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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thin Shafts of Light

Abilene, Texas 1888

Lost somewhere in memory and place, he was staring in a daze at the thin shafts of sunlight coming in through the slitted windows of the small saloon. These spells came over him every once in a while and he still couldn’t explain it.

He had no idea this time how long it had been when he came around, but it had been awhile. The bartender dropped a glass behind the bar, shattering it on the floor. The sound of that must have brought him back from wherever he’d been.

He shifted his weight to the other leg and pulled his hat down even further. Gently knocking twice on top of the bar with the glass tumbler, he held it up slightly.

“Another Mr. Parker?” the portly bartender with heavy sideburns asked him politely and then quietly added, “Don’t worry ‘bout this one. On the house sir.”

The bartender knew exactly who he was dealing with here. He knew the life story of Ty Parker like almost everyone else around these parts. Knew this famous Texas Ranger well, the living legend that he had become.

“Sure Ben…another” he said, glancing around the saloon as if waking up from a deep sleep. “Sure”, he repeated.

He flipped another coin on the bar for Ben anyway, winked at him and then looked over his right shoulder, sideways down the bar. There were two men standing about halfway down and they hadn’t been there the last time he looked.

Turning his body casually he looked straight down the bar and stared at them openly, almost bored. They glanced back over at him and then looked away, trying to act indifferent and casual too.

Well I’ll be damned, but he kept a straight face and looked at Ben instead. That was his boys all right. His two train robbers from over El Paso way. Tommy Ponders and Jeb Tanner had hit four trains in less than two months already and killed five people in the process.

Ty carried their wanted poster in his saddlebag and had studied their likeness many times, so there was no mistake that this was the right two.

He had been trailing them for a month steady now. The hunt had taken him all over west and south Texas.

Most of the time, they had stayed out on the plain and out of any towns. He would usually find their old campsites a day or two later. Found one yesterday about five miles east from here. Looks like they ran out of whiskey.

Ty Parker considered his options. He was either taking these two back to old San Antonio in shackles to stand trial and hang, or bring them back dead. He actually preferred to do the latter but that might make for a helluva mess being made and some innocent people might get shot or killed.

He had no interest in shooting up a saloon in Abilene unless he had to. So, that left dragging them back halfway across Texas. Trouble with that was, if they made any kind of problem or tried anything with him – anything at all, he’d shoot both of them. With him being a Texas Ranger and common decency being what is, he’d probably be required to bury the buzzards. Shallow graves to be sure, but buryin’ is buryin’.

He’d just as soon not do that either. He had a particular distaste for it. Not in killing bad men of course, Lord knows he’d done plenty of that. No, his distaste was in digging the holes for them and putting them in that dark ground. He never could explain why that was.

Parker didn’t think he’d have any trouble with the one closest to him. Skinny, young little runt. Wore his pistol way too low to be fast. The other though, the much older one on the far side would be different.

He knew that look and that breed. He couldn’t see him as well, and had only seen a flash of dark dead eyes, but it was enough. They were the kind of eyes that show not only guilt but more, much more. He’d seen it before in some of the other men he’d brought to justice.

“Ben, be seeing you.”

“Yessir. Anytime.”

Ty finished his whiskey, sat the glass down and walked towards the front swinging doors. He kept the two outlaws at the bar in the corner of his eye as he went. When he reached the two steps that lead up and out of the saloon he stopped and turned.

His gun was already out and so quickly pulled that it seemed he’d had it drawn the whole time. It was his Colt Peacemaker. The one Billy Battson had given him as a gift. He’d used it ever since.

He took several steps, weaving through some empty tables to within about 15 feet of the bar and the two men. Ben stood down where he had just picked up Ty’s glass. The bartenders eyes were wide with surprise. Another man, just a ranch hand who’d been in there all afternoon, slid his way down to the other end of the bar. He was watching the two men close.

Since Ty had walked towards the two men neither had turned around, but they were staring at him in the big saloon mirror behind the bar. They looked grim. The young one scared too. They had figured he was leaving and then frozen in place as he had walked up behind them.

“I’m Tyler Parker, Texas Rangers” he said to the backs of the two men almost as if he was in a quiet, private conversation. “And you two, are train robbers.”

The bartender’s arm slid under the bar.

“Ben, you had better be meanin’ to help me. If so, that’s much obliged. You ain’t no gun hand though, so drop what you’re pawin’ around for and walk out of here. Do it now.”

“Yessir.” The bartender quickly clunked something back down under the bar and raised his empty hands to make it clear. He raised up the little section of bar at the end and walked towards the swinging doors in front.

Several other onlookers either backed their way to the door or froze at the tables where they were sitting.

Jeb Tanner, the older man who had been shielded from his view somewhat said, “Ranger, we mean you no trouble. We’ve got no quarrel with you, or you with us, now leave us be.”

He was staring at Ty in the mirror. The dusty old hat he was wearing was pulled down low but Ty could still see those eyes.

“Both of you unbuckle your gun belts and drop your holsters, then raise your hands.” After a short pause, they finally did so but Tanner took much longer. The gun belts were pooled around their feet now.

Both men still stared at him in the mirror. With the Colt held rock steady there was a tense moment of hushed silence in the saloon.

“You boy, with the red hair, keep your hands up and turn around slowly…Slow I said…. ‘Member boys, I’d just as soon shoot you than have to take you all the way back to old San Antone.”

Tom Ponders slowly turned as ordered and finally looked squarely at him. Ty could see then just how young he really was. Old enough to rob and kill he supposed, but young all the same.

