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Chapter 1

He walked into the saloon. A sense of desperation hung in the air. The town of Dry Gulch had a population of 2000 people. The year was 1870. The man that had walked into the saloon was named Clayton West. Clayton stepped up to the bartender and ordered his whisky. ‘’Sure thing, Mac,’’ the bartender said.

The bar keep handed the thirsty man his beverage and he happily obliged. ‘’You ever shoot a man?’’ Clayton asked.

‘’Nah,’’ the bartender answered. ‘’I’m a peace loving man.’’

‘’An optimist, huh?’’ Clayton asked.

‘’Ordained minister,’’ the bartender boasted.

Clayton gave a half smile to this. ‘’Man of the cloth. Can’t fault a guy for that. Good for you. How long?’’

‘’Been licensed for ten years.’’

‘’That’s real nice; do me a favor,’’ Clayton said, looking in the other man’s eyes.

‘’Sure name it,’’ The barkeep replied.

Clayton bowed his head. ‘’Helen and Eli West: they were my wife and son, keep em in your prayers. My boy was stillborn. Ten days later a sorry son of a bitch named Dexter Mangle shot her dead, in the back. Can you believe it?’’

‘’I’m truly sorry for your loss,’’ the bartender said, placing his hand on the grieving man’s shoulder.

‘’Eli wasn’t even my son,’’ Clayton admitted. ‘’Dexter raped her and conceived the child, but honest to God, I’d have raised him as my own. Scout’s honor.’’

‘’Drink’s on me,’’ the bartender said.

‘’I’m no charity case,’’ Clayton bellowed.

‘’I insist,’’ the barkeep stated.

‘’If you say so,’’ Clayton replied.

He noticed a man was harassing a woman at a table nearby. Clayton set his drink down on the bar and approached the guy. ‘’Why don’t you leave the lady alone?’’ Clayton asked.

‘’Why don’t you kiss my ass?’’ the guy said, pulling the woman into his lap as she struggled to get away.

‘’Get up and fight me,’’ Clayton stated, staying cool as silk in the wind.

The fellow tossed the woman to the ground and took a swing at Clayton. Thrusting out his hip, Clayton tossed the man over his shoulder and snapped the guy’s arm. Howling in pain, the dude cursed his attacker. ‘’You son of a bitch,’’ he screamed. ‘’Don’t you know Dexter Mangle will kill you?’’

‘’You’re one of Dexter Mangle’s men?’’ Clayton asked.

‘’What’s it to you, asshole?’’ Nursing his broken arm, the man spit in Clayton’s face.

Taking his gun out of its holster, Clayton placed the gun in the bully’s mouth. ‘’Send him a little message for me, will ya?’’

‘’Stop,’’ Clayton heard a familiar voice call from behind him.

He spun around to find Dexter Mangle standing there, pointing a gun right at his enemy.

‘’Put your gun away or you’re a dead man,’’ Dexter threatened.

Reluctantly, Clayton holstered his gun. Dexter walked up to the injured man and helped him up. ‘’Thanks, Dexter,’’ the injured guy stated. ‘’You’re my best friend in the whole Goddamn world.’’

Dexter seized his minion by the back of the neck and pointed the gun at the hurt man’s heart. ‘’If you’re going to kill a man,’’ Dexter began. ‘’Shoot him like this.’’

‘’I’ve been loyal to you,’’ the henchman pleaded.

Leaning in, Dexter whispered, ‘’loyalty is for dogs.’’

Dexter squeezed the trigger and the man fell to the floor, gasping his final breaths. He eyes Clayton while reloading the gun. ‘’I know you’re wanting to kill me,’’ Dexter boasted. ‘’But if anyone should be upset, it should be me.’’

‘’Go to Hell,’’ Clayton growled.

‘’She was my wife before she was yours,’’ Dexter reminded the man.

‘’You used to beat her and cheat on her. She grew to despise you,’’ Clayton shot back.

He pistol whipped Clayton. ‘’I’m going to give you the opportunity you desire,’’ Dexter said. ‘’Outside: ten minutes.’’

