This story originally appeared on our now defunct 

Western fiction webzine The Big Adios.

Cash Laramie’s often called The Outlaw Marshal. Not so much because he goes outside the law in the course of doing his duty as a Deputy U.S. Marshal as because he delivers justice so often in his own peculiar way. Him and me both work out of the Cheyenne office, and we both work for the chief deputy, Devon Penn. Penn didn’t seem to keep as tight a rein on Cash as he did on the rest of us, but that may have been because Cash’s patron was none other than Judge Evan J. Hickey. I’ve heard some stories about their ties, but don’t know how much of them are true. Don’t make no difference no how, as they say around here.

“Gideon,” Penn said. “It’s not like Cash to be gone for three whole months without letting us know what’s going on.” He paced back and forth in the space behind his huge mahogany desk. “Not like him at all. And do you realize we haven’t heard so much as a squeak from him for nearly three months?” He repeated himself, but I said nothing.

I didn’t say a thing, just leaned back in my chair and studied the art of lighting up a good pipe. Studied it, but didn’t do it, ’cause Penn wouldn’t allow smoke in his office no how. I may have looked nonchalant, but I thought it was strange that Cash would be out of touch for so long. A man can do a heap of thinking whilst studying the skill of lighting a pipe . . . but Penn cut my pipedream short.

“Let me have a look around, Lenora.” I pushed my way into the room. “He may have left something that’ll give us a hint as to where he’s gone.”

“Gideon Miles,” he said, his voice more sonorous than usual, “You know Cash Laramie better than anyone else in the territory.” He sat down and slammed his open palms on the desk with a satisfying smack. “I want you to get on that hard-headed friend of yours and get him the hell back here and on the job.” He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms across his ample chest. “Yesterday would not be too soon. Do I make myself clear?”

“Clear,” I said, as that was what he wanted to hear, but nothing about Cash being gone for three months was clear. Still, the chief deputy gave me a job, and it was my job to get it done. That meant starting at the Beckett Hotel.

* * *

“Gideon. Gideon. I’m scared stiff. This is not like Cash. Not like him at all.”

I’d gone to Cash Laramie’s room on the top floor of the Beckett to see Lenora Wilkes, Cash’s girlfriend. She was good looking. She worked the line. I had no idea what kind of arrangement she had with Cash, didn’t want to know, for that matter.

“Let me have a look around, Lenora.” I pushed my way into the room. “He may have left something that’ll give us a hint as to where he’s gone.”

She stood back from the door and let me in. It was definitely Cash’s room. Lenora’d not made many inroads toward turning it into a home, as it were. Maybe she was too busy.

What can you say about a hotel room? This one, at the top of the hotel like it was, had a little more space than most, a bedroom and a sitting room linked by a big double door with squares of glass in them. It looked like Cash was ready to move out on the next train to the Barbary Coast.

I swiped a finger through dust that seemed a quarter of an inch thick. “You don’t clean in here at all?” I asked Lenora.

“Cash don’t like for me to touch things,” she said, a whine in her voice. It was kinda like she was afraid of doing something wrong. Legally wrong.

A big freight wagon rattled down Main Street, probably filled with supplies for Rock Springs, where a new strike was drawing make-it-rich hopefuls like honey draws flies. I didn’t look to see what kind of rig it was, but it sounded like a Murphy.

The dresser had a plate full of dry cigar butts on it. I lifted it, scrutinized the dusty dresser top under it, set it back down. Lenora stood at the window, watching the people walking the boardwalk across the street, I reckon. She tossed her fair hair back over her shoulder with one hand. I could see where men folk would put out a pretty penny for a poke with that woman.

I picked up the book that lay next to the cigar butts. North Against South. Jules Verne’s latest. I wondered what a Frenchman knew about the War Between the States. More than that, I wondered why Cash would be reading Verne. He spun a decent tale, but was better left to flights of fantasy than trying to spin yarns about stuff he knew something about. I put it back on the dresser. Nothing to tell me where Cash might of took off to.

Lenora still looked out the window. I walked into the sitting room. A newspaper laid spread out on the table, along with a handful of mail. The date on the paper read March 28, 1887. Today’s calendar showed June 22. “You been tearing the sheets off the calendar, Lenore?”

“Least I could do.” She pouted. “Cash won’t get after me for that.”

I gathered up the handful of letters from the desk and headed for an overstuffed chair to see who was writing to Cash Laramie. By habit, I glanced out the window as I sat down. A spare man, tall and long with bug eyes and a sallow, yellowish complexion. His face was upturned as if he watched me, but he could have been staring lustfully at Lenora. I saw he was walleyed, but I paid him scant attention as I was much more interested in Cash’s correspondence.

