.”
Elizabeth gushed, “Conchita’s bakery is just about to open up across the way. I’ll get us something.” She grabbed a shawl and headed toward the bakery.
The leather-faced Ranger stood, introduced himself as Jim Southern. He explained that his partner was out looking for Brannigan and the bank robbers. “Good work, young man. You ever considered joining the Rangers. We need men with sand.”
“I didn’t do too good, Ranger. Killed the boss... The younger one got away... with five hundred of the bank’s money.”
Mr. Monroe said, “In view of the brutality and that neither you nor Elizabeth were injured, forget five hundred dollars. In fact, Henry Paul, I’m going to double your pay.”
Charlie woofed. Brannigan looked down. Surely there was no way that dog could understand... Or could he?
Copyright © 2017 by Gary Clifton