Clayton smiled. He turned to the horrified onlookers, they were cowering and announced, ‘’Dry Gulch is going to flood with the blood of a killer and the buzzards will feed upon his stinking carcass.’’

‘’We shall see about that,’’ Dexter remarked.

The two men met. The onlookers from the bar gazed on in morbid fascination. They were back to back and counted ten pace. The spun around and being quicker on the draw, Clayton caught the killer right in the shoulder blade and then again in the heart. At that time, the sheriff, Avery Mangle, the brother of Dexter Mangle stepped out in front of the sheriff’s station.

Avery walked over to his brother and cradled his dying brother’s head in his arms. He looked back at the man who shot his brother and snarled. ‘’You son of a bitch: you killed my brother.’’

‘’I just did what you should have done a long time ago, sheriff,’’ Clayton remarked.

‘’There’s a reward for this man’s capture,’’ the sheriff announced. ‘’Five thousand dollars to the person who brings this man to me dead or alive. You want vigilante justice?’’ The sheriff hissed. ‘’The people of Dry Gulch will do a lot worse to you than I ever could.’’

Clayton walked down the street. The woman he had saved at the saloon, followed him. ‘’Excuse me,’’ the woman said.

‘’Yes?’’ Clayton asked.

‘’My name’s Linda Gray,’’ she said.

‘’Clayton West,’’ he answered.

‘’I want to thank you for saving my life back there,’’ she remarked.

Clayton looked her over a bit before replying. ‘’It was nothing.’’

‘’I don’t got no place to go,’’ Linda stated.

‘’I’m sorry,’’ Clayton answered, his voice, dry.

‘’Could I come with you?’’ Linda asked.

‘’What for?’’ Clayton asked.

‘’I want an adventure,’’ she replied.


‘’Sure,’’ Clayton responded.

It soon became dark. The two of them stopped at a local lodge. The man behind the desk at the lodge stared at them and grunted ‘’Need a room for the night?’’

‘’Yep,’’ Clayton responded.

‘’All we got is a room with one bed. That okay?’’ The man asked.

‘’I suppose,’’ Clayton responded. ‘’Is that okay with you?’’ He asked, turning to ask Linda.

‘’That’ll be fine,’’ she answered.

That night, the two wound up making love. He did not know why he did it. He certainly never planned to. She was blinded by her hero worship for him and in a way, I think he needed the stress relief. Clayton could not even articulate whether or not he was even attracted to this girl or not. All he knew, was that it happened and he needed to keep moving.

During the night, a couple of men broke in and tried shooting Clayton, but he and Linda narrowly escaped.  They knew it was too dangerous to stay in Dry Gulch; they knew they had to leave the only town they ever knew.

There was literally no turning back. ‘’I know where we can stay,’’ Linda said.

‘’Where?’’ Clayton asked.

‘’My sister, Betty lives in Chestnut Grove. We can stay there. I can teach school there. My sister is also a teacher.’’

‘’Sounds nice,’’ Clayton stated. ‘’What’ll you tell her about me?’’

‘’Just that you’re a friend,’’ Linda admitted.

‘’Alright,’’ Clayton replied, not feeling like he had much choice.

When Linda and Clayton arrived at Betty’s house, Betty threw open the front door and embraced her sister. ‘’Linda, it’s been ages,’’ Betty remarked.

‘’Whose your friend?’’ Betty wondered. ‘’He’s handsome.’’

‘’This is my friend, Clayton West,’’ Linda informed Betty.

‘’Nice to meet you, Mr. West,’’ Betty answered, extending her hand.

‘’Pleasure’s all mine,’’ Clayton stated, shaking the woman’s hand.

‘’You a married man, Mr. West?’’ Betty asked.

‘’It’s Clayton. And I was, but she was murdered,’’ Clayton responded.

‘’Oh dear,’’ Betty said. ‘’I’m terribly sorry.’’

‘’Clayton will be staying with us too,’’ Linda informed her sister. ‘’Is that okay?’’