Before I could even pick up the first envelope, Lenora sauntered into the sitting room. She held a flint arrowhead in her hand. “Not like Cash to leave this behind,” she said. “His Arapaho mother gave it to him. I imagine she did the leather work on the holder and neck strap, too.”

Cash lived with the Arapaho for some years, and he was especially fond of Elina, wife to Chief Lightning Cloud and his foster mother. On her deathbed, she’d given Cash three flint arrowheads with leather thongs. He always wore one around his neck, which is how some people identified Cash himself—they’d heard of the arrowheads, but didn’t know the wearer by sight.

I couldn’t help grinning to myself.

“What’chu laughing about, Gideon Miles,” Lenora said.

“Thinking about how Cash always has one of those arrowheads on a leather thong around his neck.”

“He says his mother watches over him when he wears them.”

I just nodded. Cash did indeed feel that way about his dead Arapaho mother. The letters were mostly from familiar places and unopened. But the one that was opened was unusual. High-priced paper and envelope with a hint of lavender on them. Yet not from a woman. I pulled the letter from its stiff envelope, but it wasn’t a letter, it was a court summons. From Boston. Part of it was printed, part written in hand, like court summons are.

Cash Laramie esq. is summoned to my chambers, No. 11, Cumberland Street, Boston, Mass. on Saturday the eighth day of July 1887 at 1/2 past 11 of the Clock in the fore noon or shew cause if not Why an Order of the Court cannot be met.

Dated the 9th day of March 1887

James Bacon

Justice of the Peace

Boston, Massachusetts

Hmmm. The return address was to one Arden V.S. Thompson. Esquire, it said.

“What’s it say, Gideon?”

“Don’t you bother your head about it, Lenora. You just relax. I’ll go find Cash, and bring him right back.” I escorted her to the door as I folded the summons and stuffed it into an inner pocket of my vest. We left the hotel together, but immediately split up, Lenora turning up the street and me going down. My peripheral vision caught the watcher I’d seen from the window. He’d not gained any weight, and he was as walleyed as ever, and he didn’t follow Lenora, he came after me.

I made like I hadn’t seen him, but he followed like he didn’t give a shit if I caught him out or not. He never came close enough for me to say something to him, but he was never that far away, either. I wondered if he’d follow me out of town, and I decided to see.

In the livery, I saddled Smoke, my dappled gray. He was more than ready to go. Smoke didn’t like too many days standing around in a stall. He was a mountain horse and liked to get out in the fresh air. Time to see how far the walleyed gentleman would go. I mounted Smoke and rode him over to the courthouse to parlay with Devon Penn.

The hitching rails are behind the courthouse. I guess they don’t want horse piss and piles of dung right in front of their legal structure. Smoke didn’t care. Soon as I looped his reins over the rail, he went hipshot, hung his head, and shut his eyes. Old soldiers learn to sleep whenever they get the chance, and Smoke knew every trick.

In the courthouse, I rapped on Penn’s office door.

“Come in.” Penn sounded like he didn’t really want anyone to come in, but I pushed the door open anyway.

“She-it, I thought you’d be half way to Cash Laramie’s hidey-hole by now.”

I didn’t answer him, I just tossed the summons and its envelope on Penn’s desk.

“Arden Thompson?”

“Know him?” I asked.

“That woman Cash killed when she and her husband drew on him? Her maiden name was Thompson. Arden Thompson’s her uncle.” He shook his head. “Don’t make no sense at all. Her husband, the guy named Silver, he was innocent. Why in hell would him and her pull iron on Cash. Hell, all he could do was defend himself or get killed. Clear cut. Completely clear cut.”

* * *

Smoke and I rode out of Cheyenne going north toward the Silver homestead. My walleyed shadow came along. He stayed too far back for me to take a shot and too close for me and Smoke to run off and leave him. So I rode on and just let him follow.

After Cash shot the Silvers, their homestead fell vacant for a number of years. But by the time I got there, a family of four had moved in. The man of the family said they’d bought it for twenty-five cents an acre. He was a big redheaded man with shoulders an axe handle and a half wide. Farming work wasn’t gonna wear him to a nub, not likely. The wife was a tall rugged woman with sun bleached blonde hair and the kind of freckles across her nose that fair people get from working outside. The kids seemed hale and hearty, ready to grow up and make a good country for themselves. It was good to see that kind of family on the land.
missing“Howdy,” the man said, his eyes on my badge. “How can we help the law?”