The boy’s face was drained of all color and he looked as if he was going to feint dead away. He started to say something to his partner but only got a few words out.

“Jeb, I don’t think….

“Keep your yappin’ mouth shut Tommy” his older partner growled quietly.

“Okay Captain, you’re next, hands raised and a slow turn”, Ty ordered in a low menacing voice.

The man didn’t move and his hands had come back down, still in the air, but just above the bar. Tommy Conner stared wide-eyed at Ty, even more nervous now.

“Now I said. And get your hands higher in the air. I won’t ask again,” Ty stated plainly.

Still the man didn’t move and Ty thought he saw just a slight twitch in the man’s upraised right hand.

When the Colt went off inside the small saloon it sounded as if a small cannon had been fired. Ty had lowered the gun and shot the uncooperative man in the calf of his left leg. A whelp and a hiss came from the man as he slumped but didn’t go down.

“I said turn…” Ty said with no emotion. Gun smoke hung in the motionless air.

“Jeb, you gotta turn around right now” Tommy said quickly, nervous as a cat and clearly wanting for this to just be over.

But just after Ponders spoke and Tanner was struggling to turn, Tommy surprised Ty and rolled to his left.

“Mr. Parker!” Ben yelled out from somewhere behind.

Despite the quick move, Ty fired his second shot at the scrambling Tommy Conner. The boom of his Colt echoed inside the saloon again.

This was immediately followed by another gunshot that brought a hot stab to Ty’s left side. Jeb Tanner had whirled with another gun he’d pulled from his waistband and fired off a wild shot that grazed Ty.

Ty fired a third time and Tanner’s hat flew off as he was flung violently back against the bar and he crumpled to the floor. He came to rest leaning against the foot rail of the bar, facing Ty in an awkward sitting position. Tanner’s gun had clattered to the floor and skidded out of reach.

Ty glanced over and through the tables at Tommy who was lying still. He’d been hit in the neck. A lucky damn shot. There was a large pool of blood already forming around his body. Ponder’s face was turned towards the Ranger and the young man’s eyes were open but glazed over. His expression bore the frozen look of the dead.

Turning back to the other outlaw, he walked forward and looked down at Tanner.

“Godddamn you Ranger. I’m gut shot,” the man groaned as he held both of his shaking hands to his bleeding stomach. His body was slumped forward slightly. Kicking the dropped revolver even farther away, it skidded across the saloon floor. Ty continued to stare at the wounded man.

“You want to die now, or just keep bleeding out? Might take a day, hell maybe two – I’ve seen it happen, and I’ll make damn sure no doc works on you, so it’ll be a hard go. Your dead either way, slow or quick, what’ll it be?” then Tyler added,

Ty glanced once more over to where Tommy was laying and like he thought, the man hadn’t moved and his blank eyes stared at nothing. He was dead.

Tyler swung his gaze back at Tanner once again, cocked his gun and leveled it at the man.

“I said what’ll it be?”

Time stood still in the gun smoke filled saloon. The wounded man hissed and sat up a little straighter.  Ty waited five feet away with his gun pointed right at the man’s forehead.

“Shoot. Shoot me Ranger. Do it.” Tanner coughed out a small amount of bloody foam.

Ty kept the gun leveled and then brought his thumb up, releasing the hammer gently back into place and holstering his revolver.

“Ben, can you get my horse and another one from over at the livery stable?” he said it over his shoulder, not looking away from Tanner.

He heard Ben start to shuffle out the front doors.

“Tell ‘em I’ll pay good money but I don’t need no dang thoroughbred.”

“Yessir. Yessir I’ll have ‘em bring ‘em out front right away” Ben hurried out.

Jeb Tanner hissed with pain again.

“Ranger, you said you’d shoot me if I wanted….” yelping painfully on the last word. “Please put me down. I, I can’t tolerate no more of this fire in my belly. Please.”

“Changed my mind. Didn’t remember you at first and still don’t all the way,” Ty said it slow and almost to himself. “But things are coming to me.”

“Don’t know you, never seen you ‘fore. Heard about you though” Tanner hissed the words out through gritted teeth.

“Cavalry hat your wearing looked familiar and seemed like I’d heard your bellowin’ before, but I still couldn’t place you”, Ty said solemnly, remembering as he went.

“Kill me, please. Hurts bad.”

“When I shot you in the leg though, I saw that knife tucked in your left boot. That’s what did it for me. That’s when it all, or most of it, started coming back.”

“Crazy talk. Loco. What the hell are you talkin’ about Ranger?” Tanner wheezed.

“I’m talkin’ about one day my mother brought out the gun I hold now and the knife you have in your boot because there were three bad men bangin’ on the door of our little ranch.”

Ty bent down and looked Tanner straight in the eyes.

“This was years ago when I was just a boy. You were younger too but just as bad then as you are now I reckon.”

“Where…when?” Tanner spit more blood on the floor.

“Slide that knife over to me you son of a bitch. There’ll be carved initials on the bone handle of that knife and they’ll be ‘JP’, for Jared Parker. My Pa.”

As he went along, Ty’s voice had a growing anger.

Jeb Tanner stared up at him, very afraid now. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Couldn’t believe there had been another boy that day.

But Ty would make him believe it on the ride back to San Antonio. Oh yes he would. A long, slow bumpy horse ride that would take days. He knew Tanner would never last that long but he would do everything he could to make him live as long as possible.

He’d bury him too, in a shallow dark grave. About four feet  deep would be about right.

Those thin shafts of light had widened for Ty Parker.