FROM CHAPTER 15
“Must! Must! Must,” the pounding said. Or, was it a sound at all? Was it the sight of Sam’s blood, seen by him for the first time, screaming to him? The blood of Big Brother? He, Mitt, must find justice. He must avenge Sam’s death. He must… He turned and ran six paces, the length of the isle, and stopped, catching his breath.
“I’m not superstitious; I’m not spooked. Don’t believe in direct messages from God.” But maybe there was a message. He straightened. “I must keep my brothers from doing something stupid.” Of course, he should have gone with them. With his face to the floor he turned again toward the back door.
The pounding started again. It came from near the blood. Mitt’s mouth went dry. “No, you don’t. No, you don’t,” he shouted. He still held the rug. He rushed to cover the spot. The pounding intensified.
Movement of the door knob caught his eye. A voice cried meekly, “Mitt, is somebody in there with you? I need you right now.”
Mitt struggled for the best lie to tell Hughes. He swung open the door. Hughes panted from running. His fist held something. “Here, put this in your pocket. You’re commissioned into temporary Ranger service.”
Reflexively, Mitt took whatever Hughes held in his fist. A badge. “Uh, I don’t know, John.”
“He’s broke out. Started this way but saw me and dropped behind some brush. Hurry, get your shotgun.”
Fortunately, Mitt’s preferred place for the shotgun was next to the back door. He swept it up. Hughes led. They ran. Near the jail, Leibold emerged from planted shrubs and ran flat out for the bridge over the South Llano.
Mitt dreaded shooting the man a second time, now that he knew he wasn’t Tubbs. He shouted, “Shotgun on your back. Here’s the first barrel.”
Mitt didn’t shoot, though Leibold fell to the ground and screamed, probably from the pain of falling on the prior injuries. They rushed forward.
A dozen feet from the bridge, Mitt and Hughes approached. Shotgun and Winchester ready. Hughes said, “You want to get up, or let me put the cuffs on you from there?”
Leibold’s back heaved. “I’ll get up.” He had on a long coat and better footwear than before. He rolled to his right. Hughes jumped back before Mitt saw it.
A shiny pistol barrel flashed as the thud of a round sped, probably between Mitt and Hughes. The pistol leveled again. Mitt’s shotgun and Hughes’ Winchester fired.
Leibold’s body jumped a foot closer the coveted bridge. He convulsed with an open mouth. His pained eyes held closed. His whole body relaxed.
Mitt’s racing mind tried to outrun his stomach as his breakfast threatened. As a temporary, commissioned Ranger, he could likely get off. As the brother who must find justice for his brother’s death, as Secretary of State for the Stone nation, he had just played Hell.
FROM CHAPTER 18
“Lord have mercy, John. You see who that is?” Mitt said to Hughes.
“Well, I see my men… Oh, yeah, it’s your brothers and what’s-his-name, Burns. But what in the hell happened to your surrey? Those horses will have to be put down.”
Mitt jerked his gaze back to their prisoners, realizing he and Hughes were losing their concentration. The last minutes for an escape attempt loomed. But their prisoners, too, were fascinated by the unfolding scene.
Hughes cried out, “Meet us in the middle, men, for a parley.”
Two lanterns hanging on the surrey proved the only light. Several minutes passed with simple greetings, everyone seeming to wait for someone to lead out.
Burns rose to the occasion. “Well, my case in the Hill Country is essentially solved, I’m happy to say. We’ve rounded up most of the counterfeiters, and I now have in my possession, the masher, thanks to the help of the Stone brothers, their surrey, and two strong mares.
Mitt’s temper flared. “You ruined the surrey and the mares,” his finger pointed at Burns’ nose, “you inconsiderate piece of manure.” With the statement, Mitt turned on his brother Jake. “How in all mighty hell did you let this happen? Stood right there and let him do this to the mares. Our father would have had your hide. I will too if you don’t watch me.” Only Jake’s contrite expression saved him from a thorough shaking.
Jake held up both hands meekly. “It happened a little at a time, Mitt. After while we were just into it…” Jake glanced back, found the creaking surrey, and leaned on it, raising a boot to rub an apparent blister inside. “You would ‘a done the same thing. Abe and Tommy went along with it.” He looked at his brothers. “Little at a time, wasn’t it, boys?” They nodded. Their lips parted as though they would speak, but didn’t.
Hughes laid a heavy hand on Mitt’s shoulder. “That can keep, my friends. Right now, we have prisoners to deal with. Am I right, Mr. Burns?”
“Yes, seven. We…”
“We got five,” Hughes said, interrupting, “and some women and children that will need accommodations. So, first things first. Let’s see, Tommy is holding the lines. If he’ll take the surrey to a stable and put up the mares, we’ll take the prisoners to the jail.”
From the driver’s seat, Tommy said, “No, the mares stay in Sam’s stable, if they’ll pull another hundred yards.”
“Ain’t no Sam’s stable, Tommy,” Mitt said. It would be the first that his brothers knew about the fires. “The house, stable, and the store all burned down while me and John were guarding them. We– "
“What? What did you say, Mitt Stone?” Jake hollered. “While you were guarding them? While you were guarding them? You and John taken to hittin’ the bottle in the middle of the day? You stood there and watched them burn? Both of them? Did you save anything? Who did it, and did you catch him? I can’t believe what I’m hearing.”
“Calm down, brother,” Mitt responded. “I can explain but it takes some time. It was right after we killed that boy yesterday morn– "
“Killed!? Oh, Lord forgive me for what I’m about to do.” Jake limped away and came back, animated. “You got more explaining to do than you got lifetime left. It better be the one that shot Sam. It better be.”
Mitt stepped backward. Jake had reversed their adversarial roles. “It wasn’t but he took a shot at us, and, and… By the way, y’all went out to stop Mel Stevens and his posse from hanging a man. I hope you did that. Did you?”
Jake stopped. “Well, not exactly. They hung the innocent Tubbs boy, I’m sorry to say.”
Mitt began shaking his head. He bore down on Jake who now retreated, Mitt’s head still shook. “You let those hot heads go out there, stood and watched while they hung a man? You know what that makes you and Abe and Tommy? Accomplices! You stood and watched. Right?”
“Well, naw, we kinda got there too late. Abe handled it well, Mitt. You’re gonna be proud of him when you hear the whole story.”
Mitt frowned. “Proud of him?” He whirled on Abe who had not spoken. “That right, brother? I’m gonna be proud of you for your part? That right?”
Abe shook his head and lowered it. “Oh, Mitt, I’m so ashamed of what happened out there I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.”
Mitt slapped his hands onto both sides of his face and drew them down, pulling his eyelids. He sighed and motioned. “Tommy, take the surrey and mares to the town stable. Pay them to take good care of the girls. Lord.” He took a deep breath and sighed. “John, if you and your men will handle the jail, I’ll look after the women and children. They kind of trust me by now.”
The mares blew as Tommy snapped the lines to start them. The surrey creaked. A wheel wobbled. The bed leaned right. Mitt could see that the back seat had been removed and a large object sat on the floor, covered by a tarp. Burns had said the masher. And Mitt remembered the masher from his and Tommy’s first night ride to the Dobie ranch.
He turned to find Burns. “I want to know something, and I don’t want a bunch of voodoo answers. What the hell is the masher?"