I threw a leg over the saddle horn, pulled out my pipe, and filled its hickory bowl with Bull Durham. After I’d spent three matches getting the damn thing going—there was a bit of a breeze that day—I ask him straight out. “Tell me. Have you seen a lanky mule of a man about? He’d be close to six feet tall, and probably’d weigh a hundred sixty-five or seventy. Habitually wears a flint arrowhead around his neck on a leather thong.”

“Yep,” said the big redhead. “Yep. He was here when we got here. Had that arrowhead on. Sure did.”

“He say what he was doing here?”

“Said he need a place to stay. Just drifting through, he said. And I couldn’t fault him. He split up a bunch of wood for the stove and fireplace. The lean-to for the critters was all cleaned out. The fence, this one here,” the redhead ran a hand over a pole in the fence, “he had it standing up just like you see it right now. He done a lot of work around. Couldn’t fault him for staying in the house at all. Wasn’t like he was freeloading or tramping or such.”

“How long’d he stay?”

“Couple of days after we got here, maybe three.”

“Say where he was headed when he left?”

“Drayson. Yeah, that’s what he said. Drayson.” The farmer took a big bandana after his sweating face. “If you see him, tell him he’s welcome back any time. We sure appreciate how he took care of this place. It was kinda like maybe he thought it was his own.”

I pulled Smoke around and climbed aboard. “I’ll tell him that. He’ll be glad to hear it.”



“He ain’t in trouble, is he?”

I had to laugh. “He’s on the right side of the law, you can bet on that.”

* * *

With Smoke’s nose pointed toward the mining town of Drayson, way up near the Montana line, I settled down in my saddle to have a think and catch some shut-eye. Man learns to do that if he’s been on the trail a lot, and working as deputy for Penn means plenty of riding time.

I gave him a stern look. People ain’t used to black men giving them stern looks. Makes ‘em take a step backward, usually. Hartley took a step backward. “Looking for a man,” I said. “Rides a big paint gelding. Calls him Paint. Could be he was wearing an arrowhead ‘round his neck on a thong.”

Beyond Drayson lay Montana, a godforsaken wilderness for the most part. Once in town, I started looking for trail sign of Cash Laramie. The ordinary white lawman would put his badge in his pocket and have a drink at the local saloon. Drayson had plenty of saloons. Every mining town has plenty. And I’d wager the men dishing out rotgut to thirsty miners get a bigger hunk of the mother lode than the miners themselves. But me being black makes walking into a saloon without a badge an iffy thing. I decided to try the livery stable instead. Finally found one on a little back street off the main drag. Hartley’s Livery, the rough-painted sign over the corral said. A man in a mackinaw and high-top boots that had seen more than a little wear used a pitchfork to muck straw and horse dung from the stalls. He paused when I rode up. His eyes went to the shield on my chest.

“You law?”

“Gideon Miles, Deputy U.S. Marshal outta Cheyenne.”

“No shit.”

I shook my head at him. “None whatsoever.”

“I ain’t got no stole hosses. Not one.”

“This the only livery in Drayson?”


I gave him a stern look. People ain’t used to black men giving them stern looks. Makes ‘em take a step backward, usually. Hartley took a step backward. “Looking for a man,” I said. “Rides a big paint gelding. Calls him Paint. Could be he was wearing an arrowhead ‘round his neck on a thong.”

Hartley nodded. “I seen him. Surely did. He went and left that paint hoss here long enough for a rubdown and a good bait of oats. He walked over to Ellison’s general store and bought him outta them little black cigars, what’s it they call ‘em, yeah, cheroots, and he come back with half a dozen quart bottles of Maryland Rye, too. Yep. I seen him.”

“I reckon he’s not in town now, then?”

“He ain’t. Climbed back on that big paint, pulled the cork outta a bottle of Maryland Rye with his teeth, took a swig, and took off. I hollered at him. Wondered if he was gonna to pay the bill. ‘On the way back,’ he said. An’ I’m still waiting.”

“How much does he owe you?”

“Six bits.”

“Sounds like you could wait for that much,” I said. “Which way did he go?”

“He went straight east. Riding that paint, swigging Maryland Rye, and puffing on one of them stinking cheroots.”

“He’ll pay you when he gets back. If he don’t, I will.”

“Rather have it now, no insult intended.”

Cash Laramie and I had ridden a lot of trails together and he saved my bacon more’n once. I forked over the six bits. “Gonna be men on my trail, Hartley. Just as soon you didn’t tell ‘em what you told me, but don’t let them hurt you either. Get what I’m saying?”