‘’Oh my Heavens, yes,’’ Betty agreed.

That night, Betty entertained her guests with her piano. ‘’You’re a very good piano player,’’ admitted Clayton.

‘’She was a child prodigy,’’ Linda boasted.

‘’That’s truly remarkable,’’ Clayton remarked. ‘’I don’t possess any musical talent.’’

‘’We’re all good at different things,’’ Betty responded.

‘’I fought in the civil war,’’ Clayton replied.

‘’Confederacy?’’ Betty asked.

‘’Exactly,’’ Clayton stated. ‘’How’d you guess?’’

‘’You had all the refinement of a real southern gentleman,’’ Betty responded.

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Chapter 2

The birds chirped their happy tune. Clayton shaved and headed down to breakfast. The aroma of bacon permeated through the house. When he arrived in the kitchen, he noticed Betty was standing with her back to him cooking breakfast.

‘’Morning,’’ Clayton announced.

‘’She turned around and smiled,’’ Good morning.’’

‘’Smells delicious,’’ Clayton added.

‘’Thank you,’’ Betty gushed.

Clayton sat down at the kitchen table and began reading the paper.

Linda came downstairs a couple minutes later. Her red hair was put up in a bun and she wore a long black skirt and a white blouse and chocolate high heels. ‘’Good morning,’’ Clayton said.

‘’Good morning,’’ Linda remarked. ‘’Did you sleep well?’’

‘’Clayton best night’s sleep I’ve had in a while,’’ Clayton admitted.

‘’You have a real pleasant and inviting home here, Betty,’’ Clayton told Linda’s sister.

She turned around and smiled at this. ‘’Thank you.’’

‘’I’ve been searching through the Help Wanted ads, and I’ve been thinking of trying out as a deputy.’’ Clayton added.

‘’That’d be exciting to have a deputy in the house,’’ Betty responded.

‘’Women love a fellow in uniform,’’ Linda nodded.

‘’I’m not doing it for the accolades or the attention. I want to help people,’’ Clayton stated.

The inside of the sheriff’s station was dark as a dungeon. The sheriff’s desk pretty barren. All there was, was a pen and a legal pad on its surface. A waste paper basket rested next to the desk.

‘’Can I help you?’’ the elderly sheriff asked.

‘’I was wondering if I could apply to be a deputy,’’ Clayton said.

‘’Well, what are your qualifications?’’ The sheriff asked. ‘’You ever worked in law enforcement before?’’

‘’No,’’ Clayton admitted, looking away a little ashamedly, ‘’But I’ve been in the army.’’

‘’A Yankee?’’ The sheriff asked.

‘’No,’’ Clayton responded. ‘’Confederacy.’’

The sheriff smiled a toothless grin. ‘’Keep em in chains, eh?’’

‘’No. Slavery was the only issue the confederacy and I disagreed on. Everything else we shared one belief.’’

‘’I was too old to fight in the war, myself; but I’d have wanted to fight for the confederacy.’’

‘’keep em in chains?’’ Clayton asked, knowing full well the answer.

‘’Exactly,’’ the sheriff stated, spitting a hot glob of chewing tobacco into the waste paper basket.

The sheriff took him out back and had Clayton shoot some bottles. He shot them with such precision, the sheriff immediately hired Clayton.

‘’I ain’t never seen a man that quick on the draw,’’ The sheriff remarked.

‘’I’ve had a little practice,’’ Clayton replied.

The sheriff placed his hand on his new deputy’s shoulder. ‘’I feel this town just got itself a real fine sheriff. Real fine.’’

Clayton was given his uniform and went out on patrol. The people of Chestnut Grove seemed like a really friendly bunch. People nodded and smiled as the new deputy walked through town. He walked in Morton’s Hardware Store. Behind the counter, stood a short man.

‘’Good afternoon,’’ the short man said. ‘’What can I do you for?’’

‘’I was looking for a hammer,’’ Clayton said.

‘’Hammers? Aisle five,’’ the little man stated.