I lifted a finger to the brim of my hat. “My thanks, Hartley.”

He’d already turned back to shoveling horse manure, but he gave me a wave of his hand in farewell. Couldn’t help smiling. I struck out east, like Hartley said.

A skinny trail led toward a set of low-lying foothills that crowded up against a small peak called Rocky Point. I hadn’t gone far, Drayson was hardly out of sight, when I noticed the first cheroot butt aside the trail. The ash’d been snuffed all right, but the cheroot was Cash’s, no two ways about it.

I followed cheroot butts and the occasional dry bottle of Maryland Rye for the rest of that day and half way into the next before the walleyed follower showed up on my trail. Only this time he rode with two other hard men. Whoever wanted Cash six feet under was willing to pay prime dollar to get the job done. They weren’t all that close, but I caught the glint of shined leather and ivory gun butts. And they were wearing three-button suits with string ties that didn’t come a buck a crack. These gunnies were good enough to buy the best, pros, and they’d decided to let Cash’s best friend, me, lead them to their prey.

We started climbing those rolling foothills, looking straight at the summit of Rocky Point. They could see, and I could see, that Gideon Miles was no longer necessary in this search for Cash Laramie. They’d knock me off as soon as they got in range. I gigged Smoke into an easy lope. We went over the lip of a hogback and stared down on a sturdy log cabin.

“Gotta get there first, Smoke,” I said and gave him a slap with the loose ends of the reins. He was running belly to the ground in half a dozen strides. I never looked back, but knew those guns-for-hire were on my tail.

“Cash. Cash! Open up. It’s me, Gideon Miles.” Me and Smoke pounded toward that log cabin, but it looked dead silent. Damn. He had to be in there.

“Cash. I’m coming in.” I scrambled off Smoke, who trotted around back, smart horse that he is. I put a shoulder to the door just as rifles crashed and bullets torn hunks out of the doorframe.

I rolled onto the dirt floor and scrabbled away from the opening.

Cash lay on the only bed in the cabin with a Colt in his hand. His eyes were more red than blue, but he did have an Arapaho arrowhead hanging from his neck. Unlike the Cash Laramie everyone knew, this one had hair hanging down to his shoulders and a beard that was both long and scraggly.

“Took ya long enough, Miles. Mind shutting the door? Not all that desirous of catching the croup.

Slugs came through the open doorway and crashed among the pots and pans hanging on the far wall.

“Really should shut that door, Miles.”

I made the mistake of raising my head above the wall. A bullet chewed a long splinter off the top of the wall. I dropped. Then pulled on the rope that made the protective gate in the wall climb back into place. “I thought there were three,” I said. “That shot says four.”

I kicked it shut, and a solid four inches of tough pitch pine now stood between the shooters and us inside that bitty cabin. Cash used the barrel of his Colt to slam the shutters of the only window. Now two inches of oak stood between the assassins’ rifle fire and our own skins. The bullets thunked into the wood like overly loud raindrops.

The cabin was built for defense. Loopholes were strategically drilled around the walls, and it was too thick for anything but a 12-pound cannon to punch through. “Nice place, Cash,” I said. “All the comforts of home.”

“There’s a bunch more than you can see from there, Miles.” Three more thumps against the shutters as the three men who wanted to kill Cash Laramie fired at the windows, the weakest point in the cabin from all they could see.

“Follow me,” Cash said.

He went into a room in the back and climbed an oak ladder up through a trap door in the roof. “Keep down,” he said. “There’s a wall around the place, but if you stand up, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb.”

I took my Stetson off, tossed it on a table, and followed him up through the trap door, creeping on my hands and knees to stay below the line of the log wall that surrounded the roof.

“Look what I found,” Cash said. He pulled a tarpaulin off a wicked looking gun that looked kind of like an oversized pistol. “A Maxim gun. I reckon gun dealers used this cabin as a strong point. Probably trying to make a deal with Mexico. This gun’s something else. Heavy as Hell, but all you have to do is pull the trigger and it just keeps firing. Don’t know how fast, but a lot faster than I can count.”

“Got any ammo?” I said.

Cash grimaced. “Not all that much. But it shouldn’t take all that much.” He patted the action, then fed a canvas belt full of bullets into the back end of the gun. “Let’s give ‘em what for,” he said. “Miles, if you’d be so good as to lower that section of the wall.”

I kept my head down and undid the latches on one side of the swing-down section. Then I scrambled over to the other side and undid those latches. “Wall’s going down,” I said, and gave the loose section a little push. It fell over.

Cash swiveled the Maxim gun toward the assassins and pulled the trigger. Lead flew out of that gun like nothing I’ve seen before or since. Bullet tracks walked up the side of the hill toward one of the men. The Maxim chattered like an angry squirrel, only a hundred times as loud. Spurts of dirt stopped as the bullets chewed into the man’s legs, stitched their way up his body in tune with his screams, and literally chopped off his head as Cash held the gun steady on the assassin’s throat.

“Arrrrrgh,” Cash screamed as he swiveled the gun toward another assassin. A burst of firing. Not more than three or four seconds. The bullets punched a manhole-sized circle out of the man’s middle, nearly cutting him in half.

I flashed a glance at Cash. His face looked like a death mask. His teeth clenched, showing in a grimace of fatigue. Then he began to laugh. “Thought you’d get Cash Laramie, did you, bastards?” He laughed and laughed all the while he triggered the Maxim to cut down the third assassin. In less than ten seconds, the belt of ammunition ran out and the mountainside was silent. The hot barrel cricked in the cool mountain air. Cash sat down, cross-legged, and snickered.

Has he been pushed over the edge?

He stuffed another canvas belt into the breech. “C’mon shit-eating back-shooting gunnies. Come. On.” His index finger depressed the trigger in the pistol grip mechanism. Bullets chattered out of the Maxim at a crazy rate. “Come. On. You assholes think you can get me? Come. On.”

“Cash!” I had to scream above the sound of the Maxim.

His eyes slithered in my direction.

“They’re dead,” I hollered.

“Oh.” He lifted the canvas belt. Maybe ten bullets remained. “Pull up the wall, Miles, would ya?”

I made the mistake of raising my head above the wall. A bullet chewed a long splinter off the top of the wall. I dropped. Then pulled on the rope that made the protective gate in the wall climb back into place. “I thought there were three,” I said. “That shot says four.”

“Looked like he fired from that bunch of scrub oak around back,” Cash said. “You fire back at him, but don’t hit him. Just keep him looking up here for a target.”

“Gotcha,” I said and peered through a loophole in the wall. Cash went down the oak ladder as light-footed as a teenage kid. He wore a big grin, too. What the Hell?

Another look through the loophole, then I snapped a shot with my revolver. Almost instantly a return shot came. It tore a piece out of the loophole. Good thing I’d automatically moved off to one side after shooting. Smoke said the shooter was in the clump of oaks.

I scooted to another loophole about four feet away. Rather than shoot, I watched. The shooter was just a clot of black. Couldn’t see a face or a hat or anything like that.

Behind him a clump of grass and sod moved, slowly, slowly, then fell aside. Cash slithered out of a hole in the ground that I found out later connected to a tunnel to the cabin. I fired. The gunnie fired. I fired again, hoping to cover any sounds Cash might make. Return fire came while I stuffed more bullets into my pistol. I fired off three shots. Looking through the loophole again, I saw Cash was out of the hole. He stood there with that strange smile on his face.

“Hey gunsharp! You looking for me?”

The assassin whirled, bringing his rifle into line for a shot at Cash, but he wasn’t nearly fast enough. Cash’s Colt spoke three times, but the sound came to me as one long shot. The assassin crumpled like an ear-shot steer.

“Miles. Come on down. It’s over.” The smile on Cash’s face was gone.

* * *

DavidCranmer_ai8Edward A. Grainger is the pen name of David Cranmer. He is the editor and publisher of the BEAT to a PULP webzine (http://www.beattoapulp.com/pulp.htm) and books.

Artwork © 2013 Steven Russell Black.


I tightened Smoke’s cinch up a notch. “Yeah.”

“Thanks for coming.”

“Why wouldn’t I come?”

“You would. And I would. You know that. Tell Penn I’ll be back directly.”

I nodded. “I’ll tell him, Cash.”

“I’ve got to finish this thing. And it’s got to be finished alone.”

“I know. But them gunnies didn’t come from innocents. Think on that, man.”

Cash gave me a ghost of a smile. “Yeah. They got what was coming to them.”

“They did.” I climbed up on Smoke’s back. “We’ll be jogging down the trail, then. Penn’ll be wondering.”

“Like I said. I’ll be back. I surely will.”

And he was. He came back in the spring of ’88, and went back to marshalling. He never said how he came to terms with killing those innocents. Maybe sending those killers to hell helped. I’d like to think so. I don’t know how he handled the court summons, and I don’t know if he had to kill any more hard men from back east.

Yeah, they called Cash Laramie the Outlaw Marshal, but I never knew a straighter man.

~ fin ~