Clayton headed to aisle five, found a hammer and came back to the checkout line. ‘’Anything else?’’ The tiny guy asked.

‘’Got any nails?’’

‘’Aisle six.’’

Clayton vanished and came back with nails.

That’ll be four ninety eight,’’ the little guy said.

Clayton paid the man and headed out the door. The sun felt pleasant against his skin.

His badge shone in the sunlight. He had always been a confident man, but wearing that badge and that uniform gave Clayton an extra swagger to his step. He thought of Avery and sort of shuddered. He imagined how that city must have looked by now. He knew the people of Dry Gulch were turning over that town looking for him.

They were a town of people that had lost their way. It was not really their fault. It was all Avery’s fault. He was so blinded with love and compassion for his brother that he let Dexter and his gang of miscreants, gamblers, drunks, bank robbers and killers do as they pleased. Now Dexter was dead. The thought of that made him smile.

He knew the world was a much better place without the likes of Dexter mangle.



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Chapter 3

Avery sat at his desk, muttering to himself. Someone knocked on the front door. ‘’Come in,’’ Avery instructed his visitor.

In walked Curly, the man who Clayton broke his arm, and a couple more members of Dexter’s gang. The tallest man in the group, Ned, pulled out a picture of Clayton and placed it on the desk. Avery examined the picture. ‘’We know where is,’’ the tall man said.

‘’How do you know?’’ Avery asked.

‘’We’ve been following him, and he is staying with Linda Gray and her sister in Chestnut Grove,’’ the tallest member of the gang said.

‘’Hot damn,’’ Avery stated.

‘’Here’s the address,’’ the tall man replied.

‘’Thank you,’’ Avery muttered. ‘’Course you know this means you’re not getting that reward since you didn’t bring him to me personally.’’

The Tall Man took the photo from the sheriff and pulled out his pistol. He fired six shots into the sheriff and the three men headed to the town of Chestnut Grove. Later in the day, the gang knocked on Betty’s front door.

‘’Betty Gray?’’ Ned asked.

‘’Yes?’’ Betty answered, the door was cracked only a bit.

‘’Is Clayton West home?’’ Ned asked.


‘’Where might he be right now?’’ asked Curly.

‘’He’s at work,’’ Betty replied.

‘’Where would that be?’’ questioned Ned.

‘’He’s the town’s deputy,’’ Betty stated.

‘’Thanks for your cooperation,’’ answered Ned.

‘’Goodbye,’’ retorted Betty, giving a pensive smile.

She shut the door and finished dusting. When her sister came home, Betty told Linda everything. Upon hearing this news, Linda’s mouth dropped open. ‘’I wish you would have consulted me before talking to those men,’’ Betty scolded her sister.

‘’I wish you would have consulted me before talking to those men,’’ Betty scolded her sister.

‘’What’s going on?’’ Betty pleaded.

‘’Clayton shot his wife’s murderer and now the killer’s brother, the sheriff of Dry Gulch, has a bounty on Clayton’s head,’’ Linda explained.

‘’That’s awful,’’ lamented Betty. ‘’I had no idea.’’

‘’I must go to him,’’ Linda stated, leaping from her seated position.

Betty grabbed her sister by the arm, her gaze deep, her expression, stern. ‘’Don’t be a darn fool,’’ Betty snapped.

This plea by her sister startled Linda. ‘’Those men want him dead, what makes you think they won’t do the same to you?’’

‘’That man needs my help,’’ Linda begged.

‘’Do you love him?’’ Betty asked.

‘’Yes. I do. Honest to God I do,’’ Linda’s voice was so sure of itself, Betty couldn’t help but smile.

‘’Go to him then,’’ Betty said. ‘’But by the saints, be careful.’’

‘’I will,’’ Linda stated. ‘’I will.’’

Out the door she went, a young woman in love, fighting against fate that after a lifetime of loneliness, this could be her chance at everlasting happiness. Seldom, the world worked out as it did in movies and books. But the world was not an all-out evil place.

The world was a bit of a crapshoot. The world was full of songbirds soaring to heights never previously imagined.


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